Tag Archives: Philanthropia

Reconceiving Healthcare Philanthropia and the Vocations of Healing

by Chris Durante

In the Orthodox Christian tradition, God is described as being the “Great Philanthropos,” and Jesus Christ, as a healer of body and soul, is described as the “Great Physician.” Being adopted by early Christians, the Hellenic idea of philanthropia, or being an “unconditional lover of humankind,” was used as a way of describing God Himself and became intimately intertwined with the notion of diakonia, or service, which highlights the uniquely social and inter-personal dimensions of Christian love. Mimicking the life of Christ, philanthropically serving the needs of the sick was a central component of the lifestyle of the early Christians. Both the idea of diakonia and the institution of the diaconate were so foundational to the Church’s presence in the world that in the second century, St. Ignatius of Antioch described the diaconate as representing Christ on earth by performing his ministries of healing, teaching, and selflessly tending to the needs of the sick and the poor. In the fourth century, it was under the auspices of philanthropic diakonia that St. Basil the Great established hospitals and hospices as charitable institutions, a practice that spread throughout Byzantium and later in the West as well.

Coupled together, the empiricism of modern science and the financial corporatization of contemporary medical practice threaten to eradicate the relational, philanthropic, and ascetic dimensions of healthcare. What is needed is an outlook that views the sick as suffering persons and not as mere consumers of medical services, while it views healthcare providers as healers serving the health-related needs of the sick rather than functioning as “merchants of medicine.” Although all Christians are called to engage in diakonia, in a certain sense physicianship entails a special diaconical responsibility in that it entails healing and a transfiguration of persons’ states of being. In that Christ is the Great Physician and deacons are representatives of Christ on earth, the Church might consider reinvigorating the diaconate by reimagining the current purview of deacons’ responsibilities and expanding the role of deacons to include, for instance, a vocation of healthcare-provider or physician, where deacons trained in medicine could perform medical ministries. Continue Reading…