Sunday, February 19, 2012

A Cardiologist & the Spiritual Life

Dr. George K. Papazahos, Assistant Professor of Cardiology at the University of Athens, served as one of Elder Porphyrios' physicians.  The following testimony of Dr. Papazahos regarding Elder Porphyrios is included in the book, Elder Porphyrios: Testimonies and Experiences by Klitos Ioannidis (Athens: Holy Convent of the Transfiguration of the Savior, 2007), translated from the Greek 5th edition.  The testimony previously appeared in Synaxis (January-March, 1992, pp. 93-97):

"Here I will mention a self-diagnosis of himself.  He verified changes in his electrocardiograph without a cardiograph machine.  One night, he called me up quite concerned, 'Come here, late as it is, to see the changes in the cardiograph.  I was in pain many times today, and the pain was anginal.' Indeed, I ascertained that there were ischaemic changes (to arteries V3-V6) and I asked him under what kind of stress he was today.  He began to cry and with frequent interruptions he began describing something in detail to me.  He was seeing scenes from the street fighting in Romania.  It is was the day when the people rose up against Ceaucescu.  With his gift he saw the shootings and the deaths in the squares just like they were being published in the newspapers the following day.  He continued to cry, and I begged him to ask God to take away this vision.  His heart was in a dangerous state because of the stress.  His blockage could get severe.
     I found myself in the same kind of stress while witnessing the sensitivity of the 'other' heart of a saint.  I avoided looking at the cardiograph and thought to myself, 'What meaning does this nitrite anti-angina medicine that I am about to give you have for you, Elder? You're not of this world.  Your heart is beating in Oropos and is living in Romania.  On the ECG the heart is shown with an ischaemic "condition" at the ST interval, but in reality can be found "resurrected" to the heavens.'  I left there quite late, trembling because I had seen a little of the light of a saint." (268)

Elder Porphyrios "never refused the medical help of the many doctors who were also his spiritual children.  In fact, one day I asked him, 'Why do many spiritual people, especially monks, refuse medical help, thinking that the Panagia will help them quickly?'  He answered.  'It's egotism. It's the work of the Evil One, thinking that God will make an exception amongst all the others and will miraculously intervene for you.  God performs miracles, but you should not expect one for yourself.  It's selfishness.  On the other hand, God Himself acts through the doctors. 'The Lord gave us physicians and medicine,' says the Holy Scripture.'" (267)

"The Elder, as a doctor, did not only 'see' my physical ailments, he concerned himself with my many spiritual imperfections, too.  He tried to help me find humbleness.  One afternoon he telephoned me at my office immediately after a couple of patients had expressed their extreme love for me for the care I gave them.  I recounted his words, 'George, It's the Elder.  Both of us are going to hell together.  We'll hear, "You fool, this very night your soul is being demanded from you."  You enjoyed the good things in life.  "And the things you have prepared whose will they be?"'  I interrupted him, 'What did we enjoy in this life, Elder?  The broken down car, the empty bank account or the non-existent sleep?'  He answered abruptly, 'What's that you're saying? Don't people tell you what a good doctor you are?  You love us.  You take care of us.  You don't skin us alive. And you welcome this praise, you swallow it down.  Eh, you've already lost your reward.  The same thing happens to me.  They tell me that I have "gifts", how I can touch them and perform miracles, that I'm holy. And I gulp it all down, weak fool that I am. Eh, that's why I told you that both of us are going to hell.'
     'If we're going to go together,' I replied, 'let's go to hell too!'  And he hung up the phone saying, 'I'm speaking to you seriously and you're always joking. Good repentance to the both of us.'
     One day I was downcast, thinking that most of my life has gone by pointlessly in the midst of useless daily details.  The Elder telephoned me and lifted my spirits with two or three of his expressions, 'Doctor, did you ever hear the phrase, "they will not taste death?"  We can, if we wish avoid death.  All we have to do is love Christ.  You, "with all your heart", Mr. Cardiologist.'  He laughed." (270-271)