Talking to Fish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.



269 responses to “Talking to Fish”

  1. Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Stephen Griswold

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

  2. Ananias Avatar

    Thank you Father, for a worthy article, as always.

  3. Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Stephen Griswold


  4. Carmelita Lindner Avatar

    I have the same issue, I have been with my machine, for about ten years. We are inseparable.

  5. Karen Avatar

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

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

  6. Julie Dumond Avatar
    Julie Dumond

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

  7. Mary Avatar

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

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

  8. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

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

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

  9. Simon Avatar

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

  10. Dean Avatar

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

  11. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

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

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

  13. Simon Avatar

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

  14. Nes Avatar

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

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

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

  15. Paula Avatar

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

  16. Reader John Avatar

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

  17. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Reader John,
    That is a traditional position – though never stated in the manner of the RC’s.

  18. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I did not say that same-sex attraction is new – there is, however, a profound confusion about it that is new.

  19. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

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

  20. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

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

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

  21. Simon Avatar

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

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

  23. Simon Avatar

    Fr., I agree.

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

  24. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

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

  25. sgage Avatar

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

  26. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I think Simon’s not trying to argue a point – just make an observation.

  27. sgage Avatar

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

  28. Simon Avatar

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

  29. Simon Avatar

    I “Amen” the one-on-one with true love and compassion.

  30. Ted Sherman Avatar
    Ted Sherman

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

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

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

  31. Interesting... Avatar

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

  32. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  33. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

    Reader John – there is a whole chapter on the topic of contraception in the book I mentioned above.

  34. David Foutch Avatar
    David Foutch

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

    Peace, brother.

  35. Greg Avatar

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

  36. Simon Avatar

    Which pub would that be??

  37. Mihai Avatar

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

  38. Dino Avatar

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

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

  39. Bob Attaway Avatar
    Bob Attaway

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

  40. Simon Avatar

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

  41. Margaret Avatar

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

  42. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  43. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Yes, I will not lend free advertising.

  44. Dino Avatar

    I appreciate your perspicuous clarification on pleasure and joy.

  45. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

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

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

  46. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

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

  47. Paula Avatar

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

  48. Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Stephen Griswold

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

  49. Adam N Avatar
    Adam N

    Paula, a few thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

  50. Byron Avatar

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

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

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

  51. Simon Avatar

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

  52. Drewster2000 Avatar


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

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

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

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

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

  53. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

  54. Karen Avatar

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

  55. Byron Avatar

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

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

  56. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

  57. Paula AZ Avatar
    Paula AZ

    OK, good. Thank you Father

  58. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

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

  59. Janine Avatar

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

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

  60. Janine Avatar

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

  61. Ananias Avatar

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

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

  62. Simon Avatar

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

  63. Dino Avatar

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

  64. Simon Avatar

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

  65. Jane Avatar

    What is a feminized brain?

  66. Simon Avatar

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

  67. Dino Avatar

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

  68. Simon Avatar

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

  69. Byron Avatar

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

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

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

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

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

  70. Dino Avatar

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

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

  71. Byron Avatar

    To dismiss the role of biology seems really…unwise.

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

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

  72. Esmée La Fleur Avatar

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

  73. Adam N Avatar
    Adam N


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

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

  74. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

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

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

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

  75. Simon Avatar

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

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

  76. Simon Avatar

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

  77. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

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

  78. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

  79. Simon Avatar

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

  80. Dean Arnold Avatar

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

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

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

    Thanks again for your words here.

  81. Adam N Avatar
    Adam N

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


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

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

  82. Simon Avatar

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

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

  83. Matth Avatar

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

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

  84. Dino Avatar

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

  85. Simon Avatar

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

  86. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

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

  87. John Chiladakis Avatar
    John Chiladakis

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

  88. Dino Avatar

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

  89. Byron Avatar

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

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

  90. Byron Avatar

    Simon, may God bless.

  91. Agata Avatar

    May God bless and keep and guide you.

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

  92. Dino Avatar

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

  93. Kevin Avatar

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

  94. Dean Avatar

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

  95. Simon Avatar

    Kevin, I understand what youre saying.

  96. Simon Avatar

    Just a quick thought. I like that my posts begin with “Simon says…”

  97. Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Stephen Griswold

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

  98. Stephen Griswold Avatar
    Stephen Griswold

    Unprecedented is the word before spell check destroyed it

  99. Kevin Avatar

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

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

  100. Kevin Avatar

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

Leave a Reply

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

Subscribe to blog via email

Support the work

Your generous support for Glory to God for All Things will help maintain and expand the work of Fr. Stephen. This ministry continues to grow and your help is important. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!

Latest Comments

  1. I listened to Bishop Alexander’s 2016 OCAMPR talk, Father, because I learned of him from you. It was really wonderful.…

  2. I was aware of something during Liturgy this past Sunday. I was struggling with focus–constantly distracted by one thought or…

  3. Regarding shame, I’d like to add to the above, that in our “outcome-minded” mindset, I will often see such difficulties…

  4. Just another note on “worthy.” Today I was reading in Matthew 10, which finishes with these striking verses (striking esp.…

  5. “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’. The sins of others that I see often remain unacknowledged and…

Read my books

Everywhere Present by Stephen Freeman

Listen to my podcast