Orthodox America


  Tribute to a New Martyr - Our Holy Father Philoumenos of the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulchre


Martyred at Jacob's Well, 16/29 November, 1979

 

       It has been ten years since this martyr and Sign of Our Times perished at the hands of Jewish terrorists at Jacob's Well, near the city of Samaria, now called Nabuls (Neapoils). By God's Grace, I am closer to my elder today than at the time of his martyrdom, when we had been separated for some months. In fact, I was in America, with his blessing, at the time. Otherwise i might have been with him when he was "perfected" by martyrdom. Faithless as I am, I might have denied Our Lord had I been tortured as he was, the holy three fingers of his right hand, with which he made the Sign of the Cross, being chopped to bits in an attempt to make him deny the Holy Trinity. Little did his satanically-inspired tormentors know how great were his faith and love for Christ, and with what kind of man they were dealing.

       And what kind of man was this, newly-elected by God, chosen to renew the consecration of the soil of Palestine with his bitted? Born to the pious Cypriot family of Hasapis, he and his twin brother Erachios entered the ancient monastery, of Stavrovouni, founded by the Empress St. Helen. The brothers left after the turmoil arising from the introduction of the new calendar after the Second World War.

       Father Phikmmenos used to tell me about his years in Bethlehem, where the bishop disapproved of education for monks lest they be tempted to the priesthood. But because of his zeal for the neglected souls of the Palestinian faithful, Father Philoumenos studied to become fluent in Arabic, both literary and conversational, chanting the Holy Gospel more easily than many Arabs, and preaching the Orthodox faith not only in their language but in his Orthodox manner of life. What a good shepherd he was, more worthy than some of the episcopate! Yet the policies and needs of the patriarchate saw Father Philoumenos assigned to other positions. Whenever Palestinian faithful were scandalized by some unworthy priest, whenever Orthodox neglect or European money drove the faithful to wonder whether they would not receive better pastoral care from Uniates, it was Father Philoumenos that the Patriarch of Jerusalem sent as the true defender of the Faith, a man of more than blameless life, a man from whom no one could even imagine any immodest or improper word, a man whose faith and integrity were a model for all.

      It happened at times that the Patriarchate in difficult circumstances was forced to appoint poor local Patestinian priests with no priestly training and little education. Father Philoumenos was a model of correction. The services would be clone properly and exactly, with appropriate respect, devotion and fear of God. There was no nonsense; the martyr-to be showed fear of God in the quiet, reverential way in which he approached the Holy Table, and the careless or erring priest received firm and clear correction so that the error would never happen again.

      Three things were most remarkable about the blessed martyr. The first might have been partly from nature, but assuredly aided by Grace: this was his soft sweet voice, which I can still hear today. The second was a meticulous fidelity to small things, but specifically to the Divine Service. He never omitted one word of any day's service. When we were alone in some remote monastery, particularly for Matins, he slowly and carefully chanted each word of every psalm and canon. Not even at the Monastery of St. Sabba was the reading done so well. But when there were pilgrims for the Divine Liturgy and vespers, he made the usual abridgements lest the service be too long and some be tempted to leave. Later on, privately, he would read every word that had not been chanted in the church. Those who stayed with him for some time saw the copies of the menaion, horologion, synaxarion, etc. and noticed that the markers were always in place and the volumes never dusty, which earned the Divine Promise, Well done thou good and faithful servant, because thou hast been faithful over little things, I will set thee over great things Enter thou into the joy of the Lord (Matt. 25:21).

      Third, and as unobtrusive, almost secret, was his humility. What a perfect patriarch he would have made, and were the election by the Palestinian faith fill he might well have been. Instead, God gave him an eternal crown and throne among the elders who offer incense before the throne of the Lamb (Rev. 5:8). 

       His humility was so simple and unaffected that we not see it. We all knew that this hieromonk did everything well. For all his strict rule of prayer, he was the perfect pastor, always at the disposal of whoever came to him. With what energy and zeal did he visit the small outlying villages, using his own personal funds to try to save the faithful from being seduced from the True Faith by the wealth, power and education of the West. There was only one Father Philoumenos, but so many rich seducers of the poor faithful. Yet now he bas been glorified by God so that he who has eyes can see where the truth lies, and follow virtue and truth.

      One painful example will never leave my memory. Once, and only once, we had a disagreement over a question of ecclesiastical policy about which we both had strong feelings. There was a somewhat heated discussion, but then it was time for night prayers and retirement. Immediately the next morning, before I could make my way to church, this holy old man, older than my earthly father, was on his knees asking my forgiveness for any ill will he might have caused, and commenting, 'There is no place for nationalism in the Church. All are one in Christ."

      Let me state that if I had not known the New Hieromartyr Philoumenos, I might have lost my faith. I was troubled, as so many are, that the Truth is so badly served. Every error thrives. We clergy are rarely good shepherds, and those seeking God are not many, while heretics and cultists draw throngs, no matter how evil their lives or teachings. Only by keeping the image of Fr. Philoumenos before my eyes do I persevere.

      The glorious martyrdom of this servant of God came to pass in November,1979. The week before, a group of fanatical Zionists came to the monastery at Jacob's Well, claiming it as a Jewish holy place and demanding that all crosses and icons be removed. Of course, our father pointed out that the floor upon which they were standing had been built by Emperor Constantine before 331 A.D. and had served as an Orthodox Christian holy place for sixteen centuries before the Israeli State was created, and had been in Samaritan hands eight centuries before that, (The rest of the original church had been destroyed by the invasion of the Shah Khosran Parvis in the seventh century, at which time the Jews had massacred all the Christians of Jerusalem.) The group left with threats, insults and obscenities of the kind which local Christians suffer regularly. After a few days, on November 16/29, during a torrential downpour, a group broke into the monastery; the saint had already put on his epitrachelion for Vespers. The piecemeal chopping of the three fingers with which he made the Sign of the Cross showed that he was tortured in an attempt to make him deny his Orthodox Christian Faith. His face was cloven in the form of the Cross. The church and holy things were all defiled. No one was ever arrested.

      His body was buried on Mt. Zion, and when it was exhumed after four years, as is customary, It was found to be substantially incorrupt. It is preserved in the seminary chapel. His official glorification by the Patriarchate of Jerusalem might well provoke further violence. But in the case of martyrs, no official or public ceremony by hierarchs is necessary for the veneration of the saint, since no doubt can be entertained about the circumstances of his death Moreover, the state of his relics and their veneration in the seminary chapel of the Patriarchate clearly show the Church’s desire to glorify the martyr. However, we hope that the Church of Cyprus might begin public glorification of its son until such time as pressures are removed from the Patriarchate of Jerusalem. Our martyred father used to say, "Our Saviour Himself founded the Church of Jerusalem, and that is why it has never gone astray, nor ever will, for he Himself is guiding it." 

Monk Yeghia Yenovkian Paradise Monastery, Ellisville, Mississippi

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