October 21, 2023

The Saturday of Souls of Saint Demetrios: A Macedonian-Thracian Ecclesiastical Tradition

On the Saturday before the feast of Saint Demetrios of Thessaloniki (Oct. 26), an ecclesiastical tradition exists only in the northern Greek area of Macedonia and Thrace to honor it as a Saturday of Souls. 
This falls in the period of what is known as the Holy Week of Saint Demetrios, where a week before the feast of Saint Demetrios ecclesiastical services and preparations are done to celebrate the great feast.

On this Saturday, Memorial Services are held for the repose of all those Orthodox Christians who have fallen asleep, just like the other four Saturdays designated by our Church as the Saturday of Souls.

The Orthodox Church has established four Saturdays as the Saturday of Souls, which it dedicates to its reposed. They are: first, on the Saturdays before Meatfare and Cheesefare Sunday; second, on the first Saturday of Great Lent in honor of the miracle with Saint Theodore; and third, the Saturday before Pentecost Sunday.

The Saturday of Souls of Saint Demetrios is called so because it is held on the Saturday before the feast of Saint Demetrios. Saint Demetrios is the patron and protector of all of Macedonia, not just Thessaloniki.

According to the late liturgical professor John Fountoulis, the feast of Saint Demetrios is the point in time when livestock breeders bring livestock down from the high mountains to the areas where they will winter.

Usually breeders and farmers, because of their employment, did not catch the other four Saturdays dedicated to the reposed, so they looked for a time and an opportunity to pray in the church for their reposed loved ones.

A few days before the great feast of Saint Demetrios, says Fountoulis, was therefore considered the best time to make up for this loss. So it slowly expanded and became established throughout Macedonia and Thrace.

It should also be noted that in the ecclesiastical calendar of the Roman Catholic Church from even before the schism,  Allhallowtide consists of three days dedicated to the dead on what would be just a few days after the feast of Saint Demetrios, namely All Hallows' Eve (Halloween) on October 31st,  All Hallows' Day (All Saints' Day) on November 1st, and All Souls' Day on November 2nd. Whether or not this has anything to do with the Saturday of Souls of Saint Demetrios celebrated by the Orthodox of northern Greece is unknown, but it should be considered that before the adoption of the Reformed Julian Calendar by Greece in the 1920's, the Saturday before Saint Demetrios sometimes landed in late October and early November on the Gregorian Calendar.

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