The Ethos of Orthodox Christian Healing
by Fr. George Morelli
An early draft of this paper was presented at the Society of St. John Chrysostom -- Western Region Meeting on "Healing in the Eastern and Western Church" at Prince of Peace Benedictine Abbey, Oceanside, California, November 18, 2006.
The Fall of Man
To understand healing we must first understand sin, illness, death and love, a task that brings us back to Genesis. Genesis reveals that God created the world as good. He set mankind as the crown of His creation. Genesis describes the creation of man in this way:
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1) ... God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:27) ... the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being (Genesis 2:7).
Mankind is meant for paradise, and paradise is understood as life in and with God that lasts for all eternity. Who then, caused the rupture that introduced sin, illness and death into the world? The answer is the evil one, Satan, and his cohorts. Satan is the destroyer of goodness and order, the liar who fatally rebelled against God and looks forward only to eternal judgment and condemnation. The scriptures tell us that the devil has "sinned from the beginning" (1 John 3:8). Jesus told the Pharisees:
You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it" (John 8:44).
How did the rupture occur? It happened when Satan tempted Adam and Eve when they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The tree was planted in the primordial garden with fruit that God commanded was never to be eaten. "Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die" (Genesis 2:16-17). Satan argued that if they ate of the fruit they would " ... be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:7). We know our ancestors failed to obey and the entire material creation fell into disorder.
The Fathers of the Church wrote that the lie that Satan proffered hid a crucial dimension of God's original commandment not to eat of the fruit. Yes, Satan was correct in telling Adam and Eve that they would become like gods and therefore have knowledge of good and evil, but he withheld that they would also become captive to the evil. As for Adam and Eve, the nature of their sin was that they looked to the creation rather than the Creator for the life (which includes knowledge and wisdom) that can only come from God. In fact, the Fathers posit that if Adam and Eve had obeyed God, they would have matured in understanding and discernment and eventually would have come to know good and evil without becoming captive to the evil.
The result of their disobedience was catastrophic. Adam and Eve lost the Spirit of God and became subject instead to the dust out of which they were created. Man became bound to the earth rather than its master. He was expelled from the Garden because knowing now only separation from God, he could no longer be part of its primordial harmony. Genesis tells of the tragedy:
God told them, "'For dust you are, and to dust you shall return" ... Therefore the LORD God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:11, 19, 23, 24).
St. Gregory of Nyssa lamented, "Thus man, who was so great and precious, as the Scriptures call him, fell from the value he had by nature ... by his sin, (and) clothed himself in an image that is of clay and mortal" (Musurillo, 1979).
Restoration and Healing
But God did not leave Adam and Eve desolate. He began the restoration of Adam and Eve (and all humanity) only moments after their expulsion. It started with the clothing of Adam and Eve in animal skins and continued through the covenant with Noah. It follows with a covenant that God made with Abraham that through him God would send a savior to heal the catastrophic rupture. It is completed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. St. Basil expressed it beautifully: "Thou didst send forth the Prophets; Thou didst perform mighty works by the saints ... who foretold unto us the salvation which was to come" (Anaphora Prayers of St. Basil Liturgy).
We share in Adam and Eve's original sin, although the Eastern churches' understanding differs from the Western churches' in some crucial ways. The Eastern Church does not teach that we inherit the guilt of Adam. Rather, we share in the sin of Adam in that we are born into a world where the consequences of sin prevail. These consequences are not only the outward brokenness like disease and death, but interior disorder as well. Our nature is corrupted. We are subject to temptation, prone to sin, and share in death.
The different emphasis on original sin in the Orthodox Church affects how the death of Christ impacts the redemption of mankind as well. Everyone is familiar with the verse taken from the Gospel of St. John that affirms God's great love for mankind by the coming of His Son: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). Christ's voluntary sacrifice on the cross was not to satisfy God's vengeance, a desire to see sin punished (what Western theologians call "substitutionary atonement"). Rather Christ's death on the cross enabled Christ to enter death and destroy it, as evidenced by rising from the dead once and for all.
The rupturing of the relationship Adam had with God that affected all subsequent generations is the source of sickness and death. Christ, as the One who overcame death, restores the relationship by destroying death. He becomes the mediator between mankind and the Father, the bridge over the unbridgeable chasm, the conqueror of death, the Savior of soul and body. His obedience unto righteousness (Christ was the only man not to break the Law of Moses) annuls the penalty of death that fell on disobedient Adam, thereby making His death completely voluntary - a sacrifice -- and thus making His resurrection from death possible.
St. Paul's message to the Romans summarizes the Orthodox view of illness and death and hints at how healing enters the world:
Knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God (Romans 6:6-10).
We enter into the life of Christ through baptism; entering the waters enables a person to enter into the death of Christ and be raised in the likeness of His resurrection (Romans 6:1-10). Baptism is the first step in the restoration of body and soul, a return in some measure to the communion with God that Adam and Eve experienced before their disobedience. The promise from God is that this journey may end in His Kingdom, although this end is by no means automatic or guaranteed apart from testing and trial. Our faith in God has to be proven, that is, refined in the fire of tribulation as St. Peter taught, and not be found lacking. St. John summed it up in the final book of scripture: "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God" (Revelation 2:7). The man who hears and obeys is the man who will receive the promise of eternal life at the last day.
Healing in the Orthodox Church
In the Orthodox Church, healing of the soul ranks higher than the healing of the body. In fact, the healing of the body is offered as a sign of His mercy and blessing to the person experiencing God's healing and to inspire others to do His will. Healing is to be sought both through prayer and the application of physical sciences, but no complete healing is possible apart from the final resurrection of an individual because the sentence of death still reigns in the mortal body. Further, not all people are healed, despite fervent pleas to God and the applications of the best medicines. Sometime illness needs to be endured.
The Church Fathers give us insight into how we can use illness and the acceptance of mortality (death) to grow in Christ. St Ilias the Presbyter wrote: "Suffering deliberately embraced cannot free the soul totally from sin unless the soul is also tried in the fire of suffering that comes unchosen. For the soul is like a sword: if it does not go 'through fire and water' (Psalm 66:12, LXX) -- that is, by suffering deliberately embraced and suffering that comes unchosen -- it cannot but be shattered by the blows of fortune" (Ilias the Presbyter, Philokalia III). We have to acquire an attitude of embracing both illness and the inevitable death of earthly life as part of God's divine will for us. This is true not only for the sick, but also their loved ones who share in the suffering. In those cases where a healing does occur, it happens so that we may love God even more.
Sometimes physical sickness is necessary to heal the soul. St. Maximus the Confessor wrote, "Suffering cleanses the soul infected with the filth of sensual pleasure and detaches it completely from material things by showing it the penalty incurred as a result of its affection for them. This is why God in His justice allows the devil to afflict men with torments." The acceptance of our illness and death as God's will is one means by which we embrace the saving grace of Christ. This is a hard saying to accept, but those who have suffered in Christ testify to its truth. Could we not allow that sometimes God understands what we do not understand?
The subordination of physical to spiritual healing is derived from the Epistle of James. St. James said:
Is there any one among you suffering? Let him pray ... Is any among you sick? Let him call for the presbyters of the Church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven (James 4.13 - 15).
The Service of Holy Unction
The distinction between spiritual and physical healing is revealed liturgically as well. Orthodox Christians perform the Mystery of Holy Unction for the healing of soul and body and for forgiveness of sins. It is usually celebrated during Wednesday of Holy Week, but can be performed any time. During the service epistle and gospel readings are read, prayers are said, oil is blessed, and each worshipper is anointed with the holy oil as the priest says: "The blessing of Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ: for the healing of soul and body ... "
The prayer of the blessing of the oil illustrates the goal of physical healing: that those anointed can glorify God and thus be spiritually healed. The prayer in part reads:
O Lord, who through thy mercies and bounties heals the disorders of our souls and bodies: Do thou Thyself, O Master, also sanctify this oil, that it may be effectual for those who are anointed therewith, unto healing and unto relief from every passion, of every defilement of flesh and spirit, and every ill; that thereby may be glorified Thine all holy Name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: now and ever, and unto ages of ages . Amen.
Ideally, seven priests perform this Holy Mystery, but fewer, or even a single priest, can celebrate it. It is offered to the healthy as well as the sick for all are diseased in some way.
The Holy Unction Service goes back to the earliest days of Christianity. Orthodox Liturgical scholar Fr. Alkiviadis Calivas stated: "In ancient Christian literature one may find indirect testimonies of the Mystery of Unction in Saint Irenaeus of Lyons and in Origen. Later there are clear testimonies of it in Saints Basil the Great and John Chrysostom, who have left prayers for the healing of the infirm which entered later into the rite of Unction; and likewise in Saint Cyril of Alexandria" (http://www.goarch.org/en/special/lent/holy_wednesday/learn/).
Sometimes the emphasis on spiritual healing is taken to mean that attempts at physical healing should be minimized. This is a grave misconception. In the Orthodox moral tradition both spiritual and physical healing should be brought to God. The foundation of this misconception rests in ideas that faith somehow stands in opposition to science. It doesn't. God is the source of both faith and science and in the end no final conflict exists between the two. Orthodox theologian and ethicist Fr. Stanley S. Harakas wrote:
Medical treatment is also seen as a human cooperation with God's healing purposes and goals. In fact, all of Orthodox teaching recognizes a place for human effort, striving and cooperating with God's will. Technically known as "synergy," this belief requires the exercise of human talents and abilities for salvation, for spiritual growth, for moral behavior, for achievement of human potential ... So, in principle, the use of healing, medicines ... even surgical operations have generally been understood throughout history in the Church to be appropriate, fitting and desirable ways of cooperating with God in the healing of human illnesses (http://www.goarch.org/en/ourfaith/articles/article8076.asp)
Mankind: Made in God's image and called to be like Him
The foundation of this "synergy" (the cooperation of man with God) is recorded in the book of Genesis: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over all the earth ..." (Genesis 1:26). McGuckin (2004) noted that several Greek Fathers defined the term "image" by relating it to Adam's naming of the animals, thereby linking an attribute of the image of God in man to "mankind's dominion over the created order." In other words, the patristic exegesis highlights the different characteristics that man possesses over the animals such as understanding, rationality, and intelligence to conclude that these characteristics define in some measure the term "image of God."
Evagrios the Solitary also, albeit indirectly, affirmed that the intellect reflects the image of God in man. When examining the causes of sin he asked, "Is it the intellect?" only to answer the query with another question, "But then how can the intellect be the image of God?" (Philokalia I). (Later he answered his question that sin is a "freely chosen noxious pleasure.")
St. Maximus the Confessor, too, elevated intellect as an attribute of the image of God in man. "Naturally endowed with the holiness of the Divine Image, the intelligence urges the soul to conform itself by its own free choice to the divine likeness" (Philokalia II).
Of all the Church Fathers however, St. John of Damascus is the most clear:
As a golden seal to this plain homily, we will add a brief account of the way in which that which is most precious of all that God has created -- the noetic and intelligent creature, man -- has been made, alone among created beings, in God's image and likeness (cf. Genesis 1:26). First, everyman is said to be made in the image of God as regards the dignity of his intellect and soul ... and endowed with free will ...
Further, St. John of Damascus taught that the gift of the intellect carries with it a responsibility toward holiness:
Every man possesses that which is according to the image of God, "for the gifts of God are irrevocable" (cf. Romans 11:29). But only a few -- those who are virtuous and holy and have imitated the goodness of God to the limit of human powers -- possess that which is according to the likenesses of God" (Philokalia III).
St. Nikitas Stithatos discussed how the responsibility to develop and use the gift of the intellect is met only by living in conformity with God's will:
God is ... intellect, beyond every intellect ... He is light and the source of blessed light. He is wisdom, intelligence and spiritual knowledge. If on account of your purity these qualities have been bestowed on you and are richly present in you, then that within you which accords with the image of God has been safely preserved and you are now a son of God guided by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14) (Philokalia IV).
Clearly, the Church Fathers teach that the intellect is a highly valued characteristic found in man. It is important to note that intellect does not mean high intelligence necessarily, but the faculty of the intellect, namely, the ability to reason, distinguish, create, and all the qualities associated with it. Further, there is a moral imperative implied in their assessment. Since the intellect is a gift from God, we must exercise the intellect to the best of our ability. Failure to responsibly apply our intellect in our lives means we are not conforming to the will of God.
One area where the intellect must be applied is in the contemplation of life around us. Where does the ultimate meaning of the creation and our place in it come from: science and its offshoots including medicine and psychology -- or God? Science is empirical, it measures material objects and defines material processes. It describes the workings of creation but it can say nothing about its meaning and purpose. Materiality and meaning are two different things but nevertheless are woven together as the Psalmist told us: The heavens declare the Glory of God and the firmament proclaims His handiwork ... (Psalm 18:1).
Since the rules that govern the world are written into the very fabric of creation and discerned by the intellect, they can be used for the healing purposes of God. Science and its applications are not static, but dynamic and ever changing, that is refined, as scientists get better at doing the "work of science." Its roots are ancient and continue to grow. The sciences applied to healing in the Early Church were crude in contrast to what we know today, but they were present nonetheless. If by God's will mankind continues for the next five centuries or so, the science (including healing arts) we practice today will look as crude then as the ancient practices look now. The Church Fathers understood this well. St. Gregory of Nyssa said: "Medicine is an example of what God allows men to do when they work in harmony with Him and with one another." Basil of Caesarea said: "God's grace is as evident in the healing power of medicine and its practitioners as it is in miraculous cures" (Demakis 2004).
A Short History of Healing in the Church
It is not overstating the case to say that the emphasis on the healing of persons is one of the great gifts that Christianity has given the world. It started with Christ. The Gospels record numerous instances where Christ healed all manner of diseases, both spiritual and physical. St. Luke, himself a physician, recorded the most in his Gospel, and then later showed in his book "The Acts of the Apostles" how this power of healing was granted to the Apostles. It should be no surprise that at the end of the persecutions of the first early centuries, healing arts were developed and flourished even to this day.
Orthodox Christianity has a rich history of healers revered as saints. Twin brothers Sts. Cosmas and Damian were physicians practicing during the reign of Diocletian and Maximianos in the era before the persecutions ended. Born in Arabia, they became known as "Anargyroi" (penniless) because they refused to accept any money for their service. They are venerated in both the Eastern and Western churches, but in the East they also carry the title "Wonderworker" because in addition to healing the body, they also cast out demons and removed other darkness from the souls of men just as Christ had done. They attributed their healing gifts to Christ, whom they called the "Great Physician," and regarded themselves simply as Christ's instruments of healing, comfort, witness, and sanctification.
Orthodoxy had other great healer saints as well. Hronos (1999) detailed the life of St. Luke as well as twenty physicians of which eighteen were missionaries and two were priests. One of the priests was St. Sampson, the "Innkeeper and Physician of Constantinople" whose feast day is celebrated on June 17. St. Sampson was originally from Rome at the time when Saint Justinian the Great reigned, but settled in Constantinople. He became so respected for his healing power, prayer, virtue, and love of the sick and poor that Patriarch Menas of Constantinople ordained him a priest. In humility he often hid his prayerful healing by dispensing medication. He healed the Emperor Justinian who in gratitude donated a grand healing center to St. Samson that came to be known as "The Hospice of Samson."
Healing in Byzantium
In the fourth century various healing centers were opened and administrated by the Orthodox Church, including homes for the poor, orphans, aged and hospitals (Demakis, 2004). Many of these centers were associated with monasteries. The health care workers, the physicians, nurses, and psychologists of the day were often the monks themselves. St. Basil of Caesarea (370-379) was trained in medicine and was reported to have worked with the monks in ministering to the ill and infirm.
St. John Chrysostom as Patriarch of Constantinople (390) used the wealth of the Church to open hospitals and other philanthropic institutions, which earned him great love from the people. Within two centuries, the rapid growth of these centers necessitated state funding although the Church retained the active administration and care-giving in the arrangement. Emperor Justinian moved the most important physicians into the hospitals, which enhanced the reputation of these centers (Demakis 2004).
The Pantocrator Monastery was a large healing center. Its Typikon (the book that explains how the monastery should be ordered) reveals that their benevolent work was complex and extensive. A few sections include:
The remarkable hospital (xenon) associated with this foundation capped a long tradition of institutional philanthropy observed in these documents since Mount Tmolos in the late tenth century. Chapters throughout provide regulations for the hospital, the old age home, and lepers sanatorium.
The hospital was presided over by an overseer (nosokomos) and had sixty beds divided into five wards, one of which was to be reserved for women. Two non-resident doctors (serving in alternate months) and a complement of assistants and orderlies staffed each ward. The doctors were not to undertake any outside work even for unpaid service by imperial command. The women's ward had an extra female doctor. Four extra doctors including two surgeons staffed an outpatient department. Two of the outpatient doctors took turns providing services to the monks of the monastery in alternate months.
There were also various service personnel, including a chief pharmacist and three druggists as well as two priests stationed in the hospital chapel. A teacher of medicine was to "teach the principles of medical knowledge" to student doctors, who were apparently chosen from among the hospital's auxiliaries. Salaries for the various hospital personnel were detailed as well as the supplies needed by the infirmarian and the superintendent, who served as a cellarer. The Emperor provided regulations for liturgical services, burials, and commemorations of the deceased.
The Old Age Home
The director (gerokomos) of the old age home was chosen from among the monks of the monastery. With the assistance of six orderlies, he would care for twenty-four aged and infirm men in the home; the healthy were specifically excluded, regardless of social class. As in the hospital, a chapel staffed by a priest and reader was available to residents. The emperor provided cash and in-kind allowances for both the staff and the residents.
A lepers sanatorium was established at a site away from the monastery. The emperor sought a "special remembrance" from its residents, but unlike patients in the hospital, he does not ask them to come to a church to pray for his soul.
Routine Charitable Donations
Less institutionalized forms of philanthropy were practiced at the foundation as well. A bakery (mankipeion) provided bread to nourish the residents of both the hospital and the old age home. For non-residents, there were to be charitable distributions at the gate in honor of the foundation's benefactors. Leftovers were to be collected for this purpose after both the midday and evening meals." (The entire typikon can be found at: http://www.stmaryofegypt.org/typika/typ038.html.)
Demakis (2004) notes five characteristic traits shared by the physician-saints:
- They were committed to Christ and were holy men before they became healers.
They lived as deeply committed Christians in personal prayer, meditation, fasting, and actively prayed for their patients.
They were outstanding physicians often "first in their medical school class". Medical science was regarded as a serious academic discipline.
They had a "deep and abiding love" for mankind and strove to see "the image of Christ" in every patient. This was shown in their actions including long working hours, refusal of any payment, turning their homes into hospitals, and the personal care they showed toward their patients ("fed and cared for their patients personally").
- They attributed their healing skills and medical successes to God.
The Church as Hospital
The spiritual dimension of healing
St. John Chrysostom presented us with the idea that the entire Church of Christ is a hospital, thereby expressing in clearer theological terms the relationship between the healing of body and soul practiced by the early healers. The Parable of the Good Samaritan is the model St. John used (Luke 1:33ff) where the Good Samaritan exemplifies Christ who, as the Great Physician, comes to broken mankind (the man beat by robbers lying on the road) in order to bring healing. The inn in which the Good Samaritan delivered the suffering man is the Church (Vlachos, 1994, 1998).
The interrelationship between body and soul is noted in almost every liturgical prayer. Most corporate prayer begins with the Trisagion (Thrice-Holy) prayer that makes the relationship clear: "All-holy Trinity, have mercy on us, Lord, cleanse us from our sins. Master, pardon our iniquities. Holy God, visit and heal our infirmities for thy names sake" (emphasis added).
In fact, the spiritual dimension underlying any healing is most clearly revealed in the foundational sacrament of the Christian life. Baptism, as St. Paul taught in Romans 6, is the new birth, the starting point of life in Christ through an entry into Christ's death and a raising into the "likeness" of His resurrection. The baptismal service begins with several prayers of exorcism that are meant to heal the person of illness and infirmity brought about by the rebellion of the Devil as indicated above. Originally deacons read the exorcism prayers but in modern times the priest who performs the baptism reads the prayers. The prayers prepare the baptismal candidate to enter life in Christ and thereby receive the power (through the Holy Spirit received in baptism) to detach from the power of evil that might rule in his soul. These prayers and the baptism that follows are actually a profound healing of the soul's attachment to untoward things, thereby enabling it to attain freedom.
Sometimes the healing of the soul calls for drastic measures. A guide for clergy of the Orthodox Church is the "Book of Needs" which includes prayers for expulsion of demons from the soul and for protection from such evil. Clergy entering this dimension of spiritual reality must exercise great discernment since many illnesses have natural causes and a misdiagnosis is easily made. Further, the mental status of anyone requesting such prayers also has to be considered. Pastorally, the best practice is to say a simple prayer for those requesting it, such as those found in the exorcism ritual in Holy Baptism. St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, and several other noted saints wrote these prayers.
A prayer by St. John Chrysostom that is included in "The Book of Needs" concisely states the goal of our earthly life:
O Lord Jesus Christ ... We beseech You, look mercifully upon him (or her), and in your great love grant him (or her) relief from his (or her) pain ... that restored to the vigor of health, he (or she) may ... serve you faithfully and gratefully all his (or her) life, and become heir of Your Kingdom, For You are the Physician of our souls and bodies, O Christ ... "
Another exorcism prayer written by St. John Chrysostom reads: "Everlasting God ... command these evil and impure spirits to withdraw from soul and body ... so he (she) may live a holy, righteous and devout life deserving of the sacred Mysteries of Your only-begotten Son our God (Book of Needs, A Monk of St. Tikhon's Monastery 1987).
The Holy Eucharist (Holy Communion) continues the healing that began in Holy Baptism. The Eucharist conjoins us to the Great Physician, a point expressed in the liturgical prayer that is read immediately before the elevation of the bread and wine: "We give thanks unto thee, O King invisible, who by thy measureless power hast made all things ... look down from heaven upon those who have bowed their heads unto thee ... distribute these Gifts here spread forth, unto all of us for good ... heal the sick, thou who art the physician of souls and bodies."
Healing with Christ: Victory
Some psychologists, such as Viktor Frankl (1959, 1969, 1978), saw illness and the passage into death apart from any transcendent reference and therefore without any enduring meaning or purpose. In this view, human healing has only a relative value since death prevails in the end. Healing, when it occurs, has only a temporary meaning since life itself is merely a temporary sojourn (Morelli, 2006a,b).
The Christian view however, sees an eternal dimension to all illness and healing. The suffering of Christ on the cross for example, has eternal ramifications in that the power of sin and death was destroyed when Christ destroyed death by being resurrected from the dead. St. Basil's anaphora prayer (the prayer read before the consecration of the bread and wine in the Orthodox Divine Liturgy) reads: "Having descended into hell through the Cross, that He (Christ) might fill all things with Himself, He loosed the pains of death, and rose again from the dead on the third day, making a way for all flesh through the resurrection from the dead."
Human healing, then, when referenced to the victory of Christ over death, takes on an eternal meaning and purpose: chiefly, to partake of the deeper life found in God, to rise above the brokenness, sin, and death that holds the world in bondage since the sin of Adam and Eve long ago.
An Ideomelon (hymn) written by St. John of Damascus and read during the Orthodox funeral service sums it up clearly. First the futility of life when viewed apart from the hope Christ offers is recounted: "I called to mind the Prophet, as he cried: I am earth and ashes; and I looked again into the graves and beheld the bones laid bare, and I said: Who then is the king or the warrior, the rich man or the needy, the upright or the sinner?" In modern parlance we could say: "Is that all there is?" But the prayer does not end there. It concludes: "Yet, O Lord, give rest unto Thy servant with the righteous." Later in the funeral service we pray, "May Christ give thee rest in the land of the living, and open unto thee the gates of Paradise and make thee a citizen of His kingdom." The ultimate healing is victory over illness and death and leads us into eternal life. "Behold, I make all things new," (Revelation 21:3-5).
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V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist, Coordinator of the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, (www.antiochian.org/counse...) and Religion Coordinator (and Antiochian Archdiocesan Liaison) of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion. Fr. George is Assistant Pastor of St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church, San Diego, California.