Sunday, October 25, 2015

Metropolitan Avgoustinos: "O God of Demetrios, help us!"

St. Demetrios the Great Martyr and Myrrh-streamer (source)
Homily of Metropolitan Avgoustinos Kantiotes on St. Demetrios the Great Martyr and Myrrh-streamer: “O God of Demetrios, help us!”
Today is the feast of St. Demetrios, and thousands of people celebrate. Many villages and cities celebrate, because the name Demetrios is one of the most common and beloved names in the Orthodox Church.
St. Demetrios is honored in all places where there is Orthodoxy. If we were to go to Serbia, we would meet the name of St. Demetrios, and in Bulgaria and Romania and even in Russia, the name of St. Demetrios is loved, honored and venerated.
What was St. Demetrios? A monk? Did he get up and leave his house and go into the mountains and crags to live in asceticism? No. What was he? A priest or a bishop? No. He was a layman. He was a soldier. And however, he became holy. What does this mean? That there is no career that hinders one from becoming a Christian and becoming holy. The farmer who works the soil, and the shepherd who keeps sheep, and the artist who directs, and the teacher, and professor, and soldier and general, small and great, all can become holy. We see, in other words, that the Saints come from all careers.
Demetrios was therefore a Saint. But what does “Saint” mean? A Saint means to be a hero. Not in the small and humble way that the world perceives. The world calls a hero him who takes up weapons, ascends into the mountains, and fights and kills. These are the heroes that the world perceives and honors. But above those heroes, who are victorious in battles, there are other heroes, who are a rarer kind of hero.
Alexander the Great, who conquered the whole world, complained and said: “I, who conquered the whole world, have been conquered by my passions.” Because of this, our ancient forebearers said that “to conquer one's self, that is the highest victory.” Someone could subjugate the whole world, like Alexander the Great, but still, however, be a slave to his passions. A hero, therefore, is he who conquers his weaknesses, conquers his passions, his evil deeds, the sinful world that resides within his heart. A hero is he who conquers, as the Fathers say, “the world, the flesh and the devil”. This is the higher form of heroism.
From this perspective, St. Demetrios was a hero. And why was he a Saint? First of all, because he believed in Christ, and he did not hide his faith, he was not a crypto-Christian. Whoever has deep feelings does not hide them, but reveals them, relates them, preaches them. This is what St. Demetrios did. He did not just hide within his heart the name of Christ, but revealed it, preached it everywhere, wherever he went.
St. Demetrios preaching the faith (source)
Within the city of Thessaloniki, he tried to make other people Christians. He was not at peace until he made the idolaters Christians. Especially, he showed care to children and young people. He tried to win them over for Christ, and he regularly preached to them about Christ. Whereas today a catechist might ring the bell to call the children to Sunday School, something similar we could say was done by St. Demetrios. He was a radiant catechist, a radiant preacher of the truth. Within Thessaloniki, he had gathered children, adolescents and young people, whom he catechized. A special phalax gathered near to St. Demetrios. Besides the soldiers, whom he trained like a general in the barracks, he had another army, a peaceful one, trusting in the name of Christ, and these were the children that he catechized.
For this Christian ministry which St. Demetrios undertook, the arms of the idolaters were raised against him. They condemned him, they seized him, they removed his rank, and they threw him in prison.
Among those whom St. Demetrios catechized, the brightest, most heroic child was Nestor. In those days, in the great stadium of Thessaloniki, games were occurring. And those games would gather thousands of people to watch them. There were also the kings and rulers and the soldiers. There appeared Lyaios, a huge man, three meters high, a gigantic wrestler. He was a beast, with terrifying power, and he endangered the whole people. He was a barbarian who blasphemed Christ, and no one would dare bother him. Like when a lion escapes from his cage, and everyone begins to tremble and hide out of hear, the same thing happened with Lyaios, who traumatized all of the athletes and no one would dare to go before him.
Nestor, however, a 17 year old child, said: “I will go battle with Lyaios, and I will beat him!” Futily they told him: “What are you doing? Do you want your death? He is wholly like a lion. Whom could you take with you?”
Nestor went to the cell of his teacher, St. Demetrios, who was bound in prison for his faith of Christ, and knelt before him. He sought for his prayer. St. Demetrios made the sign of the Cross over him, in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and told him these famous words: “You will both conquer Lyaios and be martyred for Christ, my child.”
St. Nestor receiving St. Demetrios' blessing in prison (source)
In reality, Nestor went to the stadium and began the fight. When Lyaios saw him, he laughed... But Nestor, full of boldness, made the sign of the Cross and cried out: “O God of Demetrios, help me.” And like lightning, he fell upon the giant, and threw him down and conquered him. King Maximian became greatly angered at the defeat of Lyaios. He did not want to accept this wondrous result.
He ordered them to put Nestor to death. Thus, Nestor was martyred for Christ.
And St. Demetrios? His end was also martyrical. As Nestor was martyred, he was martyred as well. Not only with his mouth, but with his blood. This “I believe...” [i.e. the Creed] which we hear in the Divine Liturgy, is not written with ink and pen. This “I believe...” is, my brethren, written with the blood of the martyrs. This “I believe...” St. Demetrios also signed with his blood.
They went to the prison where he was, and the soldiers ran him through with spears, like Christ was pierced in His spotless side, when blood and water poured forth. Thus similarly, from the side of St. Demetrios, was poured forth myrrh, eternal myrrh.
This in a few words, my beloved, is the life of St. Demetrios, whose name is honored by all of the towns and cities from Dounavi to Crete, from Kerkyra to Cyprus, and from Australia to America and everywhere. A great Saint.
There where they buried St. Demetrios in Thessaloniki—this is not a myth—thousands of people would go to his tomb, men and women, widows and orphans, poor and sick people who had lost hope in physicians and medicines of this world. And all of them became well. Thousands of miracles occurred and continue to occur through St. Demetrios. And the greatest miracle occurred in our days.
How many years passed since then? In his holy church, the Turks had built a mosque. The hodja ascended and said the “allah, allah”. For 500 years the Turks were there. But in 1912, on a holy day when the Saint was being celebrated, the Turks fled, and instead of the crescent moon which they had on the mosque, they raised a blue flag, the sign on the Cross.
On that holy day, Turkey had no longer any position in the holy city of Thessaloniki. On that holy day, the children of our fatherland, with the voice of Nestor cried out: “O God of Demetrios, help us”, as the new Nestors who believed in God, conquered the Lyaios of the East. Because the Turk was a Lyaios, and continues to be.*
And today in the Balkans, Lyaios again has returned. And he is being supported, unfortunately, by powerful people. As for us? O God of Demetrios, help us! We are small and insignificant, disregarded Nestors. But these small and insignificant people, if we are men of God, faithful men, will be granted again by God to conquer the modern Lyaios once again. And then our mountains and crags and the bodies and graves of our forebearers will cry out: “You will conquer Lyaios and be martyred for Christ. Amen”
+Bishop Avgoustinos
(homily of Metropolitan of Florina Avgoustinos Kantiotes, which was delivered in the holy church of St. Demetrios, K. Kallinikis, Florina, 10/26/1976, source)
*Note: Metropolitan Avgoustinos is not at all being racist or implying that every citizen of Turkey is the same. By the term "Turk", he refers to those muslims who worked great oppression and atrocities against Christians for hundreds of years. While we are always called to love and forgive our enemies, God often even in this life, grants us deliverance from our oppressors and the freedom to follow Him.
St. Demetrios the Great Martyr and Myrrh-streamer (source)
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us and save us! Amen!


lannes said...

You don't need to be so fearful of the epithet "racist". Perhaps you yourself aren't, but plenty timid souls are.

Virgil T. Morant said...

When I was a boy, when I used foul language, my mother, who was from Thessaloniki and whose parents had fled Pontos, would tell me, "You curse like a Turk." There were, you see, neither Turks nor 21st century left-wing activists in our home to become offended. We understood what such a saying meant.

This among all the feast days of our saints is especially dear to me. Nice post.