Mental health and relationship to God
Posted 27 November 2005 - 06:54 PM
I think the article was mixing the concept of a Fool for Christ with that of a "holy innocent" (i.e. somebody who is without sin and therefore holy?). The article with the link is reproduced below - if anybody could correct in German on wikipedia, it would be appreciated.
The article did raised some questions in my mind, which I would like to ask:
What is the attitude of the Orthodox Church towards people who have mental problems/defects from birth or early childhood (as opposed to people whose mental problems are a result of their passions)? For example, what if a child is autistic and cannot interact with the world as we do? What if the child can never develop mentally to be able to speak, communicate, pray, etc. but causes harm to others because it does not understand what it is doing?
Could one say that such children and adults are without sin and in that sense also "holy"? Should one should rejoice having such a child, for the child itself, although it may suffer in this world, can be saved because of its utter faultlessnes; and does this person not also present an avenue towards redemption by being a "burden" to those around?
Are there any particular Orthodox saints who are known to help in case of mental illness? Are there any Orthodox support groups, books, etc. around this subject matter?
Your thoughts would be appreciated.
The original text from http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autismus:
Es gab zu verschiedenen Zeiten unterschiedliche Vorstellungen über die Entstehung von Autismus. Im zaristischen Russland etwa glaubte man, dass autistische Kinder als besonders religiöse Menschen zur Welt gekommen seien und dass diese sich freiwillig für ein Leben jenseits aller Konventionen entschieden hätten. Aus überlieferten Berichten weiß man, dass Autisten in Lumpen durch den russischen Winter liefen, ohne sich vor der Kälte zu schützen. Sie sprachen selten, ihr Verhalten erschien merkwürdig und sie missachteten Gesetz, Ordnung und soziale Regeln. Man nannte sie deshalb „heilige Narren“ und glaubte, dass in ihrem Verhalten göttliche Botschaften verschlüsselt seien. (Lit.: Frith 1992, S. 49-51)
Posted 28 November 2005 - 01:00 AM
I'm tending to lean more to the fact that it's spiritual - much like the man whom Jesus met - "Legion" - the one who had many demons, and Jesus cast the demons out and sent them to the pigs. I mean people who have schizophrenia, have multiple personalities, so in essence could be called "Legion" too, if you know what I'm getting at.
Sorry this isn't worded very well, but I didn't know how to quite express what I'm thinking. Anyway, I wonder what the church thinks too about such things.
Posted 28 November 2005 - 07:20 AM
The description of "autists" in tzarist Russia sounds a little more like a description of schizophrenic behaviour than autism as such. Having said that, in the 19th century it was thought that childhood autism was a form of early schizophrenia. Psychiatric categories of mental health do change, and are for the most part primarily diagnostic tools rather than definite disease entities. Your question about what constitutes holy folly (and what mental illness) is a fascinating and important one. It seems to me that here the collaboration of a mental health expert and a theologian is necessary in order to offer some sort of satisfactory reply. To what extent, for example, is virtue virtuous if it is not born of conscious struggle? And to what extent are people with severe mental disability not culpable before God? These are truly important questions, but the answers are obviously not simple, and probably need to be looked at on a case-by-case basis.
One famous Orthodox book which addresses mental health somewhat is "Orthodox Psychotherapy" by Hierotheos Vlachos, although I find it to be more a way of presenting Orthodox teaching, rather than a work of genuine integration across disciplines. There is an interesting website on Orthodox Psychotherapy from another perspective here. Again, this is a field that in my own humble opinion needs more work and further refinement, but holds a lot of promise.
Posted 28 November 2005 - 05:47 PM
I am wondering how depression and post traumatic stress disorder fit into this thread of mental health and relationship to God. Does anyone have any favorite resources in this area to share? I can share mine if anyone is interested. Has anyone given this any thought?
Posted 29 November 2005 - 07:22 AM
I don't know if anything much has been written about depression or PTSD as mental health disorders and relationship to God from an Orthodox perspective. I am aware of two books, one called "Depression" by an Orthodox cleric from Light&Life books, and another with the same or a very similar title from St Herman of Alaska press. The St Herman of Alaska book is a small treasure, filled with sayings from the Fathers which relate to depression; I haven't read the other book.
Surely depression though, ultimately relates directly to the "thought" called accediae (Grk akidia) or dejection, and is also perhaps the "ungodly sorrow" spoken of by St Paul. PTSD may be harder to understand from a Christian perspective, but as far as I know there are warnings in the Fathers also against the unproductive remembrance of past sins.
This is just by way of starting a conversation on the two interesting topics you raise; I hope to hear from others who may be able to say more...
Posted 29 November 2005 - 02:55 PM
Do you know Greek? Thank you for giving me the Greek word. I think you are right on the money on your analysis of dejection. Why I was reading that in the Philokalia last night, about dejection! And I also have that book by friends at the Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood.
About PTSD again I think you are right.
But in both instances I want to caution you in laying the blame on the sinner. Often when a person is victimized say by child abuse and or domestic violence, they develop depression and post traumatic stress disorder as a result. They were victimized. They are not at fault. So to put the blame on the sinner is counter productive and makes the condition worse.
I think I am more trying to understand from a patristic perspective how these conditions are formed in the human mind.
Posted 30 November 2005 - 06:56 AM
I do speak Greek! I am half-Greek Cypriot, and live in Cyprus. What's your background?
Alas, once again I fear you have misunderstood me; I am by no means "laying blame on the sinner" either in domestic violence or child abuse or PTSD. I know very well that the last thing people who have been victimised need is victim-blaming. And I don't think a person who has been unfortunate enough to have been victimised in these ways is a "sinner" anyway...
However, this brings to light a general question I have that goes out to the whole forum, especially theologians and clergy: in the field of mental health, the line between 'victim' and 'perpetrator' is often drawn very sharply, for obvious practical reasons and to avoid precisely the danger of victim-blaming. However, this interpretation of things can set up an unhealthy black-and-white mentality in patients, who as a result come to view themselves as having no responsibility at all in their predicament. In doing so, they might come to think of themselves as pure victims, and identify with the victim-role so much that they then continue to enact this scenario in their lives, repeatedly entering an abusive pattern of self-destruction with a complicit other.
My question is: how does another's sin affect us? More specifically, I have heard that one of the canons of the Church states that if a boy has been molested, he is unclean for a period and shouldn't have Holy Communion for that time. This MAY BE HEARSAY - I can't remember where I heard it, or who I heard it from. However, it does raise the question of how the sin of another may pollute us.
Obviously, in the case of a mental illness like depression or PTSD, both of which can indeed be the result of abuse, the sin is clearer: it is the sin of responding to another's sin (the abuse) in a sinful way (e.g. by despairing, or by fear). Of course once again issues of conscious / unconscious response enter the picture, since depression and PTSD are not conscious choices. However, in Orthodoxy I know that we ask pardon for sins we have committed "knowingly or unknowingly" precisely because we recognise that sin is not only what we consciously commit. In a previous thread Fr Raphael I think brought up the excellent yet tragic example of a priest, who by killing a person in a car accident is also then barred from the sacraments for a very long period if not indefinitely. It seems to me that "sin" is not just what evil we knowingly commit with our conscious consent, but also the various ways in which we dare to harm or upset the glorious world God has placed in our care; and of course harming another person ranks up there with the very worst.
So is there a "polluting effect" of being in a sinful situation, even as the victim? Or is it perhaps that we are not only called to repent for our own sins, but also for the sins of others? I remember how impressed I felt by the holiness of Fr Paisius of the Holy Mountain, when I read that he took upon himself all sin, everybody's; and considered it his personal fault that there was anyone committing sin in the world. Of course I'm talking here about conditions of sanctity far beyond anything I, as an unrepentant sinner, could even remotely begin to imagine. But for the sake of theoretical knowledge at least, can someone throw some light on these issues from their own perspective?
Posted 30 November 2005 - 08:38 AM
Posted 30 November 2005 - 03:06 PM
PEACE of Christ!
Human beings are human beings becoming persons, I believe, and suppose that you believe the same not only as a priest, but also as a psychologist! We all have wounds in need of healing!
It surprised me that you would state your opening sentence as such in post # 38: <font color="ff0000"> "I never expected to see the legalistic nuances (I would expect from the Latin Church) on an Orthodox web site"</font><font color="000000"> What do you think that Jesus Christ expected to find here on earth when he was born? Why do you think that He cried over Jerusalem?
I find that your remark, forgive me for pointing it out, just continues the "FINGER POINTING" that is often on this web site .. that is "finger pointing at the Latin Church!" If we are to "live in this world as not being of it", "passing among them unseen", as Jesus says and demonstrates in the Gospel, what are we to do, as Orthodox Christians who are learning our Faith, even though we have received it to the fullest?
As St. Silouane states (paraphrase) "Keep our mind in hell and despair not!" We are all sinful beings on this earth, Orthodox as well as non-Orthodox, and this as a result of the "FALL" and that has nothing to do with what is called the Latin Church, nor the Orthodox Church, but with the fateful event that happened in the beginning, at the "FALL"; and, we all inherit it's effects and the suffering that this "FALL" entails.
Thank God that in His Loving-mercy, He sent His Son Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh into our midst. He is very, very present even while we humans try "to sift out the chaff from the wheat" in our lives, especially during these "modern times" when there seems to be more "chaff than wheat" at the harvest.
Life is a growing process for each of us; and that according to where each of us is coming from! Compassion and Mercy are so very needed today, during this time of "darkness and turmoil" around us. And, as you so well know, Father, we all need to look to a re-newed coming of Christ in our midst, don't we?</font>
Respectfully in Christ Jesus,
Posted 30 November 2005 - 07:00 PM
To be a passive recipient is simply to acknowledge the fallenness of mankind and to grieve over it and if one were the recipient of sin (abuse) to grieve over it as one would grieve over any sin any of our brothers or sisters in Christ would grieve over the sin of another.
This I also believe strongly is a good benchmark of where we are at spiritually in terms of any real or perceived wrong in regards to another. The Lord we should firmly remember commands us to forgive and love those who have offended us. This is so central to our Christian life that it is rightly said without this effort we do not even have a real Christian life. In fact it is through this that we gradually enter the New Life Christ bids us to and which the world does not know.
Of course all of this gathering the fruit of forgiveness takes much time and effort. At the beginning we need to focus on fighting angry thoughts & feelings. This struggle is terribly difficult because the thoughts & feelings cry out for their measure of satisfaction. Only as we find our peace in Christ will these thoughts and feelings subside & then we begin to see what the life of mercy is which Christ has called us to. But without a doubt before we experience our resurrection in this regard we must first take up our cross.
Of course 'abuse' as specific acts of violence towards others is a fact that must be taken into account. Just as we are not called to be in a destructive situation beyond our capability and call this martyrdom so there are situations we must withdraw & protect ourselves from.
Between unheard of levels of depravity in human relationships & new categories to express this we are just learning. However from within Orthodoxy there is increasing concern about the use of the categorisation of 'abuser-victim'. I don't know that there is a final verdict yet but the unease seems to arise over how this category appears to be based on an idea of suffering which is not Christian or is even anti-Christian. We begin to think that the 'victim' as it is defined in this way will never come to the attitude Fr George describes above, "and if one were the recipient of sin (abuse) to grieve over it as one would grieve over any sin any of our brothers or sisters in Christ would grieve over the sin of another."
In Christ- Fr Raphael
Posted 01 December 2005 - 05:00 AM
Posted 01 December 2005 - 06:54 AM
Greetings! You write:
So instead of a legalistic approach of legislating the degree of culpability as would Western courts, Insurance Companies or Canon lawyers, we simply have to look at and cleanse our hearts.
I entirely agree that "cleansing our hearts" is what we have to do, both from a psychological and (though I'm less qualified to speak about it) from a spiritual point of view. I'm sorry, however, if I gave the impression I was trying to legislate or determine degrees of culpability as one might in a courtroom. My question was really a much broader one, about the nature of sin, and whether it may be considered "infectious" in some way.
You then write:
It is de facto obvious that someone who is a victim has a different “heart” or ‘nous’ then the perpetrator of some abuse.
Is this so? Can you say a bit more about what you mean here - it genuinely sounds interesting. What about the fact that a large percentage of abusers have themselves been victims of abuse, and the fact that a lot of victims go on to abuse others in various ways?
Perhaps, Fr George, you are saying much the same thing that Fr Raphael later clarifies when he writes:
However from within Orthodoxy there is increasing concern about the use of the categorisation of 'abuser-victim'. I don't know that there is a final verdict yet but the unease seems to arise over how this category appears to be based on an idea of suffering which is not Christian or is even anti-Christian.
I for one am glad to hear there is concern about this in Orthodoxy, as it would for one thing raise the sort of dialogue that one encounters between Christians and non-Christian mental health experts to a different level (mostly here in Cyprus I encounter negative stereotyping on either "side"). One of the things about Christianity which is so difficult for myself as a beginner to remember, yet so wonderful at the same time, is that it not only requests we do not seek vengeance, but it asks us to forgive those who wrong us, and more - to love them! The sort of spiritual detachment required of the peron who weeps over their abusers' sin as though he/she were weeping for the sins of the world, is truly "not of this world". As a psychologist, I find it hard to imagine such tears not containing a large dose of resentment and pride, but as a Christian I must believe it is possible. Thank you Fr George and Fr Raphael, for reminding me once again of this simple and great Christian truth.
Posted 01 December 2005 - 02:49 PM
Posted 01 December 2005 - 03:02 PM
Posted 01 December 2005 - 03:15 PM
However anger is a spiritual (and psychological) cancer. Healing cannot take place until in the depth of the victim's heart they can truly say "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." Is this easy? No! But hate kills (spiritually and psychologically) all around us. No one has ever embarked on spiritual and psychological healing until they reach the point of working on "forgiveness" ----while still recognizing the "horror" of whatever abuse they received. Once again I want to say that this cannot be done (in my judgement) without Christ
This I think is extremely important and that healing comes gradually and in stages. As Fr George says at the beginning we have our own pain and anger before us to deal with. We must struggle with this for a long time before this subsides and only in Christ can we accomplish this. But even recognising that such thoughts and feelings are our enemies and then wrong- ie sinful- even this first step in fighting the turmoil inside is often very tough.
Only after this fiery path has been travelled will real healing begin- then the path opens up to compassion and forgiveness. Not that we automatically can be in the company of those we have suffered from- each case is different & there are those we can never approach again- but forgiveness can often work in a more indirect fashion.
In any case as Fr George said none of this can be accomplished outside of Christ. For our work at the end of the day always has an element of taking up our cross and humbling oneself.
This I think is a crucial difference between an Orthodox & 'abuser-victim' perspective.
In Christ- Fr Raphael
Posted 01 December 2005 - 03:56 PM
I am sincerely moved by what you've written. Thank you for highlighting with such clarity and grace the process of forgiveness in Christ - you have even drawn my attention to the special gift there may be in transcending our experiences with His help.
I'm sure I will be reading your post and responding to it again.
Posted 02 December 2005 - 10:58 AM
God granted me to know Fr. Paisios of the Holy Mountain. He lived just up the hill from me, and I often visited him. His spiritual state and utterances on this matter are pure Orthodox wisdom.
I am a disciple of Father Sophrony (Sakharov) and hopefully a spiritual grandson of Saint Silouan of the Holy Mountain. Even, hopefully, some sort of disciple of Father Sophrony, to qualify the matter.
Saint Silouan and Father Paisios speak from the Holy Spirit on this subject.
However, it is absolutely imperative to be clear when discussing the 'fall.'
Yes, certainly, I live under the conditions of the fall and struggle with that dialectic daily.
But the historical time of Christ and the words He spoke and the present historical decisions of the Roman Catholic Church are not the same. Nor can the Orthodox Christian Church, in whichever manner we stumble along, disagree with the statement of Father George regarding the legalistic nuances of the Latin Church. It is not finger-pointing. It is a sad reality.
Saint Silouan, as Father Paisios wept continuously for all people of the earth. But from Father Sophrony I can say without the slightest doubt that Saint Silouan held the view that regarding other confessions one begins by pointing out the good and then gently the absence.
Father Paisios and Saint Silouan and hosts of others were granted tears for the people of the earth, that they come to know that Jesus Christ is God.
Any deviation in the understanding of the Holy Trinity will invariably affect one's spiritual struggle and life.
It is the understanding of the Orthodox Church that the Roman Catholic Church has deviated. This is one reason, that is, Trinitarian Theology, why we have not been officially in communion since 1054.
But this is getting away from ChristopherK's concern. I have also worked with persons who labour under great mental difficulty. Father Paisios supplies the answer. But to find that asks what Our Lord Himself asked in Luke xiv:26.
To quote from Father Sophrony: 'The Staretz' message is gentle, often affectionate one, healing the soul, but to heed it requires great and ardent resolution - to the point of self-hatred (cf. Luke xiv:26) - quotation from 'Saint Silouan the Athonite, by Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov) pgs. 267-8.
Posted 02 December 2005 - 12:10 PM
Fr Bless! You wrote:
I have also worked with persons who labour under great mental difficulty. Father Paisios supplies the answer. But to find that asks what Our Lord Himself asked in Luke xiv:26. To quote from Father Sophrony: 'The Staretz' message is gentle, often affectionate one, healing the soul, but to heed it requires great and ardent resolution - to the point of self-hatred (cf. Luke xiv:26)
Could you say a bit more? Are you connecting Luke 14:26 with Fr Paisios' teaching regarding taking upon himself all sin? How does this relate to working with people with mental illness?
Posted 02 December 2005 - 02:59 PM
I find this whole thread *highly* disturbing. My post yesterday got rejected, I discussed with Dr. Steenberg, I am going to try again.
Ok, let's take someone who is suffering from depression or post traumatic stress disorder. They have already broken. They do not have the strength to drive all blames into one self, as the Buddhists do, or practice self-accusation as the Orthodox do. Note Buddhists and Orthodox do the same thing, but that is another topic. At any rate, for somebody who has been given something *more* than they can handle, they break down. They need. Professional help. They need to place responsiblity where responsiblity lies.
For example, for sexually active *children* the responsiblity lies with the adults. Period. End of story. In fact the person suffering from the results of childhood sexual activity *will not* get well until they place responsiblity where responsibility lies, with the adults.
Another thing, still using the example of childhood sexuality activity. This causes children to feel powerless, especially if they were taken advantage of by another person. Often times a person carries this feeling of powerlessness into their adult life and it colors *all* their relationships. Unless this adult recognizes that they were in fact *powerless* as children, they will not get well.
I am dismayed at how ignorant the church seems to be in dealing with the effect of childhood maltreatment. *Quite disturbed*. There is not a thing that one of you has said that resonates me in regards to this.
Posted 02 December 2005 - 05:29 PM
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