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February 19, 2014

Saint Philothei the Athenian as a Model for our Lives

Venerable Martyr Philothei the Athenian (Feast Day - February 19)

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The four hundred years of slavery to the Turks were no doubt very difficult for the Greeks/Romans. Neither their property nor their own selves were defined. They could not learn letters out in the open and the darkness of ignorance ruled. The effort of the Church in this regard is known with the "Secret Schools", where a monk or priest was a teacher and "increased distant hope". Still known are the struggles of Saint Kosmas Aitolos in establishing schools, so the slaves could learn to read and write that they may be able to study Holy Scripture. Therefore, this long period was tragic for the Romans, but, we could also say, glorious from the point of view that it gave an opportunity for the Greek Orthodox soul to show all its greatness and unconquerable morale. It accepted slaps and kicks, but it remained standing and unsubdued and showed great figures worthy of admiration. Among these a prominent position belongs to the lady of Athens, the venerable Philothei. She was a true aristocrat in the true sense of the word aristocat, which means one who rules terrifically. One who holds no money or estates, but noble love, which they give or rather is given away without calculation of thought, ulterior motives or the anticipation of reward.

Of course Philothei had money and a lot of property, but she was a true lady, because she knew how to give. For one who does not give is poor regardless of how much they have. She was one of those women who are hard to come by, of whom Holy Scripture says: "A brave woman who can find? She is far more precious than jewels" (Prov. 31:10). She was adorned with the virtues of bravery and patience "without which no one has the power to accomplish any virtue. Because if they do not have bravery in the soul they cannot endure, and without patience no one can correct anything" (Abba Dorotheos of Gaza). Poor and helpless girls found her to be a mother and sister, an anchor and support, warm and hopeful in the uncertain and fear-filled days of slavery.

Born in Athens in the 16th century, she was nurtured in the teachings of the Gospel and, having been tested in the furnace of pain, she radiated virtue and sacrificial love. At fourteen years of age she was married off according to the custom of the time, but also to have around her a protector in case she lost her parents. Because in those difficult days of slavery, there was no greater trial for parents than to have beautiful girls, so they hurried to marry them all the sooner, and thereby protected them. Early on, however, she was left a widow (at 17), but considering this the voice of God she did not remarry. This was brave as it defied the fear of the Agarenes, and indeed she became the protector and mother to the innocent orphan girls who were at risk at the time. She established a Monastery and there she gave hospitality and protected all the persecuted. While directing the Monastery, she cared for the nuns, as well as the girls she hosted. The girls she taught various jobs and arts, but especially gave them a correct path and orientation showing them the way and path to true communion with the living God of revelation. The bitter bread of slavery was made sweet in the embrace of her love and the young souls were nourished by the living breast of the Church and gained an ecclesiastical mindset as well as a masculine one. Now they knew to derive from prayer and the sacramental life the strength to tread the difficult path of life without fear, since, according to the Apostle Paul, "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power." But this divinely-excellent work, so important and great, could not go without being combated against by the instruments of those who hate good. She was accused, indicted and fought against as few have ever been, and eventually she was made worthy of a blessed end. She left this present life in a glorious way, since her courageous testimony was sealed by the blood of her martyrdom. Her sanctified relics are kept in the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens.

If every Saint by their way of life sends a message, the message of Saint Philothei is spiritual bravery and true nobility. For the liberation from the tyranny of the passions and created things, for the destruction of every kind of idol that creates sin and a passionate appetite, and for obtaining inner freedom and spiritual nobility, spiritual bravery is needed together with liveliness and prowess. "He wants virtue, boldness and freedom."

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "ΟΣΙΟΜΑΡΤΥΣ ΦΙΛΟΘΕΗ Η ΑΘΗΝΑΙΑ", February 1998. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.