Orthodoxy as Therapy (Part I)

Saint Angelia of Serbia

Saint Angelia of Serbia

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

ORTHODOXY AS THERAPY
by Protopresbyter Father George D. Metallinos, Professor Emeritus of the Athens University

An Introduction to the Orthodox Faith

If we wished to conventionally define Christianity, as Orthodoxy, we would say it is the experiencing of the presence of the Uncreated (=of God) throughout history, and the potential of creation (=mankind) becoming God "by Grace".

Given the perpetual presence of God in Christ, in historical reality, Christianity offers mankind the possibility of theosis (deification), just as Medical Science offers mankind the possibility of preserving or restoring his health through a specific therapeutic and specific way of life.

The writer is in a position to appreciate the coincidence between the medical and ecclesiastic poemantic science, because, as a diabetic and a Christian, he is aware that in both cases, he has to faithfully abide by the rules that have been set out, in order to attain both goals.

The unique and absolute goal of life in Christ is theosis (deification), in other words, our union with God, so that man, through his participation in God's Uncreated energy, may become "by the grace of God" that which God is by nature (=without beginning and without end). This is what "salvation" means, in Christianity. It is not the moral improvement of man, but a re-creation in Christ, of man and society, through an existing and an existential relationship with Christ, Who is the incarnate manifestation of God in History. This is what the Apostle Paul's words imply, in Corinthians II 5:17: "if someone is in Christ, he is a new creation." Whoever is united with Christ in a new creation.

That is why--Christianically speaking--the Incarnation of God--Logos/Word--this redemptory "intrusion" of the Eternal and the Beyond-time God into Historical time--represents the commencement of a new world, of a (literally) "New Age", which continues throughout the passing centuries, in the persons of authentic Christians: The Saints. The Church exists in this world, both as the "body of Christ" as well as "in Christ", in order to offer salvation, through one's embodiment in this regenerative method, whereby throughout history, the Church essentially acts as a universal infirmary. "Spiritual infirmary" (spiritual hospital) is the characterization given to the Church by Saint John Chrysostom (+407 AD).

Further along, we shall examine the answers that respond to the following questions:

*       What is the sickness that Christian Orthodoxy cures?

*       What is the therapeutic method it implements?

*       What is the identity of authentic Christianity, which radically distinguishes it     from all its heretic deviations, and from every other form of religion?

1.  The sickness of human nature is the fallen state of mankind, along with all of creation, which likewise suffers ("sighs and groans together"--Romans 8:22) along with mankind. This diagnosis applies to every single person (regardless whether they are Christian or not, or whether they believe or not), on account of the overall oneness of mankind (ref. Acts 17:26). Christian Orthodoxy does not confine itself within the narrow boundaries of one religion--which cares only for its own followers--but, just like God, "wants all people to be saved and to arrive at the realization of the Truth" (Timothy I, 2:4), since God is "the Savior of all mankind" (Timothy I, 4:10). Thus, the sickness that Christianity refers to pertains to all of mankind; Romans 5:12: "death has come upon all people, since all of them have sinned (=they have veered from their path towards theosis). Just as the fall (i.e., sickness) is a panhuman issue, so is salvation-therapy directly dependent on the inner functions of each person.

The natural (authentic) state of a person is (patristically) defined by the functioning inside him of three mnemonic systems; two of which are familiar and monitored by medical science, while the third is something handled by pastoral therapeutics. The first system is cellular memory (DNA), which determines everything inside a human organism. The second is the cerebral cellular memory, brain function, which regulates our association with our self and our environment. Both these systems are familiar to medical science, whose work it is to maintain their harmonious operation.

The experience of the Saints is familiar with one other mnemonic system: that of the heart, or 'noetic' memory, which functions inside the heart. In Orthodox Tradition, the heart does not only have a natural operation, as a mere pump that circulates the blood. Furthermore, according to Patristic teaching, neither the brain nor the central nervous system is the center of our self-awareness; again, it is the heart, because, beyond its natural function, it also has a supernatural function. Under certain circumstances, it becomes the place of our communion with God, or, His Uncreated energy. This is of course perceived through the experience of the Saints, and not through any logical function or through an intellectual theologizing.

Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain (+1809), in recapitulating the overall Patristic Tradition in his work "Hortative Manual" (Συμβουλευτικόν Εγχειρίδιον), calls the heart a natural and supernatural center, but also a paranormal center, whenever its supernatural faculty becomes idle on account of the heart being dominated by passions. The heart's supernatural faculty is the ultimate prerequisite for perfection, for man's fulfillment, in other words, his theosis (deification), for a complete embodiment in the communion in Christ.

In its supernatural faculty, the heart becomes the space where the mind can be activated. In Orthodox terminology codex, the nous (ΝΟΥΣ-appearing in the New Testament as "the spirit of man" and "the eye of the soul") is an energy of the soul, by means of which man can know God, and can reach the state of "seeing" God. We must of course clarify that "knowledge" of God does not imply knowledge of His incomprehensible and inapproachable Divine essence. This distinction between 'essence' and 'energy' in God is the crucial difference between Orthodoxy and all other versions of Christianity. The energy of the mind inside the heart is called the 'noetic faculty' of the heart. We again stress that according to Orthodoxy, the Mind (nous) and Logic (logike) are not the same thing, because logic functions within the brain, whereas the mind functions within the heart.

The noetic faculty is manifested as the 'incessant prayer' (see I Thessalonians 5:17) of the Holy Spirit inside the heart (see Galatians 4:6, Romans 8:26, I Thessalonians 5:19) and is named by our Holy Fathers as "the memory of God". When man has in his heart the "memory of God", in other words, when he hears in his heart "the voice" (I Corinthians 14:2, Galatians 4:6, etc.), he can sense God "dwelling" inside him (Romans 8:11). Saint Basil the Great in his 2nd Epistle says that the memory of God remains incessant when not interrupted by mundane cares, and the mind "departs" towards God; in other words, when it is in communion with God. But this does not mean that the faithful who has been activated by this Divine energy withdraws from the needs of everyday life, by remaining motionless or in some kind of ecstasy; it means that his mind is liberated from these cares, which are items that preoccupy only his Logic. To use an example that we can relate to: A scientist, who has re-acquired his noetic faculty, will use his logic to tackle his problems, while his nous inside his heart will preserve the memory of God incessantly. The person who preserves all three mnemonic systems is the Saint. To Orthodoxy, he is healthy (normal) person. This is why Orthodoxy's therapy is linked to man's course towards holiness.

The non-function or the below-par function of man's noetic faculty is the essence of his fall. The much debated "ancestral [original] sin" was precisely man's mishandling--from that very early moment of his nistorical presence--of the preservation of God's memory (=his communion with God) inside his heart. This is the morbid state that all of the ancestral descendants participate in; because it was no moral or personal sin, but a sickness of man's nature ("Our nature has become ill, of this sin", observes Saint Cyril of Alexandria - +444), which is transmitted from person to person, exactly like the sickness that a tree transmits to all the other trees that originate from it.

Inactivating the noetic faculty or the memory of God, and confusing it with the function of the brain (which happens to all of us), subjugates man to stress and to the environment, and to the quest for bliss through individualism and an anti-social stance. While ill because of his fallen state, man uses God and his fellow man to secure his personal security and happiness. Personal use of God is found in "religion" (=the attempt to elicit strength from the divine), which can degenerate into a self-deification of man ("I became a self-idol" says Saint Andrew of Crete, in his 'Major Canon'). The use of fellow-man--and subsequently creation in general--is achieved by exploiting them in every possible way. This, therefore, is the sickness that man seeks to cure, by becoming fully incorporated in the "spiritual hospital" of the Church.

(To be continued)

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The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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Glory Be To GOD For All Things!

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George