Archbishop Seraphim of Phanarion and Neochorion (d. December 4, 1601)
Seraphim was born to Sophronios and Maria in the village of Mpizoula in the Agrapha region of Greece. His family was pious and reared him in the Orthodox faith. They sent him to school and later when he came of age, he entered the monastic life at the Monastery of the Theotokos in Korona, which is also called "Cold Spring". There Seraphim spent many years growing spiritually. During this time, he was ordained a presbyter at the recommendation of his abbot, upon whose death he was elected to succeed him as head of the monastery.
In 1587, the archdiocese of Phanarion and Neochorion became vacant when its incumbent died. Seraphim was elected to succeed in this office. As archbishop, Seraphim was a true shepherd to all the Orthodox Christians entrusted to his care, nurturing and caring for them in every possible way.
In 1601, the metropolitan of Larissa named Dionysios the Philosopher, a restless soul, mistakenly thought he could expel the Muslim armed forces in the Ioannina area. Consequently he raised an army of ill-equipped and ill-trained villagers and attacked and killed many Muslims in the area. However, when Muslim reinforcements arrived, the rebellion was savagely suppressed. Moreover, the Muslims not only killed those involved in the rebellion, but took their revenge on many innocent Christian villagers as well. Metropolitan Dionysios himself was captured, tortured, and horribly executed after a second rebellion.
In this turbulent atmosphere, Archbishop Seraphim was compelled by duty to go to Phanarion to pay the taxes owed to the Ottoman government. Some Muslims who knew of his good work among the Orthodox Christians and wished him harm because of this began talking among themselves when they observed him in Phanarion. Among other things they said, “This one also was with Dionysios. How has he dared now to come among us, being a traitor?”
Seraphim was surprised when he overheard this talk and said to them, “To whom are you referring?”
They responded with anger and said, “To you, rebel and subversive. Now you have fallen into our hands. Now you will receive that which is your due unless you are willing to abandon your faith and become a Muslim. Then we will forgive you and honor you greatly. For with this we would know that you have repented and have become one of us.”
To this Archbishop Seraphim replied,
- “All Christians and you Muslims know very well I am entirely innocent of the accusation. But this which you say, that I should leave my faith to escape death, I would never accept under any circumstances. That is, I should leave my sweetest Jesus, my God and Creator, especially now when I am suffering unjustly, and hope because of this to receive from my Master more honor. As for your honors, I do not even want to hear of them.”
When the Muslims heard this, they rushed upon Seraphim, took hold of him, and violently dragged him before the vali, whose name was Hamuza Bey and to whom they said, “This one also was with the accursed Dionysios and is an enemy and a traitor. For this reason take his life with a cruel death so others might come to their senses and behave themselves.”
The vali ignored what was said for a moment, and in a gentle manner spoke to Seraphim,
- “I see that you are a sensible person, and I marvel that you agreed with that evil man and that it did not enter your mind that you were attempting something impossible and disastrous, endangering your life. And behold how that evil one had an evil end, and you who have been captured and have put your life in danger will die a miserable and painful death. But I see your concerns. As a man you have been deceived and I would be sorry to put you to death. I advise you to become a Muslim. And in this way not only will I spare your life, but will honor you greatly for your wisdom.”
With courage Seraphim replied to the vali,
- “You know very well I suffer unjustly, and though I am innocent I am treated as guilty. As for my Faith, I will never deny it, nor will I ever be separated from my sweetest Master and God Jesus Christ. But even if I were to receive ten thousand deaths for His holy name, I would consider it all joy and gladness. For this reason, vali, cut, slaughter, mutilate, do whatever is in your power.”
Hearing these words, the vali ordered Seraphim beaten mercilessly. They also cut his nose into small pieces. But Seraphim endured everything as though suffering no pain, thanking and blessing God. He was then put into prison where he was given no food or drink in an attempt to break him.
The next day, he was brought before the vali again who said to him,
- “I ask you Seraphim, have you come to your senses from the beating you received yesterday? Have you learned what is in your own interest so you might do as I said since I counseled you as a friend, or do you still stubbornly hold to your evil decision?”
Seraphim responded with a cheerful look on his face,
“I would have been right, vali, not to answer you at all because, although you say you are my friend, you have given me evil counsel: that I should abandon my Lord Jesus Christ, my Creator and Maker and believe in a mortal man, and illiterate, an enemy, and a blasphemer of Christ...”
The vali, angered by Seraphim’s response, did not even allow him to finish speaking but immediately ordered him beaten once more. Then Seraphim was placed on the floor and had his feet and arms stretched out with a heavy stone being placed on his stomach while they meticulously cut and tore his flesh. Meanwhile the torturers gave him water mixed with ashes and gall to drink. Through all of this Seraphim remembered the passion of Jesus Christ and rejoiced that he was permitted to suffer in His holy name. Seeing Seraphim hold steadfastly to his Orthodox Christian faith, the vali sentenced him to be impaled.
At the place of execution, Seraphim was ordered to lie down, face downward. First his hands were bound behind his back; then the executioners attached a cord to each of his legs, around his ankles. Then the executioners pulled upwards and to the side, stretching Archbishop Seraphim’s legs wide apart. Then one of the executioners used a short broad knife and cut away the cloth from his undergarments in order to widen the opening through which the stake would enter the body. Seraphim shuddered as the knife cut him. He moved as though to stand and then fell back again. Then one of the executioners took a wooden mallet and with slow measured blows began to strike the lower blunt end of the stake. Between each two blows he would stop for a moment, look at Seraphim and look at his two assistants, reminding them to pull slowly and evenly.
Serapheim’s body, spread-eagled, writhed convulsively. At each blow of the mallet, Seraphim’s spine twisted and bent, but the cords pulled at it and kept it straight. Seraphim made an unusual sound that was neither scream nor wail, nor a groan, nor anything human. At every second blow the executioner went over to the stretched out body and leaned over it to see whether the stake was going in the right direction and when he satisfied himself that it had not touched any of the vital internal organs, he returned and went back to his work.
When the hammering ceased, the head executioner saw the skin stretched and swollen to the right of Archbishop Seraphim’s shoulder’s muscles. He went forward and quickly cut the swollen part with two crossed cuts. Blood flowed out, at first slowly, then faster and faster. Two or more blows, light and careful, and the iron-shod point of the stake began to peek through at the place where he had cut. He struck a few more times until the point of the stake reached level with Seraphim’s right ear. He was impaled on the stake as a lamb on the spit, only the tip did not came through the mouth but in the back, and had not seriously damaged any vital internal organs.
Seraphim then was turned on his back and had his legs bound to the foot of the stake. The executioners then joined together and lifted the archbishop and then embedded the lower, thicker end of the stake between two beams and fixed it there with huge nails and then behind, at the same height, buttressed the whole thing with a short strut which was nailed back to the stake and to a beam on the staging. Then Seraphim was lifted up even higher for all to see.
Seraphim’s body remained upon the stake longer than usual to serve as an example to the areas Orthodox Christians, and to frighten them into submission. But Archbishop Seraphim’s martyrdom had the opposite effect. It gave Orthodox Christians courage and hope, for they thanked God for strengthening the archbishop to make such a good confession of faith. Later Seraphim’s head was cut off and sent to Phanarion together with the heads of other clergymen who were also executed as a result of the activities of Metropolitan Dionysios.
The Orthodox Christians of Phanarion felt the need to recover the archbishop’s head. They therefore found an Albanian Orthodox Christian to whom they promised money if he were to recover the head. The Albanian was successful, but before he could escape entirely, he was detected and was pursued by the Muslims who gave chase. Afraid of being caught at one point, the Albanian threw the head in the Peneios River. Seeing this, the Muslims gave up the pursuit. Days later the head was recovered by fishermen who took it to the Dousikon Monastery whose hegoumenos rewarded them. Later the head was brought to the Monastery of Cold Spring, Seraphim’s own monastic house.
Archbishop Seraphim of Phanarion and Neochorion gave his life in the town of Phanarion for the love of Jesus Christ, on December 4, in the year 1601.
- Taken from: N. M. Vaporis, Witnesses For Christ, p. 99-103