At the Jacob’s Well Church in the West Bank town of Nablus, pilgrims can visit the tomb and sacred relics of St. Philoumenos, who was canonized by the Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem in 2009 and is also revered as a saint by a few other Orthodox denominations, including the Russian Patriarchate in Moscow. According to descriptions of his martyrdom, Philoumenos—who had served as the head of the monastery attached to the church—was murdered “by Zionist settlers who wanted to cleanse the area of any trace of Christianity.” His killing was supposedly done in a ritualist fashion, with his body mutilated after his death. These descriptions can be found in such presumably reputable works as the Blackwell Dictionary of Eastern Christianity.
All of these details, writes David Gurevich, recall nothing more than the ritual-murder accusations of Middle Ages—of which the blood libel was the most notorious—responsible for so much violence and abuse of Jews. While the real Philoumenos was murdered by a deranged serial killer from Tel Aviv in 1979, none of the facts corresponds to the now-standard martyrdom narrative. Gurevich writes:
The account of Philoumenos’ tragic martyrdom, the torture by “fanatical Jews,” and, furthermore, Philoumenos’ post-mortem miracles, leading to his glorification as a saint, all resonate with the medieval accusations.
Philoumenos was born in Cyprus. . . . In the pilgrimage church of the famous Machairas Monastery in [Cyprus’] Troodos Mountains, I witnessed a painting that depicts Philomenos’ martyrdom—the Christian monk is seen being assaulted by a man presented as an ultra-Orthodox Jew wearing a typical hat, peyot, and a long beard. . . . Shortly after Philoumenos’ canonization, nuns in the monastery [in his hometown of Orounta] published his hagiography—a comprehensive book which elaborates the saint’s life story, death, and the miracle-doings. The book tells about various miracles performed by St. Philoumenos before and after his death. One of the miracles is saving Jacob’s Well church from shells of the “Jewish tanks” that attempted to storm the church in 2005 but were stopped by his intervention.
[C]ontrary to the Catholic Church, Orthodox churches have never abolished the veneration of past sanctified “victims” of Jewish “ritual murders.” In the course of the general return to religion in the post-Soviet Orthodox states, [some of these] cults were revived. . . . Moreover, in 2017, the Russian Orthodox Church established an official committee of inquiry into whether the last tsar was a victim of ritual murder by Jews.