August 20, 2011

Holy New Martyr Demetrios of Samarina (+ 1808)

St. Demetrios the New Martyr of Samarina (Feast Day - August 17)

The Author of the Life of St. Demetrios of Samarina

François Pouqueville (1770-1838) was a French diplomat, writer, explorer, physician and historian, who became a prominent architect of the Philhellenism movement throughout Europe, and contributed eminently to the liberation of the Greeks, and to the rebirth of the Greek Nation. First as the Turkish Sultan's hostage, then as Napoleon Bonaparte's general consul at the court of Ali Pasha of Ioannina, he travelled extensively throughout Ottoman occupied Greece from 1798 to 1820. He applied himself especially in denouncing the state of oppression crushing the Greeks under Turkish domination, and more specifically stood as witness of "the crimes and abominations perpetrated by Ali Pasha and his bands of assassins with the complicity of the Turkish Sultan and his allies." All along, he described the daily life, the usages and customs, and the traditions of the Greeks of the Peloponnese surviving under their appalling economic and political conditions.

In his book Histoire de la régénération de la Grèce (Paris, 1824, 4 vol.), Pouqueville describes his meeting with a monk named Demetrios, a disciple of St. Kosmas Aitolos, and Papa-Euthymios Vlahavas who inspired an insurrection in the Pindos region in 1808. He further describes the capture, trial and eventual martyrdom of St. Demetrios, all of which he was an eye-witness.

The Life and Martyrdom of St. Demetrios

Demetrios was from the Vlach village of Samarina in the Pindos region of Greece, and was born towards the end of the 18th century. At a young age he entered the nearby Monastery of Saint Paraskevi where he was tonsured a monk.

After the outbreak of the insurrection inspired by Papa-Euthymios Vlahavas in 1808, which was ruthlessly suppressed by Ali Pasha, the ruler of the area, Monk Demetrios left his monastery and toured the neighboring villages with the purpose of quieting and comforting his fellow Orthodox Christians and giving them some hope in their troubles. This drew the attention of some Muslims however, who accused Demetrios of preaching rebellion.

Demetrios was arrested and brought before Ali Pasha in chains. Demetrios explained that his purpose was to strengthen the faith of his fellow Christians in Jesus Christ, and that his preaching was based on love and obedience to the law.

Ali Pasha was not satisfied with these answers, and the following dialogue is recorded between him and Demetrios:

Ali Pasha: "You announced the kingdom of Jesus Christ and consequently the fall of our leader [the Sultan]."

Demetrios: "My God reigns eternally and for eternity and I respect the teaching He gave us."

Ali Pasha: "What do you have on your chest?"

Demetrios: "The venerable icon of His Mother."

Ali Pasha: "I want to see it."

Demetrios: "It cannot be dishonored. Order one of my arms cut off and then I will present it to you."

Ali Pasha: "Is this the way you stir up trouble? Are we therefore desecrators? I recognize in your words the leader of the bishops who are inviting the Russians to subjugate us. Name your fellow conspirators."

Demetrios: "My fellow conspirators are my conscience and my duty, which oblige me to comfort the Orthodox Christians and to help them be obedient to your laws."

Ali Pasha: "You mean to your laws."

Demetrios: "This name glorifies me."

Ali Pasha: "Do you carry the icon of the Virgin which is said to carry great charms?"

Demetrios: "Say miracles. The Mother of our Savior is our intercessor before her eternal Son and God. The Theotokos performs her miracles daily among us and we call upon her daily."

Ali Pasha: "Let us see if she will protect you. Executioners, torture him."

The executioners immediately set upon Demetrios, spit on his face, forcibly removed the icon from his hands, and placed bamboo sticks under his finger and toe nails. With nails they pierced his arms and legs. During all this Pouqueville records the following words heard from the tortured lips of Demetrios: "Lord, have mercy on Your servant. Queen of heaven pray for us." 

Then an iron band was placed around his forehead which was tightened and inflicted excruciating pain on Demetrios. With each twist they called upon him to name his fellow conspirators. Demetrios remained silent, and was thrown into a prison cell. 

Later the tortures resumed. First he was hanged upside down with a fire placed under his head. This was done in order to burn his scalp and to be tortured by the smoke of the flame. Having failed at this fruitless attempt and not wanting to kill him, the torturers then decided to lay Demetrios down and place weighted boards on him, on which the torturers even jumped in order to break his bones. Finally they enclosed Demetrios within a wall of stones with only his head showing. His head was free in order for him to breathe and eat, wanting to keep him alive until he confessed. Demetrios however remained steadfast in his Orthodox Christian faith. 

After ten days of the torture of being enclosed by this wall, Demetrios gave up his spirit to the Lord. His last words were those of St. Babylas of Antioch: "Soul, return to your rest, for the Lord will bless you." 

St. Demetrios, the monk from Samarina, offered his life in the city of Ioannina for the love of Jesus Christ on August 17, in the year 1808.

Concluding Remarks

Pouqueville goes on to describe that the martyrdom of St. Demetrios inspired a Muslim to abandon Islam and embrace Orthodox Christianity. He was baptized and received the name of George. In Agrinio he was arrested by men of Ali Pasha, and received such a frightening death that Pouqueville refused to describe it. 

In 1984 the Holy Synod of the Church of Greece authorized the Service of Praise in honor of the Saint, which was written by the eminent hymnographer Monk Gerasimos Mikragiannanitis. Aristotle Valaoritis, one of Greece's foremost modern poets, also wrote a poem in honor of St. Demetrios and Papa-Vlahava, titled "The Memorials".

It should be noted that the Metropolis of Grevena has Saint Demetrios commemorated on August 18th, while the Great Euchologion and Otto Meinardus say his commemoration is August 17th.