Saturday, November 29, 2014

Spot-light on Organ Donation

                                            (From the weekly series "Dots on Letters")

   Believers have varied opinions with respect to organ donation. Perspectives differ and the subject is controversial. Every one tries to support his view through the Holy Scriptures. Some are enthusiastic about it, others are positive, others have reservations, whilst others totally reject the principle. Diversity of opinions, for the time being, may be enriching, though we cannot foresee an end to the debate in the near future as the issue is ambiguous.

   Whilst the pretext of humanitarian benefaction prevails in the opinions which support organ donation and transplants, a materialistic view to human organs dominates, totally disregarding the spiritual reality of the body. In our Orthodox faith, the human being is a soul in a body. These two - body and soul - are united in every human cell. Even after death, we cannot find one organ lacking some sort of a memory wherein lies the identity of the person and the imprint of the soul. Scientists are currently researching diligently the topic of this type of memory. Some are already speaking about some sort of a “cellular memory” prevailing in the whole of the human organism. Therefore, the point of ambiguity in the subject is that organ donation and transplants are not related to the Christian view of human existence, but to another view which is rather secular. The humanitarian concept is common to both views. But whilst secular humanism exists per se, Christian humanism exists in God. The aim of the first is man - man as an entity in himself - whilst that of the latter is God - man in relation to his Creator God. In our quest for God, the matter is one of sanctification, deification, of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God. In our Orthodox faith, the human being- his body, every one of his organs, each cell- is entirely a vessel for the Holy Spirit.

   You may die for people out of love as our Lord Jesus Christ did; you may sacrifice all that you have but you cannot share your body parts with others. The body is consecrated to God; He created it to be His temple. It is, precisely, this attitude which comprises our Christian humanism. Organ donation and transplants in the current secular human scientific state, in which we live nowadays, is neutral as to this reality of the human being. The spiritual aim of human existence does not concern it at all. Its principle concern is to use organs as spare parts, even if it uses the humanitarian benevolent argument by deceit. Hence the difficulty or even impossibility of reaching a deep mutual understanding between these two conflicting views.

   On the other hand, the persistent nature of the matter, humanly speaking, puts us face to face with a critical situation to which we cannot but have a practical solution, though we may lack a clear theological outlook. You, as a believer cannot but take a position towards those who are suffering, and you may one day, be one of them. At the same time you find yourself in need of a standpoint that would keep you faithful to your Lord and God, in the context of His salvific providence for you. This cannot come solely from a general viewpoint, dogmatically justified by your Church, proclaimed by a bishop, or even a Holy Synod. In spite of everything, the question is still debatable and your conscience is on trial. The case is no longer theoretical but existential. The answer can only be found through your deep personal relationship with God; by seeking our Lord Jesus Christ’s help in a heart-felt prayer and by turning to a spiritual father for advice. The answer cannot be found in books. There are many such critical situations which test the conscience of a believer during his life. They have to be faced through the help of the Holy Spirit- the living book for every time and need.

    Here are some examples:

   Some Saints when faced with a personal critical situation, adopted a particular stance inspired by God which did not follow a general rule.

   Suicide, for example, is rejected by the Orthodox Church. However, in certain cases holy fathers considered it a blessed action. Saint Pelagia the Virgin, commemorated on 8 October, committed suicide in order to preserve her virginity from the soldiers who came to arrest her because she was a Christian. St John Chrysostom commented: “Her death was not the result of a natural accident but by the will of God.”

   The Russian Saint Sergius of Radonej, commemorated on 25 September, gave his blessing to the Duke Dimitri Ivanovitch when he wished to fight the Tatar tribes. He told him: “You will be victorious by God’s help and return safely and in honor.” By God’s help! Was it a holy call to legitimize war? I don’t think so! That was a special case which did not follow a rule.

   Saint Nestor the Martyr, commemorated on 27 October, took the blessing of Saint Dimitrius and confronted Lyaeus in the stadium and killed him. Did the act of killing become acceptable or blessed in the Church for any reason? Of course not!

   The issue of organ donation and transplants is one of these personal critical situations- dogmatically unacceptable in themselves but sometimes imposed by special circumstances. The believer can only deal with such cases after setting his conscience in front of our Lord Jesus Christ in prayer and fasting. Thus he can make a decision once his heart is set at peace through the grace of the Holy Spirit and with the advice of his spiritual father which he gives after prayer and fasting. We say this totally aware that if we are not careful enough we would find ourselves sharing a false view to human existence and supporting a secular view based on man’s self love. Let us be realistic and admit that the issue of organ donation and transplants is more complicated than to be restricted to its humanitarian pretext. The current materialistic attitude to human organs hides a web of immeasurable corruption involving international underworld markets, mafias and the exploitation of poor peoples. The human body instead of being treated as a vessel for God is reduced to being a set of spare parts, often for base business.

   Thus if someone asks me if it is ecclesiastically appropriate for him to participate in an organ donation campaign, I will have reservations! But if someone comes to me and he or his brother is in need of a kidney, I will say: “Let us pray and ask our Lord Jesus Christ to inspire us for the best solution.” Once our prayer has been answered through the Holy Spirit, we should accept the decision with conviction and contentment because only God has the answers to human problems of individuals or peoples in times of crisis.

   Therefore, in conclusion, organ donation and transplants in our opinion, is fundamentally an ambiguous issue and a principle subject to personal conscience, so we advise believers having taken into account all related aspects, to define their stance through prayer, fasting and the help of a spiritual father.

Fr. Archimandrite Thomas Bitar
Abbot of St. Silouan the Athonite Monastery
Douma, El Batroun, Lebanon.

(Translated from Arabic
at the Holy Trinity Family in Douma- Lebanon.)