Saturday, October 26, 2013

St Dimitrios Orthodox Church, Thessalonica - Greece

The Church of Saint Dimitrios in Thessalonica, Greece is situated on the site of previous churches built over the ruins of the Roman bath where St. Dimitrios the Myrrh gusher was imprisoned and martyred. The present structure is a reconstruction of the seventh century church that was destroyed by fire in 1917. The church is a basilica with five apses, a narthex, and transept.

The first structure, a small chapel, was built over the ruins of a Roman bath, shortly after 313, This chapel and an earthen urn were discovered during excavations made when the present church was being rebuilt. The earthen urn contained earth with human blood, perhaps that of St Dimitrios.

During the fifth century, Eparch Leontios had a large basilica with three apses constructed on the site of the chapel. Between 626 and 634, the basilica burned down; soon after a new basilica was built that had five apses. The church remained in use until Thessalonica was captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1493, who converted the church into a mosque. When Greece gained independence from the Turks in 1912, the Church of St. Dimitrios was restored for Orthodox Christian services. In 1917, however, the church burned down.

Immediately, efforts to restore the church began. During these efforts the naos and crypt were opened. The restoration, however, was stopped in 1938 and not resumed again until 1946. At this time systematic excavations were made and the new church with five apses was built. By 1949, construction had progressed so that services were able to be conducted.

Preserved in the crypt of the new church is the bath in which St. Dimitrios was martyred and the remains of the first chapel built on the bath. Also, recovered was a large marble basin that was used to collect the holy myrrh that emanated from the grave of the martyred saint, which gave rise to the appellation Myrrh gusher for St. Dimitrios.

Saint Dimitrios is the protector of Thessaloniki, the second largest city in Greece. He lived between 280-284 AD to 303 or 305 AD. He was the son of a wealthy military commander of Thessaloniki and received a good education as a child. He joined the army and eventually became an officer. When he was young, he decided to get secretly baptised a Christian, something which was forbidden during that period, when idol Gods were still worshiped.

When his father died, the Roman Emperor Maximian ordered him to chase and kill the Christians of Thessaloniki. Dimitrios refused to do so, revealing thus his faith. He was then asked to change his religious beliefs; however, he refused once again and expressed his disgust for paganism. Therefore, he was put to prison; he was tortured and martyred for his God. Before he was killed, he donated all his wealth to the poor. His bravery and sacrifice made him an Orthodox Saint.

Saint Dimitrios became the patron saint of the city in 1912, during the First Balkan War, when the Greek army entered the city of Thessaloniki on his name day, i.e. the 26th of October, and delivered the city from the Turks. Today, his memory is celebrated all around the Orthodox World, mainly in Greece, Cyprus, Serbia, Russia and Romania, where many are named after this great Saint. A non-well known fact, nevertheless, is that St. Dimitrios is not only the protector and patron Saint of Thessaloniki, he is also regarded as the protector of Siberia, Russia.  

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