02 January 2009

Constantinople, 1652

As much as I love the New Martyrs of Russia, and believe that we should all pay very close attention to their witness, I’m afraid that we’re a bit guilty of neglecting the, admittedly, smaller choir of New Martyrs of the Turkish Yoke. Today we commemorate the New Martyr John of Thasos, and sadly, there is almost nothing to be found about him online, least of all an icon. I did discover two references on Google Books. The first was A New Dictionary of Saints East and West, by Michael Walsh (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical, 2007). There, on page 325, we read:

John of Thasos, martyr, born Maries, Thasos, died Constantinople, 1652. Byzantine Church. He moved to Constantinople when he was 14. He was accused of mocking Islam, and was executed.

Fortunately, however, the second source provided a somewhat more substantial account. Fr Nomikos Michael Vaporis’s Witnesses for Christ: Orthodox Christian Neomartyrs of the Ottoman Period 1437-1860 (Crestwood, NY: SVS, 2000), is a one-of-a-kind resource in English. A labour of love (see the ‘Preface’ by Fr Vaporis’s son, Constantine), Witnesses for Christ is a compilation of accounts of New Martyrs of Albanian, Bulgarian, Cypriot, Egyptian, Georgian, Romanian, Russian, Serbian, and Ukrainian nationalities.

According to Fr Vaporis, the young St John was sent to Constantinople to be apprenticed to a tailor there. During the course of carrying out his duties, he quarrelled with a merchant (who happened to be of the Hebrew faith). Out of anger, the merchant told some nearby Muslims that St John had cursed their faith. He was beaten and taken before the vizier, who, moved by his young age, said, ‘Come now, become a Muslim and save your life. You will be at my side, and I shall honor you and make you rich.’

Unwavering, St John replied, ‘I will never deny my sweetest Jesus Christ even if you were to inflict upon me a myriad of torments or grant me your entire kingdom.’ Thus, the vizier ordered him to be beheaded. At first the executioner hit him very lightly on the neck in order to frighten the martyr, ‘But seeing John’s expression of joy and his fearless look, he angrily swung his sword in earnest and beheaded him’ (Fr Vaporis, p. 110). That night, the Christians collected his precious relics and buried him in Beyoğlu (Pera), a district which lay opposite the city proper across the Golden Horn (shown to the right in the map above). St John of Thasos suffered for our Lord on 20 December 1652.

Incidentally, while I’ve never been blessed to go to Constantinople, I have seen St John’s homeland of Thasos, the northernmost Greek island. It is known as one of, if not the most green of the islands, and is a truly lovely place. Here one can see some photographs taken at the Monastery of the Holy Archangel Michael there, a women’s dependency of Philotheou on the Holy Mountain (which can be seen from Thasos on a clear day!).


Esteban Vázquez said...

Thanks for referencing Fr Vaporis' book, of which I was unaware. Do you know a similar compilation once published by St Nectarios in Seattle, the wonderful New Martyrs of the Turkish Yoke? I own a well-thumbed copy, and mourn the fact that I had to leave it behind in Puerto Rico. (Incidentally, at our parish there, we always observed the Third Sunday after Pentecost as the feast of the New Martyrs of the Turkish Yoke.)

aaronandbrighid said...

I believe I'd come across the St Nectarios book before, but unfortunately forgot all about it.

May your exiled books return safely to you!