Search Words

Monday, April 30, 2012

Elder Paisios on Grudges

I often have difficulties with books on Orthodox Christianity, mostly because the translations are bad or the author's thinking is so culturally different that I really can't tell what he's saying.  So, I usually avoid books without several recommendations, and almost never buy them unless I am desperate.

Last week, I visited a Greek convent with my family (only five hours away!), and came across Elder Paisios of Mount Athos Spiritual Counsels III - Spiritual Struggle.

I probably should have bought Volume I, but my mind does not work that way: I looked at the Table of Contents for all three volumes and saw a lot about thinking, which is my biggest problem.  So, I decided to give it a shot with the last book.  I bought it, and opened it up when I got home.

It is really good.

Alcoholic and addicts also have a problem with thoughts.  Some of you may remember the admonition of the Old Timer I posted a while back:

"Kid, there's good news and bad news for you about this disease.  The good news is that this disease is a problem of perception.  The bad news is, that's a big [darn] problem!"

Thinking is generally what gets most of us in trouble.  We may also say someone isn't thinking ("Next time, use your head!"), but really we are talking about an utter failure of the thinking process.

Anyway, much of what Elder Paisios (in Greek, 'elder' is γερονδα, pronounced ye-rohn-dtha) has to say so far as I have read is absolutely wonderful.

When we hold even the slightest grudge, a small bad thought about anyone, any ascetic discipline we may undertake, such as fasting, vigils and so forth, will be in vain. What will be the use of such ascetic disciplines, if one does not struggle concurrently to prevent and reject all evil thoughts? Why not first empty the vessel of any impure residue oil, which is only good for making soap, before putting in the good oil; why should we mix good oil with filthy residue? 

People in recovery can relate: you can't stay sober holding onto grudges, despite going to meetings every night and a dozen service commitments.  Resentment is the #1 killer of sobriety.

The problems is that resentment soils the entire mind.  We like to think that we can contain our 'bad thoughts' in a hermetically-sealed container in our heads, just to indulge in on the side (when nobody is looking, of course).  The truth is that the mind does not work like this.  It is all one, big, interconnected network of memories and desires.  What he points out is that the desire to resent another person is based on a passion that must be treated.

If we hold onto grudges, then there is no treatment.  Thus, the passion will only grow worse unless it gets treatment, and so holding onto it means things will deteriorate over time.  This deterioration will inevitably lead to a relapse. 

As I plow through this book, I'll share more quotes.  If you can get a copy, then you can read it for yourself.

The nuns at the Monastery of the Life-Giving Spring have the book in stock, and you can get their contact information here:

No, they don't do email or internet, so you have to call them the old-fashioned way.  Don't worry, they are very friendly, and I recommend visiting there if you need a spiritual retreat (like I did).  Contact the Ranch for a room once you talk to Abbess Markella. 

I'm thinking it would be a great place to hold a 12-Step retreat if I can get enough people interested. 

Friday, April 27, 2012

Obedience and 'Good Orderly Direction'

When I first began my own spiritual journey, I believed in lots of things, except God.  I experimented with lots of theories, except the one that said there was an all-powerful Being.  I did lots of things, except pray.

I made up my own world as I went along, and was miserable most of the time.

When I began to ask what or who God is, an 'Old Timer' gave me this 'hint':

"God is Good Orderly Direction."

What he meant was, after some explanation, that God does not speak to us directly or act in a way that we can see.  He operates through others, particularly those who love Him, and that if I wanted to hear from God I needed to start taking advice from those who bore the fruits of a relationship with Him.

Sobriety begins with the realization that our own thoughts lie to us.  As Fr. Meletios says, "You are not your thoughts."  You are real, your thoughts are not.  You are not responsible for what comes into your head, but you are responsible for the thoughts you decide to entertain and act upon.

God is not in our thoughts.  When we are thinking 'about' God, we are thinking around Him.  There is a difference between dancing around the periphery and cross the line into the Heavenly Kingdom.  Knowing about God and knowing Him are two different concepts.

So, once you decide to stop thinking and start encountering, you will need guidance.  This is 'Good Orderly Direction.'  Someone who is 'on the inside' helps you find the door in the dark, so that you can also enter in and experience the Divine for yourself.  The trick is to take these directions without allowing the storm of your own thinking to once again distract you and blow you off-course.

The Church has the same concept without the catchy acronym... is is called Obedience.

Now, most people think of obedience like dog-training.  That's not really what it is.  Someone who is obedient is not a robot.  Rather, he is wrestling with his own distraction and looking for help in getting to that encounter with God.  Someone who seeks God will have to look for a spiritual person to be that guide.

This means that we obey those who have fruits of a spiritual life: 

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; [Gal 5:22-23a] 

You don't follow people who look like this:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, ...Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. [Gal 5:19-21a, 25] 

Basically, if you run across someone who acts piously, but criticizes others, then you know not to fall for the act.  Spiritual abusers usually have 'tells' in their behavior that will give you an indication that this person is not worth following.

You can also recognize that some people have good things to say and should be heeded, but not in absolutely everything.  That sounds tricky, but there is an easy way to make this diagnosis:

When you receive advice, check it out with others who are also mature.  If you read the Desert Fathers, there are countless examples of monks who were under obedience to their own elders, but would still seek out counsel from saints to reinforce or correct their obedience. 

Of course, you will have to be honest enough not to try to 're-spin' the story so that you can get the next person to give you the answer you want.  I have seen this happen when a person will ask me to double-check someone's advice, but will throw in a few more details to make sure I don't 'err' like the last person did.  I usually try to send them back to the first adviser with these details.  Most of the time, it is a type of manipulation, though many people don't even know that they are manipulating their advisers.

We are so used to trying to get our own way that we routinely ignore advice and poo-poo obedience.  We think that advice is someone 'bossing us around' and obedience is slavery.  How far from the truth!  

If we want to find sobriety, we need to find Good Orderly Direction.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Popular distrust in 'institutions' is not an unusual occurrence in history, and it can be helpful in triggering reform.  However, in the 1960s, there was a push not to distrust and 'reform' institutions, but to literally overthrow them.  These institutions included churches, families, social clubs... everything where 'traditions' were handed down.

'Tradition' as a whole took a beating, seen as 'oppressive' and 'confining.'  This attitude has filtered down to our era.  Yet, as traditional institutions generally took a pummeling, new ones, or old institutions with new meanings, took hold.  Attitudes of what 'church' or 'state' were supposed to be altered significantly by those seeking the reforms.  what they never thought to do was examine whether their ideas were very practical to begin with.

As these 'reformed' definitions of institutions have failed to live up to expectations (i.e. human suffering has not changed much 'after the revolution'), people have become disappointed.  This has bred an era of distrust. 

People lack trust because they have been told that supporting the 'new' or 'renewed' institutions would somehow solve all of their problems, yet those solutions never came through.  People were told that the Church oppressed them and that they needed freedom to be happy, and after they got their freedom they found themselves lonely and insecure.  Rather than turning to one another in churches and social clubs to provide companionship and mutual aid, people have turned to the state for aid, only to find the government full of inefficiency, corruption, and all the same things they accused the churches and social organizations of.

This distrust in human institutions leaves the human person wide open to addiction.  Why?  The uncertainty of life is threatening.  We want help.  A sense of security that institutions provide is psychologically helpful.  The comfort of the Church is that God is present and will come to our aid, very often with a host of human ministers and servants.  But, when we isolate from the Church, then we are cut off from many sources of aid, and so we become responsible for our own well-being.

What's worse, this distrust in institutions not only precludes us from receiving help, but also deprives us of the honor that goes with being part of these institutions and helping others through them.  Suddenly, all of our dealings with institutions become manipulative: we try to get from these institutions without either deserving aid or putting anything back in.

Distrust makes everyone a leech and a user.  While depriving institutions of our membership and our trust, we ultimately degrade our own existence.

An important part of recovery is restoring a proper respect for groups and institutions, seeing them for what they are rather than either high-minded idealisms or false depreciation.  For 12 Step members, this begins with acknowledging one's need for the group, then joining in both to receive and offer help.

Thus, the 'institution' of the group and one's trust in it is directly tied to one's participation in it.  If you trust yourself, and you are a participant in the institution, your trust in the institution will be restored.  However, the uncertainty of not trusting any group but only trusting one's self is rarely satisfactory.  This is the root of idolatry: men will invent gods when denied access to the real one.  Men will find some form of security in something, even if it ultimately spells madness.

This is why false religions spring up and eventually crumble into schisms.  They are driven by desire rather than reality.

When we distrust all forms of institutions, we do not trust even ourselves.  Part of recovery is seeing both the good with the bad, in ourselves and in other people.  If we think strictly in all-black and all-white, it paints a bleak picture.  We must have trust in degrees: I may trust a brain surgeon to operate on my brain, but not fix my car.  We must acknowledge both our own limits and the limits of others as far as dependability and reliability.

The ultimate measure is what we expect of others versus what we expect of ourselves.  Whether we trust or distrust, and how this effects us, comes mostly from the balance: if we trust others more than ourselves, we will feel inadequate and leech-like, yet if we distrust others more than ourselves, we can become ego-maniacal and paranoid.

recovery is about regaining trust in others by cleaning ourselves up and regaining our own trust-worthiness.  It is a long process, but one that leads to happiness when we discover the ultimate source of Trust.

Monday, April 23, 2012

A New Plan

I'm still fuming from an incident that I was just made aware of a few days ago: a catechumen was refused Baptism into the Orthodox Church by a local priest because of the catechumen's membership in Alcoholics Anonymous.  To be clear, this is an exceedingly rare case, but one that comes from the rather scattered nature of the Church here in the US, with priests out in the outlying areas sometimes forgetting that they are part of a larger Church.

After I cooled down, I started to think about how this can be prevented.  One of the contributing factors here is that AA is an accepted norm in America, so much so that the Church really has not had to 'weigh in' on the topic.  That's not to say that Orthodox Bishops and other clergymen have not made some comments about AA and the 12 Steps.  

Here are some examples:

Of course, I've posted before on the Romanian Orthodox Church's formal adoption of the 12 Steps and its work to get AA, NA, and other groups set up throughout Romania:

However, since there are still a few guys out there in the forest who have not gotten the message, I've made a decision: I'm going to try to get official statements from as many Orthodox Synods as I can confirming that AA and the 12 Steps are acceptable for and compatible with Orthodox Christianity.  Hopefully, by doing this, we can bring the message home to countless Orthodox clergy and laity who are wondering about the Church's take on AA.

This is where you, the reader, comes in: would you like to help?

I think it would be very helpful to have as many people as possible writing the various Holy Synods to press for official statements.  In some cases, we could use people with foreign language skills.  If you can help translate letters into Greek, Arabic, Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Georgian, Czech, Polish, Finnish... am I missing anyone?  Hopefully, we can get the various Synods to say something at their regular meetings.

If you would like to help, please email me.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Making of an Addict

In most cases, setting the foundation of addiction is pretty easy.  I believe that it is only by the sheer goodness of humanity that it is not omnipresent, though the problem is growing due to the high level of abuse we see not only in alcohol and drugs, but 'digital media' and the disintegration of families.  All of these are opportunities for addiction to take hold.

Allow me to explain: the bedrock of addiction is selfishness.  The disease of addiction in all its forms wreaks havoc on relationships because selfishness and other people are the classic 'oil and water' combination.  Addicts recover when they turn the selfishness around and learn to become more 'selfless' by being cured of the pains that they flee.

Now, let's think about it: what makes a person selfish?  As I see it, there are three general causes of selfishness.

1. Pain - when we experience pain, we 'retract' into ourselves like a turtle goes into his shell.  The more we hurt, the more we retract.  The experience of pain makes us think only of ourselves.  This is the natural inclination of pain and its primary function; to get us to examine ourselves.  However, pain without change becomes unnecessary suffering and leads to passions.

2. Fear - just the threat of pain, once experienced, is enough to trigger that retraction reflex.  Fear is not the pain itself, but a trained response to an initial experience.  It is memory-driven, and thus very dangerous because it is subject to alteration and thus one experience can be morphed into a thousand fears with ten-thousand circumstances.

3. Training - the last source of selfishness is one that is educated.  We see this in the classic 'spoiled child' that believes that he is entitled to think only of himself.  We especially see this in advertising and politics.  Nowadays, it is seen as perfectly acceptable to ask what a politician will do for 'me' rather than all people, even the people we don't like!  I am amazed at how much politics has become about people voting for someone just to get something for themselves, usually at the expense of someone else having to play the role of the bogeyman.

Thus we can be trained either to hate others, which is a type of fear, the fear of 'bad people' taking your stuff, or simply disregard them altogether.

Modern religion has not been able to address addiction in large part because the messages have either been ones of fear (the classic 'hellfire and brimstone' preaching) or entitlement (come to us and we'll give you whatever you want).  Our suffering comes from that inward orientation towards selfishness and the self, and so more self-interested 'ministry' is not going to help.

This isn't just in the West: Eastern nations that have long traditions of meditation and inward-oriented approaches to spirituality are full of all the same problems you find anywhere else on the planet.  Occasionally, a study like this pops up:

Deep breathing and contemplating nothing has short-term benefits: it can make you a calmer narcissist.

But, in the West, our primary problem is that we are told only to think of ourselves.  We teach our children the value of 'self-esteem' or '_____ Pride,' then wonder why they are violent and rude.  We tell ourselves that the government is supposed to take care of us, from courts to pensions, or that the government interferes with us getting the things we want.

Virtues are lost on this generation because virtues are about how we behave towards others, and that is just simply not in the cards.  Even mandatory 'etiquette' like political correctness is still fear-based and so it never deals with the problem of human hatred.  In fact, it makes it worse when the people fighting the hatred in fact themselves hate the people they see as hateful.  Then it becomes like a fireman coming to a house-fire with a pumper full of gasoline.

Christianity is not about self in the exclusive sense, and neither does addiction focus solely on the addict's self.  Both share a strong communal element, one that, through communion with God we see others in a new light.

No longer do we come to get, but rather find ways to give of what we ourselves have received.  By being relieved of our pain and fears, we see the uselessness of selfishness.  This is how addiction is overcome.

But, when we leave people to suffer, refusing to give them real hope, and tell them to rely only on themselves for happiness... then we have pour the founnation of addiction.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Grooming Children for Addiction

Broaching the topic of sexual addictions/abuse has opened the proverbial 'can of worms.'  I've never received so many emails in the short span of this blog than I have over this topic.  People are looking for help and sharing their experiences.

Of course, I do not post these comments because I don't want to embarrass anyone, even if posted anonymously.  I admire the courage of those willing to share their experiences with me, a complete stranger.  That, in and of itself, takes a level of gumption that many folks don't have.  That's not to say that those who are quietly reading this blog are any less 'gumptuous,' because each person has his own reasons to speak or be silent.  If you are suffering, get help somewhere.  To be honest, I don't offer help, just information about getting help.

I was prepared to move on from this topic, when the Daily Mail (UK) posted this article:

Now, here's a note: I hate reading the Daily Mail, in large part because it cultivates a sidebar full of semi-nude and sexually-charged photos of celebrities and others that I find utterly annoying.  Therefore, I've linked the printer-version.

In an article about children being groomed to become sex addicts and abuse victims, it is horribly non-introspective and hypocritical of the Daily Mail to be publishing an article of sexuality out of control on the internet when they themselves publish 'soft-core' smut... in the name of news.  Mind you, it is a helpful article, but the context in which it appears underlines the serious problem of modern culture.

We are in an age when our hypocrisies have reached new heights.  We are told to respect women and treat them as equals, yet we objectify them with pornography.  We are told to value children, but abort them if we do not value them.  We are told to show respect to our neighbors, but feel free to say mean and unfair things about them if we do not agree with their politics or opinions.

This is also happening with children: while we are raising the threshold for adulthood in America (children now include 20-somethings staying on their patents' medical insurance for example), at the same time, we give them more adult privileges than ever before.  They have TVs in their rooms, cell phones, and unsupervised internet access.

They can drive at 16, vote at 18, but can't drive until they are 21.  Let's see, you can handle making important political decisions that effect millions, but you can't handle a beer?  

This 'sliding scale' reflects the social acknowledgement that children cannot make good decisions about everything, and that in earlier stages of development, one is 'needier' that later.

In terms of human sexuality, children in puberty are told to make adult decisions with children's brains.  They want to be loved and needed, but still do not know what proper love and caring is all about.  Rather than teaching these things at home, we have produced a generation of adults who fear being adults, and so they do not provide these things for their offspring, but rather shove kids into the adult world to avoid their own responsibilities.  Rather than, as my generation did, negotiate usage of a single TV for the entire family, now everyone can isolate and make their own decisions, receiving their own tailored information-stream.

The isolation of children from the 'family,' where they have no value in terms of supporting the household or providing the common good, leaves them feeling worthless.  We have now raised several generations of hedonists who do not know how to be part of a family that supports itself.  Children are dependent on parents for for things that give them feelings of companionship and worth, and parents in turn are becoming dependent on employment and the government to provide those same feelings of security that love and faith in God once did.

We have all become needy rather than valued.  We all sense that others are inconveniences that get in the way of our attaining the 'stuff' that makes us happy.

So, the unsupervised child begins to feel the call of sexual desire... and we offer them unrestricted internet access and teachers babbling about masturbation and homosexuality.  Many mid-pubescent children wonder if they are attracted to the same sex, and rather than showing them how to reign in their desires and curb their appetites until they are emotionally able to handle their impulses, we push them off the gang-plank with confusing messages and extreme options.

Then, we mourn their loss of innocence and wag our heads.

An addict by definition is an immature person.  recovery is largely about regaining lost ground in personal development.  Addicts will often say that they stopped growing emotionally once they started using.

When we take children and thrust them into addictive behaviors and substances by allowing them to make unsupervised decisions and affording them the freedom to engage in addiction-ready behaviors, we are grooming them for addiction.

Likewise, the 'helicopter parent' and 'attachment parent' that smothers the child's will also leaves his offspring feeling both inadequate and impeded.  This is another great way to make an addict: tell him that every decision he makes is wrong.  Eventually he'll learn to let someone other than his parents make his decisions for him, which is why so many middle-class and well-groomed kids fall under the pernicious influences of boy/girlfriends and worse.  Rather than learning how to have real relationships, they will end up sitting in their parents' basement in their 30s, unmarried and playing video games when not smoking pot and downloading porn. 

It is a growing trend:

We are told it is economic, and there are certainly plenty of cases where it is, but there is also the entire 'slacker' phenomenon which is leading many young adults into pornography and addictive/abusive behavior because they are bored.  That's the 'slacker aura'... boredom and worthlessness.

Our task is not to make children 'feel' worthy, but to actually value them as developing adults are than 'developing teenagers.'  We must teach them responsibility and give them tasks, but not allow them to flop about making many important decisions, such as their reading and viewing pleasures, by themselves. We must take away the sense of isolation and uncertainly of childhood, rather than contributing to it.

Otherwise, we are preparing children to become developmentally stunted addicts.  It is already happening.  As a society, we must wake up.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A few more comments on porn addiction

Not that I want this blog to be "all porn, all the time" as far as subject matter, this article was brought to my attention:

Here's an indicator of the problem, right in the lead paragraph:

Researchers have found that a whopping 30% of all Internet traffic involves pornographic sites, with the biggest one notching three times the page views of CNN or ESPN,...

What's more, people spend more time on porn pages, with average visits to other sites around five minutes, while porn site visitors average 15 minutes.

The toxicity of pornography has spread through advertising and even non-pornographic entertainment.  There are many things now marketed through sex rather than extolling the virtues of the product itself.

Because of the internet's ability to deliver high-quality images at a high rate, pornography has never been easier to get.  Also, images that elicit lust cross a wide array, from innocent images in ads or the posting of personal photos all the way to XXX-rated fetish sites.

The question then arises, does porn use have the equivalent of 'heavy drinking,' which implies someone who abuses alcohol to the point of appearing addicted, yet  this person can quit at-will?  While actual porn addiction is on the rise, there are many who simply abuse it because of its power and prevalence.  There is so much porn out there that it is very hard to move around the internet even in search of basic news without coming across prurient images.

As with all other addictions, censoring the internet won't cure the underlying malady.  It is good to keep porn under control, but an outright ban will likely be ineffective as a complete cure and will fuel yet another underground industry.

Our mission ought to be to offer people the hope of God's love when they abuse porn, so that they have a better alternative.  The shame and guilt of porn usage cannot be erased: even people who regularly use porn don't want to be caught using it.  Society cannot erase our human make-up.  While our humanity is indeed made with a sexual component, we also understand that this desire is a complex and powerful (and therefore clumsy) element.

With the amount of porn on the internet, easier to get than a bottle of Jack Daniels and in many ways more powerful, we internet users need to be careful.  This is true not just of those who identify as addicts, but even those who have not yet tested their own limits in this regard. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


This article was originally posted on the Ad Orientem Blog:

I'm not entirely sure about the topic of legalization of hard 'street' drugs, but here are a few things to think about:

Both of these studies show that, in the US, crime is on an over-all decline.  Yes, there are record numbers of drug arrests and incarcerations, but there are also record numbers in prisons for all kinds of offenses.

Prison stops bad people from doing bad things on the streets.  What I am not sure of is whether legalization of drugs will alter these overall trends or not. 

What I do know is that if drugs are legalized, there will be higher levels of experimentation.  This will undoubtedly lead to higher incidents of addiction, since more people will be able to access their 'allergic' reactions to these drugs that they would otherwise never know without such experimentation.

Drug addiction and work are usually mutually-exclusive realms, and so a society that legalizes drugs should consider whether it is willing to pay for the upkeep of addicts.  And, most of us know, addicts are socially expensive.  They consume vast quantities of resources already, from emeregency room services to social services for their families.  They will undoubtedly require more of these services, more than we already provide.

So, if you think permitting people to use cocaine will save on the cost of imprisonment, what do you expect the social costs will be when that same coke addict can't work and requires more public assistance.

The underlying reality is the 'dependency' means more than a chemical arrangement.  Addicts are dependent on the rest of the world to feed and care for them.  Society must make some choices: do we want to care for more people or not?  Society regulates behaviors in large part because there there is a collective sense of responsibility.  What that means is when a behavior effects your neighbor, then expect the government to get involved.

If the government is not involved, then it becomes a matter strictly for the individual.  So, if you are allowed to take drugs as you see fit as a personal choice without government interference, then you should bear the consequences on your own.  Societally-speaking, however, we should be prepared for people who will become irresponsibly addicted.

Is society willing to allow these addicts to kill themselves, more than likely in a very slow and very public way?  Right now, the societal expectation is that no person should be permitted to die due to irresponsible behavior.  Just about every community has an 'Adult Protective Services' that digs hoarders out of their disasters and the elderly out of their isolation.

Will our society make the choice to let addicts die from their legal addictions?  Right now, the government pays Social Security benefits to alcoholics and addicts who cannot work because of their addictions.  As more addictive substances become accessible, one can only assume there will be more opportunites for addiction.

If you really want to do something about drugs, then you have to follow the Malaysian model: automatic death sentence for drug trafficking... period. 

For 30 years, Malaysia has executed drug dealers and smugglers.  One case in particular became famous: 

Sadly, addicts are slow on the uptake, and Malaysia still has drug problems, though not nearly on a Western scale.  China also appears to have a similar policy.  Strangely, Malays are more upset about one of their own citizens being executed in China than the 300 death row candidates they had in 2008:

There are no easy answers, because the passions can drive us into self-destruction.  The government will always fail in this regard because the government cannot treat the passions.  All it can do is create laws and decide to what level it will extend assistance or mete punishment to those who fall short.

Whether drugs are legal or not, there will always be addicts.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Update on Fr. Adam

Some readers may recall this posting about acting as if God is real:

Most of us put God on the back burner when it comes to other priorities: we are often willing to shorten prayers or skip them completely in ways that we don't with, let's say, food.  Yet, we often have the conflicting notion that God is the most important priority in all our lives.

But, because we do not see Him, many do not believe in Him and even those who do often forget Him, even when praying.

The case here is of a priest serving the Liturgy when his son tells him the family home is on fire.  He tells his son he will look into it after the service, and has the boy find his mother.  How many of us would run out the door with such news?  Fr. Adam, at a gut level, knows what is most important and demonstrated it.  He lost all his possessions, yet did not abandon God.  He finished the service.

So, what was his reward?  Well, first, he himself has seen the strength of his own faith tested.  Second, he certainly has earned the respect of his brethren.  Third, he has also seen an outpouring of love from others:

On this, the day after Pascha (Easter), I thought it was appropriate to have an update.

In an era when we all seem to desire and expect to be able to avoid struggle and hardship, we too often forget that our true strength as humans is not in the avoidance but in the endurance.  This is what sobriety is all about: enduring our temptations for the sake of something greater.

Like Fr. Adam, we should all be 'taken captive' by God.  Because, if we were so inclined, we would not be wracked by the fears that drive us into places we do not wish to go.  By putting Him first, we can have the peace of mind that circumstances cannot take away.  We can also enjoy the 'harvest' that comes after such trials.  In Fr. Adam's case, his own patience has led to an experience of others' love that few of us here have experienced or can even imagine.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Will Return After Pascha

With Holy Week in full-go mode, it seems impossible to get time to compose anything worth reading, so I'm going to hang up the keyboard until after Pascha ('Easter' to Western Christians).

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Pain Killer Addiction Rising in the US

Years ago, I was on a jury for a murder trial.  It was, essentially, a drug deal gone bad.  The main witness, who introduced the dealer and the victim, was a homeless prostitute.  At one time, witnesses testified, she had been a loving mother with a job and home.  Then, she was hit by a car and introduced to Oxycodone (  After being abruptly cut off from the generous supply provided by public health, she went after it on her own to the point of losing her child, her home, and her dignity.  She switched from 'oxy' to crack somewhere along the way.

How do these tragedies begin?  They are not as uncommon as you might think.  Prescription drug abuse has been a major problem for sometime now, and indications are that it is not going to go away.  In fact, we have much more to look forward to:

There are several contributing factors here. Doctors want to help patients, and so they prescribe.  What they prescribe is far more powerful and addictive than what was once available.  But, what is happening now is that the demands of patients for a pain-free life have become increasingly unrealistic.

Here is one doctor's opinion:

Americans are becoming increasingly expectant of an entirely pain-free life.  We don't want anything to hurt, not only because of the experience of pain, but also because pain limits what we can get.  For example, if you get sick, you can't go to work.  If you can't go to work, you have less money.  If you have less money, then you have to do without the things you think you need to be happy.  Therefore, sickness has 'catastrophic' consequences: you cannot be happy at all, suffering in the moment and into the future.

So, we seek to kill the pain.  This not only goes for physical pain, but emotional pain as well:

The more we expect things to make us feel 'good' and hide our spiritual suffering, the more we need to 'medicate' our problems.  After all, dealing with many forms of pain takes time and 'therapy.'  I've had back aches for years, and have to engage in almost daily exercises to deal with my pain.  Finally, after ten years of needing a back brace to get through services, I am standing on my own due to months of exercises and lessening my dependence on mechanical means.  I still hurt a bit, but it is subsiding due to the new strength of my muscles.  No more Advil and bulky devices.  I had to have patience and endure a lot of pain to get the results.

People don't want to take time and effort to cure their emotional and psychological suffering: they want a pill called an 'antidepressant' when only a minority of cases really require such medications.  yes, there are genuine cases of chemical imbalance, but most people have highly-treatable, temporary forms of depression that can be cured by living a healthy lifestyle and dumping the unreasonable expectations they place on themselves.  The key is a desire to change, but many people don't want to change.  They want their 'stuff' to work, and deny all the pain that comes with it.

Then again, sometimes, you have to hurt.  We all experience situations, like the death of a loved one, where pain is to be expected.  Mankind has always endured this kind of pain.  Do we really need a pill to get through the normal pains of life? Are we that weak?

Now, compare the story above to the statistics in this article:

For all the extra mediation floating around in our blood streams, if you factor in the increases in population, medication has had little effect on the most profound symptom of depression- suicide.  We are prescribing more and more medications, with less and less results.  In fact, some results are counter-productive: 

Untreated depression, caused by social expectations rather than physiological problems, is a needless cause of death and suffering.  Here is a tragic story from Japan (I've posted the printable form because the Daily Mail has lots of garbage in the sidebars in true English tabloid tradition):

The Japanese are also suffering from the inability to bear the pains of a materialistic society.  They are not having children, and the children they have are at increased risk of suicide (as are the adults).  When I lived there, I recall the huge suicide prevention signs in the train stations: they were fine charts showing travelers how much their families would pay if they jumped in front of a train.  The cheapest time was Sunday mornings.

All of us must make the decision to bear reasonable pain.  We must also take responsibility for the pain we cause ourselves.  If your idea of happiness is having lots of material things that force you to work 80 hours a week, then you will be stressed and you will suffer.  The cure is not a pill, but the decision to do without all that stuff.  After all, the pill does not change the reality, and the reality is that you are burning yourself up.

If your body hurts, you must examine the causes: is it because of a temporary, accidental injury, or because I routinely abuse it?  We must understand that if you abuse your body but then turn around and take pills so you can abuse it some more, this is a form drug abuse.  

Pain medication is not intended to enable us to hurt ourselves more, yet this is precisely what we do when we use medications to avoid real healing.

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Drug Smuggling Priest? Expectations, Hypocrisy, and the Prison of Pride

Last week I wrote about the clergy and the temptations of porneia.  Little did I imagine something like this would come up:

Here's a rough translation (thanks to Google and a few adjustments to obvious word-choice errors):

The Holy Archbishopric of Cyprus would like first to express its deep sorrow for the world triggered by the horrendous acts and actions of the Greek priest Panagiotis Triantafyllou, who was arrested by the police, alleged drug server from outside. Also would like to inform that this priest was ordained in Greece and came to Cyprus a few years ago, asking to join the Church of Cyprus, where he was admitted. After a time there were brought ​​before the Archdiocese several complaints against him for various offenses, which, however, could not be substantiated.  Recently, there came into possession of the Diocesan Court of the Archbishopric of Cyprus new data on the actions and activities, which the Court thereby initially set an indefinite suspension from all rites; and then immediately began an inquiry, according to the procedure laid down in the Constitution of the Church of Cyprus. The matter of the past Wednesday, April 4, 2012, in anticipation of the Diocesan Court procedures, will be considered now now based on newly emerging information.
The shepherd Church wants to assure the pious crew that while diverted priests are a black stain on her body which cause sadness and turmoil, but that as the Body of Christ is always active therapeutic, and having regard for the proclamation of Jesus Christ: "Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter  into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire."  Holy Archbishopric of Cyprus, April 6, 2012.

The news story about the arrest is here:

The Church of Cyprus does not mess around.  Yet, while the Church prepares to sanction (99% chance he will be defrocked) this troubled priest, it still does so hoping for his salvation.

The reason I thought this was interesting enough to post for several reasons.  First is that it is an example of how the Orthodox Church deals with sin: the hope is that the natural results of such an action will result eventually in repentance and salvation.

But, the second reason is to demonstrate that clergy are not immune to temptations everyone else has, and Orthodox Church realizes this.  The canons suppose clergy and laity are held to the same standard, though clergy sin may result in a removal from orders, whereas a layperson is temporarily removed from the Sacraments and then restored.

The underlying passion of this priest is anyone's guess.  It may be greed, sloth, and/gluttony.  But, his actions make it impossible for him to act as a priest again, just as cutting off your own legs makes it impossible to run a marathon again (yes, there are super-prosthetics these days, but the legs don't grow back).

Anyone getting sucked up into the illegal drug trade is lamentable, but this fall is all the more painful when one considers the 'heights' from which he fell.  He was a respected man of his community, and, more so, someone seeking after God.  His actions say that he's clearly not seeking after God anymore... at least in a healthy way.  Our sins are about seeking relief from our passions, which can only truly be healed by God, yet most of us will settle for less.  This appears to be the case here.

So, can someone be considered a faithful follower of God and yet commit such a sin?  The answer we know to be true is 'no,' because if we accept God within ourselves, then these types of acts would seem repulsive to us.  Sin is something which becomes repulsive to the extent that we experience divine Love.  Of course, this is an incremental process for all of us, but we can rule out significant sins right in the beginning: there is no such thing as a 'holy murderer.'

In our own lives, it is important to ask ourselves: are my actions and my supposed intentions lining up?  If I say I want to get sober, yet I continue to sabotage my own sobriety, am I really willing to stop?  Or, am I lying to myself once again because I cannot stand the truth of my own passions and their desires?

All of us suffer with degrees of hypocrisy, which is evident.  In the previous post on clergy porneia, one of the greatest shames clergy deal with is knowing how far their actions are from their exterior intentions.  Some know full well that their secret lives have nullified their ability to truly be ministers in the Church, but they hide in fear of the shame.  Still others have sins that are not yet disqualifying, yet they also are ashamed and fear disappointing others and also undermining their credibility (a hard smack to the ego).

Yet, this fear only prevents healing through repentance, which means the clergyman suffers in secret.  Eventually everything comes out, and the long years of shame only act as a pressure cooker, turning what is inside into goop, then exploding and spraying it everywhere.

Those in recovery generally call that a 'bottom,' though you would be surprised at how many addicts can have their lives completely come apart like this and keep on using.  "No, I'm fine."

There is no telling when someone will decide to abandon hypocrisy and go through the pain of acknowledging his inner suffering and weakness.  Some people go on and on.  Others have relatively minor episodes that lead to an awakening.  A general principle is that the higher the expectations placed on a person (his status and rank), the more he will hold on to his secrets.  Ego is a painful prison.  No one wants to look 'less than' to others, and addicts feel this all the more profoundly, as it is often said that an addict is "an egomaniac with an inferiority complex."

Because society places unreasonable expectations on clergy (they must be 'sinless' in order to talk about 'purity'), and the Church itself seeks to protect people by disqualifying men who have bad track records, clergymen are often resistant to getting help for their early struggles and wait until things blow up.  No one of us, clergy or not, should allow our egos to keep us from being healed so that we can experience the joy and peace that comes from God alone.

We ought to not let our Pride prevent us from approaching God.  We must break through it and ask God to heal us from our deepest fears.  Otherwise, we are all just a bunch of drug-smuggling priests.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Entering the Church versus Beginning the Steps

One of our readers sent me this comment:

Perhaps in a future blog you would consider addressing the following issues for those of us who are not (yet) Orthodox Christians but have extensive experience with 12-step programs. Would redefining "How It Works" as "How Repentance Works" be reasonable (i.e., do the steps accurately operationalize the process of repentance)? It appears that people are usually received into the Orthodox Church by confession, baptism and/or chrismation, and the Eucharist in rapid succession. Would it be fair to conclude that one is not ready to be received until one is abstinent/sober (i.e., willing to go to any lengths to avoid sin, and especially the besetting sin that drove one to a 12-step program) and has worked the steps through the restitution, amends, and reconciliation of the ninth step (i.e., one is reconciled with those who have something against one)?

This is a tricky topic, but I think our friend has a good sense of the connection between the Steps and the Church.

To address part of her question, the Church, like the Steps, does require a willingness to be sober and change one's behaviors.  However, both the Steps and the Church concede that it is impossible to demand 'restitution, amends, and reconciliation' as a condition before starting.

The Church makes an effort to educate catechumens as to what lies ahead, just as the addict will read ahead in the Big Book before he starts the steps.  Both Church and group pull no surprises, and there are no secrets.

They both also require a gradual introduction to God as a prerequisite to change. The first three steps are:
  1. We admitted we were powerless over our addiction - that our lives had become unmanageable
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God
In the Church, that's largely what Catechism is about.  Through education and exposure to the Church's life and people, the inquirer makes the decision to take up the spiritual struggle.  As a catechumen, the person then is on track to start some of this process, but the Church assumes that, without God's grace given through the Sacraments, one is not able to make 'restitution, amends, and reconciliation'.

So, the Church, like 12 Step groups, does not demand utter abstinence as a precondition to membership: you are a member when you demonstrate the willingness to be abstinent.  This is what Baptism enacts: the death to the old way of life so that one can be born anew (albeit gradually).  Some do it better than others.  Like the groups, there are also plenty of people who show up still in the clutches of sin, and we make room for them hoping that, when they change their minds, they will be able to recover.

So, the Church does not demand perfection 'up front.'  The problem for many outside the Church is that their preconceived notions of Christianity prevent them from exploring it for what it really is.  They assume that, because the Church preaches against sin, that they must be sinless.  Nothing is further from the truth: sinless people don't need Church.  If you could stay sober before joining a group, you would not need the group, either.  It is much more the same than you realize.

The Steps preach sobriety to people who cannot stay sober on their own, and the Church does the same thing.

The first Steps gradually take the alcoholic through the process of healing, and the Church does the same by starting one off in the Sacraments.  The Sacraments are not a reward for continence or abstinence, but tools to help accomplish them.  We do not Baptize people to recognize their purity, but to make them capable of being purified to begin with.

Just as you don't make amends until you have been part of the group and worked the preceding Steps, the Church also requires people to get into the Church and begin the spiritual process before one can expect to have repaired all of one's relationship.  The first of those relationships that must be healed is one's relationship with God.

The critical difference between the Church and the Steps is that the Steps are very organized and methodical.  In the Church, the same tasks are accomplished, but in a very personal and often 'disorganized' way.  Each person charts his own progress, with assistance from the Church and with the same goal.  Yet, the how the goal is reached can vary from person to person.  The Steps are very fixed, where as the Church has common tools (i.e. the Sacraments), but the methodology can vary.

Yes, 'How Repentance Works' is 'How It Works.'  Recovery is repentance, and visa versa.  Repentance is abstinence, but it is also the awakened man in union with God.  It is transformation and healing, just as sobriety is.

12-Step groups do not use the same terminology as the Church, but that is to their benefit: most people think they understand who Jesus Christ is, though their concepts are often formed by unhealthy experiences with people we Orthodox would call 'heretics' (by the way, there are Orthodox Christians who have heretical beliefs... not every one of us is a saint!).  Both 12-Step groups and the Church require participants to drop their preconceived notions and enter with a mind (technically, we would say 'heart,' but in modern American lingo 'heart' is limited to emotions rather than deepest thoughts and experiences) open to God.

The virtues, which are central to the manifestation of Christianity, are not tolls to be paid in order to enter God's presence.  They are fruits of that relationship:

Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such there is no law.  And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.  Let us have no self-conceit, no provoking of one another, no envy of one another. (Galatians 5:19-26)

We see in this passage that what is considered good are those things preceding from our union with God.  This is not unlike the 11th and 12th Steps.

As this blog motors on, we will return again to this topic, because it is so much a part of this blog's purpose: to bridge the terminological gaps between Orthodox Christianity and the 12 Steps.