by Archpriest Isaac Skidmore

On a regular basis, Orthodox priests find themselves in situations in which they need to accurately assess parishioners’ spiritual well-being. Confession is but one setting where this takes place. There are likely few priests who have not occasionally felt daunted by the challenge of distinguishing which kinds of struggles brought by parishioners fall squarely within the purview of spiritual counsel, and which might benefit from referral to professional mental health providers. Coursework provided by some Orthodox seminaries prepares students for counseling that takes place in the parish, and acknowledges that there is a time for referral to outside professionals. Continue Reading Here

About This Author

V. Rev. Isaac Skidmore holds an MDiv from St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary and a PhD in Depth Psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute in Carpinteria CA. He is an adjunct instructor in the clinical mental health counseling program at Southern Oregon University. He served as rector at Archangel Gabriel Orthodox Church (OCA) in Ashland OR during a decade of its growth as a mission parish, where he remains attached as auxiliary priest. He practices as a licensed psychotherapist in Southern Oregon, frequently working with people who are exploring issues of faith, meaning, and identity.

A Priest’s Thoughts…

A Priest’s Thoughts on Depression, Anxiety, the Soul, Your Body and Your Brain

March 21, 2019 Length: 23:10

Fr. Stephen Freeman speaks from his own experience about depression, anxiety and a forty-year battle with panic attacks. He sets these within the wisdom of the tradition and offers a way of understanding as well as some helpful ways of moving forward.


By Jean-Claude Larchet

“Among human affairs,” Saint Cassian writes, “nothing merits being held as good in the true sense of the word except virtue, which leads us to God and makes us adhere to this immutable Good. On the other hand, there is no evil other than sin, which, by separating us from God Who is Good, unites us to the devil who is evil.” (Saint John Chrysostom).

It is true that physical health corresponds to the normal state of human nature–that is, its prelapsarian state–and for that reason health can be considered as good in itself. (Saint Maximus the Confessor). Nevertheless, from another point of view health is worthless to the human person–it does not constitute a true good but is only good in appearance–if it is not used well, that is, if it is not used with an aim toward the Good: to fulfill the commandments of Christ and to glorify God. This is why Saint Basil declares: “Insofar as it does not render good those who possess it, health cannot be counted among those things that are good by nature.” In fact it is evil if it contributes to making a person indifferent to his salvation, keeps him away from God by giving him the false impression that he is self-sufficient, and bestows on him that strength of the flesh which actually weakens, rather than giving him that weakness in which God reveals Himself, which constitutes true strength (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Health is an even greater evil if it is used to give free rein to the passions, thereby becoming an instrument of iniquity (Romans 6:13). “Know, then,” Saint Gregory of Nazianzus counsels us, “how to despise an insidious health that leads to sin.”

As for illness, it is in itself something evil to the extent that it arises as a consequence of the sin of Adam and as an effect of demonic activity within the fallen world. As such, it is a negation of the order God intended when he created the world and mankind. Nonetheless, it is evil only on the level of physical nature and the body. If one does not give oneself over to it entirely, illness cannot injure one’s soul, nor can it affect one’s essential being, one’s spiritual nature. According to Christ’s own teaching, a person should fear whatever can make him perish in Gehenna both body and soul, but he need have no fear of what can affect his body alone, without bringing death to his soul (St. Matthew 10:28). By itself illness does not have the power to separate man from God; therefore from a spiritual point of view it cannot be considered to be a source of evil in his life. Saint John Chrysostom notes: “If the soul is in good health, bodily illness can in no way harm a man.”

Illness, then, is only evil in appearance. (St. John Chrysostom). It can even constitute a blessing for man in the sense that, if one uses it appropriately, one can draw from it considerable spiritual benefit, thereby making what was originally a sign of mortality into an instrument of salvation. (St. John Chrysostom). Saint John Chrysostom adds: “There is evil which, properly speaking, is not evil, even though it bears that name: such as illness, and other things of that sort. If they were truly evil, they would not be able to become for us the source of a multitude of blessings.” (Saint John Chrysostom). In the same vein Saint John Cassian states: “How can we see [in illness] something that is essentially evil, since it serves as a blessing to so many by granting the means to attain to abundant and eternal joy?”

Finally, Saint Gregory of Nazianzus offers the following counsel: “Do not admire every form of health, and do not condemn every illness.”

Consequently, in certain cases and from the point of view of that which is spiritually good for man, illness can be paradoxically considered as a higher good than health and therefore as preferable to health. (Saint Barsanuphius). Saint Gregory of Nazianzus observes that the aim of medical treatment “consists in reconfirming health or the good condition of the flesh if such exists, or in recovering it if it has been lost. But it is not clear that these advantages are really useful. Often, in fact, the opposite conditions are more advantageous to those who are affected by them.” Accordingly, we encounter any number of holy people, faced with their own illnesses or the illnesses of those in their care, who ask God not in the first place for a return to health, but for what is spiritually the most useful. And rather than lament because of these illnesses, they rejoice in the benefits that can be drawn from them.

The Positive Meaning of Sickness and Suffering

Such an attitude, however, presupposes that we attribute to illness a meaning and a finality that transcend physical nature.

To consider illness strictly as a phenomenon unto itself is almost inevitably to see it in a negative, sterile light; and this only increases the physical suffering and moral pain which result from a sense of its absurdity. The consequence of such an attitude is generally to leave the way open to activity of demons and to develop in the soul troubling passions, such as fear, anxiety, anger, weariness, revolt and despair. These states not only do not relieve the body, they most often increase the symptoms of the evil that affects it, thereby creating sickness even in the soul (St. John Chrysostom). The illness then serves no good at all, but it becomes for the ill person a source of spiritual deterioration which puts his soul in jeopardy perhaps more than it does his body.

It is because of this very danger that the Fathers stress the point that it is not in vain, not without reason that we are subject to illnesses.” This is why they encourage us to be vigilant when illness strikes, and not to trouble ourselves first of all with their natural causes and means to cure them. Rather, our first concern should be to discern their meaning within the framework of our relationship to God, and to throw light on the positive function they can have in furthering our salvation. In this respect Saint Maximus the Confessor counsels: “When you are exposed to expected testing…search out its purpose and you will find the means to profit from it.” The ideal, then, is to avoid from the beginning allowing ourselves to be dominated by suffering when it exists, but to go beyond the limits in which the suffering tends to enclose the soul and even our entire being, our entire existence. In this double perspective Saint Gregory Nazianzus offers the following counsel to an ill acquaintance: “I don’t wish and I don’t consider it good that you, well instructed in divine things as you are, should suffer the same feelings as more worldly people, that you should allow your body to give in, that you should agonize over your suffering as if it were incurable and irredeemable. Rather, I should want you to be philosophical about your suffering and show yourself superior to the cause of your affliction, beholding in the illness a superior way towards what is ultimately good for you.”

To be philosophical about one’s illness and suffering means above all for a person to consider what they reveal to him about his condition.

One’s spiritual intelligence–purified of these burdens that alienate it from the flesh, and refined by suffering–perceives another, spiritual world; and purified will aspire to it, and elevates the soul to participate in it. Thus Dostoyevsky can write: “A healthy man is always an earthly, material man…But as soon as he falls ill, and the normal, earthly order of his organism is disturbed, then the possibility of another world makes itself known to him at once; and as the illness worsens, his relations with this world become ever closer.”

Understood and experienced in this perspective, illness does not crush a person under the weight of their “mortal body” (Romans 7:24), but to the contrary turns the person toward God. It reunites the person to God, drawing him toward God as the true source and end of his existence. It offers wisdom to his intelligence–that is, true knowledge of the world, of himself and of God–and to his will it offers conformity to the Will of his Creator. God does not permit illness to debase us,” Saint John Chrysostom declares, “but because He wanted to make us better, more wise and more submissive to His Will, which is the basis of our salvation.”

It is in our Christian worship that we find strength, comfort and assurance that God is always with us and loves us unconditionally. It is especially true for those who had a loved one fall asleep in the Lord recently. Each person grieves in his/her own way which is natural. But as Orthodox Christians we need to remember the words of Saint Paul writing to the Thessalonians (I Thess. 4:13-18) “Brethren, we would not have you ignorant concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep.” Excessive sadness and uncontrollable grieving is not good either for you or the diseased. Orthodox Christians find comfort in prayer and worship in the Church in the presence of God.

Source: The Theology of Illness

Ex-Transgender Walt Heyer: Affirming Wrong Gender Is ‘Child Abuse’

Encouraging a child to identify with a gender other than their biological sex is a form of child abuse, says Walt Heyer, a man who identified as a woman for eight years.

Thomas D. Williams, Ph.D. | 09 April 2019

Heyer said that when he was a

small boy his grandmother gave him a purple chiffon dress and told him how beautiful he looked in it, which led him down a path of confusion about who he was.

“That is child abuse,” Mr. Heyer said during a panel discussion at the Heritage Foundation last Thursday. “We need to be calling it what it is. It’s not affirming a child. It’s causing them to be depressed and anxious about who they are.”

“I think it’s important for us to realize that there is nothing good about affirming a young boy at four years old like my grandma did me,” he said.

“The only reason I am able to speak to you today is because after 46 years dealing with this issue, I was able to de-transition in 1990 after I had psychotherapy, the very same psychotherapy [transgender activists] are trying to prevent people from having. Why? Because they don’t want them to de-transition,” he said.

The LGBT lobby is adamant in their opposition to any sort of “conversion therapy,” despite the testimony of numerous individuals who have benefited from it.

Walt Heyer, now 78 years old and married to his wife for 22 years, tells a grim autobiographical story of abuse and gender confusion, sexual reassignment surgery, a short respite from anxiety, and eventually deep regret at his decision.

“Changing genders is short-term gain with long-term pain,” Heyer has written. “Its consequences include early mortality, regret, mental illness, and suicide.”

Incorrectly diagnosed and pressured into a sex-change operation in 1983, Heyer is especially sensitive to the plight of the many young people who are confused about their own sexuality and receive mixed messages from a society very eager for them to take steps that can never be undone.

Heyer is the founder of an organization called Sex Change Regret and says he is hearing from many people who are living similar experiences.

“We get letters from parents or the transgenders themselves asking for help, after they’ve lived the life like I did for five, six, 15, 18, 20, all the way up to 30 years,” he said. “And they are saying ‘Walt, can you help me de-transition. This was the biggest mistake of my life.’”

Children need help sorting through their confusion, not being confirmed in it, Heyer says. Their body is not the problem and they should not be led to believe it is.

“We are manufacturing transgender kids,” he said.

“We are manufacturing their depression, their anxiety, and it has turned into a huge industry that people are profiting from after kids’ lives are completely torn apart,” he said.

“It’s really beyond my understanding why we are even having this discussion because it shouldn’t be happening. I don’t believe any doctor who injects a young person with hormone blockers should have a license to do so,” he said.

Research suggests that many of those who suffer from gender dysphoria do so as a result of sexual abuse, thinking that by changing genders they will protect themselves from more abuse, he said.

“Boys who were abused at a young age come to the conclusion that the only way they can prevent themselves from being sexually abused again is to cut off their genitalia and become females,” he said. “In their mind that is their defense mechanism for sexual abuse.”

“Girls who were sexually abused want to be men as a way to fend off any intruder or sexual abuser so they will no longer be attractive for sexual abuse,” he added.

“We’re ruining an entire generation of young people, and it’s serious business. I’m not pulling any punches anymore. And you shouldn’t either,” he said.

Source: Pravmir

A Mind in Heart Overflows

Most of us live outside our heart, and our mind is in a constant state of confusion. Some good thoughts may surface from time to time, but the majority will be harmful, and this destructive condition will prevail for as long as we continue to ignore our heart…The prayers of a fragmented mind have neither clarity nor depth, but a mind that is reunited with the heart overflows with humble prayer and has such strength that it reaches the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.

Elder Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex

Healing in the Orthodox Church

The Meaning and Method of Healing in the Orthodox Church

The Prophets and the righteous of the old Testament, like the Apostles and saints of the New Testament, understood and confirmed by their own experience that, when someone is healed, that is to say, when he is freed from selfishness, acquires love for God and his fellow human beings, and receives the energies of God, a place is discovered in his heart in which he feels a burning sensation, a movement, a divine joy, an intense spiritual longing. They called this place “the heart” and the energy expressed within it “the noetic faculty” or “nous”, according to Father John Romanides. This discovery is a matter of living experience, not of philosophical musing or speculation. Within the heart, initially in the bodily organ and later in the deep or “spiritual” heart, the saints hear unceasing noetic prayer. There they perceive their encounter with God; there they sense radiance and illumination. This is the nous, also called the noetic faculty.

In order to attain to the revelation of this noetic faculty, through which we can pray without ceasing, our heart must first be purified of passions. We must be freed from self-love and acquire love for God and our fellow human beings.

I shall attempt to describe as simply as I can the method by which man’s healing is accomplished in the Orthodox Church. Here we should emphasise once again that Orthodox psychotherapy is not just a psychological treatment for the individual, but the regeneration of the whole person, made up of soul and body.

The Method of Healing

First of all, someone who wants to be healed must belong to, and be united with, the Church in its diverse manifestations and forms. There are various autocephalous local Churches which are united among themselves, as the Orthodox Church is indivisibly divided into different communities. Each community is not a fragment of the Church, but the whole Church in miniature. The Church community actually functions as a therapeutic community through the Sacraments and asceticism. Within it the Sacraments are celebrated and act. There is a spiritual father and spiritual brethren. A therapeutic method is practised in the Church based on the sacred dogmas and Canons. These dogmas are not mere philosophical tenets but revealed truths, which Christians ought to experience personally. This experience is gained through the Church’s particular method, as clearly expressed in its sacred Canons. Within this spiritual community human beings can be healed and restored to their original state.

To make this clearer I shall set out some essential elements that throw light on this healing process.

Firstly, the Church has the Sacraments of Baptism, Chrismation, Holy Communion and Confession.

Baptism grafts a person into the Body of Christ, so that he becomes a member of this glorious body. Before Baptism, however, comes catechism, which is not theoretical teaching about the Christian faith but the purification of the heart from passions and the elimination of all satanic energies from the heart. That is why the exorcisms are read during the period of catechism. Once a Christian has been baptised and his heart has been cleansed from passions, he receives the holy Chrism and thus becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit. His nous is discovered and prays uninterruptedly in his heart. At the same time, through the Sacrament of the Divine Eucharist the Christian partakes of the Body and Blood of Christ. In this state he may, if God so wills, attain to theoria of the uncreated Light, which is a sign that someone has been healed, because then he experiences deification.

The Sacraments must be linked with asceticism, which is our effort to do God’s will. While practising asceticism a person restricts his thoughts to his rational faculty and does not allow them to descend to the place of the heart, to the passible part of the soul (its appetitive and incensive aspects). He also tries to practise rational prayer, saying “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy upon me.” Then there is a moment when the Holy Spirit comes, and the Holy Spirit Himself transforms rational prayer into noetic prayer of the heart.

The second point is that, although the grace of the Triune God effects this healing through the Sacraments, the experienced spiritual guide – the spiritual father and teacher – assists in this process. According to the tradition of the Church, as expressed by St Dionysios the Areopagite and subsequently taught by St Maximos the Confessor, St. Symeon the New Theologian, St Nikitas Stithatos and other later Fathers, the three fundamental Sacraments of the spiritual life (Baptism, Chrismation and Holy Communion) are linked with the three stages of the spiritual life (purification, illumination and deification), as well as with the three degrees of priesthood (Deacon, Priest and Bishop). We therefore see the following associations: Baptism – purification – Deacon; Chrismation – illumination – Priest; and Holy Communion – deification – Bishop.

In this context we can say that the Church is not a religious organisation, nor a social or ethical system, but a spiritual hospital that heals man’s spiritual illnesses. Within the Church our relationships with ourselves, God, our fellow human beings and creation are restored. This is what we mean by healing.

It should be noted that when someone is deified and acquires “the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:16), he can distinguish between created and uncreated energies, between thoughts inspired by God and those coming from the devil. The bearers of the Orthodox Tradition know very well when a state or an experience is the work of divine grace, when it is the work of the devil and when it is a physical illness. This distinction between created and uncreated things is a matter of Orthodox theology. An Orthodox theologian is someone who can discern spirits, “whether they are of God”, as St John the Evangelist says (1 John 4:1). Hence theologians are identified with spiritual fathers in the Orthodox Tradition.

When someone practices Orthodox hesychasm, as lived by the deified Fathers, he is purified from passions by the action of divine grace, attains to the illumination of the nous and, to differing degrees and in a variety of ways, reaches deification. Then he is set free from all the distinctions connected with man’s fallen state. He acquires true virginity, which is not a suspension of bodily energies but an experience of intense longing for God. He becomes humble and simple, because his being is not fragmented. He lives in true poverty, because he reverts to the original state of equality and common ownership that prevailed in Paradise. He rejects every human distinction based on the passions, including nationalism. He loves his country, but he transcends it, because he regards the fellowship of the saints and the life to come as his true homeland. He looks towards the city to come and is not restricted to any permanent city.

Source: Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos. “The Science of Spiritual Medicine” Orthodox Psychotherapy in Action: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 2010.

The dialogue between psychoanalysis and Orthodox

Yiouli Eptakoli’s interview with Rev’d. Fr. Dr. Vassilios Thermos.

What can religion offer in psychoanalysis? And what can psychoanalysis offer to religion? The Institute of Historical Research of the National Research Foundation, within the framework of the research program “Science and Orthodoxy around the World”, organizes a December 1st conference on “Psychoanalysis and Orthodox Theology“. It is part of the 3rd International Conference of the Program entitled “The relationship between science and Orthodox Christianity: past-present-future” (29/11/11) and will bring to Athens important psychoanalysts, psychiatrists, theologians, researchers and philosophers.

For decades polarization has shaped relations between psychoanalysis and Christianity, psychoanalysts and theologians. However, recent research has revealed a growing interest from modern-day orthodox theologians, thinkers and mental health practitioners – who are often also clergy – to psychoanalytic theory and therapeutic practice as a means of anthropological understanding, pastoral care, but also the interpretation of religion and spirituality as a manifestation of civilization.

The conference will explore important topics of theological anthropology such as the concept of the soul, the distinction between mental and spiritual development, passions, emotions management. The aim of the organizers is to find areas of convergence and synergy. We contacted Professor Vasilos Thermos, associate professor at the Athens Ecclesiastical Academy of Athens – a psychiatrist of children and adolescents, to talk about the profits from the dialogue of religion and psychoanalysis.

What expectations do you have from this workshop?

This is the biggest attempt ever made in our country. Look, from all schools of psychotherapy psychoanalysis appeared the closest to the quests of theology about the “inward man”. Despite the fact that initially most of the psychoanalysts were atheists, and Freud psychoanalytically documented atheism and degraded religiousness, nevertheless psychoanalysis and theology continued to be constantly chosen along the way. Indeed, in some European countries we also had psychoanalysts who were Catholic clergy or Protestant pastors. The theoretical dialogue has never stopped through books, articles, conferences, where there are signs promising a mutual fertilization of the two sites. (Some previous attempts can be found in the volume “Healing” from the Armos publications).

We want psychoanalysts and clergy to better understand each other so that in theory both the fermentation and in practice the representatives of both sites can cooperate and communicate. There are people who are in psychoanalytic therapy and at the same time are faithful, have a spiritual. Are the two actors able to communicate and to be interviewed? That’s what we want to explore. It unifies both Freud’s wording that man must be able to love and work. But love in theology is understood to be something much larger than a more libidous transformation of libido (which is indeed), it is the “eternal invasion of the ephemeral”, as Marilyn Robinson was aptly attributed.

Do you think psychoanalysis has lost ground that religion has gained?

In the mental health framework, psychoanalysis has gone somewhat marginally compared to the past, because it is a lengthy and costly process, and other shorter therapies have occurred. Nevertheless, society keeps a keen interest in psychoanalysis, since it has always maintained bridges with literature, sociology, history, politics.

I would also say that there has been a shift in religion in general in recent years, but it is not always healthy. Modernity was hostile to faith with atheism and rationality, but at least it was still the truth. Postmodernism, though more religion-friendly, has a major flaw. Because of its moral relativity she is indifferent to the truth. The question, “what is true?”, “What is true?” Does not make sense for the postmodern climate. What is often heard today is “It does not matter what you think, you do well and you believe it helps you to be calm, if it helps you to find meaning in your life. It does not matter if what you believe is true. ” In this setting, religious belief can be a tautology,

However, psychoanalysis and theology have become more interactive and dialectical in recent years. Previously, there were polarizations, because a combat atheism characterized psychoanalysis, but also because the ecclesiastical space felt some self-sufficiency. Psychoanalysis has become more humble, whereas theology, in a world that is so complex, begins to understand that it can not speak to the modern man with a language that is not his own.

Are the two spaces seen in the same way as humans?

No, but there are some common things. For example, both sites agree on the influence of the unconscious, that man is not just what it looks like. Both spaces converge to an optimism for man, that man can change. Both agree on the importance of the relationship, that man is formed through the Other, as well as the role of the imaginary in this process. In addition, as they struggle for maturity, they are allies in the fight against the pathological narcissism and consumerism that plague our time. The psychoanalysis accepts, theoretically, that there is mature faith (while Freud considered every religion immature). However, I have the impression that he still maintains the new embarrassment when he is unable to understand how it is possible for a person to be related to God’s face without himself underestimating himself or inactivating his powers. Another difference is that the goal of psychoanalysis is to resolve internal conflicts in a way that no longer produces symptoms, while theology aims to transform man in a way that is not “out of this world.” Often, however, his psychological treatment facilitates and opens the way for spiritual development. whereas theology aims at transforming man in a way that is not “out of this world”. Often, however, his psychological treatment facilitates and opens the way for spiritual development. whereas theology aims at transforming man in a way that is not “out of this world”. Often, however, his psychological treatment facilitates and opens the way for spiritual development.

The current man in Greece has anger, anger, is violent, able to resort even to self-justice. What interpretation do you give to what is happening in Greek society?

My firm position is that the Greek mentality has been built on an incomplete internalisation of the law. I mean the psychoanalytic law, which has a direct effect on the relationship with the conventional law. We keep the law so we do not have problems with it, but we have not conquered it internally. It is a permanent endemic problem, but now the wrath is gigantic and its expression is liberated due to the crisis. And the collapse can also lead to self-justice.

Is there a serious cause for concern?

I think yes. And let’s not only focus on the phenomena of self-justice. It is disturbing that there is anger mixed with grief. Many who prefer to walk the way of anger do it so that they do not dive into depression. Another sad element is the loss of hope. But I really think we can change as a people and that only then does it hope that the state will change.

Unfortunately, in recent years we have gone a long way and I refer to measures that have a key symbolic meaning. Because when a government takes back measures to rehabilitate universities, restoring lawlessness, it sends a message to society, respectively. When you introduce anti-smoking remedies and moderate them afterwards, you again send a wrong message to society. But Lacan has taught us that the law is closely linked to the acceptance of the shortage. We need to be trained in the fact that lack is a structural element of mankind, not something that sadly is imposed by political circumstances, domestic and international. Then utopian fantasy inevitably generates violence.

The Greek and foreign participants

The workshop will take place on 1 December 2018 at the National Research Foundation (amphitheater “Leonidas Zervas”), with an opening time of 9 am. Work will be done in English, with simultaneous translation in Greek. Dr. Evdokia Delli, Researcher, Academy of Athens, Dr. Athanasios Alexandridis, Psychopathic psychiatrist, Dr Steven-John M. Harris, Psychologist, Center for Depth Psychology, Prof. Nikolaos Loudovikos, Professor, Higher Ecclesiastical Academy of Thessaloniki, Muse, Psychologist – Clergy-in-Kairos Training and Pastoral Program Director, Pastoral Institute, Columbus, GA, USA, Dr. Dimitrios Kyriazis, Psychiatrist – Child Psychiatrist – Psychoanalyst, Vassilios Thermos, Associate Professor, Athens Superior Ecclesiastical Academy – Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist , Dr. Petar Yevremov psychologist, professor, Department of Philosophy, University of Belgrade,

Source: http://www.kathimerini.gr/995308/gallery/proswpa/synentey3eis/o-dialogos-anamesa-se-yyxanalysh-kai-or8odo3i