By now, if you have been reading here regularly, you know that the saints whose supposed images are painted in icons and whose names fill the calendar of commemoration of the Eastern Orthodox Church are often either completely fictional or else heavily fictionalized,
Take the “Great Martyr” Demetrios of Thessaloniki, often written Demetrius of Thessalonica. Supposedly a martyr of the early 4th century, he is the second most famous of the warrior saints, after St. George. And yet there is no solid evidence that he ever existed. There are varying explanations of the origin of a St. Demetrius, from a confusion with a deacon martyr of Sirmium by the same name to confusion with another martyr with the similar name Emeterius. It is an interesting subject for students of hagiography.
Knowing that, it s nonetheless an obvious fact that there are huge numbers of icons of the supposed St. Demetrios, called Dmitriy in Russia.
Let’s take a look at a Russian icon of Dmitriy:
The Great Martyr George, as we have seen, is depicted in a similar manner, riding on a horse and thrusting with his lance at the dragon beneath him. Icons of Dmitriy also depict him riding a horse and thrusting his lance at an enemy beneath him, but in this case the enemy is not a dragon, but rather a figure sometimes vaguely called the “King of the Infidels,” a symbol of the invaders who threatened the city of Thessaloniki (Salonika), which was considered to be under the saint’s protection and has a church dedicated to him.
A second similarity with George is that in some icons, particularly in the Greek and Balkan regions, Dmitriy/Demetrios also rides a horse with another, smaller figure sitting on it behind him. But it is not a boy as in icons of George. In icons of Demetrios, it is the bishop Cyprian, who again like the boy was forced to serve his Slav captor, and was rescued by Demetrios.
A third similarity is that in some icons of George and the Dragon, an angel descends to place a crown of victory on George’s head; the same may be seen in some icons of Demetrios, such as this one:
It is interesting to see George/Georgios and Demetrios side by side, each with his distinguishing iconographic elements:
Here is a closer view of George, with his dragon and princess, and the serving boy in the “back seat”:
…and here is Demetrios, with his “King of the Infidels” and his “back seat” rider, Bishop Cyprian:
Here is a Russian icon depicting the martyrdom of Dmitriy:
You will often see Dmitriy called Мироточца (mirotochtsa) in Russia, or Μυροβλυτης (myrovlytes) in Greek-speaking regions. Both mean essential the same, “Myrrh-flowing,” which comes from the tradition that the relics of Dmitriy were said to ooze a fragrant oil called “myrrh” in Eastern Orthodoxy. It is not the same as the resin properly called myrrh.
Dmitriy/Demetrios is sometimes depicted in Roman armor, sitting on a throne, with a sword in his hand. He is also often seen standing, clothed in the same manner.