One of the most beloved and revered saints of the Orthodox Church is Saint Demetrios. He was a native of Thessalonica, where his father was a Roman proconsul. Both his parents were pious Christians which during the 3rd Century was very challenging.
When Demetrios became of age, he entered the military. He served during the reign of the Roman Emperor Maximian. Shortly after Demetrios’ father died, Maximian chose to give him his father’s position as proconsul of the district of Thessalonica.; his title was Duke of Thessaly.
One of Demetrios’ main duties was to eradicate Christianity from his assigned region. He was ordered to put to death anyone who was suspect of being a Christian. This was obviously something Demetrios could not adhere to. Instead, he provided a way to protect the faithful and to even bring new people to Christ.
He taught his constituents about the True Faith, preaching the Gospel at every possible opportunity. Demetrios also toppled pagan statues and overthrew pagan customs. St Simeon Metaphrastes (which means the Translator) became Demetrios’ biographer and called him, “a Second Saint Paul.”
The Church in Thessalonica was founded in the summer of 50 AD during Paul’s second missionary journey. Saint Paul found the first community of believers there. In fact, Paul’s first and second epistles to the Thessalonians, written 50-51 AD, were probably the first of St. Paul’s twenty-seven epistles.
Soon after, the Emperor learned that Demetrios was a Christian and leading many to the Faith. He summoned Demetrios to appear before him who bravely confessed himself as a Christian. He also renounced the falsehood of Roman paganism. For this reason, the Emperor ordered that Demetrios be locked up in prison.
An angel was sent by the Lord to comfort and encourage Demetrios. While in prison, he received a visit from a young Christian named Nestor. He sought the blessing of Demetrios to fight the German barbarian named Lyaeos.
Nestor, with the blessing of Demetrios and by making the Sign of the Cross, bravely faced Lyaeos in the arena, saying: “O God of Demetrios, help me!” With one fatal blow to the heart, Nestor killed Lyaeos and flung him upon the spears of the soldiers standing by. Indeed, this was a David and Goliath story and Nestor was the “New David.” The Emperor was furious by this occurrence and ordered the execution of Nestor and then that of Demetrios.
The soldiers charged at Demetrios with spears in his underground prison. This is reminiscent of Christ on the Cross: but one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out (Jn 19:34). Lupus, who was a faithful servant of Demetrios gathered his garment soaked with blood and the ring from his finger. Lupus took the imperial ring which was a symbol of Demetrios’ high status and dipped it in the blood. He too was apprehended and killed by Maximinian.
During the reign of St Constantine the Great, a church was built over the grave of St Demetrios. A hundred years later, in the 5th Century, a new church was erected on the old spot. It was there that the incorrupt relics of St Demetrios were uncovered. Since the 7th Century, a miraculous myrrh has flowed beneath the crypt of St Demetrios which is why he is called Myrrh-gusher (Μυροβλήτης).
A popular icon of St Demetrios depicts him atop a brown horse slaying a man believed to be Lyaeos himself. Of course, it was Nestor who defeated Lyaeos not Demetrios. Nevertheless, it has become a traditional image of St Demetrios. Another popular icon of St Demetrios shows him holding a spear which signifies that he was a soldier-saint just like St George.
On October 26th, the Orthodox Church also commemorates the earthquake in Thessalonica that occurred in 740 AD. During the reign of the iconoclast Emperor Leo the Isaurian, there was a horrific earthquake. Many believed this was a form of God’s punishment for their iconoclastic belief and so repented for their sins.
The faithful prayed to both the Theotokos and St Demetrios and miraculously the earthquake stopped. St Demetrios has been revered as the protector and patron saint of Thessalonica. We hear of a similar story involving an earthquake in the Old Testament in the Book of Nahum: The burden against Nineveh…the Lord is avenging with fury; the Lord takes vengeance on His adversaries and drives out his enemies… By Him the mountains are shaken and the hills quake; and the earth heaves at His presence-the whole earth and all who dwell in it. Who can withstand the fierceness of His anger? His fury melts away ruling powers; and He shatters the rocks into pieces (Nahum 1:1-2, 5-6).
The Prophet Jonah was sent by God to preach to the inhabitants of Nineveh between the eighth and seventh centuries BC. They repented, yet, within a few generations the evil and wickedness of their forefathers returned. It was the prophet Nahum who prophesized the destruction of Nineveh. Thus, the Ninevites were stricken with a great earthquake for their sinfulness.
Today the worldwide festival of the Champion calls us together. Come then, all who are fond of feasts, let us radiantly celebrate his memorial, and salute him, saying: "Rejoice, you who by faith tore apart the tunic of impiety, and robed yourself in the courage of the Spirit. Rejoice, you who destroyed the purposes of the iniquitous with the strength that was given you by the only God. Rejoice, for when your limbs were pierced by the lance, you spiritually depicted for us the blessed Passion of Christ. Implore Him, O Demetrios, you ornament of Athletes, and pray that He rescue us from visible and invisible enemies, and that He save our souls (1st Doxastikon of Festal Vespers).
O Great Martyr and Myrrh-Gusher, Demetrios, intercede for us all!
A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.
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