29 April 2024

Aghios Anargyron beside
Rethymnon Hospital is
a tiny church engulfed by
the surrounding buildings

Aghios Anargyron, a tiny chapel near Rethymnon General Hospital, is engulfed by the surrounding buildings (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

Many visitors to Athens are fascinated by the sight of Agia Dynami Church, a tiny Byzantine-era church that is completely surrounded by a modern, multi-storey city centre building.

The church is on the corner of Mitropoleos street and Pantelis street, close to Athens Cathedral and 200 metres from Syntagma Square and the Greek Parliament. It is a popular place for pregnant women to pray for a safe birth. Many Athenians pop in and out of the church on their way to and from work to say a quick prayer or to light a candle.

Agia Dynami (Holy Power) Church was built in the 16th century. Archaeological evidence suggests the little church was built on the site of an ancient temple dedicated to Heracles, known for his strength and his ‘12 labours’.

During the War of Independence, Greek munitions experts were forced to make bullets for the Turks in the church. However, they were successful in also making large quantities of bullets for the Greek revolutionaries, smuggling them out through the garbage each night.

After the Greek War of Independence, in the 1830s, the buildings around the church were demolished so the street could be widened to serve the growing needs of the city.

The church was renovated in 1912 and again in the 1950s. When the area was being redeveloped again in the 1950s, the Greek government tried to acquire the site of the church to build new headquarters for the Ministry of Education and Religion.

Agia Dynami Church is a tiny church in Athens that is completely surrounded by the Electra Metropolis Hotel

When the Greek Orthodox Church refused to dispose of the church, it was decided to build over it and around it. The small single-aisle church found itself almost entirely ensconced by a modern municipal building, wedged between the supporting pillars of the new building.

A 15-metre tunnel was found under the church connecting it to a large cave system that some say reaches to the Acropolis and the Kaisariani Monastery on the north side of Mount Hymettus. A bell tower was built over the entrance to the tunnel in 1963, blocking any future access.

For many years, the large office building enveloping the tiny church remained vacant abandoned until 2016, when it was converted into the Electra Metropolis Hotel. The church is now a much-photographed curiosity at the entrance to the five-star hotel. The church holds the relics of Saint Nikolas Planas, a late 19th century priest known for his work to protect thousands of orphaned children.

The tiny Church of the Holy Anargíron on Koumoundourou Streetis almost opposite the entrance to Rethymnon General Hospital (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

I was reminded of Agia Dynami in Rethymnon last week when I found myself at the Church of the Holy Anargíron (Ιερος Ναος Αγios Αναργύρων) on Koumoundourou Street. This tiny chapel is a few paces west of the Brascos Hotel, where I was staying, and the Municipal Gardens, and close to the entrance of Rethymnon General Hospital. In its location on the edge of the street, it is overwhelmed by and engulffed by the surrounding buildings, including street shops and businesses and multi-storey apartmnt blocks.

The name Αγios Αναργύρων refers not to some Saint Anargyron but to the ‘Holy Unmercenaries’ or ‘Holy Unsilvered’ (Άγιοι Ανάργυροι, Agioi Anárgyroi) – a number of saints who received no payment for the medical services they offered to people. They include healers or physicians who, contrary to medical practice of the day, tended to the sick, free of charge or payment.

There are many saints who received this epithet, including Cosmas and Damian, Cyrus and John, Panteleimon and Ermolaos, Samson and Diomedes. There is a similarly named small church of the Holy Unmercenaries (Agion Anargyron) at the Monastery of Christ the Saviour at Koumpe, on the western fringes of Rethymnon. It celebrates Saint Cosmas (Κοσμᾶς) and Saint Damian (Δαμιανός).

An inelegant and clumsy extension obscures the west front of the Church of the Holy Anargíron in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The Saints Anargyri Cosmas and Damian were twin brothers and doctors who only wanted to be paid by faith. They were arrested by Lysias, governor of Cilicia, during the reign of the Emperor Diocletian because of their faith and fame as healers. They were hung on a cross, stoned and shot by arrows, and finally beheaded in Aegeae ca 287 or 303.

The dedication that hints at the story of Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian seems so appropriate for a chapel so close to the hospital in Rethymnon.

A small inscription above the west door reads: Ιησος Χριστός, Θεον Υιός του Θεού, Cωτήρ, ‘Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour.’ However, a clumsy and inelegant extension at the west front obscures half of one of the paired ICXC NIKA Christograms on each side of these opening words of the Jesus Prayer.

‘It is forbidden to enter the church indecently dressed (women in pants, shorts, etc). Issued by the church’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The gates outside this small chapel were locked and I searched but failed to find some information about its history or details of when it was opened. All I could find was a fading notice in ecclesiastical Greek lettering that warns: ‘It is forbidden to enter the church indecently dressed (women in pants, shorts, etc). Issued by the church.’

Hardly the welcome patients and their families at the nearby hospital need, hardly comparable to the everyday, popular use of Agia Dynami in Athens by pregnant women and office workers.

Nor is it hardly the open and generous attitude I associate with the ‘unsilvered’ or ‘unmercenaried’ Saints Cosmas and Damian.

The bells of the Church of the Holy Anargíron on Koumoundourou Street in Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Easter 2024:
30, 29 April 2024

‘I ask … that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one’ (see John 17: 20- 23) … the iconostasis or icon screen in Saint Nektarios Church, Rethymnon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

Easter is a 50-day season that continues until the Day of Pentecost (19 May 2024). The week began with the Fifth Sunday of Easter (Easter V), although this is still the Season of Great Lent in Greece, and Holy Week in the calendar of the Greek Orthodox Church began yesterday with Palm Sunday.

Throughout this Season of Easter, my morning reflections each day include the daily Gospel reading, the prayer in the USPG prayer diary, and the prayers in the Collects and Post-Communion Prayer of the day.

/> The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today remembers Saint Catherine of Siena (1380) as a Teacher of the Faith. Before this day begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

3, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

John 17: 12-26 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 12 ‘While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. 13 But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. 14 I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 15 I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. 16 They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

20 ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

25 ‘Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.’

The Transfiguration depicted in the ceiling of the Church of the Transfiguration in Piskopianó in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Today’s Prayers (Monday 29 April 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is ‘The Sacred Circle.’ This theme was introduced yesterday with a programme update adapted from the Autumn edition of Revive magazine.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (29 April 2024) invites us to pray:

We pray for the important and peaceful work of the Sacred Circle and for all who are taking part.

The Collect:

Almighty God,
who through your only-begotten Son Jesus Christ
have overcome death and opened to us the gate of everlasting life:
grant that, as by your grace going before us
you put into our minds good desires,
so by your continual help
we may bring them to good effect;
through Jesus Christ our risen Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

Eternal God,
whose Son Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life:
grant us to walk in his way,
to rejoice in his truth,
and to share his risen life;
who is alive and reigns, now and for ever.

Additional Collect:

Risen Christ,
your wounds declare your love for the world
and the wonder of your risen life:
give us compassion and courage
to risk ourselves for those we serve,
to the glory of God the Father.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued Tomorrow

The Basilica of San Domenico in Siena is also known as the Basilica Cateriniana … Saint Catherine of Siena is commemorated in ‘Common Worship’ on 29 April (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