Select Page

Holy Land Ministry Continues the Mission of Healing Tradition Through Education, Monastic Medicine and Faith in God & Prayer

Originated Dec. 25th 2018 Birthday of Christ

Healing is what happens when Christians and physicians minister in Jesus’ teachings, enabling people to receive restoration to health of body and mind through God’s great love and mercy. Hope is an essential and fundamental element of Christian life, so essential indeed, that, like faith and love, it can itself designate the essence of Christianity. This restoration of health is part of what is meant by the ‘abundant life’ which the Lord promised. Luke was an apostle and physician. Luke was well-educated and widely traveled. As a travel companion of Paul, Luke got to meet the leaders of the young church: Peter, Barnabas, Stephen, Lydia. In the book of Acts, we find the early Christian community poised from the start to carry out its commission, confident and aware of Divine guidance. We see how the early Christians at first preached only to Jews, then to Samaritans, then to outright Gentiles like Cornelius, and finally explicitly recognized that Gentiles and Jews are called on equal terms to the service and fellowship of Christ.

Christian monasticism began in the deserts of Egypt and Syria. Philo’s writings are witness as the Therapeutae as forerunners and the model for, the Christian practice of ascetic life and considered as the earliest group of Christian monastic’s and healers. This view was first espoused by Eusebius of Caesarea in his Ecclesiastical History. Eusebius was so sure of the identification of Therapeutae with the earliest Christians that he deduced that Philo, who admired them so, must have been Christian himself. The Therapeutae were renowned for both their asceticism and healing abilities. Indeed, the English words “therapy” and “therapeutic” are etymologically connected to the name of this ancient religious Order, indicating that medicine, religion, and healing were deeply connected in the early Christian world, and healing was seen as a religious art.


What we know of the life of the Founder of Christianity and how much He did for the ailing poor would will lead us to conclude that the religion that He established would foster the care and the cure of future suffering humanity. As was outlined in my previous book, MODERN MONASTIC MEDICINE, the first works of Christian service was organized care for the sick. At first a portion of the bishop’s house was given over to the shelter of the ailing, and a special order of assistants to the clergy, the deaconesses, took care of them. As Christians became more numerous, special hospitals were founded, and these became public institutions just as soon as freedom from persecution allowed the Christians the liberty to give overt expression to their feelings for the poor. While hospitals of limited capacity for such special purposes as the sheltering of slaves or soldiers and health establishments of various kinds for the wealthy had been erected before Christianity, this was the first time that anyone who was ill, no matter what the state of his pecuniary resources, could be sure to find shelter and care. The expression of the Emperor Julian the Apostate, that admission to these hospitals was not limited to Christians, is the best possible evidence of the liberal charity that inspired them.

In the 4th century A.D. Saint Anthony the Great was connected with the first Egyptian hermits; Saint Pachomius, with the first communities of cenobites in Egypt. Saint Fabiola was the first person to found a hospital, into which she might gather sufferers out of the streets, and where she nursed the unfortunate victims of sickness and want. A member of a wealthy Roman family, Fabiola became a Christian ascetic, selling all her belongings and founding the first hospital in the Western world as we know it today.

Saint Basil the Great, bishop of Caesarea, placed monasticism in an urban context by introducing charitable, medical service as a work discipline. When St. Basil of Caesarea visited Egypt in 357 A.D., he was so impressed with these monastic medical provisions that he decided to take Christian charity further. He founded a gigantic hospital, some say comparable to the seven wonders of the ancient world, in his home town of Caesarea in Cappadocia (modern east-central Turkey). It boasted a sophisticated health care system similar to that found in the Egyptian monasteries, i.e. the Therapeutae, but with the difference that free inpatient care, dispensed by physicians and nurses, was not mainly restricted to monks, but made available to the general public for the first time. Thus the first Christian hospital, inspired by Egyptian and Buddhist monastic traditions, was born to become a template for the many other hospitals which spread throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and beyond.

Clerical medicine, most often called monastic medicine, was developing during the middle ages and was provided as part of a religious duty, with payments and income made through a church rather than directly to the monk. The Rule of St. Benedict states that “before and above all things, care must be taken of the sick, that they be served in the very truth as Christ is served.” Virtually every monastery had an infirmary for the monks or nuns, and this led to provision being made for the care of laity and secular patients. Almost half of the hospitals in medieval Europe were directly affiliated with monasteries, priories of the many Knightly Orders (Hospitaller, Lazarus, and Teutonic) or other religious institutions and hospices.

This early Christian and medieval age is probably the most difficult period of medical history to understand properly, but it is worth while taking the trouble to follow out the thread of medical tradition from the Greeks to the Jews, Christians, and Arabs, and how the Renaissance medical writers began modern medicine as we now know it today. History records that the first hospitals were Christian, and is a conspicuous mark upon the landscape of humanity. Historical records are rich with medical practices, discoveries and healing traditions from diverse civilizations, including the Greeks, the Romans, the Essenes and another healing order called the Therapeutae, the Arabs, the Chinese, the Hindus, and the Native Americans, to name just a few. These cultures even produced some healing temples, spas, and clinics. But the record of antiquity prior to and apart from the influence of Christianity is astonishingly vacant when it comes to the hospital as we know it today.

The first Christian physicians came mainly from Syria for the old Greek medical traditions were active. Among them must be enumerated Cosmas and Damian, physicians who were martyred by the persecution of Roman Emperor Diocletian (244-311), and who have been chosen as the patrons of the medical profession. Justinian erected a famous church to them. It became the scene of pilgrimages. Organizations of various kinds since, as the College of St. Come, and medical societies, have been named after them.

Distinguished Christian writers and scholars, and the Fathers of the Church in the early centuries paid much attention to medical care. Tertullian speaks of medicine as the sister of philosophy, and has many references to the medical doctrines discussed in his time. Thus we come to the word in use around 1225, fisicien, from Old French, to physician, from fisique “art of healing,” from Latin physica – “natural science.”

In monastic (clerical) medicine, diagnosis and the taxonomy of illness were central. Diagnosis in the medieval literature was called discernment (diakrisis). Discernment was to differentiate an illness caused by demons or one caused by natural elements. Discernment also was important to identify malingers who would pretend illness in order to receive food and shelter.

Non-medical treatment was also central to monastic medical practice and enjoyed a venerable history in early Christian practice. Non-medical healing employed a number of therapies – prayer, invocation of the name Jesus, laying of the hands, application of holy oils and waters, and even exorcism. For a monk’s ability to heal by non-medical means was considered a gift and was to be developed by ascetic practice and study of nature.

In monastic application and belief, the natural therapies of medicine only work with God’s will. God is capable of healing patients through spiritual medicine with or without the help of natural medicine and monastic physicians, but the physicians have no utility without the assistance of God. The early church fathers ordained the monks to practice natural medicine, despite their unquestionable belief that ultimate authority rested in God. All cures, both spiritual and physical, are a gift of God.

The monastic medical system represented a transitional period in the history of medicine during which natural, physical medicine and principles of spiritual healing uniquely coexisted. One of the most significant contributions of the monastic community to the field of medical knowledge was its role in copying manuscripts. Physicians were trained primarily through Latin texts and, in a culture where few people could read or write, the monks served as propagators of knowledge. The ability to practice physical medicine in this religious context was based on the subordination of this practice to the predominant realm of spiritual belief and was fostered by the doctrine that the effectiveness of physical medicine was possible only because of this spiritual association and the religious base for physical treatments.


Serious monastic medicine did not begin to develop in the west until the monastery of Montecassino was founded by St. Benedict of Nursia in 529. From here the Benedictines spread the medical texts and teachings to other monasteries, most notably Fulda in Germany. And Irish missionary monks founded centers in Switzerland (St. Gall and Reichenau) and in Italy (Bobbio). In contrast, in the East, the monastic movement had already began in the 4th century and, with the work of St. Basil the Great, it became more dedicated to Christian charity and thus more involved with the community. This outreach, of course, included the care of the sick and aging and so monastic medicine in the East developed more than that in the West. Already in 375, St. Basil the Great included a hospital and leprosarium in the institutions he founded in Caesarea, Syria.


St. John Chrysostom followed Basil’s example in Constantinople in 400-403, building a number of hospitals. The most important from a medical standpoint were the ones attached to the Pantocrator monastery. The monastery was endowed and funded in 1136 by Emperor John II Komnenos (1118-1148) and his wife Irene. It had two hospitals: a 6-bed unit for sick monks, and a larger facility for the city. It’s constitution gives valuable insight into how the facility operated. It had fifty beds divided into 10-bed wards: two for the sick, and one each for surgery, gynecology and ophthalmology. Each unit had a bed for emergency cases and 6 beds, 14 for severe cases or bedridden patients. There was also a psychiatric ward (mostly for epilepsy), an outpatient clinic, and a home for the disabled elderly. It was staffed by 35 men and women, including physician assistants and nurses, nearly all of who were clergy. Support facilities included 2 churches for patients (separate for males and females), a pharmacy with a staff of 6, a separate staffed library complete with copyists, baths for hydrotherapy, a kitchen bakery, a mill, a laundry and a cemetery. Treatment methods basically followed Galen, but staff physicians also wrote their own treatments. There was a unofficial medical school with a single instructor and a required curriculum including anatomy, physiology, disease theory and clinical experience.


Folk medicine and herbal medicine contributed significantly to monastic medicine over the centuries. By the 18th century, Rev. John Wesley (1704-1791) an English clergyman helped to pioneer the use of electricity for the treatment of illness. Wesley considered it a Christian duty to make medical knowledge and practical treatments accessible to the ‘Majority of Mankind’ a necessary and important aspect also of this Order’s medical and clerical duties. Drawing from contemporary advice on healthy living and nature cures for disease with particular influence from Dr. George Cheyne’s – A Book of Health and Long Life (London, 1724), Wesley published a low-cost and easy-to read medical handbook entitled Primitive Physic: an Easy and Natural Method of Curing Most Diseases. John Wesley was the founder of the Methodist Church.


Of all the barefoot Nature cures, the most renowned was the one initiated by the Bavarian pastor, Father Sebastian Kneipp, whose influence survives into this age of antibiotics. Father Kneipp had his interest kindled in youth by a chance reading of a hydropathist manual of Hahn. Thereafter in every parish to which he was sent, Father Kneipp practiced the water cure, as modified by himself. In 1854 he became known as the ‘cholera vicar’ as a result of saving many lives in a village epidemic. His growing fame embarrassed his Dominican masters, who made him almoner of a convent at Wörishofen; but soon he was treating not only local peasants but also Austrian grand dukes and French noblemen. All were ordered to walk barefoot in the morning dew. In 1890 arrived Baron Nathaniel Rothschild, with a retinue of cook, secretary and two servants. Those who rose early enough were rewarded by the sight of the Baron strolling bareheaded and barefooted in a near-by meadow.