We have nothing to say with certainty about the famous martyr of Christ, Fanourios, as regards where he came from, who his parents were and when his martyrdom occurred, because all information has been lost to the depredations of time and covered by the tombstone of oblivion. So everything related to the saint was unrevealed and unknown.
But the following things have been made known concerning the glorious martyr Fanourios. During the 14th century, when the famous island of Rhodes was enslaved, the then ruler of the island wanted to rebuild and repair the walls in their original form. So, when the necessary materials had been collected and the ruined houses to the south had been dug out, a half-ruined church was found there. Excavations continued to a greater depth until the floor was reached and so all the materials which had been gathered there saw the light of day. Many icons were found which were in a state of decay, but there was one which was entirely safe and sound, as if it had just recently left the hands of the painter. When this holy church and its sacred icons came to light, obviously by divine providence, the then chief shepherd of the flock of the island, Neilos Diasporinos by name, a bishop revered for his virtue and wisdom, went straight there, and was able to read on the undamaged icon: “Saint Fanourios”.
On this icon, the saint was depicted as a young man, dressed in military uniform and holding in his right hand a cross and a lighted candle. All around the edges of the icon were representations of twelve feats performed by the saint: the martyr being interrogated before the judge; in the midst of soldiers who are striking him with stones on the mouth and head; lying on the ground, being scourged by soldiers; sitting naked on the ground and having his flesh ripped open with iron nails; incarcerated in prison; again being examined before the tyrant’s bench; being burned with lighted candles; tied to a “mangle” (instrument of torture); unharmed in the midst of wild animals; lying on his back with a slab of stone on his body; standing before idols holding burning charcoal in his hands, while a demon in the air appears to wailing and lamenting; and, standing in the middle of a fiery furnace with his hands raised to the heavens.
From these depictions of his trials, which were on his icon, Bishop Neilos concluded that the saint was a martyr, but that it was unknown when and where he suffered. As was mentioned above, he was called Fanourios and this was the first time he had come to light and become known.
After this, the good shepherd and bishop of God, Neilos, asked the governor of the island to permit him to rebuild the ruined church where the icon of the saint had been discovered during excavations, but was refused. He persisted, however, and in the end the governor consented. The bishop then had the church rebuilt in the form it retains to this day, on the same site outside the city.
This holy church was protected by the grace and blessing of the great martyr Saint Fanourios and so a host of miracles and beneficial actions were performed for the salvation of the faithful. Of all the miracles, we shall mention one which is indicative of the great familiarity and boldness of the saint with God.
At that time, Crete was governed by the Venetians and did not have an Orthodox bishop, because the position had been taken over by a Latin. For this reason, those who were deemed worthy of the great office of the priesthood were sent to the small island of Kythira, to the north of Crete, to be ordained by the Orthodox bishop there. In those years, three deacons sailed from Crete and went to Kythira, where they were ordained priests. As they were returning to their homeland, during the course of the voyage, these three newly-tonsured priests fell into the hands of the Hagarenes, who, having made them prisoners, took them to Rhodes and sold them to other Hagarenes there. Day and night the three priests lamented the disaster which had befallen them.
While the three were living in bitter incarceration, they heard of the miracles of the great martyr Fanourios. Their thoughts turned to the saint and with persistent supplications and intercessions they begged him to help them regain their much-desired freedom, without any one of them being aware of the actions of the others, since they were serving their days of pain and slavery with different masters. Then the great Fanourios appeared to the Hagarene masters in a vision when they were sleeping, and ordered them to allow the prisoners to go and pay their respects at his church. They thought this to be a demonic action, however, and, having chained the prisoner priests, subjected them to torture.
But what did Saint Fanourios do then? This: He appeared at night to the three prisoners and, having first loosed the chains from their wrists, told them to take courage and that on the day about to dawn they would be liberated from slavery. Thereafter he appeared to the Hagarene masters and, chastising them severely, told them: “Unless you change your minds and release the priests tomorrow, you’ll feel the power of God”. And, what a miracle! On the morrow, the three masters, who were in their homes, awoke blind, paralyzed and racked with terrible pain. From their beds of suffering they sent and begged the imprisoned priests to tell them how to obtain a cure and salvation. When the priests arrived at the houses where the patients were lying they prayed for them to the merciful God.
Saint Fanourios appeared a third time to the Hagarenes and ordered them in no uncertain terms: “Send a document to my house without delay freeing the prisoners and you’ll regain your health”. So the next day, the three Hagarenes, after consulting their relatives, complied with the order of the saint. Each master sent to the holy house the required manumission related to the priest slave he owned, and all three priests were left, in fear and reverence, in front of the icon of the saint. At once, the health of their former masters was restored and they were freed of the dreadful pains. Astonished by the miracle, the three masters set the priests free and, at their own expense, returned them to their homeland of Crete.
Before leaving for Crete, the liberated priests made a copy of the holy icon of Saint Fanourios and took it with them as a celestial and inexhaustible treasure. They honoured and glorified this icon with annual feasts and fairs, proclaiming aloud, to the hosts of the faithful who attended, what they had seen and the beneficence they had received from the swift intercession of saving grace of the wonder-working saint, the martyr Fanourios.
Yeoryios D. Papadimitropoulos, Με τους Αγίους μας, Συναξαριστής μηνός Αυγούστου, Apostoliki Diakonia, pp. 157-63.
Whilst it is true that we know very little of Saint Fanourios, we can make certain educated guesses based on the above text. In the first place, it is reasonable to assume from his military uniform and the depiction of his martyrdom, that he suffered in one of the persecutions of the late 3rd/early 4th centuries, when other soldier saints (George, Dimitrios etc.) also met their deaths. There were a number of reasons why it was particularly dangerous to be a Christian in the Roman Army, three of which were: a) it was impossible to abandon their normal lives and go and live in anonymity elsewhere; b) they needed to be given what was felt to be condign punishment to prevent them influencing others (cf. the 40 martyrs of Sevasti); and c) the most overwhelmingly popular religion among the soldiery at the time continued to be Mithraism, and Christianity was seen as a rival to this.
If he was, indeed, a Roman soldier, then his name could well have been Fanarios or Phanarius, which was a baptismal name. The area of Constantinople known as “Fanar” (the Phanar) is probably related in some way to this name, rather than any supposed connection with a lighthouse, because in that case it would be a back formation from the Turkish “fener” (See Hekimoglou: Aπό τους Αγίους Αποστόλους ως το Φανάρι: Επανεξέταση των μετεγκαταστάσεων του πατριαρχικού οίκου). Equally, the name of the saint is unlikely to have anything to do with the Greek verb meaning “to appear” or “reveal”, despite his wide-spread and, by all accounts, well-founded popularity as a saint who finds missing objects.
As for the account of the three priests, it can be dated to the sixteenth/seventeenth century. The “Hagarenes” mentioned are “the sons of Hagar”, that is Muslims. Very often this is applied to Arabs, particularly Saracens, but is unlikely in this case. The Arabs did, indeed, conquer Rhodes in the seventh century, but at that time the Venetians were not in Crete. They were rulers of the Kingdom of Candia, as they called the island, from 1205-1669, when the Turks captured it. Before that, the Turks had captured Rhodes in 1523. The story must take place, therefore, some time between 1523 and 1669. This is reinforced by the detail that permission was given to rebuild an ancient church. Although it was almost impossible to receive permission to build a new church from scratch in the Ottoman empire at that time, there was a provision in Turkish legislation which allowed for the renovation of existing buildings.