Role models are hard to come by these days.
It used to be, in days gone by, that star athletes, teachers, business executives, politicians and even Presidents set the bar of excellence for personal and moral integrity. There was a time when our nation looked up to them and they in turn felt a privilege and a responsibility to setting a good example because of their influence and popularity. Alas, those days for the most part, are gone. Moral integrity, and a concern for leaving a good impression on the youth and culture as a whole were at least something that was talked about, and most, if not all of the stars who were in positions of influence at least cared about it to some degree. Not so today. These days with the police records, and criminal behaviors of our athletic “jocks”, the middle school sexual shenanigans, and infidelities of politicians, the financial improprieties of brokers and bosses, and even the sophomoric lustful actions of a recent President with a college intern; they have left us wondering: “Who should our kids look up to? Who should they pattern their actions and lives after?”
Well, the short answer is this: Mom and Dad. Mothers and fathers who live with conscience, character and a tenacity and perseverance to teach their children morality and virtue by using the greatest teaching method ever invented: personal example. The next answer is found in the life and actions of the Carpenter from Galilee, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary, the foster son of Joseph. He alone provides the quintessential road for purity, integrity and behavior as well as eternal salvation. Study well the life of Christ, emulate His word and deeds and you will find a road to true success.
In Orthodoxy we have another way to understand and model virtue and character. They are called Patron Saints, men and women who lived lives of holiness and dedication, and gave up their entire self to the service and cause of the Kingdom of God. The early church knew them, remembered them, and kept their names and deeds alive through oral tradition. And thus, handed down from generation to generation, from century to century, we have the lives and deeds of these great athletes for Christ, of these warriors of virtue and holiness, and of their examples for us to emulate. They are our patrons, our protectors, and our intercessors… and we are named for them, and we choose their names so that we can emulate, and copy, the holiness of their lives. We name our children after them. Catechumens and converts to Orthodoxy study their lives and pick their names and ask them to intercede with them, and for them.
Our son Matthew, who is eleven years old, studied the lives of many saints for many months, and when it came time for our family’s entrance into the Orthodox Church, Matthew chose as his patron saint the great warrior Saint Demetrius whose feast day we celebrate on Monday the 26th of October. On Monday, we will have a celebration with Matthew, a cake and a candle (of course a candle! …see previous posts!) and we will read the testimony of this great saint of the church; and Matthew will go to bed that night, as he does every night, with an Icon of Holy Demetrius above his bed, watching over him; and Matthew will have a man worthy of emulating his life after.
How powerful and wonderful it is for us to know of these great men and women and to call upon them as friends and intercessors. None of them perfect, but all of them perfected through trial, suffering and martyrdom. All of them completely dedicated to the faith of the Church, all of them fully devoted to Christ our Lord, and now all of them in glory… waging war still… interceding, praying, worshipping and looking out after us – the saints in training who bear their names.
Imagine how glad I am as a husband and father, that our son Matthew bears the names of three great saints who guide his life, and who intercede for him on a daily basis: His namesake the apostle St. Matthew, St. Christopher the Christ Bearer (his middle name) and the saint that he chose for himself as his patron – The Great St. Demetrius of Thessalonica… Pray with us, and pray for us Great Demetrius.
The Great Martyr Demetrius the Myrrh-gusher of Thessalonica was the son of a Roman proconsul in Thessalonica. Three centuries had elapsed and Roman paganism, spiritually shattered and defeated by the multitude of martyrs and confessors of the Savior, intensified its persecutions. The parents of St Demetrius were secretly Christians, and he was baptized and raised in the Christian Faith in a secret church in his father’s home. By the time Demetrius had reached maturity and his father had died, the emperor Galerius Maximian had ascended the throne (305). Maximian, confident in Demetrius’ education as well as his administrative and military abilities, appointed him to his father’s position as proconsul of the Thessalonica district. The main tasks of this young commander were to defend the city from barbarians and to eradicate Christianity. The emperor’s policy regarding Christians was expressed simply, “Put to death anyone who calls on the name of Christ.” The emperor did not suspect that by appointing Demetrius he had provided a way for him to lead many people to Christ.
Accepting the appointment, Demetrius returned to Thessalonica and immediately confessed and glorified our Lord Jesus Christ. Instead of persecuting and executing Christians, he began to teach the Christian Faith openly to the inhabitants of the city and to overthrow pagan customs and idolatry. The compiler of his Life, St Simeon Metaphrastes (November 9), says that because of his teaching zeal he became “a second Apostle Paul” for Thessalonica, particularly since “the Apostle to the Gentiles” once founded at this city the first community of believers (1 Thess. and 2 Thess.). The Lord also destined St Demetrius to follow the holy Apostle Paul as a martyr. 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 Thessalonica, determined to massacre the Christians.
Learning of this, St Demetrius ordered his faithful servant Lupus to distribute his wealth to the poor saying, “Distribute my earthly riches among them, for we shall seek heavenly riches for ourselves.” He began to pray and fast, preparing himself for martyrdom. When the emperor came into the city, he summoned Demetrius, 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 appeared to him, comforting and encouraging him.
Meanwhile the emperor amused himself by staging games in the circus. His champion was 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 Demetrius and requested a blessing to fight the barbarian. With the blessing and prayers of Demetrius, 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 ordered the execution of the holy Martyr Nestor (October 27) and sent a guard to the prison to kill St Demetrius.
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 Demetrius, 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 Demetrius, St Lupus began to heal the infirm. The emperor issued orders to arrest and kill him. The body of the holy Great Martyr Demetrius 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 Demetrius. 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 Demetrius, so he is called “the Myrrh-gusher.” Several times, those venerating the holy wonderworker tried to bring his holy relics, or a part of them, to Constantinople. Invariably, St Demetrius made it clear that he would not permit anyone to remove even a portion of his relics.
St Demetrius is regarded as a protector of the young, and is also invoked by those struggling with lustful temptations.
Let’s see, Michael Jackson, Terrell Owens or Demetrius the Myrrh Gusher?
I’ll take Demetrius every time.