An Invitation to Heal

November 10, 2015 Length: 43:44

Fr. Christophe outlines the first three steps of a 12-step fellowship, explaining that our affliction is an invitation to heal.

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I will begin this podcast with the prayers from the Akathist to the Mother of God known as the Inexhaustible Cup.

Kontakion 5 and Ikos 5.
Thou hast shown thine honorable icon to be a divinely radiant star, O most gracious Lady, Sovereign of the world, so that, gazing upon it and praying to thee with heart-felt faith, we may say: O Theotokos, grant healing to those who are suffering from drunkenness and any other illness of soul and body, and teach us, the faithful, to praise God, singing: Alleluia.

Seeing the most glorious miracles and wondrous signs pouring forth from that icon which miraculously appeared in Serpukhov, O Theotokos, and also from those that are but replicas of it, we, falling down before thine image, humbly cry to thee:
Rejoice, swift intercessor and helper, hastening to all who fervently run to thee; rejoice, gracious hearer of our supplications!
Rejoice, blessing overarching the city of Serpukhov; rejoice, revealer of thy glorious miracles to distant realms!
Rejoice, inexhaustible treasury for all in need of healing; rejoice, invincible patroness of those striving for a sober life!
Rejoice, champion leader of those who fight against the world, the flesh, the devil, and addiction; rejoice, fervent intercessor of those who lead a pure life!
Rejoice, O sovereign Lady, thou Inexhaustible Cup that quenches our spiritual thirst!

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

We’ve arrived at podcast number five. My name is Fr. Christophe, and for those that may have not listened to the previous podcasts, I am the executive director of the non-profit organization, the Fellowship of the Inexhaustible Cup. I invite all inquirers and anyone who’s benefiting from this podcast to consider going to our website—inexhaustiblecup.org—for further information. We really desire for those that are interested to join us in prayer of intercession, which is what the Fellowship of the Inexhaustible Cup is about. You can find out more information regarding this membership on our website. We thank you for your consideration.

In our last podcast, I spoke regarding the gift of what I called—the Fathers called—the memory of God, which is actually a gift that is a part of the way in which our soul was created by God, and I wanted to touch on the fact that this experience of being able to remember the Lord and gradually for us to involve ourselves in unceasing prayer, the prayer of the heart, where, no matter what we do during the day, we are continuously remembering who we are as children of the Father, activating on some level our faith by the remembrance of God, that he is in all things and he is the Creator of all things, and we are in communion through this remembrance. I spoke about this, and I wanted to let anyone know that if there’s a sense by which you feel that you have not experienced this remembrance of God in your life on a day-to-day basis, there is one way to acquire it, one sure way, and that is to be involved in the therapeutic sacrament of holy confession.

I would also encourage anyone listening that there is great value in a life’s confession, which is not the kind of confession that we experience from week to week but is more in-depth confession, done with a spiritual father. We view our whole life and patterns of sin and often areas that have not come into the light of the Holy Spirit to be healed, areas of repeated sin, particularly that have either become addictive or [are] becoming addictive. We need to consider that a life confession is valuable, and many people, when I ask them about this, they say, “Well, yes, I might have experienced this. I’ve done a life’s confession”—maybe when they’ve converted to Orthodoxy. My experience, along with my wife, is that I’ve had the opportunity to have more than one life’s confession with my spiritual father, and each time it was extremely blessed and a very important part of our healing journey. The remembrance of God, in fact, years ago, after I had left the Church during a period of great rebellion at a time in my life when I left the Church and I was involved in an active addiction, upon my return I was encouraged to do a life’s confession, and this was of great value to me. One of the earliest experiences of getting the gift of the remembrance of God, what the Fathers teach in this area, came as a result of availing myself, humbling myself, and doing a life’s confession. It was grace-filled, and I encourage anyone listening who has not had this experience to consider it and not to see it as a one-time event.

I’m going to overview in this podcast some of the themes that I have spoken about regarding the treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction, and I want to touch on some important things today, just to bring somewhat to a conclusion our overview of the treatment of alcohol and drugs, from both the 12-Step recovery traditional fellowship perspective and the use of the steps as well as what we know we have to include within our experience of holy Orthodoxy.

So I want to review maybe things that you’ve already heard about, but it’s important that we consider that the treatment of all addictions begins with this word in the 12 Steps, no matter what fellowship you’re involved in: with the fellowship of AA, the treatment of alcohol, or NA, drugs, the first step begins with the word “we”: We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had become unmanageable. “We” is a very important word. Anyone that addresses an affliction such as an addiction and the entry into 12 Step requires a way in which we leave our self-sufficiency and our reliance upon ourselves and we join a fellowship. We know that all addictions cannot be treated without such an experience. There’s traditional fellowships, 12 Step, which are of great benefit and necessary, and then we must be also involved in our church parish and experience so that we are not alone and we share the burden of our journey to be healed with others within the Church.

I’ve touched upon the fact that the primary characteristics of drug and alcohol addiction and all addictions are a state of denial, which is often perpetuated by active drinking or doing drugs, and also a tendency to live a life of isolation. The program states: We are as sick as our secrets. Both in 12-Step recovery and in our participation within holy Orthodoxy, we must be committed to emerging out of a place of isolation, where our secrets are kept, and the whole process of healing includes a journey of repentance and holy confession as the foundation of this emerging and the way in which we get better. And we do not do it alone.

Let’s touch on the first three steps if it’s okay with you all. I would like to review the first three steps for those who are in a 12 Step fellowship or those who have not. There’s great value that can be learned for what these simple steps involve. Fundamentally, I mentioned the first step. “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and drugs and that our life has become unmanageable.” This first step requires fundamentally a large measure of humility, because treatment from any addiction is not a matter of exercising more will-power. In fact, it’s the opposite. We must admit defeat, that we have lost our ability to have power over the power of our addiction, and in the second part of the step, which says that our lives had become unmanageable, if one actually picks up the dictionary and looks at the word “managing,” we will see that managing has everything to do with controlling.

In this step we have to admit that we must give up in general a lifestyle of trying to manage and control people and relationships in our lives, places, things—things that are greater than [we]. We are meant to fundamentally come before the Lord in the state of humility and admit that we have no power and that we cannot manage our lives on our own. So we have to act humbly. And I’ve spoken about the need to address, as I’ve mentioned in our previous podcast, our hunger and thirst, which is one of the principle functions of our soul: the appetitive function.

So our whole state of being, whether you’re working a program or whether you are an Orthodox Christian and coming to the spiritual hospital on Sunday to be healed, has to begin with this need that we have, our hunger and our thirst and our inability to fundamentally feed ourselves or rely on created things to sustain us, to fill the void. We give up on a life of self-sufficiency, and we include our brethren and those around us and particularly our spiritual father in helping us, through confession, primarily, to admit where we are in need of healing, where we sin. Without this, we do not avail ourselves to the grace of the Holy Spirit who desires to bring forth our sins in order for them to be removed and for us to be healed.

In the second step, which states, “Come to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity,” we are invited to consider that the whole process of transformation takes time, takes effort, and that there are many obstacles. This step is wonderful because it implies that we are coming to believe, that this is a process, and that many of us who are addicted or come from a whole background of dysfunction in our family of origin, have fundamentally not learned how to pray and have issues of trust and specifically trusting that God himself cares for us. We are fundamentally broken and have a history of affliction and ways in which our parents and siblings and authority figures have trespassed against us. We have experienced the effects of a certain level of disillusionment and separation from the love of God by the very fact that we are raised in our families and that our families are sinful. And we’ve touched on the fact that this is generational, that sin is passed down and addictions are passed down from one generation to another. So there is a process by which we have to come to terms with our lack of belief. We come to believe; this is a process.

A power greater than ourselves specifically refers to the fact that we cannot rely on ourselves, even our own attitude often. We come, as Orthodox, from backgrounds that include heresies and thinking that is downright heretical. We need to be trained and we need to be shaped and become Orthodox, which is a whole life experience, a transformation of the heart, and learning the ways of healing and therapy as taught by the Fathers, but this is not just an intellectual process where we learn through our catechesis classes proper theology. Becoming Orthodox must include a transformation of our heart and the removal of the obstacles which keep us from the love of God and the love of our brother.

We even have to face the fact that, as the second step concludes, that we need a restoration to sanity, and that the very fact that this step says that we are restored to sanity implies that, on some level, all of us suffer from a level of insanity, and we all struggle and have a level of mental illness and deprivation. What I know about insanity, without getting into a lot of specifics, is that the very nature of our insanity is that we are fundamentally not aware and we are spiritually and emotionally blind, blinded by patterns of sin.

We must rely on the grace of the Lord himself. Only the light of the Holy Spirit can uncover patterns that are disguised as light, patterns that we have held onto to survive, often in our families of origin, but are clearly sinful and destructive to our souls, and they will destroy and dismember our relationship with Almighty God and with each other. So we’re committed to a process by which the blindnesses and the ways in which we are spiritually and emotionally deaf, where we have felt cut off by the Lord, by the experiences at home in sin, it is not him who has cut himself off, it’s the consequences of our sins that have placed us in a position where we are afflicted and we do not experience the love of God. And the whole process of inner healing and deliverance include an emerging out of darkness and into holy communion with the Lord High God, to heal the functions of our souls, to remove the obstacles that keep us from relationship with him.

In the third step, which states, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand him,” we are clearly brought into a position as we wrestle in the first couple of steps with our poverty, with our lack of trust, with dealing with issues that emerge that are fundamental to all addictions—patterns of resentment, patterns of selfishness and fear—we gradually, little by little, come to a place where we must, more and more, out of our free will, turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, and we must experience the love of God in new ways in order for us to cooperate with the grace of God in our lives. This is not a given. We are fundamentally rebellious. We are fundamentally disobedient, and we must address our disobedience and our rebellion. And little by little, we have to learn to forgive those that have trespassed against us, because, in so doing, the Lord removes the resentments and the fears that we have been inflicted with, and his love takes over, and he compensates and desires to redeem the suffering of our lives.

We have to recognize—and most addicted people—and I do a lot of this work in my private practice—they have to consider that their concept of God has been often broken by patterns of sin and by their upbringing. While we were supposed to have learned the real love of the Father by our own father, and the love of the Theotokos by our own mother, we recognize that often, based on the sins of our forefathers, we haven’t experienced or we haven’t been properly trained nor taught, and therefore our whole concept of God often ends up being more of a God who is trying to punish us because we are not perfect and because we sin.

We don’t understand that God works in a way to heal us, but that it includes correcting us, and that God allows affliction in our lives in order to heal us, and that afflictions and sickness have purpose. They are meant to help us to come to terms with our sins and to come before him and to walk humbly to have them absolved and healed. And [we need to understand] that God is not a God who is just punishing and looking for his children to be perfect, but on the contrary, like the prodigal son, like the harlot who wept at his feet, like every person who is healed, he allows the affliction in our lives in order for us to begin and be actively involved in a life of repentance, where we admit and we humble ourselves and we bring into the light our need for him and our desire to be freed from sin, to be freed from those things which keep us from pleasing him, like a child would unto any father that they loved, that the need to please the Lord and to abide by his commandments and to have a Father who cares for us, who wants us to be in relationship and for us to desire to please him above all things, this is the purpose of the spiritual life. It is not to place us in a position where we are not cooperating with the grace because of the way we were raised and our mistrust of God and us fundamentally believing that he is punishing us.

So the Fathers speak, and from the Orthodox perspective, how the Lord himself allows affliction in order to bring forth the emerging of a deeper healing of our hearts, and that he whom he loves, the Scripture says, the son and daughter of a father who loves his children, chastises and corrects and humbles us in order for us to grow up and to have a relationship with him that is restored. But this all takes our cooperation. And the Fathers speak very specifically, and there are many writings of how the Lord himself, at a certain times in our lives—and often it involves our afflictions, particularly an addiction—that God has a higher purpose in allowing our afflictions in our lives, that he uses affliction to lead us to a place where we can walk humbly and receive healing from him, that he desires to satisfy our hunger and thirst. But in our spiritual blindness and in our rebellion, we must go through this period where we experience pain and suffering in order for us to enter into the process by which we experience salvation at a deeper level, salvation fundamentally being a restoration of our relationship with Almighty God.

So there’s a process in the steps that we talk about, where we emerge out of our mistrust, and we wrestle with our concept of God, in order for us to be in a position where we can cooperate with the grace of God. And the holy Orthodox Church speaks over and over of the beginning stages of the spiritual life, fundamentally including becoming aware of our sins and doing something about them. It goes on: the Fathers speak of a process sometimes by which we actually feel that God is withholding his grace. We don’t feel the presence of God in our prayer and in our circumstances. This whole process is intended to deepen our faith fundamentally and for us to leave the places where we are dependent upon what we see and what we hear and even what we know. We cannot afford to rely on what we know or what we see or what we hear, for the Lord calls us and states, “Blessed are those who believe in me who have not seen.” He states this to Thomas, to doubting Thomas, when he comes after his resurrection and confronts Thomas with needing to believe beyond what he sees and to have his doubts removed.

In the prayers of the Akathist of the Mother of God, the Inexhaustible Cup, we have references to how the Lord uses affliction and sorrows and pain for our salvation. I’m just going to read from the first kontakion, which states:

Rejoice, perfect cleanser of our sins through sorrows; rejoice, healer of our infirmities through afflictions!
Rejoice, joy of our grieving hearts; rejoice, bestower of heavenly mercy through thy miraculous icon!

Here we touch upon the mystery of evil and sin in our lives, but the whole-hearted desire on the Lord’s part and the purpose of his coming and suffering and dying on the cross and offering us today his precious Body and Blood in order to be healed, that this includes redeeming our afflictions and our sufferings. We must fundamentally accept the fact that life includes sin and death and suffering, but our whole attitude needs to change, and we must avail ourselves [of] our Lord God who mercifully seeks every one of us to be healed and that our afflictions are used for this higher purpose of God, to lead us to the well where the Samaritan woman met Christ, that our hunger and our thirst and our very addiction and affliction is an invitation to heal.

Most people that are addicted are fundamentally tormented with the fact that they don’t believe that God can bring purpose out of all of this wreckage: our sinful pasts, our family dysfunctions, etc. So the Lord often refers to, in many writings, and I’m going to use a few references from the wonderful work of Archimandrite Zacharias in the book called Christ, Our Way and Our Life, which is a presentation of the theology of Archimandrite Sophrony, [as] his spiritual son. I’m just going to touch upon, as we end this podcast, on the fact that we must come to believe that our attitude towards affliction must change and that there is purpose. He talks about how God withholds grace at times in our lives for a purpose. I’m just going to read a few paragraphs to try to encourage all of those that are listening to consider again that our affliction is an invitation to heal.

In chapter four, “The Mysteries of the Ways of Salvation”:

The main explanation for the Christian’s loss of the first and great grace, freely given to him, lies in the fact that his nature is not yet conformed to the spiritual vision revealed to him. The withdrawal of grace and the period of “fiery trials” (1 Peter 4:12) are arranged by God so that man’s nature can be reworked and thus be conformed to the human will such as it is intended to be. During this process, man’s hypostatic principle, the basis of personhood in him, is regenerated. He must undergo his rightful chastising by God as a son (Hebrews 12:7) and be instructed in the mystery of the laws of divine adoption. Until the grace of the Holy Spirit is conjoined with human nature, man is incapable of being guided into all truth (John 16:13) or of bearers of the riches of God’s love. He has to mature and grow, submitting to the training of God and instructed in his perfect will.

The whole way in which we deal with our afflictions in the reality of confronting our sins and being involved in the process by which they are removed, which is painful and involves a crucifixion, we often only think that God is out to get us. We may have experienced much of this dysfunction based on our upbringing, but today we must come to believe that the Lord is not intended on punishing us but that he desires us to walk humbly and to learn a measure of obedience in order to have a restoration of his love fundamentally as Father. We are in the process of being adopted, and we must cooperate with that process.

I will read another small quotation.

The knowledge he has acquired further deepens man’s feeling of spiritual poverty and increases immeasurably his tribulation over the loss of the treasure of grace. The ascetic is persuaded that without the love of God nothing makes sense, and he acts under the influence of the fear of death. In spite of the extreme intense application of his faculties, he does not manage to find comfort in God’s mercy. He is exhausted and so utterly, unbearably crushed that he despairs of life itself. This utter crucifixion will result in one of two outcomes: either man blames God as unjust and falls into the ultimate temptation of rebellion, to be drowned in the gloomy abyss, or, on the other hand, he hopes like Abraham beyond hope (Romans 4:18) and “humbles himself under the mighty hand of God who raises the dead” (1 Peter 5:6, 2 Corinthians 1:9). Only by this second response is man freed from his accursed inheritance and reborn to divine life.

While I will further discuss the purpose of affliction and pain in our lives and the need for us to consider that God redeems our suffering and that we must cooperate with the grace of God in order to be healed, and that it involves this process of emptying and crucifixion and sometimes periods of despair, where we don’t feel the presence of God—this is all intended so we can detach from those things which we are addicted to, remove ourselves from evil influences, and begin a journey of righteousness and rightful choices in order to respond to the grace of God and become adopted by him fundamentally, and we act more and more as his children, relying on him for grace, including the absolution, the forgiveness, which we so desperately need, which must come from the Lord himself. He is the dispenser; he’s the king of forgiveness. He has conquered our rebelliousness, our disobedience by his cross and resurrection, and we must fundamentally experience our own and imitate him and rely whole-heartedly upon him, and as Orthodox we will do this by a primary commitment and focus and re-establishment of holy confession and holy communion, and through this and our relationship with our spiritual father, this entire restoration and adoption is made possible.

In ending this podcast, I would like to end with the chapter four of this last paragraph, where Archimandrite Zacharias writes:

The ultimate degree of God’s forsakenness and the fullness of self-emptying divine love were manifested in the world by the only-begotten Son in his earthly life and in his death (Mark 15:34). Drinking the cup of the Father’s will (Matthew 26:39) and commending his holy soul into his hands (Luke 23:46), he showed his love “unto the end.” Love which conquers death: “It is finished; all is accomplished.” To the degree that the same judgment is at work in a man’s life as in the life of the Son of God (1 Peter 4:17) and man is initiated into the mystery of his training through the pain and suffering which accompany the withdrawal of grace, God’s forsakenness becomes a source of divine charisms. Fr. Sophrony writes: “The more total our self-emptying, the more absolute is our spirit’s ingress into the bright realm of eternal divinity.”

We thank God, and I thank God, for the writings of the Fathers and Mothers who teach us and instruct us as to the mystery of how the Lord allows affliction and pain and sin and addictions in our lives as an invitation to be transformed, as an invitation to make a return and to practice these principles daily. The return of the prodigal son to his father is not a one-time event. The frequency and experience of a life’s confession that I have referred to is not a one-time event. It is an entire way of life. It is the Orthodox way of life.

We continue and will continue to speak and discuss the treatment of further addictions beyond this podcast. The next podcasts address the affliction and illness of the sexual addiction. I ask all those that are interested to continue to listen to these podcasts, to consider to support the non-profit work, both by participation in prayer—six or seven minutes—of ministry of intercession for others with the practice of our Akathist prayers and a small pledge to help sustain us, for we live by faith, and none of these podcasts would be given to the Church without the support of those that participate in our non-profit work at the Inexhaustible Cup.

Let us all consider that we are being invited by a Father who wants to adopt us and that we must, first-hand, experience the transformation of pain and hardship and affliction, and by grace be healed so that we truly know, at a deep level, what the holy crucifixion and the passion of our Lord involves as well as his resurrection. These experiences must become first-hand ours, as we imitate the Lord, as we rely on him, and as we follow in his footsteps, for he calls us each by name as children, in re-inviting us to be restored to a relationship with his Father.

We thank the Lord; we praise him, and we worship him. My hope is the Father; my refuge is the Son; my protection is the Holy Spirit. Glory to thee, O Holy Trinity! Glory to thee!