Different Levels of Supports in the Orthodox Church

Gospel Message & Recording

The Gospel Reading today, which is the third Sunday of the Great and Holy Lent, we encounter a paralytic (a person unable to walk). In this narrative, the paralytic is carried by four friends, by way of the rooftop, in the house were Jesus’ is preaching and lowered down into his presence. Jesus, witnessing the faith of the four friends, (and that of the paralytic) forgives the paralytic’s sins. The Pharisees and Jewish elite that were present questioned Jesus on how He could forgive his sins, for only God can forgive sins. Jesus perceiving in their heart their evil intent, not only forgave him of his sins but healed him. The crowd in astonishment could not believe what they were seeing.

There are many themes that one can pluck from this narrative. I would like to examine the four men and how they were eager and persistent to get their friend to Jesus. Their determination was commendable.

Reading this passage reminds me of the tremendous support that this paralytic had among his friendship. As Orthodox Christians what type of supports do we have in the Church that can provide for us the “lift” that we need to get us through the tough times in our life. Support does not always mean that our actions will be condoned or that we will get a “pat-on-the-back.” Rather, in certain times, we might need some type of reprimand for us to be redirected back on the right path.

There are in my view four supports that we as Orthodox Christian have within the Church. The following are the four:

1) Prayer: Prayer is vital to the life of a Christian. Prayer is to the Christian as air is to the body. It’s essential. Without it, a Christian is no longer a Christian. We should first and foremost pray ourselves, that is, the common prayer, reading the Bible, and personal prayers. Then, we should ask others to pray for us. Asking others to pray for us takes two forms: 1) General request 2) Specific request. A general request is when we ask someone to pray for us. This can be in passing or as a way to spiritually connect with others. If the person receiving the request says “yes,” to the General request, he or she should immediately pray for that person within 24 hours. Specific requests should only be directed toward people who can understand and further who have authority to guide the person who is requesting prayer. For example, certain addictions or marriage problem are not to be divulged to just anyone. Only trusted persons, which include the Priest, should hear such problems and subsequently pray for that person.

2) Counseling: There are different forms of counseling. Professionals who have certification in particular areas of life provide one type of counseling. However, a priest is “able” and “called” to counsel everyone in almost all areas of life. If a priest finds himself to be handling a situation that he feels is beyond his abilities, then he can refer the person needing counseling to a professional counselor or therapist. Overall, this process is being used but not properly. The best way to stay emotionally, mentally and spiritually healthy is to consistently receive spiritual direction from the priest and follow up on a regular basis. And I must add that no one should receive counsel or counseling if they want to only hear “good things.” Receiving counsel can be “corrective,” that is, we should be ready to receive correction and follow through with any type of penance that the Priest ascribes for our spiritual condition.

3) Fellowship with Friends: Developing a relationship with other Orthodox believers is important. An Orthodox Christian should have other Orthodox Christians to talk to and receive appropriate guidance. There might be areas of life that a good friend can help us with. The type of guidance I am speaking of is not the same that a priest or professional counselor can provide. Rather, it should be a positive, encouraging and sometimes corrective form of guidance. Everyone needs that person that can listen. At the same time, we need a person that can tell us the truth and be candid with us about our rights and wrongs. We don’t always need a “yes” person, but a person who will provide guidance with discernment.

4) Confession: Confession has become for the Orthodox (Malankara) Christian the “Last Alamo.” It’s the last stronghold of resistance. One will hold out on this Sacrament until they are on the edge of spiritual need. Whatever the case might be, for those who have taken part in this Sacrament, the blessings are endless. The Holy Spirit power that is transferred by the Priest during this Sacrament to that person who is confessing will provide him or her with strength for months to come. The Church encourages everyone to confess on a regular basis but at the least once a year.

These forms of support are present in the Orthodox Church and should be used for everyone’s spiritual growth. Let us utilize them for our spiritual benefit as much as we can.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Do you find that the Orthodox Church is less apt in providing support for people dealing with difficult situations in comparison with other denominations?
  2. Do you feel that the Orthodox Church (or your parish) has helped you deal with or go through your problems or difficulties leading to positive results?
  3. When others ask you to pray for them, do you actually do it? What are your thoughts on General requests and Specific request?
  4. Have you or your family ever made use of any of the four levels of support that the parish or the Church in general provides?
  5. What other types of supports could the parish or the Church provide that would help people through their difficulties? In other words, what are we lacking?