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“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.
Dear Clergy, Students and Psychotherapists,
Plans are underway for the 2010 International Orthodox Psychotherapy Conference slated for June 21 - 25, 2010 at the Cenacle Retreat House in Chicago, Illinois. The conference center has only 50 rooms available on campus. Please book your reservation sooner rather than later.
How many times has someone you are talking to and whom you hardly know, labeled you a ‘friend?’ Or how many times have you been talking about someone with whom you have casual familiarity and said: “Oh! My friend, so and so, ..” etc? I think if we were to count all those whom we know or interact with whom we call ‘friends,’ most of the world would be one happy group of ‘friends.’
However, consider the words of Jesus: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15: 12-13).
Psychologist Abraham Maslow, (1970) wrote that the feature of such love is a “profound interpersonal” relationship. He indicates that such a relationship “is not a matter of moment,” “demands a good deal of time,” which implies the “circle of [true] friends is relatively small.” War veterans would also add their understanding of the depth of the lasting, true friendship of comrades-in-arms who literally place themselves in the line of fire, allowing their lives to be laid out for their companions.
I am sure some have come across people who hold the view that they are entitled to be treated in a certain manner. These individuals define their relationships with others in terms of their social position or power. That is to say, they feel they are entitled to and deserve, love, companionship, happiness, honesty, obedience, respect, and deference, etc. Entitlement works hand in hand with demanding expectations. This means, when someone doesn’t treat them the way they demand and expect to be treated, they feel they have the right to be angry or, alternatively, they get depressed.
From the outset, it should be noted that some of the expected ways in which people want others to treat them are often desirable and often good. A psycho-spiritual problem occurs when the events themselves become a test of whether or not expectations are met according to self-defined standards. In clinical terms, desirable preferences have been transformed into demanding expectations which sabotage the social or business relationship and result in emotions and behavior (usually anger) that impair the ability to attain desirable goals.
By The REV. GEORGE MORELLI - For the North County Times | Sunday, April 12, 2009 7:07 PM PDT
"Faith under Fire"
Authors: Roger Benimoff & Ann Conant
Publisher: Crown Publishers
When we think of heroism in war, we usually think of a military figure, gun blazing, single-handedly holding off a barrage of charging enemies. Images of special forces come to mind. Low on any list of courageous members of the armed forces would be someone dressed in camouflage, but with a cross or Star of David on their lapel: a chaplain. In fact, chaplains are not allowed to carry deadly weapons.
As Chaplain Roger Benimoff himself states in his new memoir of combat service in Iraq, "a pocketknife was the most lethal object I was allowed to hold."
But this is what his book, "Faith Under Fire," written with Anne Conant, is all about ---- chaplains can be among the military's most courageous members. This is even more so because they do not carry weapons; they have only their faith in God and his will as their defense.
April is the first full month of spring, a time of deliverance from the gloom of winter. This year, for Christians, April is also the holiest festal period of the year. For them, the reason for the sanctity of this holy season is the triumphant joy of Christ’s Resurrection, a deliverance which followed the depth of forsakenness he experienced during his passion when he prayed while hanging on the Cross, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Ps 21: 1, Mt: 27:43).
Few realize this psalm’s closing verses end in the joyous hope in the reign of God: “Posterity shall serve him; men shall tell of the Lord to the coming generation, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn (Ps 21: 30-31)” Deliverance is also the theme of the Passover celebrated by the Jewish people-in April this year. After years of slavery God rescued His people from the domination of the tyrannical Pharaoh and led them into the promised land and redemption. Moses told the Pharaoh: “The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, ‘Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness …’” (Ex 7:16).
Eastern Christians use the word Pascha for Easter. Pascha, is derived from Greek usage and is itself a transliteration of the Hebrew word for Passover: pesach. The words of Psalm 68 are relevant to both traditions:
“Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee before him! As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melts before fire, let the wicked perish before God! But let the righteous be joyful; let them exult before God; let them be jubilant with joy!” (1-3)
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Do you notice that in today’s complex society there are some fearsome things that can occur? An immediate example, probably fresh in everyone’s minds, is the crash water landing of U.S. Air Flight 1549 an A320 Airbus in the Hudson River minutes after takeoff from La Guardia Airport, just a couple of months ago. Some people also feel they have to worry about the impending dire events that may occur in the future. Consider what Jesus said to His followers: “And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life?” (Mt 6: 27). Solomon, king and prophet, respected by Christians, Jews and Moslems, the writer of the Book of Proverbs (12:25), notes: “Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down …” Particularly apt are Gandhi’s words: “There is nothing that wastes the body like worry, and one who has any faith in God should be ashamed to worry about anything whatsoever.”[i]
Once again our spiritual ancestors lead the way in pointing out a solution to us “Jesus answered them, “My Father is working still, and I am working.” (Jn 5:17). And as St. James (2:18) counseled: “…and I by my works will show you my faith.”
Psychologists and business consultants have suggested lessons which can be learned from the disastrous plane crash and which can shift us from aimless worry to fruitful work. Clinical science terms this process “meta-cognition” (Flavell, 1976): thinking and ordering your own thinking and then practicing and regulating your behavior (or work).
Have you noticed that many people around you, including perhaps even a few of us reading this are greatly inclined to have people and events go “our own way.” What underlies this attitude is that situations not going our way are interpreted and perceived as awful and terrible, basically a catastrophe. If things do not go the way I want them to go or people do not meet my demanding expectations I can react with anxiety, depression or feel I have the right to be angry. Unfortunately, making the title of the popular Frank Sinatra song, “My Way,” the theme guiding our lives can lead to emotional and behavioral dysfunction, interpersonal conflict, at times, even lead to breaking of the law with legal consequences as well as to spiritual separation from God and man.
Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34).
From the outset, let's clarify three points. First, suicide is the deliberate taking of life and thus a serious sin. Second, nothing in the literature of behavioral research provides a clear understanding of suicide. Third, the mental confusion and emotional pain of the tortured soul who has taken his life (including those contemplating suicide) as well as the anguish and incomprehensibility of the act suffered by the surviving loved ones, is almost beyond human description.
by Fr. George Morelli
Do you notice that in describing the actions or behaviors of others, people usually tack on a label describing the person themselves. This is especially common when we observe someone making a mistake. As an example, we may say: “That is not the way to do it, you are wrong: You are an idiot.” In actuality some of the labels many use in describing others are quite a bit more ‘colorful’ than the word: ‘idiot.’
The problem is that label-words are abstract, ambiguous and carry surplus meaning. Such words then, can be misunderstood, frequently prompt harsh feelings and escalate into unfriendly exchanges. This was not unnoticed by the author of the Book of Proverbs who noted: “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is prudent.” (Pv 10:19)
Use of label-words also betray a basic thinking error: circular reasoning. In this example the circular reasoning goes like this: How do you know the person is an idiot? By their mistake. What made the person make the mistake? The person is an idiot. A military-minded example would go like this: This is a fast bullet! What makes it fast? Because it is a fast bullet. Clear thinking involves breaking out of using the label word itself in explaining how it works. We know someone is mentally impaired when neuropsychological test results show cognitive impairment. Likewise, we can explain bullet speed by scientific analysis of bullet size, weight, powder burn, and bore length of weapon, etc. In the words of Sgt. Joe Friday (Jack Webb) of the 1950’s TV series Dragnet: “Just give me the facts, Ma’am.”
by Fr. George Morelli
For all practical purposes, Thanksgiving Day is the closest we come to a national holy day in the United States. Historically, it has been celebrated with everything from religious thankfulness, food, frolic and of course modern commercialism. Despite this, it is still a time for many Americans to ‘count their blessings’ and get together with family and/or friends.
Sometimes our approach to life stops us from ‘counting our blessings and giving thanksgiving to God. Psychologists call this pessimism.
by Fr. George Morelli
Sometimes we set up unrealistic goals and objectives for ourselves that are impossible for us to attain. This does not mean that we should not aim high, that is: to work at achieving all we are capable of achieving. In fact, this is an important motivating factor in our lives. However, failure will follow if we strive to attain goals that are of themselves unrealistic based on a true assessment of our talents. Unrealistic goals are barriers to achievement and in the end serve to block motivation and frustrate hard work.
By Fr. George Morelli
Many have heard of “random acts of kindness,” but how many of us take it seriously enough to make kindness a priority in our lives? St. Paul reminds us in Romans 11:22 that God's kindness returns to us, provided that we continue in his kindness. But some still resist.
By Fr. George Morelli
Sometimes we are our own worst enemy. We are partially responsible for creating a problem that need not be. For example we may encounter different life situations with the idea that it is a necessity to be loved or approved by significant people around us. If we don’t have this love or approval it is perceived as awful, terrible, the end of the world, and we respond with anxiety.
V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli, Ph.D., A.B.P.N.
Among the military, suicide ranks as the “fourth leading manner of death for soldiers, exceeded only by hostile fire, accidents and illnesses,” according to figures released May 29, 2008 by the Department of Defense. And compared to previous estimates, “10 to 20 times as many soldiers have thought to harm themselves of attempted suicide.” (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/24874573/)
Our brother, Fr. Stephan Close, the U.S. Air Force chaplain stationed at the airbase in Ramstein, Germany, shares with us the following observations of his very special and grace-filled ministry:
"Your Grace, one of the joys of my ministry here at 'the Ramstein of my repentance' is to serve the wounded. Rarely do I have the blessed obligation to honor the dead, which I offer with as much dignity as my humanity can muster. It is such a blessing to be at worship with the wounded faithful who look to the icons with eyes which cannot see and offer a candle though they remain in physical darkness, their hand guided by fellow warrior. They faithfully follow a Divine Liturgy (and wait patiently through a sermon) in a language they do not understand but whose form helps them recall worship and remind them of truth which warms their hearts though far away from home. They walk towards the chalice though one shoe has no foot in it. They bow down although they cannot rise without the support of their brother. They make the sign of the cross with a hand scarred and tortured by flame. Such are the saints you have sent me to serve.