This month of October we commemorate the holy and glorious Great Martyr Demetrios, patron Saint of Thessaloniki. A citizen of the Roman Empire, St. Demetrios lived in truly difficult times of widespread persecution against Christians. Today, the entire Christian world remembers the exemplary courage of St. Demetrios against the ruthless Roman Emperor Maximian, who imprisoned and executed him after learning that he was a Christian. As we contemplate the legacy of St. Demetrios the Great Martyr, it is worthwhile to reflect upon the complex subject of martyrdom and its relevance for our contemporary world.
The Holy Scriptures cast the Orthodox Christian concept of martyrdom as an ultimate expression of love for God. Countless examples from the early Church recount stories of martyrs, such as St. Stephen the first Martyr (Acts 7:59), who heroically suffered and died for his faith. So firm was the faith of the martyrs, so clear was their conviction, that they were willing to sacrifice even their own lives for the truth of the Gospel.
As an expression of an unyielding commitment to Christ, the witness of the martyrs serves an important purpose in our contemporary society. Though we may not face outward threats of physical harm for our faith, our Christian faith sometimes impels us to take ethical stances that are unpopular, or to make business decisions that insure that others be treated with dignity and respect. Such stances and decisions may in turn subject us to social ridicule or contempt, or even threaten our financial security with job loss. These dilemmas are very real in contemporary America, and they are ones where the example of the martyrs speaks with a particular clarity. Like the martyrs, we too are called to remain grounded in our faith, to confess always and in all places the truth of Jesus Christ, and to place our ultimate trust in God regarding matters of security.
The martyrs' basis for their unwavering faith and their adherence to the truth of the Gospel was their total love for God. The martyrs of both past and present ages are models of the love for God, and, as such, they invite us to review the love that we hold in our hearts for God. They understood that the love for God had to be the absolute priority and the first among all the other loves of their lives. We too are called to define God as the central focus of our love and our lives. In so doing, we truly honor and emulate the great heroes of faith, our precious martyrs.
As we celebrate the Feast of St. Demetrios the Great Martyr, it is my heartfelt prayer that you may continue to grow always in your love for God. May the legacy of St. Demetrios inspire us always to hold steadfast to our faith and to be faithful witnesses of Christ's Gospel; may it remind us of the struggles of the martyrs, past and present; and may these struggles fill our hearts with renewed hope in the coming and glorious Kingdom of God.
Archbishop of America