Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Martyr Saints Constantin Voivod Brâncoveanu, his sons Constantin, Radu, Ştefan and Matei and the counselor Ianache Văcărescu

 Together with Voivod Ştefan III The Great of Moldova (+1504), the Romanian Church celebrate another crowned local saint, in the person of Constantin Brâncoveanu , Voivod of Wallachia (1688-1714)
Constantin was born in 1654, in Brâncoveni (Olt County), from a noble Romanian family, as the son of Matthew Brâncoveanu and Stanca, the sister of the Voivod Şerban Cantacuzino (1678-1688).  His father died in 1655 and Constantine was raised by his uncle, Constantine Cantacuzino who was postelnic (chief of the Voivodal Office) at the Court in Bucharest, being one of the most representative humanists in the medieval Romanian culture. In this way the future Voivod of Wallachia received the best education of hi stime. He was fluent in Greek, Latin and Slavonic, and probably also in Turkish.
Constantin married Maria (popularly named Marica), the granddaughter of Voivod Antonie (1669-1672), and had together four sons: Constantin, Ștefan, Radu and Matei and seven daughters: Stanca, Maria, Ilinca, Safta, Anca, Bălașa and Smaranda. Together they reached an impressive wealth consisting in houses, lands, whole villages and sums of money deposited different banks in Western Europe.
Being 34 years old, Constantin was elected as Voivod of Wallachia, after the suddenly and mysterious death of his uncle. The political situation was very difficult for the small Romanian principalities who tried to keep further their identity, during the growth of the Russian power, who came into conflict with the Ottoman Empire and the Austrian Monarchy - already present in Transylvania since 1699.

The internal policy
Using a clever policy, Constantin reigned 26 years. Inside Wallachia, Constantin Brâncoveanu supported the economic and cultural progress, trying to modernize the state apparatus, reforming the tax system and increasing the Voivodal power, but the excessive taxation ruined the low class. This was not directly due his wish to be even richer, but because of the ever increasing demands of the Ottoman Porte, to whom Wallachia used to pay a tribute even since the beginning of the 15th century.
Constantin Brâncoveanu supported the development of the Romanian culture, so that his reign may be called “the Romanian Renaissance”. His „fingerprint” is considered to be the church and the buildings complex of the Monastery Horezu (or “Hurezi”), dedicated to Saints Constantine and Helen, in 1690. As a very pious Voivod, he built also a lot of other churches or monasteries, but also secular institutions after a totally new architectural style that combined the mural painting and sculpture local tradition with the neo-Byzantine style and Italian Renaissance. This combination was called the „Brâncovenesc” style, which could be considered as the first typically Romanian current for architecture and painting. 
Constantin Brâncoveanu supported also the printing activity and the schools in Wallachia, but also in Transylvania, and tried to give a more important role to the Romanian language, until then only used as a vernacular language. He surrounded himself with great personalities of culture from the country and abroad, brought especially in order to prepare the young generation after the European model.
Mogoşoaia Palace
In 1689 he brought from Istanbul a Georgian scholar and monk called Antim, later Metropolitan of Wallachia and also a saint martyred by the Turks (1716). Under his guidance, there were printed many books, especially religious, in Romanian, Greek, Slavic, and even Arabic, Turkish and Georgian, so that Wallachia became a cultural Centre for the whole Christian culture in the Eastern Europe and in the Ottoman Empire.
In 1694 the Voivod Constantin founded the Princial Academy in Bucharest, also known as the College from St. Sava, the first high school in Wallachia. The teaching language was still ancient Greek, and the teachers were usually Greeks from Istanbul. Parallel, he opened some other schools, within the monasteries in Bucharest, having as teaching language Slavonic and Romanian. He also founded some libraries such as the one in Mărgineni and Horezu monastery, purchasing many books from Western Europe.

The foreign policy
In foreign policy, Constantin Brâncoveanu  tried to maintain the balance between the Ottoman Empire, to whom he paid so much every year, and Austria, with whom he concluded a secret agreement, receiving in exchange for certain services some noble estates and titles of the Holy Roman Empire. The fragile equilibrium broke in 1709, when the third political power came in the game. King Charles XII of Sweden lost the battle with Peter the Great at Poltava. Shortly after, the powerful Russian troops entered in Moldova, in order to fight with the Sultan. In that moment, Brâncoveanu made the mistake to ally with the Russians, considering that this might be the future. So, he wrote a letter to Peter the Great, in which he promised to help him with military supplies. Peter sent to Brâncoveanu his thanks and 300 bags of gold. In the meanwhile, the Turks installed Dimitrie Cantemir, as prince in the other Romanian Principality, Moldova. He was also known as one of the highest qualified intellectuals if the whole Europe, but he happened to be an enemy of the Brâncoveanu family. The first thing Cantemir did was to ally also with the Tsar. Being a proud leader, in this situation, Brâncoveanu tried to play on both sides and helost. In waiting a confrontation between the Russian and the Ottoman troops, he gathered his army at Urlaţi, near the border with Moldova and, in case that the Russians wanted to enter in Wallachia, he planned to ally with them, but if the Turks would have been faster, he intended to remain on the Turkish side. During this time his cousin, Toma Cantacuzino fled with a part of the army to the Tsar, telling him the plans of the Voivod. Scared about the situation, Brâncoveanu sent back to Peter the Great his 300 bags of gold and supplied the Turks. The battle between the two great powers happened in Moldova, near the Prut River, at Stănileşti, in 1711, and the Russians have lost.

The end of his reign
Even since 1711, the sultan Ahmed III (1703-1730) planned to put someone else on the throne of Wallachia, because of the lack of loyalty of Brâncoveanu and because he tried to fortify his position against the Austrian Monarchy. But even if he usually did this without any problems before, Constantin was too powerful, had too many connections among the Western powers, so that the „revenge” was planned in a few years.
Horezu Monastery
In 1714 Constantin was planning the marriage of his son Radu with the daughter of Antioh Cantemir, former Voivod of Moldova (1695 – 1700; 1705 – 1707). For she was in Istanbul, Brâncoveanu tried to improve his relations with the Sultan and sent him a letter and 4000 golden coins. Even if first the Sultan communicated to him that he has nothing against this marriage, he sent Ali Pasha to Bucharest to arrest Brâncoveanu. The Voivod didn’t know that all his relatives were already against him and no one tried at least to help him. That is why, on March 25, 1714, the Turks came in Bucharest and removed Constantine from the throne of Wallachia. The reason invoked was, according to Mehmed Rashid, a contemporary Turkish chronicler, that he gathered too much wealth and weapons and prepared a rebellion against the Porte, waiting the moment to reign absolutely independently.  He was taken to Istanbul together with his family and imprisoned at the fortress of Yedikule („the Seven Towers”). Of course, all their possessions were confiscated, and he was tortured by the Turks, who hoped to locate his other possessions. His fabulous wealth became somehow legendary, and the Turks used to call him „Altin Bey” (the Prince of Gold). Finally, he was obliged under torture to sign for the gold deposited in Venice.

The Martyrdom
The execution of Constantin and his family happened on 15 August 1714, at Ialy Kisc („the kiosk at the sea”), on the day of the Dormition of Our Lady, the very day when he turned 60 years and his wife celebrating her namesday.
Sultan Ahmed III commanded a „grandiose ceremony” in order to humiliate his adversaries. Together with him were present also the ambassadors of France, England, Austria and Russia, who were invited to see his manifestation of power. Constantin was brought here not alone, but with his four sons Constantin, Radu, Ştefan and Matei and his confident Ianache Văcărescu. The sultan permitted them a last prayer and offered them one more chance to convert to Islam. The Italian chronicler Antonio Del Chiaro noted the answer of Constantine: „Your majesty, you have taken my fortune, but I don’t abandon my Christian law.  I was born and lived in it and I want to die in it (=as Christian). I filled the earth of my country with Christian churches and, now, attaining an old age, should I bow to your Turkish mosques? No, your Highness! I defended my land, I kept my faith I want to close my eyes in my faith and my sons together with me”. After that, he encouraged his sons „My children, have courage! I lost everything I had on this earthly world. We have left only our souls, we shall not lose them too, but we shall get them clean before our Savior Jesus Christ. Let’s wash our sins with our blood!
After the beheading of Ianache Văcărescu, the executioners took the four sons. Even if Matei, the youngest protested and asked his father to let him convert to Islam, because he didn’t live his life, Constantine was radical and forbade him such a thing. His son accepted his father’s decision and finally chose to die too. He was only 11 years old. Finally Voivod Constantine was also beheaded.
The bodies of the martyrs were thrown into the waters of Bosphorus and their heads were worn in spears through the streets of Constantinople and hanged for 3 days at the gates of the Seray. Later they were also thrown into the waters o the sea. Some Christians have „fished” the bodies and buried them secretly in the Assumption Church from Halki island, during their heads were brought in Wallachia by Lady Mary in 1720 and secretly buried in the new church of St. Gheorghe from Bucharest. The tomb was covered by a white marble plate, without any name or identification. The discovery of the fact that the head of the Voivod is buried here, happened only in 1914, because of an inscription on a silver lamp until then remained unobserved: „This lamp, which was given to [the church of] St. George the New, lights where are resting the bones of the blessed Lord Voivode Io Constantin Brâncoveanu Basarab and was made by her Excellency Mrs. Maria, who hopes for the resting of her bones also here. July, 12 days, year 7228 (= 1720)” Her wish was fulfilled in 1745, when she died and was buried there.
On June 20, 1992 the Synod of the Romanian Orthodox Church canonized the martyrs Brâncoveanu, setting their memorial not on August 15,because of the great Feast of Our Lady, but the second day, on August 16 memorial day.
The Tomb in St. George Church, Bucharest

Troparion (hymn) of the saints
St. George Church in Bucharest
and the monument of St. Constantine
Being worthy to suffer a martyrical death for the right faith and for your people together with his sons Constantin, Ştefan, Radu, Matei and with the counselor Ianache, Oh, right-faithful Voievod Constantin, pray to Christ God to save our souls!

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