St Stamatios the Neomartyr

Memory celebrated 16 August

In his voluminous classic, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, the English historian, Edward Gibbon, observed that "All taxes must, at last, fall upon agriculture." More than a thousand years later, after the decline and fall of the mighty Byzantine Empire, that remark about taxes still held true in seventeenth century Greece, whose largely agrarian economy, never robust in its best days, suffered grievously from the burdensome taxes imposed upon it. A man named Stamatios had the courage to protest the heavy-handedness of the Turkish tax collectors against the Greeks not only as citizens but as Christians as well. The courage of this patriot of the late seventeenth century was exceeded only by his unshakable faith in Jesus Christ.

Born in the village of St. George in Volos in the province of Demetriados, Stamatios came from the hardy stock that had already endured more than two centuries of Turkish oppression with a resolve to retain its Christian spirit for as long as it could draw breath. Although both the Roman and Byzantine empires were to dissolve, the latter lasted longer by far and today Greece is still Greece because of the character of its people and the strength of the Orthodox faith.

Stamatios bristled at the sight of the tax collectors who exacted tribute for the faceless Turkish authorities now firmly entrenched in the ancient city of Byzantium, still referred to as Constantinople. The protest against the excessive taxes fell upon deaf ears and when he could bear it no more, Stamatios organised a dedicated group of villagers and led them in presenting their case to the Sultan himself in the distant capital city. Looked upon by the most optimistic as an exercise in futility and by others as a foolhardy venture whose end result would be debasement and even death, the small group marched undismayed toward the capital, led by the indomitable Stamatios.

They reached their destination without incident but never got beyond the outer offices of the Sultan, playing into the hands of a grand vizier who not only took delight in heaping indignities on any hapless Greek who dared to utter a complaint but took even greater delight in torturing a Christian to a point where the latter would at last disavow the Saviour and embrace the Muslim faith. This was the ultimate triumph, a choice bit of news that could be brought to the Sultan himself, thereafter to parade the harried convert in public.

It is one thing to voice a protest and then withdraw into oblivion when denied, and quite another to stand one's ground in the presence of an oppressive ruler with the power to crush anyone or any-thing who dared to defy him, but nevertheless that is precisely what Stamatios did. When all seemed hopeless, his contingent withdrew in disgust and frustration, but Stamatios insisted on seeing the Sultan, producing a list of grievances to substantiate his claim of unfair treatment. The grand vizier saw in this lone figure the provocations which would justify whatever he chose to do, and he chose to do his worst.

The routine condemnation at a mock trial was followed by a period of several weeks in a squalid jail cell from which the bedraggled but still defiant Stamatios would be dragged for the interrogation and treatment referred to today as brainwashing. When this failed, there commenced a series of inhuman tortures calculated to break the spirit as well as the body of this courageous Christian. Following this failure, the prisoner was brought before the grand vizier who did an about-face by sympathising with the wretched prisoner and beguiling him with promises to restore him to a proper place in society. All he had to do was declare himself to be a Muslim. Stamatios scorned this place in society, preferring the society of Jesus Christ, and repeated that cajolery could not shake him from this high resolve.

Their efforts exhausted, the authorities demanded the death penalty. This noble Greek was dragged to the grand Cathedral of Aghia Sophia and before one of its massive doors he was mercilessly beheaded. The rare Stamatios died for Christ 16 August 1688, thereafter to become one of the many sainted laymen in the glorious Orthodox roll of honour.

from Orthodox Saints, v. 3
by Fr George Poulos, Holy Cross Orthodox Press

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