On 9 August, we commemorate the Great Martyr Panteleimon. He was a prominent physician – but not the only one among the Orthodox Christian saints. Today, we write about Saint Panteleimon and some of his other sainted colleagues.
Apostle and Evangelist Luke, 1st century
In his epistle to the Colossians (4:14), the apostle Paul introduces Luke as follows: “Our dear friend Luke, the doctor, sends greetings.” Luke is an apostle of the seventy. He wrote four gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. According to the Church Tradition, he was the first iconographer of the Mother of God. He was the namesake of another sainted doctor, Archbishop Luke Voyno-Yasenetsky. The Apostle Luke died as a martyr. He was hanged on a tree.
Unmercenary physicians Cosmas and Damian, fourth century
The Orthodox Church commemorates three pairs of saints named Cosmas and Damian, all unmercenary physicians. Saints Cosmas and Damian of Assyria are perhaps the most revered of these.
They were brothers, sons of Saint Theodosia, a devout Christian and a saint. They helped the sick and accepted nothing as a reward. They also sought out and cured sick animals. The animals they healed accompanied them everywhere without any fear. In his advanced years, Damian broke the vow of unmercenary healing: he gave in to the pleas of a terminally ill woman whom he cured to accept her gift of three eggs. On hearing about the incident, his brother Cosmas willed to be buried separately from his brother after his death. When both brothers reposed, the Lord revealed to the people that Damian had accepted the woman’s gift out of love for the Creator, not from greed. Finally, the saints were laid to rest together.
Holy Martyrs and Unmercenary Physicians Cyrus and John, late 3rd – early 4th centuries
St. Cyrus was an unmercenary doctor who practised in Alexandria. He helped everyone who asked, including people with mental illnesses and accepted nothing as a reward. He was unafraid to preach the Gospel. When the Roman Emperor Diocletian unleashed his persecution of Christians, Cyrus withdrew into the Arabian desert, where he became a monk and continued to cure his patients. John the Soldier joined him eventually and became his disciple. They both travelled to Egypt to help a Christian woman named Athanasia, imprisoned with her three daughters. Cyrus and John were captured on their way and put to death in front of Athanasia. Their tormentors could not force the two saints, or Athanasia and her daughters to denounce Christ, and all received the crown of martyrs for Christ.
Holy Great Martyr Panteleimon, third century
He was born in Nicomedia in Asia Minor, to the family of a noble pagan and a secret Christian (Saint Eubula). He learned medicine from the famous physician Euphrosynus and later became a doctor at the court of Emperor Maximian. His prosperous life changed when he met Presbyter Hermolaus and took baptism from him. His father took baptism at the end of his life, and when he died, Panteleimon dedicated himself to helping the sick and poor. He helped everyone who asked without charging anything, prayed for his patients and ministered among prisoners. The other doctors were jealous of his success and denounced him to the emperor. Panteleimon was arrested. By the time of his arrest, his teacher Hermolaus and two other presbyters had been put to trial and executed. Panteleimon endured cruel tortures and was beheaded. He is venerated as a patron saint of doctors and intercessor for the sick.
Martyr Orestes, late third – early fourth century
He was a well-known physician in Cappadocia. A Christian from childhood, he openly preached Christianity at the time when the Roman authorities were persecuting Christians. Appearing before his interrogators after his arrest he proudly declared himself a Christian, saying that he was more honoured to be called by that name than by the name he received at birth from his parents. He refused to renounce his faith and endured the holy physician endured long and cruel torture. Forty Roman soldiers tortured him continuously, succeeding one another. Saint Orestes died as a martyr, dragged behind a wild horse.
Martyr Diomedes, third century
A doctor by profession, he helped patients with physical and mental diseases. He travelled extensively and preached Christ along the way, converting and baptising many Pagans. At Nicaea, the Pagan emperor Diocletian sent his guards to arrest him. However, he died peacefully after leaving Nicaea. As we read in his life, the guards found his dead body and severed the saint’s head. They brought it to the emperor as proof of the success of their mission but went blind immediately after. Then Diocletian directed them to take the head back. Vision returned to the guards as soon as they fulfilled the order. The name of the martyr Diomedes is invoked in the sacrament of Holy Unction.
Venerable Alypius (12th century) and Agapetus (11th century) of the Caves
The first saints among doctors glorified in Russia were monks of the Kiev Caves Lavra. Monk Agapetus, for example, made a name for himself by healing Vladimir Vladimir Monomakh from a sickness with a potion of herbs. A jealous doctor from Kiev tried to poison him, but his potion did not work. Eventually, he repented and took monastic tonsure.
The Venerable Alypius was a gifted healer but also a talented icon painter. One of his icons, the Svenska Icon of the Theotokos, is now an exhibit in the State Tretyakov Gallery of Moscow.
The Venerable Hypatius the Healer of the Caves, 14th century
He was another monk of the Kiev caves with an obedience to look after the sick. The Lord rewarded him with the gift of healing for his strict ascetic life and dedicated service to others. His uncorrupted relics are kept in the Far Caves of the Kiev Caves Lavra.
Holy Passion Bearer Eugene (Botkin), 20th century
His father was Sergei Botkin, a prominent Russian doctor and the lead physician of the court during the reign of the Russian Tsars Alexander II and Alexander III. After graduating with honours from the Military Medical Academy, he worked at the Mariinsky Hospital for the indigent. At the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War (1904), he volunteered for the field army and led the medical division of the Russian Red Cross Society. In 1908, he received an offer from Tsar Nicholas II to become the lead physician at the royal court. He accepted and held his position until the Bolsheviks executed him with the rest of the royal family in 1918. He was canonised by the Russian Orthodox Church in 2016.
Saint Luke (Voyno-Yasenetsky), 20th century
His father was a pharmacist and a practising Catholic, but he was brought up in the Orthodox faith by his mother, a devout Orthodox. After graduating from the Medical Faculty of Kiev University, he headed the surgical department of the Kiev Red Cross Hospital in Chita, when the Russo-Japanese war was in progress. He married a hospital nurse named Anna and had four children with her. He lost his wife to tuberculosis in 1919. A short time after her death, he accepted ordination as a deacon and then a presbyter. He took tonsure as a monastic in 1923 with the name Luke in honour of Luke the Evangelist. Later that year, he was ordained as a bishop and endured a succession of arrests and exiles on charges of “counterrevolutionary activities” that lasted eleven years. All these years, he continued to practise medicine, serve at church and write medical and theological works. In 1946 he was awarded the Stalin Prize for his medical research. Saint Luke spent his last years as the Archbishop of Crimea, dedicating himself to saving lives and souls. In 2000 the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church glorified him as a New Martyr and Confessor of Russia.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds