Throughout the history of the Church, caring for the sick has been a major part of the Church’s mission. Dedicated clergymen and medical and health care professionals have worked together to provide for the physical, psychological and spiritual health care of all of those who are ill.
To continue and further cultivate this long history of ministry, in 2008 the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, with the blessing of His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, formed the Network of the Ecumenical Patriarchate for Pastoral Health Care (“the Patriarchal Network”). It has held a conference every three years, with the purpose of bringing together clergy and laity working in pastoral and health roles, to enhance the pastoral work of the Church and to provide mutual support to those working within pastoral and health roles. Further information about the Patriarchal Network can be found at https://www.pastoralhealth-ep.com/.
In July of 2021, the Patriarchal Network proposed to His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the establishment of the Feast Day of the Synaxis (gathering) of all the Holy Doctors. It proposed as the Feast Day the Sunday between the 18th and the 23rd of October (i.e., the Sunday following the Sunday of the Holy Fathers) of each year. This Sunday was chosen because it falls close to the Day of the Synaxis of the Holy Unmercenary (October 17th) and that of the following Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist, who was a doctor (October 18th).
The Patriarchal Network also proposed that on this day, the Church honour medical doctors and all those that offer their services in the area of Health for their essential contribution and ministry to humankind. His All-Holiness received this proposal with great joy. Thus, the Holy and Sacred Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate approved the proposal.
The 12th Clergy-Laity Conference of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia, held in Sydney on 24-27 September 2023, saw the launch of the Greek Orthodox Pastoral Health Care Network in Australia, as an offshoot of the Patriarchal Network. The two representatives of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia to the Patriarchal Network, Rev Fr George Liangas, and Presbytera Catherine Constantinidis spoke of the potential goals of the network in Australia:
– Focus on mental wellness issues (especially depression and burnout);
– Establish networks of peer support for those in the Greek Orthodox community working in a pastoral capacity in medicine and the health sector;
– Provide opportunities to consider and explore contemporary and ethical issues that concern clergy and pastoral health care workers and the community (e.g. abortion, euthanasia, suicide);
– Provide education and support in relation to marital and parenting difficulties; and
– Address stress levels and unhealthy coping mechanisms, e.g. for priests and their families, and others working in the Church.
The next stage in the formation of the Network in Australia is the formation of an Australia-wide Steering Committee with representation from each of the seven Archdiocesan Districts of Australia.
In the meantime, the first ever service in Australia for the Feast Day of the Synaxis of All the Holy Doctors will be the Vespers Service of the Feast, to be celebrated this Saturday 21st October, 5:30-7pm, at the Church of St Nectarios in Burwood, Sydney. Those present will be able to venerate the icon of the Synaxis of the Holy Doctors.