One may well wonder why we are commemorating this particular earthquake. After all, there have been many earthquakes, as well as other natural disasters in human history – so why commemorate this one?
This earthquake in Constantinople took place in 740 AD. This was at the time Emperor Leo was destroying icons and the people of Constantinople felt that it was God’s anger that led to this disaster. The believers prayed to St. Demetrios of Thessalonica and the earthquakes ceased.
St. Demetrios of Thessalonica is a third to 4th century martyr. He was born in 270 AD in Thessalonica. He came from a noble Roman background and according to some traditions he was a soldier, and is depicted as a solder on his icons. He was martyred in approximately 306 AD during the persecution of the Roman Emperors Diocletian and Galerias. During the reign of the Emperor St. Constantine (306-337) his relics were exhumed and it was found that the relics streamed myrrh, a miraculous sign which pointed to St. Demetrios being a saint, and a church was built for these remains in Thessalonica and they remain there today. Emperors sometimes tried to bring the relics to Constantinople, but the saint always revealed that his relics should stay where they were. For centuries, the people of Thessalonica prayed to St. Demetrios to save them from natural disasters and enemy attack.
Now if we take the cessation of the earthquake as simply one more miracle we might miss a deeper meaning. The Book of Genesis tells us that when God created the world he saw that it was good. But as humanity fell in the persons of Adam and Eve, in some sense the universe, the material world also fell. As St. Paul wrote in Romans 8:22 “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now…” In other words, Jesus Christ did not come simply to “save souls” but also to raise the dead and restore the created world back to its original condition. The restoration of the material world will only be complete at the end of time,. But we can see Jesus’ many nature miracles, such as stopping the storm on the sea, multiplying the bread and the fish, walking on water, as foretastes of this final restoration to come. In that sense St. Demetrios stopping the earthquake of Constantinople (and his relics streaming myrrh) shows that God’s saints, through their intercession and human beings through their prayer, cooperate in the restoration of the cosmos. We see this reflected in the Bible in the Book of Revelation which tells us about the end time. St. John writes in Revelation 21:1-5 “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”
So we can see that these nature miracles are not isolated ‘wonders” but signs of what God is doing even now.
Holy, Glorious Demetrios the Myrrh-gusher of Thessalonica
Troparion — Tone 3
The world has found you to be a great defense against tribulation and a vanquisher of
heathens, O Passion-bearer. As you bolstered the courage of Nestor, who then
humbled the arrogance of Lyaios in battle, Holy Demetrios, entreat Christ God to grant
us great mercy.
Kontakion — Tone 2
God, who has given you invincible might, has tinged the Church with streams of your
blood, Demetrios! He preserves your city from harm, for you are its foundation!
Commemoration of the Great Earthquake at Constantinople
Troparion — Tone 8
Christ our God, You look the earth and it trembles; deliver us from the terrible threat of
earthquakes; and through the prayers of the Theotokos, send down upon us Your
abundant mercy and save us.
Kontakion — Tone 6
Deliver us all from upheavals, and from terrible afflictions caused by our sins, O Lord, and
spare Your people whom You have purchased with Your blood, O Master. Do not deliver
Your city to destruction by terrible earthquakes, for we know no other God than You; and
to those who cry out You respond: “I am with you and no one will be against you.”