Below is an excerpt from Knot Twenty-Eight of the book The Scent of Holiness: Lessons from a Women’s Monastery, published by Ancient Faith Publishing and available for purchase both as a paperback and an e-book.
Mavroudis the Martyr
Kalliopi lived in the village nearest the monastery. I met her for the first time when we both visited the monastery to help the sisters with the olives from their orchard. As we sorted olives together, we began a conversation about new martyrs. I asked her if there were any martyrs among the local saints. Kalliopi mentioned Mavroudis, a martyr who had lived in her father’s town. Mavroudis’s martyrdom is recounted in a folk song written by the locals, which she sang for us.
Similar to Byzantine chant, some older Greek folk songs have a haunting feel to them. I found some to be quite melancholic. They never reminded me of our Atlantic Canadian folk songs—some of which are sailors’ songs, making light of hardships. Many Greek folk songs cause suffering and longing experienced long ago to come back and settle in your chest.
The song Kalliopi sang to us explains how Mavroudis was killed by Muslim Turks for refusing to denounce his Christian faith and embrace Islam. He had an argument with some Turks and insulted their faith. So the Turks threatened to throw him into the fire if he didn’t agree to become a “Turk”—in other words, a Muslim. He asked them to give him some time to make up his mind, and they granted him permission.
On seeing his mother approach, he asked her, “Mama, what shall I do? They want me to become a Turk or they will throw me into the fire.”
“Better to be a Turk and live, than dead in the fire!” she advised him.
He was very sorrowful when he heard her answer in this way, and crying and pulling his hair he said to her, “No, I will wait for my love to come and tell me what she thinks.”
He waited, and when his wife arrived he asked her, “Tell me, my love, should I become a Turk or be thrown into the fire?”
“It’s better for you to enter the fire than to become a Muslim,” she answered. On hearing this, the Turks threw them both into the fire, granting them a martyr’s death.
The song ends, “Like candles they burned; like incense they smelt. Doves they became; to the heavens they flew.”
There were, of course, a few wet cheeks by the time Kalliopi finished singing.