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April 7, 2015

The Tomb of Saint Kassiani in Kasos

By John Sanidopoulos

St. Kassiani, best known for her hymnography, became a nun and founded a monastery in Constantinople at a young age. Not much is documented about her later life, and it is assumed by scholars that she reposed in her monastery in Constantinople, but there is a tradition that says she traveled to Italy with another nun named Evdokia, perhaps to flee Emperor Theophilos, who had sought her hand in marriage before she became a nun and kept in contact with her afterward. From there she went to Crete, and then to the island of Kasos near Crete, where she reposed on September 7th around 890 AD. Her body was placed in a marble coffin and eventually a chapel dedicated to her was built over this. This 9th century coffin survives today in Kasos together with a plaque from that time indicating the year of Kassiani's death with a cross. According to local tradition, the marble coffin no longer contains the relics of St. Kassiani, which at one point were transferred to the island of Icarus.

Whether this is St. Kassiani the Hymnographer is up for debate, depending on whether or not one is willing to take this tradition into consideration. It could be argued that the Kassiani indicated in Kasos merely indicates a holy female who was born or lived in Kasos, since a female resident of Kasos would be known as a "Kassiani" while a male resident would be known as a "Kassianos". The only other local St. Kassiani we know about in the area was the sister of St. Eutychianos, who lived in asceticism in Kefali near Martsalo in Crete. There may be a connection or even a confusion of these two Kassiani's, but this requires further study. Till then, the association between St. Kassiani the Hymnographer and Kasos should not be ignored.

Interestingly, St. Kassiani was never officially recognized as a saint in the calendar of the Orthodox Church until fairly recently, though she has surely been recognized as a saint in the minds and hearts of the faithful, and typically her memory was honored on Holy Wednesday when her famous hymn is chanted. On the island of Kasos, however, she was always acknowledged to be a saint and her memory was celebrated there on September 7th, the day of her repose according to the inscription on the marble coffin. The official recognition of St. Kassiani as a saint came about in the late 19th century when a local from Kasos named George Sassos composed a Service of Praise in her honor, which was published in Alexandria in 1889. This Service was dedicated to Patriarch Sophronios of Alexandria, who in turn blessed it and gave it to Metropolitan Germanos of Thebes for publication on September 1, 1889. This acknowledgement and blessing by the Patriarch of Alexandria is considered her official canonization, thus her memory is celebrated by the Orthodox Church on September 7th, and she is especially honored on Holy Wednesday when her famous hymn is chanted in all Orthodox churches.*

* This hymn is chanted on Holy Tuesday evening in anticipation of Holy Wednesday.