Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries Psychotherapy

Christianity is not a religion. It is psychotherapeutic science     Orthodoxy as therapy

II. The orthodox therapist

By fr. Hierotheos Vlachos Metropolitan of Nafpaktos and Saint Vlassios

(Excerpt from the Book "Orthodox Psychotherapy")

Source: http://www.pelagia.org/htm/b02.en.orthodox_psychotherapy.00.htm



                              1. Prerequisites for the role of priest-therapist

                                  The value of the priesthood

                                  The calling and ordaining of the Apostles

                            Basic prerequisites for ordination


                            The three degrees of priesthood


                      2.   Rekindling the Spiritual Gift


                            Basic qualities of priest-therapists


                      3.   Spiritual Priesthood


                      4.   The search for Therapists


So far I hope we have established the truth that Christianity is mainly a therapeutic science. It is seeking the spiritual healing of man. Yet the right practice of medicine requires a good physician, a professional physician, and this applies to spiritual healing as well. There has to be a good doctor. He is the bishop and the priest.

As we have noted before, people today feel that the priest's function is to enable them to take part in the holy sacraments. They feel that he has been commanded by God, as His servant and deacon, so that they may confess their sins and have spiritual relief. They feel him to be the deacon of God, called to pray to Him that their labours may be blessed, and so forth. Certainly no one can deny that the priest will do such work as well. But usually people seem to regard the priest rather as a magician (if I may be forgiven this expression). For when we look at the life of worship apart from curing, then rather it is magic!

We repeat however, in order to make it clear, that the priest is properly a spiritual physician who cures people's sicknesses. Worship and sacraments must be placed within the therapeutic method and treatment.

Even as a confessor, the priest is mainly a therapist. The sacrament of confession is not simply a formal absolution, especially of the Western type, as if God were angry and demanded expiation. It is something more. It is a part of the therapeutic treatment. There are numerous Christians who make confession over a period of many years but are not healed of their spiritual ills. Ignorance on the part of both the people and the pastors contributes to this.

The task of the bishop, priest or confessor is to lead the people out of Egypt into the promised land, like another Moses. This guidance requires toil and labour, privation and anguish. It is mainly therapeutic supervision. The Fathers are very insistent upon this truth. Let us take St. John of the Ladder as an example. He advises that "those of us who wish to get away from Egypt and the Pharaoh need an intermedi­ary with God, to stand between praxis and theoria and stretch out his arms to God, that those led by him may cross the sea of sin and put to flight the Amelek of the passions". The saint goes on to say that those who rely on their own powers and claim to have no need of a guide are deceiving themselves[1]. From the Old Testament story we know what Moses endured and how he guided that stiffnecked people.

This spiritual Moses is a physician. Furthermore, all of us are sick and have need of therapy and the physician.

St. Symeon the New Theologian, speaking to monks, makes this truth clear. As we know from the Orthodox Tradition, the monasteries are properly hospitals. It would be better to claim that they are medical schools. As sick people we are cured and after that we learn how to cure. That is why the early Church took priests from the monasteries, which are medical schools, to place them at the observation post of bishop.

So in speaking to monks, St. Symeon does not hesitate to say that we are all poor and needy. He then tells how all of us who are in the cells are injured and affected by different illnesses; therefore we can do nothing but cry out day and night for the doctor of souls and bodies to heal our wounded hearts and give us spiritual health. The saint writes: "And that is not all: (apart from being poor and naked) we lie pitifully wounded, affected with various illnesses, or move with difficulty in our cells or monasteries as if in so many hospitals and homes for the aged. We cry out and groan and weep and call upon Him who is the physician of souls and bodies at least in so far as we are aware of the pain of our wounds and ailments, for there are those who do not even know that they have a disease or an ailment  that He should come and cure our wounded hearts and give health to our souls that lie in the bed of sin and death. For all of us have sinned, as the holy Apostle said, and we have need of His mercy and grace"[2].

We have quoted this whole text because the mission of monasticism and the Church, as well as the work of the pastors, is shown clearly. It is chiefly a therapeutic task. We are sick in the bed of sin and death. Any who do not sense this truth are 'mad'. So the Christians who do not remain in the Church in order to be healed or who feel that they are well, are mad.

According to St. Symeon the New Theologian, the priest is a physician: a person comes to the "spiritual doctor ravaged with passion, his mind all distraught..."[3]. The "expert doctor", "who is human and compassionate, understands his brother's weakness, the inflammation caused by the ailment, the tumour; he sees the sick person wholly in the power of death". Then the saint describes the way in which the spiritual and expert physician approaches the sickness, and how it is to be cured[4].

We have previously mentioned two basic images which characterize the pastor's work: that he is a Moses who leads his spiritual children, and he is at the same time both a scientist and a sympathetic physician. Both these qualities are contained in one of St. Symeon's poems describing his own healing by his spiritual father, his "personal" Moses. He applies to his life the journey of the Israelite people and the guidance by Moses. He writes:

"He came down and found me to be a slave and a stranger 

and he said: Come, my child, I will take you towards God!".

He asked his Moses for "assurances" that he could do such a thing.

"He brought me close, he clasped me tight

and again he kissed me with a holy kiss

and there was a scent of immortality all about him.

I believed, I loved to go with him

and I longed to serve him alone...

He took me by the hand and walked before me

and in this way we began to travel the road".

And after a long journey in which, through the interventions of his spiritual father, he has succeeded in confronting the passions and being freed from slavery to them, St. Symeon begs his spiritual father:

"Come, I said, my lord, I will not part from you,

I will not disobey your commands, but will keep them all"[5].

However, in order for a person to be an Orthodox therapist and cure the spiritual ills of his spiritual children, he himself must previously have been healed as far as possible, he must stand "in the middle between praxis and theoria". How can one heal without having previously been healed or without having tasted the beginning of healing? Therefore St. Symeon accuses those who regard themselves as spiritual directors before being imbued with the Holy Spirit, rashly receiving others' confessions and daring to rule monasteries or occupy other positions of authority, "pushing themselves forward shamelessly by a thousand intrigues to be made metropolitans or bishops to guide the Lord's people..." before they have seen the bridegroom "in the bridal chamber" and become "sons of light and sons of the day"[6].

All this has been put matchlessly by St. Gregory the Theologian who writes: "It is necessary first to be purified, then to purify; to be made wise, then to make wise; to become light, then to enlighten; to approach God, then to bring others to him; to be sanctified, then to sanctify..."[7].

St. John Chrysostom, who has been hailed as an expert on the priesthood, writes in a famous passage in which he seeks to justify his refusal to be made a bishop, that he is aware of the weakness and smallness of his soul as well as the importance and difficulty of guiding the people: "I know how weak and puny my own soul is. I know the importance of that ministry and the great difficulty of it"[8].

In his discussion with St. Basil he asks him to have no doubt about what he has said, that while he loves Christ, he is afraid of provoking scandal by taking up the spiritual ministry "since the infirmity of my spirit makes me unfit for this ministry"[9]. The great purity of his thoughts and feelings caused him to feel that the weakness of his soul made him unfit for this great ministry. For indeed, as will be observed later, unhealed passions prevent a priest from helping to heal his spiritual children.

If the therapist has not previously been cured, he is "commonplace". "They simply take commonplace men and put them in charge of those things..."[10].

All these things to which we have already referred point to the great truth that the priests who wish to cure the illnesses of the people must themselves have previously been cured of these illnesses, or at least have begun to be cured, and must feel the value and possibility of healing.

What is to follow will also be placed in this context. We should make it quite clear that we are not planning to look at the whole spectrum of the priesthood or the role of priests. It is not our purpose to explain the value and importance of the priesthood, but to look at this great and responsible office from the point of view that it is a therapeutic science whose main work is to cure men. If at some points we seem to be trying to underline the value of the priesthood, we do it solely in order to look at this side which we wish to emphasize here. 


1. Prerequisites for the role of priest-therapist

It is the Holy Spirit and, in more general terms, the grace of the Holy Trinity which accomplishes the cure of sick Christians. The priest is a servant of this cure. The whole organisation of the Church is divine-human. Moreover the grace of God works secretly in the priest and he knows from ex­perience this hidden action of the grace of God. 

The value of the priesthood

The value of the priesthood is great. St. John Chrysostom writes: "The work of the priesthood is done on earth, but it is ranked among heavenly ordinances" since it was not ordained by man, angel, archangel or other created power, but by "the Paraclete himself'[11].

"As the sun excels the stars" so does the celebration by the priest "excel all psalmody and prayer" and differ from all the other services. This is because through the sacrament of the Eucharist we sacrifice the Only-begotten Himself who was slain for our sins[12]. If one celebrates properly "the divine, revered and awesome mysteries, the benefit derived from this will be greater than that which one derives from any work or from theoria"[13].

The value of the priesthood, which can sacrifice the fatted calf, is due to the fact that it helps man to go from the image of God to the likeness of God. It can guide him towards deification, which is in fact the healing of man, or rather manifests this healing.

The Fathers, comparing the priesthood with many other kinds of work, consider it greater, because other offices help man to solve worldly problems, while the priesthood leads him to deification. Therefore "the priesthood is higher even than a kingdom", since the one "governs divine things and the other governs earthly things"[14].

Indeed, as we have emphasized, in pastoral work the priesthood is the priesthood of Christ himself. The priests minister this grace upon the people and therefore are able to forgive and heal the sins of men.

We have said only these few things about the value of the priesthood, for it was not our purpose in this chapter to emphasize the great value of that work.

 The calling and ordaining of the Apostles

 The Lord calls those suitable for this work and grants them His priesthood. Thus the first bishops were the Apostles. The Lord called them to the apostolic rank, had them with Him for three whole years, then gave them the Holy Spirit to forgive sins, and sent them to preach to "all nations" and to guide people. He made them fishers of men and preachers of the Gospel. This choosing and sending them out is what made them Apostles. We have no evidence in Holy Scripture that the Lord used a special ceremony to confer the priestly service on the Apostles. We can say, however, that "the Lord, being Himself the one who instituted the sacraments, was not bound by them, but was able to make them effective through a simple expression of his will"[15]. At all events, the fact is that the calling of the twelve Apostles by Christ, his appearing to them after the Resurrection, the gift of grace to forgive sins and the coming of the Paraclete on the day of Pentecost established them as shepherds for the people of God.

We also have the case of the Apostle Paul, who was not a disciple of Christ in Christ's lifetime, but he too was called to the apostolic rank. He himself considered himself to be Jesus Christ's apostle: "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the commandment of God our Saviour and the Lord Jesus Christ..." (1 Tim. 1,1). Indeed he writes elsewhere: "For I claim to have done no less than the very greatest of the apostles" (2 Cor. 11, 5). In another place the same apostle writes: "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength. By calling me into his service he has judged me trustworthy" (1 Tim. 1,12). He has the certainty that he was a genuine witness of the Resurrection, because while on the road to Damascus he saw the risen Christ. Therefore in recording the appearances of the risen Christ, he makes bold to claim: "Last of all, I too saw him, like the last child that comes to birth unexpectedly" (1 Cor. 15, 8). He counts himself among the witnesses of the Resurrection.

The appearance of Christ to Paul not only conferred on him the rank of apostle but represented his ordination into the priesthood of Christ.

Prof. Romanides writes: "According to the Apostle Paul, the prophets in a parish (1 Cor. 14, 29) are those who, like the apostles (1 Cor. 15, 58), have attained deification, the vision of Christ in the glory of the Holy Trinity. Paul clearly emphasizes this when he writes about the mystery of Christ 'which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to his holy apostles and prophets...' Eph. 3, 5). It is within this context that the saying introductory to the listing of the members of the body of Christ is to be understood: 'If one member is honoured, all the members rejoice with him' (1 Cor. 12, 26). That is to say, the honoured member is deified and made a prophet by God. This is why the Apostle, in enumerating the various members of Christ's body, begins with the apostles and prophets and ends with those speaking in tongues and interpreting them (1 Cor. 12, 28), which are the forms of noetic worship (Eph, 5, 19f). One who prophesies in Paul's terms is one who interprets the Old Testament  the New Testament did not yet exist  on the basis of the experience of the noetic prayer which is called 'different kinds of tongues'. By contrast, the Prophet is one who has attained deification. This is precisely the later patristic distinction between theologizing and theology. All those from the Apostle down to the person prophesying and interpreting had 'varieties of tongues', that is to say, different kinds of worship of the Holy Spirit within their heart. They were therefore called by God to be members of the body of Christ and temples of the Holy Spirit. In being called by God they differed from the 'uninformed' (1 Cor. 14,16) who had not yet received the anointing of the visitation of the Holy Spirit praying unceasingly in their hearts, and so had not yet become temples of the Holy Spirit. They had apparently been baptized with water for the remission of sins but not baptized by the Spirit, that is, chrismated. Probably the sacrament of anointing with chrism was done to confirm that the Holy Spirit had come to pray within them and therefore it came to be called 'confirmatio' in Latin.

"The deified apostles and prophets and illuminated teachers, together with those possessing gifts of miracles, healing, helps, administration, or varieties of tongues (1 Cor. 12, 28) apparently all constituted the anointed clergy and the royal priesthood, as the service of Holy Chrism indicates. The rest, as the Fathers testify, were the lay people. Those whom God has appointed in the Church' (1 Cor. 12, 28) clearly refers to those who have received the visitation of the Holy Spirit, with deification of the apostles and prophets and illumination of the rest, and not only through a liturgical act"[16].

 Basic prerequisites for ordination

It is certain that the apostles transmitted this priesthood of Christ through a definite sacrament called the Sacrament of Holy Orders. The Church also fixed the canonical prereq­uisites for anyone to receive this great grace and to exercise this highest function.

One such ordination is that of the deacons in the first Church of Jerusalem. After they chose the seven deacons, writes the Book of Acts, "they set them before the apostles, and when they had prayed they laid hands on them" (Acts 6,6). Here we have the laying on of hands and prayer. St. John Chrysostom, analysing this passage, writes: "He does not tell in what way it was done, but that they were ordained with prayer: for this is the meaning of the laying on of hands: the hand is laid upon the man, but the whole work is of God..."[17].

What must be noted in this case is that they were chosen by the whole body of Christians of the first Church. Several qualifications were set up. The basic qualification was that they had received the Holy Spirit. Concerning the choice of Stephen we read in the Acts of the Apostles: "They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit" (Acts 6, 5). Thus they not only received the Holy Spirit at the time of ordination but they had the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Interpreting this, St. John Chrysostom says that he had the grace of the Holy Spirit "from the laver" of baptism. This grace alone was not enough, but ordination by the laying on of hands was also needed: "so that there was a further access of the Spirit"[18]. He also says that Stephen received more grace than the other deacons: "For though the ordination was common to him and them, yet he drew upon himself greater grace"[19]. This was due to his greater purity and the presence in him of the Holy Spirit.

This shows beyond doubt that the candidates for this great office of the priesthood do not simply wait for the day of their ordination in order to receive the Holy Spirit, but they must previously have opened themselves to the Holy Spirit.

The Church makes a great point of this. We also see this in the pastoral letters of the Apostle Paul. He writes to Timothy: "when I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also" (2 Tim. 1, 5). We know very well that the faith is not an abstract teaching, but it is an "understanding and vision of the heart", it is the life of the Holy Spirit in our soul.

The Apostle also writes to his disciple Timothy, whom he himself had ordained bishop: "Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery" (1 Tim. 4, 14). Elsewhere he writes: "This charge I commit to you, son Timothy, according to the prophecies previously made concerning you..." (1 Tim. 1,18). St. Theophylactos offers this interpretation: "The rank of the priesthood, which concerns the instruction and protection of the people, being great and high, requires that the candidate be given approval from above by God. For this reason also in olden times those who became priests and bishops did so by divine prophecies, that is to say, by the Holy Spirit"[20].

Much preparation and many prerequisites are involved in the selection of priests and bishops for that great office. The Apostle exhorts: "If a man is blameless" (Tit. 1, 6), let him be appointed priest or bishop. He also recommends that such a person should not be "a novice" (1 Tim. 3, 6), not a novice because he must have previous spiritual experience and thus have been baptized to that great office, he must have purified himself, as we shall see later, and only then may he proceed to ordination.

Indeed St. John Chrysostom writes that a priest has to have more attentiveness and spiritual strength even than the hermits themselves. For if the hermits, who are freed from "the city, the market place and its people", are not secure in the spirit, how much more strength and vigour needs to be exercised by the priest in order to be able to "snatch his soul away from all infection and keep its spiritual beauty inviolate". That is why he affirms that the clergy who live in the world need even more purity than the monks[21].

This theme of safeguarding the purity of the priesthood will engage us later. Here we wish rather to emphasize the qualities which the Christian should have if he is to be ordained a priest. For if he himself has not been healed, how will he be able to heal the spiritually weak and sick?

Preparation for the priesthood is one of the dominant themes in the works of St. Symeon the New Theologian. Anyone who has not abandoned the world and been counted worthy to receive the Holy Spirit as were the holy Apostles, who has not undergone purification and illumination and been found worthy to "contemplate the unapproachable light",  "such a man would not dare to accept the priesthood and the authority over souls, or to push himself to accept such!"[22].

We find the same teaching in St. Theognostos. If the priest, he says, has "not been assured by the Holy Spirit" that he is an acceptable intermediary between God and man, he should not "presumptuously dare to celebrate the awesome and most holy mysteries"[23].

When ordination was imminent, the Fathers fled to the mountains, as we see in the life and teaching of St. Gregory the Theologian. In his "Defence of the Flight to Pontos" he seeks to defend this action, and says that no one can undertake to shepherd the spiritual flock unless he has previously become a temple of the living God, "a habitation of Christ in the Spirit", or unless he has traversed "by experience and con­templation" all the titles and powers of Christ, and learned the "hidden wisdom of God in a mystery",  that is to say if he is still a babe "fed with milk"[24].

Certainly the holy Fathers were not unaware of the fact that many were ordained without fulfilling these ideals and were neither purified nor healed. Therefore many of the ordi­nations originated "not from divine grace, but from human ambition"[25]. And indeed it is a well known saying of St. John Chrysostom that "God does not ordain all, but He works through all"[26]. 

The three degrees of priesthood

From a study of the sources, chiefly patristic literature, it seems clear that the degrees of priesthood (deacon, priest, bishop) are closely connected with the three basic degrees of the spiritual life. This means that as a man progressed in healing he ascended the spiritual ladder of priestly grace and blessing. At least this is the teaching of the Fathers. We must develop further this fundamental point of patristic teaching by speaking about the healing grace of the priesthood.

In the preceding chapter we emphasized that the spiritual life is divided into three stages, purification, illumination and deification. We find this division in many of the Fathers, even though they give it different names. For example, St. Nicetas Stethatos writes that there are three stages of advancement towards perfection: the initial purifying stage, the interme­diate illuminating stage, and finally the mystical perfecting stage. As the Christian advances through these stages, he grows in Christ. The purifying work is to subdue the flesh and avoid any sin that excites passion; it gives rise to repentance, tears, and so on. The illuminating stage sees the beginning of dispassion, which is characterized by insight, "contemplation of the inner principles of creation" and "communion of the Holy Spirit". Its task is "purification of the intellect...uncovering the eyes of the heart...and revelation of the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven". And "the mystical and perfecting stage" enables the person to "search the hidden mysteries of God", fills him with "the fellowship of the Spirit", and shows him to be a "wise theologian in the midst of the great Church", and so on[27].

Thus a person living in the Church and aided by divine grace purifies the passible part of his soul, then his nous is illuminated and he ascends to mystical theology, blessed deification.

In the theology of St. Maximus the Confessor these three stages are expressed as practical philosophy (negative and positive purification), natural theoria (illumination of the nous) and mystical theology (deification). The Fathers of the Church, having withdrawn from all creatures, ascend to the vision of Cod, and this vision reaches its highest degree in "theological science" or "theological mystagogy" or "mystical theology", which is also called "unforgettable spiritual knowledge"[28].

So the Fathers living in theoria (vision of God) are the real theologians or even the real theology, since theology fills their whole existence.

Moses, according to St. Maximus, was a theologian, because he pitched his tent outside the camp, "that is, when he established his will and mind outside the world of visible things he began to worship God". The three chosen disciples were also proven to be theologians on Mount Tabor when they were granted to see the light of the trisolar divinity. St. Paul too, who was caught up to the third heaven, was a theologian. St. Maximus explains that the three heavens correspond to the three degrees of man's mystical ascent, namely, practical philosophy, natural theoria and mystical theology[29].

We have presented this patristic teaching in order to go on to correlate it with the subject which concerns us in this chapter. St. Maximus links the three stages of the spiritual life with the three degrees of the priesthood. He writes: "He who anoints his nous for spiritual contest and drives all impassioned thoughts out of it has the quality of a deacon. He who illuminates his nous with the knowledge of created beings and utterly destroys false knowledge has the quality of a priest. And he who perfects his nous with the holy myrrh of the knowledge and worship of the Holy Trinity has the quality of a bishop"[30].

I would now like to compare with what we have just read another interpretation, namely that of St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, since it is basic to the practice of the Church that one saint interprets another saint, and thus through its saints the Church finds expression for its common experience. St. Nicodemus writes: "The God-inspired Maximus sees it as the deacon's task to cleanse others of their passions and evil thoughts through moral effort, that of the priest to illuminate others through natural theoria of the inner principles of things, and finally that of the bishop to perfect others in the light of the inner principles of theology... thus the chief priest does not have to be only a moral and natural or contemplative philosopher, but also a theologian, as those roles belong to the deacon and the priest"[31].

It should be noted that the connection of the three degrees of the priesthood with the three stages of the spiritual life is mentioned in the writings of St. Dionysios the Areopagite, which contain the tradition of the Church. And if these writings are taken to represent the norm of the Church in the first centuries, it seems clear that the three stages of the spiritual life must correspond to the three degrees of the priesthood. I should like to take this up in order to show this connection.

It is well known that in his work "The Ecclesiastical Hierarchy" St. Dionysios the Areopagite describes the three stages of the spiritual life purification, illumination and perfection. Perfection is equivalent to deification. "The order of bishops is that which fully possesses the power of consecration... Its task is not only to consecrate but to perfect. The priestly order is illuminative, bringing light, while the task of the deacons is to purify and to discern the imperfect"[32]. The work of the clergy is liturgical, and sanctifying and perfecting, since it is through the sacraments that the spiritual life of man develops. In other words, the sacred rites of the Church are not forms, but they purify, illuminate and raise man to a state of perfec­tion.

Thus the work of the deacons, priests and bishops is connected with the spiritual growth of the Christians. According to the baptismal service as presented by St. Dionysios  and we believe that he is reflecting the usage in the first centuries of the Church  when a person is brought for baptism, the deacons divest him of his garments; this shows their role in the Church as purifying. The priests anoint the candidate's whole body; this shows their role in the Church as illuminators. The bishops bring the candidate to perfection by baptizing him; this shows their perfecting role[33]. The order of bishops "performs every hierarchic consecration. It clearly teaches others to understand, explaining the sacred things, proportionate characteristics, and their holy powers". The priestly order "guides the initiates to the divine visions of the sacraments" but sends to the bishop "those longing for a full understanding of the divine rites which are being contemplated". Thus the priest illuminates Christians, under the authority of the bishop, but sends on to him those who desire perfection, since the divine order of bishops is the first to behold God. The order of deacons, before leading the candidates to the priest, "purifies all who approach by drawing them away from any dalliance with what is evil. It makes them receptive to the ritual vision and communion"[34].

It is very significant that, according to St. Dionysios, bishops are not solely occupied with perfection, but they illumine and purify as well. Similarly the priests have the understanding both to illuminate and to purify, while the deacons only know how to purify. "Inferiors may not trespass on the functions of their superiors"[35]. So the duties of each degree of the Church's ministry is strictly regulated in that each order possesses its own science and knowledge of the spiritual life. I think we must place here a characteristic passage in which Dionysios sums up this whole teaching about the work of the three orders: "The rank of the sacred ministers is divided in the following manner. Their first power consists in purifying the uninitiated by way of the sacraments. Their middle power is to bring illumination to those whom they have purified. Finally, they have the most marvelous power of all, one which embraces all who commune in God's light, the power to perfect these by way of the perfected understanding they have of that to which they have been initiated"[36].

As we study the teachings of St. Dionysios we come to see that each of the three degrees of the priesthood corresponds to a stage of the spiritual life. Since the task of the deacon is to purify others of passions, he should himself, prior to ordination, have reached a stage of purification so that he is himself a living exponent of the practical philosophy. Since according to the patristic teachings it is the priest's task to illuminate others, his ordination presupposes that he has an illuminated nous, which, as we have seen, is a degree of theoria. Thus the priest must remember God unceasingly in prayer, must know spiritual work, be fluent in Holy Scripture and be able to contemplate the inner principles of all created things. As for the bishop, since his primary task is to perfect the people by the inner principles of theology, he must experience the mystical theology, live in communion with God. This close relationship with God makes him a prophet, a divine initiate capable of mystically imparting the word of truth to the people of God.

The form which the ordination of deacons, priests and bishops takes is equally indicative of the spiritual condition which they are assumed to have reached in order to fulfil these essential tasks. For how can people be helped if the helpers have no personal experience of the task which they are to carry out?[37]

This applies more especially to the bishop, who is an in­strument of grace par excellence and "in every act of episcopal consecration should be directly inspired by God Himself'[38]. Moses did not "confer a clerical consecration" on his brother Aaron until God commanded him to do so. He was submissive to God as chief consecrator, merely completing the divine consecration by a hieratic rite[39].

Therefore according to St. Dionysios, who expresses the tradition of the Church, the bishop is the supreme scientist of the spiritual life. He is the one who sees God and has personal experience of deification. "Therefore the divine order of the bishops is the first of those who behold God, yet it is the first and also the last"[40]. The bishop is a fruit of deification, and, having himself been deified, by grace he helps his fellow Christian along his own journey towards deification. "The being and proportion and order of the Church's hierarchy are in him (the bishop) divinely perfected and deified, and are then imparted to those below him according to their merit, whereas the sacred deification occurs in him directly from God"[41]. "Talk of 'bishop' and one is referring to a holy and inspired man, someone who understands all sacred knowl­edge, someone in whom an entire hierarchy is completely perfected and known"[42]. In all sustained effort to reach the One, by the complete death and dissolution of what is opposite to divine union the bishop is granted the immutable capacity to mould himself completely on the form of the divine"[43]. Thus the bishop, as the fruit of purification and illumination, is the God-inspired man who has reached perfection and so is directed by God personally. He is the "mouthpiece of truth" and the one who sits "in the form and place" of Christ.

We cannot resist referring to a characteristic passage in St. Dionysios which says that divine rays are granted to those who are most godlike, most suitable for spreading and sharing the Light. It is the task of those who see God to reveal to the priests "in proportion to their capacity" the divine visions which they have beheld. Likewise it is their task "to reveal all that has to do with their hierarchy, since they have received power to give this instruction"[44]. This means that it is only after personal perfecting that one can rise to a higher position; and the higher position is occupied by a God-inspired person, one who knows God through experience.

These were the actual qualifications for Christians to enter the priesthood. They had to go through these three stages for it to be confirmed and certified that they had been cured and were able to cure the Lord's people. These things show precisely that the bishop, priest and deacon are not only liturgical persons ordained to perform the sacraments, but they are spiritual physicians who help the people to be purified, to be sanctified and to advance to communion with God. St. Symeon the New Theologian wrote that a man can proceed to celebrate the Liturgy when he celebrates "with the conscience of a pure heart, in honour of the pure, holy and immaculate Trinity", if he has seen Christ, if he has received the Spirit and has "been brought to the Father through these two"[45].

Entry into the priesthood is thus a pure calling of God. And this calling is not simply an abstract feeling of being called by God to serve the Lord's people but is the certitude through one's own transformation that one is able to shepherd the people. And shepherding the people is primarily healing the people. Therefore without healing, a man cannot reach God, cannot see God, and this vision cannot become a light which will illuminate him, rather than a fire that will consume him. St. Theognostos refers to the "supramundane grace of the priesthood"[46]. If one does not sense this calling from above, that is if one has not been healed, then "the burden is heavy indeed; for it is borne by someone unworthy, whose power it exceeds"[47].

People often speak of the apostolic tradition and the apostolic succession, implying that this was a succession of laying on of hands. Indeed no one can deny this reality, but at the same time it is an incontestable fact that the apostolic succession was not simply a series of layings on of hands but a tradition of the entire life of the Church. The Apostles and then the Fathers did not simply transmit the grace of the priesthood, but they transmitted Christ and the whole life of Christ. They engendered. For this reason the bishop bore and bears the grace of truth. Prof. John Romanides observes: "The basis of the apostolic tradition and succession was not this laying on of hands, but what accompanied it from generation to generation, the transmission of the tradition of healing, illumination and deification. The parish Council and the provincial Council were organized to unite the true therapists, to exclude from the clergy the false prophets who pretended to have charismatic gifts, and to protect the flock from the heretics. The most important part of ordination was the selection and examination of the candidate"[48].

This was the basis of the Church. Especially for selecting a bishop it was a fundamental principle that he should be chosen from the monks, because monasticism is the medical school from which the skilful physicians capable of healing men's sicknesses could come.

Kallistos Ware, Bishop of Diocleia, writes: "One of the twenty ‘principle’ monasteries (probably referring to the Great Lavra of the Holy Mountain) alone has nurtured twenty-six patriarchs and 144 bishops. This gives some idea of the importance of Athos to the Orthodox Church"[49].

St. Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, explaining this holy custom of the Church, writes in the introduction to his "Handbook of Council": "Oh what happy and golden times were those when the excellent custom prevailed of selecting from the modest order of monks all (excepting a few laymen chosen because of their surpassing virtue) who were to ascend to an episcopal throne, and entrusting the guardianship of souls to them". The minutes of a council in St. Sophia reflect just such a custom: representatives of the Church in Caesarea and Chalcedon told Pope John's deputy: "In the East if no monk has been produced, there is no bishop, nor patriarch"[50].

To be sure, in all the history of the Church things have not been so "rosy". There have been situations when this truth was lost, and then the people were in the darkness of ig­norance. They did not know that there was such a thing as spiritual healing or how healing took place, because there were not men to teach the way of healing. As early as the fourth century Isidor of Pelusium was showing how the early pastors differed from those of his time. At that time, he said, pastors died for their sheep, while today they themselves slay the sheep. He goes on to write characteristically: "In the old days lovers of virtue entered the priesthood; now it is lovers of money. Once they fled from the office because of its magnitude; now they run after it with pleasure. Then they were willing to take pride in their poverty; now they gladly and greedily hoard up money. Once the divine court of justice was before their eyes, but now it is a thing of indifference. Once men were subject to blows; now they inflict them. Need I continue? The priestly office seems to have changed into a mode of tyranny: humility has been transformed into arrogance, fasting into luxury, economy into despotism; for as economists they are not fit to administrate, but as despots they embezzle..."[51].

Prof. John Romanides, who has dwelt particularly on this subject, writes about the loss of this Orthodox tradition: "With the passage of time, however, there could not always and everywhere be found deified or even illuminated men for selection and ordination as bishops and priests. And even if there were such men, the electors would not want them. Many times men who were simply moral and good but without having the traditional therapeutic education of illumination and deification have been preferred. Bishops are emerging who in a former period would have been simply laymen, since they do not have the Holy Spirit praying unceasingly in their hearts. This is the way St. Symeon the New Theologian explains matters.

"St. Symeon instigated a rebellion against the situation which he described, with the result that the healing mission of the Church was restored to a central position in Orthodoxy and the hesychasm of the Fathers took hold of the hierarchy once more, as St. Dionysios the Areopagite anticipated. Under the leadership of the hesychasm of the Fathers, the Church and the nation survived after the dissolution of the empire, because the patristic therapeutic training which we have described gave the Church the power to blossom in the hard times of Arab, Frankish and Turkish rule...

"That is to say, the prophets as deified persons and therapists, were like a team of hospital doctors, one of whom, without implying any inequality, was chosen as chairman. The same thing happened among the apostles: Peter had first place, although it was James, as Bishop of the local Church, who presided at the gathering of apostles in Jerusalem.

"When parishes began to multiply and no prophet or prophets in the apostle Paul's sense were to be found, the Church had to resolve the problem of whether it was right to ordain as bishops men who were undeified but were illuminated. In the face of this dilemma the Church chose to ordain priests to preside at the parochial meetings. Thus the bishops gradu­ally acquired supervisory responsibility over the presiding parish priests, like doctors at medical centres with attendants at the head. Because the Synod did not find enough doctors to supervise all the hospital centres, it appointed attendants as priests. To call the attendant a doctor, that is to call a person who is not deified a bishop is unrealistic and leads to the dissolution of the therapeutic work of the Church.

"With the passage of time, however, there appeared bishops and priests neither of whom had even reached the stage of illumination. It was this state of affairs which provoked the revolution brought about by St. Symeon the New Theologian and the taking over of the hierarchy by the hesychasts, which was not fully achieved until the time of St. Gregory Palamas.

"Apostolic therapeutic treatment was preserved in the post-apostolic period up to the appearance of Frankish and imperial and Neo-Hellenic Orthodoxy, by the concentration of this apostolic tradition in monasticism. That is, therapeutic training for illumination and deification was transferred from the secular parish, which had become weak, to the monastic parish. At the same time the metropolitan sees and the bishoprics became monasteries. That is why St. Sophia was called the Great Monastery even in the lay tradition. Monasticism became a kind of medical school where the can­didates for bishop studied apostolic therapeutics. Parallel with this it was the task of every secular parish to imitate the monastic parish as best it could  because illumination and deification are indispensable for the healing of all people, since all have a darkened nous. From the doctrinal point of view there is no difference between secular and monastic parishes with regard to the sacraments offered and the need for healing. The difference lies in the quantity and quality of success in healing"[52].


2. Rekindling the Spiritual Gift

Thus far it has been shown that the priesthood is a great gift given to those who have been healed of passions and are placed in the position of physicians to cure the passions of the people.

But the physician needs continual renewal. Otherwise he cannot cure men's diseases with new methods. The same applies to some degree in the case of priests. It requires vigilant attention and a great struggle to maintain this gift of the priesthood at all times. The priest bears within him the priesthood of Christ and must keep it undefiled. This has a deep meaning.

There are priests who have not been dethroned and consequently can celebrate the Liturgy and perform the sacraments by the grace of God. Outwardly their priesthood is unhindered, because they have not been condemned by the Church. But their priesthood has no power because they defile it by their lives. They can consecrate the gifts, but they themselves cannot be sanctified by them, as Nicholas Cabasilas says.

Where does this spiritual powerlessness appear? It ap­pears mainly in the fact that they cannot heal and do not know how to heal. To perform the sacraments is of God's grace which is given in the sacrament of the priesthood. But to cure people's sicknesses is of God's grace which is given to that person who makes productive the gift of baptism, who puts to use the kingly gift of grace. This explains why many priests do not know how to heal men's passions and are unable to do it. They do not know what method to apply. They have no idea of what the heart and nous are, how the nous is taken captive or how the heart dies. They often regard these teachings as referring only to monks. Thus they divide the teachings of Christ and the Fathers into monastic and secular. But no such distinction exists in the teaching of our Orthodox Church.

In what follows we would like to set forth the teaching of the Church, through the Apostles and Fathers, on the necessity for the priest to nurture the gift of priesthood, to rekindle the grace received at the sacrament of ordination, for other­wise he cannot heal men's spiritual illnesses.

 Basic qualities of priest therapists

 The Apostle Paul advised his disciple Timothy: "Do not neglect the gift that is in you" (1 Tim. 4,14). This exhortation is analogous to the exhortation to the Christians: "As a fellow-worker we urge you not to let the grace you received come to nothing" (2 Cor. 6, 1) and the same apostle's words: "The grace he has shown me has not been without fruit" (1 Cor. 15, 10). He also instructs the Apostle Timothy: "That is why I would remind you to fan the flame of that special grace which God kindled in you when my hands were laid upon you" (2 Tim. 1, 6).

In the pastoral epistles the Apostle Paul often refers to this subject. The bishop and the clergy in general must, through their struggle to preserve the gift of the priesthood, serve God and men in a worthy manner and guard the sacred heritage.

We would like to cite a few of the many characteristic passages: "Train yourself for godliness" (1 Tim. 4, 7). "You will be a good minister of Jesus Christ nourished in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed" (1 Tim. 4, 6). "Be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity" (1 Tim. 4,12). He requests Timothy to fulfil his charge "without spot, blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ's appearing" (1 Tim. 6, 14). He exhorts him to keep the tradition: "That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us" (2 Tim. 1, 14). This keeping of the tradition must be done through the Holy Spirit who dwells within Timothy. He ex­horts him to have watchfulness, attentiveness, vigilant care to live up to the great calling of God: "Be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry" (2 Tim. 4:5).

The patristic teachings refer to all the essential qualities which should adorn the priest in order for him to be able to live up to his great task and high calling. In what follows we shall try to make a selection from those teachings, mainly from St. John Chrysostom and St. Theognostos. The teaching of these two Fathers expresses that of the holy Orthodox Church.

According to St. Theognostos, the priest must not only be filled with the human traditions but have the grace of God mystically hidden in him. "Make sure that you do not rely only on human traditions in celebrating the divine mysteries, but let God's grace inwardly and invisibly fill you with the knowledge of higher things"[53]. "The priestly dignity, like the priestly vestments, is full of splendour, but only so long as it is illumined from within by purity of soul"[54]. Therefore the priest must guard this divine gift "as he would the pupil of his eye" and keep its honour unsullied[55].

These things show that great watchfulness is required on the part of the priest. And this requires much suffering. The priest should celebrate the Divine Liturgy first of all on his own behalf "watchfully and sedulously"[56].

St. John Chrysostom insists on this constant attention to guarding the priestly grace. He says that a priest must be sober and clear-sighted and "possess a thousand eyes looking in every direction"[57]. He should resemble the many-eyed Cherubim in order to worship the Lord of hosts in purity. He should be encircled with walls all round, and "have intense zeal and constant sobriety of life" in order not to be harmed[58]. According to St. John Chrysostom, just as fire requires fuel, "so grace requires our alacrity that it may be ever fervent". This grace is in our power to quench or kindle. The grace "for presiding over the Church" is quenched "by sloth and care­lessness" but is kept alive "by watchfulness and diligence"[59].

Watchfulness is indispensable for keeping oneself pure and thus for the priestly grace and blessing to remain. According to St. Theognostos, the priesthood "requires of us an angelic purification, and a degree of discretion and self-restraint greater than in our previous life"[60]. According to St. John Chrysostom, the priest must be as pure as if he were standing in heaven itself, in the midst of the angelic powers[61]. The priest's soul must be purer than the rays of the sun, "in order that the Holy Spirit may never leave him desolate"[62].

Repentance is another spiritual quality indispensable for a priest. "With streams of tears" let him become whiter than snow, and then, with a clear conscience, let him "in holiness touch holy things"[63].

The purity of a priest should shine and beam on the Christians. A priest should be pure from passions, "especially unchastity and rancour, and should keep his imagination passion-free"[64]. Many Fathers emphasize that these two passions (unchastity and rancour) should not come near priests, because otherwise the grace of God does not work for the healing of his spiritual children. Then the priest is sick, as we have indicated. He must have committed himself "sacrificially to die to the passions and to sensual pleasure"[65]. Besides, according to Abba Dorotheos, "Everything which is offered as a sacrifice to God, whether it be a sheep or a cow or something of the sort is a Victim'"[66]. He must be wholly consecrated to God.

The Gospel, which describes the journey of the Christian struggling to reach communion with God should be applied first of all by his servant, the priest. The ascetic life of the Church which we describe in this book should be known to the pastors of the Church. And when we say ‘known’, we do not mean that it should be known in the head through lectures or reading, but it should be their living experience. For what passes through the heart helps faithful Christians. One person offers his blood for another to be nourished. It is shared out and the people are filled.

However, in addition to his purification and repentance, sobriety and watchfulness, the priest must be filled with all the graces of the Spirit, all the virtues. The basic virtue is holy humility which, according to St. Isaac the Syrian, is the raiment of divinity, since Christ, in order to save man, "humbled himself, as the Apostle says. Besides, the Eucharist which the priest celebrates shows us this humility of Christ. Through the Eucharist we may enter into holy humility and acquire that sacrificial way of life. Therefore in celebrating the Divine Liturgy we are not simply looking for the bread and wine to be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ but seeking to acquire Christ's way of life. And this is humility. We seek to clothe ourselves in the spirit of the Eucharist, which is self-emptying.

Within this perspective St. Theognostos advises: "Humble yourself like a sheep for the slaughter, truly regarding all men as your superiors"[67]. Indeed the same Father exhorts characteristically: "Regard yourself as dust and ashes, or as refuse, or as some cur-like creature..."[68]. One should perform the priestly service "with fear and trembling", and in this way rightly divide the word of truth and work out one's salvation[69]. However, the Fathers recognize the actual reality. They are not unaware of the existence of many unworthy priests who, without having these essential qualities, dare to minister the Holy Sacrament. According to St. John Chrysostom, the priesthood, far from covering over man's passions, exposes them, makes them manifest. As fire tests metals, "so the touchstone of the ministry distinguishes men's souls. If a man is hot-tempered or conceited or boastful or anything like that, it soon uncovers all his shortcomings and lays them bare. Not only does it lay them bare, but it also makes them more tough and intractable"[70].

St. John of the Ladder says that he has seen aged priests "mocked by demons"[71].

The Fathers do not hesitate to expose the punishment of unworthy priests, those who practice this great office without the proper testing, preparation and life. This is because instead of healing the souls of the flock, they tempt them.

Isidor of Pelusium writes: "Let us not trifle with divine things"[72].

St. John Chrysostom says: "The priestly office might well accuse us of not handling it rightly"[73].

St. Theognostos addresses the incorrigible priest who does not renounce the sacred ministry: "Expect to fall into the hands of the living God and experience his wrath. God will not spare you out of compassion"[74]. He informs us that "many unworthy priests have been snatched away by sudden death and sent to the halls of judgment"[75].

He has in mind two examples of unworthy priests with differ­ent consequences. There was one who seemed outwardly honourable among men but nevertheless "within he was licentious and defiled", and so at the time of the cherubic hymn when he was reading "No one is worthy...", "he suddenly died"[76]. The other priest had fallen into the passion of unchastity. Therefore he became incurably sick and was near death. When he came to realize his unworthiness and took a vow that he would desist from celebrating the mysteries, "he recovered at once so that not even a trace of his illness remained"[77].

We have lingered on this topic though it seemed to be outside the subject of our study because we wanted particularly to emphasize that the priesthood is a pastoral service to the people. The priest and bishop have this great honour of serving the people. Serving the people is healing first and foremost. The Church does not exist simply to do social work and to serve the social needs of the people, but to guide them to salvation, that is, to the healing of their souls. This work demands many qualities. The priest must be indwelt by the uncreated grace of God. He is not there simply to perform the sacraments, but also in order to be sanctified by them so that, being sanctified, he can sanctify men by his being. This work is very high, and therefore St. John Chrysostom declares: "I do not think that there are many of the priests who are saved but many more that perish; this is because the matter requires a great soul"[78].


3. Spiritual Priesthood

 We have already said that the priest has a double task. One is to perform the sacraments and the other is to heal people so that they can worthily approach and receive Holy Communion. We have further pointed out that there are many priests who are priests outwardly and perform their function unhindered but in essence have defiled the priesthood, and that this is apparent from the fact that they are not able to heal. They perform the sacraments, and the gifts are sanctified through them, but they cannot cure others or save their own souls.

On the other hand, there are laymen and monks who do not have the sacramental priesthood but can heal people because they have spiritual priesthood. We should like to dwell briefly on this point.

Through baptism and the effort to keep Christ's commandments all Christians have put on Christ, and in this way we share the royal, prophetic and high priestly office of Christ.

This teaching is recorded in the texts of the New Testament. In the Book of Revelation John the Evangelist writes: "To him who loved us and washed us from our sins in his own blood and has made us kings and priests to his God and Father..." (Rev. 1, 5f). The Apostle Peter says: "You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, his own special people" (1 Pet. 2, 9). And the Apostle Paul writes to the Christians of Rome: "I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship" (Rom. 12, 1).

In many Fathers too we find this teaching that every person is a priest of Christ in the sense which we defined and will develop further later on. St. John Chrysostom presents Abraham too as a priest because "where there is fire, an altar and a knife, why do you doubt his priesthood?" Abraham's sacrifice was twofold. He offered both his only-begotten son and the ram, "and above all, his own will". With the blood of the ram he sanctified his right hand, with the slaying of the child (which he had decided to do) he sanctified his soul. "Thus he was ordained a priest, by the blood of his only-begotten, by the sacrifice of the lamb." Just after this, St. John Chrysostom exhorts his listeners: "So you too are made king and priest and prophet in the laver: a king, having dashed to earth all the deeds of wickedness and slain your sins, a priest in that you offer yourself to God and sacrifice your body, and are yourself being slain also"[79].

All the faithful baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity and living according to the will of the Holy Trinitarian God are priests, they have spiritual priesthood. We prefer the expression 'spiritual priesthood' to other terms like 'general' or 'lay' priesthood, because clergy and lay people alike can have this priesthood, and because not all the baptized have it, but only those who have become the dwelling place of the Holy Trinity. The faithful who have noetic prayer have spir­itual priesthood, especially those who have reached such a degree of grace as to pray for the whole world. This is the spiritual service on behalf of the world. The prayers of these people who sacrifice themselves, praying on behalf of all, sustain the world and heal men. Therefore by prayer they become exorcists, driving out the demons which rule in human societies. This is the great work of those who pray unceasingly for the whole world.

St. Gregory of Sinai wrote about this spiritual priesthood, which is also the essential foundation of the sacramental priesthood. For as we have said, those of the faithful who were healed and had noetic prayer were chosen to receive the special grace of the priesthood as well. According to St. Gregory, noetic prayer is "the mystical liturgy of the mind"[80]. A person who possesses the gift of noetic prayer senses the operation of grace within him, which is purifying, illuminating and mystical.

All who reach this state are priests. "A true sanctuary is a heart that has been freed from evil thoughts and receives the operation of the Spirit, for everything in that heart is said and done spiritually"[81].

This passage from the holy Father prompts me to say that the spiritual priesthood is that which is to be consummated in another age, in the kingdom of heaven. Without wishing to dwell on the subject of the ineffaceable or non-sacramental priesthood, we stress the truth that the sacramental priesthood is for the benefit of the laity, to serve its needs, while the spiritual priesthood is that which will continue to be celebrated at the heavenly altar in the life to come. All who have spiritual priesthood are "true clergy" "now and for ever". This priesthood can include all categories of men, and naturally also of women. Therefore it is not very important that in the Orthodox tradition women cannot receive sacramental priest­hood. They have the possibility of being the "true clergy".

Elsewhere St. Gregory of Sinai is explicit: "All devout kings and priests are truly anointed in baptismal renewal just as those of old were anointed symbolically." The priests of the Old Testament were "truly symbols of our truth", but "our kingdom and priesthood" are not "the same in character and form"[82].

When a man's nous has been discovered, when he has been freed from his captivity and received the Holy Spirit, it is "spiritual priesthood" and then he celebrates a mystical liturgy in the sanctuary of his soul and partakes of the lamb in betrothal with God. In this spiritual priesthood he eats the lamb of God in the spiritual altar of his soul, but at the same time he becomes like the lamb. Thus we understand well that when noetic prayer is working in us, there is an unceasing divine liturgy which nourishes our whole existence. St. Gregory of Sinai writes: "The noetic work of the nous is a spiritual liturgy. Like a betrothal before the coming delight which surpasses all understanding, this liturgy is performed by the nous, which mystically sacrifices the Lamb of God on the altar of the soul and partakes of it. To eat the Lamb of God on the inner altar of the soul means not only to apprehend it, or partake of it, but also to become like it in the future life. Here we enjoy the words of the mysteries, but there we hope to receive their very substance"[83].

The same saint also writes that the kingdom of heaven is like the tabernacle fashioned by God for Moses, "for in the world to come it too will have two veils". And all the "priests of grace" will enter the first tabernacle, but only those will enter the second tabernacle who are henceforth to celebrate "in the darkness of theology hierarchically in perfection" having Jesus as the first celebrant and bishop before the face of the Trinity[84].

Therefore all who have acquired the gift of theology as we explained it above, that is, all who after natural theoria have entered the divine darkness, are themselves priests of God; they constitute this true and spiritual priesthood. And since they are the spiritual priesthood, they can heal the sick.

Nicetas Stethatos teaches that if any priest, deacon, or even monk participates in divine grace with all the presup­positions set down by the Fathers, "he is a true bishop" even if he has not been ordained a bishop by men. On the contrary, anyone who is uninitiated in the spiritual life is "falsely named even if by ordination he is set over all the others in rank and mocks them and behaves arrogantly"[85].

Probably what we quoted earlier, that "all who constitute the spiritual priesthood can heal the sick", was not well re­ceived. However, the teaching of St. Symeon the New Theolo­gian on this point is very revealing.

The saint writes that the power of binding and loosing sins belonged only to the bishops, who had received it by succession from the Apostles. But when "the bishops became good for nothing, this awesome function passed to priests who led a blameless life worthy of the grace of God". When the priests too, along with the bishops, fell into spiritual error, "this function was transmitted to the chosen people of God, namely the monks, not that it was taken away from the priests and bishops, but they estranged themselves from it"[86].

According to St. Symeon, the power of binding and loosing sins was not given "simply because of their ordination". The laying on of hands only gave the metropolitans and bishops permission to celebrate the Eucharist. The power to remit sins was given "only to those of the priests and bishops and monks who could be numbered among the disciples of Christ on account of their purity"[87].

We believe that St. Symeon developed this teaching in the first place in order to emphasize that the sacrament of priesthood did not magically transmit the authority to forgive men their sins if one did not have inner spiritual priesthood, secondly, to show the wretched state of the clergy of that time, thirdly to underline the value of the spiritual priesthood, which lies in noetic prayer and vision of God  and these unfortunately, then as now, were neglected  and fourthly because he himself had personal experience of this: his spiritual father, who had not been ordained by a bishop, had the grace of the Holy Spirit and was able to forgive sins.

Nevertheless his spiritual father, Symeon the Pious, did not overlook the sacrament of ordination. St. Symeon the New Theologian writes: "I know that the grace of binding and loosing sins is given by God to those who are sons by adoption and his holy servants. I too was a disciple of such a father who had not received the laying on of hands on the part of men but who through the hand of God, that is, the Spirit, enrolled me among the disciples and ordered me to receive the laying on of hands by men according to the prescribed form 1 who for a long time had been impelled by the Spirit toward such a reality". "Having heard the commandments of Christ, he became a partaker of His grace and of His gifts and received from Him the power to bind and loose, kindled by the Holy Spirit"[88].

When we speak of remission of sins we should understand it mainly as the curing of passions. Thus we see clearly today that "gifted" monks heal us without having sacramental priesthood. Being clear-sighted, they perceive the problem which is troubling us, they give us a remedy and a method of healing, and so we are cured of what was inwardly disturbing us. The existence of such holy men is a comfort for the people.


4. The Search for Therapists

We come now to the fourth section of this chapter, which is the search for therapists. Since we have been made aware of spiritual illness and of the great value of priest-therapists, we must search for them in order to be freed from the ulcers in our souls. A really great effort is needed in order to find these true leaders of the people, the doctors of our souls and bodies, since certainly many bodily illnesses are of spiritual origin.

In his homily on the New Sunday Gospel, St. Gregory Palamas advises: let every Christian after attending church on Sunday "diligently seek" someone who, imitating the Apostles who were in the upper room after the Crucifixion, remains "completely enclosed most of the time, desiring to be with the Lord in silent prayer and psalmody as well as in other ways". Let him approach him then, let him enter his house with faith "as a heavenly place having within it the sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit". Let him sit with the man who lives there, let him remain with him as long as he can, asking "about God and the things of God", learning with humility and appealing for his prayer. Then, says the saint, "I know that Christ will come to him invisibly and grant inner peace to the pondering of his soul and increase his faith and give him support, and in time to come will enrol him in the kingdom of heaven"[89].

It is necessary to seek out such a spiritual father. On this point it is worth while to listen to what St. Symeon the New Theologian has to say. Ask God, he says, to show you a man "who is able to direct you well, one whom you ought to obey". We should show obedience to the man whom God shows us "mystically in person or outwardly through His servant", and revere him "as if he were Christ himself'[90].

We should show our dispassionate spiritual father the kind of confidence and love that a sick person shows to his doctor, expecting treatment and healing from him. Rather we should have even more confidence and love, in view of the difference between the soul and the body. Christ himself is present in the spiritual father. He is "the mouth of God".

Further on, St. Symeon matches the Apostles' attitude towards Christ to the attitude which we should have towards our spiritual father, because it is in that way that our soul can be healed. As the Apostles followed Christ, let us do so also. When people dishonour and pour scorn on our spiritual father, we must not abandon him. And as Peter took his sword and cut off the ear, "take the sword and stretch forth your hand and cut off not only the ear but the hand and the tongue of him who attempts to speak against your father or to touch him". If you deny him, weep like Peter. If you see him crucified, die with him if you can. If that is not possible, do not join with the traitors and evil men. "If he is released from imprisonment, return to him again and venerate him the more, like a martyr. If he dies from ill treatment, then boldly seek his body and pay him more honour than when you attended on him while he was alive, and so anoint it with perfumes and give it a costly burial"[91].

It is very characteristic that the spiritual father, the therapist, is put in the place of Christ.

St. Symeon also uses a type of prayer in which one asks to find a suitable spiritual guide who will offer us spiritual healing.

"O Lord, who desirest not the death of a sinner but that he should turn and live, Thou who didst come down to earth in order to restore life to those lying dead through sin and in order to make them worthy of seeing Thee the true light as far as that is possible to man, send me a man who knows Thee, so that in serving him and subjecting myself to him with all my strength, as to Thee, and in doing Thy will in his, I may please Thee the only true God, and so that even I, a sinner, may be worthy of Thy Kingdom"[92].

If a Christian prays in this way, God will show him the spiritual father suitable for him, to tend the illnesses and wounds of his soul.

Certainly one should not overlook the fact that such ther­apists, both in St. Symeon's time and today, are rare. He says: "In truth those who have the skill properly to direct and heal rational souls are rare, and especially so at the present time"[93].

In conclusion it should be said that it is necessary to seek out and find such scientific doctors, therapists, or even nurses, in order to be spiritually healed. There is no other way of healing. God is our true Healer, but so are the friends of Christ, the saints in whom dwells the Trinitarian God Himself. 


[1]Ladder. Step 1. CWS p. 75

[2] SC 129, 174

[3] SC 129,140

[4] SC 129,140142

[5]SC 174, 8692. Hymn 18. pp. 82 and 84

[6] SC 129,116118

[7] Or. 2, 71. NPNFns, vol. 7, p. 219

[8] On the Priesthood III, 7, p. 77

[9] Ibid. II, 4, p. 60

[10] Ibid. Ill, 15, p. 91

[11]Ibid. Ill, 4, p. 70

[12] St. Theognostos. Philok. 2, p. 376, 72

[13] Ibid. 71

[14] Isidor of Pelusium, in Nikodemos, Commentary on the Epistles, vol. 1, p. 227, note 2. In Gk

[15]Trempelas, Dogmatics vol. 3, p. 293. In Gk.

[16] Romanides: RR, p. 27f. In Gk

[17] Horn. 14 on Acts. LF vol. 33, p. 198

[18] Horn. 15 on Acts. Ibid. p. 207

[19] Ibid.

[20] St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain. Commentary on the Epistles, vol. 3, p. 95. In Gk

[21] Ibid. p. 118 note 1

[22] SC 196, 294296

[23] Philok. 2, p. 257,14

[24] Or. 2, 9799. NPNFns, vol. 7, p. 224

[25] Chrysostom, On the Priesthood ch. 4, 1, p. 108

[26] Homily 2 on 2Tim. NPNF vol. 13, p. 481, 3

[27]Gnostic chapters, ch. 4144. Gk. Philok. 3, p. 335337

[28] Rantosavlievits: The mystery of salvation according to Maximus the Confessor, p. 165. In Gk

[29] Ibid. p. 171172. cf. Philok. 2, p. 133,84

[30] Philok. 2, p. 68, 21

[31] Handbook of Council (in Greek) p. 154, note 1

[32] Ecclesiastical Hierarchy, ch. 5, parts 67. CWS p. 237f

[33] Ibid. ch. 2. CWS p. 202203

[34] Ibid. ch. 5. CWS p. 236237

[35] Ibid. p. 238

[36] Ibid. p. 235

[37] Ibid. p. 239243

[38] Ibid. p. 241

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid. p. 236

[41] Ibid. ch. 1. CWS p. 196

[42] Ibid. p. 197198

[43] Ibid. ch. 2. CWS p. 207

[44] Ibid. ch. 5. CWS p. 236

[45] Hymn 19. SC 174, 98100

[46] St. Theognostos. Philok. 2, p. 370, 51

[47] Ibid. p. 37152

[48] Romanides: RR vol. 1, p. 2829. In Gk

[49] "Orthodox Witness" Sept. Dec. 1985. p. 12. In Gk

[50] Handbook of Council (in Gk.) p. 15

[51]Ibid. p. 112113 note 1

[52]Romanides. RR, p. 2931. In Gk

[53] Philok. 2. p. 362,18

[54] Ibid. p. 372, 56

[55] Ibid. p. 370, 50

[56] Ibid. p. 373, 60

[57] On the Priesthood. Ill, 12, p. 82

[58] Ibid. 14, p. 86

[59] Horn. 1 on 2 Tim, 1. NPNF vol. 13, p. 477, 2

[60] Philok. 2, p. 370, 49

[61] On the Priesthood. Ill, 4, p. 70

[62] Ibid. VI, 1, p. 137

[63] Theognostos. Philok. 2, p. 3623,18

[64] Ibid. p. 362,17

[65] Ibid. p. 361,13

[66] SC 92, p. 476, 175

[67] Philok. 2, p. 376, 70

[68] Ibid. p. 362,16

[69] Ibid. p. 371, 53

[70] On the Priesthood VI, 8 p. 147

[71] Ladder. Step 14. CWS p. 166

[72] Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain. Commentary on the Epistles. Vol. 3, p. 112, note 1. In Gk

[73] On the Priesthood. Ill, 9 p. 78

[74] Philok. 2 p. 371, 54

[75] Ibid. p. 363, 20

[76] Ibid. p. 363, 21                                  

[77] Ibid. p. 372, 55

[78] Horn. 3 on Acts. LF vol. 33 p. 48, 4

[79] Horn, on 2Cor. LF vol 27 5051

[80] Acrostics, 111. Writings from the Philokalia. p. 61

[81] Ibid. p. 38, 7

[82] Ibid. p. 72,133

[83] Ibid. p. 6061,112

[84] Acrostics, 43

[85] Mantzarides. Palamika. p. 279280. In Gk

[86] Krivocheine: In the Light of Christ, p. 134f

[87] Ibid. p. 136

[88]Ibid. p. 137

[89] Palamas. Horn. 17, 22. EPE vol. 9, p. 512514. In Gk

[90] SC 104, p. 334. CWS p. 232

[91] Ibid. p. 340342. CWS p. 235

[92] SC 129, p. 186188

[93] SC 104, 346. CWS p. 236


Article published in English on: 22-12-2008.

Last update: 22-12-2008.