January 9, 2020

Saint Eustratios the Wonderworker in the 21st Century: Revelations and Discoveries

In 2002, 88 year old Eustratios Lazaros saw Saint Eustratios the Wonderworker in his dreams twice, even though at the time he didn't know of his existence, during which time the Saint asked Eustratios to build a church in his name, in a specific place on property that belonged to the Church that bordered with his own property, in the village of Lada of Taygetos in Messinia (perhaps because this place looked similar to Olympus in Bithynia, where the Saint lived in asceticism).

His son Vasilios was a builder, and he undertook the complete task to construct the church in 2003, with the help of only two employees. By the grace of the Saint they overcame all obstacles very quickly, and on 9 January 2004 the first Divine Liturgy was celebrated. This was the only church dedicated to the Saint in Greece at the time.

When all the work was done, there existed neither an Icon of the Saint nor a Divine Office to honor his memory with hymns of praise. In 2005, however, they found, quite by accident, after a persistent search, that the Saint lived for a time on the small Greek island known as Agios Efstratios, colloquially known as Ai Stratis, named after the Saint. The Saint was a hermit there when he fled persecution for venerating icons during Iconoclasm. In the northeastern part of the island, in the Alonitsi area, was his cave. Due to an earthquake in 1968, only one part of it survives and entry is very dangerous.

Islanders regard him as their protector, together with the Five Martyrs (Dec. 13), among whom was the Great Martyr Eustratios. To distinguish the two Saints who both had the same name, they called Saint Eustratios the Wonderworker "Elder", while they called Saint Eustratios the Great Martyr "New".

In 2013 an investigation was launched to find out more and gather more evidence to find out if the traditions of the islanders were true. It was discovered that the Saint did actually live there for a certain period of his life, even though it is not mentioned in the official account of his life.

According to the oral testimony of the late Evangelia Gkeka, wife of Father Angelo, she remembered and recounted two cases of people from far away places coming to the island because they saw the Saint in their sleep. They did not recognize him when they saw him, but the Saint had asked them to do a liturgy in his "house," which is what he called the island dedicated to him. He even gave them directions where they could find the place. This is tangible proof that associates the Saint with the island.

The written testimony of the late Emmanuel Eustathiou, who was Secretary of the island, is contained in his book "The Island of Agios Efstratios" (1971), in which he writes of an old manuscript that was kept in the Church of the Five Martyrs, but when he returned and asked for it it was not there, that referred to Saint Eustratios the Wonderworker. There it said that he departed Bithynia by ship to escape persecution due to Iconoclasm, and due to a storm at sea he asked the captain to land at the island today known as Agios Efstratios. There he lived in a cave, in which is preserved an iconostasis chiselled out of stone and above it was an iron chain from which a lamp hanged. It also stated that it was unknown if he died there.

It was also discovered that in the 15th century the island was known in Turkish as Boz Papas or Boz Babas, due to an abandoned tomb that was there. It could be that Boz Papas or Boz Babas is a Turkish mispronunciation of Hosios Efstratios. As for the relics of the Saint, perhaps they were translated there after his death.

Moreover, German philologist and archaeologist Carl Fredrich, in his text "Halonnesos, Pozen" from 1905, states that an old tomb on the island was associated with the Saint whom the islanders named the island after. He also states that in an old manuscript in the Church of the Five Martyrs is a biography of the Saint, and he regrets that he did not read it while visiting the island.

Also, in the "Νεώτερο Εγκυκλοπαιδικό Λεξικό Ηλίου" it says that the island got its name from the tomb and settlement of the Saint.

There is no church on the island dedicated to the Saint, but his memory has long been kept in the Church of the Five Martyrs, where a feast was celebrated every December 13th and January 9th. Unfortunately, due to the earthquake of 1968, the church was demolished. There are still many ruins, and an invisible power seems to prevent its complete demolition. When a bulldozer was sent to complete the demolition, it almost fell over the cliff so they got scared and stopped the demolition. Curiously, while money had been given to rebuild it, obstacles always come up and now it is prohibited to rebuild it.

Recently the islanders built a church dedicated to the Saint next to his cave.

It was also discovered that in 1931 a Divine Office to the Saint was composed by an unknown monk of Mount Athos. It had been commissioned by certain islanders. The hymns composed were based on information from the old manuscript on the island in the Church of the Five Martyrs. Unfortunately this manuscript is still lost today, because the Divine Office contains incidents from the life of the Saint that are not in his official biography.

According to research done by students from Agios Efstratios High School (2004-2005), this old manuscript seems to have said that the Saint lived the last years of his life on the island and that he died there, which contradicts his official life which says he died in Constantinople. His Divine Office doesn't say that he died on the island either. What seems more likely is that the relics of the Saint were translated to the island, where a tomb was made for him.

In 2011 the Divine Office to the Saint was published, and because there is no old icon of the Saint a new one was ordered to be made and placed on the cover. There he is depicted as an old monk holding an icon. Also, Fr. Patapios of the Hut of Saint Akakios on Mount Athos painted an icon of the Saint holding in his hands the church in Lada. Since then, an older icon of the Saint was found.

In 2013 the family of Vasilios Lazaros, with the blessing of Metropolitan Hierotheos of Limnos and Agiou Efstratiou, ordered for a Supplication Service and other hymns to be composed by the renowned hymnographer Abbess Isidora of the Monastery of Saint Hierotheos in Megara of Attica.

It is now hoped that the memory of Saint Eustratios will be honored and celebrated throughout the Orthodox world, and not just in Lada and the island of Agios Efstratios.

It is reported that it was the will of Saint Eustratios the Wonderworker that in Lada the Five Martyrs also be commemorated on their feast day, just like on his island.

Those who did this research, beginning with the vision in Lada in 2002, believe it was directed by the Saint, because all the information came to them in a truly remarkable way, from various distant places, by unknown sources and from unknown people. It is now hoped that the long lost old manuscript that was in the Church of the Five Martyrs will be discovered, so we can learn more about his relics.

Below is a video of the ruins of the Church of the Five Martyrs on the island of Agios Efstratios:

Below is a photo of the ruins of the Church of the Five Martyrs:

Below are photos of the cave of the Saint and the church recently built next to it:

Below are photos of the church built in Lada: