Paschal Martyrdom in a Monastery that Never Sleeps

On 23 April the Orthodox Church honours the memory of 179 newly revealed martyrs of Ntaou Penteli.

An Orthodox Christian will recall that the antimins is a necessary part of the altar of any church and is essential to all worship services. It is a rectangular piece of cloth with small relics of a saint sewn into it and decorated with representations of the descent of Christ from the Cross. Sacred places are many, but some stand out among all the others by the enormous shedding of righteous blood and martyrdom on a grand scale. They resemble a large altar and antimins, with relics of the saints found throughout. This description fully applies to Ntao-Penteli, a small town not far from Athens. It is famous for its Monastery Pantocrator for women, which used to be a monastery for men and has an ancient and glorious history.

Although the historical accounts about its founding diverge, it is believed to have been active from the ninth century, during the short period in the middle ages when the Byzantine Empire was flourishing. The monastery lived through all the periods of the empire’s history. It also survived its collapse. Throughout Ottoman rule, it remained a centre of Greece’s spiritual life and a cradle of its national identity, despite the hostile surroundings. In the best of times, it had around 600 residents, and under Turkish occupation, there were under 200. From the beginning, the monastery stood out among all others by its strict rules and its distinct liturgical order. Its main Church of the Holy Transfiguration had as many as eight altars. The Divine Liturgy was served there without stop every three hours. For this reason, the monastery had a reputation as a place that never sleeps. All of this continued until 1680.

Located off the coast, the Monastery Pantocrator was vulnerable to pirates who raided many nearby villages. Despite its better protection, the monastery was still attractive to the most godless of them because of its relics and riches. The monastery was difficult to reach from outside. The far-sighted monks had dug a secret tunnel which they could use to flee to a safe place in the event of a raid or military attack. But there happened to be a traitor among its labourers. He learned about the secret tunnel and led armed raiders in to commit a massive atrocity. It happened on the night preceding the Bright and Holy feast of the Resurrection of Christ. Who were those people who did not fear to perform these acts of sacrilege and bloodshed? Some chronicles call them Saracens, others Agarians, and still others Turks or Algerians. Today, questions do not seem relevant. They certainly were not Christians, and obviously, they were people who had no fear of God and no value for human life.

The assassins broke into the church where the Paschal service was in progress. Immediately, they assaulted the monks and cut them mercilessly into pieces. The monks had only candles in their hands and did not defend themselves. As many as 179 brothers of the Ntao-Penteli monastery departed to eternity in one moment. Only one hieromonk survived the raid. He was doing an obedience at the monastery’s metochion in Herothakuli. Perhaps his survival was providential. He laid to rest the bodies of the monks and lived to tell others the story of their martyrdom. The hieromonk returned to the monastery and saw a bone-chilling scene. The church and its entrance were drenched in blood, and severed members of the monks’ bodies were scattered around. No one fled the Paschal vigil. Nobody even attempted. All of them died a martyr’s death at the hands of the merciless killers. These saints martyrs had spent all their lives glorifying God in their prayers, and in prayer, they stood before the Lord when their lives ended.

After that horrible event, monastic life died out. The number of monastics declined, and there were times when only one or two conventuals were living in it. For almost three centuries, the relics of the holy martyrs remained hidden from all. It was not until the revival of the monastery in 1963 that their relics were discovered. The sisters of the women’s monastery of Saint Potapius took charge of the restoration of the Monastery of the Pantocrator. They prayed vehemently that the Lord may reveal to them where the holy martyrs were laid to rest. Then a miracle happened. As the constructions workers were ripping up the floors, they felt a fragrant smell coming from below. Soon, the uncorrupted relics of the Hegumen and 64 monks martyrs were discovered under the Royal Doors. Immediately, miraculous healings started to happen around the relics. The excavation effort stopped, and the remaining relics remain buried on the grounds of the monastery of the Pantocrator.

The Greek Church commemorates the venerable monks martyred on Easter of 1680 at the Monastery of the Pantocrator each Tuesday of the Bright Week, and the Russian Orthodox Church commemorates their martyrdom on 23 April.

Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds

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