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Saint Panteleimon: Holy Unmercenary

Saint Panteleimon was from Nicomedia and lived during the late 3rd to early 4th Century. His given name, however, was Pantoleon (in Greek meaning: in all things a lion). This name signifies the bravery he would one day display in contesting his faith in Christ. The Saint had a pagan father and a Christian mother. Unfortunately, she died before she could raise him in the True Faith. Instead, his father sent him to a pagan school. Years later, Pantoleon studied medicine and became a physician.
 
By God's volition the Saint met the Hieromartyrs Hermolaus, Hermippus and Hermocrates who were survivors of the horrific massacre in Nicomedia in 303 AD. A total of 20,000 Christians were murdered by the order of the Emperor Diocletian. It was Saint Hermolaus who taught Pantoleon about Christ. 
 
One day, Pantoleon was walking and noticed a dead child on the road who was bitten by a poisonous snake. He prayed to Christ that the child be revived and the snake die. Pantoleon made a promise that if the boy came back to life and the snake died, he would be baptized and become a follower of Christ. 
 
So Pantoleon was baptized one day by Saint Hermolaus, taking a new name, Panteleimon (in Greek meaning: all-merciful). Panteleimon would go on to live up to the meaning of his name. After his father died, he dedicated his life to the sick and suffering. He would not accept any payment for his services, adhering to the words of Christ: And as you go, preach, saying ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give (Mt 10:7-8). 
 
Panteleimon became one of the Unmercenary Saints, just like the three pairs of brothers named Cosmas and Damian. All three pairs of brother Saints were physicians as well. 
 
The intercessions of Saint Panteleimon are very much sought for the health and well-being, especially for the gravely ill. There are hymns attributed to him in the Mystery of Holy Unction. The oil of this Sacrament is anointed on the faithful for both their spiritual and physical wellbeing and healing.
 
You ever draw up the grace of divine healing like water abundantly from immaterial wells of salvation, all-blessed Saint, and then you freely distribute cures to all those who come to you.  Now will you illumine with divine and holy grace all those who loyally celebrate your wholly sacred, luminous, glorious festival today, showing them mercy as your name denotes, and the kindness that imitates God himself; and entreat Him to grant this to the faithful now extolling you (Sticheron of Festal Vespers).
 
Saint Panteleimon’s fame spread very rapidly. Unfortunately, there were some physicians who were envious of him. They told the Emperor Maximian that he was healing Christian prisoners. Consequently, the Emperor ordered that the Saint be brought before him for questioning. Maximian pressured the Saint to offer sacrifices to pagan idols. Of course, Panteleimon refused to do so, remaining steadfast in his faith in Christ. 
 
The Saint proposed to the Emperor that a sick person be brought before him and the pagan doctors could invoke their gods to heal the person. At the same time, Panteleimon would call upon his God to heal the person.
 
So, a paralytic was brought in and the pagan doctors called upon their gods which did nothing. Conversely, Saint Panteleimon called upon the name of Christ and the man instantly rose and was able to walk. For this, the Emperor had that man executed and Panteleimon was sent to be tortured.
 
This narrative of the contest is reminiscent to that of the Prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 18:20-40. The Prophet Elijah proposed that two altars be built but remain unlit. Elijah would pray to the true God for it to be lit while the other side would pray to the pagan god Baal. Whichever sacrifice was first to burn, the workings of that god would be acknowledged as the true God. The believers of Baal called upon him all day but nothing happened. Then, Elijah built his altar with twelve stones, signifying the twelve tribes of Israel and ordered that both the wood and the sacrifice be soaked with water. 
 
Elijah called on God to send fire down and so the fire came down from Heaven and consumed the wood, sacrifice and the water that was in the ditch. In addition, the fire absorbed the stones and the soil. By Elijah’s prayer, the heavens opened and began to soak the earth after a three-and-a-half-year drought. 
 
Saint Panteleimon was subject to many fierce tortures including: his body being raked with iron hooks, being thrown in a boiling hot cauldron and cast into the sea with a stone around his neck. Yet, the Saint remained unscathed by all these tortures. Even when they tried to behead him, the sword was like a wax candle. 
 
The executioners were so fearful that on their knees begged the Saint for forgiveness. Yet, Panteleimon was determined to fulfill God’s Will and so told them to go on with the execution and so he was beheaded. The olive tree which Saint Panteleimon was previous hanging from suddenly became covered with fruit. 
 
In the apolytikion dedicated to Saint Panteleimon, we hear the word Αθλοφόρε which means a victorious athlete, thus, a champion. For Saint Paul said: if anyone competes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules (2 Tim 2:5). Indeed, Saint Panteleimon is a Champion, being crowned as a Martyr of Christ. He contested for the True Faith with his blood, abiding by the rules which is the will of God.
 
Saint Panteleimon is very much revered in the Orthodox Church as a healer. Many people beseech his intercessions before the Lord to be healed of all maladies. He is the patron Saint of medical professionals, especially doctors and of chaplains. Certainly, during this challenging time of COVID-19, the Saint’s supplications were sought. He is both an image of healing to the sick and a model to the essential worker who cares for the sick. Medical care is administered but ultimately it is God who heals. 
 
Panteleimon, saintly champion and healer, intercede with our merciful God to grant our souls remission of sins (Festal Apolytikion). 
 

-John Athanasatos 

A graduate of Long Island University, College of Pharmacy, and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary, John works to share the richness and beauty of the Orthodox Faith with the wider community.

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