03 May 2021

Praying in Lent and Easter 2021:
76, the Four Martyrs, Rethymnon

The Church of the Four Martyrs … one of the largest churches in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

During the Season of Easter this year, I am continuing my theme from Lent, taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship that has been significant in my spiritual life;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

Yesterday was Easter Day in the Calendar of the Orthodox Church, and this week is Easter Week. I miss the opportunity of being in Greece at this special time of year, so my photographs this week are from churches in Crete.

My photographs this morning (3 May 2021) are from the Church of the Four Martyrs in Rethymnon. I have been visiting Rethymnon since the 1980s, and I still hold out of hope being back there later this year.

Immediately outside the old town of Rethymnon, at the Porta Guora Gate, one of the largest churches in the town is the Church of the Four Martyrs, which stands in a busy square of the same name, Tessaron Martiron.

The church is often mistaken by visitors to Rethymnon as the cathedral and is a fashionable venue for baptisms and weddings at weekends. It was completed on 28 December 1975, but stands on the site of two previous churches, the first from 1905 to 1947 and the second, which was demolished in 1972.

The church stands on the site where the four martyrs of Rethymnon were executed on 28 October 1824. Throughout Greece, 28 October is a national holiday, ‘Οχι’ Day, recalling Greece’s trenchant ‘No’ to Mussolini that brought Greece into World War II on 28 October 1940. In Rethymnon, 28 October is also the day when the city recalls the Four Holy Martyrs who give their name to this church. The four were Crypto-Christians, all from the Vlatakis family and from the Melambes region, who were executed by the Turks on this spot in 1824 for standing up for their Christian faith.

For four months, Manouil, Nikolaos, Georgios and Angelis Vlatakis were held prisoner in the building at the old harbour that later housed the custom house. As they were taken to their place of execution outside the Porta Guora gate, with their hands tied up, they saw their executioner holding his sword, and heard him ask: ‘Will you adopt the Turkish faith?’ The standard answer was a humble ‘Yes, my Lord.’ But instead, the first man in line surprised everyone with a scornful ‘No.’ A few seconds before his head was cut off, he added: ‘I was born a Christian and a Christian I will die.’

One by one, the others did the same. As each was executed, his dying words were ‘Kyrie Eleison, Lord have mercy.’

The central aisle of the church is dedicated to these four local saints. But the northern aisle is also dedicated to the Forty Holy Martyrs of Sebaste – Roman soldiers, martyred in Armenia during the reign of Licinius in AD 320. The southern aisle is dedicated to the Ten Holy Martyrs of Crete who were beheaded by Decius in 250 AD.

Inside the Church of the Four Martyrs on Good Friday two years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

John 14: 21-26 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 21 ‘They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.’ 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, ‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?’ 23 Jesus answered him, ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

25 ‘I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.’

Inside the Church of the Four Martyrs in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (3 May 2021, World Press Freedom Day) invites us to pray:

Let us pray for journalists around the world, especially in countries where freedom of speech is repressed. May they be protected from harm and work to amplify the truth.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Christ the Pantocrator in the dome in the Church of the Four Martyrs in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

An icon of the Four Martyrs of Rethymnon by Alexandra Kaouki, now in the Rectory in Askeaton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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