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St. Demetrius Great Martyr and Myrrh-gusher of Thessalonica - Feast Day October 26th

An icon of St. Demetrius Great Martyr and Myrrh-gusher of Thessalonica.

The Great Martyr Demetrios the Myrrh-gusher of Thessalonika was the son of a Roman proconsul in Thessalonika. Three centuries had elapsed and Roman paganism, spiritually shattered and defeated by the multitude of martyrs and confessors of the crucified Savior, intensified its persecutions. Both the father and mother of St. Demetrios were secretly Christians. In a secret house-church in his father's home, the child was baptized and raised in the Christian Faith.

By the time Demetrios had reached maturity and his father had died, the emperor Galerius Maximian had ascended the throne (305). Maximian, confident in Demetrios' education as well as his administrative and military abilities, appointed him to his father's position as proconsul of the Thessalonika district. The chief tasks expected of this young commander consisted of defending the city from barbarians and the eradication of Christianity. In regard to Christians, the will of the emperor was expressed simply, "Put to death anyone who calls on the name of Christ." The emperor did not suspect that in appointing Demetrios he had opened up a way for him to bring many to Christ.

Accepting the appointment, Demetrios returned to Thessalonika and immediately confessed and glorified our Lord Jesus Christ. Instead of persecuting and executing Christians, he openly began to teach the Christian Faith to the inhabitants of the city and to overthrow pagan customs and idolatry. The compiler of his Life, St. Symeon Metaphrastes, says that because of his teaching zeal he became "a second Apostle Paul" for Thessalonika, particularly since "the Apostle to the Gentiles" once founded at this city the first community of believers (1 Thess, 2 Thess).

The Lord also destined St. Demetrios to follow the holy Apostle Paul to a death by martyrdom. When Maximian learned that the newly-appointed proconsul was a Christian, and that he had converted many Roman subjects to Christianity, the rage of the emperor know no bounds. Returning from a campaign in the Black Sea region, the emperor decided to lead his army through Thessalonika, filled with the desire to massacre the Christians.

Learning of this, St. Demetrios ordered his faithful servant Lupus to distribute his wealth to the poor with the words, "Give away my earthly riches among them, for we shall seek heavenly riches for ourselves." And he began to pray and fast, preparing himself for martyrdom.

When the emperor came into the city, he summoned Demetrios, who boldly confessed himself a Christian and denounced the falsehood and futility of Roman polytheism. Maximian gave orders to lock up the confessor in prison. An angel came to him in confinement, comforting and encouraging him.

Meanwhile the emperor amused himself with a games in the circus, esteeming as his beloved champion a German by the name of Lyaeos. He challenged Christians to wrestle with him on a platform built over the upturned spears of the victorious soldiers. A brave Christian named Nestor went to the prison to his advisor Demetrios and requested a blessing to fight the barbarian. With the blessing and prayers of Demetrios, Nestor prevailed over the fierce German and hurled him from the platform onto the spears of the soldiers, just as the murderous pagan would have done with the Christian. The enraged commander gave orders to execute the holy Martyr Nestor (October 27) and sent a guard to the prison to kill the one who had blessed this deed, St. Demetrios.

At dawn on October 26, 306 soldiers appeared in the saint's underground prison and ran him through with lances. His faithful servant, St. Lupus, gathered up the blood-soaked garment of St. Demetrios, and he took the imperial ring from his finger, a symbol of his high status, and dipped it in the blood. With the ring and other holy things sanctified by the blood of St. Demetrios, St. Lupus began to heal the infirm. The emperor gave orders to arrest and kill him.

The body of the holy Great Martyr Demetrios was cast out for wild animals to devour, but the Christians took it and secretly buried it in the earth. During the reign of St. Constantine (306-337), a church was built over the grave of St. Demetrios. A hundred years later, during the construction of a majestic new church on the old spot, the incorrupt relics of the holy martyr were uncovered. Since the seventh century a miraculous flow of fragrant myrrh has been found beneath the crypt of the Great Martyr Demetrios, so he is called "the Myrrh-gusher." Several times, those venerating the holy wonderworker made attempts to transfer his holy relics, or part of them, to Constantinople. Invariably, St. Demetrios made it clear that he would not permit anyone to remove even a portion of his relics.

It is interesting that among the barbarians threatening the Romans, Slavs occupied an important place, in particular those settling upon the Thessalonian peninsula. Some even believe that the parents of St. Demetrios were of Slavic descent. While advancing towards the city, pagan Slavs were repeatedly turned away by the apparition of a threatening radiant youth, going around on the walls and inspiring terror in the enemy soldiers. Perhaps this is why the name of St. Demetrios was particularly venerated among the Slavic nations after their enlightenment by the light of the Gospel. On the other hand, Greeks regard the notion of St. Demetrios being a Slavic saint as an arbitrary partiality.

The very first pages of the Russian Primary Chronicle, as foreordained by God, is bound up with the name of the holy Great Martyr Demetrios of Thessalonika. The Chronicle relates that when Oleg the Wise threatened the Greeks at Constantinople (907), the Greeks became terrified and said, "This is not Oleg, but rather St. Demetrios sent upon us from God." Russian soldiers always believed that they were under the special protection of the holy Great Martyr Demetrios. Moreover, in the old Russian barracks the Great Martyr Demetrios was always depicted as Russian by descent. Thus this image entered the soul of the Russian nation.

Church veneration of the holy Great Martyr Demetrios in Russia began shortly after the Baptism of Rus. Towards the beginning of the 1070s the Dimitriev monastery at Kiev, known afterwards as the Mikhailov-Zlatoverkh monastery, was founded, The monastery was built by the son of Yaroslav the Wise, Great Prince Izyaslav, Demetrios in Baptism (+ 1078). The mosaic icon of St. Demetrios of Thessalonika from the cathedral of the Dimitriev monastery has been preserved up to the present day, and is located in the State Tretiakov gallery.

In the years 1194-1197 the Great Prince of Vladimir, Vsevolod III the Great-Nest (Demetrios in Baptism) "built at his court a beautiful church of the holy martyr Demetrios, and adorned it wondrously with icons and frescoes." The Dimitriev cathedral also reveals the embellishment of ancient Vladimir. The wonderworking icon of St. Demetrios of Thessalonika from the cathedral iconostas is located even now in Moscow, at the Tretiakov gallery. It was painted on a plank of wood from the grave of the holy Great Martyr Demetrios, brought in 1197 from Thessalonika to Vladimir. One of the most precious depictions of the saint, a fresco on a column of the Vladimir Dormition cathedral, is from the brush of the holy Iconographer Andrew Rublev.

The veneration of St. Demetrios continued also in the family of St. Alexander Nevsky (November 23). St. Alexander named his eldest son in honor of the holy Great Martyr. And his younger son, holy Prince Daniel of Moscow (March 4), built a temple in the name of the holy Great Martyr Demetrios in the 1280s, which was the first stone church in the Moscow Kremlin. Later in 1326, under Ivan Kalita, it was taken down and in its place the Dormition cathedral was built.

The memory of St. Demetrios of Thessalonika is historically associated in Rus with the military, patriotism and the defense of the country. This is apparent by the saint's depiction on icons as a soldier in plumed armor, with a spear and sword in hand. On a scroll (in later depictions) is written a prayer, with which St. Demetrios turned to God about the salvation of the people of Thessalonika, "Lord, let not the city nor the people perish. If You save the city and the people, I shall be saved with them. If they perish, I also perish with them."

In the particular spiritual experience of the Russian Church, veneration of the holy Great Martyr Demetrios of Thessalonika is closely bound up with the memory of the defense of the Country and Church by the Great Prince of Moscow, Dimtri Donskoi (+1389) . "An Account of the Life and Repose of the Great Prince Dimtri Donskoi, Tsar of Russia," written in the year 1393, already regards the Great Prince as a saint, as also do other old Russian histories. Great Prince Demetrios was a spiritual son and disciple of St. Alexei, Metropolitan of Moscow (February 12), and a disciple and associate of other great figures of prayer in the Russian Land: St. Sergius of Radonezh (September 25), Demetrios of Priluki (February 11), St. Theodore of Rostov (November 28). The Account states

He [Great Prince Demetrios] worried much about the churches of God, and he held the territory of the Russian land by his bravery: he conquered many enemies who had risen against us, and he protected his glorious city Moscow with wondrous walls. ...The land of Russia prospered during the years of his reign.

From the time of the building of the white-walled Kremlin (1366) by Great Prince Demetrios, Moscow was called "White-Stoned."

By the prayers of his Heavenly patron, the holy warrior Demetrios of Thessalonika, Great Prince Demetrios, in addition to his brilliant military victories, also gained the further prominence of Russia. He repelled the onslaught of the Lithuanian armies of Olgerd (1368, 1373), he routed the Tatar army of Begich at the River Vozha (1378), and he smashed the military might of all the Golden Horde at the Battle of Kulikovo Field (September 8, 1380, on the Feast of the Nativity of the Most Holy Theotokos), set between the Rivers Don and Nepryadva. The Battle of Kulikovo, for which the nation calls him Dimitri Donskoi, became the first Russian national deed, rallying round Moscow the spiritual power of the Russian nation. To this auspicious event of Russian history is dedicated the "Zadonschina," an inspiring historic poem, written by the priest Sophronios of Ryazem (1381).

Prince Dimtri Donskoi was greatly devoted to the holy Great Martyr Demetrios. In 1380, on the eve of the Battle of Kulikovo, he solemnly transferred from Vladimir to Moscow the most holy object in the Vladimir Dimitriev cathedral: the icon of the Great Martyr Demetrios of Thessalonika, painted on the plank from the grave of the saint. A chapel in the name of the Great Martyr Demetrios was built at the Moscow Dormition Cathedral.

The Demetrios Memorial Saturday was established for churchwide remembrance of the soldiers who fell in the Battle of Kulidovo. This memorial service was held for the first time at the Trinity-St Sergius monastery on October 20, 1380 by St. Sergius, Abbot of Radonezh, in the presence of Great Prince Dimtri Donskoi. It is served annually with a solemn remembrance of the heroes of the Battle of Kulikovo, in which number are the Schemamonks Alexander (Peresvet) and Andrew (Oslyab).

St. Demetrios is invoked for the young, and also by those struggling with lustful temptations.

Taken from O.C.A. Website

For a description of this icon and the troparion and kontakion for this saint please click here