Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Holy New Martyr Demos the Fisherman as a Model for our Lives


By Protopresbyter Fr. George Papavarnavas

The Neomartyr Demos lived in the eighteenth century. He was from the region of Adrianople and worked as a fisherman in Smyrna. He also worked in a fish shop, but the Turkish owner took advantage of him, and instead of giving him the money he was entitled to receive, he was accused of being in debt. The next year someone else took over the management of the fish shop and he asked Demos to work there. He also promised him, that when he was cleared of the debt, he would give him the money he was entitled to receive. Demos refused to work again in that particular fish shop, so the new owner slandered him, saying that he said he would become a Muslim and now refused, and for this he filed a complaint with the judge together with some false witnesses. In vain Demos tried to prove his innocence saying that all this was slander. However, he courageously confessed his faith, which is why he was harshly tortured and thrown into prison. Finally he was beheaded on 10 April 1763, and in this way he received the unfading crown of martyrdom.

The Christians of that region, after giving the executioners sufficient money, took his martyric body and buried it at the Church of Saint George. When the transfer of his relics later took place, the bones of the Neomartyr were fragrant and healed many who suffered from terminal illnesses. The most impressive of these healings are described in his Synaxarion. And when you read it, you can only say with the sacred hymnographer: "O strange wonder, that naked bones gush forth healings, glory to our only God."

His life and conduct gives us the opportunity to highlight the following:

Fishing was the work of the Apostles before being called by Christ to apostolic work. However, as Apostles they continued to fish, except they fished for rational fish, namely people, as Christ said to the Apostle Peter: "Fear not; from now on you will be fishers of men.” One day when Christ went aboard Peter's boat and taught from there, as soon as He finished He said to Peter to go to the deep part of the lake and cast the nets. Although he said that he fished the entire night and caught no fish, out of obedience he cast the nets with his workers. And as we all know, they caught so many fish that with difficulty they pulled the nets to dry ground. Then Peter fell at the feet of Christ with astonishment and begged Him to go away from his boat, saying: "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, Lord." Christ reassured him by telling him to not be afraid, for from now on he would become a fisher of men. Indeed after Pentecost the Apostle Peter, and the other Apostles, with the "rod" of his preaching fished and caught a multitude of people, whom he pulled out of the depths of ignorance, error and sin and led them to the knowledge of the true God.

The above is not irrelevant to the life and conduct of the Neomartyr Demos, because he also was a fisherman and with his life and conduct became a theologian, confessor and martyr. As the Apostles preached to unbelievers, he also preached the true faith, of course not to "all nations", but before unbelievers, with bravery and gallantry. And he did not hesitate to sacrifice his life for Christ. But he did not reach that spiritual level suddenly. For one man does not reach the theoria (vision) of God, the fruit of which is martyrdom, from one moment to another, but it becomes apparent when the Grace of God and his personal struggle makes him worthy to progress spiritually, to attain the knowledge of God and acquire perfect love. And with his life and conduct he teaches all the faithful that they must undertake daily labors, which is to struggle to live according to the will of God and proceed from that which is small and low to great and high, such as, for example, to daily cut off their own will and apply the will of God, to pray, to fast, to attend church often and early, to sacrifice some of their sleep, etc. If we do not become accustomed to doing simple things, how can we do great things, such as sacrificing our lives for Christ?

Saint Andrew, Bishop of Crete, in the Service of the Great Canon, takes a cue from the life of the Patriarch Jacob in the Old Testament, emphasizing that without struggle and labor one cannot accomplish the keeping of the commandments of God, let alone the theoria of God, the fruit of which is martyrdom. The Patriarch Jacob wanted Rachel as his wife. This was agreed on between himself and her father, according to the custom of that time, and he worked on his estate for seven years for her. The father however withdrew from the agreement and gave Leah to Jacob, who was older. Jacob was therefore forced to work another seven years for the father in order to be able to marry Rachel. Having this in mind, Saint Andrew wrote: "By the two wives understand praxis [action] and direct knowledge through theoria [vision]: Leah as praxis, for she had many children, and Rachel as knowledge, which is obtained by much labor. For without labors, my soul, neither praxis nor theoria will be successfully achieved."

The period of Great Lent, which we are currently going through, is a stadium for spiritual struggle, which requires greater effort to live the divine commandments and experience internal revitalization, in order to attain the theoria of God, the first step of which is sincere repentance.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasi, "Νεομάρτυς Δῆμος ὁ ἁλιεύς", March 2016. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.


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