My beloved spiritual children 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.
SAINT PHILOTHEI THE RIGHTEOUS MARTYR OF ATHENS (February 19th)
"Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ," Saint Paul wrote in his First Letter to the Corinthians (11:1).
The most excellent way to follow the Apostle's prescription is to practice Christ's own words recorded in the Gospel of Saint John: "If you love Me, keep My Commandments" (14:15).
Those who most excellently follow His Commandments after the Birth-Giver of God, the Most-Holy Theotokos, are His saints, known and unknown.
Saints are an integral part of the Orthodox Church: Saint Clement of Rome writes, "Cleave to the saints, for they who cleave to them shall be made holy," while Saint Ephraim the Syrian adds, "Blessed is he who plants in his soul good plants, that is, the virtues and the lives of saints."
Reverence for saints (not worship, which belongs to God alone) is closely connected with the veneration of their holy relics and holy icons. It is the saint, through their glorification by God Who continues the Christian Truth and Who helps the faithful by their intercessions to Him.
On February 19th the Church celebrates the memory of Saint Philothei the Righteous Martyr of Athens. Born into an aristocratic family in early 16th century (+522) Athens, Saint Philothei's birth was itself a miracle: her mother, a barren woman named Syriga, had her fervent prayers for a child answered by God after many years. Her birth embodies what Saint James the Just wrote in his Epistle: "The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much" (5:16).
Her mother Syriga and father Angelos Venizelos, were renowned not only for being eminent and rich, but also deeply devout. Often the kind-hearted Syriga had implored the Most Holy Theotokos for a child. Her fervent prayers were heard, and a daughter was born to the couple. They named her Revoula. After the repose of her parents, she was tonsured and took the name Philothei.
From childhood, the Saint showed a devout disposition, even in the face of a short-lived marriage to a tyrannical and abusive husband who died after three years.
Saint Philothei's life was one of ascesis (disciplined spiritual exercises/struggle), in contrast to today's passion for indulgence. Saint Philothei's life was one of prayer and contemplation, in contrast of today's impulsive consumption and self-glorification-selfie was the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2013.
Saint Philothei's life was not only inwardly holy, however; her actions followed Christ's words, again from the Gospel of Saint John: "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (13:35).
She showed her love for others, for example, by distributing her substantial inheritance for the betterment and freedom of her Greek brothers and sisters suffering under Turkish occupation and enslavement.
She founded monasteries, hospices, schools for girls and boys of Athens and also provided endowment of estates in order to scale her charity for the progress of many. 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' (Psalm 2:12). Saint Philothei brought this Scriptural quotation 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, Saint 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 the causes in forcing the maidens into submission.
However, Saint Philothei, with her Women's Monastery of virgins (Παρθενώνα), her schools, her Monastery's 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.
"Freely you have received, freely give," Christ said (St. Matthew 10:8). Her humble life, along with her philanthropy and compassion towards the poor and sick were a source of heavenly blessings, leading many by the "narrow gate" to the Kingdom of Heaven. She herself acquired the grace of working miracles.
Saint Philothei was eventually imprisoned and, after her release, was taken from her Monastery during a vigil and beaten, suffering a Martyr's death and entering into eternal rest in the Lord on February 19, 1589. Shortly thereafter, the relics of the holy Monastic Martyr Philothei were brought to the Athens Cathedral church.
As we leaf through the Synaxarion, the Spiritual Meadow and the lives of the athletes of the Church, a complete army of righteous heroes, martyrs, venerable ones, and Saints come to mind. And the Church that is "adorned in the blood of the Holy Martyrs as purple and fine linen" praises Martyrdom, setting up and lauding the spirit and sanctity of the Holy Martyrs as an example to the faithful, aimed at encouraging them to emulation and the praise of their spiritual growth.
"Do not be frightened brethren, by the frightful faces of tyrants, nor by their numbers, nor by their voices, nor by their terrible actions. Do not be afraid of wounds, by swords, by chains, by imprisonment, by beheadings. Do not be frightened of gallows, of hooks, of fire..."
So writes Saint Nicodemus the Athonite in the New Martyrologion. And Saint Philothei Angelou Venizelou was one of those rare personalities of her era that stood against the vested interests, the threats, personal tortures, and affronts, and "first raised up the banner of faith, beneath which was hiding a great and noble ideas, the free development and education of women," as John Gennadios writes.
The Synaxarion reveals the following:
Scarcely twenty days had passed before a lovely scent began to issue from her tomb. Her precious relic, which is venerated to this day in the Cathedral of Athens, has remained incorrupt for the glory of God and the consolation of the Christian people.
"By imitating Christ, following His Commandments and being a selfless almsgiver, Saint Philothei the Righteous Martyr of Athens provides faith, hope and love to the faithful 400 year after her death and serves as a true role model."
Saint Philothei said the following to the nuns of her Monastery: "This habit that we wear, my sisters, we do not wear just for prostrations and prayers, but to save, in short, our souls; but also to show mercy to the people around us. So, let us see the many and innumerable benefactions that our Lord bestows every hour. We also, for our part, have a great obligation to give our blessings to those on the streets and, openly or in secret, to have mercy on souls, so that they will not be lost."
"Come, oh lovers of the feast let us praise Philothei in songs and hymns To her feast we go A feast that is holy and divine For she truly lived A holy life here on earth And through her works showed forth her faith Therefore she also received The crown of the athlete From the hand of the One Whom she glorified And for Whom she loved the people.
-From the Synaxarion
With Saints Hierotheos and Dionysius the Areopagite, she is considered a patron of the city of Athens.
Apolytikion (Dismissal) Hymn. Plagal of the First Tone
The famed city of Athens doth honor Philothei, the righteous Martyr, whose relics it now revereth with joy; for while living in sobriety and holiness, she hath exchanged all earthly things for the everlasting life through great contests as a Martyr; and she entreateth the Savior to grant His mercy unto all of us.
Kontakion Hymn. Third Tone
We all honor Philothei with jubilation of spirit, as this day we reverently worship her venerable relics. For she lived her whole life working kindness and mercy; and the righteous one, receiving a martyr's ending, is deemed worthy to entreat God that all be granted life with the Saints.
It is very important that one understand the era about which we are speaking, in all realms of personal and social life, so that one is able to present and interpret the capabilities, the actions, and the final ideas of a developing group or a single person. These things took place in the sixteenth (16th) century Athens, Greece, with its 3,500-4,000 inhabitants, where, as various chronographers, writers, and historians relate, poverty was commonplace, as was illiteracy, piracy, mass kidnapping of children, epidemics, and unscrupulous violence. A Vakalopoulos notes that this period of the Turkish enslavement, "the first two centuries of the occupation (1453-1669) were truly the Greek Middle Ages; they were centuries of dark chaos. The Greek people seem to have been destroyed, to have lost their orientation and to move forward without any guidance." Athens was an unknown Turkish village at that time, when travelers were even unaware of the city's name! Some occasionally saw the city from Porto Drako, Piraeus, and went there and immediately sailed away in their ships. Athenian spent most of their time in their small houses, speaking their local tongue, which would sometimes be incomprehensible to other people-both Greeks and foreigners. In a letter of response to the Athenian Krousios, Portos the Frank writes, "I wept at the disorder and change of fortune that has happened, in Athens, and in Greece...it has now become enslaved to the barbarians and destruction, and nothing of that famous name has been saved."
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the commemoration of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God