In the thoughts that follow I would like to look at a crucial subject that needs to be faced. It is the great issue of secularism in church, theology and pastoral care.
Secularism is the loss of the true life of the Church, the alienation of Church members from the genuine Church spirit. Secularism is the rejection of the ecclesiastic ethos and the permeation of our life by the so called worldly spirit.
It should be stressed that secularism of the Church members is a gravest danger. The Church has several “enemies”. The worst and most dangerous one is secularization which eats up the marrow of the Church. The Church itself, of course, is under no real danger, since it is the blessed Body of Christ, but the threat exists for the members of the Church.
To be accurate, we would say that secularism, which consists in the adulteration of the way of life and of true faith, is related to the passions and, naturally, has been lurking in the Church since the beginning of its existence. In Paradise Adam attempted to rationally interpret God’s commandments. Even after Pentecost there were cases revealing some Christians’ anthropocentric way of thinking and living. Gnostics and others are the obvious proofs of this.
But secularism mostly started after the cessation of the persecutions. During the persecutions, Christians believed and lived in truth. When Christianity became the official State religion, there begun an adulteration of the christian faith and way of living. Anachoreticism and later monasticism developed as a reaction to this secularization. As the Holy Scripture illustrates, especially in the Epistles of the holy Apostles, in the ancient Church all Christians lived monastically. Secularism was a consequence of people attracted to Christianity out of expediency. The development of monasticism came as a response to that. Monasticism is not something alien to the Church but rather life according to the Gospel, which some Christians wanted to live in perfection and thus elected this way of living. It can be argued that even the most eccentric monk is a healthy reaction to the secular spirit that plagues Christians of our age.
Before proceeding to see how we experience secularism in Church, theology, and pastoral care, I would like to examine more closely the secular spirit and the meaning of the world (“cosmos”) in the Biblical-Patristic tradition, since the word “Cosmos” constitutes the main concept of the term “secularism”.
1. The double meaning of the word “Cosmos”
The word cosmos (world) has two meanings in the Bible and the works of the holy Fathers. The first is that cosmos is the creation of God, the entire creation; the second is the passions and everything that characterizes the spirit of the flesh which lacks the Holy Spirit.
To start with, cosmos is the creation. It is called as such because it is an ornament, a jewel (“cosmema” in Greek). In the Orthodox tradition we say that the world is a positive work of God. It is not a copy of some other real world, the world of ideas, it is not a downfall from the true world nor a creation of a lesser God. The phrase in the Creed “I believe in one God, Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of everything visible and invisible” was articulated to counter a heretical teaching of certain ancient heretics claiming that the world is a creature of a lesser God.
So the world is a creation of God, an ornament, a jewel. God created the world with His uncreated energy, for God is creator by energy and not by substance. It is characteristic that at the end of creation, the Bible notes “and God saw that it was good”.
God not only created the world, He also maintains it with His uncreated providential energies. Christ’s saying which demonstrates God’s love for the world is significant: “for God has loved the world so that He gave His only begotten Son in order that whoever believes in Him is not lost but lives eternally” (John, 3,16). God’s love for the world was expressed mainly through Christ’s incarnation and man’s salvation. After all, man is the microcosm within the macrocosm and is the summation of all creation.
The word “world” in the sense of God’s creation can be found in several Biblical passages. John, talking about Christ and the incarnation of the Son and Word of God, says: “He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not” (John 1:10). It is also said in several passages that while the world is God’s creature, it can become a deceit by the evil one, since the evil one deceived Adam in Paradise through the world, through the creation. That is why the Lord sums it up: “for what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? ” (Matthew 16:26).
The second meaning of the word “world” is sin, passions of the flesh, the spirit of the flesh, the spirit which is deprived of the Holy Spirit’s life and energy. We encounter the word “world” in this sense several times in the Bible.
John frequently uses the word “world” to denote God’s creation, the entire creation. In other cases he uses it to denote the passions of the flesh, everything that keeps man away from God or man’s life outside of God. A typical passage is the following: “For all that is in the world … but is of the world” (1 John 2:16). John does not ask us us not to love the creation, God’s creation, but rather the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, and the arrogance of life, which constitute in reality what is called the world.
In Saint Paul’s Epistles there is a characteristic passage showing that the world is, on one hand, the desire of the eyes and the arrogance of life, all the external things that become the evil one’s deceit and deceive us; on the other hand, the world is the passions of the soul, that is, the contrary to nature motion of the soul forces. Saint Paul says “But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal. 6:14). The Apostle is not taking pride in his origins, in his Roman citizenship, in the fact that he saw Christ in His glory, but only in the Cross of Christ through which he put the world to death. And this happened in a double way. First, the world was crucified for him, then he was crucified for the world. In the first instance, the devil could no longer deceive him with external stimulation. In the second one, he got completely rid of the world of passions and desires existing inside him.
It is in these two meanings that we encounter the word “world” in patristic texts. St.Gregory Palamas teaches that the world as a creature of God is neither to be held in contempt nor to be hated. In this meaning, the world has to be used by man for his maintenance. There is a danger, however, when someone views the world as a creature of God to also view it as the devil’s deception; for the devil really knows how to utilize the world to deceive man.
In the Holy Scripture it is said that the devil is king of the world. Interpreting this term, St.Gregory Palamas points out that God, who created the world, is the real king of the world. The devil is called such because he dominates the world of injustice and sin. Indeed, “the abuse of beings, our passionate ruling over the world, the world of injustice, the wicked desire and arrogance”, these condtitute the world whose king is the devil. Here it is clear that “world” means sin and passions.
St.Basil the Great discussing man’s departure from the world says that it is not an escape from the world, it is not the soul’s exit from the body, as argued by the ancient philosophers. It is rather the absence of attachment by the soul to the body. Naturally, when the Fathers refer to the body they do not mean the body as such but rather the carnal spirit, the passions of the flesh and the adoration of the body.
It is in this context that the Fathers discuss the world. Theoleptos of Philadelphia says “I call `world’ the love of material objects and of the flesh”. He who is liberated from these “becomes akin to Christ and acquires His love”. More generally, to quote St.Isaac the Syrian, “when we want to name all passions, we call them world”.
It is this sense of the word “world” which is used in the term “secularism” and which we will employ hereafter. Secularism is man’s distortion by the spirit of the flesh and the passions. When our life is permeated by passions, by the world of injustice, and when we pursue such a life within the Church, and think, and try to be theologians in such a manner, than this is called secularism. Secularism is life’s estrangement from God, our not pursuing communion and unity with Him, our attachment to earthly matters, and our viewing of all things and issues in our life away from God’s will. One could claim that secularism is a synonym to anthropocentricism.
In what follows we will analyze the term secularism in the above framework, obviously extending its dimensions.
2. Secularism in the Church life
It should be stressed from the beginning that when we talk about secularism in the Church, in theology and in pastoral care, we do not imply that the Church, theology and pastoral care become secular and are destroyed. That would imply that the true life and man’s true way of therapy are lost. Instead, it is the members of the Church that become secular and, therefore, view the Church, theology, and pastoral care differently. However, throughout the centuries, there are Church members who preserve the truth regarding the Church, theology and orthodox pastoral care.
a) Secularism in Church
In the past we have had the opportunity to analyze the meaning of the term Church. The main point is that the Church is Christ’s body. It is not a human organization but the God-man body of Christ. We have also said that the Church is divinization. This means that its purpose is to guide its members to divinization which is the principal objective of man’s creation.
An important excerpt illustrating the objective of the shepherds of the Church can be found in St.Paul’s Epistle to the Christians of Ephessos. Says the Apostle: “And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ”. (Ephes. 4,11-13). According to St.Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain, in the phrase “the knowledge of the Son of God” St.Paul does not mean “the knowledge of God which is achieved through the viewing of created things and the divine Scriptures; the impure can also possess such knowledge; instead he refers to the supernatural knowledge of the Son of God, arrived at through divine illumination and glorification, and granted solely to the perfect ones, those purified from the passions of the flesh and of the soul. It is this knowledge that he wishes all Christians to arrive at”. Also, the phrase “to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ” conveys the concept of divinization.
The true Church’s existence is demonstrated by its success in curing man. We know from the teaching of the holy Fathers that Church is the spiritual health center, the spiritual hospital that cures man. When we refer to illness and cure we mean that the nous is ill and is cured. Nous’ cure is not independent of purification, illumination, and divinization. The Church’s goal is to cure this gnostic center so that man can acquire the knowledge of God which constitutes his salvation. Therefore, the existence of the true Church can be seen in the degree of success, in the results of the therapy. If it cures man, if it makes a correct diagnosis of the disease, and if it knows the way and method of therapy, then it is the true not the secular Church.
There are some tokens revealing that this particular Church preserves the knowledge and the success of therapy. Man’s right social relationships is one of them. Indeed the disturbance of social, interpersonal relationships is a product, a result of the illness of nous. Nous’ therapy, which consists in its purification and its illumination, has sociological consequences, too. That is why what is relevant to nous’ therapy ought to be studied by today’s so-called science of sociology. We, Orthodox, view the transformation of society through such a perspective . That is why we are realists. It is utopian to want to transform society by trying to find a suitable social system. What is relevant is not a system but a way of life. This is not to imply that we do not applaud every effort for the improvement of certain bad conditions in the post-fall and sick societies which for the most part do not accept God’s word. But the most effective and realistic way is through the therapy of the nous.
Another example revealing a Church’s degree of success in curing is the presence and existence of holy relics. The holy relics are a proof of man’s cure. When the nous is purified and illumined and when man attains divinization, then he is entirely divinized, because God’s Grace is transported from the soul to the body. The relics of the saints, which are everlasting, fragrant and miraculous, are proof that the method and way of therapy are preserved, that the Church leads man to divinization. That is why it has been pointedly argued that the aim of the Church is to make relics, in the sense that it seeks to guide man to divinization. A Church that does not produce relics demonstrates that it does not lead man to divinization and, hence, it does not possess the true method for man’s therapy.
So, the existence of the true Church is revealed in the degree of success. In medicine it is said that a correct medical theory is distinguished from a wrong one by its degree of success. Similarly, a doctor is good depending on his healing rate. Likewise for the Church. An organised Church is one that cures man. Its existence is demonstrated by success in the therapy of the darkened nous.
Secularism in the Church is directly related to the loss of Church’s true objective. A Church not inspired by what has been said above, that is a Church which does not cure man but is concerned with other matters, is a secularised Church. It is in this sense that we refer to secularism in Church. Now we will turn to some cases illustrating the secularised Church.
We can say that the Church becomes secular when it is considered to be a religious organization. There is an enormous difference between Church and religion. Religion speaks about an impersonal God who inhabits the Heavens and manages the world from up there. Man, through various rituals, has to appease God and establish communication with Him. But the Church is the Body of Christ who assumed human nature and in this way there exists a communion between man and God, in the Person of Christ. Of course, it cannot be precluded that within the Church there are some Christians feeling God in a religious perspective. This, however, occurs in the lower stages of spiritual life, it constitutes spiritual immaturity and there is definitely a willingness and tendency for man to go on maturing spiritually so that he arrives at communion and unity with God. A secularised Church, though, simply satisfies the so-called religious feelings of men and nothing more. It is noted for its beautiful ceremonies and neglects the entire neptic and therapeutic wealth owned by the Church.
Further, the Church is secularised when it is viewed as an ideological field and ideological system, unrelated to life. Ideological systems are inspired by abstract ideas and are imbued by idealism which has the characteristics of all anthropocentric systems that are based on philosophy and are against materialism. Ideas do not have much of a relation to life, to man’s transformation. Idealism is created by man’s rationality and is presented in the form of arguments and ideas.
The Church does not function as an ideological field. It does not simply have some ideas, be it the best and most perfect ones, that it uses to counter other ideas. The Church has the life, indeed the true life, which is a fruit of man’s communion with God. St.Gregory Palamas says: “every saying is countered by another saying”. Every argument is confronted by a counter- argument. This can be clearly seen in many of the philosophical ideas that have been developed. But who can confront true life, and in particular, life that defeats death? The Church does not have ideas. It has life, which is the transcendence of death.
It is wrong, it is secularistic, to contrast the Church to old or modern ideologies and to modern ideological socio- political systems. The Church does not simply copy the methods and manners of other social and philosophical systems. Instead, it possesses a life which is not identical to the purpose of idealistic systems. Of course, when the Church cures man this has important sociological consequences, but this is a product, a result, never the cause, the principle.
The secularised Church is occupied with human thought and abstract ideas. The real and true Church, though, is like true medicine, and in particular surgery. A surgeon can never engage in philosophy and culture, can never meditate while performing a surgical operation. In front of him he has a patient he wants to cure, to bring back to full health. Likewise the Church, having in front of her a patient, can never meditate or philosophize. The Church itself experiences the mystery of Christ’s Cross and assists man in experiencing the same in his personal life. The experience of the Cross mystery is the deepest repentance through which the nous is transformed. From the contrary to nature motion it acquires the movement according to nature and above nature.
Furthermore, the Church becomes secular when it is downgraded to a social organization , like so many other organizations in society. It it often claimed that Church is the Nation’s supreme institution. But the Church cannot be considered as an institution of the Nation, even the supreme one. It may be the substance of the Nation, since the Nation’s tradition is inextricably tied to the Church tradition, and Nation members are simultaneously Church Members. The Church, however, can never become an institution. When a revolution ends up in a bureaucracy, it loses its value and this brings about its downfall. The same is true of the Church. Being the spiritual Hospital which cures man, the Church cannot be considered as an institution in support of society, appropriate for citizen taming.
Unfortunately, today some view the Church as a necessary organization, useful for society, its role valued according to its social usefulness. For many the Church is viewed as Prometheus, with police in the role of Epimetheus. That is, the Church is good enough as society’s assistant in order to avoid police intervention. When the Church fails, the police step in. Certainly one cannot dismiss Church benefaction in such matters. A cured Christian causes no troubles to the police. But we should not see Church presence only in this field because then we refer to a secularised Church.
There are others, unfortunately, who do not look at the prophetic and sanctifying role of the Church, which consists of the sanctification of man and of the whole world. They rather accept the Church as a mere decorative element. They need it to decorate various ceremonies and to brighten them with its presence. Or they may believe that Church presence is required to demonstrate a wide social consensus. But, as it has been pointedly observed, not even the atheists reject such a church. I may add that such a secularised church causes despair to the atheists, too. They may need it for the time being, because it serves them well, but they are going to face a grave disappointment when they, too, need the true presence of the Church.
Today there is a general tendency to view a secular Church as more useful for modern social needs. I may add that there is a growing tendency to adjust sermons and Church teaching to these social needs, the needs of a society functioning in anthropocentric ways, because we fear society’s rejection. Protestants and, generally, the Western “Churches” have succumbed to this temptation and that is why they have spreaded much despair to those seeking therapy, to those seeking the true Church for a cure.
Overall, a Church which crucifies instead of being crucified, which experiences worldly glory instead of the glory of the Cross, a Church which falls to, instead of overcoming, Christ’s three temptations in the desert, is a secularised church. Such a Church is destined to accommodate a fallen society to remain in its fallen state; it spreads disappointment and despair to those who seek something deeper and more substantive.
b) Secularism in theology
Since theology is the voice and faith of the Church, it follows that what has been said about the Church so far applies to theology too. We will attempt to discuss this particular subject a little more in order to see the way orthodox theology is secularised in more detail.
Theology is the logos of God (theo-logia in Greek). It is assumed that someone who talks about God must know God. In the Orthodox Church we say that the knowledge of God is not intellectual but spiritual, that is, it is connected to man’s communion with God. In St.Gregory Palamas’ teaching, the vision of the uncreated Light is closely connected to man’s divinization, to man’s communion with God and the knowledge of God. That is why theology is identical to the vision of God and the theologian is identical to the God-seer. Someone who talks about God, even reflectively can be called theologian, and this is why the Fathers attribute the term theologian to the philosophers too. Eventually, though, from an Orthodox standpoint a theologian is someone who witnessed the glory of God or, at least, accepts the experience of those who reached divinization.
In this sense, theologians are the God-seers, those who achieved divinization and received the Revelation of God. St.Paul is one such theologian. He went up to the third heaven and on several occasions he describes and reveals his apocalyptic experiences. This occurs to such an extent that St.John Chrysostom, talking about St.Paul and about the fact that in his Epistles there are greater mysteries than in the Gospels, argues that “Christ declared more important and unspoken things through St.Paul than through Himself”.
St.Paul, as he himself says in third person, was captured “up to the third heaven” (2 Corinth. 12,2). At this point I would like to remind us of St.Maximos the Confessor’s interpretation, according to which the three heavens are in reality the three stages of spiritual life. The first heaven is the end of practical philosophy, which is the purification of the heart, the expulsion of all thoughts from the heart. The second heaven is the natural theoria, that is, the knowledge of the inner essences of beings; when man through God’s Grace becomes worthy of knowing the inner essences of beings; to have ceaseless inner prayer. The third heaven is theoria, theology, through which, and by divine Grace and the capture of the nous, one reaches, as is possible, the knowledge of God’s mysteries and knows all the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. This is “the ignorance superior to knowledge”, according to a characteristic saying by St.Isaac the Syrian. This ignorance, relative to human knowledge, is the true knowledge of God. Therefore, theology is the third heaven which is a fruit, an outcome of the purification of the heart and the illumination of the nous.
All these are related to another teaching by St.Maximos the Confessor. According to it, all that is seen needs to be crucified and all the thoughts to be buried, and then the logos rises within ourselves, man ascends to theoria and becomes a true theologian. This means that orthodox theology is closely tied to orthodox ascesis, it cannot be conceived of outside orthodox ascesis.
On discussing true theology, I think it is worth reminding ourselves of the holy Niketas Stathatos’ discourse on the interpretation of Paradise. An integral member of the Orthodox Tradition, hosios Niketas analyses thoroughly how the Paradise created by God in Eden is “the great field of practical philosophy”. The tree of the knowledge of good and evil is natural theoria, while the tree of life is mystical theology. When man’s nous is purified, he can approach the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and from there acquire the gift of theology. This is the path followed by all the holy Fathers, and this is why they proved to be unmistakable theologians in Church and real Shepherds of the people of God. On the contrary, the heretics tried and still try to make theology in other ways, with impure heart and reflection, not through practical philosophy, natural theoria and mystical theology. For this reason they failed and were expelled from the Church of Christ.
When theology is not a part of this framework, as presented by all the holy Fathers, then it is not orthodox but secular. This secular theology is encountered in the West, for there they analyze and interpret the Holy Scripture through their own human and impure intellect, outside the correct prerequisites presented by the holy Fathers. Unfortunately, in some cases this has affected our own place, too.
A typical example of secular theology, functioning outside the traditional patristic framework, is the so-called scholastic theology, which was developed in the West between the 11th and the 15th centuries. It was termed scholastic from the various schools cultivating it. Its main feature was that it relied a lot on philosophy, particularly that of Aristotle, and it attempted to rationally explain everything related to God.
Scholastic theology tried to rationally comprehend God’s Revelation and to harmonize theology and philosophy. It is characteristic that Anselm of Canterbury used to say: “I believe in order to comprehend”. The scholastics started by a priori accepting God and then tried to prove His existence by rational arguments and logical categories. In the Orthodox Church, as expressed by the holy Fathers, we state that faith is God’s Revelation to man. We accept faith from hearsay not to comprehend it later, but to purify the heart, achieve faith through theoria, and experience Revelation. Scholastic theology, on the other hand, accepted something a priori and then struggled to comprehend it by rational arguments.
Scholastic theology attained its peak with Thomas Aquinas, who is considered a saint by the Latin Church. He claimed that Christian truths are divided into natural and supernatural. Natural truths, such as the truth of God’s existence, can be proved philosophically; supernatural truths, such as the trinity of God, the incarnation of the Logos, the resurrection of bodies, cannot be proved philosophically but can be shown to be not irrational. Scholasticism tightly connected theology with philosophy, and in particular metaphysics; as a result, faith was adulterated, and scholastic theology itself was completely discredited when the model of metaphysics prevailing in the West collapsed. Scholasticism should not be acquitted of the tragedy of the West regarding faith in our days. The holy Fathers teach that there is no distinction between natural and metaphysical — only between created and uncreated. The holy Fathers never accepted Aristotle’s metaphysics. But this is beyond our present topic and I am not going to develop it any further.
Scholastic theologians of the Middle Ages considered scholastic theology to be a development and surpassing of Patristic theology. Frankish teaching on the superiority of scholastic over Patristic theology originates from this point. Thus, scholastics, who deal with reason, consider themselves superior to the holy Fathers of the Church, and also consider human knowledge, a product of reason, higher than Revelation and experience.
It is from this angle that we should view the conflict between St.Gregory Palamas and Varlaam. Varlaam was essentially a scholastic theologian who attempted to bring scholastic theology to the Orthodox East. His views were of the scholastic theology which in reality constitutes a secular theology. Varlaam believed that we cannot exactly know what the Holy Spirit is, thus ending in agnosticism; that ancient Greek philosophers were above the Prophets and the Apostles, since reason is higher than the Apostles’ theoria; that the Light of the Transfiguration is something which is done and undone; that the hesychastic way of life, that is, the purification of the heart and the ceaseless noetic prayer are not necessary, etc. St.Gregory Palamas foresaw this danger to Orhodoxy and with the power and energy of the Holy Spirit, in addition to the experience he personally had obtained as bearer and continuator of the holy Fathers, he confronted this grave danger and preserved the unadulterated Orthodox faith and Orthodox Tradition.
Unfortunately, Varlaamism, which is an expression of scholastic theology in the West and definitely constitutes secular theology, has infiltrated the orthodox East in other ways. We observe that scholasticism, varlaamism, permeates manifestations of modern church and theological life. Of course, in recent years there is an effort to cleanse our theology from its babylonian captivity in Western scholasticism; there is a great effort to break the orthodox theology’s encirclement by the prison of scholastic theology. But we must simultaneously move on to experiencing orthodox theology. Orthodox theology is not an intellectual knowledge but rather an experience, life, and is closely connected to the so-called hesychasm.
Secular theology, which is a function of scholasticism, manifests itself in several ways today, too. I would like to point out a few.
One is the way we base the entire mode of theology on reason and thought. We think about the orthodox faith, we rationalize about the truths of faith or we simply form a history of theology. We have almost reached the point of viewing theology as a philosophy about God, ignoring the whole therapeutic method of our Church.
Another way of experiencing varlaamism and scholasticism is the fact that we have limited theology to esthetics. We have made it esthetics. We might write several books and undertake long analyses on orthodox art, study the schools of iconography, accept the great value of Byzantine art, while simultaneously treating with contempt and overlooking ascesis, the hesychastic method which is the foundation of every orthodox art. Purification, illumination, and divinization is the basis of all the Orthodox Church’s arts and acts and mysteries.
Another way is that we seek the rebirth of the Church liturgical life without simultaneously discovering and living the ascetic life of the Church. We discuss the continual communion of the Sacraments without simultaneously relating this effort to the stages of spiritual perfection, which are purification, illumination, and divinization. We undertake great efforts so that people comprehend logically the Divine Liturgy, without making a parallel effort to experience the spirit of Orthodox Worship. We seek to abolish the iconostasis so that laymen can see the goings-on, without asking for the reason the Church instituted the iconostasis and the secret reading of prayers. These are not independent of the secularization of ecclesiastical theology. St.Maximos the Confessor’s teaching and historical research are very revealing on this point. The catechumens cannot pray with the same prayers as the baptized and vice versa. And if we study the teaching of St.Simeon the New Theologian on who the catechoumens really are, we will be able to understand why the Church has instituted the iconostasis and the secret reading of prayers.
Overall, when our theology is not tied to the so-called hesychastic life, when it is not ascetic, then it is secular, it is scholastic theology, it is varlaamist theology — even if we seem to be fighting western theology and struggle to be orthodox.
c) Secularism in Pastoral care
Pastoral care is not unrelated to and independent of the Church and theology. Pastoral care is the work of the Church which aims at admitting man to her Body, at making him her true member. Pastoral care is Church’s method to guide man to divinization. As we have said before, this is the Church’s deeper objective. Further, pastoral care is not unrelated to theology, for the true theologians are true shepherds and those who shepherd in an orthodox way do so theologically. Therefore, what we have said so far about the Church and theology applies to pastoral care too. The true Shepherds of the Church are the deified, those who partake, to various degrees, to the deifying energy of God or those who accept the deified and follow their teaching. Therefore, we either are deified or accept them and exercise pastoral care by their aid.
Moses reached divinization by Grace, he saw God in His glory, and then undertook the heavy task of the pastoral guidance of the people. As St.Gregory of Nyssa says, before seeing God he was unable to separate two Hebrews fighting with each other; after the vision of God and His sending him to this task, Moses guided a difficult and uncompromising people. It is indicative that Moses passed the whole divinization experience on to the people through his guidance and the laws.
The same can be observed in all church life. St.Gregory the Theologian views pastoral care as the most difficult science, and he definitely ties it with man’s divinization. For this reason he would like the shepherds to be previously cured in order to be able to guide their spiritual children to therapy and divinization.
The Sacred Canons of the Church present the pastoral method. If we view the Canons as legal schemes and structures, we fail to recognize their true place within the Church. As we have said elsewhere, the Sacred Canons are medicine to cure man. A careful examination of the Canons will lead us to the conclusion that they presuppose man’s illness, which is the darkening of the nous, and they aim at man’s health, which is the illumination of the nous and divinization. According to St.Basil the Great there are five stages for those who repent, namely, those who stay outside the Church, crying and asking to be forgiven by the Christians; those who attend and listen to the Divine Word but leave the Church at the time the catechumens do; those who stay at the narthex of the Church and attend the Divine Liturgy on their knees; those who stay within the main Church, remain there and pray with the rest of the faithful without however partaking in the holy Communion; and, finally, there are those who partake in the Body and Blood of Christ; these stages manifest that every sin, which constitutes the darkening of the nous, is a repetition of Adam’s sin and a degradation from true life. Then man is no longer a living member of Christ’s Church. They also show that repentance is but the struggle so that man becomes a member of the Church.
As stated before, the existence of the iconostasis should be viewed within this perspective. In older times there were no iconostases just some veils and everyone had a visual communion with the goings-on because the entire holy Temple was a place for the believers, for the true Church members. There was a substantial separation between the Narthex and the main Temple. When someone sinned, he could not attend the Temple nor pray with the believers. Thus there existed a class of repenters who were essentially in the catechumens state. Later though, as a consequence of secularism in faith, those in repentance were allowed in the Temple, but iconostases were erected.
Of course, we do not pay much attention to external manifestations such as the iconostasis. I would like to stress that the Church’s pastoral care does not consist of external activities, of psychological rest and relaxation, but rather of an effort to purify the heart and illumine the nous.
Unfortunately, today things are presented on a different basis and we can talk about secularism in pastoral care too. There is an attempt to use modern psychology, among other methods, in the pastoral guidance of people. There are several who employ psychology’s results to help people. It is not such a bad thing for someonne to know some psychological methods. I believe, though, that someone who knows himself and by God’s Grace monitors the way his inner passions act, when he studies the Holy Scriptures and the holy Fathers, when he is guided by a deified Spiritual Father, he can obtain real knowledge about other people, for in essence the problems of all men are the same. Employing modern psychology to guide people is a secularized view of pastoral care and it is harmful for the following reasons.
It is harmful when, at the same time, our Church’s entire ascetic and hesychastic method is ignored. We usually ignore the hesychastic tradition as expressed in ascetic writings, such as the Ladder of St.John the Sinaite. It is a pity for us to ignore a healthy tradition possessed by our Church which aims not at psychoanalysis but at psychosynthesis. For our psyche, through its fragmentation caused by the passions, experiences schizophrenia, its scattering around.
It is also harmful when we maintain an anthropocentric position and believe that man’s health can be brought about by the method of listening and talking. For man’s soul, which is created by God in order to attain divinization, does not find rest at a set of moralistic advices and a humane external support. As we have said, the illness lies deeper, in the nous. It does not consist in certain supressed and traumatic experiences of the past, but in the darkening and mortification of the nous. Therapy and illumination of the nous cannot be achieved by anthropocentric methods, advices, and psychoanalyses.
Furthermore, the employment of modern psychology creates problems to the extent that it is already considered a failure in the West. Many people discover that psychology cannot cure man effectively. This can be seen in two cases. The first is the development in the West of the so-called anti-psychiatry, which reacts to psychiatry because it realizes that psychiatry follows a wrong course, having set different assumptions about the illness. Anti-psychiatry claims that classical psychiatry is a form of social violence on man. The second case is psychiatrists’ growing awareness of the failure of psychiatry and psychology to cure, and their subsequent abandonment of psychiatry and turning to neurology; for it is believed that many problems originate in man’s neurological system which has its center in the brain. It is argued that several psychological abnormalities, like illusions, hallucinations, etc., have their origin in the illness of brain centers. Unfortunately, all new scientific discoveries come to Greece with a delay of thirty or fifty years.
In conclusion, we can say that secularism is the Church’s gravest danger. It is what adulterates her true spirit, her true atmosphere. Of course we must repeat that it adulterates not the Church, for the Church is the real and blessed Body of Christ, but the members of the church. Therefore, we should more properly refer to the secularization of the members of the Church.
The Church is the jewel of the world, the charity of mankind. When, however, this jewel of the world is permeated by the so-called secular spirit, when Christians, the members of the church, instead of belonging to this jewel, instead of becoming the light of the world, are inspired by the world in the sense of passions and become the world, then they experience secularism. This secularism does not lead to divinization. It is an anthropocentric view of our life. The Church should enter the world to transform it rather than the world entering the Church to secularize it.
A secularized Church is completely unable and weak to transform the world. And secularized Christians have failed at all levels.
by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Saint Vlassios
Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Saint Vlassios: He was born Georgios S. Vlachos in Ioannina, Epirus, Greece, in 1945 and graduated from the theological school of the University of Thessaloniki. He was ordained a deacon in 1971, taking the monastic name Hierotheos, followed by his ordination as a priest in 1972. He served at the Archbishop’s House of Offices in Athens, as a preacher and Youth Director. He was consecrated bishop on July 20, 1995, and elected Metropolitan of Nafpaktos and St. Vlasios in the same year. He taught Greek for several semesters and gave lectures on Orthodox ethics to the students of the St. John of Damascus Theological School at the University of the Patriarchate of Antioch, in northern Lebanon. He has written a multitude of books, the fruit of his pastoral work, among which is Orthodox Psychotherapy. Some of these books have been translated into various languages, such as English, French, Spanish, Russian, and Arabic. With these books he conveys the Orthodox spirit of the Philokalia to the restless and disturbed man of our time. This is why they have aroused so much interest.