Dept. of Chaplain and Pastoral Counseling News
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.
Saint Nicholas Cathedral (OCA), Washington D.C., invites all Orthodox parishes in the U.S. to add the names, ranks, and photographs of their US military veterans to the newly established Orthodox Veterans Memorial website, a 21st century extension of the cathedral's continuing commitment to praying for our Orthodox fallen.
"Our chaplains serve Orthodox of all jurisdictions and, as such, our War Memorial will honor all Orthodox Christians whose names have been submitted to be honored," wrote His Beatitude, Metropolitan Jonah, in a letter to the faithful and friends of Saint Nicholas Cathedral. "We must never forget their sacrifice and those who have, as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently stated in his Gettysburg Address, 'given their last full measure of devotion.'"
The Orthodox Church has a longstanding tradition of dedicating churches to the memory of Orthodox Christians who have fought and died in defense of Church and country. Saint Nicholas Cathedral, modeled after the 12th century Church of Saint Dmitri in Vladimir, Russia, was built in the early 1960s as the National War Memorial Shrine. A decade-long effort to raise funds for the cathedral's construction had been blessed by the Holy Synod of Bishops in 1949. The cathedral was dedicated in 1963 to the memory of Orthodox Christians who died fighting for freedom in the Russian Revolution, World Wars I and II, and the Korean War. A bronze dedicatory tablet hangs at the entrance of the cathedral, and a book listing the names of the fallen, collected from parishes across the nation, is kept in the altar. Each year, on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, these names are read aloud during the Divine Liturgy.
The cathedral's new Veterans Memorial web page features a growing list of Orthodox veterans by jurisdiction and parish.
Have you noticed that someone you have once done a favor for sometime in the past now, seemingly out of the middle of nowhere the person now expects a favor back in return. It is not that they are asking you, rather their tone of voice and words indicate it is not a request rather it is an expectation. Where does this demanding expectation come from?
It actually comes from the faulty mindset of the individual who originally did the favor for you. The favor doer was saying mentally in his own mind, but did not communicate to you: "Ok I will do this favor for you, now you owe me one in the future." If the favor is not returned when I want it and in the way they want I have the right to be angry and resentful.” Cognitive-Behavioral psychologists call this distorted irrational cognition: Reciprocity. (Morelli, 2007). Reciprocity is a one way, that is to say, unilateral contract that if I do something for you I can expect that you will do something for me.
On close examination, such contracts are inherently dishonest and unfair because most often the other person did not know about the contents of the contract. No matter how realistic, valid, and fair the contract may seem to the person who made it up, the other may be following a completely different mental interpretation of the favor.
St. John the Evangelist informs us what Jesus told him about the acts of a group who had left the Church “. . . you hate the deeds. . .which I also hate” (Rev. 2: 6). There are probably none in San Diego, and few worldwide who do not know about, deplore and lament the horrific rape and murder of two young high school girls in our community, one just over a month ago and the other last year. Similar feelings about such opprobrious deeds against children abound in our community and elsewhere. These criminal actions demonstrate the sinful brokenness mankind is capable of.
Our Eastern Church Fathers teach us that in brokenness however, love can emerge. The brokenness in the world, often a source of despair, can be transformed into an opportunity, in imitation of Christ, to empty (kenosis) ourselves from our own self-love, to “put on Christ” - an emptying that reaches fulfillment in love towards God and neighbor. Indeed, thousands of loving San Diegans and countless others nation and world-wide, lovingly and fervently prayed for Chelsea and her family as well as for the other victims of such evil and for their families. Two weeks after Chelsea’s body was found, the body of Amber, daughter of another grieving local family was found about a year after her unexplained disappearance.” Rightly, the throne of God was stormed by prayers for these innocents and their loving families and friends.
“Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish thou the work of our hands upon us, yea, the work of our hands establish thou it.” (Ps 89: 17)
Many Eastern Church Christians starts the day with morning prayer reading Psalm 89 which asks God to bless our work. St. Paul tells us: “For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.” (1 Cor 3:9).
The Godliness of work is not unique to the Eastern Christian Church. Many religious traditions also ask God to bless the work that is done by man. Mahatma Gandhi said, “It is the quality of our work which will please God and not the quantity.”[i] He also tell us: “Infinite striving to be the best is man's duty, it is its own reward. Everything else is in God's hands.”[ii] In the Islamic tradition, the Koran states: “And say: Work; so Allah will see your work and (so will) His Apostle and the believers; and you shall be brought back to the Knower of the unseen and the seen, then He will inform you of what you did.”[iii]
This article is based on the President’s Message column featured in the Society of St. John Chrysostom- Western Region (SSJC-WR) Newsletter: The Light of the East, Spring, 2010.
One of the major developments in the modern age is the marginalization and indifference toward Christianity in society. (Jacobse, 2010; Morelli, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2010). The disunion among Christian communities has not been a beneficent witness to the unity prayed for by Christ Himself “that they may be one” (Jn 17:11). Secular and politically correct values have shaped doctrinal and moral teaching and practice among some groups calling themselves Christian: abortion, euthanasia, female ordination, same sex marriage, are but a few examples that are obvious departures from the teaching of Christ. Archbishop Hilarion Alfeyevi, Chairman of the Department of External Affairs of the Russian Orthodox Patriarchate of Moscow, has suggested an alliance between Catholics and Orthodox be advanced because these apostolic churches have held fast to the essentials of Christ’s teachings. This suggestion certainly conforms to the goals of the Society of St. John Chrysostom which has as one of its goals: to make known the history, worship, spirituality, discipline and theology of Eastern Christendom.ii
“If you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”(Mt 6:14-18)
The Lenten Season in the Eastern Church is embedded in the spirit of forgiveness. Lent itself is preceded by a series of Sunday Gospels, collectively called the Lenten Triodion, leading us to forgiveness in emulation of the forgiving Christ, who said on the Cross of His persecutors and executioners: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." (Lk 23:34).
Every one who is arrogant is an abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 16: 5)
There is a popular adage that many are quite familiar with: ‘Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.’ Just such a proverb applies as a stumbling block for individuals in their daily lives. Psychologically it is called coercion perception. The basic idea which engenders the coercion perception stumbling block is the belief, attitude or cognition that if an individual persistently insists or even recommends that I do something and I do it, this indicates that they are in command and control and I have lost out. If I should capitulate to someone else’s wishes this means I am worthless in some way. The only way to maintain my self-esteem and sense of self is to never do anything anyone tells me to do, that is to say, to do only what I have decided to do entirely on my own.
Spiritually, this stonewalling of suggestions from others even when they may be helpful is succumbing to the passion of pride. Our Eastern Church Father, St. Maximus the Confessor tells us: “The passion of pride arises from two kinds of ignorance, and when these two kinds of ignorance unite together they form a single confused state of mind. For a man is proud only if he is ignorant both of divine help and of human weakness. Therefore pride is a lack of knowledge both in the divine and human spheres. For the denial of two true premises results in a single false affirmation” (Philokalia II).
(The) kingdom (of God), is characterized, as we have shown, by humility and gentleness of heart. It is the combination of these two qualities that constitutes the perfection of the person created according to Christ. For every humble person is invariably gentle and every gentle person is invariably humble (St. Maximus the Confessor, "On the Lord's Prayer," Philokalia II).
I recently received by Google Alert an Associated Press report with the following first sentence: “Dozens of people led by an Orthodox priest smashed a menorah in Moldova's capital, using hammers and iron bars to remove the candelabra during Hanukkah, officials said.”i
My immediate reaction was profound sadness for the Jewish people celebrating this beautiful feast who suffered from this hateful deed and for all those who are true followers of Christ. I also have deep sadness for the scandal caused to those who would construe this as a Christ-like act and thus denigrate Christ and His true followers, instead of seeing the deed for what it is: a demonic act.
Probably one of the most useless wastes of mental and spiritual energy engaged in by some individuals is the making of New Year Resolutions. One reason for the futility of New Year Resolutions is that they are usually couched in such general terms that they invite procrastination, hesitation, ensuing failure and either anxiety or depression. Typical New Year’s resolutions are familiar to all: Stop smoking, lose weight, spend more time with my family. These are all laudable goals. But the problem is that they are ‘goals,’ that is to say, endpoints, not the first step to reach the goal one has “resolved” to reach. Often what confronts the person are numerous choices with no direction about the first step to attain the goal. Some never seem to get beyond the “choice point.” (Morelli, 2006) Resolutions would be much more attainable if the individual who makes them would initially resolve to identify the first step, followed by the second step, etc. However, most who make resolutions are in a quandary as to where to even begin.
During the season celebrating the Birth of Christ, also called Christmas, a line from the scriptures is frequently quoted. It is actually from the Gospel of St. Luke (2:14): “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace ....” Some may notice I truncated the scriptural verse and some may have filled in the rest of the verse based on their memory of how they have heard or read the verse in the past.
Sadly, a couple weeks ago I heard a line said by the star of a newly released Hollywood film to advertize its opening. The line, a quote from the film’s script, spoken in a derisive tone, went something like this: ‘The last time I thought about God, was when I was high-tailing it away from the cops.’
Chaplain's Corner, October 2009
Do you notice that many times when looking for the causes of unhappiness, people frequently believe it is other individuals or external events that make them distressed? The idea is carried around that if these “outside forces,” as psychologist Albert Ellis (1962) calls them, were different, all their problems would go away and they would not be so miserable. Accompanying this outlook is the idea that, because it is just these nefarious persons or events over which they have no control which produce their wretchedness, they cannot help but be upset. Instead of working at the problem they are capable of solving, or devolving meaning in what they are able to accomplish, they feel they are justified in wallowing in their misery.
Obviously there are events that are realistically hurtful. Someone in the military who is permanently injured in battle, or a civilian who suffers lasting physical debilitation in an accident certainly are two common examples. In such cases there are two options, accept, but not condone, the untoward injury-causing event move on coping with the situation and creating a meaningful life in the face of the injury, or do as many do with non-realistic events, wallow in misery.
Chaplain's Corner, September 2009
The Vesper, or Evening Service Prayer in the Eastern Church always includes Psalm 103, which contains this important verse: “Man goes forth to his work and to his labor until the evening.” (23) It should not go unnoticed that the author of Genesis described God’s creation of the world as work: “And on the seventh day God finished his work which he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done.” (2:2).
In the United States the first Monday in September is Labor Day. Many will spend the day with family and friends. Some will have BBQ’s or go to the beach, lakes, parks, mountains or just plain stay home. I pray some time be spent by all reflecting on the spiritual meaning of the day. In this regard it might be beneficial to meditate on the words of St. Paul: “Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men…” (Col 3: 23). A spiritual Father of the Eastern Church, St. Maximus the Confessor (580-662 AD), calls work “a virtue of the body.” (Philokalia II). How can this be? How can one work and serve the Lord at the same time? Another spiritual father of the Eastern Church St. Theoliptos (1283-1322 AD), Metropolitan-Archbishop of Philadelphia (in present day Western Turkey), tells us how to do this: “When you work… let your intellect be mindful of God.” (Philokalia IV).
One’s own work can be an example to others to lead productive lives. Once again quoting St. Paul: “For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, we did not eat any one’s bread without paying, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you. It was not because we have not that right, but to give you in our conduct an example to imitate.” (2 Thes 3: 7-9).
Brookline, Mass. - The 2009 Annual Conference of Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology, and Religion (OCAMPR) will focus on Care for the Severely Challenged Patient. Presentations at the conference will review the needs of patients with chronic illnesses and severe and persisting trauma from a pastoral, medical, and psychotherapeutic perspective. Speakers will include Deacon Nathanael Symeonides, Dr. Aaron Haney, Dr. Michael Christakis, and Presbytera Maryann Tonias. The conference will meet at the Holy Cross Seminary campus in Brookline, Mass., November 6-7, 2009, beginning at 7 p.m. Friday evening.
OCAMPR is an inter-jurisdictional network of Orthodox persons in helping and healing professions, endorsed by the Standing Conference of Orthodox Bishops in the Americas (SCOBA). The conference will be prefaced by an open General Board Meeting on Friday November 6, at 1:30 pm at Holy Cross.
Over the two day conference, speakers focusing on medicine, psychology, and theology will offer talks on various dimensions of Care for the Severely Challenged Patient and discuss a sample case. Group discussions will invite reflections, questions, and comments from conferees. Resources on caregivers’ practical concerns from medicine, nursing, hospice, ethics, theology, law, counseling, chaplaincy, and clinical pastoral education will be available at the conference, and the Holy Cross bookstore will also offer resources.