The 2nd International Conference of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for Pastoral Health Care
The 2nd International Conference of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for Pastoral Health Care was held in Rhodes, Greece, between the 12th and 16th of October 2011. The conference is was organized, with the blessings of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, by the Network of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for Pastoral Health Care. Presiding over the Conference was Metropolitan Kyrillos of Rhodes. All the participants were graciously hosted at the Rodos Palace Hotel.
Attending the conference were representatives from all the metropolises that belong spiritually and administratively to the Patriarchate throughout the world, representatives from the metropolises of the Church of Greece and of the Autocephalous Orthodox Churches Finland and Estonia. Representing the Archbishop of Athens was Rev. Dr. Adamantios Avgoustidis. Represented were the Patriarchates of Alexandria, Antioch, Jerusalem, Russia, Serbia and Bulgaria, together with the Churches of Albania and Poland. Also attending the Conference were representatives from the Schools of Theology of the Universities of Athens and Thessalonica, the School of Holy Cross in Brookline, Mass, including other theological schools and ecclesiastical academies. Many that are involved in the medical care (doctors, nurses, social workers, psychotherapists, etc.) for the sick and the dying participated as well.
The theme of the Conference was “Caring before the Gates of Death”. The presentations and workshops focused on death from a medical, theological, philosophical, psychological and pastoral perspective. Special emphasis was given on palliative care and the medical, psychological and spiritual care which is offered to those that suffer incurable diseases and who are in the last stage of their life.
It is indeed a fact that the care which is offered to those that are before the “gate of death” is becoming even more complex and difficult. Because of this, there are many theoretical issues that were explored, questions that must be answered and many practical steps that must be taken so as to offer the care that every person deserves and to assure the sacredness his/her being in the final hours of earthly existence.
Issues discussed were:
1) The meaning of suffering and death on a theological, psychological and social level
2) The complexities of care and the need to establish a better network of support and care in facing the loneliness and the patient and his/her family
3) The responsibility that the ecclesiastical community has in ministering to the dying and their family and how it can work with other health care providers who specialize in this care.
4) The difficulties the care givers have in dealing with death
5) The liturgical parameters regarding caring for the dying and the eschatological dimensions of these parameters as they are related to an Orthodox Christian way of life.
6) The need for better education in regards to dealing with the death issues
The 2nd Conference of the Ecumenical Patriarchate was a bold effort in discussing a topic that is very often avoided. What distinguished the discussions were the openness and honesty of the participants, bringing to surface all the difficulties concerning our passage from this life to the life after.
At the conclusion of the Conference, all the participants expressed the hope that a 3rd Conference will take place in Rhodes in 2014.
Rev. Dr. Stavros Kofinas
Coordinator of the Network of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for Pastoral Health Care