Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
A PRAYER OF SAINT BASIL THE GREAT
Lord, our God, You have given Your peace to mankind; and the gift of the All-Holy Spirit You have sent to Your Disciples and Apostles, opening their lips with fiery tongues by Your power. Open also the lips of us sinners and teach us how and for what we should pray. Lord, govern our life for You are the calm harbor for those who are storm-tossed. Renew a right spirit within us, and establish our spiritual instability with Your governing Spirit. Each day, may we be guided brightly by Your Good Spirit toward what is beneficial for us, being empowered to observe Your Commandments, to remember always Your Glorious Presence, which leads us to see the salvation accomplished by You for mankind, and not to be deceived by the corrupting pleasures of this world. Strengthen us, Lord, to desire rather the delight of future blessings, for You are truly Blessed and praised among Your Saints unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Through the prayers of our Holy Father, Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
By Saint Neilos
"Everyone who does not wish to be united with God through prayer is actually separated from God."
"In the spiritual tradition of the Church, prayer is always seen as an act that is purely free and personal, and which, when practiced faithfully and devoutly, always unites the believer with God. If, as it is said, we cannot really live without God, then we must also say that we cannot really live without prayer, which brings us confidently before the presence of God and makes us witnesses of His presence and Kingdom in the world."
TODAY'S SYNAXARION (THE COMMEMORATION OF TODAY'S SAINTS):
On June 4th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honor and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers and of every righteous soul perfected in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Saint Metrophanes, first Patriarch of Constantinople; Saint Andronicus, Archbishop of Perm; Saints Mary and Martha, sisters of Lazarus; Saint Concordios of Spoleto; Saint Alonius of Scete in Egypt; Saints Frontasius, Severinus, Severian, and Silanus of Gaul; Saint Astius of Dyrrachium; Saint Zosimas of Cilicia, Bishop of New Babylon; Saint Sophia of Thrace; Saint Optatus, Bishop of Milevum; St. Methodius of Peshnosha; Eleazar and Nazarius of Olonets; Saint Titus, Bishop of Byzantium; Saint John of Monagria; Saint Ioannicus of Montenegro; Saint Petros of Cornwall; Holy Martyrs of Niculitsel.
+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Patriarchs, Holy Ascetics, Holy Bishops, Holy Mothers, Holy Fathers, O Christ Our God have mercy on us and save us. Amen.
SAINTS MARY AND MARTHA SISTERS OF SAINT LAZARUS. The Holy Myrrh-bearers Mary and Martha, together with their brother Lazarus, were especially devoted to our Savior, as we see from the accounts given in the tenth chapter of Saint Luke, and in the eleventh and twelfth chapters of Saint John. They reposed in Cyprus, where their brother became the first Bishop of Kition after his resurrection from the dead.
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn. Third Tone
Since ye believed in Christ with strong and ardent faith, and ever worshipped His Divine and Mighty deeds, ye both adorned yourselves with all splendor of sacred virtues. With your holy brother now, ye are also vouchsafed to dwell with the ranks of Saints on high, O ye sisters of Lazarus; and with him, O wise Mary and Martha, ye pray for us all unto the Master.
Kontakion. Third Tone
In the town of Bethany, ye dwelt of old, now in Heaven ye abide in Paradise, where our Lord's countenance shineth. For ye gave your hearts and souls up with fervent longing unto Him that is the Life and the Resurrection, as ye stand on high, O Mary and Martha, pray Him to grant salvation to us.
TODAY'S SACRED SCRIPTURAL READINGS ARE THE FOLLOWING:
Holy Epistle Lesson: Hebrews 7:26-28, 8:1-2
Holy Gospel Lesson: St. John 10:1-9
INSPIRING SAYINGS FROM THE WORKS OF THE HOLY ASCETICS, HOLY MOTHERS AND FATHERS OF THE CHURCH:
"Prayer is a conversation of man with God. He who prays with a broken and humbled spirit is filled with the divine gifts and blessings---that is, with joy, peace, comfort, illumination, and consolation--- and he, too, becomes blessed. Prayer is a doubled-edged sword that slays despair, saves from danger, and assuages grief, and so on. Prayer is a preventative medicine for all diseases of soul and body." (Geronda [Elder] Ephraim of the Holy Mountain)
CHRISTIAN GREEK ORTHODOX UNDER ISLAMIC RULE
By Father Demetrios Constantelos
It is in the light of this background that we review the more specific account about the neo-martyrs of the Christian Greek Orthodox Church. Even though records speak about Christian martyrs under Muslim Arabs and later Muslim Turks from as early as the 7th century of our era, we will concentrate on the neo-martyrs from the 15th to the 19th centuries. They are called neo-martyrs to distinguish them from those of those of the early Christian centuries who died under Roman persecution.
With the decline and fall of the Byzantine Empire (324-1453 AD), many Christians of the Greek Orthodox Church came under Ottoman Turkish rule: Islam was the dominant religion of the state and Christians were second-class citizens to say the least. From the beginning of the 15th century to the middle of the 19th century numerous non-Muslims of several ethnic backgrounds were converted to Islam. Many were either induced or forced to apostatize, while many more made the change voluntarily. Nevertheless, extensive testimony not only of the contemporary Christian writers, both Eastern and Western, but also of Turkish, corroborates the fact that a considerable number of Christians preferred death rather than apostasy.
The present article is based on a variety of sources and principally on the vioi (vitae) or l of 172 Greek Orthodox martyrs. It seeks to examine two aspects of Christian martyrdom in the Ottoman Empire. First, the methods and tactics used by the Turkish authorities as well as by the populace in their efforts to gain converts to Islam; and, second, the motives which led Christians to martyrdom.
Writing in the middle of the17th century about the state of the Greek and Armenian Churches under Ottoman rule, Paul Ricaut, the British consul in Smyrna, who travelled widely within the Ottoman Empire and became an astute observer of its religious and social scene, made several important observations which can be summarized as follows: first, the Turks expelled Christians from many of their churches, converting them to mosques; second, the "Mysteries of the Altar" were concealed in secret and dark places, vaults, and sepulchers, having their roofs almost leveled with the surface of the ground; third, many Christians turned "Mohametans" and many "flocked daily to the profession of Turkism"; and fourth, Christian priests, in the Eastern parts of Asia Minor especially, were forced to live with caution and officiate in obscurity and privacy, fearing the temper of the Turks. Ricaut adds that considering the oppression and contempt for the Greek Church, as well as the allurements, worldly pleasures, and privileges that Christian would enjoy by becoming Muslims, the stable perseverance of the Greek Church is a confirmation of God's experience "no less convincing than the miracles and power which attended the beginnings of the early Church" (Ricaut). Furthermore, he implies the existence of crypto (secret) Christians and confirms the use of coercive methods, which the Turks employed to gain converts. Of course forcible conversions to Islam and the existence of crypto-Christians as well as neo-martyrs were not rare phenomena in the Greek and other provinces conquered by the Turks from as early as the last quarter of the 11th century.
According to several accounts, from the conquest of Constantinople to the last phase of the Greek War of Independence, the Ottoman Turks condemned to death 11 Ecumenical Patriarchs of Constantinople, nearly 100 bishops, and several thousands of priests, deacons and monks. It is impossible to say with certainty how many men of the cloth were forced to apostatize. Nevertheless, many preferred martyrdom to apostasy, and of the above thousands, several have been glorified and raised to sainthood by the Greek Orthodox Church.
In a brief pioneering article in the English language about Eastern Orthodox neo-martyrs, the leading Belgian hagiology expert Hippolyte Delehaye (1921) wrote some 50 years ago that "the period of the Turks knew no limits" and that they used ingenious and varied means to induce numerous Christians to convert to Islam. He added: "The martyrdom of Christians of the Orient, who were victims of Mussulman fanaticism, contains many interesting and often moving pages that may be compared to the venerable monuments of the history of ancient persecutions."
Delehaye relied primary sources, which confirm that in the autocratic methods of rule, the Ottoman sultans and their allies, the Ullama, reduced non-Muslims in the status of dhimmitude, in strict subordination, enforceable by death. Exclusion from citizenship, which implied adoption of Islam, was a matter of pure survival. A full life may only be lived if you believe rightly according to Islamic faith. In the light of this background, it is not too difficult to imagine that many Christians preferred to convert, while others preferred death rather than apostasy.
According to Dr. Michael Francis, "The Ottoman Empire's conquest of the Balkans and subsequent administration left a perplexing religious legacy. The Islamic Ottoman presence lasted almost five centuries (500 years), yet Christianity remained the overwhelming religion of choice in the area."
At its height the empire included most of southeastern Europe to the gates of Vienna, including modern Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia, Romania, Greece, and Ukraine; Iraq, Syria, Israel, and Egypt; North Africa as far west as Algeria; and most of the Arabian Peninsula.
As a result of the Ottoman conquest of the Byzantine Empire (which lasted for eleven hundred years) 1453 and the Fall of Constantinople, the entire Orthodox communion of the Balkans and the Near East became suddenly isolated from the West. The Russian Orthodox Church was the only part of the Orthodox communion which remained outside the control of the Ottoman empire.
It is in part, due to this geographical and intellectual confinement that the voice of Eastern Orthodoxy was not heard during the Reformation in 16 the century Europe. As a result, this important theological debate often seems strange and distorted to the Orthodox, after all, they never took part in it and thus neither Reformation nor Counter-Reformation is part of their theological framework.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God