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Saint Demetrios is shown on a horse and spearing the Emperor Maximian's favourite gladiator, Lyaios, who was known for executing many Christians. In the background we see a city, the representation of Thessaloniki. Above the saint in the top-centre of the panel Christ is shown from the waist up and blessing the viewer and the scene. Clouds surround him, highlighting that he is in a celestial space.
Demetrios lived in Thessaloniki during a time of great persecutions against Christians. Demetrios boldly proclaimed his faith in Christ, resulting in his execution by order of the Emperor Maximian on October 26th 306 CE. Many stories about his posthumous body performing miracles, such as healing, have been recorded.
Since the 10th century icons of Demetrios have depicted him as a warrior saint and wearing the red cloak of martyrdom. The iconography echoes the famous icons of St George, which, although it tells a different story, has the same psychological and cosmological symbolism. Whereas St. George slays the Dragon, Demetrios kills the king of the infidels. But this symbolises a deeper reality. Spiritual fathers, writing in the anthology of early mystical writings of the Orthodox tradition, the Philokalia, speak repeatedly of 'hidden warfare' or 'spiritual warfare'. Unseen Warfare is the title of a classic of mystical writing, a text that deals with the ascetic's attempt to achieve absolute spiritual discipline, and conquer the evil forces that hinder the path of the monastic 'warrior'. Militaristic imagery can be found in St Paul's epistles. For example, he tells us to 'put on the whole armour of God' (Eph. 6:13). Icons of warrior saints should be understood in the light of these early Christian texts.
The style of our version is typical of a 19th century Russian icon workshop.