New Martyr Niketas of Nisyros near Rhodes

The Holy New Martyr Niketas was born in the town of Mandraki on the Aegean island of Nisyros (Νίσυρος), and his father was one of the town's leaders. The father had committed some crime for which he was arrested, and was put on trial by the Moslems. Afraid that he would be executed, he decided to save his life by becoming a Moslem along with his family. Niketas, who was too young to understand the significance of this change, was given the name Mehmed. The Christians of Nisyros despised them for denying Christ, so the family had to move to the island of Rhodes.

One day Niketas got into a fight with a Muslim boy with whom he was playing. When the boy's mother heard about it, she started to yell at Niketas and called him an infidel. Puzzled by this, Niketas asked his mother what it meant. She ignored his questions but Niketas was persistent in his attempts to discover the truth. At last his mother relented and told him how they had become Moslems. Then he wished to know what his Christian name was, the one he had received at his Baptism. When he was told it was Niketas, he was determined to return to his ancestral faith, and waited for an opportunity to escape from the island.

Niketas took a ship to the island of Chios and landed at the harbor of Lithe. He walked without knowing where he was going, and soon he arrived at the Byzantine Monastery of Nea Moni. There he told his story to the Igoumen and asked for some advice concerning his salvation. The Igoumen told him to visit Makarios, the former Metropolitan of Corinth,1 who was living on the island as an ascetic at that time. When Makarios heard his Confession, he was received back into the Church through Holy Chrism, and he also received spiritual guidance.

Niketas decided to remain at the Monastery of Nea Moni, where he began to live an ascetical life. Wishing to undertake even greater struggles, Niketas went to live in the Cave of the Holy Fathers near the Monastery. There he met the ascetic Anthimos. He was told that a Christian who has denied Christ must return to the place of his denial, and confess his faith in Jesus Christ, reject Islam and suffer martyrdom. Niketas rejoiced when he heard this, and then he returned to the Monastery, where he told the Fathers of his desire. Seeing his determination, they chanted the Canon of Supplication to the Theotokos (Paraklesis), and he received a blessing to carry out his intention.

When the young man arrived at the port of Chora on Chios, he was arrested by a Moslem tax collector from the Crimea, because he had no proof that he paid the head tax, which was required of all Orthodox Christians in the Ottoman Empire. As he was being led to prison, the tax collector stopped at a place called Bounaki, where he looked for other tax evaders. Just then a priest named Daniel, who knew Niketas, happened to come by and called out to Niketas using his Moslem name Mehmed. When he asked Niketas why he was being detained, he was told it was because he did not pay the head tax. Then Father Daniel shouted: "Here is something new! Are Moslems now obliged to pay the head tax?"

When Niketas explained to him that he was a Christian named Niketas, the Moslem from the Crimea overheard their conversation and came to investigate. Then Niketas was taken to the Turkish judge and was interrogated.

Niketas admitted to the judge that he had been a Moslem and was circumcised, but then he decided to return to the Christian faith which is the true faith. He also wished to be called by his baptismal name Niketas. The judge therefore ordered that Niketas be imprisoned and tortured for ten days so he might come to his senses and return to Islam. Niketas remained steadfast and was not afraid, even though they cursed him and beat him without mercy. They brought him food to eat, but he chose not to eat, saying: "I am being fed with food which you do not have, and I rejoice with joy which you cannot experience." He was also placed in a stable so he would be trampled by the wild horses, but when it was discovered that he was unharmed, he was returned to the prison.

After the ten days had passed, the Turks realized that Niketas had no desire to return to Islam, and was even more steadfast in his Orthodox Christian faith. They led Niketas to the edge of the city, to a Metochion (Dependency) of the Athonite Monastery of Iveron. Once again, he was urged by the executioners to become a Moslem again and thereby escape death. Niketas replied: "I am a Christian; my name is Niketas, and I shall die as Niketas."

The executioners made Niketas kneel several times, trying to frighten him, but he said to them: "Why do you delay? Kill me quickly that I may enjoy the blessedness of Paradise." The executioner repeatedly struck his neck with the sword in order to cause him greater pain. After several blows, the seventeen-year-old Niketas was decapitated and received the crown of martyrdom on June 21, 1732. Christians dipped cloths in his martyric blood, and when it was applied to the eyes of the blind, they received their sight. Although the Turks threw dirt over his body to dishonor it, the body would remain clean for many days. In order to prevent the Christians from taking his sacred relics, they were thrown into the sea.

The head of Saint Niketas was preserved in a box with a glass cover in the Monastery of Saint Mark the Evangelist on Chios. It is thought that Christians bribed the guards, or stole the head. The next day, when the Saint's relics were tossed into the sea, the guards, hoping to avoid punishment, did not bother to inform the authorities that the head was missing. Later, the skull was given to Saint Parthenios of Chios (December 8), who founded the Monastery. There was no mention of where the holy relic was, so that the monks would not be punished for having it.

The Saint's holy relics are in the church of Saint Niketas at Nisyros. His head is kept at Iveron Monastery on Mount Athos.


1 This Makarios is not to be confused with Saint Makarios of Corinth (April 17), who lived from 1731-1805.