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Agios Raphael

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Agios Raphael in Thermi

Read this fascinating account of how St Raphael spoke in his own words to tell ordinary folk where he was buried !

The monastery of Agios RaphaelAbove the village of Thermi, there is the hill known as 'Panaghia of Karyes'. The hill took it's name because of the many who beheld the vision of a monk walking here. Many times he was seen with a censer in his hand and he would disappear amidst a splendor of light. In 1917, Turks who owned an estate with olive trees on the Hill of Karyes, commissioned the police of Thermi to conduct an investigation into the mystery, but after only a short period of time the investigation ceased because 'with their own eyes" they verified that it was a matter of a supernatural vision.

There was a small country chapel here n the name of Panagia which had only an old evergreen oak and a broken piece of marble used as a Holy Altar. The residents of Thermi, following a tradition, used to come here each Easter Tuesday to perform the Divine Liturgy and celebrate, without hindrance by the Turkish owner of the property. Many residents of the village saw visions of the monk and of the chapel being illuminated by a divine light.

The martyrdom the Saints is depicted in the beautiful frescos of the church of St RaphaelThere are many moving stories told about this place, and a traditional belief that there were monks here who were killed by the Turks as well as a nunnery which had been destroyed by the Barbarians. As time moved on, the residents of Thermi became convinced feel that this place has Divine grace and that it is holy.

In 1959 the property passed into the hands of a family who sought permission to build a small church here. Whilst digging the foundations, on 3rd of July to be exact, workmen found a grave within which there was a human skeleton which they reported had a sweet fragrance. It's head was resting on a round stone as a pillow, about 30cm away from the body and the lower jaw was missing. A ceramic tile from the Byzantine era was also found with a cross engraved on it, some ecclesiastical marbles and the hands of the body were crossed above the chest. Recognising the possible meaning of these signs, the workmen immediately informed the local priest, Reverend Father EfthyMios Tsolos, and an archeologist.

The Interior of Saint Raphael's ChurchThe archaeologist verified that this area was of archaeological interest but also gave permission for the building of the church. However, he forbade further digging within a 100m radius of the grave. Despite these sanctions, as work progressed supernatural phenomena astounded the workmen. On one occasion, it is reported that the bones were collected and in a sack. When the sack was to be moved, this proved impossible because of their excess and inexplicable weight. Noises were also heard from the bones which were producing a fragrance of incense.

Eventually the workers invited the Priest to hold a service of 'trisagion' (a most holy service for the deceased) and he answered: "Who can I commemorate, since I do not know who he is and what his name is?" During the night, the Saint made his appearance to the Priest and to other persons and told them that his name was Raphael and he was born on the island of Ithaka.

Rafael appeared to young and old, then women and children, sometimes as a Clergyman, other times with sacerdotal vestments of a higher Clergyman, and other times as a simple Monk. Many times during the same night, many persons with no relationship amongst themselves would see the same dream. He was telling them: "I am the Holy Martyr Raphael, the remains found at Karyes are mine. I suffered martyrdom by the Turks on the 9th of April, 1463. I am the Monk whom they used to see for so many years".

According to the revelations he was born with the name Georgios Laskaridis and had a Christian upbringing and good education. He served as an Army officer, then became a Monk and a Clergyman taking the name of Raphael. Having served as the parish priest at the Parish of St. Dimitrios, in Loumbardiaris at Akropolis in Athens, he then became Archimandrite and Bishop at the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. (Now known as Istanbul)

Raphael, Nikolas and IreneHe was later sent to France by the Patriarch and there met with a young student Nikolas who gave up his worldly life to follow the Christian teachings of Raphael. When Constantinople was taken by the Turks in 1453, Nikolas and Raphael were in Thraki in North Eastern Greece and so were spared the barbarism which occurred. In 1454 they departed from the port of Alexandroupolis with other refugees and traveled to Lesvos, which at that time was free of Turkish rule. They came by a ship to the little harbour of Thermi. Immediately they enquired whether there was a hermitage for their reclusion, and they were shown the Holy Monastery of Theotkos which pre-existed as a female Monastery before it was destroyed by pirates during the year 1235. All of the inhabitants, some thirty nuns, suffered martyrdom. Their Mother Superior Olympia, was tortured and put to death by hammering nails through her cranium and body. The site was at the Hill of Karyes above Loutropolis of Thermi.

Only one monk named Roubim was living at the site and a small brotherhood was formed under the Abbacy of Raphael. They lived in peace for nine years until 1462 when the Turks conquered Lesvos after a seventeen day siege despite all the great resistance of her inhabitants. The Turks did not disturb the Monastery immediately, but in April of 1463, during Holy Week, the residents of Thermi, scared by the new occupation went to Karyes for sanctuary. Raphael performed the Divine Liturgy for the last time on Holy Thursday. On Good Friday, Turks went up to the Monastery and seized Abbot Raphael, Deacon Nicholaos, the families of the Community Chief of Thermi and the village teacher.

The holy well at St RaphaelOther villagers were able to hide in the mountains, but those who were taken prisoner were tortured in order to reveal they were. The twelve year old daughter of the Community Chief called Irene, after cutting off her little hand in front of her parents, whom they had tied up on a walnut-tree, was put in a big earthen pot and burnt to death. Her father, the Community Chief, Vasilios, her mother, Maria and the Teacher, Theodoros, were all massacred.

Raphael was beaten savagely, then stabbed with bayonets, then hung upside down from a walnut tree where he had his jaw cut off on the Tuesday of Diakenisimos (Easter Week). Nikolas was tied to a walnut tree and upon seeing that his beloved Abbot was being tortured, with the first stabbings of the bayonets, he died from heart failure. Then the Monastery was set on fire and they fled. It was the 9th of April, 1463.

The next night, some devout Christians together with the attendant Akindynos and a third Monk who was saved with an elderly Priest from the village, buried the Martyrs secretly. The Abbot was buried in the ruins of the burnt out Church, and the others in the front courtyard.

The final resting place of Saint Raphael as it is todayThe Holy Relics were found in an extraordinary manner and the events which followed their discovery in this place are countless. The unknown story of the Holy Monastery which Raphael himself revealed amazed everyone. In effect, a pickaxe brought forth from the depths of the earth precious treasures and heavenly gifts.

Raphael prophesied that the grave of Nikolas would be found on a Monday, in the rain. On 13th June, although it had begun as a summers day, the skies became cloudy and the rain came down as the workman found his resting place. On the same day, near to the grave of Nikolas a lead seal was found which dates back to the 14th century. On one side The Panaghia (The Blessed Virgin Mary) is depicted and on the other the Archangel Michael (Taxiarhi) Michael. The ruins of the ancient Church were also found.

The present day church completed in 1969Raphael also indicated exactly the places where the graves of the other Martyrs were. The big earthern pot in which little Irene suffered martyrdom, the grave of teacher Theodoros, the two graves belonging to the Community Chief Vasilios and his daughter Irene. The ancient Church had been found with its hagiographies on the ruined walls and it's red-flagstone paved floor. The portico with the Holy Water and the Icon of The Pantokratoras were also found. Some sheets of parchment from a handwritten Gospel, dispersed as soon as they came in contact with the air.

The grave of Igoumeni (Mother Superior) Olympia who suffered martyrdom in 1235 was also found. On her head there were found three large nails. In her body more nails were found which are preserved, together with her Remains.

During the excavation of Saint Raphael's present Church, other foundations of an enormous wall were found. Archeologists agree that this belongs to the previous great Church which was destroyed in 1235.

The litany of St RaphaelIn this manner, then, the pickaxe proved every-thing true. The Saint revealed that they were put to death by the Turks on the 9th of April, 1463, at dawn on Tuesday, which happened at that time to be the Tuesday of Diakenisimos (Easter Week) which the residents of Thermi had preserved throughout centuries as a religious anniversary for this place, without knowing its meaning.

Evgenia Kleidara, Mother Superior of Agios Raphael pictured above with the many awards bestowed upon her and the sacred place she oversees. In 1996 The American Biographical Institute awarded her the converted title of 'Woman of the year' Perhaps it does not come as a huge surprise that in 1463 Holy Easter fell on 8th of April and therefore during the night of the 9th of April when the massacre of the Martyrs took place. Today, the Remembrance of the Saints is celebrated during Tuesday of Diakenisimos (Easter Week) each year because the 9th of April, the actual day of their martyrdom usually befalls during Great Lent in the Holy Week.

Since His Eminence verified that these amazing facts and revelations were proven true by Divine Providence, the Monastery for women was re-established and its re-birth was recognised some 500 years after the drama of Karyes. On the 12th of September 1963, with a decision of the Department of Education and Religion, reference No. 346 there was established in this place of martyrdom a Holy Monastery, and Convent for Ladies. Raphael, Nikolas and Irene were pronounced saints and their final resting places are visited today by countless numbers of Greek and International people who make the pilgrimage to take part in religious festivals and blessings.

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