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December 31, 2014 + Converting a Psychological State into a Spiritual State

Converting a Psychological State into a Spiritual State:
According to Archimandrite Sophrony & Archimandrite Zacharias

By Rev. Father Timothy Pavlatos, Published digitally by the Greek Metropolis of San Francisco

Earlier this summer, I took a one-week trip to the Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Essex, England, founded by Archimandrite Sophrony, a disciple of St. Silouan the Athonite, in 1959. This was my second trip in the last five years and it was very memorable. One of the highlights of this pilgrimage was the opportunity I had sit down with one elder, Fr. Zacharias, who spoke on a variety of topics concerning the spiritual life. In this article, I want to share with you briefly; one of the themes he shared with a few others and me. I would like to start with a quote from one of his books, The Hidden Man of the Heart (pp. 145-146).

We frequently suffer pain and hurt on the psychological level when we encounter events that crush our heart. But we must rise about the negative experiences and we do so by exploiting the heart-felt pain of a particular incident and convert it into spiritual energy. Fr. Sophrony often stressed that we must learn to transfer every psychological state – whether due to illness, the scorn of other people, persecution, or the incapacity of our nature – onto a spiritual level by means of a positive thought. And we do this simply by keeping our mind in the place where the Son of God is. We think on those things that are on high, as St. Paul advised the Philippians (cf. Phil. 4:8).

Plainly speaking, Fr. Zacharias said in our meeting: "We must not leave anything in us hidden, but we must give everything to God. For example," Fr. Zacharias said, "I may feel very nostalgic about something. I remember, let's say, my grandmother, and how pious she was, and how she used to pray long hours into the evening, how she was very giving, loving and tender. This is a psychological state. To convert this into a spiritual state, I would turn to God and say, 'Lord, you have blessed me in countless ways. You have granted me every good gift from above. You have given to me a grandmother who is an example of your love and compassion. I express my deep gratitude to you who are my teacher and my God.'" Fr. Zacharias says, "In this way, I convert a psychological state into a spiritual one."

Another example he says, "would be if I suffer physical pain or poor health. On a psychological level I could choose to complain about my condition, to grumble and to question God. If I leave this state within me, it will begin to eat away at my soul and I will grow to become bitter. If, however, I convert it into a spiritual state, I will open the way for God's divine consolation and comfort. In this instance I will say, 'Lord, you know my condition, you know my suffering and my pain. In your love for me and for all mankind, grant me the grace and the courage to endure my affliction with patience and thanksgiving, knowing that you are a good and loving God.'"

A third example he states, "would be when I am admonished by one of my brothers at the monastery. Say, for example, that Fr. ____ , comes to me and says 'Father, I don't like the way you pray in the services. You are very distracting to me. In addition, you don't seem to care about the others here, only yourself.' On a psychological level this statement wounds me and my flesh wants to fight back, to defend myself. If I leave it at this level, I will certainly fall into sin, judge my brother and perhaps even wound him. However, if I struggle to convert this experience from a psychological state to a spiritual one, I will not defend myself."

There are three levels of response in such a situation, each progressively greater than the one preceding it. "If we force ourselves not to answer back when we are admonished, then we are on the first step of the Ladder to perfection (according to St. John of Sinai). If we not only keep quiet, without reacting badly, but also realize that we are wrong and we blame ourselves for our mistake, then we are on the second step. If we give thanks to God that we have been rebuked for our benefit and our correction, we are on the third step. If we pray for the one who has wronged us and consider him as our benefactor, then we are one step higher on the ladder to perfection" (ibid. pp. 155-156).

In the same book, Fr. Zacharias goes on to say, "We should not live our psychological states on our own, we should share them with God Himself, with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Apostle gives us just such an injunction when he says, 'If anyone is happy, let him sing. If anyone is sad, let him repent.' That is to say, we can transform a psychological energy into a spiritual one – not only the sad energy, but even the happy one. If we are merry, we do not live our happiness only on a human level, but we lift our minds to God and we glorify our great Benefactor by giving thanks to Him. If we are full of admiration, then again we praise the all-wise Creator. All the time we refer ourselves to Him, and this attitude is very useful especially when we receive the 'hard knocks' of life, because in such critical moments, we will find a way out and God will console us. Many times, we pray and God does not answer our prayers, and the temptation or difficulty remains. But one thing happens which is even more precious than being delivered from the temptation: we receive the strength to rise above it. This is an even greater miracle" (ibid. pp. 153-154).

There is not a day that goes by that we don't have the opportunity to convert a psychological state of mind into a spiritual one. This word given by Fr. Zacharias was very profound and has the power to transform our lives if we choose to apply it.

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Leavetaking of the Nativity of our Lord

Troparion, Tone 4

Your Nativity, O Christ our God, has shone to the world the Light of wisdom! For by it, those who worshipped the stars, were taught by a Star to adore You, The Sun of Righteousness, and to know You, the Orient from on High. O Lord, glory to You!

Kontakion, Tone 3

Today the Virgin gives birth to the Transcendent One, and the earth offers a cave to the Unapproachable One! Angels with shepherds glorify Him! The wise men journey with a star! Since for our sake the Eternal God was born as a Little Child!