With the theme “Resiliency: Body, Mind and Spirit” the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology, and Religion conference was held November 2-4, 2017 at the Ukrainian Orthodox Church Cultural Center in Somerset NJ. OCAMPR exists to facilitate Orthodox Christian fellowship, dialogue and education of professionals in religion, psychology and medicine.
These talks were recorded by Ancient Faith Radio in partnership with OCAMPR and are made available here for free access and download. These plenary talks are in audio format but a video version is provided as a way of showing the slides associated with the talk.
OCAMPR welcomes interdisciplinary dialogue and is committed to exploring an Orthodox Christian understanding and perspective on a variety of pastoral issues. Toward that end, presentations and papers are offered for ongoing discussion and dialogue. The opinions of presenters do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the OCAMPR organization, Ancient Faith Ministries, or of the Orthodox Church.
Rev. Dr. Dn. Stephen Muse: [Applause] Thanks. Thank you, Brenda. This is probably, I don’t know—I got involved with OCAMPR, I guess, in ‘92 or ‘93, and from the vantage point here, a couple of decades later, it’s both inspiring and it’s very humbling and refreshing to hear all of the different perspectives which are kind of like a symphony, [in] that there’s an ison that somehow unites all of us, but there’s so many different melodies, listening to each of the different workshops and the speakers.
What we’re going to do now is I’m going to use the account of the raising of Lazarus for us to talk about some of what we’ve been hearing throughout the conference. I hope after I present just a couple of things that we’ll engage each other around this.
First I want to show you two icons and just reflect about an initial difference in them. What do you see? First, here’s one of [the] raising of Lazarus, and then here’s one of the Resurrection. What do you notice in these two? Yes. I think, let’s see, for Ancient Faith you probably need to come up to this microphone to speak your microphone. That may be tough unless somebody…
Assistant: Turn your microphone up, closer to your mouth. That’s good. Thank you.
It might be good if someone could take that around if it’s not on something, and go to people; that’ll be easier.
C1: In the first icon, it seems that Christ is waiting on Lazarus to come forth. In the second icon, he’s not waiting; he’s taking Adam and Eve by their wrists and grabbing them and pulling them out of Hades.
Dn. Stephen: Thank you; thank you. Other comment?
Assistant: And you will speak up, so that Ancient Faith can record as much as we can. There are two microphones.
C2: In the raising of Lazarus, he has grave clothes on, but Adam and Eve do not.
Dn. Stephen: Ah! Okay. In the first, he has grave clothes on, and in the Resurrection, not. Anything else you notice? Of course, I’m not an expert in iconography… Yes, another?
C3: Christ is in his glory. In the other one, he’s giving a blessing.
Dn. Stephen: Ah! Christ is in his glory in one, and in the other, he’s giving his blessing to come forth. Okay, another comment.
C4: I once had a child ask me why those people are dragging Christ down. [Laughter] It literally was a wild moment, but in contrasting the two icons you showed us, it seems to be taking more effort for Jesus to pull Adam and Eve out of the depths than it takes—
Dn. Stephen: That’s very interesting. That may speak to the heart of the situation. Fr. Lev Gillet makes a comment somewhere that there was a cross in the heart of God the Father before there was one outside the gates of Jerusalem, which ties up very nicely, I think, with what Fr. John was offering us earlier. I do think that these two icons represent different aspects of the whole of the event of the creation and of Christ’s fulfillment of it. If we look at the raising of Lazarus, for me this still rings of the “Let it be.” “Come forth”: the word brings him alive, but Lazarus is going to die again. This isn’t Lazarus’s resurrection at the end; he’s going to die again. In the other icon, Christ has already died and has risen and ascended to the right hand of God, and this time when he raises unilaterally humanity, Adam and Eve, there isn’t anything… Of course in both, Lazarus didn’t do anything either, but there’s a difference. One is really inviting us to look and see what it would really be like to have an eternal biological life without sanctification. The second one invites us to look at what it is to spiritualize the body in Christ eternally.
So, looking at that as our kind of beginning note, I want to move to St. Isaac the Syrian. Let me say this. In the current culture with the International Classification of Diseases, ICD-10, and in the DSM, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, that helps us look at what psychiatric illnesses are, in both cases, from the physical medicine standpoint, if you didn’t have any kind of diagnosis, you’d be in vital health. And in the mental health standpoint, if you didn’t have any diagnoses in the DSM, you’d be in vital health.
But from the standpoint of an eschatological realization of what a human being fully is, in neither case, if you were healthy with the ICD or the DSM, would you be fully alive or fully human. There would be an incompleteness, a spiritual, developmental immaturity that would be there. Also, both of these diagnostic manuals are individual-focused, and it doesn’t look at the larger systemic context which has an impact both on our illness as well as our completion of our human life. So, for example, something like the kind of cultural traumas that impact people systemically would be diagnosed as an individual illness, but really the problem’s not in the individual; it’s in the society in many cases.
So I want to use St. Isaac the Syrian to help us look at this in a very different way. His first one:
If you suffer no lack in anything that you need, your body is healthy [and] no adversities threaten you, and if you say that, with all this, you can advance towards Christ in purity, then know that your mind is sick and you are deprived of the taste of divine glory.
Anyone want to comment on that? How does that strike you? Please, come up front.
C5: I would say that, as a chaplain, it’s definitely how I would approach my patients, but my patients would beg to differ with me. If I told my patients what I’m really thinking, that their diagnosis is actually an opportunity, they really would have a hard time with that.
Dn. Stephen: Yes, and that’s really easy to say if the person saying it is healthy in those ways, yes, but you’re raising up a context from the chaplaincy that’s much wider than just physical vitality or mental health. Anybody else? Does this seem quite normal and no problem? Sometimes I get objections with this when I raise this with people. They object mightily, but this group is converted, I guess. [Laughter] Okay. All right.
So then, a balance to this, or further extension, as St. Isaac says:
While you’re still on your way to the city of the kingdom, let this be for you a sign that you are drawing near to the city of God: that you meet powerful trials; and the nearer you draw and the more you progress, the more trials multiply and assail you… for God leads the soul into suffering trials in the exact proportion to the grace he bestows.
When I read this at one conference, someone raised the question: What if you come from an abusive background and you come to the Church and you start hearing about how abuse is a sign of divine grace? This can be real disheartening. That has to be addressed pastorally, but I think one of the problems that we have is that if we don’t recognize that Christianity and Christ is an event that comes to us from outside the created order, from the uncreated order, we run into all kinds of problems. These things can’t really be understood by conflating the uncreated with the created or psyche as arguably in some way as psychology does, as being the whole enchilada. The transformation of humanity comes from the encounter between the uncreated and the created, in theanthropos, in the God-man. Apart from that, Orthodoxy doesn’t make any sense. It’s very confusing.
So when we approach from the standpoint of science, I wanted to offer this from the Deification of Christ, from Panayiotis Nellas, which I think is a really good comment.
The task of contemporary Orthodox theology: [it] does not consist in theologians identifying themselves with scientific research or political action, with the idea of corroborating these things, nor does it consist in trying to overthrow the achievements of these things on the basis of a supposedly evangelical or patristic teaching. The Gospel teaches that the struggle of the faithful is “not against flesh and blood”—that struggle within the framework created by science, politics, and the other dimensions of the “garments of skin,” because such a framework is not of its own nature evil—but it is a struggle “against principalities, against powers, against world rulers of this present darkness” (Ephesians 6:12), against the devil and sin.
Orthodox theology ought to practice a discernment of spirits. Its aim should be to liberate whatever good exists among the fruits of scientific research, technological development, and so forth, from lawless autonomy, which is slavery to corruption and the devil, the ultimate sin, and to assign to this good element an ordered place within its own catholic truth, because that is where it belongs by virtue of its own nature: “for whatever is called good by all men belongs to [us] Christians.”
In other words, this is also a caveat as we approach the mission of OCAMPR, is to frame medicine and psychology within the larger theological context, the discernment of spirits, and to utilize everything good in all of these, but not to make the mistake of thinking that science and technology will lead us to a truth which has not been offered to us in Christ, because then we’re selling out the Church in the sense as though technology or something is our savior, which is a big mistake at the level of our epistemology, the same as it would be practically when we just try to save ourselves through psychology, which I think has happened a lot in the Western Church, because the Western Church has missed the ontological root of the faith.
Jean Claude Larchet says:
Man defined by himself, independently of his relation to God that is inscribed in his very nature, is a non-human-being. There is no such thing as pure human nature; man is man-god, or else he does not exist.
Then, “paraphrasing Fr. Georges Florovsky, we can say that in anthropology the truth without corporeality is a phantom, and corporeality without the truth is a cadaver.” So Frankenstein could, let’s say, live a billion years. He could be raised from the dead, and yet not be a person. Elon Musk and Bill Gates and others have started warning us about artificial intelligence as it begins to be able to increase its own speed and aliveness. What will happen when artificial intelligence gets to the point where it recognizes that humanity is not as efficient as the machine can be? Since the machine won’t recognize personhood, humanity will need to be eliminated because we’re inefficient. So, without any malice whatsoever, we will be in a potential battle as we can sort of see systemically as we become ciphers in a production system where we are measured by what we can produce, not by any value of belovedness to God.
So then it’s not humanly possible to conceive or imagine what the transition is from a humanistic encounter to faith. Here we have the icon “Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! [Jesus says] Touch me and see: a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have.” And he says to Thomas, “Put your finger here and touch my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
St. John the Theologian says, “Blessed are you when you have faith without seeing.” How do you understand this seeming—I don’t think it’s a paradox, but it sounds like that, that Jesus is pointing to his flesh, but Thomas comes to faith. What is happening in this? Let’s talk about this for a minute, because I think it’s an extraordinary and very important kind of gap between what is touched by the senses, thought about by reason, and yet the arrival at faith that comes without doing either one and yet is invited to do that as a way to make sure it’s real faith. Come up to the mic if you would, please.
C6: Is it more about, for Thomas and for us, that Thomas, by touching the Lord’s wounds, comes to experience of him as his Lord and his God? And that leads him to… More than just seeing that Jesus is alive and seeing that he has his wounds, but coming to an experience of it. We celebrate this feast after Pascha, and for me it’s always kind of evoked images of the Eucharist, that Thomas approaches the Lord’s wound, and that we also approach the Body and Blood, and we come to an experience of God. We may not see Christ as he was, as Thomas did, but we have the same experience of him. So that leads to faith without necessarily seeing in our physical senses, but seeing in a more ontological sense, I guess.
Dn. Stephen: Okay, when you say the word “experience” and link it to touch, I’m not sure—we’d have to look closely—I’m not sure we actually know whether he touches him or not. He’s invited to.
Dn. Stephen: And then we also have that eleventh beatitude from St. John, that “Blessed are you if you come to this realization without seeing.” When we say the word “experience,” what are we talking about? Is “experience” the same thing as “encounter”? One way to look at this is: If I experience you, says Martin Buber, I’m far from you, but I can stand in relationship with you. Can I actually experience you without objectifying you, without creating you in the image of my rationality and my empirical observations? I don’t think that’s possible. So one psychologist in England, Dr. Jamie Moran, has a pithy way of expressing this. He says, “Projection is a failure of repentance.” So the log in my own eye is my entire experience from this standpoint.
In this sense, Christ is the ontology of relationship. We are related in Christ, but not by experience, per se. Our experience is changed by our relationship with Christ. Faith changes us, but when we move from experience to encounter, I would say that we die a small death, and that in order to love, this death has to reoccur over and over and over again. There’s a saying on Mount Athos: “Die before you die, so that when you die you don’t have to die.” [Laughter] In one sense, of course, that’s the big death I think that Fr. John was pointing us to earlier, but there’s a small death that is necessary for love, because love doesn’t have a way of controlling the other person through my experience of them, which [Archimandrite] Meletios (Webber}, in one of his books, reminds us that experience is always of the past. And that leaves the mind in control. But in love, the mind is not in control in that way; it’s venturing out into an unknown potential, and how does this occur? So I’m pushing back to you to say: What happens to Thomas when Jesus says, “I’m here, I’m physical, you can touch me,” but will that do it?
C6: I think it’s interesting, because I think about when you were talking about “experience” versus “encounter,” I thought about St. Paul and when he saw the light. It seems like, maybe you’re maybe you’re making the distinction of “encounter” as something that’s more personal that leads to change, whereas “experience” can be kind of skewed and biased. Is that what you’re saying?
Dn. Stephen: Yeah, and I was suggesting that “experience” is always an objectification of the other, but “encounter” is a potential communion with the other, and that this effects something different than can happen through objectification of the other.
C6: I agree with that, and a part of me says maybe God doesn’t see it different… God sees the difference, but when God appears to someone, when God appeared to Paul, he could have, I suppose, rejected that experience, and he could have put his biases into that experience, but at the same time, God’s light was so compelling to him that he had no—not that he had no choice, but that he was so overwhelmed and so compelled that that experience that God revealed to him became an encounter. For me, it almost seems that God gives the experience or God enters our lives, and it’s up to us whether we make it an encounter or a rejection, perhaps. I don’t know; that’s one thought.
Dn. Stephen: Boy, I wish we had more time, because I don’t know… Someone was doing a workshop on Thibault, who had looked at surrender, the nature of surrender, which was very interesting. It reminded me of one of [Fr.] Martin Laird’s comments about prayer. He’s written a good book on prayer, and he says that surrender… There’s no way into silence, there’s no way into hesychia except through surrender, but there’s no map of the silence that is surrender. There’s no objectification, there’s no way you can have a plan to follow in the way we do things in this world to enter into silence. Silence is entering into the realm of communion, and it drops off the edge of the world. There’s no map to predict it ahead of time so you can go there the next time or ever. On your own stain, so to speak. In that sense, hesychia and love and God at one level always remain outside of our ability to create any kind of contact, and yet God comes to us.
So Blessed Theodore says:
Supernatural knowledge is knowledge which enters the mind by a way which transcends its natural means and powers, or in which the object of knowledge is transcendent in relation to the mind tied to the flesh, so that such knowledge is clearly the attribute of incorporeal mind. It comes from God alone.
So in a love relationship, the beloved’s love of the other is a total gift. It can’t be controlled. Any attempt to control that injures the love. In the case of God, there’s no bridge between the uncreated and the created except the One who consubstantially unites these two in his Person. So then the encounter with the Person of Christ becomes what is of most importance.
Now we go to Lazarus, and we’re going to run out of time here, but let’s just look at this real quickly.
Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.”
When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when he heard that Lazarus was sick [guess what he did], he stayed where he was for two more days…
How many of you, if someone said, “The one you love is sick!” would say, “Okay, I’ll see you in a couple of days?” [Laughter] This is one of those odd things you find in the Gospel according to John that requires us to look in a way that breaks up our ordinary way of grasping things. What’s going on here?
“The sickness will not end in death.” Now Dee Jaquet gave us this wonderful way of thinking about Orthodoxy earlier, yesterday that there’s a yes, a no, and a God-only-knows that contradict each other. “This sickness will not end in death.” Yes. Does he die? Mmm-hmm. So there’s a problem. [Laughter] But God only knows what’s happening here. What do you think it is?
“Rabbi,” they said. The disciples want to figure this one out. “A short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you.”
They’re concerned about something else, not Lazarus. They want to stay alive.
“You’re going back?” Jesus says, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight?”
Let’s think apophatic and cataphatic here, maybe. We’ll keep Dee’s comments in the background here. “Are there not twelve hours in the daylight, half of 24?”
“And anyone who walks in the daytime won’t stumble, for they see by this world’s light.”
Maybe those who are already all together don’t need a physician, or the ones that don’t realize we need a physician.
“It’s when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.”
Where do you go when you think of the immense stumbling where there is no light? Where is that? Hell? Hell. Death. Helplessness of humanity.
After he said this, he went on to tell them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going to wake him up.” His disciples replied, “If he sleeps, he’ll get better.” Jesus had been speaking of his death [the narrator tells us], but his disciples thought that he meant natural sleep.
So then he said to them, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may—”
What? Come to faith. Come to that place Thomas came. Come to that place the whole gospels are written for us to come to. Let’s go to him, and then Thomas, known as the twin, says something really wonderful.
“Let us also go, so that we may die with him.”
I can only hear that right now with St. Ignatius ringing in my ears, pronounced emphatically by Fr. John that Thomas, though he may not realize fully what he’s saying, is saying, “Let’s go, that we can be caught up in that and be raised by him.” It’s almost as though he has a certain faith in this context, a premonition.
On his arrival, Jesus found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days. Now Bethany was less than two miles from Jerusalem.
I love these details that we get in John. What are they in there for?
And many Jews had come to Martha and Mary to comfort them for the loss of their brother. When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went out to meet him. Mary stayed at home.
“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”
What is she asking? Pretty clear.
Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” And Martha said, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”
But I want him now! That religion stuff is good, but I want my brother back!
And Jesus said to her, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. [The Way, the Truth, and the Life.] The one who faiths in me will live, even though they die. And whoever lives by faithing in me will never die.”
Here we are again: he’s dead.
“Do you believe this? (Do you faith this?)”
“Yes, Lord,” she replied. “I believe you’re the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God who is come into the world.”
Does that give us a magic carpet to escape the human trials because we believe in the historical Jesus or we have an emotional attachment to our memories of Christ or to the Gospel? Does it give us a one-up on the rest of humanity, or is Christ not a respecter of persons in such a way that he is the Truth, he is the Way, he is the Life, and there isn’t any way to him except through the human journey?
After she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary aside.
She’s definitely the older sister.
“The Teacher is here,”
That really captures me, that “The Teacher is here.”
...she said, “and is asking for you.”
When does Jesus ask for her that you can think of in John’s Gospel again? It’s not exactly asking for her, but he calls her by name. When?
A1: “Martha, Martha!”
Dn. Stephen: No. Well, later, after the Resurrection. She doesn’t know who he is; she thinks he’s the gardener. But when he calls her name, she comes to him and will reverence his feet.
She got up quickly and went to him when he called for her. Now Jesus had not yet entered the village, but he was still at the place where Martha had met him. When the Jews who had been with Mary in the house, comforting her, noticed how quickly she got up and went out, they followed her, supposing that she was going to the tomb to mourn there.
When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet, and she said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Twice we hear this. “If you had not been asleep in the boat, not caring whether we perished, maybe we wouldn’t be in this predicament.”
When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit.
I didn’t check the Greek on this, but a lot of times this refers to the bowels; this refers to a type of deep biological experience in the enteric brain that is very incarnational, and it’s clearly an expression of Christ’s embodied life.
He was moved, and he said, “Where have you laid him?”
What do you think of when you hear, “Come and see, Lord?” O readers of the Gospel of John, what do you hear? “Come and see, Lord.” This is a reversal. Where did you hear that in the beginning of the Gospel of John? Who said, “Come and see”? Christ, to the apostles, who were students of John the Baptist. They saw him, and they began to pursue him, and they questioned. They wanted to know about his life, and what does he say? “Come and see.” So first they seek him, “Come and see,” and now they say to him, “Come and see, Lord.”
Come and see what? What’s the invitation to Christ from humanity? The entreaty, the imploring. Fr. Dionysios Haralambos says that the Syro-Phoenician woman had noetic prayer when she said, “Lord, have mercy on my daughter!” She had noetic prayer because from the heart, completely embodied, in love, she cared nothing for herself. She would take any insult, and she simply cried out. So here, the cry is to Lord from humanity, and where does humanity invite the Lord to come and see?
Dn. Stephen: More than suffering. Death! “Come and see death. Come and see what happens to humanity. Will you come that far?” How far will Job’s friends go? Seven days, they go, then they give him a crummy theological bromide. They do what betrayed the men and women from Vietnam, trying to justify something rather than to go with them into the place where they wrestled with something they couldn’t overcome. There was a deep betrayal in that.
Job’s friends said, “We aren’t going any further with you, because you want to have an encounter with God for real, and we want you to take a theology that will give you control of God. If you do this, this, and this, God does his part like a slot machine. You put a nickel in, God gives you what you’re supposed to get. You deviate from that, you lose. That’s the game.”
Job says, “I’m not having it.” Because who is Job? Job is someone who actually loves God, and God says, “You know what? The way we’ll see that is to go ahead, Satan. You go ahead and test him. You go ahead and put him through what happens to a human being in a lifetime. Take his kids. Take his property. Strip him of everything that is a human gift. But you can’t take that which is the seed of his personhood, the potential to encounter me. That you can’t do.”
So in the whirlwind, Job discovers “You are God, and I am not,” and then he’s on his face, doing what his friends thought he ought to do, but now he does it in a way that he could never have done by conforming to something, by turning religion into something that executes Christ in the name of man.
When they say to Jesus Christ, fully God, fully man in one Person, “Come and see humanity’s death,” Jesus wept.
And then the Jews said, “See how he loves humanity!”
What else could prove how much he loves humanity?
But some of them said…
Now we hear St. Irenaeus against the Gnostics ringing from this morning.
“Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”
That’s the way we do it. We create a Frankenstein. We miss personhood that God offers. We miss a gift so marvelous, because it stretches us beyond where we are able to stretch on our own.
Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.
Now Martha, who kept the kitchen organized, says; the sister of the dead man says:
“By this time there will be a bad odor. He’s been there four days.”
Clearly, he is dead. I don’t know why she’s not considering he’s going to be raised from the dead, but is concerned about the odor.
Then Jesus said, “Didn’t I tell you that if you have faith, you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may have faith that you sent me.”
What is this strange detail: “Father, I thank you for this”? The most difficult thing in the gospels for people to understand is the consubstantiality of Jesus. Even Jesus grows developmentally in his humanity: he’s a child, but psychologically and in every other human way, he experiences the full growth, helplessness, and death of a human being, without the passions of sin.
When he had said this, Jesus said, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.”
He did not pass through the linens as arguably Christ did in the tomb, where he simply… The linen shroud simply dropped on the tomb without having been disturbed at all, and he passed through it just as he did the doors that were locked, because his body was no longer the body of a limited human being; it now was a spiritual body, fully.
“Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
But Lazarus will die again.
In the garden we mentioned Mary doesn’t know who Jesus is, and he says, “Do not cling to me.” This has the sense as in Job 31:7, where in the Hebrew dabak, which signifies cleave, cling, stick, fasten, be glued to. What would she be glued to? She was wanting to reverence him, to touch his feet? But who was she touching, and for what purpose? Was she touching the risen Lord? Not in her mind, perhaps. She was continuing a relationship she had with Christ before his resurrection and before, as he says, “I have not yet been glorified.” Where he’s going, to raise humanity to the right hand of God, places him in the culmination of an event that starts with creation, and it’s a different relationship with humanity, a fulfilling of something that cannot occur if we cling to a Jesus before that finishes. So in once sense it’s finished on the cross, but it’s not finished until the Ascension. In that sense, something is being worked out with each person who has the potential to be in communion with Christ, which is not a guarantee; it’s a potential.
So Fr. George Metallinos writes:
The believer who moves within the territory of supernatural knowledge, knowledge of the uncreated, is not called upon to learn something metaphysically or to accept it logically, but to undergo something by communing with it. It’s at this point that the Church’s mission as the body of Christ is substantiated, as is her reason for existence in the world, to render [humanity] receptive of that knowledge, which is simultaneously [our] salvation.
Fr. Schmemann writes:
Christianity speaks about the restoration of life as communion, it speaks about the spiritual body that over the course of our whole life we have developed through love, through our pursuits, through our relationships, through our coming out of ourselves. It speaks not about the eternity of matter, but about its final spiritualization; about the world that finally becomes truly a body—the life and love of mankind; about the world that has become fully communion with Life.
We won’t have time for this, but I invite you to consider this question. That’s Jacob wrestling with the angel. I think I’ve mentioned this previously in other workshops, but I’ll remind you that “struggle Israel,” one who struggles with God, but Bethlehem, I would suggest, does not mean “house of bread,” but “house of struggle,” because “bread, elechem”—“beth” is “house”—has two meanings. One is “leaven”: leaven the dough. That’s a struggle, for us to be fully leavened. The second one is hand-to-hand combat. That is a struggle, too. So in this sense, the Savior of the one who struggles with God struggles with man, struggles with humanity and defeats death by death. So there’s a reversal there, completion in which Israel gets the name of man struggling with God, and then the Savior struggles with man. In his Person he completes something that makes it possible for man to receive life through an eternal breathing, an intercourse of dialogical reciprocity of clay and divine fire.
Those who believe that they believe in God, but without any passion in the heart, without any anguish of mind, without uncertainty, doubt, and an element of despair even in their consolation, believe only in an idea of God and not in God [himself].
Then we could look—we’re reminded of this every Liturgy, but this is St. Luke the Surgeon:
I lived martyrdom, which so strangely cleanses the soul.
And then St. Paisios:
Someone who faces every problem spiritually is not exhausted. The more I am pained by people’s sufferings, the more I pray and rejoice spiritually at telling Christ everything and having him take care of it. I notice as time passes and physical courage diminishes, spiritual courage increases, because love, sacrifice, and compassion for others provide great spiritual strength.
Just as doing something for another is a prophylactic against the helplessness of PTSD, there is a very strange paradox in care of the caregiver that he is getting at here. Care given out of our human powers exhausts us and burns us out. Care that becomes an encounter with the other is holy ground, and we are refreshed by the patient we see becoming the host who offers Christ to us through the encounter.
Fr. Dumitru Stăniloae:
Through the human spirit, inserted within the world, the divine Spirit is himself at work, to bring about the spiritualization of the world through his operation within the soul of humanity, and in a special way through his incarnation as man.
So in the garden of Eden, with the break with God, all of nature is disrupted. This seems like a strange idea, if you think of it from a materialistic science, but if you think of it in the light of what Fr. Stăniloae is saying here, since humanity is the royal priesthood, if the breathing between the uncreated and the created, in and through the Christ, is the way the world becomes spiritualized, then humanity, by abnegating the fulfillment of our potential to become human, destroys the entire cosmos. It has no voice. There’s no anaphora of the cosmic liturgy.
How many of you have seen this picture before? This is Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi Monastery. You can look up this online. It’s a really interesting account. When he died, he was very revered there, their elder. When he died, his mouth was hanging open, and they kept trying to close it so he would look a little better in death, Fr. John. But the abbot said, “Leave him alone.” So when they covered him up and when they prepared the body, which took some hours, when they cut the place around his face out, that’s what his face looked like. They call it the smile from eternity. I don’t know any mortician that could make a face look like a beatific vision, but this is a small kind of testimony of sorts that, from one world to another, through a cadaver that wasn’t a cadaver but had lived a life in such a way that in such a way he became a communication between the two worlds in Christ.
So Fr. Ernesto Cardenal has in one of his poems a wonderful statement:
We are not a meaningless passion (humanity) as Sartre calls us, but a passion whose meaning is God.
So St. Silouan’s word from Christ was: “Keep your mind in hell and despair not.” Go through the potential trauma of human life, suffering and death, because it is the formation of eternal life through the gift of God. So I suggest that the cross is the presence of God in humanity’s experience of God’s absence. We won’t feel the consolation in the darkness where there is no light, but this is the testimony of Christ’s love for humanity, that Christ goes there.
I sometimes ask my patients, “Would you rather be in the hell that you’re in with God right beside you but for whatever reason not changing what’s happening to you, or would you prefer to be in paradise absolutely alone?” One or two choose paradise, but mostly facetious, I think.
My final one. I hesitate sometimes to show this one, because I don’t want to give the impression that life is just suffering, because what I’m trying to do is to make room for us to receive suffering sort of like—I forget her name, but during the Donald Jenkins workshop—she’s a gold star member and had lost her husband—she asked herself, “Would I give up the love that I had with my husband all those years to escape the pain I have now where it’s so hard sometimes I don’t want to open my eyes and I would rather die?” And she said, “No, of course not. I would never choose to lose the love to escape that.” That’s extraordinary testimony of our faith and of our humanity.
The amount of suffering that the soul can accommodate (Elder Alexander of Gethsemane says) is also how much it can accommodate the grace of God.
Bruce Metzger, one of my seminary professors, said, “We’ll never know how much Christ was tested, because he never gave in, and we always do.”
All right, that’s all I’ve got. If we have time for questions, I’d love to see what this kicks up for you. If you would, just come up to the front and we’ll see.
Assistant: Come up to the front.
Dn. Stephen: Don’t be shy. We only have a few minutes.
C7: Thank you, Father. More of a comment than a question, I think, between Fr. John’s presentation this morning and yours. This afternoon, it’s a profound reversal, an upturning, perhaps. I try so hard to keep this thing turned up on its head, but the world in which I live tries to right it all the time and put things back into a reductive, scientific order. Then I come to these presentations and once again it gets turned up on its head where it belongs. So I’m profoundly thankful for that and deeply moved. I guess I wanted to acknowledge that it’s difficult. I want to have these in my ear, where I can… I just don’t get enough. The world doesn’t talk like this, and it’s what makes us a gift to the world, and I find myself having a hard time maintaining contact with these deep truths. Between those two and just walking in the realm of death and what death is and what suffering and pain can be, and the powerful image of the cross, I’m just deeply thankful for the opportunity to see that again and to be reminded that that’s really what we’re all about.
I will never forget the night of my canonical confession. Fr. John Behr, before my ordination to the priesthood, asked me, “What does it mean to serve your community in the Person of Christ?” And I danced around, talking about the serving the liturgy and hearing confessions and all the things that I thought, you know, made a priest a priest. And he took his own pectoral cross and offered it to me and said, “Isn’t it this? To what extent can we do this?” And he said, “And who’s going to put you there?” And I didn’t know how to answer that, and he said, “Well, the people you try to serve. It’s very infrequent that people are going to want to hear the message of the Cross, and it can bring about our own crucifixion.”
So the centrality of this and all that’s been said is really very, very meaningful to me and my work in the military and with warriors. So I just wanted to offer that and say thank you for these two powerful reminders.
Dn. Stephen: Thank you, Father.
Dn. Stephen: Yes, no, thank you. I know Fr. Sean well. [Laughter] Someone told me that salt is what they put on the sacrifices to God, and if that’s accurate, it certainly gave a new life on “Keep salt about you.” We are always being sacrificed and killed; Christ is exactly what you were talking about. “If they wanted to hear me,” the Lord says, “they will hear you. If they didn’t, they won’t.” He predicts that we will undergo the same thing. We don’t want to hear this, but this is the way.
Q1: Dn. Stephen, thank you for your allowing us to have a meaningful encounter with Christ through you. A lot of times I try to write down these profound thoughts, and in the process, you were thinking about something and you go on to something else, because there’s a time schedule, but one of the things you had mentioned was missing the personhood that God offers because it stretches us. I know from the teachings of Elder Sophrony, the disciple of St. Silouan, that the personhood, achieving personhood, is a hypostatic principle of becoming closer to Christ. Could you clarify what you were saying about that missing the personhood that God offers because of something that I missed while I was thinking of the last thing you said? [Laughter]
Dn. Stephen: The way I think of this is if I refuse to encounter a person, I refuse Christ, so that each person is a unique hypostasis, their body, their soul. Christ offers the world through each of us a unique aspect of his Person. So the real test is, when we come to the fork in the road, after the initial stuff of where we refuse one another and we act nice, because we’re alike, and then we try to convert each other to our position so we can fuse, and then we ignore each other because we can’t convert and can’t fuse—after that, we come to a fork in the road, and there’s only two possibilities as I see it.
One is, I encounter you, I die to the one I was before, and I am reconfigured by the communion which happens in and through Christ with you; he is our ontological relationship. Or, if I refuse that, if I refuse to pay the price of respecting you, looking again and again, and undergoing the suffering involved and not being the center of the world, with you objectified by me, if I don’t pass, if I don’t risk having my experience rearranged by the encounter, then I have to destroy you, because I can’t ignore you, I can’t convert you, I can’t fuse with you (because you’re not like me), and I refuse to encounter you: I have to kill you. This is what I’m saying, that ultimately, underneath everything, we are invited to either love and receive Christ and pay the price Christ does, because he has enemies; or we become the antichrist, and we refuse the encounter with all others to save ourselves. That’s the best I can do right now.
Q1: Thank you.
Q2: I just have a quick question about past trauma and wounds that people may suffer in going through the suffering that they go through. I think there’s an implication that there’s an intellectual understanding. What about people that are somehow intellectually inferior, that may not be able to understand personal trauma or injuries in a different way, and how you might look at the salvific process in that situation?
Dn. Stephen: That’s wonderful. This won’t speak directly to that, because you’ve asked something that is fascinating and need more thought, but there’s one thing that I do realize. Sanctification doesn’t depend on our intellect or our physical vitality and all that. There are people you get around that you experience a blessing a kind of—like St. Seraphim says, “Acquire the Holy Spirit, and people will be saved around you.”—who can’t communicate because their brain doesn’t do that, but they are full of grace. There’s a mystery there that all I can say is: “God only knows.” I don’t know, but it’s very clear that there is not a one-to-one relationship between human vitality, intellectual prowess, and all that, brain integration—and sanctification. Something else is going on, and it shows up in all sorts of ways, just like somebody mentioned one person out of nine in a horrible family does great. We don’t know why that is. We can’t add up all the different things we might identify as contributing factors.
What it does raise, too, Deacon, even for me, is the difficulty of assisting someone when they don’t operate on the same ways that I would in terms of thought. That goes from a two-year-old child to someone who has a developmental difficulty. They prove more difficult. The two-year-old doesn’t care what I’m saying, so I have to relate in another way, and that really puts me to the test.
I think that’s also true being with the dying. My father-in-law recently passed, and he has a wonderful, loving family. He was on oxygen and morphine because he couldn’t breathe and all. We went to see him, and I had a wonderful conversation with him. We were together about four hours. He was exhausted after that, but I was really blessed by this, and he was talking about things that his family—one of them is a physician, the others are nurses—they’re saying, “Well, his oxygen is too low,” and this and that, and they’re all saying, “He’s losing his mind,” and this and that. I’m having this conversation with him, and he says to me, “You and I have had a better conversation than I’ve had with my psychiatrist, my therapist, and my entire family, because no one wanted to see death.” He became a philosopher. He wasn’t someone who talked about death and all that; he avoided it, too! But in his last days, he became a philosopher, and he faced it with his own coming to truth.
I was profoundly moved by that, but to be there brings us into something that it’s very clear we can’t control. We can only open to the reality of the other, and I think that includes anyone that is operating differently, whether it’s cultural, credal, developmental. The difference invites a potential for being stretched. Will we pay the price, or do I require that everyone I have an encounter with be enough like me that I don’t have to ever die even a little bit?
Assistant: This will be our last question.
Q3: Father Deacon, thank you. My question is: We know that in God, he is light; there is no darkness. Yet we also know that Moses not only saw the suffering of a bush and yet had an encounter with God, but he had a profound encounter with God in the darkness on the mount, where there was lightning and thunder, and it changed him. When I think of an actual personal situation, I don’t believe the DSM-5 has the classification any more of a personality disorder, a narcissistic personality disorder. Is the refusal, knowing someone who grew up under that abuse for years and has now removed themselves from it, refusing to encounter the person with the NPD, is that the same as refusing to encounter Christ?
Dn. Stephen: You’re saying, you’re asking about if someone you’re related to has severe NPD and you can’t encounter them, or it’s really them refusing to see you or encounter you.
Q3: It’s you cutting them off.
Dn. Stephen: Because they’ve hurt you so many times, yes. I think that this is not… This has to be looked at, certainly it would be by God in terms of compassion. This will take us into a whole ‘nother thing, but let me say this. In our neuropeptide systems in our body, our limbic system, we are geared to survive, and we are cameras that record everything. We have layers of non-verbal memories of, let’s say, the pain of those encounters and the loss of that and how we formed survival patterns. If we begin to be loved by someone or we had someone all along or even we converted to Christ, the more love there is, the deeper into the neuropeptide systems and the layers of trauma we are invited. Fr. Meletios (Webber) has a wonderful saying where he says, “Prayer is going deeper into the body.” The closer we get to God, the more we work this way and this way.
I’ll switch to this, and then I’ll tie this off. In the clergy and the physicians that I see, particularly the clergy, though, burn-out is most often related to a child foundation of compulsive cross-caring. In other words, the child is still trying to get the family of the parish to, like he did his depressed father or whatever—he’s trying to cover up the shame of it or he’s trying to please everybody so that Daddy won’t be angry or whatever, and doesn’t realize it, so it’s an unconscious transference of childhood patterns of survival to the current. This, I say, the child has to put down the cross. We have to get the child to have compassion for what they actually went through to see how they were injured by that narcissistic parent.
When the child begins to grieve because they are experiencing love and they begin to have contact with the leprous places and shameful places within the bodily self and the soul, then the child can begin to put that cross of automatic, limbic-driven survival down and the adult can pick up the cross which Jesus says, “No one takes my life from me. I don’t take the cross because I’ve got to do it, because my Daddy was bad to me. I do it freely.” This is a hugely important thing, which takes us into an area of pastoral care and counseling that I think [has] dimensions of neurobiology, dimensions of psychology and of what we’re talking about today, because grace can obviously take mud and turn it into whatever it wants. But God also operates through the natural logos, the rationality of the created order.
So I don’t think, to put it in short form… I wouldn’t see that as a refusal of Christ. I think that has more to do with the places that I have the freedom to choose otherwise. Response-ability. If I can’t be responsible, how can I be held accountable? But if I can be… It’s like there was a monk on Mount Athos who was an alcoholic. All the other brothers sort of thought, “He’s not much.” When he died, I think he was fragrant or something, so they said, “What’s going on?” Then the abbot said, “Well, you know, when he was a baby, his parents gave him alcohol because he was in (I don’t know) Nazi Germany or something, and they had to keep him quiet. So he had a severe alcoholic problem. I know how he struggled with it his entire life. He never overcame it, but he made progress. And it amounted to his path to sanctification.” So this is a great mystery, too.
We can’t tell whether a homeless person who has been born a crack baby, racially ostracized by the society, has been a drug addict and suffered the trauma of homelessness—they may be far ahead of us, so to speak, if that could even be—we can’t compare—than we who do well. So the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. This is a mystery.
Thank you so much. [Applause]