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May 29, 2022



I've noticed a few important parallels between Orthodox soteriology and 12-step recovery that are helpful but also generally distinct from the Evangelical theology in which I was raised.

Both the Orthodox Church and 12-step recovery affirm that:

1. God's primary disposition to humankind is mercy.
2. Even in the fall, humanity still bears the image of God as our truest and deepest self.
3. Our primary malady is seen as a sickness to be healed rather than a moral failing to be punished. That sickness we call 'alienation.'
4. Our salvation includes an acknowledgement that we are sinners/addicts (our condition) who are beloved children of God (our identity).
5. Our salvation is a journey that involves struggle and participation, and not merely an imputed righteousness irrespective of transformation.

I could go on, of course, but it begs the question as to how 12-step recovery has such affinities with Eastern Christianity yet emerged among Western Protestants. I have a theory about the recovery community's spiritual backstory. It goes like this:

1. While 12-step recovery does not adhere to any religious tradition overtly and denies being bound to any specific doctrinal creed, it nevertheless makes some very specific claims about God (as one proceeds in the program): that God is personal, relational, caring, forgiving, and responsive. In a sense, AA, NA, etc., are all GA: God anonymous.
2. While the founders did not identify their faith heritage (because they knew God wanted to embrace all addicts, regardless of their beliefs), both their theology and their practice echo aspects their Methodist roots. In a sense, AA, NA, etc., are all MA: Methodism anonymous.
3. While the principle founder of Methodism, John Wesley, was an Englishman of Anglican extraction, his particular theology was rooted in his study of the Fathers. He translated St. Clement, St. Ignatius, St. Polycarp, the Martyrdoms of St. Ignatius and St. Polycarp, and Macarius the Egyptian.
4. In a letter to Rev. Dr. Conyers Middleton, Wesley lists the Fathers that he regards as representing authentic Christianity" “I mean particularly Clemens Romanus [Clement of Rome], Ignatius [of Antioch], Polycarp [of Smyrna], Justin Martyr, Irenaeus [of Lyons]. Origen [of Alexandria], Clemens Alexandrinus [Clement of Alexandria], Cyprian [of Carthage]; to whom I would add Macarius of Egypt [Pseudo-Macarius] and Ephraim Syrus [Ephrem the Syrian].”
5. While Wesley's 'holiness teaching' would get moralised in the various holiness movements thereafter, his 'method' was really about orienting ourselves in surrender to the care of God. Such faith is not mere assent to a doctrine of grace alone, but rather, faith in the Fathers' sense as real participation in our liberation (theosis), an inner transformation by the grace of the Holy Spirit. In that sense, AA, NA, etc., is OA, Orthodoxy anonymous.

Yet we never try to 'claim' 12-step recovery as property of the Christian Church, for the simple fact that it is one of those rare examples where we actually did fulfill our role as the royal priesthood for the life of the world. Today, 12-step recovery exceeds the narrow boundaries of it Christian backstory... and maybe be the most important corrective to our wayward present.

How grateful we are to serve that calling in some small way through the monastery.

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