The Great Martyr Demetrius the Myrrh-gusher of Thessaloniki was the son of a Roman proconsul in Thessaloniki. 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 Demetrius were secret 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, Emperor Galerius Maximian had ascended the throne in 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 Thessaloniki district. The young commander's principal duties 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 him with the opportunity to bring many people to Christ.
Accepting the appointment, Demetrius returned to Thessaloniki and 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 the worship of idols. The compiler of his Life, Saint Simeon Metaphrastes, says that because of his teaching zeal he became “a second Apostle Paul” for Thessaloniki, particularly since “the Apostle to the Gentiles” founded the first community of believers in the city.
The Lord also destined Demetrius to follow Saint Paul on the path to martyrdom. When Maximian learned that the newly-appointed proconsul was a Christian, and that he had converted many Roman subjects to Christianity, the Emperor's rage knew no bounds. Returning from a campaign in the area of the Black Sea, the Emperor decided to lead his army through Thessaloniki, determined to massacre the Christians.
Learning of this, Demetrius ordered his faithful servant Lupus to give 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 ordered Demetrius to be thrown into 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 Demetrius, his instructor in the faith, asking for his blessing to fight the barbarian. With the blessing and prayers of Demetrius, Nestor defeated 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 and sent a guard to the prison to kill Demetrius. At dawn on October 26/November 8, 306 soldiers appeared in the saint's underground prison and ran him through with lances. His faithful servant, saint Lupus, gathered up the blood-soaked garment of Demetrius 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 the blood of Demetrius, saint Lupus began to heal the infirm. The Emperor ordered his soldiers 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 Saint Constantine (306-337), a church was built over the grave of Saint 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.”
The entire world has found you to be a great champion in times of peril,
for you put the heathen to flight, O victorious one.
As you brought to naught the boasts of Lyaeus,
and gave courage to Nestor in the stadium,
in the same way, O Holy Great Martyr Demetrius,
entreat Christ God, that He grant us great mercy.
God, Who has given you invincible strength, Demetrius,
has adorned the Church with the royal purple of the streams of your blood,
and has kept your city unharmed,
for you are its support.