“WITNESS TO THE NAME”
by Rev. Fr. Nabil L. Hanna
Sermon for the Feast of St. Demetrios
Epistle: 2 Tim. 2.1-10 / Gospel: Jn. 15.17-16.2
25-Oct-1999, Ss. Peter and Paul Chapel, Toledo Chancery
Our Lord declared: “If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also. But all this they will do to you on my account, because they do not know Him Who sent Me” (Jn. 15.20-21). And so they did persecute our Lord, and they did persecute the Twelve, and so they continue to persecute his disciples, including the Great Martyr Demetrios, whose memory we commemorate today: because they do not want to know Him Who has come and revealed Himself.
If you want to know someone, certainly the first question you would ask is, “What is your Name?” Moses did ask. When the pre-eternal Word revealed Himself at the burning bush and commissioned Moses to call the Hebrews out of Egypt, the latter needed a name, so he could say who was sending him. “Let them praise the Name of the Lord [Yahweh, “He Who is and Who was and Who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1.8b)], for his Name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven” (Ps. 148.13).
There resides great power in a name. It is not merely a label. By invoking His Name, we are endowed with divine power. When two are three are gathered in his Name, He is personally present in our midst (Mt. 18.20). We are this evening assembled in his Name; we do everything in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Moses did go before Pharaoh. In the Name of the Lord, he stood and proclaimed with boldness, “Thus says the Lord…. For by now I could have put forth my hand and struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been cut off from the earth; but for this purpose have I let you live, to show my power, so that my Name may be declared throughout all the earth” (Ex. 9.13b, 15-16).
Sixteen-hundred years later, in the same Name, a young man named Demetrios stood boldly before another tyrant, the Emperor Maximian, and witnessed to the Lord Whom he knew and loved to shedding of his blood. This Demetrios of Thessalonica was also called by that Name, by Whose power he conquered his enemies, even death and Hades, the last enemy. And we, another sixteen-hundred years later, are called by that same Name. God has called us all out of darkness and into his marvelous light, unto unity in his holy Body, the Church. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone” (Rev. 2.17a), that we may be living stones in the Temple of our God. To put it plainly we are called Christians (Acts 11.26b); we are called by the Name of Christ. We find life in his Name and in no other.
Thus, as we gather in this Name today, we celebrate the nameday of his Grace, our beloved Bishop Demetri, and of all those who bear the name of the Great Martyr Demetrios, for Demetrios bore the Name of Christ.
“How can this be?,” you may ask. You may point out that Demetrios is a pagan name, and you would be right. It is true that Demeter was the Greek goddess of grain and fertility. Her cult spread throughout the Greco-Roman world. She was known as Ceres in Latin, whence we get the term for breakfast ‘cereals.’ Is this a Christian name? Why didn’t he change his name?
Saint Demetrios did what each of us must do. It is a very easy thing merely to change a name. It is a very easy thing merely to take the name of a saint and to have a nameday party once a year. Demetrios, however, by the power of Christ, made his name new. Just as Christ does not create a new heaven and a new earth but makes them new, we are to born anew of water and the Spirit, and we are to baptize not only our skin but our hearts, our minds, our names, our speech, and even the culture around us. This is what Demetrios did to his name, making it a Christian name.
We must likewise witness to the Name, not by empty lip-service, not a mere change of label, but true athlesis, true struggle, as Demetrios has given an example to those who bear his name and to all the world. With every breath, until his last, Demetrios witnessed to Christ and praised the Name of the Lord, “Therefore,” along with his Lord, “God has highly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2.9-11). Amen.
Eis polla ete, despota!