Wednesday, 21 February 2007

The More We Look the Weirder it Gets

We thought we were finished with the saga of Rev Ted Haggard. But no, new twists pop up and we wish to comment. We originally wanted to comment on the letter of the ‘The Overseers of New Life Church’, dated February 18, 2007, which addresses the matter of Rev Ted Haggard’s history and condition. We are somewhat reluctant to proceed on the grounds that we are commanded not to judge that we may not be judged, and that is a very good reason not to proceed; however, we feel that there are certain issues that must be discussed. We are going to post below in its entirety the Overseers’ letter, which we copied from the New Life Church’s own website and reformatted for our blog. We imagine that the letter is in the public domain. We originally came across it reprinted on a Colorado newspaper’s website.

First of all, astonishingly, the letter does a volte-face—and without even admitting it. In the space of ten days the official line changes from a ‘completely heterosexual’ Ted Haggard who has an unfortunate tendency to ‘act out’, but only with one person, there being no evidence that anyone else at all is involved—to a man with, as the Overseers’ letter states, a

lifelong battle with a “dark side” which he said in his confession letter has been a struggle for years. We have verified the reality of that struggle through numerous individuals who reported to us firsthand knowledge of everything from sordid conversation to overt suggestions to improper activities to improper relationships. These findings established a pattern of behavior that culminated in the final relationship in which Ted was, as a matter of grace, caught.

Just a minute. Did all this information come to your attention in the ten days after Ted finished his three-week intensive? In the ten days after your representative claimed that he was completely heterosexual and that no one else was involved?

Given that Rev Haggard has signed an agreement not to make public comments on the scandal, the public narrative is under the control of the Overseers.

They continue in their letter: ‘We learned most of those circumstances through confidential pastoral communications that, because of their pastoral character, cannot be disclosed.’ Quite true that up to a point pastoral communications cannot be disclosed. Still, we now have two diametrically opposed accounts issued by officials of New Life Church in less than two weeks about ‘what’s going on with Rev Ted’ without any attempt on the part of the Overseers to explain—or even explain away!—the discrepancies.

We might be forgiven if we have a certain scepticism as to whether even this new narrative is the whole truth.

We do not know why the Overseers had Rev Haggard sign an agreement not to make public comments, but the result is certainly that he has left the Overseers in control of public explanations of the affair. And while it is quite true that the Overseers cannot disclose any communications of a purely pastoral nature, still, without some sort of documentation, who is going to take them seriously? Moreover, does the privileged nature of confessions cover the whole gamut of the administrative investigation that the Overseers have conducted and are conducting?

The Overseers then proceed to explain why Ted had to leave the New Life Church. The explanation seems weak, although as far as it goes it does make sense. Is it the full story?

The letter then seems to want to prove the New Life Church’s compassion in its severance packet for Ted and Gayle.

We are not impressed. Certainly, the Church as a tax-exempt 501(c)3 non-profit organization cannot do whatever it feels like. Still, we are reminded of rich parents who throw a little money at their children instead of love. The children later kill them.

Finally, we were struck by this phrasing in the letter:

While our investigation is not complete, I can report that we have found a few staff members struggling with unrelated sin issues. Each such person has been confronted and has submitted to discipline. Based upon what we presently know, we believe that the general culture of this church today is Christ-centered and holy. This process has taken huge amounts of our time to interview, gather facts, and track down rumors. It is not finished. To our relief, we are finding no culture of immorality among the staff here as we might have initially expected. [Emphasis added.]

Scary place to be.

While we were rooting about the Internet before writing this post, we came across this article in Harper’s Magazine about the New Life Church. (Update, March 2, 2008: Since this post was written, Harper's Magazine has made the article subscription-only. We have changed the preceding link to point to a PDF form of the article, access to which requires that you subscribe to Harper's. Here is the full technical citation: Inside America's Most Powerful Megachurch, by Jeff Sharlet, Harper's Magazine, May 2005, pp. 41 - 54.) Now Harper’s Magazine has its own agenda; that we do not doubt. Still, even if we provide a hefty discount for ‘liberal bias’—or ‘whatever bias’—what comes through in the article about New Life Church is disquieting. To our great misfortune, we have managed to lose our complete ignorance of this rather florid manifestation of the American Civil Religion. It is not only the rather stagy theatrical worship but also the organizational structure of the New Life Church that we find disquieting. Hence the title of our post: the more we look the weirder it gets.

The whole phenomenon of the New Life Church and similar religious movements raises questions about idolatry in American religion. It does seem, though, that the New Life Church and similar American religious movements have historical roots in New England Puritanism. However, it is a New England Puritanism that has gone Pentecostal and then moved to Hollywood. There it has met both television and the Hollywood extravaganza.

We hope we are done with this sordid matter.

Here is the Overseers’ letter:

February 18, 2007

Dear New Life family and friends,

On November 1, 2006, we, as the Board of Overseers for this church, were called upon by the moral default of your former pastor. We have worked diligently since then to restore both Ted and New Life Church.

Concerning Ted and his family, we have done extensive fact-finding into his lifelong battle with a “dark side” which he said in his confession letter has been a struggle for years. We have verified the reality of that struggle through numerous individuals who reported to us firsthand knowledge of everything from sordid conversation to overt suggestions to improper activities to improper relationships. These findings established a pattern of behavior that culminated in the final relationship in which Ted was, as a matter of grace, caught. We learned most of those circumstances through confidential pastoral communications that, because of their pastoral character, cannot be disclosed. However, it was the opinion of the Overseer Board and Restorer Board that our initial action of removing Ted from leadership was not only warranted, but also merciful to him and to the church.

Some of you have wondered why Ted had to leave this church. You know that Ted had an enormous personality. As hard as this action appears, it is the considered and unanimous judgment of the Restorers and Overseers that Ted's presence is so large and his wrongful conduct so tangled that this church and its leadership would become distracted by his continuing presence. For the sake of Ted's restoration, it is best for him to move out of Colorado Springs for the recovery of his personal family life and his personal Christian life.

Ted and Gayle have agreed to this counsel and are cooperating fully. After much prayer and consultation, and after seeking input from the Restorers and Overseers, the church’s Board of Trustees has fairly and compassionately decided to support the Haggard family throughout 2007. This act of Christian love will provide professional care, counseling, and the financial support they immediately need to continue in their journey of recovery. Ted and Gayle will soon relocate and find a local church to attend and other professional support in their new location. The Overseers and Restorers will continue to provide guidance and direction for Ted and his family. Also, the Trustees graciously provided the funds for Ted and Gayle to participate in 21 days of analysis and counseling that offered new insights consistent with our initial findings. That time of counseling was quite helpful to Ted and Gayle, and is simply the launching point by which years of counsel and fruits of true repentance may be demonstrated. There should be no confusion that deliverance from habitual, life-controlling problems is a “journey” and not an “event.” Ted will need years of accountability to demonstrate his victory over both actions and tendencies.

Concerning New Life and the church family, we have been most pleased with the quality of leadership we have witnessed in the elders, the trustees, and the senior staff. In addition, the entire staff of New Life is cooperative and amazing. This church has the potential of fulfilling its dream of “passion for God and compassion for people.”

While our investigation is not complete, I can report that we have found a few staff members struggling with unrelated sin issues. Each such person has been confronted and has submitted to discipline. Based upon what we presently know, we believe that the general culture of this church today is Christ-centered and holy. This process has taken huge amounts of our time to interview, gather facts, and track down rumors. It is not finished. To our relief, we are finding no culture of immorality among the staff here as we might have initially expected.

We, the Overseers, have committed ourselves to serve this church for the rest of the year of 2007. In that time, we will serve in an expanded role appointed by the Trustees as a spiritual “presbytery,” or a spiritual covering, to give the final word on all spiritual decisions and provide other guidance until a new pastor is confirmed by you as the congregation. On that day, our work will be through. In the meantime, we will work very closely with the executive pastoral team. They have all displayed outstanding character, responsibility and faithfulness. The Interim Pastor will consult with us on the day to day operations, which he will continue to oversee.

The purpose of this continuing role for the Overseers is to provide additional outside stability. The senior pastoral staff has welcomed this development. It will allow adequate time, without pressure, for the Pastoral Selection Committee to consider potential candidates, both inside and outside the church, for the role of Senior Pastor.

We have also recommended Pastor Chris Hodges to be the fifth member of the Board of Overseers.

Joshua said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord…” (Josh. 24: 15). As we prepare ourselves for the Easter season, we all have a choice today: Will we live as captives of the past, the grave and sin, or will we shake ourselves, cleanse ourselves, and rise up to be a powerful new Body? The world, the nation, this community, and your families are watching how you respond to crisis: with courage and faithfulness or with cynicism and retreat. To this point, we have seen amazing evidence of the grace of God upon the wonderful family called “New Life Church.” “Where sin does abound, grace does much more abound,” and that means much grace is being poured out upon us right now!

Pray fervently for the staff, as change, restructuring, and reorganization are inevitable. Like any army that suffers a setback, they re-focus, retool, and rebound. The Overseers will continue their work with the staff to do long-term master planning, speak in chapels to minister to and pastor the staff, and conduct final interviews to discover any sin that may be present. The Pastoral Selection committee will carefully work through all candidates both within and outside the Body of New Life until the Holy Spirit gives everyone the witness that the new leader has been found.

When God judged the world in the time of Noah, Noah’s family entered the Ark. It was not until five months had gone by [that] the waters began to decrease. It was after seven and a half months [that] the first sign of the tops of the mountains appeared. It was not until one year and ten days had gone by that Noah and his family exited the Ark. In a similar way, we see the exposure of your pastor as the moment of judgment. Five months from that day will be Easter…seven and a half months will be Father’s Day…one year and ten days will be November 14th. Our encouragement to you today is, “Stay in the Ark.The winds may howl, the storms may rage, and the Ark may drift but you are still safe within. We expect that by November of this year, all of you will step out into a “New Life” and a new world with the memories, disappointments, and judgments all behind.

Join us in making 2007 a “Year of Faithfulness.” We will make it to the other side and Jesus will be exalted at New Life Church!


The Overseers of New Life Church

Sunday, 18 February 2007

The Mercy of God

Today is Cheese Fare Sunday; tomorrow is Lent. Usually we face Lent with indifference or with dread. But let us think about Lent as an expression of the mercy of God.

God loves us. He is not trying to punish us by forcing us to go through Lent. He is trying to help us. How? Lent is an opportunity for us to purify ourselves. From what? From sin.

May Christ bless all men in this Lent.

Orthodox Monk

Wednesday, 14 February 2007


Our old friend ‘Anonymous’ posted the following comment on our post Orthodox Monasticism 14 — The Charism of Discernment. His first paragraph is a quotation from our post, something he wants to discuss. The square brackets in that paragraph are his own interpolation, where he explains what we ourselves mean by clairvoyance. After the first paragraph ‘Anonymous’ continues on his own. Here is his comment:

On pp. 27 – 33 of Wounded by Love, Elder Porphyrios describes his reception at the age of 16 of the Holy Spirit in power, his resulting illumination, and his simultaneous reception of the gift of clairvoyance [Deep Spiritual and Prophetic Discernment]. These things were transmitted to him through another Athonite Elder, Elder Dimas, without Elder Dimas’ having anything to do with it: the Holy Spirit ‘jumped’ from Elder Dimas to the young monk without Elder Dimas’ knowledge. Why? How? Who knows?


Do you know why they can receive nothing in the HOLY Spirit? Because they have no understanding of what is to be in the Radius of the Divine Radiance of a [HOLY] Spirit-Bearer and to receive an Impartation!

They ask the same questions about Seraphim of Sarov and Motovilov - how could Seraphim of Sarov shine and how could Motovilov see his shining face - the Impartation that comes from being in the Radius of the Divine Radiance of a [HOLY] Spirit-Bearer!

The reason Dimas was oblivious to this is because he was having what the Salvation Army used to call a "Glory Fit", he was in an ecstatic state BUT this young man was secretly watching him and asked in his spirit to receive the same Mantle, the same Anointing and dared to believe for an Impartation! in and from the HOLY Spirit and they keep asking why??? how??? who knows???


The greatest sadness is that it is what the Salvation Army used to call a "Glory Fit" - I wish they had those fits today! The last experience I had of this of this type of BURNING Anointing was the Toronto Blessing ALTHOUGH it is now happening at Bethel Church, Redding, California - Marvellous!!!

‘Anonymous’ is a little more sophisticated than we might think. He knows who St Seraphim of Sarov is; he knows the gist of Motovilov’s experience with St Seraphim. He knows what ecstasy is, and can compare ecstasy in the Hesychast context to a ‘Glory Fit’ in the Salvation Army. He uses in English literal translation the Greek patristic term ‘pneumatophoros’, using square brackets to add the English word ‘Holy’ that he knows is not used by the Greek Fathers (although it is implied by them). He also knows how to use a word which is in the OED but which we had never seen before—‘impartation’. He writes in good English.

And, he thinks, he knows what we ourselves, ‘Orthodox Monk’, do not know: how it is that the Holy Spirit jumped from Elder Dimas to the young boy who was later to become Elder Porphyrios.

Here we would like to point out that ‘Anonymous’ is in error on a certain point. He alleges that Elder Porphyrios ‘was secretly watching [Elder Dimas] and asked in his spirit to receive the same Mantle, the same Anointing’. However, Elder Porphyrios himself recounts that he didn’t know anything whatsoever about the Holy Spirit. Recall that Elder Porphyrios came to Mt Athos an illiterate boy of 12 and that the event took place when he was 16. Elder Porphyrios clearly implies in Wounded by Love that the ‘jump’ of the Holy Spirit from Elder Dimas to himself was a spontaneous sovereign movement of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 3,8). He says that the reason the Holy Spirit ‘jumped’ to him was because of his obedience to his own Elders, Panteleimon and Ioannikios.

Let us clarify just what the ‘Toronto Blessing’ is. Here we excerpt an article by a Dr Nick Needham, a Baptist minister and seminary teacher. The ‘Dr’ refers to his PhD from the University of Edinburgh. We have taken these excerpts from, which appears to be a website run by members of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia. We really don’t know anything about the website, about Dr Needham, or indeed about the ‘Toronto Blessing’: we are not sociologists of American religion. But here is what the article by Dr Needham in part says:

The Toronto Blessing (or TB, as it is now often called) is a worldwide spiritual movement within Pentecostal and charismatic churches. It is named after the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church in Toronto, Canada, where the movement first hit the headlines in January 1994. …

… This outpouring happens when a leader, who has already received the blessing himself, then passes it on to others, usually in a meeting of a church or in a larger gathering of believers from various churches. These leaders, especially the more well-known ones, are often referred to as "anointed men," and the blessing itself is also often called the "anointing," or a "fresh anointing." …

[Comment of Orthodox Monk: This appears to be what ‘Anonymous’ means by ‘to be in the Radius of the Divine Radiance of a [HOLY] Spirit-Bearer and to receive an Impartation’.]

TB advocates claim that the blessing or anointing has two main effects on believers: (i) It brings them a fresh and overwhelming sense of God's love, which leads to wonderful joy; (ii) It lifts people up to new heights of spiritual life, so that they begin to walk much closer to God, praying more, reading the Bible more, evangelising more, etc.

If we look at what actually happens when people receive the blessing, the immediate observable effects—we see the following:

(i) Almost without exception, people fall over onto their backs, sometimes gently, sometimes as if struck by a bolt of electricity. Those who fall sometimes black out. This phenomenon has of course been around for a long time in Pentecostal and charismatic circles, and is referred to as being "slain in the Spirit."

(ii) Often those affected are seized by a spirit of uncontrollable laughter. This laughter can last literally for days. On The Coming Revival video, Rodney Howard-Browne reports a man who (to use his language) got drunk on the Holy Spirit and laughed uncontrollably for 3 days. This particular phenomenon is referred to as "holy laughter," and it has been so widespread in the TB that it has sometimes been called "the laughing revival."

(iii) Often, but by no means always, when the blessing is imparted in a meeting, some will respond by making noises and bodily movements like various animals. In the early days of the TB, the most common of these animal manifestations was "roaring like a lion." However, this is in fact only one of many animal manifestations which have been observed. I myself have witnessed people gibbering like monkeys, barking like dogs, howling like wolves, and screeching like cats. Here is a description by a person who is in favour of the TB:

That room sounded like it was a cross between a jungle and a farmyard. There were many lions roaring, there were bulls bellowing, there were donkeys, there was a cockerel near me, there were sort of bird songs ... Everything you could possibly imagine, every animal you could conceivably imagine you could hear.

There are other physical phenomena, such as holy drunkenness (staggering about as though drunk), dancing in the Spirit (tap-dancing, ballet dancing), running on the spot, and bouncing up and down like a grasshopper. However, these three—falling over, hysterical laughter and animal manifestations—these are the main physical manifestations of the blessing or anointing.

As for the inner spiritual or emotional experience, there is no reason to doubt that many people do feel an overwhelming sense of being loved, and tremendous feelings of joy and euphoria. …

The TB originated within something called the Faith Movement in the U.S.A.

…[A]lmost all the spiritual phenomena and experiences which are now called the TB were in fact already taking place under the ministries of men like Benny Hinn, Rodney Howard-Browne and Kenneth Copeland years before the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church took these things on board. …[I]t was Rodney Howard-Browne who transmitted the blessing or anointing to the Toronto Airport Vineyard, and Howard-Browne has been closely linked with the ministries of Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland.

… [L]et's get a clearer picture of what the Faith Movement actually believes and teaches—what its doctrines are. … We can summarise these teachings thus:

Faith in faith: "Faith" is an independent spiritual force, a basic law of the universe. God Himself is a "faith God:" He created the universe by His faith. This involved God in visualising the universe in His imagination, and then speaking it into existence with "faith-filled words"—saying "Let it be" and believing that it would be. …

[Comment of Orthodox Monk: This doctrine of faith in faith appears to be the basis of this remark of ‘Anonymous’: ‘…this young man was secretly watching him and asked in his spirit to receive the same Mantle, the same Anointing and dared to believe for an Impartation! in and from the HOLY Spirit.’ [Emphasis added.]]

Little gods: Adam in paradise was God's equal; he was "God manifested in the flesh," the god of planet earth. Man has no independent nature of his own; all he can do is share either in God's nature or Satan's. By giving in to Satan, Adam lost his godhead to the devil who thus became (quite rightly and legally) "the god of this world." And by his sin, Adam experienced a diabolical rebirth, acquiring Satan's nature. But through Christ, man regains his lost godhead and becomes as much an incarnation of God as Jesus Christ was. The believer is another Christ.

[Comment of Orthodox Monk: This appears to be the basis of this expression of ‘Anonymous’: ‘Radius of the Divine Radiance of a [HOLY] Spirit-Bearer’.]

Incidentally, many "Faith" teachers, eg. Rodney Howard-Browne, say that Christ abandoned His true deity when He became man. On earth, He merely partook of God's nature in the same sense that innocent Adam did, as a perfect man. Jesus was not God in the flesh, but a Spirit-filled "prophet under the Abrahamic covenant."

Atonement atrocities: Most Faith Movement teachers deny that Christ's death on the cross saves sinners. What really happened on the cross was that Jesus actually became sinful: He took on Himself the spiritual nature of Satan, thus being transformed from a divine to a demonic being—the same thing that had happened to Adam in Eden. This doctrine of the cross is often referred to in shorthand as "JDS"—"Jesus died spiritually." The real atonement took place after Jesus died. For the demonised spirit of Jesus literally went into hell itself, where He was tortured by demons for three days and three nights. Then Jesus was spiritually reborn in hell, recovering His lost divinity and defeating Satan. The same rebirth is granted to the believer, who is thus liberated from his satanic nature and becomes a god.

Wealth and want: Poverty is part of the curse of the law from which Christ has delivered believers. Christ Himself, when he was on earth, was a millionaire; he had so much money that He had to appoint Judas as His finance manager, and the reason why no-one noticed that Judas was stealing was because there was just so much money in the money-bag. Many Faith teachers require their followers to give them money with the promise that God will repay them tenfold. Such giving is called "sowing a seed of faith,"

Sickness and suffering: These too are demonic powers from which Christ has delivered believers. We must then claim our healing by faith, speak our health into existence by positive confession. Because man is essentially a spirit who merely lives in a body, sickness and healing are essentially spiritual and not bodily realities. So if physical symptoms of illness persist after we have claimed our healing, that is Just what our bodily senses tell us; we must deny this sense-knowledge by the higher spirit-knowledge of faith, which knows that healing has truly occurred in the spiritual realm.

We ourselves do not have the charism of the discernment of spirits. However, if we were to go to an Elder of the Orthodox Church and ask him to discern a spirit that moves people to a state where they are ‘gibbering like monkeys, barking like dogs, howling like wolves, and screeching like cats’, he would undoubtedly throw us out of his cell bodily for being an arrant fool, saying something to us like: ‘Come back when you have a serious question.’

If we were to put our foot in the door and to refuse to stop talking so as to tell him the doctrinal points listed above, he would probably stamp really hard on our foot and tell us that it is all covered in Theology 101 and why are we wasting time that he could be spending in tears over his own sins or in prayer for the salvation of the world?

Now it is conceivable that Dr Needham is an idiot who doesn’t understand the ‘Toronto Blessing’. As we said, we are not sociologists of American religion. But we did note on the Internet that the church in Toronto where the ‘Toronto Blessing’ started was drummed out of the Vineyard group of Pentecostal Churches (third-wave, we think).

When Elder Porphyrios describes in Wounded by Love his own reception of the Holy Spirit, there is nothing about barking like a dog. Where he lived the only things that bark like dogs are the ubiquitous jackals. Elder Porphyrios does speak of meditating on a song that a nightingale is offering to God in the quiet of the forest.

What is the significance of our reader’s comment? Well, given his relative sophistication, it is not out of the question that our reader is Orthodox. It is not out of the question that he is an Eastern Rite Catholic. It is not out of the question that he was at one time New Age. It is not even out of the question that he is an Orthodox monk.


Because St Seraphim would be known in those circles, along with the Conversation with Motovilov. We doubt that an Evangelical or Pentecostal would be familiar with the Conversation with Motovilov.

Moreover, because the fellow has some education: he knows how to use square brackets; he knows difficult words; he knows the underlying Greek for ‘[HOLY] Spirit-Bearer’.

So what’s the point? Unless the fellow is pulling our leg, which is not impossible, he is deceived. Plani is Greek for deception.

The best thing he could do is get to an Orthodox priest.

Sunday, 11 February 2007

An Open Letter to Rev Ted Haggard

Dear Mr Haggard:

You don’t know us and we don’t know you.

Like everyone else we heard about your fall at the New Life congregation of which you were founder and pastor. Unlike many others, however, before that we had never heard of you at all. We are proud of that. We don’t own a TV. We never could have seen you on TV.

We had a bit of curiosity about you when we heard about the scandal but we didn’t even bother to search for you on the Internet to find out something of your life story.

A week ago, however, for a change of pace on our blog we wrote a post about you. That post is here. We were just relying on what we had seen in our newspaper-based sources, although we did read your original letter of apology to the New Life congregation.

A few days after we wrote our first post, we wrote a second, which is here.

Out of courtesy and good breeding, we referred to you in both posts without using your name.

Much to our astonishment, however, the day after we wrote our second post you came out of your three-week intensive counselling session in Arizona. Moreover, some things said both by you and by the leadership pastors at New Life left us wondering.

So we looked up a few things about you—where you were born, where you went to school, how you came to found the congregation in Colorado Springs, your religious affiliation, the New Life congregation’s statement of faith and so on. Our little research showed us that we didn’t know enough about your background and about the scandal when we wrote our first two posts. So we wondered what to do: leave the posts as is; change them silently; or change them with ‘UPDATE, 11 Feb. 2007:’, a practice that is not to our taste? We decided that an open letter to you would handle all the issues and might even reach you.

First of all we sympathize with you and with your wife. You should respect your wife: she has stood behind you and beside you throughout this affair. You should love her as a person who has genuinely loved you. Be careful, however: she might break.

In our two posts on the subject of your sin our message was: ‘To err is human; to forgive divine.’ We do not want to suggest that sin is not sin, but we do want to suggest that sin is the human condition. We shouldn’t sin. We do. So we have to humble ourselves; we have to repent.

The sequel in this scandal astonished us: your email after the three-week intensive, the remarks of one of the leadership pastors that you were ‘completely heterosexual’ but a little given to ‘acting out’, the remarks that you and your wife were going to another city to study on-line for a Masters in psychology. Like many Christians we were appalled by this evolution.

In our first post we remarked on the proposed use of a lie-detector to ‘get at the truth’. That seemed preposterous to us, so much so that we wrote in that post that we did not believe that it was actually said by a responsible member of the New Life congregation. But when we did our bit of research, we found that it was indeed said by the head of the oversight board. This is mind-boggling. This is fascist. Did they actually put you through a lie-detector test during the three-week intensive? Where is the discernment of the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit does not need lie-detectors to get at the truth.

Many people have mocked your three-week ‘miracle cure from homosexuality’. It seems to us that the ‘oversight’ pastor who made the relevant assertion merely meant that the ‘reputable secular counselling centre’ had checked you out during the three-week intensive and found that you had a fundamentally heterosexual orientation—or found that you yourself now thought that you had a fundamentally heterosexual orientation. Your sins were merely a sort of ‘acting out’—whatever ‘acting out’ means in this context. Even with this more charitable interpretation, however, the evolution of this scandal is bizarre—and in this scandal we have been shown to be far too ready to give people the benefit of the doubt as to whether they have honesty, guts and common sense about what they are doing. Your own original letter of apology to the New Life congregation spoke clearly and sincerely of a serious years-long struggle with unspecified sins and of a periodic backsliding into them. This just doesn’t jibe with a diagnosis of a fundamentally heterosexual man ‘acting out’ for an as-yet unknown reason. There is much more to it, much more that you are genuinely going to have to work on. And unless your accuser is an arrant liar, you have much work to do indeed.

So what should you do?

A noted Lutheran blogger was dismayed that the ‘oversight’ pastors counselled you to ‘get out of the congregation, get out of the ministry and get out of town’.

During the first phase of the scandal, before he shut down his blog, a noted liberal blogger, Billmon, remarked concerning the attitude of the leaders of the congregation towards you something to this effect: ‘Where is the Christian love? God help me, even I am starting to feel sorry for the guy.’

We agree that the attitude of the ‘oversight’ pastors is exceedingly harsh. Brutal. However, we think that you should take their advice to ‘get out of the congregation, get out of the ministry and get out of town’. Why? Because we think that this will get you out of the ‘oversight’ pastors’ hands.

Leave the New Life congregation. Leave the ministry. Leave Colorado Springs. And above all, leave the ‘oversight’ pastors. Your first problem is that you have them as pastors for your own life in Jesus. They are clearly at cross purposes: They have political responsibilities for a political movement; they have 14,000 members of a congregation to keep happy; they have a religious movement to keep on the road. You are obviously last on their list of priorities. Good. Get rid of them.

We just read some of the details that are leaking out about the secret written agreement between you and the leaders of the New Life congregation. There is a lot of room for scepticism here as to the integrity of this post-scandal process, although the leaders through their spokesman do admit that the three-week intensive was the beginning and not the end of your rehabilitation.

We would again counsel you: Get free of these people. They are part of your problem.

You are going to need someone to mentor you for the next few years. That might be a psychiatrist; it might be a genuinely wise and pious Christian. You have a fundamental problem in that you have been messed up not only by sin, but also by the publicity surrounding the scandal, the ‘oversight’ pastors’ handling of you and even the public prominence you used to have.

You have to get on an even keel. This is not something that can be done in a public environment. It can only be done one-on-one by someone who actually respects you as a person, but who is not going to indulge you on anything. We are reluctant to emphasize the second part of the last sentence because the movement you come out of is far too confrontational and authoritarian: we do not want you to go from one authoritarian context (the ‘oversight’ pastors) to another (your hypothetical mentor).

You have to start turning inside yourself to see who you are. This is going to be a problem with your authoritarian background because you have clearly been covering up a number of emotional drives with the superstructure of the religious dogma you hold. We ourselves are Christians, Orthodox Christians, and we are not saying that you should quit believing in Jesus Christ, or even that you should become a ‘gay Christian’. We are saying that you should develop a much deeper relationship with Jesus Christ that transcends the authoritarian ‘third-wave’ Pentecostalism you grew up with. Only in that way can you be healed. We do not think this is possible if you continue having the ‘oversight’ pastors in control of your external and interior life.

We would ideally recommend that you find an Orthodox Elder and become attached to him, but this is not something that realistically can be expected. It would be far too great a chasm for you to cross to become Orthodox—unless it were to happen far down the road after you did a great deal of work on your interior life, starting with the mentor you find. Or mentors. There is no reason to require one mentor for all time, although we should only have one mentor at a time.

We would suggest you lead a simple life for a number of years, preferably in a rural or semi-rural town. We have no idea what your economic condition is, although you have received some kind of ‘golden handshake’ from the congregation. If your economic condition is such that you can, spending a lot of time in simple manual labour such as working in the garden would be a very great help to you. A simple life under the sky and sun for several years (even spending the evenings learning psychology on-line) would help you considerably. You are going to have to find yourself, to stabilize your interior life, so that you can enter into your interior world to see who you really are.

Of course we would also suggest that you avoid, as they say, occasions of sin.

We are puzzled by the notion that you and your wife Gayle are going to do an on-line Masters in psychology. Is the ‘on-line’ because the ‘oversight’ pastors counselled you to stay away from people? Well, if they genuinely believe that you are ‘completely heterosexual’ and merely prone to ‘acting out’ a bit, this seems far too cautious of them. But if they recognize deep down that you have a serious ‘issue’—let’s use the right word: ‘problem’—staying away from people for a time is reasonable.

But what is an on-line Masters in psychology going to do for you and your wife? If you actually intend to enter the helping professions, you are going to need practical training in clinical psychology. You just can’t learn clinical psychology on-line. You have to be an interning student in a clinic. And this is not merely a matter of showing up in person a few days a month for classes on campus.

But if it’s just a matter of learning a few facts about human psychology to while away the time, well on-line is just the same as correspondence courses. They tell you what books to read. Something to do. But don’t expect to do anything with the degree.

What the idea of an on-line degree in psychology says to us, however, is that you and the ‘oversight’ pastors are floundering. You all don’t have any idea whatsoever what you are doing. You are all very, very far out of your depth in this affair.

There seems to be the air of a cover-up here. Not only the traditional cover-up of pretending something to be true publicly that privately you know to be untrue, but, more grievously, the air of personal cover-ups on your part and on the part of the leadership of the New Life congregation. It’s what the Gestalt psychotherapists call a cover-up: a pretending to ourselves that things are different inside ourselves from what really is the case. It is also called ‘denial’.

The whole affair is appalling.

We would suggest: find a mentor; start working on building a simple Christian life with your family.

May God help you.

Orthodox Monk

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

How to Become an Elder of the Orthodox Church

After our last post, we thought that it might arise that someone would like to become an Elder of the Orthodox Church. So we thought we would talk a little about what it takes to become an Orthodox Elder, especially from the point of view of the good Evagrius, the ascetical theoretician.

We ourselves, ‘Orthodox Monk’, have been trying to get into Orthodox Elder School for years. We have been turned down every time. In fact, we are so upset by this that we are thinking of changing our name to ‘Orthodox Gardener’ and getting a job as a groundskeeper at Orthodox Elder School. We would make a point of tending the flower-bed outside the classroom window whenever they were teaching the ‘Orthodox Elder Secret Doctrines’ class. The only thing we are waiting for is an opening at the School for groundskeeper.

Seriously, though, how can I become an Elder? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to know the name of the person who comes to see me—before he tells me? To know who’s going to win the trifecta? Even to be a nice guy about it all? To show love to the sinner all of whose secrets I know?

To become a monk in the Orthodox Church, we are tonsured by a priest (in the Russian typikon, for a monk of the Great Schema, by a bishop). The priest reads a certain Church service, part of which we posted here, and discussed here and here; and then solemnly vests us with the monastic habit. [Update, May 14, 2007: we have posted the complete service here.] If we want, we can get a letter attesting that we were tonsured to such and such degree of Orthodox monk on such and such a day at such and such a place. If we want to change monasteries, we bring this letter with us.

To become a priest in the Orthodox Church (or deacon or bishop etc.) we are ordained by a bishop or, in the case of bishop, by several bishops. We are solemnly vested with the relevant priestly garments and participate immediately in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. We receive a certificate of ordination. If we want to change dioceses, we provide our certificate of ordination.

To become an Elder, however? There is no Orthodox Elder School in the Orthodox Church. There is nowhere to go to get a certificate of ‘Elder of the Orthodox Church’.

However, if there ever was a candidate for Orthodox Elder School it is Optina Pustin at Optina Monastery in Russia: from the early 19th Century through to the Russian Revolution in the early 20th Century there was an unbroken chain of Elders there, all of whom have subsequently been canonized. Also, Mount Athos is usually considered ‘Mount Athos Elder School of the Orthodox Church’.

Hence, even if ‘Orthodox Monk’ were to transform himself into ‘Orthodox Gardener’, he would have a hard time finding a classroom window outside which to eavesdrop on the ‘Orthodox Elder Secret Doctrines’ class.

So who’s an Elder? Eldership in the Orthodox Church is a charismatic ministry. The Holy Spirit decides who is going to be an Elder and who isn’t. As someone pointed out, Elders are discovered in the Church by other members of the Church. ‘A city set on a hill cannot be hid.’ The light attracts moths; the Elder attracts the faithful.

Elder Sophrony remarks that the soul of a man is a mystery known in its fullness and entirety only to God and that God reveals the soul of the other to the Elder (recall our discussion of the charism of discernment in this post). But, Elder Sophrony says, in no case does God give such a gift to someone who is not humble. The reason is obvious. A proud man who knew the interior life of others, who knew the future, would be a loaded gun pointed at the Church. He would be dangerous.

While it is true that Eldership is a charismatic ministry in the Orthodox Church determined solely by the Holy Spirit—and validated by the body of the Church—Evagrius offers us an analysis that will help us to understand at least schematically what is involved in becoming an Elder.

The reader will recall that it was Evagrius who defined the three stages of the spiritual life: the purgative stage, the illuminative stage and the unitive stage.

What interests us here is the purgative stage. As we pointed out, since the Fall of Adam and Eve in Paradise, we all of us have been born with emotional tendencies to sin. These emotional tendencies to sin are each of them, with the exception of sorrow, based on a pleasure of the senses. Evagrius uses the word ‘passion’ for a tendency to sin in us based on a pleasure of the senses. We pointed out in the last post that there is also another meaning for the term ‘passion’: repeated sins of the same kind lead to a enslavement to that sin, so that a person is addicted to the particular pleasure of the senses involved and cannot stop sinning: he has a ‘passion’.

Now Evagrius says that the purgative stage of the spiritual life is dedicated to healing our emotional tendencies to sin. It is dedicated to our passing from a state of being impassioned to a state of being virtuous.

Now we all of us have virtues: which of us is killing off his neighbours? Stealing his neighbour’s wife? And so on.

However, Evagrius has a much deeper sense of what it means to pass from passion to virtue. He wants a complete transformation of the person so that all his emotional tendencies are ordered to virtue, even in thought. And this is not an external behavioural virtue imposed on an unruly subconscious that is seething with all kinds of odd fantasies and dreams, but a complete purification of the unconscious. Moreover, finally, by the suffused grace of the Holy Spirit, the person whose unconscious has been purified is rendered virtuous. He no longer needs to impose an external virtue on himself: he is virtuous from the inside out, illuminated by the Holy Spirit and suffused with the grace of the Holy Spirit.

There are two aspects to this purification of the emotional tendencies to sin: bodily asceticism and mental asceticism. Usually when we think of monks, we think of bodily asceticism (hair shirts and all that), but in the Orthodox tradition of the Philokalia, mental asceticism is at least as important as bodily asceticism, if not more so. This mental asceticism is in the Orthodox Church associated with the tradition of the Jesus Prayer. It involves the use of the Jesus Prayer but includes much more than just the Jesus Prayer; it is a cluster of practices that aims to purify completely the interior life of the monk or nun.

The person who engages in this mental asceticism for emotional purification is par excellence the Hesychast: he purifies himself even in his thoughts. A very large part of the practice of Hesychasm is the purification of the fantasy life of the Hesychast so that his unconscious is completely purified. This opens the Hesychast up to the transforming advent of the Holy Spirit. This is a very high stage of mental asceticism.

That is why we were so sceptical of our Episcopalian friend who practised the contemplative method of Dom John Main: they were making claims of states of contemplative spiritual attainment that ignored the depth of utter spiritual purification necessary in the Orthodox Church for the attainment of those contemplative states.

The expert on this emotional purification and healing through mental asceticism is St Hesychios, who appears to have been a disciple of St John of Sinai. St Hesychios spends all his time on the interior practice of the Hesychast, following in St John of Sinai’s footsteps. St Hesychios is next on our list for discussion in these posts on the history of Orthodox monasticism.

We would like to return here to the coercive Christianity that we discussed in our last post. The problem in this Christianity can be addressed from a number of different points of view. At this juncture, however, the issue is precisely this inner purification of our emotional tendencies to sin and our subsequent acquisition of virtue through the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Calvin, as far as we know, along with Luther rejected this road of purification. This is the monkery (i.e. asceticism) that was rejected by the Reformation. But the problem that arises in Reformation Christianity is this: since I am making no effort to purify my passions (since I am either justified by faith without works or elected eternally to salvation), what am I going to do with all these emotional tendencies to sin that I find, as a man born on the face of the earth, inside myself?

Recall that when one erring pastor would go to his co-counselling sessions, everyone was ‘blessed’ while he felt like dirt. We remarked that there was a great pressure to conform, a great pressure to perform according to the script. The ‘blessedness’ was an external virtue—or posture of virtuousness—imposed by each member of the group on himself, on his own unpurified soul: there was no possibility for any member of the group to admit to, much less purify, his emotional tendencies to sin based on pleasures of the senses. It just wasn’t part of the doctrine of the Church they attended. So each member of the co-counselling session simply refused to admit that such passions existed within himself. Until the passions found their outlet in action—and, as they say, the rest is history.

Evagrius tells us that the purgative stage of the mystical ascent has an end: emotional health, virtue. He remarks that the offspring of this state is love. Christian charity. This has nothing to do with backslapping bonhomie.

Evagrius goes on further in his works to say that the person who has reached this state is precisely an Elder. (He uses another term.) He identifies the clairvoyance that is the hallmark of the Orthodox Elder with this state of emotional health. That is, a person who is fully emotionally healthy is naturally clairvoyant.

But just wait: Evagrius has a very high standard for what constitutes emotional health. The emotionally healthy person has a completely purified unconscious: his fantasy life has been completely healed. So clairvoyance is not just a matter of stopping killing my neighbour and leaving his wife alone. There’s more to it.

Now it is just a little more complicated than Evagrius says about how we become an Elder by purifying our emotional tendencies to sin. As far as he goes, Evagrius is correct. However, he is ignoring the charismatic dimension of the Holy Spirit. As purified as I might be, I am not going to become a charismatic Elder of the Orthodox Church until the Holy Spirit decides that that’s what he wants. Then he makes me an Elder of the Orthodox Church. Then the light attracts the moths. Until then…

There is another point here, a point emphasized by St Paul in 1st Corinthians. In 1 Cor. 12, 29–31, St Paul, the voice of the Holy Spirit, says this:

Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of signs? Are all possessed of charisms of healing? Are all speaking in tongues? Are all interpreting? Be jealous of the better charisms. And yet I show you a way which is far beyond all of this.

He then goes on to speak of love. This is Christian love, of which St John the Apostle said, ‘God is love.

And we ourselves testify, all kidding aside, that if a Christian attains to this love he doesn’t need to become an Elder. He has found his road.

We would like to return here to the coercive aspect of the Christianity that we discussed in the last post. There is a very complex psychological cluster here. On the one hand, there is a born-again conversion experience that is not accompanied by a movement to inner purification of the born-again person’s emotional tendencies to sin. On the other hand, there is a tendency to a fascist refusal to respect the other person, a tendency to impose with psychological if not physical violence a world-view on the other person. This includes an imposition not only on other people inside the group, where the conversion and counselling experiences can be both confrontational and psychologically brutal, but also on outsiders, in the relations of the group or of individual members of the group with those outsiders. Have you ever found a meek evangelical? Where the meekness was not something sentimental that was innate to his personal psychology? On the third hand, there is a political dimension. The dynamic that we have just been discussing is transferred to the political realm. Indeed, this transfer to the political realm is perhaps a natural outcome of the lack of interiority in this Christianity: the whole psychological dynamic is faulty, based as it is on a lack of interior purification, interior freedom and interior respect for the other, and the consequences are connected. The problem is most likely this: since the born-again experience does not foresee the continued existence of emotional tendencies to sin in me, I am unable to view my very own self freely: I have to repress (or suppress) the emotional tendencies to sin in myself so as to maintain my born-again identity. But that means that I no longer have psychological freedom as concerns my own self. And if I don’t have psychological freedom in regard to my own self, how can I have psychological freedom in regard to the other so as to respect the other’s freedom? And if I transfer this dynamic to the political realm—this transfer to the political realm being, perhaps, the natural consequence of my being unable to turn inward—how can I respect the political freedom of the other?

Evagrius doesn’t have much to say about this. A fundamental lack of respect for the interior freedom of the other to love God or not just wasn’t an issue in his time. It was taken for granted that people were free and that Christianity was all about choosing one road over another through a free choice. In their anthropology, the Greek Fathers emphasize that part of the image of God in man is man’s free will. It would never occur to them to violate that free will: they would thus be doing violence to the image of God in man, thus doing violence to God himself.

While it is true that the idols were finally destroyed, there was never any sense that the pagans were to be forcibly converted to Christianity. This can be seen for example in Augustine’s Confessions. It is very, very clear in Augustine’s autobiographical description of his own conversion experience that conversion was considered a matter of spiritual example and rational persuasion, not of psychological or physical violence. Hence, conversion was always a matter of interior freedom, so that after baptism (the proper born-again experience), the newly-made Christian was able to relate to his own self freely, and thus to relate to the other freely.

The violence appears to start around the 11th Century in the West, first in the Roman Catholic Church, influenced perhaps by an excessive rationalism that looked to the ‘truth’ and not to individual freedom, and then in the Reformation churches which stood Roman Catholicism on its head without first getting out of its dynamic of coercive Christianity.

To get back to the issue of becoming an Elder of the Orthodox Church, as we can see, until he purifies his emotional tendencies to sin, ‘Orthodox Monk’ is going to have to work in his garden weeding it from the passions and making some attempt to plant the virtues. He’s a long way off from ‘Orthodox Elder’. And as far as asceticism is concerned, he is ‘Amateur Gardener’.