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Archimandrite Seraphim (Voepel): Sermon for the Feast of St. Panteleimon 2014

On the feast of the Holy Great-Martyr Panteleimon, the Eastern American Diocesan Media Office is proud to offer this touching sermon from Archimandrite Seraphim (Voepel; abbot of Holy Cross Monastery in Wayne, WV), which he delivered in 2014, after his successful battle with cancer:

Through the prayers of the Holy Great-Martyr and Healer Panteleimon, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us!

Last night in the beautiful akathist to St. Panteleimon, we read in the third ikos, "Rejoice, unsleeping guardian of the monastery that honoureth thee!" He is indeed the unsleeping guardian of this monastery because we do honor him.

I cannot begin to tell you what an honor it is for me to be standing here before you today and speaking to you about our beloved, unsleeping guardian and physician St. Panteleimon. In fact, the best sermon of all is that I am able to stand here in front of you today.

Last year at this time, I was so weak, I could not even serve for his feast. As usual, I spent the day in my cell and could only come down when it was time for Holy Communion. I am living proof of the loving and miraculous care that St. Panteleimon provides for our monks and pilgrims. I wish I had enough love to tell you about the love and compassion of St. Panteleimon. I wish I had the courage and zeal to tell you about this saint who rescued me from suffering and uncertainty.

In spite of the fact that I am so limited, I want to speak to you today about his greatness and his overwhelming love and trust in our Savior Jesus Christ: a love so great, that he gave up all things and endured incredible tortures for his faith in Christ; a love so great, that even today he continues to bring the healing and saving power of Christ to all those who call upon him.

And here at this monastery, we have all experienced the love and protection of this great saint. But unfortunately, many modern Christians do not understand the veneration of the saints and think of it as being merely optional to our spiritual life, something extra.

In reality, the saints are in fact an essential part of our relationship with our Savior. Through our relationship with His saints, Christ reveals Himself to us and we learn how He loves and acts in our world. We learn from the saints who Christ is and how He operates in the world today, because He chooses to operate through His saints. In our own everyday life, we experience the love and compassion of Christ through other people, especially those who have died to themselves and are following Christ.

Look at the life of our beloved patron, St. Panteleimon. By his faith in Christ, he healed the young boy who had been killed by the bite of a venomous snake and he healed a blind man after all the best doctors and specialists failed. He healed so many of the sick that the other physicians in the town were losing all their patients. They became so jealous of him that they complained to the emperor and had him killed; and not just killed, but tortured to death.

St. Panteleimon loved Christ so much that he sacrificed everything for Him. He gave up his inheritance, his family estates, his career, his freedom, and even his life.

St. Panteleimon had learned that the more he sacrificed himself for Christ, the more he gained peace and spiritual riches. He turned away from the things of this world because his eyes saw something much sweeter and truer. He freely and even gladly gave up his worldly wealth and career, because he had already died to himself: he was already living with Christ, living in the spiritual reality. This earthly life was being seen by him for what it really is. He longed to be with Christ so much that he no longer feared for his life, and all of the terrible tortures that they inflicted on him could not change this.

Often, when modern Christians read about all the terrible tortures inflicted upon St. Panteleimon, they doubt. How could anyone endure such pain, such horrible torture? Modern skeptics think this is all just an exaggeration. Most of us suspect that no one could endure being tortured for their Faith, that everyone would give in and deny Christ.

But we are dealing with a greater spiritual reality here. We are dealing with a man who had already achieved union with Christ while still in the flesh. He had transcended the flesh so much that the comforts and sensitivity of his body no longer had power over him.

He would not betray Christ, no matter how much they tortured him. And why did God allow this, why allow one of His chosen ones, who had given up everything to follow Him, to be so afflicted and tormented?

So that we would know, you and I here today in this church, so that we would know that this life here on earth is not our true home; so that we would know that Christ has overcome suffering and death; so that we would know that we do not belong to this world. We belong to Him, to Christ, Who is all our sweetness and joy.

To be with Him overcomes all obstacles, even death. To be with Christ overcomes the pain and suffering of this world. This is why He allowed His beloved disciple St. Panteleimon to suffer so much torture. The sufferings that the emperor inflicted upon St. Panteleimon actually became sweet to him! In his overwhelming love for Christ, he recognized that the tortures where bringing him closer to his beloved Christ, and so he joyfully endure all this.

We who are bound to this earth can’t possibly understand this ‒ to be joyful in the midst of torture?

There are many accounts of the early Christian martyrs being thrown to the lions in the arena. In one particular story that stands out so clearly in my mind, a large group of Christians ‒ men, women, and children ‒ enter the arena to face certain death. The pagan crowds who have packed into the arena for the entertainment are cheering wildly. And as the lions are released and charge across the arena, the Christians stand there quietly, peacefully singing hymns. And even as they are being torn apart by the lions, they remain at peace.

This is the truth, my dear brothers and sisters. This is more true than anything around that you can touch and see.

The reality of Christ’s transforming love and mercy are shown so beautifully, so completely, in the life and martyrdom of the saint whom we are all gathered here to celebrate.

Christ’s love is the only reality. And we see this in His saints. The life of St. Panteleimon, like the lives of all the martyrs and saints, is the actual fleshing out of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the actual proof of the saving death and Resurrection of our Savior.

We monastics read the lives of the saints every day in the refectory so that we will not forget this truth, which we celebrate today in the life of St. Panteleimon. Christ has overcome the world, and the martyrs and saints are the living proof of this!

Through the prayers of the Holy Great-Martyr and Healer Panteleimon, O Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us!

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Eastern American Diocese | Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia