The Holy Great Martyr Demetrios the Myrrh-streamer

The names of Demetrios and Nestor are so linked in the annals of Christianity that it would be almost sacrilegious to mention one without the other. It was their combined defiance of early fourth-century tyranny which brought them to a martyrdom, which individually they may not have attained.

Demetrios was a native of the city of Thessalonike, the city founded by Alexander the Great, who named it for his very dear sister. In the tradition of the great thinkers of ancient Greece, Demetrios honed his keen oratorical power in the public forum, where the debates of the great minds of the day drew the spirited Christians as much as the gladiatorial games attracted the pagans. As the second leading city of the empire, Thessalonike had the reputation for providing the brightest intellectuals on the public platform and the most fearsome gladiators in the arena.

Demetrios was in the military service as well as a devout Christian, a study in contrast that was countenanced in Thessalonike. For his part in the Christian cause, Demetrios was stripped of his military rank by Emperor Maximinus and cast into prison to await an uncertain fate. It was at this point that the friendship of Nestor came to light. At great personal risk, Nestor visited his friend in prison regularly and sought to intercede in his behalf, a move which availed him little but the aroused suspicions of those who surrounded the emperor. This provided the setting for one of the finest displays of the power of God through the friendship of two gallant Christians.

It seems that one of the favorites of the arena, admired particularly by the emperor, was a giant man named Lyaios, a seven-foot brute who destroyed every hapless gladiator he ever faced. It was during one of his visits that Nestor heard from Demetrios that the power of the Lord could be transmitted through him to any man and make him invincible against any foe in the arena.

The youthful Nestor, with the spirit of the true believer welling within him, agreed to hurl a challenge to the best of the gladiators with a declaration that the power of God would, thanks to his friend, Demetrios, prevail against all comers. Buoyed by the assurance of Demetrios, he stepped into the arena and shouted his defiance in the name of the Lord.

The pagan crowd, thinking this some practical joke, roared with laughter, but when Nestor strode to the royal box where Maximinus had looked on with amusement and heard the young man invoke the name of Demetrios and the awesome power of God, his smile turned to a snarl and the audience joined him in derision. The crowd settled back to witness the anticipated cat and mouse match, which the giant would conclude when it pleased him. They were brought to their feet in disbelief when the supposed victim withstood the withering attack of the gladiator, and, in due course, turned the tables and soundly defeated the greatest of the gladiators. Nestor scorned the thumbs down signal of the mob who now screamed for death, and the young Christian walked away from his prostrated foe.

The frustrated emperor now ordered the deaths of both Christian companions, Demetrios and Nestor, and they were executed without delay by the Roman soldiers. Not all who left the arena that day remained pagans.

Excerpts taken from the book Orthodox Saints by George Poulos