May 9, 2011

Saint Nicholas the New of Vounenis

St. Nicholas the New (Feast Day - May 9)

Saint Nicholas the New was born of pious and virtuous parents. When he came of age he joined the Imperial Army, and with the rank of Duke he trained his soldiers to be brave and fearless warriors. His primary training however was to teach his soldiers to have faith in God, to pray, to not be unfair with anyone, and to seek strength in Christ in their battles against their enemies.

Saint Nicholas was sent by either the Iconoclast Emperor Leo the Isaurian in the 8th century or by the Orthodox Emperor Leo the Great in the 9th century to Larissa with his soldiers to fight against the Avars. When the Avars arrived in Thessaly they spread death and destruction in their barbaric wake. Fearing that he may lose his life and even more his soul, Nicholas withdrew to Vounena of Thessaly with twelve of his soldiers. In this area lived many ascetics with whom they lived ascetically in unceasing prayer, fasting and vigils. Eventually they were arrested by the Avars and Nicholas with his soldiers were massacred.

With promises and flattery they tried to persuade Nicholas to renounce his faith, but were unable to do so. After piercing him many times with his own spear, eventually they beheaded him. The Avars abandoned his body where they slaughtered him, but it was not discovered until many years later by a Duke Euphymianos of Thessaloniki and it was both fragrant and incorrupt. Euphymianos was a leper and had sought healing from many doctors, but in vain. He began to pray to many saints and gave much to the poor and needy hoping in God's mercy. He went to St. Demetrios in Thessaloniki and prayed there, then he went to St. Achilles in Larissa. In Larissa St. Achilles appeared to him and told him to go to Vounena to find the body of the martyr Nicholas, to wash in a nearby well, and to believe after this that he would receive his healing. Upon the discovery and washing, his leprosy was healed and he buried the holy body of the martyr. The same also built a chapel on this spot and named it after the Holy Martyr Nicholas.

The trees on which the Holy Martyr was tied and tortured give off a red liquid which is called by the faithful "Blood". This liquid has healing properties, especially working many wonders for those with skin problems and severe headaches. It begins to flow on the 8th of May every year, the day before the feast of the Saint, until the morning of the 9th (reports also indicate the liquid flows on May 22nd, which is the feast of the Saint according to the Old Calendar). The faithful gather there early on the 8th with bottles to gather this holy liquid. An all-night vigil takes place for the feast, and at 5:00 AM every year a buzz sound can be heard from the trees for about ten minutes. The gold and silver offerings surrounding his holy icon are a testimony to the many miracles this Saint has worked for the faithful. It should be noted also that the holy water near the church does not flow except on the feast of the Saint.

The relic of the Saint is kept devoutly in the Holy Church of Saint Nicholas the New in Thebes (of the district Tichi), in a silver inlaid chest. Even today his holy relic is fragrant and the grace of God remains on his body for the strengthening and healing of the faithful. Every Wednesday a Supplication Service is chanted to the Saint. The treasure chest was given by the Holy Monastery of Saint John the Theologian in Mazarakis Vagion by the Abbess Eupraxia in a modest celebration on 10 December 2000. The skull of the Saint is in the church dedicated to his name on the island of Andros.

A Miracle of the Saint In 1943

It was October of 1943. The Germans were determined to spread death before leaving Thebes, leaving the district of Tachi deserted. They had been informed that hidden ammunition was there which insurgents were going to use against them. This was true. In the area where the bell tower is today, a storage space was filled with weapons and ammunition. The Germans ordered everyone to gather outside the church, especially requesting a list of men 16 years old and over, and anyone not present was to be executed on the spot.

Across from the unfortunate inhabitants, the firing squad was ready for the signal to send a hot bullet through the skulls of hungry bodies. Screening was done everywhere: in homes, warehouses and even underground. They even checked the church for ammunition. It should be noted that the massacres of Distomo (June 1943) and Prodromou (August 1943) had already taken place by the Germans, and they were ready to do the same here.

The entrance of the room where the ammunition was hidden was shut with a wooden door, which opened and closed with the smallest blow from the wind, prolonging the agony of the hopeless men. They watched the bloodthirsty officer reach that spot two and three times, but neither military intuition nor human curiosity made him look through the door.

Soon after the Nazi's left empty-handed. Tears of emotion poured from the eyes of all. The people lit candles, knelt and prayed, thanking Saint Nicholas for preventing the German officer from identifying the cluster and saving them from certain death. If it wasn't for this miracle, the last Sunday of October would not be a celebration in Thebes of a miracle, but a commemoration of a massacre.

The Service of Praise to St. Nicholas can be viewed here
From p. 81-100 many photos and icons can be seen.

The Supplication Service can be viewed here.

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
As a physician without pay for the sick, and an irresistible helper in dangers, a fervent protector of the afflicted, and a champion of all those in need, O Venerable Martyr Nicholas from the east, intercede with Christ God, to save our souls.

Kontakion in the Fourth Tone
From the east today you appeared, as a luminous star, and in Greece of the west, you contested for Christ, we sing hymns to you Nicholas the New.

The "blood" which flows from the trees can be seen in this video: