September 8, 2010

Holy New Martyr Athanasios the Koulakiotis (+ 1774)

St. Athanasios the Neomartyr of Thessaloniki (Feast Day - September 8)


The hanging of Athanasios was seen to be a ladder,
By which he ascended to the heavenly dimension.

Athanasios was from the village of Koulakia, near the city of Thessaloniki, where he was reared by his father Polychrous, a demogeron of the village, and his Bulgarian mother Loulouda.

His pious parents provided Athanasios with a good education, first in his village, and then in Thessaloniki where he studied under the famous teacher Athanasios Parios.

From Thessaloniki Athanasios went on to the Holy Mountain to the Athonite School at the Monastery of Vatopaidi where he studied under such renowned teachers as Panagiotis Palamas, Evgenios Voulgaris, and Nicholas Tzartzoulios. In other words, Athanasios received the best possible education available in the Orthodox world at the time, and he was an excellent student.

When Tzartzoulios left Mount Athos for Constantinople, Athanasios followed him there. In Constantinople Athanasios joined the staff of Patriarch Philemon of Antioch, who was then studying in the city. After a two-year stay in Constantinople, Athanasios returned to Mount Athos and later to his native village of Koulakia.

One day Athanasios, who had learned both Turkish and Arabic, was engaged in conversation with some Muslims of his village. While discussing some religious questions, Athanasios stated that the faith of the Muslims was based on the words, "God is one and Muhammad is His prophet."

An emir who was present immediately seized upon his statement and insisted that Athanasios was making a declaration of faith and was thus accepting Islam. Athanasios, of course, denied this vigorously, but to no avail.

Athanasios was brought before the mulla in Thessaloniki who questioned him. After some discussion, the mulla understood that Athanasios was not making a declaration of faith. unfortunately, though, his accusers insisted Athanasios should not be allowed to mock the Islamic faith, as they put it. Then the mulla began flattering Athanasios. He told him it was God who inspired him to make the declaration and that he should accept the Muslim religion. Otherwise, he was told, he should be made to suffer horribly. Athanasios, who knew his Christian faith well and believed deeply, flatly refused to consider even the possibility of conversion.

The mulla then ordered Athanasios jailed for a number of days. During his imprisonment no Orthodox Christian came to visit him out of fear of the Muslims. Even his own father stayed away. In addition, because of the fear of the Muslims, his father also refused to use his influence with Isuf Bey - a very important and influential Muslim official whom he knew well - to help free his son.

Brought before the mulla one final time, Athanasios was again urged to deny Jesus Christ and accept the Islamic faith. But Athanasios' Orthodox Christian faith was too strong to abandon. Consequently he was sentenced to be hanged, a sentence which was carried out.

After receiving his body, fellow Orthodox Christians buried Athanasios near the Church of Saint Paraskevi.

Thus Athanasios the student and monk from Koliakia, Thessaloniki sacrificed his life for the love of Jesus Christ outside the city of Thessaloniki, on September 8, in the year 1774, at the age of 25.

From Witnesses For Christ: Orthodox Christian Neomartyrs of the Ottoman Period 1437-1860 by Nomikos Michael Vaporis, pp. 194-195.