Dept. of Chaplain and Pastoral Counseling News
In mid-September 2011, various news outlets reported a ban on relatives and friends of wounded service personnel bringing bibles and other religious reading materials into Water Reed military hospital. The offensive statement reads: “No religious items (i.e. Bibles, reading material, and/or artifacts) are allowed to be given away or used during a visit.” [i] Due to an outcry from various religious groups, this egregious policy was rescinded by December 2011. Thank God for that! But the fact that such a policy was even thought of, let alone promulgated, is an affront to God and Country.
Religious freedom is guaranteed and protected by the Constitution of the United States itself. The first amendment of the Constitution reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." The operative term in the amendment regarding religion is making no law "prohibiting the free exercise thereof." In thinking up and initiating the now rescinded hospital policy, someone took it upon themselves to unilaterally interpret the words of the Constitution to impose on all 'freedom from religion' - which actually amounts to a prohibition of religion. An affront to our country and its religious tradition.
My January Chaplain's Corner article last year called New Year resolutions a “useless waste of mental and spiritual energy." More than ever, I want to make the same point. However, I want to substitute a more functional alternative: making a commitment. The word ‘commitment’ brings up notions such as a ‘binding’ course of action, allegiance, dedication and loyalty. What better way to start the new year than by re-committing ourselves to respecting the personhood of others by overcoming any ways we have slipped into unthinking habits of rudeness. The word respect derives from the Latin word rēspicere, which means, “to look back, pay attention to.” In this case, to pay attention in a Godly way to the person with whom you are interacting.
The highest value of what it means to be a person is told to us in Sacred Scripture in the Book of Genesis (1: 26), a book that is sacred to Christians, Hebrews and Moslems alike. We read, "Then God said, "Let us make man according to our image and according to our likeness."" The person, therefore, is an icon of God, a consequence of His creative act in making us a finite mirror of His Divinity. Our Eastern Church Fathers would consider the meaning of personhood to be in our relationship with both God and mankind. To make this practical, the more we become committed to respecting others, to really paying attention to them as persons, the more we become like God.
One of the benefits of the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is that this could be the most “wonderful time of the year." Well, it could be, that is, if we were to adopt a Godly attitude and acquire a Godly spirit that would enliven the season, and hopefully that would last the whole year. This would mean re-orienting ourselves from self-centeredness, consumerism and celebration and instead placing our focus outside of ourselves: that is to say, toward God and the welfare of others.
The spiritual traditions of our country give ample witness to the ability do this. In previous columns I have called Thanksgiving our only real national “holyday;" a day on which we can give thanks to God for all the blessings we have received and share the food gifts we have been given with others, be they family, friends and or acquaintances. For Jewish people, the Hanukkah-Festival of Lights occurs within this season. It is celebrated, not in a raucous merriment, but with a Godly joy. For devout Jews, Hanukkah is both a family and communal affair in which God is thanked for His “mighty deeds and saving acts.” Among Black African-Americans Kwanzaa has been celebrated in recent years. Among its principles are unity, cooperation and dedication, and it can be observed along with Christmas.
As we go on in life unfortunate things happen to us. Psychologist Albert Ellis (1962) described our reaction to such events this way: "we think. . . it is awful and catastrophic when things are not the way one would very much like them to be." Frequently individuals blame themselves for these damaging setbacks and outcomes of life and they become bitter in the process. When untoward events occur, when individuals have done something that has produced an adverse effect, we should first determine if the circumstance can or cannot be changed. If it can be changed, then we can strive to improve, change or eradicate it. If it cannot be changed ,one should, in Ellis's terms, "philosophically accept or resign himself to their existence." Individuals suffering from bitterness could also focus on aspirations and goals that are attainable, and that would provide greater chance of success.
The display of anger is so common that it frequently goes unnoticed. Rather, it has become the expected response to any slight, no matter how trivial or harsh, given to someone by someone else in society. Some "getting back at" or "vengeance" is the norm. No one is exempt, parents, coaches, athletes, referees, police officers, teachers or those acquitted of a criminal offense. Interestingly, a recent news report noted that displaying anger at subordinates, especially combined with the use of scatological words, has also become the required norm to be an effective leader. [http://www.blogging4jobs.com/business/swearing-makes-you-a-better-leader/]
Psychologically, anger occurs because we perceive ourselves to be "intruded on" to the extent that it justifies aggression, vengeance, and retaliation. To display this level of anger we have to have to see ourselves as very 'important.' St. Basil tells us "Anger nurses a grievance. The soul, itching for vengeance, constantly tempts us to repay those who have offended" [St Basil the Great, Homily 10]. I am so important, so above others that I have the "right" to act uncharitably toward others. Note that I am making an important distinction between annoyance, which in fact could motivate a useful adaptive response such as being more focused or trying harder, with real anger.
There may be some who would perceive angry individuals as effective leaders, but, in general, psychologists have found damaging boomerang effects for anger displays: relationships are fermented, people will tend to retaliate; it cognitively distracts from solving problems, and even if what I am angry about has some truth to it, my over-reaction lessens my credibility.
Years ago there was a song, first broadcast and published in 1956 and subsequently republished by different artists right up to the present time. The song title was: "Que Sera, Sera." The second stanza gives the message of the songwriter:
"Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be.
The future's not ours to see,
Que Sera, Sera,
What will be, will be."
Unfortunately, the message underlying this song is not at all consistent with the spiritual message underlying the teachings of Christ. Nor with many of the other world religions.
Blessed Augustine writes: “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” **i** Some see a hypocritical contradiction in the adage. If we really had trust in God, we would sit back and let God do all. Conversely, if we see ourselves as masters of our own ships, so to speak, we would just do all we can and attribute any accomplishment to our own efforts. However, mankind does not work in either/or dimensions. Some years ago, psychologist Hannah Levenson (1981) found our actions are simultaneously influenced by what she termed "multidimensional factors:" a generalized expectancy to perceive outcomes dependent on one's own behavior, along with the influence of chance, fate and powerful others [God-my emphasis].
A news-media organization recently reported that a man labeling himself as a Christian said that praying for Osama bin Laden, after his death, was "unconscionable" and "sacrilegious." The account goes on to quote him as saying: “Let’s pray for our soldiers that are over there, not for somebody that caused our soldiers to go over there.” (http://www.christianpost....). Actually, according to Christian teaching, our soldiers should be prayed for. But what is actually unconscionable and sacrilegious is not praying for such as Osama bin Laden. It is easy to pray for those we love; it is so much harder to pray for those who have done us wrong.
St. Matthew (5:44) records the words of Jesus: "But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. . . ." While on the cross and looking down on those who crucified Him, Jesus said: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." (Lk 23: 34). Thus , not praying for our enemy - yes, this includes Osama bin Laden - clearly contravenes Christ's words. While Christianity certainly emphasizes prayer for enemies, such prayer is not unknown in other traditions, for example, in Hebrew teaching. One Jewish scholar commenting on halachah (Torah law) says "one should not pray for others to be punished, rather we should pray that they repent and do teshuvah." (http://www.chabad.org/lib... by Yehuda Shurpin)
Many people hold the common belief held that life should not include hardship and suffering and that events that occur, and the way people act should be the way we want them to be. Psychologists have picked up on this attitude system as a major source of emotional disorders. Karen Horney (1950) called it the “tyranny of the shoulds.” Albert Ellis (1962), talked about - demanding expectations - that people and events should always follow our preconceived ideas. Psychologists have attempted to find the meaning of illness, suffering, and death. Just the titles of some books by one well-known psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, illustrate such attempts: Man's Search for Meaning (1959); The Will to Meaning (1969); The Unheard Cry for Meaning (1978).
Different religious traditions have attempted to understand suffering. Hindu tradition considers suffering a consequence of inappropriate living. Buddhism considers suffering a form of craving, not dissimilar to the shoulds and demanding expectations discussed by Horney and Ellis. Buddha teaches: "No sufferings befall the man who is not attached to name and form, and who calls nothing his own." (Dhammapada 17: 221). The Koran, in Islamic tradition, points out: "If ye are suffering hardships ... but ye have Hope from God, while they have none. And God is full of knowledge and wisdom. [4:104]. In Judeo-Christian Sacred Scripture, the Book of Job presents the quintessential spiritual perception. From a human perspective, although Job's sufferings are unjust and inexplicable, nevertheless, he retains his commitment and trust in God.
I wonder how many in our country, as well as around the world, make the connection between one of the seven capital passions or sins, greed, also known as avarice, and many of the economic and social problems we see around us? As I mentioned in last month's column, there is a vice that precedes and nourishes greed. Spiritually, it is called pride; psychologically, it may be identified as narcissism, which is inordinate self-love. One of the first and major effects of pride is greed, or avarice. Some may consider themselves so important that they can entertain an unreasonable and unfair desire to acquire or possess more money or material goods than they need. Unfortunately, the consequences of such an attitude can be devastating to those around them.
In March of this year, a popular Sunday evening news program profiled the economic state of families in which the former breadwinner was unemployed. Many had had their homes foreclosed despite great motivation and desire on the part of the breadwinner to work, but who now had no prospect of finding gainful employment. The real tragedy was brought home by scenes of a school bus dropping off children at a sleazy motel wherein whole families slept in one room. One would have to have almost frozen blood in their veins not to weep for the children of these unfortunate families who desperately want just a chance to provide and care for themselves.
There is no doubt that most readers have heard the aphorism: 'money is the root of all evils.’ This apothegm is actually a popularization of St. Paul's instruction to St. Timothy (1Tim 6: 10): “For the love of money is a root of all of evils. . . .” Of course, there is much wisdom in this teaching. However, we must consider that there is a vice that precedes and nourishes this 'root' of money, and all the other vices as well. St. Hesychios the Priest writes: ". . . the crown of all these, pride." (Philokalia I). St. John Cassian (Philokalia I) suggests the reason. He says “. . . it acts like some harsh tyrant who has gained control of a great city . . . . as a result regard[s] himself as equal to God." Such people, says the prophet Isaiah (14: 14), say to themselves "I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High."
There is agreement among world religions on the deleterious nature of pride. The Hindu scripture states: "Those who know truly are free from pride and deceit (Bhagavad-Gita 13:7)." In the Koran it is written (Surah 96: 6-8): "Nay, but man doth transgress all bounds, In that he looketh upon himself as self-sufficient. Verily, to thy Lord is the return (of all)." In the Buddhist tradition we read: "Free from . . . overbearing pride, principled, trained, a 'last-body': he's what I call a Brahmin [the elite]. (Dhammapada, 26).”
A common human experience is that when one is absorbed in work or activity that one deems worthwhile, time seems to fly; one is often so deep in concentrated focus as to 'forget about self;' the opposite of this is the experience of listlessness. On a purely human level we could consider the words of Hindu teacher Gandhi regarding such absorbing work: ".. . finding satisfaction in work is our best hope for happiness in life."i However, there is a higher matter to be considered, a Divine element to 'worthy work.' King David links the work we do to our purpose in life: "The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; thy steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of thy hands." (Ps 137: 8). So, what is ultimately meaningful will be that which we do that carries out our purpose in life; and at the same time it will be a Godly act. In his Epistle to the Corinthians (1Cor 3: 9,13-14) St. Paul tells us: "For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building … each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward."
The title of this Chaplain's Corner is a verse from one of the last prayers said during the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (the Mass) in the Eastern Church. Many will recognize it is an almost verbatim quote from St. James’ Epistle (1:17). Among these “good and perfect” gifts is heroism. This brings up the issue of who is a true hero. Few in the United States, as well as the wider world, are not aware of the shooting which took place at the School Board Meeting in Panama City, Florida on 14 December, 2010. While not as dramatic as the crash water landing of a disabled A320 Airbus in the Hudson River,i nevertheless the actions by some that day were heroic in their own way. A reportedly mentally ill individual, whose wife had been fired from her position as a teacher, entered the school board meeting room with a loaded gun, and painted a large letter V on the wall (for Vengeance). He then let the female school board members go and started shooting at the male members.
The board Superintendent, Bill Husfelt, called out to the shooter and said “Take me.” [The firing] had been his decision, and he had had to sign the termination papers. He even started to rise from behind the Board desk to make himself a target, hoping the others would be let go. At one point, one of the female board members re-entered the room and tried to hit the shooter from behind with her over-size pocketbook. In the meantime, a retired police officer and Chief of Security for the School District, Mike Jones, entered the meeting room, crouched below the rear spectator seats, but still in the line of fire, and, in order to try to save the life of the school board members still in the room, opened fire on the perpetrator, hitting him several times.
The Eastern Church considers "passions" as dispositions to sin. In the Western Church they commonly number seven and are called the deadly sins. One of these passions, envy, is many times hidden or concealed behind a facade of false joy for the good others have come upon, but at the same time there is great inner pain and resentment in the hearts of the envious towards those they begrudge. Envy is actually the last listed of the10 Commandments, but near first on the list of its evil consequences. "You shall not covet your neighbor's house; you shall not covet your neighbor's wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor's." (Ex 20: 17). The writer of the Wisdom of Solomon tells us of the primal importance of envy. It led to the first ancestral temptation, sin and its consequences: ". . . but through the devil's envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his party experience it." (WSol 2:24).
The Western Church Father Blessed Augustine described envy as a "diabolical sin."[i] Our Eastern Church Father St. John Chrysostom considered that "envy arms us against one another. . . . "[ii] St. Gregory the Great tells us that envy engenders conflict: "From envy are born hatred, detraction, calumny, joy caused by the misfortune of a neighbor, and displeasure caused by his prosperity."[iii] Envy is a refusal of charity, which is to say, of love, and is itself is rooted in pride. The pious followers of Islam see envy as an evil and will seek out Allah to be protected ". . . from the evils of the envious when they envy." (Sura 113:5).
It is no secret that God and religion are being marginalized, that is to say considered irrelevant in modern secular society. Many work hard to remove all reference to God in our culture and nation. Consider Christmas, although a legal holiday by Act of Congress (signed 1870, June 28, by President Ulysses S. Grant) the religious significance is being systematically eradicated. For example, the secular “language police” have made sure a Christmas Tree is now a Holiday Bush and the proper greeting is no longer “Merry Christmas!” but “Happy Holidays!”” Here in San Diego a popular community celebration, for years called “Christmas On the Prado” and held in beautiful historic Balboa Park, was renamed a couple of years ago as December Nights in order to mollify the secular language police. The list goes on and on.
Priest and clinical psychologist Fr. George Morelli has published a treasure trove of informative, insightful articles readily available on this website. In his Chaplain's Corner, Father addresses pastoral concerns with a frank and practical approach. His "Good Marriage" articles blend the best of current psychological insight with the writings of the Fathers, and in-depth reflections such as "Beauty-the Divine Connection," draw extensively from both his clinical experience and his knowledge of Scripture and Holy Tradition. In his recent treatise, The Ethos of Orthodox Catechesis (published in six parts), Fr. George examines in depth the singular Orthodox approach to catechism, and how parents, teachers and pastors can integrate a truly Orthodox ethos in their teaching ministries.
Although Christmas is a national holiday by act of Congress (5 U.S.C. 6103),all in Western countries know Christmas is under attack and that any religious significance is being marginalized from its celebration. Unfortunately, many Americans, and others throughout the world, hold to the value system summarized by the well-known adage: 'money talks but everything else walks.' Our only hope for retaining some sense of a transcendent God, and the recognition due Him for the blessings we receive throughout the year, may be Thanksgiving Day. In 1863, following the irregular local, regional and national recognition of this feast since its first celebration by the Puritan-Protestant Pilgrims and indigenous Native Americans in 1621, President Abraham Lincoln made an official proclamation: "I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, . . . to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens."
One interesting thing about people: we have a tendency to want others to treat us with understanding and compassion. The cry for mercy can be heard everywhere around the globe. Unfortunately, this cry is often one-sided. We want what we consider fairness, mercy and forgiveness for ourselves, but are reluctant to apply the same to others.
In the tradition of the Eastern Church the heart is the true center of our being. The Psalmist (9:1) tells us: "I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart; I will tell of all thy wonderful deeds." In our Orthodox tradition, which is the teaching of Jesus passed on to His Apostles and guided by the Holy Spirit, the focal point of all honesty of our relationship with God and with our neighbor is our hearts. In other words it is all about heart. Think of some of the words of Jesus on this: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). To the scribes who condemned Jesus as a blasphemer for forgiving the sins of the paralytic St. Matthew (9:4) records that ". . . Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, “Why do you think evil in your hearts." Jesus also told his listeners “. . . but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28), and “for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Mt 6:21). And, speaking to the hypocrites, Jesus said: "You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. (Mt 12:34). And again: " That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man” (Mk 7:20).
Focus on the heart is not limited to Eastern Christian tradition. The Islamic mystic, Rumi (c.1244 AD), wrote: "When your heart is dark as iron, steadily polish yourself that the heart may become a mirror, a beautiful shine reflecting from within. Although iron is dark and dismal, polishing clears the darkness away."[i] The Hindu Upanishad states: "The Self is hidden in the lotus of the heart. . . .Those who know this live day after day in heaven in this very life."[ii]
And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Joel 2: 28
These words by the prophet Joel (whose name means Yahweh is God) were spoken during the reign of King Uzziah (800 BC). Uzziah's reign was focused on achieving success in external and internal policies, including extending economic and military resources.
Joel prophesized during a time of great calamity, most often plague and pestilence. He considered these upheavals not only as natural disasters, but also an indication of an impending judgment by God when the people broke His law, a presage of God’s convulsing of the earth, known in scriptural terminology the "day of the Lord."
The notion of an Old Testament God raining judgment on the earth strikes modern ears as a quaint relic of the past (but not one that has been drained of all fear). But is this accurate? Or is our modern perception more the detritus of sated hearts and distracted minds; the result of the surfeit of material goods we consume beyond our immediate needs?
If the question appears too strong, consider the words of Christ: "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Mt 6:19-24). What is our treasure? The treasures of many Westerners are material goods, comfort, wealth, luxury, power, sensual gratification, and technological escape. When any of these elements become an end in themselves, when they distract us from God and the commandment to love Him and our neighbor; they become idols - false gods which substitute for the light and life that has its source and origin only in the true God.
BOOK REVIEW: Surviving the Folded Flag
Book Author: Deborah H. Tainsh
Book Review Author: V. Rev. Archpriest Fr. George Morelli, Ph.D.
Most of those who make a decision to serve our country in the armed forces take the military oath, receive training and then many are sent into harm’s way. Some will make the ultimate sacrifice of their lives. Their loved ones, family and friends become members of the military family much less formally, but certainly as deeply. They do not take the oath of office and receive no training for what they may encounter. The “insignia” of informal members of the military family for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice is the “Gold Star” flag. As explained by Mrs. Tainsh, this flag started in World War I. For a family with two sons serving in the U.S. armed forces the flag originally had two blue stars. After one was killed in action the color of one of the stars was changed to gold. A congressman read into the Congressional Record the significance of the flag: "The world should know of those who give so much for liberty. The dearest thing in all the world to a father and mother — their children."
The foundation of "synergy" (the cooperation of man with God) is recorded in the book of Genesis: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over all the earth ..." (Genesis 1:26). McGuckin (2004) noted that several Greek Fathers defined the term "image" to mean "mankind's dominion over the created order." St. Maximus the Confessor, for example, understood intellect as an attribute of the image of God in man. "Naturally endowed with the holiness of the Divine Image, the intelligence urges the soul to conform itself by its own free choice to the divine likeness" (Philokalia II). St. Maximus’ understanding is that grace builds on nature and that we are made in God’s image and are required to use our intelligence in maintaining our moral compass, healing our infirmities and diseases and enhancing our spiritual health. (Morelli, 2006).
St. Isaac of Syria (Wensinck, 1923) presents us with an image of life hazed over by the absence of God: “…just as the radiance of the sun is hidden from the earth by thick clouds ... and an unusual darkness falls upon his spirit.… For, as the face of the earth is gladdened by the rays of the sun when the dense atmosphere is torn asunder, so the words of prayer are able to tear away and to remove from the soul the dark cloud … and illuminate the spirit…which is born in our deliberations.” The term ‘deliberate’ means: “To think carefully and often slowly, as about a choice to be made, to consult with another or others in a process of reaching a decision, to consider (a matter) carefully and often slowly, as by weighing alternatives.”
The Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion has announced that their annual conference will be held on November 5th and 6th, 2010, at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral in New York City. The title of the conference is Orthodox Practice and Clinical Practice: How Our Faith Informs Our Work. Featured speakers include Archbishop Lazar Puhalo, Archimandrite Meletios Webber, Dr. Herman Tristram Engelhardt, and Dr. Stephen Muse.
Click here to download the conference flyer (PDF format), for details on logistics, speakers and events.
“A time of trial is beneficial to everyone: the diligent are tried so that their wealth may increase; the lax, so that they may be preserved from harm; those spiritually asleep, so that they may prepare themselves for watchfulness; those whose who are far from God, so that they approach Him; those who are God’s close associates, so that they may come closer to Him. . . .” St. Isaac the Syrian
Thomas Alva Edison once said: “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”[i] It appears that many individuals in the world want success, but few want to persevere in the actions it takes to achieve their success. Unfortunately, some think success will occur simply by the desire for it. However, examining the lives of anyone who has achieved success actually shows that it takes great perseverance and endurance, and the withstanding and overcoming of obstacles and difficulties. Furthermore, people who are really successful are never satisfied with the level they have already attained, but persevere to achieve greater perfection.
This insight was certainly not lost on religious leaders. For example, The Koran point out: “God is with those who persevere.”[ii] But there is a caveat told to us by God. The prophet Isaiah (11: 2) tells us: “And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might [courage-perseverance], the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” Notice that perseverance is preceded by wisdom and followed by knowledge.
"There is an actual Orthodox Church in Afghanistan. Let me say that again. There is a Church- not just a chapel – here in Afghanistan, which is to our knowledge the only free-standing, permanent Church structure of any kind in the entire country."
Fr. David Alexander, Antiochian Orthodox priest and chaplain described this and other amazing discoveries in his post-Paschal letter to his home parish, St. Anthony's of Bergenfield, New Jersey. "I nearly broke down in tears while reading the sermon of St. John Chrysostom, and again while giving communion to a newly chrismated member of my Battalion for the first time," wrote Fr. David describing his Pascha at Camp Leatherneck.
Recently Antiochian.org interviewed Fr. David, who also reflects on his unique and challenging life in his AFR podcast In the Valley of the Shadow of Death.
1. Can you give us a thumbnail sketch of how you ended up as an Antiochian Orthodox Christian, serving as a chaplain in the middle of the conflict in Afghanistan?
Well, I am a priest of the Antiochian Archdiocese serving on active duty as an officer in the Navy Chaplain Corps. Because the Marine Corps is under the Department of the Navy, they have Navy chaplains, doctors, and combat corpsmen (medics) serving with them all over the world.