Commemoration of Saints Raphael, Nicholas and Irene of Lesbos
Newly-Appeared Martyrs of Lesbos, Saints Raphael, Nicholas and Irene These saints were martyred by the Turks on Bright Tuesday (April 9, 1463) ten years after the Fall of Constantinople. For nearly 500 years, they were forgotten by the people of Lesbos, but “the righteous Judge... opened the things that were hid” (2 Macc. 12:41).
For centuries the people of Lesbos would go on Bright Tuesday to the ruins of a monastery near Thermi, a village northwest of the capital, Mytilene. As time passed, however, no one could remember the reason for the annual pilgrimage. There was a vague recollection that once there had been a monastery on that spot, and that the monks had been killed by the Turks.
In 1959, a pious man named Angelos Rallis decided to build a chapel near the ruins of the monastery. On July 3 of that year, workmen discovered the relics of Saint Raphael while clearing the ground. Soon, the saints began appearing to various inhabitants of Lesbos and revealed the details of their lives and martyrdom. These accounts form the basis of Photios Kontoglou’s 1962 book A GREAT SIGN (in Greek).
Saint Raphael was born on the island of Ithaka around 1410, and was raised by pious parents. His baptismal name was George, but he was named Raphael when he became a monk. He was ordained to the holy priesthood, and later attained the offices of Archimandrite and Chancellor.
In 1453, Saint Raphael was living in Macedonia with his fellow monastic, the deacon Nicholas, a native of Thessalonica. In 1454, the Turks invaded Thrace, so the two monks fled to the island of Lesbos. They settled in the Monastery of the Nativity of the Theotokos near Thermi, where Saint Raphael became the igumen.
In the spring of 1463, the Turks raided the monastery and captured the monks. They were tortured from Holy Thursday until Bright Tuesday. Saint Raphael was tied to a tree, and the ferocious Turks sawed through his jaw, killing him. Saint Nicholas was also tortured, and he died while witnessing his Elder’s martyrdom. He appeared to people and indicated the spot where his relics were uncovered on June 13, 1960.
Saint Irene was the twelve-year-old daughter of the village mayor, Basil. She and her family had come to the monastery to warn the monks of the invasion. The cruel Hagarenes cut off one of her arms and threw it down in front of her parents. Then the pure virgin was placed in a large earthen cask and a fire was lit under it, suffocating her within. These torments took place before the eyes of her parents, who were also put to death. Her grave and the earthen cask were found on May 12, 1961 after Saints Raphael, Nicholas and Irene had appeared to people and told them where to look.
Others who received the crown of martyrdom on that day were Basil and Maria, the parents of Saint Irene; Theodore, the village teacher; and Eleni, the fifteen-year-old cousin of Saint Irene.
The saints appeared separately and together, telling people that they wished to be remembered. They asked that their icon be painted, that a church service be composed for them, and they indicated the place where their holy relics could be found. Based on the descriptions of those who had seen the saints, the master iconographer Photios Kontoglou painted their icon. The ever-memorable Father Gerasimos of Little Saint Anne Skete on Mt. Athos composed their church service.
Many miracles have taken place on Lesbos, and throughout the world. The saints hasten to help those who invoke them, healing the sick, consoling the sorrowful, granting relief from pain, and bringing many unbelievers and impious individuals back to the Church.
Saint Raphael is tall, middle-aged, and has a beard of moderate length. His hair is black with some grey in it. His face is majestic, expressive, and filled with heavenly grace. Saint Nicholas is short and thin, with a small blond beard. He stands before Saint Raphael with great respect. Saint Irene usually appears with a long yellow dress reaching to her feet. Her blonde hair is divided into two braids which rest on either side of her chest.
Saints Raphael, Nicholas, and Irene (and those with them) are also commemorated on Bright Tuesday. Dr. Constantine Cavarnos has given a detailed account of their life, miracles, and spiritual counsels in Volume 10 of his inspirational series MODERN ORTHODOX SAINTS (Belmont, MA, 1990).
The Appearance of the Iveron (Portaitissa) Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos on Mt. Athos.
This icon was the property of a pious widow who lived in the area of Nicea in Asia Minor during the time of the iconoclastic emperor Theophilus (829-842). When the emperor’s men arrived there to find and destroy every holy icon, this faithful widow threw the wonderworking icon of the Theotokos into the sea. Then she beheld a strange wonder. The icon stood upright on the water and traveled westward across the waves in this position.
After a time the icon arrived in front of the Iveron Monastery on Mt. Athos. A certain holy hermit named Gabriel received it in his arms from the water, and he gave it to the monks. They built a little church for the icon near the gate of the monastery, and they placed the icon there. From that time it was called the Portaitissa.
Since then the Most Holy Theotokos has worked many miracles through her holy icon. She has cured those who were possessed by demons, healed those who were lame, and given sight to the blind. At the same time, she has protected the monastery from every danger and saved it from invasions of foreigners. Among those who received benefit from the Portaitissa was a Russian princess, the daughter of Tsar Alexei Michailovitch (1651).
The icon arrived at the Holy Mountain on Bright Tuesday 1004. Therefore, the Iveron Monastery celebrates this bright festival even to the present day. The Divine Liturgy takes place in the church by the sea, where holy water gushed up when the monk Gabriel took the icon from the sea.
The Iveron (Portaitissa) Icon is also commemorated on March 31.
Ktitorissa or Bematarissa Icon of the Most Holy Theotokos of Vatopaidi Monastery. (Παναγία Κτιτόρισσα ή Βηματάρισσα)
When certain Arabs invaded Vatopaidi Monastery, Hierodeacon Sabbas, the Bemataris (custodian of the sanctuary) was responsible for the sacred relics and other valuables kept there. He managed to hide the Icon and Constantine's Cross in a well of the Holy Altar, with an oil lamp burning before them. The monastery was looted and the monks were taken captive and brought to Crete. Seventy years later, Hierodeacon Sabbas was released and he returned to his monastery. There he found some young monks whom he didn't know, and they knew nothing about the hidden relics. Then they uncovered the well and discovered the Icon and the Cross standing upright upon the water, with the oil lamp still burning!
Today the Ktitorissa Icon is in the synthronon (stone seats behind the altar) of the Holy Sanctuary, and it is also called the Foundress, or Builder, because her discovery may be related to the rebuilding of the monastery by three brothers (the monks Athanasios, Nicholas and Anthony) who lived there around the end of the X century.
In memory of this event, the Paraklesis (Canon of Supplication) to the Theotokos is sung every Monday evening, and the Divine Liturgy is served every Tuesday morning in the katholikon. The Ktitorissa Icon is honored on Bright Tuesday, when it is taken around the Monastery in procession.
The Martyrs of Saint David of Garesja Monastery in Georgia in 1616 (also April 4).
The Venerable Patapius, Nikon and Hypomone.
These saints struggled in a cave where the monastery of Saint Patapius was built (in the metropolis of Corinth). There the skulls of Saint Patapius the New and Saint Hypomone are treasured, and also the jaw of Saint Nikon the New. These holy relics were placed in silver reliquaries by the Most Reverend Metropolitan Panteleimon (Karanikola).
Saint Patapius is also commemorated on December 8.