July 24, 2018

Saint Theophilos the New Martyr of Chios as a Model for our Lives

By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The Neomartyr Theophilos lived in the seventeenth century. He was a sailor from Zakynthos who traveled on a Greek ship. Once, when he arrived in Chios, which was the homeland of his captain, he met a Turk, who suggested that he work on his ship.

Theophilos refused, and then he was accused of wearing on his head the fez of a Turk. The Turkish judge, to whom he was brought, decided that the accused should become a Muslim. Theophilos boldly confessed his faith in the true God, and for this the enraged Turks forced him to be circumcised, then they decided to send him as a gift to the Sultan, because he was young and handsome. Theophilos managed to escape them and went to Samos. Later, he returned to Chios searching for his captain, and the Turks, who recognized him, arrested him. They had him endure horrible torture, but he remained steadfast in his faith, and for that he was burnt alive in the year 1635. Indeed, when he realized that he would he would burn, he went of his own accord into the fire, after he had made the sign of the cross and said: "My Christ, into Your hands I deliver my soul."

The Christians, since they gave silver to the Turks, were able to obtain the relics of the martyr, which were fragrant and miraculous, and they interred them with honors in the Church of the Great Martyr George.

His life and conduct gives us the opportunity to emphasize the following:

First, sailors, who travel the seas and oceans, often encounter storms, especially in the winter time, which is why they are always prepared. And those of them who are faithful and pray, they experience the presence of God, the Theotokos and the Saints, whom they call upon, and they clearly see the "works of the Lord and the wonders of God in the deep," as the Prophet David says in his 106th Psalm, where it also says:

"Some went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters. They saw the works of the Lord, his wonderful deeds in the deep. For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. They reeled and staggered like drunkards; they were at their wits’ end."

In other words, during a great storm they understand that their wisdom is worthless, as well as their material wealth, because those cannot help them. That which has value at the time is faith, namely unyielding trust in the Providence and love of the true God, the living God of the Church. Those who have this faith do not lose hope, but they cry out to the God of the deep, Who will not forsake them, but will save them and guide them to the harbor of His will. The Psalmist concludes: "Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven."

Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, in his explanation of the above Psalm, says among other things, that this Psalm foretold the storm at sea which tested the Disciples of Christ, who were sailors and fishermen, and who felt terror and agitation. But afterwards they resorted to Christ, who calmed the winds and stopped the storm, which made them calm down and rejoice. The way in which the Apostles faced this difficult situation is an example worthy of imitation.

The above incident is described in the eighth chapter of Matthew the Evangelist. There it is written that Christ entered a boat with His Disciples. Suddenly a storm broke out in the lake, which made the boat go up and down causing it to be covered by the waves; meanwhile Christ was sleeping. Then His Disciples approached Him trembling, and they woke Him up saying: "Lord, save us, we are lost!" Then Christ stood up, commanded the winds and the sea, and there was great calm. His Disciples with awe and admiration said: "What man is this, where the winds and the sea obey Him?"

The harbor in which God guides those who take refuge in Him, according to Nikodemos the Hagiorite, is His commandments, "which keep those above every storm who walk in accordance with them."

Second, storms are not only the privilege of those who travel the seas, but they are also faced by those who work on land, under a different form of course, but with the same or greater intensity. In general, the present life is like a sea in which the boat of our life is shaken, sometimes in a violent way, and the waves of despair and hopelessness overwhelm us and are ready to drown us. But, as Saint John Chrysostom says, if we have learned to resort to Christ and to place all our hopes in Him, then Christ will support us, comfort us and protect us. And he stresses that we should not lose hope for the reason that things change, for the storms are succeeded by peace and sorrows by joys.

Saint Basil the Great stresses the same thing, who says that the present life is like a sea, which many times is beset by storms, and for people to not be shaken to the depths of despair and hopelessness, they must be humble, because a humble person resorts to Christ and accepts His protection. On the contrary, those who are proud, he points out, will not escape hopelessness and "they will collapse into dark despair," because human powers are limited, and due to their pride they do not believe or pray.

Those who have learned to direct the vessel of their life to the "harbor of the will of God,", they, even in the most difficult moments of their life, will remain calm. Though full of pain, they will rejoice and be glad spiritually.

Source: Ekklesiastika Paremvasi, Νεομάρτυς Θεόφιλος ὁ ἐν Χίῳ μαρτυρήσας, June 2018. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.