The Church as a Therapeutic Center: Textbooks on Cure4 June 2015
Man’s cure is achieved by God’s energy and man’s synergy. The Grace of God is offered to man in the sacraments of the Church. In the Catechismal period man is cleansed from the passions tormenting him; with the sacrament of Baptism he becomes a member of the Body of Christ; with Chrismation he becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit; with Holy Communion he partakes of the Body and Blood of Christ. Of course, his own cooperation is required for the Grace of God to be activated.
The Church has certain textbooks on cure that demonstrate what exactly the cure is and how it is achieved. There one finds the task of the clerics. Three typical textbooks on cure are the following:
First, the Holy Scripture. Through the Old and the New Testament man learns the will of God, which he must apply in his life. According to recent research, the first three Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) are actually catechism companions for the Church. The Catechumens were taught from these Gospels what Christian faith is and how to rid themselves of the rule of the devil. The fourth Gospel (John) is for the baptized ones, to learn the perfection of life in Christ. On the other hand, it is known that the epistles of the Apostles gave answers to topics of concern to local churches of the first period.
Therefore, Holy Scripture is a textbook on cure from which man is taught what illness and health are, how cure is achieved, and how to attain union with God. Of course, the Holy Scripture has to be interpreted from within the Orth-odox church tradition. If it is not part of the church atmosphere, it does not help man to be saved, but rather encloses him within the limits of selfishness, as we observe in the use of the Holy Scripture by various heretics in our days.
What happens with Holy Scripture is similar to what happens with medical textbooks. For someone to learn to operate on various parts of the human body, it is not sufficient to read and memorize a textbook. He must contact the author-doctor, be trained by him on this task. and himself be a surgeon. If he does not study the textbook in this context, he will soon lead people to the cemetery. The same happens with Holy Scripture. To comprehend it and use it for our therapy, we require the knowledge of God as revealed to the Prophets and the Apostles, or at least the knowledge of the Fathers who interpret the Holy Scripture according to the Church. Then we are certain that Holy Scripture cures man.
Texts of the rites constitute a second textbook on cure. The rites of the Church play an important role in the transformation of man’s personality and his rebirth. During the rites, especially the Divine Liturgy, man opens his heart to God and to the suffering of the whole world, since he prays for all kinds of people; he feels the Church as the Body of Christ and receives the Grace and blessing of God.
In the texts of the services, it is clear that the Church is a therapeutic center, Christ is our healer, and the deeper task and purpose of the Church is to heal man who is wounded by sin. In the prayers read by the priest in the Vespers it is said: “Be charitable to us, physician and therapist of our souls. Guide us to the port of your will. Illumine the eyes of our hearts to the knowledge of your truth . . .” In the Matins, while the reader reads the six Psalms, the priest reads twelve prayers. Among these, he prays as in confession: “Lord, have mercy, according to your great mercy, on us who have fallen to many and grave misdemeanors, and blot out our transgressions according to the multitude of thy tender mercies; for we have sinned to you, O Lord, you who know the unspoken and secrets of men’s hearts and have the sole power to remit sins. You, who have created in us a clean heart, and upheld us by a free spirit, and made known to us the joy of thy salvation, cast us not away from thy presence . . .” In another prayer of the Matins the priest prays: “ . . . merciful and all-powerful God. Shine in our heart the true Sun of your justice, illumine our nous and uphold all our senses, so that, as in a day, respectfully walking in the path of your commandments, we reach eternal life.”
In these prayers we see the aim of the Church, which is its deeper purpose. It is the cure of man and his guidance to the uncreated Light, to union with God. The purpose of man’s existence is deification.
All Church hymns refer to cure. They ask for God’s mercy, salvation, which is not an abstract condition and the soul’s exit from the body, but the coming of the Grace of God to the heart. Most hymns of the Church are confessional. Let me cite one of them:
My whole life sinful, my soul lustful the body full of dirt, the nous impure, the deeds all defiled, I am fully responsible for condemnation and conviction. Where shall I turn now? where shall I go if not to you? Our Lady have mercy and come to my salvation.
The third textbook on cure is the Prayer book of the Church. This is a book containing the texts and the order of the Church sacraments, as well as many other prayers used by the priest in his pastoral service. Reading the Prayer book carefully, one can see that the Grace of God takes over man from his birth to his death and is personally interested in him. There are prayers to be read right after birth, then man becomes part of the Body of the Church by Holy Baptism; if he leaves the Church, Grace brings him back by the sacrament of repentance; Grace is present in his wedding and follows him in all his activities until his sleep and beyond. In the Prayer book it is clear that the Church is personally interested in each man.
All these textbooks show that the Church is a Hospital-therapeutic center that cures man. We can see all its work in this perspective. If we have a different view of the Church, then we have in mind a secular Church that does not save man. Instead, it holds him captive to the conditions and circumstances of the fallen world.
This article was originally published by the Monastery of St. John, www.monasteryofstjohn.org, in The Divine Ascent Vol. 3/4.
This and other publications can be found
on their bookstore website, www.stjohnsbookstore.com.
This article was posted here with permission.