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August 16, 2018

Saint Constantine Brancoveanu, Prince of Wallachia (+ 1714)

St. Constantine Brancoveanu and Those With Him (Feast Day - August 16)

Holy Prince Constantine Brancoveanu, the son of Prince Matthew Basarab, was born in 1654. When his parents died, he was raised and educated by his uncle, Constantine Cantacuzino. When another uncle, Prince Serban Cantacuzino died on on October 19, 1688, Constantine was chosen to succeed him as Prince of the Romanian Land (Wallachia). Constantine and his wife Marica had seven daughters and four sons.

Saint Constantine was a wise and just ruler who was guided by Christian principles, and worked for the benefit of his people. He also built and restored many churches and monasteries. His philanthropy extended even into Transylvania and Moldavia, which were ruled by others. Under his reign, many Romanian, Greek, Bulgarian, Arabic, Turkish, and Georgian texts were printed after a printing press was established in Bucharest - an institution overseen by Anthim the Iberian. In 1694, he founded the Royal Academy of Bucharest.

The prince took steps in negotiating anti-Ottoman alliances first with the Habsburg Monarchy, and then with Peter the Great's Russia: upon the 1710 Russian intervention in Moldavia, the prince contacted Tsar Peter and accepted gifts from the latter, while his rivalry with the Moldavian Prince Dimitrie Cantemir (the main regional ally of the Russians) prevented a more decisive political move. Instead, Constantine Brancoveanu gathered Wallachian troops in Urlați, near the Moldavian border, awaiting for Russian troops to storm into his country and offer his services to the tsar, while also readying to join the Ottoman counter-offensive in the event of a change in fortunes. When several of his boyars fled to the Russian camp, the prince saw himself forced to decide in favor of the Ottomans or risk becoming an enemy of his Ottoman suzerain, and swiftly returned the gifts he had received from the Russians.

Such policies were eventually denounced to the Porte. The prince was deposed from his throne by Sultan Ahmed III, and brought under arrest to Constantinople, where he was imprisoned in 1714 at the fortress of Yedikule (the Seven Towers). There he was tortured by the Ottomans, who hoped to locate the immense fortune he had supposedly amassed.

On 15 August 1714, the Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos, when Constantine Brancoveanu was also celebrating his 60th birthday, he and his four sons and his advisor Ianache Vacarescu were brought before Sultan Ahmed III. Diplomatic representatives of Austria, Russia, France and England were also present. After all of his fortune had been seized, in exchange for the life of his family he was asked to renounce the Orthodox Christian faith. He reportedly said: ″Behold, all my fortunes and all I had, I have lost! Let us not lose our souls. Be brave and manly, my beloved! Ignore death. Look at how much Christ, our Savior, has endured for us and with what shameful death he died. Firmly believe in this and do not be shaken, nor leave your faith for this life and this world.″ After this, his four sons, Constantine, Ștefan, Radu and Matei and advisor Ianache were beheaded in front of their father.

History also records that the smallest child, Matei (12 years old), was so frightened after seeing the bloodbath and the heads of his three brothers that he started crying and asking his father to let him renounce Christianity and convert to Islam as the Sultan Ahmed III had demanded. At that moment, Constantine Brancoveanu said: "Of our kind none have lost their faith. It is better to die a thousand times than to leave your ancient faith just to live few more years on earth." Matei listened and offered his head.

According to his secretary, Anton Maria Del Chiaro, their heads were then carried on poles through the streets of Constantinople, an episode which caused great unrest in the city. Fearing a rebellion, including from that of the Muslim population which was outraged by the injustice done to the Prince, his sons and his advisor, the Sultan ordered for the bodies to be thrown into the Bosporus. Christian fishermen took the bodies from the water, and buried them at Halki in the Monastery of the Theotokos.

Saint Constantine’s wife Marica brought his holy relics back to Bucharest and placed them in the Church of Saint George the New, which he had founded. In June 1992, the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church decreed the Glorification of Constantine Brancoveanu, his sons Constantine, Radu, Ştefan and Matei, and vornic Ianache Vacarescu. On March 7, 2018, the decision of the Holy Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church added these saints to the calendar of the Russian Orthodox Church.