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January 25, 2021

The Incorrupt Right Hand of Saint Gregory the Theologian

The Church of Saint Nicholas Kopanon is located north of the city of Ioannina, near Limnopoula in the north exit of the town, on the way to Perama. In this area women used to wash clothes and beat the rugs in the water. This is why the church got the name of Kopanon (beaten). In this church is treasured the incorrupt right hand of Saint Gregory the Theologian.

In order to learn something of the history of this sacred relic, we must introduce Konstantinos T. Kazantzis. Kazantzis was born in Ioannina in 1864 and died in Kerkyra in 1927. He studied law at the University of Athens. At the Universities of Berlin and Munich he specialized in public law and was awarded a doctorate. After his studies in Germany he returned to Ioannina, but slavery was now for him, after his long stay in Europe, unbearable. Thus he followed the first wave of immigrants from Greece and the Balkans in general to America. This is where he began to write. The quality of his little literary work is excellent.

In 1910 Kazantzis published a book in Chicago titled Ιστορίες από την πατρίδα μου (Stories From My Homeland). In this book is a chapter titled "Το χέρι του Αγίου Γρηγορίου" ("The Hand of Saint Gregory"). This book was republished in Athens in 1926 with the new title Απ΄τα σκλαβωμένα Γιάννινα (From Enslaved Ioannina). The Holy Monastery of Eleousa of the Island of Ioannina published a third edition of this chapter in 1999 as a booklet.

Kazantzis' chapter on the hand of Saint Gregory the Theologian is a fascinating short story that seeks to explain, based on the stories he heard in his homeland, how the sacred relic came to rest in the Church of Saint Nicholas Kopanon. In summary, he says that in his days the priest of the Church of Saint Nicholas would weekly visit the homes of the sick, where he would bring  the sacred relic to a certain house and have it stay with them in their bedroom for three days, during which time the priest would fast and pray on behalf of the sick person. This resulted in numerous miracles among the locals and contributed to its veneration by the people.

As to how the relic came there, the author says he had to rely on the oral traditions of the locals, which spoke of a priest who once lived in a neighboring village who sought to raise funds to rebuild the church there and traveled from village to village and city to city gathering money, eventually leading him to Constantinople. There during Holy Week he encountered a scary-looking Turk with a wild manner who told him to follow him to a secret place in the city. There the scary-looking Turk, whose name was Mehmet, changed his demeanor from a certain wildness about him to calm and reverential, and revealed that he was a Crypto-Christian named John who pretended he was a barbaric Muslim to the outside world but in this secret place practiced his Christianity with many other Crypto-Christians. The secret place was an underground old church hidden from the outside world. The Crypto-Christian brought the priest there in order to have him lead in the services of Holy Week and Bright Week until the Monday after Thomas Sunday, and in return he would be paid. The priest, joyful by the news, stayed, and in the end was offered to choose one of the many relics they had in their possession, which included the incorrupt right hand of Saint Gregory the Theologian. This is what the priest chose as his gift.

Returning to his village in Ioannina, the priest donated all the money he had raised to the rebuilding of the church, but he kept the knowledge of the sacred relic to himself. With the sacred relic he set off on another journey, from village to village, where people payed him to pray for them and to venerate the sacred hand of Saint Gregory. However, the priest used this money to gamble and ended up not only losing all his money, but with a lot of debt as well. Because of this, he returned to his village, where he asked for a loan from a certain pious man to pay his way to his siblings in Wallachia and to get the money to pay his debt, and he promised to pay him back when he returned in three years; as collateral he left him the incorrupt right hand of Saint Gregory in its reliquary. However, the priest didn't return after three years. The pious man waited five years for the priest, until he finally realized something must have happened to the priest, so he donated the relic to the Church of Saint Nicholas Kopanon.

The story ends with the priest returning to the village looking for his relic, and the Metropolitan of Ioaninna having to investigate the matter, which resulted in the Metropolitan uncovering the sacrilegious manner the priest used the relic as a means of profit, with the help of the miraculous intervention of Saint Gregory, so the Metropolitan allowed the relic to be kept in the church. (The full chapter can be read here.)