Spirituality and Addiction Course

Hands closed in prayer on an open bible

Dr. Karidoyanes teaches a course at the Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology called ‘Spirituality and Addiction’, a course that strives to look at addiction and essential aspects of the addictive process through an Orthodox Christian theological and spiritual perspective. By incorporating the study of the 12-step approach used in programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous, and requiring students to visit meetings that utilize the 12-step method in their programs, students receive an introduction to addiction in the contemporary world.

The course strives to offer a constructive overview of addiction and point to an Orthodox response that is “in the world, but not of the world” with humility and compassion. The emphasis on understanding and compassion cannot be overstated as the attitude of a large portion of the students who take the course suggests a benign good will but, at the same time, a form of disbelief and denial that that they will ever have to tackle the issue of addiction head on in future parishes in which they may serve. Dr. Karidoyanes is quick to respond that her husband serves in a small parish in New Hampshire where the pain of addiction is indeed present.

Other students take the course because they have first-hand knowledge of the ravages of addiction from having grown up with it in the home, and still another group of students take the course because they deal with addictions of their own. Many of these students go on to lifelong ministry to help others as they themselves have been helped. The final group of students are, as Dr. Karidoyanes refers to them, the minimizers and deniers. These students do not believe that any exposure they may have to addiction is their fault. They finish the class but do not facilitate any effective change.

As the course begins, addiction is defined in a non-medical way as a spiritual illness that affects the person holistically; in other words, persons are “infected,” so to speak, simultaneously through several domains to varying degrees, including the physical, behavioral, cognitive, psychological, relational, and, most importantly, the spiritual. As the course moves along, we learn how the 12-step program can reflect a more holistic and healthier view of addiction for Orthodox Christians as opposed to the legalistic and strictly medical approaches that tend to be far more clinical in nature.

The 12-Step model strongly asserts that genuine recovery can only begin with each person only after the bravest act of courage and humility, when the “penitent” unconditionally acknowledges his or her powerlessness over this activity. These persons must declare that their lives have become “totally unmanageable” because of their addiction and that God alone is able to restore life to sanity.

By the end of the course, there are five take-away lessons to be pondered:

  1. It is all about authentic relationship. Cultivating a relationship with the Lord is paramount.
  2. Addiction is a disease and no one is uninfected. Addiction affects everyone.
  3. Attachments and the passions under-gird every addiction and addictive process.
    All attachments that would be God in our lives.
  4. Radical humility “in the presence of God” is the antidote to pride.
    New discoveries related to our personal spiritual poverty.
  5. Confront our addicted random thoughts and concepts (logismoi).
    The practices promoted by the 12-Step model, each in their own way combat the random thoughts and concepts that vie for our internal attention, through to our resulting behaviors.