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September 7, 2010

Saint Sozon the Martyr of Cilicia and Patron of Limnos

St. Sozon the Martyr of Cilicia (Feast Day - September 7)


Torments of body Sozon once endured,
Fixed on the only Savior of his soul.
On the seventh Sozon died, his radiant flesh fiercely beaten.

Sozon was born in Lyconia. He was a shepherd of sheep by trade and kept all of God's laws, and as a shepherd of souls he instructed his pagan peers and friends in his pious faith and led many to the rational flock of Christ.

In a vision he was shown that he would suffer martyrdom for Christ. This was in the time of Maximian, magistrate of Cilicia, who perpetrated a terrible persecution of Christians in the nearby city of Pompeiopolis.

In that city there was a golden idol of Diana which the pagans worshiped. Inspired and emboldened by his vision, Sozon left his flock, went to the city, entered the pagan temple and broke the arm off the golden idol. He crumbled it into bits and distributed it to the poor.

There was a great uproar because of this, and the pagans sought out the guilty one. So that no one else would suffer for his deed, Sozon went to the magistrate and declared himself to be a Christian and the perpetrator of that act. His torturers first beat him, then suspended him from a tree and scraped his body with iron combs. He was also made to run in iron sandals covered in nails, and upon seeing his blood fall on the ground for the love of Christ, due to cruel beatings which exposed his bones and entrails, Sozon rejoiced until he collapsed and gave up his soul into the hands of God.

The pagans then made a fire to burn his remains, but a violent storm sprang up and put out the fire, causing the pagans to run off in terror. This allowed Christians to come and take the holy body of the Martyr. He suffered in about the year 304. St. Sozon's relics were miracle-working, and a church in his name was built over them.

Saint Sozon, the Patron of Limnos

Through Roman times the island of Limnos (or Lemnos) had as its protector Saint Alexander, whose relics rested there up until 1308. This is mentioned in a codex at the Patriarchate of Alexandria. In 1308 pirates stole these holy relics and sold them to Venetians. Since then the mention of Saint Alexander as the patron of Limnos gradually weakened.

This was followed by many tragic events on the island: pirate raids, battles between imperial families for its control, the intrusion of the Franks, the Venetian conquest, the fall of Constantinople, and finally the Ottoman occupation of the island in 1479. Because of these events and changes, old customs gradually became forgotten.

In the mid-eighteenth century the island began to recover from its poverty and illiteracy. Limnian sailors and merchants would come into contact with Europeans, Russians and Egyptians. With their newly acquired wealth they began to rebuild many of their old humble and ruined churches in the villages. Limnian captains would sail to Constantinople, Smyrna, Alexandria, the ports of the Aegean islands and the Black Sea. On their way to the Dardanelles they would look upon their island from afar. There they would see a small chapel from afar on the south coast of Limnos that would give them strength and courage to continue their battle with the sea. This was the Church of Saint Sozon, located near the village Fisini (Physsini).

The sailors would look upon Saint Sozon as their savior, because at one time he saved certain castaways when he turned his cloak into a boat. When they would light their candles in the church, they would cross themselves and say a prayer that they would return unharmed to their island. When they were in danger or threatened by a storm, they would pray "Saint Sozon, save us!" Then they would present their offerings: one person an icon, another a liturgy, whatever one was able to do.

At the same time, the residents of Limnos began to pray to Saint Sozon, even making vows to him that their loved ones would return to the island safe. In this way, for Limnian seamen and their families, Saint Sozon became a patron saint, and every year on September 7th they would go to the chapel of the Saint and honor his memory. Towards the end of the nineteenth century Saint Sozon was seen by all on Limnos to be their patron saint.

In a list of official holidays celebrated on the island of Limnos in 1887 there is no mention of Saint Sozon. The earliest written testimony to the celebration of Saint Sozon as patron of the island is in 1906. In this year the Limnos Brotherhood of Alexandria decided on September 7th to host a feast of the patron saint of Limnos Sozon with a Great Vespers on the evening prior to the feast and a Divine Liturgy with an artoklasia on the day of the feast. Therefore, the exact date of the establishment of Saint Sozon as the patron of Limnos is to be found between 1887 and 1906.

Until today, Limnians of the diaspora in Australia, Canada, the USA and South Africa still uphold the old tradition to gather and celebrate the feast of Saint Sozon. The celebration of the Saint is a link they have with their homeland and remind them of their childhood years on the island.

The Chapel of Saint Sozon on Limnos

The Chapel of Saint Sozon stands in the small village of Skandali, on the south-eastern tip of Limnos from medieval times. In old maps this area was known as Cogito, which is a distortion of the name "ston Agiosoznta" (στον Αγιοσώζ’ντα). The name Cogito was first reported by the Italian scholar Porcacchi in 1572. Therefore, the Chapel of Saint Sozon existed at least since the early sixteenth century. Previously in this position there was also a small fortress, which in 1572 was already in ruins. In today's church the oldest evidence comes from some icons of the nineteenth century.

Recently, the cells of the church were restored by the brothers Stenou. Today the church is deserted but on its feast day, the 7th of September, it is the place where a big festival takes place.

According to local tradition the church was built in this area at the suggestion of Saint Sozon himself in a miraculous way. The area where the church is always had holy water that was fresh and at sea level. A resident of the nearby village of Fisini had found an old icon of Saint Sozon close to the church. She brought the icon with her to the village, but when morning came the icon had disappeared and was found again at the place of the holy water.

This happened many times until the Saint appeared to a pious shepherd and revealed to him the spot where he desired a church to be built in his honor to house his holy icon. Specifically he told the shepherd to start off in the morning his normal routine and he will guide him. He did as he was told, and when morning came it was still dark outside. However when he came to the designated spot, behind him it was still dark, but in front of him it was like day. As he walked the darkness remained behind him but the light guided him to the exact spot. It was here that the shepherd built the church which stands today.

The miraculous manner in which this church was established became known throughout all of Limnos and the residents began to celebrate a three-day festival in honor of Saint Sozon. The evening before residents from every town and village would gather around the church, and they would receive hospitality from the residents of the nearby village of Fisini. Eventually cells were built around the church to house all the pilgrims who came for the feast. After Great Vespers all would celebrate the feast with violins and lyres. Following the Divine Liturgy in the morning a procession with the holy icon took place, then the festivities would continue till the next morning. The next day the families with their animals would depart for their villages. This feast continues till today.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

Apolytikion in the First Tone
O Martyr Sozon, thou didst pledge thy life to God, endure the contest and become a sharer in Christ's Passion. Save from temptation those who cry to thee: Glory to Him Who strengthened thee; Glory to Him Who crowned thee; Glory to Him Who through thee works healings for all.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
As we come together on this day, let us acclaim with a great voice Sozon, the true and God-bearing Martyr, the approved athlete of godliness, the divine initiate of grace, the most bountiful bestower of healings; for he intercedeth with God for us all.