Rehabilitation services within the church

edited December 1969 in Coptic Orthodox Church
The questions posed by Ekrom in the LGBT survey thread got me thinking. It has actually been a question posed to me by fellow servants in the church.

What is the COC doing to help those who are in sin?

We have no alcohol programs. Nothing for sex addicts. There is no outreach for homosexuals. No drug addiction programs. And the list could go on.

The Protestants have many of these services. Is it the role of the Orthodox church to have these services in place? Should we refer people to these services elsewhere? If the church should not be doing these things, why not? What else can we do?


  • Other churches have their own drug addiction programs?  ???
  • Counseling or some type of similar service concerning drug addiction - to clarify. And yes, the Protestants have all of these programs according to my understanding.
  • [quote author=Unworthy1 link=topic=11218.msg135542#msg135542 date=1302233241]
    Counseling or some type of similar service concerning drug addiction - to clarify. And yes, the Protestants have all of these programs according to my understanding.

    That is a very broad statment. There are 40,000 denominations, all of them do not have these programs. And to be honest some of these churches are huge, but are concentrated in one particular area. Therefore they draw in millions of dollars and are able to create these programs. We have churches all over the world that do not pull in even close to this amount of money. Often times these protestant programs are run by people with little to no experience, other than having a bible they do not really have any tools. If you look at the success rates of these programs, such as drug and alcohol, they are dismal. In the Orthodox Churches I have been to, people that do have these problems are sent to professional people, often times it is paid for by the church. Counseling is usually done by the priest, but if it is too much for him to handle then he sends them to the professionals.

    So try to keep things in perspective, our churches do not pull in millions of dollars. Churches like Joel Osteens, while they are huge, are literally one church concentrated in one area AND have millions of tax free dollars to pour into these programs. These people here that are attacking the church for its stance on homosexuality are up to no good. They are trying to get people to doubt our leaders and our church all because they want us to justify their sin. The fact is, we have been here for 2,000 years, and are not going anywhere anytime soon. Do not let foolish people lead you into thinking the church is "archaic" or "in the dark ages". The science behind this "born gay" is pseudo science and they know it, if people are born gay, then could people also be "born pedophiles"? They play on our ignorance of the subject.
  • My question is whether we should have an effort to create these programs. Do they have a place in the church or are the to be left to other secular organizations? Should abouna lead an alcoholics anonymous meeting? That wouldn't cost any money. I don't think money is the issue.
  • I would want to know what the comparative success rates are for an established program like AA versus individual counseling from a priest or a professional recommended by a priest. From what I've read AA has a dismal success rate. "Dismal" as in 5-10%, which is much worse than not joining a self-help to begin with.

    I'm not saying that specific help should not be targeted to needy or at-risk groups. I just don't understand why some separate structure needs to be set up to do that when involving yourself in your faith and allowing your behavior to be guided by it is just as good if not better. Sex addiction, alcoholism, homosexual behaviors, etc. are all probably things that priests have heard in confessions many, many times, and it seems like those cases that require extra help are often already referred to outsiders, so what is the problem? What would the rehabilitation services do that isn't already done?

  • It would provide a place where Copts struggling with the same sin could meet together. It can be difficult to approach abouna alone.
  • + Irini nem ehmot,

    [quote author=Unworthy1 link=topic=11218.msg135535#msg135535 date=1302231320]
    The questions posed by Ekrom in the LGBT survey thread got me thinking. It has actually been a question posed to me by fellow servants in the church.

    What is the COC doing to help those who are in sin?

    We have no alcohol programs. Nothing for sex addicts. There is no outreach for homosexuals. No drug addiction programs. And the list could go on.

    The Protestants have many of these services. Is it the role of the Orthodox church to have these services in place? Should we refer people to these services elsewhere? If the church should not be doing these things, why not? What else can we do?

    These are definitely great questions. I do feel that our priests are sometimes not adequately trained to handle these issues. Confession is certainly supposed to be the forum for some basic pastoral care but sometimes professional help is necessary. Perhaps a combination of pastoral and psychological care is the key. Under the guidance of a person's FoC, a person could see a psychologist/psychiatrist. The ideal would probably be an Orthodox psychologist/psychiatrist who could help reinforce the Church's teachings while providing the necessary psychological care.
  • Sure, at times confession might not suffice and a person would need professional help (preferably Orthodox). But should the church try to create group counseling programs for different age levels, or anything similar? Or should rehabilitation remain private between the FoC and his son/daughter?
  • I am in several minds about this, and I would guess it depended on the size of the congregation as well.

    I think that it would be useful for me as a priest to:

    i. Study the teachings of the Fathers and Scriptures with great attention to addictive behaviours.

    ii. Find those books which provide sound and Orthodox teaching on the pastoral engagement with addictive behaviours.

    iii. Consider the possibility of engagement with sound and Orthodox-compatible Christian groups dealing with addictive behaviours.

    iv. Provide Church teaching on addictive behaviours and gaining the freedom from them as part of the normal Church teaching activity.

    v. Reflect on how I serve those in confession who exhibit addictive behaviours, seeking advice from my bishop and other priests.

    I think that in my own situation this would be an appropriate response to the issue, and it does not seem to me that it then creates groups within the Church, since I increasingly believe that we all need freedom from bad habits and addictions.

    What do you think? I am open to further suggestions and think this is a good topic.

    Father Peter
  • + Irini nem ehmot,

    Father bless!

    While those are certainly great suggestions, I can't help but wonder; psychologists and psychiatrists undergo a great deal of schooling and training in order to treat patients. Perhaps psychological care under the supervision of a priest would be a good compromise. This could also be done in groups in the church with the priest present with the psychologist/psychiatrist. I'm not sure how well versed the Fathers would be when it comes to these issues. Have any of the Fathers written extensively about these sorts of things?
  • I wish I could provide suggestions Father but am looking for answers myself.

    What I think is lacking in the church is a forum for those who are in sin that is not common in the community (e.g. a teenager who is addicted to heroine) to loosen their burden. These people have a heavy burden and feel that going to the priest or speaking to a friend about it is too risky. In a large diocese, like the one I am in (Southern California), there are teens all across the diocese with addiction problems but there is no outreach to them. Just last year a kid died as he overdosed on drugs.

    How do we help these people before it is too late?

    Sure we can prevent the problem from developing in the first place, but there are always some who fall through the cracks.

    Is there a place in the church for group counseling for teens that are having sex? Or married men who beat their wives?

    Is confession the only option the church is offering? Is that all that we need to be doing?
  • I guess I have some doubts about forming groups predicated on those sins. I am not sure it would be wise to have a group for those who beat their wives, though I know it is an issue. It would create problems for wives and children as well as the husbands. I wonder if it would be better to:

    Have groups led by the priests which are for all husbands, or for all male youth etc. Where issues like these are discussed and taught about and where people can be shown that they should talk about these things in confession - which is really the place for one to one counsel.

    But there could also be a place for emergency support as well. I think that there should also be a place for people reporting those things which are harming another. If someone is beating a person then the priest should be told. If someone is taking deadly drugs then the priest should be told. He is not a policeman, he is the father of the church family.

    If it were identified that there were significant problems with various issues then perhaps an ad hoc group might help. But I am not sure. How many people would attend the Wednesday Evening Masturbators group? But consistent teaching on overcoming sexual sin, offered to all youth would perhaps/surely have the same positive effect and help those who had not fallen into sin as well as those who had.
  • Haha, valid points indeed father.

    The pressure on the priest is great, may the Lord guide you and all of our church leaders.

    In my own church the youth see our priests as "old school Egyptians" and thus few confess. Without confession they are seemingly lost and spiral into deeper sins.

    I think there should be a focus on creating small sized church communities. That would solve many problems. When a church has 400 families the priest cannot possibly focus his attention to more than 5% of the congregation. So much of the priest's flock is neglected - it is unfortunate.

    That is why I think other types of programs need to be developed. Maybe not a Wednesday evening masturbators group, lol. But something else.
  • I like the idea of this thread.

    I tend to agree with Fr Peter on this one.  And I say this out of experience.  I attended once in a protestant church, for a number of months, the equivalent of a Wednesday Night Masturbator's Group. (oh my lord).  It wasn't very helpful.  What you end up having is a group of people who define themselves around a problem, when as human beings we are so much more than our problems.

    And I also agree with Fr. Peter in the sense that there is a value in having an open group for people, like a men's group, to talk about issues, and if people want to share, then they can share.  Having a diversity of problems or issues in the mix, shows us that we are not that different from each other, and gives us hope, rather than being surrounded by people who have the same problem.

    In some cases support groups can be helpful, if there is a particular need that needs addressing.

    I believe, the best source of sin rehabilitation is in service.  Helping the poor, visiting the sick, taking care of a friend or person in need. There is something in giving that heals us.  I do not know why that is, but it is.  It's a promise even in the Bible, the sermon on the mount is all about giving and going that extra mile for someone else.  When we spend less time focusing on ourselves and our problems, and focusing on the needs of those around us (and I mean this in a healthy way, and not in a martyr way) we find freedom.  It's that whole idea of he who loses his life will find it.

    I think the point of this is shame.  There is a huge difference between guilt and shame.  Guilt says, I know I did something wrong.  Shame is a crippling emotion, and it is often a choice, where we see ourselves as hopeless.  Those who suffer from shame tend to never ask for help.  I wonder if Unworthy is really asking, how can we shed our shame?

    Besides my FOC, I have a close group of friends who know everything about me, and me everything about them.  These are trusted people.  Bringing stuff into the light is important.  It helps us own our mistakes without being trapped in shame, and it gives us the energy and strength to see ourselves in our full potential which is in the image of Christ.
  • And a support group for men who beat their wives: sounds like we would need a referee.

    Ideally that support group you speak of would be called something like….  i dunno…  church? :)
  • I agree that maybe we shouldn't have groups based on a type of sin, but counseling groups nonetheless need to happen. Good open forums where people can get together and discuss their sins and struggles with the help of a priest and counselor. I think it could be very healthy.

    A close group of friends is important, as you said Ekrom, but some people do not have this, so they continue in sin because they don't want to speak to abouna and there is no other forum to release the guilt or shame or whatever it is inside.
  • I would agree with you that people need to be able to speak about their problems, but i guess that to some extent I am concerned that pastoral care should not be divorced from the spiritual fatherhood of the priest and from the sacrament of confession. I don't mean that all spiritual care should only take place within confession but it seems important to me that all spiritual care is under the direct supervision of the priest, and that even when and where the priest draws on other support this is as part of his spiritual care and not separate and alternate to it.

    I also agree that smaller church communities, where the priest is truly able to be a spiritual father, are also important. Indeed in our present atomised societies there is great value in people being able to belong to a smaller spiritual family rather than a mega-church.
  • Yes, the sacrament of confession is really irreplaceable.  It's a sacrament after all.  Spiritual guidance and the fatherhood that one experiences in that place is very important.  It's not normal in our culture to have that kind of accountability.  And by our culture, I mean American culture.  No one wants anyone to answer to.  Accountability is lacking, but having it in my life makes me a better man.

    However, Coptic Churches in the US are starting to become Mega-Churches.  Not in the quasi-evangelical sense with a Starbucks in the basement, but we have big churches with exhausted and overworked priests.  I think it would do the church well to hire lay ministers to focus on specific ministries in these large congregations.

    I know of one very successful example of a "support group".  A local church has a ministry catered towards children (mostly teens) of divorced or abusive homes.  It's a lot of fun, actually.  My good friend, she serves there.  It's 3 hours, once a week.  They sing spiritual songs, they play games, they break out into small groups where they can talk more openly about stuff.  The atmosphere of both spirituality and liveliness makes these kids feel whole and normal, when their home life makes them feel much less so, and they see the church as a place that loves them.    I know many of these kids from the past have become ministers today as a result.  I just think getting people out of their shells, even if they're not talking about these problems, but engaging them in community, in service, in fellowship can really benefit an individual.
  • I've seen support groups happen in coptic churches in the mission field.  It tends to work well with non-egyptian culture.  especially in the realm of HIV and AIDS
  • Now, that's news!  Where is this?
  • Africa and maybe other countries?
  • There is a difference between a medical support group with spiritual aspects, and a spiritual support group with practical aspects. Spiritual care must alwaty be under the supervision of the priest. Practical and medical care is different, that is part of the true ministry of the full deacon.
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