January 24, 2016

The Translation of the Relics of the Holy Martyr Anastasios the Persian


You are crowned Anastasios with the grace of your contest,
Granting us grace through your relics.

While Saint Anastasios was undergoing cruel tortures in Caesarea of Palestine at the orders of the Persian governor there, the Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Anastasios near Jerusalem and spiritual father of the Holy Martyr, Justin, learned of his desire to suffer for Christ, therefore he requested that the entire brotherhood entreat the Lord on his behalf, in order that he faithfully and courageously complete the path of martyrdom. He himself wrote a letter to Saint Anastasios, which he sent through two monks of the brotherhood, where he encouraged the Holy Martyr in his contest, and this made him more eager to fulfill his desire. One of these monks, by order of the Abbot, even followed the Saint when he was sent from Caesarea to Persia, in order to serve his needs and comfort his soul, which suffered due to his ill-treatment. Furthermore, by witnessing the sufferings and martyrdom of the Saint, he could provide eye-witness testimony to the events as they transpired, in order to inform the Abbot and the brotherhood. After the blessed Anastasios completed his great martyric contest by being strangled to death with seventy other Christians and beheaded, then the brother monk went with other God-loving Christians of the area in order to acquire back his sacred and venerable body. They then beheld an astonishing wonder, for while the other bodies were being eaten by dogs, the relic of the Holy Martyr they refused to approach, rather they reverently protected it. Wherefore the brother monk took the body and gave it the appropriate honors in the little time he had, and buried it in the nearby Monastery of the Holy Martyr Sergios. This took place in the tenth year of the reign of Heraclius, on the 22nd of January. The monk stayed in Persia for a short while, trying to figure out how to return to his Monastery in Jerusalem without falling into danger.

Ten days later the impious King Chosroes was murdered, and another king appeared who was accompanied by Roman soldiers, who was mild and tame, and opposed to Chosroeas in all things. When the monk saw the Roman soldiers in Persia, like a lamp in the midst of the darkness, he greatly rejoiced. Freed from all danger, he decided to make his way back to Jerusalem. When the Roman soldiers noticed that he was a Christian monk, he joyfully informed them of the martyrdom of Saint Anastasios. The Roman soldiers allowed him to dine with them and accompany them until he reached his Monastery. A year later they arrived in Jerusalem, after first going through Armenia, and he brought to his Monastery the monastic tunic of Saint Anastasios, which he wore at his martyrdom. Therefore the monk informed the entire brotherhood of the courageous struggle of the Martyr.

One day a demon possessed man came to the Monastery, and when he was dressed in the tunic of the Martyr, the demon immediately departed and he was freed. When Emperor Heraclius, in the twentieth year of his reign, brought to Constantinople the honorable wood of the True Cross, which he retrieved from the Persians during the reign of Chosroes, then a Bishop was sent from Patriarchate of Old Rome to Persia, and he brought to Caesarea of Palestine the relic of Saint Anastasios. Leaving behind a small portion there of the holy relic due to the insistence of the Christians of Caesarea, he took the honorable skull of the Martyr back to Rome, while Abbot Justin brought the body of the Saint to Jerusalem, and soon after it was brought to Constantinople whre a church was built in his honor and an icon painted of his image that worked wonders.

According to the narration about the Saint we read: "As the relics of the holy Monk Anastasios, who suffered martyrdom, were brought from Persia to Palestine, the entire populace went forth to meet him. A certain woman, named Areta, succumbed to doubt and said, 'I will not venerate the relics brought from Persia!' In a few days time, the Holy Martyr appeared to her in a dream and asked, 'Are you suffering from an illness in the hips?' She suddenly sensed that she was suffering from some ailment. Thereupon she was afflicted for a long time with this malady. When she had some temporary relief from the pain, she pondered on what caused her to suddenly fall ill. After four days of reflecting upon her sufferings, on the fifth day, at dawn, the Martyr Anastasios appeared to her and said, 'Go to Tetraphilos. Pray to Saint Anastasios, and you will be restored to health.' [Tetraphilos was in Constantinople, where a church was soon built to Saint Anastasios and possessed a holy icon of his with his sacred relics.] Areta went to the designated place and beheld the icon of the Martyr, before whom she exclaimed, 'This is truly the one whom I beheld in my dream!' She then lay back on her cot and wept contritely for a long time. When she rose up, she found she had been miraculously restored to perfect health."

It was this sacred icon that was soon brought to Rome, probably by monks, and repainted in a western style by the Latins, which rendition bears the following inscription: "An icon of the holy Anastasios, monk and martyr, the appearance of which drives out demons and bestows healings to the ailing, as the Acts of the Second Synod of Nicaea [Seventh Ecumenical Synod] bear witness." In the minutes of the Seventh Synod, held in 787, there is described therein, at the Fourth Session, among the proofs introduced into evidence to uphold the veneration of the icons, the above account of the healing of Areta. After this account was read in the Synod meeting, Pope Adrian I of Rome (772-795), Protopresbyter Peter of the Basilica of the Apostle Peter in Rome, and Abbot Peter of the Monastery of Saint Savvas the Sanctified in Rome declared that the very icon of the Saint, together with his honorable skull, was in one of their monasteries in Rome. Bishop John of Taormina added that he knew of a Sicilian woman, possessed by an unclean spirit, who walked to Rome in order to venerate the icon of Saint Anastasios. She too received miraculous healing from her affliction.

In Rome the sacred skull and icon of Saint Anastasios were brought to a monastery now known as Tre Fontane Abbey in Rome in Aquas Salvias, but in the mid-seventh century was a place where Greek monks fled for refuge from the Persian campaign. The honorable skull of Saint Anastasios later played a crucial role in Charlemagne's campaign against Muslims in southern Tuscany in 805. When Charlemagne besieged the Muslim-held town of Ansidonia, the night before both Charlemagne and Pope Leo III had the same dream of an angel telling them to bring the relics of Saint Anastasios from Rome. As the Pope carried the honorable head of the Saint around the besieged town, a sudden earthquake destroyed the city walls and the Muslims were defeated. In humble gratitude Charlemagne donated the town and its possessions to the Pope, who in turn gave it to the Monastery of Saint Anastasios in Aquas Salvias (this was the name of it at the time).

It is at this time where traditions diverge, as one tradition says that the skull was returned to Tre Fontane, where it remains today, while another tradition says the skull was brought to Aachen, Germany where it is preserved today in the Cathedral there in a beautiful Byzantine reliquery dating to the 11th century. A portion of the relic of Saint Anastasios also came to Venice after 1204 from Constantinople by Doge Enrico Dandolo and placed in the Church of the Holy Trinity, though they were later transferred to the Church of San Francesco della Vigna in Venice where they remain today. Other portions of the Saint's relics are in Esphigmenou Monastery in Mount Athos and Proussos Monastery in Euratania, as well as the Lavra of Saint Alexander Nevski in St. Petersburg.

The Skull of St. Anastasios in Tre Fontane

The Skull of St. Anastasios in the Cathedral of Aachen