Revoula Venizelou was born in Athens, then part of the Ottoman Empire, on November 21, 1522, the only child of an illustrious and well-off Byzantine family. At 14, her parents married her to a fellow aristocrat, Andrea Chila, who turned out to be an abusive husband. She was only 17 when he died. Although her parents wanted her to remarry, she insisted on remaining at home, where she could spend her time in prayer and works of charity. As a result, she earned the respect and love of her community. Her parents died when she was 27, and she inherited extensive property. Around a year later, she founded a women’s monastery dedicated to St. Andrew and took the name Philothei.
Her philanthropic activities considerably increased once she had been tonsured a nun. Her monastery established many charitable institutions in Athens and the nearby Aegean islands, even as she founded a second monastery in Patissia, Athens. She built hospices, homes for the elderly, and schools for girls and boys. She persisted in working against human trafficking despite the trouble it caused her and her nuns. She found ways to buy the freedom of Greeks enslaved by Ottomans, including buying back women who had been taken into harems (often sheltering them before helping them escape to safety on one of the nearby islands). As a result, her monasteries, and their farms and agricultural lands, were often plundered to devastation. She was also seized and brought before an Ottoman judge, who told her to deny Christ on pain of death. She refused. Her death sentence wasn’t executed because some influential friends intervened on her behalf.
Once she returned to her monastery, she threw herself even more into prayer and charitable work, and soon received the gifts of healing and the working of miracles. As a result, she also began attracting disciples. Ill-will, however, increased along with her renown. Finally, four Ottoman agents invaded her monastery on October 3, 1588, and beat her so severely that she died of her injuries on February 19 of the following year. She was canonized as a saint and a martyr just a few years later.
St. Philothei is considered one of the patron saints of Athens, alongside St. Dionysios the Areopagite and St. Hierotheos. Her relics lie in the city’s Metropolitan Cathedral, and the name of Athens’ Filothei district commemorates her.
Troparion: The Faithful of Athens and all the world honor Philothei, the martyred nun, and rejoice in her holy relics. For she has exchanged this passing life for the life that knows no end through her struggle and martyrdom, and she begs the Savior to have mercy on us all.
Holy mother Philothei, pray to God for us!
Main icon is by Eri Fragiadaki. If you know the name of the iconographer of St. Philothei feeding the poor, please let us know--we would like to give credit to them.