Buy This Issue
The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 18 October 2014
The traditional iconography of some of the 'warrior' saints of the Orthodox Church has always disconcerted me a little. Saint Eustathios, Saint Minas, Saint George and Saint Dimitrios are invari- ably depicted in soldier's ar- mour, something that seems to fit uneasily with the paci- fism of Christianity. In some of the nineteenth century, ba- roque inspired iconography, Saint Dimitrios, patron saint of Thessaloniki, is actually portrayed on a horse, in the process of sticking his spear into a man lying prone on the ground. This martial quality is emphasised in the apoly- tikion of the Saint, which at our Parish, being the parish of Saint Demetrios in Moonee Ponds, is chanted every week: "The world has found you to be a great defence against trib- ulation and a vanquisher of heathens, O Passion-bearer. As you bolstered the courage of Nestor, who then humbled the arro- gance of Lyaios in battle, Holy Demetrius, entreat Christ God to grant us great mercy." The apolytikion is not exag- gerating when it suggests a global reach for the saint, for Saint Demetrios is one of the most popular saints of the Or- thodox world, transcending ethnic and cultural bounda- ries. From the Synaxarion of the Orthodox Church, we learn that Saint Demetrios came from a noble family in Macedonia and that he rose to a high military position under Maximian, Caesar of the Eastern part of the Roman Empire, reaching the rank of proconsul. When Maximian returned from one of his cam- paigns to Thessaloniki, which was his capital, he had games and sacrifices celebrated for his triumph. Saint Demetrios was denounced as a Christian, and thrown into prison. While in prison he was visited by a young Christian named Nestor, who asked him for a blessing to engage in single combat with the giant Lyaios, who was posing as the cham- pion of paganism. Saint Dem- etrios gave his blessing and Nestor, against all odds, slew his opponent in the arena, as David had once defeated Go- liath. The enraged emperor, learn- ing that this had occurred with Saint Demetrios's aid, first had Nestor beheaded outside the city and then had Saint Demetrios impaled in prison. Later Saint Demetrios' servant Lupus was behead- ed after using his master's blood-stained tunic and sig- net ring to work many mira- cles. The Thessalonian Chris- tians buried Saint Demetrios and Nestor next together in the bath where he had been imprisoned. During the sev- enth century a miraculous flow of fragrant myrrh was found emanating from his tomb, giving rise to the ap- pellation Myrovlitis, the Myrrh Gusher, to his name. His tomb is now in the crypt of the great basilica dedicated to him, in Thessaloniki. Extreme popularity for Saint Demetrios is first at- tested in the sixth century. It grew because of his miracu- lous interventions in defence of Thessaloniki during the many sieges it endured dur- ing the early Middle Ages, particularly by Slavic tribes- men who overran the Ro- man provinces of Hellas and Macedonia during the sixth through to the eighth centu- ries. It is for this reason, out of insecurity and fear, that the saint's martial quality have been so emphasised and in- deed, the final liberation of Thessaloniki in 1913 has also been attributed to him. The very first pages of the Russian Primary Chronicle, on the other hand, maintain the saint's marital qualities but present him as a punisher of the Greeks. The Chronicle relates that when Oleg the Wise threatened the Greeks at Constantinople in 907, the Greeks became terrified and said: "This is not Oleg, but rather St Demetrius sent upon us from God." Russian soldiers always believed that they were under the spe- cial protection of the Saint, Demetrius, who was always depicted as Russian in icons displayed in Russian army barracks. Yet in the teaching of the Church, it is the spiritu- al warfare in which he en- gaged, that makes him wor- thy of emulation and in this way, his depiction holding weapons can be reconciled as merely symbolic and not an exhortation to or a glori- fication of violence. For his encouragement of the young Nestor and his chastity, Saint Demetrius is thus regarded as a protector of the young, and is also tra- ditionally invoked by those struggling with lustful temp- tations. Thus in his church in Thessaloniki, one of the only mosaics to have sur- vived the Great Fire of 1917 depicts him as a young man, his arms draped protectively around the shoulders of two children. Given Saint Demetrios' sig- nificance for both the Ortho- dox Church and the Greek na- tion, it is not surprising that his feast of 26 October is an important event here in Mel- bourne, especially for those whose origins derive from Thessaloniki. This year, the significance of the feast is augmented for an event un- precedented in the history of Australian Orthodoxy which has taken place: the parish of Saint Demetrios in Moonee Ponds has been granted the gift of a portion of the mi- raculous and myrrh-gushing relics of the saint. In this way, all Orthodox Australians are able to feel and witness the immediacy of the saint, when praying for his intercession, but also partake of a unique piece of history as well. In an age of hard-nosed eco- nomic rationalism, of mate- rialism and of spin, the need to touch the ideal of the di- vine is felt as keenly as ever before. Whether one is called upon, as in the case of Iraq and Syria's Christians to com- promise one's faith in order to survive, or in the complacent world of western bourgeois capitalism, to compromise one's principles and sense of decency, or to sacrifice to any modern day idols, the Ortho- dox hymns in honour of the saint are a lasting call to re- main steadfast: "Even though callous tyrants gave you over/ to be subjected to the most cruel and painful tortures,/ and thy much-suffer- ing and steadfastly enduring body/ did undergo a multitude of various torments,/ you, O Godly-minded Demetrios,/ did not renounce Christ,/ neither did you offer sacrifice to idols,/ but endured all as if it were some- body else who suffered,/ await- ing future reward and the un- dying love of the Word of God." A solemn vesper service at the Parish of Saint Demetrios, Moonee Ponds, will be held on Saturday 18 October at 6.30 pm, in order to official- ly deposit the precious relics within the church. *Dean Kalimniou is a Mel- bourne solicitor and freelance journalist. 26 SATURDAY 18 OCTOBER 2014 DIATRIBE DEAN KALIMNIOU Saint Demetrios Saint Demetrios' popularity in the Orthodox faith as a warrior saint is strange considering the Church's pacifist teachings The different faces of Saint Demetrios.
11 October 2014
25 October 2014