The Theology of Illness (Part V)

Hieromartyr Hermolaus at Nicomedia

Hieromartyr Hermolaus at Nicomedia

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

By Jean-Claude Larchet

Christian Paths Towards Healing

Healing Comes From God

It is clear that healing itself, while resulting from natural processes, actually comes from God. Saint Theophilos of Antioch brings this to the attention of Autolycus: "You may have fallen ill and lost weight, your strength and your appearance; but you found in God mercy and healing. You have regained your stature, your appearance and your strength: you do not know where your weight, appearance and strength had gone when they disappeared; neither do you know whence they were formed nor whence they came. But you will say: 'They came from the food and the liquids that have gone through the blood.' Very well! But this too is the work of God Who has made it so, He and no other."

Sirach already evoked these various notions: "Honor the physician with the honor due him, according to your need of him, for the Lord created him; for healing [the wisdom of the physician, according to the Hebrew text] comes from the Most High, and he will receive a gift from the king...The Lord created medicines from the earth, and a sensible man will not despise them...And He gave skill to men that He might be glorified in His marvelous works. By them He heals and takes away pain; the pharmacist makes of them a compound. His work will never be finished; and from Him health is upon the face of the earth" (Sir. 38:1-8).

The Christian attitude is thus diametrically opposed to naturalism and sees as an illusion the belief that the medical arts and remedies are, in and of themselves, good and effective means of healing. Saint Barsanuphius emphasizes that "without God, nothing avails, not even the physician." And he adds: "Do not forget that without God there is no healing for anyone."

This is why Christians, while they rely on physicians, see them simply as mediators. They call on them in the Name of God, and it is through them, but from God, that they ask for healing. Saint Barsanuphius writes the following: "Those who resort to physicians, may they resort to them while relying on God, saying: 'It is in the Name of God that we entrust ourselves to physicians, believing that He will grant us healing through them.' Likewise, when a Christian takes a prescription, he prays to God that it might be effective. And once he is healed, he prays to God again in thanksgiving. On this subject Saint Basil the Great notes the example of Hezekiah (2 Kg 20:7) who "did not consider the cake or the fig to be the only cause of health and did not attribute his healing thereto, but he gave thanks to God for having also created figs." When man fails to turn to God he is condemned to a spiritual death, as was the case for King Asa (2 Chr. 16:12-13): "In the thirty-ninth year of his reign Asa was diseased in his feet, and his disease became severe; yet even in his disease he did not seek the Lord, but sought help from physicians. And he slept with his fathers, dying in the forty-first year of his reign." This is also the pointed reminder of Abba (Father) Macarius: "If a person is physically ill, if he does not hope for help from above, as did Job and the paralytic, he has blasphemed against the power of the Holy Trinity and has allowed a place within himself for Satan." Origen draws the following lesson from the story of King Asa: "Those who have assumed piety resort to doctors by seeing them as servants of God, knowing that He is the one Who gives medical science to mankind, just as He is the one who made the plants grow in the earth and Who put other [medicinal] substance there. They know also that that the art of the physician is in no way efficacious without the will of God."

As for Christian physicians, the most basic trait in their attitude is the sense that they can do nothing of themselves nor merely by means of their art. This is why they pray to God for inspiration before making a diagnosis. And before they prescribe any course of treatment they ask God that it might be sufficient and efficacious, and they invoke the power of God upon the sick, making themselves the transparent media of His regenerative grace. "He who undertakes to practice medicine must do so in the name of God and God will help him," says Saint Barsanuphius. Concerning physicians, Sirach says: "...they too will pray to the Lord that he should grant them success in diagnosis and in healing, for the sake of preserving life" (Sir. 38:14).



The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--St. John Chrysostom


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George