May 17, 2022

Saint Theophanes the Myrrhgusher, Bishop of Solea in Cyprus (+ 1550)

St. Theophanes of Solea (Feast Day - May 17)


Blessed Theophanes longed for his Bridegroom,
departing from this world empty of glory.
The Monastery of the Forerunner rejoices and is glad,
having you venerable one as a divine protector.
On the seventeenth Theophanes united with God.

Saint Theophanes lived in Cyprus during the Venetian occupation (1489-1571). We do not have information about his parents, his origins and his education. The information we have is little, but important, because it is handed down by a contemporary of the Saint and an eyewitness of the exhumation of his Holy Relic, Stefano Lusignan (1537–1590), a Dominican monk and vicar of the Latin Archdiocese of Cyprus, in his work "The Chorography of the Island of Cyprus". This work, which is considered an important source of information on the medieval history of Cyprus, was published first in Italian (1573) and then in French (1580). The second edition, which is more elaborate, completes the first.

Saint Theophanes loved Christ very much, left the world, became a monk and lived in the Monastery of Mangana, located in Nicosia (Lefkosia), and was dedicated to Saint George. The Monastery existed from the Byzantine years, but it was renovated in 1453 by Helen Palaiologina, wife of the King of Cyprus John II (1432-1458) to house the priests who arrived in Cyprus after the fall of Constantinople. In 1567 the Venetians demolished the Monastery during the construction of the new fortifications of Nicosia.

The life of the monk Theophanes was exemplary. "As far as his life is concerned, one could not find anything wrong with it," writes the biographical note found in the above work. Despite hiding his virtues by living in obscurity and humility, the Lord revealed him to people. This led the bishops of the time to elect him, against his will, as Archbishop of Cyprus. This position was accepted with great difficulty. Because the Latin Archbishop was established in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, Saint Theophanes bore the title of Bishop Solea and administrator of the Greeks of Lefkosia.

Greek bishops during the Venetian occupation were not allowed to live in the big cities of Cyprus, where the headquarters of their metropolises were, but in villages. During the Turkish occupation, the Archbishop returned from Solea to Lefkosia, the Metropolitan of Paphos from Arsinoe to Ktima, the Metropolitan of Limassol from Lefkara to Limassol, and the Metropolitan of Ammochostos from Karpasia to Ammochostos.

Saint Theophanes left the quiet and carefree monastic life that he longed for and followed the will of God that was expressed at that time with his election as a hierarch. The phrase "administrator of the Greeks of Lefkosia" in his title reveals the power given to him by the Venetians to regulate some of the internal issues and problems of the Greek subjects.

We do not know how long he remained in his episcopal office. An unexpected, unusual and paradoxical incident led him to submit his resignation, which was hardly accepted. "One day he rebuked his oikonomos - which is the highest ecclesiastical office after the bishop - because he had done something wrong. The oikonomos, who was a very proud and impudent man, slapped him in front of the people. The bishop then seeing the very serious and unfortunate act done to his face and considering himself completely unworthy of the position he held, went to meet the archbishop of the Latins, in whose hands he placed his resignation from his episcopal office," writes the French text of the "Chorography of the Island of Cyprus". Saint Theophanes with tears begged for his resignation to be accepted. At first he met the denial of the Venetian authorities, a sign of the respect they had for the Saint's person and the recognition of his virtue. However, after the Saint's insistence, they accepted.

The harmless, unresentful and meek bishop did not get angry, did not ask for revenge or punishment of the oikonomos for the disrespect and contempt of his hierarchical office. Due to his great humility, he considered himself unworthy to hold the position of bishop. This attitude reveals the height of his virtue and holiness.

After the acceptance of his resignation, he satisfied his inner desire for a quiet life. He fled away from the secular noises of the cities, taking refuge in the Monastery of Saint John the Forerunner in Mesa Potamos, in the Troodos Mountains. According to information from Archimandrite Nikodemos, Exarch of the Metropolis of Kiti in Limassol, Saint Theophanes was also the abbot of the Monastery. Then he went up and lived in a cell about 87 meters higher than the Monastery and therefore this place was named "Monastery of Goumenos". There he lived alone a life of holiness and the Lord after his repose granted him the gift of miracles, as testified by the monks of the Monastery.

Only the following incident is delivered to us from his life. "One night he had a dream that a friend brought him a jar of honey. In the morning when he had just woken up, his friend arrived with a container full of honey. So the bishop, after politely and gratefully accepting the honey, then threw it on the wall and the honey poured out. He told his friend that he did this because he did not want to let the devil make him believe in dreams." How he dealt with temptation reveals the depth of the Saint's spiritual work. He rejected the devil's test by trying to suggest to him that he had acquired the gift of foresight.

His death was a venerable repose. Neophytos Rodinos, a Cypriot scholar, in his work "On Heroes, Generals" (Cypriot Chronicles, year III, 1925, p.27), writes that "Theophanes the monk ... died in the year 1550."

After 4 or 6 years, his relic was translated, having been found incorrupt and fragrant by the Grace of God, signs of certification and revelation by God of his holiness. The relic was placed in the katholikon of the Monastery and his honorable head was placed in a silver case. "I saw the exhumation and the bones mixed with soil, which really gave off a scent, but not of death," says the Italian text of the "Chorography". "The monks of that place (of the Monastery) testify that this holy man had performed many miracles; thus, they translated his relics and placed his head in a silver case. I can confirm this, because I saw it with my own eyes," says the French version.

The memory of Saint Theophanes was preserved throughout the Turkish occupation and many ecclesiastical writers of the time highlight his ascetic and virtuous life.

In 1999, in the church of the village of Treis Elies, which belongs to the Metropolis of Morphou (old Soloi or Solea), there was found an icon from the year 1689, a work of the iconographer Leontios from Limassol, with the inscription "Saint Theophanes the New", which must depict Saint Theophanes as Bishop of Solea, in as much as the depicted saint wears hierarchical attire. This icon is today in the Diocese of the Metropolis of Morphou in Eurychos. This demonstrates the preservation of the memory of the Saint among the inhabitants of the villages of Cyprus during the period of Ottoman rule (1571-1878).

Where are the holy relics of the Saint today? Nobody knows. Probably the Fathers of the Monastery, in order to protect them from the Turkish conquerors, hid them in an unknown place without leaving information about the place.

Apolytikion in Plagal of the First Tone
You willingly accepted with humilty the slap, O Father, and immediately with haste withdrew from the world, where with steadfast endurance you found the source of sanctification in Mesa Potamos; wherefore Father Theophanes, cover with protection your servants and make us fragrant with your divine myrrh.

Kontakion in Plagal of the Fourth Tone
As a Myrrhgusher, which has its source in the divine Spirit, and as a miracle worker you heal all sicknesses, giving abundantly to those who honor you, as a rule of monastics you were excellent, becoming a guide for our perfection, that we may cry out: Rejoice Father Theophanes.