St. Phanourios the Newly-Revealed Great Martyr of Rhodes (Feast Day - August 27)
ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑ για τον άγιο και το πρόβλημα της ιστορικής ύπαρξής του εδώ.
An Overview of the Life and Veneration of Saint Phanourios
By Fr. George Poulos
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 Phanourios, 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 mere
pages in Church literature than the mysterious Phanourios.
Phanourios has been revered as a
saint (his feast day has been celebrated for more than 500 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 fellowman. 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 a 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 “Phanourios” and on closer examination fell
on their knees at what they saw. Drawn about the saint were twelve
distinct frames in each of which Phanourios 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 Phanourios 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 Phanourios 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, and
examination of which showed Phanourios 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, and a demon hovering against a background
of flames. All of these horrors conveyed that Phanourios was an
apparently indestructible instrument of God and that in itself was
sufficient evidenced of his sainthood.
Archbishop Milos of Rhodes
concluded that the unblemished icon itself was testimony enough to prove
that Phanourios was a man of divine grace, and he petitioned the
Patriarch to convene a synod which would officially proclaim Phanourios a
saint, after which there was erected in the saint’s memory a cathedral
which enshrined the holy icon.
Phanourios, 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 27th, the day his icon was
The Twelve Scenes on the Icon of St. Phanourios
1. The Saint is present in front of
the Roman magistrate, standing and looking like he is boldly testifying
and defending his Christian faith.
2. Here the soldiers are
intervening and striking Phanourios’ head and the mouth with stones to
force him to succumb and deny the Lord.
3. The soldiers have thus far
become enraged by the persistence of Phanourios, throwing him to the
ground and beating him mercilessly with sticks and clubs to break his
4. Phanourios is in jail and is
being tortured in a most abominable way. He appears totally naked and
the surrounding soldiers are tearing his flesh with sharp metal
instruments. The Saint is silently enduring his frightful martyrdom.
5. Phanourios is back in jail praying to God to strengthen him to the end of his tortures.
6. The Saint is again brought
before the Roman magistrate to give a defense for his position. By the
peaceful expression on his face it appears that neither the tortures he
suffered nor the future threats of the tyrant can shake his faith, and
thus being undeterred he is waiting for further tortures.
7. The torturers of Phanourios
with rage and cruelty are burning his naked body with lit torches, thus
showing his insuperable sacrifice for the Crucified One. The Saint wins
again with his indomitable will and fortitude for the Lord.
8. Here his savage torturers are
making use of mechanical means to achieve the worse of his tortures.
They have tied the Saint on a press which crushes his bones when
rotated. He is suffering without grumbling, but on his beautiful face
there is an inexpressible exultation since he is suffering for the sake
of the Lord.
9. Phanourios is cast into a pit
to become prey to wild beasts and his torturers are watching from above
to witness his end. The beasts, however, are totally docile through the
grace of God and silently surround him like lambs to enjoy his
10. The torturers were not
satisfied by the latest result so they removed him from the hole and are
crushing him under a huge rock, convinced that they will finish him
off. However, even this time they do not succeed.
11. The scene presents the Saint
in front of an altar, where the torturers are urging him to sacrifice,
placing burning coal in his hands. Phanourios also passes this test
victoriously and a devil in the form of a dragon is shown flying in the
air and crying over its failure.
12. The last scene is the end of
his martyrdom, with Phanourios being cast into a large furnace standing
on a stool and surrounded by flames and smoke. The Saint seems to be
praying intently to God, without complaining or grumbling, and thus
unwavering and without giving in, he flew to heaven, full of contentment
for all the tortures he had suffered for the sake of the Lord.
The Folk Cult of St Phanourios in Greece and Cyprus,
and Its Relationship With the International Tale Type 804
This paper discusses, from a
historical perspective, the basic elements of the folk cult of St
Phanourios in Greece and Cyprus - namely, the custom of preparing
phanouropita (literally, "St Phanourios pie"), which is connected with
the belief that one can find something lost or obtain good luck in
general - and the oral narratives associated with St Phanourios and his
mother, which seem to constitute the Greek adaptation of the
international folktale type 804. The investigation is based on recently
collected material as well as the manuscript collections of the public
Read the entire study here.
Who Really Is St. Phanourios?
Is St. Phanourios really St. George,
and is his identification a misreading of the inscription of the icon,
such as was that of St. Salsa of Typasa and St. Philomena? It could be
that the word "phanourios" is just a surname of St. George that
expresses a certain quality or story, much like as was done to the
ancient Greek gods or the Virgin Mary. In my opinion, this just adds to
the fascinating mystery that we should all celebrate, though no definite
opinion can really be sure either way. More can be read in the study
above, and also here.
[Note of our weblog: This view is not correct, because the martyrdom of St. Fanourios is completely different from the martyrdom of St. George. Also, the miracles of St. Fanourios are so many that are sure to be a real person.]
In his 1948 book Αγιος Φανούριος,
Ezekiel Velanidiotis writes of a conflict between the Holy Synod of
Greece and certain pious faithful in Pagkrati, Athens in 1947.
Metropolitan Methodios of Syros decided to dedicate a chapel to St.
Phanourios. In response to this, the Holy Synod decided to issue an
encyclical that St. Phanourios does not exist and that houses of worship
should not be dedicated to him. As a result of this encyclical,
Metropolitan Meletios of Messinia changed his mind about dedicating a
chapel at the Holy Monastery of Velanidias
(of the Oak) to St. Phanourios and instead dedicated it to St. George.
However, in Pagkrati the people insisted in honoring the memory of St.
Phanourios and hence his memory is still honored there today.
How about the relics of St. Phanourios in Cyprus?
It seems like this folk custom, not authorized by the Church, is in reality the bones of the Cyprus Dwarf Hippopotamus. Read more here.
The Church of St. Phanourios in Rhodes
The Life and Miracles of Saint Phanourios From The Great Synaxaristes
Phanourios bestoweth light upon all the faithful,
Even though he long lay in the darkness of the earth.
From whence Phanourios, the splendid
athlete of the Lord and invincible marty, came, and of what parentage he
was, and even in what age he lived and under the reign of which
emperors he waged his struggle and fought his fight, we have been unable
to ascertain, for the account of his life has been lost owing to the
vicissitudes of time, as many other things also have been lost or become
obscure or unclear. This only do we know, that when the Hagarenes
(Muslims) ruled the renowned island of Rhodes, having conquered it
because of our sins, he that became ruler of the island wished to
rebuild the ramparts of the city that past sieges had ravaged. On the
outskirts of the fortress were several ruined dwellings that had been
abandoned by reason of their association with the old fortress, which
was located a furlong to the south. From these ruins the Hagarenes were
wont to gather stones for their construction.
It so happened that, while
excavating and reinforcing that place, they discovered a most beautiful
church, which was partly buried in ruins. Excavating as far as the floor
of the temple, they found many holy icons, all decayed and crumbling,
yet the icon of the holy Phanourios was whole and entire; indeed, it
seemed as though it had been painted but that very day. And when this
all-venerable temple was uncovered, together with its sacred icons, the
hierarch of that place, Nilus by name, a man of great sanctity and
learning, came and read the inscription of the icon, which said, "The
The saint was depicted upon the
icon as follows: He was shown as a young man, arrayed as a soldier,
holding a cross in his right hand, and at the upper part of the cross
there was a lighted taper. Round about the perimeter of the icon were
twelve scenes from the holy one's martyrdom, which showed the saint
being examined before the magistrate; then in the midst of soldiers, who
were beating him about the mouth and head with stones; then stretched
out upon the ground while the soldiers flogged him; then, stripped naked
while they rent his flesh with iron hooks; then incarcerated in a
dungeon; and again standing before the tyrant's tribunal; then being
burned with candles; then bound to a rack; then cast amidst wild beasts;
then crushed with a great rock; then standing before idols holding
burning coals in his hands, whilst a demon nearby wept and lamented; and
finally he is shown standing erect in the midst of a fiery furnace, his
hands, as it were, uplifted towards Heaven.
From these twelve scenes
depicted upon the icon, the holy hierarch perceived that the saint was a
martyr. Then straightway that good and pious man sent deputations to
the rulers of that place, asking that they consign to him that temple
for restoration, but this they declined to do. Therefore, the hierarch
traveled to Constantinople alone and there obtained a decree empowering
him to rebuild the church; thus it was restored to that state in which
it can be seen even to this day, outside the city. And is has become the
source of many miracles, of which I shall relate one for the profit of
many, that all who love and venerate the saint may rejoice.
At that time the isle of Crete had no
Orthodox hierarch, but a Latin bishop, for it was ruled then by the
Venetians, who had shrewdly refused to permit an Orthodox hierarch to be
consecrated whenever one died. This they did with evil intent, thinking
that with time they could thus convert the Orthodox to the papist
dogmas. If Orthodox men wished to obtain ordination, they had to go to
Cythera. It came to pass that there went forth from Crete three deacons,
traveling to Cythera to be ordained priests by the hierarch there; and
when this had been accomplished, and they were returning to their own
country, the Hagarenes captured them at sea and brought them to Rhodes,
where they were sold as slaves to other Hagarenes. The newly-consecrated
priests lamented their misfortune day and night.
But in Rhodes, they heard tell
of the great wonders wrought by the Great Martyr Phanourios, and
straightway they made fervent supplication to the saint, beseeching him
with tears to deliver them from their bitter bondage. And this they did
each separately, without knowing ought of what the others were doing,
for they had each been sold to a different master. Now, in accordance
with the providence of God, however, they were all three permitted by
their masters to go and worship at the temple of the saint, and, guided
by God, they came all together and fell down before the sacred icon of
the saint, watering the ground with the streams of their tears,
entreating him to deliver them out of the hands of the Hagarenes. Then
they departed, somewhat consoled, each to his own master, hoping that
they would obtain mercy, which in fact did come to pass; for the holy
one had compassion upon their tears and hearkened unto their
supplication. That night he appeared to the Hagarenes who were the
masters of the captive priests, and commanded them to permit the
servants of God to go and worship in his temple lest he bring dreadful
destruction upon them. But the Hagarenes, thinking the matter sorcery,
loaded them with chains and made their torments more onerous.
Then the Great Martyr Phanourios
went to them that night and brought them forth from their bonds, and
encouraged them, saying that the following day he would, by all means,
free them. He then appeared to the Hagarenes and, reproaching them with
severity, said: "If by tomorrow ye have not set your servants at
liberty, ye shall behold the power of God!" Thus saying, the holy one
vanished. And, O, the wonder! As many as inhabited those houses all
arose blind and paralyzed, tormented with the most dreadful pangs, the
least with the greatest. But, though bedridden, with the help of their
kinfolk they considered what to do, and finally decided to send for the
captives. And when the three wretched priests were come, they inquired
of them if they were able to heal them; and they answered, "We shall
beseech God. Let His will be done."
But the saint appeared again to
the Hagarenes on the third night and said to them: "If ye do not send to
my house letters of manumission for the priests, ye shall have neither
the health, nor the light [of sight] which ye desire." And when they had
again conferred with their kinfolk and friends, each one composed a
letter of emancipation for his own slave, which were left before the
icon of the saint. And O, the wonder! Even before the messengers sent to
the temple returned, those, who before were blind and paralyzed, were
healed; and marveling they set the priests free and dispatched them to
their homelands amicably. The priests, though, had a copy of the icon of
St. Phanourios painted and took it with them to their own country, and
each year the memory of the holy one is piously celebrated amongst them.
By the prayers of the martyr may Christ God have mercy upon us. Amen!
Source: Orthodox Life, Vol. 32, No. 4 (July-August 1982). Translated by George Lardas from the Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church (in Greek), 4th Ed. (Athens, 1974), Vol. VIII, pp. 470-474.
About Prayers to the Saint and for His Mother
There is a tradition concerning him
and his mother, who was a harlot and great sinner. His love for his
mother caused him to pray for her incessantly. At the time of his
martyric death by stoning, he could not even then forget his mother, and
with the boldness that is peculiar to athletes of Christ, prayed: "For
the sake of these my sufferings, Lord, help all those who will pray to
Thee for the salvation of Phanourios' sinful mother".
St. Phanourios in turn prays for the salvation and enlightenment of heterodox relatives and friends.
Many to this day pray for his
mother, and have her listed in their personal diptychs used for
commemorations in the Divine Liturgy as "The Mother of St Phanourios"
since her name is not known.
On the day of the Saint, there
is a tradition that the faithful bake a special bread, and according to
some accounts, give it to the poor as alms in the name of his mother,
and others, share it with at least seven other people.
The Saint of Lost Things
St Phanourios' name gives a hint about another tradition concerning the Saint. "Phanourios" comes from the Greek word, φανερώνω
"phanerono", meaning "I reveal". He is know to help people find lost
things. Some have therefore also referred to him as the "Saint of lost
This is not just an idle story
repeated without basis, as the editor of this piece has experienced
incidents himself, and know many people who have also been helped by St
Phanourios to find lost items. After the lost item is found, one should
bake a Phanouropita, (basically a loaf of sweet bread) in memory of St.
Phanourios' mother, and give to the poor, as above.
If the bread is first brought to
church to be blessed, a Litya blessing service with a prayer specially
composed for the Saint may be used.
Φανουρόπιτα - Phanouropita: St. Phanourios' Bread
The following recipes are supplied by the kindness of Presvytera Anna Lardas, who posted them to a mailing list some time ago.
The fasting bread (with oil for
those days that a a little less strict) actually tastes very good, and
whose preparation makes an excellent father-daughter "special time" that
the whole family benefits from. In other words, the recipe is quite
easy and forgiving, and kitchens can always be cleaned.
Easy St. Phanourios Bread Fasting (with oil)
Preheat oven to 350.
1 cup sugar
1 cup oil
2 cups orange juice
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp. baking soda
4 cups flour
Mix oil and sugar, and beat until it's a creamy yellow. This may take a long time.
Put the baking soda IN the
orange juice, and stir until dissolved. [NB: this can be spectacularly
dramatic if you use a two cup measuring cup with two cups of o.j. in it.
(Please don't ask how I found out.) It might be easier to hold a two
cup measuring cup OVER the bowl full of oil and sugar and pour in *one*
cup of o.j., mix in 1/2 tsp. baking soda, watch the fireworks, pour it
into the bowl, and again mix *one* cup of o.j. with 1/2 tsp. baking
soda, stir and pour again. If you don't dissolve the baking soda
completely, you get lumps of it in the cake. So, stir well.]
Add the flour, then the raisins and nuts.
Pour the batter into an
ungreased 9"x13" pan and bake at 350 degrees F. for 45 minutes (or until
a clean toothpick dipped in the cake emerges clean.)
I use a bundt pan instead of one
9" x 13", and my kids prefer this with chocolate chips in the place of
the raisins and nuts. It doesn't really need a frosting, but if you
wanted to drizzle a stiff glaze made out of, say, powdered sugar and
lemon juice and a little water over it, that would be okay, too.
If you wanted to put spices in the batter, I'd go with a tiny amount (1/4 tsp. or less) of ground cloves.
Modified from a recipe in Greek Traditions and Customs in America, by Marilyn Rouvelas
Fancy St. Phanourios Bread (Phanouropita - Φανουρόπιτα)
Not even close to fasting!
This recipe originally came from a cookbook for a Greek parish in Chicago, but I've tampered with it, mostly by editorializing.
Doubles well; the recipe given is for one loaf pan worth, but Doubled it makes a bundt pan's worth.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F.
In a large, heavy bottomed saucepan, combine:
1 cup orange juice
1/2 cup brandy
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups golden raisins
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for exactly ten minutes -- any
longer, and you'll have a good caramelized smelling door stop instead of
Set pot in cold water to cool mixture completely.
Sift into cooled syrup:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda.
Beat vigorously for eight to ten minutes (Takes muscles! We use a wooden spoon for this) or until batter is smooth and bubbly.
Stir in: 2 Tablespoons grated orange peel
Turn into well greased 7" fluted pan or 8" loaf pan.
Sprinkle with 1/2 sesame seeds (optional; skip if you like).
Bake for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
Sprinkle with 1/4 cup brandy and cool cake in pan.
Bring to church to have blessed, and then share with parishioners or the poor.
Smells amazingly wonderful while cooking.
Apolytikion (in Tone Four)
heavenly song of praise is chanted radiantly upon the earth; the
company of angels now joyfully celebrateth an earthly festival, and from
on high with hymns they praise thy contests, and from below the Church
doth proclaim the heavenly glory which thou hast found by thy labors and
struggles, O glorious Phanourios.
Kontakion (in the Third Tone)
From a vile captivity, thou didst
deliver the Lord's priests, and, O godly-minded one, didst break their
bonds by divine might; thou didst bravely shame the tyrants' audacious
madness, giving joy unto the Angels, O thou Great Martyr. O Phanourios
most glorious, we all revere thee as a true warrior of God.
To those who embrace your sacred icon
with faith and asking your assistance, Martyr, heirs of the Heavenly
Kingdom, Phanourios, to all your entreaties provide.