Orthodoxy Today
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.”” [http://www.religionnews.com/2014/10/27/pope-francis-evolution-inconsistent-notion-creation/]. 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. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/OT/view/healing-society-revisiting-witnessing-christ-in-a-secular-age.)


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

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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: December 2, 2014

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