One of the many wonderful parts of the Orthodox Church is the celebration of the Holy Saints. On October 26 we commemorate the life of the Great Martyr Saint Demetrios, the Myrrh-gusher. Many of the Saints, such as Saint Demetrios, stood firm in their faith during great tribulations. His life has much to teach us.
St Demetrios was born in 270AD in Thessaloniki, which was under Roman jurisdiction, and came from a noble family. His parents were secret Christians, and he was baptised and raised in the Christian faith.
When Saint Demetrios’ father passed away, the Emperor Galerius Maximianus (305-311), recognising the Saint’s virtues and education, appointed him to his father’s position as proconsul (governor) of Thessaloniki. He was also appointed commander of the Roman forces in Thessaly. His main duties were to defend Thessaloniki from barbarians, and to eliminate Christianity.
However, instead of persecuting Christians, he taught the Christian faith openly to the people, and he overthrew pagan customs and the worship of idols. The Emperor was enraged when he heard that the newly-appointed proconsul was a Christian, and that he had converted many to Christianity.
Knowing his fate, the Saint ordered his faithful servant Saint Lupus (23 August) to distribute his wealth to the poor. He began to pray and fast, preparing himself for martyrdom. The Emperor summoned Saint Demetrios, who bravely confessed his Christianity and denounced the falsehood of the idols. The Emperor then ordered the Saint be thrown into prison.
At the time, the Emperor staged games at the circus for amusement. He challenged Christians to fight with the champion, Lyaeos. A Christian named Nestor went to Saint Demetrios, asking for his blessing to fight the barbarian. With the blessing and prayers of Saint Demetrios, Nestor defeated Lyaeos: “For as you brought to naught the boasts of Lyaeos, imparting courage to Nestor in the stadium…” (hymn of Saint Demetrios).
The furious Emperor ordered the execution of the holy Martyr Nestor (27 October) and had Saint Demetrios impaled in prison (26 October, 306). Saint Lupus was later beheaded after using his master’s imperial ring and blood-soaked tunic to work many miracles.
During the seventh century a miraculous flow of fragrant myrrh was found coming from Saint Demetrios’ tomb and so he is called “the Myrrh-gusher.” The tomb containing his relics is now in the crypt of the church of Saint Demetrios in Thessaloniki. Saint Demetrius is revered as the patron Saint of Thessaloniki.
As Saint Nestor sought God’s grace and strength through Saint Demetrios, we too should turn to the Holy Saints as God’s intermediaries, praying to them for help and protection. The Saints were people like us, many of whom also lived in times of tribulation. Despite these circumstances, they chose to put their faith into action and their lives teach and inspire us to do likewise. Now more than ever we should turn to the Saints for inspiration and remember how they suffered, that they never lost faith and truly believed that God was always with them. As the hymn of Saint Demetrios says: “The world has found you a great champion in time of peril … invoke Christ God for us, that He may grant us His Great mercy.”
In that light, every Divine Liturgy invokes us to “stand well” (στώμεν καλώς). Saint Paul encourages us to put on the “whole armour of God” as Saint Demetrios did and “stand” (Eph 6:13-14). We can look to the Saints as examples, take courage from their lives and “stand well” in the face of tribulation as they did. We may utilise these words as our motto to navigate difficult times and turn to God and the Saints for comfort.
Source: Lychnos October 2021 / November 2021