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The Orthodox Ethos Podcast
Episode 9
April 25th, 2020

The Church is a Hospital, a Life-giving Spring

In this episode of The Orthodox Ethos Podcast: 

  1. The Church is a Hospital, in which sicknesses are healed
  2. The Story of the Life-Giving Church throughout the Ages
  3. Answers to Your Questions

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Episode 9

April 26, 2020

The Church is a Hospital, a Life-Giving Spring

In this episode of the Orthodox Ethos podcast, the Church is a hospital where sicknesses are healed. And the story of the Life-giving Church throughout the ages, a fount of healing; and answers to your many questions.

We have been the recipient of many, many letters and questions and comments since we began this podcast just a few weeks ago. And of course, there are too many to answer online, but I am going to take a few today, after we talk about, first this great feast that we celebrated here on Friday of Bright Week.

I am going to take this opportunity to read some of the questions and address them, because I think they are going to be concerns that many of our viewers have. There are debates online about how best to approach this crisis, among Orthodox Christians. Should there be a quarantine? Or is herd immunity better? Are lock-downs appropriate or is Sweden’s example better? And we could go on for hours and hours as happens online, discussing all of the ins and outs.

I am not going to address those issues in this podcast. You can visit the Facebook page and other places to see the discussion that is going on. The question that matters most, however for us Orthodox Christians, concerns the Church. And our whole body’s health, our whole body and soul, our whole humanity.

The Church is a hospital. You have heard that said, I am sure many times. There are many books written on it. We have our doctors. We have our medicine. Healing happens in the Church every day. Every day, the Church is healing soul and body. And yet, we are closed on Sunday, and our medicine is locked away.

This is what should concern us all. And what is at the heart of the problem that we are facing as Orthodox people, a community, and Church, the globe over. We may be giving the impression, not only to the world, but to our own people, and to our inquirers and our catechumens that the Church is not a hospital, that it is not a place of healing, per say, it could be occasionally, but not mainly.

But it is simply a meeting place, a gathering place. And as such, it needs to be shut down because in large gatherings, the virus is spread. The letters that you will hear a bit later will certainly indicate that this impression is being given, not only to the people outside, as I said, but to the people in the Church.

One man wrote to me, pious people are also infected, so prayers will not help you. And then he said, it is an obvious fact. People think that they would not risk their health by going to the churches and kissing icons. We had several pandemics and the Church could not save any life, by its beliefs back then.

So to this sceptic, and to all the sceptics, who look at the Church as a place that is simply a gathering of people who have certain beliefs. This is my answer. I think I gave this answer to the man online, but I will give it to you as well.

We live in a fallen world. When we are immersed in the consequences of sin and apostacy, it is of course not right to think that we will avoid sicknesses in this condition, in the midst of this corruption. However, into the world of brokeness, broke through, and came our Lord, the physician of our souls and our bodies. His body, the Church, is where He makes people well. This is His hospital.

It is a hospital for souls and bodies. And every single day, not only are healings recorded therein, and the healthy are commemorated, but health is imparted. It is a daily occurance. There is no other place on earth like it.

And to it run all who desire the health of their soul and their body. Those who come in humility, ready to listen to the physician, and carry out his regiment for perfect health, they kiss the icons and they take the antidoron. They commune of the Holy Mysteries. They kiss the hand of the priest profusely in love and devotion and thanksgiving, seeing in them, in all of the holy things of the Church, the eternal life and receiving from them, and all of the holy objects, those set aside by and for God - that is what it means to be holy, set aside for and by God - they see in these things life and mercy, the mercy of God.

The Church has saved enumerable souls and bodies from sickness. And today we are going to commemorate, this Friday of Bright Week. Every year we commemorate a great feast, which commemorates the many and innumerable healings of soul and body, so this is very instructive for our day and age.

We should stop and listen, and read the Synaxarion. And I am going to do exactly that. This the Friday of Bright Week. And we read in the Synaxarion the history of the Church of the Theotokos, the Life Giving Spring, which is in Constantinople, which since the 5th century has been a fountain of healing, of soul and body.

Emperors and simple people, the blind, the lame, those near death, those even who have died, you will hear about this, were given life at this church by the Theotokos, by the grace of God, the hospital, which is the Church.

So let’s hear. I am going to read to you the Synaxarion for the day. I am going to read almost the entire thing. Pay attention and then we will talk about it.

We commemorate today the manifold great miracles that surpass all nature that were wrought in this church by the Mother of God. This church was first built by the great emperor Leo of Thrace, also named Makelles in the year of our Lord 454. One thousand, five hundred and seventy odd years ago.

It was located outside the walls of Constantinople, near the Golden gate, not far from the Seven Towers district. This man was good, humble, and kind hearted even before he ascended the imperial throne.

One day, as he was walking near the place, which would later be the site of the Church, he found a blind man who was wandering about. Taking him by the hand, Leo comforted him as they went on their way. Drawing near to the place where the spring was, the blind man became thirsty and begged Leo to give him some water to quench his thirst.

Leo went deeper into the woods, where it was full of dense trees and thick brush, looking for water. But finding none, he turned back, sorrowful. Returning, he heard a voice from above, saying, Leo, you do not need to tire yourself, for there is water nearby. He again returned and searched diligently, greatly exhausting himself, but still could not find any water.

And again he heard the voice as before saying, Emperor Leo, enter into the deepest part of the woods and you will find a lake. Draw some cloudy water from it with your hands and give it to the blind man to quench his thirst. Then anoint his darkened eyes with the clay and you will immediately know who I am, for I have dwelt in this place for a long time.

Leo obeyed and did as the voice commanded of him. And at once, the blind man regained his sight. After a short time, as the Mother of God had foretold, Leo was enthroned as emperor. At his own expense, he then built the first Church near this spring. Many miracles were worked daily in this Church.

After many years, the emperor Justinian the Great sought and received healing in this Church from kidney stones, which were tormenting him. Being grateful for his cure, he rebuilt the Church to the Mother of the Word, making it larger and more ornate.

But this building was then destroyed by numerous earthquakes, and was thus later repaired and rebuilt by the Emperor Basil the Mascedonian and his son Leo the Wise. During their lifetime, this spring worked many, many miracles and healed swollen growths, kidney stones, tuberculosis, and many other forms of diseases, inflamed growths, erysipelas (characterised by high fever and high swellings on and under the skin).

Issues of blood from the empress and other women, fevers lasting three or four days, separating abscesses, which discharge puss, bacterial skin infections, and barren wombs. The grace of the spring loosed the empress Zoe from her barrenness and then she gave birth to the emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus.

The same spring raised a dead man from Thessaly in the following manner. He was on his way to the spring, but when he released that he would die before reaching it, he begged the sailors to take his body to the Church of the Spring. And when it was time to bury him, to pour over it three pails of water from this spring.

The sailors obeyed his request. And after they had poured the water over him, the dead man returned to life.

After many years, the Church was about to collapse, but the Mother of God appeared and supported it until all the people streamed outside to safety. Water from the spring has cast out many devils from those possessed, freed many who were bound in prison, healed Emperor Leo the Wise from stones, and cured his wife Theophana from acute fevers, and delivered his brother the Patriarch Stephen from tuberculosis, and restored hearing to the Patriarch John of Jerusalem and healed Terasius, the patrician of acute fevers, healed his mother Magistrisa and his son Stilianos from kidney stones, and delivered a woman named Stizina from a sickness of the womb.

Emperor Roman from Lacapa, along with his empress was cured of locked bowels from drinking this water. In Chaldea the monk Perperin and his disciples were healed through calling upon the Mother of God. And the monks Matthew and Meletius were delivered through her after they had been denounced to the emperor.

Patricians and procouncels and others whose names are beyond telling were healed, among whom was an Ishiot and a man named Stephen. What tongue can tell of the wonders which this water has worked, and continues to work to this day?

They are more numerous than the drops of the rain, than the stars of the heavens, and the leaves upon the trees. We have seen multitudes of these wonders in our own time. He has healed gangrene, poisoning by deadly potions, warts, erysipelas, leprosy, and fierce diseases. The water has cured those suffering from swellings, eye pains, tearing and cataracts. John Varagus, who was cured of dropsy, and another Varagus who was healed of severe bacterial skin infections.

Varagus is another word for viking, or someone who is coming from those lands. Mark the hieromonk was cured of a swelling on one of his cheeks. An aristocratic woman confined to her bed for 15 years was cured. Macarius the monk was cured of stones. It is impossible to find the words to tell of all the others who were healed by this water, for many were cured and continue to be cured in our own day, for the grace of this water will never cease.

Then the Synaxarion goes on and talks about the Church at that spot, which was destroyed in 1453 at the fall of Constantinople. An impoverished small chapel existed after that at some point until 1821 and the Greek revolution. It was destroyed by the Muslims. Again, a small chapel was rebuilt in 1833. And in 1835 it was consecrated, only to be destroyed again in 1955 by the Muslims of Constantinople during the uprising against the Greeks.

There is a Church that exists to this day there. It has been built, a small Church. It is still a source of great miracles. The holy water is known now as Baloukli, which in Turkish means fish, because there are fish flowing in the waters today.

So that is a reading from our Synaxarion. Everyday, everydaywe read of the great miracles of healing, from sicknesses of soul and body, in the Synaxarion, in the lives of the saints, throughout the year.

Anyone who has doubts, anyone who does not understand what the church is - it is a hospital, it is a place of healing, it is a place of recovery from sicknesses - all he needs to do is to acquire the Synaxarion, go online, read the daily lives of the saints throughout the year. For those who have faith and come in humility to our Lord, it is just a prayer away from receiving the grace of God.

In the Apolytikion for this feast, of the life-giving spring, it says that the Church of Theotokos is like the Garden of Paradise, since it pours out healings and cures like every-living rivers. And this is truly not just this Church, but The Church is as paradise - two rivers flowing out from it - in the Holy Mysteries, our Lord Himself who is given and gives Himself to every soul who comes, and heals them of their sicknesses.

So this is the answer to all of us who are being shaken in faith, either by the stance that some have taken in the Church, by closing the Church, and acting as if the Church is not a hospital, and does not need to be open, or the state by closing the Churches, as if the Church is not a hospital that needs to be open, especially in such times. Or because of others who have been scandalized and are saddened by the witness of the Church, and there are all kinds of temptations that come during these times of trial.

Now let’s get to the questions that some of you have written. Many of them center and focus on this struggle, this agony of the faithful in the midst of this crisis. And so it is an opportunity for us to address those and to encourage people in the right direction.

One inquirer wrote to me: This would have been my first Pascha at an Orthodox Church. I was deeply, deeply saddened by the closing of the Churches. I am just an inquirer, but to me, fearfully running from this does not seem like the mark of those who trust in Christ.

The Church once did battle with heathens, and now we close the Churches at the demand of governments who differ little from those heathens. Is the Greek Church having its lampstand removed?

And so, you could see here the agony of this inquirer. He is still not even probably a catechumen, he is still struggling on the path of entering into the embrace of the Mother, which is the Church, and of our Lord. But he is a soul for which Christ has reposed, has died. And he has this dilemma.

Before I talk about his question, his comments, I will read to you from another inquirer who wrote and had a very different response. It was in response to the last podcast that we did, and the preaching of Fr. Vasilios Boloudakis in Athens.

And the inquirer says: That preaching in Athens, out of righteous anger moved me even nearer to my wish to convert to Holy Orthodoxy soon. As a protestant I cannot stay on our Godless, sinking, rusty ship any longer. I want to board the holy ark. Please pray for me.

So we have, in every scandal, there are those who are the source of the scandal, those who are provoking it by their actions or words, which may or may not be accurate. We may see something and it actually not be the reality. So we always have to not trust ourselves. The first step is to not immediately trust ourselves. And to wait and see and interpret things over time.

And seek God’s enlightenment and the discernment to understand everything appropriately, because many times we are not there to understand them. We don’t have the experience; we don’t have the knowledge.

So it is always wise to be as humble as possible and to try to focus on the principles, and the mindset of the Church and interpret them always through that, which is a process that takes time for one to acquire.

But in every scandal, there are those who are scandalizing and those are who are scandalized, right. So it is two-part. And you see two different answers to this scandal of the Church closings today. On the one hand, there is legitimacy to this person who says, what’s going on here, I was expecting the ancient Church’s response. This bold witness before the heathen and the governments, and all the rest. Obviously there is some legitimacy to what he is saying, absolutely.

But the other inquirer says, the response of this priest in Athens to the closing of the Churches, inspires me to become Orthodox. So he did not identify the Church with either the hierarchy, or one particular person, but rightly sees the faith of the priest and the confessors, and really what we need to look at is the saints. What do the saints do in every age? What do the saints say?

We have many in the 20th, the 21st century that we can run to. They are the voice of the Church. They are the voice of Christ on earth. They are the ones who we all submit to, whether we are hierarchs or priests, or monks, or laypeople. We submit to the lives and the witness of Christ in the saints in every age.

And they are the voice of the Church. What are they saying? And so here he is moved by this confession of faith by this priest, and others may not have been as inspired, or may not identify with this righteous anger. It inspired him. And I think what he is looking for, is in this day and age when there are so few voices of boldness and confession, whether it be in the midst of this crisis, or whether it be with regards to the matters of faith, he is looking at this and just rejoicing.

And so it is in our hands, to a certain degree, how we respond to whatever response we are seeing on the part of the hierarchy. And a good thought (… as we say in Greek), is really important.

But there is absolute legitimacy, the Church as a whole, in front of this crisis and to the people who are outside of the Church, we are missing an opportunity. Absolutely, we are missing an opportunity to show the faith of the Orthodox to the world.

How many would have been inspired to look into Orthodoxy if we had not, if we had absolutely refused to close our Churches? And done it in such a way, of course with great discernment, to take the measures as they did in Georgia, keep the Churches open but do what is necessary, listen to the state and do what is necessary.

It is possible for us to do this and it was a missed opportunity.

Let me go onto another letter from another inquirer. I have chosen those because I think that they are very instructive and there are many people who are watching who are interested in the Orthodox Church or who are catechumens. I have got a number of letters from Catechumens.

She writes, I had joined a protestant Church about three years ago, and I became more and more dissatisfied with it as I desired, and do desire, to know God and live according to Christ’s commandments.

About three months ago God brought me to the Orthodox Church. I found a particular Church (I am not going to name it) about an hour’s drive away from me. I began catechism about six weeks ago. I have also done a lot of reading and watching Orthodox videos on YouTube.

And I am in correspondence with a layperson who runs a mission in another country. Let me just say, before we go on, it is wonderful people are getting catechized in places like this on YouTube, but none of this should be interpreted as a replacement of the parish, and of a spiritual father, and of a local church. We all have to be a part of the body of Christ in time and space.

We cannot be alone. This is another reason why this crisis is really touching on some of the fundamental aspects of our life in Christ and our theology. We are saved in community. We are saved in a church, in a time and place. And we have to commune of the mysteries in that particular place.

This is the scandal of the particular, of the incarnation, that salvation will come through partaking, eating My body, drinking My blood, He says, or you have no life in you. And that is why it is so important that this person, and every person becomes a part of a community and submits themselves to Christ in the person of the priest or bishop in every locality.

Continuing the letter, as the world and the church has been experiencing this current crisis with Covid, I have become very disheartened with the choices that my priest and the church have been making regarding discontinuing services. Even more thandiscontinued services, what bothers me most is that it appears to me that the church and my priest have chosen to take the stance of the world, the television, the modern popular pseudo-science, above God’s word and the word of the Church.

I feel very conflicted. I finally found God’s true Church after seeking my entire life, and I finally see that there is a way to know Christ. But it seems also that the world has overtaken the Church, God forbid. I do not trust my priest or the Church. I do not wish to align myself with the world.

I am afraid that I will not have an opportunity to be baptized and chrismated and at this point, I am not sure that I should join myself to the Church. If that means joining myself to a false Church, or under false authorities.

Well, this is heart-wrenching and difficult to read. Encouraging on the one hand, because they have understood, this person has understood they found the Church. They found Christ. It is the same thing, the Church and Christ are one.

That here, and only here, they are going to live according to Christ’s commandments and know God, and be united to God. And this conviction must override all the other doubts.

And again I want to point out to this person, and to all of us, that in spite of the sinful limitations of all of us, of every priest and bishop, the Church is Christ. And in Christ, in the Church we are saved, and it is the ark of salvation, as this person and the previous person mentioned. So they have to overcome their doubts about the weaknesses of the people. And embrace Christ.

Now, does that mean they have to shut their eyes to bad decision making, to perhaps naivete, or even a certain lack of courage on the part of priests or bishops? Absolutely not. When the Lord says, do not judge, it does not mean do not see and judge righteously. He says that as well.

Do not judge the internal state of your brother. That is God. God alone knows the heart. God alone knows the internal place everyone. And so that judgement is God’s alone. But judgement of actions is absolutely given to us.

Here, this person is still very new to the faith, six weeks in. And they need to work on not having too much self trust, at the same time seek out and continue to pray fervently for a spiritual father, for a home, a spiritual home. There are other places. In particular, this person was writing from a place that there are other churches.

And I would suggest that with love and discernment, without any kind of accusation, the person find a spiritual home, if this particular parish is not, if they have lost trust in feeling that they can submit themselves to particular people. There are otherparishes nearby and they can go and with a blessing go from one parish to another and become a part of that community.

But we should not allow this crisis, or the actions of particular people during this crisis, for us to be taken away from Christ. That would be a victory of the enemy. That would be the tragedy for each soul that did that. We have to have the discernment, make that distinction. That it is a Divine-human organism.

But many of the human people in this organism are not purified, are not enlightened, do not have discernment and so there are going to be mistakes made. There are going to be judgements that are not according to God. That does not mean, therefore, we do not unite ourselves to Christ, and we allow that scandal to take us away from Christ. That would be a tragedy.

But, I would say the following as well. These voices, which are many, should be a wake-up call to all clergy, and to bishops.

Do we realize that we are scandalizing the little ones? By the Church closures? But not just by the Church closures, the zeal by which we are running behind the state and the state’s eminitions?

We just came out of 70 years of persecution by the state. I would think the general consciousness of the Orthodox Church would be much more sensitive to the role of the state than it is at this point, and not immediately trust, but think. We have our own rules and principles, and we follow our own set of principles on these kinds of questions.

Bishops and all of us among the clergy need to take heed that we are scandalizing people, and we need to reverse course. Already in Greece there are many bishops, right after Pascha, who have written letters and made statements that they want to see the Churches opened immediately. Thank God for that. Thank God for that.

We all need to remember though, and know, that the Lord has overcome the world, that the Church is Christ. The Church does not identify with any one part of the body, either the hierarchs, or the laity, or the monks. Christ is the head, and we are His body.

If we lose faith in the Church, we will fall away from Christ. And this is the great temptation that is coming upon the world. We must not fall into this trap. We need to pay attention. The temptation of the latter days is to lose faith in the Divine humanity of Christ. And this can and will happen on the ecclesiastical plane.

In other words, when we lose faith in the Church as the Divine-human body of Christ, we have fallen away from Christ. These are one in the same thing. The Church is known in her saints in every age. We have many today. We trust Christ in them.

If you lived in, if the person asking these questions, or the persons who are scandalized, if we lived in days of trial and apostacy, we would have faced similar trials, either whether it be in the ancient Church, or the Turkish period, or the communist persecution.

But remember the fourth century, it was called the Golden Age of the Church. Well, in that time there were more heretics by far than there were Holy Orthodox hierarchs. They were the small minority. In fact there was a time in Constantinople, right before the second ecumenical council that St. Gregory the Theologian came from the countryside and came and had essentially a house church, and that was the only Orthodox Church left in the imperial capital. They were all Arians. And yet, very quickly that was all overturned, and the emperor who was Orthodox came and the second ecumenical council took place.

So we have to remember that even in the Golden Age of the Church, the Church was persecuted. The saints were few. If we just read St. Basil the Great’s letters, and the saints of those days, you will put everything into context.

There is much more that I wanted to share with you. I have run out of time for this episode. We will pick it up in the next episode, and we will continue to look at the letters that I have received and we will try to answer your questions. Until then, God be with you. Christ is risen.

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