Soul saving

Thousands of trendy Greeks swarmed to the Athens Concert Hall last Wednesday, elbowing their way to the front of the line to secure a priority entrance coupon. Which star of the arts provoked such a stampede? A psychoanalyst with a lecture on death no less – the 77-year-old Irvin D. Yalom, also a writer of didactic fiction who is adored with unusual fervor here in Greece. He is less known in the United States, but here he is read and worshipped like a guru. I suspect that most of Yalom’s readers have not followed any serious course in psychotherapy or psychoanalysis. They prefer reading to therapy; it is painless, cheap and does not require any personal investment. Yet Yalom’s readers are certainly looking for answers, solutions, hope and comfort, a way out of their fear of death, their guilt, their emotional deadlock, the anguish of existence and the absence of joy. They are looking for the same things that hundreds of pilgrims were looking for a few months ago when they swarmed churches to worship the relic of the Russian Saint Seraphim of Sarov, forgiveness for the sins of the weak man, comfort in the face of death and something to lean on in times of strife. Tortured, anxious souls, with questions and fears, wandering here and there. In the church, comfort and forgiveness is proffered by the priest, the confessor. He listens well, speaks little, offers advice and forgiveness and lightens the burden of guilt. In the secular world, this role is assumed by the psychotherapist, who leads the analysis for the patient to find himself, to forgive and accept himself, to define his emotions and passions and maybe even to learn to love and be loved. The anxieties are the same and their management is also essentially the same. People seek answers and comfort. There is one difference: The relic attracted the poor, the faithful and a number of Russian speakers, while the psychoanalyst drew the secular upper middle class.

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