Posts Tagged ‘sex’

I just ran across local newspaper science columnist Faye Flam’s old article (PDF) about speculation around, let’s say marital relations, in the afterlife.  She does remind us that the Lord Himself reported that in Heaven the saved do not marry [and therefore do not have sexual relations], but live as the angels.  (In fact Orthodox Monasticism is often referred to as angelic life, or anticipation thereof, both in pious expressions and in hymns on monastic Saints’ feast days.)  Angels don’t “do it” because they lack a fundamental requirement: bodies!*  We even call them “the Bodiless Powers.”

Flam also reported a non-Christian insight more relevant than she realized: “Zoroastrians, he said, believed there was sex in heaven but people would wean themselves away from both food and sex as they got used to being dead.”  I point this out because the Orthodox Way includes not denial that we are embodied human beings, since we are not dualists like the Zoroastrians (ancient “gnostics” still around today), but seeking to repent of and purify ourselves of any sinfulness (including that related to sexuality and food, though not of sexuality or eating itself) and seeking healing of our domination by our passions (including the sexual and gluttonous).  Mainstream Orthodoxy never considered “intercourse for pleasure … ‘depravity'” as the Western Christian mainstream Flam discusses did.  In fact, the ancient Fathers of the Church recognized the unitive and agape-building, relationship-building qualities of marital relations so much that it is from them that Christianity has its tradition of allowing them (if grudgingly in the West medievally) during infertile times such as pregnancy and menopause, vs. the still-heard Western idea that reproduction is the overriding point of human, Christian sexuality, and anything else mere condescension to human drives.  Nevertheless, the Orthodox Way, especially Monasticism, is also sometimes referred to as “dying to the world,” not entirely unlike what the Zoroastrians say about ‘dying to sexuality and gluttony’ after death.

But fear not!  Since Orthodoxy retains the doctrine that Heaven isn’t merely some kind of ‘earthly life on steroids,’ but advancing ever deeper into the Glory of God as Uncreated Light (as well as glorious fellowship – communion, koinonia – with the other saints, such as those we commemorated this past Sunday, All Saints Day, both those recognized by the official Church and the overwhelming majority not) and God-like-ness, we won’t miss sex!  Although to get there we do need to collaborate (synergeia, synergy) with God purifying us of our exaggerated attachment to it in the first place, here on earth….  Fr. John Romanides was fond of castigating the West’s attachment to “happiness” as fundamentally opposed to Orthodox Glorification / Salvation.  What do I know?  But perhaps another way of seeing it is that we need to find our happiness in God today, or else we’ll really hate spending eternity with Him.**

What about the Orthodox Mystery (sacrament) of Holy Matrimony?  Theologically it isn’t a ‘license to screw’ if you’ll pardon the expression, but just like its counterpart, Monasticism, a form of discipling to use a popular Evangelical word.  IIUC, the Orthodox discipline (or as I like to think of it, disciplin’) of fasting Traditionally includes married couples abstaining from relations, ie, most Wednesdays and Fridays, during Lent, the Apostles’ Fast (going on right now), the Transfiguration / Dormition Fast (in August), the Nativity Fast, the couple other fast-days on the calendar, and also on days before receiving Communion.  (This may or may not be a complete list.)  IIUC, part of the idea is that Orthodox marriage partners help each other with this discipline / disciplin’, since theologically they marry to help each other get saved.  In Orthodox fellowship / communion / koinonia with each other, they’re not to struggle in individual isolation, but to share each other’s burdens and build up each other’s gifts.  (This may have something to do with the ancient preference that Orthodox only marry other Orthodox, not non-Christians or even Heterodox Christians, though today marrying Heterodox Christians of certain denominations is tolerated alot, and of course we were never required to separate from non-Orthodox spouses when ourselves converting to Orthodoxy, since the Holy Apostle Paul counseled that we might help save our spouse.)

(*–With apologies to Fr. Andrew Greeley, who delights in the medieval Western speculation around what exactly the angels do have, for bodies!)

(**–I believe the latter clause comes from Fr. Anthony Coniaris in a basic intro to Orthodoxy of his, but I’m not certain.)

What follows is an extended quote (from pp. 9-10) from Women and Men in the Church, a 1980 work/study by a committee of the Orthodox Church in America (OCA). I’m still wrestling with all its implications, myself, but thought I’d offer it here as an example of an Orthodox approach to questions and issues:

Sacraments and Saints, Councils and Canons

The Holy Tradition of the Church is rooted and grounded in the Holy Scriptures and is thoroughly shaped by biblical words and images. It is expressed in the Church’s liturgical worship and sacramental rites, as well as in her ecumenical councils and canons, the writings of her fathers and the lives of her saints. It is expressed also in her sacred art, particularly the holy icons.

Of particular relevance to the issue of women and men in the Church are the following specific sources:

  1. The sacramental rituals, particularly those dealing with baptism, churching and marriage.
  2. The more than one hundred canons of the ecumenical councils which deal specifically with men and women in the Church.
  3. The writings of the Church fathers, particularly Clement of Alexandria, Saint Augustine, Saint Gregory the Theologian, and most especially Saint John Chrysostom.
  4. The liturgical services, particularly of the conception and nativity of John [t]he Baptist and the Virgin Mary; the Annunciation; the Nativity of Christ, the Presentation of Christ to the Temple; the Entrance of Mary to the Temple; the Dormition of Mary and many services to the saints, especially saintly women.
  5. The lives of the saints, particularly the women saints. The lives and acts of women martyrs and missionaries, as well as the women ascetics and married saints, especially those who bear the title “equal to the apostles.”
  6. The holy icons, particularly the icons of the Virgin Mary, [of] the liturgical festivals mentioned above, and [of] the women saints.

In these sources, and in these sources alone, are to be found the basic, essential and final revelation of the truth of God about women and men in the Church [emphasis in original]. All other sources are additional, and are to be judged and interpreted in the light of these sources, which means in the light of Christ and the Holy Spirit, as this light shines forth from God in the Scriptures and Tradition of the Church. This does not mean that the findings of “modern science” — biological, sociological, psychological, medical, political, economic [–] are unimportant and valueless. It means rather that they are subject to examination in the light of God’s revelation in Christ, the Spirit and the Church. It means that they are always limited and partial, and that they may sometimes simply be wrong; not “science” at all, but merely the opinions of persons who voluntarily or involuntarily are blinded by ignorance or evil. (See Romans 1:18ff). The final word in every instance belongs to the Word Himself, Jesus Christ the incarnate Son of God who remains the Lord and Master of all creation in the Church which is his body, “the pillar and the bulwark of the truth.” (I Timothy 3:15).