Thessaloniki has given the Church some 17 saints, including such notables as Sts. Cyril and Methodius, who evangelized the Slavs, and St. Gregory Palamas, who defended theologically the Orthodox experience that God does deal with us directly. But of all the saints of Thessaloniki, St. Demetrios is the best beloved of them all. There are probably more men named Demetrios and women named Demetra here in Thessaloniki than anywhere else in the world.
It was a hundred years ago this very day, on the Feast of St. Demetrios, that Thessaloniki was liberated from the Turks. The population naturally attributed their deliverance to the intercessions of their patron saint, Great Martyr Demetrios. Today, they still flock to the churches on this day with hearts full of gratitude.
We learned the hard way, one year, never to attend the Church of St. Demetrios on his feast day. Our local church, though, was also so crammed full that my claustrophobia got the better of me and I couldn’t go in. When people inside were standing shoulder to shoulder, when the balconies and stairs to the balconies and the aisles and the side chapel were all packed tight, people breathing in one another’s faces, a couple of hundred more people were pressing to get in the door. I set up my little camp stool on the porch, facing the door, where thanks to an over-enthusiastic amplifying system, I could hear every word, although I could see nothing.
A woman came and stood in front of me and opened her purse. For one startling moment, I thought she had mistaken me for one of the beggars who sit outside every church during every service. I was getting ready to protest when she pulled a Kleenex out of her purse and wiped her nose.
I sat there cursing my pride, which would have prevented me from simply accepting the money with thanks, in order not to embarrass the lady.
Eventually somebody did hand me something. It wasn’t money; but something even more startling: a baby. The little girl, about a year old with hair in little brown ringlets, sat in my lap laughing and smiling and pointing at her grandmother, who sprinted down the steps to the sidewalk below, where she retrieved the stroller and hauled it up the steps to the door of the church. I was sorry to part with the child, when we set her back into her stroller.
We had the big meal of the day around 1:00 at the taverna across the street from our flat, joined by Christos and his son Phideas, who also celebrates today, his middle name being Demetrios. Here in Greece, ones name day is much more important than ones birthday. We all had seafood.
We gave Phideas two books about Greece and a heavy sweater. Demetrios inscribed something on the front cover of one of the books. I asked Phideas what his uncle had written, and he said, in English, “That I must remember I am Greek and must struggle to preserve my Greek heritage.” But, he added with a shrug, “I don’t have to fight for my Greek heritage; that’s something I never knew.”
I never thought of that, but of course he pretty much grew up as a European rather than a Greek. I said, “You are still going to have to resist the EU if you don’t want to live in a diktatoria.” He nodded, but it seems clear such matters do not interest him.
It reminded me of a limerick somebody wrote for my husband. I don’t remember whether I ever wrote about Millie in Ormskirk, the artist who painted a picture for us. Well, her husband, Bob, writes limericks. He mentioned having written some for people on their birthdays. Demetrios wished aloud Bob would write one for him. So Bob did, and the other day, sent it by e-mail:
A Doctor Demetri from Greece
Is a man, not of war, but of peace.
But he’s very emphatic,
He’s proud to be Attic!
May his happiness ever increase.
Demetrios hooted and crowed and laughed in delight when I read it to him. He had to wipe away the tears from his eyes, from laughing so hard.
After our little feast with Christos and Phideas, we spent the rest of the day resting in between phone calls, which came every few minutes, to congratulate Demetrios on his name day. It made us realize how few of our friends we have actually seen this trip, on account of (1) being so busy with the new bathroom, (2) feeling we should stay near the newly-widowed Mena most of the time, and (3) a medical project Demetrios has been working on for a month, which I hope to describe to you in detail another time. Poor man is worn out, hasn’t even worked on his book for weeks. The resting today was a great blessing.