Friday, October 24, 2008

The Veneration of St. Demetrios and Thessaloniki


Greetings!

I hope to make an additional post on the life of St. Demetrios the Great-martyr, but I wanted to make another post to discuss the incredible and moving veneration that Orthodox Christians all over the world, but especially in the city of his martyrdom and his patronage, Thessaloniki, Greece, show towards such a great Saint of our Church. (see the following post for the life of St. Demetrios: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2008/10/life-of-st-demetrios-myrrh-flowing.html; and for more miracles of St. Demetrios see: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2009/10/miracles-of-st-demetrios-myrrh-streamer.html)

Picture of the Holy Relics of St. Demetrios the Great-martyr, from his Church in Thessaloniki. His relics continue to give off Holy Myrrh. During the weeks before and after his feast, they are brought out for more public veneration by the faithful. Behind the relics are icons of St. Demetrios standing, and being martyred by being pierced with spears on his right side (as was Christ). (taken from http://orthodoxtours.com/index.php/2007030259/Ancient-and-Holy-in-Greece-Part1.html)

St. Demetrios' Holiness according to St. Gregory Palamas
St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessaloniki was well aquainted with the great grace and holiness of St. Demetrios. In the following quote, Bishop Ierotheos Vlachos discusses St. Gregory Palamas' view of St. Demetrios:

"The facts that the monastic life is the evangelic life and that a monk is one who lives evangelically can also be seen in St. Gregory Palamas's homily on St. Demetrios of Thessaloniki, in which St. Demetrios is presented as a monk. Naturally in the time of St. Demetrios there was no monasticism as we know it today, but every Christian who kept the will of God was essentially a monk.

In his homily on St. Demetrios the divine Gregory puts in relief the chastity of his body and soul. He lived in general chastity even though he was the highest officer in the Roman army.

 According to St. Gregory Palamas, St. Demetrios was graced with splendid prophetic power and was counted worthy of "the apostolic and teaching diaconate and a high position". He was full of virtues and was not inferior to the saints in asceticism "and in their radiance of life". But he was behind some, was like others; superior to some and surpassing others. He possessed many gifts.

 The warfare which St. Demetrios waged within his heart was comparable to the warfare of the great ascetics. He kept his nous pure of any unseemly thought, protecting the immaculate Grace of holy Baptism, had a will that harmonised with God's law "like a book of God and a tablet and plaque engraved by God or a writing tablet written by the finger of God and placed before all for the common use". In this way St. Demetrios was chaste in both body and soul. He had his citizenship in heaven and walked on an equal footing with the angels, having a body as well. So St. Demetrios seems to have had an angelic life and citizenship.

 The patron saint of Thessaloniki was "both a teacher and an apostle, wise and chaste and holy, and we may say very beautiful and spotless, and made radiant by nature, zeal and grace".

Comparing St. Demetrios with Job of the Old Testament, St. Gregory says that while Job was blameless, righteous and pious, just as Demetrios was, Job was not praised by God for chastity, something which St. Demetrios had. His chastity showed St. Demetrios to be higher than nature and on a par with the angels."
(Metropolitan Ierotheos Vlachos, St. Gregory Palamas as a Hagiorite, taken from: http://www.pelagia.org/htm/b16.en.saint_gregory_palamas_as_a_hagiorite.05.htm; see: On the Saints: Sermons by Saint Gregory Palamas for the full text of St. Gregory's homily on St. Demetrios, http://thaborian.com/gpal.html)  

 
St. Demetrios the Myrrh-Streamer
St. Demetrios bears the title "Myrovletes" (or "Myrrh-streamer") in commemoration of the miraculous spring of myrrh from his holy relics which continues to flow to this day. The following is a brief historical account:

"[T]he testimonies to the flow of myron are numerous. According to a Jacobite Synaxary,
Every day a perfumed oil flows, which heals those who accept it with faith, particularly on the feast of St Demetrius. That day, in fact, it flows more copiously than others, even from the walls and columns of the church. The people in great numbers wipe it from the walls and put this oil in flasks. This miracle will endure until the end of time. Virtuous priests who have seen this have spoken of it and given witness to it."
(O. Tafrali, Thessalonique au XlVe siècle, Paris, 1913, p. 138, n. 1, cited after Bibliotheca Orientalis I, 3, Paris, 1903, pp. 376-7; http://www.myriobiblos.gr/texts/english/walter_demetrius_3.html)

5th Century mosaic of St. Demetrios from his church in Thessaloniki (taken from: http://vatopaidi.files.wordpress.com/2009/10/ag.jpg)

I found the following story incredibly moving. It also discusses the great miracle of the Myrrh from St. Demetrios:
"There lived once an ascetic on the Mount of Solomon who, hearing of the reports of the holy myrrh [of St. Demetrios], had doubts, saying in his mind that there were many other great martyrs who suffered more than St. Demetrios, yet they were not honored by God in such a manner. And one night after he saw, as if in a dream, that he was in the Church of St. Demetrios and he met the man who had the keys to the tomb of the Saint, and he asked him to open it that he might venerate it. When he was kissing the shrine, he observed that it was wet with fragrant myrrh, and he said to the keeper, "Come, help me did that we might see from whence comes this holy myrrh." They dug, therefore, and came to a large marble slab which they removed with great difficulty, and immediately there appeared the body of the Saint, shining and fragrant, from which welled up abundant myrrh coming from the openings of his holy body made by the piercings of the lances. There flowed so much myrrh that both the keeper and the ascetic were drenched, and fearing to be drowned, the monk cried out, "Saint Demetrios, help!" Whereupon, he awoke from this vision and found himself to be drenched with the holy myrrh."
   
"The Church of St. Demetrios in Thessalonica was built over the site of his holy martyrdom - - the Roman bath in which he was imprisoned. This bath is preserved to this day in a crypt under the holy sanctuary of the Church. As I pointed out already a great fire broke out in 1917, which destroyed most the city, and this was the cause for the discover of the bath - - the floor of the sanctuary having fallen through. Among other things there was discovered the first chapel built over the place of Aghios Demetrios martyrdom (martyrium) with an earthen vessel planted in the Holy Table, containing earth with human blood - - evidently of the holy Martyr. A great marble basin [shown in the picture above] was also discovered which was used to gather the holy myrrh from the grave of the holy Saint of our Lord God." (Text from http://fr-d-serfes.org/lives/stdemetrios.htm, picture from http://orthodoxtours.com/index.php/2007030259/Ancient-and-Holy-in-Greece-Part1.html)

St. Demetrios and Thessaloniki
The faithful of Thessaloniki show great honor to their patron and protector, St. Demetrios. For almost a month before his feast, they hold the Demetria festival of services, lectures, and concerts in his memory. The week before his feast day, they hold multiple services every day as a sort of "Passion Week" to commemorate the days leading up to his martyrdom, including vigils every night. For more on the so-called "Holy Week of St. Demetrios", see: http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2011/10/holy-week-services-of-st-demetrios.html.

Even after the Great Vespers and Orthros and Divine Liturgy on his feast day, these services, Paraklesis services and vigils continue for days after his feast. Thousands of the faithful take part to honor this great Saint and seek his help. (See the following link for a beautiful video of the church of St. Demetrios, his relics, and the remnants of the Roman bathhouse below the church where St. Demetrios was martyred: http://apantaortodoxias.blogspot.com/2009/10/blog-post_04.html)


Detail from an icon of All Saints of Thessaloniki. At the center of all the many Saints depicted is St. Demetrios and St. Paul (Icons courtesy of www.eikonografos.com used with permission)

And besides being a patron of the city of Thessaloniki, St. Demetrios is a helper and defender of all the faithful throughout the world, to whom he continuously works countless miracles. His apolytikion is always chanted at the service of Holy Unction. (For another account of St. Demetrios' life with his relationship with Russia, see: http://ocafs.oca.org/FeastSaintsViewer.asp?SID=4&ID=1&FSID=103059)

May Saint Demetrios intercede for us and protect us all!

7th Century mosaic of St. Demetrios from his church in Thessaloniki (taken from: http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_Ir0BxevvGe4/TNcUhGd8_6I/AAAAAAAAAyw/BKYh2zEa72U/s1600/ag-Dimitrios-4.png)
 
Apolytikion to St. Demetrios. Tone 3. Your confession.
The whole world has found you as a mighty champion in dangers, O victor, who rout the nations. Therefore as you destroyed the pride of Lyaios in the stadium by giving Nestor courage, holy great Martyr Demetrios, implore Christ God to grant us his great mercy.
St. Demetrios defending the city of Thessaloniki from the Kumans (icon taken from http://www.srpskoblago.org/Archives/Decani/exhibits/Collections/StDemetrius/CX4K2355_l.html)

ΜΕΓΑΛΥΝΑΡΙΑ ΑΓΙΟΥ ΔΗΜΗΤΡΙΟΥ
(Ποίημα Ἁγίου Συμεών, Ἀρχιεπισκόπου Θεσσαλονίκης - Σε μορφή διαλόγου)

Ὁ Ἅγιος Δημήτριος: Ὦ Πατρὶς φιλτάτη μὴ δειλιᾷς, ἀεὶ γὰρ εὐχαῖς μου, ἐκ δεινῶν σὲ ἐλευθερῶ, ἀγαθῶν τε πάντων, πληρώσω σε ἐνθέων, καὶ σώσω καὶ φυλάξω, λέγει Δημήτριος.

Ἡ Θεσσαλονίκη: Ὑπὸ τὰς σὰς πτέρυγας Ἀθλητά, ἀεὶ σκεπομένη, ἐκλυτροῦμαι πάντων δεινῶν, νῦν δὲ ἡ πατρίς σου, κινδύνοις κλονουμένη, προστρέχω σοι καὶ κράζω· Μάρτυς βοήθει μοι.

Ὁ Ἅγιος Δημήτριος: Τάφος με καλύπτει Ἑλλάδος γῇ, ἀλλ’ ὁ κόσμος πλήρης, ἐκ τῶν μύρων μου τῆς ὀσμῆς, χαῖρε οὖν πατρίς μου, κατέχουσά με ἐχθρούς σου, πατάξω καὶ φυλάξω σὲ τὴν τιμῶσάν με.

Ἡ Θεσσαλονίκη: Ὄλβιος ὁ τάφος ὄντως ὁ σός, καὶ ὀλβιωτέρα, σοῦ ἡ πόλις ὡς θησαυρόν, σὲ νεκρὸν πλουτοῦσα, κρουνοὺς βλύζοντα μύρων, βοώσῃ· Δημητρίου Θεὸς βοήθει μοι.

Ἡ Ἐκκλησια: Χαῖρε καὶ ἀγάλλου σφόδρα ἀεί, ἡ Θεσσαλονίκη, ὁ ὁπλίτης γὰρ τοῦ Χριστοῦ, μετὰ σοῦ φρουρῶν σε, συντρίβων τοὺς ἐχθρούς σου, ᾧ εὐγνωμόνως κράζε· Χαίροις Δημήτριε.

Ὁ Λαός: Σχόντες τὸ σὸν Λείψανον σῷ ναῷ, Δημήτριε Μάρτυς, ὡς προπύργιον νοητόν, προσφεύγομεν τούτῳ, κινδύνοις καὶ πολέμοις, καὶ πάσης ἐπηρείας ἀπολυτρούμεθα.
(http://voutsinasilias.blogspot.com/2009/10/26.html)

Megalynaria of St. Demetrios
(written by St. Symeon Archbishop of Thessaloniki – in the form of a dialogue)
(amateur translation from the above Greek)

St. Demetrios: O beloved Hometown do not grieve, for I will ever deliver you from dangers by my prayer, I will fill you with all good things, and save and protect you, says Demetrios.

Thessaloniki: Under your wings O Champion, ever protected and delivered from every danger, therefore your Hometown, surrounded by dangers, I take refuge in you and cry, O Martyr help me.

St. Demetrios: A grave may cover me O Grecian land, but the whole world is filled with the fragrance of my myrrh, rejoice O my Hometown, for I hold back your enemies, I conquer them and protect you who honor me.

Thessaloniki: Blessed is your tomb, and more blessed is your city as a treasure, though you are dead you fill up, pouring forth rivers of myrrh, cry out: O God of Demetrios help me.

The Chuch: Ever rejoice and be glad greatly, Thessaloniki, for the soldier of Christ, is behind you protecting you, shattering your enemies, cry out in gratitude, Hail Demetrios.

The People: Possesing your Relic in your church, O Martyr Demetrios, as a noetic protecting wall, we take refuge in it, and are delivered from dangers and wars, and all temptations.

Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!

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