There are two feast days in the Synaxarium for our beloved saint:
- 13th of Tubah (January 21) – The Martyrdom of St. Demiana
- 12th of Bashans (May 20) – The Commemoration of the Consecration of the Church of St. Demiana
May her prayers be with us all!
First Contemplation – St. Demiana’s Childhood
When she was one year old, her father took her to the church of the monastery of Al-Maymah. He offered alms, candles and oblations so that God might bless her and keep her in His care.
What a marvelous picture we have here! From the time of her birth, our pure lady St. Demiana was given to the care and protection of our Lord. Her parents saw that their most important role was to raise a God-loving and Christ-like child in the Church. Indeed, dear reader, we have so many examples of saints in the history of the Church who from the time of their birth were instilled with the divine teachings of the Savior by their parents. They were taught to love the Church, her worship, and the blessed mysteries! Our Synaxarium is filled with the stories of those who either shed their blood for Christ, dedicated their lives as holy monks and nuns, shepherded the Church as bishops and priests, or lived holy pious lives as members of the laity–and in so many accounts we hear about their righteous upbringing and how their parents laid the foundation of faith and holiness in their hearts.
What can we say of our own generation? How many parents regard their children’s salvation as their number one priority? How many parents teach their children by example the importance of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and the importance, beauty and necessity of the Church’s worship and sacramental life? Indeed how many parents would rejoice if their children decided to dedicate their life to Christ? The sad reality, I am afraid, is that most parents shudder at such an idea! St. Basil the Great gave this advice to parents: “First give your children virtue as an inheritance and then distribute your estate also.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ welcomed and blessed the children: “Let the children come to unto Me, forbid them not, for such is the Kingdom of God” (Mark 10:14). And our Holy Orthodox Church receives children into the life of the Church from their birth, baptizing them and inviting them to partake regularly of the holy Eucharist. As soon as a child is able, they are encouraged to participate in the mystery of Confession, where they learn early on how to root out the passions from their lives and learn to love obedience and spiritual fatherhood. Also, dear friend, the worship of our holy Orthodox Church is well suited for children as it appeals to all their senses. The child immediately is able to participate in the worship, even without understanding, by hearing the sacred chants, smelling the fragrant incense, touching and kissing the colorful icons, and tasting the precious Body and Blood of Christ. He or she sees in the priest a fatherly and loving figure reflecting the sweet and gentle Savior Jesus Christ. The child quickly learns that he or she is in the house of God, a holy place filled with the warmth and joy of God’s presence. In doing so, they receive grace from God.
There is no doubt that as a child St. Demiana studied the Scriptures and prayed with her parents, heard and read the lives of the saints, learned to love fasting and good deeds, and eagerly attended the divine services at Church. During this time, while still a child, she cultivated in her heart a great love for her Savior as well as her fellow neighbor. Sadly, some Christian parents today even mock their children if they are too involved in Church life! Or if they show an interest or desire in dedicating their lives to Christ, they are belittled and the parents lament as if they have failed to produce something of worth! Lord, have mercy on us!
As one Orthodox writer stated so beautifully, “the task of religious education will be fulfilled only when we teach our children to love Church!” Our Lord commanded us not to forbid the children to come to Him and yet, we as parents, by our actions and our inactions, and by our worldly priorities, do just that! “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deut. 6:5-7).
Dear reader, let us heed St. John Chrysostom’s advice: “When we teach our children to be good, to be gentle, to be forgiving (all these are attributes of God), to be generous, to love their fellow men, to regard this present age as nothing, we instill virtue in their souls, and reveal the image of God within them. This then is our task: to educate both ourselves and our children in godliness; otherwise what answer will we have before Christ’s judgment seat?”
Truly, we see that our beloved St. Demiana was raised according to such principles and her virtuous life became as a sweet smelling fragrance rising up to our Lord Jesus Christ! Her fragrance is still present with us when we read about her pure life and seek her powerful intercessions. St. Demiana pray for us!
Second Contemplation – St. Demiana’s Youth and Purity
When she was fifteen years old–she had vowed herself a bride to the Lord Christ. She lived–with forty other virgins–they spent their time reading the Holy Scriptures and in worship.
Beloved, I cannot imagine that a young woman of fifteen years could attract forty other young women to this new and difficult way of life! At fifteen years of age, who today can live such a life of praise, worship and virtue? What a beautiful and gentle spirit she had! Indeed, our greatest witness for Christ to the world is to simply be Christians–if we accomplish this, we will not need to use our words to speak of Christ. It is only because our deeds and virtues are lacking that we must resort to words. How true indeed is the saying, “preach the Gospel and use words if necessary.” That is to say, beloved, our life should be the scent of Christ as St. Paul says so beautifully, “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Cor. 2:15).
A modern Russian saint, Seraphim of Sarov, said, “the true aim of our Christian life consists of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.” Of course, you as a Christian have the Holy Spirit in you! But by our deeds and spiritual neglect we quiet the Spirit, we diminish the flame of the Spirit! So acquire the Holy Spirit here means to revive or enliven the Holy Spirit in your life by doing what our pure saint did; living a life of worship and virtue in Christ! By doing so, she won over to Christ forty other pure souls who joined her in dedicating their lives to Him. But not only those forty” how many millions now have from generation to generation came to know or have grown closer to Christ through the story of her pure life and holy martyrdom?!
Unfortunately, today the message of holiness has been dimmed, and modern Christianity now focuses only on philanthropy. “Be good to others” is the message we hear as if this is the goal of Christianity. No! Remember what the Lord said, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy” (Lev. 19:2) and “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matt. 5:48). There are many social organizations today that perform good deeds but this is not the ultimate aim of Christian life. Our good deeds toward others should be a natural result of a holy life but not the end. Remember our Lord’s words to His apostles, “For you have the poor with you always, but Me you do not have always” (Matt. 26:11). And again we have the examples of Martha and Mary; the one chose to serve the table (a noble deed) and the other chose to sit at the feet of Christ, to be in His presence and listen to His word. And what did our Lord say? “But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:42). Do you see that the beginning and end of everything is Christ Himself?
Do you want further proof of what we are saying? You do not need to look far, but look at the saintly people of our own generation–Pope Kyrillos VI, Fr. Bishoy Kamel, Fr. Mikhail Ibrahim, Fr. Yustus St. Antony, Fr. Andrew the Samuelite, and of course our beloved Pope Shenouda III. And this is only a small list, as God knows there are many more! These holy people attracted more to the way of Christ by their virtues and scent of holiness than by words and good deeds for others. This was the way of life of our pure saint and the forty virgins with her! Labor in your prayers, fasting and attendance at Church services that you may find the “pearl of great price” (Matt. 13:46). And listen to St. John Chrysostom’s encouragement, “Labors come first, and the crowns after.”
Beloved, imitate St. Demiana and the forty virgins and all the saints who sought one thing only and that was Christ Himself! You will find this is the only way to perfection. Everything else we need will follow. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). St. Demiana pray for us!
Third Contemplation – St. Demiana Confronts Her Father
“Take note that if you do not return to your first faith and renounce the worship of stones, you are not my father and I am not your daughter.”
How difficult it is to imagine a child who has to rebuke his or her parent! St. Demiana’s father had been the one who taught her how to pray and fast, had taken her to the Church regularly for the divine services, and had instilled in her all the Christ-like virtues that helped shape her into such a spiritually beautiful person. How painful it must have been for this saint to hear the news of her father’s denial of Christ. Why didn’t she simply pray for him? Why did she have to confront him with such boldness?
“If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26). And again our Savior said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matt. 10:34). These verses are hard for us to understand–but that is certainly because of our own shallow minds!
There is no true love apart from truth. This is what St. John the beloved says, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). Our Lord Jesus Christ came to reveal to us the truth and this truth is none other than Himself “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). This truth surpasses all earthly relationships, even between child and parent, brother and sister, and therefore the ‘sword’ our Lord speaks of is the sword of Truth that will divide those who believe in Him and those who reject Him. What kind of love, then, discards the truth? If we believe with all our hearts that Christ is the truth, would we love someone by leaving them to be far from Him? Hear what St. Gregory the Theologian says, “It is better to choose a commendable war than peace which separates from God.”
The truth of the matter, dear reader, is that St. Demiana rebuked her father in this way precisely because she DID love him and she sought his salvation above all. Listen to what St. James says concerning this: “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
What about us? Do we speak the truth? Listen to St. Basil the Great speaking on this topic: “Anyone who is capable of speaking the truth but remains silent, will be heavily judged by God”. Do we heed his warning in our lives? How many times have we stood for the truth in front of others?
Today, in our modern societies we are told that to speak against any of the evils around us is to be “lacking in love”, “lacking in tolerance”, and so on. After all, so we are told, there is no correct way of life, only “alternative lifestyles” that should be respected! If we speak concerning Christ as the absolute truth and the truth of our Christian faith, we are accused of not respecting “diversity”. We are expected to go against our Scriptures and our faith, even to deny Christ as absolute Truth, for the sake of this false love! It is indeed a false love to tell someone who is living a sinful life that they are good enough as they are. It is indeed a false love to confirm that non-Christian faiths are equal to Christianity. Do we love in truth?
How difficult it must have been for this sweet, humble, gentle and pure soul to confront with such boldness her father’s apostasy! Where did this strength come from? This zeal? Do you see, dear friend, how St. Demiana for the sake of Christ’s truth was even ready to denounce her own father? Do we have such zeal? Do we really feel this truth in our innermost being in order to defend it?
Let us all examine ourselves and compare ourselves to this beautiful witness of truth. If we are lacking, let us ask God in prayer and humility, for all things are given by Him as gifts to those who ask. Let us also call upon St. Demiana and ask her to pray for us that we might have such zeal in defense of the truth. St. Demiana pray for us!
Fourth Contemplation – St. Demiana Confesses Her Faith
“There is no god in heaven or on earth except one God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit–Him I confess and upon Him I depend, and in His Name I die, and by Him I live forever.”
What a beautiful and perfect confession of the Orthodox faith! This confession was in response to the prince who was sent by the wicked Emperor Diocletian in order to convince our holy saint to worship the idols. At that time, dear reader, the pagans worshipped multiple “gods” in the form of idols. All they asked of the Christians was to “worship” these idols by offering some incense before them. For the pagans, the more gods the better, and they even didn’t reject outright the Christian God as one more in their long list of “gods”. But what infuriated these pagans was the Christian claim to One and only One God!
You might ask how that seems relevant to us today since most of us don’t see pagan “gods” being worshipped around us in the forms of idols. But, in actuality, today’s situation is actually worse! Today’s “gods” don’t appear in the forms of wooden or stone idols, they are much more cunning and deceptive. They appear to us as “materialism”, “individualism”, “self-love”, “humanism” and so on. There are many ideologies and belief systems today that ultimately take the place of the One True God. Many of these place Man as the ultimate object of worship and thus in many ways, dear friend, are even worse than wooden and stone pagan “gods” that were lifeless! Somehow, like the pagans at the time of St. Demiana, people today believe they can be Christian and worship these other “gods” at the same time. Let us beware!
But we see here in St. Demiana’s confession, that same confession that caused numerous other holy martyrs to shed their blood, that there is only one truth! What is this truth? This is the same question that Pilate asked our Lord Jesus Christ, but it was the wrong question since he should have asked, “Who is truth?” Had he asked this question, perhaps he would have heard the Word of Life proclaim, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Truth is a Person, and His name is Jesus Christ! There is no truth apart from Him, and His truth “sets us free” (John 8:32).
Dear reader, there are only two choices that we have. We either accept that He is the absolute truth (He did not say “a truth” but “the truth”) or we can reject Him! There is no middle ground.
The times we live in now want us to believe that there is no such thing as absolute truth. Every religion, we are told, is expressing truth in its own way, and that we are all worshipping the “same” God! This cannot be, since to believe so would make our Lord Jesus Christ a liar! Our Lord was clear in His declarations, He is the great “I AM” that spoke to Moses from the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:14). Listen to the great “I AM”:
I am the way, the truth, and the life! (John 14:6) I am the resurrection and the life! (John 11:25 I am the bread of life! (John 6:35) I am the good shepherd! (John 10:11) I am the door! (John 10:9) I am the light of the world! (John 8:12) I am the true vine…you are the branches! (John 15:1,5) Before Abraham was, I AM! (John 8:58) I am from above! (John 8:23)
Do you see that truth is not an ideology, a philosophy or even a religion–He is a person, the person of our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ! And it is only through His Body, the Holy Church, “the fullness of Him who fills all in all: (Eph, 1:23), that we know Him and abide in Him.
This was the confession of our lady St. Demiana, a confession that she believed with all her heart, soul, strength and mind–a confession that she would joyfully shed her blood to proclaim and protect! O that we would have such faith and boldness–that we would believe with all our heart that in Christ and only in Christ “we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28)! St. Demiana pray for us!
Fifth Contemplation – St. Demiana’s Torture and Martyrdom
The prince used all his evil imagination to torture St. Demiana. When the prince saw that all his attempts were in vain, before the steadfastness of this pure virgin he ordered her beheaded, and all the other virgins with her. Thus, they all received the crowns of martyrdom.
What can we say of this saint’s endurance, patience and suffering?! All efforts to convince her to renounce Christ were in vain! All the physical torture was in vain! Her devotion to her Savior was unshakable and she had the words of St. Paul on her lips: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35-39).
This holy virgin confounded her wicked abusers with her strength and joy as they tortured her time and time again. Another one of the martyrs of the church said to his executioners, “Beat me, tear me, burn me, and if my words offend you — rip out my tongue; every part of my body is ready when God calls for it as a witness to His truth.” Similar words must have flowed out of the pure mouth of this strong saint, confusing her torturers and driving them mad! How can a young woman withstand such tortures with joy and boldness? Where did her strength come from? These, and other questions, confounded them!
They did not know the power of the one true God because they had been worshipping wood and stones that were lifeless and impotent! Listen to what one early Church Father said concerning this: “…human perseverance alone could not endure such tortures without the aid of God. Even robbers and men of robust frame are unable to endure tortures of this kind…. But among us, boys and delicate women-not to speak of men-silently overcome their torturers. Even the fire is unable to extort a groan from them.” Do you see the power of God strengthening these brave souls in the face of their enemies? God can and will give us also such strength if we love Him and testify to Him like these holy saints!
After all tortures failed, after the wicked deeds of the prince were exposed as futile, this pure virgin and lover of Christ, with her forty pure friends finally gave up their spirits to their Maker and received the glorious crowns of martyrdom. Their precious blood, as St. John Chrysostom says “irrigates the entire Church.” What a beautiful saying beloved, that the blood of the martyrs irrigates the entire Church! The wicked emperor was unaware that through their holy martyrdom, more would believe in Christ and become Christians! By the witness of the holy martyrs of the Church, those that stood by saw young men, woman and children withstanding unbearable tortures! They witnessed the mighty work and power of the Christian God! They believed, they confessed their faith in Christ, and many of them offered their own lives as martyrs. This is exactly what Tertullian proclaimed when he said, “The more you cut us down, the more in number we grow. The blood of Christians is seed”! Beloved, if you study the history of your Holy Church you will see that is in fact the truth. The more blood that was shed for Christ, the more new people believed in Him and became Christian! O what wonder! How great is our God!
Dear friends, there can be no greater witness to the love of Christ than what we see from those who shed their pure blood for His sake! What about us? Most of us do no face this type martyrdom, so how can we share in their crowns? St. Clement of Alexandria offers us this: “Martyrdom means bearing witness to God. Every soul that seeks in pureness of heart to know God and obey the commandments of God is a martyr, bearing witness by life or by words…” Do you see that our struggles to maintain purity of heart, to persevere in our prayers and fasting, to patiently endure hardships that come our way, to suffer humiliation and ridicule because of confessing our faith… that all of these things bring us a share of the inheritance with the holy martyrs? Indeed, dear reader, our Lord can and wills to give us such an inheritance!
St. Demiana, pray for us!