(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. Phanurios, whose account is found in Volume 3 of the series.)
The flexibility of the Orthodox Church in its selection of saints is made evident in the canonization of a saint about whom next to nothing is known. What little there is remains shrouded in mystery, all of which makes this particular saint the most unique, certainly, in the annals of Christendom. His name is known, at least, but even if it were not, the same reverence could be accorded him because, like the unknown soldier at whose grave a wreath is placed annually, he lies in honored glory “known but to God.” This saint’s name, however, is known. It happens to be Phanurios, which, though it may not be a household word, is much better remembered by the faithful of Orthodoxy and the Eastern sector of Christianity than a good many more obscure saints whose biographies have been written in detail and who fill more pages in Church literature than the mysterious Phanurios.
Phanurios has been revered as a saint (his feastday has been celebrated for more than five hundred years) considerably longer than the lesser saints, and his name invoked in prayer quite possibly as often as some of the major saints. This is all the more remarkable when it is considered that it is not known when or where he was born, what he did in his lifetime, in what manner he served the Lord, or what he did for his fellow man. But there is mute testimony that he died the death of a martyr after having been horribly tortured, and in addition to mystery there is an aura of divine manifestation in the man whom nobody knows.
A fortuitous discovery by nomadic pagans, not Christians, brought to light this unheralded saint when a roving band of Arabs, who had pillaged the island of Rhodes, uncovered amid the ruins of an ancient church a group of icons, among other artifacts. All of the icons were in a state of decay or near ruin with the exception of one, which appeared as new and as fresh as though it had been painted the day before. This icon was discarded by the Arabs, who failed to attach any importance to it. At a safe distance a group of monks hiding in the rubble observed this phenomenon and waited patiently until the Arabs had left the scene, whereupon they rushed to reclaim this fantastic image in its remarkable state of preservation.
They beheld a clearly outlined face of a saint with the name inscribed in what appeared to be fresh lettering that spelled out “Phanurios” and on closer examination fell on their knees at what they saw. Drawn about the saint were twelve distinct frames in each of which Phanurios was shown enduring a cruel form of torture in a realism that suggested the artist must have been witness to the atrocity. They rushed back to see if any of the other icons were in as perfect a state, but although they were all of the same basic design, size and shape, all of them were quite ancient and quite indistinct. After careful scrutiny it was finally concluded that this icon of Phanurios had indeed been one of a group that had been exhumed after untold centuries and that its freshness was a divine manifestation of the complete saintliness of this man about whom they were now determined to learn more.
But years of research, scanning the archives of centuries and questioning the leading authorities of the day, yielded nothing, and no more was known about Phanurios than the day on which his icon was snatched from the ruins of that ancient Greek church. The torture scenes of the icon provided no clues, an examination of which showed Phanurios being stoned, on the rack, being slashed, behind bars, standing before a judge, tied to a frame, being burned with candles, tied to a post, thrown to wild animals, crushed by a boulder, holding hot coals, with a demon hovering against a background of flames. All of these horrors conveyed that Phanurios was an apparently indestructible instrument of God and that in itself was sufficient evidence of his sainthood.
Archbishop Milos of Rhodes concluded that the unblemished icon itself was testimony enough to prove that Phanurios was a man of divine grace, and he petitioned the Patriarch to convene a synod which would officially proclaim Phanurios a saint, after which there was erected in the saint’s memory a cathedral which enshrined the holy icon. Phanurios, lost for centuries in the ruins of a church, became the patron saint of things lost. To this day his name is invoked when prayers are asked for the recovery of lost items. He is commemorated on August 27, the day his icon was found.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.