The Church is a Hospital

October 19, 2015 Length: 38:09

Fr. Christophe uses the story of the Woman at the Well to explain how it is that the Lord brings forth healing within the Orthodox Church.

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

The power of the Almighty and the grace of the Sovereign Mother of God strengthened man, suffering from alcoholism. In obedience to the Theotokos, as instructed by St. Varlaam, he set out for the city of Serpukhov, in spite of his paralyzed legs. On his arrival he found the icon of the most-pure Theotokos and was healed from the illness of both his soul and body. Therefore from the depths of his soul, he thankfully exclaimed: Alleluia!

Having thee as an ever-abundant fountain, the Inexhaustible Cup of heavenly gifts, not only the people of the city of Serpukhov, but also all Orthodox Christians of other cities and villages who run to thy miraculous icon called the Inexhaustible Cup, having received salvation before it, fall down and with thankful lips sing to thee: Rejoice, font in which our sins have submerged; rejoice, chalice by which we receive the joy of our salvation! Rejoice, attendant to our spiritual and physical ills; rejoice, vanquisher overpowering thy passions by the might of thy prayer! Rejoice, giver of gifts granting to each according to his need; rejoice, giver of immeasurable compassion to all! Rejoice, key opening the treasury of mercies for us; rejoice, revealer of loving-kindness to those who have fallen! Rejoice, O Sovereign Lady, thou Inexhaustible Cup that quenches our spiritual thirst!

I’d like to welcome all of you to this third podcast, Healing Addictions: The Orthodox Method of Treatment. Today we are going to review and try to fill in the blanks, so to speak, on the topic that I’ve already discussed, mainly, the first function of the soul, which the Fathers have stated is called the appetitive function. As you may recall, the appetitive function is made with great purpose, and it basically is intended for us to have a spiritual thirst and hunger. We have a spiritual thirst and hunger in order for that to be satisfied by the love of God.

The Fathers have been very clear in the ancient Church. They’ve produced a model for healing, and this model—if you’re not aware of it, I will review—begins with the fact that the holy Orthodox Church is the spiritual hospital. We the people must come to the hospital with our ailments, with our illnesses. I hope to help you, help us all, to consider that we must come with a certain readiness and an attitude that we are sinful, we have ailments, and especially if you suffer from an addiction of some kind, that the whole purpose of coming to church is to treat our addictions and to avail ourselves [of] the action of the Holy Spirit so that we can be healed, so that this first function, which is intended to have thirst and hunger in order to have that thirst quenched and our hunger satisfied, may actually take place.

We also know that the Fathers teach that there is a need for therapists, and they have clearly stated that the clergy, within the sacrament of holy orders, are the Orthodox psychotherapists of the Church. They should be prepared and versed primarily on the treatments and the healing of the soul and the body, to bring healing to people. They assist the divine Physician, who is Christ our God, he himself. The Holy Spirit is at work; he is our Physician, but we need assistance. Deacons, priests, and bishops have been ordained to serve in this capacity.

I ask all of you to consider: Do we have this attitude that we are coming to the hospital to bring healing to our ailments? What do people do when they go to the hospital? They are very, very clear about their pain, their ailment, or if they don’t know it they are interested in the diagnosis of what is at the root of their ailment, their breakdown, physically, often. Can we have the same attitude with our whole person, our whole emotional life and our spiritual life and our physical life, as we come to church? I pray that we will adopt this right attitude, but one thing is for sure: we have to participate and we have to learn what it is that the Lord requires of us in order to be healed.

It takes responsibility for acknowledging one’s needs and one’s issues at any given time. That’s probably the first and most important. We should not be coming to church for our social life, although we all need relationships. We should not be too preoccupied with what others think of us. We should be intent and prepared as we approach our Lord God in the holy Eucharist. We have to have a preparation. We must acknowledge what it is that we are needing to a certain degree. Even the Lord is intent on helping us to acknowledge exactly what it is that keeps us from further intimacy with him and with each other. We can begin with simple things that are often problems, like resentment, jealousy, pride, lust, and so forth.

One of the greatest examples of how it is that the Lord brings forth this healing within the holy Orthodox Church I want to discuss more specifically by reading and commenting on the gospel of St. John’s chapter four, on the story of the Samaritan woman.

Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples, then John, through Jesus himself, did not baptize, but his disciples. He left Judea and departed again to Galilee, but he needed to go through Samaria, so he came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.

Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from his journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman of Samaria said to him, “How is it that you, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, Samaritan woman? For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where, then, do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?” Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water, springing up into everlasting life.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst nor come to draw.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband. In that, you spoke truly.”

The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming where you will neither on this mountain or in Jerusalem worship the Father. You worship what you do not know. We know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming and now is when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming. When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

And at this point his disciples came and they marveled that he talked with a woman, yet no one said, “What do you seek?” or “Why are you talking with her?” The woman then left her water pot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, “Come see a man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” Then they went out into the city and came to him.”

So we’re going to discuss this relationship that the Lord had when he encountered St. Photini. In the Orthodox Church she is called St. Photini. And it’s important, I believe, to take a good look at this encounter, because in this relationship, we can see, visibly, the Lord himself addressing the first function of her soul and revealing to us insight regarding what we need and how we need to approach him.

The important thing, I think, initially that we have to become aware of is that Christ meets her and they both meet each other where they are in need of thirst. Christ was thirsty. He was wearied by his traveling, and he encounters St. Photini, and they meet. They have a foundation; they have something very much in common right from the beginning: their thirst. So he acknowledges his own the thirst—the Lord leads by example—and he doesn’t deny it, and he approaches the Samaritan woman with this thirst and asks her to give him a glass of water, something to drink.

I have said more than once that we cannot just experience the Gospel and read about it and remember it as a story that took place in the past or just a historical event. The Gospel is alive. The Lord is prepared to have us experience today everything that has taken place in the Gospel. We cannot just read about an event; we must enter into experiencing that which the events include and describe. Here we have St. Photini acknowledging her thirst, the Lord as well. When we come to church, it is extremely important that we acknowledge our own thirst and our own hunger.

As I’ve mentioned to you before, this function is made with purpose, that there is an ebb and flow in the way the Lord uses this function. He desires to satisfy us, but we can thirst again. The reason for that is, number one, there is sin in our lives, and all sin produced more thirst and more hunger. That’s why it’s so destructive to the soul. Then also the Lord wants to give us more and more of his love. Therefore we have periods where we are satisfied by the Lord, by grace, and then we thirst and we hunger again. This is because he desires to give more and more, to have more intimacy with us, his children, his creation. He dispenses his grace, and his grace is infinite, and he wants to keep on giving.

I’m going to ask this question: How do we acquire the living water which Christ gave to the Samaritan woman? Well, we need to go where she went. Let’s take a look. As soon as she acknowledged and heard the word that he could give her a water that could quench her thirst, where she would not thirst again, she immediately responded. Her heart was open and receptive, based on her need and her willingness to hear his word and to consider what he had to offer. What he asked of her, as soon as that need and that right attitude had been adopted by her, he asked her to humble herself before him and to acknowledge her sins, so he asked, “Go find your husband.”

St. Photini had a history of broken relationships, a pattern of sin. In my opinion, based on what I know, I believe that she may have been sexually addicted and also possibly, almost assuredly, she suffered from the illness of relationship which we call co-dependence. She has had five husbands; she was never satisfied on some level, and had issues, great issues, that led her into this pattern and must have been certainly quite disillusioned. So he asks her to become honest and to come clean, and basically we have the sacrament of holy confession for this purpose. The requirement to be healed was for her to come clean, to acknowledge her sins and not to deny them. The Lord was pleased with her truthfulness and her humility and her vulnerability in acknowledging her history and her patterns with men.

We know that the Lord offers us this vehicle in the same manner through holy confession and that we are going to be required to have a spiritual father-confessor. I want to bring forth the fact that some of the commentaries on this encounter that the Lord had include the fact that she was rebuked by the Lord and that she received correction. She had to acknowledge this history of broken relationships. It wasn’t intended to punish her. It was intended [by] the Lord to remove the sins and to root out that which had driven her into this pattern that ultimately made her more and more thirsty and hungry. This is what sin does to every one of us.

What she encountered with the Lord at that time, after she acknowledged and walked humbly and obediently to the Lord, she encountered the sure absolution and the forgiveness of these sins. In that manner, the Lord literally gave her the living water which he had invited her to receive. It is in our healing, it is in the process of being repentant and re-establishing a need to be forgiven by Almighty God and for the functions of our soul to come back to their original purity and purpose, that we experienced his love, and it includes the forgiveness of our sins. He is the dispenser and the remitter of sins. This is what he came and suffered on the cross and rose from the dead to offer us.

As a result of her repentance, she is healed. The acts of disobedience that had so tormented her for years, she had the hope and the possibility that she could actually not give in to this self-destruction, which would only make her situation worse, but rely and continue to draw on the living water of the Lord Jesus Christ for her sustenance and for her life. She was immediately called by name in a new way to serve and to become a living witness of the very living water which she had received from Christ.

In the icon of the Church, many that I’ve seen of St. Photini, we see a group of people disapproving of this relationship with the Lord and her. They were all murmuring, and they must have had their own opinions, and they were gossiping that how it could be that the Lord was even speaking to a Samaritan woman then and everything else that goes with it. Through her healing, we see that where St. Photini might have been unbelievably vulnerable to the need for the approval of others on one hand, by her very encounter and the experience of the love of God, she overcomes her need for approval. She goes home, and she has only one thing to talk about: the living water as Christ described was bubbling and flowing out of the recesses of her soul. Her soul was illumined, and her thirst was quenched like never before! As a result, she can only and wants to talk about the fact that she had met and encountered the living Christ, the Messiah. She had no reservations.

We know that the Church considers her and gave her a title. It’s part of the icon that we gaze upon, of this event, that she, the Samaritan woman, St. Photini, is equal to the apostles. What does that mean? Historically, we know that out of the abundance and the overwhelming transformation that Christ had given her, she, and many believe, became one of the greatest evangelists that the early Church has ever had. She was equal to all the other apostles, evangelists. Historically, she goes on to travel to some of the most remote parts of the world, and she brought hundreds and hundreds of men, women, and children to the faith, was known to have been involved in evangelizing, baptizing, and not only speaking the word of God, but living the word of God by the living water that she had received from him and that she had been willing to continue to receive.

This is important. This is not a one-time event. Our souls are intended to experience the living water of the Lord in an ongoing way. Are we availing ourselves [of] him for this? So she goes on, she lives an exemplary life of transformation and personal holiness and piety. She eventually died a martyr. Her own siblings converted to the faith and were martyred as well. She ended up giving up her soul to the Lord and reposing by having been cast down into a well. But what we know is that, in the depths of that physical well and what we might consider to be the worst way that one might die and be alone and be forsaken, the love of God had so transformed her that the whole well was full at that moment. She was full. The well of her soul had been filled by the Lord Jesus Christ. There was nothing that would keep her from the love of God that she had encountered.

This is such a glorious invitation for all of us to consider. We as Orthodox need to come to church as a spiritual hospital, enter into the sacrament of holy confession as she did, to acknowledge and to have the help that we need and to humble ourselves before the Lord so that he can act as our divine Physician to heal and to remove our sins. At every Liturgy, we come to Jacob’s well. The Lord re-invites us, each and every one of us, to consider where we need to acknowledge our sins, where we need to come clean and become honest with him, for the purpose of his rooting out our sins, absolving us for our need to experience his forgiveness and where we have been separated and experienced separation which are the consequences of our sins and our relationship with him and our relationship with others and ourselves, he is intended on restoring.

We are invited at every Liturgy to come, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself today offers us not only the living water which he so wonderfully gave the Samaritan woman, but today he even offers us his own precious Body and precious Blood, to quench our spiritual thirst and to heal our ailments, to satisfy our hunger. For he knows our fallen condition, and we are constantly prone to turning to created things to satisfy, and that only makes our condition worse. He is the only one who can heal us, by giving us himself, and he does so at every Liturgy.

How wonderful and how great the love of God is! It is not a theory. It’s not a story in the past. It’s an experience that we are able to have today in the here and now, for the Lord Jesus Christ has risen from the dead in order to give us what we need today. We need to come to the spiritual hospital and to come to church every single time in order to receive more of what he has to give us. His mercy is abundant, his love is infinite, and we know that this invitation and this process that we are involved with now, the therapy of our soul and body, which we must experience today in church, and by participating in the sacraments and by learning what we need to do to avail ourselves [of] the action of the Holy Spirit, that that invitation is one that is great and goes beyond the grave.

His call to all of us is to prepare to enter into the therapeutic experience of his love now for the removal of the obstacles and the sins, our acts of disobedience, so that we can experience intimacy today and be called by name, each and every one of us, beyond the grave, because there will be a day, and we have the living witness of St. Photini and all of the living saints, in the kingdom of God, at this very moment, who have lived this exemplary life who have shown us the methods of treatment that Christ is so willing to give us. They are experiencing and have been prepared in a way that they can see the face of God. They are involved in receiving the living water that he has to offer right now in the kingdom, and we are called to join them one day.

The invitation to have thirst and hunger begins here, and it goes on beyond the grave, where one day we will all join the Lord at the banquet table. We will experience the Divine Liturgy forever in his holy presence, accompanied by the angels and the saints. What a rejoicing goes on in the kingdom of God, and how much we need to experience the joy and the rejoicing of the living Lord! But we know that that will not take place really, personally, without first the healing that I have tried to describe that was dispensed to St. Photini and that we are invited to experience today.

I want to thank all of you for listening once again. I appreciate all of the participants of the Fellowship of the Inexhaustible Cup. I would ask you, please, if you would consider joining us, both to pray, for we rely on each other’s prayers to heal, as well as a small financial commitment—we are very much in need today, for we have expenses and we live by faith, and we rely on our participants. If you are interested, please consider looking at our website for further information or contacting me.

Thank you for listening. I do believe that Ancient Faith Radio at some point will produce a way in which you may have questions for me, and that I will then be able to answer them, so feel free to contact Ancient Faith with any questions that you might have regarding these podcasts. I am open and ready to be of help if I can.

Thanks be to God! My hope is the Father, my refuge is the Son, my protection is the Holy Spirit. Glory to thee, O blessed Trinity; glory to thee! I pray this in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.