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March 26, 2020

The Panagia in the Intensive Care Unit - A Modern Testimony

By Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou

The area of ​​the intensive care unit is a place where the fight against death is intensified. Doctors and nurses are personally fighting with death that has claimed the patient, but the patient is also in a difficult situation. In front of them they see death coming, and this increases their distress, at the same time they are alone, without the presence of their loved ones, whom they see for a few minutes. Then there are the big questions of life and death, of the meaning of life, but there are also regrets of past events.

In the intensive care room there is a strong interest in the health of the body and in the avoidance of death, but there is also no parallel interest in the patient's internal existential questions and spiritual concerns. The clergyman can hardly practice his pastoral ministry. Thus, the patient has to be spiritually reawakened alone, to accept the visits of divine Grace, in accordance with previous internal situations.

On the internet I found a text by the late brilliant Public Prosecutor Evangelos Kroustalakis, who attained the position of Prosecutor of Arios Pagos, with his legal knowledge and his ethos. He describes his experience with the intensive care unit he found himself in after a serious surgery. He writes about the "intense feeling of isolation," the "sense of abandonment," the endless hours of loneliness, the many thoughts that "flood the mind of man," and which agitate his soul. At first he was helped by beautiful memories "from bygone years," but again he was overwhelmed by "the feeling of loneliness and abandonment." And then he writes:

“As I was lying in bed, looking almost always at the ceiling of the room, I began to gaze around. And suddenly I found on the opposite wall, in the upper left corner, an icon of the Panagia holding Christ in her arms. Some good person had put her there. From that moment on, our Panagia became my companion. This simple icon, which had no particular artistic value, was a door that led me close to the Panagia. I understood better then what it means that the 'honor paid to the image passes over to the prototype,' as the Fathers of our Church say.

My feelings, thoughts, anxieties became a means of my confession to the Panagia. She seemed to hear me. Of course she didn't talk to me, but she seemed to understand my anxiety. Thus, an atmosphere of serenity and tranquility was slowly and imperceptibly in my trembling soul. The endless hours of my intensive stay ceased to be nightmares. I had the feeling that someone, who loved me very much, was next to me. I felt the warm caress, from the hand of one of my own, on my dry and burning feverish forehead."

Evangelos Kroustalakis

This incident shows how important a role the Panagia plays in our lives, especially if no one has had similar experiences before. Also, it shows the great value of icons, of ecclesiastical symbols that can help a person in times where other human help is impossible. At some point in his article, the late Evangelos Kroustalakis writes:

"These memories, but especially my experience of the Panagia in intensive care, I feel how they have linked me closely to the icon of the Panagia. So now I can feel better because so many people, in the difficult times of their lives, turn to Panagia and they invoke her, praying in front of her icon."

Our Panagia intervenes in the most difficult times of our life, as long as we ask for her help.

Source: Ekklesiastiki Paremvasis, Dec. 2014. Translated by John Sanidopoulos.