The Holy Great-Martyr St Phanourios, the miracle worker, is commemorated by the Church on August 27 and is not simply honoured by the faithful on this date but on many occassions through a symbolic cake, called the "Phanouropita" which can be brought to the church, at any time, for a blessing.
Not much is known about St Phanourios's life because all evidence of his life has been destroyed with time. The only evidence that supports a historical date, relating to this saint, is documented in the book "Lives of the Saints", which testifies that his icon was discovered, in Rhodes, around 1500 AD. Some sources support the opinion that the icon was discovered in Cyprus and not in Rhodes.
In the church we have the tradition of saints for special purposes. St Phanourios assists the faithful by revealing a lost or hidden object or matter, directing and/or revealing actions that should be taken, restoring health and similar situations.
Discovery of the icon
The church has understood the life of this Saint through the discovery of his icon in Rhodes (or Cyprus). Around this icon are 12 stations showing his martyric death.
An excerpt from the fanourios.org:
- A fortuitous discovery by nomadic pagans, not Christians, brought to light this unheralded saint when a roving band of Arabs, who had pillaged the island of Rhodes uncovered amid the ruins of an ancient church a group of icons, among other artifacts. All of the icons were in a state of decay or near ruin with the exception of one, which appeared as new and as fresh as though it had been painted the day before. This icon was discarded by the Arabs, ;who failed to attach any importance to it. At a safe distance a group of monks hiding in the rubble observed this phenomenon and waited patiently until the Arabs had left the scene, whereupon they rushed to reclaim this fantastic image in its remarkable state of preservation.
- They beheld a clearly outlined face of a saint with the name inscribed in what appeared to be fresh lettering that spelled out "Fanourios" and on closer examination fell on their knees at what they saw. Drawn about the saint were twelve distinct frames in each of which Fanourios was shown enduring a cruel form of torture in a realism that suggested the artist must have been witness to the atrocity. They rushed back to see if any of the other icons were in as perfect a state, but although they were all of the same basic design, size, and shape, all of them were quite ancient and quite indistinct. After careful scrutiny it was finally concluded that this icon of fanou4rios had, indeed , been one of a group that had been exhumed after untold centuries and that its freshness was a divine manifestation of the complete saintliness of this man about whom they were now determined to learn more.
- But years of research, scanning the archives of centuries and questioning the leading authorities of the day, yielded nothing, and no more was known about Fanourios than the day on which his icon was snatched from the ruins of that ancient Greek church. The torture scenes of the icon provided no clues, and examination of which showed Fanourios being stoned, on the rack, being slashed, behind bars, standing before a judge, tied to a frame, being =burned with candles, tied to a post, thrown to wild animals, crushed by a boulder, holding hot coals, and a demon hovering against a background of flames. All of these horrors conveyed that Fanourios was an apparently indestructible instrument of God and that in itself was sufficient evidenced of his sainthood.
- Archbishop Milos of Rhodes concluded that the unblemished icon itself was testimony enough to prove that Fanourios was a man of divine grace, and he petitioned the Patriarch to convene a synod which would officially proclaim Fanourios a saint, after which there was erected in the saint's memory a cathedral which enshrined the holy icon/ Fanourios, lost for centuries in the ruins of a church, became the patron saint of things lost. To this day his name is invoked when prayers are asked for the recovery of things lost items."
Martyrdom of the Saint
The portrayle of each illustration is as follows:
- 1. The saint is standing in front of a Roman magistrate and defending his Christian faith;
- 2. Soldiers beat the saint on the head and mouth with rocks to force him to deny his faith.
- 3. The saint remains patient which angers the soldiers. They are shown in this illustration, throwing him to the ground and beating him with sticks and clubs in a further attempt to force him to deny his faith.
- 4. The saint is now in prison. He is illustrated completely naked with the soldiers ripping his flesh apart with some sort of iron implement.
- 5. The saint is still in prison. In this station, he is shown praying to God, perhaps to give him strength to endure his tortures.
- 6. Next, the saint is standing in front of the Roman magistrate again defending his position. The expression on the face of the saint is calm.
- 7. In this image, it is obvious that the Roman magistrate has sentenced the saint to the executioners for remaining unmoved in Station 6. The saint is again shown naked with executioners torching (burning) his body.
- 8. At this station, the executioners are now using mechanical means to torture the saint. He appears tied to an apparatus that rotate to crush his bones. Though he would be truly suffering intensely for God, the look on his face is peaceful and patient.
- 12. This last scene is the glorification of the saint and end to his martyrdom. He is standing upright, over flames in a large kiln.
the Phanouropita cake
The custom of the Phanouropita cake is a Greek and Cypriot tradition, preserved in many regions of Greece and Cyprus and spread to the Greek people of the diaspora (Australia, USA, England etc). Though it is not a Holy Tradition, it has been welcomed and adopted formerly into the church as a blessing service, that take no more than 5 minutes to complete.
It is offered at vesper services and/or just before the liturgy finishes on the feast day of the saint on August 27. Many villages in Greece believe that they do this tradition to grant rest for the soul of the saints mother. The church does not formerly hold this position since there is no evidence on the saint's life to confirm if his mother indeed was a fornicator, as this 'heresay' suggests. Despite the church having made this statement on many occassions, the commong people within the church will still express the phrase, "May God grant rest to the soul of Saint Phanourios' mother.".
The pita is small and round, like a cake, and should be made using either 9 ingredients or 11. The basic ingredients include sifted flour, sugar, cinnamon and oil.
List of churches dedicated to saint Phanourios
- The Greek Orthodox Community of St Phanourios Church (New Jersey, USA) - (GOARCH), Rev. Fr. Constantine Xirouhakis.