Recently as I was sitting with a relative of mine on the wild and stormy coast of Western Ireland, we were conversing about the ancient myths, legends, and stories of the ancestors. I guess the stormy day at the ocean touched my spiritual DNA. My cousin said to me: “you have a Celtic soul, you know.” Stories of dragons, giants, and myths tell me something about life. I see in stories such as The Lord of The Rings issues of the battle between good and evil, life and death, sin and redemption, love and hatred. Frodo a “drafted hero” goes through external and internal struggles and discovers courage on his journey; this is a picture of our own spiritual journey. These stories, myths and legends are not just stories we tell our kids, but rather powerful images that many people instinctively connect to and learn from.
Before you turn me off, please remember that Holy Scripture also uses vivid pictures of myths and legends. Giants and dragons can be found in many places. For example, Psalm 91 tells us that under the protective shadow of the wings of God “you shall trample down the lion and dragon” (Ps 91: 13)
This brings us to a wonderful tale in today’s feast of St. Demetrius where we meet a warrior, a gladiator, and a giant. The warrior is St. Demetrius. The Church sings of his exploits:
“O Victorious Demetrius, you were given to this world as a powerful protector against dangers, you are an invincible soldier of Christ. As you inspired Nestor to overcome the pride of Lyaisas, the giant, so intercede with Christ that He grant us His great Mercy.” (tropar of St. Demetrius)
The emperor Maximus named Demetrius to the position of proconsul not knowing that Demetrius was a Christian. Instead of obeying the order to exterminate all Christians in Thessalonica, Demetrius did his best to preach the Gospel. He was thrown into prison with his friend Nestor who was a gladiator. A barbarian giant, Lyaias, was challenging Christians to meet him in the arena. He was so big and powerful that he seemed invincible.
Encouraged by Demetrius, Nestor accepted the challenge, met the gladiator in combat and killed him. Maximus was furious. Knowing that Demetrius encouraged Nestor, he had them both put to death.
Nestor, a patron of many men in our community, is remembered on October 27th. The Church prays:
“You took up the power of the Cross from the great Demetrius, and you set out against the giant. His terrible strength did not save him, but he was cut down by you. They killed you for this, O Holy Martyr, your bravery ushered you in before Christ. Pray for our peace and great mercy for us”.
Are there giants and dragons in our life? I think so. There are the giants of alcoholism, addiction to overeating and smoking. Perhaps we feel powerless in the face of injustice and evil practice at work or in our public life, where the ‘powers that be’, whether that is our corporation, union, community or government insist on continuing to do what we know is wrong. And let us not forget about that there are dragons of sin, which wait for us: avarice, pride, lust, gluttony, hatred, laziness, anger, bigotry, and prejudice. If we look sincerely into our lives I am sure each of us has some special dragon or giant to face. We too might be a reluctant ‘drafted hero’ in this fight with our dragons and giants, but we still must fight both in the personal as well as in the public arena. We turn to saints Demetrius and Nestor to stand with us, because through them we know that Christ and the power of His life-giving cross will help us conquer.
We also commemorate an earthquake of earthquakes: On October 26th, 740 A.D., a devastating earthquake destroyed the City of Constantinople and a great part of the Byzantine Empire. It happened on the feast of St. Demetrius and he is called upon as a protector against earthquakes. We do live on an earthquake fault. There is a prayer to call upon him for help: “O Christ our God, You look upon the earth and it shakes. Deliver us from the dreadful menace of earthquakes and send down upon us Your abundant mercy through the intercession of St. Demetrius and the Mother of God, for You the Lover of Mankind”.
Originally published on October 26th, 2003