Saint Demetrios

Saint Demetrios - Protector of Salonica

Saint Demetrios, one of the two main "warrior saints" of Greek Orthodox. The other is Saint George. He is often described as "0 Myrovlytes" in Greek, in reference to the scent of myrrh said to miraculously exude from his tomb.

Saint Demetrios is the patron saint and protector of the city of Thessaloniki (Salonika). The White Tower of the city anachronistically appears in the background (bottom right) to symbolise Salon ika - it was actually built over a millennium after the saint's lifetime.

The fallen soldier at the unfortunate end of the Saint's spear represents the heathen (or otherwise) enemies ofhis city throughout its history. The seventh century manuscript "Miracula Sancti Demetni" (The miracles of Saint Demetrios), which describes some of the miraculous (albeit posthumous) achievements of the saint, relates how Saint Demetnos more than once came to the rescue of Salonika when it was being besieged by Slav armies, ensuring that his city never fril into Slav hands. Even the strong and sudden winds which, on occasion, brought disaster to the ships of enemies approaching by sea, were attributed to the saint by the grateful people of Thessaloniki.

The manuscript informs us that on the seventh night of the first major siege ofSalonika by a combined army ofSlavs andAvars (an event dated to either 586 AD or 597 AD by historians), a large army led by a red-haired man wearing white and riding a white horse,(un like the icon on this page) issued forth from the gates of the cit)' and spread panic within the ranks of the besieging hordes which resulted in the lifting of the siege. The red-haired man was of course Saint Demetrios. Perhaps the well-known mosaic of him in the seventh century Salon ikan church of Saint Demetrios, where he appears with red hair and is dressed in white garments, was influenced by that particular miraculous and timely appearance.

After their arrival into the Balkan peninsula the Slavs repeatedly, and always unsuccessfully, attempted to capture Salon ika. The defeated warrior in the icon can thus readily be said to represent those Slavic would-be conquerors of Salonika - that is, the ancestors of today 's Slavomacedonians who, in private and less diplomatic moments, still dream ofSalonika as their ideal capital city. Consequently it is rather ironic that the Slavomacedonians ofAustralia have recently dedicated at least two new churches to him, one in the Melbourne suburb ofSpringvale and the other in Wollongong, provocatively naming both: "Saint Demetrios the Salon ikan"!

Although vehemently challenged by historians from Skopje, the Slavs of Macedonia are generally recorded in numerous contemporary sources, right up to the early decades of this century, as a constituent part of the 'Bulgarian" people. This is also how they generally regarded themselves, as these sources amply testify.

The empire of Tsar Samuel (976 - 1014 AD), which Slavomacedonians today consider to be their own piece of medieval glory, was in fact a Bulgarian empire centred in the western (ie Macedonian) domains of former Bulgarian states. Again, this is precisely how it is seen by primary sources. Indeed the Greek emperor of Byzantium, Basil II, the main contemporary adversary of Samuel was, on account of his final and brutal victory over this Bulgarian tsar, given the epithet: 'Boulgorokronos", that is, 'Bulgar killer"(see poge ]02).

As a result of certain historical factors and major events which had a direct impact on the region (such as the Ilinden Uprising in 1903, the turn-of-the-century three-way guerilla struggle for Macedonia, the Balkan Wars of 1912 and 1913, crc. ), the Macedonian Slavs gradually began to develop an awareness of a separate fate and existence; a phenomenon which started to manifest more clearly in the period between the two World Wars. The experience of the First World War, when both Bulgarian and Serbian soldiers were trampling through Macedonia on opposing sides of the conflict, must also have contributed to some extent. The ever-shifting Salonika front and a general sense of weariness resulting from being caught up in yet another war, no doubt led to a growing dissociation from all the combatants.

Throughout this period however, the view that the Slavomacedonians formed a separate entity was espoused primarily by elements of the nascent intelligentsia; common people (those who cared to even consider the point) still generally thought of themselves as Bulgarians. The process of differentiation from the Bulgarians was spurred on greatly by the events of World War II and in particular the alienating effect of the decidedly unsubtle and paternalistic occupation of their land by their 'Bulgarian brothers", allies of Nazi Germany.

However, the concept and form of the new Slavic nation centred in Macedonia, did not really crystallise until given shape by a monumental process of indoctrination initiated by post-World War 11 Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia was determined, in the face of constant Bulgarian claims, to eradicate the still considerable vestige of Bulgarian sentiment in what was to be the southernmost republic of the Yugoslav state. The advent of Tito's communist Yugoslavia gave enormous impetus to this new concept as it very definitely served Yugoslavia's interests. Firstly, it effectively neutralised any lingering, and dangerous, pro-Bulgarian influence in this Yugoslav republic. Furthermore, it providedjustification for the idea of 'liberation" and "unification" of all Macedonia; an outcome which would potentially have given Yugoslavia control of the much-coveted Greek city of Salonika, a warm-water Mediterranean port.

It is quite true to say that, on the whole, Yugoslavia has succeeded in "de-Bulgarising" the Slavs of Yugoslav Macedonia and turning them into "Mocedonions". Nevertheless the existence of a common past with the Bulgarians is troubling for this new group and continues to cause it unease in relation to its sense of identity.

It is not really surprising that Bulgaria was one of the first nations to officially recognise an independent 'Republic of Macedonia". The birth of this new state was welcomed by the Bulgarians as it represented the end of despised Serbian/Yugoslav domination in the area which had hitherto contrived against its Bulgarian character. However, Bulgarians have not recognised a distinct "Macedonian" nation and use this label, as do the Greeks, largely as a geographical one. The Bulgarians have never really ceased to consider the Slavs of Macedonia as brethren and consistently regard them as ethnic Bulgarians and perhaps even potentially as future citizens of a larger Bulgaria. Certainly they

continue to refer to the FYROM colloquially as "Western Bulgaria" and not long ago proposed "Second Bulgaria" (Vtora Buganjo in Slavic) as a name for the new republic!