Monday, 2 June 2008

Orthodox Monk Tells Yahnony Mouse What to Do

Although we have been acting a bit tongue-in-cheek in our dialogue with Theodor/Yahnony Mouse, we actually are quite sympathetic.

There is a general problem on the Internet in situations such as this: on the one hand we don’t really have very much information—by saying this we are not asking Yahnony Mouse for more—; on the other hand, it is possible for the blog writer to be spoofed: for all we know, ‘Yahnony Mouse’ is a middle-aged idiot in Kansas who thinks it’s cute to pretend he’s a young Romanian in Romania. Well, let the writer—and the reader!—beware. We really don’t know much. The only thing we can do in situations like this—after all we are not therapists and make no claim to have professional skill—is to present a solution in general terms, one which is applicable both to idiots in Kansas and to troubled young Romanians in Bucharest, a general solution containing a theoretical approximation to the Orthodox Church’s handling of situations such as this when they are genuine.

First of all, there is the problem of the state of the Orthodox Church. This is a very complicated matter. Not many practising Orthodox anywhere make use of the services of a secular psychotherapist. This, we think, is especially true in a place like Romania which on the one hand has a very traditional Romanian idea of Orthodoxy and which on the other hand is recovering from a big ‘Communism’ hang-over. So the tendency there, we think, would be for someone to recommend that a person with problems of adjustment use the ‘traditional’ medicine of the Church, especially recourse to a ‘Spirit-Bearing Elder’.

However, given the historical situation of the post-Communist countries, the Orthodox Church in them does not have the depth that it used to have—so that Yahnony might go on a long journey looking for a ‘Spirit-Bearing Elder’ without finding one. Moreover, he might find a shallow, non-Spirit-Bearing fanaticism on account of the ‘Communism’ hangover. That would do him harm rather than good. Of course, he might find just what he needs, we don’t exclude that possibility; we don’t have an axe to grind with Romanian Orthodoxy.

Next, and this is important, modern Orthodox Elders who are Spirit-Bearing do not exclude recourse to modern medicine when it is applicable.

So let us speak to what Yahnony Mouse has told us. He is a nominal Roman Catholic who does not attend Church on Sundays and who has only gone to confession 3 times in his life. We also gather that he means that he has also received Roman Catholic communion only three times in his life; we imagine that he has attended the Roman Catholic Mass rather more often. Fair prey for proselytization. But we are not very big on proselytization, preferring the soft sell.

So we have these issues: some psychological problems of adjustment, confusion about religious identity and an open issue of what Church to belong to. What to do?

The essential problem in Theodor’s life is to find someone who loves him with an unconditional love. A spiritual love that is not of the flesh. A person who loves Theodor as he is, without for all that letting Theodor rot. Someone who is willing to tell the truth in love, someone who is willing to ‘spank’ Theodor when he is foolish. A spiritual father. May God grant that Theodor find one. Once Theodor finds such a spiritual father, he should be unconditionally obedient. If the spiritual father sends him to a therapist, he should go; if he doesn’t, Theodor should stay home and do what his spiritual father tells him to do.

We are not suggesting that Theodor find a girlfriend or boyfriend, nor that he get mixed up with an older man who is after his body. Nor, when we say that his spiritual father might ‘spank’ him when he is naughty, are we suggesting that he get involved in sexual domination games involving physical spanking, sado-masochism and the suchlike. Normally we are not so blunt, but in this day and age—where Wikipedia thinks pornography is normal—we have to spell things out so that there is no misunderstanding on the part of any of our readers.

It is not clear to us from Theodor’s self-description whether he is already seeing a therapist, and perhaps even on medication; or whether he is engaging in self-diagnosis, perhaps even in self-medication. Diagnosis at a distance over the Internet is a fool’s game; self-diagnosis is even worse. If Theodor is actually seeing a therapist and/or on medication, he should continue. Once he finds a spiritual father, he should discuss his whole situation with his spiritual father. A wise spiritual father will know what to do.

The danger here, of course, is that since Theodor has already evinced a tendency to be tempted to fanaticism, if he gets hooked up with Pentecostals or Evangelical Protestants or fanatical Orthodox, he’s going to get damaged. Cults and all that. This is a serious danger, Yahnony.

In this regard, the five copies of the private revelations that you sent to your friends: simply send them an email telling them that ‘Orthodox Monk’ says that it’s all hooey. Who’s ‘Orthodox Monk’? An idiot on the Internet, say.

One of the salient practical differences between the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church as they are encountered by a troubled young person is that the Roman Catholic Church is far more organized. We imagine that there might even be a Roman Catholic psychotherapy centre in Bucharest. We are guessing. But in regard to this sort of thing, the Roman Catholics are far more organized than we are. There is usually also more of a minimum standard to Roman Catholicism, so that people are brought up more systematically to a minimum standard of ethical conduct and Church attendance and engagement with their faith. The minimum standard in Orthodoxy can be very low, a mere disengaged cultural formalism. It is not this which interests Theodor, however. He senses that there is something more to Orthodoxy. If he can find this something more—the presence of God—then he is blessed.

What we want to say about the difference between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy is that on the pedestrian level Roman Catholicism has more to offer: a system, let us say, that gets you to Church on time and teaches you how to behave, a Church which historically offers a strong academic and intellectual tradition of schooling for the faithful, a strong tradition of practical social services for the faithful.

But the heights of Orthodoxy leave Roman Catholics breathless. While they may never become Orthodox, they try to fill the gaps in their Roman Catholic pedestrian proper spiritual life with elements of spirituality from their readings in Orthodox saints and elders. We think that they are fooling themselves with this smorgasbord approach. But that is their business.

If you can find the heights of Orthodoxy, you’ve found God, Theodor. But it takes some looking, especially in the conditions of post-Communist Romania.

So on the issue of choosing Orthodoxy, what we would say is this: Theodor, you have a choice to make which only you can make.

We want to add another couple of points. When we say that if Theodor is on medication he should continue, we mean medication from a properly qualified medical doctor, not self-medication. If Theodor is smart, he will cease from any self-medication and any illegal substances he is taking. If he is self-medicating, then the obvious thing for him to do is to go to a proper doctor and have a proper diagnosis done, on the assumption that the doctor will prescribe the proper medication. He will cease at least temporarily from all use of alcohol—unless and until his doctor tells him otherwise. He will use caffeine (coffee, tea, Coca Cola and so on) in moderation—up to three cups a day—unless his doctor tells him otherwise. If he is smoking he will try to smoke as little as possible—we realize that it’s a physical dependency, but the less he has of that stuff in his system, the better. He will also cease from sin. Why? It might be thought that Theodor’s problems have nothing to do with self-medication or illegal substances or smoking, and especially not caffeine. And especially not sin; after all he’s a young man. Well, one of the problems is that we’ve got to get Theodor’s nervous system calmed down. Also, sin, even if you don’t realize it, greatly disturbs the nervous system (read ‘soul’).

Of course, it goes without saying that Theodor should exercise some restraint on the Internet, both in quantity and in quality. We think he realizes this.

Theodor doesn’t mention anything about his family. This is an issue where the spiritual father and/or the therapist will have some guidance.

There is no recipe for these situations, Theodor: you have to meet someone you love and trust and then listen to him. May God help you so that it is a person worthy of your love and trust.

Anything we say here is subject to being overturned by a spiritual father and/or psychotherapist once you have found him.

May God bless you and guide your feet in the paths of your salvation.

—Orthodox Monk

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