I have recently been reading the autobiography of famed psychiatrist Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections. The other day I ran acrossed a few sentences that reminded me of some rather startling (at the time) statements made to me by a monk of IM Iveron (the Holy Monastery of Iveron) when I was visiting Mt Athos in the summer of 2005. Below I’ll first quote Jung, and then briefly relay the content of my conversation with Fr Hierotheos.

from Memories, Dreams, Reflections, Vintage Books: New York, 1989, p 233-4
“…I became aware of the fateful links between me and my ancestors. I feel very strongly that I am under the influence of things or questions which were left incomplete and unanswered by my parents and grandparents and more distant ancestors. It often seems as if there were an impersonal karma within a family, which is passed from parents to children. It has always seemed to me that I had to answer questions which fate had posed to my forefathers, and which had not yet been answered, or as if I had to complete, or perhaps continue, things which previous ages had left unfinished [emphasis mine]. It is difficult to determine whether these questions are more of a personal or more of a general (collective) nature. It seems to me that the latter is the case. A collective problem, if not recognized as such, always appears as a personal problem, and in individual cases may give the impression that something is out of order in the realm of the personal psyche. The personal sphere is indeed disturbed, but such disturbances need not be primary; they may well be secondary, the consequence of an insupportable change in the social atmosphere. The cause of disturbance is, therefore, not to be sought in the personal surroundings, but rather in the collective situation. Psychotherapy has hitherto taken this matter far too little into account.”

My conversation with Fr Hierotheos
When I was staying at Iverson Monastery in 2005, I woke up on the morning of my departure with a terrible migraine headache. After several extra hours of rest and some medication, I finally had to get up and gather my things and prepare to take a van to the port, a boat to the mainland, and a bus back to Thessaloniki. Needless to say, this was a trip I was very much not looking forward to. I had a few things to purchase last minute from the monastery gift shop (namely some Nama, wine), so I made my way acrossed the courtyard and toward the shop. As I passed the main gate, and the Portaitissa Chapel, Fr Hierotheos came out of the chapel and walked my way. I had spoken with Fr Hierotheos a few times during my stay – a middle-aged monastic, not a priest, from Australia. He could immediately tell that I was feeling poorly, and he asked what was wrong. I told him I had a headache, and he unexpectedly asked if this was a regular occurance. I relayed to him that on a fairly regular basis I suffered from migraine headaches, and I had since I was about 6 years old. He proceeded to ask about my parents and my children – did they also suffer from migraines? I told him that they did, and all of us seem to begin having the headaches at about the same age. He then had quite a lot to say, the main idea of which was the notion that something lay unresolved in my family’s past. Some sort of issue, a sin, was being passed from generation to generation, and was causing each successive generation the same agonizing pains. He then said that having this knowledge lay a burden on me – I knew there was something going on, and now it was up to me (as a son, and a father, and a husband, and a Christian, and a priest) to seek out this unresolved issue and address it. If this was done, he said, the cycle could be stopped.

As I read Jung’s words, it brought back the advice of Fr Hierotheos from several years ago. The connection seemed almost eerie at first, until I realized that the similarity came from the content of TRUTH in each statement. We read in the Scriptures: “6 And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, 7 Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation” (Exodus 34: 6-7) [emphasis mine]. These verses are the subject of many various interpretations and arguments, but I would contend that they provide the resolution for Jung’s comments, as well as the words of Fr Hierotheos. In one of the many mysteries of human existance, we are all connected with one another, and that connection seems particularly strong within famiy systems. As Fr Hierotheos alluded, perhaps some of our burdens are not ours alone, but provide us with the opportunity to heal not only ourselves but also the past, and clear the way for the future.

Just some ‘food’ for reflection.