Inspired by the documentary, PISTEVO, the Orthodox Christian Network will be featuring iconography and the Saints of the Orthodox Church.
The Great Martyr St. Demetrios
Eros of Orthodoxy translated by Fr. Nicholas Palis
The Prophet David, a great poet of our church, in a very lyrical psalm called the association of our brothers in the spirit myrrh because they have common desires, hopes, “yearnings,” in the war with the many headed demon, ceaseless battles in approaching holiness and for union with God and are strengthened under the sanctified protection of the Church. Today, this myrrh of the great Prophet, became stronger through a new “myrrh container” which opened in the glorious and longsuffering city of Thessaloniki. The whole city became a blossom sending forth myrrh gushing streams, which ran like rivers supporting and purifying the faithful from suffering and illness while choking the cold breath of the unfaithful.
This blossom, the spiritual patron of the city of Thessaloniki, the guardian of every Christian is St. Demetrios. Saints belong to the entire Church and to every believer who seeks their help and mediation toward God. For every difficult circumstance, they rush and boldly ask the saints, without thinking about where they became sanctified. This also occurs in the ancient city of Thessaloniki with her precious Byzantine treasures. In every village and in each city where there is a church dedicated to the great martyr Demetrios, services and festivities occur, with many pious faithful who come to honor the saint. But in the beautiful city of St. Demetrios, his memory is celebrated with the most imposing magnificence, because it is where he was born, martyred, and where he did an infinite number of miracles saving many from dangers. So on October 26th, pious worshippers gather from the ends of Orthodoxy in Thessaloniki to honor his memory and be sanctified by the healing myrrh of his holy tomb.
The memory of St. Demetrios gladdens and brightens the Church of Christ. And with the fragrant aroma of his myrrh he invites us to go near him, so that with this myrrh he may dispel and heal the filthy wounds which sin leaves in our soul and body. To lighten our pain and faintheartedness, to make our frail and lukewarm faith firm, to give us new power for our spiritual struggles in order that we fight our inner and outer enemies, the worldly temptations of our body, spirit, and of the demon. The relationship of Christians with the world of saints is the greatest consolation and support that Orthodoxy gives to her children.
The great martyr St. Demetrios was born in Thessaloniki of pious and wealthy parents during the years of Diocletian and Maximian (296). When he grew up, he went to the military where his great bravery and rare understanding quickly raised him to the highest military offices. The emperor admiring his bravery, prudence and general ability, appointed him general of the entire area of Thessaly, to which Thessaloniki also belonged. However, the general Demetrios was a Christian and the emperor an idolater. When Maximian returned from battles in Thrace and Asia, he also passed through Thessaloniki. The idolaters, seeing how many idolaters Demetrios was converting to Christianity everyday, went to the Emperor and informed him, that his general scorned and blasphemed the idols and secretly and openly preached the religion of Christ. The emperor unconcerned, summoned Demetrios. Then he saw that all that they told him was true. No matter what he promised Demetrios, he remained firm in the faith of the Crucified One. Hoping that he would change his mind and faith, he commanded them to close him in a formidable and filthy jail, in a damp and muddy room in the public bath, near the stadium.
Afterwards, the emperor according to the custom of the time commanded the athletic battles in the stadium to commence. Among the athletes was a giant named Lyaos who the King always brought in tow and was prized because he defeated whomever he fought. This giant-bodied and strong-armed idolater tore the bodies of fighters as if they were little lambs. All feared him and no one would go out to fight against him. He would walk pompously inviting the Christians, who said that they “received strength from their God” to fight against him. At that time, a brave young lad, with a Christian heart and faith, ran to Demetrios’ cell. He told him that Lyaios was killing men in the stadium and asked him to bless him and to ask God to strengthen him in his fight with the beast-like Lyaios. Demetrios signed the forehead of the young Nestor with the sign of the Cross and said: “You will both defeat Lyaios and be a martyr for Christ”. This prophetic phrase of the saint quickly became reality.
Nestor went to the middle of the stadium and said that he wanted to fight with the giant Lyaios. The idolaters looked at him with scornful irony. Internally, the Christians offered zealous prayers to God to strengthen the new David to defeat the new harsh-necked Goliath. Nestor removed his poor cowl and called to Heaven, “O God of Demetrios, help me!” Then with courage he attacked the giant. The observers held their breath and then all saw undefeated Lyaios lying dead in the stadium. The idolaters shuddered especially Maximian. Then, he gave the command to take Nestor out of the stadium and to behead him. Thus the prophecy of St. Demetrios came true.
However, the emperor, out of sadness for Lyaios, was not content with the death of Nestor. His anger brought him to Demetrios. Without trial or judgment, he ordered him to be killed in his cell. Demetrios saw the soldiers and realized their goal. He raised his hands to pray, and their spears found him precisely where the All-Holy body of Christ was pierced. A believer, who was near the place of martyrdom, took the saint’s finger and his cowl dipped in his holy blood. With these, that Christian, Lupos, would make the cross over the demonized, and every manner of ill person healing them. These many miracles also reached the ears of the emperor and on the same day that he learned of them he gave the order and they killed the Martyr Lupos. Christians took the relic of St. Demetrios and secretly buried it. But God, who wanted to glorify his saint before the entire world provided that much myrrh would flow from his body so that locals and foreigners, whoever would come to be healed, would take some and it never depleted!
The Christians would drink it and no matter what sickness they had, they would be healed. Everyone ran to Thessaloniki for St. Demetrios to heal them. But it would take hours to address the saint’ miracles throughout world, and in particular Thessaloniki, which he rescued countless times from starvation, plagues, conquest and other painful things. For this reason, they honor him both in Thessaloniki and the world over, take his name, dedicate churches to him and celebrate his memory. It seems that not only in this city, but also in other lands there were ancient churches in honor of St. Demetrios.
One can find the life and miracles of the saint, in ecclesiastical books. Today, each Christian should be taught patience and bravery from the martyrdoms of St. Demetrios and St. Nestor. In our grief, worries, illnesses, and in the circumstances where the unjust and stubborn idolater chokes us, he who worships his money, power, and wealth like a god. When the men of Mammon, pressure us with their false brilliance, let us look upon small Nestor and David and not fear the modern Lyaios and Goliaths no matter who they are. Let us say what Nestor said: “O God of Demetrios, help me”. Whoever you are, turn your eyes and hands to heaven and the God of Demetrios will help you. We can also ask St. Demetrios to deliver us from the dangers and “attacks” of our manifest and hidden enemies with intercessions to God.
In conclusion let us again piously remember the martyrdom of the great martyr Demetrios. Today, no one asks us to become martyrs for our faith, nor to be punished and chastised for the name of Christ. However, it is also an honor worthy of the saints when one lives as God and the Saints wish. “In these times,” says an ancient author of the church, “because no-one forces us to our faith, nor is it necessary to become martyrs, God wants just this much from us, that we walk the Christian road, as is pleasing to Christ, thus should we lead our life. Not with “a lot of drinking and gluttony, not with dances and games, nor with slanders and denunciations, not with fornication and debauchery, not with murders and adulteries and enmities, and with other demonic deeds, but with prudence and virginity, with love and harmony, with fasting and restraint, and with all in which God and the Saints rejoice. Because if we live as Christ ordains, we have a reward from the saints, for feasts and celebrations. If not, we spend our life doing what turns God away and the saints hate. For this reason, let us act according to the Christian order, so that God also may rejoice in our deeds and the saints rejoice in our festivities. In this manner, God is worshipped, his saints are honored and the children of the Church are spiritually uplifted.
Source: P.B. Paschou EROS OF ORTHODOXY. Translated by Fr. Nicholas Palis. Edited: Anonymously. 4th Edition Lives of Saints of the Orthodox Church and contritionate chapters of Orthodox spirituality adorned with many Byzantine icons.
INSPIRED BY PISTEVO
Inspired by the documentary, PISTEVO & The Greek Orthodox Church of Our Saviour in Rye, New York, the Orthodox Christian Network is embarking on a major initiative to feature iconography and the Saints of the Orthodox Church over the next several months and years to come. Please watch PISTEVO – “I Believe”, and join us in raising awareness of iconography as a window to finding and fostering one’s faith.
Iconography, the centuries-old tradition of depicting faith through images, was the primary means of teaching Christianity until written records were formally canonized as the Holy Scriptures. Yet even today, centuries later, iconography remains a spiritually powerful part of Orthodox Christian theology. For many, the images enhance one’s ability to go deeper into the exploration and appreciation of their faith.
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