(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate St. Demetrios the Neomartyr, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
Saint Demetrios the Neomartyr
The rugged Peloponnesos Mountains, with a terrain too barren for human sustenance, has been occupied for centuries by Greeks even more rugged than their surroundings. The paucity of arable soil allowed for a scant population, most of whom lived in tiny villages such as Ligoudista, Arcadia, the home of Demetrios the Neomartyr. The uninviting terrain discouraged the less hardy from settlement in this area, but because of the proximity of Demetrios’ village to the city of Tripolis, the conquering Turks had by the early nineteenth century firmly controlled the area, choosing not to pursue the Greeks who took to the remote regions of the mountains.
Demetrios grew up in the village where more than three centuries of Turkish domination had developed a society divided in religion but forced to live together for the common good in an atmosphere that was a scant quarter-century away from revolution in the childhood days of a man who was to become a martyr for Christ, not out of circumstance but out of choice. He was another of the uninitiated and untrained who were mediocrities until called upon to show their devotion to Jesus Christ.
Apprenticed to a Turkish contractor, Demetrios was still a teenager toiling for a meager subsistence when he came to a fork in the road of his life, at which point he made an unfortunate choice. Born and bred a Christian, the naive youth was beguiled by his Muslim employer into a disavowal of Christ with the assurance that his conversion to Islam was his only hope for the good life reserved only for those whose ranks he joined. Thus brainwashed, the lad remained in good stead with the ruling class, satisfied to be a Muslim so long as he really meant to offend no one. He even accepted the name of Mehmet as a token of his good intentions.
Demetrios was not long in finding out that the road to hell was paved with good intentions. Screened from his Christian friends, he was one day reached by his overwrought father who managed to draw the boy away from the miasma that clouded his thinking and was drawn into the clear sunlight of Christianity once again. His several months of spiritual captivity ended with a loving father’s care, which once again unleashed the erring son’s true feeling. He reached out for Jesus Christ in supplication and prayer for forgiveness, after which he wept in contrition. Turning his back on Tripolis, he made his way to Smyrna, where he boarded a ship bound for the island of Chios where he hoped to show his sincere repentance and once again bask in the glory of Christianity.
At Chios he was admitted to a monastery in which he was determined to cleanse himself of his shameful act, thereafter to serve the Savior with all his heart. His confessions were heard by sympathetic monks who were deeply moved by the young man’s profound remorse which convinced them that he was qualified to remain among them, eventually to be tonsured a monk after the proper period of training. Demetrios was convinced that he could find forgiveness after hearing the abbot tell him of Peter’s denial of Christ, after which Peter repented and became the sainted man who preached to the end of his days for the Savior.
The days at the monastery were filled with earnest prayer and devotion by Demetrios, who bore himself in a manner of the highest ascetic traditions, but he wastroubled by an unfulfilled wish to commit an act which would completely expiate his long-forgiven act. He felt that the only way to achieve complete absolution was to return to the scene of his wrongdoing and there to reassert his belief in Christ before those who had taken advantage of his foolish innocence. The abbot tried to dispel this notion by citing the decision of David to preach the word of God for all his days rather than sacrifice himself in untimely death.
Demetrios knew in his heart he could not rest unless he faced the Turks of Tripolis. He returned to openly avow his devotion to Jesus and for this he was executed. The remains of this brave lad who willingly gave his life for Christ on April 14 lie in the Church of St. Demetrios, in Tripolis, Greece.