THE SCIENCE OF SPIRITUAL MEDICINE: ORTHODOX PSYCHOTHERAPY IN ACTION BY METROPOLITAN HIEROTHEOS VLACHOS OF NAFPAKTOS
The book 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.
In the Part 1 of the book, Orthodox and Humanistic Psychotherapy, in the chapter The Science of Spiritual Medicine, the author analyses the content of Canon 102 of the Quinisext Ecumenical Council. 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.
The chapter 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 proved. 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 reference made to spiritual illness of the soul, psychological-emotional, neurobiological and physical illnesses. It is noted that great discernment and wisdom is required in order to detect the mutual interaction that may exist between these types of illness. Obviously, when the nous is not functioning correctly it cannot direct either the soul or the body.
Part 2, Illness and the Passions, shows the reader how the passions and spiritual illnesses that torment people are healed within the Orthodox Church. Inner disorders, which start with the darkening of the nous and spread to the soul and the body, also have consequences for society and the whole of creation.
The author explains how a person can be set free from spiritual self-sufficiency, which he describes as a great illusion, and from despair with regard to salvation, which afflicts many people nowadays and is the work of demons. He shows us how to acquire courage, that is complete hope in the mercy of God.
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.
The teaching of the holy Fathers on Dreams is set out, 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 shows us 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.
Reading The Devil and His Wiles, we find out 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 fight and confront 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.
The concept of Spiritual Health is discussed, together with the definition of a spiritually healthy person. There is a chapter on Spiritual Tuning, which explains how someone can attune his nous and turn it towards God.
The chapter The Priest as Healer According to St Gregory the Theologian 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 (“scientifically cleanse”) 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. 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, 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 is an essential aid for parents and those involved in bringing up 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 noticeable that St John Chrysostom’s views on bringing up children are relevant to the present day and correspond closely with the views of contemporary experts on child rearing.
There is a specific chapter relating to the subject of Inactivity and Work. Attention is drawn to the value of physical and spiritual work and the importance of combining them, as despondency and indifference paralyse both body and soul, and are disastrous for the spiritual life.
Part 4, headed Therapeutic Results, includes significant texts that will assist the reader, as they present people who have been healed – who have experienced healing in their personal lives.
In Divine Providence 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, we learn how a Christian can renew his heart, his personal life, so as to live his own personal renewal and experience Easter personally. Reference is made to the social dimension of the Paschal Feast and the participation of nature in the Feast of Renewal.
In Noble Joseph we admire the greatness of chaste Joseph and realise why he is regarded as a type of Christ. From 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 presents the ascetic life of a holy figure. Particular stress is laid on the way in which the saint confronted the trials in her life and faced her own death.
In the chapter Overcoming Death, the author describes a true life in which death does not exist and bears witness that a blessed man – Metropolitan Kallinikos of Edessa – lived the overcoming of death in practice.
Finally, in Deification and the Deified the author analyses exactly 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 emphasised 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.”
All the texts in the book show man’s purpose, which is deification and salvation. They help the reader to understand that only through the therapeutic method and science of the Orthodox Church, through the science of spiritual medicine, are we given the opportunity to be saved.