April 19, 2010

Holy New Martyr Agathangelos of Esphigmenou (+ 1819)

Neomartyr Agathangelos of Esphigmenou (Feast Day - April 19)

The Monk Martyr Agathangelos, in the world Athanasios, was born in the city of Ainos, Thrace, and was raised in a poor and pious Orthodox family. After the death of his parents Constantine and Krystalia, he became a sailor on the ship of a Turk to earn a living.

The Turks wanted to convert the skilled and intelligent youth to Islam, but knew that he would not do so of his own free will. One day when they had travelled from Constantinople to Smyrna, the nefarious judge of the Hagarenes of Smyrna saw the unchanging faith of Athanasios and wanted to do all he could to convert him to Islam. The judge therefore asked Agathangelos one night to light a lantern and help him allegedly walk to a certain place ahead of him. When they arrived at a Turkish cemetery the Hagarene told Athanasios to lead him to the inner part of it, at which time the Hagarene pulled out a knife against Athanasios and injured him. The young man became afraid and began to cry, and his Master told him that it was impossible for him to keep him alive unless he changed his faith to Islam. Athanasios then reasoned that privately he would deny his faith, but publicly he would deny such a thing. He reasoned that he could do this because the judge was a notorious liar and thus no one would believe him. But this reasoning proved to be a temptation of the devil. When he made his profession to accept Islam the judge gave him a kiss, gave him a new name and said that he would not be allowed to go free unless he was first circumcised; at midnight he was circumcised. A few days later he became seriously ill, and he feared that he would die as a Muslim, but the Lord had pity on him. After much hardship he was finally able to leave his Master, who was about to kill him again, this time over economic differences. Upon leaving he assumed once more his Christian name.

Tormented by pangs of conscience, he was able to leave the world and seek refuge on Mount Athos. After travelling throughout the various monasteries of Athos and confessing his sin to many, he finally came upon Elder Euthymios of Esphigmenou Monastery, the abbot, who confessed him and blessed him to become a novice. His job was to serve the trapeza, which he did with much diligence. He faced intense temptation from the devil, but with prayer to the Lord and the Holy Virgin as well as fasting he overcame them.

Athanasios considered even his most intense efforts insufficient to atone for his sin of apostasy. He believed that he had to suffer martyrdom for Christ, and he began to pray about this.

One day when he was serving his duties he came across a large amount of smoke that began to hurt his eyes. Turning away he went into his cell and began to weep, saying that if he could not endure such little suffering as smoke in the eye, how could he endure the tortures of martyrdom. He prayed for many hours and began to do many prostrations until he fell asleep. In his sleep he saw the Theotokos, who asked him: "Why are you so sad, my child, and anxious?" He answered: "How can I, the thrice-wretched, not be sad, since besides my other sins I denied my Lord?" The Theotokos, like a gentle mother, answered him: "Have courage my child, because your desire for martyrdom will be fulfilled." All these things he told his teacher Germanos, who was appointed by the abbot to instruct him and hear his thoughts in confession. The abbot sent Germanos to inquire about this to Ecumenical Patriarch Gregory V, who was at that time living at Iveron Monastery, and Patriarch Gregory said that this was indeed a revelation from God and that he should help Athanasios prepare for martyrdom during Great Lent.

Athanasios was therefore sent to Iveron Monastery to prepare for his martyrdom under Patrairch Gregory V, who had previously prepared the holy new martyrs Euthymios, Ignatios, Akakios and Onouphrios for their martyrdoms. Athanasios venerated their holy relics and became further resolved to undergo martyrdom and his soul rejoiced in such an ordeal. He returned to Esphigmenou and continued his preparations with much prayer and fasting. The abbot ordered that he be enclosed within the north tower of the monastery where he was given only a little bread and water every day, and made 1500 great prostrations a day as well as 4000 small prostrations. For eight days the abbot read over him the prayers of forgiveness and then was anointed with the Holy Chrism. On the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent the nineteen-year-old youth was tonsured as a monk with the name Agathangelos.

After receiving the Holy Mysteries a fire was set in his heart and he returned to the tower to face greater ascetical preparation. He found a chain weighing ten kilos [25 lbs] and wrapped it around his body like a true "esphigmenou" [someone who is tied up]. He then put on a sack made of hair and increased his prostrations to 3000 great prostrations and 8000 small prostrations a day. He read the Salutations to the Theotokos twice a day, the Gospels, and the New Martyrology as well as other books. He prayed unceasing the Prayer of the Heart and desired more and more to die for the Lord.

Unable to hold back his passion for martyrdom, he decided to approach the abbot to allow him to leave and face his trial. The abbot asked all the monks to pray about this to see if it was God's will. That night the abbot saw St. Nicholas the Wonderworker speaking with Agathangelos saying to him: "You desire a good work, my child, so hurry and you will succeed." From that moment he began to make his final preparations.

By Divine Providence, on Holy Saturday a boat docked at Esphigmenou from Chios that was going to Smyrna. On Bright Monday Agathangelos was given the Great Schema before his departure and he embraced all his brothers with tears, and they prayed to the Lord that He would strengthen Agathangelos for his contest. On the Sunday of Thomas Agathangelos arrived in Smyrna with Germanos. The following Thursday he was shaved and put on Turkish garments, and given a wooden Cross and an icon of Christ's Resurrection.

He then approached the Turkish officials and asked to see his former Master. When his Master came Agathangelos said: "When I began to work for him I was a Christian. Then he forced me to become a Turk, but I am again a Christian and I believe in Jesus Christ, who I confess to be the true God." After being reprimanded, Agathangelos pulled out of his clothes his wooden Cross and the icon of the Resurrection and began to criticize the Islamic faith. For a long time they flattered him with earthly possessions to bring him back to Islam, but he just remained silent and prayed. Flatteries however turned to threats and he was sent to the ruler. He remained steadfast and was imprisoned.

The next day he was again brought into the courtroom and threatened with the sword, but it was the sword which he desired. Then appearing before the judge and the ruler he was given another chance at freedom, but he just prayed and confessed Christ as the true God. They bound St Agathangelos with heavy chains, hammered his feet into wooden boots, and threw him into prison. With him were two other wrongly condemned Christians. One of them, Nicholas, gave an account of the saint's martyrdom. Nicholas told him that a certain influential man would intervene before the judge for his release, but St Agathangelos wrote a note to this man asking that he not attempt to free him, but to pray to God that he be strengthened for martyrdom. The Metropolitan of Smyrna and many priests and faithful came and they all prayed that the martyr will endure his trial to the end.

The saint readied himself for the final trial. At midnight, it was revealed to him in a vision that they would execute him no later than the fifth hour, and he waited for the appointed hour. At about the fourth hour, a watch was placed over him. Seeing no possibility of converting the confessor from his faith in Christ, the judges decided to execute him. Absorbed in unceasing prayer, the martyr did not take notice the preparations for execution, nor the large throng of people.

He was beheaded at the fifth hour of the morning, on Saturday April 19, 1819. Christians were strengthened in their faith and rejoiced, and gathered up the holy relics of the martyr which immediately became beautifully fragrant and buried them in the city of Smyrna, in the Church of the Great Martyr George in the tomb of the Holy New Martyr Dimos who was martyred in Smyrna in 1763. A teacher of the School of Smyrna, the Great Oikonomos Constantine Economou, was informed of this, and went to the funeral. When the time came to chant the hymn "Come for the final kiss" at which time those gathered give their final farewell, he instead chanted the following hymn extemporaneously:

"Πληθύς η των Σμυρναίων εν ωδαίς ευφημήσωμεν ημών πολιούχον και της Αίνου το βλάστημα, πρόμαχον θερμόν Αγαθάγγελον ιερομάρτυρα εσθλόν. Επλάκη γαρ γενναίως τω δυσμενεί και τούτον κατηκόντισεν. Oθεν στεφηφορών ουρανομάρτυσι συναγάλλεται υπέρ ημών εξευμενίζων τον μόνον φιλάνθρωπον" (27. Θρακικά Τόμος 10ος, σ.376).

Multitudes of Smyrna, let us praise with songs our protector and the offspring of Ainos, fervent fighter Agathangelos, the honorable holy martyr. He bravely confronted that which is unfavorable and defeated it. For that, he is among the heavenly martyrs having a crown on his head and he prays for us to the only Lover of Mankind.”

Following his death, he appeared alive to Germanos, his spiritual father.

The myrrh-streaming and miraculous skull of St Agathangelos was sent to the Esphigmenou Monastery on Mount Athos in 1844, along with his right hand, his right leg, and a portion from his side [rib]. A sealed letter dated February 19, 1844 is still preserved at Esphigmenou granting these relics which wardens from the Church of St Georgea gave to them. They relics were entombed at the Church of St. George in Smyrna under a plane tree until the Asia Minor Catastrophe in 1922.

Apolytikion in Tone Four

Your soul drank of the waters of asceticism, you shown forth among Martyrs, you were radiantly glaring, O wise Agathangelos. Therefore graciously, as is truly fitting, you shamed those from Hagar and magnified Christ. Him therefore entreat O Righteous Martyr that He be merciful to us.