The Martyrdom of twenty-three Turks at Thyatira
This is about the glorious martyrdom of twenty-three Turks in Thyatira, a renown city that is also mentioned by John the Apostle in his Revelation, since there were more than 200,000 inhabitants, despite the fact that the plague killed more than 50,000 during the year 1656. It is still among the most populous cities of Asia Minor. In our times, God chose this city to become the arena of twenty-three athletes of Jesus Christ, that He willfully crowned with immortal glory, after much more struggling than naturally expected from such people.
There was in that city a sheikh or teacher of Islamic law. Seeing as he knew the law perfectly, he spoke with authority, people trusted him, and many considered it an honour to be one of his students. As a result, he created a school with more than 150 young men (students) aged 25-30 years old, who were studying in order to become judges and some day become qadis. This sheikh, that had grown old reading the Koran, noticed that his prophet did not reject the New Testament, but on the contrary, that God spoke through Jesus Christ and Moses. He was curious to see the contents of the Holy Gospels and through Divine Providence, it so happened that he found a New Testament translated into Arabic.
He didn't have this Holy Bible for long before he received heavenly enlightenment and discovered the Christian truths, which acted so strongly upon his spirit that they caused him to condemn whatever was contrary and embrace whatever they instructed him to do. This person is noteworthy as, being touched by Divine Providence, he did not stop one minute to accustom himself more thoroughly with the beauty of our faith, and he had no communication with Christians in order to learn about our Mysteries (Sacraments), at least from what is known. He transmitted the light he received from heaven to many of his students, in particular to the ones he knew were more able to accept the truth and he could trust to keep the secret. And with his words and the help of the Holy Spirit he persuaded the young men that they could not attain salvation outside the law of Jesus Christ, Who, being the Son of God became man, died for man’s salvation, defeated death and Hades through His Resurrection and was destined to rule forever in heaven. Those young men kept this secret for a long time and often gathered to discuss the matter of their salvation with their teacher. But as it is difficult to hide a fire for long without it being exposed on its own, so those young students were unable to hide their faith, which they kept in their hearts and was often evident on their lips, in their words, in their company. Their parents also seeing such a noteworthy change in their children wished to know the cause.
The matter took such dimensions, that the magistrates, who were extremely cautious in such matters, heard about it and, so as to squelch this passion at its roots, approached the sheikh. At the beginning they tried to win him over in a gentle manner, not wanting to lose a man of such value. They exemplified their appreciation that they had for him, since they had entrusted to him the country's blossoming youth. They promised to increase his revenue and to raise him the top ranks if he would retrieve from error the ones he had deceived. He was a man that was well aware of the importance of the matter and the punishment in such situations.
They thought that he was taking heed of what they told him, so as to bring him back to his duty and make him renounce his faith. However, they were startled when he replied most seriously, without becoming discomposed, that he was not at an age where he could betray his conscience in such a serious affair that concerned his salvation, and that all he had taught about the truths of Jesus Christ's law were true, so he could not denounce them. The qadi, startled by his answer and judging that the sheikh had to be frightened by physical torture, told him sadly that he had to choose between the following two: either to renounce his faith or to die a merciless death. This venerable elder, spurred by divine zeal to confess before all the faith that he had received from heaven, replied to the qadi: “What do you think? That wheels, gallows, fire and Gehenna frighten me and that I will hesitate to die for my God's eternal glory and for the truth of the faith in Jesus Christ? Know that I am ready to die a thousand times, if I could do so, for the love of the One who died once for me. I consider it an honour to mark with my blood the truth I taught and if you will listen, I will make you see, that I am not deceived in my feelings and that the ones who leave Mohammed to live with Jesus Christ are fortunate. At these words, they forbid him to speak further and beat him so brutally that he was not able to continue his words, but even though he was silent, his countenance and perseverance that he exemplified in succumbing to all the beatings over his whole body shook even the judges, who feared that if they continued torturing him in public, the people who greatly respected this elder would not accept it, and that his example would inspire others to imitate him. Therefore, they decided after multiple meetings to strangle him in prison and publicly burn his body. And so it was carried out; his beautiful soul ascended to heaven to accept the crown from the hand of the One he had so bravely confessed.
In the meantime they tried to gain information from his students if they persevered in their teacher's faith. Some of the students were far from the city and hid for fear of torture. Others, as it is said were dispersed in various places so that they would publicly preach the truths they were taught from their teacher. They arrested twenty-two of them and decided to make them renounce their faith or be punished with such severity that nobody would dare speak about or be taught such a dogma. What brought the judges to make such a decision was the strong sentiments that prevailed all over the country after the sheikh's death. Everybody was speaking about the sheikh and most in support of him.
The qadi commanding that the the twenty-two young men be brought before him said that they must definitively renounce their teacher's false faith or else lose their life without the hope of being treated as their teacher, but would have to succumb to the cruelest tortures. The young men rejoiced when they heard of torture and showed that they were more ready to succumb to much more than anything the qadi could scare them with. The qadi, after having given them reasons and seeing they were utterly determined to remain in their faith to Jesus Christ, just like their sheikh, left them in the justice executioner's hands so that they could die mercilessly.
Some were penetrated with arrows, others impaled, yet others burned alive, and still others finished in a horrible and painful death, hung for hours on iron hooks. In this way, all of Jesus Christ's brave athletes finished their glorious life triumphing against death and tyrants.
It is said that their holy remains – through their death – have worked many miracles and some confirm that a blind man received his vision after touching one of the martyrs on his way to martyrdom. Whatever the case, their death astounded all the Muslims and comforted the Christians very much, who thought it to be a sign of their happiness. They believed that it was the fulfilment of Markos Kyriakopoulos' prophesy – that many were to follow him and that the time had come when God would have decided to wash in blood the country's reproach.
It is certainly reasonable that heaven would not allow for such a good seed to fall on this earth without it bearing such good fruits and buds, which all holy souls have desire to see for years now. Just as a field that is watered with such sweet water may soon regain it's ancient fertility, may God grant that we may see His holy Name glorified everywhere.
*Excerpt from Auguste Carayon's work, Unpublished relations of the missions of the Company of Jesus Christ in Constantinople and the Middle East in the XII century, Poitiers – Paris 1864
(From the French by Georgios H. Hrysostomou)
Synaxarion of Neomartyrs
Publications “Orthodoxos Kypseli”, Thessalonika