Testimonies and Experiences
They wrote about Elder Porphyrios
Assistant Professor of Cardiology at the University of Athens Doctor to Elder Porphyrios
The response of Professor George K. Papazahos, one of the Elder Porphyrios' attendant physicians, to our request for his testimony about the great Elder was warm and direct.The first edition was already being produced at the printers, so in order to save time, Mr. Papazahos sent the following text to us in Cyprus. He concluded the telephone conversation with these words, "Concerning the radio programs about the Elder in which you want me to participate, I'll come to Cyprus to talk about that holy man whenever you want me to."
We warmly thank Mr. George Papazahos and we cite his text, which was published as a letter in the periodical Synaxis (January-March, 1992, pages 93-97).
I am writing this letter from an inborn obligation to talk about the Elder Porphyrios. I experienced so many events near to him, as one of his doctors, for fourteen years, that I should not hide them from my brothers and sisters. I will relate a few "happenings" that reveal the Elder both as patient and as a doctor. Please forgive the personal elements which, if deleted, change the events. Others certainly experienced touching moments in his presence. These should not be lost because they constitute the traces of his holy life. They are proof of the Holy Spirit's presence in our lives and are a legacy for our whole generation.
The Elder as a sick person
He really was ill, with a host of illnesses. Most of his bodily systems were stricken. I personally confirmed a myocardial infarction (anterior diaphragm with oblique ischaemia), chronic kidney failure, duodenal ulcers (with frequent bleeding), shingles (herpes zoster) on the face, staphylococcus dermatitis on the hand, hiatus hernia (with frequent constriction), chronic bronchitis, and adenoma of the pituitary gland.
He had the patience of Job. When his shingles were at their peak, the whole right side of his face (his scalp, cheek, ear, chin) was an open sore. I asked him how intense the pain that he felt was. He replied, "It is like resting my cheek on a pan of scalding hot oil." He was completely calm. He did not let out a hint that he was suffering, not a murmur.
Often when I found myself in his cell and we were talking, he suffered from constrictions of his hernia. It was always excruciating. He didn't ask for help. He struggled to set it right on his own under the blankets. Nobody spoke, while from his lips one heard him whispering continuously, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me' with a sense of peace.
Once some people became upset when they kissed his hand because it was covered with gauze. They thought that it was disgusting. It was the time when we covered it up because he had staphylococcus dermatitis and it was completely ulcerated.
During our conversation one night after the cardiological examination and the usual electrocardiogram, I was shocked. I could never imagine that a man could confront his sickness in such a way. He said "I'll confess something to you, but it must remain a secret. I have cancer in the pituitary gland. I already feel my tongue enlarged and it doesn't move easily in the cavity of the mouth." Later he made a correct medical analysis of the function of the endocrine glands, and he concluded by saying, "You should know that when I was a monk, maybe sixteen years old, on Mt. Athos, I felt so elated especially after receiving Holy Communion that I went into the forest and cried out: 'Glory to you, Lord! The whole of You has come into me, into me, this humble sinner. You are my Christ who was crucified and suffered pain for me and You carried my sins. What do I do for you? What pain do I suffer for you? Lord, send me a cancer! May Christ grant me a cancer so that I might suffer with You." He said that prayer continuously and then he confessed it to his Elders. They advised me not repeat it again because it troubles God. He knows what to do. I didn't say that prayer again. But now, my dear George, He sent me the cancer. Do you understand what a good turn it is? Even though it's late, I will suffer together with him a little."
I was dumbfounded. It is the first time in my medical career that I had heard such an expression, "Thank God, I've got cancer!" I had forgotten that no ordinary man was standing before me, but Elder Porphyrios.
In spite of this he never refused the medical help of the many doctors who were also his spiritual children. In fact, one day I asked him, "Why do many spiritual people, especially monks, refuse medical help, thinking that the Panagia will help them quickly?" He answered. "It's egotism. It's the work of the Evil One, thinking that God will make an exception amongst all the others and will miraculously intervene for you. God performs miracles, but you should not expect one for yourself. It's selfishness. On the other hand, God Himself acts through the doctors. "The Lord gave us physicians and medicine," says the Holy Scripture.
He only accepted orthodox medicine, the fundamentals of which he knew very well. Through his experience of extended service at the Polyclinic in Athens and with divine grace, he looked deeply into the issue of illness and he often pressed us with precise scientific questions.
The Elder as doctor
His specialty was 'telediagnosis.' He saw the changes in himself and in others with astounding preciseness; often even in his doctors.
He himself explained to me that he diagnosed hypogonadism in a young man simply by looking at him. He diagnosed a fracture of the spinal column of a nun who lived in another city. There are probably thousands of those who were diagnosed by him and later had the sickness verified scientifically.
Here I will mention a diagnosis of himself. He verified changes in his electrocardiograph without a cardiograph machine. One night, he called me up quite concerned, ".Come here, late as it is, to see the changes in the cardiograph. I was in pain many times today, and the pain was anginal." Indeed, I ascertained that there were ischaemic changes (to arteries V3-V6) and I asked him under what kind of stress he was today. He began to cry and with frequent interruptions he began describing something in detail to me. He was seeing scenes from the street fighting in Romania. It was the day when the people rose up against Ceaucescu. With his gift he saw the shootings and the deaths in the squares just like they were being published in the newspapers the following day. He continued to cry, and I begged him to ask God to take away this vision. His heart was in a dangerous state because of the stress. His blockage could get severe.
I found myself in the same kind of stress while witnessing the sensitivity of the 'other' heart of a saint. I avoided looking at the cardiograph and thought to myself, "What meaning does this nitrite anti-angina medicine that I am about to give you have for you, Elder? You're not of this world. Your heart is beating in Oropos and is living in Romania. On the ECG the heart is shown with an ischaemic 'condition' at the ST interval, but in reality can be found 'resurrected' to the heavens." I left there quite late, trembling because I had seen a little of the light of a saint.
I would go to his cell as a diagnostic doctor but there were many times when he would diagnose me too. I will mention two of them.
I had been operated on by Professor Vasilios Golematis (two hernias at one time) and while I was recovering, we went with my wife to Oropos. I do not know if he had learnt about my operation from my friends but as soon as we walked into his cell, he looked at my abdomen intently for a long time and said to me, "I see that the one on the right was a good operation but the one on the left was masterful. Why did he operate on you better on that side?" My wife nodded to me, "What is the Eider saying?" I had not told her or anyone else that the surgeon had applied the Souldaice method on the left side because it was a big hernia. The Elder 'saw' it.
In December of 1990, I was in bed with major stomach-hemorrhaging. At one point there was great concern as to whether or not I should be operated on. The telephone rang. I convey the Elder's exact words to you, "I'm visiting you often these days. With the gift that God gave me, I'm acting in a healing way. I've never entered your home so many times in so few days...Something tells me that you shouldn't have the operation now but you should change your way of life, loosen up a little. Leave the operating table for now, we'll think about it later. What am I doing now? Am I a doctor to the doctor? (He laughs.) You should relax more because people love you. You've stolen my glory." (He laughs.) You can imagine how I felt under that protective presence.
He loved all the people who approached him very much, and naturally he loved his doctors too. Consequently he would put his healing gift into practice for us. All those who sincerely approached him have the same experiences. I would often take friends and relatives with me. They were surprised when he began talking about their problems without my having informed him previously. A particular lady upon leaving the Elder wanted me to take an oath, saying that I had not said anything to him about her before we went to Oropos.
The gift he had made him more sensitive in the presence of human pain. Once, at sunset, the nuns stopped the cardiological test because many people had gathered outside and were waiting to get his blessing before nightfall. He went outside the cell and the visitors simply kissed his hand. He was tired and he did not speak to anyone. The last lady came out crying. When I went in again, I found the Elder crying. "That happens to me all the time," he said. "I iust saw that mother being beaten up by her drug addicted son so that she'll give him money. And the poor thing has certainly been offended, having such a problem and leaving without any help...What can you do poor Porphyrios... Lord Jesus Christ..." He often whispered, the word, "Jesus" over and over again.
He was such a sweet and simple man that you did not hold back from directing any kind of stupid question at him. One day, I challenged him directly, "How do you know, Elder, that your gift of foresight is from God and not from the devil?" He laughed good-naturedly and said. "I tested it. It is from God because it does not make mistakes. I will give you an example. The church-warden at the Polyclinic was suffering pain in the upper molar and she was clutching her right cheek. I told her that the left molar was bad. She insisted it was the right molar but when she returned from the dentist, she said to me excitedly that I was right. In the x-ray, the problem appeared on the left but she felt the pain on the right side since it was on the same nerve. If it was from the Evil One, this foresight would have been based on the sick person's feelings and would be wrong. God's energy does not make mistakes."
The Elder, as a doctor, did not only 'see' my physical ailments, he concerned himself with my many spiritual imperfections too. He tried to help me find humbleness. One afternoon he telephoned me at my office immediately after a couple of patients had expressed their extreme love for me for the care I gave them. I recount his words, "George, It's the Elder. Both of us are going to hell together. We'll hear, 'You fool, this very night your soul is being demanded from you.' You enjoyed the good things in life. "And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?'" I interrupted him, "What did we enjoy in this life, Elder? The broken down car, the empty bank account or the non-existent sleep?" He answered abruptly, "What's that you're saying? Don't people tell you what a good doctor you are? You love us. You take care of us. You don't skin us alive. And you welcome this praise, you swallow it down. Eh, you've already lost your reward. The same thing happens to me. They tell me that I have 'gifts', how I can touch them and perform miracles, that I'm holy. And I gulp it all down, weak fool that I am. Eh, that's why I told you that both of us are going to hell."
"If we're going to go together," I replied "let's go to hell too!" And he hung up the phone saying, "I'm speaking to you seriously and you're always joking. Good repentance to the both of us."
One day I was downcast, thinking that most of my life has gone by pointlessly in the midst of useless daily details. The Elder telephoned me and lifted my spirits with two or three of his expressions, "Doctor, did you ever hear the phrase, "they will not taste death?" We can, if we wish, avoid death. All we have to do is love Christ. You, 'with all of your heart', Mr. Cardiologist." (He laughs.)
The Elder was not only a doctor, he was also a vet. He loved animals. He tamed aggressive parrots and he taught them the Jesus Prayer. I was startled when I heard the parrot repeating the Prayer of Jesus in his cell. "He is more spiritual than me," said the Elder. "I get tired and I fall asleep, but he stays awake and prays." Recently he tried to tame an eagle.
One weekend in Northern Evia where he rested, the following thing happened, as he himself recounted, "A shepherdess asked me to read a prayer for her flock because her goats were getting sick. I agreed and they brought the whole flock close to the Church where I lived. I stood in front of the flock. I lifted my hands high and I said different prayers from verses of the Psalms that refer to animals. Not one of them moved. Then I lowered my hands and a billy goat moved toward me on his own. He came close to me, kissed my hand and moved away quietly. Isn't that right?" he asked a nun who was standing nearby. "Yes, Elder, that's exactly how it happened. I was there."
Every time I went to Fr. Porphyrios, I was overcome with fear, thinking that this could be the last time I would check his health. Thus I checked his heart beat and carotid arteries for a long time. I did this in the sure knowledge that I was handling the body of a future saint of our Orthodox Church. When I took my hand away from his heart, he continued saying, "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on Your world." How much is owed by our world and our generation to these prayers of the Elder Porphyrios! How much I owe him personally!
On leaving, I would bow to get his blessing and sometimes he would give me a slap on the face (it was the highest expression of his happiness), or at other times he would squeeze my head in his two hands saying the Jesus Prayer.
I can now explain why God instilled in me the desire to study medicine at a more mature age and to become a cardiologist. He wanted me to know and examine at close hand, the simple, kind, charismatic and holy Elder, Porphyrios Bairaktaris.
One day he said to me, "When I leave, I will be closer to you. After death, distances are abolished."
I hope that he now enters our homes and hearts more easily.
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Article published in English on: 19-3-2009.
Last Update: 19-3-2009.