What is Sanity?

April 7, 2017 Length: 16:44

Dr. Rossi addresses the question, "What is Sanity?" He interviews Alexis, an Orthodox Christian living with schizophrenia.

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I’d like to make a podcast on one of my very favorite questions: What is sanity? Sanity, sanity, sanity. In the popular mind today, especially in the political arena and the public place, sanity is often defined as accomplishment or mental power, and almost always just limited to the head, to rationality, to reasoned thought. I would submit that my own definition of sanity is that it’s an energy within us (the mind) which guides the heart to make decisions of integrity; that’s my secondary definition. My Orthodox definition would be that sanity is the energy within us to do and want and be aware of God’s will for us.

Fr. Hopko used to say, “Sanity equals sanctity,” and we would say that the most sane human person ever to live was Jesus, and Jesus was accused of being possessed by a demon, that is, insane. In John 7, the crowd says, “You do what you do because you’re possessed,” and in Matthew 9, the Pharisees say the same thing: “He casts out devils through the prince of devils,” that is, his mind is bent, possessed, guided by darkness.

Now, I’m saying all of that as a prelude and an additive at the beginning of an interview that I did with a dear friend of mine, Alexis Kyriak, who said I could use her name, who is diagnosed with schizophrenia. For anyone who’s interested, I do have a podcast that I did with her earlier that’s in my archives. I think it’s entitled “,a href=“http://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/healingpresence/orthodox_and_schizophrenic”>Orthodoxy and Schizophrenia” or something like that. I asked Alexis to please prepare a podcast—I was driving to Vermont to give a parish retreat, a retreat to her parish: six-hour drive one way—and I asked her six months before, “While I’m up there, I’m going to try to do a podcast with you on some of your favorite Scriptures. Okay? Okay. So, Alexis, please prepare. Think about what Scriptures are some of your favorites.”

Through those six months, I would bring up the topic again and again: “How are you doing?” “Doing fine.” When I got there, we went to our favorite restaurant, Sarducci’s, for our dinner, and then went and made a podcast, which we will hear. You know what? She said nothing about her favorite Scriptures. She did read from books, prayer books, favorite prayers of hers, and afterwards apologized for not doing what I had requested. We even talked a couple of times about not doing the podcast, because it wasn’t on favorite Scriptures. I wondered whether or not I should even float it, whether I should even post it, but I think that she has something to say to us as a human being who is really sane, really sane, more sane than I.

So we’re left with the question, “What is sanity?” because psychiatrists would say she doesn’t really have all her marbles; she doesn’t have all the pieces together. So, with that prelude, I ask us to listen to Alexis with the question, “Alexis, tell us your favorite Scriptures?” And I certainly believe that. She does go to every church service, and she’s as faithful as she can be to daily prayer, though she lives alone and struggles.

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Dr. Albert Rossi: Today I have the privilege and opportunity to interview once again my dear friend, Alexis Kyriak, who said I can use her name. For those listeners who don’t know Alexis, I would suggest you go into my archives, Becoming a Healing Presence, and, oh, I don’t know, a while ago, perhaps a year or so, is an interview with Alexis Kyriak. The name of that might be, “An Interview with a Schizophrenic.” I don’t recall exactly.

Ms. Alexis Kyriak: “Orthodoxy and Schizophrenia.”

Dr. Rossi: “Orthodoxy and Schizophrenia” is the title. Thank you, Alexis. And Alexis is admittedly struggling with the dysfunction, disease, of schizophrenia in her lifetime, and I have seen her grow immensely over the years to the point now, through therapy and medication—she’s on medication now and goes to therapy weekly—is very functional and artistic. I am here in her home in Northfield, Vermont, where we are surrounded by art pieces that she has done that are just beautiful.

I’ve asked Alexis if she would do another podcast for us, answering the question, “Hey, Alexis, what are a couple of the Scripture quotes which strike you?” Now, I and you, the listener, know that God, through his word, strikes us differently with different pieces, so I’m always interested in the way God works through his word with us, so we’ll hear Alexis. Alexis, would you share with us a couple of your Scripture quotes?

Ms. Kyriak:

O protection of Christians that cannot be put to shame, mediation unto the Creator most constant: despise not the suppliant voices of those who have sinned, but be thou quick, O good one, to come to our aid, who in faith cry unto thee: Hasten to intercession and speed thou to make supplication, thou who dost ever protect, O Theotokos, them that honor thee.

These are called—I’m looking in my prayer book, and it’s “The Small Canon to the Theotokos,” and it is called the first antiphon of the hymns of ascent of fourth tone. They speak—I’m not a scholar; I have no idea the actual history of these prayers, but to my mind they are very ancient, because they are so powerful and so present. It must have been a time perhaps when Christ walked with us, and they are succinct, and they are synoptic. They describe salvation.

Dr. Rossi: Thank you, Alexis. Now would you reach around and maybe get the Orthodox Study Bible? I’m very glad that you shared with us a special prayer from a special canon that is especially to the Theotokos. Very striking. In the Bible that you’re holding, is there some place you can take us that you might read from?

Ms. Kyriak: Well, I would like to read the prayers.

Dr. Rossi: Sure, sure. So rather than Scripture quotes, we can have ancient, honorable, meaningful prayers from the Orthodox prayer book. Again, please, Alexis.

Ms. Kyriak:

From my youth do many passions war against me. But do thou thyself defend and save me, O my Savior.

Ye haters of Sion shall be shamed by the Lord, for like grass by the fire shall ye be withered.

Glory to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.

In the Holy Spirit, every soul is quickened and through cleansing is exalted, made radiant by the triple Unity in a hidden, sacred manner.

Both now and ever and unto the ages of ages.

By the Holy Spirit, the streams of grace gush forth, watering all creation for the begetting of life.

I shall commemorate thy name in every generation and generation.

Harken, O daughter, and see, and incline thine ear, and forget thine own people and thy father’s house, and the king shall greatly desire thy beauty.

Dr. Rossi: Thank you. I’m sorry; go ahead, Alexis.

Ms. Kyriak: I wanted to say those prayers rather than a Scripture reading because they, in terse words, they describe the power and the intent of God, and, as I said, I think they’re very ancient. I don’t know, but they have described salvation. From wars, from the war of the passions, which we all of us, if we are truly in communion, to “the begetting of life” “in a hidden, sacred manner.” Nothing extraneous, just simply life declaring itself.

Dr. Rossi: Thank you. So many things run through my mind right now, especially the words of Fr. Hopko, my dear friend, your friend and mine. One time, Alexis, Fr. Tom called you, and simply said, “Alexis, give me a word,” because he really turned to you as his friend and sometimes person he looked to for a word, and you said to him, “Fr. Tom, don’t edit your irrationalities.” He’s quoted that; he’s quoted it many, many times after that, but the sense that’s going through my mind right now is Fr. Hopko’s sentence that “Sanctity equals sanity.”

In my own life, I wrestle with both sides of the equation—what is sanctity, really, really, really?—proximity to God, whatever that means, and sanity, whatever that means. I know that I don’t know, but I do know, Alexis, that medically, you are on medication and have a psychiatric diagnosis of schizophrenia, and I also know that by a different set of standards, you’re very sane. When I was here in Northfield, Vermont, last time, maybe a year or so ago, one of the parishioners of St. Jacob’s Orthodox Church here, OCA, said to me, “Oh, Alexis is the heartbeat of St. Jacob’s!” Well, isn’t that sanity? I have no doubt that’s the case.

And I’m very glad, Alexis, that you read these prayers to us, because they’re very meaningful. We’ll wrap up. Do you want to say a last word, please?

Ms. Kyriak: Sanity. God sees differently than we do. He sees. The first shall be last, and the last shall be first. And you bring sanctity with you wherever you go, if you love. And also God’s love is uncircumscribable.

Dr. Rossi: Thank you, Alexis. I know that I and Fr. Hopko when he was alive used to look to you for friendship and know that you are really a very loving person. That much I can certainly ascribe to you—love. And, hey, is there a better definition of sanctity than love?

Ms. Kyriak: Well, it’s got to be in the body and blood as well. Love, yes, is universal, but the Christ in our prosphora—we have a small, sealed piece of prosphora, and it’s smaller than the lump underneath it because the Christ is… We are the leaven for the whole world, and to see the kingdom you must have open eyes.

Dr. Rossi: Thank you, Alexis. I’m very glad that our listeners around the globe have a chance to hear and to participate in the wisdom God is giving us through you.