St. Demetrios of Thessaloniki and Elder Philotheos Zervakos
May St. Demetrios intercede for Us! Today is a very special day for my hometown Thessaloniki. +St. Demetrios of Thessaloniki, 26 October. Thessalonians and all the world are glorifying “the myrrh-gushing saint and courageous martyr, Demetrius, the commander”. Indeed, St Velimirovich is so right! “St. Paul bedewed Thessalonica with tears, Demetrius watered it with his blood.” Below follow two miracles of St. Demetrios to Elder Philotheos Zervakos, a most venerable contemporary elder, of special significance to me, since he was a spiritual father of my spiritual mother, Sister Aggeliki the Unmercenary :
As a young man, Fr. Philotheos Zervakos (+1980), the well-known abbot of Paros and spiritual son of St. Nektarios of Aegina, was imprisoned twice by the Turks during the final years of the Ottoman occupation of Thessaloniki. In his time of trial St. Demetrios, his patron, was a ready helper, as we read below in his own words:
St. Demetrios Protects Elder Philotheos From Harm The First Time
When I fulfilled my military service and was released, I decided to become a soldier for our Heavenly King in accordance with the counsel that Father Eusebios had given me. I disclosed all my intentions to the holy Nektarios, the Bishop of Pentapolis, who then was also the director of the Rizareion Seminary in Athens (now in blessed repose), and he told me, “Your goal is good, but I advise you to go to no other monastery than the one at Paros (Lagouvardos), where the brethren are virtuous and plentiful.” However, I insisted, telling him that my desire was to go to the Holy Mountain. He then said, “If you stay in Greece, go to the Lagouvardos Monastery, but if you insist on going to the Holy Mountain, then go with my blessing….”
After attending a vigil on May 8, 1907…my friend Nickolas Mitropoulos and I boarded the steamship “Pinios”, and we departed for the Holy Mountain from Piraeus….
Two days later, we arrived in Thessaloniki, which was then occupied by the Turks (I had great reverence for St. Demetrios, the patron saint of Thessaloniki since I was a child). I invited my friend Nickolas to join me to go venerate the tomb of the Great Martyr, St. Demetrios the Myrrh-gusher. We then got off the ship and went to venerate his tomb with compunction. On our way back to the ship, we checked in at the Greek hotel and rested all day and night. The next day, we prepared to depart for the Holy Mountain and went to the Customs Office; however, they did not permit us to depart: “You will not leave”, they told us, “because you are spies!” We, of course, denied this and pointed out that since our passports had been cleared by the Turkish Consulate and the Embassy, they should allow us to leave. However, they would not pay any attention to our words.
They did not put us in jail but under close surveillance and soldiers stood guard outside our hotel, and they followed us whenever we went out. This went on for quite a few days and we began to worry because our money was running low. One day, I told Nickolas, “I am going to the ‘konaki’ (governor’s house), to appear before the ‘pasha’ (governor): he will probably allow us to leave.” I arose very early the next morning and went to venerate the tomb of St. Demetrios again before going to the konaki. With tears and compunction, I asked the Saint to intercede to the Lord that we be permitted to freely go to the Holy Mountain. After praying for quite a while and sitting down to rest, the martyrdom of St. Demetrios came to my mind: I thought about how he was pierced with a lance and died for the love of Christ and for our holy faith, and how he was glorified by God both on earth and in heaven, and will be glorified unto all ages.
As I considered all this, a longing came to me to give my life for the love of Christ and the Orthodox faith too, supposing there was a way. I then asked St. Demetrios to intercede to the Lord again, however, not for my freedom, but that I be rendered worthy to die a martyr’s death. I then thought of a way to accomplish this goal. I told myself, “I will go to the konaki and courageously appear before the Turks. I will give them a reason to question me about my faith and then I will bear witness to their heresy. They will probably tell me to deny my faith, but I will stand firm and prefer death. Thus I will have a Martyr’s end.”
I went to the konaki immediately and entered inside. While I was going up a hallway, a Turkish officer noticed me and asked me what I wanted:
“I want to see the pasha.””And why do you want to see him?”
“I have something to tell him.”
“I am the pasha’s representative. Tell me what you want openly.”
“Since you are the pasha’s representative, then tell me, why will you not allow us to go to the Holy Mountain?”
“I will not give you a reason.”
“You are not good people”, I told him courageously, “you are unjust. Why are you detaining and distressing us like this? We are not at fault, we are not bad people and our papers are in order. I do not understand. Now we have run out money. How shall we live in this foreign and unknown place? How would you like it if you went to Greece and we did to you what you are doing to us?”
These words irritated him and moved him to anger. He began ringing a bell loudly and 30-35 soldiers and officers gathered around us immediately. They grabbed me and dragged me off to the White Tower, for what purpose I did not know; I thought perhaps to imprison me … As we walked to the White Tower, I asked St. Demetrios to intercede to the Lord to grant me a martyr’s death, provided it is His will; and if it was not, to be delivered from the hands of these atheistic, bloodthirsty, wild and barbaric Saracens.
After we had gone a little ways, their superior appeared and spoke to them in Turkish. I did not understand what he had told them but I did perceive that he was angry. He then lifted up his rod and struck the officer responsible for my arrest on the shoulder and sent them all away. When they left, he approached me with a cheerful grin on his face, and kindly patted me on the shoulder. He then handed me over to the prudent soldier from Ioannina and ordered him to take me to the Greek steamship “Mikali”, which was in the port of Thessaloniki, so that I could return to Greece.
I asked the soldier who the man was that had given the orders, not having the faintest idea. He told me that he was the pasha. I then asked him why the pasha had struck his own personal secretary, and what he had said to him. The soldier explained, “The pasha scolded his secretary because he had condemned you to death without asking permission.” I then asked him where they had been taking me. “They were taking you to the White Tower to execute you there”, he said, “all those who are condemned to death are taken there – as for the others, they put them in chains and abandon them to die from hunger, from thirst and from the stench.” I then rejoiced that I had been delivered from the hands of those wild Saracens – for I was not sure whether it would have been for the question of my faith that they had killed me. However, I was sad because I missed the opportunity to give my life for the faith. Martyrdom, however, must take place according to the rules as the divine preacher, the Apostle Paul, tells us, “An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules” (2 Tim. 2:5)….
The soldier and I then stopped by the hotel, where I bid my beloved friend Nickolas farewell….
Apparently, it was not the will of God for me to go to the Holy Mountain, and this is the reason I encountered all these obstacles. I feel a great debt of gratitude to my protector, the Great Martyr, St. Demetrios, through whose intercessions and prayers, I was delivered from death.
I had no idea why the pasha had shown so much interest in me, so I sought to find out. It was not until about two years later, when I went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Mountain, that I finally learned why from my friend Nickolas, who had gone and had remained on the Holy Mountain. He told me why the pasha had set me free and sent me back to Greece:
“Two or three days after you departed Thessalonika for Greece, the adjutant officer of the pasha came up and greeted me…He was an acquaintance of mine…He took me to his home where he offered me hospitality, and the following day we went to go see the pasha together…The Pasha said to him:
‘Your friend there, he was accompanied by another young man. One morning, as I was sleeping peacefully, St. Demetrios entered my room wearing a generals uniform and bearing weapons. With an austere look he commanded me: “Immediately, stand up, get dressed, put your shoes on, and go to such and such a road in the city to free a young man who has been unjustly condemned to death by your own private secretary. After freeing him, send him to the steamship ‘Mikali’, which is in the port of Thessaloniki and preparing to sail off for Greece.”
I hastened at once to save the young man from danger, and sent him off to Greece.'”
It was then that I realized that my helper and my deliverer from death had been the Great Martyr, St. Demetrios the Myrrh-gusher.
The prophecy of St. Nektarios had been fulfilled; no matter where I would go, I would end up at Logouvardos. I had learned a valuable lesson from this: I ought to always be completely obedient to my spiritual father, without being defiant, and I ought to not seek my will, but the will of my spiritual father – in imitation of our Lord Jesus Christ, “Who came into the world not to do His own will but the will of His Father, Who sent Him.”
St. Demetrios Protects Elder Philotheos From Harm The Second Time
Two years later, the Balkan war took place and on the Feast of St. Demetrios (October 26, 1912), Thessaloniki was liberated through the mediation and aid of her Patron Saint.
When we sailed into the port of Thessaloniki, I decided that it would be a good idea to disembark and go venerate the tomb of St. Demetrios, my guardian, and my protector and savior after God. I do not know why, but when I disembarked, the Turks once again took me to be a spy, and put me under surveillance for quite a few days. When I decided to leave Thessaloniki, and began passing through customs, they arrested me, and took me through three rows of barbed wire and locked me in. I found a youth locked in there also, and asked him why they had locked us up. He answered, “In order to murder us.” “But what evil have we done?” I asked. “Forget it,” he answered “do not bother to ask why.”
A moment later, a steamship from Romania sailed into the port of Thessaloniki carrying many passengers and a cargo of fuel oil. For some unknown reason, an oil container caught fire as the ship pulled in, and the flames spread rapidly through the entire ship. Loud blasts were heard a few minutes later, and flames were thrown sky high. Thessaloniki was all astir. Thousands of people came down to the shoreline – some to watch and others to rescue the endangered passengers with their boats. All the guards then left their posts to go see all the commotion. Seizing the opportunity, the young man pulled a small pair of clips from his pocket and cut through the barbed wire. Then he took me by the hand and lead me out. And paying a boatman, he told him to take us out to a Greek steamship which was anchored just outside the port. As we were climbing in the boat, the soldier who arrested me and locked me up came running over to seize me. However, the young man slapped him right across the face when he got to us, and he pulled back and walked away!
The boatman took us out to the Greek ship and we went aboard. I then went to put my things in order, and once I organized them, I went back to find the youth, my rescuer, to thank him and ask who he was and where he was from. However, I could not find him anywhere. I asked almost all the ship’s passengers and crew but soon realized that nobody had seen him either boarding or disembarking the ship. Who was he and what happened to him God only knows. (The only thing that I know is that many years later – after Thessaloniki had been liberated – I was celebrating the Divine Liturgy and preaching the word of God at the Church of St. Demetrios when I saw the icon of the Saint. I noticed that the young man who had freed me and lead me to the steamship bore a striking resemblance to St. Demetrios.)