December 15, 2014

Holy Hieromartyr Eleutherios of Illyricum and his mother Anthia

Sts. Eleftherios and Anthia (Feast Day - December 15)

By St. Nikolai Velimirovich

From a good tree comes good fruit. This wonderful Saint had noble and greatly eminent parents. Eleutherios was born in Rome, where his father was an imperial proconsul. His mother Anthia heard the Gospel from the great Apostle Paul and was baptized by him. Having been left a widow early, she entrusted her only son for study and service to Aniketos the Bishop of Rome.

Seeing how Eleutherios was gifted by God and illumined by the grace of God, the bishop ordained him a deacon at the age of fifteen, a priest at the age of eighteen, and a bishop at the age of twenty. Eleutherios's God-given wisdom made up for what he lacked in years, and this chosen one of God was appointed Bishop of Illyria with his seat in Valona (Avlona), Albania. The good shepherd guarded his flock well and increased their number day by day. Emperor Hadrian, a persecutor of Christians, sent the commander Felix with soldiers to seize Eleutherios and bring him to Rome. When the raging Felix arrived in Valona and entered the church, he saw and heard the holy hierarch of God; suddenly his heart changed, and he became a Christian. Eleutherios baptized Felix and departed for Rome with him, returning joyfully as if he were going to a feast and not to trial and torture.

The emperor subjected the noble Eleutherios to harsh torture: flogging, roasting on an iron bed, boiling in pitch, and burning in a fiery furnace. But Eleutherios was delivered from all these deadly tortures by God's power. Seeing all this, Caribus the Roman eparch declared that he also was a Christian. Caribus was tortured and then beheaded, and so was Blessed Felix. Finally, the imperial executioners cut off the honorable head of St. Eleutherios. When his mother, the holy Anthia, came and stood over the dead body of her son, she also was beheaded. Their bodies were translated to Valona, where even today St. Eleutherios glorifies the name of Christ by his many miracles. He suffered during the reign of Hadrian in the year 120.

From The Prologue.

The Veneration of Saint Eleutherios

Orthodox Christians solemnly commemorate Sts. Eleutherios and Anthia on December 15, the day of the dedication of a great church to the Saints in Constantinople during the reign of the Roman Emperor Arkadios. This was in the fifth century and the church dominated the Xerolophos district of Constantinople. Ever since many others have been erected in their honor, particularly in Greece. In the West the Saints are honored on April 18, traditionally the day of their martyrdom in Rome. A portion of their relics are still treasured in Reati, in Italy. In the Nea Ionia area of Athens, inhabited mainly by refugees from Asia Minor, other relics of the Saints are venerated by pilgrims from across Greece and Cyprus. A twelfth century church dedicated to St. Eleutherios served as the Athenian cathedral during the centuries of "Turkokratia" or Ottoman rule. This small church is dwarfed by the neighboring large cathedral, built in the nineteenth century, but it continues to draw many more visitors and tourists.

For centuries Orthodox believers have considered Saints Eleutherios and Anthia to be the patrons of expectant mothers and of childbirth. Their fame as wonderworkers, the fact that they were mother and son and the implications of their names contributed to this. "Eleutherios" is a variant of "freedom" in Greek, thus, mothers pray that they might safely be free of their pregnancies by giving birth to healthy children. "Anthia" resembles "anthos" meaning flower.

Furthermore St Eleutherios is held to be the protector of the oppressed, prisoners and all those undergoing any kind of trial. It is believed that these two Saints, like Cyprian and Justina, dispel all demonic influences. Orthodox Christians living in the Ottoman Empire thought of St. Eleutherios as their helper in the movement for independence. In Albania where the previous Communist regime had banned the Orthodox faith and all religion, the Saints became a focus for Orthodox Christian resistance -particularly amongst the Greek Epirote minority in the south.

The standard life of these Saints was recorded by St. Symeon Metaphrastes in the tenth century, and this was translated into Modern Greek by Agapios the Cretan in the book New Paradise. The office of the Saints was published by Athanasios Parios in Leipzig in 1784. In 1987 Archimandrite Nicholas Protopapas published a study titled Saint Eleutherios the Hieromartyr. St. Eleutherios of Avlona is not to be confused with this St. Eleutherios or a number of other saints bearing the same name. Better known in the West is another St. Eleutherios, the Pope of Rome who succeeded St. Soter in 175 A.D. He was a Greek by origin but other than this very little is known about him. It is thought that this Pope sent missionaries to the British Isles; Phaganos (or Fugatius) and Deruvian (or Damian) are the names given to two of these missionary Saints. They are commemorated on May 26 with St. Eleutherios the Pope.

Apolytikion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
Adorned with flowing priestly vesture and with dripping streams of blood you at once went to your Lord Christ, O blessed wise Eleutherios, annihilator of Satan. Wherefore, do not cease to intercede for those who honor your blessed struggles in faith.

Kontakion in the Second Tone
O venerable One, we all praise and entreat you, Eleutherios, Priest-Martyr, comeliness of Priests and exaltation of champions. Deliver from diverse dangers those fervently honoring your memory, interceding unceasingly for us all.

The Holy Skull of St. Eleutherios visiting his church in Gkyze. It is treasured by the Holy Metropolis of Elassonos after previously being in the Monastery of St. Eleutherios Klimadon near Olympus.