October 26, 2019
My brothers and sisters in Christ,
When I was a young teenager I remember a discussion with my spiritual father. I had shared with him that I was often afraid, and he chided me. He said to me, “Dimitri, you cannot be afraid.”
I asked why?
He shared with me that he too wrestled with fear in his youth and so he sought the intercessions of St. Demetrios of Thessaloniki. He explained to me that St. Demetrios is the patron saint of courage and therefore he always kept an icon of the saint. Then he said something that stuck with me. “With a name like Dimitri, you cannot lack courage. Your name signifies courage.”
The reason this stuck with me was the realization that names have meaning, especially the names of the Saints. This meant that each of us were given our name and our patron Saint so that we could emulate the unique ways each of them served Christ and the qualities they exuded. My saint is St. Demetrios, and so my nightly prayer as I would kiss my icons was to whisper to the icon of my patron and namesake, “St. Demetrios, grant me courage.”
For years I believed this and lived my life. Whenever I would fail in a situation that required courage I would be doubly upset because I felt I was given an opportunity and wasted it despite praying daily for this heroic quality.
It was not until after I was ordained that I realized I had gotten the nature of this saint’s patronage wrong. I had been praying for the wrong quality.
If you are not familiar with the story of St. Demetrios, I encourage you to read it in the enclosed link.
Were this an action movie, the main set piece would have been St. Nestor’s battle in the colloseum against Lyaios. The image of this young man fighting against a seasoned warrior and defeating him is both exhilarating and hopeful as it shows the might of the Christians. But perhaps the most important aspect is St. Nestor going to receive the blessing of St. Demetrios prior to going to battle.
What can we impart from this moment? We can see that St. Nestor was afraid. He held no illusions that he in and of himself could defeat the monster of a man Lyaios. How could a boy fight a champion? Therefore he went to the one person in the city of Thessaoniki that he knew to be good, to be holy, and to be faithful to Christ above all else, St. Demetrios and asked for his blessing to do what should be impossible.
As we see in the story of St. Demetrios, he accomplished the great task.
|Apolytikion for SS. Demetrios & Nestor
The world has found in you a great champion in time of peril, as you emerged the victor in routing the barbarians. For as you brought to naught the boasts of Lyaios, imparting courage to Nestor in the stadium, in like manner, holy one, great Martyr Dimitrios, invoke Christ God for us, that He may grant us His great mercy.
Μέγαν εύρατο εv τοίς κιvδύvοις, σέ υπέρμαχοv η οικουμένη, Αθλοφόρε τά έθνη τροπούμενον. Ως ούν Λυαίου καθείλες τήν έπαρσιν, εν τώ σταδίω θαρρύvας τόν Νέστορα, ούτως Άγιε, Μεγαλομάρτυς Δημήτριε, Χριστόν τόν Θεόν ικέτευε, δωρήσασθαι ημίν τό μέγα έλεος.
Now, if we look at the Apolytikion of St. Demetrios and also of St. Nestor, the English translation states, “. . . you brought to naught the boasts of Lyaios, imparting courage to Nestor in the stadium, . . .,” which shows that courage was given to St. Nestor. However, if we look to the Greek, it states, << Ως ούν Λυαίου καθείλες τήν έπαρσιν, εν τώ σταδίω θαρρύvας τόν Νέστορα>>. The key word in this sentence is «θαρρύvας,» (Tharinas)which the English translated to “courage.” This is not a bad translation, but it misses something major. «Θάρρος»(Tharros) and «Κουράγιο» (Kourahyio) are not the same.
«Κουράγιο» (Kourahyio) translates to “Courage” which is where this word comes from. Courage, from this understanding is exemplified in Ephesians 6:13 “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”
The entirety of this passage give us more context.
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this world’s darkness, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore take up the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you will be able to stand your ground, and having done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness arrayed, and with your feet fitted with the readiness of the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Ephesians 6:12-17
The key word in this passage is “stand.” It takes a great deal of courage to stand in the middle of a battlefield while arrows are flying overhead and an army is charging at you. This is the reality of spiritual warfare. We have to stand up while being confronted with this deluge of horror and fear. Is it any wonder that many soldiers want to run away when confronted with the enemy even after years of thinking themselves courageous?
In modern connotation, it takes courage to endure ridicule, bullying, oppressive situations and the cares of life. Courage is a powerful virtue and one that should be lauded. It takes courage not to attack someone. It takes courage to have patience. It takes courage to love even when you are not loved by your enemies.
However, this is not the word used in the Apolytikion of St. Demetrios. While «Θάρρος»(Tharros) can be translated into “Courage,” it is more aptly seen as “Daring,” or “Guts.”
So what’s the difference?
The difference is that while “courage” is a passive quality, “guts” is an active quality. With “courage,” the individual endures and shoulders that which comes at him or her. With “Guts,” however, the individual boldly takes action. The most powerful example of this sort of “guts” was displayed when the first responders of 9/11 rushed into the World Trade Center, knowing that they very likely would perish in their attempt to rescue people. That took guts. Many of the saints displayed guts when they voluntarily stepped forward to declare their Christianity even when it meant their torture and execution.
Another way of looking at these two qualities would be to say, “it takes courage to endure being bullied, but it takes guts to stand up for someone else being bullied.”
Θάρρος(Tharros) is that active element of a hero rushing into the fire. It is an active principle and requires us to control our fear in a major way. It is one thing to control our fear to stand our ground, to wait for help to come, to brace ourselves for the pain of attack. It is another thing entirely to step forward into that attack. This is the quality St. Demetrios gave to St. Nestor. He gave him guts!
Let us never forget that guts and courage go hand in hand and that ultimately the one who strengthens us in both is our Lord Jesus Christ. Just as St. Nestor declared that it was Christ who defeated Lyaios, we must never forget that when we take that step, it is Christ who fulfills all things and grants us the victory. It was Christ who displayed the greatest guts when he voluntarily endured His Passion for us. This is the model of guts that He gave to us. That we give our lives for another, to voluntarily walk to our death for the sake of others, even when they will not appreciate it. To do that takes guts that most of us could not even imagine. That is what St. Nestor did. This is why it is Christ Himself who embodies this and gives Θάρρος(Tharros) to His saints.
Let us ask St. Demetrios, the exhaler of myrrh, to likewise intercede to Christ for us that we might have «Θάρρος»(Tharros) and step forward into our Christian calling and walk with our Lord and serve our brothers and sisters in Christ with love. Let us be courageous! Let us be daring! Let us be like St. Demetrios and like St. Nestor! And may Christ our God grant us His great mercy!
Your servant in Christ,
Fr. Dimitri Tobias