picture_kafka_drawingA double-minded man is unstable in all his ways. James 1:8

The debate between an ontological atonement and a forensic atonement will doubtless continue – they represent two very different world-views and understandings of our relationship with God. The details of that debate will likely be tedious for most people and seem like much ado about nothing. But since they are world-views, even people who have no position in the debate will have an inner sympathy with one or the other. They are part of the cultural air we breathe.

Is salvation a matter of choices, attitudes, relationships and debts? Is God extrinsic to us? Is our salvation about being considered righteous by God?

Or is our salvation a matter of our very being? Are we verging on non-existence? Is sin the result of a process of death and decay at work in us? Is righteousness an actual state of  being?

I could press this distinction further – but I hope posing the questions in this manner frames things sufficiently.

I think that regardless of where you come down in this discussion, your default position will likely be forensic. Modern culture itself is forensic in nature. We think of ourselves and other people as utterly distinct individuals. Their actions may involve me if I react (psychological) or if they physically attack me, but we are essentially distinct. I might care about someone else, even love them, but my caring is an emotional state, able to motivate me to loving action, but is not itself an action. Relationships are social contracts. There are obligations to family, Church, state, etc., but these obligations are always a matter for negotiation. Traditions are simply old social contracts. These contracts are serious – we put a great deal of emotion and value on the contracts that “bind” us to other people. But the bond is legal.

The evolution of marriage in our present culture is only possible in a forensic culture (it may indeed have been inevitable). If relationships are essentially contractual (and not ontological), then relationships are only definitions. There is nothing inherent to a relationship that cannot be negotiated (if everyone involved agrees). Forensic Christians have been at a deep loss to explain why marriage cannot be extended beyond traditional gender bounds. The appeal to Divine Law (the trump card of forensic thought) simply holds no sway in an increasingly secular culture. Why should other people’s relationships have to conform to my religious beliefs, since my religious beliefs only represent a contract between myself and God?

That many people have a deep instinct that there is something wrong in all this carries no weight in the argument. “Feeling something is wrong” can be accounted for by appeals to prejudice and bias. As the culture’s forensic understanding evolves, it will easily (and soon) judge those who refuse to accept the new norm as evil people – much as we currently feel about racists. Forensically-based Christians will soon discover that the culture they helped create has changed and that they themselves will soon be accounted as evil. That many Protestant Christians have already made the evolutionary leap and accepted new contractual arrangements as acceptable is not surprising. Their numbers will be growing very quickly.

This cultural weakness of the forensic world-view is an illustration of but one of its many failures. Relationships are not contracts. That which unites human beings one to another is not choice, but being. We are ontologically related. What someone else does, and what I do, effects others whether I want it to or not – and on a level deeper than the events my actions set in motion.

St. Paul invokes something other than a forensic world-view when he cautions the Corinthians against sexual immorality:

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 (1Co 6:15-17 NKJ).

A forensic approach would simply have made an appeal to the Law and said that fornication is contrary to the commandments. But Paul’s understanding is not forensic – he views human relationships as ontological – rooted in our being. Thus sex is not simply an action which it right or wrong, measured against an objective standard. Sex is physical union. There is a mystical and physical aspect to sexual relations that utterly transcends any notion of a contract. To engage sexually with a “harlot,” is to become “one flesh.” It violates marriage, not just because an agreement has been broken, but because the man is already united to his wife. More than this, since we have been united to Christ (and are thus one flesh with Christ), even an unmarried man is uniting himself to a harlot – and any Christian man is uniting Christ to the harlot.

This mechanism of union belongs to an ontological world-view. The forensic approach, which grounds human (and human/divine) relationships in psychology, law and contract, has something of a disembodied view of human beings. Bodies are things that we use – but we are essentially minds. It is therefore not surprising that the Christian sacraments are somewhat problematic for the forensic world-view. Strangely, Christ instituted these very material means by which Christians are called to relate to Him. Thus, even in systems that have a “high” view of the sacraments, their materiality is an “outward expression” of an “inner, spiritual” reality. The material cannot be seen as spiritual – not without great trouble.

But Christ does not shy away from the very materiality of the world (having Himself become material!). “Take! Eat! This is my Body! Take! Eat! This is my Blood!” And yet more graphically, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you.” Material imagery applied to grace, holiness, righteousness, mercy, etc., are far closer representations of the true meaning of these spiritual terms than the relational images generated by the forensic model.

Thus, in Baptism we are clothed: “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Gal 3:27 NKJ). St. Paul frequently tells his readers to “put on” something (breastplate of righteousness, the whole armor, love, etc.). The word literally means to “get dressed.” St. Paul can find no better language to describe the resurrection itself than “being clothed” (1Cor. 15). The Eastern Fathers saw in Adam and Eve’s being clothed in “tunics of skins” (Gen. 3:21) a provisional allowance of God for a humanity that had lost its true garment: light.

Material language for spiritual things has often been viewed as “primitive” or “magical” by those who hold to a forensic view. The non-materiality of forensic relations somehow seems more mature and insightful. But for all of its “sophistication,” it fails to accurately portray the truth of our existence. We are not utterly discrete individuals only relating through words and ideas. We are material beings. The Word of God did not become an idea – He became flesh. As flesh, He did not give us ideas – He gave us His flesh.

The Scripture abounds with very physical, material descriptions of divine things. The glory of God fills Solomon’s Temple so that the priests are pressed to the ground (1 Kings 8:11); the face of Moses shines with the light of God; the light of God is seen by the Apostles on the Mount of Transfiguration; the priests of God “clothe themselves in righteousness” (Psalm 132:9); the Holy Spirit appears as flame above the heads of the disciples in the upper room (Acts 2:3), etc. Such imagery can be dismissed as efforts to speak the ineffable (and this has some truth to it). But we too easily accept forensic language without question.

I recall some years ago meeting a Bulgarian scientist who had recently immigrated to America. He was Orthodox, but his former materialism still flavored his thought. He was convinced that icons emitted rays. His wife believed in the power of crystals. I was rather confounded by them. In time I have realized that they came from a very non-forensic world. The Church had been displaced by Communism and a material philosophy. But their materialism was, perhaps, closer to the language of Scripture than the forensic imagination. Their thoughts needed correction, but perhaps much less than those of the Western Christian who thinks of the world in terms of contracts and relationships.

In the meantime, most of us live in a state of double-mindedness. We struggle to think one thing but are still mired in another. For some, this discussion of imagery, comparing models of the atonement, will seem to be just a discussion about words. But that is itself a forensic thought. It’s only words…what does it matter? But it matters. It matters.




About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



227 responses to “Double-Minded”

  1. Dino Avatar

    Is not Christianity indeed a “divine materialism” as St Gregory Palamas fought for it (knowing first hand what it is to be -even bodily- “clothed in LIGHT”) in opposition to the mental gymnastics of the western “scholastic spirituality” of Barlaam?

  2. PJ Avatar


    Even in the most forensic of models, such as that espoused by the Reformed, only justification is properly “extrinsic”: sanctification and glorification surely aren’t. This is worth mentioning.

  3. fatherstephen Avatar

    My experience with the forensics tells me that “sanctification” is simply moral improvement and glorification is life after death. I exclude the Pentecostals from this. In their own strange way they are feeling around for ontological grounding. You do not get the sense from reading materials on “sanctification” from the forensic crowds that they are talking about radiating the Divine Light, or standing a foot off the ground when they pray. In the Orthodox East – we do.

  4. Robert Hosken Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen! It is good to be reminded that we are spiritual-material beings, not just one or the other.

  5. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I think that regardless of where you come down in this discussion, your default position will likely be forensic

    Ah Father, a bit insulting. Yes, we are conceived in sin and that sin is always before us, but it never has been a forensic model for me. My parents taught me differently. Everything is being and all being is interconnected and ultimately brought to fruition in God.

    They were not Christian and lacked the belief and love of the person of Christ that is required to bring their intuitive understanding of creation to fullness, but those things we do to ourselves and to others were never extrinsic and the divine did indeed “fill all things”, not as some disemodied force or cosmic energy but as distinct being with whom one could relate and needed to relate or as my father would say: inter-relate.

    That vison of reality always prevented me and my brother from embracing either Protestanism or Catholicism as they were literally DOA. I wanted more, my brother wanted more.

    We sojourned for a time in a strange land looking for that more, but Jesus was faithful to us and brought us out of that desert into His life and into the Church.

    Such a life in a two storey world is never easy. The one-eyed man is not king, he is a freak to be cast out and feared. To live, or even attempt to live a sacramental life as God commands when most around you are descralizing at warp speed, is trying. It is also the root of persecution.

    The parable of the unjust stewards of the vineyard comes to mind.

    But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance. And they caught him, and cast him out of the vineyard, and slew him. When the lord therefore of the vineyard cometh, what will he do unto those husbandmen? Matt 21:38-40

  6. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    BTW, there is life in ‘inanimate things’ even crystals and rocks for God can raise up stones to praise Him if the sons of Abraham deny Him. They are not made in His miage and likeness, but that does not mean His energies are absent or how else would they exist?

    The trick is to worship the Creator rather than the created thing; to be humble before the gift of God’s love in all of His creation rather than seeking power.

  7. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Eratta: In my post above, I meant to say: “The one-eyed man in the land of the blind is not king”

  8. Rhonda Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen. Well said as usual!

  9. Nicholas Avatar


    Fr. Stephen said “likely” be forensic. Not will be.

  10. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Well, Nicholas, I’m not that unusual. Folks like me more or less learn to keep our heads down so they won’t get shot off. Not so necessary in the Orthodox Church.

    The divide of which Fr. Stephen speaks is very real and not always pleasant to face. It took me a long time to begin to be comfortable with the difference.

  11. Alexander Avatar

    It is simple – one way. God. Personal God – and your personality. Our Lord Jesus Christ. I am orthodox.

  12. Alexander Avatar

    And, – it is no 2 ways. It is ONE way from you to God, and from God to you. No double-minded history of existentialism.
    Simple and clear consciousness.

  13. Grant Avatar

    Brilliant and helpful. Thanks again.

  14. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Dear Father,

    Your comment to PJ reminded me of the following and I thought it would be illustrative of your point:


    The Mystical Evolution in the Development and Vitality of the Church, Vol. 2, by Fra Juan G. Arintero, OP, pp 267-268, first written in Spain at the turn of the 20th century between 1898 and 1915, approx.

    Diversity of the Ways of the Spirit [Indwelling]

    During the rapture and flight of the spirit [animation/soul] the use of the senses may be lost, as happens in the state of ecstasy, but often the body remains in the same posture and the features are very animated and even radiant with light and supernatural beauty. Not infrequently the body ceases to touch the earth or be supported by the earth, and it lifts into the air as if attracted by a sacred magnet.

    In this manner the soul is purified and illumined in the measure that it draws near to God and increases its union with Him. More and more vividly it feels the divine touches. These vivify it and impress on it the ardent longings with which it is inflamed with it receives the darts of divine love, the burning impulses which are thereby aroused, and the sweet and penetrating wounds of love which they produce in it, until it is totally transfigured, wherein is found its salvation and its life.

    These delicate, pure, delightful and ineffable touches of the Beloved are first felt in the faculties and later in the very substance of the soul. They complete its purification from all earthly stain and so inflame it with divine love and intoxicate it with such delights that the soul is no longer able to contain itself. Like iron placed in the forge, the soul gives off flaming sparks of heavenly fire.


    The Triads, Gregory Palamas, Classics of Western Spirituality translation, p.57

    Deification in Christ

    …The Monks know that the essence of God transcends the fact of being inaccessible to the sense, since God is not only above all created things, but is even beyond the Godhead. The excellence of Him Who surpasses all things is not only beyond all affirmation, but also beyond all negation; it exceeds all excellence that is attainable by the mind. This hypostatic light, seen spiritually by the sainst, they know by experience to exist, as they tell us, and to exist not symbolically only, as do manifestations produced by fortuitous events; but it is an illumination immaterial and divine, a grace invisibly seen and ignorantly known. What it is, they do not pretend to know.

    …This light is not the essence of God, for that is inaccessible and incommunicable, it is not an angel, for it bears the marks of the Master. Sometimes it makes a man go out of the body or else, without separating him from the body, it elevates him to an ineffable height. At other times, it transforms the body, and communicates its own splendor to it when, miraculously, the light which deifies the body becomes accessible to the bodily eye.

  15. PJ Avatar


    I don’t think that’s true. I admit that most Protestants are not interested in ontology-talk, and by and large they don’t have the sophisticated language of mysticism. Yet those who are genuinely pious and Scriptural understand that sanctification brings real “interior” change: a new heart, a new creation, a new Adam, a new man, a heavenly man in place of an earthly man. This theme is powerfully evident in the most Reformed Christians: Owen, Edwards, Whitefield, Pink, etc.

  16. PJ Avatar

    A friend of mine, a high church Lutheran, who calls herself a “catholic” (small ‘c’), says, for instance, that she dislikes to discuss sanctification in terms of “deification” and “theosis,” preferring to stick to the language of Scripture (adoption, ingrafting, etc.). This makes sense to me.

  17. James Marnell Avatar
    James Marnell

    Fr. Stephen,

    Where would you situate the Orthodox practice of economia within the context of the forensic/ontological dichotomy?

    Best Regards,

    Jim Marnell

  18. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Dear PJ:

    Father will respond more fully than I am capable of doing here, but it is worth noting that regardless of any and all possible mystical language, we are talking about a relationship with the Indwelling that comes from becoming and being a member of the Body through apostolic succession in belief, rite, ritual, sacrament and grace that only comes from that membership in the Body that may begin with Baptism but surely does not end there. It is what the reformed, protestant, evangelical and all other non-catholic Christians cannot apprehend, even when they believe that they comprehend.

    In Christ,


  19. fatherstephen Avatar

    I think you are correct. I should refine my point. I think many Protestant theologians understand what you’re saying. On the popular level, however, I think much of that is lost and the moralistic/forensic/psychological simply triumphs. I believe this is the model that permeates our secularized culture – not because it is secularized but because of the peculiar history of its inheritance.

    The example I gave of the Bulgarian scientist, was interesting to me – in that his faith was very much on the “popular” level, despite his education. It had errors in it, but they were errors in a direction that would be relatively rare in our culture. Our errors would run in the direction of the moralistic/forensic/psychological direction. One critique of Orthodox thought is that this moralistic/forensic/psychological model made inroads in Orthodox circles during the “Western Captivity.” I won’t name names, but some of them have an “St” in front of them.

  20. fatherstephen Avatar

    Economia can be seen as a mere exercise of legal discretion, but I think it is rooted in an understanding that rules (canons) are only good up to a point. Economia should be exercised for the purpose of someone’s salvation. For example, the economia of allowing a second marriage to be blessed in the Church, is not a legal exercise in Orthodoxy. We do not “annul” a marriage (at least in Russian practice). Rather we grant permission for a second, even though we know what Christ’s commands are in the matter. We allow for this “for the sake of salvation,” in that the Church judges that it is better for there to be a second marriage than for someone to be crushed by the various temptations that would have to be endured otherwise. It’s a mercy. Salvation is ultimately not a legal matter, therefore the Church can exercise economy.

  21. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Father Stephen,

    What are the characteristics of the moralistic/forensic/psychological model…? Is this a model of the spiritual life?


  22. Dino Avatar

    Jacob Arminius,
    sorry to say, but, as a ‘born’ Orthodox, I must admit that one who knows intimately and genuinely the differences/dichotomies between East and West needs enormous amounts of naivety not to see them.
    I therefore find reading Father Stephen on the matter so riveting that his words are far more effective in preventing sleepiness (and yawning) than any coffee…! 🙂

  23. fatherstephen Avatar

    Thanks, Dino, for the vote of confidence. I placed Jacob’s comment where it belonged. There are those who make too much of the dichotomy – or are not fully conversant with the subject, East or West. But it takes someone who actually has some knowledge or training to tell them apart from someone who does. I suspect our commenter does not.

  24. PJ Avatar

    Twas rather rude. That’s one thing I love about this blog: It abounds with Christian charity — and when there is anger and malice, there is repentance and mercy. This makes it a world apart from many blogs dedicated to theological discussion.

  25. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Was on a road trip today and ran across a Protestant radio station on which was being discussed the scandal of “Catholic mysticism” making inroads into scriptural Protestantism. The only two names mentioned were Henri Noewen and Richard Foster. These are dangerous folk since they recommend spiritual practices not in the Bible.

    I had to turn it off.

  26. fatherstephen Avatar

    Of course, Richard Foster is a Quaker (I think).

  27. fatherstephen Avatar

    You know, instead of worrying about inroads of Catholic mysticism, they need to pay attention to secularism. The real competitor is not other Christians – it’s nothing at all.

  28. PJ Avatar

    I once heard two “Bible believing” Protestants lament the “Romanist superstition” of lectio divina. They found the notion of meditating on and listening to the Word of God profoundly disturbing. I admit to have being perplexed: I’d think lectio divina would be one of the few disciples of ancient Christian mysticism that would be acceptable to “Bible believers.” They also seemed to have a special loathing for Stations of the Cross. It was really quite frustrating. You realize that they simply have no idea what they’re talking about. It makes one questions one’s own prejudices: how much is knowledge, how much is ignorance.

    Yes, Foster is a Quaker. And Nouwen was hardly an orthodox Catholic.

  29. PJ Avatar

    But then, they came from a peculiar, hyper-Calvinistic branch of Reformed Christianity that declares that all truth is propositional, and that the Gospel is a neat set of propositional truths. I once heard one of them actually say (with no sense of humor): “Now Jesus speaks in clear, propositional statements.” Really? Are we reading the same Book?

  30. Mary Lanser Avatar

    What are the characteristics of the moralistic/forensic/psychological model…? Is this a model of the spiritual life?…

    I’ll repeat in case this got missed. It might just be stupid on my part so I’ll take that as a yes if they go unanswered……but I am a bit lost here because I thought we were talking about the spiritual consequences of particular ways of thinking about redemption. So I’ve lost track of the referents.


  31. dave Avatar

    I feel like I am almost grasping what is being said, but it’s just out of reach. Can someone recommend some further reading so I can understand the differences?

  32. […] None of this is meant to be say that humanity is totally depraved (mercifully Catholicism and Orthodoxy rejected that Calvinist trap).  There is intrinsic goodness in humanity too, lots of it.  We even (painfully and at great cost) have made progress.  The point is simply that we haven’t shed our animal roots.  And we can’t.  God may be pure Mind, but for better or for worse we are fundamentally material creatures who can’t divorce our mind from our bodies (this is also what neuroscience tells us by the way).  Time, space and matter (which is to say genes and human culture here) are the context in which we “live and move and have our being.” Not surprisingly, it has long been Orthodoxy that recognizes that true Christianity must take materialism seriously. […]

  33. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Father Stephen recently made oblique reference to the term and condition of Latin Captivity. I found that this article is helpful to some extent. It short changes the range of Catholic teaching on the life in and of the [S]pirit, but that is not unusual. It does give some indication that Orthodoxy has not been a monolith of spiritual teaching and doctrine from the time of Peter and James to the present. It is a good starting point for continuing the inquiry, I’ve found. It is dated as a commentary now but it is more than useful.

    I am still puzzling out the conflation of doctrine and spiritual practice under the umbrella of moralistic/forensic/psychological and I am not sure what to make of it because there are so few particulars under discussion. I guess I don’t know the code.


  34. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Father…If you decide to post my comment could you exchange the urls. This one for the one that I copied there, please…I got my tabs confused.

    Thanks much!


  35. fatherstephen Avatar

    Mary, I’ll be a little delayed in answering. It’s a very good question and ill be glad to elaborate. We’ve just begun Orthodox Holy Week and my time only comes in small snatches. Thanks for your patience.

  36. PJ Avatar


    A particular: The neglect of prayer is a major effect of the dominance of the reformational forensic model. Why? Because its radical monergism precludes and excludes human initiative, and thus subtly leads a believer to conclude that prayer is ineffectual or even impious.

  37. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Rich!ard Foster was teaching at Friends University here in Wichita at the time he wrote. His book “Celebration of Discipline” was notable for saying that spiritual disciplines “put you in God’s way” to allow His grace to work on you.

    It is just the conversation seemed a perfect illustration of what you are saying.

  38. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Well…I’ve been going through Lent with the local Orthodox parish here and will be celebrating the passion and Pascha right along with you. Many many years ago,I began as a refugee from my canonical parish that was too far away for me to get to without a car, but now I am assimilated beyond repair, I fear.

    So my time is your time …

    In Christ,


  39. Lou. Avatar

    Re: “The real competitor is not other Christians – it’s nothing at all.”

    “The Nothing can be very strong.” Pace C.S. Lewis.

  40. fatherstephen Avatar

    What is the moralistic/forensic/psychological model?

    I am grouping a number of things together (obviously). Only one applies to a model of the Atonement – the Forensic model – in which Christ’s atoning work is essentially understood in a “legal” manner, i.e. it cancels a debt owed by man, it satisfies the demands of God’s justice, etc.

    That model of the atonement, I believe, remains popular, and has become popular, not because Calvinism is popular, but because there is something essential about its imagery that fits comfortably with how our culture perceives human beings, the world and God.

    It is at this point that I am adding moralistic and psychological in order to describe a set of assumptions that are commonly held in our culture, assumptions among which the forensic model is entirely at home.

    In these assumptions we can see:
    – human beings are discrete entities, our lives exist independently of one another
    – abstracts, concepts such as love, grace, kindness, mercy, etc. are only ideas. They only exist because we think of them.
    – relationships are a set of choices and accepted responsibilities

    I could perhaps go on (and no doubt will at a later time). But in these assumptions, the relationships between people are essentially contractual. They are only what we agree for them to be – there is not a necessarily ontological bond between people (a bond of “being”).

    Spiritual things are largely the same as psychological states. Guilt is a psychological state (of mine or of God’s).

    In this sort of constellation, good and bad are measured by morality – how well do we perform certain expected things (God’s law, man’s law, our own expectations, etc.).

    In all of this, things can be extrinsic (existing independently of me) or instrinsic (only existing inside of me), but nothing is both.

    In the ontological model (still would like a better term), the world, human beings and God can best be describe in terms of being and existence. Everything that exists is connected in some manner. The world (that which is created) exists and is sustained in existence, only by the will of God, moment by moment, thus my existence is not discrete and utterly independent.

    Also, there is an inter-penetration (communion, sharing, participation, coinherence) of one thing by another, of one human being by another, of Man and God,etc. I cannot speak of myself alone, for I never exist alone. I always exist in a relationship (not a contract) of being and that relationship of being is largely what is meant by Person. This communion is also the way of true knowledge. We only truly know by means of communion. Communion is the way of life and existence. To move towards utter independence would be a move away from relationship and towards non-existence. To embrace the other is an act of love and an affirmation of true existence.

    The relatedness, and the mystical-sharing character of all things runs deeply counter to the moralistic/forensic/psychological model. Morality, good and bad, are measured by true and authentic existence rather than rules adhered to. Thus it is our relationship with God (who alone truly exists) that measure good and bad. We do not have a “legal” problem as human beings. Sin is not the breaking of God’s law. Sin is the drive to exist without reference to God or others. Sin is death and non-being. We do not need deliverance from a legal problem, we need to be saved from the problem of non-existence.

    God becomes man in the ultimate act of participation and communion. It is in union with us that He lives, dies and is resurrected. It is in union with Him that we live, die and are resurrected. Christ is our life, our salvation, our resurrection, our way, etc.

    Ideas are not always (if ever) just things in my head. Spirituality does not consist in improved things in my head, but in greater and increasing union with Christ.

    Again, there is much more to say, but perhaps this indicates what I am getting at. It is also an indication why what I am writing is not just “warmed over Romanides” as one deleted comment suggested. The distinction between the ontological world-view and the forensic world view greatly transcend how someone views the atonement. What I am getting at is as fundamental as how we view everything. It is a description of an ethos.

    That the ethos of Orthodoxy, classically lived, differs from the Protestant ethos is so obvious, you’d think I wouldn’t have to say it. That it differs strongly from Roman Catholic ethos is not always as obvious. Frankly, I think the Roman Catholic ethos is not purely one thing or another. Its own roots are deep enough, and common enough with Orthodoxy, that there are many things that are shared in common, much common ethos. On the other hand, the process of Scholasticism in Western History was not without its effects. Its rationalizing tendencies were disruptive, I think, of an ontological understanding. More than that, the effects of the Counter-Reformation were, in many ways, as devastating as the Reformation itself, in that the Reform, or reaction to the Reform became the “formative” point for both. Roman Catholic and Protestant defined themselves against the other for a period of time.

    The “Western Captivity” (rather than Latin Captivity) describes a period when, in Russia, the Westernizing designs of the Tsars (from Peter the Great forward) brought European (both Catholic and Protestant) methods and ethos into the mainstream of the Russian ruling classes and intelligentsia. It flavored the teaching in seminaries, the formation of priests, and the composition of the “manuals” of theology. The fact that the liturgical and monastic life remained unchanged, as well as the life of piety among the common people, are probably the only thing that saved Orthodoxy from extinction (by the grace of God). In the Balkans and Greece, the process was different, but much of the same Westernization was attempted as those peoples came out from under the Turkish yoke. There was much to be restored. The work of great saints such as Cosmos the Aitolian and others was geared towards a restoration of true Orthodox ethos.

    This process of restoration was certainly sped up by the work of many in the 20th century, and today in the years after the end of the Communist Yoke. There is in this process, a necessary awareness of Orthodox identity, over-and-against the “West,” if for no other reason than the recovery and maintenance of authentic existence. But Orthodoxy has never been reactionary and should not be now. The ontological understanding of the world is not Western, but it need not be a reaction to the West. If it’s true, then it’s true regardless.

    So, there we have it. Hope that helps.

  41. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Helps a great deal but family and others are reaching out today so I can only say that I’ve read through fast. It makes sense of course and it helps to have it laid out like this more specifically. I could talk with you about it all day long and never get tired of it.

    That fellow who was so mean-spirited was not reacting to you at all but to a conversation going on in his own head that has not much to do with what you are doing here.

    I am at a HUGE disadvantage by not knowing the non-catholic Christian ethos and specific contexts…nor do I know the services. So this is helping me re-orient my thinking and helps me with “seeing” more specifically…helps a great deal. I may have more questions later but as you say this week is a blur already! …

    I guess my first real reaction to your note is thank God for eucharist and all other liturgical prayer that is oriented by eucharist. Which also addressea PJ’s note which I also appreciate very much, and will respond to in a bit.

    Maybe you can have a post on prayer for us later, Father..??…when time is more available. Maybe a couple of posts…laff…You can see where my interest lies.

    In Christ,


  42. PJ Avatar


    “Prayer” is one of the archive categories. Give it a look-see.

  43. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Dear PJ: I was just thinking that the com-box on this thread is getting long and there’s more to discuss…the particulars, with prayer being one of those. I was just looking for an opportunity/excuse to keep this going a bit longer without loosing track of good points in an over-long com-box…

    In Christ,


  44. PJ Avatar

    Fair enough. But you should look in that archive category, too. There are good posts.

  45. Rhonda Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for your indepth answer to Mary’s question. I, too have been asked this same basic question. Your response will definitely be useful.

    To All,
    Have a blessed Holy Week!

  46. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Dear PJ:

    Go easy with me. I’ve been reading Father’s blog for many years. It is only recently that I have commented at any length on anything, however.

    In Christ,


  47. drewster2000 Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    The last 2 posts have been incredibly insightful for me. Once again you have a knack for breathing life into age-old wisdom and speaking in a way that I can understand. Thank you for continuing to fulfill your mission among us.

    Suggestion: maybe the word you are looking for is “authentic”. We have the authentic vs. the forensic view. Another attempt at titles is the spirit vs. the letter.

    One note about your long and helpful comment above: You refer to the ontological view as “the ethos of Orthodoxy, classically lived” and then go on to speak briefly about Protestant and RC. I understand very much why you did this and these comments are probably a necessary evil, but I can’t help but notice that it’s as if you stepped down to a different plane when you did so. The angels were singing, light was emanating from you – and then you started talking about the divisions of Christianity and the world grew dim again.

    Again what you said was probably necessary but it still sits like a coffee stain on a fresh manuscript. And I’m uncertain how well the term “Orthodoxy” can capture what you’re speaking of. I can agree that the tradition of Orthodoxy preserved something great and wonderful here, but I’m less certain about how well the Orthodox live this out today.

    Please realize I mean no slight here; just a reflection of our modern reality. The sickness of the forensic view (where it came from ultimately matters not) has pervaded much of the world. If there was one geographical place or organization where all the ontological view was gathered, the light would indeed be great and the attraction/repulsion would strong.

    I guess all I’m saying is what you ended with: The ontological understanding of the world is not Western, but it need not be a reaction to the West. If it’s true, then it’s true regardless. We find it where we find it and don’t where it’s not. Philipians 4:8 and all that.

    I don’t actually expect you to change anything because of what I’ve written here, but we have a relationship through this blog. What you say and write sends waves and ripples into my life, because of course of the ontological truth of the world. And through that process it is inevitable that some waves will send their ripples back your way. (grin)

    Thanks once again for your wonderful gifts of words.

  48. fatherstephen Avatar

    Thank you. Your thoughts were reflected in the caveats or waivers that I inserted…i.e. “Orthodoxy, Classically lived…” There’s lots of times that it is not (maybe most of the time, don’t know). And there have been times that Orthodoxy was dominated by foreign influence and diminished. As noted, Rome is a mixed bag, but retains many aspects of the ontological approach, so I’m not surprised when someone encounters it there. I am more surprised when it is encounter in the Protestant world, because it is largely neglected in its teaching. On the other hand, Pentecostalism has a kind of instinct for this (did I say that?) though it is deeply marred by other things (lack of Tradition, etc.).

    You’re right – we find it where we find it. I “found” it years ago in the Fathers. I tried to find words for it and found some over the years. I found that what I was pursuing was not “authentic” in my Anglican context, unless I was willing to pretend a lot. My journey brought me to Orthodoxy, where I can say these things without being looked at funny, and where many others, certainly many, many others, have lived this, teach this, etc. and I find it surrounding me at every service of the Church year, as many times a day as I can stand to be in Church and pray.

    It can be found elsewhere – but I’m not sure any where else offers a living immersion. That’s what I’ve found.

    I should add on a personal level – much of my life, like everyone else’s – is occupied with just dealing with my own “stuff.” My flaws and wounds, my propensity for sin and death, the noise in my brain, etc. But the reality of God and all that pertains to Him is a life preserver, without which I would long ago have drowned.

    Thank you for your kind words!

  49. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, this post carries a great impact with me. It speaks to the life I’ve tried to live and the difficulties I’ve encountered along the way and the difficulties my son is experience as well.

    As you say, outside the Orthodox Church one has to either hide or act (at least in my expeience).

    I am convinced that there are many more out there who understand which is why I objected to the fall back position likely being forensic.

    In the Church I have the oportunity to become whole and express that wholeness. The fact that most of the time I fritter that chance away is a constant sorrow to me, but I struggle with it.

    Have a blessed Holy Week and a joyous Pascha.

  50. Susi Avatar

    I sure wish that there was some sort of “like” button to click on these responses. I read and ponder in silence, but would love to let folks know how much their comments mean to me without being repetitious. Michael Bauman, in particular but among many others, yours have been especially helpful when placed side-by-side with Father Stephen’s. Thank you.

  51. drewster2000 Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    I’ve been pondering your response. It was very good of course. (grin) I appreciate your candidness in your writing. The latest is when you said that of course you are always dealing with your own baggage. I must admit to the same.

    In particular I’ve noticed how small (and yet how great) the difference is between the statements “I found the truth in Orthodoxy” and “If you want the truth, you’ll come to Orthodoxy”.

    What interests me here is not where the truth can or cannot be found but what role the speaker assumes. It has been my experience that those with integrity state what they know – and then stop. It’s so very tempting to go a step further and begin to categorize and evaluate everything. But I think this was the mistake in the Garden, stepping into shoes that weren’t ours to fill – and I think that continues to be one of our main challenges.

    Again I’m not finding any fault with your statements, just noticing my own baggage. Your site is one of the wells I draw life from, and I think it is such a source of life-giving water precisely because you simply open your heart and strive to pass on what you have been given from God – instead of trying to “enhance” it as it passes by.

    You are authentic, not forensic. Forensics calls for grading, sorting, evaluating, judging. In the case of what is given to us by God, the only judging needed is questions like “Is this from me or God?” and “What do my recipients need? Will this be a source of life and love for them?”

    I’m not overdoing it when I say yet again, thank you for being authentic – in the best sense of that word.

  52. Byron Gaist Avatar
    Byron Gaist

    Fr Stephen,

    Thank you for a wonderful post, as I’ve come to expect from your blog.

    I have perhaps a more fundamental question than what has been expressed so far through the comments.

    Where you write “Sex is physical union. […]To engage sexually with a “harlot,” is to become “one flesh.” It violates marriage, not just because an agreement has been broken, but because the man is already united to his wife. More than this, since we have been united to Christ (and are thus one flesh with Christ), even an unmarried man is uniting himself to a harlot – and any Christian man is uniting Christ to the harlot.”, forgive me but I dare to ask what may at first seem obvious: why is it wrong to unite Christ to a harlot? I know scriptures say so, but I don’t ‘get it’. Indeed, I don’t get monogamy at all – why can’t we be united to many? Christ has many brides. Can’t we love every person we are physically united to? Why must a man or woman who ‘loves much’ be designated a ‘harlot’ and demoted to spiritual failure for it? In the ancient world, prostitution was sacred.

    My priest recently told me that Adam and Eve probably did engage in sexual union (otherwise they would not have had genitalia), but their union was without sexual pleasure, because all pleasure for them came from their union with God (if I understood correctly what Fr Marios was saying). I think also of how Christ didn’t engage in sexual relations as an incarnate man, and neither did the Theotokos. We are half-apologetically told by the Church that marriage is nevertheless blessed and sexual relations are good PROVIDED they are monogamous and within a chaste marital bed. It is as though a concession were being made to sexuality, and even then we are told, in a sense, that we should do it without enjoying it – I know that’s not what Fr Marios meant, but what else shall I conclude if sexual pleasure wasn’t around for Adam and Eve? According to Fr Marios, sexual pleasure was added to sexual union after our fall from heaven, to prevent the human species from becoming totally selfish and extinct.

    For me, this issue is the no.1 issue which separates me from Christianity. When someone finally explains to me why sexual pleasure is bad, and why if it is at all good, it is only so in order to bear children and to cement a monogamous marital relationship (with no ‘spice’), I believe this person will have truly helped me take the next step towards faith.

  53. Erik Avatar

    Father, bless.

    This post is most helpful. It explains so much! Thank you.


  54. Dino Avatar

    Byron Gaist,
    there is a great deal I would like to say on the subject but it will have to wait until I get some more time…
    For now, I would bring your attention to the non-Christian explanation of your issue(concerning your issue: “When someone finally explains to me why sexual pleasure is bad, and why if it is at all good, it is only so in order to bear children and to cement a monogamous marital relationship (with no ‘spice’), I believe this person will have truly helped me take the next step towards faith.“) :

    One can be truly “free” when he is clearly a “master” over his self. If his desires are a master of his being, then he is a slave – an addict.
    If for instance, knowing full well that I am most content with my wife and family (that is my conscious long-term desire), destroying it by becoming addicted to daily one-night stands (possibly a very strong short-term desire when I encounter beautiful flirtatious women- if I work in such an environment) would end me up (eventually) depressed.
    Another example: my short-term desire might in all honesty be to kill him who infuriates me, to rape a woman I am maniacally infatuated with or some other extreme such thing; would my long term desire be compatible with the consequences of that? eg being jailed for life?
    I am trying to explain that even from a completely un-Christian point of view license leads to slavery and dire consequences while freedom involves a voluntary and wise self-control.
    There is far more to say from a purely Christian perspective I would start from this first…

  55. Fr. Patrick Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    This topic is a regular part of my ministry as an Orthodox priest especially as our parish interacts with many non-Orthodox Christians. I have been shocked many times when I present the forensic model, (which my listeners tradition unquestionably teaches) and they respond saying either they certainly don’t believe THAT! or even they have never heard it before, (this always amazes me). This is not true for all of my listeners but a good portion of them. Fr. Pat Rh. has also expressed that this has been his experience. I can only conclude that they have some intuition of the truth in spite of what their tradition tells them to believe.

    How many people have you expressed the Church’s teaching (concerning salvation) and you know that their tradition does not teach salvation in the way you are explaining and yet their eyes open wide and they will a sense of relief and epiphany exclaim, “that’s what I believe!”

    Sometimes I want to say, “no you don’t!” But in fact many, are greatly relieved to hear the message of salvation which is consistent with the Scriptures and with what they know of God in their hearts. Our faith is not rationalistic but it does seem to make sense especially once we move past the abstractions. Thank you for your ministry.

    Fr. P.

  56. PJ Avatar


    Marriage is a sacramental expression of the love between Christ and His Church. Contrary to what you say, Christ does not have many brides. He has one bride: the Church. God made man and woman to be physically, emotionally, and spiritually complementary so that humans might understand the intimate union that He desires to have with His people. Just as husband and wife become one flesh in the marital embrace, so Christ and His Church form one flesh in the sacramental embrace of baptism and eucharist.

    St. Paul reveals that the mystery of marriage is actually the mystery of the Church in Ephesians:

    “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.”

    Christian sexual morality is just incomprehensible apart from a proper understanding of Christ and His Bride, the Church. One cannot understand why we support monogamy nor why we oppose homosexuality, among other things.

  57. PJ Avatar


    Might I suggest you investigate the work of Pope John Paul II on marriage and human sexuality, which is usually grouped under the rubric of “theology of the body”? The holy father devoted a large part of his adult life to a christological and theological vision of sex and marriage. Really prophetic stuff.

  58. CoffeeZombie Avatar


    I’m not certain about the finer points of sexual pleasure prior to the fall. It is worth noting that there are a lot of opinions about what happened prior to the fall and so on. Many of those who discuss that state seem to be implying that quite some time had passed before Adam and Eve fell, while I’ve heard others who insist that the way the Scriptures read indicates that they fell very quickly (possibly so quickly there was no opportunity for them to have sexual relations).

    Anyway, regarding what your priest said, it reminds me of something I read recently in a homily by St. Basil. I believe this was in his Second Homily On the Origin of Humanity. He says that humans, indeed, all of creation, were vegetarian before the fall. He notes that it was not until after the Flood that God blessed us to eat meat. For St. Basil, the allowance to eat meat is a consolation for what we have lost in Paradise. But this should not be an occasion to denigrate our varied diet, for it is a gift given by God, and we would be ungrateful to despise it. However, St. Basil believes that, when we are restored to Paradise, we will no longer eat meat, and those who are striving to live the Gospel radically (ascetics/monks) should hold to such a diet.

    Many things, I think, are like this: consolations which we enjoy as good gifts of God, but that are still consolations, and pale in comparison to the glorious experience of Paradise. However, every good gift of God may be misused for evil. Adam and Eve fell by misusing the gift of freedom. Food of any sort can be misused, and become gluttony. Wine and beer and other spirits can be misused. Other human beings can be misused. My own mind can be misused. Sexual pleasure, even within marriage, can be misused.

    Speaking of sexual pleasure within marriage, my experience in the Church has certainly not been that sex is somehow inherently sinful, or that it is only acceptable because it’s the way we have children, or anything like that. Certainly, those views exist, but my own experience has been that sex is primarily an act of union between husband and wife, a blessed expression of their love for one another. Children are, indeed, the natural product of that love, but they are not a necessary excuse for a married couple to have sex. I’ve heard St. John Chrysostom quoted as saying precisely that: “You do not need procreation as an excuse. It is not the chief reason for marriage. Neither is it necessary to allow for the possibility of conceiving, and thus having a large number of children, something you may not want” (source).

    Granted, sex can be misused and become sinful in marriage. If you are sexually selfish, focused on your own pleasure rather than your spouse’s, for example, and there are certainly times when couples are expected to forego sexual union (such as the time we are in now) to focus on prayer (as St. Paul mentions).

    Finally, while I don’t know enough to speak to “why monogamy,” as far as I understand it, Christ has only one bride, that is, the Church. St. Paul also calls the Church the body of Christ, and insists that there is only one body of Christ. We are members of that body, and we are all the bride of Christ, but we are not so individually, apart from each other. That is, I am not the Church; we are the Church.

  59. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Bryon, you pose a good question and one to which the Church must reposnd with clarity and authority in this day and age. Having pondered this point myself for all of my life as a Chrisitan (the proper interrelationship between men and women) and having experienced being married twice (my first wife died):

    First of all, IMO, your priest is wrong and that kind of answer both trivializes marriage and sows confusion at the same time while misrepresenting the revealed truth of the Holy Scripture. (Forgive my boldness).

    The interrelationship between men and women is one that God designed to be pleasurable at all levels. The interrelationship itself, even without sexual intercourse and children is procreative in its essense.

    It is central to our ability to fulfill the first two commands of God to us: 1. Dress and keep the earth; 2. Be fruitful and multiply. (Notice that there is nothing esoteric about these commands).

    A man and woman together can fulfill the first commandment without ever having children. Obviously, sexual intercourse is required for the second.

    Sexual pleasure, in and of itself is not evil or sinful, neither is it, in and of itself love.

    Sexual intercourse is part of the bonding and procreative process given by God that allows us to fulfill both commandments.

    Part of the bonding, if done in union with Christ, is an elevation of the people and the act to a place well above normal fallen humanity. While not a sacrament, sexual intercourse in the sacrament of marriage is sacramental in nature, i.e, it helps unite the created and the uncreated, multiplying His energies in His creation and helping to order it as He wishes, sanctify it.

    One reason you don’t understand that monogamy is essential and necessary is because of the uncoupling of sex from any other purpose, even the procreation of children, let alone from the process of fructifying, ordering and sanctifying creation as we are called to do.

    As to the harlot question, obviously Jesus spoke to harlots and welcomed them into His Life as long as they repent. Of course, once they repent fully, they are no longer harlots (see Mary of Egypt and the Samartine woman at the well).

    The larger question is chastity (see Fr. Gregory on Koininia (palamasinfo dot com) for a very good mini-homily on chastity. All I am going to say is that all Christians are called upon to live a chaste life, even in marriage. Celibacy and chastity before marriage and monogomy and chastity after marriage. Chastity is not just about sex BTW, it is about every area of our lives as the Great Fast and Holy Week bring to our attention.

    Sexually one can be celebate and not chaste just as one can follow the rules of the fast and still be eaten up with gluttony.

    Sexual intercourse is not just about the physical act. Every time one engages in it, a bit of the persons are exchanged and those other people never quite leave. Outside of marriage the act robs both people of their integrity and tends to deepen one’s attachment to pleasure for pleasure’s sake and embed that sinful attitude not only into the flesh but into one’s psychology. Done often enough it goes even more deeply into the soul. The earthly assumes the status of the heavenly, the ultimate sin. For a Christian to do this is, in a sense, attempting to unite Christ with sin.

    One reaon multiple marriages are problematic, even when blessed, is that the other marriage partners are always there in the new marriage. It takes a lot of work, prayer, humility and grace to sucessfully deal with that. It can be done, but it isn’t easy. In my marriage, we not only have to acknowledge appropriately two spouses who have reposed, but the other two my wife had who defiled her and their marriage by adultery. We pray a lot. It would be impossible without the blessing of God has given us, unworthy though we are of it.

    Because of the nature of sexuality and the reasons we are gifted with it, we should only use it and experience it in a controled and disciplined life. It is a bit like nuclear energy. In carefully controled and contained reactions, it produces a lot of useful energy. In uncontrolled chain reactions, massive destruction results. That is the difference between a chaste life fulfilled in a marriage devoted to God and a life promiscuity.

  60. Dino Avatar

    fantastic as it is as a resource on the matter -it really is good-, Pope John Paul II “theology of the body” I think it is potentially just too vast (it really is HUGE) for someone to start off from…

  61. PJ Avatar

    Er, I meant Byron, not Bryan. Sorry, Byron!

  62. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    What I have done over the years is begin with Holy Scripture and read them meditatively and patiently, waiting on the Lord to reveal the truth. Especially valuable to me: Genesis 1-3; Job; Luke 1; Romans, esp the first couple of chapters. As I read, I prayed. Over the years as I listened to homilies, worshiped, repented and evaluated my own experience in light of what I had read and experienced, a pattern of life and thought that led to the truth appeared.

    The amount of good material out there is truly vast. Pope John Paul’s work is important but it needs to be taken in in ways that allow one to digest it, understand it and that allows the Holy Spirit to conform one’s mind and heart to the truth.

    I really wish that priests in the Church would stop bad-mouthing marriage as so many seem to do.

    We crown the couple in the marriage ceremony because marriage is a form of martrydom, but not all podvigs are morose and sorrowful filled with unrelenting, unrewarded labor. The marriage service certainly does not present a life of dark struggle or that somehow, marriage is a condensencsion from the perfect. “Dance for Joy, O Isaiah”

    God is a a God of life and joy. He is Risen!

    Yes He goes to the Cross as we must, but He is Risen as we are if we allow it.

    “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it”

  63. drewster2000 Avatar

    Fr. Patrick,

    I’m very grateful for your comment. This is SO true! This is one of the main reasons I don’t look at Protestants, Muslims, atheists (or any other labeled group) and automatically mark them as hell-bound. I believe that the truth resides in all God’s children. Some work awfully hard to stamp it out, but they might as well try to disfigure themselves: it’s hard work. When God says that something IS – like, we are made in His image – then that thing IS, and we go against our deepest and most fundamental instincts when we deny it.

    My dad was raised Baptist. When he discovered Orthodoxy he reveled in the fact that many of the teachings agreed with what he always believed but never found true confirmation of before. That was 30 years ago and he still hates the liturgical pomp and circumstance, but he cannot deny the truth.

    Thank you for that revelation. This very idea is the hope that lies within me concerning those in the various camps. In fact, the longer I live the more I look not at camps but the individual children of God within them. God doesn’t send me camps; He gives me encounters with His children where I might save or be saved, love or be loved, heal or be healed: anything can happen!

    thank you once again, drew

  64. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Dear Byron,

    In catholic Christianity, the core of all sacramental life, including marriage is commitment/covenant. Faith itself is the fulfillment of a covenant, a commitment.

    So, in general and in brief, your pursuit of the
    Great Orgasmatron is antithetical to engaging life as both a revealed and rational order, and in that I would say that the Great Orgasmatron is the unrestricted exercise of any particular pleasure regardless of how profoundly or rapidly it tends us toward entropy/disorder and disintegration.

    You cannot make a life commitment to an array of sexual partners and still sustain any depth of relationship, much less any real appreciation for the integrated set of needs and desires that constitutes real sexual fulfillment that surpasses the merely ordinary. That’s just a fact. Go to any country in the world that practices polygamy and find a way to get the women to speak to you openly and in truth. No man is THAT good…not one. Or stay in this country and begin to interview married gay men and ask about the sexual arrangements in that marriage and what it takes to keep either one or both sexually satisfied, more or less.

    At any rate, I’m 60 years old and I think you are silly and egocentric and perhaps ineffectual in some way that you have yet to discover. When you do discover it, the Christian life of love and commitment might begin to appear more attractive to you.

    Blessings, in Christ


  65. drewster2000 Avatar

    And Byron….

    This must be said: Thank you, for the opportunity to talk about sex. Sincerely. This is such a broken area of the human person that you normally have to go to a porn site, Harlequin novel or cat house just to hear someone discuss it freely. The fact that sex is good and yet broken leaves many of us as just frustrated; there should be a place to talk about it that isn’t hush-hush in a corner somewhere. But again because we have been so wounded in this area, there isn’t really and that’s the way it is. So thank you.


    I don’t think you’re silly or egocentric. Why would God give a man the desire to have sex with so many wonderfully-attractive women and then say “Don’t!” Is He some kind of sadist? No, He’s not.

    In Heaven there will be no marriage. When some people hear that they imagine Heaven as a large monastery, but that’s not true either. In fact in heaven we will experience union and deep intercourse (in the true sense of the word) with everyone around us which will make sex feel like a slap in the face and acid in the wound.

    Sexual intercourse is just the tiniest drop pleasure that promotes offspring and helps ease the tension of the marital relationship – compared to the communion we will experience with everyone in Heaven.

    So why not start now? Because we’re not in Heaven. Because of our brokenness, it takes all our energy to walk together with one man or woman, let alone many. When men go to a harlot, their intention is not union and giving; they want to take for their own selfish desires. What we all need – and the example God gives us – is love.

    We need to love that one woman. A wise man once told me that if you learn love & know one woman well, you will love & know them all. Follow God’s wisdom and stick to one. We will be in communion with ALL God’s children one day – but not yet. Right now start small: learn to love one well.

  66. fatherstephen Avatar

    Michael (and thus Byron),
    I could not have said this as well, and certainly not better. Your reflection on your experience is truly profound. I have generally avoided writing on the topic of sex/marriage, though I’m not certain why. Your comment was very helpful to my own thoughts. Thank you.

    On the topic, classically, theologians speak of the “unitive” and the “procreative” function of marriage (unitive generally refers to the sexual/relational union while procreative refers to conceiving children). Roman Catholic theology has often stated that procreation must be present on some level/possibility in the marriage – in some treatments its as though procreation redeems sex. St. John Chrysostom recognized these two functions, but stated that the command to “be fruitful and multiply” had long ago been fulfilled (“the whole earth is full of people” he said and that was in the 5th century). He instead focused on the unitive aspect and is among the better voices among the fathers on the topic.

    There are, among the Orthodox, some who take a fairly strict line on the procreation angle, but I think they are not the only Orthodox voice on the topic. Sex is inherently pleasurable, just as good food is inherently pleasurable, and for the same reason: God made it that way. I dare say we would not do either if there were no pleasure involved. Pleasure is absolutely not inherently sinful.

    Nevertheless, the brokenness of our lives colors everything, so that in almost anything we do there is a distortion. Despite this, we all still eat. Sex only within the context of marriage is actually obvious – except to those whose understanding is distorted by either lack of life-experience or the many abuses rampant in our culture. Sex is union with another human being, not simply mutual pleasuring. That union properly belongs within the context established by God at Creation. Like everything, it’s a razor’s edge.

  67. fatherstephen Avatar

    Orthodoxy is deeply removed from Catholic Christianity on the topic of covenant and commitment. There are no vows in an Orthodox marriage. There is no contract or covenant between a husband and wife (you are correct, this is very much a Western view). In Orthodoxy, marriage is union. We should be faithful, etc., because our spouse is “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” Regarding love for a wife, St. Paul noted, “No one has ever hated his own flesh, but loves it and nourishes it.” He had not seen some of our modern self-hatred. But marriage as union makes for a different understanding though its ethics will seem similar.

  68. Victor Avatar

    Fr Stephen,

    Ontological is a perfectly good word in its own right and serves the purpose if your purpose is to name things correctly, but I sense that you want something more accessible and perhaps a little ‘larger’ or more inclusive? Perhaps the word ‘unitive’?

    Also, what if you went to other disciplines besides philosophy to look for a word to replace ontological?
    For some reason ‘elision’ comes to mind. I know it doesn’t mean exactly what you’re saying here but it ‘tastes good’ somehow. As a gramatical device that unites words or parts of words that would normally be separated it shows us that meaning is often found in connection or relation rather than division or solitary abstraction. I don’t think it’s the word you want but I couldn’t help but play with it….


  69. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Father: It is, of course, good to mention that difference but I wasn’t even thinking about marriage vows actually.

    I was thinking of the covenant that God made with us, or of the several Scriptural covenants, and how the principle sacraments of the Church are an integral portion of the new covenant, of which marriage is one.

    Equally importantly I was making the connection between faith and the commitments God makes to us and the commitments we are asked and commanded to make to one another…out of love and obedience to God and also to the teachings of the Church, which then brings us back around to the sacramental connection.

    That was my thinking. And then that those who choose the pleasures of the world and the flesh lose on two counts. They lose because without commitment, pleasure is short-lived and can be accompanied with unrelenting pain and suffering, the suffering of dis-integration or the loss of wholeness or integration that comes with faith. And they lose because there is nothing to look forward to once the pleasure has faded, not to mention the fact that many pleasures are, in fact, exceptionally illusory.

    I am surprised no one has offered him St. Augustine’s “Confessions”….


  70. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Nevertheless, the brokenness of our lives colors everything, so that in almost anything we do there is a distortion. Despite this, we all still eat. Sex only within the context of marriage is actually obvious – except to those whose understanding is distorted by either lack of life-experience or the many abuses rampant in our culture. Sex is union with another human being, not simply mutual pleasuring. That union properly belongs within the context established by God at Creation. Like everything, it’s a razor’s edge.

    Father, all that you say is true except for the obvious part. Due to the rampant licentiousness of the wider culture the Christian understanding is anything but obvious and becoming increasingly clouded even to those in the Church. If that were not so, there would be no debate or question on how the Church should respond to all of the anthropological/ethical questions that our nihilist culture throws up. Yet there is dithering and sadly, in some cases, affirmation of the worldly mind. My own reflections are the result of a process that began not long after I became Christian (long before the Church). I wanted to know what Jesus Christ wanted of me as a Christian man and as a complement to that what it meant to be a Christian woman. Knowing nothing else I began using an old Protestant technique: pray your question and open the Bible. On the Christian man question, I opened to Job (it is has taken quite awhile to figure that one out). On the Christian woman question, I opened to the Magnificat, particularly: “My soul doth magnify the Lord”. That was in 1977. Genisis and Romans came later in the process and of course Ephsians, esp Ch 5 which I neglected to mention earlier. The sacramental life of the Church and the spiritual practice of fasting has helped quite a bit (even though I am really bad at fasting).

    The process continues and has brought a great deal of good fruit into my life. It has been a challenge too though I do not think I would have the incredible wife that I now have if I had not done my homework.

    We are sadly in need of authoritative teaching on these matters. If my reflections help, I am grateful. The attitude of the priest Bryon mentions is too frequent. I can find no other response to it than such teaching is just plain wrong and well outside the ethos of the Church.

    Stil, each of us must come to the truth and how to apply it in our own lives. It is important to me to know what Jesus Christ expects of me as a man. I am far from meeting the least of those expectations, but His Grace seems to fill in much of what I lack.

    Have a joyous Pascha!

  71. drewster2000 Avatar

    last post lost in spam filter….

  72. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Actually, it began 1n 1975 rather than in 1977.

  73. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Fr. Patrick and drewster2000: my experience is quite similar. People so often find their offical belief out of harmoney with their hearts and what they know. That is part of the horor of the heretical teachings. It not only divides the Body of the Church, it divides us personally.

    That is also why there are so many who walk into an Orthodox Church for the first time and know they are home.

    That being said, some folks accept the untruth and armor themselves agains the truth in the process. We must be aware of that as well.

  74. PJ Avatar


    The notion of covenant hardly seems western? It seems simply Biblical, being used throughout the Old and New Testaments.

    “Sex is inherently pleasurable, just as good food is inherently pleasurable, and for the same reason: God made it that way.”

    This comparison confirms the reasonable belief that the unitive be not parted from the procreative. How bizarre it would be to chew on food and spit it out, to savor without swallowing. Similarly, it is bizarre to frustrate the natural consummation of intercourse by separating pleasure from procreation.

  75. PJ Avatar


    “Stil, each of us must come to the truth and how to apply it in our own lives.”

    I admit I’m surprised by this attitude. It seems rather, well, Protestant and American. Is there anything of moral or theological significance upon which the Church cannot (and does not) teach with perfect authority?

  76. fatherstephen Avatar

    Obviously Covenant is Scriptural, but it is only in the West that this aspect of Biblical thought becomes central as a point of organization. It’s not that it isn’t Biblical, it’s just its use that is a later development. Indeed, it is Calvin, largely, who makes Covenant such an organizing principle, because it suited his purposes, and wasn’t, well, exactly Roman Catholic.

    Under secular influence, Covenant quickly becomes Contract, and with that we come to the present mess of the Forensic/etc. model. Covenant really isn’t at all the same thing as a Contract, but it’s somewhat hard to distinguish these days. Pace, Pace, I know that Christ uses the term Covenant in the Institution of the Lord’s Supper, but it doesn’t seem to have been particularly developed in either the rest of the NT or in the Early Centuries.

    Today, in the secular model, contract is everything. It’s perfectly suited to the modern view of man as an individual willing and making choices. Whatever 2 individuals (or more) are willing to enter into as a contract seems acceptable in our culture. It is one of the reasons why our culture doesn’t really have much to say on the topic of same-sex unions. If they want such a contract, why not let them have it, the culture reasons.

    Christians are left saying, “Well, you can make any contract you want, but you can’t have that one…” which simply collapses while the culture titters behind our backs.

    My training was in Systematic Theology. It is the nature of things that you can take almost any starting point and make it the central, organizing principle around which you build a cogent theological system. We would study as many as a dozen such systematics in the course of a term. Some were better than others. Almost all used some element of the tradition. Protestantism, and modern theology is simply competing systematics. If they’re all pretty cogent, then there’s no “winning” argument.

    But systematic theology is not the method of the fathers. Just because a concept exists doesn’t mean it should be taken up and used. “Baptismal Covenant” has been a popular notion in the liturgical reform movement. I know it was big among the Anglicans. Does Rome use that terminology now? It’s utterly foreign to the East, both in concept and language.

  77. PJ Avatar

    From my experience, there is little discussion of covenant within orthodox Catholic theology. There’re a few converts from evangelicalism who’ve attempted to view “salvation history” through the lens of “covenant” (cf. Dr. Scott Hahn), but this isn’t normative. Although this is a bit strange, given that, as you point out, covenant language dwells at the very heart of the liturgy. It seems to be interpreted rather loosely, in the patristic sense: the Old Covenant was relationship based upon shadows and signs; the New Covenant is a relationship of communion in Christ, who is the Reality.

  78. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Father: I sailed right on over a whole segment of thinking simply because I am not well versed in it at all. I think I am going to learn a good bit if I hang around here….

    As far as I have been taught, the Catholic Church speaks of covenant in terms of God’s self-revelation to His people and the promises that He makes and keeps, and the obedience that he asks in return which are not all or always directly linked to any covenant connection of course, save as they come to us through the Word. All covenants culminate in the Messiah, in Jesus, the Incarnate. And so He is the promise fulfilled and comes to us as the Word of the Father.

    Seems to me that Catholic teaching on covenant is a very basic recapitulation of Scripture [see the Catechism of the Catholic Church in the paragraphs of the numbers 50s through the 60s early in the text. Covenant is not at all any kind of organizing principle as you say here with respect to other systems. It is certainly not systematized outside of Scripture, in terms of driving the basic human organizing principles of the Body of Christ here on earth.

    My reference to covenant above was with respect to commitments made and kept. Promises made to us, and obedience called forth from us.


  79. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Here now. I’ve let myself open to be understood as saying that covenant and obedience are a quid pro quo…No. One does not trade obedience for a promise…or one does not keep a promise predicated on obedience.

    The covenant is a gift. A freely given gift that is true to the nature of a good God. But our nature is wounded and so we must be schooled in obedience, taught what is good so that we may not only be free to follow Him, but know how and where and what and when about doing and being good as He is good. Nevertheless these things unfold to us out of revelation which in itself is a fulfillment of a promise of redemption.

    My goodness…so many words…


  80. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    No, PJ, I am not saying that the truth is relative to individual experience, it is the Truth after all. However, each of us must come to willing obedience to that truth since we cannot be and are not forced.

    We must then live that truth within our own existential circumstances. The truth does not change, we must. Our participation in the sacramental life of the community (where we differ most from Protestants) does not change (although the manner of participation may change).

    Still, we must live the truth. We are given that freedom by our Lord. Some may realize and live the truth more completely and more fully than others. In any case repentance will be necessary for we all will fall short.

    My understanding of and obedience to the truth of marriage has grown over the years but the truth has not changed and will not change. I have to continue to allow myself to be conformed to the Truth by the Truth.

    My willingness and ability to live the truth has changed, God be praised. During my first marriage, I recognized the same truth that I do now (although not as fully), but I was unable to live it very well at all being a stubborn and hard-hearted man. Both my wife and my marriage suffered as a result.

    It took the death of my wife, my subsequent suffering and the unwarranted grace of being given a another wife before I could begin to actually practice what I knew. It is one of those instances in my life when a ‘bad’ thing was transformed into goodness and blessing by the grace of Jesus Christ.

    My wife’s death was terrible, the death of my current wife’s previous spouse was worse yet. God granted us the opportunity for a new life which is a joy for both of us, even though we still greive for our reposed spouses. Now, however, it is a shared grief and much easier to bear and our life in God can blossom in a new way.

    The truth is, we should not be married and in full communion. God has granted us a great mercy to be married and fully participate in the life of the Church, a mercy benefical to the salvation of us both and to others as well. That is the real economia given to us because of the existential realities of our lives and the burden of sin (our own and that of others we have had to bear). We will never know the full joy and completeness of those who are wed to only one in Christ but because of His mercy, we can come close.

    Marriage is never an indivdual undertaking any more than sexual intercourse should be. Marriage is based in the community and for the community as much as it is for the two spouses and subsequent children. Thus it needs the approval and acceptance of the community. That is made clear in the Orthodox wedding ceremony. A ceremony which is of great beauty and power–deeply expressive of the full reality of marriage. It is not a covenant in and of itself (no promises are given or received), it is given its reality and strength by the covenental inter-reltionship of God becoming man, dying on the Cross, Resurrecting and Ascending. St. Paul alludes to this in Ephesians. It is given strength and blessing flows through it becaouse of the communion with our Lord that is shared by the spouses and the sacrifice of praise and service which marriage entails. Sexual intercourse is a big part of that which is recognized as fully legitmate within the marriage and a gift of God, an integral part of the joy the Church is proclaiming as two become one in Christ.

  81. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Here is an article about Pope Benedict XVIths understanding of revelation and covenant:

  82. PJ Avatar

    Fair enough, Michael.

  83. Byron Gaist Avatar
    Byron Gaist

    Many thanks to all who replied to my post.

    Thank you for the quote from St John Chrysostom, CoffeeZombie (what a name! I like my coffee too, but…:-)). This quote releases me from my prior impression that the possibility of conception had to be left open – another one of those Church ‘rules’ I felt uncomfortable with. I have also dipped into Augustine’s Confessions and John Paul II’s ‘theology of the body’ in the past, and I’m sure these documents are worthy of far more attention than I had given them. I like Michael Bauman’s scriptural and prayerful approach very much – and that wasn’t the only thing I liked about your responses, Michael. I’d like to thank you, too, for sharing your own experience with marriage and grief so openly. It’s encouraging to hear your Christian journey. My impression, for what it’s worth, is that while you are probably right to feel especially blessed to be married again, it is a pity if you are both carrying guilt for the loss of your former spouses, as traumatic as this is, and as understandable and human as guilt is (perhaps guilt is also a sign of spiritual health to some extent?). My hunch, for what it’s worth, is that it would be best for both yourselves and the spirit of your reposed former spouses to continue to enjoy a fruitful, joyous and productive marriage. You are also giving hope to others, such as myself, that a Christian marriage is worthwhile.

    Some other comments suggest I should clarify that I’m also married, and have no intention to ‘cheat’ on my beloved wife. We are happy together, thanks be to Him who joined us in marriage. As much as I appreciate feminine beauty, it does not incite in me a desire to rape or otherwise abuse anyone – God forbid even killing has been mentioned :-)! On the contrary, feminine beauty stirs me to praise God’s skill and artistry. I find my wife very beautiful, and I am blessed with two beautiful young daughters.

    So my questions about polygamy are more philosophical, which doesn’t make them less urgent for me however. Yes, Christ has only one bride, but I cant’t help noticing that bride consists of several persons, many souls. Is it really a sign of disintegration or incongruence, to love more than one person with one’s whole body, soul and spirit? Clearly I do not have a heart big enough to love as many as Christ does, but I recently read about a woman in a village in India, who is married to five brothers (her culture permits this). She sleeps with a different brother on different nights. They all have sex, and in the words of one of the brothers, they are “a big, happy family”. Now, I’m not Muslim or Hindu and my culture does not permit marriage to more than one woman. But sadly, I still don’t get why plural marriage which would be caring and tender, and look after its children, would be wrong. In a sense, I do hope that I am “silly and egocentric and perhaps ineffectual in some way that [I] have yet to discover” as Mary Lanser put it – because that would mean I still have a truth to find further down the road than the one currently troubling me.

    I know that my daughters may read this online post someday, and I hope that my relationship to them will be honest and open enough, that they will not be shocked to discover their father puzzling over polygamy. I dare to say that sexual pleasure is wonderful, and I don’t understand why it should necessarily lead to selfishness anymore than good food. Clearly Fr Stephen’s post would correctly suggest that sexual pleasure should not be viewed forensically, any more than we should ‘hog’ our portions at table, or give ourselves more food than we are willing to share with others. It is also clearly Orthodox Christian to go hungry oneself so another may eat, and that’s the nature of sacrifice. I get this, and so I’m not interested in sexual relations characterized by selfishness or vulgarity. But I still don’t think ‘harlots’ are necessarily vulgar. And I hope to be able to say one day with G.K. Chesterton, that “every man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God”, but currently I must confess the pleasures of heaven appear remote to me, while the pleasures of earth abound. That doesn’t mean I reject the possibility that in heaven they do not marry because they don’t need to, any more than I reject the possibility that in the next life, as C.S.Lewis says, “there will be surprises”, and we may find some of the unlikeliest fellows sitting next to us, fully enjoying the bliss of God’s divine radiance. Just in case my daughters do read this, none of this is written to suggest to young people (or older ones) that they should stray from Christian moral teaching. Only that they should free their minds and think ‘outside the box'(to use a phrase which has unfortunately become part of the ‘box’ from overuse). Yes, the Lord wants us to be faithful and monogamous. I hope He also wants us to be honest about our desires, both the fallen ones and those which prompt us to transcend nature.

  84. Mary Lanser Avatar

    Dear Byron: In light of further information I beg to withdraw my comment that you are silly. But the other two I will leave for the time being till I have a chance to consider them in this new light.

    I think, having more than passing contact with polygamy and polyandry, that these cultures cannot be read through the lens of your own familial experience. These cultures, as they stand, are well enough suited to their own anthropology and cosmology but not to Christian anthropology and christology. And I don’t know that by my own rational thought, though I can find ways of discussing it rationally. I know that first because it is revealed in the tradition of a people. It is revealed in the tradition of Scripture.

    That is not to say that there is nothing moral in these non-christological peoples. I am the last one to say or think that. But it is an earth and time-bound morality, and frankly, at a very basic and fundamental earthly or earthy level, I would rather see the Third Heaven than be wedded to five men.

    Oooops…I am sitting here and should be getting ready to go out…so more later if you are still interested.


  85. Dino Avatar

    the classic threefold classification of sex outside of a Church-blessed marriage being below our natural state, within marriage being natural, and celibacy/monasticism being above natural (as expounded on by Elder Sophrony) is particularly relevant here.
    In other words our struggle with passions spring from desire, its selfish abuse leads to hundreds of passions, while on the other hand it is a God-centred desire from which good thins spring too.
    It is desire therefore that lies at the very centre of our discerning struggle for union with God or with evil.
    There are simpler cultures than ours with far less of a propensity for sinister perversion and self-indulgence that might outwardly seem ‘harmless’, however, that is not necessarily the case.
    Yes, an old man in Nepal smoking opium might indeed do it in a far less twisted way than a crack-addict in an infamous City centre of a western country does it – just like there are many forms of polygamy and applications of it. This however does not change the fact that we have a polar star showing us the way! And that polar star (without denigrating blessed Marriage) is the perfection of Christ towards which monastics directly strive.

  86. PJ Avatar


    “Yes, Christ has only one bride, but I cant’t help noticing that bride consists of several persons, many souls. Is it really a sign of disintegration or incongruence, to love more than one person with one’s whole body, soul and spirit? Clearly I do not have a heart big enough to love as many as Christ does, but I recently read about a woman in a village in India, who is married to five brothers (her culture permits this). She sleeps with a different brother on different nights. They all have sex, and in the words of one of the brothers, they are “a big, happy family” Now, I’m not Muslim or Hindu and my culture does not permit marriage to more than one woman. But sadly, I still don’t get why plural marriage which would be caring and tender, and look after its children, would be wrong.”


    It’s not enough that your Lord and Savior said it was wrong?

    St. Paul answers your question: Marriage is a symbol of the mystery of Christ and His Church. The Church is indeed made up of many members, but it is just one Body, which is united to one Head, Jesus Christ the incarnate Word.

    Anyway, plural marriage is unhealthy even from an empirical or natural law perspective. It is inherently unequal and manipulative. In the situation you describe, each one of the men gives himself fully to the one woman, but that one woman divides herself between many different men. There is no gift of self, just division of self, on her part.

    I don’t doubt that there are plural marriages which are generally loving and caring, but ultimately the phenomenon is contrary to the law of God and the law of nature, as both revelation and reason plainly show.

  87. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Bryon, I’m sorry if I gave the impression that my wife and I harbor guilt. No, we still carry the sense of loss which will always be with us. One of the things that such a loss creates is the desire to remember the one who was lost and the happy times that were shared. We are free with each other that we can do that. The memory of the other love is celebrated that way. We are free to share any of our feelings about them. That is a wonderful thing and a great blessing. It allows us to rejoice in what we have to an even greater extent. Survior’s guilt is part of the grieving process that can go on for some time depending on the circumstances of death, but it is not healthy to hang on to. IMO, guilt is a block to real contrition, a false subsitute and a block to allowing the joy of God come to you.

    In the Orthodox Church we pray “Memory Eternal” for all of our reposed. It is a two fold prayer: 1. That they always be remembered by God, and 2. that we realize that they are not dead and gone, but alive. My wife and I are able to do that without hiding it from one another. Many second marriages have difficulty with that.

  88. drewster2000 Avatar


    I don’t think you’re silly or egocentric. God made us, so why did He make more than just one woman so attractive? Or however you want to phrase it. That’s a reality, a cross most of the males bear. But why?

    As you mentioned, there will be no marriage in Heaven. This was so depressing the first time I heard it. Images of Heaven being just one large monastery containing one eternal church service came to mind. I had to push it out of my head before I ditched the whole Christianity path right there!

    But in fact Heaven will be about communion with each other, to such a degree that it goes WAY beyond marriage. Sex there would feel like a slap in the face and acid in the wound. No I can’t imagine that either, but that’s because we’re still here in a broken world. This is where faith comes into play.

    We can’t do polygamy here because we can’t handle it. No one man (or woman) is that big, that strong, or able to give that much. You see, the deeper and stronger the relationship, the more it requires from us. You can have 100 acquaintances but only about 1 or 2 really close friends.

    And sexual intercourse is one of the deepest and most intimate experiences we can have with another human being (again, in this life). When you have sex with a woman, you unite yourself to her, commit yourself to her in a very strong way. This is a point where it’s important to stress the authentic model over the forensic one. Because it doesn’t matter if you get married or make promises to her; you have organically, authentically made a real union with her.

    Though it’s not quite the same, think of Siamese twins joined at the hip. Suddenly you can’t do anything or go anywhere without taking part of her with you – and the same for her. We can do this with woman. God said we could because He knew what we could handle in this broken world, but not more than one. Imagine having to take 10 people around with you wherever you go and you will understand the dilemma to a certain extent.

    And by the way, harlots are not vulgar; they are just broken children of God like the rest of us. BUT….no one shares love with them unselfishly. Men generally go to harlots because they want pleasure – not because they want another partner to walk with, another person they have to care for, another presence in their lives. Not to say a man can’t have good intentions, but it just doesn’t work.

  89. drewster2000 Avatar

    Oh, and Byron?

    Thanks for giving an opportunity to discuss sex. It touches such a vital part of our being and yet is so broken that it’s normally only talked about freely in the seedier sections of town. So thanks for your open and honest questions about it.

  90. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Dino, perhaps you can help me. I find the ranking that you gave, placing monastic sacrifice and asceticism above marriage troubling. I put them on a much more equal footing. Both marriage and monastic tonsuring are sacraments of the Church. Both bless and sactify a calling to devote one’s life to God in knenotic service, prayer, fasting and worship. It would not be difficult to make a case for the superiority of the married life live to its fullest but that is equally troubling. Both are blessed vocations in the life of the Church. Why is monasticism higher?

    I find it troubling because most of us will not be monastics. The attitude that often comes with the ranking is demeaning to the life and struggles of married people and,a times leads to the impression that married folks cannot enter the Kingdom.

  91. Dino Avatar

    St John Chrysostom’s homily on Virginity (on monasticism really) does a great job of explaining the immense superiority of that total dedication of the unmarried, who free from anxieties are anxious about the things of the Lord only, how to please the Lord only in the present form of this passing world (1 Corinthians 7:32); compared to him “that is married” who “careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.” (1 Corinthians 7:33).
    God appears to all and wants to show himself to all, however, He also considers how far one (whether in the world or in the monastery) will go to create those special contributive circumstances (as far as he can) that are conducive to this.
    Also note St John Climacus’ saying, repeated time and again by the Holy Fathers, that “as angels are the ‘light’ of monastics, so monastics ought to be ‘light’ to laity”. Monastics being a light to laity is to be taken both ways: laity must look to imitate them and monastics must be a shining example to them.
    Let me attemt to put it another way:
    Without denying that Deification, is not something reserved for a few select initiates, but something intended for all alike, we admit that there is an undeniable difference between those who choose a life of voluntary hardship (and
    involuntary pleasure) for the Lord (monasticism rightly chosen) and those who choose a life of voluntary pleasure (and involuntary hardship) for a spouse.

    He “who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake” and who “will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29) is like a person travelling to his destination with a fighter plane; while he who lives in the “world” and is still heading towards that same destination is also blessed when he arrives there, but is like someone who has chosen to travel through the scenic route….

  92. drewster2000 Avatar


    If we go by Dino’s posts, he has taken this position for some time now, and is a monastic himself if I remember correctly. And he is not alone in his position, St. John Climacus being one of the prime examples.

    Though you and I don’t agree with him, I think this is a place where we would be wise to allow the disagreement to stand. We have not and will not achieve total unity in this life – even with those in our own communion – even in word only. If we cannot approach this topic with an open heart and being ready to give grace and let live, it would be better to prefer silence.

    This is my opinion.

  93. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Not seeking a disagreement, I don’t really disagree just seeking greater clarity. What Dino states is well known to me. I was hoping that Dino would come up with something new. I deeply appreciate the sacrifice of those in the moanstic life and well know that such a life is not one that I am well suited for. As my brother said to me once: “I think I am in love with the idea of monasticism, but not the reality”

    Here’s the thing, the desription of marriage that he gives greatly understates the sacrifice and selflessness of marriage, IMO. I for one, don’t look to “please my wife”, I look to elevate her, to love her and to lift her up in God as we are commanded by Holy Scripture to do for her sanctification. I seek to lay down my life for her as Christ laid down His life for me. I fail daily, but that is my striving. Shoot it is not always that I want to be intimate with her when she needs it, same way for her.

    Living in a marriage by seeking to “please your spouse” or children is an RX for failure.

    Married people with young children often go without adequate sleep for years, waking frequently in the middle of the night to pray and tend to the needs of their children. Spouses do likewise for each other especially as we age. The list goes on and on. There is constant prayer and thanksgiving for each other, children, children’s children associated family, etc. that is similar to the monastic offerings. Certainly, monks can prayer longer and more consistently, but that is a blessing of the monastic life. Married folks have other blessings but more encumbrances. We have make a real stuggle that the monastics don’t have to live a life of prayer. In a sense, we have to want it more just to do it.

    What I am most troubled by is the twisting of the ideal of the moanstic life to denigrate marriage and the lay life.

    This rarely comes from monastics themselves BTW, but rather priests, most of whom are married and, of course, the hyper-orthodox. I don’t seek to tear down monsasticism, it is a great and high calling, but so is marriage done properly.

    I just think it is necessary and proper to offer a much higher view of Christian marriage than seems to be the norm if we are to fulfill our Prophetic calling in this day and age.

    Too often monasticism is exalted at the price of denigrating marriage. Monasticsim does not need that. It can and does stand on its own as the pinnacle of human dedication to God, I understand that.

    The gap between the monastic life and marriage however is not as great as many make it out to be,IMO. Frankly, it often sounds like a bunch of sour grapes coming from those who chose monasticism over marriage and sorta wished they hadn’t, especially in light of the overwhelming testimony of Holy Scripture on the value of a sanctified married life.

    Monasticism is often spoken of as the angelic life, but tht is not human. Jesus Christ did not take on angelic nature, but human nature and ascended with it because we are created in the image and likeness of God, angels are not. That kinda makes humans higher than angels (but I’m nit-picking).

    Of course, it could be that I’m just stuck in the worldly mind too much to really see the truth of it. That is always a possiblity.

    Lord have mercy and grant us all strength and wisdom to love one another.

  94. drewster2000 Avatar


    I totally agree with everything you said, but perhaps this is something that cannot be seen from the other side of the coin. And thus is better for both parties to identify their lives according to what God has called them to WITHOUT making a value judgment on the other. Perhaps the best statement we can make (kind of summarizing your thoughts) is that each calling has its own curses and blesses, ups and down – but God has ordained both.

  95. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    drewster2000, I agree. “And what God has cleansed, call thou not unclean”

  96. fatherstephen Avatar

    Briefly between services…

    On monasticism and the married life. Dino is right, I think, but I will add a nuance or two.

    Monasticism is not inherently holier than marriage, just as no one monk is generally holier than a married man. Marriage is supremely blessed, being, literally, the first blessing pronounced upon humanity by God. And the canons say that it must not be despised.

    However, Orthodoxy, as does the New Testament, understands that asceticism is the proper structure for the Christian life. We fast, we pray, we keep vigil, etc. Christ Himself points to an aspect of monastic advantage:

    10His disciples say unto him, If the case of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry. 11But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given. 12For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

    What can be said is that monasticism is designed to support a greater degree of asceticism than marriage and for that reason has a greater spiritual advantage. I think “advantage” is the correct term, for if the advantage is not used, then there is nothing better about monasticism, and maybe some things worse.

    However, there are many advantages of a different sort for the married, and if those advantages are taken there is great benefit and holiness. It is also clear that God has ordained that most people marry. If God has called someone to the monastic life of asceticism, then let them be true monks and not simply glory in their Riassas!

    But there are reasons why the Church has restricted the episcopacy to monastics (or celibates) for most of its history. The reason is asceticism and the freedom from other cares.

    But the holiness of virginity (and celibacy) is found in the offering it makes to God and not in its avoidance of the marriage union – but what God gives in marriage is holy. The Calvinist/Jansenist/extremist reading that sex is somehow inherently flawed (Augustine says as much in the City of God – blaming it on concupiscence – this would be the same confusion that would say we only eat because we’re gluttons) is simply wrong and leads to bad theology, I think.

    I covet the prayers of monastics and hold their life in the greatest esteem. It is not my calling, but I easily yield first place to them in the athletic efforts of the spiritual life.

    Michael, btw, you’re probably right about lowered expectations. God bless your fast!

  97. Mary Lanser Avatar

    That is one of the most lucid responses to the question of monastic and married life, Father. That comparison is always a difficult one and I very much appreciate how you’ve taken the kinks out of it!


  98. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Unfortunately, it seems that too many relgious, including many Orthodox have adopted the Augustinian vision which, IMO, came more from Augustine’s Manichean days than from Christianity. That is the root of my difficulty.

    I too, value the prayers of the monastics and their overall witness highly. I love it when they are around to “monk-up” the place, like when Archmandrite Zacharia visted some years ago. A great blessing.

    BUT, as you did Fr. Stephen, we need to have an equally positive view and understanding of marriage. Its a great thing even when it isn’t easy.

    Blessed Pascha to all. I can begin to feel the joy gathering already. This has been a fruitful fast for me, just have to keep running through the tape and not let down, but break into my finishing kick.

  99. Dino Avatar

    not a monastic! married with 3 kids here, did sort of live that life to some extent in the past though -as a longterm almost-permanent visitor (like a novice) in my mid to late 20’s.

    I should say that I can clearly see the differences myself, having lived both ‘ways’ first hand though.
    There are immense differences in not having any possessions for instance (including a great deal of “logistical logismoi” that are added to the other usual intrusive thoughts during prayer), not having any actual solid sensual temptations feeding the passions further and further (in the Holy Mountain that is), having a most experienced discerning Spiritual Father every single night and day on call that others would die for, being assaulted not by outward assaults but by inward demons and therefore “wisened” in a very different, far “finer” way.
    One in the world (unless he is “blessed” to be bed-bound and alone perhaps!) rarely escapes that hustle and bustle of life that is a very thick veil hiding his own very depths (usually dark and stone-cold towards God) from his very self… It can be a form of ‘delusion’.
    Not that monastics cannot be deluded, but they are in a situation that they have tons of time with their ugly self. That is invaluable!

    Let me give you an image: 20 people work in a most putrid tanning factory, as they have done this for years they have absolutely no problem with the smell, they are entirely used to it. Someone from the clear countryside comes to visit and he cannot grasp how they can possibly cope with such stench! He stays for a couple of months though and his repulsion becomes a distant memory. That is what the world does to us…
    Not that we cannot be saved here – far from it! but we need to know that we must do all we can to create the most conducive situation for purification, to be aware, vigilant, watchful, discerning – far more than monastics are in fact! To “deal with the world as though we had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away”.

    In the world someone can indeed struggle even harder and more fervently that a monk does, his zeal for ascesis can possibly be maintained at a higher level due to the constant and often very real temptations. However, that is an effort NOT TO FALL first and foremost (if they are not deluded about their spiritual warfare).
    In a monastery however, especially a more hesychastic one (as monasteries vary hugely), the effort is like Jacob’s effort when he wrestled with the Lord… It is an effort to delve deeper and deeper into the depths of God! Do you see what I am getting at? That is extremely more rare in the world…
    In fact God’s will for someone who is married would not normally be that he struggles in such a monastic “flavoured” struggle, since unless it is done in his own (very limited) free time, it would be as if he is robbing his wife and kids from their time…
    It really is far trickier in the world – in very many respects… Even simple things that Christian lay people – (in what is a very correct knowledge: that it is really all about Love and Humility)- do forget make a big practical difference. e.g attending Liturgy not just once or twice a week but daily, taking Holy Communion virtually daily, confessing extremely often (in your beginnings at least), praying the Jesus prayer for most of the night every single night, hanging around with Elders that most faithful would give an arm and a leg to meet a few times in their lives… It all adds up to quite a difference (when done correctly that is of course…)!

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