Europe
Lietuva
English Lithuania, German Litauen
Vilnius
Polish Wilno, Russian Wilna
church of the Holy Spirit
tomb of the martyrs Saint John, Saint Anthony
and Saint Eustachius

A brief description.

The church of the Holy Spirit, today situated at the  Dominikonų St. 8, in Vilnius, Latvia, was built towards the end of the 14th century on the site of the first Gothic church in Vilnius, and reconstructed several times during the city’s turbulent history.
In 1501 it was given to the Dominicans who built a priory nearby. Its present appearance dates to the 18th century, when the interior was rebuilt after serious fire damage.

It is thought that a small (probably wooden) church already existed in this location in Gediminas days. Vytautas, in place of the wooden one that burned down, built the Church of the Holy Spirit, which later was enlarged and in 1501 was given by Aleksandras Jogailaitis to the oldest Dominican chapter in Lithuania. The walls of the church have survived from those times. During 1753 - 1770 the Dominicans built a new church and enlarged the monastery.

The church

The church stands with its side facing the street and lacks a clearly visible main facade. The top of its dome reaches 51 m (167 ft). The exterior of the church contains both mature and late baroque elements.

The interior is in the rococo style and is distinguished by playful and fantastic decorations; this is one of the most valuable church interiors in Lithuania. The church has sixteen altars. The massive but dynamic and plastic altars form a harmonic composition, which also includes a pulpit and confessional, are combined into one unit. The choir loft, supported by curved columns, is very interesting.

The tomb of the Holy Martyrs:
Saint Anthony (Nezhilo), Saint John (Kumets),
and Kruglas: Saint Eustachius

In the church the tomb of the Holy Martyrs Eustachius, and the brothers Anthony and John, who suffered for Christ under the Lithuanian Great Prince Algirdas (1300, ruler 1345-1377).

The prince Algirdas was married to the Orthodox Princess Maria Yaroslavna (+ 1346) to increase his territory.  He permitted the spiritual leader of Father Nester to teach orthodox religion in the pagan Lithuania and allowed a number of temples to be built – two in Vitebak and one in Vilnius (named after St Martyr Pareskeva).  He was baptised and during his wife's lifetime he allowed the preaching of Christianity.


Nestor even converted two noblemen who were brothers, (formerly Lithuanian pagans, in the princes court) Nezhilo and Kumets who received the names Anthony and John. And at the request of Maria Yaroslavna an Orthodox church was built at Vilnius (Vilna), 1343.
After the death of his spouse, Prince Algirdas, pressed by the Lithuanian pagan priests, who had great influence on the nation,  began to support the fire-worshippers, who persecuted all Christians.

The dire fate of Anthony and his brother John

Anthony and his brother John were arrested. On the morning of 14th April (27th April according to the new style) of the year 1347 both martyrs received Holy communion, after that Anthony was taken to the place of execution, the pagans hung him on an oak tree.
John remained strong in his Christian belief and continued to preach to the people who would gather at his place of imprisonment.  Pagans were furious and killed him, first he was strangled and then, being dead already, he was hung on the same oak tree on 24th April 1347. 
It happened just as his brother Anthony had predicted before his death; the Christians duly buried the bodies of the martyrs in the church of Saint Nicholas.  This oak, which the pagans considered sacred, became truly sacred for Orthodox Christians.

Kruglas: Saint Eustachius

The martyrdom of the Saints Anthony and John bore blissful spiritual fruit, their cousin, Kruglas also serving in the court of Algirdas, was shocked and impressed by the strength of the martyrs.  He decided to become a Christian and was baptised as Eustachius by priest Nestor. Kruglas stood out because of his comeliness, valour and bravery, but even more because of his mind and virtue of soul. A favourite of Algirdas, he could count on a very promising future. He was young and handsome, strong and brave but even more amazing was his cleverness and kind soul, after the baptism he started practicing Christian life and kept to the rules of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Once the Grand Duke, who loved the young man very much, noticed that he had let his hair grow long, he questioned him about whether he had become a Christian, to which Eustachius openly confessed and would not eat meat because of the Nativity Fast.

This statement made the Grand Duke very angry, with the aim of drawing the boy from his beliefs he started insisting that he ate meat.  This happened on Friday before Christmas and the saint martyr refused to obey. 

Saint Eustachius endured the torments with such gladness and courage, that the very torturers themselves were astounded by the divine power strengthened by God, Saint Eustachius despite his broken feet and legs, walked to the place of execution bravely; they were astonished by the miracle.  He was hung on the same oak where Saints Anthony and John received a martyr's death on 13 December, 1347.

After 3 days the remnants of Saint Eustachius were buried in the church of Saint Nicholas, next to saint brothers Anthony and John.

The church of the Holy Spirit

A church was later built on the hill where the holy martyrs suffered. The trinity of venerable passion bearers glorified the true God worshipped in the Holy Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The church was dedicated to the Most Holy Trinity. The altar table was built on the stump of the sacred oak on which the martyrs died. 

Soon their relics were found to be incorrupt. In 1364 Patriarch Philotheus of Constantinople (1354-1355, 1364-1376) sent a cross with the relics of the holy martyrs to St Sergius of Radonezh (September 25). The Church established the celebration of all three martyrs on April 14.

The deed of the saint martyrs was significant to the whole of Lithuania; Prince Algirdas himself not only returned to Christianity but also became a monk at the end of his life.  All his 12 sons were Christians, in the end of the 14 century; half of the population of Vilnius was Russian orthodox.

 

The history of the remains of the holy Martyrs

In the following centuries, the remnants of the holy martyrs were famous because of many miracles.  However, even after their martyrdom, their remnants had to undergo many hard periods, there was a time when their bodies were laid hidden in a cellar for more than 150 years, in 1826 they were again authorised by high orthodox officials and open to the population.

In 1918, before the attack of the Germans, these holy remnants, as the most prodigious relics of Orthodoxy, were taken to Moscow.  The sad memories of saying farewell to the holy martyrs and happy moments when the remnants of Saints Anthony, John and Eustachius were again greeted and solemnly brought to Vilnius to the monastery of the Holy Spirit in 1946 are still alive in the minds of older believers of this city.
Vilnius's monastery of the Holy Trinity, where the holy relics are kept, became a stronghold of Orthodoxy on this frontier and the date of their return – 13th (26th) July – is celebrated in this monastery every year.

Source: For the detailed history of these Martyrs see the site of Philip Holden: Spiritual Medium, Private Readings, Demonstrations ©2006

The organ

The church's organ is the only almost entirely original instrument remaining from the 18th century in Lithuania.

The priory

The three-tiered buildings of the priory surround an almost square cloister Garth, in which in the 18th century stood a pole-shrine to commemorate the victims of the plague. The priory housed a hospital, a school and a printer. The corridors of the cloister still contain frescos from the 18th century.


Philately

 

Russia 1966. Airmail envelope with a street.
At the end a view on the church of the Holy Spirit,
formerly the church of the Dominicans.

 

 

 

 


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