Word Magazine May 1975 Page 9/25
DIAKONA OF THE MODERN ERA
By Fr. George Morelli
When the apostles began their ministry of spreading the “good news” of Jesus Christ, they used the means that they had available to them in their day. They traveled from village to village on horseback and foot. They journeyed to large cities by boat. They went to the temples and preached to the people, Jews and Gentiles alike. Indeed, they were men of their era. St. Paul tells us “ . . . using what I have said and done by the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus all along the way from Jerusalem to Illycricm, I have preached Christ’s Good News to the utmost of my capacity.” (Romans 15:19-20.)
Certainly, we today should be no less Christians than Christ’s beloved apostles. It behooves us to use every means available to spread the word of Christ and his ministry of service and love.
The professional psychologically trained priest is in a unique position to serve as minister of Diakonia in the modern world. So many individuals and families are increasingly aware of the need to seek counseling for problems of everyday living. Persons having some difficulty adjusting and coping with their world, be it job, marriage, children, etc. often turn to psychiatrist, psychologist, priest or counselor. The Pastoral Counselor represents an amalgamation of the training of a psychologist and the service and ministry of the priesthood, thus fulfilling
Christ’s dictum to teach and counsel.
Pastoral counseling therefore is a form of pastoral care that is true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the mission of the Church. In the theology of pastoral care we can see this according to the perspective of Christ’s message of reconciliation. This is brought out in St. Paul’s message to the Corinthians: “And for anyone who is in Christ there is a new creation; the old creation has gone and now the new one is here. It is all God’s work. It was God who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the work of handing on this reconciliation. In other words, God in Christ was reconciling the world to himself, not holding men’s faults against them and he has entrusted to us the news that they are reconciled. So we are ambassadors for Christ; it is as though God were appealing through us.” (II Corinthians 5:17-20.)
Our diakonia then, our ministry of service places us in a role as agents or ambassadors of reconciliation. If God so loved us that he gave us his only Begotten Son, His Word, we can do no less than love the world by acting as intermediaries of this Divine reconciliation between God and man and among men.
One may ask, why cannot the regular parish priest serve a counseling function? After all, priests have performed this task for years! This is true and certainly no one would ever want to remove such a role from the priesthood. It should also be considered, however, that just as a general practitioner often calls in a specialist when needed, so to the pastor or parish priest may recognize the need for a specialist’s consultation concerning a problem that one of his parishioners may have. In this case, a priest-counselor is an excellent specialist to turn to. The counseling process can be permeated by the Spirit of Christ’s Faith and Love and the professionalism of psychotherapy.
The problems treated by a pastoral counselor therefore are many of those same problems which are brought before psychologist or psychiatrist. Anxiety, depression, guilt, marital discord, sexual inadequacy, alcoholism, drug abuse, all would make up a partial list of those problems brought to the priest-counselor. Take for example the case of a man who is finding increased dissatisfaction and depression concerning his job. When he attempts to talk to his wife about the problem she becomes anxious and irritable over the prospect of the insecurity over possible loss of job and relocation. She reacts by no longer reacting sensitively to her husband’s feelings and a subsequent communication problem with concurrent hostilities develops. Or take another example, one of a young housewife whose husband is occupied most evenings and weekends with a new job. From the husband’s point of view he is working hard dedicating his time to make a living for his family. His wife, however, becomes increasingly bored and depressed and turns to compulsive eating behavior to distract her from her basic unhappiness. As her weight gain continues the husband becomes increasingly dissatisfied with his wife’s appearance and plunges himself into his job more intensely.
These problems mitigate the spread of God’s love among his people. As Christians our duty would be to act in the diakonia of reconciliation. This is accomplished in a face to face
counseling session where the pastoral counselor aids the couple or individuals to see their problems and learn how their behaviors and attitudes interfere with their resolution. In turn more productive coping attitudes and behaviors may be learned and applied by the counselees in their respective social settings. Such a counseling technique represents therefore, a very effective means of individualizing and personalizing the message of the spirit and practice of Christian Love and Reconciliation.
The typical treatment setting used for pastoral counseling often is similar to the informality of the pastor’s study or psychologist’s office. Pastoral counseling insures that a team approach will be used for the various consultations. According to the standards of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors a pastoral counselor must work in a team relationship with other professional specialists, including pastoral counselors, psychiatrists, psychologists, and psychiatric social workers. This insures the most competent professional help for the counselee.
Until recently, no Orthodox Church has been active in this field. It is a credit to Bishop Philip and his sense of the mission of the Church that several priests of our Archdiocese are assigned to this Apostolate.
In order to further the diakonia of Pastoral Counseling a Pastoral Counseling Forum will appear monthly in this magazine. Readers are invited to send in questions concerning individual and family problems, etc. Selected questions and answers (with total anonymity preserved) will appear under the Forum heading. Mail your questions to: Pastoral Counseling Forum, The Word,
~ 8005 Ridge Blvd., Brooklyn, N.Y.
Father George Morelli completed undergraduate work at Marist College, Poughkeepsie, New York. Masters and Doctoral degrees in Psychology were earned at the New School for Social Research, New York City. Father Morelli is Assistant Professor of Psychology, Newark State College, Union, N.J. He is also Director of the Metropolitan Center for Counseling, Westfield, N.J. He is a member of the American Psychological Association, the American Personnel and Guidance Association, the National Association of Social Workers. He is a certified clinical member of the National Alliance for Family Life and a Professional member of the National Vocational Guidance Association. In addition he is a member of the National Association of Sex Educators and Counselors. He holds a Certificate in Psychotherapy from the Institute for Advanced Study in Rational Psychotherapy and a Certificate in the treatment of Human Sexual Dysfunction from the Center for Marital and Sexual Studies, Long Beach, California.