(Welcome to our Saint of the Day series! Each weekday, we present you with an excerpt from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints series, published by Holy Cross Orthodox Press. Today we commemorate St. Thallelaios, whose account is found in Volume 2 of the series.)
Physicians of the third century did not have the benefits of modern science, hospitals, or sophisticated life-sustaining machines, but they nevertheless were surprisingly able to cope with many illnesses of mankind, to a degree of success that earned them the respect of prince and pauper alike. One who was able to cure the ills of his patients, not only with the medical skill he acquired in his profession but also with the miraculous help of Jesus Christ, was Thallelaios. His life story is unique among the saints because of the dual nature of his healing medically and miraculously through his dedication to the word of the Lord.
Thallelaios was born in Lebanon during the reign of the Eastern Emperor Numerius (283-284). The son of Verukios, an archpriest of the church of Lebanon, Thallelaios exhibited at an early age the scientific curiosity and skill that convinced his father he would make an excellent physician. To that end, the boy’s education was directed. While acquiring the medical knowledge and the best education possible, the youth never let his scientific interest crowd out his respect for God; he was as zealous a follower of Jesus Christ as he was a student of medicine. Seldom in church history has there been a man of such combined passion for the exactness of science and the pure truth of the Lord.
Established as a physician, as well as a man of deep piety, Thallelaios converted his home into a clinic for all who sought relief at his hands. No one was turned away, and only those who could afford it paid a fee for his services. On Sunday, when he could have rested from his long labors, he went out instead to preach the word of Jesus Christ, always reminding them that “of the most high cometh healing.” His impassioned oratory brought many into the fold, the healthy as well as the sick. Soon he was looked upon with awe because he performed miraculous cures which could only be effected through Jesus.
Since Lebanon was still ruled by pagans, it followed that when Thallelaios’ work came to their attention, the physician became a hunted man. Nevertheless, he traveled throughout the country, carrying on the work of the Lord which he had accepted with great humility and dedication. In his travels he was exposed to the treachery of those who would see him cut down. In due course he was apprehended and brought before Theodore, governor of the province of Cilicia, whose fiendish delight was to wreak all manner of destruction on the Christian Church and its champions.
Priding himself on having small talent for debate, he hurled a challenge to Thallelaios to argue their opposing religions. Little did he know that he was taking on as an adversary not only a man of great oratorical power, but a man who had the might of the truth on his side. The debate soon turned into a defeat for the governor and his gods. Seeing the futility of his course, Theodore ordered the physician to be tortured. Through past experience the governor presumed that a punishment of the body would break the spirit and he would emerge victorious after all. Such was not the case, however, and after all forms of cruelty had failed to crush his spirit, Thallelaios was ordered to be executed.
Exceeded in reputation as a combination of physician and missionary only by St. Luke of the Holy Bible, St. Thallelaios subordinated his duties as a doctor to his more honorable task of preaching the word of Jesus Christ. Had he devoted himself to medical practice alone he might be remembered as Hippocrates. But he would never have become known as a saint. It was not his intention to devote himself primarily to the Messiah for that purpose. For his own sake, he would have been better off to have remained silent about Jesus Christ and stuck to his potions. But his spirit and soul dictated otherwise and happily he has come down to us as St. Thallelaios.
It was at the end of the third century, on May 20, that the glorious physician Thallelaios was beheaded. This martyr exemplified in his lifetime the highest order of mankind created in the image of God.
Text from Fr. George Poulos' Orthodox Saints. Image from GOArch.org.