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FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS ABOUT Spiritual Growth

 

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Question: “After delving into the dark side, I began having very strange dreams. Here are two examples: Dream One:  Man came into my dream and actually stopped it to tell me I was the antichrist and I had to do all these things in order to full whatever it is I am supposed to fulfill. Dream Two:  A man turned into this hellish monster and said I sold my soul – I woke up terrified several nights before and after this event. My priest has read some exorcism prayers over me. However, I am still haunted by these and other similar experiences. These intrusions are have a bad effect on my marriage and family life. What do you advise?”

Answer: I do not believe that E-mail is a proper forum to address the level of complexity you have shared with me. As a result, I will refrain from offering specific counsel and simply provide some general observations and recommendations.

While it is true that our Holy Tradition acknowledges the presence of evil and its destructive effects upon our psyche, before drawing any conclusions if I were counseling you I would be equally interested in trying to discern if we are talking about illness or the paranormal. From my perspective, our tradition would seek to eliminate the presence of physical or mental illness before labeling certain activity as “paranormal.” Based on this approach, I would recommend you make an appointment with your primary care doctor, sharing some of what you have shared with me. Your physician might suggest a physical in an effort to determine if the activity in question has some biological or physiological link.

Finally, I realize you are suffering from what you have written. I hope and pray you obtain some relief. I believe if you follow the suggestions I have made, there is a good chance you might begin to find a path toward some blessed peace.

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Subject: Is Greek Orthodoxy for Me?

Commentary and Question: I am writing to you because I have some questions about my life up to this point and how it will impact my life going forward. I was raised Baptist and left the church just after I left home and got married. I was young at the time.

 

I was married for 8 months and when my friends started going out and enjoying themselves , it was not long before I joined them. Shortly after that I left my husband. We were married in the church , but honestly, I was completely oblivious to what marriage was.

 

A few years later I had found my next husband and we had two children. He traveled a lot and cheated on me repeatedly. This type of behavior eventually ended my second marriage. After the divorce, I would marry a man who offered me security. One month after the wedding, he beat me. I remained in the marriage because I thought that I was grown and had made a grown-up decision and was obligated to fulfill my vows. I was married to him for nine years. It was a very abusive relationship. To numb the pain I began to drink heavily. Finally the abuse became dangerous enough that I knew I must leave or one of us would not survive. I sought spiritual, emotional, and mental guidance, saw a therapist and worked through issues many issues related to my past. Today I am happier , healthier , more confident and capable of deeper relationships with my family and friends . I still work a 12 step program and, I try to be of service to God and to any person who might need whatever I might be able to provide. During my recovery process I lost both parents.

 

I recently met a man. He is a convert to Greek Orthodoxy through his first marriage. He is now divorced. He loves the Greek Orthodox Church. I have spent a great deal of time visiting different churches looking for a church home. I pray, I believe in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, I feel blessed, but I must tell you, I am lonely and never dreamed I would be alone for so long. I would love to have a life-partner, a loving relationship, a husband - now that I truly understand the meaning of these words. So, here are my questions. First, how does someone in my advanced age begin to learn of the Greek Orthodox in such a way that I can know if it’s right for me? How do I go about learning  about the religion? I certainly have faith but I long for a church where I truly "belong." Second , what is the Greek Orthodox view of marriage for someone like me?  I look forward to receiving your reply.

 

Answers: Christ is in our midst.

All of us are sinners and we all fall short of the glory of God. If in your heart of hearts you have repented of your sins, then as you well know, God has already embraced you, and you are already one of His children through the blood that our Lord shed on the Holy Cross. Further, if you feel as though you may be called to continue praising His holy Name as an Orthodox Christian, then all I would add is, "Amen." To facilitate this process, consider the following two books:

 

Rouvelas, M. (2004). A guide to Greek traditions and customs in America, Second edition. Bethesda, MD:  Nea Attiki Press.

 

Ware, T. (1998). The Orthodox Church:  New edition. New York:  Penguin Books.

 

Feel to contact me if you have additional questions.

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SuBject: Personal Challenges

Commentary and Questions: I enjoy reading the Q&A in the Marriage and Family section of the Orthodox Observer. Now I suppose it's my turn to ask a question.

 

I am blessed to be married to an exceptional man. I lost my mother years ago. We have all dealt with it in our own ways.  We are also separated by great distances, with my closest relatives scattered throughout the country and world.  My husband's family grew up very close-knit, and they are geographically also very close.

 

The problem for us has been that my husband and I get very stressed with each other and our children when we are constantly attending family events. There is a great deal of pressure to participate in activities together--all of his siblings with their children and his mother. While I don't have a problem doing this, I get frustrated with feeling obligated and then guilty if I don't do it on a frequent basis. Events also are usually last-minute, and while that can be a lot of fun, I become very nervous if I am behind on work and cannot spare the time. At the same time, I become resentful that my family is scattered and that we cannot see them as often.

 

I feel like these issues are placing a stress on my husband and marriage. All I want is for us to define our own little family and enjoy quality time together. I want to enjoy time with the extended family but just need some breathing room too. These dynamics have resulted in some pretty nasty fights and hurtful words in our home, especially in the midst of very stressful, emotionally difficult holidays. I am trying to be more assertive, but I feel like this is one of those little things that can grow in the background if not addressed and then sabotage our marriage.

 

I appreciate any guidance you can offer. If you choose to address this question publicly, please withhold my name.

 

Answer:

 

You’ve alluded to some complex issues. Moreover, the therapist in me was left with more questions than useful comments. For example, as I read through your message, I wondered what the sticking points are between you and your husband regarding what you shared. I also wondered if these sticking points are large or small  contributors to the stress that you’ve described. I also wondered how much of the distress you wrote about is somehow interrelated to the one -sided  extended family experience you described and if more contact with your family were possible, how more contact might  soften your feelings and make things better. I also wondered if the family you grew up in was different than your extended family and  if these differences are somehow interrelated with the challenges you described.  Finally, I wondered to what extent you've lifted these challenges up to prayer and felt as though God was listening.

 

As a result of these questions, I’ve decided to refrain from providing specific guidance related to what you’ve written and would like to make the following recommendations. I suspect you would benefit from some counseling that will respectfully address these and other similar questions. Considering what you’ve written 8 – 10 sessions with a therapist who understands relational dynamics should begin helping you answer some of yiour questions and concerns. Concurrently, along with the therapy, you might also consider consulting your pastor. The spiritual counseling you receive can function as an excellent complement to the talk therapy.

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