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Image retrieved from http://stpaisiusmonastery.org/

Dn. Michael Hyatt interviews his wife Gail about her trip to St. Paisius Serbian Orthodox Monastery in Safford, Arizona (in 2011): You can hear the interview here.

Divna - Divine Light - 1500x1500The well-known Serbian chantor Divna Ljubojevic has a new CD out, “In Search for Divine Light”. When I was offered a copy in exchange for a review I quickly said yes as I have, like many of you no doubt, been moved by Divna’s beautiful voice on many occasions. In this CD Divna is joined by her ensemble, the Melodists; the recorded it at the Vavedenje Monastery in Belgrade. Her hauntingly beautiful voice gently invokes a peaceful, grace-filled environment. Similar to her other pieces of work, this CD brings liturgical hymns to life in a new way but does not detract from traditional Orthodox music to the point where you don’t recognize it.

Although one or two of the tracks are a little “too choral” for my liking, for instance in Track 8, Come Let us Bless Joseph of Everlasting Memory, I found the accompanying choir a tad overpowering. But, for the most part, the Melodists add to the beauty of the hymns, they do not detract from them. I would recommend this CD to anyone who enjoys Divna’s incredible voice, and the melodies of hymns that speak to the soul despite the language sounding foreign to some ears.

You can purchase the CD on Valley Entertainment’s website here.

Below is a video featuring the track “Blessed is the Man”.

Below is an excerpt from Part 2 of a three-part article “A Search for Wholeness: An Orthodox Response to Organ Donation and Retrieval” written by Matushka Linda Korz, M.D. and published in Orthodox Canada: A Journal of Orthodox Christianity.  You can read all three parts of the article here, here and here. I highly recommend reading it, whether you are considering organ donation or working in an environment in which you must play some part in organ retrieval, Matushka’s article is very enlightening.

WHEN DOES DEATH OCCUR?

Some will argue that the greatest gift one can offer is to give ones life for another. Surely the Church teaches that, doesn’t it? The Lord Himself tells us, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.“(John 15:13) But does this apply to the state of organ retrieval at the present time? Does the harvesting of organs from one individual at the point of death as it currently occurs in North American hospitals, constitute a sacrifice to save life, or a sin that takes a life?

Currently, in Canada and the United States of America there are two legal definitions of death: the traditional definition of death, irreversible cessation of circulatory and respiratory functions (cardiac death) or cessation of the brain whether as a whole or in part (neurological determination of death, NDD or brain death).[9] In 1971, the historic ad hoc committee of the Harvard Medical School presented its report on the definition of Brain Death and described scientific and medical criteria on which to base the diagnosis. This landmark paper opened the door for legislation to sanction the removal and use of organs for transplantation from patients who did not fit the medical criteria for cardiac death, but were found to have severe irreversible brain injuries leading to a state of prolonged coma. These patients were successfully resuscitated and kept alive by advances in circulatory medicine and mechanical ventilation.

It was expedient that a more liberal and utilitarian definition of death be ethically, morally, and, more importantly legally, accepted. “Brain death has proved to be a most important concept for the progress of organ transplantation…. In parts of the world where brain death was given legal standing and became standard practice, vital organ transplantation increased rapidly.”[2] During the process of brain death donations, the duration of oxygen deprivation (known in medical literature as warm ischemic time) and the extent of loss of viable cells in the body are minimized since the heart continues to perfuse and nourish the tissues while mechanical ventilation sustains breathing (recently, the more descriptive term of heart-beating donation is preferred). In North America and most parts of Europe, organ retrieval from NDD individuals is by far the leading source of all organs for transplantation.[18]

Over three decades later, there is still disagreement worldwide regarding the definition of brain death and, unsurprisingly, how to diagnosis it. Henry Beecher, chairman of the historic ad hoc committee of the Harvard Medical School to examine the definition of Brain Death stated:

“At whatever level we choose to call death, it is an arbitrary decision. Death of the heart? The hair still grows. Death of the brain? The heart may still beat. The need is to choose an irreversible state where the brain no longer functions. It is best to choose a level where, although the brain is dead, usefulness of other organs is still present. This, we have tried to make clear in what we have called the new definition of death(…). Here we arbitrarily accept as death, the destruction of one part of the body; but it is the supreme part, the brain…”[9]

How much of the brain? Current tests only look at selective parts of the brain, whether it be brain stem or higher cognitive function, and thus, by definition, these tests can not confirm the death of the whole brain.

In a recent issue of a leading Canadian medical journal the authors concluded: “the current evidence base for existing NDD (neurologic determination of death) guidelines is inadequate … . We recommend that after NDD, the patient be declared dead.”[11] Father John Breck, an Orthodox author on bioethics, clearly outlines the problem in regard to the state of organ donation throughout the world today:

“Using brain-stem criteria to determine death, we are left with the gruesome fact that vital organs can only be harvested from patients who are technically still alive… Human personhood is determined not by medical diagnosis but by divine Providence.”[12]

The acceptance of brain death whether legally or morally is not equal or universal among countries. In India, organ transplants are largely limited to live or cadaveric donations due to religious and cultural rejection of NDD. In Japan, heart transplants were not done until 1997 when government legislation finally permit organ donation after neurologic or brain death. Despite these realities, and despite the growing challenge within the scientific community to acknowledge that biological death cannot be proven with certainty in brain death, information given to families and patients about organ procurement continues to falsely represent brain death as physical death. Furthermore, in some cases, religious and cultural consent to organ retrieval after neurologic death is misrepresented and misleading. John Gillman, pastor and ethicist in California, in his article titled Religious Prospectives on Organ Donation[10] attempts to outline the Christian prospective. The statement that the Greek Orthodox do not oppose organ donation was subsequently reinterpreted by the Trillium Gift of Life Network (an agency created in 2000 by the Government of Ontario, Canada) as the Greek Orthodox Churchs support organ donation. (see www.Giftoflife.on.ca)

For Orthodox Christians, the supreme part of the body is not the brain (which is an Aristotelian notion; c.f. De Anima) but the heart. “The heart is not just a physical organ or centre of his psychic life but something indefinable yet capable of being in contact with God, the Source of all being.”[13] In the Book of the prophet Isaiah, we read, “make the heart of this people fat. Make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn again, and be healed.”(Isaiah 6:10) Later, in another passage, “these people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honour Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Isaiah 29:13) Christ tells us, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21).

The reality that the noetic heart is located within the physical heart has always been the teaching of the Orthodox Church. St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), a champion of the Orthodox understanding of the knowledge of God, writes:

“Since our soul is a single entity possessing many powers, it utilizes as an organ the body that nature lives in conjunction with it. What organs, then, does the power of the soul that we call ‘intellect’ make use of when it is active?… For some locate it in the head, as though in a sort of acropolis; others consider that its vehicle is the centremost part of the heart, that aspect of the heart that intelligence is neither within us as in a container – for it is incorporeal – nor yet outside us, for it is united to us; but it is located in the heart as in its own organ.”[1]

St. Nicodemos the Hagiorite (1749-1808) on instruction for stillness in prayer writes:

“You must free the energy (energeia) of your mind, whose organ is the brain, form all the external things of the world, through the guarding of the senses and of the imagination. Then you must bring the energy into the heart, which is the organ of the essence (ousia) of the mind. This return is customarily brought about in the case of beginners – as the Divine Wakeful Fathers teach – by turning the head down and resting the chin on the chest.”[20]

Secular man, having lost the quietness and gentleness of heart, can not know God. “Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God.”(Matthew 5:8) As a consequence, he finds incredulous the Truth of self knowledge, the essence of the soul is located within the physical heart. Thus, ignorant of the mystery of life, how can he define the mystery of death and more specifically, how can the definition of death be measured by some grotesque notion of cessation of some part of the brain?

It is sad but not surprising that, for the most part, the medical community does not truly understand the nature of death. Acknowledging this limitation, Zameretti et al. advocate the substitution of the word (and thus concept of) death with the term irreversible coma or more precisely, irreversible apnoeic coma, understood not as equivalent to death, but as describing a particular condition in which life support should be legitimately forgone and organs can be retrieved from consenting patients.[9] Even more pathetic is the disregard, at best, and denial at worst that the human person is a creation of body and soul. So long as the medical community is ignorant of the soul of an individual, the medical definition of death will never be complete. Organ retrieval will remain an act of taking life, since it concentrates only on questions of physiology, ignoring the relationship between the soul and the body. Saint Paul cautions, that “those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh.” (Romans 8:5) For Orthodox Christians, death is simply an impermanent separation of body and soul which afflicts mankind until the final judgement.[14] Saint John of Damascus reminds us, that “truly most terrible is the mystery of death, how the soul is violently parted from the body, from the harmony, and most natural bond of kinship is cut off by the divine will.”[8]

[9] Nereo Zamperetti et. al. Irreversible apnoeic coma 35 years later: Towards a more rigorous definition of brain death? Intensive Care Med 2004; 30(9):1715-22.

[10] John Gillman. Death and organ procurement: public beliefs and attitudes. Kennedy Institute Ethics J 2004; 14(3):217-34.

[11] Brain arrest: the neurological determination of death and organ donor management in Canada. CMAJ 2006; 174(6): Supplemental S1-30.

monastic silence

In an Orthodox monastery a visitor may perceive many things: fragrant smells, beautiful sights of flowers, trees and architecture, the sound of church bells chiming or wooden talatons being rhythmically knocked. But sometimes the greatest impression is made by the lack of sound, by silence. Silence in a holy monastery seems to permeate the air.

For some silence is a welcomed escape from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives in which we can’t buy groceries without pop music playing overhead. A great deal of white noise accompanies our every move, our every thought. For others silence may make our unaccustomed ears ring, having experienced it so infrequently.

For me the silence of a monastery was contrasted with the loudness of my voice, my thoughts and my feelings. In the face of the monastery’s silence I began to reflect on how loud I am both externally as well as internally. It was a liberating experience because I was recognizing a character flaw for the first time which had previously gone unnoticed, unchecked and unchallenged. I made a mental and emotional note that from that point on I was going to struggle to be more quiet, more silent. Of course it is one thing to will something and another to carry it out, but knowledge and will are important first steps in our battle with the passions.

In the Desert Fathers we are told that “Abba Theophilus, the archbishop, came to Scetis one day. The brethren who were assembled said to Abba Pambo, ‘Say something to the archbishop, so that he may edified.’ The old man said to them, ‘If he is not edified by my silence, he will not be edified by my speech.’” (The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, p. 81)

Silence, hesychia in Greek, is not only the absence of speech, but a spiritual state of being. This is why the Abba said if the Bishop was not edified by his silence he would not be edified by his speech, because to be edified by his silence is to perceive and understand the higher spiritual state the abba occupied.

Incorporating more silence into our daily lives is not easy, but it is possible. A few things I noticed the sisters do may help shed light on the practical side of acquiring silence: They measure their words, they restrain themselves from speaking too much about superfluous things, they replace idle talk with prayer, they laugh in moderation, avoid gossip, they share spiritually uplifting stories and anecdotes, and they speak in soft voices to maintain the respect due to the grounds of a holy monastery which is dedicated to the glory of God and is an extension of the sacredness of the holy church temple. This creates a peaceful and comforting atmosphere. By imitating the sisters’ virtue and by paying attention to the measure of noise in our own lives (externally and internally) we too can begin to be edified by silence and offer a peaceful haven for others, our family and friends, who are no doubt weary from the noise of the world.

May the Master of All grant us His grace and mercy to not only be edified by silence but edify others by our silence also!

prophets

I was commissioned to paint this icon by a dear Romanian friend of ours from New Brunswick. That is why the names Archangel Michael and St. Archippus are written in Romanian.

I was commissioned to paint this icon by a dear Romanian friend of ours from New Brunswick. That is why the names Archangel Michael and St. Archippus are written in Romanian.

(Source)

The Miracle of the Holy Chief Commander Archangel Michael at Colossae. In Phrygia, not far from the city of Hieropolis, in a place called Cheretopos, there was a church named for the Archangel Michael, built over a miraculous spring.

This church was built by a certain inhabitant of the city of Laodicia in gratitude to God for healing his mute daughter. The holy Chief Commander Michael appeared to this man in a dream and revealed to him that his daughter would receive the gift of speech after drinking from the water of the spring. The girl actually did receive healing and began to speak. After this miracle, the father and his daughter and all their family were baptized. In fervent gratitude, the father built the church in honor of the holy Chief Commander Michael. Not only did Christians begin to come to the spring for healing, but also pagans. In so doing, many of the pagans turned from their idols and were converted to the faith in Christ.

At this church of the holy Chief Commander Michael, a certain pious man by the name of Archippus served for sixty years as church custodian. By his preaching and by the example of his saintly life he brought many pagans to faith in Christ. With the general malice of that time towards Christians, and especially against Archippus, the pagans thought to destroy the church in order to prevent people from coming to that holy place of healing, and at the same time kill Archippus.

Toward this end they made a confluence of the Lykokaperos and Kufos Rivers and directed its combined flow against the church. St Archippus prayed fervently to the Chief Commander Michael to ward off the danger. Through his prayer the Archangel Michael appeared at the temple, and with a blow of his staff, opened a wide fissure in a rock and commanded the rushing torrents of water to flow into it. The temple remained unharmed. Seeing such an awesome miracle, the pagans fled in terror. Archippus and the Christians gathered in church glorified God and gave thanks to the holy Archangel Michael for the help. The place where the rivers plunged into the fissure received the name “Chonae”, which means “plunging.”

The Chudov (“of the Miracle”) monastery in Moscow is named for this Feast.

http://lessonsfromamonastery.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/christ-and-panagia.jpg?w=626&h=254

(Originally posted in 2012)

September 1 is the beginning of the Orthodox ecclesiastical year.

According to Tradition, it was on September 1 that our Lord and Saviour entered the synagogue in his hometown of Nazareth and was given to read a scroll from the prophet Isiah. It was customary at that time for the Jewish male to read in the synagogue once he had reached his thirtieth year. It was not a coincidence that Christ read prophetic words which referred to Him personally. It was the will of God for Him to be revealed in this manner. When He stood to read these were the words He uttered:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, To preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Isiah 61:1-2).

St. Luke’s gospel tells us Christ then “closed the book, and gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him. And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears. And all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth” (Luke 4:20-22).

The Church, in her wisdom, decided the appropriate day to begin the Church year was the very day on which Christ began His ministry, the day He began to “preach the acceptable year of the Lord”.

Interestingly, the ecclesiastical year begins and ends with the Theotokos. On September 8 we celebrate her nativity, just one week into the new Church year. We celebrate her dormition, or falling asleep, on August 15, two weeks before the end of the Church year.

I don’t think we can view this as a coincidence. Our salvation begins with her as she was the long-awaited one; without her Christ would not have been born. So her own nativity is a kind of “beginning of our salvation” (Troparion of the Nativity of Christ). Her falling asleep and being escorted by her Son to Paradise is the appropriate ending. Taking our cue from the Lady Theotokos an appropriate “new year’s resolution” should be to die with Christ so that we can live with Him, to endure so that we too will reign.

“For if we have died with him, we will also live with him; and if we endure we shall also reign with him” (2 Tim. 2:11).

A wonderful video of Elder Paisios giving spiritual counsel. English subtitles are provided.

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