George Rodonaia (died 2004) underwent one of the most extended cases of a near-death experience ever recorded. Pronounced dead immediately after he was hit by a car in 1976, he was left for three days in the morgue. He did not “return to life” until a doctor began to make an incision in his abdomen as part of an autopsy procedure. Prior to his NDE he worked as a neuropathologist. He was also an avowed atheist. Yet after the experience, he devoted himself exclusively to the study of spirituality, taking a second doctorate in the psychology of religion. He then became an ordained priest in the Eastern Orthodox Church. He served as a pastor at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Baytown, Texas. Reverend Rodonaia is one of the NDE experiencers profiled on this page who was dead for days during his NDE. The following is Dr. Rodonaia’s experience in his own words from Phillip Berman’s book, The Journey Home: What NDEs and Mysticism Teach Us About the Meaning of Life and Living.
1. Reverend George Rodonaia’s NDE
Rev. 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 as a political dissident in 1989, he worked as a research psychiatrist at the University of Moscow.
“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 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 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 universe.
“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 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.
“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.
“Many 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 something the poet Rilke 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:)
“Be patient with all that is unresolved in your heart. And try to love the questions themselves. Do not seek for the answers that cannot be given. For you wouldn’t be able to live with them. And the point is to live everything, live the questions now, and perhaps without knowing it, you will live along some day into the answers.”
2. George Rodonaia’s Verified Out-of-Body Perception
The book entitled, The Self Does Not Die: Verified Paranormal Phenomena from Near-Death Experiences, by Titus Rivas, Anny Dirven, Rudolf H. Smit, Robert Mays, and Janice Holden, documents P.M.H. Atwater‘s research into Rodonaia’s extraordinary case of veridical out-of-body telepathic perception of an injured infant and George’s wife during his NDE from Atwater’s book Beyond The Light. The following is an excerpt:
“When Rodonaia thought of his body, he saw it lying in the morgue. He remembered everything that had happened. He was also able to ‘see’ the thoughts and emotions of his wife, Nino, and of the people who had been involved in the accident. It was as if they had their thoughts ‘inside of him.’ He then wanted to find out the ‘truth’ of those thoughts and emotions. By expressing a longing for greater knowledge, he was confronted by mental images of existence and thus became acquainted with thousands of years of history.
“When he returned to his body in the morgue, he was drawn to a nearby hospital, where the wife of a friend had just had a baby. The newborn was constantly crying. He examined the baby, a girl. His ‘eyes’ were like X-rays that could look right through the little body. This ability enabled him to draw the conclusion that the baby had broken its hip during delivery. He spoke to her, ‘Don’t cry. Nobody understands you.’ The baby was so astonished by his presence that she immediately stopped crying. According to Rodonaia, children are able to see and hear transmaterial apparitions. The child reacted to him, he believes, because he was ‘a physical reality’ to her.
“After three days, when the autopsy of Rodonaia’s body was just getting under way, he succeeded in opening his eyes. At first, the doctors thought it was a reflex, but Rodonaia appeared to have actually come back from the dead, even though his death and his frigid condition had both been confirmed. He was in poor condition physically, but after three days, the first words he spoke were about the baby that urgently needed help. X-rays of the baby confirmed that he was right.
“At one point, Atwater interviewed Rodonaia’s wife, Nino, who stated that during his NDE, Rodonaia had actually witnessed what she had seen. According to Nino, he had actually had telepathic contact with her. In an email dated July 28, 2015, Atwater wrote Rivas the following about this aspect of the case:
“George told me that as part of his near-death experience, among the many things he could do was to be able to enter the minds of all his friends and find out whether or not they were really friends. During this entry process, he also entered the mind of this wife, Nino. When he did, he both saw and heard his wife picking out his gravesite. As she stood there looking at the gravesite, in her head, she pictured several men she would consider being her next husband. She made a list for herself of their various qualities, pro and con, to decide which one would be the most suitable.
“After George revived and his tongue shrunk back to its normal size so George could talk (this took three days), George greeted his wife. He told her about the gravesite scenario. He described everything she saw there. Then he told her everything she thought about while there, the specific men she was considering to be her next husband and [the] list she was making in her mind about their various pros and cons. He was correct in every detail. This so freaked her out that she refused to have much to do with him for a year. I had no sense that this was telepathic, but real, physically real, as if George’s mind was physically inside his wife’s mind. He saw what she saw. He also saw what she thought.
“When I met Nino and both children, I asked Nino if I could talk to her about that incident at the gravesite and her list of qualities of the men she was considering marrying. She described the incident for me and that all of this was done in the privacy of her own mind. She only thought about the men and their various qualities. The list was her own. When her suddenly, newly alive, formerly dead husband talked about that personal moment at the gravesite, named the men she thought about, and then went on to ‘read’ the list back to her that she made for each man, she was utterly shocked at his accuracy and how he could even do this. This shock was felt as if an affront against her right to privacy, the intimate privacy of her own mind. I asked if it was true that she would have little or nothing to do with him for a year. She said, yes, it was true. She could not sleep in the same room with him. When I asked why, her answer was: ‘I no longer had the privacy of my own mind. This was very hard to take.'” (The Self Does Not Die, p.130-132)
Nino also confirmed what happened at the hospital, the first words he said after his tongue swelling went down, of his friend’s wife having just given birth to a daughter, he told the doctors to get right up to the maternity ward and X-ray that baby’s hip, that it had been broken by the attending nurse who had dropped the baby. George was a doctor himself and he described the hip break in detail. The doctors rushed up to the maternity ward, had the baby X-rayed and found the break exactly as described by George. They then confronted the nurse with what they found and she admitted to dropping the baby. She was immediately fired.
3. P.M.H. Atwater’s Tribute to George Rodonaia
“I knew George well; he was part of my research base and a brief version of his story is in my book Beyond the Light. I say “brief” because what happened to George is beyond the scope of books about the near-death phenomenon and could have easily been a book unto itself. George was a vocal Soviet dissident during the time when such a stance could get you killed. And that is exactly what happened – he was assassinated by the KGB. Because his case was highly political, an autopsy had to be performed. His corpse was stored in a freezer vault for three days until then. He revived on the autopsy table as he was being split open by the doctors, one of which was his own uncle. Of all the cases I have investigated in my 26 years of work in the field, his is the most dramatic, the longest, the most evidential, and the most soul-stirring. Now our beloved George Rodonaia has returned “Home” to stay. During the years afterward, he never failed to share his story and to help others every way he could. My only regret is, he never wrote his own book about his experience. Yet, perhaps he did, on everyone’s heart who ever heard him. Blessings, dear George, you will be missed.” — Dr. P.M.H. Atwater
4. Other People Who Were Apparently Dead For Days
The other NDE testimony is about a Russian man who was frozen solid for 22 days in a state of suspended animation resulting from an attempted murder and burial. The story was printed in the January 1999 online edition of the Russian newspaper Pravda. This remarkable event involved the man being revived after 22 days of being buried under the snow. The article is entitled, “Man Revives 22 Days After Being Killed and Buried” and here it is:
A stockman, named only as Granatkin, from a district food base in one of Russia’s towns, had to have a similar, albeit a more horrible experience in his life. A man named Mechnik attempted to kill the stockman: he hit him on the head, took the body to the forest and buried it under the snow. Lumbermen incidentally uncovered the frozen body and took it to the morgue. A local pathologist refused to do the autopsy – the body was too hard. The next day the pathologist said that the man’s eye pupils did not look like dead. Furthermore, the man’s nails turned pink after the doctor pressed them in his fingers. The man spent 22 days lying under a thick layer of snow, but it appeared that he was still alive. The pathologist diagnosed a deep lethargic sleep, which had been caused with a blow on the head. To everyone’s great astonishment, stockman Granatkin came to his senses and recovered. He was lucky to wear very warm clothes on the day of his murder; the snow saved him from severe frost too.
I found another article on the Internet about the above story but the text is in broken English although it is very readable. Here it is:
Much more complicated in the case of the Grodno district storekeeper product base Granatkin. Someone once tried to kill the Swordsman him struck storekeeper fatal blow to the head by some heavy object, took to the woods and buried in the snow. After 22 days the body turned into a “piece of ice”, accidentally discovered the loggers. The corpse was taken to the morgue, but the local coroner was unable to conduct an autopsy – the body was too hard. Decided to postpone the inquiry until the morning… In the morning, the surgeon noticed that the pupils of the eyes are not like the eyes of a dead person, the nails when you also slightly pink. These were signs that people had lain in the snow for 22 days without moving, without food or water, are still signs of life. However Granatkin was breathing, no palpable pulse. The doctor diagnosed a deep lethargy caused due to hit in the head. And soon the “dead” by doctors… woke up!
Granatkin was saved from complete freeze because he was warmly dressed and was covered with a thick layer of snow.