This month of July, our attention to the topic of health and wellness is poignant for two reasons. First, as we are now in the middle of the summer season, many of us are able to find the time for rest, relaxation, and exercise that our all too often busy lives during the year could not seem to afford. Second, this month our 38th Biennial Clergy-Laity Congress in Nashville, Tennessee, will be featuring a special "health and wellness" program for our clergy and their presbyteres, thanks to the resources offered by the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Though this program has been tailored to the needs of our clergy and their families, our health and wellness is an important aspect of education for all of us as Orthodox Christians.
What exactly is meant by the term "wellness?" This rather interesting term has a fascinating history. Though now a clearly internationally recognized concept, the term "wellness" began to be used by American public health officials as early as the 1950's, and today, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services continues to serve the public through a comprehensive "wellness" education program. In addition to the governmental sector, a host of corporations and not-for-profit organizations have realized the benefits, motivated by both sound economic and altruistic concerns, of including a "wellness" program for their employees. This is also the case with many religious organizations, including our own Archdiocese, which have "wellness" literature available for their staff.
In practice, the term "wellness" in the medical and public health community is used to emphasize the importance of not only maintaining our physical health to avoid illness, but to engage in steps that proactively keep us in an optimal state of being at all levels of mind, body, and soul. Thus, "wellness" programs typically emphasize such programs as anxiety and stress management, smoking cessation, proper nutrition and dietary counseling, regimented exercise, and the importance of regular health screenings and exams, particularly as we age. Such programs reflect the shift away from traditional treatment modalities of the past to a contemporary emphasis on preventive medicine.
Our Orthodox Christian theology views "wellness" in tandem with our ability to live and grow fully as human beings, created out of God's love for us in His perfect image and likeness. In Orthodox Christian theology, the human body is viewed as a beautiful and sacred gift from God, which has to be in harmony with soul and mind since they constitute aspects of what it means to be a human being. This is why at the Sacrament of Holy Unction, to name one example, the priest anoints the faithful "for the healing of body and soul." Viewed in this light, a definition of "wellness" from an Orthodox Christian perspective ultimately includes our responsibility to safeguard, protect, and nurture the full health of our mind, body, and soul, with an emphasis that God in His love has given to each of us a mind, body, and soul that is ours uniquely and beautifully. Conversely, our neglect of the health of our mind, body, and soul, may be seen as an inability on our part to fully appreciate such an incredible gift that God has given to each of us. As we continue to enjoy the summer season and its opportunities for rest, relaxation, and exercise, and as our Church gathers as a family at our Clergy-Laity Congress in Nashville this month of July, I pray that we may continue to commit ourselves to living a life of authentic health and wellness, glorifying God through the responsible and attentive care of our minds, bodies, and souls. May His infinite love be with you always.