On Pride: The Demonic Stronghold

The characteristics of pride

One of the foremost experts on the depths of the human spirit, St. Isaac the Syrian, says in his 41st homily: “The one who has come to a realization of his sin is higher than the one who raises the dead through prayer; whoever has been able to see his own self is higher than the one who has been granted the vision of angels.” It is for the purpose of self-knowledge that we will examine the matter we have stated in the title.

Pride, and egotism, and vanity, to which we can add – haughtiness, arrogance, conceit – are all different varieties of one basic manifestation – “turning towards oneself.” Out of all these words two have the most concrete meaning: vanity and pride; according to the “Ladder” they are like youth and man, seed and bread, beginning and end. Priest Alexander Elchaninov

Priest Alexander Elchaninov

The symptoms of vanity, this initial sin: intolerance of criticism, a thirst for praise, a search for easy paths, constant orientation upon others – what will they say? how will it appear? what will they think? Vanity sees an approaching audience from afar and makes the wrathful – affectionate, the irresponsible – serious, the distracted – concentrated, gluttons – temperate, and so on – all of this while there are observers around..

The same orientation upon an audience explains the sin of self-justification, which often creeps unnoticeably even into our confession: “I am no more sinful than the rest…. only insignificant sins…. I have not killed anyone or stolen anything.”

The demon of vanity is overjoyed, says St. John of the Ladder, seeing our virtues increase: the more successes we have, the more food for vanity. “When I keep fast, I am vain; when I hide my spiritual labors – I am vain over my piety. If I dress pleasingly, I am vain, and if I put on old clothes, I become even vainer. If I begin to speak – I am consumed by vanity, if I keep silent – I become still vainer. No matter how you turn this prickly plant – it always has its thorns sticking upward.” As soon as a kind feeling or a sincere movement arises in a man’s heart, immediately there appears a vain backward look at oneself, and thus – these most precious movements of the soul disappear, melt like snow under the sun. They melt, which means they die; which means that because of vanity the best in us dies; thus we kill ourselves with vanity and we replace a real, simple and good life with phantoms.

Increasing vanity gives rise to pride.

Pride is supreme self-confidence, rejecting all that is not of itself, it is a source of rage, cruelty and malice, a refusal to accept God’s help, a “demonic stronghold.” It is an “iron curtain” between ourselves and God (Abba Pimen); it is an enmity towards God, the origin of all sin, it is present in every sin. Every sin constitutes a willing yielding of oneself to one’s vice, a conscious flouting of God’s law, an audacity against God, although “the one who is subject to pride is desperately in need of God, for no man can save such a one” (“The Ladder”).

Where does this vice came from? How does it begin? What does it feed on? Through what stages does it pass in its development? What are the characteristics by which one can recognize it?

The latter is particularly important, because a proud person usually does not see his sin. A wise elder once counseled one of his monastics to shun pride, but the latter, blinded by his intellect, replied: “Forgive me, father, but there is absolutely no pride in me.” The wise elder said to him: “There is no better proof of your pride, child, than such an answer!”

In any case, if a person finds it hard to ask forgiveness of others, if he is easily offended and mistrustful, if he is rancorous and judgmental of others, – all of these are undoubtedly signs of pride.

In the “Homily against pagans” of Saint Athanasius the Great there are the following words: “Men have fallen into self-desire, preferring to contemplate themselves rather than divinity.” This brief definition reveals the essence of pride: man, for whom until now the center and the object of desire was God, has turned away from Him, has fallen into “self-desire,” has come to love himself more than God, has preferred self-contemplation to divine contemplation.

In our life this turning towards “self-contemplation” and “self-desire” has become part of our nature and can often be seen in the mighty instinct for self-preservation, both in our earthly and our spiritual life.

Just as a cancerous growth often begins with a bruise or a continuous irritation of a certain spot, so the spiritual illness of pride often begins either with a sudden shock (for example, due to some calamity), or from a continuous massaging of one’s ego due to success, good fortune, the constant exhibition of one’s talents, etc.

Often you are dealing with a so-called “temperamental” individual, passionate, talented, easily fascinated. Such a person is like an erupting volcano, with his ceaseless activity preventing both God and men from getting near to him. He is full of himself, totally absorbed in himself, intoxicated with himself. He does not see or feel anything except his burning talent, from which he derives great enjoyment and satisfaction. One can hardly do anything with such people until they become played out, until the volcano becomes extinguished. Such is the danger of all talented and gifted people. Talent should be balanced by deep spirituality.

Otherwise, in reverse cases, in situations of great sorrow – there is the same result: the person becomes totally absorbed in his misfortune, in his eyes the surrounding world becomes dull and dark; he cannot think or speak of anything except his sorrow; he wallows in it, he finally holds onto it as the only thing left to him, as the only reason in life.

Often this turning towards oneself becomes developed in people who are quiet, submissive, taciturn, whose personal life had been suppressed from childhood, and this “suppressed subjectivity compensates itself by engendering a tendency towards egocentrism” (Jung, “Psychological types”) in the most diverse manifestations: quickness to take offence, mistrust, coquetry, seeking of attention, and even in the form of direct psychoses such as persecution mania, megalomania, etc.

Thus, a concentration upon oneself leads a person away from the world and from God; he becomes chipped off, so-to-speak, from the general tree trunk of world-outlook and turns into a shaving curled around an empty spot.
The progression of the spiritual illness

Let us try to outline the major stages of the development of pride, from slight self-satisfaction to extreme spiritual darkness and total destruction.

At first it is seen as frequent attention to oneself, almost normal, accompanied by a good mood bordering on flippancy. A person is satisfied with himself, laughs a lot, whistles, hums, snaps his fingers. He likes to appear original, to amuse others with paradox and wit; he exhibits unusual tastes, is capricious in food. He willingly gives advice and amicably interferes in the affairs of others; he unconsciously manifests his exclusive interest in himself with the following phrases (interrupting the conversation): “no, let me tell you,” or “no, I know a better story,” or “I have the habit of….,” or “I usually follow the rule of….”.

At the same time he is greatly dependent on the approval of others, depending on which he either blossoms or fades and becomes sour. In general, however, at this stage his mood remains fairly bright. This form of egocentrism is usually characteristic of youth, although it is sometimes seen in adults.

Such a person is lucky if at this stage he encounters serious concerns, especially for others (marriage, a family), a job, a project. Or if he becomes entranced with religious life and, attracted by the beauty of spiritual endeavour, realizes his spiritual poverty and becomes desirous of the aid of grace. If this does not occur, the illness progresses further.

There appears in him a sincere belief in his own superiority. Often this is expressed through irrepressible verbosity. What else is verbosity if not, on the one hand, an absence of modesty, and on the other hand – a delight in one’s own self? The egoistic nature of verbosity is not lessened by instances of discussion of serious topics; a proud person can easily prose on humility and silence, can glorify fasting, can debate on the merits of good works versus prayer.

Self-assurance quickly turns into a passion for ordering others around; such a person imposes his will upon others (but is intolerant of his own will being imposed upon), takes charge of others’ attention, time, efforts, becomes impudent and obnoxious. His affairs are important, the affairs of others are of little value. He tries to do everything, interferes in everything.

At this stage the proud person’s mood begins to spoil. In his aggressiveness he naturally meets with opposition and rebuffs; he becomes irritable, stubborn, peevish; he becomes certain that no one understands him, even his spiritual father; his conflicts with the world increase and the proud person makes a final choice: “I” against others (but not yet against God).

The soul becomes dark and cold, becomes the abode of arrogance, contempt, anger, hate. The mind becomes obscured, the differentiation between good and evil becomes muddled, becomes replaced by the differentiation between “mine” and “not mine.” He escapes from all obedience, is intolerable to all segments of society; his purpose is to propagate his own views, to vanquish and shame others; he hungrily seeks fame, even notoriety, revenging himself upon the world for its lack of acknowledgment. If he is a monk – he leaves his monastery which has become intolerable to him, and seeks his own paths. Occasionally this force of self-assertion is directed towards material acquisition, a career, social and political activity; sometimes, if there is talent, it is directed towards creativity, and in such a case, through pushiness, the proud person can even achieve some measure of success. On these same grounds schisms and heresies are created.

Finally, at the last stage, the person separates from God. If previously he sinned out of mischief and mutiny, now he allows himself everything: sin no longer bothers him but becomes a habit; if he feels easy about anything at this stage, it is his easy relations with the demons and his easy access to dark paths. The state of the soul is dismal, hopeless, totally isolated, but at the same time there is a sincere conviction in the rightness of his path and a feeling of complete safety, despite the fact that he is being rushed on black wings to perdition.

In truth, such a state of mind does not differ greatly from madness.

At this stage the proud person lives in a state of total isolation. Look at how he talks, argues: he either does not hear at all what others say to him, or hears only that which coincides with his own views; if something is said to him contrary to his opinions, he becomes angry as though he were greatly offended, and viciously refutes everything. In those around him he sees only those qualities, which he himself had imposed upon them, so that even in his praises he remains proud, self-centered, impervious to objectivity.

Characteristically the most prevalent forms of psychological illness – megalomania and persecution mania – spring directly from “increased self-awareness” and are totally unthinkable in individuals who are humble, simple and self-sacrificing. Even psychiatrists believe that paranoia is based upon an exaggerated awareness of one’s own self, a hostile attitude towards others, a loss of normal ability for adaptation, an irrationality of beliefs. A classic paranoiac never criticizes himself, in his own eyes he is always right and he is sharply dissatisfied with the people around him and with the conditions of his life.

Here is a perfect illustration of the depth of St. John of the Ladder’s determination: “Pride is extreme poverty of the soul.”

A proud man suffers defeat on all fronts:

Psychologically – anguish, gloom, barrenness.

Morally – solitude, the drying up of love, anger.

Physiologically and pathologically – nervous illness and madness.

From a theological point of view – the death of the soul preceding physical death, the experience of hell while still in this life.

In conclusion it is natural to pose a question: how to struggle against this illness, how to oppose the destruction which threatens those who follow this path? The answer springs from the essence of the question: first of all – humility; then – obedience, in increments – to loved ones, to elders, to the laws of the world, to objective truth, to beauty, to all that is good within us and around us, obedience to the law of God, and finally – obedience to the Church, its rules, its commandments, its mystic sacraments. And to achieve this – follow that which stands at the beginning of the Christian path: “Whosoever wishes to follow Me, must renounce himself.”

Renounce himself…. and must continue renouncing himself every day; every day a person must take upon himself his cross – a cross of enduring affronts, placing oneself last, suffering sorrows and illnesses, silently accepting abuse, offering total and unconditional obedience – immediate, voluntary, joyous, fearless, constant obedience.

And then the path into the kingdom of peace and profoundest wisdom, which destroys all passions, shall become open to him.

Glory be to our God, Who opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble! Protopriest Alezxander Elchaninov.

Distractions During Prayer and the Place of the Heart

By Hieromonk Fr. Alexis (Trader)

Many sincere Christians have experienced distracting thoughts or even bad thoughts during prayer and are naturally distressed when this happens. After all, their intention is to communicate with God, not to talk to themselves about things mundane or even worse!  Some have become so discouraged by such thoughts that they give up on prayer altogether.  And yet, seeking to find the Lord Jesus even when He seems lost in an unruly crowd of our distractions and bad thoughts is very much a part of our struggle as Christians. The presence of these unwanted, yet to be honest, not totally rejected, thoughts, provides us with a wealth of self-knowledge that can also become a source of genuine humility. They show us that our best efforts are not enough without God’s mercy and love coming to us to save us.  They also show us that we are living and searching for God in and with our minds, instead of using that unique instrument with which we can come into contact with God, namely, our heart.

Archimandrite Zacharias has noted, “The great tragedy of our times lies in the fact that we live, speak, think, and even pray to God, outside our heart, outside our Father’s house. And truly our Father’s house is our heart, the place where ‘the spirit of glory and of God’ would find repose, that Christ may ‘be formed in us’.  Indeed, only then can we be made whole, and become hypostases in the image of the true and perfect Hypostasis, the Son and Word of God, Who created and redeemed us by the precious Blood of His ineffable sacrifice.  Yet as long as we are held captive by our passions, which distract our mind from our heart and lure it into the ever-changing and vain world of natural and created things, thus depriving us of all spiritual strength, we will not know the new birth from on High that makes us children of God and gods by grace.”

Distressing distraction in prayer, which sometimes develops into extensive conversations with ourselves, means that we are praying with our minds, but not with our hearts. In Ancient Christian Wisdom, I make reference to how we should pray in spite of the distractions and bad thoughts.  “The watchful fathers knew by experience that when the believer’s mind is gathered in the heart and repeats the prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me’ demonic thoughts, fantasies and illusions are exposed as false and thus can be more easily rejected.  The correct application of this approach known as monologistic prayer entails ‘cognitively’ paying attention to the words of prayer and ‘emotionally’ feeling compunction in the presence of the Lord Jesus.  Attentive and compunctious prayer in turn augments the believer’s yearning for Christ and watchfulness over the thoughts, thereby bringing him clarity of mind.  Although it requires much toil, humility, and even ‘assistance from heaven’, the holy fathers consider this ‘cognitive method’ to be as effective in bridling unruly thoughts as the behavioral technique of not voicing one’s reaction to an insult is successful at stifling anger.”

It is worth noting that demonic thoughts, fantasies and illusions can appear even if someone is praying correctly and in a God-pleasing way. The difference lies in the ease and the speed with which distractions are rejected. The mind is always making associations, churning out thoughts, saying, “Look over here, look over there.” And the mind has an exquisite knowledge of our buttons (which are often our passions) and knows full well which ones to push to get our attention.  When we pray in the heart, though, we can tell from afar the difference between the real  gold of Christ and the fool’s gold of the devil. And so when praying from the heart, we ignore extraneous thoughts with the blink of an eye, and keep looking to the radiant countenance of our compassionate Lord.

The problem is not really distraction in prayer. Distraction is a symptom of our spiritual state. When we find ourselves especially distracted, when conversations in the mind with ourselves are more vociferous than our cry of repentance, we need to humble ourselves and strive again to turn to the Lord with compunction, praying to Him with all our soul, and all our mind, and all our strength. Perhaps it might be helpful to recognize that one who engages in prayer, especially during the period of purification from the passions is not going to experience it as all “sweetness and light.”  If that were so, the passions would remain forever hidden and one could hardly make any progress against enemies that remain lurking in the heart.  Rather, it might be beneficial to consider the time of prayer as one’s entrance into the spiritual arena in which the wild beasts of our passions are let loose, in which the devil prowls about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour, and in which the Angels, the Saints, and Christ Himself watch on ready to help us if we call out for help with our entire soul. Prayer introduces the faithful to the battleground for the heart. Let us not grow discouraged by distractions, but take note, and turn to the Lord with increasing fervor. Seeking, always seeking, what the Lord seeks most of all, our heart. The Lord reminds us that trials and temptations will come our way and that includes trials and temptations in Church and at the time of prayer. But He also told His disciples, “These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” and with it every possible distraction and evil thought arising in our own inner world during the hallowed time of prayer.

Source: Ancient Christian Wisdom

The Problem of Procrastination

By Fr. Alexis (Trader)

In our fast-paced society that prizes productivity and efficiency, procrastination is clearly a problem that can sabotage career and advancement. In a world preoccupied with high stress and low self-esteem, procrastination can be a serious issue contributing to more frequent physical illness as well mood disorders such as anxiety and depression. And even in Christian circles, procrastination can be a spiritual snare, for procrastination in repentance and the keeping of God’s commandments can destroy our very souls. Even though failing to follow through and complete an intended task until the last minute can keep us from our goals at every level, leaving us anxious, depressed and even seemingly far from God, we still procrastinate.

Psychologists often view the problem of procrastination as a problem of disconnect between intention and behavior. For instance, in his thesis entitled “Ruminating About Procrastination,” Brett W. Guidry notes that procrastination is a “delay of some sort, needless, and counterproductive…The idea of delaying an intended behavior seems to be crucial in defining procrastination. Without this intention-behavior gap, it is difficult to claim that procrastination has occurred.” Much like in the Lord’s parable about a certain man with two sons, the procrastinator says to himself, “I go, sir: and went not.” (Matthew  28-30).  In procrastination, the discrepancy between intention and behavior is also experienced as transgression of an inner law that the self has set. Procrastination can be viewed as a personal moral failure often expressed by so-called “should” statements such as, “I should have started this by now” or “I should have already completed this.”  Such realizations not only can lower self-esteem, but also can lead to anxiety, stress, and ensuing health problems.

Guidry goes on to point out that procrastination represents a breakdown in self-regulation or self-discipline, in part due to the fact that procrastinators are also more impulsive by nature with an inability to stick to a given task. Joseph R. Ferrari examined the relationship between impulsivity and procrastination and found that procrastinators “spend less preparation time on tasks that were likely to succeed and more time on projects likely to fail (Lay, 1990); they also tend to underestimate the time required to complete tasks.”  Ferrari concludes “ frequent procrastination (e.g., indecisiveness and pronounced tendencies to avoid threatening situations) is related to dysfunctional impulsiveness (high speed-high error)… To the extent that these procrastinators possess deficits in cognitive processing abilities, tendencies to speed up and work faster to complete a task by deadline will likely result in poor performance because of the subsequent lack of sufficient time and ability to perform efficiently.”

In other words, procrastination, the guilty feelings about failing to do what we intended to do, arise from poor judgment, poor self-control, and a failure to face squarely our own problems. In spiritual terms, we could say there is a lack of discernment, asceticism, and courage. Procrastinators are like the man who failed to sit down and count the cost like the parable of the man in intending to build a tower (Luke 14:28). They resemble Eve who saw the fruit was pleasant to the eyes, took it and ate it (Genesis 3:6). They view their project or problem, much like the fearful disciples afraid to face a storm or even a young girl warming herself by fire (Mark 14:69). In patristic terms, procrastination involves a kind weakness in the three parts of the soul, the reasoning, the desiring, and the aggressive faculties. In particular, there is a lack of planning in the reasoning faculty, shifting fancies in the desiring faculty, and apprehension in the aggressive faculty. Fortunately, the fathers have time-tested methods for dealing with spiritual sickness in each of these areas.

And the basic method in all cases is prayer. The three-fold ill of procrastination can be healed by actively turning to God on a daily basis, seeking His wisdom, His strength, and His assistance in the tasks of the day. It means asking God’s help to strengthen our good intentions, by faith proceeding to implement those intentions, and by calling on His Name disregarding the distractions and temptations that get in our way. We need to heed our Lord’s words: “And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch,” watching our plans, our desires, and our courage all in the light of His victory over every foe. If we do this in the spiritual life, we can also learn to do it in other areas. Encouraging watchfulness in his monks, Elder Ephraim would urge, “Compel yourselves; say the Prayer; stop idle talk; close your mouths to criticism; place doors and locks against unnecessary words; time passes and does not come back; and woe to us if time goes by without spiritual profit.” Putting first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, let’s first try to be watchful in our spiritual life by turning to God who can then help us overcome this obstacle in all the areas of our life to His glory. Amen

Source: Ancient Christian Wisdom blog

Undue Concern over Others’ Problems

by Archpriest George Morelli Antiochian Archdiocese Ministry of Counseling.

There is a deep chasm between genuine and sincere concern for the
problems that beset others versus undue personal disturbance. One of
the major disaffirmative consequences of an undue concern for others’
problems is that we are not able to focus on fostering our own healthy
physical, psychological or spiritual functioning and wellbeing. This is
often accompanied by our own emotional distress. Furthermore, this then leads to being ineffective in giving others the help they may deservedly need and that we might want to give to them. Irish author, poet and playwright, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900), put it this way: “Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.”1

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“Can There Be Enough of Love?”

The Ministry at Special Department for Children in Mental Health Hospital @ St. Elisabeth Convent, Minsk, Belarus.

It is great, when you see your goal and know you are moving towards it gradually. It is rather difficult to talk
about work that has no tangible results or some obvious fruits.
However, against this background, you realize how important the faith in charitable nature of your work is, as well as love for every person and
hope that the Lord will help anytime. Few know that in the complex of a
Mental Health Hospital, which is located right behind the Convent’s
walls, there is a special department for children, where there are kids
with disabilities, different from those living in the residential institutions nursed by the Convent.

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A Psychology of Christianity

by Daniel Coburn


The following is a brief outline of a psychology of Christianity. More specifically, it focuses on presenting a psychological interpretation of some major themes in Christian theology, spirituality, and symbolism.

I want to share a few things before getting into the outline by way of introduction. First, the following is not meant to be a reductionistic interpretation that excludes other levels of interpretation. It is simply meant to highlight some of the psychological significance I see in major themes of Christianity. I approach this as an exploratory exercise seeking consilience, not a reductionistic exercise seeking exclusive or final answers. So the following outline is not meant to suggest Christianity is “nothing but” something in your head or to “explain away” other levels of interpretation.

Second, the following outline assumes that analytical conceptualizations which view psychology, theology, spirituality, and mysticism as discrete domains that are completely separate are misleading and wrong. Rather, the following outline is based on the assumption that psychology, theology, spirituality, and mysticism are distinct yet overlapping, which is why I seek to explore areas of consilience.

Third, I want to stress my primary concern is not with addressing questions of theological or philosophical metaphysics given my limited focus. Readers can each decide their own metaphysics for themselves.

Overall, this essay suggests there is a psychological story of development running through the biblical narrative that includes a major problem and its solution. Following the emergence of humanity’s advanced intelligence, we observe our traumatic fall into enhanced self-awareness with the new burdens and evils that accompanied this event as the major problem, while the psychology of Christ’s love and self-transcendence renewing humanity and recreating the cosmos as the full realization of its solution.

A Psychology of the Creation & the Fall

The stories of creation and the fall of humankind are mythological origins stories of the emergence of human nature and distinct features of human psychology. They are mythological because they narrate perennially relevant truths about our human condition that still apply to our lives and circumstances today. The creation story of Genesis One is a mythological origins story of the progressive emergence of advanced human intelligence, language, and meaning-making by which the known world was creatively formed into a meaningfully organized cosmos, mediated by the language-based power of the divine Word.

Psychologically, this cosmos-making activity occurs by creative acts of analytically “separating” and differentiating parts of the created world into distinct identities, while also synthetically naming and “binding together” similar parts into common identities, which are two constituent processes of meaning-making and world(view) creation from which an ordered cosmos is dynamically formed out of nonorder and nonlanguage by the power of the divine Word. Moreover, humans are made in the likeness of the divine Word, infused with the divine Breath, endowed with unique capacities and responsibilities for participating in creatively cultivating and caring for the world, developing its potentials for good as agents of the Word.

The story of the fall of humankind is a mythological origins story of the dawning of self-awareness and, in particular, the painful emergence of the dark sides of enhanced self-consciousness with its new burdens and consequences for humans beings. More specifically, it is about how enhanced self-consciousness gave humankind new insights into our existential conditions of nakedness, vulnerability, and mortality, as well as new ethical insights, capacities, and responsibilities as a consequence of possessing enhanced self-consciousness which enables new knowledge of good and evil.

In other words, the first major consequence of the fall of humanity is a new overwhelming and painful sense of self-awareness. As the story goes, Adam and Eve’s eyes were opened, they felt naked and ashamed, they were motivated to hide and cover themselves, they became acutely aware of their existential vulnerability and mortality, and they traumatically “fell” into an awareness of the harsh realities of history, suffering, and death. Enhanced self-consciousness also enabled the psychological development of a strengthened sense of a bounded individual ego-self, separate from non-ego realities, which introduced a new general sense of separation, disconnection, and isolation into the human psychological condition.

The second major consequence of the fall is the entrance of new knowledge of good and evil. But why is enhanced self-consciousness related with “consuming” new ethical knowledge of good and evil? Because by learning and knowing how “I” can be hurt and harmed as a result of enhanced self-consciousness, I know how others who are like me can be hurt and harmed, and I can use this ethical knowledge for good or evil based on my moral choices. As a result, the fall of humanity comes with new ethical knowledge, capacities, and responsibilities shared by human beings, which marks the loss of a prior state of innocence and the introduction of new existential and moral guilt. Subsequent biblical stories also highlight how new sins and evils corrupt the human world in various ways after the fall.

Hence why the biblical tradition teaches all humans are subsequently born into the same fallen nature of Adam and inherit the same legacy of our fallen humanity after this critical event. Which is to say that humans are born into the same human nature and inherit the same distinctive psychology and ethical capacities of human being.

Responding to the profound and devastating consequences of the fall of humanity is the central problem of the whole biblical narrative. Which raises the central question, how do we heal ourselves and our world from the legacy of the fall and overcome its harmful effects? Everything that follows in the biblical narrative with the coming of Christ and the final renewal of the world is about solving this essential problem.

A Psychology of the Christ & Satan

Christ and Satan are each representative figures of particular psychological, social, and ethical patterns of living in the world, which can manifest psychologically at the levels of “schema” types, “personality types,” and/or “archetypes.” The patterns of Christ and Satan represent contrary psychologies and ethics associated with absolute good and absolute evil that are respectively directed toward conflicting value-states and goal-states of Heaven and Hell. Their relationship is therefore characterized by ethical opposition, struggle, and conflict in which Christ is ultimately portrayed as the more powerful and victorious of the two ways of living.

The central conflict between Christ and Satan psychologically is a struggle for the self. On the one hand, the pattern of Satan is primarily organized around selfish, ego-centred pride combined with disregard for the wellbeing of others, which is understood to be a cause of various evils and a source of deep deception. The core lie and deception of this pattern of living is the central motivating belief that “I matter the most.” More specifically, the belief that I am the most valuable thing in existence, that I matter more than others, and that I am the most worthy object of the best of my love and devotion, which I should organize and orient my whole life around serving above all others and above all else.

On the other hand, the pattern of Christ is primarily organized around selfless, self-giving, self-sacrificing love oriented toward altruistically serving the wellbeing of others. Christ’s self-transcendence overcomes the narrower fixations of Satan’s prideful egoism by a greater, more encompassing and dynamic self primarily organized and motivated by love. Instead of placing himself above others, Christ descends downward in love and humility to serve others for the purpose of supporting the wellbeing and growth of all, which reveals Christ’s identity of love.

A Psychology of Christ’s Incarnation, Life, Suffering, Death & Resurrection

The victory of Christ’s love in the struggle for self is embodied and acted out by Christ in the whole journey of his incarnation, life, suffering, death, and resurrection. Through this journey, Christ is addressing and overcoming the problems of our fallen human nature. He is not offering a mere theoretical answer but is applying and embodying the solution to the problem through his whole way of living, while simultaneously modelling by example the Christian pathway of healing and transformation for others to follow.

In Christ’s incarnation and life, Christ fully identifies with humanity, descending from the highest heavenly place, “taking the very nature of a servant” who uses his power to love and care for others. Christ’s identification with humanity is taken to its most extreme end in his suffering and death. For a central issue of human living is how will I respond to my suffering and death? Will I attempt to avoid suffering and deny death, selfishly looking out for only myself and seeking my own comfort and preservation above all else? Or will I voluntarily accept life’s suffering and seek to love others in all circumstances, even in my suffering and death?

Christ’s answer is to fully identify with our human condition, accepting and responsibly bearing it all, even unto suffering and death. And by fully accepting the burden of humanity with unconditional love, Christ overcomes the powers of suffering, evil, and death to dominate and control humanity in fear. As a result, Christ transcends these powers and transforms human nature, showing a new way to be human defined by freedom and love.

Hence why Paul says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I [ego] no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” Our journey of transformation in Christ is dramatized in ritual acts of baptism where we identify ourselves with Christ, descending down into the waters in death and rising up from the waters to a new resurrected life. Psychologically, this is a journey of leaving behind our old personal ego-self for the purpose of embracing our new transpersonal self-in-Christ.

Through his journey, Christ overcomes the fallen nature and original psychology of Adam (humanity) by fully accepting and overcoming it through self-transcendence motivated by love, forming a new nature and new transformed humanity, which is the collective Body of Christ, guided and unified together by the same mind and ways of Christ. Thus, the old psychology of the “first Adam” is transformed by the greater psychology of the “second Adam” who is Christ. All who are “in Christ” and all who participate in the mind and embodying of Christ’s love are members of this renewed humanity, connected and unified together by the same life and love.

A Psychology of God

There are many theologies of God within Christianity and beyond Christianity in other religions. The following, however, is not primarily a theology of God but rather more of a focused and functional definition relevant to understanding a Christian psychology of God. Readers can decide on any other particulars of theology and metaphysics for themselves.

For the purposes of this outline, I would like to modestly suggest functionally defining God as reality. That God is the I Am-ness and realness of existence.

Usually I prefer avoiding using terms like “supernatural” when referring to God because these notions generally have a lot of misleading conceptual baggage attached to them. To clarify, God is not “supernatural” in the sense that God is separate from nature and reality. Rather, God is supernatural in the sense that God is super-nature and super-reality — the full unlimited superabundance of reality. Although theology is not the primary concern of this outline, it is worth pointing out that conceiving of God as anything separate from reality, other than reality, or less than reality are some of the most profound, misleading theological errors one could possibly make according to the understanding I am presenting.

Psychologically knowing and seeking God is therefore equivalent with knowing and seeking reality. These are two ways of saying the same thing. Likewise, seeking anything other than reality is a misdirected pursuit — traditionally known as idolatry — of devoting oneself to seeking anything less-than-reality or other-than-reality, which can include living by mistaken theological ideas about God or any other misconceptions about reality that limit one’s full engagement with reality. Moreover, seeking to know and love God with all of oneself is the same as seeking to know and love reality with all of oneself, which can require self-sacrifice and self-transcendence insofar as self-constructs are limiting and interfering with fully loving reality with one’s whole being.

The psychology of “theosis” (union with God) modelled by Christ, which is the true goal of Christian spirituality, involves overcoming the limited, isolated sense of a separate ego-self while gaining an expanded, open sense of one’s self-in-Christ motivated by love, which rediscovers a sense of loving connection, wholeness, and oneness with all reality, resulting in the healing and transformation of one’s self by fully identifying with Christ and reality.

A Psychology of Heaven & Hell

Heaven and Hell are representative models of ethical states of absolute good and absolute evil. Moreover, Heaven and Hell can be understood as macro heuristic models of ideal ethical states of existence that partly developed for guiding and motivating moral behaviours. The heuristic of Heaven developed for guiding “approach” behaviours motivated by seeking heavenly goods and rewards, while the heuristic of Hell developed for guiding “avoidance” behaviours motivated by fleeing hellish evils and punishments. Hence why it is taught to seek God and flee the Devil, to pursue heavenly rewards and avoid the punishments of Hell.

Interestingly, we use similar language of “place” and “states” to describe both fixed geographical locations and dynamic states of experience. I would suggest Heaven and Hell are not fixed geographies or static locations as sometimes imagined, but rather dynamic states of existence that emerge based on the quality of our ethical living.

With this perspective, the arrival of Kingdom of Heaven on earth proclaimed by Christ is about the progressive arrival of a dynamic state of existence that we may discover and participate in ourselves, here and now. Like a political kingdom, the Kingdom of Heaven is an analogy for the sphere of influence organized and guided by the purposes of God as revealed in the example of Christ. We may discover the Kingdom of Heaven is among us, around us, and within us, right here and right now, as we each psychologically and socially align our way of living with the example of Christ’s love, sharing in Christ’s prayer that things may be “here on earth as in Heaven.”

A Psychology of Spiritual Conflict & Warfare

There are many foundational metaphors for modeling and understanding the nature of spirituality. Spiritual “warfare” and its variants are one common set of organizing metaphors in Christian theology and spirituality. It shows up in notions of spiritual battles, attacks, oppositions, strongholds, fighting, and struggling, in notions of heavenly hosts, armies, and legions, and in notions of how we struggle against spiritual forces, powers, principalities. And in the original historical contexts of the tradition, war was a regular feature of everyday life everyone could relate with.

Conflict models have been used in various schools of modern psychology and psychotherapy. Jeffrey Young’s following comments are an example of this in schema therapy: “Schema healing is the ultimate goal of schema therapy. Because a schema is a set of memories, emotions, bodily sensations, and cognitions, schema healing involves diminishing all of these… Schema healing requires willingness to face the schema and do battle with it. It demands discipline and frequent practice. [People] must systematically observe the schema and work everyday to change it. Unless it is corrected, the schema will perpetuate itself. Therapy is like waging war on the schema [emphasis added]. The therapist and the patient form an alliance in order to defeat the schema, with the goal of vanquishing it. The goal is usually an unrealizable ideal, however: Most schemas never completely heal, because we cannot eradicate the memories associated with them” (2006, 31–32).

Spiritual conflict and growth can likewise be understood at the psychological level in many similar ways. The overall goal of spiritual development in Christianity is overcoming one’s fallen, false self primarily organized around selfish pride and inflated egoism for the purpose of discovering and developing one’s self in Christ, which is one’s greater and truer identity organized by the power of love, and which is a source of profound healing and transformation.

A Psychology of Healing, Redemption & Hopes for Complete Future Renewal

A constellation of interrelated metaphors are used in Christian tradition and spirituality to describe the incredibly great changes and transformations that occur as we ourselves, individually and socially, become transformed by the psychology of Christ. These metaphors include redemption, freedom, liberation, victory, reconciliation, reunion, healing, justification, purification, regeneration, recreation, etc.

At the core is an understanding that we may experience our greatest change and transformation by embodying Christ’s love and learning to follow his example of self-transcendence, by which we may grow and discover a new identity organized by the psychology of Christ, which is the psychology of love, releasing us from our old identities and ways of living. This core understanding is also translated to the greatest possible scale of fulfilment, as the end of the Christian narrative of history is the recreation of a completely renewed cosmos, a vision of new heavens and new earth.

This teleological, goal-oriented, aspirational vision serves as an inspirational guide for our own journeys of discipleship as students of Christ. Understood psychologically, Christian discipleship is a journey of learning and adopting the schema and personality of Christ as one’s own true identity and way of living for the purpose of participating in bringing the state of heaven on earth. The hope is that as we transform ourselves, our relationships with one another, and our relationships with our world, the cosmos we live in will be progressively transformed into a state of peace, love, thriving, and flourishing, which is final Christian vision of a fully renewed world.

Daniel Coburn is completing his Masters degree in Social Work in Canada. He welcomes reader’s comments on this article: dcoburn88@gmail.com.

This article is re-published from Medium by the author’s permission.
c.f., https://medium.com/@daniellewis_25907/a-psychology-of-christianity-c3b2733e50f8

St. Silouan the Athonite: On Depression

by Fr. Vasile Tudora

The greatest plague of the 21st century is not AIDS, nor cancer, nor the H1N1 flu, but something that affects much more people in ways we can barely start to understand: depression. Reportedly one in ten Americans suffers from one or the other forms of this malady. The rates of anti-depressant usage in the United States are just as worrisome. A recent poll unveils that one in eight Americans is using them. Prozac, Zyprexa, Cymbalta are not strange alien names anymore, but familiar encounters in almost every American household. Even children approach the usage rates of adults. These are very high and paradoxical numbers in a country where all are free to enjoy “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Even in times of crisis, Americans have a better life than most countries in the world, in all respects. Just glance over to the life of the Christians in the Middle East, and you’ll realize the blessings we enjoy every day. Most of us have a job, a house, a car or two, enough food, education, equal opportunity, religious freedom to name just a few. Practically we shouldn’t be in want for anything; yet, every tenth person is longing for something, is missing something so bad, so important, that they cannot cope with this need on their own. This explains the usage of drugs; with them, the negative aspects of life can be more easily coped with. They are a crutch that helps people move along with their lives for a short while.

But a crutch is still a crutch; it can only take one so far. The depressed man needs a different cure, one that will take care of the root of his problems, will erase his desperation and offer him a new lease on life. A cure, however, cannot come without the understanding of the underlying disease. So, this begs a question: why is America depressed? What are we still missing in the abundance that surrounds us?

A short answer is: we miss God. We may think we miss something else, we can justify our depression by creating some imaginary needs, but at the end of the day, we miss Him. He has created us for a purpose: union with Him unto eternity. Losing sight of this, we lose it all and, in our shortsightedness, we keep longing for something we don’t know we have lost. It all goes back to who we are, what are we doing here and where we are going; it is back to the basics.

In the midst of the information revolution, the world wide web and the boom of technology, man still yearns for the same fundamental things: purpose and direction. The secular society can’t give him either. The purpose is temporary, ceasing to exist when life expires, and the directions one gets are so contradictory that they end up canceling themselves. So man is confused, lost and at the brink of despair. He is thirsty, but there is no well of life, he is hungry but there is no food for his eternal soul, he is lonely and he has no man.

So what to do? In an interview I recently read (you can find it here, it is very edifying), the Archimandrite Sophrony Sacharov, of blessed memory, at that time a younger monk, was asked by a visiting priest: “Fr. Sophrony, how will we be saved?” Fr. Sophrony prepared him a cup of tea, gave it to him, and told him, “Stand on the edge of the abyss of despair and when you feel that it is beyond your strength, break off and have a cup of tea.” Obviously this was a very odd answer, and the young priest was definitely confused. So off he went to St. Silouan the Athonite, who lived not far from there, and told him everything, asking for advice. Long story short, next day, St. Silouan came to the cell of Fr. Sophrony and the two started a conversation about salvation. The beautiful fruit of their conversation was an unforgettable phrase that I would like to also offer as the answer to our conversation today about depression: “Keep your mind in hell and despair not.”

At first glance, St. Silouan’s take on salvation is not less strange that Fr. Sophrony’s initial answer, but it actually makes great sense. In traditional Christianity, the difficulties of life, the hardships are assumed as part of our fallen existence. Our bodies and our minds suffer the torments, but this is nothing but a temporary stage. The ascetic Fathers considered them as tests on par with the athletic exercises, very useful in practicing and improving the powers of the soul like patience, kindness, hope, faith and so forth. We keep our mind in hell when we consciously assume the pain of living in a fallen world, when we learn from this passing agony to avoid the even greater torture of an eternity without Christ. But there is hope in this suffering because Christ himself has suffered them first and has opened for us a way out of despair, a way out of pain, a way out of death. Christ is the well of life, the bread of eternity, and the only Man we need.

So as Christians we keep our minds in hell and we despair not, but courageously give glory to God in all things, even in pain, hoping, always hoping, in our Savior, the only One who can take us out of the brink of despair and set us for a new life in Him. In Him we put our hope, in Him we find our purpose, and on Him we set our goal.

Through the intercessions of our Father among the Saints Silouan the Athonite, through the prayers of Fr. Sophrony of Essex, of all the ascetic Fathers and all the saints, O Lord of compassion and hope, have mercy on us and save us!

Fr. Vasile Tudora is the Parish Priest at the Greek Orthodox Church of St. John the Baptist in Euless, Texas under the omophorion of Metropolitan Isaiah of Denver. Originally born in Bucharest, Romania he pursued first Medical Studies at the “Carol Davila” University of Medicine in Bucharest. Later he responded the call to priesthood and also pursued theological studies at the “Sfanta Mucenita Filoteea” Theological Institute. Due to his dual background, Fr. Vasile has a special interest in Christian Bioethics and writes articles on contemporary faith issues on his blog and various other blogs and newspapers in English and Romanian