February 14, 2023

The Hermitage of Saint Damian on Mount Kissavos

The holy new martyr Damian was born around 1500 in the village of Myrichovos to rayah parents. His village Richovos or Myrichovos, in the district of Karditsa, was a poor village with mostly farmers. From a young age he desired to dedicate himself to God and become a monk. So he went to Mount Athos at a young age and presented himself to the Holy Monastery of Philotheou where he became a monk. While there he was called by God to go to his homeland in Thessaly to rekindle their spiritual life.

The enslaved Greeks listened attentively to the divinely inspired words of Saint Damian and their conscience was awakened and they corrected their way of life. These fiery sermons quickly created dislikes and thus began the first persecution of the Saint. The Hagarenes slandered the Saint as an impostor and set in motion an assassination plan.

So Damian left for the parts of Kissavos and Larissa. There he toured, preached, counseled and guided. He spoke in temples and in squares, where he found people gathered. But even here some reactions started and the Saint left for the uncharted mountains. In those places the people kept their faith and so the word of God was more welcome. But even there the presence of the ascetic and the fact that he awakened consciences caused a disturbance, so he left again for Kissavos. Residents from Bathyrema (village of Agia) came there, being persecuted by the Turks and leaving them the fertile land, and they built a new village Selitsani (today known as Anatoli). In Selitsani, the Saint continued his activity, working for many years and even found the necessary resources to build a monastery dedicated to the Honorable Forerunner John on Mount Kissavos. Across from the Monastery was the Hermitage of Saint Damian, where he lived alone in asceticism and prayer.

The Monastery of the Honorable Forerunner was built around 1550 AD and the first monks gathered around Saint Damian. Beyond the Monastery, however, the Saint did not forget the mission which he continued in two ways. Firstly, with the presence of the monastery which, as a spiritual beacon, illuminated the correct faith for centuries, and secondly, with extraordinary missionary tours of the Saint in the surrounding villages. Eighteen years of missionary activity and asceticism in the area in question were enough for the Saint to gain the appreciation and love of the people.

One day in 1568 at the end of January, Damian was in the village of Voulgarini (currently called Elafos) to help the Christians. He was arrested by the Hagarenes and taken prisoner to the senior Commander of the region, who was based in Larissa. The main charge of the accused was that he encouraged Christians not to buy or sell on Sunday. The Hagarenes interpreted this as him inciting a movement for passive resistance of the slaves against the conqueror, with economic and political consequences.

During the interrogation process, the Turkish senior commander of Larissa asked Saint Damian:

"Who are you and where do you come from and why do you go around the villages teaching and persuading Christians not to buy or sell anything on Sunday?"

Damian answered:

"I do this for the benefit and salvation of Christians."

When the Commander received this firm and courageous answer, he took a good look at the fearless ascetic. He considered the courage of the Christian to be an insult to his glory and, wanting to humiliate him, he had him severely beaten, heavily chained, covered in blood, and the Saint of God was led to a wet and dark prison.

The torture continued with daily merciless flogging with more than a hundred lashes and deprivation of food and water. Every other day a little dry bread and a little water was given to prolong the torture. At the same time he was persistently harassed to change his faith and disposition.

After fifteen days of such torture, the Turkish Commander saw the steadfast faith in Christ of the Saint, so he was condemned to be hanged and then for his body to be burned.

The order was executed without any delay. At a place in Larissa near the bridge of Pineios below the Church of Saint Achillios, there they hung the Saint on a tree branch. One of the Hagarines wanted to beat the Saint further, so he grabbed an ax and struck him hard, but in doing this he unintentionally cut the rope from which the Martyr was hanging. Falling to the ground covered in blood, he was still alive. The executioners gathered wood and lit a big fire. They threw the dying man into the fire and he burned completely. After a short time they collected the ashes and threw them into the Pineios River. The martyrdom of Saint Damian ended at noon on February 14, 1568. With the flow of the Pineios River, the ashes of the Saint spread over the Thessalian plain sanctifying it.



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