In the course of our research for the Lives, Miracles, and Wisdom of the Saints & Fasting Calendar, we often run across stories that constantly amaze us. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.
The following occurred on the island of Paros during the German occupation. After an act of sabotage by the Greeks against their conquerors, the German commander in retaliation apprehended and decided to execute one hundred and fifty young inhabitants of the island. His decision was final, and despite the supplications and mediations of mayors, bishops, and other prominent islanders, the German commander remained unyielding.
Elder Philotheos Zervakos of blessed memory, the abbot of the sacred monastery of Logovarda at that time, invited the German commander along with his entourage to his monastery, intending to offer them hospitality. He gave them a warm reception and offered them a generous meal. He asked for the names of their family members and conducted a Supplicatory Canon to the Mother of God on their behalf. All this deeply touched the German commander. He was soothed, he was transformed, and at the completion of the service he asked Elder Philotheos to request any favor from him, except to revoke the execution of the misfortunate young hostages of the island. Father Philotheos said, “Before making any request, I first want you to give me your word of military honor that you will carry out what I ask.” “You have my word of military honor,” replied the German commander. Then, the ever-memorable Elder said, “I want you to include me with the one hundred and fifty hostages and execute me first.” This astonishing proposal “vanquished” the German commander, and, subsequently, he ordered that all the islanders who had been sentenced to death be released.
(Credit: St. Nektarios Monastery, Roscoe, NY)
During the German occupation of Paros, the Greek inhabitants conducted an act of sabotage against their German conquerors. In retaliation for this act, the German commander decided to execute one hundred and fifty young inhabitants of the island, aiming to quell further resistance and establish a fearful atmosphere among the locals.
Elder Philotheos Zervakos, the abbot of the sacred monastery of Logovarda, responded to the execution decision with compassion and strategic empathy. He invited the German commander and his entourage to his monastery, offering them hospitality, a generous meal, and conducted a Supplicatory Canon to the Mother of God for the well-being of their family members. His intention was to touch the commander’s heart and potentially alter the grim fate of the young hostages.
The turning point occurred after Elder Philotheos conducted the religious service and the German commander, being deeply moved by the hospitality and the prayers, offered to grant the Elder a favor. However, the commander specified that he would not revoke the execution of the hostages. Elder Philotheos then asked for the commander’s word of military honor that he would grant his request, and upon receiving it, he asked to be included among the hostages and to be executed first. This selfless request was pivotal in changing the commander’s decision.
Elder Philotheos's astonishing and selfless request to be executed first among the hostages deeply impacted the German commander. This act of profound sacrifice and bravery “vanquished” the commander emotionally and morally. Consequently, he ordered the release of all the islanders who had been sentenced to death, sparing their lives and averting the planned mass execution.
This incident symbolizes the power of empathy, self-sacrifice, and moral integrity even in the face of oppressive and violent forces. Elder Philotheos demonstrated that acts of kindness and selflessness could penetrate and transform even the sternest of hearts. It represents a victory of moral strength over oppressive might and showcases how non-violent resistance, coupled with deep humanity, can yield positive outcomes even in dire situations.