New Martyr Acacius the Martyr of Mt Athos and Seres

The holy New Martyr Acacius was born at Neochorion, Macedonia near Thessalonica in the eighteenth century. The oldest son of Bulgarian peasants, he was named Athanasius at his baptism. When he was nine years old, his family moved to the city of Serres. Athanasius was apprenticed to a cobbler, who frequently beat him. On the night of Holy Friday, after a particularly severe beating, he wandered onto the street and two Moslem women comforted him, brought him home and fed him. Pretending sympathy, they urged him to deny Christ, the bread which came down from heaven (John 6:41). They took the boy to Yusuf Bey, who adopted him, gave him a Moslem name, and had him circumcised. He lived in that home for nine years.

At first, the wife of Yusuf Bey treated Athanasius with maternal love, but this later turned into a lustful passion. Just as the righteous Joseph (March 31) rejected the advances of Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39:8-10), so did Athanasius spurn the advances of the Moslem woman. So she told her husband that Athanasius had tried to force himself on her. His Turkish father threw him out of the house, and the young man returned to Thessalonica to find his real parents. His mother told him it was too dangerous for him to stay with them, and so he went to Mt Athos.

At first he lived at the Hilandar Monastery for a while, but he spent time in other monasteries as well. He confessed his apostasy to Fr Nicholas at the Xenophontos Monastery, who read the prescribed prayers and received him back into the Church through Chrismation. Athanasius returned to Hilandar for about a year, then went to Iveron. While at the skete at Iveron he heard of Sts Euthymius and Ignatius, and desired to imitate their feat of martyrdom. He became filled with the desire to wipe out his sin by shedding his blood for Christ in the same place where he had denied Him. Athanasius revealed all this to Fr Nikephorus, who had been the spiritual Father of Sts Ignatius and Euthymius. He was placed under the direction of the monk Acacius, who was to prepare him for his difficult struggle. Athanasius spent his time in ceaseless prayer, vigil, and fasting. This, of course, aroused the hatred of the devil, who sowed the seeds of doubt and uncertainty in his soul. After thirty-five days Athanasius became faint-hearted and ran away in the middle of the night.

Athanasius went to Simonopetra Monastery, but found no peace there. He returned to Hilandar Monastery, but as a penance he had to live in the vineyard rather than in a cell. He soon became ill and was taken to Karyes, the capital of the Holy Mountain, but he refused medical treatment. Those who had brought him there were upset by this, and they said that he was neither a Christian nor a Moslem. Stung by their rebuke, Athanasius went into seclusion for forty days.

At the end of that time, Athanasius returned to Fr Nikephorus at Iveron and Elder Acacius was assigned to look after him again. He entered upon an intense program of prayer, prostrations, and vigil, and was granted the gift of tears. On the Fourth Sunday of Great Lent, seeing his repentance and progress in virtue, the Elder Acacius tonsured him with the name Acacius.

Soon he left for Constantinople with the Elder Gregory, who had also accompanied Sts Ignatius and Euthymius on their way to martyrdom. They left Mt Athos on a ship, arriving in Constantinople thirteen days later. On April 22, St Acacius received Holy Communion at a church in Galata, then returned to the ship. He changed into Moslem clothing and went with Fr Gregory to the Porte, where a doorkeeper asked them what they wanted.

St Acacius related his story, saying that he had been deceived into renouncing Christianity and accepting Islam, but now he had come to his senses. Denouncing Mohammed as a false prophet, he loudly proclaimed that he was a Christian. Then he threw his turban on the floor, trampled it under his feet, and spit on it.

St Acacius was seized, beaten, and thrown into prison. That night he was promised wealth and high position if he would return to Islam. When he refused, they began to beat him again.

The next day, St Acacius was brought before the vizier and repeated his story, then was returned to prison. Fr Gregory was able to send a messenger to bring Acacius a pyx containing the Holy Gifts, and he partook of the life-giving Mysteries of Christ.

Soon after this, the holy martyr was led to a place called Parmak Kapi, where he was beheaded. St Acacius gave his life for Christ on May 1, 1816 at six o’clock in the evening. Some pious Christians ransomed the saint’s body from the Turks, and Fr Gregory brought it back to Mt Athos. The holy relics were brought to Iveron and buried in a church dedicated to Sts Ignatius and Euthymius.

Although some sources give the year of the saint’s martyrdom as 1815, there is a letter from St Acacius to a certain spiritual Father on Mt Athos dated April 27, 1816 which states that he is on his way to martyrdom. Thus, the year is 1816.

The heads of Sts Acacius, Euthymius, and Ignatius are in the Russian monastery of St Panteleimon on the Holy Mountain.