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© Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
  1. Translator's note
  2. Preface to the english edition
  3. Author's Prologue
  4. Introduction


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Translator's note

Before embarking on this study, the reader is asked to absorb a few Greek terms for which there is no English word that would not be imprecise or misleading. Chief among these is NOUS, which refers to the `eye of the heart' and is often translated as mind or intellect. Here we keep the Greek word NOUS throughout. The adjective related to it is NOETIC (noeros).

Another pair of words, PRAXIS (action) and THEORIA (vision) generally refer in the patristic writings to ascetic practice and the vision of God respectively. The use of `contemplation' for THEORIA has been avoided.

NEPSIS is the kind of sober-minded vigilance that characterises the ascetic life of the Fathers. It is usually translated as watchfulness. The adjective is NEPTIC.

HESYCHIA means stillness, and the practice of stillness in the presence of God is called HESYCHASM.

I could not have undertaken this work without the help of the English translation of three volumes of the Greek Philokalia. In the bibliography and in the footnotes to our author's rich offering of quotations I have indicated these and other published translations of which I made use, sometimes altering the wording. I have also found helpful the many translations into modern Greek which are increasingly making their appearance.

I gratefully acknowledge the encouragement, help and advice given by the author and by Miss Effie Mavromichali, who has translated some of his other books into English. I hope very much that if there are mistakes, I will be forgiven and told about them so that they may be corrected in the future.

Esther Williams

110 Princess Court

Queensway, London W2 4RF




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Preface to the english edition

At the beginning of this year Mrs Esther Williams of England presented me with an English translation of my book "Orthodox Psychotherapy" which she said just finished. I was indeed greatly surprised that a person unknown to me would show such an interest in the subject of this book and would engage herself in translation of it with admirable diligence and commitment.

I feel the need to thank her deeply and pray to God to give her strenght, to illumine her and grant her every perfect gift.

It should be noted that with its first publication in Greece, in 1986 "Orthodox Psychotherapy" gave rise to many discussions which result in the publication of three other books, all relevant in content. One of them has already been translated into English under the title "The Illness and Cure of the Soul in the Orthodox Tradition". Yet it is this first book that contains the important message that the church can heal an ailing personality.

The term "Orthodox Psychotherapy" does not refer to specific cases of people suffering from psychological problems of neurosis. Rather it refers to all people. According to Orthodox Tradition, after Adam's fall man became ill; his "nous" was derkened and lost communion with God. Death entered into the person's being and caused many anthropological, social, even ecological problems. In the tragedy of his fall man maintained the image of God within him but lost completely the likeness of Him, since his communion with God was disrupted. However the incarnation of Christ and the work of the Church aim at enabling the person to attain to the likeness of God, that is to reestablish communion with God. This passage way from a fallen state to divinization is called the healing of the person, because it is connected with his return from a state of being contrary to nature, to that of a state according to nature and above nature. By adhering to Orthodox therapeutic treatment as conceived by the Holy Fathers of the Church man can cope successfully with the thoughts (logismoi) and thus solve his problems completely and comprehensively.

I would like to reemphasize that the diagnoses of all neurotic and pathological states are not the subject of this book; for they belong to the domain of psychiatry and neurology. On the other hand many psychological illnesses are cuased by the anxiety of death, the lack of meaning in life, a guilty conscience and the loss of communion with God on man's part. Surely the theology of the Church can help by either preventing or by healing people suffering from such existential dilemmas.

Thus psychiatry and neurology are called to cure pathological anomalies, whereas Orthodox theology cures the deeper causes that engender them.

The reader of this book will find in it the pathway by which a person arrives at communion with God, thus fulfilling the destiny of human existence as well as the method by which he can even protect himself from various physical illnesses.

Orthodox psychotherapy will therefore be more helpful to those who want to solve their existential problems; those who have realised that their nous has been darkened and for this reason they must be delivered from the tyranny of their passions and thoughts (logismoi) in order to attain to the illumination of their nous and communion with God.

All this therapeutic treatment or psychotherapy is closely connected with the neptic tradition of the Church and its hesychastic life, as it is preserved in ther texts of the Philokalia, in the works of the Fathers of the Church and notably in the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas. Certainly one should not disregard the fact that the neptic and hesychastic life is the same life which one sees in the life of the Prophets and the Apostles as is described precisely in the texts of Holy Scripture. It will be made clear in the analysis of the chapters in this book that the neptic life is in fact the life of the Gospels.

I am pleased that this book will be read by an English speaking audience because I feel that the neptic and ascetic life had also existed in the western world before it was substituted by Scholastic theology. Scholasticism, indeed, connected knowledge with reason and has created serious problems when one conciders that knowledge refers to the whole of human existence and is not simply exhausted by reason. I believe that the greatest problem of western philosophy is that it identifies the nous with reason and intellectual knowledge with existensial knowledge. Even contemporary scholars in the West point to this fact. In truth the neptic tradition is the common tradition of both the East and the West, before the intrusion of scholasticism and the identification of theology with metaphysics. And it is this tradition which fully calms man's spirit which seeks fulfilment, inner peace and stillness. Within the turmoil and pain of today's world which distresses us and torments us; and which forsakes us to real hunger and thirst it is necessary that we find and live this therapeutical way, as recommended to us by the Holy Fathers of the Church it creates spiritual and solves the existential, social and ecological problems. Surely the holy Fathers of the Church preceeded contemporary psychologists and psychiatrists.

Persons who have been healed are the evidence that the Church intervenes in society in a salvific way. It is precisely this great purpose which the Orthodox Church serves through her theology and life.




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Author's Prologue

Contemporary man, tired and discouraged by the various problems which torment him, is looking for rest and refreshment. Basically he is seeking a cure for his soul, as it is mainly there that he feels the problem. He is going through a `mental depression'. For this reason psychiatric explanations are circulating broadly in our time. Psychotherapy in particular is widespread. While these things were almost unknown before, they are horribly prevalent now, and many people are turning to psychotherapists to find peace and comfort. For I repeat, contemporary man feels that he is in need of healing.

Along with realising this fundamental need, I notice every day that Christianity, and especially Orthodoxy, which preserves the essence of Christianity, is making much use of `psychotherapy', or rather, that Orthodoxy is mainly a therapeutic science. Every means that it employs, and indeed its very aim, is to heal man and guide him to God. For in order to attain communion with God and achieve the blessed state of divinisation, we must first be healed. So, beyond all other interpretations, Orthodoxy is mainly a therapeutic science and treatment. It differs clearly from other psychiatric methods, because it is not anthropocentric but the anthropocentric and because it does not do its work with human methods, but with the help and energy of divine grace, essentially through the synergy of divine and human volition.

I have wanted to emphasise certain truths in this book. I have wished to point out the essence of Christianity and also the method which it employs for achieving this healing. My basic aim is to help contemporary man to find his cure within the Orthodox Church, as we too are struggling to attain it. I realise that we are all sick and seeking the Physician. We are ill and seeking a cure. The Orthodox Church is the inn and hospital in which every sick and distressed person can be cured.

If this book becomes the occasion for some people to turn for their healing to the Church and its teaching, I will praise God Who gave me the inspiration and strength to carry out this difficult undertaking, and I will ask Him to have mercy on me for my many weaknesses.

Written in Edessa on September 30, 1987,
the day of the Holy Martyr Gregory
the Enlightener, Bishop of Great Armenia.

Archimandrite Hierotheos S. Vlachos




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I feel it my duty to give a few basic explanations for the study and understanding of the chapters which follow.

The title `Orthodox Psychotherapy' has been given to the book as a whole because it presents the teaching of the Fathers on curing the soul. I know that the term `psychotherapy' is almost modern and is used by many psychiatrists to indicate the method which they follow for curing neurotics. But since many psychiatrists do not know the Church's teaching or do not wish to apply it, and since their anthropology is very different from the anthropology and soteriology of the Fathers, in using the term `psychotherapy', I have not made use of their views. It would have been very easy at some points to set out their views, some of which agree with the teaching of the Fathers and others of which are in conflict with it, and to make the necessary comments, but I did not wish to do that. I thought that it would be better to follow the teaching of the Church through the Fathers without mingling them together. Therefore I have prefixed the word `Orthodox' to the word `Psychotherapy' (healing of the soul), to make the title "Orthodox Psychotherapy". It could also have been formulated as "Orthodox Therapeutic Treatment".

Many teachings of the Fathers are cited with their references to support the text as it develops. I am well aware that texts containing a large number of references are not easy to read. However, I preferred this safer method, rather than making the study easy to read. Unfortunately, books nowadays are often read in a sentimental way, and I did not wish this subject, so crucial today, to be written in that way.

We have made use of many Fathers in developing the subject, most of all the so-called neptic Fathers, without of course overlooking the so-called social ones. I say "so-called" because I do not believe that this distinction exists in essence. In Orthodox theology those called neptics are eminently social and those called social are essentially neptic. The Three Hierarchs, for example, lived a watchful, ascetic life, they purified their minds, and thus they shepherded the people of God. I believe firmly that the social quality of the saints is a dimension of asceticism.

There is a great deal of neptic teaching in the works of the Three Hierarchs. But I have made greater use of the Fathers of the "Philokalia" since they have abundant material and since the "Philokalia" is a collection of mystical theological texts and "constitutes a highly inspired effulgence of the hallowed ascetic experience of divine patristic figures on whom shone the holy and life-giving spirit" (Gk.Philokalia I, editors' prologue, p.9). According to the editors of the Greek edition of the Philokalia, after the cessation of the hesychastic conflicts of the fourteenth century the need arose for a collection of the principle works of the Fathers concerning hesychastic life and noetic prayer. They wrote: "There is every indication that the collection was made by highly spiritual monks of Mount Athos from the library of the Holy Mountain, and begun in the second half of the fourteenth century, from 1350 on. This period coincides with the cessation of the famous hesychastic controversies. Concretely it ends with the triumphant Synodic justification of the Athonite Fathers. At that time it had become clear that there was need of a statement of the view of the Eastern Orthodox Fathers concerning hesychastic asceticism and noetic prayer. These had been a target of rationalising and socially active Roman Catholicism with the appearance of the slandererous monk Barlaam from Calabria, afterwards a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church (Gk.Philokalia I, p.1-11).

The final elaboration of the texts of the Philokalia was made by St. Makarios, former Bishop of Corinth, and St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and so "the Philokalia in a way takes on the dimensions of a Synodal presentation of the Mystical Theology of the Eastern Orthodox Church..." (p.11). For this reason the texts of the Fathers of the Philokalia have been used, with a view to describing and presenting the Church's teaching about the illness and cure of the soul, nous, heart, and thoughts. However, where there was need I have not hesitated to turn to the texts of other great Fathers, such as St. Gregory the Theologian, St. Gregory Palamas (especially his `Triads'), St. John Chrysostom, St. Basil the Great, St. Symeon the New Theologian, etc.

It is true that there is not a special chapter devoted to the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. In many places the great value of the sacramental life of our Church is emphasised. However, there is no special word about Baptism because I know that I am speaking to people who have already been baptised and so there is presumably no need for it. On the other hand, the sacrament of the Divine Eucharist is the centre of the spiritual and sacramental life of the Church. Holy Communion is what differentiates the asceticism of the Orthodox Church from all other "asceticism". I regard it as very necessary for man's spiritual life and for his salvation. But preparation is needed in order to be able worthily to have communion of the Body and Blood of Christ. For Holy Communion, according to the liturgical prayers, is for those who are prepared a light which enlightens, and for those not prepared it is a consuming fire. The Apostle Paul says: "Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died" (1Cor.11,27-30).

We are living in a time when much is being said about ecclesiology, eucharistiology and eschatology. We have no objection to this. We believe that these are the essential elements of the spiritual life. But the Church, the holy Eucharist and eschatology are closely connected with the ascetic life. I firmly believe that priority must be given to the subject of the ascetic life, which is the path of preparation for Holy Communion. And because this aspect is being disregarded, it has been necessary to give special emphasis to these matters. Holy Communion helps to cure if all the other religious treatment which is the basis of Orthodox asceticism is followed.

Much is being said today about psychological problems. I believe that the so-called psychological problems are mainly problems of thoughts, a darkened mind, and an impure heart. The impure heart as described by the Fathers, the dark and gloomy mind and impure thoughts are the source of all the so-called psychological problems. When a man is inwardly healed, when he has discovered the place of his heart, when he has purified the noetic part of his soul and freed his intelligence, he has no psychological problems. He lives in the blessed and undisturbed peace of Christ. We say these things with the reservation that the body, of course, can be made sick by fatigue, exhaustion, weakening, and decay.

The first chapter, entitled "Orthodoxy as a therapeutic science", can be characterised as a summary of the whole book. In fact it includes the main points in all the chapters. I confess that the third chapter, entitled "Orthodox psychotherapy", is difficult in some places. I could not avoid this because I had to analyse the terms soul, nous, heart and intelligence and consider their interrelationships and differences.

A seventh chapter, entitled "Noetic prayer as a method of healing", could perhaps have been written. But since there were places in all the chapters in which the value and necessity of prayer were emphasised, especially in the chapter on hesychia as a method of therapy, and since there are excellent books describing the method and value of noetic prayer, I have preferred not to include this chapter, in spite of the original intention. I recommend a study of other books which are in circulation.

I would ask that this book be not only read but also studied. It might need to be studied for a second and third time, with the particular purpose of being applied. May the holy Fathers whose teaching is presented here enlighten both me and the readers so that we may proceed on the path of the healing and salvation of our souls.

I sincerely ask God that any mistakes which I may have made should be corrected and that they should not do harm to the souls of the readers, since these chapters were written in order to help and not to harm. Likewise I beg the readers who find any mistakes to let me know so that they can be corrected.

In conclusion I would like to thank all who have helped with this publication. The benefit which may result will be due to them as well. "May the Lord grant them their hearts' desire".

Archim. H.S.V.


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