Sex and the Moral Imagination

resurrectioniconAs the day draws near for the US Supreme Court to insist on nationwide approval for gay marriage, a watershed in modern thought has been reached. For although the Supreme Court is not the arbiter of morality, its decisions generally signal a deep level of cultural acceptance. Of course, in American practice, the court represents the apex of legal/forensic imagination. Its decision will signal the bankruptcy of the forensic model for continuing Christian thought. When questions of sexual behavior are placed before the legal model, Christians are simply unable to make a persuasive case for much of anything. It is at least true, that the culture has become completely deaf to the sounds of Christian thought spoken in legal grammar.

Of course, the consequences of this will likely be long-lasting. For it is Christianity, in a certain form, that taught the culture to think with a legal imagination. Therefore, it’s not likely that the culture will listen to gainsaying Christians on the topic, regardless of how they frame the conversation. And the consequences reach far beyond sexual matters.

The same legal imagination seems increasingly mute in the face of other pressing questions: euthanasia, abortion, gender management, genetic manipulation and conception, etc. We are quickly reaching a place where the will to act becomes the right to act.

For the Church, the most immediate question is not how to regain a culture that it has now lost, but how to speak to the Church whose members have been nurtured in a failed legal/forensic imagination. For what seems obvious to the Supreme Court will likely seem obvious to teenage Christians as well (and many others). Christians are hardly counter-cultural revolutionaries (despite all of our protests to the contrary). The culture in which we live is, whether we want to admit it or not, of our own making.

Sexual morality and other related social issues have been addressed in a moral framework that is essentially forensic, grounded either within a legal reading of Scripture or in natural law. Scripture no longer holds a place of central authority within Western culture and natural law arguments have been lost in a constant battle of science and counter-science. Everything seems to have been swallowed by a popular acceptance of radical Nominalism: anything can be whatever we want it to be. The wanting is the thing.

But sexual relationships (and all relationships) lose the possibility of well-being in a world where whatever we want is, in fact, the case. For relationship is inherently about the Other, and if the Other is simply what I want, then the Other serves only as an extension of the ego. 

When Christ speaks about marriage, He pointedly moves past the arrangements of the Mosaic Law and reverts to Genesis: “From the beginning it was not so…” (Matt. 19:8). He elevates the creation story to the controlling position. It is there that we most clearly see the role of the Other. They are male and female, specifically like and unlike one another. And the man without the woman is “not good.” Rather, he is “alone.”

But this also becomes the ground of union, that state of being that best describes salvation. “She is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” The complementarity is not simply opposition, ego on ego, but a unique ontological relationship admitting of union without the loss of otherness. It is, in its complete expression, the model of personhood.

And this is the “union” that the Church blesses in the sacrament of marriage. It is not simply two people, but male and female, in a union that is possible on every level. Biology is not made inferior to psychology. The modern project has reduced sexual existence to mere identity, a vehicle for the ego. Ovum and sperm have been objectified, becoming simple biological materials to be manipulated in a lab.

According to Christian understanding, in human existence, the personal is also capable of bearing the tragic, ground that is foreign to Modernity, its eradication being the goal of every Modern project. Boundaries are tragic for the ego – they say “no” to its unfettered demands. The “tragic” is viewed as any undesirable event or result in Modernity. It is viewed as suffering and is to be avoided, controlled and minimized.

Classical Christianity understands that the Cross is the way of life and that its paradox turns the tragic inside-out. For the Cross is not an unfortunate requirement, something God is forced to do in order to rescue sinful man. The tragedy of the Cross is also the pattern of healing, wholeness, well-being and eternal life. It is the revelation of true personhood.

All of the arguments regarding new definitions of marriage, aggressive reproductive technologies, gender re-definitions, etc., are made within a model that views any and all suffering as both tragic, needless and unacceptable if at all possible of alleviation. Such a line of reasoning was inevitably on a collision course with an ethic originally rooted in the Cross. The Christian view of personhood is an invitation to voluntary suffering and self-sacrifice. Nothing could be less modern.

The Church’s sacramental life exists solely for the purpose of salvation. It does not exist to bless or facilitate the interests of the State (or of the ego). The sexual models that are finding approval within the culture (and by the State) are not in accordance with the path of personhood revealed in the Christian Tradition. There are and will be many varying models of Christianity that will agree to serve the self-defined interests of the State. But these represent “another gospel,” a radical rejection and re-imagining of the Christian Tradition.

In public conversations, the traditional account of Christianity is going to come up short: the Modern promise of no suffering will always get more votes than the tragedy of the Cross. But the Cross must first be re-preached to the Christian people – they have listened long and well to Modern promises and have, to a large extent, modified their own understanding of the gospel in its light.

The irony, of course, is that the Modern drive in the name of compassion and the alleviation of suffering, is something that was first taught by the Church. And now the Church will seem to be arguing against it. Of course, the supreme irony is the Cross itself, which has always seemed like foolishness and weakness, and will continue to be despised by the builders of our Brave New World.

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.



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252 responses to “Sex and the Moral Imagination”

  1. Dino Avatar

    May we stand firm on God and the Cross…
    It strikes me that the “radical Nominalism” of “We are quickly reaching a place where the will to act becomes the right to act”, and “anything can be whatever we want it to be. The wanting is the thing”, is disguised Satanism. It is identical to the pure, unequivocal Satanism of Aleister Crowley’s unbridled, “Thelemic” (Thelema is his word choice!) law of all laws “do what thou wilt”.
    (even though his ‘religion’ has at times been presented in sheep’s clothes -for the very naive)
    The modern (neo-epicurean to be precise) promise of no suffering truly has used Christian compassion to fight the Cross – exactly as the devil used God’s word to deceive Man from the start. (Gen 3:1)
    But the mightiest weapon of a Christian – the most practically effective – is still to keep one’s mind firmly on God, instead of starting this conversation (under any pretext) that the devil knows will lead the mind to where it will have the possibility of being deceived…

  2. Dino Avatar

    you bring so much clarity to these topics – I am very very grateful!

  3. Robert Avatar

    Like the legal grammar to which our culture has become deaf, so likewise the natural law model has no purchase. But perhaps it is a good thing.

    Natural law is convenient – a compelling case for the Gospel is unnecessary.
    As you say, “the culture in which we live is, whether we want to admit it or not, of our own making.” And so here we are, the gig is up.

  4. Jonathan Hughes Avatar
    Jonathan Hughes

    Fr. Stephen,
    Thank you for your thoughts on this, I always find them thought provoking. For the sake of full disclosure, I am a Presbyterian pastor–PC(USA) variety–so I suppose my tradition is one of those that could be accused of a “radical rejection and re-imagining of the Christian Tradition.”

    I am not at all trying to provoke you, so please forgive me if I cause offense, it is not my intent. I hope that I can articulate my wrestling articulately.

    I certainly would not dispute the centrality of the cross, and I do not know any of my fellow Presbyterian pastors who would. It seems to me that there is no tension between Christian compassion and the cross, certainly no ultimate irony between the interaction of the two in our culture. I say this because I do not see a simple correlation between “suffering” and the cross.

    What does it mean to take up one’s cross? I do not see a simple answer to this. Does not Christian compassion mean that the cross the church is called to bear is the burden of a brother or sister? The suffering that Jesus took up upon the cross was not his suffering, but ours. He experienced it as his own, of course, but it was ours. The cross is love taking up the suffering of another. If this is correct, asking a brother or sister to carry their suffering is not the same as asking them to carry their cross. Rather, it is the church who is called to carry their suffering by bearing their burden. It seems to me that carrying the cross is a profoundly communal calling. There is a point at which asking another to carry their own cross in the form of their own suffering is the very antithesis of our Christian call to take up the cross.

    It seems to me that one of the church’s tasks is to discern where the cross is in a given situation so that the body of Christ may bear it. After all, in any given situation the cross can be identified in more than one “location.”

    I will refrain from applying this to same-sex marriage, because this is already long enough and because I believe the question of same-sex marriage is actually a ball of questions that has yet to be straightened out.

    I would appreciate you feedback. If I am mistaken somewhere, I am certainly willing to be corrected.

    Grace and peace to you!

  5. Byron Avatar

    Blessings, Father! Thank you!

  6. Dino Avatar

    You (one-sidedly) only described one of many ‘crosses’ in your comment…
    There’s also the outward cross of the trials and tribulations of life, the inward cross of the struggle against the passions, the cross of our devotion to the will of God -ultimately offering ourselves up as a sacrifice to God…

    The knowledge of the cross is concealed in the sufferings of the cross. And the more our participation in its sufferings, the greater the perception we gain through the cross. (St. Isaac of Syria)

    As St Anatoly of Optina once wrote, the holy Fathers relate that when the thief of the Gospel, too, came to the gates of the Kingdom, the Archangel with the flaming sword wanted to chase him away, but he showed him the Cross. Immediately the fire-bearing Archangel himself withdrew and permitted the thief to enter. Understand here not the wooden cross. Nor a cross of bearing the burden of another… But which? The Cross in which the chief Apostle Paul boasts and concerning which he writes, ‘I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus (Gal. 6:17).’

  7. Dino Avatar

    In a very real sense it is our capacity for suffering (yes, the “general” type of suffering) that makes us “save-able”.
    We couldn’t deny that God’s grace is in proportion to the burden (placed on us by our brother or sister) that we can bear, never. But the Cross as the transcendence of all suffering is the raison d’être (and “exoneration” in this world) of our Faith.

  8. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I rather imagined that my presentation of the Cross in this article would occasion a response as yours – and I welcome it. The reason is that the Cross easily becomes a cipher – a symbol liable to much interpretation and reinterpretation. It is why I observed that there will be many Christians who will take on the culture’s service and render the Cross of use. As such, Christianity becomes (and is for most Christians) a bit of a moving target.

    The is clearly something that Tradition alone provides – a stable target – the union with God taught by the Fathers that is the doctrine of Christ. The parameters of the Christian life – including in the Church’s ample teaching on human sexuality – (I say, “ample,” in that the fullness of Orthodox tradition is quite eloquent in the matter – far more so than the West) – but those parameters describe certain boundaries for us – and set the scene for certain tragedies.

    The members of the Church must absolutely share in the burden of the Cross of their brothers and sisters. That indeed is love. And there are certainly unique elements in every life, viz. the Cross. The Cross of same-sex attraction has been well-known, documented and discussed for the better part of the Church’s existence. The Desert Fathers and the lives of the saints are rather matter-of-fact about it, with far more tolerance than many Modern’s might expect. And those are only a minor part of the elements of the Cross that must be borne.

    In truth, Orthodoxy has a lot to say about sex even within marriage, in the fullness of the canonical tradition. Like the eating of food, it is surrounded with ascetical understanding. There is no Orthodox Christianity without asceticism. That cannot be said of Modern forms of Christianity. And it is a modern weakness.

    The Way of salvation is an ascetical path, to be followed in some manner by every Christian. The fact that ascetical Christianity is foreign to most Modern Christians (or “exotic”) is a commentary on how estranged modern forms of Christianity have become from the faith of Christ.

    With that in mind, I suppose I see this article as a call to the faithful to remember who they are and the path they are to walk. The Cross in each life is not simply those things that fail to agree with the average middle-class American secular life (“how tragic!”). I have here suggested that personal existence is itself inherently tragic and only rightly lived in the manner of the Cross. The modern existence is, in fact, not a true existence at all but an enslavement to the ego, a life that continues in its marriage to this culture of death.

    Thus, I would say that there is a need to discern that the Cross is the nature of every situation. The Cross is the only true existence – and so it is called the Way of Life.

    I recommend the writings of the Elder Sophrony.

  9. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you Fr. Stephen

  10. Wes Avatar

    Fr. Freeman,
    Thank you for your words. I am grateful for the wisdom you offer on this blog.

    You write “The modern project has reduced sexual existence to mere identity, a vehicle for the ego?”

    How do we as Christians engage in respectful conversations with the lgbtq community if we have a different understanding of reality, and disagree on the language used to describe reality? For example, we acknowledge a person when he says ‘I am gay.’ But is there an ontological reality behind a person’s orientation and sexual desires that qualifies it as an identity? What if we even disagree at that level? How do you respect the language that a community (and a society) provides while disagreeing with it’s ability to describe your own understanding of reality?

    Thank you.

  11. Wes Avatar

    Forgive me. I meant to end your quote with a period, not a question mark. Unfortunate typos can alter the tone – I just wanted to clarify.

  12. Jonathan Hughes Avatar
    Jonathan Hughes

    Fr. Stephen and Dino,

    Thank you for your responses.

    Dino, I admit I did present only one side of what it means to bear one’s cross. I wanted to highlight a particular aspect of the cross, one that I would say is primary.

    My concern is a quick correspondence between suffering and bearing one’s cross. I do not deny that there are many senses in which we bear the cross, but I would suggest that there is always a pastorally sensitive–and thus a matter of spiritual discernment–dimension to other “modes” of bearing the cross.

    From my perspective, the cross is, primarily, the cross Christ bore on our behalf. The cross is also, derivatively, the cross the church bears as the body of Christ for the sake of her individual members and the world. This emphasizes the sacramental nature of the church and our mystical union with Christ. This is why I would say that the primary mode for thinking about what it means for a disciple to bear their cross is bearing the cross of their brother or sister. This is sacramental participation in bearing Christ’s cross.

    I will have to think a good deal more about Dino’s reference to St. Anatoly of Optina. I do not know the broader context of the comments, but based upon the reference I would say there is agreement with what I am presenting here (only to a point I am sure).

    Fr. Stephen, I am not familiar with Elder Sophrony. Do you have a particular suggestion as regards a place to begin with his writings?

    Also, Fr. Stephen, I do think that some of the distance between our views has to do with different understandings of Tradition. I admit I have a hard time with Orthodox explanations of Tradition as I understand them. To say that I value tradition would be an understatement, because of its implicit pneumatology, but I do not know how to appeal to tradition as a stable referent within the life of the church catholic. I do try to take seriously the witness of the Spirit in the life of the church through the ages. I know that there is a great deal of hubris within mainline traditions, but not all of us fall for a cheap arrogant commitment to modernity. (I do not hear you suggesting this.) And I would also suggest that what motivates most mainline pastors is not an intentional commitment to the modern project but a desire to bear witness to Christ’s love and grace.

    I think we would both agree that sexuality is an idol within our culture. This is true for “heterosexuals” every bit as much as it is true for “homosexuals.” (To be clear, I reject identity politics of every sort as idolatry.) I think we would also both agree that we all swim within our culture to varying degrees, and that one of the church’s great tasks is to help the baptized embrace a Christian vision for human sexuality.

    I guess I am trying to highlight the problems I see with quick associations between suffering and bearing the cross. There is a type of suffering that is bearing the cross, and their is a type of suffering that is not redemptive in any way. Said another way, there is a suffering that matures, and there is a suffering that crushes. The church must, I believe, attempt to be clear about this distinction. This is a pastoral task.

    Again, thank you both for your comments. I have a number of questions around these realities, and I do appreciate being pushed and challenged. I am not convinced by any means that I am right. My comfort is that Christ is Lord of the church and he will complete the work he has begun in each of us. Thanks be to God!

  13. Dino Avatar

    Father Stephen,
    Wes’s is a good -and practical- question. I would also like applicative counsel in the matter, since our engagement with that particular slant of “worldliness” seems potentially more poignant than what’s customary.
    They “have a different understanding of reality, and disagree on the language used to describe reality” as Wes pointed out. Even though this is not dissimilar to our general ‘interfacing with the world’, a few more practical pointers wouldn’t go amiss…
    I recall having the conversation in a monastery with a shocked Hieromonk about how there are now many in the western world who have an unconscious ‘religion’ or ‘religious’ morality (for which they are willing to fight for almost with their lives) which is about nothing more than ‘rights’, particularly ‘gay rights’ (while themselves often “self-identifying” as heterosexual). Of course the “key” of the proper understanding of the Cross and self-denial is not easily employed in those bite-size (twelve words or less) ‘conversations’ the world only has a tolerance for nowadays – and unfortunately that’s exacerbates the impasse!
    Keeping a healthy distance is becoming problematic in certain types of work, and more than just conventional discernment is required by Christian’s walking on this particular tight-rope.
    Such counsel would be much appreciated…

  14. Dino Avatar

    A more general guiding recommendation I have encountered by Abbot Aimilianos (which is also applicable here –though it’s certainly ‘advanced’) is that the respected meliority or nobility that inevitably radiates from a true “neptic” –one who has attained to ceaseless spiritual vigilance in words, deeds and thoughts as we all should, is like a type of aristocratic ‘shield’ in these cases of dealing with the world while not being of the world. This also implies non-engagement as far as possible though – and I do understand it’s not an option for certain people and at certain times.

  15. Ken Kannady Avatar
    Ken Kannady

    Thank you again, Fr. Freeman. The cross is death and a heavy burden to all believers and at times an extreme suffering…which according to the tradition begun by our Lord and passed down by the Apostolic is to be embraced by all. Whether we like it or not ! Ken

  16. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    As far as the homosexual ‘identity’ I draw on two sources for my comments for Christian men who openly struggle in a Christian manner with same sex attraction.

    Not surprisingly both see the source of their struggle as dysfunctional desire. One, a non-Orthodox man has written a book about it: Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill.

    The other is an Orthodox man I have had discussions with on other blogs.

    Both describe poignantly the sense of separation and loneliness involved in their struggle. The chief difference between the two is that Mr. Hill still affirms his identity as primarily homosexual. The other gentleman does not although he confesses it took him quite awhile to get beyond that particular difficulty. He says that he now enters the church as just a sinner, like everyone else–not a homosexual who is a sinner.

    His words on the topic are that seeking fulfillment as a homosexual is impossible as it does not work. He likens it to a bunch of men in a room, each with a half glass of water wanting a full glass. The only way to get a full glass is to take someone else’s half.

    I deduce from this that such relationships are inherently exploitative and sterile.

    In the mystery of the unity of male and female in Christ however, the coming together produces an over abundance of life that spills out creating children, families and all kinds of other good things. It is an icon of the Holy Trinity.

    What those of us who do not struggle with same sex attraction share in common with those who do, IMO, is the twisted nature of sexuality that our culture promotes which Fr. Stephen has so rightly called an extension of the ego–that false ‘identity’ all humans carry around within in us and defend to the last drop of other’s blood.

    The modern version of heterosexuality is just as twisted and exploitative as homosexuality. It bears no resemblance to “in the beginning’. If it did there would be no pornography, no divorce, no sexual abuse, no adultery…..

    When I listen to these two men describe their experience–the loneliness, the estrangement they feel I can relate to that. Even in marriage such loneliness and estrangement can and does exist if not for God. In fact a marriage without God is perhaps the loneliest type of existence I can imagine.

    It is God who fills and fulfills. He created male and female as integral to the salvation of the rest of His creation. If the center does not hold….

    So to talk to those who don’t believe as we believe we have to get beyond the ideology of sexual identity and speak as one human being to another. Each of us carries a God shaped hole within us. Nothing else we try to use to fill that hole will work. The loneliness is, in part, a recognition that God alone gives life.

    It is not easy for it requires a degree of honesty, humility and empathy that can leave one quite vulnerable, or seem to. If not for the armor of which the Elder Amilianos spoke we would be.

    But even if we are torn in the attempt, can we not rely on our Lord’s words from the Cross even more: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

    The modern reduction of forgiveness to simply agreeing with anything anyone else feels is a great blasphemy. The Cross is God’s answer to that blasphemy–not a way of entering into it.

    Lord, forgive me, a sinner.

  17. Texan in kuwait Avatar
    Texan in kuwait

    Fr Stephen,

    Thank you for writing this. About 20 or so years ago, as a young man trying to figure out matters of faith and God and reconciling all that with being an American trying to begin to understand the Orthodox Christian faith in which I grew up, a wise Orthodox priest (now of blessed memory!) said in a sermon that the *only* way to approach God is through His precious and life-giving Cross. I remember that sermon like it was this morning.

    This understanding of how to approach God, and of how to approach the suffering that finds all of us, whether we want it to or not, taught me more than I can express.

    And it’s not a mere option — i.e., “well, you can approach God through the Cross if you want, but you don’t have to.” Most certainly not. Those who attempt to preach God apart from bearing their own Cross(es) steadfastly and with patience and love are wolves in sheep’s clothing! They know not what they talk about.

    I realize now that most people in popular culture who talk about God have no idea what they’re talking about. I only trust the wisdom of those (both living and departed) who have themselves approached God — and continue to approach Him — through his life-giving Cross.

    And you’re right, Father, this method of approaching and understanding God never gets any votes.

    “Before Thy Cross we bow down in worship, O Master, and Thy holy resurrection we glorify!”

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Michael, et al
    It is absolutely important to get beyond the “culture war” in all of this. Christianity is not about such things. What you have offered here, Michael, is very much the right approach – human being to human being. I very much appreciated your observations on the alienation, etc., that exists even within marriage. The crisis of sin is existential and includes us all. It simply takes different forms and gives different takes on the same struggle. And the struggle is moving forward towards becoming an authentic human being, created in the image and likeness of God – a true Person.

    One of the delusions of secular existence is its tendency to “normalize” the condition of our existential crisis. We become numb and oblivious to the truth of who we are not. We even judge our “normal” to be better than someone else’s “not normal.” This is like comparing one pile of mud to another. It’s all mud…that has been commanded to become God.

    There is a reason that monasticism is grounded in celibacy – an ascesis that refuses to be defined by sexuality. It is not a refusal to acknowledge human sexuality, but an ascesis that seeks to truly redeem it. And this is a great mystery.

  19. Christopher Avatar

    {So to talk to those who don’t believe as we believe we have to get beyond the ideology of sexual identity and speak as one human being to another. Each of us carries a God shaped hole within us…It is not easy for it requires a degree of honesty, humility and empathy that can leave one quite vulnerable, or seem to…But even if we are torn in the attempt, can we not rely on our Lord’s words from the Cross even more: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”}

    This sums it up very well I think. I am (reluctantly fer sur – my ego does not like the defeat 🙂 ) beginning to accept that persuasion is not what is needed, but a conversion – a real encounter with the Holy Spirit. What can break through a “sexual identity” but the Spirit? Can the person who is holding/believing such a thing break through it? I suppose if it was a philosophy, but it is more than that, it is an “identity” – it is who they are (turtles, all the way down). Only God and those who can hear him have any inkling as to their real nature and “identity”. In a response to Wes and Dino’s question, I would say you really can’t talk to such people because their is no common grammar/definitions in which to speak – you are speaking different languages. What is needed is an “event” (usually a crises of some sort) from the outside (Providence) to jolt them and plant a seed, from which they can begin to question and listen. Can we be that? I am rather pessimistic, at least in most cases…

  20. Matth Avatar


    In most cases, no, we cannot be that. But the Spirit does not work “in most cases” or in general, but rather in each specific case, much more perfectly particular than we can even conceive. But there is absolutely no generalization possible; each and every human must be taken uniquely.

    But please correct me if I’m misguided.

  21. Mark Erling Avatar
    Mark Erling

    Father Stephen,

    I think perhaps you mischaracterize the legal issues involved. While it’s true that a SCOTUS ruling in favor of “gay marriage” would give impetus to this cultural movement, such a ruling, in and of itself, wouldn’t “insist on nationwide approval,” it would only signify that such unions are legal under the Constitution. Just yesterday, a probate judge in Alabama announced that he would abide by the rule of law and grant marriage licenses to gay people, even though he personally disapproved.

    I can’t tell from this piece where you actually stand on the issues of legalizing such marriages. Although I agree with many of your diagnoses and predictions, I cannot see any way, in a pluralistic society, of denying one class of citizens the same legal rights as another class of citizens, based solely on their sexual preferences. Therefore, despite my misgivings over the longer-term consequences of the sea changes regarding sexuality in society (of which “gay marriage” is just one instance), I support marriage equality — although you won’t find me on the picket lines any time soon, and you will find me vigorously supporting the right of churches to reserve the Sacrament of Marriage to heterosexual couples, if that is what those churches choose.

    And I think the mainstream churches will have to choose in coming years. While gay marriage was still wholly illegal in this country, it wasn’t an issue for the church. Although marriage equality is the law in more states than not, the churches are still waffling. I have never understand, for instance, how the Episcopal church can offer the sacrament of ordination to gay people but not the sacrament of marriage.

    (P.S.: Thank you for your ministry through this blog; your thoughts and reflections always speak to me and challenge me. )

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    First and foremost, we have to recognize that this is not “us and them.” We are all disordered, chained to the ego’s project. We have common ground on which to meet and have conversation. Getting the conversation to that common ground requires that we get ourselves there first.

  23. Robert Avatar

    Are you familiar, Father, with Scott Cairns’ poem Late Results? It’s very powerful, saying the same as the last two paragraphs of your essay above.

    Late Results

    We wanted to confess our sins but there were no takers.

    And the few willing to listen demanded that we confess on television.
    So we kept our sins to ourselves, and they became less troubling.

    The halt and the lame arranged to have their hips replaced.
    Lepers coated their sores with a neutral foundation, avoided strong light.

    The hungry ate at grand buffets and grew huge, though they remained hungry.
    Prisoners became indistinguishable from the few who visited them.

    Widows remarried and became strangers to their kin.
    The orphans finally grew up and learned to fend for themselves.

    Even the prophets suspected they were mad, and kept their mouths shut.
    Only the poor—who are with us always—only they continued in the hope.

  24. Christopher Avatar

    “I would also suggest that what motivates most mainline pastors is not an intentional commitment to the modern project but a desire to bear witness to Christ’s love and grace.”

    Jonathan Hughes,

    I believe this to be true, as a matter of “self belief”. From the outside looking in, it simply looks like spiritual and psychological denial. Your comments had me thinking about Mother Thelka’s book “The Dark Glass” where when speaking about the “Orthodox attitude of life” she writes:

    “For us, the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with the century or place in which we happen to live. They Holy Spirit has nothing to do with contemporary or local morals, or with the lack of them, in an ‘enlightened’ view of sex or murder…Our Holy Spirit is a Person…Who in spite of worldly change, fashion, and ‘progress’ , keeps us steadfastly…in a mystical place where time and eternity meet. Our Holy Spirit denies that truth can truth can alter from one generation to another: denies the claim of human knowledge….He is the antidote to all that is immanent and transient…”

    Quite the contrast when thinking about how modern Christians speak of the Holy Spirit. She also talks about suffering (and of course sex) in the “Orthodox attitude”.

  25. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The legal question is a moot point for me. It will be what it will be. I think SCOTUS will rule that laws restricting marriage on the ground of same-sex is an unconstitutional discrimination, which will make all state laws on the matter null. But if not, it will soon be fait accompli. This is simply going to happen.

    But the sacramental life of the Orthodox Church will not change. There will be some dust-ups, I think, on the pastoral application of the Church’s teaching, but it will settle out fairly soon.

    What I think is important is not the “issue” of same-sex marriage in the eyes of the State – it is the place of the legal/forensic model in the life of the Church. You might find it interesting to read my article on Wedding Vows. My articles in this series are part of a continuing critique that I’ve done on the error and bankruptcy of the legal view within the Christian faith. We’re too often asking the wrong questions, and missing the point of salvation. And in doing that, we fail to serve and preach the gospel.

  26. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Christopher, but there is a common language–one we are all largely ignorant of. We can reach it with others together if there is both the will and the humility. The ascetics know it.

    A recent case in point: a couple of black activists highly critical of police response in minority communities had the humility to take a police training course in the proper use of deadly force: a course which required them to face situations where they had to decide in a split second to shoot or not to shoot. They also had the humility to enter into it without a predetermined will not to shoot at all since it was not real.

    To their credit they found that some of the assumptions their critiques had been founded upon were false. They found themselves acting in a manner they had not anticipated. Shooting, even multiple times in spit second situations. They just reacted to threat.

    When we perceive threats, we react defensively. The culture war, the identity movements all create an atmosphere of threat. That treat level is so high in many places that even to say anything offends someone.

    I have been contemplating what it means not to war. It starts first in my own heart. It is part of the contemplation on the second step of the repentance in Way of the Pilgrim: “I don’t love other people”. How can I say that I do when I am constantly at war with them?

    These are knew thoughts to me. But remember, each of has an ‘identity’ that we feel we have to defend. The fact that it is not real is beside the point. I can tell you my “sexual identity” is just as un-natural as those with same sex attraction. Both are false. Both are un-human.

    I have known and worked with many homosexual people in my life. None of them have been odious. Many are far less odious than I am. Years ago I watched as an acquaintance of mine spent a year convincing himself of his homosexual ‘identity’. He immersed himself in homosexual pornography, and casual sex. He told me got up every morning, looked into the mirror and said, “I am a homosexual”. This was in the pre-AIDS era. I fully expect that he is dead now because of his commitment to that ‘identity’ he created.

    In a similar manner, each of us is immersed in a culture that immerses us in sexual titillation and perversion of every kind and says its all good. We are urged at every term to create our very own “sexual identity” starting at a very young age. It is the obverse of the previous cultural belief that “Its all bad–a necessary evil” and being punished for sexual thoughts. We are taught to entice, manipulate, subjugate, humiliate and debase others for our pleasure.

    Those are the ways of death encouraged by demonic whispers saying:

    And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. Gen 3:4-5

    Think of one of the most frequent rationalizations for pornography: “Its empowering”.

    We may know what sex is, but we have no idea of conjugal love. I think my late wife and I approached the edges of it once and we both were so frightened by it we fought with each other for a week afterwards and never had the courage to go there again. It is perhaps the greatest regret I have in this world.

    Only God can teach us real conjugality. Only God can reveal to us the beauty of our own humanity and the glory of union with Him as male and female.

    At this point we can approach it only by saying: “That is not what it is.” That perhaps gives us the space to approach the truth.

    So in the meantime we do what we can and work on approaching what is real and true the best we can.

  27. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The basic teaching of the Church on marriage clear. The Patriarchs of Russia, Constantinople and Antioch have, in the past couple of years, each restated those teachings without equivocation.

    As Fr. Stephen says, it matters not what the legal definition of marriage is. Some, unfortunately, may fall away and seek another truth. Those that remain faithful will prosper in God’s sight.

    May God grant us the grace, wisdom and courage to persevere.

  28. Jonathan Hughes Avatar
    Jonathan Hughes

    In honesty I do not doubt that it may seem like denial from the outside; at times it seems like denial from the inside as well. I would only offer that there is no safe haven from the possibility of spiritual / psychological denial.

    Again, I do not know many within my own tradition who would deny the personhood of the Spirit.

    I guess when I hear quotes such as you mentioned, I find them agreeable in the sense that beauty is true and agreeable, but I do not see how they engage the very real questions the church must engage in every time and place.

    Of course truth does not change, but this statement is full of complexities and ambiguities. I don’t see how someone could suggest anything else. At its best it offers a rich Christology that moves us toward deeper discipleship.

    I do believe that the church is reformed and always being reformed, according to the Word of God and the call of the Spirit. It is within this framework that the church engages the witness of the Spirit in other times and places. I am not trying to convince anyone here of this, I know it is a significant difference between us. I offer it only as a reminder of where I am coming from.

  29. Greg Avatar

    Fr Stephen,

    I find your opening assessment of the “forensic model for continuing Christian thought” as bankrupt intriguing & on target. It prompts questions for me from a pursuit of thought which presently captivates me.

    I have been studying Jeremiah & his contemporary history, the collapse of Jerusalem, and the people’s way of life through the lens of Jeremiah & his prophetic imagination.

    One aspect that caught my attention in Jeremiah’s narrative was the theme of God’s sovereign & intentional work. It involved God’s sovereign work of plucking up, tearing down, overthrowing, destroying & bringing disaster to the way of life His chosen people had made (almost comes across as if the covenant relationship itself had become so forgotten & misrepresented by human creation that it had to collapse for God’s ‘new covenant’ to emerge). This seemingly negative work of loss of their way of life occurred & God’s new path of life, a new “covenant”, was planted & built up to lead the people to know God & for them to be his people (Jeremiah 31:27-37). And we see this “new covenant” in Jesus’ life, death (cross), resurrection, ascension, and the giving of his Holy Spirit to teach us.

    I sense a parallel free fall (culture war as you put it) of our own way of life in the West, if not globally, very much akin to the Jerusalem free fall & collapse of 587 BC. Much of our way of life is headed for collapse in similar fashion (bankruptcy as you put it pertaining to the forensic model of Christian thought). I can only hope it is for God’s work of restoration among us.

    State all of that to ask this–Do you see such a definite collapse of thinking pertaining to Christian thinking (forensic model) and if so, what do you see on the horizon emerging as a new perspective or approach or even model of thinking about God & voicing what we learn & see of Him & his “new covenant” relationship with His people through Jesus? Would you speak to what you perceive of the weaknesses of forensic/legal thinking & what you see emerging to replace the forensic/legal filter of thought & expression? Finally, do you think the upheaval we are beginning to encounter will birth a reshaping of Christian thought to come similar to what the Reformation became as a shaping transition of the last era of history here in the West? Could we be living in the midst of recapturing something that’s been lost or a birthing of a new era of thinking & expressing God, His Kingdom & His covenant relationship with his people through Jesus?

    Hope I am clear in my thoughts and if I am far afield feel free to express that as well. Just some questions that were prompted by your article.

    Thanks for your thoughts you are making available to us. I’ve been reading for about three months now and your insights are very informative & thought provoking in life giving ways. And I enjoy the community conversation through the comments as well.

  30. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Jonathan Hughes, your words:

    I guess when I hear quotes such as you mentioned, I find them agreeable in the sense that beauty is true and agreeable, but I do not see how they engage the very real questions the church must engage in every time and place.

    miss the reality that it is the thinking revealed in the quote you read that allows the Church to remain steadfast and address each time and place standing on the truth and not be swayed too far by the mind of the world.

    From where I stand, your idea that the “Church is reformed and every being reformed” is what leads us into trouble.

  31. albert Avatar

    Fr. Stephen and others,

    These are tentative thoughts, but have been bothering me for years. I am not arguing against anything said above. In fact i have been greatly inspired by your reflection and by the honest and dep-thinking comments.

    As I understand thr concept of ancestral sin, our first parents’ decision– being a departure from a harmonious existence with God as its center–casused them to walk away from that existence and live from then on (their descendants too) in the natural world, as God created it, subject to physical disease and death as well as to moral disease and death. In this view, same-sex attraction is just as “natural” as heterosexual attraction, in the sense that it is not a choice or a moral deviency but an accident in biology that occasionally occurs even among animals.–just as congenital blindness or heart disease or a variety of other “defects,” are accepted as natural and not to be criticized, derided, or even pitied.

    In this view, those who feel that their accidental a deviations from the norm hamper them from leading a full life should have the right to seek medical or psychological intervention. But it hardly seems the role of the state to require such intervention, or to put obstacles in their way (hence the accessibilities and non-discrimination laws). Aside from constitutional issues, this principal should provide sufficient motivation to acknowledge same-sex relationships without calling them sinful.

    The problem comes in the area of physical acts which involve genitals and orifices. Without even considering the role of semen in promulgating life, many argue that such activities are “against nature.” But it is clear the occasionally nature deviates from its norm.

    All this us to say that it should not be any harder to talk with homosexuals and respect them and welcome them as equals–without being condescending or judgmental–than it is to respect and accept blind or otherwise different persons. Talking and respecting do not include pity or even hopes for change. There are numerous stories of “disabled’ persons living satisfying lives and even in some cases highly creative or productive ones.

    The only issue in the case of sexuality–and this includes everyone, gay, straight, etc.–is the way love is expressed physically, whether in a state-sanctioned relationship or out. The importance of family is not challenged or undermined by such a discussion. Nor need it be a “forensic” matter if existentially (I don’t know enough philosophy to say whether “ontologically” fits here) one finds himself attracted to persons of the same sex.

    Much of my tentative thinking on this has been influenced by studying the personal reflections of two Christians in a “traditional” church (maybe ours–they don’t say, but it is rather easy to guess). They are gay, and live together in a “committed relationship” but do not seek either state approval through marriage or church sanction through ritual. The most interesting element in their writing is their discussion of why they have chosen celebacy. In other words, they violate no church teaching, yet ask to be welcomed in church and accepted in the world. In both areas, however, they find themselves as outsiders. It is clear to me that much more thinking needs to be done about sexuality. I was especially interested in what Michael said about loneliness, integrity within a God-centered Christian marriage.

  32. albert Avatar

    “. . . loneliness and integrity within a God-centered Christian marriage.”

  33. Dino Avatar

    I know that we cannot speak and persuade those who are not asking for it, and Wes’s and my question pertained more to the practical ways to deal with an environment that expects you to sign the same pledge (of anti-Christian ideology regarding same-sex relationships) with which you cannot possibly have communion.
    As Wes asked:

    How do you respect the language that a community (and a society) provides while disagreeing with it’s ability to describe your own understanding of reality?

    I did not see that yet answered -I think- in any of the comments any more than the general advise I repeated (from Fr Aimilianos) on the need for cultivating unceasing watchfulness…

  34. Jonathan Hughes Avatar
    Jonathan Hughes

    Michael Bauman,
    Two quick thoughts.

    First, not to be cavalier, but doesn’t discipleship risk trouble. This is why faith is essential and love must overcome fear.

    Second, can you please flush out your comments? I am having trouble connecting the dots.

  35. Christopher Avatar

    First and foremost, we have to recognize that this is not “us and them.” We are all disordered, chained to the ego’s project. We have common ground on which to meet and have conversation. Getting the conversation to that common ground requires that we get ourselves there first.”

    What is that common ground? If I don’t stand on it (do you mean to imply that Christian understanding of anthropology is not it or is unknown/unknowable? Or that our imperfect sinful selves are too far away – even though we acknowledge it and have some understanding and/or Grace as to what we should be standing on), and they don’t stand on it, then what are we doing again? Not sure how recognizing a lack of common ground *in present tense/state* is a “us vs. them” power struggle…except when it is, like during the upcoming persecution where “they” (i.e. the New Moralists) will be forcing their morality unto “us” by the power of the sword.


    “Christopher, but there is a common language–one we are all largely ignorant of. We can reach it with others together if there is both the will and the humility”

    When it comes to the anthropological truths of Christianity, you are right that it takes will and humility. “together” say, with the modernist, requires the modernist to, humbly, reject his volunteerist self and neo-Freudian soul and psychology, his neo-epicurean ethic, etc. etc. In a sense, you seem to say that the common language is, well, Christian language right? Or do you mean to say there is some “transcendent third option” where a common ground/language is to be found that transcends or synthesizes both Christianity and modernity?

    As far as “threat” and “war”, I think for many of us this is no longer a “feeling” or an “ego exaggeration” or some other passion driven state of the soul tied up in an intellectual debate termed the “cultural wars”, but rather is quite real. As a small business owner, my state has a “Human Rights Commission” that has destroyed at least one small business (that is destroyed the livelihood of a family like mine with 6 figure fines and legal defense costs) when they refused to bake a cake for a “gay wedding”. Now, I don’t bake cakes and it is hard for me to see how these moral busybodies will persecute me, but I am also not under any illusion that they can and would given the first opportunity or even perception of one. Someone upstream seems strangely say that legal does not mean legal, and that laws that define “discrimination” are wholly passive and pose no burden or requirements on religious minorities who do not agree with the religious majority (i.e the modernists)

    Michael, I understand your parish runs a books store/ministry? What happens when the persecution comes and fines/shuts you down you for selling “hate speech”, that marriage is not between a man and a women and it is discrimination to act as if it is, that sexual identity is not defined by the radical self, etc.

    Fr. Stephen, what happens when the persecution comes and informs you that you are going to be tried for rejecting the request for a wedding of an “orthodox” couple who just happen to be two females, as is their legal right to do so (actually, you probably won’t have to face this but your replacement will probably)?

    Now, I anticipate an answer containing the truths of Ephesians 6:12 and Luke 23:34, and of course we are to bear our cross, our sufferings – and here my thinking might not be Orthodox – but don’t we still retain the “us vs them”. We are to “Love our enemies”, not negate our enemy with a philosophical turn that re-defines him as something other than our enemy (usually along the lines of a “Kumbaya” turn of thought)? “They know not what they do” is not “Whether they know or not it does not matter because it is all the same in the end anyways” or “They know not what they do, nor can they, not that it matters because there really is no “they”; only a “we”.” Christianity is not Neo-Platonism that much I know (as an aside some of the Orthodox opinion on the Apocatastasis seems awfully close to a Neoplatonic consummation – not that I have spent much time on it…)

  36. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    albert, good questions and reflections. I certainly cannot speak authoritatively to much of what you ask but just a few observations. Take them for what they are worth.

    Anyone who live in a manner that is outside the norm should not expect to be received as if it were the norm particularly in a community that has a very clear, even ancient understanding of what the norm is.

    Two people of the same sex who are same sex attracted, even if celibate seem to be tempting God in a way that only makes their spiritual struggle more difficult. I can see a man and a woman who is each sexually attracted to members of their own sex living with each other. Even that would be difficult

    The trouble with both ‘fixes’ are that they both miss the point of the deep ontological union that is possible only between a male and a female. Such union is seldom, if ever, realized in this life but that does not mean we should eschew the model.

    Some of your other comments hit me as a little too ‘leveling’ if you will–an egalitarian reductionism which can be okay for short-term pragmatic reasons, but cannot be the standard for the worshiping community.

    Some acts are sinful. Many acts that we as a culture accept that many routinely practice are sinful. It is never OK to call such acts un-sinful. It is equally not OK to condemn someone else to hell because of such sinfulness. We’d all be in hell.

    Many marriages become full of sin because of the hardness of our hearts.

    As to false families and marriages not impacting more authentic ones consider this from the realm of economics: “Bad money drives out good.” It is a fundamental statement of pragmatic economics that counterfeit money drives real, sound money from circulation because it is cheaper, does not require the commitment to earn and to spend that sound money does. It erodes confidence in the real thing and the issuing authority. It can actually bring down governments and create chaos on a large enough scale. The inflated currency of pre-WWII Germany is a case in point. Although not technically counterfeit, it was bogus for all practical purposes.

    The mystery of male-female synergy and union is central to the salvific economy. It is a deep mystery and difficult to explore let alone realize but the work I have done since I began approaching Christ beginning on one lonely night in Ft. Worth, TX in 1974 has led me to at least an appreciate for how deep the and central the mystery is.

    The state will do what the state will do. We will have to render unto Caesar the things that are his. While the state has a compelling interest in a legal definition of marriage for property and contract reasons, it has no interest in the sacrament.

    The Church’s interaction with the State over this matter is as old as the Church and has never been comfortable. Many of the Church’s early canons on marriage are not particularly elevating. Made, it seems, for the same reason the state has an interest–to protect inheritance rights and parental privilege and to make sure that marriages were not too close in families. The Church acted as the registrar. Yet there was always an understanding that marriage was something a lot more.

    1 Cor 11 makes that clear if it is read properly. The fecundity released in marriage is quite amazing. It has no parallel in any other human relationship.

    A lot of meandering.

  37. Christopher Avatar

    Jonathan Hughes,

    As I said above this is from the outside looking in – though I was part of a mainline many years ago now so was on the inside briefly:

    “Second, can you please flush out your comments? I am having trouble connecting the dots.”

    The contrast is between Holy Spirit as Person – one of the Holy Trinity – and thus outside human knowledge and “progress”, and Holy Spirit as a principle, a principle of reform, of movement, of progress – the ever moving target. The second holy spirit is called “person”, but in what real (except in an ego centric) way, as he seems more like a liturgical functionary that “blesses” whatever movement, reform seems to be, well needing to be “blessed” at that moment. In that sense the second “holy spirit” seems much smaller, much more dependent on the human or group mind of the age, he is more an “engine of reform” than God, Person outside all time, all “reform”, etc.

    To be succinct, this second holy spirit looks, swims, and quacks like the “spirit of the age”…

    You say:

    “I do not see how they engage the very real questions the church must engage in every time and place.”

    The Holy Spirit engages these very real questions and concerns by being the Truth that is beyond each question, concern, time and place. One does not address such questions with the “spirit of the age”, that is self-referential. It is of the ego. When one does address the spirit of the age with the spirit of the age, you simply get more spirit of the age…obviously… 😉

  38. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    …as to what to do when faced with intransigent folks who wish to punish us for not going with the flow: it seems pretty clear that we will have to suffer the consequences if and when they come.

    That does not mean we have to provoke them. Each instance will be unique, but it is not unlike offering a pinch of incense to Caesar. Great Martyr George functioned quite well in the Roman state until he was asked to offer that pinch of incense as did many similar martyrs.

    We go so far and no further.

    I’m in the life and health business. Personally I would have no trouble writing a life insurance policy on someone with their same-sex partner as beneficiary no matter what they called each other as long as they met the criteria of insurable interest, just as I have no trouble now writing life insurance naming someone as beneficiary called a fiancé when there is clearly no intent to marry. Same with health insurance.

    All my state has to do to ‘legalize’ same-sex marriage is to drop one phrase from the current law that requires that the two parties to a marriage be a male and a female. Plural marriage not far behind.

    That is the state’s business. It does not touch the reality of marriage, but it does drive said reality out of the common mind. The Church is the repository for the truth. We will be attacked. We will likely become smaller.

  39. Fr. Marty Watt Avatar

    In the talk about reality and our description of it, one word is continually missing, and I believe it to be the key word for our day.


    We cannot look at the world around us and say “This is how God intended it.” Because humanity’s free will mucked up that perfect vision, and we fell. And creation fell. Reality itself fell. We can’t even cite natural law – it is fallen as well.

    We can’t say “this is how God made me” – because we are most certainly not what God intended us to be. We are fallen.

    And why are we fallen? Because, plain and simple, we told God to go away – “We got this” we said. It *seemed* good to eat. It seemed pleasing to the eye. By our standard, our judgment, it was necessary to eat of that which we were commanded not to eat. We placed our judgment ahead of the judgment of our Creator. And we fell.

    We need to get away from the talk of sin and contemplate what it means to be fallen. Only then can we find sin, a consequence of fallen-ness, and use the Law offered by God, both in the Mosaic Law, and embodied in the person of Christ Himself, as our mirror, our standard, to remind us of our fallen-ness, and to point us again toward the One who restores us from fallen to “as created by God.”

  40. Dino Avatar

    Thank you Michael, appreciated…

    Fr Marty,
    Undeniably, until we acquire constant awareness of our falleness on the one hand and God’s omnipotent mercies enveloping us on the other we will not be making proper sense of anything. That double knowledge is like the light that, when missing, makes us stumble in the dark; and when it enters everything is discerned with ease and we walk around freely…

  41. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Fr. Marty, you are correct. That was implicit in what I was attempting to say, but I should have made it more explicit. Thank you.

    I do find, however, that folks have almost as much trouble with falleness when discussing sexuality as they do with the idea of sin. Sex being the original sin don’t you know–or so some think.

  42. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    One of the first consequences of the fall was the rupture of the trust and symphonia between Adam and Eve as man and woman. I believe it was St. Isaac of Syria who opined that our return to paradise would be marked by a reintegration of that symphonia as a first step.

    Long way to go if he is right.

    But as our Lord indicated, it is all there in Genesis. Our sacrament of marriage, in a sense, restores that harmony or at least opens the door for it to be restored.

    The real restoration is in the way I love my wife and she me on a daily basis.

    If our marriages are not icons of the truth then we have little to stand on.

    So, guys (and I can only speak to other men) get to work. Love your wife as Christ loves the Church.

    As has been frequently noted marriage is the only form of martyrdom where you get to pick your executioner. It is a joyful life.

    Happy Valentine’s Day!

  43. ajt Avatar

    Correct me if I am wrong, but the “common ground” that is being spoken of seems to be that we are all broken and diseased needing the healing that only Christ can bring in the sacraments and through His grace. We are all on common ground. As a Christian, I lose all credibility when I speak as though I am better than others simply by my faith in Christ. On the contrary, my faith is the acknowledgement that I am the “chief among all sinners.”

    Now, of course “sin” is that word that our culture loves to hate, and the christian culture of our time loves to place the word “sinner” in front of every person that is on the outside. And, this is the disconnect and why at this moment in time the church has very limited credibility. But, I am speaking in generalities. Specifically, each person is unique and has different needs and desires which must all be taken to Christ for his healing and mercy. The Orthodox faith is very helpful in this process if one seeks to know God. The ground on which we stand is one of humble, patient, cross-bearing. This is not about morality, but about the healing of our very person.

    “And they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics; and He healed them.” Truly, this is me.

  44. Christopher Avatar


    I suppose i am expecting a much more robust and oppressive turn in all this. I was talking to a women recently (she is a Jew and typically “liberal” in education/outlook) who was looking forward to the marriage decision as she thought it will re-enforce the “live and let live” outlook she supports. I think the vast majority of modernists believe this. What is actually happening however, is not “tolerance”, not “live and let live”, not “pluralism”, rather it is the New Morality and it is increasingly being enforced.

    My sister-in-law is an urban minister in a large Texas town. Her church is almost all African american (it might be northern baptist – I can’t recall exactly) and of course they were deeply involved in civil rights. Last year, when “sexual orientation” was put forth in by the city council as an addition to non discrimination law they were shocked, just shocked. They were really really shocked that churches were not to be excluded in the original bill, and this was “fixed” not by their own efforts but by the recognition that such a proviso would not be supported by the courts. Yet, everyone knows the day will come when it will be allowed by the courts. The New Moralists have already singled they have no intentions of leaving the churches out of their morality, so they will be included just as soon as possible.

    Like you, I don’t care if one decides to make Elvis the beneficiary of a life insurance policy. However, that is not what all this is coming to. It’s about what is happening with certain local business owners who (eccentrically no doubt) actually express their “religion” in their business. It will be about what you can legally do/say in your churches and at the publishing houses, it will be about “hate speech”, and the like.


    I think I understand your question better. Judging by history, Christianity under Islam, etc. one learns to live in the ghetto…

  45. dobergirl Avatar

    I’ve heard it said that we Orthodox are to curb our time spent on entertainments such as television, radio, etc. when Lent begins. I’m wondering if that includes spending a lot of time on the internet, you guys. Love your wife and spend more time with her; she probably feels neglected. Happy Valentine’s Day to all.

  46. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    What I see is that Christian thought expressed in the grammar of the legal/forensic model has ceased to have any effectiveness (or very limited) in our culture. The sexuality/anthropology discussions have collapsed it. This will effect the evangelical Churches the hardest (its been a strong grammar for many of them). Many mainline Protestant Churches continue to speak in this grammar but have long been adjusting their “legal” ideas to accommodate cultural change. That will continue, I think.

    Rome is struggling. It has spoken in the forensic grammar for a long while and it’s not working very well. But I’m not very privy to how things work in Rome – so I’ll watch them with great interest.

    Europe is in a very serious post-Christian era already. If American Christianity were to have a serious cultural set-back, we could be in for a very difficult time indeed.

  47. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Orthodoxy has plenty of examples of what to do when the persecution comes. You can only pray to be as faithful as others have been. The far greater trial (I think) is just trying to do the right thing every day.

  48. Geri Avatar

    Fr. Stephen–You mentioned that Christians have lost a way of talking about these issues that the culture can “hear.” It occurs to me that a lot of young people and others in our culture appreciate some “Eastern” concepts such as yin/yang. Although obviously different, there are some similarities in the Eastern Orthodox understanding of opposites becoming “one:” heaven/earth; God/man; male/female…Perhaps that is something that could be appreciated by the current culture.
    The Eastern Christian understanding of two “others” being healed and made one through the power of the Holy Spirit and in the image of the Trinity might be one way to distinguish Christian marriage from secular marriage. Christian marriage is not just about the love between two individuals—it is also about the healing of the division between male and female as two “others” are made one. In that sense, Christian marriage is about celebrating the male/female re-union. It is one of the “signs” of the re-uniting of all things through the power of the Cross.

  49. Dino Avatar

    it’s interesting how these types of creative, ‘economic’ (in the theological sense) solutions to talk to the world can be effective indeed…

    It is very true that the far greater trial is just trying to do the right thing every day.
    I believe that the general counsel on ceasless spiritual watchfulness is perhaps the only one that can be given with confidence. I find this -to use a favourite example- always to be relevant:

    The Abbot of Simonos Petras, Archimandrite Aimilianos was once speaking to his monks who were all sat around him:
    “Is there one thing, one core problem, whose solution would provide the desired answer to all our problems?
    Yes. Absolutely…
    But allow me to use an example to better explain this:
    You come to talk to me choked in your problems. You’re sick, you sinned, you plummeted beyond imagination, they’ve expelled you from your monastery, you’ve been told you have cancer and you’ll die.
    I speak to you, and after listening to me you utter with tears:
    “Elder! My problem is solved…!”
    How so?
    The cancer is not healed, surgery is still required, and you will certainly die; on top of that your monastery has expelled you. How is your problem solved?
    And yet you resolutely affirm that it has been solved.
    Indeed… It is solved. It’s solved since your internal state has changed, what you now experience is wholly different. Divine energy enlightened you inside now, and you felt it in your bones that your problem is utterly solved…
    Our problems are never solved, since others cause them and they are fashioned by exogenous circumstances. However, our problem is not the others, but my relationship with God: myself and God. Once this is settled, there is no longer a problem.

    Like when it’s dark, I stumble over the seats and fall upon you because I see nothing; yet the instant that light enters, I start moving with ease and without tripping over things; so it becomes when this relationship with God is re-established like this. Our human condition remains exactly the same, I’m still the one who I was, yet the solution has now clearly transpired.
    Now I see things differently.
    Though I see you, I am now apprehending God.
    I might recognize for instance, that you don’t love me, but I’m not in the least bothered. I’m rejoicing inside now. God unquestionably remains invisible, transcendent, but He is now the God that’s known to me, I no longer have troubles concerning the knowledge of God, He enters inside of me and the divine becomes my own content. The truth of this revelation is experienced as my personal God-bearing; I genuinely live this, it’s opened my eyes.
    Moreover, this new vision reveals the meaning of beings, of angels, of doctrines… but also the meaning of what is coming to pass in me, the meaning of my illness, everything… This communion of divine Energy is my secret spiritual marriage. And it is nothing other than the reawakening of unceasing ‘spiritual watchfulness’: communion with the ceaselessly monitored (monitored by me) Holy Spirit.”

  50. Nick Spitzer Avatar

    May I please live at on or near the holy mountain or some other holy monastery. Simply not compatible with the mode of existence of normative America.

  51. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Nick, monasticism is never compatible with the normal mode of existence anywhere at anytime. That is kinda the point.

  52. Meg Photini Avatar
    Meg Photini

    Since the title of the article is “Sex and the Moral Imagination,” I’d like to ask a question about normal, heterosexual, married sex in the Church. My question springs from part of the interview with Fr. Seraphim of Mull Monastery that was posted in the comments a few weeks ago, specifically the part where Fr. Seraphim reflects on the usual advice given by (monastic) spiritual writers to married couples: Not on Wednesday. Not on Friday. Not during Lent. Not before Communion. Not after Communion. Et cetera. Fr. Seraphim sees these prohibitions as blaspheming the sacrament of marriage by making fasting–which is not a sacrament–superior to it. Myself, in this oversexed world (and it’s not just America), I can see the value of ascetic restraints on sex and sexual practices. But how much restraint do you advocate before it starts sounding like prudery? The counterexample that lives in my mind is the rabbinic commandment that on the Sabbath, a man should go in to his wife and make her joyful.

    Forgive me. Not being married, I’m sure my ignorance is leaping off the page at you. But this is something I wonder about.

  53. Gregory Manning Avatar
    Gregory Manning

    Bless, Father.
    I am one of the fellows Michael Bauman cited in one of the earlier posts as a repentant “homosexual”. I put that in quotes because, for me, it has become a word or title that would be gathering dust on some shelf if I did not have to keep pulling it down for the sake of participating in these discussions. I put it on that shelf because, functionally, it’s no longer who I am. God has blessed me to be able to see the actual nature of homosexuality and come to an understanding of why it misses the mark. In short: It doesn’t work. It fails to deliver on the very thing homosexuals, like all humans, desire in their hearts, namely, affection. And not just any affection but that most powerful form of affection-intimate affection; that affection properly found in the marriage bed but otherwise available to all heterosexuals who, by definition, are essentially complete in their respective genders. Homosexuals are incomplete in their gender and, thus, spend their lives looking for affection and completion from those who cannot give it because they are looking for it as well and have none to spare. What passes for promiscuity among gay men is largely this endless quest for affection and completion. Thus, the real brokenness of homosexuality goes way beyond mere same-sex attraction; it is a broken affection; a dis-ordered affection; an affection that is out-of-order. Such an affection cannot be healed by a mere mortal, to say nothing of the foolish and presumptuous courts. Only Christ can comfort and console us. Of course, you have to believe that He can.
    By allowing me to actually see the true nature of the problem, God, through His Church, has empowered me to call this bogey man out into the light and see him for what he is, thus substantially depriving him of what I all along believed was his powerful hold on me. Having done so has freed me to devote my energies into struggling against everyday sins. Thus, as Michael has pointed out, I no longer see myself as a man who struggles against his homosexuality but as a man who struggles forward, to my Comforter and Redeemer. When I walk into Church each Sunday I do so as a regular, everyday sinner who seeks Christ-God’s help in fighting the same things everyone else fights against. BTW, if, like me, you’ve managed to get a sufficient enough handle on your particular sin so as to be able to carry your cross with a bit more ease, you’ll discover that something much worse, much more pernicious awaits you: self-pity! You think your particular sin is evil? Wait till you confront everyday self-pity! It is often said that money is the root of all evil. No. Self-pity is the root of all evil! And the struggle against self-pity will keep you busy right up to the edge of the grave!
    The sad part about the Court’s decision is that homosexual men will continue to be on an endless quest for an affection that the courts cannot give. I ask your prayers because the suicide rates will not go down and many men will continue to despair from loneliness. The cynical destruction of the family and the crippled fathers ( when there are any) guarantee the increase in this very sad brokenness.
    Pastors, you’re going to have your hands full. C.S. Lewis observed that either Jesus is who He says He is or he is a madman. If you, as pastors, can confidently answer in the affirmative, you are prepared to help those who come after me. I pray for you dear, dear fathers. God help us all!

  54. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Meg Photini: An excellent question.

    The marital fast is, as I study the Scripture and work out my salvation in marriage, only for those who can prosper in it by both agreeing to it and using that time in other pursuits such as prayer, fasting and almsgiving. The couple has to be sound and mature in both their marriage and their faith.

    If it causes either party to move toward sin, then it should be avoided (St. Paul warns against such). If a couple wants to take on that asceticism it is best done under the direct of couple’s regular priest/confessor in the community where they worship.

    There is so much more to the marital fecundity than sexual union, but that fecundity is founded in that conjugal union with God at the center. I would tend to endorse the words of Fr. Seraphim Mull.

    Not to say an occasional or even regular marital fast is not called for, it is. Certainly I see its value on Saturday night as a preparation for Holy Communion–but only if there is a further discipline of prayer, attending Vespers, confessing, reading Scripture no TV etc. It does little good by itself and can do a lot of harm.

    The Scripture is quite pointed about the joys of the conjugal marriage bed. For instance the one you quote, look at it: “make your wife joyful” that is a command to put her ahead of yourself. It is part and parcel to the Scriptural command that the husband sacrifice himself for his wife. That he do everything he can to build her up and offer her soul to God for her salvation as an integral part of his own.

    Any word of sarcasm, anything that hurts her feelings or action that tears her down must be repented of as quickly as possible if it cannot be avoided altogether.

    If the marital fast were to make her feel unwanted, unloved or neglected even in the slightest, it would be better to avoid it. Or if said fast had the same effect on the husband. It has to be affirming of the marital union with God. Otherwise it is simply selfish and cruel. I would never advise it for a newly married couple. Remember what the marriage service says: “As a reward for their continence…”

    On a personal level, I tend to be suspicious of monks who dole out such advice to folks they hardly know on a routine basis. Makes me wonder if they are at peace with their monasticism. At the very least, it makes them sound like grumpy old men.

    I may pose the question to a certain Hieromonk I know who became a monk after a lifetime of marriage and family when his wife reposed. Before she died, he sought and was granted her blessing to become a monk.

  55. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Gregory, once again I thank you for your witness. It strengthens me in ways I can’t even articulate. I hope you don’t mind that I tell a little of what I have learned from you.

  56. Alan Avatar

    “In truth, Orthodoxy has a lot to say about sex even within marriage, in the fullness of the canonical tradition. Like the eating of food, it is surrounded with ascetical understanding. There is no Orthodox Christianity without asceticism. That cannot be said of Modern forms of Christianity. And it is a modern weakness.

    The Way of salvation is an ascetical path, to be followed in some manner by every Christian. The fact that ascetical Christianity is foreign to most Modern Christians (or “exotic”) is a commentary on how estranged modern forms of Christianity have become from the faith of Christ.”

    This quote from you Father is pure gold. Thank you!!!

  57. Dino Avatar

    Nick Spitzer,
    I’m not entirely sure if your comment was a response to the quote from the Elder Aimilianos I translated, but it’s worth noting that the unceasing spiritual watchfulness he talks of is accessible (and indispensable) to monastics as well as laymen.
    Granted, the monastic context is clearly the most conducive to it, yet one can still become a ‘Judas’ in such a context while another can shine like a ‘Lot’ in the midst of Sodom

  58. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I have had occasion to serve as confessor/spiritual father to a few people through the years who struggled with food: anorexics, etc. It is obvious that fasting on their part must be handled with extreme care. Indeed, in form of asceticism has to be treated carefully for them. Years ago, I gave a discipline to someone of doing one “purely spontaneous thing” a day – it was a fast from a rigidity that was killing them.

    Well, fasting from sex is quite similar. I think most people are very disordered in their lives regarding sex and can easily hurt themselves or their spouse when trying to rigidly keep a fast. Added to that, most confessors properly do not want to know any details of someone’s marital union – it’s very holy ground. I prefer that people confess “obliquely” on the topic when needed. Indeed, I would be extremely wary of any confessor who asks many questions about this topic. He may be ill-instructed or much worse.

    That said, I think it’s good to abstain before communion – that is such a light thing in most cases – that there is no harm. Mostly, we don’t want to pretend that our sexual behavior in marriage has nothing to do with the rest of our life, including God.

    Rather than focusing on sex itself – it is better to focus on intimacy – on making room for the spouse as Other – as Beloved. The more we grow in kindness and affection, the more things will take a healthy shape.

  59. tess Avatar

    I’ve recently been studying the pair of works by Paul Evdokimov on the nature of gender and the spiritual realities of marriage, “Woman and the Salvation of the World,” and “The Sacrament of Love.”

    I find they’ve given me an excellent vocabulary preparation for the discussion, and I highly recommend them to anyone interested.

    In short, it’s all about the Holy Trinity.

  60. Jonathan Hughes Avatar
    Jonathan Hughes

    Fr. Stephen,
    I have been reflecting on your response to my original post. In it you said,

    “The reason is that the Cross easily becomes a cipher – a symbol liable to much interpretation and reinterpretation… This is clearly something that Tradition alone provides – a stable target – the union with God taught by the Fathers that is the doctrine of Christ.”

    Is it not the case that the Cross is always, in some sense, a symbol that must be interpreted, at least when it comes to bearing one’s cross?

    You also mention that the cross is the nature of every situation. To the extent this means that suffering is and will always be a part of life, I agree. However, to take this completely seriously would seem to make Christian compassion of any sort problematic. It would mean that compassion is always depriving someone of a cross which they bear. I do not believe you think this at all, but it does seem to me that pushing the nature of the cross to this extreme highlights that in practice the church does always interpret and discern the cross.

    To state my own view positively, the church alleviates suffering where she can, and in so doing bears witness to the Day of the Lord always present with Christ. At the same time, the church knows in this life there will be trouble, and when it cannot be alleviated it must be born communally with loving trust in God. Death is defeated by Christ, but it is still dying in our world. Would you agree with this?

    Lastly, can you say more about how you understand Tradition to provide a stability? I think I must be misunderstanding you. The history of the church is anything but stable, and I am having trouble grasping your intended meaning.

  61. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    There is so much to say that it’s hard to know where to begin. Please forgive me. But you presume that many of the words we share have a similar meaning…they do not. With Tradition. Tradition is not a collection of history, writings, etc. Tradition is the single life of God lived through the Church across the centuries. It is how the Church continues to be the Church. It is accessed by sacrament and by living faithfully in the life of the Church as it has been received. That is what the fullness of Orthodoxy is. It can certainly be read about, studied, discussed, but cannot be known from the outside.

    In Greek Orthodox music, there is often a note called the “ison,” it’s a “drone” note that undergirds the melody. I sometimes think of Tradition as like an ison that has undergirded the melody of the Church for 2,000 years. The melody moves and does many things, but its stability is the ison.

    When you read the Fathers, and even the messy history of the Orthodox Church, you recognize what you read as, in fact, the very same life you are now living. Their “messiness” has not disturbed the ison and its steady tone. This is not true apart from Orthodoxy. Other Christians have cut themselves off from the one song that God sings and do not hear the ison. And so they miss a lot.

    But it’s also a reason that conversation between Christians is important.

    As to the Cross. Every moment of every day and every action, is the Cross. Death to self is not an occasional thing, but a way of life. It is how we rightly live with the Other. It is love. To “bear one another’s burdens” is an apostolic commandment. Of course we do this – it’s the Cross that is given to us.

    There are things about which we can do nothing (except by delusion). I cannot save you by destroying you, or end your pain by killing you. I can help bear the Cross, but I cannot promise to make it go away, or make the difficulty of the Cross easier by destroying someone.

    There is so much to say on this.You might find my article, The Ecclesiology of the Cross, worth reading. I don’t know.


  62. Gregory Manning Avatar
    Gregory Manning

    Thank you Michael. I don’t mind at all. As you may have gathered from my postings on other sites I keep shouting that homosexuality is a sin, a missing of the mark, because it doesn’t work. We miss the mark when we fail to grasp that the Laws of God and, by extension, the laws of the Church, are more than merely compelling laws. They are in fact descriptive laws in that they describe reality and the consequences of ignoring that reality. The Ten Commandments could just as well be called “The Ten Warnings”. Implicit in each commandment is a consequence for disobeying that Commandment.
    When God speaks to us through the Church and her ancient, glorious, collective wisdom, He is warning us that if our heart’s desire is union with Him, lust, gluttony, avarice, pride, cold hearts, selfishness, and everything else the Church tells us is sin, will not take us there. If we pursue those paths we will go further and further away from Him. It seems to me that we must make up our minds about which reality we want to pay attention to; His or the world’s. C.S. Lewis once said that of all the passions, none make more towering promises than the erotic passions. As Orthodox Christians we know that the world makes towering promises it doesn’t keep because it can’t. As an aside, Lewis also said that every adult knows that the erotic passions make towering promises, except the ones he or she is feeling at the moment.

  63. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Thank you for your candor. That the commandments are what they are because they describe reality (and thus warn us) is a very clear way to describe their ontological character rather than their legal character.

    There is an old story about a ship in a fog. It sounds its horn, and hears one in reply. The ship tells the other to turn to the starboard, and is told, “No, you’ll have to turn.” And on the conversation goes. The ship’s captain explains that he’s an admiral and he’s on a Carrier and the other will have to give way. The reply comes, “Well, I’m just a seaman, but I’m in a lighthouse…”

    The commandments describe reality (that’s what ontology is about) not a legal fiction.

    I think it has been a great tragedy in our culture that these questions have been layered with hatred and ridicule and even persecution. It has undermined the authenticity of the Christian voice. But I appreciate your words and your experience. Thank you.

  64. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The Commandments describe reality is something I have not thought about in awhile. It is good to be reminded of it. Just as the commandment to bear one another’s burdens is something we do inescapably.

    Part of the wonderful mystery of Forgiveness Sunday.

  65. Dino Avatar

    I’m particularly fond of how Psalm 118 (LXX) seems to speak of the truth that the commandments describe the inner reality of reality – and must therefore be engraved upon our hearts so that our ‘inner man’ be freed from passions, to become united to God, who is Love.

    Saint Tikhon’s (of Voronezh) little prayer makes a fitting intro to that Psalm and its ontological interpretation: “Give me ears to hear Thee, eyes to see Thee, taste to partake of Thee, sense of smell to inhale Thee. Give me feet to walk unto Thee; lips to speak of Thee, heart to fear and love Thee. Teach me Thy ways, O Lord, and I shall walk in Thy truth. For Thou art the way, the truth and the life.”

  66. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I had not known this prayer. How truly sweet!

  67. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I want to thank all of the participants, seen and unsern, on this thread. I have learned much.

    Would that all such discussions on the topic would be so.

  68. Dino Avatar


    Your comments necessitated a caveat that, if my archetype is Christ, then death, suffering and the Cross is my only proper imitation of Him (in order that His life becomes mine), and also that Christ crucified and exalted is the only Christ we know of. Our fervour for the Cross will obviously be positively coloured by the radiance of the resurrection, yet, that, is God’s work, whereas the Cross – as our suffering- is the part of life in which we can actually offer some of our volition. This is not about any abstract, notional ideas of compassion, nor about how we might practically help others, it is about how we become like Christ -ontologically-, imitating Him.
    We are therefore not so much interested in making a difference to others (e.g. by alleviating others’ suffering in imitation of our ‘model’ -Christ ) –besides God is far more capable of making that difference with or without us- but to make an ontological difference to ourselves (e.g. by alleviating others’ suffering in imitation of our model) in order to one day be given the love (God’s energy) that no man can possibly find inside of him any other way. And bearing this “cross” is personal. It’s not really done “communally” – at least not in any other sense than communion with Christ… Until I become one with Him using this method there is nothing I can ever really do that will be truly good when inspected in His light.

    The idea that potentially

    compassion is always depriving someone of a cross which they bear.

    is also problematic.
    The cross isn’t dispensed by a Church or by an individual which needs to be pastorally worrying about how to administer it, it is born individually and administered by God’s providence. Therefore one’s way of thinking should ideally be that: “There are many things I must condone -in order to not judge- but the Church can never condone these things in what she preaches or alter what the commandments are…”
    I, on the one hand, must think that myself is the only one obliged to live by the commandments – that the only one obligated to repent, to suffer, etc. is me. Yet the Church on the other hand will preach this same personal repentance and the Cross to all indiscriminately. If it stops calling a sin, a sin this would seriously jeopardise the possibility of salvation for all. Therefore, for me to try and think what the commandments should be for others creates endless complications, allowing everybody else this ‘freedom to do whatever they like’ is what I must be doing. But this is not how the Church will speak ‘in general’. The general word is always exceedingly exacting –it must be- while the personal must be highly accommodating.

  69. Meg Photini Avatar
    Meg Photini

    Fr. Stephen and Michael Bauman,

    Thanks for your comments. They reveal to me that as much as I think I believe in being guided by the Spirit, I like very much to be guided by the rulebook. Perhaps I’ll learn to judge myself properly when I stop judging others.

  70. davidp Avatar

    Now there are officially over 2000 gov agencies that write laws on how to live in our society. Obama rewrites many of these laws and hands them over to these agencies to make them “the Law”. Congress does the same when they want a law and makes part of it so obscure, then hand them to the agencies. As far as this marriage of homo/lesbian marriage is concerned many say the Supreme Court has make up its mind already. Hillsdale College in Michigan has a online course on the Constitution Law, please look it up because in the last few decades, the Congress and Pres has tried side-line the Constitution.

  71. Gregory Manning Avatar
    Gregory Manning

    Dear Meg,
    If my experience is any indicator, when God blesses you by showing you how bad your sins are you’ll become increasingly reluctant to judge others. It’s one thing to acknowledge that you have a mote in your own eye and quite another to actually see it. When you actually do see it in all its awfulness you’ll become “gun-shy” about judging others. The initial difficulty is that we are terrified of seeing and acknowledging the reality of our own sin. I dare say most experienced confessors (as well as therapists) will tell you the same thing. Nobody truly wants to see it. It’s embarrassing and humiliating to our pride but that’s what we need, right? To drag that sin, kicking, screaming, and pleading out into the light and naming it for what it is. This is the beginning of knowing authentic humility. It’s painful calling it out but doing so liberates you to begin becoming authentically Christian. With the guidance of your confessor strike the first blow so that you can get on with this amazing journey. Leaving that sin hiding in the dark, like a computer software program running silently in the background, will contaminate all your other efforts.

  72. Dino Avatar

    I strongly agree with Gregory on this. The parable of the ten-thousand talents describes the ‘mechanism’ for this perfectly and most memorably…
    We must also strongly distrust our judgmental criticisms and believe in our propensity for delusion remembering that it is perfectly possible for our mind (like it happened with the Pharisees) to have Christ in front and mistake Him for beelzebub…

  73. AR Avatar

    I think there is an even better way; to refrain from judging both oneself and others. As St. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:3 “I do not even judge myself. For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” NASB

    I think one reason why it is dangerous to judge oneself is that the impression can be so deep and permanent. What is the use of that, when simply by showing oneself to Christ, one can be re-created, thus rendering previous judgment inaccurate?

    I think religious people tend to give evil way too much credit. This is another, more common way of mistaking evil impulses for Christ – by making of Christ an accuser.

  74. Christopher Avatar

    Reading Michael Hanby’s article over at First Things and Rod Dreher’s response to it, it made me think of our conversation here. These writers are of course addressing these issues in a decidedly political/cultural context which of course is First Thing’s mission. Something that Hanby says:

    “For in its enforcement of the sexual revolution, the state is effectively codifying ontological and anthropological presuppositions. In redefining marriage and the family, the state not only embarks on an unprecedented expansion of its powers into realms heretofore considered prior to or outside its reach, and not only does it usurp functions and prerogatives once performed by intermediary associations within civil society, it also exercises these powers by tacitly redefining what the human being is and committing the nation to a decidedly post-Christian (and ultimately post-human) anthropology and philosophy of nature.”

    Of course, the state is “codifying” these presuppositions because the people have already accepted them and want the state morality to reflect their own. Which brings me back to to the question – what is our (meaning Orthodoxy/Classical Christianity) “common ground”, what is the common language and assumptions we bring both bring to the table when discussing these things?

    I agree obviously that these questions are not “legal” as in “legalistic” – that they are ontological and anthropological. However, in a religious environment, a culture and people that is unable to reason at the ontological/anthropological/metaphysical level (for a host of reasons) you simply can’t engage them at that level. If the “legal” ground is bankrupt, how is the “ontological” ground supposed to replace it?

    If the culture is lost and we assume to speak only to those in the Church, how do we do this as they have no more grounding at the “ontological” level than the culture (I judge this based on my observations of the “average” parishioner, discussions around the anthropological questions on other blogs, etc. – I could be wrong here). I keep coming back to the fact that the people who “get it” do so due to either Providential personal “crises” moments which led to a conversion or because they happened to be raised in a true “Christian” family/cultural backwater which was somewhat common even 30 + years ago but are extremely rapidly disappearing. The young people of course don’t get it because theirs is a different ontology/anthropology than the Church’s though as I say above it is largely pre-supposed and unexamined.

    The answer is of course the Gospel, as it always has been – very difficult however to a “post Christian” because that person thinks he understands the grammar but of course does not. Things are moving so rapidly now, I think many many will fall away without the tacit or grudging acceptance of the culture. Such a mystery!

  75. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    AR. I look at my personal evaluation, i.e. self-judgment much the same as reins for a horse. Sometimes a tight rein is needed, sometimes a loose rein but some kind of rein or direction is almost always needed. It is best to do it with a well trained horse master (spiritual father).

    Since I tend to be rebellious and recalcitrant I find myself benefiting frequently from a tighter rein.

  76. Robert Bearer Avatar
    Robert Bearer

    Our brother, Mark Ehrling says <>

    Mark, how is this not an example of Nominalism and of thinking, as Father, says that “anything can be whatever we want it to be:? I am confident Father did not intend his post to occasion a legal debate. His focus is on personhood and salvation. However, I am trouble by certain unfounded assumptions in your thinking–or the way you have expressed it–which are not unique to you but are so widespread today as to be thought of as axiomatic even among Christians who ought to have the Gospel and the creation story as our anchor.

    What is a pluralistic society? What is a society at all, and how pluralistic can it be and cease to be a society at all? Are “homosexuals” truly a class of persons? Rosaria Butterfield and David Benkof tell us that we owe the term and category itself to Freud and they didn’t exist before. Here is a case of nominalism at its worst.

    What is marriage that you suggest should be subject to equal protection of law in such a way that every person (presumably) has a “right” to it? The creation story and the words of Christ, and the Tradition, tell us: it includes a procreative, nuptial (self-donating and self-sacrificing) martyrdom of a man and a woman, for the purpose of tending, keeping and replenishing the earth and raising up children in the fear and admonition of the LORD (after His image and likeness), and bearing witness to the eternal priesthood of Christ and of His kenotic love for the Church.

    The equal protection terms in which you put the matter evince an entirely different, and nominalist view of “marriage” which pales in comparison to the pattern discovered in Christ.

    What, by the way, is a “right” and whence does it come? Andrew Cuomo last week insisted in a combative interview he had with Judge Roy Moore that “our rights do not come from God, they come from man,” they come from our agreement on them. Of course, this means there is no such thing as a right at all–only something we concoct or enjoy if we have enough power, wealth or influence. But the tradition understanding of rights is that they do, like everything else essential that we enjoy, come from God, who bestows them so that we may accomplish in this life the purpose for which He made us to know Him, love and enjoy Him and our fellow man, to experience and magnify Him Who is goodness, beauty and truth, until we grow together into the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; in some small measure, according to the grace given us, to hallow His name and to participate in His will and His kingdom. A right is not preeminent as Modernity would have us think, but each is derived from a concomitant and precedent divinely-given duty and, like grace, it is bestowed so we may fulfill our respective vocations and the good things to which we are called.

    Christ is in our midst. May He forgive me, the sinner,

    Christ is in our midst,

  77. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    On self-judgment.

    Much of what passes for self-judgment is simply agreeing with our adversary. The Elder Sophrony called these accusing voices, “My assassins.” When he was praying and they began, he would say, “Lord my assassins are here.”

    These self-judgments can be paralyzing exercises of the ego. It is enough that we acknowledge our brokenness and weakness before God and be satisfied with His beloved presence. There is no need to then begin to berate ourselves in what quickly becomes a perverse form of pride.

    When we fail, just say, “Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And then enter paradise. Or have a cup of tea.

  78. Dino Avatar

    I earlier observed the need to distrust our judgment – a relentless theme in the word of our Holy Fathers and Mothers, all the way up to the recently glorified saint Paisios of the Holy Mountain. And understandably this incorporates judgment both of others, and oneself.

  79. Michelle Avatar

    Father Stephen, you said,

    “These self-judgments can be paralyzing exercises of the ego. It is enough that we acknowledge our brokenness and weakness before God and be satisfied with His beloved presence. There is no need to then begin to berate ourselves in what quickly becomes a perverse form of pride.

    When we fail, just say, “Lord, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And then enter paradise. Or have a cup of tea.”

    But in Luke 23:41- the good thief sais, “…we receive the due reward of our deeds…Lord, remember me in your kingdom.” In the Orthodox Study Bible the notes say of the good thief, “the first of the criminals [the bad thief] wanted to use Jesus to avoid responsibility for his actions [when he says, “If you are the Christ, save Yourself and us”], while the other accepts his sentence and asks simply to be remembered. The latter way is the path to Paradise.”

    This reminds me of a few things:

    First, that I am Adam, in that I am responsible for the sins of the whole world. Just as Dostoevsky’s character, Fr. Zossima, says, “There is only one means of salvation, then take yourself and make yourself responsible for all men’s sins, that is the truth, you know, friends, for as soon as you sincerely make yourself responsible for everything and for all men, you will see at once that it is really so, and that you are to blame for everyone and for all things.”

    And second, David’s longing to for God to reveal to him the depth of his sins in order to ultimately be revealed the path of salvation: “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24, KJV)

    And third, From Met. Anthony of Sourozh, “No one can live without sin, few know how to repent in such a way that their sins are washed as white as fleece, but there is one thing which we all can do; when we can neither avoid sin, nor repent truly, we can then bear the burden of sin, bear it patiently, bear it with pain, bear it without doing anything to avoid the pain and the agony of it, bear it as one would bear a cross; not Christ’s cross, not the cross of true discipleship, but the cross of the thief who was crucified next to Him. Didn’t the thief say to his companion who was blaspheming the Lord: We are enduring because we have committed crimes; He endures sinlessly… And it is to him, because he had accepted the punishment, the pain, the agony, the consequences indeed of evil he had committed, of being the man he was, that Christ said, ‘Thou shalt be with Me today in Paradise…”

    So isn’t their a proper way of judging ourselves, namely in order to personally accept “the due reward deeds, realizing our “deeds” accumulate to no less than the sins of all men, as “Zossima” reflects? If Zossima is correct should we not recognize and accept our due reward, which is ultimately to recognize and accept all of the pain, suffering, and death of the whole world as rightfully resting solely upon me? And should we not bear the whole worlds suffering “with pain, bear it without doing anything to avoid the pain and the agony of it, bear it as one would bear a cross,” as Met. Anthony says? And then, because we “accepted the punishment, the pain, the agony, the consequences indeed of evil [we] had committed” that Christ will say to us, “Thou shalt be with Me today in Paradise…” ?

    How can we bear this suffering as our due reward without self-judgment? I am not saying we should be paralyzed with despair, but “keeping your mind in hell and despairing not” still requires our judging ourselves as being responsible for hell itself.

  80. AR Avatar

    Michael, you insult yourself – so how can you expect me to believe you? It would be uncharitable in me.

    Fr. Stephen, I think that is good advice, and it’s balm to my soul, as well. I’m sure there are people who never look inward to question themselves, but very few of them seem to frequent this blog. 🙂

    Dino, relentlessness I always look askance at. It has so much of the character of willfulness. Don’t you see that however logical your statement is, it easily turns into a spiral of questions one can never get to the end of? Do we mistrust our mistrust, as well?

    “If we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.” There – I even know a scripture contrary to my own idea. But the true, inner meaning of judgement, I feel certain, is to endeavor to open oneself to the Lord’s gaze, to his creative touch, or to whatever he chooses to do with what he sees. When we pre-determine what it is that he should do or what it is that we think he must see, this prevents such activity from taking place. This is what I mean when I say we shouldn’t judge ourselves. I don’t mean, “judge, but mistrust your judgment.” I just mean, don’t spiritually self-diagnose, don’t find evil things to believe about yourself.

    I think this must be the inner meaning of mistrusting one’s own judgment as well, but I struggle to think in those terms profitably.

    Partly because I cannot function in the world without developing my judgment, and people are constitutionally unable to develop good judgment without developing a certain trust in that judgment. (You can’t have it without using it; you can’t use it without trusting it.) It’s the nature of the thing. Those who go through life without good judgment (in the usual sense of the term) lack integrity and are not fulfilling God’s creative purpose for them.

    Again, I make a distinction between good judgment and judging oneself to be guilty of various things; the latter, I think, is was what Gregory was saying people need to do. (I’m not so sure Meg meant the same thing; she seemed to mean “evaluate.”)

    I recently saw a very sad spectacle of someone who seemed to be suffering mental illness as a result of unrelenting negative religious thoughts about himself – not for the first time, either – so I’m feeling extremely cautious about such things. That is all. I am sure there are many holy people who walked a path of negative self-discipline, but as I’ve said before, and still feel, we are free in Christ to discern between good and better even within our holy tradition.

    I beg you not to be impatient with my caveats and distinctions. It is my nature to investigate matters thoroughly, but I don’t do it out of adversarial intention toward you.

  81. Dino Avatar

    I do not see any disagreement there with what you just clarified. In fact, my main caveat on ‘good’ mistrust of oneself (to try and translate Saint Paisios’ expression) mainly concerns the diametrical opposite to “unrelenting negative religious thoughts about oneself”, namely, the danger of spiritual delusion – and its permutations – something we all -according to Elder Sophrony- suffer from.

  82. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I don’t disagree. It is the acceptance, a kind of emptiness before the Cross that seems most salutary rather than joining a chorus of despair. I think we agree.

  83. Dino Avatar

    I must mention that I have often encountered an important presumption missing outside of the more traditional Greek orthodox mindset. It does lead to some misunderstandings that should be corrected as AR rightly does. It is the assumption/presupposition that the sense of “having been forgiven greatly” is the main feeling when one says “I am the greatest sinner on earth”. It is therefore the love that God shows me that makes me feel a greater sinner, far far more than the sins that I discover in my heart as I progress in God’s Light, and against this background of His infinite unconditional love that I (or anybody else) could never be deserving of, that my sinfulness becomes exceedingly, (infinitely even) greater. And it is generally ‘sinfulness’ rather than particular sins that the Holy Father’s imply when they use these oft misunderstood expressions – and of course, the greater the Light that shines on one’s heart, the more clearly this ‘sinful propensity’ is revealed to our blindness…

  84. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    AR, I long ago decided not to be offended by anyone because no matter bad stuff they attributed to me–what they said about me was either true or could be true. I have certain proclivities that lead me in the direction of death. If I do not recognize those and rein them in, I jump in the dead pool all too easily. Recognizing those proclivities in myself seems prudent.

    While I try not to condemn myself (as that would also lead to death) it is best that I acknowledge the defects. Otherwise how could I respond in humility when friends whack me across the head with a (figurative) tire iron.

    Otherwise how could I possibly follow the outline of repentance that Fr. Stephen recently published from the The Way of the Pilgrim that my own confessor has given me to work on:

    I don’t love God, I don’t love people….etc.

    My actions tend to prove those statements are true about me. BUT….I could not make them about myself it they were absolutely, completely and irrevocably true, i.e., somewhere in my soul, perhaps a large portion of my being, is a deep and abiding love for God and a great empathy for others.

    I also have my wife who daily tells me how wonderful I am–go figure. She, as is her wont, sees the best in others. When she looks at me, I know she is absolutely right. What a blessing.

    Still, there is none good but God and theosis still eludes me.

    The paradox is that it is impossible to repent, really repent, unless one recognizes two things: 1. God is good and perfect in His love for me; and 2. He makes me worthy of that love no matter how bad I may seem to myself and what terrible things I do.

    That is awe inspiring, at least to me. Not only does God command this mud to become divine, He makes it happen if I cooperate, indeed in some ineffable way I already am divine (created in His image and likeness). I have enough evidence in my life to recognize that as more than a theoretical statement. I know His mercy and His abundance. The only thing I can say about that is Wow!

    There is patristic advice to condemn yourself before Satan does and there will be nothing against you at the dread judgment seat.

    The key, IMAO, is that I don’t lapse into despair (the way of death); nor assume that I am better than I am which could lead to hubris (the way of death).

    I am also more than peripherally aware that “in the course of justice, none of us should see salvation…” and the rest of that incredible poetry on the reality of mercy.

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

    Thank you for taking me to task, it is always so refreshing.

  85. Dino Avatar

    an important point very well made…

  86. Dino Avatar

    Archim. Zacharias related that he was very impressed with the words –I think they were from Saint Paisios- :“Do you long to genuinely know God? It’s extremely easy. Just approach Him with a painful heart, and it’s easy to relate to Him, through a contrite and humble heart.”
    And he would often ask “which is the greatest commandment of the New Testament?”
    After all the usual answers he would go on to explain: “if you open your New Testament and read in St. Luke’s gospel, chapter 17, verse 10, you read there: When you have done all the things I have commanded you—all: to love God with all your heart, to love as I have loved you—when you have done all the things that I have commanded you, say to yourselves, “We are useless servants, and we have done that which we ought to have done.” The greatest commandment is to have this consciousness continually.”

  87. Jay Avatar

    “The Christian view of personhood is an invitation to voluntary suffering and self-sacrifice.”

    It’s exactly this idea that changed my life so drastically when I came home to Orthodoxy. Though I was a Protestant for years, I saw nothing wrong with giving into my feelings of being attracted to other women and even identifying as a transgender man. As a teenager and young adult, it was easy for me to see and believe the justifications of the world for my passion; easier still to cling to the Christians and churches that professed that, since God allowed us to have these feelings and desires, it followed that it was okay to live them out. I refused to entertain the idea of giving them up because some church said God wanted me to. There is no actual concept of suffering or sacrifice being something that is pleasing and glorifying to God within most American churches.

    And yet now, a mere 6 months after first attending a liturgy and finding what is now my home parish, I’m discovering such unspeakable joy in the daily sacrifice of giving up my same sex attraction and feelings of gender dysphoria. I was so blessed by the grace shown by my priest and by the Church Fathers in the way they deal with the reality of our passions. I had come into the Church assuming my sin would be viewed with the same damning hate that many “conservative Christians” exhibit, and yet was met with nothing other than Christ loving me enough to want what’s actually best for me. Like one of the earlier comments on your post mentioned, there is such a change now from identifying as someone who was queer and transgender and proud of it, to being able to come as a sinner before Christ.

  88. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    God bless you Jay.

  89. Robert Avatar

    Robert Bearer,

    It appears you misunderstand Mr Erling making a case for a nominalist view of marriage and personhood. He is not. He is pointing out the equal rights afforded to citizens by our civil government in the US.

    AR wisely pointed out the need for patience whilst making distinctions and caveats in the pursuit of thorough understanding. Albeit she made her remark in relation to a different topic in the conversation, her wise words apply equally to Mr Erling’s comment.

    A distinction between holy sacraments and civil rights has to be brought into perspective. Conflation of the two is hugely problematic. Besides, as Father aptly points out, promoting theology by means of legal and natural law models has absolutely no credibility anymore. I believe this to be beneficial for Orthodox Christianity in the long run. It can be, at any rate, if we demonstrate in deed the superiority of life as understood by the Church. But this must and can only be done so on traditional Christian terms. Any subverted theology and practice will fail, to borrow a phrase from Acts 17:6, to “turn the world upside down.”

  90. Bruce Avatar


    Don’t underestimate what Father Stephen is communicating in the phrase’remember me in thy Kingdom’

    The essay from someone Father Stephen admires, Donald Sheehan, has the potential to dramatically deepen this simple phrase into the key elements of ‘The Way’. Enjoy a portion of this essay below as well as it in it’s entirety in this link:

    Central to Eastern Orthodox Christendom is the singing, at the end of every Orthodox funeral, of the song known as “Memory Eternal” (in Church Slavonic: Vechnaya Pamyat). This song also concludes Dostoevsky’s great, final novel, The Brothers Karamazov, when, following the funeral of the boy whom Alyosha Karamazov (and the circle of schoolboys around Alyosha) had deeply loved, Alyosha speaks to the boys about the funeral and about the meaning of the resurrection, with this brief song as their steady focus.

    My thesis is simply this: to know something of this song’s meaning is to comprehend both the Eastern Orthodox faith and Dostoevsky’s greatest novel.

    We can best approach the meaning of this song through following the connection between the Orthodox funeral services and the crucifixion of Christ. Fr. Pavel Florensky, recently canonized by the Church in Russia, articulated the connnection by first asking, “What did the wise thief ask for on the cross?” (144) and then answering by quoting from St. Luke’s Gospel: “Lord, remember me when Thou comest in Thy kingdom” (23:42). Florensky then continues:

    And in answer, in satisfaction of his wish, his wish to be remembered, the Lord witnesses: “Verily, I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise.” In other words, “to be remembered” by the Lord is the same thing as “to be in Paradise.” “To be in Paradise” is to be in eternal memory and, consequently, to have eternal existence and therefore an eternal memory of God. Without remembrance of God we die, but our remembrance of God is possible only through God’s remembrance of us. (144)

    Florensky here articulates the essential reality of Orthodox Christianity: the relational reality of all personhood. We are persons, says the Orthodox Church, because we fulfill the three conditions of all existence. These three conditions were articulated in the third century A.D. by the Orthodox Fathers known as the Cappadocians. They are summed up in this way by J. D. Zizioulas in his wonderful essay called “The Contribution of Cappadocia to Christian Thought”:

    We are persons because we know ourselves as foundationally free, under not even the tiniest bondage to, or limitation of, either earthly history or the material world – a freedom even prior to and greater than the Church herself because (as Zizioulas says) such freedom “constitutes the ‘way of being’ of God Himself”(34).
    We are persons because we can give ourselves freely and entirely to another in self – emptying love; that is, we can voluntarily surrender all our selfhood entirely into the hands of another in the action of loving that other. Zizioulas puts it beautifully: “Love is a relationship, it is the free coming out of one’s self, the breaking of one’s will, a free submission to the will of another”(34).
    We are persons when we understand ourselves as wholly unique, as entirely unrepeatable and forever irreplaceable. As members of a species we are merely replaceable and countable individuals in a set: biological, historical, or sociopolitical. As members of a set (or sets), we can be compelled to serve extrinsic, even hostile, purposes; we can, that is, be treated as things. But as persons, we are unique and unrepeatable; hence, we cannot (as Zizioulas says) “be composed or decomposed, combined or used for any objective whatsoever”(35).

    These three conditions of personhood – foundational freedom, self-emptying love, and absolute uniqueness – shed great light on what the Orthodox Church – and Dostoevsky – mean by the phrase “Memory Eternal.” It means this: in the same way that the wise thief achieves personhood by entering into loving Christ freely (and this freedom is emphasized in the crucifixion scene as everyone else mocking Christ while the thief freely and deliberately chooses to love), just so we become persons in freely surrendering our own will, in an action of love, into the hands of another.

    Dostoevsky gives beautiful expression to this Orthodox understanding of personhood early in The Brothers Karamazov when he describes the relation between Alyosha Karamazov and his spiritual father, the Elder Zosima. “What, then,” asks the narrator, “is an elder?” He answers:

    An elder is one who takes your soul, your will into his soul and into his will. Having chosen an elder, you renounce your will and give it under total obedience and with total self-renunciation. A man who dooms himself to this trial, this terrible school of life, does so voluntarily, in the hope that after the long trial he will achieve self-conquest, self-mastery to such a degree that he will, finally, through a whole life’s obedience, attain to perfect freedom – that is, freedom from himself – and avoid the lot of those who live their whole lives without finding themselves in themselves. (27-28)

    This perfectly expresses the Orthodox understanding of the relational reality of personhood. And the whole of The Brothers Karamazov can usefully be read as a vast commentary on this single passage. At age 19, Alyosha Karamazov struggles to achieve the “perfect freedom” found only in loving obedience to his spiritual father, the Elder Zosima. At age 28, Dmitri at first rejects the Orthodox way of personhood by plunging into a life of entirely autonomous desires and their endlessly self-willed fulfillment. But then, in the course of the novel, he discovers a profounder and more directly Orthodox experience when he discovers the relational reality of personhood through his love of Grushenka. The middle brother, Ivan, age 24, rejects the ways of both his brothers in the name of a still more terrifying autonomy: not the passional autonomy his older brother Dmitri attempts but a spiritual autonomy, one wherein he asserts his own will as more perfective than God’s will in creating the world. Ivan’s spiritual and psychic agony in the novel’s final 100 pages stands as Dostoevsky’s revelation of what inevitably happens to those who attempt to deny or unmake the Orthodox reality of relational personhood. It is the attempt to unmake Memory Eternal through self-willed oblivion.

  91. AR Avatar

    Dino, I appreciate that clarification. That feeling as you express it is powerful and precious.

    Michael, I’m sure your wife is right. 🙂

    Jay, I really, really appreciate your testimony. Some friends and I are investigating issues of sex and theology and related stuff, and it’s good to know that life of the Orthodox Church has an answer for everyone, even if some of us are still struggling to articulate the why and wherefore.

    If you want to contribute to our conversation at any point, please visit us at the Theodora Society forum. We’re just getting started.

  92. AR Avatar

    Fr. Stephen, when you are able, I would like to get your viewpoint on a question about best practice in the confessional. Since I’m not ever going to be a confessor, I’ll try to ask it as a question about what lay people should submit to in the confessional. Obviously, if you don’t have a spiritual father who is a saint in the flesh, it’s wrong to entrust yourself entirely to your confessor. You have freedom in Christ to say, “Could we not do that, please,” right?

    So my question is about when you go to confession, and the confessor tells you what to say. Either he says aloud, “You know, you have such and such a problem that you should confess,” or else he gives you a printed piece of paper with a list of sins that he, with his confessor’s authority, expects you to confess to.

    Isn’t this close to being accused? I mean, that’s not best practice, right? Should lay people, especially people who have been in the Church awhile and know how to make a confession from their heart, submit to this?

    Now there was a variation of this that I experienced right after I was chrismated. It was a list of sins and you could just say the ones you felt you were guilty of. I didn’t think that was terribly harmful, although I wanted to grow out of it quickly. Perhaps this is helpful for people who don’t know what’s considered a sin and what isn’t? Still, I think it sensitized me in an artificial way…

    I understand you may be ambivalent about commenting on the practices of other confessors (and you have policies that may affect your ability to speak publicly to this issue.) But I also feel a sense of pain and concern for people who may come to Christ burdened by the condemnation of their own heart, which we all feel, and are welcomed with further reproof and judgment before they can access the Lord’s forgiveness. So I hope you may be able to say something helpful.

    I hope you enjoy your travels.

  93. Sue Avatar

    Can you please elaborate on your comment from February 15, 2015 at 5:07 pm, where you write:

    “We are therefore not so much interested in making a difference to others (e.g. by alleviating others’ suffering in imitation of our ‘model’ – Christ) – besides God is far more capable of making that difference with or without us – but to make an ontological difference to ourselves (e.g. by alleviating others’ suffering in imitation of our model) in order to one day be given the love (God’s energy) that no man can possibly find inside of him any other way.”

    Specifically, please elaborate on the part about making an ontological difference to ourselves in order to one day be given God’s love and not just making a difference to others. Are you talking about our main motivation for imitating Christ?

    This is very interesting. Many years ago, in my college days, I was part of a church where evangelism was taught to be the purpose of every Christian’s life. It was a high pressure environment. Later, in churches of a more general conservative evangelical stripe, the focus was generally on following Christ in a broader way, in order to love God and serve others as part of that love. In more recent years, in the Orthodox church, the focus has been on union with Christ. I cannot adequately put into words what this has meant to me. Suffice it to say, everything.

    Thank you for all your comments. And, thank you, Fr Stephen and others who comment on this blog. You have all blessed me beyond measure.

  94. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    You are correct about my hesitancy to comment on what another priest might or might not do in confession. Some things are clearly better than others, but I think it better not to comment.

  95. Robert Bearer Avatar
    Robert Bearer


    I did not intend to suggest that our brother Mark (Ehrling) was advocating a nominalist view of marriage and personhood. I agree that he appears to have been simply suggesting that same-sex “marriage” is will be accepted on the grounds of the 14th Amendment’s guarantee to every person of the equal protection of the laws. (If I’m not mistaken it seems that you and he believe this outcome to be the correct one, legally). Father Stephen is right in suggesting that the effect will be to say that states cannot deny this “right” to anyone on the basis of his “sexual orientation” and the effect will be, in short order, to nationalize this right (which has already been imposed by judicial fiat in 37 states).

    I concur that this is likely the way a 5-4 majority of the justices will hold because clear thinking is becoming rarer and rarer in our modernist culture. This is the result of a nominalism that no longer knows what a “person” is (something Father Stephen took some time to discuss), what “marriage” is for and why it is has a privileged status at common law and by statute, or what “rights” are and which has come to accept “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality” (ideas and categories unknown before the mid-19th Century and the psychological theories of Freud) as a traits fundamental to a person’s identity.

    No, we live instead in a fairyland where, since the 1990s, we no longer no what “is” is and where a justice of our highest court can be taken seriously when he pontificates as a basis for a legal decision that “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” This from a man who claims to be–and probably thinks he is–a Catholic Christian?

    But such a statement evinces a superficial understanding of the meaning of “liberty,” of what makes a “right” a right, or the “mystery of human life.” It denies there is an objective (read: God-given) reality to any of these ideas, and says that all these concepts are but constructs of the human mind and convention–they can be whatever one wants them to be. In a “pluralistic” (read: humanistic, secular, materialistic and relativistic) society like the one being foisted upon us, none need agree with anyone else, for these concepts have no real meaning. Each is simply a matter of taste–and power.

    This is not wisdom or careful jurisprudence, but sweet serpentine arrogance and insanity. It would be funny if it did not have dire consequences, political, moral–and more importantly–spiritual, for it shows a wrong understanding of who Man is (anthropology) and Who God is (ontology)–an errant misunderstanding leading to social catastrophe and, for some, perdition. As a cure, the Orthodox Church will need to speak and live the Gospel all the more clearly, in season and out of season and steel us for martyrdom.

    Robert Bearer, J.D.

  96. Robert Avatar

    Dear Mr Bearer,

    I don’t think these God-given realities are quite as objective or self-evident as you make them out to be. What do Christians have in common with non-theists? What is our common ground? We can hardly claim Christian anthropology as “neutral” and something the non-believer will readily accept. And why would they? our anthropology cannot be divorced from theology.

    I suppose I don’t understand your position, as it seems you wish to deny non-Christians their right to vote, own property, be taxed equally, etc?

    You ask, “What is a pluralistic society? What is a society at all, and how pluralistic can it be and cease to be a society at all?” The implied assumption here is that plurality and society are mutual exclusive, as antithetical. I don’t think is true, and neither is the opposite, that singularity somehow constitutes or guarantees society.

    You speak of “the mystery of life” – and well you do. But you are preaching to the proverbial choir. The real question is – how will you convince the non-theist to submit to the mystery of life as you see it? The time of assertion by fiat is long gone, and so is that lex naturalis.

  97. Robert Avatar

    Dear Mr Bearer,

    I don’t think these God-given realities are quite as objective or self-evident as you make them out to be. What do Christians have in common with non-theists? What is our common ground? We can hardly claim Christian anthropology as “neutral” and something the non-believer will readily accept. And why would they? our anthropology cannot be divorced from theology.

    I suppose I don’t understand your position, as it seems you wish to deny non-Christians their right to vote, own property, be taxed equally, etc?

    You ask, “What is a pluralistic society? What is a society at all, and how pluralistic can it be and cease to be a society at all?” The implied assumption here is that plurality and society are mutual exclusive, as antithetical. I don’t think is true, and neither is the opposite, that singularity somehow constitutes or guarantees society.

    You speak of “the mystery of life” – and well you do. But you are preaching to the proverbial choir. The real question is – how will you convince the non-theist to submit to the mystery of life as you see it? The time of assertion by fiat is long gone, and so is that of lex naturalis.

  98. TLO Avatar

    One aspect of Orthodox Christianity that I admire and have often highlighted to Protestants, agnostics and atheists who know next to nothing about Orthodoxy is that it is not threatened by scientific discovery. (For example, the Creation story read as allegory in no way contradicts the Theory of Evolution.)

    On this issue, I find that the science behind homosexuality has had an impact on social acceptance (which in turn has led to the legal outcomes you mention) but it does not seem to have impacted the Orthodox position that homosexuality is immoral.

    If one was to say that “promiscuity is immoral” or even that “divorce is immoral” then I would probably agree. But the idea that homosexuality is immoral by default seems to me to be like saying that autism is immoral.

    The science is pretty clear. Homosexuality is a natural outcome for a certain portion of any human population. It always has been.

    Can you help me understand why the Orthodox are not willing to accept the science behind this issue? It seems somewhat at odds with how it views pretty much all other scientific matters.

  99. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    The genital expression of homosexuality (and I don’t want to get graphic) is in no way demonstrated to be a “natural” outcome. It is certainly not uncommon, but no one can say that it’s actually “natural.” Orthodoxy teaches that the genital expression of sexual desire serves a primary purpose – procreation – and a secondary purpose – promoting the social bond on a biological level that supports the family. But sexual desire is seen as similar to all other desires – it is capable of use and abuse (and our desires are more often abused than not – the primary cause of human suffering in this world).

    The Orthodox tradition would say that the homosexual genital expression is a misuse of sexual desires. I’m afraid I would have to be more graphic in order to discuss that in detail. In a word, there is no “homosexual” genital expression of love. All such expressions are a very sad mimicry of the actions of a man and a woman. They always fall short and can never under any circumstances find a fullness – they cannot procreate – they cannot have a biological union. Even the families with gay parents are in fact, borrowing the children of a male/female union.

    The new notion that all of these things are simply equivalent is simply a political fantasy. It is only true if we agree to ignore things that are most obvious and pretend that some things are other than what they are.

    That things are what they are and run counter to the deep emotional desires of some is, I admit, quite tragic. Many things in life are tragic. But the Tradition is being asked to agree that there is no tragedy in homosexual “unions,” and that they should instead be blessed. But the Tradition believes that salvation, healing, conformity to the image of God is only possible in truth-telling and honesty – even in the face of overwhelming tragedy.

    There is no prohibition on the love of someone of the same gender. It is called friendship and can be exceedingly profound. But friendship not only does not require genital expression, it quickly becomes distorted by it.

    The traditional Orthodox teaching does not represent an adherence to an “outdated” science. The present “science” represents a political agenda masked as science.

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