October 10, 2015

Saint Dionysios the Philosopher (+ 1611)

St. Dionysios the Philosopher (Feast Day - October 10)

Dionysios was born in 1541 in Paramythia, Thesprotia. He was of Greek descent, from Macedonia (specifically the Avdella, Grevena regional unit) with Epirotian parentage. At a very young age, Dionysios became a monk at the Monastery of Saint Demetrios in Dichouni, which at that time had 18 dependencies and much property.

At age 15, he went to Venice and Padua where he studied medicine, philosophy and philology. In 1582 he went to live in Constantinople, where he continued his studies in logic, astronomy, grammar and poetry until he was 39 years old. Because of his vast education and his knowledge of seven languages, Dionysios came to be known as "the Philosopher". In 1592 he was elected by the Ecumenical Patriarchate to be Metropolitan of Larissa and Trikke (today's Trikala).

In Trikke he saw the awful conditions of the Greeks and how they were being forced to convert to Islam or live miserably under the burden of heavy taxes and unfair treatment. Dionysios thus led two farmer revolts against the Turks. The first revolt occurred in 1600 in the region of Agrafa, which was ultimately successful. He was demoted by the Ecumenical Patriarchate from the rank of Metropolitan of Larissa for his public speeches inciting rebellion and for his related fundraising activities. This was due to the fact that if the Ecumenical Patriarchate supported him, then there would have been greater repercussions for the Christian population. He subsequently left for Venice and Spain where he raised enough funds to pay for a peasant army, and was encouraged by the Duke of Nevers to revolt, since he was recognized by many hierarchs as having hereditary rights to the throne of Andronikos Palaiologos. In Venich he was also able to purchase used weapons for the revolt.

After returning to Greece, he made his headquarters in the Monastery of Saint Demetrios in Dichouni of Thesprotia. As a monk, he toured the surrounding villages, raising an army of about 800 men from 70 villages. Armed with simple weapons, his army succeeded in several surprise attacks against small Turkish garrisons of the area. Encouraged by these successes, he led his army into Ioannina on 11 September 1611. The Turkish inhabitants of the city were so surprised by the sight of the armed men and the fires that they turned against each other in confusion, unaware of the purpose of the fighting. This second revolt by Dionysios in 1611 in Ioannina ended in failure as the Turkish garrison under Aslan Pasha eventually prevailed.

Dionysios hid in a cave by the lake of Ioannina but was captured after being betrayed by the Jews. When he was presented to Osman Pasha his famous words were: "I fought in order to free the people from your tortures and your tyranny." Dionysios was tortured and perished upon being flayed alive by the Turks in September 1611 at the age of 70. His skin was filled with hay and was paraded around the city, rebuked as the "skylosophos" - rather than "philosophos" (skylos means "dog"). The term was possibly coined by one of his main opponents, Maximos the Peloponnesian, another monk. Eventually his skin filled with hay was paraded throughout various cities as an example and warning to the Christian population, even bringing it to Constantinople to present it to the Sultan, who stood up from his throne and shuddered at the sight.

Wax figure created by Paul Vrellis

The Greco-Roman population was removed from those houses inside the castle of Ioannina and lost their privileges. The old church of Saint John the Baptist, guardian of the city, dating to the period of Justinian, was destroyed and its monks were killed. In its place was erected the Aslan Pasha Mosque in 1618, to commemorate the success of Aslan Pasha in quelling the rebellion.

Although he was withdrawn by the Ecumenical Patriarchate as Metropolitan of Larisa, Dionysios is revered as a saint by many Greeks, especially in Epirus. He is honored by them on October 10th, although he is not officially commemorated as a saint by the Church.

The Cave of St. Dionysios the Philosopher where he was martyred.

Fr. George Metallinos writes that throughout the period of the Turkish occupation, there were 70 revolts against the Turks, and every one of them was led by a clergyman, which is why the cassock of the clergy is considered by Greeks a flag of liberation and human honor, and revolution when these basic human principles are violated. The blood of Dionysios the Philosopher is thus the seed that helped plant the tree of liberation for the Greek Orthodox faithful.