(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 comes from Volume 4 of the series.)
Saint George of Neapolis
The many churches of the sprawling city of Athens are dedicated to the great saints of Orthodoxy, but in the suburban area of Nea Ionia there is a small chapel dedicated to a man of God known as St. George of Neapolis. He was a humble priest who gave his life for Christ a little more than a quarter century before a Patras clergyman issued the call to arms that was to overthrow the oppressive Turkish occupation of four centuries.
Father George served the Church of the Virgin Mary in Neapolis which lay in Asia Minor in an area which was once part of the glorious Byzantine Empire, but which is now a part of Turkey. The Greeks in this small village, who had lived there for generations prior to the Ottoman takeover, were struggling to retain their identity, which was more easily lost in Asia Minor than in the country of Greece. The animosity between Christians and Muslims, who outnumbered them to a considerable degree, was ever-present, but whenever this animosity erupted into open hostility, the sheer weight of numbers kept the Greeks in frustrated obeisance.
At the approach of the nineteenth century, feelings were running high, particularly in Asia Minor, when a
neighboring village priest was put to flight in fear for his life, leaving his community with no spiritual leader. When Father George learned that his fellow priest had been forced to flee the village of Malakope, he announced to his own parish that after services he would go to the church at Malakope to conduct services and administer holy Communion. He felt it his sacred duty to make this comparatively short trip, but it proved to be his last earthly journey.
On the lightly traveled road to Malakope, Father George was set upon by an aroused band of Turkish rabble who had been outraged by the escape of the priest of Malakope and took out their revenge on the innocent priest from Neapolis. Beaten and robbed, this man, who had sought only to do his Christian duty, was left to die at the side of the road. The murdered man of the cloth was discovered by Christians, and lest Turkish ghouls further desecrate this martyr, he was buried in an obscure grave with a simple headstone bearing the two words, “George, Priest.”
Some years later, a Greek widow had a succession of visions in which she was told that the body of Father George should be returned to his church. She told these dreams to friends who, in turn, spoke to the parish priest. It was decided that these visions were more than ordinary dreams, and a group went in secret to unearth the remains, bearing a casket in which to put the skeleton of the buried priest. The exhumation revealed the perfectly intact body of one who seemed to have just fallen asleep. The miraculously preserved body was placed in the coffin and borne to the church of Neapolis, where word was passed among the Christian community.
Years after he had died, Father George’s unembalmed body lay in state in an open casket, brought forth in secret for all Christians to see for themselves. And after all the faithful had knelt in prayer at his bier, a special niche was built within the church for his final resting-place. At the site of this holy shrine, hundreds of Christians came in secret to pray, convinced that they were venerating a saint long before he was recognized. Many miraculous cures were reported to have taken place at the gravesite, but more miraculous still is the fact that the usually garrulous Greeks never revealed the presence of this holy man.
The War of Independence brought little change for Neapolis, which remained in Turkish territory. Although the Turks were driven out of Greece, the Christians of Asia Minor noticed little improvement in their way of life. Their religious observances were no longer frowned upon, but their status as second-class citizens remained the same. They were tolerated in a land that had been gloriously Greek since Constantine the Great, and although fluent in the Turkish tongue, remained Greek through and through, delighting in the use of their ancient tongue whenever possible.
Following the hostilities between Greece and Turkey in 1922, there ensued what has been called a repatriation of Greeks to Greece, among which were the residents of Neapolis, who left the area where countless generations of Greeks had lived. The refugees took up residence in the Athenian suburb of Nea Ionia, erecting the chapel to house their beloved St. George in 1924, in memory of the priest who died for Christ on a lonely road on November 3, 1797.