November 18, 2015

Holy New Martyr Anastasios of Paramythia in Epirus (+ 1750) and Saint Daniel the Former Muslim

St. Anastasios of Paramythia (Feast Day - November 18)

Anastasios and his sister Maria were Greek peasants living in Paramythia, Epirus under Ottoman rule, who were orphaned from a young age. One day two Albanian Muslim soldiers of the local judge Ahmed Pasha, one of which was his son named Musa, came through their village as they were out with others gathering crops. Musa was struck by the beauty of Maria and tried to seize her in his lust, but Anastasios and his friends threw himself at the Albanians and fought them off long enough for his sister to escape. In revenge for this, Anastasios and his friends were arrested and brought before the judge who, impressed by his courage, attempted to convert him to Islam by many means: threats, beatings, and offers of worldly honor; but Anastasios held firm in his Orthodox Christian faith and was cast into prison. Meanwhile his friends were beaten and made to pay a heavy fine and released.

When Anastasios was again brought before the judge, more flatteries, offers and threats were made for him to convert to Islam, but Anastasios continued to remain firm in his faith, expressing his preference to die an Orthodox Christian rather than become a Muslim. The Albanian-Turkish soldiers also slandered him by saying he expressed a desire to become a Muslim, but was now denying his promise. Anastasios firmly denied such an absurd accusation, and went further to express his desire to die ten thousand deaths rather than to convert to Islam. For this Anastasios was again cast into jail, and after being beaten they placed his legs in the infamous leg stocks, which caused indescribable pain.

At the advice of a friend, the judge decided to make an offer to Anastasios he thought he could not refuse, so the next day Anastasios stood before the judge, who was now gentler in his approach, and promised him gifts and riches if he converted to Islam, and even offered to make him a son and give him one of his daughter to marry. Anastasios however would have none of this, but said: "I have good things in heaven that are not like yours, but incomparably better, more valuable and eternal. In no way will I accept yours which are corruptible and vain only to lose those which are eternal. Therefore in no way, God forbid, will I deny my faith." With this, he was once again sent to prison.

A witness of the courage of Anastasios was a man named Musa, the son of Mehmed Pasha, who was astonished how these Orthodox Christians shunned earthly goods and pleasures and accepted intead torture and death. So he visited Anastasios in prison to inquire about this. When he arrived at his cell, Musa beheld Anastasios with two figures standing next to him. He therefore asked Anastasios who they were, and Anastasios responded: "All Orthodox Christians always have a guardian angel from God. One was sent to visit me because of the martyrdom I am undergoing. These angels protect us here in this world as long as we are alive. After we die, they receive our souls in Paradise."

Musa asked: "Don't we Muslims have such a guardian?"

Anastasios replied: "You Muslims and all other nations have only one angel for each nation, who because of God's mercy prevents you from doing wrong."

Musa then asked why he did not accept all the wonderful gifts his father offered him. To this Anastasios replied as he did before, speaking of the eternal heavenly gifts in comparison to those that are transient. He continued to tell him about Jesus Christ and the faith of Orthodox Christians, while he criticized Muhammad and the deception of all those who follow his teachings. All this convinced Musa of the truth of Orthodox Christianity, and he fell on his knees and expressed a desire to become an Orthodox Christian. Anastasios advised however to secretly hold his faith, for if he converted and his father found out, many Orthodox Christians would die, but if he is found worthy, God would find a way to fulfill his desire.

After a few days, the judge vainly tried to persuade Anastasios to deny his faith and accept Islam one more time. After Anastasios refused, he was sentenced to be beheaded. He was taken by executioners to a monastery nearby, and beheaded on November 18, 1750. For three days his body remained unburied and at night a bright light shined on his body, which the judge ordered not to be touched. On the third night the judge saw Anastasios in a dream, which must have frightened him, since it caused him to immediately relent and allow the monks of the monastery to bury the body.

Meanwhile, Musa's life had changed dramatically and he prayed for the opportunity to be baptized. Instead of spending his time in life's pleasures, he devoted his life to prayer. This new conduct and attitude disturbed his father. So one day an invitation came from the sister of Ahmed Pasha three days journey away to invite him to attend the marriage of her son. Ahmed secretly accepted the invitation, but in his son Musa's name, hoping the wedding festivities would turn him around. Thus, accompanied by a number of servants, Musa did his duty and set off to attend the wedding.

On his way to the wedding, Musa deliberately took the route that would take him near the monastery where Anastasios was buried. When he arrived there, he pretended to be ill and wished to spend the night at the monastery before continuing his journey. The monks of the monastery received them and gave them generous hospitality.

That night, while everyone was sleeping, Musa quietly went to the abbot and asked him to open the church so he might enter. Thinking perhaps Musa was up to no good, the abbot was a bit frightened, but Musa reassured him that he had nothing to fear. The abbot escorted Musa to the church, and arriving at the tomb of Anastasios he did his cross and knelt before it, to the astonishment of the abbot. He remained there for some time praying, asking Anastasios to fulfill his promise to have him baptized. Anastasios appeared to him in a vision, saying that he will help him. Musa therefore got up, and turning to the abbot he asked to be baptized. Fearing the wrath of Musa's father, the abbot said to him: "God will provide the way as He wills."

The next day Musa went to the wedding, but hardly participated in the festivities. From there he left and went to the city of Patras, where he took a ship to Venice carrying with him introductory letters to the Orthodox Christian merchants of the city together with an icon of the Theotokos. He did this in order to be baptized without fear of reprisal by the Turks.

In Venice Musa was received by a pious Orthodox merchant who hailed from Ioannina. This merchant became Musa's godparent when he was baptized in the Church of Saint George, at which time he took the name Demetrios. He then spent time in Venice, where he learned Greek and the Orthodox faith.

Later certain Orthodox Christians decided to go to Kerkyra (Corfu) on a pilgrimage to the tomb of Saint Spyridon, and they were joined by Demetrios. There Demetrios met Abbot Chrysanthos who furthered his education in Christ. After becoming a novice, Demetrios was tonsured a monk and took the name Daniel.

Having spent some time in the monastery, a desire grew within him to imitate Anastasios and become a martyr. So he left Kerkyra and went to the Peloponnese, where he decided to give his life for Christ. However, when he arrived there and expressed his desire to the Christians of that area, they dissuaded him from doing so, fearing the repercussions they would face. He thus took sail to Constantinople where he visited Patriarch Sophronios of Jerusalem, who advised him rather to fast and pray fervently with tears to enable him to be illumined to do his work. Thus he dissuaded him from martyrdom, knowing that the conversion of such a prominent Albanian-Turk would, if it were known, lead to retaliation against Christians. Saint Daniel returned to Kerkyra, where he founded a church in honor of Saint Anastasios and reposed in peace as an Orthodox monk.

Church of Saint Anastasios in Paramythia

You put to shame the errors of the impious, bravely shedding your blood on behalf of Christ God through the pains of your contest. Wherefore having received an incorruptible crown, intercede to the Lord, Anastasios, Martyr, to rescue us from various circumstances.

You martyrically contested, and were made worthy of the glory of the Martyrs, in these latter days, Anastasios, who were godly-minded in the blossom of your youth, bravely enduring beheading. Therefore you partake in eternal glory, entreating Christ on behalf of our souls.

As the delightful offspring of Paramythia, and all of Epirus, and its wise new boast, we celebrate your holy memory, joyfully honoring you, Anastasios.