Posted by: jamesthethickheaded | March 30, 2008

Steps of Transformation (Fr. Meletios Webber)

I have been reading Father Meletios Webber’s “Steps of Transformation: An Orthodox Priest Explores the Twelve Steps”. This is an eye opening, heart wrenching account of the evils of alcoholism and addiction. Most of us either know someone, have a member of the family, or carry these burdens ourselves. We know or have seen these pains first hand, and maybe even seen “Days of Wine and Roses”… a tough movie if there ever was one.

As a teenager, I wrote a paper on Alcoholism, but Fr. Meletios’s background as a counselor adds quite a bit… as does his background as an Orthodox priest. Many of our finest and most loyal members of my pre-Orthodox parish were members of the organization. AA met in our basement, and the 12-step billboards were stored in our parish hall closet. On Sundays, putting away the chairs, you couldn’t help read through them and notice the parallels to the Gospel. Yet that’s easy enough to do in a two-nano Google, too. The eye-opening contribution of Fr. Meletios’s book that I thought worth sharing (even now when I am scarcely a third into it) lies in his suggestion below that broadens the bearing of the book considerably:


Although addiction has been around for thousands of years, several factors may make it more prevalent in the modern world than in the past. As a race, we now have access to knowledge and ability which those living in biblical times, or even in the time of the Fathers of the Church, could only dream of. Nuclear bombs, the contraceptive pill, life-support systems, the welfare state, affluence, and a seemingly limitless development of technology may have given all of us a misshapen view of our own importance and our own power. When we challenge God today, we do so at a much more sophisticated level than did our ancestors, and even though our own Towers of Babel may in the future look ridiculous to our descendants, they look pretty challenging to us. It is possible that an imbalance in the way we view ourselves is directly responsible for the condition we know as addiction, and that our modern sense of power and security encourages us in to a false sense of autonomy and self-determination which lies at the heart of that condition.


It may be a mistake, though, to assume that this phenomenon is limited to the postindustrial age. Saint Paul describes a particular situation like this: “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me.” This is a perfect description of an addiction: there is a tendency to sin that dwells within the human personality, and because of it nothing good can result.


Saint Paul is not explicit about what he is describing here, and it may be unlikely that he is referring to addiction in particular. It is by no means certain that he would have understood the term in anything like the detail we have in the modern world. However, the question that he may be pondering – that our tendency to sin is something like an addiction – may be a further reason to look at the Twelve Steps with great care. If they can be used in treating one sort of addiction, they might well be used in treating an addiction of quite a different sort.


Sin itself may be nothing more than an addiction.


Whether one agrees with all, none or parts of the above, it is certainly worth pondering as we approach ourselves in consideration of our own sins, as we address those amongst us addressing (and not addressing) theirs. There is much that can be learned in humility and gratitude in this reading.


  1. I went to a lecture Fr. Meletios gave at a church in Port Townsend, WA. What an amazing person and what a great story and message he shared. I’d love to get his books and I listen to podcasts when I can find them. Find his message and share it.

  2. Sin as an addiction makes a lot of sense. Just as you wonder why certain people smoke or drink when the damage is all too clear for all to see, just as much you should wonder why repeat offenders offend. Definitely need to read this book.

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