The Church as a Therapeutic Center: The Therapy of the Soul1 June 2015
The subject of the therapy of the soul is extremely important for the Orthodox Church because it expresses the essence of spiritual life. Before elaborating on this crucial topic, I would like to give some introductory explanations.
First, when discussing the therapy of the soul, we do not believe in dualism, which makes a clear distinction between soul and body, as is the case in ancient Greek philosophy or some present Eastern religions. Man has two hypostases, since he consists of soul and body. The soul is not the whole man but just the soul of man; the body is not the whole man but just the body of man. The body is tightly connected to the soul and takes part in all its states. The body receives both the fall of the soul as well as its resurrection. Thus we speak about the death of the body, which is an outcome of the death of the soul, and about the deification of the body, which comes as a result of the deification of the soul. Saint Gregory Palamas teaches that the nous is man’s first physical intelligent organ and also teaches that the Grace of God is ferried through the soul to the body, which is attached to the soul.
Second, the teaching that the Church is a spiritual Hospital and that true theology is related to the therapy of the soul is not an isolated part of the teaching about the Church, but rather the way and requirement for the experiencing of church life and the acquisition of the Orthodox church spirit. Of course, the basis of church life is the holy Eucharist, in which man partakes of the Body and Blood of Christ. But the entire teaching of the holy Fathers for the therapy of man is a prerequisite for the correct partaking of the holy Eucharist. It is well known that the communion of the Body and Blood of Christ is light, Kingdom of God, and Paradise for those in the proper spiritual condition for the holy Communion to act. At the same time, it is Hell and “condemnation” for all those not cleansed. The teaching of the Fathers of the Church on this point is telling indeed. Furthermore, the sacrament of Baptism is, and is called, an introductory sacrament that makes us members of the Body of Christ. But, in the ancient Church, Catechism, which aimed at man’s therapy, preceded Baptism, and asceticism followed Baptism. Christ said: “Go and teach all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to do what I have given to you” (Matt. 28:16–20).
Third, when speaking about the therapy of the soul and, more generally, the therapy of man, we mean nothing else but Orthodox hesychasm. As it is known, Orthodox hesychasm forms the basis of all Ecumenical and Local Synods, because through hesychasm we obtain the experience of Revelation through which we know that Christ is the true God, that the Holy Spirit is God, that the natures are united inseparably, unchangeably, and undividedly. For this reason, the fourteenth-century Synods that confirmed Orthodox hesychasm, in the presence of the great Church theologian and Father Saint Gregory Palamas, in reality presented the method through which man can be saved, deified, and go from the image to the likeness. Orthodox hesychasm consists of the transformation of the powers of the soul, of man’s deliverance and liberation from the evil one who rules over man with the spiritual and bodily passions, of the deification of soul and body. In fact, the fourteenth-century Synods state that if a Christian does not accept the teaching of Saint Gregory Palamas and of the monks who speak about Orthodox hesychia as a method for the cleansing of the soul, he should be expelled from the Church.
The Church offers the true life; it transforms biological life, sanctifies and transforms societies. Orthodoxy, if experienced properly and functioning according to the holy Fathers, is a communion of God and man, heaven and earth, living and deceased. In this communion all problems emerging in our life are truly solved.
Other religions, particularly those originating from the East, are indeed the opiate of the people, because they transfer the problem to the transcendental world, they alienate men from society, they tear apart interpersonal relationships and destroy man. The Orthodox Church is true precisely because it heals man; it functions as a therapeutic center, an infirmary of souls, a Hospital. This is why it is very modern to be an Orthodox Christian.
1. Hypostases are persons, or essential natures.
2. Nous: The word has various uses in Patristic teaching. It indicates either the soul or the heart or even the energy of the soul. Yet, the nous is mainly the eye of the soul, the purest part of the soul, the highest attention. It is also called noetic energy, and it is not identified with reason.
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.