The Nicene Creed, the ancient symbol of faith, is the fruit of the lived experience of those friends of God who have beheld the uncreated light of the Holy Trinity and entered into intimate communion with our Lord. Like Saint John the Theologian, they say to us, “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have communion with us: and truly our communion is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). In this particular article of the creed, they provide more than a reference to the divinity of the three Persons of the Trinity. They indicate that we are called to worship and glorify the Holy Trinity, even as the Angels do in heaven, chanting “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord Sabaoth: the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3).
But what does it mean to worship and glorify? The Greek word translated as worship in the creed (προσκυνέω) means literally to prostrate oneself in adoration, kneeling down with one’s head lowered to the ground, as the faithful do during Lent in the Orthodox Church. Etymologically, it is composed of the prefix for moving towards someone and the root meaning to kiss. In other words, to worship God means to humble one’s entire self before God, to place oneself completely at the mercy of God, to move towards God, body and soul, and ultimately to come to know God intimately and face to face. The Greek word translated as glorify in the creed (δοξάζω) implies seeing the glory of God, beholding the uncreated Light, and knowing God’s rule in a state in which the smallest trace of selfishness disappears before the effulgence of the love of God that passeth all understanding. To be glorifed means nothing less than to experience the deifying grace of God that transfigures a human being into a friend of God in the likeness of the Most High. Thus, being worshipped and glorified refers to the beginning and to the culmination of the Christian life in reference to our Maker and Redeemer. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are worshipped in our humble repentance and glorified in our becoming like Christ in virtue, in holiness, in compassion, and in love.
Turning to the experience of worship in the Old and New Testament, we can see these two aspects of our relationship to God with great clarity. The Old Testament prophets, priests, kings, and patriarchs initially understood divine worship in terms of sacrifice, meaning the blood sacrifice of oxen, rams, goats, and lambs in the Temple performed by the appointed priest. It involved a letting go of what was precious and useful for an originally, nomadic people as well as a turning of the attention from earth to heaven. It was seen as a way of making amends for wrongs committed, both in knowledge and in ignorance. And yet, this was not yet the worship that God desired of his chosen flock, for the worship of God is meant for the transformation of man. It was a man after God’s own heart, David, the Prophet and King, who understood this well, especially after his sin with Bathsheba. In Psalm 51, he described the heart of worship, containing all the previous notions of sacrifice, but internalizing what was most important: “For Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: Thou delightest not in burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a humbled heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise.” The breaking of the arrogance, pride, and selfishness in the human spirit and the humbling of the heart are what constitute worship. It is ultimately not about postures or actions, but a way of being in God’s presence and in the presence of our brothers and sisters in Christ. This offering of sincere humility and repentance is how we are called to worship the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
In the New Testament, on the night in which our Lord was betrayed, worship was taken to another level. Recapitulating all the sacrifices of the Old Testament, manifesting all the humility of the Prophet David in the washing of the disciples’ feet, the Lord Christ initiated them into the bloodless perfect sacrifice of the mystical supper in which He offered Himself, His very Body and Blood, to His beloved disciples and through them to the entire Church. In this sacrifice of the New Covenant, Christ employs the agency of the priest to offer to the Father the perfect sacrifice through the action of the Holy Spirit. Each Christian who participates through faith and love in the Divine Liturgy offers his own life in union with the unique sacrifice of Christ as an offering and an act of worship to the Father through the Son and by the action of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps even more significantly with respect to understanding the present article in the Creed, at the Mystic Supper, God was not only worshiped, He was also glorified. Repentance finds its fulfillment and perfection in communion. As Christ relates, “now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him” (John 13:31). But moreover, the Apostles partook of that glory as the Lord relates, “And all Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine; and I am glorified in them” (John 17:10), for in receiving Christ, they received the very source of divine glory.
In a wondrous fashion beyond human comprehension, the Holy Trinity is glorified each time the repentant believer achieves intimate communion with God in love through the act of worship. In his treatise Adversus Haereses, Saint Irenaeus writes, “the glory of God is man fully alive.” For Saint Irenaeus, “fully alive” implies the full participation in communion with God, which is achieved only when the soul is purified of the passions, illumined through inner prayer, and made into a vessel capable of receiving the fullness of divine life with which God desires to bathe His children. Fully alive means fully in the likeness, fully glorified, and fully perfected in Christ.
In this creedal statement, we find the alpha and the omega of the Christian life: humble repentance and union with God. If worshipping and glorifying the Holy Trinity were ingrained in our souls as core beliefs, our lives would become a blessed yearning, an ecstatic striving, and an unwavering moving towards God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Because we desire to worship and glorify God, we would love humility, we would love our neighbor, and we would love our God. In fact, the love of God would become all in all in our lives, beginning with the spark of repentance that we willingly fan until by God’s grace it blazes more brilliantly than the noonday sun in the presence of God’s glory. With such beliefs in place, nothing would be more precious than the opportunity to worship God; nothing could make us more grateful than the fact that we can receive God; and nothing would ever separate us from that love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The statement—“no man is an island”—has been attributed to the 17th century Church of England cleric John Donne and over the years has been borrowed by poets, lyricists, and theologians to express the notion that we are essentially relational beings and our existence as well as the quality of our lives is related to those around us. But for those who exhibit Type A character traits, this dependence upon others is often lamented, if not a point of conflict and tension. Generally, Type A persons need to believe that their work, their accomplishments, and their destiny are essentially self-determined. After all, they are usually much more comfortable performing tasks with little intrusion or involvement from others. This is most evident in terms of time urgency when a colleague or associate is not performing up to speed in the eyes of someone with Type A tendencies. As I’ve noted throughout this series, those with these tendencies view others as obstacles to their own goals and standards. Unless Type A people can find others with similar personality traits and the same drive to succeed, working with others often turns into a highly frustrating experience with devastating physical and emotional repercussions following suit.
If we return to Donne’s “no man is an island” for a moment, that simple statement may serve as a model for an alternative set of more realistic beliefs by which those with Type A tendencies may live more peaceably with others. For instance, the dysfunctional beliefs such as “others are undependable and one should work feverishly to meet goals” can give rise to automatic thoughts such as “I can’t depend on John. He’s never on time. He doesn’t have the same drive and passion as I do,” which in turn can lead to irritation, irruptions, and bad-will. But given that “no man is an island,” I can adopt a more realistic belief like “it is good that others are connected to me and different from me.” Instead of looking at others in an adversarial way, I can look at them as being complementary. With such alternative beliefs in place, more helpful and benevolent thoughts arise such as the thought that “John is methodical, he takes his time so he’ll get it done right. I’m going to place my trust in John.”
The scriptural basis for “no man is an island” is Saint Paul’s teaching that we are “every one members one of another… having gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us” (Romans 12:5-6). This sense of belonging to one another needs to precede our interactions with each other if we are to be at peace with ourselves and the world. As Saint John Chrysostom put it, “How can someone attend to his own concerns while overlooking or being careless about the concerns of his neighbor? It is to our benefit to consider the best interest of our neighbor and to our injury to neglect it. For if we are members one of another, the welfare of our neighbor is not his concern only, but that of the whole body, and the injury of our neighbor is not confined to him, but distracts us all with pain. If we are a building, whatever part is weakened affects the whole edifice, while that which is solid gives strength and support to the rest. So also in the Church, if you have slighted your neighbor, you have injured yourself” (Homily 7 on Second Epistle to Timothy).
Being “members one of another” means that we need to work with each other in movements that are smooth and harmonious like those of a dancer, that gives and takes with limberness and flexibility. The term the fathers use for working with one another is “synergeia” or collaboration. Although the fathers employ the word synergeia theologically with regard to our collaboration with God and divine grace for the sake of our own salvation, they also recognize in it something wonderful in our coexistence and collaboration with one another. The Psalmist exclaims, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron’s beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments; As the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore.”
In fact, the model for good human relations may be found in the teachings of the holy fathers concerning the Holy Trinity. As I wrote in a previous blog post, “Furthermore, stating that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father is stating that the Holy Spirit is God and the Holy Spirit is unique, even as stating that the Son is begotten of the Father is stating that the Son is God and the Son is unique. If union and uniqueness are so important at a level beyond the reaches of human and angelic thought, then in lives of those made in the image and likeness of God, they are undoubtedly of great import as well. We too are called to be persons, to be unique, to be in union with others, to be dynamic, to be open, to share, and to love. We are even called to be comforters in this world. If these truths become our own core beliefs, you can imagine how that might change our perspective on how we are to spend our earthly journey.”
For those whose lives are characterized by Type A behavior, there is perhaps nothing so abhorrent as inactivity or a hiatus between projects or sets of goals. Since their self-image is dependent on their activity and accomplishments, moments for reflection, contemplation, or stillness are perceived at best as idleness and at worst as a dangerous loss of self. Impatience with delays and a sense of time urgency are simply symptoms of overly identifying self-worth with accomplishments and viewing life as nothing more than a series of goal-oriented tasks. Unfortunately, this stance results in a devaluation of relationships and a prizing of productivity that construes human beings as though they were machines built to produce ad infinitum or at least until the machines break down. Of course, we are not meant to be automated robots, but living persons in communion with others. And this means that we need to learn not only to do, but also to pay attention and to listen to ourselves, to our neighbor, and to our God.
To those with Type A tendencies, one particular passage in Scripture calls out with especial clarity: “Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41-42). As you may recall, the Lord Christ made this statement while visiting the home of Martha and Mary after Martha became perturbed at her sister for not helping her with the tasks of hospitality. According to Saint Augustine, Christ called out Martha’s name twice in order to get her attention (Sermon 53) and shift her focus from the tasks at hand to the Lord before her. In commenting on this passage, Saint Augustine writes, “Our Lord then does not blame the actions, but distinguishes between the duties. For it follows, Mary has chosen that good part. It is not that yours is a bad one, but that hers is better. Why is it better? Because it shall not be taken away from her… You are still at sea; she is in the harbor” (On the Holy Trinity, Book 1, 10). Commenting on the same Gospel, Saint Theophylact writes, “Our Lord does not then forbid hospitality, but the troubling about many things, that is to say, hurry and anxiety. And mark the wisdom of our Lord, in that at first He said nothing to Martha, but when she sought to tear away her sister from hearing, then the Lord took occasion to reprove her, for hospitality is ever honored as long as it keeps us to necessary things. But when it begins to hinder us from attending to what is of more importance, then it is plain that the hearing of the divine word is the more honorable” (Explanations on the Gospels).
For those with Type A tendencies, this gospel teaches us that even when our tasks and goals are praiseworthy from the perspective of the Christian life, time spent listening in stillness is not only necessary, but also vital for becoming the kind of people Christ desires us to be. In fact according to Saint John of Damascus, this passage is about the need for stillness (The Sacred Paralells, PG 95.1245), whereas according to Saint Basil the Great it is about the need for the vision of divine mysteries through prayer (Ascetic Constitutions, PG 31.1328). In general, the fathers viewed prayerful stillness (hesychia) as indispensable to the curing of man’s fundamental illness. Saint Gregory the Theologian wrote, “It is necessary to be still in order to have clear converse with God and gradually bring the nous back from its wanderings” (Oration 26, PG 35.1237ab). Through prayerful stillness enlivened by the invocation of our Lord’s name, the nous is purified and enlightened with the love and light of God. Unfortunately, someone who is constantly striving to do more and accomplish greater things is too busy with activity to engage in this healing process. When we devote ourselves solely to the busy activities of modern life, the passions are allowed free rein choking off the gift of grace offered by stillness and prayer. When left unchecked, the human heart becomes sicker until what is abnormal (workaholism) becomes the norm. Rather than providing us freedom and serenity, the opposite fruits are borne in the human heart.
Happily, there is another way to approach life and work. When hesychia is practiced and cultivated it renews and refashions our work. Work becomes an expression of ourselves rather than our whole selves. In this sense, we have a time for work, a time for prayer, and a time to love others, allowing God to fashions us and sustain us through His purifying love. For those with Type-A tendencies, it might be helpful to write out the verse, “Martha, Martha, thou art anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is needful, and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her,” hang it up in a place of prominence, and whenever seen, to take a moment to just be quiet with one’s Lord, to say a prayer, and let the prayer do its work on us.
To be a person is to be utterly unique and dynamically open to others. The three Persons of the Holy Trinity are utterly unique and dynamically open in a divine and uncreated fashion that the frail vessels of our created and human words can no more adequately describe than a measuring cup can contain a thousand oceans. Nevertheless, the holy fathers, who constructed the miracle of the Creed on the basis of their experience of the Holy Trinity, provide the most perfect expression of the uniqueness and openness of each of the three Persons. The Heavenly Father is unique in not being begotten, but begetting, in not proceeding from another, but being the cause of procession, while the Son is unique in being begotten of the Father and the Holy Spirit is unique in proceeding from the Father. As Saint Basil the Great put it, “We neither call the Holy Spirit unbegotten, for we know but one unbeggoten and one source of all things, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, nor do we call Him begotten, for we are taught by the tradition of the faith that there is one only-begotten. Rather, we have been taught that the Spirit of Truth proceeds from the Father and confess that He comes from God in an uncreated fashion” (Letter 125, PG 32.549c). What does it mean to proceed from the Father in an uncreated way? Saint John of Damascus writes, “The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father, not in the manner of being begotten, but in the manner of procession (οὐ γεννητῶς, ἀλλ ἐκπορευτῶς). This is a different way of existence as incomprehensible and unknown as the generation of the Son” (An Exact Exposition on the Orthodox Faith, 1, 8, PG 94.816c).
This high, apophatic theology of the Church about the Holy Trinity in eternity apart from the world and history might seem removed from our daily lives and daily struggles, for all we have and all we know is the world around us and the past that is behind us. And yet, the Creed tells us that there is something beyond time and space, and it is not confusion or chaos, but one God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—that is one not simply by virtue of having the same essence, but by virtue of there being one source, the monarchy of the Father from Whom the Son is begotten and the Spirit proceeds. And that one God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—the Holy Trinity, one in essence and undivided, created the world, loves the world, and seeks the salvation of each and every one of us.
It was in our Lord’s final teachings to His disciples at the mystical supper in the upper room that He revealed His boundless love for His disciples, the ultimate goal of the incarnation, and the pledge of the Holy Spirit. In this most sacred of Christian discourses recorded in the Gospel of John, the Lord revealed Who is the person of the Holy Spirit in eternity and what is His ministry in the world, saying, “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of Me” (John 15:26). Being sent and proceeding are no more interchangeable synonyms than are the words ‘time’ and ‘eternity’ (which emphatically does not mean just a lot of time). In the womb of the Holy Trinity utterly independent of the creation of time and space, the Spirit proceeds from the Father. But into this created world and in these latter days, the Son and the Father send the Spirit to be the Comforter thus continuing the salvific work of the Father and the Son shaping it to each human soul in a way that is dynamic, open, and utterly unique. And as the Lord Christ comforted the multitudes, “healing the brokenhearted, preaching deliverance to the captives, recovering of sight to the blind, setting at liberty them that are bruised” (Luke 4:18), so now another Comforter is promised that heals not only from without, but from within as the Lord himself declared, “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever” (John 14:16). The Disciples and all Christians thereafter would not be orphaned after Christ’s death and resurrection, for they would have the Holy Spirit to guide them and lead them.
In his Homily on the Gospel of John, Saint John Chrysostom comments on Christ’s holy words: “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me.” The Saint explains, “He called Him the Spirit of Truth, instead of the Holy Spirit, to show that He will be trustworthy, for He is the Spirit of Truth. He said that He ‘proceeds from the Father’ to demonstrate that He has an exact knowledge of everything in precisely the same way that Christ said of Himself, ‘I know whence come and whither I go’ (John 8:14). He said ‘Whom I will send unto you from the Father’ with regard to the truth that no longer is the Father alone sending the Spirit, but the Son sends Him as well.” (Homily 77, PG 59.417). That the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Father alone is as important as the belief that the Son is begotten of the Father and the Father alone. It not only preserves unity of the Godhead and the veracity of the truth revealed by Christ in the Holy Spirit, but also assures the honor, glory, and worship due to the Holy Spirit, the Giver of life.
Proceeding and sending should never be confused. The Spirit proceeds from the Father in eternity as the Creed confirms, but is sent in time by the Father and by the Son as the New Testament relates. In his Homily on Pentecost, Saint Gregory Palamas not only affirms this teaching, but also adds, “Christ now sent forth the Spirit Who comes from the Father and is sent by Him from heaven. But when we hear that the Spirit was sent by the Father and the Son, this does not mean that the Spirit has no part in their greatness, for He is not just sent, but also Himself sends and consents to be sent.”
But how can making such distinctions between proceeding and sending influence our core beliefs? How can the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father change the way we live? The Creed opens a window not only into the wondrous workings of God in the world through the person of Christ, but also into the uncreated, ineffable life beyond life of the all Holy Trinity. When we love someone and we trust someone, we share intimate details of our life with that person. That the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father is such a detail, revealing God’s intimate love for us. These words are beyond what we can rationally understand, and yet they point to a dynamic clarity. Furthermore, stating that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father is stating that the Holy Spirit is God and the Holy Spirit is unique, even as stating that the Son is begotten of the Father is stating that the Son is God and the Son is unique. If union and uniqueness are so important at a level beyond the reaches of human and angelic thought, then in lives of those made in the image and likeness of God, they are undoubtedly of great import as well. We too are called to be persons, to be unique, to be in union with others, to be dynamic, to be open, to share, and to love. We are even called to be comforters in this world. If these truths become our own core beliefs, you can imagine how that might change our perspective on how we are to spend our earthly journey. We not only have an advocate before the Father in Christ Jesus, but also “the Spirit of His Son in our hearts crying Abba, Father.” God’s openness to us and God’s love for us are truly boundless. May that knowledge help us become more open to God and to love Him more that we rejoice as those enlivened by the Holy Spirit “with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8).
People don’t simply decide to become Type A. It arises quite naturally from their efforts to make sense of their own world during the process of maturation on the basis of their experiences with others, their observations about life, and their sense of their own strengths and weaknesses. Having reached some conclusions about how the world operates and how they need to act to get ahead, they press forward on the basis of these conclusions that they may never have put into words, but that are always present, guiding them with a less than gentle hand. These conclusions that orient the Type A person in the context of cognitive therapy are known as schemata or core beliefs. People don’t really have a choice about adopting these conclusions or core beliefs, but they can decide to change them.
Sorensen notes in his dissertation, “Many of the harmful effects of Type A behavior may be explained by the influence of these beliefs on the interpretation of social situations. An interesting model of this was proposed by Price in 1982. The model of this is comprised of three core beliefs about self and others: a) one must constantly prove oneself through successful, socially recognized accomplishments, b) resources needed to be successful are scarce and insufficient, and c) universal moral principles do not exist to ensure fairness, justice, and goodness. These organizing schemas are the foundation for excessive competitiveness, hostility, impatience, and quick anger.”
Now, these beliefs usually have some basis in past experience. If little Jamie’s parents only praised him and showed him affection after winning a race or getting an A on a report card, that could be the start of a core belief about the need to prove oneself. If he heard his parents talking incessantly about how they cannot make ends meet and about how life is not fair, those beliefs would also have been wired into his little brain and engrained in his little heart. But what is 43 year-old James who is developing high blood pressure to do, having lived according to these beliefs with some degree of success most of his life? He needs to modify those beliefs or if possible replace them with beliefs that can help him become calmer, more peaceful, more concerned with others, more trusting, and ultimately a better Christian.
In order to modify beliefs, which is no easy task, one needs to weaken the old belief and to choose a new one to live by. The first belief in the TABP triplex—one must constantly prove oneself through successful, socially recognized accomplishments—equates self-worth with what one does meriting recognition by others. The solution is not found in discovering people who will more consistently validate and affirm you for an A on your latest report card in life. Rather, the solution is found in the recognition that self-worth is not based upon the esteem and validation of others. Self-worth does not need to be founded on the shifting sands of the situational or social, but can be grounded in rock-hard, ontological reality that we are sons and daughters of a God who loves us unconditionally and never wavers or withdraws that love regardless of our earthly successes or failures. This is not something that can be understood rationally, but it can be sensed in the heart that prays and lives in the divine mysteries of the faith. The Lord once told His disciples, “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Partaking of that life, rather than accomplishing this or that, needs to become the new source of self worth.
In cognitive therapy, a person first identifies the core belief that may be causing problems, suggests an alternative, and then daily looks for instances in which the old belief doesn’t really work and in which the new one leads to better functioning. For it to sink in, the individual is instructed to keep a notebook and write about proofs for the new belief every day One way for a Christian to do so is to search the Scriptures for the Truth of God about us and about the world and to gratefully ponder the greatness of God’s love for us. Perhaps, instead of “I must constantly prove myself through successful, socially recognized accomplishments,” one could recall the Heavenly Father’s response to the Prodigal Son or adopt a variation on Romans 12:2 “Instead of being conformed to the world, I can be transformed by renewing my mind that I may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God,” seeking God’s will rather than our own personal agenda in our relationships and endeavors. Instead of “resources needed to be successful are scarce and insufficient,” one can recall the feeding of the five thousand or adopt a variation on 2 Corinthians 9:8 “And God is able to make all grace abound toward me that I, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work,” trusting in God’s abundant mercy that endures forever. Instead of “universal moral principles do not exist to ensure fairness, justice, and goodness,” one could look towards the Resurrection of our crucified Lord or adopt the 23rd Psalm “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want… Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over,” placing one’s faith in God.
Having found these passages in Scripture, the believer can then be open and aware to examples of these truths in day-to-day life. They are there if we have but eyes to see. As we notice more and more instances of God’s providence and God’s love in our lives, older TABP core beliefs begin to weaken, genuinely Christian convictions begin to take root, and we become calmer, happier, and kinder people, less prone to anger and high blood pressure as well.
Elder Porphyrios noted how the awareness of God’s love for us can have a profound impact upon us: “We ought to feel that Jesus is our friend. He is our friend. He confirms it Himself when He says: ‘You are my friends…” (John 15: 14). We ought to look up to Him and approach Him as our friend. If we fall, if we commit an offence, we ought to approach Him with love and courage and be filled with trust bestowed to us by our mutual friendship without fearing His punishment. We ought to tell Him: ‘Yes, Lord I have done this, I have fallen, forgive me.’ At the same time we ought to feel that He loves us, that He receives us with tenderness and love and that He forgives us. Let our trespasses not separate us from Jesus. If we believe that He loves us and that we love Him, we will not feel like strangers, neither we will feel separated from Him, not even when we commit a sin. We have secured His love and no matter what we do, we know that He loves us.”
Such a core belief changes everything: it changes our understanding of ourselves, others, and the world around us. It softens our heart to the point that there can be no bitterness, no divisiveness, and no rancor. For what is greater than the love of God which is offered to us as a free possession? How often we proclaim during the Divine Liturgy, “For Thou art a good God and a friend of man.” If we recognize how greatly God affirms us in our very existence, if we recognize how He provides for us, and if we recognize that His justice will ultimately prevail, we will begin to live that abundant life He came to give us. The pearl of great price is already before us and with it, the peace of God that passeth all understanding.
If self-awareness and self-understanding are the beginning of positive behavioral change for those with Type A behavioral pattern, the next step on the way to better physical, psychological, and as we shall see, spiritual health is self-monitoring. In much the same way that anger doesn’t exist in a vacuum but in a complex interaction between inner states, idiosyncratic ideas about how things should be, and external situations, so in the case of the Type A behavioral pattern, there are discrete stages that lead to that behavior. A thought related to goals or time crosses the threshold of the mind, the person entertains it, accepts it, and then the cranks that start up the engine of Type A behavior begin to turn until the person with a one track mind can be as out of control as a runaway train not only with tensed muscles and rising blood pressure, but also with festering impatience and escalating irritation.
This is why self-monitoring is so crucial. It is precisely at the level of thoughts that Type A must be acknowledged and monitored. In their work, “Reducing Type A Behavior Patterns,” Bracke and Thoresen provide an example of how this self-monitoring works: “Derived from behavioral research on self-monitoring (Thoresen & Mahoney, 1974), the Type A self-monitor procedure was developed to help participants detach from the personal distress in a situation by refocusing their attention more objectively on the occurrence of distress itself. For example, when a person impatiently waits in a slow bank line, the person may start criticizing the incompetence of the teller or the bank’s deplorable understaffing. The self-monitor would ideally intervene with the awareness of the hypercritical and impatient feelings and suggest that patience, rather than criticism, is a more desirable response. The self-monitor might, for example, note that ‘waiting in line gives me the opportunity to reflect on some interesting thing I could do this weekend or could remind me to observe specific Type A signs of others waiting in line or relax.’ Essentially, the person develops metacognition, an observing and more objective ‘third person’ perspective, one that optimally provides an intimate awareness of the participant’s emotional responses, fears, and rationalizations, as well as behaviors (Powell & Thoresen, 1987).” Bracke and Thoresen further recommend that frustrating situations like waiting in the bank teller line should be brought to a group therapy session where the triggers of anger and impatience are acknowledged and seen as natural, but ultimately unhealthy, manifestations of TABP.
The fathers would offer similar counsel, but deepen it by reference to the spiritual dimension of our reactions, the spiritual opportunities inherent in difficult situations, and the spiritual aim of our lives as a whole. First of all, they would agree with the idea of monitoring self, although they would use the term watchfulness (νήψις). Saint Augustine taught that Christ “became the way calling us back to introspection and advising us about what we should seek from God. He also advised us to notice the way thoughts react to each other initiating an impulsive wave that we can, nevertheless, go around by choosing what is true” (Homily on Psalm 78). Secondly, they would note that anger and impatience are natural reactions only within the context of the fall. In the context of the abundant life to which Christ calls us, they are manifestations of the passions in need of healing by a more intimate union with our Lord. Concerning impatience, Saint Gregory writes, “Since they fail to bridle their spirit… they rush down a steep slope leading them unintentionally into iniquity, for tempestuousness drives the mind to places that would not attract the desire. And though perturbed in ignorance, they later grieve in knowledge” (The Book of the Pastoral Rule, part 3, chapter 9). Concerning anger, Saint John Chrysostom warns, “If we are to have boldness before God, we must flee from wrath, so that no one will be able to construe our words as being the result of anger, for no matter how right your words may be, when you speak in anger, you ruin everything…” (Homily 16 on Acts 7). In other words, impatience and anger are not problems just because they cause our blood pressure to rise and harm our relationship with others, but also because the passions, and not the incompetence of others or delays they cause, are the real obstacles, not for achieving passing goals, but for reaching our ultimate aim, union with God.
While cognitive therapists rely primarily on metacognition to bring about a change in maladaptive behavior, the fathers place their hope and trust first and foremost in the God of their heart. Elder Paisios once remarked, “Divine grace cannot act where there is no struggle against passions. We need to cleanse our soul from passions. The more the person cleanses himself, the more the Divine grace acts in him. One depends on the other. When the person is cleansed from passions, then he can see both: the Divine grace and the fulfillment of what Christ has promised us.” This again stresses the importance and the reality of synergy in a Christian understanding of healing and health.
Saint Paul once wrote to the Ephesians, “Look then carefully how ye walk, not as unwise, but as wise; redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (5:15-17). Certainly, people with a Type A pattern of behavior can understand this passage, for they naturally have a sense of the need to redeem the time, but unfortunately the reason to do so is often misdirected to achieving materialistic aims or receiving the praise of others. If they would but redeem the time as Saint Paul taught for the sake of their souls and the Christian life, a marvelous transformation can take place in their lives. Then, their very Type A tendencies could push them on, not to high blood pressure, but to the very heights of heaven.
When waiting in a long line at the bank, rather than mulling over what you won’t be able to get done or getting irritated by someone dawdling at the teller’s counter, it would be so much more beneficial to see this time as a gift from God. Of course, you can use the cognitive strategy of saying, “Ah yes, impatience is not in my best interest, I will be patient” or start thinking about relaxing on the weekend, but I think the ascetic fathers show us an even better way. You can use this opportunity to stop and pray “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me a sinner.” Or you can even pray for the souls ahead of you in line who may be in need of your prayer. And each time a distracting thought of impatience or anger bubbles to the surface, you gently and slowly return your focus to the Jesus Prayer, saying it slowly and with compunction. With the grace of God, you might even find yourself grateful for the opportunity to slow down and tend to your soul. In this way, you not only reduce the negative effects of Type A behavior, but also make use of the Type A drive to approach God and your ultimate goal of union with Him.
During the last several months, I have devoted blog posts on Sundays to the exploration of a specifically spiritual topic, namely, the Nicene Creed, that ancient crystallization of the Christian faith. During the week, I have spent time writing posts about the various illnesses and afflictions that burden the human heart and keep us from communion with God and one another. This post on the Holy Spirit as the Lord and Giver of Life allows me to bring these two themes together for the purposes of reflecting upon how our core beliefs can have a blessed influence on our daily life, when inspired not just by the vagaries of early experience, but by the very details of the Christian faith.
In proclaiming the Holy Spirit as the Lord and Giver of life, the Church is passing on what was revealed to Her by God through the prophets, apostles, and all the saints. From this revelation, we believe that the Holy Spirit is consubstantial with God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and with God the Son through Whom all things were made. And we therefore confess the Holy Spirit as the Lord and Giver of life.
The Holy Spirit as the Giver of life has more than a cosmological relevance, for the divine Spirit is the Giver of our life. On this subject, Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos writes, “If a man struggles not to commit sin and battles against passionate thoughts, he is humiliated and shattered in the fight, ‘but the sufferings of combat purify him little by little and bring him back to the natural state.’(Dorotheos, SC p.412) Yet besides man’s effort, if the Holy Spirit does not descend, the dead nous cannot be purified and brought to life, because ‘only the Holy Spirit can purify the nous.’(Diadochos of Photike, Philokalia 1, p.260, 28).’” The Church understands the plight and suffering of fallen man trying to be good, but often acting badly, trying to find health, but feeling deeply sick, trying to be calm, but often being agitated. There are many practical ways to try to bring about positive changes with respect to thoughts, feelings and behaviors, with therapy in the context of a lived Christian faith being among those valuable agents of change. However, these practical human methods, like therapy, can never serve as replacements for the work of the Holy Spirit, for, as useful as they may be, they are not intrinsically life-giving. It was an intrinsically life-giving, life-transforming change that characterized the miracles of Christ. And in response to Nicodemus’s recognition of the Lord’s miracles, our Savior responded saying, “Except a man be born of water and of the spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God,” meaning that without purification from the passions in the waters of baptism and without illumination by the Holy Spirit the human soul cannot come under the rule of God, which is divine life itself. Saint Seraphim of Sarov summarized this truth, as I noted in the last post on the Holy Spirit, when he taught that the ultimate goal of the Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, there is no life.
The various afflictions that disturb us and bring suffering to our lives therapists understand in terms of anger-management issues , compulsive buying, anxiety, depression, and addictive behavior. The fathers view these problems in terms of underlying passions that drive the faculties of the soul in improper directions and thereby darken the nous where the Holy Spirit is supposed to dwell in order to quicken our spirit to continue the selfless work of Christ in the world through love for God and compassion for our neighbor. To affect a deep, abiding change, it is not enough just to use one’s mind and what makes sense, for the selfish and prideful mind cannot see properly in the first place, especially when it comes to oneself. The spiritual problem at the heart of the human condition is the rational faculty functioning as though there were no God and no Giver of Life. Only when the noetic faculty is restored to primacy within the soul and set in motion by the Holy Spirit can health be restored. The life that the Holy Spirit gives us involves the purification and illumination of the nous so that all the faculties of the soul are able to function in synergy with one another and with the presence of the grace of the Holy Spirit. This synergeia, whereby the Holy Spirit is present and active in the soul of the cooperating human will roots out the passions of lust, greed, anger, and selfishness.
As I wrote in the last post on Type A behavior, the first important step in curing the soul of these passions is awareness of one’s condition. Saint Maximus the Confessor writes, “The person who has come to know the weakness of human nature has gained experience of divine power.” In other words, awareness of one’s condition is the work of the Holy Spirit. The same Holy Spirit stirs up an awareness in our heart of our own weakness, our sickness. As the Giver of Life, the Holy Spirit does not leave us in a state of despondency over our state, but quickens us to turn to Him and cry out, “Lord have mercy upon me, a sinner.” This is precisely why one of the greatest obstacles to recovery is the feeling of self-satisfaction. This impedes the work of the Holy Spirit within us and leads us away from the cure.
If we believe, truly believe, that the Holy Spirit is the Lord and Giver of life, our own desire to live will become a desire for the Holy Spirit to live in us, for we realize that the Giver is also the Gift. At times of quiet and in times of turmoil, we will turn to the Giver of life for strength in our journey. And when we are faced with a difficulty, when we begin to pray, when we are in need of direction, when we are in need of life, we will then pray to the Giver of life with the sacred words: “Heavenly King, O Comforter, the Spirit of truth, Who art everywhere present and fillest all things, O treasury of every good and Bestower of life: come and dwell in us, and cleanse us from every stain, and save our souls, O Good One.”