Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The Coming Month

JULY, as we have remarked in previous years, is one of the two months in the Church Year, when there are no Great Feasts and no fasting periods, although, of course, we maintain the Wednesday and Friday fasts throughout the month. It is, however, almost exactly wedged between the Apostles’ Fast and that of the Dormition, which begins on 1st / 14th August. It also rejoices in the feast days of some of the most beloved saints of the Orthodox. 

The Holy Great Martyr Panteleimon (27th July / 9th August) was martyred as a youth in the year 304 in Nicomedia, which at that time was the residence of the Emperor Maximian, a persecutor of the Christians. The saint’s father was a pagan, but his mother Evbulla was a Christian, and is now numbered among the Saints. Called Pantaleon before his conversion, the saint was studying medicine under imperial auspices. He made the acquaintance of a Christian priest, Hermolaus, one of the few Christian survivors after the martyrdom of the Twenty-Thousand Martyrs of Nicomedia at Christmas the previous year (commemorated 28th December). St Panteleimon would visit the priest and receive instruction from him on his way to and from his studies. When asked at home by his pagan father, why he was not home on time, he would reply, “I was detained in the service of the Emperor.’ By this he meant Christ, but his father understood him to mean Maximian. When asked why he was often late for his studies, he would reply: “I was required at my Father’s house,” by which he meant God, but which they understood to mean his earthly father, and so he managed to keep his instruction in the Christian Faith secret from the enemies of the Faith. He was baptized by St Hermolaus, and his Christian confession was revealed when, in the name of Christ, he miraculously healed a blind man, whom the physicians had been unable to help. Out of envy they denounced him as a Christian, whereupon he boldly confessed his new-found Faith, and was put to a series of tortures. Hermolaus and two other priests, Hermippus and Hermocrates, were also apprehended, tortured and died as martyrs. St Panteleimon was eventually sentenced to be beheaded, and knelt to pray before he was executed. He was not permitted to finish his prayer before the swordsmen struck him. However, rather than killing him, the executioner simply broke his sword. When the Saint had finished his prayer, the executioner was then, and only then, able to strike off his head. When he did so, two further miracles happened: the olive tree under which he had been beheaded was suddenly seen to be laden with fruit, and instead of blood flowing from the saint milk came forth. St Panteleimon is honoured by the Church, as one of the great Unmercenary Healers. On the icon in our church, painted for us by the sisters of the St Elizabeth Convent in Etna, California, there are depictions of the three hieromartyrs, the priests Hermolaus, Hermippus and Hermocrates (commemorated on 26th July) and of Saint Panteleimon’s mother, St Evbulla (commemorated 30th March) in the margin.