Hierarchs and Priests Who Use Mirrors Fall into Certain Evil Temptations (St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite)

NOTE: Pilgrims to Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries will no doubt have noticed the absence of mirrors in the rooms and bathrooms, or if there are mirrors, they are covered with an adhesive so that one cannot see their reflection. The monastics also do not have mirrors in their rooms or bathrooms and technically are not allowed to own mirrors. In the cases where mirrors already existed on bathroom cabinets, they are covered with an adhesive. Monastics that have been caught with a peeled corner on their mirrors (usually during surprise cell checks) are given large canonas as a penance. Monastics who like to look at their reflection find various means in which to do this (reflections on window panes, or metal surfaces, mirrors on cars, etc.). Some monastics who own their own luggage have suitcases or bags that have mirrors attached on the inner flaps. Where there is a will there is a way. Many of the superiors use mirrors with the pretext that they have to deal with the lay people and need to look presentable. The following article is taken from A Handbook of Spiritual Counsel, pp. 92-93:

Bathrooms without mirrors in the guest rooms of St. Anthony's Monastery (AZ)
Bathrooms without mirrors in the guest rooms of St. Anthony’s Monastery (AZ)

Since we are talking about the eyes, let me add something here about an irrational passion and vain preoccupation which certain effeminate people have in decorating their homes with large and luxurious mirrors. They wish in this manner to bring gladness to their eyes, which raises up in their heart the always sought after passion. And they do this vain thing as if it were not enough for them to simply enjoy the pleasure which nature and God’s providence has established to console the eyes through so many beautiful sights; they need to add for themselves this technical pleasure. I beseech you, dear friend, to avoid such vanity and condemnable pleasure. Have nothing to do with such mirrors. And if you happen to have them, please have them taken away as altogether improper for the Christian way of life. The use of such mirrors not only brings about many condemnable extremes, but also causes many individuals to fall into improper and ridiculous self-eroticisms that have become proverbial from ancient times. Thus historians can rightly condemn that emancipated slave who sought many pleasures and indulgences to please his eyes and who covered with many luxurious mirrors all the walls of his house in order to see in them himself and all his shameful deeds.

Mother of God Orthodox Icon Pill Box w/Mirror.
Mother of God Orthodox Icon Pill Box w/Mirror.

Narcissus, who saw himself in the clear water of the spring, fell in love with himself, becoming both lover and beloved in himself. Deceived by his eyes, he thought his own face to be that of another. This is not so amazing, for Narcissus was beautiful and he was attracted to this beautiful idol. There is another more monstrous example in the deformed and disgusting old woman with rotten teeth named Ache, who often looked into the mirror to see her deformed and shriveled face, and who imagined herself to be not merely an idea but a goddess of beauty. She so loved herself that she became both an idol unto herself and a worshipper of herself. She became so enamored of her idol and so deranged of mind that she would embrace it jealously without having any such compassion. Such are some of the ridiculous and irrational results of the extreme and thoughtless use of mirrors.1

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But what will you say to all of this? If you do not permit me to look upon the faces of men and women, if you do not permit me to look into mirrors, what have I left to console and please my eyes with? Dear friend, you have many things worthy of observation to bring joy to your eyes. Look upon there at the suspended, sapphire-like, and most pleasant face of the most expansive heavens that are a throne and a visible mirror of the invisible God. Look at the most bright and golden sun, the center of the planets, the king of stars, the sleepless eye and the unwaning taper of the world. Look also at the luminous and silvery moon with its monthly phases. Look at the harmonious dances of the night lights and sparkling stars. Look also down here below at the majestic mountains and the flower-decorated fields, the green and verdant valleys, the cool meadows and gardens, the many-colored herbs, the azure and peaceful surface of the sea reflecting the rays of the sun. All these are objects to see and mirrors which do not merely console and please the eyes, but which actually nourish them most sumptuously. All of the innumerable beauties of nature are most pleasing and marvelous to behold. If you need to add to these natural beauties some more technical ones, then look at the holy icons, at the harmony and symmetry of the sacred churches; look at the beauty of the sacred monuments. Hold all of these as a consolation to your eyes. But when you look upon these remember to rise up to a vision of the Creator who so wisely created them and beautified them.2

Guest rooms without mirrors at Holy Archangels Monastery (TX).
Guest rooms without mirrors at Holy Archangels Monastery (TX).

NOTES

  • Plato used to say that one should look into a mirror only when he happens to be angry. By seeing the wrath in his face, the disorderly movements of his hands, and the unnatural motion of his body, he may be put to shame by himself and despise this irrational and maniac passion.
  • From among the ancient philosophers Anaxagoras had observed the beauty and orderly movement of the heavenly bodies and when asked for what reason he had been born, he answered that he had been born in order to look upon the sky. When deprived of his possessions and criticized for allowing others to take his goods, he said that he had a fatherland in heaven, pointing to the sky with his finger. Anaxagoras was indeed the first among the ancient philosophers who knew the real cause of the heavens and the rest of creation, namely, the divine mind. Aristotle (Metaphysics a, b,) knew about the Creator of heaven by observing the beauty of heaven, and would have loved to say the words of our David about the heavens: “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Ps. 19:1). From among our contemporaries there was once a certain God-fearing man who was walking in the spring among the valleys and meadows. Seeing the different and multicolored flowers upon them as another heaven with stars, he began to strike at them with his staff and to say: “Do not shout so loud!” He of course was meditating upon the great voice each flower raised up to heaven to proclaim through its beauty how much more beautiful is their Creator (In Procopius, vol. 1).
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The Narcissistic Family Tree: It can be pretty and decaying at the same time (Karyl McBride Ph.D)

NOTE: This article is from the author’s blog on Psychology Today:

Karyl McBride, Ph.D
Karyl McBride, Ph.D

Clinical experience and research show that adult children of narcissists have a difficult time putting their finger on what is wrong, because denial is rampant in the narcissistic family system:

“The typical adult from a narcissistic family is filled with unacknowledged anger, feels like a hollow person, feels inadequate and defective, suffers from periodic anxiety and depression, and has no clue about how he or she got that way.”—Pressman and Pressman, The Narcissistic Family

It is common for adult children of narcissists to enter treatment with emotional symptoms or relationship issues, but simultaneously display a lack of awareness of the deeper etiology or cause. The narcissistic family hides profound pain. Such families tend to operate according to an unspoken set of rules. Children learn to live with those rules, but never stop being confused and pained by them, for these rules block their emotional access to their parents. They basically become invisible—neither heard, seen, or nurtured. Conversely, and tragically, this set of rules allows the parents to have no boundaries with the children and to use (or abuse) them as they see fit. The following are some common dynamics of this profoundly dysfunctional intergenerational system. (Keep in mind there are always degrees of dysfunction on a spectrum depending on the level of narcissism in the parents.)

  1. Secrets. The family secret is that the parents are not meeting the children’s emotional needs, or that they are abusive in some way. This is the norm in the narcissistic family. The message to the children: “Don’t tell the outside world—pretend everything is fine.” [Note: This is a primary concept in the monasteries and an obedience from Geronda Ephraim: “What happens in the monasteries, remains in the monasteries, it’s not for outsiders to know!” ] secrets
  2. Image. The narcissistic family is all about image. The message is: “We are bigger, better, have no problems, and must put on the face of perfection.” Children get the messages: “What would the neighbors think?” “What would the relatives think?” What would our friends think?” These are common fears in the family: “Always put a smile on that pretty little face.” [Note: This is also a big obedience from Geronda Ephraim to his abbots and abbess: “No scandals! I don’t want people talking or having reason to talk ill of the monasteries!” When a monastic gets in trouble for doing something wrong in front of lay persons, many times the first rebuke will be, “What will people say (or think)?”

    Being yelled at and rebuked sharply is a common, sometimes daily experience for many monastics ("it's for their benefit").
    Being yelled at and rebuked sharply is a common, sometimes daily experience for many monastics (“it’s for their benefit”).
  3. Negative Messages. Children are given spoken and unspoken messages that get internalized, typically: “You’re not good enough”; “You don’t measure up”; “You are valued for what you do rather than for who you are.” [Note: In the Patristic literature, this is considered the “therapeutic method” of humbling a subordinate or not allowing them to be puffed up].
    Monastics who are stubborn, willful and disobedient can sometimes feel this form of "therapy."
    Monastics who are stubborn, willful and disobedient can sometimes feel this form of “therapy.”

  4. Lack of Parental Hierarchy. In healthy families, there is a strong parental hierarchy in which the parents are in charge and shining love, light, guidance, and direction down to the children. In narcissistic families, this hierarchy is non-existent; the children are there to serve parental needs. [Note: In the monasteries, though there is a spiritual Father and a hierarchal order, monastics have essentially signed up for “voluntary imprisonment” and “slavery”, according to the Patristic writings. Some ex-monastics from Geronda Ephraim’s “family” have related that the monastery felt more like a slave labor camp than a spiritual paradise].  Narc child blog header
  5. Lack of Emotional Tune-In. Narcissistic parents lack the ability to emotionally tune in to their kids. They cannot feel and show empathy or unconditional love. They are typically critical and judgmental. [Note: This is called “detachment” or “dispassion” in the Patristic writings. Though a spiritual Father/Mother will have a “spiritual love” for their subordinates, it differs from biological paternal love “according to the flesh.” The criticism and judgements are said to be inspired out of love to help the individual also reach dispassion]. truth-veronica-maria-jarski
  6. Lack of Effective Communication. The most common means of communication in narcissistic families is triangulation. Information is not direct. It is told through one party about another in hopes it will get back to the other party. Family members talk about each other to other members of the family, but don’t confront each other directly. This creates passive-aggressive behavior, tension, and mistrust. When communication is direct, it is often in the form of anger or rage. [Note: This passive-aggressive phenomenon is almost the norm in most monasteries. Though many times the abbot or abbess will be direct and center out the individual with rebukes, many times they will tell another monastic “so and so saddened me,” or will give a homily about an individual behind their back. This will be relayed to that individual in either direct or indirect language. There is a lot of back biting and gossip in the monasteries among the monastics: both about other monastics and lay people. Though in theory Geronda Ephraim is against cliques and the formation of cliques within his monasteries, they form anyways]. b02234d348f0a5a5c16a88f795f9370d
  7. Unclear Boundaries. There are few boundaries in the narcissistic family. Children’s feelings are not considered important. Private diaries are read, physical boundaries are not kept, and emotional boundaries are not respected. The right to privacy is not typically a part of the family history. [Note: In the monasteries, nothing is private or sacred. The abbot or abbess can reveal the innermost details of a disciple’s confession to the fraternity either in front of the said individual or in their absence. An abbot/abbess can do cell searches at any point, or send other monastics to do it if they do not have the time. No journals or diaries are “private” as a disciple is not to keep anything hidden from their superior, thus the abbot/abbess can read their diaries, incoming and outgoing letters, etc. Phone calls are monitored either directly or with another monastic present while an individual speaks on the phone for their “protection” and “benefit”].         9ac68d3b19bd184e911d6d6f954dfbbc
  8. One Parent Narcissistic, the Other Orbiting. If one parent is narcissistic, it is common for the other parent to have to revolve around the narcissist to keep the marriage intact. Often, this other parent has redeeming qualities to offer the children, but is tied up meeting the needs of the narcissistic spouse, leaving the children’s needs unmet. Who is there for them? [Note: This dynamic does exist in certain monasteries where the second in command will also have the role of revolving around the narcissist superior in order to help keep the monastery intact]. You should be ashamed of yourself
  9. Siblings Not Encouraged to Be Close. In healthy families, we encourage our children to be loving and close to each other. In narcissistic families, children are pitted against each other and taught competition. There is a constant comparison of who is doing better and who is not. Some are favored or seen as “the golden child,” and others become the scapegoat for a parent’s projected negative feelings. Siblings in narcissistic families rarely grow up feeling emotionally connected to each other. [Note: In monasteries there are “spiritual bonds” or ‘spiritual love” but affection and touching is discouraged. Though in some cases hugging is allowed–or even forced– after a mutual prostration asking for forgiveness of a wrong doing. Many times scenarios are created by the superior that can pit one against the other, though this is said to be done to help the individuals see what passions they suffer from so they can correct them. Every monastery has it’s “golden child” of complete blind obedience, and it’s scapegoat for the abbot/abbess to yell at, humble, and abuse–for the individual monastic’s benefit, of course, because it “gives them opportunities to gain more crowns.” Emotionally connected isn’t an option for monastics who are suppose to be dead to the world and dispassionate. Spiritual connections are an option, though]. Be-careful-who-you-share-your-weaknesses-with-Some-people-cant-wait-for-the-opportunity-to-use-them-against-you
  10. Feelings. Feelings are denied and not discussed. Children are not taught to embrace their emotions and process them in realistic ways. They are taught to stuff and repress them, and are told their feelings don’t matter. Narcissistic parents are typically not in touch with their own feelings and therefore project them onto others. This causes a lack of accountability and honesty, not to mention other psychological disorders. If we don’t process feelings, they do leak out in other unhealthy ways. [Note: In the monasteries, feelings are not really discussed. All negative emotions and thoughts are to be “pushed away” and “ignored” as demonic. Unfortunately, many times the monastic is essentially repressing these things rather than dealing with them or actually pushing them away. After years of doing this, these suppressed emotions start manifesting themselves as various psychological illnesses and neuroses for the monastic, who is then told it is their fault for not having blind obedience. This becomes very evident behind closed doors with the monastics who have been in the monastery 15 years or more]. npd-elizabeth-bowen
  11. “Not Good Enough” Messages. These messages come across loud and clear in the narcissistic family. Some parents actually speak this message in various ways; others just model it to the children. Even if they display arrogant and boastful behavior, under the veneer of a narcissist is a self-loathing psyche—that gets passed to the child. [Note: After obedience, Geronda Ephraim’s other favorite topic is the virtue of humility. This entails, as he states in numerous homilies, for the monk to believe wholeheartedly that he is nothing, a zero, worthless, useless, etc. Monastics are required to “reproach themselves” in this manner repeatedly throughout the day, especially if they start having prideful thoughts. Many quotes from the Scriptures are used to validate this spiritual exercise]. 02379ef5c4d8bc577dc7234eb6ccf0d9
  12. Dysfunction—Obvious or Covert. In narcissist families, the dynamics can be seen or disguised. The dysfunction displayed in violent and abusive homes is usually obvious, but emotional and psychological abuse, as well as neglectful parenting, are often hidden. While the drama is not displayed as openly to the outside world, it is just as, if not, more damaging to the children. [Note: All abuse is hidden to the outside world. In some cases, if it is a lay person who is close to the monastery, or may have been scandalized by a monastic, the abbot/abbess will sharply rebuke or humiliate the monastic in front of the lay person. Or the monastic will be sent to the Lity where their shame is seen by all the pilgrims at the monastery. More often, these things are done in private, behind closed doors].

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Reviewing these dynamics, one can see how this kind of family can look pretty but be decaying at the same time. If you recognize your family in this description, know that there is hope and recovery. We can’t change the past, but we can take control of the now. We do not have to be defined by the wounds in our family systems. As Mark Twain defines the optimist, I see the recovering adult child: “A person who travels on nothing from nowhere to happiness.”

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We can create new life that will flow through us to the future and stop the legacy of distorted love learned in the narcissistic family. If we choose recovery, we can defy inter-generational statistics.

scapegoat narcissism

Further reading: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-legacy-distorted-love http://karylmcbridephd.com/

http://www.willieverbegoodenough.com/ http://www.amazon.com/Will-Ever-Good-Enough-Narcissistic/dp/1439129436