Law, Medicine, and Thoughts: East and West

Nearly every blog post written on this site has concerned itself with the realm of the thoughts and how they play a significant role in one’s psychological state and one’s spiritual life.  It occurs to me that some more background information might be appropriate at this point. As an Orthodox spiritual father confessor, it is my task to assist each of my spiritual children in examining the inner world of their thoughts, in order to get to the root of the behaviors, emotional reactions, and motivations that tend to define their lives.  The ancient fathers tell us that it is in the thoughts … [Read more...]

Some Cognitive Strategies Behind “Making Excuses with Excuses in Sin”

In Ancient Christian Wisdom, I provide a table that indicates some of the ways that the eight deadly sins or passions also take to their service many of the twelve cognitive distortions that therapists try to correct in the process of cognitive therapy. For example, I mention the cognitive distortion of tunnel vision in which a person only sees the negative aspect of a situation.  I note that that particular cognitive distortion is “observable primarily in anger, listlessness, and dejection, but also as an auxiliary factor contributing to gluttony, fornication, and avarice.” Removing tunnel … [Read more...]

Patristic vs. Contemporary Secular Notions Concerning Thoughts

For the purposes of this blog post, I would like to make some general statements about the contemporary secular worldview concerning the thoughts.  Such a worldview holds that there is essentially no moral character to thoughts; only actions are right or wrong in relation to the rights of others in society at large.  Thoughts are neither good nor bad, but in the language of evolution, adaptive to one’s environment leading to self-actualization, or maladaptive leading to mental distress. And of course, the distress is mine to keep if I want it.  Thoughts expressing anger, lust, or jealousy are … [Read more...]

The Spiritual Father’s Ultimate Task: To Enhance Repentance

In Ancient Christian Wisdom, someone who goes to the mystery of confession and repentance is characterized as “a figure with the underlying radiance of the Christian calling, darkened by the fall into sin, and brightened again by the hope of reconciliation.” I also note that “the spiritual father who sees these traits is called upon to enhance them.” It might be helpful to consider how one of the ancient spiritual masters, Abba Dorotheos, did so in training his disciple, Dositheos. In the life of Dositheos, we learn that whenever he would sometimes get angry and speak out while serving the … [Read more...]

Keeping a Thought Nothing More than a Thought

Anyone who has read these blog posts or read Ancient Christian Wisdom can recognize that how we handle the thoughts plays a crucial role in our relationships with others, our spiritual healing, and ultimately salvation and eternal life.  The key to handling the thoughts properly is first quickly to distinguish between good thoughts and bad thoughts and second not to allow a bad thought or temptation to become anything more than just a passing thought, which means we don’t entertain it and certainly don’t allow it to materialize in the form of further action.  Ancient Christian Wisdom offers … [Read more...]

Employing the “As If” Technique in Behavioral Modification

Experience teaches both cognitive therapists and spiritual fathers that it is easier to change concrete actions or to introduce new ones, than it is to change patterns of thinking. In dealing with addictive behavior—whether it be alcohol and drug abuse, gambling, or sexual addictions—the addict needs to learn not only anti-addictive behaviors, but also entirely new ways of behaving, outside of the confining world of constraints and pressures imposed on the addict by the addiction. Ancient Christian Wisdom describes one aspect of this strategy as the “as if” technique. “The ‘as if’ technique … [Read more...]

Some Views of the Fathers on Excuses

In an earlier post I spoke about a reference in Ancient Christian Wisdom to excusing our sins instead of accusing them. One patristic source for this formulation is Blessed Augustine’s On Continence, where he writes the following about the psalm phrase “to make excuses in sins”: “What is more sinful than these words, through which a sinner denies that he is sinful, although he is convicted of a sinful work that he himself cannot deny. And since he is unable to hide the deed or say that it was good that he did it, and since he can still clearly see that the deed was done by him, he tries to … [Read more...]

A Powerful Thought: the Elevation of the Precious, Life-Giving Cross and Christian Behavior

“Before Thy Cross, O Master, we bow down and worship, and Thy Holy Resurrection we glorify!” In general, our behavior is shaped by our thoughts, but only by those thoughts that are powerful enough to grab our attention and to stir our will. And among the billions of potential thoughts we can have, there is one thought, one remembrance that is especially powerful and stirring, and that that is the thought of the Cross of our Savior and bowing before it in the glory of His Resurrection. This is why two weeks into the new ecclesiastical year, Orthodox Christians take courage and strength for … [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...]

Repentance: To Accuse and Not Excuse

If we are to make progress coping with our thoughts, we must make progress in repentance. And if we are to make progress in repentance, it is critical that we learn to accuse ourselves of our sins, rather than excuse them or deny them. In my book, I refer to the writings of Saint Augustine and Tertullian who make the contrast between "the word ac-cusare that implies movement toward accusation and the word ex-cusare that means movement away from accusation."  Unfortunately, even in confession, it is not uncommon for people to weave a series of excuses or denials, so that the person will appear … [Read more...]