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July 8, 2015

Holy New Martyr Anastasios the Gounaras of Agiou Vlasiou (+ 1743)

St. Anastasios the Gounaras (Feast Day - July 8)


Anastasios fashioned for himself a double crown,
His blood adorning the priesthood.

Anastasios was from the village of Agiou Vlasiou (Sin Vlasi in Albanian) near the city of Ioannina, Greece. From his name "Gounaras", it seems to indicate he was trained as a furrier, but at some point became a priest. One day while serving as a priest in the suburbs of Constantinople, he witnessed the martyrdom of Saint Constantine the Russian (May 21), and this ignited in his heart the desire for martyrdom, prompting him to daily pray to God to be made worthy to spill his blood for his faith in Christ.

At that time in Constantinople there was a certain hieromonk from Cyprus, and due to his sinful way of life he abandoned Orthodoxy at the age of seventy, after becoming blind, and accepted Islam. For this he was richly rewarded by the Turks, and he would make money while standing on the steps of the Yeni Cami mosque teaching his fellow Muslims about their myths and fables.

Fr. Anastasios happened to be passing by Yeni Cami one day and saw this former Orthodox priest teaching his fellow Muslims, and he felt sorrow in heart, wondering how he could allow himself to descend into such darkness from such a great height. As Fr. Anastasios stood there deep in thought, one of the listeners called out to him: "Hey priest, do you see that teacher? He too was once a priest but saw the light and became a Muslim. Come, become a Muslim too and gain Paradise."

In reply Fr. Anastasios said to him in Turkish: "O you who are blind and deceived, why are you listening? He is telling you all lies. You whose ancestors were Muslims, you are listening to this rotten old man to teach you your faith? He who was abandoned by God because of his wickedness and denied his faith in his old age? How does he know your faith? How pitiful your knowledge is, and you say you have faith?"

Having said these things, among other things, the Muslim bystanders became furious and took hold of him, bringing him before the judge, and then before the vizier who decided to exile him to the island of Chios. But on the way to his exile, just before they were to board the ship, Fr. Anastasios somehow tricked his escort to return him to the vizier.

Standing before the vizier once again, Fr. Anastasios said to him: "Most glorious master, why do you send me into exile? Because I told you the truth? On the contrary you should reward me and not exile me. But you don't want the truth and this is why you have the unscrupulous and the blind to teach you, but why should I go on?"

Fr. Anastasios proceeded to boldly teach about the Christian faith and testified that Jesus Christ is true God together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and he expounded on the significance of the incarnation of Jesus Christ. Such things left those present speechless.

Yeni Cami

Unable to listen to the rebuke of the truth, the vizier sent Anastasios to the mufti, who ordered that he be beheaded at the Yeni Cami. In this way the thrice-blessed Anastasios received the crown of martyrdom, which his holy soul longed for, on the 8th of July in 1743.

After his beheading, a heavenly light appeared over the Martyr's holy relics at night, which was noticed by the guards protecting his body, and left both Turks and Christians in awe over the spectacle. His body was given to Christians for burial, but unfortunately we have no information as to the location of his burial.