Saint of the Day: St. Anastasios the New Martyr

(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press.Today's saint, Anastasios, comes from Volume 4 of the series.) 

Saint Anastasios the Neomartyr

"The unconquered spirit of Christianity and the heroic gallantry of Greece during the Muslim occupation are nowhere better exemplified than in the noble life of an eighteenth-century youth whose courage and unswerving devotion to Jesus Christ presaged the ultimate triumph in years to come when the yoke of Ottoman tyranny was cast off after four centuries of oppression.

The name of this Christian stalwart was Anastasios, born of humble peasant stock in Paramythia, Epirus, and raised in a rural setting that provided a lifestyle that had changed little since the birth of Christ. Like his ancestors before him, he tilled a fertile patch of soil and tended flocks, content to lead the simple life at peace with his neighbors, which included the Turks. One of these he converted from enemy and Muslim to friend and Christian in an ironic series of events which have immortalized both the courageous Christian and the converted foe.

It all began on a day when Anastasios was peacefully tending his flock, enjoying the tranquility, the kind of day when shepherds draw nearer to God while watching the sheep graze. The stillness of that afternoon was shattered by the screams for help that came from his sister who was set upon by some young Turks. With staff in hand, Anastasios rushed to his sister’s aid, and in minutes his blind fury had put the rascals to rout. They took to their heels, never looking back at the enraged Greek who proved more than a match for them.

In that party of rogues there happened to be a youth named Musa who was the son of the ruling pasha. He had fallen in with this unruly group, who convinced him that a complaint should be brought against Anastasios, charging the innocent Greek with assault and battery, among other things. Anastasios was immediately arrested and imprisoned after his accusers had sworn that he, unprovoked, had attacked them as they walked along the road. In spite of the protest of innocence and the true story of what took place as testified by his sister, the bruises on the Turks were evidence enough for the pasha to place the accused in prison to await further decision on his fate.

The usual course of harassment and abuse was followed, but the Turks had underestimated the Greek shepherd who did not flinch in the face of indignities and physical abuse. The days grew into weeks and the weeks into months, but the undaunted Greek showed no sign of weakening. It was customary to offer the prospect of freedom and a good life if one were only to admit one’s guilt and come over to the side of Islam, but the proposition was rejected by Anastasios, who became all the more resolute in his declarations of faith in Jesus Christ.

While others saw this resistance as a stubborn defiance born of hate, Musa had the intelligence to perceive Christian courage. He visited the prisoner not to taunt him, but to express his admiration for such rare spirit. The visits grew frequent and the conversations long until Musa was convinced that the wrongfully condemned peasant was speaking the truth when he spoke of the Savior.

After much discussion it was decided that Musa would go to a monastery recommended by Anastasios, but that his change of heart would be kept secret to avoid embarrassing his father. He le without a word to his family and with the firm conviction that eventually Anastasios would be freed. He was taken in hand by a hermit who lived outside the monastery, and after spending time with him, he was told to visit an area of the Pelopponesus. Thereafter, he went to Venice, and it was in that city that he was formally baptized into the Christian faith and given the Christian name of Dionysios.

Dionysios then left Venice, bent on seeking out his friend Anastasios, whom he was anxious to greet as fellow traveler on the path to Jesus Christ. But his enthusiasm turned to sadness and near-despair when he learned that his father had beheaded the gallant Greek who had come to the defense of his sister.

Turning his back on that which had brought him sorrow, Dionysios left the mainland of Greece. He settled in a monastery on the island of Corfu (Kerkyra) where he became a monk and was renamed Daniel, and where he was a constant visitor, praying at the burial site of St. Spyridon. He lived out his years there, ever honoring the Savior and the memory of Anastasios who had died for Christ on November 18, 1750."

Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikimedia.

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