Excerpt for Pantaleon The Physician by , available in its entirety at Smashwords


The Physician

A novel by

Peter von Steinitz

Drawings: Vladimir Naumez

Translation into English: Gabriele Magdalena Welzl


Over the 264 pages of his book Von Steinitz demonstrates, with compassion and understanding, how a relationship of love develops between the pagan Pantaleon and his Creator. How God reveals Himself to the young doctor (for example by way of small and great miracles). How Pantaleon is subsequently overwhelmed by a barrage of temptations – from bewitching women who promote the charm of a hedonistic lifestyle, to brutal aggressors who lie in wait for him at night, and finally by the doubts of scattered relativists who almost succeed in leading Pantaleon astray and causing a premature end to the relationship between himself and his God.

Despite all these experiences and fears Pantaleon’s love grows (occasionally reminiscent of a high-proof, spiritual intoxication) until he so-to-speak reaches the Olympus of the greatest saints: the 27-year-old chooses martyrdom because he desires to worship nothing other than his God. In this way Pantaleon reaches that which not Christians alone call the complete freedom of believers: whoever trusts totally in the next life acts as an example in this life – and whether this preserves us for an extra decade or not is no longer a matter of great importance.

(Welt am Sonntag, 6.11.2005)

This story offers much more than its well-researched background. The author incorporates the Weltanschauung of late antiquity, which initially narrows the young doctor’s slow path to his baptism: following which, however, he develops growing pleasure in his insight into the profound logic of Christianity. The passages are connected with unobtrusive cathechism and explanations of the Creed – which are, for many readers, particulary the young, of doubtless assistance for personal understanding! This inner development is related to the charmingly interwoven love for the young, pagan Roman woman, Aurelia (who is called Katherine after her baptism, pledges herself to Christ and is martyred in Alexandria!) and to light sketches of life at court, secret religious ceremonies and the baptisms of Christians, as well as visits to platonic philosophy: in particular in the chapter on divine beauty and the beauty of the divine.

(Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz)

For Catherine



The characters


1. Nicomedia

2. Childhood

3. Youth

4. The Emperor

5. Vespasiana

6. The Dead Child

7. Whether to become a Christian?

8. Resistance

9. Pantaleon’s Dream

10. A New Awakening

11. First Visible Lightening and Pantaleon’s Baptism

12. Visiting a Building Site

13. On Beauty

14. Christian Persecution

15. Farewell

16. Peace before the Storm

17. The New Emperor

18. Apotheosis


The Characters

Pantaleon (Leon, Panto) - Panteleimon *11.2.278, + 27.7.305

Eustorgios, his father, a Senator and physician

Eukuba, his mother, whose parents were Lusanias and Chloe

Diocletianus (Diocles) Iovius Maximianus Herculius, the current Emperor (Augustus) in the Eastern half of the Roman Empire (in Nicomedia)

Prisca, his wife

Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus, an ‘assistant Emperor’ (Caesar) under Diocletian (in Syrmium and Caesarea)

Valeria, his wife, Prisca’s daughter

Maximian, the Augustus of the western half of the Empire (in Milan)

Constantius Chlorus, the Caesar of the western half (in Trier and York), father of Constantine

Anthimos, the Bishop of Nicomedia

Hermolaos, a Christian priest

Hermipppos and Hermocrates (Christian priests), all three priests martyrs

Lactantius, rector at the Emperor’s court, a Christian

Adamantinos, a Science professor

Hero, his co-worker in the Academy

Glaucos from Athens, a former student of the Academy

Eufrosinos, a Professor of medicine

Tiburtius, the High Priest of Jupiter

Sossianus Hierocles, a neoplatonist

Daphne (Fridhilt), a servant in Eustorgios’ household

Aristippos, a Court Official

Zoe, his wife

Danae, their daughter

Criton, their son, school companion of Pantaleon

Creon, Maximus, Dionysos and Honoria, Pantaleon’s friends

Saturninus, a Deacon

Dorotheos, Dean of the Court Clerks

Paula, his wife

Gorgonius, a Court Official

Petros, a Court Official

Marcellus Pompeianus, a Court Minister

Julia Marciana, his wife, a Lady of the court

Aurelia, their daughter

Diomedes, their relative in Cyprus

Quintus, a slave (secretary) for Marcellus

Vespasiana, a Lady of the Court

Licinius, the Praetorian prefect

Demetrios, a potter

Telesphoros and Laura, his children

Eli, a naturopath

Caius Severinus, the Emperor’s physician

Lucius Aquila, an architect

Menelaos, a dyer

The characters whose names are not drawn from historical documents or the tradition of the Church and are, therefore, ‘invented’ are those printed in cursive characters.

Occasionally, at the beginning of a passage the year, in which it takes place, is stated, e.g. A.D. 298 according to our actual use. It is not meant according to the officially traditional heathen calendar ab urbe condita, which was in use as from the foundation of the city of Rome (calculated from 753 before Christ onwards), nor is it to be confused with the original meaning of A.D. = Anno Diocletiani, as it was custom to use alongside the Rome-based calendar from the time Diocletian took office. Only since the Monk Dionysius Exiguus in the 6th century interpreted the initials A.D. as Anno Domini (the year of our Lord), has it come to mean what we understand by it today, and as it is used here.


On the 27th July 305 a reputable young physician died a violent death in Nicomedia. His name was Pantaleon, son of Eustorgios, who also worked as a physician.

This occurred during the last year of office of the Emperor Diocletian, who came to power in 283 by a coup d’etat and re-organised the Roman Empire, which was heading towards decline, dividing it into two halves in the process. In the western half he erected a new capital, Nicomedia, on the Marmara Sea, not far from what would become Constantinople. Each half of the Empire was ruled over by an emperor who took the title Augustus. Milan was chosen as the capital of the western Empire, whereas old Rome only still existed as an honorary ‘caput mundi’. Each Augustus had an ‘assistant emperor’, who was called Caesar. Diocletian appointed his son-in-law, Galerius, as Caesar under his reign, to whom he designated the capital Syrmium (sometimes referred to as Caesarea or Antioch). As Augustus of the western half of the Empire, Maximian came to rule by the hand of Diocletian at the same time as he himself took power. His Caesar was called Constantius Chlorus, the father of the future Constantine the Great. He reigned from Trier, but sometimes from York in Britannia. Under the ruling of Emperor Diocletian the Empire reached a stability it had not known for almost fifty years.

The short lifespan of Pantaleon, the Physician, (278-305) coincides almost perfectly with the reign of Diocletian (283-305). In fact, these two characters are not only close in time and space; their spheres of life also come into contact. Pantaleon served as the Emperor’s physician. However, whereas the Emperor is perceived in history and historical documents as a significant ruler whose reign was unfortunately tainted by the shadow of Christian persecution, Pantaleon has, very differently, remained alive in men’s memories to this very day - as a holy man who was respected by many. We do not, however, have direct knowledge of him from historical documents, and very few scientifically-accessible sources are to be found. Despite this, he remains far more alive in the minds of men nowadays than the Emperor Diocletian - particularly in eastern Christianity.

The reason for this familiarity and veneration, which has continued over considerable time - approaching seventeen centuries now - is not due to documentation, contracts, historical witnesses or treatises, but rather to a special form of almost exclusively oral tradition, which we call legend.

These oral traditions were later collected and transcribed. We mention the work by V.V. Latyschev, who published a manuscript from the 11th century in 1916 (St. Petersburg), and in particular the ‘The Martyrdom of the holy and glorious Martyr Pantaleon’ by Simeon Metaphrastes from the 10th century (Patrologia Graeca, 115,447-478). In the so-called Menologue of Constantine Pophyrogenitus (912-959) the yearly phenomenon of the observation of blood in Constantinople is mentioned together with the martyrdom of saint Pantaleon (Patrologia Graeca 117, 561-562): ‘Blood and water flowed out of the decapitated head. This blood can still be seen to this day and it brings healing to believers who pray for it.’

In the west the transmission of this legend is above all to be found in the Historia Sancti Brunonis Coloniensis (10th century) and it is also passed on in a poem of approximately 2000 verses by Meister Konrad von Wuerzburg (13th century).

At times it is insinuated that the legend does not portray the happenings as they actually occurred, or that they are portrayed in an imprecise manner. This may be true in some cases without affecting the inner truth. In the legend of Saint Pantaleon a noticeable ‘error’ often turns out to be a false conclusion after closer observation. In the legendary transmission the emperor under whom Pantaleon suffered martyrdom is called Maximian. This is a reason for doubt of the reliability of the tradition. The emperor at the time with the name Maximian is the Emperor (Augustus) of the western Empire, whose capital was Milan. And this cannot be. Or has there been a change of names due to their similarity? As from 305 the ‘assistant emperor’ Maximinus ruled in the eastern part of the Empire under the nickname Daia. However, he cannot be meant either because his capital is not in Nicomedia either but in Antioch, that is to say Caesarea or Syrmium.

The solution to the riddle can be found in the fact that not only the Emperor Diocletian but also his successor, Galerius, both play a role in the life and death of Pantaleon. It was only by means of the latter, who was a true hater of Christianity, that the persecution, which was introduced in the four Edicts of Diocletian (303/304), reached its full weight. It has been much wondered why Diocletian, who was a sensible and just ruler on the whole, allowed himself to be involved in such horrific persecution of Christianity after forty years of religious peace. In the following novel an attempt will be made to identify the main reason for this.

The legend, which has been passed down simply by word of mouth, does not waste time explaining that during the martyrdom of the saint a change of emperors took place. On the first of May 305 Diocletian abdicated from his twenty-year reign, and his Caesar, Galerius, took over his role as Augustus. Pantaleon’s martyr’s death took place just three months later on the 27th July 305, hence under the reign of Galerius. The writer of the legend used the fact that both Diocletian and his successor had the name Maximian among the many names which emperors traditionally had: Diocletianus Iovius Maximianus Herculius on the one hand, and Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus on the other. In short, without taking anything away from the truth of history, the two emperors became one, in particular with a name that was common to both of them: Maximian.

Let us take a look at the entirety of the happenings. In ‘Synaxarion Basilii imperatoris’ the core of the oral transmission is presented in these few sentences (Patrologia Graeca 114,696):

‘Pantaleon, the great martyr in Christ, was born in the city of Nicomedia. He was the son of the heathen, Eustorgios, and the Christian, Eubula, (another version: Eukuba). He practised the art of a physician. He had been taught by the most famous of physicians Euphrosynos. His belief, however, was nurtured by the Priest, Hermolaos - by whom he was also christened. Thus, he brought back to life the young boy who died from a snakebite, gave back sight to a blind man, and performed many other wonders. But as the Emperor Maximian began to notice him, he was chained and brought to a nearby place and bound to an olive tree. He was beheaded, and blood and milk flowed out from his head. These relics bring healing to believers who pray for it to this very day.’

The historical novel ‘Pantaleon, the physician’ attempts to elaborate the reality portrayed by the legend and to complete it by means of invented elements which are true to context. In the character description the names not transmitted by legend are specially emphasized.

The life and death of this young martyr has always moved people’s hearts and inspired many artistic expressions. The great number of paintings and in particular the icons of the Eastern Church should be mentioned here, indicating the uninterrupted veneration towards him over the centuries. The writer of this book is following their same goal in his conviction that the belief and life of this young physician, who most certainly was a real human being ‘like you and I’, also has much to say to the people of our time.


‘Maranatha’, the matron’s voice sounded fatigued and somewhat resigned.

As Eukuba got up with some effort, she saw that the servant girl had entered her bedroom.

‘How hard it is, my dear Daphne, to be patient, when you pray to heaven for something for years, but nothing happens.’

The servant girl, who had only a partial knowledge of Greek, said nothing and confined herself to a sympathetic look, which soon became an enquiring gaze around the room. Had everything been adequately prepared for the night: the sleeping area, the evening drink, the oil lamp? Was her mistress happy with her? Eukuba always seemed so kind-hearted and calm with her, but the servant repeatedly wondered whether there wasn’t something that she wasn’t aware of that her mistress expected from her without expressing it, or whether there was a secret that would eventually make everything appear under a different light. Was it at all possible that a person, above all a superior, could always be consistently friendly and never moody or unfair?

Daphne had been only working for a week in house of Senator Eustorgios in Nicomedia. Since the slave dealer had sold her to the Senator’s household everything had happened so quickly. Being suddenly treated like a human being, even in a friendly manner, was so new to her that she hadn’t been able to become used to it in such few days.

Deep in her heart lay distrust since the day she had been sold into slavery three years earlier. She had experienced too many dreadful events. Nowhere had she been treated well, neither in her Germanic homeland where she had been sold into slavery together with numerous others of the same age as the result of a failed attack by her countrymen on the fortress of Confluentes, nor in the family of Captain Quintus Aemilianus, who had taken her with two other slaves from her tribe to his retirement home in Brundisium after the end of his service in Germania. There, in sunny southern Italy - which she had learned to love after her homesickness had worn off - she might have been able to have a peaceful and even possibly pleasant existence had it not been for the fact that the Captain’s family she was then working for had been in a state of confusion. Both of Aemilianus’ sons spent most of the year in Rome. Daphne had never heard of them holding regular positions, but she knew of their occasional disputes with the quaestor and that they appeared every now and again in Brundisium mainly to worm money out of their mother. Claudia Niger was not actually their mother but their stepmother and the second wife of Quintus Aemilianus, whom he had married shortly after the death of his first wife during a year’s stay in his homeland. No children had been born of this new relationship. Considering her husband’s long absences, it was inevitable that Claudia, whose Roman origin meant that she had been used to considerable freedom of custom, would adopt a restless and even dissolute way of existence, which in time could not remain entirely undisclosed from her husband. Now, after his retirement, both spouses lived separate lives.

Daphne found this lack of order repulsive. She had been brought up differently. A woman who betrayed her matrimonal vows was publicly outlawed by her tribe.

Of course her original name was not Daphne. Her master had given her this name because he couldn’t or didn’t want to pronounce her real name - Fridhilt.

The young Germanic girl, who had not yet acquired much experience of life, now came to the knowledge of valuable notions in the house of Quintus Aemilianus and Claudia Niger. Expressions which she had not yet heard of in her mother tongue - perhaps because they did not exist as such - became clear to her: character; exterior manners and inner morality; love and egoism; virtue and vice; divinity and the human being; life and death.

An educated house slave, Tullius, who years earlier had been in charge of educating both Quintus Aemilianus’ sons - the success of which was barely noticeable – and was now of advanced years and only charged with the occasional written work, enjoyed speaking to the young slave girl. She was certainly the only one in the house whose spirit was honest and uncorrupted enough to grasp the good teacher’s thoughts.

‘There is such a thing as a natural law which one should follow, otherwise the communal life of human beings cannot succeed,’ Tullius said to her when she came to him with questions about her master’s family. ‘If one obeys these rules, then one can live in peace. Should one go against these laws, above all in matters concerning marriage and the family, sooner or later unhappiness and sufferance become constant guests in our lives.’

In actual fact, no one was content in the beautiful country villa in Brundisium.

The master was discontent, despite his good health, because he was not fulfilled by any meaningful activity - the administrator of his country estate was excellent at his job - and was angered at having to watch how his wife barely attempted to conceal her marital deception. He enjoyed wine more than his health would allow, and could become very unpleasant in a drunken state. Claudia, who was moody and constantly looking for new distractions, rarely appeared well balanced or at peace with herself, and some of the servants spoke of her as hysterical.

The servants in the house and on the estate were not a source of happiness, as the slaves did not feel part of a family. They were simply happy to have something to eat and not to be ordered about too much by their master and mistress. It was said about one of the slaves, who for some reason counted on being freed in a few years’ time, that he was secretly misappropriating money. Our Germanic slave girl found him annoying because he was an ugly, fat boy who tried to win her over with his money. She noticed that another young boy who worked in the kitchen was sometimes useless for half a day at a time after consuming some new drugs of Egyptian origin. The person who made sure that the masters of the house knew nothing of this was the warder of the carriages and carts, who had a relationship with the boy that Daphne could not quite understand, but which seemed strange to her and somewhat indecent.

Hence, Daphne was not terribly unhappy when the seneschal explained to her one day:

‘Our master has to sell some land and slaves for economic reasons. Next week a ship coming from Athens will bring you to Greece together with some other slaves from Brundisium.’

Daphne was thinking about this and other similar things at that moment in her new mistress’ bedroom. She could not understand many things; she had understood that her new mistress was a Christian, but this meant nothing to her. She had heard about Christians without being able to have a clear idea of them. In her homeland there was a large Christian community on the other side of the Rhein, which had existed for over one hundred and twenty years, above all in the city of Colonia Agrippina. However, in her home all followers of Christ, whose real name was Jesus of Nazareth, were considered a Jewish sect, so it was impossible to understand much of what was meant either by ‘Jew’ or Christian’.

‘These people are too fervent,’ her father had said when they spoke about it, ‘How can you take a religion so seriously that you risk your life for it?’ Her parents and tribe members still believed in Wotan and Thor, but their belief had slowly faded after the many meetings with the Romans on the other side of the river, for whom this old religion merely represented a series of outer formalities. They heard that there had always been waves of persecution of the Christians by those in charge. It was said that some Roman soldiers had been pitilessly condemned to death under Emperor Aurelianus because they had refused to offer incense to the divine statue of the Emperor and in this way deny their Christ. But there had been no persecution of Christianity now for over twenty years.

‘Daphne, please be so good as to bring me the medicine I need to take every evening. It must be on the sideboard in the dining room.’

Her mistress’ words interrupted her thoughts. But as she undertook the small task, she once again understood how lucky she had been to end up here! At least that was how it looked so far. The long sea voyage from Brundisium to Athens, and from there - after a rapid exchange of ownership to an Alexandrian slave dealer - the stormy voyage on to Nicomedia, and then finally her entrance into the household of Senator Eustorgios: this all left her with such a dense accumulation of impressions that the young slave found it difficult to elaborate them. So here she was now, with the duty to carry out domestic tasks for her patrician Eukuba.

‘Mistress, here’s your medicine. I think I overheard that you should take it with some warmed wine.’

Eukuba would have been happy to chat a while longer with her new servant - she did not use the term slave - but it was late, so she sent Daphne to bed. She then, however, returned to her prayer.

‘All Holy Mother of my Lord, please hear the pleas of a mother! If you listen to me, your Son will certainly say yes, just as He said yes when you made Him a request in Cana.’

When she laid herself to rest, the oil lamp was burning before the image of the mother Mary. Only in the early morning hours did its flame go out.

A.D. 281

During her married life with Eustorgios, which was generally definable as happy, Eukuba had suffered three miscarriages. It appeared totally incomprehensible to her that God left her prayers apparently unanswered. She loved her husband and wanted, if possible, to give him many children. This worry was accompanied by the sorrow she felt about Eustorgios’ religion. At her wedding, at which also Hermolaos the Christian priest had been present, she had held fast in the hope that her husband - who had impressed her with his upright and honest nature - would also soon accept the teachings of Jesus Christ. At least he did not appear to believe in the old gods anymore. He did, of course, sometimes go to the temple of Asclepius, but divine service in the temple was more of a duty than a sign of living faith for him and the other doctors in the city. Yes, he sometimes wondered where his flourishing faith in Zeus and Hera, Apollo, Artemis and Hermes had disappeared? Eustorgios did not like talking about religion; it made him feel insecure because his wife showed so much conviction on her part. He went on the defensive and at times made unfavourable observations about the Christians, whom he had little time for, as he considered them a Jewish sect whose belief was intolerant towards others.

In educated circles it was habitual to study the philosophers who spoke of a single god. This god, however, appeared too abstract for many of them, even if he did not demand so much from the individual. Naturally, the stories of Zeus and his amours; of Ares and Poseidon and how they stood by the mortals in their military conflicts; of Artemis and Demeter who had to provide for the fertility of every living being - these were human stories, often too human. The gods were actually something similar to human beings who had reached super-human dimensions. And to top it all, above these ruled another greater power: Chronos; or the mother of the fates, as some from the East used to say; or simply destiny - which was also difficult to comprehend. However, at least the gods gave one a sense of vitality. In this way many people were able to see their passing lifespan on earth, which was often far too brief, on an elevated plain, transfigured under a certain lustre.

Nicomedia had for many years offered a philosophical school with the succinct name of 'Sophia'. Its building was connected to the well-known Asclepius, where Eustorgios had studied the art of Hippocrates in his student days. As a student Eustorgios enjoyed occasionally going to hear the scholars of the philosophical academy. He had been searching for intellect, and the teachings there satisfied his mentality.

Adamantinos, who was universally considered the head of the Academy, and his vice both considered the teachings of wisdom handed down by Socrates as particularly important, as well as those influenced by him, such as Plato and Aristoteles. In actual fact, the most recent developments of Plato’s philosophy, produced by Plotinus from Alexandria, had not yet been ascertained. In the year 997 after the founding of Rome (hence in the year 244 in the Christian era) Plotinus went to Rome and opened a philosophical school there. In Nicomedia, however, not much was known about the situation in Rome. It was claimed that Plotinus and his disciples had won the Emperor Gallienus’ favour, and that they had managed to win his interest in assisting them to found a city in Campania, which they wanted to call Platopolis and where they wanted to live according to old Plato’s constitution. This appeared somewhat high-flown to many people, and consequently had a negative effect on the prestige of the philosophy. More recently, however, Adamantinos had made it known that he wanted no less than to obtain the ‘Enneads’, a recently well-known work by Plotinus, in order to study it.

It can be said that the fundamental approach of the school 'Sophia' tended towards a spiritualistic view of life. Obviously, thinkers such as Epicurus and the other ‘masters of decadence’ - as they were disdainfully called by some of the academics - were less in demand. The former was not considered a serious philosopher, although after almost half a millennium he could even have passed for a classical author. The epoch was not very rich in original intellectuals. At best, a kind of eclecticism was offered together with Plotinus’ school of thought - like the already-well-known Antiochus of Ascalon - which audaciously united the thoughts of the stoics, the followers of Socrates and the epicureans. A simplified version of epicurean ideas – which the academics called distorted - was very much alive in many contemporaries of the time; and due to widespread ignorance of this thinker, many people gave less importance to gaining a deeper understanding of ‘ataraxia’ than to the demands of ‘pleasure for its own sake’ which is good in all circumstances’, as Aristippus had also taught in his time. This idea had gained unexpected popularity when a few years earlier a student of the institute at the time, Glaucus of Athens, had completed a written work entitled: ‘Epicurus and the search for happiness in contemporary man’. The dissertation was accepted and even praised because its line of thought followed logical lines, and it was written in an elegant, modern and at the same time very well-balanced style. However, Glaucus was not invited to enter the Academy as a professor as many had expected because it was feared that this might have caused the young students to make a move towards unbeneficial freedom of thought or, worse still, the hedonism which was in expansion at the time.

The old man, Adamantinos, insisted on his traditional principles, which he was determined to maintain despite all the innovations of the State and the polis.

The most important of these innovations was to be experienced by Eustorgios in the early years of his marriage to Eukuba: the ascent of his home town, Nicomedia, to one of the four capitals of the Roman Empire.

Eustorgios: ‘A time of upheaval, radical changes are approaching - they keep us busy. Eukuba senses it in a particularly meaningful way. She sees things also from another point of view. In my opinion, what is about to happen will primarily be a change in political life, in the administration of our Bithynia, which has not been independent for a long time now. With an almost yearly exchange of emperors in Rome there has been great instability in the whole Empire and an economic recession for almost fifty years. For us here in the provinces things have been moving along more or less in the usual manner for years. Whatever they are up to in Rome does not affect us particularly here in Nicomedia, even if the economy and trade suffer heavy losses. The Senate, of which I am - at the age of 32 - the youngest member, looks kindly and with distance on the administration, which until now has not affected the citizens’ lives too greatly. Fortunately, the safety of the general public is not threatened here nearly as much as it is in Rome where, if you hold a public office, you have to reckon with blackmail, threats and even murder. It is important to us here that we have all remained Roman citizens as before and, therefore, we are not without rights, and that the population is peacefully provided with every necessity. The troops stationed here also act as a real defence against barbarians, and they are less affected by their officers’ desire for power than in other places.

Eukuba, who reacts so sensitively to the flow of time, senses something in the air which is worrying her, but she isn’t able to put it into words.

From the standpoint of her Christian belief it is painful for her to see how public life in the old city is increasingly debased in a moral sense. In Rome the undisguised thirst for power, pure egotism and brutal violence are always celebrating new triumphs. Perhaps she lacks bare realism; she always sees things in the same way and in their importance before God. ‘This lawlessness really offends God!’ she has a habit of saying. But I think there’s something else which is causing her to worry, yes even fear: in restless times such as ours there could be a return to that which must have been a terrible tragedy for Christians in the past - the persecution of citizens due to their religious beliefs. Of course, neither Eukuba nor I were direct witnesses of such infringements. Over twenty years ago dreadful things happened in Rome and north Africa. The Emperor Decius and almost more importantly his successors Gallus and Valerian, seriously believed that the Roman state, whose moral foundation had long been shaken, was to be restored by regimenting Christianity, as the Christians were the only ones to refute the cult of the state. This meant that the followers of Jesus of Palestine either had to make offerings to the images of the gods - which also meant denying their faith - or were condemned to death. In actual fact, many Christians died horrendous deaths. On the other hand, not few of them became weak and, if only pro forma, offered incense to the gods.

‘It is difficult to say what is worse: to deny Christ and continue living with a bad conscience or to die and then reach the beatitude of eternal life with God,’ has recently been said by some Christian friends of ours – however, they have not experienced this problem first-hand.

Now, my professional colleagues and those in the Senate, who are mainly conservative, all breathed a sigh of relief when this terrible game was over. The measures Valerian had taken against Christians had not gained him any advantage - on the contrary, they appeared to be more strongly convinced than before - his own problems in the Empire remained unresolved, and he suffered a heavy defeat in his war against the Persians. He died unlamented during his Persian imprisonment.

His son and successor Gallienus soon put an end to the persecution. Since then the Christians in the Empire have once again been living in peace and are rapidly increasing in number.

I do not wish to claim that Eukubas’ worries about a new persecution of Christianity are totally unfounded, but over these past years the conviction to leave the Christians in peace has been well reinforced in society. It is estimated that they have now become a tenth of the population. Furthermore, my impression is that they are generally very loyal citizens of the State.’

Eustorgios again: ‘I know that Eukuba has been praying to Jesus for many years for me to become a Christian like herself. Over the past months I have finally made up my mind to find out more about this religion which has always been incomprehensible to me.

This change of opinion has not come about due to a sudden experience in my life, as one sometimes hears about from new Christians. The idea of wanting to learn more about Christianity has come to me over time – because of my wife’s personality. Eukuba is exactly what you would call a good person. It is almost as if the Ego played no part in her. She is extraordinarily kind-hearted, yes compassionate, especially to people who haven’t exactly been favoured by life. She even treats our slaves not only with fairness, but also with consideration and friendliness. I love her more than my life.

The greatest problem I have encountered in this matter strangely has nothing to do with understanding the teachings of the Jewish rabbi - Hermolaos is an excellent master - but how to let my wife know about it without disconcerting her. Her health is delicate; her heart sometimes plays her up.

She knows that the priest also talks to me when he comes to our house. But as neither he nor I speak to her about this, she suspects nothing. I have expressly asked him to keep silent in this regard, and I would first like to be more certain that this is truly to be my path.

It is, in actual fact, a very different spiritual mentality than we have towards our gods and in their priests. Much of it is paradoxical. What this Jesus preaches often seems contradictory at first: ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.’ Those who are persecuted, I would not exactly call blessed. So this ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ must be something really great if one is able to face anything in order to obtain it. The Christians who were persecuted and murdered in Rome or Carthage at that time, who were no dreamers or psychopaths according to witness accounts, obviously understood this. This Kingdom of Heaven must be worth much more than Olympus.’

Three years passed and then Eukuba’s greatest desire was fulfilled.

Eukuba’s prayer:

‘All Holy God, compassionate God, my heart is full of happiness and thanks. It is You, You alone, who has accomplished this, who has made it possible for my beloved spouse to open his heart to our Saviour Jesus Christ. It was not my poor discourses, nor my example, nor my desire, but only your mercy which has allowed the light of grace to enter his heart.

What can we human beings obtain with our limited understanding! For years, for tens of years Eustorgios was looking for the truth and could not find it, not with the gods, who amount to nothing, not with the philosophers, who speak about You, but don’t really recognize You because they don’t love You. How could the followers of Socrates, of Stoa or Plato recognize You for what your really are. They see the almighty creator of all things in You, yes they say You are ‘life’. But they intoxicate themselves with their words and ideas. What can a poor human’s heart do with such explanations? Your young John announced to us what you really are. Yes, you are ‘Life’, the One Who is, but much more than that: You are Love. And only those who live in Love can learn to know You.

What has pushed him to take this step? Was it the love of the faithful husband, who is reciprocated with all my heart? Was it not above all the cross, which loomed over us so darkly when I carried death three times in my womb? How patient he was with me! When other men, who aren’t Christians, sooner or later think about leaving their unfertile wives, he cared for me and spoilt me more than ever. His selfless love was rewarded by You for the first time when our son, born of our love, was born a healthy child. Pantaleon was the name he wanted to give him; he wanted to glimpse the strength of a lion in the tender boy. Yes, beloved Father, if ever anyone has deserved the grace of Christian faith - if that were at all possible - then it is he, Eustorgios. He loves our little boy selflessly, not as a reflection of his own life, but for the boy himself. Just as You, Father, love us human beings. Not because we are good, but because You are good.

How sensitive Eustorgios is! During the three years of his catechumen he initially sought to hide it from me. Not out of any disloyal intentions, but because he believed it could upset me too much if after years and years of prayer without visible success, I suddenly saw that they had been answered. His soul suffered for having made negative comments in the past, not about the teachings of the Lord but about Christians, which were not always uncalled for considering that authentic faith is too great a responsibility for many of our co-believers. Many of the devotees of the old pagan religion humiliate us Christians with their genuine convictions and respectable way of life. My husband was also like this when I got to know and love him twelve years ago.

When the time came that he could be present at the religious service in the bishop’s new church, even it was only until the offering of the gifts, he told me about it and this gave me endless great joy. You Father, Giver of all good gifts, You have given me this enormous joy. Thanks and honour to You! How deeply moved I was at the evening celebration of the Resurrection when he was entombed with Christ through his baptism; and then by being allowed to receive Him, who gave him the gift of the Holy Spirit through You, in the form of bread and wine, he was resurrected with Christ again!

But now, beloved Father, I am coming to You with new requests. Help my husband with his new faith to shape his whole life into that of a good Christian and to be a true ‘martyr’, a witness for Christ, Your beloved Son, through Whom You have made and redeemed the whole world.

Forgive me, Father, for wanting to make one more request. You want us to pray to You for our needs, otherwise I would not allow myself to approach you so often. It is not thanklessness if I am not content with my answered prayers.

You know our son, little Panto. At the time he was born Eustorgios didn’t want him to be baptised. Now he certainly sees things differently. But the boy has now reached an age where he can no longer be considered a baby. At almost seven years of age he is too aware of himself for us to treat him as someone who is not yet able to reason for himself. At the same time, however, he isn’t able to have a thorough understanding of what faith and baptism mean. So he still needs his parents’ patience for a while until he is able to recognise and confess his faith. This, oh lenient Father, I would like to offer You, but please: make it so happen that the heart and reasoning of my loving but also obstinate boy develop and evolve in such a way that he freely decides as soon as possible for Christ.’

Eustorgios was thirty-five years old when the cultivated and somewhat sleepy provincial town became a building site. The new Emperor, Diocletian, had chosen Niocodemia as his favourite residence after being hailed Emperor here in Nicomedia by his officials on 20th November 1037 ab urbe condita (283 according to the Christian calendar) and he stated that he wanted his capital city to be in no way second to old Rome. Using every means available he had an administrative quarter erected in the shortest time possible, consisting of: a new Agora (called Forum); three temples dedicated to Jupiter (as the Romans called the father of the gods Zeus), Apollo and Artemis; two basilicas; several Roman baths and above all an immense imperial palace. The latter was not as large as the one that had been begun for Diocletian in Aspalathos in Dalmatia, but for the old residents of Nicomedia it was still an exceedingly extraordinary building.

The Emperor, who at the time of entering office had changed his original name Diocles to Diocletian - his official name now being Diocletian Jovius Maximian Herculius - gave the Empire a new structure. He saw that it would be better to divide the Empire into two halves. He himself took over the eastern half only to hand the power over the western half to Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maximianus two years later, whom he called his ‘brother’. They both assumed the title ‘Augustus’. Each Augustus received an assistant ruler with the title ‘nobilissimus Caesar’. In the west this was Constantius Chlorus, who resided in Trier and also in York; in the east - with his residence in Thessalonica and in Sirmium - was Caesar Galerius. His complete name after his adoption by Diocletian was: Gaius Galerius Valerius Maximianus.

The inhabitants of the city were generally in favour of their city becoming one of the four most important cities in the Empire, even if many of the old citizens spoke of a loss of identity at times due to the fact that this was the second time they were experiencing the arbitrary nature in which the Romans, who had held absolute power in the world for centuries, treated the people and the land of Bithynia. Just as once Pompeius, known as Pompey the Great, had thought nothing of breaking up the kingdom of Bithynia under the dynasty of the Zipoetes and founding the Roman provinces of Pontus and Bithynia because this enabled him to maintain military supremacy and above all to collect the taxes more easily, also now, after a period of extensive self-government, an external government would once again call all the shots.

However, things were supposed to take a different turn with this governmental power. After almost five decades of political and economic decadence under the soldier emperors, Diocletian had given the State a totally new structure. He did intervene in the lives of individual citizens with a certain degree of harshness: considerably higher taxes were imposed. Despite this, many people were happy that the previous chaos had come to an end, during which - from the time the assassination of Severus Alexander to the assassination of Carinus - a total of seventy emperors had ruled or attempted to rule over a period of fifty years.

The structure of the Empire was organised in a completely new manner; instead of the previous fifty provinces there were ninety-five, and finally one hundred and twenty. And what was really soon perceived as negative was the fact that the single provinces were only administrative units without their own profile and without their own initiative. Several provinces formed a diocese, which served above all as an intermediary authority or for control. Supervision and espionage played an unpleasantly important role. The four imperial governments were subject to the so-called consistorium, the Emperor’s advice committee, which in turn consisted of a praetorian prefect, two military commanders and four ministers from the imperial house. In the Latin form - Latin was introduced as the official language also in the eastern part of the Empire - they were called ‘viri illustri’ or even ‘viri illustrissimi’ - a description which was introduced referring to all persons belonging to the Senate or with a chivalrous background.

This is how matters stood in the Empire when the physician and senator Eustorgios, after three years of catechumen, received the sacraments of Christian initiation - his baptism, the Eucharist and his confirmation - by the hand of Bishop Anthimos in the large episcopal church, which stood very close to the palace. This all took place during the very holy Easter celebration of the year 1037 ab urbe condita, therefore in the year the new Emperor Diocletian entered into office.



Daphne, the servant girl from the distant land of Germania, had meanwhile obtained a kind of position of trust in the household of the physician Eustorgios, even though the masters of the house generally showed their servants great trust in any case. Since the master of the house had converted to Christianity the attitude towards the servants had become even friendlier. Not that Eustorgios had treated his employees in an arrogant or condescending manner earlier, as was the case in many households at that time. But he now saw his servants, male or female, first of all as human beings; yes he liked the expression the priest Hermolaos often used when he called them God’s children. The expression ‘slave’ was avoided by all.

In the spacious house, which was a short distance from the Agora or rather the Forum, as it was more often called now, Daphne had different types of duties to fulfill. Eustorgios had noticed that Eukuba appreciated the quiet and reliable service of the girl from Germania. For this reason he arranged for her to take care of his wife’s needs as a priority, as well as looking after the little Pantaleon. She occasionally needed attentive care due to the increasingly frequent heart trouble from which she suffered. Eukuba was only thirty-six years old, but the sudden attacks and typical feeling of insecurity which characterised this illness often caused her to look very serious. Eustorgios loved her all the more when he saw that she was suffering.

‘Suffering is not always to be rejected,’ she had said to him recently, as he had bent worriedly over her pale face.

‘Faith - and I am experiencing this as a truth in my soul - teaches us that our Lord Jesus Christ has freed humanity once and for all from their sins and everything that is a consequence of them through His suffering and not thanks to any great superhuman feat. According to the myths, Hercules had freed mankind with his superhuman strength and deftness. He cleaned up the Augean stables with the intelligent use of his energy.’

Eustorgios liked to listen to her when she taught him about theological matters, yes often for love of her he pretended not to know anything about what she taught him.

‘You are of course right. And the garbage that Christ had to do away with, the sins of all mankind, is much greater than the rubbish Hercules found and cleaned up in the legend.’

‘How compassionate our heavenly Father is to have sent us his beloved Son so that we might live!’

Eustorgios especially loved the parable of the lost son and the compassionate father.

While the servant girl brought the medicine which Eustorgios had prepared from foxglove extract, the door of the large woman’s quarter, the gynaeceum, suddenly swung open, and a young boy entered the room. He gave the mistress a quick kiss on her cheek and said:

‘Mummy, today I threw Criton on the floor for the first time!’

‘Panto, my dear young lad, achieving great results in the wrestling ring at the age of eight is a bit early, but I am proud of you. You know your father loves wrestling less than pankration, floor wrestling, which doesn’t only require strength, but physical strength combined with ability.’

‘That’s true, Mummy, but I’m not that good yet.’

Daphne, who had overheard the conversation, attentive beyond her duties as she loved the young boy, wondered why Pantaleon spoke so freely about his limitations, as she considered this unusual for a boy of his age. She had already been in Bithynia long enough to grasp the differences and similarities between people of contrasting cultures. ‘A child usually says what he knows how to do, not what he can’t,’ she thought.

On the whole, she considered Panto, as he was lovingly called by everyone, an exceptional child. She was continually moved by his dark eyes, peering out of his pale, boyish face. Yes, when he looked into your eyes, you had the impression that he was scrutinizing you. There is innocence and strength in his eyes, thought Daphne. It’s lovely to look into them. When he was younger, he actually looked like a lion. How appropriate it had been to call him: ‘All Lion’. He had grown a lot over the last two years and he liked to wear his dark black curly hair cropped shorter now because he thought it looked more manly.

The boy was gifted and he quickly understood and assimilated what he learnt. When he was just seven years old his father took him along when he looked for flowers and plants with healing properties in the woods and along the shores of the Marmara Sea. Pantaleon understood almost intuitively the connection between illness and medicinal plants. SInce Eustorgios had become a Christian he continuously pointed out the beauty and the meaningfulness of nature. ‘Every animal and every herb is a mirror of the truth and beauty of God,’ he used to say. ‘How beautiful God must be if His creation is so wonderful!’

Daphne, who liked to sing songs from her homeland - particularly when she believed no one was watching her - soon realised that the young boy was not only very receptive to music but that he loved to sing himself and did so beautifully. He soon learnt some of the nostalgic songs of the girl from Germania, even with foreign words. His mother often asked him to sing something to her when she was forced to stay in bed. He did not enjoy performing, but he did it for his mother’s sake. He soon learnt to accompany the songs with the cithara.

Whenever his parents spoke of God, the young boy felt something like a low resistance inside him. ‘Is that all really true?‘ His friends from pagan families sometimes spoke very disparagingly about Jesus of Nazareth: ‘The Christians call him the Kyrios, but in actual fact he’s a weakling!’

Pantaleon listened in on such discussions without taking an active part. The family of one of his school friends had joined the cult community of the newly built temple to Cybele. ‘That is what I call a religion that can inspire the people!’ What was so inspirational about this cult he had not been quite able to understand yet. It touched the depths and dark areas of the soul which he was still not aware of. He was, however, impressed by the secrecy. There was talk of mysteries. He felt it was profoundly right that a divinity should be clothed in secrecy.


Pantaleon had now been a student at the Academy 'Sophia' for one year. For boys under ten years of age there were lessons in geometry and calligraphy. A few years earlier Latin, the new, universal, official language of the Empire, had been introduced onto the syllabus. For half a year classical literature had also been read with the students, and in doing so, along with the classic tragic poems in the Greek language, great importance was being given to bringing the young closer to the Roman authors who ‘were supporters of the State,’ such as Tacitus and, in particular, Virgil. Pantaleon was a bright and intelligent scholar, for whom it was somehow instinctive to acquire the abundant knowledge offered him, without anyone being able to call him ambitious. In the subjects of philosophy and rhetoric, which the head of the Academy, Adamantinos, himself taught, he demonstrated an especially sensitive receptivity, which won him Adamantinos’ favour. Also the other teachers and school companions liked him, and not least because of his uncomplicated and happy nature.

One day, as Pantaleon was coming out of the main entrance of the Academy with two of his school friends, Dionysos and Creon - or better said, as the three of them came racing out into the open air for some childish bet - suddenly an old man stood before them who spoke to Pantaleon without beating about the bush: ‘Leon, I’m glad we’ve met here. I been wanting to speak to you.’ Having been spoken to in such a confidential manner, the boy did not hesitate in replying to him. ‘Don’t bother, Hermolaos, I haven’t got any time. Besides, I can already guess what it is you want to tell me!‘ Neither of the fellow students could imagine what was going on between the two, but they had no desire to find out more because they were more interested in playing some pranks, just like their friend.

‘Who are you, good man? Which philosophical school do you follow?‘ they asked. However, Pantaleon interrupted the old man’s flow of speech just as he started his well-intended, long explanation, not having noticed that the youngsters had not been serious with their question. ‘I’ll send your love to my mother if you like, Hermolaos.’ Without waiting for a reply, the three of them ran off.

Pantaleon: ‘My father often lets me accompany him on his explorations. We go out onto the fields towards the sea, where it’s beautiful - the waves play; the palms sway in the wind; the birds sing their songs. It makes me feel good there.

Since last year he doesn’t mind me going to the sea alone so that I can play with the wind and the waves. A friend showed me how to build a tiny sailing boat using only a board, cut in a specific way, and a mobile sail on top. At first it’s terribly difficult to keep standing on the board. In order to do this you have to position the sail so that the ‘boat’ moves in the direction of the waves, or rather glides along them. At first I fell into the water twenty times immediately after I had just got going.

Since then I have mastered the game quite well. I love it when I ride on the water with a strong wind and jump over the waves. I can feel the beauty of being free and not depending on anything or anyone. The fact that I sometimes do this sport when the waves are high would probably seem reckless to my parents, but of course they’re not with me.

I notice that everything in nature has its own song. Not only the birds sing their melodies, every plant, yes every rock as it stretches in the sun, sings a special song. Sometimes, but not always, I manage to recognize these sounds and their harmony. I wonder if a god really has made all of this, like my parents say?

Mother is so kind-hearted. No one has ever heard a harsh word from her. How can she be like that? She isn’t well and knows that she has to be prepared for the worst at any moment. But she never seems to think about herself at all. She only thinks about how my father and I feel, what we might need, how she can help us. Yes, even the servants are treated with consideration and mildness by her. Of course, we’re lucky. Our servants don’t take advantage of her. On the contrary, they know that no mistress would ever treat them so well anywhere else, and for this reason they make a serious effort to do their work well.

Father was baptised a Christian four years ago. I didn’t understand it then, and even now I find it hard. I still can’t imagine ever becoming a Christian myself. Doesn’t it make you terribly dependant? I wouldn’t like to give up my freedom to anyone. Some people say that father has changed since then. But I can’t judge that. In any case, I am happy with my parents, especially when I compare them with the parents lots of my friends have.

Everyone says that father is a good physician. That’s something I’d like to copy from him. Yes, I want to become a physician, too, to make people who are unhappy and suffering happy and well again, and give them back the freedom they lost.

Whenever I’m allowed to accompany father on a visit to a patient, I first see hope in his patient’s eyes, and then their thankfulness. I think people are beautiful when they allow a good feeling to come into their hearts. If instead they’re discontent, envious or angry, then the same people become ugly and repulsive.

So much is written in a face. I think I can already see that quite well.

If a patient is in pain, I can often see that it’s possible to understand whether he accepts his pain in some way or opposes it. Of course, it’s easy for me to speak. I’m healthy. But that’s how it is: if someone accepts the illness for what it is, then it’s visibly not so bad any more. I sometimes even think that a person is purged inside then. But I have to admit that I only have a rough idea of what that means: purging.

There are lots of important things in the world and in people, which I can only vaguely sense.

Will I understand it all clearly one day?

…… ride on the water with a strong wind and jump over the waves


The goodhearted Eukuba died four years after the initiation of her husband into the Christian mystery. Eustorgios found it difficult to accept her death, although he had been prepared for it for a long time, because it had passed her by time and time again. For to accept it meant to see in it God’s will.

‘How can God, who is supposed to be the merciful Father, want this? Eukuba was still a woman in full blossom! And apart from me, who loves her so deeply, surely it would have been especially necessary for Panto for her to stay here a while longer? And the people who met her regularly - her mere presence among them gave them a sense of peace and, more than anything else, an immediate image of God’s goodness.’

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