By Sister Ioanna
St. Innocent of Alaska Religious Community
We are all familiar with the signs of dementia in our elderly relatives, friends and acquaintances, and people joke about having a “senior moment” when they can’t remember something as readily as they would like. Dementia is characterized basically by not remembering things, and in its more advanced form, people don’t recognize their closest loved ones, and don’t even know who they are. Countless people have experienced the heart-wrenching pain of seeing one’s loved ones suffering with dementia / Alzheimers.
But dementia and its more extreme form, Alzheimers, is basically something that happens to others, not to us, and something that develops in the elderly, not the young or middle-aged, right? But is dementia truly only a mental problem afflicting the elderly? Might there not also be a spiritual dementia that afflicts vast numbers of young and middle aged people? In fact, might spiritual dementia be one of the biggest epidemics of our time? Might God’s heart be torn apart as He watches the epidemic of spiritual dementia of His people, who are as oblivious to their condition as are people who are captured by the demons of dementia / Alzheimers?
How might we define spiritual dementia? It might be defined as the forgetting of the most basic principles of who we are, how we are to live, and the meaning and purpose of life. Boiled down as succinctly as possible, we are in the middle of a very contagious epidemic of forgetting — forgetting that:
• we are made in God’s image and likeness and have been created to live as God’s children, with love towards our Father Who created us, love towards our brothers and sisters who are also made in God’s image, and love towards the natural world around us that God created;
• we are to live by the commandments that God gave us, having respect and reverence towards life and all living things;
• we are to remember that our true home is in our heavenly homeland, to which we shall return when our temporary sojourn on earth is ended;
• biblical morality and Truth are as valid now as before — they cannot be changed at will for human convenience;
• life begins at conception (not at birth), and therefore killing unborn babies is murder;
• marriage is between one man and one woman, as instituted by Our Creator;
• homosexual sex and heterosexual sex outside of marriage are forbidden and are regarded by God as abominable.
Our epidemic of spiritual dementia / Alzheimers is compounded by thinking that we are the center of the universe and that we can invent for ourselves what is true, what is valid, what is moral, because there is no absolute Truth or morality. We are so confused that we don’t even know who we are, and who our closest loved ones are — God, His saints and His Kingdom.
As Orthodox Christians, in our own blindness to the extent of our own participation in the societal epidemic of spiritual dementia that engulfs us, we furthermore forget that:
• to be alive we must have hearts of thankfulness, love and repentance, reflected in heartfelt prayer and worship;
• Orthodox worship is a foretaste and reflection of life with God, where we continually sing God’s praises, while standing with one foot in this temporal world and one foot in the heavenly kingdom;
• our homes are to be little churches, where we pray, love and fast together;
• we must reject the values of the world — that we are not to be of the world, although we are still in the world;
• we are to dress, think and act modestly and morally, with purity, love, respect and reverence for life;
• we must keep our priorities right — that knowing and serving God comes first, and everything else comes second.
With physical dementia / Alzheimers, there is very little that can be done to treat the debilitating condition. However, the good news is that with spiritual dementia / Alzheimers, the debilitating condition is readily treatable and can be totally healed by the Great Physician. We can choose to remember who and what we are, how we are to live and what the meaning and purpose of life are. We can choose to remember to cooperate with the Great Physician in reversing the debilitating sickness of spiritual dementia: by acknowledging the existence of our spiritual dementia; by prayer and true repentance; by participating in the Church’s worship and prayer life; by partaking of the Sacrament of Confession; by receiving Christ Himself into our bodies to transform our souls and bodies through Holy Communion; by observing the Church’s fasts; by attending as many Divine Services as possible and attentively participating in them; by reading the Bible and other spiritual reading; by giving alms of our time, talents and resources; by doing good works in helping others; by aligning our priorities to be in sync with God’s priorities; by stopping serving our idols of money, power, prestige, comfort, security, fun and pleasure, self-centeredness, inventing our own morality and our own concepts of Truth; and by continual prayer and Practice of the Presence of God.
By Sister Ioanna, St. Innocent of Alaska Religious Community, Redford, MI; 9/2/13