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Orthodox and Western Theology
His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and St Vlassios
(Lectures given by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos, Hierotheos (Vlachos) at the July 18–22 Archdiocesan Clergy Symposium, convened by Metropolitan Joseph and hosted at Antiochian Village by the Antiochian House of Studies.)
When I am invited to speak to members of the Clergy who exercise the pastoral ministry I usually stress that theology is pastoral and the pastoral ministry is theology. When someone wants to shepherd a particular flock, and when he is shepherding human beings, he must necessarily speak theologically.
Theology, according to Fr. John Romanides, is distinguishing what is created from what is uncreated. Experienced theologians, those who behold God, have received God’s revelation, so they can make the distinction between created and uncreated. They know very well that God’s Light is uncreated, and that all the other things He has made, including, of course, the light of the sun, are created. When the Apostle Paul was on his way to Damascus, he declares that a light shone around him that was “brighter than the sun” (Acts 26:13). It was midday and he saw two lights: the created light with his physical eyes, and the uncreated light with the eyes of his soul, with his nous.
Because the saints realise from their experience that there is no similarity at all between what is uncreated and what is created, they also know from their experience that there is a difference between uncreated and created energy. As a consequence, they know for certain when energy comes from God, when it comes from created things, and when it comes from the devil. This is how they guide their spiritual children, and this is actually what pastoral ministry is. We therefore assert that true theology is discerning between uncreated and created energies, and a theologian is someone who discerns “the spirits, whether they are of God” (1 John 4:1).
There is usually confusion nowadays between true theology and the ‘pseudomorphosis’ of theology, between the theology of the Fathers and secularised theology as it was, and still is, expressed by Western theology, which you know so well here in America.
I shall divide my first paper into two parts: the first will look at what patristic theology is, and the second at what Western theology is.
1. Patristic Theology
The holy Fathers are the genuine teachers of the Church, as they are the spiritual successors of the Prophets and the Apostles. The well-known apolytikion (dismissal hymn) that is chanted on the feasts of many Fathers of the Church, including the Hieromartyr St Ignatios the God-bearer, says: “You shared the Apostles’ way of life and succeeded to their thrones; you found praxis a way up to theoria, O divinely-inspired Father; rightly proclaiming the word of truth, you struggled bravely in faith to the point of shedding your blood, Bishop and Martyr Ignatios, intercede with Christ our God that our souls may be saved.”
There is a connection between the way of life of the Apostles and their thrones, between praxis (practical virtue) and theoria (divine vision), and between right faith and martyrdom.
When we mention Prophets and Apostles, we ought to emphasise that the Prophets saw the unincarnate Word, the Angel of Great Counsel, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity without flesh, whereas the Apostles saw the incarnate Word, the Son and Word of God in the flesh. This is an important point when considering the relationship between the Prophets and the Apostles. The Fathers were genuine successors of these great God-seeing theologians and inherited their spirit.
There is amazing unity between the Prophets, the Apostles and the Fathers. In the whole ecclesiastical tradition it is taken for granted that the Church’s theology is not speculation but the revelation of God to the deified, to the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers down through the ages.
The Synodikon of Orthodoxy often repeats the statement that we proceed “in accordance with the divinely-inspired theologies of the saints and the devout mind of the Church.” This phrase is alleged to have been formulated by Philotheos Kokkinos, a fellow-monk of St Gregory Palamas and Patriarch of Constantinople. It refers, of course, to the theology of the hesychast Fathers, particularly St Gregory Palamas. No other theology – whether post-apostolic, pre-patristic, or post-patristic – exists in the Church.
St Gregory Palamas proclaimed that the teaching of the Prophets, Apostles, and Fathers is one: “What else but that saving perfection in knowledge and dogmas consists in thinking in the same way as the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers, with all those, basically, through whom the Holy Spirit bears witness concerning God and His creatures.” The Prophets of the Old Testament beheld the unincarnate Word and the Apostles and Fathers of the New Testament are in communion with the incarnate Word.
There is unity in faith, as they share a common experience and the common precondition for this experience, which is Orthodox hesychasm combined with the Mysteries of the Church. This experience is participation in the mystery of Christ’s Cross and Resurrection, but also experience of the mystery of Pentecost. In the Church we do not accept in isolation the Christ of history or the Christ of faith, that is to say, the faith that the first Christians held concerning Him. We also accept the Christ of revelation, the Christ of glory, Who is manifested to those who are worthy of the revelation. The Christ of revelation cannot be linked with philosophical speculation.
It is clear from the whole tradition of the Church that to be a theologian someone must meet the necessary preconditions. Otherwise, instead of being an exponent of the empirical life of the Church, he expresses himself alone.
We shall look at the teaching of St Gregory the Theologian on this point.
Through his ‘Theological Orations’ St Gregory the Theologian opposed the heresy of the Arians, and particularly of the Eunomians of his time, who were the predominant heretical group among the Arians. The Arians used philosophical arguments, and St Gregory the Theologian needed to set out at the beginning of his ‘Theological Orations’ the preconditions for speaking about God. He pointed out who could and should speak about theology.
St Gregory the Theologian refers there to “those who pride themselves on their eloquence”, who rejoice in “profane and vain babblings” and the contradictions “of what is falsely called knowledge”. They are also “sophists, and absurd and strange jugglers of words.” On account of the philosophical reasoning of the Eunomians, “our great mystery is in danger of becoming a triviality.”
He calls the Eunomian, who talks philosophically about God and lives outside the tradition of the Church, “a dialectician fond of words.” This is why he clarifies what the basic preconditions for Orthodox theology are. He says that theology is not just any occupation, and certainly not one of lowly origin. To speak theologically is not for everyone, but for “those who have been tested and made progress in theoria, and have been previously purified in soul and body, or at very least are being purified.” This is essential, because it is dangerous for “the impure to touch what is pure,” just as the sun’s rays are dangerous for ailing eyes. Someone who speaks about God, therefore, ought first to be purified, otherwise he will end up a heretic. And in order to meet these preconditions for theology, one must pass through hesychia. In other words, we can speak theologically “when we are free from all external defilement or disturbance, and our commanding faculty is not confused by illusory or erring images,” which is like mixing fine handwriting with ugly scrawl, or the fragrance of myrrh with filth. One must first be quiet in order to know God. “For it is necessary actually to be still to know God.”
This teaching of St Gregory the Theologian, which comes at the beginning of his ‘Theological Orations’, clearly shows that the preconditions of Orthodox theology are regarded as very important. If these preconditions are altered, people are inevitably led to deviate from the truth, and they fall into false beliefs and heresy as a consequence. The essential preconditions for Orthodox theology are sacred hesychia, godly stillness, purification of the heart from passions, and illumination of the nous. What St Gregory the Theologian talks about is not a different, more recent ecclesiology, but correct ecclesiology as we encounter it in the Apostles and the Prophets of the Old Testament. When this is abolished, it is not at all certain that Orthodox teaching and ecclesiology are being expressed.
In his oration on Theophany, St Gregory the Theologian speaks about purification, illumination and deification as the essential preconditions for Orthodox theology, in order to attain the spiritual gift of truth and serve “the living and true God”. It is only then that someone can “philosophise” or speak theologically about God. He goes on to define the method of Orthodox theology: “Where fear is, there is keeping of the commandments; and where there is keeping of the commandments, there is purification of the flesh, that cloud which covers the soul and does not allow it to see the divine rays clearly. Where there is purification there is illumination; and illumination is the satisfying of the desire of those who long for the greatest things, or the greatest thing, or that which is beyond the great.” This is indispensable, “so we must purify ourselves first, and then converse with Him Who is Pure.” This is obviously a reference to purification, enlightenment and illumination, and to progress towards “the great”: the vision of the uncreated Light, beholding God, when true knowledge of God is acquired.
Sacred hesychia is the Orthodox way of life as we encounter it in Holy Scripture and the Church’s tradition, and as it was lived by the Prophets, the Apostles and the saints throughout the centuries. This is not a later form of ecclesiology that undermined and did away with ‘primitive ecclesiology’, as some theologians claim.
When we speak about the hesychastic way of life we mean the whole life of the Gospel, which refers to the struggle against the devil, death and sin; the healing of thoughts; purification of the heart; activation of the noetic faculty so that the nous pray purely to God; the acquisition of unselfish love; the therapy of the three parts of soul, and so on. This ascetic lifestyle is very closely linked with the sacramental life and is the very essence of the evangelical and ecclesiastical way of living.
All this experience of the Church found concrete expression in the three degrees of spiritual perfection that we encounter in Holy Scripture and the Fathers of the Church of the early centuries, in St Gregory the Theologian, St Dionysius the Areopagite, St Maximus the Confessor, St Symeon the New Theologian, St Gregory Palamas, and all the later ‘neptic’ Fathers. These three stages are purification of the heart, illumination of the nous and deification. This is also the subject-matter of the Philokalia of the Neptic Saints, which is subtitled: Collected from our holy and God-bearing Fathers, through which, by moral philosophy in praxis and theoria, the nous is purified, illumined and perfected.
Within the tradition of the Church there are, of course, three different stages of the spiritual life, as we see in St Macarius of Egypt, St Symeon the New Theologian, but especially in our own time in St Silouan the Athonite and the teaching of Elder Sophrony. These are: God’s appearance to man in the Light, the withdrawal of divine grace, and its coming anew.
No essential difference exists, however, between these two traditions, as they are mutually complementary. Someone is able to realise how unclean his heart is when he receives a ray of Light, and the desire for repentance kindles. Later on, divine grace reduces, this first love is lost, and then, after a great struggle, he acquires stability. In both traditions, depending on each one’s way of life, there is purification, illumination and deification, as well as the coming of divine grace, its withdrawal and its return.
It is significant that we encounter both these traditions in the teaching of Elder Joseph the Hesychast, which means that they are intertwined with each other even within the life of one man.
When we speak about degrees of spiritual perfection, we mean that divine grace is one but has many powers, and it is given different names according to its results. When grace purifies human beings it is described as purifying, when it illuminates them it is called illuminating, and when it deifies them it is said to be deifying.
Obviously, a theologian is someone who is familiar with the mystical life of the Church and by it he leads his spiritual children – like another Moses, as St Gregory of Nyssa analyses in his treatise On the Life of Moses – so that they pass through these stages of the spiritual life.
Once the true theologian has acquired unerring knowledge of God, he is usually sent by Him to lead His people in various ways, as happened in the case of the Prophets, Moses, the Apostles and the great Fathers of the Church. This spiritual knowledge is indispensable for the salvation of human beings. This is how St Gregory of Nyssa interprets the work of Moses. Without examining the subject in more detail here, we shall draw attention to some of the points that St Gregory of Nyssa stresses in his analysis of the life of Moses.
Each human being’s journey from the land of Egypt to the promised land is very difficult and dangerous. Only a prophet and theologian can bring this task to a successful conclusion.
St Gregory of Nyssa repeatedly speaks of “the Egyptian life”, which we must reject and put to death. At one point he says that we should leave “the Egyptian life” behind. In another passage he speaks about liberation from “the Egyptian tyranny”. Elsewhere he refers to those who “live as the Egyptians do.” These are all allusions to the life of slavery to the passions and to the ruler who cultivates the passions.
Liberation comes about through repeated purifications, which are achieved by means of temptations and God’s miraculous interventions. The indispensable guide on this journey is, of course, the theologian who beholds God. He will discern between delusion and truth. He will point out the true path, and lead the people safely to the land of freedom, which is deification, man’s union and communion with God.
A characteristic passage refers to purification from the Egyptian and foreign life, in order that every kind of Egyptian food may be emptied out of the depths of the soul, to enable it to receive heavenly food within it. It says:
“[We learn] by what purifications one should purify oneself of the Egyptian and foreign life, in order to empty the bag of one’s soul of all the evil food prepared by the Egyptians and thus to receive within oneself with a pure soul the food that comes down from above. This food was not grown for us by sowing the earth, but it comes from heaven and is found upon earth as ready bread without sowing or cultivation.”
In this context St Gregory of Nyssa says that we should flee from the Egyptian life and wipe out “the first birth of evil”, because when the very beginning of evil, which is desire, is destroyed and killed, as happened with the slaying of the firstborn Egyptians, we have no fear that adultery and murder may follow. At this point he borrows the teachings of secular philosophy about the soul having three parts: its rational, desiring and incensive aspects. The desiring and incensive aspects are below, whereas the rational aspect is above, like the beam of a pair of scales and its scale-pans. Reason keeps desire and anger secure, and they do the same for reason. When, however, this arrangement of the scales is overturned – when reason falls down underfoot, and desire and anger are on top of it, the destroying angel enters into the human being.
It is not sufficient for us merely to put the firstborn of the Egyptian children to death. At the same time we must anoint the doors with blood to protect the Israelite offspring, so that what is good may come to perfection.
The account in Exodus and St Gregory of Nyssa’s interpretation of it vividly show the therapeutic treatment that people must undergo as they travel to the promised land under the supervision and guidance of a theologian Father, who performs his task with God’s energy. There is obviously an eschatological perspective to this journey. It is not a journey to transitory happiness, but to the entrance of the Kingdom of God.
Examining the true meaning of the day of Preparation (Friday) in relation to the Sabbath (Saturday), which was the day of rest, St Gregory of Nyssa says that the day of Preparation is this life in which we prepare ourselves for the coming of the Sabbath, when we shall live at leisure and enjoy the fruits that we sowed in this life.
Man’s journey has a definite starting-point. It begins with catechism, during which he is purified from the passions, and proceeds to Baptism and Chrismation, by which he is illuminated and receives life through the Mystery of the Divine Eucharist. It is an ongoing journey, an endless submersion, which takes place under the guidance of a theologian Father. This shows that in the Orthodox Church theology is linked with spiritual fatherhood, and spiritual fatherhood is a complete science of freeing people from slavery in the land of Egypt and journeying to freedom in the promised land.
Essentially, people want to fulfil the aim for which they were created, namely, to progress from being in God’s image to being in His likeness. The purpose of obedience to spiritual fathers is not merely that Christians should subject their free will to them, and certainly not that they should become psychologically and socially dependent, or even sick from the Church’s point of view. Its purpose is to cleanse their hearts and the eyes of their souls, so that they may see the face of Christ in His glory.
2. Western Theology
By Western theology we mean the theology that has departed from the basic principles of patristic theology, which we considered earlier. It is scholastic theology and biblical theology.
Scholastic theology is divided into four periods: pre-scholastic theology that began in the eighth and ninth centuries; scholastic theology proper that developed between the eleventh and thirteen centuries; the decline of scholastic theology during the fourteenth century; and the appearance later on of neo-scholastic theology.
The term ‘scholastic theology’ derived from the schools that functioned in the universities of that time. Theological subjects were studied in these schools, always in combination with philosophy. The word ‘scholastic’ was synonymous with “belonging to the university” or “academic”. (P. Trembelas)
Originally in the West there were three important schools from which universities later grew: “the school of St Geneviève”, “the monastery school of St Victor”, and “the school of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris”. Subsequently the first universities developed in Salerno, Bologna and Paris.
Literature, the arts, philosophy and theology were cultivated at the universities. The University of Bologna was called “the teacher of Europe”, and Pope Honorius III described it as “the Governor of Christians”. At the University of Paris the largest school was the school of arts, which was equivalent to the philosophical faculty. In this school the trivium (grammar, rhetoric, and logic) and the quadrivium (music, arithmetic, geometry and astronomy) were taught. Graduates of this school were called artistes (masters of the liberal arts). (P. Drakopoulos)
In order to study scholastic theology, students must have graduated from the school of arts. They had, therefore, necessarily learnt the dialectic method of investigating things, and they used reasoning and logic. As a result “the main features of scholastic theology are the methodical use of reasoning, and the systematic classification of the subject-matter of faith into closed, structured units.”
With scholasticism, theology ceased to be empirical and charismatic, and became academic and rationalistic, in other words, scholastic. “Theology adopted basically the same method used by secular branches of learning, and the scholastics accepted that what is capable of being known in theology had the same characteristic features as the known facts in other branches of knowledge.” Scholastic theology, therefore, laid particular emphasis on dealing with subjects through rational processes.
The Fathers of the Church spoke about two different methodologies. The method of scientific investigation, which uses rational processes, is different from the theological method, which uses the nous situated in the heart. Scholastic theology, by contrast, had only one methodology, so the rational faculty investigates the knowledge of created things and also investigates God. In fact, scholastic theologians claimed that only “the dialectical method of syllogisms is a superior and secure path to knowledge of God, whereas the Fathers of the Church based theology on experience.” (N. Matsoukas)
Obviously, scholastic theology in the West, which had departed from the theology of the Fathers of the Church, aimed, on the one hand, to establish the dogmas of the Church through reason and to make Christian teaching systematic, and, on the other hand, to study the writings of Aristotle thoroughly. The meticulous study Aristotle’s writings in every detail was the reason why later on the term ‘scholastic’ “came to denote someone who is obsessed with details, trivialities and banal matters, and is indifferent to the essence of things.” (T. Pelegrinis)
The fundamental characteristic of Western theology was that it used the classical metaphysics of Plato, Aristotle and the Neoplatonists. Above all, it was shaped by the principles of the feudal social system of the Franks.
The Franks imposed a system according to which God has absolute mastery in the world. There is order in creation, so every sin is the abolition of this order. As a result, God becomes angry and punishes rebellious humankind. Therefore Christ had to become man in order to propitiate divine justice and to restore order in creation. This belief began with Anselm of Canterbury and entered Protestant theology as well.
It is impossible to understand Western theology completely without analysing the terms analogia entis and analogia fidei. What do these expressions mean?
Analogia (‘analogy’ in English) means correspondence or correlation. It signifies the analogy and correlation that exists between the supreme Being and beings that are in the world. The word entis means ‘being’, and fidei means ‘faith’, so analogia entisdenotes ‘analogy of being’ and analogia fidei denotes ‘analogy of faith’. In reality this is a way of linking the Christian faith with metaphysics, as happened in the West.
The analogia entis (analogy of being) regards philosophy as the source of faith, as demonstrated in scholastic theology. The analogia fidei (analogy of faith) regards Holy Scripture as the source of faith, as do the Protestants. These two traditions express Western Christianity absolutely. In the West, a Christian worldview developed that resembled that found in the metaphysics of Plato and Aristotle. For that reason, Western Christian theology was identified absolutely with metaphysics, whereas this is not the case with Orthodox theology.
Apart from scholastic theology, biblical theology also evolved in the West. The term ‘biblical theology’ is encountered for the first time in 1652 in C. Zeller, and in 1708 it was used as the title of a book by C. Haymann. This branch of learning was created after the accusations made by the Protestants against the dogmatics of scholasticism, in an attempt to base Christian teaching on Holy Scripture. It is a reaction by the Protestants against the scholastic theology of the Roman Catholics.
The Fathers of the Church certainly interpret the texts of Holy Scripture through the experience of the Church. Biblical theology, however, in the form in which it exists today –completely or partially isolated from patristic and dogmatic theology – is a Protestant achievement. In the medieval West biblical studies had died out, so the Protestants, influenced by humanism, were interested in the interpretation of Holy Scripture. Philip Melanchthon in 1521, John Calvin in 1536 and Sebastian Schmidt in 1671 played a leading role in this work, by revising the dogmatic teaching of the Bible.
The main characteristic features of biblical theology in the age of reason of the seventeenth century and the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century were as follows: a) research into all the historical subjects in Holy Scripture; b) the examination, together with historical subjects, of subjects referred to outside the Bible and in other religions, including the religions of the Egyptians, Babylonians and Persians, and all other spiritual phenomena; c) the comparison of Judaism with early Christianity; and d) the historico-literary analysis of the sources of Christianity.
With Ferdinand C. Baur (1792-1866) and the Tübingen School that he founded, biblical theology began to flourish in earnest. Baur completely severed the link between biblical theology and the concept of revelation, and it became a historical science. He regarded Christ’s teaching as the starting-point for the historical development of the New Testament, and he interpreted the New Testament as the product of very intense antagonism between the ‘Gentilism’ of St Paul, on the one hand, and the Judaism of the synoptic Gospels, the General Epistles, and the book of Revelation, on the other hand, together with the compromise between these two trends attempted by St John the Evangelist.
Historical pragmatism and positivism in the early twentieth century gave a new impetus to biblical theology. All the spiritual trends, including pietism, scepticism and romanticism, influenced the character of biblical theology in different ways. Thus the historical branches of theology developed, whereas biblical theology became the history of religions. As a result, ‘religious historicism’ dominated, according to which biblical theology is not expounded systematically, but is regarded as an expression of the personal faith and life of each writer in Holy Scripture. Since then, biblical theology of the Old Testament has assumed the character of the history of the religion of Israel, and biblical theology of the New Testament has become the life of the first Church.
This means that biblical theology, a Protestant creation, was detached from dogmatics. It took a polemical stance against the scholastic theology of the Middle Ages and it became linked with history. Subsequently it not only created a split between the Prophets and the Apostles, but it also studied the theology of each individual writer in the New Testament as though no organic unity existed between them.
After the First World War there was a noticeable change in the research undertaken in biblical theology, because its interests turned away from its historical basis towards the deeper spiritual meaning of religious things. The systematic examination of the content of the biblical theology of the Old and New Testaments prevailed, although interest in comparative religious aspects of issues of biblical theology was not completely set aside.
Biblical theology is a creation of Protestant theology. Roman Catholic theologians, however, have also worked on biblical theology, particularly since the First World War. Their biblical theology is distinguished by three main characteristics. Firstly, it is opposed to Protestant scepticism, to historicism, and to the extreme views of the exponents of comparative religious studies. Secondly, it examines the essence of revealed divine truths outside the historical forms of the Old and New Testaments. Thirdly, it looks at the subject-matter of biblical theology from the perspective of the dogmatic principles of the ‘Roman Catholic Church’.
It is clear from all this that throughout the historical development of biblical theology four main methods of research stood out. The first method is the strict separation of biblical teaching from all other teaching of the Church. The second method is historical research into the content of biblical teaching. The third method is simply that of comparative religious studies. And the fourth method is the systematic exposition of the subject-matter of biblical theology in such a way as to promote and build up the Christian faith. There have also been attempts to combine methods, such as, for example, the historical and systematic methods, or the structural and historical methods.
In the Orthodox Church, although the historical character of biblical theology is not overlooked, divine revelations are investigated, where it is clear that God acts through the circumstances of human history in order to instruct people. And everything is examined through the life of the Church.
Also, there is no distinction in Orthodox theology between biblical and dogmatic theology, or between the Old and New Testaments. Nor is there any antagonism between the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers. The deified Prophets, Apostles and Fathers have the same experience. They simply differ in how they record this experience, as there is a difference between uncreated words and created words, concepts and images. The theology of the Church is one and indivisible.
3. The ‘Pseudomorphosis’ of Contemporary Orthodox Theology
There is a great difference between patristic, ecclesiastical theology, which is basically empirical, and both scholastic and biblical theology, which are rational and moral. When Western-style theology is prevalent even among the Orthodox, there is ‘pseudomorphosis’ in Orthodox theology, as Fr. Georges Florovsky has observed and Fr. John Romanides underlines.
Such cases of ‘pseudomorphosis’ are “the ontology of the person”, so-called “eucharistic ecclesiology”, and “the dichotomy between the mystery of the Cross and the mystery of glory.” Andrew Sopko, in his book The Prophet of Roman Orthodoxy: The Theology of John Romanides, in the chapter ‘Romanides and Contemporary Orthodox Theology’, refers to these ‘pseudomorphoses’.
According to Andrew Sopko, Romanides stresses three basic dangers that Orthodox theology faces today: “personalism”, which is connected with existentialism and has threatened Orthodoxy since the collapse of the credibility of scholasticism; “eucharistic ecclesiology”, the idea that the Divine Eucharist “makes the Church”, whereas the opposite applies: the Church is what makes the Eucharist really the Eucharist; and the split between “the theology of the Cross and the theology of Christ’s glory”.
More specifically, the first danger for the Orthodox today is “the theology of the person”. Vladimir Lossky, in spite of his contribution to Orthodox theology, “was tempted to look to Trinitarian theology as an inspiration” for “an anthropological dogma.” This was something that patristic theology did not do, because it did not accept the analogia entis, but recognised that there is absolutely no similarity between God and the world. Other theologians developed “the theology of the person” further.
God, however, transcends all the categories of human and created existence. For that reason, we can use personal names for God, such as Father and Son, but also impersonal names, such as Holy Spirit, Cloud, Light, Darkness, Rock, Fire, and so on.
Fr. John Romanides rejects personalism in theology, bearing in mind the following points of patristic teaching: in God there are properties that are common and properties that are not common, so there is no communion of Persons; the union of the divine nature with the human nature in Christ is hypostatic; and man’s communion with God is participation in God’s energy. Thus, according to Fr. John Romanides, personalism is a ‘pseudomorphosis’ in contemporary Orthodox theology, just as scholastic theology was a ‘pseudomorphosis’ in the past. There is actually a resemblance between the two, because in personalism divine energy is identified with the divine hypostases, whereas in scholasticism divine energy is identified with the divine essence.
Personalism “has tried to make ecclesial community analogous to the Trinity.” Such a theory downgrades the therapeutic method of purification, illumination and glorification, which gives man the possibility of being in God’s image and likeness. This is the perspective in which man acquires unselfish love “which is identified with the life of the Trinity.” This unity “is expressed neither by persons or essences, but by selfless love. For this reason neither personalism nor essentialism reveals this, but only the glory of the Lord.”
The second danger that becomes a ‘pseudomorphosis’ in contemporary Orthodoxy is “eucharistic ecclesiology”. The release of the Orthodox tradition from Western captivity may lead to a misunderstanding of the theology of the Mysteries and to an ecclesiology that identifies the Church with celebrating the Divine Eucharist.
Nikolai Afanasiev regarded the Divine Eucharist as the foundation of the Church and left out the therapeutic method of purification, illumination and glorification. This came to be accepted by many theologians (Zizioulas).
According to Sopko, Fr. John Romanides, in one of his early studies on Ignatios of Antioch “leaned towards a eucharistic ecclesiology, but soon found it unconvincing,” because this whole theory omits other essential expressions of ecclesiology. In the end, he considers that, because of the bishop’s charismatic authority, other aspects of Church life should also be emphasised as well as the celebration of the Divine Eucharist, such as prophetic preaching and the non-eucharistic assemblies of the faithful for the purpose of prayer. “Thus, the life of the Church comprises a unity of the celebration of the mysteries, scripture and prayer”, and no one activity ought to be overemphasised at the expenses of the others. He thinks that correct ecclesiology exists when every local community has its bishop, who presides at the Divine Eucharist, but who also preaches as a prophet.
Ultimately, for Romanides, “the Divine Eucharist is not an end in itself, but the confirmation of this end”, “putting the Divine Eucharist before and above everything else in the life of the Church leads unavoidably to a form of eucharistic idolatry.”
The third point stressed in this section is “simul Theologia Crucis et Theologia Gloriae”, in other words, the theology of the Cross is at the same time the theology of Christ’s glory. The separation for centuries of the theology of the Cross from the theology of glory constituted a ‘pseudomorphosis’ in Christianity. It is usually said that Protestantism and Roman Catholicism stress the Cross, whereas the Orthodox emphasise Christ’s Resurrection. Andrew Sopko asserts that Fr. John Romanides considered that in the entire tradition of the Church the theology of the Cross and the theology of glory are synonymous, and this constitutes “probably the greatest gift that Romanides has given contemporary Orthodox theology and the whole of Christianity.” Fr. John Romanides continuously stressed that “the uncreated cross” of illumination and glorification “places the historical crucifixion in its correct perspective”, as “the uncreated, unselfish love of the Trinity reveals the glory of the Cross from eternity and it is revealed anew to all who love unselfishly by means of illumination and glorification.”
Anselm of Canterbury’s theory about the propitiation of divine justice through the sacrifice on the Cross contributed to the creation of a ‘pseudomorphosis’ in the Christian theology of the Western world, and this has influenced the Orthodox as well. Fr. John Romanides emphasised that the real miracle was that the Lord of Glory was crucified and rose again. That is to say, he equated the theologia crucis with the theologia gloriae. He also saw the Mysteries in the light of the mystery of the Cross: he saw the Mysteries of the Church (Baptism, Chrismation, Divine Eucharist, Ordination) in the context of purification, illumination and glorification. When Baptism in water was separated from Baptism in the Spirit, and the other Mysteries were removed from the context of therapeutic treatment, this can be interpreted “as a form of sacramental minimalism”. Fr. John Romanides does not doubt the paschal character of Baptism and Holy Communion, but he also connects this paschal character with the glory of the Cross, with purification, illumination and glorification. For Romanides the true ‘mysteries’ “are first and foremost purification, illumination and glorification, because they reveal the mystery of the Cross in its fullness.”
This identification of the theology of the Cross with the theology of glory in the Mysteries and the eucharistic life of the faithful, which Fr. John Romanides made in his theological work, provoked, and continues to provoke, major reactions, because it constitutes the very core of the Orthodox tradition, as this has been expressed by the Prophets, Apostles and Fathers. It overturns all the new ‘pseudomorphoses’, the influences of Western theology on the Orthodox Church.
The conclusion of this first paper is that there is a wide difference between patristic ecclesiastical theology and both scholastic and biblical theology. When scholastic or biblical theology prevails, there is ‘pseudomorphosis’ in Orthodox theology, as Fr. Georges Florovsky has observed and Fr. John Romanides underlines.
Such ‘pseudomorphoses’ include so-called “eucharistic ecclesiology”, “the ontology of the person”, and “the dichotomy between the mystery of the Cross and the mystery of glory”. But these issues will be analysed in the papers that follow.
Orthodox Psychotherapy and Western Psychology
His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and St Vlassios
In my previous paper I referred to the difference between Orthodox and Western theology. In this paper we should go on to look at this difference in a practical form, at the subject of how each of these traditions cures people.
Fr. John Romanides stressed emphatically that we can understand whether a theology is true by whether it is able to cure people. If it cannot cure them, it is not true theology. In the Orthodox Church we have a perfect therapeutic system, which is applied and expressed through the Mysteries and asceticism.
For that reason, when this method is practised correctly, people are cured.
First and foremost, therapy means passing through the three stages of the spiritual life, or at least beginning to do so. We defined these stages in the previous paper as purification, illumination and theosis (deification); or the coming of divine grace, its withdrawal and its return. This is not a psychological, sociological, ideological or ethical form of therapy. The Apostle Paul has appropriately stressed: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), and, “Casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
According to Orthodox teaching, curing people does not mean propitiating God and satisfying divine justice, but man’s co-operation in order to share in the purifying, illuminating and deifying energy of God. God does not need to be cured of His wrath, which is a characteristic of fallen humanity, but human beings need to be cured. God loves everyone, righteous and unrighteous: “For He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matt. 5:45). However, people must prepare themselves appropriately so that the coming of divine grace will act for their healing and not for their condemnation, and so that God may be Paradise and not Hell. This is the basic key to the therapeutic experience of those within the Church.
I shall now speak about Orthodox psychotherapy.
1. Orthodox Psychotherapy
When we refer to Orthodox psychotherapy, we mean the therapeutic experience of the Church that comes about through the Mysteries and asceticism. Orthodox participation in the sacramental life of the Church is inconceivable without the ascetic life, but asceticism is also unthinkable without participation in the Mysteries. There is a wonderful unity between these two integrated facts of ecclesiastical life.
In the Orthodox Church there is no split between the mystery of the Cross and the mystery of glory. Some people dwell only on the mystery of the Cross and extol the pain of the crucifixion. Others insist on the experience of the resurrection, and want to be reborn without living the mystery of the Cross.
Every Mystery has both these energies of God’s grace. The stage of being a catechumen comes before Baptism, and through repentance we experience God’s illuminating grace once again. The ascetic Christian life precedes the Mystery of priesthood and continues even when someone has received the charisma of priesthood. The Mystery of the Divine Eucharist presupposes the simultaneous experience of the mystery of the Cross and the mystery of glory. No one can share in the Light of the Resurrection without previously living the mystery of Christ’s Passion and Cross. This is a basic rule in the spiritual life of the Church.
This is the context in which Orthodox psychotherapy operates. It is the tradition of the neptic, hesychastic life, which, with some modifications, can be lived by all Christians, married and unmarried, monks and laypeople, Clergy and non-Clergy.
2. Basic Principles of Orthodox Psychotherapy
The Orthodox Church is a spiritual therapeutic centre or hospital, and the Clergy work as spiritual doctors. The whole life of the Church, which brings together its sacramental and ascetical traditions, is the true method for curing human beings, who are made up of soul and body. Therapy does not refer only to the soul but to the whole human being.
All the prayers of the Church in the sacred services and the Mysteries refer to curing people. We see the same thing in the troparia that are sung during the sacred services. There is a characteristic troparion (ikos) in the service of the Great Canon composed by St Andrew, Bishop of Crete:
“Seeing Christ’s surgery opened, and health streaming forth from it to Adam, the devil suffered and was wounded; and as one in mortal danger he lamented, crying to his friends: ‘What shall I do to the Son of Mary? I am slain by the Man from Bethlehem, Who is everywhere present and fills all things.’”
According to this troparion, Christ is a doctor, but also a doctor’s surgery from which health flows to Adam. The devil is smitten by this surgery, so he mourns, and wonders what he ought to do with the Son of the All-Holy Virgin. St Andrew of Crete skilfully shows that Christ’s work heals Adam, and this, of course, inflicts pain on the devil. Christ sets man free from his subjugation to the devil and cures his wounds, which were caused by sin.
We should look at the ten basic principles of the therapeutic treatment that Christ offers wounded and injured humankind through the Church. These principles underline the fact that the Church is a spiritual therapeutic centre or hospital. Anyone who lives in this spiritual hospital must know the rules by which it functions, because otherwise he will not benefit. In what follows we shall refer mainly to the teaching of St Maximus the Confessor.
a) Illness as an unnatural movement of the soul’s faculties
On account of the sin he committed, Adam lost his communion with God and distanced himself from God’s Light. His fall from divine life is characterised as spiritual sickness, which means that the powers of his soul or body do not function naturally or supranaturally, but unnaturally. If bodily illness is understood as the distortion or dysfunction of the bodily organs, spiritual illness is the dysfunction of the soul’s faculties.
All the powers of man’s soul ought to have been directed towards God. After the sin, these powers became distorted and they act in a different way. Instead of functioning naturally they fell into disorder. The will, for instance, is the appetite of nature, which ought to move towards God of its own volition. This is called the natural will. Because of the devil’s intervention and man’s free choice, however, this movement changed course, and it became a deliberative (gnomic) will by which sins are committed. This change of direction, the conversion of the natural will into a deliberative will, and the commission of sins are described as sickness.
Curing people means reinstating all the soul’s dysfunctional faculties and returning them to their normal, natural course. The deliberative will must be healed. St Maximus the Confessor speaks about the immutability of the deliberative will that came about in Christ and those who are united with Him, and says that the natural will ought to move of its own volition towards God. Referring to Adam’s sin, St Maximus the Confessor considers that ancestral sin consists, on the one hand, in the fall of free choice away from good things and towards evil, which is certainly culpable, and, on the other hand, in the transformation of human nature from incorruptibility into corruptibility, which is not blameworthy. After the fall of Adam, free choice lapsed into evil and human nature became corrupt.
Through His incarnation, Christ took human nature and deified it. This means that He made free choice immutable. He voluntarily assumed liability to corruption, suffering and death in order to conquer corruption, the natural passions, and death in His body. He Himself becomes the medicine of immortality, so in Christ human beings can attain the immutability of free choice, and they will be released in the future from corruptibility, passibility and mortality. This constitutes the healing of the whole human being, of the soul (free choice) and the body (liability to corruption, suffering and death).
b) Curing self-love so it becomes love for God and other people
The previous section specified that self-love, which is the unreasonable love of the body, is the product of the fallen life and constitutes spiritual sickness. It must be converted into love for God and other people. The more someone loves himself, the less capable he is of loving God and his fellow human beings. It is impossible for him to love God and be charitable to others.
The whole life of the Church consists in transforming selfish love into selfless love. All human beings have within them the power to love, but when they are sick they turn this power towards themselves and become selfish. They must now be cured, which means that selfish love must become selfless. When the Apostle Paul speaks about love, one of the things he writes is that love “does not seek its own” (1 Cor. 13:5).
c) Healing the rational, desiring, and incensive parts of the soul
In order for the powers of the soul to follow their normal and natural course, the soul’s rational, desiring and incensive parts must be healed. When someone departs from God’s Light and these three powers are no longer orientated towards God, they become sick. This is how the passions are created.
According to St Maximus the Confessor, the nous that is far from God becomes either like a beast, on account of the passions of the passible part of the soul (desire and anger), or like a demon, due to the passions of the rational part of the soul. The passions of the rational part of the soul are those related to love of praise. The passions of the desiring part of the soul are those linked with love of money and sensual pleasure. And the passions of the incensive part of the soul are those associated with anger and rage.
These powers of the soul, which are also connected with the powers of the body, are healed by being turned towards God. The commandment in the Old Testament, which Christ repeated, is: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matt. 22:37). It is clear from this commandment that all the powers of the soul should be lovingly directed towards God. This comes about when love is linked with the incensive part; self-restraint with the desiring part; and spiritual vigilance (nepsis) and prayer with the rational part. Since the soul is inseparably linked with the body, the whole human being is cured.
St Maximus the Confessor teaches that thoughts (logismoi) are divided into complex and simple thoughts. Simple thoughts are the concept and the simple memory of gold, a human being, and so on, whereas complex thoughts are impassioned thoughts made up of the concept and the passion, in other words, the passionate acquisition of gold or the human being. Through provocation, coupling and desire, a simple thought can lead to sin and passion.
Through asceticism according to grace, one can put an end to active passions and attempt to convert complex, passionate thoughts into simple ones by separating the concept from the passion. Then one will see the surrounding world without impassioned concepts. The question of how complex thoughts can be changed into simple thoughts is the subject-matter of ascetic practice and the whole life of the Church in general, under the guidance of a spiritual father.
God did not create Adam and Eve to have bodily pleasure and pain. Their soul had the capacity for pleasure so that it would move towards theoria (vision) of God. According to St Maximus the Confessor, after they had sinned and been stripped of the Light of God, pleasure shifted from the soul to the body, and then God permitted pain to come in, so as to curb pleasure. Thus bodily pleasure, with the enjoyment of the fruit of disobedience, brought about pain, that is to say, illnesses, suffering and death itself. The Fathers refer to this as corruptibility, passibility and immortality. These are the so-called “garments of skin” that human beings put on after they had sinned and been divested of God’s grace.
The interconnection between pleasure and pain accompanies human beings all through their lives. Indulging in voluntary pleasure causes involuntary pain, and the attempt to overcome involuntary pain by means of new pleasure causes fresh pain, so a vicious circle is created. In order to be cured, man must get rid of the mutual link between pleasure and pain. Voluntarily taking up the cross of suffering through Christian asceticism, pain and fasting cures pleasure. Through life in Christ pleasure is transferred from the body to the soul, and then man moves continuously towards God through divine longing and intense divine love.
e) The nous in relation to the blameworthy and blameless passions
In fallen man – in each of us – there are blameless and blameworthy passions. Blameless passions are hunger for something to eat in order to sustain the body; thirst for a drink of water, so that our whole organism can function well; sleep to give rest to the body and soul, and so on. These blameless passions, however, can easily become blameworthy passions linked with sin. Hunger can become greed; thirst can turn into drunkenness; and sleep can become over-indulgence in sleep, laziness, and listlessness.
The method preserved in the Church changes blameworthy passions into blameless ones, so man makes use of all material good things and shares in the created world without sinning. In this endeavour the nous plays a major role. The nous is also the first to be affected, that is to say, man’s nous is darkened first, and subsequently the whole of his inner world is darkened.
When the nous is illuminated and given life by the grace of God through repentance and prayer, it can control our inner world. As a result, the blameless passions remain blameless and the blameworthy passions turn into blameless ones.
f) Christ is the spiritual doctor of humankind
Through His incarnation, Christ, Who is the second Adam, corrected the error of the first Adam, and through His Cross and Resurrection He cured wounded humankind. He conquered the devil, sin and death in His flesh, and so He became not only the doctor but also the medicine and the doctor’s surgery for curing people.
Christ is perfect God and perfect man. He assumed mortal, corruptible and passible human nature, without sin, and deified it. According to St Maximus the Confessor, He voluntarily took upon Himself the suffering of the Cross in order to cure man’s pleasure. He also voluntarily assumed the natural, blameless passions, such as liability to suffering, corruption and death, without sin. These blameless passions, of course, did not exercise compulsion over Him, but acted according to His will, and He took them upon Himself in order to cure human beings’ blameworthy passions and enable them, too, to overcome their passibility, corruptibility and mortality in Christ. In this way, not only is sin cured, but the human body will also be set free from liability to suffering, corruption and death after the Second Coming of Christ and the resurrection of the dead. People have a foretaste of this starting from this life through the healing of free choice, the suspension of bodily functions, and the sanctification of the body (holy relics), and this will be perfected at the Second Coming of Christ.
g) Christ cures people through the Mysteries and asceticism
Christ does not heal people theoretically, emotionally and intellectually, but through their participation in His Body, the Church. This comes about through the Mysteries and the ascetic life of the Gospel.
First babies are born, and then they move and grow, but they must also eat in order to live. The same applies to human beings from a spiritual point of view. Through Baptism they are born spiritually and brought into the Body of Christ. God’s image within them is cleansed and they receive a spiritual ‘vaccination’ to counteract sin. Through Chrismation they acquire movement towards God. Through Holy Communion they are nourished with Christ’s Body and Blood in order to live.
Participation in the Mysteries, however, must inevitably be linked with keeping Christ’s commandments, which is the ascetic life. Christ said to His Disciples: “Make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20). Discipleship is inescapably connected with “baptizing” (the Mysteries) and “teaching to observe” (asceticism).
God’s commandments refer to performing the Mysteries; participating in the Divine Eucharist; Holy Communion in the Body and Blood of Christ; prayer, particularly unceasing prayer of the nous in the heart; purity of thoughts and of the heart; and the struggle to direct all the powers of soul and body towards God.
h) The Church as a place of therapy
The Church, as the risen Body of Christ, is actually a place of therapy. The Church is not a social organisation, a community centre, or an ethical and charitable association. It is not a school for teaching philosophy. Rather, it is a spiritual hospital and therapeutic centre in which human beings can be cured, return to their original dignity, and rise even higher to deification.
Christ performs His therapeutic work within the Church. Christ conquered the devil, sin and death in His Body, and this is repeated in everyone in the Church. The devil is the enemy of human beings and sows evil within them. Sin is committed when thoughts develop into deeds. Death is the result of sin, but it also becomes a reason to commit sin, on account of self-love, which leads people to love glory, sensual pleasure and money. The work of Christ and the Church should be viewed from this perspective.
The Church is not something abstract but the “one, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”. It is a specific spiritual organism composed of various autocephalous Churches, and each autocephalous Church has metropolises, dioceses, parishes and monasteries. Every local Church, every metropolis, every parish and every monastery is the whole Church in miniature, when it keeps its synodical and hierarchical system in operation.
A hospital that treats bodily illnesses has various clinics, and each clinic has a director and medical and nursing staff. There are also administrative staff in the hospital. We should use this image to look at the Church. The general director is the bishop; the directors of particular clinics are the priests and heads of monastic communities; the nursing staff are the deacons, monks, theologians, catechists, and so on. The work of them all is aimed at curing people and uniting them with Christ. They are all undergoing therapeutic treatment. The Church has administrative offices as well, but they cannot replace the operating theatres and therapeutic centres.
The parish should function like the sketes on the Holy Mountain. Each dwelling is home to a small community, but all the communities centre on the main ‘Sunday’ church, in which the Holy Mysteries are performed, the sacred services are held, and, above all, the Divine Eucharist is celebrated.
i) The saints are those who are being cured and who have been cured
The saints of the Church are not just people who are moral, but those who participate in the mystery of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ, who receive Christ’s healing within the Church, experience God’s purifying, illuminating and visionary energy, and are cured. Ultimately, people in the Church are not divided into those who are moral and those who are not, or those who are educated and those who are not, but into those who are spiritually sick, those who are being treated spiritually, and those who have been spiritually cured, as Fr. John Romanides would say. In accordance with what has already been stressed, therapy is understood as the transformation of selfish love into selfless love; the overcoming of pleasure and pain; the conversion of self-love into love for God and other people; and the cure of the rational and passible parts of the soul.
j) Eternal life in relation to therapy
According to the teaching of the God-seeing saints, God is Light, and whoever is deemed worthy of seeing Him sees Him as Light. However, just as light has two properties – it illumines and it burns – the same applies to the divine Light. God illumines and burns.
This has to do with man’s spiritual state. If he has a pure nous and a spiritual eye, he will see God as Light at the Second Coming of Christ. If, however, his nous is darkened, he will experience the burning property of the Light. Both the light and the fire are uncreated, so Paradise and Hell depend on the state of the human being. Paradise is the experience of the illuminating energy of God, and Hell is the experience of the burning energy of God.
This is clearly shown in the icon of the Second Coming of Christ. The Light that illuminates the righteous issues from God’s throne, but the river of fire which engulfs sinners also flows from God’s throne. Spiritual therapy is therefore necessary. The nous, which is the eye of the soul, must be purified so that, when Christ appears at His Second Coming, it can see Him as Light and not as fire, and can share in God’s illuminating energy, not His burning energy. It follows that the pastoral ministry of the Church is first and foremost therapeutic. We should view the work of the Church from this perspective.
Eternal life is related to the way in which we live in the present life. These are the ten basic principles on which the spiritual hospital of the Church operates, and one must respect them in order to begin to be cured, and for this to have eternal consequences.
3. Psychology and Neuroscience
This way of looking at the Church as a spiritual hospital or therapeutic centre, although it is very old and is recorded in the writings of the Fathers and the entire tradition of the Church, is nevertheless also very up to date, because contemporary science refers to curing people of various unpleasant conditions. In the Western world more than two hundred systems of psychotherapy have developed, each with a different content and purpose, because the Orthodox neptic tradition was unknown.
We know from various studies that up until the nineteenth century psychology went along with philosophy and expressed its various philosophical trends. Subsequently, however, psychology became independent of both philosophy and biology. Later many trends developed within psychology, such as behaviourism, cognitive psychology and existential psychology. Nowadays cognitive psychology is linked with neurology, and cognitive neuroscience is cultivated, as scientists study the interaction between psychological and neurological states in people.
A few definitions need to be given to clarify the subject of therapy from the point of view of contemporary science, and after that the value of Orthodox psychotherapy will be specified. Behaviourism is the view “that was originally expressed by John B. Watson and developed into a basic approach of psychology. It is concerned with the scientific study of behaviour that is obvious, objectively observable, and directly measurable, and excludes the study of processes such as thought, the emotions and motives. Behaviourism formulated principles and laws for the behaviour of organisms.”
Cognitive psychology is “a branch of psychology concerned, on the one hand, with analysing human intellectual processes (attention, perception, memory, thought, reasoning), and, on the other, with studying the way in which information is processed by the individual.”
Cognitive neuropsychology is “a branch of cognitive psychology that studies the effects of cerebral damage or injury on different cognitive functions, such as language, memory, attention, perception, and so on.” Neuropsychology is “a branch of psychology and neurology that concentrates on the study and understanding of behaviour and intellectual functions as a result of disturbances in the activity of the brain and the nervous system in general.”
Existential psychology is “based on existentialist philosophy. It emphasises self-awareness, the individual’s conscious experiences, and his freedom to choose his way of life and means of self-fulfilment.” (Anastasia Chountoumadi, Lena Pateraki)
It is clear from this that contemporary science with its various branches attempts to investigate the behaviour, intellectual processes and existential problems of human beings. The sciences try to combine with one another in order to help people, given that human beings are complex and collaboration between many factors is required in order to help them.
This is considered necessary because, unfortunately, today’s way of life creates various splits and problematic states. People live an inhuman, competitive society in which the law and the right of the strongest prevails. It is amoral, anti-social and disruptive. Thus human beings feel inwardly disorganised. They cannot control their mental world, their thoughts and emotions. They do not have healthy role-models to imitate and there are no healthy traditions to develop their behaviour. They do not find healthy principles to which they can attune their existential world so as to give life meaning. What is more, in contemporary society there is a split between reason, emotion and external behaviour, so people cannot develop in a balanced way or deal in an integrated manner with the problems that trouble them.
The Church is not simply a religion but God’s communion with human beings that aims to cure them and deify them. Christians live in a society with the characteristics described above, but at the same time they also grow within the atmosphere of the blessed spiritual community of the Church. As a result, they mature spiritually and avoid any sort of split, unless there is a physical problem due to hereditary or other illnesses and disabilities, which requires the intervention of medical science.
Within the Church people know, by means of Orthodox hesychasm, how to regulate their thoughts and ideas. They are helped in their behaviour by the Church’s worship and communication with the saints, and they acquire good role-models. Their life has meaning, and they solve all the existential problems connected with life, illnesses and death.
Consequently, within an organised ecclesiastical community or an Orthodox monastery, people live in practice the content of behaviouristic, cognitive and existentialist psychology and psychotherapy in an integrated way. Of course, when there are issues of physical health or neurological problems, the relevant authoritative scientists must give their opinion.
Over and above this, within the Church there is an abundance of God’s grace. Human beings are united with Christ, and through Him with the Triune God. They receive a complete therapy, which cannot be replaced by any other social, philosophical or scientific system. In other words, they reach deification. No social or scientific organisation is a substitute for the Church and what it can offer wounded humankind.
Since my childhood, I have travelled a long distance in the life and tradition of the Church. I am grateful to God for counting me worthy to belong to the Orthodox Church through Baptism and Chrismation, and to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ. I am grateful to my parents for bringing me into the world of the Church from my early childhood, and I am also grateful to my spiritual fathers for teaching me in practice what is meant by the therapeutic method. I also owe a great debt of gratitude to God for counting me worthy to meet many ascetics and great theologians, including contemporary Fathers of the Holy Mountain (Fr. Paisios, Fr. Ephraim of Katounakia, Fr. Ephraim of Philotheou, Fr. Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia, Fr. Theoklitos of Dionysiou, Fr. Gabriel of Dionysiou, and Fr. George, the Abbot of Grigoriou), Fr. Sophrony Sakharov, but also Fr. John Romanides. They revealed to me the great treasure of the Orthodox ascetic and hesychastic tradition of the Orthodox Church.
On this journey of mine I was helped a lot by Holy Scripture (Old and New Testaments), which I studied as a therapeutic book, but also by the philokalic books of the Fathers of our Church, which showed me this vast spiritual wealth of our Church.
I should mention the Fathers of the fourth century, including St Basil the Great, St Gregory the Theologian, St John Climacus, the author of The Ladder, St Maximus the Confessor, St Symeon the New Theologian, St Gregory Palamas, St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, especially his book A Handbook of Spiritual Counsel: The Guarding of the Five Senses and the Imagination of the Nous and Heart, and what are the Natural Delights of the Nous, The Philokalia of the Neptic Saints, and others.
Through all these I became acquainted with the hesychastic tradition of the Orthodox Church, which offers us fullness. The lack of this hesychastic tradition in the West and the dominance of rationalistic scholasticism and humanistic Protestant moralism created major difficulties. All the contemporary systems of psychotherapy developed as a result.
We should glorify God that we live in the Orthodox Church, and we must strive to find its great treasure, which remains secretly within it, to learn its mysterious way of working, and to acquire fullness of life, in order that, when we see God at His Second Coming, He will be light and eternal life.
The conclusion is that all these currents of contemporary psychology operate inside the Orthodox Church, but the Church has other elements at its disposal that none of the other psychological trends have.
Everything taught by our holy Fathers has been tested over the centuries. It has been put into practice and produced billions of saints. While living on earth they knew the goal of Christians and the meaning of life. Most importantly, however, they lived in a wonderful tradition that Christ revealed to humankind. And now that they have fallen asleep, they rest in peace.
Biology, Bioethics and Biotheology
His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and St Vlassios
The Orthodox Church has its own realm where all the applications of the teaching and work of Christ take place. The Church cures people and helps them to overcome all problems, even death itself and the fear of death.
Christians also live, however, in a world that has its own peculiarities. In the first centuries there were major persecutions and Christians were taken to be martyred, as happens in the Middle East in our own era. They also suffered from the great Christological and Trinitarian heresies, but even today there are many forms of heresy that afflict the body of the Church. Many other social and scientific problems exist as well.
It has been noted that during the early centuries the Fathers of the Church faced problems originating from classical metaphysics, particularly from Neoplatonism, and for that reason they had to define dogmatic terms, so that revelational truth would not be altered. Today there are similar problems due to more recent philosophy, the Enlightenment, existentialism and German idealism.
The most basic problems that we have to face today, however, are those which originate from scientific development and challenge us in our pastoral ministry. Restricting my subject to biomedical research and the developing science of molecular biology, which is connected with genetic engineering, I wish to point out that spiritual issues arise as well as bioethical ones, because this science is concerned with life and death, and naturally the Church is also involved in these problems. Thus various dilemmas arise regarding these matters.
The mentality of people today is pro-eugenics and pro-euthanasia, in other words, they favour genetic intervention and the improvement of the human organism. They aim to prolong biological life and put off death until the distant future and they want what they call ‘quality’, both in life and in death. They seek to make life and death painless. This also gives rise to the attitude that life is for healthy people, who ought to live and enjoy all the good things of life, whereas those who are allegedly ‘useless’ ought to die.
1. Molecular Biology and Genetic Engineering
Because I was invited to speak at various conferences to expound issues related to bioethics from the Orthodox point of view, and I also taught the bioethics course at the Balamand Theological School ‘St John of Damascus’ in Lebanon, it was necessary for me to acquire some knowledge of biology, particularly molecular biology.
The term biology denotes the science “that studies living organisms with regard to their structure, function, origin, development, distribution, classification and interdependency” (G. Babiniotis).
More specifically, the term ‘molecular biology’ denotes “all those techniques and discoveries that make it possible to carry out the molecular analyses of the most fundamental biological processes – those involved in the stability, survival, and reproduction of organisms.” (Michel Morange)
The science of molecular biology developed as a result of the development of two other sciences, genetics and biochemistry, at the beginning of the twentieth century. The science of genetics is concerned with genes, whereas a branch of the science of biochemistry is concerned with the functional expression of genes in proteins and enzymes. Molecular biology was born when the gene was recognised as part of DNA, when its structure was determined, and “its role in protein synthesis” was defined.
Genetic engineering is the science that describes “all the technical processes that allow the manipulation, isolation, characterisation and modification of genes, their transfer from one organism to another, their expression.” (Michel Morange)
These two sciences, molecular biology and genetic engineering, are inseparable. They are closely interconnected, as the history of genetic engineering can only be understood by examining the history of molecular biology.
Whereas molecular biology speaks about cells and their nuclei, genes and DNA, genetic engineering describes the way in which molecular biology can intervene in this inner world of the nucleus.
Some basic stages in the development of contemporary biology can be observed. These are historical revolutions in modern biology.
The first ‘revolution’ in modern biology began in the 1950s with the deciphering of DNA, which is made up of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen and phosphorus. Two scientists, J. Watson and F. Crick, played an important role in this process. This revolution includes the way in which genetic information is translated, and the transfer of genetic information from DNA to RNA, and from RNA to proteins.
The second ‘revolution’ came about in the 1970s and is connected with the recombination of DNA. Using a special method, segments of DNA are isolated and, with the help of bacterial hosts, are multiplied in great quantities. In this way, certain genes in the genome are defined, and the primary structure and organisation of some of these is examined.
The third ‘revolution’ in modern biology took place in the 1980s. Genetic materials as a whole are examined, so as to study “the connection between genes and illnesses, their structure, their function, and how proteins, the derivatives of genes, interact with one another.” With the help of technology significant progress has been made. The human genome has been studied, and the mapping of the human genome was recently completed. (Nikos Moschonas)
It is obvious that, from the industrial revolution, which centred on factories and fire, we have now arrived at the biotechnical revolution, which centres on laboratories and cells.
The term ‘biotechnology’ has been defined in many ways, but ‘modern biotechnology’ mainly covers, firstly, laboratory in vitro techniques involving DNA, such as the recombination of DNA and the direct transfer of genetic material and organelles, and, secondly, “fusion of cells beyond the taxonomic family, that overcome natural physiological reproductive or recombination barriers and that are not techniques used in traditional breeding and selection” (Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, Montreal 2000).
The application of biotechnology obviously concerns many fields of human activity. Thus white biotechnology denotes the industrial applications of biotechnology, for instance, to develop new chemicals, biofuels, bioplastics, new enzymes for detergents and to produce food and feed. Green biotechnology is the term used for biotechnology applied to agriculture, for example, to produce genetically modified organisms; and red biotechnology is biotechnology applied to health care and medicine, in an effort to prevent and fight human diseases. The boundaries between white, green and red biotechnology are, of course, blurred (P. Lorenz, J. Eck).
As we know, every organism has its own DNA, which is the genetic material containing all the information for its development. Genes are within DNA, and are responsible for producing proteins. All the DNA, together with the genes that it contains, makes up what is called the genome.
The significant thing is that scientists today have the capability to recombine DNA. In other words, they can unite in various ways two independent segments of two unrelated organisms, and create something new, consisting of the recombinant DNA from two different sources. Jeremy Rifkin, in his book The Biotech Century, refers to some examples.
In 1983 they took “human growth hormone genes” and inserted them into the embryo of a mouse. This action produced “super mice”, which were twice the size of other mice, and, what is most important, “the human genes have been permanently incorporated into the genetic makeup of these animals.” In 1984 “scientists fused together embryo cells from a goat and from a sheep, and placed the fused embryo into a surrogate animal who gave birth to a sheep-goat.” In 1986, they took from a firefly the gene that causes light, and inserted it “into the genetic code of a tobacco plant. The tobacco leaves glowed.”
This gives scientists the impression that they are creating the world afresh, and that man has therefore become the creator of the world. Jeremy Rifkin writes characteristically: “We begin to view life from the perspective of a chemist…For the first time in history we become the engineers of life itself. We begin to reprogram the genetic codes of living things to suit our own cultural and economic needs and desires. We take on the task of creating a second Genesis, this time a synthetic one geared to the requisites of efficiency and productivity.”
2. Bioethics and Biotheology
This potential created by the advance of molecular biology and genetic engineering has raised serious questions, and for that reason bioethics developed as a science. This term was first used by Van Rensselaer Potter in 1971 to designate a discipline “that could combine biological knowledge with the humanistic sciences.” (Stamatis Alachiotis)
The new phase of bioethics as a science began in Asilomar, a city in the West of the United States, in 1974. At a meeting of biologists it was ascertained that, by means of recombinant DNA and the possibilities of new technology, scientists had acquired a kind of authority over human life by manipulating genes. There for the first time questions were raised, such as, “Who decides if an experiment is morally acceptable? What are the criteria for putting a discovery into practice? Does anyone have the right to intervene genetically in human beings?” It was therefore decided to set up committees on bioethics and deontology “to examine biological issues with ethical implications, and to stop all research into genetic technology for two years, in order for the risks, the conditions of experimentation and the repercussions to be assessed.” (Stamatis Alachiotis)
From the Orthodox point of view, we accept contemporary biomedical research when it is combined with the findings of the contemporary science of bioethics. In parallel, however, we have our own criteria for dealing with the dilemmas that arise from contemporary biotechnological research. For that reason a specific term, biotheology, has been introduced.
The Message issued by the International Scientific Conference that was organised by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Constantinople in 2000 speaks of the theological preconditions for investigating these issues: “For this reason, Orthodox theology cannot view bioethics independently from its dogmatic teaching. Bioethics cannot exist apart from bio-theology.”
3. Pro-eugenics and Pro-euthanasia Mentality
We live in an era remarkable for its pro-eugenics and pro-euthanasia mentality. I shall give some definitions to make this clearer. The word ‘eugenics’ derives from Greek and means ‘good genes’.
Eugenics is “the study of methods under social control in order to improve our species genetically. It is divided into ‘negative’ and ‘positive’. Negative eugenics is concerned with removing harmful traits, and positive eugenics with increasing beneficial traits. It was practised by the Nazis and has now returned as ‘new eugenics’.” (Stamatis Alachiotis).
The word euthanasia also derives from Greek and means ‘good death’. It is connected with all the events involved in the end of biological life.
Eugenics, therefore, denotes the attempt by scientists to penetrate the mystery of life, to define and prolong it, and to eliminate diseases. In this sense it covers all those activities that refer to the beginning of life, including the mapping of the human genome or the deciphering of the genetic code, cloning, reproductive technologies, stem-cell research, the development of the embryo, abortions, and the prolongation of life, which includes transplants, gene therapy and cell therapy, and the prevention of diseases.
Euthanasia means the attempt by scientists to penetrate the mystery of death, so that sick people do not feel the pain associated with death, and can choose for themselves the means of death. The pro-euthanasia mentality, which is determined by the end of biological life, embraces everything to do with euthanasia and transplants, as well as the dilemmas that arise in intensive care units.
Today, eugenics is cultivated as a religion. Life has been made an absolute and God has been rejected from human life, so human beings manipulate the right to life and death on their own. So a particular religion develops, called ‘biological religion’, which centres on scientists.
Doctors are presented as those who relieve people’s pain, as the means by which they can avoid deterioration, ugliness and imperfection, and acquire perfection. In fact, some people assert that genes are connected with psychology, social behaviour and the concept of religious feeling.
I mentioned earlier that the science of bioethics is concerned with problems arising from the contemporary sciences of molecular biology and genetic engineering. At the same time, however, biotheology offers the principles of Orthodox faith and life. Some biotheological principles of this sort will be highlighted.
First of all, science does not conflict with theology. This conflict came about in the Western world, particularly in Europe, when theology was linked with metaphysics, and metaphysics was rejected by the Enlightenment. Orthodox theology has no connection at all with metaphysical philosophy, so it cannot come into conflict with science from that point of view. However, Orthodox theology stresses that science itself ought to set limits and preconditions to prevent genetic contamination.
In any case, theology and science have different goals. Theology aims at man’s deification, whereas science seeks to improve his biological life.
Secondly, the Orthodox tradition lays down five basic principles for the ethical and theological assessment of biomedical achievements. These are set out in the Declaration of the Basic Principles of Bioethics issued by the Interparliamentary Assembly on Orthodoxy (IAO).
The first principle is “Respect for time”. We should not proceed hastily to applications involving human cloning, without the necessary knowledge having been acquired.
The second principle is “Respect for God’s creation”, according to which, “Scientists must use their knowledge with discretion and prudence without preconception and short-sighted vision.” This is stated, because there is a danger that people will proceed to put right factors that they regard as natural imperfections, with the result that, “along with gene therapy”, incurable changes are caused in human social behaviour.
The third principle is “Respect for human variability, ‘imperfections’ and disabilities.” This is serious, because biomedical knowledge can be used “for reasons other than diagnostic, preventative and therapeutic purposes”, to open the way for a society characterised “by genetic discriminations, racism and eugenics; a society in which there will be room only for healthy and strong people, people with predetermined specifications.”
The fourth principle is “Respect for human life”. The Declaration states that every political or legislative adjustment connected with these matters “should necessarily respect the fact that every human being from his/her conception until his/her last breath constitutes a unique irreplaceable and unrepeatable being, that has by nature free will, is sacred and transcendental in his/her essence and perspective, and forms a social entity with rights and obligations.”
The fifth principle in the Declaration is that human life is not merely the existence of an individual, but is connected with other human beings and a given environment. Thus man has responsibility towards the environment, and also to future generations. For this reason special attention is required “with regard to the approval of germ-line [genetic] therapy methods that will be passing on their effect to the descendants of the persons undergoing the therapy.” It also says that “the genetic identity of the individual should be protected with regard to interventions that do not have a diagnostic or therapeutic character or do not aim to prevent a disease.”
The Church confesses Christ and everything that He revealed about God, man, and creation. In the context of this confession it cares pastorally for its members. Sometimes it also acts against heretics, but within the perspective of its confession and pastoral care.
The Church exercises a pastoral ministry to its members. It sees their problems and sets out the necessary preconditions for solving them, without doing away with people’s freedom. Whatever it does is done with freedom, because violating freedom means altering anthropology and soteriology.
When we refer to pastoral ministry, we mean that the Church preserves the fundamental points of the revelational truth about God, the world, humankind and salvation, and through these it guides people to acquire spiritual and Christocentric experiences. Human beings must, of course, progress from being in God’s image to being in His likeness, to deification, which is their ultimate aim. When people fail to live in accordance with God’s law and repent of this, the Church cures them by the power of Christ.
Having made these brief clarifications, I shall highlight some key points with regard to the pro-eugenics and pro-euthanasia mentality of our era.
a) Existential problems of life and death
It goes without saying that the basic problems that concern people are the so-called ‘existential’ ones, those connected with life and death. This is the ultimate cause of bioethical problems. Human beings were not created to die, but death is the result of their departure from God. Through ancestral sin they were stripped of divine grace, their nous was darkened, and death entered their existence. Death is a function of man’s departure from God. It is darkening of the nous. Since then human beings have been intensely preoccupied with the fact of life and death.
From an early age human beings wonder what life and death are. They ask themselves, “Why was I born without knowing or being able to determine the manner of my biological life as regards my sex, my nationality, and my individual differences from other people. Why do I not have absolute freedom? Why must I die, and what happens after death? What is illness? What is the meaning of pain?” and so on. Theological language refers to the corruptibility and mortality that exist in man, and this is also proved by contemporary molecular biology.
If these questions about corruptibility and death are not resolved within the limits of someone’s personal life, he will not be able, however much he tries, to give answers to the bioethical issues that arise today, in the biotechnical age, from developments and applications of molecular biology and genetics, and which concern both the beginning and end of biological life. He may possibly be able to solve isolated cases, but other problems will continuously crop up. Thus the profoundest problem that must be solved is the existential one, so that people can transcend the fact of biological life and death, and their life and death can acquire meaning.
b) Pastoral care of the sick, their relatives and doctors
Besides this general overview, which forms the basis for all kinds of pastoral ministry to people of all ages, specific pastoral care is required for each problem that people face. An illuminated and discerning spiritual father is needed to deal with these problems. On the one hand, he must have a thorough knowledge of the teaching of the Church and the problems concerned, and, on the other hand, he must approach each person with sensitivity and discretion. Everyone needs a special word to give meaning to his life and, above all, inner freedom. Of course, it is necessary to set out the essential framework within which the spiritual father will act.
As we know, it is not only everyday events in life and illnesses that cause us problems, but our inner disorder and the lack of meaning in life. Someone who is sick may have a purpose in life and glorify God, whereas someone who is healthy may be miserable because his life has no meaning.
The Church’s pastoral ministry should revolve around three elements: the sick person who is suffering; the sick person’s relatives, who are concerned about the health of the one dear to them; and the doctor who will be involved in treating the sick person.
The sick person, as we know, is in a particular existential and psychological state and requires careful attention. The worst problem that preoccupies him is pain, which is felt in both soul and body. There is pain that afflicts the soul and pain that afflicts the body. Sometimes the soul’s pain takes priority and the physical pain is secondary, and sometimes the physical pain predominates over that of the soul. Besides this, various inner feelings of remorse cause him suffering, as does the approach of death, which is seen as breaking up his union with those he loves and with biological life itself. Suffering is also caused by anxiety about dying, about when and how death will come, but also about what comes next.
The soul feels pain due to the lack of meaning in one’s life, the absence of love from other people, and the absence of God from one’s life. Physical pain is caused by the soul’s pain being reflected in the body, by the embodiment of existential and psychological problems, but also, of course, due to various diseases that manifest themselves in different phases of one’s life.
It must be realised that pain is the lot of all human beings, as it is the result of ancestral sin. According to the teaching of the holy Fathers, pain and suffering, when they are dealt with correctly, cure sensual pleasure. The interconnection between pleasure and pain is the solution to many problems in our life. The original pleasure, but also everyday pleasure, brings pain, and the experience of pain, through the Church’s ascetic method, cures pleasure. The attempt to overcome suffering with new pleasure creates a vicious circle with no results.
Christian asceticism means turning with absolute faith to God and His providence; taking up the cross in everyday life; facing illnesses and all kinds of problems with faith in God’s providence; and the ascetic life in all its forms. These painful things cure sensual pleasure. The ascetic Fathers teach that voluntarily taking up the cross of different kinds of affliction cures us of the involuntary impact of suffering that we experience every day.
One of the greatest revelations that Christ’s incarnation has taught us is the value of pain. Although Christ was sinless, He took upon Himself the sin of all humankind and died on the Cross. Thus He showed us that the intentional and voluntary cross of willingly taking on suffering cures the results of pleasure and frees people from imprisonment in the senses and what they perceive.
With regard to relatives, we must stress that love is linked with voluntary crucifixion, willing sacrifice, and self-emptying. Love is not sentimental words offered to healthy people. It is not something reciprocal. It is sacrifice and transcending one’s individual self. It is taking on the other person’s painful cross and suffering for him, according to Christ’s example. Christ loved human beings and was crucified for them. He was not content with teaching and altruism, with a verbal sermon, but He went on to offer Himself by dying for others.
The prevalent mentality in our society is for us to try to get rid of our sick relatives by paying money and shutting them into state or private institutions. This is not real love. No doubt institutions, hospitals and residential homes for the elderly are necessary, when effective scientific help is needed and it cannot be provided at home. When, however, we shut people into institutions to spare ourselves trouble, to save our time and safeguard our leisure, so we can follow our own programme, this is not correct. Even above medical and nursing care, those who are sick and disabled need love, affection, tenderness and the presence of those dear to them, rather than various physical comforts.
As for doctors and nursing staff, we should recognise and stress that there is a great difference between a profession and a vocation to serve. A profession is the work we do in order to live, but a vocation to serve is practised with love and affection. The work of doctors and nursing staff is not an ordinary profession, but work entailing service and sacrifice. It is not only concerned with physical illnesses but with existential pain and patients’ inner problems. When someone only sees the patient’s body and tries to cure it, ignoring the problems of his soul and mind, he regards him as a living mechanism. This is deeply wounding for the patient.
Earlier we mentioned the link between the soul’s pain and physical pain, and between pleasure and pain, as well as the lack of meaning in life and the problem of death. If someone does not see this reality in its entirety, but only deals with a part of it, he fails in his task. Sick people who approach the doctor or are admitted to hospital bring with them, not only their own particular illness, but a life full of pain and suffering due to remorse, loneliness, or betrayal and abandonment by those they love, and the fear of death. How can anyone ignore this reality and look at people externally and mechanically?
All those concerned with the suffering of people in critical states, such as sickness, are well aware that the sick are mostly interested in whether the end of their biological life is approaching. When they ask the doctor about their illness, they are actually concentrating on finding out what the doctor may be hiding from them, rather than what he will reply. The doctor ought not to be content simply to deal with them as people who are physically sick. Instead, he should regard them as people in pain who are seeking an answer about the meaning of life and death, about how they can overcome death, not about how their biological life can be prolonged. Loneliness, the need for love, and the fear of non-existence are the problems that preoccupy people, particularly those who are sick and are drawing nearer to the fiery region of existential problems.
Obviously, the pastoral ministry is a complete science. It presupposes not only knowledge, but most of all humanity. First and foremost, one must be personally acquainted with these problems. Someone who has faced, or is facing, the consequences of illnesses in his personal life, and has experienced, or is experiencing, suffering as a personal fact is best suited to make a sensitive approach to people who are suffering in this way. Also, everyone who is suffering is idiosyncratic and expresses this in various ways, so each one requires individual treatment with patience and love.
c) Specific pastoral care
Apart from general pastoral care, specific pastoral care is required in order to deal with issues arising from the pro-eugenics and pro-euthanasia mentality of our age. The general view is that the Church ought to preach the revealed truth about God and man, everyone is free to make his own choices, and the Church treats the consequences of his negative choices.
We shall now touch briefly on three specific issues connected with this subject.
The first issue is having children.
The aim of marriage is the union of husband and wife, the overcoming of various individual and social problems, the love between the couple, and, above all, their salvation. They should journey together towards the common resurrection. The fruit and result of this love and this shared journey includes the birth of children. Having children is not an absolute, but belongs within the whole context of marriage and the aim of human beings.
According to the teaching of the Church, the birth of children is not the result of a natural process, but the fruit of God’s energy, with the co-operation of the couple. The life-giving energy of God acts through the natural process of the “garments of skin”, and thus the embryo is conceived. Anyone who examines carefully how fertilisation comes about and how the embryo’s organs develop is filled with awe and is amazed at the mystery of creation. Human intervention to correct bodily organs may be permissible up to a point, when it is for therapeutic purposes. However, excessive concern and anxiety, as well as going too far with the methods used, particularly when this is done insolently, are unacceptable.
The absence of children cannot negate the purpose of marriage, nor can their presence give meaning to married life or replace love when it does not exist. The agonising quest for children often reveals a problem in the couple’s mutual relationship. So the problem goes deeper and cannot be resolved superficially in its outward dimension.
If people want to have children, there are any number of orphans and abandoned children they can adopt, or they can become foster parents, which also solves a social problem.
In vitro fertilisation, what is called medically assisted reproduction, which is a new technique for conceiving embryos, creates various ethical problems. On certain conditions, some methods, such as insemination by the husband’s sperm, may be acceptable. We cannot accept, however, anything involving insemination with sperm from a donor; in vitro fertilisation with genetic material from a donor; the fertilisation of many eggs and the creation of many embryos, which are frozen, and the fate of most of which is subsequently unknown; or the “selective reduction of embryos”, which are killed in the womb. Nor can we accept actions that lead eventually to the destruction of the blastocyst or embryo. In vitro fertilisation using the couple’s own genetic material may be acceptable if it does not leave ‘spare’ embryos.
The second issue is prenatal and pre-implantation screening
In recent years new diagnostic techniques have been introduced in order to check the embryo: prenatal screening when it is in the womb (in vivo), or pre-implantation screening when it was conceived by in vitro fertilisation.
The prenatal check, although it cannot be forbidden, creates feelings of remorse and leads to abortions, if the parents cannot face giving birth to children with genetic abnormalities and bringing them up.
The pre-implantation screening of embryos entails the danger of a eugenic approach (choosing sex, external characteristics, intelligence, and so on), in which case people are intervening indiscriminately in the mystery of life. Also, killing the embryos that are not selected is murder, as, according to the Orthodox tradition, the embryo has a soul from the first moment it is conceived (the doctrine of “immediately upon conception”), and this existing soul will express its presence as the bodily organs develop.
The third issue is euthanasia.
The term euthanasia is used in two senses: ‘passive’ euthanasia and ‘active’ euthanasia.
Passive euthanasia is when doctors and nursing staff abandon their therapeutic efforts for the patient, as well as the recovery procedure. In other words, although they could keep the patient alive for a little longer, by using mechanical means as well, in the hope that later on he may perhaps recover, even by a miraculous intervention, they do not do so.
Active euthanasia is when they intervene and, by means of various chemical substances that they introduce into the patient’s organism – allegedly out of pity on account of his terrible pain, or because he is tired of life – death is caused.
Human beings have jurisdiction over things that they make, but not over their lives, which were given to them by God.
Euthanasia is associated with despair and hopelessness, psychological illnesses and lack of meaning in life. Someone’s desire for euthanasia also means he is unaware of the beneficial presence of pain in our life. It is also an expression of cowardice in the face of various difficulties.
In particular, it is incomprehensible that Christians, who regard their bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit and members of the Body of Christ, would proceed to an act of euthanasia, which is a form of suicide, for the additional reason that, as they are members of the Body of Christ, every sin is a sin against Christ Himself. It is well known that sin always has theological and Christological significance.
Euthanasia, therefore, particularly active euthanasia, is a “mechanisation of death”, a way of appropriating and managing life and death, which do not fall within the jurisdiction of human beings, but are the ‘right’ of God. As a result, it cannot be accepted by the Church, nor, of course, can we accept ‘living wills’.
The conclusion is that the contemporary pro-eugenics and pro-euthanasia mentality of our era is reminiscent of Nietzsche’s superman, as described in his works Thus Spake Zarathustra and The Will to Power. Nietzsche’s superman has four characteristic features: that God is dead; that he should not pity his neighbour; that there is an inexorable desire for power; and that everything is permissible. The Orthodox Russian writer Dostoyevsky expressed it well: “Without God, everything is permitted.”
The theory of the superman led to the existentialism of Sartre, who said: “Hell is other people”, which is the opposite of St Seraphim of Sarov’s phrase: “Christ is risen, my joy!” Faced with such a pro-eugenics and pro-euthanasia mentality, we should put forward the aim of the Church, which is “the ‘superman’ of divine grace”, who is characterised by humility and love, and through these qualities passes on to people the message of Christ’s Resurrection.
The Apostle Paul says in an amazing passage: “He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15).
Christ took upon Himself a body that was subject to corruption, suffering and death, but was completely pure, in order to conquer death, so that all who are united with Him might be set free from the fear of death. We are slaves to corruptibility, passibility and mortality. We have death within us from our conception with the genes of ageing, and this makes us cultivate the passions of self-indulgence, love of praise, and possessiveness. Casting off the fear of death by living in the Church makes us truly free.
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