I wonder if you would share your thoughts on how the Orthodox Church views Orthodox Christians participation in 12-Step Programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), etc.
My personal experience with 12-Step Programs is that the spiritual component is compatible with and complements Orthodox spirituality and vice versa. However, I have received the impression from some clergy that full participation in the life of Church, e.g., regular reception of the sacraments and attendance at liturgies, etc., is all that anyone, including those suffering from serious addictions, needs for recovery. I further received the impression that an Orthodox priest would be reluctant to refer or counsel a member of their church to participate in a 12-Step Program.
The Orthodox Church does not have an “official” view on 12-Step Programs, and to my knowledge no statements on same have been issued.
While I have personally had little experience with these—I have only had a few parishioners in my 25 years of priesthood who had been involved in a 12 Step Program—I can see that there might be some concern with regard to the “Higher Power” part of such programs. Of course, for Orthodox Christians, it is God alone—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—Who is the “Higher Power.” If a person sees “giving himself/herself over to the Higher Power,” as 12-Step Programs, if I am not mistaken, urge, and that “Higher Power” is God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—I would not imagine that there would be much reaction against such programs. If, however, a person is drawn away from God and toward something or someone else as a “Higher Power”—the self, or the conscience, for example—then there could be a real danger involved.
Here I express my personal, uneducated opinion, but it seems to me that 12-Step Programs are not for everyone—I have seen a few tragedies occur as a result of 12 Step Programs.
Any Orthodox Christian who is in a 12-Step Program should do so in consultation with his or her Spiritual Father, who can offer the spiritual direction and guidance that is perhaps missing, or dramatically watered down, in such programs.
While 12-Step Programs involve elements of contrition, admission, a desire to change, and faith in a “Higher Power,” these elements are somewhat incomplete apart from the larger picture of the Orthodox Christian faith and community. Hence, it is my opinion that it is essential for priests to be involved closely in such matters, to “fill in” that which is lacking and to provide the spiritual content that may be missing or even misdirected.
It would also seem to me that, if a priest is willing to engage actively in one of his spiritual children’s recovery programs, then there should be little fear. The involvement of the priest, in fact, can make up for anything that is lacking in the program itself.
See also the articles available online in the Resource Handbook section on Parish Development:
Fr Bogdan Djurdjulov, It Still Outranks Them All
Part I: Alcoholism/Chemical Dependency (I-89-2)
Part II: Phases, Signs, and Symptoms (I-89-3)
Part III: Resources For Help and Intervention (II-90-1)
Part IV: Spirituality and Alcoholism (II-90-2)