Healing and Medicine inOrthodox Christianity
Theodore J.Saclarides, M.D.
Heart of Eastern Orthodoxy
The Bible (Scripture)TraditionsCouncil decisionsWritings of the Church FathersLiturgical textsCanonsMonastic traditions
What is evident
The Orthodox Church is clear on the potential of human kindWhat distinguishes us from the rest of creation?“We are created in theimageand thelikenessof God”Theimageis man’s potential for life in God, we possess it at birth, may become obscured by the choices we make. As such, it may be evident to varying degrees, but it is present in everyone.There is no such thing as a “marginal” person.
The Likeness of God
The “likeness” refers to man’s realization of that potential which he hopes to attain at the end of his journeyTo become perfectTo be a part of a community of love and harmony (the example is that of the Trinity, different parts existing as one with a common purpose)To become a creator (not possible for other life forms), a role we can fulfill with clarity of spiritual vision, deciding tonuturenature, not dominate it
So we should love and respect the community of human-kind, living with each other in harmony, in a loving and caring relationship.This has direct implications about health, healing, medicine, and caring for the sick and suffering.
This journey from theimageto thelikenessof God reflects a process of change, transfiguration, and is a paradox……the Church is rooted in tradition but is committed to personal change, evolution, continuous repentance, and progress of the human potential.
What does salvation achieve?
Victory over the devil, death, corruption, and sinCommunion with God, fellow creatures, fullness of humanity and well being of body and soul
Are the body and soul opposing entities, the former responsible for the downfall of the latter, something not to be nurtured, protected and maintained?
The Relationship Between Body and Soul
Variation between faiths, some contrast themOrthodoxy sees a united body and soul, relatedLetter from St. Basil to a physician friend:“Humanity is the regular business of all you who practice as physicians. And, in my opinion, to put your science at the head and front of life’s pursuits is to decide reasonably and rightly……In your own case medicine is seen..with two right hands; you enlarge the accepted limits of philanthropy by not confining the application of your skills to men’s bodies, but by attending also to the cure of the disease of their souls.”
The Wondrous Body
St. Cyril: “But why have the depreciated this marvelous body? What is there about its construction that is not a work of art? Ought not the alienators of the body from God to have taken knowledge of the brilliant ordaining of the eyes? Or how the ears are placed right and left and so receive hearing with nothing in the way? Or how the tongue has a double ministry in maintaining the faculty of taste and the activity of speech? How the lungs, hidden out of sight, keep up the breathing of air with never a pause?”
Is the Body the Cause of Sin?
Cyril of Jerusalem:“Do not tell me that the body is the cause of sin. For were the body the cause of sin, why does no corpse sin? Put a sword in the right hand of a man who has just died, and no murder takes place. Let beauty in every guise pass before a youth who has just dead, and he will not be moved to fornication. Wherefore so? Because the body does not sin of itself, but it is the soul that sins, using the body.”
Limited sleep, severe fasting, hard work, solitude, vigils, restrictions on cleanlinessIs this a test of ascetic resolve? A trial?Not a main line of Orthodox teachingLife style should not abuse the bodyLife style should promote progress to the likeness of GodVoluntary suffering is suggested by some as a means of attaining a new spiritual plane of thought
What Causes Illness/Suffering
Result of a fallen world that predates man’s arrivalResult of man’s fall from grace, communion with GodInevitableUnavoidableTest of our commitment and devotion to GodOpportunity to share with Christ, to show trustAn opportunity to grow in God-likeness
“He who wants to be an imitator of Christ, so that he too may be called a son of God, born of the Spirit, must above all bear these, be they bodily illness, slander and vilification from man, or attacks of unclean spirits. God, in His providence, allows souls to be tested by various afflictions of this kind, so that it may revealed which of them truly loves Him.”Belief in a good God and human suffering can coexist
Peter of Damascus
“ Better than all the gifts of God, however, is the patient endurance of afflictions. The reason is clear: he who has been found worthy of this great gift (suffering) should give thanks to God in that he has been all the more blessed. For he has become an imitator of Christ, of His Holy apostles, and of the martyrs and saints.”
Orthodoxy’s Perspective on Illness
Sickness can be transformed into an instrument for thefulfillmentof human purposeIllness is NOT automatic in its reward, there must be repentance, prayer, a new commitmentIllness should not be mistaken for a vehicleofdespair, to distance oneself from God
Illness is a test, “not an absolute evil, but an evil capable of redemption by enhancing communion with GodSickness is a gift capable of teaching us what is important and of value, it teaches us not to worry about “the little stuff”Illness is an occasion for giving witness to others, to set an exampleAppreciation for healthExample for positive thinkingShow strength in the face of adversityReaffirmation of relationships
Health maintenance is a responsibility. Reckless risking of health and life, abusing the body, ignoring the basic necessities of life all constitute inappropriate Christian behaviorIt is appropriate for a Christian to seek healingOrthodoxy does not teach passivityResponsibility to pursue healing with spiritual means, scientific methods, or both (there is no conflict)The physician is a servant of God’s will
Sickness is NOT a consequence of a specific sinChristians have a responsibility for the health of othersNot even the desert ascetics can grow in God’s likeness without caring for the sick and the sufferingThe importance of the communityThe Trinity as an example
St. John Chrysostom
“For hear Him saying, ‘If a man take not his cross, and follow after Me, he is not worthy of Me.’ If you are a disciple, He means, imitate the Master; for this is to be a disciple. But if while He went by the path of affliction, you go by the path of ease, you no longer tread on the same path which He trod, but on another. How then do you follow, when you follow not? How shall you be a disciple, not going after the Master?’
“if I am in Christ, there are moments when I must share the cry of the Lord on the cross and the anguish in the garden of Gethsemane”
Caring for Others
The potential for likeness in God exists in all peopleAll people have an inviolate dignity that deserves respectThis dignity makes us responsible to each other, no human being should be abandonedPillars of Christian life in the early churchRational medicine flourished, organized, disciplinedSupported by St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory, St. John Chrysostom as long as medical practice did not conflict with foundation Christian doctrines
Medicine in Byzantium
Rational medicine wasremarkedlydevelopedChurch provided financial supportThe state provided protection and regulationConcept of hospitals providing care for sick was born and flourished in Byzantium, usually accompanied monasteriesBeds, meals, nursing were provided while patients received medical care by professional doctors who were financed, regulated, and organizedThis model did not exist in the West until the 1700’s
Medicine in the East
Ottoman empire ended Byzantium in 1453Christians became physicians for both Muslims and ChristiansOrthodox men educated in Europe’s finest medical schoolsReturned to practice in the Ottoman empire, assumed places of influence and respect in their communities
Ended state support of hospitalsHospital administration governed by medical guilds and doctorsOrthodox church was excluded from the healing processIncreasing importance of the service of UnctionBecame a sacrament worthy of its own service, separate from the Eucharist
Current Attitudes Toward Health
Nearly all of our services mention healing, e.g. Baptism, the Eucharistic petitions for the sick and the suffering, Communion is the “medicine of life”Fasting is not permitted for the ill as it might cause harm, endorsed by the Ecumenical councilsFasting not encouraged for pregnant women, those due to deliver during the great feasts, the very young, the very old
In other faiths, has become either a rite for the dying or has been rejected completelyIn Orthodoxy, it is a specific sacrament of healing, reflects a commitment to resolving sickness, physical and spiritualOil - long tradition for healing by Romans, Jews, GreeksMark 6:13 – oilannointingLuke 10:30 – Good SamaritanJames 5:14 - foundation for the sacrament, i.e. call for elders to administer, to be used with prayer, related to he forgiveness of sins
AbortionA form of murder, little flexibility on this issue except when the life of the mother is threatened, isforgiveable(priest has wide discretion)EuthanasiaOrthodoxy is strongly opposed, condemned as murderComplicated by modern definitions of brain deathContemporary Orthodoxy “allows” a person to die when it is clear efforts at maintaining life are futile?withdrawing supportvsnotintitiatingnew therapy?
AutopsyThe Church makes no formal objections provided the bodily remains are respected and returned for burialDonation of organsNo clear stand against as long as the underlying motive is love and charity for fellow man, not profitOrthodoxy implies that the donor’s body be accorded full respect and be buried
Donation for medical scienceNo objections as long as arrangements made for burial ritesAllow the family to mourn properlyImmediately after death, permit a service to allow mourning, burial to follow months laterInquire about the specific medical schoolCremationNot condonedThe body should be intact for resurrectionChurch will not usually conduct funeral services
Our purpose is to achieve the likeness of ChristTake up our cross and bear our sufferingIllness and suffering are unavoidableSickness is an opportunity for spiritual growthOrthodoxy teaches usWe should not be passive in maintaining healthWe are responsible for the health of all peopleModern science and medicine are gifts from GodLife is to be cherished, murder is not condoned