Held at Antiochian Village in Ligonier, PA, the 2014 Clergy Symposium took as its theme ” . . .for the sick and the suffering”: Medicine, Theology, Healing. Speakers and breakout sessions dealt with this subject from an Orthodox perspective.
Dn. Dr. Luke Stauffer: Your Eminence Metropolitan Joseph and all attendees, thank you very much for coming here this morning. When Fr. Joseph Allen asked me to do this talk back in December, I was initially excited about it, because he knows how passionate I am about medicine and spirituality. Then I thought, “Well, I’m going to be talking to some of the most educated spiritual people in the whole planet, and how am I going to say anything to them that will be of any benefit to them?” So I hope today I will be able to say something to you that will be of interest to you, and we’ll get going with our talk.
So what I’m going to be going over today is several topics. First of all, I want to talk about God in creation, about ancient societies, about body and spirit, complementary and alternative medicine, and the conflict that has developed between religion and science, Christian examples of healing throughout the Bible, scientific evidence that this actually works, the priest in the hospital, healthcare as a calling, and some examples of healing. Next slide.
Why would I put a slide of our galaxy up here? In the beginning was the Word. Well, that’s the beginning of everything, of our spirituality. That’s the beginning of where we came from, and the whole of creation reflects our Creator. Therefore, that is where spirituality and medicine has to start. Next slide.
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. So in the beginning, in the beginning of time… This whole concept is Trinitarian: time, the heavens, and the earth. If you look at time, time is past, present, and future; that’s Trinitarian. The heavens are three-dimensional; that’s Trinitarian. You look at the earth and all that is there, the creation there, and I’m going to show you some examples of how that is all Trinitarian.
You take the atom. Almost all atoms have a proton, a neutron, an electron. I’m not talking about science here, and I don’t want to lose you all. I’m not going to talk about hard-core science, but a proton, a neutron, and an [electron] are what make up almost all of our atoms. That’s Trinitarian. Now, some of you will say, “Well, a hydrogen atom, that doesn’t have… It only has a proton and an electron,” but if you look at the true power of hydrogen, and the sun actually uses deuterium, which has a proton, a neutron, an electron; that causes the fusion reaction. That’s the power, and that’s the power of God in the sun, given to us as a gift, and that’s Trinitarian. Next.
We’re made up of 70% water. We’re made up of a molecule that’s Trinitarian: two hydrogens and an oxygen. I hadn’t really thought about that. When I did my master’s, I didn’t even talk about these things. I only stumbled across this later. I homeschool our children, so I teach science to them, and it took my kids to point some of these things out to me before I actually tumbled to it. Next.
Why am I talking about protein synthesis or transfer-RNA? As I was teaching my kids, one of my children said, “Dad, that looks like an Orthodox cross.” Right? Transfer RNA, and it does look like an Orthodox cross. And if you think about it, it’s very Orthodox. Now, that’s not what it looks like in an electron microscope—it looks a little bit different—but every artist’s conception I’ve ever seen of this draws it just like this. I never thought about this in all those years I took science in medical school and in college, but if you look at it, it’s a cross and it carries these three codons down here which are codons to code for different proteins. And there’s three of those. There’s three anti-codons that connect to a messenger RNA that code for proteins which are what produces our life forms. You have three anti-codons coding for one amino acid. That’s Trinitarian: three in one. It’s combined. So you look at that. Again, it’s a reflection of even our creation in our Trinitarian God. All proteins were made in just this manner. Next.
Adenosine triphosphate. Again, another molecule. Every act you move, every breath you take, every action you make, every thought you have is powered by this molecule. It’s not adenosine diphosphate; it’s not adenosine monophosphate: it’s adenosine triphosphate. It’s three phosphates. It’s a Trinitarian molecule, and that’s what powers everything. The body makes twice your bodyweight. It makes 160 kg a day; an average man, as they say, is 70 kg. You make twice your bodyweight in that every day. If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is. Everybody functions dependent upon that, and it’s a Trinitarian molecule. Next.
Triiodothyronine. This is the thyroid hormone. It’s produced in the thyroid. There are two forms of it: there’s T4, which is a four-iodine molecule, but the most active form is triiodothyronine. It is, again, a Trinitarian molecule. It’s the most active form. Every part of the body is affected by this: your whole metabolism, your rate of doing things. As I’m sure you know—probably some of you may be on thyroid hormone—if it’s low, you don’t work well. Again, it’s this molecule that affects that. Next.
This is something I didn’t even tumble to until I was watching with my kids the latest Robocop movie. I don’t know if you’ve seen that movie, where the policeman gets completely destroyed physically, and they have his wife sign a permit so they can do something with him to save him. Well, when they finally break it all down in that movie, the only thing that’s left is his cardiovascular system, his respiratory system, and his neurologic system. As we know now, in our understanding, you don’t need your digestive system; we can feed people intravenously. It’s not optimal, but we can do that. Well, that’s what they did with him, and it’s Trinitarian. The things that you need to survive as a human are your respiratory system, your neurologic system, your cardiovascular system. Next.
All right. So why do I have a Mongolian shaman dancing here at the Antiochian Village? [Laughter] Well, the reason is because… Let’s just get down to the whole basics. At the very basis of what a healer is. You guys are the healers, not the physicians. From the very beginning, healers were always the priests. They may have been called a shaman or a medicine man or a witch doctor, or in Assyria “asu” or a healer or a priest, but the healer has always been a priest, not the physician. Well, they were the same. It’s only in modern times that that separation has happened. It’s a shame, because, as we read in the New Testament, Peter and Paul, even their shadow would fall on people and they would be healed. That can happen, too. I’m sure of it. You guys are the guys for that. The Orthodox Church is here for that. Next.
Charlton Heston as Moses. Well, why do I have that? Because in that movie he is… This is you guys. This is the priesthood. Aaron and Moses, the staff representing the royal priesthood. Our bishops carry a staff; why is that? It goes back to this. And in all of these societies that you see here—Samaria, Egypt, Mongolia, the Americas, the Native Americans, Greeks, Romans, Hebrews, Christians, Hindu, Islam—it doesn’t matter what society you look at—the priest and the healer were one. When I studied sociology back in college, we looked at these Mongolian peoples that sociologists went back in the late 1800s, early 1900s, and they still had these shamans that were their priest and healer all in one person. And that’s you guys. It’s not me. That’s the priest. Next.
I put this up here because this is the Hippocratic Oath, and it’s one of the most ancient statements of what the healers believe. Again, these healers were priests, healers. They were pagans, no doubt, but I want to read to you this, because maybe you’ve never read this before. I’m going to go through this because I think it’s important, and this oath is supposed to be taken by every physician when they graduate, but I can guarantee you that there are some parts of this oath that aren’t in there any more, and I’ll let you guess which ones they are when we come to them.
I swear by Apollo the healer, Asclepius, Hyegieia, and Panacea, and I take to witness all the gods, all the goddesses, to keep according to my ability and my judgment, the following oath and agreement.
So here, a pagan understands that there is a power beyond which he has no control, and that that is where the healing ultimately comes from, and we understand that; we always have.
To consider dear to me, as my parents, him who taught me this art; to live in common with him and, if necessary, to share my goods with him; to look upon his children as my own brothers, to teach them this art; and that by my teaching I will impart a knowledge of this art to my own sons and to my teacher’s sons and to disciples bound by an indenture and oath according to the medical laws, and no others.
Obviously it’s a calling. You look at the Levitical line: that was a calling to be in the priesthood. You guys are called to be priests. Healers are called to be healers, and here it’s obvious that that’s been known, even by pagans, from the very earliest time.
I will prescribe regimens for the good of my patients according to my ability and my judgment and never do harm.
The “do no harm” thing: that’s probably what you hear about the Hippocratic Oath: “do no harm.” That’s only a small part of it, but that’s the truth. As a physician, if we’re going to do something, if it’s going to cause the patient harm, we avoid doing that. We don’t do harm to the patient.
I will give no deadly medicine to any one if asked, nor suggest any such counsel.
Now they call it “physician-assisted death”; it’s not “euthanasia,” legal in, I believe, Washington State, Oregon, and there’s at least one other state that it’s legal in now. But again, the pagans understood this was wrong, and yet we in our country do this.
Nor, and similarly, I will not give a woman a pessary to cause an abortion.
A pagan from way back when understood that abortion was wrong. And we understand that that’s wrong, and yet it’s legal in our country to do so.
But I will preserve the purity of my life and my arts.
“The purity of my life”: it sounds like a priest, right? That is what a physician is called to do. That’s what you priests are. You’re the healers. Next slide.
I like this one because I’m a surgeon.
I will not cut for stone…
They were talking about doing surgery for kidney stones, because they understood there were kidney stones, but they couldn’t do anything about them. They tried, but they would kill the people if they would try to do that.
...even for patients in whom the disease is manifest; I will leave this operation to be performed by practitioners, specialists in this art.
Well, okay, I am a specialist in this art. I mean, I don’t do kidney stones, but I am a surgeon. He at least understood that probably in the future there would be people who would specialize in that and take care of it, and indeed there are now. In fact, if you talk to the people in England, the surgeon is not referred to as “Doctor”; they’re referred to as “Mister,” because there’s a separation between the internal medicine-type physician and those who cut, which are the surgeons.
In ever house where I come, I will enter only for the good of my patients, keeping myself far from all intentional ill-doing and all seduction and especially from the pleasures of love with women or men, be they free or slaves.
Again, being pure, treating your patients with respect—every physician should read this. Most of this, a lot of this is not in the oath that we take now as physicians.
All that may come to my knowledge in the exercise of my profession or in daily commerce with men, which ought not to be spread abroad, I will keep secret and will never reveal.
We have this law called the HIPAA law. I’ll talk about that in a little bit, a little bit more about what that is, but: the privacy laws. People from way back understood: You keep what is told to you to yourself. And as priests, you hear confessions, and that’s what you do, and you’re healing by hearing people’s confessions.
If I keep this oath faithfully, may I enjoy my life and practice my art, respected by all humanity and in all times, but if I swerve from it or violate it, may the reverse be my life.
So that’s the Hippocratic Oath. If all physicians would follow this and take to heart what it really means, we would all be better. Next slide.
That brings us to the staff of Asclepius and the caduceus, the juxtaposition of those. I had always wondered in my own mind: why would anybody wrap a snake, which is a dangerous creature, around a staff and use it as a symbol of healing? And I read about that, and there’s a bunch of lame explanations about why that is and everything, but… Some people say, “Well, it’s because the snake sheds its skin in its renewal.” That sounds New Age-y; I don’t think that that’s the case at all. I think it’s deeper than that.
I think we know what the meaning is; I think all of y’all do. There was no sin… I mean, there was no illness or death in the world until the serpent beguiled Adam and Eve. So what better way to represent healing than to show a serpent entwined around a staff, the staff that Moses would carry, the staff that was raised in the wilderness to heal the people? I think it’s showing that, in some ways, we are trying to conquer death, disease, and illness by controlling that which brought it into the world. So it doesn’t mean just healing the physical body; it means you’re healing the spiritual body. I think that’s what it means, and I think Asclepius understood that, and probably the people back then did understand it. That’s probably why it was used as that symbol.
The other symbol you see is the caduceus, which is a more modern… I mean, modern use in medicine, but it was the staff that was given in mythology from Apollo. It was given to Hermes, and Hermes carried that. But Apollo, as you recall, was the healer, again: physician, priest, healer. And Hermes carried this as a messenger for the gods. Often there was healing that went along with that, so that’s why you see that symbol. But the two were different symbols, the staff of Asclepius and the caduceus. Next slide.
A little bit of a cartoon-ized slide. This is the best I could find for this, but I want to read at least the passage.
Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may not perish but have everlasting life.
You have the children of Israel, bitten by these snakes, dying, and Moses takes a serpent and placed it on a staff which, at least by some traditions, was in the form of a cross. And you have the people being healed, well, being healed of a physical malady. And then you have Christ being raised on a cross for our spiritual healing and our physical healing, but most importantly for our spiritual healing. So there is this analogy to this, and, again, all the more reason to understand why the staff of Asclepius is not a bad symbol, but it’s a symbol more ancient than that, of when Moses used it with the children of Israel. Next slide.
So the body and spirit are connected.
So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption. It is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written: “The first man, Adam, became a living being”; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit. (1 Corinthians 15)
So the body spiritual and the body physical are united; they’re not separate. When are they united? At conception. That’s why abortion is wrong, because these two things are combined at conception. And the health of one and the health of the other are intimately tied one to the other. Next slide.
When the physical body or the spiritual suffers, the other one suffers as well. They’re joined in health. We talk about mental health. What is mental health but our spiritual health? What are the maladies that we have? Many of them are spiritual maladies, and we know as physicians there are many disease processes, where it’s really more of a spiritual malady, but it affects the physical body in a real way. You probably have parishioners that are afflicted by this. Those two things are joined.
In the hospital, at least our hospital and I hope most others, there’s a little check-mark on our electronic medical record: EMR. I hope you know that abbreviation: EMR. Electronic Medical Record. Everybody ought to know that by now. With the new healthcare laws, we all are a part of that, at least all those who are practicing medicine today. In the EMR, there’s a checkbox for a pastoral consult. At our hospital, of course, we’re a bit of an anomaly. We’re in a small town where I would say 95% of all the people there are Christians, and in fact fairly devout Christians. All of our physicians on staff, almost all of them are Christian physicians. So there’s a checkbox on there for a pastoral consult, and we have a full-time chaplain at our hospital, and we have others who come and volunteer. It’s a very open hospital for our priests, pastors, to come and visit the sick, which is exactly what needs to happen. The priest, the pastor, they need to be in the hospital, visiting the sick, because that is where the true healing comes from.
Modern medicine acknowledges this in many ways. When I was doing my research, there was a… If you go to the Harvard website, they have an Institute for Mind and Body, and they make it like: “Oh! We have rediscovered that there’s this connection between the spiritual and the physical!” Well, they haven’t rediscovered it. We Orthodox have known this all the time. That’s the truth. I’m glad that they understand that now, and they have a whole webpage devoted to that. I mean, it’s a whole institute really, online. Most of it is this New Age yoga and meditation, and that’s not where it is, but it is where we need to integrate our medicine much more closely with our priest.
That’s where anointing the sick comes in. The priest anoints the ill. This is something that, when I read Paul Meyendorff’s book, it was a profound change in my life, because I had never really thought about anointing the sick very much. His book was inspiration for me, doing my master’s in spirituality and medicine. Well, I agree with all that he says in there, and, again, you guys have an incredible opportunity to be healing your parishioners, anointing them frequently, whenever they are sick. In fact, like the epistle of James, even laypeople—not with chrism, but with just oil from a vigil lamp—anointing those who are sick in your family. It was a tradition way back, as quoted in Paul Meyendorff’s book, that people would take some of that oil home, because back then there wasn’t this miracle of modern medicine. What you had was this oil that you took from the church that you anointed people with, that the priest anointed with at the church for healing of their spiritual bodies, which in turn healed their physical bodies.
Then, of course, praying for the sick. That we do every day. You priests do it. You have a prayer regimen. You’re praying for the whole world. The monastics do it. That’s what keeps the world spinning is that praying, and the prayers are very powerful interventions for the healing of the sick. Next.
This is something that as I started doing the talk I hadn’t come across this: CAM: Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Well, what is that? Some of this is good stuff, and some of this is probably garbage stuff. Integrative medicine, probably a good thing; yoga, probably not so good; medicine, acupuncture, there’s some good uses there; massage therapy, herbals, intercessory prayer—that’s where it is. The government thinks this is so important they have a whole website devoted to this. NCCAM. What is that? The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the NIH. Really? Go look at that. Again, some of this stuff and some of this stuff is very New Age-y and you wonder why it’s there, but, again, your parishioners are probably seeing this stuff. The web is open to everybody. So it’s probably good to know what they’re looking at.
I try to look at these things, too. I had a patient just recently who came in, needed chemotherapy for breast cancer. I could not convince her. I mean, she was going to go and get treatment with marijuana for breast cancer. Probably not going to help it a whole lot. Probably prayer and anointing would be better, but she should have gone for the chemotherapy. But it’s important to know what is out there, and this little symbol they have over there—I saw their symbol for complementary and alternative medicine…
The conflict between religion and science. Why do we not have the priest and the healer being the same person? Up until, say, the 1700s or so, that’s what it was. Why is that? Why is there this divergence? Well, this is quote that I want to read, because I think it’s really, really important, and it sums up what a lot of scientists started thinking about the Church.
All religious theories, schemes, and systems which embrace notions of cosmogeny (creation) or which otherwise reach into the domain of science must, insofar as they do this, submit to the control of science and relinquish all thought of controlling it.
That kind of sums up what a lot of the scientific community were thinking at that time. This was John Tyndall. He was the president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1874, in Belfast, at their annual meeting, and he wasn’t the only one. He was a minority, granted, at that time, but I can guarantee you, you go to a lot of your universities, and this is going to be more of the majority opinion now, unless you’re at a Christian university—then the minority opinion. Next slide.
Where did this conflict come? His quote was made not too long after Darwin published his book, On the Origin of Species in 1859. Again, it didn’t have a lot of traction at first. In fact, Darwin wasn’t a very good spokesman for it. But this man below there, T.H. Huxley, who initially didn’t have any real belief in what Darwin was saying, he became what was known as Darwin’s bulldog. Darwin converted him over, and this guy went all over the country debating Christians and many times just totally embarrassing them about this issue. So more and more you had academic-minded people being embarrassed to talk about creation.
Again, I’m a scientist, I’m a physician, I’m standing here telling you, “I don’t believe this evolution stuff. God created all creation, and the evolution stuff, there just is no basis to it.” And you guys shouldn’t be one bit embarrassed to say that to your parishioners, and I guarantee there’s a lot of other scientists like myself who believe the same thing. Evolution—we’ve been embarrassed since this time, many people, but please don’t be that way, because there is no… I mean, it takes more faith to believe the big bang theory and evolution than it does to believe that God created all things.
In the West, especially in the Catholic Church, the problem was partly [that] they tried to take theology and bend it to make it fit with this evolution and the theology, and that just doesn’t work. You don’t need to do that. We don’t need to apologize for it; just tell them the truth. At that time, most hospitals were Church-based. You look at all these hospitals: they were Church-based. Increasingly, the Church was taken out of the hospital, and the state came in and we have socialized medicine or whatever form of medicine. But the Church was driven from the hospital, which is not where that needs to be. The Church and the hospital: that’s a healing place. Just like the Church is a hospital for our spiritual needs, the hospital is a place for our spiritual and our physical needs. Next slide.
This came to the Americas as well; we weren’t immune from this. It spread to the academic institutions. And then we had this case with the Scopes case, 1925 in Tennessee, where a high school teacher was teaching evolution, against the law of Tennessee. They said, “You can’t teach that.” Well, he took them to court over this, and he won. They said, “Oh, yeah. Well, if you teach evolution, it’s accepted.” Now if you go to the public schools, that’s the gospel truth. And if you try to get creation taught at the school, you’ve got a fight on your hands, because they think this is the truth, but it’s not.
The Madalyn Murray O’Hair case. We used to have… When I was in elementary school, every day when we went to the lunchroom, they rang a bell, we said a prayer, and we sat down. We didn’t give favor to any one religion or another; we just said a prayer, “Thank you for the food.” But that went away, not with this case but with another one, but this case was over saying Bible verses in the schools. Again, that’s gone away, too, and that’s taken some of the spirituality out of our everyday life, out of children that we’re teaching, for their understanding that the spiritual body and the physical body are joined.
ACLU’s been part of that. Free-market medicine. What is that? We have such an industrialized medical establishment, and I’m part of it. I couldn’t make a living without being part of it. I take Medicare patients; I take private-insured patients. All of that stuff, though—the paperwork, the regulations—it takes a lot of what is important in the healing out of it. It takes that spiritual connection out because you’re so busy dotting all the is, crossing all the ts, that sometimes you lose sight of the patient.
In fact, the best day that I had in the last two years was one day [when] I came in and my office manager said, “I’m sorry, Dr. Stauffer. The computers are down.” And clinic was about to start; I had 16 patients. I’m like: “Great.” But you know what? I had more fun that day than any other day that I’d had, because I spent time with the patient, and I didn’t worry about the documentation. Now, I paid for it the next day, because I had to spend hours catching up on it, but that was the most fun I had had, because I could just not worry about writing anything, talk to the patient, and take care of them. Unfortunately, the pendulum has swung so far that doctors are just running crazy, trying to keep track of all the paperwork, and they’re losing sight of those physical and spiritual needs of the patient.
A miracle of modern science, yeah. There’s a miracle of modern science. It’s that God gave to us the ability to understand his creation. With all of our expertise and all of our learning, there isn’t a man out there (or woman) who can make a kidney any smaller than a small refrigerator, a dialysis machine. There’s nobody that can make a kidney the size of a kidney, that does all the things that it does. We have yet to figure that out. So why do we think we’re so smart? There was a Designer for this, who is smart. We’re just here to help with patching up people, taking care of them as best we can. It’s all up to our Creator to take care of the rest of it.
I listen to these lectures on Audio Digest about different medical things, and one of the lectures recently was on doing an anastomosis for rectal cancer, which is a very treacherous area. The lecturer said—and this was a very prominent colorectal surgeon—she said, “You know, no matter how many of these I do, no matter how well I think I’ve done them, every once in a while, anastomosis leaks, it’s a disaster, and we have a really sick patient that we have to take care of for months.” But that’s because we think we’re in control, but we’re not in control. And these things happen for various reasons, but no matter how good we think we are, God is in control of all of these things and guides the hand of the surgeon and the physician.
The last person on here I just want to mention briefly, and that’s Kent Hovind. If you’ve ever seen a YouTube video of him talking about evolution, it’s not only very entertaining, it’s amusing, it’s very educational, and he has debated many, many people about that topic. I would ask y’all to go take a look at a YouTube video of that and just take a look at it. He’s actually in jail for some sort of tax thing now, which I think probably was trumped up to a certain degree. A friend of mine is actually a lawyer and a friend of his and has told me that. But anyway, please go look at that. His videos are very educational if you want to have a discussion about evolution. Next.
Healing in the Bible. I love this one. I’m a surgeon, right? First recorded surgical procedure and anesthetic in Genesis 2. So Adam gave names to all the cattle, to the birds of the air, to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him, and the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam—the first general anesthetic right there [Laughter]—and he slept. And he took one of his ribs and closed up his flesh in its place—this first surgery, right? And then the rib which the Lord had taken from man he made into woman—the first transplant, right? [Laughter] Right there in Genesis. So the Master Surgeon did surgery, and I like that. Who is best suited to be a surgeon? Well, God, the priest, the combination. Next.
There’s other things in the Old Testament. Moses. We talked earlier about the serpent. Elisha healing the Shunammite woman, and Elisha heals Naaman the leper. Then, of course, in Leviticus 11-18, if you read that, it’s a public health service announcement. If you read that, it talks about all sorts of things: sanitation, what to do in all sorts of situations. And again, who is it that this is being told to? The Levites. Who were they? They’re the priests; they’re the healers. That’s you guys, right? So the physician or surgeon who does best by his patients is the one who is most in touch with God. I would also give to you that the priest is also right there with the physician and the surgeon. Next slide.
Whom do we model ourselves after? We are icons of Christ. Jesus gave us the best example of that. Jesus cast out demons, heals paralytics, opens the eyes of the blind, heals lepers, and many more miracles. In fact, John says there’s so many that you couldn’t even write the books, that it would fill the whole world if you wrote all the books about that. Well, what is our response to Christ? Those people who were healed were the people who came to Christ. You look at all those healing episodes: it was people coming to him. We go to our physician, we go to our priest, we go to Christ for healing. What is our response as healers? You priests, me as a physician—we imitate Christ. He was the great Healer. We imitate him in the way he treated people, and we follow his spiritual and his physical example that he gave, since we are icons of him.
What is the response of those who are healed? Simon’s mother-in-law, she got up and served; she was healed, and she got up and served. That’s our response, too. We’re healed, showing gratitude to our Creator—that makes sense.
He demonstrates that sin and healing are connected. “Your sins are forgiven,” he says to the paralytic. “Go and sin no more,” to the one born blind. There is a connection. You know that better than anybody. So, again, spiritual, physical—they’re all interconnected. Next.
This is a doxasticon for the Sunday of the Paralytic, which is, as y’all know, right after Pascha. This was in vespers. We sing this at vespers, and when I saw this, I thought, “Wow. This is pretty profound stuff here,” and I wanted to include that in my talk.
Jesus went up to Jerusalem to the sheep’s pool, which in Hebrew was called Bethesda, having five porches, and there lay a great multitude of the sick, for the angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons and moved the water, granting healing to those who approached in faith.
The key: those who approached in faith. That’s what we as ill people do: we approach Christ in faith that he will heal. We approach our priests in faith that when we get anointed, when we go to confession, when we come to the Eucharist, we are healed.
And the Lord saw there a man with a chronic disease, and he said unto him, “Wilt thou be made whole?”
We must be willing. And what is the response?
And the sick man replied, “I have no man, when the waters move, to put me into the pool. I have wasted my money on physicians.”
Now how many of you have heard that? Have you heard that before? “I have wasted my money on physicians.” [Laughter] Because, you know what? Ultimately, no matter what I do, they’re going to die. I mean, at some point. I might do the very best thing; some time, that person’s going to die with their physical body. I’m not a priest. I’m not going to be able to heal their spiritual body. That’s you guys. What did he say?
But the Physician of soul and body said unto him (the priest), “Take up thy bed and walk, proclaiming through the regions my might and the greatness of my mercy.”
I love that, and I’ve actually [taken] a picture of it and keep it on my phone to remind myself about what is important, where all the healing power comes from. Next slide.
After Christ, there were many people that imitated him and went about doing healing. All the disciples did this. As I said, Peter and Paul, even their shadow would fall on someone, or they would take something that had touched Peter or Paul, a sick person would touch that, and that’s where I guess we get the idea of the relics. They would touch that, and they would be healed. The 70, St. Nicholas, St. Spyridon, St. Cosmas and St. Damian, and St. Panteleimon, Unmercenaries. These guys weren’t priests, but yet they were miraculous unmercenary healers. Would that I could be able to do that. Unfortunately, in the world we live, I’ve got to make a living somehow. I suppose that if I had enough faith, I could actually go do that, probably. May God increase my faith.
Then St. Luke, the blessed surgeon. I love that story. If you know the story of St. Luke the surgeon from Russia… He’s a modern-day bishop, surgeon. He did surgery until… into his 80s and was a bishop also. I mean, the ultimate combination here. You’ve got this bishop doing surgery, healing people, both with his surgical skills, miraculously. What a combination that would be! What if y’all were all surgeons and physicians? Well, you are. I mean, you have that power in your hands. God has given that to you. That’s why our present-day priests and monks, they are our physicians; they’re our surgeons. All of you are. Next slide.
In praying, we pray for his guidance. In the Lord’s prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread.” So much more than just “our daily bread”: our healing, our physical healing, our spiritual healing. In the Jesus Prayer, the prayer of the heart that I’m sure most of y’all have already put this in your heart, that we shall be praying every day, and every physician who takes their job seriously should be praying this, because, as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians, “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for that is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
Does prayer work? We know it does. I’ve sat down with many of you and talked about many examples of where you’ve prayed for people and they’ve been miraculously healed. I know that. Prayer does work, and it continues to work, and it will work. What’s the evidence for this? You may think, “This is kind of silly.” I looked at it from a scientific standpoint. I started looking at it: “Oh, look. This is cool. There’s actually studies about prayers and healing.”
My children looked at it, and they said, “How unfair is that, Dad? They prayed for some people and didn’t pray for some other people? That’s not right!” They’re right that it’s not right, but that’s how they did these studies. There have been 131 experiments that looked at the effects of prayer on living systems. Believe it or not, some of those, they were praying for bacteria in a petri dish and not praying for bacteria in another petri dish.
I know, it’s crazy, but they showed a statistically significant difference even in those systems. 77 of the studies showed a statistically significant difference. Wow. Now those of you who’ve taken statistics or read scientific journals know what that means. A p-value of less than 0.5. Simply put, it means that if your study reaches statistical significance, 95% of the time, whatever you’re studying was true and there was only a 5% probability that it happened by chance. That’s the bar that the scientific community has set for all studies. We have to get a p-value of 0.5. That doesn’t mean that if you have a p-value of a little bit higher than that that it’s not true. It very well could be. This is just that 95% of the time it’s true. Well, if it’s true 90% of the time, that’s kind of important, too. Even a placebo, when they’ve done studies on that, 33% of the time that works, but that’s why they set the bar so high, because a placebo effect is 33% probability of having a true effect.
In these studies, when they were praying, they found that this worked in most of these studies. A cardiologist back in 1993, Randolf Byrd, at San Francisco General Hospital, he had 393 patients that he enrolled in a randomized double-blind study. Again, scientific stuff, just a little brief thing on that. You may hear this from your parishioners who are scientists or whatever. We can look at scientific studies, and you can look at a case study; that’s called anecdotal. One case, yeah, well, it might happen, it might not, but you don’t base your practice on case studies. You can look on a series, a retrospective study; you look back at all these people who’ve been treated and see what happens with them. That doesn’t have much power, because you’re looking back at it.
The best study is a prospective—you’re enrolling them prospectively—randomized—you don’t know which treatment they’re going to get, the treatment or placebo—and it’s a double-blind study, so that the people looking at it don’t even know what’s going on. Again, you have an analyst at the end looking at the results. And that’s what this study was, so it’s a fairly powerful study.
So when I say a randomized double-blind study, I’m saying the best study we can do on this. The prayed-for group had fewer complications in all areas that they looked at except for a decrease in deaths, but it approached statistical significance. It was close to that 0.5, but it just wasn’t quite there. And that was in 1993. Next slide.
I’ve been told by some priests that these days, going to the hospital, sometimes it can be a little bit of a hassle because a lot of people there don’t really care about the priest being around, and, quite frankly, the hospitals are scared because of all sorts of these new rules. That’s why I wanted to talk about HIPAA a little bit. A little bit boring, but it’s important, because if you go to a hospital and you want to see one of your patients, and you say, “I’m Fr. So-and-so. I want to see my patient So-and-so,” and they go: “Well, I’m sorry, Father, but you can’t see that patient, because we will violate our HIPAA law if we tell you that patient is here.”
What is that? Health Information, Privacy, and Accountability Act of 1996. It didn’t get implemented until the mid-2000s completely, but what is that? All healthcare providers are required to comply with that, and any healthcare provider that has anything to do with any kind of insurance or anything—a hospital, it could be any kind of… if you transmit medical records of any kind, electronically—you’re subject to that. No information may be given to anyone without the express consent of the patient. That’s why you may have trouble finding your patient in the hospital.
The reason the hospitals are so nervous about it is this last little deal here. Violations are enforced by the office of civil rights. Each violation between $100 up to $50,000 per incident, with a $1.5 million cap. That’ll get your attention if you’re a hospital or you’re a practitioner, and it’s meant to get your attention, because privacy is important, but it may be an obstacle to you getting to see your patient. So if you know you’re going to go see your patient, make sure that you have this information ahead of time and your patient can tell the hospital, “Yes, I want my priest to come see me.” It’s horrible. I mean, you should be able to just drop in and see your patient, but some places that’s just not possible. In our hospital, it is. You just go in our hospital, because it’s a small hospital; everybody in our town knows each other. We still follow these rules, but we don’t make them an obstacle to the care of our patients.
Joint commission. What is that? Back in the early days of medicine in this country, the mortality rate in hospitals was extraordinarily high. If you went to a hospital, it was basically to die, so they formed this commission early on. This modern commission is a descendant of that, but they formed this commission to figure out ways to improve care [in] the hospital, and that’s what its intention was: to improve the care in the hospital, and not to hamstring hospitals. And it did: the mortality plummeted in hospitals. Most people did just fine after that mortality dropped from over 50% to down into the teens. It was a very good thing.
Well, you mention joint commission to a hospital administrator, and they might faint in front of you; they are scared of this organization. When they come in—and we had our visit about four weeks ago, and let me tell you, our administrators were nervous. We passed; we did great, but these people, if you don’t get approved by them, you will not be taking any Medicare patients, any private-insurance… Basically, it’s a death sentence to a hospital. All these rules about privacy and patient care and stuff, it makes the people in the hospital very nervous, and, again, it creates this barrier to the priest being at the hospital, being with the patient. But don’t be afraid of it. We follow the rules, and you’re there. You’re there with them.
CMS. I mentioned that, too. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. I have to comply with all sorts of rules with that in my practice at the hospital. Some hospitals are actually accredited by that organization as opposed to the joint commission. They’re both equivalent. But, again, lots of rules and regulations. Again, I don’t know all the rules, because there’s not just any way possible that I could. That’s why we have our administrators to help us with that.
And the red flag rules. What are those? You may not know this, but this was implemented as a way to prevent identity theft, and it was mostly for banks and things like that. Every time you go to the doctor now, every physician is required to ask you for a photo ID, so that they make sure that you are who you say you are and there’s no… ostensibly so there’s no fraud with the insurance or Medicare or whatever. But, again, it’s one of these rules that has taken some of the person touch out of this, that we have to follow it. If we violate these… I would imagine there are people who don’t have photo IDs, but we’re not supposed to… And how are we supposed to give care to those people who don’t have a photo ID? I don’t have an answer to that. Next.
The physician. How to be spiritually guided. Praying for our patients. I think, as a physician, all physicians need to be in… I guess my wife said it this way, “in a fasting state.” What does that mean? We’re all called to pray, fast, and give alms. To be in a fasting state, to follow what God wants us to do, to follow the… not as a Pharisaical way, but follow the fasting rules, follow… go to church, say our prayers, have our prayer rule. If all of our physicians would follow that, they would be better equipped to take care of their patients, because they would be more in touch with him who created everything, as we discussed earlier.
The medical time-out. This is kind of a cool thing, and I want to go over that just briefly. You probably don’t hear about that or probably don’t even know what that is unless you’re in a hospital. But you probably have heard of the orthopedic doctor doing a total hip on the wrong hip, or an amputation on the wrong leg. You’ve heard about that. Well, it was created for that, and it’s a great thing. Actually, I think it’s one of the best things I think [has been] ever implemented at the hospital, where we have to mark the proper site, we have to go through this checklist… Just like an airline pilot goes through a checklist before they take off: are the rudders working, are the engines doing well? All these things. We go through this checklist, too.
For me, the cool thing about this… Not that I didn’t pray beforehand, but this is the perfect time—the medical time-out—and you share this with your physicians who are surgeons or whatever who are doing this: that’s the time to pray. I start praying during that medical time-out—not that I’m not paying attention to what they’re saying, but it reminds me that what’s guiding my hands is not the miracle of modern medicine but the miracle of the Creator.
In anointing the sick.. I think physicians shouldn’t be afraid for people who want to to anoint their patients. In the epistle of James, we’re called to anoint those who are ill. Be in the life of the Church, praying, fasting, doing those things that keep us in the body of the Church, because if we’re outside of the body of the Church, we are estranging ourselves from the Creator. The Church is the bride of Christ, and that’s where we meet with Christ. If, as a physician, I’m not praying, I’m not fasting, I’m not regularly taking the Eucharist, going to confession, then I am not in touch with the Creator and I can’t be an effective physician without that. I think all physicians need to take that to heart.
That’s why they say, “Physician, heal thyself.” If I’m spiritually ill, physically ill, how can I take care of patients adequately. How can any physician? We all get sick, we all have problems, but we continually go back and are healed by our interactions with the Church.
This is an icon of the blessed surgeon, St. Luke. The other thing I really want to bring out about this is that healing or being a healer, it’s a calling; it’s not just a job. In your interactions with your young people in your parishes, talk to them about this. You don’t become a physician because “I’m going to make a lot of money!” First of all, that doesn’t happen any more in the current setting. That’s not the way. It’s a calling. People who are physicians or nurses or allied health professionals, I believe they’re called to do this by God. That is a calling, just as being a priest is a calling. You don’t choose to do it. I’ve told my kids that. I would love to have my kids be physicians, several of them, but I’m not going to tell them that that’s what they’re going to do, because they have to listen to God, listen to his calling to them.
When I was in junior high school, my dad used to take me to the library every Saturday, because he had to study for correspondence courses. A book I ran across was The Making of a Surgeon. It was a book written by William Nolen back in the ‘50s about his surgery residency at Bellevue Hospital in New York. If you read it now, even now reading it, it was pretty harsh. But I read that, and after I read that book, I knew somehow that’s where my life needed to be heading. From that time on, I guided my life towards that. But everybody finds out at a different time. God shows that to you at a different time, as you know, so please talk to the people, the children in your parish, or people who are going into healthcare, that this is a calling, and we need people who are called to do it to step forward and do that.
The priest, anointing the sick in the Church, or outside the Church as needed, that we need, too. In Paul Meyendorff’s book about [how] it’s so important for the priest to be anointing the sick. As a physician, I can only do so much. It’s not me that’s doing it anyway. I wish that I had a priest with me every time I went to the operating room and every time I went to see a patient. That would be optimal. The blessed Luke, his requirement was that he had an icon in the operating room wherever he operated. He had been tortured by the Russians during the Soviet era, and when World War II broke out, he was one of their most learned physicians. He had published a lot of papers; he was very good. They brought him back. They asked him to head up a field hospital, and he said, “Well, I’ll do it on one condition: you allow me to put icons in my operating room,” and they said, “Okay,” and he did that.
I can’t put up an icon in my operating room, but years ago a friend of mine gave me a little icon of Panteleimon, and another friend gave me an icon of the crucifixion which I carry in my pocket every time I do surgery. In essence I do go into the operating room with a Priest at my side. It’s not a light saber I’m wielding, even though it looks like it. That’s a laproscopic instrument; I’m doing laproscopic surgery there. When I go into the operating room, I’m going with Christ. That’s what that’s all about. We are called to be imitators of him as healers, to be spiritual beings with him, to be united with him in the operating room.
I’ve got many examples of people who’ve been healed by various means, miraculous-type things, in my experience over the years I’ve been a physician. When I was getting ready to put together this talk, I was thinking, “What kind of example could I tell them about? Something that was really cool…” About that time, only about a couple of months ago, I got a call from a hospital not too far from us with a patient they said was really, really sick, incredibly sick. The patient has horrible abdominal pain. We got a CT scan that shows the bowel looks terrible. We’re not sure what’s going on. And this is a hospital where all they have is a primary care doctor: they can’t do surgery, they can’t do endoscopy. They can do a CT scan, and that’s about it.
“Can you take her at your hospital, Dr. Stauffer?” Well, sure. Send her on down. So they got everything together, about an hour and a half away from us. Sent the patient down. I take a look at the patient. The patient’s got an elevated white count, some abdominal pain, looking a lot better than I thought she ought to be looking for what they had said, the report they had given me. I had all the labs and stuff from the other hospital where she had a really elevated white count, and I had a CT scan. Well, these days, when I ask for a CT scan, they don’t send the films; they send a disk. I took the disk down to our radiologist. They loaded it up, and I looked at that with them, and they go: “Wow. This is horrible! The colon looks terrible. All the way from the sigmoid colon, all the way down to the rectum. There’s something awful going on with this patient.”
I said, “Well, she doesn’t look that sick, but I probably should look.” He said, “Yeah, if you did a flex-sig,” which is a short look up into the colon, “you’re bound to see what’s going on. It’s got to be ischemic colitis or horrible diverticulitis or some sort of infectious colitis.” So I started her on some antibiotics and went back and checked on her again. She was actually looking a lot better. I said, “In the morning we’re going to do a little bowel prep and we’re going to take a look.”
I get in there and look the next morning. That bowel is completely normal. I mean, normal normal. I take biopsies everywhere, because I’m thinking, “This can’t be,” but it was normal, every biopsy I took. Afterwards I went down to talk to the radiologist: “Are you sure?” He said, “Well, yeah, this is terrible.” This is the day before, she had the CT scan. Day after? She’s got a normal colon. Well, that’s a miracle. It’s nothing short of miraculous. The one day of antibiotics I gave her didn’t fix that. She may have had ischemic colitis; she was elderly. That’s probably what was going on, but God fixed that. I didn’t fix that. This can happen with you guys. It can happen with every physician that is out there, because God’s in control, not us. Next slide.
This is doing a colonoscopy. This is a deflectable-end endoscope. The tools that we have are really only a small part of how healing is done. Let me tell you, this is a cool tool here. I go to Brady, Texas, which is 65 miles away. We hadn’t gotten new equipment there in 13 years; the stuff we had is just falling apart. They just got brand-new equipment, and it is like state-of-the-art, gee-whiz stuff. It can give us a three-dimensional view of the scope going in now. It’s amazing. I love the technology, but as much as I love the technology, that doesn’t do the healing. That just lets us take a look at what’s going on. God does the healing. Next slide.
In essence, our armor is not complete without God. We must put on the full armor of God. And this is me getting ready to go in to do a case where I’ve got a lead apron on, so I’ve got to be protected from radiation stuff, because I’m going to be doing X-rays during the surgery. I do that when I put ports in or when I do gall bladder surgery where it was called a cholangiogram. Other surgeons do it for other things. But that’s not the armor that I’m talking about.
“We are in a great cosmic battle between good and evil,” Paul Meyendorff says, and he’s right about that. We have to fight that with every tool we have, and that’s to be spiritual people and to be healers. You guys, physicians, working together. [Applause]
The question is: May a physician who is not a priest anoint a patient? Again, we’re not talking about with the chrism. We’re talking about just maybe oil from a vigil lamp. May a physician do that? Metropolitan?
His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph: I am Metropolitan Joseph, and I approve this teaching. [Laughter and applause] I can’t fathom a parish without having a very loving, merciful, active priest in his parish. This is beyond my mind.
So when we have a priest in a parish, he has to be the healer. Jesus Christ is present everywhere, not in a book, but in our practice, in our actions. That’s why he chose, Jesus Christ chose us to be the healers in his name. That’s why, like when we hear about something… like the clergy in the West know very well that I told them in one of the seminars that when someone is dying, we don’t let him die on his own. We go, because most of the people die, when they die, they are angry at themselves, at the people around them, at God, and whatever. So we go, the priest. I know that some priests are phobic, like they are, from a distance, like that. It’s wrong.
So we go and we sit with this [person] who is dying in the hospital. We hold his hand or her hand, and we give the encouragement and we read some from the Bible. We prepare him, because after death, there is resurrection. We don’t die just like… and we disappear all of a sudden. No, no. Life continues after death, and the resurrection is the source of healing, according to us.
Now, when there is some illness in a parish, the priest, the father who is the father—it’s not a title; it’s not because of his salary, but because of his healing power—so that’s why he has to go. He has to be with the family. He must be in the hospital. He must be, during the surgery, for example, he has to be present there before any other family members. This is my understanding of a priest as a healer. Otherwise, “In peace, let us pray to the Lord!” shut the door and go home; this is not priesthood. This is not priesthood; this is a business. And our priesthood is not a business. Our priesthood is from heaven, as a gift from heaven to heal every infirmity and to heal every malady and to heal every illness. [Applause]
In the beginning of the ‘90s, I was in Beirut, and at that time for the first time I started my back pain. So I went to seven physicians. One of them, just I walked into his office, I saw all the icons you ever imagine. I said, “You know, I’m not [in] a chapel here.” I asked him, “Why do you have all these icons?” and his answer immediately was, “I am here a surgeon, but they are the healers here.”
So our faith for sure is the healing power. We have to use it. We have to use it; we have to practice it. We don’t have to be ashamed of our faith, when we go to the hospital for example, with the jibbee, with the chalice in our hand or the kit, the communion kit. So we go with fear of God there, and Jesus is traveling with us, is visiting this sick person in the hospital. We believe that the word, the name of Jesus, is going to heal this situation.
If we cannot—and this is [something] I use all the time in my homilies—if all of us, you and I, if we cannot heal, and we pray for the sick people all the time in the Church, if we cannot heal, then our prayer would be nonsense. So we believe that the true Physician and the true Healer is within our priesthood, the One who gave us that gift and that blessing.