Filotheï, Patron Saint of Athens [2]

21 February 2013

On the eve of the feast of Saint Dionysios in 1589, she was in the monastery she had founded in Patisia. In the evening, the sisters gathered for the vigil. Some Muslims, who had long been at odds with her, jumped over the wall of the monastery and, having seized the saint, began beating her. They left her more dead than alive.

Ag-Filothei-2011β

The next day, the nuns took her to the monastery in Perisos. When she came to herself somewhat, she began  to pray, thanking God that she’d been accounted worthy to be repaid with evil for the good she’d done to others, in which she was like Christ, according to the words of Saint Peter: “inasmuch as you share the sufferings of Christ, rejoice” (I Peter, 4, 13). On February 19, 1589, she, who had suffered so many trials for the Lord, rendered her pure soul to Him. Her holy body was buried at the little monastery in Kalogreza and from there her relics were translated to the church of Saint Andrew, which is now in the Archbishopric.

Many years later, since the church was almost falling down, they took the relics to Saint Eleftherios’ and from there to today’s cathedral church, within the sanctuary. On her grave were found these words: “Under this sign lies the body of pure Filotheï, while her soul rests with God in the highest, among the blessed”. Filotheï was declared a saint in the reign of Ecumenical Patriarch Matthew II (1595-1600). Metropolitan Neofytos of Athens, having examined and investigated the life and martyrdom of the saint, wrote a report for the Patriarchate, together with the bishops of Corinth and Thebes and the most eminent citizens of Athens, to have her placed among the ranks of the saints. This Synodal letter also contains the following: “Since it has been amply demonstrated that the most holy body of the blessed Filotheï is full of fragrance and is constantly producing myrrh and that it gives healing to those who are sick, approach and pray to be cured… because of this it has seemed good to the whole of the holy Synod of bishops here present that she should be written into the choir of the saints and blessed women, so that she may be honoured and celebrated each year”.

This, in brief, was the life of the Athenian Saint Filotheï, who was one of the Greeks’ fragrant blossoms in the years of slavery under foreign tyrants. She was not only strict in applying the commandments of Christ, but also fought a spiritual struggle to reinforce the holy tradition of Orthodoxy as a bastion which would shelter the Greek people from spiritual degeneracy and barbarism. She sacrificed everything- riches, ease, and her life- for the faith of her ancestors. Her soul was grievously saddened when she saw Christians without any proper love for their heritage, living instead as though benumbed and indifferent, their hearts full of cowardice, pettiness and cunning.

Her service was written by a wise and devout man called Ierax. Among the beautiful encomia there is also this: “You, noble lady, had the meekness of David, the wisdom of Solomon, the courage of Sampson and the hospitality of Abraham; the patience of Job and the divine asceticism of the Forerunner…”.

The church of Saint Andrew which was on today’s Saint Filotheï Street, was demolished by Metropolitan Yermanos (Kalligas) of Athens, not out of lack of respect for the saint, but because there were cracks in the walls. On the same foundations he built the chapel which stands there now, but he could just as well have reinforced the old church, which had beautiful wall-paintings. At that time (Yermanos was metropolitan from 1889 to 1896), people had little idea of the value of Byzantine art. The new church which was built is cold, inartistic and bare. If you go in, you don’t feel like praying. And the church at the dependency which the saint had built in Patisia also fell down from old age and because the Christians weren’t able to look after it before the revolution in 1821, for fear of the Turks. Until a few years ago, some columns still lay among the weeds, but all that remained in place were the apse of the sanctuary and the door in the west wall. Then some devout Christians restored it under the guidance of Mr. Orlando and it now looks exactly as it did in the time of Saint Filotheï, a humble, unappreciated jewel among the tasteless and foreign-looking buildings that have been built around this timeworn chapel. God gave me the  chance to decorate it with icons, as was my deepest wish. Amongst other things, I painted the monastery as it had been at the time, with Saint Filotheï and the nuns going to church.

Saint Filotheï with her companions in the holy monastery of Saint Andrew, Patisia.

Wall-painting in the church therein by Fotios Kondoglou.

It appears that the whole Benizelos family were religiously inclined. In the narthex at Kaisariani there’s this inscription by the painter of the icons: “The funds for the painting of this entry or narthex were provided by the noble and most learned Benizelos, son of Ioannis, as well as his noble sisters, the lady who bore them, and the rest of his companions, all of whom, for fear of the plague hastened to the monastery by the mighty hand of the all-praised Trinity and the shelter of the blessed Virgin. At the time of the most wise abbot, Hieromonk Ierotheos. By the hand of Ioannis Ypatos, from the Peloponnese. In the year 1682, on the 20th of the month of August. Another Benizelos, Nikolaos, became an icon-painter, a student of Yeoryios Markos, from Argyeio, who painted the icons for many churches in the region of Attica from about 1727 to 1740. In the old church of the Mother of God in Koropi it says: “Painted in 1732 by the hand of Yeoryios Markos and his student Nikolaos Benizelos”. Benizelos also worked with his master on his last work, the icons for the Monastery of Faneromeni in Salamina, as is clear from the inscription, which says: “This divine and most-holy church of the Transfiguration of Our Lord, God and Saviour, through the contribution, efforts and expense… Painted by the hand of Yeoryios Markos, from the town of Argos and his student Nikolaos Benizelos, Yeorgakis and Antonios”.

Source: σάλευτο Θεμέλιο, [Steady Foundation], Akritas 1996.

 

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