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Monday, December 19, 2011

Codependency and Cultish Priests

In the comments section, Fr. Peter wrote this insightful response to the post on codependency:

I think the idea that people like/want to be needed plays into co-dependence. I quite surprised someone when I said that I do not want to be needed. Yes, I like to help, but to be needed in a dependent sense, no thank you. To me this parallels something we talked about at the seminary about the role of the spiritual father in his relationship with a spiritual child. We talked about that role as being not one in which the spiritual child becomes dependent on the spiritual father, but one where the spiritual father guides the spiritual child towards spiritual maturity - not self-sufficiency, since that is impossible. I'm not sure exactly where I am going with this comment and I apologize for that. The parallel above just jumped out at me and made me think a little about the potential similarities between someone helping with addictions and a spiritual father.

Fr. Peter is describing what happens when codependency sneaks into the priesthood, and priests begin to use their ministry as a means of bolstering their own sense of self-worth rather than helping people become more Christ-like.  Some clergy set out to make their people dependent on them, just like a codependent thrives on the addict 'needing' his or her help.

In this regard, Fr. Peter is not alone in his observation.  Consider Monk Moses the Athonite's similar stand (thanks to John Sanidopoulos' outstanding blog):

Some immature, ambitious, inexperienced, totally tasteless of basic spirituality clergy appear as elders, thus satisfying desires, passions and fantasies.

This phenomenon is worthy of carefulness and worthy of tears.

Young people who have never had obedience, seek absolute obedience from their spiritual children.

They themselves live a shallow spiritual life and enforce rules impossible for beginners.

They are strict with others and very lenient on themselves.

They want to make their parishes into monasteries to compel followers to a heavy typikon, only to be admired as traditional and strict.

They want to create fanatic followers, frozen and servile.

They want to afflict souls and ultimately delay the actual spiritual ascent, afflicting them with their occupation with unnecessary and tedious details.

Leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church have already made similar statements concerning the problem of the 'neo-staretz' phenomenon and how young priests try to act like holy elders.  It happens not just in Greece and Russia, but here in the US.  It is a phenomenon that appears in all quarters of the Church.

Very simply, most of this cultish behavior comes from the priest's own insecurity with himself and how to 'manage' the free-will of others.  He often wants 'control' because it makes his life easier.  But, this type of dependency that his control creates also is a form of codependency in himself.  He needs to be needed in order to feel value and worth.  He derives his sense of security not from God, but from the crowd of people around him clamoring for his attention.

He will not admit it, but he at once needs and hates these people.  He treats them roughly and kindly in alternative 'flips,' drawing them in with kindness and then applying strictness in order to 'train' them into obedience to his need to be in control.  Of course, this only works with 'needy people,' but there are plenty of them out there.

And, just like the addict, the cultish priest, once secure in his disease, will often lash out at the people.  This 'strictness' really isn't strictness in the sense of how this usually works in the Church.  Strictness is a tool used occasionally to help the other perfect his will with God's help.  The cult-priest uses strictness to maintain control and suppress the free-will of others.

However, he also uses strictness as an expression of hatred for himself.  He hates the people because they remind him of his dependence.  These strict priests often have no inner peace, though they might have lots of charm.  They are 'bothered' by what other people do.  The sins and rebellion of others 'pain' them, which is initially represented as 'compassion' but usually degenerates into criticism.  Genuine compassion lacks this critical component.

Addicts behave the same way, at once hating their disease and yet needing the comfort it brings.  This is why codependents and addicts have a mutual relationship: one is addicted to a substance, the other is addicted to people (usually the addict or some other dysfunctional person).

Like the man in the picture below riding the shark, the codependent priest is afraid to let go of his 'control' (i.e. his grip) on the crowd.  Therefore, he becomes a slave to it.  What appears at first to be thrilling (isn't power said to be an aphrodisiac?) is now a reminder of his weakness: he can't get off the ride.  He is stuck, a prisoner to his 'parish' which he need and yet resents.

He may try to escape for brief periods of 'rest' or 'pilgrimage,' but in the end his abstinence is followed by more self-indulgence.  It is a dangerous cycle, where the priest becomes the sickest of all the people in the parish.

Fr. Peter's comment is an excellent insight into the spiritual disease of codependency.  As we move along, we can look more into the cure: genuine faith.  

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