Departure of Abba Demetrius I, the 12th Pope of Alexandria
On this day in the year 224 A.D., the celibate father, Abba Demetrius I, the twelfth Pope of Alexandria departed. This saint was an illiterate farmer, and was married. He lived with his wife forty-seven years until he was chosen Patriarch. They did not know one another as married people, but remained throughout that period in their virginity, a fact which no one knew.
When the departure of St. Yulianus, the eleventh Pope drew near, the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a vision and told him about St. Demetrius and that he was to be Patriarch after him. He gave him a sign and told him: "Tomorrow a man shall come to you having a cluster of grapes, seize him and pray over him". Then he woke from his sleep and he told the bishops and priests about this vision.
So it happened on the next day that St. Demetrius found a cluster of grapes out of season. He carried it to St. Yulianus so that he might be blessed by him. The Patriarch took him by the hand and declared him to those present as their chosen Patriarch after him.
He prayed over him and had him stay with them until the departure of Abba Yulianus, whereupon they finished the prayers over him and he was filled with heavenly grace. The Lord enlightened his mind and he learned how to read and write. He studied the church books and their interpretations. Words of grace flowed from his mouth when he taught.
He established the reckoning of the Epacts, by which the dates of fasting were determined on a fixed basis. Until then, Christians used to fast the Great Lent right after the feast of Epiphany, as the Lord Jesus fasted after His baptism. Then they fasted the Passion Week separately so that they celebrated the Christian Passover (Easter) on the Sunday which followed the Jewish Passover. Also among the Christians there were those who celebrated Easter on the 14th Nisan (April), and that meant they celebrated with the Jews not recognizing that the Christian Passover was to be in memory of the Resurrection of the Lord Jesus which was after the Mosaic Passover. For that, Pope Demetrius took care to establish fixed bases for Christian fasts and holy days. He appended the Great Lent to the Passion Week.
He wrote to Agabius, Bishop of Jerusalem, to Maximus the Patriarch of Antioch, to the Patriarch of Rome and to others and informed them of the new calendar for fasting and holy days, and they all approved. They all continued to follow his calender until the present time, with the exception of the Church of Rome which has followed the Gregorian Calendar since the 16th century.
The Popes of the Coptic Church were accredited with calculating Easter. They used to send their Easter messages to Christians all over the world so that everyone would celebrate Easter on the same day, moulding a universal joy.
God was with Father Demetrius because of his purity of heart. After he finished the Liturgy and the people came forward to partake of the Holy Communion, he used to see the Lord Jesus pushing forward with His Hand those who were worthy. But if one came forward who did not deserve the Holy Communion, he would see his sins and would not allow him to partake of it until he confessed. The father admonished him for his sins by telling him: "Turn away from your sin and repent, after that come and partake of the Holy Mysteries".
Some of the people murmured against him because he constantly rebuked the sinners and urged them to repent and lead a chaste life. They said: "This Pope is a married man, how can he rebuke us?" The Lord Almighty wished to show them his virtues, so the angel of the Lord came to him at night and told him: "Demetrius, do not seek your salvation only but also the salvation of those who have doubt in you". The father asked him to clarify this statement and the angel told him: "You must reveal the mystery which is between yourself and your wife to the people so that you might remove the doubt from them".
On the following morning, after he had celebrated the Divine Liturgy, he commanded the people not to leave the church. He took red-hot coal and placed it in his wife's veil and in his garment. Then they went around the church and their clothes did not burn. The people were amazed at this miracle. He told them that he and his wife did not know each other as married people till that day. The doubt was removed from the people and they realized the purity of this father and his virginity.
During his time, some opposing men appeared such as Aklemos, Origen, Orianus and others who wrote heretic books and so he excommunicated them. Also during the days of his Papacy, he did not stop teaching and confirming the believers in the Orthodox faith. When he had grown old and became weak, they used to carry him on a stretcher to the church to teach the people. He departed in peace at the age of 105 years, having spent fifteen before he got married, forty seven years until he became Patriarch and forty three years in office.
He had preached in the land of Palestine and Tyre and Sidon. Then he went to Ethiopia and entered the city of the priests and converted them to the knowledge of God. When he wished to enter this city, he met a young man who told him: "You would not be able to go in until you shave your beard and your head and carry palm branches in your hand". He did as the young man told him. And, as he was thinking about that, the Lord Jesus appeared to him in the form of the young man he had met him earlier, and He encouraged and comforted him, then disappeared. He realised that this young man was the Lord Himself.
He entered the city like one of its priests. He went to the temple of Apollo and found the high priest and talked with him concerning the idols that they were worshipping. He made clear to him that the idols did not hear or sense anything and how the True Mighty God is He Who created the heavens and the earth.
The Lord made wonders through him; a table came down to them from heaven and a great light shone around them. When Hermes the priest saw this wonder, he asked him: "What is the name of your God?" The Apostle replied: "My God the Lord Jesus Christ". Hermes, the priest, believed in him and many people followed him.
When the Governor of the city knew that, he ordered to burn them. Yet it happened at that time that the son of the Governor died and St. Matthew the Apostle prayed and made supplications to God to raise the son and the Lord answered him and raised the child from death. When the Governor saw that, he and the rest of the people of the city believed. St. Matthew baptized them and ordained a bishop and priests for them and built a church.
After he had preached in other countries, he went back to Jerusalem. Some of the Jews which he had previously preached to, and had believed and been baptized by him, gathered and requested him to write down his preaching. He wrote in the Hebrew Language the beginning of the Gospel attributed to him but he did not complete it. It was said that he finished it during his preaching in India in the first year of the reign of Claudius which is the ninth year from the Ascension.
His martyrdom was effected by stoning at the hands of Justus the Governor, and his body was buried in a holy place in Carthage of Caesarea by some believing men.
May his intercession be with us. Glory be to God forever. Amen.