September 8, 2013

Holy Hieromartyr George Karastamatis (+ 1922)

St. George Karastamatis (Feast Day - September 4th and the Sunday Before the Exaltation of the Cross)

By Pantelis Houlis

Father George Karastamatis was heir to one of the most important noble families of the village of Agia Paraskevi in Krini (Cesme), which possessed the art of fishing, with several large ships, called trawlers.

A married cleric, he was parish priest of the decrepit Church of the Holy Forty Martyrs, one of the three parish churches of the village. A feature of his was his tufted curled hair, which became the reason for calling him "Dome" (Τρούλο), because he resembled the dome of a church.

He had a great love for Ancient Greece, and was a connoisseur and lover of the glorious Byzantine Culture.

He never tired for a moment to speak proudly of his origins, and his chief hallmark was his goodness, his kindness and his selfless Christian love which characterized him from his youth up to the last moment of his earthly life. He was a conscientious clergyman with excellent training in Orthodox liturgics. His voice was beautiful and he was familiar with Byzantine music. A graduate of the "Krinaiki School", he was beloved by all his fellow villagers.

His zeal and the fervent love for the ministry he received made him slow to finish the divine services and the Divine Liturgy, and his fellow villagers criticized him with the nickname "Late Rain" (Oψιμάκι), due to his lateness.

The first persecution of the Greeks took place between the years 1914-1919, and he was forced to flee with his family for Greece, probably Chios like most of the region.

The love for his land, and the partially justified behavior of the Greeks, deeply wounded him now as he came to the twilight of his life.

When they returned back again, after the apparent recovery of wrongdoing, the Elder made the decision to never leave again the place God ordained for him, so that he may praise and glorify Him.

Unfortunately the turmoil soon made an appearance again, and the calm and industrious Cesmians took the final road of refugees and exiles.

The brutality of the Turks led to the final and heavy blow against Hellenism, whose wounds are still open till today in the memory of us all. The villages of Cesme were deserted, abandoned by families who salvaged what they could that belonged to them, from the households in which they worked for centuries.

Chios, Northern Greece and Skiathos became a refuge for most.

Till today the descendants of these families are memorial signs of the refugees over the course of years.

The relatives of Papa-George in horror implored him to follow them, knowing well that this time it was all over, that this time the rage of the Turks would be complete and highly lethal.

(As far as we know a Karastamatis family with seven members moved to Skiathos, and later left for Thessaloniki, except for Stamatia and her brother George Alexandridis of the Karastamatis family and the youngest daughter who died. Maybe in Thessaloniki and the surrounding refugee area other relatives became established.)

Papa George Karastamatis was adamant, his gleaming white beard glittering like ermine was ready to be painted with the purple color of his blood, and he was ready to be crowned a king with the crown of his martyrdom.

The mischievous guerillas, who brought about the greatest disasters, were approaching Cesme, and Karastamatis waited in the village with two other elders, old barbers named George M. (perhaps Makridakis) and Nikoli K. (perhaps Karakouda) as mentioned in the book Lost Fatherlands - My Village of Agia Paraskevi in Cesme 1760- 1922 (ΧΑΜΕΝΕΣ ΠΑΤΡΙΔΕΣ – ΤΟ ΧΩΡΙΟ ΜΟΥ Η ΑΓΙΑ ΠΑΡΑΣΚΕΥΗ ΤΟΥ ΤΣΕΣΜΕ 1760 – 1922) on page 660 by John D. Aikaterinis.

The three of them said goodbye to the last residents of Agia Paraskevi and the Elder gave them his heartfelt prayers and blessings. He had baptized them, he had married them, and stood by them as a true minister of love. The shepherd sent off his reasonable sheep while he remained behind unmovable, ready to accept suffering and death in the land of saint-bearing Asia Minor, in a second Fall.

Sunday 4 September 1922, an autumn morning, the silence of a few hours prior which covered the village was now disturbed by the sound of the bell. This crucified-resurrectional message will sound for the last time for the venerable parish priest of the Holy Forty Martyrs.

Papa George was there, present in his place, since he would not leave his parish to remain without a Liturgy despite the dire circumstances. The night before a group of Tsetes had arrived, guerilla Turks, who were the vanguard, an informal military unit of Kemal to exterminate the Greeks.

Wearing his sacred vestments he began to properly celebrate imperturbably the Divine Liturgy as the other two remained praying, anticipating that due to their old age they would invite "grace" from the Turks.

The moments were full of suspense, and the two barbers and friends of the Elder flinched before the Turks entered the church, and they managed to escape and hide as the same have recounted.

Perhaps that moment of cowardice displayed by his two companions, reminded him of the Disciples of Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Perhaps he was reminded of the martyrdom of the Holy Forty Martyrs in whose church he served for years. When they were in the lake of their martyrdom one of them lost heart and left while he was replaced by a sentry named Aglaio, who had seen in a vision the glorious crowns of martyrdom over the heads of those who had been thrown onto the frozen lake.

The humble Levite stood before the Sacred Sacrificial Altar and did not hesitate to sacrifice the Lamb. Then there was shouting, bustling and shots fired.

The day passed, and the sun full of shame and sorrow withdrew, while George M. and Nikoli K. dared to leave their hiding place, and they timidly approached the church.

The Holy Hieromartyr George Karastamatis - as if one athlete from the fresco of the Holy Forty Martyrs was missing - was there baptized in the blood of his own Lake Sebastea, sprawled before the Beautiful Gate with his skull opened like the new Hieromartyr Philoumenos of Jacob's Well in 1979. In this way he went to the Heaven he loved and served without complaint till his last breath.

George M., who escaped from Cape Koumoudi by boat to Chios, was an eyewitness of what he saw and lived, and he gave his testimony as a humble synaxari for the new Hieromartyr George Karastamatis.

(The niece of the Hieromartyr, my grandmother, Stamatia Alexandridi-Houlis of the family Karastamatis, came as a refugee to the island of Skiathos at the age of twelve. Moreover the mother of Grandma Stamatia, Maria Karastamati, had a brother George Karastamati who became a monk on Mount Athos and given the name Simon.)

The death of Papa George was a Martyrdom, a sacrifice, even an offering on the heavenly altar, and another precious gem which adorns the great crown of Christ the King.

The martyric death of the Holy Metropolitan Chrysostomos of Smyrna had been celebrated since 1923 as well as all those who who died during the Asia Minor Catastrophe. The Patriarchate of Alexandria was the first to give the honor and recommended all the Orthodox Churches to establish them in accordance with Orthodox Christian tradition among the cloud of neomartyrs.

The massacre of the Greeks did not merely have a racial criterion, because in Asia Minor there is a long and illustrious presence of religious fanaticism, for everything Christian was desecrated and destroyed with a frenzy. The ecclesiastical consciousness of the Greek people and the multitude of refugees in the Greek territory, recognized the holiness of all those who died in the land of Ionia. To all these the governing Church could not but accept this common ecclesiastical consciousness as the ultimate criterion of truth and the faith of the fullness of the Church.

"The Holy Synod of the Church of Greece in its meeting, at the suggestion of the late Metropolitan of Patras Nikodemos, in the encyclical No. 2556 on July 5, 1993 numbers among the chorus of Saints of the Orthodox Church all those who were martyred in 1922 in Asia Minor - Bishops, Clergy and Laity."

So also was the Holy Hieromartyr George Karastamatis found to be among the choirs of these Holy Martyrs. While celebrating the Divine Liturgy he found death by a horde of guerillas in his village, Agia Paraskevi of Cesme. His courage to stand before the Holy Altar, the Altar that was to be the place of his martrdom, was a confession of faith.

Honor and blessings to all those who originate from that generation throughout the years. It is a sacred duty to give honor to this new Hieromartyr of the faith during the celebration of all those who died during the Asia Minor Catastrophe, on the Sunday before the Exaltation of the Honorable Cross, but especially on the day he gave up his holy soul on September 4th. Those from the village of Agia Paraskevi who are now in Chios honor this Hieromartyr as a Saint through the stories of their tradition, while the Square in front of the Church of Saint Paraskevi bears his name.

I pray that Saint George will bless and give health to all of us, interceding to Him so that the race of Greeks will not have to relive such painful days.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.