November 23, Churches which follow the Julian calendar celebrate the memory of the martyr Orestes the Physician. The saint was highly revered in Christian antiquity in the Orthodox East. They resorted to his prayers asking for healing. Pilgrims flocked in large numbers to the place of the martyr’s suffering in Cappadocia. Nowadays Orestes the Physician is a forgotten saint.
Based on the place of his origin and suffering, the saint is also called Orestes of Tyana. It was a very famous ancient city in Southern Cappadocia.
In the first centuries of Christianity, this place was a stronghold of paganism. The city was widely known as the place of life and work of Apollonius of Tyana. This philosopher and legendary performer of miracles (+98) was contrasted by ancient pagan polemicists with Christ. Their arguments are echoed by some modern critics of religion.
Orestes practiced medicine according to his profession. The fact that the name of the medical profession subsequently became part of his name in the liturgical calendar indicates that Orestes was a very talented doctor. “He was a doctor from God,” as our contemporaries would say. At the same time, Orestes was an evangelist, that is, a missionary and preacher, testifying to Christ in deed and word.
During the Great Persecution of Diocletian, around 304, Orestes suffered for his faith. The reason was the accusation that Orestes' preaching was converting too many people to Christ. At the same time, St. George, who was also from Cappadocia, was martyred for his faith in Palestine.
In the words of one of the doxologies of the Early Church, “The Blood of the Martyrs is the Seed of the Church.” At the turn of the second and third centuries, this idea was voiced by the ancient teacher of the Carthaginian Church Tertullian (+220). Orestes the Physician and St. George, undoubtedly, were that “seed of the gospel”, thanks to whose preaching and martyrdom, previously pagan Cappadocia, and many other lands, became Christian.
As if as a token of gratitude to the early Church, this Great Country gave the world many Fathers of the Church, ascetics, and evangelists, among whom were the Great Cappadocians, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian and Gregory of Nyssa, and even St. Nino (+335), who was the Apostle of Georgia. Nowadays, when Cappadocia has become attractive to tourists, it is important not to forget about this very important page of its Christian past.
The example of Saint Orestes clearly shows the succession of saints. So several decades later, when Christianity spread widely within Cappadocia, Emperor Valens, who was a staunch supporter of the Arian heresy, demanded concessions in the Orthodox faith from St. Basil of Caesarea (330–379). According to the life of the saints, he threatened him with death, but this did not help. Basil, as befits a Christian bishop, was not afraid of anyone or anything. “The emperor did not dare to carry out his threats and left,” says the biography of Basil.
However, not getting what he wanted, Valens insidiously divided Cappadocia into two parts. Thus, Tiana became the capital of Second Cappadocia, and the diocese of Basil was divided. The head of the now independent Tyana diocese was the heretical bishop Anthimus.
The shrine of the martyr Orestes, fell into the hands of heretics. Saint Basil greatly regretted this in his works. Like all Orthodox Cappadocians, the saint perceived Orestes the Physician as his true father in the faith. After all, Orestes preached and became a martyr for Christ in Cappadocia.
It is known that the only complete collection of the lives of saints in Russian belongs to St. Demetrius of Rostov (1651–1709). The saint devoted more than two decades to writing this immortal work. One day, the martyr Orestes appeared to Demetrius in a vision and said: “I suffered more torment for Christ than you wrote.” “Which Orestes are you, the one whose memory is in December, or the November one?” asked the saint. “My memory is in November,” answered the martyr and showed the saint his wounds. This was our Orestes the Physician.