December 17, 2010

Holy New Martyrs Avakum the Deacon and Paisius the Abbot of Serbia

New Martyrs Avakum the Deacon and Paisius the Abbot of Serbia (Feast Day - December 17)

The holy New Martyr Avakum (Habakkuk) was born in Bosnia in 1794, and was named Lepoje by his parents. Lepoje's father died when he was still a young boy, so his mother took him to the Mostanica Monastery, where his uncle was the spiritual Father. He grew up in the monastery, and later became a monk with the name Avakum. When he was eighteen, he was ordained a deacon by Metropolitan Joseph (Sakabenta).

In 1809, the monks took part in an unsuccessful revolt against the Janissaries stationed in Belgrade known as the Rebellion of Jancic (Janciceva Buna), and had to flee for their lives. They settled in the Annunciation Monastery in Trnava near Cacak, where the abbot was St Paisius.

After the collapse of Karageorge's revolt in 1813, the Turks began a reign of terror against the Serbs. Disease also swept the area because of the many bodies left unburied. The people attempted another revolt under Hadj-Prodan Gligorijevic, and the monks of Trnava became involved in it. The rebellion took place on the Feast of the Holy Cross (September 14), but it was crushed by the Turks. Many people were captured, and some were executed on the spot as a warning to others.

Some of the prisoners were sent to Suleiman Pasha in Belgrade, among whom were Sts Paisius and Avakum. The holy deacon Avakum sang "God is with us" (from Compline) in the prison cell of a tower appropriately named ‘Nebojsha’ (‘Fear Not’), while St Paisius prayed. The Turks offered to free anyone who would convert to Islam. Some of the prisoners agreed to this, but the majority refused to deny Christ, and so they were put to death.

St Paisius was taken from prison and forced to carry a two-meter stake to the place of execution at Stambol Gate. He was impaled, and the stake was set into the ground. The holy martyr exclaimed, "Glory to God" (Slava Bogu) as he hung in agony from the stake. Then the vizier clapped his hands to signal his soldiers to draw their swords and begin killing some of the other prisoners. Forty-eight people were killed, and their bodies were raised up on posts. After suffering for some time, St Paisius surrendered his soul to God, thereby obtaining the crown of martyrdom on December 17, 1814.

The Turks tried to pressure Avakum to save himself by embracing their religion, but he refused even to consider it. His former spiritual Father, Gennadius, accepted the offer of the Turks and urged Avakum to follow his example. The courageous deacon declared that he was a warrior of Christ, and preferred to die rather than deny Christ.

St Avakum was sentenced to be impaled on a stake, which he was forced to carry to the place of execution. His own mother urged him to embrace Islam, then to seek forgiveness later because he had been forced into it. The saint thanked her for giving him life, but not for her advice, saying: “Dearest mother, thank you for the milk that nourished me, but no thanks to you for this advice. A Serb belongs to Christ, and he awaits death with joy!”

At the place of execution, the Turks asked him one more time to consider his youth and not to die before his time. Avakum laughed and asked, "Don't even Turks eventually die?"

They replied, "Of course they do."

"Well then," he said, "the sooner I die, the fewer sins I will have."

Because of his courage and steadfastness in his faith, the Turks decided not to impale him. They killed him quickly by stabbing him in the heart with a sword on January 27, 1815.

St Avakum the deacon is commemorated on December 17 with St Paisius.


On the feast of the Holy Deacon Avakum, on December 30, 2004, a wooden cross appeared on Freedom Square in Belgrade across from the National Theatre bearing the inscription: “In this place the Holy New Martyr Deacon Avakum perished in 1814”. The cross was placed at the former location of Stambol Kapija*.

In 1814 the Turkish occupiers of Serbia offered the young deacon Avakum the option of renouncing the Orthodox Christian faith and converting to Islam rather than being impaled on the stake. Deacon Avakum hesitated not. He bore the stake on his own shoulders as Our Lord bore His cross to Golgotha, and he sang: “The Serb belongs to Christ and rejoices in his own death.”

Curiously, the “perpetrators” of the placement of the cross remain anonymous.

* Stambol Kapija or the Istanbul Gate was built by the Austrians at the beginning of the 18th century and got its name from the fact that the road to Istanbul led through it. The Turks used it as the location for execution of the dispossessed Christian rayah, their Serbian peasant subjects, by impaling them on the stake.


Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
As true soldiers of Christ, you shone forth with meekness and humility and for Christ you suffered courageously, O Holy Martyrs Paisius and Avakum, but your deaths proclaim to all that it is better to die for Christ and for one's country than without Christ to gain the whole world.

Kontakion in the Third Tone
In this world you lived like angels and by your lives fulfilled the Gospel. You laid down your souls for faith and country, in death you showed yourselves to be stronger than your tormentors, therefore we celebrate your memory, O holy venerable martyrs Paisius and Avakum.