May 31, 2023

Holy Hieromartyr Neophyte the Cretan (+ 1753)

St. Neophyte the Cretan (Feast Day - June 16)

Metropolitan Neophyte the Cretan, of Greek origin, was born around 1690, on the island of Crete, and reposed on June 16, 1753, in Bucharest.

He came to Wallachia when he was a hieromonk, in the entourage of Constantine Mavrocordatos (in the third reign: 1735-1741), as a teacher of his children. Born in Constantinople as a Phanariote member of the Mavrocordatos family, Constantine succeeded his father, Nicholas Mavrocordatos, as Prince of Wallachia in 1730, after obtaining boyar support.

Also with the help and support of Prince Constantine Mavrocordatos, he became "titular" (honorary) Metropolitan of Myra in Lycia (ordained in Bucharest January 27, 1737), and, a year later, he was elected Metropolitan of Wallachia on November 7, 1738, where he served as a shepherd of Christ's flock until his death.

For the observance of canonical discipline among clerics and monks, in 1739, Saint Neophyte addressed to priests, monks and all the faithful a pastoral letter on the occasion of the beginning of Great Lent, in which he urged them to go to confession more often and, with the priest's blessing, to receive Holy Communion, showing that, from the neglect of these Holy Mysteries, "so many troubles and needs and quick death come all the time in this land; and if they were obedient to the divine commandments and teachings and had the fear of the Lord always in their hearts, avoiding all evil and soul-destroying things, then all the infirmities and arguments that come to us from God would pass over us and we would be in peace forever."

Although Greek, Neophyte identified very quickly with the "needs" of his parishioners and became more Romanian than the Romanians. When Prince Constantine Mavrocordatos proposed to reform the country, the Metropolitan supported him. He participated in the 1746 movement to end peasant servitude (“rumânie”). On August 5, 1746, Metropolitan Neophyte helped the Prince begin to abolish serfdom from Wallachia. He said: "We all know that to have Orthodox Christians, who share a faith with us, as slaves, is not a Christian thing, but of great damage to our souls." Even before this reform was undertaken by the Prince, the Metropolitan on March 15, 1746, released from the Metropolitan's estates of Romania all the serfs, paying for the alleged loss this incurred with his own money.

In the same year, Metropolitan Neophyte established a school in the village of Pâtroaia, in Dâmbovița county (on an estate bought by the Metropolitan with his own money), where all the children of the peasants would be able to learn to read and write, free of charge, subsidized by the Metropolitan (1746-1774).

Regarding his cultural activity, beyond the printing of an important number of ecclesiastical books (he printed more than 30 books, such as service books, translations from patristic literature or theological works) in Bucharest and the establishment and endowment of the library of the Metropolis, Metropolitan Neophyte was involved in the reorganization and reformation of the Church. The relationship between the center and the periphery, between the head of the institution and its servants, began. The same conditions applied to the relationship between priests and parishioners. For the first time, under the supervision and guidance of the Metropolitan, the parish priest became "obliged" to take part, actively, in the daily life of the Christian. As an advisor, mediator, "notary", "arbitrator", the priest was to "comfort" the people. The example in this for the priest was the Metropolitan himself. In the summer months of 1746 and 1747, Metropolitan Neophyte went on two missionary visitations throughout the country, a good opportunity to "educate" his priests and get to know his flock. This is how these "meetings" took place, recounted by the Metropolitan himself: "And on the morning of Thursday, June 5, 1746, after the holy liturgy, I did a sanctification of the waters and litany together with all the Christians around, with women and children, against the drought; and after I comforted the people and gave orders to the priests that each one should confess his parishioners and share with them the holy mysteries in this fast of the Holy Apostles, I left there." His missionary journal, which he meticulously prepared on this occasion, written in Greek, he published a year later, in 1748 in Bucharest.

He supported the Hesychast revival, initiated by Saint Basil of Poiana, whom he called to present his teaching before the Patriarchs Matthew of Alexandria, Sylvester of Antioch and Parthenios of Jerusalem, who were then in Bucharest.

He also took care of the Romanian Orthodox in Transylvania, who were deprived of the presence of an Orthodox hierarch, ordaining several priests for the Transylvanian faithful.

For his activity, the Patriarchate of Constantinople conferred on him the title of deputy of the throne of Caesarea in Cappadocia, which, from 1776, became a permanent title of the Metropolitans of Wallachia.

In 1753 Metropolitan Neophyte found himself mixed up against his will in the rivalry between the "country boyars" and the Greek Phanariotes. Metropolitan Neophyte was in the camp of the "country boyars". Prince Matei Ghica, a Phanariote, began to persecute and reprimand the country boyars for a complaint made by them to the Sultan's representative about the Prince. Three days after the Metropolitan helped deliver this complaint to the Sultan's representative, he became ill, and a doctor was called to treat him. However, the doctor was bribed by Greek Phanariotes, so when the Metropolitan left after being treated by the doctor, he was out of his mind. Though it was determined that the doctor poisoned Metropolitan Neophyte, the Greek Phanariotes reported that he had gone crazy.

Metropolitan Neophyte was apparently poisoned in the plot against Prince Matei Ghica from May-June 1753. He finally reposed on June 16, 1753. As the times were troubled and the change of reign imminent, the funeral ceremony would have been held as soon as possible discreetly, to not attract the attention of contemporaries.
On October 28, 2022, the Holy Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church decided on the glorification of the Hieromartyr Neophyte the Cretan, Metropolitan of Hungary-Wallachia, with the title of the Holy Hieromartyr Neophyte the Cretan, Metropolitan of the Romanian Land, with his feast day being established as June 16th.

On Sunday, May 21, 2023, on the occasion of the dedication of the Patriarchal Cathedral in Bucharest, on the feast of the Saints Constantine and Helen, the official proclamation of the canonization of the Holy Hieromartyr Neophyte the Cretan, Metropolitan of Wallachia, took place.  

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