The Chaplain and Pastoral Counseling Ministry supports chaplains and pastoral counselors working within the Antiochian Archdiocese. Under the coordination of Fr. George Morelli, the department organizes retreats, workshops, and courses, as well as posting pertinent articles and web links on this page. Personal consultation by phone and e-mail is available for those seeking more specific, situational guidance as they practice in the fields of mental health and pastoral care.
Because ministry takes place in a complex, pluralistic world, this department provides clear archdiocesan guidelines to help Orthodox chaplains and pastoral counselors adhere to Orthodox teaching, spirituality, and healing traditions, while also knowing when and how to incorporate scientifically sound clinical interventions.
The reason that many of the conflicts we have with others can disturb us is that we have in our minds sets of guiding rules, or cognitive ‘sets’, about what the behaviors of others, or the consequent outcomes of events should be. Putting it more bluntly: thinking that they should do what we think they should be doing and it is awful and terrible, catastrophic, as it were, if they don’t. This observation about mankind has been extensively elaborated by pioneer Cognitive-Behavior Therapist Albert Ellis1 who points out that it is “It is simply amazing how many millions of people on this earth are terribly upset and miserable when things are not the way they would like them to be, or when the world is in the way the world is.” (p. 69). Put another way, they are making demands about people and events.
Some people go through life looking at things around them with cynical glasses. Their outlook can range from being wary or suspicious of others' intentions and motives to perceiving the worst in mankind, sneering at others' beliefs and motives; and even scorning societal moral standards. In popular words, they see the 'cup half empty.' On the other hand, there are those who are hopeful. They look around them, and even if they see someone failing or some event at which they look askance, they, being honest and good of heart, are motivated to see the good that can come out of something inauspicious. They see the 'cup half full.' They are motivated to do what it takes to fill any apparent 'cup' that is less than full. Frequently they accomplish this by patient endurance. By contrast, however, recent behavioral research has indicated that modern society, which is increasingly demanding instantaneous information technology speed, is actually fostering 'impatient un-endurance.' The desire for instant gratification also can be seen in the upsurge of 'same day delivery'1 and recent drone-delivery proposals.
There are health risks linked to cynicism. In studies of middle aged individuals, among them Vietnam veterans, those who impute a hostile motive to others had a greater chance of developing heart disease and possibly diabetes and other diseases. The explanation of the association is that "hostile people are generally cynical and suspicious of other people, traits that lead to conflicts or confrontations."2
The question of life's meaning has been asked by specialists: philosophers, psychologists, scientists, spiritual leaders, artists, writers, and those of the popular mind as well. One way of approaching the question is to consider that a personality disposition or trait can be nurtured to allow us to strive to make sense of the events that are occurring to us and in the world around us. One method for doing this is by way of the three ways to discover life's meaning suggested by German psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Victor Frankl (1959, p. 133)i: "(1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering."
He (and I agree) state that finding meaning in "work or accomplishment," as in the first way, is, on the face of it, "obvious." Frankl likens the second way to experiencing "goodness, truth and beauty" in nature, culture or in another human being. In this regard, I am reminded of the beautiful verse from Psalm 18:2: "The heavens shew forth the glory of God, and the firmament declareth the work of his hands." Frankl found meaning in the loss of his family and in his personal suffering by choosing to focus on the everyday choices he did have during his internment in a concentration camp, such as being able to see the beauty in a sunrise despite being naked and out in freezing weather. A transition can be made from awareness of beauties in nature such as sunrises, sunsets, or starry nights to the intrinsic beauty that is God, their Creator. Among the Eastern Church Fathers, for example, it is said that "physical beauty is the epiphany of divine beauty."ii