Quite often, after I’ve completed reading a book, I’ll exclaim to my wife something to the effect that, “This is the best book ever!” To which she will roll her eyes and yawn. So it is understandable if she feels I am somewhat crying wolf here.
Nevertheless, I just completed volume one of a three volume set entitled, Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses: An Introduction to the Ascetic Tradition of the Orthodox Church, by Dr. Jean-Claude Larchet, and I have to exclaim that it is one of the very best books I have ever read!
It is riveting and compelling for anyone who has an interest in details about the original spiritual health of man in Paradise, the fall of man, and the details of how the fall manifests in our daily lives today. It offers a very clear summary of the thoughts of the Church Fathers on the topic of the primary passions (self-love, gluttony, lust, love of money and greed, sadness, acedia, anger, fear, vainglory and pride), how they came about, how they draw us away from God, the role of the devil and demons in the fall and how they incite our passions through deception and other activity.
The particular beauty of this book is how clearly it describes these things, and how succinctly it describes very difficult ideas and concepts, which led me to many ‘lightbulb’ or ‘ah-hah’ moments, in which complex ideas from Scripture, from the liturgy, and from the writings of the Church Fathers, suddenly made more sense and came clear, due to the clarity and simplicity of the authors writing.
In some respects it is a terrifying book to read because it brings to light, and describes so clearly, the overwhelmingly desperate plight of mankind, if he chooses not to turn to Christ for healing, or salvation. It doesn’t allow the reader to claim ignorance any longer, or to hide from the reality of life in a fallen world, and a fallen self. In many respects it is a startling book because of the way it brings these realities to light, which, at least for me, had previously remained somewhat obscured, due to the complexity of them, and my own dullness of mind.
Since it is the first book in a series of three, it only tells part of the story, by explaining the problem, and setting up the reader to learn about the solution in the following volumes.
Volume two focuses on Christ as our physician, the sacraments as therapy, the role of the individual through their faith, desire for healing, repentance, prayer, the following the commandments, and hope; and further discusses the role of ascetic disciplines and inner warfare in battling our thoughts.
Volume three finally describes spiritual therapies which address each of the passions specifically, as outlined in the first volume, and concludes with a discussion of our return to spiritual health—free of the passions, in love and knowledge of God.