Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Cathedral of the Theotokos of Great Grace

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Archpastoral Letter for the 2018 World Day of the Sick - (February 11, 2018)

Beloved of the Italo-Greek Orthodox Catholic Church: Faithful, Friends, Benefactors, and Supporters:

The grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all!

The Gospels speak of Jesus’ great concern and love for the sick. On several occasions, He went out of His way to respond to the needs of one in need of healing. We read how He cured the sick and restored them to friendship with His Father. The Church continues Jesus’ ministry of caring for the sick with deep compassion and respect for human dignity.

The Gospels also reveal our Savior experiencing the depth of human suffering and death itself. Jesus suffered and died for our sake in loving obedience to His Heavenly Father; that is how He redeemed us. “Dying, He destroyed our death; rising, He restored our life.”

By suffering, dying, and rising, the Lord gave the mystery of human suffering and death a profound and salvific meaning. Seen in the light of Jesus’ redeeming love, sickness can bring believers into close proximity with this immense love and overcome all that separates them from God. Through this union with our suffering Lord, people of faith often experience deep inner healing and reconciliation; they can help others to open their hearts more fully to Him. To be sure, the Italo-Greek Orthodox Catholic Church teaches the importance of preserving life and prays for the health and healing of its members.

The Italo-Greek Orthodox Catholic Church also teaches that futile or excessively burdensome treatment may be withheld or discontinued after profound prayer and an honest use of conscience. Through this balanced and compassionate teaching, the Church provides guidance and helps us make morally sound decisions about the course of our health care even as it helps us prepare for death with the unwavering hope of eternal life.

The Italo-Greek Orthodox Catholic Church continues Christ’s ministry to the sick and dying through Orthodox Catholic health care services and ministries and through many committed Orthodox Catholic laymen and women who devote themselves to the care of their sick brothers and sisters.

Christ’s love of the sick and suffering also is continued through the Holy Mysteries of the Church. In offering the Sacraments of Reconciliation, Holy Anointing, and Holy Communion, the priest brings to those who are ill the loving and redeeming touch of Christ. In these moments rich with grace, the priest, acting in the Person of Christ, brings to the patient forgiveness, inner healing, and strength for what lies ahead. Together with the priest, deacons, religious, lay ministers, and volunteers share with the patient, and with the patient’s family, the Good News of Jesus, the Gospel of Life and salvation. And of course, the Christian family – the domestic church – ministers to their sick family members and friends through their kind words, helpful deeds, and loving presence. Through God’s grace, patients are enabled to unite their sufferings with the Lord’s that they may share His everlasting joy and glory.

We must never be indifferent to human suffering. As believers, we reach out in love to suffering persons because we see Christ in them. Furthermore, our faith enables us to see the suffering that serious illness entails as an opportunity to share in Christ’s redemptive suffering.

The Church encourages us to pray and dedicate our pain and fear to help others and ourselves; to offer our dependency, helplessness, and suffering to God on behalf of others. With the help of medical science, however, we try to bring to the suffering as much comfort and relief as possible, but never through euthanasia.

The Italo-Greek Orthodox Catholic Church endorses programs of pain management, palliative care, and hospice care in accord with Orthodox Catholic ethical principles and morals. In essence, if a person’s condition includes physical pain, he or she may request pain-relieving medication in dosages sufficient to manage the pain. If the person is dying and pain management should require increasingly greater dosages of medication, the patient or a health care agent may ask that the dosages be increased in increments sufficient to manage the pain, even if the patient is made less alert or responsive, or if this increase should, as a side effect, hasten death. Pain medication, however, must never be given for the purpose of hastening death. Pain management is critical in the appropriate care of the dying.

We all tend to defer thoughts of serious illness and death until the last possible moment. Yet throughout our lives, reflecting on the tremendous gift and fragility of human life promotes a spirit of gratitude and a greater desire to care for this gift. We should prayerfully cultivate the virtue of prudence and reflect on the deep truths of our Orthodox Catholic faith about the value of human life and our calling to life everlasting.

We need to know the Church’s moral teaching on the sanctity of life and understand the principles that derive from that teaching. We do all this with hope for everlasting life; the Church continues to urge us to pray for the grace of a happy death.

From time to time, it is helpful to discuss these matters with a parish priest or one’s spiritual father. Clearly, we are not entirely free to do whatever we wish when we make decisions about the care of our own life and health. We are called to preserve and protect our lives with prudence for the service of God, family, and neighbor. When professional medical care is needed, we must consent to the reasonable use of prudence. Prudence helps the Christian in the face of moral dilemmas.

I encourage everyone to always make proper use of appropriate medical and support services so that we do not neglect our own well-being and the spiritual and family obligations that are ours. Beyond these normal efforts, we are at liberty to employ or to refuse the techniques of modern medicine that may entail excessive difficulty or risk. It is morally acceptable to interrupt such treatments when they are no longer beneficial or have become disproportionately difficult.

Healing is not seen as a single goal or even a main thrust of the Church’s rites. Suffering is a mystery. This does not mean that a sleuth-like approach will always result in a neat, clear-cut, and desired solution. The cause and purpose of suffering often lie beyond rational understanding. The believer searches for deeper meaning when encountering a mystery. We begin with what we know: first, the link between illness and salvation, and second, that Christ’s words and promises are verified and made manifest in His healings as well as His compassion.

Not only is this sound Orthodox Catholic theology, but the Jewish prophetic tradition also explored this theme. While it was once thought that outward signs in one’s life point to misfortune, that is not always the case. Certainly, there are cause-and-effect connections: a lifelong chain smoker may suffer from lung cancer. And nicotine may well be the killing agent. But not all smokers develop cancer, and not all cancer sufferers are smokers. All of this is a mystery.

It was once often thought that if one became sick, especially terminally ill, it was a punishment imposed by God for one’s sins. This was especially true when someone was diagnosed with AIDs and suffered a slow, agonizing, and painful death. But such a belief, which is still common among many Protestant confessions, has no relation to the God which we, as Orthodox Catholic Christians, profess and know.

While we should always accept illness with grace, dignity, and holy resolve, resistance to it is not futile. A believer need not passively accept illness as a punishment. We should always fight strenuously against all sickness. This applies especially to caregivers and medical professionals as well as family members and the individual.

The proper behavior of all Orthodox Catholic Christians should be that healthy believers will be open to the witness of those who are sick. That is why we have a presumption of public, not private, rites, and that the parish is ideally involved in ministry to the sick: liturgically, charitably, and in all appropriate ways.

This presumption lays the groundwork for the theological and liturgical approach the Church takes in its rites of pastoral care for the sick and the dying. Because of this, we assume a rejection of the older biblical passages that link suffering to personal sin. Moral blame is not the Christian understanding of suffering.

We see in the Church’s prayers, hymns, readings, and rites used in the pastoral care of the sick and dying that they reflect and support the Church’s theology, teach it by celebration, and reinforce it pastorally for those who are sick, those who minister to the sick, as well as the main body of the faith community.

Ministry to the sick is to be exercised by all believers. Remember the traditional work of mercy? Caring for and consoling the sick? Remember also that the Church sees all lay people involved with the sick: loved ones, medical personnel, clergy, and other lay people as sharing a “ministry of comfort.” This seems a reasonable definition of ministry: accomplishing a task as Christ would, and always explicitly in His name and always for the greater glory of God.

The sick are not out-of-sight, out-of-mind for the praying, believing community. The prayers we offer at Divine Services, especially in the Divine Liturgy and the Holy Mystery of Anointing, are the way that we stay connected with the sick, suffering, and infirm. They are the spiritual medicines that the Church uses in treating, helping, and caring for all those who are sick. They complement and support the medical procedures and treatments a patient receives and together, they give the patient the knowledge that everything necessary and profitable for their recovery and healing is being done for them.

On this World Day of the Sick, let none of us forget the necessary role we all play in the care of and service to the sick, suffering, and dying. This work of mercy and compassion is not to be considered simply a work of charity to be done once in a while, but a way of life characteristic of a true disciple of Jesus Christ who truly lives in and for Him.

May we all pray and work constantly for the health, well-being, and salvation of all God’s people, especially the members of our parish churches and domestic churches.

To all of you, I extend my archpastoral blessing and wishes for health, peace, length of days, happiness, and joy in the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Paternally yours in Christ,

+ Archbishop Stephen
Most Rev. Archbishop Stephen J. Enea
Primate of the Italo-Greek (Italo-Byzantine)  Orthodox Catholic Church       

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