Talking to Fish

I have sleep apnea. When I fall asleep, I stop breathing at certain points. According to the sleep study I endured, it happens over 90 times an hour. Sleep apnea can kill you. And so, I sleep with a “sleep machine,” a device with a mask through which a positive air pressure is maintained so that you don’t stop breathing. It was a godsend. When I visited Mt. Athos last year, one of the more difficult practicalities was the need for my machine wherever I went. I bought a portable one, capable of being hauled around in a backpack. It was only an issue one night when the monastery of St. Panteleimon shut down the electricity when it was time for “lights out.” Go to bed. Don’t breathe. My wife has the same problem. I laugh because at night we strap on our sleep masks and lie there like pilot and co-pilot.

This little vignette of my medical life is my way of illustrating a certain scenario. What happens when we can only live our lives through the wonders of a medical intervention? For some, it might be as difficult as kidney dialysis, or as inconvenient as insulin shots. Life is altered, but it continues. I am deeply grateful for medical intervention, both for my night’s sleep, my lack of a gall bladder, and the stent that keeps my heart functioning (getting old!). But what happens when an entire society and culture is predicated on medical intervention, when what becomes “natural,” is, in fact, artificial? I would never want to suggest to anyone that my apnea should become normative.

I can imagine this same scenario if human life were spread to other planets. Mars, that likeliest of candidates, is bathed in deadly radiation. It would become a cancer camp in short order. So, human beings would rarely go outside, other than with extreme protection. It seems glamorous in a movie. But movies only last for a couple of hours. Day after day, lifetime after lifetime, in an environment that makes our polar regions seem like paradise is not a true strategy for colonization. It ain’t happening.

Modern culture, with its economic and family arrangements is increasingly an example of artificiality. The so-called sexual revolution, touted as a change in choices, lifestyles and personal freedom, is, in reality, a massive intervention into human life by technologies that change the very nature of sex and distort how we see it and use it. For almost all human history, sex between men and women within a certain age range, generally led to the conception of a child. It’s what our bodies were built for. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, such that the right actions between two persons result in the creation of another life.

The philosophies and arguments that we now call the sexual revolution are largely the result of new forms of birth control, particularly the use of artificial hormones, and their popularization. Oddly, as recently as 1928, almost all Protestant denominations in America shared the condemnation of birth control with the traditional Churches such as Catholics and Orthodox. The arguments surrounding family planning were initially the work of ardent eugenicists who saw science as an important tool for breeding a better, healthier race.

With the implementation and popularization of medical intervention, human sexual practices became estranged from human biology. We were no longer “slaves” to our bodies. As such, children became lifestyle choices for people who wanted that sort of thing. The family slowly became reconfigured, not by necessity or nature, but simply by the whims of human desire. The legalization of abortion in the Western world in the latter half of the 20th century added an element of violence to the equation. The failure of birth control had a sure and certain remedy.

And so, when we now discuss “sexuality” in our culture, we have in mind a new thing (not the thing that human beings have lived with throughout all previous history). What might have once been an anomaly and an exception (childless sexuality) is now the only form that we consider normative – children being little more than accessories after the fact. And with the normalization of this technologically invented childless sexuality, all forms of childless sexual behavior appear normative. If sexual activity is abstracted from the procreation of children, then how does it differ from any other form of sexual activity, including those that under any conceivable set of circumstances could never produce a child – or even fail to produce a child. A same-sex couple cannot be described as suffering the tragedy of infertility, for fertility has nothing to do with their relationship.

I mean no attacks on anyone, least of all those whose desires point them in infertile directions. Rather, I mean to include us all as a culture that has willingly made one of its most fundamental human practices into an artificial abstraction. Everything about our sexual lives, other than the most obvious, becomes the point of our relationships. Magazine covers blatantly advertise articles on improved orgasms (and such). It is, oddly, a topic that is never once addressed in all of Christian tradition or the Scriptures – because it’s not the point.

If we lived at the bottom of the ocean, life would be defined by aqualungs and their use and upkeep. It is hard for people to live as fish. We are in danger of re-imagining the normal world to be a place in which such odd interventions are normal, where the procreative life becomes a disease to be controlled.

I write all of this during a time in which sexuality discussions have burst afresh in the Orthodox world (thankfully, only in a tiny corner). My point is that no one writing after about 1960 is competent to suggest changes within the configuration of human sexual understanding. It is like fish trying to discuss life on the land. We haven’t been living on the land now for nearly sixty years. Little wonder that the older stories from our land-dwelling ancestors seem so strange to so many.


  1. Father Bless,
    I too have a CPAP and my CPAP is my friend. I even use it to nap with. I have often wonder about how our modern medical inventions have outstripped our ethics and moral guidelines as well as the direction from the church. We are paying a huge price for divorcing things like human sexuality from its foundation and thus turning it into another toy to play with for entertainment. It divorces human sexuality from its meaning and makes it into something it is not. Yes, we are only 60 years into this, but I am well aware that ever society that came before us has had such a break and they all fell.

  2. Thank you, Father. I like the apt analogy to being forced to adapt to living under water.

    Probably women have always known how to minimize the possibilty of conception or destroy a life within the womb—thanks to the dangers illegitimate pregnancy could represent in traditional honor cultures and so forth. But the present era where this agenda has been militarized under the banner of “human rights” (even though, as you point out, it originated with a rather less noble agenda in the eugenics movement) is truly unique in at least the last couple thousand years, and the realities of the carnage wrought to both souls and bodies in the wake of the sexual revolution and its dehumanizing self-centered and hedonistic ethic betrays itself for the unnatural, destructive and death-dealing thing that it is only when the Reality that was meant to be is revealed in Christ. The trouble is a lot of us have bought into the delusion we are fish, and only those few who remember the land, or who discover it, are swimming for shore.

  3. Father Stephen,
    I so appreciate the whole blog. My favorite sentence is : My point is that no one writing after about 1960 is competent to suggest changes within the configuration of human sexual understanding. The next one also is great.
    I am a retired Respiratory Therapist (mostly pediatrics) and I am thankful you and your wife have your CPAP. My husband has BI-Pap. His actually institutes a breath under a higher positive peak pressure than returns to a pretty high baseline positive pressure. I am so thankful he has this machine.
    It helps with pulmonary hypetension and right hear failure which is an secondary disease of untreated sleep apnea.

  4. “What might have once been an anomaly and an exception (childless sexuality) is now the only form that we consider normative…” This is spot on.

    I think the daunting thing for me is that before I can talk to many of my peers about Orthodoxy I must first introduce and defend this point – because any conversation about our liturgy or sacraments always leads back to, yeah, but Orthodox are pretty traditional on sexuality, right? They don’t have time to live within the tradition and come to understand it because this subject has laid down upon the threshold. Most of my friends have accepted this new normal and moved on, and that’s a dissonance I don’t know to address. A specific example: I have a college friend who’s life looks a lot like mine – the joys and struggles of parenthood, the usual successes and failures in careers, doing their best to love their neighbors – except that they are in a same sex marriage. Its true that they embraced childless sexuality as normal, but honorably, they are still pursuing the inherent goodness of a family. They inherited a culture that presented them with something abnormal as normal, but ultimately they were still moved to seek goodness. Amid all the scary changes in our culture, I can’t help but take that to heart. They aren’t Orthodox, but how could we reach out to them if they wanted to be? Surely not by suggesting they dissolve their family, the good that they sought out amid the confusion? When people talk about holding the line against change, I’m just still left wondering, but how do I share the Gospel with my friends?

  5. Mary,
    For one, if it came to that, that they live as friends without sex. I would, I think, put the question in parentheses as much as possible if you’re actually having the conversation for real. For one, to be able to say that the Orthodox teaching and practice might well be something that they don’t understand – or only understand badly – because of the distortions of modern culture.

    That they are pursuing the goodness of a family is a good thing, though the commitment to children being raised in single-gender households is itself a weakness. Like choosing to be widowed. There might not be a good choice given their circumstances.

    But, on one level, Orthodoxy looks us straight in the face and asks us to suffer. The only path to salvation is through the Cross – that alone will make us truly human. It is a path and a journey. The Church needs to be and become the kind of place that can support and nurture people and help them to bear the suffering of the Cross. But it will not and should not be the place that enables people to live an artificial existence.

  6. The topic of human sexuality is of interest to because of its biological component. Heterosexuality is determined by biomolecular mechanisms and these mechanisms are well-undestood and can be manipulated deterministically by researchers. In the biological world binary things occur with a frequency along with variability. For more or less obvious reasons heterosexuality is understood to be what was intended. But does that mean that sex is only for reproduction? What about intimacy? It isnt clear to me why people with within a distribution of biological variability shouldnt experience intimacy that is natural to them.

  7. I remember at one point before Orthodoxy was well known in the U.S., thinking that “churches” which demanded something of their members, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, we’re flourishing. Often people are looking for a challenge, something in which to really be committed (not thinking of silly bumper-sticker slogans on Orthodoxy). At a couple of points in the Old Testament King David does the following. He had desired a drink of water from a certain well in Betlehem of which he had often drunk. So three of his valiant warriors broke through enemy lines and brought him a flask of the spring water. He refused it and poured it on the ground (as a libation offering to the Lord), saying it was gotten at the (potential) cost of blood. Another time a man was going to give David a threshing floor. The king refused the offer, instead paying for it with these famous words, “I will not offer to the Lord that which cost me nothing.” He then built an altar and offered sacrifices to the Lord.
    So much in our cultural is easy believism, cheap grace. I’ve actually seen a church marquee in Spanish which read, “Come to Christ and stop suffering.” So yes, Orthodoxy does look at people in the eye and not wince when it says they will suffer for Christ in ways known only to Him. But as you add, our churches had then better support these folks when they do count the cost and accept it.

  8. I recently finished reading “Marriage and Virginity According to St. John Chrysostom” by Fr. Josiah Trenham which discusses this very subject in depth. I highly recommend it to anyone wishing to explore the subject further.

  9. Sexual expression is also highly social in its appropriation, not merely biological. The notion of same-sex genital relations as somehow conducive to some sort of emotional bonding reduces sex to one of orgasmic activity. This rather Freudian notion and reduction of intimacy to genital relations is, I think, distorted. The unitive function of sexual activity serves the purpose of the marital bond for the purpose of the nurture and safeguarding of children. That human beings need orgasms and naked intimacy in order to be happy, fulfilled, healthy, etc., is simply not true. That we have come to think this is the case is a comment on 20th-21st century culture and confusion, I think. Our society shows many, many signs of profound confusion about sex, family, children, marriage, etc. We are incompetent in these matters – like fish flopping on the shore.

  10. I think homosexuality has been around for a lot longer than the 20-21st century. And because of my peculiar circumstances I have never had sex except to experience intimacy.

  11. Where do we go from here? We’re all living underwater and have built underwater cities. It’s where people meet and gather, pray and do business. People go up to the land to have children and then go right back to their underwater neighborhoods and parks and cathedrals. Yet it would be unjust and uncharitable to refuse to talk with them, returning to land and forbidding our children from the “dark waters” below.

    It’s hard to say that this isn’t what we were made for, because everyone has made their homes here. It seems odd to say, “life underwater is inhospitable and leads to unhappiness!” when there is a burgeoning populous surrounding you, and where the very conversation table you sit at is underwater.

    I think most people even think that’s what the point of being human IS: Taking “control” of their environment, harnessing nature, expressing creativity through domination. How can you argue otherwise if you’re not even having the conversation on land?

  12. i usually really appreciate your posts, Father, but this one leaves me wondering. Why is it good to have breathing machines that save lives, but not birth control that prevents births? Was there there ever really a golden age when faithful people looked forward to having a dozen children only to see many of them die from diseases, or starvation or war, or natural disasters, as many people around the world still do. Is this God’s will? Women in developed countries now have the luxury of planning their lives and being educated and contributing to society . Looking back in history, I find it hard to believe that controlling our fertility is a great negative factor in the course of human life. I know that as Christians we are not expected to save the world, but more pressing than the effect of birth control, are climate change , war, and inequality all around the world.

  13. A frequent criticism of Orthodoxy by conservative Roman Catholics is that Orthodoxy no longer “share[s] the condemnation of birth control.” In my corner of the Orthodox world, that rings true — I even heard a Deacon explicitly defend it, though it’s more common just never to utter a word against it.
    Is it your understanding that we do still shared the condemnation of birth control?

  14. “The time will come when the world has become so mad that they will say to us, “You are mad because you are not like us.”” From the Desert Fathers.

    We live in the truth – and that is hard. We were never promised an easy life. We have only begun to enter the time of troubles.

  15. Paula,
    There is no end to reinventing the world and making it better. Strangely, people still die, everywhere and always. We still suffer. We never eliminate suffering. Instead, we have increasingly become the sort of people who would rather kill than see someone suffer.

    I am grateful for the intervention that let’s me sleep, and let’s people live through a kidney failure, etc. Of course, a CPAP machine does not mean a wholesale change in the family structure of a culture. There are medical interventions that I would refuse.

    In point of fact, we do not really care about the world. There are very, very simple, cheap measures that would make an immeasurable improvement to human life that are not done, even while we have make-believe companies valued at a trillion dollars. We care about ourselves. Our better world is our own comfort, by and large, and always has been.

  16. I was in a parking lot of Food City yesterday and I saw a woman get out of the car. Now she looked distinctly lesbian to me. As I watched her make her way around the car and get her cart she seemed…defensive…uncomfortable. I dont know who she was or what her sexual attraction really is, but she fit a stereotype. This is the point, in that moment I felt so much compassion for that person, or at least the thought of that person. I saw her as a human being with needs, longings, concerns, a desire for connection for love. Perhaps part of that story is abuse or rejection. Maybe part of it is being lesbian. Regardless, before me was that person. And in that moment nothing about her sins or lack of them mattered to the compassion I felt for her. I understand that the church has an understanding regarding human sexuality that is non-negotiable, and I’m not interested in changing it or even challenging it. (I have my hands full at present.) But I am concerned about human needs and what happens when those needs are suppressed.

  17. Simon,
    I have always been committed to persons as persons in my ministry – kind to all – creating a loving and non-judging parish (as you know). “Suppression” presumes a lot of things that are another question. On the other hand, thinking about these things is apparently important. We have gone mad and finding the way out is difficult. We will not find a way out as a culture – that ship sailed a long time ago. One on one, person to person, with true love and compassion is about all there is.

  18. Fr., I agree.

    By suppression I am merely referring to anything that stifles the fulfillment of human need regardless of whether it comes from within or without.

  19. Paula,
    Some of my train of thought on this topic flows from the earlier conversation on how technology changes us. There are certainly various approaches that Orthodox priests take to the question of birth control within the confessional. My observation is not to issue some kind of fiat or legal declaration. It is, however, to observe how this modern practice has changed how we think about something extremely fundamental to our existence. The result doesn’t seem to actually work very well – particularly for the well-being of children.

    My general advice to someone would be to adhere as much to the tradition as possible – knowing full well that they might not be perfect about it. You can’t run a race until you know which direction to go.

  20. Simon,
    While you define ‘supression’, you are ignoring how fraught the concept of ‘need’ is. Need? Want? Desire? Strong desire? ‘Need’ is an extremely loaded word.

  21. Yes Father,
    but he talks about ‘suppression’ as the stifling of human ‘needs’, and it just seemed to me that both terms in that formulation needed some elucidation. But point taken.

  22. Youre right. There is more than a little equivocation going on in most discussions between “want” and “need” which leads to confusion in other discussions. (Plus, who are the people slamming the gavel on what is and is not a need?) However, we all have needs and when those needs are not met we tend to misbehave, or so Im told. So, even though I dont have a lot to contribute beyond ‘I wish the best for everyone’ I would like to think that there are people in Orthodoxy thinking about these things in more depth.

  23. Fr. Stephen, was this post occasioned by the recent Foreword to The Wheel written by Metr. Kallistos? I came across it the other day and then saw your post today–and the one seems to have prompted the other.

    Your metaphor of the fish and dry land is sublime. You could also say that we have lived in Underland so long that we have forgotten Narnia, other than it shows up now and then in our dreams. But as Puddleglum says, the imagined Narnia is a darn sight better than the Underland we inhabit, whether it’s real or not. We know, however, that Narnia–in this case, thousands of years of human existence–is real, and that it is we, and now, that are the fantasyland. Lord, have mercy on us.

    Your post reminded me of David Ehrenfeld’s “The Arrogance of Humanism” (1981, Oxford UP) as well as CS Lewis’s “The Abolition of Man.” Our men without chests have made all things possible, and thus, no thing is impossible, and because nothing is impossible, all things are permissible. Lord, have mercy.

  24. Another interesting thing that has come from medical interventions is that medical interventions of various kinds can lengthen a woman’s life, but still leave her in a health situation where it could be unwise to have additional children. In previous centuries, the woman would probably not have been alive any longer to have the dilemma. Of course the birth control pill or abortion are not acceptable options, but it seems to make sense to avoid further pregnancies through other means for the well being of the existing family?

  25. Simon, one thing that has helped me was to realize that none of us know what “normal”sexuality is really like. All of us are more than a bit distorted and we are all in need of repentace because we so misuse the gift.

    However, sex is part of the male-female dynamic that God endued in creation. Unless it is male-female it cannot participate in the fecund synergy that is necessary for the proper ordering of creation which falls under God’s command to us that we dress and keep the earth. That is first the procreation of children and their nuturing but it extends to many other things as well.

    Sexual intimacy between men and women without procreation or it’s analog is not really intimacy. Chastity is also a big component. We are created male and female which goes way beyond carnal sex although we usually reduce it to that. Our estrangement from God causes our confusion.

    Same sex intimacy can be fecund without carnality, in fact the carnality in such cases destroys the possible fecundity because it violates the ontological reality of who we are.

    This is a place I think where empirical science can say very little of deep value. It is an ontological reality that can only be revealed. The Church knows, but we are largely deaf and blind.

    I have studied it from a spiritual perspective all of my Christian Life because I want to know “What is a Christian Man”?

    A few things have been shown to me but quite little really. All I know for sure is that today’s world has it all wrong. “Solutions” are propsed as if God and our inter-relationship is irrelevant.

    BTW, the answer to my initial question keeps coming back to “Read the Book of Job”. Not exactly what I want to hear.

  26. Michael, thank you for taking the time to respond, but this sounds like it is getting very complicated, so I must leave this topic to greater minds.

    Peace, brother.

  27. The publication that inspired this blog post is deeply, deeply discouraging to anyone that longs for a sane and safe world for their children. I don’t wish the editors ill-will but they are doing real damage in the house of God.

  28. Better not spread disease. It is best that the publication remain in its little corner, hopefully an echo-chamber

  29. I have various disjointed thoughts regarding how all this fits into our traditional reading of ‘the world’, a world which “comes not from the Father” (1 John 2:16) and how we are becoming further locked into a misinterpretation of everything in modern ego-culture.
    There is a key aspect of the crucificial and the selfish as warring underpinnings or ‘interpretations of being’ at play here.
    We could consider that the foundation of conventional modern understandings of sexuality is nothing but self-interest or ‘self-love’ (φιλαυτία). Such a flawed footing is strengthened by technological interventions that build a world that can remove even the possibility of the ‘cross’ of childbearing. Even if childbearing is only there as a ‘potential’ (of the union of man and woman), it is crucificial prospect, yet what we now have is that some think that a sexuality that does not have that –even as only a potential prospect– is normative. Sexuality’s function as an icon of the soul’s fertile union with its divine Bridegroom, which goes far beyond the fertility of physical offspring, as Michael insightfully implied, has been long lost from the conversations of modernity. We have a new, irrational common reasoning, despite it being clearly dissonant with nature in more ways than a surface reading reveals.
    A broader principal that is lost, even though it is often individually experienced, is that, reduced to the restrictions of sensorial [essentially irrational] desire, human desire for the infinite, (misdirected to the sensorial) can never be satisfied, and causes endless frustration, fragmentation and a profound ‘hermeneutical delusion’ in our understanding of existence. What we have in modernity is an almost well-formulated, yet deluded outlook, which is proud of the seeming robustness of its outward ‘sensibleness’, its adherers being unaware of its chaotic senselessness, failing to see that this is a house built upon sand.
    Christ, however, still comes into our chaotic senselessness because of His inconceivable love. A fractured person (who ever crucifies those who love him) actually has Christ ever coming to him ‘in the name of the Lord’, through infinite love for us (coming to be readily crucified of course), whether man has eyes to see this or not.
    Christ’s Cross is what bestows meaning to man’s meaninglessness.
    But man’s likeness to the divine image (of such a sacrificially loving God) is only discovered to the extent that his direction is towards God’s law, the eternal truth. [let’s remember here, that blessed union of man and woman in marriage and blessed celibacy are the sole two classical paths that are according to God’s law – which is based upon the crucificial and not the selfish].
    (As an aside of course, coming back to what is implied in the article, even from a purely secular point of view, same-sex genital expression of sexual desire can never have nature on its side the way heterosexual union does due to its inherent lack of any possible natural offspring; however, that’s still a surface point – one which, astonishingly, needs restating these days…)

    Man’s likeness to the irrational animals on the other hand, is revealed to the degree that he directs himself away from God’s law.
    I think that something like modern technology in the hands of a saint (who is above nature) would be of ‘take-it-or-leave-it-kind of use’, in the hands of a genuine believer (who lives according to nature), it would only be used rightly; and in the hands of all others who are in one way or another functioning ‘contrary to nature’ (as ‘nature’ is revealed to us in Christ), it’s a tool that can often enable them to far surpass irrational animals in perversion.
    Since only the outward, sensorial, literal, and pleasurable aspect of things is all that can be grasped by those who still live ‘contrary to nature’ (a bit of St Maximos here), instead of the hidden, inner truth of all things, the mind’s fixation on surface appearances and its enslavement to irrational sensations lock man in this relentless, misinterpretation of everything. It’s a tragic situation (that has become a continually increasing ego-culture) of “love of the self and love of the body” (φιλαυτία), [as is the interpretation of everything through its distorting lens] so the ‘talking to fish’ expression, or St Anthony’s maxim about how a mad world will be thinking that the one sane person in it is mad, makes utter sense. However, as we have not been instructed to battle against the sense-perceptible creations outside of us, but rather to incessantly fight within ourselves against the dishonorable passions, I think we can mainly only try to purify ourselves, endeavor to help ourselves to reason rightly, see all with the eyes of God, and then we can maybe be of help to those around us who might desire to follow.

  30. Thanks for the thoughtful warning to our society. We are going the same way as the Roman Empire,just with better technology. May God grant us repentance and the boldness to stand,as did the early Church.

  31. I am being completely sincere when I say this: I get the distinct impression that doing anything for the joy or even just for the pleasure of it is anti-Orthodox. It appears to me that the crucifixion is so determining that unless suffering is endured, then its probably sinful. As for being in constant battle with the passions, I dont understand that at all. Why is everything that isnt suffering regarded as an enemy to Orthodoxy?

  32. Thank you for this article Fr. Stephen. I really appreciate your taking time to write and encourage prayer and faith and hope in Our Good God Who loves Mankind. Lord have Mercy!

  33. Simon,
    Joy and pleasure are not sinful, though “pleasure” is a loaded term. Joy itself is understood as a fruit of the Spirit.

    The passions are, at their root, not evil things. They are rooted in the desires that are natural and necessary. They are simply disordered. We often do not desire the right thing at the right time in the right way in the right measure. St. James asks, “Where do wars and fighting come from?” and answers that they come from wanting and not being able to have – and our reaction provokes our anger, etc.

    Yes, there’s a struggle with the passions – not saying “no pleasure” but learning to do things in their proper measure. It could even be called self-discipline. Every child learns this to some degree – and if not – they would be an out-of-control, greedy child, making themselves and everyone around them miserable.

    The fathers make a play on words between pleasure (hedone) and pain (odyne). We seek pleasure, indulge, and then find pain because it is disordered, etc. The answer isn’t “no pleasure,” but “right pleasure.”

    Our culture’s economy exists to exploit our desire for pleasure – it is the tool it uses to sell us everything. We generally already have what we “need.” Thus, it is not “need” that drives our culture – but pleasure – excess. I suppose it heightens the sense of warfare. When I was on Mt. Athos, I wept, actually wept, over a potato soup one night at supper. I had a couple of days in a row of exhaustion and very little food, and what I had seen on table had been very strange to me. But there in front of me was a plain bowl of potato soup that any Englishman would relish. I wept…and ate…and enjoyed…with prayers of thanksgiving! It also reminded me of how much I take food for granted.

    Solzhenitsyn learned to feel free when he was in the Gulag, because he learned to be content with what was there. When he was released, he had nothing. He found a little shack in the town where he was sent, and got a wooden crate and blanket that he used for a bed. And it was like heaven to him. When his circumstances improved (he got a job as a teacher), he got a tiny apartment. But he kept the crate as his bed. His sense of things was that he did not want to lose the freedom he had gained in the Camps.

    Pleasure is not inherently bad – but it is a powerful tool for enslavement in some circumstances.

  34. Interesting,
    In and of itself, there is nothing wrong with a married couple spacing their children and having some measure of “control” in the matter. It is not an issue – in Orthodoxy it is a matter of conscience with the guidance of a confessor. This, however, is a world away from the interventions that began in the 60’s that resulted in creating a culture of childlessness. Now contraceptives are readily handed out to teens under the guise of “they’re going to have sex anyway…etc.” The rise in STD’s, nearly half the children in our culture (and more in some groups) are born out of wedlock, families have been deeply disrupted, children without 2 parents in a stable home, gender confusion way, way beyond any sort of statistical reality (meaning it is a socially-induced phenomenon, particularly among young adolescents), and on and on. It is an outstanding example of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

    No one meant for the present situation to be the norm, but it has become so. And the new normal is a “fish normal” – it’s not natural in the least and represents instead the collapse of a culture on a very large level. Now, the nature of the collapse is that it is felt first and foremost by the poor. If you are comfortably middle class, all of this might sound like I’m exaggerating and making too much of it. But if you spend some time among the poor, then you see the true effects of what has happened. Life expectancy is falling, infant mortality is rising – the fundamental measures that look at a societies well-being are falling for one of the first times in modern history.

    The nature of modernity, in the words of GK Chesterton is “good gone mad.”

  35. [I noticed another Paula here (hello Paula!) so I’m adding AZ to my name just to clarify]
    Thank you for your comment. If you would, please say a bit more on these words:
    “Sexuality’s function as an icon of the soul’s fertile union with its divine Bridegroom, which goes far beyond the fertility of physical offspring” and
    “… blessed union of man and woman in marriage and blessed celibacy are the sole two classical paths that are according to God’s law”.
    I understand and appreciate what you are trying to convey, but I still need some more understanding of how to relate gender/sexuality with the Bride of Christ. I have been reading about St. Maximos but I really had to take a break and let it settle. I hit a wall and if I go further I won’t understand what I’m reading. Maybe some explanation from you will help. I’m sure it will. Thank you, Dino.
    I think your conclusion that the Church is “anti-joy/pleasure” is premature. I think you know this, but like me, when I am searching to understand, am at a point where I need more clarity. You know Christ speaks about bringing us joy. Scripture is full of words about joy in the Lord. But it comes through suffering. Joy without consciousness of God is hedonistic. I best not say anymore because I can’t explain well the things I understand. And I’m not saying you are right or wrong…I can’t read your mind. You need further clarification, though. You will get it, because you are honest and persistent in your search.

  36. Father,
    I think my previous comment is in moderation because I added some letters to my to identify myself as the “other Paula”. Should I not do that?
    Also, I thank you too for your response to Simon about pleasure and the passions. Very helpful.

  37. Simon et All
    As I sit and read the comments and reflect over the experiences I have had in relationships either personally or in observations of others, I am struck by what removing procreation from sexual intimacy actually does to intimate relationships. Now I am not talking about emotional intimacy because that is something apart from what God intended we He created the kind of bond between a man and a woman that can produce offspring.
    In this age of chemical intervention and surgical intervention to prevent or remove pregnancy something seems to go terribly wrong. When there is a possibility of conception, one has to be more involved in the other. A woman especially has to be trusting of a man that he will stick by her and raise any children that come from the coupling. The man is summoned to care for and guard his family, mother and children. The relationship is about other, not self.
    However, once that link to procreation is removed either by chemicals, surgery or same sex coupling, in my observations, it become all about self. This is very evident in many “office” romances I have observed. When a relationship becomes all about self (not that relationships that can result in offspring cannot be about self), the other becomes an object rather than a subject and the purpose of objects in this type of relationship is to be used. Objects can be discarded or traded for another thing when the entertainment value of the object wanes.
    To answer your question Simon. Joy is very much part of the Faith. God made all things, including joy and they are very good. Sin comes in when we misuse our freedom and in keeping with the subject of this post, intimate relations become sin when we use a person as an object. We may get a thrill out of doing that, but that is not joy. Joy comes in intimacy when we follow God’s purpose and we treat our spouse as a subject and not an object and we are focused entirely on the other. The wedding crowns in an Orthodox marriage Sacrament are martyr crowns to remind us to seek our joy in being focused on the other.
    God created sexual relationships. He gave us instruction on how to do a married relationship. As long as we follow His will, then we have joy and do not sin. Once we become selfish and self-oriented in even a marital relationship, then sin creeps in and joy departs.
    The passions distort normal human desires and needs. That is why they become sin. It is perfectly normal to enjoy eating a good meal and we thank our Lord for providing it. When our need to eat is distorted and we become gluttons, we enter into sin, not because we eat, but because our desire is distorted and we over indulge, harming our own health and often endangering our families because we head for an early death as we destroy our bodies, thus depriving our families of our presence and income to support them.

  38. Paula, a few thoughts:

    “Why is it good to have breathing machines that save lives, but not birth control that prevents births?”

    I don’t think that technology which preserves life can be reasonably compared in this manner to technology which prevents or destroys it.

    “Women in developed countries now have the luxury of…contributing to society.”

    I couldn’t disagree more with this sentiment, as I can’t think of a better way to “contribute to society” than to partake in the creation and forming of human life, the raising of good children (the “traditional” focus of a woman’s adult life). To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, why is it better to be one thing to many people than everything to a few? How is teaching 9th grade biology to other people’s children better than teaching the world, the faith, and life itself to your own?

    I’ll admit that I’m young, unmarried, and a man, and thus I do not have first-hand experience with any of this. But the longer my life consists of only working for myself the more I realise that I want children–someone tangible to work and live for day-to-day other than myself.

  39. A theme that runs through this conversation, and through much of our society’s distortion, is the idea of control. Many of the distortions Orthodoxy stands against are rooted in our desire (not need, to make the distinction) to control some aspect of our lives, usually in order to “make life better”. Some measure of control is not an issue, but the Church rightly understands that control is too often prideful; something with which we attempt to recast God into our image. It can quickly become “control of MY“.

    As Father has pointed out, both here and in past articles, there is a Law of Unintended Consequences at work and our society has fallen into a pattern of attempting control over different aspects of our lives–and then trying to fix the issues that arise from our own actions/desires in this regard. The understanding and acceptance of God’s Providence, His good will towards mankind, has been lost. The spiritual cost of such an attitude is far greater than any perceived personal gain.

    Within all this, I think it is helpful to remember that our own desires are not what defines “human”; as stated, they are distortions of what is true. Our “true selves” (to use a phrase one woman used to justify gender dysphoria to me) are not found in ourselves, but in Christ. Truth is Christ saying, “deny yourselves and follow Me”. It is Saint Paul praying to be emptied of himself and filled with Christ. Self-emptying, humility, love; these are the attributes of Christ on the Cross. Please forgive me if I have misspoke here.

  40. Even the idea of releasing control is an act of control. Its just a different approach to control. We are always attempting to navigate (control) what is happening in our lives and there is nothing wrong with that. You brush your teeth, thats control. You go to work, thats control as well. You go to liturgy and confession, you resist the passions…all acts of control. Birth control is another act of control. Proverbs discusses the need for wisdom. We just need to act wisely, intelligently. God gave us a brain and intelligence. We should make good use of them.

  41. Simon,

    I get the distinct impression that doing anything for the joy or even just for the pleasure of it is anti-Orthodox.

    I very much get this, but we’re saying this within a world that has OD’d on pleasure and actually isn’t even sure what joy is. I’m not picking on you when I say this, but I could put the same statement in the mouth of an alcoholic and just change it slightly:

    “I get the distinct impression that doing anything involving alcohol is anti-human.” Yes. Yes it is actually. You’ve been swimming in it and the cure is learning to live dry – for awhile and maybe forever.

    What we can’t see from this side of the pleasure/pain problem is that once you go through Hell, you do get resurrected on the other side. And then even the small things bring pleasure. In fact some things that bring pain here become pleasurable there. On this side of things that kind of talk looks like selling out. Unfortunately you won’t be able to see the truth of it until you arrive.

    But we don’t have to wait for physical death to experience this; there are little deaths in our lives all the time. Hope this helps…

  42. Paula,
    When a new name appears, so it’s like the first comment of someone, it automatically goes into moderation. After it’s cleared, subsequent comments are not moderated.

  43. Adam N. — I love your last comment! That’s the sort of vision young people need to recover these days.

  44. Even the idea of releasing control is an act of control. Its just a different approach to control.

    Simon, I only want to make the distinction between control that is rooted in pride and control that is accepting of God’s Providence. As you state, wisdom is required to understand the difference. Too often, “making good use of them” brings overreach.

  45. Simon,
    I think you put your finger on it when you note the need to act wisely. It’s not control, etc., that is an issue, but, by grace being conformed to the image of Christ – becoming what we are truly created to be. It is a healing thing rather than a moral control thing. A saint is not a highly controlled person, but one who finally knows true freedom. Brains and intelligence are of use, but they are only two of the tools we have.

  46. David, sorry for the complications. To simplify a bit. My wife and I got married at age 61. No possibility of natural children. Yet a family has begun to form around us. A young girl who is adopted into a large family and needs extra attention, an adult woman who feels montherless and looks to my wife, etc. Much of this would not have happened if we were not married. There is a natural fecundity/offering to others that springs from marriage that is described in the Orthodox marriage service.

  47. Once upon a time it struck me that the ancient prohibitions on sexual behavior wasn’t because they were unknown or aberrant, but because they were seen as a kind of idolatry of sexuality. The ancient world certainly knew about all that we’re talking about; indulgence in what is pleasurable was always with us (just listen to Chrysostom rail about going to the hippodrome and its assorted opportunities for vice). It seems to me that what is hard to communicate is the problems with this “idolatry” and what they create for the society, and those are numerous and some rather subtle. If all I am concerned about is my attraction to others then what does that do for a life that would be better off seeking humility (for instance)? These things need to be answered with love.

    On the other hand, your post raises another question. There are people spending enormous amounts of money for procedures to create fertility by artificial means as well. Those who fail to conceive in this model are also out of place. For those who don’t go that route of control there is still isolation in the choice. Both the Cross and love are answers — but control and what is “normal” in a consumer-oriented perspective goes both ways.

  48. Michael Bauman, thank you for your last comment (and of course the others) — I didn’t see it before I posted. It really brings up the more subtle realities I think are lost in the “control” and consumer model.

  49. Brave New World is a dystopian novel written in 1931 by English author Aldous Huxley, and published in 1932. I have read part of this novel but I could not finish it.
    In this novel, sex is treated as just another form of casual entertainment. People meet for casual sex as one might meet for coffee. Anyone who wants more than a casual sexual relationship is treated as abnormal and if they insist upon “keeping up with this abnormal behavior” then the government sends them for “reeducation” in many cases. Anyone who turns down someone else’s request for casual sex is punished. Casual sex is considered “normal and desirable for the smooth, efficient function of society.”

    I think this book has predicted the current modernity mindset toward sex.

  50. My understanding is that being made new in the likeness of God is something that we cannot control. But the sense I get from it is that God is willing to be persuaded, which implies an effort or response on our part. It makes sense to think that a person in the likeness of God isnt merely well-regulated, but someone who naturally acts from the wisdom of that likeness. They are wise. So, in my naive reflections it seems to me that our effort is best concentrated on ‘asking and knocking’ and from that all else (illumination, transformation, wisdom, etc) will follow from ‘receiving and the door having been opened.’

  51. Michael,
    there’s a more subtle natural fecundity that springs from marriage too: it is the embodiment of the image of the union of Christ (man) and Church (woman) in a way that ‘Christ and Christ’ (man and man) or Church and Church (woman and woman) cannot provide. As we still have access to the view of the blessed union of man and woman, we can continue to have a basis to understand the scriptural notion of the divine ‘marriage of Christ and Church’. If however, we lose access to this view – due to the unforeseen changes that are promoted in this area in the name of “human rights”, a truly antichrist-inspired “change of times and laws” (Daniel 7:25)– we cannot even start to understand what the marital union of Christ and the Church described in scripture means…

  52. There is something weird happening here that I dont understand. I mean that sincerely. We are making a really big deal of heterosexual biology. Here is what I mean. It is COMPLETELY possible to have a masculinized body and a feminized brain. And it is possible to have a feminized body and a masculinized brain. Researchers have known about these physiological and morphological variations for over 30 years. Now, with respect to that human being living inside that body, should that person’s identity and mate selection be determined by their genitals?? Even if you argue that such a nonbinary physiology only occurs in a fallen world that does not change the fact that you have person whose life is being predicated, not by whats going on in the mind, but what’s happening between their. Forgive me, but it seems to me that the church isn’t equipped to handle questions of human identity in a context of biological variability. Take a person with a masculinized body and a feminized brain. This person will be sexually attracted to men even though the body the person’s body is male. According to the church, marriage and sex is prohibited. Now, if that same identical brain were in a female body that person could marry a man and experience all the sexual intimacy they wanted. Which implies that the question on the table isnt about the people involved, but about their genitals. Does this make sense? Can the group understand how the church’s position is somewhat confusing? Or do I sound stark raving mad? And as I said earlier I am not interested in changing anyone’s mind or the church’s position. Make sense?

  53. There are structural difference between the brains of heterosexual men and women. All brains start out the same and during development a brain is either feminized (becomes like a female brain) or it is masculinized (becomes like a male brain).

  54. To me, a ‘feminized brain’ in a masculine body is not really different to any other proclivity one is burdened with, whether through ‘nature’ or ‘nurture’… And giving in to proclivity is a path to perdition.

  55. The difference is profound in terms of how that biology mediates their experience of the world. Their is little that is more basic to my self understanding than my mate selection. There are biological reasons why I am attracted to women. Its been with me since I was a child. To dismiss the role of biology seems really…unwise.

  56. To me, a ‘feminized brain’ in a masculine body is not really different to any other proclivity one is burdened with, whether through ‘nature’ or ‘nurture’… And giving in to proclivity is a path to perdition.

    The plasticity of the brain is well known. Even after birth, the brain changes shape according to the activity in which it engages (I understand that addicts have remarkably different brain structures, in some cases, than non-addicts). It’s a bit like exercise–your body changes shape based on what you work. To say that these things are hard-wired is too Calvinistic (“predestined”), I think.

    Dino’s reply is spot-on, IMHO. I await Father’s reply to Simon’s inquiry.

    Forgive me, but it seems to me that the church isn’t equipped to handle questions of human identity in a context of biological variability.

    I would say that the Church is the only one equipped to handle these things. The Nominalism of our age has no virtue, no understanding of right and wrong in God’s design. Biological variability is not the crux of the issue; the Truth of our salvation is from where we must speak.

  57. I might be born with a peculiar keenness and ability to walk on my hands. I may be able to do this with such effortlessness and inclination that surpasses any gymnast. I might even –through practice- make myself better at this than walking normally (on my feet). However, this would never mean that God has not made feet for walking and hands for grabbing. And I ought to control my proclivity –even though this specific example would probably create far fewer problems for my soul than the surrendering to any sexual deviation can.
    It is the same with the genital expression of one’s mind’s desires. There’s a clear physiological purpose to male and female genitalia that cannot be disregarded, no matter what. Challenges we might be faced with in this area cannot become justifications to change eternal truths. Perhaps they can be seen as opportunities for inner transformation that will free one from the enslavement of self-absorption that we all suffer.

    We cannot dismiss biology, I agree, but the primacy of sexuality given in modernity is clouding our judgement to a degree that we aren’t aware of.
    Fr Tom Hopko once said something about how the vast majority of all those depicted in all the icons of a Church never really had sex (celibacy is actually very easy compared to humility) while we -contemporary Church attendees included- are now steeped in pornographic notions of sex every day.

  58. To dismiss the role of biology seems really…unwise.

    It’s worth saying that the Church does not dismiss the role of biology (our society is determined to deny biology though). It simply recognizes that the fullness of humanity is found in the union of man and woman. It is from Adam that woman was taken; her return brings the fullness of life in one flesh. In this creative manner, humanity reflects God who said, “Let US create man in OUR image”; creation is a communal endeavor and may only take place in the union of man and woman.

    Our desires, whether biological or otherwise, are not the crux of the matter. The image of God is one of communion and life. Just my thoughts.

  59. Simon – Your question about the role of biology in homosexuality was presented to Abbess Melania of the Holy Assumption Monastery one day and her response was something like this (paraphrased)… “I was born with a proclivity to be really mean, but that does not make it okay for me as a Christian to act on my proclivity towards meanness.”

  60. Simon,

    I agree that we cannot be reductionist. You accuse others of reducing people to their genitals but seem to have no issue reducing them to their brains or sexual desires. And a “feminized” male brain is still a male brain–for example, male sexuality is comparatively visually focused. You would never find the kind of preeminence of the visual with heterosexual women that is noted among male homosexuals.

    Any coherent theory of gender or sexuality has to start with “God created them male and female.” Subjective experiences thereof, no matter the biological basis, will never undo that.

  61. Simon,
    I can’t begin to discuss the science issues with the same familiarity that you have. Nevertheless, I have a suspicion that you’re making it too black and white – this brain does this, this brain does that. We have (and have always had) the experience of “bi-sexuality” – in which case, what kind of brain would that be? Sexuality is very complex – of which the beginning brain is only one thing, I think, but also much, much else – familial, social, etc. I would not be surprised if there are women with “masculinized” brains, who nevertheless sexually are comfortable mating with a man, but might express their womanhood somewhat differently than another woman.

    Actually, the huge variation of the number of people experimenting, practicing, trying, leaving various sexual expressions in the present culture, would argue against the deterministic account that you suggest. Not to say that some few do not find their brain as problematic.

    But the assumption of sexual intimacy as essential to human existence is not true. It is not possible for many. Not everybody finds themselves desirable to others, etc. Life has plenty of suffering within it – because the world is as it is. If all that mattered was to squeeze the wee bit of pleasure that we could find before we die, then the Church would be ask something terrible of us. But that is not the reality of the gospel. There is something more, there is something that makes it possible to transcend our suffering in union with Christ. We’re not talking about how the State arranges its laws – they have a different burden.

    Biology is not ignored. Of course, biology doesn’t have an unblemished track record in describing our humanity.

  62. Creation is a communal endeavor and may only take place in the union of man and woman.

    What does it mean to be a man? What does it mean to be a woman? Is being a man primarily determined by the type of genitals they have?? Everyone has a common sense notion about what it means to be a “man” or “woman” in the trivial case of being heterosexual. But, the view I am being presented with here isn’t a view about persons, it is a view about genitals and reproduction. It seems like a very superficial view of what it means to be a “man” or a “woman.” There is a real goodness-of-fit or continuity between the morphology of my body and the morphology of my brain. Boy. I am glad for that. But, if that fitness isn’t there for someone, if that continuity doesn’t exist for another person, then on what basis should that person understand/form their experience of the world? By what they have in their mind or what they have between their legs?? What I hear people here saying is that regardless of what is happening on the inside of that person, their self-understanding as either male or female should be predicated by their genitals.

  63. Fr,
    I think its interesting that my position is the one that is being painted as black-or-white. Basically, the Church restricts sexuality to heterosexuals. Fine. I have no interest in changing anyone’s mind on that. And sexual intimacy doesn’t have the level of necessity as say food and water. But, you know what is really important: Our self-understanding. In this discussion comments refer to “man” and “woman”. Fine. And by “man” and “woman” there is an implicit understanding that we mean a particular set of genitals with a corresponding sexual attraction. Again, fine. Then what do we say have to say to individuals who do not fit within that? Are they men and women? Do we call them men and women based on their self-understanding or based on their genitals? It seems like we are placing ourselves in the absurd position of telling someone who they are based on the genitals they have.

  64. Simon,
    “Mind” versus “genitals” – what is male or female? I would say that indeed genitals are more definitive. “Mind” (a vague generality) is highly plastic and far more layered than the terms male and female. The experience of the Church is quite rich – far richer than the left-overs of Victorian-era Protestant culture. That experience (in Orthodox cultures) has not included the persecution or imprisonment of homosexuals (that was largely a Victorian practice based on science, interestingly). Many people read into Orthodoxy their Protestant or Catholic understanding which tends to be quite legalistic.

    The arguments, what little there is within Orthodoxy, is largely with a culture, or a culturally-based understanding, that would rob us of the ability to use the therapeutic model that is our inheritance. The arguments mounted for change are foreign to Orthodoxy, and would, should they prevail (which is not really in the realm of possibility) simply make us yet another Western Church with a long liturgy.

  65. Simon,
    It does not mean that attraction necessarily matches genitalia. There is much to be said to every individual – but it’s also individualized enough that it cannot be placed in definitive terms. The one definitive matter is that sexual activity belongs within the marriage of a man and a woman.

  66. Byron, what is it about Dino’s reply that is “spot on”? Because his reply to me strikes me as insufficient. So, please, I am honestly asking you to tell me what it is about his reply that you find satisfying.

  67. Fr. Stephen, you have a number of superb and beautiful quotes throughout this thread.

    Yes, we must remember that to follow Christ is to carry a cross.
    Yes, suffering is to be endured and pleasure to be eyed carefully.
    Yes, intimacy in sexuality is not the height of human experience.

    You also get at the root issue that led to our insanity—birth control. (I wrote a lengthy article on this a year ago.)

    Thanks again for your words here.

  68. “Do we call them men and women based on their self-understanding or based on their genitals?”


    We call them men or women based on how God made them, which for all but the exceptionally rare case of intersex individuals is evidently clear on birth through observable biological realities, including genitals and chromosomes.

    As father has written on this blog, it is only modern delusion that believes we can define ourselves. The Church knows what it means to be truly human, and yes, She tells people all the time that their delusions miss the mark.

  69. “Mind” versus “genitals” – what is male or female? I would say that indeed genitals are more definitive.
    That’s everything I needed to hear. I apologize, but I disagree entirely. Genitals as identity seems absurd to me. I just think it is absurd to agree to that. But, I thank you for just coming out and saying it. I mean that sincerely. It is better for us just to say things even if they are uncomfortable.

    “Mind” (a vague generality) is highly plastic and far more layered than the terms male and female.
    By introducing plasticity you’re introducing an even bigger problem than you may be aware. Are you saying that there is nothing about the human self and human experience that is invariant? Or are you saying that because of plasticity there isn’t anything that can’t be changed with enough effort? Are you saying that homosexuals just need a little therapy? The problem with appealing to neural plasticity is that isn’t clear whether the implication is that whole person can be modified little by little until you have a totally different person or whether you mean simple behavior modification. If human psychology is just Play-dough that can be shaped and reshaped, then what do you even mean by a human person?

  70. When I read the Bible, I can find nowhere that states that God cares about my sexual proclivities. Rather, sexual proclivity is – at least in the New Testament – universally portrayed as a hindrance. True, St. Paul does make an allowance for people to get married, but he clearly isn’t enthusiastically supporting this path as the one all people should follow.

    The Church makes this statement, again and again and again, and yet no one seems to hear it. I don’t think this is a uniquely modern phenomenon, or else we wouldn’t have St. Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth.

  71. Isn’t one of the things that separates humans from animals -secularly speaking- this: That being born with a proclivity doesn’t constitute justification for acting out on it…?

  72. I have to back out.
    I’m so sorry, but I’m triggered. I feels it.
    Perhaps Fr will do me the favor of deleting any more comments from me otherwise I won’t have the maturity to just NOT comment. sigh…I’m 46 years old with the emotional maturity of a 17 year old.

  73. Simon,
    I do not mean what it seems you think I mean. Ultimately, our identity is not found in our genitalia (though I think it is not as unimportant as you suggest). What matters is Christ – and our identity rests there. Our male and female identity are icons – not of our genitalia – but of something much deeper. The pastoral/spiritual medicine of the Church, when allowed to work, guides us and heals us not towards some socially derived model of behavior of sexuality, per se, but towards the whole of our being in union with the icon of Christ.

    The debate (what little there is) is whether something of this world is to set aside what is a proven path of salvation and healing.

  74. As doctor and interventional cardiologist i completely agree with all your articles and comments. Thank you for your encouragement and guidance. The practice of medicine has long ago lost its purity. In the name of improved patient care, doctors frightfully often exploit their power and technology to sell health for self-interest purposes (e.g. money, career). Bottomless vanity without real heal!

  75. Simon,
    My brother, I am also the same age with the same maturity (the ‘17’ is what I always used to choose for some reason when using that expression you just used)!
    I had to let you know.
    May God bless you and illuminate you!

  76. sexual proclivity is – at least in the New Testament – universally portrayed as a hindrance. True, St. Paul does make an allowance for people to get married, but he clearly isn’t enthusiastically supporting this path as the one all people should follow.

    Matth, St. Paul speaks from the standpoint of salvation; drawing closer to God. The Church recognizes that our salvation does have an individualistic quality but preaches consistently that it is found in communion. The asceticism of the monastics is not set in opposition to the sacrament of marriage. They are two different strides down the same path, so to speak.

  77. Simon,
    May God bless and keep and guide you.

    I’m a mother of three boys (22, 20 and 17) so reading you is like talking to them, on all those issues. I know I shouldn’t even engage them, but sometimes I simply cannot “not”… They – you – all of us – live in such a broken world. As Byron said above, only in the Orthodoxy the sanity is still preserved. We cannot loose that or there will be no hope for any of us.

  78. CS Lewis’ critique of the contagion of nominalist subjectivism seems quite apt.
    The debates around this new [gnostic] god called ‘my [subjective] identity’ appear to consistently incorporate the denial of the goodness of the natural order: that there exists a clear natal/chromosomal male and a corresponding female. It’s quite astonishing how warped our judgement of such simple things has become.

  79. If we want to have a Pharisaical devotion to “the rules,” we can be like the Hasidic Jews and Orthodox Christian families could all have a dozen kids. That’s just not practical anymore. We don’t have 95% of the workforce in agriculture like we did a hundred years ago. Most of us live in 3-bedroom houses or 2-bedroom apartments. Even SUVs generally fit eight people. Economically, there is no need–and a severe penalty–for giant families. You can afford to have a dozen kids if you’re rich, but having a dozen kids is often what happens to those who can least afford it. I don’t think it’s right to demand that married women become brood mares because of some Old Testament quote about children being a blessing. Many cattle and goats are also a blessing, but few of us are in the livestock business compared to 3,000 years ago.

  80. Kevin,
    What Pharisaical rules are you speaking of? It’s not practical to have many children? Well, I personally know a Christian family that is raising 6 girls. The father is an RN. Mom has chosen to stay home to nurture the children and home school them. Four of the girls are their own. The other two were adopted in China…at thousands per baby. One had physical issues that were bettered here in the States. Now they are only half a dozen, but what a loving family. The oldest just graduated college. The youngest is 10. I am at a loss as to the severe penalty for having a large family…is the penalty solely economic, not going to Disney land every year, being unable to afford a new car every 5 years….what? My parents raised 6 of us. We were poor as church mice. But we were happy as kids. We had loving parents. My dad often worked 60-70 hours a week, but I never once heard him complain. Who’s demanding that young women become “brood mares?” You cannot possibly have children of your own to belittle quotes in the Psalms about them being a blessing. Our own daughters and grandchildren are six of the richest blessings in our life. They are priceless. I’ve heard that it takes $250,000+ to raise each child. I doubt if I ever made double that in my life. So, unless you live in New York City sums like that simply do not make much sense. Is tuition frightful? Yes. But our girls both went to a state college. Even today one can go to 2 years JC here and 2 at a state college and not leave with exorbitant debt. I know plenty of average earning families who have raised above average kids…and not even from Lake Wobegon! Is there great economic disparity in our nation and economic suffering? Yes. Yet godly parents are still raising some very wonderful children.

  81. What are SUV’s in comparison to precious souls? We live in a country of underrepresented wealth. Even the most disadvantaged in the US is better off than 90% of the rest of the people in the world. Why else would all the immigrants be clamoring to come here? I agree with Dean, I grew up in a military family where my father was paid very little for most of our years before college. In WW II my father was paid $60 a month by the Army. By the Korean War (which he served in from the Inchon Landing to Chosin Reservoir) he had risen to $3500 a year. When I left home for College he was earning $20,000 a year and serving his time in Vietnam and yet we had a good life.
    I am afraid I just cannot buy into the idea that having many children disadvantages a family. If we, as Orthodox Christians value our possessions more than our children we have sold out. As long as our families have food on the table, a roof over their heads and clothes on their backs, they have sufficient for the day as long as we love and nurture them.

  82. Dean,
    I’ve been married for several years, but I don’t have children because I just never had the desire to raise them. I found a woman who wasn’t that interested in it, either. I never grew up wanting to be a dad. Doesn’t do anything for me. I’m just different that way. Throw in the neurological assault of high-frequency, squawky voices and utterly unpredictable screams and cries, and it’s a one-way train to Nopeville for me. I can’t live on edge like that. “But it’s only the first few years.” Yeah, but then you have another one. And another one. Pretty soon, you’re looking at a decade or more.

    I only stumbled upon Orthodoxy last year and though it does seem less rigid than Roman Catholicism regarding family planning, I doubt I would have had an easy time finding an Orthodox priest to marry us if I’d been blunt about not really being open to having a family. I can’t imagine being a cradle Orthodox growing up with the cultural expectation to get married and have a bunch of kids while dreading the prospect all along. At least there’s that option of the monastic life, which Protestants don’t have, but I like being married.

  83. Stephen G.,
    I make the economic arguments as general references. What an individual family does is highly variable. There have been some fine examples shown here, but then there are many who are less responsible and totally botch the job. When we start talking about how much money someone made in the 1950s, we have to adjust all prices for inflation. My parents bought a “starter” house in the late ’60s for less than $30K. As for the immigrants, maybe they’re trying to get out of their poor countries with high birth rates and few jobs and find opportunity. We also have a pretty decent welfare system and free public schools. If you want to give up some of those material things and have more kids, great. I’m not that interested in acquiring a bunch of stuff, either. I just don’t have the heart for fatherhood.

  84. Thanks Kevin,
    Hope I was not too harsh. Yep, we are all different. We were not cradle Orthodox, yet love kids (don’t think having lots of kids was a Protestant expectation for us). You know there are “cradles” with few children or none. God guide you on your journey.

  85. I do not believe that Orthodox children grow up with a parental and church driven ideal of large families. I think they grow up with an example that they know and are desiring of. I know large Protestant families as well and the children of those families are desirous of having a family that matches their positive experience of childhood.

  86. Agata
    Amen. Grand children are even better and great grand children are the hope of life.

  87. I did it. I finally got through all the comments…

    One recurring thought: Submit to Christ. Do not submit to your image of Christ, but submit to what you have grasped thus far and to His timing of the continued revelation of Himself. As Christ is everywhere present, there is an abundance of channels through which this revelation is made available. Nor must I decide what constitutes revelation. Oh the patience and humility this requires!

    Another thought: it seems a depressing irony that on the one hand, sexual activity (or who one’s potential “opposite” might be) seems to hold primacy in the search for identity, while at the same time it holds no more sacred a place than which set of dishes one might prefer or which car one might buy next. Actually these things might hold more weight. The casualness of sexual activity, as referenced in the comment about Aldus Huxley, seems to be more on par with a decision about which rerun we should watch tonight. And yet again, this casualness is ironic. The act certainly becomes banal, but those involved can’t help but attach significant meaning to it. However, there is no one meaning that anyone in these scenarios seems to bring to these hook ups. It’s anybody’s guess. “They all did what was right in there own eyes,” and confusion and despair reign.

    A perfect storm wrought by one seeking whom he may devour.

    The act of sex is part of life. And while it has its place, it does not deserve the primacy it has been given in our time (or any other).

    “For in Christ, all the fullness of Diety lives in bodily form. And you have been given fullness in Christ who is head over every power and authority.”

  88. The terms “feminine” and “masculine” only lose meaning when they reference transitory social norms. They gain meaning when they reference consistent bodily realities.

    Bodies are complicated. They grow, change, entropy, die. We perceive them rightly and wrongly, sometimes at the same time, because our perception is severely limited. What we can perceive is that we are sexed, and sexed to a particular end: bringing forth new life. What is revealed to us is that “God created them male and female, and blessed them”.

    We cannot ignore our bodies as central to our identity, because they are a kind of revelation: an insight into who we are and, subsequently, who God is.

    Any kind of desire, sexual or otherwise, always needs to be understood in light of the end that such an attraction comes forth from. God has given us eyes not just to see, but to understand. Look, then, at the phenomenon of sexual attraction. What do you see? A purpose: Such a purpose reveals deep truths about the nature of the universe. Life begets life, forms are mixed and produce distinct forms, beauty bursts forth from the mingling of difference, etc. A phenomenon like same sex attraction comes from the very same desire made to reveal that beauty, but its ends are frustrated, not by will but by reality itself. When we attempt to “overcome” reality with our will, we miss the very point of reality: to reveal God. We, “trade the truth of God” for a lie, and substitute our own reality, which reveals nothing to us, for the reality that God has given us as gift.

    Our bodies are icons, they are a kind of revelation. We may serve them as our idols, or we may serve God with them as his own.

  89. Agata,
    Interesting wisdom from Lululemon. If only I’d bought their stock last year… Well, that’s water under the bridge. However, I’ve seen people having orgasms and I’ve seen people with children. They ain’t screaming for ecstasy in Walmart.

  90. Byron,

    I’ve seen that claim, that marriage and monasticism are two sides of the same coin, but I find it hard to be true. I’m willing to be corrected by the Orthodox faith, but I find it unlikely to be the case. Perhaps in a narrow way, in that both are two sacred paths of learning obedience, but celibacy is definitely preferred.

    Not that marriage is bad, but it cannot possibly be the equal of celibacy. Marriage is foundational to human society, as St. John Chrysostom says, and there is a definite sacramental theology of marriage, as expounded first by Christ himself and St. Paul in Ephesians and Corinthians.

    But that doesn’t mean that it is treated in the same way as celibacy at any point in our tradition.

    Marriage is the continuation of life, an icon of the Church, an allowance for Man’s fallen nature, but it is rarely if ever discussed in terms of a preferred conduit for one’s salvation. See St. Paul: “Because there is so much fornication, let each man have his wife.” Or St. John Chrysostom: “So there remains only one reason for marriage, to avoid fornication, and the remedy is offered for this very purpose.” These are not enthusiastic endorsements of marriage, but (as I said) allowances.

  91. So, yeah, not all the comments…Missed the discussion on children. I should have hit refresh when I picked this back up this evening.

    Oh, and Simon, I’ve thought of that too, the way it says, “Simon says.” I get a chuckle out of that. Thanks for being here. I like that your overriding desire seems to be to engage and not to adhere to an agenda as such. It’s easier to read a dissenting or objecting comment when it is offered in humility. Not that my comfort or ease are paramount! But, hopefully the sentiment is plain. Cheers

  92. Kevin,
    I sold my Lulu at $4 – years ago, before they got big- my heart sinks every time I remember that… 🙂

    Well, you may be right about poor people with children at Walmart, but I have seen (experienced) people desperately seeking opportunities for orgasms and pleasures and self-satisfying experiences in their 50-ties, 60-ties and later years, and that is even more pathetic, sad and often destructive….That’s just my experience and opinion on this subject…

  93. Kevin,
    We do not have an expectation of a “bunch” of kids. Few Orthodox have more than 2 or 3. Some of what you’ve said is a sad caricature of what the Church says and how it is lived out by faithful Orthodox. But, thank God for those who are having children – without them you’ll not have a chance at anything in your old age – like social security, etc. Europe is actually in a population crisis – the birth rate is below that of replacement. It is one of the reasons Europe will eventually be majority Muslim and non-European. Modernity has left them without much of a reason to exist, to have children, to do any of the stuff that people normally have done throughout history – except consume things until they run out. It is the end of their civilization.

  94. Kevin,
    I’m sorry that you lack the heart for fatherhood. It is a wound of the soul. But we all have many wounds in various ways. Our wounds do not, however, make very good arguments. They color how we see the world. And, reading your comments actually feels sad – like a lack of heart, somehow. I pray God grant you an abundance of grace.

    I have four adult children, and buried a fifth. They are joy and sadness, reward and sorrow. I know that their salvation’s fullness will postdate my demise…that I’ll have to die in hope for them. All of them are strong Christians, which I credit to their mother’s prayers and example. We were married for 5 years before the first was born. My marriage, in many ways, began with the birth of that child. I did not know it until after the fact. Before it was over (the child years), I would have loved as many as God would give. I love children – even the one’s in Walmart. They are a delight and a joy – and frequently serve as a measure of the human heart.

    You seem to have a lot of misconceptions about people and families with lots of kids. We have a lousy welfare system (just about the worst in the First World) and bad schools. We have lost the proper love of children and become very sad in that regard. But the societies that have lost their love of families are dying out…because, in fact, they don’t really have any reason to live. It’s very sad.

  95. What I hear Kevin saying is this: That short of abstinence in marriage and only having sex for reproduction , without birth control large families are inevitable. I dont know that that is true, but that is what I hear.

    Fr, I hear you saying that not having a heart for fatherhood stems from a wound. If Ive understood correctly, then I would ask for elaboration because it isnt obvious to me that is true. Most men back in the day were
    not fathers. They didnt change diapers. They didnt feed the kids. They didnt stay up with the kids at night when the kids were screaming bloody murder because they were teething. They didnt clean up after the kids. The men worked a job, they paid bills, came home and played with the kid, had sex with their wives and went to bed: Rinse and repeat.

    I love my son dearly. He is my life’s one great true love. But being married with a child is the worst experience of my life. I had a vision for what I wanted to do with my life, who I wanted to be and I was making that vision for my life a reality. But my family that I love so dearly has ended me. If I succeed in my endeavors (which is at this point is logistically impossible) it will not be because of my family, but in spite of them. The person I knew myself to be is all but a thing of the past. I am not exaggerating when I say that every day I mourn the loss of who I was. It isnt a sacrifice I know how to gladly make.

  96. Bless, Father.
    Thanks for your always thoughtful and helpful articles. Were you giving a nod to St Antony of Padua (13 June) and his “sermon to the fish” in your title or was it serendipitous?

  97. I am no fan of contraception, even of the least interventional methods, but I can see the point. Excuse me if I am way out of line, Father, but do not the periodic episodes of fasting, during which married couples are supposed to refrain from intimate activity, serve as kind of firewall against having huge families?

    Also, child mortality is lower now. Maybe this is a part of living with our technology, but I don’t think anyone voluntarily wants to go back to the days where half of the children born died before their second birthday. Something needs to counteract that.

  98. Burro (Mule),
    Some might challenge this, but, don’t shoot the messenger as they say!
    Elder Sophrony Sakharov answered the purely theoretical question of ‘what if we all became monastics?’ simultaneously answering the question of overpopulation due to infant mortality rate decrease, and the one you posed.
    He more or less described how historically God kept decreeing increasing austerity in the matter of marital relations –inversely shadowing the rise of population. So in the most ancient times polygamy was blessed, then certain rules started to restrict it until we arrived at monogamy, later (following the Divine Incarnation), not bringing children into the world ceased from being a source of shame, subsequently stricter rules (regarding two brothers marrying two sisters, for example, and others) were introduced, then an increase in the monastic population was witnessed, as well as the rising regard of celibacy in the Church.
    God’s ideal plan for the end of the world and His Second coming therefore, could be contemplated as just this: every human person eventually in the future becoming celibate/consecrated in the exclusive devotion to God and the world therefore remaining without progeny; however, we know that the world will not end like that but, alas, like this: “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.” (2 Peter 3:10)
    That’s what he had to say.

  99. Simon,
    I would describe it as a wound whether it were rare or common. Many things wound the soul and make it difficult to be or become what is the fullness of our humanity. Some wounds can be quite subtle, but remain unhealed and hinder our lives. In this comment, it seems to me that you are describing some cultural phenomenon (how men behaved at a certain time) as though that were the norm – and an example of unwounded manhood.

    American Bourgeois culture (of any decade) is not, nor has it been, an example of unwounded life. It was often a deeply wounded existence.

    An example: American male culture is deeply enmeshed in shame. Male/male relationships bristle with mutual shaming. We are rarely able to be vulnerable and can be highly reactive. This is just one of the manifestations of sin in our lives – but much of it would probably be described as “normal.” It is not. Sin is quite common, but it is not normal.

    How do we get wounded? We can be wounded through failures in nurture, through injuries from others, even through propensities within ourselves (who knows how they got there). I make a distinction between being wounded and being broken. Wounded is easier to heal.

    I have noticed that, most often, those desiring children come from families with children that are happy places – though, I’ve seen some who deeply wanted children to somehow get right what was gotten wrong in their own situation. Many are wounded by broken families – a parent who is estranged, etc. Interestingly, I have more than once heard a monastic abbot say that it is difficult to find good candidates for the monastic life today because there are so many broken homes. Just like a healthy marriage, the best monastics come from healthy family backgrounds. Monasticism is not a place for the deeply broken or wounded to be easily healed.

    When I do pre-marital counseling, an important set of questions and explorations surround the families of origin. It is our family of origin that we carry within us (in some manner) and bring to a marriage. The marriage will often reveal that inner family when it was completely unexpected beforehand. We talk about it, explore it, and look at potential problems and things that might help and be useful. Having done that now for 38 years, I find it to be on target and highly predictive. In one manner or another, I have had to confront “my daddy’s demons” (I have a blog article on it). They’ve been both easier for me and harder for me – but, oddly – my experience in dealing with them was healing for both myself and my father. That he died a practicing Christian – Orthodox, no less – was, in part, a manifestation of how we both grew and healed some of those wounds.

    One strategy that is not surprising regarding wounds is to find a manner of living in which we do not confront them. We bury them or dodge them. It can make for a less tumultuous existence – but one in which so much of who we are is muted and unattended. It is possible for wounds to be healed and for brokenness to be changed.

  100. Paula AZ,
    I noticed your question to me. I think I answered the first -partly- when responding to Michael and the second one (about blessed union of man and woman in marriage and blessed celibacy as the sole two classical paths) is fairly simple: The Church has ‘two marriages’ that make one’s life ecclesial through Her blessing: the high calling of the marriage of man and woman, and the higher calling of monastic marriage of soul and Christ.
    Without either of these permanent commitments [the “above nature” notion of permanence is significant] , one is living a life that is not yet officially committed to permanence through the Church and therefore still, pardon the strange and strong expression, Ecclesiastically not ‘officially authorised’…

  101. Burro,
    Many things work regarding family planning – and some interventional methods are less problematic than others – but that’s a very private conversation that I don’ want to get into on the blog. Modern Americans have unreal sexual expectations, fed by an insane culture, that are completely out of touch with our bodies. We are crazy people.

  102. Father,
    I understood Elder Sophrony as describing a theoretical ideal in this movement (of the Church’s commandments from polygamy to celibacy) that obviously goes contrary to the historical reality (described sometimes in scripture too).
    He wasn’t speculating on historical realities, therefore, but merely on the “never-having been realized”.
    He started his response to the question from a person in the audience: “what if we all became monastics then!?” by saying, ‘this is a purely theoretical supposition which has an equally theoretical answer.’
    Parenthetically, I also made a vague connection with v Maximus’ notion of gradual ‘movement’ from multiplicity to unity, from sense perception to beholding the principles of intelligible realities, from “practice” to “contemplation” (spiritual insight of the highest order).

  103. Dino,
    The sexualization of our culture has made the mystical apprehension of celibacy from earlier times perhaps the most foreign part of those cultures. Modern leftovers such as RC priesthood has degenerated into a legalistic burden. It is a mystery that is very, very difficult for us to understand – and very, very easy to misunderstand.

  104. It is no coincidence that once again the “sons” of God are the ones giving voice to a profoundly deep topic…what is it like to be a man? what is sexuality? what is the purpose of gender? I simply want to remind the sons, in the midst of all the pondering, that us daughters still look to you for protection, guidance, and support. If some women deny this it is a result of pain, hurt and disappointment. I’m telling you, deep down inside women desire, want desperately, the protection and love of a man. That they haven’t received a true union of love in this fractured world is the reason for diversion from ‘the natural’ (manifest in degrees, from resentment of men, all the way to the extreme militant feminists). The source of all this diversion is self-love. The consequence for women in rejecting God for the pleasures of the world (which are insatiable) was established from the beginning…
    ““I will greatly multiply your sorrow and your conception;
    In pain you shall bring forth children;
    Your desire shall be for your husband,
    And he shall rule over you.”

    What is the woman to do when the men out there are trying to figure out ‘who they are’? What is so hard to figure out? I am not scolding here…I’m saying, in the meantime, while the man is wondering what the heck his place is in this world, the women are floundering. Where do we go? Who do we look to? For crying out loud…this issue does not have anything to do with genitals!!! Come on now!

    St. Maximos says something very revealing…he speaks about 5 divisions/polarities that are the consequence of sin/separation from God. The very first one, the one that must first be overcome/transcended if we are to have any further movement toward renewal in the true image of God, is the division between man and woman. I quote from my notes:
    “First division to transcend… is between man and woman…by means of a life free of passions, lived according to the common principle (logos, kindred nature). The division into genders was supposed to be transcended, simply by revealing the human being.”
    Now please, I do not profess to understand fully what St. Maximos is saying here, but I think it is a good place to start. That is why I have asked Father Stephen and Dino, when they touch upon this subject, to expound a bit more. For the sake of clarity, for the sake of taking off the blinders and seeing how far removed we are from our intended ‘being’, we must discuss issues of gender and sexuality. And also we need to know when enough is enough. We need direction. We need guidance. I sit here wondering…and I have to do something to get answers…I reach out looking for answers… groping is a good description. I’m not complaining, as I find the search and the portion God reveals very satisfying.
    I don’t know what else to say. I too am looking for answers. I know Who is “the” answer…but many things are just not clear.
    The arguments for tolerance of homosexuality is for the birds…see, it led into one’s justification for being childless…how selfish!….Lord, what a mess….how far removed from You we are….

  105. Matth,

    I just wanted to say that I think Dino has answered your last post. I wasn’t trying to ignore it or anything! Catching up on posts now….

  106. Father,

    I know that the tradition praises marriage. St. John Chrysostom himself praises marriage many times. The marriage service of the Church is a celebratory one. Marriage is a good thing, and the tradition of the faith is unequivocal about that.

    I also never made the comparison with monasticism, that is something that Byron introduced to the discussion in his response. I don’t know, nor do I really care, what our tradition says about marriage when compared to monasticism. I am married with children. It’s unlikely I will ever be a monk. It doesn’t have anything to do with me or my salvation at this point.

    But I do believe that our faith is clear and unequivocal that celibacy is preferred to non-celibacy. That’s what I said in my original comment, that’s the point I tried to make in my response to Byron, and that’s really all I’m saying now. From St. Paul to the Church Fathers to the testimony of the saints’ lives, the universal preference is for celibacy. Even in the abstinence rules surround the fasts and communion, we see that celibacy is prized. And my reason for quote those specific lines from St. Paul and St. John Chrysostom was to highlight the fact that they saw marriage as most valuable for those who struggle with celibacy, as a path to teach chastity.

    None of this is to say that our faith looks down on marriage, because it obviously doesn’t. My original comment was in the context of sexual preference, and whether or not that’s something God cares about. My point was to draw attention to the fact that our tradition prizes celibacy over non-celibacy, that marriage is an allowance made to fallen nature, and that when compared to celibacy, the great saints tend to be less than enthusiastic about marriage (although when they speak solely of marriage, they are often laudatory of it).

    As with so many things in Orthodoxy, the stance of the Church is somewhat paradoxical. I’m fine with that, but even though I’m not as well read as other commentators on this site, I am confident that I am correct on the central point I am making. If I am wrong, I am open to being shown by the tradition of Orthodoxy itself, but I have a very specific point so merely demonstrating that Orthodoxy views marriage as good for one’s soul (which it does in the specific and common case of those who struggle with celibacy) is not the same as demonstrating that Orthodoxy views marriage and celibacy as two sides of the same coin.

  107. PaulaAZ,

    Sometimes scolding is a good thing! We too easily muddy the issue with all the information that is thrown in every direction. Being human is not as hard as we make it.

  108. Paula AZ,
    Well said. It is an “our” problem. We cannot be healed without one another. Fr. Thomas Hopko, of blessed memory, made a point about male saints that, almost without exception, there was a woman in their life. For some it was family, others a friend, others, still, a spouse, etc. He gave many examples. I would even hasten to add, that God has given us the gift of His Mother such that even in the most obscure circumstances there is a “She” in our lives. Men are in a terribly crippled state today – for many and varied reasons. Most Christians in America have no relationship with the saints, particularly with Mary. They have poor models, broken homes, etc., a lacking of all the things necessary to get this right. It is a matter for prayer…much prayer.

  109. Byron,
    It can be harder than we think…like trying to swim with weights on your ankles. But it is not scolding that accomplishes much…it is love…of which there is far too little.

  110. I should remember to say, I have also seen young men and women getting this right – or doing incredibly despite all the odds against them. My parish (no thanks to me) is filled with children who love God and are the joy for us all. I have, at this stage in my life, become a grandfather in my congregation…an old man who enjoys the love of children. May God keep them all!

  111. “Europe is actually in a population crisis … Modernity has left them without much of a reason to exist, to have children, to do any of the stuff that people normally have done throughout history – except consume things until they run out. It is the end of their civilization”
    Father, please, pray for us,

  112. Speaking as a male in his 40’s who is both single and a virgin, I find in the Orthodox church an oasis of sanity in the desert of utter insanity. This is especially true where sexuality is concerned.

    It is many of the saints that have given me comfort in my situation when society says I am abnormal. Society pressures me to run out and quickly rid myself of my virginity; to modernity’s view of sexuality, virginity is a stigma and anathema.

    I am thankful that the Orthodox do not have this view. I never realized it until Fr. Stephen said it, but the Theotokos is especially a part of this. Her status as the Virgin Mother of Christ is rarely talked about in Protestantism, and some even disregard it as a metaphor or parable rather than a fact. I find that as I grow away from Protestantism, it becomes easier to remain celibate because of the saints and the Theotokos; it becomes easier because many saints, including many male saints, were virgins and celibate. St. John the Theologian is one such example.

    It is from these Saints that I draw strength to stay on the path of celibacy. With their help, their prayers, the path is solid and clear before me and they guide me through their prayers. Without them, I think that I would be lost in the dark insanity of the world.

  113. Thank God that in His Orthodox Church, He teaches us both what it means to be singular and in communion.

    Recently I’ve noticed how ubiquitously how we all generalize from our own experience— and how antithetical that is to communion. It’s so easy to imagine a society full of people who incarnate the projection of all of my opinions and desires (i.e. “I feel such-and-such a way, therefore other people must think and feel the same”). But it is the truth that God has made each one of us as a unique phenomenon in the history of the universe. So, in a very real way, it is entirely unproductive to talk about “men’s brains” and “women’s brains”— or really, any other grouping or rearrangement of people. There is Bob, there is Sue, there’s Aayisha and Jamal— and as each one is made in the image of God, each one would take an eternity to become more themselves, and an eternity to get to know face-to-face.

    After many years of reading both parenting and relationship books, I came to the realization that the reason that they all fall short every time is because there is no marriage that is like mine, and there are no parent/child relationships that are like mine. We are unique individuals in relationship, which means the relationship itself is a unique creature. I’m sure that seems so obvious, but for me it was quite freeing.

    Paula AZ– I see and appreciate your desire for the truth. But I must give you a little bit of push-back. To be a woman does not necessarily entail a desire for “protection, guidance and support,” and to disagree on that premise does not make a woman a militant feminist who is crippled by her wounds.

  114. Matth,
    I agree 100% with your last comment.
    The “anxiety-free” [1 Corinthians 7:32], direct route (monasticism), and the “troubled” [1 Corinthians 7:28], twisty path (matrimony), both lead to one and the same destination.
    “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.”

  115. Dino,
    Thank you for summarizing Elder Sophrony’s view of the progression of the world… I love it.

    Whenever we talk about the current state of the world (all the issues Father brings up in his wonderful blog articles), I always remember the words of one confessor for me: Remember that God has put us here and now because He knows it is the best time and place for our Salvation.

    It’s worth to look at our life from this perspective. All who read and comment on this blog know about the Orthodox Church and what it expects of us (or at least we are learning). Some things may be adjusted for our life by our confessor or spiritual father because of the specific life situation (as Fr. Tom Hopko did so beautifully, but never compromising the teaching of the Church).

    How we use this knowledge – for our salvation – is entirely up to us.
    As Father Stephen once said here on the blog (it’s one of my favorite quotes):

    There will be no legal defense before God. There can be none. What takes place between us and God is entirely a matter of our being, our existence. No words or explanations, no reasoning. Just who and what you are. That’s all there is.”

  116. I want to underline the final point of the blog article. Our culture has decoupled important aspects of our existence as male and female – one result being that there is a fair amount of confusion and flux in our understanding. It makes it almost impossible to say things in a proper, balanced manner. I’ve heard Orthodox teachers who are so strong on the procreation angle that they completely dismiss the unitive function and hold positions that are simply rigid and damaging (reflecting not the tradition so much as their own personalities in my opinion).

    The wholeness of the Church’s teaching is hard for us to apprehend because we ourselves are not whole. And that is the point of the article. We are like fish talking about life on the land. To a certain degree, we have blown a lot of bubbles at each other in the discussion. 🙂

    Because we are in this position, we must be kind and gentle with others, giving as much help as possible, but also as much freedom as is consistent with our health. I have said before that I do not like this topic – because it is almost impossible to get it right – or, even when getting it right, to be heard rightly. We need God’s help in this part of our cultural life!

  117. Well thanks Tess! Perhaps I generalize too much in stating a woman’s desire for protection, guidance and support. It is within my bones that I believe that though. And I preface that it is in union, not subservience…”the two shall become one”. But listen, that you do not agree does not make you a militant feminist…yes, I agree. I was speaking of the result of the disintegration of “the two” more than the labeling of a particular individual.

  118. Thank you Father. Oh boy…what a test of my strength to be kind and gentle in the midst of this topic. Yes, God help us!

  119. Fr Stephen,
    It’s indeed hard for me to witness this discussion on this topic in this culture. I was born into a family whose culture was matrilineal and matrilocal. The traditional life invoked a spiritual communion in a couple and in a family that was indicative of that life, which as far as I know, is now almost gone if it still exists at all. I’m grateful for those early experiences because they give meaning to the Theotokos in ways I rarely hear nor read here or elsewhere in this culture. It also provides a deeper understanding of the matrilineal focus embedded in the Hebraic culture, admittedly seen only with very fine brush strokes in the Bible, but still there if one knows how to look.

  120. Dee,
    Yes, you are quite right. There are many caricatures of “patriarchy” when reading history, that misses many things. I like my fish metaphor. With that, I want to think that living within the Church, slowly, slowly, I am learning to breathe air again, to find out what legs are for, etc. But slowly…

  121. Paula AZ and Tess,

    My priest put the following quote in the announcements recently. It really changed my whole perspective of the issue regarding wives obeying their husband and marriage itself.

    When we speak of the wife obeying the husband, we normally think of obedience in military or political terms:the husband giving orders, and the wife obeying them. But while this type of obedience may be appropriate in the army, it is ridiculous in the intimate relationship of marriage. The obedient wife does not wait for orders. Rather, she tries to discern her husband’s needs and feelings, and responds in love. When she sees her husband is weary, she encourages him to rest; when she sees him agitated, she soothes him; when he is ill, she nurses and comforts him; when he is happy and elated, she shares his joy. Yet such obedience should not be confined to the wife; the husband should be obedient in the same way. When she is weary, he should relieve her of her work; when she is sad, he should cherish her, holding her gently in his arms: when she is filled with good cheer, he should also share her good cheer. Thus a good marriage is not a matter of one partner obeying the other, but of each other. — St. John Chrysostom
    End Quote

    This was the marriage my parents had; my priest and his wife had this marriage as well. In fact, the majority of marriages in my parish are this way. Every successful marriage I have observed has been this way. And every unsuccessful or unhappy marriage I have observed has been the exact opposite.
    It is the way marriage is meant to be, a partnership of two people, sharing life through love.

  122. Thanks for being so kind, Paula. 🙂 I’m really glad you didn’t misinterpret me, because I share much with you philosophically.

    My own history often urges me to speak up with the things that I wish I had heard and understood many years ago. I guess you could say that I post for my younger self. 🙂 (Perhaps indulging a Dr. Who ‘time can be rewritten’ fantasy.)

    Ananias, I really like that St. John Chrysostom quote. Praise God that the Church has preserved his voice– “Grace shining forth from your lips like a beacon has enlightened the whole universe!”

    Father Stephen, thanks for this article. I’m currently rereading Evdokimov’s “Sacrament of Love,” which is serendipitous– talk about learning how to breathe air again, and not just blow bubbles!

  123. Matth,
    “…marriage is an allowance made to fallen nature…” When I read this statement, I immediately thought of the earth’s population and how God intended to fill it with people if they remained celibate. Then I thought, am I reading Genesis too literally? Did God create others and we only read about Adam and Eve? Were they not the parents of us all? I know that Cain and Abel came after the fall. Did Adam and Eve remain celibate until after the fall? I think it has been said here (and in other Orthodox writing I’ve read ) that God’s plan of Jesus coming to earth was not a ‘plan B’ but a fulfillment of his will all along. If that’s the case, then was intimacy to procreate part of the original plan or was it a ‘plan B’ within the ‘all along plan?’ Sorry for my pathetic nomenclature, but hopefully there are enough of you that can discern the gist of my commenting that you can offer me some help. Thanks

    Amen re marriage. I’m reminded of the Ephesians passage, “Submit then to one another.”

    “The wholeness of the Church’s teaching is hard for us to apprehend because we ourselves are not whole. And that is the point of the article. We are like fish talking about life on the land. To a certain degree, we have blown a lot of bubbles at each other in the discussion. 🙂

    Because we are in this position, we must be kind and gentle with others, giving as much help as possible, but also as much freedom as is consistent with our health. I have said before that I do not like this topic – because it is almost impossible to get it right – or, even when getting it right, to be heard rightly. We need God’s help in this part of our cultural life!”

    Yes, yes, and amen

  124. Simon,
    I like being romantic and being in my 7th decade I AM antiquated! Well, you’re at least 1, maybe 2 generations behind me. Our daughters see the world differently than I. That’s okay. I love them very much anyway. They are my sisters in Christ. And you, Simon, my brother.
    A wonderful quote. Thanks.
    Paula, AZ
    You are the Paula outside Tucson, right?
    Our years in Mexico showed us a very strong familial bond, much stronger than the one here. Even cousins there are called “brother/sister”cousins. In Punjabi there is no word for cousin. All are brothers and sisters. 🙂

  125. Jeff,
    On reading Genesis – I read it as Scripture – which means some things are usefully read in a rather literal manner, others not. The early chapters of Genesis present many difficulties (practical and otherwise) when read in a strictly literal manner. I myself find it problematic as well when the Fathers speculate on what might have been had we not fallen. Of all things in the patristic body of writings, I find those to be the least helpful. Particularly in that they too easily posit some sort of human existence apart from the Cross – and I do not think we should try to think such a thing.

    Marriage is a form of the Cross. Celibacy is a form of the Cross. Monasticism is a form of the Cross. Somehow falling outside those “categories” is still not outside of the Cross – because it is not for the righteous but the unrighteous.

  126. I wrote this earlier, then thought it was too personal and too much information. But maybe the discussion has turned more toward the topic, so I post. I was specifically responding to an earlier post of Simon’s, but for everybody…

    Simon, peace to you! I will pray for you.

    What an irony, you are like my inverse. I am so blessed in my marriage of 37+ years, beyond my possible expectations — a tremendously loving husband, a mother-in-law who loved me seemingly better than my own mother. Except for one thing: God did not bless me with children. I love kids, but truly our lives have been difficult and having struggles, and midst all of that I was also always worried whether or not I would be a good mother. At first in the difficult times — plus we were very young — I waited to try for children. Eventually however we decided to try but I didn’t conceive after several years. I did not feel right about IVF and so did not pursue that particular course when I did not become pregnant. I actually feel guilty thinking that I didn’t do my best — on the other hand I don’t know if that would have been successful either. Ongoing prayer (even to this day) on this subject does not leave me with an answer that it was necessary or even appropriate for me to have (physical) children. It’s a cross for me — I really like kids and love talking to them. I’m happy to be an aunt and a great aunt, even if my extended family isn’t the most loving in the world. My own mother recently passed and had Dementia and Alzheimer’s, and so I became mother to my mother for a few years and made sure she had the happy life she wanted when she was helpless — with the tremendous help of my husband. My mother and I didn’t have a great relationship when she was healthy, and grief has brought all that back for me to accept too. But it’s as if God wants me to bear my particular cross and do something else besides physical motherhood. I never pictured myself not being a mother. An early experience in life taught me how much I would love children. At this point many years later, my husband is now very successful in his profession, but it was not easy at all. In a way he is like my child and I his. There were many sacrifices to be made for love. And maybe that’s the point. We have grown together in our faith through the things life brought us. In that respect, we are very different people than when we met. Our Church teaches us that marriage is a path to God too, and so for us together it truly has been. Do you know what the icon of marriage is? Christ the Bridegroom — bound as prisoner, suffering the wounds of humiliation, making sacrifices for love of His Bride. (Quite different from the commercial love and hearts of popular modern culture, but really far more practical, honest, and realistic.)

    Who am I really? Isn’t that up to Christ? I am, in addition to my marriage, incomprehensibly blessed to know love from Christ and from the Panagia. For me such love and care are internally filling and present — truly “an ever-present help in times of trouble.” The All-holy Mother comes to me when my heart is in pain. This has all been a tremendous surprise. But this one thing that pains me — having children to love — is not what God answers me with. I feel it sets me apart from others. (Honestly, so does my faith, in the world I inhabit. In my world, many people seem to have families/children instead of religion.) But maybe there is a purpose God has in mind for that too. God bless you and may you find the grace that is sufficient, the strength made perfect in weakness. One thing I know for sure, love surprises us. I’m glad for you that you have your wonderful son who has brought you such love.

  127. I want to clarify something: I love my son immensely. I don’t know that I knew what it was like to really love someone until we brought Micah home. He is truly the one great true love of my life. I love that kid, man. I wish I could post pictures of him because he would break your heart in a second. But he is a time killer. I would hope that all anyone got out of my earlier comments is that life is complicated and sometimes requires unexpected sacrifices.

  128. One more possibly pedantic note to all: we all “sons” because we are all heirs.

  129. Jeff and Matth both wonder about:

    ‘“…marriage is an allowance made to fallen nature…”

    Fr. John Behr’s talk on you tube “Becoming Human” is an excellent antidote to this idea.

  130. “It is a wound of the soul.”

    There was nothing wrong with the family I grew up in. My parents are still married and we all grew up reasonably functional. I can think of no source for this “wound.” Years ago, I figured out that I was probably on the autism spectrum, though there were no fine distinctions made regarding ASDs when I was a child. I was deemed normal enough for the big school bus. I just didn’t have the code that makes most people excited about things like dogs and babies. My family had a dog. I didn’t. I found it to be generally a nuisance. I also just don’t really get the relational aspect of children. My wife and I made a choice to have a relationship with each other. I get that. Kids would just be stuck with me and vice-versa. Luck of the draw. So, wound or defect, maybe it’s a distinction without a difference, or maybe not. I’m already pushing into my mid 40s with a dead-end career and a smoldering pile of bad investment decisions in the IRA. Like Simon, I didn’t become what I’d envisioned for myself, either, but I managed to fail at that through my own lack of planning or choice. I didn’t have to get sidetracked by kids. I’m not sure where I’d be with the added burden. I might have looked for herbal or fungal remedies. I certainly wouldn’t have had the luxury of the free time to explore Orthodoxy. I feel that at the time, I made an adult choice, knowing my limitations. There are too many people who have children just because that’s what you do and they aren’t emotionally equipped for the task, leading to another dysfunctional family for the church and society to clean up after.

  131. Kevin,
    “Wound” is not a judgment of something we did wrong – just a description about us. And, you’ve probably done what was best or “a best” given your own situation. It’s nobody’s fault – it is what it is. But understanding the various “wounds” that we have – the various ways that death, decay, disease, etc., affects our lives is part of the path of salvation. I have ADHD. It’s much less of a hassle than being on the spectrum, but it is a wound that I have to take into account on a daily basis. It will not go away and it limits me in some ways and makes me prone to certain kinds of errors. So, I try to be aware. God give us grace.

  132. Simon,

    Regarding the losses we endure to become spouses and parents, I think that experience is universal. To learn to love as does Christ is the purpose of our existence and our only true fulfillment. There is probably no better “grist for the mill” of our salvation for most of us than becoming spouses and parents. When we seek Him, God gives us grace. Becoming a mother was among the deepest glimpses I have been given into the nature of the love of God. I have two children both mostly grown, one with special needs who will never wholly leave the nest. (I guess I needed more “grist” than many to keep me on the road of salvation.) I have often been tempted in tough times by the thought of “what might have been” had I remained single, but what I imagine in those times (which are actually not frequent) I know to be godless fantasy, and I know my marriage and family are the answer to my deepest and truest prayers, which are for union with Christ.

    (Btw, Tess, thanks for your recommendation a few years ago of Women and the Salvation of the World. The chapter on matriarchy is particularly rich.)

  133. Christopher, I will watch the series of talks from Fr. John Behr. Probably won’t have an opportunity to comment here about it, unfortunately.

  134. Father bless,

    Thank you for a thought provoking article as always. As a twenty some year old man, I’ve grown up completely in this distorted world which you describe. I see that my generation is completely immersed in disordered thinking on relationships and sexuality. Many of us young Christians are seeking answers about what is right and wrong in these matters, which I suspect is a symptom of our own obsession with the topic which we get from our culture. Perhaps there are some books or other resources you could recommend that would give some Christian clarity to my confused generation as we go through the stages of life when we decide on celibacy or marriage, and when we date and become young husbands and wives. It seems to me that restoring a right view of sexuality, marriage, and celibacy is critical when we have so many different ideas from every direction, Christian and non-Christian. Thanks!

  135. Dean…
    To answer your earlier question…yes, I’m the Paula outside of Tucson 🙂
    Sorry for the delay in answering….

  136. Just a random thought:. In our two storey universe we easily think of sex as, at most binary, sometimes as unitary. With that assumption any combination of two or solitary satisfaction is fine.

    Sex however is a double Trinity. God-man-woman linked with man-woman-child. The Trinitarian inter-relationship is required for proper order, joy and fecundity.

  137. Paul – I’m not sure if you have read all the comments, so I will just reiterate here that Fr. Josiah Trenham wrote an excellent book on this subject titled “Marriage and Virginity According to St. John Chrysostom.”

  138. Matth,
    From what I vaguely remember Fr John Berr has quite a nuanced analysis of the verses comparing celibacy to marriage in Corinthians. It certainly isn’t what you’d conventionally garner from the patristic whole. His reading of those excerpts –as well as the ones in the Gospel about ‘eunichs for the kingdom’- demonstrates, fairly credibly, an (almost) superiority of Marriage! However, it must be said that such a thing goes against the tradition of the Church, and especially against the overwhelming majority of its ascetical and most esteemed Fathers and Mothers. It is a fact that, over 80%, (way over that), of the words we have written down and of the saints that have been canonized (even when including the numerous martyrs) are/were from the celibates, those whose entire lives mirrored the Godwards exclusivity [of the divine eros of ‘the Father of Lights’] of Christ and the Theotokos. However, let’s say it once more: Marriage, just like Monasticism, contains the mystery of the embodiment of the Divine Logos.

  139. Dino, your post above of June 13 is what I was trying to say but you said it more simply. The word fecund seems to be the only word that is adequate. Life abundantly in every part and as a whole because of the union with and through Christ. I only see it through a thick haze and only experience it in a fractured way due to my sin but it is sweet even so.
    As you may know the concept of human rights was invented to replace the Christian paradigm. Rights are about those in power deciding who gets what not about abudant life freely given through the Cross and Resurection.

    I have no rights when everything is freely given by my Father if I but turn back.

    Dear Lord forgive my prodigality.

  140. (catching up on the comments…)

    NSP… I also thank you for the link
    Karen…and thank you for the mention of the book Tess recommended several years ago. I am glad I found a copy at Abebooks for an affordable price.

    Dino…I just now noticed your response to me @ June 14, 2018 at 8:24 am. Thank you. Father’s comment a little further down, stating the “mystical apprehension of celibacy” is most difficult for us is so true and “very, very difficult” for us to grasp. So I take it slow and hope for even an ounce of enlightenment. Even with that ounce I can not be too confident. But I trust I am in good hands. Thank you Father, Dino and all of you.

    Janine…I really appreciate you sharing a bit of your “story”. It was a blessing to read…and helps to know you just a bit more. I so resonate with these words: “one thing that pains me — having children to love — is not what God answers me with. I feel it sets me apart from others. (Honestly, so does my faith, in the world I inhabit. In my world, many people seem to have families/children instead of religion.) But maybe there is a purpose God has in mind for that too.” A comfort to read that, Janine. The setting apart, I have had a hard time with. Yes, the Theotokos, Her love and compassion for all, has been a refuge. Oh, had I known this a long time ago….!

    Simon…I do not want to end before I offer a simple word of encouragement. First, I hope you do not take my expression of my struggles as an offense to you personally. We are all in this together. Which brings me to say, since we are together, let it remain so, despite our varied struggles and frustrations. Please hang in there Simon of Cyrene…stay where God has led you, despite the doubts.
    God’s peace to you….

  141. NSP – Thank you for finding that link and making it available to everyone here. It’s a very worthwhile read and has given me a much greater depth of understanding.

  142. Paula AZ—
    If you’re looking at Evdokimov, there are actually two books he wrote that speak to the issue in different ways– “Sacrament of Love” and “Woman and the Salvation of the World”. They were instrumental, for me, in finally getting a foot-hold on the side of the cliff to climb out of the water. 🙂 (How’s that for expanding the metaphor?) I’m currently rereading the first one, which is specifically about marriage. The second, much longer book, is a more thorough treatment of the spirituality of gender.

    Let me share a quote from the introduction:

    All the contradictions of human nature are manifested in sexual life, for it is there that human nature is most vulnerable and carries a deep wound. When the sexual attraction is impersonal, it is the source of the most odious profanations and of the most humiliating enslavement of the human spirit. It is not the unique, but the anatomy and the moment and the “brief eternity of pleasure” that are sought and desired. Freed from sexual taboos, perfected techniques sharpen the perverted senses of eroticism and descend below the animal, and man drinks his shame and his sickness.

    There is so much in just the introduction of the book that speaks to what Father is talking about in this article. 🙂 Also, what Michael Bauman is saying about how marriage is a Trinitarian revelation— that’s a game changer, and one Evdokimov spends some time on later in the work.

    Karen– I’m glad you liked the book! It’s meaty, so I never know how a recommendation like that is going to go over!

  143. For what it’s worth:
    I offer a word of caution on this topic. First, it is a deeply pastoral matter that is best discussed with a confessor and treated with gentleness, avoiding rigidity whenever possible. There are some hard and fast things within the Church’s teaching – abortion, sex apart from marriage, etc. – but the treatment of failures and sin in this matter require good pastoral insight and gentleness. Very little in our life is as vulnerable and sensitive as sexual matters – as such – it is a topic ripe with the potential for shame – including toxic shame. I have seen very nasty conversations on this elsewhere and it can be quite harmful.

    When thinking about these matters for yourself, try to enter beneath the surface and into the depths of what is going on. St. Paul speaks of marriage as a great mystery – and it is deeply bound up with the mystery of Christ and the Church.

    We live in very troubled and chaotic times – times in which cultural norms have shifted radically overnight. The Church is not called to man the barricades, much less panic or be overcome with fear and anger. We were appointed for this time – we are meant to be here – and, in God’s providence, it is a very good thing. Look to Christ above everything and rejoice. Whatever we are living through, it is an unfolding of the mystery of salvation.

  144. Beautiful words, Father!

    (Off topic, sort of, I’m reading Evdokimov’s “Theology of Beauty”. Thank you tess, Esmee, and all for the recommendations of other books.)

  145. Father… please, your words are always of high worth! Your reminder to use caution is very well taken. As for good pastoral counseling, of coarse you are correct. For direct face to face contact though, we only have what is available to us in the area we live (of coarse, I realize you know this). For example, my Father-Confessor (our parish Priest) is ‘retiring’ and we are receiving a new Priest. I asked Father if he would still be my Confessor. He said it would be best if we all confessed to our Priest who is taking his place. So we encounter these scenarios in the hope of good counsel. Again, I trust I am in ‘Good Hands’. Indeed, “try to enter beneath the surface and into the depths of what is going on…Look to Christ above everything and rejoice.” Many thanks Father.

    Tess…thanks so much! The second book caught my eye, as I read the description and reviews. But the first one, after your recommendation and the quote from the intro, sounds just as good. Yes, it is a good companion to the things Father speaks about in this post. So yeah, I’ll look for a copy.
    Also, thanks for pointing back to Michael’s comment on the Trinitarian revelation of “marriage”. A lot to attend to here. Good stuff, Michael!

  146. Yes, thank you, Father. Good word.

    An observation for those who remain celibate, or for those who remain childless, though married: when our union with Christ shall have been realized and consummated in the Kingdom, scripture says we shall be like the angels who neither marry nor are given in marriage. Since the Divine Reality will have been realized and fulfilled in the Wedding Supper of the Lamb, there will be no further need of the Icon that is earthly marriage, just as the presence of the living Eternal Word in His fullness will do away with the need for prophecy.

    Whether celibate or married, the most important fecundity is that which comes from our union in love with Christ and one another. If you will, this union makes spiritual mothers and fathers of us all. Through and in Christ, that life-creating union with the Trinity is available to all. The monastic vocation most clearly proclaims this truth, which is one way in which it is superior to earthly marriage. A second way in which it is superior is in its proclamation that our worth and purpose is inherent in our very being as persons made in the image of God, not in any of the earthly roles or obligations we fulfill, but which will one day pass away. The truth of our being in Christ is inherently anti-utilitarian, and in that I greatly rejoice!

  147. Karen, wrote:
    ” . . . our worth and purpose is inherent in our very being as persons made in the image of God, not in any of the earthly roles or obligations we fulfill, but which will one day pass away. The truth of our being in Christ is inherently anti-utilitarian, and in that I greatly rejoice!” Amen!!!

    I’m one of those people who believes that without Christ we wouldn’t have had a framework for thinking about human rights in any form.

  148. Janine,

    Indeed, apart from Christ, we would have no framework for speaking about human rights at all. David Bentley Hart addresses this in his book entitled Atheist Delusions. It would be more aptly entitled How the Gospel Completely Transformed Societyor something like that, but that wouldn’t have sold as well! 🙄

    Michael, indeed! All of us would be lost apart from that!

  149. I have also read “Glory and Honor: Orthodox Christian Resources on Marriage” as recommended by Byron above and really liked it as well. It’s an Anthology with articles by many different Orthodox authors from a variety of backgrounds.

  150. Fr. Stephen,
    It’s probably in a deleted thread, but you said that the decision to stop having children or not have them for whatever reason is a decision made in sorrow. I kind of get that. As my portfolio balance continues to ebb, I’ve become more aware of the hidden cost. My wife and I, or one of us, will be a problem for the nieces and nephews to sort out–or for the taxpayers. If the statistics are right, I’ll go first and I haven’t done her any favors with my financial planning. There’s also that sense of drifting with no real purpose or anything significant to look forward to. So, I guess you trade one problem for another.

  151. Kevin,
    I say this to be helpful, not knowing or seeing you. But God is with you and your wife, though this might not be readily apparent. If you have the opportunity I would like to encourage you to come and visit an Orthodox Church in your vicinity if you haven’t already done so. The Orthodox life is indeed very ‘rich’ and generally it is our way to try not to inflame the passions that might obscure our vision and life in Christ.

    You have my prayers for your peace and joy.

  152. On good days I am sure that God provides and everything we suffer in this life is for our salvation because He is Risen and His mercy is more abundant than my sins.

  153. Byron thank you for the reading recommendation! I haven’t seen this book before but I have read other books written by the Fords. And I have recommended their other books in the past but missed this one. Thank you!

  154. Dee,
    Last summer, I found a tiny traditionalist parish near my house with a grizzled, Gandalf-like priest. Unfortunately, he took a nap two months later and didn’t wake up. Now, he was one of those who went another direction when ROCOR rejoined the MP, but that was a bowl of alphabet soup I didn’t care to swim in until more recently. It’s been a lot of just showing up and DIY, Internet catechism for me. Who was in communion with whom didn’t really matter at the time. I’m having doubts about whether I should remain there given that situation, but that’s another set of questions.

  155. Kevin,
    Indeed we do have our squabbles don’t we? As Fr Stephen has mentioned in an earlier post, while we have ancient history, it has been messy. My own path would not allow me to enter without noticing the ‘foibles’ to say it as gently as I can. God be with you and your wife. God willing may He grant you peace as you walk toward Orthodoxy.

  156. Kevin,
    I have recently been made more keenly aware of how much we need each other, especially as we feel (at least I do) like a salmon swimming upstream against a strong current of modernity/secularism. I have been listening to a Utube of Rod Dreher. I have yet to read his, the Benedict Option. Since you mentioned Rocor, I am not sure where you are at the present. Yet like Dee, I do hope you can soon find yourself in a loving/accepting Orthodox community. “…let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” So, be strengthened even through the efforts of this wonderful on-line community.

  157. Kevin…I echo Dee, Dean, and Michael’s encouragement. You can’t beat the blessedness of the Liturgy and celebrating with the congregation!
    Allow me also to ask your forgiveness…I read you wrong in your first postings here and jumped to conclusions. I can now recognize a certain special keenness and poignancy in your expressions that has touched my heart. Forgive me, and may God bless and guide you and your wife in all you do.

  158. Paula AZ,
    Do you remember what post that was? This one or an earlier article? I don’t remember any perceived slight.

  159. Oh Kevin! You’re sweet! No, it was my exclamation about the man/woman thing, and I made mention of ‘someone’ who supposedly took the messiness even further and felt no need to have children…that ‘someone’ referred to your comment. So, because of your graciousness, what I’m typing now just got lost in its translation. My conscious bothered me after reading your later posts, so I wanted to apologize.
    Hope that’s a little clearer than mud 🙂

  160. oh, more ‘translation’ Kevin…and I called that ‘someone’ selfish. That was not very kind….

  161. Ultimately, it’s what God says about me that matters in the final analysis. Maybe I am selfish. Maybe I would’ve made wiser investment decisions had I had kids to think about, or had I simply not had time to mess around with a brokerage account every day. A priest sent me a sermon by Nikolai Velimirovich about the Orthodox doctrine of causality. Perhaps our choices affect things in ways that aren’t purely mechanical or linear.

  162. Kevin,
    You have received much support and encouragement already, but I would like to add a couple more (hopefully my sharing how I sold Lulu at $4 cheered you up already – read the life of St. Philaret the Almsgiver, and start praying to him, he is an amazing helper in money troubles, I’m a living proof)

    But I feel like your search for the parish needs to be noted. Hopefully you will find a great one to belong to. But even if not (if it’s not the greatest), I encourage you to remember something I heard from Fr. Thomas Hopko ( if I remember right, his mother told him that):
    “It does not matter who draws water from the well, as long as you get to drink it”.
    I have found those words very helpful in times of “parish” or “priest” difficulties.

    And one more word of encouragement about “dogs and babies” :-):
    I once heard Fr. Meletios Webber (I highly recommend his books and talks, and those of Fr. Tom Hopko, btw, anything you can find) say that when you get closer to God, animals and small children are attracted to you! I already had kids by then (and they were in elementary school, asking for a dog!!!), but I was never a “dog person”. So Father’s comment made me agree. This dog is now a great love of my life, and I love ALL dogs… 🙂


    OCA’s got him. I’m fortunate that my wife appears nowhere near as bitter about the situation as this poor guy’s wife was. It’s almost comical. “Why not give him another bushel?” “May as well give him the bag, too.” “Oh, just give it all to him.” “Throw in the donkey to spite me.” He would’ve been a terrible car salesman. She ended well, though.

  164. Kevin,
    I’d like to send you his icon, maybe let Father Stephen know your address, or just email me at my gmail (below). I’m traveling at the moment, and will keep you and your wife in my prayers (I visit holy places and Saints). I know the pain and anxiety of financial losses… when you run towards God, they loose their potency and miraculously improve.

  165. Agata,
    I appreciate the gesture, but I have to think about that. My wife has never been to a service with me and isn’t exactly in the co-pilot’s seat on this journey at the moment. I have to be really wise about how I introduce things. Icons are rather weird to her and getting one in the mail from someone talking to me online is going to be difficult to explain in a way that doesn’t raise more questions than I care to answer. I suppose introducing a spouse to Orthodoxy is as close as one gets to giving a cat a bath. It can be done, but there are a hundred ways to screw it up.

  166. Kevin,
    My wife did not in the least want to go to liturgy with me. But I kept begging. Finally, she relented. It was a 100+° July day. We get to church and the A.C.
    is broken. She does not wear perfume…essences bother her. Well, with no air circulating, the incense hung thick and strong. I look over at her and she’s getting redder and redder. Liturgy ends (I thought maybe my marriage!). I said to her, “Honey, want to go up and meet the priest?” Her very terse reply, “Dean, get me out of here, get me out of here right now!” We made a speedy exit! But, that was not the end, just a very hot intro. to Orthodoxy. Anyway, we were both chrismated several months later.
    We two can now look back at that 1st liturgy and laugh about it. I think even Christ may have been smiling that day.

  167. Kevin,
    Believe me, I understand better than anybody. Good for you to considering your wife’s feelings. Not all wives are so lucky…
    When you need a financial miracle, remember St. Philaret and pray to him.

  168. Kevin: “I suppose introducing a spouse to Orthodoxy is as close as one gets to giving a cat a bath. It can be done, but there are a hundred ways to screw it up.”

    😆 Oh, I really like your sense of humor!

  169. Kevin,
    I think you owe me! 🙂
    “Best comment of the year” on Fr. Stephen’s blog is an incredible achievement!
    May God guide you to guide your family towards Him, gently, perfectly and surely…

  170. Oh LoL!!
    Yep, Kevin…there’s something about you…!
    Dean…really funny story!

  171. Fr,

    We’ve gone from “If sexual activity is abstracted from the procreation of children, then how does it differ from any other form of sexual activity…” in the article to what seems to be a different set of criteria in the comments, where “in Orthodoxy it is a matter of conscience” and that the [at least seemingly very clear] position of various teachers is “rigid”. I have led a book group before on Fr. Josiah’s book (I passed out about 25 pages of notes and ancillary material (including a lot of teaching from fathers East and West that did not make it into the book), when all was said and done, plus had extra readings assigned for each chapter) and studied this topic fairly extensively, too. St. John Chrysostom, to use that saint as an example teacher, makes a distinction between abortion and [non-abortive] contraception and has what seem to be even harsher things to say about contraception—I am not sure if that is what is being referred to as rigid or not, but he seems to contradict more than a few comments here. The seeming disparity between the two different groups of statements is very hard to reconcile. I wonder if it is also what is behind the modern tendency towards homosexuality and general sexual confusion. We’ve talked in prior threads about how modernity is a “Christian heresy”, but I think it is more than that—it is an Orthodox Christian heresy. And so I think this, too, is rooted in the very confusing, ambivalent attitude we have towards sexuality and our own uncomfortableness we have with our own teaching. What we see around us will not be healed until we can embody the Church’s teaching on marriage.

    That these matters require “good pastoral insight and gentleness” I definitely agree. But does that mean we are adjusting a penance in order the better deal with the sin and heal the person, which also includes protecting the community? Or does it involve changing the definition of sin, so that the person feels better or some such thing? The latter would be actual legalism—a rigidity and focus on the law to the point where the only “forgiveness” comes from actually changing the law, thus once more putting the person back in some sort of legal justification—and does not differ very much from the other call, which was tangentially referenced in this thread, for pastoral gentleness. They may differ in degree, but not in character. I am not sure that you mean to imply the latter, of course, but these are sensitive matters and we need as little obscurity as possible when it comes to Patristic teaching; some of the statements were very difficult for me to parse definitively.

    Back to the main question for me, though, I think we need to be clear about what the purpose of sex is. I don’t just have homosexuality in mind, but even things like adultery. What does marriage, and specifically sex *within a marriage*, do or create or reveal that are not possible in these other relationships, even if they are committed and exclusive? Once we have that, we have a framework for answering the other questions, and maybe any more that arise in the future that we cannot even imagine right now. But if we can’t speak to that question directly, then I think we’re in trouble.

  172. I think we need to be clear about what the purpose of sex is.

    Sex is, I think, the return of woman to man in “one flesh”, the fullness of humanity as originally created by God. Directly linked to this is the creation of life, (with the blessing and) in the image of God. It is a (physical) reflection of the Trinitarian Communion of God which results in life. The understanding of this creative action is a cross to bear; the same self-emptying love and humility of Christ on the Cross is necessary in both the marriage relationship between husband and wife and the life of parenting that results. Like all of our lives, sex is an act that should bring us into the likeness of Christ. Just my thoughts. Please correct as needed.

  173. “What we see around us will not be healed until we can embody the Church’s teaching on marriage.”
    “What does marriage, and specifically sex *within a marriage*, do or create or reveal that are not possible in these other relationships, even if they are committed and exclusive? Once we have that, we have a framework for answering the other questions,….”
    I have a feeling I misunderstand your concern. So I ask, why do you say that sex within marriage is the starting place for all further discussion? Doesn’t it make more sense to go even further back and identify the the dissolution between man and woman and speak to reunification…based on marriage as an icon of Christ and His Bride? Surely there is a transcendence here that we at least need to acknowledge. Then people who do not have, or never had, a spouse can be included in your conversation.
    Just wondering, JBT. We are a diverse group out here….

  174. Joseph,
    Of course, St. John Chrysostom is not the definitive voice – but a very strong voice within the tradition – and quite helpful. I’ve read Fr. Josiah’s dissertation, but probably not the material outside of that.

    What I mean by conscience – applies specifically to the matters described in the statement from the OCA website – that matters of “health or hardship.” Such things require judgments – and, as I said, with the guidance of a confessor, a couple works that out. Not conscience simply as a private matter. But, “how much hardship”? is a salient question. As a confessor, when guiding or directing a soul, you always have to bear in mind how much they can bear, etc. Economy (there is actually no such thing as “akrivia” (strictness) since the entirety of our salvation is a matter of “economy”) is always required in every matter – and wisdom along with it.

    My caveat regarding rigidity is regards the blind application of some sort of strict standard that does not take into account the health or hardship involved. Abortifacients are clearly forbidden. In my experience, there is a variety of approaches towards non-abortifacient means of contraception – everything from those priests who say “absolutely not” to those who say otherwise. What I do not know of, however, is a single bishop within the US who has said “absolutely not.” I’m willing to hear that information, but I am not aware of it. I am aware of voices that would rail at the bishops over this – but I do not judge my bishop nor do I publish criticisms of the bishops on the blog. When I have criticism or problems with a bishop, I speak to them privately and with respect. I know of at least one priest whose rather extreme views (no sex after fertility has ceased) have been outright condemned by more than one bishop.

    I quote specifically from the guidance offered by the Holy Synod of the OCA:

    The procreation of children is to take place in the context of marital union where the father and mother accept the care of the children whom they conceive.

    Married couples may express their love in sexual union without always intending the conception of a child, but only those means of controlling conception within marriage are acceptable which do not harm a fetus already conceived.

    Married couples may use medical means to enhance conception of their common children, but the use of semen or ova other than that of the married couple who both take responsibility for their offspring is forbidden.

    I prefer to write under the guidance of my Holy Synod. Sex within a marriage is well described in Chrysostom, I think, and generally echoed in other Orthodox writings. Again, my caution about rigidity would be to beware of promulgating rules for others if you are not their priest or confessor. Unless you have taken the burden of their soul’s salvation and will stand with them at judgment, then it’s not your place. But, to clarify again, I do not mean the exercise of a purely free conscience as imagined in Protestant thought. We are a community of faith and belong to one another. I hope that explains what you were seeing as a contradiction. If you mean to suggest that the Holy Synod under which I serve is in error, then the argument is with them. I’m only a priest.

  175. JBT, spot on. What you suggest is absolutely correct because sex within a consecrated marriage is the only place the reality of our sexual union can be seen. Therefore it is the only benchmark we have to comprehend what God’s order.

    We have to hear that before we can be obedient. Anything else tends to accept the egalitarianism that all sex is the same.

    Lord, forgive me, a sinner.

  176. What’s the purpose?

    St Paul writes, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For ‘the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.” 1 Cor 6:15-17

    So St Paul goes to the source: the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. Everything comes out of this, does it not? It is a radical statement of unity.

  177. Fr Stephen ,
    I’m very grateful for your wise words and discerning care. I have witnessed a tendency toward glibness and ease to frame these complex issues. We seem to be too ready to go walk heavily on each other’s hearts and souls. I give thanks to God for your reflection at 12:50pm.

  178. Joseph Barabbas Theophorus says:

    “…does it involve changing the definition of sin, so that the person feels better or some such thing? The latter would be actual legalism—a rigidity and focus on the law to the point where the only “forgiveness” comes from actually changing the law, thus once more putting the person back in some sort of legal justification”

    Good point

    “What does marriage, and specifically sex *within a marriage*, do or create or reveal that are not possible in these other relationships, even if they are committed and exclusive? Once we have that, we have a framework for answering the other questions, and maybe any more that arise in the future that we cannot even imagine right now. But if we can’t speak to that question directly, then I think we’re in trouble.”

    My concern is that at the center of what we are as sexually binary creations is a mystery. In an important way you appear to be asking for the same reasoned explanation(s) of those who argue that the Tradition always needs current applicability to the changing cultural situation and that we do this through open/respectful/compassionate dialogue and listening. That sounds reasonable but I don’t think it actually works that way. The Gospel narrative itself is much more conflicted – full of people, even those closest to Jesus, who simply did not get it. Nobody ever “dialogued” their way to Him! Rather, they suffered their way to Him.

    So “speaking directly” to that question assumes something that I don’t think we have, namely a mystery that somehow opens up by integrating it with (what are in fact modern) forms of questioning and answers as it will our anxiety, to say nothing of the wonderings of modern selves who are outside of Christianity.

  179. Father, I couldn’t read all of the comments, forgive me, as I think the subject you address is important to all of us. I am not disturbed that there are, at least as far as I could read, a variety of good questions and answers to be found here by assuredly people of good conscience answering your post in the best way they could. If I repeat, forgive that as well.

    I love the Orthodox marriage service and its reliance on Biblical examples in the hymns that accompany it. I am however remembering that in Matthew’s Gospel, the first chapter where he gives the ‘family tree’ of our Lord, he passes over the name of Bathsheba, calling her ‘the wife of Uriah’ – and that is sufficient to tell about her. He makes no other comment. She is, and was, and her place is left almost unspoken, but spoken just so far.

    This to me is how our faith handles such matters. I went and read Metropolitan Kallistos’ presentation, and I find his arguments there match how I think about the subject. I cannot go into anyone’s bedroom, and I do not wish to be their judge. Were I to ask what happens there – how could I? God will judge.

    We can point out the beauties of the faith, and one is the mysteries encountered by our humanity, our true humanity, in that nothing we suppose about one another is the entire substance of our holy encounter with God. I think that is what Metropolitan Kallistos is saying. As with the wife of Uriah, before such a mystery as that our Lord took on flesh from her human line, the rest can be a loving silence.

    Our Father’s house has many mansions.

  180. Fr. Stephen,

    Thanks for your reply. We are already in a complex situation because of the varying voices, including from bishops, but I did not mean to make that the focal point in and of itself nor suggest we jettison obedience. Indeed, I can recall situations where where I was asked to go against the bishop. I refused, at great cost to myself. So I understand, and that is not what I was intending to bring up.

    Rather, I really am, as I mentioned, looking for a framework. A model may be a better word. Some of the ancillary points I brought up where the highlight just how difficult a situation we have—and continue to put people in—when we don’t have a model that we can look to. The Fathers do not do theology “in a vacuum”, but they have some kind of vision and speak from that. Their teachings may not necessarily reveal the model directly, but it is clear they have the same vision, the same thing in mind when they are able to look at an issue from multiple angles and [seemingly] so easily come up with the correct rule, or teaching, or just general word across time and place and be in agreement with each other. For one reason or another, I don’t think too many Fathers talked about marriage in these terms—I don’t think they particularly needed to. The works and statements I have read do not really give such a model, either. Thus, it becomes exceedingly difficult to speak on the subject, a lot of contradictory statements result, and people who are not ready to just accept the teaching of the bishop (Orthodox or not) that come to me with these questions need something more substantial. Again, I have not seen that written down anywhere; at most, I’ve seen some slightly-modified Protestant positions that do not really link to or flow from Christology but rather a peculiar, literal reading of Genesis. Hence, my questions and a brief note about how damaging our inability to clearly communicate some model has been.

    Christopher E,

    I think that the knowledge of God is indeed bound up with suffering. But I don’t that that means we cannot or should not dig deeper into these questions. Mysteries do not necessarily have some quick, easy answer, but they do serve to draw us in. I think of The Fathers at the first two Ecumenical Councils. Instead of merely leaving us with a list of teachings that needed to be condemned, they gave us The Creed, a model that we can use—and have used very well—to fight heresies that were not even imagined at the time. And because it is a mystery itself, it also has a depth to it that allows theologizing. That is due to a lot of reasons, including inspiration from The Holy Spirit and the fact that it springs forth from and references a larger Tradition—it is not just a collection of detached statements but a rather detailed vision of The Truth. I was asking for something, as far as we are able, that would do the same for marriage. Right now, we seem to have two models which are not really compatible: we have one model (which I noted seems, at least, to be the understanding of many Fathers) which underlies our hymnography and canons and our position regarding what relationships are acceptable and then we have a second model (which is very popular today and may be compatible with some of the canons and hymnography) which seems to be very gentle but, if accepted “as is”, really blows the idea of limiting marriage to man and woman out of the water. I am not saying it is impossible to have a model that somehow allows us to uphold the traditional Patristic teachings yet also reveals the proper place for more sexuality within a marriage, only that I have never seen any model that reconciles the two. Hence the question. What we have been doing is switching between the two rapidly depending on what we want to do/teach/permit. And when people see that kind of thing, it causes immense damage. At least one of the models is wrong; I am open to there being a third possibility, too, but that is the question I was asking.

  181. JBT,
    I understand you thoughts viz. “models.” I am uncertain that a model is sufficient to the mystery. Too often, a model can degenerate into a syllogism, resulting in a scholasticism that does not serve us well. No doubt, there can and should be a model – finding it well-expressed and compelling is worth our efforts.

  182. Hi again Fr Stephen and JBT,

    I don’t have the understanding that the two you do, nor the experience, nor do I know all the contemporary sources to which you refer. But I would like to say that when we speak about Church history and the Fathers (and Mothers, if you will), we are talking about a deeply dynamic history. The Councils were necessary because of the dynamism and debate that was always ongoing. And we have saints and great Fathers who nevertheless held positions still not accepted in the length of history. It’s that dynamism that exists even as we are held together that is part and parcel of mystery and communion. Never has the ongoing creativity of holiness constituted a collective or an abstract, but that communion of persons in which holiness seems only to expand variety and uniqueness even within the depth of truth. Paradox and mystery and beauty! Treasury of blessings and giver of life abundantly indeed.

  183. JBT,
    I always appreciate your comments.
    I should think that this ‘model’ exists and is known by the saints, but hasn’t been articulated with the clarity that something like the Creed was. The monastic life (in its coenobitic, sketian and anchorite variants), being far more unmitigated, seems to have had a slightly greater clarity in its ‘model’s’ descriptions (and rules), plus numerous “benchmarks” in the many lives of saints that came from it.
    One difficulty in stipulating married life’s perfect model is therefore its (unsurprisingly) far less absolute path of life.
    Another, is that saints from married backgrounds have appeared to be sanctified neither because of marriage, neither despite of marriage, but because of their faith, humility, patience, longsuffering, hospitality etc in the general circumstances of life. [In monasticism many have been presented as sanctified because of monasticism per se] However, these married saints still sometimes modelled sanctity precisely as husbands, wives and parents, rather than despite this, (or as celibates, although, to complicate things, many finally ‘achieved’ celibacy too). It’s also a tricky thing to consider the, sometimes, ‘concessionary character’ of blessed marriage (1Corithians 7:6) and how appropriate virtues –despite its occasional “hindrance” (1 Corinthians 7:28) to certain spiritual accomplishments– sanctify those that come from its path, while virtues of a different sort might sanctify coenobites and others still hesychasts.
    However, there is a sense that no matter where you find yourself, you can be holly or evil with what you have at hand, and that can easily be articulated as simply ‘keeping the commandments’.
    Furthermore, we need to consider the times: blessed marriage in modernity, for instance, can soon be a more ascetic life (relatively) [eg: for certain persons from a previously deeply Church-less background], than coenobitic life might have been in the 6th century for a person from a traditional believing farmer’s background.

  184. Dino,
    the subject of sexual relations as it has been discussed through our Church’s history, has always been a challenge to me (and I suspect others). A friend sent me this comment by Fr Seraphim Aldea (the question and answer at about 57 min.)

    When the monk was asked about marital relations, he began his answer with, “well, first of all, why would you ask a monastic?”

    The vast majority of the Church’s writings have naturally been by (and often for ) monastics. Why should I not allow that this would colour the nature of the discussion of sexuality? For a monastic, sexual desire could only be a temptation. But chastity for my wife and I means unto our united “one flesh”. It is a mystery expressive of Christ and His Bride; it is life-creating in it unity; it is also pleasurable (and should be so). All of this is from our Tradition, too.

    In the very first conversation I ever had with the monk who would become my spiritual father, he said, “There is no question there are far more Saints who lived the married life. But those known to us are more often monastics. This is a good thing too, because the Christian life is an extreme life, and the monastic path witnesses to this.”
    But that extreme- and the theosis that is the only goal of the Christian life for monk or married, and made possible equally to both- will look very different for married people.
    While celibacy between husband and wife might be mutually chosen for various beneficial reasons, it has I think been valued too highly and too exclusively in the history of our Church.

    I agree with JBT that we as a Church have not spoken clearly and consistently on Marriage, sexuality, and gender. I agree that this leads to confusion, and often reactive, insensitive, inappropriate defenses of male priesthood, the meaning of feminine in our Divine image, and why, exactly, homosexuality is not helpful.

    I dont know just what theosis in a married couple looks like: I love the beautiful icon of Christ’s grandparents Joachim and Anna, and the warmth of their marital love and the birth of the Theotokos in this.
    I haven’t read Fr John Behr’s book you mentioned but that his position is a minority one and out of step with the majority of ascetics is encouraging to me! Fr John is married so apt to see and understand some things that monks have trouble seeing clearly. And the Tradition is not in “majority opinion” but in the fullness of the gospel. The Church has a historical and cultural road that needs to be taken into account, and for reasons just barely touched on here this includes a “bias toward celibacy” that may not be Holy Tradition per se. A similar careful discernment of the Tradition, amidst misleading historical writings, is needed to understand how and why slavery is (and always has been) actually not consistent with the Kingdom and therefor is not ‘taught’ by Holy Tradition.

    -Mark Basil

  185. I forgot to include this nugget sent to me by a friend:
    From St Maximos’s Ambigua [looking at Moses and Elijah]:
    “Or again, the disciples learned that the mysteries of marriage and celibacy stand equally next to the Word, insofar as marriage did not impede Moses from becoming a lover of the Divine glory, whereas Elijah remained completely free of any marital bond, for the Word of God proclaims that He mystically adopts as His sons those who live in either of these ways through reason and in accordance with the divinely established laws concerning them.”

    Marriage “stands equally” next to the Word, when it is in accordance with God’s law. Lawful marriage in no way precludes sexual relations for the whole duration of the married life.

    -Mark Basil

  186. JBT says,

    “a second model …. which seems to be very gentle but, if accepted “as is”, really blows the idea of limiting marriage to man and woman out of the water. I am not saying it is impossible to have a model that somehow allows us to uphold the traditional Patristic teachings yet also reveals the proper place for more sexuality within a marriage, only that I have never seen any model that reconciles the two….”

    I do hear what your saying JBT. Since I recommend Fr. John Behr’s way of thinking about this and Paula AZ linked an essay on it allow me to make a suggestion of a possible “reconciliation” of the two models. Your right, in that the iteration of the second model would appear to suffer the weakness you describe: replace “male and female” with “male and male” in the sacramental/martyric action in this present life of “grey area” as he calls it, and it does not *seem* to make a lick of difference. Inject merely “natural” procreation and are you left with a morality/argument merely from nature that would seem to be unnecessary to the logic of Fr. John’s theology? Is not the seeming distance between these two models not the very complaint of those who say we (i.e. the Church) don’t really have any synthesized “dogma”/theology with which to answer the questions of the day?

    My suggestion is to look carefully at this last claim through the lens of Fr. Stephen’s “talking fish” analogy. In my opinion, this latter claim comes not from the content of the normative moral tradition and anthropology of our male/female createdness – not even in Fr. John Behr’s logic. Rather this claim is a “reflection” if you will of the lens through which they look at the question, this modern “abstraction of fundamental human practices” as Fr. Stephen puts it. Using Fr. John’s framing, replace “human” with “male and female” and you are still arrive at the same place – an abstraction that bends the light such that it skews the image.

    My point is that at the end of the day the two models are not that far apart. Yes, model one suffers from the abstraction of an argument “from nature.” Model two suffers from a seeming abstraction from nature itself (thus leading to what appears to be its agnosticism towards the traditional male/female sacramental life). The problem with both is language and its limited ability to circumscribe the enormity of the givenness of our bodies and spirits in a created male/female humanity that begins in the mind of God and ends in the Eschaton.

    In other words, the trick is to hold both models together and work not inward in a destructive way – aiming our discursive reason at the Tradition in such a way that one is in fact looking to shape it with the modern lens discussed above (this is what certain modern reformers would have us do). Rather we have to take the Tradition (i.e. these two models) and work outward toward the world and the modern situation. I have no doubt this is what you did in your class.

    I pray that my words here are not too impenetrable! 😉

  187. Dino wrote;
    “Another, is that saints from married backgrounds have appeared to be sanctified neither because of marriage, neither despite of marriage, but because of their faith, humility, patience, longsuffering, hospitality etc in the general circumstances of life..”

    Bingo, if I may say so. I think one will find that a focus on these traditional virtues is a true test of marriage. It wd be better to focus on this as substance. The gender focus (in any position on the subject) IMO too easily leaves out these virtues from the substance of marriage.

  188. Mark Basil, Janine et al,
    I think that a vital difference between marriage and monasticism [missing from Fr John Behr’s thesis] is that, while humans are ‘completed’ through martyrdom [which I find to be the best-made point in his homilies] –which is encountered in both paths (in all paths if you like)– leading to the one end of Theosis;
    marriage is initially chosen through some desire for (carnal) pleasure (and martyrdom follows somewhat unwillingly),
    whereas monasticism is chosen (perhaps I should clarify: ought to be chosen) through a desire for martyrdom, and (spiritual) pleasure follows.

  189. Fr. Lawrence Farley’s wrote a blog post on Metropolitan Ware’s introduction and, I think, he hit the nail on the head by pointing out that the focus should be on repentance, not sin. From his article (found at :

    The whole issue of absolution and access to the Chalice revolves entirely upon the issue of whether or not the sinner is repentant and resolves to change. Their success in effecting change does not determine whether or not absolution is given—solely their sincere repentance and resolve. It is the same with a heterosexual with a porn addiction. If the person repents and resolves to refrain from using porn, he is absolved. Future failures do not mean that future absolution cannot be given, so long as the repentances are genuine and the resolve to change is sincere. Addiction is hard to break, and so patience and perseverance are required. It is quite different if the person addicted to porn tells the priest that he refuses to repent and refuses a resolve to avoid pornography. If that person said (in the words the Metropolitan places in the mouth of the faithfully monogamous homosexual), “I am not yet ready to undertake that”—whether the “that” is an avoidance of pornography or homosexual practice—then of course no absolution or communion are possible. There is no injustice or harsh treatment in either case.

    I tend to think the Church has spoken concerning marriage in a manner that is consistently neither modern nor consistent with modern ideas. The problem becomes one of shoehorning modern ideas into the mystery of the sacramental marriage communion. As Fr. Freeman has pointed out in the past, the teachings of our faith are “spun from whole cloth”; they do not stand independent of one another but all together bring us into closer communion with God. Looking for a “model” may bring us to a level of compartmental-ism that is anathema to the Gospel.

    That said, I believe the “model” ( to use the term in the current conversation) of marriage is founded upon humility and repentance before God, the same as all models of asceticism, and that we should always begin with that. Just my thoughts.

  190. Dino,

    I don’t follow your last post. Can marriage not be chosen for martyrdom too? Out of a desire to serve one’s betrothed and future children? That marriage requires a (much) less strict ascetic rule for chastity does not seem to imply that it ought to be chosen out of carnal desire.

  191. Adam, Dino,
    I’m with Adam on this one. Particularly in today’s culture – who needs to get married to copulate? Those choosing marriage (particularly in the Church) often have a fairly clear image of the ascetic nature of their undertaking. They certainly do when they have finished their premarital counseling with me! 🙂

  192. Father, Adam N,
    It’s worth noting however that even before the official establishment of monasticism, St Paul exclaims the same:
    “An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs-how he can be liked [this is the right translation] by the Lord.
    But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world-how he can be liked [this is the right translation] by his wife.

    I also don’t think that – given the choice of the two paths to one and the same person – we can compare the martyric motives of monastic consecration to marriage. Who chooses the second instead of the first because they are after martyrdom and not after pleasure?

    Of course our “times” are indeed an issue to take into account, as I mentioned earlier on.

  193. Dino,

    Yes St. Paul said that – but then some have believed (and maybe this is just a “modern” supposition) that the “thorn” in St. Paul’s side was his wife 😉

    Many (most?) of the Apostles were married, and monasticism did not exist in the Church in the first century’s of its life. Is monasticism a later revelation of greater path amongst lessor paths of marriage, widowhood, and virginity? As a practical observation in the early Church martyrdom by execution from the state came from all these groups.

    In my mind your argument hinges on your initial assertion of a ranking of desire and the will. Yet, we know that the absence of God and the hole in our heart is a melancholy experience (indeed a desperate one) that drives us to God. We also know that the joy in carnal desire is fleeting and fickle, leading only to a suffering that drives us on to the next fleeting satisfaction. We also know that there is a real joy in agape love for *both* God and neighbor.

    I even think Fr. John’s thesis of marriage being a martyrdom “in adam” might support your thesis because I suppose the monastic life could be thought of as couched in a kind of purity of the will – but can it really? Are not ALL of us born and take up the Cross of our martyrdom in adam?

    Perhaps Fr. Stephen can say something about the “givenness” of all this, the humble part our will actually plays.

  194. Father… forgive me for being so forward, but why did you take down your last post? I wish I had made a copy of it! I trust your judgement though. Yet I do not think you misspoke…

    Dino…always, thank you. I believe you speak in general terms about the difference between marriage and monasticism, right? I reference here “marriage is initially chosen through some desire for (carnal) pleasure (and martyrdom follows somewhat unwillingly)”. Maybe this is the case for most, but not all who enter marriage? To make a statement “between” two things one must draw a sharp delineation, which may or may not include all cases.
    Also, I think you believe that celibacy is the “better” of the two, and the choice of marriage a “God given” expedience ?

    Byron…”the teachings of our faith are “spun from whole cloth”….. Looking for a “model” may bring us to a level of compartmental-ism… I believe the “model”.. of marriage is founded upon humility and repentance before God..” Yes, well said!

    Some thoughts of my own:
    This has been a most interesting week…an invaluable learning experience to be part of the “workings” and “ways” things (issues, dialogue, efforts to remain true to the faith…) take place in Orthodoxy. I am very thankful that I am even given the opportunity to speak (which I do not shy away from!), being fairly new here. Many times I cringe at my comments…either said in haste or lacking full understanding of the topic. The welcome I receive despite being “new” contributes immensely to establishing my place in the Church, together with, not separate from, all. I can only say with heartfelt thanks, Thank You!
    As for this current thread which began with JBT’s comment (which I totally missed the point!), Father mentioned (in the comment you removed, Father!) that procreation is inseparable from the ultimate purpose of marriage (union of male and female)…yes, Father? After reading the comments, I spent the entire night “searching”. It was a good venture. Reading Father’s response, one of the first things that came to mind was St. Paul’s words “Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing..” 1 Tim 2;15. I thought, ‘there is something to this’…and proceeded to come across an article by Fr. Josiah that referenced this verse, which led to other articles on the subject of marriage written by him. It finally dawned on me that this is “the” Fr. Josiah that JBT and Father mentioned in the earlier posts…and that is when I finally understood JBT’s thoughts about “sex in marriage”. With all due respect to Fr. Josiah, I say this: Father Stephen, you said when you counsel married or singles, you guide them slowly by discerning what they “could bear”. Regarding Fr. Josiah’s teachings on what is and what is not allowed in “sex in marriage”, I totally see the wisdom of your approach. And your words regarding alternate lifestyles at odds with the purpose of marriage and procreation were most helpful.

    I think I’ve said enough for now…sorry this is so long. I am very grateful to all of you whom I learn from. Father, 70×7, thank you.

  195. Paula AZ,
    I never actually believed the superiority of monasticism over marriage until I discovered it through experience and saw it so clearly spoken of in the Fathers and Mothers of the Church. Read ‘on virginity’ by Chrysostom for instance, who says their difference is that of the earth and the heavens, all the time managing to retain the notion of Marriage’s holiness.
    Practically, however, the first one is elected for undistracted, continuous, exclusive focus upon the Lord alone, (an unnatural life if you like – or rather – a supernatural life) and the other is the blessing of this ‘natural life’, albeit, with its infinite distractions. Even though marriage somehow, really does bless some ‘distractions’ into blessings, they remain distractions for their greater part.
    The -often far greater than monastic’s- spiritual struggle against distractions, in order to retain our Godwards life ‘in the world’ is unavoidable. The “exclusive life” (a good term to keep things understandable rightly) also can have unbearable distractions in the form of thoughts (to start off with especially), but conventionally, it progresses to a different spiritual struggle (often unknown to those in the world): the struggle to go deeper into God, a God one has come to know personally as His consecrated disciple that can do nothing other than be His, (and not just the worldly struggle against the things that are distracting us from trying to, first stand before Him in order to get to know Him, and then do the rest which we cannot just ignore as we are not consecrated in the exclusive sense of monastics).
    I find that the most practical difference of all, of course, is the daily schedule, ie: that the first life has from (a typical bare minimum of) one and a half, to seven hours of nighttime exclusivity with the Lord (!) along with daily support to this from one who has trodden the path, and daily services all your life, while the other doesn’t. All talk that comes from one who hasn’t first hand knowledge of the effect of at least this on a human person, is inevitably speculative.

  196. Thanks Dino. I understand what you are saying here.
    Since my comment above there is a new post by Father today and even more comments to tread through. Again, I do not doubt your words, as you say you have first hand experience and can better judge/discern the differences between marriage and monasticism. So now, with much thought, I can at least acknowledge those differences. And either way, we are all called to martyrdom. Yet, like Father said in today’s new post, most of us have to work with what we are given…we are not left with much of a choice. If you are in the Church, it’s either marriage or celibacy, and that with a lot of guidance. I think one of the reasons it takes me so long to comprehend these things is that I have always been single and most of my adult life was exclusively worldly. So I can only imagine and I try to understand the sacrament of marriage. I seek this understanding from many angles…from our discussions here, to reading about the Saints (ex. St. Maximus), to the wonders of the Theotokos, and of coarse the Supreme Reality of The Lord Jesus…all to grasp the reality of “being human”. It’s a lot to take in…but I can’t do without it! I don’t want to! So thank you again Dino. Your words do not fall on dear ears!

  197. Everybody,
    In the current social climate of marriage as some kind of “acquisition,” and even personal identity derived entirely from passion, marriage as sacrament, and self-emptying or theosis in any form is deeply radical, and filled with otherwise missing meaning. Even to see children as a blessing ( and not an acquisition in some sense) is possibly missing.

  198. Mark Basil,
    Thank you so much for your comments. I have been impressed by Fr Seraphim’s humility and generosity. I note that it seems some people think chasity ends with the marriage vows. This appears to be a Protestant theological problem that apparently has been taken up by some Orthodox.

    I recall (but their name escapes me) noteworthy Saint(s) who as monastic(s) are humble and truthful about their ‘status’ and demonstrate in their words that despite their supposed ‘chastity’ they declare themselves ‘non-virgins’.

    And I note that saints tend to be born in marriages and not mushrooms.

    Last, regarding ‘fasts’ I personally find it easier to fast completely from food rather than certain items or to restrict to a few light meals. That is I actually find it easier to follow a so called ‘hard simple rule’ rather than a less simple rule. The later requires of me actually more constraint and greater reliance on God.

    As you point out Mark, have we actually tallied up all the saints to say definitely who and what walk of life they have lived? To suggest that we have tallied them up is indeed hubris, with which I’m uncomfortable to hear among Orthodox.

    Last, to be honest I really don’t know how my own marriage has lasted 30 years with love intact. It is Gods work and a mystery to me. I don’t think I’m qualified to talk about God’s mysteries. But I’m very grateful and completely believe it has been an integral part of my salvation.

  199. I find, from reading the comments, that we are finally coming to the point of recognizing (or have reached it) that both marriage and monasticism require great asceticism. It seems, the idea of one being better than the other has largely dissolved in the conversation, which is a good thing (that said, I realize there is no consensus; just a recognition that both require much). They should really never be pitted against each other; we do not know our brother’s or sister’s passions and what drives/drove them to one or the other.

    Dino’s post on the different “distractions” of each and the “different spiritual struggles” required of each is probably one of the clearest I’ve read on the matter. It reminds me that Orthodoxy is experiential. “Come and see”,..indeed!

  200. Byron,
    There is no point in the two paths being pitted against each other just for the sake of it. Yet, there are those finding themselves weighing the pros and cons because they are in a position (and a time of their lives) that inclines towards either or both paths. That’s whom this can be useful for. One could, of course, argue that anyone who is still wondering whether they should follow the “exclusive life” might probably be better off not following it, but that’s beside the point. The stifling of the Church’s monastic call can be as criminal as the silencing of Her call to repentance.

    An often overlooked detail is that being ‘in the world’ is never quite chosen -it’s the default state- while renouncing it is indeed a radical decision. (It’s why novices who do not proceed any further might find the question of “why did you decide to go to the world after all this time?” unfounded: They never actually decided to be laypersons – they simply remained lay persons. They do choose a person to marry of course…)

  201. I didn’t know monastics were not in the world. All of us are called to be not “of” the world.

  202. Dee
    Monastic “flee the world and all its affairs” both internally as well as externally. When someone is forced to “go out to the world” for some reason from Mount Athos for example, this is how they phrase it.

  203. Dee of St Herman’s
    I’ll give an example to demonstrate the enormity of the consequence of not being in the world (as well as not being “of” the world):
    Imagine some people who work in a tannery. They eventually become immune to the unbearable stench and practically unaware of it (People in the world and of the world are represented by these). Now, imagine a person who works there but is always shielding themselves from the filth, wearing masks etc. They have a greater awareness of the stench and struggle against it (One being not of the world but in the world is represented here). Now imagine bringing a person from out in the fragrant fields in…! Their pure awareness of the stench would be more than visceral, and in fact, inconceivable for even the guarded worker. (That’s a person that is ‘out of the world’)
    Even 18 days away would make a worker from the tannery more sensitive to the stench, imagine 18 months or 18 years…!
    Even a lax monastic in Athos for example would conventionally have no worldly news, no opposite sex encounters, no sounds, sights, tastes or smells of the city and the list goes on… But this goes beyond just the “City versus nature” effect (which obviously makes a great difference too).

  204. Dee, Dino,
    I have observed in the current conversations on the blog a peculiar thing. The few people who are single seem to have less of a problem understanding the vast difference in the solitary life of monasticism. That being for obvious reasons.
    I do not think Dino misspeaks by bringing out the difference between married life as a Christian, living in the world but not of it, and monasticism which is living not in the world period. There is a vast difference.
    Dee, you’ve been married for 30 years…that’s a heck of a long time. I’ve been single all my life. I don’t know what it’s like to be married. I certainly can not comment on married life, as I have not the experience. In this respect I can relate, in a small way, to the solitary life of monasticism. As a single person, it is more familiar to me than all the discussion on married life and children we encounter. The focus is demanding and strong. I’m trying to understand all this. It has been said here by someone that marriage between a man and a woman is the path to union with Christ. If that is true, where does that leave those who never marry? Something more needs to be said. To find such a discussion is sometimes like trying to find a needle in a haystack.
    I guess what I am saying, Dee, is I sense you are pushing against what Dino has to say here. Correct me where I am wrong. I have noted Father’s wish, on the post following this one, to avoid discussion about monasticism vs marriage. He says it is not helpful for the current discussion about marriage. I understand. I am also thankful that Father is allowing comments to continue on this post.
    I am still trying to figure out a lot of things about life. I’m just glad to have someone who I can relate to (Dino’s comments) on this particular topic.
    I sense a distance between the married and singles. I have a feeling this is a personal projection because I know I distance myself (I get close, but there’s a point where I do not go further), and that is not good. I hope you understand what I’m trying to say.

  205. Paula, AZ,
    Paula, of course the married life is only A possible path to union with Christ. Christ says there are eunuchs (celebates?) who have made themselves so for the kingdom of God. You have studied the Bible. You know the passages in which Paul says it is better to remain unmarried…one thus has one devotion, (a person is not distracted with the needs of a spouse/children), and that to Christ. I cannot imagine life single, and you can’t imagine marriage and children. Well, that’s okay. In many ways, by yourself on the farm, you can better give yourself to wholehearted devotion to our Lord Jesus. There are several women in their 40’s and 50’s who frequent the monastery. They basically live as nuns in the world, though they hold down a job. They are like Mary at Jesus’ feet who have chosen the better portion.

  206. Thanks Dean. Really.
    The passage by Paul about it being better to remain unmarried…
    I know it by heart 😉 !
    Yes, you are right, I can give Christ my wholehearted devotion. Although I am uncomfortable assessing myself in such a way (it seems too self absorbing…hard to explain…) I think that is what I pretty much do. Interesting what you said about the women who basically live as nuns in the world. I would love to meet them.

    The difficult part for me is relationships… and relating when in a group. It is a peculiar “place” that I must live with and come to peace with. Dean, believe me, I am slowly, by the grace of God, doing that. I was a total mess in my earlier years…not too long ago really.
    But thank you…you are very kind.
    And, by God, one of these days I have to get over to that Serbian Monastery, St. Paisius’ ! I know it will be a blessing!

  207. Re: St. Paul
    It is of note that St. Paul’s caveat about marriage, that a married man has to take thought how to “please his wife,” does not say that the married man has to take thought for how to please himself. He only means that it could be a distraction. I think that earlier in the conversation it was treated as if he were saying the former rather than the latter. Anyone who gets married for “pleasure” is in for a rude awakening, and rather quickly, I would think. That sort of selfish take on things belongs to the rake and not a married man.

    2 cents.

  208. Paula,
    I have no doubt at all about the sanctity and holiness of a life lived as a single or as a celibate, whether in community (in a monastery) or as a hermit.

    If you see a “tone” in my writing, it is that I refuse to exalt Orthodox one life way over another. In this regard, I refer to Christ’s words when a couple of His apostles attempted to persuade Him to designate themselves to be at the “right-hand” of Christ in heaven. His response was to say that their respective “positions” (if it should be called that) will be determined by God, the Father. Although Christ is God, He apparently defers the attention away from the behavior of these self assignments. There is ‘mystery’ regarding what our situation is in the world to come, rather than something we can figure out or hold as some sort of hierarchy in heaven or on earth. The hierarchy that we know of in the Church is in the line of priests, bishops and higher clergy.

    Fr Stephen suggests to not engage in comparisons as it isn’t particularly helpful and I completely agree. It may be that you want to explore these meanings for your life, however, and that to me is completely understandable. Fr Stephen has mentioned that the question “how am I doing” as not a particularly helpful question, because it leads to comparisons that can cripple. Rather it is better to say, “I am doing”.

  209. Father…thanks for the clarification. Hate to say it but I think many people do get married for the pleasure and to avoid living alone. So ok, the conversation earlier about marriage being the path to union with Christ is in the self sacrificing.
    Thank you…more than two cents, Father!

  210. Dee,
    Thanks much for explaining yourself.
    I do not know how Dino could avoid favoring one position over another when it is his evaluation of the two, and that is through personal experience.
    You are correct, I do want to explore the meanings for my life. Somehow I don’t think I’m the only one reading this blog that wants to do so. For that reason I say the comparisons are helpful….to a point. I get that.
    As for “how I am doing” not being helpful…I did allude to that rather clumsily to my response to Dean!

  211. Father, Paula,
    There’s selfishness and selfnessness motivating both decisions usually.
    But one can only look at that -as I tried to explain earlier – by looking at one individual weighing the 2 options. Forgive me using an explicit example for clarity – perhaps the most common type of this dilemma…:
    Say, for example that I am a person in their early twenties that has repented from promiscuous teenage years and genuinely seek a path that is God pleasing (while inevitably seeking to accomodate my still-lingering self as well). Do I choose the life of deprivation and complete renunciation as a Great Schema monk? ( I am in trepidation of the solemnity of such a life and the rarity of others succesful in it is worrying yet I also want the spiritual pleasures of it…) it’s a mixed afair and will only be revealed later and requires mad courage to decide… but so does marriage to a smaller degree… Do I instead choose marrying that beautiful girl that I cannot get my mind off? ( I am a little worried of this commitment too but it’s so much easier as I know what sleeping with a beatiful woman should be and i am not now concerned about how in future being with the same woman might change, while sleeping as a hermit – though i know there’s such great promise in the spiritual delights – worries me considering it for a whole lifetime, it might be too much to keep to at times and breaking that vow seems a greater sin than breaking the other, I need a permanence that will be viable.)
    So based on that most common form that this dilemma normally takes I repeat that saying I was once told that marriage starts off as pleasure seeking or else nobody would get married whereas monasticism starts off as a crazy heroic decision to a far greater degree. Both end up cruciform though… what goes on later on in the hands of the Good God is what will mature the believer in either calling.

  212. Incidentally something that’s almost laughable yet quite telling is that young children that are related to monasteries and vistit often (with more possibilities of considering the said dilemma) are sometimes disuaded by the wearing of a cassock for life. The comfort of the known atire becomes the factor…

  213. Interesting Dino.
    You couldn’t have been more clear in your examples. Thank you.

  214. I find it interesting that I read, just yesterday, of a person who wore different uniforms (as he put it) out in public to see the affect on others. One “uniform” he wore was a cassock. He said wearing a cassock brought to him the greatest sense of responsibility and the greatest reactions from the people around him, especially the homeless and poor. He was literally exhausted by it and didn’t ever want to wear it again by the end of his experiment!

    There may a sense of this in those who are concerned with wearing a cassock for life. The responsibility implied and received in the eyes of others may create quite a burden for someone so young.

  215. And monastics unlike a married priest are practically NEVER taking them off.
    I have heard that despite the immense gravity of the vows to no possessions, no family contact, chastity, obedience unto death, etc. the catalyst (for those who never saw themselves as also a priest perhaps, especially those from a secular background ) that scares them off most is the wearing of the cassock .

  216. Byron,
    It may be presumptuous make assumptions about the reactions of others, and what they specifically react to. I make this cautionary statement from experience, as well. I understand this due in part to my experience as an unlikely person who obtained an unexpected level in this society. But also, I’ve avoiding speaking about 13 years of my life on this blog for personal and for possibly good reasons. For example, it is presumptuous to judge who and what I am on the basis of the 30 years of my life in marriage, to presume that I didn’t have many years in a state that would be ascribed as very ascetic complete with living away from society, in a place far away from people, where culture and people were inaccessible, and with wearing clothing that would ‘tell a story’ of a life apart. I believe quick attributions are too easy, and personally, I do my best to avoid ‘judging’ the state of others or of myself.

    Indeed a black cassock can mean ‘religious’ to people, put I note that the type of apparel are worn by many who are married (Hassidim and some Christian groups among others) as well as celibate.

  217. Please forgive me Father, if what I say next appears too terse, and remove as you see fit.
    But it seems easy for us to forget we are ‘talking fish’.

  218. And having said what I said above, about those 13 years– I can imagine there might be thoughts among the readers of a life lived in some sort of servitude to drink or drug or sex. None of that describes that life I lived.

  219. I wear my cassock a lot of the time – always in the parish – and much of the time when I’m out and around. I will say that, to a certain extent, the cassock serves as an outward and visible mark of the priest as sacrament. When I’m in a cassock, I am identifiably a priest, and, no matter what I do, it is a priest who is seen to be doing it.

    I try to behave the same way when I’m not in my cassock. Theoretically, this is true of all Christians, all of the time. But a priest endures what every person in a uniform endures – the uniform is what is seen first and the person second (if at all).

    I’ve been physically attacked, verbally abused, spat on, etc., because of the cassock – most of the time being mistaken for a Catholic priest. 🙂

    I’ve been verbally ridiculed by someone who thought I was a Jew – this was late at night in the local Walmart – and not very surprising.

    On the other hand, none of this is even slightly noticeable when compared to someone who walks around with dark skin. Priests rarely have to deal with being harassed by the police.

  220. Dee,

    I only related the conclusions that were in the article. The rest was an observation which, as I noted, may impact a person considering monastic life. I am certain there are many reasons people choose or avoid a monastic (or married) life. I did not mean to presume on anyone, only to add an angle to the conversation that had not yet been mentioned (aside from Dino’s reference, to which I replied). Please forgive me if I stated it poorly.

  221. Dino;
    I have come back online and will add another comment I guess, but this should be my last.
    Some of what concerns me about the perspective you are sharing- and I believe it is the mainstream pious Orthodox perspective today at least- is that it seems ignorant of the heart. You have characterized a decision for marriage as, at some level, pleasure seeking. You have characterized the choice for monasticism as at some level, heroic. I simply disagree.
    There are complex layers to our will, our passions, our motivations. We do not even know the mystery of our *own* hearts. In an Orthodox culture where monasticism is praised and elevated, then the ‘heroism’ can be tainted- by hidden pride among other elements. Conversely in the same culture, to humbly and soberly devote oneself to married life, to serve wife (as neighbour=christ) and child (as neighbour=christ), instead of one’s own needs, etc. This is heroism. There can be great desire for the “clarity” of outward “single-mindedness” that you (Orthodox-popularily) attribute to monasticism.

    I think you make an error to see the monks as the ones “out of the world” while marrieds are “in” it. This error runs through our own Orthodox cultural phrasology; something that is unfortunate. (Again I repeat: Our Church’s history has culture that ‘colours’ it; we must discern the pure stream amidst brackish waters). I as a married man must *not* be of the world, though I am in it. A monk must (through his body’s limits; his nurture and nature; his work for survival, etc. etc.) must concede he is indeed very much still *in* the world, though striving not to be of it.
    As a “heuristic” I can accept the language of monks “leaving the world” but this is sub-ideal language and misleading.

    Further, I think you place too much weight on the will. Regardless why one chooses married or monastic life, one will only be saved by humility, repentance, and love of enemies (my wife and my abbot- at times! (due to my own passions)). One does not really know what he’s getting into in either case, but every Christian should discern (with help) the Cross Christ’s will save him on.
    The true Saint is a hidden reality; a treasure in the heart of God’s holy ones that God alone knows. That we have a synaxarion dominated by monks is good (and culturally expected for historical reasons), but only to teach that the extreme life is needed for any to be transfigured.

    If you wish to pray more at night, then do so, even though you are married. If you cannot because it makes you a worse husband/father, then admit your weakness before Christ with tears and receive a greater reward for this humility. Repent even of your life circumstances, that you cannot devote more time to prayers in your icon corner and receive the reward for this repentance.
    But do not reduce “being with Christ” to “being alone”. We have our thoughts as you pointed out, but I can be with Christ also in my heart, and I can even remain silence, while disciplining my sons or playing blocks with them. While adoring my wife and talking with her at the end of the day, on and on. Christ is far greater than the moments I have in my prayer corner, etc.
    I think you must go to the heart of what prayer *is* (union with Christ) and thus take every thought captive for Him, and discover that prayer and the “taught-ness” of Christ-exclusivity can be yours as a married man too.

    It is a mistake to confuse Holiness (being a saint) with any particular outward virtue or signs (easier to discern in monastics). Holiness is the crucifixion of your heart, and may be deeply hidden in the world in a married man or woman. But God surely glories all the more in this small hidden diamond!

    We may have to agree to disagree.
    I will finish by saying that: What is impossible for man is possible for God. The Holy Spirit is not limited by anything you or I have ever done; in every moment it is the time for salvation and since salvation is exclusively the work of the Holy Spirit there is nothing that can really prevent Him, where He is given room.

    In Christ’s irresistible love;
    -Mark Basil

  222. Mark,
    I obviously don’t disagree with most of what you say and already repeated some similar notions (e.g.: “Regardless why one chooses married or monastic life, one will only be saved by humility, repentance, and love of enemies”, or that “one does not really know what he’s getting into in either case”)

    That the conventional motive towards a spouse is pleasure shouldn’t need so much explanation though…!
    It’s perhaps worth noting that in ancient Greek the word for marriage (Γάμος) is the same as the ancient Greek word for the sexual act… (I mean, what is the percentage of people who become attracted to their wives for ‘pain’? (as in crucificial martyric suffering). No wonder there’s a party with drinks after every wedding rather than a solemn vigil and fasting.

    The salvific serving of a wife (as neighbour=Christ) and child (as neighbour=Christ), instead of one’s own needs isn’t instant, but comes later. Those of us who had a fairly grave awareness of this responsibility from the day of our wedding are not such a majority though…

    All who take the monastic vows after a solemn vigil however have to renounce possessions, family, ‘world’ instantly (as in: if I now go to Mount Athos to be tonsured I will live in a cell without seeing women, family, news, screens, hobbies, ever again and I know that from the start, some places don’t even have electricity or showers… come on)

    Another point that I was given when I was arguing the same thing many years ago (with a contemporary saint) discussing this, is that: if one who chooses marriage does it out of true martyric fervour, comparable to what one needs to become attracted to a life of the black rassa – because they desire to be crucified for the Lord – then wouldn’t they surely want to choose the monastic path instead, since it is essentially an invention to replace martyrdom in martyrdom’s absence?

    The point regarding prayer (and pure prayer) of lay (and monastics, especially hesychasts) is pretty involved, but brefly, Elder Sophrony states (what other saints have experientially known too): the impossibility of pure prayer as a enduring state without ‘Hesychia’ (total stillness). There have been cases of lay people that had this of course, but they were essentially hesychasts living in the world as monastics (more or less recluses) St Palamas describes one such case too. And as you imply, their conventional married life would suffer from that.
    If celibacy wasn’t necessary for certain things (like this), God wouldn’t need to choose a celibate for a Mother.

  223. Mark Basil and Dino,
    I cherish what you both have written. When my wife and I were raising our girls, both of us working, it was very hard to carve out time in the day to pray. I spent most of my prayer time in my a.m. shower and 20 minute morning commute. It was extremely difficult for me to pray at night since I was exhausted from work and other responsibilities(I would fall asleep).
    Now that I am retired it is a different story. I now have the time to devout to prayer, both intercessary and quiet prayer with the Lord. It is such a blessing. So, was God displeased with my prayer life while working and raising a family? I think not. I know how harassed mothers and fathers can feel with home, children, and work responsibilities. If you make it to retirement, it is not inactivity. It is simply different. Time passes, but I can be more in the wonder of the moment, as Father has written. Thank our good God.

  224. I assume no one is claiming that God is displeased with what is the appropriate thing at the appropriate time and place. But volunteering to be recruited for the front line comandoes and doing what’s appropriate there or being in the main foot soldier army at the back out of national service compulsion and doing what’s appropriate there surely has some motivational thinking behind it being contested…

  225. “…volunteering to be recruited for the front line comandoes and doing what’s appropriate there or being in the main foot soldier army at the back out of national service compulsion and doing what’s appropriate there surely has some motivational thinking behind it being contested…”

    This made me smile. Apparently you were never in the military Dino. In a relative sense commandos are superior. They are the tip of the spear, the best of the best, the most heroic and focused and…etc. etc. Yet, they can not even exist without a much larger force behind them. The guy in supply, the guy that drives the truck, the mechanics that maintain their equipment, and the recreation sargent back home who keeps his kids active on a Saturday so his wife can go shopping for school supplies. For every 1 commando, there are literally hundreds of guys that are absolutely necessary.

    You surprise me with your frame of thought on this Dino…

  226. @Christopher,

    When you consider the doctrine of the Church being the Mystical Body of Christ, & the doctrine of the Communion of the Saints (I don’t know if the Orthodox have any parallel terms to the Church Militant, the Church Triumphant and the Church Suffering that we Catholics use) the analogy implied in the observation you made does not really contradict what Dino said.

    I’m not sure about how funding happens in the Orthodox world, but I’m guessing that many of the monasteries were built based on the patronage of and donations from well-off and powerful people in the world. So I guess that does validate what you say; however, it also implies that those in the world felt the need to finance the building of those monasteries because they understood there was a level of perfection that glorifies God more maximally that required the conducive environment of the monastic life to grow and flower, and perhaps they hoped that grace would sort of “trickle down” from those places to their lives in the world.

    However, building the monasteries is not enough, is it? Someone has to volunteer to go and live the demanding monastic life in those monasteries! This is where the point Dino makes comes in. It can’t be denied that (at least at the moment when a youngster is at the crossroads of life and decides to play for high stakes and makes a concrete attempt to find out if he really have a monastic or priestly vocation by actually walking into a monastery or a seminary) it takes a willingness to endure discomfort at the beginning to make the attempt to try out the choice of the monastic state of life and see if it is what God wants for that particular person.


  227. Christopher
    A key difference between military, marriage and monasticism is that one cannot really test married life or military life before… (traditionally) and then either commit or not commit, whereas monasticism is properly tested . You live the life of a monastic as a pre novice and then a novice for at least three years and then they send you back out into the world. If you return you can be tonsured and if you end up marrying the pedagogy of those years will probably be the best thing that ever happened to you. It’s noteworthy that those honeymoon years are regarded most highly by all monastics for all their lives.

    I second what NSP said. It also holds true about both the monastic as well as the priestly vocation. I have been in the military (being a Greek) of course I wouldn’t say i am speculating on any of this second hand my brother.

  228. Dino,
    When you say that after pre-novice and then novice…after 3 years you are then sent back into the world to see then if you are willing to return to monastic life…is that something peculiar to Mt. Athos? It is not a practice here at the Greek monastery we attend. I definitely can see its utility, though. I spent 4 years in the military active, and two more in the reserves. I then knew I was not wanting to make a career of it! Though those years were difficult, I don’t begrudge them…just as you say many (yourself?) look back upon those “honeymoon” novice years with fondness.

  229. It’s peculiar to many monasteries on Athos, dependant upon a novice’s pre-history and other factors as always.

  230. Christopher, Dino, et al
    I pray this is the last word on the topic: Though many things can be found in the tradition speaking about the excellence of monasticism, etc., I think it is simply inappropriate to make comparisons between the married life and the monastic life. There is little or nothing to be gained in such a conversation, and much that is harmful that can come of it. God alone will judge us.

    It was revealed to Abba Anthony in his desert that there was one who was his equal in the city. He was a doctor by profession and whatever he had beyond his needs he gave to the poor, and every day he sang the Sanctus with the angels.

    Take your pick.

  231. Father,
    I think it was St. Macarios (when he thought he attained sainthood) that was sent by God to meet a shoe maker in Alexandria. The man was very surprised and confused that the Saint was sent to him to learn something… After they conversed a little, the shoe maker finally shared with the Saint what he does and thinks all day: as he works and looks at people passing by all day, he marvels how much better than him they must be, and how they will be saved ahead of him.

    Another “pick” for us, both married and not… 🙂

  232. Good word, Father.

    Long conversation! I remember that account, too, Agata. Instructive for us all. Likely there are many like it–even as Fr. Stephen has recounted.

    As usual, I am experiencing that glitch with the site function that recognizes the page breaks in the comments threads and takes you to where you want to go on the thread from the recent comments links. That, I suppose, is an indication to me that I am long past the point where I need to make a contribution to the conversation or follow it! Back to my “day job”!

  233. Esmee, to be charitable, I don’t think Dr. Siewers understood Metropolitan Ware’s Foreword at all. I couldn’t go further into The Wheel, and I’m glad of that, because I noted the points at which the foreword made exception to the articles therein, and I do not believe his remarks to be out of place. To me it seemed that he was going as close to a sympathetic recognition of the problems faced by a homosexual lifestyle as he could, whilst pointing out where an Orthodox view is different. He did so, not by means of an Aristotelian form of address, but relying on Scripture and the important quality of personhood. If you want to go to the philosophers, he’s more like Plato, conversing with other living human beings that have character and lives to live.

    Assuredly he brings to the table understandings that are his own, but he is not, I believe, supporting a homosexual lifestyle or marriage. That is a misinterpretation of his address, the arguments of which I did not recognize in Dr. Siewers’ analysis.

  234. Father,
    I certainly agree that such conversations on a blog can be of little benefit – it’s the sort of thing that is desperately sought only personally and by few individuals who happen to be actually including/considering that choice for the rest of their earthly sojourn (seeing celibacy as an actively chosen option for preparation for their true birth -of their death- “putting on black”, as well as the conventional default option of marriage, or the birth of life –of their offspring– “putting on white”). Seeing it as if there might be a ‘judgement of God’ for one’s choice either way (which, lamentably, many seem to misunderstand and challenge this conversation as) –from the outside– is gravely missing the point: it is solely a looked-for elucidation for certain persons – few individuals. They are after the Father’s will for their lives, and yet, need to know that it is their will that He respects on this matter and He will bless whichever choice these few individuals choose without ‘judgement’ and theirwill is what needs a foundation of informed understanding with many such questions answered first. Enough has been said for such a platform no doubt though!

  235. Dino,
    There is a way to encourage the monastic life without having to compare or disparage one or the other. Unfortunately, you appear to be doing the latter and not the former.

  236. Dee of St Hermans

    I do not recall disparaging marriage anywhere, (though I know some patristic writings seem to) it would be sawing off the branch I sit on. Fathers I mentioned (like Chrysostom) manage to “walk on eggshells” in a peculiar way: we could accuse them of disparagement and they could then accuse us of fanciful sensitivity. Maybe I fall into that…?

    I’ve caught myself too, however, interpreting descriptions and comparisons of states other than my own (especially when compared to what sounds like my own state) as threats or disparagements. It is a mistake I recognise and beg to be freed from though.

    I can only ask forgiveness to those that perceived this as intended that way (while also thanking the ones that showed appreciation & perceived it the other way).

  237. I read Metr. K. Ware’s comments on homosexual marriage. I think his thoughts are on the mark.

  238. “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one’s real and one’s declared aims, one turns as if it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink.” (George Orwell)

    Sounds a bit too uncomfortably close to home vis a vis the articles that occasioned this post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *