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Friday, September 7, 2012

A Romanian Priest talks about Psychology

This is a complicated topic, which comes up from time to time in discussions about the Orthodox Church's ministry to the suffering, particularly to those who are addicts.

An unavoidable aspect of recovery is psychology.  Yes, it has a role, particularly in dealing with contributing factors.  However, psychology itself, because it is devoid of any assumption of divine intervention, cannot treat addiction.

So, here's an article about what a famous Romanian Orthodox priest, Fr. Rafail Noica, has to say about priests and psychology:

Because most priests are neither highly developed in their spirituality (it isn't a job requirement, by the way) nor trained in psychology, it is important for them to know when they are dealing with a problem they can't handle and refer it to the proper authority on the matter.  For example, I refer some people to a monastery with some problems I'm not equipped to handle, or perhaps the person does not want to listen to me.  Other times, I will tell the person to go get psychological help to work through those issues until they are ready to deal with God.

Yes, some people are too sick to even deal with God in a direct manner.  A psychologist can be helpful in breaking down the immense barriers that people build up against the world, and, ultimately God.  Orthodox Christians understand the benefit of having saints: sometimes it is hard to talk to God, and so talking to His friends helps.  We can feel so alienated from Him that we need someone else to talk to to overcome our fears.

Now, I think that Fr. Rafail is asking a bit much of priests.  Sure, priests have the potential to be helpful with very sick people, but not all of them.  Then again, most people are not so sick as to need a psychologist.  Priests are ordained in the Orthodox Church to "to stand in innocency before thine Altar; to proclaim the Gospel of thy kingdom; to minister the word of thy truth; to offer unto thee spiritual gifts and sacrifices; to renew thy people through the laver of regeneration."  That's from the ordination prayers.  It says nothing about in-depth counseling, spiritual healing, etc.

We should be overly-cautious about placing too many expectations on priests, since much of what an addict needs to hear from a priest can only come from a priest who has a lot of experience of what he speaks.  A guy just out of seminary is like anyone in a new trade: he has the schooling, but none of the experience that makes all the difference.  Even a new psychologist isn't all that helpful in anything but the most straight-forward cases.

As for Fr. Rafail's comments about the West being spiritually dead, I will leave that up to you to decide.  Look around and answer that question for yourself.

But, when it comes to real spiritual healing versus psychology, let's get one thing straight: the psychologist heals an injured will through the power of that will to get better.  What he cannot do is get a broken will to heal itself.  At this point, there must be a divine intervention, something a psychologist cannot offer.  This is why psychology and medicine, both taught as schools of thought without God, do not have much success in treating addiction.

The priest is the one called upon to offer God to those in need.  The priests should be ready to do just that.