August Fast: A Time of Healing

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.

AUGUST FAST: A TIME OF HEALING
The Difference Between Orthodox Spirituality and Other Traditions
by His Eminence Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, Greece, HIEROTHEOS

Orthodox Christian spirituality differs distinctly from any other "spirituality" of an Eastern or Western type. There can be no confusion among the various spiritualities, because Orthodox Christian spirituality is God-centered, whereas all others are man-created.

The difference appears primarily in the doctrinal teaching. For this reason we put "Orthodox" before the word "Church" so as to distinguish it from any other religion. Certainly "Orthodox" must be linked with the term "Ecclesiastic," since Orthodoxy cannot exist outside the Church; neither, of course, can the Church exist outside Orthodoxy.

The dogmas are the results of decisions made at the Ecumenical Councils (Synods) on various matters of faith. Dogmas are referred to as such, because they draw the boundaries between truth and error, between sickness and health. Dogmas express the revealed truth. They formulate the life of the Church. Thus they are, on the one hand, the expression of revelation and on the other act as "remedies" in order to lead us to communion with God, to our reason for being.

Dogmatic differences reflect corresponding differences in therapy. If a person does not follow the "right way" he cannot even reach his destination. If he does not take the proper "remedies," he cannot ever acquire health; in other words, he will experience no therapeutic benefits. Again, if we compare Orthodox Christian spirituality with other Christian traditions, the difference in approach and method of therapy is more evident.

A fundamental teaching of the Holy Fathers is the church is a "hospital" which cures the wounded man. In many passages of Holy Scripture such language is used. One such passage is that of the Parable of the Good Samaritan: "But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine, and he set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you" (St. Luke10:33-35).

In this Parable, the Samaritan represents Christ Who cured the wounded man and led him to the Inn, that is to the "Hospital" which is the Church. It is evident here that Christ is presented as the Healer, the Physician Who cures man's maladies, and the Church as the True Hospital. It is very characteristic that Saint John Chrysostom, analyzing this Parable, presents these truths emphasized above.

Man's life "in Paradise" was reduced to a life governed by the devil and his wiles. "And fell among thieves," that is in the hands of the devil and of all the hostile powers. The wounds man suffered are the various sins, as the Prophet David says: "my wounds grow foul and fester because of my foolishness" (Psalm 37). For "every sin causes a bruise and a wound." The Samaritan is Christ Himself Who descended to earth from Heaven in order to cure the wounded man. He used oil and wine to "treat" the wounds; in other words, by "mingling His Blood with the Holy Spirit, He brought man to life." According to another interpretation, oil corresponds to the comforting word and wine to the harsh word. Mingled together they have the power to unify the scattered mind. "He set him in His own beast," that is He assumed human flesh on "the shoulders" of His Divinity and ascended Incarnate to His Father in Heaven.

Then the Good Samaritan, i.e., Christ, took man to the grand, wondrous and spacious inn--to the Church. And He handed man over to the innkeeper, who is the Apostle Paul, and through the Apostle Paul to all bishops and priests, saying: "take care of the Gentile people, whom I have handed over to you in the Church. They suffer illness wounded by sin, so cure them, using as remedies the words of the Prophets and the teaching of the Gospel; make them healthy through the admonitions and comforting word of the Old and New Testaments." Thus, according to Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Paul is he who maintains the Churches of God, "curing all people by his spiritual admonitions and offering to each one of them what they really need."

In the interpretation of this Parable by Saint John Chrysostom, it is clearly shown that the Church is a hospital which cures people wounded by sin; and the bishops and priests are the therapists of the people of God...

"...Protestants do not have a "therapeutic treatment" tradition. They suppose that believing in God, intellectually, constitutes salvation. Yet salvation is not a matter of intellectual acceptance of truth; rather it is a person's transformation and divinization by grace. This transformation is effected by the analogous "treatment" of one's personality, as shall be seen in the following chapters. In the Holy Scripture it appears that faith comes by hearing the Logos/Word and by experiencing "theoria" (the vision of God). We accept faith at first by hearing in order to be healed, and then we attain to faith by theoria, which saves man. Protestants, because they believe that the acceptance of the truths of faith, the theoretical acceptance of God's Revelation, i.e., faith by hearing saves man, do not have a "therapeutic tradition." It could be said that such a conception of salvation is very naïve.

The Roman Catholics as well do not have the perfection of the therapeutic tradition which the Orthodox Church has. Their doctrine of the Filioque is a manifestation of the weakness in their theology to grasp the relationship existing between the person and society. They confuse the personal properties the "unbegotten" of the Father, the "begotten" of the Son, and the procession of the Holy Spirit. The Father is the cause of the "generation" of the Son and the procession of the Holy Spirit.

The Latins' (Roman Catholic) weakness to comprehend and failure to express the dogma of the Holy Trinity show the non-existence of empirical theology. The three Disciples of Christ (Peter, James and John) beheld the glory of Christ on Mount Tabor; they heard at once the voice of the Father, "This is My beloved Son," and saw the coming of the Holy Spirit in a cloud, for, the cloud is the presence of the Holy Spirit, as Saint Gregory Palamas says. Thus the Disciples of Christ acquired the knowledge of the Triune God in theoria (vision of God), and by revelation. It was revealed to them that God is one essence in three hypostases...

"...A faith is a true faith inasmuch as it has therapeutic benefits. If it is able to cure, then it is a true faith. If it does not cure, it is not a true faith. The same thing can be said about medicine: a true scientist is the doctor who knows how to cure and his method has therapeutic benefits, whereas a charlatan is unable to cure. The same holds true where matters of the soul are concerned. The difference between Orthodoxy and Latin tradition, as well as the Protestant confessions, is apparent primarily in the method of therapy. This difference is made manifest in the doctrines of each denomination. Dogmas are not philosophy, neither is theology the same as philosophy. (Source: Orthodox Psychotherapy)

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Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ referred to Himself as a physician, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick" (Saint Matthew 9:12)-the sick being the sinners. The Church refers to Christ as "the Physician of our souls and bodies." And in the prayer to God the Holy Trinity we say, "Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities."

Certainly Jesus is shown in the New Testament, first and foremost, almost from the very beginning as a Healer. The instant He begins His Public Ministry, after He is baptized in the River Jordan, after He is tempted in the wilderness, He comes out to the crowds of the people, and He goes about healing all manner of their diseases, and it even lists them: epileptics and lunatics and paralytics and all these people who are suffering. "And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to Jesus saying, 'Art thou he that should come? or look we for another? ...Then Jesus answering said to them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached..." (St. Luke 7: 19-22).

The devils recognize Him and they see Who He is. And it starts off, like in Saint Mark, the most simple Gospel: He begins healing the mother-in-law of St. Peter of the fever, and it says right there, in the very first Chapter of St. Mark: "That evening at sundown they brought to Him all who were sick or possessed with demons, and the whole city was gathered together about the door."  It's in Capernaum. "And He healed many who were sick with various diseases and cast out demons, and He would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew Who He was," because they knew Him.

There are two categories of Christians: "Those who are well", and "those who are ill". Those who are well are the Saints. Among the ill there are those who are cognizant of their illness and undergo therapy, and those who are unaware of their illness or choose not to undergo therapy. So the Church's work is therapeutic in nature. Christianity (i.e., the Church) should be viewed more as a medical science-closer to psychiatry-than as a religion (Father John Romanides, quoted by Metropolitan Hierotheos).

As with our physical illness so it is with our spiritual illness: the first step toward wellness is to have a thorough checkup. We need to educate ourselves about the various illnesses and how a cure is acquired, what other measures to take.

Before we seek a cure, we must know that we are ill. Sometimes an illness is obvious, but other times it is not. That is why regular checkups are recommended in order to discover any health problems early and address them with a greater chance of success. Unlike our physical health, our spiritual health can be more challenging and illusive. It is therefore necessary that we see our spiritual physician, our spiritual father, or father confessor, to have the proper diagnosis and therapy.

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom

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

+Father George