September 8, 2018

Saint Sophronios, Bishop of Akhtala in Iberia (+ 1803)

St. Sophronios of Akhtala (Feast Day - September 8)

Saint Sophronios was born to pious and virtuous parents in the year 1738 in the village of Lotsion of Chaldia in Pontus. His father was a priest named George Sertarides, and his mother was Barbara. He had four sisters and five brothers, one of whom, Demetrios, was also a priest. Sophronios himself was baptized with the name Symeon.

From a young age he loved divine things, especially monasticism. Therefore at a young age he went to the Monastery of Saint George in Choutoura where he became a novice. Three months later he went to the Monastery of Soumela, and three years later went to the Monastery of Vazelon, where he submitted himself to Elder Meletios. There he was educated, progressed in virtue, tonsured with the name Sophronios and was ordained a priest.

After seven years, in 1776, the abbot of the monastery, Ignatios, sent him to the mine of Akhtala in Iberia (now in Armenia), where around 500 miners settled in a village called Dal-ver, which means "precious stones". He was revered so much, that at their own initiative he was made their bishop on 29 October 1777, having the seat of his diocese at the Monastery of the Most Holy Theotokos there (probably Akhtala Monastery, whose main church was dedicated to the Mother of God).

He served as Bishop of Akhtala until 1794, when a barbaric tribe attacked the mine, pillaged and destroyed it. Sophronios was captured and sold to a Roman Catholic woman, who liberated him and sent him by sailboat to Trebizond. From there Sophronios returned to Vazelon Monastery, where he lived as one who was equal to the angels, beloved by the brethren and all the people. However, due to the envy of the abbot Jeremiah and the scandals he caused, he departed for his own homeland.

It is said that while he was on his way, the fathers found out why he left, and sent messengers begging him to return, but he feared the scandals initiated by Jeremiah would be repeated, so the messengers returned empty. For three years after this, Jeremiah suffered from a disease, resulting in cerebral paralysis, and he died in 1805. A decade letter his coffin was opened by the fathers, to transfer his bones to the ossuary of the monastery, and to their astonishment his body was incorrupt and whole. The fathers, realizing by this that he was in need of forgiveness for his sin against Sophronios, who had already reposed, brought the matter to the Ecumenical Patriarchate, who issued a letter of forgiveness to be read over his grave by Metropolitan Parthenios of Trebizond. When the letter was read, the body began to dissolve, allowing for his bones to be transferred to the ossuary.

Sophronios reposed in peace in his homeland in 1803. The translation of his relics, which were entirely fragrant, took place in 1824, when they were brought to Vazelon Monastery. The reason for the translation was as follows. The presvytera of his nephew, the priest Haralambos, suffered from a sickness for many years, and she saw in a dream a man wearing bright white garments, who told her to take the relics of Sophronios and invite three priests for a Sanctification of the Waters ceremony, by which she would be healed. She informed her husband of this vision, who had the relics of Sophronios uncovered that year on December 20th, and after the Sanctification Service his wife was made completely well. The sacred and entirely fragrant relics were shown by Father Haralambos to Metropolitan Silvester of Chaldia, who reproached him for uncovering the relics without his permission, and ordered for their immediate reburial, which happened. On the night of September 8th, however, which was the day of the repose of Saint Sophronios, a brilliant and wondrous light appeared over his grave, which was witness by many, and those who went to the grave were made well if they were sick. Metropolitan Silvester also, who was sick since January 11, was restored to health by the Saint, and proclaimed the relics of the Saint sacred, and ordered for the celebration of Saint Sophronios on September 8th annually (but due to the Nativity of the Theotokos celebrated that day, he was celebrated on September 7).

When the fathers of Vazelon Monastery heard of this, they asked the Metropolitan and the relatives of the Saint if they could translate the relics of the Saint to their monastery, since he was part of the brotherhood. Much discussion then took place, and Metropolitan Silvester received an order from the Ecumenical Patriarchate to have the relics transferred to Constantinople, but the relatives, being afraid of this, brought the head and right hand of the Saint to the monastery, and they kept the rest. The monastery kept the relics until 1922, when the population exchange took place, and then they were brought to the Ecumenical Patriarchate where they were kept in the Cathedral of Saint George.