(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 we commemorate St. Parthenios, whose account is found in Volume 1 of the series.)
Saint Parthenios III, Patriarch of Constantinople
If somehow Christianity had reached the American Indians by 1620 and there had landed on their shores a horde of Muslims instead of British Pilgrims, then Christian Indians to this day would be under the brutal Muslim thumb and fighting to keep Christianity alive much as the Greeks did in the nearly four centuries of Ottoman rule. When considered in this light, one has to pause to pay tribute to a gallant Greek Christendom that bore an oppressive yoke for more years than it has taken America to become the greatest nation in the world, a nation which allows religious freedom but has its roots in Christianity, which to all intents and purposes is the religion of the country.
Nearly two hundred years had elapsed since the Turkish invasion when from 1639 to 1657 there was a succession of three patriarchs of the Greek Orthodox Church who bore the name Parthenios, all of whom were to meet brutal ends at the hands of the invaders and the last of whom so served Christ that he became a saint. The last of this trio of holy men, and the greatest, was Patriarch Parthenios III, a lamb of God so heedless of the dangers about him because of his intense devotion to the Christian Church that he is remembered as much for his courage as for his piety.
When Parthenios accepted the Ecumenical Throne in 1656 in the ancient city of Constantinople, he was well aware of the fate of his two predecessors and of the imminent danger to himself. Despite the fact that there was an understanding between the Turkish majority and the Greek minority, the hostility between the two was extremely volatile, and those hardy Greek souls who chose to remain in the land of their forebears did so despite the fact that they were forced to walk a religious tightrope. The solid ground of Islam had no room for Greek Christians and the flimsiest strand on which he was allowed to tread was reserved for the patriarch, the leader who symbolized all that Islam despised. The menance was to Parthenios not a deterrent but a challenge to take a stand for Jesus Christ.
No more than they could conquer their souls could the Turks conquer the hearts and minds of the Greeks, whose artistic skills and commercial enterprise they looked upon with envy and were forced to tolerate in the interest of the country as a whole. It was to the Greek merchants and artisans that the Turks looked and accorded a great deal of freedom of operation. This compromise of the two religions was such that a peaceful coexistence was a virtual impossibility during the ecumenical reign of Parthenios III.
A native of Mytilene, Parthenios advanced in the hierarchy with rapid strides, serving as metropolitan of the island of Chios before becoming patriarch. In a span of thirty years between these two posts, he demonstrated a great intellect as well as an intense devotion which earned him the respect of clergy and laity alike. He was the natural choice for the patriarchate, but at the time of his ascension in 1656, feelings were running high, eventually intensifying to a degree that assured violence at any given moment.
The year in which he served was a year of constant harassment for Parthenios, a year of unending indignities heaped upon him which he bore with Christian calm and courage. His refusal to display a public anger or fi e a for-mal protest against reactionaries who sought his downfall brought further bitterness and a plot was hatched to destroy this holy man whose only concern was for peace among all people.
Some correspondence between the patriarch and the metropolitan of Kyzikos in Asia Minor was seized by authorities and construed to be seditious, and he was charged with high treason by the Tartars of the area. Despite the fact that the sultan found no menace in this correspondence, a hue and cry was raised against the patriarch, and the sultan stood by while an angry mob stormed the Patriarchate. Parthenios was dragged out into the streets and hanged. He died for Christ on March 24, 1657.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.