On Spiritual Healing and Legalism


Many of us come to Orthodoxy broken and wounded – having lived in the world as prodigals outside of the house of God, we indulged in all kinds of sin, went down any and every dead-end searching for something that would point to some kind of meaning. In Orthodoxy we find the healing for these scars and wounds that we have accumulated.

Christ the Saviour says, “Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). As a former Seventh-Day Adventist, I was overwhelmed with the excessive legalism inherent to it; when I became a Roman Catholic, there too I felt lost in a world of nightmarish spiritual legalism and heartless externalism. In the end, I found nothing but despair at my own weaknesses, a sacrament of confession that felt like nothing more than a hypocritical deposit site for my sins and failings, and above all, no spiritual growth. The feeling was that I was always stuck at square one – each time a serious sin was committed, it was back to the beginning. Spiritual growth, and moreover, spiritual healing seemed like a distant and unattainable thing, only for the greatest of saints to attain.

Metropolitan Hierotheos of Vlachos tells us that “the true Church’s existence is demonstrated by its success in curing man.” It has only been in Orthodoxy that I have encountered even the slightest taste of a true interior and spiritual healing. In Adventism, I encountered only petty legalism and false prophecy. I can distinctly remember hearing of a prostitute who had entered the Adventist church I attended being turned away in tears by the gossip and barbed comments of two “pious” old ladies whose “spiritual checklists” were no doubt fully filled out.

The problem is that one’s “correctness” in fact prevents them from being healed, because their “correctness”, their properly living out all the pious externals of their given confession without love and/or expecting a “reward” is only a sign of pride. Pride is, in effect, our saying “no” to God, even if we hold our hands out to Him the whole time. And if we simply seek to check off all the boxes required of us by our faith, and do not seek to be entirely changed, then we are only walking down another dead-end that leads only to another man-made hell.

St. Justin Popovich writes, “Our Church’s mission is to…have [one’s life and soul knit firm with the Christlike God-human virtues. For therein lies the soul’s salvation from the world and from all those soul-destroying, death-dealing, and Godless organizations of the world.” Herein, in our becoming more and more Christ-like, in our surrendering all of our selves and our lives to Christ the true God is true healing.

“The true Church’s existence is demonstrated by its success in curing man.” Christ invites us, all of us, into the hospital of His Church, wherein the priests are the doctors, ready and willing to treat all of us who hobble, crawl and outright drag ourselves to His feet in search of true Life. Here in the Church, with Christ as the sole object of all our desires; this is where we meet face to face with the Physician of our souls. This is where we all can find healing, and the love we so desperately search for.

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