How to Respond to Conflicts- Choices that Determine our Lives

As unpleasant as conflict is, it seems to be an inevitable part of life.  There are many reasons for this, but such are not the subject of this post.  I would rather like to focus our attention on the three main options available to us in responding to a person who wrongs us, namely: aggression, passivity or assertiveness.  It should be clear from the previous posts on anger that aggression against another is an unchristian and decidedly unhealthy manner in which to respond to conflict.  An aggressive response will likely lead to an escalation of grievances rife with negative consequences that … [Read more...]

Getting to the Cause

In my last blog post, I noted the vast difference between the theological/spiritual approach to anger seen in the fathers and the biological/naturalistic approach observed in cognitive therapists. Still as healers and helpers for the suffering, they both home in on an important principle: the necessity of identifying the source of the underlying anger before recommending a specific therapeutic intervention. In a particularly rich passage on the pathology of anger, Saint John Climacus notes that, “As bodily fever is one thing, but the causes of this are not one but many, so also the boiling up … [Read more...]

Perceiving God’s Presence in the Present

Free choice, a gift to human souls and angelic beings, needs to be exercised wisely in order to lead us not only to a flourishing life, but also and more importantly, to lead us to God Himself. The Fathers were well aware of the importance of free choice. Saint Gregory the Wonderworker noted that people become irrational or without the Word (ἀλόγοι) by the inclination of their will, but Christ came to grant them the ability to perceive reasonably (Homily 1 on the Annunciation, PG 10.133). To make good choices, we need to be able to perceive what the choices are and enough reasoning to trace … [Read more...]

The Therapeutic Strategy of Nepsis

For the ancient fathers, a basic prerequisite for genuine growth in the spiritual life involves a constant attitude of nepsis or watchfulness.  The word nepsis (νήψις)in antiquity literally meant to drink no wine, but by extension it also included the metaphorical sense of being sober-minded, sane, alert, and finally vigilant.  If one desires to not be under the influence of the passions, if one wishes to not be drunk with anger, with envy, or with desire, one must spiritually speaking drink no wine. The ascetic fathers are also referred to as the neptic fathers. This watchfulness is paramount … [Read more...]

Justifiable Anger?

In spite of Christ’s consistent and strong admonitions against anger, some Christians believe in such a thing as justifiable anger or righteous anger. Through a peculiar reading of scripture, they read justifiable anger into Christ driving out the moneychangers, confusing zeal and the natural aggressive aspect of the tripartite soul with the passion of anger.  Fathers, such as Saint John Chrysostom, however, state that His actions represented not justifiable anger, but a correction born of love that even the coarse moneychangers could not possibly misinterpret. Those who were angry, and not … [Read more...]

Suffering and Thoughts-Counsel from the Ancient Fathers

Suffering is such a major component of human history that many philosophies, religions, and social theories have been absorbed with the construction of theodicies that attempt to respond to this phenomenon as if it were a problem to be solved or a defect to be eradicated.  Some have gone so far as to claim that life is absurd and devoid of meaning because of such suffering.  These proponents would claim that a world afflicted with human suffering negates belief in the existence of a good and loving God.  Some Christians, especially in the West, have developed theories of suffering founded upon … [Read more...]

Placing Life in the Proper Context: Reflecting on the Last Judgment and Eternity

Another powerful spiritual aid for cultivating good thoughts is reflecting on the last judgment and eternity. It’s intimately related to the subject of our last blog topic, self-reproach and likewise requires a thoroughly ancient Christian worldview.  I mention the word ancient because many modern Christians—who struggle with bad thoughts while neglecting to cultivate good thoughts—don’t think or act as if judgment and eternal life are around the corner in the life of each and every human being, although signs of mortality surround us. For those in the modern world who do still believe in … [Read more...]

Being Impulsive: A Problem for Moderns and Ancients

A number of psychological disorders that cause people a good deal of distress, such as addictions of all stripes, have to deal with the problem of acting imprudently on impulse. One contemporary definition of impulsivity is "... a predisposition toward rapid, unplanned reactions to internal or external stimuli without regard to the negative consequences of these reactions to oneself or others" (Moeller FG, ES Barratt, DM Dougherty, JM Schmitz and AC Swann (2001) Psychiatry aspects of impulsivity. Am. J. Psychiatry 158, 1783-1793). The ancient fathers of the Church had their own theory of … [Read more...]