We commemorate on this day in the church calendar a Saint similar in many ways to our own St. George, the patron Saint of this holy temple. This day we commemorate St. Demetrios of Thessaloniki, the Great Martyr and Myrrh-streamer.
Born in the city of Thessaloniki, his father was commander in the army there and after his death the ruler in that region, Maximian, appointed young Demetrios as commander in his father’s place. In addition to this appointment the newly installed commander was also given the task of persecuting and exterminating the Christians of Thessaloniki. Demetrios, being a Christian, naturally disobeyed this order and when Maximian was returning from a battle once he stopped in Thessaloniki to see for himself if these rumors of Demetrios’ rebelliousness were true. Not only was the Saint upfront with Maximian about his faith in Christ but he even went as far to preach to that great opponent and hater of Christ and all of His followers.
After his arrest soldiers were sent to Demetrios’ prison cell where they found him in prayer. The soldiers ran him through lances and thus the soldier, and devout Christian Demetrios met his martyrdom.
It is in the bloody death of the Christian martyrs, who gave their lives for their faith in Christ, that the truth about God’s existence is revealed. That is, that He is not the God of the dead but the God of the living. And so with St. Demetrios is recorded how right after he was brutally killed his faithful servant Lupus, to whom the Saint – knowing his fate – gave all his goods so that he could distribute to the poor, prayed warmly that Demetrios help him and those suffering. And, behold, a miracle occurred. The sick that came in contact with these goods that Lupus had been guarding were healed. Discovering this, orders were also sent that Lupus also be killed.
The body of St. Demetrios was secretly taken by the Christians of Thessaloniki and given a proper burial. Soon, a small church was built over his relics. Later, when an Illyrian nobleman by the name of Leontius, afflicted with an incurable disease, came to seek help from the relics of St. Demetrios he was completely healed. In thanksgiving to the Saint, this grateful nobleman built a much larger church in honor of this saint.
St. Demetrius, like St. George and many other Christian martyrs, was a soldier. But, despite his vocation as a fighter and a warrior, his heart was filled with dedication and a firm faith in Christ; indeed, his entire being was filled with love for God and neighbor. Subsequently, the icons of both St. George and St. Demetrios depict the Saints upon a horse and wearing armor for this is the purpose of the icons, to tell us stories of these Saints, of their lives and deeds.
But this armor which these Saints wear, depicts spiritual weapons, like those of which the holy Apostle Paul speaks saying, “Put on the armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the Principalities and the Powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness on high. Therefore take up the armor of God that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and stand in all things perfect. Stand, therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of justice and having your feet shod with the readiness of the Gospel of peace, in all things taking up the shied of faith, with which you may be able to quench all the fiery darts of the most wicked one. And take unto you the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, that is, the word of God” (Eph.6:11-17). (1)
It is in these words of the holy Apostle that we are given insight on what it means to be part of a church which above its doors depicts a Saint, not only seated on a horse, but who also holds a dangerous weapon with which he is piercing a dragon. The faith which we hold and are called to live according to, seeks from us to put on the breastplate of justice that we may quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. We are, therefore, reminded on today’s feastday not only of the fact that, in that choir of Saints of our Church, are also those who were soldiers. Rather, we are reminded that we too are called to be soldiers. In defending our faith, defending the Triune God and, through a righteous life, but also defending the sanctity which is in us, the sanctity with which we have been created. Amen.