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Ask An Eastern Orthodox Christian: How does someone with addiction live a religious life?

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By Nicholas Damascus

What would you like to know about the Eastern Orthodox Christian faith? Submit your question.

How does someone with an addiction — say drugs or gambling live a so called “religious life”? Seems like hiding under the guise of religion would be the perfect place for someone to continue to deceive those around him. Those who have faith in him, those who trust him; can such a person hide in plain sight yet also hide from themselves as they profess love for Christ?

easternorthodox“Lord, hear my prayer.  In your truth, give ear to my supplications; in your righteousness, hear me.  And enter not into judgment with your servant, for no one living is justified in your sight” – Psalm 143

The question is not how can someone live a religious life, but it’s why they should live a religious Christian life. The fact that anyone who is struggling with addiction or other sins should not participate in a “religious Christian life” is antithetical to the whole concept of the church.

The purpose of the church is for healing. Most Christians realize that they are sinners and the church serves as a hospital for sinners, not a museum of saints. It is in the church that we participate to get well through the mysteries (the sacraments).

Sin is imperfection, anything which fails to live up to the fullness of life in Christ, for which man was created. Sin is a kind of disease, an affliction for which salvation is the cure.

One of the primary mysteries in the church is confession which enables one to ask for forgiveness of sins knowingly committed (trespasses) or omission (failure to realize and apply that life is love and communion as demonstrated in the story of Lazarus and the Rich man in Luke 16:19-31).

In the sacrament of confession when one professes with a genuine heart-felt repentance, a change of mind, and an internal reorientation to follow Christ,  one’s sins are forgiven by Christ through the church. These sins are erased from the book of life as if they never occurred, enabling one to forgive themselves and thus the door is opened and the process of healing begins.

If we say that we have not sinned, we make him (Christ) a liar, and his word is not in us (1 John 1: 10).   If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? (1 John 4: 20).

For those that are righteous and consider their sin to be minor to that of their brother, could be considered to be a prideful stance before God and do more harm to themselves than too others.  Forgive me if I seem a little cynical, but it is difficult for the sinner to change their life under the knife of their brother.

Another primary mystery for healing is the Eucharist or communion, where we are strongly exhorted by Christ to receive the source of life (which is love), by partaking of his eucharistic flesh and blood. Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you (John 6:53).  This mystery joins us with Christ, we in him and him in us, strengthening our struggle with the “demons of addictions” that may possess us. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Phil 4: 13).

Let me emphasize by becoming part of and immersing oneself in that Body of Christ (the church), we may become what we were created and designed to be through sanctification (which is known as theosis in the east) and the transformation begins to be healed and to become more like him.  Unfortunately these mysteries are missing in many Christian churches today.  These mysteries are one of the major reasons for the churches existence.

This premise of seeking a higher power and community immersion is replete throughout the philosophy of the following therapeutic groups:  Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Overeaters Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Sex Addicts Anonymous, Workaholics Anonymous, Smokers Anonymous, Co-dependent Anonymous, Families Anonymous, Food Addicts Anonymous, Emotions Anonymous and many more community therapeutic groups.  Recovery is sought in the areas of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual.  Successful recovery is rarely achieved without the aid of the 12 step program.

At this point I would hope you have begun to realize that no one is hiding from or deceiving anyone here and that this is a serious issue for those that can admit their addiction, pursue a means of recovery and again begin the process of healing..

It seems like hiding under the guise of religion would be the perfect place for someone to continue to deceive those around him.

This statement implies that this individual is dedicated in the disruption of the Body of Christ.  I do not see the intention or purpose of anyone who would merely just want to be a purposeful deceiver in a community of Christians.  You speak of religion as a cloak where someone could hide under.    I would ask hide from what, for what, why and what would be the intention and purpose of hiding in the Church?  And then I would add, who can hide from the Eyes of God?  I would say no one.

Faith can be defined as hope, trust or belief.  To put your faith in any one individual would be foolish and that is not the Christian way of faith. We don’t put our faith in anyone but Christ.  Our faith is not built on any one individual, regardless of their place in the Body of Christ.  Even some of the apostles were wrong and corrected.

In English translations of the New Testament, the word faith generally corresponds to the Greek noun πίστις (pistis) or the Greek verb πιστεύω (pisteuo), meaning “to trust, to have confidence, faithfulness, to be reliable, to assure.” Here’s  what Saint Paul says about having faith in men, “that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1Cor 2: 5).

Can such a person hide in plain sight yet also hide from themselves as they profess love for Christ?

Open confession to the community was part of the church in the beginning, however as time progressed, confession was later confined between the one who confesses and the priest. So are you advocating that this person share his confession with the whole church? I would say that if your confession is not public, why would you infer or insist  that another’s confession be made public?
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, confession today is under the guidance and counseling of the priest, not the body of believers.

The definition of Christianity could be summed up as to Christ’s revelation to man of who he is and what he wants for us. To be a Christian is not just to declare that one believes in Christ (even Satan and his demons believe), but that person’s behavior should reflect what he believes,  his actions or works should be a testimony to that belief.

Although Christian practices such as prayer, fasting, alms giving and vigilance are good in and of themselves, they do not constitute the aim of a Christian life.  The true aim of our Christian life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. The above Christian practices are only a means for the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God

Christ says, “If you love me, keep My commandments (John 14:15). Christ wants us to love one another, as in the second great commandment in the law (Matt 22: 38-39).  “You should love your neighbor as yourself (and boy do we love ourselves).  But I would say not just to love one another, but more so to become love too one another!  Have we in our hearts, not our heads, truly forgiven our brother today?  What would one be waiting for, judgment day? Do we have any idea what we all would be facing if we didn’t forgive our brothers and sisters? Can we conceptualize what eternity is and what state we would be in if we didn’t forgive one another?

Christ says, “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? (Matt 7:3).    Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye?  (Matt 7: 4).  Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matt 7: 5)”

1 John 2:11: But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

“If the fervor of faith in the heart is not sometimes stirred up, then in time, through negligence, faith may become entirely extinguished in us; and Christianity with its Sacraments may entirely die for us.  The enemy takes pains to attain this end and tries to extinguish faith in our hearts and to bury in oblivion all truths of Christianity.   That is why we see men who, being Christians, are only such in name, while by their actions they are quite heathen.”
– St. John of Kronstadt

To sum up, this person suffering from addiction I would say is not here for any “show” or “deception of others,” but for healing.  And quite possibly this person has been inserted into your life as an opportunity test your faith, ironically aiding you in your journey and path to salvation.

The individual who posed these questions I believe would be more comforted by what is acknowledged to possibly be the only writing that Jesus did. “And while they were condemning the woman caught in the act of adultery, Jesus bent over and wrote in the sand, let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

Nicholas Damascus

About Nicholas Damascus

Nick Damascus is one who seeks to discover and apply the proverbial question of what is truth and wisdom, to fill that gaping hole, to become complete and to become realistically and synergistically functional. In an attempt to live the Christian life, which he says is a definite work in progress, he has discovered that he's created the Christ that fits his lifestyle and agrees with his ego (and boy what an ego, he says), carefully avoiding what God intended him to be.

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