Friday, October 26, 2007

St Demetrios



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Sorry for the lack of activity. It’s just work, work, work lately.

Tonight, however, we finally did something “blogworthy” – we went down to St Demetrios’ for the Vespers of his feast. (This church is built on the site where St Demetrios was martyred for Christ around 300 AD. He has been the unquestioned patron and protector of Thessaloniki for the last 1700 years.)

Last year, we went to the Liturgy on the feast day itself, and it was absolutely crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it. There must have been tens of thousands of people. Bus loads were coming from Russia, Romania, Serbia, dropping off hundreds of pilgrims at a time. You couldn’t move inside the church. As our friend Philip put it: “There were times when my feet weren’t on the ground.”

In an effort to avoid some of that excess (it’s like that every year, apparently), we decided to go to his church for Vespers rather than the Liturgy. There were still a lot of people, but nothing like it will be for the Liturgy. I counted at least 8 bishops. At the entrance, the procession included about 15-20 deacons and 40 priests.

During the service, we stood in line for about an hour to venerate his relics at the front of the church. I took some video, which you can see at the bottom here. From the video vantage points, the camera focuses on St Demetrios’ relics, and most of the visiting bishops are sitting opposite. At one point, I pan up to a mosaic on the wall. I can’t remember exactly, but I believe it dates from somewhere around the 5th century.

When I say we stood “in line” to venerate his relics, I should explain. “Lines” must be a Western invention, because they’re poorly understood here. A line here is more like a cattle herd. Personal space? Forget it. Again, as our friend Philip says, “Greeks abhor a vacuum.” If you leave an American-sized respectful distance between you and someone else, you can be sure that someone (or two, or three) will squeeze in front of you. To quote Philip yet again: “St John Chrysostom talks in one of his homilies about 5 people being trampled to death at a church service. After coming here, you can understand how that happened.”

In any event, going to the church and venerating St Demetrios on his feast day is an ascetical feat – it must be good for our souls!

The two photos were taken from outside the church as we approached it. It may not look it from those photos, but the church is enormous – the largest in all of Greece.

Chronia polla!


video

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