These saints were martyred by the Turks on Bright Tuesday (April 9, 1463) ten years after the Fall of Constantinople. For nearly 500 years, they were forgotten by the people of Lesbos, but "the righteous Judge... opened the things that were hid" (2 Macc. 12:41).
For centuries the people of Lesbos would go on Bright Tuesday to the ruins of a monastery near Thermi, a village northwest of the capital, Mytilene. As time passed, however, no one could remember the reason for the annual pilgrimage. There was a vague recollection that once there had been a monastery on that spot, and that the monks had been killed by the Turks.
In 1959, a pious man named Angelos Rallis decided to build a chapel near the ruins of the monastery. On July 3 of that year, workmen discovered the relics of St Raphael while clearing the ground.
[After the discovery of the grave, amazing phenomena started to occur. The bones were put in a sack by a Mr Doukas Tsolakis. He was in charge of the excavations. He could not lift the sack up due to the excessive weight. Noises were heard from the bones.They were also producing a fragrant incense. One of the workers, a Mr Leonidas Sideras kicked the sack and his leg went numb. Tsolakis' hand remained motionless. He could not lift the sack.The priest was asked to do a Trisagion-a prayer for the departed. The night before he was due to conduct the service, he was wondering what name he should use. During the night Saint Raphael appeared to the Priest. He told him who he was, and that he was born on the island of Ithaka. (http://www.ayiosnektarios.co.uk/straphael/straphael.htm)]
Soon, the saints began appearing to various inhabitants of Lesbos and revealed the details of their lives and martyrdom. These accounts form the basis of Photios Kontoglou's 1962 book A GREAT SIGN (in Greek).
St Raphael was born on the island of Ithaka around 1410, and was raised by pious parents. His baptismal name was George, but he was named Raphael when he became a monk. He was ordained to the holy priesthood, and later attained the offices of Archimandrite and Chancellor. [He previously also served as parish priest in the church of St Demetrios of Loumbardiaris in Athens. (http://www.ayiosnektarios.co.uk/straphael/straphael.htm)]
[Once when St. Raphael travelled to France, he met St Nicholas at Morlaix. Nicholas was from a wealthy family. He was a young student from Thessalonika studying at a French university. Nicholas was moved by the teaching of St. Raphael and they became firm friends and his disciple. (http://www.ayiosnektarios.co.uk/straphael/straphael.htm)]
In 1453, St Raphael was living in Macedonia with his fellow monastic, the deacon Nicholas, a native of Thessalonica.
[For an account of how Sts. Raphael and Nicholas fled Constantinople in defence of Orthodoxy, see: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/08/st-raphael-of-lesvos-and-defense-of.html]
In 1454, the Turks invaded Thrace, so the two monks fled to the island of Lesbos. They settled in the Monastery of the Nativity of the Theotokos near Thermi, where St Raphael became the igumen.
[The monastery that they found at Thermi was a ruined Byzantine monastery, destroyed after a raid by pirates in 1235AD. Later through additional revelations, some of the Holy Relics of the martyred nuns were discovered, including St. Olympia the Abbess (http://lesvosisland.webs.com/monasterieschurches.htm)]
In the spring of 1463, the Turks raided the monastery and captured the monks. They were tortured from Holy Thursday until Bright Tuesday. St Raphael was tied to a tree, and the ferocious Turks sawed through his jaw, killing him. St Nicholas was also tortured, and he died while witnessing his Elder's martyrdom. He appeared to people and indicated the spot where his relics were uncovered on June 13, 1960.
St Irene was the twelve-year-old daughter of the village mayor, Basil. She and her family had come to the monastery to warn the monks of the invasion. The cruel Hagarenes cut off one of her arms and threw it down in front of her parents. Then the pure virgin was placed in a large earthen cask and a fire was lit under it, suffocating her within. These torments took place before the eyes of her parents, who were also put to death. Her grave and the earthen cask were found on May 12, 1961 after Sts Raphael, Nicholas and Irene had appeared to people and told them where to look.
Others who received the crown of martyrdom on that day were Basil and Maria, the parents of St Irene; Theodore, the village teacher; and Eleni, the fifteen-year-old cousin of St Irene.
The saints appeared separately and together, telling people that they wished to be remembered. They asked that their icon be painted, that a church service be composed for them, and they indicated the place where their holy relics could be found. Based on the descriptions of those who had seen the saints, the master iconographer Photios Kontoglou painted their icon. The ever-memorable Father Gerasimos of Little St Anne Skete on Mt. Athos composed their church service.
Many miracles have taken place on Lesbos, and throughout the world. The saints hasten to help those who invoke them, healing the sick, consoling the sorrowful, granting relief from pain, and bringing many unbelievers and impious individuals back to the Church.
St Raphael is tall, middle-aged, and has a beard of moderate length. His hair is black with some grey in it. His face is majestic, expressive, and filled with heavenly grace. St Nicholas is short and thin, with a small blond beard. He stands before St Raphael with great respect. St Irene usually appears with a long yellow dress reaching to her feet. Her blonde hair is divided into two braids which rest on either side of her chest.
Sts Raphael, Nicholas, and Irene (and those with them) are also commemorated on Bright Tuesday. Dr. Constantine Cavarnos has given a detailed account of their life, miracles, and spiritual counsels in Volume 10 of his inspirational series MODERN ORTHODOX SAINTS (Belmont, MA, 1990).
Excerpt from the teachings of St. Raphael given to various individuals through his appearances
1.Christ and We
Only where Christ dwells is there blessedness. Where Christ blesses there is heavenly repose. Where Christ turns His benveolent gaze there is inexpressible true joy. Christ, with His unceasing love for us and His great humility, loves us and invisibly reproves us and reminds us through His miracles that there is life in the Kingdom of Heaven.
2. The Path of Christ
The path of Christ is somewhat difficult, but with patience, will, and humility one makes progress... It involves tribulation and suffering, without which it is not possible for one to find the path open for the benefit of his soul.
3. Repentance and Regeneration
When a person is in a state of bondage to sin and has as an obstacle sadness and cannot concentrate, it means that he is without the regeneration of our Savior Jesus Christ and is far from Him.
But when a man "comes to himself" and feels that his soul is far from God and becomes aware of his sinfulness, and with tears of repentance entreats our Heavenly Father to forgive him and bring him back to the heavenly joy of our Christ, then the regeneration of his soul takes place.
4. Care of the soul
When a Christian exercises watchful care, he heals his soul and does not allow it to be lost....Do not let your soul go astray in matter, in the corruptible things of the world. Life has no value if we do not take care of the soul. Therefore, do not let yourselves go astray and lose your soul Read carefully the Gospels, because these were written with the Grace and the glory of God, to be read by the faithful that their life might shine.
On days when a Saint is celebrated, Christians ought to pray more ardently, with contrition and love, and entreat the Saint to intercede with God for the salvation of their soul. The feast day of every Saint is for Christians a serious reminder of the great sufferings which the Saints experienced for the sake of Christ's faith. They were glorified by God and with glory they received a place in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Let us then honor the Saints and invoke their help, in order that they might strengthen us in our prayer. And we may rest assured that our prayer will be listened to by God.
A guileless spirit is one which has no badness within it. Badness is a characteristic of the evil one, who seeks by means of wickedness to divert man from the path of virtue and from God. Consequently, great carefulness and effort are needed in order that there might reign in the soul a guileless and pure spirit.
How much care do people exercise in order to save their soul? What medicines do they use in order to protect it from the microbes of sin which threaten and attact it? And yet, the Lord has indicated the medicines: love, warm prayer, and humility. They must employ all of them, seeking at the same time the help of God, through which alone can the soul be regenerated and be freed from the microbes of sin...Sin must be banished from the soul: greed, rapacity, impatience, improper imagination.
Examine your self and strive to adorn it with love, humility, compassion and hope. Seek the regeneration of your soul, enlightened by the voice of the Gospel and helped by God. With fear and love for the Heavenly Father, proceed to sow the seeds of God's word on good soil. Cultivate the talent given by Christ for the salvation of your soul.
Having contended on Lesvos for the sake for Christ God, you have sanctified the island since the discovery of your sacred relics, O blessed ones; wherefore we honor you, O God-bearing Raphael, together with Nicholas and virgin Irene, as our divine protectors and intercessors with the Lord.
Let all of us honor as our protectors and miracle-workers the holy Martyrs who manifestly contended for Christ, whose sacred relics were hidden under the earth for many years, and who have manifested themselves to us in wondrous ways: Raphael, Nicholas, and divine Irene, as well as those who contended with them in a godly-minded manner.
Let us honor with hymns the Hosiomartyrs of Christ, divine Raphael and venerable Nicholas, together with Irene, the guardians of Lesvos, for helping us.
For the full service (in Greek) to Sts. Raphael, Nicholas and Irene celebrated on Bright Tuesday, see: http://analogion.gr/glt/texts/Pen/p13b.uni.htm.
Christ is risen from the dead, by death trampling upon death, and to those in the tombs granting life!