Friday, September 9, 2011

Secularism in Pastoral care by Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos

Pastoral care is not unrelated to and independent of the Church and theology. Pastoral care is the work of the Church which aims at admitting man to her Body, at making him her true member. Pastoral care is Church's method to guide man to divinization. As we have said before, this is the Church's deeper objective. Further, pastoral care is not unrelated to theology, for the true theologians are true shepherds and those who shepherd in an orthodox way do so theologically. Therefore, what we have said so far about the Church and theology applies to pastoral care too. The true Shepherds of the Church are the deified, those who partake, to various degrees, to the deifying energy of God or those who accept the deified and follow their teaching. Therefore, we either are deified or accept them and exercise pastoral care by their aid.


Moses reached divinization by Grace, he saw God in His glory, and then undertook the heavy task of the pastoral guidance of the people. As St.Gregory of Nyssa says, before seeing God he was unable to separate two Hebrews fighting with each other; after the vision of God and His sending him to this task, Moses guided a difficult and uncompromising people. It is indicative that Moses passed the whole divinization experience on to the people through his guidance and the laws.

The same can be observed in all church life. St.Gregory the Theologian views pastoral care as the most difficult science, and he definitely ties it with man's divinization. For this reason he would like the shepherds to be previously cured in order to be able to guide their spiritual children to therapy and divinization.

The Sacred Canons of the Church present the pastoral method. If we view the Canons as legal schemes and structures, we fail to recognize their true place within the Church. As we have said elsewhere, the Sacred Canons are medicine to cure man. A careful examination of the Canons will lead us to the conclusion that they presuppose man's illness, which is the darkening of the nous, and they aim at man's health, which is the illumination of the nous and divinization. According to St.Basil the Great there are five stages for those who repent, namely, those who stay outside the Church, crying and asking to be forgiven by the Christians; those who attend and listen to the Divine Word but leave the Church at the time the catechumens do; those who stay at the narthex of the Church and attend the Divine Liturgy on their knees; those who stay within the main Church, remain there and pray with the rest of the faithful without however partaking in the holy Communion; and, finally, there are those who partake in the Body and Blood of Christ; these stages manifest that every sin, which constitutes the darkening of the nous, is a repetition of Adam's sin and a degradation from true life. Then man is no longer a living member of Christ's Church. They also show that repentance is but the struggle so that man becomes a member of the Church.

As stated before, the existence of the iconostasis should be viewed within this perspective. In older times there were no iconostases just some veils and everyone had a visual communion with the goings-on because the entire holy Temple was a place for the believers, for the true Church members. There was a substantial separation between the Narthex and the main Temple. When someone sinned, he could not attend the Temple nor pray with the believers. Thus there existed a class of repenters who were essentially in the catechumens state. Later though, as a consequence of secularism in faith, those in repentance were allowed in the Temple, but iconostases were erected.

Of course, we do not pay much attention to external manifestations such as the iconostasis. I would like to stress that the Church's pastoral care does not consist of external activities, of psychological rest and relaxation, but rather of an effort to purify the heart and illumine the nous.

Unfortunately, today things are presented on a different basis and we can talk about secularism in pastoral care too. There is an attempt to use modern psychology, among other methods, in the pastoral guidance of people. There are several who employ psychology's results to help people. It is not such a bad thing for someonne to know some psychological methods. I believe, though, that someone who knows himself and by God's Grace monitors the way his inner passions act, when he studies the Holy Scriptures and the holy Fathers, when he is guided by a deified Spiritual Father, he can obtain real knowledge about other people, for in essence the problems of all men are the same. Employing modern psychology to guide people is a secularized view of pastoral care and it is harmful for the following reasons.

It is harmful when, at the same time, our Church's entire ascetic and hesychastic method is ignored. We usually ignore the hesychastic tradition as expressed in ascetic writings, such as the Ladder of St.John the Sinaite. It is a pity for us to ignore a healthy tradition possessed by our Church which aims not at psychoanalysis but at psychosynthesis. For our psyche, through its fragmentation caused by the passions, experiences schizophrenia, its scattering around.

It is also harmful when we maintain an anthropocentric position and believe that man's health can be brought about by the method of listening and talking. For man's soul, which is created by God in order to attain divinization, does not find rest at a set of moralistic advices and a humane external support. As we have said, the illness lies deeper, in the nous. It does not consist in certain supressed and traumatic experiences of the past, but in the darkening and mortification of the nous. Therapy and illumination of the nous cannot be achieved by anthropocentric methods, advices, and psychoanalyses.

Furthermore, the employment of modern psychology creates problems to the extent that it is already considered a failure in the West. Many people discover that psychology cannot cure man effectively. This can be seen in two cases. The first is the development in the West of the so-called anti-psychiatry, which reacts to psychiatry because it realizes that psychiatry follows a wrong course, having set different assumptions about the illness. Anti-psychiatry claims that classical psychiatry is a form of social violence on man. The second case is psychiatrists' growing awareness of the failure of psychiatry and psychology to cure, and their subsequent abandonment of psychiatry and turning to neurology; for it is believed that many problems originate in man's neurological system which has its center in the brain. It is argued that several psychological abnormalities, like illusions, hallucinations, etc., have their origin in the illness of brain centers. Unfortunately, all new scientific discoveries come to Greece with a delay of thirty or fifty years.

In conclusion, we can say that secularism is the Church's gravest danger. It is what adulterates her true spirit, her true atmosphere. Of course we must repeat that it adulterates not the Church, for the Church is the real and blessed Body of Christ, but the members of the church. Therefore, we should more properly refer to the secularization of the members of the Church.

The Church is the jewel of the world, the charity of mankind. When, however, this jewel of the world is permeated by the so-called secular spirit, when Christians, the members of the church, instead of belonging to this jewel, instead of becoming the light of the world, are inspired by the world in the sense of passions and become the world, then they experience secularism. This secularism does not lead to divinization. It is an anthropocentric view of our life. The Church should enter the world to transform it rather than the world entering the Church to secularize it.

A secularized Church is completely unable and weak to transform the world. And secularized Christians have failed at all levels.

Source: http://www.pelagia.org/htm/ar01.en.secularism_in_church.htm#s2c