THE BIGGER THEY ARE…

In a previous posting, we looked at Dmitriy/Dimitriy Solunski, Demetrios of Thessaloniki — one of the noted warrior saints in Eastern Orthodox iconography.  In that posting we saw that the defeated figure fallen to the ground in his icons is often vaguely called the “King of the Infidels.”

In Serbia, however, he has a very definite name.   Let’s look at a 14th century fresco from Vuisokie/Vysokie Dechani:

The inscription at the top tells us,
“Holy Dimitriy Impales Tsar Kaloyan of Zagora.”  Kaloyan (c. 1170-1207) was a Bulgarian voevod.  He  died during the siege of Thessaloniki, killed in a plot, it is generally believed, involving the head of his mercenaries, a man named Menastra.  However another account suggests pleurisy as the cause for his death.  In any case, a legend soon arose that St. Dimitriy killed Kaloyan with a lance, which of course was impossible, given that Dimitry had supposedly been martyred in the early 4th century; so Kaloyan’s death became, in popular belief, a miracle attributed to the saint.

Here is Dimitriy again, seen in a 12th century carved stone relief from Kievan Rus.  And the other figure is understood to be St. Nestor — Nestor Solunskiy, that is Nestor of Thessaloniki.

Nestor was said to be a handsome young man who received his Christian belief from Dimitriy/Demetrios.  It happened that Emperor Maximian, who had imprisoned Dimitriy for his Christian belief, was also fond of games and spectacles.  He had a favorite wrestler named Lyaeos (Slavic Лий/Liy).  This man, from the Germanic Vandal people,  was of huge stature, very tall and immensely strong, and supposedly his strength was enhanced by demons.  He put on a performance in which he wrestled people — among them many Christians — on a wooden platform, then threw them onto the points of spears and other sharp weapons that were sticking up below the platform.

Nestor, seeing all this, went to Dimitriy in prison and asked his blessing to defeat Lyaeos in a contest.  Dimitriy gave him his blessing, and in doing so foretold not only Nestor’s victory but also that he would suffer for Christ.

Nestor went to where Lyaeos was doing his wrestling and killing, and taking off his outer garments, he loudly and publicly challenged him.  The Emperor warned Nestor against it, saying that the young man’s small size was no match for the huge Lyaeos.  But Nestor replied that he would fight in Christ’s name.

That angered Maximian, who then told Nestor to enter the platform.  Nestor overcame the much larger Lyaeos, and threw him down upon the upright spears, killing him as Lyaeos had killed so many others.

The Emperor was so upset by this that on learning Dimitriy had encouraged and helped Nestor defeat Maximian’s favorite by blessing the young man, he condemned both Dimitriy and Nestor to death.  Dimitriy was killed with spears, and Nestor was beheaded.  This is said to have happened in the year 306.

It is far from a “turn the other cheek” kind of Christianity, but that is how some of these hagiographic legends go.

Here is a 14th century fresco from Dechani showing Nestor defeating Lyaeos:

Nestor is ranked among the warrior saints in iconography, and he is often shown with armor and weapons, as in this 14th century fresco, again from Vysokie Dechani in Serbia:

A LITTLE ABOUT DMITRIY/DEMETRIOS, THE “GEORGE” LOOK-ALIKE

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:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)
(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)

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.  In Slavic countries, the fallen King is identified as a Bulgarian Voevod called Kaloyan, supposedly defeated by Dmitriy, but history says he was actually assassinated by another Voevod named Manastras.

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:

(Courtesy of the Museum of Russian Icons, Clinton, MA)

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:

(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.com)
(Courtesy of Jacksonsauction.co

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.