Dr. Rodonaia underwent one of the most extended cases of a “clinical near death experience” ever recorded. Pronounced dead immediately after he was hit by a car in 1976, he was left for three days in a morgue. He did not “return to life” until a doctor began to make an incision in his abdomen as part of an autopsy.
Another notable feature of Dr. Rodonaia’s near death experience – and this is common to many – is that he was radically transformed by it. Prior to his near death experience, he worked as a neuropathologist. He was also an avowed atheist. Yet after the experience, he devoted himself exclusively to studying the psychology of religion. He then became an ordained priest in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Today he serves as an associate pastor at the First united Methodist Church in Nederland, Texas.
“The first thing I remember about my near death experience is that I discovered myself in a realm of total darkness. I had no physical pain; I was still somehow aware of my existence as George, and all about me there was darkness, utter and complete darkness – the greatest darkness ever, darker than any dark, blacker than any black. This was what surrounded me and pressed upon me. I was horrified! I wasn’t prepared for this at all. I was shocked to find that I still existed, but I didn’t know where I was. The one thought that kept rolling through my mind was, ‘How can I be when I’m not?’ That is what troubled me.
Slowly, I got a grip on myself and began to think about what had happened, what was going on. But nothing refreshing or relaxing came to me. Why am I in this darkness? What am I to do? Then I remembered Descartes famous line: ‘I think, therefore, I am.’ And that took a huge burden off me, for it was then I knew for certain I was still alive, although obviously in a very different dimension. Then I thought, ‘If I am, why shouldn’t I be positive?’ That is what came to me. I am George and I’m in darkness, but I know I am. I am what I am. I must not be negative.
Then I thought, ‘How can I define what is positive in darkness?’ Well, positive is light. Then, suddenly, I was in light; bright, white, shiny and strong; a very bright light. It was like the flash of a camera, but not flickering – that bright. Constant brightness. At first I found the brilliance of the light painful. I couldn’t look directly at it. But little by little, I began to feel safe and warm, and everything suddenly seemed fine.
The next thing that happened was that I saw all these molecules flying around, atoms, protons, neutrons, just flying everywhere. On the one hand, it was totally chaotic, yet what brought me such great joy was that this chaos also had its own symmetry. This symmetry was beautiful and unified and whole, and it flooded me with tremendous joy. I saw the universal form of life and nature laid out before my eyes. It was at this point that any concern I had for my body just slipped away, because it was clear to me that I didn’t need it anymore -- that it was actually a limitation.
Everything in this experience merged together, so it is difficult for me to put an exact sequence to events. Time as I had known it came to a halt; past, present and future were somehow fused together for me in the timeless unity of life.
At some point, I underwent what has been called the “life-review process,” for I saw my life from beginning to end all at once. I participated in the real life dramas of my life, almost like a holographic image of my life going on before me – no sense of past, present or future, just now and the reality of my life. It wasn’t as though it started with birth and ran along to my life at the University of Moscow. It all appeared at once. There I was. This was my life. I didn’t experience any sense of guilt or remorse for things I’d done. I didn’t feel one way or another about my failures, faults or achievements. All I felt was my life for what it is. And I was content with that. I accepted my life for what it is.
During this time, the light just radiated a sense of peace and joy to me. It was very positive. I was so happy to be in the light. And I understood what the light meant. I learned that all the physical rules for human life were nothing when compared to this universal reality. I also came to see that a black hole is only another part of that infinity which is light. I came to see that reality is everywhere. This is not simply the earthly life but the infinite life. Everything is not only connected together, everything is also one. So I felt a wholeness with the light, a sense that all is right with me and the universe.
So there I was, flooded with all these good things and this wonderful experience, when someone begins to cut into my stomach. Can you imagine? What had happened was that I was taken to the morgue. I was pronounced dead and left there for three days. An investigation into the cause of my death was set up, so they sent someone out to do an autopsy on me. As they began to cut into my stomach, I felt as though some great power took hold of my neck and pushed me down. And it was so powerful that I opened my eyes and had this huge sense of pain. My body was cold and I began to shiver. They immediately stopped the autopsy and took me to the hospital where I remained for the following nine months, most of which I spent under a respirator.
Slowly, I regained my health. But I would never be the same again, because all I wanted to do for the rest of my life was study wisdom. This new interest led me to attend the University of Georgia where I took my second Ph.D., in the psychology of religion. Then I became a priest in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Eventually, in 1989, we came to America and I am now working as an associate pastor at the First United Methodist Church in Nederland, Texas.
Anyone who has had such an experience of God, who has felt such a profound sense of connection with the reality, knows that there is only one truly significant work to do in life and that is love; to love nature, to love people, to love animals, to love creation itself, just because it is. To serve God’s creation with a warm and loving hand of generosity and compassion – that is the only meaningful existence.
Many people turn to those who have had near death experiences because they sense we have the answers. But I know this is not true, at least not entirely. None of us will fully fathom the great truths of life until we finally unite with eternity at death. But in the meantime, it is our very nature to seek answers to our deepest questions about the near death experience and immortality.
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