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The Science of Spiritual Medicine

Orthodox Psychotherapy in Action

The Science of Spiritual Medicine consists of the basic chapters on healing from two books in Greek (which have not been translated into English) entitled Therapeutic Treatment and Discussions on Orthodox Psychotherapy. The author has reorganised the chapters and made various additions and modifications in response to contemporary reality.


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In the first chapter of the book, also entitled “The Science of Spiritual Medicine”, the author analyses the content of Canon 102 of the Quinisext Ecumenical Council (Constantinople, 692). He clarifies its medical terminology and therapeutic character, and explains why the pastoral ministry, which is a complete spiritual science, is linked with man’s healing and identified with it.

Neither Orthodox theology nor the Orthodox Church is an ideology or a philosophy, but a means of healing. According to the teaching of St Gregory Palamas, theology is theoria, the vision of God. The holy Fathers, as spiritual physicians, indicate and describe a method or healing, a therapeutic method. All the faculties and energies of the soul ought to be referred to Christ and turned towards Him. This therapeutic method is known as hesychasm. It is the basis and end of all Orthodox theology.

Chapter 5 of Part I, “Metaphysics and Theology”, is a tape-recorded talk given by the author to students of the Balamand Theological College of the Patriarchate of Antioch, in Northern Lebanon. The author comments that “the only scientific way to approach theological issues is through the saints”. The holy Fathers show us how, from a state of illness and darkening of the nous, a person can progress through purification and illumination to reach spiritual health and deification.

The difference between Orthodox psychotherapy and every other kind of psychotherapy, whether Western or Eastern, is defined and demonstrated. Orthodox psychotherapy is not just a method but the life of the Church, through which a person acquires communion with God and other people.

In the chapter, “Psychosomatic Illnesses”(Chapter 7 of Part I), questions relating to the spiritual illness of the soul, psychological-emotional and neurobiological and physical illnesses are addressed. The author emphasizes the need for great discernment and wisdom in identifying the mutual interaction that may exist between these types of illness, and notes that when the nous is not functioning correctly it cannot direct either the soul or the body.

In Part 2 of the book, “Illness and the Passions”, Metropolitan Hierotheos discusses how the passions and spiritual illnesses that so torment people are healed within the Orthodox Church. Inner disorders, which begin with the darkening of the nous and spread to the soul and body, also have consequences for society and indeed the whole of creation.

The author explains how a person can be set free from spiritual “self-sufficiency”(Part 2, Chapter 2), which he describes as a great illusion, and from despair of salvation, which afflicts many people nowadays and is the work of demons. He shows us how to acquire courage, that is to say, complete hope in the mercy of God (Part 2, Chapter 3).

Specific reference is made to “self-love”, the mother of all the passions; “envy”, which consumes the soul; “self-indulgence”, which produces suffering and sorrow; “fantasy and imagination”, which distort the whole spiritual life. The author mentions methods of healing. He writes about “self-denial”, love for God and for other people, true repentance (“godly sorrow”), which destroys sensual pleasure. He clarifies the difference between the imaginative faculty, which is a natural power of the soul, and fantasy and imagination, which he regards as “an efficient conductor of satanic energy”, and lead to self-deification. Ways of getting rid of fantasy and imagination and being set free from them are identified. (Part 2, Chapters 3 to 6.)

The teaching of the holy Fathers on dreams is set out (Part 2, Chapter 7), as well as the distorting consequences they have for man and the way in which we should deal with them. The distinction between dreams and visions is explained.

The chapter, “The Problem of Suffering” (Part 2, Chapter 8) discusses the cause of suffering and trials in our lives, what spiritual benefits they bring, and how we should deal with suffering and pain in our everyday lives.

In “The Devil and His Wiles” (Part 2, Chapter 9), we read about the devil’s personality; the different types of demons; against whom the devil fights and in what way (the devil’s tactics); and how we can confront and overcome him.

Part 3, entitled “Healing”, describes how a person’s healing is achieved within the Orthodox Church. The teaching of St Silouan the Athonite and St Gregory Palamas on the healing of the soul is set out. The saints, as scientific experts, define with great accuracy the exact meaning of the soul’s healing and health (Part 3, Chapter 1 and 2).

The concept of “Spiritual Health” is discussed, together with the definition of a spiritually healthy person (Part 3, Chapter 3). There is a chapter on “Spiritual Tuning”, which explains how someone can attune his nous and turn it towards God (Part 3, Chapter 4).

The chapter, “The Priest as Healer According to St Gregory the Theologian” (Part 3, Chapter 5), stresses that the priesthood is not simply a ceremonial task but above all a therapeutic science. It underlines that the task of healing people must be done “scientifically”, because in accordance with the Orthodox therapeutic method the same medicine is not beneficial to all.

The value of the sacred Canons and their role within the Church is identified in “Spiritual Fatherhood and the Sacred Canons” (Part 3, Chapter 6). It shows how the discerning spiritual father should use the sacred Canons and what qualities he should possess. The importance of obedience to our spiritual father, who heals us and guides us to salvation, is explained.

The meaning of “spiritual priesthood” and how it differs from “sacramental priesthood” is analysed in the chapter, “Spiritual Priesthood and the Remission of Sins” (Part 3, Chapter 7), as well as what is meant by the remission of sins and how monks who are not priests can assist in this work.

The chapter entitled, “Bringing up Children according to St John Chrysostom” (Part 3, Chapter 8), is an essential aid for parents and those involved in nurturing children. Subjects covered include the purpose of marriage, the presence of children in the family, how children should be brought up, and bringing up children in the Church. It is striking that St John Chrysostom’s views on bringing up children are entirely relevant to our day and correspond closely to the views of contemporary experts on child rearing.

There is a specific chapter on “Idleness and Work” (Part 3, Chapter 9), in which attention is drawn to the value of physical and spiritual work, and the importance of combining the two, because despondency and indifference paralyse both body and soul, and are disastrous for the spiritual life.

Part 4, “Fruits of Healing”, includes texts that will assist the reader, texts that refer to people who have been healed – who have experienced healing in their personal lives.

In “Divine Providence” (Part 4, Chapter 1), we see that God personally directs the world for the sole purpose of man’s salvation. Trust in God and faith in His providence even help us to overcome death.

As we read the chapters, “Preparing for and Experiencing Easter” and “Celebrating Spiritual Renewal According to St Gregory the Theologian” (Part 4, Chapters 2 and 3), we learn how a Christian can renew his heart, his personal life, so as to live his own personal renewal and experience Easter. Reference is made to the social dimension of the Paschal Feast and the participation of nature in the Feast of Renewal.

In “Noble Joseph” (Part 4, Chapter 4) we admire the greatness of the chaste Joseph and see why he is regarded as a type of Christ. By the way in which he faced so many trials, we recognise the Orthodox way of dealing with our own temptations, particularly carnal ones.

The chapter, “Saint Macrina” (Part 4, Chapter 5) presents the ascetic life of a holy woman. Particular emphasis is placed on the way in which the saint confronted the various trials in her life and faced her own death.

In the chapter “Overcoming Death” (Part 4, Chapter 6), the author describes a life in which death does not exist, and bears witness to the fact that a blessed man – Metropolitan Kallinikos of Edessa – truly lived the overcoming of death.

And finally, in “Deification and the Deified” (Part 4, Chapter 7), the author explains what deification is and how man can acquire communion and union with God. He explains the conditions for attaining to theoria (vision) of God, the stages and degrees of deification, and the participation of the body during theoria. It is emphasized that the spiritual life is a continuous movement towards the perfection of Christ, and that, “No one can assert that it is impossible to attain to deification… the hope of deification ought… to be our basic aim.”

This book is designed to present the true purpose of man’s life – salvation and deification. And in doing so, it seeks to help the reader to understand that it is only through the therapeutic method and science of the Orthodox Church – through the science of spiritual medicine – that we are given the opportunity to be saved.