ST AHMED THE CALLIGRAPHER
The holy New Martyr Ahmed was born in the seventeenth century to a Muslim family in Constantinople. By profession he was a copyist in the Great Archives. In accordance with Ottoman law, since he did not have a wife, he had a slave instead, a Russian woman. Another captive from Russia lived together with her, an old woman, also a slave. Both these women were very pious.
On feast days the old woman would go to church. Taking the blessed bread or antidoron, she would give it to the young woman to eat. The old woman would also bring her holy water to drink. Whenever this occurred and Ahmed was close to her, he would smell a beautiful and indescribable fragrance coming out of her mouth. He would ask her what she was eating to make her mouth smell so fragrant. Not realizing what was happening, the slave would say that she was not eating anything. However, he persisted in asking. Eventually she told him that she was eating the bread which had been blessed by the priests, which the old woman brought her whenever she returned from church.
On hearing this, Ahmed was filled with longing to see the Orthodox church and how Orthodox received this blessed bread. Therefore he summoned a priest and told him to prepare a secret place for him, so that he could go when the Patriarch was serving the Liturgy. When the appointed day arrived, dressed as an Orthodox, he went to the Patriarchate and followed the Divine Liturgy. While he was in church, he saw the Patriarch shining with light and lifted off the floor, as he came out of the altar and through the holy doors to bless the people. As he blessed, rays of light came from his finger tips, but though the rays fell on the heads of all the Orthodox, they did not fall on Ahmed's head. This happened two or three times and each time Ahmed saw the same thing. Thus, Ahmed came to the faith. Without hesitation he sent for the priest, who gave him rebirth through baptism. Ahmed remained a secret Orthodox for some time, concealing his baptismal name, which is why it has not come down to us.
However, one day Ahmed and certain noblemen were eating together. Afterwards they sat talking and smoking, as is the Muslim custom. In the course of the conversation they began to discuss what the greatest thing in the world. Each gave his opinion. The first guest said that the greatest thing in the world was for a man to have wisdom. The second maintained that woman was the greatest thing in the world. And yet a third said that the greatest thing in the world, and by far the most delightful, was good food - for was this not the food of the righteous in paradise?
Then it was Ahmed's turn. They all turned to him, asking him for his opinion on this matter. Filled with holy zeal, Ahmed cried out that the greatest thing of all was the Faith of the Orthodox. And confessing himself to be a Christian, he boldly censured the falseness and deception of the Muslims. At first, on hearing this the Muslims were aghast. Then, filled with unspeakable rage, they fell on the holy martyr and dragged him to a judge, so that he could be sentenced to death. He was beheaded, receiving the crown of martyrdom on the orders of the ruler on 3 May 1682.
Holy Martyr Ahmed, pray to God for us!
Yusuf Ogly was born in Asia Minor in 1827 or 1828. He became a pasha and a general in the Turkish guards. During the war between the Turks and the Russians, he commanded the Turkish army. The Turks were fanatics and tortured the Russian prisoners. The pasha would watch these tortures and, amazed at the steadfastness of the Christians, he would question the soldiers as to why they were dying so joyfully. He decided to become better acquainted with the Orthodox faith.
In 1874 he secretly summoned an Orthodox priest, was baptized and tried to leave for Persia. When the Turks learned of his betrayal of Islam, they caught him and carved crosses in the skin of his chest and back and broke his bones. The pasha lost consciousness. Thinking that he was dead, the Turks threw him to dogs to be torn apart. But God preserved him. He regained consciousness, thanking God, Whom he loved with his whole heart. Passing Russian merchants picked Yusuf up. He told them that thieves had fallen on him, robbed him and beaten him. Out of compassion, the merchants took him to the Caucasus and gave him to a woman so that he could be taken care of. Yusuf recovered, but was unrecognizable. He was a bent-over old man, who walked with a stick, dressed poorly, but had a rich soul, endowed with spiritual power.
He succeeded in crossing from the Caucasus to Odessa and until 1891 lived much in Kazan, but also went on pilgrimages to the holy places of Russia. Once, setting out for Moscow, he found himself in Optina, which he had heard of through the fame of the Optina Elder Ambrose. He liked it very much there, but unexpectedly fell ill and was placed in the monastery infirmary. As he spoke very poor Russian, he asked if anyone spoke French. The French-speaking Elder Barsanuphius, who himself had been a colonel in the Russian Army and had served in Kazan before becoming a monk, was summoned to confess the sick pilgrim.
The Turk recounted his life to the Elder, but forbade him to reveal his secret while he was alive. During his illness he was tonsured under the name Nicholas, taking the schema. However, he recovered and settled in the Skete. Once, taking a walk with him, he suddenly said: 'Father, can you hear the angelic music?...It's a great happiness to hear it'. The Elder heard nothing and Fr Nicholas, in his simplicity, was amazed at his deafness. Indeed, this simple monk was carried up to heaven during his earthly life. He saw the abodes of Paradise and heard heavenly music. This we know of from the following event.
Fr Nicholas was always shy and silent, a sickly man who avoided everyone, although the monks all somehow involuntarily loved him. He never went to anyone's cell, even in the daytime, let alone at night. One night, however, he came to Elder Barsanuphius' cell. According to Fr Barsanuphius, another Elder, Fr Anatoly, had already summoned him and warned him: 'Did you know that in our Skete, by the great mercy of God, we have our own St Andrew the Fool for Christ? Yes, we have such a man here who, whether in the body or out of the body - God knows - was, even during his life, taken up into the heavenly habitations. This is our Turk. I will bless him to come to your cell, and you question him thoroughly, and write down, from his words, what you learn from him. Only keep all this secret until his death'.
So the servant of God came to Fr Barsanuphius as an obedience. In his broken Russian he revealed his tale of the heavenly dwelling-places which had been shown to him by his Guardian Angel. The Elder's heart trembled from the superhuman flood of the ineffable joy of triumphant, fulfilled hope. The discourse poured from Fr Nicholas' lips and his face shone and shone, until it began to glow with some kind of extraordinary inward light. The Elder was awestruck and terrified and, in an unearthly way, joyful.
According to Elder Barsanuphius, everything that Fr Nicholas told him can be found in the Life of St Andrew the Fool for Christ. For the Elder, the only thing that was important was the sight of Fr Nicholas' infinite exultation and the glory which was imprinted on his glowing face. Only a true seer of mysteries could speak like that. With a voice breaking from indescribable excitement, from time to time he could only beg him to continue, not to fall silent...Fr Nicholas finally ended, merely adding with a radiant, blessed smile:
'Well, what else do you want to know...what else is there to learn? The time will come and you'll see for yourself. What else could I tell you - or how could I tell you? There are just no words in human language with which to convey what goes on there. You know, there were colours I saw there that don't even exist on earth. How can I convey all that to you? Well, listen to what I'll tell you: you know, after all, what good music is. Let's say I've heard something, and as soon as I've heard it, it resounds in my ears, it sings in my heart...and I continue to hear it. But you haven't heard it. How then -with what words - could I tell you about it, so that by my words you could hear it and delight in it with me? You just can't....In the same way, what I saw there is impossible to convey to man....The fact that this is the way it is, should be enough for you.'
Schemamonk Nicholas reposed at Optina three months later, two years after first going there. This was on 18 August 1893 and he was aged sixty-five. Only after his death did Fr Anatoly reveal to the monks what sort of man he had been, saying: 'Don't think that this was a mere mortal; a mere mortal is not given such mercy from God. Fr Nicholas was a martyr for the name of Christ and for confessing His holy name. When he was being washed after his repose, his whole body was seen to be lined with terrible scars. In his homeland, in Turkey, they had sliced his flesh with thongs as a result of his conversion to Christ, trying to force him to renounce Him. He did not renounce Him, and with God's help escaped further sufferings from the hands of his torturers. Elder Ambrose of Optina, whom Nicholas had found due to his fame throughout Russia, sent him to us, to Optina'.
Sunday of the New Martyrs of the Turkish Yoke,
19 June / 2 July 2006