March 4, 2015

Saint Gregory, Bishop of Assos, and the Discovery of His Relics in 1935

St. Gregory of Assos (Feast Days - March 4, July 10, and 1st Sunday after November 10)

Saint Gregory is among the saints who was born and died in Lesvos. He was born in the village of Akorni, which no longer exists, and it was located in the district of Gera, which today is a rural area called Kourkouta. His parents, George and Maria, were most pious Christians and childless, and they transferred this faith to their child who they received by way of a miracle, and they named him George. If we take into account that they sent their child at the age of fourteen to Constantinople to be educated, it seems that they were well off materially.

While in Constantinople, George, without being affected by the environment and turning towards entertainment and sinful habits, made sure to enrich his knowledge, to get to know wise and holy people, and to benefit spiritually as much as possible in that great city. There he met his elder and spiritual father the Hieromonk Agathon, whom he loved as a father, and he accompanied him to his monastery somewhere in Asia Minor.

George lived in this monastery for three years, then he accompanied Agathon to Jerusalem to worship in the Holy Land and get to know up close the holy ascetics. There he became a monk, took the name Gregory, and lived as an ascetic for fifteen years. He then returned to the monastery of Agathon, but having been accustomed to live the life of an ascetic in Jerusalem, he did not live in the monastery, but in a remote deserted cell by himself.

His humility, love for all, holiness of life and teachings made Christians seek him out daily to be all the more near him.

When the Diocese of Assos was widowed, everyone asked for Gregory to be their Bishop. He was then speedily called to Constantinople, where he was ordained Bishop of Assos by the Metropolitan of Ephesus, since Assos of the province of Mysia was within his district, near Troy.

Gregory took on his duties with zeal and fear of God, using austerity with gentleness, justice with love. As Bishop he was a truly good pastor. It was inevitable that he would be met with opposition.

Envious people opposed the work of the Saint, yet his slanderers did not withstand. The envy of the slanderers was despised by the people, who loved their Bishop, yet this saddened Gregory nonetheless and he desired to return to his hermitage. He thus left his Diocese with his subordinate Leontios, and went to Tenedos in Asia Minor carrying with him only a Gospel and cassock. They remained there for several years.

From Tenedos they came to Lesvos, and Gregory went to Akorni to visit his parents. By chance he met his mother on the road, and she greeted him as she would a priest, seeking his blessing, for she did not recognize him. He told her: "May God bless you and make you worthy to see, if you have someone abroad."

Having thus fulfilled his desire, he ascended Mount Priantos and found a deserted place called Lefkopedi, and he asked the residents their permission for him to live there with Leontios. This place was completely unsuitable for farming, being forested and wild, and it was even a place considered to be inhabited by demons. The residents gave him permission to live there, because it was useless to them.

With the help of Leontios, Gregory cleaned up the place, and through prayer he discovered water. They cultivated the land, and through prayer and fasting they drove away the evil spirits, thus transforming the land from a hell to a paradise.

Cave where St. Gregory lived in asceticism.

When they saw the place cultivated, envious people sought to drive away the Saint, and they even pushed him from a hill in order to kill him. No only was the Saint unharmed, but the place where he fell became dried up and nothing would grow. Then the owners of that property asked for his forgiveness and ceded to him their land. Hence he built a church dedicated to the Theotokos and a monastery, to which many monks gathered.

The Saint reposed in old age in either 1150 or 1185. He gave his last breath while praying, after giving his last orders and blessings to the monks of his monastery. While alive he indicated the place of his burial beside the monastery, so they buried him there, but after three days water flowed out of his grave, causing his exhumation, and he was reburied in the church. There his relics as well as the holy water were the source of many miracles of every form of illness and disease.

His synaxarion gives an account of miracles attributed to the Saint while alive. One tells of his staff which became a tree, the fruit from which had healing properties and healed many sick people. Another records how he miraculously discovered water near his monastery. Once an irreverent man cut a branch from this tree and he "fell as if dead", but the Saint healed him and gave him water to drink.

Celebration of the discovery of the relics of the Saint in 1935.

750 years after the death of the Saint, the Christians of Lesvos were made worthy in 1935 to venerate his venerable relics.

It was recorded in his synaxarion and passed down in tradition that the Saint, as the founder of the monastery, was buried within the narthex of the Katholikon, which was the main church. The Christians of the area would come to celebrate the memory of Saint Gregory at the ruins of this monastery, where there was a chapel, but no one thought about studying to figure out where his tomb was. Even the local Turks honored his memory there.

This study was finally done by the then secretary of Metropolitan Evangelos of Mytilene, Iakovos Kleomvrotos, the subsequent Metropolitan of Sisaniou and Siatistis and from 1958 the Metropolitan of Mytilene. With the permission and assistance of Metropolitan Iakovos from Durres, he excavated the site and found many covered ruins of the monastery as well as the tomb and bones of the Saint, as the tradition said, on the right side of the narthex of the Katholikon, on July 10th of 1935.

Plan of the Katholikon of the Monastery discovered in 1935.

On November 17th of that same year, with ecclesiastical brilliance and great solemnity, the translation of the relics of the Saint took place to the Parish Church of Saint George in the Community of Skopelos in Lesvos, where they remain. The Ecumenical Patriarchate, by the proposal of the Metropolitan of Mytilene, appointed as the feast day for the translation of the relics of Saint Gregory to be held on the 1st Sunday after November 10th, which is celebrated every year with much brilliance. The service for the translation was composed by the scholar theologian Protopresbyter Emmanuel Mytilineos, and the dismissal hymn of the Saint was written by the late Metropolitan Iakovos of Durres.