You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will grant you understanding in everything.
Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descended from David, as preached in my gospel, the gospel for which I am suffering and wearing fetters like a criminal. But the word of God is not fettered. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus with its eternal glory.
II Timothy 2: 1-10 (Epistle from the Feast of St. Demetrios)
Every saint has a title—some are called “martyrs,” (St. Katherine the Martyr) others are referred to as “hierarchs” (St. Nicholas the Hierarch), but every saint is given a title (or in some cases more than one title) that refers to their contribution to the spreading of the Christian faith.
Saint Demetrios has the title “martyr” because he was martyred for his faith, the title “myrrh-streaming” because myrrh flows from his tomb in Thessaloniki, Greece, as well as the title “athloforos” or “athlete,” because of the way he “contested” for the Christian faith.
Saint Demetrios was born in 270 A.D. and was martyred around 306 A.D.. He was a soldier in the Roman army. When the local ruler of Thessaloniki, where Demetrios was stationed, hosed pagan games and sacrifices to celebrate a military triumph, Demetrios denounced the pagans and was thrown into prison. A young man named Nestor asked for the blessing of Demetrios to fight in the arena against a giant named Lyaios, and in the arena, Nestor defeated the giant but would not kill him. When the ruler Maximian asked Nestor how he defeated Maximian’s champion gladiator, Nestor gave credit to the God of Demetrios and the prayers of Demetrios. Maximian then had Demetrios and Nestor killed.
In St. Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy, which is read on the feast day of St. Demetrios, we learn several things. First, we are to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” (II Timothy 2:1) Why? Because in verse three, St. Paul tells us that we will “share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus.” This idea will be expounded upon in the Gospel passage we will review tomorrow. The one who is a soldier for Christ should expect the same thing that a soldier in a military force will experience—strife, opposition, hardship, and suffering. Like a successful army, the good Christian can also expect to feel success and triumph.
In verse 5, St. Paul talks about the good athlete. In modern society, we crown the champion as the one who wins. Sometimes winners have to cheat, or get lucky, or somehow succeed even if they haven’t prepared. In the Ancient Olympics, the athlete was a champion because he competed well, and was prepared to compete. To win by cheating was an anathema. It was competing well and according to the rules that brought honor and adulation. In certain competitions, it is almost “required” to cheat or at least bend the rules.
As athletes on God’s team, our crowning as His champions is based on how we prepare and how we present ourselves in our lives. It doesn’t matter if we have the biggest crosses or the most valuable icons, or if you have the best voice in the choir or have memorized the most Bible passages. God cared about “how we compete” and “how we prepare.” He crowns our efforts, not our successes.
Saint Paul reminds us that “it is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops.” And likewise, it will be the hardworking Christian who will get the first share of the Kingdom of heaven. In God’s book, winning isn’t everything. It’s the effort that crowns one a champion.
All the world has you, its mighty champion, fortifying us in times of danger, and defeating our foes, O Victorious One. So, as you humbled Lyaios’s arrogance by giving courage to Nestor in the stadium, thus, O holy Great Martyr Demetrios, to Christ our God pray fervently, beseeching Him to grant us His great mercy. (Apolytkion of St. Demetrios, Trans. By Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Make a good effort to ask in a Christian way wherever you find yourself today!