Hundreds of people began gathering early on Monday morning at Thessaloniki’s fifth-century Church of Agios Demetrios, on the annual feast day of the patron saint of the city.
This day also marks the liberation of the venerable Greek city by the Greek Army in 1912 during the Ottoman Wars after five centuries of occupation by its Turkish overlords.
Pilgrims wearing masks waited patiently in long lines to give their respects to the saint at the iconic church of Thessaloniki, which was one of the most important cities during the early years of Christianity, and where the Apostle Paul once preached.
The 7th-century mosaic of the martyr, located in the church dedicated to him, is one of the earliest images of St. Demetrios. According to the early accounts of his life, including the “Miracles of St. Demetrius,” the martyr was born to Christian parents in Thessaloniki, in what was then called the region of Illyricum, in the year 270.
Demetrius, born into a senatorial family, became proconsul of the district of Thessalonica. As a result of standing up for this faith, Demetrios was run through with spears in approximately the year 306 AD in Thessaloniki, during the Christian persecutions of Galerian, which matches his depiction in the 7th century mosaics.
The President of the Republic, Katerina Sakellaropoulou, attended the ceremony along with a limited number of officials, due to coronavirus restrictions.
The liturgy was followed by a luncheon in the Greek President’s honor at the Officer’s Club. Later, she visited the Diikitirio building in Thessaloniki and toured the Historic Documentation Center in the city.
“Thessaloniki today is rediscovering its extroverted character”, she remarked during her tour of the Municipal Gallery housed in Casa Bianca.
She added that she feels special emotion to visit the city, as it is where she was born, and it has left a deep emotional imprint in her.
“Every time I visit her, I feel her special atmosphere like a protective shell around me”, she stated. “I return to the memories, to the places of my childhood, to the loved ones, to the sweetness of a simple everyday life.”
Although the ancient city has been, as she said, “full of upheavals, upheavals, uprootings and re-rootings”, the only makes her love it more deeply. “Every time I visit it, I get rich from its performances, I am fascinated by the overlapping layers of its history.”
The President of the Republic also noted that her tour of the Municipal Gallery and the exhibition entitled “Military Saints of Byzantium” brought to mind an evocative image of the famous painter Michael Damaskinos, located in the Benaki Museum, about which she said:
“Damascene shows Christ blessing four military saints, depicted on their horses, holding in their hands the symbol of their martyrdom, gazing at the angels descending from the clouds to crown them with the “heavenly crown”.
“One of them is Agios Dimitrios, the athletic, aikleis and philopolis, the patron saint of Thessaloniki. He is also one of the military, trophy-winning saints who testified to their faith, such as Saint George, Theodore Tyronas and Theodore the Stratilatis; but also a woman, Saint Theodora of Vasta, who fought like a man and was killed like a man.”
After the tour, President Sakellaropoulou attended a dinner given in her honor by the mayor of Thessaloniki, Konstantinos Zervas.
She later attended a performance of “Babylonia” of the State Theater of Northern Greece at the Monastery of Lazarists.