14 May 2021

Holy New Martyr Raiko of Shumen

Saint Raiko of Shumen

The fourteenth of May in the Orthodox Church is the feast-day of Saint Raiko of Shumen, who is also called Ioan or John. This young Bulgarian martyr was another of the many innocent victims of Ottoman Turkish oppression in the Balkans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Saint Raiko [Bg. Райко] or Ioan [Bg. Йоан] was born in 1784 in the northeastern Bulgarian town of Shumen. He was quite good-looking for his age, but he worked as a goldsmith, which at that time was a fairly disreputable trade. He was suspected of working for the Ottoman lords who ruled Bulgaria at the time. However, his faith was quite firmly in Christ.

In 1802, when Raiko was eighteen, he was contracted for an order by a rich Muslim who lived across the street from his shop. One of the women in the house noticed Raiko, and she tried to take him into her room. Raiko refused her advances. Humiliated and enraged, the young woman then accused Raiko of trying to sexually assault her. The Muslim master of the house brought her accusation before the local qâḍî, or judge. The judge told Raiko that he had two choices: he could either convert to Islâm and marry his accuser, or he could suffer punishment. Raiko refused to convert, saying that he had done nothing to the woman, and that he had only fulfilled the order as a workman that he had been given.

The qâḍî then ordered that Raiko be tortured. The executioners beat him, flayed the skin from his flesh and poured salt in the wounds, drove wooden spikes under his nails. They even hanged him from the ceiling of his prison cell several times and cut him down before his neck broke, the result of which nearly killed him. Then he was brought back before the judge. This time he was promised gifts and various honours if he converted, but still Raiko refused to forsake Christ. Again he was tortured – he was broken on a wheel and his flesh was burnt with lit torches. At the end he was beheaded, and in this way he achieved the laurels of the martyrs and the kingdom of heaven. This occurred on the fourteenth of May, 1802.

The martyrdom of Saint Raiko was recorded by the great hagiographer Saint Nikēphoros of Chios, and an icon was painted of the saint and placed in the Church of the Ascension in Shumen. Local commemorations were held for Saint Raiko – for example, in 2001 – however, he was not formally glorified by the Bulgarian Orthodox Church until June of 2017. Holy new martyr Raiko, innocent confessor of Christ who bore false accusation and torture, pray unto Christ our God that our souls may be saved!

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