Sunset - Larnaca

Sunset - Larnaca

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Pastoral Care: The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew's example and contribution

The Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew is the Archbishop of Constantinople, ranked as the first among equals among the hierarchs of the several churches that collectively form the Orthodox Church. Within the five apostolic sees, the Ecumenical Patriarch is regarded as the successor of St Andrew the Apostle; with Bartholomew being the 270th holder of this title.

He is widely regarded as the spiritual leader and pastor of the approximately 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide. The title ‘Ecumenical’ refers to the universality of the Patriarchate, still based today in the great city of Constantinople, Istanbul Turkey. The Patriarchs in ancient history assisted in the peaceful spread of the ancient original Christian Church, Her Apostolic Tradition and the resolution of doctrinal disputes. In the middle ages they played a major role in the affairs of the Orthodox Church, sharing the faith with the Slavs, often under difficult political circumstances. Bartholomew, continuing this rich Patriarchal tradition of offering, sharing and pastorally guiding his Orthodox Christian flock, represents the Church, and assists in interfaith dialogues, worldwide philanthropic charitable and pastoral work, preaching against violence, persecution, disrespect of the human being’s dignity, and religious intolerance.

Last year on the day of Pentecost, after decades of preparation, the Patriarch Bartholomew led a Pan-Orthodox Council in Crete; in other words a meeting consisting of the main leaders of the Orthodox Christian Church. This Holy Synaxis, led by our Patriarch was not only a significant expression of the Church’ unity and living faith, yet also a bold statement that the Orthodox Church must pastorally promote and share the triumphal, joyful and life-giving faith in Christ to such a broken world of ethical, political, social injustices and crises. Some of the official documents released by the fruitful and productive council led by Bartholomew included the ‘Relations of the Orthodox Church with the rest of the Christian world,’ ‘The Mission of the Orthodox Church in Today’s world,’ and the ‘Sacrament of Marriage.’ In our context of secularisation and moral relativism the Council emphasised the Church’ preservation of the human person’s dignity as the image of God, of family life, and the pastoral nature of the Church’ role in society.

When one is called to serve the Church’ hierarchy, with Christ as our Archpastor and Shephard, pastoral responsibilities increase within this ecclesial structure. I believe that the pastoral spirit of understanding, collaboration, dialogue, respect, and fundamentally love (which is not simply a feeling or state, but sharing in the very person of Christ, the incarnate, crucified and Risen Lord) is truly seen and witnessed in the person of Bartholomew, as our representative and Hierarch of the Church of Constantinople. The pastoral care and responsibility of the Church, as is written in Scripture, is very much grounded within the order of clergy. The Scriptures note that the Good Shephard’ (Jn 10:11) Christ, gives those of us who are ‘temperate, respectable, hospitable, gentle, peaceable..’ (1 Tim 3:1-3) the grace and gift to carry out His ministry, ‘to comfort those who are in any affliction’ (2 Cor 1:14) to ‘feed His sheep’ (Jn 21:17) as members of His body. (Rom 12:4-21)


In my opinion, one of the greatest gifts a clergyman and pastor should cultivate today, and by all means a Bishop such as our Patriarch with responsibility on a worldwide scale, is that of discernment; knowing when to speak out against evil, knowing when to remain silent, knowing when to diplomatically act, while simultaneously remaining faithful to the Church’ tradition and Gospel of love. For me, his all-Holiness certainly cultivates this gift, and is an example not only to every leader, but to every clergyman and pastoral carer. There are several reasons I say this. Perhaps one of the most significant reasons is because of his continuous bold message of the dignity and holiness of the human person (which I’m sure most of us would agree is the very foundation of Christian Pastoral care) as a psychosomatic being who needs and desires the sacramental care, nurturing, and eternal joy in Christ. The human being who is called to be a steward of God’s creation, a carer for the environment, and who is called to commune with our God and fellows.

Through the guidance, blessing and initiative of Patriarch Bartholomew, the Network for Pastoral Health Care was set up in 2008, holding annual conferences consisting of representatives of orthodox churches throughout the world, in order to discuss and implement ways in which the Church as our Mother serves those who are sick. The central objectives are to help those in this particular ministry, promoting a high-quality standard of pastoral health care. This network has led to an increased awareness of the clergy and laity’s role of serving those in need within each Orthodox community worldwide, with the setting up of philanthropic centres, hospices and assigned chaplains responsible for the sick.  

Bartholomew himself writes: “Caring for the sick knows no geographic boundaries. It does not distinguish between race, people or language, but is directed without discrimination and without exception toward all human beings who are created in God’s image, as God Himself, the Physician of souls and bodies, did and does.”

The network has discussed topics such as  loneliness in life, despair in face of severe psychological difficulties, the importance and role of Confession for those who suffer from psychological illnesses, communicating with the deaf and blind, and ministering to those who are on the wayside of life.
  

Caring for the sick has been a major part of the Church’s mission since Apostolic times. Throughout the history of the Church, dedicated clergymen, medical and health care professionals have worked together to provide for the physical and spiritual health of all those who are ill.  Pastoral care, for our Patriarch, and Orthodox theology in general, is centred on the human being’s whole and complete restoration to health; a full harmony between soul and body. As opposed to secular ideas of health and well-being, Orthodox Theology underlines the importance of spiritual healing ( taking place with our free participation in, and acceptance of, Christ’s salvation) leading to psychosomatic harmony and well-being. Thus pastoral care for Bartholomew is not something separate from the Eucharistic, prayerful life of the Church, but flows from it.

Bartholomew, addressing the European Council of Pastoral Care and Counselling on their theme of ‘the Secular and the Sacred,’ tells us that ‘one who lives a secular life, a life of this world  is one who distances himself or herself consciously from the will of the Heavenly Father, pursuing self-deification through the usage, abuse and overuse of the good things that have been granted by God. On the contrary, one who lives within the realm of "the sacred" is one who lives a life of holiness within the grace of Christ, the love of the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit. One who lives a sacred life is in a continual journey toward the Eternal Kingdom of God. In this journey one will find our Lord as a companion, just as His Disciples did on their way to Emmaus. Even though the eyes of one's heart sometimes may be sealed because of everyday stress and anxiety, often obstructing one's journey, our Lord will not forsake those of His flock.’

Thus, he advises all pastors to devote themselves to ‘caring for those who have been entrusted to you, leading them in their journey to the Kingdom.’ In other words, Pastoral care allows us to participate in the sacred presence of God, within His all-embracing Church, known by the fathers as the Hospital for sinners.

While Bartholomew recognises the benefits of contemporary, medical and psychological methodologies in leading fellow men and women out of despair and illness, he emphasises that ‘the essential spiritual expression of continual prayer, humility and denial of our worldly desires allows us to participate in God’s philanthropic grace.’ In doing this we imitate the First and Greatest Pastor , our Lord Jesus Christ Who fully knows all the entities of the human personality and can heal any infirmity.




For our Patriarch Bartholomew, the Church, as Christ’s body and the ark of humanity’s salvation, has to act, by serving humanity in our world of suffering, injustice and conflicts. Tackling poverty, discrimination, victims of war, youth unemployment, and drug use, as well as both mental and physical illnesses is only successful and true when done out of self-sacrificial love found in fullness in Christ’s kenotic crucifixion.  His all-holiness Bartholomew, I would argue, has shown throughout his ministry that as Christians in this broken yet hopeful world in which we live, we are called to joyfully feed those who are hungry, clothe those who are naked, visit those who are sick and imprisoned, fundamentally sharing the message and experience of Christ’s triumphal resurrection,  eternal salvation and life.


Useful Sources:

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Pastoral Care of the Orthodox Church

This essay will introduce the Patristic foundations of the Orthodox Church’s Pastoral Care; how 
the practical element of this ministry is very much based on the sacramental, salvific, prayerful work of Christ’s body, and is for this reason a ministry primarily led by the clergy. 

Throughout early Christian history, the Church, according to Gerkin, placed importance on the care and protection of Tradition by which Christians were identified, as well as on anticipation of Christ’s second coming. Thus, Pastoral Care consisted of a concern for the purity of the congregation, encouraging the faithful to remain strong in their beliefs and Christian way of life; at both communal and individual levels. While it is indeed the case that the Early Fathers of the Church emphasised Orthodox doctrine (often in a harsh manner) and the importance of ecclesiastical unity, they simultaneously promoted and preserved Christ’s practical commandment of Pastoral Care. Saint Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of the Apostle John, offers the following advice to his fellow Hierarch, Polykarp of Smyrna:

"Let not widows be neglected..bear all men.. suffer all men in love..Toil together one with another, struggle together, run together, suffer together... rise up together as God's stewards and assessors and ministers.”

St Irenaeus, by metaphorically speaking of the Church as our Mother who nourishes the faithful with the “milk of God,” not only describes the Body of Christ as the source of Orthodox doctrine and Apostolic faith, but simultaneously of healing and offering; a ministry we are called to participate in, both clergy and laity. This offering is one of love, as ‘within the Church, friendship, service and glory are joined together.’ Alongside, or rather flowing from, the Sacramental life of the Church, Christ’s Bishops, Presbyters, Deacons and laity ‘go forth in peace’  having celebrated and partaken in the eternal Eucharist, sharing ‘the true Light’ with the suffering world. We witness this fundamental link between the faithful’s Eucharistic synaxis (or the ‘feast of love’ as it was known) and the Church’ ministry of care and offering within St Luke the Evangelist’s ‘Acts of the Apostles:’

 ‘They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread…and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need’ with ‘generous hearts praising God and having favour with all the people.’  (Acts 2:42-47)

The Scriptures note that the ministry of pastoral care is the responsibility of the Church; as our ‘Good Shephard’ (Jn 10:11) Christ, gives those of us who are ‘temperate, respectable, hospitable, gentle, peaceable..’ (1 Tim 3:1-3) the grace and gift to carry out this ministry, ‘to comfort those who are in any affliction’ (2 Cor 1:14) to ‘feed His sheep’ (Jn 21:17) as members of His body. (Rom 12:4-21) It is the role of ‘the elders of the Church’  to ‘pray over.. save the one who is sick.. anointing him with oil.. and the Lord will raise him up.’  (James 5:14-19)

As the Orthodox priest prays for the cease of wars, for peace of the entire world, the end of disorders and for health, within the Liturgy, he then goes out to the hospitals and prisons to act out Christ’s ministry in this broken world; a fundamental characteristic of St John Chrysostom and St Basil the Great’s teachings. St John would assist and visit widows, orphans, and nursing centres on a daily basis, while Basil led and organised philanthropic institutions, orphanages, hospitals, and schools for the education of girls in poor areas. Paul Evdokimov (former professor of St Sergius’ Institute in Paris) notes that the Church’s (or rather Christ’s) primary work is our restoration to health; a full harmony between soul and body. As opposed to secular ideas of health and well-being, Orthodox Theology underlines the importance of spiritual healing ( taking place with our free participation in, and acceptance of, Christ’s loving salvation) leading to psychosomatic harmony and well-being. St Maximus the Confessor refers to this holy state as ‘τὀ εὗ εἷναι.’ 

Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos, in his book titled ‘Orthodox Psychotherapy,’ signifies the fact Orthodox Christianity is, unlike philosophies and theories, a revelation of God to man. The Orthodox Church, according to His Eminence, offers Theocentric therapy, treatment and care for man, essentially through God’s divine grace and our divine-human synergy. This process of ‘psychotherapy’ which the Church offers man, aims to achieve communion and union with God, and is provided primarily by the Holy Sacraments, and our supplementary active, prayerful, pastoral care. For this reason Saint Gregory Palamas describes the priesthood as a science of healing of souls, bringing Christ into the hearts of believers, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The sinner is in a state of ill-health, as we are reminded by our Lord in the Gospel according to John: ‘“See, you are well! Sin no more..’ (Jn 5:14) 

Thus the pastoral work of the Church must reiterate the importance of repentance, the mystery of Confession, and the reassurance of Christ’s Salvation and eternal life. Saint Paul tells us we should ‘mourn with those who mourn’ (Rom 12:15) and therefore personally approach the sick, the suffering, the imprisoned and the homeless, offering and sharing the hope of Resurrection, of Salvation, and fundamentally impart and transmit the Church’ eternal joy to the person in crisis. Essentially this radiates the Church’ beautiful message that every human person ‘is a creature of God, His creation’ as He ‘loves you and the whole heaven watches over you, takes care of you and gives you importance.. you have value and personality.. there is a tremendous power inside you,’ as Fr Andreas Konanos summarises. Metropolitan Anthony similarly highlights each individual’s human dignity and worth (being the foundation of the Orthodox Church’ pastoral work) by advising those called to this pastoral ministry to treat the suffering person as if ‘no one else in the world is more important,’  for our Creator forms and knows each of us (Ps 139:13-16) both ‘rich and poor.’ (Prov 22:2) 

The Orthodox Church, following the Early Patristic approach, places utmost importance on the preservation of Apostolic Faith and tradition, and primarily the sanctification and salvation of man; however the Church’ Pastoral Care is incorporated into Her salvific work and ministry. It is in fact for this reason that Pastoral Care is the Church’ responsibility; for the human being, as a ‘temple of the Holy Spirit,’  ( 1 Cor 16:19-20) who desires wholeness and health, needs both spiritual and material nourishment. 

For St John Chrysostom, a pastor has the role of sharing in Christ’s own love for His people, and for this reason is an office of the highest importance. Chrysostom interestingly distinguishes pastors from lay people - not necessarily meaning lay people cannot partake in the Church’ pastoral care, yet suggesting it is led primarily by the priesthood. By using the analogy of a shepherd, Chrysostom emphasises the pastor’s responsibility of exercising considerate care over each person, mirroring Christ’s care for His Church. Although, for St John, physical existence is not evil, it assumes positive value when raised to a spiritual state by the soul; thus highlighting the spiritual, prayerful, sacramental nature and importance of the Church’ Pastoral Care, with the clergyman raising the layperson. As is the case within the Orthodox Church today, Pastoral ministry is, according to Chrysostom, ‘controlled by the Eucharist, which is the place where heaven and earth meet in order to take the human up to God.’

The Eucharist is the divine act in which the cosmos is defined, and the role of the priest is fulfilled, for ‘he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.’ (John 6:54) For this reason, within the Orthodox Church, a pastoral visit often corresponds to the clergyman offering the sick patient, prisoner, or anyone in his care, the Eucharist, Holy Unction, or another relevant sacrament. This  role is one of spiritual therapy, with salvation and restoration to health as the Church’ objective, and both emotional and psychological support being an important part of this process.

Saint Gregory the Great notes that those leading the Orthodox Church’ ministry of Pastoral care, as models of the Lord’s example, should live by a balanced life of upholding a prayerful relationship with God, and practical ministry. While Gregory the Great tells us that those carrying out the Pastoral work of the Church are called to descend to the level of their flock with compassion and understanding, outwardly bearing the burdens of men, they should also, according to Gregory of Nazianzus, simultaneously aspire to contemplate inwardly on God’s heavenly eternal gifts, and the ‘New Jerusalem.’ (Rev 21)  As the Orthodox Christian’s end is deification, Gregory Nazianzus underlines the fact the Church’ pastors must have salvation at the centre of their ministry. Fr Georgios Metallinos highlights that at the beginning of history, God called man to paradise, and eternal communion with Him; while at the end of history man will either decide to accept this calling, or the state of hell. The Orthodox Church, Metallinos notes, as a spiritual hospital, provides the therapy of the heart, leading to its illumination by the Holy Spirit, finally, reaching theosis. This is where the difference lies between Orthodox Christianity and religions according to fr Georgios; rather than promising eternal bliss, or sending individuals into an eternal place depending on an ethical code, the Church prepares, heals and nourishes each person, for an eternal relationship with our Saviour Christ.


To conclude, this piece has introduced the patristic foundations of the Orthodox Church’ ministry of pastoral care; a ministry fulfilled through the Sacraments, with the focus being our restoration to psychosomatic health and essentially eternal salvation and deification. The essay also discusses why pastoral care is primarily led by the clergy, as through the Eucharist ‘God communicates himself to us’ and with one another; out into the hospitals, prisons, and places where individuals need the joyful, compassionate, salvific presence of the Risen Christ in times of pastoral need.




Bibliogrphy

Purves A (2001) Pastoral Theology in the Classical Tradition, PPC, Ebook, 44-45.

‘Aspects of the Orthodox pastoral care’  Accessed from: http://www.spiritualhealthvictoria.org.au/_literature_193591/Aspects_of_Orthodox_Pastoral_Care.

Gerkin C (1997) An Introduction to Pastoral Care, Nashville: Abingdon Press

Konanos, Andreas 2013, Communion and Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood and the Church, Akakia: London.

Osborn E (2001) Irenaeus of Lyons, Cambridge: CUP.

Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to Polycarp (accessed from http://www.earlychristianwritings.com.)

Π. Γεώργιος  Μεταλληνός, Το έργο του Κλήρου είναι θεραπευτικό (accessed from http://www.romfea.gr/ieres-mitropoleis/13180-p-georgios-metallinos-to-ergo-tou-klirou-einai-therapeutiko) translated by Alexis Florides.

St Gregory the Great, The Book of Pastoral Rule (Liber regulae pastoralis) II.6.

Zizioulas J, Communion and Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood and the Church (Accessed from http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/32890.Communion_and_Otherness.)