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pray_hands.GIF (680 bytes) Prayer & Spirituality
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Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Illness and Recovery

By Rev. Fr. John-Brian Paprock
Hoy Transfiguration Orthodox Mission
Madison, Wisconsin, USA

Christian Church, especially Orthodox church, views people as images of God, created complete, whole, perfect. Without the distortions and deceptions of this world – everyone would remain complete, whole, perfect. Holistic in approach, the person’s entire being, indeed the entire world, is considered in our understanding of salvation. Salvation is not just what happens after death, but it is a spiritual healthiness that continues for everlasting life (salve – ointment for healing).

Spiritual health implies a certain ease of acting and thinking in all goodness and righteousness and truth. Spiritual health is integral in all parts of our body – physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. All these are connected at the heart, which is the focus of prayer. The prayer of the heart, repeated over and over, 

       "Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner" or the shorter 
       "Lord, have mercy" (Kurielaison), 

purifies the heart and brings it vigor and spiritual health.

When a physical body is engulfed in toxins of physical pollution (most of which are natural by-products of life), then it is more likely to succumb to various diseases and distortions of genetics. So it is with the mind and spirit. However, the by-product of our life in this world is pollution, which are mental and spiritual toxins created from distortion and dishonesty, half-truths and exaggerations. Having a knowledge of good and evil, we are beckoned toward the good and the true, but all to often we do not choose the good or the true.

A Physician's Perspective

From a physician's perspective, the body is the primary point of intervention and information when sick or ill, that is when something is interfering with normal functioning. Sometimes the minutest toxin or injury can reek havoc on a fragile body. The medical profession is also utilizing the power of the mind on the body with the same subtle (or not so subtle) influence. Studies show a tremendous influence of positive thinking upon treatment outcomes.

A Psychologist's Perspective

From a psychologist's perspective, the mind (thinking and emoting) is the primary point of intervention and information when the mentality (mood, thought and perception) of a person interferes with normal functioning. Psychology has begun to recognize and accept the power of the minutest of chemicals in balancing the brain's biochemistry in alleviating what are still considered primarily psychological problems, like: major depression, manic-depression, schizophrenia, etc. So, there is growing harmony in the secular understanding of mind-body connections.

A Minister's Perspective

From the ministry perspective, the spirit, which encompasses the entire person, is the primary point of intervention and information about the blocks to spiritual development or other more troublesome spiritual dysfunctions. The intervention is spiritual, but it is seeks for wholeness, completeness. We know in Holy Orthodoxy that this is only possible by partaking of God:

Seeing Him (as in Holy Icons and in our churches and chapels everywhere, the lights, the vestments, the utensils of Holy Church);


Hearing Him (as in the chants and songs of Holy Orthodox liturgy and prayers);


Feeling Him (as in our standing without shoes in church, or in kneeling and prostrating before His throne, or with our hands when we make the sign of the cross from our forehead to our heart, from shoulder to shoulder); - smell Him (as with the incense);


Tasting Him (as in Holy Communion);


Knowing Him in our minds and hearts (the acknowledgement of truth when hearing the life-giving words that sooth our troubled thoughts;


Knowing Him in our minds and hearts (the joys and sorrows as we are washed by the angelic choirs joining our prayers at the altar).

The church sent forth by Christ has handed down through time spiritual healing for us, so that we can cast off the illusions, distortions and deceptions that so easily mislead us into imbalance and disharmony with God. This is what Holy Orthodoxy has always believed, that the person is whole. That physical and mental health are incomplete without the fullness of God's mercy. The Western Enlightenment, through modern sciences, has given better understandings on proper functioning of the body and mind and has been able to articulate the various distortions that cause dysfunction. Distortion and illness can only be understood in contrast to the truth of health. This is the road of recovery.

In physical recovery, it is learning to deal honestly and openly with the reality of physical limitations, disease, and death of the physical body. Restoration of as much health and stability and physical perfection as possible. This is discerned by normalcy with various medical tests and with the patient's ability to function physically independent.

In mental recovery, it is also learning to deal honestly and openly with the reality of thinking and emoting:

Integration of all past experiences, including losses of all kinds (grief work),


Coping with urges and desires and emotions and irrational thinking (addictions),


The restoration of mental health and the stability and perfection in human relations

This is discerned by normalcy with various tests and with the patients ability to function socially independent.

In spiritual recovery, it is also the same. Spiritual recovery works at repairing and finding our true work or service in this life and honestly reconciling to the source of all life. We discern spiritual health by a certain serenity and peace despite any of life toxins, a clarity of understanding that is both compassionate and resolute, open-minded and civil. Since we haven’t agreed on a secular vocabulary in the way we have in medicine and psychology, we tend to avoid the conversation or use religious words and phrases. In Holy Orthodoxy, we have always been comfortable in the free exchange of concepts and ideas to bring harmony and health physically, mentally, or spiritually. As Jesus Christ once asked, "Is it easier to forgive sins or to say to this infirm man - rise take up your bed and walk? But so that you might believe...."

The opening standing prayers that are repeated in all Orthodox prayer services, at home and at every Church service, are meant to bring us into spiritual harmony - by reciting those seemingly innocuous and insignificant prayers we repair and sooth the pangs of living in the world and we are preparing at all levels for the ultimate reconciliation and spiritual health - Holy Communion with Christ.

Speaking, chanting, the mystery of the Holy Trinity, the Lord's Prayer and other prayers, making the sign of the cross many times, acknowledging the time of day, the day of the week and the time of the year - all this places us in harmony with God, His revelation to His Church, and His creation. If we are attentive to these prayers regularly, we will have spiritual health as we will be whole, complete and perfect in God's eyes.


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