Homily By Archbishop Elpidophoros of America At the Divine Liturgy Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church Williamsburg, Virginia


By His Eminence Archbishop Elpidophoros of America

At the Divine Liturgy

Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church

Williamsburg, Virginia

March 9, 2024

Beloved faithful,

Perhaps there is no greater way to pay tribute to the anniversary of this wonderful parish, dedicated to the Holy Great-Martyr and Myrrh-Streamer Demetrios, than to be gathered to commemorate the souls of those who have gone before us. For the foundation of our parishes is truly the sacrifices of the generations who have come before us. And even for this youthful anniversary of ten years, there were oblations made, in the distant past, that have brought this church into being.

We read their names and bring their memories to life within our minds and hearts. The first of the Psychosavvata of the year 2024 is surely a worthy way to pay them tribute. And this Saturday of Souls falls on a most auspicious day – the commemoration of the Holy Forty Martyrs of Sevasteia, deep in the heart of Asia Minor.

The story of these Forty Martyrs is well known, and was famous in the days of Saints Basil the Great, his younger brother, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, and Saint Gregory the Theologian. 

It concerned a company of Forty Roman soldiers who were Christians and were martyred together in a lake. They were made to stand in the lake in freezing conditions, surrounded by guards. Fires, warm drinks and food were offered to them, if only they would renounce the Lord. But they stayed in the lake, or at least thirty-nine of them did. One left – he left his conscience, his faith and the torment of the freezing cold. But when one of the guards witnessed this desertion, and how the others remained, he was so moved by the faith of the thirty-nine that he stripped off his armor and plunged into the icy waters to complete the number of their company. And thus, we have Forty Martyrs, who, as they sank, crowns were seen to float down from the sky and alight upon the spot where each descended into their martyric death.

The Holy Forty Martyrs are an example of the power of community, solidarity and loyalty. All of these virtues exist here at Saint Demetrios, one of the greatest Military Saints of our Church. No doubt your Celestial Patron welcomed them at the Gates of Heaven; for he endured his own martyrdom less than two decades before them – in the last convulsive days of Roman Persecution of our Faith, before Saint Constantine could consolidate the Empire and put an end to the formal imperial persecution of Christianity.

The power of community, solidarity and loyalty – under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – will always be a blessing to your parish. Community is the outgrowth of our practice of receiving Holy Communion. Solidarity is the bond that we feel with one another. And loyalty is the fruit and the harvest of that bond.

Like the Forty Martyrs, who were forged into a community by their struggles as soldiers, you are forged into community by the practice of your faith. By this Divine Liturgy. By every Divine Liturgy and Holy ceremony, when you enter into the spiritual arena, where the real challenge is to bring forth patience, joy, mercy and love.

Like those Forty who stood together in oneness and harmony – even in that freezing lake where they met their deaths with courage – you stand together as a parish. You honor the sacrifices of those who have come before you. And like the Soldiers of Sevasteia, whose one desertion was made whole by the guard “fulfilling the number of the Martyrs”* and deciding to join them in the lake, you stick together through thick and thin.

Finally, like those Forty Spiritual Heroes, whose loyalty was to their God and to one another, you exemplify the best in our communities. For you maintain the Faith of the Fathers in this place, and as you know, πίστις in Greek means “faith,” it means “trust,” and it means “loyalty.”

And so, my beloved friends, you have a great military Saint as your Heavenly Protector, and today he is joined by the Holy Forty Martyrs to show you the path to your spiritual future. Community, solidarity and loyalty. These will never let you down. They will uphold you and make you worthy of the offerings of your ancestors, whose memory we commemorate today.

Through the prayers of all these Saints, who knew what it was to march together into battle, may you continue in your “progress in life, faith, and spiritual understanding” † as we prayed in the Holy Liturgy today, and may your next decades be greater than even the one you have now attained.


* Revelation 6:11.

† Second Prayer of the Faithful; Divine Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom.

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