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
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
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
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
Coping with urges and desires and emotions and irrational thinking
The restoration of mental health and the
stability and perfection in
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.