“The aim is to restore the pre-Fall health of the ‘nous’…”
St. John of Damascus (8th century) says that the “nous” is the eye of the soul. The essence of the soul is the heart (kardia). The “nous” is that part of the soul that sees things most clearly and so it is important that it be purified of any impediment. When the healthy “nous”, the purest noetic power of the soul, is returned to its rightful place in the heart, it is then again capable of experiencing God’s presence through grace. It is this unification or return of the “nous” to the heart that constitutes the cure of the “nous”.
In “Orthodox Psychotherapy“, Hierotheos (Vlachos) speaks of the Church as a hospital which exists to heal those who are sick with sin. That is, to restore to health the diseased and dissipated “nous”, made sick by the “Fall”. The first step is to guard and protect the “nous” so that it can realize its origin in the “Image of God”. Then it can begin to be purified and restored to its intended role of leading the entire human being in “attaining to the likeness of God (cf. Gen. 1:26), or “deification” (theosis). In order to restore the diseased “nous” to this healthy state, it must first pass through a stage of purification. The church’s therapeutic work takes place in this stage of purification.
The “nous” can only be purified with the help of the Holy Spirit. For this reason, it is imperative that every believer be baptized in the Holy Spirit (cf. St. Symeon the New Theologian) and experience His indwelling presence. Through a regimen of self-discipline called ascesis (borrowed from the Greek word askesis, meaning athletic exercise or training), the “nous” can be purified and eventually healed. This only happens as a result of our active cooperation (synergeía) in this work with the Holy Spirit. The first result of this healing of the “nous” is a state which is called dispassion (apatheia) or a release of the “nous” from the influence and distraction of human passions and emotion. Real theology (i.e., a mystical experience of God) is another result, as are an authentic self-knowledge and an accompanying sense of freedom and joy.