You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier on service gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. Think over what I say, for the Lord will grant you understanding in everything. Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descended from David, as preached in my gospel, the gospel for which I am suffering and wearing fetters like a criminal. But the word of God is not fettered. Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation in Christ Jesus with its eternal glory. II Timothy 2: 1-10 (Epistle from Feast of St. Panteleimon)
On July 27 each year, we celebrate the feast of Saint Panteleimon, who was martyred during the reign of the Emperor Maximian, approximately 305 A.D. Born to pagan parents and originally named “Pantaleon” meaning “like a lion in all things” he converted to Christianity. He changed his name to “Panteleimon” which means “all merciful.” Trained as a doctor, he dedicated his life to helping the sick, the suffering, and those who are in need. Saint Panteleimon, in addition to his title “martyr”, has the title “unmercenary healer,” (like Sts. Cosmas and Damian-November 1) one of a group of saints who is remembered for being healers who did their work without every taking any money in return. Saint Panteleimon became well known for visiting those held in prison, many of them Christians, and healing them. His “fame” soon got him brought before the Emperor. As a witness for Christ, he suggested that a sick person be brought before the Emperor and that the doctors of the empire could try to heal him. They did, but without success. When Saint Panteleimon prayed over the man, he was healed instantly.
The Emperor ordered Saint Panteleimon to be tortured and when the tortures didn’t work, to be executed.
The Epistle lesson that is read on the feast of Saint Panteleimon is also read on the feastday of St. Demetrios (October 26). In the passage from Saint Paul’s Second Letter to Timothy, we are reminded that being a Christian does not guarantee one is going to have an easy life. To the contrary, being a genuine Christian will in many cases lead to a life that has more suffering than the one who is a non-Christian. Look at the world today—no one is killing people who profess to not be Christians in the Middle East. (Yes, lots of people are killed there every day, but in general, the targets are religious groups, including Christians, along with Jews and Muslims, not non-religious groups). Look at our country today—it is the Christian values and those who adhere to them that are under attack. People who have no sense of value seem to be left alone. Hence, Saint Paul reminds us to “be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (II Timothy 2:1)because this is the grace that will help us to endure the challenges that come with being a Christian.
We are reminded to be good soldiers. Good soldiers have a single focus on their mission. When soldiers go to boot camp, they are trained to put aside individual ideas and form a group mentality. They put aside individual ideas for the good of the whole.
The day that we are baptized is not the day that our salvation is guaranteed. Rather, it is the day that we join God’s army as a soldier, enlisting in a life that will lead to salvation. Saint Paul reminds us that “no soldier on service gets entangles in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to satisfy the one who enlisted him.” (2:4) In other words, if we are in God’s army, we are not to get entangled in non-Christian pursuits, but rather our aim should be to satisfy the One who has enlisted us, Jesus Christ.
There is no reward for the athlete who cheats. Just as “the hardworking farmer (who) ought to have the first share of the crops.” (2:6) Saint Paul reminds us that there is no reward for the Christian who cheats in following the commandments and that if we want a share of the eternal reward in heaven, it requires us to work, like the farmer.
At some point, we will all cheat when it comes to following the commandments—this is what sin is. Sometimes the Word of God will fall into our hearts and find rocky soil there. Using the image of the farmer, we are supposed to continually cultivate the soil in our hearts, so that it is soft and fertile, ready to receive the Word of God and hold onto it fast. When we do this, “the Lord will grant you understanding in everything,” (2:7) so that we will have grace and clarity of spirit to negotiate the challenges and temptations that are sure to come our way.
Finally, Saint Paul reminds us to “remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, descended from David, as preached in my gospel.” (2:8) In the “busy-ness” of life, even in the “busy-ness” and routine of being a Christian, it is easy at times to forget the focus of our journey, Jesus Christ. It is very easy to get caught up in “checking boxes” when it comes to Christianity. It is very easy to pray and worship almost mechanically. One continual challenge for us as Christians, in addition to the pressure applied to us from our secular society, is the pressure within our faith to stay focused on Christ, His commandments, His love, His grace, to stay focused on Him.
Holy Laurel-bearer and Physician Panteleimon, make intercession to our merciful God, that He grant our souls remission of offenses. (Apolytikion of St. Panteleimon, Trans. By Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Stay focused not only on your Christianity but on CHRIST!