Severus of Al-Ushmanain: PATRIARCH DEMETRIUS [St. Pachomius Library]
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by Severus, Bishop of Al-Ushmunain (fl. ca. AD 955 - 987)


Translated from the Arabic by B. Evetts (from Patrologia Orientalis, first series)


When the patriarch Julian was dying, an angel of the Lord came to him in a dream, on the night before his death, and said to him: "The man who shall visit thee tomorrow with a bunch of grapes shall be patriarch after thee." Accordingly, when it was morning, a peasant came to him, who was married, and could neither read nor write; and his name was Demetrius. This man had gone out to prune his vineyard, and found there a bunch of grapes, although it was not the season of grapes; so he brought it to the patriarch. And the patriarch Julian said to the bystanders: "This man shall be your patriarch; for so the angel of the Lord last night declared to me." So they took him by force, and bound him with iron fetters. And Julian died on that very day; and Demetrius was consecrated patriarch.

And the grace of God descended upon this man, and he was like Joseph, the son of Jacob; yea, and more excellent than Joseph, for though Demetrius was married, he knew not his wife. And if any should say: "How is it lawful that a patriarch should be married?" we reply that the apostles declare, in their canons, that if a bishop be wedded to one wife, that shall not be forbidden him; for the believing wife is pure, and her bed undefiled, and no sin can be laid to his charge on that account. And the patriarch is but bishop of Alexandria, with a right of primacy over the bishops of the different providences subject to that city; for he is the successor of Saint Mark, the apostle and evangelist, who had jurisdiction over all Egypt and Pentapolis and Ethiopia and Nubia, through his preaching the gospel in those parts; and therefore the bishop of Alexandria also of necessity has jurisdiction over those countries.

But the people were unjust towards this patriarch, Demetrius, saying that he was the twelfth of the patriarchs, counting from Mark, the evangelist, and that all of them were unmarried except Demetrius; and they bewailed his fall.

He had a gift from God, which was that when he had finished the liturgy, before he communicated any one of the people, he beheld the Lord Christ, giving the Eucharist by his hand; and when a person came up who was unworthy to receive the Mysteries, the Lord Christ revealed to him that man's sin, so that he would not communicate him. Then he told that man the reason, so that he confessed his offence. And Demetrius reproved him, and said : "Turn away from thy sin which thou dost commit, and then come again to receive the Holy Mysteries."

When this practice had continued a long time, the faithful of Alexandria left off sinning for fear of the patriarch, lest he should put them to open shame; and each one said to his friend or his kinsman : "Beware lest thou sin, lest the patriarch denounce thee in the presence of the congregation."

But some of the people said : "This is a married man. How then can he reprove us, seeing that he has dishonoured this see? For none has sat therein to this day who was not unwedded." Again others said : " His marriage does not lessen his merits, for marriage is pure and undefiled before God."

But it was God's will to make his virtues manifest, that he might be glorified, and might not leave this great secret unknown. As he said in his holy gospel, by his pure mouth : "A city when it is set on a hill cannot be hidden," so God made the merits of the patriarch manifest, that his people might increase in virtue thereby. Accordingly, on a certain night, an angel of the Lord came to Demetrius, and said to him : "Demetrius, seek not thine own salvation by neglecting thy neighbor; but remember what the gospel says, that the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep."

Then Demetrius said to the angel: " O my Lord, teach me what thou commandest me to do. If thou wilt send me to martyrdom, I am ready to let my blood be shed for the name of Christ. "

Then the angel said to him: " Listen to me, Demetrius, and I will tell thee. The Lord Christ was incarnate only to save his people; and it is not right that thou shouldst now save thine own soul, and allow this people to be filled with scruples on account of thee. "

So Demetrius answered: " What is my sin against the people? Teach me, my Lord, that I may repent of it. "

Then the angel said: " This secret which is between thee and thy wife; namely, that thou hast never approached her. Now therefore make this known to the people. "

But Demetrius said: " I pray that I may die before thee rather than that thou shouldst reveal this secret to any man! "

Then the angel answered: " Know that the scripture says: He that is disobedient shall perish. Tomorrow, therefore, after the end of the liturgy, assemble the priests and the people, and make known to them this secret which is between thee and thy wife. "

When the patriarch heard this, he marvelled, and said: "Blessed is the Lord, who does not abandon those that trust in him." Then the angel departed from him. So, on the morrow, which was the feast of Pentecost, the patriarch celebrated the liturgy, and bade the archdeacon give directions to the clergy and the people that not one of them should leave the church, but that they should gather together around the patriarchal throne.

The archdeacon, therefore, proclaimed to the congregation: "The patriarch's wish is to speak to you all. Let none of you, therefore, depart without hearing what he shall say."

When they had sat down, the patriarch bid the brethren collect much fuel; and they did so, marveling thereat and saying: "What is this that the patriarch will do?"

Then he said to them: "Rise and let us pray!" So they prayed, and afterwards sat down.

And he said to them: "I beg you out of your love for me, to allow my wife to be present before you, that she may receive of your blessing."

Then they marveled, and thought in their hearts: "What is this that he does?" And they all said: "Whatever thou biddest us do shall be done."

Then the patriarch commanded one of his servants saying: "Call my wife, the handmaid of the saints, that she may receive their blessing."

So the holy woman entered, and stood in the midst of the congregation. And her husband, the patriarch, arose, where they could all behold him, and stood by the blazing logs, which had already been lighted, and spread out his cloak, and took burning embers from the fire with his hand and put them in his cloak; and all the spectators were astonished at the quantity of burning fuel in his garment, and yet it was not burned.

Then he said to his wife: "Spread out thy woolen pallium which thou hast upon thee." So she spread it out; and the patriarch transferred the embers to it while she stood there; and he put incense on the fire, and commanded her to incense all the congregation; and she did so, and yet her pallium was not burned. Then the patriarch said again: "Let up pray"; while the embers were blazing in his wife's pallium, which yet was not burned.

You have now heard, my friends, this great wonder. This man had made himself an eunuch of his own free will, so that he was more glorious than those that are born eunuchs; and therefore the fire had no effect upon this saint, not upon his garments, nor upon those of his wife, because he had extinguished the flames of lust. But now let us abridge our discourse upon this subject, and return to the history, glorifying God for ever and ever.

So when the clergy had prayed, they said to the patriarch: "We beg of thy Holiness to explain to us this wonderful mystery."

And he replied: "Attend, all of you, to what I say. Know that I have not done this seeking glory from men. My age is now sixty-three years. My wife who stands before you is my cousin. Her parents died and left her when she was a child. My father brought her to me, for he had no other child than me, and she was the only child of my uncle. So I grew up with her in my father's house, and we dwelt together. When she was fifteen, my parents resolved to marry me to her, in order that their possessions might not pass to a stranger, but that we might inherit them. So the wedding was performed, as men do such things for their children; and I went in to her. And when they had left us alone, she said to me: 'How could they give me to thee, seeing that I am thy sister?'

"So I said to her: 'Listen to what I say. We must of necessity remain together in this chamber without being separated all our lives, but there must be no further connexion between us, until death shall part us; and, if we remain thus in purity, we shall meet in the heavenly Jerusalem, and enjoy one another's company in eternal bliss.'"

"And when she heard this, she accepted my proposal; and her body remained inviolate. But my parents knew nothing of our compact. Then the wedding-guests demanded the customary proof of the consummation of the marriage, as you know is done by foolish men; but my mother said to them: 'These two are young, and the days before them are many.'

"Thus we kept our purity; and when my parents as well as her parents were dead, we remained orphans together. It is now forty-eight years since I married my wife, and we sleep on one bed and one mattress and beneath one coverlet; and the Lord, who knows and judges the living and the dead, and understands the secrets of all hearts, knows that I have never learnt that she is a woman, nor has she learnt that I am a man; but we see one another's face and no more. We sleep together, but the embraces of this world are unknown to us. And when we fall asleep, we see a form with eagle's wings, which comes flying and alights upon our bed between her and me, and stretches its right wing over me, and its left wing over her, until the morning, when it departs; and we behold it until it goes.

"Do not think, my brethren and ye people who love God, that I have disclosed this secret to you to gain the glory of this world which passes away, nor that I have told you this of my own free will; but it is the command of the Lord, who bade me do it, for he desires the good of all men, and he is Christ our Saviour."

When Demetrius had finished this discourse, the people all fell upon their faces on the earth, saying: "Verily, our father, thou are more excellent than many of the saints; and God has shewn his mercy towards us in making thee head over us." And they gave thanks to him, and besought him to forgive their evil thoughts of him. Then he gave them his blessing, and prayed for them; and they dispersed to their own homes, praising God. And after this, Demetrius bade his wife depart to her house.

Have you ever heard, you that listen to me, of such wonders? This holy father dwelt so long with his lovely and virtuous wife, and yet endured the trial. Where now are the men who are married, and yet commit adultery also, while professing to be Christians? Let them come and listen to the father Demetrius, the patriarch, saying: "I have known the face of my wife and no more," that they may be ashamed and confounded! O that valiant saint, fighting against his bodily desires! O that miracle! How could his heart remain unmoved when he beheld his wife's beauty, and how could his senses remain unexcited before her loveliness! How wonderful was thy discourse, O thou saint, in they bridal chamber! The archer whose arrows strike all men, namely Satan, was unable to strike thee. Demetrius said: "I am a man and have a body like all other men, but I will teach you how to answer the suggestions of the Devil. When my heart was troubled by evil thoughts, I remembered the compact I had made with Christ; and if I broke it, I feared that he would reject me in the kingdom of Heaven, before the Father and his holy angels. Moreover, when I saw the beauty and grace of her form, I thought of the corpses lying in their tombs and the foulness of their odour, so to keep myself from strange words, through fear of the fire that is not quenched, and the worm that sleepeth now, in the other world, where none can open his mouth."

O my friends, this Father was chosen by God, and in his courage and valour was braver than those that slay lions; as one of the doctors says: "The brave man is not he that kills wild beasts, but he that dies pure from the embraces and snares of women." Blessed is this saint, for his degree is exalted! Like Joseph in the house of the Egyptian woman, when she solicited him on every occasion that she could, so Demetrius fought against his desires every day and night until his battle was finished, and preserved his chastity and his right faith throughout his life.

Demetrius remained patriarch for forty-three years. In his time there was a disturbance at Alexandria, and the emperor Severus banished him to a place called the quarter of the Museum; and there he died on the 12th day of Barmahat, which, I believe, was the day of the manifestation of his virginity.

Now in the reign of the emperor Severus many became martyrs for the love of God. Among them was the father of a man named Origen, who learned the sciences of the heathen, and abandoned the books of God, and began to speak blasphemously of them. So when the Father Demetrius heard of this man, and saw that some of the people had gone astray after his lies, he removed him from the Church.

In these days also the martyrs Plutarch and Serenus were burnt alive, and Heraclides and Heron were beheaded. Likewise another Serenus, and the woman Herais, and Basilides; and Potamiaena, with her mother Marcella, who suffered many torments and severe agonies; also Anatolius, who was the father of the princes, and Eusebius, and Macarius, uncle of Claudius, and Justus, and Theodore the Eastern; all these martyrs were kinsmen. There was also another virgin named Thecla. Now Basilides was a soldier, and he came forward of his own free will; and when they questioned him he replied: "I am a Christian because I saw three days ago in a dream a woman who appeared to me, and placed upon my head a crown from Jesus Christ." Thus Basilides obtained the crown of martyrdom; and so likewise a great number were martyred; for Potamiaena was seen by all of them in dreams, and encouraged them to have faith in the Lord Christ, so that they received the crown of martyrdom.

Now there had come to Alexandria, in the room of Pantaenus, a new governor, whose name was Clement; and he remained governor until those days. And this Clement composed out of his own head books, in which he overthrew the received chronology. Then a Jewish scribe, named Judas, who had read in the book of the Visions of Daniel, in the tenth year of the reign of Severus, explained the years and dates mystically up to the epoch of Antichrist, on a system of his own, and declared that the time was at hand, on account of the deeds of Severus, the hostile prince.

And when Origen, whom Demetrius had cut off on account of his composing unlawful books of magic, and leaving the books of the holy writers, saw this, he wrote many treatises containing many blasphemies. Among these was his doctrine that the Father created the Son, and the Son created the Holy Ghost; for he denied that the Father, Son and Holy Ghost are one God, and that the Persons of the Trinity are inferior to one another in nothing, but have the same power and the same might. So, on account of his wicked creed, the Church abandoned him, because he was strange to her, and was not one of her children, for he taught corrupt doctrines.

And when he left the Church and was deposed from office, he departed from Alexandria, and travelled to Palestine, and there intrigued until he obtained priestly rank, and was ordained priest by the bishop of Caesaria in Palestine. Then Origen returned to Alexandria, believing that he would there be recognized as a priest, and would do just as he desired; but the holy Father Demetrius would not receive him, saying to him: "According to the apostolic canon, a priest must not be removed from the altar to which he has been ordained. Return, therefore, to the place to which thou hast been ordained priest, and serve there in all humility according to the canon; for I will not break the canons of the Church to gain the approval of men." So Origen remained rejected.

This was before the Patriarch knew of Origen's blasphemies and misbelief; and the thing became a scandal to all men, because he had made himself a teacher, although he was unworthy to be even a disciple.

Now Severus, the prince, reigned eighteen years, and then died. And Antoninus, his son, reigned after him. After this time lived many who were strong by the help of Christ, through the dispensation of God. One of these was Alexander, the confessor, and bishop of Jerusalem, who succeeded Narcissus. This Narcissus performed many miracles in his life time. For, when the church was in need of oil, Narcissus even bade them fill the lamps with water, during the vigil service of Easter, and prayed; and the water was turned into oil, and the lamps were kindled. Such wonders he did many times, through his faith in the oneness of Christ; and all men bore witness to these miracles; and we have learnt his history from persons worthy of credit.

But some men hated him in their wickedness, and wished to kill him, and invented lies concerning him, swearing that he did evil. And one of these wicked men began to kindle a fire, and was burnt thereby; and another's bowels gushed out, so that he died; and another fell sick, and his body was consumed; and another became blind; so that men understood that their words against Narcissus were lies, through the proofs that were given of his holiness. Then Narcissus was made bishop; and no evil befell him because he was pious and wise, and confessed the Lord Christ.

It came to pass that he fled from the church, and retired into the wilderness, because the people were in disorder, and some of them accused him of intrigue. But the all-seeing eye would not endure this; for God punished those that held an evil and heretical creed and a false faith concerning him; and the first of these men died, with all his household, in a fire from a spark which fell upon them; and another was afflicted with pains from his head to his feet, with a violent fever; and a third tried to flee because of his evil conscience, but God overtook him, and he was struck with sudden blindness, and acknowledged his wicked conduct towards the holy bishop, before all, and was devoured by remorse, and repented, and wept over the loss of his sight.

And as for Narcissus, the bishop, he lay hid in the desert, and none knew where he was for many days. But, because the churches over which he was bishop were left without any to govern them, circumstances made it necessary that they should appoint in his stead a man named Dius, who, however, occupied the see for a short time only, and then died. So they ordained in his place another, named Germanion.

After that, the glorious Father Narcissus was found, like one risen from the dead; and they begged him to return to his see; and the people were greatly rejoiced over him. But he had devoted himself to philosophy, and to the cultivation of the graces which God had granted to him; and therefore he would not return to serve his diocese.

Now as for Alexander, who has been mentioned above, he was in possession of another see; but he saw in a dream the angel of God, who bade him go to help Narcissus, and serve God, for he had already been consecrated bishop in Cappadocia. So he went to Jerusalem at that time to pray, and saw the holy churches which he had desired to behold, and visited all the holy places.

Then he was about to return to Cappadocia his native country; but the brethren prevented him; and he was warned in a dream. For they all heard a voice in the church, saying: "Go forth to the gate, and the first man whom you shall meet entering through it make your bishop." This they did, and there they found Alexander; and they clung to him. But he refused to be their bishop, saying: "I will not consent." So they appointed him by force, in the presence of an assembly of the bishops, in the city of Jerusalem, and by their command, with one purpose and one consent.

And in the letters which Alexander wrote and sent to Antinoe, he spoke of Narcissus, and said that they had one faith in common, and were in agreement in all things in the church of Jerusalem. And in all Alexander's letters, he said: "Narcissus, who preceded me in this bishopric, salutes you. He is now with me and he encourages me, and fortifies me by his prayers, that I may be strong in this ministry. He has continued to serve God thus for one hundred and sixteen years. I pray you to be of one heart and mind."

Among the holy men of this time was Serapion also, who was patriarch of Antioch; and when he died Asclepiades, the confessor, was appointed, and his degree was exalted. And Alexander wrote to the people of Antioch with regard to Asclepiades, saying thus: "Alexander, the servant of God, and believer in Jesus Christ, addresses the holy church in Antioch, in the Lord, with joy, by the hand of the chaste priest Clement. My brethren, I desire that you promote Asclepiades, who is worthy of that post." So he was ordained to the see.

Serapion also wrote to the people of Antioch a letter, in which he said that a Jew, named Marcian, had written books, which he attributed to Peter, the chief of the apostles, and in which the writer spoke lies. "Beware, therefore," continued Serapion, "of these writings. We receive Peter and the rest of the disciples, as we receive the commands of Christ, because they saw him and heard his words. But these lying books we do not accept, but reject them, because they contain nothing of the doctrine of our fathers."

Now when the priest arrived at Antioch with the letters, he said to them: "Be confirmed in the true faith, and do not turn aside to the spurious writings attributed to Peter, for they are false and delusive, and in them is the beginning of heresy; and for this reason I am come to you in haste, for we have learnt that this Marcian, the Jew, has led multitudes astray by his books, so that they have become heretics." For this heretic wrote many books, and the history from which we are quoting contains an account of some of them. But because it would make our narrative too long, I think it needless to write down their names.

Now Demetrius, the holy patriarch of Alexandria, displayed much learning and wisdom, although he had formerly been ignorant and unable to read or write; and all his spiritual children were continually admonished by him. But when he found that he was growing old in his researches into the divine doctrines and scriptures, so that he was carried into the church in a litter, although he did not cease from giving instruction from morning to night, while the brethren went and came that they might profit by his teaching, then he named Heraclas as his deputy and successor. Now Heraclas was an elect man, learned in the scriptures of God, teaching the doctrines of the Church and the science of the word of God; and he knew the canons of the Church by heart.

So when Origen, whom Demetrius had excommunicated, saw that the Church had rejected him, he went to the Jews, and expounded for them part of the Hebrew books, in a new fashion; and he concealed the prophecies which they contain of the Lord Christ, so that when he came to the mention of the thicket in which the ram of Abraham, the Friend of God, was caught by its horns, which the Fathers interpret as a type of the wood of the Cross, Origen even concealed and abandoned this interpretation. He wrote books full of lies and containing no truth.

And there was with Origen another heretic named Symmachus, who was the cause of much dissension. He said that Christ was born of Mary by Joseph, and rejected the miracle of the wondrous birth; denying also that Christ, who was born without labour (for so he was born of the Virgin), is very God and Man, and One of Two; thus contradicting the true Gospel according to Matthew, and what he says concerning the Nativity. But the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. This heretic pretended that he was a Christian; and in one place he says that he was a philosopher, and had read the books of the Sabaeans and of the schismatics. Subsequently he contracted a friendship with Origen, and led astray many simple women.

At this time there was a holy and excellent man, who possessed divine wisdom, named Ammonius; and he refuted them both, and exposed their false and unrighteous explanations of the Scriptures, and their lies. After this, Origen went to Caesarea in Palestine, where he had been made priest, and brought books back to Alexandria, in great abundance. But the Father Demetrius would not receive him, and banished him, because he knew what his conduct was. So Origen departed and went to a place called Thmuis in Augustamnica, and invented a plausible story for the bishop, whose name was Ammonius; so he placed Origen in one of the churches.

But when Demetrius hear of this, he went himself straightway to Thmuis, and banished Origen, and removed the bishop Ammonius who had received him, and in his indignation appointed another bishop in his stead; for having convinced himself that the bishop had received that heretic, although he knew his history and his false doctrine, he appointed in his place a bishop named Phileas, a man who feared God, and was full of faith. But Phileas said: "I will not sit upon the episcopal throne while Ammonius is alive." So when Ammonius died, the aforesaid bishop, Phileas, sat after him; and he was martyred a long time afterwards, and departed to the Lord in peace.

And Origen, the excommunicate, went to Caesarea in Palestine, and began to perform his priestly duties as if he were bishop there. So the Father Demetrius wrote to Alexander, bishop of Jerusalem, saying: "We have never heard of a prodigal and heretic teaching in a place in which there were bishops duly established." And he proceeds to blame the bishop of Caesarea, whose name was Theoctistus, and reprehends Origen who was living in his diocese, and condemns his conduct in this matter, saying: "I never thought that such a thing would be done at Caesarea, with this bishop." For we have found this Origen saying in certain books that the Son and the Holy Ghost are created. So the bishop of Caesarea read the letter of the Father Demetrius in the church, for the bishop of Jerusalem sent it to him; and also he suspended Origen, and drove him away from the diocese of Caesarea. Then Origen shamelessly returned to Alexandria.

On account of the many changes among the princes and patriarchs of Rome and Antioch, we have thought it unnecessary to give an account of them, with a view to brevity and to the avoidance of prolixity. Philetus became patriarch of Antioch, and in his days a heretic appeared, who wrote strange books. Then Philetus died, and Zebinus was appointed patriarch of Antioch instead of him. And Zebinus commanded that neither the works of that heretic nor those of Origen, who had been banished from Alexandria, should be read; for the writings of the latter had become celebrated.

Now these are the words of Origen: "Let him who wishes to read the Scriptures read the books named below. The books of the Old Testament are as follows: The five books of the Law; the book of Josue the son of Nun; the book of the Judges; the book of Ruth the Moabitess; the books of Kings, the Paralipomena, the book of Esdras, the Psalms of the prophet David, the Wisdom of Solomon, the book of Isaias, the book of Jeremias, the book of Ezechiel, the book of Daniel, the book of Job, the book of Esther, the book of Machabees [Sarbeth Sarbane El], the book of the Twelve Minor Prophets. The books of the New Testament are these: the Gospel of Matthew, which he wrote in Hebrew on a roll, when he was at Caesarea, at the house of a man whose descendants preserve it from generation to generation; and it was translated into Greek, and rendered into all languages by the power of the Lord Christ. Then the Gospel of Mark, which he wrote in Greek, while Peter, chief of the apostles was with him, and which was read in the assembly of the princes. Then the Gospel of Luke, the disciple of Paul, which he wrote in Greek at Antioch. The Gospel of John, son of Zebedee, whom his disciples, after he had grown old, frequently solicited until he wrote it in Greek at Ephesus. The book of the Acts of the Apostles and Disciples, called Praxeis. The book of the Epistles of Paul the Elect, which contains fourteen epistles. The book of the Revelation of John the Evangelist, or the Apocalypse."

There is also the book of the Didascalia, or Teaching of the Apostles, and Canons of the Church, written by the apostles before they dispersed to preach the gospel. These are the books delivered to the Catholic and Apostolic Church. After them come the books of the Fathers and Doctors, which they composed through the instructions of the Holy Ghost, such as the homilies and other writings; for they added nothing to the Scriptures, and took nothing from them. But the books of the heretic Origen are contemned by God, and there is nothing in them written with the Holy Ghost. As he said by Paul the apostle: We receive no spirit of this world, but the spirit that God has given to us, [I Cor 2:12].

Now the glorious father, Demetrius, remained patriarch forty-three years, and went to his rest as we have related.


The St. Pachomius Orthodox Library, Sts. Cosmas and Damian of Mesopotamia, 1997.

Have mercy, O Lord, upon Thy servants the translator Basil and the scribes Gerges, Amgad, Maurice, the Subdeacon Herman, Edward, Alifa, Kenneth, Mark, Constantin, Sieglinde, Ken, and Margaret!