In the Orthodox Church, healing of the soul ranks higher than the healing of the body. In fact, the healing of the body is offered as a sign of His mercy and blessing to the person experiencing God’s healing and to inspire others to do His will.

Healing is to be sought both through prayer and the application of physical sciences, but no complete healing is possible apart from the final resurrection of an individual because the sentence of death still reigns in the mortal body. Further, not all people are healed, despite fervent pleas to God and the applications of the best medicines. Sometime illness needs to be endured.

Contemporary man, tired and discouraged by the various problems which torment him, is looking for rest and refreshment. Basically he is seeking a cure for his soul, as it is mainly there that he feels the problem. He is going through a ‘mental depression‘. For this reason psychiatric explanations are circulating broadly in our time. Psychotherapy in particular is widespread. While these things were almost unknown before, they are horribly prevalent now, and many people are turning to psychotherapists to find peace and comfort. For I repeat, contemporary man feels that he is in need of healing.

Along with realising this fundamental need, I notice every day that Christianity, and especially Orthodoxy, which preserves the essence of Christianity, is making much use of ‘psychotherapy‘, or rather, that Orthodoxy is mainly a therapeutic science. Every means that it employs, and indeed its very aim, is to heal man and guide him to God. For in order to attain communion with God and achieve the blessed state of divinisation, we must first be healed. So, beyond all other interpretations, Orthodoxy is mainly a therapeutic science and treatment. It differs clearly from other psychiatric methods, because it is not anthropocentric but the anthropocentric and because it does not do its work with human methods, but with the help and energy of divine grace, essentially through the synergy of divine and human volition.

We are all sick and seeking the Physician. We are ill and seeking a cure. The Orthodox Church is the inn and hospital in which every sick and distressed person can be cured.

Written in Edessa on September 30, 1987, the day of the Holy Martyr Gregory
the Enlightener, Bishop of Great Armenia.
Archimandrite Hierotheos S. Vlachos

The Church as Hospital

The spiritual dimension of healing

St. John Chrysostom presented us with the idea that the entire Church of Christ is a hospital, thereby expressing in clearer theological terms the relationship between the healing of body and soul practiced by the early healers. The Parable of the Good Samaritan is the model St. John used (Luke 1:33ff) where the Good Samaritan exemplifies Christ who, as the Great Physician, comes to broken mankind (the man beat by robbers lying on the road) in order to bring healing. The inn in which the Good Samaritan delivered the suffering man is the Church (Vlachos, 1994, 1998).

The interrelationship between body and soul is noted in almost every liturgical prayer. Most corporate prayer begins with the Trisagion (Thrice-Holy) prayer that makes the relationship clear: “All-holy Trinity, have mercy on us, Lord, cleanse us from our sins. Master, pardon our iniquities. Holy God, visit and heal our infirmities for thy names sake” (emphasis added).


In fact, the spiritual dimension underlying any healing is most clearly revealed in the foundational sacrament of the Christian life. Baptism, as St. Paul taught in Romans 6, is the new birth, the starting point of life in Christ through an entry into Christ’s death and a raising into the “likeness” of His resurrection. The baptismal service begins with several prayers of exorcism that are meant to heal the person of illness and infirmity brought about by the rebellion of the Devil as indicated above. Originally deacons read the exorcism prayers but in modern times the priest who performs the baptism reads the prayers. The prayers prepare the baptismal candidate to enter life in Christ and thereby receive the power (through the Holy Spirit received in baptism) to detach from the power of evil that might rule in his soul. These prayers and the baptism that follows are actually a profound healing of the soul’s attachment to untoward things, thereby enabling it to attain freedom.


Sometimes the healing of the soul calls for drastic measures. A guide for clergy of the Orthodox Church is the “Book of Needs” which includes prayers for expulsion of demons from the soul and for protection from such evil. Clergy entering this dimension of spiritual reality must exercise great discernment since many illnesses have natural causes and a misdiagnosis is easily made. Further, the mental status of anyone requesting such prayers also has to be considered. Pastorally, the best practice is to say a simple prayer for those requesting it, such as those found in the exorcism ritual in Holy Baptism. St. Basil, St. John Chrysostom, and several other noted saints wrote these prayers.

A prayer by St. John Chrysostom that is included in “The Book of Needs” concisely states the goal of our earthly life:

O Lord Jesus Christ … We beseech You, look mercifully upon him (or her), and in your great love grant him (or her) relief from his (or her) pain … that restored to the vigor of health, he (or she) may … serve you faithfully and gratefully all his (or her) life, and become heir of Your Kingdom, For You are the Physician of our souls and bodies, O Christ …

St. John Chrysostom – The Book of Needs

Another exorcism prayer written by St. John Chrysostom reads: “Everlasting God … command these evil and impure spirits to withdraw from soul and body … so he (she) may live a holy, righteous and devout life deserving of the sacred Mysteries of Your only-begotten Son our God (Book of Needs, A Monk of St. Tikhon’s Monastery 1987).

Holy Eucharist

The Holy Eucharist (Holy Communion) continues the healing that began in Holy Baptism. The Eucharist conjoins us to the Great Physician, a point expressed in the liturgical prayer that is read immediately before the elevation of the bread and wine: “We give thanks unto thee, O King invisible, who by thy measureless power hast made all things … look down from heaven upon those who have bowed their heads unto thee … distribute these Gifts here spread forth, unto all of us for good … heal the sick, thou who art the physician of souls and bodies.”

Human healing, then, when referenced to the victory of Christ over death, takes on an eternal meaning and purpose: chiefly, to partake of the deeper life found in God, to rise above the brokenness, sin, and death that holds the world in bondage since the sin of Adam and Eve long ago.

Healing with Christ: Victory

An Ideomelon (hymn) written by St. John of Damascus and read during the Orthodox funeral service sums it up clearly. First the futility of life when viewed apart from the hope Christ offers is recounted: “I called to mind the Prophet, as he cried: I am earth and ashes; and I looked again into the graves and beheld the bones laid bare, and I said: Who then is the king or the warrior, the rich man or the needy, the upright or the sinner?” In modern parlance we could say: “Is that all there is?” But the prayer does not end there. It concludes: “Yet, O Lord, give rest unto Thy servant with the righteous.” Later in the funeral service we pray, “May Christ give thee rest in the land of the living, and open unto thee the gates of Paradise and make thee a citizen of His kingdom.” The ultimate healing is victory over illness and death and leads us into eternal life. “Behold, I make all things new,” (Revelation 21:3-5).