More “Where Thoughts Lead Us”

There's been quite a bit of discussion concerning the last blog post "Where Thoughts Lead Us" so I thought I'd add a few thoughts to what I'd said in the last post: Yes, the woman could have been calmly assertive in a non-threatening way and checked out  her interpretations with her colleagues and that may have resulted in some minor shifts in the group dynamic towards egalitarian behavior. Fine. But that's not the path that leads to holiness, which is the only path worth walking upon. I repeatedly tell my spiritual children that evil can never be destroyed with evil, but only with goodness. … [Read more...]

Where Thoughts Lead Us

I’ll begin this blog post with a story related to me by an acquaintance.  It involves a work situation and how one’s thoughts can lead to destructive and bad behavior.  It’s a story about a successful female executive who is a junior partner in a firm.  While she has attained success, status in the firm, and is widely regarded as a bright, articulate lawyer, she harbors deep-seated resentment for what she perceives as “slights” from her male partners.  As she continued to harbor these feelings, nurturing them in her imagination, she was unable to interact with her partners without seeking out … [Read more...]

Counsel for Daily Training in the Virtues at Home

As teachers of the Christian faith and way of life, the fathers were well aware of basic pedagogical principles such as the necessity to practice learned material consistently in order to apply it in real-life situations.  Christian virtue, like every other art, requires daily practice and the support of others. The faithful are encouraged to study throughout the day whatever they gather from the texts of the liturgical services, from sermons given by priests, or from the advice of spiritual fathers in confession. According to Saint John Chrysostom, it is fitting for the faithful to form study … [Read more...]

Thoughts-What Neuroscience and the Church Fathers Have to Say

To some, Saint Peter of Damascus's list of virtues may not be their first choice in spiritual reading, but it's value extends beyond an attempt at thoroughness or an exercise in categorization. Given the associative nature of memory and the way one idea/thought/image primes neural circuits for a series of related thoughts that in turn have a significant influence on how one engages with the world, reading regularly about the virtues may be one of the best ways to ingrain virtuous behavior. In fact, one doesn't even need an elaborate commentary. Simply mentioning a word -- such as forgiveness, … [Read more...]

SPIRITUAL LIFE AND COGNITIVE THERAPY: TWO PLANES, TWO APPROACHES, AND WHERE THE TWAIN DO MEET

Yes, the Church Fathers are operating at a level that is qualitatively quite different from that of standard cognitive therapy. Yes, the prophetic encounter in the grace of the Holy Spirit can lead to a transfiguration in the believer’s life. Yes, the quality of prayer on the part of the confessor and confessant is what matters most in the mystery. So, why would I pursue this line of cross-correlative research? For the same reason that Fr. Seraphim (Rose) advised young people to read the works of Dickens: to help people reach the point where they can open their hearts to the fathers’ … [Read more...]

Learning How to Read for the Health of the Mind and the Health of the Soul

The intersection of modern bibliotherapy and the ancient rumination on the Law, the Psalter, and the Gospels is found most sharply in one of the main purposes behind both approaches, namely increasing awareness to principles that can be used to navigate one’s way through the many difficulties we encounter in life and that hinder us in our attempt to reach important goals, be they normal functioning in one’s environment (psychology) or union with God (in Holy Orthodoxy). Of course, sacred books can act as conveyors of grace that affect the soul at a qualitatively different level than clinical … [Read more...]

Reason and Speech: Timeless Truth and Secular Echoes

Introduction to Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy: A Meeting of Minds Could an ancient mystical path of inner transformation, most rigorously pursued and explored by monks and hermits, possibly bear much resemblance to what now seems to be establishing itself as the standard psychotherapeutic approach to living an effective and rational life? Would they not of necessity lie worlds apart, reflecting two different mindsets, one pre-modern and the other modern and indeed post-modern—one rational and secular, and the other mystical and sacred? As the first century … [Read more...]

What’s the Practical Value?

When I select books that I am going to read, I am usually looking for more than novel discoveries and interesting facts. As a monk and as an American, I want something that works, something that I can apply to my own life, or that I can use to offer consolation for the lives of those around me. I am often searching for practical wisdom such as what you find at the end of Saint John Chrysostom’s homilies, in the correspondence of Saints Barsanuphius and John, or in talks by Elder Paisios. While the first half of Ancient Christian Wisdom deals with theory, the remainder has to do with practice. … [Read more...]

The Importance of Thoughts

So, what’s the book about? In a word, thoughts. The New Testament and the Church Fathers both recognize that a person’s spiritual state is a reflection of the thoughts harbored in the heart. Research in cognitive therapy has verified that psychological states of depression, anxiety, and anger are largely a function of the evaluative thoughts that individuals have about their current situation. Obviously, there is something very similar and something very different going on here. What are the similarities? What are the differences? And what does all this mean? To tease out these issues, I … [Read more...]

Fr. Alexis Trader: Being Christian in a Post-Christian World

The following is the second in a series of four guest posts from Fr. Alexis Trader, a priestmonk and spiritual father of Karakallou Monastery on the Holy Mountain, and author of In Peace Let Us Pray to the Lord: An Orthodox Interpretation of the Gifts of the Spirit. Fr. Alexis has recently released a new book and it is about his new book that he now writes. (The first, third, and fourth posts have been/will be posted elsewhere, please see the posting schedule at the end of this post.) Questions Beneath the Question: Ancient Christian Wisdom and Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy: A Meeting of … [Read more...]