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July 6, 2015

Holy New Martyr Cyril from Thessaloniki (+ 1566) and the Discovery of His Relics in 1972

St. Cyril the Venerable Martyr of Thessaloniki (Feast Day - July 6)

During the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566), an Orthodox Christian from Pelagonia in Asia Minor named Peios moved to Thessaloniki, where he later married a young lady Paraskevi. Both were pious Christians with deep faith. They were soon blessed with a son whom they named Kyriakos in 1544.

At the age of ten, both of Kyriakos' parents died. He was forced to lived with his mother's brothers who were of different faiths: one was an Orthodox Christian while the other was a Muslim. The Muslim uncle handed Kyriakos over to another Muslim craftsman to learn the trade of tanning animal hides.

Meanwhile, the other uncle of Kyriakos, who was a devout Orthodox Christian, convinced him to abandon the trade of tanner and follow certain Athonite monks who were in Thessaloniki at the time. So at the age of fourteen Kyriakos went to the Holy Mountain and was tonsured a monk at Hilandari Monastery, receiving the name Cyril (Kyrillos).

However, because Cyril was young in age, it was forbidden for him to live in the Monastery, so he went to live in a metochion (dependency) of the Monastery, where he lived in asceticism for eight years. At the age of twenty-two he traveled with two other monks from Hilandari Monastery to Thessaloniki, where he met his Christian uncle. Going from the Acropolis area of Thessaloniki to the port with his cousin - the son of his Christian uncle - he came upon his Muslim master under whom he learned his trade as tanner. This Muslim called upon other Muslims to arrest Monk Cyril, accusing him of having renounced Islam for Christianity.

Monk Cyril was led to the judge named Ali. The judge invited Cyril to abandon his "futile religion" and return to "sacred" Islam. Cyril refused. Consequently Cyril was sentenced to death by fire. Hence he was brought to the place of execution which was at the hippodrome of the city near the old Church of Saints Constantine and Helen. Prior to his death, Cyril prayed saying: "I thank you loving Lord that the fire will soon consume me and will send me to You."

Cyril was then approached by the Turkish vali, who made one last attempt to convince him to return to Islam. He said to Cyril:

You poor devil, you ought to have accepted the proposal of the judge and accepted his offer, for as he promised, you were deemed worthy of great gifts. You will find, to be sure, both our God and our prophet, beloved of God, merciful. Since you are not convinced, perhaps you might listen and utter your answers more outrageously. For it is certain that you must deny Christ and be persuaded by the proposal of the judge. Here there are horses, fine clothing, and plenty of gifts for you which no one can share. If you don't rebel or disagree, if you don't make trouble, you will be in possession of all these things and you will love them. And if you are in need of money, you will receive this as well, for we have a lot, more than anyone can say. Again, if you lack women, you will be fortunate in this. Why then are you not convinced? Why do you delay to give your consent? Aren't these enough for you? How much would make you happy? Say it! If we know, we will fulfill your needs.

To this, Cyril responded:

I need nothing, vali, neither treasures nor glory, nor clothing that is perishable, nor noble horses. All this is dust. All this is dung. I think of all this as smoke. You on the other hand, the sons of perdition, the followers of the wicked servant, seek these things.

To me Christ is the treasure. For me Christ is riches. Christ is my life. Christ is my love. Christ is my God. For me Christ is all things in all. Nothing can separate me from His love; neither fire, nor sword, nor famine, nor the world, nor riches, nor the present things, nor the future, nor any other creation. I will fight for my faith until my last breath.

Now that you have heard from my mouth these things, vali, do as you think: cut, slaughter, burn, sacrifice in fire, dismember me, punish me mercilessly, stab me unceasingly, torture me harshly, condemn without sparing anything. But in no way will you make me deny the true faith of the Christians.

After hearing this, the vali ordered Cyril thrown in the fire. And in this way he was sacrificed for the love of Jesus Christ on July 6, 1566.

The sole source of the account of this Martyrdom and the Service composed in honor of Saint Cyril is preserved in Manuscript 347 of Dionysiou Monastery in the Holy Mountain. It is written in scholarly words and is by an anonymous author, dated between the end of the seventeenth century and the early eighteenth century.

The testimony of this Martyrdom was confirmed by the discovery of a clay casket in 1972, which contained bone fragments and fabric mixed with ash, at the foundation of the old Church of Saints Constantine and Helen in Hippodrome Square, after it was demolished to make way for the building of a new church on that spot. The combination of this important discovery together with the sole source of the account of the Martyrdom of Saint Cyril, converges significantly with its identification of the same Saint Cyril.

Apolytikion in the Third Tone
The divine offspring of Thessaloniki, you are perceived to be, Cyril Venerable Martyr, your struggle was completed through fire, and by the finding of your divine relics, you sanctify those who with longing honor you. Therefore intercede, blessed one, to Christ God, to grant us great mercy.

Original Holy Altar of the Church of Saints Constantine and Helen, where St. Cyril was martyred.

The new Church of Saints Constantine and Helen in Hippodrome Square