October 26, 2015

The Three Adornments of Saint Demetrios

By Metropolitan Seraphim of Kastoria

When praising the Wonderworker, Myrrh-Gusher and Great Martyr Saint Demetrios, Saint Gregory Palamas describes him as:

The great miracle of the ecumene,
the great adornment of the Church
and the mightiest of all.

And not only this God-seeing Father of the Church, but many other writers in hagiographic texts and eulogies refer with particular respect and reverence to this martyric figure, who is the guardian, the champion and the savior of Thessaloniki.

Nikephoros Gregoras (1330) notes that while the death of Alexander the Great was considered a loss, the martyrdom of Saint Demetrios was considered a gain that helps the world be better.

This figure has filled the ecumene with aroma and myrrh, "which summer and winter and all eternity has been filled with his grace." And his beloved city, Thessaloniki, is a "spiritual fortress against demonic attacks and the hordes of barbarians, but also a pleasant refuge from the storms of this age ... and the protector of our souls and bodies."

To this great figure the Church, the presence of which is particularly felt in the northern areas of Greece and our Greek Macedonia, submits with reverence some autumn flowers - which our country calls agiodimitriatika - borrowed from the luminary of Orthodoxy, Saint Gregory Palamas, with which we decorate his person.

1. The first adornment: "a stable faith"

Faith is not a theoretical teaching, nor a philosophical system with high concepts. Nor is it another mental function derived from human reason.

Faith is life and is directly linked to the source of life, who is Christ. It is union with Christ and the manifestation of Christ within the area of our heart. This experience is particularly highlighted by our Church immediately after our participation in the Mystery of life, namely the Divine Eucharist. That is, once we commune of the Immaculate Mysteries, we repeat with the chanters the moving hymn: "Having seen the true light, we have received the heavenly Spirit, having found the true faith."

"We believe in God and we believe God," stressed Saint Gregory Palamas. And he goes on to say: "The one is different from the other. 'I believe God' means that I consider certain and true the promises He has given us. 'I believe in God' means that I think about Him correctly." Faith therefore is a divine gift and revelation of God within the pure heart of people. This is what Saint Demetrios sought in his life.

This was given to him as a gift.
This he kept as something invaluable.
This he sealed with his blood.

2. The second adornment: "the boundless gift of grace"

For one to keep the treasure of faith in earthen vessels, according to the expression of the Apostle Paul, and to "tread on serpents and scorpions and all the power of the enemy," the grace of God is needed. "If sin accomplished so much ... grace, indeed the grace of God, not only that of the Father but also of the Son, does it not accomplish more?" asks Saint John Chrysostom.

In this, namely the grace of God, everything is benefited. This forgives us and justifies us, it does not abolish our free will, but it shows us to have trust in the philanthropy of God. It is the greatest weapon, according to the golden nightingale of the Church: "It is an unbreakable wall. It is the unshaken pillar" ... "Everything is accomplished through the grace of God" (Saint John Chrysostom). If we did not have God's grace, we would not have the presence of the Martyrs, their confession and their miracles, the asceticism and tears of the Venerable Ones, we would not have the presence of Saint Demetrios. The words of Saint Nestor, his disciple, alone, "God of Demetrios help me!" with his myrrh-flowing and grace-streaming relics, show the indwelling grace of his heart which is also in his martyric relics until today.

3. The third adornment: "the undiminished wealth of godlike virtues"

All the virtues, according to our Orthodox tradition, are enhypostatic. They are associated with the person of Christ and are the result of the life in Christ (Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos). They are not abstract values and ideas, but Christ Himself. They who have love, have the unique love which is Christ.

Virtue is the road to Heaven, stresses Saint John Chrysostom. It is conquered with pain and tears. It is difficult, but above all pleasant. It is the natural state of the soul, while wickedness is against nature. Just as health is according to nature, so illness and disease is unnatural.

Virtue will help us travel to eternal life: "Only virtue knows and is able to travel with us. Only virtue can pass to eternal life" (Saint John Chrysostom).

And to enter triumphantly into the Kingdom of Heaven, "let us acquire the virtues in the time we have left."

Saint Demetrios, adorned with all the virtues, becomes a fervent preacher and teacher to our sinful era. He is a brave athlete and an excellent champion, a caring father and the leader of Thessaloniki. May he raise his hands of entreaty to the Throne of the Slain Lamb, that we may have:

Stability in faith,
the boundless grace of God,
as well as the wealth of the godlike virtues.

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.