Search Words

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Canon of St. Andrew and Alcoholism

Every Great Lent, the Orthodox sing the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete, a long poem (it takes a week of services to get through it!), which goes through the Old and New Testaments and compares its stories our struggles with sin.

On the surface, the canon makes no mention of alcoholism or drunkenness, except one ambiguous reference:

As the Prodigal, O Savior, I have wasted all my substance in riotous living, and I am barren of 
the virtues of holiness. In my hunger I cry: O compassionate Father, come quickly out to meet 
me and take pity on me. (Wednesday, Ode 1)

Kind of disappointing from an addictions perspective... if you are looking for modern terminology and conceptualization.  While the canon does spend a great deal of time directly addressing sexual immorality, it places even greater emphasis on the Passions:

All the ruling passions have ploughed upon my back, making long furrows of wickedness. (Monday, Ode 2)

I am wounded and smitten: see the enemy’s arrows which have pierced my soul and body. See 
the wounds, the open sores and the injuries, that cry out to God against the blows inflicted by my 
freely chosen passions. (Thursday, Ode 2)

From my youth, O Savior, I have rejected Thy commandments. Ruled by the passions, I have 
passed my whole life in heedlessness and sloth. Therefore I cry to Thee, O Savior, even now at 
the end: Save me. (Wednesday, Ode 1)

I am clothed with the raiment of shame as with fig leaves, in condemnation of my self-willed 
passions. (Tuesday, Ode 2)

Rise up and make war upon the passions of the flesh, as Joshua against Amalek, ever gaining the 
victory over the Gibeonites, thy deceitful thoughts. (Thursday, Ode 6)

If we look at addiction as the final degree of the passions, the utter captivity that destroys the mind and body, than we can see that the canon speaks to the alcoholic and the addict as much as it speaks to those struggling with lesser degrees of spiritual captivity.  Let's be clear: addiction is a spiritual captivity which only God can rescue us from, yet we must also choose to 'make war.'

The 'war' described in the canon is two-fold: the decision to turn away from one's passions, and the repentance necessary to bring in God's intervention.  That's it.  There isn't a lot of self-will in terms of reversing the damage of the Passions because St. Andrew, along with the other greats of the Church, saw that man needs God in order to be changed.  

A mind broken by the passions, and a body crushed by its desires, cannot turn itself around.  St. Andrew makes this very clear.  We need help.

This request for help is also couched not in a personal prayer, but a service of the Church.  The service of Great Compline in which the odes are chanted is a communal service.  We all need God's help, and we are called to ask as a community rather than as individuals.

The canon is an important reminder of this communal spirituality which is indispensable in the struggle for recovery.  Notice as well that there are no exemptions from this service: the idea that someone has fully recovered from the passions is absent and it assumes that, up until death, all men will need this service.

If you have not already attended, I urge you to go and experience it yourself.  It is one thing to read it here, but another thing to join with others in singing and praying this beautiful and powerful service. 

No comments:

Post a Comment