Saint Fanourios is without doubt an important and holy youthful figure, who stands out in a par-ticular way among the other Saints of Christianity, as he is not only honoured on a single date, but the faithful often make use of the well-known “fanouropita” (Fanourios cake).
Saint Fanourios, who lived during Roman times, went up bravely against the idolatric world, for the Christian spirit of this man of God did not allow him to deny his unquestionably virtuous prin-ciples. Thus, the 12 tortures that the Saint suffered constitute for us a strong motivation for per-severance and adherence to the moral values of Christianity, to come out victors from the in-cessant struggle of unbelief and injustice of our time. This Saint teaches us with his real sacrifice that even though we do not struggle against Roman soldiers and vile Hagarenes, still we have to confront the more skillfully set traps of materialism and atheism, that attempt en masse to overwhelm the Christian order.
Saint Fanourios also taught us that the crown of a virtuous life is not easily won but only through continuous tests – with boldness, patience and perseverance. Therefore, as true fighters of the faith let us imitate the exemplary and irreproachable life of the Saint, so that we too may be found worthy to honour the Christian name we bear, as he so fittingly did.
1. General overview of his life.
Nothing certain is known concerning the lineage and the life of Saint Fanourios because all the information about his life was lost during turbulent times.
The only information we have concerning the Saint is the discovery of his icon, around 1500 AD according to the Synaxarion, or according to other sources around 1355-1369 AD. Some main-tain that the icon of the Saint was found in Rhodes but others say in Cyprus.
2. The discovery of the icon
Let us return to the past, when the Hagarenes (i.e. Muslims) ruled Rhodes and had decided to rebuild the wall of the city, which they so barbarically demolished and leveled a few years pre-viously.
They started to send workers outside the south part of the citadel to gather stones from the semi-ruined houses of the inhabitants, to rebuild the new and strong walls of the city. Among the ruins they discovered a most beautiful church which was partially destroyed on one side. Inside they discovered a multitude of icons, which over the course of time the faces of the Saints as well as the inscriptions on them were indistinguishable.
Only one magnificent icon stood apart from the rest, one that time did not affect, which depicted a youth dressed as a soldier. The Metropolitan of Rhodes, Nilus, went immediately to the site and clearly read the name of the Saint, Fanourios. The Metropolitan, moved by the appearance of the saint, saw that he was dressed as a Roman Soldier, holding a cross in his left hand and a lit candle in his right. Around the icon the iconographer had also painted the twelve depictions of the martyrdom that the saint had suffered, clearly telling his life.
These depictions are as follows:
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 Fanourios’ 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 Fanourios, throwing him to the ground and beating him mercilessly with sticks and clubs to break his steadfast resistance.
4. Fanourios 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. Fanourios 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 posi-tion. By the peaceful expression on his face it appears that neither the tortures he suf-fered 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 Fanourios 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 exul-tation since he is suffering for the sake of the Lord.
9. Fanourios 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 magnificent company.
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. Fanourios 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 Fanourios 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.
3. The Erection of the Church.
The then Metropolitan of the island, Nilus, after carefully studying the icon that was found, pronounced that Fanourios was one of the most significant great martyrs of our Faith. He immediately dispatched a delegation to the ruler of the island and to ask him for a permit to erect a church. However, when the ruler refused the Metropolitan himself went to Constanti-nople and managed to obtain from the Sultan the permit he sought. He soon returned to Rhodes and built the church exactly on its old spot, outside the walls. The Church survives to this day and is a sacred shrine for all Christians.
4. Information from the discovery of the icon.
Observing the icon of Saint Fanourios that was found in Rhodes we can conclude many sig-nificant points which are as follows:
1. When we read the name of the Saint on the icon we conclude immediately that he was of Greek ancestry.
2. We also conclude that his parents were pious to give him such a Christian name (which means “Revealer”).
3. The youth would have been very educated to become a military officer.
4. We also reckon that the martyrdom of Saint Fanourios occurred during the second or third century when the persecutions of the Christians were at their peak.
5. Fanourios has obviously proven to be a great martyr from the many horrible tortures he suffered.
6. For there to be such a church found in Rhodes, we are also certain that he was honoured in churches by the pious Christians from the time of his martyrdom.
7. From the depiction of the Saint on the icon it appears that Saint Fanourios martyred at a young age.
5. Miracles of the Saint
Saint Fanourios worked many miracles for the pious who called upon his name and one of them was the following:
At one point in its history, Crete was occupied by the Latins (1204-1669 AD) who had their own Archbishop and for this reason they tried by all means to lead the inhabitants of the isl-and to Catholicism (Papism).
The Latins took an oppressive measure against Orthodoxy by banning the ordination of priests in Crete, forcing the Cretans to go over to the island of Tsirigo (Kethyra) to be or-dained by an Orthodox hierarch who served there.
At some point, three deacons set off from Crete for Tsirigo and having been ordained priests there, they were joyously returning to their tormented enslaved island. To their bad luck, Hagarene pirates captured them at sea and transported them to Rhodes, where they were sold to three different Hagarene masters.
The lot of the three priests was lamentable but a sweet occurrence came to sweeten their lot. They learned that in Rhodes Saint Fanourios worked miracles and they set their hopes in him, incessantly praying, each one separately invoking him to free them from the harsh captivity to the vile Hagarenes.
Each priest asked their master, without previously having communicated between them-selves, to allow them to go to church to venerate the icon of Saint Fanourios. They all re-ceived permission easily and so reverently venerated the icon of the Saint, wetting the earth with their tears and kneeling and praying with all their soul begging Saint Fanourios to inter-cede so that they may be relieved from the hands of the Hagarenes.
After the priests departed, having been consoled of their pain, Saint Fanourios appeared that night to all the masters and ordered them to free their captive priests, otherwise he would punish them severely. However, the Hagarene masters believed the intervention of the Saint to be some sort of magic and they chained their captives and started to torture them in the worst possible way.
However, the next night Saint Fanourios intervened more effectively. He loosed the three priests from their bonds and promised them that they would be freed from the Hagarenes the next day. He then appeared again to the Hagarenes and threatened them this time that if they did not free the priests in the morning he would use harsh measures against them.
The next morning the Hagarenes felt the punishment because they all lost their sight and their bodies became paralyzed. They were thus forced to seek the advice of their relatives and discuss the evil that had befallen them. All the masters then decided to invite the three priests in case they could help them. The only answer the priests gave them was that they would pray to God and He would decide.
The third night Saint Fanourios again appeared to the Hagarenes and informed them that if the three masters did not send in writing to his church their agreement for the release of the priests, they would never recover their health. The Hagarenes, whether they wanted to or not, wrote the letter the Saint asked for and declared straight out that they granted freedom to the three priests. These submissions were sent to the holy church of the Saint.
Even before the messengers of the Hagarenes returned from the church, the blind and para-lyzed faithless ones were completely healed according to the will of the Saint. The rich Ha-garenes gave the priests all the expenses for their journey and the priests before leaving went to the church, thanked the Saint for their release, and carefully copied the icon of Saint Fanourios, which they took to Crete where they honoured it every year with doxologies and litanies (processions).
6. The Pita (cake) of Saint Fanourios.
The great honour the Christians have for Saint Fanourios became the reason for the adoption of the customary tradition of the pita (cake) of the Saint, better known as “Fa-nouropita”.
The pita is usually small and round and is made of pure flour, sugar, cinnamon, and oil. After all these ingredients are mixed together, they are kneaded, put in a round cake form and the pita is baked under medium temperature in the oven.
The pita is prepared so that the Saint may reveal to someone a lost item, find a job for someone unemployed, deal on a lost cause, restore the health of someone sick, etc.
Our Church commemorates Saint Fanourios on August 27.
Apolytikion (Troparion) – Tone 4. Kingdom diadem.
A heavenly song of praise is chanted radiantly upon the earth; the company of Angels now joyfully celebrates an earthly festival and from on high with hymns they praise your contests and from below the Church proclaims the Heavenly glory which you have founded by your labours and struggles, O glorious Fanourios.
Kontakion – Tone 3. The Virgin today.
You did save the Priests from the ungodly captivity and did break their bonds by Divine Power, O godly minded one; you did bravely shame the audacity of the tyrants and did gladden the orders of the Angels, O Great Martyr. Wherefore, we honour you, divine warrior, glorious Fanourios.
To those who embrace your sacred icon with faith and asking your assistance, Martyr, heirs of the Heavenly Kingdom, Fanourios, to all your entreaties provide.
Publication: Orthodox Idryma (Foundation) “O Apostolos Barnabas”