Thursday, December 31, 2009

Physicians Preserving Life in the Womb

When an Orthodox Christian physician provides medical care to a pregnant woman, the physician finds two patients under his care, mother and child.  By the efforts of the physician, may the health of both be improved and preserved.

A physician may encounter a woman who does not want her child or even recognize the fetus as a child.  An Orthodox Christian physician must be careful not only to refuse to assist in an abortion, but must also be careful not to merely redirect the mother to another provider who will perform an abortion.  If a stranger approaches an Orthodox Christian man and asks, "Will you kill a family member for me?," the Christian should not respond, "Of course, not! - but, I know a hitman who will.  He'll do it quickly, effectively, and with as little danger to your other family members as possible."  The Orthodox Christian should clearly refuse to commit murder and to aid a potential murderer in carrying out the evil scheme.  The time when a scared and confused mother in a chaotic life-situation seeks an abortion may not be a good moment for the physician to abandon a patient by leaving her to an abortionist, although the patient can make a decision to abandon the physician and seek a secular abortionist to carry out her plans.  Rather, an Orthodox Christian physician who encounters a woman desiring an abortion can aid a woman's rise out of her own delusion and egotism to realize that she has child (her own child) within her womb and that she is truly a mother, who is called to be a mother after the image of the Theotokos and all the nurturing mother-Saints who have brought forth children.  

When caring for young women with unexpected and/or unwanted pregnancies, all who care should do so with great tenderness and love.  Information regarding adoption and caring for the child in the context of the family and church can be discussed.  Certainly, the physician can call upon a priest to speak with the mother if she is willing.   Ultimately, a woman will exercise her will to choose what she will do.  The physician, however, should clearly indicate that he is obliged to care for both patients, that abortion is simply the murder of an innocent child (even if the child's conception involved an act of violence), and that, while he will take no part in the murder of a child, he will help the woman in the process of bringing the child into life in the world.  

While abortion is often seen as a political issue in our society, for Orthodox Christians it is a matter of expressing love to give life or murdering an innocent victim because of self-love (narcissism/egotism) and  delusion.  With love and prayer, the physician may be able to preserve the life of a baby and point the mother toward a healthier, spiritually nourishing life.

Selections from early Christian writings, a description of the development of a child in the womb, and other relevant resources can also be found on the Antiochian Archdiocese website.The Orthodox Christian approach to abortion is expressed in a brief submitted to the US Supreme Court (pdf). 

The Office of Prayer and Supplication for the Victims of Abortion (pdf) is available on the Antiochian Archdiocese website.  

Monday, December 28, 2009

Unmercenary Physicians Cyrus and John

You can listen to an account of the lives of Sts. Cyrus and John the Unmercenary Physicians (martyred c. AD 304) on an Ancient Faith Radio podcast.

Also, read about the lives of Sts. Cyrus and John on the OCA website. 

They are commemorated every year on January 31st.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Nativity of Jesus Christ, Healing & Wellness

"Christ is born, glorify ye Him. Christ from heaven, go ye out to meet Him. Christ on earth; be ye exalted. Sing unto the Lord all the whole earth; and that I may join both in one word, Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad, for Him Who is of heaven and then of earth. Christ in the flesh, rejoice with trembling and with joy; with trembling because of your sins, with joy because of your hope. Christ of a Virgin; O ye Matrons live as Virgins, that ye may be Mothers of Christ. Who doth not worship Him That is from the beginning? Who doth not glorify Him That is the Last?"

"For God was manifested to man by birth. On the one hand Being, and eternally Being, of the Eternal Being, above cause and word, for there was no word before The Word; and on the other hand for our sakes also Becoming, that He Who gives us our being might also give us our Well-being, or rather might restore us by His Incarnation, when we had by wickedness fallen from wellbeing. The name Theophany is given to it in reference to the Manifestation, and that of Birthday in respect of His Birth.                                 
     This is our present Festival; it is this which we are celebrating to-day, the Coming of God to Man, that we might go forth, or rather (for this is the more proper expression) that we might go back to God--that putting off the old man, we might put on the New; and that as we died in Adam, so we might live in Christ, being born with Christ and crucified with Him and buried with Him and rising with Him. For I must undergo the beautiful conversion, and as the painful succeeded the more blissful, so must the more blissful come out of the painful. For where sin abounded Grace did much more abound; and if a taste condemned us, how much more doth the Passion of Christ justify us? Therefore let us keep the Feast, not after the manner of a heathen festival, but after a godly sort; not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own but as belonging to Him Who is ours, or rather as our Master's; not as of weakness, but as of healing; not as of creation, but of re-creation."

The above selecton is from St. Gregory the Theologian, Oration XXXVIII, "On the Theophany, or Birthday of Christ," NPNF.

More information about the Feast of the Holy Nativity of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ is on the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese website.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Great Martyr Anastasia, Deliverer from Potions

St. Anastasia "went from city to city ministering to Christian prisoners. Proficient in the medical arts of the time, she zealously cared for captives far and wide, healing their wounds and relieving their suffering. Because of her labors, St. Anastasia received the name Deliverer from Potions (Pharmakolytria), since by her intercessions she healed many from the effects of potions, poisons, and other harmful substances." (Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese/OCA)

The Orthodox Church commemorates the Great Martyr Anastasia on December 22nd.

Read more about the life of St. Anastasia on the Orthodox Church in America (OCA) website or listen to an account of her life on Ancient Faith Radio.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Orthodox Spirituality: A Brief Introduction

"In the interpretation of [the Parable of the Good Samaritan] by St. Chrysostom it is clearly shown that the Church is a Hospital which cures people wounded by sin; and the bishops-priests are the therapists of the people of God.

And this precisely is the work of Orthodox theology. When referring to Orthodox theology, we do not simply mean a history of theology. The latter is, of course, a part of this but not absolutely or exclusively. In patristic tradition, theologians are the God-seers. St. Gregory Palamas calls Barlaam a theologian, but he clearly emphasizes that intellectual theology differs greatly from the experience of the vision of God. According to St. Gregory Palamas theologians are the God-seers; those who have followed the 'method' of the Church and have attained to perfect faith, to the illumination of the nous and to divinization (theosis). Theology is the fruit of man's therapy and the path which leads to therapy and the acquisition of the knowledge of God.

Western theology however has differentiated itself from Eastern Orthodox theology. Instead of being therapeutic, it is more intellectual and emotional in character. In the West, Scholastic theology evolved, which is antithetical to the Orthodox tradition. Western theology is based on rational thought whereas Orthodoxy is hesychastic. Scholastic theology tried to understand logically the Revelation of God and conform to philosophical methodology. Characteristic of such an approach is the saying of Anselm of Canterbury: 'I believe so as to understand'. The Scholastics acknowledged God at the outset and then endeavoured to prove His existence by logical arguments and rational categories. In the Orthodox Church, as expressed by the Holy Fathers, faith is God revealing Himself to man. We accept faith by hearing it not so that we can understand it rationally, but so that we can cleanse our hearts, attain to faith by 'theoria' and experience the Revelation of God."

This selection has been taken from Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, Orthodox Spirituality: A Brief Introduction, trans. by Effie Mavromichali (Levadia, Greece: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 1998), 24-26.

The first three chapters from this book on "Defining Orthodox Spirituality," "Differences Between Orthodox Spirituality and Other Traditions," and "The Core of Orthodox Spirituality" are available online.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christian Bioethics Journal

Christian Bioethics, published by Oxford University Press, includes articles on bioethics from an Orthodox Christian perspective by Orthodox Christian authors.

"Christian bioethics is a non-ecumenical, interdenominational journal, exploring the content-full commitments of the Christian faiths with regard to the meaning of human life, sexuality, suffering, illness, and death within the context of medicine and health care. Christian bioethics seeks not to gloss over the differences among the Christian faiths, but rather to underscore the content-full moral commitments that separate and give moral substance. It is interdenominational in involving editors and inviting contributions from different Christian perspectives."

Christianity and The Culture Wars
Volume 15, Number 3, December 2009


"The Infinite without God: Modernity, Christianity, and Bioethics, Or Why Christianity must be Counter-Cultural in the Contemporary World Christian Bioethics" by Aaron E. Hinkley 

"The Failed Search for the Neutral in the Secular: Public Bioethics in the Face of the Culture Wars" by Ana S. Iltis

"Moral Pluralism, the Crisis of Secular Bioethics, and the Divisive Character of Christian Bioethics: Taking the Culture Wars Seriously" by  H. Tristram Engelhardt, Jr.

"Biopsychosociospiritual Medicine and Other Political Schemes" by Jeffrey P. Bishop

"Religion without God, Social Justice without Christian Charity, and Other Dimensions of the Culture Wars" by Mark J. Cherry

Personal and institutional subscriptions to Christian Bioethics are available.  If you would like to subscribe or would like your school's library to subscribe, go to the subscription page or contact us.

A Prayer for the Sick

O Lord our God, Who by Your Word alone healed all diseases; Who cured the Mother-in-law of Peter of fever; Who chastizes with pity and heals according to Your goodness; Who are able to put aside every malady and infirmity: Do You, the same Lord, now relieve Your servant(s), N., and cure him (or her, them) of the sickness(es) which grieve(s) him (or her, them); lift him (or her, them) up from his (or her, thier) bed(s) of pain, sending down upon him (or her, them) Your mercy; and if it be Your will, give to him (or her, them) health and a complete recovery.  For You are the Physician of our souls and bodies, and to You we ascribe glory: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.  Amen.

- The Book of Needs (Abridged).  Compiled and edited by A Monk of St. Tikhon's Monastery.  South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon's Seminary Press, 2002.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Holy Unmercenary Physicians Cosmas and Damian

Among the Unmercenary Physicians of the Orthodox Church are three sets of brothers named Cosmas and Damian:  Sts. Cosmas and Damian of Cilicia (Arabia) (Oct. 17), Sts. Cosmas and Damian of Asia Minor or Mesopotamia (Nov. 1), and Sts. Cosmas and Damian of Rome (July 1).  These links go to accounts of their lives on the website of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA).

You can also listen to accounts of the lives of Sts. Cosmas and Damian of Cilicia and Sts. Cosmas and Damian of Rome on an Ancient Faith Radio podcast.

St. Theodeta, whose life is briefly mentioned on the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese website, is the mother of the twin Sts. Cosmas and Damian of Asia Minor.

Icon: IconoGraphics ColorWorks Collection, TheoLogic Systems,

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Orthodox Christian Medical Care in the Eastern Roman Empire

“From their origins in the fourth century until 1453 Byzantine hospitals were conceived as expressions of Christian charity. They carried out in the real world the orthodox doctrine regarding philanthropic medicine. When Basil the Great opened his extensive charitable institution—his ptochotropheion—outside Caesarea, he saw its medical services as the deepest possible expressions of philanthropia. As Greagory of Nazianz phrased it, one could see there love put to the test in their treatment of disease. John Chrysostom built his hospitals in Constantinople 'for the glory of Christ' and staffed them with ascetics who viewed their service to the sick as a religious duty. Sampson, the legendary physician of the Eastern capital, founded his hospital on the principles of the physicians’ profession and on the divine laws which Christ laid down. Even after Justinian introduced the archiatroi of the ancient pagan profession in the Christian xenones, a step which encouraged lay professionals to enter hospital service at all levels on the staff, the religious mission of the nosokomeion was never forgotten. When, about 800, Theodore Stoudites described a large nosokomeion with a complete staff of physicians and nurses, he emphasized that all the doctors from the chief physicians to the practical nurses strove to follow the divine plan of philanthropia. When John II Komnenos established the Pantokrator Xenon in the twelfth century, he prayed that it would always be a fountain of mercy, a refuge for men and women, a pure offering to the Lord. Moreover, John hoped that the philanthropia which he displayed in founding this hospital would attain for him the forgiveness of his many sins. The emperor also reminded the physicians, medical assistants (hypourgoi), and servants of the Pantokrator that they should never neglect patients, since Christ, the Creator of All, considered these sick his beloved brethren. Thus, John wanted the monks and the lay staff of the Pantokrator complex to care not only for the buildings he had built—the lifeless temples—but especially for the patients of the hospital—the living temples of God.”

Note: Philanthopia – “love toward mankind”

Source: Timothy S. Miller, The Birth of the Hospital in the Byzantine Empire (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1985), 61-62.

(The image is a copy of the Hippocratic Oath from the Byzantine Empire.)

Orthodox Christian Health Care Providers in a Secular Environment

“Traditional Christians will be morally disruptive.  Contrary to the liberal cosmopolitan ethic, they will indeed seek opportunities for converting others and directing them away from sin, as did the holy unmercenaries of the first centuries.  The liberal cosmopolitan is right in discerning a real conflict between the duties of physicians as citizens of a social democracy and physicians as committed traditional Christians.  The religious moral integrity of the traditional Christian will be expressed both in stepping back from any involvement in forbidden activities (e.g., abortion, artificial insemination from a donor, physician-assisted suicide) and in providing a witness to the truth of Christianity, which is always an invitation to repentance and conversion” (379).

Source:  H. Tristram Engelhardt.  The Foundations of Christian Bioethics.  Lisse, The Netherlands: Swets & Zeitlinger Publishers, 2000.   (Dr. Engelhardt is a Reader in the Orthodox Christian Church.)

Great Martyr Panteleimon, the Unmercenary Physician

The Great Martyr Panteleimon (martyred c. AD 305) is one of the great Unmercenary Physicians of the Orthodox Church. Listen to an account of the life of St. Panteleimon on Ancient Faith Radio or read an account of his life on the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese website.

An Akathist to Great Martyr-Healer Panteleimon, a service through which we ask for the intercessions of St. Panteleimon on behalf of the sick for the healing of their souls and bodies, is available online.  The text has been made available as a PDF file by St. Barbara Antiochian Orthodox Church in Costa Mesa, CA. 

Here is a selection from the Akathist:

Possessed by a storm of polytheistic thoughts, the impious Emperor was confused on learning from the doctors who
were jealous of thee that thou healest all kinds of incurable illnesses by the name of Christ. And we, glorifying with gladness our wonderful God in thee, cry to Him: Alleluia! (Kontakion 4)

Most Holy Saint and Martyr Panteleimon-the-Healer, intercede to the Most Merciful God for [Name(s)] for the healing of his (or her, their) soul(s) and body (bodies).

When the people of Nicomedia heard of thy great compassion for the suffering and of thy free healing of all illnesses, all rushed to thee with faith in the healing Grace in thee, and receiving swift healing of all their diseases they glorified God and magnified thee, their most gracious healer, crying to thee:

Rejoice, thou who art anointed with the myrrh of Grace!
Rejoice, sanctified temple of God!
Rejoice, great glory of the pious!
Rejoice, firm wall of the oppressed!
Rejoice, thou who surpassest the wise in knowledge!
Rejoice, thou who enlightenest the thoughts of the faithful!
Rejoice, recipient of divine gifts
     and source of many of the Lord’s mercies to us!
Rejoice, speedy helper of the suffering!
Rejoice, harbor of the storm-tossed!
Rejoice, instructor for those astray!
Rejoice, thou who dost heal the sick freely!
Rejoice, thou who dost impart healing abundantly!
Rejoice, Great Martyr and Healer Panteleimon! (Ekos 4)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Church for the Healing of Man

Blessed Theophylact (c. 1050 - c. 1108) commenting on the image of the Orthodox Church in the Parable of the Good Samaritan: 

“And at every baptism those who are baptized are delivered from wounds of the soul when they are chrismated with the oil of myrrh and then immediately commune of the divine Blood. The Lord lifted up our wounded nature upon His own beast of burden, namely, upon His own Body. For He made us members of Himself and communicants of His own Body; and when we were lying down, wounded, He raised us up to His own dignity, making us one Body with Himself. The inn is the Church, which receives all. But the law did not receive all. For the law says, the Ammanite and the Moabite shall not enter into the Church of God. But now, from every tribe and people, God accepts those who fear Him and who desire to believe and become a member of Christ’s body, the Church. God receives all, even sinners and publicans. See the preciseness of His expression, how He says that the Samaritan brought him to an inn, and took care of him. Before he brought him to the inn, he had only bound his wounds. What then am I saying? That the Church had been established, becoming the inn which receives all, and was increased by the faith of nearly all people, then there were the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the grace of God was spread far and wide. You may learn this from the Acts of the Apostles. The innkeeper is a type and symbol of every apostle, teacher, and archpastor, to whom the Lord gave two pence, representing the two Testaments, Old and New. Just as both coins bear the image of the one king, so do both Testaments bear the words of the same God. When the Lord ascended into the heavens He left these two coins in the hands of the apostles, and in the hands of the bishops and teachers of every generation.”

- Blessed Theophylact, The Explanation by Blessed Theophylact of the Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, trans. by Fr. Christopher Stade, vol 3 of Blessed Theophylact’s Explanation of the New Testament, commentary on Luke 10.29-37 (House Springs, MO: Chrysostom Press, 1997), 120.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Holy Apostle and Evangelist Luke, the Physician

"Luke was born in Antioch. In his youth, he excelled in his studies of Greek philosophy, medicine and art. During the ministry of the Lord Jesus on earth, Luke came to Jerusalem, where he saw the Savior face to face, heard His saving teaching and was witness to His miraculous works. Coming to belief in the Lord, St. Luke was numbered among the Seventy Apostles, and was sent out to preach. With Cleopas, he saw the resurrected Lord on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). After the descent of the Holy Spirit, Luke returned to Antioch and there became a fellow worker of the Apostle Paul and traveled to Rome with him, converting Jews and pagans to the Christian Faith. Luke, the beloved physician, … greets you, writes the Apostle Paul to the Colossians. (Colossians 4:14). At the request of Christians, he wrote his Gospel in about the year 60. Following the martyrdom of the great Apostle Paul, St. Luke preached the Gospel throughout Italy, Dalmatia, Macedonia and other regions. He painted icons of the Most-holy Theotokos-not just one, but three-and icons of the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul. Hence, St. Luke is considered to be the founder of Christian iconography. In old age, he visited Libya and Upper Egypt. From Egypt he returned to Greece, where he continued to preach and convert many with great zeal despite his old age. In addition to his Gospel, St. Luke wrote the Acts and dedicated both works to Theophilus, the governor of Achaia. Luke was eighty-four years old when the wicked idolaters tortured him for the sake of Christ and hanged him from an olive tree in the town of Thebes, in Boethia. The miracle-working relics of this wonderful saint were transported to Constantinople in the reign of Emperor Constantius, the son of Constantine."

The above account is from The Prologue of Ohrid by St. Nikolai of Zica, October 18th, website of the Western American Diocese of the Serbian Orthodox Church ( You may also read an account of the life of the Apostle and Evangelist Luke on the website of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

"Honor the Physician" - A Selection from Holy Scripture

"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."

- The Holy Scripture, Wisdom of Sirach 38:1-15 (LXX, SAAS translation).

The photo from the National Institute of Health is in the public domain.

Saturday, December 12, 2009


A group is forming in Houston, TX for students training to be health care providers and young professionals in the medical/health care field (broadly defined) who desire to practice health care within the context of the Orthodox Christian Church and according to the Orthodox Christian mind (Gr. phronema). Our primary focus is not the integration or synthesis of Christian theology and Western scientific treatment methods, academic ideas, political proposals, or and philosophical theories. The person of the healer and the person of the one in need of healing are our primary concerns. Our purpose is not just to offer information "worth considering" in the rational mind, but to provide guidance for those who want to become the best providers of care for the sick by living the fullness of the spiritual life and practicing medical care as a ministry of love in the name of Christ.

Issues that we may address include:

  • The spiritual life (ascesis) of the medical provider.
  • Philanthropia ("love for mankind") as the motivation for Christian medical care.
  • The Church as the context of the healing of soul and body, and the life of the Church as the Way of healing of the soul and body.
  • The necessity of humility and repentance among medical staff (doctors, nurses, administrators, and so on).
  • The relationship between a patient's medical treatment and spiritual life.
  • The harmonious coordination of health care providers and the clergy of the Church.
  • The relevance of an Orthodox understanding of anthropology and healing.
  • The difference between the spiritual knowedge of the heart and the knowledge of the rational mind.
  • Bioethics/Bio-theology.
  • The lives of physicians in the Church (such as the Unmercenary Physicians and those who worked in the hospitals of the Eastern Christian Roman Empire) who offer examples of medical care as Christian ministry.
If you are interested in being placed on our email list, please send me your name, email address, field of study and current school (if still a student) or professional field. Those studying to be or who are now physicians, nurses, mental health professionals, physical therapists, etc. are all welcome. In your email, please indicate whether you are an Orthodox Christian and, if not, tell us about your religious background. This group is for members of the Orthodox Christian Church, but we also welcome non-Orthodox Christians and others who want to learn about the Orthodox Christian Church, the original, ancient Church founded by Christ Himself and our Way of Life that has been passed down and lived from generation to generation since the time of the Apostles.

Hopefully, the first group meeting can be schedule for January, perhaps on a Sunday afternoon in Houston, TX. Please share this information with others who may be interested.

If you have any questions, you are welcome to contact me.

Sdn. Symeon Kees

(The icon of Christ healing the blind man is from the IconoGraphics ColorWorks collection, TheoLogic Systems,