George Rodonaia held an M.D. and a Ph.D. in neuropathology,
and a Ph.D. in the psychology of religion. He delivered
a keynote address to the United Nations on the "Emerging
Global Spirituality." Before emigrating to the United
States from the Soviet Union in 1989, he worked as a research
psychiatrist at the University of Moscow. The following
is a Dr. Rodonaia's experience in his own words from
Phillip Berman's excellent book,
The Journey Home.
"The first thing
I remember about my NDE 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. I 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 relax. I began to feel warm, comforted,
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
"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 unitive 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. That it 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
"I could be anywhere
instantly, really there. I tried to communicate with the
people I saw. Some sensed my presence, but no one did anything
about it. I felt it necessary to learn about the Bible and
philosophy. You want, you receive. Think and it comes to
you. So I participated, I went back and lived in the
minds of Jesus and his disciples. I heard their conversations,
experienced eating, passing wine, smells, tastes - yet I
had no body. I was pure consciousness. If I didn't understand
what was happening, an explanation would come. But no teacher
spoke. I explored the Roman Empire, Babylon, the times of
Noah and Abraham. Any era you can name, I went there.
"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
"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
"Many people have
asked me what I believe in, how my NDE changed my life.
All I can say is that I now believe in the God of the universe.
Unlike many other people, however, I have never called God
the light, because God is beyond our comprehension. God,
I believe, is even more than the light, because God is also
darkness. God is everything that exists, everything - and
that is beyond our ability to comprehend at all. So I don't
believe in the God of the Jews, or the Christians, or the
Hindus, or in any one religion's idea of what God is
or is not. It is all the same God, and that God showed me
that the universe in which we live is a beautiful and marvelous
mystery that is connected together forever and for always.
"Anyone who has had
such an experience of God, who has felt such a profound
sense of connection with 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.
people turn to those who have had NDEs 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
occasionally we get glimpses of the answer here on Earth,
and that alone is enough for me. I love to ask questions
and to seek answers, but I know in the end I must live the
questions and the answers. But that is okay, isn't it?
So long as we love, love with all our heart and passion,
it doesn't matter, does it? Perhaps the best way for
me to convey what I am trying to say is to share with you
once wrote in a letter to a friend. I saw this letter, the
original handwritten letter, in the library at Dresden University
in Germany. (He quotes
from memory, as follows:)