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August 20, 2017

Discovery of the Relics of Saint Photini in Constantinople

Saint Photini Outside the Doors of Blachernae (Feast Day - August 20)


Now you see light in the innermost sanctuary of the Lord,
Departed Martyr graced with His love.

According to the Synaxarion of Constantinople, on August 20th is the "Commemoration of the Holy Martyr Photini, Outside the Doors of Blachernae." And besides the iambic verses above, no other information is given. However, in an 11th or 12th century life of Saint Photini, where her post-humous miracles are recorded, there is recounted the story of how the relics of Saint Photini were discovered and worked many miracles in Constantinople, specifically outside of the Church of Blachernae, and a shrine was erected there in her honor, and on this day it celebrated its feast. Thus, by the 10th century, her veneration was centered in Constantinople where they celebrated both her martyrdom (March 20th) and the discovery of her relics (August 20th).

According to the story of the discovery, an epidemic of blindness had swept through the city of Constantinople and a man called Abraham (Abraamios) was distraught having lost his sight. He cried out to "God not to neglect him who was in mortal danger, but to show him the path whereby he should not be deprived of the light that is sweetest to all men. As he was thus despondent and lamenting his condition, he found respite from his despair in sleep, and while he was asleep he saw a divine vision: the vision was of a woman who was already elderly and aged and quite advanced in years, wearing a garment of linen, with a pleasant and charming face. She seemed to carry a large candle, and touched his eyes and said in a cheerful voice: 'Blind man, recover your sight, and those who are in darkness, receive the light; for behold, through me, the perfume-bearing martyr Photini, Christ will grant light to your darkened eyes and will bring an end to your affliction and relieve your suffering. And this is a sign for you. A thickly wooded and dark cave holds my remains in its depths, and if you dig you will find me and light will shine on you and all your household and everyone who calls on my name through Jesus Christ.' As she spoke these words, she indicated the place with her hand, and he made a mental note of it. Therefore he quickly shook off his drowsiness, and ran to the spot, after sharing word of his vision with others. And after laboring hard for a short time they found concealed beneath an underground chamber the inviolate treasure, the true pearl, the blooming lily, the venerable remains of the great martyr Photini, which dimly preserved the features in the man's vision. Straightaway then the afflicted man embraced, clasped and kissed the relics, washed them with his tears, lifted his eyes up to them, and was immediately delivered entirely from his dim sight."

It should also be noted that in the Life of Saint Nikon Metanoeite, having decided to depart from the island of Crete where he had built many churches, he traveled from Gortyna and along the way stopped one night to rest at the remains of an older and now ruined church. As he slept he had a dream that Saint Photini appeared to him, asked him to rebuild the ruined church, and threatened that he would not leave the island if he did not do so. Saint Nikon awoke and could not tell whether the vision of Saint Photini was a "dream or a vision enlightened by grace." He ultimately decided that it was the former and continued on his way. But then, suddenly, he lost his sight. This showed him that the vision was certainly divine will, and once he decided to return to the site of the ruined church his vision returned. Returning to the site and committed to following the request of Saint Photini, Saint Nikon lacked the tools for the work -- namely spades and shovels -- but God provided him with a column of fire which attracted the attention of the local residents who soon came to help him rebuild (and apparently excavate) the church.

The above two stories thus reveal to us that Saint Photini is a Saint associated with healing eye ailments. Moreover, both stories involved pious men losing their sight and regaining it only after the recovery of a lost sacred object or place. It is also worth noting that another Cretan saint, Saint John the Stranger, lost his sight briefly while resting in a very large, old building on Crete. In this case, he is told by the Virgin Mary to build a church to her nearby, and when he agrees his sight is restored. Why this association between blindness and disobedience? It is because it reveals that for a moment they were blind spiritually to the will of God. It has some parallels to the blindness of the Apostle Paul following his vision on the road to Damascus.

Foot of St. Photini at Iveron Monastery

Thus, for a time in Constantinople, the relics of Saint Photini inhabited two shrines dedicated to her, and helped work many miracles for the faithful. Saint Photini is still greatly honored throughout the world as the Samaritan Woman who met Christ and followed Him and preached Him until death following His Resurrection, and who continues to work many miracles and healings. She is especially honored at her church built at the Well of Jacob (today the town of Nablus), and by her church in Nea Smyrni outside of Athens, built by the people of Smyrna after the Asia Minor Catastrophe. Finally, the Monastery of Iveron on Mount Athos treasures the holy and incorrupt foot of the Saint (which is supposedly the largest remaining portion of her relics), while Gregoriou Monastery has a portion of her skull, and many other churches and monasteries treasure her relics as well.