Thursday, June 10, 2010

St Panteleimon the Healer

This video depicts the scenes of the life of a saint most dear to me, the Great Martyr Panteleimon of the 4th century. This saint is part of a group of saints called the Unmercinary healers or Anargiroi. I decided to post this video after much thought about the concept of well-being and healing. What struck me as quite odd at first was the chanting in this video from the Great Supplicatory Canon to the Theotokos. What has the Theotokos got to do with an Unmercinary healer? As I was pondering about this, I remembered the chanting from last Sunday’s Liturgy for some strange reason. Normally we chant the Liturgy in the Tone of the day (being first tone last Sunday) but the Protopsalti (and I followed of course) decided to chant the Leitourgika in the sweet-sounding enharmonic plagal first tone. And we chanted the Axion Estin in the same tone. This Axion Estin happens to be one of my favourites and whenever I find myself wandering in my thoughts, I end up chanting this hymn to myself. I also chant to myself one of the verses from the Small Supplicatory Canon to the Theotokos:

Ἀπὸ τῶν πολλῶν μου ἁμαρτιῶν, ἀσθενεῖ τὸ σῶμα, ἀσθενεῖ μου καὶ ἡ ψυχή, πρὸς σὲ καταφεύγω τὴν Κεχαριτωμένην, ἐλπὶς ἀπηλπισμένων, σύ μοι βοήθησον.

(Translated by me:) Due to my many sins, my body is weak, and so too my soul; to you who are abounding in Grace do I flee, the hope of the hopeless, may you help me.

Is it such a coincidence that the Theotokos is called upon to help the weak, the sick, the needy? Surely not.

I happened to be taking a General Education course this semester (a course which has nothing to do with your degree), and after not much luck I finally found one that did not clash with my core materials science subjects: A History of Medicine. Yes, my first Arts course! It was interesting learning about mainly western medicine starting from the Ancient Greeks till now. It was interesting learning the different perspectives on well-being and healing. I had to write an essay on the similarities between Hippocratic and modern approaches to well-being. At one point I wrote:

… With the rise of the Philosopher-scientist (the first being Thales of Miletus who believed everything was composed of water), there came an increased interest in the natural world and the function and the place of the human being, who was viewed as a microcosm of the natural world…This philosophical worldview is what is lacking in today’s culture, where man thinks himself as a tyrant over nature, and attempts to become ‘one with nature’ are only found in eastern religions and so-called ‘alternative therapies’…

I did not dare mention Orthodoxy in this essay, even though Orthodoxy is all about well-being and healing. Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos in his book ‘Orthodox Psychotherapy’ right from the beginning stresses the point that the Orthodox Church views sin not as a crime to be punished (as in western Christianity) but as a sickness to be healed. He mentions that the Church is a hospital, made up of sick people, recovering people, physicians all striving for the same goal, to become truly human.

One of my favourite Gospel passages is the healing of the blind man. The mixing of saliva and dirt immediately reminds me of the Genesis account of creation. The faith this man had to walk to the pool to wash his face must have been great, expecting to be healed. And what a sight that would have been! Imagine seeing for the first time the sun, the trees, your hands, another person’s face.

The healing of the paralytic is another favourite of mine, which I wrote about a few weeks ago. But my favourite passage is when Christ saves Peter from drowning from his doubt. Peter shouts, ‘Lord, save me’ and Christ is there. Christ says, ‘I am the Truth and the Way and the Life’. The Hebrew word for truth is emet, which comes from the same word as rock. Christ is who we can depend on, who is always faithfully there. Christ is also Life. Metropolitan Tryphon, who wrote the Akathist ‘Glory to God for all things’ (at the bottom of this blog), said:

Christ is life. The familiar and operative term life is not at all a simple phenomenon. When Darwinism recently brought to the fore the question of life and tried to formulate its essence in precise terms, subjecting it to specific laws, it turns out that even in its biological sense life is one of the most impenetrable mysteries. All scholars halted before this problem of life as before a massive locked door. To describe the process as a chance movement of atoms and electrons, to say that the living cells of the body possess a consciousness, still falls very far short of explaining what life is. All scientific theories can have meaning only as more or less satisfying descriptions of a living process, the source of which apparently lies beyond the boundaries of this life itself. Old Testament Jewish religion affirmed that the source of cosmic life, the earth, the plants, and animals and humans, all lies in God, that is, an independent entity who has no prior origin. As the true Image of God, as God Incarnate, Jesus Christ, in this biological sense has the full justification to declare about Himself: I am the Life.

A certain doctor here in Sydney asked a Priest, “Father, it’s been such a long time since you have had a blood test. Don’t you think you should come to me soon?” And the Priest’s reply was, “Why do I need a blood test when I have Christ running in my veins?” Indeed, when we partake in the Sacramental life of the Church, we can say the same thing. That is the reason why we are brothers and sisters in Christ. Not because we have the same lineage, but because Christ’s blood runs in our veins.

The truth is that everyone wishes to be healed, in one way or another. And the sad thing is that most of the time, people seek instant healing, which may do more harm than good. Spending money for instantaneous gratification at shops or on the internet, watching television all hours of the night to forget yourself and your problems, listening to music on the ipod at any moment you can, anything to make yourself feel better. This we do perhaps as a cure for loneliness or so that we do not have to face who we really are, because we will not be able to handle it.

Christ asks us, ‘Do you want to be made well?’

Quoting our dear brother Romanos (here):

“It is not medicine that heals, it is love.”

I wrote in an earlier post on the topic of compassion:

…What is deeply unnatural is to absent ourselves from such relationships; to view compassion, love, as optional extras. Sometimes we characterise people who are extremely compassionate and forgiving, who offer their lives to others, as superhuman. But in fact such people are those who have discovered what it means to be truly human, whereas us who live in broken relationships, who see a brother or a sister and rather than seeing a companion, we see a stranger, foreigner, an ‘other’. We are the sub-natural, sub-human examples of life in this world…The weight is on our shoulders to love, to forgive, to help, to support all whom we encounter, whatever their circumstances and whatever ours.

Metr. Anthony Bloom writes:

We are responsible, mutually, for one another; because when we look right and left at the people who stand by us, what do we know about them? Do we know how broken they are? How much pain there is in their hearts? How much agony there has been in their lives? How many broken hopes, how much fear and rejection and contempt that has made them contemptuous of themselves and unable even to respect themselves – not to speak of having the courage of making a move towards wholeness, that wholeness of which the Gospel speaks in this passage and in so many other places?

Let us reflect on this. Let us look at each other and ask ourselves, ‘How much frailty is there in him or her? How much pain has accumulated in his or her heart? How much fear of life – but life expressed by my neighbour, the people whom I should be able to count for life – has come in to my existence?

Let us look at one another with understanding, with attention. Christ is there. He can heal; yes. But we will be answerable for each other, because there are so many ways in which we should be the eyes of Christ who sees the needs, the ears of Christ who hears the cry, the hands of Christ who supports and heals or makes it possible for the person to be healed.

Let us look at this parable of the paralytic with new eyes; not thinking of this poor man two thousand years ago who was so lucky that Christ happened to be near him and in the end did what every neighbour should have done. Let us look at each other and have compassion, active compassion; insight; love if we can.

And finally from Romanos’ blog:

“You must make the other person’s pain your own, and then pray from your heart. Love is a divine attribute, and informs the other person [that you are praying for him]. Even in hospitals, when doctors and nurses feel genuine compassion for their patients, this is the most effective of all the medications to give to them. The patients feel they are being cared for with love, and have a sense of certainty, security and consolation. You do not need to say much to someone who is suffering, or try to instruct him. He understands that you feel his pain and care about him, and he is helped by this. Feeling his pain is everything. If we feel compassion for others, we forget ourselves and our problems.”

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain

God gave the name Panteleimon (all merciful) to St Panteleimon for this reason.

St Panteleimon, mediate for people's illnesses, from darkness, into His Light.


Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Excellent post, great thoughts, brother, and may you, like your nameday saint, live your life in Christ as an αναργυρος... You're making a fine start.

Whatever we are, whatever we have, all is from the Lord, and He will magnify in us His gifts, as long as we agree to keep giving them away. The fruit we bear is for others to eat. Let us always give to them freely.

Gentle heart said...