Saint of the Day: St. Demetrios of Constantinople

(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's saint, St. Demetrios of Constantinople, comes from Volume 1 of theseries.)

Saint Demetrios of Constantinople

The average Christian looks upon those who have been sainted with reverence and awe but always at a distance, because he cannot identify with those who have taken to seminaries, monasteries and cathedrals for an ultimate recognition by the Church Fathers as exalted and venerated saints whose lives were a total devotion to Jesus Christ. But now and then there appears a man who has been sainted without having worn the cloth, lived in asceticism, or performed the services required to “qualify” one for canonization. It is refreshing as well as reassuring for a Christian to read of a man no different from himself who made God’s honor roll by answering a call to assert his true Christian spirit in a moment of glory for which any man can become a saint.

Such a man was the eighteenth-century hero of Christianity who has come down to us as St. Demetrios of Constantinople, a man who quite possibly never gave a thought to the prospect of becoming a priest or a monk or any full-time servant of God but whose thoughts did turn to the Savior quite o en enough to mark him as a devout Christian as well as a faithful churchgoer. He shared with all his fellow Greeks the ignominy of submission to a yoke of tyranny and oppression forced on a proud people for four centuries by Turks who in the 1800s debased Christianity while flaunting their own Muslim faith.

Demetrios was about twenty-five years old when he achieved a degree of prominence in the city of Constantinople as a business entrepreneur of no small talent, as a result of which he found himself looked upon with favor as proprietor of one of the best hotels and taverns in the entire country. He catered to some of the country’s most famous figures as well as to visiting dignitaries from other lands and was considered not only an eminently successful man but one of the prized eligible bachelors of the land. With all this he never allowed himself to relax his concern for the Church and was a deeply religious follower of Jesus Christ.

Competitive businesses soon sprang up in emulation of his success, but all of them, which were mostly organized by Turks, were doomed to failure, and Demetrios prospered more than ever in spite of them. As his prosperity increased and his competition lessened, there set in an envy among the failures that grew more ominous as time passed. There was a particular group of truculent young Turks who banded together in a common hatred for the handsome Demetrios and plotted his downfall.

As fate would have it, there was a scuffle among just such a gang of malevolent Turks outside the hotel operated by Demetrios. Demetrios went into the street to quell the disturbance. In the melee one of the young hoodlums stabbed another, whereupon the finger of suspicion was pointed at the hated Christian, and he was ultimately charged with the murder. The rights of a Greek in those days were practically nonexistent, and despite his innocence Demetrios was hauled before a tribunal.

Demetrios served as his own counsel, calling on witnesses at the scene whose credibility was dismissed in the face of the perjured testimony of his enemies, each of whom swore it was the hand of the Greek that wielded the death blade. No amount of eloquence of the innocent man, nor the overwhelming evidence of the fraudulent aspects of the whole sordid affair, had any eff ect on the vizier who sat in judgment.

As much to serve their own vindictiveness as to embarrass Demetrios, a compromise was offered by the vizier, who proposed that in exchange for what they considered the proper gesture, the charges would be dropped. It was suggested that he disavow Jesus Christ and embrace Islam openly, an act for which he would be completely exonerated. It was anticipated that no man in the eighteenth century would give up his life for Christ, especially in a Muslim country where he could be allowed to continue his prosperous way of life. To the everlasting credit of the gallant young Demetrios, he scorned the proposal, choosing to die for Christ. He was executed in Constantinople on January 27, 1785.

Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from Wikipedia.

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