Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses: An Introduction to the Ascetic Tradition of the Orthodox Church: (Book Review)

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.

The Mind of the Orthodox Church (Book Review):

There is a commonly heard aphorism in the Orthodox Church which states that we do not change the church, but the church changes us. This concept, along with the injunction in scripture to be ‘transformed by the renewing of our minds’ (cf. Romans 12:2), influenced my decision to pick up and read, The Mind of the Orthodox Church, by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos.

The goal of the book is simple and straightforward, to convey clearly what exactly the mind of the Orthodox Church is—its historical origin and divine revelation, its definition and characteristics, how it has been clarified over time by the church fathers and ecumenical councils as well as by the lives of its martyrs and saints, and how it differs from the mind of the secular world and of other heretical tendencies.

The underlying hope, and secondary goal of the book, is that by knowing the mind of the church, and by understanding this mind with greater clarity, the members of the church can then go about attaining this mind for themselves, using this knowledge to guide their own thinking and actions. The reason this is important, as stated in the book, is that the church body is not merely an organization, but is a living organism, and as such all of its members should be animated by the same mind and life. As St Paul writes, we should all be of ‘one mind’ (cf. Philippians 2:2).

Because the book is intended to help us change our own minds, it is a challenging book to read but also very rewarding, for anyone that takes the faith seriously and sincerely wants to follow the commands given in scripture, and by the church traditions. Within the book’s introduction the author makes the following point, again in relation to St Paul’s epistles:

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11). If this passage is associated with what the Apostle said before and after it—where he was speaking of the ‘perfect’ in relation to what is ‘in part’ and about seeing God ‘face to face’ in relation to ‘seeing in a mirror dimly’—then we can understand that the mind of the Church is connected with man’s spiritual fulfilment, which consists in partaking of the purifying, illuminating and deifying energy of God.

Acquiring the mind of the church is therefore about relinquishing the mind of the ‘world’ and growing up—leaving off the ‘childish’ things from our past, and putting on the new things that make us mature in the faith, and ‘adult’ followers of Christ.