Patristic Psychotherapy  

Posted by Joe Rawls

It is generally accepted that there is a degree of overlap between spiritual direction and psychotherapy, even while directors are strongly admonished in their training to refer directees to psychiatrists or psychologists when warranted.  Western psychotherapies, for the most part, are rooted in secularist presuppositions about how the world works.  They are not necessarily hostile towards religion, but enhancing one's relationship with the Divine is not a key point in the psychotherapeutic agenda.  Early in his career Freud remarked that "...much will be gained if we succeed in transforming your hysterical misery into common unhappiness" (Studies in Hysteria). 

Recently, attention has been given to the therapeutic overtones found in Eastern Orthodox spiritual direction, especially as exemplified in that great compendium of Orthodox teaching, the Philokalia.  Christopher CH Cook's essay "Healing, Psychotherapy, and the Philokalia", excerpted below, may be found in Brock Bingaman and Bradley Nassif, eds, The Philokalia: A Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality (Oxford 2012), an invaluable guide to the Philokalia and its underlying theological and ascetical foundations. 


If the Philokalia presents a school of therapy for the soul, designed to bring about its healing, it might well be argued that the Philokalia is a kind of manual for psychotherapy.  However, once the word "psychotherapy" is used, with all its more modern connotations of Freudian and post-Freudian therapies designed to explore the unconscious, and of the cognitive-behavioral therapies based on cognitive and behavioral scientific psychology, we realize at once how the Philokalia is both similar to and radically different from what we now call, in the Western world, psychotherapy.

On the one hand, the Philokalia shares with contemporary psychotherapies a concern with "inwardness" and with self-reflective awareness, a suspicion about the motives that lay behind apparently innocent or well-intentioned actions, and a keen attention to the content and processes of cognition.  Even some of the methods look very similar--especially those that betray a Stoic model of the passions (or in the case of contemporary psychology the emotions) as being fundamentally based upon thoughts (or cognition).  For example, the identification of thoughts/judgements that lead to fear might be a concern of both the cognitive therapist and the disciple of the Philokalia, remembrance of death is also effectively a cognitive strategy for changing patterns of thought, and ascetic discipline might be considered a kind of behavioral therapy orientated toward changing patterns of thought as well as lifestyle.  Even the philokalic injunctions to obedience and submission to an elder or spiritual guide find their parallels in the therapeutic relationship with a therapist, who is seen as having greater wisdom, knowledge, and experience in matters of the inner life. 

On the other hand, contemporary psychotherapies are based on very different theoretical frameworks and aim at very different ends.  While differences in theory might be surprisingly more superficial than they first appear, there are undoubtedly important differences.  The Freudian tripartite model of the psyche as comprising id, ego, and superego, for example, is not so very different from the Platonic model of appetitive, incensive, and rational parts of the soul, a model which influenced both Freud and the authors of the Philokalia.  Or again, both the cognitive therapist and the authors of the Philokalia emphasize the importance of a self-reflective awareness of thought processes which will lead to greater understanding of how to identify aberrant patterns of thought and develop healthy ones.  The scientific rationalism of the cognitive therapist is not necessarily so far removed from the philosophical and contemplative reasoning of the philokalic practitioner when consideration is limited only to matters of cognitive analysis.  But when consideration is broadened to include ultimate concerns, the atheistic assumptions of Freud and the cognitive-behaviorists contrast strongly with the philokalic world of personal spiritual forces which draw the human creature inevitably toward, or away from, a telos which is firmly located in the Divine.  Moreover, the end of human beings in relationship with God involves the authors of the Philokalia in a contemplative "unknowing" which ultimately transcends human rational thought.  this transcendence is completely lacking, at least from Freud and the more scientific cognitive-behavioral schools of therapy, if not from all of the schools of therapy which have emerged since the work of pioneers such as Freud, Skinner, and Ellis.

Liturgy and the Trinity  

Posted by Joe Rawls

 As Christians, when we think at all of how the sacraments "work", we tend to have more or less vague notions that they somehow connect us to Jesus.  However, Jesus is part of a Trinitarian God, and the efficacy of sacraments means that they connect us to the Father, through the risen Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit.  

For today's celebration of Trinity Sunday, we look at some insights into how the liturgy expresses Trinitarian theology.  They are contained in an essay by Roman Catholic theologian Susan K Wood.  It is found in the excellent reference The Cambridge Guide to the Trinity, Peter C Phan, ed, Cambridge University Press, 2011.  The excerpt below is found on pp 383-384. 


The movement of God's saving action and our response are related to two essential liturgical elements, anamnesis and epiclesis.  Anamnesis, translated as "memorial", "commemoration," or "remembrance", actually has the much stronger meaning of making present an event or person from the past.  Anamnesis asks God to remember his saving work in Jesus Christ in order that the benefits of Christ's sacrifice may be made present to the faithful here and now.   These deeds are actually made present in the liturgy in the anamnesis, not as a repetition of his saving deeds or as a mere recollection of them, but as an actualization of them within the modality of sacramental sign.   The anamnesis is accomplished through the work of the Spirit, who "awakens the memory of the Church then inspires thanksgiving and praise." 

The epiclesis is a calling on the Spirit to transform the material of creation and make it salvific in its sacramental use.  Sacraments are effective because they are Christ's action, made present through the power of the Spirit.  Although we may think of the epiclesis primarily in terms of the Eucharist, most of the sacraments, as we shall see, have an epicletic moment.  The Holy Spirit brings us into communion with Christ, effects our spiritual transformation into the image of Christ, both individually and corporately, and constitutes Christ's eccesial body, the corpus mysticum.  Thus the Spirit is the bond of unity in the church and the source of empowerment for service and mission. 

The Father as the source and end of all blessings of creation and salvation is the source and goal of the liturgy, which reveals and communicates the divine blessing.  We receive these blessings through the incarnate Word of the Father, who, in turn, pours out the gift of the Spirit.  The liturgy offers adoration, praise, and thanksgiving to the Father by offering to the Father his own gifts, especially the gift of his Son.  The Spirit "recalls and makes Christ manifest to the faith of the assembly", "makes Christ present here and now", and "unites the Church to the life and mission of Christ". 

The end or purpose of all the sacraments is reconciliation with the Father and the Father's glorification (Eph 1:12; 2 Cor 3: 18, Jn 17).  The Latin word for sacrament, sacramentum, is a translation of the Greek word mysterion, which refers to God's plan for salvation (Col 1: 26-27).  This plan is the Father's plan "to reconcile to himself all things through Christ, in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, who made peace through the blood of his cross" (Col 1: 19-20).  The paschal mystery is the keystone of the Christian mystery.  All the liturgical feasts and sacraments are referenced to the event of Christ's dying and rising and to this great pattern of reconciliation with the Father through Christ in the power of the Spirit.  Thus the liturgical year is not simply a memesis or imitation of Christ's life.  Christmas is primarily about God's Word becoming flesh and dwelling among human beings in order to bring salvation.  Sacraments are not just seven anthropological markers of lifetime passages such as birth, puberty, sickness, and marriage, but relate to the two fundamental sacraments, baptism and Eucharist, in their functions of reconciliation and building up the church as a messianic saving community.  Sacraments give access to participation in this plan of salvation, anamnesis (memorial) and epiclesis being essential to each of them.  Anamnesis recalls the saving event of Jesus' death and resurrection so that it is actually present today, and epiclesis makes it effective through the power of the Spirit.  As Louis-Marie Chauvet has noted, "the sacraments appear not as the somehow static prolongations of the incarnation as such but as the major expression, in our own history, of the embodiment (historical/eschatological) of the risen One in the world through the Spirit, embodiment whose 'fundamental sacrament' is the church visibly born at Pentecost." 

Litany of the Holy Spirit  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Aside from Pentecostals, many Christians tend to ignore the Holy Spirit.  And this is not a new phenomenon, since an orthodox doctrine of the Spirit was not fully developed until the late 4th century, clearing the way for a firm articulation of the doctrine of the Trinity.  English Anglican theologian Alister McGrath has, in fact, referred to the Holy Spirit as "the Cinderella of the Trinity". 

A prayerful solution to this oversight, offered in advance of the upcoming Pentecost Sunday, is the following Litany of the Holy Spirit, the effort of Episcopal priest Michael Marsh.   It appears on his estimable site Interrupting the Silence.


O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
Have mercy upon us.

O God the Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the faithful,
Have mercy upon us.

O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, one God,
Have mercy upon us.

Spirit, intercede for us with sighs too deep for words,
Pray for us.

Spirit, intercede for the saints according to the will of God,
Pray for us.

Holy Mary, Mother of God,
Pray for us.

Blessed N. patron of our parish,
Pray for us.

Holy Spirit, who is equal to the Father and the Son,
Keep us in eternal life.

Holy Spirit, who proceeds from the Father,
Enter our hearts.

Holy Spirit, who has spoken through the Prophets,
Open our ears.

Holy Spirit, who enlightens and strengthens for your service,
Dwell in us.

Holy Spirit, who in the beginning moved and brooded over the face of the waters,
Move and brood over our lives.

Holy Spirit, who is God's life-giving breath,
Breathe in us.

Holy Spirit, who blew through the Valley of Dry Bones giving life,
Enliven us.

Holy Spirit, who overshadowed Mary that she might give birth to the Son of God,
Grace us to give birth to the divine in our time and place.

Holy Spirit, who rested on Jesus at his baptism,
Rest upon us and renew our baptismal life.

Holy Spirit, who as a tongue of fire rested on and filled the apostles,
Burn in us with the power of your love.

Holy Spirit, who descended on the day of Pentecost,
Unite us in the confession of one faith.

Holy Spirit, who descended on the day of Pentecost,
Empower us to serve you as a royal priesthood.

Holy Spirit, who descended on the day of Pentecost,
Encourage us to preach the gospel to all nations.

Come Holy Spirit,
Our souls inspire.

Spirit of understanding,

Spirit of counsel,

Spirit of fortitude,

Spirit of knowledge,

Spirit of piety,

Spirit of Godly fear,

With the fruit of love,
Fill us.

With the fruit of joy,
Fill us.

With the fruit of peace,
Fill us.

With the fruit of patience,
Fill us.

With the fruit of generosity,
Fill us.

With the fruit of gentleness,
Fill us.

With the fruit of self-control,
Fill us.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,
Send us the Advocate.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,
Send us the Spirit of Truth.

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world,
Send us the Holy Spirit.

V:  Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful,
R:  And kindle in them the fire of your love.

V:  Send forth your Spirit, Lord, and they shall be created,
R:  And you shall renew the face of the earth.

O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth who are present everywhere, filling all things, Treasury of Good and Giver of Life,
Come and dwell in us, cleanse us of every stain, and save our souls, O Good One.

Holy Spirit, you came as Christ own first gift for those who believe, that we might no longer live for ourselves, but for him who died and rose for us:  Complete his work in the world and bring to fulfillment the sanctification of all.  Amen.

Almighty and merciful Lord, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, bless and keep us, Amen.