Whose Psyche Is It, Anyway?

1a233f4When we discuss our psychological state, what are we talking about. Better yet, who are we talking about? What is the identity of the guy in my head?

Generally, such questions are not asked. They can become important in certain dissociative disorders. If I have two guys in my head, there is clearly an issue. Is what I identify as my self – the sum of my life experiences, memories, decisions, opinions, feelings, habits – is this what will survive the death of my body? Will Nancy and Jim’s second child, the neurotic, anxiety-prone, attention deficient boy, wander the halls of heaven worrying about what’s expected of him next? Will he enter paradise with a running dialog in his head – not actually in paradise but just talking to himself about what he supposes to be paradise?

Just whose psyche is it?

This is an apt question – particularly when you consider that the word psyche in Greek means “soul.” A psychiatrist means, interestingly, a “doctor of the soul.”

From a spiritual perspective, much of what we experience on a moment-to-moment basis, is pathological. That is to say, it is a product of spiritual sickness. The root of this sickness, in Greek, is philautia, “love of self.” In more common parlance, we could say that we are ego-driven.

We create a false-self through our collection of experiences, memories, decisions, opinions, feelings, habits – a false-self that is anxious about its existence, and that is constantly re-inventing and revising its story.

“I’m not sure I ever loved her,” a troubled husband says. This is the same man who once thought he couldn’t live without her. But as our lives change, our memories and experiences, opinions, etc., are revised. They are always extremely selective. The active life-memory that we engage on a regular basis is but a tiny fraction.

“I remember my fourth grade year,” we say. But we don’t remember any “year.” We remember a few select faces and events that we deem “fourth grade year,” much like a set of yearbook photos. We may have a few select experiences or dominant feelings. These are often memories that have not been successfully integrated into a general sense of well-being. They linger because they still hurt.

Indeed, the entire question of identity is problematic. Oddly, in the modern world we often don’t identify with our bodies. “That’s not him,” you hear at a funeral as people comfort themselves with Manichaean sentiments. And yet the body, with its DNA, is the one most consistent (and persistent) component of our existence.

So who is it that Jesus saved and why is it so important?

“He calls us each by name,” is a comforting quote in the modern world. It is extremely important where the life of the individual is both exalted above everything and crushed beneath the weight of mass consumerism. We shop for our identities, only to have bought what everyone else has. “Jesus called me by my name.”

The highest example of human existence offered in Christianity is described in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He emptied Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name (Phi 2:5-9).

This act of self-emptying is known as kenosis. It is the ultimate act of love, the ultimate act of self-giving, self-forgetting. And it is the act that St. Paul here directly connects with Christ’s exalted Name. For St. John, this is the moment of Christ’s glorification. It is an act not just of the sacrificing God/Man, but the very act which He enjoins on every one of His followers – it is the ultimate act of true human existence:

Whoever seeks to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it. (Luk 17:33)

And it is interesting that the word translated “life” in this passage, is the word: psyche, soul. Whatever it is that is so precious about our identity is the stuff of self-offering. The ego cannot enter the Kingdom of God.

Our identity is something other than what we commonly think about:

Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (1Jo 3:2)


 To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.”‘ (Rev 2:17)

This “identity” is not unconnected with what we now think of as our self. But it is the self resurrected, transformed. That “self” is constantly being born through the work of Christ within us. It is not the improvement of our present self, a “moral project.” For the process is not one of improvement but of life from the dead. The old dies and the new is reborn. So that the Christian life is not one of learning how to “behave” ourselves as Christians. The Christian life is the learning of how to put the “old self to death.”

Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col 3:5)


For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. (Rom 8:13)

What we “put to death”  within our lives is much that we daily experience as the “ego.” Thus, our fears, the habits that are the passions, our preciously defended opinions, so much that is formed by sinful experiences within our lives are transformed in the work of purification. We are not yet “what” we shall be – and the “what” of what we are now is often confused with the “who” of who we are now. Who would I be without the fear? Who would I be without the envy, anger and jealousy?

There is a self at our very core and heart. It is the psychosomatic unity of our person. Our experience of the true self is deeply clouded by the sin that infects our existence. It is the true self that is “being saved.” However, much that we treasure and hold dear is indeed passing away. The asceticism of the Church teaches us to let go of that which is passing away and to hold dear that which is being renewed. In addition, with patient endurance and watchfulness, we learn to tell them apart.

The wholeness and the peace that is encountered in the presence of truly sanctified persons (such as the spirit-bearing elders) is an encounter with a true self. There is a fullness there that can almost be overwhelming. It is this same fullness that is described by Motivilov in the famous encounter with St. Seraphim in the snowy Russian winter

It is the same for us when we discern the true presence of Christ within ourselves. The passions are diminished; fears disappear; the traumas of life resolve and we forgive everyone for everything. It is in such moments that we see paradise and gain courage to renew our struggle.

Whose psyche is it? Whose soul is it? It is myself, but myself renewed according to the image in which it was created. Christ within me, the hope of glory. 

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.


48 responses to “Whose Psyche Is It, Anyway?”

  1. Marion Latiolais Avatar
    Marion Latiolais

    Fr. Freeman, as a student of your writings, I was greatly impacted by this article. It is something I have been praying about lately, and through the Grace of God you shined some light in the dark recesses of my psyche. It will take me years to unpack this (mostly I suspect after my repose). I am slow and often get “stuck” for weeks on a short passage of Scripture or an excerpt from a writing from or about a saint. Thank you for these gifts of life.

  2. davidp Avatar

    Long ago I thought our soul/psyche was some kind of box within us. Then after studying these Greek words, etc., soul is really what makes up you and me.

  3. Tom Avatar

    Fr Stephen,

    Thank you for this–so clear and so true. I serve those recovering (from addictions, etc.) and I can’t tell you have helpful this truth has been. I teach/share it weekly and see it change people from the inside out.


  4. […] Whose Psyche Is It, Anyway? […]

  5. Grant Avatar

    Thankyou Father, perfectly put. I also enjoyed the Motivilov link.

  6. MrsMutton Avatar

    It has been interesting to me to realize, gradually, that the more we abandon ourselves into the life of Christ – that is to say, into the life of His Church – the more truly we become “ourselves,” that is, that person whom God intended us to be when He created us. I can see why this would take an eternity.

  7. mushroom Avatar

    Thank you, Father Stephen, this is vital.

  8. Heidi Avatar

    What a wonderful message, Father! Thank you so much. Such a simple, seemingly obvious truth that gets lost in the shuffle and grind of the daily fight against the ego. It has been a profound revelation for me as I shift my mentality from “I can overcome sin by trusting in God’s grace” to “I can overcome sin because God’s active presence within me.” Beautiful!

  9. Fr, John Pawelchak Avatar
    Fr, John Pawelchak

    Please add me to your webmailing.

  10. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Any work of the soul: Worship (participating in the Mysteries for the love of God); prayer; marriage; monasticism; service to others; works of beauty such as poetry even therapy done properly all help to reveal to us who we are. As I read this again today I could not help but think of Romans Chapter 1 in which St. Paul warns us against worshiping the created thing rather than the Creator.

  11. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Bob, the Catholic: The difference? Personal Union with Jesus Christ, is the Christian reason and our goal. Buddhists don’t do that. As I remember the goal is mystic nothingness(over simplification I am sure).

    Because God is everywhere present and fills all things Christians can never be disenchanted with the creation, only with the fallen state. That is one reason we have sacraments.

    Although I can’t explain it well, the dispassion of the Buddhist is quite different than the dispassion of the Christian ascetic. The difference though lies in union with Christ vs. union with an anti-personal something. Or in some versions into nothingness.

    The only re-birth in Christianity is through Baptism. Life becomes more full, more personal, more conscious as we participate in the new life, not less.

    Jesus Christ does not pass away, He makes all things new. We are person because He Is. Life in the Resurrection is not anything like what Buddhists seek.

    I read a story some months ago, the testimony of a former Buddhist monk from Asia who became Orthodox and is now an Orthodox monk. He said the big difference was that in Buddhism he was alone and lonely. He wanted the community that comes with Jesus Christ. That community exists even for the most strict Christian hermit. God knows us. He is one with us. We just need to submit to the love that motivates Him rather than settling for substitutes of any kind.

    Then we will know who we really are as unique persons body and soul in an incredible community of faith and joy linked through Christ to everyone and all of creation. Not dissolved into some formless void.

  12. dino Avatar

    It sounds harsh, but in the vast majority of Buddhist influenced religions, the goal is a (highly romanticized) ‘spiritual suicide’. One exists in order to eventually die utterly, to cease from existing(!). One trains himself to desire this, to desire a return to nothingness… The overriding ‘flavor’ of this journey is that God is not a person, you do no enter into a relationship with a person, but it is a wholly impersonal cosmic energy, a thing.
    in Christianity we have Love and Truth in a personal relationship. Salvation, paradise, the end goal, is a person – Christ. Union with a personal (personal beyond all conventional conceptions) Creator.
    The story of the Buddhist Nilus Stryker (here: http://www.sfaturiortodoxe.ro/orthodox/orthodox_advices_yoga.htm )who became Orthodox is germane here, especially how his encounter with Christ in His uncreated Light made him call that Light which (or should I say Whom) he did not yet know as the “Light That Knows My Name”

  13. fatherstephen Avatar

    Bob, et al,
    I’ll be able to make responses this evening after services and class. Blessings.

  14. fatherstephen Avatar

    There are certainly similarities. But the role of the “Other” is not something within Buddhism that I am familiar with – but is essential in Christianity. My loss of self – is not just the loss of self – it is the embrace of the other – and I would add – the “suffering other.” It is in this love – the embrace of the suffering other – the Cross is its most complete example and expression – this is where we find our “true self.” There is not just absence in Christianity. There is a Presence that we find, not the absence.

    The Christian faith is not about the absence – the “anatta”. It is about the true self – that we find in God – the suffering Other. And this is love.

  15. fatherstephen Avatar

    I think your analysis is from the externals. Or could be. Of course, there are many common things in all religions. All religions pray. Many use some kind of beads. Many kneel and have prostrations. Many eat special or different foods at different times. Many fast, etc.

    But that’s like saying “All languages use the tongue.” Having said that, you’ve not said much.

    From the inside, the “Other,” is the crucified Christ. But it is also every other person. It is not an abstract. For one, I have enough respect for genuine Buddhism to acknowledge that it is unique. The similarities have long been recognized, but the differences, when experienced, are profound.

    I was in New Mexico a couple of years back when the leader of the local Buddhist community (which is large and active) was Baptized in the Orthodox Church. Apparently there is a significant difference.

  16. Dino Avatar

    the Buddhist dying (“going out like a flame”) to ‘the roots of evil: greed, hatred, and delusion’ is nothing like the Christian “dying”.
    The Christian dying is a birth (“from death unto life”) not an escape.
    What is also of primary imortance (as mentioned earlier) is that in Buddhism, one fasts, prays, etc for his own betterment. In Buddhism even if I struggle to become humble – I do it because that is for my own good. I become absorbed into a impersonal cosmic deity believing that this is for my own good.
    In Christianity there is a relationship at the heart of everything I do, or else I am deluded.
    So if I struggle to become humble – I do it because of another – Christ. I become united into a Person – Christ – believing that this His will, responding to His love for me.
    This a major difference in inner motives that can subtly escape those who see the outside manifestations of the same ascetical practices.
    Was it Dostoyevsky, (or was it St Justi Popovic) who once said that “even if someone was to prove to me that the truth is here and Christ is there, I would rather go there to be with Christ” demonstrating this very motif…

  17. fatherstephen Avatar

    And yes, there is something of a personal encounter with Christ. How else would I encounter Him? Impersonally? He is not an idea. Recommended reading would be the work of the Elder Sophrony. His work on personhood is probably as good as I know. It is not the same thing as the popular use of the term, but not unrelated.

    His work, His Life is Mine, is quite good.

    It is also true that the Christian desire regarding heaven is sometimes quite self-centered. But popular Christianity (like popular Buddhism) has a fairly limited understanding.

  18. TimOfTheNorth Avatar


    Just this week I was listening to an Ancient Faith podcast on the similarities/differences with Orthodox Christianity and Buddhism. One of the guests is a former Buddhist, while the other has worked closely with Buddhists in Asia. Perhaps you would find it helpful?

  19. Dino Avatar

    there is a person (now quite famous writer) who has experienced the depths of Buddhism and of Orthodoxy, his name is Klaus Keneth. His adventures were extreme, but through the help of Elder Sophrony he eventually concluded his perilous research and we now often see him in the monastery in Essex.
    His words are extremely similar to what I am trying to convey above, and they are not based on second-hand knowledge or books. His knowledge of Christ as well as of Buddhism is very first-hand…

  20. Dino Avatar

    Here’s Klaus Kenneth’s biographical CV in just as an example of what a varied experience he had before meeting Elder Sophrony who changed his life more than anyone before…:
    1945 – Born in Czechoslovakia at the time of the flight of the Red Army, the Russians invading the Reich: first three experiences of death (machine guns, starving, gas). Father left mother and children
    1957 – Travels through Germany on bicycle; gang leader and criminal activities; problems with the police. Attracted by cemeteries
    1961 – In prison because of the erection of the Berlin wall
    1962-1965 – Other travels; ´College´ at Rome; South of France; Paris; drummer in nightclub in Vienna; founded ´The Shouters´ a successful beat group in Southern Germany; frequent international cycle races
    1966 – Spain, Morocco and in prison for a short time
    1967 – Baccalauriate; University of Tübingen, student revolts, Marxist-Leninist, travelling in Turkey, Iran; drugs (up to 1973), nightclub disc jockey; met with Ursula (later my first wife)
    1968-1969 – Turkey, Iran, Greece, University of Hamburg, nightlife in Hamburg (in Reeperbahn district), Camargue (France), reading psychology and philosophy; Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, first visit to Fribourg (Switzerland)
    1970 – Sweden, Norway, North Cape, Finland, Lapland, Spain, Portugal, Morocco and in the Sahara desert
    1971 – By car to India, through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan. War between India and Pakistan, (car hit by bullets). Nepal: fascination with the demons; return to Iraq and Syria. War between Iraq and Iran; lost in the desert near Baghdad, lost in a mined zone and saved by a miracle; parting from Ursula; England and London
    1972 – Intense night life and work on black market for a brothel (Reeperbahn); beginning Transcendental Meditation (TM) with Maharishi Mahesh; interest in occultism and magic; Mexico, in a revolutionary camp; 40,000 kilometres through USA (George McGovern falls into my arms); intense yoga; growing power over people
    1973 – England, Scotland; RDG (East Germany), Camargue (France) with gipsies, Majorca (Spain); loneliness and isolation, end of drug-taking; experiences of levitation and ecstasies
    1974 – Work in Paris, Orly-airport; Camargue and the ‘cursed caravan’ South of France grape picking for money
    1975 – Italy; moved to Calcutta – India to study the sitar (pundit Balram Pathak), end of TM, aspiring to real Hinduism
    1977 – Thailand; Malaysia, Camargue; battles with spirits
    1978 – India; Sikim; Bhutan; Southern India; innumerable gurus; adventurous journeys in jungle; meeting with Mother Theresa in Calcutta; Tibet; Bangladesh; I become a medium
    1978 – Trances and ecstasies; the goddess Kali; disillusioned by Hinduism. First visit to Israel, Jerusalem; Sinai Peninsula
    1979 – Buddhism; Bangkok; Pattaya; Royal residence; entry into forest monastery near Laos and Cambodia; visits in Spain; (USSR) Moscow; Warsaw (Poland)
    1980 – Fribourg, Switzerland; Professor in Gruyeres (private school); demon attacks; destruction of all relationships; isolation accentuated; refuge in alcohol; ecstasy through dance; first letters about Jesus from Ursula
    1981 – All relationships destroyed; alcohol excesses; Italy, Spain, Canary Islands; pure hell; ‘refuge’ in South American spirituality; travels to Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil, Paraguay, Bolivia; murderous attack in Colombia; return to Switzerland. Visits to ‘baby-face’ Christians; three days of powerful battles and exorcism; conversion to Christianity; Jesus speaks.
    1982 – About twenty five miracles happen in my life in the ensuing years; grace becomes active; my healing; inexplicable things, all positive. Renew studies; philology and sport, languages, art and psychology for teachers, theology etc at the University of Fribourg. Degree in 1987.
    1983 – Meeting with Father Sophrony in Lausanne and England and acquaintance with Orthodoxy – the road to humility. Father Sophrony becomes my spiritual father.
    1981-1991 – Concerts and series of conferences in Europe to give my testimony; musical albums “From Head to Heart”; first CD, “Tales of Changes”; “Deepening” of true faith; battle against sin and old self.
    1986 – Orthodox baptism in Geneva (Chambésy).
    1994 – Discovery of self and reason for living; integration of faith in daily life, home, school, etc. Visits to Korea, China, Australia, Indonesia, Hawaii, USA…
    1999 – Kenya (1996), South Africa, Namibia (1999), Am losing an eye. Marriage to Nikica a gift from God
    2000 – Conferences and testimonies in Europe, radio, television, mass media. Foundation of King Solomon Academy in Kenya and ‘St. Sava Foundation’ in Serbia and Montenegro
    2001 – CD Best of ´From Head to Heart´; book In search of love and truth – a journey of two million kilometres, and aid missions to Kenya, Montenegro and Serbia
    2003 – His Life is Mine (Archimandrite Sophrony) appears in German language – with the blessing of the author (who died in July 1993 aged 97)
    2005 – new book: Götter, Götzen, Gurus – Östliche Mystik: Heil oder Unheil? Translation work, beginning the book on Occultism Retirement from School leaves time for weekly conferences and literary work
    2006 – translation of this volume in English (by Alexandra Wilson and proof-read by Elizabeth Hookway), and further translations in Croatian, Romanian, French…

  21. Karen Avatar

    Bob et al,

    I recently read this book, and thought it might be useful to this conversation:

    I think there may be more commonalities than we sometimes realize between Buddhist spiritual practice (and its goals) and the purification stage of theosis within the Orthodox tradition. Buddhist practice is in some ways parallel to Christian asceticism in the area of deepening our self-knowledge, helping us to be more aware of what it means to be truly human apart from our disordered passions (according to the image that is in us by virtue of creation, not the full awareness of the “likeness” that can only come by Christ), and to begin to respond with compassion, as opposed to react, to the world around us. I have read that Orthodox elders, like Fr. Sophrony, do allow there is some parallel in that respect, and thus some value in the Buddhist practice as far as it goes. Only a practice that can continue on through illumination and theosis is that which unites us to God, though, and which is our proper end, and this is also something stressed by the Orthodox elders.

  22. fatherstephen Avatar

    It’s an interesting question. What is it that we “encounter” when we encounter anything? Let’s use a tree. I see it. I might feel it, etc. I do not normally impute “personhood” to a tree, so I don’t describe the encounter as “personal.”

    Let’s use a man sleeping in bed. I see him. I might feel him. I hear him. I certainly impute “personhood” to him, and might imagine certain things about him based on what I see, etc. And I might indeed describe the meeting as “personal.”

    So what about God. How do you encounter Him? Well, as an Orthodox Christian, one answer is, “I see His icon,” i.e. the icon of Christ. The dogma of the Church is that “an icon makes present what it represents.” And further, in the dogmatic teaching of St. Theodore the Studite (who is quite important in the doctrine of the 7th Council), the representation in an icon is specifically a “hypostatic representation,” i.e. a representation of the Person.

    An encounter with an icon is a personal encounter.

    Now. The qualities associated with that encounter might vary greatly depending on many things. Everything from context, both locally, liturgically, as well as the internal context of the one who is doing the encountering (and, perhaps the context of the One being encountered).

    I have had experiences before some icons that simply went way beyond what is common for me. I don’t know how to account for such things – but I certainly describe them as a “personal encounter.”

    The sacraments are also interesting as encounters go. They are not “hypostatic representations,” but are the Reality itself (not a representation). Thus the Body and Blood of Christ are truly His Body and Blood. Though, oddly, the encounter is largely one of bread and wine. That encounter also expands experientially based on many things.

    Those are some of the thoughts that quickly occur to me in light of your comment.

  23. Dino Avatar

    there’s not much point explaining such a complex life here, but I would say that Klaus’ time as “this, that and the other” (not all simultaneously) never satisfied his thirst for the truth. The reason he tried so many avenues (virtually all) was that, having been repeatedly abused as a child by a Catholic priest, he mistakenly confused “the represetative with the institution” and discarded once and for all anything to do with all of Christianity – making him seek (futilely) all those other avenues.
    His time as a Buddhist did -temporarily- appear to help him escape some of his other demons.

  24. Dino Avatar

    I do not know those details for that particular case, however, it was around the times of the inhumane Ustashi… maybe there is some influence.

  25. fatherstephen Avatar

    Literal is a very problematic word (as my regular readers will remember). But I think I know what you’re asking. It is certainly not simply present to the mind or conscience. In fact, someone might not notice such a thing at all. It is a reality. It is real – but as a hypostatic representation (representation of the Person) which differs from the Reality of the Eucharist, for example. Nonetheless, it is appropriate to say “really present.”

  26. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Yes, Jesus Christ and the saints are really there in their icons, in the Eucharist and many other ways. How I respond to that reality, there’s the rub: Embrace it with joy and thanksgiving; ignore it; speculate about it; doubt it; or curse it.

    Since Christianity is about union with Christ(not a vain imaging, but real union), I would say it is rather difficult to be a Christian without having some sort of real encounter with Him who IS. He that took on our body and our nature.

    I have no questions at all about the realness of Jesus Christ as Lord, God and Savior. I question my own actions that so often are those of one who simply ignores the one whom I know.

    It seems as if we are back where we started: The difference between Christianity and Buddhism is the person of Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

  27. Dino Avatar

    perhaps there’s a possibility for such a challenge (as you mentioned) with Catholicism, but since this is an Orthodox site I would hasten to repeat Father’s cousel to check Elder Sophrony Sakharov (his “Saint Silouan the Athonite” also explains these points in the first part.) Elder Sophrony went throught the “far eastern experience” before he reached the highest summits of the Orthodox Spiritual tradition.
    Comparing the Buddhist ‘mindful awareness’ with that of the hesychastic Orthodox tradition is (when all things are considered and not just the externals), more woeful a comparison than that of vinegar to the most exquisite wine.
    Elder Sophrony makes it extremely clear (explaining his experience and the reasons too) that the ‘light’ arrived at through Eastern trancendential meditation is NOT God at all, whereas the Uncreated Light that visits the humble Orthodox hesychast is, without a shadow of a doubt, the Lord Himself…

  28. Dino Avatar

    I just had to use that wider umbrella-term because I see it as being an important part of the deeper practices of all eastern religions.
    Here are some pertinent quotes from Elder Sophrony’s experience on Eastern Religions:

    – Buddhism has some truths, but it has one human truth, which reaches to “zero”, that is, with concentration-meditation man reaches the non-being from which we came from. It is an existential suicide. Christ alone leads us to theosis, to communion with the Triune God.
    – Some say that Buddhism has nothing to do with demonism. However, those who speak thus know Buddhism only from books and speak theoretically. Action is different.
    – Some say that meditation brings them a certain peace. Externally this appears good, but these people are possessed by conceit and this results in carnal warfare. Even if they leave Buddhism, they again have carnal warfare.
    – There is a difference between Buddhist and Orthodox asceticism. In Buddhism they try to make a disclaimer and they reach nirvana. They confuse a reflection with mystical vision. They see created light with their mind. This was best done with Plotinus, in Neo-Platonism. The Fathers know this, and we can call it the “cloud of unknowing”, but the holy Fathers go beyond this and reach the vision of the uncreated Light. Then they experience that the Light comes from a Person and not from an idea, and they feel a personal relationship with God and, at the same time, there develops a great love for God and the whole world even unto martyrdom and “self-hatred“.
    – Someone passed sequentially through Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and black magic. In all these religions at the same time he did magic. As soon as he became Orthodox, he wanted to practice along with this magic, but he was unable to do it. From this he realized that magic is the foundation of all religions and that religions are dead, their leaders are dead, but Christ is the living God.

    From I Knew A Man In Christ: The Life and Times of Elder Sophrony, the Hesychast and Theologian by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos and Agiou Vlasiou. Translation by John Sanidopoulos.

  29. Dino Avatar

    Yes but without Christ his creator, the creature (in the Buddhist tradition) who realises the delusion of attachments and of “the flow of mental phenomena” does what a doctor who chops off his limb upon realising that it hurts, presenting this as a majestic solution.
    In the hesychast tradition we must be extremely guarded against the delusion of mistaking the natural “radiant nucleus of awareness, which merges with the mind’s naturally radiant essence” as God’s Uncreated Light. It is nothing of the sort and, furthermore, demonic delusion also has the ability to mimic such phenomena from a different avenue too.
    God’s Uncreated Light, being our true desire of all desires implanted by Him, is also the number one weapon used by the adversary in all spiritualities and at all times “to deceive, if possible, even the elect”.

  30. Dino Avatar

    yes, of course I did. It does not change the basic point that Buddhism, unlike hesychasm “is an existential suicide”. “Christ alone leads us to theosis, to communion with the Triune God.”
    To those with intimate knowledge things are different…
    As the Elder said: “Some say that Buddhism has nothing to do with demonism. However, those who speak thus know Buddhism only from books and speak theoretically. Action is different.”
    But more to the point, if you state that ” the Catholic Church considers the hesychastic practice a heresy” one would have to start from scratch, repeating Saint George Palamas’ arguments with Barlaam of Calabria.
    Hesychasm is most certainly not a heresy, it is the heart of hearts of the psalmic: “be still and know that I am God”.
    I find it curious you even stated that, when you have an interest in something like Buddhism! (That’s like detoxing from (perfectly healthy) food, while having no problem consuming cyanide.)

  31. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dino, would you say that the rather widespread misunderstanding of hesychasm even condemnation in the west leads some folks to explore outside of the Christian faith?

  32. Agnikan Avatar

    Bob the Catholic wrote:

    “I hate it that there are so many religions in the world!”

    Do you hate it that there are so many people in the world, too?

  33. Dino Avatar

    Considering the fact that someone who has tasted the truth has no need to go look around seeking, researching; definitely.

  34. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Bob, from the ‘about’ section of this site:

    Comments are welcome. Those commenting are asked to be respectful of others and to express disagreement with kindness. This is a private blog – all comments are subject to being removed for the sake of the greater conversation or for disturbance of the peace.

    What that has meant in practice over the roughly six years I have been here is a really thoughtful exchange of ideas and experiences from a wide variety of perspectives that rarely gets out of hand. If it does, the posts are deleted. I have learned much and developed a much deeper appreciation for the Roman Catholic tradition. A good thing.

    My question to Dino was just that a question to Dino who I respect for his knowledge and experience in the Orthodox spiritual tradition. Your statement that hesychasm is considered a heresy by the Roman Catholics made me wonder–a reflection, in part, on my own spiritual journey over 39 years before I came to the Orthodox Church as well as others I met along the way who were looking for a deeper and more meaningful experience with Jesus Christ or just something real, but had not found it anywhere in Christianity up to that point. Not a comment on you at all.

    It was a digression. Please forgive any offense I caused. It was not intended.

  35. fatherstephen Avatar

    I understand the mindfulness practice and its relationship with anxiety disorders. I suffered from such a disorder for about 40 years, but have found relief in the last 2 years, thanks be to God.

    Mindfulness as such is good and useful. But it should probably not be confused at all with Hesychasm. It might even be too easily confused with Buddhist meditation, but I don’t know that.

    But Hesychasm is simply the full practice of Orthodoxy. It is not a practice of Orthodoxy, but the practice of Orthodoxy. It was proclaimed as dogma (“received Church teaching” though existing long before) in the 14th century.

    Hesychasm certainly makes use of something like mindfulness, though it is properly called “nepsis,” (watchfulness, sobriety) in the fathers. But it is psychological, moral, liturgical, physical, sacramental – it is not a practice within Orthodoxy – it is, properly, the fullness of the practice of Orthodoxy.

    Many read things like the Way of A Pilgrim, and try to extract the prayer from it, not noticing the whole context of the book, which is as necessary as the Prayer itself. This includes the fact that the pilgrim is on a pilgrimage.

    You might find it interesting to read the book Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives, which shares the life and teachings of the Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica (Serbia). He is a contemporary. I found it very interesting that he suffered from an anxiety disorder himself through the years, find relief in later years. He also had to wrestle with tobacco. He was a helpful example.

    And on the icons. Certainly not “magically” present (I’m not even sure what that means), though I suspect that modern people would probably think that what the Church is actually saying is “magical.”

    Icons “reveal” a presence is just as accurate as saying that they “make present.” They do not make anything be in a magical manner, exercising a power that forces something. The Saints, in Christ, can be said to be infinite, in a Personal manner. Personhood ultimately has no limits. A saint can thus be “everywhere present and filling all things” though only through participation in God Who is properly described with those words.

    But we do not ever encounter something or someone “in general.” Nothing exists “in general.” All things exist in particular. Even God is Particular, though He is “transcendantly Particular.” You would have to learn these things by experience in order to understand them. You want ever “get” them otherwise.

  36. Dino Avatar

    Fr. J. Zizioulas explains somewhere that the typical “Hellene” has need for ontology, for ‘meaning’ in his approach to encountering all things, as opposed to the West’s need for utility (and the Jew’s need for a creator).
    He stated, more or less, that for a Greek, (ie: which includes a typical Orthodox Easterner – a ‘helenistic soul’), the way any entity is approached has always been focused on its ‘nature’ (as ‘meaning’): What is the ‘meaning’ of its existence, its ‘logos’? Take a bicycle for instance: what is the reason of its existence? Take the world, what is the meaning of its being? Take God, what is the ontological logos of God?
    For a westerner on the other hand, the approach is based on utility. What will this bicycle contribute to me? What’s the usefulness of the world to me? What are the reasons that prove I need to be bothered about God?
    (It is easy to detect our great danger in the spiritual life here: “ wanting God’s gifts rather than God Himself here…”)
    For a Jew again the question is: who made this bicycle? who is behind it? Who’s the creator of the world? What is the ‘history’ behind our knowledge of the Creator?
    I could be wrong, but all this makes me wonder whether the widespread misunderstanding of hesychasm in the west (which even leads some folks to explore outside of the Christian faith) has something to do with this Western ‘utilitarian’ approach too…

  37. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dino, fascinating question. I mean, what good is silence? God is only worthwhile if He brings me a $1,000,000, right? Anybody else remember Rev. Ike?

    I’ve always associated the problem more on the way western philosophy and religion typically splits man into an opposing dichotomy of heart and mind; feel or think. It is a dichotomy I found everywhere I looked until I found the Church. That dichotomy is not compatible with placing one’s mind in one’s heart.

    My parents were a full generation older than most my age (mother 40, father 48 when I was born). They were not really 20th century people, especially my father. They looked at things from an ontological perspective rather more than most other people I’ve ever met. Not just humans but all other life as well and the connections of life. Utility for them was what enhanced the life of others, gave it beauty and meaning in community. That is one reason I felt so much at home the minute I entered an Orthodox Church and have continued to feel that way despite our tendency to haggle with each other.

    Certainly the Myth of Progress we’ve been discussing has utility at the core, but it’s evil twin is hedonism. “If it works, do it” vs. “If it feels good do it” Back to the dichotomy. Utility fuels the industrial paradigm for work and for the economy, I can see that–with horrible results for the life of people and families despite the “technological progress” Cost vs. quality. Produced rather than crafted. A phone can’t be just a phone anymore. Even farming is now industrialized because the old way was just not efficient enough. Nothing can be what it is.

    Ultimately it is the nihilist/occult/demonic delusion of power over everything.

    Yea, I can see your point.

    Come Lord Jesus and have mercy on us!

  38. fatherstephen Avatar

    The Orthodox understanding of the sacraments and icons, is also part of the Orthodox understanding of the world itself – its nature and its character. We do not see the world as self-existing, as self-contained, as self-referential. Everything that exists has its existence in God Himself. And all that exists has a “logos,” its inner meaning and reality. The “logoi” of all things have their existence in Christ, The Logos, “for whom, by whom and through whom all things exist”.

    Everything created thus also has an inner reality that is not always apparent. The fathers teach what is called “natural contemplation,” by which they mean the perception and understanding of the created “logoi.”

    In Orthodoxy, we hold to a different understanding of “symbol,” and “type.” In the modern world, symbol means something which stands for something that is not there. In Orthodoxy, a symbol (sym-bole “throwing together”) is the mutual indwelling and participation of two things. We see the world as deeply symbolic in its shape and nature, and believe that you do not see anything correctly and completely until you understand this.

    This “symbolic” character of reality runs through the New Testament, the Fathers, and the liturgical hymns and life of Orthodoxy. All trees, for example. have a participation in the wood of the Cross. All bread has a participation in the bread of the Eucharist (though not actually being the Eucharist). I could multiply this until I had spoken of all things.

    This is not a merely intellectual perception. There is a medieval philosophy called “nominalism” that now, in one form or another, dominates all modern thought. Nominalism holds that things are merely things. They are stuff. And any similarity is just their “names” (nomen). This is the empty, material world of modernity. Indeed, nominalism was called the “Via Moderna,” the modern way. But it’s not classically Christian. It distorts the understanding of the sacraments and our relationship with others and with God.

    To a modern, this pre-modern, non-nominalist worldview easily seems like “magic” or “superstitious.” While to the Orthodox, the modern world view seems empty and without meaning.

    I recommend reading my book, Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe. It gives a good introduction to all of this.

  39. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    …and the modern way tries mightily to erase all sense of and participation in the sacred. Nominalism leads to the utilitarianism Dino mentioned.

    Life is both incredibly intricate and fundamentally simple. We can only know the intricacies in simplicity. Everything is connected to everything else. All being shares with all other being through Christ.

    The classical Christian paradigm is by far the most elegant, beautiful, truthful and integrated understanding of life. But participation is required. The more deeply one participates, the more is revealed in love and simple union.

    May God save us all and bring us into union with Him.

  40. fatherstephen Avatar

    Briefly. The world is created. God is uncreated. The created is sustained by God and is always referred to God but it is not God. If I hold a ball in my hand, its position is utterly dependent on me. But I am not the ball and the ball is not me.

  41. fatherstephen Avatar

    For the community of comment.
    Unfortunately, Bob the Catholic has asked that his comments and replies be deleted. I understand and have complied, though I have left “half” the conversation intact (the responses by others). I understand that mental pain that some endure with their public discussions on the net. I’ve removed a comment or two of my own on sites like Facebook before for similar reasons.

    I didn’t think Bob’s questions or comments were at all out of line or inappropriate. Questions help drive the community of comment here. And I often think that that community’s discussions are of as much value or sometimes more than my articles themselves.

    On the other hand, it is disruptive when someone posts and then later asks for what is half a conversation to be removed. I try to comply, but it clearly diminishes the work. As owner and moderator, I try to flag things if they seem inappropriate and hope that the conversation will trust me with that.


  42. Matt Avatar

    As a catechumen myself I thought his questions were exactly the sort of thing one ought to be asking a priest before baptism.

    That said…

    “All trees, for example. have a participation in the wood of the Cross.”

    Does it follow that all persons executed as criminals by the state also participate in Christ’s crucifixion in a similar way?

  43. Dino Avatar

    It is easier understood (in a general rather than an individual sense) in the reverse though, it is Christ Who participates.

  44. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Bob, I enjoyed your comments, they made me think–always a blessing. May our Lord bless you and keep you.

    IMO, anxiety in this world is probably the norm. Whenever a culture has such a deep disconnect with God and is even antithetical to Him, anxiety is the result.

    Indulgence in one’s favorite passions to try to alleviate the anxiety is often the result. You have a leg up in that you are more aware than most.

  45. fatherstephen Avatar

    I understand anxiety issues. As I said in a comment, I endured such a disorder for many decades, only finding relief in the past several years. That feeling, “Why did I say that?” is a very haunting one. BTW, have you ever been tested for ADD or ADHD? They are commonly associated with panic and anxiety, though often overlooked. There are strategies for dealing with them that are sometimes overlooked in anxiety therapies. Personal experience…

  46. Margaret Avatar

    Lord have mercy on us all Fr. Stephen! I have adopted the practice of reading only your (Fr. Stephen) comments on a post here on your blog. Sometimes your comment is a response that leads me to read the rest of the conversation. I have been blessed by comments, but I do not make a habit of reading the comment section. That’s my “two cents”! Glory to God for all things!

  47. Matt Avatar

    it is Christ Who participates.

    And with that it all clicks together seamlessly. Thank you Dino.

  48. […] What Lewis provocatively observing is that if one leaves Christ out of the equation our sense of self disintegrates.  Now, I am leaving Judaism and Islam out for the sake of simplicity, as well as Confucianism (which has a different concept of the self yet).  The point is that a naturalist view (I am using the term “naturalist” loosely to include the Buddha’s teachings, which were-after all-based on observation) favors our intuition that the self doesn’t really exist.  It is only by reference to Christ that we begin to make sense of our true self.  Father Freeman has spoken well of this: […]

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