GREEK ORThODOX METROPOLIS OF DENVER
April 5, 2005
The Reverend Clergy,
Beloved in the Lord,
The Orthodox Church is steadfast in Her defense of the sanctity of life. She insists that each human person be allowed to develop and grow in relationship with Christ to achieve the goal which God has set for us: the union with Him which is theosis. We therefore encourage the medical profession to provide treatments and search for cures for diseases and conditions that restrict our ability to relate to God and to one another.
We recognize, however, the goal is not life in itself but salvation through union with God. We know that each human life will inevitably end with the death of the body in this life and its separation from the eternal soul. Science and technology can only hope to limit the pain and suffering of that life and at best provide a fill life span.
Medicine, science, and technology cannot, however, prevail against death, and people may die sooner than they should either through accident, disease, self-abuse, or some other cause. When the process of dying has begun, and there may be no hope for recovery, care givers must be humble enough to recognize they are powerless to stop it and allow the person to die.
The recent case of the woman in a Florida nursing home was truly sorrowful and most tragic. My heart goes out to all the members of her family.
In the Orthodox Church there is a prayer that is read by the clergy over a person when there is protracted suffering, such as being comatose, asking God to take that person's soul. The prayer is called the Psychoragounta prayer. This means, obviously, that it is God Who decides to separate the soul from the body, not man.
In view of her fifteen years of suffering with no improvement in her condition, the decision to end her nourishment by removing the feeding tube appears to have been logical and pragmatic. Even so, the fact that she could breathe on her own, blink her eyes, and make sounds, begs the question regarding her soul. Was it communicating with God, since it could not transmit its thoughts to the body? We will never know.
One thing is certain, and that is that God created us with two natures, but as one person, as psychosomatic intellectual beings. Therefore, it can be argued that if the body continues to have life, then the soul has not departed. On the other hand, to say that the soul has departed from the body which appears to be alive goes contrary to how God created us.
It would appear to be correct to say that since the soul of that woman could not communicate with the body, then its desire was to leave the body and return to its Source of existence. For we know that souls can communicate on their own once they are separated from their bodies (Luke 16:19-31,2 Peter 1:12-l5).
On the basis of these thoughts, and with reference to the word of God, we can believe that the woman who was suffering for fifteen years wanted to be released regarding her immortal soul and to join the souls of all believers who depart from this temporary existence. As a Christian believer she would have known that without death there is no resurrection.
With Paternal Blessings,
Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver