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VITAL ORGAN TRANSPLANT

 

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Transcript of an excerpt of a catechism speech on John, chapter 10, verses 17-18, given as part of a series of analyses of the Gospel according to St. John by protopresbyter Konstantinos Stratigopoulos. The speech was recorded in the Church of the Dormition of Theotokos in Glyfada (“Dikigorika” area) on Thursday, 28-02-2002

 

”Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again” (John 10, 17). “For this reason the Father loves me”, He says, “because I lay down my life, my soul, so that I may take it back again”.

Let us have a closer look at Jesus᾿ words here. He is basically saying what He said earlier, “I lay down my life” (John 10, 15), only this time in a more comprehensive way. By “more comprehensive” I mean that now He is not only saying “I lay down my life”, but adds “so that I may take it again”. This suggests something that requires extreme authority. No one can utter the whole phrase “I will lay my life and soul here, in other words, I will sacrifice myself” without including the second element. So, you have laid down your life. What next?

Christ, however, being the supreme authority, can say “so that I may take it again”. I lay it down and I reclaim it. Where does He lay His life? This question requires a theological approach. “I lay down” He says. “Where and for whom?”, we may ask. The answer is: For the people. As for the “where?” This is where we enter purely theological grounds, the theology of the Resurrection, our Orthodox theology concerning the descent to Hades.

As the troparion hymn says: “With Your body, [O Christ,] You were in the tomb, with Your soul in Hell as God...”. There is a certain theological context, then. It is the descent to Hades, which Christ enters with His soul, for His body is in the grave. He descends victorious, He dominates Hades and lifts souls upwards.

To put it plainly, whereas the dead can no longer exert any power over things, Christ᾿s power extends over everything. This is what makes this dead so special. Until then, all the dead, including the righteous ones, were destined to go to Hades and their souls couldn᾿t be lifted from therein. Then Christ comes and takes this step; He descends so that he can rise again lifting all souls with Him.

That᾿s why He says: “I lift it up”. “It is not the mere issue of having me killed. Of course I can be killed, at any time. Yet, I hold sway over things. Even if I am killed and my soul will, as common sense dictates, go to Hades, still, in the divine sense, it will take everyone out of Hades, leaving it an empty place. Here, then, we encounter the essential elements of the theology of Christ᾿s descent to Hades.

On a second level, in terms of ethos, it denotes something very substantial; namely, that, when entering a harsh territory, a Christian cleanses it, provided he is courageous enough and a spiritual person. He cleanses it, though he has to walk a martyr᾿s path.

But, the passage here is very specific. It refers to Christ and to Him alone... Just as Saint John Chrysostom has pointed out, this passage is specifically and solely about the person of Christ and no one should use it for themselves. And that᾿s because no one can “lift one᾿s own soul”. No one can save another person; only Christ saves us through His victory over death. And we are henceforth followers of Christ, united with Him and through this union we also overcome death. But, only in Christ!

First and foremost, this is His feat. We [simply] participate in His life. We transform ourselves into and within Christ. And because He is Hades᾿ conqueror, we, by uniting our lives with the life of the One who defeated Hades, also [manage to] defeat Hades in our turn. But not on a primary level!

It is Jesus who speaks here: “that I might take it again”, He says and He speaks for His own person. Although we participate in Christ᾿s life and essence, this is a personal reference and the words apply to Christ only. I am stressing that fact, because this passage is crucial.

It is also a more advanced reply, particularly the second part, to those who are trying to establish a theology of transplantation based on this excerpt. To use this passage as a means of endorsing transplantations is a heretical practice, because it is not in your power to say that you are offering your organs and “laying your life”. Can you take it back? And what about the Church Fathers, who insist that these words refer solely to Christ?

One may wonder at least why the passage is being used [by supporters of transplantations]. Is it for the display of a fake loving disposition? There are two factors at work in this situation... And certain things need to be clarified. The people ought to be aware. And the only way they can become aware is through the theology of our Church. They needn᾿t look any further. These, after all, are theological texts.

As for the rest, I ask nothing of them, but to practise their science. This is their role. I wish they could engage in theology, as well. However, I do expect us to be thinking in theological terms. The texts before us are unalterable. Neither John the Evangelist᾿s, nor Chrysostom᾿s words can be changed, whether you like it or not, whether you wish it or not! There is no other way! These texts cannot be used at will.

We must, therefore, keep two considerations in mind – two fundamental points – so that we can maintain a clear mind. It is important for Christians to have this plain clarity of thought; to know a couple of things, so that their minds are not confused.

So, please pay attention: At the outset, no one can deny transplantations. If I am really dead and a finger is removed, why should I care? If someone who is alive wishes to give his or her kidney to their sick child, I have no objection. In the first place, we do not resent or protest against the idea, provided that the person whose organs are removed is dead.

This is exactly the point where our reaction is rooted: on the fact that we do not believe the person to be dead. That᾿s the crucial point and that is exactly why the term has been changed. Death has been replaced with “brain death”. And then there is “clinical death”, as well. Two types of “death” exist according to these people! [Why?] So that in the [supposed] interim between the two, they can engage in "harvesting" [in other words, remove a person᾿s organs by using the technically constructed “brain death”].

In fact, we are not against transplantation per se. St Cosmas and St Damian, the Unmercenary saints, performed a transplantation, after all. They replaced a patient᾿s leg with that of a black man who was 4 days dead. Let us not worry, then, that we will be limbless in Heaven [in case they remove our limbs while we are here]. This is not our theology!

So, you see, our first argument is that we are not negative towards transplantation. But, at the same time, we do not want to see people killed so that their organs can be removed. This is the first, basic thing you should keep in mind. Our primary, fundamental and essential consideration.

In their attempt to convince Christians to donate their organs, [advocates of transplantation] ought to refrain from using the passage we have just read. Yet, they do use it and that is their mistake. Theologians, however, have no right to mislead the faithful along these lines. I mention theologians and not the Church, because the Church has not reached an official decision yet, although certain propositions, put forward by theologians, make use of this passage in a most despicably heretical sense.

If they do not know what the Church Fathers have written, they had better hold their peace. Let them talk about celestial topics, about angels, archangels, Seraphim, Cherubim – a much better option for all concerned – but let them stop their unseasonable and inappropriate anthropology. One cannot approach these issues frivolously and play games with people᾿s lives.

So, there are no ambiguities here; the text is very specific and it refers to Christ only. Those who use it cannot say along with Jesus: “I lay down my life for the sheep”, and imply that they can do the same. [Who are you to make this statement?] Are you the Saviour?

If science can find a way to preserve my organs after I᾿m dead so that they can take them [posthumously], I would have no objection. But this is not yet possible today. The organ has to be alive. There is no point in removing it after you are dead, [because by that time the organ is useless]. Therefore, it can only be taken by killing you.

The issue in question is not whether “the person will be dead anyway within three seconds”, as they say. To me, these three seconds are a century. In the eyes of Christ they are eternity. We cannot allow the people to be led astray by pseudo-theology.

What is this phenomenon, then? I call it a “fallacy of false love”. This is how I see it. It is a misbelief manifesting itself in a display of false affection. Such fallacies of false love used to exist in other contexts, both in the old times and in the last century, especially in the Roman Catholic “Church”... But this terminology is resurfacing under a new prism. It is the fallacy of false love and under its spell the people are convinced, their heartstrings are pulled and they say: “There, you see, Jesus did it as well”. What did Jesus do? He descended to Hades victoriously and saved us. And Christ᾿s “I lay down my life” does not mean: “Take my organs to save yourselves”!

I wish science could find a way to remove organs after death. Personally, I have no objection to that. But, not the way it is currently done. Not by misleading the people and initiating a process that results in the actual death of a person who is still alive. It is our duty to give the theological perspective of this situation.

The State has to assume its own responsibilities. We, on the other hand, cannot become the state᾿s cornerstone, the support it seeks in order to achieve its purposes. The fact is that the State is under extreme pressure right now and it desperately needs the Church᾿s help on this matter. Greece has the lowest donor rate in Europe. So, if the Church makes a statement in favour of transplantation, the flood gates will open...

The Church, however, shouldn᾿t make any statement. It mustn᾿t play their game, for theological reasons; because we, in the Orthodox Church, have genuine theology, not a misplaced anthropology. Furthermore, there is an essential and conclusive element: this part of the Gospel that begins with the phrase “I lift my soul...” etc – an act that only Jesus performs – is inherently unique. The uniqueness and the beauty of this passage are irreplaceable and should not be treated lightly.

As for the newly acquired “love” that they propose, it is a poor substitute, indeed! Neither is it right to say: “After all, the martyrs themselves offered to shed their blood...”. What, then, is it the same thing? I heard a Doctor of Theology the other day, putting forward this argument. But is it really the same thing?

The final argument is that Christ does what He does willingly. Is the person, whom they consider dead, willing to do what they want? Has he said “this is my wish”? [No.] He hasn᾿t given his voluntary consent. He hasn᾿t said: “Yes, kill me so that you can remove my organs”.

Is this an open issue? No. [The case is closed.] I believe this is a topic that is no longer open to debate. Why is it no longer debatable? For one reason: Because there is no point any more in having a dispute on two levels, that of science and that of theology. Science is following its own path. Its knowledge only goes so far. Science knows that the body is dying. Can it detect the moment at which the soul departs? It simply observes that a person is still alive but will soon be dead and thus his/her organs are removed. Does theology know when the soul leaves the body? No. Theology doesn᾿t know either! Even our hymns speak about the “mystery of death”.

Well, it most certainly is a mystery. That is the whole issue. The exact time when body and soul part from each other is a mystery. Who can enter the mystery? Science? Impossible. Theology? Impossible. Therefore, theology is peripheral and so is everything I᾿m telling you on the topic, in an effort to prevent a crime. At the same time, science is powerless when it comes to determining the moment of the soul᾿s separation from the body.

Since this is a mystery, then, there is nothing further to be said about [brain] death. Anyone who speaks about it is virtually trying to explore a mystery. But, “we cannot fathom this mystery”.

This is what Barlaam attempted to do and met with resistance by St Gregory Palamas. Barlaam tried to explore the mystery of knowing the essence of God. Could it be possible? It was on this question that the two cultures – that of intellectualism and that of contemplating the mystery of God – clashed seven centuries ago. We cannot go back to neo-barlaamic theories and try to explore the mystery. Whatever they say, whatever they discover, however they may define it, death itself and the time when the soul leaves the body will remain a mystery.

This is why we should wait until the body is truly dead. Let us determine death the way traditional medicine, practised by good old doctors, used to determine it, so as to be sure. We do not know the exact time of a person᾿s death. For this reason, there should be no untimely interference. “We cannot fathom this mystery”, after all.

Who could have the answer to it? Who could say anything at all? [No one.] Who could enlighten us on this mystery?... Therefore I stress most emphatically that there should be no further discussion on this matter. Please stop engaging in theological debates of this kind, especially where medical science is used as a “crutch”. This won᾿t do! It is a mystery that we are talking about! And beyond that, lies the mystery of man᾿s salvation through and within Christ. You can now see how contemporary the text of the Gospel is. You can understand what Christ is saying and in what perspective! What He has in mind when He makes that statement! He, and He alone, speaks with knowledge of tomorrow and of the day after.

Thus, after the opening statement, he adds: “That I might take it again”. Further on, the text says: “No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father” (John 10, 18).

“No one can take my soul”, He says, “even if they kill me. I am the one who is laying it down and I, myself, have the authority to sacrifice it and the authority to redeem it, for this is what my Father has said to me”. You see the uniqueness of His power? Only He [can carry this out]. “I have received this power” – He says – “from my Father”.

Isn᾿t this a singular text? How can anyone use it in any other context? How can any of us say that “I have authority to give away my soul”? Do we have such authority, which would imply that we become saviours of other people?

We are saved through and within Christ. And, by loving others, we open the way that leads them to Christ. The entire world, what you do and what I do, every single one of us, in our own way and through our place and mission within the Church, help one another in our journey of salvation.

You see, Eve was “a helper to him [Adam]”; in other words, she was an aide in Adam᾿s salvation. This remains a unique quality. What is a priest, a confessor, a bishop, after all, if not a presence that helps and paves the way to salvation? Yet, there is only one Saviour: Our Christ.

No one can assume this power and say: “I will save you”. There is an immense egotism hiding behind these words... We are [not saviours, but, rather,] potential partners in other people᾿s salvation. We minister the salvation of others... This is the main, the primary endeavour to be undertaken by every person, wherever they may be.

When Christ heals, He heals both soul and body. Genuine love cannot be one-sided, treating human beings partially [i.e., seeking to cure the body while it ignores the soul]. As long as we have this one-sided approach to love, we will either continue to cover it up with the tragedy of our existence, or keep tearing ourselves to pieces. And Christ allows us to be torn so that we may realize our failure. Love cannot be one-sided...

Even the whole discussion about love can, in many cases, be demonic, if it conceals the truth about life. As in “love, be loved and ignore everything else”. This is what some would propose, and in the name of false love create discord among the people...

I know that death is a mystery. And, since I – as well as you – will go through this mystery of death, I am thinking ahead, trying to live within the mystery of Christ᾿s presence, so as to experience death as a Christ-related mystery, not as a mystery of doom. I now have an experiential approach to this mystery.

Indeed, this is where this whole pursuit of subjects like brain death, etc, leads us, and it is as far as we can go. We have nothing more to say. Science, for all its numerous observations, cannot penetrate the mystery. It will always tell us how the body functions, but can it see the soul? Does it have the instruments to detect it?

...The soul, according to the Church Fathers, is diffused in the whole body. Even if the brain has stopped functioning, isn᾿t the soul located in the other parts of the body? We cannot ignore this fact.

St Nicodemus says that it gathers in the body᾿s inner particles. It concentrates inside, even if there is no soul in the brain and no motion in the body. Is the person dead? No. This is the Church᾿s dogmatic teaching: that the soul is diffused everywhere; in the entire body. When does it ultimately and definitely depart? This is something we don᾿t know. But, as long as it still exists [in the body] we cannot touch the person.

I heard a professor the other day, foolishly using the frog experiment – a well-known experiment performed by all first-year students of medicine – in order to analyse human beings [and offer a solution to the issue of brain death]. But, all this is nonsense.

They take a frog, cut off its head and observe that it still moves... So they say: “look, I severed the head, it has no brain, but it moves”. In other words, this is just muscle tone. But they forget that the frog has no soul bearing the image of God.

Now, this was actually mentioned by the professor in support of transplantation! And he used the frog experiment as a proof, which he laid before clerics and theologians! These claims are far from serious.

...Allow me to ask, how do you know exactly when a person dies? All you can see is the brain. All you can say is that “the brain is dead”. At the same time you yourself admit that “the heart is still alive” and therefore, you say, “I can take it”. So, the heart is alive and beating; and while I am talking to you about the “mystery of death” and the fact that the soul still lingers in the body, you respond with the “mystery of the frog”! Well, we cannot have a discussion on these terms. We are clearly talking about different things...

If, following a traffic accident, a person ends up brain dead and is pronounced “brain dead” but not clinically dead, I cannot remove his or her organs. Even with the prospect of imminent death within five seconds, I still find it impossible to remove them. It᾿s beyond me.

The other day, father Konstantinos, who is serving in the Asklepieion Hospital [at Voula], gave us a very good example, which also emphasized his personal sense of responsibility in the particular event. The story was mentioned in public.

A long time ago, before this entire dispute over transplantations had begun and while father Konstantinos was the hospital vicar, a father came to him and said: “My child is brain-dead and the doctors are asking me to sign the papers so that they can remove his organs. What should I do, Father?” The answer was: “Give them the organs”. You see, father Konstantinos didn᾿t know any better at the time.

On his way to sign the papers, the man passed by the little hospital church, dedicated to St Panteleimon. He turned to the saint: “I am troubled, Saint Panteleimon. Please tell me : what should I do?” Then he thought: “Let me wait till tomorrow morning; then I᾿ll sign”. Next morning his child recovered! Father Konstantinos then addressed the question to us: “What would be the burden of my responsibility if things had turned out otherwise?”

Consider how many parents have signed authorizations without knowing what they were doing. We are not blaming people here... we are not judging them. We are engaging in theology, the theology of death, in order to prevent the operation of a crooked system that ruthlessly exploits our fellow human beings. I am not in a position to judge anyone. That is not in my competence. Nor is there an issue of salvation for the people who have given their organs. This is absurd. Let us address the essence of the issue at hand...

...[Supporters of transplantations] are deliberately talking about two deaths... They will never solve the mystery of the soul᾿s departure from the body in medical terms. On the surface, they have found a way around it. They invented the term “brain death” and “solved” the problem. But, in reality, [in truth], they never will. The proof is in the fact that dozens of scientists are protesting worldwide. Doesn᾿t that mean anything?... Yet, when we mentioned that so many scientists are protesting, the answer was: “Those who protest do so on philosophical, rather than medical, grounds. They are philosophers – ignore them”!

Such replies are sophisms. We cannot, by employing sophistry, discredit all doctors who disagree with transplantations and call them “philosophers” because they take a different standpoint. They claim that the Church Fathers do not have sufficient evidence. “If they lived today”, they say, “they would have spoken differently”. Thus, we toss aside the Fathers, as well, and all we are left with is our own opinion! The spirit of the Vatican in its most extreme manifestation. In this land, however, we cannot allow the operation of this Vaticanian spirit [by those who embody it]. Even if nothing else exists, there is the mystery of death that will haunt them to the grave...

 


 

(Source: The transcription was made by the Athonite monk Damaskinos Karakallinos and was first published in the magazine “Theodromia”, 2nd issue, April-June 2003)

(Digitalization: www.floga.gr)

 


 

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