Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Way True Love Heals You

Orthodox Christianity is not ultimately about history, comparative religion, written doctrine, and external practices.  The Orthodox Way is about internal prayer and personal healing through prayer.  It is not an academic path, but a practical one.  It is about the experience of God and personal transformation through that experience.  Human religion based on imagination and opinions don't make you a better person (and can make you a lot worse), but true religion - the spiritual Way - leads to the fullness of Life.  God does the work in us if we are willing to cooperate.  

Attending a class is not going to change you, but learning about the richness of the spiritual treasure very well may be life-changing.  If you take hold the treasure before you, then you will most certainly be on the healing Way.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

St. Syncletica on Illness & Joy

St. Syncletica of Alexandria is one of the holy Desert Mothers of the 4th century.  (She is often referred to as Mother, or "Amma" Syncletica).   You can read about her life on the website of the Antiochian Archdiocese.  Here is one of her sayings:

"She also said, 'If illness weighs us down, let us not be sorrowful as though, because of illness and the prostration of our bodies we could not sing, for all these things are for our good, for the purification of our desires.  Truly fasting and sleeping on the ground are set before us because of our sensuality.  If illness then weakens this sensuality the reason for these practices is superfluous.  For this is the great asceticism: to control oneself in illness and to sing hymns of thanksgiving to God.'"

The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, trans. by Benedicta Ward (Trappist, KY: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 232.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Notes on Helping Those With Same-Sex Temptations

Homosexuality and associated issues, like same-sex marriage, appear to have gained much acceptance within our society in recent years. Orthodox Christian healthcare providers can benefit from knowing how "homosexuality" is understood within the Church and how it has been dramatically redefined in our secular pagan culture.

1.  Homosexuality is a behavior, not a feeling or orientation.  Therefore, one is not a "homosexual" until one chooses, according to free will, to do something that is contrary to human nature and that is in disharmony with the Way that leads to the healing and perfection of the human person.  Of course, a person can commit a sin in the mind by willing to act before the full action is carried out, but sexual temptation, whether opposite-sex or same-sex, is not sin when the tempting thought is dismissed and rejected.  Therefore, a "homosexual" is not one who feels same-sex attraction, but one commits a sexual sin with a person of the same sex.  This is similarly true for adultery.  An "adulterer" is one who commits adultery, not one who feels attracted to those other than his or her spouse if he or she dismisses the temptation and remains steadfastly faithful to the spouse.  No matter what form of temptation, whether opposite-sex or same-sex, one may face, we are called to treat our bodies as holy temples and only express the beautiful gift of sexual expression within the context of marriage, a union between a man and woman.  So, we are all called to chastity - celibacy outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage, whatever our place in life.

In our secular society, "homosexuality" has been redefined, not as a behavior contrary to good spiritual, mental, and physical health, but as an "orientation" central to a person's identity.   

2.  Accepting homosexual behavior as good and acceptable is not an act of love and compassion.  If someone is suffering from anorexia, for the good health of the person, we must be honest about her condition and help her heal from her illness.  We do not help her by telling her that we affirm her in her eating disorder, but rather, motivated by love, we should gently help her understand that she is truly sick and needs healing.  We do not help the sick by reinforcing their delusions about themselves, their relationships, and their lifestyle choices.  If a man believes he is a cat, his friends do not help him by conforming to his demands that they always dress like cats and eat from a common bowl in the floor when they visit his apartment, even at the expense of being called prejudiced Ailurophobes (those fearful of cats).  We are not "open and affirming" with regard to sin, because sin creates wounds in the soul that affects the whole person.  Rather, we love the person and do our best to care for him or her compassionately to aid in healing.

Since homosexuality is misunderstood in our society as an orientation, perhaps assigned before birth, those who rightly identify homosexual acts as sinful may be accused of judgmentalism and hate speech.

3.  Answers to questions about the Orthodox view of homosexuality best begin at the beginning.  If a secular person asks, "What does the Orthodox Church teach about homosexuality," we should realize that the one asking the questions may be thoroughly indoctrinated into a secular pagan vision of homosexuality.  Such a question is best answered, if we are given the time, not with a simple position statement, but with an expression of God's love for man, our creation according to the Divine Image, our fall away from God into spiritual sickness (including the darkening of the heart, confusion of the mind, and choas of the passions), and the spiritual Way that leads to the transformation of the passions, healing of the soul, and the full experience of Life.  We should help those who are willing to learn, who "have ears to hear,"

* to percieve the difference between what is natural (for a healed human person) and what only seems  natural (in our sickness and deluded state),
* to realize the fact that we are all "born this way" with regard to sickness and death, although our common spiritual illness is manifested in different people in different ways,
* to know that we are all called to rise above living like animals (driven by passions) to live as true human beings with perfect love (guided by the Spirit),
* to distinguish between the temptation of same-sex attraction and the sin of homosexuality, and
* to find the Way of Christ within the hospital of the Church, wherein the refreshing Medicine of Divine Grace flows abundantly.

Above all, let us show genuine love and compassion for our fellow human beings.  Without humility, we can help no one, including ourselves.

* Note: The Trojan Horse picture has been chosen to represent secular paganism.  Secular teachings can unknowingly be received and accepted if one does not know the Orthodox Faith, does not seek spiritual knowledge of the heart through prayer, and is not vigilant.  

Fr. Symeon

Orthodox Psychiatrist Discusses Homosexuality

An article, "Shifts in Paradigms: An Orthodox Psychiatrist on Homosexuality," essentially an interview with Dr. Lynne Pappas, is available on the American Orthodox Institute website.