Holy Martyr Philoumenos of Jacobs Well 1913-1979

The life of the New Martyr Father Philoumenos is an example to us that martyrdom for Christ is not of the past from Roman or Communist times, but is a reality even in our own day. Father Philoumenos, an Orthodox monk, was brutally martyred in 1979 in Israel. His life is a reminder to us of the danger of being so devoted to our Faith, that we use it as a club or a weapon to attack those who disagree with us. While Muslim fundamentalists receive most of the press regarding this, even Orthodox Christians can use their love of the calendar, canons, or concern with being correct to attack and antagonize those who do not measure up to their standards.

For priests, Father Philoumenos is an example of continuing in prayer regardless if there is a congregation to join us. While we priests are tempted to omit some of the services since “no one will attend” he faithfully conducted the cycle of Vespers, Matins and Hours in remote locations with no congregation in attendance.

Father Philoumenos was born on the island of Cyprus on October 15, 1913, the twin brother of Father Elpidios, a monk of Mount Athos in Greece. At the age of 14 both of the brothers dedicated their lives to the service of Christ as monks, entering the ancient monastery of Stavrovouni, founded by the Empress St. Helen. Later, Father Elpidios left for Mount Athos while Father Philoumenos joined the monastic Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem in 1934.  Arriving in Palestine, Father Philoumenos was concerned as he saw how the Orthodox Palestinian faithful were being spiritually neglected. He began the study of the Arabic language, becoming fluent in both speaking and writing and conducting the divine services. It was Father Philoumenos who was sent by the Patriarch of Jerusalem to communities whenever there was a problem caused by the behavior of an unworthy priest or when various sects attempted to lure the faithful away from the Orthodox Faith. He became known as a true defender of the Faith, a man of a blameless life, a man from whom no one could imagine any immodest or improper word, a man whose faith and integrity were a model for all. With energy and zeal he visited small, outlying villages to serve the faithful, often using his own funds to try to save the faithful from being seduced away from the true Faith by the wealth, power and education of other churches from the West. His spiritual son, the Monk Yeghia wrote these reminiscences of his father in Christ:

He never omitted one word of any day’s service. When we were alone in some remote monastery, particularly for Matins, he slowly and carefully chanted each word of every psalm and canon. But when there were pilgrims for the Divine Liturgy and Vespers, he made the usual abridgements lest the service be too long and some be tempted to leave. Later on, privately, he would read every word that had not been chanted in church. Those who stayed with him for some time saw the copies of the church service books and noticed that the markers were always in place and the volumes never dusty,  which earned the Divine Promise: “Well done good and faithful servant, because you have been faithful over little things, I will set you over great things. Enter into the joy of the Lord”  (Matthew 25:21).

His Martyrdom

The crowning moment of Father Philoumenos’ earthly pilgrimage came on November 29, 1979 at the shrine built on the site of Jacob’s Well.  Father Philoumenos had been assigned as the guardian and keeper of this holy place, the very place where our Lord met the Samaritan Woman and offered her living water. (Gospel of St. John, chapter 4)   The week before a group of fanatical Zionists came to the monastery at Jacob’s Well, claiming it as a Jewish holy place and demanding that all crosses and icons be removed. Father Philoumenos gently reminded them that the floor they were standing on had been built by the Emperor, St. Constantine, in 331 A.D. The shrine at Jacob’s Well had served as an Orthodox Christian holy place for sixteen centuries before the Israeli state was created, and had been in Samaritan hands before that. Several days later, during a rainstorm, a man tossed a hand grenade into the shrine and when Father Philoumenos tried to flee, killed him with an axe.   The monk was already vested and preparing to celebrate Vespers.  While the Israeli police launched an immediate investigation, no killer was identified.  Unfortunately, some Orthodox individuals, with an apparent anti-Semitic agenda, began circulating rumors that Father Philoumenos was killed in a ritual murder carried out by a group of fanatical Jews.  The killer was finally apprehended four years later when he was once again attempted to enter the Monastery at Jacob’s Well carrying hand grenades.  He was identified as Asher Raby, a devout Jew but mentally ill who had previously committed murders in other parts of Israel of both Jews and non-Jews. 

Father Philoumenos’ body was buried on Mt. Zion, and when it was exhumed four years later, as is the custom among Greek monks, it was found to be substantially incorrupt.  Because he was murdered out of hatred for the Orthodox Christian Faith, the Patriarch of Jerusalem with his Synod of Bishops, in 2009 resolved to add Father Philoumenos to the calendar of Saints as the Holy New Martyr Philoumenos of Jacob’s Well.  His sacred relics are enshrined in a magnificent church that has been constructed near Jacobs Well.  He is remembered each year on the anniversary of his martyrdom November 16/29. 



At Jacob’s Well you were proved well named:
loving Christ, confessing Him,
pouring out your sacred blood.
Being faithful in small things you were set over great.
Worshipping in Spirit and in Truth,
you are now Guardian of the Holy Places forever.

Fr. Edward Pehanich