03 March 2010

'An Illustrious Image of the Virtues'—St Philothei of Athens

Today, 19th of February on the Church’s calendar, we celebrate the memory of St Philothei of Athens (1522-1589), ‘the protectress of Athens and of its imperiled citizens, especially of oppressed women and virgins.’ [1] Last year I wrote a rather lavish post for St Philothei, my sister’s patron Saint, and I do not have much new material this year. But here is what I have, and I also refer readers to the previous post (here).

First, the account of St Philothei’s life from The Great Horologion:

Saint Philothei was born in Athens in 1522 to an illustrious family. Against her will, she was married to a man who proved to be most cruel. When he died three years later, the Saint took up the monastic life and established a convent, in which she became a true mother to her disciples. Many women enslaved and abused by the Moslem Turks also ran to her for refuge. Because of this, the Turkish rulers became enraged and came to her convent, dragged her by force out of the church, and beat her cruelly. After a few days, she reposed, giving thanks to God for all things. This came to pass in the year 1589. She was renowned for her almsgiving, and with Saints Hierotheus and Dionysius the Areopagite is considered a patron of the city of Athens. [2]

In last year’s post I referred extensively to the Life of St Philothei compiled by Holy Apostles Convent, which includes a translation of a very early Life of the Saint—apparently written somewhere from 1598 to 1602 [3]—as well as the following excerpt from the ‘Introduction’ to the Life & Service of the Saint published by the Archdiocese of Athens. Speaking of the charitable works of St Philothei, N.B. Tomadakis of the University of Athens writes:

Certainly, philanthropy was one of her main motives. At a time when there were no hospitals, no shelters for the poor, no homes for the elderly, and asylums for the protection of women, their place was taken by monastic institutions. In addition to her dedication to a virtuous life, practicing philathropy by offering protection, giving alms and ministering to the poor and sick, providing Christian training by teaching everyone ecclesiastical letter and liturgical knowledge, the holy woman contributed the following.

First, she founded schools for the children of the Athenians, to open their eyes to the tradition and renown of their ancestors. ‘Lay hold of instruction, lest at any time the Lord be angry’ (Ps. 2:12). Philothei brought this scriptural quote to reality. Within her flickered the hope of the rebirth of the Byzantine Empire and . . . the early deliverance from the bestial yoke of the conquerors.

Second, Philothei aimed at protecting the daughters of Athens from the disgrace of conversion to Islam. . . . The danger of being subjected to conversion existed not only for the noble daughters who were forcibly abducted by the Turks because of their beauty and grace, but also for the simple ones, the peasant girls, who were forced to work in Turkish homes and farms in order to sustain themselves. Pressure, necessity, and ignorance (the great deceiver) were causes in forcing the maidens into submission. However, Philothei, with her convent of virgins (Parthenona), her schools, her convent’s metochia (metochia) and family ties, was capable of either strengthening those under duress or sending them away and hiding them. This was done until their consciences recovered or the danger subsided; and, until fear was replaced by a spirit of faith and sacrifice for the sake of the Christian faith . . . . [4]

On the subject of the Life & Service of the Saint, Kontoglou tells us that the mysterious author was ‘some wise and pious man called “the Hawk” [!]’, and cites as an example of the beautiful encomia therein, ‘For thou, honoured one, didst possess the meekness of David, the wisdom of Solomon, the manliness of Sampson, the hospitality of Abraham, the patience of Job, the divine ascesis of the Forerunner . . .’ [5] One can find the entire Greek text—in an edition predating Tomadakis’s intro—here, and an English rendering of just a sampling of the texts here. The English translation does not strike me as nearly as faithful as it could have been. Nevertheless, in conclusion here are two stichera from Vespers for the Saint, such as they are:

O all-laudable Philothei, * we extol thee in songs of praise * as a habitation of every excellence; * as an illustrious image of the virtues; the bond of love; * the renowned and good report, * as the crown fair with many gems; * the most tranquil port; * the delightful and gentle mouth of wisdom; the bright light among monastics; * the holy river of sympathy.

As a brilliantly beaming star * in the darkness thou didst shine forth; * as a fragrant flower exhaling sweet perfume * in mystic meadows, O Philothei, didst thou blossom beautifully; * as the light and as the sun * thou in Athens didst brightly rise, * heating
with thy warmth * and enlight’ning all them that had been darkened in the somber gloom of bondage; * wherefore, we honour thy memory.

[1] The Lives of the Spiritual Mothers: An Orthodox Materikon of Women Monastics and Ascetics Throughout the Year, According to the Church Calendar, tr. & comp. Holy Apostles Convent (Buena Vista, CO: HAC, 1993), p. 73.

[2] The Great Horologion (Boston: HTM, 1997), p. 425.

[3] Lives, p. 73.

[4] Ibid., pp. 78-9.

[5] Photios Kontoglou, ‘Ἡ Πολιοῦχος τῶν Ἀθηνῶν Ἁγία Φιλοθέη’ (here).

Many years to my sister, Philothei!

No comments: