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June 2, 2015

Holy New Martyr Constantine the Former Hagarene from Mytilene (+ 1819)

St. Constantine the Hagarene (Feast Day - June 2)

Constantine, whose Muslim name we do not know, was born to Muslim parents, on the island of Mytilene, in the village of Psilometopon. His father died when he was quite young. His mother therefore saw to his Muslim upbringing.

At the age of fifteen, Constantine was afflicted with smallpox, which caused him to go blind. Taking pity on him, a pious Orthodox Christian woman asked Constantine's mother for permission to take him to a nearby Orthodox shrine with Holy Water. The woman washed Constantine in the sacred font and he was cured.

Shortly afterwards, his mother remarried and moved to the city of Magnesia in Asia Minor. His stepfather, despite being a Muslim, proved to be a drunk and beat him regularly. Consequently, Constantine left home with his three brothers. His and his oldest brother moved to the city of Smyrna, where they opened a vegetable store.

Constantine assisted his brother and was engaged in delivering vegetables. This duty often took him to the headquarters of Metropolitan Kallinikos II, where he would often stop and listen to religious readings. Slowly but surely his love for the Christian message he heard grew. In addition, he made friends with two Christian young men with whom he grew very close.

At that time plague was rampant in Smyrna. All three young men went to the Church of Saint George and lit candles, praying for deliverance. But a strange thing then happened. Saved from the plague, Constantine nevertheless turned and began living a very dissolute life. But he soon came to his senses and left for the Holy Mountain.

Constantine first stopped at New Skete. His arrival on the Holy Mountain caused quite a stir because he was a Muslim. The fathers of the Monastery of Saint Paul were reluctant to accept him, fearing repercussions from the Muslim authorities, and passed him on to the Monastery of the Great Lavra where he was also refused admission. From there Constantine went on to the Skete of Saint Anna where he met and spoke with Father Chrysanthos. Leaving Saint Anna, Constantine headed back to the Great Lavra, but on the way he changed his mind and went instead to the fathers at Kavsokalyva.

There a certain monk named Gabriel advised him to return to Great Lavra. But the fathers of Great Lavra were still afraid to allow him to stay with them. So Constantine was forced to return to Kavsokalyva. There he met Patriarch Gregory V, who retired to the Holy Mountain between his three tenures as patriarch.

Patriarch Gregory spoke with Constantine to test his sincerity in wishing to become a Christian. The patriarch said to him: "Why did you, young man, come to us, the despised ones? What do you seek from us who have nothing, as you can see? Are we not the lowliest of nations, whereas you have the kingdom and the glory and enjoy all the world? Why are you not satisfied when so many desire to enjoy the temporary life which you seem to despise? Come to your senses."

These words caused Constantine to break out in tears. Seeing this, the patriarch realized his sincerity. So he said to him, "Soon I will come to Kavsokalyva and I will baptize you, only prepare yourself, keep yourself pure and, above all, tell no one."

Constantine returned to Kavsokalyva and waited. But he soon became unhappy over the delay in his baptism. His elder, seeing him in this condition, was convinced of his sincerity and readiness and baptized him, giving him the name of Constantine.

After a short time, Constantine went to Iveron Monastery to venerate the miraculous icon of Panagia Portaitissa (Keeper of the Portal) and then went on to the Skete of Saint John the Forerunner where he heard there was an experienced elder who had prepared many for martyrdom. In addition there were in the Skete newly arrived relics of Neomartyrs. Constantine spent time with the elder and returned with a downcast face to his own elder at Kavsokalyva. When asked why he appeared so, Constantine replied, "There is no other reason for my downcast look except that I reverenced the relics of the Neomartyrs, and my soul became completely attached to them. My mind became captive as you see me now, and the desire to imitate their deeds occupied my spirit."

Hearing this, the elder glorified God and said, "Blessed be God, my son, if this is to your liking; only God the omnipotent will initiate and end what you will do."

He then invited a spiritual father to begin Constantine's preparation for his martyrdom. Constantine began fasting for forty days, eating only once a day.

A short time later, Constantine decided to return to Magnesia in Asia Minor where he intended to visit his sister whom he hoped to convince to share his faith in Jesus Christ by having her baptized. Meanwhile Constantine went to his spiritual father for confession and was then given permission to fulfill his desire to become martyr.

Secretly carrying letters of recommendation from Patriarch Gregory V, Constantine sailed to Kydonies. But there were no ships sailing immediately for Smyrna, his destination. In the interval, in order to live, Constantine sold raisins and other dry fruit on the streets until a ship could be found.

One day a servant of the aga recognized him and asked an Orthodox Christian standing nearby, "Who is that man?"

"I don't know," was the answer. "He recently came here, and I don't know from where."

That night the Orthodox Christian sought out Constantine and told him, "I heard this Muslim saying that he knows you, and you are a Muslim. Is it true, or is he trying to undermine you?"

"God forbid," was Constantine's reply. "I am an Orthodox Christian."

That night, unable to sleep, Constantine decided to leave in the morning. He found a ship which was sailing to Smyrna and boarded it, but he was observed by the same Muslim who had recognized him and had him put off the ship and taken to the aga. The latter asked Constantine who he was and how he got there. To this Constantine replied, "I have come from afar and I am on my way to Anatolia. I am an Orthodox Christian and my name is Constantine."

The aga replied, "You are lying to me. What would you say if someone can be found who knows you as a Muslim, what will you say?"

At that moment, the Muslim appeared and said to Constantine, "Don't I know that you are a brother of a Muslim with whom you were in the vegetable business in Smyrna? How can you lie to us?"

To this Constantine responded boldly and in a loud voice, "I was a Muslim, like you impious and lawless ones, but because I was enlightened by God and was informed that the Muslim faith is transient and only the Orthodox faith is true and pure, and because I recognized my own interest, I became an Orthodox Christian to gain eternal life."

Upon hearing this, the aga ordered Constantine beaten and imprisoned until he came to his senses. He then wrote to the aga of Moschonesia, asking him to come immediately because he was needed. When the aga arrived a few days later, he was told of Constantine who was brought before him. Questioned once more and urged to return to Islam, Constantine refused and was beaten severely and thrown back into prison, where many Christians visited him in secret. Constantine asked them to pray for him, so he would die a faithful death.

Meanwhile, a torturer who had tortured Neomartyr George began applying the same painful measures to Constantine. He devised an iron hat which was heated then placed on Constantine's head. Then lead balls wrapped in a band were pressed up against his temples almost causing his eyes to pop out of his head.

A few days later, Constantine was brought before the vali and was asked if he had changed his mind. He answered, "You are truly tyrants, wild animals, and not rational human beings. But untie me and I will show you who I am."

Constantine was untied, and immediately he made the sign of the Cross and said in a loud voice, "Did you see who I am? So please don't think that I will change my mind and become like you."

Whereupon the aga of Moschonesia became very angry, took out his knife, and cut Constantine cross-wise on his chest. At that moment Constantine's clothes tore and a gold Cross appeared on his chest. This infuriated the Muslims present even more. They fell upon him and beat him. They then enclosed his feet in stocks and bound him with chains. At night he was suspended from the ceiling.

The aga finally realized that Constantine could not be forced or persuaded to deny his Orthodox Christian faith. He decided to send him to Constantinople, to the Admiral of the Fleet, who questioned Constantine when he arrived. But Constantine remained steadfast and was sentenced by the Admiral to be incarcerated in a bath house. There he was visited by a spiritual father who said to him, "To witness is a good thing, Constantine, but think well on how painful the tortures of the infidel Muslims are. Perhaps you will weaken later. If you wish we can see to your release."

Constantine, however, replied, "Holy Father, look at me." He then pushed aside his tunic and revealed his secret parts and thighs. From the many tortures he had undergone, there were huge lacerations on both sides of his legs, both in front of his body and behind, which must have caused him unimaginable pain. Seeing this, the spiritual father reverenced Constantine who said to him, "See that no one dares give any money to free me because in a few days my struggles end as the Theotokos has revealed to me. But please give His All Holiness, Lord Gregory (the Patriarch) my greetings - he knows who I am - and ask him to pray for me."

The next morning Constantine was interrogated again, but remained faithful to Jesus Christ and was beaten once more. At the third questioning, the approach was different. Constantine was offered a high position and riches, but to this he said, "Aga, if you too were to come to recognize the interest of your soul, you would be an Orthodox Christian."

In response, the aga hit Constantine on the chin, ordered him out of the room, and immediately sentenced him to death. His ordeal had lasted forty long days.

After he was hanged, Constantine was buried in a Muslim graveyard because he had been circumcised, but more importantly, the Muslims did it so that he would be inaccessible to Orthodox Christians who would wish to recover his body and honor him.

Thus Constantine the Hagarene from Psilometopon, Mytilene sacrified his life in the city of Constantinople for the love of Jesus Christ on June 2, in the year 1819.

From Witnesses For Christ: Orthodox Christian Neomartyrs of the Ottoman Period 1437-1860, by Nomikos Michael Vaporis, pp. 224-228.

(A manuscript of a Service dedicated to St. Constantine is in the Hut of Saint John the Theologian in Kavsokalyva and in the Monastery of Saint Panteleimon in Mount Athos.)

Apolytikion in the Fourth Tone
A light-bearer has risen in the Church of Christ, the memory of your contests has filled her with light, seal of the Martyrs, glorious Constantine; release from deceit the offspring of Hagar, and richly illumine the souls of the faithful, those who celebrate your memory, ever-blessed one.