The Psychology of Core Beliefs and the Therapy of the Creed

Beliefs matter at a spiritual level and at a psychological level, especially when we live by the beliefs we hold. Part of the way Saints became Saints was that fact that they lived on the basis of their beliefs. The reason hypocrites were hypocrites is that they didn’t. In the psychological realm, it’s not that difficult to live according to one’s beliefs. In fact, it happens automatically. Have you ever noticed how a small setback can make you feel just terrible, even though anyone can see that it’s no big deal? Have you ever noticed a push to do something perfectly, even though you know a … [Read more...]

The Gift of Pentecost

Each human soul is unique with her own thoughts and desires, hopes and fears, joys and sorrows. Everyone of us needs individualized care especially when we are confused, when we don’t know what to believe, and when we feel alone. And the Lord Christ offers us that personal solicitude in the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Eternal Son came into this darkened world that our thoughts might be holy, our desires pure, our hopes golden and our fears as a cloud of smoke dispersed by the wind. And on the fiftieth day after His Resurrection, that wind came through which He provides most graciously the … [Read more...]

Christ’s Ascension and a New Vision of our Life

The period between Ascension and Pentecost provides us with a glimpse of how we are to deal with the transitory nature of this life with its daily pressures, unavoidable disappointments, and prolonged suffering. The Feast of the Ascension is one of the twelve great feasts of the year in the Orthodox Church.  It is an important feast not so much in the commemoration of the Lord’s bodily departure from this earth, for He Himself promised us that He would not leave us orphaned and that He would send us His Holy Spirit, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth Who is everywhere present and fills all … [Read more...]

Taking Some Pills, Changing Our Thoughts, or Purifying Our Heart

In life, there are certain inner difficulties that spawn a host of enduring, dysfunctional patterns causing continual distress and constituting new, serious problems in their own right. And although the Christian faith advises looking within to the thoughts of the heart, we often shift our focus from the inner difficulty to the warning signals of distress and naively suppose that if we take care of the distress by external means such as taking the right kind of medication, things are as they should be. In fact, we are simply becoming dependent on other external supports without any deeper … [Read more...]

Life is Not Always As It Appears

For Christians, the title of this post speaks to divine faith and the spiritual realm, which is just as real as the empirical world, although not as readily evident for those who rely solely on their physical senses and whose spiritual senses are so dulled that their noetic eyes cannot see by the light of faith and the light of Christ.  This may be seen in today’s Gospel concerning the Myrrh-Bearing Women.  They were relying on more than their senses in the midst of unspeakable grief. Their Beloved Master whom they had followed and on whom they had set all their hopes had been crucified and … [Read more...]

The Elder Porphyrios on Paschal Hymns and Victory over Sorrows and Setbacks

In this post, I would like to translate in full a conversation in Greek that a pilgrim had with the Elder Porphyrios. A psychologist of the cognitive ilk will no doubt recognize in the following conversation an example of how meaning assignment can influence mood. The believer, however, will see testimony to the transformative power of Christ’s Resurrection. The Elder Porphyrios once asked a pilgrim visiting him: — Do you know the troparion that begins, "We celebrate the slaying of death ..."? — Yes, elder, I know it. — Then say it. —“We celebrate the slaying of death, the destroying of … [Read more...]

Let Us Purify our Senses that We Might See Christ

Seeing is believing. But what does it mean to see? Most of the work of seeing takes place not through the eyes, but throughout the mind that conjures up distance and difference from light reflecting and refracting in thousands of ways. And to make sense out of light’s perpetual dance, the human brain needs to allocate immense resources to the visual cortex. And yet, the light pouring forth from the tomb of Christ and renewing the vision of the faithful is of another order, beyond sense and beyond thought, and hence, as radical as it may sound to all of us under the sway of physical … [Read more...]

Moving out of Depression and into Hope in Christ

In our contemporary age, the term depression is ubiquitous.   The word has become so common in our everyday parlance that we have come to view it as a normal part of life.  We may hear things such as “everyone gets depressed” or “he’s depressed about losing his job”.  We’ve become so accustomed to the word that it’s become a given in everyday human life. And it is certainly true that we lose many things that are precious to us, people and things that we are attached to, abilities and health that make up our identity, and dreams of who we can become. And these losses do make us sad, or to be … [Read more...]

When the Heart Beats, the Lungs Breathe, and the Nous Prays: Christian Life without Fear

Anxiety and fear seem to be everywhere we look, everywhere except on the faces of the Saints. Sacred Icons of the Martyrs even during their martyrdom have not a trace of fear or anxiety. Why is fear and anxiety so present in our world and so absent in a world of genuine and proven holiness? Father John Romanides provides an answer from the position of Orthodox anthropology: “While the brain is the center of human adaptation to the environment, the noetic faculty in the heart is the primary organ for communion with God. The fall of man or the state of inherited sin is: a) the failure of the … [Read more...]

When Sickness Heals Sickness: The Podvig of Illness Healing the Illness of Egocentricity

Podvig is a Russian term that is used to describe struggle, ascesis, and quite literally, hard work that become spiritual offerings by virtue of the orientation of the soul from self to God.  In the previous posts concerning egocentricity, Elder Sophrony noted that harmful self-love can be overcome only through much struggle and effort.  According to Saint Theophan the Recluse, “all the saints accept the only true path to virtue to be pain and hard work... lightness and ease are a sign of a false path. Anyone who is not struggling, not in podvig, is in prelest” [spiritual delusion] (The Path … [Read more...]