Melkite Greek Catholic Church
A FEW YEARS AGO, a Greek pilot had this harrowing experience. In mid-air his plane experienced system failure. The instruments disengaged, the engines cut out and there was nowhere to go but down. Suddenly the pilot saw the holy archangel Michael appear beneath the wings, holding them aloft. He couldn’t believe it. St. Michael guided the plane to safety, then vanished.

In our culture there is no room for incorporeal powers such as angels. We class them as myths, along with Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Their tales may provide pleasantly distracting entertainment, but we “know” that only the corporeal, the physical is real.

The Church, based on the witness of the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures, insists that incorporeal powers – angels – are very real, although generally unseen. They are created, as we are, but with none of the limitations our physical nature imposes on us. The angels are the invisible creation we mention in the Nicene Creed; yet they are not faceless forces: they are individuals differing according to their rank and function.

The great number of human beings who inhabit only this planet is nothing compared to the number of angels who inhabit the universe. As St Cyril of Jerusalem writes, “Imagine how great in number is the Roman people. Imagine how great in number are the other peoples who now exist and how many more must have died! Imagine how many have been buried in a century or in a thousand years. Imagine all mankind from Adam to the present day. Great is their number, but it is small in comparison with the angels.”

We find the presence of angels recorded throughout the Old and the New Testaments. The prophet Isaiah saw seraphim before God’s throne (Isaiah 6:2) and the prophet Ezechiel saw the cherubim (Ezechiel 10:8). The prophet Daniel saw a thousand thousand ministering to God with ten thousand times ten thousand standing before God (Daniel 9 and 10). As we say in the Divine Liturgy, “There stand before You thousands of archangels and myriads of angels, cherubim and seraphim… singing, proclaiming, shouting the hymn of victory and saying ‘Holy!’”

The highest in rank of the heavenly powers who minister among us are the holy archangels Michael and Gabriel. Mentioned in several books of the Bible, they are referred to in our Church as the “captains” or “commanders” of the heavenly hosts. In the apocalyptic Book of Daniel Gabriel is described as coming to Daniel “in rapid flight at the time of the evening sacrifice” (Daniel 9:21). He prophesied that in the last days Michael, “the guardian of your people” (Dan 12:1) would defend and deliver from their enemies “everyone who is found written in the book.” Thus in icons Gabriel is usually depicted as winged while Michael is clothed in a military uniform.

The angel Gabriel appears before Zechariah to announce the birth of John the Forerunner and before the Theotokos to announce the birth of Christ. There are angels at His birth in Bethlehem and at His tomb in Jerusalem. Angels populate the garden in the Book of Genesis (Genesis 3:24) and the heavens in the Book of Revelation. We call on them in the psalms to protect and help us and to lead us in blessing the Lord.

A Synaxis for the Heavenly Powers

On November 8 the Byzantine Churches celebrate a synaxis (assembly) in honor of the assembly of the heavenly hosts: Michael, and Gabriel, along with all the heavenly powers. This feast was first observed in a church at the thermal baths of the Emperor Arcadius in Constantinople and spread from there throughout the Christian East as the principal commemoration of the incorporeal powers.

Another feast of St. Michael is kept on September 6 remembering the miraculous spring at Chonae in Asia Minor. A sanctuary dedicated to the Archangel had been erected by local Christians. Pagans sought to destroy it by diverting a stream from a nearby gorge against it; however a lightning strike split a massive rock diverting the stream again and preserving the shrine. Believers attributed the lightning to St Michael and considered the diverted waters forever sanctified.

Other Angels in the Tradition

There are a number of other angels named in Christian tradition, not to mention those in Jewish or Islamic lore. The Book of Tobit, found in the Greek Septuagint, but not in the Hebrew Masoretic text, speaks of the angel Raphael, who identifies himself as “one of the seven angels who enter and serve before the glory of the Lord” (Tobit 12:15). Thus seven angels are often depicted in icons wearing priestly vestments.

The seven are named in 1 Enoch 20, a book highly esteemed by first-century Christians and still regarded as canonical Scripture in the Ethiopian Church. Besides Michael, Gabriel and Raphael it lists Uriel, Remiel (Jeremiel), Sariel (Selaphiel) and Raguel. Uriel and Remiel are also mentioned in 2 Esdras 4, another early work held to be canonical in some Churches. Uriel and Remiel were sent to explain to Ezra the signs of the times in which he lived. The presence of the archangels in our world was generally thought to indicate an approaching apocalyptic age.
Hail, Gabriel, announcer of the Incarnation of God! Hail, Michael, chief Captain of the bodiless hierarchies, who cry aloud, “Holy, holy, holy are You, O our Mighty God!” From the Canon, November 8

Dionysius and the Angels

In the late sixth century a certain Dionysios, thought to be a Syrian pupil of the Greek philosopher Proclus, composed a number of works systematizing Scriptural teaching in a philosophical framework. For centuries he was confused with Dionysius the Areopagite, an Athenian convert of St Paul, and even St Denys of Paris. Since the nineteenth century he has been called by scholars Pseudo-Dionysius.

Dionysios’ Celestial Hierarchies arranged the Scriptural names for the incorporeal powers in a specific order, the nine “ranks” of spiritual beings in three “choirs”: those closest to God (thrones, cherubim and seraphim), those closest to us (angels, archangels and principalities) and those in between (authorities, dominions and powers). The names are found in Scripture:
Cherubim (Genesis 3; Ps 80 & 99; Ezra 10)
Seraphim (Isaiah 6)
Archangels (1 Thessalonians 4; Jude)
Angels (Romans 8; 1 Pt 3)
Thrones, Authorities, Principalities and Dominions (Ephesians 1, 3; Colossians 1)
Powers (Romans 8; Ephesians 1).

Dionysios felt that this list was far from exhaustive. “How many ranks of heavenly beings there are, what their nature is and how the mystery of holy authority is ordered among them only God can know in detail…. All that we can say about this is what God has revealed to us through them themselves.”
THERE SEEM TO BE MORE QUESTIONS than answers in the Gospel parable of the rich man and Lazarus. We are told that, when the beggar died, he was carried to Abraham’s bosom. We are not told why. We are also told that, when the rich man died, he was “in torment in Hades” (Luke 16:23). Again, we are not told why.

The implication seems to be that the rich man was punished for ignoring the beggar at his gate while he “fared sumptuously every day” (v. 19), but the parable does not say so in so many words. The consistent teaching of Christ as told in the Gospels, however, is that His followers must look beyond attaining material prosperity as the purpose of life. Christ’s followers must be focused on the kingdom of God.

Treasures in Heaven

In this parable, as elsewhere, the Lord Jesus invites us to see that we are given material wealth in this life, not for its own sake, but to be used as an investment for eternity. He teaches that material prosperity in itself does nothing for us in the long run unless we use it in a godly way. In the Sermon on the Mount we hear the Lord say, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19, 20). Here earthly treasures are not portrayed as wrong in themselves; rather it is the use to which we put them which judges us in God’s sight.

As Jesus told the rich young man who came to Him, giving to the poor turns earthly goods into heavenly treasure (see Mark 10:21). That which gives us momentary contentment here on earth can be transformed into a source of eternal satisfaction by giving it away.

At a dinner in a Pharisee’s house, the Lord gave the following instruction: “When you give a dinner or a supper, do not ask your friends, your brothers, your relatives, nor rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind. And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you; but you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (Luke 14:12-14). The reward of those who practice this kind of generosity will be in the age to come.

Later in his Gospel, St Luke would present us with the story of a man who learned how to use his riches: Zacchaeus the tax collector. When Zacchaeus vows to give half of his wealth to the poor and repay fourfold anyone he may have defrauded, the Lord’s response is “Today salvation has come to this house” (Luke 19:9); Zacchaeus has valued godliness above material possessions. As a result he attained the kingdom of God.

How to use a person’s possessions in a godly way was a favorite theme of many Church Fathers. Commenting on the Beatitudes, St Ambrose of Milan would note that Jesus “does not condemn those who have riches, but those who do not know how to use them” (Exposition of the Gospel of Luke 5, 69). Preaching in the cathedral at Antioch, St John Chrysostom urged his hearers to be generous to the beggars at the church door, not rushing past them as if they were “pillars, not human bodies… lifeless statues, not breathing human beings” (Sermons on Genesis 5,3).

During St John Chrysostom’s years as a priest in Antioch, the Church there maintained numerous ministries to the needy (widows, virgins, the sick, the disabled, the imprisoned and travelers) as well as providing food and clothing daily to anyone in need of them. Still, the saint insisted that church members could not hide behind these organized ministries to excuse their personal lack of compassion for those in need. “Can [someone else’s hospitality] benefit you?” he chided. “If another man prays, does it follow that you are not bound to pray?” In other words, you cannot expect to be rewarded by referring the needy to someone else! People often excuse themselves from helping the needy by pointing to their own needs. They forget the widow whom the Lord observed at the temple treasury: “Now Jesus sat opposite the treasury and saw how the people put money into the treasury. And many who were rich put in much.  Then one poor widow came and threw in two mites, which make a quadrans. So He called His disciples to Himself and said to them,  ‘Assuredly, I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all those who have given to the treasury; for they all put in out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all that she had, her whole livelihood’” (Mark 12:41-44). Jesus would not have approved of her action if it were not truly an investment in eternity.

It’s in the Scriptures

In the parable, the rich man and Abraham engage in a dialogue, which is actually the climax of the tale. The rich man pleas, “I beg you therefore, father, that you would send [Lazarus] to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ 

“Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’  And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead’ ” (Luke 16:27-31).

The rich man wants a spectacular intervention to convince his brothers to follow the way of compassion. But Abraham refuses: “the way of compassion is no secret; it is on practically every page of the Law and the Prophets” – what we call the Old Testament. The rich man knows that his brothers routinely ignore the testimony of the Scriptures, but that is precisely the testimony which God has provided for them.

We have more than Moses and the prophets – we have the testimony of Christ in the Gospels and of the saints in the life of the Church. The parable suggests that, if these are not enough to persuade us to follow the way of compassion, then we too will share the fate of the rich man.

On Lazarus and the Rich Man

“The rich man, in purple splendor, is not accused of being greedy or of carrying off the property of another, or of committing adultery or, in fact, of any wrongdoing. The only evil of which he is guilty is pride

“Most wretched of men, you see a member of your own body lying there outside of your gate, and have you no compassion? If the laws of God mean nothing to you, at least take pity on your own situation and be in fear, for perhaps you might become like him. Give what you waste to your own member, I am not telling you to throw away your wealth. What you throw out – the crumbs from your table – offer as alms.

“Lazarus was lying at the gate in order to draw attention to the cruelty paid to his body and to prevent the rich man from saying, ‘I did not notice him. He was in a corner. I could not see him. No one announced him to me.’ He lay at the gate. You saw him every time you went out and every time you came in. When your crowds of servants and clients were attending you, he lay there full of ulcers.”

St Jerome of Stridon
ONE OF THE FIRST CONTROVERSIES in which the Apostolic Church engaged concerned the continuing importance of the old Law, and in particular the need to be circumcised. Many Jewish believers or converts to Judaism wrestled with this question: did one need to be circumcised as well as to be baptized to be a member of God’s new community, the Church.

St Paul’s position, set forth in his Epistle to the Galatians, was clear. If a believer required physical marks as evidence of his faith, it was to be “the marks of the Lord Jesus” (v. 17): the imprint of the cross.

Some Christians had experienced physical torture for their faith; St Paul was one of them. But as St Paul grew in his union with Christ, he came to believe that the “marks of the Lord” applied to more than any scars of physical torture, because the Christian understanding of God and His relationship to His creation was bound up with the cross. Paul did not proclaim Christ’s submission to death simply as a historical event; nor did he see it simply as a dogma to be accepted intellectually. Acceptance of the cross as a way of life was to be the mark of the authentic Christian.

To Be Crucified to the World

In the Epistle to the Galatians St Paul uses the image of dying to the world as the mark of the cross in a believer’s life: “… the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Galatians 6:14). By this he means that the values of the world – what people prize and strive to obtain – were dead for him. We value possessions and focus on acquiring bigger and better ones. We thrive on the status and respect such possessions gain for us in the eyes of others and may be devastated when we lose them. St Paul’s witness is that attachment to these values cannot co-exist with imitation of Christ, who described them as “the deceitfulness of riches” (Mark 4:19).

In their teaching and practice, the first Christians often returned to this theme that “the world” is opposed to the way of Christ. We find the same imagery used in the First Epistle of John, for example: “For all that is in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the vainglory of life – is not of the Father but is of the world” (1 John 2:16). By the “lust of the flesh” is meant the inordinate pursuit of physical satisfaction of any kind through food, drink, exercise, or any means. By the “lust of the eyes” is meant the deep-seated pursuit of acquiring more of the world’s goods: “the most toys,” of the popular saying. “The vainglory of life” refers to the quest for titles, office and status that every society employs.

People may attach themselves to a specific parish or group of parishioners as a way to recognition in the community or even advancement in business. St Paul, on the other hand, was not cultivating his hearers for his own ends; as he wrote to the Corinthians, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1Corinthians 2:2).

Detachment from the values of the world would later become the hallmark of monasticism. Monks and nuns embrace poverty, chastity, stability of life or obedience to a superior for the sake of the community. Some of these traits, such as simplicity of life, have been adopted by people in the world as well.

Kenosis: the Mark of the Cross

In his Epistle to the Philippians St Paul focuses on the mind of Christ, which brought Him to the cross and the tomb, as the key to our understanding of the cross. “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven and of those on earth and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11).

St Paul teaches that the willingness to empty oneself – kenosis in Greek – is what identifies Christ and marks us as His followers. But the way we are to empty ourselves cannot be identical to Christ’s kenosis. The Word emptied Himself of the divine glory, which was His by right, to identify with us. This led to the cross and to the exaltation of Christ as Lord. Of what are we to empty ourselves in imitation of Him? It would be our “glory,” or what we think of as our glory, which we would give up to identify with Him. As Christ became a “bondservant” for our sake, the Christian is called to become a servant of others also. This is what Christ depicted graphically when He washed His disciples’ feet at the Supper then told them, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:14, 15).

Practicing “Servanthood”

Our Church’s traditional disciplines are based on these teachings. By fasting we learn to distance ourselves from physical pleasures, dying to the world through abstinence from food, drink, entertainment and the rest. In almsgiving we learn to dispose of our resources rather than to hoard them. By joining others in common prayer and ascetic exercises we become servants of one another, helping others to grow in the Christian life as well. It has been said that others will believe in Christ when they see His crucifixion displayed in the lives of His followers. By practicing these traditional disciplines we show that we, like St Paul, attempt to live the cross. As the “Holiday Season” approaches, so does the Nativity Fast, giving us an opportunity to deepen our practice of these disciplines and to explore new ways of serving others as Christ has served us. In this way we prepare for the Feast – rather than just jumping into it – by putting on the “marks of the Lord Jesus” in our hearts.

On Boasting in the Cross “Now indeed [the cross] appears to be a reprehensible thing, but only to the world and to unbelievers. In heaven and for believers it is the highest glory. For poverty too is reprehensible, yet it is a cause of boasting to us. Many mock simplicity, but we are disciplined by it. Paul did not say, ‘I do not boast’ or ‘I do not wish to boast’ but God forbid, as though he were deprecating something absurd and calling on the aid of God to set this right. But what is this boasting in the cross? That on my behalf Christ took the form of a slave and suffered what He suffered on account of me the slave, the enemy, the ingrate” (St John Chrysostom, Homily on Galatians 6,14).
ON THE FIRST SUNDAY in November a number of Byzantine Churches keep a special remembrance (Synaxis) for All the Unmercenary Healers: those who cared for the sick or aged in the spirit of Christ, without concern for gain. These physicians and other medical workers understood their skills in the spirit of St Paul’s teaching on spiritual gifts (“To each is given a manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” – 1 Corinthians 12:7).  A Christian’s skills are given, according to Paul, not simply to enhance the person who receives them but chiefly to benefit the entire Body of Christ. St Paul lists several of these spiritual gifts: “To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (1 Corinthians 12:8-11). Any of these gifts – and of the countless others manifested in the Church – is God’s gift to the entire Church given through the one who manifests them. The Unmercenary Physicians adopted this teaching as the guiding principle of their professional lives to a heroic degree. In an age when health care, as rudimentary as it often was, was exclusively for those who could afford it, the Unmercenaries stood out by their compassionate attention to the sick poor. When Christians were still suspect in the pagan Roman Empire, the witness of Holy Unmercenaries led people to see that Christians were living by a higher standard than the leaders of their own culture. Not surprisingly, Unmercenaries took the occasion of caring for the sick as opportunities for preaching the Gospel as well. The ideal of physicians serving without pay for Christ inspired many in the Church to follow their example.

The Great Martyr Panteleimon

Front and center in the icon of the Holy Unmercenaries is the most revered of these saints in the Christian East, St Panteleimon. He was converted to the Christian faith by St Hermolaus, one of the survivors of the great persecution in Nicomedia. Panteleimon achieved renown by tending without expecting payment to wounded and imprisoned Christians in Nicomedia during the last Great Persecution of Christians in the fourth century. Panteleimon effected many cures by prayer alone which brought him the love of his fellow-Christians and the unwanted attention of the imperial authorities. Executed by order of Emperor Maximian on July 27, 305 St Panteleimon is remembered on that day in the Byzantine calendar.

Cosmas and Damian

The hymns for our feast of the Unmercenaries speak of “three pairs of divinely wise saints Cosmas and Damian, who shared the same names and the same ways” (Verse at the Lamp-lighting Psalms). Two of these pairs of brothers were martyred, one at Rome and the other at Aegea (Ajass today) in the region of Cilicia. The other Cosmas and Damian, who lived in the third century, came from Asia Minor but lived and ministered to the poor in Mesopotamia where they reposed in peace. After their pagan father’s death, their Christian mother Theodotia raised them in the faith and saw to their medical education. Under her guidance they used their medical knowledge to heal the sick without expecting any payment. Miracles accompanied their activity in this life and were frequently said to take place at their tomb in the city of Cyrrhus, capital of the Roman province. An imposing basilica was built over their tomb; its ruins may still be seen there. In the sixth century Emperor Justinian sumptuously restored the city in the saints’ honor and erected an important church in Constantinople dedicated to them, which became a celebrated place for pilgrimage. About the same time a basilica was constructed in Rome in honor of the Unmercenaries Cosmas and Damian of Rome (July 1). This church still exists and contains some remarkable mosaics and frescos from before the era of iconoclasm. Raised in a Christian family, these brothers flourished in the late third century at Rome, where they became known for their skill at healing the sick. Since they cared for Christians and non-Christians alike, they became known in the wider community and attracted many to the Church. Accused of sorcery before Emperor Carinus (282-285), they rejected the charge: “We have done evil to no one, we are not involved with the magic or sorcery of which you accuse us. We treat the infirm by the power of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and we take no payment for rendering aid to the sick, because our Lord commanded His disciples, ‘Freely you have received, freely give’ (Matthew 10:8).” These saints are commemorated in the Canon of the Roman Mass and in the Litany of the Saints, some of the oldest Western prayers still in use. The last set of brothers came from the Roman province of Arabia (parts of Jordan, Syria and Saudi Arabia today). They practiced their art in Aegea on what is now the coast of Turkey. They were executed along with their brothers Anthimus, Leontius, and Euprepius during the persecution of Diocletian at the end of the third century. Devotion to all these Unmercenaries spread from the place of their death throughout the empire.

Other Unmercenaries

Among the twenty saints honored on this feast are St Sampson the Hospitable (June 27), an Unmercenary Healer, who on his parents’ deaths, began taking in the poor, sick and homeless. The patriarch of Constantinople ordained him a priest and the emperor established a hospice for the sick poor and entrusted it to him. Other saints commemorated today include martyred physicians Luke the Evangelist (October 18) and Diomedes of Tarsus (August 16). Other saints whose tombs became sources of miraculous healings like St Antipas (April 11) and St Spyridon (December 12) are also commemorated. God continues to be glorified by unmercenary healers. Some of them, like the sainted Mother Theresa of Kalikut, are known all over the world. Others, like St Luke of Simferopol, the unmercenary physician who became a Ukrainian Orthodox bishop during the worst days of Communist persecutions, are not as widely known. They all have received gifts of healing and all have shared these gifts as freely as they had received them from God.
Today we praise the blessed choir of the holy unmercenary physicians: the Apostle and Evangelist Luke, the excellent healer of the infirm; the most honored hieromartyrs Antipas, Charalampos and Blaise, Spyridon and Modestus, the all-splendid luminaries of the Church; the three pairs of divinely wise saints Cosmas and Damian, who shared the same names and the same ways; Cyrus and the glorious John; the divine Panteleimon and Hermolaus; Diomedes and Sampson; together with Mocius, Photius and Anicetas, Artemius, Thalalxus and Tryphon.
(Sticheron at Lord to You I call…)
“GREAT ARE THE ACCOMPLISHMENTS of faith!” This exclamation is heard several times each year as we remember the exploits of spiritual giants like the three young Hebrews who survived the fiery furnace in Babylon (Dan :) or the Great-martyr Theodore the Recruit who suffered in Asia Minor in the early fourth century. The latter’s namesake, Theodore the General is described as fighting courageously “with the weapons of faith” (troparion) and “the Word of God as a spear” (kondakion). These references and others like them allude to the imagery employed by St Paul in his Epistle to the Ephesians. While he affirms that we are saved through faith in Christ’s work, not our own, he encourages us to actively don the “whole armor of God that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11). St Paul goes on to expand on this image telling us to “Stand, therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one and take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit , which us the word of God” (Ephesians 6:14-17). This martial theme is echoed again and again in the stories of martyrs and confessors who stood firm to profess their faith before those who opposed it. It is shown for in a particularly graphic way in the story of the Great Martyr Demetrius of Thessalonika and his companion, the martyr Nestor, commemorated respectively on October 26 and 27. According to the earliest existing sources, St Demitrius was born in Thessalonika to a senatorial family in AD 270. Our earliest source, a fourth-century Syriac translation of the horologion, describes Demetrius as stabbed to death with a spear in the year 306. According to an early account of his death, Loupos, a servant of St. Demetrius, after taking proper care of the body, took the saint’s neckscarf, having collected the soil soaked with his blood in it. Taking also the royal ring, which the saint was wearing on his hand, and dipping it in his holy blood, Loupos was able to accomplish many miracles of healing through it. An oratory was established on the site of the saint’s martyrdom and a memorial erected in it. The saint’s relics were concealed beneath it lest they be taken and the city lose its protector. When they began exuding fragrant myrrh in the tenth and eleventh centuries, the tomb was unearthed and the saint came to be called Demetrius the Myrobelite (myrrh-gusher).

Demetrius the Prayer-Warrior

Originally depicted holding a cross or the spear by which he was martyred, St Demetrius is now often shown astride a horse, clad in the “armor of God,” either defending the city of Thessalonika from invaders or slaying the gladiator whom Nestor killed, symbolizing the power of Demetrius’ prayers for Nestor as he entered combat. The power of Demetrius’ faith is told in the traditional story of his vicarious defeat of the gladiator Lyaeus, recorded in the ninth-century version of the saint’s life by Anastasius the Librarian. Demetrius, a young but dynamic Christian, had won the enmity of some leading pagans in the city for converting a number of young people to Christ. He was denounced for his faith during a celebration in honor of the Eastern Roman emperor, Maximian, and imprisoned in the baths near the palace and the arena where games and sacrifices were to be held in homage to the emperor. As part of the festivities, Maximian offered a rich reward to any Thessalonian who would battle one-on-one with his prize gladiator, Lyaeus. Another young Christian, Nestor, visited Demetrius in prison and asked for his spiritual support in accepting the challenge to fight Lyaeus. At first the emperor was reluctant to pit the gladiator against the youth. “Out to pity for your youth I will reward you just for your daring,” the emperor is said to have told Nestor. “Take my gift and keep your life, but do not hurl yourself against Lyaeus who had defeated many more powerful than you.” Relying on Demetrius’ prayers, Nestor fought and defeated Lyaeus. The emperor, hearing Nestor invoke Christ, was enraged. Rather than reward him, the emperor had both Nestor and Demetrius slain. Demetrius’ aid was often invoked over the years as the defender of Thessalonika. Beginning in the sixth century the city was frequently attacked by neighboring Slavic tribes. The city’s Christians credited its survival from both invaders and natural disasters to his prayers and he is considered the patron of Thessalonika to this day.

The Basilica of St Demetrios

The first shrine honoring the saint was a small oratory, built shortly after the liberation of Christians in AD 313 on the ruins of the Roman baths where Demetrius had been held captive. In the fifth century, the eparch Leontios constructed a large, three-aisled basilica on the same site; this church burned down in the seventh century. Shortly thereafter, a five-aisled basilica was erected. Converted into a mosque in 1493, it was restored to Christian worship in 1912 but was again destroyed in the great fire of 1917. It was rebuilt and rededicated in 1949. During the twentieth century reconstruction of the basilica workers found beneath the altar the remains of the original oratory and the Roman baths where Demetrios was killed. An earthen vessel containing soil and human blood as well as a marble basin used for gathering the myrrh from his grave were discovered there as well. Some seventh and eighth century frescoes also survived the fire and are now housed in the church’s crypt-museum.
The world has found in you a great champion in time of peril, as you emerged the victor in routing the barbarians. For as you brought to naught the boasts of Lyaios, imparting courage to Nestor in the arena, in like manner, O holy Great Martyr Demetrios, invoke Christ God for us, that He may grant us His great mercy.

Troparion, October 26


Streaming with your own blood, O Demetrios, you were offered to the life-giving Christ, who had poured out His own precious blood for you. He gave you a share in His glory, making you an heir of His Kingdom, for you triumphed in your combat with the evil one and frustrated all his terrible temptations.


Rejoice in the Lord, O city of Thessalonica! Exult and dance with joy, O you who were the home of the glorious athlete Demetrios, that witness to the truth, whom you possess as a treasure in your midst. Rejoice in his miracles, at the sight of his healings! Behold him who repels the assaults of the pagans; and in thanksgiving, say to the Savior, “O Lord, glory to You!”

Stikhera at Vespers, October 26


Let us venerate Demetrios, who by a lance inherited the saving grace of Christ’s side, which was pierced by a lance, from which the Savior caused to flow for us the waters of life and immortality. Crowned by most wise teachings, this martyr ran the perfect race of his passion by his blood, and he shines with miracles throughout the whole world. He is the imitator of the Master, the friend to the poor, the defender of Thessalonica from all dangers. Celebrating his annual memorial, we glorify Christ our God who works healing for all through him.

Stikhos at Orthros, October 26

IN OCTOBER, 1936 THE COVER of The Saturday Evening Post displayed a drawing by Leslie Thrasher depicting a Friendly Neighborhood Butcher and a Sweet Old Lady weighing her purchase at the butcher shop. The Friendly Butcher and the Sweet Lady were each trying to tip the scale in their own favor! The point was clear: no matter how Friendly or how Sweet, each of us is touched by the desire to put ourselves first, ahead of the next person. Even People Like Us, no matter how Nice we may be, are all subject to the dictates of our fallen nature leading us to sin.

The Old Creation

The Biblical vision of creation is found in many books of the Old Testament: the Psalms, the Wisdom literature and, most extensively, in the book of Genesis. In this view there are two dynamics at work: God’s and man’s. God’s all-embracing love seeks to share existence, to share something of Himself as much as possible. God, the One who truly is, shares His being simply that other things might be. The Wisdom of Solomon summarizes this teaching: “For he created all things that they might be: and he made the nations of the earth for health: and there is no poison of destruction in them, nor kingdom of hell upon the earth” (1:14). Of all the things that share God’s existence, one – humanity – comes closest to reflecting the Creator. The Book of Genesis teaches that mankind was created to mirror God: “God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Human beings alone were created in the image of God. There is a part of the human person that is literally not of this world. Human beings are possessed of an intrinsic worth which is unique in creation. But, as we know, the story doesn’t end there. From the beginning mankind’s relationship with God has been characterized by disobedience. Our relationships with one another have been marked by entrapments, recriminations and murder. Eve entices Adam, Adam blames Eve, Cain kills Abel and on it goes. The result is that the human race, created in God’s image, is bound by sin and subject to death and corruption. Adam drank the “poison of destruction” and all are ill as a result.

The New Creation

The New Testament speaks of a “new creation,” creation made new in Christ. Christ’s relationship with His Father is described as one of obedience, in contrast to Adam’s disobedience. He is the new Adam who is not bound by sin. He voluntarily takes up the cross but is no longer subject to death or corruption. He changes the experience of death in Himself. On Holy and Great Saturday the vesper hymns describes this from the viewpoint of Death itself! “Today Hades groans: ‘My power has vanished. I received One who died as mortals die, but I could not hold Him. With Him and through Him, I lost those over which I had ruled. I had held control over the dead since the world began; and lo, He raises them all up with Him!’ O Lord, glory to Your Cross and to Your holy Resurrection!” The Church Fathers would teach that whatever Christ touched was transformed. As St. Gregory of Nyssa would say, Christ healed the effects of the fall of humankind in the same way as He healed the sick in his earthly ministry – simply by His touch. Christ “touched” the human race be becoming man. He began the transformation of humanity into the new creation which St Paul proclaims has come: “If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17). In terms of God’s People this “new creation” meant to St Paul that the old division between Jews and Gentiles, between circumcised and uncircumcised no longer mattered. Belonging was no longer about being of this or that race, nation, clan or family. What mattered was Christ and being “in Him.” Many sociologists think that this approach accounted for many Greeks and Romans joining the Church in its earliest days. Many had been sympathetic to Judaism and embraced its monotheistic faith, but did not join the Jewish community because that would require that they sever relations with their families. They would not be able to eat with uncircumcised people, for example. But, according to Paul and the Church which espoused his teachings, “Neither circumcision nor un-circumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation” (Galatians 6:16).

Touching Christ

By becoming human Christ touched the human race and made it possible for us to be part of the new creation. As individuals, the first step in our transformation is an organic one: being physically joined to Christ in His Body, the Church. We first “touch” Christ by being buried and rising with Him in Baptism. Hence St Paul – and the Church ever since – proclaimed: “All of you who have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). In his Great Catechism St Gregory says that, as baptism is to the soul, so the Eucharist is to the body. In baptism, Christ “transforms what is born with a corruptible nature into a state of incorruption” (Great Catechism 33 [84]). In the Eucharist, Christ “disseminates himself in every believer through that flesh, whose substance comes from bread and wine, blending Himself with the bodies of believers, to secure that, by this union with the immortal, man, too, may be a sharer in incorruption.” Our bodies are touched by the transforming presence of Christ. With the likeness to God in us restored through Christ, we are enabled to continue our transformation by addressing the deficiencies in our likeness to God through the ongoing conscious step of imitating Christ in our way of life. “We recognize both the true and the apparent Christian by what they reveal in their actions,” Gregory writes. “The characteristics of the true Christian are the same we apply to Christ. We imitate those characteristics we are able to assume, while we venerate and worship what our nature cannot imitate” (On Perfection). God’s nature is infinitely removed from ours, but – as St Gregory teaches - it is possible for us to use Christ’s human life as a model for our own. Becoming like God as revealed in Christ does not happen instantaneously; it begins in us by fits and starts. If we persevere, we continue in this process through the rest of our life. Living “in Christ” gradually becomes second nature. Even then this journey is not over. For St Gregory the process of perfection is unending: “This is the real meaning of ‘seeing God:’ never to have this desire completely satisfied”. Adam and Christ stand for two different ways of being human (1 Corinthians 15:45,49). From Adam we inherit our physical life: we bear “the image of the man of dust” In the new creation we “shall bear the image of the heavenly Man,” Christ risen from the dead.
WE LIVE IN A SPEED-DRIVEN AGE. We look for faster ways to accomplish every task: in the office, in the kitchen, in the classroom. In our economy, speed is a source of competitive advantage. In the workplace higher speed means greater efficiency. Today “to build a better mousetrap” means “to build a faster mousetrap.” As a result we are increasingly intolerant of slowness. Waiting becomes more and more difficult. If we encounter a long line in a store, a bank or a post office our impulse is to leave and come back later. Our relationships with others may be scarred or shattered by our impatience with others. Our impatience with ourselves can make it impossible for us to rejoice in or even accept life in the present. While people with chronic illnesses or handicaps have health services available to them as never before, their greatest suffering today may be psychological: knowing that they must live with their affliction day in and day out without hope of deliverance. Some advocate suicide or mercy killing as a way out of this impasse. The Netherlands, Belgium and Switzerland have decriminalized mercy killing in certain circumstances to give people a way out of their hopeless conditions. In contrast we find the situation of the woman recorded in the Gospels whose hopeless condition exceeded anything prevalent in developed countries today. We are told that she had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. In the Torah any contact with vital fluids such as blood rendered a person ritually impure and called for the sufferer to be avoided. “If a woman hemorrhages for many days not at the time of her period she shall be unclean as in the days of her period. Every bed that she lies on and every object that she sits on shall be unclean as in the time of her period. Anyone who touches her shall be unclean and shall wash his clothes and bathe in water and be unclean until the evening. When she is cleansed from her discharge, she must count off seven days, and after that she will be ceremonially clean.” (Leviticus 15:25-28). Since this woman was still hemorrhaging, it meant that she could not experience any intimate contact for twelve years.

Christ Alone Brings Healing

In Mark 5:26 we read that her attempts at finding medical help had been as fruitless as they were financially draining. She had no hope until she heard of Jesus. She approached Him secretly to avoid defiling Him or being rejected by Him, but touching the All-Pure One cleansed and purified her. Contact with the Long-Suffering One ended her long suffering. In the New Testament physical healings and other miracles generally point to spiritual healing. Here the woman’s illness and her healing contact with Christ direct our minds to reflect on our own spiritual condition. Most Christians today look upon the idea of ritual impurity in the Old Testament manner as antiquated and not part of our spirituality. Yet, each of us is unfit for contact with the Holy One because we share a nature scarred by sin and subject to death. We need to touch the hem of Christ’s garment for our broken nature to be restored. For us who live in the time after Christ’s resurrection the “hem of His garment,” the physical realities which convey His divine power to us, are the Holy Mysteries. In baptism we rise with Him from the death of our broken humanity. In the Eucharist we become more deeply one with Him in His Body, the Church. We come to Him in the various circumstances of our life – our need for physical or spiritual healing, our desire to experience His blessing on our families and our ministries – seeking to be transformed by His presence. And when we approach the water, chrism, oil, or crowns with the faith of this unnamed woman in the Gospels we are touched by the power going out from Him through them as well.

The Mysteries as “Works of the Law”

It is all too easy for us, particularly those raised in the Church, to approach the Holy Mysteries as if they were acts of ritual cleansing as described in the Torah. We can bring our children for baptism because that’s what we do with babies to make them Christians. We can approach the mystery of confession legalistically, so that we can get a pass to receive the Eucharist. Approaching any of the mysteries as if they were rites of passage or ritual purifications – or as anything other than reaching out to touch the hem of Christ’s garment – turns them into “works of the Law.” And, as St Paul insists, “by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified” (Gal 2:16). Our sacramental contacts with Christ are meant to affect our life. The Holy Mysteries are not simply “rites,” ceremonial moments that we perform then return to ordinary life without their affecting the way we live. On the one hand we live and worship as Christians only because we have “touched” Christ. He alone is holy, He alone is Lord. On the other hand we know that our baptismal union with Christ does not guarantee that we will live the life we have received. As with the woman in the Gospels, our contacts with Christ are simply part of the story. The way we live determines how the story develops and will end.

The Woman in Eastern Christian Lore

The Scriptures do not mention this woman again. A later work, the Acts of Pilate, gave her a name, Berenice, but this does not shed any light on how her healing affected her life. In the West this name was transliterated as Veronica, whose connection with Christ’s passion was popularized in the Middle Ages. The Acts of Pilate, parts of which date to the mid-second to third century, describe this woman as offering testimony at the trial of Jesus: “There was found there also a woman named Berenice, and she said: ‘Twelve years I was in an issue of blood, and I only touched the edge of his garment, and directly I was cured.’ The Jews say: ‘Our law does not admit the testimony of a woman’” (Acts of Pilate, 7). According to one tradition, Berenice caused a statue of the Lord Jesus to be made in gratitude for her healing, before which she prayed to God. The fourth century Bishop of Caesarea, Eusebius, described it: “Since I have mentioned this city [Caesarea Philippi] I do not think it proper to omit an account which is worthy of record for posterity. For they say that the woman with an issue of blood, who, as we learn from the sacred Gospel, received from our Savior deliverance from her affliction, came from this place, and that her house is shown in the city, and that remarkable memorials of the kindness of the Savior to her remain there. “For there stands upon an elevated stone, by the gates of her house, a brazen image of a woman kneeling, with her hands stretched out, as if she were praying. Opposite this is another upright image of a man, made of the same material, clothed decently in a double cloak, and extending his hand toward the woman. They say that this statue is an image of Jesus. It has remained to our day, so that we ourselves also saw it when we were staying in the city.” This statue was preserved up to the time of Julian the Apostate, when it was altered to become a statue of Zeus.

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