Orthodoxy and Science

I take it to be axiomatic that there is no contradiction between good theology and good science. I take it as axiomatic that we do not choose between science and faith.

The strange conflicts of the modern period have nurtured a sort of bifurcation (at all times and not just in our present trials). I have written regarding mental health issues any number of times, always encouraging people to include medical intervention among their therapies. We are not a “ghost in the machine” a “soul inhabiting a body.” Whatever we are, we are one thing. The separation of the soul from the body at death is tragic and creates a situation that is not at all normal. The soul is not “naturally” immortal – but is sustained in its existence solely by the will of God. When we speak of its “immortality” it is this good gift of God we have in mind rather than an independent property of the soul itself.

We seem not to have read the Scriptures (particularly those not in the Protestant Bible). There is a very ancient and clear understanding to be found in the 38th chapter of Sirach. I share the whole chapter here as well as a few additional comments:

Honor the physician with the honor due him,
And also according to your need of him, For the Lord created him.

Healing comes from the Most High,
And he will receive a gift from the king.

The physician’s skill will lift up his head,
And he shall be admired in the presence of the great.

The Lord created medicines from the earth,
And a sensible man will not loathe them.

Is not water made sweet by wood
That its strength might be known?

And He gave skill to men
That He might be glorified in His wonders.

By them He heals and takes away pain,
A druggist making a compound of them.

God’s works are never finished,
And from Him health is upon the face of the earth.

My son, do not be negligent when you are sick,
But pray to the Lord and He will heal you.

Depart from transgression and direct your hands aright,
And cleanse your heart from every sin.

Offer a sweet-smelling sacrifice and a memorial of the finest wheat flour;
And pour oil on your offering, as if you are soon to die.

And keep in touch with your physician,
For the Lord created him;

And do not let him leave you,
For you need him.

There is a time when success is also in their hands,
For they will pray to the Lord

To give them success in bringing relief and healing,
For the sake of preserving your life.

He who sins before the One who made him,
May he fall into the hands of a physician.

I can only think of how many errors might have been avoided over the years had this passage of Scripture been part of the reading of pious Christians. It has a balance that is timeless!

The great danger and temptation of secularism (modernity’s greatest invention) is to lay claim to certain areas and domains of the world as a “neutral zone” – something self-existing that has nothing to do with God. This is patently untrue and represents an act of theft. This has particularly been a dangerous assertion regarding science and medicine. These things are the gift of God.

This gift has a very deep history as part and parcel of faith. Even the ancient pagans saw the practice of medicine as a “theological” activity. St. Luke, the companion of St. Paul, was known as the “beloved physician.” St. Paul himself dispensed medical advice to St. Timothy (which, incidentally, involved using a bit of wine rather than just water).

If the world is truly a “one-storey universe” – then all these things belong to God and are only rightly seen and understood in His light. The human body is a temple. Heaven and earth are full of His glory. Though our altars have a special significance and a rightful place in the sacramental life of the Church, they are not islands of holiness in a sea of secularity. The altar of God is first, and foremost, in the heart, and can be found everywhere at all times. We don’t therefore destroy the altars of the Church, nor neglect them, but we go to them that we might go to the altar of God elsewhere as well.

Fr. Alexander Schmemann, of blessed memory, noted the danger in what some call “thing-ification” – to make the sacraments into a “holy thing” in a manner that excludes alll other things from being holy. He taught repeatedly and clearly that sacraments reveal things to be what they truly are rather than making them into something they are not.

I’ve known so many doctors and nurses over the years. In this part of the country, most of them are believers and Christians of some sort. I have had a doctor initiate and lead the prayers for my dead child as I stood by my wife’s bed during a still-born delivery.

I will close with a story shared to me by one of those doctors. Years ago, he had the difficult duty of telling the parents of a young boy that their son was not expected to live. His condition had deteriorated too far. Somewhat carefully, he asked them if they had a minister. They said they did not. He asked if he could ask one of the priests from his church to visit them. They allowed it.

The man he sent was Fr. William Pollard. He was a scientist, founder of the Oak Ridge Associated Universities, and one of the leading physicists of his day. He was also an Episcopal priest. In his lifetime, he received some 19 honorary doctorates for his work in faith and science. (I recently found a book of essays in which his work appeared alongside that of Fr. Georges Florovsky).

Fr. Pollard came, visited with the family, and anointed the boy.

Late in the night, my doctor friend received a call concerning the boy. He was so tired he didn’t pay attention. He simply got up and went to the hospital, expecting that he was going there to inform the parents of the child’s death. Instead, when he got there, he discovered that the boy had completely recovered.

He said to me, many years after that event, “There is no way known to medical science for that boy to have lived, much less to have had such a complete recovery in so short a time.”

That sort of story is only one of many stories of faith I have heard in the years of my ministry. I have always found myself welcomed by doctors and nurses. When I first came to Oak Ridge, I had the privilege of meeting Fr. Pollard, who was dying of cancer at the time. Six weeks after I came, I buried him. May his memory be eternal.

God be with our medical professionals and the whole of their heroic staffs during this time of trial!

42 comments:

  1. Oh Father, thank you!
    I’ve been in tears a lot over the past several days, thankfully, much needed. And now continue to be, after that wonderful story….and you got to bury the man!
    Can’t make this stuff up, Father.
    Thank you. For I am thirsty…
    (This is a rough time. Don’t know who to trust in my very small circle. And I miss gathering together at Church)

  2. “…God be with our medical professionals and the whole of their heroic staffs during this time of trial!”

    Amen. In my family we particularly feel the anxiety as my wife is a physician and we own/run a medical practice together. There is a palpable “deep breath before the plunge” right now, though I admit homeschooling my two daughters this week already has the energy drained out of me 😉

    I have been disappointed (but not surprised) by the reaction of some within Orthodoxy. As you say Father, everyone is an expert, and so we now have well known Orthodox pharmacists and nurses playing amateur epidemiologists. It’s all overblown, and no different from the yearly Flu pandemic according to them…if only, and I pray that they are right and that there is an “overreaction”, even though their reasoning is wrong headed. Then there is this facile analogy some make between communist state persecution of the Church and the humble guidance of our hierarchy instructing us to make *temporary* changes to our liturgical routines – supported with almost endless proof texting of the Fathers. God help us with the self proclaimed defenders of Orthodoxy! There is a real dull mindedness to all of this, and I wonder if this time can not serve as an opportunity for us to reflect on how we might have made an idol of our routines, even our Sacramental ones.

  3. Paula AZ.
    Go to YouTubeand then to Sainte Anne Orthodox Church and you will find the schedule of streamed services. If we are truly the Church we will be present though apart. God protect and keep use all.

  4. Amen! Thank you Fr. Stephen. Having known and loved Fr. Pollard, we truly appreciate you sharing this story.

  5. Paula,
    I’m at a different “St. Anne Orthodox Church.” If you go to our parish website stanneorthodoxchurch.com. you’ll see a livestream menu at the top. Our services and homilies, and a few other things, are being posted there. Also, for any who are on Facebook, I’m doing a daily livecast, that can be found on my page https://www.facebook.com/fatherstephen

  6. Mike and Roni,
    Good to hear from you. I pray all of yours are doing well and are safe. That story was told me by Dr. Lewis Preston. There were a lot of healing stories that circulated around Fr. Pollard. This one, from the doctor’s own lips, has been a keeper.

  7. Fr. Stephen, thank you for sharing your story of Fr. Pollard.

    If I may comment here once again as an “unbeliever”, it seems to me that the “neutral zone” is made worse by those on both sides. I’ve seen it enough, despite my young age, where the religious person will boast to high heavens when something remarkable or miraculous happens, like their child being inexplicably healed. Yet, when their child is in the hospital, writhing in agony and soon to die in excruciating pain, suddenly that child’s suffering is quickly distanced from God’s providence or grace. No longer is the religious person so sure that God himself has intervened in their life and saved the life of their child. Rather, when the unhappy ending is the reality that must be dealt with head on, ah, now God is the one who “works in mysterious ways” and so on and so forth. Yet, it seems to me that, in my seeking into Christianity, and Orthodoxy in particular, indeed the only right response in both instances is to quietly affirm “glory to God for all things.”

    The secular unbeliever, I think, is very similar to the believer, actually. In the event that the happy ending occurs, the secular person will credit the doctors and nurses and modern medicine and everyone will have a grand old party about the awesome thing that was done. Yet, when the unhappy ending rolls itself out onto the coroner’s table, the secular person will *also* use the language of distancing, such as, “well, we just couldn’t save him/her,” or another popular one, “such and such has lost their battle with x, y, z.”

    As I see it, the trouble is failing to give credit where credit is due *in both cases.* Religious people who fail to do so often look utterly insane and really have so recourse on the problem of evil when they treat this dilemma in a two-faced manner. And for those who don’t believe, yet must still wrestle with the immense suffering that exists in the world, they’re not even in the boat and seasick, but out in the waters and drowning because they’re stuck playing the wishy-washy game of relativistic ethics and ontology.

    Whenever Christ healed someone in the Bible, he didn’t make a huge deal out of it, nor did he want his disciples going around making him out to be some sort of magic-man. Yet, I see a lot of “God as magic-man” in the current religious culture, which only serves to keep irreligious people away, as that’s a cruddy way of describing God and what suffering in Christianity actually means, both when when the suffering is healed and indeed when it is endured into “death.”

  8. Ian,
    It is possible to meet shallow Christianity everywhere. I have seen the real thing many times, however, and it is marked by thanksgiving in all things. Shallow Christianity is a breeding ground for unbelief, because it itself is a form of unbelief.

  9. Ian,

    “The secular unbeliever, I think, is very similar to the believer, actually.”

    Amen. There is a time for everything—to fight, to run, to make merry, to mourn—but every time is a time to give thanks and glorify God.

    Christopher,

    “…humble guidance of our hierarchy…”

    I think this is one of the key differences between right obedience and false obedience. It is not just that the hierarchs are being humble before Christ (a necessity), but they are also showing submission to those who have been given a different function and leadership role within society. Everyone has to submit to someone else, no matter how high or how low. It is not a mindless, “polite” “Yes, sir!” that we’re missing today—we have all too much of that, even within parishes, and it is a mask for toxic shame and worse—but the ability to voluntarily, consciously, and humbly let go, the ability to acknowledge something and someone outside the self and its passions and senses. It is one of the things which separates us from the animals, and it feels in short supply in modern times!

  10. Just a word of general thanks, Fr Stephen, for your insightful posts, the beautiful, often provocative images (where ever do you find them?) and the names of figures of whom I was unaware before reading, most recently Stanley Hauerwas and now Fr. William Pollard.
    Ken

  11. Forgive me for getting a bit off topic, but regarding what you said here:

    “The soul is not “naturally” immortal – but is sustained in its existence solely by the will of God. When we speak of its “immortality” it is this good gift of God we have in mind rather than an independent property of the soul itself.”

    This seems to go against what I have heard regarding Orthodox views of hell, that God allows people to exist there our of mercy and as their condition and that he cannot out of mercy destroy them to end their eternal suffering that is useless and wasted and cannot lead to any sense of reparation. But if God is merely sustaining the souls of the damned by his will–that he could simply stop willing it at any moment–this seems doubly worse, for now not only is God choosing not to destroy the souls, but he is actively making it so they are suffering for eternity (again, this is not like any earthly suffering that can be justified as good insofar it leads to redemption–most Orthodox I hear from say the suffering is eternal and without end–so there is no possible goodness to it, there’d be no reason for God to sustain them in their suffering in this case unless we say, like the Calvinists, that God does it merely to exact revenge for his justice being violated, which does not at all sound like the Orthodox God).

  12. I think science is beautiful and a gift from God, but as the Romanian Orthodox playwright Eugene Ionesco observed in his play “Exit the King”** it can be abused like any gift if it is not used in humility and service but becomes a “thing in itself” used in a spirit of almost alchemical magic with its own priesthood of sorts. As far as the medical arts are concerned, the government and lawyers and bean counters have made them almost impossible sometimes.

    I know my father suffered at their hands but also served them. Many are almost forced into serving two masters. Nurses required to constantly chart in a computer so that, at times, the computer becomes the center of the office visit, or the hospital stay not the person there to be evaluated and treated. The best, keep the computer off to one side, the worst pay the patient little mind except as necessary to feed the beast. It reminds me of Charlie Chaplin’s dark satire of the rise of the machine in his 1936 “Modern Times”.

    Tools allow the people who wield them to set the rhythm and pace of the work, allowing the person to also plan and think and create while using them. Machines set the rhythm and pace for the operator and any thought tends to be preplanned. It is worse when computers dominate, both the medical personnel and the patients become the servant of the computer and the protocols defined therein. I have seen and experienced great pain for myself and those I hold most dear when the humanity is overshadowed and denied and no healing given. It is a deep hurt I have difficulty forgiving as it is so much a constant of almost any medical visit these days and seems to escalate with the severity of the concern. Trust becomes quite difficult. The empathetic healers suffer the most, I think. It is a great sorrow.

    There are some, thank God, who are able to transcend the cyber dominance and they are rare jewels. May God send more and strengthen the rest to remain human under the authority of God and not modernity.

    **It was reading that play and seeing it performed in the late 60s that I was first introduced to the Orthodox understanding of purification, illumination and theosis although in a veil manner that did not become clear to me until I was received into the Church almost 20 years later. It is amazing what an iconic life the play takes on set in the context of the Church’s anthropology while in the modern world is considered part of “The Theater of the Absurd” almost Kafkaesque. It is not, of course, but it is foolishness to the world.

  13. Amazing Father. The medical arts theme reminded me when an angel examined St. Cuthbert’s injured knee and advised him what physical elements to use as a salve for healing. I looked it up on OCA’s Feasts and Saints page and it turns out the posting date of your essay, March 20, is also St. Cuthbert’s Feast Day

    Here is the story

    “On another occasion, he was suffering from an injured knee. It was quite swollen and the muscles were so contracted that he limped and could scarcely place his foot on the ground. One day a handsome stranger of noble bearing, dressed in white, rode up on horseback to the place where Cuthbert was sitting in the sun beside the house. The stranger asked courteously if the boy would receive him as a guest. Cuthbert said that if only he were not hampered by his injuries, he would not be slow to offer hospitality to his guest.

    The man got down from his horse and examined Cuthbert’s knee, advising him to cook up some wheat flour with milk, and to spread the warm paste on his sore knee. After the stranger had gone, it occurred to him that the man was really an angel who had been sent by God. “

  14. The luke-warmness of faith is one of the worst afflictions, breeding a treacherous, underlying despondency.
    The peace and joy of the true believer is not context-dependent. This is key.
    Context-dependent peace, or joy, is still only “of this world”. But God’s strength is made manifest even in weakness.
    Nothing has impressed me as much as this in real saints I have encountered: the grace to maintain detached, joyous and unperturbed, not just when things are going well, but when they are not, (as I’ve seen it manifest in real persons at times). It is reminiscent of the astonishing martyr, who is equally peaceful sitting in his office, as he is ‘sitting’, nailed on his cross.
    Of course this sounds otherworldly because it is generally, humanly impossible.
    However, it is habitually brought about by a person’s desire to be liked by God, irrespective of context, no matter what “cards they are dealt” at any moment, whether they are strong, rich and healthy, or deprived, sick and weak, they are only concerned with doing whatever God’s will is in their respective contexts, not how to alter the context. It is deep ontological reorientation of one’s being.
    We have witnessed this in recent saints (I have Elder Aimilianos in mind), who had explained exactly what is ‘our portion’ and what is ‘God’s portion’ in this amazing feat which they then performed in their own life with God’s help.
    This is becoming more relevant every day that goes past.
    The Elder saw it very simply, that there doesn’t exist a person who cannot become a saint this way. He often repeated the words :
    “That all that is needed is a little valiance, a genuineness, a decency, a calmness, an acceptance: in the sense of accepting whatever befalls, to not agonize over anything, neither oneself, neither the Church, neither society, neither the seasons.”… “We Christians think up all sorts in our heads and then feel we are in danger and are becoming lost. But does Christ ever become lost? Is He ever in danger? Even when He is asleep, it is He who controls the tempest of the seas and of the skies and of our hearts.”
    For the elder there were no justifications to not becoming like this.
    It is an unbelievably grand calling, but I always find it encouraging, and sometimes, and this is significant, the same situations of this world that would make us protest that ‘this is not possible’, actually, eventually, force us to recognize that ‘there is no other solution than this’….

  15. Cory,
    “God cannot.” This is, generally speaking, not a helpful phrase theologically. When people use it (if they do), then they need to stop themselves and back up for a moment. God can. God acts in accordance with His nature because He is Who He is. God is good and only acts for our good – because He is good. That should be a foundation of our thought and our hearts.

    There are many ways to speak about the “Last Things” that are problematic and troubling, and I find some of them to be clumsy and ill-thought-out. The goodness of our existence is greater even than the so-called sufferings of hell. I have no doubt that those sufferings are “reparative” (working us good) despite their gruesome descriptions. The sufferings of this world are certainly reparative, though we often do not see or understand their inner working.

    What I do not (for I cannot) say, is the ultimate outcome of the reparative work of hell. For, according to a number of the Fathers, the “fire” of hell is nothing other than the love of God. “Love does no harm.” Will it save everyone plunged into it? It has not been given to us to know that.

    What we do know is the love of God. For me, I seek to let that be enough, and, when contemplating even hell itself, to know that, even there, He is with us, willing us good. Sometimes, it has to be ok not to know the very end of things. It was questions about the end that Christ seemed to avoid answering when asked by the disciples.

    I’ll say that your reasoning is good – you caught what would be a terrible contradiction within how some people try to explain all of this. When we keep our eyes on God and His love we are preserved!

  16. Father Stephen,
    I find your Icon of Christ healing the blind man, very beautiful.

    It is the first time I have seen this story depicted so simply and convincing. It is moving to think how He cares for us, and using what is at hand to heal us. Christ could have said, “Be healed” and that would have been enough, instead he made use of basic materials.

  17. Michael Bauman, thank you for your comments as I tend to share your view.

    I think many things need to change about the current medical system in the West for it to even approach the kind of view espoused in this article. I have no doubt that there are still good people working in these professions. I have a couple of family members who are nurses, but the medical industry has been incredibly corrupted by greed and the de-humanizing effects of various technologies that place a kind of distance between the patient and physician.

    Most of my encounters with physicians, thankfully few, praise be to God, have been negative. Physicians who were either incompetent in helping me or more often, just indifferent as I am just another insurance payment on their billing sheets.

    When my daughter was younger, she developed a habit of walking on her tip-toes and needed help in repairing that condition. Of course, the first physicians wanted to surgically ‘repair’ the problem. I have no doubt they would have charged the insurance a large sum for that procedure, so in my assessment, they were financially motivated to do the work that paid them the most without looking at alternatives. We did eventually find a physician at Shriner’s Hospital willing to put my daughter through a course of physical therapy with casting, which she had to do twice, that repaired her ability to walk on her feet. We had to drive two and a half hours away to see this physician. He was one of the few physicians I have met that I feel like was actually in the practice of caring for his patients, not just processing them as a way to enrich himself.

    I worked in a pharmacy for seven years as well. The view I came away with from that experience is that the pharmaceutical industry has far more incentive to create medications that are required to mitigate health conditions than they are to come up with therapies that repair health conditions. That’s just simple capitalism in action. Patients that need recurring medications to mitigate health problems are obviously more profitable than patients who can be cured. So where is the incentive in creating cures?

    Sorry if this seems negative. I truly agree with Fr. Stephen that this kind of relationship should exist between people and their physicians. I just don’t have much trust in the current medical system that is in place and it is not easy to find physicians who practice this kind of worldview.

  18. I have always been fascinated as to how or if the law of conservation of energy relates to our life. Conservation of matter too. From a human perspective neither can be created or destroyed. What does that say for our souls? Perhaps we are not as autonomous as we think or as discrete. As long as one of us exists perhaps we all do.

    So the idea that God would allow one or more to pass into oblivion may have consequences for me even if I do not.

    The laws of conservation of matter and energy are an expression of God’s order and mercy. While He can do things differently, He is not capricious. Capricious gods are for the pagans and require constant propitiation like demons.

    We are not autonomous individuals–all that we do, think.and say impacts everyone else
    This, as I repent and forgive all are lifted up.

  19. Michael,

    Boy do I hear you. My wife spends about 1/2 her day in front of a computer – it was about 1/4 of the day before the so called ‘Affordable Care Act’. Doctors are all too aware of this situation, but they are not organized well enough to push back in any meaningful way. They need an effective union – the AMA and the like are really in the pocket of the status quo insurance industry/government machine (the AMA helped push through the Affordable Care Act). Also, the people want what they want (i.e. more “access”, the cheaper the better – “free” being best) and so they vote for the politicians who promise them this but actually deliver yet more of the status quo insurance industry/government machine. There is nothing I see in the discussion/awareness that is bucking this trend. I have said this before: that it is a great Mercy of God that we (as a individuals, familys, people, nations) don’t usually “get what we deserve”, but Americans are increasingly getting the medical care they deserve.

    Dino,

    Thanks for your last comments and the elders words. We want to be saved, but really we want it to be not about ourselves but everything else…I lose the battle to remember this most of the time!

    Oh and Fr. Stephen thanks for your reply to my original question on the early thread.

  20. Christopher, Michael,
    Do be sure to read my article’s careful words re: good science, good theology. We need look no further than what passes for theology out there to see how good things get corrupted. That medicine’s practice is corrupted by our use is not surprising in the least.

    But, and I would offer this encouragement: the undying good nature of the thing itself – medicine, theology – are a continuing argument that never ceases to make its case in the midst of our abuse. We cannot make a good thing into a bad thing – we can only use a good thing badly.

    So, when we make our case for using a good thing in a good manner – the thing itself is our ally in the argument. All of creation rejoices to hear us when we speak in that manner.

  21. Michael and Michael,
    I agree with you so much! I recently heard a commentary which said that the Western medicine has evolved to treat us when we get sick, while the Eastern had as a goal to prevent people from getting sick. Of course, the Western philosophy went very well with capitalism. In Russia, there are voices now longing for even Soviet era medicine, where the health of the population was looked after by doctors (and government), with the help of dietitians, physical education specialists, and so forth. One person remembered how there was always a dietitian in a school cafeteria, who looked after proper menus which would contain appropriate levels of vitamins, nutrients, etc.

    I also want to share my experience. Last summer my knee pain became so bad, I finally went to the orthopedist again. I have been going once a year for the past few, and the progression was from nothing, to some cortisone shots to some other (very expensive) shots, to finally the doctor showing me pictures of a partial knee replacement. When I asked him “why this is happening”, he basically said “bad luck” (because I am not overweight, but I am a woman, which are apparently the main risk factors!!). He never ever asked me about my exercise. I did some physical therapy and at the end of it, I asked the young woman who was my PT “Could I really fix this with exercise?” She said yes, but in the end I was just left with 5-6 of them… I knew that was not enough…
    I always pray to God to help in such situations and as a result my YouTube feed presented me with Dr. Alexandr Shishonin from Moscow 😉. I am lucky I used to know Russian (30 years ago), but I was inspired and motivated after hearing his video on joints. According to him, I was not “stage 4 arthritis” (as I was told here), only maybe 1 or 2, and most importantly he said this can be fixed with…. exercises and walking. I even went to Moscow last December to meet him and get confirmation.
    Long story short, I have been walking every day for 1 hours (on a treadmill at home, to his very cool program) and doing his therapy exercises (also all on the internet), and I am almost pain free. He says even the cartilage in our joints can be rebuilt (he sees it in his patients). Here any doctor I mention it to laughs at me (we have a couple in my parish).
    Don’t think that this doctor is famous, he is marginalized in Russia. But all his patients are those who are desperate, because the mainstream medicine gave up on them. I saw 70, 80, 90 year olds exercising. He is straightforward about it, it will take work, stubbornness, tenacity and consistency to get results. But few people want this kind of medicine (the medical and pharmaceutical companies would go out of business) and we would personally have to put in some effort…

    Just like in our spiritual life, isn’t it?

    For those who are interested, here is (finally) the English version of his YouTube channel. It only has a few videos, but they cover some good topics.

    Father Stephen, I hope you don’t mind if I share this. It’s priceless information.

    https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCiwHRlQiJk61f2usAsNSIhQ?referer1=YouTube&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=canal&referer2=321

  22. Michael, a couple of additional points: I have had some remarkedly positive care especially from the cardiologists and surgeons my wife and I have needed recently. Dr. George Farha, renown heart surgeon , who reposed a few years ago streamed compassion. The son of his partner could have gone anywhere in the country to practice but came back to Wichita to learn from his father. He fixed me. Without his skill I would be dead.

    The type of care that suffers the most is mental health care. At least in my town it tends to the barbaric.

  23. Agata, have you read the Life of St. Luke of Simferopol? A world renown eye surgeon who insisted that an icon of the Theotokos in the operating room and also brought the healing grace of God through prayer. He once refused to operated on an important communist official until he and his superiors agreed to the icon.

    Modernity does not believe in wholeness or healing. That philosophical presupposition creates the deformation of our life. Real wholeness and healing comes only in the context of community. Fr. Paul Abernathy of Pittsburg Antiochian is a leader in community based healing that includes everything.

  24. Michael,
    Yes, I know St. Luke. I have a Luke who wants to be a doctor, so I pray to St. Luke.
    It’s interesting that St. Luke’s own children were atheists (though his grandchild was recently baptized in Greece, maybe even on Mt. Athos), so I also pray to him in relation to that issue, to help it does not happen in my family… 🙂

  25. Dino,
    I also wanted to thank you for your comment, reminded me of something you said in the past.
    These were related to work themes, but accepting life conditions in which we find ourselves is not much different. I thought it would be good for us to review these thoughts…

    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2013/10/16/the-all-consuming-vocation/#comment-71451
    and
    https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2013/10/16/the-all-consuming-vocation/#comment-71462

    And finally one more request to the blog community:
    Can someone help me find the text of the Akathist to St. Nikiforos? The publisher is out of print, and the pdf is nowhere to be found. Are such publications so copyrighted that we can’t share? It’s prayers after all… Please (g)mail me if you have it… (agatamcc)

  26. Do be sure to read my article’s careful words re: good science, good theology.

    Thank you Father Stephen, for this article and this reminder.

    I will probably get push back here, but I will speak truthfully with love. Although we sincerely wish our medical workers, whether they be nurses or medical doctors, to have an understanding of science, it is the rare person in that field that has been trained sufficiently well in science to think and analyze scientifically. One does not need to be trained in science to obtain certification in these fields. Doing a couple of lower level undergraduate courses in science courses actually is not sufficient, although I wish it was.

    I’ve been in the profession to teach chemistry those who wish entry into these fields. My whole intent has been to teach them science literacy (at minimum), and ironically, 1 out of 20 might have that sincere intent to learn and apply it. Most are there for their prerequisites and a grade that allows a check mark in the appropriate box.

    The very best medical help I’ve had in my life came by a couple of nurses who had a dedication to understand their field in the way of “good science” as Father Stephen describes. Such occasions were true blessings.

    Please, I’m very grateful for the hard work that nurses and doctors do. But in general, their understanding of science is rather minimal, to say it gently.

    Agata, thank you for your story. I’m very glad you found helpful diagnosis and treatment. There is indeed a bit of hubris within the west concerning the western approach to medicine. I’m grateful you’ve had the capacity to go abroad and find the relief you’ve received.

    I’ll end by giving thanks for what medical services we do have, with all of its ‘carbuncles’ in the US. And I’m especially grateful that our hierarchy has and are helping us through these trials.

    May the Lord have mercy on us all, and abide in us while we prayerfully repent in the desert, in the season of Lent.

  27. Using some video conferencing software/tech from a local university, our little mission parish just celebrated the liturgy of St. Basil together. It worked out better than I had dared hoped. When our priest said the words “…this *rational* and bloodless sacrifice…” I thought of how we were all *rationally* together, and the Church guided by her humble hierarchy has *rationally* adjusted our liturgical routine and practice to the circumstances of this plague and our life in it. Glory to God! We gave thanks and praise to God in a way that is acceptable to Him according to the Faith of our fathers, and any deficiency was the result of our usual sins and idols and NOT the result of our present circumstances. Glory to God!

  28. Father, so what if we do not learn anything from this? For a minute there I thought we might… Everything stopped and I thought: now we can think. We have time to see ourselves and repent. Just a little. But sure enough, people can’t stop blaming each other, their doctors, their priests, their governments, their neighbours. I thought we were put in isolation (us, the young and healthy) in order to stop infecting the others (with our viruses and our sins), but it seems we managed to turn it around. We isolate ourselves so that We don’t get infected. The enemy is again anywhere else but not within us. Is there a way back for the modern man or have we strayed from the path to the point where we can’t find our way back? Is there a way we can find humility still? There must be…

  29. Ioana,
    This has just begun. Lessons are not learned in a short time. Be patient. Pray. This will not necessarily make the world a better place – but some people will be the better for it. Nonetheless, God is at work for our good with in. Trust Him.

  30. No need to post this. Just wanted to thank you. It’s true. I haven’t changed one bit either since it all started. All my sins and passions in place. I smiled when you said “be patient”. Impatience is one of them.

  31. Father Stephen is correct, I believe. For Christians, faith and science cannot be separated, because neither one is an end in itself; they are both means to the same and end: knowledge (experience) of God through His Self-revelation.

    However, in our fallen world, it is also about how both faith and/or science in themselves can be used to serve darker purposes: crusades, pogroms, jihadis; eugenics, apartheid and abortion. The first three were (are) motivated by faith in God as these folks understand God; the second three were all the fruit of the ‘good’ science of their day.

    I am curious as to how both Faith and science are being used in the context of this current situation. Who is using them, and to what ends? Only time will tell.

    St. Paul asked: ‘What can separate us from God?’ This current crisis may throw up some interesting ideas on what can separate us from one another.

    Glory to God.

  32. Cory,
    Olivier Clement once asked Elder Sophrony what would happen if a person does not agree to open his or her heart and accept the love of God. Sophrony replied, “You may be certain that as long as someone is in hell, Christ will remain there with him.”

    People claim the Church teaches all kinds of things, but that is about all we can say with confidence and it should answer your concern.

  33. Greg,

    Thank you for that wisdom. I was going through an awful time, as everyone does every now and then. I was sobbing in front of my icons and I complained, “God, I’m in hell right now.” Loud and clear I heard His response, “Yes, and I am there with you.” Not only was there instant psychological relief, but it was a tremendous revelation for me. God is not distantly, coldly viewing our suffering. Everything that affects us touches Him, and He is with us forever. The anguished times went on for a while, but the knowledge that God stays with us even in hell was extraordinarily comforting.

  34. I was dealing with these same questions (for other reasons) a short while ago and remember reading through the Confession Of Dositheus, from the Council Of Jerusalem (1672). Lots of unknowns surround the “who said what” to prompt it (there were more than a few forgeries around this time to gain credibility for the Protestant movement), but I was helped by what is said The Eucharist is *not*:


    In the celebration whereof we believe the Lord Jesus Christ to be present, not typically, nor figuratively, nor by superabundant grace, as in the other Mysteries, nor by a bare presence, as some of the Fathers have said concerning Baptism, or by impanation, so that the Divinity of the Word is united to the set forth bread of the Eucharist hypostatically, as the followers of Luther most ignorantly and wretchedly suppose, but truly and really…

    I do not know enough of this particular synod to say how much “the West” influenced it (I’ve heard both ways) but that bit, at least, answered my question and agrees with what what Pr Stephen just said: “We do not apply the language of Christology (hypostasis, nature, etc.) to the sacraments.”. As always, it is refreshing to be able to go back to any point, to any council, and see the same Orthodoxy, even if it is under attack from all directions!

  35. Thank you Fr Stephen, for your wise words on the Eucharist.

    At the moment it is irrelevant to many people, because churches are closed.
    However, my thinking is this: “Simply listen to what your bishop says!”

    Because he will have to answer to God for how well he has looked after the flock in his care, and we the sheep will have to answer for how well we followed.

    The Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, was obedient even until death, if we follow His example we can’t go wrong, whether we live or die, God looks at the heart.

    What is death anyway? If not a door to the next life, we should be thinking of that. I hope one day to be gathered with my ancestors, hopefully God has prepared a room for us.
    It is a heavy cross being a bishop, let us not make it harder for them by arguing about theology and technicalities.
    Pray for the world and stay safe.

    Also, we should not put the Lord to the test, thinking we can ignore good advice. Here in England we are told to stay at home to stop the spread of the virus, and let the people who we need to keep things going, get on with it.
    A small sacrifice for the common good.

  36. Michael, Michael B. and Agatha,

    I have really appreciated your observations about the current state of Western medicine. I love my Christian PCP. She works with real care and integrity, but thanks to information and experience I have from some (Jewish and Christian) home birth alternative MDs we used years ago and our experiences with chiropractors, my confidence in her training and the “science” on which it is presumably based is quite limited. This is because I have seen the same science critically cross examined by equally qualified medical professionals and quite different conclusions arrived at than the prevailing conventional wisdom (in many areas) in light of a larger picture. As with Agata’s experience, it is rare, but often very salutary, to find a doctor willing to go the extra mile for his or her patients to think outside the box of prescriptions and surgery as the primary ways to address and even reverse disease. This is the way many doctors used to operate before the creation by corporate conglomerates of the medical-industrial complex with which doctors and patients alike are trying to cope today.

    Good science and good theology complement each other. I find both are frequently being forcefully obfuscated in the current climate, making it exceedingly difficult for most to discern exactly what either of those are. Consequently, in medicine “iatrogenic causes” are believed by many health professionals and observers to be the #1 cause of death in the US today, though for some years now the CDC has ceased to include this category in their official list. Well over a decade ago, I read a Reader’s Digest article on leading causes of death in the US, and “medical mistakes” was already #3 on that list while “medical treatment“ was #4.

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