October 26, 2023

Saint Demetrios the Myrrhgusher (Photios Kontoglou)

St. Demetrios icon painted by Photios Kontoglou

Saint Demetrios the Myrrhgusher

By Photios Kontoglou

The feast of Saint Demetrios is a great feast for all of Greece, especially for Thessaloniki, which is also his homeland. Saint Demetrios together with Saint George are the two lads of Christendom. Saint Demetrios covers over the whole ecumene, as his troparion says, but he especially protects Thessaloniki, which has been spared many times and stands and flourishes to this day. He is a new Alexander the Great, whose strength and valor were not lost with his death, but he lives and manifests himself unto the ages to those who ask him with a fervent heart.

Saint Demetrios the Great Martyr and Myrrhgusher was born in Thessaloniki around 250 AD. His parents were official people and Demetrios, close to the imperishable glory he had from his family, was also adorned with imperishable gifts, with wisdom, with sweetness, with humility and with justice. All these were like precious gems, shining on the crown he wore, and this crown was faith in Christ.

At that time Diocletian reigned in Rome and had appointed as Caesar in the parts of Macedonia and in the east a hard-hearted and bloodthirsty general called Maximianus, a beast in human form. He appointed Demetrios lord of Thessaloniki and when he returned from some war he gathered the officers to sacrifice to the idols. Then Demetrios said that he is a Christian and that he does not accept carved stones as gods. Maximianus was enraged and ordered him to be bound and imprisoned in a bathhouse. As long as he was imprisoned, the people came to lament and listen to Demetrios who taught the people about the Faith of Christ. A young man, Nestor, also went and listened to his teaching.

In those days many men fought inside the stadium. And Maximianus rejoiced at these spectacles, in fact he had in great honor a strongman called Lyaios, a man of beastly soul and strong hands, an idolater and a blasphemer, brought from some barbarous nation. When Nestor saw that this Lyaios had defeated them all, and that no native dared to fight with him, he went to the prison and begged Demetrios to bless him in order to disgrace Lyaios and Maximianus and their religion. The Saint made the sign of the cross over him, and Nestor went and stood in the stadium and fought with that wild giant and killed him. Then Maximianus became a beast from his anger and learning that Nestor was a Christian and that Demetrios had blessed him, he ordered for him to be killed. When they went to the prison, the soldiers pierced Demetrios with spears and in this way he received the unfading wreath on October 26, 296. In fact, it is written that when he saw the soldiers throwing the spears at him, he raised his hand and the spears pierced him in the side, to be found worthy of the piercing of the lance that Christ received in His side and blood and water came out of His wound. Nestor was beheaded the next day outside the castle.

The Christians picked up the holy relics and buried them together and from the grave holy myrrh came out, that's why they call him the Myrrhgusher.

The present church was built on top of the tomb and in 1143 the emperor Manuel Komnenos sent for and took to Constantinople the icon of the Saint and placed it in the Monastery of Pantokrator, where the Komnenos church was built and which today is called Zeirek, where the the dervishes used to dance.

Well, this year too, the Thessalonians and other Christians will again hasten to the great festival and will desperately beg their ardent protector to give them help. Because Thessaloniki is the Ark, in which Orthodox worship was saved from the Franco-Levantian flood.

Source: From the periodical Ο ΕΦΗΜΕΡΙΟΣ, Issue 27, October 15, 1959, pp. 628-632. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.

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