Orthodoxy Today
Maintaining our Moral Compass

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

The foundation of "synergy" (the cooperation of man with God) is recorded in the book of Genesis: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over all the earth ..." (Genesis 1:26). McGuckin (2004) noted that several Greek Fathers defined the term "image" to mean "mankind's dominion over the created order." St. Maximus the Confessor, for example, understood intellect as an attribute of the image of God in man. "Naturally endowed with the holiness of the Divine Image, the intelligence urges the soul to conform itself by its own free choice to the divine likeness" (Philokalia II). St. Maximus’ understanding is that grace builds on nature and that we are made in God’s image and are required to use our intelligence in maintaining our moral compass, healing our infirmities and diseases and enhancing our spiritual health. (Morelli, 2006).

St. Isaac of Syria (Wensinck, 1923) presents us with an image of life hazed over by the absence of God: “…just as the radiance of the sun is hidden from the earth by thick clouds ... and an unusual darkness falls upon his spirit.… For, as the face of the earth is gladdened by the rays of the sun when the dense atmosphere is torn asunder, so the words of prayer are able to tear away and to remove from the soul the dark cloud … and illuminate the spirit…which is born in our deliberations.” The term ‘deliberate’ means: “To think carefully and often slowly, as about a choice to be made, to consult with another or others in a process of reaching a decision, to consider (a matter) carefully and often slowly, as by weighing alternatives.”

Consider how applicable are the words of St. Peter to secular values and practices which surround us in the modern world: “Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). After citing this scriptural passage, our holy spiritual father St. Symeon the New Theologian (Philokalia IV) wrote: “To speak generally, it is impossible to acquire all the other virtues except through watchfulness.” Later St. Symeon developed the point further: “…the intellect repulses all distractive thoughts that encircle the heart, attempting to get in, and it rebuffs them through attentiveness.”

The early fathers of the Eastern Christian Church talked about nepsis which is vigilance and watchfulness of the mind and heart. For Orthodox Christians, mindfulness not only means the human activity of clear attention and dispelling of distorted thinkingi, but also cutting away that which is ungodly and attending to what is Godly. Hausherr, (1990) taught that nepsis is “wakefulness, attention, from the Greek verb nepho (to be vigilant, mindful.”). Thus, we have to be completely “present” to our thoughts and surroundings. This is not dissimilar to a military scout at the head of a column, or a busy parent “attending” to their newborn infant.


Hausherr, I. (1990). Spiritual Direction in the Early Christian East. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications. McGuckin, J.A. (2004). The Westminster Handbook to Patristic Theology. Louisville, KT: Westminster John Knox Press.

Morelli, G. (2006, December 21. The Ethos of Orthodox Christian Healing. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/OT/view/morelli-the-ethos-of-orthodox-christian-healing

Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (1981). The Philokalia, Volume 2: The Complete Text; Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain & St. Makarios of Corinth. London: Faber and Faber.

Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (Eds.). (1995). The Philokalia,: The Complete Text; Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain & St. Makarios of Corinth. (Vol. 4). London: Faber and Faber.

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

Fr. George Morelli

V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist.

Be sure to visit Fr. Morelli's new site Orthodox Healing  for the latest essays and information.

Published: July 6, 2010

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