HEALING, HEALTH, & HOLINESS (Part 2)
Once in a while, I hear someone say, “If you have your health, you have everything.” While I’ve always understood the sentiment of how difficult and distracting sickness can be, I also know we don’t choose to be sick (we do often choose the things that make sickness more likely, but that’s a topic for another day). I also know that people can define health and sickness in very different ways. In Part 2 of “Healing, Health, and Holiness,” Bishop ANTHONY delves into this and brings out how the Church views these issues in very different ways than what we may commonly think. This understanding is always important, but perhaps never more so than in our time of being hyper-focused on sickness due to the current pandemic. I hope we all carefully consider these words. They are potentially life-changing words that can completely reorient our life if we choose to follow them. Because our health–understood properly–really can be everything.
The Mechanism of Health
We were made to be connected to God, to receive the uncreated energy of God. Health is a condition, not an event. When Adam thought mistakenly that he could run his own life, run on his own power, he cut himself off from the divine source of power, from the Holy Spirit, and he was forced to use up all his energy, everything he had. As with any electronic device, it needs a constant source of power. Battery power always runs down. Adam also needed a constant source of divine energy to recharge himself, to replenish the energy he lost. He became sick, sick and tired and used up. God wanted to cooperate with Adam to help him. But it didn’t work out. Adam tried to run his own life in this way. And this is the sickness of sin that he passed on to all of us. Adam substituted clarity for confusion. Not knowing the right thing to do, he didn’t know what to do.
Now I want to explain a beautiful scripture in 1st Thessalonians 5:23, and it reads “May the God of peace himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be kept sound and blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” When St. Paul identifies spirit, soul, and body, he means to say that our soul has two aspects. One element of the soul is what we can call spiritual intuition, or apprehension; a heightened spiritual awareness. The other part of the soul is what we would call our reasoning powers, which we use to apply scientific methods and to give informative explanation. So, by using both the words spirit and soul, St. Paul is trying to clarify the powers of the soul.
When man rebelled against God, when he rejected God’s will and wanted to follow his own desires, he created a disharmony in his spirit, soul, and body. Ideally, with his spirit or we could say his conscience; his intuition of goodness; his sense of moral right and wrong, being open to God, he was able to receive the Holy Spirit’s energy. The Holy Spirit is the Counselor, the Spirit of Truth, the One who is everywhere present and fillest all things. This Holy Spirit unites himself to our conscience. The purity and clarity and innocence and beauty of our soul reflects the beauty of the Holy Spirit. This beautiful purity makes us healthy.
When a person’s conscience is pure and when his consciousness, or his reasoning power, is clear, he has a moral purity and intellectual clarity. He then makes good choices because he has a sound mind. He isn’t driven to extremes. He has self-restraint. He’s not a slave to what he wants, he’s thankful for what he has. He satisfies his needs; he is not dominated by his wants. With the reasoning part of his soul, he is aware of God’s will. And his body is made ready to act in a Godly way.
This hierarchy, of spirit, soul, and body, has been disturbed. Man, being cut off from God and hesitating in making choices, is attracted to the easiest thing he believes would make him happy. We all know that the most immediate thing is a sensual thing; something man understands and can pick up with his senses. Sensual pleasure becomes the first thing that offers temporary comfort. Instead of his spirit or his conscience directing his consciousness or his reasonable soul and then his soul expressing itself through the body, the body becomes a source of satisfaction for the soul. The soul seeks comfort from the things of this world rather than from the Comforter Who is the Holy Spirit. Man seeks fulfillment by filling himself with things. The whole hierarchy of spirit, soul, and body becomes an anarchy of body, soul, and spirit. The conscience is compromised by the search for pleasurable things. If man believes he gets comfort from the world, he no longer seeks the Holy Spirit who is the Comforter.
This state of confusion is what the Orthodox Church generally calls the state of sin. We inherit a human nature which is inverted, upside down and misdirected. Many of the holy fathers have described this condition in detail. Rather than God being primary for me and all things being secondary as Jesus said, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well” (Matthew 6:33), we seek things first and then God second. We have a difficult time being attracted to spiritual things. This is what it means to be sick, to be in ill health. People try to find the perfect kingdom of God in an imperfect world. We cannot get from the Earth, what only Heaven can give.
Under these conditions, people have a difficult time when they go to church. Having become unfamiliar with spiritual things, they find it very difficult to adapt to God’s heavenly presence. The spiritual life, directed by the Holy Spirit, is in, some sense, a strengthening exercise. By keeping a spiritual discipline, we recover our health.
How do we reorder our lives? This is what the spiritual life answers. It helps us put first things first. It directs us to put God first and then to order all the other areas of our lives in the light of God’s Commandments.
In the modern world, reality is defined as that which can be weighed, measured, predicted, controlled, anticipated, verified and experimented upon. It’s a purely secular world view, a completely materialistic view of life, a biological narrowing of what human nature is. We believe we came about either as a result of an accident or a coincidence of natural forces that are blindly, and I would say brutally, colliding in a meaningless motion. There is no specific plan for life. Life is temporary. It is up to me to find my own fulfillment and happiness while I can. That’s the simplest way I could explain modern thinking.
This way of thinking is very different from what I have explained about the church’s view of human nature. For us, health has to do with Jesus Christ. At His Incarnation, human nature is healed. At His Crucifixion, human nature is victorious. At His Resurrection, human nature is renewed. And we walk in the newness of life, as St. Paul said in his Letter to the Romans. My happiness is in my obedience to Christ and my thankfulness to God for reordering my human nature, for giving me health through the services and sacraments of the church. I can begin to become healthy. The course correction I receive by following a spiritual direction gives me a healthy condition.
Without a real spiritual direction, people experience a certain restlessness and uncertainty about their lives. In their quiet moments, when distractions are out of the way, they sense that something isn’t right. Why is that? It is because the spiritual dimension has been lost. A person’s conscience is separated from consciousness. As a result, it is difficult to make moral choices.
We have to know why we’re here. We want to know what we should be doing with our lives. The who I am has to come before the what I do. Some people are confused between the who and the what.
Getting better in the spiritual life is harmonizing who I am with what I do. St. Isaac of Syria explained the process of getting better. He said, we have to begin by being penitent which leads to being purified. Purification leads to perfectibility. Perfectibility, in this sense, means being holy and being healthy. When we repent, we turn our mind and our heart away from being focused on sensual things and direct it towards spiritual things. And then, we want to pray. Fasting strengthens prayer. Prayer becomes a conversation with God. This is a process, I’m saying it in a very simplified way, but this is the ongoing work of repentance.
This is where real happiness comes from. Conversing with God in prayer and being with God I experience thankfulness to God. Thankfulness is my therapy. My therapy is my return to healthfulness. Being spiritually healthy makes me happy. This is what the church does for us through the sacraments and through the training that we get through prayer and fasting. This self-discipline shows us that we are children of God, disciples of Christ.
In the world today, discipline and restraint are not always seen as good qualities. Freedom to do whatever you want in an unconstrained way seems to be more attractive. But this is a misdirection of affection, a misfire of desire.
The church can be described as a hospital, as a place of hospitality, a place of caring for curing. If a person goes in for an operation, even after it is successful, they may have to go through rehab. They have to walk on treadmills and pedal exercise bikes and do strength training. After rehab, when they go home, there is a protocol that they must follow; they have to change their diet, eat what’s good for them, not always what pleases them. The surgeon’s work is done. The speech therapist, the occupational therapist, the physical therapist are all assigned to help, but the person in recovery has to do the work.
Our spiritual health is in the hands of the Good Physician who is Jesus Christ. Our medications can be given to us in the Sacraments. Our therapists are our saints and pastors. Our rehabilitation is dependent on the inspiration they give us.
Healing is a process, not merely an event. Going from illness to health is not something that happens immediately; I do not go from being frail to being robust. Be obedient with the spiritual protocols. Remember before perfection comes penitence and purification. These protocols of health are the Commandments of Christ in the New Testament. We become stronger and stronger. We experience spiritual power. We can make the changes that are necessary. We calm the emotional storms in our lives and bring inner tranquility to our lives. I wanted to speak on these things about healing and holiness today for you and to remind you that no matter what you’re going through, God will get you through. God bless you, and may God keep you, because God loves you. Amen.