|Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries||Historical topics|
Formerly Muslims, now Christian Saints
Research by theologian Theodore Riginiotis
This article is a sequel to a previous article 'Christian Miracles in Muslims' and is a descriptive reference to the constant invitation by Jesus Christ to our well-intentioned and benevolent Muslims to approach Him and acquaint themselves with Him and hopefully become members of His universal and wondrous body - the Church.
The term 'Church' refers to the ancient, undivided Church of the first thousand years after Christ and Her historical continuation, the Orthodox Church.
The saints listed below had been Muslims but were defied as Christian Saints through their willing martyrdom. Among them are an emir, two dervishes and two senior officers of the Turkish army.
During the period referred to as the Turkish Occupation [from around 1453, from the former Byzantine Empire (Romany) - and until 1912 in other surrounding territories], thousands of Christians had become Muslims, while there had also been a number of Muslims who had embraced Christianity. It should be noted that Christians who had forsaken their Christian Faith and accepted Islam was because they were unable to live under the intolerable conditions of slavery. However, Muslims who had accepted the Christian Faith had not only given up the absolute freedoms of a dominator and had even chosen to bear those intolerable conditions themselves; they too risked being arrested, convicted, tortured and put to death by the dominating forces - which is why almost all the saints presented here are also acknowledged as martyrs.
So, what was the big secret which had inspired them to make this bold decision? Perhaps an overview of their lives, albeit a brief one, may help our Muslim friends to discover it.
A. Muslims by descent
Saint Tunom, the emir
In 1579 the heads of the Armenian Church in Jerusalem managed to persuade the Turkish authorities to give permission to the Armenian Patriarch (instead of the Orthodox Patriarch per the tradition) to enter the Holy Sepulchre on Holy Saturday to bring out the Holy Light (watch related video at: https://youtu.be/d-lBVLg7cqU ). In view of the Armenians’ persistence - and as many have now learnt – that year, the Holy Light did not exit the Holy Sepulchre after having lit the candles of the Armenian Patriarch, but had instead ruptured a pillar of the surrounding wall of the Temple of the Resurrection (view image and related article below) – at the exact spot where the Orthodox Patriarch was standing, together with the faithful – thus allowing him to be the first one that the Holy Light ignited his candles.
This impressive phenomenon was witnessed by the Arab emir Tounom, head of the guard that supervised the ceremonies, who was posted atop an adjoining minaret. In his amazement at personally witnessing the phenomenon, he accidentally fell off the minaret – but landed safely, without suffering any harm! This was enough to make him immediately renounce Islam and steadfastly proclaim that Christianity is the true Faith!
The consequence of this confession was that he was arrested by the guard and then burned alive. Orthodox Christians honour him as a holy martyr, on the 18th of April.
· Archimandrite Daniel Gouvalis’ The miracle of faith, Athens 1985, pp. 35-36.
· Panagion by Georgios Emm. Piperakis, published by 'The Transfiguration of the Savior' Milesi 2006, p. 97.
Saint Barbaros the Myrrh-Gusher
Saint Barbaros (at right, icon taken from here)
According to historical information on traditions, the large-sized icon of the Holy Mother “Portaitissa” [lit. “of the Gate”), residing in the monastery of Iviron on Mount Athos] had been thrown into the sea of Nicaea of Asia Minor 829 AD by a devout woman, in order to save the holy icon from the ungodly zeal of the (icon-destroying) iconoclasts at the time. The holy image had remained afloat, finally reaching the shores of the Holy Mountain Athos in 1004. The Holy Mother’s face on this icon bears a visible sign of injury with dried blood below Her right jaw; it was caused by the sword of an Arab named Rahay, who was the head of a pirate fleet. On arrival of his fleet along the Iviron coast, Rahay sent out pirates to raid the Iviron Monastery; however they were unable to execute their leader’s command because they claimed that “they were obstructed by a woman”, so they decided to return to their ships empty-handed.
When Rahay heard his comrades’ excuse he berated them and immediately ran to the Monastery, furiously brandishing his sword. When he spotted the holy image of Portaitissa, he attacked it forcefully with his sword. Blood began to gush forth profusely from that wound, soaking him entirely. On witnessing the blood that came from that horrific miracle he began to tremble, and “repenting for his disrespect, sought forgiveness. He eventually came to realization and repentance, and was in time baptized and immediately became a monk, with his sin being confessed tearfully”'.
He spent the remainder of his life by remaining in the presence of that holy icon, offering his services inside the temple of the Portaitissa. He begged the brothers of the monastery of Iviron to not address him by his given ascetic name of Damascenos, but instead as “Barbaros” (crude, brutal, barbaric).
Saint Barbaros had attained so much virtue that after his death he showed signs of holiness. To this day he is called 'Saint Barbarian' and is celebrated on May 15th. His remains, during their recovery, were found intact and exuded a distinct fragrance. The Latins stole the remains, along with a thousand other holy relics of the Monastery.
Saint Ahmet the Assistant Archivist
There was in the past a Turk – an upstanding and decent individual – whose name was Ahmet. He lived in Istanbul (Constantinople) and held a very respectable position in the palace. However, he also had a Russian slave, who happened to be an Orthodox Christian. Every Sunday, another, elderly slave would bring her a morsel of bread (the “Antidoron”) which she consumed, together with some holy (blessed) water.
Ahmet asked her one day: “What is the thing that you eat every Sunday morning, and your mouth smells so nice?'. So she told him about Christ, and Ahmet went to the church to see with his own eyes. He witnessed many mysterious and wondrous things, after which he finally believed and was baptized a Christian.
Time passed, and he had not told anyone. However, one time, while dining and drinking with other Turks, they got to chatting about what they believed was the most important thing on Earth. Everyone gave his personal reply, and then it was Ahmet’s turn to reply. Amazingly, his heart commanded him to declare what he truly believed: “Above everything else, it is the faith of the Christians!” was his reply.
The others immediately pounced on him and threw him in prison and a short time later, they killed him.
[Taken from children’s essays for the celebration of the school holiday of March 25th in 2008, at the 3rd High School of Rethymnon, Crete]
Saint Ahmet was beheaded on May 3rd of 1682 at Keap Hane Garden; it is the day that his memory is honoured.
Source: Saint Nicodemus of Mount Athos, Neon Martyrologion (Book of New Martyrs), published by Astir, 1993, p. 101.
Saint John the Dervish
This holy neo-martyr was born in Konitsa of Epirus Province to Muslim parents. His father was a Dervish and a Sheikh in rank. At the age of twenty, he too joined the Order of Dervishes. After spending several years in Ioannina, he went to Vrachori in Aetolia Province, where he resided in the Muselim Seray. However, he suddenly began to live as a Christian, discarding the Dervish attire and dressed as a Christian. He then moved to Ithaca island, where he received Holy Baptism and the Christian name John.
When he returned to Aetolia, he married in the village of Mahalas and worked as a farmer. His father sent envoys to change his mind, but he sent them away. He was then arrested by the Muselim of Vrachori, to whom he boldly confessed his Christian name and his love for Christ. He was tortured mercilessly and was finally beheaded on September 23rd of 1814. The Christians took his relic and buried it on a farm in Vrachori. His memory is honoured on September 23rd .
Saint John of the Hagarenes (aka 'Arnaoutoyannis')
The New Martyr John of the Hagarenes, with the nickname of “Arnaoutoyannis”, was of Albanian descent; he had taken part along with the Turks as a soldier, in the quashing of one of the Cretan uprisings. He later returned to Crete, repented, was catechized and baptized as an Orthodox Christian in the village of Saint John of Phaestos and was assigned the post of “Dragatis” (guardian of the fields). The fanatical Turks fabricated slander against him by attributing the murder of certain Turkish-Egyptians, in order to make him abandon his faith. He was imprisoned in Heraklion of Crete, suffered horrific torture and finally martyrdom. He was buried in the area of “Spitalia”. When exhumed, his relic was found in the state of saintliness, so the Russian Consul sent it to Kiev for safekeeping against possible desecration.
The martyrdom of the New Martyr John was discovered (through divine Providence) by Archimandrite Chrysostomos Papadakis, Protosyncellos of the Holy Diocese of Gortyna and Arcadia (prefecture of Heraklion, Crete) during his research in the library of the Holy Monastery of Stavronikita on Mount Athos. Then, in conjunction with the Cultural Association of Saint John of Phaestos (a village of Messara where the Saint had lived and worked), he authored the book and catered to the compilation of a Service, which was approved by the First Provincial Synod of the Church of Crete.
His memory was established on May 19th, the day of discovery of his Bios. After authoring the book and entirely by chance during his research, the author discovered that he was martyred in 1845 at the beginning of the month of May; in fact several civil revolts took place by Christians in Heraklion, to show their objection to the treatment of the Saint.
For details: Archimandrite Chrysostomos Papadakis, The Neo-martyr Saint John of the hagarenes, published by the Cultural Association of Saint John of Phaestos, 2004.
The holy Great Martyr Constantine of the Hagarenes (=Turks, as descendants of Hagar)
The shocking story of this important hero is mentioned in every detail in the Neon Martyrologion (The Book of New Martyrs) by Saint Nicodemus of Mount Athos.
This Saint was a Turk who lived in the village of Psilometopo in Mytilene, Lesvos Island. He was a mature and prudent boy. At the age of fifteen he was blinded by smallpox and remained blind for three years. He was healed only when a Christian friend of his family took him and washed him with Christian holy water.
Later, because his father was excessively violent, his mother took her children and moved to Smyrna. There the Saint's older brother started working as a greengrocer and the Saint went to work with him. Because of his work, he frequently came in contact with Christians, including priests, and began to feel peace in his heart by listening to Christian teachings or readings from Christian books. So, little by little, the desire to be baptized ignited in him. He even agreed with two of his friends and they each brought a candle to the church of Saint George, in order to not become infected by the plague that had broken out in the city.
A short time later he secretly left for Mount Athos and revealed his intention to certain monks. But they did not prompt him to rush into this decision, nor did they facilitate him in carrying out his purpose. He wandered a lot on Mount Athos, but there were some – either out of cowardice or out of prudence – who intentionally delayed his Baptism. This provided him with the opportunity to ponder seriously, so that his decision would be a ripe one. Disappointed, he finally departed from there and travelled to Constantinople and presented himself to the patriarch. In order to test him, the patriarch asked him: “What did you come to do young man, here, in the most humiliated of all nations?” (it was the period of slavery to the Ottomans).
The Saint burst into mourning and in his tears persisted on his intention to become a member of the Church of Christ The patriarch, astounded, finally facilitated him and the Saint was baptized, taking the name Constantine.
For a period of time he lived as a devout Christian. Then once, when visiting the monastery of Iviron on Mount Athos to venerate the icon of the Holy Mother Portaitissa and also saw and venerated the holy relics of several recent martyrs, he felt the desire to also be martyred for Christ However, an experienced priest, to whom he confessed this thought, recommended forty days of fasting and prayer, in order to see for himself whether his intention was correct and God-pleasing. During this trial, he saw Christ in a vision surrounded by Saints, who assured him that it was not yet time to lay down his life for Him.
He then departed, intending to return to Magnesia of Asia Minor (where his family lived) and to bring his sister to Christianity. However at Kydonies (Ayvalik) he was recognized by a certain Muslim, arrested and tried as a denier of their faith. He was subjected to indescribable torture: he was flogged, an incandescent helmet was placed on his head, his temples were strapped tightly, to the ultimate degree of pain, they stretched his body with a special kind of mechanism and was left stretched there all day and left hanging all night by his hands…
In prison, the Saint was tormented by a series of demonic visions, during which he was given courage by a Christian named John, who had intentionally gone to prison on a certain transgression and had stayed with him to support him. Other Christians also visited him and the Saint asked for their prayers.
In the churches of the city, Christians prayed with night-vigils for him, while at some point several Christians with pure souls began to notice a strange light emanating from the temple of the holy New Martyr Saint George, and infiltrating the prison. Shortly before his end, the Saint was also visited by the Holy Virgin Mother in prison.
After being sent to Istanbul and tortured again for three days, he was finally strangled with a noose. The saint's martyrdom lasted from April 23 to June 2nd of 1819. His memory is commemorated on the day of his death.
The holy Elder Nicholas of Optina
His name was Yusuf Abdul Oglu; he was a Turkish Muslim from Bitlis, near Erzerum. He was born in 1820. A series of miracles and dreams, starting from his childhood, made him interested in Christianity, which he first became acquainted with in its Armenian version, due to its proximity and his friendship with Armenian Christians.
In Ikonion where he served as a major in the Turkish army, he tried to experience metaphysical experiences, following the tradition of dervishes. But all his efforts proved fruitless, leaving him spiritually empty.
In the Russo-Turkish War (1853-1856) he was captured and taken to Russia. This gave him the opportunity to learn about Orthodoxy and in fact to get to know it up close, to talk with worthy priests, but also with Saint Philaret, the “fool for Christ” (=a saint who intentionally hides his holiness under a pretend paranoia), who lived in Tula. He also acquired several books and icons. When he was released, he returned to Erzurum, to his wife and child, now feeling like a Christian in his heart, and no longer as a Muslim. He prayed while reading the Salutations to Christ and the Virgin Mary near their icons - and the icon of Saint Nicholas, whom he particularly respected. He also secretly met with Christians, with whom he discussed the Christian faith.
But his father-in-law, who was a mufti, learned of his interest in Christianity and the books he read and reported him to the authorities. He was arrested, stripped of his officer’s status and sentenced to a beating with a stick two hundred times! Left on the verge of death, he remained in hospital for six months, while the horrific scars never disappeared from his body (they shocked the monks of Optina when, later, after his death in 1893, his clothes were removed to be changed appropriately). He had been imprisoned under inhumane conditions, which were aggravated by the behaviour of his inmates. Then, after transfers and adventures on the way to his exile, some Armenian Christians bribed his custodian and managed to free him.
After more adventures, voyages, wayfaring and being hunted, and after having travelled to the Holy Land as a pilgrim, he again sought refuge in Russia, where finally, in 1874, he fulfilled his long-standing desire and was baptized a Christian. On entering the temple of Saint Nicholas of Karadin for his Baptism, he recognized the temple that he had seen in a dream decades ago, and, in the icon of Saint Nicholas, he recognized the priest who had given him Holy Communion in his dream.
He travelled for several years around Russia as a pilgrim and when passing by the great monastery of Optina (that wondrous “Nursery of saints”), he spoke with the great spiritual teacher of Russia - Saint Ambrose - who suggested that he live there as a monastic. He thus joined the fraternity of the monastery, under the guidance of two other great saints, the elders Anatolios and Varsanuf. At the prompting of Saint Anatolios, he narrated his life in detail to Saint Varsanuf, who, it seems had recorded it in the manuscript that reached us.
As a monk he struggled hard with the science of the noetic prayer (the “Jesus Prayer”), encountered fierce demonic attacks and was made worthy of celestial visions, which he communicated to his spiritual father, Saint Varsanuf (“spiritual father” = the personal teacher of a Christian in matters of the Faith, who as a rule is also his confessor).
He slept in the Lord on August 18th of 1893, and both Elders Anatolios and Varsanuf acknowledged that he was a saint. His person was mentioned in the book by the acclaimed Russian author Sergius Nilus (1862-1929) “Heavenly Voices”, Tsarskoye Selo, 1905.
The shocking details in the biography of the holy monk Nicholas the Turk were published a few years ago in Russia and translated into a Greek book, by Akritas Publishers: “Starets Varsanuf, Monk Nicholas of Optina”, translated by Natalia Nikolaou, edited by archim. Nektarios Antonopoulos.
The righteous Nicholas, a Turkish denizen of the Aegean Sea
In the excellent volume “Ascetics in the World”, published by the Hermitage “Saint John the Forerunner” in the Halkidiki Prefecture (2008, pp. 351-358), is recounted the moving story of a Turk, who was born in 1926 on an island in the Aegean Sea and grew up playing with the indigenous Christian children there. In the narrative he seems to be mentioned as still living. He is not categorized as a saint, given that special incidents like his can happen to any person with a good heart, according to the wisdom of the heart-knowing God, however a summary of his story has been appended to this chapter, as it was deemed necessary.
At about the age of twelve, on the Eve of Christmas, as he lay down to sleep, saw the door open and Christ entering. “I have come for you” He said to him; ”you are my child”, and He disappeared. The vision was repeated the two following nights. He then went to the village chief and asked to be baptized but was refused due to his young age, and was urged to wait until adulthood.
The years passed and he worked at the fishing boats. One day with severe weather while his boat was flooding, a tiny icon of Saint Nicholas was washed into the boat by the waves. Through the icon he heard a voice saying: “Do not throw me away!” He grabbed it and begged the saint to help save all the crew – which he actually did. During the following years he experienced other signs, evidencing that the God of Christians was calling him to His faith. Around 1950 he went to Patmos and spoke with the holy Elder Amphilochios Makris. He was baptized there, and given the name Nicholas.
The third night after his baptism he saw his mother in a dream or vision, who aimed to grab him and take him away from there. After a struggle, he shouted “My Christ, save me!” and the spectre turned around, ran out and jumped into the sea. As it fled, the tail of an animal was noticed under the dress it wore: it was not his mother’s ghost, but a demonic trap.
From the pursuant years of his life, which include several miraculous events, we will deposit only the following one: His father was on his deathbed in the hospital at Kos Island; Nicholas prayed in agony to the physician-Saint Panteleimon to save him. The next day he went to the hospital and found his father recovering. ”Thank you my child for sending the doctor” he told his son; “a new doctor came and asked me how I was doing. He told me to stick out my tongue, he touched it and after a while I was fine. He also told me that he was sent by my son, Nicholas”.
B. The Islamized who returned
All the saints listed below who had returned to Christianity were killed by their former co-believers - the Muslims. They are therefore holy martyrs (=who gave witness and suffered martyrdom for their faith) and are characterized as “neo-martyrs”, given that they gave witness in recent years and not during the ancient persecutions against Christians.
Their lives have been compiled here from the work “Neon Martyrologion” by Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, composed in the 18th century, when the Ottoman Empire was still the overlord in the territories of former Romany (“Byzantium”).
A clarification is necessary here: the Church forbids “invasive martyrdom”', that is, when one voluntarily surrenders to the enemy of Christianity by declaring “I am a Christian”, in order to be killed and “compulsorily” become a saint. During the Turkish occupation, however, this practice spread among Christians who had previously embraced Islam, renounced their Christian faith, and then converted back to Christianity. These people did not have any desire to commit suicide, nor even to be glorified as saints. They merely loved life and did not want to suffer the gruesome tortures that they knew would be waiting for them, hence their original conversion to Islam. But their conscience eventually led them to presenting themselves willingly and declaring they were actually Christians - instead of preferring the simpler, secret return to Christianity. They felt the need to balance out their original denial of Christ (usually done in public), with an equally public confession of their return to their original Christian faith. That way, they would be adhering to Christ’s admonition: “whosoever confesses me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven; and whoever denies me before men, I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven” ( Matthew 10, 32-33).
For these people the most coveted good was to attain eternal presence near Christ. They were not fanatics; they just loved life (what they regarded as life), based on the experience of the major, perennial Christian saints. Surely our Muslim friends can understand them, as they too have a deep knowledge of the meaning of martyrdom, when they likewise “give witness” to what they believe in.
It must be pointed out, however, that the Christian martyrs, who had individually chosen martyrdom and surrendered to the authorities, all died alone (they did not take others with them, as is the case with martyrs during revolutions). Thus, by “giving witness” their martyrdom simultaneously was also seen as an act of bravery which inspired other enslaved Christians - as already evidenced in the case of Saint Constantine of the Hagarenes – and was also seen as a peaceful revolution.
He lived in the 16th century. He had embraced Islam, but later repented, converted back to Christianity and became a monk. He mourned and struggled hard, feeling remorse for his original apostasy from Christianity; after going to Constantinople, he publicly confessed that he was a Christian again.
He was arrested and tortured mercilessly. They hung him from a tree, cut off his ears and nose; they flayed the skin of his back in cross-shaped strips… Finally, they killed him by throwing him onto the hooks (large hooks, on which they threw the victims and left them nailed there for days, until their dying breath). He was murdered on June 5th of 1559, the day on which his memory is honoured.
Saint Nicholas of Trikala
He had embraced Islam, but later repented and returned to Christianity. After hiding for a while, he returned to Trikala where he was immediately noticed. He was arrested and confessed his Christian faith. He was tortured in prison and burned alive in 1617.
The saint's “kara” (his skull), which was acquired through bribery by a Christian, is safeguarded in Trikala and many miracles have been associated with it. The saint is honoured on May 16th and 17th.
Saint Mark in Smyrna
Cretan in origin, he was violently converted to Islam as a teenager. After extreme agony he escaped and took refuge in Constantinople, near the wise teacher Meletios Syrigos.
Morally strengthened by him, he returned to Smyrna and publicly confessed that he was a Christian. He was arrested and horrifically tortured, only to be finished by the sword in 1643.
His relic is a source of healing and his memory is honoured on May 14th.
Saint Anastasios at Anapli (Nafplion)
He was a painter. Although engaged to be married, he learned of certain mistakes made by his fiancée, so he abandoned her. It is said that her relatives cast a spell on him to return to her, but because of this act, he “went out of his mind” (he became crazy). That was how some Turks found him and converted him to Islam.
But when he came to his senses, he immediately rejected Islam, threw down his turban and started shouting in the crowd “I was, I am, and I will continue to be a Christian!”
They grabbed him and brought him before the judge. He confessed his Christian faith there and was sentenced to be beheaded, but the mob of Turks rushed at him and butchered him into many pieces!
This took place in 1655, and the martyrdom of the saint is commemorated on February 1st.
Holy Martyr Saint Demetrios from Philadelphia of Asia Minor
A handsome and modest teenager of thirteen, he converted to Islam under various pressures from some Philadelphian Muslims and was given as a servant to a prominent Muslim. Over the years, however, he progressed financially, amassed wealth, and was proclaimed a senior army officer. He was even engaged to one of the most noteworthy Muslim girls of Philadelphia.
But at the age of 25, he began to remember his old faith and fell into agony and remorse. After a huge internal struggle he went to the authorities and declared that he was a Christian and that his name was Demetrios.
He was flogged almost to death. He was imprisoned and found himself in emotional confrontations with Muslims in the prison. He was released eventually, but then proclaimed his faith in public and called on the city's Muslims to become Christians. He was brutally beaten and eventually killed with very many stab wounds. They lit a fire to burn his body, but the flames split in two and left his body intact, despite being fuelled with five pitchers of oil. With tools borrowed from a nearby public bath, his body was finally cut to pieces.
His remains performed many therapies. The saint was martyred in 1657 and is honoured on June 2nd.
Saint John the boatswain from Kos Island
He was converted to Islam unknowingly, when he was in a state of mental illness. When he recovered, he immediately renounced Islam, as did Saint Anastasios of Nafplion. But then he was arrested, beaten repeatedly and sentenced to death. He was burned alive in 1669 and his memory is commemorated on April 8th.
The holy Great Martyr Damaskinos
There was a young tailor named Diamantis from Galatas of Constantinople. He was orphaned at a young age and was gradually drawn into a prodigal life (“he walked mischievously” wrote Saint Nicodemus, that is, he may have even become a criminal). He was arrested by the Ottoman police for some illegal act and, in order to evade it, he embraced Islam. Growing up and maturing, however, he felt remorse for his apostasy and, with pain in his soul he left for Mount Athos and dedicated himself in the monastery of the Great Lavra with the name Damaskinos.
After at least twelve years of bitter repentance which led him to serious ascesis, he decided to publicly confess his return to Christianity, motivated by the words of Christ, “Whoever confesses me before men, him I will also confess before my Father. Whoever denies me before men, him I will also deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10: 32-33). Towards this end, he obtained the blessing of the patriarch of Constantinople Dionysios, who happened to be at the Great Lavra monastery.
So, in 1681, disguised as a sailor (so as to not provoke Ottoman retaliation among the monks), he came to Constantinople, went to the Temple of Haghia Sophia (which had been turned into a mosque) and began to pray by making the sign of the Cross. The Muslims in there were taken by surprise, but they did not bother with him, believing he was merely crazy. The saint then embarked on a public discussion about Christ with a Muslim who was reading on the side of the road, and then began to shout loudly to Muslims in mosques and other public places to become Christians. While living on the streets for a while as a lunatic, at some point he was arrested and taken to the Vizier. There he confessed his faith and was sentenced to death. He was beheaded at Fanarion, in front of the door of the Patriarchate.
His body, upon a command, was left at the spot of his slaughter for three days; finally, it was taken away by the Christians with bribery and he was buried with a martyr’s honours at the monastery of the Holy Mother at Halki. Abbot Makarios of the monastery of Mavros Molos purchased and preserved the doors of the workshop opposite the entrance of the Patriarchate, which had been inundated by the blood of the martyr. Saint Damaskinos is acknowledged as a Hossios Martyr, that is, martyr and monk. He is honoured on November 13th.
Saint Elias Ardounis
This was a barber in Kalamata, greatly respected by the local community. One time, however, during a conversation he stressed to the town elders that they must find a way to relieve Christians of the unbearable taxes demanded by the Turk overlords, otherwise “they risk being forced to become Turks” (=Islamized). The elders insisted that the Christians were in no such danger, so, in order to refute them, he thoughtlessly claimed: “Well, if someone were to offer me a fez, I would certainly turn a new page!” An elder jokingly offered him a fez; he took it, and without thinking of the true consequences of such a move, went directly to the judge and denied Christianity!
After a while he repented, left for Mount Athos, confessed there and lived as a monk for eight years. However, his conscience did not calm down, so, after receiving the blessing of his spiritual father, he returned to Kalamata in order to publicly declare his return to Christianity.
In Kalamata he confessed to priests, who however hindered him from public confession, so, after receiving the Holy Sacrament, he began to pass by all the local cafes. “Aren't you Mustafa Ardounis?” local Turks would ask him. “Yes I am” he replied, “but I am no longer Mustafa, I am Elias and an Orthodox Christian”, following which, he began to criticize Islam and proclaim his faith in Christ.
He was beaten and led to the judge. He was severely tortured in prison and sentenced to be burned alive with fresh (slow-burning) wood. He was thrown into the flames where he died, however his body and his monk’s cassock were left intact by the flames. The night after his death, a celestial light encircled his body before the eyes of both the Muslims and the Christians there. The Christians buried him with due reverence; when they opened the grave after many years his holy relics were emanating a divine fragrance. They were of course duly preserved as sacred relics and through them many miracles were performed. The saint was martyred in 1686 and is honoured on January 31st and April 27th.
Saint Nicodemus of Elbasan
This tragic martyr from Albania had embraced Islam at the coercion of Muslim friends and had forced his children to also convert to Islam. One, however, was rushed away by some Christians to the Holy Mountain, but he, very angered, had gone to Mount Athos to discover it and to forcibly convert it to Islam. But noticing the grandeur of the holy ascetics there, he repented, returned to the Christian faith and remained a monk.
After three years of strict ascesis he desired to become a martyr. His desire was supported by his spiritual father, but also by a series of wondrous visions. In fact, even Christ Himself appeared before him and showed him the terrible martyrdoms that awaited him. But he did not lose his courage; instead, he returned prayerfully to his homeland.
He was recognized by the Muslims there and was immediately arrested as a denier of Islam. The pasha ordered that he be thrown to his death from his palace, but the saint landed unharmed, as if he had wings. Fear overtook the Pasha, who would have set him free, but the raging crowd of fanatical Muslims out of cowardice insisted on revenge. Thus, after being gruesomely tortured for three days the martyr was finally beheaded. His body remained incorrupt and became the source of a heavenly fragrance and the cause of many miracles.
The saint's martyrdom took place in 1722 and is commemorated on July 11th.
Saint Nikitas of Nisyros Island
On June 21st of 1732, Saint Nikitas Nisyrios (=from the island of Nisyros) was murdered on Chios Island. He was the son of an Islamized town elder and, although baptized after his birth, he was Islamized as an infant and did not remember his Christian origin (which is why we could have placed him in the first chapter of this study). However when he discovered this he was shocked, he rejected Islam, left his home and took refuge in the New Monastery of Chios, where he was catechized (introduced through learning) to the Christian Faith. One day he was arrested by a tax collector’s assistant, because he had no papers or money to pay the tax. While he waited to be transferred to prison, someone recognized him and addressed him by the name Mehmet. He was taken to the Aga and, after interrogation and investigation, it was discovered that he was a Muslim who had returned to Christianity.
He was tortured for ten days in prison so much that he is characterized as Great Martyr (the Turks later revealed that at night they too had noticed the dark prison inexplicably flooded with light) and was finally beheaded in public by the tax-collector’s assistant himself, slowly and torturously with multiple stabbings.
But after his atrocious act, he began to tremble and at night have nightmares with Saint Nikitas. His life became unbearable, until (perhaps on the advice of his wife, who was a Christian) he arranged for an icon of the saint to be painted, which he kept hidden inside his room. He was rid of the nightmares, but he remained trembling all his life. He even died paralyzed. In his room, whenever he had visitors, a knock could be heard coming from inside the cache where he had hidden the icon of the saint. In order to not be discovered by his fellow believers, he sent the icon to the house where his wife was, and it was duly honoured there, with an “unsleeping” oil lamp.
The holy hieromartyr Constantius the Russian
He was a monk, and the chaplain of the Russian commissioner in Constantinople (the “Elijis”). He was a wise and virtuous man, who wandered around various places after abandoning Constantinople to avoid the Russo-Turkish wars. But when peace was restored and he returned to his position, he encountered conflict with the new Elijis and, either out of fear or anger, he presented himself to the sultan and denied Christ.
He received huge honours from the sultan for his conversion to Islam, but a few days later he succumbed to remorse and burst into mourning. He threw down his Muslim attire, put on a torn cassock and wrapped a black cloth around his head, then went to the spot where he had denied Christ and confessed that he was returning to Him. He was arrested and beheaded, thus earning the wreath of martyrdom, in front of the sultan's palace, in 1743, on December 26th (the day after the Nativity of Christ), which the day his memory is honoured.
The holy Great Martyr Nicholas of Chios Island
Pious, modest and prudent, endowed with many virtues, orphaned of his father, when he reached the age of about twenty he fell into depression. So some Muslims (in Magnesia, where he was a worker) abducted him in order to make him a Muslim. When the saint was asked by those in charge if he wanted to embrace Islam, he did not respond. So, they threw him out, convinced that he was crazy. But when he returned to his homeland, the rumour that he had become a Muslim caught up with him, so he was taken by some Turks, they dressed him in Turkish attire and renamed him Mehmet. Now destitute, he began to graze animals intended for slaughter.
He recovered from his mental state with the help of a certain archimandrite Cyril, who discovered him and talked with him in the mountains of Saint Ypakoe. One night while sleeping in a ruined chapel of Saint Anna, he saw in his dream the Holy Mother as a beautiful Lady, who invited him to “go to Her Son’s temple and be ‘bathed’ by the priest to be healed, so that he can be recognized as Her betrothed”. So he went to the archimandrite, who read him the blessings for holy water and the blessings for exorcisms and in two days he had regained his health and began to live again as a Christian.
Afterwards, the saint began to live an ascetic life of great piety and prayer. But because he was regarded as a Muslim, the Christians expelled him from the church, fearing Turkish punishment. But he instead proclaimed his Christian faith in the middle of the temple - which made him heard by the Muslims outside - and was promptly arrested by a group of them, together with the village priest and two of the village elders.
The saint boldly confessed his faith. He did not succumb to their lures; he instead spoke of Christ in such a way that no one was able to contradict him. But the torture he endured for thirty days was beyond imagination. They gave him five hundred lashes, laid him on a plank with nails, placed a stone slab on his chest, etc. Eventually he was beheaded slowly and torturously, by asking him repeatedly after the first stabs if he wanted to become a Muslim. By hearing negative responses and continuing to stab him again and again with the knife, the executioner finally slaughtered him like a sheep. He was twenty-three years old, on October 31, 1754 - the day his memory is honoured.
At the time of his murder, even though it was afternoon, a thick darkness fell suddenly, in which everyone discerned martyr’s face illuminated like a shining star. The Muslims, in panic, burned his face with lit torches, but an overpowering scent flooded the air. The townspeople gathered around the spot; several Christians secretly collected the blood-soaked soil from the place of the slaughter, while some of the guards even sold small pieces from the body of the martyr. After being left exposed in public for three days, the body of the martyr was thrown into the sea, never to be found.
The saint's first miracle was the healing of a woman named Smaragda, who, after the death of her son, began to spew a large amount of blood from her mouth. Despite the efforts of the doctors and their supplications to the miraculous healer-saints Anargyros and Saint Matrona of Chios Island, she was healed only when she venerated one of the small pieces of the martyr's remains, which had been sold secretly by the guards.
Saint George “Giourjis” (of Georgia)
At a young age, he was sold as a slave to a Muslim in Mytilene of Lesvos Island, who in time converted him to Islam. When his master died, he continued to live as a Muslim, reaching the long age of at least seventy. He lived peacefully, engaged in trade, with a rather average financial situation. But one day, unknown why, he went to the local judge, took off his turban and declared: “I am a Christian and my name is Georgis”.
“Hey, man”, the judge asked him, “what happened to you? Did you lose your mind, brother?” But the saint responded by saying: “Christian, Christian, Christian. I want to die a Christian.” He was interrogated for three days and finally handed over to the janissaries, who put a noose around his neck and tried to force him to only recite the Islamic confession, but he pursed his lips refusing to speak. They beat him mercilessly; they made him a public spectacle; they stabbed him several times with a knife (even though he was a respectable elder) also demanding that he point with his finger skyward and declaring “God is one”. He instead clenched his fists tightly, so as not to deny his Christian faith in the Holy Trinity. After various tortures, he was hanged eventually.
The saint was martyred in 1770 and his memory is celebrated on January 2nd.
Saint Michael from Smyrna
At the age of eighteen, he denied Christ after being seduced by his Muslim employer on the first Saturday of Lent. But on Easter Sunday, on hearing the chant “Christ is risen from the dead” and after noticing all the Christians celebrating, he repented and also began to chant. “But aren’t you a Turk?” they asked him.”Tomorrow you will see who I was and who I will become”, he replied.
The next day he went to the judge on his own and asked him: “If someone who was deceived had given gold and received lead, is it legal to return the lead and get back his gold?” The judge replied: “Yes”. “Well then, you can take back the lead that you gave me: your religion; and I will take back the gold that I gave you: that is, the faith of my parents.”
Of course the event caused a stir. The saint was imprisoned, interrogated and finally beheaded. After a three-day public exposure of his body (which looked white as snow), he was thrown into the sea, which beached him at a place called Phoenikia. It was discovered there by Christian workmen, who took it and buried it together with his holy head, in the church of Saint Fotini.
The saint was martyred in 1772 and is commemorated on April 16th .
Saint Zacharias in Old Patrae
Hailing from Arta, he had embraced Islam. When he came to Old Patrae he opened a workshop and worked as a furrier. However, he was in possession of the book “Salvation of Sinners”; as he began to read it he came to repent of his denial of Christ. After shedding many tears, he secretly confessed to an experienced Christian priest and asked for his blessing to publicly confess his return to Christianity. He advised him to wait forty days with fasting, prayer and study, with the priest doing the same in his cell - lest the man’s desire for martyrdom was a trap set by the devil.
After twenty days the saint could no longer bear the great longing “to offer ten lives (not just one) for Christ”. He went to his spiritual father again and falling at his feet, persistently asked and received his blessing. He confessed the acts of his entire life, but he was so pure in soul (apart from his denial) that he was worthy enough to even become a priest. His spiritual father warned him at length about the danger he was going to face, but the saint insisted with a smile. He finally returned to Christianity after being anointed with holy Myrrh, received Holy Communion, and departed. The priest instructed him that he did not need to slander the religion of Islam; he should only briefly confess that he had left it and was now a Christian.
The saint sold and distributed to the poor all his possessions, then went to his judge and explained his case. Being a familiar person, the judge tried to dissuade him, but finally sent him to the capital with custodians. It was decided there that he should be flogged three times a day - until he returned to Islam or died. But care should be taken that his blood not be shed from his body, in case the Christians seek to take it as a sacred relic. The saint was horribly tortured but endured bravely, constantly repeating the Prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on Your denier, and help me”. Disappointed by the lengthy duration of torture, the head of the torture squad decided to kill him secretly in prison. So he stretched his body out on a wooden slab so much that his limbs were torn apart; the saint crossed himself and gave up his spirit. The prison was immediately overwhelmed by so much fragrance that the executioner fled from the prison panic-stricken.
The governor refused to give the body of the saint to the Christians and commanded that it be thrown into a dry well. At night, however, the well overflowed with light and the Turks were forced to fill it with soil to make it disappear and so the body of the martyr finally remained there. It was the year 1782, and the saint is commemorated on the 20th of January.
Saint Hadji-Theodore in Mytilene of Lesvos Island
He had embraced Islam albeit having a Christian wife and children. However he later repented and travelled to Mount Athos, where he confessed and returned to Christianity. He does not seem to have become a monk. Obedient to the wishes of his spiritual father, he returned to his homeland, appeared before the judge, threw down his turban, donning a black cap instead, and announced that he was a Christian again.
After a three-day interrogation, he was sentenced to death. The guards stabbed him in the thigh, threw him down from the palace stairs and dragged him through the city streets to the place of his execution. The saint enthusiastically kissed the gallows rope and passed the noose around his neck on his own. He was hanged, thus receiving the wreath of martyrdom in 1784. He is honoured on January 30th.
Saint John the Bulgarian
A handsome and literate young man of eighteen years hailing from Bulgaria, he followed the usual course. He converted to Islam and then, suffering from remorse, took refuge on Mount Athos, where he lived for three years in the service of a one-handed spiritual father. Still suffering from remorse, he went to Constantinople, put on a red fez and red shoes, went to the temple of Haghia Sophia (which was a mosque at the time) and venerated in the Christian manner by making the sign of the Cross.
The Muslims around him grabbed him and asked him what he was doing in there, to which the saint replied that he was a Christian and, as a Christian, had made the sign of the Cross and was worshipping Christ, the only true God.
After trying in vain to bring him back to the Islamic religion, he was beheaded outside the courtyard of Haghia Sophia in 1784 and is honoured on March 5th.
Saint Manuel from Hania of Crete, in Chios Island
Originally from Sfakia, Crete, he was captured at a young age by the Turks during the quashing of Daskaloyannis's revolution in 1770 (who was skinned alive in the central square of Heraklion, Crete). They made him a Muslim through forced circumcision, but he escaped, went to Mykonos Island, confessed and returned to Christianity.
He married and had six children; but after learning that his wife was cheating on him, he took his children and left the house. However on feeling offended by his actions, her brother sought revenge. One time while the saint was carrying wood on a boat to Samos, they met a Turkish warship that his brother-in-law was serving on as the captain's servant. He, on seeing the saint, hastened to betray him by informing them that he was a Muslim who had converted to Christianity.
The saint was arrested, confessed his Christian identity and was tortured for several days to return to Islam. When they disembarked at Chios Island, he secretly asked a Christian to bring him a priest to confess, but no one dared to approach. Only one sent him instructions and encouraged him from afar.
At Chios Island he appeared before the admiral (Captain Pasha), where, upon stripping him naked they noticed he was circumcised. Even though the saint told his story, he was sentenced to death without any mercy. But the executioner - on noticing his remarkable bravery (or for some other, unknown reason) - threw down his sword and fled. Then one of the commander's guards grabbed him and, after many repeated knife stabbings, slaughtered him like a sheep. By order of the commander, the Turks threw his body into the sea, because the Christians had immediately begun to honour him. The saint was martyred in 1792 and is honoured on March 15th.
Saint Alexander the Dervish
He originated from Thessaloniki and lived in the area of Laodigia or Lagodiani (nowadays Laodigitria). In order to save him from the evil desires of a Turk, the parents were forced to smuggle him to Smyrna. There he worked in the house of a Turkish pasha, who managed to persuade him to convert. Later, after wandering in various places, he reached Mecca, where he worshiped the tomb of Muhammad and received the schema of a dervish and became a teacher of Islam in various parts of the Ottoman Empire.
But his conscience began to check him, until he finally repented and began to burn with the desire for martyrdom. Thus, although outwardly having the form of a dervish, but internally feeling like a Christian, he began to behave like a madman and severely reprimand the Muslims. In other words, for at least ten years, he lived as a “fool for Christ”.
After various wanderings and an attempt to kill him in Egypt, Alexander arrived at Chios Island in 1794 during the period of Lent, and went to a church to participate in the Service there. Having the appearance of a dervish, he roamed comfortably among the Turks, whom he checked for their cruel and inhuman behaviour, while at the same time preaching charity, wisdom and virtue to them. On the other hand, he was very sweet and gentle towards the Christians that he came in contact with.
He crossed from Chios to Smyrna, in order to confess his faith in the place where he had denied it. A week before Pentecost he appeared before the judge, where he confessed his faith and then threw off his dervish headdress and wore the Christian one. The unrest was great, he was imprisoned and many attempts were made to dissuade him.
The following Friday, as usual, all the prominent Muslims gathered at the judge’s quarters and then went to the mosque together to pray. It was on that day that they chose to take Saint Alexander once again back to court to interrogate him. For the third time, the saint confessed in front of everyone his faith and his willingness to remain steadfast in it.
After that it was decided to pass the death sentence on him. En route there, the imams and Hodjas urged him to return to Islam, but it was in vain. At the time of his beheading, a European – a papist in religion – admitted how he had never seen such a brave man. Before being executed he prayed for an hour on his knees and then was beheaded, thus entering – crowned with the unfading wreath of glory - the joy of his Lord. It was 1794 and his memory is commemorated on May 26th.
The holy Great Martyr Polydoros
A merchant from Cyprus travelling to Egypt, Polydoros became the secretary of a deviated, former Christian and, influenced by him, embraced Islam in a night of intoxicated revelry. He then repented and, full of remorse, began to live a Christian life again. Given the opportunity, he left for Beirut and confessed to the bishop there to become a Christian again. But dangers and adventures forced him to leave and wander in various places, eventually ending up in Smyrna, in order to publicly confess his return to Christianity. But because the aftermath of the martyrdom of Saint Alexander the Dervish was still prevalent, he feared that his own desired martyrdom might become the cause for massacres of Christians, so he departed from there and ended up in Chios Island.
On the advice of a spiritual father there, he fasted, prayed and studied Christian books for forty days and afterwards became a Christian after being anointed with Holy Myrrh and presented himself to the Kadhi, where he announced his case. At first, the Muslims tried to persuade him to return to Islam, but, seeing that their attempts were in vain, they handed him over to tortures.
Thus began an Odyssey of indescribable violence, interrupted by interrogations and dispatches to the judge. At the end of this horrible and bloody course, the saint was hanged and his body was left hanging naked from the gallows, in public view. He was taken down after three days and buried in the cemetery of the Armenians. His case gave rise to huge admiration among the Muslims, who had never seen such bravery. The rope of the gallows and later the hallowed relics of the martyr were preserved as sacred relics by the Christians - by which many impressive healings and miracles were performed.
The holy Great Martyr Georgios from Karatzasou (Hadji George)
A native of Philadelphia (Asia Minor), he lived and worked in Karatzasou, where, one night while having fun with a group of friends, one of his drunk comrades fell from a height and was killed. The “overlord” of that place as usual demanded that the Christians “pay jereme” (compensation). The saint, however, refused and demanded to present himself to the overlord. There, he asked him: “Do you have a decree by which Giaours (non-muslims) who die must be likewise compensated by the Turks with payment of a jereme?” “And what exactly are you?” asked the overlord. Blinded by anger, the replied: “a Turk”. He was immediately grabbed and islamized without delay.
A few days later, however, he repented bitterly, seeking refuge on Mount Athos, where he returned to Christianity, and remained there for years. He then followed in the footsteps of many other Neo-martyrs: he confessed, distributed all his belongings and, returning to Karatzasou, presented himself to the authorities and confessed everything.
He was handed over to the servants, who had absolute authority to do whatever they wanted in order to bring him back to Islam. They tortured him indescribably for eight days: they stretched his body on a slab of wood, they placed a incandescent helmet over his head, they tightened a rope around his head, etc. Unable to make him change his mind, they sent him back to the judge, who sentenced him to death. The saint was beheaded in 1794 and is honoured on October 2nd.
The holy Great Martyr Theodoros the Byzantine
He worked as a painter’s assistant in the palaces of Constantinople, where he was lured by the luxury and freedom of Muslim life (as opposed to the oppressed life of the enslaved Christians) and so embraced Islam. He lived in the palace in great luxury, but three years later, an epidemic of the plague put the fear of death in his soul - as well as the terror of his apostasy. After a huge effort, he escaped from the palace disguised as a beggar.
He took refuge with one of his aunts, where he returned to Christianity after being anointed with Holy Myrrh. He then secretly crossed over to Chios Island very anxiously. He confessed to an experienced spiritual father there and withdrew to a remote place together with a devout Christian. These two people were very supportive - they became his friends and brothers. But after hearing of the martyrdom of Saint Polydoros, he felt the need to imitate him. He prayed for a long time with the help of his spiritual friends and then returned to Constantinople accompanied and supported by his spiritual father.
His journey was full of agony and temptations; but despite the questions of his spiritual father whether he changed his mind, he insisted on his decision. He left him outside of Constantinople; he then donned Turkish attire and entered the city alone. He appeared before authorities and stated that he was a former traitor who had become a Christian again.
He was arrested and taken to prison. Along the way, he would say to any Christian that he met “Forgive me, my brother, I am a Christian.” He was left to the disposition of any Muslim who desired to go to the prison to beat him or mock him. He was then flogged by fifteen people at a time, turning him from side to side like an old sack. He was subjected to a variety of horrific tortures for three or four days and then, with his body full of wounds, he was hanged in public with exceptional violence.
Christians then approached the martyr; they cut off pieces from his tattered shirt and collected the blood that gushed like a river from his revered body. Three days later, they obtained permission to take him down from the gallows and buried him with honours outside the church of “Panaghia Chrysomallousa” (the golden-haired Holy Mother). The saint was martyred in 1795 and is honoured on February 17th.
Saint Gideon of Karakalla
His life is not included in the Neon Martyrologion (Book of New Martyrs) - only in other hagiological sources of Orthodoxy that make references to Neo Martyrs. The child of a poor family from a village in the prefecture of Magnesia Asia Minor, he entered the service of Ali Pasha, who forcibly removed him from his family having assessed his qualifications. There he was influenced by the environment and embraced Islam. Later, however, he repented, escaped and returned to his paternal home, where his parents received him and comforted him.
Later he worked as a builder in Crete, but due to the bad behaviour of his colleagues, he abandoned them and was offered refuge in the home of a priest, to whom he confessed. Three years later, however, after his protector slept in the Lord, the young man left for Mount Athos, where he became a monk. A few years later, feeling the desire for martyrdom, he went back to Velestino and asked his old master to give him back what he had deprived him of.
He was tried, and went to court wearing a flower wreath on his head and offering a red-painted Easter egg to the judge (it was Good Friday). He was acquitted as a psychopath. After various adventures he made a second confession and was tried by the pasha of Tyrnavos. They escorted him naked, wrapped in a sheepskin, finally cutting off his arms and legs and throwing him alive in the palaces cesspool where he was left to die.
It was on December 30th of 1818, and is the day on which he is commemorated.
Mark in Chios Island
Holy Neo-Martyr Saint Mark in Chios Island
Saint Mark was born in Smyrna. His father was from Thessaloniki and his name was Hadji Konstantis, while his mother was from Smyrna and her name was Maria. He married in 1788, but then got involved with another Christian woman in Ephesus and one day they were caught red-handed as lovers. Mark and his mistress denied their faith before the judge. But quickly overcome by a guilty conscience for his betrayal, Mark went with tears and confessed to a certain spiritual father, who enabled them to leave for Smyrna. From there, after boarding a ship bound for Trieste, in 1792, they disembarked in Venice, where they were anointed with holy Myrrh, had Holy Communion and were married. After wandering in various places, Mark decided to give witness to the Christian faith and returned to Chios and from there to Ephesus.
In this city he met with his spiritual father and confessed his desire, but his spiritual father prevented it, because due to the ongoing reconstruction of the new Temple and the recent martyrdom of the holy New Martyr George, the Turks were still very outraged and were bent on demolishing that Temple. Thus the martyr was forced to return to Chios.
There, after praying and receiving Holy Communion, he went to the judge, where he boldly proclaimed his Christian faith. In spite of the judge's flattery, the martyr remained unwavering in his stance. He was then imprisoned, where he suffered severe and relentless torture. When he was led to the judge for the second time, Mark again confessed Christ. The Turks in their fury knocked him down the stairs and again locked him up in prison, where this time they tortured him even more horribly. But instead of groaning, Mark chanted with pleasure!.
When the Christians of Chios had meantime heard of the martyr’s patience they began to fast and pray to God, to give him strength during his martyrdom. After receiving Holy Communion once again in prison, he confessed Christ for the third time before the judge. He was finally taken to the place of execution and was beheaded on Wednesday June 5th of 1801, at 2am in Chios. All the Christians of Chios had chanted hymns of thanksgiving to God for the glorious martyrdom of the New Martyr Mark.