The Gospels of the Sundays after Pascha in the Eastern Church deal with brokenness, hope and healing. Illnesses first appear to be physical ailments, such as of the paralytic and the blind man, yet Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ when healing always focused on the healing of the soul. Yes, He did cure some who had physical ailments, but His overriding concern was the spiritual infirmity and disease of sin. This is so clearly seen in his message to the paralytic: “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse befalls you” (John 5:15). The meaning of the great Feast of Pentecost, the Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles and Disciples in the upper room 50 days after Pascha, may give us some insight into our Lord‘s focus on spiritual healing.
To understand the meaning of Pentecost and healing we have to go back to St. Luke‘s recording of the Last Supper, and the Priestly prayer of Jesus at that supper, told to us by St. John that we read as part of the Twelve Passion Gospels on Holy Thursday evening of Holy Week. This was the Passover meal in which Our Lord, God and Savior would change ordinary bread and wine into his Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity and in which He ordained, that is, commissioned His Apostles, and in turn their successors, to “do this in memory of me” [Him]. Remember His Divine words as St. Luke records (22): “And he took bread, and when he had given thanks he broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And likewise the cup after supper, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.”
We will note from the Gospel of St. John the Evangelist, the Beloved Apostle, that the Apostles had no understanding of the significance of what Jesus had just done. Jesus tells them He will send a Comforter, the Holy Spirit, but until the Holy Spirit‘s coming the apostles and disciples would remain blind. St. John records the words of Jesus: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you. "I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14: 15-18, 26).
The account of the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, is given in the Feast’s epistle, as described by St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles; “When the day of Pentecost had come, the Disciples were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2: 1-4). And where did this flame rest? In the heart of those who love Christ. Jesus Himself told us: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5: 8).. If God comes and indwells in us, He rests in our hearts.
Barrier to the Vision of God from our Heart
“He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, 'Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.” Sometimes when we hear a word so frequently we take the word for granted. In modern research psychology this process is called habituation. Habituation may be considered a progressive attenuation of a response with repeated stimulus presentation. As a stimulus, “a word” that is repeated becomes in a practical way “less meaningful.” One word we hear frequently in the teachings of our Church Fathers and in various sermons and homilies is “heart.” In the secular world “heart” and its companion ”love” are probably some of the most frequently used in words in verse and song: they become so common, so trivial. After a while we Take such utterances for granted”, these words become so meaningless. Consider Our Lord’s counsel to the assembled crowd: “And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. "Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him" (Matthew 6: 7,8). Repetition by itself yields “empty phrases”.
Guarding the Heart
But not so for our holy spiritual fathers. They call heart: the center of the human person (St. Symeon the New Theologian), the source of life for the body (St. Nikephorous the Monk), the innermost body within the body and the source of [both] good and evil thoughts (St Gregory Palamas, Philokalia IV), the inner shrine of the heart (St. John of Karpathos, Philokalia I), and that Christ dwells in the heart (St Hesychios the Priest, Philokalia I), descending into the heart (St Symeon the New Theologian, Philokalia IV), and the greatest of prayer is prayer of the heart (St Gregory of Sinai, Philokalia IV). It is our needs in the heart that the Father knows of before we ask Him. Concerning our needs Jesus Himself said: “and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all” (Matthew 6:4).
It might be said that the spiritual fathers of the church considered that the heart is healed by guarding its center. St. Hesychos the priest, :”tells us about what he calls the “circumcision of the heart”: ““the guarding of the intellect is a watchtower commanding a view over our whole spiritual life.” The good saint also asks us to reflect on the importance of a spiritual watchtower to look out and protect the city of our souls (its heart). Samuel recounts: “Now David was sitting between the two gates; and the watchman went up to the roof of the gate by the wall, and when he lifted up his eyes and looked ... “ (2 Samuel 18: 24) (Philokalia I). We have to look, to watch, see and discern what will harm or cure our souls.
These few phrases chosen from thousands of the teachings of our Holy Fathers contain the essence of Our Lord’s message: that the guarding of our hearts leads to our theosis’ or sanctification. Does this happen by itself? Is what it takes to heal the heart and the healing itself a product of mere natural human effort? On Pentecost the Holy Spirit descended on the apostles and disciples, making clear to them the meaning of Our Lord’s teachings. How fitting it is on Pentecost Sunday that the Church gives to us a gospel reading dealing with the essence of our salvation: the heart and how it has to be perceived--not in some superficial human way, but as a focused watchfulness.
Understanding the Heart
To help us understand in some meaningful way what the heart is in this human way, let us consider a homily by St. John Chrysostom: he describes a man who praises another for his good looks, stately manner, wealth, lovely house and fine clothes, etc. Later the saint said to the speaker: “Why did you not tell me anything about the man himself? Nothing you told me is about the man himself.” What would God see in us? Charity or to look good? Helping others in His Name, or doing it for show or prestige? Performance for fame? Would He see a self-emptying giving of ourselves to others or exploiting or maneuvering others to enhance our own power or satisfy our lust? It is not charity, helping others, good performance or attaining titles that makes us holy: it is what is in our hearts. Dead water can flow from our heart too. Did not Jesus tell us: “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth that which is evil. For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” (Lk 6:45). However, Jesus gives us the key to what is “living water:” “For whosoever shall give you to drink a cup of water in my name, because you belong to Christ: amen I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.” (Mk 9:40) So what we do in the name of Jesus is what will be sanctified and be living water, what we do in our names, for our motives, will be damned and be dead water. As Jesus promised at Pentecost, those present, and the entire church right down to us today,: now understand: “But the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you” (John 14: 26). “Blessed are the pure of heart ... .” (Matthew 5:8).
The Holy Spirit the Giver of the Heart’s Life
True healing involves the Holy Spirit, and this Holy Spirit was made known to us at Pentecost. Of course, the work of the Spirit is everywhere and at all times present. Remember Jesus’ words: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” (Jn 3:5). St. John Chrysostom tells us: “For the grace of the Spirit, when it has entered into the mind and has been established, springs up more than any fountain, fails not, becomes not empty, stays not. To signify therefore at once its unfailing supply and unlimited operation, He has called it "a well" and "rivers," not one river but numberless. [St. John Chrysostom, Homily 51 on John 7 4th Century; http://www.bulletin.goarch.org/quotes/index.asp]. Consider the words of St. Gregory the Theologian;” If indeed anything is to be considered great and worthy of the Majesty of God, which was either promised or taught...Look at these facts:--Christ is born; the Spirit is His Forerunner. He is baptized; the Spirit bears witness. He is tempted; the Spirit leads Him up. He works miracles; the Spirit accompanies them. He ascends; the Spirit takes His place. [St. Gregory the Theologian, 5th Theological Oration; http://www.bulletin.goarch.org/quotes/index.asp]. The Holy Spirit accompanies all that Christ does, in fact the Holy Trinity is one in unity, substance and action; although a great mystery: while three in person while always acting in unity. Where the healing Christ, begotten of the Father is, there as we have come to know, is the Spirit who heals. As St. Gregory Nazianzus (2002) tells us: “All that God actively performs He [the Holy Spirit] performs.” And the saint reminds us: “He reveals, illumines, gives life—or, rather is absolutely Light and life.”
The Holy Spirit: The Spirit of Healing
Recall St. Paul’s words to Titus: “.. but when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of deeds done by us in righteousness, but in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that we might be justified by his grace and become heirs in hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).
The Mystery of Holy Unction
The epistle of St. James tells us of Christ’s commission to the presbyters to heal the sick: “Is any one among you suffering? Let him pray. Is any cheerful? Let him sing praise. Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.” (Jas 5: 13-15).
In the Mystery of Holy Unction this is accomplished by anointing ‘with’ the Holy Oil by the Holy Spirit. One of the unction prayers reads: “That this oil may be blessed by the power, and operation and indwelling of the Holy Spirit ... ”
Healing: Using all our Godly Gifts
The gift of healing is not limited to prayer, alone but can be by the gift of physical healing as well. All healing is accomplished by the action of the Holy Spirit. Recall St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the Holy Spirit gives various gifts : “ ... to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills” (1 Corinthians 2).
The Church as Hospital
St. John Chrysostom presented us with the idea that the entire Church of Christ is a hospital, thereby expressing in clearer theological terms the relationship between the healing of body and soul practiced by the early healers. The Parable of the Good Samaritan is the model St. John used (also Luke 1:33ff) where the Good Samaritan exemplifies Christ who, as the Great Physician, comes to broken mankind (the man beaten by robbers and lying on the road) in order to bring healing. The inn into which the Good Samaritan delivered the suffering man is the Church (Vlachos, 1994, 1994).
In the fourth century various healing centers were opened and administrated by the Orthodox Church, including homes for the poor, orphans, the aged and hospitals (Demakis, 2004). Many of these centers were associated with monasteries. The health care workers, the physicians, nurses, and psychologists of the day were often the monks themselves. St. Basil of Caesarea (370-379) was trained in medicine and was reported to have worked with the monks in ministering to the ill and infirm (Morelli, 2006b).
St. John Chrysostom, as Patriarch of Constantinople (390), used the wealth of the Church to open hospitals and other philanthropic institutions, which earned him great love from the people. Within two centuries the rapid growth of these centers necessitated state funding although the Church retained the active administration and care-giving in the arrangement. Emperor Justinian moved the most important physicians into the hospitals, which enhanced the reputation of these centers (Demakis 2004).
Healing on a False Foundation
Some physicians, psychologists, and other health and mental health healers have built the intellectual foundation of their healing practice on philosophical sand. Remember the words of Jesus told to us by St. Matthew (7: 24-27): "Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. And every one who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house upon the sand; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell; and great was the fall of it."
I am choosing to use the personality model of Abraham Maslow (1970) as he specifically considers what he labels “people’s religious experiences” as perfectly explainable totally by natural means. Abraham Maslow’s view of religious experiences is at complete variance with the teachings of Christ and His Church. Maslow considers that spiritual reality does not exist. His premise is the sand which the Church Spiritual Fathers would say, could come from God, is the basis of our delusions. This premise of sand blinds us to the reality of the Divine reality of the spiritual vision and is the cause of our blindness.
God’s truth cannot be seen because of our spiritual blindness
For Maslow, St. Basil’s beautiful Anaphora prayer in his Liturgy would be myth and a figment of man’s imagination. Consider the rock of spiritual vision of St. Basil’s inspired words describing salvation history:
... O God, from Paradise into this present world, and didst turn him [mankind] again to the earth from which he was taken, providing for him the salvation of regeneration, which is in thy Christ himself, ... thou didst visit him in diverse manners, through the tender compassion of thy mercy ... Thou didst send forth Prophets, thou didst perform mighty works by the Saints ... thou didst appoint guardian angels. And when the fullness of time had come, thou didst speak unto us through thy Son himself ... and being purified with water and sanctified by the Holy Spirit, he gave himself a ransom to death ... through the Cross, that he might fill all things with himself, ... and rose again from the dead ... making a way for all flesh ..the Resurrection from the dead ..in which he gave himself up for the life of the world ...
What Maslow calls “peak experiences,” labeled by him as ”Transcendence” are merely psychological events that can be simply and thoroughly understood by what he calls science alone. Paradoxically, there is a hint of truth in Maslow’s ideas: it is not science, it is poor armchair philosophy and worse understanding of spiritual vision (cf. Morelli 2006a).
For without the Holy Spirit, no human person can engage in the spiritual contemplation of God. St. Maximus the Confessor tells us “Just as it is impossible for the eye to perceive sensible objects without the light of the sun, so the human intellect cannot engage in spiritual contemplation without the light of the Spirit. For physical light naturally illuminates the senses so that they may perceive physical bodies; while spiritual light illumines the intellect so that it may engage in contemplation and thus grasp what lies beyond the senses” (Philokalia II).
The church fathers have warned us that we are subject to delusions, and may mistake them as coming from God, or are inclined to deny God in the world altogether. Maslow does not have the spiritual vision or insight to see that God is Spirit. God not only sustains and governs the world but brings about all healing if He so wills. And God, His only begotten Son and His Spirit and his healing, can only be perceived if we are not overcome by pride and arrogance and hence deluded.
This is so beautifully described by St. Gregory of Sinai: “Delusion manifests itself ... in the form of mental images and fantasies ... though its sole cause and origin is always arrogance. ... . The first form, illusory visions, is caused by self-conceit; for this leads us to invest the divine with some illusory shape, thus deceiving us through mental images and fantasies ... .This deception in its turn produces blasphemy ... ” (Philokalia IV)
It is only the humble, like the prophets, apostles and church fathers, ancient and those up to the present day who are inspired by the Holy Spirit, are able to sense the indwelling of God at the center of their hearts and His wondrous effects on them and the world surrounding them. Only those who have spiritual vision can pray from their hearts the Kneeling Prayer of the Vespers of Pentecost:
“Who is so great a God like our God. Thou art the God who does wonders, the art the God who does wonders” .
Thus, the foundation of all healing, built of rock, is the spiritual vision only made possible by the Holy Spirit.
Demakis J. (2004). Historical Precedents for Synergia: Combining Medicine, Diakonia and Sacrament in Byzantine Times. In S. Muse (Ed.), Raising Lazarus: Integral healing in Orthodox Christianity. Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press.
Maslow, A. H. (1970). Motivation and Personality. NY: Harper & Row.
Morelli, G (2006a, May 08). Orthodoxy and The Science Of Psychology. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliOrthodoxPsychology.php.
Morelli, G. (2006b, December 21. The Ethos of Orthodox Christian Healing. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles6/MorelliHealing.php.
St. Gregory of Nazianzus (2002). On God and Christ. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.
Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (Eds). (1979). The Philokalia, Volume 1: The Complete Text; Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain & St. Makarios of Corinth. London: Faber and Faber.
Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (Eds.). (1995). The Philokalia, Volume 4: The Complete Text; Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain & St. Makarios of Corinth. London: Faber and Faber.
Vlachos, Bishop Hierotheos, (1994). Orthodox Psychotherapy: The Science of the Fathers. Lavadia, Greece: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery.
Vlachos, Bishop Hierotheos, (1998). The Mind of the Orthodox Church. Lavadia, Greece: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery.
V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist, Coordinator of the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese, (www.antiochian.org/counseling-ministries) and Religion Coordinator (and Antiochian Archdiocesan Liaison) of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion. Fr. George is Assistant Pastor of St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church, San Diego, California.