Search Words

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Praying With Others

Here's another reader's comment from one of the pages.

Greetings, Fr George. As an Orthodox Christian, should I feel strange about saying the "Our Father" at meetings with non-Orthodox? Do the Church canons prohibit the practice of praying with the non-Orthodox? Also, as a layman, I'm not sure how I feel about having a sponsee perform the 5th step (Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs) with me - this is essentially confession without the absolution, is it not? Should I be hearing someone's confession as a layman? Lastly, I see you've already tackled the subject of "God as we understood Him" - I am grateful for this, though unsure if I should advocate this approach to sponsees. At the very least, I'd be inclined to advise a sponsee to approach God as God Is, rather than approaching God with our own preconceived ideas, which may or may not fall short and hinder a genuine connection from being established. I'd appreciate any feedback you have to offer.

So, he raises several points-

1) Can I pray with non-Orthodox, especially at meetings?
2)  Can an Orthodox Christian hear a Fifth Step?
3) God as He is.

Starting with the last first, I do think that all addicts need to approach God without preconceived notions, but also understand that the Program does specify what attributes God has revealed to them, which are also necessary for recovery.  The fact that the group has a common experience of God to share with the new addict is not a 'preconceived notion,' since the addict is not the origin of the description.

Now, as for the first point, here are three canons from the Pedalion, which is the book containing the canons of the Church-
Apostolic Canon XLV (45)
Let any Bishop, or Priest, or Deacon that only joins in prayer with heretics be suspended, but if he has permitted them to perform any service as clergy let him be deposed.

Apostolic Canon XLVI (46)
We order any Bishop or Priest, that has accepted any heretic’s baptism or sacrifice be deposed; for “what consonance has Christ with Belial? Or what part has the believer with an unbeliever?”

Apostolic Canon LXV (65)
If any Clergyman, or Layman, enter a synagogue of Jews or of heretics to pray, let him be both deposed and excommunicated.

The 'prayer' mentioned in the canons has to do with services.  The canons specify that Orthodox Christians should not attend non-Orthodox worship services, and that clergy are subject to deposition for confusing Orthodox and non-Orthodox worship and sacraments.

This canon has never been used against Christians who, let's say, go to a friend's wedding.  But, they are used when a Christian goes through such a rite himself.
Saying the Lord's Prayer in an AA meeting may be awkward (to be honest, I hate holding hands in a circle, since it just feels weird as one who grew up thinking that people who held hands in a circle with their eyes closed were either dangerously sentimental or trying a New Age experiment), but it is not sinful.  The person you are praying with needs God as you have come to know Him through the Church, so praying with this person is an appeal to our God which we hope will lead to His revelation to those we pray with.

A 12 Step meeting is not a worship service, and nobody confuses it with going to church (except for those who may use it as a replacement).  Praying with others, inside and outside a meeting is OK.

Does it occasionally get uncomfortable?  Yes, it does.  Sometimes people say some strange things in prayer, and so we can ask God (silently) to have patience with our friend.

If you have have someone who appears to be pushing an agenda in prayer (usually punctuated with lots of emotive sounds and the word 'just'), it is OK to push back a little.  I had this one time with an evangelical who decided that his prayer was going to be a restatement of the 'once-saved-always-saved' doctrine, and so I countered with an appeal to the Virgin Mary to protect and guide him.  Needless to say, he was not pleased, but he got the point.  

The same goes for us: we do not, in praying with others, use our prayers an excuse to push an agenda.  Keep them simple, and remember that the person you are praying with might not be ready for everything all at once.  Be gentle and patient, just like your Heavenly Father.

As for the question about hearing the Fifth Step of another person, let's look at what the Big Book says (pp. 73-75)-

We must be entirely honest with somebody if we expect to live long or happily in this world. Rightly and naturally, we think well before we choose the person or persons with whom to take this intimate and confidential step. Those of us belonging to a religious denomination which requires confession must, and of course, will want to go to the properly appointed authority whose duty it is to receive it. Though we have no religious connection, we may still do well to talk with someone ordained by an established religion. We often find such a person quick to see and understand our problem. Of course, we sometimes encounter people who do not understand alcoholics.

If we cannot or would rather not do this, we search our acquaintance for a close-mouthed, understanding friend. Perhaps our doctor or psychologist will be the person. It may be one of our own family, but we cannot disclose anything to our wives or our parents which will hurt them and make them unhappy. We have no right to save our own skin at another person's expense. Such parts of our story we tell to someone who will understand, yet be unaffected. The rule is we must be hard on ourself, but always considerate of others.

Notwithstanding the great necessity for discussing ourselves with someone, it may be one is so situated that there is no suitable person available. If that is so, this step may be postponed, only, however, if we hold ourselves in complete readiness to go through with it at the first opportunity. We say this because we are very anxious that we talk to the right person. It is important that he be able to keep a confidence; that he fully understand and approve what we are driving at;  that he will not try to change our plan. But we must not use this as a mere excuse to postpone.

I've highlighted the most important point: Orthodox Christians should do their Fifth Step with their father-confessors.  However, there is no mention here of absolution.  Why?  AA cannot speak of that because AA is not the Church.  It dares not to.

A Fifth Step can be done without absolution.  In the case of non-Orthodox, we trust that God squares them away without the absolution prayers we Orthodox benefit from.

As for hearing a Fifth Step, reread the passage.  Again, if the person who comes to you comes from a church with absolution (I think that is pretty much us and the Roman Catholics, but these days you never know), then it would be best for you to gently tell your friend to go back to his church and do it there.  Do not interfere in this person's sacramental life.  You may annoy God with such presumption.

However, if this person has no other route to God, then by all means offer yourself to God and your friend as his connection to the Creator.  After all, this is your calling: are you not supposed to be a lamp to the world?


  1. Thank you for your response, Father.

  2. Canon 33 of Laodicea says: "No one shall join in prayers with heretics or schismatics" - what is your take on this canon, Father? From a layman's perspective, this canon isn't quite as specific as the above cited canons...

    1. All you have to do is look at how the Church presently enforces the canons to know that mere attendance at a non-Orthodox service does not constitute a violation of the intentions of the canons. It is when participation leads to some type of confusion that the line is drawn. Being a spectator is different from being a participant. We must always be cautious that someone's invitation is not an attempt to force us to confess something we do not agree with, since we would not want someone else to do that to us. It is all about 'live and let live.'

    2. That makes a lot of sense - I believe one of the canons even recommends excommunication to those who don't stay for the prayers after communion - oy vey - if this were upheld as law, 99.9 % of us would be excommunicated! Still, if only there were an Orthodox Christian 12 step program - this would eliminate many of my hang-ups. Ideally, every alcoholic deserves a chance at sobriety, but it also seems like a great deal of discretion must be exercised by a person if they do not wish to be taken in and corrupted by various new age philosophies and heretical notions and so forth. One of the first things I remember hearing from one of my sponsors was something to the effect of: "study your big book and familiarize yourself with the program and try not to listen to people who seem to be working their own program (that is, anything that seems to conflict the principles of AA)" - true, but difficult - but Glory be to God for all things - I suppose no one has received salvation without first running the gauntlet of trials and temptations. My hang-ups often lead me to a state of inertia wherein I neglect my sobriety, spiritual life, or both - some of it is perhaps my simply making "excuse with excuses in sins" - perhaps my own pride and selfishness elude me. Thanks again for your feedback, Father. I feel like I've received some resolution - maybe it's time for me to hit up a meeting.

    3. I'm thinking of starting a phone-in AA meeting for Orthodox after Lent.

    4. I have previously commented on this blog the view of the eminent priest Fr. Thomas Hopko regarding the all too frequent use by some of the word "heretic" or "heretical." Again Fr. Hopko believes these words should be limited to those of higher Orthodox rank who don't just believe something in error of important doctrine but who also have led a significant portion of Orthodox away (whether schismatic or not). Using this view there is no application to the current discussion. For me personally I don't see how participation in a different service is attractive at all. I used to be a died in the wool evangelical. Now when I attend an evangelical service I weep within at the complete lack of depth of the worship. When I attend my family's Lutheran service I weep within at how it had the chance centuries ago to join Orthodoxy but went its own separate way with increasing tragic results.

  3. Glory be to God! Please keep me posted on your progress.