feast of St. Constantine (Agios Konstantinos)
The Feast of St. Constantine is observed every year on Hydra on November 14. As Constantine is the patron saint of Hydra, the holiday has special significance for islanders.
Saint Constantine of Hydra was born in approximately 1770, during the years of Ottoman rule, to pious Orthodox Christian parents and raised on the island. Due to the family’s poverty and the lack of work on the island, he traveled, despite his mother’s objections, to Rhodes, in search of opportunity. Beloved as honest and hardworking, he was introduced to the Turkish governor of Rhodes, Hassan Kapitan, who gave him a job in his seraglio, where he groomed Hasan Bey’s horse and did various other jobs.
One night, at a great gathering, Constantine got drunk, and Hassan Kapitan had him circumcised, given a white turban, and renamed Hassan. Having learned of his forced conversion to Islam, his mother, inconsolable at the news, threw away the money he sent her and grieved over what happened to him. All his friends in Rhodes also kept their distance from him, seeing him now as a Janissary.
At one point he returned to Hydra to visit his mother. As he approached his family home, a woman of the neighborhood gave him a drink of water but then immediately broke the container that had touched his lips. Arriving at his family’s house he knocked on the door and announced to his mother, when she asked who was there, “I am your son Hasan who has arrived from Rhodes”. She replied mournfully, “I’m not opening to you. I don’t have any son Hassan. I only have a son Constantine.”
Constantine returned to Rhodes and visited a cave-dwelling ascetic spiritual father, to whom he confessed the sin of abandoning his Christian faith. The father gave him forgiveness and advised him on his next steps in atonement. Constantine threw away his turban and Turkish clothes and sailed first to Crimea and then to Constantinople, where Patriarch Gregory V told him to retire to a monastery on Mount Athos.
After a time at the Monastery of the Iveron, spent in repentance, prayer, and asceticism, and having taken monastic vows, with the permission of his spiritual father he returned to Rhodes to tell his former boss, “Hassan Bey I am your servant Constantine from Hydra whom you fraudulently made a Muslim. I return to you your false religion and tell you that I am a Christian and a Christian I will die.”
Engraged, Hassan rushed at Constantine, beating him with fists and kicks. He then imprisoned Constantine in a dark basement of the palace, where he was tortured day and night. In the end his jailors tied him to a tree trunk and put his feet in two locks. He endured all with unceasing prayer. One night the jail shinned with a heavenly light and his feet were freed from the locks.
After five months he was brought again before Hassan and with the same faith and courage again proclaimed his Christian faith. He was returned to prison and on November 14th, 1800, on the orders of the sultan he suffered a martyr’s death by hanging, according to some at Kolona and according to others at Mandraki. Constantine was thirty years old when he was executed. Turks and Christians relate how on the night of his martyrdom a great bright cross shone with its light on the tree where he was hanged. The next year a strong tornado tore down the tree, and Hassan Bey died a short time later after a severe illness.
After three years Constantine’s mother came to Rhodes and took the relic of her son with her back to Hydra, placing it in the Monastery of Panagia where it remains to this day in a golden reliquary. After a century the Ecumenical Patriarch officially ranked Constantine among the choirs of the Holy Neomartyrs, and ordered that his memory be celebrated on the 14th of November, the day he was hanged.
Hydra’s modern Agios Konstantinos Cathedral was erected on the spot of his family’s home.