Today is the feast day of St. Demetrios the Myrrh-bearer of Thessalonica according to the New Calendar. Last night I attended a beautiful Vespers service on the eve of the feast at a neighboring Greek Church dedicated to this holy martyr, who together with St. George the Great-Martyr, as the homily below (taken from the Russian Church here) notes, is one of the “two brave lads of Christianity”. Presiding over the service was His Eminence Metropolitan Savas of Pittsburgh, pictured above.
Today, dear brothers and sisters, we have gathered in this Holy church to glorify with our prayers St. Demetrius, the Patrone of this Holy temple and Parish.
I would like to humbly present to you the life of the holy Great Martyr St. Demetrius the Myrrh-Bearer of Thessalonica.
Our Lord declared: “If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But all this they will do to you on my account, because they do not know Him Who sent Me” (Jn. 15.20-21). And so they did persecute our Lord, and they did persecute the Twelve, and so they continue to persecute his disciples, including the Great Martyr Demetrius, whose memory we commemorate today: because they do not want to know Him Who has come and revealed Himself.
THE FEAST DAY of St. Demetrius is a great feast for all of Orthodoxy. St. Demetrius along with St. George are the two brave lads of Christianity. These two are below on earth, and the two Archangels Michael and Gabriel are above in heaven.
In ancient times there were painted without armor, but in later years they were depicted armored with swords and spears and dressed in metal breastplates. On one shoulder they have their helmet hanging, and on the other their shield. At the waist they are girded with the straps which hold the sheath of the sword and the quiver which has in the arrows and the bow. In recent years, after the conquest of Constantinople, these two saints, and many times other soldier satins also, are painted as riding horses, St. George on a white horse, St. Demetrius on a red one.
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 Princeipalities and the Powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness on high. Therefore talk 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). This heroic and perserving character, which the warriors have who were martyred for Christ like harmless and innocent sheep, has reference to spiritual things.
St. DEMETRIUS, the Great Martyr, was born in Thessalonica in 260 A.D. His parents were illustrious people and along with the transitory glory which Demetrius had from his family, he was adorned with imperishable virtues, with prudence, with sweetness, with humility, with justice, and with every noble comeliness of the soul. All these were like precious stones which shone on the crown which he wore, and this crown was the faith in Christ.
In those days, there reigned in Rome Diocletian, and he had appointed as caesar in the parts of Macedonia and the East a hard-hearted and bloodthirsty general who was called Maximian, a beast in human form as were all those military rulers who then ruled the world with the sword. He in turn appointed Demetrius ruler of Thessalonica and all Thesaalia. When Maximian returned from a certain war, he gathered the officers of Thessalonica in order to offer sacrifice to the idols. Then Demetrius revealed that he was a Christian, and did not accept hewn stones as gods.
Maximian went into a rage and ordered that he be tried and imprisoned in a bath. And all the while he was imprisoned, the populace ran with mourning to hear Demetrius teach the people of Christ. A young lad, Nestor, also went every day and heard his teaching.
During those days, many brave men fought in the stadium and Maximian rejoiced at these spectacles. He even had a great honor a certain henchman Lyaeus, a beastly man, brass-knuckled, an idolator and blasphemer, brought from some barbarous nation. Nestor, seeing that this Lyaeus had defeated all the boasted that he had the strength of Ares, the pagan god of war, and that no native dared wrestle with him, went to the prison and besought St. Demetrius to bless him to defeat and put to shame Lyaeus and Maximian and their religion.
St. Demetrius prayed and made the sign of the Cross over him, and immediately Nestor ran to the stadium and wrestled with that fierce giant, and he threw him down, and slew him. Then Maximian became beside himself with rage and learning that Nestor was a Christian and that St. Demetrius had blessed him, he ordered the soldiers to have them put to death.
And they going to the bath lanced St. Demetrius with their spears, and thus he received the eternal crown on the 8th of November, 296 A.D., at the age of thirty-six. It is written that when he saw the soldiers thrusting their spears at him, he raised high his arm and they lanced him in the side, so that he might be deemed worthy to receive the lancing which Christ received in His side, and there ran blood and water from the wound. Holy Martyr Nestor of Thessalonica was beheaded the next day.
The holy Christians took the holy remains and buried them side by side, and from the grave of St. Demetrius there came forth holy myrrh which cured many diseases. For this reason he is called Myrovletes. Over his holy grave and the place of his holy martyrdom there was built a church in the form of a basilica which stands to this day.
This then is the holy martyrdom of St. Demetrius the Great Martyr, who loved our Savior above all things of this life – – pleasures, wealth, honors – – and longed to be dissolved that he might be found with Him in the celestial Kingdom, through whose prayers may we also be deemed worthy of like fate.
The memory of St. Demetrius of Thessalonica is historically associated in Rus with the military, patriotism and the defense of the country. This is apparent by the saint’s depiction on icons as a soldier in plumed armor, with a spear and sword in hand. There is a scroll on which is written the prayer of St Demetrius for the salvation of the people, “Lord, do not permit the city or the people. If You save the city and the people, I shall be saved with them. If they perish, I also perish with them.” St. Demetrius is regarded as a protector of the young, and is also invoked by those struggling with lustful temptations.
I greet you all, dear brothers and sisters, with today’s celebration. Through the prayers of St. Demetrius, may the Lord preserve you and your families in good health, spiritual joy, and every happiness. May our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ send His blessing with upon each one who came today to glorify with love and prayer our intercessor before God.
HOLY MARTYR DEMETRIUS, PRAY UNTO GOD FOR US! Amen.