Some Thoughts About Why Terminology is Actually A Good Thing

We live in a world with a lot of mental fog and imprecision, a world in which people put a spin on words in order to manipulate others, a world in which psychological concepts are tossed around glibly and inaccurately, a world in which clear dogmas are avoided and nebulous spiritualities are embraced. But above all, it is a world in which a new Tower of Babel has arisen not just separating us into language groups, but dividing us within the very language group that we call our own. When we realize this is happening, we may discover that understanding and using jargon or specialized terminology … [Read more...]

Self-assessment in the Christian Life

The saints often remarked how people manage with great enthusiasm, creativity, and intelligence to get ahead in worldly affairs, but often fail to make a comparable effort when it comes to the spiritual life. Saint Seraphim of Sarov in his conversation with Nicholas Motovilov used the analogy of acquiring money to help his spiritual child understand how one should strive to acquire the Holy Spirit. With respect to a detailed examination of how one has spent one’s day in terms of actions pleasing or displeasing to God, “Saint Theophan the Recluse even suggests that it be done with ‘the … [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...]

The Baylor Report and the Fathers: How Are We to Live and What Are We to Believe

How are we to live and what are we to believe are basic questions that all of us answer in this life. Some answers are obviously better than others; some replies offer meaning and hope; other responses leave us with a sense of absurdity and despair. But regardless, without some sort of answer, we can hardly find our bearings and move forward. We must have an answer. Some souls can accept the religious teachings of their upbringing as the answer and walk happily on their way. Others have difficulty accepting anything without seeing with their eyes and hearing with their ears. And in this modern … [Read more...]

The Quality of Our Thoughts and the One Thought That Really Matters: The Fathers and the Baylor Report on Mental Health and Religious Beliefs

A recurring theme in Ancient Christian Wisdom as well as throughout this blog concerns the fact that our private thoughts about our selves color our emotions, shape our behavior, and set an indelible mark on our character and ultimately our lives.  In developing this thesis, I explored Aaron Beck’s cognitive therapy in the light of the teachings of the ancient fathers. According to Dr. Beck, “cognitive therapy is a system of therapy that attempts to reduce excessive emotional reactions and self-defeating behavior by modifying the faulty or erroneous thinking and maladaptive beliefs that … [Read more...]

To Understand the Cure We Must also Understand the Illness

An unfortunate consequence of our fallen state is characterized by our desire to be healed without an awareness or appreciation of the severity of our illness.  We view distractions during prayer as ordinary obstacles to be overcome rather than as symptoms of our spiritual illness and alienation from God, which call for more zealous and wholehearted repentance.  We seek easy and even painless solutions to problems that vex us, rather than cultivating stillness and asking God for mercy with a readiness for self-sacrifice out of love for Him Who sacrificed all for us.  We desire rational, … [Read more...]

Healing the Sicknesses of Philautia and Egocentricity through the Restoration of the Nous

In a previous post, I mentioned, “The soul of fallen man has come under the illusion of self-sufficiency.  Therefore, it is not satisfied with concerning itself with temporal needs (food, clothing, and shelter), but seeks also to dominate nature and others as well as to find new sources of sensual enjoyment.  In fact, man begins to view self-expansion and the self’s pleasures in their extreme form as inalienable rights.  Such a soul has become what is today called an ego. On the one hand, our spirit (or nous) in communion with God is our real self, the true seat of our personhood. On the other … [Read more...]

The Blessing and the Bane of Expectations

Expectations exert a powerful influence over our lives. Psychologically, they can orient us away from the past and into the future with the belief that a change will take place. This belief in turn can make it easier to entertain new thoughts and to experiment with new behavior. The expectation that we will meet the Savior can increase our watchfulness and encourage us to try saying the Jesus prayer and making some time for prayer alone. Saint John Chrysostom even teaches that being watchful and in a state of expectation is what enables us to enjoy the benefit of the grace of God (Homily on … [Read more...]

The First Step (and Every Step Thereafter) is Humility

Saint Augustine once wrote to Dioscorus that there is only one way for human beings to reach fulfillment: “In that way the first part is humility; the second, humility; the third, humility (prima humilitas; secunda, humilitas; tertia, humilitas): and this I will continue to repeat as often as you might ask for direction, not because there are no other instructions that could be given, but because, unless humility precede, accompany, and follow every good action that we perform, being at once the object that we keep before our eyes, the support to which we cling, and the bridle by which we are … [Read more...]

Fasting, Feasting and the Pursuit of Happiness

For a relatively small community, this period of the year is marked by vigilant fasting in preparation for the Savior’s humble birth from a Virgin most pure.  It is a time punctuated by the vigilant yet joyful expectation for this blessed moment of radiance in the night of human history.  Through the ascetical practice of fasting, through the mystery of confession, and through the liturgical commemoration of the prophets of old, we prepare our hearts for the glad tidings of great joy: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” For the larger … [Read more...]