The Blind Leading The Blind

The blind leading the blind [Matthew 15:13-14 and Luke 6:39-40]
I have recently been motivated to reflect on the qualifications essential for a pastor or spiritual counsellor, particularly after having received a number of e-mails seeking advice in relation to the dubious, or manifestly destructive, advice or direction of some clergy.

When we go to a physician for our bodies, we assume – indeed, demand – that the physician be properly educated, trained, accredited and supervised. We do not accept that amateurs with “good intentions” ought to be able to, for example, diagnose, treat, prescribe medication or undertake surgery.

How much more so ought we to assume – indeed, demand – that the “physicians” of our souls are properly educated, trained, accredited and supervised, not just well-meaning “spiritual” amateurs. The Orthodox Church has a long Patristic tradition of healing, not just of the body, but of the mind and the soul – sometimes referred to as “Orthodox Psychotherapy”.

Dabbling in or “playing around” with the physical or psychological health of a person is negligent, often unlawful, and subject to legal action is harm follows. How much greater should be the responsibility of those responsible for the spiritual health of others?

In some Orthodox Churches only Priests specifically qualified and authorised are permitted to hear Confession or give Spiritual Guidance. In others, those with no education, training or evaluation are set loose on those who assume (wrongly) that Ordination is all that is necessary to make a man a “spiritual physician”.

A good introduction to Orthodox pastoral care is Thomas Oden’s “Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition” (Fortress Press, Philadelphia, 1984) – now available for download at – based essentially on the approach of Saint Gregory the Great.
orthodox psychotherapy
More complex studies are found in the works of Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos: “Orthodox Psychotherapy. The Science of the Fathers” (Birth of Theotokos Monastery, Greece , 2005) – see – and “The Illness and Cure of the Soul in the Orthodox Tradition” (Birth of the Theotokos Monastery Press, Greece, 2005).
illness and cure


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