Directly following the astonishing revelation in the Sermon on the Mount (as recorded in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Matt. 5–7), in which Our Lord most fully taught about His Kingdom and its characteristics, He immediately begins to show us the Kingdom he spoke of in action. And what is the first thing he sets about doing? Healing.
The next two chapters record a long string of healings performed by Jesus. In the healing of the paralytic (Matt. 9:1–8) it is revealed that, though Jesus Christ is quite willing and able to bring physical restoration and healing, the greater healing that is needed is that of the soul, accomplished through the forgiveness of sins for those who come to Christ in faith. [1. It’s significant that it’s the faith of the friends of the paralytic that heals him, not his own. Which has interesting implications for paedo-baptism and the nature of faith and its corporate effects, but that’s for another post.]
In the very next account (Matt. 9:9–12), Christ tells the Pharisees that “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick,” making explicit his own Kingdom ministry to be that of healing and restoration.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37), as interpreted by the fathers of the Church, is another revelation of Christ-as-healer (as He is the true Good Samaritan), the sacraments as his healing medicine (v. 34), and the Church as the hospital in which Christ inters those being healed (vv. 34–36).
Based on these fundamental revelations—as well as many others—the Orthodox Church holds Christ to be the Great Physician and the Church to be the hospital for souls suffering from their sins and the concomitant death and corruption this entails. Through repentance, prayer, asceticism, and the grace of the Holy Mysteries of the Church, wounds which we have inflicted on ourselves are healed. The Church is where human beings are repaired and made fit for the Kingdom, through the operations of Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.
Healing Without the Church
With all this as a backdrop, let’s consider the phenomenon in the evangelical world known as “reparative therapy,” in which individuals who suffer from homosexual desires and inclinations seek to be healed of them through various treatments—whether psychological, spiritual, or some combination thereof. Generally this therapy is performed by certain ancillary, parachurch Christian organizations or individuals who have ‘expertise’ in the area.
The effectiveness of such therapies have proven dubious—and without the Church and the traditions that were handed down by Christ and the Apostles, this is to be expected. But my main interest in this phenomenon isn’t whether it’s effective, but rather that homosexual passions are an infirmity of soul and body in need of healing. This is undeniably true, from an Orthodox perspective. But what of the other sinful passions? Why aren’t there comparable ministries that attempt to heal the passions of pride, anger, greed, slothfulness, etc.? What of the unbridled lust of heterosexual male and females? Why is homosexuality considered a special category?
Healing in the Church
In one sense, each type of sin or passion is in its own category, and the fathers distinguish both their characteristics and how to combat them in detail, based on the nature of each. Pride is a much different (and worse) beast than, for example, gluttony. But the fundamental approach to healing is the same, no matter the nature of the infirmity: repentance and confession, asceticism, obedience to Christ’s commandments and our spiritual fathers, and participation in the Mysteries of the Church.
The Mysteries are especially crucial to this process of healing. In the Mystery of Confession (administered by the Mystery of the Priesthood, as with all Holy Mysteries), after the penitent has confessed his sins, the following prayer is read:
May God Who through Nathan the Prophet forgave David when confessed his sins; Peter when he wept bitterly for his denial; the harlot who shed tears upon His feet; the Publican as well as the Prodigal: may this same God forgive you, through me a sinner, everything both in this age and in the age to come; and may He make you stand uncondemned before His dread judgment seat. Having no further care for the sins you have confessed, go in peace.
And, as we saw at the beginning of the post, Jesus Christ clearly links the forgiveness of sins with his healing ministry, revealing it to be our ultimate healing.
Likewise, in the Mystery of Holy Unction—which provides physical and spiritual healing with holy oil blessed by the Holy Spirit—the following prayer is read:
O Lord, who through thy mercies and bounties heals the disorders of our souls and bodies: Do thou Thyself, O Master, also sanctify this oil, that it may be effectual for those who are anointed therewith, unto healing and unto relief from every passion, of every defilement of flesh and spirit, and every ill; that thereby may be glorified Thine all holy Name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Again, the healing character of the sacrament is evident.
At the end of St. John Chrysostom’s prayer of preparation for the Mystery of Holy Communion, which is recited by the faithful in every Divine Liturgy, we ask that the precious Body and Blood of Christ would be received by us “not unto judgment, nor unto condemnation, but unto the healing of soul and body.”
Human beings are broken, fallen, and in need of both healing and repair. The insight that homosexual desires are disordered and in need of repair—or being set right—is one with which no Christian could reasonably disagree. But this is no less true for all of the passions, and the treatment for them all is fundamentally the same: a life of repentance and faith in the Church, which is the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
So let us turn (or re-turn) to the one and only true ‘reparative therapy’ once for all delivered to the Saints: His Immaculate Body and All-Precious Blood.