Archive for August, 2006

SEX

“What then is unclean? Sin, malice, covetousness, wickedness. As it is written: ‘Wash yourself, make yourself clean, put away the evil of your doings’ (Isa. 1:16). ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God’ (Ps. 15:10) …The man who had two wives was not unclean, and David who had many wives was not unclean. But when he had one unlawfully he became unclean. Why? Because he had injured and defrauded his neighbor. The fornicator is not unclean on account of the intercourse, but on account of the manner of it, because it injures the woman, and they injure one another, making the woman common, and subverting the laws of nature. For she ought to be the wife of one man …Here then is injustice, and therefore the act is wicked.”
–St. John Chrysostom, Homily III and IV on Titus I and II, in Johanna Manley, The Bible and the Holy Fathers for Orthodox, p. 589.

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What do we owe to God and the Church, if not our very lives?!

Mainstream media reports about the recent non-lethal derivation of embryonic stem-cells from single pre-stem-cell…cells…of embryos, appear to be greatly exaggerated. As the U.S. Catholic conference points out, taking out a single cell from the 8-10-cell stage of development sometimes kills the donor embryo. And while the original “letter” from the researchers in the British science journal Nature says the derived stem cells “maintained undifferentiated proliferation for more than eight months,” i.e., didn’t become a baby, media coverage raises the question of whether they could have, especially if they were treated with chemicals or other procedures such as induced the single-pre-stem-cells to subdivide, or to become embryonic stem cells, in the first place. So we have a case of an attempt to save the donor embryo, but possibly not his twin brother.

Orthodoxy usually opposes jeopardizing any human being’s life for research or medical benefit to others, from fertilization to natural repose (i.e., death). Traditionally, Orthodoxy has also opposed the creation of human beings outside the act of marital relations in the first place, offering for the consolation and emotional support of apparently-infertile married couples the prayerful and counseling ministry of its priests and spiritual fathers/mothers, the support of brother and sister Christians in the parish, the holy example of the Saints in the Scriptures and Orthodox Church Tradition, and the possibility of Divine intervention recounted therein. Christians are mandated to “bear fruit;” most will do so reproductively, all should do so spiritually.

Today’s Liturgical Readings are included in my recommended selection of 2 Corinthians 2:14–4:6. This long passage illustrates the “experimental theology” Fr. John Romanides talks about. (Ignore the footnotes in your Bible.) From the “aroma” Paul talks about, which has been reported by numerous Orthodox Saints down the years, to the vision of Light, St. Paul defends his ministry not by human or Jewish philosophy but by the results which include not only Saintliness but also the experience of the Light of Christ in which He “enlightens all our senses as one.” This is where Paul’s teaching – and the Corinthians’ experience – differs from that of the Judaizing and Gnosticizing brethren against whom he writes, who have invaded the Corinthian Christian community. Paul reminds the Corinthians of the vision they have experienced as a result of his ministry, which the ‘false brethren’ have not. All the references to “light” and “glory” are to the same experience, akin to the Transfiguration of Christ on Mt. Tabor, or the bright light of Paul’s own transformation on the road to Damascus. This passage is important to the understanding of Christianity in the mind of Fr. Romanides. St. Paul asks the Corinthians, in effect, Are you going to allow yourselves to be troubled by Judaizing legalists when you yourselves have seen the Glory of God and brought your lives into conformity with the Life of Christ?

Today, as we take our leave of the Feast of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, we commemorate our Father among the Saints, Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, Gaul, native of Smyrna (Izmir), Asia Minor, disciple of the Holy Martyr Polycarp of Smyrna, disciple of St. John the Beloved Apostle, Evangelist, and Theologian. Irenaeus, a great Father of both the East and the West, has said the Catholic Orthodox Church has been conscious of itself and its teachings from the very beginning, including the above teaching of St. Paul. Or as he has said,

The church, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying one house, having received…this faith in Jesus, carefully preserves it. She believes these points of doctrine just as if she had one soul and one heart, and she proclaims them, teaches them, and hands them down with perfect harmony as if she possessed only one mouth. For although the languages of the world differ, the significance of the faith is one and the same. For the churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those of Spain, nor those in {Gaul}, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world {presumably Greece and Italy}. But like the sun, that creature of God, which is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shines everywhere and enlightens all who are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Neither will any of the leaders in the churches, however highly gifted they may be in eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master). Nor, on the other hand, will one who lacks power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith is always one and the same. One who is able to speak about it at great length does not add to it; neither does one who can only say a little diminish it.
(Day by Day with the Early Church Fathers, p. 252, emphasis added.)

We’re not just talking about philosophy here, but the experience of the Apostolic and early post-Apostolic Church (and since!). Theoria, the vision of Uncreated Light, and theosis, becoming God-like by bringing our human energies and activities into accord with God’s Uncreated Energies and activities, is not the reward of navel-gazing, but of asceticism, of purification, of bringing our lives more in touch with the Life of God, of repentance, of submitting ourselves to the Truth, which is Christ Himself. Lord Have Mercy on us!

…according to the holy Father of the Church, St. Gregory of Nyssa, from his Commentary on The Canticle of Canticles [i.e., the otherwise very sexy Old Testament book of Song of Songs or Song of Solomon], as quoted in Johanna Manley, The Bible and the Holy Fathers for Orthodox, pp. 598-599:

By the purity of your lives you have put on the snow white garments of the Lord which He showed us at His Transfiguration on the mount. All of you then, have been transformed into something divine and sinless – it is to you I speak of the mystery of the Canticle of Canticles …Now the man who no longer looks towards flesh and blood, gazes rather on the life of the spirit, and by killing the deeds of the flesh by means of the spirit, he becomes neither natural nor carnal, but wholly spiritual. This is the reason why the Bridegroom praises the soul {i.e., the Bride} that has been freed of all carnal passions by saying the image of the Dove is in its eyes {throughout Song of Songs}; for this means that the impression of the spiritual life shines within the clarity of the soul and…it turns to contemplate the Bridegroom’s beauty. For no man can say the Lord Jesus, but by the Holy Spirit …In order to have us understand its prodoundest doctrine, the Scriptures use as a symbol that which is the most violent of all our pleasurable inclinations, I mean the passion of love {i.e., sexual}. Thus we are meant to understand that the soul that contemplates the inaccessible beauty of the divine nature falls in love with it in much the same way as the body is attracted towards things that are connatural with *it* {emphasis mine}. But here the entire disturbance of the soul has been transformed into impassibility {i.e., passionlessness, not being ruled over by the passions unto sin}, all carnal passion is extinguished in us and the soul burns with love by the sole flame of the Spirit.

Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky says:

The complete ascetic is given a mystical awareness of the world as the gift of perseverance. It’s like climbing a high mountain – Diamondhead, Everest, or especially Mt. Sinai…. The mystical encounter is the ultimate recompense and incentive for those who eagerly conquer the passions of the flesh and the temptations of this world. This is the secret that true believing Christians are eager to share with all who care to have a part of the ultimate meaning of life.