To the Gracious Ms. Kirsti Aalto, President of the European Council of Pastoral Care and Counseling, and beloved Participants of the 10th Conference of the European Council of Pastoral Care and Counseling,
With all humbleness, we greet you in the name of the Lord, praying that His Grace and Peace will be with you all so that your gathering will be successful and pleasing to God in every way.
Our Good and unrivaled Pastor, Jesus Christ, surely inspired the convocation of the 10th Conference of the European Council of Pastoral Care and Counseling (ECPCC). The theme of your conference, “The Secular and the Sacred – Exploring a Spirituality for Our Time”, is not only interesting but also very timely and relevant. It addresses a concern of all those who are in search of a vital and deep faith. It also faces a very complex and sensitive issue in terms of the spiritual and psychological guidance that we as pastors and counselors provide to all of those who call on us for assistance and direction.
As you well know, the original meaning of “cosmos” in ancient Greek means a beautifully decorated person or object. The word “cosmos” is also used in reference to the beautiful world created by the Lord. That which we consider perfect creation, as described in the Book of Genesis, was created as “very good” and full of beauty because it was a provident and creative action of the Triune God. This beautiful and peaceful “cosmos” was twisted by the fall of those who were first created. As a result, their personhood, which was beautifully decorated with God’s light, was lost and the elements of sin and decay penetrated into creation. This loss and decay constitutes the meaning of what we call today “secular”. One who lives a secular life, a life of this world, is one who distances himself and herself consciously from the will of the Heavenly Father, pursuing self-deification through the usage, abuse and overuse of the good things that have been granted by God. This can only lead one to despair. For self-deification is limited to our brief biological presence on this earth.
On the contrary, one who lives within the realm of “the sacred” is one who lives a life of holiness within the grace of Christ, the love of the Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit. One who lives this grace, love and communion continually endeavors to transcend the tangible and to participate in the visible and invisible blessings of God. One who lives a sacred life is in a continual journey toward the Eternal Kingdom of God. Such a journey though is not without difficulties and temptations. This should not cause despair. For in this journey one will find our Lord as a companion, just as His Disciples did on their way to Emmaus. Even though the eyes of one’s heart sometimes may be sealed because of everyday stress and anxiety, often obstructing one’s journey, our Lord will not forsake those of His flock.
As genuine Disciples of Christ and Pastors of His flock, we entreat that you devote yourselves to the holy task that has been given to you – that of caring for those who have been entrusted to you, leading them in their journey to the Kingdom. In your eagerness to seek out that which is sacred, remember that “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8)”. In order to care for and lead others, it is necessary that we first secure steadfast humility of heart. In doing this, we will bear the perfection of love that does not lead to the knowledge which puffs one up into vainglory, but to that which enlightens. For it is impossible for an impure mind to gain the gift of spiritual knowledge. Next, by all means, we must strive to get rid of all anxiety and worldly thoughts, placing ourselves in the hands of God’s ever caring and guiding grace by way of continual prayer. This is the diachronic spirituality that allows us to participate in the sacred presence of God.
It is indeed noteworthy that men and women today are in search of a spirituality that will lead them out of the despair of this world. The difficulty that this search poses is that one often resorts to self-centred, secular resources, causing this search to be an expression of self-deification. In our attempt as pastors to lead men and women out of their despair, we often resort to various scientific resources and methodology, such as psychology, that may be useful in our efforts. In these efforts, we must be careful not to limit spirituality to a singular idealized scientific approach or methodology, neglecting the essential spiritual expressions of continual prayer, humility and denial of our worldly desires, expressions that allow us to participate in God’s philanthropic grace. If we are not careful of this, we will only mislead those who come to us into a way of life that will cause even more despair.
In all our efforts, let us foremost preserve the treasure of faith, which is the basis of all spiritual knowledge. Let us constantly imitate the First Pastor, our Lord Jesus Christ, who fully knows all the entities of human personality and who expresses His philanthropic love to all men equally. In this way, our spiritual life will be as He is, the same yesterday, today, and until the ages of ages.
May His grace, enlightenment and blessings be with you all.
+Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I