Allied Against Criminalizing Christ and His Church

The featured author article this month is an updating and reworking of the Society of St. John Chrysostom-Western Region’s President’s Message Light of the East Newsletter (Winter 2014-2015) originally entitled ALLIES IN THE BATTLE AGAINST THE CRIMINALIZATION OF CHRISTIANITY.i This article focuses on the need of the healing of society from making Christ and His Body the Church criminals and that all Christians should ally to cure this increasing societal illness.

The work of Satan, the great divider, or separator, is not new, It goes back to Christ, Himself, His Apostles and Disciples and many early Christians. They were criminals in the eyes of the law, the state. We know from the Holy Gospels and historical accounts that real possession by Satan can occur. However as one Christian author C.S. Lewisii, has pointed out most of the work of Satan is not done by him or his demons, but by us, that is to say, people like you and I. Lewis writes a fictional account of an experienced devil or demon named Screwtape who teaching a novice devil, his nephew called Wormwood to adopt a "war aim," that would entail a, "world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings to himself...." (p. 38). The moral of the story boils down to this: 'you don't have to do much, you can more or less stand back and people will do the Devil's work for you.' This is due to the brokenness, weaknesses, biases, foibles, prejudices and passions we all have, which of course we have inherited from our ancestral parents. (Gn 3)

Many of us would think, that considering Christians as criminals today would be for third world countries or those countries under radical Islamic control. How many would think that, the Criminalization of Christians is now being promoted in the West and in the United States as well? This Fall, 2014, I came across an advertisement for a book almost a decade old now, entitled the 'Criminalization of Christianity.'iii The attack on Christianity leading to criminalization started one small step at a time, almost innocently at first. Prayer in school was banned, portrayals of the Ten Commandments were forbidden in courts, public buildings and of course schools. There was and still is an outcry by atheists and secularists to remove the words "in God we Trust," from our national motto and to remove the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance.

A couple decades ago some individuals were saying that the ultimate goal of the gay-rights movement was the 'criminalization of Christianity.' I would not have believed it if I had heard of it at that time - but I surely know it is true now. A self-proclaimed lesbian mayor of a major Texas city recently tried to subpoena the homilies of pastors in her jurisdiction. She was looking for any criticism of so called 'gay-marriage' as it would be a hate-crime subject to prosecution. Her office was flooded with books of the Sacred Scriptures.iv Because of the public outcry the investigation has been temporarily halted. However in Europe, supposedly an enlightened area of the world, criminalization of church leaders who preached on homosexuality have already been prosecuted. A Swedish court sentenced a pastor to a month in prison by inciting hate by quoting Scripture and thus offending gays and lesbians. A news account reported that the prosecutor said the homilist crossed the line when he recited Scriptural verses referencing homosexuality. (Folger, 2005) By the way, the term 'gay marriage' is an oxymoron - that is to say a contradiction of terms. The Apostolic Churchesv have taught that the marital commitment is a reflection of the love of the persons of the Holy Trinity amongst themselves and that the potential for procreation between the male and female united in a blessed marriage reflects God's creation of the cosmos and specifically mankind. "Wherefore a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they shall be two in one flesh." (Gn 2: 24).

As Christians we are to pray for the spiritual healing of all, but at the same time we can judge an action or deed, proclaiming it is wrong, if indeed we have been told as such by Christ and His Church. Recall Christ's words, spoken through His angel, to St. John in the Book of the Apocalypse (2:6): "But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds [emphasis mine] of the Nicolaites, which I also hate." We know that we can never judge the individual, however we can judge first our deeds and then according to our role in life the deeds of others. Only the merciful God can judge the individual. However, out of charity, that is to say Christian love, it should be stressed that we must also never socially or economically discriminate against anyone based on gender, race, religion sex, and/or sexual orientation.

Where is this reflection leading? It is leading to saying that that segment of secular and politically correct society and sadly, even among those claiming to be Christian themselves, that seeks to persecute and criminalize Christ and His Church for proclaiming God's message to mankind and is in dire need of healing. It is also points out the unique diaconia of the SSJC and actually all who are baptized unto Christ is to witness the solidarity of the Apostolic Churches on such moral matters. The grace to do this was by our entry into the Royal Priesthood of Christ bestowed on us at Holy Baptism. Let us all exercise this gift according to our state of life and become the physicians, next to Christ, the chief physician, of ourselves and all whom we touch.


i The Society of Saint John Chrysostom

The Society of St. John Chrysostom is an ecumenical group of clergy and lay people which promotes Eastern Christianity and Ecumenical Dialogue between the Eastern and Western Churches toward the healing of the sin of disunity. It has sponsored the Eastern Churches Journal and the annual Orientale Lumen & Light of the East Conferences. It has been in existence since 1997 in the United States and for over 70 years in England. (

ii  Lewis, C.S. (1961). The Screwtape Letters. NY: Macmillan.

iii Folger, J.L. (2005). The Criminalization of Christianity. Sisters, OR: Multnomah.


v Those Churches tracing back to Christ and His Apostles, and whose communicants are eligible for SSJC membership: Eastern Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Roman Catholic jurisdictions.

Date posted: January 1, 2015

Chaplain’s Corner: Overcoming the Need for Approval

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

In clinical psychology there is a well-known irrational cognition that prompts dysfunctional emotions such as anxiety and depression and ensuing maladaptive behaviors. The impaired belief or cognition is that: "I must [emphasis mine] be loved or approved by practically every significant person in my life—-and if I am not, it's awful [emphasis mine].i It can be noted that must, implies a personal rule or demand. Awful implies that the result is the 'end of the world' 'more than 100% bad. The dire need for approval, as in the case of other irrational beliefs, dis-affirmative emotions and faulty behaviors, lead to a cascading domino of untoward problems. Such need for approval undermines being able to overcome obstacles to attain desirable goals and very often leads individuals to set high standards that are so perfectionistic as to be practically unattainable all with accompanying increasing dysfunctional emotions mentioned above.

The demand characteristic of the dire need for approval can at times be called by different names. In the Hebrew Sacred Scriptures the wise Solomon notes: "It is better to be rebuked by a wise man, than to be deceived by the flattery of fools." (Ecclesiastes 7:6). Flattery is an attempt to pander for the approval of others. The Buddhist tradition would have us consider that if we "care about other people's approval and you will be their prisoner. Do your work, then step back." The only path to serenity."ii A 19th Century youth instructor informed her students: "Do not receive flattery, ... Flattery is an art by which Satan lieth in wait to deceive and to puff up the human agent with high thoughts of himself."iii It could be considered that the dire need for approval, makes one susceptible to succumb to the temptation to flattery. Looking at this from the point of view of the flatterer, it could be considered enabling the person who needs approval to continue to be dependent on such approval from others. On the other hand the advice of the Sufi-Islam writings on this matter can be heeded: "It is not permissible for anyone to flatter ... rather it is obligatory to clarify the truth whatever it may be."iv

The Holy Fathers of the Eastern Church would consider the dire need for approval to fall under the guise of vainglory. St. John of the Ladderv informs us: "It is the height of vainglory when a person, seeing no one near him to praise him, puts on affected behavior." (pp. 222-223). The connection to the dire need for approval can be seen, as 'affected behavior' is speaking or behaving in an contrived way as to make an impression [on others], (aka gain their approval). The untoward psychological and spiritual consequences of the dire need for approval are succinctly described by the contemporary holy Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountainvi, when he tells: "Many people torment themselves because they do not succeed in being glorified with vain honors..." (p. 188).

Overcoming the dire need for approval can begin on two fronts. Psychologically one can re-structure their personal rule system from must or should to would like. Thus a more effective way of interacting with others would be to think: 'that it's definitely nice to have people[s love and approval—-but even without it I can accept myself.' Spiritually, we can turn from worldly approval by affirming and living out the words of St. Isaac the Syrianvii: "There is hope [trust-confidence] in God that comes through the [commitment] of the heart which is good, and which one possesses with discernment and knowledge."(p.181) The saint indicates that God is ever merciful, even in the face of our failings. Poetically he puts it this way: "As a grain of sand cannot counterbalance a great quantity of gold, so in comparison God's use of justice cannot counterbalance His mercy." (p.379).


i Ellis, A. (1962). Reason and emotion in psychotherapy. Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart.




v St. John of the Ladder. (1991). The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Brookline, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery.

vi  Elder Paisios of Mount Athos. (2012). Spiritual Counsels IV: Family Life. Thessalonica, Greece : Holy Monastery Evangelist John the Theologian.

vii St. Isaac the Syrian, (2011). Ascetical Homilies of St. Isaac the Syrian. Brookline, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery.

Date posted: January 1, 2105

Understanding Orthodoxy for Mental Health Practitioners—Part 4

[This is a follow up course to Orthodox Christian Spirituality and Cognitive Psychotherapy: An Online Course, that appeared in four parts over the years 2012-2013. This second course is specifically oriented to explain Orthodoxy to mental health practitioners, and serve as a useful resource for Orthodox Clergy and laity as well. Ethically, mental health practitioners should incorporate the spiritual values of their patients in the therapeutic process. The course would serve as an introduction of the Eastern Orthodox ethos and cultural traditions to these professionals.

One of the most frequently questions I am asked as Chairman of the Chaplain and Pastoral Counseling Department of the Antiochian Archdiocese is for a referral to an Orthodox mental health practitioner. Sadly Orthodoxy is not a majority spiritual tradition in North America and Orthodox practitioners are few. So careful questioning by potential patients, family and clergy of a potential practitioner regarding the practitioner's understanding and respect for the spiritual values of their patients is very important. This course is meant to aid in this inquiry.

It also should be noted that this course is an updating and reworking of a recently published chapter: Psychotherapy with members of Eastern Orthodox Churches, (Morelli, 2014).]

Intellect, Science and Healing

The Creation of Mankind

The Creation
of Mankind

Clearly, the Church Fathers teach that intellect and reason are highly valued characteristics in man. It is important to note that intellect does not mean high intelligence. It refers to the spiritual perception of the principles of the Divine. The Greek term dianoia refers to the ability to reason, distinguish, create, and all the qualities associated with it. Further, there is a moral imperative implied in the assessment of the Church Fathers. Since the intellect and reason is a gift from God, we must exercise reason to the best of our ability. Failure to responsibly apply our intellect and reason in our lives means we are not conforming to the will of God.

One area where the intellect must be applied is in the contemplation of life around us. Where does the ultimate meaning of the creation and our place in it come from: science and its offshoots, including medicine and psychology — or God? Science is empirical; it measures material objects and defines material processes. It describes the workings of creation, but it can say nothing about creation’s meaning and purpose. Materiality and meaning are two different things, but nevertheless are woven together as the Psalmist told us: “The heavens declare the Glory of God and the firmament proclaims His handiwork . . . ..” (Ps 18:1).

Contemporary Hospital Chapel and Hospital in Minsk, Russia

Contemporary Hospital Chapel
and Hospital in Minsk, Russia

The now universally accepted scientific method involves the faculty of reason. However, it did not become a systematic field of study until almost 1500 years after Christ, and the early Church could know little of its methods as a comprehensive approach. Nonetheless, two factors tie Christianity with psychology as we know it today. One is the tradition of spiritual direction and the other is the view that human beings are made in God’s image. The tradition of spiritual direction and spiritual fatherhood is laid out by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ through the Gospel.” (4:15). As Metropolitan Kallistos Ware (Hausherr, 1990, p. ix) tells us: “[A spiritual father, such as St. Clement] . . . was also a spiritual guide to his pupils, a living model and exemplar, providing them not only with information but with an all embracing personal relationship.” Ware goes on to say that in the early Church, the spiritual father was seen in five ways: as doctor, counselor, intercessor, mediator and sponsor. In his counselor role, the spiritual father heals by ‘words, advice and counsel.’ Confession, used by the spiritual fathers and priests, is viewed as going to a ‘hospital’ rather than a court of law. Penance imposed after confession of sins is viewed as a tonic to assist in recovery, not as a punishment.

The second factor making Christianity open to modern psychotherapy is that mankind is made in God’s image. The ‘image’ of God in man has mainly been viewed by the Church Fathers as follows: our intellect, reason and free will can be used to become more “like” Him [God]. Christians are, therefore, to use their intellect, reason and free will in their interacting with the world. The use of modern scientific psychotherapy, which is the result of the use of these faculties, becomes, therefore, a necessity for the serious Christian in his or her purification and healing and in his/her journey to become “like God.”[i]


[i] Many communities with the name of Christian or consider themselves associated with the label ‘Christian’ in many ways, departed from the Mind of Christ and His Church. Only the Apostolic Churches (Eastern Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Roman Catholic) have retained the close ethos of Christ’s teaching, with the Orthodox Churches at the quintessential core of the Mind of Christ and His Church. These non-Apostolic denominations and communities collectively called Protestant, such as the Anglican Communion, Episcopal Communion, the Evangelical communities, various community groups etc. were founded by individuals, centuries, if not over a thousand years after Christ founded His Church. Their founders and subsequent successors put their personal individual interpretations on these writings as the ultimate authority of their teachings. This is known as sola scriptura, ‘only scripture.’ Most Protestant denominations consider the written literally interpreted scriptures, called the Holy Bible, the pinnacle of Tradition. The use of the term ‘Holy Bible,’ indicates that these writings are ‘authoritative in and of themselves.’ In contrast, among the Apostolic Churches the interpretation of the entirety of Holy Tradition, oral, then written, was by the blessing of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost given to Christ’s Church. The Apostolic Churches collectively know that Tradition, the teachings of Christ and His Apostles were first oral they years later written and centuries later canonized by the Holy Spirit inspired Church. This can be summarized by the term Scripture ‘in’ Tradition. (Breck, 2001). The simple term Sacred Scripture used by many among the Apostolic Churches, is truer to the real understanding the place of the Scriptures in the Churches.

There are egregious untoward consequences, of these ‘man-founded’ denominations and their precepts. This includes the rejection of modern science, and its findings. Evolution would be a good example. In previous writings I have indicated there is no inherent contradiction between evolution and the Church. God can create nature with any laws He wants. (Morelli, 2006). Interestingly, recently, Pope Francis I, wrote on a similar theme. One recent news report stated: “VATICAN CITY (RNS) Pope Francis on Monday (Oct. 27) waded into the controversial debate over the origins of human life, saying the big bang theory did not contradict the role of a divine creator, but even required it. The pope was addressing the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which gathered at the Vatican to discuss “Evolving Concepts of Nature.”” []. From an Orthodox perspective, not to use the findings of science is a negation of God’s injunction to us to use our intellect to understand and have dominion over the world. “And he said: Let us make man to our image and likeness: and let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and the beasts, and the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth.” (Gn 1: 26). Not to use science can also be considered to be a waste of the gifts given to us by God, as witnessed by the common patristic understanding of Christ’s Parable of the Talents (Mt 25: 14-30).[Blessed Theophylact (2006). The Explanation by Blessed Theophylact of the Holy Gospel of St. Matthew. House Springs, MO: Chrysostom Press.] Separation from the Mind of Christ and His Church has also lead to the increasing influence of secular and politically correct ethos into these communities and unfortunate attacks on the Apostolic Churches and their Holy Spirit reflection of the Mind of Christ. This is seen by many denominations and their leaders endorsing such evils as abortion, euthanasia, gay female ordination, same-sex and even multi-partner marriage ( Morelli, 2009; Morelli, G. (2012, April 1). Healing Society: Revisiting Witnessing Christ in a Secular Age.


(These references are for the entire course, only a portion are for Part IV)

Abramson, L. Y., Seligman, M. E. P., & Teasdale, J. (1978). Learned helplessness in humans: Critique and reformulation. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 87, 49-74. Alfeyev, Bishop Hilarion, (2002). The Mystery of Faith. London, England: Darton, Longman and Todd.

Alfeyev, Archbishop Hilarion. (2009). Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The descent into Hades from an Orthodox perspective. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. Athanasius, St. (1975). On the Incarnation of Our Lord. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

Bandura, A. (1986). Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Beck, A.T., Rush, A.J., Shaw, B.F., & Emery, G. (1979). Cognitive Therapy of Depression. NY: Guilford Press.

Beck, A.T. (1988). Love is Never Enough: how couples can overcome misunderstandings, resolve conflicts and solve relationship problems through cognitive therapy. NY: Harper-Collins.

Beck, A.T. (1999). Prisoners of Hate: The cognitive basis of anger, hostility and violence. New York: HarperCollins.

Beck, J.S. (1995). Cognitive Therapy: Basics and Beyond. NY: The Guilford Press. Beck, J.S. (2011). Cognitive Therapy: Basics and Beyond. (2nd ed.). NY: The Guilford Press.

Breck, J. (2001). Scripture in Tradition: The bible and its interpretation in the Orthodox Church. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

Burns, D. (1980). Feeling Good. New York: William Morrow.

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.

Ellis, A. (1962). Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy. Secaucus NJ: Lyle Stuart.

Ellis, A. & Harper, R. (1975). A Guide to Rational Living. NY: Wilshire.

Enright, R.D. (2012). The Forgiving Life: A Pathway to Overcoming Resentment and Creating a legacy of love. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Erwin, E. (1980). Psychoanalysis: How firm is the evidence? Nous, 14, 443-456.

Exline, J.J., Baumeister, R.F. Zell, A.L., Kraft, A.J., & Witvliet, C.V.O., (2008) Not so innocent: Does seeing one's own capability for wrongdoing predict forgiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94, 495-515.

French, R. A. (1991)(trans). The Way of a Pilgrim; and The Pilgrim Continues His Way. San Francisco, CA: Harper.

Galanter, E. (1962). Contemporary psychophysics. In Brown, R. (Ed.), New Directions in Psychology. NY: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Gassin, E.A. (2001). Interpersonal forgiveness from an Eastern Orthodox perspective. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 29, 187-200.

Hausherr, I. (1990). Spiritual Direction in the Early Christian East. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications.

Howe, R. (2005) The Disease Manager's Handbook. Sudbury MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

Hronas, G. (1999). The Holy Unmercenary Doctors: The Saints Anargyroi, physicians and healers of the Orthodox Church. Minneapolis, MN: Light and Life.

Izard, C. (1993). Four systems for emotion activation: cognitive and noncognitive processes. American Psychologist. 100, 1, 68-90.

Izard, C. E. (2001). Emotional intelligence or adaptive emotions? Emotion, 1, 249-257.

Izard, C.E. (2002). Translating emotion theory and research into preventative interventions. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 796-824.

Kadloubovsky, E., & Palmer, G.E.H. (1954). Early Fathers from the Philokalia. London: Faber and Faber.

Kahneman, D. (1973). Attention and Effort. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Krindatch, A. (2011),(Ed.). Atlas of American Orthodox Christian Churches. Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Press.

Langes, M. (Ed.) (1977). The Evergetinos. Athens, Greece: Monastery of the Transfiguration.

Lazarus, R.S. (1991) Emotion and Adaptation. NY: Oxford University Press

Loftus, E. F. (1980). Memory, Surprising New Insights Into How We Remember and Why We Forget. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley

Marmor, J. (1962). Psychoanalytic Therapy as an Educational Process: Common Denominators in the Therapeutic Approaches of Different Psychoanalytic Schools. In Masserman, J.H. (Ed.). Science and psychoanalysis. (Vol. 5). Psychoanalytic education. Pp. 286-299. New York: Grune & Stratton.

McGoldrick, M., Giordano, J. & Garcia-Preto, N. (Eds.). (2005). Ethnicity & Family Therapy. (3rd ed.). NY: Guilford Press.

McGuckin, J. A. (2004). The Westminster Handbook to Patristic Theology. Louisville, KT: Westminster John Knox Press.

Morelli, G. (2004) Sex is Holy: The responsibility of Christian parenting. The Word. 48. 6, 7-8.

Morelli, G. (2006a, March 6). Asceticism and Psychology in the Modern World. http://www.orthodoxytoday....

Morelli, G. (2006b, May 08). Orthodoxy and the Science of Psychology. Available: http://www.orthodoxytoday....

Morelli, G. (2006c, July 29). Dealing with Brokenness in the World. Available:

Morelli, G. (2006d, December 21). The Ethos of Orthodox Christian Healing. Available: http://www.orthodoxytoday....

Morelli, G. (2009, September 26). Secularism and the Mind of Christ and the Church: Some Psycho-Spiritual Reflections. Available: http://www.orthodoxytoday....

Morelli, G. (2014). Psychotherapy with members of Eastern Orthodox Churches. In P.

Scott Richards & Allen E. Bergin (Eds.) Handbook of Psychotherapy and Religious Diversity (2nd ed. pp. 77-102). Washington DC: American Psychological Association. Novaco, R.W. (1975). Anger Control: The Development of an Experimental Treatment. Lexington, KY: Lexington.

Novaco, R.W. (1977). Stress inoculation: A cognitive therapy for anger. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 45. 600-608.

Palmer, G.E.H.; Sherrard, P.; and Ware, K. (Trans.) (1971, 1981, 1988, 1990). Philokalia, I IV. London: Faber and Faber.

Posner, M.I., & Snyder, C.R.R. (1975). Attention and Cognitive Control. In Solso, R.L. (Ed.), Information Processing and Cognition: The Loyola Symposium. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Powers C., Nam, R.K., Rowatt, W.C. & Hill, P.C. (2007). Association between humility, spiritual transcendence, and forgiveness. Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion, 18, 75-94.

Rathus, S. A. (1973). A 30-item schedule for assessing assertive behavior. Behavior Therapy, 4, 398-406.

Sakharov, Archimandrite Sophrony, (1999). St Silouan the Athonite. Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

Shiffren, R.H. (1988). Attention. In Atkinson, R.C., Herrnstein, R.J., Lindzey, G., & Luce, R.D. (Eds.), Stevens' Handbook of Experimental Psychology. (Vol.2). NY: Wiley.

Spiegler, M.D. & Guevremont, D.C. (2010). Contemporary Behavior Therapy. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

Staniloae, D. (2003). Orthodox Spirituality: A Practical Guide for the Faithful and a Definitive Manual for the Scholar. South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon's Seminary Press.

Tavris, C. (1984), Anger: The misunderstood emotion. NY: Simon & Schuster

Vlachos, Archimandrite Hierotheos (1993). The Illness and Cure of the Soul in the Orthodox Tradition. (Translated by Effie Mavromichali). Levadia, Greece: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery.

Vlachos, Archimandrite Hierotheos (1994a). Orthodox Psychotherapy: The Science of the Fathers. (Translated by Esther Williams) Levadia, Greece: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery.

Vlachos, Archimandrite Hierotheos (1994b). Orthodox Spirituality: A Brief Introduction. (Translated by Effie Mavromichali). Levadia, Greece: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery. Ware, Bishop Kallistos (1979). The Orthodox Way. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

Ware, Bishop Kallistos (1963). The Orthodox Church. London: Penguin Books.

Weiner, B. (Ed.). (1974). Achievement Motivation and Attribution Theory. Morristown: General Learning Press.

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Date posted: December 2, 2014

Chaplains Corner: People Are Going to Act the Way They Want To, Not the Way I Want

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

The reason that many of the conflicts we have with others can disturb us is that we have in our minds sets of guiding rules, or cognitive ‘sets’, about what the behaviors of others, or the consequent outcomes of events should be.  Putting it more bluntly: thinking that they should do what we think they should be doing and it is awful and terrible, catastrophic, as it were, if they don’t.  This observation about mankind has been extensively elaborated by pioneer Cognitive-Behavior Therapist Albert Ellis1 who points out that it is “It is simply amazing how many millions of people on this earth are terribly upset and miserable when things are not the way they would like them to be, or when the world is in the way the world is.” (p. 69). Put another way, they are making demands about people and events.

A similar message is known among various religious traditions. In Buddhism there is a notion of detachment that teaches that a person should aim to be so detached from one’s opinions and thoughts, as not to be emotionally and mentally injured by them. “[Discard] the present world itself. Erroneous views are of this world. Correct views transcend this world. ”This is further explained thus in Buddhist texts: "You should be engaged in your own practice. Don't see the right and wrong in others."2 Similarly, Hinduism connects demandingness to our attachments and desires. The Hindu scripture,  the Bhagavad-Gita,3  states “. . . from  attachment springs desire, and from (unfulfilled) desire ensues anger. From anger arises delusion; from delusion arises confusion of memory; from confusion of memory arises loss of discrimination (buddhi); from the loss of discrimination the individual perishes.. . . .” Another passage expresses this concept with quite poetic imagery: “One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus is untouched by water.” (Bhagavad-Gita 5:10)4

An interesting perspective on demandingness comes from Austrian Jewish psychiatrist Viktor Frankl (1975, p. 56),5 a Nazi Holocaust survivor, who views it as a form of irreligion. He writes: “The more religious a man is, the more he will respect the decision of his fellow man not to go further. After all, it is precisely the religious man who should respect the freedom of such a choice because he is the one who believes man to be created free.”

The Fathers of the Eastern Church consider renunciation of self-will to be an aid in overcoming our demandingness of others and of how we think events should turn out. St. Peter of Damaskos tells us “we should be detached from all things” (Philokalia IlI, p. 149)6. St. John of the Ladder (Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1971)7 underscores such ‘treatment’ when he tell us that this should be a “voluntary detachment from every creature and complete renunciation of their [our] own will.”(p. 67). To do this, we have to recognize that demandingness is an illness. St. John expresses this well when he tells us: “he whose will and desire in conversation is to establish his own opinion, even though what he says is true, should recognize that he is sick . . . .” (p. 38).

Underlying the teachings of all the Church Fathers is that we should conform our will to God’s will. Thus we can see the synergy, the working together, of psychology and spiritual tradition for aiding in the healing of dysfunctional thoughts, emotions and behaviors.


1 Ellis, A. (1962). Reason and emotion in psychotherapy. Secaucus, NJ: Lyle Stuart




5 Frankl, V.E. (1975). The unconscious God. NY Simon & Schuster.

Palmer, G.E.H.; Sherrard, P.; and Ware, K. (Trans.) (1971, 1981, 1988, 1990). Philokalia, I IV. London: Faber and Faber.

7 Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1971. The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Boston, MA Holy Transfiguration Monastery.

Date posted: December 2, 2014

Smart Parenting XXIV: Spanking - Physical, Psychological and Moral Abuse

It were better for him, that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should scandalize one of these little ones (Lk 17:2)

The major goal of good parenting is to provide the milieu and guidance their children need to become the 'most they can be' in all major domains of life. These domains include the dimensions of spirituality, moral character, family and social commitment, personality characteristics, and intellectual and cognitive-behavioral-emotional development. The cornerstone for all development in the orthodox Christian family is Christ and his Church. In this regard we can think of the words said by St. Paul to the Ephesians that we are all part of God's family that is "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone." (2:20). This is especially true for those, male and female, husband and wife, who are "one flesh" in a blessed marriage, as is prayed in the Orthodox Wedding Service, "unite them in one mind and one flesh, and grant unto them fair children for education in thy faith and fear. . . ."

Psychological Principles of Smart Parenting

Morelli (2005, 2006ab) has pointed out that the principles of cognitive-behavioral management are ideally suited for application to good parenting.  All behaviors, whether appropriate or inappropriate, have both cognitive and behavioral factors that can influence their occurrence.

The major psychological principles that influence behavior can be summarized thus:

Behavioral basics:

  • Behavioral Pinpointing: Pinpointing behavior is describing what was done or said, when and where. Correct: “Johnny kicked Sally while on the lunchroom line while yelling at her: ‘You ugly idiot.’” Incorrect: “Johnny was bad today,” or “Johnny is aggressive.”
  • Behaviors are shaped (increased or decreased) by their consequences. There are two types of consequences: those which are found to be 1) pleasant or 2) unpleasant by the individual whose behavior is being influenced. [The goal of good parenting (as also of pastoring and teaching) is to increase appropriate and decrease inappropriate behavior]
    • Pleasant consequences:
      • Positive Reinforcement: something added (+) that the individual finds pleasant: watching an extra TV program, extra time to play a smartphone videogame, being told they got a math homework problem correct.
      • Negative Reinforcement: something unpleasant is taken away, subtracted (-), that the individual finds this pleasant: not having to do a boring chore, being able to skip a dull family visit.
    • Unpleasant consequences:
      • Positive Punishment: something added (+) that the individual finds unpleasant: being told to do an extra difficult chore, being told they are an ‘idiot,’ being spanked.
      • Negative Punishment: something is taken away, subtracted (-) that the individual finds pleasant: not being able to watch a favorite TV program, losing the use of a computer, game-controller or smartphone.

[Practical Hint #1: Perception of what is ‘pleasant’ or ‘unpleasant’ has to be from the point of view of the child [or individual] whose behavior is being influenced.  What is pleasant to a parent may be unpleasant to the child, and what is unpleasant to a parent may be pleasant to the child.

Practical Hint #2: Punishment of inappropriate behavior should always be immediately followed by reinforcing some ‘good’ behavior the child is seen doing.

Practical Hint #3: Tell the child of the unpleasant consequences (punishing) of their bad behavior in a soft tone and simply state the consequences due to their choosing to do something bad.

Practical Hint #4: In any situation, the child should be informed ahead of time of what behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable (see Behavioral Pinpointing, above). ]

  • Modeling is the core of observational learning. We learn the behaviors others are doing by being exposed to the words and actions they are performing. This is also called by the technical, behavioral science term: vicarious learning. What is observed as being done, felt or undergone by a model is being learned and is capable of being performed, felt and/or undergone by the observer. It is as if the observer were actually performing, or undergoing themselves the experience or feelings of the model. After such learning, under appropriate motivational circumstances, the observer can perform, and/or feel, what they had previously observed.  For example, Johnny sees his father spank his younger brother Frankie for ‘talking back.’ Johnny ‘feels’ the anger and ‘power’ his father displays. Sometime later, when Frankie takes Johnny’s smartphone to play games on, won’t give it back and sticks his tongue out at him, Johnny punches him.


Abuse is defined on Federal and State levels, by State licensing boards and by various professional associations’ codes of ethics. Civil and criminal statutes associated with abuse are provided by each state. Common targets of these statutes are child, elder and spousal abuse. In this article the focus is on child abuse.

 Federal legislation provides minimal guidelines for recognizing behaviors of abuse and neglect.. A child is defined as an individual younger than 18, or “not an emancipated minor.”

  1. "Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation."
  2. "An act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm."
    [The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) (42 U.S.C.A. § 5106g as amended by the CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2010)] []

Common categories of abuse that have been further delineated by the States include:

  • Physical Abuse, (hitting, spanking, violent striking, physical bullying etc.);
  • Sexual Abuse, (forcible intercourse and other sexual acts, inappropriate touching, exhibition, use of language, etc.);
  • Psychological Abuse (calling someone by demeaning words or phrases ("You stupid idiot,” “You m****er f***ing loser," “You retard.” [These also can be perceived as psychological bullying.]
  • Abuse by Neglect (denying, food, shelter, education, and other necessary care.)

Abuse and the human rights of the child

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (2006) issued the following statement:

18. Article 37 of the Convention requires States to ensure that “no child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. This is complemented and extended by article 19, which requires States to “take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child”. There is no ambiguity: “all forms of physical or mental violence” does not leave room for any level of legalized violence against children. Corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment are forms of violence, and States must take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to eliminate them. []

The special case of spanking

From the above outline of behavioral principles, it will be clear that spanking is a form of positive punishment. The critical questions are: what are the consequences of such punishment? Is spanking effective? Does spanking have any beneficial and/or deleterious effects? Parents and others often want to employ spanking as a punishment to decrease inappropriate behavior. Behavioral research suggests that this is not accomplished. Gershoff (2008) provides an analysis of over a hundred years of behavioral research from a variety of disciplines, including education, medicine, psychology, social work and sociology. Her conclusions, summarized, are:

  • There is little research evidence that physical punishment improves children’s behavior in the long term.
  • There is substantial research evidence that physical punishment makes it more, not less, likely that children will be defiant and aggressive in the future.
  • There is clear research evidence that physical punishment puts children at risk for [malevolent] outcomes, including increased mental health problems.
  • There is consistent evidence that children who are physically punished are at greater risk of serious injury and physical abuse. 

The neuropsychology correlates of corporal punishment

Current behavioral research provides a neuropsychological basis for some of these effects. Straus and Paschall (2009) found that children ages 2-4 whose behavior was managed by corporal punishment (spanking) had diminished cognitive processing 4 years later (ages 5-9). The comprehensive testing they used included: body parts recognition, memory for locations, motor and social development and individual achievement tests for Math and Reading recognition.

Tomoda, Suzuki, Rabi, Sheu, Polcari, & Teicher (2009), for example, report an attenuation of prefrontal cortical gray matter in young adults that was related to Harsh Corporal Punishment (HCP) in their early childhood years. The authors point out that “HCP may be an aversive and stressful event for human beings that potentially alters the developmental trajectory of some brain regions in which abnormalities have been associated with major forms of psychopathology.” These mental disorders include addiction, depression-suicidal behavior dissociative disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The authors consider these effects to be possibly related to the difficulty of reconciling the child’s perception of parents as nurturers and being intentionally aggressors. In a similar manner, Morelli (2006b) points out that positive punishment, such as the spanking discussed in this paper, cognitively distracts the child from associating their behavior with the aversive consequence (spanking), and rather focuses the child’s interpretation of the parental action as ‘mean and hostile.’

All well and good to know all the results of this scientifically based research, my readers may be musing, but is it relevant to the Orthodox  Christian family for which “[T]he cornerstone of all development” is “Christ and his Church?”

Orthodoxy and Scientific Healing

In and through the Church we know the Genesis account of the creation of mankind and God’s words: "Let us make man to our image and likeness: and let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and the beasts, and the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth.” (Genesis 1:26). As Morelli (2006c) notes, McGuckin (2004) indicates that several Greek Fathers defined the term "image" by relating it to Adam's naming of the animals, thereby linking an attribute of the image of God in man to "mankind's dominion over the created order." The patristic exegesis highlights the different characteristics that man possesses over the animals, such as understanding, rationality, and intelligence, to conclude that these characteristics define in some measure the term "image of God." Scientific knowledge applied to the prevention and healing of disease, whether physical or mental, depends on the use of the inherent cognitive or perceptual powers of the mind of mankind that are in the domain of having “dominion over the created order.”

In addition, the spirit of the aphorism ‘grace builds on nature’ can be seen in the words of St. Maximus the Confessor who said "the grace of the most Holy Spirit does not confer wisdom on the Saints without their natural intellect as capacity to receive it" (Philokalia II). This theme is echoed by a saintly contemporary spiritual father of the Church, Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (2008). When asked by a disciple: “Geronda, concerning physical and mental health, to what extent must one put himself into the hands of God?” The Elder replied, “First one must entrust himself to God, and after God, he will also entrust himself to the appropriate person [healer].”

The penultimate witness of this synergy of scientific healing and Orthodoxy can be seen in the establishment of monastic healing centers in the 4th Century (Demakis, 2004, Morelli, 2006c). Our great Church Father, St. Basil of Caesarea, (370-379) was medically trained and worked with his monks in attending to the ill and infirm. As Patriarch of Constantinople, St. John Chrysostom (390 AD) opened hospitals and other philanthropic institutions funded by the Church. Because of the rapid growth of these institutions over the next two centuries, the Emperor Justinian moved the most important physicians into state funded hospitals. Importantly, while the Church maintained administration and care-giving, imperial sanction enhanced the reputation of the hospitals.

An outline of the Typikon [rule of order] of the Pantocrator Monastery provides a good example of the complex administrative structure of such institutions (Demakis, 2004, Morelli, 2006c). The Church physicians, in emulation of Christ, had to be grounded spiritually by their commitment to Christ and by, personal prayer for themselves and their patients, have great love for mankind, seeing that all are made in God’s image and attribute all their success to God.  Quite relevant to the importance of the scientific basis of medical intervention is, as Demakis (2004) points out, that “They were outstanding physicians, often ‘first in their medical school class.’ Medical science was regarded as a serious academic discipline.” 

Application of Orthodoxy and Scientific Healing to Spanking

Considering the preponderance of scientific evidence demonstrating the severe detrimental effects of positive punishment and specifically spanking, as noted above, it can be concluded that these techniques are grave moral and ethical violations. Thus, any parenting style, or mental health treatment method, or pastoral ministry that acts against the best of scientific findings of the day is morally condemnable. 

We are never to judge the hearts or inner motivations of individuals, such as those who do spank or justify its use, as per Christ’s dictum (Luke 6: 42): “Or how canst thou say to thy brother: Brother, let me pull the mote out of thy eye, when thou thyself seest not the beam in thy own eye? Hypocrite, cast first the beam out of thy own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to take out the mote from thy brother's eye.” However, we can condemn despicable deeds, as St. John tells us in the Book of Revelation  through Jesus’ words given him by an angel:  “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaites [a 1st Century sect of heretical Gnostics who lived lives of unrestrained indulgence], which I also hate.” (Rev 2: 6).  The mind of Christ revealed by His angel, has been the consistent ‘Mind of the Church. This is witnessed by St. Maximus the Confessor who said: “He who busies himself with the sins of others, or judges his brother on suspicion, has not yet even begun to repent or to examine himself so as to discover his own sins…” (Philokalia II, p. 92).

Unfortunately, with undoubtedly sincere motivation, even some Christian communities that are separated from the Church and the riches of its Tradition, including its support of “the inherent cognitive or perceptual powers of the mind of mankind“ engage in personal and literal interpretation of scriptural verses, including using some passages to justify physical abuse such as spanking.  We know that among the Apostolic Churches it is only the Church Herself, which canonized the Sacred Scriptures, that can thus understand and interpret them, echoing the ‘Mind of Christ. As McGuckin (2011, p. 101) tells us, “Protestantism has generally elevated the Scripture as something far and above all other things in the church. Assigned as a composition of the Spirit of God (often understood in a sense of inspiration detached from the [Church] rather than within it) it is made to stand alone, towering over any other thing that could be ascribed to church tradition.” The view of the Apostolic Churches on this matter is succinctly described by the title of Fr. John Breck’s (2001) seminal book: ‘Scripture in Tradition.’

In eschewing harsh punishment such as spanking, and instead modeling appropriate behavior ourselves and using reinforcement (rewarding) of others’ good behavior let us be mutually up-building, gently sharing, when appropriate, the benefits of using scientific understanding  to help all become the “most we can be” as Christians. Certainly we can share these insights with others. Let us recall St. Paul’s words to the Romans (14: 19): “Therefore let us follow after the things that are of peace; and keep the things that are of edification one towards another.”


Breck, J. (2001). Scripture in Tradition: The bible and its interpretation in the Orthodox Church. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press

Elder Paisios of Mount Athos (2008). Spiritual counsels (V. II Spiritual Awakening), Thessaloniki, Greece: Holy Monastery Evangelist John the Theologian.

Gershoff, E. T. (2008). Report on Physical Punishment in the United States: What Research Tells Us About Its Effects on Children. Columbus, OH: Center for Effective Discipline.

McGuckin, J.A. (2004). The Westminster Handbook to Patristic Theology. Louisville, KT: Westminster John Knox Press.

McGuckin, J.A. (2011). The Orthodox Church - An introduction to its history, doctrine, and spiritual culture. London, England: Wiley-Blackwell

Morelli, G. (2005, September 17). Smart Parenting Part I. .

Morelli, G. (2006a, February 04). Smart Parenting Part II.

Morelli, G. (2006b, March 25). Smart Parenting III: Developing Emotional Control.

Morelli, G. (2006c, December 21). The Ethos of Orthodox Christian Healing. .

Palmer, G.E.H.; Sherrard, P.; and Ware, K. (Trans.) (1971, 1981, 1988, 1990). Philokalia,  I IV. London: Faber and Faber.

Straus, M.A. & Paschall, M.J. (2009). Corporal Punishment by Mothers and Development of Children’s Cognitive Ability: A Longitudinal Study of Two Nationally Representative Age Cohorts. Journal of Aggression Maltreatment & Trauma, 18(5), 459.

Tomoda, Suzuki, Rabi, Sheu, Polcari, & Teicher (2009). Corporal punishment by parents and associated child behaviors and experiences: A meta-analytic and theoretical review. Neuroimage; 47(Suppl 2): T66–T71.

Date posted: November 1, 2014

Chaplain’s Corner: Is the Cup Half Full or Half Empty?

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

Some people go through life looking at things around them with cynical glasses. Their outlook can range from being wary or suspicious of others' intentions and motives to perceiving the worst in mankind, sneering at others' beliefs and motives; and even scorning societal moral standards. In popular words, they see the 'cup half empty.' On the other hand, there are those who are hopeful. They look around them, and even if they see someone failing or some event at which they look askance, they, being honest and good of heart, are motivated to see the good that can come out of something inauspicious. They see the 'cup half full.' They are motivated to do what it takes to fill any apparent 'cup' that is less than full. Frequently they accomplish this by patient endurance. By contrast, however, recent behavioral research has indicated that modern society, which is increasingly demanding instantaneous information technology speed, is actually fostering 'impatient un-endurance.' The desire for instant gratification also can be seen in the upsurge of 'same day delivery'1 and recent drone-delivery proposals.

There are health risks linked to cynicism. In studies of middle aged individuals, among them Vietnam veterans, those who impute a hostile motive to others had a greater chance of developing heart disease and possibly diabetes and other diseases. The explanation of the association is that "hostile people are generally cynical and suspicious of other people, traits that lead to conflicts or confrontations."2

The value of a patient hopefulness that is nurtured by 'patient endurance' is a recurring theme in world religions. In the Hebrew Sacred Scripture we read: "He that is patient, is governed with much wisdom: but he that is impatient, exalteth his folly." (Pv 14: 29) In the Islamic Koran (2: 155-156) are these words: "Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere; . . . who say, when afflicted with calamity: "To Allah We belong, and to Him is our return". Buddhism ascribes a cognitive-emotional control nuance to patient endurance: when under attack hold fast. The Dhammapada, the collection of the sayings of Buddha (184) states: "enduring patience is the highest austerity." Likewise, in the classic Hindu text, the Tamil Veda,3 written between 200 BC and 400 AD, are these words about hope: "Smile, with patient, hopeful heart, in troublous hour; Meet and so vanquish grief; nothing hath equal power. If troubles come, laugh; there is nothing like that, to press upon and drive away sorrow." (2.1.25. 621).

The Eastern Church Father St. Isaac the Syrian4 would have us consider that true hope will include God. He tells us" "There is hope [trust and confidence] in God that comes through the faith of the heart, which is good, and which one possesses with discernment and knowledge." Following this advice we can fill our 'cup' to the brim.





iv Holy Transfiguration Monastery (2011), The ascetical homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian. Boston MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery.

Date posted: November 1, 2014

Understanding Orthodoxy for Mental Health Practioners—Part 3

[This is a follow up course to Orthodox Christian Spirituality and Cognitive Psychotherapy: An Online Course, that appeared in four parts over the years 2012-2013. This second course is specifically oriented to explain Orthodoxy to mental health practitioners,and serve as a useful resource for Orthodox Clergy and laity as well. Ethically, mental health practitioners should incorporate the spiritual values of their patients in the therapeutic process. The course would serve as an introduction of the Eastern Orthodox ethos and cultural traditions to these professionals.

One of the most frequently questions I am asked as Chairman of the Chaplain and Pastoral Counseling Department of the Antiochian Archdiocese is for a referral to an Orthodox mental health practitioner. Sadly Orthodoxy is not a majority spiritual tradition in North America and Orthodox practitioners are few. So careful questioning by potential patients, family and clergy of a potential practitioner regarding the practitioner's understanding and respect for the spiritual values of their patients is very important. This course is meant to aid in this inquiry.

It also should be noted that this course is an updating and reworking of a recently published chapter: Psychotherapy with members of Eastern Orthodox Churches, (Morelli, 2014).]

The Distinctive Ethos of Orthodox Spirituality and Psychotherapy

Some distinguishing features of Orthodox Spirituality need emphasis. In considering the Church as a hospital, the Orthodox view of sin should be noted; it is considered a disease, illness or infirmity in need of continual healing, in contrast to the West wherein sin is viewed in more of a juridical sense. In addition, a frequent image of sin in the Patristic literature is that of an archer 'missing the mark' (amartia). In regard to marriage and sexuality, as noted above, for Orthodox Christians the "theology of sex" based on Divine Love is at the highest principal, infinitely beyond empathy or ethical standards. It goes to the essence of God Himself, as the Church Fathers emphasized.

The Persons of the Holy Trinity Inter-Relate amongst Themselves

The Persons of the Holy Trinity Inter-Relate amongst Themselves

The Persons of the Holy Trinity interrelate amongst themselves in Love. Creation is an act of love. God creates in love, and out of love continues to keep the universe and mankind in being. The infinite God creates out of nothing, continues to create through His created laws of nature and has given mankind, through its two modes of male and female, a share in His creation. Sexuality is the gift from Him by which we share in His creation. Therefore sexuality is holy and should be treated as such, because it is the way we were made to share in God's creation.

God Creating the Creatures

God Creating the Creatures

In dealing with issues of sexual orientation (homosexual and heterosexual), the Orthodox position is that we are all called to a standard of sexuality in God. A heterosexual male, despite inclinations and predisposition to 'multiple females' is called by God to be bonded with one woman, blessed by Christ, through His church, and to participate in God's creation through sexual union (Morelli 2004).

Male and Female: Blessed Marital Union to Become One Flesh

Creation of Adam and Eve

In spiritual, pastoral or clinical counseling of heterosexuals, I have found it effective to point out that, yes, we have these passions or inclinations, but as Christians we are called to 'manage' them, and live a life in Christ. This may be considered as applying a disease management model (Howe, 2005) in dealing with such inclinations. Such a model involves extensive use of cognitive behavior therapies (Spiegler & Guevremont, 2010) and a social and church support system. To the homosexual I give the same answer. "Yes, you have this inclination, but your special vocation is to manage the 'passion' in a Christ-like way, etc. It is not easy, but all is in grace; ' . . .what is impossible for man is possible for God.'" (Mt 19:26)

The Orthodox Church does not endorse the position that science is inimical to religion and must not be allowed to have any bearing on it. Science, including the research referred to above, is merely a method to learn about God's creation.

The Synergy of Nature and Grace - Science and Orthodoxy

The Synergy of
Nature and Grace
- Science and

We use our intelligence - we are made in His image to do so - to understand and have dominion over the world. (Gen 1:26) We know as Christians that 'Truth is One.' There cannot be any contradictions. We are to live the Truth of Christ and use this same truth in pastoral interactions with any individuals, heterosexual or homosexual, who are trying to lead a "life in Christ."

A special issue is what is known as Spiritual Monasticism. Noted Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov (1998, p.137) points out that for the Orthodox there is one spirituality to be practiced by all, whether celibate monastics, ordained clerics or individuals living in the world. He tells us: "When Christ," says St. John Chrysostom, "orders us to follow the narrow path, He addresses Himself to all. The monastics and the lay person must attain the same heights."

Interiorized Spirituality

We can see, indeed, that there exists only one spirituality for all, without distinction in its demands, whether of the bishop, monk, or lay person, and this is the nature of monastic spirituality. Now this has been shaped by lay-monastics, giving the term "lay" maximal spiritual and ecclesial meaning.

Particularly distinctive and foundational to Orthodox spirituality is Repentance (Metanoia), having a sense of our unfaithfulness to God and our offense to others, contrition of heart, and a determination to amend and to have a metanoia, - a fundamental change of mind and heart - so as not to offend God and others again. St. Peter tells us in his second epistle what God has given us: "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness . . .that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pt 1:3-4). The Eastern Church understands "partakers of the divine nature" not as participation or becoming God in His Being or Essence, but sharing in the warmth and light of His "Divine Energy" (Staniloae, 2003).

Model of Repentance: The Prodigal Son

Model of Repentance: The Prodigal Son

The quintessential model of repentance/confession is found in the parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32). The key phrase is: "when he came to himself." In one moment he grasped the reality of his separation from his father's house, and had the insight that he had brought this on himself by focusing on the material goods to which he had thought he had a right, rather than valuing being in his father's embrace. He had penthos, or a sense of loss or mourning, at not being with his Father. This sense led to a change of mind and heart, referred to in Eastern Christian spiritual literature as metanoia. He acted on his penthos: "I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants."

In Orthodox Spirituality, penthos and metanoia impel action and point to a transfiguration from sinfulness to godliness in thought word and deed, in both the present and the future.i In the Holy Mystery (Sacrament) of Confession, the priest is considered as a spiritual father and physician of the soul. Seminary courses do not directly teach priests how to 'hear confession.' My practice in teaching graduate pastoral theology and continuing education classes, and also my personal practice as a priest, is to emphasize the 'spirit' of the sin ("missing the mark") over the letter. I see this as attempting to heal the underlying cause of the sin. For example, if a penitent confesses having sexual intercourse outside of marriage, I might ask: "Were you in a blessed committed self-giving marriage with this person?" Their answer would be obviously, "No." My goal is to have the penitent discover that sexual intercourse has to be in a blessed committed relationship to be Godly, that is to say, be "hitting the mark," and not a spiritual illness.


St. Mary of Egypt

St. Mary of Egypt

A good model of penthos and metanoia is St. Mary of Egypt (522 AD). In the Orthodox Church her feast day is celebrated on the 5th Sunday of Great Lent and on 01 April. The life of this 6th century Egyptian Saint has become a model of repentance for all Christians as it witnesses that even though having been mired in the the Church.

Beginning at the age of 12 she went to Alexandria, Egypt and began a life of unrestrained and insatiable sexual sin for the next 17 years. She did not do it for money, but for the sheer lustful sensual pleasure which she considered the pinnacle of the meaning of life. She joined up with a group of men going to Jerusalem before the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. she did this not out of holiness, but that she would have more individuals to join in her depraved lifestyle. She even approached the church which contained the Life-giving wood (The Cross) on the day of the Feast but was inexplicably denied entry. In the numerous lives of the saints the denial was attributed to a force from God.

While remaining outside in the church portico she saw an icon of the Mother of God (Theotokos). She immediately had a sense of her profligate life and like the Prodigal Son, had a change of mind and heart, now to direct herself away of sin but to Godliness. She uttered this prayer:

O Lady Virgin, having given birth in the flesh to God the Word! I know, that I am unworthy to look upon Thine icon. It would be mete for me, an hateful prodigal, to be cast off from Thine purity and be for Thee an abomination, but I know also this, it was for this also that God became Man, in order to call sinners to repentance. Help me, O All-Pure One, that it be permitted me to enter into the church. Forbid me not to behold the Wood, upon which in the flesh the Lord wast crucified, shedding His innocent Blood also for me a sinner, to deliver me from sin. Do Thou command, O Lady, that the doors of the Holy Veneration of the Cross be opened to me. Be Thou for me the ardent Guide to He born of Thee. I promise Thee from this moment no more yet to defile myself with any sort of fleshly defilement, but just as soon as I but see the Wood of the Cross of Thy Son, I shalt immediately cut myself off from the world, and go whither Thou as Guide shalt guide me.

The Mother of God interceded to God for her and the now penitent and future Saint Mary was able to enter the church. Later she heard a voice telling her to emulate St. John the Baptist. She should go beyond the Jordan River, into the desert for the rest of her life. During this time she lived a life of extreme asceticism for nearly 50 years, the early part of which she underwent psychologically and spiritually tortuous temptations related to her early life of sexual sin. At the very end of her life she was miraculously visited by a holy monk and saint himself, Zosimus, who gave her the Holy Mystery of the Body and Blood of Christ, since she had not received since her conversion those many years ago.

Her life is a beautiful example of interiorized spirituality, The possibility of theosis, that all can "partake of the divine nature," (2Pt 1:4) exceeds the grace and ranks of ecclesiastical office and monastic life. This grace can be attained by anyone.


(These references are for the entire course, only a portion are for Part II)

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Alfeyev, Bishop Hilarion, (2002). The Mystery of Faith. London, England: Darton, Longman and Todd.

Alfeyev, Archbishop Hilarion. (2009). Christ the Conqueror of Hell: The descent into Hades from an Orthodox perspective. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

Athanasius, St. (1975). On the Incarnation of Our Lord. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

Bandura, A. (1986). Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Beck, A.T., Rush, A.J., Shaw, B.F., & Emery, G. (1979). Cognitive Therapy of Depression. NY: Guilford Press.

Beck, A.T. (1988). Love is Never Enough: how couples can overcome misunderstandings, resolve conflicts and solve relationship problems through cognitive therapy. NY: Harper-Collins

Beck, A.T. (1999). Prisoners of Hate: The cognitive basis of anger, hostility and violence. New York: HarperCollins.

Beck, J.S. (1995). Cognitive Therapy: Basics and Beyond. NY: The Guilford Press.

Beck, J.S. (2011). Cognitive Therapy: Basics and Beyond. (2nd ed.). NY: The Guilford Press.

Breck, J. (2001). Scripture in Tradition: The bible and its interpretation in the Orthodox Church. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press

Burns, D. (1980). Feeling Good. New York: William Morrow.

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.

Ellis, A. (1962). Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy. Secaucus NJ: Lyle Stuart.

Ellis, A. & Harper, R. (1975). A Guide to Rational Living. NY: Wilshire

Enright, R.D. (2012). The Forgiving Life: A Pathway to Overcoming Resentment and Creating a legacy of love. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association

Erwin, E. (1980). Psychoanalysis: How firm is the evidence? Nous, 14, 443-456

Exline, J.J., Baumeister, R.F. Zell, A.L., Kraft, A.J., & Witvliet, C.V.O., (2008) Not so innocent: Does seeing one's own capability for wrongdoing predict forgiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94, 495-515.

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Galanter, E. (1962). Contemporary psychophysics. In Brown, R. (Ed.), New Directions in Psychology. NY: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Gassin, E.A. (2001). Interpersonal forgiveness from an Eastern Orthodox perspective. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 29, 187-200.

Hausherr, I. (1990). Spiritual Direction in the Early Christian East. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications.

Howe, R. (2005) The Disease Manager's Handbook. Sudbury MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.

Hronas, G. (1999). The Holy Unmercenary Doctors: The Saints Anargyroi, physicians and healers of the Orthodox Church. Minneapolis, MN: Light and Life.

Izard, C. (1993). Four systems for emotion activation: cognitive and noncognitive processes. American Psychologist. 100, 1, 68-90.

Izard, C. E. (2001). Emotional intelligence or adaptive emotions? Emotion, 1, 249-257.

Izard, C.E. (2002). Translating emotion theory and research into preventative interventions. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 796-824.

Kadloubovsky, E., & Palmer, G.E.H. (1954). Early Fathers from the Philokalia. London: Faber and Faber.

Kahneman, D. (1973). Attention and Effort. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Krindatch, A. (2011),(Ed.). Atlas of American Orthodox Christian Churches. Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Press

Langes, M. (Ed.) (1977). The Evergetinos. Athens, Greece: Monastery of the Transfiguration.

Lazarus, R.S. (1991) Emotion and Adaptation. NY: Oxford University Press

Loftus, E. F. (1980). Memory, Surprising New Insights Into How We Remember and Why We Forget. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley

Marmor, J. (1962). Psychoanalytic Therapy as an Educational Process: Common Denominators in the Therapeutic Approaches of Different Psychoanalytic Schools. In Masserman, J.H. (Ed.). Science and psychoanalysis. (Vol. 5). Psychoanalytic education. Pp. 286-299. New York: Grune & Stratton.

McGoldrick, M., Giordano, J. & Garcia-Preto, N. (Eds.). (2005). Ethnicity & Family Therapy. (3rd ed.). NY: Guilford Press.

McGuckin, J. A. (2004). The Westminster Handbook to Patristic Theology. Louisville, KT: Westminster John Knox Press.

Morelli, G. (2004) Sex is Holy: The responsibility of Christian parenting. The Word. 48. 6, 7-8.

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Powers C., Nam, R.K., Rowatt, W.C. & Hill, P.C. (2007). Association between humility, spiritual transcendence, and forgiveness. Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion, 18, 75-94.

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Date posted: October 1, 2014

Finding One’s Meaning in Life

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

The question of life’s meaning has been asked by specialists: philosophers, psychologists, scientists, spiritual leaders, artists, writers, and those of the popular mind as well. One way of approaching the question is to consider that a personality disposition or trait can be nurtured to allow us to strive to make sense of the events that are occurring to us and in the world around us. One method for doing this is by way of the three ways to discover life’s meaning suggested by German psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl (1959, p. 133)i: “(1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering."

He (and I agree) state that finding meaning in “work or accomplishment,” as in the first way, is, on the face of it, “obvious.” Frankl likens the second way to experiencing “goodness, truth and beauty” in nature, culture or in another human being. In this regard, I am reminded of the beautiful verse from Psalm 18: 2: “The heavens shew forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands.” Frankl found meaning in the loss of his family and in his personal suffering by choosing to focus on the everyday choices he did have during his internment in a concentration camp, such as being able to see the beauty in a sunrise despite being naked and out in freezing weather. A transition can be made from awareness of beauties in nature such as sunrises, sunsets, or starry nights to the intrinsic beauty that is God, their Creator. Among the Eastern Church Fathers, for example, it is said that “physical beauty is the epiphany of divine beauty.”ii

The connection between beauty and God occurs in more than just in the Judeo-Christian tradition. In Hinduism, beauty is linked to Shiva, the Hindu God of Beauty, Goodness and Truth,iii and Lakshmi, the Goddess of Beautyiv. In Buddhism, beauty is seen as beyond the physical and resting on the psychological and spiritual. In the Dhammapada (Dhp.262-3), Buddha says: “If someone is jealous, selfish or dishonest, they are unattractive despite their eloquence or good features. But the person who is purged of such things and is free from hatred, it is he or she who is really beautiful.”v

Along with spiritual and psychological benefits, there are also physical gains to be derived from finding meaning in life. Medical and psychology researchers have found lower risk for dementia, lower levels of stress (stress hormones), and better cardiac health and immune

Answering affirmatively to statements such as the following may help to clarify and reaffirm that one has a sense of the meaningfulness of life and thus that one’s life is purposeful: I understand my life’s meaning, I have discovered a satisfying life purpose, my life has a clear sense of purpose.vii The foundation for developing and fulfilling one’s purpose in life is building on the talents, the gifts given to us by God. We can begin each day as the start of a new life journey by not focusing on any haunting image of the past: on ‘what I could have been.’ It also means not looking at the talents others have been given, but accepting where we are at the present time and purposefully moving forward. In the endeavor to reach one’s life’s ultimate purpose it helps to reflect on St. Paul’s words to the pagan Athenians: “[God] hath made of one, all mankind, to dwell upon the whole face of the earth, determining appointed times, and the limits of their habitation. That they should seek God, if happily they may feel after Him or find Him, although He be not far from every one of us: For in Him we live, and move, and are; as some also of your own poets said: For we are also His offspring.” (Acts 17: 26-28)


i Frankl, V. (1959). Man’s search for meaning. New York: Washington Square Press.

ii Palmer, G.E.H.; Sherrard, P.; and Ware, K. (Trans.) (1971, 1981, 1988, 1990). Philokalia, I- IV. London: Faber and Faber.





vii Steger, M. F., & Shin, J. Y. (2010). “The relevance of the Meaning in Life Questionnaire to therapeutic practice: A look at the initial evidence.” International Forum on Logotherapy, 33, 95-104.

Date posted: October 1, 2014

New Martyrs Everywhere

This article is an updating and reworking of the ‘Light of the East’ Summer 2014 SSJC-WR President’s Message.i

The Light of the East President’s Message just two years ago was entitled The New Martyrs in Syria.iiSad to say, two years later the geographic area and ferocity of Christian Martyrdom has greatly expanded. Martyrdom is especially prevalent throughout the Middle East, in Syria, of course, but in Iraq, Gaza, and Palestine and in adjacent areas in Africa, such as Egypt and other Arabic countries, as well. We can look at the violence around the world, and which is now so prevalently raging throughout the Middle East. We hear cries of vengeance on all sides. It is lamentable that scores are being massacred, youngsters being killed or beaten.iii Unfortunately, many consider that such acts of vengeance, retribution and terror are blessed by God.

Sad also is that political differences have led to further divisions among Apostolic Christians such as between the various Catholic and Orthodox jurisdictions in the Ukrainian conflict. We can see increasing divisiveness even within jurisdictions themselves.

It is not hard to see the increasing violent division as the cunningly stealthy work of the Evil One working under the guise of our own particular weaknesses resulting from the brokenness of mankind, that is to say, the passions and prejudices that all of us have inherited from our ancestral parents’ fall from paradise.iv The understanding of the Eastern Church may be instructive in this matter. Reflecting the Mind of Christ, echoed by His Church, is the teaching that there is no such thing as a ‘just war.’ All war, even a war that on a human level seems eminently just, is actually a manifestation of the brokenness of mankind and must be lamented and forgiveness asked for all by all.v

On a human level, speaking of peace may seem totally unattainable. However, it behooves all of us to keep in mind Christ’s words to his disciples as recorded by St. Mark: (10:27) “And Jesus looking on them, saith: With men it is impossible; but not with God: for all things are possible with God.” So we can never give up hope and must do all we can do within our state of life, and with the gifts given to us by God, to preach peace to all at all times, and be cooperators with God in this endeavor.

St. Paul's instruction to St. Timothy may be a good starting point in nurturing the virtue necessary to overcome war with peace: "And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, forbearing …." (2Tim 2:24). St. Dorotheos of Gaza dedicates a whole chapter his in Discourses (Wheeler, 1977vi), that he entitles 'On Building Up of Virtue.' St. Dorotheos uses the analogy of building a house, that starts with its foundation. Faithfulness which is a foundation that without which "it is impossible to please God." (c.f. Heb 11: 6). The walls are made from the stones of obedience and patience, and with perseverance and courage as the cornerstone of the structure. Humility is the mortar that holds it all together. St. Dorotheos points out that like mortar, humility "…is composed of the earth and lies under the feet of all." To accentuate the extraordinary importance of humility, he goes on to say: "Any virtue existing without humility is no virtue at all." To this however, must be added discretion, which braces the building so to speak, and the roof of the building will be charity, which "completes the house." But at the end of his description, he returns back, or rather looks up to humility again, which he calls the house's crown:

The crown is humility. For that is the crown and guardian of all virtues. As each virtue needs humility for its acquisition—and in that sense we said each stone is laid with the mortar of humility—so also the perfection of all the virtues is humility... the man that is getting closer to God looks on himself more and more as a sinner.

We, as members and friends of the Society of St. John Chrysostom, must pray and work not only for Eucharistic union, but for peace throughout society and nurture the virtue to attain it. We can practice being open to alternative views, resisting partisan loyalties, refrain from insisting that others acquiesce to one's own viewpoints and eschewing revenge. The very least we can all immediately apply is the wisdom St. Isaac of Syriavii: "…honor silence; for it prevents many wrongs."

At the same Mystical Supper where Christ in His priestly discourse to His Apostles prayed that “all may be one,” (Jn 17: 21) He also uttered these words: “These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you shall have distress: but have confidence, I have overcome the world.” (Jn 16: 33).


i The Society of Saint John Chrysostom

The Society of St. John Chrysostom is an ecumenical group of clergy and lay people which promotes Eastern Christianity and Ecumenical Dialogue between the Eastern and Western Churches toward the healing of the sin of disunity. It has sponsored the Eastern Churches Journal and the annual Orientale Lumen & Light of the East Conferences. It has been in existence since 1997 in the United States and for over 70 years in England. (

ii Morelli, G. (2012, July 29). The New Martyrs in Syria.

iii One recent news report likens these current events to a modern genocide or holocaust [holocaust derived from holocaust comes from “the Greek — holókaustos. Holó — whole; kaustos — burnt.”] : “Today another holocaust is happening. This time it is in Iraq. Christians are being driven out of their homes and brought to death by the sword if they do not bow to ISIS' Islamic god — Allah. Christians are being systematically wiped from the face of the ancient Arab world, which edges the Holy Land.” []

iv In this regard it would be spiritually beneficial to meditate on the 5th Sunday after Pentecost Gospel (Mt 8: 28-9:1). It records Christ’s encounter with the two Demoniacs. Experientially we know that actual possession is rare but of course can occur. However C.S. Lewis (as he whimsically recounts in his book The Screwtape Letters, [1961] NY: Macmillan) would have us consider that the real work of the evil one is done more by stealth, cunning and building up on our own foibles, our own passions, and prejudices. In this same vein I once heard a well-known chef, who was judging a cooking competition say: “We can't help but be fools to our own prejudice.” Well said and so true. In being fools to our own prejudices we lay ourselves open to doing the work of the evil one. The genocide of all who do not conform to ISIS theology and practice is based on such evil prejudices and ideologies.

v In this regard I would like to quote Metropolitan George of Mt. Lebanon (Patriarchate of Antioch), who wrote: “Admittedly, no doctrine of the just war was elaborated in the East. However, it did accept the idea of a defense war …” (p. 319). I would follow this by a spiritually perceptive guideline, that if a defensive war is necessary then as the Serbian Orthodox Peace Appeal (2004) states: “We should not allow ourselves, for the sake of any interest of this world, to commit anything that would be unworthy of the People of God, anything inhuman. During this turbulent time, one should avoid any form of senseless and foolish revenge …” (p. 257). Both quotes from Bos, H., & Forest, J.(2011), (Eds.). For the Peace from Above. Rollingsford, NH: Orthodox Research Institute. In Orthodoxy ‘peace’ is the ideal, any departure from ‘peace’ is ‘falling short’-‘missing the mark.’

vi Wheeler, E. P. (ed., trans.) (1977). Dorotheos of Gaza: Discourses and Sayings. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications

vii Wensinck, A. J. (ed., trans.) (1923). Mystic Treatises by Isaac of Nineveh. Amsterdam, Holland: Koninklijke Akademie Van Wetenschappen.

Date posted: September 1, 2014

Chaplain’s Corner: Annoyance is Routine, Anger is a Killer

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

Most of us know very well that daily annoyances are a normal part of life. I am sure we all have our own personal list of everyday nuisances.  Most of my own personal favorites have to do with drivers and driving. For example, drivers not using signals, backing out of parking spaces and not moving at a green light, top my list. All events that we view as annoyances are seen as such because of personal rules that guide the way each of us looks at life. These rules may be likened to a colored lens that gives a hue to the events that are occurring around us. Cognitive science and clinical practitionersi would have us understand that the emotional reaction we feel is due to our psychological interpretation of what is happening around us. Furthermore, in the case of daily irritations such as those mentioned above, it would also be that when people or events are not the way I want them to be, I see this as a catastrophe of some type, something more than 100% bad. Re-evaluating events to discern how actually catastrophic they really are has been found to be helpful in keeping emotions in a ‘normal’ range.ii

Unfortunately, when ‘catastrophizing’ occurs, an emotional reaction way beyond annoyance ensues. This is an extremely strong emotional reaction of anger that often leads to other untoward problems in a way that can be likened to a 'domino effect.' Originally we have a problem, the situation we find “annoying." An angry emotional response is a new problem added to the original, which in turn is linked to other dysfunctional outcomes. It is much more stressful to be angry than to be annoyed.iii Also, anger significantly contributes to the extreme belligerence so prevalent throughout the world today. This is well illustrated in the regular media reports of murder, riot, uprisings, violence, and even genocide.

The deleterious effects of anger have not gone unnoticed by religious traditions. The Buddha is recorded as saying: “Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”iv Interestingly, anticipating the findings of contemporary cognitive science, Buddha also noted the relationship between thinking and emotion: “We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”v The Dalai Lama explains this further: “As human beings we all want to be happy and free from misery… we have learned that the key to happiness is inner peace. The greatest obstacles to inner peace are disturbing emotions such as anger, attachment, fear and suspicion, while love and compassion and a sense of universal responsibility are the sources of peace and happiness.” In a similar manner, Mahatma Gandhi writes: “I have learned through bitter experience the one supreme lesson to conserve my anger, and as heat conserved is transmitted into energy, even so our anger controlled can be transmitted into a power that can move the world.”vi The Hebrew king and wise prophet Solomon tells us: “Be not quickly angry: for anger resteth in the bosom of a fool.” (Ecc 7:10) The Hadith, a tome of the Islamic tradition that reports the sayings and activities of Muhammad and his companions, states: “The strong man is not the one who can overpower others. Rather, the strong man is the one who controls himself when he gets angry.”vii

The Fathers of the Eastern Church link the absence of anger to Godliness. For example, St. Isaac of Syria tells us: “A wrathful heart is entirely devoid of the mysteries of God, but the meek and humble man is a well-spring of the new age. [God’s heavenly Kingdom]”viii Anger is a “killer.” It ‘kills’ us physically and psychologicallyix, it leads to the ‘killing’ of others, and worst of all it ‘kills’ our relationship with God. Most importantly we can work at healing ourselves spiritually by decatastrophizing our annoyances and thus pointing us more toward union with God.

i Beck, J.S. (2011); Cognitive Therapy: Basics and Beyond. (2nd ed.). NY: The Guilford Press; Ellis, A. (1962). Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy. Secaucus NJ: Lyle Stuart.

ii Morelli, G. (2005, October 14). The Beast of Anger.

iii Morelli, G. (2005, October 14). The Beast of Anger.





viii Holy Transfiguration Monastery. (ed., trans.). (2011). The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian (revised, 2nd edition). Boston, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery.

ix A recent Live Science Report indicated: “In a study of more than 300 Vietnam veterans who were healthy at the study start …found that those who scored high on measures of hostility were about 25 percent more likely to develop heart disease… hostile individuals might experience more stress, which can cause spikes in an immune-system protein called C3 that has been linked with various diseases, including diabetes. In fact, the participants with higher scores on hostility showed an increase in these proteins while the non-hostile men showed no such increase.”

Date posted: September 1, 2014

Understanding Orthodoxy for Mental Health Practitioners:  Part 2

[This is a follow up course to Orthodox Christian Spirituality and Cognitive Psychotherapy: An Online Course, that appeared in four parts over the years 2012-2013. This second course is specifically oriented to explain Orthodoxy to mental health practitioners,and serve as a useful resource for Orthodox Clergy and laity as well. Ethically, mental health practitioners should incorporate the spiritual values of their patients in the therapeutic process. The course would serve as an introduction of the Eastern Orthodox ethos and cultural traditions to these professionals.

One of the most frequently questions I am asked as Chairman of the Chaplain and Pastoral Counseling Department of the Antiochian Archdiocese is for a referral to an Orthodox mental health practitioner. Sadly Orthodoxy is not a majority spiritual tradition in North America and Orthodox practitioners are few. So careful questioning by potential patients, family and clergy of a potential practitioner regarding the practitioner's understanding and respect for the spiritual values of their patients is very important. This course is meant to aid in this inquiry.

It also should be noted that this course is an updating and reworking of a recently published chapter: Psychotherapy with members of Eastern Orthodox Churches, (Morelli, 2014).]

The Orthodox Perception of Contemporary Threats to the Church


Chief among these threats is secularism, defined as the marginalization of God and the Church, and, in place of God and His Church, a focus on "earthly things." (Phil. 3,19). This springs from the values of the contemporary Western world, including radical individualism, moral relativism, and religious and political correctness, all of which guide individual and social behavior and inform political/public policy. Secularism rejects God and His Church as the touchstone of truth and meaning. Moreover, when God is rejected, the locus of truth — the place from which truth emanates and where it is found — must necessarily rest in the created order and shifts to man himself, and as pride and an inflated sense of Godless self-sufficiency grow, ideas which find no court of accountability apart from the like-minded are implemented in this quest for a new Jerusalem. (Morelli 2009b)

Clarity in theological, and in some cases moral, matters was hard won. Church Councils were often called in the heat of conflict and, in some cases, of persecution, as, e.g., the Seventh Ecumenical Council in the times of Iconoclasm. Indeed, conflict within and without the Church is to be expected, although it may ebb and flow over time. St. Matthew (7: 15-16) quotes Christ saying, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits."

Understanding Mental Health

In regard to moral clarity, the Orthodox would consider that the egregious societal sins, although differing in degree of "missing the mark," include: abortion, adultery, alcoholism, blasphemy, child or spousal abuse (physical, psychological, sexual or neglect), drug addiction, evil speaking (talking about someone, even if true), fornication, graft, gossip, homosexual relationships, idolatry, insider trading, kidnapping, lying, pre-emptive unjust warfare, same sex marriage, torturing and/or belittling prisoners, using others for money, power or sex, acts of vengeance (national and personal).

These indicate various underlying sinful attitudes, e.g., anger, contempt, deceit, harshness, hatred, hypocrisy, lust, negligence (such as not caring for the environment, or habits that harm one's own body, like smoking and overeating). (Morelli, 2006c) Female ordination, a seemingly neutral matter to non-Orthodox, would be considered a sin against the mind of Christ and His Church. McGuckin (2004, p. 65) quotes the understanding of St. Clement Bishop of Rome (c. 92-99 A.D.) ordained by St. Peter: "I know that you are not unaware that the Church is the Body of Christ, for scripture says: God made them male and female. Here the male is Christ, the female is the Church." Only a person of the male sex can be a proper icon of Christ.

Orthodox Spiritual Life

For an Orthodox Christian, spiritual life is a dynamic journey into which he or she is born spiritually ill, inclined to sin, and is cleansed and made new in spirit by the reception of baptism. After baptism, while on earth, his or her life becomes a journey of continual purification and healing, eventually attaining theosis [union with God] or, as St. Peter puts it in his second Epistle, "partaking of the Divine Nature." (2Pt 1:4) Christ is the physician and psychotherapist, and the Church is the hospital in and through which the Christian receives this purification and healing. (Morelli, 2006d)

Orthodox Spiritual Life

Acquiring humility is foundational in Orthodoxy. Staniloae (2003, p.182) calls humility "the highest and most inclusive of all the virtues." Recently, psychologists (e.g. Exline, Baumeister, Zell, Kraft, & Witvliet, 2008; Powers, Nam, Rowatt, & Hill, 2007) have begun to study, and have found support for, a relationship between humility and other prosocial behaviors such as forgiveness. Psychologists such as Enright, 2012, and Gassin, 2001, have developed psychotherapeutic interventions based partially on cultivating humility. The teachings of the Church Fathers, prayer, the Holy Mysteries, (in the Western Church called sacraments: Holy Confession, the Holy Eucharist, and Holy Anointing, etc.), combined with scientific psychology, are the medicine.

The Church as Hospital: The spiritual dimension of healing

Christ the Chief Physician of His Hospital, the Church

Christ the Chief Physician
of His Hospital, the Church

Emphasis on the healing of persons is one of Christianity's great gifts to the world. It started with Christ. The Gospels record numerous instances of His healing of all manner of diseases, both spiritual and physical. St. Luke, himself a physician, recorded the most in his Gospel, and showed in his later book, The Acts of the Apostles, how this power of healing was granted to the Apostles. Thus it is unsurprising that at the end first early centuries of persecution the healing arts were developed by the Church and have flourished even to this day.

Healers Exemplify Christ

Healers Exemplify Christ

St. John Chrysostom presented the idea of the entire Church of Christ as a hospital, thereby expressing in clearer theological terms the relationship between the healing of body and soul as practiced by the early healers. He took as model the Parable of the Good Samaritan model (Lk 1:33ff), wherein the Good Samaritan exemplifies Christ who, as the Great Physician, comes to broken mankind (the man left beaten the road) in order to bring healing. The inn to which the Good Samaritan took the suffering man is the Church (Vlachos, 1993, 1994a, 1994b).

The interrelationship between body and soul is noted in almost every Orthodox liturgical prayer. Most begin with the Trisagion (Thrice-Holy) prayer that makes the relationship clear: "All-holy Trinity, have mercy on us, Lord, cleanse us from our sins. Master, pardon our iniquities. Holy God, visit and heal our infirmities for Thy name's sake" (emphasis added).

The Church as Hospital Imaged in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (see Endnote 1)

The Church as
Hospital Imaged
in the Parable
of the Good
(see Endnote 1)

Orthodox Christianity has a rich history of healers revered as saints. Among the earliest are the physicians Ss. Cosmas and Damian, twin brothers who practiced close to the end of the Imperial persecutions (c. 305 A.D). Tilted "Unmercenary" because they refused to accept any money for their service, and "Wonderworkers" because in addition to healing the body they also cast out demons and removed other darkness from the souls of men as Christ had, they attributed their healing gifts to Christ, whom they called the "Great Physician," and regarded themselves simply as His instruments of healing, comfort, witness, and sanctification. Hronas (1999) detailed the life of other great healers: St. Luke and twenty other physicians, eighteen of them missionaries and two, priests.

In fourth century Byzantium, the Orthodox Church opened and administered various healing centers, including hospitals and homes for the poor, orphans, and aged (Demakis, 2004), many of them associated with monasteries. The monks often were often the health care workers, physicians, nurses and psychologists. St. Basil, bishop of Caesarea (370-379 A.D.), trained in medicine as well as rhetoric, was reported to have worked with the monks in this ministry.

St. Sampson the Hospitable

St. Sampson
the Hospitable

St. John Chrysostom, as Patriarch of Constantinople (c. 390 A.D.), used the wealth of the Church to open hospitals and other philanthropic institutions. Within two centuries, the rapid growth of these centers necessitated state funding, although the Church remained active in administration and care-giving. The Emperor Justinian enhanced the reputation of these hospitals by moving the most important physicians into them. (Demakis 2004) In that era, St. Sampson, the "Innkeeper and Physician of Constantinople," was so respected for his healing power, prayer, virtue, and love of the sick and poor that the Patriarch ordained him a priest. In humility, he often hid his prayerful healing by dispensing medication. He healed Justinian who, in gratitude, donated a grand healing center to him, known as "The Hospice of Sampson."

The (Typikon) that details the ordering of the Pantocrator Monastery, a large healing center in Constantinople, reveals the complexity and extent of its benevolent works: a fully staffed hospital with a teaching component, an old age home, a lepers' sanitarium, and daily practical aid to the poor. (Morelli, 2006d)

Demakis (2004) notes the main characteristics of the physician-saints: they were committed to Christ, holy men before they became healers, given to personal prayer, meditation, fasting, and they actively prayed for their patients; they were outstanding physicians, often "first in their medical school class" medical science was regarded as a serious academic discipline); they had a "deep and abiding love" for mankind and strove to see "the image of Christ" in every patient, as shown by their working long hours, refusing of any payment, turning their homes into hospitals, that they ("fed and cared for their patients personally"); and they attributed their healing skills and medical successes to God.


1 Consider this explanation of the Church as Hospital by Blessed Theophylact (c. 1050 - c. 1108), Archbishop of Ochrid and Bulgaria, the great spiritual father of the Church in his commentary on the Parable of the Good Samaritan as told to us by St. Luke (10: 29-37):

All mankind shares the same nature and thus all men are your neighbors. Therefore, you too must be a neighbor to them and be near to all, not by location, but by the disposition of your heart and by your care for others. Therefore I present to you a Samaritan as an example, to show you that no matter how different or foreign he may have seemed, he was the neighbor of the one in need of mercy. You also must show yourself to be a neighbor by your compassion, and even unasked you must go to the help of others." Thus we learn from this parable to be always ready to show mercy and to make haste to be near those in need of our help. But this parable also teaches us the goodness of God towards man. It was our human nature that was going down from Jerusalem, that is, was descending from tranquillity and peace, for Jerusalem means vision of peace. Where was man descending? To Jericho, a place sunk down low and suffocating with heat, that is, to a life of passions. See that He did not say, "went down," but, was going down. For fallen human nature is always inclined downwards, not just once of old, but continuously going down towards passionate life. And man fell among thieves, that is, among demons. For if a man did not come down from that high place where the spiritual mind rules, he would not fall among demons who strip the man, depriving him of his raiment of virtue, and then inflict the wounds of sin. They strip us of every good thought and of Gods protection, and when we are thus naked, they lay on the stripes of sin. They leave human nature half dead, that is, with a mortal body and an immortal soul. And human nature was left only half dead in the further sense that man did not lie completely in despair, but hoped to find salvation in Christ. Human nature had not yet been slain outright; though death had entered the world through Adams transgression, death was soon to be abolished by the righteousness of Christ. The priest and the Levite signify the law and the prophets, who desired to make human nature righteous, but were unable to do so. For it is not possible, says Paul, that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sin. [Heb. 10:4] The law and the prophets took pity on man and sought to heal him. But they were defeated by the severity of the wounds of sin, and they passed into the past. This is what it means that they passed by. The law came and stood over the fallen man, but since it could not heal him, it turned away in revulsion and went on theother side. See that the words as it happened also have a certain spiritual meaning. For indeed the law was not given for the express purpose [of healing the wounds of sin, for Christ, not the law, was to be the healing of Adams wound]. Instead, the law was given [as a stopgap measure] on account of human weakness which could not immediately receive the mystery of Christ. This is why He says that it was as it happened, or, as we say, "by chance," and not intentionally, that the priest, signifying the law, came to heal the man. But our Lord and God, Who for our sake was made a curse [Gal. 3:13], and was called a Samaritan [Jn. 8:48], journeyed to us, that is, His journey had as its very purpose and goal our healing. He did not just catch a glimpse of us as He happened to pass by: He actually came to us and lived together with us and spoke to us. Therefore He at once bound up our wounds. He no longer permitted wickedness to operate in us freely and at will, but He bound and restrained our sinfulness and poured on oil and wine. Oil is the word of teaching which exhorts us to virtue by the promise of good things; wine is the word of teaching leading us towards virtue by the fear of punishment. For example, when you hear the Lord say, Come unto Me and I will give you rest [Mt. 11:28], this is the oil of gladness and rest. And it is the same when He says, Come ye and inherit the kingdom prepared for you [Mt. 25:34]. But when He says, "Depart into darkness [Mt. 25:30], this is the wine of sharp teaching which stings as it cleanses our wounds. You may also understand it this way: oil represents Christs human actions and wine represents His divine actions, for I may say that the Lord acted at times as a man and at times as God. When He ate and drank and relaxed, not displaying the austerity and asceticism of John the Forerunner, this is the oil. But His extraordinary fasting, His walking on the water, and all His mighty deeds of divine power, these are the wine. We can compare Christs divinity to wine, which no one could tolerate if it were poured onto a wound, unless it were tempered with oil, that is, accompanied by His humanity. Therefore, since Christ has saved us both by His divinity and by His humanity, this is why it is said that oil and wine were poured out. And at every baptism those who are baptized are delivered from wounds of the soul when they are chrismated with the oil of myrrh and then immediately commune of the divine Blood. The Lord lifted up our wounded nature upon His own beast of burden, namely, upon His own Body. For He made us members of Himself and communicants of His own Body; and when we were lying down, wounded, He raised us up to His own dignity, making us one Body with Himself. The inn is the Church, which receives all. [Pandocheion, "inn," has the literal meaning "that which receives all."] But the law did not receive all. For the law says, the Ammanite and the Moabite shall not enter into the Church of God [Dt. 23:3] But now, from every tribe and people, God accepts those who fear Him and who desire to believe and to become a member of Christs Body, the Church. God receives all, even sinners and publicans. See the preciseness of His expression, how He says that the Samaritan brought him to an inn, and took care of him. Before he brought him to the inn, he had only bound his wounds. What then am I saying? That when the Church had been established, becoming the inn which receives all, and was increased by the faith of nearly all peoples, then there were the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and the grace of God was spread far and wide. You may learn this from the Acts of the Apostles. The innkeeper is a type and symbol of every apostle, teacher, and archpastor, to whom the Lord gave two pence, representing the two Testaments, Old and New. Just as both coins bear the image of the one king, so do both Testaments bear the words of the same God. When the Lord ascended into the heavens He left these two coins in the hands of the Apostles, and in the hands of the bishops and teachers of every generation. And He said to them, And whatsoever thou spendest more of thine own, I will repay thee. Indeed the Apostles spent much more of their own: ”with great labors they sowed the word of teaching everywhere. And those teachers in each generation who have explained the Old and the New Testaments have also spent much of their own, for which they will be rewarded when the Lord returns at the second coming. Then may each of them say to him, "Lord, Thou gayest me two pence; behold, another two pence have I spent of mine own." And to him the Lord will answer, "Well done, thou good servant."


(These references are for the entire course, only a portion are for Part II)

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Athanasius, St. (1975). On the Incarnation of Our Lord. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

Bandura, A. (1986). Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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Beck, A.T. (1999). Prisoners of Hate: The cognitive basis of anger, hostility and violence. New York: HarperCollins.

Beck, J.S. (1995). Cognitive Therapy: Basics and Beyond. NY: The Guilford Press.

Beck, J.S. (2011). Cognitive Therapy: Basics and Beyond. (2nd ed.). NY: The Guilford Press.

Breck, J. (2001). Scripture in Tradition: The bible and its interpretation in the Orthodox Church. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press

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Erwin, E. (1980). Psychoanalysis: How firm is the evidence? Nous, 14, 443-456

Exline, J.J., Baumeister, R.F. Zell, A.L., Kraft, A.J., & Witvliet, C.V.O., (2008) Not so innocent: Does seeing one's own capability for wrongdoing predict forgiveness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94, 495-515.

French, R. A. (1991)(trans). The Way of a Pilgrim; and The Pilgrim Continues His Way. San Francisco, CA: Harper

Galanter, E. (1962). Contemporary psychophysics. In Brown, R. (Ed.), New Directions in Psychology. NY: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Gassin, E.A. (2001). Interpersonal forgiveness from an Eastern Orthodox perspective. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 29, 187-200.

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Kahneman, D. (1973). Attention and Effort. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Krindatch, A. (2011),(Ed.). Atlas of American Orthodox Christian Churches. Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Press

Langes, M. (Ed.) (1977). The Evergetinos. Athens, Greece: Monastery of the Transfiguration.

Lazarus, R.S. (1991) Emotion and Adaptation. NY: Oxford University Press

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Marmor, J. (1962). Psychoanalytic Therapy as an Educational Process: Common Denominators in the Therapeutic Approaches of Different Psychoanalytic Schools. In Masserman, J.H. (Ed.). Science and psychoanalysis. (Vol. 5). Psychoanalytic education. Pp. 286-299. New York: Grune & Stratton.

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McGuckin, J. A. (2004). The Westminster Handbook to Patristic Theology. Louisville, KT: Westminster John Knox Press.

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Morelli, G. (2006c, July 29). Dealing with Brokenness in the World. Available:

Morelli, G. (2006d, December 21). The Ethos of Orthodox Christian Healing. Available: http://www.orthodoxytoday....

Morelli, G. (2009, September 26). Secularism and the Mind of Christ and the Church: Some Psycho-Spiritual Reflections. Available: http://www.orthodoxytoday....

Morelli, G. (2014). Psychotherapy with members of Eastern Orthodox Churches. In P. Scott Richards & Allen E. Bergin (Eds.) Handbook of Psychotherapy and Religious Diversity (2nd ed. pp. 77-102). Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

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Novaco, R.W. (1977). Stress inoculation: A cognitive therapy for anger. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 45. 600-608.

Palmer, G.E.H.; Sherrard, P.; and Ware, K. (Trans.) (1971, 1981, 1988, 1990). Philokalia, I IV. London: Faber and Faber.

Posner, M.I., & Snyder, C.R.R. (1975). Attention and Cognitive Control. In Solso, R.L. (Ed.), Information Processing and Cognition: The Loyola Symposium. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Powers C., Nam, R.K., Rowatt, W.C. & Hill, P.C. (2007). Association between humility, spiritual transcendence, and forgiveness. Research in the Social Scientific Study of Religion, 18, 75-94.

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Sakharov, Archimandrite Sophrony, (1999). St Silouan the Athonite. Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

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Vlachos, Archimandrite Hierotheos (1993). The Illness and Cure of the Soul in the Orthodox Tradition. (Translated by Effie Mavromichali). Levadia, Greece: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery.

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Date posted: August 1, 2014


Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

The world is awash with people in all walks of life making excuses. No one in any level of society, government, military, the corporate world, educational, health and religious institutions is exempt from making excuses. Clinical psychologists consider ‘making excuses’ a form of psychological defensiveness. Albert Ellis (1962)i puts it this way: “psychologically, therefore, rationalizing or excusing one’s behavior is the opposite of being rational or reasonable about it.” (p. 433) He then points out the untoward consequences of such defensiveness: “to rationalize or intellectualize about one’s self-defeating behavior is to help perpetuate it endlessly.” (p. 344)

 While writing this month’s Chaplain’s Corner, I took time out to cook dinner, during which I watched an episode of the Food Network Show Restaurant Impossible. Chef Robert Irvine goes into an appallingly failing restaurant with his design team with the goal of turning around, in a short time and with a limited budget, failures that can include filthy, outdated interiors, abysmal service, subpar menus and cooking, but, most often, severely dysfunctional interpersonal problems among the owners (many times married and/or family) and between owners and staff (who are often also relatives of the owners). Common to owners, staff and chefs are a myriad of excuses for poor performance. In this particular episode, Chef Robert, with his usual military bearing and tone of voice (he was a former chef in the British Royal Navy), had a one-liner to solve the problem that hits the bull's-eye. He told owners and staff quite dramatically: “Step up and own it.”

Popular wisdom does not excuse excuses.ii The well-noted statesman of the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin, writes: “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.” George Washington Carver, born into slavery in Missouri in 1864, who went on to becomes a noted scientist, botanist, educator and inventor, tells us: “Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses.” Florence Nightingale, the great pioneer of modern nursing notes: “I attribute my success to this: I never gave or took an excuse.”

Taking responsibility and avoiding excuses is certainly emphasized, of course, in various spiritual traditions. A Hindu saying goes: “He who cannot dance claims the floor is uneven.”iii This is echoed by Mahatma Gandhi: “It is wrong and immoral to seek to escape the consequences of one's acts.”iv In the Judeo-Christian tradition we read: “A sinful man will flee reproof, and will find an excuse according to his will.” (Ecc. 32:21) Finally, let us reflect on the wisdom of the Holy Spiritual Father of the Eastern Church, St. Isaac the Syrian (Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 2011, p. 498)v who, commenting on the excuses made by those who begged off on attending the Wedding Banquet described by Jesus in His Parable of the Supper (Lk 14: 16-24), wrote; “Let us, therefore, not excuse ourselves, lest that word also be said to us what was said concerning them. What word? ‘Amen, I say unto you, that none of those men which were bidden shall taste of My supper.’ His ‘supper’ means, of course, to be one with God in His Heavenly Kingdom.” So, let us remember the benefits of having the honesty and courage, when needed, to “Step up and Own” our failings.


i Ellis, A. (1962). Reason and Emotion in Psychotherapy. Secaucus NJ: Lyle Stuart.




v Holy Transfiguration Monastery. (ed., trans.). (2011). The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian (revised, 2nd edition). Boston, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery

Date posted: August 1, 2014

Healing the Church of the Homogenization of Vocations: A Psycho-Theological Reflection

He that heareth you, heareth me; and he that despiseth you, despiseth me; and he that despiseth me, despiseth him that sent me. And the seventy-two returned with joy, saying: Lord, the devils also are subject to us in thy name. (Lk 10 16-17)

A recent report from the Pew Research Organization was entitled: “Majority of U.S. Catholics’ opinions run counter to church on contraception, homosexuality.”i While I have not conducted a scientific survey on Eastern Orthodox on these topics, in my pastoral experience I have encountered what I would call a significant number of individuals who consider themselves Orthodoxii who would concur with this unfortunate finding.

What compounds the Pew Research Report is that the Catholic Church leaders themselves have asked for a poll of Catholics on these and similar issues.iii The egregious problem with such an action is that it gives the impression of an extremely erroneous view of how the Church has understood the teachings of Christ and carried them out over the ages and how the explanation of these teachings and the formulation of the doctrines or dogmas of the Church has occurred. Given that the social and political philosophy of the day is secularist democracy, sometimes masquerading under the guise of political, social and religious correctness, such an official survey by Church authorities certainly gives out the false hope that the teachings of Christ and His Church can be formulated by popular opinion. Nothing can be further from the truth. Furthermore, when someone is asked for their opinion on some issue by an authority, they frequently irrationally assume it will be acted upon. Thus, false hopes, expectations and dysfunctional emotions such as anger, in some, are easily nurtured by such surveys.  (Morelli, 2005, 2007a,b) This sows fertile ground for the homogenization of vocations within the Apostolic Churches.

Authority: Christ and His Church

The Church with Christ at the Helm

The Church with Christ at the Helm

In terms of primacy and ultimate authority, Christ Himself is the head of the Church. This is affirmed by St. Peter, who, when writing from Rome to the persecuted Christians in Asia Minor (Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia ), says:

If so be you have tasted that the Lord is sweet. Unto whom coming, as to a living stone, rejected indeed by men, but chosen and made honorable by God: Be you also as living stones built up, a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ. (1Pt 2: 3-5)

Clearly, Christ conceived of the people of God, those baptized and who have put on Christ, as a holy people. As St. Paul wrote to the Galatians (3:27): “For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ.” This is echoed by St. Peter who tells them:

But you are a chosen generation, a kingly priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people: that you may declare his virtues, who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light: Who in time past were not a people: but are now the people of God. Who had not obtained mercy; but now have obtained mercy. (1Pt 2: 9-10)

What is necessary to be in Christ’s Church?

It is important to consider what is necessary to be numbered among the kingly or royal priesthood and thus make our baptism efficacious. We have to be “Peter” the same rock that His Church is based on. Consider St. Matthew’s (16:16-18) recounting of Jesus’ dialogue with His Apostles:

Jesus saith to them: But whom do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered and said: Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

Ss. Peter and Paul

Ss. Peter and Paul

The Fathers of the Eastern Church have consistently understood by these words that those who make up the true Church of Christ are those who share what the Father (through the Son and the Holy Spirit) has revealed to them. This goes back to the understanding of the Apostles themselves. St. Luke tells us:

God sent the word to the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all.) You know the word which hath been published through all Judea: for it began from Galilee, after the baptism which John preached, Jesus of Nazareth: how God anointed him with the Holy Spirit, and with power, who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. (Acts 10: 36-38)

St. Paul also affirms that the source of revelation is the Divinity itself:

Grace to you, and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you, for the grace of God that is given you in Christ Jesus, That in all things you are made rich in him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge. (1Cor 3-5)

Christ Passes His Earthly Authority To His Body On Earth: His Church

Caesarea Philippi, area of Peter’s Profession (Mt 16:13-19)

Caesarea Philippi,
area of Peter’s Profession
(Mt 16:13-19)

The first reference that Christ makes about His Church is also to the foundation on which it must be built. Foundations are made of hard substances. In Jesus’ time they were made of natural substances such as the rocks that made up the earth’s crust. After the Apostle Simon’s confession as to who Christ is, Christ changes Simon’s name to Peter, meaning ‘rock:’

Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. (Mt 16: 16-18)

If we profess Christ to be the Divine Son of God, then we, too, become the foundation for the rest of the Church to be built on. It is after this profession that any authority or power the Church has can be exercised. This can be seen in what Jesus tells Peter (formally Simon Bar-Jona) after this:

And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven. (Mt 16: 19)

Orthodox Understanding of Ecclesiology

Christ commissioning the Apostles and their successors

Christ commissioning
the Apostles and
their successors

It is important to note that the Eastern Orthodox Church has consistently considered these words of Our Lord to apply not only to Peter, but to all the Apostles as well and to all their successors in future time. Blessed Theophylact (2006, p. 141), the great Orthodox commentator on Sacred Scripture, tells us:

Even though the words “I will give unto thee” were spoken to Peter alone, yet they were given to all the [A]postles. Why? Because He said “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted.” Also the words “I will give” indicate a future time, namely, after the Resurrection.

From the notes on this passage from Blessed Theophylact’s commentary we learn that the English word ye (thou) is derived from the Greek word aphete which is second person plural. This means that the authority given is meant not for one person alone (Peter) but to all the Apostles at that time and their successors.  In a much prayed for unity of the Apostolic Churches, first uttered by Christ in his priestly discourse to the Apostles during the last supper, “Holy Father, keep them in thy name whom thou has given me; that they may be one, as we also are.” (Jn 17: 11), we join with Christ for a common understanding of the ecclesiology of the Church among the Apostolic Churches.

Unity a critical attribute of the Church

McGuckin (2011) looks to St. Cyprian of Carthage’s (c.200-258 AD) understanding of unity as reflecting the patristic understanding of ecclesiology. Well worth repeating in this article is McGuckin’s quote of Patelos’ (1978) synopsis of St. Cyprian’s teaching:

It is a truism that the holy catholic and apostolic is founded upon the Apostles and preserved by the divine and inspired fathers in the Ecumenical Councils, and that her head is Christ the Great Shepherd who bought her with His own blood; and according to the heaven-tending Apostle she is the pillar and  ground of the truth, as well as the body of Christ. This holy church is indeed one in identity of faith and similarity of manners and customs, in unison with the decisions of the Seven Ecumenical Councils, and she must be one and not many that differ from each other in dogmas and fundamental institutions of ecclesiastical government. (p. 256)

Having concord with the Church

The Heterodox, especially those who want to shape a group/community that they will call a church, will often cite these words of Christ as recorded by St. Matthew to support their action:

Again I say to you, that if two of you shall consent upon earth, concerning any thing whatsoever they shall ask, it shall be done to them by my Father who is in heaven. For where there are two or three gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”( Mt 18:19-20)

Healing the Church

Christ feeding His Body
to His Body

Looking to St. Cyprian of Carthage’s understanding of Patristic tradition can aid in discovering how the Church understands the orthodox meaning of Christ’s words:

He placed agreement first; He has made the concord of peace a prerequisite; He taught that we should agree firmly and faithfully. But how can he agree with any one who does not agree with the booty [sic] of the Church itself, and with the universal brotherhood? How can two or three be assembled together in Christ's name, who, it is evident, are separated from Christ and from His Gospel? For we have not withdrawn from them, but they from us; and since heresies and schisms have risen subsequently, from their establishment for themselves of diverse places of worship, they have forsaken the Head and Source of the truth. But the Lord speaks concerning His Church, and to those also who are in the Church He speaks, that if they are in agreement, if according to what He commanded and admonished, although only two or three gathered together with unanimity should pray—though they be only two or three—they may obtain from the majesty of God what they ask.iv

Basically one has to be in peace and concord with the Mind of Christ and His Church and not be an innovator of self-proclaimed novel teachings. (Morelli, 2010)

The Church as the Body of Christ

Christ considered His Church on earth, as His Body.  Consider these words of Christ: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine: you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him…” (Jn 15: 4-5) St. Paul makes the meaning of Christ’s teaching very explicit in his Epistle to the Colossians (1: 18): “And [Christ] is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things [H]e may hold the primacy…”

The Inner Composition of the Body of Christ

Obedience of Love

Obedience of Love

St. Paul delineates the inner composition and workings of the “Body of Christ” in two famous and well quoted passages: He writes to the Corinthians that baptism in the Spirit is our entryway into the Church:

But all these things one and the same Spirit worketh, dividing to every one according as he will. For as the body is one, and hath many members; and all the members of the body, whereas they are many, yet are one body, so also is Christ. For in one Spirit were we all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether bond or free; and in one Spirit we have all been made to drink. For the body also is not one member, but many. (1Cor 12: 11-14)

This is summarized in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians and is a frequently chanted hymn in the Eastern Church during the Paschal Season: “For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ.” (Gal 3:27)”

The St. Paul tells us that each member of the Body of Christ has an individual calling, vocation and function.

Now you are the body of Christ, and members of member. And God indeed hath set some in the church; first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly doctors; after that miracles; then the graces of healing, helps, governments, kinds of tongues, interpretations of speeches. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all doctors? ] Are all workers of miracles? Have all the grace of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?” (1Cor 12: 27-29)

Baptism Is Necessary But Not Sufficient: It Must Be Lived Out By Obedience

Ladder of Divine Ascent

Ladder of Divine Ascent

Many heterodox and ‘my-way’ individuals have a very simplistic view of the meaning of these passages. It is as if they are saying ‘Be baptized and do what you want.’ Nothing can be more far afield from the truth. Christ Himself has told His Apostles and Disciples of the necessity of obedience. Consider two straightforward teachings Christ gave to His Apostles during His priestly discourse at the Last Supper: “If you love me, keep my commandments.” (Jn 14:15);and “He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them; he it is that loveth me. And he that loveth me, shall be loved of my Father: and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.” (Jn 14:21).

Our Church Fathers on Obedience

Bishop, Priest and Deacon around the Altar

Bishop, Priest and
Deacon around the Altar

Our spiritual Church Fathers have lived out and proclaimed loudly the necessity of continuing obedience. St. Theodore the Great Ascetic tells us: “. . . he who has embraced obedience and slain his own will with the sword of humility has indeed fulfilled the promise that he made to Christ . . . .” (Philokalia II, p. 21). While St. Theodore is speaking about the promise of monastic profession, we can consider this as applying faithfulness to our baptismal promises. St. John of the Ladder (1979) tells us: “He who lives in obedience has eluded two snares [disobedience and conceit] and remains eternally an obedient servant of Christ”. (p.40). He puts it this way: “For obedience is distrust in oneself in everything, no matter how good it may be, right to the end of one’s life. (p. 22) He counsels on the spiritually deleterious consequences of selective obedience, writing: “If he does his will in some things’ although he considers himself obedient, he lays the burden on his own shoulders.” (p. 23)

The place of obedience in any true Christian is given to us by St. Maximus the Confessor:

Just as the result of disobedience is sin, so the result of obedience is virtue. And just as disobedience leads to breaking the commandments and to separation from Him who gave them, so obedience leads to keeping the commandments and to union with Him who gave them. Thus he who through obedience has kept the commandments has achieved righteousness and, moreover, he has not cut himself off from union in love with Him who gave them; and the opposite equally true. (Philokalia II, p 139).

Obedience to our Particular Vocation in Christ’s Body: The Church

It is important, therefore, that all be obedient and that the obedience conforms to the Divine calling each of us have received. In this regard, a phrase from the Anaphora Prayer of the Liturgy of St. Basil should be the guide for all ecclesial matters for those of the Royal Priesthood, be they of the episcopate, the presbyterate or laity. St Basil prays: “Be mindful, O Lord, of the Priesthood, the Deaconate in Christ, and every priestly rank, and put not to confusion any one of us who stand about Thy holy Altar.” Those of the ordained priesthood as bishop/priest, stand around the altar and are ordained to call down the Holy Spirit to sanctify what is earthly and make it Divine. The ordained deacons standing beside the bishop/priest are speaking for the laity that make up  the Royal Priesthood. Those laity of the Royal Priesthood stand before the altar  and acclaim “Amen” (So Be It) to the holy events they are participating in.

The Uniqueness of the Vocations of the Priesthood and the Laity

The Sublime Dignity of the Priesthood is that it is the icon of the Priesthood of Christ

The Sublime Dignity
of the Priesthood is
that it is the icon
of the Priesthood
of Christ

The Holy Mystery of the priesthood has three orders: bishop, priest and deacon. As the proper icon of Christ, the one and true priest who became incarnate in the male sex, those ordained to the priesthood are, and must be, of the male sex. (Morelli, 2014). A female diaconate, as it was in the early Church, if restored, would serve in the baptism of women and not have a Eucharistic function.

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev

All priestly ordinations take place during the Divine Liturgy, in which ordinary bread and wine is made (consecrated) into the true Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ. This is most fitting, as the Eucharist is the ultimate gift of God to mankind that Christ left after His Ascension. As a Deacon is to ‘serve’ those who celebrate the Eucharist (bishop/priest), a deacon is ordained after the consecration. The priest, whose main duties include proclaiming and teaching the Gospel, blessings and particularly sanctifying God’s people by celebrating the Divine Liturgy,  is ordained after the bread and wine are on the Altar, so he may participate in the consecration. A bishop is fittingly ordained at the Little Entrance, symbolizing the fullness of Christ’s earthly public life of teaching, preaching and giving us His Eucharist at the Last Supper,  as well as His passion, death on the cross and Resurrection for our salvation. To all of these ordinations the assembled people of God (laity) participate by shouting out “Axios” (He is worthy).

A priest serves even in the face of grave danger

A priest serves even in the face
of grave danger

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev (2002, p. 156), while acknowledging the importance of the ‘royal priesthood’ of all those who are baptized that obey His teachings and the teachings of His Body the Church, nevertheless, “recognizes a difference between laypeople and ordained clergy, the latter being entrusted with the celebration of the Eucharist and having the power of ‘binding and loosing’.” The priestly ordination is “not only a change of status but a transition to another level of existence.” He quotes

Archimandrite Cyprian (Kern) states that “a person who has been ordained is no longer a simple layman, but a theourgos, an “initiator into mysteries” and a celebrant of sacraments.”

Metropolitan Hilarion then goes on to quote a great contemporary saint of the Church, St. Silouan the Athonite,  a simple un-ordained monk of the Russian Monastery of St. Panteleimon on Mt. Athos, on the great dignity of the priestly ministry and the graces given to pastoral service:

[This] grace is so exceeding great that were men able to see the glory of this grace, the whole world would wonder at it, but the Lord has veiled it that His servants should not be puffed up but find salvation in humility.... Truly noble is a priest – the minister at God’s altar. Whoever gives offense to him offends the Holy Spirit who lives in him.... (p. 156)

St. Silouan’s reflection that the priesthood should served in humility is to be noted.

Christ’s injunction to His Apostles on how to minister

Consider Christ’s strong words to His Apostles on the ethos of Christian ministry; it must be in emulation of Christ’s ministry itself:

It shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be the greater among you, let him be your minister: And he that will be first among you, shall be your servant. Even as the Son of man is not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a redemption for many. (Mt. 20: 26-28)

Pope Francis and Pat. Bartholomew

Furthermore, to the Pharisees chastising Him, Christ told of the  humility that is necessary in any service: “He that is the greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be humbled: and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” (Mt, 23: 11-12).  St. Silouan’s depiction of the priesthood was simply passing on to us the importance of Christ’s call to humility in diaconia.

I may dare say that the higher the level of priestly order and service laid on a man, the greater the level of humility should be the ethos of his heart, demeanor and service.

Clericalism versus the true spiritual dignity of the holy priesthood

In modern times some clergy have been charged with the pejorative term ‘clericalism.’ The charge of clericalism implies that cronyism, that is to say favoritism is involved in their social and political and religious life. Such individuals want to be favored over others or favor others because of their ‘exalted’ title rather than their spiritual and psychological qualities. It bespeaks of inegalitarianism, a social, political specialness over those holding non clerical status.

As long as bishop, priest and deacon are shrouded in humility, clericalism-cronyism will never emerge. The bishop and priest, as well as those in the royal priesthood, do have unique and distinct callings in the Body of Christ. However, the exercise of their unique functions must be shrouded, actually immersed, in humility. One example of humility described by St. John of the Ladder (1991) would be useful in distinguishing someone bearing the spiritual dignity of the priesthood, versus the entitlement to social and or political favoritism implied in clericalism. St. John tells us that one sign of humility “is the perfect bearing of indignity.” (p.64).

Proper exercising of our vocation

Orthodox Lay Theologian Paul Evdokimov

Orthodox Lay Theologian
Paul Evdokimov

Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov (1998) notes with great spiritual perception that all those baptized into the ‘Royal Priesthood’ are called to “interiorized monasticism.” (p. 233). He writes:

“When Christ,” Says St. John Chrysostom, “orders us to follow the narrow path, he addresses Himself to all. The monastics and the lay person must attain the same heights.” We can see indeed that there exists only one spirituality for all without distinction in its demands, whether of the bishop, monk or lay person, and this is the nature of monastic spirituality. Now this has been shaped by lay-monastics, which gives the term ‘lay’ the maximal spiritual and ecclesial meaning. (p. 137)

Evdokimov sums this up when he says: “It is in its total demand that the Gospel addresses itself to everyone everywhere.” (p. 136).  It should be noted that the demands of the Gospel are both the precepts or Commandments of God and His Christ as well as the traditional monastic counsels of poverty, chastity and obedience (according one’s state of life). Considering the charge of clericalism, discussed above, I would add the necessity of all to intensely nurture and practice the virtue of humility in their lives.

With this in mind, we can understand the unique functioning of all the members who make up the Body of Christ, be they bishop, priest or laity. Evdokimov puts it this way:  “With us innovations cannot be introduced either by the patriarchs or by the Council: for with us, the safeguarding of religion dwells in the whole body of the Church.... Lay persons are not judges (kriteis) of the faith. The promulgation of doctrinal definitions is the charism proper to the episcopate [with consultation with the presbyterate].” (p. 236) Evdokimov points out that the Church is the shield, that is to say the defender and protector of the teachings of Christ in its entirety, this means the “ability to distinguish truth from error, “to verify truth and to testify.”v

The Lay vocation in the Church.

The Apostolic Churches certainly do not need a ‘poll’ of the views of any who do not proclaim the ‘true doctrine of Christ and His Church.’ The critical role of the laity who can earnestly chant the prayer in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, after the distribution of the Eucharist, those who can fully pray from the depth of their hearts that “We have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly spirit…,” these are the ones to fulfill their Christian vocation. These committed Christians will be able to act as Evdokimov writes: “laymen are the defenders of the faith,” (p. 236), but to exercise that defense always with the humility that also should underpin the exercise of all Christian vocations. As St. Isaac of Syria (Brock, 1997, p. 12) tells us: “As salt is needed for all kinds of food, so humility is needed for all kinds of virtues.”

But prove all things; hold fast that which is good. (1Thes 5: 21)


Alfeyev, Bishop Hilarion, (2002). The Mystery of Faith. London, England: Darton, Longman and Todd.

Blessed Theophlyact (2006). The Explanation by Blessed Theophylact of The Holy Gospel According To St. Matthew. (C. Stade, Trans). House Springs, MO: Chrysostom Press.

Brock, S., trans. (1997). The Wisdom of Saint Isaac the Syrian. Fairacres Oxford, England: SLG Press, Convent of the Incarnation.

Evdokimov, P. (1998). Ages of the Spiritual Life. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press

McGuckin, J.A. (2011). The Orthodox Church. NY: Wiley.

Morelli, G. (2005, October 14). The Beast of Anger.

Morelli, G. (2010, November 25) The Ethos of Orthodox Catechesis.

Morelli, G. (2007a, March 15). Good Marriage: How An Attitude of Entitlement Undermines Marriage.

Morelli, G. (2007b, April 27) Good Marriage II. Reciprocity—The One-Way Contract that can Wreck a Marriage.

Morelli, G. (2014). Psychotherapy with members of Eastern Orthodox Churches. In P. Scott Richards & Allen E. Bergin (Eds.) Handbook of Psychotherapy and Religious Diversity (2nd ed. pp. 77-102). Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

Palmer, G.E.H.; Sherrard, P.; and Ware, K. (Trans.) (1971, 1981, 1988, 1990). Philokalia,  I IV. London: Faber and Faber.

St. John Climacus (1991). The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Boston: Holy Transfiguration Monastery.


ii This would include those of any of the Churches that can be traced in direct succession to Christ and His Apostles: Eastern Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Roman Catholic.



v An ideal example of the members of the Body of Christ working together and working with others of the Apostolic Churches can be seen in numerous news reports of the annual ‘March For Life’ in Washington DC. Leading their people are various Roman Catholic and Orthodox Bishops surrounded by their priests and accompanied by the people they shepherd. []. Also notable is the courageous stand and model of pastoral leadership of Roman Catholic Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, who spoke before a rally organized by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) and the Family Research Council, which “seeks to send "a clear message to every level of society that a majority of Americans still stand for marriage as it has been traditionally and historically defined and handed down through the centuries."” []. All orthodox Christians, must be either teachers or defenders of the teaching of Christ and His Church on such a moral issue. 

Date posted: July 1, 2014

Chaplain’s Corner: Unlikely Heroes in Crisis Times

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

The term 'Unlikely’ in the title is not used without reason. ‘Likely’ heroes, in classic historical traditions, are found among either the spiritual elite, such as great legendary mythical gods, outstanding religious teachers, like those considered Hindu heroes, and great ascetic masters who renounced the material world, as in Buddhist chronicles, or among the nobility or warrior elite.i

However, in modern times we have learned that another type of hero can be recognized; that ordinary people perform in extraordinary ways and thus earn the designation of being ‘unlikely heroes.’

In San Diego as recently as early this year, 2014, we underwent a conflagration of near epic proportions way before the start of the usual California fire season. My own house was surrounded with raging fire and smoke a mile east and west of me and I was subsequently officially “sheltered in place” in my own home for two days amidst deadly smoke and blood-red skies.

The dedication of the ordinary, thus unlikely, heroes, the firefighters, police and sheriffs’ officers, in fact all emergency responders to this devastation, was above description. Now a cynic might say that it was their job to react. Well, yes. But, no! When interviewed, all mentioned that their primary motivation was the solidarity they had with all in the community “because we are all a family.” Really remarkable were those victims in the heat of the blaze who were helping other victims around them. I saw a number of TV reporter interviews who were told by these unsung heroes that they “could not abandon those around them who were in dire straits.” In fact, some of the newscasters themselves, while on live broadcast, were shown literally putting down their microphones and dousing flames at homes that they had come upon that were on fire or under threat. Once again, their connection to the community was their explanation for their action.

Such heroism is certainly not geographically specific, or limited to any specific religious tradition. A couple of contemporary examples of other ‘unlikely heroes’ that stepped up to help others in untoward times come to mind. For example, in the ‘slide to war’ in the former Yugoslavia, in the late 20th Century, a relatively unknown young Jewish artist, Sally Becker, put her life in danger countless times and was even brutally shot herself trying to save beleaguered Bosnian families and their children.ii Another news account last year reported a group of Moslems in Egypt protecting a Christian Coptic Church during a service.iii

Interviews of the emergency responders during the San Diego County Fires may provide a motivation for their heroism, and the heroism of others. Practically all interviewed said they felt it a duty as they had a connection to God and with one another. Many spiritual traditions maintain that harmonious relations with all around one and with God Himself can be the wellspring of peace in the world. We can note the words of the Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dali Lamaiv: “If you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another.” This could be both a prayer and a practice that all of us can aspire to.

A Christian understanding would inform us that we are all made in God’s image and are to care for one another. “And this commandment we have from God, that he, who loveth God, love also his brother” (1Jn 4:21).

Unlikely heroism, for any of us, is being prepared to respond: “Yes!” if God at any moment asks us if we are “our brother’s keeper.” (Gn 4:9)




iii div>


Date posted: July 1, 21014

Understanding Orthodoxy for Mental Health Practitioners - Part 1

[This is a follow up course to Orthodox Christian Spirituality and Cognitive Psychotherapy: An Online Course, that appeared in four parts over the years 2012-2013. This second course is specifically oriented to explain Orthodoxy to mental health practitioners,and serve as a useful resource for Orthodox Clergy and laity as well. Ethically, mental health practitioners should incorporate the spiritual values of their patients in the therapeutic process. The course would serve as an introduction of the Eastern Orthodox ethos and cultural traditions to these professionals.

One of the most frequently questions I am asked as Chairman of the Chaplain and Pastoral Counseling Department of the Antiochian Archdiocese is for a referral to an Orthodox mental health practitioner. Sadly Orthodoxy is not a majority spiritual tradition in North America and Orthodox practitioners are few. So careful questioning by potential patients, family and clergy of a potential practitioner regarding the practitioner's understanding and respect for the spiritual values of their patients is very important. This course is meant to aid in this inquiry.

It also should be noted that this course is an updating and reworking of a recently published chapter: Psychotherapy with members of Eastern Orthodox Churches, (Morelli, 2014).]

Jesus saith to him: I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me. Jn 14:6

In our own day there is a widely held view that belief in religious dogma is not obligatory; even if they still have a certain historical value, they are no longer vital for Christians. Moral and social agendas have become the main preoccupation of many Christian communities, while theological issues are often neglected. This dissociation between dogma and way of life, however contradicts the very nature of the religious life, which presupposes that faith should always be confirmed by deeds, and visa versa. (Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, The Mystery of Faith, 2002)

The mission of the Orthodox Christian Church, at its most basic, is to continue and make available the restorative healing of mankind, both of persons and communities, entrusted to it by Jesus Christ, true God and true man, who restored to mankind the possibility of union with God, originally lost through human pride and rebellion (sin). Loss of union with the Creator led to persistent intra- and inter-personal disharmony rather than the harmony possible through man's sharing in the Divine life of the Holy Trinity as originally intended by God when He created man in His image, called to be in His likeness. (cf. Gen 1:26) All the Church's Holy Mysteries (Sacraments), teachings, liturgies, counsels, and even its external organization, derive from and serve this healing mission.

he Orthodox Churches in North America today trace to the original Church founded by Christ in Jerusalem that, over centuries, spread geographically throughout the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe. Five Patriarchates emerged, often called mother churches: Rome; Constantinople (New Rome); Alexandria; Antioch; and Jerusalem. Their ranking, based on a combination of political status (Rome and Constantinople) and religious importance (Jerusalem), was determined by the Council of Chalcedon (451 A.D.). After the Great Schism (1054 A.D.) and the Fourth Crusade (1204 A.D.), Rome was dropped from the Diptychs (official lists kept by each Patriarch of the other Patriarchs, living and departed, recognized as Orthodox). Eventually, other important Orthodox cities attained Patriarchal status - Moscow (1589 A.D.) because of its military and political stature, was described as the "Third Rome."

Concentration of Orthodox Faithful

Concentration of Orthodox Faithful

Due to differing immigration patterns of immigration over three centuries, Orthodox assembled in the New World according to the organizational structure and customs of their mother Churches. Thus, today's Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Antiochian (Syrian) Orthodox Churches, etc., are not considered different denominations as they agree theologically and recognize each other's Holy Mysteries (Sacraments), but are referred to as different jurisdictions of the one Orthodox Church (Krindatch, 2011).

Assembly of Orthodox Bishops

Assembly of Orthodox Bishops

However, cultural elements such as the languages of the Liturgies, the folk dances, dress, music and traditional food strongly influence the differing self-identities and practices of each, e.g., "Greek Festivals" at Greek Orthodox parishes, though some parishes are very 'American.' Psychologists need to know, and incorporate into treatment, both Orthodox spirituality and the ethnic identity of their patients.

The overlapping of jurisdictions in one geographical area is highly irregular according to Church tradition (Council of Chalcedon). To resolve this, in 2010, the bishops of the various canonical Orthodox Churches formed the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops of North America (Krindatch, 2011). A study based on a 2010 census of the Orthodox in North America (Krindatch, 2011) showed a little over 1 million members and 2,400 parishes.

Origins of the Eastern Orthodox Churches

The M

The Ministry of the Apostles
and Their Successors

All Christians of the Eastern Orthodox Churches, no matter how varied in externals, trace their founding to Jesus Christ, (3-6 B.C.- 27-30 A.D.), God become flesh, "of one essence with the Father before all things were made," (Council of Nicaea, 325 A.D.) who sent His Holy Spirit on His Apostles and Disciples at Pentecost, fifty days after His Resurrection. Immediately following His death and Resurrection, His twelve chosen Apostles took his message (Gospel) to the corners of the earth. Three of them, the Jews, (Sts.) Matthew, Mark and John, wrote accounts (Gospels) of His life and teachings for the early Christian communities. St. Luke (c.20-90 A.D.), a gentile convert, a physician from Antioch, wrote a Gospel, He worked with St. Paul in his missionary journeys and wrote The Acts of the Apostles about the first Christian communities.

The Four Missionary Journeys of St. Paul

The Four Missionary Journeys of St. Paul

The Apostles appointed overseers ("episkopoi," bishops) to lead these communities. St Paul (c.3-6 B.C. - 66 A.D.) a Greek-Jew, former Pharisee and persecutor of Christians, after his conversion to Christianity also spread the teachings of Jesus throughout the Roman world, founded many Christian communities and wrote them letters (Epistles) of encouragement. He is considered one of the greatest Apostles.

From St. Paul's Epistles we know that Christians understood themselves to be the people of the 'New Covenant,' the continuation of the first Covenant that God made with Abraham and his descendants, the Hebrew people. He wrote: "Now the God of peace Who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus, the Shepherd of the sheep, the great One, in the blood of a [new] everlasting covenant." (Heb. 13:20) For Christians, the teachings of Jesus could be understood by His Church because of its sanctification by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. As St. Paul explained: "To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter." (2 Thess. 2: 13-15)

Christianity in the Roman Empire

esus' teachings passed by tradition, first orally, then written, from the apostles to their successors, the bishops and priests of today: St. Paul wrote, "I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you." (1Cor 11:2). And told the Ephesians: "you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. . . ." (2: 19, 30). St Luke wrote: "Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers,[the original name for bishops and priests in Sacred Scripture] to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son." (Acts 20:28) Christianity is first known, therefore, through the oral tradition and practice of the Church and only then through the written Scriptures. The written Old Testament Scriptures were compiled by St. Athanasius the Great, c. 328 A.D., and the New Testament by the Synod of Laodicea (381 A.D.), and both were ratified by the Sixth Ecumenical Council (3rd Constantinople) in 680 A.D. by the same overseers (episkopoi) the Holy Spirit inspired to care for the Church by maintaining the "traditions." This is important because the synergy of Christian spirituality and psychology must be true to both Christian teaching in tradition, practice and Scripture as well as to modern scientific psychology.

It must be emphasized that, for the Orthodox, Sacred Scripture can only be understood through the Holy Spirit-inspired Church, as is explained in an outstanding book that echoes the Mind of the Church: Scripture in Tradition (Breck, 2001).


Many Orthodox prefer to call Old and New Testaments "Sacred Scripture" - meaning writings that are 'sacred' - rather than "Bible" implying a book 'authoritative in and of itself,' a Protestant notion.

The Mind of Christ is the Mind of The Orthodox Church

In addition to Scripture, Orthodox Christians also consistently refer to the "Church Fathers" who, not teaching anything new, were only discovering what Jesus had taught and passing that on to the apostles and their successors, the bishops, as inspired by the Holy Spirit. McGuckin (2004) points out that it was understood by the bishops attending the councils [overseers, as in St. Luke (Acts 20:) above] that their duty was to "discern," in terms of past precedent, the Mind of the Church, and proclaim it as an action of the Holy Spirit.

Summary of the Great Councils

Summary of the Great Councils

The various Eastern Orthodox Churches that share a unity in faith may seem very different to the non-Orthodox due to the differences in their languages and styles of worship. This is a result of the Apostles themselves adapting the basics of the faith to the various languages and cultures as they evangelized different parts of the world.

Christ's teachings have been canonized (set into the "canons," i.e., the established order of belief or conduct) by the Orthodox Church in its Seven Great, or Ecumenical, Councils. These teachings (in summary) are: Jesus Christ is Divine, the Incarnate son of God, "of one essence with the Father," having the true natures of both God and man; Mary is thus the Mother of God; the Holy Spirit, third Person of the Divine Trinity, is "the Lord and Giver of Life, Who proceedeth from the Father, Who with the Father is worshipped and glorified." In assuming a human body, God showed that matter can be redeemed, deified and spirit-bearing, thus icons can be venerated as spirit-bearing pointers to heaven. Full Council details are in Ware (1963).

The Doctrinal Core of the Orthodox Church

The doctrinal core of the Orthodox Church is expressed in the Nicene Creed as affirmed by the Ecumenical Councils. This is recited in every Divine Liturgy of the Church as well as at Holy Baptism in which a person becomes a member of the Church - the Kingdom of God.

The Mind of the Orthodox Church

The Mind of the
Orthodox Church

The Mind of the Church, refers to the collective teaching, by those who are recognized by the Church as authentic followers of Christ and whose teaching and way of life can be trusted, of what is needed to be a true follower of Christ. These teachers stand on, and within, the Gospel of Christ given to us by the Apostles that constitutes and judges the Church even today.

Holy Tradition

The sacred aggregate of all the Church's oral tradition, written tradition (Holy Scripture), Holy Mysteries, Liturgy, prayers, teachings of the Church fathers and saints, holy Councils, icons, architecture, and music, proclaims the glory and mind of Christ. (Morelli, 2009b)

Scripture in the Divine Liturgy

Scripture in the Divine Liturgy

A good example of the synergy of what makes up Holy Tradition is the intimate connection between the written Scripture and the Divine Liturgy.

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev (2009) highlights that both liturgical tradition and the Councils of the Church are reflective of the Church as "unconditional and indisputable authority." Preeminent among those whose lives exemplify the Mind of the Church are the overseers (bishops) and the presbyters (priests-elders) in union with them appointed by the Apostles, many of whom wrote theological treatises. Many other holy men and women, both ordained and unordained, also displayed God-given gifts of healing and teaching.

The Orthodox Ethos

Orthodoxy, considered in some ways a primitive form of Christianity more rooted in its geographic origin, was thus less influenced by Western development and did not experience, for example, the development of the papacy, the Reformation or the Enlightenment. This is significant in terms of how Orthodoxy approaches both doctrine and spirituality.

The Orthodox sense of the Godhead is that no human idea or name can capture God; He is beyond description. St. John (1Jn 4:8,16) tells us: "God is love." Thus, the Orthodox approach to understanding God is to employ both cataphatic theology (affirming His attributes) and apophatic (He can only be known in terms of what He is not). For example, if we say God is "Being," He is actually "Supra-Being." If we call God, "Light," He is brighter than light; He is Supra-Light." If we say God is "merciful," He is actually "supra-merciful." Words with the prefix 'not,' (e.g., 'not-being'), 'in,' (e.g., 'incomprehensible') or 'un,' (e.g., 'unchangeable') are apophatic terms.

God is merciful

From an Orthodox theological perspective, God in actuality transcends all human vocabulary and knowledge. Affirming anything about God fails; He is more than anything humanly comprehensible. The Orthodox conclude, therefore, that God can be partially comprehended only by indicating what He is not. Two Fathers of the Eastern Church said of God that He is divine darkness. They considered this a statement of His incomprehensibility. Alfeyev (2002, p. 27) tells us: "In our understanding of God we often rely upon cataphatic notions since these are easier and more accessible to the mind. But cataphatic knowledge has its limits. The way of negation corresponds to the spiritual ascent into the Divine abyss where words fall silent, where reason fades, where all human knowledge and comprehension cease, where God is."

On the other hand, for the Orthodox, the specific words used by God in revealing himself are critical and must not be changed. Christ revealed God the Father to us as Father. St. Matthew tells us Jesus' words: "Be ye therefore praying thus: 'Our Father Who art in the heavens, hallowed be Thy name. . . .'" (Mt.6: 9). And St. John (1: 12): "But as many as received Him [Christ-Logos-the Word], He gave them power to be made the sons of God, to them that believe in His name."

True God and True Man

Jesus Christ, Son of God,
True God and True Man

Orthodox emphatically oppose modern attempts to change traditional words of Sacred Scripture by making the text 'inclusive,' (e.g., referring to God as 'mother,' mankind as 'humankind' or 'sons of God' as 'children of God'). For the Orthodox, to change words, especially the words given to us by Christ, is to change theology. This is the basis of the Latin motto: Lex orandi, lex credendi, i.e., the law of prayer is the law of belief.

Christ at the Wedding Feast at Cana

The Wedding Feast at Cana

Sex and sexuality in marriage are an important part of the ethos of Orthodoxy. Marriage for Orthodox Christians replicates the creative energy of God, where the couple, as "one flesh," unites to create new life. The "theology of sex" based on Divine Love is at the level of the highest principle, infinitely beyond empathy or any other set of ethical standards. It references the essence of God Himself. St. John tells us ". . .for love is of God. . .. God is love" (1Jn 4:7-8). This is the love we are to have for one another. Archimandrite Sophrony (1999, p. 116) reports that St. Silouan the Athonite, echoing the Church Fathers, said: "Both Christ's commandments of love towards God and love toward neighbor make up a single life."

In a blessed marriage in the Orthodox Church, the couple is ordained as the leaders of their domestic church, crowned to be the king and queen of their domicile and granted grace for the "fair education of children," as the Orthodox wedding service proclaims. In Christian marriage, authentic and true love seeks to replicate the type of self-sacrifice Christ revealed to us when He became man and dwelt among us (and which is still expressed today in Christ's faithfulness to His Church). Self-sacrificial love conforms to the Great Commandment to love our neighbor more highly than ourselves. In so doing, we also love and honor God (Mt 25:36-40, 1Jn 4:19-21).

Domestic Church

This kind of love between husband and wife, even if imperfectly practiced and not always realized, constitutes the 'Domestic Church' or the 'small church in the home' and, as such, ensures the health and stability of the family in raising children.

Openness to replicating the creative act of God by bearing children during the marriage is emphasized in Orthodoxy and is essential for it to be considered a blessed marriage. However, decisions regarding the specifics of family planning are left to the couple to decide, though some secular forms of family planning, such as abortion and the morning-after pill, are, for Orthodox Christians, clearly unacceptable.

Christ’s Second Coming

Christ’s Second Coming

Orthodox Christians understand that they must be committed to Christ and fully united to His Church and its teachings. After receiving the Eucharist at the Divine Liturgy, Orthodox sing, "We have seen the true light, we have received the heavenly Spirit; we have found the true faith, worshipping the undivided Trinity: for He hath saved us." The Orthodox Church of Christ has been given the totality of Divine Gifts, so the basic view is not to waste the divine gifts received at Holy Baptism and available throughout one's lifetime. but to maintain and increase them by full and deep participation in the life in the Church. In this regard, the words of Jesus are recalled: "Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required." (Lk 12:48). All await Christ's Second Coming.

Date posted: June 1, 2014

Chaplain’s Corner: Silence is Golden

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

A number of aphorisms inspired by popular wisdom are especially applicable to this age of instant global communication. I immediately think of one of my father’s favorite instructional sayings: “The wisest word is the word unspoken.” What brings this to my mind are recent media accounts of some notable individuals making some quite unwise statements that they think are private comments, but which later end up being publically broadcasted. Often the individuals themselves are adversely affected, and when they are associated with others, be they corporations, governments or sport teams, the untoward effects extend to many.

Would it not be ideal if “the word unspoken” were not just motivated by desire to avoid the inauspicious consequences of making unwise statements, but, rather, sprang from the habits of a truly virtuous mind and heart? Buddhist wisdom is particularly apt in this understanding: “Just as treasures are uncovered from the earth, so virtue appears from good deeds, and wisdom appears from a pure and peaceful mind. To walk safely through the maze of human life, one needs the light of wisdom and the guidance of virtue.”[i] When one has acquired such virtue, then wise silence should follow because it is built on a solid foundation.

In the book of Proverbs (8: 13), King Solomon tied true wisdom to virtue: “The fear of the Lord hateth evil: I hate arrogance, and pride, and every wicked way, and a mouth with a double tongue.” Hebrew wisdom puts it this way: “If a word be worth one shekel, silence is worth two.”[ii] The silence that is “golden” is, then, a product or consequence of virtue. Benjamin Franklin understood that developing the value of silence is one of the defining characteristics of a virtuous person in attaining what he called ‘moral perfection’. He wrote: “Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation."[iii] In the same vein, Roman Catholic Dominican friar, Meister Eckhart (c. 1260 – 1327 AD), wrote, “In silence man can most readily preserve his integrity.”[iv]

What better way to nurture virtue in our hearts and practice its offshoot of ‘golden silence’ than to be enlivened by God. Eastern Church Spiritual Father St. Mark the Acetic, writing in the fifth century, tells us: “God is the source of every virtue as the sun is of daylight (Philokalia I, p. 113).  He says further that “Fulfilling a commandment means doing what we are enjoined to do; but virtue is to do it in a manner that conforms to the truth. (p. 123).[v] Indeed, God is the ultimate truth.


[i] http://www.worldofquotes....

[ii] []

[iii] []

[iv] []

[v] Palmer, G. E. H., Sherrard, P., & Ware, K. (Trans.). (1979–1999). The Philokalia: The compete text (Vols. 1–4). London, England: Faber & Faber

Date posted: June 1, 2014

Staying Connected To Our Spiritual Family: Our Parish Church

This article is an adaptation and revision of the Society of St. John Chrysostom-Western Region (SSJC-WR)1 President’s Message 2014 04.  I would pray that all readers who are not Society members would be “friends” of the Society because we are commanded by Christ as is mentioned below that we “all may be one.”

All the members, associate members and friends of the Society of St. John Chrysostom-Western Region (SSJC-WR) know the great importance of assiduously praying and working to conform ourselves - and all of our Apostolic Churches and Christian ecclesial communities as well - to Christ’s priestly prayer to His Father at the Last Supper: “That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.” (Jn 17: 21).ii Though St. John records Our Lord using the phrase “may be one” three times in His discourse (in verses 11,1, and 22), I have chosen verse 21 because in this prayer Christ tells the ill consequences of separation and the blessings of unity: “. . .that the world may believe.” Separation is a scandal that disparages Christ and His Church. It sows the evil seed of mockery of His message. It is as if onlookers could say: “If those who call themselves Christians cannot get along, how credible are any of Christ’s teachings?”

How are we to go about doing the opus dei, this work of God, “that the world may believe”? It has to be grounded in all of us being actively committed and attached to our local Apostolic Eucharistic Community: our parish church. Metropolitan John Zizioulas of Pergamon tells us in The Eucharistic Communion and the World (2011, p.16)iii that “. . . the term ‘Church’ is used for a specific place . . . a convocation of all Christians of that place in a single gathering . . .” Metropolitan John also says that it must be a “concrete gathering of the local community.” (p.109).

We know that the elders who were ordained in Apostolic times - in today’s term’s the priests as ‘pastors’ and ‘assistant pastors’ of their parishes - were ordained by the Holy Apostles and their successors to serve their local geographic communities. In writing to Titus, St. Paul says: “. . . that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and shouldest ordain priests in every city, as I also appointed thee.” (Tit. 1:5) In the early church, the Christians were bounded to their local assembly (church) by the limits of the geography of their location. In today’s world, where ‘local’ has been exponentially expanded, no such geographic limits exist. It is so easy for some to parish, or pastor ‘shop’ or ‘hop’ indefinitely rather than choosing (though this may take a short period of visiting and discernment) a specific Apostolic Eucharistic community in which to consistently worship, serve and be spiritually shepherded.iv With this in mind, it is so important that our Apostolic Christians be committed in mind and heart to their local pastors, be united with them. To this end, I pray that Christ’s prayer for unity can be brought to fruition by our Society of St. John Chrysostom-Western Region members, associate members and friends.

iThe Society of St. John Chrysostom — Western Region is an ecumenical organization of laity and clergy of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Eastern Catholic and Roman Catholic Churches.

It works to make known the history, worship, spirituality, discipline and theology of Eastern Christianity, and for the fullness of unity desired by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. []

ii This from the Priestly Prayer of Christ that He gave to His Apostles at the Last Supper, which is  read in all Orthodox Churches during Thursday Evening of Holy Week [Service of the Twelve Passion Gospels], which is Orthros of Holy Friday by anticipation.

iii Zizioulas, J.D. (2011). The Eucharistic Communion and the World. London, England: T&T Clark.

iv The teachings of some communities who use the name of Christ in their designation is particularly scandalous to the outside world and is in need of prayer and healing.  I recently came across a teaching that goes against the entire tradition of the Apostolic Churches and ancient Christian practices. The basis of the teaching is an individual interpretation of Scripture alone (sola scriptura), not realizing that scripture was canonized by the “Church” centuries after  Christ’s Ascension and the Holy Spirit descending on the Church at Pentecost and is thus Sacred Scripture is but one part of Holy Tradition. Does not St. Paul tell the Thessalonians: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word, or by our epistle.” (2Thes 2:14)? It must be recalled that Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ’s teachings were passed by tradition, first orally, then written, from the apostles to their successors, the bishops and priests of today: St. Paul wrote, “I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.” (1Cor 11:2). And St. Paul told the Ephesians: “you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone. . . .” (2: 19, 30). St Luke wrote: “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, [the original name for bishops and priests in Sacred Scripture] to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son." (Acts 20: 28).

The scandalous teaching was that we are not to pray to the saints to intercede for us. The author specifically writes: “There is not one verse that I am aware of where He told us that we could also pray direct to dead saints. If God the Father wanted this possibility as an option, then I believe Jesus would have specifically told us so in the New Testament – but He did not!” []. This individualistic scandalous teaching is entirely opposed to historical Church practice,  history and more importantly the Mind of Christ and His Church [Morelli, G. (2010, November 25). The Ethos of Orthodox Catechesis: The Mind of the Orthodox Church.  [].

Date posted: May 1, 2014

Chaplain’s Corner: Spiritual Neglect

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

Some years ago there was a fast food chain advertisement tagline: “Where’s the beef?” As we look around modern society we can easily modify the tagline as a description of the current ‘state of the world’: ‘Where is the spiritual’? The dictionary word that best fits this description is sloth. Sloth is typically defined as “apathy” and inactivity in the practice of virtue.” It can also be enumerated as one of the “deadly sins,” and be considered as a neglect of God and His word.

In the book of Proverbs (19: 23-24) we read: “The fear of the Lord is unto life: and he shall abide in fullness without being visited with evil. The slothful hideth his hand under his armpit, and will not so much as bring it to his mouth.” Many of the world’s religious traditions warn of the neglect of the spiritual. Hindu writings inform us: “"When a man, having freed his mind from sloth, distraction, and vacillation, becomes as it were delivered from his mind, that is the highest point."i In Islamic tradition we read: “"O Allah! I seek refuge in You from worry and sorrow. I seek refuge in You from incapacity and sloth.”ii Buddhism lists a number of hindrances or obstructions to attaining a spiritual life. Among the five important ones listed are ‘sloth - torpor (thina-middha). It has its deleterious effect by interfering with tranquility and blocking insight.iii

 The Eastern Church Spiritual Father Nikiphoros the Monk tells us a powerful method of attaining spiritual knowledge and the consequent benefits of overcoming sloth: “. . . descend into the depths of the heart, and search out the three powerful giants – forgetfulness, sloth and ignorance – which enable the rest of the evil passions to infiltrate into the self-indulgent soul, and to live, energize and flourish there.” (Philokalia IV, p. 199). St. Gregory of Sinai teaches that the virtue of courage is the immediate weapon to combat sloth. The saint goes on to tell us how it is done and the effect it would have. “They [in this case the virtue of courage] energize us by virtue of their own essence, whereas we energize them merely in an imitative way, by modelling our moral conduct upon them.” (Philokalia IV, p. 231)iv If we cultivate moral courage in our lives  we can do much to bring spirituality back into the world, overcoming the neglect of the spiritual so rampant around us.

Recent news has featured statements on religion in public life by David Cameron, present Prime Minister of Great Britain and his predecessor, Tony Blair – both in the context of an increasingly Godless British government and society.  While Blair was Prime Minister, the dictum of his spokesperson that "we don't do God" obtained.  Since his retirement and conversion to Roman Catholicism, Mr. Blair has said that he was "too sensitive or too cautious" about religion while in government.

By contrast, in a recent public message, Cameron has had the courage to call for a return of the spiritual in public life, specifically by doing “Simple things like do to others as you would be done by; love your neighbor as yourself, the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount."   May we all imitate and model this example in our own lives.



ii Sloth.aspx?p=3#C6J4E5v0FRxheBYY.99


ivPalmer, G. E. H., Sherrard, P., & Ware, K. (Trans.). (1979–1999). The Philokalia: The compete text (Vols. 1–4). London, England: Faber & Faber

Date posted: May 1, 2014

Chaplain’s Corner—Harmony: What the World Needs Now

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

One of the best ways to reflect on the meaning of harmony is in relationship to music. Historically, the word harmony was derived from the Greek word ??µ???a (harmonía), which the Oxford English Dictionaryi defines as: "Joint, agreement, concord; the quality of forming a pleasing and consistent whole.", the verb form, can also be considered: "To fit together, to join.” Interestingly, the great composer and musician, Johann Sebastian Bach, connects harmony and Godliness: “Music is an agreeable harmony for the honor of God and the permissible delights of the soul.”ii

Ancient Chinese philosophical tradition points out that harmony must start with what I describe as ‘self-concord’ – in the sense of an inner integration of our ethical and moral principles and actions into a “consistent whole.” From ourselves, this inner harmony can radiate out to all. As the Chinese aphorism states: “If there is beauty in character, there will be harmony in the home. If there is harmony in the home, there will be order in the nation. If there is order in the nation, there will be peace in the world.”iii

From the Hindu tradition, but speaking for all mankind, Mahatma Gandhi advises that we should “. . .always aim at complete harmony of thought and word and deed. Always aim at purifying your thoughts and everything will be well.”iv

King David the psalmist tells us: “Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity.” (Ps 132:1). The Roman Catholic Trappist monk Thomas Merton pinpoints the fruit of harmony: “ . . .happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony.”

One may consider harmony as a personality trait or disposition to be agreeable. Inherited by some; for others this may require disciplined effort. Agreeableness is, in turn, related to meekness, which is itself a disposition to be patient. Meekness is not usually considered a virtue in worldly terms, but if looked at as a pathway to harmony we can sense its spiritual value. The Eastern Church Father, St. John of the Ladder,v tells us that  “. . .meekness is an unchangeable state of mind, which remains the same in honor and dishonor [and can guide our reactions to] a neighbor when he causes many troubles.” (p. 145) He goes on to say “. . .meekness is the buttress of patience.” (p. 146). By cultivating agreeableness and patience in ourselves, we can work toward bringing harmony into the world.


i Oxford English Dictionary. (2012). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press

ii http://www.worldofquotes....

iii http://www.worldofquotes....

iv http://www.worldofquotes....

v Moore, L. (Trans.). (1979). The ladder of divine ascent. Brookline, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery.

Date posted: April 1, 2014

Interiorized Spirituality (Monasticism) and the Domestic Church

This presentation was given at the Society of St. John Chrysostom-Western Region (SSJC-WR) 2014 03 15 General Meeting, held at Prince of Peace Benedictine Monastery, Oceanside, CA. The society's apostolate is to "work to make known the history, worship, spirituality, discipline and theology of Eastern Christianity, and for the fullness of unity desired by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." I have consistently written on the need of the healing the sin (illness) of disunity among the Apostolic Churches [Eastern Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Roman Catholic; as well as other Christian ecclesial communites) as taught to us by Christ Himself (as we hear in His priestly discourse to His Apostles at the Mystical Supper, read in Orthodox Churches throughout the world on Holy Thursday Evening of Holy Week) to Christ's prayer to His Father:

That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. (Jn 17: 21)

I also have written extensively on the need for the necessity for ourselves as individuals and as members of a family (the Domestic Church or Little Church in the Home) to work toward our own sanctification so that we may attain being "partakers of the Divine Nature" (2 Pt 1: 4). During this 'Presentation' I strenuously emphasized that the original meaning of the 'Domestic Church' in Apostolic times was an Eucharistic assembly in an individual home. This is obviously not the case today ... the norm in modern times is for most individuals and families to be active, committed and faithful members of their parish church. Thus the necessity for all of us as individuals and as member of domestic churches to be active members of their parish assembly.

Parish priests, catechists, and all of the Royal Priesthood of Christ by their Holy Baptism may find this PowerPoint presentation with the accompanying references useful in giving workshops or leading discussion groups on this critical issue that confronts committed Orthodox Christians in today's non-Christian Godless centered world. I pray also it is spiritually useful for all toward their journey to Christ. In as much as the initial posting of this presentation occurs in Great Lent 2014 let me introduce the presentation with the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian:


O Lord and Master of my life, do not give me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk.
But give rather a spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to your servant.
Yea, Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother, for blessed are thee, unto ages and ages. Amen.

Date posted: April 1, 2014

Compassion: The Forgotten Virtue

And he coming forth saw a great multitude, and had compassion on them, and healed their sick. (Mt 14: 14)

A glance at almost any daily media broadcast will readily show anyone who doubts that many in the world have forgotten the virtue of compassion that this is certainly true. Occasional secular commentators have suggested a variety of sociological causes for this lack. Our holy Spiritual Church Father Nikitas Stithatos notes accurately that lack of compassion is directly connected with our separation from God. He tells us that:


A soul receives either blessings or penalties and punishment according to its inner activities. If it concerns itself with things divine and tills the ground of humility, tears fall like rain from heaven, and it cultivates love of God, faith and compassion for others . . . attracting  [others’] attention with the rays of its virtue . . . . But if the soul devotes itself to the mundane and merely human matters, stirring and agitating the fetid waters of sin, it nourishes hatred and repels what is good and beautiful.  (Philokalia IV, p. 87-88).

The exact connotation of the word mundane is: a lack of direct connection with God. In today’s information technology (IT) world much can be found that not only disconnects us from God, but also actively fosters the disconnection. When this happens, as St. Nikitas so aptly puts it, the “good and beautiful” are repelled and loss of compassion for others is a major consequence.

The Etymology of compassion

The English word ‘compassion’ has its roots in both Greek and Latin. In the Greek, we trace the usage back to the related  word for ‘suffering: pathos (?????,)  In Latin, we can see the root word cum, meaning ‘with’ and passio, or suffering, and patior, I suffer. In English, the dictionary meaning of the word encompasses: “A deep awareness of and sympathy for another's suffering,” as well as “understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something about it” []. Individuals who have an illness and disease are called patients due to their suffering. In a sense, those with compassion co-suffer with them. The dictionary understanding of compassion correctly identifies three essential psycho-behavioral aspects: an emotional component: co-suffering, .i.e. feeling with the patient; a cognitive component: understanding; and a behavioral component: actions to alleviate the suffering.

Compassion: The Psychological Component

Compassion differs from empathy

Compassion differs from empathy. The critical element in compassion that differentiates it from empathy is its behavioral component. Empathy is thinking and feeling what others are thinking and feeling. Compassion combines the deep awareness of the sufferings of others with a desire that leads, eventually, to an action to relieve the suffering

The Developmental Sequence

In terms of human development, natural empathy is the foundation of pro-social behaviors such as altruism. (Lewis and Haviland, 1993) Compassion is a component of love (the practice of agape, as it is known in patristic literaturei). Love is what we do, not just what we feel, for the good and welfare of others. Psychologists would ask: how can we love, how can we work for the good and welfare of others, if we are not aware of their suffering nor have a desire to relieve it? We love others only if we can first sense their needs. Empathy, then, may initiate the compassion process.

A Spiritual Caveat

However, as I discuss later in this article, we have to be spiritually predisposed to be empathic in order to practice altruistic-compassionate behavior with a specifically Godly ethos. This means that the compassion sequence should be of Divinely inspired agape indwelling  in the heart. Such heart-centered agape would propel the mind to engage in both empathy and the compassion action steps. This would be the fullness of compassion because it would be enlivened by Godly love.

Understanding compassion by considering indifferent and\or malevolent behavior

The Fullness of Godly Love

The Fullness of
Godly Love

One approach to understanding compassion is to consider its polar opposite: aggression, an anti-social component. One promising research endeavor on this aspect is the Dynamic Systems Model discussed by Granic and Patterson, 2006. This model uses coercion theory that was mainly developed in the research laboratories of the Oregon Social Learning Center (OSLC) by collecting and analyzing parent-child interaction data over various naturalistic settings. (Patterson, 1982; Patterson, Reid, & Dishion, 1992; Reid, Patterson, & Snyder, 2002). 

Gerald Patterson

Gerald Patterson

Coercion theory uses the processes of cognitive-behavioral psychology to study how family members mutually interact in such a way as to shape aggressive behavior in children and to  simultaneously decrease parental influence over the child’s inappropriate belligerent behavior. As described by the researchers, it initially starts with parental demands that their children perform appropriate pro-social behavior. As I point out in an earlier article (Morelli, 2007):

In popular terminology such coercive controlling behavior is called Nagging. In discordant relationships, Patterson (1976, 1982) discovered that coercive controlling behaviors by one individual produce reactive similar coercive counter-behaviors in others, thus creating a pattern of escalation. This controlling aggression, or nagging, becomes stronger because of the expectation that persistence results in a pay-off (Bandura, 1986).


As parental coercive attempts increase they are often also accompanied by escalation of a harsh strident tone of voice [speech pragmatics). (Morelli, 2007]. A child (or any person for that matter) being coerced may feel controlled and resist the nagger.  One reason may be that the person being nagged (child or adult) needs to maintain a sense of healthy self-worth (Morelli, 2006a). The child may view the coercive tasks as symbols of a power struggle between a greater power and himself with a resultant loss of freedom and sense of being boxed in. A coerced child may want to avoid compliance as much as possible. Also, such a child may follow this avoidance with oppositional behavior to reassert his power and sense of control, to maintain some sense of control, and thus asserts himself by acting contrary to what he perceives he is being coerced into doing. As Granic and Patterson (2006) point out, this “finally [leads to] the parent's capitulation.” The researchers conclude: “. . .coercive interactions are the fundamental behavioral mechanisms by which aggression emerges and stabilizes over development.” This pattern is likely to be repeated in different settings over a lifespan. It should also be noted that the parents are simultaneously modeling coercive behavior, which means they are teaching their children to be coercive.

Malevolence generalizes

For example, the first encounter many children have with a social institution outside of his/her family home is nursery school. The coercive interactions first learned at home are likely to be repeated and reinforced by the reciprocal behaviors of the child with the other students. Patterson, Littman, & Bricker, 1967 point out that “When victims of aggressive behavior cry, give up their toy, or leave the disputed territory, the aggressive child “wins,” and he or she is, therefore, more likely to use the same aversive strategies in the service of future goals.” This then continues throughout a lifetime. Both early and later patterns of anti-social behaviors (including failure to empathize and act compassionately) are conceptualized by researchers as also being influenced by child-parent similarities or differences including: cognitive appraisals; emotions; global personality structures, and neural underpinnings of these emotion–appraisal feedback cycles and  processes (Lewis, 2005).

The role of appraisal processes



Appraisals of cognition and emotion play a key role in developing anti-social patterns.   As Lewis (2005) posits, a complex interaction exists between cognition and emotion. Reinforcement of patterns [between cognition and emotions] forms the structure of self-organizing interpretations of events in real time and accounts for personality patterns over development. Over time, and with repeated experiences, cognitive appraisals emerge in relation to their accompanying emotions, which then serve to amplify or constrain behaviors. Such cognitive appraisals serve the purpose of guiding an individual’s attention to elements in any situation that are relevant to their goal. Granic and Patterson (2006) conceive of these as cognitive-emotive-behavioral biases. These appraisal processes are similar to the pre-potency of automatic thoughts that elicit cognitive and behavioral dysfunction as described in the work of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) researchers and clinicians. (Beck, A.T. 1991, Beck, J.S. 2011, Burns, 1980 and Morelli, 2010).

A concrete example of coercion enhancing malevolence

One researcher (Forgatch, 1989) found that anger and contempt are the major emotional effects for parents and children in coercive situations.  This could be conceived of as an escalating synergistic process in which the total effect is greater than the sum of the effects of the two (or more) interacting individuals. An example illustrating this process is provided by Granic and Patterson (2005) and is worth quoting in full:

A mother asks her son to comply to a vague request, for instance, “Help clean the house.” Just before her request, she is feeling anxious, thinking about the many things she needs to get done by the end of the night. The child, playing a video game, hears his mother’s request and begins to feel irritated, thinking that his mother always picks on him rather than his brother. As these low-grade [dysfunctional] emotions and appraisals coalesce, he rudely refuses his mother’s request (e.g., “Go clean it yourself!”). Her attention is now fully tuned to her son’s defiance and, through [favorable] feedback, her anxiety increases with the expectation that her son will force them into a confrontation. She also begins to feel irritated with his defiance. In an attempt to regulate her anxiety and her irritation, the mother suggests that they could go out to a restaurant afterward if he would just help her. Perceiving his mother as a nag and an obstacle to his goal (i.e., to continue to play video games), the child’s irritability grows into anger, expressed through loud complaining. In turn, through continued [favorable] feedback processes, his mother’s irritable feelings become amplified into anger, overriding her anxiety, and coupling with appraisals of her child as “selfish and nasty” and an obstacle to her goal of eventual rest. Her hostile emotion–appraisal amalgam motivates her to begin threatening her son with extreme consequences or to denigrate him in retaliation. Perceiving her rage, the child likewise escalates, becoming angrier while his appraisals change from mother as nuisance to mother as monster. Soon, these reciprocal interactions among appraisal components, emotions, and harsh words stabilize through [unfavorable] feedback processes. The child goes on playing his video games, ignoring his mother pointedly and angrily, while his blameful perception of her stabilizes. His mother, feeling beaten and unable to continue the fight, shifts from anger to contempt, which stabilizes along with an appraisal of her child as “useless” and “always bad.” Both dyad members remain in this seething state for the rest of the evening. (p. 108)

One way of interpreting this scenario is that the response of each person is guided by self-focus and thus blocks taking the perspective of the other. The child’s mother feels she has the right to force her son to comply with her will. The boy perceives his mother’s nagging behavior as “an obstacle to his goal.”

Anonymity of Social Media fueling indifference and malevolence


Numerous studies show that another psychological variable that influences the lack of compassion and the corresponding open display of anti-social aggression is anonymity. Anonymity is growing due to the proliferation of social media (Suler, 2004). One group of researchers (Postimes, Spears & Lea, 1998) suggests that individuals who share a common social identity (so readily prevalent in contemporary social media), may be more susceptible to group influence, social attraction, stereotyping, sex-gender typing, and discrimination in anonymous Computer Mediated Communication (CMC).

Compassion Research

Compassion as an Emotion

Some of the early studies on compassion were focused on understanding compassion as related to empathic concern (Davis, 1983), sympathy (Eisenberg, et. al. 2007) and pity (Fiske, et al., 2002), which involves appraisals of concern for less fortunate individuals. In one study, Campos et al. (2009) found that compassion and sympathy were grouped together with similar words for pro-social emotions such as “kindness, tenderness, warmth, and caring.” Some studies have investigated compassion as a state (brief reaction-response to a specific situation or context) versus an ongoing trait or disposition over time (Shiota, Keltner, & John, 2006).

Critical Variables in Compassion Research

There are various theories concerning the critical variables that make up compassion.  Researchers Goetz, Keltner, & Simon-Thomas ( 2010) suggest that “. . .within the concepts of appraisal research, this analysis suggests that compassion will be shaped by: 1) the relevance of the sufferer to the self; 2) the sufferer's blameworthiness for the [unfavorable] outcome; and 3) the individual's ability to cope with the situation at hand.”  These appraisal processes are summarized in Figure 1.[ii] It could be hypothesized that the anti-social malevolent effects of the Dynamic Systems Model and the ascending anonymity factor now being actualized in social media, as discussed above, would influence any appraisal processes. Initial research investigating such variables as culture,(for example, differences in how compassion is facially and bodily displayed and communicated), gender differences, psycho-neurological variables such as age, evolutionary change and sex differences remains to be further  explored.



Goetz et al (2010) make a distinction between compassion and love: “Compassion responds to suffering and negative [unfavorable] events, whereas love antecedents are primarily positive [favorable]” (p.363). However, this distinction is not made by Christ, and this distinction is not understood as such by His Church. In psychological terms, love, as taught to us by Christ, is congruent with what George Kelly (1955, V. 2, p. 57) would call  a superordinate construct  – it encompasses all. It derives from the “organizational corollary which states “each person characteristically evolves, for his convenience in anticipating events, a construction system embracing ordinal relationships between constructs." Then Kelly goes on to say that “one construct may subsume another as one of its elements” (p.57). This could be understood as an hierarchical organization in which higher-order or abstract superordinate constructs influence individuals’ perceptions of the world around them. Kelly also considered superordinate constructs as "core-constructs" that significantly contribute to our identity and to how we perceive ourselves interacting in the world.

However, Goetz et al. (2010) do cite one study that they call an “intriguing possibility:” that love is, in fact, a core factor underlying compassion. They point out that the work of Greitemeyer, Rudolph, & Weiner (2003) suggests that compassion can be “moderated by love and valuing of the other person, probably through appraisals of self-relevance.” This research also extends to appraisals of blameworthiness and the extremity of the need of the recipient for compassion.

Spiritual considerations in compassion

“Love” the ultimate superordinate construct

Christ Himself has given us the ultimate “superordinate construct.” He said: “And that he should be loved with the whole heart, and with the whole understanding, and with the whole soul, and with the whole strength; and to love one' s neighbor as one's self, is a greater thing than all holocausts and sacrifices.” (Mk 12:33). This is certainly the understanding of the Apostle Paul who writes to the Galatians (4: 14): “For all the law is fulfilled in one word: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Thus compassion without love is meaningless in a Christ-like sense. As St. Paul tells the Corinthians: “And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity [love], it profiteth me nothing.” (1 Cor 13:3). Certainly, for Christ-like compassion, any differentiation of individuals based on such appraisals must be rejected and/or modified. Did not Christ tell us:

 And whosoever will force thee one mile, go with him other two, Give to him that asketh of thee and from him that would borrow of thee turn not away. You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thy enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good, and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust. For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? do not even the publicans this? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? do not also the heathens this? Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect. (Mt. 5: 41-48)

The need to discern real need


As Morelli (2009) points out, appraisal of the criterion for helping (in this case having compassion) is “that it be for the good and welfare of the individual.” Such an appraisal must be guided by discernment, or what our Church Fathers call diakrisis, the virtue of being able to discriminate between Godly and un-Godly thoughts. For example, dependent individuals not being provided with the opportunity to learn functional behaviors they need and that they are capable of learning, would not be for their good and welfare. Thus the need for a Godly appraisal of their real need.

Since the Vietnam War I have visited Spinal Cord Injury units of Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals. Hospital staff and even visitors were instructed never to do any action for a paralyzed veteran that they could do themselves unless they specifically asked and you determined they could not perform the task. This was personally difficult for me. I was brought up, for example,  to open doors for people, pick up something they may have dropped and give it back to them etc. Now I had to watch a paraplegic or quadriplegic veteran struggle to perform such simple tasks. Truly, however, this was for their good and welfare. They had to learn to do as much as they could do for themselves in order to maximize being self-sufficient. Even now as an on-call Orthodox Chaplain for the local VA Health-care Center, I have to and do abide by these instructions.


Consider what St. John of the Ladder (Moore,1979) says of pride in his spiritual classic the Ladder of Divine Ascent:

Pride is denial of God, an invention of the devil, the despising of men, the mother of condemnation, the offspring of praise, a sign of sterility, flight from Divine assistance, the precursor of madness, the cause of falls, the foothold for satanic possession, a source of anger, a door of hypocrisy, the support of demons, the guardian of sins, the patron of pitilessness, the rejection of compassion, a bitter inquisitor, an inhuman judge, an opponent of God, a root of blasphemy. (p. 138)

In today’s terminology we would rightly say that pride is the mother of all other passions. It is the perfect storm in which all the other passions can develop;  self-love, presumption, arrogance, and vainglory all can be seen to stem from this root. St. John even specifically relates pride to “rejection of compassion.”


Reflecting on St. Maximos the Confessor’s counsel (Philokalia II, p. 274) may also help provide a connection between lack of compassion and the anti-social aggressive behaviors described above. St. Maximos, although specifically talking about the passion of gluttony, includes a caution against “self-love [as] it severs the natural bonds of compassion.” This understanding is further developed by our holy Church spiritual father Nikitas Stithatos who first points out that “nothing so prevents someone newly engaged in spiritual warfare from practicing the commandments as this pernicious vice of self-love, (Philokalia IV, p. 86) and then suggests a spiritual basis for a solution: “If it [the individual] fills itself with things Divine and the ground of humility [overcoming narcissistic self-love] . . . it cultivates love of God, faith and compassion for others.”

A modern example of the vacuousness of compassion without love is given to us by a  saintly contemporary spiritual father of the Church, Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (2008). First he tells us:

This is the most important thing of all: to have true love among yourselves . . . not false love. Always, when there is true concern for each other, compassion and love, one can act correctly. Kindness and love are empowering. (p. 234)

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain

Elder Paisios of
the Holy Mountain

Then the saintly Elder goes on to make the connection between Godly-love and compassion even more explicit with a concrete example:

Love is a divine attribute and informs the other person. Even in hospitals, when the doctors and nurses feel genuine compassion for their patients, this is the most effective medicine of all the medications given to them. The patients feel they are being cared for with love [emphasis mine] and have a sense of certainty, security and consolation. (p. 347)


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i Agape: unselfish, unconditional love, as the Persons of the Holy Trinity have among themselves and the sacrificial love of Christ for mankind.  “For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.” (Jn 3: 16).



Date posted: March 2, 2014

Chaplain’s Corner: The Importance of Family in Healing

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

A recent report issued by the American Psychiatric Association pointed out the importance of family in healing.i Specifically cited were findings released by for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research of the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center regarding factors in healing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Chaplains and Pastoral Counselors of all religious traditions are in a unique position to aid in such treatment, as stated in the chaplain resource material: "chaplain's strengths have been in the offering of care to patients, families and staff, and in building an intuitive sense of the importance of the care they provide.”ii

Care to individuals in the context of their families is central to religious traditions. Speaking in the Buddhist tradition, the Dali Lama has said: “The ultimate source of peace in the family, the country, and the world is altruism.”iii The Bhagavad-Gita (68: 8-9) points out: “They are completely fulfilled by spiritual wisdom and Self-realization . . .They are equally disposed to family, enemies, and friends, to those who support them and those who are hostile, to the good and the evil alike. Because they are impartial, they rise to great heights.”

The ancient Hebrew people certainly considered family a blessing. As king and psalmist David writes: “Behold, thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the Lord. May the Lord bless thee out of Sion: and mayest thou see the good things of Jerusalem all the days of thy life. And mayest thou see thy children' s children, peace upon Israel.” (Ps 127: 4-6) From a contemporary Jewish perspective, Rabbi David Rosen tells us: “Indeed, the family was the focus of Jewish joy and light, warmth and compassion.”iv The Islamic view, likewise, is quite emphatic on the criticality of family and religion, one Islamic scholar writes: “No religion can be regarded as complete unless it has a well-defined code of family life…”v

Such focus on the importance of family is certainly central to Christian tradition. St. John Chrysostom, the great Father of the Eastern Church, likens marriage and family to the Godhead: “Shall I also tell you how marriage [and family] is a mystery of the Church? The Church was made from the side of Christ, and He united Himself to her in a spiritual intercourse . . . [quoting St. Paul (2Cor 11: 2)] “I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure virgin to her one husband””vi Saintly Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain would have us consider that family care and love must start with the parents. He tells us: “Parents must cultivate love for one another between the children, in this way preparing the groundwork [to strengthen the family].”vii It can be put this way: All those stronger (be they other family members, friends or chaplains) can be enlisted to help the one in need.






vi St. John Chrysostom. (2003). On marriage and family life. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

vii Elder Paisios of Mount Athos. (2012). Spiritual Counsels, V. 4: Family life. Thessaloniki, Greece: Holy Monastery Evangelist John the Theologian [p. 107].

Date posted: March 2, 2014

Dealing with the Assault on Christ’s Church - Official and Unofficial

"Dealing with the Assault on Christ's Church - Official and Unofficial" first appeared as the President's Message in the Society for St. John Chrystom - Western Region newsletter and has been edited for publication.i

Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity. (Ps 132: 1)

Who of us has not become keenly aware by now of the assault on Christ’s One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church by those under the un-Godly spell of political and social correctness, either those officially in power or those in society who are simply  opposed to the teachings of Christ and His Church? Such attacks on our Apostolic Church teachings should be opposed by all orthodox Christians, and, of course, especially by those who are members of the Society of St. John Chrysostom.

At first glance, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), popularly known as Obamacare, seems Christ-like and in conformity with Christ’s Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10: 33). After all, the  possibility of caring for the physical health of all is certainly demanded by the Corporal Works of Mercy. However, on closer inspection this official legislation is at the expense of the care of the soul, the Spiritual Works of Mercy. For example, a recent analysis of the implementation of the ACA reveals “. . .that many health insurance plans will subsidize abortion-on-demand.”ii

A Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christiansiii clearly outlines the nine ways of participating in another’s sin: by counsel, command, consent, provocation, praise, concealment, partaking, silence and/or defense. One group of courageous Roman Catholic Sisters, The Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged, in Denver, Colorado, clearly understands the clear meaning of participating in others’ sin. They recognize that even by signing a ‘self-certification form’ that they are a religious group and thus exempt from the Obamacare provisions, they would be “. . .complicit—because then others will make sure that their employees have coverage. (The insurance company pays for it, with some help from the government.).”iv

The participation in supporting immoral healthcare is not limited to government. It has been promoted by numerous ‘woman’s rights’ groups.v However, a recent interview I heard by a woman’s rights activist goes egregiously beyond this. She basically calls for an ecclesiology based on mere populism. The commentator claims, with no citation, that 97% of Catholic women use contraception, therefore this figure should govern Roman Catholic moral teaching (and, by extension, the moral teaching of all the Apostolic Churches- Eastern Catholic, Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox as well). Obviously she has no understanding that, as I wrote in a previous Light of the East  messagevi, “the proper teaching role of the Churches is for those specifically ordained to teach, the bishops and the priests in union with them, and the laity, as Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov (1998, p. 226)vii writes, do so as "defenders of the Faith." We each have our own part to play.” Both the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB)viii and the Orthodox Bishops in North America have strongly condemned the egregious parts of the ACA. Our SSJC members and indeed all Orthodox Christians may want to act on the advice of the Orthodox Bishops to the faithful “. . .to contact their elected representatives today to voice their concern in the face of this threat to the sanctity of the Church’s conscience.”ix

A caveat, we have to treat all persons with love and dignity. In the spirit of  ‘hate the sin but love the sinner,’x we must pray with love for those compliant with the ACA. We know that only Christ is without sin (Heb 4: 15). As the Eastern Orthodox Trisagion prayer for the Dead reads “there is no man who liveth and sinneth not.” Thus, we do not make sin the standard for moral teaching, but rather invite all to heed Christ’s injunction to “sin no more.” (Jn 5: 14) Furthermore, we must always be ready to forgive -  following Christ’s admonition: “Take heed to yourselves. If thy brother sin against thee, reprove him: and if he do penance, forgive him. And if he sin against thee seven times in a day, and seven times in a day be converted unto thee, saying, I repent; forgive him.” (Lk 17: 3-4)


* SSJC-WR Light of the East, 2014 Winter, President’s Message , edited for, and Antiochian Archdiocese Dept of Chaplain of Chaplain & Pastoral Counseling Facebook page (listed under Archpriest George Morelli PhD)


iii Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese. (1956). A pocket prayer book for Orthodox Christians. NJ: Englewood. (popularly known as the Little Red Prayerbook


v Those advocating abortion as a “human right” claim in part it is because women have the “right to make decisions regarding their own body.” Of course, this is partially correct to the extent that their decisions promote their physical, psychological and spiritual welfare.  However, what is that missed is they do not have the right to infringe on the human rights of others (i.e.,  … in their unborn baby). The fact that a perpetrator killing a mother and her unborn infant can be charged with a double murder, but a woman can legally kill her own unborn infant seems to be the height of moral and legal contradiction and hypocrisy. It is egregiously illogical.

vi Morelli, G. (2013). Toward Healing Apostolic Church Disunity: Speaking with One Voice. Light of the East 4, 2.

vii Evdokimov, P. (1998). Ages of the spiritual life. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press 



x The Holy Scriptural root of the aphorism: “But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaites, which I also hate.”(Rev 2: 6)

Date posted: February 3, 2014

Chaplain’s Corner. Integrity: The Foundation of Trust

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

In my Chaplain’s Corner column last month I wrote about the question: “Where has all the trust gone?”  This month I want to focus on one powerful weapon in re-establishing trust: integrity. Now integrity implies “an undivided or unbroken completeness or totality with nothing wanting. . . . moral soundness.”i Two types of integrity come to mind: Physical integrity, for example a sound body or structure, like an airplane or building, and spiritual-moral integrity, making the right decisions and actions as we traverse the vicissitudes of life.

Thus, integrity is a process under continual construction, repeated in test mode as new situations are encountered over time. A quite notable example of physical integrity failing is the booster rocket “O-ring” problem that tragically brought down the NASA Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986. Examples in the spiritual-moral domain abound. In dealing with the vicissitudes of life, let us consider the warning words of Benjamin Franklin,  "Let no pleasure tempt thee, no profit allure thee, no persuasion move thee, to do anything which thou knowest to be evil; so shalt thou always live jollity; for a good conscience is a continual Christmas."ii Integrity may be considered a spiritual virtue, an internal consistency of heart and mind that leads to honest and truthful words and actions.

Integrity is a commonly lauded quality among many religious traditions.  In the Hindu tradition Gandhi notes: “Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”iii The aphorism: “If one man kills a hundred men, and another man masters himself, the second man is the much greater warrior,” is attributed to Buddha.iv There is also great wisdom in the ancient Chinese adage ascribed to Confucius: “The gentleman first practices what he preaches and then preaches what he practices.”v

The quintessential model of integrity in the Judeo-Christian tradition  Job, who, in the face of attempted bribery, challenges, suffering and temptation consistently made choices that conformed to his commitment and trust in God. As Sacred Scripture tells us: “. . .my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a man simple, and upright [integrity], and fearing God, and avoiding evil, and still keeping his innocence. . . .” (Job 2: 3) In this regard we can contemplate the spiritual perception of our Eastern Church Father, St. Peter of Damaskos: “For as many of the saints of old, such as Abraham, Job, David and many others, had extensive possessions, but they were not attached to them: they held them as a gift from God and sought to please Him all the more through their use of them. (Philokalia III, p. 87)vi  Heeding these words, we can see that faithfulness to God is the beginning and endpoint of integrity.







vi Palmer, G.E.H.; Sherrard, P.; and Ware, K. (Trans.) (1971, 1981, 1988, 1990). Philokalia,  I-IV. London: Faber and Faber.

Date posted: February 3, 2014

Mindfulness as Known by the Church Fathers

Current behavioral research literature has found support for a clinical tool called mindfulness that can be used to break bad habits and troubling emotions. One psychologist, Kabat-Zinn (2003), defined mindfulness as "the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment." The 'patient' can focus on the sensory and physical aspects of the present moment, recognize thought patterns, feelings and physical sensations that are occurring and learn to tell the difference between sensations, thoughts and feelings. The 'patient' then practices making decisions based on the choices they really want and feel right.

The Buddhist Connection

Mindfulness clinicians and researchers (Kabat-Zinn, 2003; Desbordes, Negi, Pace, Wallace, Raison, & Schwartz, 2012) attribute the mindfulness concept to Buddhist philosophy.i It may be noted that the study by Desbordes, et. al. (2012) found that mindful emotional processing would occur in meditative and non-meditative states. This suggests that mindfulness-meditation practice may stimulate learning that is not only stimulus or task-specific, and also may bring about lasting changes in brain function and thus may be “process-specific.”

The Christian Connection and Psycho-spiritual application

The early fathers of the Eastern Christian Church talked about the vigilance of the mind and heart [nepsis], which is similar to the cognitive-rational-emotive therapy technique employed by psychologists in helping patients to be ‘mindful’ and thus learn to control their thoughts and feelings. In response to this technique Beck (2011) writes that “. . . mindfulness techniques help patients nonjudgmentally observe and accept their internal experiences, without evaluating or trying to change them.” Of course, after such an observation period, challenging and restructuring of the distorted cognitions-automatic thoughts and replacing them with non-distorted cognitions must be doneii (Morelli, 2006, 2009). Some Cognitive-Behavioral (CBT) researchers and clinicians are actively engaged in integrating mindfulness practices with CBT, (e.g.: McCowen, Reibel and Micozzi, 2010; Williams, Teasdale, Segal, & Kabat-Zinn, 1990). Mindfulness is also similar to metacognition, that is to say, being knowledgeable and maintaining awareness of experiences individuals have about their own cognitive processes (Flavell, 1979). One way of describing this process is that one is ‘thinking about one’s thinking.’

A vigilance and watchfulness of the mind and heart somewhat similar to the cognitive-rational-emotive therapy technique employed by psychologists in helping patients to be ‘mindful’ and thus learn control of thoughts and feelings is a frequent theme in the writings of the early Fathers of the Eastern Christian Church.

These early Christian spiritual teachers taught their disciples to develop nepsis, that is, to be wakeful and attentive (from the Greek verb nepho: to be vigilant, mindful)iii to that which was inside and around them. Thus, we also need to practice being completely "present" to our thoughts and surroundings. This is analogous to a military scout at the head of a column, or a busy parent "attending" to their newborn infant (Morelli, 2009).

St. Antony the Great (251-356 AD) said:

…and this is just what we find; for the power of discrimination, scrutinizing all the thoughts and actions of a man, distinguishes and sets aside everything that is base. . . . (Philokalia I)

This advice can be applied to all bad habits and feelings. Once we detect a habit that we have that is harmful, or an emotional reaction we have that is damaging to ourselves or others, we can choose to place ourselves “at the head of the column,” to be mindful, watchful, vigilant and to prepare a counteraction: an alternative competing response, a different interpretation of the events around us and a different feeling about the whole incident. This is would be applying the technique of Christian mindfulness.

The Theological Connection

An important caveat for orthodox Christians: there is a profound anthropological and theological chasm between the ethos of mindfulness as practiced by those committed to Buddhism and the nepsis practiced by those committed to Christ. Buddhism rejects any concept of ‘God,’ therefore it could be considered, in Cabezon’s (1999) words, “atheological.”

The words ‘intelligent,’ ‘intelligence,’ and ‘mind’ are easily confused in the English language. Beyond that, English translations of the nuanced terms used in the Greek of the Fathers needs some clarification. The Christian Patristic literature testifies to an understanding of the profound difference between mere human knowledge and what is called “noetic” knowledge. For example, Bishop Hierotheos Vlachos (1994) informs us that noetic knowledge is the knowledge comprehended through concrete encounter with God, referred to by the Fathers as a [pouring] of grace into the heart. St. Paul's injunction in his letter to the Romans (12: 2), “ transformed by the renewing of your mind...,” would be understood by an English reader to refer to the rational mind (reason). On the other hand, the Church Fathers would understand that St. Paul is referring to knowledge from the depth of one’s heart, which they would call the nous or noetic mind. St. Gregory of Sinai (Philokalia IV, p. 212) explains it this way:

You cannot be or become spiritually intelligent in the way that is natural to man in his pre-fallen state unless you first attain purity and freedom from corruption. For our purity has been overlaid by a state of sense-dominated mindlessness and our original incorruption by the corruption of the flesh … mere skill in reasoning does not make a person’s intelligence pure, for since the fall our intelligence has been corrupted by evil thoughts … the wisdom of this world … falls far short of real wisdom and contemplation.

Thus, mindfulness that is separated from God is never a true Christian mindfulness. The mindful, noetic, mind of a person is enlightened by an illumination from God, through the Holy Spirit, in the depth of the heart and mind, which allows perception of spiritual experience. True and purified reason will burn more brightly, like a light. If the noetic mind is darkened by partial mindfulness, that is actually mindlessness; by drawing away from God, reasoning is darkened. In the spirit of St. Maximos the Confessor that ‘grace builds on nature,’ committed orthodox Christians can use the techniques of mindfulness as discovered by research science as long as these techniques are enlivened by Christ. As St. Maximos (Philokalia II p. 239) tells us: “...the Holy Spirit does not actualize in the saints a spiritual knowledge of the mysteries apart from that faculty in them which naturally [emphasis mine] searches out such knowledge.”

To attain true Christian mindfulness it is important, therefore, to practice the counsel of our contemporary (1924-1994) saintly Spiritual Father, Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (2008, p. 304):

Spiritual health equals pure thoughts, an enlightened mind, and a purified heart that unceasingly harbors Christ and the Panaghia. Watchfulness over ourselves and prayer are a great help in acquiring spiritual health. Prayer is essential for the purification of the soul and prudence is essential for the preservation of a healthy spiritual condition.


Beck, J.T. (2011). Cognitive behavior therapy: Basics and beyond. (2nd ed.). NY: Guilford Press.

Cabezon, J. I. (1999).  Buddhist theology in the academy.  In R. Jackson & J.J. Makransky (Eds.),  Buddhist theology: Critical reflections by contemporary Buddhist scholars. London: Routledge, 25–52.

Desbordes, G., Negi, L.T., Pace TW, Wallace, B.A., Raison, C.L. & Schwartz, E.L. (2012). Effects of mindful-attention and compassion meditation training on amygdala response to emotional stimuli in an ordinary, non-meditative state. Frontiers of Human Neuroscience, 6, 292-330.

Elder Paisios of Mount Athos. (2008) Spiritual counsels II, Spiritual Awakening. Thessalonica, Greece: Evangelist John the Theologian Monastery.

Flavell, J.H. (1979). "Metacognition and cognitive monitoring. A new area of cognitive-development inquiry". American Psychologist 34: 906–911.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (2003). Mindfulness-based Interventions In Context: Past, Present And Future. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 10 (2), 144-156.

McCowan, D., Reibel, D., & Micozzi, M.S. (2010). Teaching mindfulness: A practical guide for clinicians and educators. NY: Springer.

Morelli, G. (2006, May 08). Orthodoxy and the Science of Psychology. Available:

Morelli, G. (2009 January 09). Suicide: Christ His Church and Modern Medicine. Available:

Palmer, G.E.H.; Sherrard, P.; and Ware, K. (Trans.) (1971, 1981, 1988, 1990). Philokalia,  I- IV. London: Faber and Faber.

Williams, J.M.G., Teasdale, J.D., Segal, Z.V., & Kabat-Zinn, J. (2007). The mindful way through depression: Freeing yourself from chronic unhappiness. NY: Guilford Press.

Vlachos, Bishop Hierotheos, (1994). Orthodox Psychotherapy: The Science of the Fathers. Lavadia, Greece: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery

i Also to be noted is the similarity of mindfulness to the Latin Maxim attributed to Plautus (254-184 BC) [], “Age quod agis” (Do what you are doing []), - since it is used by many in the Western Church. For example, St. Ignatius of Loyola impressed it on the Jesuits as a mental discipline:  - ‘Do what you are doing. Pay strict attention to the actions in the present moment.’

ii Cognitive Distortions:

See Morelli (2009) for a fuller explanation

  • Selective Abstraction: The focusing on one event while excluding others
  • Arbitrary Inference: Drawing a conclusion unwarranted by the facts in an ambiguous situation.
  • Personalization: Interpreting a general event in exclusively personal terms.
  • Polarization: Perceiving or interpreting events in all or nothing terms.
  • Generalization: The tendency to see things in always or never categories.
  • Demanding Expectations: Beliefs that there are laws or rules that must be always obeyed.
  • Catastrophizing: The perception that something is worse than it actually is.
  • Emotional Reasoning: The judgment that one's feelings are facts.

After identifying the Distorted Cognitions-Automatic Thoughts three challenging questions help the patient to restructure them to lead to rational cognitions, normal emotions and functional behaviors:

  • Where is the evidence?
  • Is there any other way of looking at the situation?
  • Is the situation as bad as it seems?

iii I want to thank my editor Anne Petach for this suggestion []:  “The word nepsis (?????) in antiquity literally meant to drink no wine, but by extension it also included the metaphorical sense of being sober-minded, sane, alert, and finally vigilant.”

Date posted: January 10, 2014

Where has all the Trust Gone?

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

I recently heard an interesting commentary on a local radio station on the erosion of trust in today’s society. It raised the question in my mind: Where has all the trust gone? I immediately made the connection to a folk song popular in the mid 20th Century, "Where Have All The Flowers Gone.” The lyrics refer in part to the horrors and loss of life experienced by the Cossacks living in the River Don region of Russia during the period of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the Russian Civil War. While not on the same level as the loss of life, we now, in the beginning of the 21st Century, can lament the widespread loss of trust in society.

This was all personally meaningful to me. A child of the mid 20th century, I grew up in a very small upstate New York village. Not only did we all know each other, but doors were always unlocked, a sure indication of trust. I remember being able to walk into a friend's house and make myself at home. We would depend on each other and come to each other's aid. Our word was our bond. Trustworthiness was a common virtue. Now, a generation later, I employ every security measure I know for personal and home protection.

The commentator pinned the cause of the degradation of trust in today's generation to the many ongoing scandals of persons previously held to be (and who should be) pillars of trust in society. These scandals, of course, are broadcast and magnified by the proliferation of social media. He pointed out that it started with Watergate, moved on to the various incidents of sexual misconduct by high level politicians, executives and clergy, and then to the rapid spread corporate and political greed, corruption, thievery and partisanship. He offered an interesting example: what would have been sealed by a handshake a generation ago, (which is quite consistent with my childhood milieu) now takes a multipage legal contract.

The damage that loss of trust and diminishment of trustworthiness cause in the modern world, in both large, public ways and smaller, more subtle ones, may be a significant reason to re-establish religion in our lives, families and in society. A pre-Watergate President of the United States, Dwight David Eisenhower, said: "This is what I found out about religion: It gives you courage to make the decisions you must make in a crisis, and then the confidence to leave the result to a higher Power. Only by trust in God can a man carrying responsibility find repose."i What I like about Eisenhower's understanding is that it emphasizes one's personal responsibility to make the correct decisions in life for oneself, but always with trust in God and with a moral compass that includes determination to be a person worthy of trust. I pray that such trust can be re-established in society by heeding the words of another United States President, Thomas Jefferson, who said: "The time to guard against corruption and tyranny is before they shall have gotten hold of us."ii

To actualize this in our lives let us keep before us the words of King David's psalm: "As for my God, his way is undefiled: the words of the Lord are fire tried: he is the protector of all that trust in him." (Ps 17: 31) In the words of Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain, a contemporary father of the Eastern Church: "Is there any greater insurance than trust in God? When man entrusts himself to God, he receives a constant supply of "super gasoline" and his spiritual vehicle never stops; it runs constantly....pray and entrust yourself to God, and He will help you in every difficulty."iii




iii Elder Paisios of Mount Athos. (2008) Spiritual counsels II, Spiritual Awakening. (p. 304). Thessalonica, Greece: Evangelist John the Theologian Monastery.

Date posted: January 1, 2014

Toward Healing Apostolic Church Disunity: Speaking with One Voice

My Fall 2013 Society of St. John Chrysostom-Western Region (SSJC-WR)ii newsletter Light of the East President's message should be understood in the context of St. Paul's instruction to the Romans (12: 4-6). "For as in one body we have many members, but all the members have not the same office: So we being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. And having different gifts, according to the grace that is given us." These comments should also be looked at in terms of the petitions in the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, as said in the Eastern Churches: "Be mindful, O Lord, of the Priesthood, the Deaconate in Christ and every priestly rank, [and by implied extension to the laity as well] and put not to confusion any one of us who stand about thy holy Altar." The proper teaching role of the Churches is for those specifically ordained to teach, the bishops and the priests in union with them and the laity, as Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov (1998, p. 226)iii writes, do so as "defenders of the Faith." We each have our own part to play.

At this point in time it has to be acknowledged that there are different ecclesial models of Church governance, among the Apostolic Churches. These models range from the papacy and magisterium of the Catholic Churches to the conciliar model of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches. We fervently pray that the International and National official dialogues under the guidance of the Holy Spirit bring about a common ecclesial understanding, practice and full unity of the Apostolic Churches. It may even be possible that at such a time a single voice may 'reflect' the mind of the entire Church, which would only help in strengthening Christ's message. Disunity weakens the message of Christ, broadcasts hypocrisy and fosters disparagement and even worse total disregard of Christ and His Church. In psychological terminology disunity nurtures oppositional behavior.

Until, God willing, the disease of disunity is healed, it is so important that we be undivided in the core teaching of Christ and His Church and proclaim these core principles either by our gifts as ordained teachers (the bishops and priests) or baptized "defenders" of Christ. Christ Himself warned: "And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand." (Mk 3: 25) How unfortunate to see the media report division among some who claim to be members of one of the Apostolic Churches on core issues such as abortion, female ordination or same sex marriage. Even more egregious, some so called 'members' of one of the Apostolic Churches, individuals in public life, proudly endorse and promote programs contrary to Christ's teaching.

At the very least, our SSJC members (and all those baptized into the royal priesthood of Christ) can pray for and vigorously prompt those whom they encounter around them (be they hierarchs, clergy, laity or non-Orthodox) to rise to the gifts they have been given to use and not bury them. Let us recall the Parable of the Talents, as told to us by St. Matthew, to the person who squandered his gift: "But he that had received the one, going his way digged into the earth, and hid his lord's money," (25: 18) and the dire consequences of this waste: "And the unprofitable servant cast ye out into the exterior darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (25: 30) Let us all use our gifts with one undivided voice. Some of us as teachers and healers, all of us at least as defenders of the fullness of the mind of Christ and His Church.


i Edited for Orthodoxy Today ( and the Archpriest George Morelli Ph.D.'s Facebook page


iii Evdokimov, P. (1998). Ages of the spiritual life. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

Date posted: December 1, 2013

Chaplain’s Corner: Self Awareness and Self Control

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

Many are familiar with the famous ancient Greek adage: "Know thyself." Countless philosophers and spiritual teachers as well have used this theme. To my best recollection, I first came across this aphorism while reading Plato in a philosophy course my first year in college. Interestingly, this aphorism was also used by the ancient Egyptians, who gave it a religious connection. In the temple of Luxor (1400 BC) is the inscription: "Man, know thyself ... and thou shalt know the gods."

The importance of self-awareness and self-control also can be found in other religious systems. In the Buddhist tradition one reads: "Though one should conquer a million men on the battlefield, yet he, indeed, is the noblest victor who has conquered himself." (Dhammapada 103) In the Taoist scripture are the following words: "He who knows others is wise; He who knows himself is enlightened. He who conquers others has physical strength; He who conquers himself is strong." (Tao Te Ching 33) In Hinduism we find: ". . . when a man has discrimination and his mind is controlled, his senses, like the well-broken horses of a charioteer, lightly obey the rein." (Katha Upanishad 1.3.3-6)

Among the Hebrews we see the importance of self-control in the words of Solomon; "...he that ruleth his spirit [is mightier] than he that taketh cities." (Pv 16: 32) In the Christian spiritual and monastic tradition both of these attributes self-awareness and control are to be richly cultivated. This is beautifully summarized by the spiritual perception of the Eastern Church Father Nikitas Stithatos who tells us: "Five senses characterize the ascetic life: vigilance, meditation, prayer, self-control and stillness." (Philokalia IV, p. 103)

Some may hold the misconception that successful outcomes, whether in personal life, professional life or spiritual life, are easy or automatic. This is far afield from the truth. Success, no matter how measured, requires passion and hard work. The outcome of cultivating self-awareness and control is told by St. Diadochos of Photiki: "Self-control is common to all the virtues, and therefore whoever practices self-control must do so in all is necessary to cultivate not only the bodily virtues, but also those which have the power to purify our inner man." (Philokalia I, p. 266) Thus as we come to know ourselves better, we know more what areas in our lives are in need of more control.


Philokalia: The Complete Text (Vol. I-IV) (1983-1993). Sherrard, P., Palmer, H.E., & Ware, K. (translators). Winchester, MA: Faber & Faber.

Date posted: December 1, 2013

What George Washington Shows Us In His First Thanksgiving Proclamation

In 1789 both the House and Senate called on newly elected President George Washington to issue a proclamation of thanksgiving to God for His protection and blessing on their fledgling nation.

The proclamation is a call to prayer for both nation and people, for it understood that a virtuous nation could not be maintained without virtuous people. The exhortations to repentance and duty in both "private and public station" reveals that these early founders understood religion is the ground of culture. There is no liberty without virtue.

Civil and religious liberty were the reasons why the Early Americans sacrificed to the measure that they did. These virtues and thus these freedoms, cannot be comprehended apart from God because it is only by God that man perceives he is created to be free.

To the people who have forgotten God, the understanding that freedom and virtue work hand in hand exists only as an irrelevant echo. It's a moral blindness of the first order and, over the span of a generation or two, the echo will grow silent and all that remains is the belief that man is no more than animal or machine.

History is memory, and memory tells us where we have been so that we might know where we should go. The history of America is is forged in Christian anthropology and teleology -- God created man to be free, and that freedom imposes the obligation to encourage each other in the virtues by which liberty is nurtured and protected. That's what Washington wanted his listeners to understand.

Rev. Johannes L. Jacobse

City of New York, October 3, 1789

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

George Washington

Date posted: November 28, 2013

What George Washington Shows Us In His First Thanksgiving Proclamation

In 1789 both the House and Senate called on newly elected President George Washington to issue a proclamation of thanksgiving to God for His protection and blessing on their fledgling nation.

The proclamation is a call to prayer for both nation and people, for it understood that a virtuous nation could not be maintained without virtuous people. The exhortations to repentance and duty in both "private and public station" reveals that these early founders understood religion is the ground of culture. There is no liberty without virtue.

Civil and religious liberty were the reasons why the Early Americans sacrificed to the measure that they did. These virtues and thus these freedoms, cannot be comprehended apart from God because it is only by God that man perceives he is created to be free.

To the people who have forgotten God, the understanding that freedom and virtue work hand in hand exists only as an irrelevant echo. It's a moral blindness of the first order and, over the span of a generation or two, the echo will grow silent and all that remains is the belief that man is no more than animal or machine.

History is memory, and memory tells us where we have been so that we might know where we should go. The history of America is is forged in Christian anthropology and teleology -- God created man to be free, and that freedom imposes the obligation to encourage each other in the virtues by which liberty is nurtured and protected. That's what Washington wanted his listeners to understand.

Rev. Johannes L. Jacobse

City of New York, October 3, 1789

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor, and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me "to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness."

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be. That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks, for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation, for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his providence, which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war, for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed, for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted, for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions, to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually, to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed, to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shown kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord. To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us, and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

George Washington

Date posted: November 28, 2013

Interview with Fr. George Morelli: To Teach and To Heal

A seasoned psychologist, priest, Archdiocese department chair, and prolific author, Fr. George Morelli has shared his articles with readers for over six years. The assistant pastor at St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in San Diego, Fr. George has taught university and seminary courses in psychology and pastoral theology, supervised doctoral clinical psychology interns, and authored many articles in his field. He can also be heard on his weekly Ancient Faith Radio podcast, Healing: Orthodox Spirituality and Psychology.

You have been a faithful columnist for for a number of years. What motivates you to write and is there a common thread that runs through all your columns?

My motivation is that I see Christ as our ultimate Physician and Healer of our souls and ultimately our bodies following the brokenness (i.e. passions) that we have inherited from our ancestral parents. I am acutely aware that any of the gifts that I have been given are a gift from God and to be used to glorify His Name, to emulate as best I can the Trinitarian love the Persons of the Holy Trinity have for themselves and have extended to all creation and onto all mankind. I have an obligation to use these gifts as best I can to reflect this love.

Fr. George Morelli

Fr. George Morelli

Mankind is made in God's image and called to be like Him. In the spirit of St. Maximos the Confessor, we know that grace builds on nature. I have been gifted by God to have clinical-scientific reasoning talents. Thus the doctoral and postdoctoral educational level I have been able to achieve and the clinical experience I have acquired after many years I have applied to Christ's healing ministry. Hopefully the Holy Mysteries of the Church can be shored up by these Godly gifts of nature.

Scientific excellence is very important to me. I emphasized this in my university and seminary teaching career and pastoral-clinical practice. Unfortunately, in the field of mental health there is much that purports to be 'psychology,' but is actually the 'snake oil' of modern times. I have developed this idea further in a paper I wrote called Orthodoxy and The Science Of Psychology. That we must use the 'best of the science of our day' to understand the cosmos and ourselves was understood by the early Church Fathers who set up monastery healing centers. They had physicians on staff that were the most highly trained and skilled in their time. They also had to be men of great spirituality. The spirituality factor is critical, which is why I see myself as a priest-psychologist and not a psychologist who is a priest. I have developed this issue further in an article I wrote several years ago, The Ethos of Orthodox Christian Healing.

You deal with people every day in your work as a counselor, academic, and priest. Where do you see people struggling most in their lives, and how does the Church offer help and healing to them?

In the 19th Century we had the Industrial Revolution. In the 20th-21st Century we have the Information Revolution. My Galaxy S4 Smartphone is more powerful that the fledging computers that accompanied the first flight into space. The world people knew years ago was limited to a short travel distance. Smartphones today make anywhere in the world, from public spaces to private spaces, a button push away. There is no activity that cannot be accessed and participated in by anyone anywhere. We pray "lead us not into temptation." With the Smartphones and other instantaneous computer technology we can lead ourselves into temptation easier than anytime in the history of mankind. Murder, rape, torture, fornication, bullying, blackmailing can be accessed for one's 'viewing pleasure'.

Of course Information Technology (IT) is a two-way sword. Orthodox information Websites, for example, our own Antiochian website as well as the websites of the other jurisdictions, can also be accessed and are a blessing. In fact, much of the research I do for my writing, I do online. Thus IT can be used for good. We have to be aware of hidden disguised ensnarements. We all know of computer fraud, cyber-bullying and identification theft and the like. The other day I received an email from myself to myself. How some hacker was able to send me an email from my own email address is beyond me. Besides my computer or smartphone being infected with a computer virus, more importantly, would be the spiritual virus exposure by any visuals or sounds that may have come up if I had clicked onto the link or others like it. Of course, I did not click onto this link; I immediately deleted the entire message. In today's high technology world we have to follow Christ's warning with great discernment, skill and vigilance: "Behold I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents and simple as doves." (Mt 10: 16)

I do see one psycho-spiritual consequence that is greatly disturbing. Possibly it is due to the de-personalization that goes along with the Information Revolution: that is the de-individuation of others. We no longer see them as persons of individual value, let alone made in God's image and called to His likeness but as 'avatars,' (as an internet icon-animation), that can be brutalized, bullied, killed, degraded, etc. It is as if those around us can be related to or considered as merely "computer gaming" action figures.

One of your themes has been the application of "Smart Parenting" Principles. What challenges are today's parents encountering, and if you had one word of advice for moms and dads in 2013, what would it be?

First is the spiritual challenge that all Orthodox Christians have in the world today. It is not 'de rigueur' to be a Christian. If I may make reference to the caste system of India, it is almost as if we are the "untouchables" of Western society. When I was in graduate school, religiously oriented people were considered somehow less intelligent than atheists or agnostics. It was as if atheism and agnosticism were a sign of higher intelligence.

Over the last couple decades, the field of psychology has developed an interest in "spirituality." However, the term is very different than the Orthodox Spiritual tradition as would be known, say, by the Spiritual Fathers whose writings are in The Philokalia. For an Orthodox Christian, spiritual life is a dynamic journey into which he or she is born spiritually ill, inclined to sin, and is cleansed and made new in spirit by the reception of baptism. After baptism, while on earth, his or her life becomes a journey of continual purification and healing, eventually attaining theosis [union with God] or, as St. Peter puts it in his second Epistle, "partaking of the Divine Nature." Christ is the Physician and Psychotherapist, and the Church is the hospital in and through which the Christian receives this purification and healing. True theologians are people of prayer and people of prayer are the true theologians.

The spirituality acceptable to modern so-called intellectuals would be based on the Eastern or Native American cultures. Mindfulness (from the Buddhist tradition) is the current darling of "spiritually oriented psychologists." (My thoughts on Christian mindfulness, called "watchfulness," are expressed here.)

In the secular world, homogenized Christianity would be barely acceptable. Moral and religious relativism are the ground rules of secular society. Immorality is disguised as a 'civil right': e.g., abortion, female ordination, same sex marriage, etc.) At the bare minimum, one religion is as good as another. Of course, many secularists would want to eradicate all reference to religion in society. This is one of the reasons I wrote the recent article Living as an Orthodox Christian in a Non-Orthodox world. There are various social pressures to conform to secular life.

In previous articles I have written extensively about the Conformity and Obedience studies and possible ways to develop psycho-spiritual inoculation to immoral societal pressures. However it is not easy. By the standards of secular society, Orthodox Christianity and Christians are way beyond 'bare acceptability' and are the 'outcasts' of society. The ultimate insult to orthodox Christianity is simply to ignore us as if we are not here at all. At least in Russia the [rock band] Pussy Riot thought enough of the Russian Church that they sought to desecrate it.

One of the problems, and I do not mean this in a haughty manner, is the woeful ignorance of Orthodox Christian theology of the ordinary parishioner, let alone husband-wife (father-mother) ordained by their blessed marriage to educate themselves and their children in the teachings of Christ and His Church. How can they teach what they do not know and practice? Who is at fault? I do not want to play a blame game. There are possibly many complex reasons. Possibly some clergy did not offer proper training. Possibly it was offered and rejected. Possibly misinformation was given out. Possibly individuals and or families are just disinterested in anything religious. To teach the ethos of all that makes up the Orthodox Church it must be understood and lived in order to be a smart parent. I write more on this in The Ethos of Orthodox Catechesis: The Mind of the Orthodox Church. To summarize, the life has to be lived totally from the depth of the heart and mind, and here I borrow from a real estate adage: "Location, location, location." It is all about Orthodoxy, Orthodoxy, Orthodoxy.

Another theme, emphasized especially in your "Chaplain's Corner" reflections, is that of unity and peacemaking. What can we as Orthodox Christians do to further the cause of unity between Christians, between Orthodox, and in the broken relationships of our lives?

First, the disunity the world witnesses especially among the Apostolic Churches (Catholic, Roman and Eastern, Orthodox, Eastern and Oriental), is a scandal and broadcasts utter hypocrisy. To the world at large, those not understanding Eastern versus Western Christianity, equally scandalous is the problem of the Protestant separation from the Roman Church. Thus this condition is an example of brokenness, sinfulness, missing the mark, for all involved. And we know a wound to one member of Christ's Body is a wound to all. As St. Paul told the Corinthians: "And if one member suffer any thing, all the members suffer with it; or if one member glory, all the members rejoice with it." (1Cor 12:26). This erodes the message of Christ and His true Church.

I do want to say my comments are that of an Orthodox Christian priest. For unity to occur (among the Apostolic Churches) all the Churches, their bishops, priests and people would have to concur with a Church Council. No single individual can bring about unity themselves as an individual, although depending on our gifts, we all have an obligation to heal this disease and illness of brokenness by using the gifts we have been given.

Of course there are historical and political factors that have contributed to the disunity we see today. As I am not an historian, I will not comment on these issues. As a priest-psychologist, I see the main psycho-spiritual contributor to disunity is pride and its offshoots: anger, power and prestige. The simple, but most difficult to attain, solution to overcome pride and its consequences is to acquire the virtue of humility. This is summed up by a saint I quote often in my articles, St. Isaac of Syria, actually more known as the saint of proclaiming God's mercy, but on humility he says:

The man who has reached the knowledge of the extent of his weakness has reached perfect humility. Humility runs in advance of grace, and conceit runs in advance of chastisement. He that has become proud because of his knowledge is permitted to fall into blasphemy, and he who is filled with presumption because of his own wisdom is permitted to fall into the murky snares of ignorance.

Thus I have tried to use my gifts as a priest-psychologist to write and give workshops on attenuating dysfunctional emotions (i.e. the passions) and develop psycho-spiritual skills to dampen conflict and set the groundwork for forgiveness and peacemaking which would be necessary for any unity of the Churches to occur.

I also have served for a number of years as the President of the Society of St. John Chrysostom-Western Region (SSJC-WR), which is a grassroots ecumenical organization of laity and clergy of the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Eastern Catholic and Roman Catholic Churches. Its purpose is to make known the history, worship, spirituality, discipline and theology of Eastern Christianity, and for the fullness of unity desired by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. A personal comment: I will say that those of us active in the organization no longer see each other as adversaries, but as brothers and sisters in Christ, desperately praying, desiring and working for unity. Of course, as I mentioned before, unity has to come from all the Church: bishops, priests and laity, each according to their own function, to quote from St. Basil's Liturgy "not to confuse any one of us."

Pastorally and clinically I have seen that anger and conflict is the great psycho-spiritual cancer of individuals and families, tearing them apart. As I said previously, it is the consequence of pride. St. John of the Ladder describes this in Step 23 of his Ladder of Divine Ascent: "Pride is a denial of God ... a source of anger." This is one of the main reasons I have been so steadfast in doing all I can to write about the cognitive-behavioral-emotional skills that can be developed and enlivened by the Holy Mysteries of the Church to heal these diseases.

Also I have never understood those who use or condone any form of corporal punishment or engage in harshness against others. Consequences shape behavior; hitting or screaming models inappropriate behavior, teaches others to do the same, undermines credibility.

St. Seraphim of Sarov said, "Acquire the spirit of peace and a thousand of souls will be saved around you." My own version of his spiritually blessed counsel is: "Acquire the spirit of kindliness and a thousand of souls will be saved around you." I see no room for harshness, which is the fruit of evil; rather, kindliness is next to Godliness.

Is it difficult at times to reconcile your Orthodox faith and practice with the demands of your professional life? Are there opportunities to witness to your faith, and do you have a word of encouragement for lay people who are laboring in professions where the majority of people aren't Christians, much less Orthodox?

The simple answer is no. The more nuanced answer: God is "ineffable, inconceivable, invisible, incomprehensible, ever existing and eternally the same." Thus the laws of nature discovered by the sciences are ways of learning about God's creation. For example, if God willed to create man through the process of evolution, so be it. What is important is the spiritual meaning of the creation narrative in Genesis, and that God ensouled our first parents from whom we all descend by His breath (spirit).

On the psychological side, a patient coming into my office (a home office) cannot miss the spiritual connection. First, I received a blessing from Metropolitan Philip to open a counseling center called Holy Cross Center. The name is on the building entryway. A screen separates the living room, which serves as a waiting room and the office proper which is off the main foyer. The waiting room and the office have many icons. I always dress in casual clerical clothing. On page 2 of the 8-page Patient Intake Sheet is a question asking the religious background of the patient and family and the degree of religion and spirituality in their lives (0-10 scale). Ethically, a psychologist can integrate the spiritual value system of the patient with the scientific treatment of the patient's presenting problem. If the patient is not religious, then the values of the patient can be discovered during the therapeutic encounter and value clarification and integration into their thoughts, emotions and behaviors can be a treatment goal.

There is an Orthodox spiritual basis that underlies my approach. First, we are created by God in His image and called to be like Him. He created us with free will. Thus I as a priest-psychologist have to respect the free will of the patient. This is in regard to their belief or disbelief in God, or in the teachings of Christ and His Church regarding dogma and morality. If asked, I can tell others about the teachings of Christ and His Church, but at the same time I must respect their free will. At times I have been asked to consent, condone or participate in something clearly contrary to Christ's teachings and I have not hesitated to emphatically state that I cannot do so. In matters regarding sexual behavior, such an important contemporary concern in our highly sexualized society, I have made it clear that the same standards of the sanctity of the body, complementarity of the sexes, the sacredness of a blessed marriage of male and female apply to all, despite sexual orientation.

I have found the use of a Cognitive Therapy technique helpful when someone wants me to agree to something I do not agree with. I use the disarming technique, which basically makes a neutral comment saying nothing; e.g., "I see you are happy with your choice." Such an approach should equally apply to all Orthodox Christians, ordained or not.

The complete archive of Fr. George's articles is available on his dedicated Website page.

Date posted: Nov 25, 21013

Chaplain’s Corner - Supporting Others

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

Recently I happened to see an episode of a reality TV series that centered on the learning and personal conflicts of a group of students at a well-known high-end United States culinary school. The struggles of two female students were particularly noteworthy and point out the important need for the support of others for achieving our aspirations in life.

The older of the two students was married to a husband who not only did not encourage her but actively denigrated and tried to sabotage anything she did to achieve her goal of becoming a chef. The other, a very attractive young unmarried mother of a toddler, held on to a job in a 'gentlemen's club' - distasteful to her, but a financial necessity. She frankly admitted being ashamed of her work, and that her family would be also. However, her family, especially her aloof mother, disapproved of any endeavor she might engage in.

The episode portrayed an attempt by both students to use the culinary skills they had learned thus far to succeed in a task that would significantly advance their career goal. The first student obtained the owner's permission to take over a restaurant on a day when it was closed to make and serve a breakfast. Her husband initially, though reluctantly, agreed to help her, but then immediately undermined her by slowing down all he did and by then walking out, leaving her with a drastic need to make up the time to serve the long waiting customers.

The younger student made a dinner for her parents (for her a milestone) but her frowning and sarcastic mother fired jibes at her, including a question presented as a statement "If I don't like it do I have eat it?"

In both cases, however, others came to the support of the students. The restaurant owner and customers gave the older student great accolades on the taste, preparation and uniqueness of the breakfast. The young mother's father, and eventually her mother, told her how unbelievably wonderfully the meal was prepared. And her mother admitted that it had been better than she could have done. The emotional uplift felt by these 'student-chef's' from those who did support them was heart wrenching and is a lesson for all of us.

There is certainly a spiritual connection in giving support to others. In the book of Genesis, after slaying his brother Abel, Cain responds to God's inquiry about Abel by saying: "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gn 4: 9). Obviously the answer is yes. In Islam there is a tradition that those who have been blessed by God have an obligation to use those blessings to help others."i Buddhism emphasizes helpfulness to others as viewing self as brother: "I am my brother."ii

And this can even be done in small ways if we become open to the opportunities, like thanking a store clerk by name (they have name badges) and noticing the help given by the bagger; looking directly at a homeless person when giving some food, seeing them as persons. As the book of Proverbs reminds us: "To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!" (15:23). Sometimes just an encouraging smile is as good as a supportive word.

In Christian Sacred Scripture, St. Paul tells the Romans "to keep the things that are for the edification of one another." (14: 19) This would mean that we would want to uplift one another and certainly not put stumbling blocks of denigration and discouragement in their way. Likewise, St. Paul tells the Hebrews (10: 24): ". . .let us consider one another to provoke unto charity and unto good works." Our Eastern Church Father St. Isaac the Syrian makes quite explicit the meaning and high value of these words: "For the help given . . .how they help us by a word in the time of necessity or offer up in prayer in our behalf."iii



ii Ross, N.W. (1980). Buddhism: Way of Life & Thought. NY: Vintage Books.

iii Holy Transfiguration Monastery. (ed., trans.). (2011). The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian (revised, 2nd edition). Boston, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery. (p.233)

Date posted: Novermber 1, 2013

Forgiveness, Ritual, and Sacrament


Extending mercy to someone who has hurt us is simultaneously a very basic and extremely difficult teaching of the Christian faith. Over the past 25 years, psychologists – both Christian and otherwise – in the West have written much about this process of forgiveness. Many Christians in the West are familiar with at least some of this work. What many believers fail to realize, however, is that both Eastern and Western apostolic traditions offer many liturgical and sacramental helps for this journey. In this paper the author offers an initial exploration of some of the ways the ritual and theology of these ancient traditions can contribute to one’s forgiveness journey. This material is based on a presentation given by the author at the March, 2013, conference of the Western Division of the Society of St. John Chrysostom.

Forgiveness, Ritual, and Sacrament

Studying the virtue of forgiveness is both part of ancient wisdom and modern scholarship. Most world religions address the idea of forgiveness in some form, and the saints of those traditions often mention it and other related concepts – such as love of enemies – in the thoughts they have left us. Of late, theologians, psychologists, and thinkers in other disciplines have spilled much ink on forgiving others. Despite this rich history, it can be a challenge to find ideas about how the practice of faith connects with interpersonal mercy (a synonym for forgiveness). In the current project, we will look at what liturgical/sacramental theology and practice in both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions may have to teach us about forgiving those who have injured us.

Our emphasis here is theology, but we will occasionally incorporate psychological research that substantiates the claims that theology makes. After offering a brief definition of forgiveness, we will examine a subset of liturgical and sacramental practices that have implication for how we treat offenders. These practices include participating in Holy Communion, Holy Confession and Anointing, ritual practices unique to the West or East, and the veneration of saints. In a short paper we cannot hope to exhaust the implications of theology and praxis related to these rituals, but we hope t

o at least introduce some thoughts that will help the reader see more fully the connection between his religious life and his relationships.

The Concept of Forgiveness

Before addressing liturgical and sacramental contexts, let us define our main concept of interest: interpersonal forgiveness. According to Enright (2001), a pioneer of in the psychological study of our topic, interpersonal forgiveness becomes a possibility in situations where another person has hurt us unjustly. The process of extending this mercy involves rooting out negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors about the offender, and developing positive thoughts, feelings and behaviors directed at the same. Enright and his colleagues (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000; Knutson, Enright, & Garbers, 2008) provide evidence that four stages (all with multiple “steps”) are usually involved in this process: acknowledging the hurt, considering forgiveness, working on forgiveness, and experiencing freedom. High quality research demonstrates that extending interpersonal mercy to an offender improves the physical and psychological health of the forgiver (Enright & Fitzgibbons, 2000; Hansen, Enright, Baskin, & Klatt, 2009; Waltman, Russell, Coyle, Enright, Holter, & Swoboda, 2008; Witvliet et al., 2008). More information about the process can be found through the International Forgiveness Institute:

Many in the psychological community distinguish forgiveness from reconciliation, the latter viewed as the actual restoration of a relationship. From this perspective, forgiveness is a prerequisite for true reconciliation but is not the act of reuniting with the offender. From a Christian perspective, however, the distinction between our internal states (forgiveness) and our relationships (reconciliation) is not nearly as sharp as it might be in Western scholarly thought, which has a tradition of breaking the person into his constituent parts. (Matthew 5:21-28 gives example of this correspondence between internal state and relationship for the Christian.) Therefore, we will address themes of both forgiveness and reconciliation in this paper, understanding that while they may not be exactly same concept, they are intimately related.

Holy Communion

The apostolic traditions see the Mystery of Holy Communion as, first and foremost, our most intimate means of relating to God. Theology, however, teaches us that the Sacrament and its context (the Mass or Divine Liturgy) also have implications for our forgiveness of other persons. Here we explore those implications in both the Western and Eastern apostolic practices.

Liturgical Practices Shared by the Apostolic Traditions

In both Eastern and Western Christian traditions, the celebration of Holy Communion has a penitential beginning. The Penitential Act at the beginning of the Roman Catholic Mass can take several forms. The longest form includes the following prayer recited by the community:

I confess to almighty God and to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have greatly sinned, in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault; therefore I ask blessed Mary ever-Virgin, all the Angels and Saints, and you, my brothers and sisters, to pray for me to the Lord our God. (

This is followed by the priest invoking God’s mercy on the community. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, prayers read by the celebrant before the beginning of Divine Liturgy include an explicit request for forgiveness from those present. In many parishes, this is conveyed by the priest prostrating before the congregation, the members of which then prostrate in return, creating an act of mutual asking and offering of forgiveness. (It is also worth noting that the celebrant will request forgiveness twice more during the service: at the Great Entrance, where the gifts are transferred to the altar, and right before he himself communes.) This emphasis on one’s own sinfulness sets the tone of humility for the celebration of Holy Communion, and as we will see below, even social science researchers are now demonstrating that a person’s humility can be a crucial ingredient of forgiving someone who has hurt him.

A second element of both traditions’ services that can be related to interpersonal mercy is the inclusion of the word love in liturgical texts. References to God’s love are found in various places, but in certain texts, the word is used to refer to Christian love between persons. In the Eastern tradition, the main example of this latter usage comes before the Nicene Creed at every liturgy, where the priest exclaims, “Let us love one another, that with one mind we may confess Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, One in essence and undivided.” In some parishes, the invitation to the chalice also refers to it: “In the fear of God, and with faith and love, draw near!” In the Roman tradition’s second set of Eucharistic Prayers for Reconciliation, in the Thanksgiving and Epiclesis, we hear something similar:

When we ourselves had turned away from you on account of our sins, you brought us back to be reconciled, O Lord, so that, converted at last to you, we might love one another through your Son, whom for our sake you handed over to death. (

From a Christian perspective, this love has little to do with transitory feelings but instead refers to self-sacrificial action undertaken on behalf of another. While Christians have a duty to express this love towards all, Holy Scripture emphasizes that we are responsible for demonstrating it especially towards certain groups of people. These groups include our families (Ephesians 5:22-6:4), our church community (1 Corinthians 13, a chapter situated in an epistle devoted to ecclesiological issues), those we find around us (our “neighbors”) (Luke 10:25-37), and our enemies (Matthew 5:44). It is the latter category that is of particular interest vis-à-vis forgiveness, given that one who hurt us unjustly can be considered – if only for a time – an enemy. About this love, Fr. Alexander Schmemann (1988) writes:

Love your enemies.” These words contain nothing less than an unheard-of demand for love towards someone whom we precisely do not love. That is why they do not cease to disturb us, to frighten us and, above all, to judge us, as long as we have not become thoroughly deaf to the gospel. (p. 135, emphasis in original)

In both Western and Eastern traditions, this love for others is mentioned at key times: as the community professes their shared faith at the beginning of the Liturgy of the Faithful (and sometimes right before Holy Communion) in the East, and sometimes as a part of the institution of the Holy Gifts in the West. This placement clearly links this self-sacrificial love even for those who hurt us with the experience of the Sacrament. This link makes sense, for Holy Communion is the broken Body and Blood of Christ, who demonstrated this type of love in its highest form. In addition, partaking of the Sacrament brings us into union with the Triune God, Who Himself is Three Persons eternally offering such love to One Another and the entire created order. Finally, we recall that Holy Communion is for the forgiveness of our own sins, a gift we dare not receive if we refuse to work to extend the same mercy to others. This point is emphasized in both Roman and Eastern traditions by the reading of the Lord’s Prayer right before Holy Communion. This prayer, and the Lord’s own commentary after it (Matthew 6:14-15), stresses that we will be forgiven only as we forgive others. Given that Holy Communion carries these meanings, the one who approaches the chalice while rejecting the opportunity to forgive an offender risks communing not unto salvation but unto judgment (1 Corinthians 11:29).

A final liturgical practice shared by both apostolic traditions is the passing of the peace. For the Orthodox, the kiss of peace is given – not coincidentally – at the time when all are called to love one another as a prerequisite for confessing their faith in the Nicene Creed. In the West, the sign of peace is given right before the faithful partake of the Sacrament. At least one theologian (Schmemann, 1988) has noted the importance of this sign vis-à-vis forgiveness:

…for the early Christians it [the kiss of peace] was….a sacred rite of love….we are talking not of our personal, natural, human love, through which we cannot in fact love someone who is a “stranger,”…but of the love of Christ, the eternal wonder of which consists precisely in the fact that it transforms the stranger (and each stranger, in his depths, is an enemy) into a brother, irrespective of whether he has or does not have relevance for me and for my life…. (pp. 138-139; emphasis in original)

Fr. Alexander goes on to comment about the importance of forgiving and reconciling with others in the church community before taking part in the liturgy. He also notes the placement of this kiss before the Eucharist, noting that it makes the service and the Sacrament possible, given that Holy Communion is the font of immortality, of the kingdom of God’s love. The rite of the passing of the peace is one way we actualize Christian love, which, as we have seen, is the foundation of a Christian’s struggle to forgive others.

Above, we mentioned the universality of reading of the Lord’s Prayer right before participation in the Sacrament. Given our emphasis on forgiving others and the beautiful interpretation of the prayer offered in the current Roman Catholic Catechism, it is worth returning to this topic. We cite at length sections of the Catechism that illuminate the forgiveness themes within the petitions:

We find the efficacious and undoubted sign of his forgiveness in the sacraments of his Church…. Now – and this is daunting – this outpouring of mercy cannot penetrate our hearts as long as we have not forgiven those who have trespassed against us. Love, like the Body of Christ, is indivisible; we cannot love the God we cannot see if we do not love the brother or sister we do see. In refusing to forgive our brothers and sisters, our hearts are closed and their hardness makes them impervious to the Father's merciful love; but in confessing our sins, our hearts are opened to his grace….It is not in our power not to feel or to forget an offense; but the heart that offers itself to the Holy Spirit turns injury into compassion and purifies the memory in transforming the hurt into intercession. Christian prayer extends to the forgiveness of enemies, transfiguring the disciple by configuring him to his Master. Forgiveness is a high-point of Christian prayer; only hearts attuned to God's compassion can receive the gift of prayer. Forgiveness also bears witness that, in our world, love is stronger than sin. The martyrs of yesterday and today bear this witness to Jesus. Forgiveness is the fundamental condition of the reconciliation of the children of God with their Father and of men with one another. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1997, Part 4, Section 2, Article 3.V)

Liturgical Practices Particular to the Roman Tradition

In addition to the rites mentioned in the previous section, the West and East have their own unique liturgical traditions related to Holy Communion that teach us about interpersonal forgiveness. The Roman Catholic Church has a wide variety of Eucharistic prayers that may be included in the Mass. One set of these prayers are focused specifically on reconciliation. These prayers are used during Lent and at other services dedicated to themes relevant to reconciliation. While some of the texts focus on God’s forgiveness of us and our response to His mercy, others focus on reuniting persons. An example of this is found at the beginning of the second version of these prayers:

For though the human race is divided by dissension and discord, yet we know that by testing us you change our hearts to prepare them for reconciliation. Even more, by your Spirit you move human hearts that enemies may speak to each other again, adversaries may join hands, and peoples seek to meet together. By the working of your power it comes about, O Lord, that hatred is overcome by love, revenge gives way to forgiveness, and discord is changed to mutual respect. (

The fact that the Roman practice has developed Eucharistic prayers for reconciliation demonstrates the close link in ancient Christian tradition between interpersonal forgiveness and Holy Communion.

Another particularly Western tradition is using unleavened bread for Holy Communion. This practice is based on the possibility that Christ’s institution of the Sacrament occurred during a Passover meal, in which unleavened bread is used. There is at least one important forgiveness lesson in this historical context. We recall that Judas, the betrayer himself, participated in this ritual, although it is unclear if he partook of the Holy Gifts (Griffith, 1999; Tolmie, 2008). (While St. John Chrysostom and St. Augustine write that he did, Tatian and St. Hilary of Poitiers argue that he did not.) Regardless of how Judas’ participation is interpreted, the scriptural record is clear that the institution of the Eucharist took place in the context of infidelity by one of the Lord’s closest associates, treachery that ultimately led the Betrayed One to allow His Body to be broken and Blood to be spilled as an act of self-sacrificial love for all, including betrayers. This raises the question, can those of us who partake of this Body and Blood then refuse to strive towards such love of those who have betrayed us?

Liturgical Practices Particular to the Eastern Tradition

Specific rituals related to the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox tradition also illuminate the importance and meaning of forgiveness relative to the Eucharist. Many Orthodox Christians complete some form of a pre-communion prayer rule at home before attending the communion service. In some versions of this rule, we find a series of 12 prayers prefaced by the directive to first be reconciled with all who have grieved us. This is a clear call to reconcile not just with those whom we have hurt, but also with those who have hurt us, before approaching the chalice. Granted, we cannot force a person to accept our forgiveness and/or overtures for reconciliation, but as St. Paul directs us, we must do whatever we can within certain parameters to live peaceably with others (Romans 12:18).

Two aspects of the Divine Liturgy itself develop further our understanding of interpersonal mercy. First, although there are no explicit forgiveness themes in the Great Entrance, during which the bread and wine are transferred to the altar, this part of the liturgy suggests something about striving towards loving our enemies. The bread and wine are destined to become the Body and Blood of Christ, and yet they also represent us. We have gleaned the elements of wheat and grapes from working the land, formed them into bread and wine, and now offer them as a sacrifice. Fr. Schmemann (1973) writes that the elements...

… are our offering to Him of ourselves, of our whole life and of the whole world….It is our Eucharist. It is the movement that Adam failed to perform, and that in Christ has become the very life of man: a movement of adoration and praise in which all joy and suffering, all beauty and all frustration, all hunger and all satisfaction are referred to their ultimate End and become finally meaningful. Yes, to be sure, it is a sacrifice: but sacrifice is the most natural act of man, the very essence of his life. Man is a sacrificial being, because he finds his life in love, and love is sacrificial: it puts the value, the very meaning of life in the other and gives life to the other, and in this giving, in this sacrifice, finds the meaning and joy of life. (p. 35)

We also note that during the epiclesis, the Holy Spirit is called down upon “us and upon these gifts here offered,” further emphasizing the link between the Eucharistic elements and ourselves. In that the bread and wine represent us, it is helpful to recall they have been made into such holy offerings through being crushed in the mill and winepress. This becomes an “icon” of our own lives, in that when dedicated to God, our own sufferings can help us become more Christ-like. Dedicating them to God means that we allow Him to infuse them with His presence – just as happens with the bread and wine during liturgy – and in that process are united with Him. This means, among other things, allowing Him to extend through us His self-sacrificial love to those who bruise us, just as He does by giving Himself to us through the elements that have been crushed in preparation for their sanctification.

In discussing the Great Entrance, a comment on the type of bread used in the East in warranted. Just as we noted forgiveness-related themes with the Western practice of communion with unleavened bread, we can also find such themes in the Eastern tradition of communing with leavened bread. Both Sts. Matthew (13:33) and Luke (13:20) cite parables in which the Lord compared the Kingdom of Heaven to leaven, which slowly seeps throughout dough so that it will rise. In the Orthodox tradition, using leavened bread represents the fullness of the Kingdom and the intimate union between Spirit and flesh, between Divine and human, that the Kingdom entails. Fr. Schmemann’s general words on Holy Communion are helpful in understanding what this fullness of the Kingdom means:

[In the liturgy, Christ] transforms our gathering into an entrance and ascent….he…makes his offering ours and ours his, he fulfills our unity as unity in his love, and, finally, through his thanksgiving, which has been granted to us, he leads us up to heaven, he opens to us access to his Father. (1988, pp. 199-200)

Heaven, the Lord’s Kingdom, is unity in love. The leaven that represents the fullness of this Kingdom should remind us that to participate fully in it, we are first and foremost called to be vessels and conduits of the self-sacrificial, forgiving love that is God Himself. As the leaven helps the crushed wheat to rise, so this infusion of God’s grace enables us to become such conduits, even in our brokenness.

A second aspect of the Divine Liturgy that speaks to forgiveness is found specifically in the Liturgy of St. Basil. Served mainly during Great Lent, this liturgy includes prayers during the Eucharistic Canon that are not found in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom. In St. Basil’s texts, right after the institution of the gifts, the priest prays that we be united to one another in the Bread and Cup in the communion of the Holy Spirit. Most obviously, this points to a very real, spiritual union that believers will have with one another in Holy Communion, suggesting that reconciliation between Christians at odds with one another will happen in the Sacrament. If so, the question for us becomes, will we be reconciled at the chalice with a loving heart towards a community member who has offended us, or will we maintain hardness of heart and dare to partake of the Mysteries in such a state? Furthermore, given that the Sacrament also unites us with all of creation (Kurz, 2009; Maria, 2011), this line of reasoning can be extended to interpersonal conflict not only with fellow believers but with anyone. The Liturgy of St. Basil is also notable in that in the long prayer after the consecration, the priest prays for God’s remembrance of “those who love us and those who hate us,” further emphasizing the connection between the Sacrament and loving outreach to those who treat us poorly.

Sacraments of Healing

While all of the sacraments of the apostolic tradition have restorative potential for an individual, the Mysteries of Repentance and Anointing are often overtly labeled as sacraments of healing. Biblically, this connection between confession, unction, and healing is rooted in James 5:13-16. In this section we address the basic understanding and practice of these rites in both the West and East and argue that because they are also sacraments of humility, they can be an important part of a believer’s forgiveness journey.

Sacrament of Repentance

Commonly referred to as confession or penance, in the apostolic traditions this Mystery has evolved from a declaration of one’s sins to God before the entire community to confession before a priest, who affirms God’s forgiveness and in some cases assigns a penance to be completed in the wake of confession. Two “models” of this rite exist in Christendom: a therapeutic approach and a juridical approach. While both perspectives can be found in both Eastern and Western traditions, the East clearly emphasizes the former, while the West has tended towards the latter.

The therapeutic approach. The therapeutic model of confession emphasizes that the penitent has been wounded by (or is ill because of) his own sin; the life-long process of confessing one’s sins to “Christ the Physician” (Ware, 2012) and striving to overcome them constitutes a healing path that restores the likeness of God in the person. Penance, when given, is a part of this therapeutic process:

A penance is not a punishment, nor yet a form of expiation, but a means of healing. It is a medicine. If the actual confession is like an operation, the penance is the tonic that restores the patient to health during his convalescence. (Ware, 2012, p. 3)

From an Orthodox view this therapy involves recognizing and trying to transform the passions, or energies of the soul, that lead us into sin. Most fundamentally, this is an exercise in humility, each penitent seeing where he himself is blocking the likeness of God within his own soul. The forgiveness imparted in the Mystery is unto reconciliation with God and others:

The healing that we experience through the sacrament of confession takes the specific form of reconciliation. Sin, as we learn from the parable of the prodigal son, is exile, alienation, exclusion from the family. Repentance is to come back home…to share fully once more in the life of the community. (Ware, 2012, p. 3)

From this therapeutic perspective, what does participation in the Sacrament of Repentance have to do with a penitent’s struggle to forgive an offender? This can be answered on several levels. First, the fact that confession leads to an infusion of God’s grace can make the forgiveness process less difficult for a person. Second, the process of transforming the passions within oneself – the goal of the Mystery – involves addressing passions that constitute unforgiveness: pride, envy, fear, and perhaps most obviously, anger. Anger’s transfiguration, in particular, has relevance for forgiving an offender. St. Maximus the Confessor (Thunberg, 1985), one of the most subtle patristic thinkers about the human soul, writes that in its unpurified state, the passion of temper (thumos) manifests as hatred of others and selfishness in our relationships with them. When purified, however, the passion drives us to constructively love others. And for St. Maximus, that perfect spiritual love means loving our enemies:

To harbor no envy, no anger, no resentment against an offender is still not to have charity for him. It is possible, without any charity, to avoid rendering evil for evil. But to render, spontaneously, good for evil - such belongs to a perfect spiritual love.

(This quote is widely attributed to St. Maximus, but we are unable to find the actual reference for it.) Finally, the emphasis on humility can also aid one’s struggle to forgive another. Below, we will explore the psychological research supporting this claim.

The juridical approach. A juridical or forensic model of confession views sin as a breaking of the law, confession as a first step towards taking responsibility for the act, and penance as a penalty, expiation, or “satisfaction” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1997, Part 2, Section 2, Article 4.VI) for the act. Through this process, some form of justice is restored and the penitent receives pardon for his crime and is reconciled with God and community.

This understanding of the Sacrament of Confession also implicitly addresses the process of forgiving an offender. With its emphasis on justice, an implication of this forensic approach is that because we have received God’s forgiveness, we are in turn beholden to offer the same to others. Christ’s parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23-35) demonstrates this clearly. This parable is a warning to the believer to recognize the great mercy he has been shown by God and not dare to then refuse to extend it to others, lest he be “delivered to torturers until he should pay all that was due to him [the king]” (v. 34). Christ’s own interpretation of the parable emphasizes that such a fate awaits those who refuse to forgive others (v. 35).

Because the forensic model also requires an assessment and confession of one’s own sin, it is also quite capable of producing humility in the penitent. Social science research suggests that the development of humility can be an important contributor to forgiving an offender. We now turn to that research.

Humility and Forgiveness

Several studies conducted by psychologists support the idea that humility can be an important precursor of forgiving another person. Initial work by Sandage (1999; Sandage & Wiens, 2001; Sandage & Worthington, 2010) was instrumental in suggesting a possible connection between modesty and ease in forgiving another. More recently, direct assessment of both humility and interpersonal mercy demonstrates the two are indeed connected (Exline et al., 2008; Powers et al., 2012; Rowatt et al., 2006; Shepherd & Belicki, 2008). Of these studies, it is perhaps the Exline et al. work that is most powerful, because it was done in a way that can demonstrate cause and effect. In other words, Exline et al.’s research methods allow us to test whether or not focusing on one’s own transgressions (as is required by the Sacrament of Confession) can actually cause a more forgiving attitude towards others. In short, their work demonstrated that thinking about one’s own misdeeds was effective in helping men in particular increase forgivingness. And while women did not show the same effect, data gathered through other methods in both Exline’s studies and the others cited above suggest some kind of relationship (but not necessarily causal) between humility and forgiveness does exist for both men and women. This line of social science research suggests that attention to one’s own sin, inherent in the Mystery of Reconciliation, may help a person forgive an offender. Because this process is also part of the Sacrament of Anointing, these findings may also help explain that rite’s role in forgiveness as well. We now turn to this Mystery.

Sacrament of Anointing

Probably due to the content of James 5:13-16, confessing one’s sins has long been a part of the sacrament of anointing with holy oil. This rite is designed to bring spiritual healing and – if God wills – physical healing to the believer who is ill. In that it usually involves confession and also occurs in the context of physical weakness, we may consider it not only a sacrament of healing, but a sacrament of humility as well. Therefore, everything already covered above regarding the Mystery of Repentance and humility applies to this sacrament as well.

In addition, there are unique aspects of Holy Anointing that are related to forgiveness. First, in both the Western and Eastern traditions, aspects of the rite are connected with those days in Holy Week that represent Judas’ betrayal. In many Orthodox traditions, an anointing service is held on Holy Wednesday during Passion Week. While most obviously this honors the woman anointing Christ before His death (Matthew 26:6-13), it is also the day on which the Eastern tradition marks Judas’ betrayal of the Lord (Matthew 26:14-16). In the Roman Catholic Church, the oil used in Holy Unction is consecrated on Maundy Thursday, the day traditionally devoted to the institution of Holy Communion (which, as discussed above, occurs in the context of unfaithfulness). Historically, then, anointing is linked with the occurrence of interpersonal betrayal. Therefore, it offers both a lesson about and real help for those who have been injured by another. The lesson is that even in the midst of relational offense, God can bring further healing of and restoration to His likeness in us. This, in turn, challenges and enables us to be a conduit of self-sacrificial love precisely for those who betray us.

Another aspect of this sacrament that is relevant to forgiveness themes concerns the actual element through which the mystery is conveyed: oil. Traditionally, olive oil is used. In Greek, this word is elaion, which is lexically connected to the Greek word for mercy, eleos. This correspondence between the physical and spiritual properties of this medium serves to highlight the healing power of God’s undeserved loving-kindness towards us, which in turn empowers and inspires us to offer unearned mercy towards others.

Special Services and Movements

Both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions have developed unique liturgical celebrations and spiritual movements that, in some cases, have implications for a believer’s forgiveness process. The discussion in this section represents but a few of those distinctive traditions, and readers are encouraged to look for forgiveness themes in other special traditions their church may have.

Eastern Orthodoxy

Perhaps the most obvious Orthodox ritual connected to interpersonal mercy is the annual rite of forgiveness at the Vespers service that begins Great Lent. While the actual practice of this rite can vary from parish to parish, almost always it involves all in attendance asking forgiveness of one another. This service follows the Divine Liturgy in which the gospel reading and hymnography call our attention to Adam and Eve’s expulsion from paradise. In addition, at this Vespers service, before the rite of forgiveness, we first pray the Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian, which we continue to pray throughout Lent:

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despondency, lust for power and idle talk. But grant unto me, Thy servant, a spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see mine own faults and not to judge my brother. For blessed art Thou unto the ages. Amen.

Entering this holy season, the attentive believer becomes aware of his own sinfulness and the importance of repentance, forgiveness, and abstaining from judging others as the route through which we yet again obtain paradise.

We (Gassin, 2012; Gassin& Sawchak, 2008) recently conducted research on Forgiveness Vespers to assess whether the ritual has its hoped-for effects on parishioners, at least at a level of which they are conscious. The 2008 study was an internet survey of persons belonging to a listserv related to the Orthodox Church, and the 2012 study involved more in-depth interviews of 6 persons who have attended Forgiveness Vespers multiple times. We asked about the person impact of the ritual and classified their responses according to categories reported in anthropological literature on religious ritual. Among the top 3 responses in both samples were altering experiences beyond the ritual and helping to coordinate inner and outer reality. Many of the responses placed in the first category addressed the positive impact of the rite on how one moved through Great Lent with its twin goals of repentance and union with God. The latter category included responses that reflected a perceived increase in likelihood that one’s behavior matched one’s ideals, such as reconciling with someone that one has felt “convicted” of reconnecting to. A third category that was emphasized in the internet study was that of identity development. Answers subsumed under this category mentioned a re-ordering of priorities, personal reflection on one’s attitude towards others, and attaining a sense of being purified from distorted passions (such as anger, envy, etc.). A third category that was strongly emphasized in the interviews was strengthening the community, which included specific responses about overcoming squabbles and becoming more vulnerable with one another. These studies demonstrate that at least among some parishioners, the forgiveness ritual practiced at the beginning of Great Lent holds potential for helping a person along the path towards forgiveness. It does this not only by encouraging overt requests for and offers of forgiveness but also by providing an opportunity to reflect on one’s own sins, the quality of one’s relationships, and how one will battle for spiritual growth during Lent.

Another unique aspect of Eastern Christianity that speaks to interpersonal forgiveness is the text of the Paschal service. Obviously, all Christian traditions celebrate Pascha (Easter), but the Orthodox Church is known for celebrating this Feast of Feasts in a special and particularly intense and beautiful way. Near the end of the Paschal Matins service, a series of verses are sung that includes the first lines of the Psalm 68: “Let God arise/ Let His enemies be scattered/ As smoke vanishes, so let them vanish.” Interspersed between these lines are verses related to the theology and history of the Resurrection. As this section of the Matins service comes to a close, we sing:

This is the day of Resurrection. Let us be illumined by the feast. Let us embrace each other. Let us call brothers even those that hate us and forgive all by the resurrection, and so let us cry: Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.

While a full analysis of the connection between Christ’s Resurrection and forgiveness of enemies is beyond the scope of this paper (and – in all honesty – may not yet exist), this series of verses make clear that there is a link. Quite possibly it is because Christ’s Resurrection is the triumph of God’s self-sacrificial love over injustice, abuse, and even the simple foibles and shortcomings of humanity. It is the promise that Divinity, which is Love, will hallow, raise, and forever infuse that which is prone to distortion, death, and decay. This includes not only our individual bodies, but our relationships as well. When faced with such Love, the entire concept of “enemy” – like smoke – dissipates into thin air. Through the lenses of the Resurrection, there is only forgiveness and reconciliation.

Roman Catholicism

Two unique traditions of the Roman church that may enlighten and assist believers on their forgiveness journeys are Eucharistic adoration and devotion to the Sacred Heart. Eucharistic adoration is the practice of reserving some of the host for extended worship by the faithful. The duration of this ritual can vary from moments spent praying before the host, to a special 40 hour period devoted to the practice, to perpetual adoration allowing for prayer at any point of the day or night. While the focus of prayers recommended for this practice seems to be on confession of faith, praise to God, and making reparation for the sins of the world, some aspects of the practice may be tied to a person’s struggle to forgive a concrete offender. Perhaps this is most clearly seen in the practice known as the Holy Hour, where a person devotes an hour to Eucharistic adoration. One recommendation is to divide the hour into 15-minute segments ( The individual practicing adoration in this manner could devote one segment to praying for deliverance from anger at, an increase in love for, and imploring God’s mercy on an offender. Given the theme of making reparation for the sins of the world in many of the recommended prayers, the believer can be conscious of the fact that this includes his offender in particular. Considering the theme of reparation, and considering the focus of meditation in this tradition is Christ’s Body, which He offered to be broken for those in sin, it is not surprising that saints have reported gaining strength through this ritual to minister to those who abused them (St. Margaret Mary) and that some sources cite an increase in love as a main outcome of the practice (e.g., Norris, 2005).

Another movement within the Western apostolic tradition that may offer encouragement to the forgiver is the devotion to the Sacred Heart. Those following this tradition have a special devotion to Christ’s wounded heart, which they consider to be a symbol of His love wounded by the betrayal of the world. The movement has affected Catholicism worldwide via a special feast devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, as well as other liturgical celebrations. As noted, this tradition emphasizes that Christ demonstrates self-sacrificial love to all, even to those who literally and/or spiritual wound Him: …The heart is, above all, the emblem of love, and by this characteristic, the devotion to the Sacred Heart is naturally defined. However, being directed to the loving Heart of Jesus, it naturally encounters whatever in Jesus is connected with this love. Now, was not this love the motive of all that Christ did and suffered? Was not all His inner, even more than His outward, life dominated by this love? ... In thus devoting oneself to Jesus all loving and lovable, one cannot fail to observe that His love is rejected. God is constantly lamenting that in Holy Writ, and the saints have always heard within their hearts the plaint of unrequited love. Indeed one of the essential phases of the devotion is that it considers the love of Jesus for us as a despised, ignored love. (Bainvel, 1910)

As the emphasis of the devotion to the Sacred Heart is clearly on loving through one’s wounds, it may provide encouragement to the person striving to offer love to a wrongdoer.

The Help of the Saints

Both the Eastern and Western apostolic traditions venerate holy men and women, as well as the angelic host, who intercede for us in heaven. Many of these saints have biographies replete with forgiveness themes, making them natural intercessors for us as we struggle to forgive an offender. The faithful individual can incorporate the lives of these holy ones into their own spiritual journey by reading their biographies, attending services dedicated to them, reading or singing hymnography from those services at home, and praying special prayers to them. These special prayers in the Western tradition often take the form of a novena, whereas in the Eastern tradition, many saints have canons and/or akathists written for them. (Orthodox of some traditions may only be familiar with the Akathist to the Most Holy Theotokos, but other Orthodox traditions have akathists written for a variety of saints.) An exhaustive list of such saints is beyond the purpose of this project, so here we look briefly at four holy persons each from West and East. We focus on saints of the modern era, although it is important to note that many of the ancient saints that both traditions share also have inspirational stories of forgiveness in the face of persecution. We will not address the intercessions of the angelic intercessors in any detail, but it is worth noting that beseeching their help can also be an aid on one’s forgiveness journey, as they can help fight temptations to wallow in anger and other negative passions.

Roman Catholic Saints

Western saints that are closely linked to interpersonal mercy include St. Jane Frances de Chantal, St. Germain Cousin, St. Maria Goretti, and St. Maximillian Kolbe. St. Jane Frances de Chantal lived from 1572-1641 in France. As a young mother of four children, she was widowed when her husband was killed in a hunting accident. This sad event placed her on a forgiveness journey that did not come easily:

Before he died, her husband forgave the man who shot him, saying to the man, "Don't commit the sin of hating yourself when you have done nothing wrong." The heartbroken Jane, however, had to struggle with forgiveness for a long time. At first she tried just greeting him on the street. When she was able to do that, she invited him to her house. Finally she was able to forgive the man so completely that she even became godmother to his child. (St. Jane Frances de Chantal at

Her story also points to how a person can transform emotional pain to serve others, as after her husband’s death, she founded a charitable religious order and helped many. Various sources cite St. Jane Frances de Chantal’s feast as August and/or December 12.

St. Germaine Cousin is also a French saint. She lived from 1579-1601. St. Germaine was born with various physical problems and lost her mother at a very young age. Her stepmother despised and abused her. One story from St. Germaine’s life demonstrates her tender heart towards her abuser. Her stepmother, noticing something bundled in the saint’s apron, assumed she had stolen something. As the stepmother began to beat the child, flowers fell from the apron:

[St. Germaine] handed a flower to her mother [Hortense] and said, "Please accept this flower, Mother. God sends it to you in sign of his forgiveness." As the whole village began to talk about this holy child, even Hortense began to soften her feelings toward her. She even invited Germaine back to the house but Germaine had become used to her straw bed and continued to sleep in it. (St. Germaine Cousin,

St. Germaine’s story is a superb example of how offering love self-sacrificially to an offender sometimes can actually lead to that person’s repentance. Her feast is June 15.

St. Maria Goretti, an Italian saint, was born in 1890 and died from knife wounds sustained in an attempted rape in 1902. She expressed forgiveness towards her attacker on her deathbed, stating that she wished to have him in heaven with her. Her attacker reported having a vision of St. Maria in which she gave him lilies. This was part of a process of repentance for him, which culminated in becoming a monk. Again, we see that receiving mercy from others can play a role in the offender’s own spiritual growth. The text of the novena to St. Maria includes explicit prayers for help in the forgiveness process:

Grant me the grace, O Heroic Saint, to be charitable to others! Much of my time is spent on vengeful thoughts, seeking how I may pay back to others the harm they have done to me. Teach me to forgive, so that I may not only gain Heaven, but also lead others there who might otherwise be doomed to Hell. If I am to follow Christ, help me to imitate His Charity, even as you have done. Amen. (Novena to St. Maria Goretti,

St. Maria is honored on July 6.

A contemporary saint of forgiveness in the Western tradition is St. Maximillian Kolbe. St. Maximillian, a Polish friar who lived from 1894-1944, is known for his ministry while a prisoner at Auschwitz during World War II. He encouraged fellow prisoners to pray for and forgive their captors. Although not specifically an example of forgiveness, St. Maximillian gave up his life by asking the Nazis to kill him in place of a prisoner who was a husband and father, demonstrating another form of self-sacrificial love. His feast is celebrated on August 14.

Eastern Orthodox Saints

Four saints from the Orthodox tradition whose lives are closely intertwined with forgiveness themes are St. Dionysios of Zakthynos, St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, St. Elizabeth the New Martyr, and St. Silouan of Mt. Athos. The oldest of these, St. Dionysios, is a Greek saint who lived from 1547-1622. While living the monastic life, he once hid a refugee from the law in his cell. In conversation with the man, it became clear to St. Dionysios (although he did not share this with the refugee) that the man had murdered the saint’s brother. At that point, the holy monk did not say anything to anyone about the situation but kept the man in his care and helped bring him to repentance. Not surprisingly, St. Dionysios is known as the “saint of forgiveness,” and his feasts are celebrated on December 17 and August 24.

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk (1724-1783) is a well-known hierarchical saint in the Russian Orthodox Church. His life story is full of sad events experienced at the hands of others, such as harassment in childhood by peers and persecution by detractors during his service to the Church. Forgiveness themes adorn his biography, writings, and services written in his honor (Lardas, 1991). In addition, because it seems he endured what today we would term depression, St. Tikhon is considered an intercessor for those who struggle against distorted emotional experience, something that psychological research suggests contributes to difficulties in forgiving others (Tse & Cheng, 2006). St. Tikhon’s feast days are May 14 and August 13.

St. Elizabeth the New Martyr (1864-1918) represents a group of saints whose lives often boast deep forgiveness themes: those persecuted and martyred at the hands of the Soviets. St. Elizabeth was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria of England. As a German princess, she married into the Russian royal family. Eventually, she converted from Lutheranism to Eastern Orthodoxy. She lost her husband to a terrorist relatively early in her married life. On the heels of this tragedy, she visited the murderer, forgave him, and interceded unsuccessfully for his life before the Tsar (her brother-in-law). An akathist dedicated to her recounts this part of her life:

…when thou didst witness the cruel and pitiless slaughter of thy husband, thy heart was pierced with grief and sorrow, as with a two-edged sword; yet thou didst take courage, and uttered the Savior’s own words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And seeking to turn this vile deed to goodness, thou didst beseech him who committed the murder to repent. (Akathist to New Martyr Elizabeth,

As the Russian Revolution gathered steam, she was arrested, taken to Siberia, and executed by being thrown into a mineshaft and bombed. Some versions of her biography note she, like Christ, prayed for her executioners’ forgiveness. St. Elizabeth’s memory is celebrated on July 5 and with the other New Martyrs and Confessors of Russia on their conciliar feast, the Sunday closest to February 7 (the Gregorian Calendar date of the martyrdom of the first bishop to die under the Soviets, New Martyr Vladimir).

Finally, we also mention St. Silouan of Mount Athos. A saint from Russia who lived from 1866-1938, St. Silouan left us many sayings about the life of love lived in the Holy Spirit. Much of his spiritual inheritance addresses love for enemies in particular. In reflecting on St. Silouan’s teachings, one writer notes:

…the Elder…sees only one thing: humility and love of one’s enemies — this is all there is. As wise and learned and fine-looking as a person may be, if he does not love his enemies, i.e. any other person, he cannot reach God. And the opposite is also true, however simple a person may be, and poor and ignorant, but if he carries within himself that love, then "he is with God and God is with him." The Elder maintained that it was impossible to love one’s enemies outside of the One True God. The carrier of such love is a participant in eternal life, and he carries within himself an undeniable witness of this. He is the abode of the Holy Spirit, and knows the Father and the Son through the Holy Spirit, knows them with a true and life-giving knowledge, and in the Holy Spirit he is a brother and friend of Jesus Christ, he is the son of God, and close to God in grace. (Mileant & Bufius, 2001, no page; emphasis in original)

The interested reader can find compilations of his sayings online and in books about him published by St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press ( Saint Silouan’s feast is September 24.


Our life’s journey in this fallen world provides many opportunities to exercise forgiveness of others. Fortunately, our faith offers direction in coping with this: themes of self-sacrificial love in the context of betrayal form the core of the Christian story and pervade many of the practices in which believers engage. Both Eastern and Western apostolic traditions offer many points of reflection, edification, and help as the Christian seeks to fulfill the scriptural command to forgive offenders and love one’s enemies. To the extent that we embody these teachings and practices in our own lives, we fulfill our calling as Christians: to incarnate God’s sacrificial love for all creation.


Bainvel, J. (1910). Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved May 27, 2013 from New Advent:

Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd edition). (trans. 1997). Retrieved from Enright, R. D. (2001). Forgiveness is a choice: A step-by-step process for resolving anger and restoring hope. Washington, DC: APA LifeTools.

Enright, R. D., & Fitzgibbons, R. P. (2000). Helping clients forgive: An empirical guide for resolving anger and restoring hope. Washington, DC: APA.

Exline, J. J. et al. (2008). Not so innocent: Does seeing one’s own capability for wrongdoing predict forgiveness? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 94, 495-515.

Gassin, E. A. (2012). A psychological functionalist perspective on a forgiveness ritual. In J. P. Hoffman (Ed.), Understanding religious ritual: Theoretical approaches and innovations (pp.93-114). New York, NY: Routledge.

Gassin, E. A., & Sawchak, T. A. (2008). Meaning, performance, and function of a forgiveness ritual. Journal of Ritual Studies, 22, 39-49.

Griffith, S. H. (1999). “Spirit in the bread, fire in the wine”: The Eucharist as “living medicine” in the thought of Ephraem the Syrian. Modern Theology, 15, 225-246.

Hansen, M. J., Enright, R. D., Baskin, T. W., & Klatt, J. (2009). A palliative care intervention in forgiveness therapy for elderly terminally ill cancer patients. Journal of Palliative Care, 25, 51-60.

Knutson, J., Enright. R., & Garbers, B. (2008). Validating the developmental pathway of forgiveness. Journal of Counseling and Development, 86, 193-199.

Kurz, J. R. (2009). The gifts of creation and the consummation of humanity: Irenaeus of Lyons’ recapitulatory theology of the Eucharist. Worship, 83(2), 112-132.

Lardas, G. D. (Trans.) (1991). Journey to heaven: Counsels on the particular duties of every Christian by our father among the saints, Tikhon of Zadonsk, bishop of Voronezh and Elets. Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery.

Maria, J. (2011). The Holy Eucharist according to Alexander Schmemann. Christian Orient, 32, 104-115.

Mileant, A., & Bufius, N. (2001). The life and teachings of Elder Siluan (A Shmelev, Trans.). Missionary Leaflet #EA17. La Canada, CA: Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission. Retrieved June 20, 2013, from

Elizabeth A. Gassin, Department of Behavioral Sciences, Olivet Nazarene University. With thanks for their input to Father Jason Nesbit of Maternity of the Blessed Virgin Mary Catholic Church, Bourbonnais, Illinois, and to participants at the conference of the Society of St. John Chrysostom, Western Division, March 1-2, 2013, Irvine, California. Any remaining errors are mine alone.

Date posted: October 6, 2013

Living as an Orthodox Christian in a Non-Orthodox World

He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved: but he that believeth not shall be condemned. (Mk 16: 16)

One of the teaching challenges of those committed to the Mind of Christ and His One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Orthodox Church is the homogenization of Christianity by those who have been ensnared by the spiritual cancer of religious relativism that has permeated the Western world. Political, religious and social correctness is the mantra of the 3rd Millennium. It is also the great scourge of our modern world. It is the duty of all true and committed Christians, especially those charged with the guiding others in Orthodoxy, to be steadfast to the mind of Christ and His Church (Morelli, 2010). It must begin in the little church in the home the 'domestic church,' then be connected to the local parish and its clergy and then on to the Church universal.

Living as an Orthodox Christian in a Non-Orthodox World

An example of this spiritual virus occurred in a recent conversation I had with an Orthodox Christian who told me they had been told by another 'Orthodox' Christian that one should be happy that anyone would go or pray at any 'Christian' community. It doesn't matter that the community calling themselves 'Christian' was not one of the Apostolic Churchesi. Unfortunately, this view overlooks the fairly obvious fact that some of these 'Christian' fellowships teach what is "man-made," or omit from their teaching what a man or woman wants omitted and still call it 'Christian.'ii The dogmatic teaching of Christ and His Church, as witnessed by the Apostolic Churches, has been relegated to the realm of bias, discrimination and as proclaiming a radical violation of human rights. However, consider this question: Is one Church really as good as another?

The teaching of an Orthodox Metropolitan on the criticality of Dogma

Living as an Orthodox Christian in a Non-Orthodox World

The critical necessity of dogma for the Orthodox commitment to Christ and His Church was recently strongly proclaimed by Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev (2002, p. xiii), Chairman of the Department of External Affairs of the Moscow Patriarchate:

In our own day there is a widely held view that belief in religious dogma is not obligatory; even if they still have a certain historical value, they are no longer vital for Christians. Moral and social agendas have become the main preoccupation of many Christian communities, while theological issues are often neglected. This dissociation between dogma and way of life, however, contradicts the very nature of the religious life, which presupposes that faith should always be confirmed by deeds, and visa versa.

Underlying Processes in Observational Learning

Living as an Orthodox Christian in a Non-Orthodox World

Why is this important? Because our beliefs inform what we say and do, and consequently when and where they are heard and/or seen, they thus serve as models for others to observe, learn and perform. (Morelli, 2006a)

Modeling and Behavior

The essential role of such modeling in influencing behavior is a well supported by behavioral research (Bandura, 1986, Morelli, 2005a, 2005b, 2006a,b,c, 2007). In fact, it is also known that in children's early life parents are the main models. As individuals develop in age, the role of other adults, peers and surrounding society become increasingly efficacious as models. (Grusec, 1992) In as much as so many individuals in modern society are actively hostile to the Orthodox teaching of Christ, the implications are grave. As I emphasize in a previous article (Morelli, 2007): "If a parent capitulates to the culture, then the culture will assume the teaching authority of the parent." In fact, secular culture, with its undisguised enmity to Christ and His orthodox Church, will take over the teaching authority not just of children, but of those of all ages. The first step in attempting to tear down the authentic teaching of Christ and His Church is the homogenization of Christianity, as witnessed by the inference in the example stated earlier in this article that being actively attached and committed to the Orthodox Church 'doesn't matter.'

The Forcing of compliance to immorality by the legal system

Another egregious attempt to attack orthodox morality is to force legalization of immoral behavior. A recent online guest columnist described this trend by saying that some "seek to "rehabilitate" Christians to their way of thinking under penalty of law. ... of old [they] just threw us to the lions. I guess that's what they mean by "progress."iii Another currently well-reported example is the government mandating of abidance by religious institutions to healthcare programs that are clearly not in accord with orthodox Christian teaching.iv

The signs of Christ's orthodox Church

Living as an Orthodox Christian in a Non-Orthodox World

"Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (Jn 20: 21-23).

Living as an Orthodox Christian in a Non-Orthodox World

This passage is, of course, the scriptural basis of the Holy Mystery of Confession. It has implications, however, that can be applied to all that makes up the Church. Christ gave Holy Spirit to His Apostles and their successors, the bishops and priests of His Orthodox Church, to safeguard and transmit His truth from age to age. And it is important to remember Christ's warning in St. Matthew's Gospel (7: 15): "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." St. Paul tells us: "For such false apostles are deceitful workmen, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ." (2Cor 11:13)

Continuing with the Holy Mystery of Confession as a springboard toward understanding Christ's true Church. Who has retained this Holy Mystery? Only the Apostolic Churches-The Orthodox Church-the preeminent focus of this article. Who has thrown Holy Confession and most of the other Holy Mysteries out? The non-Apostolic Christian communities. The other Holy Mysteries of the Church are not exempt from either elimination or fundamental re-definition. For example, to align themselves with political correctness, some communities calling themselves Christian perform baptism in the name of the 'Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier,' thus countermanding Christ's explicit teaching as recorded by St. Matthew (28: 19-20): "Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world."

The Holy Mystery of the Eucharist can also be considered in this regard. The Apostolic Churches retain Christ's very own words when He instituted the Holy Eucharist:

And whilst they were at supper, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke: and gave to his disciples, and said: Take ye, and eat. This is my body. And taking the chalice, he gave thanks, and gave to them, saying: Drink ye all of this. For this is my blood of the new testament, which shall be shed for many unto remission of sins. (Mt 26: 26-28)

Christ does not say the bread and wine is a figure, memorial or symbol of "my body" or "my blood", but "this is my body ...this is my blood."v

Living as an Orthodox Christian in a Non-Orthodox World

Furthermore, those infected with homogenized Christianity fail to understand the reason the Apostolic Churches only give the Eucharist to those who are baptized and who hold the fullness of the teaching of Christ and His Church. Others are excluded until they have fully "put on Christ." The ancient testimony of St. Justin Martyr (c 147-161 AD) bears this out: The Apostolic orthodox Churches of Christ, therefore, maintain that the Holy Eucharist is the true body, blood, soul and divinity of Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ.

And this food is called among us the Thanksgiving [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Savior, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made

A personal example of 'church relativism'

I would like to give a very personal example, edited, of course, for purposes of anonymity and charity. Some years ago I was invited, as a friend of the bride's family, to attend the wedding of a Roman Catholic male and a Protestant female at a Catholic Church. The Protestant denomination of the bride considers itself "a branch of the Catholic Church," but this pretentious claim is completely unrecognized by the Eastern and Roman Catholic Churches, and the Orthodox Churches as well. I did not know beforehand who the officiating priest would be, so I was greatly surprised when I saw that he, a member of a Roman Catholic religious order, was someone I knew very well. Many times he and I had had serious discussions and diverged on the issue of 'open communion.' During the Nuptial Mass, I was seated about six rows back , dressed in my clerical street garb. Several pews ahead of me were several girlfriends of the bride, well known to the other guests for their 'party' lifestyle.

Living as an Orthodox Christian in a Non-Orthodox World

At Communion time, the officiating priest turned and invited all to receive the Eucharist. I and others saw the girls joking among themselves, asking if they should go up to receive. They did go and received communion in the hand, and on the way back to the pew were flipping the host up and down, laughing joking, and finally consuming. After the service, I told this incident to the celebrant, and this time even he was in dismay. I said in charity: "Fr. X, this is one of the reasons that in Orthodoxy we reserve communion only to those who are fully united to the Church." I think he got the message.

The Christ-way Church is not a my-way church

Living as an Orthodox Christian in a Non-Orthodox World

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain [Mt. Athos] (2011, p. 37) comments: "People are in such a state today that they do whatever comes to their mind. . . . Every so often, a few people will get together and start a new religion."

Living as an Orthodox Christian in a Non-Orthodox World

Actually, this state of mind goes back many years. All one has to do is review the founders of non-Apostolic Christian communities. To name a few: Anglican-Protestant Episcopal communities: Henry VIII; Lutheranism: Martin Luther; Presbyterian: John Calvin; Methodist: John Wesley; Ana-Baptists: Balthasar Hubmaier, et. al. These communities, along with too numerous to mention community congregations and mega communities (with members numbering in thousands), thrive in the United States and other countries. On the other hand, the Apostolic Churches are traced back with unbroken succession to the Apostles of Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ and sanctified by the descent of Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

Living as an Orthodox Christian in a Non-Orthodox World

Cacophonous worship

As previously noted, many of these groups have changed the meaning of the Holy Mysteries, completely eliminated them or retain only Baptism and the Lord's Supper, and communion merely as a 'memorial,' not as the true Body Blood and Divinity of Christ. Some other worship practices and teachings are equally egregious: seducing people by bright lights, sounds & pop music; equating holiness with feelings, instead of as taught by Orthodoxy: having a mind and heart filled with Godliness.

Worship in the Apostolic Church

Living as an Orthodox Christian in a Non-Orthodox World

“ineffable, inconceivable, invisible,
incomprehensible, ever existing
and eternally the same.”
(From the Liturgy of
St. John Chrysostom)

For God's presence in the heart is a sense of God's absence: silence (as in the desert). St. Peter of Damaskos tells us ". . .for since God is undetermined and indeterminate without form or color, the intellect that is with God alone should itself be without form or color, free from all figuration and undistracted." (Philokalia III, p. 236). St. Peter, in the 12th Century, is expanding on the teaching of an early spiritual father of the 4th Century, St. Evagrius the Solitary, who said "Never try to see a form or shape during prayer . . . do not long for a sensory image." (Philokalia I, p. 68). St. John of the Ladder (1991) goes on to explain: "silence is the mother of prayer . . . creator of divine vision . . .the friend of silence draws us near to God and, by secretly conversing with Him is enlightened by God." (p. 92). It should be noted that in the public worship of the Apostolic Churches, the Divine Liturgy, the music is reverential and meant to raise one hearts and minds to God. That is to say, to cultivate an 'interior silence.'

Living as an Orthodox Christian in a Non-Orthodox World

A mankind-created
female ‘bishopess’

Some non-Apostolic communities have also departed far afield from Christ and His Church on moral-social and theological issues, including espousing abortion, pre-marital sex, same-sex marriage, and female ordination. Another comment by Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain is particularly apt in this regard: ". . . they have turned sin into a fashion." (p. 47).

The importance of being in union with the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Orthodox Church

Critical to understanding the importance of unity with the Orthodox Church of Christ are the words of Fr. Georges Florovsky as quoted by Alfeyev (2011, p.16): "Personal convictions and even one's way of life do not yet make one a Christian. Christian existence assumes inclusion and implies membership in the [emphasis mine] community" (from Florovsky, My Father's Home, 10-11) This supports Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev's statement that: (p. 15) "The Church is synonymous with Christianity: one cannot be a Christian without being a member of the Church." In a later work (2012) he specifies exactly what "Church" membership means:

Living as an Orthodox Christian in a Non-Orthodox World

In union with Christ
and His Apostolic Church

. . . the oldest and most indispensable [ministry in the ancient Church] has turned out to be that of leadership. In the first years of the Church's existence, the apostles began to ordain presbyters and bishops to lead the local churches, creating an apostolic preaching as a result. Thus was the implementation of apostolic succession in the Church. The apostolic succession of hierarchy is a key concept of Orthodox ecclesiology: only that Church in which an unbroken succession of the hierarchy exists, coming from the apostles, is the true Church of Christ. If such a succession is absent or somehow broken [as in the Reformed communions including the Anglican and Protestant-Episcopal communities], the Church cannot be considered true, the hierarchy cannot be considered legitimate, and the sacraments cannot be considered efficacious. (p. 441)

About those who have never known the teachings of Christ and His Church

I am not commenting on the deeds of those who have never been blessed with the fullness of the teachings of Christ and His Orthodox Church. There are many born into Christian communities who have no other knowledge of Christ and His Church except that which has been taught to them by their mankind-founded communities. It should be noted that many adherents of these communities do, in fact, seek to follow Christ with deep fervor and commitment. Furthermore, we are not even to judge the founders of these man-created communities. Only God can know the hearts of these founders, and their followers' as well. As St. John (1Jn 3:20) tells us: "For if our heart reprehend us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things."

The admonition of Christ on not judging others is explicit and can be considered a cornerstone, making up the foundation of His teachings. It stems from the fact that we are all sinners and must never condemn anyone. Recall our Lord's admonition to those about to stone the woman caught in adultery: "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." (Jn 8: 7)

  • Judge not, that you may not be judged, For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged: and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again. (Mt 7: 1-2)
  • Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you shall be forgiven. (Lk 6: 37)
  • Or how canst thou say to thy brother: Brother, let me pull the mote out of thy eye, when thou thyself seest not the beam in thy own eye? Hypocrite, cast first the beam out of thy own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to take out the mote from thy brother's eye. (Lk 6: 42)

Refusing to judge others can be considered an act of worship of God. St. Peter of Damaskos explains it thus: ". . .confess God's grace continually by not judging anyone." (Philokalia III, p. 160-161)

While we cannot judge others, we are required to judge their acts

Jesus revealed to the beloved Apostle St. John the Evangelist, through the mouth of His angel, His condemnation of the nefarious works of an early sect, the Nicolaitians, that departed from the teaching of the Apostolic Church: ". . . you hate the deeds. . .which I also hate". (Rev. 2: 6). The lesson for us is that with careful, sensible and sound judgment, and with great charity and kindness, but with prudent firmness as well, we can point out the position of the Apostolic Churches on ecclesial, moral, theological and other related issues and pray and work toward healing ourselves and all around us. In this regard, it is well to keep in mind a phrase from the year 2000 Synodal statement of the Moscow Patriarchate entitled Basic Principles of Attitude to the Non-Orthodox. In it was noted that throughout history

. . .the Church struggled on principled terms with the heresies that were infecting her children and that there were cases where those who had gone astray were healed of heresy, experienced repentance and returned to the bosom of the Church. This tragic experience of misunderstanding emerging from within the Church herself and of the struggle with it during the period of the ecumenical councils has taught the children of the Orthodox Church to be vigilant.

There are several other passages from the Synodal statement that are very relevant to this issue and worth serious reflection and study, and which can be found in the Endnote belowvii. The Orthodox Church considers it is the one true Church. The Apostolic Churches are close to one another in many ways and we pray will be most likely to be first in full communion with each other.viii Unfortunately, some reform groups depart very far.

About those who left the plough they were holding onto and look back

Now, and here I am speaking about, and to, all of us Orthodox Christians, let us consider our Lord's admonition that : "No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." (Lk 9: 62) Now the "plough" can be seen as our baptism and our commitment to the Orthodox Church. The "looking back," then, is reverting to any attitude that draws us away from that, most particularly the subtle and insidious attitude of condoning relativism or, God forbid, the entertaining ideas like: 'I don't need the Church;' 'I can talk to God alone, by myself;' 'I can pray in any church.' The admonition not to look back in this way applies most especially to those originally baptized, but who are later tempted to look back toward the non-Apostolic communities and what they may seem to offer. To them Christ's rebuke speaks: "And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required." (Lk 12: 48) We need to remember that what is required of us is fidelity and commitment to His Orthodox Church —not to some man-made group. no matter what they call themselves or how many books they carry around or quote from, even a book they call "The Bible."ix

In this regard, we remember the Evil One tempting Jesus in the desert by quoting Sacred Scripture: "And the tempter coming said to Him '. . .: It is written, [c.f. Dt 8: 3] Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.'" (Mt 34: 34) Now, and here I am speaking about, and to, all of us Orthodox Christians, let us consider our Lord's admonition that : "No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." (Lk 9: 62) Now the "plough" can be seen as our baptism and our commitment to the Orthodox Church. The "looking back," then, is reverting to any attitude that draws us away from that, most particularly the subtle and insidious attitude of condoning relativism or, God forbid, the entertaining ideas like: 'I don't need the Church;' 'I can talk to God alone, by myself;' 'I can pray in any church.' The admonition not to look back in this way applies most especially to those originally baptized, but who are later tempted to look back toward the non-Apostolic communities and what they may seem to offer. To them Christ's rebuke speaks: "And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required." (Lk 12: 48)

We need to remember that what is required of us is fidelity and commitment to His Orthodox Church —not to some man-made group. no matter what they call themselves or how many books they carry around or quote from, even a book they call "The Bible." In this regard, we remember the Evil One tempting Jesus in the desert by quoting Sacred Scripture: "And the tempter coming said to Him '. . .: It is written, [c.f. Dt 8: 3] Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God.'" (Mt 34: 34)

St. Silouan of Mt. Athos: Exemplar of having prayerful love for all

We are required by our commitment to Christ and His Church to go way beyond merely not judging others. We must actively seek reconciliation, and at the very least pray for all, ourselves, as we are all sinners, and extend that reconciiliation to all those who have committed the most egregious offenses. St. Silouan of Mt. Athos tells us ". . . you must love those who offend against you and pray for them until your soul is reconciled to them." (Sophrony, 1999)

Living as an Orthodox Christian in a Non-Orthodox World

Looking down at those in hell

A good example is an encounter the saint had with an anonymous hermit as recorded by St. Silouan's cell attendant and spiritual disciple, Archimandrite Sophrony. The hermit, with "evident satisfaction," told the saint," God will punish all atheists." In terms of the theme of this essay, we can add to the word 'atheists:: homophiles, moral relativists, secularists, members of non-Apostolic Christian groups, etc. Of course, the saintly elder was disturbed by the hermit's judgment. St. Silouan responded: "Tell me, supposing you went to paradise, and there looked down and saw somebody burning in hell-fire – would you feel happy" The hermit responded: "It can't be helped, It would be their own fault." With "sorrowful countenance" the saint responded: "Love could not bear that. . . .We must pray for all." This should be what spiritually animates our hearts, minds and interactions toward all those who do not uphold the fullness of orthodox Christianity.

The Ethos of Raising Children and Ourselves as Orthodox Christians

Living as an Orthodox Christian in a Non-Orthodox World

Icon Corner in the
Domestic Church

There is a spiritx that should enliven and permeate the 'domestic church' and its anointed leaders: the Godly blessed (by the Holy Mystery) marriage of husband and wife, parents who are to "educate [their children] in faith and fear."xi This ethos should, however, not be limited to those who are married, but extended to all those who have "put on Christ"xii through their baptism, single individuals as well. This would include all laity and monastics.

We know that Christ's visible Church was sealed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and has passed down to the Church to the present day. Originally, the visible Church started with the Apostles and Disciples. In the Church today, each of the Apostles of the twelve and of the seventy has their own day of commemoration, but on the Sunday after Pentecost is celebrated the synaxis, or gathering, of not only the Apostles but, in fact, all the saints of the Church who shone forth throughout the whole world from all time. This includes the powers of heaven (the angelic hosts) and the holy prophets of the Old Covenant as well. There is a great prayer of the Church that calls all this to mind - the Synodikon of Orthodoxy - which can also serve as the ethos of the spiritual life of all true Christians.

The Synodikon of Orthodoxy

Living as an Orthodox Christian in a Non-Orthodox World

The Triumph of Orthodoxy

The Synodikonxiii was originally proclaimed by the Fathers of the Seventh Ecumenical Council in 843 AD that reinstated the veneration of icons against the heretics who had persecuted Christ's Holy Church and destroyed its icons. Traditionally, throughout the Orthodox World today, it is prayed at Vespers of the Sunday of Orthodoxy (the First Sunday of Lent). It is relevant to be both a daily prayer, and also the ethos of the Christian Life for all those who are true, that is to say, 'non-homogenized,' Christians.

One relevant phrase from the Synodikon is: "As the Prophets saw, as the Apostles taught, as the Church received, as the Teachers laid down as doctrine, as the World has agreed, as grace has shone". We see from this that the avowals of all the saints are considered as God-inspired. Divine inspiration is linked with Revelation. The saints experienced God; they attained a spiritual perception of the Divine. They knew a personal God experientially. They received a personal Pentecost. Because of their experiences of a Divine Revelation they are regarded as unerring teachers of the Church. This grace was given them because they embraced Christ's cross by flight from sin, thus attaining theosis ("partakers of the Divine Nature," 2Pt 1:4).

The lives and teachings of the saints echo the mind of the Church. It is unthinkable, therefore, not only for the saints, but for anyone, to be considered an Orthodox Christian if they are separated from the mind of the Church by holding on to erroneous heretical personal conceptions and opinions and, even worse, teach these self-created interpretations to others, either directly or by example (psychological modeling).

Another consideration: The Church as hospital

Living as an Orthodox Christian in a Non-Orthodox World

Synaxis of the
Holy Unmercenary
Physicians of the Church

Let us also recall that another patristic icon of the Church is that it is a hospital (Morelli 2006 b,c) for our spiritual and physical curing. The chief laborers are the physicians with the authority given to them by Christ to heal our infirmities and diseases. Departing from the mind of Christ and His Church by holding on to our personal opinions is a disease to be made healthy by Christ's apostolic Orthodox Church. This healing work of the Church is, and must be, carried out today by the bishops and priests of the Church of apostolic succession by adherence to the apostolic tradition and teaching given by Christ. This calling to service was given to the Church by Christ Himself when He ". . . saith to his disciples, The harvest indeed is great, but the laborers are few." (Mt 9:37).

But the laborers in the hospital vineyard are not limited merely to the clergy. As St. Paul reminded the Galatians, we have each received individual gifts and can offer different service to the 'Body of Christ:" "For as many of you as have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ.. Now you are the body of Christ, and members of member. And God indeed hath set some in the church; first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly doctors; after that miracles; then the graces of healing, helps, governments, kinds of tongues, interpretations of speeches. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all doctors? Are all workers of miracles? Have all the grace of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret?" (Gal 3: 27-30)

Let us all put our hands to the plough that is Christ and His Church and never take them off or look back. Let us hold fast to the Mind of the Church, to be informed and formed by it so as to courageously model it in our lives. This way we will be faithful laborers in Christ's hospital vineyard (the Church) according to the gifts we have been given. As St. Paul tells the Corinthians:

But be zealous for the better gifts. And I shew unto you yet a more excellent way. (1Cor 12: 31)

Date posted: October 3, 2013

Chaplains Corner - Supporting Orthers

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

Recently I happened to see an episode of a reality TV series that centered on the learning and personal conflicts of a group of students at a well-known high-end United States culinary school. The struggles of two female students were particularly noteworthy and point out the important need for the support of others for achieving our aspirations in life.

The older of the two students was married to a husband who not only did not encourage her but actively denigrated and tried to sabotage anything she did to achieve her goal of becoming a chef. The other, a very attractive young unmarried mother of a toddler, held on to a job in a 'gentlemen's club' - distasteful to her, but a financial necessity. She frankly admitted being ashamed of her work, and that her family would be also. However, her family, especially her aloof mother, disapproved of any endeavor she might engage in.

The episode portrayed an attempt by both students to use the culinary skills they had learned thus far to succeed in a task that would significantly advance their career goal. The first student obtained the owner's permission to take over a restaurant on a day when it was closed to make and serve a breakfast. Her husband initially, though reluctantly, agreed to help her, but then immediately undermined her by slowing down all he did and by then walking out, leaving her with a drastic need to make up the time to serve the long waiting customers. The younger student made a dinner for her parents (for her a milestone) but her frowning and sarcastic mother fired jibes at her, including a question presented as a statement "If I don't like it do I have eat it?" In both cases, however, others came to the support of the students. The restaurant owner and customers gave the older student great accolades on the taste, preparation and uniqueness of the breakfast. The young mother's father, and eventually her mother, told her how unbelievably wonderfully the meal was prepared. And her mother admitted that it had been better than she could have done. The emotional uplift felt by these 'student-chef's' from those who did support them was heart wrenching and is a lesson for all of us.

There is certainly a spiritual connection in giving support to others. In the book of Genesis, after slaying his brother Abel, Cain responds to God's inquiry about Abel by saying: "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Gn 4: 9). Obviously the answer is yes. In Islam there is a tradition that those who have been blessed by God have an obligation to use those blessings to help others."i Buddhism emphasizes helpfulness to others as viewing self as brother: "I am my brother."ii

And this can even be done in small ways if we become open to the opportunities, like thanking a store clerk by name (they have name badges) and noticing the help given by the bagger; looking directly at a homeless person when giving some food, seeing them as persons. As the book of Proverbs reminds us: "To make an apt answer is a joy to a man, and a word in season, how good it is!" (15:23). Sometimes just an encouraging smile is as good as a supportive word.

In Christian Sacred Scripture, St. Paul tells the Romans "to keep the things that are for the edification of one another." (14: 19) This would mean that we would want to uplift one another and certainly not put stumbling blocks of denigration and discouragement in their way. Likewise, St. Paul tells the Hebrews (10: 24): ". . .let us consider one another to provoke unto charity and unto good works." Our Eastern Church Father St. Isaac the Syrian makes quite explicit the meaning and high value of these words: "For the help given . . .how they help us by a word in the time of necessity or offer up in prayer in our behalf."iii



ii Ross, N.W. (1980). Buddhism: Way of Life & Thought. NY: Vintage Books.

iii Holy Transfiguration Monastery. (ed., trans.). (2011). The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian (revised, 2nd edition). Boston, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery. (p.233)

Date posted: October 3, 2013

Politics, Ideas, and the West

This is the first contribution to ISI’s symposium, Conservatism: What’s Wrong with it and How Can We Make it Right?

In 2008, the writer George Packer argued in a New Yorker article entitled “The Fall of Conservatism” that the disarray then engulfing the Republican Party was actually symptomatic of deeper problems characterizing American conservative thought. Conservatism’s apparent meltdown in the United States, Packer suggested, partly flowed from fierce internal disagreements over issues ranging from foreign policy to government-spending levels. Yet the challenge facing conservatives went far beyond, Packer claimed, these explicit tensions. Conservatism’s real crisis, he said, was one of ideas per se. To this end, Packer quoted one of contemporary conservatism’s most astute products, the political analyst Yuval Levin, who maintained that “The conservative idea factory is not producing as it did. You hear it from everybody, but nobody agrees what to do about it.”

For many conservatives, ideas have never been something that people should embrace too enthusiastically. Some ideas, they note, have helped facilitate some of history’s greatest barbarisms. There is a straight line, for example, between Karl Marx’s ruminations jotted down in the sedate settings of the British Library, and the Killing Fields of far-away Cambodia one hundred years later. In this light, we shouldn’t be surprised to find some conservative thinkers such as the Tory M.P. and later Lord Chancellor Quintin Hogg insisting in his 1959 book, The Conservative Case, that conservatism wasn’t “so much a philosophy as an attitude, a constant force, performing a timeless function in the development of a free society, and corresponding to a deep and permanent requirement of human nature itself.”

The truth, however, is that for every “attitude-conservative,” there has been just as many “idea-conservatives.” Indeed few things divide conservatives more today than ideas. Among the many groups that have appropriated the term “conservative,” we find self-described fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, southern agrarians, neoconservatives, paleoconservatives, conservative liberals, business conservatives, traditionalists, libertarian conservatives, national security conservatives, conservative Democrats, Reagan conservatives, limited government conservatives, Tories, isolationists, bioconservatives, Thatcherites, progressive conservatives, federalists, fusionists, religious conservatives, and so on and so forth.

The differences between these ever-shifting clusters are often profound. The deepest, usually unspoken philosophical division is perhaps between those conservatives who ground their thinking in natural law reasoning and those committed to its polar-opposite: skepticism. But even within particular conservative alignments, there are sometimes noteworthy splits regarding specific questions. Some social conservatives, for instance, are outspoken free traders. Other, however, verge on economic nationalism.

The imprecision associated with the word conservative becomes even more evident when we consider figures that claim the moniker. Britain’s David Cameron, for example, never ceases proclaiming his conservative credentials. Yet does anyone seriously doubt that David Cameron has more in common with President Barack Obama than with, say, Senator Rand Paul or Senator Ted Cruz? What, some might ask, does Britain’s present Conservative Prime Minister have to do with conservatism at all?

That said, it’s worth noting that the various forces associated with conservatism haven’t ever and aren’t likely to achieve complete unity. Conservatism’s political expressions have often consisted of alliances of constituencies united less by common commitment to deeply-held beliefs, than by agreement on particular points during certain time-periods and some degree of “the-enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend” logic. The imperative of defeating the diabolical evil of Communism, for example, produced a number of less-than-obvious bedfellows. Beyond these political conveniences, a considerable degree of internal debate on the right is highly desirable, not least because it forces people to defend and refine their positions.

The political importance of building and sustaining “broad-church” conservative coalitions shouldn’t be underestimated. After all, they help realize what has to be an important part of modern conservatism’s agenda: opposing and rolling-back a left that, however absurd its goals, is truly relentless in seeking to realize its dreams. But any revival of conservatism can’t just be about focusing upon what it is against. Nor can conservatism’s energy be completely consumed by policy-battles, as important as these are. For if conservatives lose the broader conflict about the type of civilization we aspire to live in, then all their policy-victories will ultimately count for naught.

This brings me to what I think has to be conservatism’s long-term agenda as well as a central element in any lasting conservative resurgence: the defense and promotion of what we should unapologetically call Western civilization. By this, I mean that unique culture which emerged from the encounter of Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome, the brilliance of which—if I may be deeply politically-incorrect for a moment—is somewhat harder to discern in other societies. As anathema as this culture may be in the contemporary faculty lounge, this is the tradition that conservatives should be in the business of safeguarding and advocating: not just in opposition to those who deploy violence in the name of a divine un-reason, but also against the obsessive egalitarianism, rank sentimentalism and wild-eyed utopianism of those who live inside the West’s gates but who have long inhabited a different mental universe altogether.

The best minds from whom conservatives continue to draw inspiration, ranging from Edmund Burke and Wilhelm Röpke to Augustine and Alexis de Tocqueville, have always understood that civilizational questions are the ones which ultimately matter. The genius of the West can be expressed in a number of propositions, but among the most prominent are the following: that freedom is to be found in the self-mastery that results from freely choosing to live in the truth rather than lies; that reason includes but encompasses far more than just the empirical sciences; and that in awareness of our fallen nature and the lessons of history we find some of the best defenses against our restless impulse to attempt to construct heaven-on-earth.

Yet as the French theologian Jean Daniélou S.J. once observed, there is no true civilization that is not also religious. In the case of Western civilization, that means Judaism and Christianity. The question of religious truth is something with which we must allow every person to wrestle in the depths of their conscience. But if conservatism involves upholding the heritage of the West against those who would tear it down (whether from without and within), then conservatives should follow the lead of European intellectuals such as Rémi Brague and Joseph Ratzinger and invest far more energy in elucidating Christianity’s pivotal role in the West’s development—including the often complicated ways in which it responded to, and continues to interact, with the movements associated with the various Enlightenments.

Such an enterprise goes beyond demonstrating Christianity’s contribution to institutional frameworks such as constitutional government. Conservatives must be more attentive to how Judaism and Christianity—or at least their orthodox versions—helped foster key ideas that underlie the distinctiveness of Western culture. These include:

  • their liberation of man from the sense that the world was ultimately meaningless;
  • their underscoring of human fallibility and consequent anti-utopianism;
  • their affirmation that man is made to be creative rather than passive;
  • their insistence that there are moral absolutes that may never be violated,
  • their tremendous respect for human reason in all its fullness;
  • their crucial distinction between religious and civil authority; and
  • their conviction that human beings can make free choices.

This last point is especially important precisely because of the difficulty of finding strong affirmations of the reality of free choice outside orthodox Judaism, orthodox Christianity, and certain schools of natural law thought. Beyond these spheres, the world is basically made up of soft determinists (like John Stuart Mill) or hard determinists (like Marx).

There is, however, something more elemental of which modern conservatism stands in desperate need. In the first episode of his acclaimed 1969 BBC series Civilisation, the art historian, the late Kenneth Clark, sat in the foreground of an old viaduct and spoke about the Romans’ “confidence.” By that, he didn’t mean arrogance. What Clark had in mind was the Romans’ self-belief: their conviction that the ideas and institutions which they had inherited, developed, and extended throughout Europe and the Mediterranean amounted to a singular cultural accomplishment worthy of emulation.

Obviously the Roman world was far from perfect. As illustrated in the novel Satyricon, most likely written by the Roman courtier Gaius Petronius Arbiter during Nero’s disastrous reign, substantive decay had already set in among Rome’s elites by the first century A.D. What, however, seems difficult to dispute is the need for contemporary conservatives—however they prefix or suffix themselves—to develop and display a Roman-like confidence in the West’s achievements. For, absent such confidence, how will conservatives be able to re-infuse self-belief back into a West presently awash in soft despotism, nihilism, emotivism, and rampant self-loathing?

“Civilizations,” wrote the historian Arnold Toynbee, “die from suicide, not from murder.” Preventing the West from continuing to drift toward self-oblivion is surely a task—nay, a duty—of any principled conservative worthy of the name. In fact, as Margaret Thatcher was fond of saying, there is no alternative.

Read the entire article on the Intercollegiate Review website (new window will open).

Date posted: September 10, 2013

Orthodox Christian Spirituality and Cognitive Psychotherapy: An Online Course Part 4

4.0 Clinical Vignettes

4.1 Clinical Vignette - Laying Down the Structural Foundation

Imagine a 31 year-old unmarried female, currently living with her parents and suffering financial difficulty. She relates her presenting complaint to the clinician as follows: "I am miserable. My living situation is becoming totally unbearable. There is constant turmoil between my parents and I usually end up being put in the middle of it. I have so many troubles of my own that I can't deal with life. I don't handle stress well anyway, and I have plenty of that with school and my "toxic" family. I have no money and no income, and therefore no way of moving out. I'm in school trying to create a career that will fit with my physical capacity. I just can't seem to find a job I'm qualified for that doesn't involve lifting, prolonged standing, or prolonged sitting. I have pinched nerves in my lower back as well as spinal arthritis. I just feel completely overwhelmed because I have no escape from either school stress or turmoil at home. To top it off, I'm having some trouble with my relationship with God."

Where would a clinician begin? First, the clinician would perform psychometric assessment such as the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), Suicidal Ideation Scale (SIS), Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI), and Novaco Anger Scale NAS to establish a baseline current and future reference. For this patient, her scores for the BDI are in the clinical depression range and clinical anxiety range of the BAI.

Psychotherapeutic Objectives consisted in helping the patient accept that her cognitive interpretations of life events were actively triggering her emotional reactions. Furthermore, a series of interlocking scenarios were preventing her from considering other choices. Helping her restructuring her distorted perceptions could lead to more functional emotional reactions and realistic choices, which would likely establish functional behavior. Her treatment also included a program of bibliotherapy, focusing on the reading of D. Burns's Feeling Good.

As her treatment progressed, she began to note favorable changes in her perception and behavior as exemplified in the following quote: "Things on the home front are going okay for now: no major blow-ups. I'm still working on what to do about my financial situation, as well as the addressing with my past school transcripts."

The patient, being very religious, wanted her life centered on God. At the same time she was dealing with the previously discussed issues, she was troubled with her current relationship with God. Psychospiritual clinical interventions would provide her with the necessary steps to address this problem and she could begin using her spiritual commitment to enhance her Cognitive-behavioral treatment.

Clinically, one of my responses to her was: "I am happy about the lack of "blowups." As children of God, can decide to bring peace to those around us. One way is to make a conviction that no matter what anyone around us says or does, we say to ourselves: "I will not get angry." I reminded her of what St Seraphim of Sarov said: "Acquire the spirit of peace and a thousand souls will be saved around you, for this is truly the peace of Christ, which you can immediately bring into your family."

4.2 Clinical Vignette – Treatment Plan

Crisis Issues


  • Rule out harm to self or others


  • Complete all necessary assessments
  • Obtain medical and psychiatric consultations as needed

Beginning Phase


  • Establish therapeutic relationship
  • Provide bibliotherapy


  • Normalize treatment process
  • Begin reading assignments
  • Educate about psychospiritual issues

Middle Phase


  • Reduce negative symptoms
  • Enhance spiritual meaning with self/family
  • Strengthen relationship with God


  • Explore dysfunctional passions
  • Use Christian verses to challenge cognitive distortions
  • Process cognitive distortions
  • Strengthen sense of spiritual self
  • Strengthen relationship with family
  • Process psychospirutual connection with God
  • Address and process spiritual meaning of life enjoyment

Ending Phase


  • Prepare for termination
  • Model a healthy goodbye


  • Explore and process feelings related to termination
  • Extend visits as necessary
  • Leave option open for future treatment

4.3 Clinical Vignette – Psychospiritual Focus

The patient made a profound statement typifying her challenge in the spiritual domain:

"Father, I'm having some trouble with my relationship with God. I'm mostly having trouble reconciling these three things: First, that God loves me, second, that Christ defeated the power of sin and death, and third, that we cannot know if we will be saved in the end. Despite all our best efforts to serve God, He may very well label me a goat and send me to hell at the Judgment."

Her struggle was deep and profound. We began addressing the fact that God loves her. I reminded her that Jesus revealed to us so much more about God: "God is Love" He said. The three persons of the blessed Trinity relate together in Love. Jesus came to this world to save sinners. He wants all to love God. He wants all to love each other as He has loved us. He is the Good Shepherd. He is the one who forgave the adulterous woman. He is the one who called the children to Him. He is the one who cured, healed and forgave sin. He is the one who gave us the parable of the Prodigal Son. I invited her to process the following: "If you think of it, it is only to the unrepentant hypocrites He chastises. Yet a repentant Pharisee: Joseph of Aramithea became a saint. Remember that he was one of the greatest Pharisees and persecutors of Christians. Saul became Paul, one of the greatest of all saints. I reminded her: "Be a spiritual child, strengthen your trust in God, and say the greatest prayer of all. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner." Act as St. Gregory Palamas did when he trusted God, not in presumption of salvation, but in trust of a merciful Lord.

My psychospiritual interventions could be summarized in the teaching that Jesus gave to His Church and passed down to us from the Apostles and Church Fathers. We can summarize these as follows:

If we go to confession and sincerely confess our sins, desire not to sin again and then receive the prayer of absolution, we are guaranteed forgiveness and salvation. We are reminded of this in the prayer I invoke: "May Our Lord Jesus Christ forgive you your sins and transgressions, and I, an unworthy priest, absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." This is one of Christ's great gifts to His Church, one of the "pearls of great price." This is a great assurance to every Christian. Even if we remember immediately after confession and absolution a specific sin we forgot to mention, it does not matter to Jesus. He has forgiven us by the priest, His unworthy instrument. He honors His warranties to us!

There is no doubt that at times, God has been portrayed as an angry God. I remember in my school days a poem by Jonathan Edwards "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." Many church fathers have pointed out that our God revealed Himself to mankind in specific ways at different times. In the Old Testament, His wrath could be devastating, but even Lot could negotiate with God to find a single righteous man to assuage His anger. It can be said that in the early history of mankind when punishment was the main controller of behavior, God's anger could be mitigated by love and mercy.

Interwoven in the psychospiritual treatment were conventional Cognitive-Behavioral interventions, including thought stopping, picking a specific time to review thoughts and asking and reviewing other ways of "perceiving or looking" at them.

As a reminder of the work we did together, I asked this patient to consider the following in a letter I wrote:

Glory to Jesus Christ! I want to follow up on three more items you're your consideration. Yesterday, we talked about how to overcome your anxiety. Now, I would like you to consider how to be in Our Lord's bosom:

  1. We must be spiritual children with complete trust in God, just as a child has complete confidence in their parent. We have to give ourselves over to Our Lord in complete trust. "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. "Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Mat 18)
  2. Our Father feed us. St. Luke in Chapter 12 (24-32) tells is what Our Lord said: "Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more valuable are you than the birds! And which of you, by being anxious, can add a cubit to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest?
  3. Consider the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass which is alive in the field today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O men of little faith!
  4. And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be of anxious mind. For all the nations of the world seek these things; and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things shall be yours as well. "Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
  5. How much is it the "Father's good pleasure to give us the kingdom of heaven?" Consider, the statement made by the "good thief" next to Jesus on the cross: just a simple acknowledgment of his unworthiness. He is the only person canonized a saint by Jesus Himself. Consider how little he said and Jesus' response to him: "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." And the "good thief" said to Jesus: "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." And Jesus said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23: 40-43).

So child-like spiritual trust and complete abandonment to God's will vanquishes anxiety, go in peace, faith, trust, hope and love.

In Christ, his unworthy priest,

Fr. George

4.4 Conclusion

In summary we can note that the believing Christian clinician need not be limited merely to scientifically supported treatment models. Our own surety in the vivifying power of God's grace coupled with the sincere faith, prayer and sacramental incorporation into the Body of Christ and His Church can be of great aid in healing of the patient suffering from dysfunctional emotions and family problems. (Morelli, 1987, 1988, 1997; Muse, 1997) It should be noted that the scientific community has recently become more receptive to the healing potential of faith systems (e.g. Benson, 1975). In DSM IV this is listed under "Ethnic and Cultural Considerations". Clinicians are instructed to consider "belief, or experience that are particular to the individual's culture" in diagnosis and treatment. This allows non-Christian clinicians to use their patient's conviction system both for understanding and treatment. More importantly, it allows the Christian clinician to actively incorporate the patient's spirituality in the healing process. The patient's knowledge that his or her clinician shares his or her spiritual orientation as well as a willingness to use prayer can be a powerful therapeutic tool.

In one clinical situation, right before ending a therapy session with one patient, I said: "G, please pray for me." He said to me "Father, I have never had a priest ask me to pray for him before. Why do you need prayer?" I replied: "G, all of us are in need of God's help. We are all struggling with our own problems and need salvation." He frequently made reference to this exchange in subsequent sessions. Apparently, it helped him focus even more on the spiritual dimension of treatment.

Beginning in 1994, DSM IV, (APA, 1994) has adopted a code for the treatment of spiritual and religious problems. As clinicians, learn about the laws of neuropsychological and emotional functioning through continuing scientific research, the Christian clinician can view this as fulfilling the charge God gave when He created us in His image. He gave us the responsibility to use our intellect to have dominion over the world, (Gen 1:28). In this way, body, mind and spirit as a unit are used to become closer toward God. (St. Maximus the Confessor).

Date posted: September 1, 2013

Self Honesty

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

If I were to write a Chaplain's Corner article on humility, I would think that it would not be well received by some. Humility is not exactly a virtue held in high esteem by secular society. Sometimes however an article with a different title but with similar content might capture the interest of the reader. Some months ago I wrote a Chaplain's Corner article with a catchy title: The Arrogance of Power, The Power of Humility, that was well received. Self Honesty, the title of this article, might induce the reader to consider another aspect of humility, self honesty, more thoroughly understand what humility is and be able to apply it to their lives as well.

Humility has not gone unrecognized by contemporary psychological research which findings suggest that humility is multidimensional. The critical factors making up humility include, self understanding, awareness, openness and the ability to see things from different perspectivesi. Thus the title of this short reflection, Self Honesty, is a good summary of these dimensions. Various religious and philosophical traditions have described these elements as well. From the Hindu tradition Mahatma Gandhi once remarked: "It is unwise to be too sure of one's own wisdom. It is healthy to be reminded that the strongest might weaken and the wisest might err." Elsewhere he pointed out, "To believe in something, and not to live it, is dishonest."ii

The Hebrew Prophet Jeremiah notes our lives should be include self-understanding that will lead us to Godliness. This is especially applicable after suffering grave life tribulations. In his pathetical lamentations on the miseries of the Jewish people following the destruction of Jerusalem and its great temple (587 BC) he writes: "Let us search our ways, and seek, and return to the Lord."(Lam 3: 40) Humility, that is to say true self honesty about oneself can be likened to having acquired an education of great value. This is noted by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn when he writes: "An ill-educated person behaves with arrogant impatience, whereas truly profound education breeds humility."iii

In the tradition of the Eastern Church attaining honest self-knowledge requires discernment. St. Peter of Damaskos writes: "we need discrimination in all things if we are to know how to act ..." A very effective way to get truthful assessment about oneself is to get feedback from an experienced psycho-spiritual mentor (aka: elder, spiritual father/mother). St. Peter reminds us of the words of St. Antony the Great: "we should seek counsel about everything; and we should consult not just anyone, but those who have the grace of discrimination; for if the person we consult lacks experience, we may both fall into the ditch..."iv


i Nielsen, R., Marrone, J. A., & Slay, H. S. (2010). A new look at humility: Exploring the humility concept and its role in socialized charismatic leadership. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 17, 33-43.



iv Philokalia: The Complete Text (Vol. I-IV) (1983-1993) Sherrard, P., Palmer, H.E., & Ware, K. (translators). Winchester, MA: Faber & Faber.

Date posted: September 1, 2013

Smart Parenting XXII. Applying Christ’s Beatitudes to Parenting

Blessed Are They That Suffer Persecution for Justice's Sake

And all that will live godly in Christ Jesus, shall suffer persecution. (2Tm 3:12)

Icon of the Creation

Icon of the Creation

Persecution has existed since the origin of the disorder, the brokenness, now so evident in the world. God created the world good, and man was made for paradise. We know this from God's inspired revelation to Moses: "And the Lord God had planted a paradise of pleasure from the beginning: wherein he placed man whom he had formed." (Gen 2: 8) It must be realized that disorder is not intrinsic to creation; the world can be seen as good despite the brokenness that exists within it. Moses tells us in Genesis (1: 31) that what God created was good: "And God saw all the things that He had made, and they were very good. And the evening and morning were the sixth day." (Again, if disorder was intrinsic to creation, disorder would be natural to the created order and the categories of good and evil could not apply.) Furthermore, as Moses tells us of mankind: "And the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth: and breathed into his face the breath of life, and man became a living soul." Gen 2: 7) However, although created from the dust and slime of the earth, mankind is a mirror of the Divinity Himself. As Moses once again informs us: "And God created man to His own image: to the image of God He created him: male and female He created them. (Gen 1: 27); Thus, the creation of the God who is good and creates only good things, was also deemed good.

Persecution as told to us in the Old Testament

Our ancestral parents follow the lead of the evil one

The fall of our ancestral parents

The Fall of our Ancestral Parents

God gave a single command to our ancestral parents. As told in Genesis (2: 16-17): "And He commanded him, saying: Of every tree of paradise thou shalt eat: "But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat. For in what day soever thou shalt eat of it, thou shalt die the death."" However, out of pride they chose not to follow God, but to follow the lead of the evil one. St. John the Evangelist tells us that, "He that committeth sin is of the devil: for the devil sinneth from the beginning." 1Jn 3:8). Of this sin of the evil one St. Philotheos of Sinai says: ". . .an angel who, in exalting himself [pride], fell like lightening from heaven. Thus his pride was reckoned by God as impurity." (Philokalia III, p.19). St. Gregory Palamas continues this understanding of pride as the cause of breaking with God and disobedience when he says: "The noetic serpent, the author of evil ... desired in his arrogance to become like the Creator in authority. . . ." (Philokalia IV, p. 364 ). St. Gregory goes on to connect this to the spiritual meaning of the fall of our ancestral parents. "The ancestors of our race willfully desisted from mindfulness and contemplation of God. They disregarded His commandment, made themselves of one mind with the dead spirit of [Satan] and contrary to the Creator's will, ate of the forbidden tree." (Philokalia IV, p 367). St. Maximus the Confessor puts it this way: "As man I deliberately transgressed the divine commandment, when the devil, enticing me with the hope of divinity (cf. Gen. 3:5), dragged me down from my natural stability into the realm of sensual pleasure; . . ." (Philokalia II, p. 167) St. John Climacus [of the Ladder] (1991) writes, with great precision, "Pride is denial of God, an invention of the devil, the despising of men the mother of condemnation. . . the cause of falls. . . ." (p. 138) He then tells us" Where a fall has overtaken us, there pride has already pitched its tent: because a fall is an indication of pride." (p. 139).

The first persecution

Cain slaying Abel

Cain slaying Abel

Not only were our ancestral parents broken and subject to sin and death, but the first persecution of someone devoted to God was perpetrated by one of their own offspring. As Moses recounts: "And Adam knew Eve his wife: who conceived and brought forth Cain, saying: I have gotten a man through God. And again she brought forth his brother Abel. And Abel was a shepherd, and Cain a husbandman." (Gen 4: 1-2). When grown up, both sons offered gifts to God. As we read in Genesis: "Abel also offered of the firstlings of his flock, and of their fat: and the Lord had respect to Abel, and to his offerings." (4: 4) Abel gave his gift out of heartfelt devotion, thus his gift was accepted. However, to apply the words of St. Philotheos of Sinai to Cain's gift, it "was reckoned by God as impurity." "But to Cain and his offerings he had no respect: and Cain was exceedingly angry, and his countenance fell. And Cain said to Abel his brother: Let us go forth abroad. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and slew him." (4: 5,8).

The Persecution of Joseph, the Prototype of Jesus

Although speaking about Moses, the following passage of St. Paul would apply, as Breck (2001) points out, to all the Old Testament Patriarchs who are pre-figures of Christ. "And did all eat the same spiritual food, And all drank the same spiritual drink; (and they drank of the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ.)." (1Cor 10: 3-4). Joseph, the son of Jacob, is a quintessential pre-figure of Christ. Christ's death and resurrection fulfills the proleptic historical events of Joseph's life. He is so important that the last twenty chapters of the Book of Genesis (30-50) recount his story. It should be emphasized, as Fr. John (Breck) writes, that what is most important is not the veridicality of the actual Scriptural narratives, be they the actual historical events or parabolic symbols (which may be myths), but that "they exist in the divinely inspired religious consciousness of the people of God, they convey revealed truth and serve God's purpose." (p. 26). Also to be noted, and very important for the Apostolic Churches, is that this was also the spiritual exegetical ethos of the Church Fathers in their Scriptural interpretation, in contrast to an understanding of scripture as either literal or mere metaphor held by many reform ecclesial communities. Such is the work of the Holy Spirit, as is St. Paul's.. "Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmity. For we know not what we should pray for as we ought; but the Spirit himself asketh for us with unspeakable groanings." (8:26) Fr. John Breck goes on to explain that: "This implies that the primary sense of Scripture is not the literal or historical sense, but rather what tradition calls the spiritual or transcendent sense, the sensus plenior." (p. 80).

The Story of Joseph

The Story of Joseph

Joseph was the first prefigure of Christ. As we read in the Synaxarion of the Monday Bridegroom Service of Holy Week, "On this begins the anniversary of the holy Passion of the Savior, he of whom Joseph of exceeding beauty is taken as the earliest symbol." (Rahal, 2006). Joseph was also a symbol of broken and persecuted mankind. In his early years he displayed pride and sinful arrogance. He told his brothers of a dream he had: "we were binding sheaves . . . and my sheaf arose . . . and your sheaves standing about bowed down before my sheaf." (Gen 37: 7). In another dream, he told his brothers that he saw himself as the sun and they the "moon and eleven stars worshipping me." (Gen 37: 9). Joseph's father, Jacob [Israel], loved him more than his other sons. As we read in Genesis: "Now Israel loved Joseph above all his other sons, because he had him in his old age; and he made him a coat of diverse colors." (37: 3). We see brokenness among the brothers themselves: envy and anger at Joseph's favorable treatment and because of his aggrandizing dreams. What happens next is beautifully and succinctly summarized by the psalmist:

He sent a man before them: Joseph, who was sold for a slave. They humbled his feet in fetters: the iron pierced his soul, until his word came. The word of the Lord inflamed him. The king sent, and he released him: the ruler of the people, and he set him at liberty. He made him master of his house, and ruler of all his possession. That he might instruct his princes as himself, and teach his ancients wisdom. (Ps 104: 17-22).

His continuing trust in God during his years of slavery and persecutions allowed him to respond to God's grace and receive favor. Thus he typifies mankind and serves as an exemplar of how we can respond to our own brokenness and any persecution we encounter.

Prophet Elias being fed by God's raven after persecution

Prophet Elias being fed by
God's raven after persecution

here were many other victims of persecution for righteousness sake in the Old Covenant. After the account of Joseph, we may think of Lot, of whom St. Peter writes that God "delivered just Lot, oppressed by the injustice and lewd conversation of the wicked." (2 Pt 2:7). The Prophet Elias was threatened by the followers of Baal (3 Kg 19: 1-3). King David himself, the most important pre-figure of Christ, was faithful to God but was pursued by Saul. "And Jonathan told David, saying: Saul my father seeketh to kill thee: wherefore look to thyself, I beseech thee, in the morning, and thou shalt abide in a secret place and shalt be hid." (1Kg 19: 2).

Angel visits persecuted Prophet Jeremiah

Angel visits persecuted Prophet Jeremiah

Other Old Testament prophets of God were also persecuted, for example, the Prophet Jeremiah, who conveyed God's disapprobation against Judah for her sins saying: "they are all adulterers, an assembly of transgressors. And they have bent their tongue, as a bow, for lies, and not for truth: ... for they have proceeded from evil to evil, and Me they have not known, saith the Lord." (Jer 9: 2-3) The Prophet's message from God was not received well. We learn: "Wherefore the princes were angry with Jeremiah, and they beat him, and cast him into the prison." (Jer 37: 14).

Jesus Himself refers to the persecution of the Old Testament prophets when He tells the Pharisees: "Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; . . . . And [you] say: If we had been in the days of our Fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets Wherefore you are witnesses against yourselves, that you are the sons of them that killed the prophets (Mt 23: 29-31). Jesus applies the example of the first to be killed for righteousness to the Prophet Zacharias: "That upon you may come all the just blood that hath been shed upon the earth, from the blood of Abel the just, even unto the blood of Zacharias the son of Barachias, whom you killed between the temple and the altar." (Mt 23: 35). The story is in the Book of Chronicles: "The spirit of God then came upon Zacharias the son of Joiada the priest, and he stood in the sight of the people, and said to them: Thus saith the Lord God: Why transgress you the commandment of the Lord which will not be for your good, and have forsaken the Lord, to make him forsake you? And they gathered themselves together against him, and stoned him at the king's commandment in the court of the house of the Lord. (2Ch 24: 20-21)i

The persecuted Prophets point to the persecuted Jesus

Jesus and the Woman <br />caught in adultery confronting <br />the Pharisees

Jesus and the Woman
caught in adultery
confronting the Pharisees

Jesus, who was incarnate as the God-man, brought the righteousness of God to mankind. "Who, existing in the form of God, deemed it not a prize to be seized to be equal with God; but He emptied Himself and took the form of a slave, and came to be in the likeness of men. And having been found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient even to death—indeed, the death of a cross." (Phil. 2:6-8). The reason for Jesus' rejection by the Jewish leaders and subsequent persecution are no better told than by St. Luke (4:16-21) in the Holy Gospel itself:

And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and according to what was customary to Him, He went into the synagogue on the day of the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And there was handed over to Him the roll of [Isaiah] the prophet. And having unfolded the roll, He found the place where it was written: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, on account of which He anointed Me; He hath sent Me to preach the good tidings to the poor, to heal those who have been broken in heart, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to send forth in deliverance those who have been broken in pieces, "to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord." And after He folded up the roll, He gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were looking intently on Him. And He began to say to them, "Today this Scripture hath been fulfilled in your ears."

The Persecution of Jesus

The Persecution of Jesus

Reflect now on words of Jesus linking Himself with the Prophets of the Old Covenant: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one that killeth the prophets and stoneth those who have been sent forth to her! How often would I have gathered together thy children, in the way a hen gathereth together her brood under her wings, and ye would not!" (Lk. 13:34). For Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ preached and was an example of God's goodness and constant stand against evil. He was the incarnate "Spirit of the Lord." Jesus' response to his accusers in healing the man with the withered hand illustrates this:

And He saith to them, "Is it lawful on the sabbath days to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent. And having looked round about on them with wrath, being grieved for the hardness of their heart, He saith to the man, "Stretch forth thy hand." And he stretched it forth, and his hand was restored sound as the other. And the Pharisees were holding counsel with the Herodians against Him, how they might destroy Him. (Mk. 3:4-6).

In the Gospel read in the Holy Orthodox Church on the 5th Sunday of Lent we read Jesus recounting of the consequences of His righteousness:

And He took aside the twelve, and began to tell them the things that were about to happen to Him, saying, "Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man shall be delivered up to the chief priests and to the scribes; and they shall condemn Him to death and deliver Him up to the Gentiles. "And they shall mock Him, and scourge Him, and spit upon Him, and kill Him. And on the third day He shall raise Himself." (Mk. 10:32-34).

Jesus' forewarning to His followers to expect persecution

The persecuted followers of Christ

The persecuted followers of Christ

At Christ's priestly discourse to His Apostles at the Last Supper, He gave them a general prescription that they could expect no better treatment than He, Himself, would get. Only in their subsequent sufferings, after Pentecost, would they understand the real meaning of Our Lord's words: "For I gave you an example, that ye be doing even as I did to you. "Verily, verily, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his lord, nor a messenger [apostle] greater than the one who sent him. "If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye be doing them." (Jn 13:15-17).

In many of His discourses, Jesus had told them what to expect. Once again, at the time of Jesus instructing them, the Apostles would have had little discernment and apprehension of the existential and spiritual significance of His teachings:

  • "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves. Become therefore wise as the serpents and guileless as the doves. "But continue being on guard against men; for they will deliver you up to councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues. "And also ye shall be brought before governors and kings on account of Me, for a testimony to them and to the nations." (Mt 10:16-18)
  • "Be taking heed to yourselves: For they shall deliver you up to councils; and ye shall be beaten in their synagogues; and ye shall be made to stand before governors and kings on account of Me, for a testimony to them. "And it is needful for the Gospel first to be proclaimed to all the nations. (Mk 13:9-10)
  • "If the world hate you, ye know that it hath hated Me before it hath hated you. "If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world—but I chose you for Myself out of the world—therefore the world hateth you." (Jn. 15:18-19)
  • "If the world hate you, ye know that it hath hated Me before it hath hated you. "If ye were of the world, the world would love its own; but because ye are not of the world—but I chose you for Myself out of the world—therefore the world hateth you. "Keep on remembering the word which I said to you, 'A slave is not greater than his lord.' If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. (Jn 15:18-20)
  • "These things I have spoken to you, in order that ye should not be made to stumble. "They shall put you out of the synagogues; yea moreover, there cometh an hour that everyone who killeth you should think that he offereth God a service." (Jn 16:1-2)

In a short time after the passion, crucifixion, death, Resurrection, Ascension of Our Lord and the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and Disciples, Christ's Church, that His followers would suffer the same as their Master.

The first persecution of the New Covenant

St. Stephen the Deacon was to be the first Christian martyr,. Persecuted, he told the Sanhedrin of the sins of God's people: "Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? And they have slain them who foretold of the coming of the Just One; of whom you have been now the betrayers and murderers." (Acts 7:52).

The dire consequences for Stephen

St. Stephen, the First Martyr

St. Stephen, the First Martyr

No better words than those of St. Luke himself can describe what next happened to St. Stephen for standing up for God's righteousness. "And they crying out with a loud voice, stopped their ears, and with one accord ran violently upon him. And casting him forth without the city, they stoned him . . . Stephen, invoking, and saying: Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And falling on his knees, he cried with a loud voice, saying: Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep in the Lord." (Acts 7: 56-59).

From that day forward, in emulation of Christ Himself, to be a Christian in committed purity of heart and in union with Christ and His Church is to be persecuted. St. John of Kronstadt (2003) describes the fate of those who were true Christians:

After Christ's Resurrection and Ascension into heaven, his Faith met dreadful persecutions in the world from the Jews and pagans. Christians were sealed in wells, thrown into dungeons, crucified on crosses, given to be torn apart by beasts. They were struck by swords, drowned in rivers, raked over by iron claws, broken on the wheel; their arms or gradually all the members of their body were hacked off; they were pierced by spears, had boiling lead or oil poured over them, or lowered in boiling cauldrons, they were burned on hot frying pans or on red-hot copper grills; not to speak of the insults, taunts, bows and slaps to which the witnesses of Christ's name were subjected. (p. 89)

Persecution in the Third Millennium

Execution of martyrs at the Soviet Butovo firing range

Execution of martyrs at the
Soviet Butovo firing range

Each epoch has its own spirit and distinctiveness. Except in several areas of the world with totalitarian regimes, such as in Egypt, some Islamic countries and communist states, Christians are not under physical threat. However, where physical persecution does occur, Christians are singled out and the maltreatment is pervasive and brutal. A recent Georgetown University report notes that "Among all of those who are persecuted for their religion, Christians make up 80% as estimated by the International Society for Human Rights. Among the countries in which Christians are killed are China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Mexico, Nigeria, Colombia, Pakistan, Iraq, Vietnam, and India."ii

The subtle evil one tempting us with 'immediate sense experience'

The subtle evil one
tempting us with
"immediate sense

In other areas of the world, persecution of Orthodox Christians has become much more indirect and subtle, but it is so strong that it can be compared to a brainwashing technique. It involves psychological, religious and social pressure - forced indoctrination into a new set of attitudes and beliefs that conform to secular society. In the mid- twentieth century, C.S. Lewis (1961) understood how such work of the evil one would be attempted. Lewis writes under the guise of how a senior devil should instruct a novice devil:

. . . think of doctrines as . . . "academic" or "practical," "outworn" or "contemporary", "conventional" or "ruthless." Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don't waste time trying to make him [the person being tempted] think materialism is true! Make him think it is strong or stark or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future . . . . Your business is to fix his attention on the stream of immediate sense experience. Teach him to call it real life and don't let him ask what he means by "real." (p. 8)

Escaping Persecution: Conforming to the world

A so called 'christian<br /> marriage' of two<br /> females

A so called
'christian marriage' of two

Exemption from persecution in today's world can be predicted for those who are conformed to the world, and immunity would be likely for those who are merely ethnic, my-way, nominal or secular 'Christians.' In today's world, avoiding persecution would be easy to envision. It would be for those who justify or rationalize abortion. Such pseudo-Christians euphemistically label abortions as the 'right to choose,' but, in reality, true Christians know that a civil rights claim to a 'right' to abortion is actually a proclamation of a 'right to murder.' Likewise, support of capital punishment is endorsement of 'murder by the state.' Condoning pre-marital sex and same sex marriage (once again euphemistically labeled civil rights and/or self-fulfillment) is sanctioning control, power, and self-centeredness in contrast to promoting self sacrificing, self-giving, procreative love in emulation of God's love and its outpouring in creation (Morelli, 2008) and as blessed by God.

Those who proclaim 'one church is as good as another,' in contrast to those who know they must be and remain united to Christ's one true Church, are deceived by manmade propaganda. (Morelli, 2010b)

Female 'priestesses'

Female 'priestesses'

That same propaganda in today's society that completely misunderstands the Divinity of God, promotes tacit or, God forbid, active support for woman's ordination to the Holy Priesthood, by 'inoffensively' calling it "just fair." This fails to recognize that Christ became incarnate, became human as of the male sex and called His Father: "Father" (Mt. 6: 9) and Himself, Son (Jn 5: 20). Thus, although there is no sex in the Divinity in itself, in terms of the Incarnation, by His adopting the flesh of mankind as a male, thus the only proper icon of Christ, as a priest, is one of mankind who is of the male sex. In a book on Spiritual Counsels with the very apt subtitle With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man, Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (2011, p. 34) comments: "Today, if one wants to live honestly and spiritually he will have a hard time fitting into the world . . . he will be swept downhill by the secular stream." We will have more than a hard time; we will be "persecuted."

Pressure to ignore what is orthodox

Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev


Even among those who call themselves Christian there is are wide differences in dogma as well as in moral issues. Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev (2002) notes:

In our day there is a widely held view that religious dogmas are not compulsory but secondary: . . . they are no longer vital for Christians . . . theological issues are often neglected. The dissociation of dogma and morality, however, contradicts the very nature of religious life, which presupposes that faith should always be confirmed by deeds, and vice versa.

Certainly it is not religiously or politically correct to talk about heresy in today's secular- relativistic world. However, Metropolitan Hilarion does discuss heresy. The word 'heresy' is derived from the Greek word hariesis, which signifies 'taking out' or 'selection.' "Heresies are separated from the 'context of [Orthodox] Church teaching and opposed to it." In a recent homily I gave at my parish I put it this way: "Now some so called "Christian groups" preach and teach what is "man-made," or omit what a man or woman wants omitted and call it "Christian." Rather, to be connected to the Church means that we remain:

...immersed in the mind of the Christ and His Church: receiving the Holy Mysteries; knowing the teachings of the Holy Scriptures as the Holy Spirit-inspired Church contemplates them; living the spiritual teachings of our Church Fathers; integrating the liturgy, the cycles of the church year, the hours of the day into our life; using icons as a window to experience God; understanding of the temple building as a ship leading us to paradise; catechesis means a life of prayer. (Morelli, 2010b)

Holy Tradition and the Apostolic Churches

Unity with Christ and His Church

Unity with Christ
and His Church

At Pentecost, Christ gave His Apostles and their descendents, the bishops and priests of the now Apostolic Churches,iii the Holy Spirit. Orthodox Christians recall Christ's warning as told to us by St. Matthew (7: 15): "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in the clothing of sheep, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." St Paul tells us: "For such false apostles are deceitful workmen, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ." (2Cor 11:13).

Metropolitan Hierotheos explains genuine Tradition this way:

According to St. Ireneos, the Apostolic Tradition constitutes the only guarantee of the divine Revelation. This Apostolic Tradition comprises the Church and all that comes to be and exists in the Church, that is to say, the Clergy, the Bishops, the Presbyters, the right faith, the gifts of grace of the Holy Spirit, the ecclesiastical order and organization and the genuine church gatherings for worship, and all the elements which are contained in the local apostolic Churches ... Orthodoxy is the right faith of the Church. And for this reason the Church and Orthodoxy are closely united. (1998, p. 80)

The Orthodox Church does not declare traditional teaching as dogma until its "orthodoxy" is challenged. This occurs when a heresy is recognized and proclaimed as such. A case in point would be the ordination of women to the priesthood, as referred to above, that would lead Orthodox theologian Fr. Alexander Schmemann (1973) to say: "For the Orthodox Church has never faced this question, it is for us totally extrinsic, a casus irrealis for which we find no basis . . . ." For this reason, the male character of the priesthood has never been dogmatized, but fully witnessed in Church Tradition and practice. However, for maintaining firm such firm adherence to the teachings of Christ and His Body the Church, true, "right-thinking" Christians are being persecuted in the Third Millennium.

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain comments (2011): "People are in such a state today that they do whatever comes to their mind. . .they have turned sin into a fashion." The Orthodox Church is the one true Church. Some Apostolic Churches come close, some reform groups depart very far. Now consider our Lord's admonition: "No man putting his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God." (Lk 9: 62) The "plough" is the Apostolic Churches. The "looking back" Is the ecclesial groups that condone relativism, or God forbid ideas like: 'I don't need the Church,' I can talk to God alone.'

In this regard, it is important to recall Christ's rebuke: "And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall be required." (Lk 12: 48). I am not speaking, therefore, to those who have never been blessed with the fullness of Christ and His Apostolic Church. For example, I am not referring to Protestants, members of other religious groups, or even agnostics, atheists or pagans who have never had the blessing of being exposed to the fullness of the teachings of Christ and His Orthodox Church. By turning back from the plough I am referring to those who have reverted from the Apostolic Churches to some manmade group or ideology.

What is required of us is fidelity and commitment to the true, genuine Church of Christ —not to some manmade group no matter what they call themselves or how many books they carry around or quote from, even a book they call "The Bible." In this regard, we can think of the Evil One tempting Jesus in the desert, quoting Sacred Scripture: "And the tempter coming said to Him... said: It is written,[c.f. Dt 8: 3] Not in bread alone doth man live, but in every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God." (Mt 34: 34).

Christian wisdom from the mouth of a pagan

Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (2011) tells a story of a student who "was seeking the truth about religions." An Indian Hindu holy man asked him: "Why did you come here? What you seek is found in Orthodoxy." The Elder's advice: "One must come to know Orthodoxy first . . . properly learn what Orthodoxy is... He won't be easily fooled into thinking that all that glitters is gold . . .I have noticed that only an egotistical person will leave Orthodoxy once he has learned it: a humble person never leaves." Only humility can conquer egoism. As St. Isaac of Syria (Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 2011) tells us: "Humility is the raiment of the Godhead."

Unmasking the ways of the gods of the Third Millennium

The Method of Modern Persecution: Psychological Warfare (PSYOPS)



More fundamental even that persecution on account of firm adherence to the teachings of the Church is the contemporary threat to the totality of the person: mind, spirit and soul. It can be known under the acronym: PSYOPS, from the military term for psychological operations intended to deceive targeted groups or individuals.

Psychological Warfare, whose meaning can be extended to psychological-spiritual warfare, has been used throughout history.iv In modern times, psychological operations and perception management has reached great scientific and technical sophistication. (Department of Defense (DOD), 1993, Garrison, 1999). Originally intended to influence enemy combatants, it is obvious that PSYOPS is equally effective to shape domestic public opinion. The following summary of the official DOD definitions serves as a working outline of psychological warfare and perception management:



The planned use of selected information, indicators, propaganda and other psychological actions to influence audiences, including leaders at all levels to authority . . . emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of government, organizations, groups, and individuals in such a way as to support the achievement of the originators objectives. Perception management may combine elements of truth, cover and deception.

Psychological underpinning of PSYOPS: The Conformity and Obedience Studies

The Conformity Studies

Social Conformity

Social Psychologists have long known the effects of social pressure on conformity and obedience. In the 1950's, a series of seminal studies were performed by Solomon Asch (1951, 1955, 1956) to investigate factors influencing conformity. Conformity is defined as the real or imagined influence of others on an individual's decision-making. The prototypic experiment has the real subject among confederates (fake subjects) first shown a vertical line of a specific length. All subjects are asked to judge the length of the line imbedded among false alternatives, with the real subject answering last or first.v Depending on how the research data are interpreted, the results show support for the influence of others to induce conformity and/or demonstrate the power of independence (Friend, Rafferty & Bramel 1990). In a nutshell, across the studies, average conformity rate occurred on 37% of the trials. However, about 1/4 of the subjects never conformed. Ash concluded that group size and group unanimity were factors that influenced the individuals' choices. When group size is low, little conformity occurs; when group size was larger, most conformity occurred. However, in the experimental conditions, group size above seven had no effect on rate of conformity. Most importantly, if unanimous agreement was broken even by one objector conformity was greatly attenuated.

The Obedience Studies

Smart Parenti XXII

If individuals in society - composed of militant secularists, anti-Christians or pseudo-Christians - are perceived to be more knowledgeable and have greater expertise than those around them, they are likely to have more authority and be obeyed even to the extent of violating one's moral (Christian) values. Stanley Milgram (1963, 1974) initiated a series of psychological studies relevant to this.. He suggests two possible explanations for his findings "that under pressure [aka persecution] from those in authority, subjects will obey even to the point of harming others, and even if their actions can eventually devolve into criminality." (Morelli, 2010a). Alternatively according to agential theory, the obedient subject, under pressure, merely considers himself an instrument or agent of the experimenter, and forecloses on his responsibility, producing a new reality of 'intra-acting' phenomena composed of authority figure and non-resistant subject. Personal accountability is attenuated (Schweiker, 1995) and transferred to this new 'onto-ethico-epistemological reality.'

Badhwar (2009) proposed another possible explanation for succumbing to the pressure of authority, which I am labeling a form of psychological 'persecution.' The obedient subjects who are violating their values may be in a state of learned helplessness (Seligman, 1975). That is to say, after learning that they have no control over the situation, subjects respond by lack of assertiveness, passivity and compliance to the experimenter's instructions, thereby also abdicating responsibility.

A contemporary egregious example of persecution by obedience to authority

Professor Linda Brunton

Professor Linda Brunton

A very disturbing incident of the abuse of authority and the demanding of obedience by students on a Tennessee college campus to values contrary to Christ and His Church was recently Psychology Professor Linda Brunton ordered her students to openly and publically support gay and lesbian issues.

The article said she "told her students that persons opposed to gay marriage are uneducated bigots who attack homosexuals with hate. She furthermore demanded that her students in a general psychology course wear Rainbow Coalition ribbons for one day as a method of promoting the advancement of gay and lesbian political issues." This persecutory action was not a 'psychology experiment,' it was perpetrated by a real authority figure on real students at a real university. The report went on to say:

It is also claimed that the professor gave the students an assignment in which they had to tell how they suffered discrimination due to their support of gay and lesbian rights. When students told her that they couldn't do such an assignment due to their religious convictions, she told them personal opinions didn't matter. She allegedly told her students that it is her job to educate the ignorant and uneducated elements of society.

Cultivating Resistance to Persecution - The Psycho-Spiritual Element

St. Dorotheos of Gaza

St. Dorotheos
of Gaza

It behooves the committed Christian, therefore, to take responsibility for developing "resistance to conformity and secular-worldly obedience" and thus decreasing potential acquiescence to PSYOPS style persecution of the orthodox teaching of Christ and His Church. To this end, the understanding of Friend, et. al. (1990) in the conformity studies described above is hopeful. We are inclined to sin by our passions, the brokenness we have inherited from our ancestral first parents. (Morelli, 2006) St. Dorotheos wrote: "(Our passions) are . . . those innate tendencies which lead us to evil. (Wheeler, 1977 p. 80). Likewise, we are psychologically vulnerable, inclined and thus susceptible to be conformed to the world by political, religious and social pressure (i.e., persecution). However, resistance can be cultivated by being exposed to, or even more importantly being part of, a community strenuously opposed to un-Christly secular values.

Icon Corner in the Domestic Church

Icon Corner in the Domestic Church

This community ideally should start with the family, also known as the little Church in the home, the Domestic Church (Morelli, 2009a, 2009b). There should be no disconnect between the daily life in the domestic church and the Mind of Christ and His Church. Morelli (2009a) gives very specific examples of how this should be accomplished. These exemplars are extensively outlined in the Endnote below.vii This is strengthened being an involved member of a vibrant, strongly committed, true Church of Christ. Such exposure should proceed on to the parish level, to being actively involved with spiritual and charity-oriented groups within parishes, then extending this participation to the diocese, archdiocese, patriarchate and, ultimately, the universal Church. In doing this we can work to acquire a Christ-like virtue of the "power of independence."

Interacting Factors in Modeling

Interacting Factors in Modeling

In developing a resistance to conformity that leads to independence, it is also important to keep in mind the one of the important factors Bandura (1977, 1986) found regarding modeling efficacy. As I point out in a previous paper (Morelli, 2011), these elements are:

The amount and quality of attention to characteristics of the model such as: salience (e.g., attractiveness, competence; prestige, similarity to the observer); the affective valence of the model, that is to say whether strong or weak emotions are aroused by it; its functional value and prevalence as well as the attention characteristics of the observer: e.g., their perceptual cognitive capability, cognitive set (thought patterns) and arousal level at the time.

Applying Bandura's factors to resisting and fighting back persecution means that Christians should present themselves as appealing, likeable, knowledgeable, taking on church and community leadership and at the same time being seen as not unlike those around them. For example, at the parish where I have been assigned these past 13 years, St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church in San Diego, we have Graduation Sunday in June at which graduates are honored, as are the leaders in the church community who have enabled their achievements. Parishioners of all ages hear the accomplishments of those around them, seemingly quite similar to themselves, and this has an efficacious modeling effect. Particularly effective models are Christians who have not only been active in Church attendance and ministry, and who have at the same time graduated with many with honors, particularly those in the demanding fields of law, medicine and the sciences.

The strength of Christ: The ultimate armor for resisting persecution

St. Philotheos of Sinai (Philokalia III, p. 31) tells us: "None of the painful things that happen to us every day will injure or distress us once we perceive and continually meditate on their purpose." St. Peter (2Pt 1: 4) puts it this way: " that by these [a life of Godliness] you may be made partakers of the divine nature." St. Maximus the Confessor pinpoints for us exactly what this purpose is:

. . . he [us] knows only one pleasure, the marriage of the soul with the Logos [the Word of God-Christ]. To be deprived of this marriage is endless torment... Thus when he left the body and all that pertains to it, he is impelled towards union with the divine; for even if he were to be master of the whole world, he would still recognize only one real disaster: failure to attain by grace the deification for which he is hoping. (Philokalia II, p. 297)

Defend us in battle

Defend us in battle

Thus, having Christ at the apex of our life's vision is the ultimate armor to withstand the assaults of modern day persecution. This means that we are fully integrated into his Body on Earth: His Church. St Paul tells us in Colossians (1:18) that Christ's Body on earth is His Church: "And He is the head of the ody, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things He may hold the primacy." In this spirit, we are guided in all things we do or encounter by his further words: "For as the body is one, and hath many members; and all the members of the body, whereas they are many, yet are one body, so also is Christ." (1Cor 12:12)

Thus we live our lives as heroic soldiers of Christ. I cannot summarize this better than by the words of St. Paul to St. Timothy:

Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace which is in Christ Jesus: And the things which thou hast heard of me by many witnesses, the same commend to faithful men, who shall be fit to teach others also. Labor as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No man, being a soldier to God, entangleth himself with secular businesses; that he may please him to whom he hath engaged himself. For he also that striveth for the mastery, is not crowned, except he strive lawfully. (2Tim 2: 1-5)

"And we know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints." (Rm 8: 28)

Date posted: August 1, 2013

Renewed Possibilities for the Apostolic Churches

SSJC-WRi President's Message 2013 Spring

A number of historically momentous events among the Apostolic Churches have occurred since the last Light of the East President's message. First and foremost were the papal resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, the first pontiff to resign since Pope Gregory XII during the Middle Ages (1415 AD, to put an end the Great Western Schism), and the election of his successor Pope Francis I. The words of Timothy Cardinal Dolan, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, on the papal resignation echo the feelings of the many I have talked to about this event, that it is "another sign of his great care for the Church." The cardinal went on to say, "Pope Benedict often cited the significance of eternal truths and he warned of a dictatorship of relativism. Some values, such as human life, stand out above all others, he taught again and again. It is a message for eternity,"ii This bespeaks the rampant de-Christianization of society.

As I have previously pointed out (Morelli 2006),iii unfortunately, the moral and theological relativism, and thus false ecumenism, of some organizations purportedly having a 'Christian' focus, such as the National Council of Churches, adds to this modern crisis. Antiochian Orthodox priest and commentator Fr. Hans Jacobse writes: "Unity at the expense of truth is a collaboration of the confused where the only possible outcome is collapse."iv Thus we look to the hierarchs of the Apostolic Churches to provide moral and theological direction, with eventual unity of our Churches.

It is with hope in this matter that the election of Pope Francis I can be viewed. In his previous ministry as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina, his humble, simple, Christian lifestyle and extensive contact with the Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox was well-known. Even his choice of his pontifical name, Francis, after St. Francis of Assisi who renounced his inherited wealth to be among the poor, broadcasts the new pope’s pastoral focus.

Quite notable was that His Holiness Patriarch Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I of Constantinople was the first Orthodox Patriarch in history to attend a papal enthronement, "this is a profoundly bold step in ecumenical relations between the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics, one that could have lasting significance."v Also of great significance was an historic audience involving the leaders of the Eastern Orthodox Churches the next Among the Orthodox and Oriental Church leaders in attendance were Metropolitan Hilarion of the Patriarchate of Moscow, Archbishop Tikhon of Washington, Metropolitan of the Orthodox Church in America, and Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of all Armeniansvii. Recently it was announced that in the near future Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church, would soon visit Pope Francis I in Rome.[viii, ix] In all this, let us be enlivened by the words of St. Paul:  "Rejoicing in hope. Patient in tribulation. Instant in prayer." (Rm 12: 12).

i The Society of Saint John Chrysostom

The Society of St. John Chrysostom is an ecumenical group of clergy and lay people which promotes Eastern Christianity and Ecumenical Dialogue between the Eastern and Western Churches toward the healing of the sin of disunity. It has sponsored the Eastern Churches Journal and the annual Orientale Lumen & Light of the East Conferences. It has been in existence since 1997 in the United States and for over 70 years in England. (








ix Since the initial writing of this President's Message a meeting between Pope Francis I and Pope Tawadros II did take place on 10 May 2013. As part of the news release the following were quoted as Pope Tawadros II remarks: “The most important aim for both the Catholic and Coptic Churches is the promotion of ecumenical dialogue in order to get to the most pursued goal, unity... [he called for] the excellent relationships between the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Catholic may become stronger and more prosperous.” ( May I add that this should be the aim of all the Apostolic Churches.

Date posted: August 1, 2013

From Hard Time to Orthodoxy

After 15 years in federal prison—including 22 hour-a-day lockdowns at Supermax facilities—Clark Porter achieved what was once unimaginable: a scholarship to Washington University, two university degrees, a full-time position with the US District Court, and a stable family life. And that’ s not even the most incredible part of the story.

Fr. Stephen Powley can laugh about it now. At the time, his early encounters with Clark Porter weren’t funny. Fr. Stephen was a prison chaplain; Clark was serving a sentence for robbing a federal post office. “I used to dread walking down Clark’ s range,” Fr. Stephen says, referring to his weekly visits. “I knew he would be livid with me and would cuss me out, I just didn’t know why.”

Clark Porter as a young man

Clark admits he was an angry man when Fr. Stephen met him. Though it wasn’t yet obvious, he was trying to change, to turn around a young life that had gotten a troubled start. The sixth of seven children, he was raised first by his mother, then his grandmother, and then put into foster care at age eight. After bouncing around the foster care system, he skipped out at fifteen. Two years later he and a friend robbed a post office in downtown St. Louis, making off with little more than $600 and stamps. In 1 987, at age 1 7, Clark was convicted and sentenced to 35 years in prison.

He could have been paroled early in 1 999, but two years were added on for bad conduct. As he neared his release, he was determined to be ready. He was reading whatever he could—books on self-help and anger management, teachings on Hinduism, Buddhism, mysticism, and Islam. And he was praying. He was looking, he says, for a faith he could hold on to. Christianity was not a possibility. “I hated it,” he says. Convinced it was exploitative, he saw it as “We get the land, you get the Bible.”

Yet for all his searching, he had hit a wall. About the same time, a man was transferred from another section of the prison to the cell next to his. He was a Buddhist who, through long conversations with Fr. Stephen, had converted to Orthodox Christianity while in prison, taking the baptismal name Zacchaeus. Clark began confiding in him, telling him how he was feeling. Zacchaeus told Clark he was suffering from “coolness of heart.”

“When Zacchaeus was moved [to the cell] next to Clark, it was one of those divine appointments that God has for somebody,” says Fr. Stephen. “It was Zacchaeus who God used to show Clark how Orthodoxy could help him.”

Zacchaeus began recommending Orthodox books for Clark to read and Fr. Stephen provided him the books from the Chapel library. Clark says his introduction to Orthodoxy wasn’t watered down. “I read the patristic fathers. It was straight to the heart of it.” One of the first books he read was the classic Unseen Warfare. He had to keep stopping and contemplating what he was reading, because the book hit him so hard. One book led to another: The Ladder of Divine Ascent, The Philokalia, writings by St. John Chrysostom, and books on the Jesus Prayer.

“I did a lot of reading,” he says. “I would read an hour of an Orthodox book and then an hour of the Bible. My goal was to read the Bible in a year and I did. And then I started it over again.” He says reading the Bible and Orthodox books gave him focus. He was no longer raging at Fr. Stephen, seeking counsel from him instead. He began fasting, and he read the prescribed Orthodox prayers five times a day, beginning with matins in the morning. When people ask him today why he’ s not a big football fan, he points to his prayer rule. His steadfastness to the prayer rule meant he had to miss watching Sunday morning football games. “I couldn’t do both,” he says. Eventually Clark sought to be baptized. But with his release date drawing near, Fr. Stephen wanted him to wait and be baptized within an Orthodox community in St. Louis.

“Orthodoxy isn’t just a matter of joining a denomination. It’ s a way of life and community. If he was going to be in prison another 1 0 years, it would have been different and his baptism would have taken place there,” Fr. Stephen says.

Once out of prison, Clark was concerned how church might react, both to his felony conviction and to him as an African American. He looked in the phone book and realized that St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was a mile from the halfway house where he was staying. He called and was put through to the priest. As he began to explain his situation, the priest cut him off. “Just come to church,” he said. So he did. There he met the woman who would become his Godmother. She wasn’t concerned with Clark’ s background either. She too kept telling him, “Come to church.” He was baptized in 2002, six months after his release. He knew the St. Nicholas community had accepted him when, in the kitchen during the Church’ s annual festival, one of the women yelled at him for getting in her way. Seeing the shock on Clark’ s face, she retorted, “You better get used to it, because you’ re with the Greeks now.”

Though he’ s been a parishioner at St. Nicholas for years, he’ s still moved by the trust the church showed him from the beginning. For the first two years he served in the altar, wanting to “understand the Liturgy from a personal level.”

And he teaches Sunday school to the first graders. “They never cared about my situation,” he says, still marveling that they never judged him for being an ex-felon. The church gave him money from its scholarship fund every year to help him through college. And every year the church continues to show their support by making donations to the US Federal Probation Office where Clark works, donating appliances, clothing, gift cards, and toys in support of men and women who’ve recently been released from prison.

The church may have trusted Clark, but trust in himself and God played a role, too. His first job out of prison was washing dishes in a restaurant. The environment wasn’t a good one—the staff was using drugs and hiring prostitutes. The owner was verbally abusive, something Clark couldn’t tolerate. “I got two choices,” he told himself. Quit, or wind up back in prison. So he did the former, and had faith that something would work out. When his Godmother questioned his wisdom he told her, “I’ll find a new job within the week.”

Clark Porter today

Days later, on campus at the community college where he was taking courses, he learned of a work study opportunity through another student. Clark approached the woman who was hiring and explained his situation. She lectured him for having quit his job, but she gave him a chance. She understood where he was coming from; her husband was in jail. That led to parttime jobs on campus, as a writing tutor. Not long after that, a professor at the college, impressed with Clark’ s writing, showed it to a dean at Washington University.

The university offered Clark a scholarship. In 2006 he graduated with a bachelor’ s degree and then went on to earn a master’ s in social work from the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Since 2009 he has been a project support specialist for the Probation Office of the US District Court—the very office he was released to in 2001—where he helps ex-offenders transition into their new lives. He and a colleague created an intensive supervision program, Project Re-Direct, which targets offenders who are at high-risk of returning to prison.

The program demands a 20-hour a week commitment from participants, requiring them to engage in GED courses, job readiness, counseling, and community service. The theory is that intensive and comprehensive support is needed to reduce recidivism. Project Re-Direct has had impressive results, with one of the highest success rates of any program of its kind in the country.

Working with men who’ve been released from prison, Clark understands their struggles. For all his success, he is deeply humble and doesn’t see himself as special. “There but for the grace of God go I,” he says. “I always relied on church and family,” explaining how he made it once he was released. “I’ve had a lot of grace in my life.”

More about Mr. Porter can be found here: 2/august/Pages/ClarkPorter.aspx

Date posted: July 31, 2013

Orthodox Christian Spirituality and Cognitive Psychotherapy: An Online Course Part 3

3.0 Psychological-Spiritual Interventions

3.1 Christian-Based Clinical Interventions

The Passions

The power of the scriptures and the spiritual tradition of the Church conjunctively with cognitive therapy are crucial in the treatment plan for the committed Christian patient or counselee. Since earliest Christian times, the Holy Fathers have written on and studied the passions, [strong emotions] (italics mine). For example in the presentation of the treatment rationale, the patient can be given readings from St. Dorotheus of Gaza: "Disturbance is the movement and stirring of thoughts, which arouse and irritate the heart" (Philokalia, 1984-93)(italics mine).

What the fathers of he church call "movement and stirring of thoughts which arouse the heart" can be easily understood by the clinician to be very related to the automatic thoughts and the triggering of emotions discussed by cognitive-behavioral clinicians. Thus as the Christian patient goes through the "Cognitive treatment" identifying distorted cognitions and restructuring them, they are at the same time performing a "spiritual act." This process would be likely motivational for the Christian patient.


"There are three different kinds of falsehood [distortions]: There is the man who lies in his mind [cognitions]; the man who lies in word [behavior]. The man who lies in mind is given to conjecture [distorted cognition] (Philokalia, et al. 1984-93)(italics mine). This leads the clinician to describe cognitive distortions using spiritual terminology. Despondency, often discussed by the church fathers, may be more meaningful that the psychological term "depression." A similar utilization would be the use of the term "agitation" instead of anxiety. This helps patients view the world using a spiritual perspective as well as serve to help the patients distinguish subtle differences in meaning of cognitive perspectives.

Cognitive Distortions

St. Paul's words may also be helpful to the patient: "When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways." (1 Cor 13:11 RSV). This saying addresses the use of cognitive distortions. Children are likely to use cognitive distortions in their response to the world. The Christian patient learns that identifying and restructuring his or her cognitive distortions is a Christian act.

The teachings of St. Anthony the Great focus on the cause of evil that today we would consider to be a cognitive process: "The cause of all evil is delusion, self deception [cognitive distortions], and ignorance of God" (Philokalia, 1984-93) (italics mine). Once again clinicians will find St. Anthony's counsels helpful in providing a spiritual rationale for the patient identifying and restructuring cognitive distortions.

General Intellectual Capabilities

St. Maximos the Confessor tells us what is the outcome of faulty thinking: "When our intelligence is stupefied, the incensive power precipitate and desire mindless, and when ignorance, a domineering spirit and licentiousness govern the soul and then sin becomes a habit..." (Philokalia, 1984-93) This intervention serves to motivate the patient to work at using his or her intelligence and to think as clearly as possible to develop the healing process.

This increased functionality would also be the consequence of the words of St. Hesychios the Priest: "...our inmost intelligence [reason, non-distorted cognitions] will direct the passions [emotions] in a way that accords with God's will, for we shall have set it in charge of them. The brother of the Lord declares: 'He who does not lapse in his inmost intelligence is a perfect man, able also to bridle the body [behavior]." (Philokalia, 1984-93) (italics mine)

Spiritual and Psychological Growth

Spiritual and psychological growth becomes a motivating force for the committed Christian in psychotherapy. The observation of St. Maximos the Confessor this time may aid the patient in the reason to initiate change: "We accomplish things actively in so far as our intelligence [meaning non-distorted cognitions], whose natural task is to accomplish the virtues is active in us." (Philokalia, 1984-93) (italics mine) This will lead the patient to be more personally, socially, occupationally and spiritually functioning.

3.2 Using Psycho-spiritual Interventions to Challenge Cognitive Distortions

The clinician can help patient to challenge the distorted cognitions related to his or her dysfunctional emotional reactions. There are three challenging questions that lead to restructured cognitions: What is the evidence supporting the patient's cognitive distortions? Is there any other way to consider the event? And is it as bad as the patient believes the situation is? Once again, for the committed Christian, interweaving a spiritual dimension along with the traditional psychological approach from the Christian perspective, enables the Holy Spirit to work within the individual and helps ensure that the totality of the person, body, mind, and spirit participate in the healing process. For example, in treating anger, the clinician should be aware that the cognitive theme accompanying the distorted cognitions is significant intrusion. That is the patient considers his person or extensions of himself (loved ones, property etc.) to have been violated. Effective psychological treatment techniques include anger inoculation and management (Novaco, 1977, Tarvis, 1984), assertiveness (Rathus, 1973), and the "mental ruler" technique (Burns, 1980). Once again integration of a spiritual factor with the traditional methods can be effective for the committed Christian patient. Typically, clinicians can help patients to accept that anger has several effects including creating additional problems for the patient and his or her family. Anger also diminishes the patient's own effectiveness in dealing with the original issue. From a Christian psychospiritual perspective, the clinician would consider using some of the following Christian verses in providing psychotherapy or counseling.

3.3 Christian Scriptural Verses and Their General Use

The following passages from the Old or New Testament can help the clinician demonstrate to the Christian patient that the dysfunctional emotions are a barrier to spiritual growth and thus attenuating them may not only aid in spiritual growth but aid in the development of the patient's personal and interpersonal functioning.

"He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly." (Prov 14:29)

This proverb addresses emotional reactivity versus emotional response.

"A man of wrath stirs up strife, and a man given to anger causes much Transgression." (Prov. 29:22)

"A hot tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets Contention." (Prov. 15:18)

These scriptural texts address the collateral damage caused by anger as an expression of emotional reactivity.

The following Scriptural passages may help the Christian patient consider the added effects of both personal and spiritual growth and thus they would be an aid in motivating cognitive-behavioral change. The Apostles echo the teachings of Jesus and tell us what is required as Christians through the use of the following passages:

"For the anger of man does not work the righteousness of God" (Ja 1:19)

St. Paul tells the Ephesians: "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you..." (Eph 4:31)

The spiritual fathers have developed this theme. Abba Evagrius the Monk tells us about the effects of anger which may once again help in motivating the committed Christian patient: "Anger and hatred increase the excitation of the heart and mercy and meekness extinguish it." (Philokalia, 1984-93)

3.4 Christian Verses and Their Use With Anxiety

The dominant theme in anxiety is a perceived threat. The patient determines that some event or person will produce some harm to him/herself or to people and/or things he or she values. Even when the threat is realistic, often the anxiety-ridden patient will have unrealistic perception about factors related to the threatening event. For example, a patient who may be realistic about the threat of failing an exam may have unrealistic thoughts and images about the consequences to the failure (e.g. will never be able to get a job, he will not be appreciated by others, etc.). Helping the committed Christian patient understand and integrate the scriptures and the teachings of the church fathers into his or her schema may be of healing value when addressing anxiety related disorders.

A clinician may ask: Jesus say: "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more that food, and the body more than clothing." (Mat 6:25) Thus, inviting the patient to have confidence in Jesus can be used to replace anxiety with Christian serenity. For the Christian patient, this may be termed 'Jesus efficacy."

For other patients, it may be helpful to point out to him or her how wasteful and useless anxiety can be. Beck and Ellis usually accomplish this by pointing out to patients the added problems they have when anxiety complicates their lives. St. Matthew tells us the words of Jesus pointing out that anxiety adds nothing of value to our lives. He points out a spiritual component that may also make up the rationale for anxiety treatment: "And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life." (Mat 6:27)

In the cognitive treatment of anxiety, the patient is helped to work at changing those behaviors that can be changed while accepting those he or she cannot change. This is brought out in words of Jesus: "Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day's own trouble be sufficient for the day." (Mat 6:34)

The Church Fathers also echo Jesus' words. St. Neilos the Ascetic tells us: "It is ungodly to pass one's whole life worrying about bodily things" (Philokalia, 1984-93) St. John of Karpathos states: "We should of no account wear ourselves out with anxiety over body needs. With our whole soul let us trust in God..." (Philokalia, 1984-93). He invites us to use faith in addition to our own human efforts to restructure the irrational cognitions producing anxiety, which should be of special help to the Christian patient. I had a conversation with a former monk and seminarian whose anxiety was at times unmanageable and who was very concerned that "cognitive-behavior therapy" was too secular and was not "Christian". After exposure to the passages of the Old and New Testaments and the teachings of the Church Fathers that did not contradict, but supported cognitive interventions, he felt much more at ease in treatment and the treatment process proceeded more efficaciously.

3.5 Christian Sayings and Their Use With Depression

Depression is an extremely debilitating mental disorder. It's general theme of significant loss and the negative view of the self prevents the patient from creating a complete union with God. Hopelessness tends to be followed by suicide and is often accompanied by severe depression. The sense of abandonment, which often felt by the depressed person, broadcasts isolation from mankind and from God as well. Feeling this vacuum, depressed individuals become particularly susceptible to despair, which according to Christian tradition is an unforgivable sin: that they are beyond salvation even by the Holy Spirit. Once again the spiritual dimension can be an integral part of healing for the Christian patient. The torments and suffering of Job, may help the Christian patient remember that when it appears that God may have abandoned us, so we too may cry out: "My eye has grown dim from grief [depression], it grows weak because of all my foes." (Job 17:7) (italics mine)

We may also remember what the prophet Jeremiah said: "I will set my eyes upon them for good, and I will bring them back to this land. I will build them up, and not tear them down; I will plant them, and not uproot them. I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord; and they shall be my people and I will be their God, for they shall return to me with their whole heart." (24: 6,7)

Christians can identify their problems with the trials and tribulations of Job and Jeremiah. Though seemingly abandoned by God, He is with them. This can be of great comfort to the Christian patient.

St. John Cassian tells us that before we can be united to God we must first overcome depression: "But first we must struggle with the demon of dejection [depression] who casts the soul into despair. We must drive him from our hearts". (Philokalia, 1984-93) (italics mine)

St. John is well aware of the devastating effects of depression. He goes on: "It was this demon that did not allow Cain to repent after he had killed his brother, or Judas after he had betrayed his Master." (Philokalia, 1984-93)

Typically, a clinician will listen to the patient's unfortunate life experiences as these relate to their painful experience of depression. Doing so allows the patient to be more receptive to other favorable options or possibilities (Beck, 1976). Here, the clinician can add the spiritual dimension as a powerful tool to help address enhance the treatment of depression for committed Christians. The clinician can help the patient adopt the outlook of St. Paul: "We are afflicted in every way, but we are not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair." (2 Cor 4:8)

The clinician and the patient can pray the prayer of the psalmist: "The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold." (Ps 18:2)

The Church Fathers recognize depression as a problem that must be resolved and they have trust that God will be their "rock". Adding this spiritual outlook to the psychological efforts of the patients helps them to see that their efforts become integrated into the will of God and he will deliver them from the despair of depression. Once again Christian patients are motivated to avoid despair and to persevere with their treatment.

Date posted: July 1, 2013

Defusing Incivility

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

In the 8th Century B.C., King Solomon, the author of the book of Proverbs, wrote: "A mild answer breaketh wrath: but a harsh word stirreth up fury. The tongue of the wise adorneth knowledge: but the mouth of fools bubbleth out folly." (Proverbs 15:1-2). Since first penned, this wisdom has been confirmed by thousands of years of human experience. This is no truer than in today's world in which we encounter a proliferation of crudeness, harshness, rudeness, lack of respect of the person and attempts to control others. The use of four letter and scatological words in dealing with others is found everywhere. No segment of the media is exempt. The explosive worldwide multiplication of social media use has made such discordant behavior almost unavoidable.

It is important to realize that a crude, rude and harshly toned reactive response by us often creates a pattern of escalation of incivility between all involved. We may not be able to change the uncivil behavior of others, but we can change our response to such rudeness when it is directed to us. This was recognized by Confucius in 4th Century B.C. China who wrote: "When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals, adjust the action steps."i In the Jewish Talmud we read: ""The highest form of wisdom is kindness."ii After being confronted by unseemly words and actions it might be a stretch for some to respond with kindness, but a good first step would be to act in wisdom according to the advice of Molière (1622-1673 A.D.): "A wise man is superior to any insults which can be put upon him, and the best reply to unseemly behavior is patience and moderation."iii

One way of responding in wisdom is to employ the disarming technique. (Morelli, 2010)iv. This is done by making "a neutral statement about the other individual's response." One does not have to agree, one has to deflect. For example, an empathic response may be made. That is to say, simple acknowledgment of the strong emotion the other is feeling, such as "I see you're upset." Other disarming responses are: "Hum! That's an idea;" "That is one way of looking at it;" "That's a possibility;" "That's a point to consider;" "Well, we may have different ways of looking at things."v

Let us be wise in responding to the crudity of others.. As our Eastern Christian Church Father St. John of Gaza (1990) tells us: "If silence is more necessary even during conversation about good matters, how much more so in matters that are indifferent?"vi





iv Morelli, G. 2010, April 09). The Disarming Technique.

v There are appropriate times (e.g. When being bullied. c.f. Morelli, G. (2011c, October 03). Smart Parenting XXIII. Coping with Bullying. to apply assertiveness, but that can be done with civility and charity, c.f. Morelli, G. (2006c, July 02). Assertiveness and Christian Charity.

vi Saints Barsanuphius & John (1990). Guidance Toward Spiritual Life. Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood

Date posted: July 1, 2013

Chief Rabbi: Atheism has Failed. Only Religion can Defeat the New Barbarians

I love the remark made by one Oxford don about another: ‘On the surface, he’s profound, but deep down, he’s superficial.’ That sentence has more than once come to mind when reading the new atheists.

Future intellectual historians will look back with wonder at the strange phenomenon of seemingly intelligent secularists in the 21st century believing that if they could show that the first chapters of Genesis are not literally true, that the universe is more than 6,000 years old and there might be other explanations for rainbows than as a sign of God’s covenant after the flood, the whole of humanity’s religious beliefs would come tumbling down like a house of cards and we would be left with a serene world of rational non-believers getting on famously with one another.

Whatever happened to the intellectual depth of the serious atheists, the forcefulness of Hobbes, the passion of Spinoza, the wit of Voltaire, the world-shattering profundity of Nietzsche? Where is there the remotest sense that they have grappled with the real issues, which have nothing to do with science and the literal meaning of scripture and everything to do with the meaningfulness or otherwise of human life, the existence or non-existence of an objective moral order, the truth or falsity of the idea of human freedom, and the ability or inability of society to survive without the rituals, narratives and shared practices that create and sustain the social bond?

Religious leaders

A significant area of intellectual discourse — the human condition sub specie aeternitatis — has been dumbed down to the level of a school debating society. Does it matter? Should we not simply accept that just as there are some people who are tone deaf and others who have no sense of humour, so there are some who simply do not understand what is going on in the Book of Psalms, who lack a sense of transcendence or the miracle of being, who fail to understand what it might be to see human life as a drama of love and forgiveness or be moved to pray in penitence or thanksgiving? Some people get religion; others don’t. Why not leave it at that?

Fair enough, perhaps. But not, I submit, for readers of The Spectator, because religion has social, cultural and political consequences, and you cannot expect the foundations of western civilisation to crumble and leave the rest of the building intact. That is what the greatest of all atheists, Nietzsche, understood with terrifying clarity and what his -latter-day successors fail to grasp at all.

Time and again in his later writings he tells us that losing Christian faith will mean abandoning Christian morality. No more ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’; instead the will to power. No more ‘Thou shalt not’; instead people would live by the law of nature, the strong dominating or eliminating the weak. ‘An act of injury, violence, exploitation or destruction cannot be “unjust” as such, because life functions essentially in an injurious, violent, exploitative and destructive manner.’ Nietzsche was not an anti-Semite, but there are passages in his writing that come close to justifying a Holocaust.

This had nothing to do with him personally and everything to do with the logic of Europe losing its Christian ethic. Already in 1843, a year before Nietzsche was born, Heinrich Heine wrote, ‘A drama will be enacted in Germany compared to which the French Revolution will seem like a harmless idyll. Christianity restrained the martial ardour of the Germans for a time but it did not destroy it; once the restraining talisman is shattered, savagery will rise again…  the mad fury of the berserk, of which Nordic poets sing and speak.’ Nietzsche and Heine were making the same point. Lose the Judeo-Christian sanctity of life and there will be nothing to contain the evil men do when given the chance and the provocation.

Richard Dawkins, whom I respect, partly understands this. He has said often that Darwinism is a science, not an ethic. Turn natural selection into a code of conduct and you get disaster. But if asked where we get our morality from, if not from science or religion, the new atheists start to stammer. They tend to argue that ethics is obvious, which it isn’t, or natural, which it manifestly isn’t either, and end up vaguely hinting that this isn’t their problem. Let someone else worry about it.

The history of Europe since the 18th century has been the story of successive attempts to find alternatives to God as an object of worship, among them the nation state, race and the Communist Manifesto. After this cost humanity two world wars, a Cold War and a hundred million lives, we have turned to more pacific forms of idolatry, among them the market, the liberal democratic state and the consumer society, all of which are ways of saying that there is no morality beyond personal choice so long as you do no harm to others.

Even so, the costs are beginning to mount up. Levels of trust have plummeted throughout the West as one group after another — bankers, CEOs, media personalities, parliamentarians, the press — has been hit by scandal. Marriage has all but collapsed as an institution, with 40 per cent of children born outside it and 50 per cent of marriages ending in divorce. Rates of depressive illness and stress-related syndromes have rocketed especially among the young. A recent survey showed that the average 18- to 35-year-old has 237 Facebook friends. When asked how many they could rely on in a crisis, the average answer was two. A quarter said one. An eighth said none.

None of this should surprise us. This is what a society built on materialism, individualism and moral relativism looks like. It maximises personal freedom but at a cost. As Michael Walzer puts it: ‘This freedom, energising and exciting as it is, is also profoundly disintegrative, making it very difficult for individuals to find any stable communal support, very difficult for any community to count on the responsible participation of its individual members. It opens solitary men and women to the impact of a lowest common denominator, commercial culture.’

In my time as Chief Rabbi, I have seen two highly significant trends. First, parents are more likely than they were to send their children to faith schools. They want their children exposed to a strong substantive ethic of responsibility and restraint. Second, religious people, Jews especially, are more fearful of the future than they were. Our newly polarised culture is far less tolerant than old, mild Christian Britain.

In one respect the new atheists are right. The threat to western freedom in the 21st century is not from fascism or communism but from a religious fundamentalism combining hatred of the other, the pursuit of power and contempt for human rights. But the idea that this can be defeated by individualism and relativism is naive almost beyond belief. Humanity has been here before. The precursors of today’s scientific atheists were Epicurus in third-century BCE Greece and Lucretius in first-century Rome. These were two great civilisations on the brink of decline. Having lost their faith, they were no match for what Bertrand Russell calls ‘nations less civilised than themselves but not so destitute of social cohesion’. The barbarians win. They always do.

The new barbarians are the fundamentalists who seek to impose a single truth on a plural world. Though many of them claim to be religious, they are actually devotees of the will to power. Defeating them will take the strongest possible defence of freedom, and strong societies are always moral societies. That does not mean that they need be religious. It is just that, in the words of historian Will Durant, ‘There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion.’

I have no desire to convert others to my religious beliefs. Jews don’t do that sort of thing. Nor do I believe that you have to be religious to be moral. But Durant’s point is the challenge of our time. I have not yet found a secular ethic capable of sustaining in the long run a society of strong communities and families on the one hand, altruism, virtue, self-restraint, honour, obligation and trust on the other. A century after a civilisation loses its soul it loses its freedom also. That should concern all of us, believers and non-believers alike.

Read the entire article on the American Spectator website (new window will open).

This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated

Date posted: June 18, 2013

Living in the Hingeway: A Reflection on Church and Culture

Preface: This is just a simple paper assigned after an introductory study of postmodernity and the current cultural shifts and a reading of “The Younger Evangelicals” by Robert Webber. This paper is not designed to be very formal containing a thesis and points. It is merely a personal reflection upon 5 cultural shifts that are opportunities for the Church, 5 cultural shifts that are a danger to the Church, and 5 ways I want to create ministry in this cultural context or how to carry out ministry. I believe the ways these younger evangelicals, who come from multiple Christian Traditions, have some solid ways of engaging the culture that we Orthodox Christians can implement and learn from as we wrestle with the context in which God has placed us. I hope this will be of benefit as you continue to wrestle and to struggle in these anxious times.

Dr. Carlus Gupton writes, “Our time is best described as transitional, a very fluid moment where previous ways of understanding the world and functioning within it are increasingly abandoned, yet without clear definition of what will replace it. Something has ended, but the new beginning has not yet taken shape, thus we are in the uncomfortable wilderness, the neutral zone.” The Church is living in a day and age where absolutes are being denied and truth is relative. This day and age of Postmodernism can present to the Church opportunities to ministry and dangers to the Church’s ministry to preach the Gospel and be a hospital for the sick sinners.

Five Opportunities the Cultural Shifts Present

Robert Webber writes:

The younger evangelicals are conscious that they grew up in a postmodern world. One younger evangelical writes of ways postmodern thinking differs from modern thought. Postmoderns ‘no longer feel a need to bow the knee to the modern God of rationality.’ Postmoderns, he argues, ‘have a much broader conception of what counts as reason’ because they acknowledge that ‘all rationality (religious, scientific, or whatever) is laden with faith.’ Postmodern young people recognize that ‘thinking is highly indebted to others.’ Therefore, the younger evangelical rejects the modern notion of individualism and embraces community. And to be postmodern in a Christian way is ‘to embrace the kingdom of God and renounce the values of the world.’”

This is the first opportunity presented to us to witness to people. This opens the door that much of Protestantism, with its emphasis on the rational, had closed and that is the door to sacramentalism or a sacramental world-view. For too long reason has dominated the Church in the Western societies. We, as Orthodox Christians, must not let reason dominate the life of the Church too much.

The Enlightenment with the emphasis on reason and scientific method stole all the mystery from the Christian faith ranging from throwing out the sacraments and calling them “ordnances” to the rejection of Christian mysticism. This shift away from reason allows for the Church to restore a sacramental world-view for it allows for a restoration of mystery, the Mysterium tremendum et fascinans (fearful and fascinating mystery). This shift opens the door for the Numinous to be once again believed, for there to be transcendence beyond our reason. This is not to say reason is invalid. The Church would be wise to follow the words of Blasé Pascal, “If one subjects everything to reason our religion will lose its mystery and its supernatural character. If one offends the principles of reason our religion will be absurd and ridiculous …There are two equally dangerous extremes, to shut reason out and let nothing else in.”

“The postmodern September 11, 2001, world has led to the recovery of the biblical understanding of human nature. The language of sin, evil, evildoers, and a reaffirmation of the deceit and wickedness of the human heart has once again emerged in our common vocabulary,” writes Robert Webber, “The liberal notion of the inherent goodness of humankind and the more recent evangelical neglect of the language of sin and depravity have failed to plumb the depths of the wickedness that lurks in the human heart. The younger evangelical approaches humanity with a more realistic and biblical assessment of our estrangement from God.” This presents the Churches second opportunity to present the Christian meta-narrative of the Creation, the Fall, Israel, and Jesus Christ. This allows for the Church to tell Her story of redemption and how She has been made a part of the re-creation attempts of God.

Pragmatic Evangelicals, seeking to draw in seekers (no pun intended), neglected to preach about the wickedness of men and the depths of humanity’s depravity. David Crowder, of The David Crowder*Band, put it this way: “When our depravity meets His divinity it is a beautiful collision.” This cultural shift allows for a sacramental understanding of the Cross and Resurrection to take place. The shift allows for the preaching of humanity’s depravity coming into collision with God’s divinity, which overcomes the wickedness and clothes the redeemed in the Divine Nature (II Peter 1:4-5).

The Church can present the story of the Fall, but that there is more to life. That there is a door for humanity to be ontologically changed, transformed back into an original state of glory. David Horseman writes, “”Theosis is neither a mere psychological change nor a simple behavioral change. It is both, but not in a superficial sense. These changes of thought and behavior are but the indices of a deeper, ontological change, in our nature, a sharing of the divine nature, in which we become more and more like God, changed from glory into glory, until the day of our final redemption…” This could be the story we tell with this change in culture.

The third opportunity presented by this cultural shift is in the context of evangelism. The Next-Wave web magazine states of younger evangelicals’ desire “is to see people enter a relationship with Jesus Christ. Receive His forgiveness, enter His community with the saints, worship in ways that are meaningful to them, and reach out to others in their world.” Robert Webber believes that the new landscape of the culture will provide a new type of evangelism that is ancient-future evangelism. The old is that the Church must emphasis a personal regenerative relationship with the Triune God via Christ, but the new is the context in which the Church worships and facilitates community that is missional.

This aura creates an opportunity for the Church to fashion a community focused on relationships of reconciliation: relationships with humanity and with God. The Gospel is presented through relationship primarily. A good model of evangelism in the postmodern world would be: dialogue, demonstration, declaration, and defense all lived out incarnationally in the context of our greater society but also within our communities.

The Church’s fourth opportunity within this cultural shift is to begin to see Christianity as more than a world view. Robert Webber writes, “Today the younger evangelical questions the priority given to Christianity as a worldview. Younger evangelical Charles Moore writes, ‘The idea of Christianity as a worldview is essentially Gnostic. It makes Christianity an idea, a philosophical viewpoint, and a construct. Christianity is primarily a kingdom, an embodied reality and is more about a faithful discipleship than affirming an intellectual construct.’ Moore argues that making Christianity a worldview ‘abstracts reason from history and pits the existing, choosing subject against the object. It reduces Christianity to metaphysics.’”

This part of the cultural shift is very important to the life of Christianity because seeing the faith as something to be believed, rationed, and defended can leave it shallow and empty for there is no living it out. Christianity is primarily relational and has to be incarnational in this world. The Church can benefit with this ideological shift because it allows the Church to embody Christ and be formed to His image and live as He lives.

“The Christianity Today articles reported that ‘postmodern Christians are trying to redefine the relation of faith and knowledge, that instead of coming to the faith rationally, true knowledge requires the Holy Spirit to work an ontological change in the human heart,’” writes Robert Webber. He goes on to clarify that this is not a new approach, but that younger Christians are deconstructing in order “to reconstruct an historic life of the mind”. The road to the future lies in the past. The Church has an opportunity today to revisit the past with the Creeds, the Church Fathers, St. Aquinas, and St. Augustine and let that ancient wisdom shape and mold the way the Church carries out faith and practice. Many young Christians are even reverting to the ancient Orthodox Church and becoming one with Her and Her Mysteries. This is a good thing!

Five Dangers the Cultural Shifts Present

The number one thing for the Church to distinguish in the cultural shift of postmodernity is that there are two schools of postmodernity: soft postmodernity and hard postmodernity. Milliard Erickson, in Postmodernizing the Faith, writes:

Hard postmodernism, best represented by deconstruction, rejects the idea of any sort of objectivity and rationality. It maintains that all theories are simply worked out to justify and empower those who hold them, rather than being based on facts. It not only rejects the limitation of meaning of language to empirical reference; it rejects the idea that language has any sort of objective or extra linguistic reference at all. It moves from relativism to pluralism to truth. Not only is all knowing and all speaking done from a particular perspective, but each perspective is equally true or valuable. The meaning of a statement is not to be found objectively in the meaning intended by the speaker or writer, but is the meaning that the hearer or reader finds in it. ‘Whatever it means to me’ even if it is quite different from what it says to you.”

The Church has to remember that wonderful idea by Blasé Pascal that there are two dangerous extremes shutting reason out or letting nothing else but reason in. The pluralism of today’s society is dangerous to the truth of the Gospel. The Church must defend and live the truth of the Gospel and learn to evangelize to a pluralistic society instead of assimilating into society.

Religious tolerance is the second danger. Dr. Gupton writes about what postmodern thinkers believe, “No religion should be thought of as superior to another. Indeed, this belief in superiority is the major roadblock to religious unity.” This hard postmodernism belief is very dangerous to the truth of the Gospel. The Church believes that She has an exclusive claim on the Truth, which She must stand by and defend.

The third danger of hard postmodernism found in this cultural shift is in the area of evangelism. Dr. Gupton writes about postmodern thought, “Proselytizing is bigotry, pure and simple. The idea of winning converts is based on the antiquated notion that one religion has more to offer than another. Our task is to help others discover the hidden inner meaning of their religions, rather than convert them to our own.” This is something the Church must absolutely reject to defend the Gospel. Only through Christ is forgiveness of sin offered and deification began. Other religions contain some universal truths, but do not contain the Truth found in the Gospel presented by the Church.

The fourth danger the Church must be careful to be aware of moral relativism or moral pragmatism. Easum writes, “In the new emerging society right and wrong will not exist. Whatever benefits the individual will form the basis for ethics.” The Church has to come to the defense of morals and ethics. The problem with hard postmodernism is that it deconstructs to the point of chaos, which cannot be upheld. This is no accountability of ethics, but the Church can account for its ethics, which stem from God and absolute truths. Society and individuals are dangerous grounds upon which to build what is moral, right, or just.

The fifth danger to the Church is privatization. The Church must be careful to fight against this idea that faith, too, can be privatized and individualized. The Church must maintain a strong emphasis on communal living both at home and in ecclesiastical settings. Easum writes, “People are preoccupied with themselves. Whatever is done behind closed doors is considered acceptable conduct. Privacy is the ultimate price…The majority of people will tend to withdraw physically and psychologically.” This is the danger to an incarnational people called to be God’s hands and feet in the world. We must do well to remember that our faith is personal, but it is not private! The rampant individualism of Western culture is an extreme heresy that we must be aware of and reject thoroughly.

Five Ways to Interface with the Culture

As a young man who feels called to the priesthood, I am feeling lead more and more lately to plant a church from the ground up. There is a great outline of postmodern churches compared to pragmatic Evangelistic churches and how they function within the postmodern culture, by Eric Stanford, found on pages 116 and 117 of “The Younger Evangelicals” that I think fits perfectly how I would like to approach ministry in this postmodern society:

1. Even though I would be the priest and carry out all the sacramental duties I want to approach leadership as a team effort with all the members of the parish helping to carry out the duties of the church. Ministries may not always come from the leadership team, but from within the congregation who feels lead to start up a ministry. Christ is the head of the Church, and I am a part of that thus He moves mysteriously and powerfully in all our lives in the parish.

2. Life is about relationships. My life motto is “I am a person of worth created in the Image of God the Father, the Almighty, to live, to love, and to commune with fellow humankind and with the Blessed Trinity.” This is how I want to carry out ministry in the church. Programs, as Eric says, “are means not ends.” Everything thing we do ought to be to foster community and relationship and not just to learn and do. Developing close, healthy relationships is the focus within the postmodern context I want to employ.

3. Eric writes, “Be authentic. Don’t pretend you’ve got it all together, spiritually or otherwise. Admit your mistakes and struggles, for then we can work on them together. No posers allowed.” I believe this is core to who I am. I strive to be real and authentic. I am drawn to real and authentic people, so I want to be a part of a community that emphasizes that over excellence or perfection, but wants to strive towards those together.

4. I want to help create a community that honors “intellect and emotions, doctrine and intuition,” as Eric states. I want to take a holistic approach to faith and life. I want to focus on the power of the story that Christianity tells: Creation, Fall, Israel, Jesus. I see it often as a five act Shakespeare play that has last the fifth act thus we are left to write the fifth act on our own according to the authority of the other four acts. Our stories should come inside of this grand story.

5. I want to create dialogue and relationship between Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans, and Orthodox. There is no us vs. them in regards to other Christians or in regards to non-Christians. After all, our Lord told His disciples when they told Him someone was casting out demons in His name that was not a part of their group, “whoever is not against us is for us.” Christians and non-Christians often face the same issues and have the same questions. It is about cooperation and not competition or condemnation. I want to clarify that I do not propose a false sense of unity or ecumenism either. The Orthodox Church is the one true Church, and I firmly believe this. We have made our conditions for unity known, but I think that dialogue is a good thing that promotes healthy conversations and understanding among those who profess Christ. I want to help foster this healthy conversation.

John Anderson has a B.S. in Bible and Preaching/Church Leadership from Johnson University and is a member of Saint Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, TN, where he resides with his wife, Courtney, and their Chihauhau, Charlie. He is very passionate about preaching, church leadership, missiology, and preaching the Gospel to a lost and hurting society. He aspires to become a priest in the Orthodox Church. He is the editor-in-chief for Orthodox Ruminations.

Date posted: June 10, 2013

The Body and Sexuality: How We As Orthodox Understand It

Date posted: June 1, 2013

Ordinary People & Extraordinary Demands

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

It was Patriot's Day 2013 in Massachusetts. Few around the world are now unaware that the Boston Marathon was run that day. Few are also now unaware that the new Boston Massacre occurred on that day as well. On April 15, 2013 (Patriot's Day), I was writing on my computer at the time and getting 'pop-up' Breaking News alerts of 'an explosion in Boston.' As an example of how common, and thus de-sensitized, I think many of us, including myself, have become to such news alerts, I paid it little attention. As per my work routine, at 4:00 PM CA time I turned on TV News while sorting my email. I immediately saw, once again, that the world as many of us have come to know it was, once again, radically changed.

Boston Bombing

I want to take the lead from a seminarian who was interviewed by one of the national networks, (I do not recall which network as I was constantly flipping news channels), whose witness reminded that any experience can be made a Godly one if it is tied to prayer. The seminarian and his wife were actually caught in the cross-fire that killed one of the alleged perpetrators: the older brother. Bullets were flying around them. They used the time to pray to God for deliverance during this "nightmare."

We can think of all the responders who came to the aid of the many injured. If their service was done with a pure heart and Godly spirit, then it became a channel of spiritual and psychological healing for all involved. We can also reflect on the great endurance of the victims, their family and friends, the heroic law enforcement officers [let me mention the many from far away states] and the people of Boston, who were on lockdown and living in a state of fear. I believe the apt slogan that has emerged from those affected is "Boston Strong."

It would be so easy to merely focus on the nefarious terrorist deeds of the alleged perpetrators. However, we should look at the total picture. There were millions of people in Boston, in MA, in nearby states and in foreign countries who were touched by this incident to the core of their hearts. Many, as we saw on the TV news, performed extraordinary acts of service. Some Marathon runners themselves turned to help the injured. The medical personnel that were on the finish line, near where the explosions occurred also reacted immediately. Of course, the tenacity of the police: local, state, federal and international is above and beyond adequate description. Many of us, like the seminarian couple, could only pray - but how important prayer is. How many prayers were lifted to God on the behalf of the victims and all who were touched by them and attended to them? Only God knows, but indeed, the world needs such healing. Even ordinary people can, at the very least, pray during extraordinary calamitous times.

Date posted: June 1, 2013

Studying Peter and Mark Together

Father Pat's Pastoral Ponderings

May 19, 2013
Sunday of the Myrrh-bearers

There is wisdom and merit in the impulse to study the writings of Peter and Mark together; the First Epistle of Peter and the Gospel of Mark were both composed at Rome, in close sequence, and, as far as we can determine, in the context of the same crisis: the persecution of Christians in the aftermath of the fire that broke out in the capital on July 19 of the year 64 and destroyed much of the city.

St. Peter
St. Pmark

We know of this fire and its aftermath from the writings of two pagan historians, Tacitus (Annals 15.38) and Suetonius (Lives of the Caesars 6.38), who also describe that persecution. The Emperor Nero, who was widely accused of starting the fire (for the purpose of urban renewal), sought to divert criticism from himself by blaming the local Christians for the arson.

This latter group was mainly composed of poorer folk, slaves and former slaves, day laborers, and so forth. There was no danger of implicating any of the more influential citizens who "counted" in Roman society. There ensued, consequently, an official and most brutal persecution of Christians, described in gripping detail by those same two pagan historians. During the course of the persecution, the Apostle Peter was crucified upside down on Vatican Hill, to the west of the city, across the Tiber.

Tacitus described the persecution:

Nero created a diversion and subjected to the most extraordinary tortures those hated for their abominations by the common people called Christians. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames. These served to illuminate the night when daylight failed. Nero had thrown open the gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or drove about in a chariot. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being punished (Annals 15.44).

It appears that the First Epistle of Peter was written shortly before the outbreak of that persecution. Peter refers to it as something imminent:

Beloved, do not think it strange respecting the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some unusual thing were happening to you; but rejoice, inasmuch as you partake of Christ's sufferings, that when his glory is made manifest, you may also be rejoice with exceeding gladness (1 Peter 4:12-13).

When Peter wrote these words, we know, Mark was with him (5:13).

As for the Gospel of Mark, our earliest references to it indicate that it came into being in the aftermath of the Neronic persecution, during the course of which Peter himself perished. According to the consensus of the earliest witnesses, Mark wrote his gospel with a view to preserving and handing on Peter's preaching about Jesus. These witnesses, speaking with one voice from around the Mediterranean Basin, include Papias of Hierapolis, the Anti-Marcionite Prologue, Irenaeus of Lyons, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria—-all of them between A.D. 130 and 210.

Thus, the First Epistle of Peter and the Gospel of Mark belong to two stages in a crisis that followed the fire in Rome during the year 64: Peter wrote as the Neronic persecution was soon to begin, and Mark wrote in the ongoing context of it. Both writers, that is to say—and Mark under the tutelage of Peter—appealed to the example of the persecuted Jesus to instruct and encourage his persecuted followers during that crisis.

Thus, Mark records-as Peter remembered-the words of Jesus: "Whoever desires to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow (akoloutheito) me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel's will save it" (Mark 8:34-35. Check the whole context, particularly 8:31-33).

Peter is no less clear on the identical point: "If, however, you endure it when you do good and still suffer, this is pleasing to God. For to this you have been called, because also Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow (epakolouthesete) in his steps" (1 Peter 2:20-21).

Date posted: May 23, 2013

The Illusionist

How Herbert Marcuse convinced a generation that censorship is tolerance and other politically correct tricks.

The ancient Greeks had a school of philosophers known as the Sophists, who took pride in their ability to prove impossible things. Some sophists even hired themselves out at public events, where audiences could watch spellbound as they proceeded to prove propositions that were obviously false.

The sophist philosopher Gorgias (4th century b.c.) invented an ingenuous argument to prove that: nothing exists; and even if something exists, nothing can be known about it; and even if something exists and something can be known about it, such knowledge cannot be communicated to others; and even if something exists, can be known about, and can be communicated about, no incentive exists to communicate anything about it to others.

It would be nice if such sophistry had been limited to ancient Greeks. However, the 20th century saw a thinker whose nonsense rivaled and even surpassed anything produced by the sophists. His name was Herbert Marcuse (1898–1979), the guru of the 1960s counterculture.

Herbert Marcuse

Marcuse is important, not because he was able to take sophistry to new levels of truth-twisting heights, but because his truth-twisting thought has been formative in defining so much of the collective "common sense" (or more accurately, common nonsense) of our age.

How formative? In 1968, when students in Paris revolted, they tore apart the city carrying banners that read "Marx/Mao/Marcuse." In his forward to Marcuse's book Negations: Essays in Critical Theory, Robert Young said that "among pure scholars [Marcuse] had the most direct and profound effect on historical events of any individual in the twentieth century."

The Frankfurt School

Marcuse came from a generation of intellectuals who had experienced the devastation of World War I. This pointless war, together with the Spanish influenza, which followed on its heels and wiped out as many as the war had destroyed, produced a generation of exhausted and cynical intellectuals ready to embrace the false optimism of either fascism or Marxism. Many who adopted the latter course came together in the Institute for Social Research at the University of Frankfurt in Germany (formally called the Institute for the Study of Marxism). Their movement was characterized by a unique intellectual vision that came to be known as "the Frankfurt school."

That vision was essentially Marxist, but with a twist. Whereas Marx believed that power rested with those who controlled the means of production, the Frankfurt school argued that power rested with those who controlled the institutions of culture. The school would come to include sociologists, art critics, psychologists, philosophers, "sexologists," political scientists, and a host of other "experts" intent on converting Marxism from a strictly economic theory into a cultural reality.

Marcuse was a key intellectual in the movement, along with Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Erich Fromm, Walter Benjamin, Leo Lowenthal, Wilhelm Reich, Georg Lukacs, and many others. These men were disillusioned with traditional Western society and values. Lukacs, who helped found the school, said that its purpose was to answer this question: "Who shall save us from Western Civilization?"

"Terror and civilization are inseparable," wrote Adorno and Horkheimer in The Dialectic of Enlightenment. The solution to terror was therefore simple: dismantle civilization. Marcuse expressed their goal like this: "One can rightfully speak of a cultural revolution, since the protest is directed toward the whole cultural establishment, including [the] morality of existing society." Lukacs saw "the revolutionary destruction of society as the one and only solution to the cultural contradictions of the epoch," and argued that "such a worldwide overturning of values cannot take place without the annihilation of the old values and the creation of new ones by the revolutionaries."

Lukacs used the Hungarian schools as a front line for instilling this cultural nihilism. Through a curriculum of radical sex education, he hoped to weaken the traditional family. Historian William Borst recounts how "Hungarian children learned the subtle nuances of free love, sexual intercourse, and the archaic nature of middle-class family codes, the obsolete nature of monogamy, and the irrelevance of organized religion, which deprived man of pleasure."

To America

When Hitler became chancellor in 1933, the Frankfurt school was forced to disband, relocating first to Geneva, and later, after most of its intellectuals fled to the United States, at Columbia University. From Columbia, its ideas were disseminated throughout American academia.

On the surface, post-war America seemed like the last place that would give this anti-Western philosophy a hearing. After all, the entire Western world, but especially America, was acutely conscious of the way fascism had nearly wiped out their civilization. The Nazis had risen to power on a wave of fashionable neo-paganism and primordial tribalism that presented itself as an alternative to the culture of the modern West. In a number of ways, therefore, the defeat of Hitler represented a triumph for Western values. In America, this victory was followed by the renewed cultural optimism characteristic of the late 1940s and 1950s, which, among other things, manifested itself in the baby boom.

The genius of the Frankfurt School lay in its ability to convert this newfound confidence into a force for sabotaging society. The strategy involved a clever redefining of fascism as an extreme right-wing heresy. According to this narrative, Nazism had been the outgrowth of a society entrenched in capitalism. ("Whoever is not prepared to talk about capitalism should also remain silent about fascism," commented sociologist Max Horkheimer.) Cultures that attached strong importance to family, religion, patriotism, and private ownership were declared virtual seedbeds of fascism.

The historical revisionism reached its height with Marcuse, who established himself as the most well-known member of the movement because of his ability to effectively communicate with the youth. Marcuse was adopted as the intellectual guru of the hippie movement, and he, in turn, provided the younger generation with a steady stream of propaganda to sanctify their rebellious impulses. (It was Marcuse who invented the catchphrase "Make love, not war.")

For Marcuse, the only answer to the problem of fascism was communism. "The Communist Parties are, and will remain, the sole anti-fascist power," he declared. For this reason, he urged Americans not to be too hard on the totalitarian experiments of their communist enemies, asserting that "the denunciation of neo-fascism and Social Democracy must outweigh denunciation of Communist policy."

Whistling & Work Theory

The Frankfurt thinkers taught that those who held conservative views were not just wrong, but neurotic. By converting conservative ideas into pathologies, they set in motion the trend of silencing others through diagnosis rather than dialogue. "Psychologizing" political opponents became a substitute for debating them.

It wasn't just their political opponents who fell under the hammer of psychoanalysis. By pioneering a discipline known as "Critical Theory," the Frankfurt School was able to deconstruct all of Western civilization. Instead of showing that the values of the West were false or deficient, they diagnosed the culture as being inherently logo-centric, patriarchal, institutional, patriotic, and capitalist. No aspect of Western society, from cleanliness to Shakespeare, was immune from this critique. Even the act of whistling fell under the deconstruction of Adorno, who said that whistling indicated "control over music" and was symptomatic of the insidious pleasure Westerners took "in possessing the melody."

It is doubtful that Marcuse ever got too worked up over whistling, but what did make him really mad was labor. A good day's honest work was one of the most repressive aspects of the civilization he hoped to undermine. As an alternative, Marcuse urged what he called "the convergence of labor and play."

The libido was the key to this pre-civilized utopia. Marcuse called for a "polymorphous sexuality" involving "a transformation of the libido from sexuality constrained under genital supremacy to eroticization of the entire personality." Once this transformation took place, labor would no longer occupy such an important role in the West. In Eros and Civilization Marcuse wrote that "labor time, which is the largest part of the individual's life time, is painful time, for alienated labor is absence of gratification, negation of the pleasure principle."

In his book Intellectual Morons, Daniel J. Flynn helpfully compares Marcuse's views on labor with those of Marx:

Marx argued against the exploitation of labor; Marcuse, against labor itself. Don't work, have sex. This was the simple message of Eros and Civilization, released in 1955. Its ideas proved to be extraordinarily popular among the fledgling hippie culture of the following decade. It provided a rationale for laziness and transformed degrading personal vices into virtues.

This elevation of laziness included self-conscious rejection of the "work" of keeping oneself clean. Thus, Marcuse argued that those who returned to a more primitive state must reject personal hygiene and experience the freedom of embracing a "body unsoiled by plastic cleanliness."


Flynn put Marcuse's entire philosophy in a nutshell when he contended that Marcuse "preached that freedom is totalitarianism, democracy is dictatorship, education is indoctrination, violence is nonviolence, and fiction is truth." As this suggests, Marcuse was a genius at "granting positive connotations to negative practices." This trick reached the height of doublespeak when Marcuse preached that tolerance is actually intolerance, and visa verse.

Guided by Marcuse's sophistry, the notion of tolerance came to mean the complete opposite of what it had formerly signified. No longer was tolerance the act of allowing or forbearing with another person's viewpoint or values despite one's disapproval of them. This was the notion espoused by liberals of the Enlightenment and embodied in the quotation (falsely attributed to Voltaire), "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Though this notion of tolerance, like any other type of liberty, has obvious legal limits, it was based on the Christian idea (not always perfectly followed) that we should refrain from deporting, imprisoning, executing, or humiliating those whose beliefs, practices, and behaviors we dislike or disapprove of.

Marcuse considered traditional tolerance to be "repressive tolerance," which needed to be replaced with "liberating tolerance." Significantly, liberating tolerance involved "intolerance against movements from the Right and toleration of movements from the Left." Movements from the Left included the activism of various groups that Marcuse encouraged to self-identify as oppressed, including homosexuals, women, blacks, and immigrants. Only minority groups such as these could be considered legitimate objects of tolerance.

Commenting on this new type of tolerance, Daniel Flynn wrote:

Tolerating what you like and censoring what you don't like, of course, had a name before Marcuse came along. It was called intolerance. Intolerance had an unpopular ring to it, so Marcuse called it by its more popular antonym, tolerance. This word was often modified by liberating, discriminating, and true. Further corruption of language came via his criticism of practitioners of free speech as "intolerant."

What emerged from the shadow of this new tolerance was a type of intellectual redistribution. Instead of redistributing economic capital from the middle class to the working class, as Marx had urged, the new tolerance sought to redistribute cultural capital. Marcuse made no secret that this was his ultimate goal, admitting that he commended "the practice of discriminating tolerance in an inverse direction, as a means of shifting the balance between Right and Left by restraining the liberty of the Right." This was achieved in a number of ways, including what Flynn has described as "attitudinal adjustment" effected by "psychological conditioning through entertainment, the class room, linguistic taboos, and other means [that] transmit their ideology through osmosis."

In the years since Marcuse, the notion of tolerance has completed its metamorphosis. Whereas under the old notion of tolerance, a man had to disagree with something in order to tolerate it, under the new meaning, there can be no disagreement; rather, a person must actually accept all values and viewpoints as being equally legitimate (the obvious exception being that we must not tolerate the old notion of tolerance.)

Unlike many of his philosophical descendants, Marcuse was perfectly conscious of the double standard he advocated, making no secret of the fact that he was willing to stamp out academic freedom in order to shift the balance of power. He even acknowledged that this new model of tolerance involved "the withdrawal of toleration of speech and assembly from groups and movements which promote aggressive policies," while "the restoration of freedom of thought may necessitate new and rigid restrictions on teachings and practices in the educational institutions which, by their very methods and concepts, serve to enclose the mind within the established universe of discourse and behavior." What Marcuse was saying is even more radical than Gorgias's claim that nothing exists. It amounts to this: Freedom of thought and freedom of speech can only be achieved by rigid restrictions on thought and speech.

In arguing for "the cancellation of the liberal creed of free and equal discussion" (from his essay "Repressive Tolerance"), Marcuse helped undermine the ancient university motto lux et veritas. The modern university, with its vigilant policing of ideas and its politically driven censorship policies, was given its intellectual legitimization by Marcuse.


While it is doubtful that anyone took Gorgias's thought seriously (least of all Gorgias himself), Marcuse's ideas have been taken so seriously that they have formed the intellectual foundation both for the academic Left and for the machine of political correctness that drives much contemporary media bias.

Gorgias knew that he was being irrational, but he did so for the enjoyment of demonstrating his intellectual powers. Marcuse also knew he was being irrational, but he believed that irrationality was good. For him, logic was a tool of domination and oppression, whereas, he wrote in One Dimensional Man, "the ability to . . . convert illusion into reality and fiction into truth, testify to the extent to which Imagination has become an instrument of progress."

Marcuse served stints at Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Brandeis, and the University of California at San Diego. In each of these institutions, he preached his gospel of nihilism, in which negative concepts and words were continually twisted into positives. Up until his death in 1979, he continued to convince people to "convert illusion into reality."

The truly amazing thing is that so many people have believed his illusions.

Read the entire article on the Salvo Magazine website (new window will open).

Date posted: May 23, 2013

Euphemisms as Political Manipulation

Americans have lost the art of honest debate. Perhaps better stated, we have thrown it away. Advocates on all sides of political and cultural spectrums cynically manipulate public opinion through focus group–tested obfuscating words and phrases rather than persuade through candid and accurate descriptions of advocacy agendas.

I have grappled with this tactic for over twenty years as an activist against the legalization of assisted suicide and euthanasia. When I first engaged the issue in 1993, the Hemlock Society was the nation’s foremost organization advocating legalized physician-assisted suicide. Talk about candor in advocacy—hemlock was the poison swallowed by Socrates to carry out his death sentence, and the slogan of the organization was “good life, good death.” No confusion or pretense about the agenda there.

But look what happened. The Hemlock Society eventually merged with one of its own offshoots, Compassion in Dying, to form Compassion and Choices. Talk about euphemistic honey to help the hemlock go down.

Today assisted suicide is described almost exclusively through euphemism, especially in media coverage. The most prominent phrase is “death with dignity.” Several years ago, Compassion and Choices began a campaign to convince reporters not to use the word “suicide” to describe a terminally ill person’s deliberate use of a lethal prescription of drugs. The word “suicide,” Compassion and Choices scolded, is “biased” and steeped in “value judgment.” Worse, in the group’s view, it carries a “social stigma,” causing readers to “be misled.” In contrast, the group claimed that “aid in dying” is “value neutral” since it is undertaken by terminally ill people who take “medication”—another euphemism in this context—who don’t want to die but merely “shorten their dying process.”

The contrary is true, of course. Assisted suicide is the accurate and descriptive term that explicitly describes the act in question. Suicide describes the act, not the motive. Someone who kills himself commits suicide, regardless of whether he does so because of mental instability, a career collapse, or a terminal illness.

None other than the founder of the Hemlock Society, Derek Humphry, protested the use of euphemisms in assisted suicide advocacy in a 2006 letter to the editor published in the Register Guard of Eugene, Oregon. Humphry wrote against using the term “death with dignity” to describe the “lawful act [in Oregon] of a physician helping a terminally ill person to die by handing them a lethal overdose,” as “an affront to the English language.” The proper term should be physician-assisted suicide, Humphry opined, because, “‘Physician’ means a licensed M.D.; ‘assisted’ means helping; and ‘suicide’ means deliberately ending life.”

Humphry ended the letter with a plea to “call a spade, a spade.” Indeed. Otherwise, we can’t have an honest societal debate about one of the more consequential—and potentially culture-changing—issues of our time.

The assisted suicide movement certainly isn’t alone in deploying euphemisms as a political tactic. We all have examples we can name. The “right to an abortion,” rarely used, would be accurate. The ubiquitous “right to choose” and that sound bite of all sound bites, “choice,” are inaccurate because their intent is to hide the subject of the decision. Similarly, the New York Times recently referred to babies who survived late-term abortion—only to be murdered by the abortionist Kermit Gosnell—as “fetuses,” even though there is no such thing as a born fetus.

The intentionally bloodless term “collateral damage,” used during war, is particularly galling in this regard. Collateral in this context means “secondary,” or “indirect.” Damage means “physical harm caused to something in such a way as to impair its value, usefulness, or normal function.” The point of the term is to distance ourselves from the horror that actually happened: the killing and wounding of non-combatants during an act of war.

The proper and accurate term for such a circumstance is “civilian casualties.” Surely war is of sufficient import, and basic respect for these victims should require accurate terminology in describing the carnage.

The struggle over the lexicon about how to properly describe aliens illegally in the United States is another example. I think “illegal alien” is properly descriptive. So too is the somewhat more tactful “undocumented immigrant,” as that describes the lack of formal permission for these people to be residing in the country. But notice that many advocates for legalizing the status of millions of such people in the country now refer to them merely as “migrants” or “immigrants.”

The media play a huge role in this problem. Indeed, it is easy to discern the side of a controversy that the media favor by the words and terms reporters deploy in stories to describe the political combatants. Thus, the Associated Press stylebook requires the use of the following terms involving contentious debates:

Abortion: Use anti-abortion instead of pro-life and abortion rights instead of pro-abortion or pro-choice. Avoid abortionist, which connotes a person who performs clandestine abortions.

Similarly, “illegal alien” is now forbidden by the A.P.:

Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use “illegal” only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant.

Euphemisms are a propagandistic tool of misdirection. They ill serve a free people. But advocates won’t stop manipulating us until we insist that they, in Humphry’s words, “call a spade a spade.”

Read the entire article on the First Things website (new window will open).

Date posted: May 24, 2013

How America Helped Kill Middle Eastern Christianity

Do, do, do read Andrew Doran’s TAC essay today about how US Mideast policy toward Iraq and others is destroying Christianity in the land of its birth. Note well this:

Two weeks after the Bush-Laghi meeting, on March 19, 2003, Operation Iraqi Freedom commenced. Shortly after combat operations concluded on May 1, the real conflict began. Amid the chaos and sectarian violence that followed, Iraq’s Christians suffered severe persecution. Neither the military nor the State Department took action to protect them. In October 2003, human rights expert Nina Shea noted that religious freedom and a pluralistic Iraq were not high priorities for the administration, concluding that its “diffidence on religious freedom suggests Washington’s relative indifference to this basic human right.” Shea added, “Washington’s refusal to insist on guarantees of religious freedom threatens to undermine its already difficult task of securing a fully democratic government in Iraq”—more prescience that would be likewise disregarded.

Syrian Rebel

Iraq’s diaspora Christian community in America had also foreseen the danger, and quickly took action, helping thousands of refugees with humanitarian assistance. The Chaldean Federation’s Joseph Kassab, himself a refugee from Baathist Iraq decades before, advocated zealously for their protection. Kassab’s brother, Jabrail, a Chaldean archbishop, helped organize relief in Iraq during the sanctions from 1991-2003, doing “all that he could to help the Iraqi people—Christians and Muslims together.” His brother remained at his post until October 2006, when a Syrian Orthodox priest, Fr. Paulos Eskander, was abducted and beheaded, after which Pope Benedict ordered him to leave Iraq. Fr. Eskander’s murder was part of a campaign that targeted the most conspicuous of Christians—the clergy.

In February 2008, Archbishop Paulos Rahho’s vehicle was attacked after he finished praying the Stations of the Cross in Mosul. His driver and bodyguards were killed. Rahho, wounded but alive, was put into the trunk of the assassins’ car and taken from the scene. He managed to pull out his cell phone and call his church to tell them not to pay his ransom, saying he “believed that this money would not be paid for good works and would be used for killing and more evil actions.” His body was found in a shallow grave two weeks later.

During this campaign of systematic violence, the U.S. military provided no protection to the already vulnerable Christian community. In some instances, the clergy went to local American military units to beg to for protection. None was given. As Shea noted two weeks later, the administration and the State Department—whose record on Christian minorities and religious freedom leaves much to be desired—still refused to “acknowledge that the Christians and other defenseless minorities are persecuted for reasons of religion.”

A month after the murder of Archbishop Rahho, President Bush addressed the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C.  Joseph Kassab had been invited to pray the Hail Mary and Our Father in Aramaic following Bush’s remarks, an act of solidarity with the Christians of the Arab world. “I had two or three minutes with the president behind the curtains,” Kassab said in a recent interview. “He said he thought you had to fix the whole picture before coming to the other elements. It was disappointing. He knew it was a failure and his administration refused to acknowledge that.”

Rosie Malek-Yonan, an Assyrian Christian who testified before Congress, would call the Bush administration a “silent accomplice” to “incipient genocide.” Anglican Canon Andrew White of Baghdad’s Ecumenical Congregation captured the reality with blunt precision: “All of my leadership were taken and killed—all dead.”

Those Iraqi Christians who fled to America would fare little better in seeking asylum. Many Chaldeans and Assyrians were detained, until their cases were heard, in what an attorney familiar with Chaldean-asylum cases describes as “prisons,” adding that she “never worked on a case where a Chaldean was granted asylum, but I heard that it happened.” Throughout these deportation proceedings, the administration and the State Department steadfastly refused to recognize the conditions—which the U.S. had helped to bring about—as “persecution.” In consequence, most were deported.

Most were deported. Good Lord, I had no idea. What a freaking disgrace upon my country and its government. And though not as bad as Bush, the current president is still at it:

Among the refugees are more Iraqi Christians, who originally fled to the relative freedom and tolerance of Syria, only to find themselves again fleeing persecution, often hunted by Syria’s rebels. Many of these rebels are members or affiliates of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network. The Obama administration, bewilderingly, has chosen to support Syria’s rebel groups without any apparent thought of the consequences. The extent of covert support remains unclear, though reports suggest it is significant. As in Iraq, the insurgent campaign in Syria targets priests, the most visible symbols of the Christian faith.

The protection and perseverance of minority religious communities—indeed, of religious freedom—continues to be a low priority for the Obama administration and the State Department.  The U.S. fails to recognize that the Islamist-Wahabbist commitment to eradicating Christian minorities today will result in the extinction of diverse modes of Islam tomorrow, a fact that is not lost on moderate Muslims.

A foreign correspondent I know, a thoroughly secular man of wide international experience, writes to me:

A hundred years from now, I suspect the lasting historical legacy of the American interventions in the Middle East and of the fall of the Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt will be the end of Christianity in the Middle East. Anyone wanting confirmation of Hegel’s axiom that history is a slaughter bench need look no further than the the fact that this process should have been hastened (for I suppose one could argue it was likely over the long term, anyway, because in the Middle East, as in Europe after World War I, multicultural and multi-confessional societies are no longer able to survive) by the decisions of American president whose Christian identity seems to have meant more to him than to any president since Jimmy Carter (not the ONLY parallel between them, by the way, though of course the suggestion would horrify both men). And why so many conservative Christians (not just neo-cons and liberal hawks) support doubling down on this mistake in Syria is a complete mystery to me.

I am working this morning from a hotel room in Texas, where I’ve come on business for a couple of days. I just had a heartbreaking conversation with the maid, an older woman who is a Kosovar Muslim war refugee. Dear lady, she talked about how thankful she is to America that our country offered her and her husband and children refuge from Milosevic’s persecution, but how humiliating it has been for her to work as a chambermaid all these years.

“I only make enough to pay my rent and my groceries, but I am happy for that,” she said. “At least I have my life. But it is hard, when you have everything taken from you, and you are so old when you come to this new country that the only thing you have the language skills for is cleaning rooms.”

I could tell that she felt bad that she had complained. She followed by saying that she is grateful that she and her family have their lives, and weren’t murdered by the Serbs. I told her I agreed, and that I feel sorry today for the Serbian Orthodox monks and nuns whose monasteries are today being desecrated and destroyed by Kosovar Muslim thugs. She smiled sadly.

Anyway, America gave this Muslim woman and her family a haven from persecution in a war we didn’t start. Yet we could not give Arab Christian families — people from our own cultural and civilizational roots — a haven, even though we started the war that led directly to their own murder and persecution.

Shame on America. Christian readers, let’s batter the offices of our members of Congress and our president on behalf of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East, who are suffering in part because of our country’s actions.

Read the entire article on the American Conservative website (new window will open).

Date posted: May 12, 2013

Either Europe Will Become Christian Again or It Will Become Muslim

Only a few days ago one of the best known figures of the Italian counter-jihad, Egyptian-born journalist Magdi Cristiano Allam, a former Muslim who converted to Catholicism, announced that, although he remains Christian, he has left the Catholic Church.

In his column in the daily paper Il Giornale he gave several reasons, prominent among which is “Because this Church is weak vis-à-vis Islam”:

What more than anything else drove me away from the Church is its religious relativism, in particular the legitimization of Islam as true religion, of Allah as true God, of Muhammad as true prophet, of the Koran as sacred text, of mosques as places of worship. It is genuine suicidal madness that John Paul II went so far as to kiss the Koran on May 14, 1999, Benedict XVI put his hand on the Koran praying toward Mecca in the Blue Mosque in Istanbul on November 30, 2006, while Francis I began by extolling the Muslims “who worship one, living and merciful God.” On the contrary I am convinced that, while respecting Muslims who, like all people, possess the inalienable rights to life, dignity and freedom, Islam is an inherently violent ideology, as it has historically been conflictual inside and belligerent outside. Even more I am increasingly convinced that Europe will eventually be submitted to Islam, as has already happened from the seventh century to the other two sides of the Mediterranean, if it does not have the vision and the courage to denounce the incompatibility of  Islam with our civilization and the fundamental rights of the person, if it does not ban the Koran for apology of hatred, violence and death against non-Muslims, if it does not condemn Sharia law as a crime against humanity in that it preaches and practices the violation of the sanctity of everyone’s life, the equal dignity of men and women, and religious freedom, and finally if it does not block the spread of mosques.

Christian - Muslim Europe

This news has attracted national and worldwide media attention, just as the announcement of his conversion from Islam to Catholicism on 22 March, Easter Eve night, 2008 did, when he “received Baptism, Confirmation and Communion in St Peter’s Basilica from Pope Benedict XVI”.

Allam’s position has several Italian (and international) counter-jihad blogs sympathetic to it, carrying articles with titles like Islamic Fundamentalism and the Impossible Dialogue.

But his new decision to leave the Church has also attracted many criticisms in Italy. Journalist Filippo Savarese: “I do not know what could be worse than repudiating one’s conversion for (alleged) issues which are in fact mostly ‘political’.” Politician Maurizio Lupi who was Allam’s godfather: “I am sorry, but Christianity taught me to love the freedom of every man and to respect it even when I do not agree with his choices. In this case not even with the reasons (we are Christian for love of truth not for aversion to Islam), but I notice that, unfortunately, this is the attitude of many who say they accept Christ but not the Church.”

Gabriele Satolli, candidate to the 2013 Italian general election for the party founded by Allam, Io Amo l’Italia, left the party, called Magdi’s motivations “raving, and therefore impossible to agree with.”

Still, although we may dispute whether they are a good enough reason to leave the Catholic Church, Allam’s arguments are grounded in reality.

“Having a dialogue” is by definition a reciprocal verb, as “being a sibling.” They mean something only if what is true of the subject of the verb is also true of the object, be it a quality, relationship or activity. When a call for dialogue is not met with a response, it is a monologue.

As Raymond Ibrahim points out, the Muslim countries with some of the worst records on their treatment of Christians are also the most interested in interfaith initiatives in the West:

Few things offer surreal experiences as when Islam and the West interact—when 7th century primordialism encounters 21st century relativism.  Consider the issue of “interfaith dialogue.”  In principle, it is a decent thing: Christians, Jews, Muslims, and others trying to reach a common ground and professing mutual respect.  But what does one make of the gross contradictions that emerge when a human-rights violating nation calls for “dialogue,” even as it enforces religious intolerance on its own turf?

Enter Saudi Arabia.  Birthplace of Islam, the Arabian kingdom is also the one Muslim nation that regularly sponsors interfaith initiatives in the West—even as its official policy back home is to demonize and persecute the very faiths it claims to want to have an interfaith dialogue with.

There are different positions within the Catholic Church with regard to Islam, with a minority of voices, some of which are powerful, dissenting from the official stance.

The two positions at the extreme opposites are exemplified by the late Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, who was Archbishop of Milan, and Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, Archbishop of Bologna.

The former is credited with having anticipated many bishops of Italy and Europe in stretching out an acquiescent hand towards Islam. As early as 1990 he dedicated his Saint Ambrose homely to “We and Islam.” In 2001, after 9/11, his Saint Ambrose homely had a title that substituted a clear stance with a list of concepts: “Terrorism, retaliation, self-defence, war and peace.”

On Islam, the most difficult issue of the decade, as well as on many other questions, Martini’s position has always been the search for a grey area, a balancing act: “We have to prevent the dramatic scenario of a clash of civilizations,” qualified by “We must not delegitimize the right to self-defence from terrorism and the need to extinguish its hotbeds.”

It is interesting how, replicating the ideological and political alliance between Islam and the Left in the Western lay world, Cardinal Martini, considered a progressive and constantly praised by the mainstream liberal media, was after his death eulogized by the leftist newspaper La Repubblica for having approved of policies ranging “from dialogue with Islam to yes to condoms” and because “he had never condemned euthanasia.”

Writer and blogger Antonio Socci thus sums him up rather unfavourably: “Everything imposed by ideological fashions found Martini open to dialogue and to all possibilities: ‘there is nothing wrong in two people, even homosexuals, having a stable relationship and in the State favouring them,’ he had said.”

At the other end of the spectrum is Cardinal Giacomo Biffi. As early as 30 September 2000, before 9/11, when not many people in the West worried about Islam at all, he delivered a speech at the Fondazione Migrantes seminar, “On Immigration”. The following [translated from Italian by the author] is what he said on Muslim immigration to Italy and Islam:

The case of Muslims

If we do not want to evade or censor realistic attention, it is apparent that the case of Muslims should be treated separately. And it is hoped that political leaders will not be afraid to face it with open eyes and without illusions.

Muslims – in their vast majority and with few exceptions – come here determined to remain alien to our “humanity”, individual and social, in its most essential, valuable, “secularly” non-renounceable aspects: more or less openly, they come here determined to remain substantially “different”, waiting for us all to become substantially like them.

They have different eating habits (not in itself a big problem), a different holiday in the week, a family law incompatible with our own, a concept of women very far removed from ours (going as far as practicing polygamy). Above all, they have a strictly fundamentalist view of public life, so much so that the perfect identification between religion and politics is part of their unquestionable and inalienable faith, although they prudently wait to become predominant before imposing it. It is therefore not the Church, but modern Western states that must think carefully about this.

I shall say more than that: if our state seriously believes in the importance of civil liberties (including religious) and democratic principles, it should work to make them more widespread, accepted and practiced at all latitudes. A small tool to achieve this goal is the request of being given a not purely verbal “reciprocity” by the immigrants’ countries of origin.

In this respect the Italian Bishops Conference wrote in 1993: “In many Islamic countries it is almost impossible to adhere to and freely practice Christianity. There are no places of worship, non-Islamic religious events are not allowed, not even minimal ecclesiastical organizations exist. That raises the difficult problem of reciprocity. And this is a problem that affects not only the Church, but also civil society and politics, the world of culture and even international relations. For his part, the Pope is tireless in asking everyone to respect the fundamental right to religious freedom” (n. 34). But – we say – asking does not help very much, even if the pope cannot do any more.

Although it may seem alien to our mentality and even paradoxical, the only effective and not unrealistic way to promote the “principle of reciprocity” by a really “secular” state,  truly interested in propagating human freedoms, would be to allow for Muslims in Italy only the authorization of institutions which Muslim countries actually allow for others. [...]


In an interview ten years ago, I was asked with great candor and with enviable optimism: “Are You among those who believe that Europe will either be Christian or cease to exist?” I think my answer then may well serve to conclude my speech today.

I think – I said – that either Europe will become Christian again or it will become Muslim. What I see without future is the “culture of nothing”, of freedom without limits and without content, of skepticism boasted as intellectual achievement, which seems to be the attitude largely dominant among European peoples, all more or less rich of means and poor of truths. This “culture of nothingness” (sustained by hedonism and libertarian insatiability) will not be able to withstand the ideological onslaught of Islam, which will not be missing: only the rediscovery of the Christian event as the only salvation for man – and therefore only a strong resurrection of the ancient soul of Europe – will offer a different outcome to this inevitable confrontation.

Unfortunately, neither “secularists” nor “Catholics” seem to have so far realized the tragedy that is looming. “Secularists”, opposing the Church in every way, do not realize that they are fighting against the strongest inspiration and the most effective defence of Western civilization and its values of rationality and freedom: they might realize it too late. “Catholics”, letting the knowledge of the truth they possessed fade in themselves and replacing apostolic anxiety with pure and simple dialogue at all costs, unconsciously pave the way (humanly speaking) to their own extinction. The only hope is that the seriousness of the situation may at some point lead to an effective awakening both of reason and of the ancient faith.

It is our hope, our commitment, our prayer.

Written in 2000. All predictions confirmed. Truer, if possible, now than it was even then.

Enza Ferreri is an Italian-born, London-based Philosophy graduate, author and journalist. She has been a London correspondent for several Italian magazines and newspapers, including Panorama, L’Espresso, La Repubblica.

She blogs at

Read the entire article on the Raymond Ibrahim - Islam Translated website (new window will open).

Date posted: May 9, 2013

Questions Surround Religious Ministries, Health Mandates

When describing how his disciples should serve the needy, Jesus told a parable about a good Samaritan who rescued a traveler who had been robbed and left for dead.

This businessman didn't care that his act of kindness took place in public and that the injured man didn't share his faith.

This raises a haunting question for those involved in the church-state struggles surrounding the Health and Human Services mandate requiring most religious institutions to offer their employees, and often students, health-insurance plans covering sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives, including "morning-after pills."

As Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops noted in an online memo: "HHS has such a narrow standard as to who operates a religious ministry, Jesus himself couldn't pass muster."


Read the entire article on The Republic website (new window will open).

Date posted: May 8, 2013

The Mass Exodus of Christians from the Muslim World

A mass exodus of Christians is currently underway.  Millions of Christians are being displaced from one end of the Islamic world to the other.

We are reliving the true history of how the Islamic world, much of which prior to the Islamic conquests was almost entirely Christian, came into being.

Pope Tawadros

Pope Tawadros II, the 118th pope of the Coptic Church of Egypt, leads the Easter Mass at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, Egypt

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom recently said: “The flight of Christians out of the region is unprecedented and it’s increasing year by year.”  In our lifetime alone “Christians might disappear altogether from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Egypt.”

Ongoing reports from the Islamic world certainly support this conclusion:  Iraq was the earliest indicator of the fate awaiting Christians once Islamic forces are liberated from the grip of dictators.

In 2003, Iraq’s Christian population was at least one million. Today fewer than 400,000 remain the result of an anti-Christian campaign that began with the U.S. occupation of Iraq, when countless Christian churches were bombed and countless Christians killed, including by crucifixion and beheading.

The 2010 Baghdad church attack, which saw nearly 60 Christian worshippers slaughtered, is the tip of a decade-long iceberg.

Now, as the U.S. supports the jihad on Syria’s secular president Assad, the same pattern has come to Syria: entire regions and towns where Christians lived for centuries before Islam came into being have now been emptied, as the opposition targets Christians for kidnapping, plundering, and beheadings, all in compliance with mosque calls telling the populace that it’s a “sacred duty” to drive Christians away.

In October 2012 the last Christian in the city of Homs—which had a Christian population of some 80,000 before jihadis came—was murdered.  One teenage Syrian girl said: “We left because they were trying to kill us… because we were Christians….  Those who were our neighbors turned against us. At the end, when we ran away, we went through balconies. We did not even dare go out on the street in front of our house.”.

In Egypt, some 100,000 Christian Copts have fled their homeland soon after the “Arab Spring.”  In September 2012, the Sinai’s small Christian community was attacked and evicted by Al Qaeda linked Muslims, Reuters reported. But even before that, the Coptic Orthodox Church lamented the “repeated incidents of displacement of Copts from their homes, whether by force or threat.

Displacements began in Ameriya [62 Christian families evicted], then they stretched to Dahshur [120 Christian families evicted], and today terror and threats have reached the hearts and souls of our Coptic children in Sinai.”.

Iraq, Syria, and Egypt are part of the Arab world.  But even in “black” African and “white” European nations with Muslim majorities, Christians are fleeing.

In Mali, after a 2012 Islamic coup, as many as 200,000 Christians fled.  According to reports, “the church in Mali faces being eradicated,” especially in the north “where rebels want to establish an independent Islamist state and drive Christians out… there have been house to house searches for Christians who might be in hiding, churches and other Christian property have been looted or destroyed, and people tortured into revealing any Christian relatives.” At least one pastor was beheaded.

Even in European Bosnia, Christians are leaving en mass “amid mounting discrimination and Islamization.”  Only 440,000 Catholics remain in the Balkan nation, half the prewar figure.

Problems cited are typical:  “while dozens of mosques were built in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo, no building permissions [permits] were given for Christian churches.” “Time is running out as there is a worrisome rise in radicalism,” said one authority, who further added that the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina were “persecuted for centuries” after European powers “failed to support them in their struggle against the Ottoman Empire.”.

And so history repeats itself.

One can go on and on.

To anyone following the plight of Christians under Islamic persecution, none of this is surprising.  As I document in my new book, “Crucified Again: Exposing Islam’s New War on Christians,” all around the Islamic world—in nations that do not share the same race, language, culture, or economics, in nations that share only Islam—Christians are being persecuted into extinction. Such is the true face of extremist Islamic resurgence.

Original story on Fox News.

Read the entire article on the website (new window will open)..

Date posted: May 8, 2013

Peter’s Theology of the Atonement

Father Pat's Pastoral Ponderings

When we consider the oral tradition that preceded the writing of the Gospels, it is essential to consider its personal quality; only a few individuals were able to speak to the ministry and teaching of Jesus with recognized authority: the Apostles whom he had chosen. The Evangelists, in their composition, did not draw on rootless sources and anonymous testimonies. The canonical collectors, the men who gathered these writings into an authoritative corpus, were certain that each of the Gospels rested on the personal witness of one of the Twelve. In Mark, for instance, they knew they were dealing with Peter.

St. Peter - Russian Mosaic

This is the reason we should study Peter's theology of the Atonement in conjunction with our examination of Mark. For now, two texts will suffice:

Writing of the Passion of Christ, Saint Peter declared, "It is better to suffer for doing good-if God's will so determines-than for doing evil. For also Christ suffered once for sins, a just man for unjust people, in order that he might bring you to God, being slain in the flesh but enlivened in the Spirit . . ." (1 Peter 3:18).

Several points in this compact text merit particular reflection:

First, Peter introduces this imagery for an exhortatory purpose; he is holding up Jesus as a moral example Christians are to follow. The immediate context discloses this purpose; in the preceding verses he tells his readers to be always ready to provide a "defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed" (3:15-16).

Second, Peter's allusions to Isaiah 53 in this place are unmistakable. The prophet had written: "The Lord handed him over for our sins (paredoken avton tais hamatiais hemon). . .For the transgressions of my people he was led unto death" (Isaiah 53:6 & 8 LXX).

Third, in appealing to soteriological meaning of the Isaian text, Peter describes Jesus' own intention: "He suffered . . . in order . . ."—-apethanen . . . hina." That is to say, our access to God, according to Peter, was not simply the result of Jesus' suffering but its deliberate reason. The atonement was not only the objective purpose (telos) effected by Jesus suffering; it was also his subjective intention, his deliberate aim (skopos), in so suffering. The fulfillment of the Isaian prophecy was not only something Jesus did; it is something he had in mind to do.

This is a precious testimony, inasmuch as Peter was a witness to the thoughts and sentiments Jesus expressed during the period leading immediately up to his death, the timeframe indicated in the second half of Mark's Gospel. Peter heard each of the Lord's prophecies of the Passion.

Fourth, according to Peter the atoning work of Christ included, not only the removal of sins, but also a positive access to God. According to Peter, Jesus brings (prosagage) us to God.

With respect to the same Isaian prophecy, another passage in 1 Peter is more detailed and certainly more explicit: "Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow his steps, ‘who did not sin, nor was deceit found in his mouth’; who, when he was reviled, did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but committed himself to Him who judges righteously; who himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—-by his wounding you were healed" (2:21-24).

Once again, certain observations are in order:

First, Peter's intention, is exhortatory; he appeals to the sufferings of Christ by way of providing a practical example to his readers how they are to follow in his steps. Peter's intention is conveyed in the immediately preceding verses: "For what sort of credit is there if you bear it patiently when you are beaten for your faults? If, however, you endure it when you do good and still suffer, this is pleasing to God. For to this you have been called, because also Christ suffered for you . . ." (2:20-21).

Second, the reference to Isaian prophecy is indicated, not only by a verbal similarity, but also by a direct quotation: "he did not sin, nor was deceit found in his mouth" (Isaiah 53:9 (XX).

Third, Peter's direct quotation is surrounded with other echoes of Isaiah 53. For instance, his assertion, "by his wounding you were healed," is a near quotation of Isaiah 53:5, "by his wounding we have been healed" (Isaiah 53:5).

Date posted: May 8, 2013

Christ as the Paschal Lamb

Fr. Pat's Pastoral Ponderings

Very early in the Fourth Gospel, John the Baptist sees Jesus and exclaims, "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world!" (John 1:29) The Evangelist tells us that John repeated this identification on the following day (1:36). For the rest of the Fourth Gospel, nothing more is said of John's exclamation; he identified Jesus as the sacrificial lamb, but the theme is not further pursued in the story.

Icon of the Crucifixion of Christ

When Jesus dies, however, the Evangelist suddenly comments on the fact that Jesus' legs were not broken on the Cross. Interpreting this fact as a fulfillment of biblical prophecy, he quotes the Book of Exodus: "Not one of his bones shall be broken" (19:36; Exodus 12:46). John expects his readers to be familiar with that text; he assumes they will recognize that this verse pertains to the Paschal Lamb. In citing it, John identifies Jesus as the true Paschal Lamb.

If we look closely at this imagery, however, we recognize that the image of Jesus as Paschal Lamb has passed through a filter, so to speak. In the Mosaic Law the paschal lamb was not a sin offering. It was a special sacrifice immediately tied to Israel's deliverance from Egyptian slavery. It represented—-if the expression be allowed—-the embodiment of liberation from slavery.

How, then, does John the Baptist, who identifies Jesus as the Paschal Lamb, declare that he takes away the sins of the world? Here is where I want to employ the metaphor of the filter: the theme of the paschal lamb has been filtered through the Isaian image of the Suffering Servant, whom the prophet declares, "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb is silent before his shearers, so he opens not his mouth."

The original lamb was not a sin offering; it was offered in the context of Israel's deliverance from slavery. The blood of that lamb marked the doorposts of the houses of the Israelites, so that the angel of the Lord would spare those houses the dreadful tenth plague which was visited on Egypt on the night of Passover.

This new Lamb of God, however, does more than free the Israelites from servitude in Egypt. He is the Suffering Servant of the Lord, described in the Book of Isaiah as a sin offering. This new Paschal Lamb takes away the sins of the whole world. He does not perish for one people only, but to gather into one all the scattered children of God. This verse from Exodus, cited at the scene on the Cross, ties the end of John's account back to the exclamation of John the Baptist in the first chapter.

This imagery ties St. John's theology to that of St. Paul, who wrote to the Corinthians, "Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed." It ties John also to Peter, who declared our redemption by "the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Peter 1:19).

We are now observing the Christian Passover, that feast of which St. Gregory the Theologian wrote, "Then comes the Sacred Night, the anniversary of the confused darkness of the present life, into which the primeval darkness is dissolved, and all things come into life and rank and form, and that which was chaos is constrained to order. Then we flee from Egypt; that is, from sullen persecuting sin; and from Pharaoh the unseen tyrant . . . (Orations 45.25).

St. Gregory perceives the conflation of the imagery from Exodus 12 and Isaiah 53. Here is how he describes the Paschal Lamb: "Thus then and for this cause the written Law came in, gathering us into Christ; and this is the account of the Sacrifices as I account for them. And that you may not be ignorant of the depth of His Wisdom and the riches of His inscrutable judgments. He did not leave even these unhallowed altogether, or useless, or with nothing in them but mere blood. But that great—-and if I may say so—-in its first [divine] nature 'unsacrificeable' Victim was intermingled with the Sacrifices of the Law, and was a purification, not for a part of the world, nor for only a short time, but for the whole world and for all time."

Recognizing that the wool of the lamb—-though it is the lamb's native nakedness—-provides the clothing for the human being, Gregory transposes this imagery to the case of Christ, whose very innocence becomes the proper clothing for the wedding feast, the very garment of incorruption: “For this reason a Lamb was chosen for its innocence, and its clothing of the original nakedness. For such is the Victim offered for us, who is both in name and fact the garment of incorruption.”

Gregory continues the symbolism of the lamb, finally identifying it with the suffering Victim in Isaiah 53: “And he was a perfect Victim not only on account of his divinity, than which nothing is more perfect; but also on account of that which he assumed, having been anointed with the divinity, and having become one with Him who anointed it, and I am bold to say, made equal with God . He was a male, because he was offered for Adam . . . He both took on Him our sins and bore our weakness (Isaiah 53:4), yet he did not himself suffer anything that needed healing. For he was tempted in all points like as we are yet without sin. For he that persecuted the Light that shines in darkness could not overcome him” (45.13).

This is the meaning of the Passover, said Gregory, because “the Lamb is slain, and act and word are sealed with the Precious Blood” (45.25). He goes on, “we will feed on the Lamb toward evening— for Christ's Passion was in the completion of the ages; because, in addition, he communicated his disciples in the evening with his Sacrament, destroying the darkness of sin” (45.26).

Here we perceive the symbolism of the darkness that covered the earth for three hours, as the true Paschal Lamb was being slain. Here we detect the mystery of the redemptive blood that flowed from his side to anoint our hearts and minds against the avenging angel.

Date posted: May 8, 2013

Gosnell Not An Aberration

Some have taken cold comfort in the hope that late term abortion/infanticide is an aberration. But that isn't necessarily so, either in practice, or more particularly, in advocacy. Indeed, the idea that it is ethical to kill newborns—whether after a botched abortion or after normal birth—has been gaining traction for many years.

Baby Footprint

Nor is the Gosnell trial the first case of alleged killings of babies born alive after an attempted abortion. In 2003, a woman named Sycloria Williams discovered she was pregnant at about 23 weeks. She decided to abort and the abortionist, Pierre Jean-Jacques Renelique, gave her drugs to induce premature labor.

When her contractions began, she went to the abortion clinic, but Renelique wasn't there to kill the fetus. Before he could arrive, her baby girl was born alive. A clinic co-owner named Belkis Gonzalez, entered the room. cut the baby's umbilical cord, and placed the live baby, placenta and afterbirth in a medical waste bag. Staff at the clinic did not call 911 or seek medical assistance for Williams or the baby, the subsequent lawsuit [by Williams] said. Police were notified of the incident by an anonymous caller, and her corpse was later discovered in a clinic closet.

Because Renelique wasn't present, he only lost his medical license in Florida. Because the autopsy couldn't state categorically that the baby died because of negligence, Gonzales eventually pled guilty to practicing medicine without a license, receiving five years-probation.

The murdered, Dr. George Tiller, became infamous for performing very late-term abortions in Kansas. Under Kansas law, before abortions can be performed post viability, the abortionist must obtain a second medical opinion as to the reasons for the abortion and mental health status of the mother. Tiller's friend, Dr Ann Kristin Neuhause, often provided the required second opinion—or perhaps better stated, the rubber stamps. In 2012 she lost her license to practice medicine "for performing inadequate mental health evaluations on 11 patients, ages 10 to 18, who had late-term abortions at Tiller's clinic from July to November 2003."

Many among the pro-choice community support a right to late term abortion, and indeed, some even refuse to say that babies born alive during an abortion should be treated medically like any other infant. Most recently, a lobbyist for the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates named Alisa Laport Snow made headlines when she testified before a committee considering state legislation to require treatment of babies that survive abortion. Asked by Representative Jim Boyd, "If a baby is born on a table as a result of a botched abortion, what would Planned Parenthood want to have happen to that child that is struggling for life?" she replied,"We believe that any decision that's made should be left up to the woman, her family, and the physician."

Planned Parenthood later "clarified" its position, stating that such children should be treated. But one need not be a cynic to question the organization's sincerity.

Meanwhile, a documentary about four late term abortionists, entitled "After Tiller," was screened "to cheers" at the Sundance Film Festival. According to the Hollywood Reporter, "The audience gave a standing ovation for the filmmakers as well as the four featured doctors who were on hand to take questions from the audience after the film"

More famously, the President of the United States once stated he supports abortion rights through the ninth month. Even more extremely, when he was an Illinois State Senator, he voted against a born alive protection bill on the basis that it might "burden the original decision of the woman and the physician to induce labor and perform an abortion."

Many see these cases and advocacies as shocking. I view them as merely the first forays of what may one day become legalized infanticide. Indeed, advocacy for killing newborns has achieved outright respectability. Peter Singer, as just one example, has repeatedly stated that infanticide is no different morally from late term abortions. Because of such advocacy—not in spite of it—he was appointed to the world's most prestigious endowed chairs in bioethics at the misnamed Center for Human Values at Princeton University.

This raises a cogent question: How is what happened in Philadelphia morally different from what Peter Singer's "ethical" supposedly "human values" would allow? At a 2010 Princeton conference Singer explicitly said, "The position that allows [late term] abortion also allows infanticide under some circumstances…If we accept abortion, we do need to rethink some of those more fundamental attitudes about human life."

So, to answer my own question, other than technical issues of clinical procedures and sanitary methods, and absent the jars of trophy body parts found at the Gosnell clinic, I can't think of a single reason why Singer's values would not permit a "professionally" operated abortion/infanticide abattoir.

So would the ethics of the authors of "After Birth Abortion: Why Should the Baby Live," published in the Journal of Medical Ethics. As I discussed last year here at tothesource, two bioethicists supported infanticide on the basis that aborting a fetus and killing a born baby are no different morally, stating, "The position that allows abortion also allows infanticide under some circumstances. . . . If we accept abortion, we do need to rethink some of those more fundamental attitudes about human life."

Blatant infanticide isn't just talk in the Netherlands. Rather, it is a technically illegal but widely accepted extension of the country's legalized euthanasia policy. Not only are Dutch doctors who kill babies rarely prosecuted, and never meaningfully punished, but in 2005 the New England Journal of Medicine—perhaps the world's most prominent medical journal—respectfully published "The Groningent Protocol," in its august pages.

What is the Groningen Protocol, you ask? A bureaucratic checklist published by a Dutch pediatrician by which doctors at the Groningen Medical Center determine which terminally ill or disabled babies should be euthanized.

So this is where we are: Late term terminations are part of abortion practice in the United States. Many prominent voices believe that legal abortion amounts to a right to a dead fetus—no matter how late in the pregnancy. Late term abortions, in turn, sometimes result in the killing or lethal neglect of born babies, e.g., infanticide. And infanticide is actively promoted as ethical among some of the most prominent bioethicists and in medical journals in the world, and practiced in the Netherlands without meaningful consequence.

It is tempting to dwell on these shocking events and thereby miss the bigger picture. Late term abortion and infanticide are merely the most provocative front in an all-out war being waged in medical clinics and Ivory Tower publications against Judeo/Christian morality based in human exceptionalism and adherence to the principle of universal human rights. We ignore that bigger picture at our substantial moral peril.

Read the entire article on the To the Source website (new window will open).

Date posted: May 7, 2013

The Coercive Freedom of Choice

We are becoming a society in which “choice” and self-defined identities trump once-common values and traditional beliefs. But contrary to the rhetoric of its defenders, this shift is not a simple advance for freedom. The privileging of “choice” above all else in fact requires re-engineering the human person and society as a whole, and this will inevitably involve a great deal of coercion.

This shift, if it didn’t begin with Roe v. Wade, could be said to have been dramatically accelerated by it. Despite continuing opposition by over 50 percent of the American people, abortion is now universally available, in some places through the ninth month. Two states have legalized assisted suicide for the terminally ill—once strictly prohibited by the Hippocratic Oath. Now, some doctors actively collaborate in lethally overdosing their patients.

Advocacy for legalizing “after birth” abortion—e.g., infanticide—as a natural extension of the abortion right is growing more prominent, and not just among acolytes of Princeton’s Peter Singer. A Florida Planned Parenthood representative, opposing a bill that would require medical treatment for an infant who survives abortion, said the choice to care for the child should be a private one made between a mother and her doctor. The President of the United States expressed similar views while an Illinois state senator. The blind eye demonstrated by the media on the Kermit Gosnell murder trial—in which he is charged with snipping the spines of newborn babies and keeping fetal body parts in jars—has convinced some observers that “post-birth abortion” is no big deal among many on the “choice” left.

More futuristically, transhumanists urge society to devote its intellectual and financial resources to expensive research aimed at enabling individuals to radically redesign themselves in their own image. The ultimate goal of transhumanism is designing a “post-human” species in which everyone could freely change their appearance and capacities at will.

There is now even serious talk about allowing doctors to amputate healthy limbs as a “treatment” for a terrible mental illness known generally as “body integrity identity disorder.” BIID sufferers obsess about becoming disabled, a few as paraplegics or quadriplegics, but most desperately desire to become amputees—which they perceive as their true identities. Some defenders of voluntary amputation note, correctly, that we permit sex change operations—and even legally “reassign” males to be females and vice versa—so it is only logical that we also accommodate “amputee wannabe” self-identity.

To what extent is society required to help facilitate the choices of radically autonomous individuals? Based on what I am seeing, it seems clear that identity, health, and lifestyle choices may soon trump all—particularly when these desires conflict with traditional values and norms. For example, in Colorado, the parents of a first grade boy are suing his elementary school for discrimination because their son, who identifies as a girl, is not allowed to use the girls’ restroom. Similarly, a bill has been filed in the California legislature that would require schools to permit transsexual boys and girls to use opposite-sex bathrooms. That boys and girls might not want to share toilet facilities with girls and boys is of no consequence.

This collapse of comity is happening most acutely in the health field, in which “choice” increasingly trumps the values of medical professionals. In Victoria, Australia, every doctor must be complicit in abortion—either by doing the deed when requested or referring to a colleague who they believe will. A few doctors have gotten in hot water for being unwilling to participate in the taking of human life, including a doctor who refused to refer for a sex-selection abortion.

Similarly, the Royal Dutch Medical Association issued an ethics statement telling their members that if asked for euthanasia by a legally qualified patient, they have to either do the deed or refer to a doctor willing to kill. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a similar ethics opinion in 2007 concerning physicians opposed morally to “standard reproductive services.” Advocates for BIID amputation also assert that doctors ethically opposed to the procedure should be required to refer patients to a colleague who will amputate.

Referrals to willing practitioners may one day be insufficient. In California, an infertility doctor objected on religious grounds to providing artificial insemination to a lesbian patient. Despite referring the patient to a doctor who she knew would provide the service, she was successfully sued for discrimination.

We have now reached the point that others are expected to pay for individuals’ “choices” and maximizing others’ self-identity—even when it violates the payer’s own beliefs. The contraceptive mandate under Obamacare requires religious organizations and business owners opposed to contraception on faith grounds to provide their female employees free access to birth control, sterilization, and the sometimes-abortifacient morning-after pill. San Francisco taxpayers now pay for sex change operations of city employees, and that procedure will soon be covered by “Healthy San Francisco,” the city’s universal health insurance plan. A bill pending in the California legislature would require group health insurance to pay for infertility treatments for all gay and lesbian people who want children as if they were biologically infertile.

Parents are now subservient to their own children’s sexual “choices.” In many states, minor girls can obtain an abortion without parental consent, and in some cases, even without notice. The Federal Drug Administration just made the morning-after pill available on store shelves for girls age fifteen and up.

Not too long ago, Americans mostly believed in “live and let live.” The ironic motto for the current day: “You do it my way.” That’s not paradoxical. The maxim that applies just depends on the choice that is being made.

Read the entire article on the First Things website (new window will open).

Date posted: May 6, 2013

The Future of Democracy and Liberty in an Age of Infectious Noise

Ours is a noisy world. I don't mean the roar of the neighbor’s lawnmower before 8:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. We live in an age that is saturated with cultural and social/political noise. Western culture is being drowned in corrosive clamor. This can hardly be a coincidence. The moral confusion of our time has a consuming effect on our ability to make sense of reality and to be content with daily existence.

The West has now reached a point when we can no longer afford to ignore the rapid zombification of contemporary man. These people are now legion. Their affronted and mindlessly militant worldview has been brewing since at least the 1960s. Of course, the causes of how and why the West has been brought to this ominous condition cannot be entertained in a vacuum, without first addressing the nature of man.

Aristotle is correct that character is created over time, through the exercise of virtue. In the absence of virtue, it is not difficult to understand how some people can be easily exploited into becoming "angry" zombies. Angry is the new chic. Virtue is definitely not in vogue at the moment. Virtuous people are not cool. Remember, ours is an age that is very susceptible to what is “trending.” We are infatuated with hollow fashions.

Take a young child; indoctrinate him or her from the cradle to think of human reality merely in terms of race, gender or class categories, as the trend dictates, and follow where that leads. Groupthink cannot allow the cultivation of spontaneity or thoughtfulness. Plant envy and resentment, and see what kind of person you will reap. Eventually, this politically constrained view of human reality blinds people into embracing a noxious belief system that incapacitates them to lead happy lives. Predictably, these politically useful souls can no longer think other than in social/political terms.

This is analogous to watching a young athlete build muscle through weight lifting. However, in the education of children, the inverse is the case. Here, the ability for rational discernment and the soul’s capacity for self-knowledge and autonomous action are atrophied. Don’t scratch your head, though. Nothing happens by coincidence in this radicalized age. Curiously, being angry today, besides being modish, is out of proportion to our unprecedented material well being. Our abundant worldwide economic statistics demonstrate this. The angry types, you will notice, are highly affected and disingenuous. They are also masters of deception and hypocrisy, for their anger is blatantly selective. However, such theatrical anger is costly. The cacophony that these hapless souls produce is driving Western culture into an unprecedented abyss.

Western man now meanders through life without recourse to meaning and purpose, without regard for the calming effect that beauty and truth can have on daily life. This is what issues forth from self-loathing relativists and nihilists, people who crave meaning at any prize, while forging a world that negates transcendence and God.

Ironically, the elites who have fomented our social/political dissolution feel that they are the only people qualified to get us out of our dismal predicament. Go figure. This is a classic tale of Marxist self-delusion, which has poisoned the well of all aspects of western life and culture, whether many people today suspect this reality. The funny thing is that Marx referred to such elites as fomenters of false consciousness. Hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty are perhaps better words to describe these elites. If history has taught us anything, it is that the ire and cynicism of demythologizers brings societies to ruin. The subsequent move in this hypocritical and destructive dialectic is to convince people that things are so bad that only a radical fix can save us. Stay tuned. This is textbook radicalism. Twentieth century history has taught us this. Yet how many of the angry ones care to study history?

Marxism, especially under the tutelage of its most brilliant twentieth century agent of mayhem, Antonio Gramsci, perfected this stealthy, angry dialectic. Gramsci provided fashionably angry people with a visible, can’t-go-wrong-while-appearing-angry agenda, while creating a following of those who imagine themselves the guardians of popular causes. How is this possible? Because Gramsci understood that if Marxist theory and its many neo-derivatives were to be effective in annihilating objective values, truth and the nuclear family, for instance, appearance had to take precedence over truth. The best way to accomplish this, Gramsci proposed, is to destroy both, high and popular culture. Just think of Aristotle’s prescience, when he writes that everyone wants to philosophize at the expense of truth. It is not a coincidence that today the West is ruled by morally corrupt individuals who lack constructive ideas.

Lamentably, the average person does not realize that for Gramsci and his current cadre, man is just cattle, grist for the mill of the sinister notion that the end justifies the means. This, we cannot forget, is the altar and substance of secular religion. Radical ideologues must wage perpetual war on human reality. Even more menacing still is the realization that the educational establishment has not only swallowed the Gramsci pill to-end-all-our-woes, it actually relishes it. Thoughtful people have tremendous cause for trepidation today; our moral/spiritual havoc issues from the world’s allegedly educated elite.

Stanislaw Witkiewicz and Aldous Huxley were right when they assessed that the brave new world of the future would become violently consumed by the happy pill. It is also ironic that the happy pill, the murti-bing pill, as Witkiewicz called this, is making man violently ill. This feel-good, entitlement pill has destroyed Western man’s ability to reason and our capacity to cultivate genuine emotions. We have also lost the instinct to identify danger and the will to resist the totalitarian impulse. The glare of technological barbarism can’t be too far behind. George Santayana, who is best known for his observation that those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it, defined radicalism as "redoubling your effort after you’ve forgotten your aim."

Currently, many of the institutions, customs and manners that dominate our world are based not on genuine, but rather politicized values. This is exploitive and high combustible. However disingenuous, the latter is promoted through the power of public relations. Virtuous people are being conned by morally corrupt, idea-deprived people whose purpose it is to push the status quo as the new norm.

Our vicious spiral into the maelstrom of radicalized, technocratic savagery is the inevitable result of our destruction of objectivity and time-proven values. This goes against the whole point of learning from our mistakes, doesn't it? The greater the clatter, the less societies need wisdom. Of course, wisdom has always been a threat to power. Our present predicament has hardly come about through common accord. This sets a very dangerous precedent for the future of democratic institutions and human liberty.

Sensibly speaking, there is no convincing reason why our culture must embrace experimental values just because intellectual hipsters urge the rest of us to accept the latest and coolest moral trends.

A fruitful question for us to ask today is whether moral relativism begins or ends with the emptying of the human soul: nihilism? Regardless of the imaginative, up to date monikers that nihilism embraces: neo-this, relative-that, or post-something-or-other, immorality can’t hide its vile talons. Regardless of the fancy names, we are left with mind-numbing and character-annihilating noise. The lasting effects of relativism on democracy are ominous. The value-free existence of people in the West is devouring the worth and purpose of free societies.

If Marx is correct to assert that bourgeois hegemony creates institutions and values which protect the people who benefit from them the most, then we can be certain that our progressive nihilism is the product of morally corrupt people who are merely protecting themselves. These are C.S. Lewis’ men without chests. This is also the curious case of adaptation preceding evolution.

The denizens of moral relativism have succeeded in creating a self-indulgent world order in which only they can flourish. While embracing self-serving values, they promote veiled nihilism as the greater good. This is a winner take-all formula. How can they go wrong with the popular appeal of this formula? As Jacques Barzun effectively argued, we now have the culture we deserve.

It is now next to impossible for people of good will to have a fighting chance to embrace virtue. How can young people today embody the virtuous life that Socrates envisioned or the values of Christianity, in light of the barrage of social/political mendacity and aberrant cultural/spiritual nonsense that dominate contemporary life?

In Warning to the West, Alexander Solzhenitsyn points out key ways in which the totalitarian impulse has come to rule the West. One of these is the retreat through which older, wiser generations have yielded “their intellectual leadership to the younger generation.” Solzhenitsyn argues that this goes against common sense and human experience: “For those who are youngest, with the least experience of life, to have the greatest influence in directing the life of society.” This is a formula for disaster on all levels: cultural, spiritual, economic and social/political. Why do it, then? Because it is a winning formula for radical ideologues to have the passion of youth do their dirty work. They understand that young people do not fear the precipice.

Date posted: May 2. 2013

Building Bridges Between Orthodox and Catholic Christians: Interview with Fr Robert Taft, SJ

Source: The Catholic World Report | Christopher B. Warner

The April 22nd kidnapping of Syrian archbishops Mar Gregorios Ibrahim of the Syriac Orthodox Church and Paul Yazigi of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch, and the killing of their driver, has reminded us once again of the vulnerability of ancient Christian peoples living in the Middle East. More than 1,000 Christians have been killed to date in the Syrian conflict and more than 80 churches have been destroyed. The majority of Christians in Syria are Greek or Syriac Orthodox or Melkite Greek Catholic. This recent violence in Syria can remind us to pray for suffering Christians in the Middle East and afford us the opportunity to practice solidarity with our Greek Catholic and Orthodox Christian brothers and sisters.

Building Bridges Between Orthodox and Catholic Christians: Interview with Fr Robert Taft, SJ

Catholic World Report had the recent privilege of asking Archimandrite Robert Taft, SJ for his perspective on current Orthodox-Catholic relations. Father Taft has been the leading scholar in Byzantine liturgical studies for decades. Taft has devoted his life to preserving the liturgical treasury of the East and building bridges between Orthodox and Catholic Christians. As a young Jesuit, Taft first became interested in the liturgical traditions of the Christian East while teaching at the Baghdad Jesuit College in Iraq (1956-1959).

In 1963, Taft was ordained a Catholic priest of the Byzantine Slavonic (Russian) Rite. He is Professor-emeritus of Oriental Liturgy at the Pontifical Oriental Institute, Rome, where he received his doctorate in 1970 and remained to teach for 38 years. The Oriental Institute is the most prestigious institute in the world for Eastern Christian studies.

A prolific writer, his bibliography comprises more than 800 articles and 26 books, including A History of the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (vols. II-VI), Orientalia Christiana Analecta, Rome, 1978-2013. Several of his writings have been translated into other languages.

Taft is the personal friend of many prominent Orthodox scholars, living and deceased, like Father Alexander Schmemann and Father John Meyendorff. He has many friends in and ties to the Russian Orthodox community, where he is admired and respected. For example, he directed the doctoral studies for both of St. Vladimir Seminary’s liturgical professors: Paul Meyendorff and Father Alexander Rentel.

CWR: Father Robert, thank you very much for your willingness to share with us some of your recent thoughts on Eastern Christian ecumenism.

Many people who are sensitive to Orthodox-Catholic dialogue noticed that when Pope Francis appeared on the balcony a month ago, he was not only very humble, but spoke of the Church of Rome as the Church “which presides in love” and referred to himself as the bishop of Rome concerned for the Christians of Rome. These past few weeks he has definitely set the tone for his pontificate.

This quotation from the second-century letter of St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Roman Church, “which presides in love,” could not have been coincidence considering Pope Francis’ noteworthy sensitivities to Eastern Christian ecclesiology. Plus, the historically unprecedented response to Francis’ election in the form of Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew’s attendance at the papal installation Mass seems to mark Pope Francis as another welcomed bridge-builder between East and West. As an aside, I think it is beautiful that pontifex means “bridge-builder” in Latin. Perhaps Pope Francis will bring a new understanding of that title through his ecumenical dialogue and his local focus on the duties of the bishop of Rome? Could you comment on how you think Pope Francis’ humble “style” will be viewed by Orthodox Christians?

Taft: Pope Francesco is making a wonderful impression on most of the world by just being himself, the self of a real Christian in love, not with himself or his image, but with what real Christians love…God and all His creatures He died to save, especially the poor and needy and downtrodden. This has come across clearly to all of us, including Orthodox I know, who as real Christians can spot a fellow-Christian a mile away.

In addition, even more interesting from the ecumenical perspective is Francesco’s emphasis on his primary title, “Bishop of Rome.” Because a prelate’s title to his primacy comes from his local primatial see, not from some personal or super-imposed ecclesiological distinction. I can’t imagine that any of our attentive Orthodox observers have missed that!

CWR: Most Catholics probably envision future unity between the Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church as a re-installment of one world Church organization with the pope of Rome at the top of the governing pyramid. A look at history shows that such a model never existed, so what could Orthodox-Catholic communion actually look like if it were achieved? A renewal of Eucharistic communion? The possibility of an eighth ecumenical council? A resolution for the dating of Pascha/Easter?

Taft: What it would look like is not a “reunion” with them “returning to Rome,” to which they never belonged anyway; nor us being incorporated by them, since we are all ancient apostolic “Sister Churches” with a valid episcopate and priesthood and the full panoply of sacraments needed to minister salvation to our respective faithful, as is proclaimed in the renewed Catholic ecclesiology since Vatican II and enshrined in numerous papal documents from Paul VI on, as well as in the wonderful Catechism of the Catholic Church. So we just need to restore our broken communion and the rest of the problems you mention can be addressed one by one and resolved by common accord.

CWR: According to the most recent joint statement of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation (2010), future communion would include several key elements:

Mutual recognition: The numerous Orthodox Churches and the Catholic Church would have to “explicitly recognize each other as authentic embodiments of the one Church of Christ, founded on the apostles”;

A common confession of faith: The “Filioque” ought to be dropped in order to reflect the common Confession of Faith “canonized at the Council of Constantinople in 381”;

Accepted diversity: Orthodox-Catholic Christians would “live in full ecclesial communion with each other without requiring any of the parts to forego its own traditions and practices”;

Liturgical sharing: “Members of all the Churches in communion would be able to receive the sacraments in the other Churches”;

Synodality/conciliarity: “Bishops of all the Churches would be invited to participate fully in any ecumenical councils that might be summoned.

Synodality would operate at various levels of ecclesial institutions: local, regional, and worldwide”;

Mission: “As sister Churches, they would also engage in common efforts to promote the realization of a Christian moral vision in the world”;

Subsidiarity: “Those elected to major episcopal or primatial offices would present themselves to other Church leaders at their level”;

Renewal and reform. They would “commit themselves to continuing [Christian] renewal and growth—together.”

The statement goes on to say, “Conscience holds us back from celebrating our unity as complete in sacramental terms, until it is complete in faith, Church structure, and common action.” Can you clarify what you mean by “restoring our broken communion” so that the other existing problems “can be addressed one by one and resolved by common accord”? It seems like we already have “mutual recognition,” “accepted diversity,” and “mission”; what is the next step and how many steps will it take before we get to “liturgical sharing” which is what I think of when you say “broken communion?”

Taft: Yes, much that is put forward in this excellent historic document is already a reality or on the way to being so. For instance there is no “Filioque” in the Creed Russian Catholics chant in our Slavonic liturgy, and some years ago Rome issued a clarification of its Trinitarian belief about which the late French Orthodox theologian Olivier Clément said if that is the Catholic teaching on the issue then the problem has been resolved. As for “ecumenical councils,” the Catholic Church might specify more clearly its list of those, which as far as I know we have never defined. Are the purely Roman Catholic post-schism councils to be considered ecumenical councils of the undivided Church? If so, says who?

CWR: How could the papal claims of Rome be modified in a way that would be both acceptable to the Orthodox Churches and faithful to the tradition of the Catholic Church? Do you think the jurisdiction issue really is a hang-up for the Orthodox since they also practice cross-jurisdiction throughout Western Europe, the Americas, Australia, and East Asia?

Taft: The new Catholic “Sister Churches” ecclesiology describes not only how the Catholic Church views the Orthodox Churches. It also represents a startling revolution in how the Catholic Church views itself: we are no longer the only kid on the block, the whole Church of Christ, but one Sister Church among others. Previously, the Catholic Church saw itself as the original one and only true Church of Christ from which all other Christians had separated for one reason or another in the course of history, and Catholics held, simplistically, that the solution to divided Christendom consisted in all other Christians returning to Rome’s maternal bosom.

Vatican II, with an assist from those Council Fathers with a less naïve Disney-World view of their own Church’s past, managed to put aside this historically ludicrous, self-centered, self-congratulatory perception of reality. In doing so they had a strong assist from the Council Fathers of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church whose concrete experience of the realities of the Christian East made them spokesmen and defenders of that reality.

In this context I would recommend the excellent new book by Robert Louis Wilken, The First Thousand Years: A Global History of Christianity (New Haven & London: Yale U. Press 2012). Professor Wilken, a convert to Catholicism who is a recognized expert on Early Christianity and its history and literature, shows that Early Christianity developed not out of some Roman cradle but as a federation of local Churches, Western and Eastern, each one under the authority of a chief hierarch who would come to be called Archbishop, Pope, Patriarch, or Catholicos, each with its own independent governing synod and polity, all of them initially in communion with one another until the vicissitudes of history led to lasting divisions.

CWR: Many Orthodox theologians claim that even if the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople or the Patriarch of Moscow were to unite with Rome tomorrow, the lay faithful and the monastics would probably not accept it and therefore there would be no actual union. Given the history of Lyons and Florence do you think this is true, or has the Orthodox mood changed recently?

Taft: Part of the problem is that some Orthodox do not instruct their people adequately and update them, so ecumenical progress on the upper level often does not filter down to the ordinary faithful. In addition of course, there is the problem of the bigotry of many of the monastics and others towards anyone who is not Orthodox. On how they square this with what Christianity is supposed to be according to Jesus’ explicit teaching in the New Testament, we still await their explanation. One Catholic remedy for this—its usefulness proven by the rage it provokes in the exposed bigots—is the factual diffusion of their views, objectively and without editorial comment, in publications like Irénikon in French, or in English Father Ronald Roberson’s highly informative monthly SEIA Newsletter on the Eastern Churches and Ecumenism, distributed gratis to subscribers via email and eventually preserved for permanent reference in the Eastern Churches Journal. These publications just give the news without comment, including quotations from the bigots permanently recorded for posterity, thereby exposing them to the public embarrassment they merit. This is especially important for some representatives of Orthodoxy who speak out of both sides of their mouth, saying one thing at international ecumenical venues, and quite another for the consumption of Orthodox audiences or in publications they do not expect the non-Orthodox to read.

CWR: You mentioned the fact that documenting statements from Orthodox representatives has the potential to nail down the real arguments and eradicate equivocation. How has modern technology, especially the Internet, helped (or hindered) ecumenical dialogue?

Taft: Anything that helps spread the news and the flood of ever-new documentation on inter-church relations can only be viewed positively. And it is a mistake to think that this is not true in countries of the less-developed so-called “third world,” where those interested in the rest of the world are often more computer-literate than those of us in the West. Some of my Orthodox friends in far away countries are computer whizzes compared to me!

CWR: It seems as though Western Catholic theologians have been interested in Eastern theology for the past 1,500 years and have generally sought to integrate it into their own theology. On the other hand, many modern Eastern Orthodox theologians are very leery about anything Western and have furthermore severed themselves from their roots in Hellenic philosophy. Is this statement accurate? Is this a recent phenomenon? And are there any schools of Eastern Orthodox theology that do not see the integration of Western theology and philosophical inquiry as a threat to Eastern theology?

Taft: First of all, the roots of ALL of us include a Neo-Platonic heritage that no one has abandoned in East or West since it is part of Christianity’s DNA, so drop that notion. As for Orthodox theologians, we must distinguish the second-stringers from the best ones. Lest my list be endless, let me mention just a few in each Orthodox Church who are fully conversant with present western Catholic theology. Among the Greeks: Metropolitans Kallistos Ware and Ioannes Zizioulas, Archpriest Stefanos Alexopoulos, Prof. Pantelas Kalaitzidis of Volos, and the professors of Holy Cross Hellenic Greek College in Brighton, Massachusetts. Among the Russian Orthodox: Metropolitan Ilarion Alfayev, Sr. Dr. Vassa Larin, Protoierej Mixail Zheltov, and numerous others. Then in the USA we have the Professors of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary of the OCA, and on and on. So there are in fact plenty of top Orthodox theologians au courant in modern non-Orthodox theological thought.

Date posted: May 2, 2013

Smart Parenting XXI. Applying Christ’s Beatitudes to Parenting: Blessed Are The Peacemakers

All too long have I dwelt with those who hate peace. When I speak of peace they are ready for war. (Ps 119: 7)

St. Gregory of Nyssa

St. Gregory of Nyssa

St. Gregory of Nyssa (1954) would have us understand that the core of the meaning of this beatitude is that we are called to become "sons of God." Following Moses’ description of the "holy of holies" (Ex 25, 26), St Gregory points out that all the Beatitudes are holy. A special consideration, however, is that the "holy of holies" had a purer, even holier, inner part. St. Gregory called this sanctum, adyton [impenetrable]. It was inaccessible to anyone except the 'high priest.' St. Gregory points out that the impenetrability of the innermost center of the "holy of holies" makes it a fitting symbol of the "inner region of the soul, in which the mystical life is lived." This symbolism applies to the Beatitudes themselves.

This I believe also to be the case of the beatitudes that have been shown us on this mountain. All that the Divine Word has so far laid down is indeed perfectly holy. But what we are now invited to contemplate is truly adyton, and the Holy of Holies. For if the blessedness of seeing God cannot be surpassed, to become the son of God transcends bliss altogether.

Icon of the Creation

Icon of the Creation

Following the Fathers of the Old Testament, St. Gregory notes that Abraham likens man to dust and ashes (Gn 18: 27), Isaiah (40:26), as well as David (Ps 36:2 ), likens man to grass and Solomon proclaims that all that man concerns himself with is vanity (Ecc 1: 2). St. Paul (1Cor 15: 9) counts himself as the least and bespeaks speaks for all mankind that we are as nothing: "For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle." However, God's bestowal of sonship on us lifts us to a Divine dimension. St. Gregory tells us:

Man is esteemed as nothing, as ashes and grass and vanity among the things that exist, yet he becomes akin to this great Majesty that can neither be seen nor heard nor thought; he is received as a son by the God of the universe.

Becoming sons of God does not happen automatically. In this Beatitude Jesus points out to us what we must do to be favored with God's free gift of sonship. We must be peacemakers. Having been favored with the free gift of sonship, we then have the duty to continue to be peacemakers, and in this we find our blessedness, we grow into the likeness of the God of peace.

The Bliss of Making Peace

In his homily on this Beatitude, St. Gregory gives us an unexpected spiritual insight. Normally, it might be expected he would go into what making peace means and how it can be accomplished. However, this holy Father of the Church, using the analogy of combat, warfare and competition, tells us that the "contest" of making peace is actually a reward in and of itself. Most contests, at best, involve tremendous, intense, strenuous physical and mental struggle, at worst, fierce fighting involving bloodshed, lament, atrocities and slaughter. But the contest of making peace is different. Yes, winning leads to the reward of spiritual sonship, but of great importance, St. Gregory points out, is that peace is intrinsically a reward in itself. This leads him to say: "So even if no further hope was promised a man, those who have sense would prize peace for its own sake above all else." Does not the psalmist tell us "Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell in unity?" (Ps 132:1).

Christ the Foundation of all Peace

Christ the Foundation of all Peace

Spiritual peace means freedom from slavery to the passions and bondage to sin. St. Mark the Ascetic tells us: "Peace is a deliverance from the passions, which is not found except through the action of the Holy Spirit." (Philokalia I). St. Isaac of Syria (Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 2011) goes on to explain the relationship between the passions, sin and peace in more detail: "As long as your senses are alive to every occurrence, understand you are [spiritually] dead, for the burning of sin will not be absent from all your members and peace will not be able to settle in your soul." St. Isaac also notes that peace is a step upward in the ladder of the beatitudes from the previous step of being merciful. Harkening to Christ's beatitude of mercy (Mt 5:7), he tells us, "a harsh and merciless heart will never be purified. A merciful man is the physician of his own soul, for . . . he drives the darkness of the passions out of his inner self." The result is peace: ". . .let a merciful heart preside over your entire discipline and you will be at peace with God."

Humility the pathway to peace

St. Isaac links the acquisition of peace to humility. He speaks of it as ". . .the peace that is born of humility." In his Homily 48, St. Isaac tells us exactly what humility is: "The man who has reached the knowledge of the extent of his own weakness has reached perfect humility." This means that we need to develop an awareness of the passions that beset us, our sensory responses to these passions and the sinful desires and actions that follow. In his Homily 51, the saint uses the analogy of separating ourselves from things of this world as the way to develop this humble spiritual awareness: "Seek understanding, not gold. Clothe yourself with humility, not fine linen." His next sentence gives us the outcome of this endeavor: "Gain peace, not a kingdom."

St. Theophylact

St. Theophylact

The importance of acquiring humility to obtain peace cannot be overstated. It is implicit in the first beatitude. Blessed Theophylact (2006) tells us:

Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. First He lays down humility as a foundation. Since Adam fell through pride, Christ raises us up by humility; for Adam had aspired to become God. The "poor in spirit" are those whose pride is crushed and who are contrite in soul.

In meditating on the words of Blessed Theophylact, it would be well to ponder an important point made in a previous article (Morelli, 2012). In his Homily on Blessed are the poor in spirit, St. John Chrysostom asks a deep question: “. . .why did Christ choose the word “poor” [in spirit] and not the word “humble?” St. John’s answer is that the choice of the word "poor" emphasizes that the poor would be awestruck and tremble at God's words, as Isaiah the Prophet (66: 2) said, "My hand made all these things, and all these things were made, saith the Lord. But to whom shall I have respect, but to him that is poor and little, and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my words?" St John then distinguishes two types of humility. The first he calls "one humble in his own measure," and the second type "another with all excess of lowliness.” Clearly, the second type is true spiritual humility. St. John likens it to “contriteness of heart,” as David tells us: ". . .sacrifice to God is a broken spirit; a broken and humbled heart God will not despise" (Ps 50: 19). St. John, the Golden-mouthed saint, sees that pride is "the greatest of evils" and the consequence of pride is that it has brought "havoc on the whole world." Lack of peace, that is to say, inner warfare within the soul and outer warfare with those around us, is the resulting mayhem.

St. John of Kronstadt (2003) notes:

People who seek to attain such a disposition of spirit are truly blessed because they have attained God's grace, they have attained the source of peace and joy of the Holy Spirit. . . . St. Theophylact of Bulgaria says "peace is the mother of God's grace; the indignant soul must become a stranger to quarrels with people and within itself if it wishes to attain God's grace."

It is no wonder that the proper translation in English of the hymn sung by the angels at the Birth of Christ should be: "And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying: Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will." (Lk 2: 13-14). The angels did not proclaim God's words as 'peace on earth good will toward men.' Rather, we see men have to cultivate the "good will" to acquire peace through humility and then they will be blessed with the good will of God: the Godly peace and joy of the Holy Spirit. Once we have attained inner peace, we are spiritually prepared to extend peace to others.

St. John of Kronstadt

St. John of Kronstadt

It is important to consider that the call to peace is not passive, it is not merely 'being' peaceful. It is a call to action, a call to be makers of peace. I cannot do better than to quote St. John of Kronstadt on this matter. He tells us we must "become peacemakers to our neighbors." This especially must extend to our parishes. He specifically singles out clergy: "Pastors of the Church have a special obligation to be peacemakers. . .this is precisely what they are appointed to do." In any disagreements, no matter what the reason, insult, unfairness, encroachment on our rights or property, we must do all in our power to end it and reconcile. This may involve sacrificing "our property, or our honor, or our precedence." This extends to reconciling those whether "in church, society and family" who have animosity between themselves.

Forest (1999) would have us start by understanding peace as it was meant by the ancient Hebrews.

Consider King David's words in Psalm 121: 6-9: "Pray ye for the things that are for the peace of Jerusalem: and abundance for them that love thee. Let peace be in thy strength: and abundance in thy towers. For the sake of my brethren, and of my neighbors, I spoke peace of thee. Because of the house of the Lord our God, I have sought good things for thee." Now the Hebrew word for peace as rendered in English is Shalom.

Hebrew Script
The Greek Pagan goddess Eirene

The Greek Pagan goddess Eirene

This word allows for multifaceted understandings, but these can be summarized in the most general way as meaning: completeness, good relationships, prosperity and welfare. For the Hebrew people and for King David it would have been applied to the relationship between God and man, between states and cities and between individuals. In Greek, peace is rendered eirene, originally derived from the name of a pagan goddess.

The interpretation of the statue in the museum located in Munich Germany is that she is shown maternally gazing at her trusting infant. The meaning for the pagan Greeks was that prosperity occurs only under the protection of peace (Eirene). It is easy to see how the Greek-speaking Hebrews writing the Septuagint version Old Testament Sacred Scripture, the text used by Christ Himself, would see God as the protector of the people of Israel and as the God of peace (eirene). Psalm 75 reads: "In Judah God is known, His name is great in Israel. And His abode has been in Salem, and His dwelling in Zion. There He broke the powers of the bows, the shield, the sword and the battle. You shine forth in wonder, from the everlasting mountains." In this context, then, we can understand the prophesy of Isaiah:". . .and they shall turn their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into sickles: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they be exercised any more to war. O house of Jacob, come ye, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.” (Is 2:4-5). Such a sense of peace requires action. It means to do what it takes to make peace. We have to break the powers that make conflict.

The Mystical Icon of the Holy Orthodox Church Against Persecution and the Wars of Heretics Which Could Not Defeat Her

The Mind of Christ and His Church on the meaning of peace is easily seen in St. Paul's Epistle to the Colossians (3: 12-15):

Put on for yourselves, therefore, as elect of God, holy and beloved, compassion from your inward parts, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering, bearing with one another, and graciously forgiving one another, if anyone hath a complaint against someone; even as the Christ graciously forgave you, thus also do ye. And over all these things, put on love, which is the bond of perfection. And let the peace of God be presiding in your hearts, to which also ye were called in one body; and keep on becoming thankful.

As St. Paul told the Corinthians: "God hath called us in peace." (1Cor 7:15). We should see that when we work at making peace it is extending the work of Christ Himself. Christ opened to us the pathway to peace through His death on the Cross. St. Paul makes this clear when he tells us that it pleased the Father "through Him to reconcile all things to Him, having made peace through the blood of His Cross, through Him, whether the things on the earth or the things in the heavens." (Col. 1:20). St. John Chrysostom tells us: "Yea, for this became the work of the Only Begotten, to unite the divided, and to reconcile the alienated." Thus, as Christians, we must put into action the counsel that St. Paul gave to the Romans (14:19): "Let us then pursue the things of peace and the things of building up of one another."

A seeming paradox: make peace but go to warA seeming paradox: make peace but go to war

The teachings and actions of Christ, as recorded in the Holy Gospels and the other books of New Testament Sacred Scripture, as well as the teachings of the Scripture writers themselves pose a seeming contradiction. Many of Jesus' teachings would have us focus on peace. Of course, foremost:"Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God." (Mt 5: 9). Consider some other of Jesus’ words written in Sacred Scripture on making peace:

  • “But when ye enter into the house, salute it, saying, ‘Peace be to this house.’" (Mt. 10:12])
  • "And He [Jesus] said to her, “Daughter, thy faith hath made thee well; go in peace, and be sound in body from thy scourge.” (Mk. 5:34)
  • "Be having salt in yourselves and keeping peace with one another.” (Mk. 9:50)
  • “And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’" (Lk. 10:5)
  • Jesus Himself stood in the midst of them, and saith to them, “Peace be to you.” (Lk. 24:36)
  • “I have spoken these things to you, abiding with you; “but the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name, that One shall teach you all things, and shall remind you of what I said to you. “Peace I leave to you, My peace I give to you; not as the world giveth, give I to you. Let not your heart continue being troubled, nor being fearful." (Jn. 14:25-27)

We can also reflect on the words and actions of the Apostles:

  • “Now he [Moses] was supposing his brethren understood that God through his hand was giving them salvation; but they understood not. “And on the following day he appeared to those who were fighting, and he constrained them toward peace, saying, ‘Men, ye are brethren; why is it that ye wrong one another?’" (Acts 7: 25-26)
  • "Then indeed were the churches throughout all of Judæa and Galilee and Samaria having peace, being built up and proceeding in the fear of the Lord, and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit they were being multiplied." (Acts 9:31)
  • "Then Peter opened his mouth and said, “In truth, I comprehend that God is not a respecter of persons, “but in every nation, the one who feareth Him and worketh righteousness is acceptable to Him.” “The Logos Whom He sent forth to the sons of Israel, preaching the Gospel, peace through Jesus Christ—this One is the Lord of all." (Acts 10: 34-36)
  • " . . .Paul answered, “What are ye doing, weeping and breaking in pieces my heart? For I not only hold myself in readiness to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And when he would not be persuaded, we held our peace and said, “The will of the Lord be done.”" (Acts 21: 13-14)
  • ". . .Jesus Christ our Lord, by Whom we [St. Paul and the other Apostles] received grace and apostleship to an obedience of faith among all the nations in behalf of His name, among whom are ye also called of Jesus Christ, to all those who are in Rome, beloved of God, called saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ." (Rm 1:4-7)
  • "For they that are according to the flesh mind the things of the flesh, but they that are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the spirit is life and peace. Because the mind of the flesh is enmity toward God; for it is not subject to the law of God, for neither can it be." (Rm. 8: 5-7)
  • “How beautiful are the feet of those preaching the glad tidings of peace, of those preaching the glad tidings of good things!” (Rm 10: 15). [St. Paul referencing Is 7: 52: "How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, and that preacheth peace: of him that sheweth forth good, that preacheth salvation, that saith to Sion: Thy God shall reign!"]
  • ". . .for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For the one who serveth Christ in these things is well-pleasing to God and approved by men. Let us then pursue the things of peace and the things of building up of one another." (Rm 14: 17-19)
  • "And the God of peace shall crush Satan under your feet quickly. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. (Rm 16: 20)
  • "Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor 1: 3)
  • "Finally, brethren, keep on rejoicing, keep on being perfected, being comforted, being of the same mind, being at peace, and the God of love and peace shall be with you." (2Cor 13: 11)
  • "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control; against such things there is no law." (Gal 5: 22-23)
  • "But now in Christ Jesus ye who once were afar off came to be near by the blood of the Christ. For He is our peace, the One Who made the both one, and broke down the middle wall of the hedge, having abolished by ordinances the enmity—the law of the commandments—in His flesh, in order that He might create in Himself the two into one new man, making peace, and might thoroughly reconcile them both in one body to God through the Cross, having slain the enmity by it. And He came and preached the good tidings, peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then ye are no longer strangers and sojourners, but fellow citizens of the saints and of the household of God, who were built up on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the cornerstone, in Whom every building, being joined together, increaseth to a holy temple in the Lord...". (Eph. 2: 13-21)
The Holy Land at the time of Melchisedech

The Holy Land at the time of Melchisedek

  • ". . .walk worthily of the calling in which ye were called, with all humility and meekness, with long-suffering, bearing with one another in love, giving diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Eph 4: 1-3)
  • ". . .be comforting one another and building up one another, even as also ye do. And we ask you, brethren, to know those who labor among you, ... be esteeming them exceedingly in love on account of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. Now we exhort you, brethren, be admonishing the disorderly, be consoling the fainthearted, be supporting the weak, be long-suffering toward all. See ye that no one render evil for evil to anyone, but always be pursuing the good both toward one another and toward all. Be rejoicing always; be praying unceasingly. In everything be giving thanks, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1Th 5: 11-18)
  • "For this Melchisedek, king of Salem, priest of God the Most High—who met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, . . . which indeed is first interpreted “king of righteousness,” and then also “king of Salem,” that is, “king of peace,” without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but having been made like the Son of God [a prototype, a prophetic prefigure of Christ], remaineth a priest in perpetuity." (Heb 7:1-3)
  • Melchisideck Icon at the Royal Doors of the Wooden church of St. Archangels of Libotin, Maramures, County, RomaniaMelchisideck Icon at the Royal Doors of the Wooden church of St. Archangels of Libotin, Maramures, County, Romania"But the wisdom from above indeed is first pure, then peaceable, equitable, easily entreated, full of mercy and of good fruits, impartial and without hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace ... From what place come wars and fights among you? They are from this place, from your desires after pleasure which war in your members, are they not? ... Whosoever therefore would be a friend of the world is rendered an enemy of God . . . .But He giveth greater grace. Wherefore it saith, “God setteth Himself against the proud, but giveth grace to the humble.” Be subject therefore to God. Stand against the devil, and he will flee from you." (Jas 3: 17-18, 4: 1,4,6-7)
  • "Grace to you and peace be multiplied in a full knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord..." (2Pt. 1: 2)

In the spirit of St. Gregory of Nyssa discussed above, that likens obtaining peace to combat, we can consider that the seeming paradox of making peace by warfare does not mean warfare literally, but rather refers to the ascetic struggle and discipline that is necessary to overcome the passions that beset us. We may be inclined to vengeance, anger and tempest, but this is not what we are to do. St. Paul writes to the Romans (12: 18), "If possible, as to that which depends on you, be at peace with all men." We are to hold on tenaciously to the teachings of Christ and His Church, but we are to do so by adopting a kindly demeanor toward any who may oppose us. Not to do so would be to send a message of aggression, discord and most probably have any you are interacting with focus on your dysfunctional, un-Godly angry emotion rather than on any Godly message you may want to be communicating. (Morelli, 2006a,b,c; 2011b). This would be in the spirit of St. John Chrysostom who comments:

Do thine own part, and to none give occasion of war or fighting, neither to Jew nor Gentile. But if you see the cause of religion suffering anywhere, do not prize concord above truth, but make a valiant stand even to death. And even then be not at war in soul, be not averse in temper, but fight with the things only. . . .But if the other will not be at peace, do not thou fill thy soul with tempest, but in mind be friendly, as I said before, without giving up the truth on any occasion.” (Hom. 22, P.G. 60: 682 (col. 611) in The Orthodox New Testament, 2004).

Connections: The Orthodox Services and Prayers

In a previous article I comment on the connection between the Beatitude on Mercy and the Orthodox Services: "One need go no further than the ordinary prayers, such as Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Liturgy of the Hours, the Divine Liturgy and other services in the Eastern Church, to meet the phrase that God, our God is a God of Mercy." (Morelli, 2012). Similarly, this Beatitude on Peace is a repeated theme in the Liturgical Services and Prayers of the Church. It is significant that the entryway into the Kingdom of God is by peace. The Divine Liturgy begins by announcing the presence of the Kingdom of God: "Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." The petition of the first prayer that immediately follows is that this be done in peace: "In peace let us pray to the Lord." This same petition is repeated constantly in the numerous Holy Mysteries of the Church. Forest (1999) has an excellent, more detailed discussion and references to peace in the Divine Liturgy.

Peace in times of tribulation and conflict

It should be noted that peace does not remove us from the tribulations and conflicts in the world. It merely gives us the armor and shield of God in passing through life's troubles. The words of the psalmist come to mind: "For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for thou art with me. Thy rod and thy staff, they have comforted me." (Ps 22:4) Did not Jesus Himself tell His Apostles in His priestly discourse at the Last Supper, words that we now to apply to ourselves as well, “These things I have spoken to you, in order that ye may have peace in Me. In the world ye shall have affliction; but be of good courage, I have overcome the world.” (Jn. 16:33).

It is in this sense that we can understand Our Lord's words in commissioning His Apostles: ". . .the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them forth two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. Therefore He was saying to them, “The harvest indeed is great, but the workers are few. Entreat therefore the Lord of the harvest that He would send out workers into His harvest. “Go; behold, I send you forth as lambs in the midst of wolves." (Lk. 10:1-3)

St. Cyril of Alexandria

St. Cyril of Alexandria

St. Cyril of Alexandria would understand these words to mean:

How can a sheep prevail against a wolf? How can one so peaceful vanquish the savageness of beasts of prey? ‘Yes,’ He says, ‘for they all have Me as their Shepherd—small and great, people and princes, teachers and taught. I will be with you and aid you, and deliver you from all evil. I will tame the savage beasts, I will change wolves into sheep. I will make the persecutors become the helpers of the persecuted....For I will make and unmake all things, and there is nothing that can resist My will.’ (Hom. 61, Commentary, Ch. 10, 264 in: The Orthodox New Testament. 2004).

Also, we can reflect on St. Paul's words to the Ephesians:

Put on the full armor of God, for you to be able to stand against the wiles of the devil; because for us the wrestling is not against blood and flesh, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the cosmic rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of evil on account of the heavenly things. For this cause take up the full armor of God, in order that ye might be able to withstand in the day, and having counteracted all things, to stand. Stand therefore, having girt your loins with truth, and having put on for yourselves the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet in readiness of the Gospel of peace; on the whole, take up the shield of faith, with which ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God—by means of every prayer and entreaty, praying in every season in the Spirit, and being vigilant toward this same thing with all perseverance and entreaty for all the saints. . . . (Eph. 6:11-18)

While St. Paul uses the accoutrements of warfare to describe how we are to engage the evils in the world, he means it in the spirit of peace and to bring about peace. Blessed Theophylact understands this and considers that St. Paul's speaking of "the cosmic rulers of the darkness of this age" refers to the "wicked practices [of] the world.” (The Orthodox New Testament. 2004). However, these wicked practices are to be countered with the Gospel of Peace. Blessed Theophylact explains it this way: “He means it is needful to be in readiness for the Gospel and to preach. For, ‘Beautiful are the feet of one preaching glad tidings of peace, as one preaching good news [cf. Is. 52:7]’

Tribulation and conflict was not present at the onset of creation. But it was not that way in the beginning of creation. God created mankind who was made and placed in Paradise in a state of wholeness. The brokenness that is in the world stems from the original sin of pride of our ancestral parents. Becoming a peacemaker is working toward reestablishing the end for which we were made.

Bringing about peace

One of the first steps of being a peacemaker is to develop inner peace of mind and soul. This will be brought about by having undistorted cognitions (thoughts) and will be manifested by emotional stability and appropriate behavior toward others. Specific helpful strategies toward achieving this are available through Cognitive-Behavior Therapy (CBT) It is commonly known that CBT has been successfully applied to a host of emotional and interpersonal problems in adult populations. It is less well-known that these interventions can be applied effectively to a variety of children's and adolescent's psychological problems (Friedman & McClure, 2002).

Cognitive denominator

It is important to note that children's cognitive capacity is not as developed as an adult’s, therefore, a less complex cognitive factor structure should be considered. For example, when working with children clinically, I have found it useful to compress the more complex adult cognitive structure delineated by Ellis, (1962) and Beck, (1976) that I have discussed in other articles relating to adults (c.f. Morelli, 2009a.c) to two cognitive distortions or thinking errors: demanding expectations and over-evaluations (catastrophizing).

  • Demanding Expectations: Belief that there are laws or rules regarding the world, others and self that must always be obeyed. Furthermore, world, others and self will always be the way one thinks they 'should' be. This distortion is sometimes referred to as the “tyranny of the shoulds.” Jack thinks because something is his, he as the right to it and can do anything he wants to maintain possession of it, even if it means picking a fight with another child that takes or is trying to take his possession from him. A program of conflict resolution focusing on alterative appropriate responses would be a way of helping the child settle the matter in a 'peaceful' way. Rewards for appropriate behavior and punishment for inappropriate behavior, administered without anxiety or depression, would be the constructive response to apply here (Morelli, 2006a,b,c).
  • Catastrophizing: The perception that something is worse than it actually is. Jill erroneously reacted to her average job evaluation as if it represented a grave and catastrophic event and thus reacted with even more anxiety.

An alternative to consider is to change the names of the cognitive distortions to a more elementary vocabulary. Creed, Reisweber and Beck (2011) present children and adolescents with the cognitive distortions now renamed as "Thinking Traps":

  • The repeat: Thinking that if something happened once, it will always happen the same way.
  • It's all about me: Blaming yourself for bad things that happen, even when they have nothing to do with you.
  • The pessimist: Expecting that things will always turn out for the worst.
  • Selective sight: Not seeing the good parts of a situation, but picking out all of the dangerous or bad things that could/did happen.
  • Ignoring evidence: Picking out the evidence that tells you that the worst thing is going to happen, instead of looking at all the evidence to decide what will happen.
  • The jumper: Jumping to conclusions before getting all the facts about a situation.
  • The mind reader: Reading minds, but not in a good way—such as deciding that someone is thinking something bad about you without any evidence.
  • Shoulds: "Should" thinking—"I should start a fight with every person who crosses me" or "I shouldn't ever get mad."
  • The crystal ball: Predicting what will happen in the future, and that things will probably go wrong.
  • A perfect disaster: Thinking that if something is less than perfect, it is a complete failure.

Cognitive complexity

There may be a network of complex, interconnected cognitive distortions. These may be hierarchically ordered. George Kelly's Personal Construct Theory (1955) contends that individuals have cognitive constructs and postulates that they function according to a set of corollaries. One important corollary is the "Organizational Corollary." It is defined as "each person characteristically evolves, for convenience in anticipating events [their understanding and behavior in the world by predicting future occurrences], a construction system embracing ordinal relationships between constructs." An individual's construct system is formed and modified by their experiences. The meaning of construct systems being ordinal is that particular constructs may be subsumed by superordinate constructs. For example, a set of (subordinate) constructs, smart-stupid, may be subsumed by the superordinate set, good-bad. In Kelly's model, constructs are always in dichotomous pairs specific to a particular individual. The person's construct system makes the world, and others, more predictable, but at the same time, if the construct system strays too far from reality, the construct system would be the basis of emotional dysphoria and dysfunctional behavior. A person's unique construct system must be discovered, interpreted or revealed by the individual themselves. Others (e.g., clinician, friends, parents or teachers) can only serve as facilitators of the discovery process. Current research suggests that this complexity extends to genetic and differential physiological brain activities and structures as well.

Clinical example

A clinical example may be helpful. Several years ago I had a female patient engage in counseling for problems in interpersonal relationships. During sessions she would consistently describe certain individuals as "friendly," while giving no description of those who were not described as "friendly." I knew I did not understand her cognitive world view, so to speak, so picking up on Kelly's clinical model I inquired: "You know Lyn, you described (here I named a few persons she had mentioned) as "friendly." Now, there are others around you, if they were not "friendly" what would they be? What is the opposite of friendliness for you?" I was expecting an answer like, "stand-off-ish," or "quiet," or even "aloof," but she answered, "critical." Obviously, her answer opened a whole new view of her 'cognitive life space,' that is to say, how she viewed others around her, and this revelation was very helpful in her treatment.

CBT: the Beyond

Judith Beck's (2011) modification of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy model extending cognitive processing to the underlying beliefs of automatic thoughts may be somewhat similar to Kelly's Organizational Corollary. She postulates that Core Beliefs, followed by Intermediate Beliefs, are the foundation of Automatic Thoughts. She considers Core Beliefs as the most fundamental belief level. These lead to Intermediate Beliefs, which are rules, attitudes and assumptions that are regarded as "global, rigid and overgeneralized." In turn, these lead to Automatic Thoughts that are the actual words and images an individual is thinking in specific situations. An example provided is a Core Belief: "I am incompetent," that leads to an Intermediate Belief: Attitude: "It's terrible to fail," Rule: "I should give up if challenge seems to great," and Assumptions: "If I try to do something difficult, I'll fail. If I avoid doing it, I'll be okay."

Of clinical utility for working with children, adolescents and even adults is the Case Conceptualization Model based on Beck (1995), discussed and presented by Creed, Reisweber & Beck, (2011). It consists of answering questions about:

  • Early Experiences: What are the significant early experiences that have affected the student [child, adolescent, adult].
  • Underlying Beliefs: What are the student's [child's adolescent’s adult’s] beliefs about him- or herself and the world. What are the . . .beliefs about how to get by in the world—as directly related to his or her core beliefs?
  • Thinking and Feeling Patterns: What are the quick, evaluative thoughts that occurred in a specific situation? What are the emotions linked to the thoughts?
  • Behavior Patterns: What does the student [child, adolescent, adult] do based on his or her beliefs?

An alternative conceptualization of core beliefs is that they may refer to a kernel evaluation of self. These may be expressed as statements of 'being' that contain some form of the word am. For example: "If someone bullies me and I do not fight back that would mean I am a 'wus.' If I let him or her get away with that, I am a coward.” Such distorted self evaluations are similar to what J. Beck (2011) labels as intermediate or core beliefs. Unfortunately, societal evaluations support such irrational beliefs: Attila the Hun, Hitler and Idi Amin, for example, are (a statement of being) intrinsically evil.

In an earlier seminal work delineating the pathway of irrational beliefs leading to dysfunctional emotions, Ellis (1962) would describe such thinking as a "quite erroneous, belief or assumption that he is worthless, no good, valueless as a person for having done wrong." Certainly a human being does evil things, makes errors, mistakes and gravely sins. As we know from the Orthodox Funeral Service: ". . .there is no man who liveth and sinneth not."

"Statements of Being": Bad Psychology and Bad Orthodoxy

Not only are statements of being psychologically irrational, but they are incompatible with Orthodox Christian anthropology. All mankind is made in God's image. That is the core of everyone's being. We are called to be like Him, and that is the sum of what we do in synergy with God's grace.

One way to discover these unarticulated erroneous self-evaluations is to ask a question such as: "If you did not fight back, what would that say about you?" or "If you did apologize, what would that say about you?"

Some practical interventional suggestions

Some practical suggestions to facilitate the psychological interventions above and relate them to the Mind of Christ and His Church (e.g.: Morelli, 2007, 2010) would be to:

  • Model appropriate temperate speech and behavior oneself. (2006b,d)
  • Respond to a perceived conflict by first asking what they think the problem is?
  • Talk over alternative ways of responding to identified problems. Possible responses may not always be objectively rational in terms of societal or spiritual norms. For some, a core belief regarding maintaining a good "self image" (e.g., I am not a 'wus,'" or "I'm strong, I am no pushover.") may mean it is worth doing harm to others or be subject to punishing consequences. In such cases, the value of "moral courage" versus societal adulation (Morelli, 2012) should be addressed.
  • Avoid speaking in an adult 'pontificating' way. Speak in an attentive, collaborative manner in order to validate the feeling of the other. (c.f. Morelli, 2007)
  • Repeating what you have been told in the child's own words may help the child to know they are understood. Facing the child and maintaining eye contact also facilitates their knowing that they are being listened to and heard.
  • In previous papers, "role playing" conflict resolution was recommended (Morelli, 2011a,c) . For example, with a young child: "Children can be prompted to make up sharing agreements for toys, games, and video play. Role-modeling scripts can be practiced. Initially, the parent may have to model such cooperative dialogue with the child. "Ok, lets take turns, you choose the first game and I'll choose the second game," etc."
  • Icon Christ is our Reconciliation (Monastery of Saint John in the Desert (Jerusalem)Icon Christ is our Reconciliation (Monastery of Saint John in the Desert (Jerusalem)Behavioral "homework assignments" is a well known technique in CBT following after role playing. (Edelman & Chambless, 1995). The child or adolescent may be asked to suggest something they could "practice" after the session, in real life.' Collaborate with the child to choose something doable/manageable. For example, a child or adolescent may initially practice keeping a distance from someone they previously had fights with. Be prepared to 'de-brief' the homework exercise, to go over any obstacles and come up with needed changes. Positively reinforce even small increments of appropriate problem-solving behavior. (Morelli, 2008). Remember to reinforce the behavior, e.g.. "Good job, walking away;" not the child: as in: "Johnny, you're great."
  • Initial stages of peacemaking and conflict resolution may be indirect.
  • It is important to keep in mind that cognitive-behavioral change is incremental and may take several attempts to achieve success. Spiritual growth will take a lifetime.
  • All peacemaking should done on the foundation of Christ, the Prince of Peace, begotten by His Father and nurtured by His Holy Spirit, thus working toward spiritual happiness. (Morelli, 2009).

The fruits of peace not only provide inner peace that is intrinsically blissful and ensures peace among men of good will, but also proclaim the glory of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, God, to all mankind and contribute to a person’s theosis. Consider the words of St. Seraphim of Sarov:

Acquire the spirit of peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.

Date posted: May 1, 2013

Peace is Precious

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

Only God knows what the state of the world will be by the time this "Chaplain's Corner" is published. So, my spiritual reflection is really dated as of the state of the world at the writing of this article (the second week of April, 2013). News sources report an unusually high awareness among Americans of the current threat of a nuclear war crisis incited by the extreme bellicose threats and actions of North Korean leaders. Words such as "represents threat," "public pessimism" and that "Americans are listening are now being heard worldwide." Such reports also indicate that a poll across all demographic groups in the United States, is that if the North's neighbor, South Korea, is attacked, the United States should respond militarily. How close is the nuclear annihilation clock to ticking to '0?' As of this writing, very close.

All this brings to my mind the words of the psalmist: "All too long have I dwelt with those who hate peace. When I speak of peace, they are ready for war." In other words, peace is precious; it is a treasure. This reflection bespeaks the necessity for all of us at all times to preserve peace and to work and hope to bring about peace. Peace is one of the fundamental teachings of most of the world's religious traditions. An example is Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist Zen master, who, since the Vietnam War, has worked tirelessly for peace. He pointed out that “Many people think excitement is happiness. . . . But when you are excited you are not peaceful. True happiness is based on peace. Mahatma Gandhi points out that “An eye for an eye will only make the whole world blind.” Christ told his followers: "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called sons of God." (Mt 5: 9).

Becoming sons of God does not happen automatically. We must be peacemakers and be committed to continue to be committed to this task throughout our lives. It is in this that we find our blessedness; in this we grow into the likeness of the God of peace. Interestingly, a 20th Century scientist, Albert Einstein, points out a pathway to peace: “Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding." Our Holy Church Father St. Isaac of Syria, writing centuries before, tells us that such a road to peace can be traveled, but we must first begin with understanding of ourselves. St. Isaac links the acquisition of peace to humility. He writes of ". . .the peace that is born of humility. . .the man who has reached the knowledge of the extent of his own weakness has reached perfect humility."



ii A Short Breviary for Religious and Laity. (1962) Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press.

iii Thich Nhat Hanh. (2007). The Art of Power. NY: Harper-Collins.



vi Holy Transfiguration Monastery. (ed., trans.). (2011). The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian (revised, 2nd edition). Boston, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery.

Date posted: May 1, 2013

When Men Forsake God, Tyranny Always Follows

The prophetic words of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn resonate like thunder across the history of man. "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened." Thus summarized the Nobel laureate, Orthodox Christian author, and Russian dissident the main reason why the communist revolution was able to enslave, terrorize, and murder tens of millions of innocent people. An atheistic mentality and a long process of secularization gradually alienated the people from God and His moral laws. This led them away from truth and authentic liberty and facilitated the rise of tyranny.

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn at typewriter

Godlessness is always the first step to the concentration camp. Tragically, that same process is now at work in America and many other parts of the world. Too many refuse to see it or believe it.

America has long been a beacon of freedom for millions of souls who came here seeking liberty and opportunity. It achieved this unique place in history by recognizing the authority of God and his moral laws and declaring that men have the unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Founded by faithful and God-fearing men who despised government tyranny and sought religious freedom and individual liberty, America incorporated these universally true principles in its Declaration of Independence and Constitution. These ideals eventually became the bedrock upon which all our laws, government, and institutions were originally built.

America's Founding Fathers understood and proclaimed that all rights come from God alone, not governments. They insisted that government must always serve man and that man was created by God to be free. Their deep faith and reverence of the Almighty inspired and guided their actions and motivated their decisions. It is this belief and trust in God's authority and wisdom that ultimately transformed America from a tiny British colony with a handful of refugees to the mighty economic and military superpower and an oasis of freedom, opportunity, and prosperity for tens of millions of immigrants.

The Founding Fathers, like Solzhenitsyn, understood the dependence of freedom on morality. A virtuous and faithful people who placed God at the center of their lives and the foundations of their institutions helped America become that shining city on a hill "whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere," said President Ronald Reagan. "We've staked the whole future of American civilization not on the power of government," wrote James Madison, "far from it. We have staked the future of all our political institutions upon the capacity of each and all of govern ourselves according to commandments of God. The future and success of America is not in this Constitution, but in the laws of God upon which the Constitution is founded."

This same theme is found throughout the writings of the Founders. John Adams clearly understood that our "Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." "He who is void of virtuous attachments in private life is, or very soon will be, void of all regard for his country," observed Samuel Adams. Patrick Henry wrote that "virtue, morality, and religion ... is the armor that renders us invincible[.] ... [I]f we lose these, we are conquered, fallen indeed[.] ... [S]o long as our manners and principles remain sound, there is no danger."

Solzhenitsyn warned that by forgetting God, America and the West faced a "calamity of a despiritualized and irreligious humanistic consciousness" that would weaken their foundations and make them vulnerable to moral decay and internal collapse. Only by turning back to God from the self-centered and atheistic humanism where "man is the touchstone [measure] in judging and evaluating everything on earth" would the West have any hope of escaping the destruction toward which it inevitably moves.

Unfortunately, America did not heed Solzhenitsyn's warnings. In the last several decades, America has been rapidly transformed from a God-fearing and worshiping nation into a secularist and atheistic society, where communist and atheistic ideals are glorified and promoted, while Judeo-Christian values and morality are attacked, ridiculed, and increasingly eradicated from the public and social consciousness of our nation. Under the decades-long assault and militant radicalism of many so-called "liberal" and "progressive" elites, God and His moral laws have been progressively erased from our public and educational institutions, to be replaced with all manner of delusion, perversion, corruption, violence, decadence, and insanity.

"Those people who will not be governed by God will be ruled by tyrants," warned William Penn. Throughout history, the most serious threats to man's freedom always arise when men refuse to acknowledge that God is ultimately the source and protector of real and lasting liberty and freedom. When that timeless truth is erased from men's consciousness, when God's wisdom and laws are forgotten, when morality is no longer a virtue to be treasured and emulated, when human life is no longer sacred, and man becomes the only standard of all that is true, then genuine freedom will begin to vanish from any group, institution, community, or society. Carnality, greed, selfishness, and worldly pleasure and power become the main goals of human existence. The moral and ethical clarity, conviction, and courage required to defend freedom and protect genuine liberty ultimately disappear, to be replaced by the most cruel, unethical, tyrannical, and godless ideologies.

It is no coincidence that advocates and followers of Fascism, Nazism, and Communism — all secular, immoral, atheistic, and godless ideologies — enslaved and murdered the greatest number of people in the history of mankind. All produced some of the most cruel, violent, and evil tyrants this world has ever known — despots who persecuted their own citizens, slaughtered the innocent, destroyed their own people, and brought calamities to other nations. All subjugated the liberty and property of men to the absolute power and control of the state. All were enemies of God and blasphemers of His Holy Scriptures. All viciously persecuted the most devout and religious members of their societies, primarily the religious Christians and Jews who righteously and faithfully followed the Lord.

This is the lesson the 20th century expended so much blood to teach us. It appears that without a marked change in course, the Western world is going to have to learn it again.

Chris Banescu is an Orthodox Christian attorney, conservative blogger, and university professor. He regularly blogs at and

Read the entire article on the The Voice blog (new window will open).

Date posted: April 4, 2013

Why Do Eastern Orthodox Churches Enable Opposition to Orthodox Values on Abortion, Sexual Morality?

Christian churches of any sort are right to be careful and thoughtful about the specific causes and organizations to which they do and do not give their public support, as such decisions are important part of what they tell a watching world about their faith and about the triune God. And if a church cannot or will not take the time to examine what a given organization actually does, it makes little sense to bestow a blank-check ecclesial endorsement on the organization’s activities.

So what exactly is accomplished by most of Eastern Orthodoxy in the United States being affiliated with the National Council of Churches (NCC)?

First, we must ask what the effective purpose of the NCC is today.  Its member communions include neither the Roman Catholic Church nor more than an increasingly narrow fraction of American Protestants.  Given its growing narrowness, penchant for divisive rhetoric, and the rather unloving, disdainful ways in which NCC leaders take pains to distance themselves from other Christians, especially evangelicals, it is clear that the NCC’s noble founding goal of Christian unity is not much of a priority for current NCC leaders.

The NCC has served a purpose in the past with its New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) Bible translation and its annual Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches. But the former is a fait accompli while the latter represents only a tiny fraction of the NCC’s work. So neither of these is the council’s raison d’être.

No, the first and foremost effective purpose of the modern NCC is to promote the values of theologically liberal/heterodox Protestantism and to use the name and resources of churches as a politically convenient tool to promote partisan public-policy agendas, including ones that directly oppose clear Scriptural teachings.

Devout Eastern Orthodox prize their church’s identity as the bearer of what they see as unbroken Christian tradition. Of course, important parts of this tradition’s moral teachings are the basic Christian moral values of valuing the lives of unborn children and honoring the God-given boundaries of sex only within man-woman marriage.

Yet over the years, IRD has documented numerous instances of the NCC defending abortion and/or homosexual practice while demonizing those who stand up for Christian values (at least nominally shared by Eastern Orthodox leaders) on such issues. To say nothing of the over-the-top interpersonal rudeness that NCC staffers have been known to aim at Christians who do not share their liberal Protestant values.

[. . .]

Do Eastern Orthodox leaders really have no problem with the direction and values of a church council of which they are a part being shaped by the input of people who deny the divinity of Christ, while Protestants who actually believe in the Nicene Creed are often disproportionately excluded from such discussions in the NCC? Do Eastern Orthodox leaders really have no problem with their name, through the NCC, being associated with a radical group’s work to promote religious support for abortion and sexual immorality?

If Eastern Orthodox leaders choose to remain silent, this would tragically be consistent with their past behavior.

[. . .]

As any Greek readers may discern from my last name, Eastern Orthodoxy is part of my own family heritage. So I really do sympathize with how important it must have been decades ago for religious leaders of struggling new immigrant communities in an often very intolerant America to be invited to have a seat at the table with leaders of the cultural mainstream. But after a century of an established presence of Eastern Orthodoxy in America, shouldn’t such church leaders want more than merely being seen but not heard?

Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, and other Eastern Orthodox members of the NCC could follow the example of their Antiochian Orthodox brethren by withdrawing their membership in the NCC and pursuing other areas of ecumenical engagement, a move that would be enthusiastically cheered by countless conservative Protestants within and beyond NCC member communions (including this United Methodist writer). Or they could try to use their seats at the table to seek genuinely meaningful dialogue by respectfully yet firmly challenging tablemates who have recently strayed from biblical moral values. At the very least, they could pro-actively make sure that as long as the council uses their names, the NCC will not say or do anything against Eastern Orthodox moral teaching.

[. . .]

But America’s NCC-endorsing Eastern Orthodox leaders (with the notable exception of the Antiochian Orthodox) have, by and large , chosen none of these things. Instead, they choose to continue their path of having no discernible moderating influence on the council (and having little to no apparent interest in doing so) while offering a blank-check endorsement of the NCC’s work, which the NCC’s Liberalprotestant staffers are all too eager to tout as a tool to shield the council from being dismissed as the decaying, ideologically narrow, Liberalprotestant dinosaur that it is.

[. . .]

Of course, I understand that Eastern Orthodox polity is fundamentally different from any Protestant body, and that, to the disappointment of the NCC and its allies like the Unitarian-led Religious Institute, no official Eastern Orthodox body is going to formally vote to, say, endorse abortion. And for what it’s worth, it is now widely agreed that the United Methodist Church is unlikely to change our official, conservative position on homosexuality for at least the foreseeable future.

But in both cases, there is a huge crisis of integrity when the church leadership chooses to shrink back from defending the very church values their offices charge them with promoting, and even passively allow their church’s name to be used to promote agendas directly contrary to the church’s own teachings.

Among U.S. leaders of both the United Methodist Church and Eastern Orthodoxy, there appear to be a number of leaders who love the Lord and accept the authority of Scripture, to whom God has given great opportunities to be witnesses for Christ and Christian truths affirmed in the on-paper position statements of both churches, but who inexplicably choose to bury their talents in the ground.

Read the entire article on the Juicy Ecumenicism blog (new window will open).

Date posted: April 4, 2013

Protecting Marriage to Protect Children

Marriage as a human institution is constantly evolving. But in all societies, marriage shapes the rights and obligations of parenthood.

September 19, 2008

I am a liberal Democrat. And I do not favor same-sex marriage. Do those positions sound contradictory? To me, they fit together.

Homosexual marriage

Many seem to believe that marriage is simply a private love relationship between two people. They accept this view, in part, because Americans have increasingly emphasized and come to value the intimate, emotional side of marriage, and in part because almost all opinion leaders today, from journalists to judges, strongly embrace this position. That's certainly the idea that underpinned the California Supreme Court's legalization of same-sex marriage.

But I spent a year studying the history and anthropology of marriage, and I've come to a different conclusion.

Marriage as a human institution is constantly evolving, and many of its features vary across groups and cultures. But there is one constant. In all societies, marriage shapes the rights and obligations of parenthood. Among us humans, the scholars report, marriage is not primarily a license to have sex. Nor is it primarily a license to receive benefits or social recognition. It is primarily a license to have children.

In this sense, marriage is a gift that society bestows on its next generation. Marriage (and only marriage) unites the three core dimensions of parenthood — biological, social and legal — into one pro-child form: the married couple. Marriage says to a child: The man and the woman whose sexual union made you will also be there to love and raise you. Marriage says to society as a whole: For every child born, there is a recognized mother and a father, accountable to the child and to each other.

These days, because of the gay marriage debate, one can be sent to bed without supper for saying such things. But until very recently, almost no one denied this core fact about marriage. Summing up the cross-cultural evidence, the anthropologist Helen Fisher in 1992 put it simply: "People wed primarily to reproduce." The philosopher and Nobel laureate Bertrand Russell, certainly no friend of conventional sexual morality, was only repeating the obvious a few decades earlier when he concluded that "it is through children alone that sexual relations become important to society, and worthy to be taken cognizance of by a legal institution."

Marriage is society's most pro-child institution. In 2002 — just moments before it became highly unfashionable to say so — a team of researchers from Child Trends, a nonpartisan research center, reported that "family structure clearly matters for children, and the family structure that helps children the most is a family headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage."

All our scholarly instruments seem to agree: For healthy development, what a child needs more than anything else is the mother and father who together made the child, who love the child and love each other.

For these reasons, children have the right, insofar as society can make it possible, to know and to be cared for by the two parents who brought them into this world. The foundational human rights document in the world today regarding children, the 1989 U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, specifically guarantees children this right. The last time I checked, liberals like me were supposed to be in favor of internationally recognized human rights, particularly concerning children, who are typically society's most voiceless and vulnerable group. Or have I now said something I shouldn't?

Every child being raised by gay or lesbian couples will be denied his birthright to both parents who made him. Every single one. Moreover, losing that right will not be a consequence of something that at least most of us view as tragic, such as a marriage that didn't last, or an unexpected pregnancy where the father-to-be has no intention of sticking around. On the contrary, in the case of same-sex marriage and the children of those unions, it will be explained to everyone, including the children, that something wonderful has happened!

For me, what we are encouraged or permitted to say, or not say, to one another about what our society owes its children is crucially important in the debate over initiatives like California's Proposition 8, which would reinstate marriage's customary man-woman form. Do you think that every child deserves his mother and father, with adoption available for those children whose natural parents cannot care for them? Do you suspect that fathers and mothers are different from one another? Do you imagine that biological ties matter to children? How many parents per child is best? Do you think that "two" is a better answer than one, three, four or whatever? If you do, be careful. In making the case for same-sex marriage, more than a few grown-ups will be quite willing to question your integrity and goodwill. Children, of course, are rarely consulted.

The liberal philosopher Isaiah Berlin famously argued that, in many cases, the real conflict we face is not good versus bad but good versus good. Reducing homophobia is good. Protecting the birthright of the child is good. How should we reason together as a society when these two good things conflict?

Here is my reasoning. I reject homophobia and believe in the equal dignity of gay and lesbian love. Because I also believe with all my heart in the right of the child to the mother and father who made her, I believe that we as a society should seek to maintain and to strengthen the only human institution — marriage — that is specifically intended to safeguard that right and make it real for our children.

Legalized same-sex marriage almost certainly benefits those same-sex couples who choose to marry, as well as the children being raised in those homes. But changing the meaning of marriage to accommodate homosexual orientation further and perhaps definitively undermines for all of us the very thing — the gift, the birthright — that is marriage's most distinctive contribution to human society. That's a change that, in the final analysis, I cannot support.

David Blankenhorn is president of the New York-based Institute for American Values and the author of "The Future of Marriage."

Read the entire article on the Los Angeles Times website (new window will open).

Date posted: April 4, 2013

Who Guards The Most Sacred Site In Christendom? Two Muslims

Doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher

Doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher

JERUSALEM — Every Christian knows the holiest places in Christendom are in Jerusalem. The holiest of all, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was erected in 325, over the site where it is believed Jesus was crucified, buried and rose from the dead.

Yet, few know that it is a Muslim who opens and closes the only door to this holiest of Christian sites.

In fact, it’s two Muslims: one man from the Joudeh family and another man from the Nuseibeh family, two Jerusalem Palestinian clans who have been the custodians of the entrance to the Holy Sepulchre since the 12th century.

Every morning, at 4:30, Adeeb Joudeh travels from his apartment outside the walls of the Old City to bring the cast-iron key to the church, just as his father and his forebears did before him.

Once there, he entrusts the key — looking like a 12-inch (30-centimeter) long iron wedge — to Wajeeh Nuseibeh, who knocks at the gate to call the priests and the pilgrims who spend the night praying inside. From inside the church, a wooden ladder is passed through a porthole to help him unlock the upper part of the enormous door.

Then, he unlocks the lower one before handing the precious key back to Joudeh. The ritual is reversed every evening at 7:30, after hundreds of tourists and pilgrims have left the church.

During holidays, such as Holy Week, which culminates Sunday with the Christian Easter, the elaborate opening and closing ceremonies take place several times a day.

Why the elaborate ritual? As often happens in Jerusalem, a city holy to several peoples and religions, there are different versions to explain why two Muslim families hold the key to the holiest site in Christendom.

“After the Muslim conquest in 637, the Caliph Omar guaranteed the Archbishop Sophronius that the Christian places of worship would be protected and so entrusted the custodianship to the Nuseibehs, a family who originated in Medina and had had relations with the Prophet Muhammad,” said Nuseibeh, a retired 63-year old electrician, while waiting in a nearby cafe to carry out his duties at the Holy Sepulchre.

“It happened again in 1187, after Saladin ended the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem. He chose our family again to look after the peace between the different Eastern and Western Christian confessions, which were at odds over control of the Sepulchre,” he said with a gentle smile, sitting next to his son, Obadah.

To this day, coexistence among the several Christian churches sharing the Holy Sepulchre is a delicate one. Catholic, Greek, Armenian, Coptic, Syriac, and Ethiopian Orthodox monks have resorted to fists more than once to defend their respective denomination’s rights and privileges in the church, as defined in an decree by the Ottoman Empire, known as the Status Quo of 1853.

Such impious brawls between clergy proved Saladin’s prescience 1,000 years ago, when the sultan sealed the second front gate of the church and entrusted control of the remaining entrance to neutral custodians.

The Nuseibehs claim that the Joudehs entered this story only in the 16th century, after the Ottoman Turks gained control of Palestine and decided to charge a second family with the responsibility of guarding the key.

“Yes, we share the responsibility with the Joudehs, and sometimes we argue, as happens in a family,” Nuseibeh said.

Each Maundy Thursday since the end of the 19th century, the two Muslim families give the key to the Holy Sepulchre to the local Franciscan friars, for as long as it takes to walk to the church in a procession and to open the door after the morning liturgies. When those are completed, the friars return the key to the families.

This ceremony, which confirms in practice the validity of the Muslim families’ custodianship, is repeated with the Greek and Armenian communities, on Orthodox Good Friday and Holy Saturday, respectively.

“Right now, I have in my hands the keys to Christendom’s heart. This is a very important moment for us,” said the Rev. Artemio Vitores, the Spanish Franciscan who is the vicar Custodian of the Holy Land, during the Maundy Thursday procession.

“For centuries, Christian pilgrims were denied entry to the church, or had to pay huge sums to pray on the Sepulchre,” he said, all while holding the key.

At the head of the procession, Vitores was flanked on one side by Wajeeh Nusseibeh, his son Obadah and two cousins, all of whom were equally compensated by the friars for their services with the symbolic sum of $60.

On Vitores’ other side were Adeeb Joudeh, wearing an impeccable dark gray suit, and his 19-year-old son Jawad.

For about 20 minutes, Joudeh ceded control of the only existing key to the Holy Sepulchre. While there is another key, it is broken and no longer used. The functioning key is normally kept in a small office attached to the church and is guarded by an employee of the Joudeh family.

“This key has seen Saladin and every generation of my family since 1187. To me, it’s an honor to be in charge of the holiest of Christian places,” Joudeh said, while walking the cobblestoned alley leading to the Holy Sepulchre.

He insisted on showing on his smartphone what he claimed are 165 official decrees confirming the Joudeh family’s role as custodian of the church over the centuries.

“My ancestor who was given the keys was a sheik, a highly respected person, who was not supposed to perform physical labor, such as climbing the ladder to open the gate,” Joudeh explained. “That’s why the Nuseibehs were called in to perform this duty. Unfortunately, they feel still ashamed of being just the doorkeepers.”

At the end of the procession, the key was welcomed by cheerful pilgrims waiting in front of the church.

For a few minutes, everybody stared at the solemn opening of the gate before rushing in.

Moments later, Adeeb Joudeh walked home with his son, as did Wajeeh Nuseibeh. They will come back here, time and again, at the gate of the Holy Sepulchre: two Muslims, coming in peace to bear the key to the heart of Christianity.

Read the entire article on the International Business Times website (new window will open).

Date posted: March 31, 2013

Following Jesus:  The Power of Forgiveness

A presentation given at the Society of St. John Chrysostom-Western Region Light of the East Conference, 1-2 March, 2013, hosted by St. Paul’s Greek Orthodox Church in Irvine, CA.

Date posted: April 1, 2013

Chaplains Corner - Self Reflection: Compassion and Civility

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

How many of us really take the time to reflect on the things we do to others and do to ourselves in our daily lives? There are some good reasons for doing such a self- analysis. Not the least of which is that by thinking over how we may have hurt others and ourselves we may foster compassion for others in terms of the misdeeds they may have done and this in turn may lead to more civility in our evaluations of others and also in our dealings with them. It is so easy for us to justify our own aberrations while seeing the immoral, improper or wicked behavior of others.

In ancient Chinese tradition Confucius (551-479 BC) sadly comments: "I have not yet seen one who could perceive his faults and inwardly accuse himself." (Analects, bk. v., c. xxvi.). On the other hand, Mencius (372 – 289 BC), the disciple and commentator of Confucius, speaks about the joys of true self-reflection: "There is no greater delight than to be conscious of sincerity upon self-examination." (Bk. vii., pt. i., c. iv., v. 2.). It is only in such sincere understanding of self that true virtue can be practiced. This helps in comprehending the meaning of Confucius' statement: "To be able to practice five things everywhere under heaven constitutes perfect virtue: Gravity, magnanimity, sincerity, earnestness, and kindness." (Analects, bk. xvii., c. vi.)

Psychologists would label such a process of reflection a self-inventory. For example, Robert Enright, PhD, (2012), notes the need for an “ uncovering phase” in which an individual lists their own faults and the consequences of them. This self-understanding promotes understanding of the factors that may have influenced others’ untoward behaviors. Such understanding nurtures compassion, and compassion fosters civility.

Religious traditions would consider such a reflection-inventory procedure to be an examination process. In Buddhism, the habit of self-examination is attainable through contemplation, a mental training exercise developed by self-introspection (http://www.sacred-texts.c...). In Christianity, the examination of conscience is critical to growth in the spiritual life. St. Paul writes: "Try your own selves if you be in the faith; prove ye yourselves. Know you not your own selves, that Christ Jesus is in you, unless perhaps you be reprobates?. . . For we rejoice that we are weak." (2Cor 13: 5, 9; trans. The Eastern Church Father St. Nikitas Stithatos writes (Philokalia IV)) about the fruit of self-knowledge obtained by what he calls a "cross-examination of the conscience," saying: "you gain greater knowledge of your own limitations and recognize the weakness of human nature; at the same time your love of God and your fellow beings waxes until you think that sanctification flows simply or from the proximity of those with whom you live."


Enright, Robert D.( 2012). The Forgiving Life: A Pathway to Overcoming Resentment and Creating a Legacy of Love, Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.

(Palmer, G. E. H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (trans.) (1995). The Philokalia: The Complete Text; Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain & St. Makarios of Corinth, (Vol. 4). London: Faber and Faber.)

Date posted: April 1, 2013

The Colloquium and Pope Francis

Several weeks ago I spent a weekend with Catholic and Orthodox scholars in a colloquium titled “Liberty, Society, and the Economy in Modern Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Thought.” I am a parish priest, not an academic, which means I approach the big questions from what I call a “rubber meets the road” perspective. I start with the problem or issue that I am thrust into and work out from there. It’s real, sometimes messy, and almost exclusively existentialist.

That also meant that I approached the colloquium as a student and did not have much to contribute until the how the ideas we discussed applied to everyday people in everyday life. That’s the world in which I practice my vocation so that has become my area of expertise.

The practical dimension was welcomed especially by the academics who, as most of us know, can distance themselves from the concrete consequences of ideas and sometimes fail to distinguish the power of one idea over another. It’s a professional hazard but then all professions have their hazards including the vocation of the priesthood. That’s why we should not only know ourselves (one goal of the Christian life) but also get to know how others see us and clarify how we see others.

Thus kind of knowledge cannot be attained without sentiments of goodwill and professional courtesy. They were present in good measure and after a half-day or so grew into a mutual respect that made both the formal meetings (we analyzed texts from the Catholic and Orthodox traditions) and informal discussions over dinner, walks to Starbucks and so forth very fruitful and rich.

The Catholics have a very developed intellectual tradition about contemporary issues, more so than the Orthodox because they faced no Muslim Conquest or Bolshevik Revolution, historical events that have held us back. That tradition is impressive although not nearly as airtight as some Catholic apologists would have you believe.

The Catholic Church also has some significant problems and the frank assessment of their causes by the Catholic participants surprised me. I simply did not expect it. To the Orthodox participants the discussion revealed a resilience and strength within the Orthodox Church that we tend to take for granted.

The resilience has to do with how we worship, how the Divine Liturgy is the essential locus of Orthodox self-identity and maintains a unity of faith despite our jurisdictional divisions. We talked about this at some length especially how in our secularized age (I define secularization as the loss of the awareness of the sacred dimension of creation) many people experience deep interior alienation but are also compelled toward authenticity and communion, especially among the young.

The yearning for authenticity and communion is a search for the transcendent and structured worship speaks directly to it. This is one reason why converts to the liturgical churches (Orthodox and Catholic alike) are often conservative in their approach to worship. In a culture where the divine dimension is lost and worship no longer exists, sexuality becomes a substitute. Malcolm Muggeridge said years ago that “sex is the sacrament of the materialist.” Ideologically this is true but as a priest I also take a more functional approach. The rampant sexuality we see in our culture is often an attempt to self-integrate and find communion—a reach for the unifying clarity that touching the transcendent promises—although greater disintegration is the inevitable result. 

The Catholics at the conference understood the relationship between worship and encounter with Christ but are dogged by theological liberals who still insist that the deconstruction of traditional forms is progress. Time is on their side however since theological and moral liberals don’t create children (an abortion mentality applies to ideological progeny as well). They have been unable to raise others in the ideas that they have embraced and new recruits are drying up as their spiritual barrenness becomes increasingly evident. They are graying now and in another decade or two they will be gone.

The participants wondered how Orthodoxy, with all its apparent disorganization, can still maintain a uniformity of worship. To us it seems self-evident: worship is the locus of self-identity because that is where the Gospel is preached and where the matrix of faith and morals is brought from the speculative into an encompassing experience that offers knowledge, wisdom, and insight. In sermons I describe it as living our lives not in black and white, but in living color. Anyone who has ears to hear and eyes to see recognizes the power of worship even if only intuitively at first.

I was asked, “What would happen if you changed the Liturgy around?” I answered, “My people would call the Bishop on Monday morning and he would call me on Monday afternoon.” They asked, “What would happen if the Bishop changed it around?” I responded, “They would chase him out of town.” At that point I was corrected by another Orthodox participant who quoted from one of the Fathers, “They should throw him into the river.”

There are several important take-aways from the conference. The first is that Catholic and Orthodox apologetics assume a reality that simply does not exist. All institutions have problems and the both the Catholic and Orthodox Churches have their share of them. I’ve spent my share of time with Catholic apologists and frankly, I just get tired of it. There is always an answer for everything. Catholics I am sure would express the same exasperation from the other direction.

This is not to say that substantial differences don’t exist. Clearly they do. Nor is it to say that every ecumenical encounter must have as its goal some kind of unity. I’m not sure if unity between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches is even possible given present circumstances but even if it were, I’ll leave it to others to work it out.

Nevertheless, a unity of sorts was evident and—the second take-away—strengthened. The late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, a Lutheran convert to Catholicism, wrote years back that the new ecumenicism is the ecumenicism of the Spirit. What he meant was that Christians from Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Protestantism should be clear about their differences but talk together anyway. We are drawn by the Spirit of God and driven by increasing de-Christianization of the larger culture. “We are more united in the acknowledgement of our differences than in pretending that they don’t exist,” Fr. Neuhaus correctly said.

Needless to say the participants in the conference were social and moral conservatives—orthodox Catholics and non-progressive Orthodox. We see the same dynamic when talking with Protestants. Authentic conversation with Christians of other communions takes place only when the foundational moral and theological questions are settled.
Again, this does not mean that universal agreement exists. It doesn’t. It does mean however, that the path to moral and theological relativism where distinctions are erased and where the authority of the received tradition is reduced to private opinion is closed. Unity at the expense of truth is a collaboration of the confused where the only possible outcome is collapse. We can look to the Episcopalian Church or the National Council of Churches as evidence.

We Orthodox owe something to the Catholics. Catholic leaders have been the clearest and strongest voice in the defense of the dignity of the human person in our increasingly secularized culture. We benefit from their witness. They draw from the moral tradition in ways that that hold our own leaders to account—and correctly so since we hold that part of the moral tradition in common. All Christians, not just Catholics, benefit from their faith and courage.

They also give the American Orthodox Church some breathing room as it finds its way in American society and learns how to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the American ethos. Learning this takes time just as it did in the early centuries of the Church. Orthodox Christianity has much to give secularized America especially to the young who, as I said at the outset, are searching for authenticity and communion. 

What are they waiting for? In a word—anthropology. “Anthropology” is a theological term that is derived from the Greek work anthropos or “man.” It means that within our Orthodox tradition lies the knowledge of what it means to be a human being particularly how our personhood—the who of who we are—is realized and actualized in communion with the Risen Christ. We Orthodox understand this. Our anthropology is developed. That’s one reason why the Church does not fall apart despite our disorganization and historical suffering.

This understanding has to be brought forward and actualized in the American ethos because that is where we live and how we think. This is true of both cradle born and converts (two misnomers because both are adopted in Christ only through baptism) if the ground for human flourishing is to be recovered and tilled. Many are waiting for us. This too was evident at the colloquium.

I’ve written extensively in the Catholic press about the cultural project that has brought Catholics and Orthodox together on high levels (Pope Benedict and Pat. Kyrill for example) as well as local efforts like the colloquium. One question the Orthodox asked was whether the retirement of Pope Benedict would dampen the work.

It does not look like it will. Pope Francis is faithful to moral tradition and also appears to be courageous (these days there is no faithfulness without courage). He understands the moral crisis in Christendom and appears to be as committed to the restoration of the Christian foundations of culture as his predecessors were. This portends a good future for Orthodox-Catholic relations and will hopefully make more Orthodox aware of the grave crisis facing us.

May God grant him many years.

This essay was also published on Catholic Online.




Date posted: March 29, 2013

Planned Parenthood Official Endorses Infanticide

Do women have a right to a dead  fetus baby? Apparently so, according to a Florida Planned Parenthood official who testified that if a baby is born alive in a botched abortion, the mother should decide whether the abortionist should kill or care for the newborn. From the Weekly Standard story:

Wesley J. Smith

Florida legislators considering a bill to require abortionists to provide medical care to an infant who survives an abortion were shocked during a committee hearing this week when a Planned Parenthood official endorsed a right to post-birth abortion. Alisa Laport Snow, the lobbyist representing the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, testified that her organization believes the decision to kill an infant who survives a failed abortion should be left up to the woman seeking an abortion and her abortion doctor.

“So, um, it is just really hard for me to even ask you this question because I’m almost in disbelief,” said Rep. Jim Boyd. “If a baby is born on a table as a result of a botched abortion, what would Planned Parenthood want to have happen to that child that is struggling for life?”

“We believe that any decision that’s made should be left up to the woman, her family, and the physician,” said Planned Parenthood lobbyist Snow.

Remember, Peter Singer was appointed to the most elite bioethics chair in the world at Princeton–not in spite of, but because–he preaches for the propriety of infanticide. And despite all the fuss over the pro “post birth” abortion article published in the Journal of Medical Ethics awhile ago, many of the most mainstream bioethicists support the agenda because they oppose human exceptionalism and believe that humans with low present capacities lack full moral value.  

Thus, I don’t know why anyone is surprised about the PP endorsement. It is just another indication that infanticide continues its slow movement toward respectability. 

By the way: If a baby born during a botched abortion can be killed, why not also an unwanted baby born in the usual manner?

Read the entire article on the National Review website (new window will open).

Date posted: March 29, 2013

Alveda King: How Can Blacks Survive if We Murder Our Children?

Martin Luther King

“The Negro cannot win as long as he is willing to sacrifice the lives of his children for immediate personal comfort and safety. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

 - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the early 1970’s, even though some Black voices were protesting against forced sterilization, artificial chemical birth control methods and abortion, there were many who were fooled and misled by propaganda that promoted such strategies. I was among those who were duped. As a result, I suffered one involuntary and one voluntary “legal” abortion.

My involuntary abortion was performed just prior to the passage of Roe v. Wade by my private pro-abortion physician without my consent. I had gone to the doctor to ask why my cycle had not resumed after the birth of my son. I did not ask for and did not want an abortion. The doctor said, “You don’t need to be pregnant, let’s see.” He proceeded to perform a painful examination which resulted in a gush of blood and tissue emanating from my womb. He explained that he had performed an abortion called a “local D and C.”

Dr. Alveda King

Alveda King

Soon after the Roe v. Wade decision, I became pregnant again. There was adverse pressure and threat of violence from the baby’s father. The ease and convenience provided through Roe v. Wade made it too easy for me to make the fateful and fatal decision to abort our child. I went to a Planned Parenthood sanctioned doctor and was advised that the procedure would hurt no more than “having a tooth removed.”

The next day, I was admitted to the hospital, and our baby was aborted. My medical insurance paid for the procedure. As soon as I woke up, I knew that something was very wrong. I felt very ill, and very empty. I tried to talk to the doctor and nurses about it. They assured me that “it will all go away in a few days. You will be fine.” They lied.

Over the next few years, I experienced medical problems. I had trouble bonding with my son, and his five siblings who were born after the abortions. I began to suffer from eating disorders, depression, nightmares, sexual dysfunctions and a host of other issues related to the abortions. I felt angry about both the involuntary and voluntary abortions, and very guilty about the abortion I chose to have. The guilt made me very ill.

I pray often for deliverance from the pain caused by my decision to abort my baby. I suffered the threat of cervical and breast cancer, and experienced the pain of empty arms after the baby was gone. Truly, for me, and countless abortive mothers, nothing on earth can fully restore what has been lost.

My children have all suffered from knowing that they have a brother or sister that their mother chose to abort. Often they ask if I ever thought about aborting them, and they have said, “You killed our baby.”

This is very painful for all of us. My mother and grandparents were very sad to know about the loss of the baby. The aborted child’s father also regrets the abortions. If it had not been for Roe v. Wade, I would never have had that second abortion.

My birthday is January 22, and each year this special day is marred by the fact that it is also the anniversary of Roe v. Wade — and the anniversary of death for millions of babies. I and my deceased children are victims of abortion. The Roe v. Wade decision has adversely affected the lives of my entire family.

My grandfather, Dr. Martin Luther King, Sr., twice said, “No one is going to kill a child of mine.” The first time Daddy King said this was to my mother, who was facing an “inconvenient pregnancy” with me. The next time, I was facing a pregnancy, and told him about it. In both instances, Daddy King said no.

Martin Luther King

Tragically, two of his grandchildren had already been aborted when he saved the life of his next great-grandson with this statement. His son, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The Negro cannot win as long as he is willing to sacrifice the lives of his children for immediate personal comfort and safety. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

How can the “Dream” survive if we murder our children? Every aborted baby is like a slave in the womb of his or her mother. In the hands of the mother is the fate of that child — whether the child lives or dies — a decision given to the mother by Roe v. Wade. That choice, the final choice of whether the child lives or dies, should be left to God, Who ultimately says “choose life!”

Like my Uncle Martin, I too have a dream. I still have a dream that someday the men and women of our nation, the boys and girls of America will come to our senses, humble ourselves before God Almighty and receive His healing grace. I pray that this is the day and the hour of our deliverance. I pray that we will regain a covenant of life and finally obtain the promised liberty, justice and pursuit of happiness for all.

Let us end injustice anywhere by championing justice everywhere, including in the womb.

This article appeared on The Orthodox Church of Tomorrow website.

Read the entire article on the Life News website (new window will open).

Date posted: March 29, 2013

The Enemy Christ Defeated

Extreme Humility icon

The theology of the Lord’s Passion, as portrayed in the Fourth Gospel, is not exhausted by our considerations of Jesus—hitherto—as Priest. He is also portrayed as the one who generously forfeits his life for the sake of those he loves. In John’s Gospel this idea is thematic.

Thus, in the Last Supper discourse Jesus declares:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than to lay down his life on behalf of (hyper) his friends. . . No longer do I call you servants . . . but I have called you friends” (John 15:12-15).

Here Jesus takes up the affirmation contained in his Good Shepherd parable: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sake of (hyper) the sheep. . . . I give my life for (hyper) the sheep” (John 10:11, 15).

John has this affirmation in mind when he writes,

“By this we know love, because he laid down his life for our sake (hyper hemon)” (1 John 3:16).

In respect to Jesus laying down his life, John narrates the ironic prophecy of Caiaphas the high priest. After the raising of Lazarus, we recall, the Sanhedrin expressed concern that

“everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and will abolish both our place and nation.”

In response to this concern Caiaphas declared:

“You know nothing whatever, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the sake of (hyper) the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.”

Whereas Caiaphas recommended the murder of Jesus as a political expedient, the Evangelist perceived that his cynical declaration was, in fact, freighted with the drama of prophecy:

“Now he did not say this on his own, but, being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus would die for the sake of (hyper) the nation, and not for the sake of (hyper) that nation only, but also that he would gather together into one the scattered children of God” (John 11:47-52).

In these affirmations we recognize the root of the early Christian conviction that Christ died for us, on our behalf, unto our benefit—hyper hemon. Thus, the Apostle Paul summed up the work of the Atonement:

“While we were yet powerless, Christ died, at the chosen time, for the sake of (hyper) the ungodly. Indeed, scarcely for (hyper) a righteous man will someone die, though on behalf of (hyper) a good man someone might even dare to die. But God demonstrates His love in our regard, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for our sake (hyper hemon) (Romans 5:6-8).

Although Christians subsumed this language, in due course, into the grammar of sacrifice, it was not (like Ephesians 5:2) originally sacrificial in a formal sense. That is to say, to give one’s life for someone else is not a sacrifice understood as a liturgical immolation or ritual gift. It is more proper to think of it, rather, as sacrificial in an extended and metaphorical way. Even today we commonly lengthen the imagery of sacrifice to cover anyone’s gift of his life for the sake of a person, a group, or a cause. We speak this way all the time, for instance, in reference to the heroism of those who defend and protect us.

It is true that hyper (followed by the genitive) can, in some contexts, mean Instead of,” “in place of,” but this hardly seems to be the case in the examples we are examining here; clearly Jesus did not die in our place. That is to say, we still must die.

We should further observe that the use of hyper in these New Testament texts refers to Jesus’ experience of dying. According to the Epistle to the Hebrews,

“we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that he, by the grace of God, might taste death for (hyper) every person” (2:9).

It is Jesus’ death—not the Passion, the sufferings, in general—that is envisaged in these references. Surely, Jesus’ experience of dying was painful in the extreme, and, just as surely, that suffering, also, was endured on our behalf and for our sakes. Nonetheless, when Holy Scripture speaks of what Jesus did for us, the reference is invariably to his death. The other grievous afflictions associated with his death are descriptions of how he tasted death. They are theologically significant, not in themselves, but with respect to Jesus’ death. They were aspects of his death. The Enemy Jesus met and defeated on the Cross was death.

It appears that the idea of dying for somebody, or laying down one’s life on behalf of a cause or a nation, was fairly late in the thought of Judaism. When John wrote,

“we also ought to lay down our lives for (hyper) the brethren” (1 John 3:16),

he expressed a moral ideal that had only recently emerged among the Chosen People. Its presence in Hebraic ethos and culture is not obvious, in fact, until the time of Daniel and the Maccabees.

More on this later.

This essay appeared on the Preachers Institute website.

Date posted: March 29, 2013

Pakistani Mob Destroys Hundreds of Christian Homes in Lahore

Fr. John Tanveer

On Saturday, March 9, 2013 a crowd of Muslim Pakistanis attached a small Christian neighborhood known as the St. Joseph Colony in the city of Lahore, Pakistan. This was shortly after an incident earlier in the week, when one Muslim resident had accused another Christian resident of blasphemy against Muhammed after the two had engaged in a dispute. The police arrested the Christian accused of blasphemy on Friday, and the mob action took place the next day.
The secular press (including the New York Times) reported this incident, using Pakistani government supplied figures of 178 houses, 18 shops, and 2 churches damaged by the fires that the mob started. Some news reports carried estimates of the mob size as approximately 2,000 to 3,000. What they failed to report – obviously because the government did not supply these figures – is much more disturbing.
Fr. John Tanveer, a native of Lahore, is an Eastern Orthodox priest who lives in Lahore. While he does not live in the St. Joseph Colony, a few of his parishioners do, and they lost their houses. He visited the area the next day, and has been returning almost daily to try to bring some comfort and aid to those affected. His reports are based on his own personal observation, as well as many interviews with the residents of the Colony about what they experienced. Here are some of the facts that he has reported.

  • The number of homes destroyed is at least 350, or twice the size of the government estimate.
  • The residents estimated the crowd at over 5,000, again approximately double the numbers used by the press.
  • Residents stated that the entire operation was very well planned and deliberate, not a case of a peaceful demonstration getting out of hand.
  • Residents report that chemicals of some sort (perhaps gasoline?) were used to start and fuel the fires. If you look at the photos, you will notice that the structures in the Colony are all brick and stone. Thus, a single fire or a few fires would not have spread to decimate hundreds of buildings without the widespread use of artificial accelerants.
  • The police told residents in the Colony the previous day (Friday) that they should leave the area. This clearly indicates that the government was aware of the planned mob action, and wanted to minimize the loss of life.
  • During the mob violence, the police were present in small numbers, and took no action to stop the rampage.
  • The St. Joseph Colony is located on land near a number of industrial sites including steel and iron-making plants. It is well-known that these industries would like more land to expand their operations, and many residents believe that is why the entire incident took place – to force the Colony residents to abandon their homes leave the area.

Fr. John states that neither the government nor any of the large international humanitarian NGO’s have responded with any significant aid. He has been preparing and bringing food to the Joseph Colony every day, but his parish does not have the funds and resources to give the sort of aid that will be needed to care for these displaced residents and help them rebuild.
Please take a look at some photos taken by Fr. John on the website of the Pakistani Orthodox Church ( and consider making a contribution to help. This is a volunteer effort, and there are no administrative costs. Every dollar sent goes straight to Fr. John who will use it to provide food and other assistance to the St. George Colony residents. Donations may be made by mail or Paypal as stated on the website. Please pray for these displaced fellow Christians, and please pray for Fr. John, his wife Rosy, and their four children as they minister in the name of Christ.

Cal Oren supports the Orthodox Mission in Pakistan that helps the Orthodox Church in Lahore, Pakistan.

Pictures from Fr. John

Click to enlarge

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Read more: Muslims Desecrate and Burn Christian Holy Bibles in Lahore

Date posted: March 28, 2013

CS Lewis on Living Among Immortals

CS Lewis- The Weight of Glory

In his The Weight of Glory Weight of Glory sermon C.S. Lewis reminds us that God created men and women as immortal beings. While our sin and rebellion has temporarily alienated us from God, resulting in the death of our physical bodies, our souls do not die. Past death, our souls live on waiting for the Second Coming of Christ and the restoration of our full humanity; when our renewed and transformed bodies will be once again in full union and symbiosis with our souls.

Lewis masterfully pulls aside the veil of worldly cares and materialist presumptions. He reveals the godly and eternal dimension of our existence with the wisdom and insight that only a messenger of the Lord could posses. “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you may talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and corruption such as you now meet if at all only in a nightmare.”

This timeless truth is important because it draws attention to how precious and special human life truly is. Nothing in this world compares with the value of human life. “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendours,” proclaims Lewis.

Lewis also helps us see Christ’s commandment to “love thy neighbor as yourself” from a clear and sobering perspective. “And our charity must be real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.”

[. . .]

Read the entire article on the Voice in the Wilderness blog (new window will open).

Date posted: March 28, 2013

Yuri Gagarin, First Human in Space, was a Devout Christian, says His Close Friend

The first man in outer space 50 years ago believed fervently in the Almighty — even though the atheistic Soviet government put famous words in his mouth that he had looked around at the cosmos and did not see God.

Yuri Gagarin

Mankind’s first space flight lasted 108 minutes on April 12, 1961.

It was the height of the Cold War. Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was proclaimed by the Soviet leadership to have announced, ”I went up to space, but I didn’t encounter God.”

However, he never uttered those often-quoted words, says a close friend. And it seems that the Soviet Union lied about a number of aspects of the 1961 space flight.

For example, they covered up the fact that he landed more than 200 miles away from where they were expecting him, a new book discloses. The Soviets trumpeted his mission, the first manned flight into space, as a major Cold War propaganda coup, portraying it as a glitch-free triumph of Communist ideology, writes Russian journalist Anton Pervushin in his book, 108 Minutes That Changed the World.

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, in line with the official atheistic Soviet line, proclaimed that Gagarin had told him the famous line about not seeing God in space. But nobody else ever heard Gagarin say it –and he never repeated it.

In fact he was a baptized member of the Russian Orthodox Church. Due to Soviet repression of Christianity, he kept that to himself.

Yuri Gagarin

A new book published on the eve of the 50th anniversary of Gagarin’s famous flight reveals that Soviet scientists severely miscalculated where he would land. “For many years Soviet literature claimed that Yuri Gagarin and his Vostok I landing capsule had come down in the area it was supposed to,” writes Pervushin. ”They had been expecting Gagarin to land almost 250 miles further to the south So it turned out that nobody was waiting or looking for Yuri Gagarin. Therefore the first thing he had to do after landing was set off to look for people so he could tell the leadership where he was.”

The Soviets also lied about the manner of his landing, claiming that he had touched down inside the capsule — which landed on dry land, unlike American space capsules, which splashed down in water. In fact, Gagarin bailed out and landed by parachute.

The book reveals a touching letter Gagarin wrote to his family before the mission in which he pondered his own mortality, telling his wife not to “die of grief” if he never returned. “After all life is life and there is no guarantee for anybody that tomorrow a car might not end one’s life.”

Earlier, the Soviets had sent Laika, a dog, but had made no provision for her to return to earth — so she died in orbit.

“Gagarin also became well-known for the phrase he is said to have stated, a phrase that was used extensively by the atheist propaganda of the time,” writes Nafpaktos Hierotheos Vlachos, the head of today’s Russian Orthodox Church. ”And I say ‘he is said to have stated.’”

Yuri Gagarin

In fact, “Gagarin was a baptized faithful throughout all his life,” says General Valentin Petrov, Professor of the Russian Air Force Academy and a personal friend of the cosmonaut. “He always confessed God whenever he was provoked, no matter where he was.”

In a 2007 article titled “Yuri Gagarin, the Christian,” by Maria Biniari, she wrote on his birthday in 1964, he visited a monastery, the Lavra of Saint Serge, and met with the Prior — the monk in charge.

There, he had a photo taken of himself, which he told the priest “this is for those who don’t believe.” He signed it “with my best wishes, Yuri Gagarin.”

“That famous phrase which has been ascribed to him, well, in actual fact it was Khrushchev who had said it,” says Petrov. ”It was heard during a meeting of the Central Committee, whose desire it was to promulgate anti-religious propaganda.

“Khrushchev had mockingly addressed the following words: ‘Why didn’t you step on the brakes in front of God? Here is Gagarin, who flew up to space, and yet, even he didn’t see God anywhere.’

“Immediately after that, those words were placed into another’s mouth, because the people would have believed more in Gagarin’s words than Khrushchev’s,” says Petrov.

In fact, Gagarin should be remembered for completely different words, says his friend:

” I always remember that Yuri Gagarin said: “An astronaut cannot be suspended in space and not have God in his mind and his heart.”

Read the entire article on the Beliefnet website (new window will open).

Date posted: March 27, 2013

Chaplain’s Corner: The Arrogance of Power, The Power of Humility

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

In today's world who has not confronted the 'arrogance of power?' At first it might be easy to think that only those who hold positions of wealth or authority would be candidates to wield power. While it is true that such individuals may be in an opportune setting to display self-serving, controlling actions, even individuals who are not high on the economic, political or social status scales can exert unwarranted, overbearing power.

I am reminded of an example discussed in a graduate psychology course in New York City. A well-dressed, stockbroker-looking executive, somewhat rushed, has put a bill in a subway token window booth just as a subway train on its way to the Wall Street Station has opened its doors merely a few feet away, opposite, and in sight of the booth and the entry turn-style. Objectively there is more than enough time for the token clerk to give the passenger the token and change so that he would be able to catch the train. The clerk stalls, moves his hands appearing to sort change in front of him, and just as the subway doors are closing hands over token and change, with an obvious smirk on his face implying: "I got you."

This may remind readers of the ancient Greek notion of pride (hubris). Hubris motivates someone to use, intentionally, any means, even aggression, to degrade or humiliate others. In this case, the action of the subway clerk was not outright violence but what would be termed in psychology, passive aggression. None the less, it can easily be seen as a display of arrogant power. The Bhagavad-Gita (16: 18) describes pride this way: "Egotistical, violent, arrogant, lustful, angry, envious of everyone, they abuse my presence within their own bodies and in the bodies of others."

I would suggest that hubris is fed by narcissism, a sense of inflated self-focus and self-worth that blinds us to the feelings and needs of others. The ancient Hebrews knew this. In the Book of Proverbs (15: 18) we read: "Pride goeth before destruction."

One way to heal this worldwide psycho-spiritual disease is to acquire the virtue of humility. Also in the book of Proverbs (11: 2) we find: "…but where humility is, there also is wisdom." The spiritual wisdom of the great Father of the Eastern Church St. Isaac of Syria put it this way: "The man who has reached the knowledge of the extent of his own weakness has reached perfect humility."i This happens when we have developed an awareness of the passions that beset us, in this case, pride or hubris and the untoward actions that follow.

An untoward action that might follow, for victims, could a triggered by the passion of wanting to get even Thus, both perpetrators and victims, if they seek the power of humility, might well take seriously Jesus’ instruction: " canst thou say to thy brother: Brother, let me pull the mote out of thy eye, when thou thyself seest not the beam in thy own eye? Hypocrite, cast first the beam out of thy own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to take out the mote from thy brother's eye." (Lk 6: 22).


i Holy Transfiguration Monastery. (ed., trans.). (2011). The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian (revised, 2nd edition). Boston, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery.

Date posted: March 2, 2013

Apostolic Church Unity: Hope, Prayer and Work

Society of St. John Chrysostom - Western Region President's Message 2013 Winter

Some recent developments in the world of inter-Apostolic Church relations are encouraging. It should be pointed out that the thaw in the frozen tundra of emotional frigidity among the Churches could be traced back to the lifting of the anathemas between Rome and Constantinople in December 1965 by His Holiness Pope Paul VI of Rome and His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople. This event, although symbolic, initiated a series of exchanges between the Eastern and Western Churches culminating recently in a statement of Holy Spirit-filled hope by the current Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew who said: "The uniqueness of the founders of our Churches, of Elder Rome and of New Rome, the Holy Apostles Peter and Andrew, as brothers according to the flesh, constitutes a motivation for both of our Churches to move toward the genuine experience of spiritual brotherhood and the restoration of communion in this same spirit, in truth and in love."i Also on the Orthodox side is the announcement that, under the aegis of the Department External Church Relations of the Moscow Patriarchate, a theological commission approved a document on 08 November 2012, entitled The position of the Moscow Patriarchate on the question of primacy in the Universal Church. It is now submitted to the Russian Orthodox synod for approval.ii

The recent letter of congratulations from His Holiness Pope Benedict XViii to His Holiness Tawadros II on the occasion of his enthronement as Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of Saint Mark reflects the hopeful attitude toward the eventual unity of all the Apostolic Church. Pope Benedict writes: "I pray too that relations between the Catholic Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church will continue to grow closer, not only in a fraternal spirit of collaboration, but also through a deepening of the theological dialogue that will enable us to grow in communion and to bear witness before the world to the saving truth of the Gospel."iv

Once again we should take these recent actions of the hierarchs of the various Churches to be a call for action for all Christians baptized by their respective Apostolic Churches into the royal priesthood of Christ to pray and work avidly for unity.v One concrete way of doing this [was the] the 2nd Light of the East Conference on 01-02 March 2013, sponsored by the Society of St. Chrysostom-Western Region (SSJC-WR). [The conference was] entitled: Following Jesus: The Power of Forgiveness. Theological, Psychological and Practical Suggestions for Growth, it [was] held at St. Paul's Greek Orthodox Church, Irvine, CA. Achieving unity is going to have to involve mutual forgiveness among all the Churches for their past untoward actions toward each other. Without forgiveness there cannot be Without love there cannot be unity.

Revised for 2013 03. Original:




iii Since the original publication of this article in print form (2012 12) two events have occurred that are noteworthy. First is the election of His Beatitude John X as Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Antioch and all the East. Formally he was the Metropolitan Archbishop of Antioch for Europe. He has extensive multi-cultural and multi-ethnic experience. As such he was actively engaged in ecumenical dialogue with Christian communities, especially with the Roman Church. In a recent statement he said: “Do not fear, lest you lose your dynamism; instead go to meet all with love, joy and full trust in your God, Who is the God of love, Who is love itself. Be the heralds of reconciliation.” We celebrate this feast with our other Christian brethren. We pray to God that we may deepen our dialogue with them all, in order to reach the unity God desires, the unity without which the world will not believe that Jesus was sent by God." His record bodes well for substantive work for the reconciliation of the Apostolic Churches.

The second very historic and noteworthy event is the resignation of His Holiness Benedict XVI as Pope of Rome. At the forefront of the agenda of his pontificate was his spiritually blessed extensive dialogue and interaction with the leaders of the other Apostolic Churches: Eastern and Oriental Orthodox. I pray that his successor continue this Christ-mandated legacy that fulfills Christ's prayer to His Father: "I come to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name whom thou has given me; that they may be one, as we also are." (Jn 17: 11)


v I do not want to essentially change the original article in this revision, (except the essential few edits noted in brackets above). However, in the light of the notable recent events I would like to expand the article content in this Endnote section. Many of my articles have noted the increasing threat to Christ's teaching by the growing radical secularism in the modern world.(E.g.,;; This movement against the Mind of Christ and His Church goes by various names: agnosticism, atheism, freethinking, humanism, inquiry centers, moral relativism, non-theists, political correctness, radical feminism, radical church-state separation, religious correctness, religious relativism (one ecclesial group is as good as another). Recently, Secularism has moved from being a relatively passive intellectual movement to an activist-missionary 'church without God.' An article in the online Religion newsletter, Religion Dispatches, reported on such secularist activism on college-university campuses. For example, it was reported: "a select group of students will show their humanitarian spirit by participating in the Bleedin’ Heathens Blood Drive. On February 12 [2013], they will eat cake to celebrate Darwin Day, and earlier this year, they performed “de-baptism” ceremonies to celebrate Blasphemy Day, attended a War on Christmas Party, and set up Hug An Atheist and Ask An Atheist booths in the campus quad." (

From the Eastern Orthodox viewpoint sin is considered an infirmity or disease that can be individual or collective, that is to say, involving any economic national, religious, social or political groupings. Thus, any of these can act sinfully, be diseased. The denial of God's existence for any individual or group is an illness. I am reminded of the psalm (13: 1): "The fool hath said in his heart: There is no God, They are corrupt, and are become abominable in their ways: there is none that doth good, no not one." Interestingly, some secularists consider this passage offensive. They probably do not consider the crusade to take 'Christ out of Christmas' to be offensive to true Christians. (c.f.: http://www.orthodoxytoday...) Here we see the tyranny of some, whether they be minority or majority, to impose their value system on the others. How spiritual refreshing, then, was to read the comments of Youhanna [John] X the recently enthroned Patriarch of Antioch: “We will keep seeking the longed-for unity among Christians and we will work together with our Muslim partners in order to consolidate coexistence with them.” ( We must also consider the attempt to divorce the Church from proclaiming its moral teachings. We can easily see the consequences of disenfranchising Church moral teaching: abortion-murder, euthanasia-murder, gay-marriage-destruction of God's plan of mankind[s procreation, female ordination-the denial of the incarnation of Christ as a male, the 'one priest' and His successors in the 'male' mode of mankind as the proper icon of Him. Likewise, the comments on the legacy of Pope Benedict XV by Don Briel, Director of the Center for Catholic Studies at University of Saint Thomas, who said: "As expected, he placed a strong emphasis on addressing the amnesia of European culture about its Christian roots, and in remarkably sophisticated presentations in London, Paris, Berlin and Rome he reminded secular governments about the essential role of faith in modern democratic assumptions and insisted that faith could not be reduced to a private principle and excluded from civic life." ( Extremely important to this Endnote are the comment of Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev, Director of the Department of External Church Relations of the Patriarch of Moscow, on the announcement of the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI: "Even before his ascension to the See of Rome, Cardinal Ratzinger declared war on ‘the dictatorship of relativism’ so typical for the Western society today. It immediately made him unpopular in the eyes of secular politicians and journalists. Pope Benedict XVI is not a media star. He is a man of the Church. In the mass media, he is continuously criticized for traditionalism and conservatism, but precisely these merits of his are of credit for millions of Christians, both Catholic and non-Catholic, those who seek to preserve traditional Christian spiritual and moral values." ( The importance of these endnote comments are beautifully summarized by Antiochian Archdiocese of New York priest, Fr. Hans Jacobse. In writing about Pope Benedict XVI he wrote: "First is his deep understanding of the Christian patrimony of Christendom. The Christian foundation of culture should be self-evident to most, but in our post-Christian (and poorly catechized) age our historical memory has grown increasingly dim. Religion vivifies culture. Christianity is the well from which meaning and purpose are drawn. That meaning and purpose shapes law, institutions, and the other constituents that define Western culture." (


Date posted: March 2, 2013

Seeing the Good in Others

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

How many of us when we first meet some new person immediately find something about them to be critical about? Alternatively, we can look at the major news stories in the media over the last few months of 2012 and focus on the overwhelming brokenness graphically depicted: war, super-storms, school massacres and mass killings, to say the least.

However, we do have an alternative. We could try to see the good that is imbedded within the bad. We can see that through all this tragedy some have been encouraging others to remain affirming of hope, fostering optimism and healing, and, most importantly, inspiring others by their own good actions. We have to see that inspiring others is one of the greatest good deeds we can do for those around us.

Doing good for others is certainly not unknown among the world's religions. Buddhist tradition teaches, "Therefore, do thy duty as prescribed; for duty-bound action is superior to inaction . . . .Actions normally fetter the human being but not when they are performed as acts of sacrifice." (Bhagavadgita, 3: 8-9). The words of Gandhi are very meaningful on helping us to focus on the good: “When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall. Think of it—always."i

How can we bring about both seeing the good that others do and in turn reflecting such good in our own lives, and thus animating more good actions by those around us? St. Isaac of Syria tells us it must be a synergy involving reliance on, i.e., trust and confidence in, God united with our own good efforts. He asks: "Do you believe that God provides for His creatures, and is able to do all things? Let suitable labor, therefore, follow on your faith, and then He will hear you. Think not to grasp the winds of your fist, that is, faith without works."ii

One way of doing this is to practice in our own lives the good we see and admire in others. This cannot be done, however, if we focus on the mistakes others make or the evils they have done. A great psycho-spiritual help here is to follow the counsel of Jesus Himself: ". . .first cast out the beam out of thine own eye, and then thou shalt see clearly to cast out the splinter out of thy brother’s eye." (Mt. 7:5) May I add that Jesus’ words can be extended - realizing that all of us fall short in some way will enable us to see more clearly the good others are doing or mean to do. To do this would be to cultivate in ourselves the virtue of mercy.iii St. Isaac describes this virtue. "Mercy, on the other hand, is sorrow and pity stirred up by goodness, and it compassionately inclines a man in the direction of all."



ii Holy Transfiguration Monastery. (ed., trans.).  (2011). The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian (revised, 2nd edition). Boston, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery.

iii Mercy is discussed in much greater psycho-spiritual detail by Morelli (2012):

Date posted: February 2, 2013

Orthodox Christian Spirituality and Cognitive Psychotherapy: An Online Course Part 2

This course has recently been updated and soon to be published in a chapter in an American Psychological Association book. The updated reference for the upcoming book is: Morelli G. (in press). Eastern Orthodox Churches. In Scott Richards, (Ed.), "Handbook of Psychotherapy and Religious Diversity" (2nd edition). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

2.0 Bio-Cultural Elements

2.1 Emotion and Neural Processes

Studies from various areas in psychology, suggest cognition, emotion and behavior interact with each other in complex ways (Weitan 1995). There are currently various psychological models to explain this interaction. One model based on Darwinian evolutionary theory is that emotion develops as an adaptive value to a stimulus. The different laboratories of Izard (1984), Tomkins (1991) and Plutchik (1984) come remarkably similar findings on the presence of primary emotions shortly after birth. These researchers agree on six emotions (fear, anger, joy, disgust, interest and surprise) out of about eight or ten primary emotions. Phylogenetically these emotions occur before the brain structures supporting cognition initiate development. That is, subcortical brain areas such as the hypothalamus and the limbic system develop before the cerebral cortex.

Researches have shown that emotional responding in lower animals appears to be an innate reaction to certain stimulus. In human brain architecture the limbic system and hypothalamus are connected by neural structures to these, later developing cortical structures allowing communication between these two areas. Research on neurophysiological processes and psychopharmological processes summarized by Izard suggests that these areas serve as the possible neural architecture (sub cortical and cortical) pathways of emotion. Early Christians knew nothing of the taxonomy and biological substrates that are understood today. They were limited to the understanding of their times. The word passion is the term most closely used by the Church Fathers in describing what today by scientific investigation are called emotions.

2.2 Cognition, Emotion, and Psychospiritual Perspectives

The research literature demonstrating the cognitive elicitation of emotion is ubiquitous. Appraisals, anticipations, attributions, beliefs, construals, inferences, judgments and memories of stimulus situations all fall in the cognitive domain. In one early pivotal study out of Richard Lazarus’ laboratory (1991), appraisal strategies of subjects were manipulated before they viewed a film depicting an aboriginal male puberty rite. Subjects in a neutral or “intellectualized” condition displayed significantly less emotion as measured by self-report and physiological monitoring then subjects in the “sensitized” condition. Other studies in this area are use variations of this paradigm. In recent years a substantial body of information has been collected on cognitive-emotion interaction. (Bandura, 1986; Erwin, 1980; Galanter, E. 1962; Kahneman, D. 1973; Marmor, J. 1962; Posner & Snyder, 1975; Shriffren, 1988). Cognition has also been extended to the behavioral processes of parenting, (Patterson, 1976).

The question that arises for the use of psychospiritual intervention to address emotional disorders is to what extent cognition plays a role in initiation, sustaining and possible attenuation of emotional responding? If one were to maintain that emotions can be triggered even in humans by sub-cortical processes, would cognitive processes have any role in their modulation? This is not a trivial question, because it is at the foundation of the various Cognitive therapies and it goes to the heart of the moral and spiritual teachings of the Church Fathers.

Fundamentally the question is: “To what extent can we control our emotions or what the Church Fathers refer as our “passions”? Is it true that emotions generated at more basic systems such as sub cortical or neural processes are less cognitively controllable than cortical (cognitive) processes? To what extent do individual differences play in such control processes? In other words are some individuals able to control the various systems of emotional activation over others? In as much as we do not have a comprehensive individual difference model of emotion activation, we must proceed with caution and at best heuristically. Each person should be evaluated individually as to what emotion systems are influencing an emotional reaction and the person’s ability to have cognitive control of these systems.

Some patients with lower levels of cognitive control may benefit from interventions targeting the neural sensori-motor or affective systems directly (i.e. psychotropic treatment, environmental change) as the primary treatment. Patients with higher levels of cognitive control may benefit from more focused cognitive treatment programs (i.e. Beck’s [1995] Cognitive Therapy). It has been my clinical observation however, that even patients with limited cognitive resources however (with the exception for example of low functioning cognitively impaired individuals) benefit from some cognitive interventions. This makes neurophysiological sense if it is remembered that in humans the brain subcortical pathway (emotion) and cortical (cognitive) pathways are connected. These findings in no way contradict the teachings of the Church Fathers. They point out man, created in God’s image has “free will”. However as the Fathers tell us any number of factors may diminish the capacity of voluntary-involuntary acts (St. Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, Book II).

2.3 Factors Affecting Human Behavior

Such Church Fathers as St. John of the Ladder and St. Gregory Palamas indicate that continual sin becomes habitual. [Thereby making behavioral patterns less voluntary.] Habits can “darken the spirit”, [habits] work by “darkening our minds, which guides us, pushes people to do things only the mad would think of.” (Philokalia, 1984-93) The Church Fathers suggest on reducing the strength of the habits by removing sensory factors and stopping memories [thoughts] as they begin. With repetition, these new techniques become stronger. This is not unlike ‘thought stopping’ techniques proposed by Cognitive-behavioral therapists. For the Christian, putting these techniques, in a spiritual perspective, suggested by the Church Fathers provides added motivation and rationale for the treatment.

2.4 Cultural Values in Psychospiritual Therapy

Cultural (and to a lesser extent spiritual) factors have received increased emphasis in understanding mental disorders and psychological treatment (DSM IV, American Psychiatric Association, 1994; McGoldrick, 1996). It would be unthinkable for Christians not to include spiritual factors in the understanding and treatment (healing) of mental disorders. The Christian spiritual tradition, including the prayers and practice of the Church, Sacred Scripture and the writings of the spiritual fathers lends itself to an elegant integration with the Cognitive therapy methods noted above. While non-religious clinicians will not of course employ prayer for and/or with their patients, ethically they are required to include the religious values of their patients, even merely as a tool for understanding and treatment as suggested by McGoldrick, (1996). Christians are committed to do all in Christ’s name. Jesus told His followers: 26. “For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.” (Lk 9: 26) St Paul told the Corinthians: “knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (1 Cor 15: 58) Thus following the advice of McGoldrick, it behooves the clinician to interweave the treatment with the patients spiritual value system.

A clinical example follows: One of my patients had discontinued regular psychotherapy due to a terminal illness. Her initial presenting problems and treatment focus involved family problems. Being a deeply religious woman, I made clinical-pastoral visits to her during up to her death in a hospital. The nature of her treatment shifted from family issues to the acceptance of her impending death. Because of her deep commitment to Christian teaching, the concept of her spirituality was integrated into exploring and addressing the “meaning of her life”. It was great comfort to her to know she had brought Christ to her family and that He would continue to care for them spiritually after she would be dwelling with Jesus, after her physical death. By addressing her cultural value of being a devout Christian and integrating this into her psychotherapy, she became fulfilled spiritually and could die in peace.

2.5 Cognitive Distortions

Keeping in mind the caveats above the cognitive-behavioral model of emotional dysfunction (Beck, Rush, Shaw and Emery, 1979; Ellis, 1962) has been shown to be effective in dealing with dysfunctional emotions, decreasing inappropriate behavior and increasing appropriate behavior. According to this model basic dysfunctional emotions such as anger, anxiety, depression and mania as well as more complex emotions such as anticipation, awe, jealousy and remorse (Plutchik, (1984) are produced by distorted or irrational appraisals, attitudes, beliefs and/or cognitions. Situations (something that someone has said or done or events that have happened) do not produce or cause the emotional reaction. Rather we upset ourselves over people and events by our cognitive processing of these situations. If our thinking is clear, rational and non-distorted we have normal feelings like annoyance, concern and disappointment.

Even opening this model to a less strict position, (allowing for sub cortical activation of emotion) it would be maintained that some control over emotions initiated by these sub-cortical centers could be had by cognitive (cortical) methods. In Beck’s model, individuals have automatic thoughts (which are similar to primed cognitions investigated by Loftus, 1980) about activating events. These include selective abstraction (drawing conclusions unwarranted by the facts), personalization (attributing neutral events to be referred to you), polarization (viewing events in all or nothing terms), generalization (the tendency to conclude events will never change or always remain the same), demanding expectations ([Ellis, 1962], the belief that there are laws or rules that must or should be obeyed) and catastrophizing ([Ellis, 1962], the perception that something is more than 100% bad, awful or terrible).

Another cognitive model with clinical utility is attribution theory (Weiner, 1974; Abramson, Seligman & Teasdale, 1978). In this model explanations of events as due to combinations of internal or external and unstable (temporary) or stable (permanent) factors influence felt emotion and subsequent behavior. After rapport, diagnosis and treatment goals have been established the Cognitive-behavioral treatment strategies usually involve some form of didactic presentation of the cognitive model. Bibliotherapy is often used adjunctively. [Some recommended, books include, Beck, A.T. (1988), Love is Never Enough; Burns, D. (1980), Feeling Good; Ellis, A. (Ellis and Harper, 1975) A Guide to Rational Living] The patient is then helped to recognize, pinpoint and identify his/her cognitive distortions. The patient learns to challenge and restructure the irrational distorted cognitions that are initiating or sustaining the dysfunctional emotions to more accurate non-distorted cognitions. Use of notes and charts in the treatment session and outside the office is encouraged to facilitate the patient’s integration of these concepts.

Morelli G. (in press). Eastern Orthodox Churches. In Scott Richards, (Ed.), Handbook of Psychotherapy and Religious Diversity (2nd edition). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Date posted: February 2, 2013

Sandy Hook: Psychospiritual Reflections and Interventions

“Let alone the little children, and cease hindering them to come to Me; for of such is the kingdom of the heavens." And He laid His hands upon them... (Mt. 19:14-15)

Tragic news is set before us every day by the ever-present news media. Bombings, gang shootings, child abuse, starving refugees, massive floods. So much, so often, that we could get inured to it. But some days there is news that demands deeper attention, deeper mourning, a more sustained search for solace.

Horror at Sandy Hook

December 14, 2012. A Breaking News alert caught my eye while I was at my computer on a teleconference call, a report of a “massive school shooting in Connecticut.” I casually mentioned it the conferences, then when the call ended, I turned on the TV news. Only in extremely exceptional circumstances do I ever watch TV during the day; the last time was in 2001 –the terrorist attack on the United States that resulted in the tragic death of all those victims and left such untoward psycho-spiritual aftermath. For the rest of that day I continued to watch the news and followed breaking developments on internet media.

Just as on the day of the 2001 terrorist attack, I had, and still have, no adequate words to describe my emotions as I saw the overwhelming grief of those in the midst of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, CT. Of course, the most emotionally and spiritual scarred are those closest to the incident - the parents, families and friends of the 1st grade children and the school personnel who were killed. But also not to be forgotten are the grief reactions of the first responders. I thought to myself that if I feel so deeply hurt by seeing the reports of the incident, I cannot imagine the depths of anguish suffered by those actually at the scene. The media coverage of frightened children, parents and teachers and the aghast first responders, the fire, first aide, and police personnel, and even of the newscasters themselves was so graphic.

A special spiritual trauma since it was when we were preparing to celebrate the Birth of the Prince of Peace

In preparation for the birth of Christ we are supposed to be awaiting the fulfillment of the prophesy of Isaiah (9:6): "For a child is born to us, and a son is given to us, and the government is upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called, Wonderful, Counselor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, Prince of Peace." A slaughter of the innocents is accompanying the Birth of the Prince of Peace this year as it was during the time of Christ. St. Matthew tells us: "Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet, saying, “A voice in Rama was heard, lamentation and weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.” Saint Bede the Venerable tells us that this [Rachel is said to have bewailed her children, and did not wish to be consoled] "signifies that the Church bewails the removal of the saints [innocents] from this world," but she does not wish to be consoled in such a way that those who have overcome the world by death should return again with her to bear the strife of he world for surely they should not be called back into the world from whose hardships they have once escaped to Christ for their crowning.” *(The Orthodox New Testament, 2004). (Mt. 2: 17-18 That is, in such a way that death is not seen as victorious over life [even though it] continues to bring strife to the world. This year we added to our Nativity preparation prayers "May their memory be eternal."

During the Nativity Season we also cry out the angelic hymn: "Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will." (Lk 2:14). Thus, indeed, anyone of "good will" will share in this grief in some manner, shape or form. Many average American citizens and many people worldwide were weeping that day and in subsequent days. Who can forget the President of our country responding as a father as he wept during his initial White House briefing on the evening of December 14.

Applying the words of St. Paul about all who make up the Body of Christ to all mankind being made in God's image

St. Paul told the Romans (12:5): "So we being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another." Then St. Paul goes on to tell them in very practical terms what this means: "Rejoice with them that rejoice; weep with them that weep." (Rm 12: 15). That we are to extend love to all mankind, and how this should lead us to respond to others, comes from Jesus, the Logos, the Word, Himself. Did Jesus not tell us: “Verily I say to you, insofar as ye did it not to one of the least of these, neither did ye do it to Me.” (Mt. 25:45) So my spiritual task, as, indeed , that of all men of good will across our nation and across the world, is to offer the true meaning of Godly grief to those directly and indirectly touched by this horrific shooting.. As Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain counsels (Ageloglou. 1998): "It is our duty to make the pain of others our own."

The Prophet Jeremiah

The Prophet Jeremiah

The Prophet Jeremiah

Also, during this tragic period, the Prophet Jeremiah comes to mind. Why Jeremiah? Jeremiah, the Old Testament Prophet, was called by God to preach to His Chosen people of the First Covenant around 626 BC, a time of tribulation that followed on a time of pagan worship among His peoplei. About a year after Josiah, king of Judah, (641– 609 BC) had turned the nation from the widespread idolatrous practices of the previous kings of Judah toward repentance, the people of God turned again to pagan practices. (Josiah is mentioned in the genealogy of Jesus as recorded by St. Matthew (1: 10- 11)). The Hebrew people’s failure to heed the Prophet's words was followed by the destruction of Jerusalem (598-588 BC) and the subsequent Babylonian exile. Of these catastrophes the Prophet Jeremiah writes:

For the Lord hath redeemed Jacob, and delivered him out of the hand of one that was mightier than he. And they shall come, and shall give praise in mount Sion: and they shall flow together to the good things of the Lord, for the corn, and wine, and oil, and the increase of cattle and herds, and their soul shall be as a watered garden, and they shall be hungry no more. Then shall the virgin rejoice in the dance, the young men and old men together: and I will turn their mourning into joy, and will comfort them, and make them joyful after their sorrow. And I will fill the soul of the priests with fatness: and my people shall be filled with my good things, saith the Lord. Thus saith the Lord: A voice was heard on high of lamentation, of mourning, and weeping, of Rachel weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted for them, because they are not. (Jeremiah 31: 11-15).

The Prophet Jeremiah's words show that with God’s help we can turn our earthy and very human grieving into a Godly grief. 'Zion' is an alternate name for the Heavenly City Jerusalem. But more importantly, for the Hebrew people, Zion refers to the Temple Mount, the seat of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and what is its center— the sanctuary. Morelli (2010) wrote:

Holy of Holies in Solomon's Temple

Holy of Holies in Solomon's Temple

Holy of Holies in Solomon's Temple Although God is everywhere present, the sanctuary also represents the Kingdom of God, His special dwelling place. Recall God's command to Moses: "And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst." (Ex 25: 8); of which St. Paul told the Hebrews (9:3): “Behind the second curtain stood a tent called the Holy of Holies." It is in the Holy of Holies that the Ark of the Covenant was placed. The account of Jeremiah the Prophet:

"Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim . . . in the ark [were] the two tables of stone which Moses put there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of the land of Egypt . . . so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. (1Kgs 8: 5-6,9,11)."

Israelite Captivity Routes

Israelite Captivity Routes

The lament of the psalmist (136: 1-4) over losing the sanctuary of God can easily be seen as a true, Godly grief: "Upon the rivers of Babylon, there we sat and wept: when we remembered Zion: On the willows in the midst thereof we hung up our instruments. For there they that led us into captivity required of us the words of songs. And they that carried us away, said: Sing ye to us a hymn of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the song of the Lord in a strange land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten." So, too, let us look at the loss of the innocents and their caretakers in Sandy Hook, and any such type loss anywhere in the world, as the loss of someone we are called on to love with a Godly love because they, and we, are all made in God's image and called to be like Him.

The origins of brokenness in the world – source of grief

The Sacrifice of Abel

The Sacrifice of Abel

The first recorded murder in Old Testament Sacred Scripture was among Adam and Eve's sons, Cain and Abel (Gn. 4). We know that it was due to jealousy that Cain slew his brother Abel. But what weapons did they have? Well, the account in Genesis Chapter 4 is exceedingly sparse in information, it reads:

And it came to pass after many days, that Cain offered, of the fruits of the earth, gifts to the Lord. Abel also offered of the firstlings of his flock, and of their fat: and the Lord had respect to Abel, and to his offerings. But to Cain and his offerings he had no respect: and Cain was exceedingly angry, and his countenance fell.

And the Lord said to him: Why art thou angry? and why is The Sacrifice of Abel thy countenance fallen? If thou do well, shalt thou not receive? but if ill, shall not sin forthwith be present at the door? but the lust thereof shall be under thee, and thou shalt have dominion over it. And Cain said to Abel his brother: Let us go forth abroad. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel, and slew him."(Gn 4:3-8)

The murder of the innocents in Sandy Hook and their caretakers was described by the media in so graphic terms, with .223 and 9mm bullets tearing through their bodies, a scene so horrifically vivid that the evacuating children and even teachers were asked to close their eyes. In the days of our first ancestors there were no assault rifles and pistols, but the killing of Abel by his brother would have been equally dreadfully graphic.

“…slew him." Very sanitized! But let us look to history and archeology to conjecture what the weapons of Cain's murder of Abel might have been. They would have been made out of stone. Nonetheless, still deadly and sharp; a knife, a sword or a spear would have been common. If any of my readers, have, God forbid (I give this vivid word image for educational purposes), ever seen a body mutilated by a blade of any kind, they know that it can be as gory as a body punctured by bullets. So, not only was brokenness or separation of man from God seen in the pride and disobedience of Adam and Eve, but now we see such brokenness extendsing to the horrific murder of one's brother brought on by another passion, in this case, envy. Eve and Adam must have mourned over this evidence of brokenness, though there is no direct mention of that in the Genesis account of the murder and God’s confronting of Cain, only a hint in Genesis 4:25, when Eve rejoices over the birth of Seth.

Spiritual Healing of Brokenness

Our Eastern Church Fathers teach us that in brokenness, however, Godly love can emerge. The brokenness in the world, often a source of despair, can be transformed into an opportunity, in imitation of Christ, to empty (kenosis) ourselves from our own self-love, to “put on Christ” - an emptying that reaches fulfillment in love towards God and neighbor. Indeed, thousands of loving Americans and countless others, nation and world-wide, lovingly and fervently prayed for the victims of the Sandy Hook Massacre and their families as well as for the other victims of such evil and for their families. Rightly do we storm the throne of God, where the Son and the Holy Spirit are seated with Father, with our prayers for these innocents, for their loving families and friends as well as for the perpetrator of this slaughter.

Pray for the sinner?

Many have heard the expression 'hate the sin but love the sinner' and think it is a statement in Sacred Scripture. These words do not appear in Scripture but the spirit of them does reflect the teachings of Christ. St. John the Evangelist informs us (Rev. 2: 6) of what Jesus told him, through the mouth of His angel about the nefarious works of a group, the Nicolaitians, who had left the early Church: “. . . you hate the deeds. . .which I also hate”. Surely all people of "good will" deplore and lament the horrific shooting in Newtown, CT. Similar feelings about such opprobrious deeds against children and anyone throughout the world will also be hated. Unfortunately, such criminal actions demonstrate the extreme sinful brokenness mankind is capable of. Any individual is made in God's image and should never be besmirched as a person.

Spiritual Healing after Sandy Hook

Praying for someone who has offended us may be both the first act of forgiveness some may be capable of in the beginning of the forgiveness process, and at the same time lead to a deeper level of forgiveness and healing of the residue of the conflict. (Morelli, 2007b). However, prayer for one who has offended us or who has committed such hideous deeds has to conform to the love that God has for all of us. All prayer for forgiveness must be done with purity of heart and with the fullness of God’s love. This is to say, we must pray that they reach out to God, glorify His Holy Name and in turn that God embrace them in His Bosom. It is so easy to pray with conditional or impure prayer: “I will only forgive if the other person fulfills some condition.” This may be that they ask or beg forgiveness. It may be that a failure to pray for forgiveness is a form or retribution toward the offender. Not to forgive may be an act of vengeance on our part. We could even go further and say, or pray: “God send them to hell.” To do this would be to forget the spiritual insight of our Orthodox Christian Church Father, St. Silouan the Athonite. To someone who "declared with evident satisfaction that 'God will punish all [sinners]. They will burn in everlasting fire,'" St. Silouan replied: "Tell me, supposing you went to paradise, and there you looked down and saw someone burning in hell-fire - would you feel happy?" "It can't be helped. It would be their own fault,” [was the response]. The Staretz [spiritual Elder] answered him in a sorrowful countenance. "Love could not bear that," he said. "We must pray for all."” (Sophrony, 1999)

Prayer and Psychological Healing

Interestingly, a recent psychological study (Lambert, et. al. 2010) found that prayer for one who has offended us would increase selfless concern for others and simultaneously enhance forgiveness. In part, the researchers explain that the finding that forgiveness is healing is based on focusing on ‘shared common goals.’ For the Orthodox Christian these results should not be surprising, for, as St. Paul tells us of our common goal, “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. . . .” (1Th 5:9).

Now, in the spirit of St. Maximus the Confessor, who tells us that grace is based on nature, let me convey some of what has come out of behavioral mental health scientific research that we can sanctify by employing in synergy with our commitment to Christ and His Church. My suggestions below about intervention with children and adolescents exposed to trauma, such as the Sandy Hook School Massacre, either directly or by media coverage, is a compilation I extracted from an outstanding resource the National Institute of Mental Health-National Child Traumatic Stress Networkii, as well using previous articles I have written on talking to childreniii.


Psycho-behavioral Interventions

Talking to Children about the Shooting

Terrified Child

Parents and children consider that schools are supposed to be safe places, where learning and social development can take place. Some children across the nation have become overwhelmed with dysfunctional thoughts and emotions after viewing the graphic depictions broadcast by the media of the Sandy Hook Elementary School incident. Teachers, parents, clergy and other trusted adults are often turned to for guidance when children are troubled. Young children may be especially psychologically vulnerable and in need of reinforcing reassurances of safety and that they feel protected. They have to be reassured that the safety of their particular school, school-grounds, every student and especially the particular child or children being talked to is a foremost priority.

Some starting points may include:

  • Starting a conversation. Ask if they heard about the incident. Ask them what they know about it. Picture drawing may be helpful in initiating conversation.

In previous articles on talking with children and adolescents (Morelli, 2007a,c; 2008b, 2011) I have pointed out that it is most important not to start out telling what your ideas are about the incident and don't assume that you know what your child is thinking. Rather, it is critical to know what the child is thinking and feeling and what facts they think they know about the incident. Since 14 December, right to the current time and most probably for the foreseeable future, the media has and will broadcast incorrect information and interpretationsiv. It will take quite some time for all the real facts to emerge. Your own and your children’s thoughts and feelings may change accordingly. As your child or adolescent explains, carefully listen for misconceptions, misinformation, and accompanying dysfunctional thoughts and feelings, such as anger, anxiety, depression or fears. Gently correct inaccurate information and validate their emotional reactions. It is also important to note that not to engage a child or adolescent about such an incident actually highlights its gravity so much more. "It is so awful, it cannot even be discussed."

  • Continue any conversation using the Socratic Methodv. For example, if a child asks: "Is possible that this could happen at my school?" The adult's response would be guided by the child exploring the facts of what has been learned and implemented by those in authority in the school and community: "Ok! Let's look at the new things the school is doing."vi "We can learn new ways of handling such incidents." Questions about re-occurrence may also occur. Question- answer interaction fosters feelings of security.
  • If the child does not mention it, the adult should point out that the perpetrator was stopped and can never repeat this action again. The quick response by first responders can be pointed out.
  • In any interaction with the child or adolescent, caretakers should model a calm and confident demeanor.
  • Maintain regular schedules for family activities such as meals and other usual family routines such as curfews and chores. Do not make any unnecessary major life-altering decisions during this time.
  • Physically hugging your child and telling them how much you love them (in an age appropriate way) is certainly in order and is a critical healing action.
  • Caretakers can share their own feeling of sadness but also communicate how they and others have done, and can do, good things for others and the community.
  • Exposure to graphic media (images and sounds) of the incident should be limited and very young children should be as much as possible not exposed to such media at all (they may appear to be engaged in play but could also be attending to media coverage). Even adults can be psychological impacted by graphic exposure. This may include graphic horror media even unrelated to this incident.
  • Caretakers need caretaking. Take time-out, pray, do activities that you like to do. Take time to talk to other parents in the community.

Common psycho-behavioral-spiritual reaction to trauma

Common reactions of children and adolescents include: attention and concentration difficulties, increased irritability and defiance, change in appetite, changes in sleep patterns, difficulty in separating from caretakers, preference to stay at home or in their rooms, expressing fear at returning to school, having a sense of danger that future events or activities may bring them harm and feelings of abandonment by God. If reactions seem severe or persist, professional assistance from licensed, highly trained, scientifically oriented mental health professionals should be sought. (Morelli, 2006a). Caretakers should take note of the research supporting the efficacy of Cognitive- Behavior Therapy in treatment of traumatic stress and its severe consequences, such as suicidiality. (Ghahramanlou-Holloway, Brown, & Beck, 2008; Morelli, 2009).

Also, and foremost, is remembering that the Church is a spiritual hospital and her Holy Mysteries and prayer are her instruments of spiritual treatment. (Morelli, 2006b). Human healing, then, when referenced to the victory of Christ over death, takes on an eternal meaning and purpose: chiefly, to partake of the deeper life found in God, to rise above the brokenness in such tragedies.

In a previous article (Morelli, 2008a), I wrote:

Our commitment to God is to put all our trust in Him. Let us pray the words of King David as he fled from Saul: “ ... This I know, that God is for me. In God, whose word I praise, in the Lord, whose word I praise, in God I trust without a fear.” (Ps. 56: 9-11). In the words of one of the holiest of saints of the early Eastern Christian Church, St. Isaac of Syria: “For someone to entrust himself to God means that, from that point onwards, he will no longer be devoured by anguish or fear over anything; nor will he again be tormented by the thought that he has no one to look after him.” (Brock, 1997)

Understanding reactions to trauma

Normal Grief

Some grief reactions to trauma and loss of loved ones, friends and acquaintances are to be expected and are considered perfectly normal. This may include periodic brief feelings of sadness, especially when recalling past activities involving the lost ones. Over time, such images and thoughts are transformed into a stronger sense of connection with peers, family, community, church and relationships with God. For some, this even goes further and they engage in altruistic acts for others.

Exaggerated Grief

Some children and adolescents who have suffered the loss of their classmates or teachers under traumatic circumstances such as the Sandy Hook Massacre display extended periods of extreme grief. They may mentally focus on the circumstances surrounding the occurrence, how it could have been thwarted and/or guilt that they themselves have survived. These individuals as well as the descriptions of those suffering from depression and Post Trauma Stress Disorder (PTSD) discussed below should definitely be provided with the professional mental health services I previously recommended.


For some, exaggerated grief becomes prolonged across usual daily activities throughout the day and would be considered indicative of depression and other dysfunctional emotions such as anxiety and anger. Symptoms include prolonged and severe irritability, lack of joy, sleep pattern change, loss of appetite and decreased interest in activities previously enjoyed. Even more severe would be expressions of hopelessness, worthlessness and suicidal ideation. (Morelli, 2009). Some children somatize their dysphoric emotions. That is to say they convert their emotions to bodily complaints, such as chest tightness or pain, headaches, stomach ailments and digestion problems and/or rapid heartbeat.

Post-traumatic Stress Reactions

Some youngsters, as well as adults exposed to graphic scenes of the Sandy Hook carnage (and others exposed to similar traumatic events), will develop a more serious condition, akin to PTSD. Traumatic events are persistently re-experienced. PTSD signs (American Psychiatric Association 2000) include:

  • recurring and intrusive distressing recollections of the events (images, thoughts perceptions and, in young children, repetitive play regarding aspects of the trauma event).
  • recurrent distressing dreams of the event (in children, frightening dreams with no specific content.
  • acting, feeling or re-living that the distressing events were reoccurring (in children, trauma-specific playacting
  • intense psychological distress when exposed to external cues associated with the traumatic event.
  • physiological reactivity (e.g., trembling, crouching) to trauma external cue exposure.
  • persistent avoidance of trauma-associated stimuli such as thoughts, feelings, conversations, people —- also, inability to recall trauma events, diminished interest in activities, detachment from others, diminished range of feeling (unable to love).
  • a sense of a foreshortened future (marriage, career, lifespan).
  • increased arousal not present before the trauma, such as falling or staying asleep, anger or irritability outbursts, concentration hyper-vigilance, startle response.

I cannot reiterate too strongly that if a parent, teacher or caretaker of a child or adolescent (or colleague, in the case of traumatized adults) notices the signs of exaggerated grief, depression and certainly posttraumatic stress reactions in others as outlined above that aid from appropriate mental health professionals be sought. Parents can do this directly for and with their children. Adults can open a dialogue with their traumatized colleagues, suggest professional aid and enlist the support of supervisory personnel if necessary.

Christ is our true physician and healer

As Orthodox Christians we know that healing of the soul ranks higher than the healing of the body. This is because it is only by healing of the soul that we can attain our ultimate aim: theosis, or union with God, that we "might become partakers of the divine nature "as St. Peter (2Pt 1:4) puts it. In the Mind of Christ and His Church the healing of the body and mind is offered as a sign of His mercy and blessing to the person experiencing God's healing and to inspire others to do His will. Such Godly healing is to be sought through the Holy Mysteries of the Church, especially Holy Confession, Communion and Holy Unction, as well as prayer conformed to God's will. Nevertheless, we still embrace God's gift to mankind of the ability to develop scientific medical and psychological treatment. It is imperative that we who engage in the health and mental health professionals and the professionals themselves heed the advice of Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (Ageloglou, 1998): "— Help the sick people by show them the deeper meaning of life; do not only cure their bodies."

Jesus and the Children

Jesus and the Children

To accomplish this, all of must become like little children. That is to say, little children as Christ meant ‘children’ when He said to His disciples:

In that hour the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who then is greater in the kingdom of the heavens?” And Jesus called to Himself a little child, and set him in their midst, and said, “Verily I say to you, unless ye be turned about and become as the little children, in no wise shall ye enter into the kingdom of the heavens. “Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, this one is the greater in the kingdom of the heavens. “And whosoever shall receive one such little child in My name, receiveth Me. (Mt. 18:1-5).

Christ means for us to be humble, to use the talents, in this case the healing talents, He has given us, but to do so realizing that they come from and depend on Him. St. John tells us Jesus’ own words: “I am the vine, ye are the branches. The one who abideth in Me, and I in him, this one beareth much fruit; for apart from Me ye are not able to do anything." (Jn. 15:5).

"Thus saith the Lord: A voice was heard on high of lamentation, of mourning, and weeping, of Rachel weeping for her children, and refusing to be comforted for them, because they are not." (Jer 31:15)


American Psychiatric Association (2000). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders(DSM-IV-TR). Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.

Ageloglou, Priestmonk Christodoulos. (1998). Elder Paisios of The Holy Mountain. Mt. Athos, Greece: Holy Mountain.

Brock, S. (1997). The Wisdom of St. Isaac the Syrian. Fairacres Oxford, England: SLG Press.

Ghahramanlou-Holloway, M., Brown, G.K., and Beck, A.T. (2008).Suicide. In M.A. Whisman (Ed.). Adapting cognitive Therapy for Depression: Managing Complexity and Comorbitity. NY: Guilford

Lambert, N. M., Finchamm F. D., Stillman, T. F., Graham, S. M., and Beach, S. R. H. (2010). Motivating change in relationships: Can prayer increase forgiveness? Psychological Science21 (1): pp. 126-132.

Morelli, G. (2006a, May 08). Orthodoxy and the Science of Psychology.

Morelli, G. (2006b, December 21). The Ethos of Orthodox Christian Healing.

Morelli, G. (2007a, August 28). Smart Parenting VI: Talking to Your Children About Sex.

Morelli, G. (2007b, December 02). Forgiveness is Healing.

Morelli, G. (2007c, December 29). Smart Parenting IX: Talking to Your Children When a Popular Role Model Falls Short.

Morelli, G. (2008a. June 08). Pastoral Reflections on Suicide in the Military.

Morelli, G. (2008b, September 19). Smart Marriage XIV: Talking to Your Children About Same Sex “Marriage.”

Morelli, G. (2009, January 13). Suicide: Christ, His Church and Modern Medicine.

Morelli, G. (2010, November 25). The Ethos of Orthodox Catechesis.

Morelli, G. (2011, October 03). Smart Parenting XXIII: Coping with Bullying.

Sophrony, Archimandrite. (1999). St. Silouan the Athonite. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

The Orthodox New Testament. (2004). Buena Vista, CO: Holy Apostles Convent.





iv One example of particularly egregious interpretation accounts were made by so called medical, psychiatric and psychological experts. When queried as to how the shooter could perform such a horrific massacre, the answer given was that he was psychotic. The basis of such a speculative diagnosis was the brutality of the massacre itself. The diagnosis was then used as the explanatory principle for the massacre to be committed. This is pure unadulterated illogical circular reasoning that is totally unacceptable in the scientific community. The diagnosis of psychosis (or any disorder) has to be made on data independent of the event the disorder is the supposed cause. When I was teaching university undergraduates and graduate students and  seminarians as well and even if a first level  Psych 101 student gave me a circular reasoning answer such as this would be grounds for immediate course failure. So shame on so called doctoral, experts on this issue.

v Use of Questions: The Socratic Method

Use of questions is actually related to a cognitive-educational model called the Socratic Method (Beck, 1995). Using this technique, an instructor or mentor does not give data, knowledge or wisdom directly. Instead, the student discovers it as a result of answering a series of questions posed by the teacher. When a child discovers something for himself, or makes appropriate connections between things, is far more meaningful than referencing authority. When a parent asks questions like "What do you think?" or, "How is this related to what we learned in…(scripture, reading the Church Fathers, a homily or church school etc.)," chances are much greater that the child will grasp and retain important points. Be ready to outline some of theological principles given above. Don't preach. Keep it simple. Use clear, focused, examples. (Morelli, 2008)

vi As I am writing this I received an e mail of new procedures being implemented by a NE USA school system as announced to district parents in an e mail. I have heavily edited the content for anonymity.  This same information should be available for any school system in the United States and can be used in helping the child "discover" what has changed since the Sandy Hook Massacre and the safety and protection for their school: 

School Security Plan:

Visitor Policy: All school visitors must be buzzed into a specific school building at a single clearly marked access point.  Other entry points will be kept locked at all times. When classes are not in session, users of school buildings will have limited and defined access to specific school areas. Other areas will be locked and inaccessible.

Contact: If an untoward  emergency occurs, the District will contact you via the emergency phone system already in place throughout the District. (land line, cell phones, phone texts, and email). Timely updates will be provided the same way.

Emergency Pick-Up: If an emergency situation occurs requiring school evacuation, you will be notified via the emergency contact system and told where to pick up your children. For security purposes, in order not to compromise the safety of students and staff, information about the pick-up location will not be publically broadcast before the actual emergency situation.

District Security Plan: The District has an extensive and detailed Security Plan that was developed in partnership with law enforcement (including the municipal, school, county and state Police Departments). The Plan covers response procedures for a variety of types of incidents, including lockdowns and active shooter situations. Drills on these procedures occur regularly throughout the year.

Highest Level Security Classification: Specifics of the District’s Security Plan are confidential at the highest level and not open to requests made through the Open Public Records Act (OPRA) for any except responding school and law enforcement personnel. This measure is necessary to avoid compromising security and thereby endangering students and staff.

In the days and weeks to come, we expect to make further changes to the School Security Plan. As announced at the Board of Education Meeting on December xx, the school and municipal Police Department’s Crime Prevention Bureau in conjunction with county and state law enforcement will conduct a detailed security survey very shortly. The results of this survey will be made public at the next Board of Education meeting and security further security recommendations announced.

The municipal School District continues to make every effort to ensure that all students are educated in a safe and secure environment and school administrators and teachers are also protected.  Contact me, Xxxxxxx  Xxxxxxx, Superintendent of Schools  at with any questions or concerns.

***I will note that some proposals for School Safety have included having uniformed/un-uniformed armed police officers at every school. Some schools already have put in metal detectors, bullet proof windows in the school buildings.   Here in San Diego, a proposal has been made to have cameras in school entrances, hallways, classrooms and offices, etc., with the ability to be broadcast in real-time to responding police cars.

Date posted: January 4, 2013

The America of 2013

Source: American Thinker | Steve McCann

Americans take great umbrage whenever they, as a society, are portrayed by the residents of other nations as self-centered, avaricious and overbearing. While an egregious exaggeration in the past, is it an accurate description now? Who are the American people today and what sort of country is the United States in 2013?

How does one describe a society wherein a majority of the people, and their elected leaders, have embraced the following mindset?

  • a) The United States can commit to unlimited government spending as the long-term future of the nation is immaterial and will take care of itself.
  • b) Based on 66 years of unprecedented economic growth and prosperity, the good times will never end and America will under no circumstance experience massive national adversity as there is a bottomless pit of money to be siphoned from an equally bottomless pit of wealth.
  • c) Since the dollar is the international reserve currency, the United States, in order to cover its massive budget deficits, can arbitrarily create trillions of dollars out of thin air regardless of any consequence for the nation or the global economy.
  • d) There are no limits to personal behavior and the arcane concepts of decency, honor and integrity are from a bygone era.

In just four years the United States has accumulated nearly $6 Trillion in debt. The national debt is now $16.5 Trillion or 32.5% of the world's total indebtedness (the U.S. accounts for 5% of the global population and 20% of the annual Gross World Product). Further, the total unfunded liabilities (state, local and federal) of the U.S., as of 2012, exceed $238 Trillion, or 3 times the annual Gross World Product (total economic activity of all the countries on earth). The United States is, today, the most indebted and bankrupt nation in the history of mankind.

Assuming other nations would still be willing to buy American bonds and the dollar has not been replaced as the world's reserve currency, the expected level of government spending over the next four years will result in the national debt exceeding $21.5 Trillion (nearly 40% of the projected world debt in 2017). Interest costs, as the end-product of having to raise rates to attract lenders, will absorb nearly 60% of the total income taxes collected in 2017.

However, at some point before this scenario fully plays out, the rest of the world will no longer tolerate and subsidize a nation unwilling to change its profligate and self-centered ways. The financial collapse of the United States would not only have a devastating impact on the standard of living for the average American but for the vast majority of people around the globe.

How can a nation with any sense of decency allow this scenario to play out? None of this is a mystery to the politicians, academics, the media, Wall Street, major corporations and a substantial portion of the electorate. While there may be a considerable percentage of the population that could be categorized as "low-information" voters, this does not excuse the actions and attitudes of these people or the balance of the citizenry. The United States, and possibly the global economy, is being taken apart by the avarice and narcissism of its elites and the selfishness and ignorance of far too large a percentage of its inhabitants.

The vast majority of politicians, while paying lip service to fiscal restraint, are primarily concerned with re-election and continuing the standard of living, ego-gratification and wealth accumulation that comes with elected office. They have thus abandoned their moral and fiscal duty by pandering to the bulk of the American people who have been willingly indoctrinated to believe that by the mere circumstance of living in the United States one is entitled to and guaranteed a "decent" livelihood regardless of the cost to future generations.

The leaders, as well as a preponderance of the rank and file, within the public sector unions, are focused not only on siphoning as much money as possible from the treasuries of the states and federal government, but also impacting, through compulsory union dues, the election of politicians who will acquiesce to their never-ending demands. This modus operandi also extends to the private sector unions who are increasingly turning to government and the elected officials they also financially support to strong-arm their demands upon employers — which will compel many to choose either bankruptcy or offshore relocation.

The bankers on Wall Street, in order to protect their annual seven figure incomes, have become willing tools for the governing class in Washington D.C. either as: 1) foils in the propagation of class warfare; 2) well compensated accessories to the creation of money by the Federal Reserve; or, 3) intermediaries for massive political donations. All the while knowing that the government has designated their entities as "too big to fail" thus shifting any potential risk to the American taxpayers.

Additionally, far too many major corporations and well-heeled investors have turned their eyes to the government as the source of loans and guarantees for a myriad of investment schemes and projects. In the search for not only money but favorable regulatory treatment, they, in return, willingly contribute to the election of those who will not only continue these policies but will make certain there are few or no consequences for failure. That the ultimate objective of these politicians is to make certain the private sector is under the thumb of government bureaucrats seems immaterial to these so-called capitalists.

In the world of academia, the primary objective is no longer to educate but to make certain there is no end to the ever-increasing income stream that flows into the pockets of the institutions and individuals. If that means saddling students with unconscionable debts or demanding unlimited subsidies from the government then so be it.

The mainstream media has abdicated its responsibility to be a neutral chronicler of the abuse of power. In order to sustain their individual lifestyles and gain access as well as bask in the glow of the ever-growing power structure in Washington, they have become the propaganda arm of big government.

The entertainment industry, in their determination to promote an unfettered lifestyle, has for many decades advanced the notion that there are no limits to personal behavior. Further, since decency, honor and integrity are passé, the entertainment complex can justify grossing untold billions from the glorification of ever-increasing violence and depravity. All the while financially supporting those in the political class who claim to be in sympathy in these matters but who, in reality, are more dedicated to the concept of an all-powerful central government — a government which will eventually turn on these same supporters.

Regardless of the reason or circumstance, a majority of the people of this nation have been conditioned to believe the federal and/or state governments will always be able to ride to the rescue in any situation. The fact of the matter is: this nation cannot weather a severe financial crisis as it has squandered its ability to do so.

The United States in 2012 re-elected a man, Barack Obama, who is self-centered, unprincipled, and arrogant. From the perspective of the rest of the world, this is increasingly the image of the United States in 2013. While a substantial portion of the American populace do not subscribe to or live their lives this way, a majority does. For far too many, they do not care about what happens to their country, their progeny or other people around the globe.

The United States is rapidly becoming the egregious caricature first used in the 1950's and 60's — the Ugly American.

Date posted: January 3, 2013

Chaplain’s Corner. Discipline: Our Commitment For Next Year and All Our Lives

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

In previous Chaplain's Corner articles I have pointed out the futility of making so called "New Year's Resolutions." The are vague, abstract and lack the specific steps to bring resolutions into effect.i Now what is not futile is to cultivating the cure for the illness that inflicts so many of us, that in part make such resolutions useless. This psycho-spiritual disease is called listlessness. It is the inactivity stemming from lassitude, lack of vigor and energy. Its cure is to develop self-discipline.

Self-discipline is an orderly way of life. In contemporary smartphone or tablet terminology it becomes a step by step psycho-spiritual and behavioral 'To-Do' list. As is common among various religious traditions, they focus on similar counsels to attain perfection. Self discipline is one such path. In Hinduism points out: "Turbulent by nature, the senses even of a wise man, who is practicing self-control, forcibly carry away his mind, Arjuna.ii In the Eightfold Path of Buddhism, the last three, focus on the components of self-Discipline: right effort, mindfulness and concentration.iii Islam teaches that to effect such change individuals must take on responsibility for action. "Surely Allah changes not the condition of a people, until they change their own condition."iv

In Christianity St. Paul makes the necessity of discipline quite explicit. He likens being in the favor of God's Kingdom to be the crown that is received after the endurance it takes of running and winning a race. He writes in to the Corinthians:

Ye know, do ye not, that they who run in a stadium all indeed run, but one receiveth the prize? Thus keep on running that ye might obtain. And everyone who contendeth exerciseth self-control in all things; indeed then, those do it that they might receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. I run therefore thus, not as uncertain; thus I box, not as beating the air. But I buffet my body and bring it into bondage, lest, having preached to others, I myself should become unapproved. (1Cor 9:24-27).

The Eastern Church Father St. John Chrysostom would see this discipline as "the part of a master not of a combatant, of a teacher not of a foe, of a gymnastic trainer not of an adversary.”v St. Isaac of Syria caps the rewards in stor for us by discipline. He writes: Good order [discipline] generates peace, peace gives birth to light in the soul and peace makes the pure air in the mind radiant ... draws near to wisdom ... receives joy from God."vi How much better is cultivating self-discipline than promising oneself unattainable resolutions.






v Hom. 23, P.G. 61:202 (col. 190).]

vi Holy Transfiguration Monastery. (ed., trans.).  (2011). The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian(revised, 2nd edition). Boston, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery.

Date posted: January 2, 2013

Smart Parenting XX. Applying Christ’s Beatitudes to Parenting: Blessed Are the Pure of Heart

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Mt. 5:8)

In a previous article (Morelli, 2012) I discussed the importance of Christ delivering the Beatitudes while on the summit of the mount. My commentary was based on Forest's (1999) insight that the 'mount" as an object that is high and points to heaven, and was, as such, purposely chosen by Christ. Forest writes: "Mountains are images of earth reaching toward heaven, thus places of encounter between Creator and creature." This is most fitting because it relates to the spiritual preparation needed to "see God."

St. Gregory of Nyssa

St. Gregory of Nyssa

St. Gregory of Nyssa (1954) refers to this symbolism of the mount in his Homily VI on this Beatitude. First, St. Gregory takes the perspective of God's vision, from above, of His creation beneath Him:

When from the sublime words of the Lord resembling the summit of a mountain I looked down into the ineffable depths of His thoughts, my mind had the experience of a man who gazes from a high ridge into the immense sea below him.

But, as St. Gregory points out, we have a conundrum. In the Old Testament Book of Exodus, (33: 17) Moses tells us God’s words to him: "Thou canst not see my face: for man shall not see me and live." St. John the Evangelist reiterates this revelation. "And of His fullness we all received, and grace for grace; for the law was given through Moses, but the grace and the truth came to be by Jesus Christ. No one hath seen God at any time. The only-begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, that One declareth Him.” (Jn. 1:16-18).

Isaiah the Prophet

Isaiah the Prophet

Also from the Old Testament, consider God's words as told to us by Isaiah the Prophet (55:9): "But as the heaven is distant from the earth, so is my way distant from your ways, and your thoughts from my mind." We can also look to the teaching of St. Paul who says of God that He is ". . .the King of those who reign as kings and Lord of those who lord as lords, the One Who alone hath immortality, dwelling in light unapproachable, Whom not one of mankind did see, nor is able to see, to Whom be honor and everlasting might. Amen.” (1 Tim. 6:15,16).

St. Gregory resolves this enigma by distinguishing between the essence of God, which cannot be beholden, versus the effects that derive from His essence, that is to say His energy, which can be seen. To use St. Gregory's words: "...knowledge of the Divine essence is inaccessible to thought.... For He is invisible by nature, but becomes visible in His energies, for He may be contemplated in the things that are referred to Him."

St. Gregory gives us two examples of what can be comprehended. Think of the words of the psalmist: "How great are thy works, O Lord? thou hast made all things in wisdom: the earth is filled with thy riches." (Ps 103: 24). St. Gregory understands this to mean that God reveals Himself to us both by the wisdom of what He does and by the beauty in His works. Also, we may consider the divine splendor in the words of King David when he says: "The heavens shew forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands. Day to day uttereth speech, and night to night sheweth knowledge." (Ps 16 1-2).

Thus, we can see the importance of St. Paul's words to the Philippians (1:9-11):

And this I pray, that your love be abounding yet more and more in full knowledge and all perception, for you to approve the things which are excellent, in order that ye may be sincere and without offense until the day of Christ, having been filled with the fruits of righteousness which are through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.

St. Symeon The New Theologian on seeing God

St. Symeon The New Theologian

St. Symeon The New Theologian

St. Symeon the New Theologian has a very spiritually perspicacious insight into the problem of seeing God. First keep in mind what Our Lord, God and Savior Jesus Christ said of Himself: “I am the light of the world; the one who followeth Me in no wise shall walk in the darkness, but shall have the light of the life.” (Jn. 8:12). St. Symeon (Philokalia IV) points out to attain "[purity] of heart and every other beatitude can only be accomplished by cultivating continual watchfulness, that is to say a constant alertness to things of God and not of this world and preventing them from entering the heart. Thus the meaning of this beatitude is that it is only the "pure in heart" that can receive this vision of the Divine.

To see God is of necessity to understand purity

The ancient languages of Aramaic and Hebrew are very informative in understanding the spiritual meaning of purity and thus in comprehending the necessity to be pure of heart to "see God." In Aramaic, purity is associated with the term zakah (innocency)i, which in turn is related to the Hebrew root word zakak, which means to be translucent.ii Translucency means that light is allowed to pass through it. Therefore, if some faculty of perception is covered over with a barrier of any type it cannot fulfill its function; light cannot pass through it; what it is attempting to perceive cannot be perceived because the faculty is not translucent.

Sin blocks out the light of God

St. Diadochos of Photiki

St. Diadochos of Photiki

Jesus Himself tells us: “The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore thine eye be sound, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil, thy whole body shall be full of darkness." (Mt. 6:22-23). Now the Eastern Church considers the heart to be the core, the center of man's spiritual being. It is the place where spiritual perception rests. As Jesus put it: “The good man bringeth forth out of the good treasure of his heart that which is good; and the evil man bringeth forth out of the evil treasure of his heart that which is evil. For out of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaketh." (Lk. 6:45).

St. Diadochos of Photiki (Philokalia I) tells us that the heart "does this not because it is the heart’s nature to produce evil ideas, but because as a result of the primal deception the remembrance of evil has become as it were a habit."

Fr. Staniloae

Fr. Staniloae

Staniloae (2003) understands this as the heart having two aspects. One part ". . .has its face turned toward God." Quoting St. Mark the Hermit, Staniloae explains: “From there, from "the hidden temple of the heart, the mind receives good and beautiful stimuli from Christ who dwells there," and Who nurses them into a virtuous life." The other heart Staniloae calls the "subconscious of the passions." It is linked to our biological self and involves the psychological process of memory of past passionate arousals and actions. We can choose to focus on the passions and continue to work toward inordinately satisfying them.

St. Isaac the Syrian

St. Isaac the Syrian

St. Isaac the Syrian (2011) puts it this way:

It is better to avoid the passions by the recollection of the virtues than by resisting and arguing with them. For when the passions leave their place and arise for battle, they imprint on the mind images and idols. This warfare has great force, able to weaken the mind and violently perturb and confuse a man's thinking. But if a man acts by the first rule we have mentioned, when the passions are repulsed they leave no trace in the mind.

However, passions draw us into an empty slavery to the passions to fulfill them, but they can never be satisfied. In this regard, we can apply the wisdom of King Solomon: "All the rivers run into the sea, yet the sea doth not overflow." (Ecc 1: 7) A craving for praise (pride), material goods (greed), sexual arousal (lust), striking out at others (anger), food and drink (gluttony), begrudging others (envy), focusing on self rather than God,(sloth), can never be satiated. St. Neilos the Ascetic (Philokalia I) asks: "What advantage do we gain in life from all our useless toil over worldly things?" St. Maximos the Confessor would have us consider that all the passions involve egoism, that is to say, self-love, in some manner. He tells us: "Self-love is an impassioned, mindless love for one's body. Its opposite is love and self-control. A man dominated by self-love is dominated by all the passions." (Philokalia II).

The reason for the futility of living a life focused on fulfilling the passions is beautifully summarized by Staniloae (2003):

This always unsatisfied infinity is due both to the passion in itself, as well as the object with which it seeks satisfaction. The objects which the passions look for can't satisfy them because the objects are finite and as such don't correspond to the unlimited thirst of the passions.

Staniloae goes on to make a very important observation regarding the interaction of body, soul and spirit in satisfying the passions. He writes: ". . .the close unity of the body and soul causes the bodily passions to be interwoven with those of the soul, or to have inter-influence." St. John of Damascus provides a concrete example of this interaction:

For countless pleasures surge to and fro attracting the eyes of the soul: pleasures of the body, of material things, of over-indulgence, of praise, laziness, anger, of power, avarice and greed. These pleasures have a glittering and attractive appearance which, though deceptive, readily seduces those who do not . . . . [fear God and love Christ]. (Philokalia II)

St. Paul's understanding is that sin produces a hardness of heart. In Staniloae’s terms: the part of the heart that could be facing God is, instead, facing the world of the senses:

testify in the Lord: ye are no longer to walk even as also the rest of the nations walk, in the vanity of their mind, who have been darkened in thought and alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance which is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; who, having become insensible, gave themselves up to licentiousness, for the working of all uncleanness with greediness. But ye have not thus learned the Christ—if indeed ye heard Him and were taught in Him, as truth is in Jesus: to put off from yourselves the old man, with respect to the former manner of life, who is being corrupted according to the desires of the deceit, and to be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and to put on the new man, who, according to God, was created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. (Eph. 4:17-24)

St. John of Damascus

St. John of Damascus

St. John of Damascus on focusing the heart on God so as to see Him

St. John (Philokalia II,) tells us that the passions can be classified by the tripartite functions of the soul: ". . .the intelligent, the incensive and the desiring aspect.." In his monograph On the Virtues and Vices, St. John goes on to list the passions and accompanying sins and their cure. His teaching is so comprehensive and thorough it bears quoting in full:

The sins of the intelligent aspect are unbelief, heresy, folly, blasphemy, ingratitude and assent to sins originating in the soul's passible [susceptibility to feeling, pain or suffering and/or influence by external factors] aspect. These vices are cured through unwavering faith in God and in true, undeviating and orthodox teachings, through the continual study of the inspired utterances of the Spirit, through pure and ceaseless prayer, and through the offering of thanks to God. The sins of the incensive aspect are heartlessness, hatred, lack of compassion, rancor [bitter anger], envy, murder and dwelling constantly on such things. They are cured by deep sympathy for one's fellow men, love, gentleness, brotherly affection, compassion, forbearance and kindness. The sins of the desiring aspect are gluttony, greed, drunkenness, unchastity, adultery, uncleanliness, licentiousness, love of material things, and the desire for empty glory, gold, wealth and the pleasures of the flesh. These are cured through fasting, self- control, hardship, a total shedding of possessions and their distribution to the poor, desire for the imperishable blessings held in store, longing for the kingdom of God, and aspiration for divine sonship.

The Holy Spirit-inspired Church Father then goes on to delineate the stages of how the passions start and their final ensnarement of us into total sinfulness. He lists ". . . . provocation, coupling, wrestling, passion, assent (which comes very close to performance), actualization and captivity." The first step, provocation, is a suggestion; St. John likens it to the commands of the Evil One given to Our Lord while in the desert: “If Thou art God’s Son, command that these stones become loaves” (Mt. 4:3); “If Thou art God’s Son, cast Thyself down" (Mt. 4:6); “All these things [the kingdoms of the world and their glory] will I give to Thee if Thou wilt fall down and make obeisance to me.” (Mt. 4:9).

Habit formation and automaticity in contemporary psychological research

It is most interesting that empirical scientific behavioral observation has uncovered processes similar to the stages of passion outlined by St. John of Damascus. Bargh (1994), for example, summarizes the stages of habit formation that lead to automaticity. The stages with the related terms used by St. John of Damascus (in parentheses) include: awareness (provocation, coupling, wrestling and passion), intention, efficiency (assent and actualization) and automaticity (captivity).

These findings would suggest that the cognitive-behavioral treatment interventions to modify and change dysfunctional cognition, emotion and behavior can be helpful in controlling passions and their consequences (Morelli, 2010) and thereby working at attaining purity of heart.

Bandura's social learning theory (1986) provides a good graphic overview of the research-clinical model:

Bandura's social learning theory

Bandura's social learning theory

The praxis of spiritual perception: metanoia

In order to put into practice Staniloae’s (2003) spiritual insight that we have two aspects of the heart, we must turn our hearts toward God and thus away from the passions. But this brings up another enigma. How do we turn toward God, if we do not see Him because we are so mired in the passions that the light of His beauty and wisdom is blackened out? The answer can be found in part in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Culture in Tradition

In a previous paper on the spiritual application of the Beatitudes to our lives (Morelli, 2012) I discussed this parable from the viewpoint of what Bailey (2005) would describe as a Western perspective. He makes the point, however, that we should penetrate the culture of the speaker that: "...there are layers of perception that can only be uncovered when the culture of the Middle East is understood and applied to the interpretation of Scripture." In fact, this approach may be more in line with the Eastern Church's understanding of Sacred Scripture. This understanding is articulated by Fr. John Breck (2001) in his seminal work Scripture in Tradition. He discusses the ancient Christian exegetes, the Fathers of the Church, who understood Sacred Scripture "from a more holistic point of view." Thus, he speaks of the "inspired vision" of Divine Truth that was revealed to mankind by Our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, which "...escape[s] a purely scientific or empirical approach to interpretation." It is the work of the "...the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name, that One shall teach you all things, and shall remind you of what I said to you," (Jn. 14:26) who, as told to us by Jesus Christ himself, acts through the Church, and the Church Fathers in particular, to "...preserve and transmit the essential elements of Tradition."

Parable of the Prodigal Son

Parable of the Prodigal Son

Below I have highlighted in square brackets ([])some of the relevant passages from the Parable of the Prodigal Son, for which, as recommended by Bailey (2005), a cultural understanding of the meaning of the parable and its application to "purity of heart" can be helpful.

And He said, “A certain man had two sons. [All three individuals in the parable are mentioned in the opening verse]. And the younger of them said to the father, ‘Father, give to me the portion of the property which falleth to me.’ [Focus on one thing: material wealth. To get this he expresses a desire to break a relationship with the Father: to sin. Relationships are important among Jewish people, during the time of Jesus. The father, the family, the clan and all observing his action will suffer.]

And he divided to them his means of living. And not many days after, the younger son, having gathered all together, went abroad into a distant land, [In Hebrew culture, inheritance involves responsibility. He takes his share of the wealth while shirking responsibility: caring for his family. He also gives up and loses the physical and psychological security his family and clan would provide him in the present and in the future.]

and there scattered his property, living profligately. [Further acting out of sin: wasteful, spendthrift living. In Middle East culture, this may refer to building a reputation by holding great banquets and over-generous gifts or, based on the testimony of the older son who could have had 'insider information,' living an immoral life.]

But after he spent all, there arose a severe famine throughout that land, and he began to be in want. [He would be estranged from family and villagers and at a time of famine might be vilified and even physically attacked by villagers in need.]

“And he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that land; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. “And he was longing to fill his belly from the husks, which the swine were eating; and no one was giving to him. [The Greek word for joined (kollao) used by St. Luke implies something that clings but is unwanted, like desert sand on the feet - the wealthy citizen wants to separate himself from the ne'er-do-well Jewish prodigal and sends him into an abhorrent, detestable and ritually prohibited task of being among swine, feeding them, let alone eating their swill.]

“But having come to himself, [He came to see the whole pictureiii: the loss of his father, the value of his previous relationships], he said, ‘How many hired servants of my father abound in loaves, and I am perishing with hunger! [the real wealth he once had.]

“‘I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I sinned against heaven and before theeiv, and am no longer worthy to be called thy son; make me as one of thy hired servants.”’ [Impure confession, the son has a motive: as a servant he can get paid and start to regain status.]

“And he rose up and went to his father. But when he was yet far away, his father saw him and was moved with compassion, and ran, and fell upon his neck, [A Middle East countercultural act on the father’s part. The father initializes reconciliation. The prodigal's father is a prototype of God the Father, as St. Paul writes: "But all things are from God Who reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not reckoning their transgressions to them, and He put in us the word of reconciliation." (2Cor 5: 18-19)] and ardently kissed him.

“And the son said to him, ‘Father, I sinned against heaven and before thee, and am no longer worthy to be called thy son.’ [A pure confession with no expectation of self-gain, as he had in his original thought, now a true metanoia, acceptance of his father’s reconciliation, a gift from his father.]

“But the father said to his slaves, ‘Bring forth the robe, the chief one, and clothe him, and provide a ring for his hand and sandals for their feet. “‘And bring the calf, the fattened one, and slay it; and let us eat and be merry; “‘for this my son was dead and is alive again; and he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry. [The son is given back his status and honor by his father - to be acknowledged and respected by all.]

“Now his son, the elder one, was in a field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. “And he summoned one of his servants, and began inquiring what these things may be. “And he said to him, ‘Thy brother is come, and thy father slew the calf, the fattened one, because he received him back safe and sound.’ “But he was angry and not willing to go in. [A breach of Middle Eastern custom and respect; and a display of his rancorous envy toward his younger brother and greed because of how he would inherit less wealth.]

Then his father went out and besought him. [This connotes a respectful entreaty.]

“And he answered and said to his father, ‘Behold, so many years I am serving thee, and never did I transgress thy commandment, and never didst thou give a kid to me, in order that I might make merry with my friends; “‘but when this thy son came, the one who devoured thy means of living with harlots, thou didst slay for him the calf, the fattened one.’ [Doesn't use the title 'father,' he criticizes his father's action and wants his due-a disrespect in the Middle East.]

“And he said to him, ‘Child, thou art always with me, and all that is mine is thine. “‘But to make merry and to rejoice was fitting, because this thy brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’” [Despite the older son's disrespect, he initiates reconciliation like he did with his younger son—a prototype of God the Father and His love unrequited by His sinful people.] (Lk. 15:11-32)

Applying the lessons in the Parable of the Prodigal Son

The root of the Prodigal's sin and his reconciliation with his father can easily be understood by Staniloae's understanding that the heart has two aspects, one facing God the other facing the passions. He started out by facing the passions – the allurements of the material world. He turned his back on family and community. However, he eventually purified his heart by turning toward his father. It must be remembered that the Prodigal did not initiate the reconciliation. He responded to his father's pursuit of him. To do our part, we have to nurture the virtue of discrimination. St. Antony the Great of the Desert points out: "And this is just what we find; for the power of discrimination, scrutinizing all the thoughts and actions of a man, distinguishes and sets aside everything that is base and not pleasing to God, and keeps him free from delusion." (Philokalia I, That is to say, we have to make a willful decision to keep our gaze on God. St. Hesychios the Priest (Philokalia I) tells us that one way to keep our gaze on God and thus acquiring purity of heart is watchfulness: "Watchfulness is a continual fixing and halting thoughts at the entrance to the heart." (Philokalia I,) He describes watchfulness as ". . .a spiritual method which, if sedulously practiced over a long period, completely frees us with God's help from impassioned thoughts, impassioned words and evil actions. It leads, in so far as this is possible, to a sure knowledge of the inapprehensible God, and helps us to penetrate the divine and hidden mysteries." He explicitly links watchfulness to purity of heart and points out that it is the way to attain this purity. He writes: "It is, in the true sense, purity of heart, a state blessed by Christ when He says: 'Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God' (Matt. 5:8)" St. Hesychios intimates that it is a state of "spiritual nobility." It is difficult to attain, but necessary in order to lead a life of holiness.


Discrimination and watchfulness must be combined with persistence. We could consider persistence to be holding up in the face of the vicissitudes of life. St. Maximus the Confessor puts it this way:

The saints are full of goodness, compassion, kindliness and mercy. . . .Because of this they hold fast throughout their lives to the highest of all blessings, humility, that conserves other blessings and destroys their opposites. Thus they become totally immune to vexing trials and temptations, whether those due to ourselves and subject to our volition [to be repelled by self-control], or from ourselves beyond our control [to be repelled by patient endurance]. (Philokalia II)

Some practical pointers

The ethos behind putting this Beatitude into practice is based on Christ's answer to the young man who called out to Him as 'good Master' wanting to know what to do to attain eternal life: "And Jesus said to him, Why callest thou me good? None is good but one, that is God." (Mk 10: 18). We can follow the advice of Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain and focus on the goodness of things around us and connect them to the good God. The Elder says this:

. . .evil does not exist in this world. Everything was created by God and He saw it as "very good" (Gen 1: 31). Evil exists when we make wrong use of the things God granted to us for our benefit. It is not bad to have money, but it is bad to be avaricious. Drugs are not an evil thing, when used to relieve the pain of people who suffer. They are bad when used for a different purpose. A knife is a useful utensil, when we use it to cut bread. However, when it is used to hit someone, it becomes a deadly weapon. . . .Therefore we must use everything in the right way. (Ageloglou, 1998)

Similar to Staniloae's describing the two aspects of the heart [God vs. the passions], the Elder distinguishes two types of people:

I know from experience that in this life people are divided into two categories ... The first resembles the fly . . . it is attracted by dirt. For example when is found in a garden full of flowers with beautiful fragrances, it will ignore them and will go sit on top of some dirt on the ground . . if the fly could talk,. . . it would [say]: . . "I only know where to find garbage, toilets and dirt." . . .The other category is like the bee . . whose main characteristic is to always look for something sweet and nice to sit on . . it will ignore the dirt and will go to sit on the sweet . . it would say "I can only tell you where to find flowers, sweets, honey and sugar.". . .it only knows the good things in life and is ignorant of all evil.

The mind as an aid in the spiritual journey

Cognitive Clinical Science would say that choosing to focus on the "dirt" is an example of being influenced by the cognitive distortion of selective abstraction, i.e., 'focusing on one event while excluding others.' (Morelli, 2009). Cognitive Therapy intervention would involve the patient challenging the cognitive distortion by asking disputational questions, the most relevant of which is:

  • Is there any other way of looking at the situation?

If all aspects of a situation are perceived, one can then move on to decision-making. The spiritually unhealthy cognitions (focusing on evil) can be replaced by spiritually healthy thinking (focusing on the 'good'). This does not mean that we are unaware of the evil. It does not mean that we do not see the whole picture. It does mean that we choose not to follow the path of evil and act like the "fly," but follow the path of the "bee" by deciding to do what is good. This is consistent with the Elder Paisios' thinking: "We must always be careful and constantly question the nature of our thoughts." (Ageloglou, 1998) The Elder, talking to someone who endured the horrific vagaries of the Vietnam War and came to associate traffic noise with the sounds of war, gave this advice: "Think about the wars, the people who are being killed or dying of hunger, the houses that are being bombed. . . . Then the association of the traffic noise with the noise if the war will become a very good reason for you to glorify God. . . ."

Socratic Interaction

In many articles in my smart parenting seriesv I have emphasized three points. Firstly, let the person you are talking to tell you what they think about the subject. This is certainly true when discussing issues with children, but is equally applicable to discussions by adults amongst themselves. Secondly, use the Socratic Method as I outlined it. Ask how their view may square with Christ's teachings or the Church's understanding of the issue. Many previous parenting series articles give examples of the use of this technique. Thirdly, say as few words as possible. Do not preach. Child development research supports that children learn words on the occasion of a single exposure to a new word. (Rice, 1990). This process, sometimes called fast mapping, suggests that understanding develops by the child's being given freedom to experience the meaning of words as applied to new contexts and their own actions. The Socratic Method, incidentally, allows the child to do this. Individuals imposing their own interpretation on children and others restricts cognitive understanding by the self- discovery process. As I have pointed out in the many smart parenting articles, preaching also cognitively distracts the child from the issue and also promotes dysfunctional emotional reactions such as anger.

St. Paul's Vision: The Fruits of Spiritual Warfare

St. Hesychios the Priest calls the struggle to see God and thereby obtain holiness "spiritual warfare." (Philokalia I). He goes go on to say that prayer is the major weapon to win this victory: "He should possess prayer."vi Thereby, the evil one will be "broken and routed by the venerable name of Jesus . . . .prayer which is ever active in the inner shrine of the soul, and which by invoking Christ scourges and sears our secret enemy."

Thus, at the cusp of our earthly life and hopeful entry into the bosom of God and thus to "see Him" we can say along with St. Paul: "I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith." (2Tm 4: 7) For, as St. Paul tells St. Timothy in his first letter (6: 12), this warfare bears fruit: "Fight the good fight of faith: lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art called, and hast confessed a good confession before many witnesses."

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.




iii In Cognitive Therapy, focusing on one thing rather than the whole is a thinking error, that is to say, a cognitive distortion. The technical name for this is: selective abstraction, which I define as: "focusing on one event while excluding others" (Morelli, 2009).

iv Bailey (2006) suggests that the Prodigal's thought was not true repentance. It is almost verbatim Pharaohs' 'confession' to Moses during the plagues. "Wherefore Pharaoh in haste called Moses and Aaron, and said to them: I have sinned against the Lord your God, and against you," (Ex 10: 16) which was an attempt to manipulate Moses and the Hebrew people and keep them in subjection. Bailey's hypothesis is that the Prodigal was motivated to manipulate his father into trusting him.


vi My editor, Anne C. Petach points out the benefit of the fasting periods of the Church as opportunities for parents to be explicit, primarily by example, but also in conversation. She noted this could be an aid in the struggle against the pull of the allurements of the passions, both in terms of entitlements to luxuries (an attitude that derailed the Prodigal Son and blinded him) and images so very prevalent in our times, and that cloud the translucence I discuss in this article that also is so very prevalent in our times. This would allow more time and inner 'space' for prayer. She also suggests that the giving of alms likewise works on disciplining the passions and children can readily grasp this when it is presented to them as a personal challenge in small, appropriate ways. I would say that her spiritual advice surely can be applied by adults as well.


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Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (1981). The Philokalia,: The Complete Text; Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain & St. Makarios of Corinth, Vol. 2. London: Faber and Faber.

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Date posted: January 2, 2013

Orthodox Christian Spirituality and Cognitive Psychotherapy: An Online Course Part 1

1.0 Introduction

1.1 Historical Christian Spiritual Foundations of Counseling.

Christians trace their founding to Jesus Christ, by His sending (decent) of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost on His apostles and disciples. Following St. Paul, we know that the teachings of Jesus were understood by Christians by them being sanctified by this same Holy Spirit. St. Paul did much to spread the teachings of Jesus throughout the Roman world. To one group he wrote: “To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” [2 Thessalonians 2: 13-15] These teachings of Jesus passed in tradition to His Church: “I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you.” [1 Corinthians 11:2] St Paul told the Ephesians “you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone…” (2: 19, 30) St Luke told his readers: “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son. [Acts 20:28] Following St. Paul, these traditions, oral first and then written, were passed from the apostles to their successors, the bishops and priests.

Christianity is known therefore through the oral tradition and practice of the church and through the written scriptures. The written scriptures compiled by St. Athanasious [Old Testament] the Great in c. 328 A.D., and New Testament Synod of Laodicaea (381 A.D.) and both ratified by the Sixth Ecumenical Council (3rd Constantinople) in 680 A.D. by the same overseers (episkopi) whom the Holy Spirit inspired to care for the church by maintaining the “traditions.” This is important because the synergy of Christian spirituality and psychology must be both true to Christian teaching in tradition, practice and scripture and modern scientific psychology. Reference will be made to the “Church Fathers” who were not teaching anything new but merely discovering what Jesus had taught and passed on to the apostles and their successors the bishops as inspired by the Holy Spirit. McGuckin (2004) has expressed this very succinctly: “the perceived duty of those attending the councils [overseers, as in St. Luke (Acts 20:) above] was to ‘recognize’, by comparison with past precedent, the faith of the church, and having recognized it acclaim it in the spirit.” For a Christian, spiritual life is a dynamic journey in which he or she is born ill and is cleansed by baptism. After baptism, while on earth his or her life becomes a journey of continual purification and healing. Christ is the physician and psychotherapist and the Church is the hospital. The teachings of the Church Fathers, prayer, the sacraments, (Confession, the Eucharist etc.) combined with scientific psychology are the medicine.

1.2 Christianity and Psychotherapy

For the Christian, psychotherapy is one component of the healing process of healing ‘body, mind and spirit’. An early example of Christian physicians of the ‘body,’ would be the brother physicians, Sts. Cosmos and Damian. They were known as the "unmercenary physicians" and wonderworkers who took no money for their healing. They were born in Rome and grew up Christian, both showing gifts of healing and the ability to encourage others in their Christian journey. Persecuted for their faith, they were brought before the Emperor Galerius, who demanded them to deny Christ to save their lives. Instead, they preached Christianity to the Emperor urging him to turn to the Living God and the true faith. While preaching to him, they healed him of a serious illness. Emperor Galerius declared himself a Christian and released the two brothers. They lived to continue working until their fame elicited envy in another physician who had them stoned to death in 284 A.D.

The healing of ‘spirit’ may be exemplified by St. Gregory of Nyssa, who said that curing the spirit is acquired by Godliness by those who gaze upon the Cross of Jesus, as the Israelites gazed on the staff of Moses: “There is one antidote for these evil passions [spiritual illnesses] (italics mine): the purification of our souls which takes place through the mystery of godliness. The chief act of faith in the “mystery of godliness” is to look to Him who suffered the passion for us. The person who looks to the One lifted up on the wood [the Cross] rejects passion, diluting the poison with the fear of the commandment as with a medicine. The voice of the Lord teaches clearly that the serpent lifted up in the desert is a symbol of the mystery of the cross when he says: “The Son of Man must be lifted up as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert”. (St. Gregory of Nyssa in Malherbe & Ferguson, 1978). This healing takes place as mentioned above, by being fully united to the Church, in prayer and sacraments.

The scientific method was not a field of study until almost 1500 years after Christ and the early church could know nothing of its methods. However, two factors tie Christianity with psychology as we know today. One is the tradition of spiritual direction and the other is the view that being made in God’s image. Christians are to use their intelligence and free will in their interacting with the world. The tradition of spiritual direction and spiritual fatherhood is laid out by St. Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians: “Though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers, For I became your father in Christ through the Gospel.” (4:15). As Bishop Kallistos Ware tells us: “[A spiritual father, such as St. Clement] …was also a spiritual guide to his pupils, a living model and exemplar, providing them not only with information but with an all embracing personal relationship.” (p. ix) Bishop Kallistos went on to say that in the early church, the spiritual father was seen in five ways: doctor, counselor, intercessor, mediator and sponsor. In his counselor role, the spiritual father heals by ‘words, advice and council.’ Confession, used by the spiritual fathers and priests is viewed as going to a ‘hospital’ rather than a court of law. Penance imposed after confession of sins is viewed as a tonic to assist in recovery, not as a punishment. The second factor making Christianity open to modern psychotherapy is that mankind is made in God’s image. The ‘image’ of God in man has been mainly viewed by the Church Fathers as follows: our intelligence and free will, which can be used to become more “like” Him [God]. The use of modern scientific psychotherapy, which is the result of the use of our intelligence, becomes therefore a necessity for the serious Christian in his or her purification and healing and in his/her journey to be “like God.”

1.3 Important Figures in Christian Spirituality

  • Jesus Christ 3-6 BC to 27-30 AD (God becoming flesh “of one essence with the Father before all things were made” Council of Nicea, 325)
  • St. Clement of Alexandria (160-215). Bishop and father of speculative theology.
  • Ss. Cosmos and Damian (c.230- 287. Born in Rome, they were unmercenary physicians, preachers of the Gospel and martyrs for Christ.
  • St. Anthony the Great (c.250-355). From Middle Egypt, he is the Father of Christian monasticism)
  • St. Athanasius (296–393). Patriarch of Alexandria, a great teacher and biographer of St. Anthony.
  • St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-394), from Cappadocia, a great teacher, writer and mystical theologian.
  • Abba Evagrius the Monk (c.350–399), monk and ascetical writer.
  • St. John Cassian (360-435) monk, who summarized the traditions of the Desert Fathers for the Western Church.
  • St. Cyril of Alexandria (375-344), Patriarch of Alexandria, who defended the truth that Christ possessed both the Nature of God and the Nature of Man.
  • St. Neilos the Acetic (c.390-450), abbot of a Monastery in Turkey, wrote especially on the relationship between the spiritual father and his disciples.
  • St. Hesychios the Priest (c.400–450), monk and spiritual writer.
  • St. Dorotheus of Gaza (c.525–575), monk and spiritual writer, who wrote, especially, that real knowledge is inseparable from love of God.
  • St. John of the Ladder (c.525-606). monk, ascetic wrote classic spiritual treatise, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, on steps to raise oneself to God through the acquisition of various virtues.
  • St. Maximos the Confessor (580–662), monk, ascetic, who wrote especially on love and virtue.
  • St. Isaac of Syria (c. 613-700), bishop, monk, ascetic who wrote especially on God's mercy.
  • St. John of Karpathos (c.625–675), monk, who wrote on the senses, thoughts and virtue.
  • St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), Bishop, mystic, theologian, who wrote extensively on prayer and union with God.
  • St. Seraphim of Sarov (1759-1833), monk, mystic, who taught that the main aim of the Christian life is to acquire for oneself the Spirit of God.
  • Metropolitan Kallistos Ware (1934- ), Professor at Oxford University, recognized scholar of the Church Fathers and theology.
  • Metropolitan Hilarion Alfeyev (1966-), noted contemporary theologian, classical music composer.

1.4 The Development of Christian Churches

This image shows the development of Christian churches since Christianity began.1

Christian Churches

To be continued. . .

1 An alternative timeline graphic:

Christian Churches

Date posted: December 2, 2012

Chaplains Corner. Blessed Christmas: On the Use of the Wealth of Our Bounty

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

There is a well known phrase in the Christian Gospels, the saying of Christ that "…it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God" (Lk 18: 25). A superficial understanding of this teaching would have it that to be rich, in and of itself, bars one from God's kingdom. But a deeper spiritual perception would indicate the fallacy in this apprehension.

We might first consider what various religious traditions say about wealth or bounty. In Hebrew tradition, it is the misuse of wealth - a failure to help others that is sinful. The Prophet Amos points out: "Hear this word, ye fat kine [bovine] that are in the mountains of Samaria: you that oppress the needy, and crush the poor: that say to your masters: Bring, and we will drink." In Islamic tradition, Allah blesses the rich who "…feed, for the love of Allah, the indigent, the orphan, and the captive" (Koran 79:8). Buddhist writer Ven. Jotika of Parng Loung states, "From [the] Buddhist point of view, good and praiseworthy is one who accumulates holdings in rightful ways and utilizes it for the good and happiness of both oneself and others."i Swami Narasimhananda describes the Hindu teachings on wealth, telling us: "…wealthy people need to share their wealth with the less fortunate."

The Fathers of the Church clearly understood the deeper, true spiritual meaning of Christ's teaching about being rich. St. Theophylact, in his great commentary on the Holy Gospels, emphatically states: "It is not riches that are evil. It is instead those who hold onto wealth who deserved to be accused... [rather we should] be compassionate toward all."ii The great feasts that are celebrated in December of the civil calendar, Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa, all follow the feast of Thanksgiving that is celebrated at the end of November. 'Love' is the spirit common to all these celebrations. What better way to make the Thanksgiving Feast spiritually meaningful and not simply a secular event than to allow God to conquer the hearts of each of us who is blessed by the wealth of His bounty, by the many possessions we have, and thus inspire us to share with the needy and the poor, especially during this December period, but actually throughout the whole year.

We could be reminded this year that many average people suffered immense losses from an unexpected untoward event of nature - Superstorm Sandy. The graphic images of the widespread destruction and human suffering have, I pray, incited compassion in all our hearts. We should note the words of St. Gregory the Dialogist: "Godly love cannot be perfect unless a man love his neighbor also. Under which name must be included not only those who are connected with us by friendship or neighborhood, but absolutely all men with whom we have a common nature, whether they be foes or allies, slaves or free."iii

To put this into practice, we should reflect on the words of St. Basil: "The bread which you do not use is the bread of the hungry; the garment hanging in your wardrobe is the garment of him who is naked; the shoes that you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot; the money that you keep locked away is the money of the poor; the acts of charity that you do not perform are so many injustices that you commit."iv By sharing the wealth of our bounty with all by our good will we can help to bring into reality the song of the angel's at Christ's birth: "Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will." (Lk 2: 14)



ii Blessed Theophylact. (2008). The Explanation by Blessed Theophylact of The Holy Gospel. House Springs, MO: Chrysostom Press.

iii Manley, J. (1990). The Bible and the Holy Fathers. Menlo Park, CA: Monastery Books

iv St. Basil. Homily 4 on Luke xii 18

Date posted: December 2, 2012

Chaplain’s Corner: Wisdom, Age and Belief in God

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

In this day and age it is so easy to dismiss God from our lives. Jesus gives us an insight into the cause of this abandonment of God in society. St. Matthew records Jesus’ words on His Sermon on the Mount: “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Mt. 6:21)

A contemporary Eastern Church holy father, Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain (Mt. Athos), gives a very perspicacious insight as to how this occurs: "If you want to take someone away from God, give [them] plenty of material goods . . . [they] will instantly forget Him forever." (Ageloglou, 1998) In past times one could look around at the beauty of the world and echo the words of King David in the Old Testament scripture: "The heavens shew forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands. Day to day uttereth speech, and night to night sheweth knowledge." (Ps 18: 1-2)

Today we have material goods around us that were completely unheard of a generation ago - dazzling high-definition LED displays, even on smart phones and tablets, and television that intrinsically mesmerizes us. Even the recent Olympics, which in times past focused on sports, now, in 2012, are overshadowed by ceremonies that are extravaganza-style spectacles of laser strobe lights and bombastic sound. Is there any thought or remembrance of God, the creator of Light?

Not all is hopeless, however. Let us recall the words of Job (12:12) in Old Testament Sacred Scripture. In speaking about knowing God he says: "In the ancient is wisdom, and in length of days, prudence." Science seems to be catching up to this scriptural wisdom. A study done by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) of the University of Chicago concluded that as we increase in age, the more likely it is that we will believe in God. The study’s author (Smith, 2012) suggests that these results may be due "perhaps in response to the increasing anticipation of mortality occurring."

This is exactly the message the Eastern Church would have us keep in mind. The words in our funeral service are a sobering reminder of our finite existence, but include hope in God who can elevate us to eternal life. We pray the Idiomelon composed by St. John of Damascus: "I called to mind the Prophet, as he cried: I am earth and ashes; and I looked again into the graves and beheld the bones laid bare, and I said: Who then is the king or the warrior, the rich man or the needy, the upright or the sinner?" Or, in the words of a popular contemporary song, "Is that all there is?"

But then we move on to the prayer of hope: "Yet, O Lord, give rest unto Thy servant with the righteous." Later in the funeral service we pray, "May Christ give thee rest in the land of the living, and open unto thee the gates of Paradise and make thee a citizen of His kingdom." The meaning of illness and death is eternal life. Yes, with age, wisdom unites us with God.


Smith, T.W. (2012). Belief about God across time and countries: Report for ISSP and GESIS. Chicago: NORC.

Date posted: November 6, 2012

Smart Parenting IXX. Halloween: A Few Spiritual Pointers for Orthodox Parents

But whosoever shall cause one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be to his advantage that a millstone turned by an ass were hung upon his neck, and he were drowned in the deep of the sea (Mt. 18:6).



In the United States and many European countries as well, we are coming up to the annual festival of the celebration of "All Hallows' Evening." Its roots go back to ancient pagan Celtic tradition Samhain (pronounced: Sah-ween) when villagers would light large outdoor fires and put on costumes to hide from and ward off roaming ghosts of spirits and the dead. The Research Center of the Library of Congress reports:

Feralia Feast

Feralia Feast

"It was the biggest and most significant holiday of the Celtic year. The Celts believed that at the time of Samhain, more so than any other time of the year, the ghosts of the dead were able to mingle with the living.i

The Celtic region included the area that is now modern Great Britain, France and Ireland. Also part of the pagan banquet was that animals and crops were placed in the bonfires as a sacrifice to the pagan gods. The conquest of the majority of Celtic lands by the Romans in 43 AD added additional pagan elements to the feast. One was Feralia, a late October festival wherein the Romans memorialized their dead. Second, was a day to sacrifice to the Roman goddess Pomona, the goddess of fruit and trees.



Bobbing for apples

Bobbing for apples

Pomona's symbol is the apple. To this day, apples are common in modern celebrations of this festival. The name of this festival has also been changed. It is no longer referred to as "All Hallows’ Evening." All know it by the name 'Halloween.'

The Divine Instruction regarding paganism

It should be immediately obvious that the members of the Eastern Church that then and now that make up the original Patriarchates in Africa, Eastern Europe, India and the Middle East would know nothing of this festival. Not so for the Church in the West. The Church could not stand by idly. In Old Testament Sacred Scripture we read the instructions God gave to His people through the mouth of Moses:

Soothsayers (Dn 3)

Soothsayers (Dn 3)

When thou art come into the land which the Lord thy God shall give thee, beware lest thou have a mind to imitate the abominations of those nations. Neither let there be found among you any one that shall expiate his son or daughter, making them to pass through the fire: or that consulteth soothsayers, or observeth dreams and omens, neither let there be any wizard, Nor charmer, nor any one that consulteth pythonic spirits, or fortune tellers, or that seeketh the truth from the dead. For the Lord abhorreth all these things, and for these abominations he will destroy them at thy coming. (Deut 18: 9-12)

The Theotokos

One of the fundamental teachings of Christ about salvation is in His words to Thomas during the priestly discourse at the Last Supper: "Jesus saith to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one cometh to the Father, except by Me." (Jn. 14:6) The Apostles themselves would go on to adapt Christ's teaching to the cultures and traditions they encountered as they evangelized in different parts of the world. St. Paul, for example would tell the pagan Athenians that the "unknown God" they worshiped was the God of the Christians. St Luke tells us St. Paul's words:

St. Paul preaching to the Athenians

St. Paul preaching to the Athenians

“Men, Athenians, I perceive how in all things ye are most religious. “For passing through and carefully observing the objects of your veneration, I also found an altar on which it had been written: ‘To an unknown God.’ Therefore since ye know not Whom ye reverence, I proclaim this One to you. “The God Who made the world and all things in it, this same One, being Lord of heaven and of earth, dwelleth not in temples made by hand; “neither is He being serviced to by the hands of men, as though in need of anything, because He Himself giveth to all life, and breath, in all respects" (Acts 17:22-25).

In emulation of the missionary ethos of St. Paul and the Apostles, a transition from the pagan festival of Samhain to a Christian feast started in 609 AD. Boniface IV, Patriarch of the West and Pope of Rome who inaugurated a Feast called All Martyrs Day. Pope Gregory III (731-741) added all saints of the Church to the martyrs and fixed the date to 01 Nov. Origins of the English word Halloween

The name of this feast in Middle English was Alholowmesse. Imbedded in this word is the modern word ‘hallow,’ which means holy. Thus, the meaning of the Feast is its name: the Feast of all the holy ones - all the saints. The evening before the Feast would be 'all-hollows eve' which in modern English becomes Halloween. The tie to the saints or souls that have fallenl asleep in the Lord, became further strengthened by the day after All-Saints Day, which in the West came to be called All-Souls’ day.

The Diaspora of the Eastern Church


In the 19th Century, immigration of Eastern Christians from the traditional areas they had long occupied into the geographic areas of the Western Church, intensified. Obviously, they did not find the Celtic pagan practices that had confronted the Church in the 7th Century, but they did find the residue of pagan practices as they have been transformed over time —-such as the modern Halloween Festival. So the question for Orthodox Christians is: how should they respond to the Halloween as it exists today?

Halloween Today

The Library of Congress Research Center [see Endnote i] beautifully summarizes current practice:


Virtually all present Halloween traditions can be traced to the ancient Celtic day of the dead. Halloween is a holiday of many mysterious customs, but each one has a history, or at least a story behind it. The wearing of costumes, for instance, and roaming from door to door demanding treats can be traced to the Celtic period and the first few centuries of the Christian era, when it was thought that the souls of the dead were out and around, along with fairies, witches, and demons. Offerings of food and drink were left out to placate them. As the centuries wore on, people began dressing like these dreadful creatures, performing antics in exchange for food and drink. This practice is called mumming, from which the practice of trick-or-treating evolved. To this day, witches, ghosts, and skeleton figures of the dead are among the favorite disguises. Halloween also retains some features that harken back to the original harvest holiday of Samhain, such as the customs of bobbing for apples and carving vegetables, as well as the fruits, nuts, and spices cider associated with the day.


Today Halloween is becoming once again and adult holiday or masquerade, like Mardi Gras. Men and women in every disguise imaginable are taking to the streets of big American cities and parading past grinningly carved, candlelit jack o'lanterns, re- enacting customs with a lengthy pedigree. Their masked antics challenge, mock, tease, and appease the dread forces of the night, of the soul, and of the otherworld that becomes our world on this night of reversible possibilities, inverted roles, and transcendency. In so doing, they are reaffirming death and its place as a part of life in an exhilarating celebration of a holy and magic evening.

How should Eastern Christians respond to modern Halloween?

The beautiful words of the commemoration of the Theotokos at the end of most of the Ektenias (Litanies) of the Church should be the ethos of our response: “… let us commend ourselves and each other, and all our life unto Christ our God." We can take a step toward the healing of society, our families and our children by taking what is at the core of our Orthodox Faith to transform Halloween from evil and superstition to the care of Our Ever-present God who opens us to His sanctification.

Gateway to Alternative Lifestyles not blessed at all

Gateway to Alternative Lifestyles not blessed at all

To accomplish this means removing anything ungodly from the celebration. This means unhealthy focusing and emphasis on cemeteries, devils, ghouls (a grave robber, an evil spirit or ghost), goblins, (a grotesque supernatural creature that makes trouble for living people), skeletons and alternative sexual lifestyles. If any Halloween practice contains as its spirit, as the Library report above states, "antics [that] challenge, mock, tease, and appease the dread forces of the night, of the soul. . . ." then they can clearly be seen as un-Godly. Some practices not only are an affront to God but dishonor our bodies that we are to care for and the love we must have for others. For example, wearing a costume that is pornographic, that is to say arouses lust and sexual desire, surely is disrespect to ourselves and those around us.

Psychological Caveats

Let me suggest a few guiding principles. Do not outright dismiss Halloween as many children become oppositional when given a stern, uncompromising, not understood, dictatorial: "No." Ask the children what they think Halloween means. Parents may then engage their children in conversation to suggest how they want to celebrate the festival. Children could be prompted to describe what they think are the true values of God: God is love and Goodness. Then, they could be asked what they think are the values of the evil one and his spirits.

Making Halloween healthy

The conversation with the child can move on to the question: "Can you love God and be on His side and with celebrating the evil spirits at the same time. Whose side do you want to be on?" If a family loved one has fallen asleep in the Lord, would they want to think of them as a ghoul, spirit in league with the evil one as depicted in Halloween costumes, or to be in God’s bosom. As the Christians of the first millennium transformed the pagan festivals to Christ-centered celebrations, parents can transform pagan Halloween into Christ-like joyous Halloween.

Keep Christ in Halloween

Making Halloween healthy

Any Halloween practice by Eastern (or any Christians), then, should contain Christ. A few suggestions are: Harvest Festival thanking God for the fruits of the Harvest (instead of appeasing evil forces). Offer age-appropriate “treats” to neighbors when Trick or Treating: offers to rake leaves, or pick up fly-away trash.

  • Icons or other Symbols placed on Pumpkins
  • Carving a Christian symbol on Pumpkins, especially the Cross.
  • Animal Cookies—-(Referencing the Creation narrative and the story of Noah in the Old Testament Book of Genesis, instead of sacrificing to the evil one)
  • Have a parish Halloween party or play. Especially featuring martyr saints and the holy monks who struggled against demonic aggravation. Both conquered by their adherence to Christ.
  • Psalm or Proverb Quotes Cards for Trick or Treaters
  • Sacred Scripture, patron saint or morally neutral costumes
  • Finally, let us meditate on Christ, who is the center of all things.

Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For in Him were all things created, the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or authorities. All things through Him and to Him have been created. And He is before all things, and in Him all things have come into existence. (Col. 1:15-17)



Date posted: October 23, 2012

Smart Parenting XVIII. Applying Christ’s Beatitudes to Parenting: Blessed Are the Merciful

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall find mercy. (Mt. 5:7)

St. Gregory of Nyssa (1954), the Church Father who has written such extensive Homilies on Christ's Beatitudes, instructs us that this Beatitude on mercy, among all of them, points us in a singular way to the core of who God is. He emphasizes that this "Beatitude is the property of God par excellence."

Praying for God's Mercy

Praying for God's Mercy

The saint then tells us of the challenge to us that is inherent in this spiritual perception. He asks:

If, therefore, the term "merciful" is suited to God, what else does the Word invite you to become but God, since you ought to model yourself on the property of the Godhead?

Once we have attained being merciful, then we are deemed worthy of Beatitude, because we have attained that which is characteristic of the Divine Nature. Mercy is one of God’s Divine characteristics that He has revealed to mankind. As the prophet David tells us: "All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth, to them that seek after his covenant and his testimonies." (Ps 24: 10). And in another psalm David cries out: "O Lord, thy mercy is in heaven, and thy truth reacheth, even to the clouds." (Ps 35: 6). This is beautifully described by St. Isaac of Syria, who in his 1st Ascetical Homily (Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 2011) tells us:

Do you wish to commune with God in your mind by receiving a perception of that delight . . .? Pursue mercy; for when something that is like unto God is found in you, then that holy beauty is depicted by Him. For the whole sum of the deeds of mercy immediately brings the soul into communion with the unity of the glory of the Godhead's splendor.

The source of mercy is God and His activity

It starts with the relation of the persons of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit among themselves. Staniloae (2003) describes this relationship as a "perfect community of supreme persons." Staniloae goes on to explain:

The Persons communicate their nature as an energy. Everything is an energy which is communicated from one person to another. Their love is perfect; they radiate their whole nature from one to the other.

Staniloae goes on to point out that this perfect love is not uniform, but rather unique to whom the Persons are themselves:

The Father loves the Son with an infinite parental sense, comforting Him with the unending sensitivity of a perfect Father, and the Son responds to this parental love with the filial sense of one who feels comforted by a perfect Father . . .the sensitivity of the Father for the Son assumes the hypostatical and comforting image of the Holy Spirit.

The place of the Holy Spirit in this 'community of persons' is best described by Bobrinskoy (1999) as "the place of unity between the Father and the Son." Bobrinskoy instructs us that from all eternity it is the Spirit in whom the Father tells the Son, as Prophet David tells us: "The Lord hath said to me: Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee." (Ps 2:7).

Vladimir Lossky (1978) tries to make this Divine Mystery of Love as comprehensible to us as is humanly possible given the limitations of our finite reasoning. He uses very concrete imagery to convey an understanding:

. . .all the Divine Names, which communicate to us the life common to the three, come to us from the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit. The Father is the source, the Son the manifestation, the Spirit the force which manifests. Thus the Father is the source of love, the Son, love which reveals itself, the Spirit, love realized in us. Or according to the admirable formula of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, the Father is crucifying love, the Son, love crucified, the Spirit, love triumphant. The Divine Names are the flow of the Divine Life whose source is the Father, shown to us by the Son and communicated to us by the Spirit.

The act of creation is an extension of this Divine Love outside of God's essence. Staniloae considers this a desire by God to "extend the gift of His infinite love."

St. Gregory the Theologian's understanding of mankind's application of God's Mercy

St. Gregory the Theologian

St. Gregory the Theologian

St. John of Kronstadt (2003) notes that St. Gregory the Theologian tells us that "no service is as pleasing to God as mercy." This is because mercy is most similar to God Himself who is merciful. Consider how many times in the various services of the Eastern Church the priest exclaims after a prayer: "For Thou art a merciful God and lovest mankind, unto Thee we ascribe glory: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: now and ever and unto ages of ages."

St. Gregory notes that God as the righteous Giver "showers" His love on all mankind. Consider God's mercy as spiritually perceived by St. Gregory (Daley, B.E. 2006):

This is how they are suffering, and much more miserably than I have said: our brothers and sisters before God (even if you prefer not to think so) who share the same nature with us, who have been put together from the same clay from which we first came, who are strung together with nerves and bones in the same way we are, who have put on flesh and skin like all of us, as holy Job says when reflecting on his sufferings and expressing contempt for our outward form. image of God in the same way you and I have, and perhaps preserve that image better than we, even if their bodies are corrupted; they have put on the same Christ in the inner person, and have been entrusted with the same pledge of the Spirit; they share in the same laws as we do, the same Scriptural teachings, the same covenants and liturgical gatherings, the same sacraments, the same hopes. Christ died for them as he did for us, taking away the sin of the whole world; they are heirs with us of the life to come, even if they have missed out on a great deal of life here on earth; they have been buried together with Christ, and have risen with him; if they suffer with him, it is so they may share in his glory.ii

St. Paul tells the Ephesians: ". . .but God, Who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us." (Eph. 2:4]) Thus, if we are to be Godly and reflect Christ, it behooves us to show love and mercy for all mankind.

St. Gregory of Nyssa's understanding of mercy to be practiced by mankind

The woman caught in adultery

The Woman Caught in Adultery

St. Gregory sees mercy "as the opposite of cruelty." To practice mercy, individuals must be softened in soul. Psychologists would consider this understanding to be related to empathy. Empathy is the ability to think and feel what the other is thinking and feeling. (Morelli, 2005). It is only when fostering this ability that mankind can apply mercy, that is to say, attempt to heal the ills of others.

Spiritually, mercy is related to compassion. Morelli, 2005 notes: "Compassion is the deep awareness of the suffering of others coupled with the desire to relieve it." He goes on to say: "Compassion is a precursor of love (agape). Love is what we do for the good and welfare of others. How can we love, how can we work for the good and welfare of others, if we are not aware of their suffering nor have a desire to relieve it? We love others only if we can first sense their needs." God's love is called ‘agape.’ The basic understanding of love as agape is that it is an attitude, a heartfelt intention and a set of actions that are aimed at the good and welfare of the other.

The Orthodox Services and God's Mercy

One need go no further than the ordinary prayers, such as Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, Liturgy of the Hours, the Divine Liturgy and other services in the Eastern Church, to meet the phrase that God, our God is a God of Mercy. The transliteration of the Greek word for mercy is eleosi. The never-ending cry in the Church and prayerful petition in Greek is Kyrie eleison, rendered in as English Lord have mercy. The importance of this petition cannot be overestimated. A few examples from the Divine Liturgy: At the Prothesis, the great hidden offering of the bread and wine to be confected by the Holy Spirit into the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ and be offered to the Father starts with the priest praying "O God, be gracious unto me a sinner, and have mercy on me;" when this same prayer is said right before receiving the Eucharist; when the numerous Ektenias (Litanies) whose petition response is "Lord have mercy” are prayed; when, immediately before the Lord's Prayer, the priest turns toward the assembly and, blessing them with the hand Blessing Cross, says: "And the mercies of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ be with you all." Finally, at the end of the Liturgy when, as the rubrics of the Antiochian Archdiocese state:

The Priest stands on the lowest step of the stairs before the Holy Doors with the hand Cross in his left hand, and gives the people the Antidoron [blessed bread] with his right saying meanwhile:

The blessing of the Lord and His mercy come upon you; always: now and ever unto ages of ages. Amen

The mercy of God is referenced in the beginning and at the end. "Lord have mercy."

The Jesus Prayer

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector

No discussion of God's mercy in terms of Orthodoxy could be had without reference to The Jesus Prayer. It is central to the spirituality of the Eastern Church. It is composed of a single line: "Lord Jesus .Christ Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner," The seed of this prayer is first found in the prayer of the tax collector in Christ's Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. Luke's (18:13) “And the tax collector, having stood afar off, was not willing even to lift up his eyes to the heaven, but kept beating upon his breast, saying, ‘God, be gracious to me the sinner.’"

Theologically, this prayer reflects the Orthodox understanding of Christ's redemptive crucifixion that "it is not the anger of God the Father but His love that lies behind the sacrificial death of His Son on the Cross." (Alfeyev, 2002).

Furthermore the prayer is Trinitarian. St. Philotheos of Sinai tells us that "through remembrance of Jesus Christ . .the intellect grows lucid in its radiant contemplation of God and of Divine realities." (Philokalia III). How this takes place is made more explicit by St. Hesychios the Priest:

The Holy of Holies

The Holy of Holies

. . .invoking Jesus Christ . . . .You will then attain a vision of the Holy of Holies and be illumined by Christ with deep mysteries. For in Christ 'the treasures of wisdom and knowledge' are hidden, and in Him 'the fulness of the Godhead dwells bodily' (Col 2: 3,9)” (Philokalia I).

The implicit Trinitarian ethos of the Jesus Prayer can be emphasized by focusing on the word Christ-Messiah, the one sent by the Father as an act of selfless love. As St Paul tells us:

Who, existing in the form of God, deemed it not a prize to be seized to be equal with God; but He emptied Himself and took the form of a slave, and came to be in the likeness of men. And having been found in fashion as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient even to death—indeed, the death of a cross. Wherefore God also exalted Him exceedingly, and freely gave to Him a name that is above every name, that in the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth; and every tongue should confess for itself that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:6-11).

Icon of the Theophany at Jesus Baptism

Icon of the Theophany

The Sonship of Jesus, the Christ, was confirmed by the Holy Spirit at Jesus Baptism, as St. Matthew (3:16,17) records: "And Jesus, having been baptized, went up straightway from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and coming upon Him. And behold, there came to be a voice out of the heavens, saying, “This is My Son, the Beloved, in Whom I am well pleased.” Also not to be lost in St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians is the focus on the name "Jesus" itself. St Cyril of Alexandria's commentary on St. Luke (2: 21b) (Orthodox New Testament, 2004) tells us of the significance of this name: "He received His name, even Jesus, which by interpretation signifies, the Salvation of the people. For so had God the Father willed.”

Christ's Parable on mercy: The Good Samaritan

The Good Samaritan

The Good Samaritan

Most Christians are, I pray, quite familiar with Christ's Parable of the Good Samaritan.ii The important points to be noted are that the man beaten by the robbers was most probably a Jew. The two person's passing by who offered no aid were Jews themselves. One, a priest and another male member of the tribe of Levi, a Levite who would serve as an assistant to the temple priests. Samaritans were considered a mixture of peoples following the Torah, but also following pagan practices. As the writer of the Book of Kings (2Kg 17: 32-37) tells us: "And nevertheless they worshipped the Lord. And they made to themselves, of the lowest of the people, priests of the high places, and they placed them in the temples of the high places. And when they worshipped the Lord, they served also their own gods according to the custom of the nations out of which they were brought to Samaria: Unto this day they followed the old manner: they fear not the Lord, neither do they keep his ceremonies, and judgments, and law, and the commandment, which the Lord commanded the children of Jacob, whom he surnamed Israel."

However, it was the Samaritan not the two Jews, members of God's chosen people, who offered aid, that is to say, showed mercy to the injured traveler. The lesson from this parable is obvious. No one should decline to offer mercy should be mercy be declined to anyone in need. It terms of mercy there should be no ethnic, legal, political, sex-gender or societal boundaries. Mercy is for all and should be by all.

Mercy in action

First let's consider the commentary of St. John Chrysostom on Blessed are the merciful:

Here He seems to me to speak not of those only who show mercy in giving of money, but those likewise who are merciful in their actions. For the way of showing mercy is manifold, and this commandment is broad. What then is the reward thereof? “For they shall obtain mercy.” And it seems indeed to be a sort of equal recompense, but it is a far greater thing than the act of goodness. For whereas they themselves show mercy as men, they obtain mercy from the God of all; and it is not the same thing, man’s mercy, and God’s; but as wide as is the interval between wickedness and goodness, so far is the one of these removed from the other.iii

Jesus saving the fearful Peter (Mt 14: 27-31)

Jesus saving the fearful Peter (Mt 14: 27-31)

There is no better place to practice and teach the practice of mercy than to follow the well known listing of corporal and spiritual works of mercy found in Christian traditioniv:

The chief corporal works of mercy:
To feed the hungry
To give drink to the thirsty
To cloth the naked
To ransom captives
To shelter the homeless
To visit the sick
To bury the dead

The chief spiritual works of mercy:
To admonish the sinner
To instruct the ignorant
To counsel the doubtful
To comfort the sorrowful
To suffer wrongs patiently
To forgive injuries
To pray for the living and the dead

An example of a corporal mercy in action program
A good example of a mercy in action program is the Fellowship of Orthodox Christians United to Serve (FOCUS).v Their expressed vision is to experience and reveal "the Kingdom of God in North America “on earth as in heaven.”" The group sees their mission "as an expression of Christ’s love." Their mission statement is written in the form of the Corporal Works of Mercy: "FOCUS North America serves the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned by providing Food, Occupation, Clothing, Understanding, and Shelter." This ministry is accomplished by social action groups, social welfare agencies, professionals and volunteers dedicated to this service. FOCUS also aids parishes and various Orthodox groups "with the education, resources and training needed to initiate social action ministries in their own communities." I can personally attest to the effectiveness of this program in my hometown San Diego area. Orthodox families, youth groups and entire parishes have volunteered in this diaconia.

Antiochian Department of Pastoral Counseling

Antiochian Department of Pastoral Counseling

Other corporal mercy service ministries are available to individuals, families and parishes as well. Coming to mind are the Orthodox Prison Ministryvi and various parish nursing ministriesvii The Department of Chaplain and Pastoral Counseling of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America functions as an Orthodox psycho-spiritual resource for clergy, laity and professionals in applying the works of mercy.viii

Practicing the Spiritual Works of Mercy

Prayer and spirituality make up the core of the Spiritual Works of Mercy. Both prayer and enlivening the ethos of Christ's spiritual teachings can be practiced as individuals, in families, parishes, geographically local groups of parishes and jurisdictional assemblies. However, there are some examples of Fellowships and Brotherhoods that exist to support these practices as well. The 'St. Philip's Prayer Discipline' initiated in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America "exists to provide a daily balanced rule of prayer for those who wish to deepen their spiritual life and to learn to pray as the faithful have done for generations and generations."ix The straightforward goal of the Prayer Discipline "is to teach us to pray diligently and effectively so as to enhance our spiritual lives and to fortify us, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to persevere unto our life's end." Other specialized groups also sponsor prayer fellowships. In Communion, an organization focusing on peace, and the Orthodox Christian Fellowship (geared to college and university students) are notable examples.x Also, many individual parishes have formed prayer-groups.

It should also be noted that various vocations (and even when looked at as secular professions) are dedicated to comforting, counseling, and educating. Certainly the Holy Priesthood is the ultimate example. However, the various educational, medical and social service occupations can be easily dedicated to this spiritual diaconia.

Principles of applying mercy

"...and for all."

Jesus, Lord of all

Jesus, Lord of all

Certain principles should be kept in mind in practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. First is to apply to the giving of mercy, the words of the priest prays during the Anaphora of the Divine Liturgy, that it is to be given: "on the behalf of all and for all." Applying mercy is one area in which there is complete inclusiveness. From no one, saint-sinner; perpetrator-victim; gay-straight; citizen-illegal immigrant; while-black; young-old Orthodox-Non-Orthodox— can mercy be withheld. It is by being merciful to all that we correctly apply the Mind of Christ and His Church, as told to us by St. Paul: "For as many as were baptized into Christ, ye put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male and female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus." (Gal. 3:27, 28)

This Orthodox understanding is in sharp contrast to the man-made, Protestant and secular argument applying these words of St. Paul to justify, for example, changing the original text of Sacred Scripture to inclusive language or supporting a feminist agenda such as women's ordination. These words have always been understood by Christ's One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic and Orthodox Church to be a 'call to sanctity to all mankind."

Mercy starts in the home

Jesus at the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus

Jesus at the home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus

Also keep in mind that applying mercy has to start with those most immediately around us. For most this means family, friends, parishioners and members of one's community. It is important to model mercy to those around us. It could mean something as simple as a merciful comment about, and prayer for, any that may be involved in some horrific tragedy that may be in the current news media. (Morelli, 2006). It must be emphasized however, that the genuine needs of all mankind throughout the world must never be left out in our thoughts, prayers and actions. Especially in today's world, mankind is truly a global community.

Real mercy centers on real needs

Christ Healing the Paralytic

Christ Healing the Paralytic

We must focus on the true and diverse needs of all and be able to prioritize their real needs. Jesus did cure the physical illness of the paralytic, but His concern was for the paralytic's spiritual wellbeing. This can easily be seen in reflecting on Jesus' words after the cure: “Behold, thou hast become well; no longer go on sinning, lest a worse thing should befall thee.” (Jn. 5:14)

Extending ourselves

Crises, emergencies, needfulness and tragedies do not usually happen on a planned time schedule. Very often they may occur at the most inconvenient of times. Individuals with different personalities have different degrees of adaptability to such unplanned occurrences. To give a personal example, I carefully plan my activities, usually in great detail, and find it hard to deviate from my planned task schedule, etc. However, this may be the cross Christ is asking me and some of us to pick up and bear at this time. The Good Samaritan mentioned above most probably did not expect to come upon someone in crises and would have to adapt his plans to tend to the suffering man, but he did so.

Mercy: out of agape and respect for all, as we are made in God's image

St. Paul preaching to the Athenians

St. Paul Preaching to the Athenians

Here resounds the words of St. Paul: "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but I have not love, I have become as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And if I dole out all of my goods, and if I deliver up my body that I may be burned, but I have not love, I am being profited nothing." (1Cor. 13:1,3. Implied in St. Paul's understanding of any act that from a worldly perspective would appear 'good' is that if such an act is to rise above worldly 'goodness' to Godliness, it must be motivated by the selfless, kenotic love that is Godly love, or agape. For example, acts of philanthropy and social service and the works of the helping professions, mentioned above, are good, but must be motivated, enlivened by Christly love. As St. Paul told the Romans: ". . .for the love of God hath been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who was given to us. For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly."(Rm 5:5,6) Furthermore, we must see that the recipient of any merciful act has dignity as a creature composed of body and soul, made in God's image and called to be like Him, just as we ourselves are. All are worthy of Godly respect, never belittlement or condescension.



ii "And behold, a certain doctor of the law stood up, tempting Him, and saying, “Teacher, by having done what shall I inherit eternal life?” And He said to him, “In the law what hath been written? How readest thou?” And he answered and said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.” And He said to him, “Thou didst answer rightly; be doing this, and thou shalt live.” But he, wishing to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” And taking it up, Jesus said, “A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, who both stripped him and laid blows upon him, and went away, leaving him, as it happened, half-dead. “Now, by a coincidence, a certain priest was going down on that road. And having seen him, he passed by on the opposite side. “And in like manner also a Levite, having come to be by the place, came and saw him, and passed by on the opposite side. “But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came down to him; and having seen him, he was moved with compassion. “And he drew near and bound up his wounds, pouring over oil and wine; and he put him upon his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. “And on the morrow, after he came forth, he took out two denarii, and gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatsoever thou shalt spend besides, on my coming back, I will repay thee.’ “Which then of these three seemeth to thee to have proved to be a neighbor of the one who fell among the robbers?” And he said, “The one who rendered mercy in dealing with him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go on thy way, and be thou doing in like manner.” (Lk. 10:25-37)


iv (From A Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians (Antiochian Archdiocese, popularly known as "The Little Red Prayerbook")






x; programs/day-of-prayer.aspx


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Bobrinskoy, B. (1999). The Mystery of the Trinity: Trinitarian experience and vision in the biblical and Patristic Tradition. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

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Holy Transfiguration Monastery. (ed., trans.). (2011). The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian (revised, 2nd edition). Boston, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery.

Lossky, V. (1977). Orthodox Theology, An Introduction. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

Morelli, G. (2005, August 29). Compassion and love.

Morelli, G. (2006, September 24). Smart Parenting IV: Cuss Control.

The Orthodox New Testament. (2004). Buena Vista, CO: Holy Apostles Convent.

St. Gregory of Nyssa. (1954). The Lord's Prayer, The Beatitudes. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press.

St. John of Kronstadt. (2003). Ten homilies on the Beatitudes. Albany, NY: Cornerstone Editions.

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Date posted: October 4, 2012

Chaplain’s Corner. Resilience: The Key to Catastrophe Management

Chaplain's Corner
Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California

There are many unexpected and sudden difficult challenges that individuals have to face in modern life Many of these may be considered life-changing experiences. Such events may include, for example, abrupt acute-chronic illness, accidental injury, serious financial adversity, sudden unemployment and/or loss of home, severe family-marriage difficulties. Strong dysfunctional emotions such as anger, anxiety depression and a profound sense of dread are often common reactions.

Developing a healthy psycho-spiritual management resilience and hardiness strategies are helpful when coping with such catastrophes. Resilience is a psychological process of adaptation in the face of obstacles, trauma, tragedy and stress that is related to good emotional, physical and spiritual health.

One of the resilience strategies favored by scientific cognitive clinical psychologists is the unconditional acceptance of self, others, and the vicissitudes of life. Two essential cognitive shifts are involved in this process. First, framing choices as preferences by using phrases such as "would like,” rather than considering choices as demands by using words that imply “must,” and second, evaluating realistically, that is, seeing the untoward events as less than 100% bad, instead of consistently over-evaluating by labeling them "terrible, awful or the end of the world, more than 100%." Nothing, after all, can be more than 100%.

Looking at Old Testament Sacred Scripture, Esta Mirani asks: "could we understand Exodus as God taking the Jewish People on a journey from weak to strong, from downtrodden to resilient?" She goes on to conclude: "a deeper reading of Exodus is that God guides us on developing personal strength and resiliency. We can persist and overcome adversity and oppression, and achieve security and a sense of well-being.

A great spiritual lesson in resilience can be learned from Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite Woman as described by St. Matthew (15: 21-28). The Canaanite woman came to Jesus crying, "Have pity upon me Son of David!" She wanted a cure for her possessed daughter. It is the only occasion on which Jesus was ever outside of Jewish territory, in the land of Tyre and Sidon north of Galilee where the hated Phoenicians, the enemies of the Jews, lived. At first, Jesus ignored her. But this did not stop her. She acknowledged Him as "Son of David." She was persistent and did not let obstacles - the insults of others - stop her.

Our Eastern Church Father St. John Chrysostom asked, "Was she silent and did she desist? By no means, she was even more insistent." St. John Chrysostom pointed out that Jesus knew she would say this. Jesus, he said, wanted to "exhibit her high self- command." (Homily LII, on St. Matthew XV).

This ‘high self-command” means that she is tough and resilient, and takes responsibility to overcome barriers; one characteristic of resilience and hardiness is taking decisive action. Like her, we have to start by making a choice, even against all odds. We have to be committed despite all who mock us and to stay loving in the face of those who reject our love or even hate us. Grace is a gift of God, but we must cooperate with it. "These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full," (John 15:11).

To follow the Canaanite woman's lead we, too, must be committed to God with all our heart, must be realistically persistent, tenacious, stubborn, undiscourageable and joyful. If we do this, we will prepare ourselves to survive catastrophe by wearing the armor of resilience.


i thoughts-dr-esfrom

Date posted: October 4, 2013

Islam and the Closing of the Secular Mind

Given the decidedly strange response of the Obama Administration and much of the Western commentariat to the violence sweeping the Islamic world, one temptation is to view their reaction as simple incomprehension in the face of the severe unreason that leads some people to riot and kill in a religion's name. But while the Administration's response has plenty to do with trying to defend a foreign policy that has plainly gone south, it also reflects something far more problematic: the Western secular mind's increasing inability to think seriously and coherently about religion at all.

This problem manifests itself in several ways. The first is the manner in which many secular thinkers seem to regard all religions as "basically the same." By this, they often mean either equally irrational or as promoting essentially similar values.

A moment's reflection would indicate to even the most militant atheist that this simply isn't true. Islam and Christianity, for instance, have very different understandings of who Jesus Christ is. Christians believe that he is God, the second Person of the Trinity. Muslims do not. Ergo, Islam and Christianity are not effectively the same. At their respective cores are fundamentally irreconcilable theological positions. It's also very difficult to find robust affirmations of free will outside Judaism and Christianity (at least the orthodox varieties of these two faiths).

Likewise, as any informed Muslim will tell you, Islamic theology has no real equivalent of the Christian idea of the church. The Greek word for "church" (ekklesia) literally means to be "called out." That, alongside Christ's words about the limits to Caesar's power, had immense implications for how Christians think about the state and its relationship to religion. Among other things, it means Christianity has always maintained significant distinctions between the temporal and the spiritual realms that are far less perceptible — again, as any pious Muslim will inform you — in Islamic theology and history.

All this, however, is a little complicated for those secular intellectuals who simply regard religion as just another lifestyle-choice rather than being essentially about people's natural desire to (1) know the truth about the transcendent and (2) live their lives in accordance with such truths.

That's why the left talks so much today about "freedom of worship" (as if your faith-decisions are akin to choosing which mall you shop at) and are trying to peddle a version of religious lib