Healing the Sick: Restoring Their Humanity

Our culture is so steeped in individualism that we have a hard time seeing the communal nature of illness.  Yes, we know that families and friends are also affected by the serious illness of someone, but still we think about the individual as really being the person who is suffering.  The prayers of healing in the church, however, see the person as being part of the Body of Christ, not as an isolated individual.  Healing is not just something that happens to the person alone, but also restores the person  to life in the Church.

“We pray, first of all, for physical healing. But that is not the most important thing. We pray also for spiritual healing and forgiveness, without which any physical healing is meaningless. As part of the spiritual healing, we pray for the reintegration of the ailing persons into the body of the Church, into fullness of life, whatever the ultimate course of the physical disease. This is because the ultimate aim of Christian healing is nothing less than the restoration of full communion with God, which is the aim of all human existence. The ultimate goal is the kingdom of God – that is the meaning of salvation.” (Paul Meyendorff, The Anointing of the Sick, pp 77-78)

Healing is about communion and the Kingdom of God.   It is about restoring the full humanity of person so that they my fully participate in human society.   The individual is healed not to continue some solo existence independent of everyone else but rather to resume or continue a life of interdependence with all other members of the Church.  Illness comes upon anyone of us even thought we are a member of the Body of Christ.  Illness may disrupt our communion with the rest of the Body.  We also are healed as part of that Body.  Healing enables each member to continue actively participating in the Church for the  health of the Body of Chrst as well as for the health of every member.   We are members one of another, sharing a common human nature and thus both sickness and health involve our unity with the rest of the Church.  Healing restores us to living in the community and to sharing our common humanity with all who are healed by Christ.

Self-Love: Idolatry for the Modern Man and Woman

Adam Eve Temptation“Our modern idolatry in Christianity consists in

self-love,

ambition,

worldly pleasures,

gluttony and

love of gain,

adultery.

It is this that has completely turned away our eyes and hearts from God and the heavenly country, and has nailed us to the earth. It is this that has uprooted brotherly love, and has set us against on another. Woe! woe! unto us!” (Saint John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ, p 164)

The Empty Tomb and Enlightenment

One aspect of the Gospel stories which tend to make me believe they are conveying events rather than contriving events is the women disciples of the Lord go to His tomb not to see if in fact Jesus had risen from the dead but to anoint his corpse in a more proper burial than they apparently believe He had on the day He died.  News of the resurrection is totally unexpected by them and they don’t know totally how to process the information.

Their response to finding Christ’s tomb empty is also not an immediate, “He is risen!”, but rather dismay that grave robbers apparently had beaten them to the tomb and stolen His body.  They can’t imagine what else the empty tomb would mean, nor what robbers would want with a corpse.   One of the hymns from Matins from the Sunday of the Myrrhbearing Women commemorates their confusion and looking for some kind of hope in the empty tomb.  All they want is His dead body, they are not yet believing in the resurrection of the dead.

The Myrrhbearing Women reached Your tomb and saw the seals of the tomb broken.

Not finding Your most pure body, they lamented, saying: “Who has stolen our hope?

Who has taken the dead One, naked and anointed, the sole consolation of His Mother?

How can the Life of the dead have died?  How can the Capturer of hell have been buried?

But arise in three days as You said, O Savior, and save our souls!”

The empty tomb is evidence, “science”, rational proof of something: the body of Christ is no longer there.   The Myrrhbearing Women however cannot discern the meaning, the full truth from the evidence right before their eyes.    Their rational thinking leads them to conclude that body snatchers were at work.  Evidence and rational thinking are not enough to understand what they see.  They are far from the truth.  Pure rationalism does not help the women understand what the evidence is telling them.  The missing piece of the puzzle is faith.  They must remember the words that the Lord Jesus taught them, and they must believe in Him and believe what He taught.   To see the empty tomb as an act of God and not of men, they have to have faith.  Another hymn from Matins for the Myrrhbearers states:

The Myrrhbearers came early to Your tomb, O Christ, seeking You to anoint Your most pure Body.

Enlightened by the Angel’s words,  they proclaimed joyous tidings to the Apostles:

“The Leader of our salvation has been raised; He has captured death,

granting the world eternal life and great mercy!”

The empty tomb in itself does not enlighten the Women Disciples of the Lord – they neither understand what the empty tomb means nor do they believe in the resurrection.  They did not go to the tomb looking for an act of God, and could not see the evidence before them as testifying to the truth.   It is the angel who explains the evidence to them, who brings them to faith in Christ.  They stop looking for a human explanation for the evidence, and begin to see the events in the light of the teaching of their and our Lord.

 

Sojourns: Spiritual and Otherwise

Great Lent is a journey to Pascha which we Orthodox make together as a  community.  There always is also a personal dimension to the sojourn and struggle as we each work out our salvation through prayer, fasting, charity, repentance and forgiveness.

This year during Lent, my own sojourn included a surprise.  It was discovered that I have a malignant tumor in my right lung.  On Thursday of Holy Week I learned the results of a PET scan which made more certain the diagnosis.  On Tuesday of Bright Week, a lung biopsy confirmed that I have lung cancer.

Lung cancer in a non-smoker is fairly uncommon, so I’m in a select group of humans.  The doctors are currently mapping out a treatment plan.  This is the beginning for me of a new sojourn with many dimensions to it.  Though it completely involves my body, it will be a spiritual sojourn.  It will bring to a physical level an abstract question I have grappled with for more than forty years: “what does it mean to be human?”    The question will no longer be abstract for I no longer can ignore the fact that as a material being, there are limits to be learned and which bind me to the earth.  I will experience how the physical and spiritual are related because they are part of the same reality – the world brought into existence by the Creator.

The “good news” in this is that the tumor is still small, growing slowly and at least according to the tests has not spread.  As a non-smoker my lungs are otherwise healthy.   This week I will undergo a few more tests which will determine what course will be followed.  Currently it appears that surgery to remove the affected portion of the lung is the best option for eliminating the cancer.   As one friend told me, the role of the medical profession is to remove all of the obstacles to healing. 

It is part of learning to be human. 

Whom Do You Seek?

The next day again John [the Forerunner] was standing with two of his disciples; and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”

The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.”   (John 1:35-39)

Fr. Lev Gillet comments:

“Of John’s two disciples who followed Him in silence, Jesus asks: ‘What seek you?’ They answer: ‘Master, where do you dwell?’ They are not looking for something but for someone, a person. Furthermore, they wish to know, not only where Jesus is going, but where He dwells. We must desire a fixed, permanent way of life, close to Jesus, more than a passing encounter. Thus, from the first page, the history of the apostles puts Jesus at the center of things. What I am seeking is not moral perfection, nor is it a conception of the coherent or enticing world. It is not even this or that gift, this or that special divine grace, it is the person of Christ. The question which Jesus asked the soldiers who came to arrest Him – ‘Who do you seek?’ [Jn 18:4]– recalls the question asked of the first two disciples: ‘What seek you?’ The expression ‘all seek for You’ [Mark 1:37], addressed one day to Jesus by the disciples, does not cease to be current. Some seek Jesus in order to join Him, others in order to render Him powerless. If only these two groups were distinctly separate! Alas! in our condition of sinful men we belong intermittently to one or the other group.” (Jesus: A Dialogue With the Savior by A Monk of the Eastern Church, p 28)

Resurrection of the Dead!

Dr. Daniel B. Hinshaw makes some interesting observations about how we modern Americans spend a lifetime indulging our bodies and then at death suddenly think the body is worth nothing so think of death as escaping the body.  In contrast to this Orthodox spirituality treats the body with great respect in life (thus moral living, fasting, using all the senses in worship, kneeling, sacraments) and also at death where we anoint the body and do a burial as an act of love.

“Unfortunately, for most persons nurtured in the materialism of the west, a strange dualism persists. While alive with the ability to use and consume the material world around them most westerners are thorough-going materialists. When confronted with death, there appears to be a rapid conversion to form a Neoplatonism in which the body that was indulged for so long is now of no consequence and all hope resides in a spiritual in a spiritual, immaterial existence after death. This immaterial existence also seems to bear little or no relation to the material and is hoped to be the consummation of all the well wishes expressed in fine greeting cards. But, ‘Christ never spoke about the immortality of souls – He spoke about the resurrection of the dead!’ The person born and bred in the west is still confronted with the messy issue of the body. It is no wonder that cremation has become so popular.

 Christ is risen from the dead,

trampling down death by death,

and upon those in the tombs bestowing life!

For traditional Christians, precisely because of the incarnation of Christ, dead bodies do matter. To again quote St Gregory of Nazianzus,

‘For that which He has not assumed, He has not healed; but that which is united to His Godhead is also saved.’

It is only because Christ assumed our entire nature, except for sin, and entered into death itself, that we can be healed. Because he died, was buried, descended into Hell, and overcame death, human nature has been restored. It is Christ’s physical death that is crucial to his salvific act.” ( Suffering and the Nature of Healing, pp 234-234)

Visiting DC

Your tax dollars at work!

Visiting Washington, DC, for me is mostly about spending time with my son who has lived there for many years.   He is a pretty good tour guide through the city.  Through the years I’ve seen a great portion of DC, certainly the main visitor attractions, such as the giant pandas at the National Zoo.

I’ve also visited a number of lesser known places, and occasionally have seen something that is only rarely open to the public (like the main reading room of the Library of Congress).   For visitors DC offers many attractions.  For the locals, DC is really about neighborhoods.  And at least from where I have been DC has some wonderful neighborhoods.    Cosmopolitanism is one element of city living I love – the diversity of people.  Every storefront virtually represents another country/culture.

There really are many national treasures in DC, all of which are worth seeing.  Visiting DC in different seasons is also worthwhile as  you see the changing beauty of nature in its parks and green areas.  The National Arboretum is an amazing park in the midst of a metropolitan area.   For me the national park system is federal money well spent.

Narcissus at the National Arboretum

New to me on this trip were visits to President Lincoln’s Cottage at the Soldier’s Home the Theodore Roosevelt Memorial, and the Congressional Cemetery.   The view of Georgetown from the bridge to Roosevelt Island (to me at least) has a European city feel to it.

DC is a marvelous city for museum lovers.  The Smithsonian Institutes museums are first rate.  Special for me this visit was a rare chance to peek inside the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building.

The Arts and Industries building was “mothballed” in 2006. It remains closed but is now undergoing renovations.

I had opportunity to join some Smithsonian volunteers on a tour of the rather amazing building.

There are thousands of people who have volunteered through time to help make the museum visitor friendly.  In the photo is one of the knowledgeable and hardworking volunteers who made it possible for me to see this building being renovated.

Here is looking into the East Hall of the Arts and Industries building (the people give you the sense of the size of the building):

Looking up at the central rotunda ceiling:

A now rare view of The Castle (The Smithsonian Institution Building) from within the Arts and Sciences building:

DC is also full of American symbols – natural ones as well as man made, animate and inanimate.

An American Bald Eagle at the National Zoo is one living reminder of our country.

You can find all my photos from this month’s trip to DC at Washington, DC April 2015 Photos.  Saw lots of things I don’t have time to mention in this blog.  Also visited several great restaurants.

You can find links to other photoblogs I’ve posted at Fr. Ted’s Photoblogs.

George & Martha Washington’s homestead at Mt. Vernon

 

Doubt and a Blessing

The doubt of Thomas did not prevent Your Resurrection,
nor was his unbelief without a use.
For now Thomas undoubtingly shows Your Resurrection to all the nations,
who before were unbelieving, but now are taught to say:
Blessed are You, our God, the Lord exalted by the fathers!

(Matins Hymn from Thomas Sunday)

A normal part of having faith in God in our fallen world is also doubting – God, ourselves, the witness of others.  The Gospel lesson of the doubting Thomas (John 20:19-31) is read in the Orthodox Church on the Sunday after Pascha.  We commemorate that hard reality that even the Twelve Apostles experienced a loss of faith and doubts despite being with Jesus on a daily basis and experiencing His words and miracles.

In the above hymn we encounter a truth of faith: our belief or doubts do not solely determine what God will do.  That Thomas did not believe Christ rose from the dead did not prevent Christ’s resurrection.  God freely chooses how to respond even to our doubts or disbelief or denial.  As the hymn notes, on the other had, doubt is not without purpose.  The hymn is not advocating predestination in which human behavior is inconsequential.  Thomas’ personal doubt led him to seek proof of the claimed resurrection.  He became convinced of the resurrection and then went forth into the world as an Apostle to proclaim the Gospel.

The doubt of Thomas honestly reveals the humanity of the Apostles – they are men and women like ourselves.  They had to deal with all the issues and problems created by having faith in God.  They had to deal with their own personal doubts.  Despite being with Christ daily, they sometimes doubted their own perceptions.  Their free will remained and they had to choose to believe, to follow Christ, to do His will.  They had to cooperate with God for their own salvation.  Faith still requires us to make choices.  And as long as their are choices there will be doubts about what to believe and what to do.  Faith is neither mindless or thoughtless.   And doubt can serve a purpose in a person’s life and in the Christian community.   Had the other disciples expelled Thomas from their fellowship when he expressed his unbelief they would have deprived the Church of an important witness.  We would not understand the role that a disciple like Thomas plays in our communities.  We would have failed to understand the blessedness which doubt can play in a believer’s life and in the life of the Church.

Death and Resurrection: Describable to Indescribable

Describable is Your being sealed in the tomb,

but indescribable is Your arising from there, O Christ!

For You appeared in the midst of Your disciples, O all‑powerful One.

 (From Matins of St. Thomas Sunday)

A part of faith is mystery.  Not everything involving God, even God’s own activity in the world, can be readily described or explained.  We say in our Liturgy that God is ineffable and indescribable.   We recognize our words about God are inadequate to the task of fully capturing the revelation of God and can only approximate Truth to the best of our human ability. So the above hymn from St. Thomas Sunday tells us Christ’s burial certainly can be described because it it well within human experience to give account of a person’s death and burial.  But what cannot be described – and in fact the Gospel don’t describe it – is Christ’s resurrection.  What is encountered in the Gospel is an empty tomb which is a sign of the resurrection.  Angels talking about Christ’s resurrection are also portrayed.   However there is no reporting about what happened to Jesus at the moment of His resurrection.

Whatever the resurrection might have looked like, is not illustrated in the canonical Gospels.  The resurrection is mystery, an action of the eternal God in space and time.  The gap between divinity and humanity is bridged.   Whatever distinguishes creation from the Creator is united in that event of the resurrection.  Its effects can be be known – Christ is seen living after His death and burial.   The implications of the resurrection can be discussed, and theology opens our minds to the joy of the Gospel of Pascha.  The event of the resurrection remains outside human description.   God’s activity is a new creation in which heaven and earth are united.

Our minds, hearts, souls and eyes are opened to something totally new.   We will never be able to describe this event, but we all can participate in it – through baptism and in the life in Christ.   Description will fail us, but experience is still possible.  This is the world of faith.  We can appreciate and even rejoice in things of God which we cannot fully describe or even comprehend.  God enters into the human condition and is both hidden and revealed in all that God does.

Death: To Awaken Ourselves

“Death has no place in the will of God and He came to earth to destroy it. God could have never intended that man, the most wondrous of all His creatures, should die. He created man in His image, to be as He is through grace. God created man for life, not for death, and death entered human life as an imposter. It is true that our transgressions opened the door by which death entered. but the Fathers say that it was the righteous judgment of God that allowed death into our life so that our malice and our passions would not become immortal in us. Death is the chastising power (or ‘punitive faculty’ – as St. Maximus says) that enables us to come to our senses, to think correctly and search for the way of salvation, for the Way of life which is Christ Himself.” (Archimandrite Zacharias, Remember Thy First Love, p 299)