(From The Letters of Barsanuphius and John, 6th c):

327. Question from the same person to the Great Old Man: ‘Since you have tested me and found me capable of this service in the hospital, declare to me, father, whether I should read some medical books and practice them on my own, or rather be carefree of and avoid these matters as distracting the intellect and as giving rise to vainglory for my soul, since I am not vigilant. I could remain content with the knowledge that I already have and offer healing with oil, fire, ointments and other such simple things as are used by those who do not read medical books. What, then, should I do? For my heart trembles before this ministry, fearing that I might make mistakes, thereby adding more sins to my passions.’

Response by the Great Old Man: ‘Since we have not yet reached perfection, in order to be entirely rid of the captivity of the passions, it is beneficial for us to dwell on medical matters rather than the passions. However, we should not place all our trust in these, but only in the God who grants death and life, who says: ‘I shall wound, and I shall heal.’ When you read these books and ask others about these matters, do not forget that without God there can be no healing. One who applies oneself to medicine should do so in the name of God, and God will come to one’s assistance. The art of medicine does not prevent one from practicing piety; you should regard the practice of medicine in the same manner as the brothers’ manual labor. Do whatever you do with fear of God, and you will be protected through the prayers of the saints. Amen.”

What St. Barsanuphius (“the Great Old Man”) is saying here is that, just like “manual labor,” when done with the fear of God, is sanctifying, (i.e., is protected “through the prayers of the saints”), so is the art of medicine, practiced by those who “read medical books.” And both are beneficial for us, “since we have not yet reached perfection.” We would need neither, were we free “of the captivity of the passions,” as were Adam and Eve before the Fall, and before God gave Adam the healing vocation to earn his bread “in toil.” (Gen 3: 17)

We also know that the art of medicine can/does sanctify, because we have a category of saints known as the “Anargyroi” (not-for-the-money) Physicians. It is a God-given vocation, which, like any other vocation, “does not prevent one from practicing piety,” and takes work. So as I’m thinking about this in the Covid-19 era, I say, God bless the work and knowledge of our physicians, inevitable in our fallen world, and may we be blessed, in His name, by their work and knowledge. And not just “by those who do not read medical books.”