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Healing and Medicine in Orthodox Christianity Theodore J. Saclarides, M.D.

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Presentation on theme: "Healing and Medicine in Orthodox Christianity Theodore J. Saclarides, M.D."— Presentation transcript:

1 Healing and Medicine in Orthodox Christianity Theodore J. Saclarides, M.D.

2 Heart of Eastern Orthodoxy The Bible (Scripture) Traditions Council decisions Writings of the Church Fathers Liturgical texts Canons Monastic traditions

3 What is evident The Orthodox Church is clear on the potential of human kind What distinguishes us from the rest of creation? – “We are created in the image and the likeness of God” – The image is 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. Kallistos Ware

4 The Likeness of God The “likeness” refers to man’s realization of that potential which he hopes to attain at the end of his journey – To become perfect – To 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 to nuture nature, not dominate it

5 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.

6 This journey from the image to the likeness of 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.

7 What does salvation achieve? Victory over the devil, death, corruption, and sin Communion 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?

8 The Relationship Between Body and Soul Variation between faiths, some contrast them Orthodoxy sees a united body and soul, related Letter 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.”

9 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?”

10 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.”

11 Monastic Life Limited sleep, severe fasting, hard work, solitude, vigils, restrictions on cleanliness Is this a test of ascetic resolve? A trial? Not a main line of Orthodox teaching – Life style should not abuse the body – Life style should promote progress to the likeness of God Voluntary suffering is suggested by some as a means of attaining a new spiritual plane of thought

12 What Causes Illness/Suffering Result of a fallen world that predates man’s arrival Result of man’s fall from grace, communion with God Inevitable Unavoidable Test of our commitment and devotion to God Opportunity to share with Christ, to show trust An opportunity to grow in God-likeness

13 St. Symeon Metaphrastes “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

14 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.”

15 Orthodoxy’s Perspective on Illness Sickness can be transformed into an instrument for the fulfillment of human purpose – Illness is NOT automatic in its reward, there must be repentance, prayer, a new commitment – Illness should not be mistaken for a vehicle of despair, to distance oneself from God

16 Orthodoxy’s Perspective Illness is a test, “not an absolute evil, but an evil capable of redemption by enhancing communion with God Sickness 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 example – Appreciation for health – Example for positive thinking – Show strength in the face of adversity – Reaffirmation of relationships

17 Orthodoxy’s Perspectives Health maintenance is a responsibility. Reckless risking of health and life, abusing the body, ignoring the basic necessities of life all constitute inappropriate Christian behavior It is appropriate for a Christian to seek healing – Orthodoxy does not teach passivity – Responsibility to pursue healing with spiritual means, scientific methods, or both (there is no conflict) – The physician is a servant of God’s will

18 Orthodoxy’s Perspectives Sickness is NOT a consequence of a specific sin Christians have a responsibility for the health of others – Not even the desert ascetics can grow in God’s likeness without caring for the sick and the suffering – The importance of the community – The Trinity as an example

19 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?’

20 “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” Sharing Unity Communion

21 Caring for Others The potential for likeness in God exists in all people All people have an inviolate dignity that deserves respect This dignity makes us responsible to each other, no human being should be abandoned Pillars of Christian life in the early church – Rational medicine flourished, organized, disciplined – Supported by St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory, St. John Chrysostom as long as medical practice did not conflict with foundation Christian doctrines

22 Medicine in Byzantium Rational medicine was remarkedly developed Church provided financial support The state provided protection and regulation Concept of hospitals providing care for sick was born and flourished in Byzantium, usually accompanied monasteries – Beds, meals, nursing were provided while patients received medical care by professional doctors who were financed, regulated, and organized – This model did not exist in the West until the 1700’s

23 Medicine in the East Ottoman empire ended Byzantium in 1453 Christians became physicians for both Muslims and Christians Orthodox men educated in Europe’s finest medical schools Returned to practice in the Ottoman empire, assumed places of influence and respect in their communities

24 Ottoman Empire Ended state support of hospitals Hospital administration governed by medical guilds and doctors Orthodox church was excluded from the healing process – Increasing importance of the service of Unction – Became a sacrament worthy of its own service, separate from the Eucharist

25 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 councils Fasting not encouraged for pregnant women, those due to deliver during the great feasts, the very young, the very old

26 Holy Unction In other faiths, has become either a rite for the dying or has been rejected completely In Orthodoxy, it is a specific sacrament of healing, reflects a commitment to resolving sickness, physical and spiritual Oil - long tradition for healing by Romans, Jews, Greeks – Mark 6:13 – oil annointing – Luke 10:30 – Good Samaritan – James 5:14 - foundation for the sacrament, i.e. call for elders to administer, to be used with prayer, related to he forgiveness of sins

27 Orthodox Bioethics Abortion – A form of murder, little flexibility on this issue except when the life of the mother is threatened, is forgiveable (priest has wide discretion) Euthanasia – Orthodoxy is strongly opposed, condemned as murder – Complicated by modern definitions of brain death – Contemporary Orthodoxy “allows” a person to die when it is clear efforts at maintaining life are futile – ?withdrawing support vs not intitiating new therapy?

28 Orthodox Bioethics Autopsy – The Church makes no formal objections provided the bodily remains are respected and returned for burial Donation of organs – No clear stand against as long as the underlying motive is love and charity for fellow man, not profit – Orthodoxy implies that the donor’s body be accorded full respect and be buried

29 Orthodox Bioethics Donation for medical science – No objections as long as arrangements made for burial rites – Allow the family to mourn properly – Immediately after death, permit a service to allow mourning, burial to follow months later – Inquire about the specific medical school Cremation – Not condoned – The body should be intact for resurrection – Church will not usually conduct funeral services

30 Conclusions Our purpose is to achieve the likeness of Christ Take up our cross and bear our suffering Illness and suffering are unavoidable Sickness is an opportunity for spiritual growth Orthodoxy teaches us – We should not be passive in maintaining health – We are responsible for the health of all people – Modern science and medicine are gifts from God – Life is to be cherished, murder is not condoned


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