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September 15, 2017

Holy New Martyr John of Sphakia in Crete (+ 1811)

St. John the Neomartyr of Crete (Feast Day - September 15)

Saint John was from Sphakia in Crete. At a young age he went to New Ephesus (Kusadasi) in Asia Minor in order to work as a farmer. There he became engaged to a pious young woman. He also was pious and loved God and the Church very much, frequently attending the divine services.

On August 29 in the year 1811, the feast of the Beheading of the Honorable Forerunner John, he attended a festival to commemorate the feast outside of New Ephesus. There he met up with two friends who also were from Sphakia. While the young men were having a good time at the festival, certain men of the aga approached the two friends of John and told them to pay the head tax. They refused. The aga's men then took one of the guns that belonged to the Cretans, but he succeeded in taking back the gun from the Turk. During the scuffle that followed, one of the aga's men was killed, while the others suffered stab wounds. John, however, was not involved in this incident. This is why on the next day he went to his farm unconcerned, while the others ran away and hid themselves.

The brother of the dead Turk sought revenge for the death of his brother, so he went to find John to forcefully apprehend him for the murder. John was literally dragged off to prison, severely beaten, and thrown into a cell where he was prohibited from receiving any visitors.

John was kept in prison for sixteen days, because the dead Turks brother wanted to convert him to Islam instead of just outright hanging him. He boasted that he could "convince" him to embrace Islam in order to save his life. The judge agreed with this plan. But when John was approached with the offer to convert or die, he responded: "I was born a Christian, and a Christian I wish to die. I will neither change my name nor my faith." With this the face of John was radiant and he remained firm in his love for Christ.

Now John was a handsome young man, which attracted the interest of the daughter of the Turkish judge, and she sought to entice him to embrace Islam and save his life, and in turn they could also be together. John however saw this as a trap of the devil, and resisted her enticements.

Seeing that John remained steadfast in his Orthodox Christian faith, he was dragged off to be executed. Along the way, John kept repeating: "Most Holy Theotokos, help me," and he asked all the Christians he met along the way to forgive him. When he arrived at the place of execution, he appeared calm and peaceful and prayerful. Then the executioners tied a rope around his neck and hanged him. In this way he delivered his blessed soul into the hands of God, and received from Him the crown of martyrdom. This took place on September 15, 1811 in New Ephesus.

The night of the execution, witnesses beheld a bright light engulfing the body of the Saint as it remained hanging. After three days Christians were allowed to take his sacred relic, and they buried him with honors and reverence in the courtyard of the Church of Saint George in New Ephesus.