His Grace, Bishop JOSEPH’s Address to the Dinner Honoring the Doctors of St. Nicholas Cathedral
September 26, 2004
Los Angeles, California
Very Reverend and Reverend Clergy, beloved Physicians in Christ, Honored Guests:
Listen to this passage from the Gospel of St. Mark:
"And when he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. And many were gathered together, so that there was no longer room for them, not even about the door; and he was preaching the word to them. And they came, bringing to him a paralytic carried by four men. And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and when they had made an opening, they let down the pallet on which the paralytic lay. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'My son, your sins are forgiven.' Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, 'Why does this man speak thus? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?' And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, 'Why do you question thus in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, `Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, `Rise, take up your pallet and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins' -- he said to the paralytic -- 'I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.' And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, 'We never saw anything like this!'" (Mark 2:1-12)
Spiritual illness is as real as physical illness, yet often it goes unnoticed. Our Lord, Jesus Christ, is the Great Physician, who heals the minds, bodies, and spirits of all people. True healing is not about dispensing prescriptions or doing procedures, it is about bringing mercy and hope to those who suffer. There are a million ways to suffer, but only one true way to healing: the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
From the very beginning of Church History, physicians have played an important role in the ministry of the Church to the people of God. The evangelist Luke was a physician, a man of medicine like yourselves. He began his work saving the lives of the physically sick, and ended his earthly live saving the spiritually ill through the preaching of the Gospel.
It is important for us to all remember that the human person is made up of Body, Soul and Spirit. When the body is wracked with pain and disease, it affects the person’s spiritual life. All of us have seen the suffering of others, driven to despair by pain, and yet, we have also seen others who glow with the light of God while facing immanent death. Those who are spiritually prepared for physical suffering can use it to their benefit to grow closer to God. But, the word of the physician is vital to those who are not so prepared. By bringing God’s healing to the Body, physicians don’t just treat illnesses, they help people hold onto their hope in the Lord Jesus. You protect the most vulnerable of our community overcome their fears.
Your work continues the lives of those who serve the world. We see this in the Gospel itself, when our Lord healed Peter’s mother-in-law so that she could serve the gathering of the apostles. The blessing of medicine goes beyond the individual and changes the world.
This is why, during the preparation of the Holy Gifts before the Divine Liturgy, the priest commemorates the Holy Unmercinary Healers. These physicians worked wonders, healed the untreatable, very often without charge. When you volunteer your services, giving of your talents without charge or sometimes without recognition, you are carrying out a most holy ministry. You are serving God’s creation by being good and generous stewards of the gifts and talents He has given you. If you are moved by a sense of gratitude for what God has done for you, then such selfless giving is a great joy rather than a chore.
My experience of our Orthodox doctors is that they are as generous of their resources and talents. In the communities that I pastor, I can always count on physicians to take a leading role in the life of the parish. Is this because of education and wealth? More often than not, I find that the compassion of the doctor is not simply to do good in the hospital, but in every aspect of their lives. They serve suffering people all day long, then come to the Church to serve even more. This sense of mercy for others is the mark of the best doctors.
As a spiritual father to many, I know what it is like to minister to the suffering. People in pain are many times unpleasant to deal with. Their agony compels them to lash out, often at the doctors and nurses who are trying to help. Bishops, priests and deacons certainly understand this, as we are often pilloried as we try to heal the spiritual diseases so many of our flocks suffer from.
What are the spiritual diseases? Pride, envy, anger, greed, laziness, gluttony and lust. Pride is the mother of all sin, because it plants the seeds of all the rest by pulling us away from God by convincing us we are better than others and even all-powerful. It pumps up our expectations, but disappoints us when it is unable to provide us with true power when a greater force comes against us.
The power of prayer overcomes all adversity and is the greatest medicine. It heals both patient and physician. If you do nothing else, then pray without ceasing for your patients. It will help them, and transform you. God will bless you with greater virtue as you seek after Him in prayer.
Clergy and physicians share the need to pray for patience and tolerance, so that we can endure the trials we suffer that we might see the miracles of God worked through our hands.
Unlike the physician who does not have God in his life, all of you have a greater blessing in knowing from where all healing comes. When the patient dies despite all efforts, the doctor who has no faith is left alone. He sees himself as a failure, because up until that moment he saw himself as being all-powerful. The Christian physician knows that he works on behalf of God, and that it is God who fulfils the physician’s ministry, and so the passing of a patient is seen in terms of God’s will for the patient. The doctor is comforted in knowing the patient’s life or death is outside of his control, and that he is only expected to do his best.
We often hear of ‘quality of life’ when discussing medicine. Let me ask you this, who has a better quality of life: the one who knows God is caring for him, or the one who does not? We all know people in perfect health who are miserable. They are afflicted with resentment, anger, prejudices, fear, self-pity and live joyless lives. True quality of life is only to be found in the life of Faith, worshipping God and participating in the Life of His Son.
‘Quality of Life’ is more than a sound body, it is a heart free of fear and unforgiveness. It is joy even in the midst of trouble. It is courage in the face of hopelessness and anxiety. Your patients look to you for this, and you bless them when they see in your eyes the light of Christ’s love. Your faith will inspire them to be healed. Your confidence in God will give them the sense of comfort they need.
I encourage all of you here to continue in your ministries, bringing hope to your patients and your parish communities. The Church is a place of healing, where people are reconciled to God and one another. It is the hospital for the Spirit. Never forget your special place in this.