Friday, November 7, 2014

The Service of the Holy Myrrh of Saint Demetrios in Thessaloniki (photos + video)

The Service of the Holy Myrrh of Saint Demetrios takes place approximately one week after the October 26th feast of Saint Demetrios. In 2014 the Service took place in the evening of November 3rd and was presided over by Metropolitan Anthimos of Thessaloniki, amid a large crowd of faithful. Following the consecration of the Holy Myrrh, the Metropolitan together with other Priests open the Holy Coffin in which is the sacred relic of Saint Demetrios, and they wipe the heavenly myrrh flowing from the relic. The cotton is then distributed among the faithful.

Testimony from a Prior Service of the Holy Myrrh of Saint Demetrios

By George Giannikes, a Theologian of Thessaloniki

The Saint was imprisoned for around one year in a prison that was literally a cesspool! Waste was thrown in the place where the Saint was imprisoned. Does anyone then wonder why God granted him the grace of myrrhgushing?

Every year, roughly a week after the feast of the Saint, the priests, during a vespers service, open the reliquary to distribute the myrrh to the world. One year, being an unbeliever, I went with my camera to the Church, and climbed the women's side of the church, standing so I could see what was going on. I began to record, and at one point, they opened the reliquary. There to my great astonishment I saw that the priests had another plexiglass inside that separated the holy relics [holding them in place]. But what happened? I saw with my eyes and with my camera that the whole reliquary (the chains, plexiglass, sidewalls) were covered with a coffee-colored liquid which filled the whole church with a beautiful fragrance.

I took a bit of the myrrh as a blessing which naturally, after many years (if I'm not mistaken six), is still fragrant. And now that I write this, I just went to smell it again. I smell that it is fragrant, though I have a cold with a stuffed-up nose.

About the Holy Myrrh of Saint Demetrios

The myrrh of Saint Demetrios is a miracle of God and a great blessing from the Great Martyr to the faithful Christians who rely on his ceaseless intercessions.

Saint Demetrios is called "Myrrhgusher" (Μυροβλύτη). This is because myrrh gushes from his tomb, which believers collect in vials made of clay, glass or lead, commonly called koutrouvia.

There are many authentic testimonies concerning the myrrh of the Patron of Thessaloniki Saint Demetrios. Below is an example:

1. Demetrios Chrysoloras (late 14th - early 15th cent.) notes that "the myrrh of Saint Demetrios is not water, because it is thicker than water, nor is it a liquid emanating from the earth or a manufactured perfume, nor does it even compare to them. It is more wondrous than both natural and compounded fragrances."

2. John Kameniatis, who recounted the fall of Thessaloniki to the Saracens in 904, calls Saint Demetrios "Myrrhgusher".

3. Constantine Akropolites (Great Logothetis, Compiler of the Lives of Saints, Orator and Letter Writer) refers to a miracle of Saint Demetrios in 1321 in which eyes were treated, and he calls him "Myrrhgusher".

4. Two Archbishops of Thessaloniki, Isidore (1342-1396) and Gabriel (1397-1416), refer to the myrrh of Saint Demetrios. The first calls him "Myrrhspouter" (Μυρορρόα) and the second calls him "Myrrhgusher".

5. An inscription from 1284 in the Mosque of the Old Palace (Eski Saray)*, says of the Church of Saint Demetrios "within is the great Myrrhgusher".

6. The liturgical tradition and life of the Orthodox Church wondrously and devoutly refers to Saint Demetrios as the "Myrrhgusher".

The testimonies to the myrrh of Saint Demetrios are many, but great also is the grace which they received and the faithful continue to receive up till our days, as a sign of the blessing of the Myrrh. The miracles which the Saint works (both in the past and in our days) are many, and truly deep is the gratitude of the faithful who are healed or helped in various ways.

The Myrrhgushing and Wonderworking Saint Demetrios belongs not only to the God-preserved city of Thessaloniki, where his all-sacred Church is preserved, dating to the 5th century, but to the whole world, which honors and shows him reverence with moving events now for the past seventeen centuries.

* The Old Palace today is the site of Istanbul University. Kassoumihie was formerly the Church of Saint Demetrios, adorned with sixty marble columns. It was turned into a mosque by Sultan Bajazet in 898.

Miracles of the Holy Myrrh

1. 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.

2. It was 10:00pm on the 26th of October 1987. Thessaloniki had celebrated the memory of the martyrdom of their protector, Saint Demetrios, along with her liberation from around five hundred years of occupation by the Ottomans (1430-1912). The Church of Saint Demetrios with open doors received night time pilgrims who knelt before the silver reliquary with the holy relics of the Myrrhgusher. That hour there must not have been more than thirty or forty people in the church. A band of about ten women, before the reliquary, chanted the Paraklesis of the Saint. The only cleric who was there was a young, newly-ordained deacon of the holy church with his diakonissa wife. The then Proistamenos [head priest] of the church was the current Metropolitan of Boeria, Naousa and Kampania Panteleimon, who had ordered him to stay there and wait.

While the women were chanting the Paraklesis, they began to shout! The deacon ran to them, and with mixed emotions they showed him the reliquary. It was literally bathed in an oily residue of myrrh (I saw myrrh because the fragrance was indescribable). It was as if someone had emptied at least two “buckets” of aromatic liquid (I use the word “buckets” so that you understand the quantity of the myrrh which poured down the sides of the silver reliquary with its relief icons of the Saint).

The deacon was baffled at that instant: The Saint was flowing myrrh! Without at all doubting the miracle, and being found in a state of joy, astonishment and enthusiasm, he ran to bring cotton from the holy altar. He returned running, and began to soak up the myrrh with the cotton from the side walls of the reliquary to give portions to the pilgrims. Though he soaked up the myrrh, it didn't stop, but continued to pour forth mystically, without a source being seen. He was particularly struck by the following fact: with a large piece of cotton he soaked up the myrrh from a smooth area of the reliquary, which then appeared polished clean. A woman had touched the part that he had just cleaned, and he saw that her hand became soaked with the oily yellowish-green myrrh!

In the mean time, the fragrance had filled the whole church, and poured forth from the open doors towards the road Agiou Demetriou, inviting passers-by to hasten to see what was happening, and where this fragrance was coming from. All those approached the reliquary where the relics of Saint Demetrios were placed (they were not yet placed in the large reliquary that they are in today).

These blessings, though astonishing, did not stop there! The pilgrims experienced that all of the icons of the church, wherever they were (either on veneration stands or the iconostasis) poured forth myrrh. In fact, the deacon saw pilgrims take out handkerchiefs to wipe the frames that protected the icons of the icon screen, and the handkerchiefs turned a yellow hue from the myrrh that ran from the two sides of the frame, the inner and outer. The magnitude of the miracle was so great that it left no one in doubt. We did not understand what we were experiencing, it was like a dream amidst fog, but we lived it! We touched it with our hands and saw it with our eyes, and sensed the fragrance in our nostrils!

In a short while a line of people formed, with tears in their eyes, to venerate the reliquary of the Myrrhgusher and they realized how he received this title.

In the mean time, the Proistamenos and other priests reached the church. They unlocked the reliquary and opened the lid to reveal the holy relics of the Patron of Thessaloniki. They were fragrant, but the fragrance of the myrrh was different and characteristic.

The blessed Metropolitan of Thessaloniki Panteleimon II Chrysaphakes ascribed the miracle of this myrrhgushing of Saint Demetrios to the following event: That evening in the festive celebration of the University for the liberation of Thessaloniki, the keynote speaker totally omitted the Saint, and didn't mention him at all. Saint Demetrios, however, showed through his myrrhgushing that he would never abandon the city of Thessaloniki, neither now nor ever, and that it was he who saved it from slavery and from earthquakes. Some, however, showed themselves ungrateful and distanced from Christ and His Saints.

Twenty four years have passed since them. I was then the deacon of the church, now a priest in Thessaloniki, and I write you what I experienced as I remember. That time was as if I was living a mystery. I can't relate what I was feeling! Joy, astonishment, being moved, enthusiasm... I can't describe it fully. In any case, these are events that strengthen faith and fill us with joy, hope and the feeling of the presence of Christ and His Saints. Our faith is “alive”.

Fr. Christos Kotios
Priest of the Holy Church of the Dormition of the Theotokos
Saranta Ekklesies, Thessaloniki

Rejoice, beauty of the Martyrs and praised patron of Thessaloniki. 
Rejoice, Myrrhgusher, Demetrios all-blessed, you fervently intercede to the Savior on our behalf.

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