I'm sure quite a few of you are familiar with John Sanidopoulos' excellent blog, Mystagogy. It is an indispensable site for English-speakers to get into many of the untranslated bits of Greek Orthodoxy.
One of our readers tipped me that John had posted this translation:
Anyone who has dealt with alcoholics knows what happened here. Basically, the monk was left as many are in the modern Church to 'fend for himself' when it came to his alcoholism. You can hardly imagine in the Desert Fathers a monk being permitted to continue drinking with only his prayers to rely on.
Just for clarification, I want to make a few points:
- Elder Paisios does not condemn the alcoholic monk.
- He reports that the monk's suffering in life, with no one really helping him, was met at death by God's own army coming to bring him to heaven. This type of 'psychopomp' is generally reserved for saints and ascetics, since they have repented. In this case, the monk received the help he did not receive from men.
- The deterioration in the monk's condition, whereby at the end he was getting drunk with only two or three drinks, is common with end-stage alcoholism. Over time, as the alcoholic's body gives out, his tolerance diminishes. He clearly drank himself to death.
- The monk's elder apparently had no idea what to do with him, and so simply put him in his icon corner and waited for a miracle.
- Elder Paisios describes the physical allergy aspect of alcoholism in describing his exposure at a young age.
- Give the time frame of the story (referencing the massacres of Greeks in Turkey in the 1920s), this monk's experience of Mount Athos was during the 'idiorrhythmic' period ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Athos#Ottoman_era) when the monks lived separate lives and the common life of monasteries had not yet been reestablished. This lasted until the 1970's, when the renewal efforts began and the monasteries reestablished communal life. From the Wikipedia article: "After reaching a low point of just 1,145 mainly elderly monks in 1971, the monasteries have been undergoing a steady and sustained renewal. By the year 2000, the monastic population had reached 1,610, with all 20 monasteries and their associated sketes receiving an infusion of mainly young well-educated monks. In 2009, the population stood at nearly 2000."
This tragic story ends on a positive note: even the alcoholic who received no help with his disease can count on God's mercy in the end if he desires it. However, it also portrays how many in the Church have handled the disease of alcoholism: judgment without help. To be fair, most 'normies' either inside or outside the Church have no idea how to help addicts. Yet, the Church has always had the tools necessary to treat addiction through ascetic struggle, like what we see in the 12 Steps.
Yes, the Steps are an ascetic struggle. Don't be fooled. Most people are more willing to go on a diet rather than do the Steps. Food is easy to give up when it comes up against being honest with one's self. Shallow and careless people can diet, but they certainly won't take the actions the Steps demand.
If the Holy Mountain had been a healthier place (as it is now), undoubtedly this monk would not have been permitted to go so long without any help. Mind you, there are still plenty of Orthodox who do not understand the Tradition well enough stop themselves from demanding the alcoholic 'try harder' to quit.
But, in my experience of talking to Orthodox monastics, when we discuss the matter of addiction and how the Steps work, they enthusiastically agree that what they do in their monasteries is essentially the same process. The rejuvenation of monasticism is actually happening throughout the Church in recent years, and with this renewal (Mt. Athos is now harder to get into than Harvard) will come more opportunities for people to have the benefit of proper assistance in battling addiction.
Nowhere (other than the US and Canada) in the Orthodox world have we seen monasticism embrace the 12 Steps more enthusiastically than in Romania. Patriarch Daniel has led the Holy Synod of Romania to embrace the 12 Steps (c.f. http://www.ortodoxantidrog.ro/en/start.html) and work towards integrating the program into seminary education curricula. Floyd Frantz (http://www.ocmc.org/missionaries/missionary_profile.aspx?MissionaryId=4&PageTitle=Recent+Articles&SearchBy=2011) has reported that the monasteries are especially excited about the Steps and getting AA into the villages.
Hopefully, fewer alcoholics in the Church will be left to struggle without help from the rest of us.