August 10, 2016

The Body and Athletics in Orthodox Theology (3 of 4)

...continued from part two.

3. Mental Training

It is known that athletes, to achieve their objective, struggle daily to train under the supervision of a qualified coach, and of course under particular training rules.

As is known with those who deal with these issues, that since man consists of the union of body and soul, it is thus necessary for an athlete to have a good psychological and mental constitution to be successful in their purpose. Therefore, along with physical exercises, the athlete does mental exercises, namely concentration, attention, a good psychological condition, etc. The effort to obtain a good psychological condition is called mental training.

Mental training is associated with concentration, which is why some athletes occupy themselves with eastern meditation. There are also cases of athletes who resort to gurus, such as Sai Baba, to learn methods of mental training and concentration, being ignorant of the fact that yoga and systems of concentration, as cultivated through Hinduism and Buddhism, fall within Eastern mysticism, which has a religious and even demonic character.

In an older publication of the newspaper Ta Nea (8/13/1997), Natasha Bastia refers to this issue under the title "The Guru of Athletes." She writes at the beginning of her article:

"You will remember her from that scene a year ago in Atlanta, when Niki Bakoyianni was preparing to make the jump that gave her the silver medal at the Olympics. She meditated, kissed her ring, and began. This ring was given to her by Sathya Sai Baba, an Indian 'avatar' (as the far away country calls a divine incarnation). Many other Greek and non-Greek athletes have visited in recent years the ashram of Sai Baba and some, such as Lambros Papakostas, openly admit that they have been helped to find inner calmness, which helps them not only in the business sector but also in the rest of their lives.

Around three years ago, a decathlon athlete invited his friends to go together to Puttaparthi, South India, where the ashram of Sai Baba is located. Among them were Niki Bakoyianni, Niki Xanthou, Dimitris Hatzopoulos and other athletes. Around the same time Lambros Papakostas was visiting the ashram with his fiance. Lambros even was wearing a ring similar to that of Niki Bakoyianni, which were both 'materialized' before their eyes by the Indian avatar.

This 'materialization' is one way to attract the faithful, according to critics of Baba, but according to his followers they are 'gifts which tend to be given by the enlightened to the faithful, as a blessing.'"

The Orthodox Church can help in this regard with her theology.

First, it should be stressed that Orthodox theology has an entire theology about balancing the mental and physical forces, so that the soul directs the body and the Grace of God directs the soul. Thus the whole man is governed properly.

Then calmness of soul, temperance, prudence, prayer, love for God and humanity, etc., help the athlete acquire mental calmness and psychosomatic balance.

Beyond this is the hesychastic way of life, in the way hesychia or quietude is meant by Saint John of the Ladder, which he calls the "silence of thoughts." A spiritual father can teach this method. Therefore the combination of training the body and training the soul will help the athlete not only achieve high records, but mainly will help the athlete to have a deeper and higher meaning of life.