Commemoration of Archbishop Abba Demetrius

October 21, 2021

The  Holy  father,  the  pure  virgin,  the  fighter  of  lusts,  the vanquisher of natural appetites, Abba Demetrius the twelfth Archbishop of the city of Alexandria died on October 22.  This holy man was a man of the people (i.e., of lowly origin) and he knew not letters, and he used to work in a vineyard. His parents gave him a wife in his youth, and he lived with her until he was appointed archbishop forty eight years.  Both husband and wife remained virgins, and no one knew about them except God, Who knows souls and hearts.

When the time drew nigh for the death of Saint Julian the archbishop, the predecessor of Demetrius, the angel of the Lord appeared unto this holy man and told him that Demetrius was to be archbishop after him.  And he gave him a sign concerning him, and said unto him, “Tomorrow a man shall come unto thee having a cluster of grapes with him; seize and pray over him, and appoint him archbishop.”  When Saint Julian woke up from his sleep, he told the bishops and the priests who lived with him what he had seen, and what the angel of the Lord had said unto him concerning Demetrius the archbishop. When the morning had come this Saint Demetrius, the archbishop, found in the vineyard a cluster of grapes, which had ripened before their time, and he took it to Abba Julian the archbishop, so that he might be blessed by him.  And Saint Julian took him by the hand, and said unto the bishops and priests, “This is he who shall be archbishop after me.”  They prayed over him, and they took him and bound him until Abba Julian died, whereupon they finished the prayers over him and made him archbishop.  He was full of heavenly grace, and he was versed in many kinds of learning, and he knew by heart all the Books of the Church and the interpretations thereof, and he read many abstruse works.  It was he who regulated the reckoning of the Epact, for the Christians used to keep the festival of the Baptism, and on the following day [began] the fast of Forty Days.  At the octave of His Passion they celebrated the festival of the Passion of our Lord by itself, and this they did from the days of the Apostles until the days of this father.

This father proclaimed the reckoning of the Epact by the Holy Spirit, and he regulated the reckoning of the Holy Fast.  He then sent out letters [concerning it] to the Archbishops of the city of Rome, and of the city of Ephesus, and of the city of Antioch, and of the city of Jerusalem, and they rejoiced thereat, and they ordered [the Holy Fast] even as it is at this day.  God was with this Father Demetrius because of his sincerity (or purity).  He used always to look for our  Lord  Jesus  Christ  at  the  time  of  the  consecration  of  the  Offering  as  he  was administering the Holy Mysteries to those who were meet for them; and he drove away sinners, and said unto them, “Go ye and repent, and afterwards come and ye shall receive the Holy Mysteries; ye shall not receive them whilst ye are in sin so that ye may not go into Gahanna.”  Saint Demetrius used to reveal their sins to the people, those that they committed in secret, and he would rebuke each one of them for the sins, which they committed.   Because of this believers were afraid of him, and the members of his congregation did not commit sin because of their exceedingly great fear of him, and because they did not wish him to put them to shame before the congregation.  And some of the people whom he used to rebuke for their sins would say among themselves, “This man is married, and his wife is with him at this present, why should he rebuke us especially? None but a virgin should be appointed to the throne of Mark the evangelist.”  One night an angel of the Lord came to him and said unto him, “Demetrius, permit not thyself only to do as thou pleases, and permit not thy neighbor to be destroyed.   Remember that our Lord Christ saith in the Holy Gospel, ‘The good shepherd giveth his life for his flock.’”  Demetrius said unto him, “What is it that thou wouldst say unto me, my lord?”  the angel said unto him, “Reveal the mystery which is between thyself and thy wife to the people.”

On the following day the festival of Pentecost was celebrated, and this holy Father Demetrius consecrated the Offering, and he commanded the archdeacons to tell the priests and all the people who were there that they were not to leave the church, but to stay together therein; and the archdeacons did as the archbishop had commanded.  When the Priests and the people were assembled he commanded that much wood should be brought and that a fire should be made of it, and [when] they had done so, this Abba archbishop rose and stood up in the midst of the fire whilst all the people were looking on.  And he prayed for a long time, and then he spread out his garment and took some of the fire with his hand and placed it in it.  Then he called his wife, and she came unto him, and he said unto her, “Spread out thy woolen head-cloth,” and he cast some red-hot charcoal into it, and then he said unto her, “Stand up that we may pray.”   The red-hot charcoal continued to burn in the woolen head-cloth, and the cloth was not burned; and they remained in this position and prayed for a long time.

After this the priests and the people asked him, saying, “We require thy holiness, O our father, to make us know what this mystery is.”  He said unto them, “I have not done this seeking for the vain praise of this world, but behold, I have lived with this woman for eight and forty years, until this day.   Now this woman whom thou sees was the daughter of my father’s brother.   Her relatives died and they left her, then a little girl in my father’s house, and I was brought up with her.  When I was fifteen years of age my father gave her unto me in marriage.  When we entered the marriage-chamber in our house, she said unto me, ‘Why have they given me in marriage to thee, seeing that I am thy sister?’  I said unto her, ‘Dost thou wish us to live together in one house, and never to separate from each other, and to preserve our virginity undefiled, and that there shall be nothing between us? she said, ‘Yea.’ I have lived with her in one place for eight and forty years, and we have lain in the same bed on one bedstead.  The Lord God Who is judge between us, and Who know what is hidden and the thoughts of hearts, He know that I have never known her as a woman, and on her part she doth not know me as a man, but we have passed all these days just lying side by side.  When we lift ourselves up we see as it were a face, which resemble that of an eagle in our bed, between me and between her.  And he lay his left wing over her and his right wing over me, and this he doeth from the time we lie down until the morning, and then he disappear.   Now do not think, O Christian people, that I have revealed this matter unto you because I am seeking the praise which men desire in this world, but God hath commanded me to reveal unto you this mystery, for He wish what is good for all men–the Christ, the Redeemer of all the world.”  In the days of this father certain evil men appeared whose names were Kalemos and ‘Aganos, and others with them, and they wrote a lying book; and Demetrius anathematized them and excommunicated them.

During the days of his office he taught and encouraged the Christian people, and all believers, every day regularly.   When he was grown old and feeble they used to carry him on a litter, and set him down in the church, and he taught the people all day long from sunrise to sunset, and all the people pressed eagerly to hear his doctrine. All the days of his life were one hundred and five (six) years.  Of these were fifteen during which he was unmarried, and eight and forty years passed before he was appointed archbishop, and he held office of archbishop for three and forty years; and he died in peace.

Source: The Ethiopian Synaxarium, pages 81-83