St. Panteleimon: Patron Saint of Physicians

By Ayesha Ahmad

A few weeks ago, in the city of Belgrade, I sat alongside some of the most eminent of ethicists in current biomedical debate, and discussed the morals of enhancing humans.

In light of our scientific and technological development of the means to cause our own final destruction, for our survival, it was argued, we need to enhance our morality, through therapeutic interventions that lead to morally-enhanced motives. Otherwise, we will just become what we become. By virtue of the nature of such therapeutic interventions, subsequently, there will no longer be any need for the reflections of whom we are.

So, too, will the narratives of our writers, our poets, our artists be executed and belong only to a death that cannot speak of our existential disclosures.

Amid our international forum, during the conference, I noticed that we were also sharing our venue with another academic party. A group of theologians were visiting from neighboring Macedonia. They were also inhabitants of a Church and monastery in Gorno Nerezi, Republic of Macedonia, honored in the name of St. Panteleimon, the patron saint of physicians. I observed their quaintness, reminiscing the serenity I had encountered when I visited their land some time ago.

The image of their traditional robes contrasted with the thoughts of my mind, where the content echoed the morning’s discussions on our most recent efforts in psychopharmatherapy and neuroscience.

I suddenly was struck by the significance of these meetings, and the transcribing of our dialogues of the human condition to reveal our desires to heal; and from what, I wondered, did we need to be healed from?

The meaning of Panteleimon is ‘all-merciful’. As a physician, educated under the auspices of renowned physician, Euphrosinos, Panteleimon healed in the name of Jesus Christ. Thus, to be ‘all-merciful’ is symbolic; healing is a form of forgiveness. Yet, to understand healing we must understand our illness.

And another realization beset me. I wondered what may become of us should we forsake the relationship between embodying and entering the deepest passages of our lives. Will we forget too to describe whom and where we are when the embrace of being healed is transcended by our manipulations and modifications of the human mind and body? Who will be the savior of our soul and our body?

St. Panteleimon healed with mercy. St. James in the Epistle of James wrote:

“Is there any one among you suffering? Let him pray … Is any among you sick? Let him call for the presbyters of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven” (James 4.13-15).

When St. Panteleimon was eventually condemned to death by the Emperor Maximian for his refusal to be saved through apostasy and for his healing miracles that were regarded as magic, the greatest of all healings began. All attempts to kill St. Panteleimon failed, until the time when he himself desired his own finality, and he was beheaded. The mercy of his own narrative carved its final inscription into the time that gave his rest. There was an empowerment in the entering of death and not a conclusion of failure.

We may find here that our own fallacies, our flaws, and our suffering are exhaustive. Our narration holds an embodiment of the fabric of our own healings—of the great ways that our soul speaks—but we must remember to create for ourselves a space where we may find our own suffering.

Before the rewriting of our human discourses, the simplicity of the scripts that remind us of our merciful desire to heal and be healed are there to show that in the deepest of wounds—ultimately, our human condition—our Medicine finds its story.