Contraception in the Mind of the Orthodox Church

(The Morning Offering) – Marriage, for the Orthodox Christian, is to have as it’s foundation, Jesus Christ, and a commitment to live in full communion with the Church. When a couple are joined together in this mystical (sacramental) union with one another, they become one flesh, and begin their relationship as one. The crowning ceremony symbolizes martyrdom of self and a commitment to sacrifice self-will. Marriage is not about sexual gratification, although sexual intimacy is an important component of any healthy marriage, but the intimacy of the marriage bed be open to the possibility of having children. The Church allows no form of contraception that is abortifacient, and the Fathers of the Church, such as Ss. Athanasius the Great, John Chrysostom, Epiphanios, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine of Hippo, Caesarious, Gregory the Great, Augustine of Canterbury and Maximos the Confessor, all explicitely condemned abortion as well as the use of abortifacients. There are a range of opinions on the issue of non-abortifacient contraception, however, the bottom line is that a Christian couple must be open to having children. A couple who would choose to have no children, or limit the number of children based on a desire for financial and lifestyle security, forgo the joy that only children can bring to a Christian marriage. Birth control should never be based on selfish motives, or the desire to live a more comfortable lifestyle. This life is not meant for personal gratification, nor personal gain, but that we might give glory and worship to God in all we do. With love in Christ, Abbot Tryphon Byzantine, TX

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Barbarians In Our Midst

Christ is Risen!

This is the whole of the essay I posted in three parts last week; it will also appear latter this week on AOI (I’ll post the link when that happens). I have made some minor editorial changes so that it flows better as one, longer piece. After I have recovered somewhat from Pascha, I will respond to the excellent comments that you made on the original posts.

+FrG

The Rejection of Tradition. As I said in an earlier post (“An Editorial: Orthodoxy & the Public Square“), whether or not I like Frank Schaeffer’s politics or his moral theology, whether or not his support of abortion and gay rights are compatible with the tradition of the Church, the reality is that he is well within the mainstream of current Orthodox opinion in America. According to the PEW survey, the majority of Orthodox laity agree that abortion and gay marriage should be legal. It may surprise you, then, that the problem isn’t Schaeffer – it’s us; specifically, it’s the clergy. For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, we clergy are not effectively communicating the moral tradition of the Church to the laity. Or, if we are, the laity aren’t listening – which would imply that the clergy are willing to tolerate the laity ignoring the Gospel.

We see the same prevalence of pro-choice, pro-gay marriage positions among Orthodox politicians. This kind of a consistent pattern of belief does not just happen. As in the Catholic Church, we see in the Orthodox Church evidence of a significant pastoral failing. This appears to be more than just a widespread lack of sound moral education for the faithful. ;”It appears to be an embrace of, or at least resignation to, the influence of secularism in our parishes.

This is a very serious problem. This isn’t a debate about the practices of potentially faithful followers – as can be the case when addressing, say, Old Calendar or New Calendar, or the issue of women wearing headscarves, or whether priests should have beards and wear cassocks, or whether we have pews or not, or whether to use an organ to lead the choir. This goes much deeper – to the heart of Christian discipleship. It seems that we have simply lost sight the beauty and power of Christian virtue; perhaps worse, it seems that we have given over leadership to moral barbarians. Continue reading

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The Lord Has Prepared the Way

This past weekend I was in Kenosha, WI leading a retreat at St Nicholas Orthodox Church (Fr Stephen Hrycyniak is rector). Thanks to our friends at Ancient Faith Radio, you can listen to the retreat (either online or as a download here): “Prepare the Way of the Lord.”

In my final presentation I challenged people to consider that what really undermines our parishes is not a lack of money or youth. Nor, for reasons I outlined in the talk, can we depend on simply receiving adults into the Church as a way to renew our parishes. Numerical growth, the presence of young people, and financial health are all functions of fidelity to our personal and communal vocations. Put a slightly different way, what is necessary is personal holiness and without this the best evangelism, youth and stewardship programs will simply fail.

Take the example of those who join the Church as adults. As I’ve mentioned in other places, 50-60% of these people will end up leaving the Church. Given that the vast majority of those baptized as infants will as adults will have only a tenuous connection to the Church (and in quite a few cases, will simply leave the Church) the defection of adult converts is not a surprise. There are two reasons for this. Continue reading

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Liturgy and Tradition Begin and End With Jesus

As I tried to outlined above, liturgy is highly personal and has the power to re-form my egoism. But this requires not simply my participation in liturgy well celebrated, but also good, biblical sound, preaching that introduces me again and again to the tradition of the Church. Especially in the context of the Eucharist, this means preaching in the service of helping the listeners both to offer to God and receive back from Him their own lives.

But the best liturgy and preaching in the world is not going to make much of a difference without sound catechesis, good spiritual formation and practice, regular confession, a life of evangelical and philanthropic witness and, oh yeah, personal faith in Jesus Christ.

Whether we are Catholic or Orthodox, we cannot make out life about liturgy. To do so is profoundly unbalanced and neurotic (n the technical sense, of holding to a rigid and fixed image of self, others and world). As anyone who knows me can attest, I love the liturgical tradition of both the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. In my own prayer life I use the Benedictine Monastic Diurnal and I cannot imagine absenting myself from the Divine Liturgy on Sunday and Feast Days even when I am sick (in fact, in 15 years as a deacon and priest, I think I have missed Sunday liturgy 3 times; twice because I was driving cross country traveling from one parish assignment to another and once because I was recovering from surgery three days before and could get dressed. I’m a firmly believer that priests should not attend Liturgy in our jammies.) When a man comes to me about seminary or about being ordained, I always, always, ask about his participation in Liturgy. If Liturgy isn’t the center of his, and his families, spiritual life…well let’s just day he needs to work on this before we can talk about ordination.

If anything, I think that both among Catholics and Orthodox Christians (at least in the US) our liturgical life suffers (albeit in different ways; both are too casual, Catholics in how they celebrate the Mysteries, Orthodox by habitual absence from the Mysteries) because we have neglected the whole rest of our Christian lives. First and foremost this neglect, to return to Sherry’s initial observation, flows not from a lack of commitment to our respective theological or liturgical traditions but a general lack of repentance. But running a close second are those in both communities who assuming, simplistically and wrongly, that commitment to tradition—ess.ential for salvation though it is—is the same as a personal commitment to Christ. It simply isn’t.

A commitment to Christ will, naturally, bring me into an ever greater appreciation and participation in the life of the Church. And this participation will be both for the day to day life of the Church here and now and the tradition of the Church. Let me be clear, both are necessary, I cannot be faithful to the tradition if I absent myself from the Church as it is today, but neither can I claim to share in the daily life of the Church if I am indifferent, or worse, hostile, to the tradition of the Church.

But all of this, to repeat myself, is the fruit of my personal commitment to Jesus Christ,

Anything else or anything less, is a betrayal of the Gospel and a theology (or liturgy) of demons.

As always, your comments, questions, and criticisms are not only welcome, but actively sought.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Tradition: A Personal Mode of Seeing

One of the more interesting insights offered by Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon in his book Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church, is his argument that tradition exists “enhypostatically.” As near as I can tell what he means by this is that tradition—any tradition—does not exist in an abstract or pure sense, but only insofar as it is embodied in the life of concrete persons and communities.

While Zizioulas discusses the enhypostatic expression in terms of asceticism and liturgy, I want to reflect here, somewhat overly briefly I admit, on how tradition—and specifically the Christian Tradition—shapes how we see ourselves and the world of persons, events and things that constitute our lives.

Last Sunday (11/23) I sat with the catechumens in the parish I serve. We are reading together Clark Carlton’s book The Way: What Every Protestant Should Know About the Orthodox Church. Carlton mentions that the NIV translates 2 Thessalonians 2.15 (“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings [traditions in the KJV] we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter.”) in a way that does violence to the text, but which supports the Evangelical dismissal of tradition in the life of the Church.

This isn’t necessarily to fault the translators of the NIV, after all we never read Scripture in a vacuum, but always in light of certain (often unexamined) presuppositions. In a word, our reading of Scripture is always based on tradition, always.

As the discussion continued, we began wrestle with the place of the Tradition of the Orthodox Church in our own lives. For many, and especially many converts, Holy Tradition is a goal to be fulfilled. But over the course of 2,000 years, the tradition has been embodied in many ways by myriad people and communities in a variety of historical and social settings. This means that the Tradition of the Church is not only, old but deep and (within limits at least) varied.

No one can hope to do everything that was ever done and so, if I’m not careful, I will pick and choose the part of Church history that I prefer and confuse that with the whole of the tradition. One of the examples I used with the catechumens was monastic hairstyles. The “modern” practice is for monks to have long hair and untrimmed beards. But if we look at icons of early bishops—I used St John Chrysostom—we see that an earlier practice was for monks in the East to cut their hair in much the same way that one sees in traditional Western monastic life. Look sometime at the icon of Chrysostom and then look at picture of Frair Tuck. The hair styles are more than a little similar.

So if we are not to imitate the past, what value do we find in Holy Tradition?

Guided and guarded by the Church’s dogmatic and moral teaching, our life of prayer (personal and liturgical) and asceticism (especially fasting and care for the poor), we become ever more sensitive to what is Good, True, Beautiful and Justice. We see these first in the Scriptures and the lives of the saints, especially as they are communicated to us in the Church’s liturgical life. And then, building on this foundation, we become ever more aware of the presence of the Good, the True, the Beautiful and the Just in ourselves and in the world of persons, events and things that constitute our everyday life.

This discovery that these are not simply abstract notions but embodied realities is not the end of the adventure. As I come to recognize for example the Good, the force of that recognition confronts me with the presence of wickedness, falsehood, ugliness and injustice first of all in my own heart and then in the world around me. As I never tire of reminding my own spiritual children, I do not learn from my mistakes, I learn what is true and then come to see I am mistaken.

Goodness, Truthfulness, Beauty and Justice, as with the Tradition that sensitize us to them, are not abstract philosophical constructs or historical curiosities. They are rather embodied realities. If because of Adam’s sin these they are only more or less embodied in me, if my life is still disordered, or if Beauty (for example) is marred, this in no way detracts from the reality that it is the Church, the Body of Christ, that most fully (though not exhaustively) embodies these in human history.

Where we have gone wrong, I think, is we have rarified Holy Tradition. We have made it a thing, an objective standard to be imitated. In doing so we have lost sight of Holy Tradition as, to borrow from Vladimir Lossky, the Presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church as it leads and guides the faithful throughout history.

And it is this same Spirit which inspired not only the writers of Sacred Scriptures, but those who preached the Word. It is this same Spirit Who inspires the Church at prayer in the Liturgy and in the secret places of the human heart. And it is this same Spirit Who sustains and guides the saints who have struggled to remain faithful to the Word.

When we see Holy Tradition as something external to the person, to the traces of grace in the human and community, we miss all this and the Christian life, the life of the Church, becomes (to borrow from Christos Yannaras) yet one more source of division in the human heart and family, albeit now a religious division.

A blessed and Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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