It will be no surprise to learn that most people seek out the help of spiritual council at times they are in real need. The Church recognizes the sickness of sin and death in the world, and the Lord gives His Church to be the world’s spiritual hospital. Just like a hospital dedicated to healing physical illness, it makes good sense when those who are spiritually sick (which includes all of us) seek the therapy and medicine where it can be found. For the Church, this medicine is particularly to found in the Holy Mysteries of Communion and Confession.
For those who seek the advice of a doctor to treat their cancer, it would seem strange indeed to reject medical advice. We go to see a doctor because we are confident that the doctor has everything to offer us that his or her particular hospital can give for our sickness. For example, if cancer were so serious that it called for a strict regime of chemotherapy, radiation, and a special diet, we would not expect to see beneficial results merely by sitting at home in front of the television, or by devising our own method of treatment. If we plan in the first place to devise our own method, it would make no sense to consult the physicians. Why would we waste everyone’s time?
In the case of the spiritual hospital that is the Church, the grace of the Holy Spirit actively works through the Holy Mysteries which are conveyed to us in the priesthood. Unlike a physician of our bodies, the human “qualifications” do not stand in the way of our obtaining sufficient medicine for the healing of our souls. The grace of the priesthood allows the grace of God to work, such that the spiritual guidance given in Holy Confession is sufficient for our spiritual health. While spiritual “specialists” exist in the form of holy elders, we can benefit from Christ’s spiritual medicine in the Holy Mystery of Confession with any priest.
Do we in fact approach Confession this way, if we approach it at all? Do we consider ourselves to be better spiritual advisors than the priest, who does not give his own “advice”, but in fact, speaks the words given by grace? Many fathers testify that the words they speak in Holy Confession are not the words they intend to say to their spiritual child; many even leave hours of Confession wondering where the words come from! Of course, we know the real answer: the real physician is the Great Physician, Who leaves the priesthood dependant not on itself, on its seminary education, on psychology courses or counseling training, but on His Grace.
If we accept the reality of the grace of the priesthood and the Holy Mysteries of Communion and Confession, we have no choice but to accept in total the word which the Lord gives us through the Holy Mysteries. All Orthodox Christians – even priest and bishops – must take this critical step each time they place their head beneath the priestly stole seeking the absolution of their sins. Each time we do this, we will to accept the Lord’s medicine, and to strive as much as it is in our power to take the medicine as it is prescribed, not second guessing the spiritual prescription, or forgetting about it, or neglecting to check back with the spiritual physician on a regular basis, usually once every month or so.
To approach the Holy Mysteries with any other attitude is not simply blasphemous against the grace of the Holy Spirit – it is spiritual suicide. In rejecting the Holy Mysteries, we reject the only thing that can truly make us well, from the inside out. To reject them is to lose the greatest chance for a healthy life of soul and body.
To reject them is, in essence, to say “No thanks, Doc”, not to an earthly physician, but to the Great Physician Himself.