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Weekly Message For 07-29-07: Ninth Sunday Of Matthew

This past week, our blessed Orthodox Church celebrated several important saints:

We commemorated St. Mary Magdalene, a former prostitute whose faithfulness to Jesus earned her the distinction of being the first to see Him after His Resurrection.  Because of this, and because of her subsequent missionary activity in spreading the Gospel, she is known by the title, "Equal of the Apostles." According to tradition, she retired to Ephesus with the Mother of God and there she died. Her relics were transferred to Constantinople in the year 886 and are preserved there.

On the calendar this past Wednesday, we commemorated Saint Anne, whose icon is placed upon the tetrapod. She was the mother of the Mother of God. Her name Anne is a Greek rendering of a Hebrew name, Hannah. Anne and her husband Joachim, after years of childlessness, were visited by an angel of the Lord who told her, “Anne, the Lord has heard your prayer. You shall conceive a child whom the whole world will praise.”

Finally, on Friday, we commemorated the Great Martyr and Healer St. Panteleimon, whose icon, with a portion of his relics embedded, is also placed upon the tetrapod.  We celebrated the Divine Liturgy on Thursday evening in anticipation of this commemoration, which, sadly, was not very well attended. 

When I was in the Diaconal Formation program, we were in residence each summer during the same two week period at the end of July; because of this, we were always together for the Feast of St. Panteleimon.  One of the priests who instructed us in Liturgics grew up in a Greek neighborhood in Baltimore, and it was he who introduced us to the life of St. Panteleimon.  We celebrated Great Vespers, then Divine Liturgy the next morning, and the Akathist to St. Panteleimon that evening.  St. Panteleimon became our unofficial class patron, and from that time on, I have had a personal devotion to this unmercenary healer. 

St. Panteleimon was a physician who studied under St. Hermolaus and was baptized by him.  Panteleimon became known as the "great healer" and worked many miracles by invoking the name of Jesus Christ upon those who came in search of his assistance. Other envious doctors told the emperor Maximian of the attention being given him by healing Christian prisoners. When confronted, St Panteleimon confessed himself a Christian, and suggested that a sick person, for whom the doctors held out no hope, should be brought before the emperor. Then the doctors could invoke their gods, and Panteleimon would pray to his God to heal the man.  A man paralyzed for many years was brought in, and pagan priests who knew the art of medicine invoked their gods without success. Then, before the very eyes of the emperor, the saint healed the paralytic by calling on the name of Jesus Christ. The ferocious Maximian executed the healed man, and gave St Panteleimon over to fierce torture, but the Lord appeared to him on several occasions and delivered him whole and uninjured. When he would not abandon Christ for the idols, he was stretched across a rack and burned with candles. Then he was thrown into a pit of fire and then to wild beasts. But Jesus appeared to him many times and kept him whole and unharmed. He was thrown into a river with a large stone tied to him, but it floated. When he was retrieved, he was sentenced to beheading. Condemned to death, St. Panteleimon knelt in prayer. At that, the executioner gave him a blow on the neck with his sword, and the sword broke as if made of wax. The executioner could not kill him until he had finished his prayer and had himself given the word to behead him. Panteleimon was beheaded under an olive tree, which after that became laden with fruit. As the head of Panteleimon fell, tradition tells us that milk flowed from the saintly body of Panteleimon rather than blood. After his death, his body was thrown into a fire, but remained unharmed, and was buried by Christians.

My brothers and sisters, do you see the common thread among these saintly people on our church calendar this week?  They were all people of great faith.  They were people whose faith was personally rewarded by God; Mary Magdalene saw Jesus first after the Resurrection; St. Anne was blessed with a child who has a place of honor for all times in the life of the church; St. Panteleimon was visited by Jesus, who strengthened him for the trials he endured for the sake of God.  All of them fared much better then the Apostle Peter, who, despite his confident and enthusiastic nature, was still afraid when confronted by the wind and the sea.  He took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink; we all suffer the same potential fate.  But, Jesus took him by the hand and brought him back to safety.  In the same way, our Lord extends His hands to all of us to bring us back to safety.  He offers His hand to us via the Mystery of Confession for the forgiveness of our sins; He offers His very body and blood for us through the chalice, which we pray, is for also for the forgiveness of sins, and the healing of soul and body.  In fact, the very words uttered by Peter, “Truly you are the Son of God” are contained in our prayer before communion; it is the summary of our faith in Jesus as our Saviour. 

The saints we commemorated this past week are all examples of this kind of faith, and are the proper role models for all of us.

As we continue on our journey as Disciples of Christ, let us keep in mind these saintly people, whose icons we are blessed to have in our midst, and let us remember how their faithfulness was rewarded.  Amen.

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