Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Digital Books

Previous // Contents // Next



Fr. John Romanides




1. What the “nous” of man is

The healing of man’s soul is the Orthodox Church’s main provision. The Church has always focused on healing the realm of the heart. She had come to discern – from within Jewish tradition and from Christ Himself and His Apostles - that within the space of the biological heart there functions something that the Fathers had named “nous”.  In other words, they took the traditional “nous”, which generally signified intellect and reason, and applied a differentiation to it. They gave the name “nous” to that mental energy which functions inside the heart of a spiritually healthy person.  We do not know exactly when this differentiation took place, because it so happens that certain Fathers used the same word (“nous”) when referring to logic, but also when referring to the mental energy when it descends and functions inside the space of the heart. 

Thus, when looking at it from this point of view, mental energy is said to be the one and only energy of the soul, which, inside the brain functions as “logic”, but also functions simultaneously inside the heart as “nous”.  In other words, the same organ, the “nous”, prays incessantly inside the heart (naturally of those who possess the incessant cardiac prayer) and at the same time processes –for example-mathematical problems and other such things, inside the brain.

We need to clarify that what the Apostle Paul calls “nous”, coincides with what the Fathers call “intellect”. This is a difference in terminology. When the Apostle Paul says “I shall pray in spirit”, he means what the Fathers say, that “I shall pray with my mind/intellect”.  And when he says that “I shall pray with my mind”, he means “I shall pray with my intellect”.  The name “nous” of the Fathers is not the Apostle Paul’s “nous”; it is the spirit of the Apostle Paul.  When he says «I shall pray with my mind”, or “I chant with the mind”, or “I chant in the spirit”, and when he says that the Spirit of God is a co-witness with our own spirit, he means with this word what the Fathers called “nous”.  And with the word “nous”, he implies intellect, logic.

In his expression “the Spirit of God is a co-witness with our own spirit”, he is referring to two spirits:  the Spirit of God, and the human spirit.  This human spirit – through some weird kind of evolution – appeared to have been named “nous”  much later, during the era of Saint Makarios the Egyptian, leaving only the terms “logos” (reasoning) and “intellect” to relate to man’s logic.  This is the way that the “nous” came to relate to the “spirit”; that is, to the “heart”.  Because man’s spiritual realm is in the heart, according to the Apostle Paul [i].  Thus, for the Apostle Paul, logical worship is enacted by the “nous” (that is, with the intellect, with logic), while the mental (noetic) prayer is enacted by the spirit, and it is a spiritual wish – in other words, the cardiac prayer [ii]. Therefore, when the Apostle Paul says « …but I would rather say five words from my nous to the church so that I might catechize others, than tens of thousands of words from the mouth»[iii] it means that he preferred to say five words – to actually speak five words, that is – in order to catechize others, rather than pray mentally. What the Apostle is saying here, is interpreted by certain monks that the Apostle was referring to the “Jesus prayer”, that is, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”, which consists of just a few words.  But the Apostle Paul here is referring to the spoken words with which he catechized others[iv]. Because, how can catechesis be possible with mental (noetic) prayers, when mental praying is an internal function of man and the audience surrounding the speaker hears nothing?  Catechesis therefore is performed through logical teaching and logical worship. We teach and we speak by means of logic, which is the usual form of communication between people[v].

But communication also exists between those who possess the mental (noetic) prayer inside their heart. In other words, they possess the ability to sit alongside each other and communicate among themselves mentally/ noetically, without conversing verbally; in other words, through a spiritual communication between them.  This of course can occur even with large distances between them.  These persons also possess the charisma of insight and foresight. With the gift of insight, they are enabled to detect the sins of every person as well as their thoughts, while with the gift of foresight they are enabled to see and to speak of future things, acts and events.  Charismatic persons such as these do actually exist, and, if you were to go to such a person for the purpose of confession, you would see that they already “know” everything that you have done in your life, before you even open your mouth to tell them about it.


2. Who can be regarded a «psychopath», according to the Fathers of the Church?

Each and every person is a psychopath (*), in the Patristic sense of the term. One doesn’t have to be schizophrenic to be a psychopath.  The definition of psychopathy from the Patristic point of view is that psychopathy is latent, wherever noetic energy is not functioning properly inside a person; in other words, when the nous of man is full of thoughts – not only bad thoughts, but even good thoughts also[vi].

The person, who has thoughts – good or bad – inside his heart, is the person who from a Patristic point of view is a psychopath. Regardless even if those thoughts are moral – even supremely moral – or whatever else they may be.  In other words, according to the Fathers of the Church, whoever has not undergone catharsis of the soul and cleansed of his passions and has not reached the state of enlightenment by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, is a psychopath. But he is not a psychopath as perceived by Psychiatry. To a psychiatrist, a psychopath is a different thing altogether; it is the person suffering from psychosis, a schizophrenic.  The question is posed, however, as to whether a person who has not undergone catharsis of the soul can or cannot be considered by Orthodoxy as being a “normal” person.  That is the issue.

Who is the “normal” Orthodox Christian in the Patristic Tradition?  If you want a clear picture of this, then you must read the Service for the Holy Baptism, the Service for the preparation of Holy Myrrh that is performed in the Patriarchate of Constantinople on Holy Thursday of Easter; you must also read the Service for the Inauguration of Holy Temples.  You will discover in those texts the meaning of the expression “temple of the Holy Spirit”; you will see for yourself who an enlightened person is.

All the Divine Services, as well as the ascetic tradition of the Church, indicate three spiritual states:  (1) the catharsis of the soul and the body from passions, (2) the enlightenment of the ‘nous’ of man by the Grace of the Holy Spirit and (3), the theosis (deification) of the soul and the body of man.  However, they chiefly speak of catharsis and enlightenment, given that the Services of the church are expressions of logical worship.  Hence, who can be considered a “normal” Orthodox?  The one who is baptized, but not cleansed through catharsis?  The not-enlightened one? Or is it the one who has undergone catharsis and enlightenment? Naturally, it is the latter; he is the model of a “normal” Orthodox.

So, in what area do “normal” Orthodox persons differ, from the other Orthodox? Is it in the dogma? Of course not.  Take the Orthodox in general; they all have the same dogma between them, the same tradition and the same common worship. Inside a holy temple there might be –say – three hundred Orthodox. Of them, only five are in a state of enlightenment. In fact, the remaining churchgoers in the example have no idea, even about what catharsis is.  So, the question is posed:  How many are the “normal” Orthodox Christians in this example?  Unfortunately, only the five are.

But, catharsis and enlightenment are specific stages of therapy, which are ascertained by experienced and enlightened spiritual fathers. So, what we have here are criteria of a purely medical nature.  Or are these criteria not so medical in nature? If the ‘nous’ is a natural organ of man, of every man – because it is not only the Greeks or the Orthodox that possess a ‘nous’, but Muslims and Buddhists and every single person in the world – it stands to reason that all people are in need of catharsis and enlightenment, and the therapeutic regimen for these is one.  Or could there be more than one therapy for this ailment?  And furthermore, is it truly an ailment, or not?

(*) psychopath :  Greek, psyche (soul) + pathos (ailment, suffering)


3. On the deviation of Western Christendom from the Orthodox ethos

On matters like these however, contemporary Orthodox find it difficult to give replies, because in our day, they have alienated themselves so much from this tradition, that they not longer consider the Orthodox Christian ‘regimen’ in the context of ailment and therapy.  They no longer regard Orthodoxy as a therapeutic regimen, even though all of the prayers of the Church are quite clear on this point; because, who, after all, is Christ for the Orthodox Christian?  Isn’t He constantly addressed in the benedictions and the ‘troparia’ hymns of the Church as “the physician of our souls and our bodies”?

If you were to examine Papist or Protestant tradition, this form of address for Christ (as a physician) is nowhere to be found!  Christ is called a “physician”, only in the Orthodox Tradition. So, why was this tradition erased from the Papists and the Protestants, and why is it, when we Orthodox speak of a therapeutic regimen, they are surprised?  The reason is that the need for catharsis and enlightenment and the need for inner change have left these people, in their Theology.  According to them, it is not the person who changes; it is God!  According to them, man does not change. The only thing that man has to do – according to them – is to become a “good guy”. And when a former “bad guy” becomes a “good guy”, that is when God will love him.  Otherwise, God will abhor him!  If that person remains or becomes a “bad guy”, then God will simply not love him!  In other words, if a person becomes a “good guy”, then God will change and be good to him; and now, instead of not loving that person, God will now love him!  When a person becomes a “bad guy”, God becomes angry, and, when a person becomes a “good guy”, God becomes happy!  Unfortunately, this is what is happening in Europe.

However, the problem is that this is not happening in Europe only, but in Greece also, and this spirit is prevalent in very many of those who are in the Church. Orthodoxy has reached the point of becoming a religion, where God changes His dispositions! When a person is good, God will love him. When he is bad, God will not love him.[vii].  In other words, God punishes and God rewards!  Thus, the essence of Orthodoxy in Greece nowadays has become a mere moralism.  Aren’t these precisely the lessons that our children were taught in the Sunday schools and the para-ecclesiastic Organizations which upheld Western standards and corrupted the Orthodox spirit?

So, if, after all this, someone still wishes to learn why Orthodoxy ended up in this sorry state, then they only have to read Adamantios Korais! (**)  He was the one who, after the 1821 revolution against the Turkish occupation, inaugurated this mentality in Greece. He was the one who instigated the persecution against Hesychasm, against traditional Monasticism, against the Orthodox (and only correct) therapy of man’s soul.  But we should start from somewhere else.

Let us suppose that a researching scientist, who has nothing to do with religions – an atheist, let’s say – decides to do some research on religious traditions and that when he gets to Orthodoxy, he digs around, he discovers, and he describes his findings.  He will most probably say: “Well, just look at this! This tradition here speaks of the soul, of a noetic energy of the soul and of a specific therapeutic regimen”.  This person, on furthering his research, will reach the point of acknowledging that if this therapeutic regimen were to be followed by human societies, it would bring very beneficial results, both to the health of individuals, and subsequently to societies. Then, with his continued search, he would he would begin to discern when this tradition first appeared, what its sources are, for how many centuries it was successfully applied in practice, where it continues to be practiced, and then, continuing his search, he would discover why this tradition is no longer found among the majority of Orthodox nowadays, and why Orthodoxy has undergone such a change.  This researcher would continue, only to find that this happened, because Hesychasm and traditional Monasticism – the two bearers of this Tradition – had been subjected to persecutions.

But why was this tradition persecuted?  Because the places where it flourished began to be culturally westernized, the way it happened in Russia after the reformation of Peter the “Great”, and in Greece after the 1821 revolution.  The contemporary historian Toynbee says that the Orthodox civilization is being gradually assimilated by Western culture.[viii]  He has written an entire book, in which he discerns that the currently existing civilizations are five only, as compared to the 20-25 that existed in the past.  These five civilizations are the civilizations of India, of the far East (China-Japan), of Europe, of Orthodoxy, and of the primitive cultures still found in Australia and Africa.  And it is Toynbee’s theory that all civilizations are being westernized nowadays.

In the past, attempts were made to impose this westernization through the missionary work of Western missionaries. Europeans, both in the past and in our time, systematically dispatched and continue to dispatch entire armies of missionaries, in order to not only Christianize, but to westernize other nations also.  This is why these heresies also exist in Greece, and why they continue to be active. This missionary aim however –according to Toynbee- was unsuccessful in the idolatrous nations of Africa and elsewhere, because missionaries tended to cause divisions among the people; for example, in a family of idolaters, one member would become a Lutheran, the other brother an Anglican, the other a Baptist, the cousin a Methodist, the other one a Pentecostal, the other one an Evangelical, etc., thus, not only did they splinter that nation into many pieces from a religious aspect, they even actually shattered the families themselves.  Thus, it was verified that missionary work of this kind had failed altogether in westernizing the people of the “third world”.

So, in 1948, Toynbee suggested another solution.  This westernization had to be imposed through technology, and also through the economy.

(**) Adamantios Korais: one of the founding fathers of the modern Greek State, after the 1821 revolution against the Turkish occupation of Greece.


4. What “Orthodoxy” is

Amid all this evolution however, there was also the counter-offensive by the Orthodox people – the Orthodox civilization.  But what, exactly, does the term “Orthodox civilization” involve?  Is it a civilization, the way that the Western civilization is perceived? No.  Orthodoxy is not a civilization, even if Toynbee calls it a civilization. Why is that? Because Orthodoxy is a science, and in fact a medical science according to today’s criteria.  It is not a civilization. Orthodoxy is not a political or social system, because it pertains to the personal salvation of man; i.e., to the salvation of his soul.  Orthodox depends on these two things:  that “the Logos became flesh” [ix] and that “in Hades there is no repentance”. 

In Orthodoxy, there are of course the presuppositions for the creation of a civilization. But Orthodoxy is not a civilization.  Furthermore, Orthodoxy is not a religion either. Orthodoxy is not a religion, like all the other religions.  Orthodoxy is distinguished by one, unique phenomenon, which is not found in any of the other religions – it is the anthropological and therapeutic element. That is where Orthodoxy differs. Orthodoxy is a therapeutic regimen, which heals the human personality.

A proper doctor will tend to the healing of every single patient without exception and without any discrimination. He will not single out only a certain number of people to heal.  He will not be interested in their social status or their level of education or their moral standing.  A proper doctor will only examine if the person consulting him is sick or not.  And if that person is sick, he will show his concern and will strive to heal him. He will strive to heal that person’s ailment.  He is obliged to heal him. In Orthodox tradition, we in fact have something more than this. And that is precisely what our “counter-offensive” consists of.

God loves not only the saints but all people, without exception; all the sinners, all the damned, and even the devil himself.  And He also desires to save everyone, to heal everyone.  He desires this, but He cannot heal everyone, because not everyone wants to be healed. This fact – that God is Love, that He wants to heal everyone and that He loves everyone equally – was discerned and continues to be discerned during the experiences of ‘theumens’; in other words, of those who have reached the state of theosis (deification), or ‘theopty’, which means they have ‘seen’ God.

God cannot heal everyone, because He never violates the free will of man. God respects man and loves him; but He cannot heal someone forcefully. He only heals those who desire to be healed and who ask Him to heal them.  Normally, when someone has a physical or spiritual ailment, he goes to the doctor of his own free will to get well and is not forced to do it (provided that person still has his senses).  The same applies with the Orthodox therapeutic regimen. One has to go on his own to the Church; without any coercion, without any oppression and of his own free will, to seek out the most suitable persons therein (who must have the necessary enlightenment and experience and who must also be familiarized with the therapeutic method of the Orthodox tradition) and show obedience to them, in order to find therapy.


5. The social scope of Orthodoxy

So, we now ask, “What is the social aspect of the matter?”

We have the person – any person who is living inside a society – who has to act as a healthy social unit.  The therapy that we mentioned previously, regarding the noetic energy of man’s soul, when completed, will automatically produce a social person; in other words, a person with a robust soul, who will become active socially, in every area.  And he who is thus automatically healed, is tacitly ordained a physician for the others – the still unhealed.  This is because the medical science called “Orthodoxy” differs from all the other sciences, inasmuch as the one who is healed automatically becomes a healer. The implementation itself of the therapeutic regimen on oneself becomes the means for healing others.  This is why it is inconceivable for a person who has been healed to not have any spiritual children, i.e., those who are in a spiritual dependence with him, whom he will counsel and guide towards their subsequent healing.

In the ancient Church, there was no official or specific ‘therapist’, given that every Christian was a healer. That was the mission of the ancient Church. The missionary task of the ancient Church was not the same as today’s Orthodox Church, which at times consists of an advertising of our wonderful dogmas or our tradition of worship, as though these are some kind of products being displayed fro sale.  We say for example: “Look here, children! We have the finest dogmas, the best form of worship, the best-sounding cantors, the most beautiful attire… see how lovely the Bishop’s cape is! etc., and we strive to impress others with our pastoral staffs, our cassocks, our stoles, when attempting to do missionary work. Of course there might be a certain degree of sense and success in a mission performed in such a manner, but that is not the genuine form of missionary work, the way that the ancient Church saw it.

Nowadays, missionary work is comprised mainly of the following:  We enlighten people who are superstitious and we make them Orthodox Christians, without trying to heal them. But in doing this, we have been replacing or exchanging their previous dogma with another, new dogma. We exchange inside them the one superstition with another superstition. And this is because when Orthodoxy is presented and offered in such a way, one can only wonder, how does it differs from a superstition? If Orthodoxy is presented and provided like a Christianity that does not heal (even though its chief role is healing), then how is it different to a superstition?

There are Christians in the West, who likewise have dogmas themselves, and who even acknowledge certain Synods; in other words, there are heretics whose dogmas do not appear to have any huge differences when compared to the Orthodox dogmas.  The difference is not as vast as the one between Christians and idolaters. Therefore, if the Orthodox dogmas do not have a seemingly awesome difference with those of the heterodox Christians, and, if the Orthodox dogmatic teaching (the way it is being taught today in Greece) is totally unrelated to the therapeutic regimen of the Orthodox Tradition, then how does the Orthodox tradition differ from the tradition of the heterodox, from this aspect?  And why should a non-Orthodox believe in Orthodoxy and not some other Christian dogma, since both of them, in the way they are presented, are certainly not presented as paths that lead towards healing, but as superstitions?

Nowadays, we are looking at changing man’s mentality, at changing the dogma, at changing the way we look at life, and thus construe this as repentance. Nowadays in Orthodoxy, repentance is linked only to the acceptance of Christ. In other words, we accept Christ, and, because we have accepted Him, we go to church, light a candle every now and then, and we even become “good guys”; and, if we are youngsters, we go to Sunday School or, if we are adults, we might go to an occasional religious event and – supposedly – this proves we are living in repentance; that is, we are supposedly penitents.  Or, if we have done something bad in our life and have felt some degree of contrition and have asked for forgiveness, we also call this ‘repentance’.  But this is not repentance. This is simply remorse or regret.  Regret is just the beginning of repentance.  Man’s soul is not cleansed through mere regret. For the soul of man to be cleansed of its passions, it must be preceded by a fear of God and repentance, which continues during the stage of catharsis and is completed upon divine enlightenment; i.e., the enlightening of man’s ‘nous’ by the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

So, if the Orthodox no longer preoccupy themselves with this therapeutic regimen, in what do they differ from the non-Orthodox? In the dogma?  What do they need the Orthodox dogma for, if they don’t use it for the healing of their soul? The dogma will be of no use to them in this way.



[i]   Which means that the Spirit of God speaks to our spirit; in other words, speaks within our heart through the Grace of the Holy Spirit. See “Philokalia”, volume 4, “Perivoli tis Panagias” publications, 1987, page. 281. In here, saint Gregory Palamas in his 2nd homilyOn those who are reverently reclused”, mentions that the “heart” is the ruler of one’s entire existence; that is where the ‘nous’ and all the musings of the soul are. With the termhearthere, Saint Gregory is not referring to the biological heart, but the innermost heart; And with the term “nous”, he is not implying the intellect, but the energy of the heart, the noetic energy, which springs from the essence of the ‘nous’, i.e. the heart. The terms ‘heart’ and ‘nous’ relate, as essence; this is why Saint Gregory adds: The ‘nous’ is the innermost body of one’s body, that is, the heart…(as above, page 282). It is tï these terms that the term ‘spirit’ also relates.     

[ii]   See Metropolitan Hierotheos (Vlachos), “The Persona in the Orthodox Traditionpublications of the Monastery of Genethlion of the Theotokos, Levadia, 1994, page 24, where the following are mentioned: Man has two Gnostic (knowledge) centers. One is the nous, which is the organ that is suitable for receiving the revelation of God, which is then formulated by logic, and the other center is logic, which perceives the tangible world that surrounds us.

[iii]    1 Corinthians 14: 19.

[iv]    See Philokalia, 3rd edition, ASTIR publications, 1976, page 42, § 29, and page 352, 89’.

[v]     See Philokalia, 3rd edition, ASTIR publications, 1976, page 352, 89

[vi]   See John Romanides: «Religion is a neurobiological ailment, and Orthodoxy is its cure», taken from “Orthodoxy-Hellenism, Course into the third millennium” Vol.2, publications of the Holy Monastery of Koutloumousion, Holy Mountain, 1996, pages 67-76.

[vii]   Professor George Mantzarides, in a commentary regarding the contents of the book by Archmandrite Zacharias Zacharou titled “A Reference to the Theology of the Elder Sophrony” (a publication by the Holy Monastry of the Precious Forerunner, Essex, England, 2000), which was published in the magazine “Synaxis”(booklet 85, Jan–Mar 2003, pages 94-98), mentions the following (on page 98): «... Love towards one’s enemy constitutes an undeniable criterion of the truth and of the “catholicity” (the ‘overall’ hypostasis) of the Church. In the teaching of saint Siluan and the Elder Sophrony, people are not discerned as ‘enemies’ and ‘friends’ (or, as ‘good’ and ‘bad’), but as ones who have knowledge of God, or who are ignorant of God. Wherever people are acknowledged as ‘enemies’, it means that a segment of the corpus of mankind is rejected, thus jeopardizing the universality of its “overall hypostasis”. The observance of the commandment of love towards one’s enemy signifies that man is embracing all people; that he becomes universally “catholic” (Greek=overall). And at an ecclesiological level, love towards one’s enemy constitutes a criterion that verifies this ‘catholicity’. A true Church is the one that keeps alive the love towards one’s enemies (p.350). This note is an extremely important one and especially opportune in our day and age».

[viii] The term Westernhere is not intended as a geographical inference, but as a cultural and religious one, signifying the Western, Papist and Protestant religious and cultural tradition.

[ix]    John 1, 14.


Previous // Contents // Next

File created: 5-9-2007.

Last update: 5-9-2007.