Orthodoxy as a therapeutic method
The priest, Fr.Philip, began the conversation.
-In your sermon, he said, you spoke of the three stages of spiritual life, which are purification, illumination and theosis. I think you also write about this in your book. You also said, if I am not mistaken, that through this method of Orthodox piety we are healed and thus can come to know God. This reminds me of what you write in the book "Orthodox Psychotherapy", that Orthodoxy is a therapeutic treatment and science and only in this way should we look at it. I would like to ask you: How did you come to this conclusion? Is it a teaching of the Holy Fathers or a conclusion and thought of your own? I consider the question absolutely necessary, because we are tired of individual theological thinking. Everyone speculates on theological and spiritual issues to a degree which creates terrible confusion. How did you reach to this conclusion?
How I was led to the conclusion that Orthodoxy is a therapeutic treatment
-Yes, I really owe you some explanations. I must admit that I was very disappointed of the moralism which prevailed among many Christians. And when I say moralism, I do not at all mean the morality which we respect -because even the body must be sanctified and purified-; I mean the mentality that we must see all topics externally and physically. The Pharisees of the Lord's time had moral principles and such ideas, yet they were not able to accept Christ. Also, even now I get distressed when I realise that a variety of concepts prevail in the Church. Many theologians develop a certain teaching of Christ or of the Holy Fathers and, without having personal experience, give their own analysis. Thus concepts are created, which in reality "kill" man and even life itself. I am also a man of my time and I have at times faced this situation.
However, when I was still a University student I visited Mount Athos and met sanctified people, who practised the Orthodox Tradition. I clearly saw the difference between the life according to Orthodox Tradition and the life which I had met in other religious circles. Simultaneously, with the help of my Professors at the University, I began studying patristic texts. Furthermore, certain colleaques of mine and myself dealt with the manuscripts of the Sacred Monasteries of the Holy Mountain for a long period. This combination -the study of patristic texts within the atmosphere and life of the deified Athonite Fathers- opened for me new paths of communication with the life of the Church. I began thinking differently. I was particularly aided in this by the study of St.Gregory Palamas. I believe that St.Gregory Palamas is one of those Fathers who can exert a great influence and benefit the Christians today. His theology, which is the theology of the Church, is revealing. From then on, I came to know other sanctified people on the Holy Mountain, but also outside the Holy Mountain -Athonites in their heart and life- and thus I reached the conclusion that Orthodoxy cannot be a philosophy or a barren ethicology, but it is a therapeutic method. It cures man. Orthodox Theology is associated more with Medicine than with philosophy. I shall mention the more characteristic stages of this course of mine.
I studied St.Maximos the Confessor. I was concerned with the topic of love. I wanted to ascertain precisely what true love is, since so many things are being said about it. The 400 chapters of St. Maximos the Confessor concerning love moved my curiosity. But reading the chapters of St.Maximos, I realised that they referred mostly to man's therapy. St.Maximos the Confessor mentions what man's nous is, how it becomes ill, how it is cured. He also speaks of the passions and how they are healed; of the movements of man's soul, which can be according to nature, contrary to nature and above the nature. He connects love with dispassion. I also realised that love "is the offspring of dispassion"; it is the "fire of dispassion," as St.John the Sinaite says. In order for one to reach Godly love, he must be previously cured. For, on the one hand there is love which seeks its own, that is selfishness, and on the other hand there is love which "does not seek its own" . The whole attempt of the Church is to lead man from selfish and utilitarian love to selfless love. But this presupposes man's healing.
I was, later, engaged specifically with the Philokalia. As it is known "The Philokalia", which is a collection of many works of the neptic Fathers, is a work of the Church compiled in its final form by St.Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain and the bishop, formerly of Corinth, Makarios Notaras. Its subtitle is: "within which by means of ethical philosophy of praxis and theoria the nous is purified, illumined and perfected". I saw there that all the texts are therapeutic. They speak of how man's nous becomes ill and how it is healed.
I read a lot as a student and I have continued to study St.Gregory Palamas, this great hesychast Athonite, whom Tradition has named a theologian and classified him among the four greatest theologians of the Church, along with St.John the Theologian, St.Gregory the Theologian, and St.Symeon the New Theologian. In the debate which he had with Barlaam I discerned the development of the way in which we must theologize so as to be saved. He speaks of holy hesychia (stillness) and the method of hesychia. Moreover he stresses, that this is the only therapeutic method which leads to the vision of the uncreated Light, and this entails the knowledge of God and the salvation of man. His homilies, most of them given to his congregation in Thessalonica, are amazing. There he speaks of the rest (Sabbath) of God and man, about the therapy of the passions, noetic prayer, the vision of the uncreated Light, etc.
I also studied a lot St.Gregory the Theologian. His works made me realise that theologians of the Church should be called "those who have reached theoria (vision of God)", who formerly purified their heart from passions or at least are struggling to purify them. Speaking about the Second Coming, he also writes that God Himself will be "light to the purified in mind" and even more so, "according to their purity" -this is what we call the kingdom of the heavens. And God Himself will be "darkness to those who have blinded their power of intellect; so more so according to their own blindness". He even names this darkness alienation from God. Therefore, it became clear to me that the priest does not "issue tickets" for man to go to paradise, but cures man , so that God becomes for him light --and this is the kingdom of heavens-- and not darkness, which is Hell and alienation from God.
Allow me, though, to say that I realised all these things not only by studying Patristic books. On the one hand I also met spiritual fathers filled with grace, "changed" by the grace of God, and it is through them that one can understand the patristic texts; on the other hand through my pastoral experience. As a spiritual father I see daily that alongside confession cure is also needed. Many people confess, but are not cured. A special method is necessary, so that man can be healed from his passions.
All these things and many other which I cannot mention here made me believe that we must see Orthodoxy as a therapeutic treatment and science.
Orthodoxy is a therapeutic science
-May I interrupt you? asked Athanasios. I have listened to this analysis with great interest. I would not like to contradict you. I respect your research on this delicate point of spiritual life. But I think that the use of certain terms of yours is a little provocative. For example, first you said that Orthodoxy heals man and then you concluded that it is "a therapeutic science". I cannot understand this word "science". What relation does Orthodoxy have to science? As a scholar, I consider that science formulates intellectual sentences and does research on a human level. How can we maintain that Orthodoxy is a therapeutic science?
-I like your point of view. I do not deny that many other people have come to me with the same thoughts after the publication of my book. I think, though, that there is no essential problem. I use the word science (epistimi) in its original meaning. It comes from the verb EPISTAMAI ([åðßóôá), which means, I know well. Thus, here, science (epistimi) means the correct method we use to be cured. Medicine is also called a science because it knows the way by which man's body is cured. If we accept that Orthodoxy cures man, then I think we have the right to maintain that it is also a science, because it knows the true way by which man is cured. I do not think that there is any problem in accepting this.
-These things are clear, he responded. I can understand them. But do you have patristic corroboration for this approach of yours? In other words, are there Fathers who use this term?
-The matter is not whether there are Fathers who use this term. The matter is whether we can use it, whether the Church knows indeed the true way of curing man, that is, what the foundation of the term is. What does the term wish to convey? The problem lies therein. The Holy Fathers of the Church did not hesitate to use terms which did not exist in the Holy Scripture in order to express the truth which the Church possesses. For example the Fathers of the 4th century applied the term "co-essential" (of one essence) to Christ and said that Christ is of one essence with the Father. Then a reaction was expressed by a few conservatives. They said that the term is anti-scriptural, i.e., it is not mentioned in the Holy Scripture, and therefore we cannot use it. They also criticised the Fathers, because the term was first used by the heretics -Paul of Samosata employed the term, yet with a different meaning. He identified the co-essential with the co-hypostatic. The Holy Fathers though considered it right to take this term, disengage it from its co-hypostatic meaning and define that the persons of the Holy Trinity have the same essence, but particular hypostases. Thus they established that the persons of the Holy Trinity have the commonality of essence and the particularity of the mode of existence. And employing the term hypostasis, they designated it as essence with properties. They did the same with the term "person". Whereas in their time "person" had the meaning of the outward appearance (mask) and excellently served the heretical teaching of Sabellios, the Fathers identified the person with the hypostasis, adopted the term, gave it ontology and applied it to the persons of the Holy Trinity. Thus it is the entire atmosphere which the words want to describe and not the words themselves that cause problems.
But here, in the subject at issue I can say that the Holy Fathers also use the word science. I have analysed this in my books. However at this point I would like to present a distinctive passage of St.Gregory the Theologian: "truly this seems to me to be a craft above all crafts, and a s c i e n c e a b o v e a l l s c i e n c e s, to lead a man, the wiliest and most manifold creature". St. Dionysios the Aeropagite many times uses the term science, even for the state of theoria (vision of God). Referring to a theologian who knew divine things, he writes: "He was wisely and s c i e n t i f i c a l l y exercised in divine things". St.Gregory of Nyssa also refers many times to the therapeutic diligence and the therapeutic method. And, of course, he who knows the true method of therapy can be called a scientist (therapist).
Orthodox faith is connected with cure
-I have the opinion, said Basil -a man of conservative principles- that we must speak with caution about these issues. I also agree that we must be cured, living within the Church, but don't you think that there is a danger that we may deny the basic element of Orthodoxy, which is faith? When we support that Orthodoxy is a therapeutic treatment and science, don't you think that there is a danger to overlook the Orthodox faith?
-Dangers may be created. This depends on how we consider cure and how we consider faith. And I think that I should expand my thoughts more on this. There are many people who by cure mean simply the formulation of character and social behaviour. They place, that is, cure within a moralistic atmosphere. We go to the priest and say: "Father I stole". And he answers: "In the future do not steal..." This, also, is a conduct. But the therapeutic treatment of the Church is not exhausted here. Or, further, many people attempt to become good, by not committing sin externally, by having virtues, yet they despise the Orthodox Tradition.
-In other words what is cure? How do you mean it?
-We shall come to cure later. Please, let us not change the subject. Now we are speaking about whether the use of the expression "Orthodoxy is a therapeutic treatment and science" is acceptable or not. So, when we speak of cure while detaching it from the Orthodox Revelation and Tradition, then of course we run the risk of changing it. Also, another danger lurks everywhere. It is possible for us to speak of faith in a completely abstract way; to signify by it a few rational and objective principles which we must accept logically and believe that this constitutes salvation. Theologians who work intellectually live in such a way, and this is why today many people speak of academic theology. In my opinion, therapy cannot be detached from the Orthodox faith, because one presupposes the other. I would like to analyse these things more.
The term Orthodoxy consists of two words: "orthi" (true, right) and "doxa". "Doxa" means both belief, teaching, faith, and glorification-glory. These are connected with each other very closely. Correct teaching about God constitutes right, true glorification of God. Because if God is abstract, then prayer to that God is abstract. If God is personal, then prayer assumes a personal character. God has revealed the true faith, the true teaching. Thus we say that the teaching about God and all matters associated with man's salvation are the Revelation of God and not man's discovery. Yet God has revealed this truth to people who have been prepared for this. Judas, the brother of God, expresses this point well by saying: "exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints" (Jude 3). In this quotation, as in many other related passages, it is evident that God reveals Himself to the Saints -to those people, that is, who have reached a certain level of spiritual growth which enables them to be receptive of this Revelation. The holy Apostles were healed first and then received the Revelation. And they imparted this Revelation to their spiritual children not only by teaching them, but primarily by mystically effecting their spiritual rebirth. We accept the dogmas and the definitions; in other words we accept this revealed faith and remain within the Church in order to be cured. For this faith is, on the one hand, Revelation to those purified and cured and, on the other, it is the right path to attain cure, for those who choose to follow the "way".
Two kinds of faith
It is obvious, according to the Holy Fathers, that there are two kinds of faith. The first is rational faith, called faith from hearing, and is introductory faith, simple faith. The second is faith based on the vision of God (theoria); it is the faith of the perfect and that which saves man. There is no antithesis between the two kinds of faith. The former is introductory and the latter the result of the former. Thus we accept the faith of the Holy Fathers of the Church in order to cleanse our hearts from passions and to successfully follow the stage of purification. And when this is achieved, we shall then reach illumination of the nous, which is the second faith, the so-called faith based on theoria. When Adam was created by God, he was at the illumination of the nous. But after the Fall he was subjected to various passions. So, now we need the correct faith in order to reach the faith based on theoria, that is the illumination of the nous, and from there to the vision of God. The first faith opens unto us the way towards cure and the second faith is the fruit and result of man's cure.
James, the brother of God, speaks of the first faith, which, however, needs works to purify man. He says: "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also" (James 2,26). Both the theoretical acceptance of faith through hearing and the works which it entails are necessary for us so as to be purified and healed. The Apostle Paul speaks of perfect faith, faith based on the vision of God, when he says: "Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law" (Rom.3,28). Many Christians think that the brother of God James contradicts the Apostle Paul. Interpreting the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Romans, Luther, in particular, reached the point of speaking only about faith without works; he was ignorant of the fact that the Apostle Paul means therein the faith from theoria-vision of God, which is beyond the works of the Law. He does not say that there is no need for the works of the Law. Both the first faith and the works are necessary for us to pass the stage of purification of the heart correctly and effectively. When this is accomplished, we reach the illumination of the nous, whose characteristic is noetic ceaseless prayer. This is faith from theoria, which is a surpassing and not an abolishment of the works of the Law.
Thus I do not see any difference between the statements: "Orthodoxy is a therapeutic science and treatment" and "Orthodoxy is faith". They are connected with each other. Detaching one from the other entails a heretical life. We can say precisely the same thing about the term "Orthodox theology."
-I have wanted for quite some time now to ask you this question, and I finally have the opportunity, said Constantine. You said before that theology cut off from the life of the Church may be called academic theology. How do you understand Orthodox theology?
-I think that what we said earlier about faith holds also for theology. For, theology is not an intellectual science, but the voice and life of the Church. And the Church is the domain of Orthodox theology. Just as the Holy Fathers say, theology prays and prayer is theology. When we speak of Orthodox theology we do not mean a simple history of theology. It can also be this, but it is not limited to this in an absolute way. In patristic tradition the theologians are those who see God. St.Gregory Palamas may call Barlaam also a theologian, but he clearly stresses that this intellectual theology differs greatly from the vision of God. Theologians, according to St.Gregory Palamas, are the beholders of God, specifically those who follow the whole methodology of the Church and attain perfect faith -the illumination of the nous. Therefore, theology is the fruit of man's therapy, but also the path for us to reach cure and acquire the knowledge of God. What we previously mentioned about faith holds here, too. The Fathers teach that the vision of God is a gift from God, which He gives when He wants and to whomever He wants. We must pray to be cleansed internally; to be delivered from passions -in reality to transform our passions- and for our nous to be illumined, that is to acquire the noetic prayer of the heart. St.Maximos the Confessor says that a person's deliverance from pain and pleasure is the sign that he has passed the stage of purification; the sign that he has passed or is at the stage of illumination is his deliverance from ignorance and forgetfulness of God; and the sign that he has reached theosis is his liberation from fantasy and all images which the world of the senses brings to him. Thus we can entreat "illumine my darkness" and, if God wishes, He will reveal Himself. Then, on the one hand, we know that we have been cured and, on the other hand, that we are receiving the gift of theology, of speaking of God. From the stage of illumination of the nous to the stage of theoria unceasing noetic prayer operates. Vision of God may last a few seconds up to even several days, but afterwards the deified person returns to the state of noetic prayer. At the state of theoria prayer is suspended and restarts when the vision of God ceases. Of course, I must say that there are many stages of vision of God. Vision of God (theoria) begins with repentance, continues with noetic prayer, reaches illumination, is led to the vision of God and then to continual theoria, in other words, it may last for a few hours even days. Thus I can maintain that Orthodox Theology is both the fruit of cure and the way to reach cure. When we make it an academic science and only study the various ecclesiastical topics externally, then we fail to help people effectively.
-I have observed until now, father, said Irene, that you constantly use the word "Orthodox". You speak of the Orthodox Church, of Orthodox cure, Orthodox theology etc. Might it be a word in fashion? Many speak about Orthodoxy, but probably see it as an ideology. Why don't you speak of Christianity?
-I confess that it is an idiosyncrasy of mine. I know that this term is excessively used today, going even to extremes. Many attribute an ideological shade to the word. I acknowledge, certainly, that genuine Christianity is identical to the Orthodox Church. When we speak of Christians, we mean the disciples of Christ. And when we call someone a disciple of Christ, we mean that he is united with Christ. A person also objected to me that I use more the word Orthodoxy than the word Church. He wrote to me saying that both terms -Christianity and Orthodoxy- should be put aside, since they have come to be an ideology; and that we should talk of the Church. However I counter argued that we can misuse the word "Church" in the same way. We can consider it an association, an institution... Thus the question is not what terminology we employ, but how we apply it. One may speak of Christianity and interpret it correctly. Another, however, may not. The same may happen with other terms as well. Many people identify the Church with the clergy and others with the people. In accordance to the teaching of the Holy Fathers, and especially of St. Irenaeus, the Church is identified with Orthodoxy and the divine Eucharist. These three terms are closely connected with one another. The Church cannot be conceived outside Orthodoxy and the divine Eucharist. Orthodoxy cannot be conceived outside the Church and the divine Eucharist, just as the divine Eucharist cannot be conceived outside the Church and Orthodoxy. These three terms are synonymous.
Without overlooking this reality, I speak of Orthodoxy not abstractly, but concretely. I distinguish the Tradition which the Church has -the real Body of Christ- from the traditions the other denominations have. Many people today are called Christians, but they do not all have the same tradition, concerning the method of cure and of the knowledge of God. This is also evident in dogmatic teaching.
-Father, we have learnt that the difference of Orthodoxy from other denominations lies in the dogmas. You are now adding that the difference also lies in the method of cure. What do you mean by this, please? Could you clarify your views more?
Differences between Orthodoxy and other confessions
-I think that we said something earlier on this point. Faith and theology are on the one hand the fruit of cure; while on the other hand they are a way for one to attain cure and vision of God - which, being communion with God, is simultaneously knowledge of God. And this constitutes man's salvation. Dogmatic differences reflect corresponding differences in cure. There are cases in which the so called Uniates appear as Orthodox, even concerning the dogma of the procession of the Holy Spirit. They do not add the filioque to the Symbol of faith and yet they differ in their therapeutic treatment. I think there are two criteria by means of which we distinguish that a person who has passed away is an Orthodox and a Saint: the first one is the way and method of cure he applied and the second is his holy relics. We believe that Orthodoxy obtains both of these. In other words, we have both an Orthodox method of cure and the relics of deified Saints. This difference is certainly manifested in the dogmatic teaching, since, as we mentioned formerly, theology is an expression of life, it is a formulation of a person's mode of life.
Within this perspective, if we examine Orthodoxy in relation to the Latin and Protestant denomination, we shall immediately locate the difference. The Protestants do not have at all a therapeutic treatment. They think that as long as they believe in God, they can be saved. But as we have already pointed out, perfect faith which saves man is faith based on theoria, the presupposition of which is the purification of the heart. And this is achieved by accepting the introductory faith, which is expressed in works of repentance; and works of repentance are whatever contributes to man's therapy. Thus, the Protestants do not obtain a therapeutic treatment. The Latins' therapeutic method is not as complet as the Orthodox one. The fact that they reached the point of speaking about the filioque is a fruit of their weakness to combine the relation existing between the person and society. Thus they confuse the personal properties, which are the unbegotten of the Father, the begotten of the Son and the proceeding of the Holy Spirit. The Father is the cause of the generation of the Son and of the procession of the Holy Spirit. This weakness and the failure in expressing the Trinitarian dogma indicates the nonexistence of experience and revelation. Because where there is vision of God, there exists a clear dogmatic formulation.
For example the disciples of Christ upon Mount Tabor saw the glory of Christ. They simultaneously heard inaudibly the voice of the Father -"this is my Beloved Son"- and they saw the coming of the Holy Spirit in the cloud. As St.Gregory Palamas says, the cloud is the presence of the Holy Spirit. Thus the disciples of Christ obtained knowledge of the Triune God in theoria and revelation. It was revealed to them that God is one essence and three hypostases. This is what St.Symeon the New Theologian also teaches. In his poems many times he maintains that during the vision of the uncreated Light the deified person receives the Revelation of the Triune God. The Saints in theoria do not confuse the hypostatic properties.
The fact that the Latin Tradition came to confuse these hypostatic properties and teaches that the Holy Spirit proceeds in essence from the Son as well shows the nonexistence of empirical theology. Also the fact that it reached the point of speaking about created grace, signifies that it does not have experience of the grace of God. For, when a man attains the experience of God, he then realizes well that this grace is uncreated. Since they did not reach this experience, it is obvious that there is no correct therapeutic method there. And, indeed, in the Latin tradition this therapeutic method -which we find in Orthodoxy- does not exist. There is no reference to the nous; reason is not distinguished from the nous; the darkening of the nous is not taught to be an illness and illumination to be its restoration. Many Latin texts, widely spoken of, are sentimental and exhaust themselves in a barren ethicology, whereas in the Orthodox Church there is a great tradition regarding these issues, and this shows its true therapeutic method.
It is through its therapeutic effects that a faith demonstrates its truthfulness. If it cures it is a true faith, if it does not it is not a true faith. This applies to medical science also. A true scientist doctor is he who knows how to cure and has therapeutic effects, whereas a quack doctor does not have any therapeutic results. The same holds true on matters of the soul. For this reason I believe that the difference of the Orthodox from both the Latin tradition and the protestant confessions is seen primarily, in the way of cure. The difference in cure is a result of dogmatic differences. The dogmas are not philosophy, nor is theology philosophy.
Theology is not philosophy
-You know, Athanasios interrupted, I have dealt a lot with philosophy. I have read many books about these things and have verified that Christianity became greatly associated with philosophy and developed it even more. For example St.Basil the Great, who studied philosophy -like other Holy Fathers- developed further the philosophy of the "person" in his age. Until then the "person" was an abstract concept. From the time of St.Basil the Great it obtained ontology. I have read that in the teaching of the Cappadocian Fathers the "person" is not an attribute of the being, but that which makes the being be truly a being. Also the "person" is not exhausted in its own self, but it is led up to the Being, to God. If we are able today to speak of the person and personality, we owe this to patristic theology. So how do you say that Orthodox theology is not a philosophy?
-Your question is quite justified. I would like to say that I enjoy our conversation a lot and especially the way in which it is being conducted.
Usually we shout, get upset, angry and cannot converse calmly and seriously, but this does not occur here. Yet, I should give a few explanations and necessary clarifications of this position of mine. In fact, I have heard similar views and for this reason you give me the great joy of explaining precisely what I mean by saying that Orthodoxy and theology are not philosophy.
First of all I must clarify what I said earlier, that Orthodox theology is, first and foremost, experience, Revelation. God reveals Himself to those worthy of this revelation. And those who have other gifts as well become theologians in the Church. St. Gregory the Theologian has said epigrammatically that the Fathers of the Church do not theologize in the manner of Aristotle but in that of the Apostles. This means that they do not theologize rationally, but in the manner the holy Apostles, who were fishermen, theologized. Yet, when they received the Holy Spirit they were proved to be the real theologians of the Church. Theology, therefore, is experience.
It is precisely this point which shows the difference existing between philosophy and theology. Philosophy is an offspring of man's intellect -that is, intellect and reasoning define the expression and formulation of concepts; conversely, theology is a fruit of God's Revelation to man's pure heart. First the heart receives the Revelation and then reason formulates it. This difference is characteristically seen in a passage of the Prophet Isaiah and in the interpretation which St.John Chrysostom offers. The Prophet Isaiah writes: "Behold the master Lord Savaoth shall take away from Judaea and from Jerusalem, him and her who is powerful...the judge and the prophet and the thinker" (Is. 3,1-2). Here a clear distinction is made between the prophet and the thinker. St.John Chrysostom says: "a thinker speculates on the future out of his great wisdom and personal experience". And he goes on to say that speculation is one thing and prophesy is another. The Prophet speaks in the Holy Spirit "contributing nothing of his own"; whereas the thinker employs his own understanding. Thus there is a great difference between the Prophet and the thinker, "as much difference there is between human wisdom and divine grace". In the language of the Holy Scripture the Prophet and the theologian are identified. It is obvious then that there is a huge difference between a theologian and a philosopher, and therefore, between theology and philosophy. Although they studied the philosophy of their age, the Fathers of the Church followed, nevertheless, a different method to acquire the knowledge of God. And this method has been the hesychastic one.
A characteristic distinction between the heretics and the Orthodox was and still is that the heretics used philosophy to expound on matters of faith, whereas the Holy Fathers used the Revelation, which is a result of hesychia with all its importance. If we diligently study ecclesiastical history, we shall clearly see that in the ecclesiastical domain there have always been these two traditions. One tradition was philosophical. It was based on the intellect and was expressed by all the heretics, who attempted to interpret God with their intellect. The other tradition was hesychastic and the holy Fathers are included in it.
Let us take a simple example. The heretics always attempted to solve the problem of how God, being one, is simultaneously three. This was incomprehensible for philosophy. Therefore, in his attempt to solve this question Sabellios speaks of one God with three modes of manifestation; that is the same God appears as the Father in the Old Testament, as the Son in the New Testament and as the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church. In this way however he abolished the personal mode of existence of each Person of the Holy Trinity. The Holy Fathers had the revelation and the experience that God is one, but also trinity. And they expressed this experience employing the terms the heretics used, after first cleansing them and giving them another content. Moreover they used apophatic language to demonstrate the incapability of the mind to understand and express God. This apophatic theology is the "Golgotha" and the "cross" of human knowledge, but also of human reason.
In speaking of how God is one and Triune St.Maximos the Confessor says: "God is divided, but indivisibly...and He is united dividedly." And he concludes: "for this reason both division and union are a paradox". St.Thalassios also writes the same thing: "the monad moving up to a triad, remains a monad; and the triad brought again up to a monad, remains a triad; which is a paradox". How can such a revelation be formulated philosophically and be understood intellectually? Philosophical terms may be used for its formulation but, still, it cannot be understood intellectually. The Fathers once again have humiliated human reason and transcended philosophy by means of apophatic theology and apophatic expressions. St.Gregory the Theologian characteristically says: "it is impossible to express God and even more impossible to conceive Him". After such a statement how could it be possible for man to express and conceive God? There is no place here for any dialectical speculation. St.Gregory Palamas teaches that we cannot have dialectical speculations about God but only demonstrative principles, received by revelation. All the Holy Fathers criticize the philosophy of their time and reject it. St.Basil the Great denies philosophy and cries for the time he spent to acquire worldly wisdom.
What you previously mentioned about the term "person" is true. The Holy Fathers adopted it, gave it an ontology and identified it with the term "hypostasis", and naturally with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Yet, by doing this they did not philosophise, nor did they encourage philosophy. Moreover, this example reveals the incapability of philosophy to interpret God. Another vantage point was necessary for this to be done. The Holy Fathers -it must again be clarified- did not work philosophically, thinking of themselves as philosophers, but had experience and subsequently expressed it in terms of their time, which they loaded with a new life. And they did this not because it was needed for faith, but because the heretics had appeared, who were trying to alter faith.
Early Christians knew well that in the Old Testament there is the revealed God (Yahweh), who is the pre-incarnate Word, and the hidden God (Elohim). They also experienced the presence of the All-Holy Spirit. There was no confusion. In his journey to Damascus, the Apostle Paul received the great revelation that the God of the Old Testament is Jesus, and thus, being in theoria, he identified Yahweh of the Old Testament with Christ, whom he was persecuting. Later though the Gnostics maintained that the manifested God of the Old Testament, Who created the world, is a lower God. In order to reject these heretical teachings, the Monarchians came to support that there is no superior and lower God; God is one, of one essence and one hypostasis. In that case, to respond to the heretics, who formulated such a teaching based on their reason, the Holy Fathers said that God is of one essence and three hypostases -three persons. They did not do so because they wanted to advance the philosophy of their age, or because they were philosophers, but because as theologians they wanted to avert the great temptation lurking in philosophy. In this way they responded to philosophy. They were not philosophers, just as they were not psychologists or sociologists or even ethicologists, etc. They were Fathers of the Church, true shepherds, who pastored theologically and theologized pastorally.
Orthodoxy and psychology
-I think that it is my turn to ask you now, said Constantine, who in the past was involved a lot in psychology. I have not been engaged in theology or philosophy, but I have dealt a lot with psychology. In the beginning, when you mentioned that Christianity is a therapeutic science and treatment, that it heals man's soul, I was excited. I followed you with much interest, because I believe that in this way Christianity and especially Orthodoxy, can help today's man. Today psychology and psychiatry have been developed to the extreme, since it has been proved that man suffers from psychological illnesses. I was amazed, however to hear that just as they were not philosophers, the Fathers were not also psychologists. So I would like you to back up this position of yours.
-I don't think that one has to make a special effort to support this viewpoint. The subject is very simple. The Holy Fathers were Saints. Sanctity does not have a moral sense, but an ontological one. They are called Saints "by virtue of the Holy one Whom they partake of". Holy God imparts His uncreated energy to people and sanctifies them. He actually dwells in man by grace and thus man becomes a dwelling place of the holy Trinite God; a living temple of God. The Apostle Paul divides people into three great categories. M e n o f t h e f l e s h are those who are deprived of the Most Holy Spirit, those who live contrary to nature. U n- s p i r i t u a l men are also men of the flesh, since they do not have the Holy Spirit and live according to nature, in other words, they have virtues yet they are natural virtues. They are good people, merciful, continent, have natural love, etc. Nevertheless, they are not Saints, because they have not been an indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Consequently they cannot attain to the partaking of the deifying energy of God. St.Gregory Palamas says: "If God does not act in us everything done by us is sin". S p i r i t u a l people are those who are actuated by the Holy Spirit "by adoption and by knowledge and theoria". The Apostle Paul explicitly says: "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man"(1 Cor. 2,14-15).
Psychology is a modern science, an offspring of western Christianity. In their great despair and immense hopelessness, people have discovered psychology, precisely because the "Churches" of the West have lost the hesychastic tradition of the Church. However, in patristic teaching much is said about the soul, its illness and its therapy. We, Orthodox, are not overwhelmed by the discovery and progress of psychology. The monks, who are engaged in the cure of the soul, know very well how passions are expressed, how the devil acts and how the grace of God enters the heart. In my book "A conversation on the Orthodox Psychotherapy" a particular chapter is included about this topic which is analysed. The difference between psychology and the Orthodox cure of the soul or rather between humanistic psychotherapy and Orthodox psychotherapy is also pointed out. I can underline the fundamentals here.
In psychology the soul is not in the image of God, as in Orthodox theology, but it is a simple activity of the body. For this reason we talk of "a psychology without a soul". In contemporary psychology the soul has no ontology. And when psychology speaks about the illness of the soul, it simply means man's psychological imbalance or the various traumatic experiences of his previous life. But in Orthodox theology illness consists in the darkening of the nous. Also, in humanistic psychology therapy is the balance of the inner powers of the soul, whereas in Orthodox theology therapy is associated with man's union with God, with the vision of God, the attainment of theosis, which is identified with the vision of God. The therapeutic method of anthropocentric psychology is clearly different from that of Orthodox psychotherapy. Moreover anthropocentric psychology cannot distinguish between created and uncreated energies; in other words whether an illness is due to exhaustion, or to possession, neither does it accept the activities of the uncreated grace. It attributes everything to only one factor. Psychology does not believe in the existence of the devil and for the most part denies the actions of the uncreated grace of God.
-Yet, is it not confusing for us to speak of Orthodox psychotherapy? Have the Fathers used this term?
-In all patristic works the cure of the soul is mentioned. Whether we say cure of the soul or psychotherapy it is one and the same thing. The question is to see whether the Fathers speak of the cure of the soul, and furthermore the question is which is the anthropology and the soteriology of the Fathers. Here the truth lies. In any case, the fact that we place the word "Orthodox" before the word "psychotherapy", differentiates it from any other psychotherapy.
-Do you say then that you completely deny the views of contemporary psychology? Are they of no use? Asking this I have in mind a psychologist who claims that if the Fathers lived today they would of course use the principles of contemporary psychology. What do you think?
-First of all, I must underline what was said earlier, that the discovery of psychology, which occurred in the West, was the result of the western man's disappointment, due to the rejection and disregard of the whole neptic tradition of the Church. For the western man, who has been alienated from the hesychastic-neptic tradition, psychology was a marvel. Yet this is not the case with the Orthodox. If the Fathers lived today, they would be probably amazed with man's marvel at these theories. Just like contemporary ascetics, the Fathers who know by experience the inner state of the soul, the crafts of the devil and the manifestations of the "old man", as well as the energies of the grace of God, consider the discoveries of psychology as relatively uninteresting. I say relatively uninteresting, because for him who receives the perfect knowledge, mediocre knowledge is of low importance. As much is the difference between human wisdom and divine wisdom, so much is the difference between human and Orthodox psychotherapy. A man who lives and experiences the divine love, which is the perfection of love, "unifying and restraining power", "ecstasy of the nous", "intoxication of the spirit", "a sharp and unbearable" yearning and a "hungering" condition, how will he see fleshly and impure love which is an idol and a fall of love? The Fathers of our days -whose life express the whole experience of the Church- also consider relatively insignificant the so-called enlightened discoveries of contemporary psychology.
Now, to come to the question: if the Fathers lived today, would they accept psychological interpretations without any examination, as they did with philosophy? We should start by clarifying certain things. First of all, Fathers exist today also and having met such Fathers I realised their reservations about psychology. In any case, Fathers did not only live in the past, they exist today too. Secondly, the holy Fathers in their age did not accept the concepts of philosophy. Having themselves the perfect knowledge, did they need the knowledge of the philosophers? They simply employed philosophical terms, which they charged with a new meaning and ontology. They would most probably do the same thing with psychology.
St.Gregory Palamas criticises Barlaam because he promoted psychological interpretations of spiritual life. Many other Fathers had the same attitude. We do not attempt to enter into the so-called subconscious on our own, through the help of our reason, because this can lead us to schizophrenia. Our method is the following: without getting involved in exhausting self-analyses, we try to keep the commandments of Christ in our life. Whilst attempting to keep the commandments, our old self with its passions is disclosed; subsequently we struggle to be healed of our passions. In parallel, we attempt to keep our nous clear from malice and arrogance and it then distinguishes the good thought from the demonic one. We exercise ourselves in watchfulness and thus the nous can discern thoughts, as St.Diadochos of Photiki says; it stores the divine thoughts in the treasury of memory, while it rejects the "dark and demonic ones" from memory. And in this clime true repentance is activated.
Of course, we accept by economy the views of contemporary psychology and psychotherapy in two cases. The first case includes people whose nervous system has been harmed because of various reasons -psychical or mental overstress- and now face serious psychological problems. The second case: There are people who by choice do not have any relation with the Church and its mysteries. I think they can be helped by modern psychology-psychotherapy, so as not to be driven to an irreparable condition. Psychology can act as a pain-killer to comfort them in the dreadful prison of despair in which they are.
There are also people who confess, are related to spiritual fathers, but the latter do not have the strength and the knowledge of spiritual life to help them. For we should not turn a blind eye to the existing reality. Unfortunately men's indifference for confession and the inability of many spiritual fathers, who are ignorant of the therapeutic method of the Church, lead many people to the psychiatrists. But, I repeat, man is created in the image of God and he must reach His likeness. This is, I could say, the final aim and the mystical entelechy of man. As long as this yearning is not satisfied and man remains far from God, he suffers all the more. Inasmuch as his basic destination on earth is not accomplished -that is, communion with God- no matter how efficient medical treatments and psychoanalyses he undergoes, he is always in nostalgia and in tragic searching. We not only seek psychological balances, but also fullness of life. We do not simply wish to develop religious feelings, but to acquire the fulfilment -pleroma- of life. When we analyse more extensively how the Orthodox Church interprets the cure of the soul, then we shall be able to understand the difference between anthropocentric and Theocentric psychotherapy. So, the subject is not closed, it remains open for further discussion.
Theology and religion
-I would like to pose a question, said Fr.Philip. I am the one who invited you here to converse with you, yet I spoke less than anyone else. I am very glad, of course, because my spiritual brothers elevated the conversation to this spiritual level with their questions and gave the opportunity so that many aspects of the subject of psychotherapy be cleared. Since you gave me earlier on the opportunity, I would like to ask a question, which I had intended to from the beginning. You said formerly that, by living in the Church, we do not simply seek the development of religious feelings, but the fulfilment of life. Moreover, you have written in your book that Christianity is not a religion in the sense given to religions today. Can you clarify these things?
-Christianity is and is not a religion. Since you referred to my book "Orthodox Psychotherapy," I would like to remind you that I analyse there what we mean by religion today. By religion we mean, primarily, a concrete theory which enables us to surpass the dividing wall between us and God and thus to expiate God. Also, we often refer to religion as man's invention: God is man's creation, since the latter feels isolated in the universe and weak. So he needs a strong God to secure his weakness. Moreover by religion it is considered that we ensure our future so as to be happy in the future life. Or finally religion is simply the satisfaction of our religious feelings.
However none of these definitions apply to Orthodoxy. Christianity is called and actually is the Church, that is, the real Body of Christ, whose Body Christ Himself is the head. The Church is the unity of all worlds, earthly and heavenly, of angels and men, of dead and alive. We obtain real communion with God, we participate in God's uncreated energy. God is not isolated in heaven, governing history from there, but He rules the world with His uncreated energies, that is, with His uncreated governing energy. We do not aim at appeasing God, but at healing ourselves, so that the vision of God becomes light for us and not fire. Furthermore, in the Church we experience eternal life from now. We do not simply expect the life to come, but we enjoy it from now. The Kingdom of God, according to the Fathers, is not life beyond death, but it is communion with God; the vision of the uncreated Light.
We can say, though, that Orthodoxy is a religion, because it speaks of God and attempts to deify man, to bring him into union and personal communion with God. Also, we can even call Orthodoxy a religion because there are many Christians within the Church who are at an "infantile" state spiritually and perceive God as the other religions do. The Church accepts both the class of the servants and the class of the paid servants as stages of beginners in spiritual life. But it struggles to make man perfect, to bring him to a state of doing God's will not in order to avoid Hell, not in order to enjoy Paradise, but out of mere love for God.
I think we can conclude that Orthodoxy is a therapeutic science and treatment. It heals man. Of course, there may still be a few objections and reservations, which we shall discuss later on. Yet, I, personally have no reservation. I unshakeably believe that we can see Orthodoxy only as a therapeutic treatment and science. It is only by this presupposition that Orthodoxy has the true, real and unadulterated faith.