Love, Marriage and Family in Eastern Orthodox Perspective 9781463237028

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Table of contents :
Table of Contents
Foreword: The Mystery of Marriage: An Orthodox Reflection
The Sacrament of Love: Paul Evdokimov’s Vision of Marriage, Love and Vocation
Out of Dreams and Angels: Love, Marriage, and Family in the New Testament
The Sacrament of Marriage and Union with God
Marriage And Family: Traditional Values – Modern Realities
Sexual Healing: Desire and Pleasure in the Thought of Sts. Augustine of Hippo and Gregory of Nyssa
Uncovering Desire: Explorations in Eros, Aggression and the Question of Theosis in Marriage
Contextuality and Normality: Orthodox Visions of Human Sexuality and Marriage
Marriage and the Eucharist: From Unity to Schizophrenia – the Positive Theology of Marriage and its Distortion From an Eastern Orthodox Point of View
Imaging the True Family in St. Gregory Nazianzen’s Oration 14
Chrysostom’s Pedagogy of Christian Fatherhood: Reorienting the Christian Family in a Non-Christian Society
What Makes a Society? An Orthodox Perspective on Asceticism, Marriage, the Family, and Society
Anna Komnene’s Alexiad: Legacy from the Good Daughter (Kale Thugater)
‘Set Ye In Order Charity In Me’: Origen’s Writings on The Song of Songs
Philanthropia as God’s Loving-Kindness: Origen of Alexandria and His Theology of Love
The Reflexivity of Love in Fakhruddin ‘Iraqi’s Divine Flashes and St. Symeon the New Theologian’s Hymns of Divine Eros
‘The Time Has Come: The Why and the How of Bringing Change to the Postpartum Rites of the Orthodox Church’
Psalms 112:5–9 and Alternative Family Arrangements
Turning Toward as a Pastoral Theology of Marriage
Caregiving as an Expression of Familial Love
Toward a Better Understanding of the Clergy Couple
‘The Beginning of Wisdom is to Fear the Lord, And She was Joined with the Faithful in the Womb.’ WSir 1:12 The Theology of Children, An Insight from the Old and the New Testaments
A Life of Ideal Beauty: St. Gregory of Nyssa and the Life of Macrina
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Love, Marriage and Family in Eastern Orthodox Perspective

Gorgias Eastern Christian Studies

44 Series Editors George Anton Kiraz István Perczel Lorenzo Perrone Samuel Rubenson

Gorgias Eastern Christian Studies brings to the scholarly world the underrepresented field of Eastern Christianity. This series consists of monographs, edited collections, texts and translations of the documents of Eastern Christianity, as well as studies of topics relevant to the world of historic Orthodoxy and early Christianity.

Love, Marriage and Family in Eastern Orthodox Perspective

Edited by

Theodore Grey Dedon Sergey Trostyanskiy


34 2016

Gorgias Press LLC, 954 River Road, Piscataway, NJ, 08854, USA Copyright © 2016 by Gorgias Press LLC

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning or otherwise without the prior written permission of Gorgias Press LLC. 2016



ISBN 978-1-4632-0596-6

ISSN 1539-1507

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Dedon, Theodore, editor. | Trostyanskiy, Sergey, editor. Title: Love, marriage, and family in Eastern Orthodox perspective / edited by Theodore Dedon, edited by Sergey Trostyanskiy. Description: Piscataway : Gorgias Press, 2016. | Series: Gorgias Eastern Christian studies, ISSN 1539-1507 ; 44 | Includes bibliographical references. Identifiers: LCCN 2016017350 | ISBN 9781463205966 Subjects: LCSH: Marriage--Religious aspects--Orthodox Eastern Church. Classification: LCC BX378.M2 L684 2016 | DDC 261.8/3580882819--dc23 LC record available at Printed in the United States of America

TABLE OF CONTENTS Table of Contents ..................................................................................... v Acknowledgments ................................................................................... ix Preface ....................................................................................................... xi SERGEY TROSTYANSKIY AND THEODORE DEDON Foreword: The Mystery of Marriage: An Orthodox Reflection ........................................................................................ xv J.A. MCGUCKIN The Sacrament of Love: Paul Evdokimov’s Vision of Marriage, Love and Vocation .......................................................................... 1 MICHAEL PLEKON Out of Dreams and Angels: Love, Marriage, and Family in the New Testament .............................................................................. 15 JEFFREY B. PETTIS The Sacrament of Marriage and Union with God ............................ 31 BRUCE BECK Marriage And Family: Traditional Values – Modern Realities ....... 45 THEODOR DAMIAN Sexual Healing: Desire and Pleasure in the Thought of Sts. Augustine of Hippo and Gregory of Nyssa .............................. 61 DAVID J. DUNN Uncovering Desire: Explorations in Eros, Aggression and the Question of Theosis in Marriage ................................................ 79 PIA CHAUDHARI Contextuality and Normality: Orthodox Visions of Human Sexuality and Marriage .................................................................. 91 DREW MAXWELL Marriage and the Eucharist: From Unity to Schizophrenia – the Positive Theology of Marriage and its Distortion From an Eastern Orthodox Point of View .............................................105 PHILIP ZYMARIS v



Imaging the True Family in St. Gregory Nazianzen’s Oration 14.....................................................................................127 KATE MCCRAY Chrysostom’s Pedagogy of Christian Fatherhood: Reorienting the Christian Family in a Non-Christian Society ....................135 ALEXANDER BLAZE MILLER What Makes a Society? An Orthodox Perspective on Asceticism, Marriage, the Family, and Society ........................155 DYLAN PAHMAN Anna Komnene’s Alexiad: Legacy from the Good Daughter (Kale Thugater)................................................................................169 V.K. MCCARTY ‘Set Ye In Order Charity In Me’: Origen’s Writings on The Song of Songs ..............................................................................185 CLIO PAVLANTOS Philanthropia as God’s Loving-Kindness: Origen of Alexandria and His Theology of Love .........................................................201 THEODORE GREY DEDON The Reflexivity of Love in Fakhruddin ‘Iraqi’s Divine Flashes and St. Symeon the New Theologian’s Hymns of Divine Eros........223 ZACHARY UGOLNIK ‘The Time Has Come: The Why and the How of Bringing Change to the Postpartum Rites of the Orthodox Church’ ..........................................................................................245 CARRIE FREDERICK FROST Psalms 112:5–9 and Alternative Family Arrangements ..................253 WILLIAM EPHREM GALL Turning Toward as a Pastoral Theology of Marriage .....................257 PHILIP MAMALAKIS Caregiving as an Expression of Familial Love .................................273 ANNMARIE GIDUS-MECERA Toward a Better Understanding of the Clergy Couple...................287 KERRY PAPPAS ‘The Beginning of Wisdom is to Fear the Lord, And She was Joined with the Faithful in the Womb.’ WSir 1:12 The Theology of Children, An Insight from the Old and the New Testaments ..........................................................................295 VICKI PETRAKIS



A Life of Ideal Beauty: St. Gregory of Nyssa and the Life of Macrina ...........................................................................................303 ANTONIA ATANASSOVA

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS The papers presented in this volume were originally delivered at the Fifth Annual Conference of the Sophia Institute, “Love, Marriage and Family in Eastern Orthodox perspective” held at Union Theological Seminary, New York on December 7th, 2012. The Sophia Institute provided essential support for the preparation of this volume. We would like especially to thank the President of the Institute, the Very Rev’d. Dr. John Anthony McGuckin, the Nielsen Professor of Early Christian History at Union Theological Seminary and Professor of Byzantine Christian Studies at Columbia University, for his assistance with this volume. We would like to thank also our former colleague at Union Theological Seminary, the retired Head of Reference and Research at the Burke Library, Seth Kasten for his help in navigating the immense resources available through Columbia University’s network. Special thanks go to Dr. Melonie Schmierer-Lee and Dr. Matthew Steinfeld, Acquisitions Editors at Gorgias Press, who facilitated the process of preparing this volume so as to bring it to completion. We thank Marian (Mim) Warden, former Union Seminary student, current member of the Union Board of Directors, and long-time friend, for her encouragement and material support.


PREFACE When we speak of love in modern language a certain conceptual content is expressed. Though we use one word there are various significations (and so-called ‘formulas of essence’) that leak into it. Thus, any time we speak of love a certain degree of equivocation is assumed by default. Hence, the meaning of love ( that is, its nature, modes, and so on) can vary and is determined by the broader semantic context (whether sexual, romantic, or devotional; love ‘for this or for that’ – music or people or ideas, and so forth). Classical Greek, however, was clearly more capable of setting up a subtle discourse on the subject with a lesser degree of equivocation. The various terms to express love as designed by the ancients, were much more diverse and nuanced. Agape, eros, storge, and philia are some examples that can be mentioned in the brief scope of this preface. The notion of love played a major role in antique culture. We can find various subtle accounts of love in the writings of antique philosophers and rhetoricians. Many treatises of Plato, Aristotle, and other sophists deal with the subject and elucidate its significance for the ancient city-state. A few things need to be mentioned in this context. Firstly, when we discourse about it, we need to know what love is. Secondly, when we theologize about it, we need to find out how it affects our Christian ethos. Thus, what is love? Is it something that comes about at the moment of our unqualified ‘comingto-be’? Are we lovers and loved ones from birth so to say? It may be useful to see what the ancients had to say on the subject. Here, the first thing that comes to mind is Plato’s dialogues in which the subject of love is given the chief priority. What does he have to say? We find the following affirmation in one of his earliest dialogues: xi


LOVE, MARRIAGE, AND FAMILY Babies, for example, who are too young to love philounta) but not too young to hate, when they are disciplined by their mother or father, are at that moment, even though they hate their parents then, their very dearest friends [Lysis 212e8– 213a2].

Here Plato presents love (in the mode of philia) as virtue (i.e. civic excellence) which is perhaps not immediately apparent as innate in human existence (though inherent in humanity by nature) but has to be taught to turn an infant animal to a wholly formed human being who ‘partakes’ of virtues. We can think of such love as being potentiality present but not yet actualized. Hence, a certain developmental aspect is accentuated in such an understanding of love. Love is thus a thing (perhaps a natural disposition) to be developed. Some Christians take this position as operative for Christian life even in contemporary times, on account of its endorsement by some major Christian authorities, notably St. Augustine. Thus, in the first book of Confessions 1 Augustine gives us a lively description of ‘evil babies’ corrupted by sin and vividly described their lust for self-affirmation (thereby perfectly replicating Plato’s argument which had clearly influenced him). On the other hand love was also thought of as a gift of God. We can find such affirmations again in Plato’s Lysis: I think we’d better go back to where we turned off, and look for guidance to the poets, the ancestral voices of human wisdom. What they say about who friends are is by no means trivial: that God himself makes people friends [lovers], by drawing them together [213e4–214a2].

Here again philia is discussed, a form of love associated with mutual affection and loyalty by friends and family members. Yet, a developmental aspect of such a form of love is de-emphasized in the new context; instead, the notion of gift or divine intervention (or providential care) is accentuated. This aspect is indeed extended throughout all modes of love. Moreover, a henotic or unitive aspect of love is also highlighted in this section. And the theme of two 1

St. Augustine, Confessions. I, 7.



‘coming-to-be-one’ through the mutual bond of love (in its various modes) has indeed been formative for Christian discourse since its inception. Perhaps these two conceptions of love (namely, virtue and divine intervention) are not contradictory and can peacefully coexist within the same discourse. They seem to sit happily together in the Lysis. Love is also understood as aiming at beauty as its final end (which is indeed intertwined with truth and goodness). The teleology of love in its erotic mode is just another major theme that runs across cultures, taking its starting point in Homer, soaring aloft in Plato’s magnificent Symposium and finding its climactic moment in late Byzantine discourses such as those of St. Symeon the New Theologian. 2 One particular aspect of erotic love is to be mentioned in this context, namely, the epistemic significance; here love brings about the event of thea, that is allows one to ‘see’ God. 3 Yet, the notion of seeing here is quite peculiar; such ‘seeing’ does not operate though the faculty of imagination; this imageless seeing is also utterly devoid of any propositional aspect; hence, it is a purely imageless non-propositional grasp of the deity. As such it plays an absolutely crucial role in later Christian tradition, especially in its Byzantine hesychastic form. Perhaps the Greek concept of storge is just another significant mode of love that creates an everlasting bond of mutual solidarity and respect between such ‘lovers’. But this is perhaps the least formative aspect as far as our present study is concerned. Christians pay little attention to it. By contrast, the most significant modality and semantic of love, one that constitutes the focal point of Christian faith is agape. We learn from St. John the Divine that o theos agape estin. 4 Thus, the very being of God is love. Agape is the central and the most aporetic element of Jesus’ teaching which revolves around the notion of God’s self-emptying (kenosis) for our benefit. This same element strikes us in the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus teaches the faithful to love (agapate) their enemies and Such as the latter’s Hymns of Divine Eros. See further: Jeffrey B. Pettis, ed. Seeing the God: Ways of Envisioning the Divine in Ancient Mediterranean Religion. Gorgias Press. NJ. 2013. 4 1st Letter of John 4.8 & 4.16. 2 3



pray for those persecuting them. 5 This same element lays down the foundation of the cosmic redemptive process that is meant to bring the whole creation back to the very source of its being (and hence, assumes a dominant role in soteriology). What are the implications of such a radical conception of love for our Christian ethos? Does not love transform the very nature of human relationship? Does not it turn contractual marriage into the union between husband and wife in God? Does not it assign a deeply sacramental significance to marriage? Does it not bring about a metamorphosis in our ordinary life in which not only the members of the community of faith, but also these outside it, deserve to be ennobled as the loved ones? Christianity tends to the affirmative on all these questions. This present book sets out to making this complex subject both discernible and formative for the ethos of our faith. The study includes work by world-renowned Orthodox scholars along with promising young Christian theologians, historians and litterateurs of the next generation, and systematically investigates a subject that has been excessively neglected in Orthodox literature. This family of Sophia scholars who are also ‘friends in Christ’ offer this volume as a spiritual gift to Christian communities across the world. We, the editors, deeply appreciate their efforts and are proud to facilitate their appearance for the wider academy. Sergey Trostyanskiy Theodore Dedon

ἐντολὴν καινὴν δίδωμι ὑμῖν, ἵνα ἀγαπᾶτε ἀλλήλους, καθὼς ἠγάπησα ὑμᾶς ἵνα καὶ ὑμεῖς ἀγαπᾶτε ἀλλήλους. ἐν τούτῳ γνώσονται πάντες ὅτι ἐμοὶ μαθηταί ἐστε, ἐὰν ἀγάπην ἔχητε ἐν ἀλλήλοις John 13:34–35 5

Mt. 5.44.


The Lord revealed the essence of his special and unusual understanding of marriage on several occasions during his earthly ministry. This present reflection intends to take its lead from an exegesis of key scriptural passages and continue into a review of central Orthodox Church attitudes and practice in relation to matrimony. 1 Jesus was a radical thinker on so many levels. His remarks in the New Testament on marriage, mainly tangential in character (analogies, images, fragments), equally demonstrate that radicality. He changed the theological significance of marriage considerably from that of the Old Testament ‘contract’ which remains the inspiration (via Roman legislative philosophy) of civil law to this day, into something greater than that: an entrance into a spiritual profundity There is now a growing literature on the Orthodox understanding of marriage: see, for example, J. Chryssavgis. Love, Sexuality and the Sacrament of Marriage (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Press, 1996); P. Evdokimov. The Sacrament of Love (New York, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985); J. Meyendorff. Marriage An Orthodox Perspective (New York, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1975); St. Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly vol. 8. 1. 1964 is comprised of papers from a symposium dedicated to the Orthodox approach to marriage. See also: K. Ritzer. Le Mariage dans les Églises Chrétiennes du Ier au XIIière siecles (Paris: Beauchesne, 1970); A. Raes. Le Mariage dans les Églises d’Orient (Chevetogne: Monastery of the Holy Cross, 1958). 1




of communion that actually mirrors the Lord’s own salvific love for his church. The idea of contract of course (especially such an important social one as marriage) need not be necessarily opposed to the idea of spiritual communion. Nor do we need to set up polar opposites – as if love and law were irreconcilables. The Old Testament theologians knew well enough that at the root of the idea of contract between God and Israel was the sacred notion of Covenant (berith), which included such foundational notions as the divine election of a people, the nurturing of their social progress, and the fostering of the covenantal contract with Israel through the Temple cult as well as through the overarching ‘divine’ virtues of Faithfulness and Mercy (Hesed and Emet). But even so, Jesus’ change of emphasis at the outset is significant and important. His tendency in beginning to theologize on human relations sets him at a tangent to Old Testament legalism and makes his teaching stand in an even sharper contrast with the presuppositions of Roman law: both of which have their philosophy of marital relationship steeped in the laws of possession. When he was asked about the Mosaic law of divorce he clearly taught the Pharisees that they were fundamentally mistaken to set the bond of marriage in the context of contractual ‘social law’, but should rather see it in terms of the deeper and more basic divine covenant that God made with humankind in the creation: And the Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause? He answered, Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put apart. They said to him, Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away? He said to them, For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. 2


Mt. 19. 3–8.



Over and against the economies that were necessary for society where ‘hardness of heart’ was the common order of the day (has it changed so much?), the Lord begins to set a new standard for his church, which itself goes back to the more fundamental creation covenant, which he has come to restore and repristinate in his church. The Mosaic law of contractual divorce is made to give way to a higher ‘law of one flesh’, in other words erotic communion. Here, marriage is not to be seen as a prophetic-ethical institution for the refinement of society (the matrix of so much modern Christian thought on the issue), rather as a creation-structure instituted by God as part of the human participation in the divine energy of his gift of life to the world. It is this aspect of participation (methexis) in God’s energy of creation that leads to marriage being founded, in Jesus’ logion, in terms of communion (being joined into oneness). Orthodoxy deduces form this the premiss that it is God who bonds a man and a woman in a mystical union that grows out of the union of flesh. Now there are many other different types of definition of what a marriage is: but it seems to me that this fundamental New Testament insight is specific to the point of uniqueness, is counter-cultural, and surely needs to be prioritized as the basis for the essence of ‘authentic’ Christian theology of marriage. This kind of marriage that the Christ is talking about, is not available off the shelf. It is not the result of a mutual passion that wishes to set up house together and get a civilly valid piece of paper to assert mutual social rights and obligations following from the ‘engagement’. The Lord, as far as I can see, has nothing to say about this presumption of marriage. It does not seem to interest him. This is like a Civil Union. Now a Civil Union (by which term I also mean to include civilly registered marriages) is very important to society and to the partners involved, and to the families which result. But it is not what Christ means by marriage in this Gospel text. Nor, for that matter, is much of the modern discourse about marriage in society always necessarily in harmony with the mind of Christ (the phronema Christou). Anyone who has studied the scriptures for even a few moments ought to realize that the Lord has some very off-center views: not least the call to disciples to regard marriage bonds as subservient to the demands of discipleship even



to the point of being justification enough to leave wife and children, as well as the call to discipleship being ‘higher’ than the family bonds of kinship; 3 and it is important not to flatten out these spiky eschatological doctrines excessively horizontally when exegeting his meanings. We cannot simply presume that Jesus was advocating a socially acceptable doctrine of marriage when he taught. No more likely was it that he was advocating a useful economic theory of money when we look at his eschatological sayings on wealth. 4 Rather, he was offering his disciples an eschatological doctrine of truth; and this element of radical angle (being ‘aslant’) to the common sense views of socially accepted ideas needs to be noted, and honoured, even by his very non-eschatological modern disciples. When Jesus spoke of marriage as a creation ordinance, it set the Apostle to reflecting, and he re-interpreted this utterance to the effect that the psycho-physical bond of marriage is a profound sacrament of the love Christ has for his church. 5 The wife’s relation to the husband (hypotagma – often literalistically summed up as ‘subjection’) is far more than the sad semantic that subjection connotes today (antipathetical, as it would be, to all who would argue for women’s liberation) for in the Apostolic context it means kenosis not abject obedience. The female disciple’s hypotagma is spoken of as the textual parallel to the way the Church at large stands before Mt. 10. 35–37; 12.49–50; 19.29; 23.9. Mt. 22. 20–22; Mk. 10.23–26. 5 Ephes. 5.24–32. ‘As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject (hypotassetai) in all things to their husbands. 25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ 32 This mystery is a profound one (mega mysterion), and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.’ 3 4



the Risen Christ – and this is not connoted by ‘subjection’ in the sense the world attaches to this but rather a voluntary kenosis of love that exalts and delivers freedom. Hypotagma in the classical Greek sense means ‘order’ before any connotation of inferiority. Male or female the Church stands in order under the dominion of Christ. This is the relationship the Apostle suggest the wife ought to mirror in her relation to the husband: since he too, as a brother in Christ, stands to her as an icon of the Christ she is called to love with kenotic freedom. Accordingly, the subject-status of the woman to the husband spoken of here is far more than a mimesis of late Roman social conventions (the subservient and dutiful Matrona of the Roman Household Code, the wife who is docile and will not rock the boat of the authority of the paterfamilias). Again in parallel literary structure the wife’s Christian hypotagma (her allegiance to Christ as a Christian being mirrored in her marital relation) is set in harmony by the Apostle with the correct attitude of the husband whose ‘dominion’ (kyriotes, andreia – but we note how this term of dominance is implied not spoken overtly by the Apostle) is to be one of exaltation of the other to synonymity of communion – in other words equality in a hypotagma of mutual reverence ‘In Christ’. But it is a theological equalization the Apostle speaks of (again not a social one that the world could give out of its own resources – such as civil gains won irrespective of Christ). This equalization is given by analogy with the husband’s own hypotagma to Christ, the Lord who became a servant for all so as to lift up all the Church into his own liberative glory. This is the Dominion, and this is the Kenosis of the Lord, whose equalizing (admission into communion) of his ‘subjects’ makes them into ‘friends, no longer servants’. 6 Such a mutuality of love evoked by the Apostle here is no petty matter of who is the ‘head of the house’: this is an explanation of marriage that defines it as (or at least challenges it to rise to) a mimesis of the Lord’s own headship of his Church, forged and hammered out in his kenosis of death and exaltation in the Resurrection, by which great mystery of salvation he was constituted Lord and Saviour of the Church. Such a life-praxis is meant to be as deep as death, and as limitless as God’s own compassion. And this is why 6

Jn. 15.15.



the Apostle calls marriage (as this core energy of the mimesis of Christ’s deepest salvation mystery) as ‘Great Mystery’ (mega mysterion). How often has this deep and magisterial teaching of the Apostle been dimly rendered as an affirmation of late Roman social order – in the form that wives ought to be subordinated to their husbands? All too often has the Apostolic meditation on Christ’s eschatological mysticism been so falsified as bourgeois ethics. What the Apostle says is that husband and wife must apply to one the kenotic subjection of Christ, and also his lordly dominion. In his subjection the Christ was shown to be Kyrios, Lord and Master. In his Dominion he was shown to be Doulos: servant of all. This mutuality and synonymity is set as the pattern for the Christian husband and wife: in their communion they live out the mystery of the Lord’s own redemptive ministry as both Lord and Servant. In this way marriage becomes a ‘mystery’ as a sign or ideal epitome of all the Christian life: that searching out of the ‘Mind of Christ’ (phronema Christou) that seeks a kenosis in order to gain the love and communion of the beloved. 7 The husband’s authority (which in the ancient world was presumed to be very high and superior to that of a woman) is laid at the service of the beloved, just as his authority is laid at the feet of his Lord, Christ. But all three partners meet equally in kenosis, and find their equality in the laying aside of privilege by love. In a uniquely mystical way the married couple are called to fulfill the supreme command of disciples: ‘Love one another as I have loved you.’ And this ‘as’, the way Christ loved his Church, was to give himself without counting the cost: the way of the martyrdom of love. It is this martyrdom-gift of self which sets the flame to make the continued gift possible and desirable. If this martyrdom gift is met and reciprocated the marriage relation becomes a Merkavah: a fiery chariot that leads to the kingdom. The mutual love and joy that a Christian partnership lives from within this mystery of Christ’s Passion (for it is a mystery of the Redemption, a sacrifice, a radical risking of the ego) reaches a critical reactive mass, like a nuclear reaction, when it is followed to the point of becoming a culture of self-giving within a marriage. It is then that the marriage bond starts to function to others as a liv7

Phil. 2. 5–11.



ing icon of the burning love Christ has for his church, and how that love will be the eschatological bonding of all the disciples, in the Kingdom of his joy. This true and mystical definition of marriage is a peak of Christian perfection. The reality can be assailed, and constantly is, by the ‘hardness of heart’ that causes so much other human misery and sin; but it is set up by Christ and his Apostle as a different order to this. According to Christ’s own vision: love within the mystery of marriage leads a couple to enter deep into the roots of the creation power, and to find there the primal language of communion: the love in which God first made humanity, male and female, in his own image. Marriage is, to that extent, an entrance of the creature into the life of the Holy Trinity itself. In Christ, the marriage mystery is graced as an authentic and whole part of creation which is meant to encounter the Uncreated. This is undoubtedly why Christ rebuked the Pharisees when they set out to define marriage first and foremost in terms of closely boundaried contract of mutual rights and obligations. Over and against this limited perspective (legal prescript which takes its basis on the premiss of human closure and self-interest, rather than altruism and sacrifice) the Lord places the image of how God himself contracts with his creation: an overwhelmingly excessive and great outpouring of charismatic generosity, a search for a mutuality of love (such is the humility of God!) in which the invitation to love is an invitation to transfigured transcendence. The language of marital purposes, functions, contracts, obligations: has been used very heavily in times past (and in secular society especially) to hedge around the mystery of marriage. Such terms are not inapplicable, of course, especially considering the weighty responsibilities to others which the marriage bond itself creates, but they are secondary. Christ speaks of the primary mystery: all else flows from it as deductions. Christian theology of marriage begins in a spiritual mystery of communion that is awesome (causing thauma in its divinely revelatory energy) in all its power and significance. It is this alone that can breathe Christ’s joy and his life into all the contracts the world can draw up. When the spirit of loving communion leaves a marriage (graceful presence of that Spirit of truth who fashions the Church constantly into the true Icon of Christ and thereby elevates it into communion with the Trinity), not all the paper of all the contracts in the world can keep it to-



gether. Those who continue to live together in increasingly parallel lives, in loveless homes without charismatic marital communion (it applies to many couples who do not wish to divorce for a multitude of reasons), must learn to endure a wilderness of such heartwearying numbness as brings them into the danger of a spiritual death. The invisible martyrdom of such problematic marriages is an experience of crucifixion at the heart of many individual lives in our own time: a pastoral problem that is compounded by the sense of shame and anxiety of those involved who therefore often do not seek the compassionate counsel the Church might be able to offer them, until the relationships are in a terminal state. In his own teaching the Lord constantly refers to marriage, and the happy festivals that marked a marriage in ancient Palestine, as a fundamental symbol (typos) of the coming Kingdom of God. 8 It is instructive that in reference to this concept of the Kingdom (namely the most elevated form of his Father’s will for the Cosmos and his presence within it), the Lord continually chooses to use the symbol of the wedding feast. This takes its force, of course, from the ancient biblical notion that God is the sole bridegroom of Israel. But it is also indicative of how the mystery of marriage is itself one of the great symbolic gates that can open up the manifestation of the glory of the Lord. Like the disciples at Cana (whom we can note were already chosen and blessed as apostles, and already following their master), the initiates of this sacrament can actually ‘start to believe’ from what they have seen. At the Cana wedding, we are told that the Lord ‘allowed his glory to be seen.’ 9 It is a phrase in the evangelist John which deliberately evokes the manifestation of God’s glory when he made the first covenant with Israel at Sinai. 10 Accordingly it is another way the New Testament has to elevate marriage as a sign par excellence of the advent of the Kingdom. The Lord’s allowance of his ‘glory manifested’ brought belief to life in the hearts of his closest disciples at Cana. This marriage served as a symbolic and joyful background against which the new covenant of his merciful advent Among others: Mt. 22.1–14; Mt. 25.1; Lk. 12 35–36. Jn. 2.11. 10 LXX. Deut. 5.24. 8 9



could be suitably manifested. The mystery of the great outpouring of New Wine was the sign of the new covenant in his blood which would bond together God and mankind in a new marriage where God would be the sole husband (the Baal) of Israel, and would tolerate no other spouse for his elected bride. Whether the married couple remain a small dyad standing at the intersection of larger kin groups, or whether they begin a new home and family of their own, what is at stake in terms of the Gospel is the manner in which this foundation of a new locus of love, a home, becomes a place where the expansive divine energy is manifested – that creation energy that generously pours itself out over the world. Children are an exemplar of this creation energy in an obvious way – not merely a physically procreative way but the whole emotional and spiritual formation that is just as important to the parents (forming and re-forming them in the process) as it is necessary to the children. But whether with or without children the issue is to make of this ‘new home’ a place on earth where the Gospel injunctions are fulfilled: to clothe the naked, to instruct the ignorant, to heal the sorrowing, to feed the hungry. A married couple energize each other to recreate the world around them such that in their home the fundamental attitudes of Christ are exalted and those of the world are scaled down. Such a home causes observers to imagine that it is a true ‘house-Church’ (ecclesiola) where the ‘liturgy after the liturgy’ continues to be fulfilled. Such observers can rightly remark about such a home: ‘Here is a place where indeed the stranger is made welcome; the poor are fed, and the sorrowing are comforted.’ It is in this workshop of love that any children of a marriage ( and how they develop and extend it in new keys and ranges of composition!) will also first learn the meaning of the Gospel, from the charity of Christ it engenders all around it. To be of ‘one flesh’, as Christ described marriage, is to elevate erotic communion as a valid symbol of God’s love and a valid path to holiness for the married couple. Orthodox Christian reflection on the beauty and holiness of sexual love certainly needs some development. In times past the majority of the theologians of the church have tended to be monastics or ascetics. This has been the case from the fourth century onwards. As a result, the church has had very few theologians who have really celebrated the glory of the married condition rhapsodically, and from the lived inner experience of it. Being predominantly approached from the perspective



of celibates, and often denigrated as something defective, or at least much less elevated than the celibate ascetical life, 11 it has not yet been sung about in a full range of necessary theological keys. Nevertheless, it is significant to remember that marital union is the only sacrament spoken of as the Mega Mysterion of Christ and his Church. Monastic asceticism is not spoken of in this elevated way in the scripture. Indeed, one of the first of all the Christian heresies was the attempt to impose celibacy on all Christians as a ‘higher standard’, and these zealots were denounced by the apostle as having followed ‘deceitful spirits’ to teach the ‘doctrine of demons’. 12 These are harsh words. But from the very beginning it was felt to be necessary to protect the glories of the married vocation. And perhaps this is true even today. The Orthodox church still waits for great theologians and poets who can sing the glories of the mystery of marriage properly. Only in recent generations, and perhaps especially when women disciples across the world can widely command an elevated standard of literary education (a relatively recent state of affairs in terms of world history), will such works of theology, celebrating the sacramentality of erotic communion come to be written in a fitting manner. The truth is, I suggest, it is incorrect to speak of an ascetical path or a married path being ‘higher’ 13 than another. The ascetical vocation is glorious for those the Lord has called to it. No less gloA theme excessively developed by Pope Gregory the Great in the century and popularized by many subsequent ascetical writers. 12 1 Tim. 4. 1–3. 13 This often emerges from a woodenly de-contextualised exegesis of 1 Cor. 7.38, but here St. Paul is speaking about the expectation of an imminent end to the world, and in this light advises his congregations not to worry too much about wedding settlements, and to care instead for the impending judgement. He is not giving a relative reflection on the merits of virginity or marriage as such. The fathers who exegeted him in this way were ascetics themselves, concerned with the glorification of the virginal life in a Hellenistic context which broadly despised it. Now the balance needs alteration, for often the ascetical writers give the impression that marriage is an inferior vocation fitting only for those who are’ not able to take up the challenges of celibacy’. Which is a deeply distorted view. 7th




rious and mystical is the path of married love, for those to whom God has appeared within it. Its secrets are hidden from those without. Its profundities are blessed by God with a creation ordinance ‘to be fruitful and multiply’. 14 It is an ascetical path as much as any other – in its own terms and specific styles. Marriage is the broad highway where most Orthodox Christians (not the specific and zealous ascetics and celibates) are called by God. When they are so called into this mystery of mutual love, it is to perform once more the priestly task of refining raw matter into the purified gold of spiritual glory. In the eyes and ways of this world marriage is a simpler less mystical contractual matter, to mark off sexual and legal relations; something that is entirely in the hand and at the disposal of the men and women who fashion this bond among themselves (which is why its survival rates are so desperate in this day and age of increasing spiritual bankruptcy). However, in the thought processes of the church, it is not like this. Marriage itself is called to become something new: a great mystery, as it rises into the art of being the way in which two Christians form one heart and mind with Christ as their common Lord. ‘There are many mansions in my Father’s house,’ the Lord told his apostles; 15 marriage is the mystery by which means many of those mansions are being fashioned out of the raw matter of history, and through the struggle of kins and families to create a common heritage of Christian civilisation across generations. In the Orthodox Church great stress is placed on the celebration of the feast days of Christ’s ancestors ‘according to the flesh’. Their lifestories, their achievements and personal histories are caught up into something greater than they could ever have known. So it is with the mystery of marriage: each smaller unit of the new family is part of a greater and more complex hidden family of ancestors. The mutual love of two Christians is part of the very spiritual and moral formation that has been given to them by generations that were mature before they were even born. Born out of love, they in turn learn to love and create new love, and co-create new life. The spiral of human history making its way forwards in a civilising 14 15

Gen. 1. 27–28. Jn. 14.2.



power, despite all and every setback of war, or poverty, or disease, is seen most clearly revealed in the forward progress of family love and mutual care within the church. Within the mystery of marriage, therefore, the priestly vocation of the Christian is fulfilled, that same priestly task that marks off all discipleship’s endeavour: the consecration of human matter into spiritual significance, through the hallowing force of love. Marriage, as the Apostle tells us is truly a ‘Great Mystery’. The Orthodox church holds to the eschatological and radical nature of its significance as a faithful recipient of the Tradition of the Lord. These remarks, limited though they are, are merely an initial reflection. The wider theme remains to be more deeply considered and is therefore a very fitting subject for our common scholarly reflections in this volume, and highly apposite in this time and age.


Evdokimov sounds a clear note for us:

It appears that a new spirituality is dawning. It aspires not to leave the world to evil, but to let the spiritual element in the creature come forth. A person who loves and is totally detached, naked to the touch of the eternal, escapes the contrived conflict between the spiritual and the material. His love of God is humanized and becomes love for all creatures in God. ‘Everything is grace,’ Bernanos wrote, because God has descended into the human and carried it away to the abyss of the Trinity. The types of traditional holiness are characterized by the heroic style of the desert, the monastery. By taking a certain distance from the world, this holiness is stretched toward heaven, vertically, like the spire of a cathedral. Nowadays, the axis of holiness has moved, drawing nearer to the world. In all its appearances, its type is less striking, its achievement is hidden from the eyes of the world, but it is the result of a struggle that is no less real. Being faithful to the call of the Lord, in the conditions of this world, makes grace penetrate to its very root, where human life is lived. 1

Paul Evdokimov. The Sacrament of Love, trans. A.P. Gythiel and V. Steadman (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995), 92. 1




Recently, I have explored this idea of holiness in and for our time. 2 There has been a great deal of conflict recently, about how marriage should be understood in our society and about what the church teaches from scripture and tradition. Some of this has been occasioned by the efforts to afford the same legal status to all, by recognizing same-sex marriage as the law does heterosexual marriage. It has been seen as necessary, by some, to ‘defend’ marriage from such efforts, yet this is hardly the only sense in which marriage has been in crisis. The high rates of the breakup of marriages by divorce, the choice by many not to marry though sharing a life in every respect, spousal abandonment and abuse – and the list of factors could go on. Some in the church believe there are really no questions to explore, nothing to discuss or debate regarding marriage. Our version of marriage in the early 21st century is simply thought of as the way marriage always has been. The scriptures, the church’s traditions, both in council canons and the writings of the fathers and others present marriage unequivocably as between men and women who are in love with each other, will only have one spouse and one marriage in their lives, and who marry for the purpose of bearing children and raising them. Clearly even in the scriptures these models of romance-based monogamy and the nuclear family are not to be the only ones, if they are found at all. Rather we find polygamy, much larger extended families that appear tribal, not to mention rigorous rules for whom one can marry, abandonment and the ending of marriage. Provisions are made too in the case of a spouse’s death for inheritance of property and further support of a parent and children. Even in the NT there is the understanding that some members of the Christian community will be married to individuals outside of it. In light of all this I want to reflect on some of the distinctive contributions of theologian Paul Evdokimov (1900–1969), one of the émigré Russians who settled in France and was educated at the first Orthodox theological school established in the West, St. Sergius Institute in Paris. Evdokimov wrote almost exclusively in Michael Plekon. Hidden Holiness and Saints as They Really Are (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2012). 2



French, himself often seen as a member of the ‘Paris school’ of thinkers connected to St. Sergius. In a memoir essay he names the philosopher Nicholas Berdyaev and theologian Fr. Sergius Bulgakov as his principal teachers – their influence is evident throughout his own writing. But he was also shaped by his colleagues theologians Nicholas Afanasiev, Lev Zander, his close friends Elisabeth Behr-Sigel and Fr. Lev Gillet, as well as historians Anton Kartashev and George Fedotov, to mention just a few. Antoine Arjakovsky provides an exhaustive look at this amazing assembly of lively, critical and creative intellectuals in Paris between the wars and thereafter in his masterful study. 3 Berdyaev is best known for his championing of freedom in the church and of engagement in the world. So too Fedotov, who created a new hagiography or way of studying the lives of holy people, someone whose approach I have followed. Bulgakov is one of the most creative theologians in the modern era. He revisited the basic Christian dogmas, seeking to reflect on them in the language and thinking of the modern era. He, along with all the rest named above, were passionately committed to the ecumenical movement, as founding and active members of the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius and what we know after 1948 as the World Council of Churches. Afanasiev rediscoverd the ‘eucharistic ecclesiology’ of the early church as well as its ethos of love not law. Kartashev looked back to the way the church resolved divisions in earlier centuries. Lev Gillet tried to bridge the churches of the east and west not only in what they shared from before division but what they needed to share of their own distinctive traditions afterwards. One characteristic of all these Paris school thinkers, as well as others not mentioned like Mother Maria Skobtsova, was their conviction that the Gospel was to be lived out in all the complexity of everyday life. They saw the relationship of church and society as essential, transformative. They welcomed the challenges of modernity rather than being terrified by them. They were open to rather than condemning of the modern, Western world around them. Antoine Arjakovsky. The Way: Religious Thinkers of the Russian Emigration in Paris and Their Journal (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2013). 3



Some of them had in youthful revolutionary and reformist idealism, abandoned the church, only to return but with a new understanding of the church and a profound commitment to life and work in the world, with those outside their own ethnic and church communities. Just as with those in the nouvelle theologie or ‘return to the sources’ movement – some with whom they knew, studied and talked, these émigré thinkers saw the world as of God’s making and redeeming. They were educated not only in literature and philosophy but in the arts. They embraced the culture of the 20th century while recognizing the demonic forces at work among the Bolsheviks, the Nazis and other fascists. They were welcomed as émigrés into the west by other Christians whom they came to see as brothers and sisters in the Lord. Thus their passion for the ecumenical movement, their intense dedication to refugees, those unemployed and impoverished by the Great Depression, those hunted down in WWII. As Arjakovsky’s panoramic examination makes clear, these Parisians were also shaped by the Moscow council of 1917–18. The ‘Vatican II’ of the Orthodox world, this council’s amazing reconciliation of many perspectives produced a blueprint for sweeping reforms of the church and church life at every level. Hyacinthe Destivelle’s study makes the scope and significance of this council’s work clear. 4 These reforms could not be implemented in Russia but which were put to work in the Russian Orthodox Exarchate in Paris and Western Europe under the remarkable Metropolitan Evlogy (Georgievsky). Paul Evdokimov was both a product of this Paris school and one of its finest teachers and writers. His writings are shaped by the openness of the Paris school to society and culture and to careful historical research. He looked to the lives of believers in the modern world as the location for the living out of the faith they treasured. He surely ‘returned to the sources’ of scripture, liturgy, church fathers but also felt the lived-experience of modern people needed to also be consulted, both nonbelievers and believers as Le concile de Moscou (1917–1918) (Paris: Cerf, 2006). A translation by Jerry Ryan and edited by Vitaly Permiakov and myself is forthcoming from UND Press. 4



well. Thus one hears the voices of Paul Claudel and Berdyaev, but also DeBeauvoir, Sartre and Camus in Paul Evdokimov. This background, I believe, will help give context to his thinking about marriage in our time, most of it to be found in his book, The Sacrament of Love, although some of his essential perspectives are to be found throughout his substantial body of work. I should say at the outset that there are few explicit solutions in Evdokimov’s work to issues that are controversial today, such as same sex marriage or couples living together and not wanting to get married. Given when he wrote on marriage, in the 1950s, he simply did not address these issues. But this does not mean he has nothing to offer us today. I believe he does make a valuable contribution, a way of thinking about marriage as well as monasticism as vocation. On the basis of his careful look at the history of marriage in the church, he was critical about the shape and details of marriage being held up as ideal in the 20th century, this over against the evolution of marriage from the ancient world, from Judaism, the GrecoRoman and other traditions and then the emerging church of the early centuries. In The Sacrament of Love and other texts, Evdokimov looks carefully at both history and church tradition. He examines a host of images of marriage and sexuality, purity and corruption from classical antiquity, the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and later Christian culture and writers. He traces and identifies over time a distortion of the scriptural vision of women and men, sexual union and love. From the original beauty and goodness of creation, the effects of the fall came to distort everything about the body, about sexuality and relationships. There were classical roots for this in Hellenic and Gnostic repulsion from the body’s temporal, fallible, corruptible nature but also later in Christian ascetical perspectives. These came to see anything having to do with the flesh as contrary to holiness, as dirty and corrupting. Even within marriage, the sexual expression of spouses was seen as a necessary evil for what became the primary purpose of marriage, namely procreation. Evdokimov’s view of marriage is rooted in the anthropology he uses throughout his writings. Marriage is a profoundly beautiful human relationship, a gift of God and of immense worth in itself. Marriage is connected by the Hebrew prophets to God’s covenant or marriage to God’s people. Thus the intense human eroticism of the Song of Songs celebrates the erotic union of lovers while at the



same time imaging the love of the Lord for Israel. One of the most beautiful passages containing the anthropology of the human person comes from The Sacrament of Love. The human person is a child of God, created in God’s image and likeness. Each is par excellence a ‘liturgical being.’ A saint is not a superman, but one who discovers and lives his truth as a liturgical being. The best definition of a person comes from the liturgy: the human being is the one of the Trisagion and of the Sanctus (‘I will sing to the Lord as long as I live’) … It is not enough to say prayers; one must become, be prayer, prayer incarnate. It is not enough to have moments of praise. All of life, each act, every gesture, even the smile of the human face, must become a hymn of adoration, an offering, a prayer. One should offer not what one has, but what one is. This is a favored subject in iconography. It translates the message of the Gospel: chairé, ‘rejoice and be glad,’ ‘let everything that has breath praise the Lord.’ This is the astonishing lightening of the weight of the world, when man’s own heaviness vanishes. ‘The King of Kings, Christ is coming,’ and this is the ‘one thing needful.’ The doxology of the Lord’s Prayer (‘the kingdom, and the power and the glory’) is the heart of the liturgy. It is to respond to his vocation as a liturgical being that man is charismatic, the one who bears the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit Himself: ‘You have been sealed with the Holy Spirit … you whom God has taken for His own, to make His glory praised’ (Eph 1:14) … The best evangelization of the world, the most effective witness to the Christian faith, is this full liturgical hymn, the doxology which rises from the depths of the earth, in which moves the powerful breath of the Paraclete who alone converts and heals. 5

There is no theological abstraction here. The focus is on the lived experience of prayer – of each of us becoming prayer, becoming what we pray. Faith is incarnate in a person’s action, enacted in living. Everything that Evdokimov has to say about marriage is set in the context of vocation – the call through baptism for every 5

Evdokimov. The Sacrament of Love, 83–84.



Christian to put the Gospel into practice, to do the work of Christ in his or her everyday life, to be holy, a saint. This is a perspective shared with the re-appropriation of the Church as the People of God, from Vatican II as well as the ‘return to the sources’ theologians who paved its way. The same perspective is found in Nicholas Afanasiev’s understanding of the priesthood of all the baptized in his rediscovery of ‘Eucharistic ecclesiology.’ And this vision was that of numerous contemporary writers, Dorothy Day, chief among them. The opening quotation puts this most eloquently, seeing a more this-worldly or horizontal direction of love of God and of the neighbor. Evdokimov thinks of this in terms of the arms of the crucified Lord open to everything, drawing all to himself. Long before Vatican II, but in a vision shared with many others who ‘returned to the sources’ of the scriptures, liturgy, the fathers for renewal, Evdokimov sees holiness as universal, not the distinctive heroism of the few officially recognized or canonized. Holiness is the calling of all the baptized who are made priest, kings and prophets. One might think of monastic life as the eschatological sign above all others – women and men becoming signs of the kingdom by their renouncing family, spouse, children, property and offering themselves to God in obedience. Yet for Evdokimov, monasticism is never seen as a higher calling than marriage. The two vocations are equally authentic ways of living out the Gospel. 6 Both involve chastity – not only sexual restraint but purity of heart and honesty, the deeper meanings of chastity. Both demand witness and self-sacrifice, the emptying of oneself in caring for the other. 7 Evdokimov sketches a provocative profile of monasticism’s roots in the New Testament even though it appeared later in history. As a radical form of conversion or metanoia – the call of Christ at the outset of his ministry – monastic life maximalizes the way of the kingdom preached by the Lord in the gospels. 8 The earliest mothers and fathers of the desert sought to give all they had, all they owned, all they were to the God who is Ibid., 67. Ibid., 70–71. 8 Ibid., 74–76. 6 7



the Lover of humankind. 9 The goal of their struggle or ascetisicm was to ascend from the abyss of oneself to what God is – Spirit – and not with hatred but with a burning love for all creation, people, animals reptiles even demons, in the famous words of Isaac the Syrian. 10 The view of monasticism’s vocational superiority did develop in Christian history, to be seriously challenged in the 16th century Reformation. Yet it is not present either in the scriptures, the liturgy or the writings of church teachers. John Chrysostom, who called marriage the ‘sacrament of love,’ saw both married and celibates called to the same Gospel mandate to be perfect as the heavenly father, to commit oneself to prayer, to love of the neighbor and to doing the works of love whatever one’s state in life or gender, age or position in society. 11 For Evdokimov, what most importantly links marriage and monasticism, in fact, what is the basis of every vocation, is the priesthood of all believers given in baptism. 12 Like his St. Sergius colleague and friend, Nicholas Afanasiev, Evdokimov respects the functions and role of those called and ordained to serve the rest of the church – bishops, presbyters and deacons. The two theologians, however, find no prominence of the clergy over the laity – one in fact must be first baptized and consecrated/anointed to the universal priesthood before any further calling and ordaining is even possible. In the first centuries, as Afanasiev carefully documents, those ordained to be servants of all were called from within the community of each local church. 13 Only in rare, exceptional circumstances did they come from beyond, as outsiders posted to a new ‘assignment.’ Their authority was always grounded in their responsibility to the rest of the community, their election by the community being the recognition, in the Spirit, of their gifts and abilities to serve and therefore, to lead, to teach, to preside at the Eucharistic assembly of all. Afanasiev’s principal Ibid., 77. Ibid., 80–82. 11 Ibid., 83–84. 12 Ibid., 85–86. 13 Nicholas Afanasiev. The Church of the Holy Spirit, Vitaly Permiakov, trans., Michael Plekon, ed. (UND Press, 2007), 136–147. 9




work, The Church of the Holy Spirit, offers a thorough historical argument as well as a theological case for the grounding of all vocations in the ecclesial community created by baptism and constantly affirmed in the Eucharist. So for Evdokimov, marriage is the vocation to holiness in the relationship of love between the spouses. Marriage is personal but also ecclesial, for marriage is an image of the relationship of Christ to the church and of each soul with God. Moving from Christian history to the present, Evdokimov connects the vocations of all, married or not or monastic to new patterns and ways of holiness in our time, as the opening passage I cited claims. The ways of holiness for us are ones ‘drawing nearer to the world. In all its appearances, its type is less striking, its achievement is hidden from the eyes of the world, but it is the result of a struggle that is no less real.’ 14 Christendom, Constantinian or otherwise is long gone. Yet some still yearn for this alliance of church and state, and in some places, like Russia, the vision of Russkiy mir or ‘the Russian world,’ attempts to recreate the symbiosis of state, church and people. Like his colleagues in the ‘Paris School,’ Evdokimov did not see our world as a secular wasteland, a godless jungle of promiscuity and corruption. Unlike those in the ‘culture wars,’ he points to the diverse and more ordinary forms of holiness that the Spirit is giving to our era. Christianity may no longer be the social, political and economic agent it once was, but in the lives of Christians the world is taken into communion with the Holy Trinity. The world depends, he says, on the cosmic love of saints. 15 The forms of social life undergo rapid and unforeseen changes; by contrast, the religious action of every believer possesses a great stability. One can become attentive to the designs of God in the prodigious progress of science and technology … bring together those who are lonely and create living communities of witnesses … kindle the spirit of adoration and make a prayer

14 15

Evdokimov. The Sacrament of Love, 92. Ibid., 94.


MICHAEL PLEKON out of every work even in the cement and concrete heart of the most modern city. 16

Evdokimov celebrates the witness of celibacy through the church’s history, also noting where it continues to offer love and service to those in need in our time, but he repeats John Chrysostom’s words that marriage is an ‘image of heaven.’ 17 From the book of Genesis and the primal spouses, Adam and Eve, he traces marriage within the people of God not just as a relationship of social, economic, and political necessity but an image of God and God’s relationship to humanity. He examines the history of love which is the heart of marriage and notes the symmetry of the Divine Trinity of love to the trinity formed by the spouses united in God, the third person in their marriage. 18 Love transforms, loves makes the two one. For Chrysostom, marriage forms the ‘domestic church,’ for Clement of Alexandria a ‘micro kingdom.’ If the church is the body of Christ, a communion with God and communion of communions or communities, then the communions of marriages as well as monastic and parish communities build up and comprise this body, with Christ as the head. 19 While presenting the Eastern churches’ view, Evdokimov anticipated at new vision of marriage at the Second Vatican Council, which he attended as a guest of the Secretariat for Unity and to which his thinking contributed to the pastoral constitution on the church in the world, Gaudium et spes. The primary aim of marriage, as John Chrysostom argues, in the union of the spouses in love. 20 Then there is procreation. Both in the union of the spouses as well as in the household of their children and other relatives Chrysostom celebrates marriage as ‘a mysterious icon of the church.’ 21 Marriage is where one sees the ‘ongoing/permanent Pentecost’ as Bulgakov called the Spirit’s work in the world. The Spirit gives light Ibid., 101. Ibid., 101–102. 18 Ibid., 115–117. 19 Ibid., 118. 20 Ibid., 120 21 Ibid., 123. 16 17



and life, fire and healing, opens the kingdom to the world and the world to the kingdom. 22 While the typology of male and female in The Sacrament of Love as well as in Woman and the Salvation of the World now appears forced and problematic, it does not ultimately devalue the vision of love and the understanding of marriage in Evdokimov’s writing. (In a communication from his now deceased second wife, Tomoko Faerber-Evdokimov, I learned that Paul Evdokimov had very much wanted to revise both of these books’ treatment of the charisms and types of women and men. His sudden death in 1969 had prevented this.) Evdokimov displays not only a healthy sense of ‘economy’ but a profoundly humane and pastoral compassion in his treatment of the misogyny of Paul and later ecclesial devaluation of sex and marriage. 23 The encroachment of Greek repulsion for the flesh and monastic/ascetic obsession with its corrupting force are simply not supported by the scriptures and I the fullness of time, the Incarnation of God. The influence not only of Solovyov but of his own teacher, Sergius Bulgakov, is to be found here. By the Incarnation, the ‘humanity of God’ changes everything not only for us creatures, we humans, but for God as well. For an ascetic and celibate such as John Chrysostom, spouses are not inferior to monastics and can even manifest greater holiness than their monastic sisters and brothers. 24 The canons recognize both marriage and monasticism as honorable paths to holiness. 25 Finally, Evdokimov gives a discerning overview of modern culture, literature and other depictions of sexuality. While critical of the glorification of sex, he is careful to see both promiscuity and Puritanism as dehumanizing. Though his depiction of the culture of sexuality will appear dated in several ways, what is insightful is his nuanced understanding and use of Freud and Jung, along with Dostoevsky and others to separate what is destructive from what is good and beautiful and human. It is not eros, not sexuality, not the Ibid., 125. Ibid., 161–164. 24 Ibid., 164. 25 Ibid., 162–163. 22 23



body that are problematic, rather how we use or abuse these integral aspects of our being and identity. The same humane, pastoral perspective informs Evdokimov’s observations on contraception and divorce. In the Eastern Church, there is no absolute prohibition to the former. Rather it is a matter of freedom – that of the spouses and their spiritual father, their circumstances, their abilities. Divorce, always a tragedy, is not simply ‘allowed’ by the Eastern Church. Rather, the leading principle is to work for the good of the individual, of each of the spouses whose marriage as been destroyed. 26 Evdokimov urges us to recognize the mystery of the ‘yes’ pronounced and then lived out in a marriage. There are real incompatibilities only discovered in time. There are people who are ‘mis-loved’ as well as not-loved, abused, betrayed, abandoned without leaving the premises. Indissolubility cannot have primacy over the good of the spouses, over love. Divorce in the Eastern Church is not simply license to terminate marriage and enter a new one. In principle the process of divorce must be as serious as the marriage, the tragedy and sin of the destruction appreciated. In the New Testament there is a radical inversion of social and cultural norms – the last become first, the poor are fed and the mighty cast down, the tax collectors and prostitutes are first into the kingdom! So much for nice romantic, middle class or even ‘religious’ models of behavior. Paul Evdokimov offers us no convenient solution of issues that are controversial, that divide us regarding marriage or for that matter, sexuality, contraception, same-sex marriage. This was noted at the outset. Yet what he offers is a different view of marriage, love and sex from the ones we often find in church thinking. He clearly takes scripture seriously and as primary. He consults the tradition with great discernment, using celibates to praise and support marriage while viewing monasticism as having its own distinctive charism and place. He is careful not to privilege any state or vocation, recognizing the potential in every human life for holiness. He is never a moralist, both due to the Eastern Church’s nonlegalistic approach to ethics as well as to the personalism he learned from Berdyaev as well as many other contemporaries. 26

Ibid., 186–190.



In our present atmosphere, so often incited by the ‘culture wars’ and the obsession of church leaders to speak out (sometimes with little grace or nuance), Evdokimov’s is a voice of restraint as well as of discernment and compassion. Rather than rage against the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens and others, Evdokimov wanted to listen carefully to atheists, agnostic, doubters and critics. He wrote about the understandable boredom of thinking people with archaic, unintelligible services and meaningless texts, their revulsion for both sinister traditionalists or frantic progressives, the blackclad clergy or otherwise. 27 Evdokimov took atheism seriously, treating it at the beginning of one of his principal works and even suggesting that divinity schools set up an endowed chair for it. 28 The person is first, the mercy of God without limits, absurd by our standards, as one of his best essays argues. Even though written several decades ago, one quickly catches the lightness of touch, the pastoral sensitivity when he reflected on broken marriages and divorce. The ease these days, with which church teaching is absolutized, turned into manifesto, a line in the sand – this would be alien to his understanding of the relationship of the individual to the church and to Christ. Rediscovering his approach is not to encounter, as a cynical commentator put it not long ago, admirable points of view appropriate to the post WWII years but no longer useful today. On the contrary, it is a vision of a truly ‘living tradition.’ I believe this passage, with which I close, bears that out quite forcefully. In the immense cathedral that is the universe, the human person who is priest, whether worker or scholar, makes of everything an offering, a hymn, a doxology … According to Merleau-Ponty, ‘humanity is condemned to meaning,’ each person is invited to live out the faith, to see what is not seen, contem-

Paul Evdokimov. Ages of the Spiritual Life, rev. trans. Michael Plekon & Alexis Vinogradov (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998), 17. 28 Ibid., 21–48, In the World, of the Church: A Paul Evdokimov Reader, Michael Plekon & Alexis Vinogradov, eds. & trans. (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2001), 59. 27


MICHAEL PLEKON plate the wisdom of god in the apparent absurdity of history and to become light, revelation and prophecy. Marveling thus at the existence of God, ‘the world is full of the Trinity,’ a layperson is also slightly mad with the foolishness of which St. Paul speaks, with the paradoxical humor of the ‘fools of Christ,’ alone capable of shattering the overly serious, heaviness of the doctrinaires. A layperson is one freed by his faith from the ‘great fear’ of the 20th century, fear of the bomb, of cancer, of communism, of death; such a person’s faith is always a way of loving the world, a way of following his Lord even into hell. This is certainly not a part of a theological system, but perhaps it is only from the depths of hell that a dazzling and joyous hope can be born and assert itself. Christianity in the grandeur of its confessors and martyrs, in the dignity of every believer, is messianic, revolutionary, explosive. In the domain of Caesar, we are ordered to seek and therefore to find what is not found there – the Kingdom of God. This order signifies that we must transform the world, change it into the icon of the Kingdom. To change the world means to pass from what the world does not yet possess – for this reason it is still this world – to that in which it is transfigured, thus becoming something else – the Kingdom. 29


Evdokimov. Ages of the Spiritual Life, 224–225.


I should like to begin a discussion on love, marriage, and family in the New Testament by starting at the front of the New Testament with the Gospel of Matthew. In like order, I will end discussion at the back with the Book of Revelation. Between these two bookends I will examine the notion of spiritual rising as a fundamental and expanding context through which love, marriage, and family can be read and seen to transform from the literal to the mystical. Specifically, I divide my talk into five parts. Part one examines love, marriage, and family at the flesh and blood level, what I refer to as the root level, beginning with the genealogy of the Gospel of Matthew, and moving to the birth narrative of Jesus and the figure of Joseph. Part two considers further the birth narrative of Jesus in Matthew, taking note how the dreams which happen to Joseph integrate into story narrative the element of spiritual transcendence. Here I will also draw from the story of the dreamer Joseph of Genesis as the precursor to Joseph betrothed to Mary. Part three explores the notion of disembodiment as a consequence to what I see to be a preoccupation with spiritual transformation in the stories around family in Matthew in relation to Genesis (one cannot be experienced and read without the other). This section includes a consideration of the meanings of ‘love’ used by New Testament writers and how physical love, eros, finds no place. Part four focuses upon Paul who as one possessed and taken up by the God understands love, marriage, and family in the same way. Paul actually refers to himself as aggelon theou (‘an angel of god’), and in 15



Galatians 3.26 Paul speaks of Christians being children of God (huioi theou), adopted as heirs of the divine. Family becomes specifically defined in transcendent terms, and in Christ there is no male or female (Gal. 3.28). Here also Marcion’s 2nd century teachings against marriage also receives attention. Against this backdrop there are the household codes which occur, it would seem, to root marriage in the down-to-earth, day-to-day life. Part five the final section, looks at chastity and virginity as alternatives to love, family, marriage, and family in the New Testament.


I cannot think of a better place to begin a discussion on love, marriage and family in the New Testament than the Gospel of Matthew. The genealogy of Matthew concentrates a family history, each generation embodying life-stories from Abraham, Isaac, Tamar, Jacob to Joseph the father of Jesus. These are the fourteen generations, from Abraham to David, and fourteen from David to the deportation to Babylon, and fourteen then to the birth of Christ. Separately and together these families constitute the narrative web of the people of God, the author(s) of Matthew, it seems, making it clear that family and marriage are the very material by which the God of Israel is known and experienced. In this way the author of Matthew begins his Gospel in the blood of the people. In the Gospel of Matthew God becomes manifest within and through the earth-realm. God is to be found in relation to the physicality of life and death. Compare this to the Gospel of John which, in opposite fashion, starts high with the Logos descending into the world below to take on flesh. For the most part, the genealogy of the Gospel of Matthew represents stories and storylines which constitute how it is much of the world understands love and marriage and family. Two people meet and enter into relationship and have children. Flesh and blood is the stuff of life-narrative and makes precisely the content tightly bound in texts like Matthew chapter one. Focus changes however from the collective in beginning of Matthew’s first chapter to a specific family in Mt. 1.18–25. According to the text, a certain Joseph is engaged be married to Mary the mother of Jesus. Joseph appears on the scene as one ‘being righteous’ (dikaios) (1.19) and one who thinks deeply (enthumethentos)

LOVE, MARRIAGE, AND FAMILY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT 17 (1.20). He is betrothed to Mary and she is pregnant, although he had nothing to do with it. The text says that he wants to ‘loose her’ (apolusai) quietly. It is my sense that Joseph here represents for the authors of Matthew the ideal person, one who is faithful to the Lord and one who lives out righteousness through the deeper place and concern for others. He is portrayed as one who reflects on things, who does not set out to retaliate but rather to protect Mary despite how things appear. I think this is exactly the kind of person the Jesus of the Gospel of Matthew has in mind as an example of the Jewish-Christian faith in the day-to-day life. It is something Jesus spends much time on and flushes out (issues like adultery, divorce, anger, etc.) in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5–7). This mixture of doing righteousness and thinking deeply makes Joseph, the intended husband of Mary, a prime candidate for seeing the God.


Very quickly the account on family in Matthew chapters 1–2 following the genealogy becomes shot through with the transcendent. It is only here in the New Testament Gospels that we get a series of dream encounters and the appearances of aggelon tou kuriou, the angel of the Lord, and it is precisely to Joseph son of Jacob (Mt. 1.16) that these dreams occur. The angel manifests in the dream and speaks: ‘Do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for in her womb a child has been conceived by the Holy Spirit. But take the child and name him Jesus, for he will save the people from their sins’ (1.20–21). That a man named Joseph receives this and other dream revelations probably comes as no surprise for the Matthean community hearing this story. Another family story focuses around the story of one who is also named Joseph in the Book of Genesis chapters 37– 47. This Joseph is the son of Jacob and Rachel. Like Joseph of the Gospel of Matthew, the Joseph of Genesis was also a dreamer, and his dreaming is significant and life-orienting just like the dreams of



Joseph in Matthew. 1 Genesis 37 relates how Joseph’s own brothers once hearing the dreamer tell his dreams plot to kill him, and how they throw him into a pit. As that story goes through the rest of the book, Joseph’s dreams about rising sheaves and being worshipped actually do come true. His brothers who circled round to look down upon him in the earth pit will eventually come to circle again, now gazing upward at him as one who has ascended into more rarified realms as a governor of Egypt. Joseph of Genesis exists as the dreamer and interpreter of higher, transcendent things. Similarly, the dream(s) of Joseph of Matthew will also become concrete in the waking world. As instructed by the angel in the dream, Joseph takes Mary as his wife. The child is born and Joseph names the child Jesus, the one who will save the people from sin (1.24–25). In both cases dreams and the transcendent mix with love, marriage and family. Healing, new life, and new creation di‘This is the history of the family of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a lad with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father's wives; and Joseph brought an ill report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him. Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they only hated him the more. He said to them, ‘Hear this dream which I have dreamed: behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf arose and stood upright; and behold, your sheaves gathered round it, and bowed down to my sheaf.’ His brothers said to him, ‘Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to have dominion over us?’ So they hated him yet more for his dreams and for his words. Then he dreamed another dream, and told it to his brothers, and said, ‘Behold, I have dreamed another dream; and behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.’ But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, ‘What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?’ And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind’ (Gen.’ 37.2–11). (RSV). 1

LOVE, MARRIAGE, AND FAMILY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT 19 rectly result. Family becomes renewed and restored. Joseph and his brothers and father will be reunited. Mary and the child and the father will be a family after all. Marriages are made. Children are born and given names. Dreams appear in large ways and regeneration involves something powerful and impressionable: Joseph transforms through his dreaming and earth pit journey from a tattling child to a governor of Egypt and mediator of his family. Joseph of the Gospel of Matthew is betrothed to Mary and through his dreaming becomes a significant medium and enabler of the family’s survival and well-being, this ensuring the life of the child, the life of the people. The mixture of the high and the low, of dreams and flesh and blood yields the potent life-giving creation.


At the same time that I see this co-union of the spirit/dream world and the material realm making the new creation, I see another significant and powerful movement happening subsequent to or perhaps in the midst of regeneration. There is preoccupation with spiritual things at the expense of flesh and materiality. My concern, if I might put it in such terms, is what I see already in the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew: a loss of embodiment. The blood of the people of the generations begins quickly to thin as story narrative develops around dreams and angels. Here going to Genesis 37ff again informs the reading of Matthew’s birth narrative. The authors of Matthew could not have been more savvy in choosing a figure in Genesis whose bloody coat shown to the father Jacob is all that remains of his son Joseph. By all appearances wild beasts have consumed him. However, possessed by his dreaming, he has very much ascended into higher realms and callings. (Compare Jesus whose bloody clothes made by the claws of the mob and the deadly jaws of Rome are also shed and left behind as a sign of his rising.) It seems to me that one of the main points of the Genesis accounts through many chapters is that the figure of Joseph the dreamer cannot be kept down. He seems as if to rise out of the earthen pit dug by his brothers, to ascend out of the darknesses of the prison, and to dwell in the rarefied places to which his dreams have brought and made him. Joseph becomes less and less part of and bound to earth. At the same time, in the process of his ascending, his brothers of the earthen



field and the diggers of graves along with the keepers of the prisons do not rise. They are too heavy, it seems, too enfleshed to have fluidity. Spirit and dreams seem not able to penetrate them, and in the story they are left behind for what must become a larger redemption. The Joseph of Matthew takes on the same bodiless quality. Even with all the narrative spotlight he receives, Joseph lacks physical substance. He is spoken to by the angel but he himself says little, and when the angel tells him to do something, he does exactly what he is told to do. An example of faith, Joseph at the same time seems to have no voice or weight of his own. Has he become claimed/possessed by the god, somehow void of the ability or desire to engage? After the birth narrative Joseph will then disappear as if to blend into thin air. The notion of spiritual disembodiment also occurs in the Gospel of Matthew in relation to Mary, Jesus’ mother. Her figure in the story is anemic. It has little narrative substance. The author mentions her by name a couple of times, and says nothing more. I should like to know more. What does she have to say about her pregnancy? What kind of emotion does she experience with regard to the conception which has happened in her body? Fortunately we have the author of the Gospel of Luke, written for a much different audience, who steps in, so to speak, to embody Mary as the pregnant virgin Theotokos who manifests just what she thinks and how she feels in the words she says and the songs she sings. There is also the absence of any statement of love between the couple in the story. The text says that they are betrothed, but nothing more. It may be, as often was the case, that the relationship was understood by hearers to be pre-arranged. In fact, there is no reference to flesh and blood love – eros – in the Gospel of Matthew or anywhere else in the New Testament. The word eros is not used by the New Testament writers, unlike the Jewish Scriptures which do refer to physical love, ahb, although not always in a positive way. In Genesis, Sheckhem the Prince is drawn to Dinah the daughter of Jacob. Sheckhem ‘loved and spoke tenderly to the maiden’ but only after he seized her and lay with her and humbled her’ (34.2–3). There is also Amnon the son of David who with force made love to Tamar his sister (2 Sam. 13.14–15). Passion also marks the book of Hosea, where love and marriage are connected to the faithlessness of Israel who chases after other gods.

LOVE, MARRIAGE, AND FAMILY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT 21 In the New Testament the words agape and philia are used to connote love. Philia references friendship. Agape has the meaning of warm affection and regard for another person. This is the more profound love in its connection with sacrifice and the divine. Agape is what Paul refers to as the greater of the three Christian pillars faith, hope and love (1Cor. 13.13), and in the Gospel of Mark 12.30–31 Jesus instructs followers to love (agapeseis) your Lord God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself. In Ephesians 5.25 the author says that husbands are to agapate their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (cf. Col. 3.18–21). The text goes on to tell husbands to love their wives as they love their own bodies, and the two male and female to become one flesh (Eph. 5.31; Gen. 2.24). The stress here lies on monogamy, something which is not necessarily practiced by the Jewish patriarchs. 2 In Ephesians the author also says that this joining of husband and wife occurs as a mysterion mega, ‘great mystery’ and that it refers to Christ and the church (5.32). It is as if the author wants to make sure or cannot help but to keep language high and away from the primal instinctive in human relationship. Words like cleansing and washing (5.26) and being spotless (5.27) tilt marriage imagery heavenward toward the purer realms away from the physical realm and always in the context of the divine and godliness. For these authors love, marriage and family are patterned after Christ’s marriage to the church. They are cast in mystical terms. See how far and quickly we have come from the flesh and blood relationships of Matthew’s genealogy. In the narrative which follows the conception of Jesus in Matthew, the family seems to have less and less grounding and more and more transcendence in the wake of dreams and angels and divine instructions. Like Joseph of Genesis this Joseph of the first Gospel along with his family become hard to hold down. They pheuge, ‘take flight’ into Egypt (2.13). Additional dreams and angel appearances will come to Joseph to tell him in exact instructions Jacob, for example, is given both Leah and Rachel for wives (Gen. 29.15–30). The patriarchs also take concubines when a wife has difficulty conceiving. Consider Hagar the Egyptian maid given by Sarah to her husband Abram and bears him Ishmael (Gen. 16.1–16). 2



what to do so not to be overtaken by the headhunting Herodians (2.13). It is as if the family gets ‘caught up’ in the transcendent, something evidenced in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch who gives mystical interpretation of the church, elders, deacons, and laity gathered into a kind of spiritual union centered around the bishop. 3 In the Matthean birth narrative the magi from the Occult also receive warning through dreaming and they too are on the move and take flight (2.12). The cosmos in Matthew’s birth narrative has a direct part in the events as the aster (2.9) in the east leads the magi to the correct location to see the child. The magi rejoice great joy vehemently (sphodra) (2.10), there being an awakening of consciousness which more and more breaks through to possesses story narrative. Even Herod in his disturbance (estaraxthe) (2.3) and intense scrutiny (2.7–8) evidences a keenness of awareness and animation.


The idea of being caught up is certainly part of Paul’s experiences. Paul’s seeing the god is something which happens to him. In Acts he is come upon – taken by surprise and thrown to the ground by the divine. ‘Rise and enter the city,’ he is told (Acts 9.6). 4 The notion of transcendence and of being taken up is even more pronounced in 2 Corinthians 12 where Paul speaks of one being ‘grasped’ (harpagenta) into the third heaven. Paul's encounters make The Christian martyr Ignatius of Antioch begins his Epistle to the Ephesians by singing the praises of Onisimus, the bishop (episkopos) of the Ephesian church and one who is of ‘inexpressible love’ (I.3). Members are to live in harmony (homonoia) with the will of the bishop after the example of ‘your justly famous presbytery . . . attuned to the bishop as the strings to a harp’ (IV.1). In his Epistle to Polycarp, bishop of the church in Smyrna, Ignatius gives specific attention to the role and duties of the office of bishop. He refers to Polycarp’s godly mind which is ‘fixed as if on an immovable rock’ (I.1), and he exhorts him to press forward to urge all persons that they should be saved. 4 The text makes it very clear: ‘This one is a chosen instrument to me … I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name’ (Acts 9.15–16). 3

LOVE, MARRIAGE, AND FAMILY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT 23 a permanent, lasting impression upon him. 5 Seeing the god happens to such an extent that Paul says that Christ ‘lives in me’ (Gal. 1.20). He speaks as one who has become possessed. Paul speaks of actually becoming the god himself, as if his encountering occurs a part of a process of being made into the divine substance. ‘We … are being changed into his likeness by one degree of glory to another,’ he writes (2 Cor. 3.18; cf. Moses in Ex. 34–35). Elsewhere, Paul actually refers to himself as aggelon theou (‘an angel of god’), 6 and in Galatians 6.4–7 Paul speaks of becoming ‘sons’/children of God, adopted as heirs of the divine. Here family becomes specifically defined in transcendent terms, and as Alan Segal notes, the language of Paul refers to genderless beings. The term ‘son of God’ is without sexual implication, a common gender, and it has throughout Jewish tradition denoted angels. Through baptism, this passage says explicitly, the Christian overcomes the antinomies of ordinary life, including the gender distinction, to become children of God – angels. To be an angel in this context means to have transcended flesh and gender. 7

Paul makes it clear in Gal. 3.28 that in Christ there is no male or female (ouk arsen kai thelu) so there occurs what is perceived and experienced to be a transforming into something new and quite ‘But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord’ (Phil. 3.7–8). 6 Gal. 4.14. There is then the blurring, if not breakdown, of boundary between human and divine. To me this makes Paul and his appeal irresistible before the Gentiles and the Hellenistic world. Like Paul, the pagan world inclined toward seeing the god as being viable, present, and embodied. Athena is seen and worshiped through her statue residing in the temple, and emperors are perceived by the populace to be gods incarnate. See ‘Seeing the God in the Greco-Roman World’ in Seeing the God: Ways of Envisioning the Divine in Ancient Mediterranean Religion, Jeffrey B. Pettis ed. (Piscataway, NJ: Gorgias Press, 2013), 19–41. 7 Alan Segal, Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in the Religions of the West (New York: Doubleday, 2004), 432. 5



different from human instinctive life. It is as if the supreme opposites of male and female (Chinese yang and yin) melt together to become one, pure, incorruptible union – this the hierosgamos or ‘chymical wedding.’ 8 This process of change, what C.G. Jung refers to as the compulsion for symbol and the ‘canalizing into spiritual form,’ 9 begins according to Paul at baptism and ends at the eschaton. ‘I tell you this, brothers and sisters: flesh and blood (sarx kai haima) cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed’ (1 Cor. 15.50–51). 10 In the Gospel of Luke it appears that this process of transformation is both known and clearly stated by Jesus: The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage, for they cannot die any more, because they are equal to angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. (Luke 20.34–36)

C.G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy, translated by R.F.C. Hull (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968), 37. 9 C.G. Jung, Symbols of Transformation, translated by R.F.C. Hull (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1956), 226. 10 ‘Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?’ The sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain’ (1 Cor. 15.51– 58). 8

LOVE, MARRIAGE, AND FAMILY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT 25 In light of the impending resurrection, Christian humanity in its transfiguring and ascending is changing into something more than flesh and blood. Marriage and family at the root level is, like Joseph’s coat, becoming shed as part of transformative process. Marriage thus becomes elusive, if not unnecessary for the children of God. It seems then that the household codes which appear in New Testament texts such as 1 Tim. 2.8–15 and Col. 3.18–4.1 11 occur precisely as a counter to the momentum of this Christian divinizing of marriage and as a means to pin down and make a clear stamp of just what marriage in the flesh and blood world means. The hierarchal ordering of roles and relations of husband, wives, and children, reflective of Roman society, makes still and cuts through (momentarily?) the momentum of this pneumatic updraft which has in its grips people like Paul and, it would seem, Christian groups like that of the Gospel of Matthew. The apparent tension between the earth-bound codes of 1 Tim. 2.8–15 on the one hand and the mystical transforming of Christian love, marriage, ‘I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; also that women should adorn themselves modestly and sensibly in seemly apparel, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly attire but by good deeds, as befits women who profess religion. Let a woman learn in silence with all submissiveness. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet woman will be saved through bearing children, if she continues in faith and love and holiness, with modesty’ (1 Tim. 2.8–15); ‘Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not with eye service, as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever your task, work heartily, as serving the Lord and not men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you are serving the Lord Christ. For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality’ (Col. 3.18–25). See also Eph. 5.21–6.9; Titus 2.1–10; 1 Pt. 2.18–3.7. 11



and family on the other hand raises questions. Just how permanent did writers of these household codes see the prescripts to be? Do codes of marriage and family occur merely as a temporary holding pattern, a fixation in the wake of Jewish-apocalyptic anticipations of the end-time? On the other hand, do these clear definitions about marriage relations reveal a necessary releasing from the notion of eschaton (Jesus still has yet to return) and the subsequent demand for becoming grounded to survive within and as part of the literal Roman world? Ancient sources relate just how difficult it can be for a family to exist in this world. One epitaph of a woman married at age 11 reads: Here I lie, a matron named Veturia. My father was Veturius. My husband was Fortunatus. I lived for twenty-seven years, and I was married for sixteen years to the same man. After I gave birth to six children, only one of whom is still alive, I died. 12

In the world of the New Testament about 1/3 of infants died before reaching 28 months, and ½ before 8 years died to epidemic and famine. Few people knew both grandparents. 13 Babies were routinely exposed, and women often died in childbirth. The household codes, it seems to me, provide rather definitive values and practices in order to assure love, marriage and family in a harsh world where the odds for survival, let alone longevity, are less favorably than ours today. They are a reminder that the New Testament books and letters were written not for you and me but for the people and immediate circumstances of those who wrote them. Regardless, the household codes by their very nature emphasized and confirmed love, marriage, and family amidst an increasing early Christian preoccupation with the ascetic lifestyle. By the second and third centuries some heretical groups said that marriage Corpus Inscriptionum Latinarum 3.3572. See Jo-Ann Shelton, As the Romans Did: A Sourcebook in Roman Social History, 2d ed. (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 290. 13 Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1986), 47. 12

LOVE, MARRIAGE, AND FAMILY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT 27 was Satanic, connecting it with an inferior Creator. 14 Followers of the 2nd century Christian convert Marcion spoke of the body as a ‘nest of guilt,’ and Marcion’s notions of Christianity, which included a rejection of marriage, attracted followers especially in the Syriac-speaking East far into the fourth century. 15 By contrast, the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews makes it a point to defend marriage even at its physical level: ‘Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for God will judge the immoral and adulterous’ (Heb. 13.4). There is also the Gospel of John where Jesus makes sure the wedding celebration continues by making wine out of water. Consider too the author of Acts who affirms love, marriage, and family in the example of Cornelius and his whole household. Interestingly, even here reference is made to ascent, the angel in the dazzling coat (estheti lampra Acts 10.30) appearing in a dream of Cornelius telling him that Cornelius’ prayers and alms-giving ‘rose into memory (anebesan eis mnemosunon) before God’ (Acts 10.4).


Given the risks, confines, and harsh realities come with marriage in the ancient world, there was another route one might take. Chastity and virginity occurred as alternatives to marriage. ‘Marriage to Christ’ allowed escape from the high risk of mother and child mortality. In the New Testament there are clear, positive references to the pure life. In Mt. 19.12 Jesus commends eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom, and in 1 Cor. 7.7 Paul advocates the ascetic lifestyle which is his own: ‘I wish that all were as I myself am.’ In his Pagans and Christians Robin Lane Fox notes that through virginity or chastity Christians sought to come into the state of spiritual being. Fox notes how chaste, pure lifestyles were perceived by early Christians to reverse the Fall which occurred through the ‘error’ of Adam and Eve. There was then a return to the sexless state of humanity in early Creation. 16 In the New Testament the virginity of Mary the Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians, 358. Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians, 332, 358. 16 Robin Lane Fox, Pagans and Christians, 366. 14 15



Mother of Jesus is clearly stated in Mt. 1.20–23, 25 and Lk. 1.27, and it is at the core of the 2nd century Infancy Gospel of James. Add to this the author of the Book of Revelation who sees thousands of virgins standing with the Lamb on mount Zion: Then I looked, and lo, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads. And I heard a voice from heaven like the sound of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder; the voice I heard was like the sound of harpers playing on their harps, and they sing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the hundred and forty-four thousand who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women (hoi meta gunaikon ouk emolunthesan), for they are chaste (parthenon); it is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes; these have been redeemed from humankind as first fruits for God and the Lamb, and in their mouth no lie was found, for they are spotless. (Rev. 14.1–5) 17

The word egorasthesan, here under-translated in the RSV as ‘redeemed,’ means ‘to be acquired.’ This scene of Christians having been acquired into a rarer form and existence is telling of what is the heightened New Testament and early Christian notion/experience of being ‘taken up’ and transforming. It is what C.G. Jung refers to as the spiritual instinctive coming forth, and what E.R. Dodds sees to be a reaction to a radical disassociation with the material world as an independent principle and the source of evil. 18 Perhaps this gathering of upward force and change through dreams and callings, voices heard and new worlds seen is come from a great sense of anticipation of something new and more to be realized in the coming of the Son of Man. It is someCf. Mt. 15.1–12 the Parable of the Ten Virgins (deka parthenois). E.R. Dodds, Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety: Some Aspects of Religious Experience from Marcus Aurelius to Constantine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; Reprint edition, 1991, 14. 17 18

LOVE, MARRIAGE, AND FAMILY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT 29 where within this matrix of human desire that love, family and marriage finds its Christian meanings.


I became interested in the topic of Orthodox Christian marriage seven years ago in a very personal way. Like a novice hiker who all of sudden becomes intensely ‘interested’ in a compass and a map when she suddenly realizes she is lost and darkness is quickly falling, I became intensely focused on learning about marriage when I found myself in dire straits with my own marriage. This particular turning point for me came in our marriage when my wife Kimberley and I had already been married 11 years and our daughter Christina was four years old; further, since we had both come to the Orthodox faith after we had been married in an Episcopal wedding service, we had just a year before celebrated our marriage through the service of crowning in the Orthodox Church. My wake up call came on March 29, 1999. On this particular morning, as I was on my way out the door for work, Kimberley said casually that her mother was coming up for lunch that day. I asked why she was coming up, since it was a weekday. Kimberley then, calmly yet sadly, said, ‘just as she does every year, my mom is taking me out for lunch on my birthday.’ With these words I dropped my bags, ran into my study, closing the door, and wept. Emotions swept over me like that of the prodigal son who woke up, having come to his senses, and realized how far away he was from his true home. I realized how far I had gone from my true home (my spouse), and that I had let everything crowd out the one person most dear to me. This was, for me, the bottom of the pit. I realized that I had been deluding myself in the choices that I had been making in my 31



work life, and that I was terribly wrong to expect that our marriage could stay intact (without nourishment or honor) while all my efforts and focus went on outside of the home with my professional obligations at the high tech firm that I managed. I had let everything else but her be in focus, so that when her birthday came, it was as if I could no longer see her, the person whom God had joined to me as ‘bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.’ I knew in my bones then that I was in deep trouble, and that nothing short of God Himself could get me out this pit into which I dug myself. With God’s help, and my wife’s mercy, we were led through this dark time together, but I am still humbled daily by marriage and raising children; it is the hardest, and by far the best, thing I do. From this turning point seven years ago, I realized firstly that marriage was not just a natural phenomenon between a man and a woman who loved each other, but rather was dependent on God to transform it. I realized second, that I did not know the first thing about Orthodox marriage, and that I needed to learn what its icon looked like, by reading whatever I could lay my hands on. And thirdly, I am still learning that marriage is not a private, family affair, blessed by the church, but rather it is mystically caught up in a sacramental essence of being the Body of Christ, and is itself the address at which we daily work out our salvation ‘with fear and trembling.’ My remarks today will touch on a few of these aspects of what marriage actually is within the Orthodox faith, that ‘mystery’ which is Christ and His Church. I will also try to provide images and theological vocabulary from our Tradition for how our relationship with our spouse is related to our life in Christ and in His Body the Church. I hope, as fellow travelers, these remarks will be of help to some of you as well.


The starting point for talking about Orthodox marriage is to highlight the fact that it is a Sacrament of the Church. But one could ask, why, of all the various ‘states’ of human life, is marriage singled



out and understood as a sacrament? 1 If what takes place in a marriage ceremony is simply a divine sanction or blessing, then this would not make the service of marriage different from any number of other prayer services of the Church. So what sets the Service of Crowning apart as a Sacrament of the Church, as opposed to a service of blessing? To answer this question, we need to remind ourselves of what is at the heart of any sacramental service of the Orthodox Church. Fr. Alexander Schmemann, of blessed memory, in his wonderful essay entitled ‘The Mystery of Love’ reminds us that ‘a sacrament … implies necessarily the idea of transformation, [it] refers to the ultimate event of Christ’s death and resurrection, and is always a sacrament of the Kingdom … The Church calls sacraments those decisive acts of its life in which this transforming grace is confirmed as being given, in which the Church through a liturgical act identifies itself with and becomes the very form of that Gift.’ 2


In the case of marriage, what is transformed, according to Paul Evdokimov in The Sacrament of Love, is love itself. He writes, ‘The matter of the sacrament is not only a ‘visible sign,’ but the natural substratum that is changed into the place where the energies of God are present. In the sacrament of marriage, the matter is the love of man and woman … The Letter to the Ephesians shows it as essentially a miniature of the nuptial love of Christ for the Church.’ 3 This question begins the essay by Fr. Alexander Schmemann, ‘The Mystery of Love,’ in his For the Life of the World (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1973), 81. 2 Ibid, p. 81. 3 Paul Evdokimov. The Sacrament of Love, trans. A.P. Gythiel and V. Steadman (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995), 125. Also Nicholas Cabasilas described sacraments in the following way: ‘They are the path which Christ has made for us, the door He has opened … It is by passing again on this path and through this door that He returns to the world.’ Nicholas Cabasilas, The Life in Christ, trans C.J. de Catanzaro (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974), p. 66. quoted in Evdokimov, p. 123. 1



Transformation through an explicit liturgical act of the Church is necessary because marriage, like human kind, is fallen, and not simply able to be sanctioned or blessed. Like the sacrament of Baptism, the marriage rite renews and restores human love into the image or icon of Christ and His Bride, the Church, through His life, death, resurrection and ascension to heaven. Paul Evdokimov, again, lyrically writes this icon for us, in the following description of the icon of marriage: ‘By loving each other the spouses love God. Every moment of their life rises up like a royal doxology, like an unending liturgical chant. St. John Chrysostom brings forward this magnificent conclusion: ‘Marriage is a mysterious icon of the Church.’ 4 This restoration of nuptial love through the sacrament of marriage is a new creation; just as a catechumen, after having emerged from the font and having been chrismated, is a new creation, so too is the newly married couple a new entity in the Kingdom of God. St. John Chrysostom equates the new creation of the married couple with the new birth of the children of God according to the Gospel of John 1:12. St. Chrysostom wrote in Homily XX on Ephesians: ‘This then is marriage when it takes place according to Christ, spiritual marriage, and spiritual birth, not of blood, nor of travail, nor of the will of the flesh. Such was the birth of Christ, not of blood, nor of travail. Such also was that of Isaac. Hear how the Scripture saith, ‘And it ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.’ (Gen. xviii. 11.) Yea, a marriage it is, not of passion, nor of the flesh, but wholly spiritual, the soul being united to God by a union unspeakable, and which He alone knoweth. Therefore he saith, ‘He that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.’ (1 Cor. vi. 17.)’ 5 Notice here that the union in the marriage is to God, to be joined unto the Lord in one Spirit, yet of course he is talking about marriage, so that union with Christ is bound up inextricably and mystically with the love of the married couple. St. John Chrysostom, Homily 12, Epistle to the Colossians, PG 62.387, cited by Evdokimov, p. 123. 5 John Chrysostom, Homily 20, Epistle to the Ephesians, cited by Evdokimov, Ibid. 4



Let me return to what Fr. Alexander Schmemann said about ‘a sacrament implying necessarily the idea of transformation through the remembrance and appeal to the redemptive death and resurrection of Christ by the Body of Christ. This image of the sacrament of marriage is certainly discernible in the current two part marriage rite, that of the betrothal and the service of crowning. 6 However, it would be good to remind ourselves that the rite of marriage prior to the end of the 9th century was not a separate service, but rather was an integral part of the Eucharistic celebration. The creation of a separate service was done at that time in order to preserve the sanctity of the Eucharist, when the Byzantine empire began using the church to sanction all civil marriages, regardless of anyone’s standing within the Church. Prior to its separation, the fulfillment of marriage by two Christians was their partaking of the Eucharist together. So, as Baptism and Chrismation received their endpoint in this central act of the community, that is – the Eucharistic celebration, so too marriage received its fulfillment in the common Eucharistic cup. As Paul Evdokimov wrote, in the early Church ‘all the sacraments led to the Eucharist which, through its own fullness, completed the testimony of the Church. Such a consensus of catholicity is an inner realty of the Church. A sacrament is always an event in the Church, through the Church, and for the Church. It excludes everything that isolates ecclesial resonance. And thus for the sacrament of marriage, the husband and wife enter upon the Eucharistic synaxis in their new married life. The integration with the Eucharist testifies to the descent of the Spirit and to the gift received. This is why every sacrament has always been an organic part of the Eucharistic Liturgy.’ 7 Thus, the sacrament of marriage is like all sacraments, in that it expresses life in the communal Body of Christ, and viewed outside of its ecclesial and Eucharistic context, its sacramental nature cannot be understood or, indeed, be realized. 8 here.


Perhaps provide some examples from the marriage service prayers

Evdokimov, The Sacrament of Love, p. 124–125; As Fr. John Meyendorff so clearly stated ‘Outside of the Body, there can be no sacraments,’ including marriage. John Meyendorff. Mar7 8



St. Symeon of Thessaloniki, (d. 1429), wrote about the significance of receiving Holy Communion in the marriage rite. He described how the couple, if they were prepared for communion and worthy to receive, would partake of the pre-sanctified communion cup. He described the scene in the following way: ‘And immediately (the priest) takes the holy chalice with the Presanctified Gifts, and exclaims: ‘The Pre-sanctified Holy Things for the Holy people.’ And all respond: ‘One is Holy, One is Lord,’ because the Lord alone is the sanctification, the peace, and the union of His servants who are being married. The priest then gives Communion to the bridal pair, if they are worthy. Indeed, they must be ready to receive Communion, so that their crowning be a worthy one and their marriage valid. For Holy Communion is the perfection of every sacrament and the seal of every mystery. And the Church is right in preparing the Divine Gifts for the redemption and blessing of the bridal pair; for Christ Himself, who gave these Gifts and who is the Gifts, came to the marriage (in Cana of Galilee) to bring to it peaceful union and control … They must be united before God in a Church … where God is sacramentally present in the Gifts, where He is being offered to us, and where He is seen in the midst of us.’ 9 But today, in the typical practice of the marriage ceremony in America, it is much more difficult to see this full sacramental essence of marriage, since many of the connections between marriage and the Church have been cut, or at least occluded. The marriage rite itself is cut off from its original setting within the framework of the Eucharistic Celebration. 10 What was caused by an historical riage: An Orthodox Perspective (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984), p. 73. 9 St. Symeon of Thessaloniki, Against Heresies and on the Divine Temple, ch. 282, PG 155.512–513. Referenced from John Chryssavgis, Love, Sexuality, and Marriage (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1996), p. 82. 10 The common cup at the end of the crowning service is a remnant, a memory, of the ancient practice of blessing and confirming the marriage of a Christian couple in the shadow of the common, Eucharistic cup. (is this true, or did it have a pre-history to the 9th century? Meyendorff (pp



necessity to preserve the sanctity of the Eucharist, has also (now) helped pave the way to the tendency among today’s Orthodox weddings of viewing the marriage rite as a private, family affair, sanctioned by the priest, rather than an integral manifestation of the Kingdom by the whole community. While there would be many complexities involved in restoring the marriage rite within its previous Eucharistic setting, a proposal which Fr. John Meyendorff made in his book Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective, it will be enough for us here today to be reminded of this liturgical and theological tradition, and to make efforts to appropriate the truth of this sacrament of the Kingdom for marriage, both in the rite and in married life day-to-day. Christ’s transforming presence in the marriage rite was self evident in the partaking of his Body and Blood by the whole community, and His sanctifying presence was specifically and powerfully directed toward the new union of the nuptial couple in their jointly receiving communion, sanctifying them and transforming their love for each other into a new creation.


Are you saying to yourself about now, ‘the sacrament of marriage sounds so beautiful and lofty, but who can actually attain it in dayto-day married life? We are not alone in noticing that the life at home can be extremely difficult. These realities of married life are well documented within the writings of the Fathers. 11 I particularly 42–43) makes the recommendation that inclusion of the service of crowning within the Eucharist be duly considered (for first marriages only). Particularly in America, both weddings and baptisms are no longer performed as acts of the Body of Christ, else the whole parish would be invited to attend such celebrations, but rather as isolated family events performed with the ‘blessing of the Church.’ This distinction may seem subtle, but its implications have proven to be destructive to our understanding of Orthodox marriage. According to Meyendorff (p. 42), both the Greek Euchologion and the Slavonic Trebnik require that the service be held ‘after the Divine Liturgy,’ while the priest is still ‘standing in the Sanctuary.’ 11 For example St. Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom described at length the difficulties and hardships inherent in marriage in



am attracted to St. John of Krontstadt’s brief description of life at home from his journal My Life in Christ; he wrote, ‘Watch yourselves – your passions especially – in your home life, where they appear freely, like moles in a safe place. Outside our own home, some of our passions are usually screened by other more decorous passions, whilst at home there is no possibility of driving away these black moles that undermine the integrity of our soul.’ 12 For me, these ‘moles’ that pop up everywhere, at any moment, are often the little things said or done; I mean, for example, my need for recognition from my wife when I do something well at home, and, likewise, the need to blame her for when things go wrong. For example, I might at the beginning of the morning tell her that I will take care of the dishes left out from the previous night, but I will likely also add to my offer the phrase, ‘which you said you would do before we went to bed last night.’ Why do I feel their respective treatises On Virginity. For example, John Chrysostom, XXVIII (Paul’s Words about marriage are an exhortation to virginity) says that Paul was trying to frighten his listeners into not being married, since ‘he increases the tyranny of marriage and makes the servitude appear burdensome. For the Lord did not permit a husband to drive his wife from the house, whereas Paul takes away a man’s authority over his own body and surrenders dominion over it to his wife; and he ranks a husband lower than a slave bought with silver.’ Also, St. John Climacus, the abbot of the monastery of St. Katherine at Sinai, when asked about the differences between the lives of monks and those in the world, answered: Someone caught up in the affairs of the world can make progress, if he is determined. But it is not easy. Those bearing chains can still walk. But they often stumble and are thereby injured. The man who is unmarried and in the world, for all that he may be burdened, can nevertheless make hast toward the monastic life. But the married man is like someone chained hand and foot [so when he wants to run he cannot].’ John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1982), p. 78; the brackets indicate addition by some mss. versions according to fn. 6 of the translation. 12 John of Krontstadt, My Life in Christ, or Moments of Spiritual Serenity and Contemplation, of Reverent Feeling, of Earnest Self-Amendment and Peace in God (Holy Trinity Publications, 2000), p. 33.



the need to add that last part? Why can’t I simply take care of the dishes silently, and why should I care whether she even notices that they have been taken care of? Is our service not to be done ‘as to Christ,’ and not to put points on the board? This is the ‘stuff’ of marriage to which I am referring. I hope for at least some of you that this is sounding somewhat familiar. For it is my belief that it’s not so much in the big decisions or blow out arguments where we are tested, but it is in every encounter with our spouse, every decision contemplated, every task done, every word spoken. Fr. Alkiviades Calivas, a beloved professor emeritus of Liturgical Theology at Holy Cross Seminary, addressed head on this dilemma about living out the sacramental life of marriage in our daily lives. He wrote in his article ‘The Sacrament of Love and Communion;’ that this lofty vision of marriage could rightly be discarded as unattainable ‘were it not for our faith that Christians are a new creation, … and are called to manifest the fruits of the Spirit … Marriage in the Lord cannot be viewed or understood apart from the new life in Christ. The nuptial union, like the whole of the Christian life, is placed into the realm of grace, into that power which flows from God and his Kingdom.’ 13 Thus marriage as a sacrament manifests the new reality of the grace filled new creation, giving us a vision of what we are to be in the Kingdom, and yet daily we find that we must offer our will to God, and ask for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, in order for our new nature to be in fleshed. In other words, the grace imparted in the sacrament of marriage participates in the same mysterious dynamics and effort on our part as our entire Christian lives, what we sometimes refer to as Theosis. In marriage, though, the location of where we work out our salvation with fear and trembling is now known, it is in the face of our God-joined spouse.

Calivas, Alkiviadis C., ‘Marriage: The Sacrament of Love and Communion’, in: Intermarriage: Orthodox Perspectives, ed. Anton C. Vrame (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1997), p. 36. 13




How should we then think about the relationship between our home and our so-called ‘spiritual lives’, or our liturgical lives. Is there a language that we can use to describe ‘home’ in ways that can help stem the overwhelming tide in this country of isolationism and the need to separate between one’s private, family life and our public /professional lives.


I think we can begin by rediscovering what St. John Chrysostom meant when he called the home ‘the little church.’ 14 While this phrase is frequently quoted recently as more attention has been given to the home and the family within our archdiocese, it is important for our purposes here to understand what this phrase ‘small church’ meant within the specific context of Homily XX on Ephesians. St. John is not talking about bringing the prayers and icons of the church into the home, thus making it into a ‘miniature version’ of the ‘big church;’ nor is he talking specifically about Christian formation of our children in the home; (although he does use a similar expression in other contexts to express such a concept). Here the ‘little church’ is not cast in the position of being derived from the big church, but rather this ‘little church’ signifies the ‘first church’ or the ‘priority one’ church; for immediately prior to his comment about the small church, St. John states, ‘If we thus regulate our own houses, we shall be also fit for the management of the Church.’ 15 That is, first be faithful at home, then be involved in ministry at the church. The meaning here of the word ‘little’ means ‘first things first’, in the same way as it does in the saying of Jesus about the talents distributed to the three servants by their St. John Chrysostom, Homily 20, Ephesians; similarly in Homily 26 On the Book of Acts, Chrysostom writes, ‘Let the house be a Church, consisting of men and women … ‘For where the two,’ He saith, ‘are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them.’ 15 Likewise, the sentence following this phrase states, ‘Thus it is possible for us by becoming good husbands and wives, to surpass all others.’ 14



master (Mat 25:14–30). Here, as you know, the master, upon finding that the first servant made use of the 5 talents and doubled it to 10, pronounced his approval saying ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' Likewise, we find in I Timothy 3 Paul’s instructions for the qualifications for an overseer in the Church; that he must also ‘manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way – for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God's church? (I Tim 3:4– 5).’ 16 The implications of this understanding of our homes and married relationship are quite significant if we let them sink in. Not only is our home-life related to our churchly and spiritual life, but it is the primary location where we work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We will look now at how Christ becomes present in our homes and transforms our marriages well after the rite of marriage is celebrated.


One of most beautiful and memorable moments in the Orthodox marriage rite is when the priest, in the place of Christ, joins the couples hands together and leads them around the table three times. In antiquity, this procession around the table would have been an actual procession of all the people out of the sanctuary to the new home of the married couple, thus making a physical, human chain or bond between the sacramental rite of marriage and the home, and instantiating Christ into their midst in their ‘little church.’ 17 St. John Chrysostom emphasizes the benefits of having Christ Himself accompany the couple in the wedding and into their new home, while also criticizing the bawdy revelry of his day at See also Chryssavgis, Love, p. 22 on the responsibility of the couple ‘to establish a domestic church, a church at home (kat’ oikon ekklesia), foreshadowing the heavenly Kingdom.’ He writes, ‘The Christian family is not a nucleus but a cell in the inclusive Body of Christ. It is an opening and opportunity for self-transcendence within the communion of saints.’ 17 Notes from conversation with Fr. Calivas (July 7, 2006). 16



wedding parties. He says in his Homily XII on Colossians: ‘If you drive away these other things [i.e., inappropriate revelry], Christ Himself will come to your wedding, and where Christ goes, the angels’ choir follows. If you so desire, He will work for you an even greater miracle than He worked in Cana: that is, He will transform (metastesei) the water of your unstable passions in the wine of spiritual unity. 18 The three troparia that are chanted during the procession are found among the prayers of the weekly paraklytiki ochteochos. 19 John Chrysostom explains the meaning of the crowns saying, ‘Garlands are wont to be worn on the heads of bridegrooms, as a symbol of victory, betokening that they approach the marriage bed unconquered by pleasure.’ 20 Furthermore, the crowns manifest the restoration of royal priesthood to the couple (Garden of Eden – Gen 2), and their bearing witness (martyrs) to the kingdom of God and asking for the intercessions of the martyrs. In addition to the troparia, the meaning of the crowns can be seen in the Dismissal Prayer, wherein the saints Sts Constantine and Helen and Prokopios are commemorated, corresponding to the royal priesthood and martyrs. 21 Sts. Constantine and Helen are the first imperial Christians; Prokopios was martyred July 8, along with his mother (who beforehand had betrayed him to the Romans). His name, from the Greek noun prokopin, means ‘progress,’ which may explain his beSt. John Chrysostom, Homily 12 on Colossians, PG 62.398D. Quoted in David Ford, Women and Men in the Early Church: The Full Views of St. John Chrysostom (South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1996), p. 61; also see same sermon, p. 80, ‘So when Christ is present at a wedding, He brings cheerfulness, pleasure, moderation, modesty, sobriety, and health.’ 19 I am grateful to Fr. A.. Calivas who kindly identified and provided these three sources. 1) rejoice o Isaiah – 9th ode, irmos in 1st plagal tone of the Thursday matins service; 2) martyrs – apostichon from Monday vespers, grave tone; 3) glory – apostichon from Sunday vespers, grave tone. 20 Homily 9 on I Tim 3:1. 21 The common thread that unites Sts. Helen and Constantine with St. Prokopios seems to be the cross of Christ. Both Prokopios and Constantine witnessed an epiphany of the divine cross. 18



ing chosen for the marriage ceremony; just prior to his being named in the dismissal prayer, the priest prays that God will grant to the couple progress in life and faith.


In another homily of St. John, this one on Acts 12, he again refers to the house church. This time, his emphasis is on the presence of Christ amidst the married couple: he writes, ‘Let the house be a Church, consisting of men and women. For think not because thou art the only man, or because she is the only woman there, that this is any hindrance. ‘For where two,’ He saith, ‘are gathered together in My Name, there am I in the midst of them.’ (Matt. xviii. 20.) Where Christ is in the midst, there is a great multitude.’ 22 Christ is not only in their midst, but He Himself has joined them one to another. The priest, in the role of Christ, joins their hands together for the procession around the table (which as we have seen, was originally a procession to their home); also, Jesus said (Matt. xix. 6), what God has joined together, let no person put asunder.’ Christ is the celebrant of the wedding rite, as well as the one offered up, in order to manifest the mystery of the Kingdom through the shared lives of these two have been joined together by Him. The marriage is to be an icon of Christ and a manifestation of the Kingdom after the wedding celebration is over; the transformation of their love offered through the sacrament is to be sustenance for the day-to-day love between them forever. This shared life is an icon of Christ and the Church, or, as Ephesians 5:32 says, ‘this is a great mystery,’ the way that marriage portrays the truth of Christ’s redemptive love for the Church.


In conclusion, we can’t even begin to explore the depths and expanse of God’s tender mercies towards us, especially his condescension towards us in the incarnation of Christ through the Theotokos, his suffering, death, and resurrection bestowing life to us who were in the tombs. We stand in awe as we witness his love for 22

John Chrysostom, Homily 26 on Acts.



humankind in allowing us to be partakers of his nature through baptism, and his adoption of us as his children. We are now called to live out that reality, that new life, and for many of us, the principal location of where we become partakers of the life in the Spirit (rather than the works of the flesh) is in ‘little church,’ in the simple yet all encompassing calling to love one other person as perfectly as we can, and to share that love both with our children and the world. The fact that marriage is a sacrament is, as we have seen, a crucial clue to our understanding of the full scope of what marriage by Christ really encompasses. In this sacrament of love, the couple is joined to Christ, through participation in the cup of His Body and Blood and in their daily offering of themselves to Him, and are mystically in union with each other. This union is also a mystery, or as St. John says, ‘unspeakable,’ such that only metaphors and images can be offered to try to express something beyond words. This unknowable aspect of the union of the couple, and similarly the mystery of Christ and the Church, is highlighted in the epistle reading for the marriage rite (Ephesians 5), since this reading provides three distinct metaphors that describe the love within a marriage; first, that we should love as Christ loved the Church, as he offered himself up for her, so too should we for the other), then secondly, we should love as we love ourselves, then lastly we should love as if we were doing it unto Christ Himself. All of these metaphors are trying to express the inexpressible unity that exists between husband and wife, mirroring the love between Christ and His Church, a unity that in this life lets us take a glimpse of the ultimate unity that will be realized only in the Kingdom of God, where there is neither male nor female, and Christ will be all in all. This is why marriage is a sacrament for the whole Church, for it manifests the love of God toward us in Christ Jesus, and it manifests (daily) the possibility of a transformed divine love offered, in this case, between two people whose crowns God will receive into His Kingdom.


Values are at the foundation of every choice, attitude and action. Whether they are material or spiritual, relative or absolute, local or universal or of any other kind and category, values create a mentality and a way of being in the world. Besides religion, the family represents one of the most important values people held in the course of human history and civilization. Marriage is the stepping stone for the constitution of the family. In this paper I will explore the issue of marriage and family in both traditional and modern terms, with no intention to cover every aspect, and having in mind in particular the way family and marriage evolved from tradition to modernity in the Christian civilization.


Man is a walking mystery, the universe is a mystery, everything is a mystery, including God’s intervention in the life of the created order. Out of love for His creation and for man’s salvation God organizes man’s spiritual life in particular, in mysterious ways, yet concretely and visibly, sometimes instituting structures to be used like steps to be taken so that man can more easily and more securely advance on the way to salvation. According to the Orthodox Tradition these structures are the holy sacraments instituted by Jesus Christ and practiced in the Church. One of them is the sacrament of marriage, or matrimony. According to a simple, classical definition, the sacrament, theologically speaking, is the visible action through which the invisible divine grace is transmitted to those who are receiving it. 45




The Orthodox sacrament of marriage is performed only in the Church. Those ready to be married come there to seal the vows they made to each other in front of God, with and through the Holy Spirit. The service of the sacrament is basically an invocation of the Holy Spirit to come and strengthen the commitment the man and the woman made to each other and preserve their mutual love. It is like the highest possible guarantee for the lasting of the relationship that the couple could find, as if their own assurances are not enough, as if no other people and human institutions, not even the civil marriage, could represent a real guarantee or seal. In the Orthodox Tradition the order of the service includes the moment of the crowning of the partners. In that context the priest uses the following formula: ‘The servant of God (name of groom) is crowned for (with) the servant of God (name of bride) in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit’. While repeating this three times, each time the name of the groom is mentioned the priest touches his forehead with the crown, and when the name of the bride is mentioned he also touches her forehead with it, then making the sign of the e cross with the crown in front of the groom, all this three times. The priest then does exactly the same thing, starting with the bride and going to the groom. What is important in this ceremony is the meaning. The crown symbolizes power, richness and beauty. When the priest says that the servant of God John is crowned for the servant of God, Mary (and vice versa) that means that John’s power (all of his abilities, capacities), beauty and richness (all his talents and gifts) are there for Mary from now on. And Mary’s gifts are there for John. In other words, each one receives from the other essential features, power, beauty and richness, and this changes drastically one’s life by enriching it in surprising ways and creating a new identity. And if I am a new being thanks to what I receive from someone else, that generates a whole new attitude towards that person, a way of being based on gratitude and doxology. The sense of the crowning becomes even more powerful when, according to another translation, the formula says not that the servant of God, John is crowned for the servant of God Mary, but with the servant of God, Mary and vice versa. In this case John does not only put his crown (power, beauty, richness) to the service of Mary, but Mary herself is the crown placed on John’s head.



Without her he is an ordinary man. Now the crown placed on his head is Mary herself and it is through her that he becomes extraordinary, with all those gifts, and vice versa. This is the real meaning of the crowning, the central point in the order of this service, and if one keeps in mind the fact that the sacrament of marriage in the Church is the highest type of seal and guarantee the partners are looking for, that explains clearly the importance of marriage both for the partners in the couple and for society.


There are so many definitions of marriage that it is hard to choose one or a few. One might have a dilemma when it comes to which one to choose and why that particular one over the others. However, according to one simple definition, ‘marriage is the culturally approved social relationship for sexual relationships and childbearing.’ 1 In sociological terms, according to the same source, ‘marriage is the acquisition of a new social role, and the recognition of this new status by others.’ 2 As Bruce J. Cohen and Terri L. Orbuch explain, essential features of marriage, such as patterns and the process of mate selection differ from culture to culture. Yet, regardless of the cultural context, marriage brings with it ‘a new social order for the individual, along with certain expectations regarding behavior, attitudes, privileges and obligations;’ 3 in other words it brings new values and norms that greatly impact the life of the individual. These norms are restrictive in character, and one example is related to sexual activity. Once married one cannot have the same sexual relationships as before. According to Ethan Bronner marriage is the locus for sex, and in the US this locus is sanctioned by law (in 23 states in the US adultery is considered a criminal act as the law views all legitimate sexual activity within the institution of Cohen B.J. and Orbuch T.L. Introduction to Sociology. (New York: McGaw-Hill, 1989), p. 104. 2 Cohen and Orbuch. Introduction to Sociology. Ibid. 3 Cohen and Orbuch. Introduction to Sociology. p. 99. 1



marriage. In other states adultery is a misdemeanor or a felony, but not really prosecuted). 4 When it comes to definitions and meaning, it is interesting to notice that in Romanian there is an alternative word for ‘marriage’ which is casatorie. The word casatorie derives from casa, which means house or home. This implies that marriage is basically creating a home, a new place of belonging. And because the new home is created by both husband and wife, it is the place where both belong as they also belong to each other. This home is a new creation, a new unit, cradle, nest, social cell in which they invested themselves and which bears their mark.


There are many factors that contribute to the disintegration of marriage in today’s society: relativization of values, secularization, women’s social and financial emancipation, feminism, changing views regarding virginity, family roles, divorce, abortion, and others. For example commitment which used to be a binding attitude in marriage seems to be no longer binding. Being married, ‘until death do us part’ becomes ‘until I don’t like you any more’. The devaluation of commitment is evident in that today it is commonly no longer unconditional, but heavily conditional. Even when vows are exchanged in the Church in the sacramental context of the ceremony of marriage and where they are meant to be the foundation of a new life and lifestyle, often they are often not taken seriously, they are considered to be part of the ceremony, tragically, meaningless, empty words; and the entire sacrament of marriage in such cases becomes a theater show, performed not because of one’s faith in God and in His help for the new family, but because it is nice and solemn and part of how things must be done. One consequence of the failure to conscientize the real meaning of marriage and the sacramental meaning of the ritual is the shift from mutual centeredness in the new unit to selfBronner E. ‘Adultery, an Ancient Crime that Remains on Many Books.’ The New York Times, vol. CLXII, Nr. 55.956, Thursday, November 15, 2012, p. A12. 4



centeredness. As Diana Elliott writes, marriage used to be about a relationship focusing on the satisfaction of being a spouse; now it is an individualized type of relationship focused on developing one’s individual sense of self. 5 Women’s emancipation is another phenomenon that has brought significant changes in the institution of marriage. The fact that women can get the education they want, which is leading to jobs and a desire for advancement and more financial stability and independence, often causes delays in marriage and in some cases difficulty in getting married at an older age with the implicit suffering caused by this, 6 sometimes accompanied by the sense of loneliness, depression, and different types of addiction. One good side of women’s emancipation, among others, consists in the rise of the sense of women’s personal dignity and self-esteem which has a direct impact on children’s life and family life in general, and has also led to a different attitude and opportunities in cases of domestic violence. The changing view about virginity in Western society is another factor with great impact on marriage. Virginity is no longer a requirement in the West. That is even more significant since in the past virginity used to be required from the bride but not from the groom. 7 Just as virginity is no longer a problem today, divorce is no longer a stigma. According to current, alarming, statistics, one in two marriages ends in divorce 8 for reasons that vary from high expectations, infidelity (loss of physical attraction for one partner), lack of communication to incompatibility (physical or mental), low tolerance and lack of commitment. Yet, although divorce is considElliott D., ‘Historical Marriage Trends from 1890–2010: A focus on Race Differences.’ paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America, San Francisco, CA, May 3–5, 2012, (, pp. 2–3. 6 Delaturnu S. ‘Suferinta tinerelor ce nu reusesc sa se casatoreasca.’ Altarul reintregirii, year XVII, Nr. 1, January-April, 2012, p.49. 7 Skolnick A.S. and Jerome H.S. Family in Transition. 13th edition. (Boston & New York: Pearson, 2005), p. 1. 8 ‘Why Are So Many People Getting Divorced?’ ( 5



ered to be an epidemic in our society, according to Arlene and Jerome Skolnick, the institution of marriage is still very respected: ‘about 90 percent of Americans marry at some point in their lives,’ they write. 9 So, to the question: is marriage getting deinstitutionalized? Or is it becoming a failing or obsolete institution? The response is, of course, yes and no, it depends on definitions and perspectives. However, Diana Elliott shows that in 2010 39 percent of Americans considered marriage to be obsolete. 10 Other statistics on marriage in the US indicated that over half of all people aged 15 and over were married (in 2000), more precisely 54 percent, with the Asians having the lowest proportion of divorces and separations, and 46 percent were single (27 percent who never married and 19 percent who were widowed, divorced or separated). 11


One major issue that significantly affects the understanding and the evolution of the institution of marriage is related to bio-technology, such as pre-natal and neo-natal screening and monitoring, selective abortion, assisted reproduction and reproductive technologies, preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), gene therapy and others. 12 As we live in a success oriented society, focused on people’s usefulness, achieve-ment and performance, those technologies and tendencies are meant to produce ‘perfect’ children in the name of advancement and progress. Proponents of these types of interventions in human development like the new eugenics, for instance, believe that by using them the parents will have the chance to select the best endowed Skolnick A.S. Family in Transition. p. 2. Elliott D., ‘Historical Marriage Trends….’ pp. 2–3. 11 Kreider R.M. and Simmons T. ‘Marital Status: 2000’ (C2KBR-30), (, pp. 1–2. October 2003. 12 Soulen R.K. ‘Cruising Toward Bethlehem: Human Dignity and the New Eugenics.’ God and Human Dignity. R. Kendall Soulen and Linda Woodhead (editors). William B. Eerdmans. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2006), p. 110. 9




embryos to make sure that their offspring are healthy, strong and gifted (whereas the old eugenics implied coercion and racism). 13 This is how bio-ethicist John Harris argues in favor of the new eugenics: ‘either such traits as hair color eye color, gender and the like are important, or they are not. If they are not important, why not let people choose? And if they are important, can it be right to leave such important matters to chance?’ 14 Of course these matters are not as simple. There are those who warn against many negative implications and consequences of these technologies. According to some, sex selection leads to gender inequality and discrimination against women. 15 Elaine L. Graham for example believes that genetic engineering and determinism leads to the commodification or instrumentalization of human life, which amounts ultimately to dehumanization, 16 and R. Kendal Soulen raises a Christian objection to the new eugenics that relates to human dignity and God’s creation. New eugenics basically promotes preference for some human beings over other human beings, he writes. That goes against the ethical principle of equality for all human beings in terms of right to life and to human dignity. 17 This tendency towards a kind of hyper-humanism, theologically speaking, may well be considered a form of idolatry where the human being, finite creation, is raised to the level of ultimate reality, and hence the ontological confusion between the fabricated and the ineffable. 18

Soulen. ‘Cruising Toward…’ p. 113. Soulen. ‘Cruising Toward…’ p. 114. 15 Gilles K. ‘Sex Selection Further Devalues Women’ ( 16 Graham E.L. ‘The End of the Human or the End of the Human? Human Dignity in Technological Perspective.’ God and Human Dignity. p. 278. 17 Soulen. ‘Cruising Toward…’ p. 115. 18 Graham E.L. ‘The End of the Human…’ p. 279. 13 14




From a Christian theological perspective marriage is a divine and human institution. Divine because established by God when he created man and woman in His image, and human because the subjects are part of the created order, yet the crown of it all and the only creature that is in the divine image. As the prayers of the sacrament of marriage in the Orthodox Tradition indicate, besides God’s sanctioning of this type of union between a man and a woman through the creation of man as male and female, Jesus Christ also sanctioned the institution of marriage through His presence at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. According to Fr. Siluan Delaturnu, marriage is the place where the pedagogy of love takes place. The mutual love between husband and wife is an exercise meant to lead to learning how to love people in general. It is in the context of the married relationship that one goes beyond egoism 19 and practices respect for the other, sharing and even sacrificial offering.


As Arlene and Jerome Skolnick acknowledge, family issues are rooted in strong moral and religious beliefs. 20 However not only family issues, but also the very idea of family, to begin with, is a religious construct and consequently has a moral character. According to Orthodox Christian theology the concept of family is rooted in the doctrine of the Trinity. Paternity or maternity and filiation indicate a type of relationship implicit in the family that no other type of relationship indicates. The perichoretical love amongst the persons of the Holy Trinity represents the supreme model for the ideal family which is meant to be cradle of love and holiness. William J. Goode writes that ‘the family is the only social institution other than religion that is formally developed in all socie-

19 20

Delaturnu S. ‘Suferinta…’ p. 61. Skolnick A.S. Family in Transition. p. 1.



ties’. 21 This kind of stability is what makes family powerful, yet this power is derived from the religion that consecrates family as the basic social unit that makes the society grow, last, and last healthily. The power of family comes from its sacramental character as the sacred has always been, in all societies, on the top of their hierarchy of values. Even today in some very secularized societies, where religion was moved from the center to the periphery, the most fundamental moral values, in principle preached by religion and embedded in cultural norms, traditions and habits, remain essential for social growth and survival, despite or besides many kinds of deviations.


The concept of family cannot be easily defined. There are several and different types of family in different religious and cultural contexts and each one can be defined in many ways and based on many approaches. One very simple and general definition describes family to be ‘a social unit made up of father, mother and children.’ 22 Rebecca L. Melton considers this a definition for ‘traditional’ or ‘nuclear’ family. 23 Yet, in today’s Western societies there are millions of one parent households which are considered families by social scientists. According to contradictory statistics, in the US alone, one finds that ‘two married parents [represent] the norm’ and that ‘about 70 percent of children live with their two parents;’ 24 others indicate that only 35 percent of all households fit the category of ‘traditional’ family, 25 while still others put that number at merely 7 percent. 26 Goode W.J. ‘The Theoretical Importance of the Family.’ Family in Transition. p. 18. 22 Goode W.J. ‘The Theoretical Importance…’ p. 20. 23 Melton R.L. ‘Legal Rights of Unmarried Heterosexual and Homosexual Couples and Evolving Definitions of ‘Family’.’ Journal of Family Law, 29, 1990–1991 (online), p. 497. 24 Skolnick A.S. Family in Transition.p. 1. 25 Skolnick A.S. Family in Transition. p. 20. 26 Skolnick A.S. Family in Transition. p. 1. 21



In general though, the basic criteria for a traditional family, in William Goode’s view, are as follows: There are two adult persons of opposite sex residing together; each one has his and her own responsibilities towards the household; they are there for one another; they share many things such as a house, food, sex; they have responsibilities towards their children. 27


When it comes to the general landscape of the family, in today’s Western world in particular, Bruce J. Cohen and Terri L. Orbuch noticed a sharp increase, compared with just a few decades ago, of the following phenomena: earlier sexual experiences, marriage at a later age, adolescent pregnancies, divorce rates, single families, and long term cohabitation of unmarried couples. 28 An increasing number of people do not see the value of marriage any more, as family has come to be understood and accepted in non-traditional terms and in many diverse ways. Thus singleness became widespread and an alternative to marriage for those who never marry, and an alternative to the traditional family for those who divorce (of which a great number remarry) 29 or who are widows and never marry again but do take care of their children. 30 When it comes to the traditional family, one of the major problems that contributes to its rapid decline is the high prevalence of divorce, and this is taking on ‘epidemic proportions.’ 31 Larry Frolick writes that many people today, at least in American society, can expect to be divorced two, three times, since the average time of staying married is eight years, and getting shorter. 32 Goode W.J. ‘The Theoretical Importance…’ p. 21. Cohen and Orbuch. Introduction to Sociology. p. 99. 29 Cohen and Orbuch. Introduction to Sociology. p. 113 30 Saluter A.E. ‘Singleness in America’ ,’ in US Bureau of the Census, Current Population Reports, series P23, Nr. 162, Studies in Marriage and the Family, U.S. Government Printing Office. Washington, DC. 1989. p. 1. 31 Frolick L. ‘Why Do People Divorce?’ ( 32 Frolick L. ‘Why Do People Divorce?’ 27 28



The introduction of ‘no-fault’ divorce laws in many places and also the possibility of the unilateral divorce (obtaining divorce without the consent of the spouse) contributed significantly to the problem. 33 One of the consequences of the dramatic rise of divorce rates, Thorsten Kneip shows, is the changing pattern of fertility and child development. 34 Among the many reasons for the breakdown of the family I will mention here only three, namely the changed definition of the concept of ‘commitment’, women’s emancipation and adultery. While one can talk about the positive of negative aspects of the first one, the second one is generally considered positive and the last one negative. As mentioned earlier, commitment today is not what it used to be. One simple dictionary definition says that it is to pledge (oneself) to a position on some issue, to bind or obligate, as by a pledge. The wedding formula, ‘we will be together in good or in bad until death do us part’ has became today, in many cases, something like: ‘we will be together in good (but in bad, not so sure) until I decide otherwise!’ Besides the stability, longevity and totality implied in the definition, the idea of commitment used to have a sacred dimension also, as the wedding used to be done in a religious setting, in Church most of the time, in the Christian tradition. Thus, the two committed to each other in front of God, and commitment had the value of oath that one could not break. Then, with the marginalization of religion and the de-sacramentalization of life, the religious connotation or dimension of commitment was lost. The second reason for the deterioration of the family, as mentioned above, is the emancipation of women. There is no need to explain how much this was necessary and how positive it is. We take it for granted that in Western society every family wants its girls to be educated as much as possible, then to have appropriate jobs according to their own skills, vocation and education, and thus Kneip Th. and Bauer G. ‘Did Unilateral Divorce Laws Raise Divorce Rates in Western Europe?’ Journal of Marriage and Family, 71, No. 3 (2009): pp. 592–595. 34 Kneip Th. and Bauer G. ‘Did Unilateral Divorce Laws…’ p. 592. 33



financial stability and independence, not necessarily in the strict financial sense of the term, like having separate bank accounts, and spending the money without the consent of the husbands, but in the psychological and moral sense; this brings as a consequence a change in the status of the woman in the family. However, women’s education and work outside the house, while so positive, does have undesired consequences on how many children a family will have and how the children are raised. The problem here lays with the type of society we live in, the work mentality of our institutions, companies and corporations, with economic competition and greed. Ideally, as it happened in communist Romania under N. Ceausescu, but unfortunately only for a relative short period of time, women would be encouraged to have an education and jobs, but also children, and while raising their children they would be allowed to take time off from work as much as they wanted, up to seven years, on a partially paid basis, and return to the workplace whenever they decided, and have their job security guaranteed. The third reason for divorce, from my above list, is adultery. In most of the Western world adultery is considered immoral but is not illegal (though it is in some of the United States), and is not generally included in the criminal code. 35 Even in this case the definition of the term, and thus its understanding and how people view and judge such a fact, changes. On example is provided by Ethan Bronner who researched on the issue and found out that in 1838, according to New Jersey courts, the negative consequences of adultery consisted not in ‘the alienation of the wife’s affections and loss of comfort in her company’, but in ‘its tendency to adulterate the issue of an innocent husband and to turn the inheritance away from his own blood to that of a stranger’; in 1952 in the same state the court stated: ‘Adultery exists when one spouse rejects the other by entering into a personal intimate sexual relationship with any other person’, and then, ‘it is the rejection of the spouse completed with out-of-marriage intimacy that constitutes adultery’. 36 In other words if one has a personal intimate sexual relationship, short 35 36

Bronner E. ‘Adultery…’ p. A 12. Bronner E. ‘Adultery…’ p. A 12.



term or long term, with another person outside the family, but does not reject the spouse, that is not adultery, and seemingly is acceptable. And this is exactly how, in general, adultery is viewed today. Almost everybody knows of somebody who has an extra-marital affair, but nobody cares. One has to be in a high status position for a social fall to result from a case of adultery. The liberalization of abortion in the Western world is also a factor that greatly affects and changes the landscape of the traditional family today, both in terms of laws and in terms of people’s attitude, 37 R. Kendall Soulen observes. The breakdown of the family is not a singular phenomenon in modern world. In his book Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010, Charles Murray places it in the larger context of the decay of the American culture. He indicates that today ‘for the first time more mothers below the age of 30 are unmarried than married’. 38 This is a real problem, in particular for the poor where the father is either absent or unemployed or a drug addict or has a criminal record, in which case he does not take responsibilities in the family and is not a good model for the children who, in such a situation, have many chances to follow in the father’s footsteps. 39 One widespread practice, which is part of the change of the traditional family, is cohabitation. According to Rebeca L. Melton, the terms ‘alternative family’ or ‘non-traditional family’ refer to people living in ‘arrangements other than the traditional one for married couples with their own children’, basically ‘known as domestic partners or cohabitants’. 40 The transition from cohabitation to marriage between gay and lesbian people and their right to adopt and raise children or have them through in vitro fertilization and other bio-engineering technologies also greatly changes the way family used to be understood. Soulen. ‘Cruising Toward…’ p. 110. Thomas J.J. ‘Transcendence and Sentience in Science and Religion.’ Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, 24, No. 1–2 (2012): p. 169. 39 Thomas J.J. ‘Transcendence…’. Ibid. 40 Melton R.L. ‘Legal Rights…’ p. 497. 37 38



However, even in the light of all these changes, the family continues to be an extremely important factor in modern society 41 and continues to stand as a dream for the younger generations, just as it continues to be a challenge – something which gives it all the more value.


According to Cohen and Orbuch, ‘in agrarian societies children used to be considered an asset to the family, whereas in the urban, industrialized society they are considered a burden.’ 42 One can say that in this sense there is a passage from blessing to curse, but only in the context well specified: urban, industrialized, and when it comes to having many children. However, when it comes to having one or two children, all the more if we speak of one, then this is not the case. Most women still want to be mothers, under any circumstances; ideally with husbands in long lasting, loving relationships, and if not so, at least as single mothers and even when they have to struggle to divide their time between school and/or workplace and home. In this last case one solution is offered by the recreation of the extended family. This trend is explained by Penelope Green in a recent article published in The New York Times: ‘The shift to the ‘non-linear’ family’ is accelerating, and home builders respond to the trend by creating new types of houses, ‘atypical’ or ‘next-gen’ houses to accommodate that need, replacing the house designed for the classic nuclear family. 43 This ‘back to the future’ moment is illustrated by the following statistics: ‘41 percent of adults between 25–29 are currently living or have lived recently with their parents’; ‘overall more than 50 million Americans are in multigenerational households, a 10 percent increase from 2007’. 44 The benefits of this Cohen and Orbuch. Introduction to Sociology. p. 113. Cohen and Orbuch. Introduction to Sociology. p. 112 43 Green P. ‘Under One Roof: Building for Extended Families.’ The New York Times, vol. CLXII, Nr. 55.971, Friday, November 20, 2012, p. A4. 44 Green P. ‘Under One Roof…’. Ibid. 41 42



positive trend are evident. This is how Green sees the changing shape of the American family: ‘boomer couples with boomerang children and aging parents, an increasingly multi-ethnic population with a tradition of housing three generations under one roof and even singles who may need to double up with siblings or friends in this fraught economic climate.’ 45 This kind of family is the place, in both the physical and the spiritual sense of the term, where everybody is taken care of. Elderly people will not need to be sent to nursing homes and be left there in strangers’ care, longing for a phone call or visit by their busy children and grandchildren; the young married who work will have who to leave their children with, so they be not raised by strangers; and the children themselves will grow in an atmosphere of love and care and in a place where family values are transmitted from one generation to another. This context will provide stability and continuity 46 and inner health, and this is where personal and civic virtues such as respect, warmth, love, mutual help, communion and compassion grow and bring fruit.


When the family is established on the strong foundation of faith in God, this vertical connection with the transcendent, unknown and ineffable God yet closer to one’s heart than his or her own self, leads to the horizontal connection between husband and wife in terms of mutual trust and commitment, as they are also in their dedicated love closer to each one’s heart than each to his or her own, while each one is unknown to the other, transcendent and ineffable, at the human level. Being rooted in God through creation, but also through the husband and wife’s faith in God, the family, with the children being born there, becomes the image of the Holy Trinity. In the Holy Trinity perfection is not represented in a dual relation, where the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, which ultimately can be a sort of self-love because each one is the reflection of the 45 46

Green P. ‘Under One Roof…’ p. A1. Green P. ‘Under One Roof…’. Ibid.



other, like one reflecting oneself in the other and contemplating oneself like in a mirror, but in a Trinitarian relation where the duality is open to the third one and in that is open to the outside. In the family the third one is the child, then the children, and in that, the world. One learns love in the small family, to apply it then in the larger one. This is how the family becomes the school for the love of God and of the world. Marriage and family, in the Christian sense of the term represent absolute and universal values in as much as every human being owes everything to the mutual, committed, sacred relation between his or her parents in the family where one was born. Given the purpose of man’s creation as male and female, to multiply and minister to the world, every human being has a vocation to marriage and family. In the Christian understanding of the terms marriage is not just a contract and family is not just a genetic and social type of belonging. This is what happens when one takes God out of there. In that case they are not what they are meant to be. It is only with God at their foundation that marriage and family have the power of transforming their members and transfiguring the world. It is this kind of love, purified and strengthened in and by faith, that has the power to bring back humankind to the way of the kingdom under Christ’s guidance.


Nearly 25 years ago, Peter Brown remarked that the theology of sexual desire Augustine developed in the last twelve years of his life marked the beginning of a continental drift between eastern and western Christianity. 1 This paper takes a closer look at that drift by seeing how Augustine’s views on sex compare with that of a foundational figure for eastern Christianity: St. Gregory of Nyssa. My intent is, in a way, ecumenical. I hope to contribute to healing the fissure Brown described by destabilizing anachronistic judgments about both figures’ sexual ‘prudishness.’ In particular, because Orthodox scholars have had a tendency to dismiss Augustine as nominal or treat him as a heretic, I want to show that his view of sex, owing to a complex understanding of the divided will, is in some ways more positive than many are apt to give him credit for. 2 See Peter Brown, ‘Sexuality and Society in the Fifth Century A.D.’ Tria Corda (Como: Edizioni, 1983), 70. 2 Oft-cited examples of Orthodox treatments of Augustine include John S. Romanides The Ancestral Sin: A Comparative Study of the Sin of Our Ancestors Adam and Eve (Ridgewood, NJ: Zephyr, 2002). Christos Yannaras, Orthodoxy and the West: Hellenic Self-Identity in the Modern Age. Edited by Norman Russell. (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross, 2006), 33–34. Fr. Seraphim Rose acknowledges the marginal status of Augustine in some Orthodox circles in his apologia for the good bishop, The Place of Blessed Augustine in the 1




I develop this comparative analysis in three parts. The first treats marriage, virginity, and pleasure in the theology of Augustine of Hippo. Although I recognize that Augustine’s views about sex were robust and developing, I have confined myself mostly to On Virginity and On Marriage, as well as Book XIV of The City of God, using other writings, such as those against Julian of Eclanum, in a more supplemental way. 3 I next explore the same topics in the theology of Gregory of Nyssa, beginning with On the Making of Man, which provides anthropological context for his encomium On Holy Virginity. I conclude that, even though Nyssen (and the Orthodox Church in general) rejects Augustine’s view that sex is sinful, the absence of a concept of the divided will makes sex more spiritually dangerous than Augustine would have allowed. Orthodox Church (Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1983). Yet Rose also admits that Augustine was in error, which he attributes to a western tendency toward ‘over-logicalness’ (passim). This noble effort to rehabilitate Augustine to the East thus still demonstrates a failure to appreciate the weight of the controversies in which Augustine found himself, particularly the Donatist controversy, and the effect that had on his doctrine of divine grace and election which he articulated in the Pelagian controversy (which is where most of the ‘over-logicalness’ occurs, according to Rose). See J. Patout Burns, The Development of Augustine’s Doctrine of Operative Grace (Paris: Études Augustiniennes, 1980). It is to the credit of Orthodox scholarship that this trend has begun to reverse itself in recent years. See Myroslaw Tataryn, Augustine and Russian Orthodoxy: Russian Orthodox Theologians and Augustine of Hippo: A Twentieth Century Dialogue (Lanham, MD: International Scholars, 2000). George E. Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou, ‘Augustine and the Orthodox: ‘The West’ in the East’ in Orthodox Readings of Augustine, eds. George E. Demacopoulos and Aristotle Papanikolaou (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2008), 11–40. 3 I made this choice for three main reasons. First, reading Augustine’s polemical writings tend to reinforce the stereotypes one has about him, and second, his views on sex, so far as I can tell, remained relatively stable, even during his polemical period. Thus, to treat the controversy with Julian, in the third place, would require providing a great deal of context which would be superfluous to my argument.




It can be tempting for us modern readers to dismiss Augustine's view that sex, even within loving marriages, was sinful. We anachronistic illuminati wag our fingers and scold his memory for being such a ‘prude.’ But, as John Cavadini pointed out, ‘To fault Augustine in this context for not realizing that ‘sexual pleasure’ can enrich a couple’s relationship, or to assess Augustine’s views against our own more ‘positive’ view, may be, with all due respect, to beg the question.’ Who is to say that sex – even within the confines of marriage – is always, or even mostly, a good thing? Perhaps Augustine was wrong. Or perhaps we like sex and prefer not to think too much about its spiritual consequences. Cavadini continues, ‘For Augustine, the question would not be whether sexual pleasure can enrich a couple’s relationship, but whether there is any sexual pleasure possible without a taint of violence or complacency (‘selfpleasing’) in it.’ 4 Augustine answers, No. But to content oneself with that negation does little more than provide one with polemical fodder against ‘the West.’ Augustine charted a middle way between the naïve Pelagianism of Julian of Eclanum, who saw conjugal sex as something innocent and harmless, and rigorist ascetics who would have every Christian don the black. These perspectives (the Pelagian and ascetic) only seem disparate, but they both share an anthropology which sees sex as something belonging merely to the flesh. For Augustine, sexual intercourse was a spiritual event with spiritual implications. In sex, Christian charity, sinful lust, the weakened will, and our divided loves meet in a moment of intense bodily pleasure. This makes sex, in a word, complicated. Augustine did not think sex was de facto sinful. There is sin in sex now, but this is only because of the Fall. Thus to understand sex within Augustine’s overall theological anthropology requires we begin at the beginning, in Eden. The prelapsarian template of humanity reveals our postlapsarian defects. The first characteristic of that prelapsarian template is sexual difference. For Augustine, God John C. Cavadini, ‘Feeling Right: Augustine on the Passions and Sexual Desire.’ Augustinian Studies. 36:1 (2005): 195–210. 4



create Adam and Eve male and female, and thus God intended our different sexual organs to serve a divine purpose. (We will see later how different this view is from Gregory.) Thus sex is something originally good. 5 This is, in the second place, because God intended the number of elect to replace the number of fallen angels. 6 Sex and procreation had a cosmic significance. Augustine is quick to add that Adam and Eve did not have sex because God did not tell them to have sex. Without sin, there is no lust. One’s sexual desires, and thus one’s body, are fully under one’s control. Thus Augustine describes the sex Adam and Eve would have had in the following way: [T]he sexual organs would have been moved by the same command of the will as the other members are. Then, not needing to be aroused by the excitement of passion, the man would have poured his seed into his wife’s womb in tranquility of mind and without any corruption of her body’s integrity. For, though this cannot be proved by experience, there is no reason for us not to believe that, when those parts of the body were not driven by turbulent heat but brought into use by the power of the will when the need arose, the male seed could have been introduced into the womb with no loss of the wife’s integrity, just as the flow of menstrual blood can now come forth from the womb of a virgin without any such loss of integrity; for the seed could enter in the same way as the menstrual flow now leaves. Just as the woman’s womb might have been opened for birth simply by the influence of the maturity of the foetus, and without any moans of pain, so the two sexes might have been conjoined for the purpose of impregnation and conception by a natural use of will, and not by lustful appetite. 7

Augustine, City of God, XIV.9–14, 17–26. Augustine, Enchiridon, IX.29 7 Augustine, City of God, XIV.26. For more information about the biological assumptions at work in this passage, see Peter Brown’s Body and Society, Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press), 5 6



It is important to note that the absence of lust does not necessarily mean the absence of desire or pleasure. Lust is disordered desire. It is desire we struggle to control. Augustine’s language may sound clinical, but this does not necessarily mean that pre-lapsarian sex would have been a kind of chore. Rather, Augustine’s language is for our benefit. He writes, ‘The things of which I am here speaking are now thought shameful; and so, though I am endeavouring, as far as I can, to describe how such things might have been before they became shameful, our discussion must rather be checked by he restraining voice of modesty than carried forward by my eloquence, such as it is.’ 8 Augustine moderates his language because we can be so immoderate, but, again, he has to resort to such modesty only because we are fallen creatures. Fallen creatures suffer from lust because pride disorders our desires. We can only find true happiness in loving God for God’s own sake, but after the Fall, our ‘default setting’ is to love ourselves first and to love others, including God, for our own sake. 9 This misdirected desire weakens the will; it is why we are subject to the passions, overwhelmed by lust, and experience pleasure, ultimately, as an act of violence against the other. 10 The world works on our bodies differently after the fall. Pleasure tends to justify the soul's false believe in its inherent goodness. 11 This lie of pleasure is really what Augustine means by concupiscence (i.e. sinful desire). 12 Concupiscence lurks in all pleasures, such as eating. 13 It is possible to make a conscious choice to moderate the pleasure of food. Sex is more potent. 14 One may do mathematical calculations and enjoy a glass of fine wine at the same 1988.

Augustine, City of God, XIV.26. Emphasis mine. I refer, of course, to Augustine’s restless heart. See Confessions, I.i.1. On self-love, see The Trinity, VIII.v.12ff. 10 See Augustine, On the Grace of Christ, VIII.9 11 See Cavadini, ‘Feeling Right,’ 203–04. 12 See Augustine, City of God, XIV.16. 13 Augustine, Confessions, X.xxxi.44. For Augustine on the danger of habit see Confessions, VIII.ix.21. 14 Augustine, City of God, XIV.16. 8 9



time (but probably just one), but the same is not true of sexual climax. As Augustine indicated above, orgasm makes every lover a selfish lover. Sexual pleasure overwhelms all our cognitive faculties. No matter how much we may delight in the companionship of our beloved, when sexual climax comes, we are all just nerve endings. But pleasure is only a problem because lust is a problem. Sin is like a cycle of addiction. Lust reinforces pride, and pleasure reinforces lust. But the absence of pride negates the problem of pleasure. Thus Peter Brown has noted that, for Adam and Eve, ‘[Augustine] saw no reason why conception should not depend upon a moment of intense pleasure…’ 15 I would go one step further than Brown and suggest that it is probable that Adam and Eve would have taken pleasure in sex. Augustine did not think that the Fall brought about any fundamental change in our biology. 16 What is pleasurable now would have been pleasurable in Eden. The only difference is how we react to that pleasure. Thus, sex is not a sin so much as the pleasures of sex arouse the sinful tendencies that are always present within us. Were it not for pride, there would be no lust, and sex would be innocent. The sinfulness not of sex itself, but of the lust present in sex, is important to understand why Augustine thought that sex, even within the bonds of marriage, was sinful. It is sinful because, no matter how much we might love our spouse, during sex we love ourselves more. Even if that self-love is present only for a moment. It is still there! But it is a minor – venial – sin. It belongs to the same category of sins as cursing or laughing too much. 17 But the sin present in sex can be redeemed – overcome – when sex is orPeter Brown, The Body and Society, 417. While I am initially persuaded by Brown’s point, especially given Augustine’s allowance for what seems like purely gratuitous eating in the heavenly city (City of God, XIII.22), I must add a caution that this bit of argumentum ad ignorantum is by no means conclusive. 16 Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, VI.35–36. 17 See Mathijs Lamberigts, ‘A Critical Evaluation of Critiques of Augustine’s View of Sexuality.’ In Augustine and his Critics, Essays in Honour of Gerald Bonner, eds Robert Dodaro and George Lawless (New York: Routledge, 2000), 180ff. 15



dered toward a higher end. Concupiscence is negated ‘when in that wherein husband and wife cleave to one another, they have in mind that they be father and mother.’ 18 This rule applied only to Christian couples. Sex among pagans was always sinful because they just brought little fallen Adams into the world (barring some kind of divine intervention), whereas a Christian couple had the potential to produce little Christs. Every child born into the church could add to the number of the elect, thus hastening the kingdom. 19 Married sex may have been sinful, but it was also an eschatological act (not unlike the eucharist itself). Married sex could be an act of faith – a kind of worship. Concupiscence can also be redeemed by compassion for one’s spouse. Sex is an act of caritas when it helps preserve marital fidelity. 20 Like many bishops at the time, Augustine upheld continence as the ultimate goal of a married couple, especially as age naturally cooled their youthful heat, but he also insisted that married continence must be a mutual decision. Resisting the advances of one’s spouse was not a righteous act. Thus Augustine berated Ecdicia, a woman who donned black and announced to her husband that she was now a widow, saying that her refusal to fulfill her marital responsibilities made her equally responsible for any adultery her husband might commit. 21 Such a declaration might offend our modern sensibilities, but Augustine presumes that no person is responsible only for her own sins. We rise and fall together; this is especially true in marriage. In sum, the problem Augustine had with sex was not sex but pride. Pride gave rise to lust, which sullied sexual pleasure. Augustine’s concern with pride is placed in the foreground in his advice to virgins. In On Virginity, he spends relatively little time praising virginity than warning dedicated virgins not to be too confident in their physical continence. Though they had more time to devote to the life of the spirit, they also had a higher standing in the church, Augustine, On Marriage, 3. Augustine, On Marriage, 8. 20 Augustine, On Marriage, 5, 13. 21 Augustine, Letter 262. 18 19



which could titillate pride just as easily as married sex. 22 This caution stands in sharp contrast to Gregory of Nyssa’s encomium On Holy Virginity, to which we now turn.


Gregory of Nyssa was born an aristocrat. Citizens of his rank were taught that, apart from the expectation to produce male offspring, who would grow up to oversee the family’s estates, sex was innocuous. It was just something people did. Gregory fulfilled his aristocratic obligations by taking a wife, and chances are that for one fleeting moment he had been a father. Of course, Gregory left us with few biographical details. It is possible his stirring account, in On Virginity, of parental anguish at the loss of a child is but proof of his imaginative rhetorical genius. But whatever the case may be, the fact that he ties sex and death together in his apologia for the virgin life evinces the particular gravitas his theological writings gave to matters of sex, the body, and human spirit. Not unlike Augustine, though in a vastly different way, Gregory thought of sex in eschatological terms. As Peter Brown has noted, for a Christian of Gregory’s rank, celibacy was an act of protest against this passing order for the sake of the kingdom to come. 23 It was a martyr-like decision. St. Athanasius cited Christian fearlessness in the face of death as proof that Christ was raised from the dead. 24 The same was true of the abstinent. Aristocrats had babies because they feared death, and with it, the loss of property and reputation. Birth only feeds the grave. Whether adult children find the cold body of their grandmother in her bed, or terrified parents try to cool their gasping, feverish infant, both witness the order Christ came to vanquish by the power of the cross. Death is the last enemy to be overcome (see 1 Cor. The gift of martyrdom further complicates the picture, for God may select a married woman to be martyred (such as Perpetua) and pass over a virgin. Augustine, On Virginity, 1–2, 22, 46–48. 23 See Brown, The Body and Society, 285ff. 24 Athanasius, On the Incarnation, trans. A Religious of C.S.M.V., Popular Patristics (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2000), 29. 22



15:26), it gnaws away at the living, and it is a foe against which both martyr and virgin have declared war. Death began its feast when Adam and Eve disordered themselves and all their offspring. In On the Making of Man, Nyssen says that humans have three souls: the rational, animal, and vegetative. 25 Only the rational soul is made in the image of God, which is witnessed in its sovereign rule over the body. 26 The animal soul obeys the rational soul to move the body, while the vegetative soul ensures that what we consume nourishes the body. 27 That is the order God intended, and it is the order our edenic progenitors violated. Rather than epectasis – the infinite perfection of both soul and body through the spiritual and intellectual contemplation of the Word – Adam and Eve allowed themselves to become distracted by the flesh. The rational soul subordinated itself to the animal soul by diving headfirst into carnal delights. The Fall from God was thus a Three major texts relate Gregory’s theological anthropology: On the Making of Man, On Virginity, and On the Soul and Resurrection.25 Gregory’s writings are difficult to date, but On the Making of Man seems to form the foundation of his later thought insofar as it deals with the body, its pleasures, and the origins of death in Adam and Eve. On Virginity is an encomium for celibacy and seems to presume the former text. J. Warren Smith has proposed that On the Soul and Resurrection may correct some possible asomatic tendencies in On the Making of Man, but the former does not have much to say about human sexuality, making any conclusions drawn therefrom far too tenuous. See J. Warren Smith, Passion and Paradise: Human and Divine Emotion in the Thought of Gregory of Nyssa (New York: Herder and Herder, 2004), 75ff. I mean founding in the sense not only of chronology but that it deals with the founders of the human species in Adam and Eve. 26 Nyssen, On the Making of Man, IV.1, V.1–2, VIII.8, also IX. Gregory builds his case in this text slowly, laying the minutia of one argumentative move carefully upon the one that preceded it. Therefore the reader will be able to see evidence of what I site in other passages. Where possible, to help guide the reader I have limited my citations to one or two paragraphs, noting whole chapters or larger passages only when necessary. 27 Nyssen, On the Making of Man, VIII.8. 25



fall into flesh (in the Pauline sense, not to be confused with a fall into the body), which plunged the human race into sin and death. 28 It is worth pausing for a moment to observe that Gregory of Nyssa’s construction of the interaction of the three souls, and their effects upon the body, is somewhat analogous to Augustine’s concept of the divided will in a couple of ways. For one, it is a way of thinking about internal conflict and struggle with sin that, furthermore, can explain why human beings do not always act according to their desires, evidenced in our inability to exercise total control over our bodies. But etiologies matter. Two different diagnoses can explain the same set of symptoms but yield different courses of treatment. To wit, both viral and bacterial infections can cause fever and nausea, which affects what the doctor prescribes. Augustine says we fell because of pride, and we continue to fail because the will now lacks the strength to do the good it wants (or may want) to do. The struggle against the passions is thus a struggle of constant supplication. Pray for grace, Augustine says, and call me in the morning. For Gregory, the source of our sin is not pride but carnal distraction. He does not think in terms of a will that needs to be strengthened by divine grace, but an unruly animal soul that needs to be tamed by ascetic discipline. Gregory does not say that sex is original sin, but he does say that sex is a consequence of the Fall. Unlike Augustine, God did not intend humans to have sex to make babies. Rather, God wanted Adam and Eve to reproduce by ‘that mode by which the angels were increased and multiplied…’ 29 What Gregory means by this is not clear. Perhaps he is suggesting that God would have created the offspring of Adam and Eve just as God had created the angels. Or he might imagine some kind of intellectual union between male and female, such that the idea of a human being would produce a human. But whatever Gregory meant by that statement, the point is that, though sex was not the cause of the Fall (at least he does not say so), it is clearly an effect of the Fall. Even our biological differences – our genitalia – is that God foresaw our Fall and thus, Gregory does not suggest that sex was the original sin. See Nyssen, On the Making of Man, XII.10–11, XVIII.6, XXII.6, 29 Nyssen, On the Making of Man, XVII.4. 28



out of compassion for our weakness, provided the human species with an animal way of reproducing. 30 Thus sexual difference and sexual reproduction, insofar as they owe their origins to sin and death, are, in a certain sense, unnatural. 31 Salvation requires reversing the order of the Fall, giving the rational soul priority over the animal soul by taming the impulses of the latter through asceticism – fasting, prayer, and especially celibacy. On Virginity thus draws out the practical and logical implications of the above. Our incessant distractions with the pleasures of the flesh continue the effects of the Fall, giving death a handhold in life and in us. 32 It is important to stress that Gregory is not being an anthropological dualist. He does not think of human perfection as escape from the body, rather the purification of the body. The difference between flesh and body – sarx and soma – is a difference of desire. In a manner of speaking, it is about where we place our priorities, whether we subject all our intellectual and affective pursuits to the temporary goods of physical pleasures or the eternal Good itself. To put it somewhat crudely, the difference is about what ‘turns us on.’ The love of God is a kind of eros. 33 Comparing desire Nyssen, On the Making of Man, XVI.7. Nyssen, On the Making of Man, XVI.7. See also Peter C. Bouteneff, ‘Essential or Existential: The Problem of the Body in the Anthropology of St. Gregory of Nyssa,’ in Gregory of Nyssa: Homilies on the Beatitudes (The Eighth International Colloquium on Gregory of Nyssa) Congress Held in Paderborn 14–18 September 1998, eds. Hubertus R. Drobner and Albert Viciano (Boston: Brill, 2000). 32 Nyssen, On Holy Virginity, 13. 33 This accounts for how Gregory is able to think of spiritual progress as epectasis – a desire for the infinite God that grows infinitely. The one who loves God is always satisfied with God, yet experiences this satisfaction as an increase in desire. This may strike some as a contradiction because it seems impossible that we can be both satisfied and yet want more. To wit, it seems like Gregory is saying that we are satisfied and dissatisfied at the same time. But epectasis makes sense when we think of divine love in terms of eros. Spiritual satisfaction is not unlike sexual satisfaction. Good sex, sex that satisfies both partners, does not lead to a reduction of sexual activity. It increases it. True eros – whether it is for God or 30 31



to a stream, Gregory says that our eros is intended to flow infinitely into the infinite God. We are embodied creatures, and this means that we must cut some ditches in this stream to irrigate our fields. That is, we must eat and drink and sleep. But we must be wise farmers. If we dig too many ditches, if we eat, drink, and sleep too much, then we will flood our fields, and the Godward flow of our desire will never reach its final destination. Therefore, like the wise farmer, the wise Christian moderates her pleasures. She does not flood her fields, lest by distraction, soma becomes sarx, and she repeats the sin of Adam and Eve by allowing her rational soul to wallow in the muddy, fetid fields of carnal delights. But if one restricts the pleasures of the flesh, taking only what is necessary to nourish the body, then the stream of eros can become a powerful current – a potent force for beatifying the soul and transforming the body into an iconic prolepsis of the angelic. 34 Sex is highly pleasurable and thus extremely dangerous. That said, Gregory of Nyssa is not exactly anti-sex. Nyssen does say that virginity is a prerequisite for the truly spiritual life, but it is important to see this within a larger ascetic anthropological framework. Virginity is one of the main ways he thinks about the body, desire, and the passions. Gregory is not just concerned about sex. As Hart observes, ‘For a treatise on virginity, Gregory’s De virginitate has remarkably little to say about sexual lust.’ 35 All ‘sensual pleasures’ are dangerous, in particular because one kind of pleasure can awaken other kinds of pleasures. 36 The passions, Gregory says, are like the links of a chain. Tug at one, and the whole chain moves. 37 But this also means that subduing one passion frees up the beloved – satisfies but never satiates. Everett Ferguson explained this well in ‘God’s Infinity and Man’s Mutability: Perpetual Progress according to Gregory of Nyssa,’ Greek Orthodox Theological Review 18.2 (1973): 59–78. See also Ekkehard Mühlenberg, ‘Synergism in Gregory of Nyssa,’ in Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der Älteren Kirche, ed. Eduard Lohse. (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1997), 93–122. 34 Nyssen, On Holy Virginity, 6, 8, 9, 21. See also 4. 35 Hart, ‘Reconciliation of Body and Soul,’ 455. 36 Nyssen, On Holy Virginity, 21. 37 Nyssen, On Holy Virginity, 4.



spiritual energy to subdue the others, and chastity frees up a lot of energy. In other words, sex is one big link. 38 Gregory does praise marriage for its ‘sweet rivalry in subduing one's own will in love,’ 39 but he does not think very highly of sex within marriage. Gregory believes the married are to live by a monastic standard. Thus his ideal type of husband is Isaac, who married late in life, fulfilled his conjugal duties, then returned to a life of chastity. 40 But since most of us lack the will power to have sex as little as possible, Gregory repeats Paul's advice not to marry (see 1 Cor. 7). But Gregory actually ends up citing Paul in a way that contradicts him. In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul does tell the Corinthians that he wishes they could all be chaste (mostly for eschatological reasons), but he permits marriage for those who might otherwise fall prey to temptation. ‘For it is better to marry than to burn with passion,’ he writes (7:9). Thus virginity is best, but marriage is acceptable. However, for the spiritually weak, it is all but essential. Gregory agrees with Paul about the goodness of virginity, but he overlooks and contradicts Paul about the practical necessity of marriage. Gregory’s pastoral advice for the weak is to ‘flee for refuge to virginity as a safe fortress…’ 41 Paul sends those who are subject to their passions to the marriage bed, but Gregory sends them to the monastery. I, for one, doubt Gregory of Nyssa meant to misrepresent the apostle. This contradiction says less about his intent than it does about the anthropological prejudices he brought to the text. For Gregory, there is not ‘safe’ sex (so to speak). Sex within marriage may not be a sin, but that does not mean it is a good idea. People should avoid marriage if possible. If it is not possible, then (like Isaac) they should avoid sex. This is because sex leads to pleasure, pleasure leads to distraction, and distraction diverts our eros from God back into our own bodies. Married sex may be ‘legal’ in the eyes of the church and the eyes of God, but it can be the spark that ignites the passionate fires of gehenna in the soul. Nyssen, On Holy Virginity, 15–17. Nyssen, On Holy Virginity, 3. 40 Nyssen, On Holy Virginity, 8–9. 41 Nyssen, On Holy Virginity, 3. 38 39




The preceding has shown that Gregory and Augustine agree that sex poses a spiritual risk, but each thinks about the nature of that risk, and thus the best response to it, in terms not easily reconciled, so that what is of secondary importance for Augustine is primary for Nyssen. For Augustine, the problem with sex is not pleasure. It is pride. Pleasure is only a problem because we are fallen. It contributes to the self-delusion of pride and thus weakens the will by dividing its loves between the true love of God and the false love of self. The spiritual danger of sex is thus, in a word, spiritual. But pride does not feature in Gregory of Nyssa’s anthropology, at least not when he thinks about the Fall. He agrees that we are disordered, but this disorder has to do with an imbalance between the internal and external life rather than the internal life with itself. Pleasure caused the Fall by distracting us, and pleasure keeps us fallen by continuing to distract us, siphoning off spiritual energy that could otherwise go toward our beatification. Disciplining the body and bringing it under the rule of the rational mind begins to return us to Eden. This is not anthropological dualism; Gregory does not deny the goodness of the body. This is to misunderstand asceticism. Ascetic discipline does not reject the body because it needs the body to train the soul. Chastity is the foundation of the ascetic life because it refocuses our energies onto the Good, putting us back on the path toward prelapsarian integrity. By withdrawing from the distractions of the flesh, we begin to master it, making sarx into soma again. 42 The difference between Augustine and Gregory is thus between a divided will versus a distracted soul, a difference that sheds light on the way each conceived of the ‘sinfulness’ of sex. It is not uncommon to find criticism of Augustine that echo the sentiment of Uta Ranke-Heinemann, who accused him of fusing ‘hatred of sex and pleasure in a systematic unity.’ 43 The above shows that not Nyssen, On the Making of Man, XVIII.3–4. Uta Ranke-Heinemann, Eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven: Women, Sexuality and the Catholic Church, trans Peter Heinegg (New York: Doubleday, 1990), 75. Karen Jo Torjensen, When Women Were Priests: 42 43



to be the case. Augustine did not hate sex (one might say the problem was that he liked it too much). Sex was part of God’s original plan for creation, and therefore it is good. Nor is pleasure a problem. Though Augustine’s modesty obscures what he actually thought about the pleasure of sex in Eden, there is nothing in his thought that would preclude pleasure as sinful (again, absent the Fall). Indeed, Augustine did not believe the Fall changed human nature. The bodies of Adam and Eve did not change when they were expelled from Paradise; they only lost grace that had preserved them from death and pain. Thus it would be inconsistent with Augustine’s anthropology to propose that the endings in human genitalia are more sensitive now than in Eden. 44 Ranke, Heinemann and others may be reasoning by analogy when they accuse Augustine of hating sex and pleasure. If even marital sex is a sin, and we are to hate sin, then it follows we must hate sex. But it is not accurate to say that Augustine thought sex was a sin. Rather, he thought there was a moment of sin in sex – irreducible selfishness – that could not be avoided, but only overcome in the greater good of hastening the kingdom by bringing more of God’s elect into the world. 45 But we have seen that even sex for lust ranks low on Augustine’s list of sins. It deserves as much of our hatred as immoderate laughter. Gregory of Nyssa’s doctrine of sex has received less critical treatment than Augustine’s, but this may owe to the fact that his genius has only recently received wide recognition from modern scholars. Some have argued that Gregory held a positive view of human sexuality, particularly married intimacy. For instance, Mark D. Hart has argued that Gregory believed sex was good because it continued the species, but this ignores the fact that sex is only necessary because of sin. It was not a part of God's original plan for creation. Neither is gender. Had Adam and Eve remained firmly rooted in the good – had they not excited the passions of the flesh Women’s Leadership in the Early Church and the Scandal of their Subordination in the Rise of Christianity (New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 1993), 211–219, 221, 224ff. 44 Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, VI.35–36. 45 Augustine, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, IX.5–6.



– then there would have been no sex. 46 Any good we might associate with sex, when it comes to the thought of Gregory of Nyssa, must be judged against the broader context of human sinfulness. One could argue that Gregory’s theology of sex is more positive than Augustine. Though his asexual vision of Eden (and thus the eschaton) arguably applies a monastic standard to a context where it does not belong, Gregory does not see sex as sinful. It does not transmit the guilt of original sin. Nor is it an act of lust that confirms the self in its own delusions of grandeur. Sex is only a problem for the soul insofar as it is one of many distractions of the flesh. This places it in the same order of food, drink, and entertainment, neither of which is sinful, but all of which are spiritual dangerous in immoderate doses. As an Orthodox thinker, I might be tempted to take pride in Gregory over Augustine. Though I cannot say that Gregory’s views on human sexuality were positive, they are perhaps less negative than Augustine’s. Gregory may fail to appreciate fully the way that marriage is its own kind of monastery, where members of the family learn to deny themselves for the sake of each other and, ultimately, God’s kingdom. But at least he does not make couples feel guilty when they cleave to each other in marital concourse. But polemical preening not makes ecumenism difficult (it contributes to the continental drift of which Brown earlier spoke), it can also keep us from seeing the irony inherent in Gregory’s theology. For him, sex is less negative because it is less important. Gregory appears not to have completely escaped the expectations of the aristocracy. Like Julian of Eclanum, he believed sex was just something people did. It lacked the spiritual gravitas Augustine saw in it. Sex is just a bodily function that has no inherent purpose in the divine order of creation. To wit, its purpose in that order is conditioned on the Fall. The same is not true of Augustine, who sees sex as a part of that original order of creation. Though the See Mark D. Hart, ‘Reconciliation of Body and Soul: Gregory of Nyssa’s Deeper Theology of Marriage,’ Theological Studies 51.3 (1990): 450– 478. See also Valerie Karras, ‘A Re-evaluation of Marriage, Celibacy, and Irony in Gregory of Nyssa’s On Virginity’ in Journal of Early Christian Studies 13.1 (March 1, 2005): 111–121. 46



desire for sex absent the presence of lust is ambiguous (because it is something we fallen creatures just cannot imagine), the original goodness of sex qua sex is never in question. Its capacity to be coopted by sin speaks to its spiritual significance. These considerations bring us back to Peter Brown’s continental drift. It takes a long time to move a continent, and even longer to move it back. There has been over a thousand years of polemicizing between East and West, and thus a thousand years of misrepresentation and misunderstanding. My intent has not been to reconcile the anthropologies of these two hemispheres in about twenty pages, only to identify issues that need to be clarified if we are going to begin to understand each other. The preceding study thus holds a few implications for Orthodox theology. First, I think it means we need to read Augustine more carefully. His alleged hatred of sex is a popular myth that has little basis in fact. Cavadini is right; to dismiss Augustine is to beg the question. Sex may be beautiful, but it may also be selfish, and thus not as loving as we think. Relatedly, we have something to learn from Augustine if we are going to begin to articulate a modern Orthodox theology of marriage and the family. Many of the sources upon which Orthodox theology relies, like Gregory of Nyssa, often hold marriage to a monastic standard that is neither biblical (e.g. Isaac’s chastity) nor helpful to most Orthodox Christians in the modern world. We talk about marriage as a unique path to salvation, but we are hardpressed to find support for that idea in sources like Gregory. 47 Augustine can augment those sources both because he sees sex in eschatological terms, as an occasion of grace for God to bring the kingdom, and because of the way that focusing on pride destabilizes any assumptions we might make about the superiority of monks. 48 In this way, Augustine can help us be more Orthodox. Perhaps the most important text, at least in terms of popular impact, on this subject is John Meyendorff’s, Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1975). 48 In On Virginity, Augustine warned virgins that their status in the visible church made pride a greater temptation than it was for the married. See 31. 47



On the other hand, Gregory of Nyssa may be (and already has been) a gift to the West. Though I am inclined to disagree with his interpretation of Eden and his three-souled psychology, the East has long recognized the importance of asceticism in taming the passions. From an Augustinian standpoint, we might say that asceticism helps subdue the rebellious will, and thus open us to receiving divine grace. Though it was not his intent, the role Augustine gave to pride can have the effect of making Christians naval-gazers. Focusing on intent may cause us to forget that there are God-given ways to discipline the will. Fasting, confession, prayer, and temporary abstinence from sexual activity (see 1 Cor. 7:5) are time-tested ways to combat pride and pursue the good. Gregory of Nyssa’s asceticism may starve the concupiscentia carnis, thus better enabling us to pursue the good, true, and beautiful both in the image of God made flesh in Jesus Christ, and in the image of God made flesh in the marriage bed.


Over one thousand five hundred years ago, in Antioch, St. John Chrysostom gave advice to men seeking to pacify an upset wife. Speak lovingly to her, he instructed; tell her ‘that you love her more than your own life … and that your only hope is that the two of you pass through this life in such a way that in the world to come you will be united in perfect love.’ Say to her ‘Our time here is brief, and fleeting, but if we are pleasing to God, we can exchange this life for the Kingdom to come. Then we will be perfectly one both with Christ and each other and our pleasure will know no bounds.’ 1 This counsel is striking in the depth and weight he gives to the love, and pleasure in such love, between a husband and wife. Notably, this love does not end with death but transcends it, extending into the Kingdom of Heaven. Elsewhere he speaks warmly of the same bond, saying ‘the power of this love is truly stronger than any

St. John Chrysostom, On Marriage & Family Life, Homily 20, trans. Roth, C.P., & Anderson, D., (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1986), p. 61. 1




passion; other desires may be strong but this one alone never fades. This love (eros) is deeply planted within our inmost being.’ 2 We have here a strong and simple insight into the nature of love as eros. It is deeply implanted in our inmost beings, and it is stronger than death. How, then, does it relate to salvation? Does it provide a clue as to the link between our embodied lives now and the life to come? And what do we do with aggression that surfaces, or goes underground, to bedevil the best of our attempts at union? This paper is a brief exploration of the intertwining of eros and theosis in the sacramental union that is marriage, using insights of depth psychology and Orthodox theology. It is an attempt to uncover the generative energy of desire, what Olivier Clement has likened to the psychoanalytic concept of libido, 3 and perhaps further texture the discussion of the role of desire in salvation.


I will start by taking what might seem to be a detour, to highlight a small but profound work by Fr. Vasileos Thermos, entitled ‘In Search of the Person’. In this work, Fr. Thermos, an Orthodox priest and psychiatrist, discusses parallels between the seminal theories of Donald Winnicott, a British psychoanalyst, and the treatises of St. Gregory Palamas. It is a defense of the roles of the body, emotions, and desire in the spiritual life. He describes Winnicott’s theory of the ‘false self’, a self which is constructed in response to environmental wounding or deprivation, and which appears to live but which actually lacks ‘tissue aliveness’, being capable neither of spontaneity nor full-bodied relationship with others or life itself. He then turns to St. Gregory to emphasize that the mortification of body, emotions and desires is not the proper course of asceticism. He clarifies that the ascetic path is designed to transform desire, not eradicate it. Using both Winnicott and Palamas, he shows that the mortification of desire through repression or dissociation only cripples our ability to desire anything, including God. The decepSt. John Chrysostom, Homily 20, p. 44. Clement, O., The Roots of Christian Mysticism, New York: New City Press, 1993), p. 134. 2 3



tion, however, is that the false self can appear to be highly religious. According to Thermos, the false self: ‘moves on the ‘level of ‘exactness’ and with a fixation on ‘purity’. For this reason it isolates the only ‘pure’ thing which it believes itself to possess, the intellect which it controls, and offers it to God, thereby implying that the body, feelings and desires are ‘children of a lesser god’. One is left wondering if the Incarnation of the Logos has been comprehended and experienced.’ 4 Because the false self is itself a construct, it can only find resonance in religious constructs, not in existence itself. This leads to a primacy of disembodied spirituality: ‘The theological foundation of the false self comprises an essentially bodiless existence as the zenith of self-sufficiency which flirts with the idea that one is equal to God.’ 5 For Thermos, the emphasis on becoming a person, reminiscent of other Orthodox theologians such as Olivier Clement and John Zizioulas, is integral in the journey of theosis. One might say we are called to become more human, not less, in our journey towards ‘becoming God’. This entails a life of emotions, feelings and desire fully lived. Thermos writes: ‘Because He [God] is the source of feeling and desiring, He calls man [or woman] to personal communion by raising him [or her] to the level of a person who feels and desires. Through this personal calling, man [or woman] is made able to feel and desire; because He is the truth, man [or woman] can become true and encounter the actual person who is the source of his [or her] person and learn to commune.’ 6 We have here another strong insight. True self life, embodied life, is also necessarily life lived in relationship, in communion. It is personal relatedness that calls forth the true self. How then, does Thermos, V. In Search of the Person; True and False Self According to Donald Winnicott and St. Gregory Palamas (Montreal: Alexander Press, 2002). Interestingly, Thermos also notes here, drawing on Winnicott as well, that ‘in the great majority of cases the depreciation of the body in men is connected with the depreciation or even fear of women, since women remind them of their bodily drives.’ p. 51. 5 Thermos, Search of the Person, p. 61. 6 Thermos, Search of the Person, p. 67 (italics and parenthetical additions mine). 4



marital life explore and expand on the boundaries of holiness, if holiness is defined as by Olivier Clement in saying ‘…holiness is life in its fullness. And there is holiness in each human being who participates vigorously in life. There is holiness not only in the great ascetic but in the creator of beauty, in the seeker after truth who heeds the mystery of creation … in the deep love between a man and a woman…’ 7


The Orthodox marriage is sacramental. As Orthodox theologian John McGuckin writes: ‘…many Orthodox theologians have linked the couple’s journey towards union in flesh and spirit, with a trope of the perichoresis of the Persons of the Holy Trinity, radiating out essential unity in their harmony. The Trinity itself, the goal of all Christian life, is the pattern and aspiration of the mystical unity that the marriage can bear witness to. Such a mystery of union is only possible because of the indwelling Trinity.’ 8 Such a marriage requires ascesis of both partners, hence the Orthodox understanding of the martyrdom of marriage, where in putting on the mind of Christ, the phronema Christou, each partner submits to the willingness to accept the death of self for the sake of the loved one. 9 The ascetic struggle McGuckin outlines is the ‘constant struggle to make all things in a Christian life charged with light and graciousness, not least the powerful forces of the desire for acquisition and the desires of the flesh … But the Gospel … does not presume that one should be devoid of desire: it is the use to which the fundamental drives of human energy are placed that is in question.’ 10 We see here a return to the power of desire, properly transformed, as an active driver in the sacrament of marriage. In this context, sexuality itself is transformed: ‘The sacred mystery of Christian marriage sings a different song to the anxious (and often Clement, Christian Mysticism, p. 265. McGuckin, J.A., The Orthodox Church (Malden, MA; Oxford: Blackwell Pub. Ltd., 2011), p. 314. 9 McGuckin, The Orthodox Church, p. 319. 10 McGuckin, The Orthodox Church, p. 315. 7 8



violent) subtext of sexuality as the world knows it. The key issue, of course, is the presence of joy … [without] this renovatory ‘mind of Christ’ at the core of a Christian marriage, the very concept of two human beings staying with one another for decades would be unimaginably boring and suffocating. With it, the love deepens day by day, for those who have the eyes to see, and reveals new layers of the significance of being.’ 11 To avoid the pitfall of ‘false self’ religiosity, a confusion of the phronema Christou with a life of stultifying ‘shoulds’, this radiant conceptualization must also be grounded in the life of the body, in the emotions and desires. Yet, is it not here that we risk a marriage of what Orthodox theologian John Behr has called a ‘companionate’ or ‘unitive’ marriage, one that is self-centered, rather than a marriage with Christ at the center? 12 The tension of embracing desire becomes a question of discernment as to when desire is ‘disordered’, to use the language of the Fathers, and the work of uncovering and living from God-given desire. If we look to marriage from another angle, I believe we can see more concretely how this may happen, how eros does not lead to fusion, nor true desire to self-gratification. On the contrary, I would argue that eros can only truly thrive in differentiation thus allowing for relatedness, and desire is the deep reaching out from self to ‘Other’, which actually bespeaks the end of pathological narcissism or religious solipsism.


Jungian psychoanalyst and noted theological scholar Ann Belford Ulanov writes about marriage from a depth psychological perspective, putting the alchemical notion of coniunctio, the conjunction of opposites, at the center, and using object-relations theory to elucidate the kinds of interactions that take place between the couple: ‘The coniunctio archetype [in marriage] … [brings] the interpenetration, differentiation, and integration of elements in each person’s psyche [to] be worked on, as well as the meeting and matching and McGuckin, The Orthodox Church, p. 317. Behr, J., ‘Marriage and Asceticism,’ Sobornost 29:2 (2007): 24–50, p. 24 & p. 49. 11 12



mating of all these elements between them. Such a joining is intimate at a very deep level, causing radical intrapsychic changes as well as changes in the most habitual behavior.’ 13 For Ulanov, such a marriage does not avoid conflict, but utilizes areas of tension to press through to the deeper issues that each partner is called to work on. She uses Jungian language of the ‘Self’, representing the whole psyche of each person – conscious and unconscious, as well as something more that gives access to a sense of God – to ask what is the ‘Self’ engineering in each person. One could also ask, using McGuckin’s language, to ‘what new depths of being’ is each person being called. Both partners commit to engaging in ‘the work of love’ which Ulanov describes as ‘making space for its own flowing from surface to depths, from each to other and back again, planting the world, making it bloom, building a bridge that extends beyond the grave.’ 14 (italics mine). The hard work of differentiating and consciously relating to what she calls ‘contaminating elements’ rather than repressing them or identifying with them (both of which could be liked to distortions of the passions), yields the reward of ‘a union of the different elements within each person as well as a union between them that supports each in being entirely his or her own true self.’ 15 Aliveness floods in. Such a union, she writes, ‘makes for fission, not fusion, for fire, not boredom … neither is allowed to clamp down on personal impulse for the sake of compromise with reality demands to the point where they lose access to the creative imagination in their marriage. Both seek the alive and real in themselves and in each other … [such a couple is] a small example of how to be passionate and alive in a permanent relationship, imaginatively making the world.’ 16 Ulanov, A.B., ‘Coniunctio and Marriage’, in The Spiritual Aspects of Clinical Work (Einsiedeln: Daimon; Enfield: Airlift, 2004), p. 132. 14 Ulanov, ‘Coniunctio and Marriage’, p. 136. 15 Ulanov, ‘Coniunctio and Marriage’, p. 137. 16 Ulanov, ‘Coniunctio and Marriage’, p. 139. 13




Paradoxically, this process of full commitment to engaging with self and other leads to a progressive purging of the ego of possessive and power motives. Each has to learn to give up ‘sadistic gratification’, ‘fighting dirty’, in order to harness the tremendous energy and aggression underlying these actions and put it to different use. The concept of aggression here is not used in the colloquial sense, but rather to denote a kind of primal energy which is morally neutral, in much the same way some of the Fathers described the inherent neutrality of the passions, while being keenly aware of the possibility of their misuse. 17 She writes: ‘We need aggression to focus on the true worth of the other, to dig it out, and to work to restore it, and to differentiate that effort from trying to impose our image on the other … a transcendent presence lives in the other … [who is] made in the image of God … we dig down to it and excavate it … the support must be vigorous, summoning, lavish, and aimed right at the center of the other person’s existence the way the other is connected to all existence. Betrayals in marriage usually issue from betrayal of this deeper center.’ 18 This is the opposite of a desire that uses the other as a ‘self-object’, or subjective-object, but is a desire that recognizes the other as subject in their own right. As Clement reminds us ‘…we perceive in [the other] an irreducible personal existence, beyond limitations and errors, beyond even the disappointment we may have felt for the moment. The other is in the image of God, not of us.’ 19


In such a marriage, two extraordinary healings can take place. Aggression, so often feared as destructive, can become ‘the means through which we secure the energy of living support,’ 20 and is repaired as it is used to explore and unearth and sustain the best in Cf, for example. St. Maximus, On the Utility of the Passions. Ulanov, ‘Coniuncto and Marriage’, p. 141 (italics mine). 19 Clement, Christian Mysticism, p. 279 (italics mine). 20 Ulanov, ‘Coniuncto and Marriage’, p. 142. 17 18



the other. It is, of course, still painful to fight, but the fighting can be ultimately constructive, rather than destructive. She writes ‘we know now that aggression can serve love as well as destroy it.’ 21 The other area of healing lies through the experience of what psychoanalyst Winnicott termed ‘ruthlessness’. 22 Like aggression, this is a word that colloquially has negative connotations, but which in the depth psych-ological world is descriptive rather than pejorative. It describes the direct movement of going towards an object of desire. It does not fear one’s own force of being; it trusts the other to survive the full on engagement with one’s own energy. At an unconscious level, something astonishing happens which is that when we do not seek ‘to control through projected images of who we want the other to be, or fear the other might be, or need the other to be, or think the other needs us to be. We let be. And we discover, uncover, greet the one who is left after our projections have been destroyed … this may happen when the other disappoints us: he or she failed to live up to our idealized image and the image is destroyed. Thereby we release ourselves and the other to find out who is actually there. If we are using our aggression to reach the best self of the other, this is all gain, no loss … we may have lost a fantasy but we have gained a reality with which to interact and in which to unfold our own self.’ 23 St. Maximus the Confessor wrote: ‘The aim of faith is the true revelation of its object. And the true revelation of faith’s object is ineffable communion, with him, and this communion is the return of believers to their beginning as much as to their end … and therefore the satisfaction of desire.’ 24 The true revelation of the object, if we are to learn that it exists as subject in its own right, outside our unconscious fantasies of omnipotence, requires that we live ruthlessly – not in the colloquial sense of the term – but in the sense of going all out in our movements towards the other, not withholding our being. We learn to survive the destruction of our fantasies because in exchange for Ulanov, ‘Coniuncto and Marriage’, p. 142. Ulanov, ‘Coniunctio and Marriage’, p. 143. 23 Ulanov, ‘Coniunctio and Marriage’, p. 145. 24 Clement, Christian Mysticism, p. 266. 21 22



fantasy we encounter the reality of an ‘Other’ with whom we can have a real relationship. I believe it may well be the case that while a conscious fear of desire can stem from the awareness that desire distorted turns to lust and acquisitiveness, a fear which nestles neatly with the sincere attempt at ‘moral living’, the deeper unconscious fear of desire is the fear of the end of narcissism, omnipotence, or what theologically could be termed as self-idolatry. Genuine desire drives us out of ourselves towards the other, and any such encounter with a real Other must mean the experiential end of our illusions that we stand at the center of the universe, inviolate and invulnerable – indeed, immortal. It is the end of the false self. To encounter Otherness is to encounter our own limits, but it is also to encounter the possibility of true love between two who are other to each other and yet connected through the power of eros, living out of desire.


For St. Maximus, the process of theosis is the union through desire with God, and the increasing identification with God through sharing in the life of God. Marriage is not the same process, yet the schooling of eros, aggression and ruthlessness in pursuit of love may uncover desire in us in such a way that personal communion with God becomes deeper as does communion with husband or wife. Purging the relationship of ‘contaminating energies’ requires self-examination, and would be strengthened by repentance, confession and healing; Sacraments in the Church, and processes also deeply known to depth psychology. The circling of the relationship around the larger questions of ‘what is the Self engineering’ creates a conscious awareness of both immanent and transcendent energy in which the couple shares. It is a central locus of conscious engagement and hard work, driven by love and desire, that will demand the death of the narcissistic false self, and endlessly reveal new levels of true life. Held within the genuine desire to grow in the phronema Christou, and participation in the ever unfolding life of the Trinity, such an understanding can allow the totality of each person to be brought into the marital union, not just their personas or the parts deemed acceptable by the other. Could not such a marriage, with Christ in its midst, become a microcosm of the maxim of salvation of the Fathers: ‘that which is not assumed is not healed’?



This is no longer a false self religiosity where the collective ‘superego’ is placed at the center (or conflicting superegos fought over), but rather a shared devotion to the Living God, who calls us forth in unexpected ways, heralds the new, and brings life where there was death. Deification is not the annihilation of human interaction, but it’s deepening. As Clement elucidates: ‘To be deified is therefore to become someone living with a life stronger than death, since the Word is life itself and the Spirit is the one who brings life. All human possibilities are brought into play. The structures of thought, feeling, friendship, creativity, while remaining only human structures, receive an infinite capacity for light and joy and love.’ 25 Such a marriage, Ulanov writes, ‘[pulls] the world in and pull[s] the two persons into the world. Why this is so has to do with the center that goes on being constructed. That core of freedom keeps producing new forms of itself that insist on going out to others and pulling others into it … This is the greater coniunctio, that does not breakdown but breaks through the bounds of our ordinary perceiving in time and space to the presence of the beyond. The cause and effect of the conjunction of opposites is love, a love in time and outside of time … To be aware of this dimension is directly to participate in mystery…’ 26 This understanding of the embodied relationship between two people, circling around the transcendent and taken up into it, without losing its own particularity, is echoed in the resurrection theology of Clement. He writes: ‘Resurrection begins already here below. For the early Church a deeply spiritual man [or woman] is one is already ‘risen again’. The truest moments of our lives, those lived in the invisible, have a resurrection flavor. Resurrection begins every time that a person, breaking free from conditionings, transfigures them … Resurrection begins every time that a person plunges this world’s opaque, divisive, death-riddled modality into its Christ-centered modality, into that ‘ineffable and marvelous fire hidden in the essence of things, as in the Burning Bush.’ 27 Clement, Christian Mysticism, p. 265. Ulanov, ‘Coniunctio and Marriage’, p. 151. 27 Clement, Christian Mysticism, p. 268 (italics mine). 25 26



Paradoxically, it becomes clear that we need to live in and through our bodies, feelings and emotions in order to reach to that which transcends our bodies and transforms our desiring. The eros spoken of by St. John Chrysostom builds a bridge from this life to the next, from body instinct to spirit. We have to dig down in order to see the heavens more clearly. We have to grab hold of our aggression and ruthless energies in order to perceive the other more truly and to love more deeply. Orthodox tradition, theology and wisdom, and the insights of depth psychology, illuminate the enormous healing possibilities contained within the sacrament of marriage; the possibilities to transform aggression, break through narcissistic fantasies of omnipotence, and to uncover desire in order to unleash love – love for God, for each other, and for life.


There can be little doubt that the Patristic revival in the Orthodox tradition during the last century has borne tremendous fruit both Deacon Drew Maxwell in terms of the Church’s modern theological reflection and the pastoral implications for the faithful. 1 The concomitant, and sometimes competitive, explosion of Athonite monasticism throughout the world, but particularly in America, has provided much of the same in many respects. However, perhaps one of the most puzzling results of these recent developments has been the effect both movements have had upon the Church’s understanding of marriage, and within marriage, the role of sexuality and intimacy in the life of the everyday Christian striving towards Christ while living in the world. An apparently negative view of sexuality, which historically emanated out of a cloistered and monastic vision of communal life, has managed to sidle its way into the heart of Orthodox homes, causing husbands and wives to question how, or even if, the Church values their intimate and sexual relationship in particular, or the sacramental quality of their union in general. See for instance, Andrew Louth, ‘The Patristic Revival and Its Protagonists,’ in The Cambridge Companion to Orthodox Christian Theology, ed. Mary B. Cunningham and Elizabeth Theokritoff (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 188–202. 1




Compounding this situation is the reaction that many of the faithful have had to this turn of events. Some, in an effort to defend the very monastic foundations and patristic texts that fostered their entrance into or rebirth within the Orthodox tradition, have stridently advocated views of family life and intimacy appropriate for the monastics and clergy rather than laity in an effort to erect a bulwark against secular forces they deem a threat to the foundations of the faith. Others, hoping to find a healthy vision of Orthodox love and intimacy, have mindlessly attacked monasticism and patristic theology as the soiled fruits of an unbalanced mindset. A more appropriate response, however, is one in which the various and seemingly conflicting visions of sexuality presented throughout the ages of the Orthodox tradition are approached within their context, humbly considered, and with sincere discernment valued for the wisdom that they bear or discarded on account of their inability to provide life. In a limited way, the following is an attempt to be true to such a vision. By analyzing several key Orthodox texts concerned with intimacy and sexuality, it is my sincere desire that an original patristic view of lay Orthodox sexuality and intimacy can be initiated and encouraged. It is certainly true that Patristic tradition provides us with a bountiful yet (apparently) lopsided vision of sexuality. To begin with, the rather poor vision of marriage that one might infer from some affirmations made by the traditional and popular purveyors of Patristic wisdom can posit a stumbling block for the Orthodox couple. For instance, consider the following extract by St. Gregory Palamas in the Philokalia, a common father read by many an everyday Orthodox Christian: Married people can also strive for this purity, but only with the greatest difficulty. For this reason all who from their youth have by God’s mercy glimpsed that eternal life with the mind’s keen eye, and who have longed for it blessings, avoid getting married, since likewise in the resurrection, as the Lord said, people neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are ‘as the angels of God’ (Matt. 22:30). Therefore those who wish to become ‘as the angels of God’ will even in this present life, like the sons of resurrection, rightly place themselves above bodily intercourse. Moreover, the occasion for sinning was first provided by the wife. Consequently those who do not wish ever to

ORTHODOX VISIONS OF HUMAN SEXUALITY AND MARRIAGE 93 give the devil any way of catching hold of them should not marry. 2

Here St. Gregory suggests that a holy life is one that is ‘above’ bodily intercourse, and that living within a marriage, even presumably a marriage guided by chastity, is tantamount to allowing the devil to catch hold of you. More troubling perhaps, however, is the paucity of positive Orthodox witness to marriage in the modern context, even, surprisingly, within the pages of texts meant to strengthen families! Take, for instance, this example from Demetrios Constantelos, a writer who attempted to illustrate the positive aspects of Christian marriage within an Orthodox context: ‘We have already noted that marriage is honored as a natural, God-given institution, and that virginity or celibacy is viewed as a state above nature, a special gift from God bestowed on a few.’ 3 There are a few things that seem problematic in this statement. Firstly, The idea that somehow celibacy is above nature, which then makes marriage a poverty-filled category of ‘natural’ is far afield of a traditional Orthodox understanding of nature; and like a sibling at Christmas who has merely been given socks after watching the opening of a particularly exciting present by a brother, the married person is meant to understand that their ‘institution’ bears no resemblance to the ‘gift’ so especially given to a monk or nun. 4 Returning to the Patristic legacy, however, we can see that St. Gregory is by no means unique in his rhetorical assessment of marriage and sexuality. The patristic, and mostly monastic, literature is deeply suspicious of any talk of sexuality, preferring instead to not do discuss the matters of sexual ethos. Take for instance the musings of Isaiah the Solitary on sensual pleasure. Gregory Palamas, To the Most Reverend Nun Xenia. Taken from: Philokalia (London: Faber & Faber, 1995), vol. 4, pp. 300–301. 3 Demetrios J. Constantelos, Marriage, Sexuality and Celibacy: A Greek Orthodox Perspective (Minneapolis: Light and Life Publishing, 1975), 71. 4 This is to say nothing of the fact that Constantelos has completely reversed the role of gift-giver and gift-receiver in the relationship established by the human choice of celibacy! 2



Here St. Isaiah numbers sensual pleasure with great caution. It is presented as something which imprisons and perhaps makes it impossible to experience true worship. St. Mark the Ascetic is more succinct. ‘All vice is caused by self-esteem and sensual pleasure; you cannot overcome passion without hating them.’ 5 Admittedly, one might, and certainly can, quibble with the notion of sensual pleasure being much broader than sexuality in and of itself. However, nothing could be clearer than the words of St. Neilos the Ascetic in the following passage which encapsulates much of monastic thinking on sexuality: Do animals demand a luxury diet? What chefs and pastrycooks pander to their bellies? Do they not prefer the original simplicity, eating the herbs of the field, content with whatever is at hand, drinking water from springs – and this only infrequently? In this way they diminish sexual lust and do not inflame their desires with fatty foods. They become conscious of the difference between male and female only during the one season of the year ordained by the law of nature for them to mate in, so as to propagate and continue their species. The rest of the year they keep away from one another as if they had altogether forgotten any such appetite. 6

There can be no doubt, of course, that St. Neilos was encouraging such a perspective for humanity in this passage. In St. Neilos’ ideal vision of engenderedness and sexuality, it is best if male and female rarely recognize the uniqueness of their gender, and sexual activity is purely a mechanical act meant for the survival of the species. It is noteworthy that the vision of marriage and sexuality put forth in the very limited selections above, which, however, represent a general patristic and monastic trend, may perhaps go beyond Bible and reflect monastic practices introduced within a different cultural and historical horizon. What is found in the biblical canon is a an affirming notion of marriage and sexuality which values the St. Mark the Ascetic, On the Spiritual Law. Taken from: Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 117. 6 St. Neilos the Ascetic, Ascetic Discourse. Taken from: Philokalia, vol. 1, pp. 246–247. 5

ORTHODOX VISIONS OF HUMAN SEXUALITY AND MARRIAGE 95 engendered quality of humanity and is far less willing to circumscribe them within a system of rigid monastic sexual ethos. Paul Evdokimov eloquently pointed out this fact over thirty years ago. ‘The Gospel contains no ‘ethical system.’ The surprising newness of its judgments arises from the fact that they refer not to moral principles, but to the absolute value of the Kingdom and to the love of the King.’ 7 When one considers this foundational insight, several key scriptural passages related to marriage and sexuality, and their deliberate nuanced nature, enlighten us to a different, lifegiving vision of intimacy from the ones portrayed above. Of course the most important biblical foundation for the sanctity and creative nature of marriage and sexuality is the passage in Genesis when God forms woman out of the rib of Adam. [Gen. 2:23–24] The clear revelation that sexual differentiation occurs before any ultimate fall of humanity questions the validity of an attitude that all humanity (i.e. without qualification) is better off ignoring engend-eredness. But more significant is Adam’s immediate response to the advent of woman. He sings. I often say to my parishioners when they ask how an Orthodox person is made a saint in our tradition, ‘How do we know when someone is a saint? We sing about them, that’s how we know!’ The same is true of this most glorious moment of creation. ‘This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.’ One can sense in Adam’s hymn a sigh of relief, a resting in contentment, and a recognition of wholeness. Humanity is at its most complete when it is in perfect concert with itself and with God. This, in fact, is the place to which all humanity erotically, that is to say completely full with desire, longs to return; and it is in Christ and His way of salvation that this return is made possible. This is why it is not surprising that later biblical commentary on this passage of Genesis reflects a hushed sense of joy and unity. Jesus says in the Gospel of Mark, ‘But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the Evdokimov P., The Sacrament of Love: The Nuptial Mystery in the Light of the Orthodox Tradition (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985), p. 161. 7



two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together let no one separate.’ [Mark 10:6–9] Here we find enshrined in the words of Our Savior a godly sanctification of marital intimacy and love in which sexuality brings complete unity; a unity intended by God in the beginning. The words of St. Paul in Ephesians complete this picture. ‘For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the Church, because we are members of His body. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the Church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.’ [Eph. 5:29–33] The attempt to overly spiritualize this passage so as to limit the sincere linkage between the marital bond and the bond of God with humanity is perhaps illegitimate. The great mystery consists in the return to true Paradise in which communion with the human other is done in concert with, and facilitates, communion with the Ultimate Other. The salvation of humanity lies in our ability, together in communion, listen for the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze and not hide, but come forth in unity to be one with God. Archdeacon John Chryssavgis reminds us of this when he turns to the sacramental service of marriage and by carefully looking at the text determines that the Church values sexuality within marriage based upon the prayers of the service. He writes, ‘The ascetic aspect of marriage is further shown in the prayer asking for the Archangel Michael to prepare the marital chamber. Only a Church that believes in the sanctity and integrity of the body and the world could either imagine an angel preparing the bed of the couple, or else implore for the preservation of an undefiled marriage bed.’ 8 What, then, shall we say of our monastic and patristic texts on marriage where its rigorous ethos seem to undermine the sacraChryssavgis, J., Love, Sexuality and the Sacrament of Marriage (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1996), p. 23. 8

ORTHODOX VISIONS OF HUMAN SEXUALITY AND MARRIAGE 97 mental status of marriage? The fact is that we need to interpret all of our texts, not just the difficult ones, within the context in which they were produced and disseminated. It seems like such an elementary or basic principle in the academic world from which many of us come, but amongst the Orthodox faithful, the fact remains that a contextualized reading is not only uncommon but often unheard of. Our people often choose to apply the wisdom of the fathers to their everyday lives with nary a care for the fact that much of our spiritual wisdom is deeply contextualized and necessarily needs to be presented to them by a faithful guide. When one understands the passages at the outset of this communication in the light of the monastic communities in which they were produced and expounded, a different nuance emerges, and therefore a lessening of judgment is in order. As an example, let us return to the passage given at the outset of the communication. This comment from St. Gregory Palamas provides an opportunity for further reflection: Married people can also strive for this purity, but only with the greatest difficulty. For this reason all who from their youth have by God’s mercy glimpsed that eternal life with the mind’s keen eye, and who have longed for it blessings, avoid getting married, since likewise in the resurrection, as the Lord said, people neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are ‘as the angels of God’ (Matt. 22:30). Therefore those who wish to become ‘as the angels of God’ will even in this present life, like the sons of resurrection, rightly place themselves above bodily intercourse. Moreover, the occasion for sinning was first provided by the wife. Consequently those who do not wish ever to give the devil any way of catching hold of them should not marry. 9

We know that this text was written by St. Gregory to a nun named Xenia. The only key to the context other than this fact is that this particular nun seems to have been some kind of guide for the daughters of the Emperor, who must have been Emperor AnSt. Gregory Palamas, To the Most Reverend Nun Xenia. Taken from: Philokalia, vol. 4, pp. 300–301. 9



dronikos III. 10 In this context, it is natural to argue, at the outset, that St. Gregory meant to extol the life of the nun, and especially the virginity of the nun, for the sake of Xenia herself. Additionally, might we not deduce that St. Gregory had a secondary motive of encouraging the daughters of the emperor to move towards a life in the Church dedicated to God? Was there an underlying political dimension to this letter? All of these considerations cause us to pause when asserting that such a letter should provide a basic guidance to a married person in the modern Orthodox context. There is no better opportunity, in fact, to see the variability of the Fathers’ opinions regarding the delicate topic of sexuality and marriage; and particularly the impact of context upon those opinions, than in the life of St. John Chrysostom. While a full picture of his views cannot be provided in the context of this short communication, a brief overview of the work of Professor David Ford drives the point home suitably. In his work entitled Women and Men in the Early Church: The Full Views of St. John Chrysostom, Professor Ford clearly and extensively illuminates the evolution of St. John’s views regarding marriage, sexuality and intimacy through an analysis of his writings over the full span of his life. What one discovers is that St. John views evolved from a rather ascetic set of presumptions about marriage in his younger years as a solitary monastic, to a much more positive and life-giving perspective in his latter years as deacon, priest, bishop and patriarch. For instance, St. John has been criticized by some intellectuals for his negative view of marriage based upon his early, and oft-read, treatise On Virginity. 11 However, Ford argues instead that if one contextualizes St. John’s words and understands his vision of marriage and sexuality holistically, a condemnation of his views is out of order. Dr. Ford writes: It is crucial, however, that these early works be considered in their proper context. They were written with the monastic fervor with which Chrysostom himself, while in his late twenties

See the note of the editors in Philokalia, vol. 4, p. 289, and also the words of St. Gregory himself in section 7 of the letter itself. 11 Clark, E., Women in the Early Church (Wilmington, DE: Michael Glazier, Inc., 1983), p. 55. 10

ORTHODOX VISIONS OF HUMAN SEXUALITY AND MARRIAGE 99 and early thirties, spent several years as a recluse in the caves near Antioch … Quite naturally, writers like … St. John Chrysostom warmly extolled the merits of virginity. Naturally as well in such an enterprise, marriage – the obvious contrast to the celibate life – is not depicted in glowing terms … It is quite understandable, then, that Chrysostom would sound negative toward marriage in these early writings. What is remarkable is that, for one so enamored with and committed to the celibate life himself, in his later writings, done in the midst of his cosmopolitan priestly ministry in Antioch and Constantinople, he presents [a] highly exalted view of marriage… 12

While Professor Ford does an admirable job of laying out the evidence in his own work, two simple examples from St. John, courtesy of his own collation, are illustrative of the saint’s case. From On Virginity we read: Virginity is as much superior (kretton) to marriage as heaven is to earth, as the angels are to men, and, to use far stronger language, it is more superior still … Angels neither marry nor are given in marriage [Matt. 22:30]; this is true of the virgin. The angels have stood continuously by God and serve him; so does the virgin. 13

From much later on in his ministry we read the following:

And how do they become one flesh? Just as you should take the purest part of gold, and mingle it (anamixes) with other gold, so in truth here also the woman receiving the richest part (piotaton) fused by pleasure (hedones) nourishes and cherishes it, and contributing something from herself (ta parheautes syneisenengkamene), returns it back as a human being. And the child is a sort of bridge, so that the three become one flesh, the child connecting each other on either side. For as two cit-

Ford, D. Women and Men in the Early Church: The Full Views of St. John Chrysostom (South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 1995), pp. 76–78. 13 St. John Chrysostom, On Virginity, 41.1. Taken from: Ford, D., Women and Men. p. 76. 12


DREW MAXWELL ies, which a river divides through, become one city if a bridge connects them on both sides, so is it in this case – and yet more, since the very bridge here is formed from the substance (ousias) of each side. 14

As we can see, Chrysostom likely underwent a certain development in his thinking and teaching about marriage and sexuality throughout his life. However, this is not to say that we ought to neglect his earlier work which could often be critical of marriage. Understood within its context, such work had life-giving properties for the monastics with which he was in constant dialogue. The fact is, we would do well to use a guiding principle established by Metropolitan Kallistos. In discussing the relationship of marriage and monasticism he writes: The two complement each other, much as the kataphatic and the apophatic ways balance and complete one another in theology. ‘The kataphatic or affirmative way points to the presence of God the Creator in all created things, in all images and symbols. The apophatic or negative way insists that God is infinitely above and beyond all that He has made; and in the name of what is greater, it puts aside that which is less, reaching out beyond every image and symbol and plunging into the divine darkness. The one attains to a mediated, the other to an immediate, knowledge of the living God. Both are necessary to a sound and balanced theology. A totally kataphatic theology would risk degenerating into idolatry; an altogether apophatic theology would end up as a mere emptiness, a kind of intellectual nihilism.

How does this apply to marriage and monasticism? Both are sacraments of love. But what the married couple realizes in a mediated way, the monk seeks to achieve directly. In marriage, as in kataphatic or symbolical theology, the archetype is attained through the ikon. Husband and wife express their love for God through and in their love for one another … In monasticism, as in St. John Chrysostom, Homily 12 on Colossians. Taken from: Ford, Women and Men, 57. 14

ORTHODOX VISIONS OF HUMAN SEXUALITY AND MARRIAGE 101 apophatic theology, the ikon is laid aside: love for God is expressed directly, not through the image or medium of another human person. Like the two ways in theology, the two forms of love complete and balance one another. 15 After this brief overview of the Church’s multivalent view of marriage and sexuality, Metropolitan Kallistos’ words provide a simple and clear exposition of the mind of the Church. It is a balanced and healthy perspective which understands that marriage and monasticism provide the borders in which sexuality is played out in a healthy and life-giving way. That is, sexuality is a great mystery of God, and like all of God’s mysteries it is bound up and defined by love; in this case erotic love. This deep and abiding longing for the Ultimate Other finds its deepest expression within both the life of marriage and the life of monasticism. The last thorny issue that must be addressed, then, are those contemporary views of marriage which cannot be understood to be life-giving because the context in which they are expounded is purely monastic and thus cannot be applied, without qualification, in the lives of laity. One chief example can be used in this regard. The very familiar text of the Elder Ephraim of Arizona entitled Counsels from the Holy Mountain holds within its pages a particularly relevant point towards this view of marriage. It reads: Girls desert their beloved parents and brothers and relatives, and through marriage cleave to a mortal man and bear with his weaknesses, his bad manners, his passions, and sometimes (if he has a bad character) even with his beatings and curses. Nevertheless, they do not leave their husband because they respect the bond of the sacrament of marriage, or because they want financial support and security. But you, on the contrary, have married the incorruptible Bridegroom of Christ and have deserted parents and all the good things of this vain world in order to be united with Christ through a spiritual marriage.

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, ‘The Monastic Life as a Sacrament of Love.’ Church and Theology: An Ecclesiastical and Theological Review of the Archbishopric of Thyateira and Great Britain, vol. 2 (London: Thyateira House, 1981), 697. 15


DREW MAXWELL You lovingly follow Jesus, Who for our sake endured the Cross and death and gave you an immense dowry: the Kingdom of Heaven. Although you were poor and dirty, He made you into queens to enjoy in heaven more glory and delight than emperors.

How incomparably the grace of virginity surpasses marriage, and how much loftier is the gift of the mystery of the mystical spiritual wedding with the Bridegroom of Christ than a carnal wedding! And this is because the Bridegroom is heavenly, spotless, eternal – God! We see that the wife in common marriages becomes a heroine of patience by enduring the sorrows, the worries and difficulties of married life, the passions, the beatings from her husband, and the difficulties beyond her strength in raising and fostering her children. So then – alas! – how reprehensible we are when we don’t have patience, forcefulness, obedience, and everything that the easy yoke of the sweetest Jesus calls for, to a greater degree than a married woman does! 16 Certain negative notions of marriage contained within this passage reflect some of the opinions of the fathers of the Early Church. However, as we have mentioned, the Patristic legacy was one meant, at least originally by its authors, as the exclusive wisdom of the monastic tradition. In cases where wisdom was meant for the cathedral and urban churches, we often see an entirely different tone applied. The work of Elder Ephraim, however, while it may have originally been given in a purely monastic context, clearly is reproduced as intended to be heard by the Orthodox faithful lay people of America and beyond. Since its translation into English, it has undergone two printings within the life of the Geronda. It is a regular occurrence that the faithful visiting St. Anthony’s Monastery in Arizona walk away with this volume of the Geronda’s wisdom tucked beneath their arms. If we seek to lead the Church with discernment, it is up to the faithful scholars and clergy of the Church to clearly delineate the context and application of certain predominantly monastic ethical Elder Ephraim, Counsels from the Holy Mountain (Florence, AZ: Greek Orthodox Monastery, 1999), pp. 74–75. 16

ORTHODOX VISIONS OF HUMAN SEXUALITY AND MARRIAGE 103 principles; and to also incorporate an ethos appropriate for married couples which highlights the sacramental value of their union. This general guideline, in fact, does not simply apply to the scholarly reassessment of monastic literature. There is certainly anti-monastic literature strewn about the internet in the blogs of self-proclaimed experts who deride and defame celibacy on a regular basis. The enterprise of faithful teaching involves a complete vision of one’s topic and a firm grasp of the contextual and historical background which informs and shapes the stream of wisdom that comprises our Orthodox Tradition. If we are to establish a full and faithful corpus of Orthodox teaching on marriage we must move with humility and parrhesia, sympathy and criticism, and most especially, the gift of love from Christ which undergirds all of our efforts, and especially all of transfiguring creation.


It is clear that from the very beginning the Church had a positive view of marriage. Beginning with Holy Scripture and specifically with the book of Genesis, it is evident that the gender distinction of male-female and sexuality is seen in the context of the creation of the human being in the image and likeness of God. In the New Testament the first miracle signaling the commencement of the mission of Christ was the marriage at Cana, 1 which rendered the presence of Christ as a given in Christian marriage, as does also St. Paul’s description of marriage as a ‘great mystery,’ analogous to that of the relationship of Christ with His Church. 2 This sacramental presence of Christ in marriage was reflected in the celebration of marriage in the context of the Eucharist, as was the case also for all other rites that we today call ‘sacraments.’ 3 Paradoxically, this origJohn 2:1–11. Eph. 5:20–33. 3 For the connection of all sacraments with the eucharist, see N. Milosevic, To Christ and the Church: The Divine Eucharist as the All-Encompassing Mystery of the Church, (Los Angeles: Sebastian Press, 2012); id. The Holy Eucharist as the Center of Divine Worship: The Connection of the Sacraments to the 1 2




inal eucharistic context of marriage, taken for granted in the early Church, eventually eroded to the extent where marital life, while ostensibly honored as a sacramental state, was eventually ‘fenced off’ in practice from its natural context – the Eucharist – as if the two were somehow incompatible. In the pages that follow I shall attempt to trace this strange phenomenon and offer possible reasons for it. As is well known, the earliest full description of marriage as a rite at our disposal is the so-called Barberini codex 336 (Barberini Gr. 336) of the late 8th century, which makes clear reference to the couple’s reception of communion not as an option but as a necessary part of the service. 4 Whether this reference signifies that this 8th c. service was in the context of a ‘true’ liturgy or the communion was taken from pre-sanctified gifts is irrelevant, for it points in any case to the eucharistic context and origins of marriage as is also the case for the service of baptism. 5 In order to trace the development of this practice in earlier versions of the marriage service one is compelled to depend on scriptural evidence and chance references in the Fathers and ancient Church Orders. Although the New Testament evidence is laconic regarding any specific marital rite as is the case for other liturgical ‘services’ also – the eucharistic context of marriage is clear in Christ’s presence at the marriage in Cana 6 and in the reference to water and wine, 7 which have been Eucharist (Gk txt.) (Thessaloniki: Pournaras, 2001). For a historical review of the connection of marriage specifically with the eucharist see P. Skaltses, Marriage and Divine Liturgy: A Look at the History of Worship (Gk. txt). (Thessaloniki: Pournaras, 1998). 4 The rubric states: ‘giving them the life-giving communion.’ The same rubric is to be found in the 8th/9th c. Sinai NF/ MG53 from Palestine. See Skaltses, Marriage and Divine Liturgy, p. 164f. 5 The tradition has invariably been to commune the neophyte (with the reserved sacrament in today’s practice) and this points to the baptismal liturgy’s original eucharistic context. For an excellent general review on these origins and the meaning of baptism, see A. Schmemann, Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974). 6 Skaltses, Marriage and Divine Liturgy, p. 129.



understood as Eucharistic symbols. 8 The reference in Ephesians 5:32 to marriage as a ‘great mystery’ (musterion mega) also points to the sacramental nature of marriage, which in the Eastern Christian perception sees every ‘mysterion’ as pointing to the one mystery/sacrament of Christ. 9 In the writings of the 1st century Apostolic Father Ignatius of Antioch, the necessity of the presence of Christ in Christian marriage is stressed through the presence of the icon of Christ, the bishop: ‘those who marry and are given in marriage must be united through the opinion of the bishop so that the marriage can be according to the Lord and not desire.’ 10 This view is confirmed by the New Testament statement that Christians marry ‘in the Lord.’ 11 However, marrying ‘in the Lord’ or having the ‘opinion’ of the bishop is not to be seen as the mere permission of an individual, as is the case in permission given by parents, nor as a mere prayer or rite, but as the acknowledgement of the local assembly = the Body of Christ = the Church, represented by the bishop. 12 By the 4th c. an originally threadbare ‘marriage service,’ which was tantamount to the mere participation in the Eucharist of the couple in the presence of the bishop and the community, began to develop gradually into a fully fledged marital liturgy. This fleshing out process begins with the gradual appearance of blessing prayers referring specifically to the couple, 13 and then certain marriage ‘cusJohn 2:1–11. Milosevic, To Christ and the Church, p. 63. 9 Ibid, p. 61. 10 Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to Polycarp, 5:2, SC 10, p. 150. 11 1Cor 7:39. 12 For the concept of the bishop as icon of Christ who as president of the Eucharistic assembly plays the part of a corporate personality uniting the one and the many in the local Church see J. Zizioulas, Eucharist, Bishop, Church: The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist and the Bishop During the First Three Centuries (Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2001). 13 Earlier patristic evidence seems to point already to nuptial blessing prayers referring to the couple as in Tertullian (2nd – 3rd c.): ‘how shall we ever be able to describe adequately the joy of that marriage which is pro7 8



toms’ that we recognize today as belonging to a ‘rite’ of marriage. It is during this era that staples of our modern marriage rite, the rings, joining of hands and crowns, begin to be introduced, as is witnessed in descriptions of St. Chrysostom and others. 14 About this time artistic evidence for the formation of some kind of a marriage rite also shows up in both the East West in the form of depictions of the joining of hands of the couple or the laying on of hands upon the couple’s heads by a Christ/bishop figure. 15 The one element that remained constant during this long period of gradual development of a distinctively nuptial rite, however, was its celebration in the context of a eucharistic service at least up to the 9th c. 16 The MS evidence shows that even after this period, as the gradual separation of the marriage service from its original Eucharistic context eventually led to today’s non-eucharistic marriage rite, a liturgical consciousness that the newly weds must receive communion together in the service or right after it was still preserved even as late as the 18th century. 17 From the 9th to the 18th centuries the MS tradition witnesses to the development of four different versions of the marriage servided for by the Church, the rite strengthens and is certified and sealed in a blessing, at which angels are present as witnesses, and to which the father gives His consent?’ (Ad Uxorem, II, VIII-6, SC 273, 148); see Skaltses, Marriage and Divine Liturgy, p. 136. Similarly, Clement of Alexandria refers to marriage ‘according to the performed word’ (λόγον τελειούμενος) which also seems to refer to a blessing prayer, Stromateis, 4 PG 8,1337A. 14 For example, Chrysostom on the crowns as a symbol of victory, PG 62:546; see also PG 62:64; cf. Milosevic, The Holy Eucharist, 196–197 and Skaltses, Marriage and Divine Liturgy, pp. 141–147 for other references. 15 For some of these depictions and explanations of them see Skaltses, Marriage and Divine Liturgy, pp. 151–155. 16 As seen for example in references given by Theodore the Studite: G. Fatouros, Theodori Studitae Epistulae. Pars prior: Prolegomena et textum epp. 1–70 continens (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae XXX/1, Berlin 1992, pp. 149–150. Letter 50). 17 After this time, the introduction of printed liturgical books eventually led to the ‘freezing’ and standardization of today’s non-eucharistic rite. See Milosevic, To Christ and the Church, p. 187.



vice which trace the gradual divorce from its original eucharistic context. We find 1) the marriage rite in the context of the Divine Liturgy 2) a special pre-sanctified liturgy marriage rite; 3) a service offering a choice of either the pre-sanctified gifts or the ‘common cup;’ and 4) a service like today’s which offers only the common cup. 18 What led to this development? It seems that there were certain practical reasons that led to this as well as an underlying popular mentality that had been developing which gave philosophical support for these liturgical changes. We will begin with the former, more objective factors that could have led to these developments and then attempt a preliminary venture into the possible thought patterns behind them. Let us first of all, then, begin with some historical facts. Despite our tendency to idealize Byzantium as an almost perfect Christian society, not all of its citizens led a storybook synaxarionstyle life. The Byzantines themselves (who never called themselves Byzantines nor Greeks but Romans), saw themselves as continuing the venerable tradition of Roman Law. Regarding marriage, Roman law in the early Christian era, allowed three choices for ‘legal’ marriage: 1) a verbal agreement in the presence of witnesses; 2) a written contract; and 3) Church marriage. 19 Evidently those who chose the third option were those who were interested in living nuptially according to the Church’s conception of marriage as a ‘great mystery.’ It is ironic that the gradual abandonment of all these choices in favor of ecclesial marriage for all citizens is one of the main factors that finally sealed the permanent separation of marriage from the eucharist. This occurred in three basic stages: 1) in 537 Emperor Justinian ordered that all government figures be married in the Church; 2) in 893 Emperor Leo the Wise legislated that Church marriage was mandatory for all free citizens (there still were slaves in Byzantium); and, finally; 3) in the 11th c., Emperor Alexios Comnenos determined that the only valid marriage is ecclesiastical For the MS evidence see Skaltses, Marriage and Divine Liturgy, pp. 163–327; Milosevic, To Christ and the Church, pp. 67–86. 19 Skaltses, Marriage and Divine Liturgy, pp. 55–56. 18



marriage for all. 20 Thus the Church took over the role of the state to become the only legal ‘marrier.’ This meant that all people, even those who in earlier times would freely have chosen not to be married in the Church, were now compelled to do so. This led to two results that contributed to the separation of marriage and liturgy: 1) the increase in the number of people that had to be accommodated led to an overflow of marriages outside the Sunday liturgy, which contributed to the gradual privatization of the service; and 2) the marriage service had to be adapted to accommodate all types of people which led to a general ‘watering down’ of the service. This is reflected in the aforementioned marriage service which offered a choice between pre-sanctified gifts for the ‘worthy,’ 21 or the ‘common cup’ as a sort of ἀντίδωρον, i.e. substitute communion, for cases when the couple was ‘unworthy’ for communion. What did this ‘unworthiness’ entail? First of all, there were those who were married for a second and even a third time. Such people were subject to a penance barring them from communion for as much as 2 years for a second marriage and 5 years for a third. In keeping with this prescription, the second marriage rite had a penitential character: there was neither crowning nor communion in this service. 22 A similar prohibition of communion to the couple was also the case for mixed marriages. In Byzantium there was an increase in mixed marriages from the 10th c. on. Such marriages were contracted with either non-Chalcedonian Christians or, after the 13th c. crusades, with Latin Christians. 23 Regarding possible philosophical bases behind this gradual separation of marriage from its natural For these developments see Skaltses, Marriage and Divine Liturgy, pp. 156–161; Milosevic, The Holy Eucharist, p. 199. 21 ‘If they are worthy to receive’. (National Library of Greece 662 – th 12 – 14th c.). See Milosevic, The Holy Eucharist, p. 193. 22 While this service presently still retains a somewhat penitential flavor, the practice of crowning the couple has philanthropically been introduced by the Ecumenical Patriarchate. 23 Skaltses, Marriage and Divine Liturgy, pp. 303–305; Milosevic, The Holy Eucharist, p. 196f. 20



Eucharistic context, the following preliminary thoughts may be ventured. The very nature of Christianity, claiming to be the final revelation of the truth, necessitated a radical newness and a prominently eschatological perspective. During N.T. times, while living with the imminent expectation of the end times, Christians still continued living in the state they found themselves, whether married or single. 24 Indeed, it is notable that even in this context of eschatological expectation St. Paul nevertheless dealt with nuptial issues and was even able to make certain positive statements regarding the sanctifying power of marriage that were revolutionary for the ancient world. 25 During the period of persecution that followed, the Church’s eschatological orientation and witness was easy to maintain due to the circumstances and marriage was not an issue that needed to be dealt with in this context. When the persecutions ceased, however, it seems that the Church attempted to preserve this radical eschatological witness to the world in new ways. Thus, once the martyrdom of blood became infrequent, the new martyrdom/witness of celibate asceticism made its appearance even before the formal development of organized monasticism in the 4th century. 26 Perhaps the popular conception of the early Church was that there was a need for her to distinguish herself from the good but ‘normal’ and therefore un-heroic monogamy inherited from the Jews, on the one hand, 27 and from the rampant promiscuity of the See 1Cor. 7:8–10. See 1Cor. 7:12f. where the unbeliever is sanctified by the believer in marriage and 7:3–4 where the equality of the sexes over each others bodies in marriage is affirmed. 26 See Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988) for numerous instances of this. 27 Brown, The Body and Society, pp. 44, 60–61. The infant and adolescent Church’s policy to seek ways to distinguish herself from her mother Judaism is manifestly evident in this era. For example, some form of fasting was a universal given in the religious world of the East and the Jews fasted twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays (cf. the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, Luke 18:12). This custom was continued by the 24 25



Roman Empire, on the other. 28 The celibate life had the potential to be a radical statement in such a milieu. This was facilitated by the aforementioned Christian penchant to distance herself from her Jewish roots (with its more ‘body friendly’ biblical basis), 29 which prepared the way for an easy adoption of Stoic and Neo-Platonic anthropological models that were part of the common intellectual air of the Hellenistic world within which Christianity spread. One can cite an early Church Father such as Clement of Alexandria, who in one place even seems to praise the goodness of marriage over the celibate life, 30 but who in other places interprets it under Church but changed to Wednesdays and Fridays as a distinguishing point as cited in the Didache, chap. 8. Only later was the symbolism of these days representing the betrayal and crucifixion of Christ respectively stressed as a justification. See Christos M. Enisleidos, The Institution of Fasting (Gk. txt), (Athens: Enoria Publishing, 1958), pp. 136–137. 28 W. Rordorf, ‘Marriage in the New Testament and in the Early Church,’ Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 20 (1969): p. 208. Evidence suggests that, at least in certain circles, it was not as rampant as once assumed, especially due to Stoic and Neo-Platonic mores, see Brown, The Body and Society, p. 208. 29 The fact that Judaism had certain purity-impurity restrictions regarding the body does not reflect a negative anthropology regarding the body as is seen in Neo-Platonic and other Hellenistic philosophical systems. These notions of ritual purity/impurity were a common element of all religions in the ancient world. The ‘body-friendly’ aspect of Judaism mentioned above refers to the biblical view that the human being is a psychosomatic reality, body and soul as a whole (hence the teaching of the Resurrection), rather than the Hellenistic view that the two are separate and therefore death is a liberation freeing the soul from the prison of the body. It is possible that the more Hellenized Jews of the diaspora in Alexandria and elsewhere could interpret this biblical anthropology in more Hellenistic terms. 30 ‘For having become perfect, he has the apostles for examples; and one is not really shown to be a man in the choice of single life; but he surpasses men, who, disciplined by marriage, procreation of children, and care for the house, without pleasure or pain, in his solicitude for the house has been inseparable from God’s love, and withstood all temptation aris-



Stoic categories as a utilitarian arrangement solely allowed for the begetting of children. 31 The Neo-Platonic tendency of Origen, who was Clement’s successor to the leadership of the Alexandrian Catechetical School, is also common knowledge. The irony here is that while Origen was one of the greatest exegetes of scripture his views regarding the body and sexuality were strangely unbiblical. 32 As far as Latin Christianity is concerned, the greatest Western doctor Augustine spent time as a Manichee and his final conversion to Christianity was facilitated by his readings of the Neo-Platonic Porphyry and Plotinus. 33 His own personal experiences 34 coupled with this philosophical background combined to produce a negative view on sexuality which was passed onto popular culture 35 despite the Church’s official affirmation of the basic goodness of marriage, the human body and sexuality. 36 ing through children, and wife, and domestics, and possessions.’ Clement, Stromateis, 7.70. 31 Ibid, 3.7.58. See also Brown, Ibid, p. 128f. 32 See Brown, Ibid, pp. 160–177. 33 For his own autobiography relating all these stages in detail, see Augustine, Confessions, PL 32:659–868. 34 See Ibid. 35 Brown makes the point that Augustine was merely continuing the tradition laid down by Jerome, Ambrose and Gregory of Nyssa, ibid, p. 402. See also Eric Fuchs, Sexual Desire and Love, (New York: Seabury Press, 1983), p. 117: ‘Augustine, although he was more sensitive than others to the social dimension of the couple, was unable to conceive of the possibility that sexuality could hold tenderness, friendship, spirituality, and this lack of insight was very influential on the later tradition.’ See also P. Sherrard, ‘The Sexual Relationship in Christian Thought,’ Studies in Comparative Religion, 5/3 (1971): pp. 151–172, esp. p. 169: ‘the failure to place [marriage] within the full sacramental context of a personal relationship engaging the whole beings of the man and woman concerned has meant that it has been impossible to regard it in a manner that does not lead either to its idealization or to its abuse, or to both at once.’ 36 Cf. the canons of the Council of Gangra promulgated to affirm the holiness of marriage over against the teachings of the Encratites and other Gnostic, dualist tendencies (The Rudder, pp. 523f.), as well as the



The practical historical factors referred to above coupled with these prevalent attitudes regarding sexuality ultimately led to the conclusive separation of marriage from its eucharistic context in both East and West. 37 As far as the East is concerned, the final blow to this original unity of marriage/eucharist was struck during the period of Ottoman rule. During this era of general decline, crisis and demoralization of the subject peoples, it was difficult to maintain ‘official’ Orthodox traditional criteria over against the new social and spiritual situation – especially when certain aspects of official teaching were influenced by the aforementioned philosophical background. On the one hand, those few who were educated were educated in the West and introduced enlightenment notions or Western religious ideals to the East, 38 and, on the other hand, those who were not educated had a tendency to fall back to native pagan superstitions. Because of this, original Orthodox writings and teachings were rare during this era. 39 In such an environment, Eastern Orthodox affirmation of married clergy. 37 After Vatican II this has changed in the Roman Catholic Church. 38 P. Skaltses, Marriage and Divine Liturgy, p. 309. 39 Indeed, Western works were often translated and edited by Orthodox authors such as Nikodemos the Athonite and widely circulated as is the case with the classic book by L. Scupoli Unseen Warfare, (which spread even to Slavic Orthodoxy) to cite a prominent example (Unseen Warfare, Being the Spiritual Combat and Path to Paradise of Lorenzo Scupoli as edited by Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain and revived by Theophan the Recluse, Translated from Theophan’s Russian Text by E. Kadloubovsky and G. E. H. Palmer, with introduction by H. A. Hodges, London, 1963). A possible exception to this broad generalization could be some of the leaders of the so-called Kollybades movement of the 19th c. and Nikodemos the Athonite himself. He was educated in the East and became a prolific writer who penned many original works in his attempt to bring the Orthodox back to traditions that had been forgotten during the years of slavery under the Ottomans. He is especially known, however, for his compilations of earlier works, which have now become standard Orthodox literature, such as the Philokalia, a collection of neptic writings from the 4th – 15th c., and the Rudder, a compilation of the canons of the Church and commentaries on them, which is considered authoritative to this day. For more on the Kol-



Western Augustinian notions of sexuality could easily be introduced along with pagan anthropologies and Neo-Platonic notions that were comfortably accepted by monks that increasingly were in positions of authority in the Church during this era. 40 These factors led to an atrophy of the Eucharistic consciousness of the people and a general liturgical tendency to privatize (i.e. ‘de-eucharicize’) the sacraments. 41 This background allowed for an ever increasing amount of impediments barring lay people in general and married people in particular from the eucharist. 42 For example, it is observed that a rule originally meant for those who contracted a third marriage (taken from the 10th c. so-called ‘Tome of Union’ promulgated by Patriarch Nicholas Mystikos), 43 which allowed communion only three times a year for the rest of one’s life after a penance of complete Eucharistic abstention for four years, was somehow generallybades and Nikodemos the Athonite, see Nikodemos Skretta, The Eucharist and the Privileged Position of Sunday According to the Teaching of the Kollybades (Gk. txt.), (Thessaloniki: Pournaras, 2004). 40 The issue of the shifting of monasticism’s center of gravity from an original desert, non-clerical style, to a more urban, clerical style (leading to the gradual adoption of positions of leadership in the Church by monastics – something originally seen as incompatible with monasticism) was a long complex process that cannot be dealt with here. Let it suffice to say that this tendency was more evident after the 7th Ecumenical Council in the 8th century and the defeat of iconoclasm in the 9th. See Milosevic, The Holy Eucharist, p. 199 and P. Zymaris, ‘Tonsure and Cursus Honorum up to the Photian Era and Contemporary Ramifications,’ Greek Orthodox Theological Review, 56:1–4 (2011): pp. 321–348. 41 Milosevic, The Holy Eucharist, p. 198. 42 Skaltses, Marriage and Divine Liturgy, p. 312f; Milosevic, The Holy Eucharist, pp. 198–200. 43 This legislation was originally written with the situation of Leo VI (‘the Wise’) – who actually married a fourth time also – in mind. See Meyendorff, Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective, (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2000), pp. 51–52; for the full text of the ‘Tome of Union’ see L. G. Westerink, Nicholas I Patriarch of Constantinople, Miscellaneous Writings (Washington DC: Dumbarton Oaks Texts 6, 1981), pp. 58–69.



ized as binding for all Christians (!) – indeed, for the churchgoing Christians who adhered faithfully to the full liturgical rhythm of the Church and kept all the fasts! 44 Another major factor that added yet more impediments precluding the marriage-eucharist connection was a tendency to revisit Old Testament prescriptions on ritual impurity as well as pagan notions on sexuality. These O.T. prescriptions originated in a very particular context that was fulfilled and therefore transformed in Christ according to the Christian interpretation. This stance, however, was not always assimilated uniformly everywhere and wherever the older view survived along with the aforementioned Christian stance confusion and strife was caused as is reflected very early on in St. Paul’s temporary dispute with St. Peter regarding Judaizing tendencies. 45 Indeed, the temptation to take Old Testament Levitical prescriptions as a standard for Christian life never disap-

Milosevic, The Holy Eucharist, p. 200. Those who were ‘less faithful’ would receive even less! Needless to say, this teaching goes against the sacramental theology of the Church and the very nature of the eucharist as that which constitutes the Church. This is reflected in the official canonical tradition of the Church that excommunicates those who abstain from the eucharist! See the 2nd Canon of the Council of Antioch: ‘As for all those persons who enter the church and listen to the sacred Scriptures, but who fail to commune in prayer together and at the same time with the laity, or who shun the participation of the Eucharist, in accordance with some irregularity, we decree that these persons be outcasts from the Church…’ (The Rudder, D. Cummings, ed., [Chicago: The Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 1983], p. 535), yet this is exactly what was imposed by this pseudo-canonical tradition of the Ottoman period! Similarly, see also Canon 80 of the Quinisext Council excommunicates those who do not show up at the Sunday liturgy for three consecutive Sundays in a row. Ibid, p. 384. 45 For indications of the dispute see Gal. 2:11–14; Acts 10:9f; 11:1–3; 15:7–11; 15:19–20; Colossians 2:16–19: ‘Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of holidays or of the new moon or of the Sabbath days, which are a shadow of things to come…’ 44



peared. 46 despite the official Church’s efforts to the contrary. 47 This is especially evident during the 400 years of Ottoman occupation in It is interesting to note that this propensity to return to Levitical prescriptions is usually selective. Few are in favor of returning to circumcision for men but to this day women are taught in some Orthodox circles to abstain from the Eucharist when menstruating. On this issue see Vassa Larin, ‘What is Ritual Im/purity and Why,’ SVTQ 52: 3–4 (2008): pp. 275–292. It is strange that while Christ as the God-Man came as a fulfillment of all religion and therefore changed our relationship with the Old Testament law and blessed the body through the Incarnation and Resurrection, this propensity to go back to O.T. laws, (that were a guardian until the coming of Christ, according to St. Paul in Gal. 3:24), as if Christ never came, keeps on reappearing throughout Church history. Perhaps such rules and regulations give a sense of security, whereas genuine Christianity confronts one with the awesome responsibility of true freedom and the profound task of a real relationship with God and love of neighbor which entails self crucifying love. 47 For example, see St. Chrysostom’s 10th Homily on Timothy: ‘I omit other things that might make us weep; your auguries, your omens, your superstitious observances, your casting of nativities, your signs, your amulets, your divinations, your incantations, your magic arts…’ The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. XIII, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eeerdmans Publishing Co., 1969), p. 440 and Ibid, Commentary on Colossians 2:16– 19, p. 288f. See also Homily III, Titus 1:12–14: ‘unto the pure, all things are pure’ (Titus 1:15) ‘Things then are not clean or unclean from their own nature, but from the disposition of him who partakes of them … All things are pure. God made nothing unclean, for nothing is unclean , except sin only. For that reaches to the soul, and defiles it. Other uncleanness is human prejudice … scrupulous observances are no mark of purity, but it is the part of purity to be bold in all things … moral. What is unclean? Sin, malice, covetousness, wickedness … You see how many forms of uncleanliness there are. The woman in childbed is unclean. Yet God made childbirth and the seed of copulation. Why then is the woman unclean, unless something further is intimated? He [Moses] intended to produce piety in the soul, … But these things now are not required of us. But all is transferred to the soul.’ Ibid, pp. 529–531. For these and other texts in this vein see Kyriaki Karidoyanes Fitzgerald, Women Deacons in the Orthodox Church: Called to Holiness and Ministry (Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox 46



the East. This era saw the development of a ‘pseudo-canonical’ tradition that re-introduced such Old Testament purity/impurity standards along with many local pagan superstitions that had survived. 48 In these collections natural biological manifestations (especially bodily emissions) related to sexuality and gender (sexual relations, 49 menstrual cycle, etc.) were seen as rendering someone ‘unclean’ and therefore unfit for public worship. Translated to the Christian context this meant exclusion from the eucharist. 50 Press, 1998), pp. 66–75. For the issue of purity/impurity prescriptions that have made their way into liturgical texts see, A. Calivas, Essays in Theology and Liturgy, vol. III: Aspects of Orthodox Worship, (Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2003), p. 143f. 48 These collections, written in vernacular Greek (because people by then generally could not understand the original language of the canons) were a compilation of translated, paraphrased or truncated canons, customs and superstitions. Oftentimes the so-called Κανονάρια (‘Rulebooks’) or Ἐξομολογητάρια (‘Confessionals’) were appended to these collections as a guide for spiritual fathers. These often took the form of a list of sins and their corresponding penances. The tendency in these compilations was to impose monastic categories on married life (see Milosevic, The Holy Eucharist, p. 199) or even certain pagan superstitions on Christians in general (see Theodore Giagkou, Canons and Worship, (Gk. txt.), [Thessaloniki: Mydonia Publications, 2006], pp. 163–196; 289–362). 49 One must note that the sexual relations referred to here are within the sacrament of marriage. 50 As mentioned above, a proper interpretation of the place of O.T. purity/impurity prescriptions and the conflict between a Christian anthropology on the one hand and older more negative anthropologies on the other, has troubled the Church from the beginning (see note 45). Interestingly enough, the more positive Christian view seems to be stressed more specifically in certain Semitic Christian sources such as St. Chrysostom (see note 47) and the Syriac Didaskalia, while the more negative anthropology (especially regarding biological and sexual manifestations) is expressed in Alexandrian sources. It seems that Vassa Larin in her article ‘What is Ritual Im/purity and Why,’ SVTQ 52: 3–4 (2008): pp. 275–292 has offered the most reasonable explanation for this phenomenon. Whereas in Syria and Palestine the original Christians were themselves Jews that desired to distinguish themselves from Judaism in a predomi-



nantly Jewish environment, the Jews of Alexandria were Hellenized diaspora Jews and therefore there was less of a need for Christians to distinguish themselves from them. In this more Hellenistic, Alexandrian milieu, then, O.T. prescriptions as well as pagan anthropological notions could more easily seep unconsciously into ‘official’ Christian teachings. In the end, the Alexandrian view, more comfortably ‘religious,’ made it into the ‘official’ books of the Church and thus spread beyond Alexandria. This is seen in the incorporation in the Rudder of the 3rd and 4th century ‘canons’ of the Alexandrians Dionysios and Timothy respectively, which continue O.T. purity/impurity traditions. For example, Canon 2 of Dionysios states that a woman cannot enter the sanctuary when menstruating and canon 4 of Timothy states that a woman cannot receive communion during this time of the month. The 13th ‘canon’ of Timothy (these are actually a series of questions to St. Timothy rather than an actual synod promulgating conciliar canonical decisions) mandates that married Christians abstain from sexual relations on Saturday and Sunday so as to not pollute these holy days. This clearly conflicts with venerable liturgical texts of the Church such as the Syriac Didaskalia (see relevant text below in this note) and St. Chrysostom (see above, notes 45 & 47). Yet, one could protest that these specific writings of these Alexandrian Fathers are valid canons of the Church and are incorporated in the Rudder. Indeed, this is true but one must mention here that before the compilation of the Rudder in the 19th century the Church made do with other collections, some better, some worse, and not all of them had these specific canons (see Theodore Giagkou, ‘The Rudder in Relation to Earlier Nomocanonical Collections,’ in Canons and Worship, [Thessaloniki: Mydonia Publications, 2006], pp. 163–196). Even if one were to take the Rudder the way it has been handed down to us today, it is clear that these canons are not from an ecumenical council or even a local council, rather, they are teachings or ‘rules’ promulgated by individuals. Is everything that finds its way into the Rudder of equal value regardless of its origins? Even though these authors are considered to be saints this does not imply their automatic infallibility in a conciliar Church. One of course could argue further that the Quinisext Ecumenical Council later validated these canons as having ‘ecumenical validity.’ Indeed, this is true, but one needs to be cautious of such sweeping generalizations. Included in this amorphous pile of variegated canons from Ecumenical Councils, local synods and individual Fathers is the canon prohibiting the ordination of presbyters before the age of 30 and an-



Due to the general spirit of the rules compiled in this unofficial pseudo-canonical literature, one observes the adoption in popular piety of austere directives regarding abstention from sexual activity before contact with the holy as a preparation for the Eucharist, i.e. the popular notion that the two do not go together. Something like this already existed in the earlier official canonical tradition as seen in 13th Canon of the Quinisext Council (7th c.). 51 other canon that states that anyone who goes to a Jewish doctor is excommunicated. The first canon, which seems logical, has always been systematically ignored by our bishops and the second suggests that all inhabitants of New York are automatically ‘excommunicated!’ Because of its importance for the sake of this discussion I quote a portion of the Syriac Didaskalia that is pertinent to our argument here (note that the Syriac Didaskalia was incorporated into the first 6 chapters of the Apostolic Constitutions): ‘Now if any persons keep to the Jewish customs and observances concerning the natural emission and nocturnal pollutions, and the lawful conjugal acts, (referring to Leviticus XV), let them tell us whether in those hours or days, when they undergo any such thing, they observe not to pray, or to touch a Bible, or to partake of the Eucharist? And if they own it to be so, it is plain they are void of the Holy Spirit, which always continues with the faithful … For if you think, O woman, when you are seven days in your separation, that you are void of the Holy Spirit, then if you should die suddenly you will depart void of the Spirit, and without assured hope in God; or else you must imagine that the Spirit always is inseparable from you, as not being in a place. But you stand in need of prayer and the Eucharist, and the coming of the Holy Ghost, as having been guilty of no fault in this matter. For neither lawful mixture, nor child-bearing, nor the menstrual purgation, nor nocturnal pollution, can defile the nature of a man, or separate the Holy Spirit from him. Nothing but impiety and unlawful practice can do that.’ Then reference is made to the account in Mark 5:25–34 of the woman with the issue of blood: ‘She who had the flow of blood was not condemned when she touched the fringe of our Savior’s cloak but, rather, received the forgiveness of all her sins. Therefore, beloved ones, avoid such foolish observances, and do not come near them. See Apostolic Constitutions, Book 6:27 (= Syriac Didaskalia 26:4:21). 51 See the Rudder, D. Cummings, ed. (Chicago: The Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 1983), p. 305–306



This canon and other canons often cited 52 as supporting a period of abstention from sexual relations before communion, do not spell out a specific amount of time for this abstention. However, most faithful have traditionally interpreted this as referring to abstention only on the night before communion. Indeed, this seems to be a common practice and can philanthropically understood as not necessarily reflecting a negative anthropology or an adherence to ritual purity/impurity mores, but rather as an opportunity for prayer in the sense of 1Corinthians 7:5 53 or for rest before the work of the liturgy, even though similar prescriptions are to be found in pre-Christian times. 54 However, once this prescription increased in time and severity during the Turkish period, the simple guideline of ‘one night before’ communion expanded to as much as one week before; and soon abstention was mandated for the day of communion and, finally, even for as many as three days afterwards also! 55 This was besides the usual Wednesday/Friday fasts and ma-

Canons 3 and 4 of Carthage (Ibid, pp. 606–607). ‘Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you…’ Interestingly enough, even Dionysios of Alexandria (3rd c.) is in agreement with this as he states in his 3rd canon that this is ‘up to the couple’ (Rudder, p. 720). 54 Skaltses, Marriage and Divine Liturgy, p. 314, note 719 and R. Taft, ‘Women at Church in Byzantium: Where, When – and Why?’ Dumbarton Oaks Papers 52 (1998): p. 76. The Old Testament justification for a period of abstention often cited by such collections include Exod. 19:10–11; 15; (Moses and the people’s abstention for three days as a preparation for the descent of Yahweh from Sinai) and 1 Kings 21:5–7 (David and his men who could eat of the holy bread because they abstained from women). 55 See Milosevic, The Holy Eucharist, pp. 200–201 and Skaltses, Marriage and Divine Liturgy, pp. 313–318 with copious notes and citations. Interestingly enough, Symeon of Thessaloniki (15th c.) in PG 155:865C justified abstention after communion because ‘God and flesh cannot commune,’ which seems to go directly against the fundamental teaching of the Incarnation! 52 53



jor fasting periods of the Church. 56 So, to these fast days (traditionally non-eucharistic) the festal days of Saturdays and Sundays 57 were also added as well as all other eucharistic feast days throughout the year and the paschal period of bright week which traditionally had a liturgy everyday. 58 Since according to such views both Traditionally fasting and sexual abstention have been understood as going together in the sense of a temporary abstention from good things given by God in order to remember that ‘man shall not live by bread alone.’ However, a strict coupling of fasting with sexual abstention with no exceptions can be problematic. Regarding this issue, even a Father as conservative in sexual/biological matters as Dionysios of Alexandria (see note 50), in his 3rd Canon pastorally gives precedence to the personal situation of the couple in the spirit of 1Cor 7:5 by stating that this ‘is up to the couple’ (Rudder, p. 720) rather than adhering to impersonal objectified rules (see note 53 above). In this pastoral sense the personal situation of each couple is unique and unrepeatable; not all couples are at the same level, and sexual relations logically should not be brought down universally to the level of food – the goal is hopefully that there is some inkling of love in this physical contact that would put it on a totally different plane than replenishing calories. 57 See Timothy of Alexandria, Canon 13, The Rudder, p. 879. Due to this teaching, which made its way into the Rudder and various earlier canonical collections, the message given, as stated above, is that sexuality even in the confines of the sacrament of marriage is not holy and therefore incompatible with the Eucharist. This notion led to the prohibition of sexual relations for newlyweds on the eve of their wedding if they married in the traditional way with participation in the Eucharist. Thus the 12th c. Patriarch Loukas Chryssoverges imposed penances upon couples who had intercourse on the eve of their marriage! This is found in the commentary by the 12th c. canonist Balsamon on the 4th canon of the Council of Carthage, Ralle-Potl, Σύνταγμα, vol. III, p. 304. See also Skaltses, Marriage and Divine Liturgy, pp. 315–316. 58 The prescription of the Ottoman period barring Christians from communion during Bright Week – clearly a period devoid of fasting – if couples engage in sexual activity is contrary to the 66th Canon of the Quinisext Council that encourages the faithful to celebrate in joy and go to Church and commune everyday (‘taking cheer in Christ and celebrating … and delighting themselves to their heart’s content in the Holy Myster56



fasting and feasting periods are considered as inappropriate for sexual communion within the sacrament of marriage, what is left for this aspect of life in a healthy theology of marriage? Leaving aside the fasting periods, such an extreme fencing off of sexuality from the Eucharist can only be attributed to an adoption of pagan conceptions and O.T. prescriptions totally unaffected by the advent of Christ. The strange message given by such prescriptions is that these festal periods are times of joy and communion for all aspects of life except the nuptial, and therefore marital sexuality and the Eucharist are understood as simply irreconcilable. Taking into account all of the above restrictions, the faithful were (and still are) confronted with a dilemma: either participate in the feasting (Eucharist) and fasting rhythm of the Church, which essentially meant an end to all legitimate sexual relations within marriage, or be faithful to that aspect of nuptial life and never participate in the eucharist. The latter solution has all too often been the rule even to this day in traditional Orthodox countries where people who are otherwise ‘religious’ church goers receive very rarely mainly because they are married and engage in what married people engage in. Therefore, according to this teaching, the Eucharist is a part of extraordinary life and ‘normal’ Christian life – especially normal married life – is un-sanctifiable. What a far cry from the original notion that the Eucharist is what actually constitutes us as Church and that this should be the true source of our new life in Christ, i.e. our real, everyday life, every aspect of which must be incorporated into this mystery and thus sanctified. Otherwise we are living a crypto-dualism and schizophrenic situation where Church life is opposed to real life which is by definition unsanctifiable! Leaving aside the confusion this causes to people, this message is theologically problematic and even dangerous. For if the sexual part of the human being in marriage has to be fenced off from the Eucharist – the mystery of Christ – then this aspect of human life can never be saved. Yet, we are assured that marriage – not as an abstract notion but as a form of life – is a sacrament. Inies…’). See The Rudder, p. 365. Cf. the 2nd Canon of the Council of Antioch for similar teachings (see note 44 above).



deed, theology, biology and psychology all point to the fact that sexuality is an inseparable part of the human hypostasis as a psychosomatic reality not only from the embryonic stage but also theologically from the very creation of Man in the book of Genesis. These mixed messages and inconsistencies reflect that lack of a clear, coherent statement regarding this central aspect of human life 59 on the part of the Church and impose a strange schizophrenia on religious people regarding this neuralgic aspect of life. Philip Sherrard hit it on the nose when he wrote regarding the Augustinian tradition on sexuality that has affected both East and West that ‘It is hardly surprising that the modern heirs of this community would suffer from an in-built schizophrenia in all that concerns this most intimate and personal aspect of their lives.’ 60 Because no real positive theology of marriage and sexuality has been articulated in both East and West, people either accept this ambiguous or even negative view of sexuality and attempt to extirpate this aspect from life as shameful and harmful, or simply reject this teaching and all Church teachings by extension as out of date and ludicrous. These two solutions all too often translate in real life, on the one hand, to a puritanical (oftentimes hypocritical) suppression or rejection of sexuality, or, on the other hand, to a libertine ‘anything goes attitude’ which throws away the baby with the bath water by promoting free sex and rejecting legitimate sacramental marriage as totally meaningless. It is therefore high time that we rediscover the traditional positive teachings on marriage and sexuality which incorporate this aspect of life in the context of the holy of holies and unambiguously reject confusing and schizophrenic notions adopted from dubious sources, but which have recently been baptized very uncritically as ‘venerable tradition.’ If this is not done now, it will soon be too late for future generations who, in their search for spirituality withR. Taft makes the very salient point that ‘Since the beginning of history, religion, sex and gender have been entwined in an unrelenting embrace.’ ‘Women at Church in Byzantium: Where, When – and Why?’ Dumbarton Oaks Papers 52 (1998): p. 27. 60 P. Sherrard, ‘The Sexual Relationship in Christian Thought,’ Studies in Comparative Religion, 5/3 (1971): p. 157. 59



out such confusing and ambiguous messages about human nature, are already leaving the Church in unprecedented numbers.


As Klaus Klostermaier describes his experiences of India in the late 1960s, he identifies two ways of doing theology – what he calls 70 degree theology, done in a temperate environment and interacting with a temperate God, and 120 degree theology, done in extreme and often inhospitable conditions and interacting with a God who knows suffering. Klostermaier reflects after watching a goat die of heatstroke that nature itself seemed to challenge life in a heat so extreme: The theologian at 70˚ F and with a well-ordered life sees the whole world as a beautiful harmony with a grand purpose, the church as God’s kingdom on earth and himself as the promoter of the real culture of humanity. The theologian at 120˚ F sees the cracks in the soil and the world as a desert; he considers whether it wouldn’t be wiser to keep the last jug of water till the evening; he wishes the heat was a few degrees less and he has to exert all his Christian faith trying to find a little bit of sense in this life wherein he plays such a very insignificant role, because he depends on so many people. 1

Certainly St. Gregory the Theologian has a 120-degree environment in mind as he addresses the problem of leprosy in his fourteenth oration, On Love for the Poor. Identifying a strict division beKlaus Klostermaier, In the Paradise of Krishna: Hindu and Christian Seekers (The Westminster Press: Philadelphia, 1971), 40–41. 1




tween the social interactions of the healthy and the sick, Gregory paints vignettes of the other side for wealthy patrons as he invites them to bankroll St. Basil’s hospital complexes for the sick and dying. As the lepers struggled for food and water, city life could exist as if untouched by reminders of mortality, reminders which the Theologian intends to describe in as much verbal and visceral detail as possible. The patrons and landowners lived in metaphorical 70 degree environments, lulled into thinking their bodies were not susceptible to decay, while in stark contrast the lepers lived in 120 degree environments, their own bodies seemingly pitted against them, withering and cracking like the Indian soil in the summer heat. Describing the human struggle, Gregory laments this fickle body – ‘How I came to be joined to it, I do not know; nor how I am the image of God and concocted of clay at the same time, this body that both wars against me when it is healthy and when warred against, brings me pain, that I both cherish as my fellow-servant and evade as my enemy; that I both try to escape as my chain and respect as my fellow heir.’ 2 What the Theologian presents to potential donors is not comfortable theology, armchair advice, or casual dialogue with a temperate God. On the contrary it is within a world of sweltering heat and disease that Gregory centers his oration and its corresponding discussion of the true family. Certainly an oration discussing leprosy and concern for the poor is a curious place to find an examination of family. Gregory of Nazianzus begins his Oration 14 by addressing his brethren, an expected opening in keeping with Pauline letters and Christian homilies. ‘Brethren and fellow paupers,’ Gregory declares to those listening, ‘we are all poor and needy where divine grace is concerned.’ 3 At first blush, Gregory’s use of ‘brothers’ seems to indicate a brotherhood of common humanity by which we connect with one another’s plight. On a base level he calls for these patrons to view the leper as a human, asking them to challenge the dehumanizing impact of leprosy’s disfigurement. After all, we are all one Gregory of Nazianzus, ‘Oration 14. On Love For The Poor,’ in Fathers of the Church, translated by Martha Vison (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2003), 14.6. 3 Orat. 14.1. 2



in the Lord, Gregory reminds, calling attention to the Body of Christ not as the metaphor for the Church exclusively but for entire human community – ‘There is one head of all, Christ, who is the source of all things; and the same relationship that exists between the members of the body exists between ourselves, both as individuals and collectively.’ 4 But as Gregory seeks the core image of the true family, he proves that the worldwide, common human image of family cannot be valued as that essential imago, as evidenced by our lack of responsibility for the person in need. The leper provides the perfect example of this – Gregory says, ‘We are all flesh and encompassed in a lowly body, and we are so derelict in our obligation to look after our fellow man that we actually believe that avoiding these people assures the well-being of our own persons … hardly abiding the thought that in fact we breath the same air as they.’ 5 The leper shows us who we really are, that we have abandoned care for humanity, our brothers. Gregory attributes leprosy to a lack of material resources and gently suggests that time, hard work or simply a friend, could help alleviate the conditions that cause leprosy. 6 Recommending the attention of the Healer who is able and willing to reveal our infirmities and correct our severed family bonds, Gregory reminds his hearers to act, to not only see clearly but to repair the disconnected family by caring for the lepers’ physical bodies. Physical leprosy is an opportunity for the hard-hearted and fleshly minded to heal the leprosy of the soul, which itself serves as in image, an icon in the truest sense. Leprosy exists in the community because of economic disparity, Gregory affirms. Poverty is the root cause of physical and spiritual leprosy. Gregory even goes so far as to assert that the wealthy cannot contract leprosy, recommending they trust God with the health and maintenance of their bodies. Modern medicine actually gives weight to St. Gregory’s assessment – it is true that those with a weakened immune system are especially susceptible to leprosy, especially those in the more advanced stages of malnutriOrat. 14.8. Orat. 14.10. 6 Orat. 14.9. 4 5



tion. 7 St. Gregory points to poverty and lack of concern as the decay beneath the disease. If a friend would truly help the leper, food and shelter would cure him. Painting a picture of the leper calling out in the streets, Gregory slowly begins to reveal the deeper brotherhood: There lies before our eyes a dreadful and pathetic sight, one that no one would believe who has not seen it: human beings alive yet dead, disfigured in almost every part of their bodies, barely recognizable for who they once were or where they came from; or rather, the pitiful wreckage of what had once been human beings. By way of identification they keep calling out the names of their mothers and fathers, brothers, and places of origin: ‘I am the son of so-and-so. So-and-so is my mother. This is my name. You used to be a close friend of mine. 8

Master of pathos, St. Gregory pulls at the heartstrings, peeling back the layers of family to reveal another layer closer to the core of true family identity. Beneath the layer of common human family, Gregory reveals the nuclear family. The genetic, generational family fails, however, to provide a better image for true family values. Despite having given birth to a child, St. Gregory agonizes with a mother who feels compelled to hate her own offspring as a result of this rotting disease. The father despises his own son, regardless of their bond, for fear of becoming infected. Once again leprosy challenges the constitution and resolve of the family, dismantling both the human and genetic family. The leper calling out his name actually reflects a greater theme in Gregory’s oration, the theme against fleshliness. Once the flesh has literally fallen away, the leper is forced to call out the names of his family members for lack of external identification. ‘This is my mother’ – since I no longer resemble her; ‘you were my friend’ – since you no longer recognize me. 9 This fleshly association with personhood is a distraction, however, masking the final and true International Journal of Leprosy and Other Mycrobacterial Diseases, Volume 73, Number 3, September 2005. 8 Orat. 14.10. 9 Orat. 14.10. 7



definition of family – the spiritual family. When the flesh serves as an indication of family, one may recognize – oh you are my sister, you are my brother – based on genetic markers. But as leprosy peels back the veil, disfigurement necessitates a deeper vision, a recognition that Gregory uses as an image of family. When resemblances fall away, we are able to see the truth – you are my brother, indeed, not because of shared traits but because of a shared name – Christian. And if any be inclined to simply define the spiritual family as those participating in Christian rituals, St. Gregory problematizes any conception of the Church i.e. the worshiping members of the Body of Christ being the absolute image of the spiritual family. One would think then that those who gather together voluntarily because of a shared commitment to Christian rituals would respond differently to the leper’s cries than would the average, nonfamilial passerby. St. Gregory weaves back in the echoes of the lepers, who previously called out in agony, repeating his themes as if he also forgot the sound of their voices for a moment. He seems to be one of the bystanders for a second, asking ‘Who is not overcome as their plaintive cries rise in a symphony of lament? What ear can bear the sound? What eye can take in the sight? They lie beside one another, a wretched union borne of disease … Some bystanders gather round them like spectators at a drama, deeply affected, but only for a moment.’ 10 Gregory does not woo us for too long. He does not let the wealthy patrons fall into the lull of thinking a moment’s concern equals anything more than exactly that – a moment’s concern. Thinking of those conducting liturgies, singing hymns, speaking praises within a parish he says: [The lepers’] mournful pleas stand in jarring contrast to the sacred chanting within and their piteous lament forms a counterpoint to the mystic voices. Why lay out the full measure of their tragedy to those in the midst of celebration? Perhaps I might raise a dirge even among yourselves, if I were to evoke in tragic detail all their sorrows; then their suffering will overwhelm your festal spirit. I speak this way because I am not yet


Orat. 14.13.


KATE MCCRAY able to persuade you that sometimes anguish is of more value than pleasure, sadness than celebration, meritorious tears than unseemly laughter. 11

Certainly echoing minor prophets, St. Gregory highlights the strict separation between those celebrating and the lepers mourning the progressive loss of their lives. And why are these negative emotions more beneficial at times than laughter, pleasure, and celebration? Because they are emotions and experiences true family members feel together, bearing them with and for each other. Fourteen paragraphs in, Gregory reveals that his address, ‘brethren and fellow paupers,’ is actually an invitation to recognize our common patronal name. The icon or image of family as shared humanity is incomplete. The image of family as those with shared genetic markers or resembled traits is incomplete. The true family image is the one knitted together by a shared name, a shared and involuntary naming by which all are obligated to the other as brothers and sisters. Firstly, these brothers and sisters are human, imbued with the divine image as are all God’s children. Secondly, as we all die we all also are born again in new life – certainly those who suffer from leprosy, both physically and socially, progressively experience death and, accordingly, visions of new life. They show us glimpses of the true family. As St. Gregory explains: This is how they suffer, and in fact far more wretchedly than I have indicated, these, our brothers in God, whether you like it or not; whose share in nature is the same as ours; who are formed of the same clay from the time of our first creation, knit together with bones and sinews just as we are, clothed with skin and flesh like everyone else; or rather, more importantly, who have the same portion as the image of God just as we do and who keep it perhaps better, wasted though their bodies may be; whose inner nature has put on the same Christ and who have been entrusted with the same guarantee of the Spirit as we…who are buried with Christ and raised with him,


Orat. 14.13.

FAMILY IN ST. GREGORY NAZIANZEN’S ORATION 14 provided they suffer with him in order that they may also be glorified with him. 12


And immediately Gregory identifies our family name – ‘But what of ourselves? We have received as our inheritance the great and new designation derived from Christ’s name, we, the holy nation; the royal priesthood; the peculiar and chosen people.’ 13 What is the designation from his name but the title Christian? Much more than a descriptor, the word Christ, indeed Christian, is a title, a patronal and family name. Those suffering, those with whom the healthy seem to share no connection, are ‘our brothers in God, whether you like it or not.’ Gregory’s audience of wealthy patrons would certainly have expected his oration to bid for their funds, even to make use of pathos to convince them to dedicate money to care for lepers. But Gregory is not only asking for their money – he is reflecting on how the wealthy patron over all of us, Jesus Christ, has given us his name through a process of communal dying, baptism. This Patron of patrons suffered, was buried, endured tortures, to which Gregory responds, ‘What of ourselves, who have been given so great a model of sympathy and compassion? What will our attitude toward these people be? What shall we do? Shall we neglect them? Walk on by? Dismiss them as corpses … most certainly not my brothers!’ 14 The temporal patrons are Gregory’s brethren, which certainly does not offend them as he too is a wealthy landowner – but brethren with them as well are the lepers. St. Gregory is not offering an opportunity for charity alone but a reclamation of familial ties between estranged brothers. The patrons are obligated to the lepers because they have been baptized into the same family, share the same name, together in the Church form the same icon. Truly they are united, birthed through death into the true family, funded and cared for by the true Patron and brought together under the banner of his love. St. Gregory reminds those in positions of aid that as we have experienced great mercy, so too it is the Orat. 14.14. Orat. 14.15. 14 Orat. 14.15. 12 13



obligation of the true family to see past the fleshliness of temporal life and recognize the brethren under Christ. Imploring the patrons to recognize the image of God in the suffering person, the Theologian pushes them further to recognize the true image of the family exemplified in the Church. Leprosy, in this way, does the Church a favor, having peeled away the distraction of the flesh to reveal the true bond between us, Christ’s reclamation of disparate children into the family of God. It is the Savior’s name which unites the seemingly damaged images, some worn by bodily decay and others by a leprosy of the soul, into a unified family of God. By recognizing the essential connectedness of each to each as brothers, Gregory invites the patrons to rewrite their icons, imaging the Christian family to resemble its ultimate Patron by working toward the healing of the sick and suffering.


In his treatise On Vainglory and the Right Way for Parents to Bring Up Their Children, St. John Chrysostom resumes one of his favorite critiques of his congregation: the denunciation of the unceasing pursuit of fame and reputation in Greco-Roman society. To demonstrate the vacuous and ephemeral nature of public opinion, he introduces a few metaphors such as the attraction of the harlot and the acclaim for one hosting the games (two other common points of reproach), but he abruptly abandons the subject of vainglory to turn to child-rearing. 1 At this point, the text comes to be of great interest for scholars interested in mining Chrysostom for information about children and the household in Late Antiquity. For instance, Blake Leyerle’s survey of children in Chrysostom (citing this text and several others) shows how Chrysostom frequently used children as metaphors to reprove the wealthy who were too John Chrysostom, On Vainglory and the Right Way for Parents to Bring up their Children, trans. in M.L.W. Laistner, Christianity and Pagan Culture in the Later Roman Empire (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1951), 1–10. Hereafter: On Vainglory. The translation is employed with the slight alteration of the second person singular to ‘you’ rather than ‘thou’. (The second person plural is rarely, if ever, used, limiting the argument of Laistner for this archaic translation strategy.) 1




often swayed by their childish passions. 2 Leyerle sees this particular text as an attempt to create a new Christian culture through children raised in a thoroughly Christian way. Even if the current generation is caught in the traps of Greco-Roman society, through their children vainglory might be eradicated among Christians. Odd Magne Brakke in his work on children in Late Antiquity argues that Chrysostom’s treatise continues a uniquely Christian contribution to theories of child-rearing traceable to the New Testament epistles, the Didascalia Apostolorum, Apostolic Constitutions, 1 Clement and more. 3 In the Classical worldview, the paterfamilias was certainly charged with forming his children to be good citizens of the state or polis, as well as good stewards of the family’s wealth and land. More specifically, the mother was often seen as the person charged with the supervision of a child’s character formation. 4 In Christianity, the link between parents and their child was not limited to responsible upbringing; a parent’s salvation is dependent upon raising faithful Christians. 5 As Geoffrey Nathan notes, an important Christian contribution to family life was a certain reciprocity: the child owed parents piety and obedience, while the mother and father were obliged to provide instruction in moral or spiritual matters and in proper comportment in the world (respectively). 6 Building off of such studies, this paper will attempt to reveal that Chrysostom elaborates not only a program of child-rearing but also a means of transforming the culture of Christians in the Greco-Roman city. In this treaty, Chrysostom subtly presents the mechanism for the father’s Christian re-enculturation and even his Blake Leyerle, ‘Appealing to Children’, Journal of Early Christian Studies 5.2 (1997): 244. 3 Odd Magne Bakke, ‘Upbringing of Children in the Early Church’, Studia Theologica 60 (2006): 145–163. Hereafter: Brakke, ‘Upbringing’. 4 Arthur C. Repp, ‘John Chrysostom on the Christian Home as a Teacher’, Concordia Theological Monthly 22 (1951): 939. Also Geoffrey Nathan, The Family in Late Antiquity (London/New York: Routledge, 2000), 153. 5 Bakke, ‘Upbringing’, 145 passim. 6 Nathan, The Family, 142–3. 2

CHRYSOSTOM’S PEDAGOGY OF CHRISTIAN FATHERHOOD 137 salvation: the pedagogue of Christian fatherhood. 7 This phrase ‘the pedagogue of Christian fatherhood’ is intended to have two layers of meaning, instructing both the son and the father. I will explore each of these meanings separately with regard to the son’s and the father’s lives in the home and in society.


As we consider the Christian father as a new Christian pedagogue for his son, let me clarify the limit to which I believe Chrysostom is suggesting a departure from the late fourth century Greco-Roman way of life. As much as Chrysostom is shifting family dynamics, he is not doing away with the normal means of child-rearing that his audience would already be employing. First, we might consider the place of pedagogues in the common sense. The pedagogue’s role was to form the child intellectually, socially, and even morally. This was done through elementary instruction in reading and writing, as well as instruction in the social graces of table manners and etiquette. 8 Once the child was of age for more formal schooling, the pedagogue would accompany him as something like a chaperone, reporting on his behavior outside of the house. 9 It was extremely common that a household would include nurses and pedagogues (either slaves or freedmen) for the rearing of children, and this applied not only to the wealthiest families. 10 Within this treatise, Chrysostom complains of those who stretch their meager resources to buy such slaves (among other luxuries) to As Chrysostom’s treatise is focused primarily upon the relationship of father and son, this paper will follow suit with the recognition that Chrysostom briefly suggests in the final paragraph, that mothers keep the same principles in mind for their daughters, mutatis mutandis. 8 Keith Bradley, ‘The Roman Family at Dinner’, in eds. Inge Nielsen and Hanne Sigismund Nielsen, Meals in a Social Context (Oakville, CT: Aarhus University Press, 1998), 41. Hereafter: Bradley, Meals. 9 For an overview of the pedagogue’s function, see Keith Bradley, Discovering the Roman Family (New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 51–55. Hereafter: Bradley, Discovering. 10 Bradley, Discovering, 47–8. 7



secure the good regard of their neighbors and friends. 11 According to one scholar, ‘the omnipresence of unfree labor made it impractical not to use them. It might be the equivalent of asking a modern parent not to use electricity.’ 12 Despite this ubiquity, the use of slaves was not without criticism from either pagan or Christian writers. Though the pedagogue was supposed to instruct a child in elementary education and social life, it was not uncommon for a pedagogue to be retained well beyond adolescence, and tombstones bear witness to the lifelong affection the child might have for his pedagogue. 13 Given the high rates of childhood mortality and divorce in the later Empire, coupled with the travelling required of fathers in the military, trade, or government life, the ‘nuclear’ family could be quite unstable for parent and child. In such a setting, Keith Bradley suggests that pedagogues provided ‘a kind of compensatory mechanism for the essential lack of stability … and offset the far from remote possibility [of a child’s death].’ 14 The pedagogue ‘filled’ the life of the son, and such close contact during his formative years often resulted in a strong emotional bond, sometimes supplanting such a bond between parent and child. 15 Some ecclesiastical figures even suggested that mothers do away with nurses, perhaps to increase the affection of a mother for her child and vice versa. 16 Chrysostom, however, offers no such discouragement in his treatise. He assumes the presence and normal role of a pedagogue, provided that the pedagogue is chosen with great care. 17 This echoes concerns from pagan writers such as Cicero, Plutarch, and Martial that such an important figure be a bonus vir. 18 Chrysostom Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 13–15. Nathan, The Family, 154. Cf. Bradley, Discovering, 47–8. 13 Bradley, Discovering, 51. 14 Bradley, Discovering, 61. 15 Bradley, Meals, 41, and Bradley, Discovering, 51–5. Also Bakke, When Children Became People, trans. Brian McNeil (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2005), 35–6. Hereafter: Bakke, When Children. 16 Nathan, 150. 17 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 38. 18 Bradley, Discovering, 53. 11 12

CHRYSOSTOM’S PEDAGOGY OF CHRISTIAN FATHERHOOD 139 even instructs the father on drawing the pedagogue into his scheme of Christian education. Similarly, Chrysostom shows little wariness of the pagan schooling that a Christian child would receive. Certainly, there was cause for Christians to be concerned about pagan schools. The curriculum was full of pagan literature and religion, and even the apostate emperor Julian saw the conflict between Christianity and pagan schools, issuing a ban on Christian teachers in such schools. Nonetheless, a responsible father with the means would see to it that his son’s career prospects would not be stunted by a lack of education. As Nathan puts it, ‘No doubt many relied on a classical program for their children without fully being comfortable with its pagan trappings; but it is clear, too, that many were simply oblivious to the concern entirely.’ 19 Though Chrysostom is critical of much of pagan culture, he does not suggest abandoning the schools in this treatise. While such schooling feeds young men into the culture of the social and political positioning that he decries, ‘Chrysostom simply takes it for granted that the children of Christian parents are pupils in ordinary schools; his concern is to ensure a correct balance or relationship between their Christian formation and encyclical studies.’ 20 He speaks of the fear that a child would know the feeling of waiting for punishment from his teacher, 21 as well as the use of both Christian and pagan examples of temperate men. 22 As Bernard Schlager observes, Chrysostom need not worry unduly about the pagan education, because ‘its value pales in comparison with the more significant elements of the family home and the church community.’ 23 If a child is well formed in Christianity, he will approach his pagan education and the predominantly pagan culture critically. 24 By the Nathan, The Family, 142. Bakke, When Children, 210. 21 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 38. 22 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 79. 23 Bernard Schlager, ‘Saints Basil and John Chrysostom on the Education of Christian Children’, Greek Orthodox Theological Review 36 (1991): 49. 24 Schlager, Saints Basil, 51–4. 19 20



close of the treatise, a Christian father can even encourage career and political success without fear of vainglory. 25


If Chrysostom does not question Christians’ use of pedagogues and schools just like their pagan neighbors, where does the father whom he addresses enter into the picture? I submit that while Chrysostom allows for the continued use of a pedagogue, his program of child-rearing places the father within the role of pedagogue both in the home and in the city. Rather than delegating his son’s character formation to a well-chosen pedagogue, the Christian father takes it upon himself to form his son into a thoroughly Christian paterfamilias. When he makes the transition from speaking of the infection of vainglory within the Christian community to speaking of childrearing, Chrysostom briefly sets out his program in terms of what has been neglected by Christian fathers. He says, ‘vice is hard to drive away for this reason, that no one takes thought for his children, no one discourses to them about virginity and sobriety or about contempt for wealth and fame, or of the precepts laid down in the Scriptures.’ 26 In this transition, we must note that Chrysostom does not exhort his audience to ensure that pedagogues and nurses instill these virtues. Rather, it is parents who must speak to their children of these things, and indeed, the Christian father must be very attentive to and present in the daily life of his son in order to extirpate passions and vice, as well as introduce a Christian way of life. Let us begin, then with the father’s role in forming his son’s character within the home. Here, the paterfamilias is ultimately responsible for his entire household: his wife, his children, any extended family, as well as slaves and servants. This applied in legal and social realms, and in Christian circles it also applied to the spiritual situation of his household. Additionally, we should expect that the oikos was something of a public place; those coming and going 25 26

Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 84. Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 17.

CHRYSOSTOM’S PEDAGOGY OF CHRISTIAN FATHERHOOD 141 may include friends, clients, business associates, and of course fellow citizens whom one would want to impress. 27 Far from being a retreat from public life and the pursuit of reputation, the oikos was the very site of much social positioning, and children could not easily be admitted to these interactions. Greco-Roman society generally regarded children as resistant to social education. They were prone to violent or destructive behavior, inordinate desire, and costly vices. 28 It is not even clear that they would have been permitted to dine with their father with any regularity, due to the social jockeying underway with his guests. 29 While the paterfamilias is vaguely responsible for this process of character formation and socialization, it was often the pedagogue who was given this charge, and it was not an easy one. Nathan writes, ‘To bring a child to a point where he or she acted more or less in accordance with the rules of society, let alone the precepts of Christianity, was therefore not unlike training a dumb beast.’ 30 Chrysostom, however, pushes the father to take a more direct role by arguing that moral formation contributes to social formation, and these undertaken properly lead to the goal of most fathers: a successful, financially secure, and married son – in short a bonus paterfamilias. 31 We shall first examine this formation within the oikos before considering life in the world. Chrysostom introduces moral formation with the metaphor of the son’s soul as a city, and the gates are the tongue, ears, eyes, Bradley, Discovering, 8–9. Nathan, The Family, 144–149. 29 Bradley argues that while it was permissible for sons and wives to join the paterfamilias and his friends at table, this was by no means assumed. Additionally, he cites Quintilian’s concern that the convivium would have been a corruptive influence on children. Meals, 41–44. In contrast, Nielsen notes that in mourning Caligula banned pleasures like laughing, the baths, and dining with one’s parents, wife, or children. If the former were common pleasures, she argues, we ought to assume that dining with family was both common and considered pleasant. Hanne Sigismund Nielsen, ‘Roman Children at Mealtimes’, in Meals in a Social Context, 48–9. 30 Nathan, The Family, 145. 31 Nathan, The Family, 145. 27 28



nose, and touch. It is the father’s role to fortify the city well and establish prudent laws. Guarding the gate of the tongue, the father himself must keep a close watch over what his son says. ‘Words that are insolent and slanderous, foolish, shameful, common, and worldly, all these we must expel.’ 32 Furthermore, the son is not to swear or be contentious. 33 We must note that, while these are not unusual habits of speech to condemn, it is to the father that Chrysostom says, ‘If you should see him transgressing this law, punish him,’ 34 and later, ‘Stop his mouth from speaking evil. If you see him traducing another, curb him and direct his tongue toward his own faults.’ 35 The fact that this act of bridling the tongue is the duty of the Christian father, rather than that of the pedagogue, is emphasized more explicitly in three ways. First, Chrysostom directs the father to instruct the child’s mother, pedagogue, and servants to correct the boy for vicious speech. 36 Thus associated with unspecified household servants, we see the pedagogue – and even the mother! – as secondary authorities or disciplinarians after the father. Additionally, the father is taking a more direct role in the formation of his son than simply selecting a bonus vir as pedagogue. This emphasis on the father is reinforced when Chrysostom considers how fathers often instruct their sons in the disciplines of military life. Fathers, he says, teach their sons to shoot and to ride. They even teach them about military dress and how to wear it. Similarly, they ought to take such interest in training their young ‘soldiers of God.’ 37 Finally, the father is told that he should not overlook the verbal abuse of his son towards a servant, such as the pedagogue, ‘for if he knows that he may not ill use even a slave, he will abstain all the more from insulting or slandering one who is free and of his class.’ 38 Elsewhere in this text, Chrysostom even suggests that the Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 28. Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 30. 34 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 30. 35 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 31. 36 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 32. 37 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 34. 38 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 31. 32 33

CHRYSOSTOM’S PEDAGOGY OF CHRISTIAN FATHERHOOD 143 father instruct the other children and slaves to provoke the son in question to practice controlling his anger. 39 As the lesson goes, the father is to teach his son to be considerate of slaves (i.e. not employ slaves when he could perform a task without undue inconvenience), as slavery was not a natural state but a result of the Fall. Expanding upon this, some are slaves to human masters, and some slaves to their habits and passions. In light of the natural (i.e. prelapsarian) state of things, slaves are to be treated as brothers, ownership aside. 40 Such lessons on the treatment of slaves would certainly be more effective coming from the paterfamilias than a slave who benefits from them. To keep vicious speech from emerging from the mouth, the father must guard the second gate: hearing. If the youth does not hear vicious speech, Chrysostom reasons, he will be unlikely to generate it on his own. 41 The father must pay attention to how the slaves and servants who come into contact with his son speak. 42 Apparently, Chrysostom expects the house to include loose-lipped nurses who either prattle on about frivolous topics or gossip about who kissed whom in town. 43 If a slave speaks lewdly in the presence of his son, the father ought to ‘punish him straightaway and inquire zealously and sharply into the offense committed.’ 44 Of course, this is not limited to the slaves of the household. ‘If any man’ – perhaps even a friend, client, or neighbor – ‘would relate what is base, let us not … suffer him to come near the boy.’ 45 Certainly, this concern ought to be considered in the careful selection of the boy’s pedagogue, but Chrysostom does not seem to be willing to allow the guarding of this gate to be delegated fully, even to a bonus vir. The gate of the nose is very briefly addressed by the prohibition against perfumes and aromatic herbs. Chrysostom warns the Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 68. Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 71–2. 41 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 36. 42 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 37. 43 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 38. 44 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 53. 45 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 53. 39 40



father that if he should allow the boy to smell such things, it will relax the otherwise vigilant and rational brain. No doubt, with a relaxed brain passions will run wild, and the boy will seek ways to gratify them. 46 Touch is also treated somewhat fleetingly with the simple instruction to keep sons from soft couches, clothing, and bodies; as an athlete for Christ, he ought to be accustomed to austerity. 47 Such austerity is to be coupled with an insistence that a son must not rely upon slaves to do things that he can do himself, such as wash himself and put on his own coat. 48 These may seem unusual points of contention, but Chrysostom repeatedly insists that these are not ‘trifles’ in the formation of a boy, and even in the formation of society at large. 49 Let us recall first that this is a treatise on vainglory, which manifests itself in an ostentatious delight in pleasurable things or in a well ornamented house. To train one’s son against such delight is to create a prudent steward of family resources, an important concern of the paterfamilias. Second, it is in attention to such details of daily life (‘trifles’) that the value of the virtuous pedagogue is expressed. This is why the pedagogue chaperones his charge at home and in the city. In this case, the father (as pedagogue) watches over his son’s daily surroundings and encounters, recognizing that these contribute to his character formation as much as any lesson articulated with words. Of course, intercepting vice is not a full program of moral formation and socialization. There must be some positive contribution to fill the void left by the eliminated vicious elements of daily life, and so Chrysostom gives the father the task of creating a thoroughly Christian culture for his son. Rather than frivolous, lewd, or abusive speech that a child may have picked up from slaves or guests, he should have on his lips the Word of God, thanksgiving, ‘grave and reverent words’ or even discourse on God and philosophy. 50 So, too, his father should teach him hymns to sing, and this Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 54. Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 63. 48 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 70. 49 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 74. 50 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 34. 46 47

CHRYSOSTOM’S PEDAGOGY OF CHRISTIAN FATHERHOOD 145 to a double-end: his tongue will be well occupied, and his passions will not be enflamed by the salacious songs he might hear from slaves and visitors. 51 Even austerity is not an end in itself. This may be directed toward fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as vigils of fervent and contrite prayer. 52 While it is impossible to escape moral formation in Chrysostom’s proposal, we will now shift our focus to another area of formation within the oikos: the social formation required for engaging in meals with adults. Nielsen has noted that, at least for upper class males of Greco-Roman society, the distinction between a public and a private meal is tenuous at best. 53 According to Bradley, dining is to be placed firmly within ‘the competition for public recognition and increase in fama that obsessed the Roman ruling classes.’ 54 If wife and children were present for a meal with guests, they were, to some degree, part of the paterfamilias’ display in this competition. Therefore, in contrast to the modern table as the site for educating children in social graces, the Late Antique meal was an event for which children had to be externally prepared. 55 With the father thus occupied with his guests, it fell to the pedagogue to teach table manners and etiquette before a child ascended to dining with his father, and this included the important social skill of telling stories. This is perhaps one of the clearest examples of the pedagogue being replaced by the father. Chrysostom suggests that the father should be eating with his wife and children, already noted as a thorny issue in modern scholarly circles. 56 Beyond the fact that the father is eating with his wife and children, Chrysostom goes on at length about teaching the art of storytelling at the table with biblical stories. Outside of the program of this treatise, Nathan notes that Christian instruction within the home may have amounted to little more than rote memorization of lists of vices or Scripture passages, Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 34, 77. Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 22, 79–80. 53 Nielsen, ‘Roman Children’, 58. 54 Bradley, Meals, 50. 55 Bradley, Meals, 45. 56 See note 29 above. 51 52



‘frequently a dull pursuit.’ 57 In this act of storytelling, Chrysostom maps out how the father can combine both religious instruction and social formation. He urges the father to tell stories from the Bible in an interesting and compelling way. 58 He should use language that his son can understand, as well as vivifying the story with examples from his son’s life. For instance, the fear that Cain felt after being sent to wander the earth could be compared to the trepidation that a boy felt before receiving punishment from his teacher. 59 Or to explain just how alone Jacob was after fleeing with his father’s blessing, the father should emphasize that Jacob ‘had no one with him, no slave or nurse or tutor…’ 60 After repeating and embellishing the story in this way for several days, the father should ask his son to tell it. Chrysostom believes that, even before they explicitly discuss the moral lessons involved, the familiarity brought about by this repetition will internalize the story to the soul’s benefit. 61 They will, of course, draw out specific lessons, and Chrysostom offers a few suggestions, such as the downfall suffered by Esau as a result of the greed of his belly. 62 After the story has been combed for moral lessons, the family may move on to another story, and as a boy grows older, the stories can move from the more elementary moral lessons in the Old Testament to stories of God’s punishment and eventually to New Testament stories involving heaven, hell, and more nuanced moral conundrums. 63 All the while, the child is being taught how to tell a captivating story and how to consider the lessons that it extols. If we now turn our attention to life outside of the home, we encounter some of Chrysostom’s greatest worries. First, we hear that the pedagogue, who would normally accompany and report on the comportment of his charge, is to be instructed to avoid the alNathan, The Family, 141. Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 39. 59 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 39. 60 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 46. 61 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 40. 62 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 44. 63 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 52. 57 58

CHRYSOSTOM’S PEDAGOGY OF CHRISTIAN FATHERHOOD 147 leyways, lest one’s son see something scandalous or suggestive. 64 The father, however, has to deal with the more difficult problem of comportment and scandal: the spectacles and the theater offend the gate of the eye and enflame lust. 65 Chrysostom denounces the games and the theater time and time again in his sermons. They were a showcase of blasphemy, violence, and sexual depravity, and the crowds in the stands were not any better. Unfortunately, Chrysostom could not assume that his congregation was in any way immune to the lure of the spectacles. So, his response is twopronged. First, the father ought to take his son to the theater or spectacle, but only as people are leaving. He should explain that the spectacles include ‘the sight of naked women uttering shameful words,’ and that ‘there it is impossible not to hear what is base.’ 66 Such entertainment is crude and only fit for slaves. Then, as men are filing out, the father should point out and mock the old men, who act more senselessly than the young, and the young men who are mad with lust. 67 Instead, the father is to offer his son a number of alternatives in the city. Rather than crude sights, he should take his son to see beautiful buildings and idyllic scenery. The stories of the theater can be replaced with the compelling telling of beneficial stories about sober Christian or pagan men. Even a sober slave, a son should be reminded, is more virtuous and freer than an intemperate free man. 68 In contrast to the arena, the father should take his son to church where he will be excited that he already knows the stories from their rehearsal at table, and he will meet saintly men, such as the bishop. Indeed, the father should boast of his son meeting and being praised by the bishop, so that the son may come to value such pious company. 69 In light of this extensive program of training in virtue and Christian enculturation, it is clear that Chrysostom’s ideal Christian Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 56. Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 77. 66 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 78. 67 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 78–9. 68 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 78–9. 69 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 78. 64 65



father is far from a removed and authoritative paterfamilias. Rather than delegating the tasks of moral and social formation to his wife or a pedagogue, Chrysostom’s paterfamilias assumes a very active role in his son’s formation; the father is present to his son at home and in the city, watching and correcting him. With the exception of taking the child to school, we may wonder what time is left for the pedagogue (or for the political and commercial life of the father, for that matter).


Having considered the effect of the new Christian fatherpedagogue on his son, let us briefly consider the consequence for the father. On Vainglory begins with an indictment: Has any man done what I asked? Has he prayed to God on our behalf and on behalf of the whole body of the Church for the quenching of the conflagration, begotten of Vainglory, which is bringing ruin on the entire body of the Church and is tearing the single body asunder into many separate limbs and is disrupting love? 70

Clearly, the pursuit of vainglory is a problem to which the Christian congregation was not immune, and Chrysostom’s proposal seems to seek to resolve it primarily through a new Christian enculturation via child-rearing. When Blake Leyerle cites this text in her work on children in Chrysostom, she seems to take for granted that Chrysostom has little hope to re-educate the adults of the Church. 71 Bakke, too, believes that Chrysostom ‘looks in vain among the Christians of his own age’ for a Christian, rather than worldly, lifestyle. 72 In fact, they may be an impediment to further evangelization of the culture. We hear echoes of this in Chrysostom’s pleas to form children well. In one case, children are like soft Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 1. Leyerle, 267. In reference to other texts, she sees children as useful in educating adults by showing how childish adult pursuits and activities are. 72 Bakke, When Children, 172. 70 71

CHRYSOSTOM’S PEDAGOGY OF CHRISTIAN FATHERHOOD 149 wax; for those well raised, virtue will harden and be difficult to change. 73 Vice, by contrast, can also harden for those poorly reared, ‘for men who have been reared and grown old with a bad constitution, it would be very difficult to reform.’ 74 Despite this depressing picture, Bakke does not think that Chrysostom has lost hope for the adult generation. They are saved through the proper rearing of their children, and there are theological and worldly reasons to encourage them in this. Theologically, the rearing of children is the greatest example of love of one’s neighbor; it is a fulfillment of the natural concern of a parent for a child implanted by God; and it reveals the image of God within the child. 75 On the other hand, Bakke contests, Chrysostom appeals to vainglory at the very time that he is arguing against it. A child reared in virtue will bring glory upon his parents, in Chrysostom’s thinking. From a negative angle, a disobedient child would bring shame upon his parents, while on the positive side, Chrysostom reorients honor to show that a virtuous child and well-ordered household bring great honor within Christian circles through the recognition of closeness to God. 76 Chrysostom certainly argues that good Christian fatherhood is to the father’s benefit. Early in On Vainglory he says quite clearly, ‘You will be the first to benefit, if you have a good son, and then God. You labor for yourself.’ 77 However, I would like to contest the notion that Christian parents are incorrigible, only redeemed by rearing a saint (as if sanctity were transferrable via a joint-account). As much as Chrysostom recognizes the difficulty in changing old habits, he is surprisingly optimistic about the possibility. Of those who ‘have grown old with a bad constitution’ he adds, ‘Even they can be reformed if they be willing.’ 78 On the one hand, Chrysostom warns the father father that this process must proceed laboriously day-by-day, and he must devote all of his leisure to rearing his Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 21. Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 25. 75 Bakke, When Children, 169. 76 Bakke, When Children, 169–72. 77 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 21. 78 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 25. 73 74



child. 79 On the other hand, Chrysostom gives one hope by saying that with firm boundaries and penalties established, as well as the right guardians to keep watch over oneself, bad habits could be reversed in as little as two months’ time. 80 In this treatise, Chrysostom has articulated the boundaries (quite literally) through his metaphor of the gates, and perhaps he has even presented us with the right pedagogue: Christian fatherhood itself. Though it may seem abstract, and Chrysostom does not explicitly say this, 81 the onerous task of rearing a Christian child takes on its own life for the father’s instruction. It begins before the son is even born. Chrysostom urges fathers to abandon pagan practices of giving a family name to his son, as Christians have no need for eternalizing their memory via such practices. Similarly, he condemns the superstition of attaching names to lamps – the lamp that burns the longest portends longevity for the son, and its name is given. Instead, he suggests naming the child after someone righteous (a saint, martyr, or bishop) ‘to train not only the child but the father, when he reflects that he is the father of John or Elijah or James.’ 82 Thus, he will frame his life and his family life primarily as one of kinship with the righteous, rather than with his ancestors. From the day of his son’s birth, the father is then chaperoned daily by his obligation to his son. Chrysostom reminds his hearers that ‘Nothing, yeah nothing, is so effective as emulation.’ It is a ‘more potent instrument than fear or promises or anything else.’ 83 If we may take up once more the synthetic boundary of home life and private life, we can consider the education that the father receives at home, and how this alters his life in the city. At home, as the father is chasing off those who would expose his son to vicious talk or scandalous songs, he too must refrain from gossip, slander and the like in the presence of his son. (As many parents know, Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 22. Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 33. 81 I believe that if Chrysostom had presented this as a program in self-improvement, he would have a more difficult time in sustaining his audience’s interest. 82 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 50. 83 Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 77. 79 80

CHRYSOSTOM’S PEDAGOGY OF CHRISTIAN FATHERHOOD 151 self-censorship is not without its hiccups, but it does become a habit in itself, manifesting itself even in settings without one’s child.) He even roots out wicked or frivolous speech among his servants whenever he hears it. Soon, his friends must learn to refrain from such speech in the Christian household, lest they risk the embarrassment of being corrected or even ejected. Also, if the father is to keep his son from sweet smells and soft couches, he can hardly indulge in these things himself without risking his son’s exposure. This pedagogue does not only keep the father from corruptive influences at the gates of his city, it also articulates instruction for him when he teaches his son. For instance, in the law, the latitude afforded a paterfamilias with regard to his household is shocking to many modern students. The father could not only disown a disobedient child, he legally had the power of life and death over his child (albeit in reality this was justifiable by rather limited circumstances). Nathan argues that beating a child was shameful, in that it blurred the line between child and slave, demonstrating ‘a startling lack of control.’ 84 Yet, Chrysostom’s advice on punishing a child speaks to its common practice. He tells fathers that they should not solely approach punishment with beatings. When a verbal reproach, stern glance, or even threat will do, that should suffice. However, threats should not be hollow; without them occasionally resulting in a beating, the threat will accomplish nothing. On the other hand, a regimen of regular beatings is not the answer. Chrysostom offers the insight: ‘Have not recourse to blows constantly and accustom him not to be trained by the rod; for if he feel it constantly as he is being trained, he will learn to despise it. And when he has learnt to despise it, he has reduced your system to naught.’ 85 In this way, Chrysostom indirectly insists that the Christian father’s punishment of his son must be executed solely for his son’s betterment. It cannot be clouded by rage or undue violence. We see a similar lesson with regard to slaves. A master was certainly allowed to beat slaves, although at the point of immodera84 85

Nathan, The Family, 147. Chrysostom, On Vainglory, 30.



tion, beatings brought shame on the master. 86 This hardly means that masters exercised restraint, though. If a slave was beaten to death, a master only had to prove that he did not intend to kill his slave – certainly not a high bar. 87 At this time, the Church apparently accepted both the institution of slavery and the beating of slaves as a form of correction. It did attempt to shield slaves from vengeful or vindictive masters by offering temporary asylum, on the grounds that the slave would return to his master, and the master would not act vengefully toward his slave. 88 Chrysostom, however, put in the father’s own mouth the arguments against both rage and mistreatment of slaves. As we noted above, if he is to be free, he cannot be slave to his rage. Additionally, he must recognize the natural kinship he has with his slaves under God. In addition to moral teachings, fatherhood also provides Chrysostom’s hearer with a basic Christian literacy, much like the ordinary pedagogue’s instruction in reading and writing. He is charged with putting the words of Scripture and hymns of the Church on the tongue of his son. In order to rehearse such things with his son, the father must learn them himself. In another work, Against the Opponents of Monastic Life, Chrysostom faced an audience who thought that Scripture was for monks. In this treatise, Chrysostom presses the issue from another angle. If Christian fathers are to tell biblical stories to their wife and children, they must become familiar with the events presented in Scripture. If they are going to tell these stories in a compelling way and draw out lessons for their children, they must dedicate time to meditating upon and internalizing the texts. We have already noted the value that the repetition alone has for the soul, let alone such focused concentration upon the words and meaning of Scripture. Outside of the home, what does this pedagogue allow for the father’s leisure? He certainly cannot go to the theater, except to impress upon his son (and upon himself) the crude vice of it all. Instead of leading him to a school of rhetoric or philosophy, the Christian father’s pedagogue leads him to the Church, to the comNathan, The Family, 178–9. Nathan, The Family, 178–9. 88 Nathan, The Family, 173–4. 86 87

CHRYSOSTOM’S PEDAGOGY OF CHRISTIAN FATHERHOOD 153 pany of bishops and monks, and into nature. To speak philosophically with his son about the beauty of nature and of fine architecture, the father himself is being trained in such discourse. Inside and outside of the home, the Christian father is being diverted from the pagan delights of the city as his ever-vigilant pedagogue accompanies and instructs him in a thoroughly Christian way of life. If Chrysostom’s project succeeded, Christians would surely stand out from their pagan neighbors both in their mores at home and in the places that they frequented. In his comparison between St. Basil’s and St. John Chrysostom’s attitudes towards pagan education, Bernard Schlager concludes: ‘Chrysostom's homily was apparently not as influential as Basil's address perhaps because it offered no revolutionary insights in its discussion of the roles of Christian parents and the Bible in the moral formation of children.’ 89 In the case of the Christian father, we have seen how the paterfamilias has changed in his home and in the city, without withdrawing from his professional or political life. We have also seen the role of regular familial Scripture study in Chrysostom’s educational scheme. Perhaps it was not radical, but it certainly was a revolutionary approach, aimed at the transformation of the whole of Late Antique culture via multiple generations of Christians.


Schlager, Saints Basil, 54.


What makes a society? While this may seem like a simple question, the various ways in which different schools of Christian social thought answer it have wide-reaching ramifications for how one approaches any societal challenge. This essay seeks to offer a constructive, Orthodox Christian answer to the question and argues for its broader relevance to Christian social thought as a whole. I begin by very briefly surveying three other approaches, the Roman Catholic (subsidiarity), neo-Calvinist (sphere sovereignty), and the presocial or statist. Drawing upon Fr. Georges Florovsky’s definition of true asceticism, patristic biblical commentary and theology, and Vladimir Solovyov’s analysis of the ascetic nature of marriage in his work The Justification of the Good, I argue for asceticism as the Orthodox answer to the question, ‘What makes a society?’ 2 A large portion of this paper, which was first presented at the 2012 Sophia conference, is a revision of two sections from my forthcoming monograph to be published by the Acton Institute. My thanks to those at the Sophia conference for their helpful comments and feedback. 2 A good account of asceticism in the Orthodox tradition comes from Archimandrite Sophrony. ‘Principles of Orthodox Asceticism.’ Trans. Edmonds, R. In Philippou, A. J. ed. The Orthodox Ethos. (Oxford: 1





Though several principles have been advocated as the core Orthodox principle of societal engagement – such as incarnation and resurrection, holism, diakonia, and agape – these, however true and useful, tend to be based upon little substantial research and, in some cases, can be overly abstract for a subject that requires a healthy practicality and realism in order to be applicable. 3 In general, Holywell Press, 1964), 259–86. Unfortunately, though I agree that monasticism contains transferable concepts to asceticism in the world, he focuses almost exclusively on the former, only mentioning the latter in passing throughout. Thus, for example, his long study of the monastic virtue of virginity, however important, needs to be adapted to chastity outside of marriage and sexual moderation within to have any real relevance. The translation of this monastic concept to the everyday context of people in the world is left to the reader. Metropolitan Ware, on the other hand, gives a far more practical assessment in the context of Great Lent. See Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia. ‘Lent and the Consumer Society.’ In ed. Walker, A. and Carras, C. Living Orthodoxy in the Modern World: Orthodox Christianity and Society. (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2000), 64–84. Also notable is Bulgakov, who warned pre-soviet Russia of the dangers of replacing the ideal of the ascetic saint with the revolutionary student. See Bulgakov, S. ‘Heroism and Asceticism: Reflections on the Religious Nature of the Russian Intelligentsia.’ In Vekhi: Landmarks – A Collection of Articles about the Russian Intelligentsia, ed. and trans. Shatz, M.S. and Zimmerman, J.E. M. E. Sharpe. (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 1994), [1909], 17–50. In addition, for a brief account of the relevance of freelychosen asceticism in the context of human rights, see Archbishop Anastasios (Yannoulatos). Facing the World: Orthodox Christian Essays on Global Concerns. (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press; Geneva, Switzerland: WCC Publications, 2003), 73–4. 3 For incarnation and resurrection, see Agourides, S. ‘The Social Character of Orthodoxy.’ In ed. Philippou, A.J. The Orthodox Ethos, 209– 20. For holism, see Crow, G. ‘The Orthodox Vision of Wholeness.’ In Living Orthodoxy, 7–22. For diakonia, see Bishop Basil of Sergievo. ‘Living in the Future.’ In Living Orthodoxy, 23–36. For agape, see Constantelos, D.J. ‘The Social Ethos of Eastern Orthodoxy.’ in ed. Costa, F.D. God and Char-



though, there seems to be little thoughtful reflection on such matters at all. As Aristotle Papanikolaou observes, For the first time in nearly six hundred years, the Orthodox Church has no shadow [lurking over it], and yet it remains somewhat in the dark on how to respond to the political realities it confronts. A somewhat half-hearted endorsement of democracy with a push toward assuring a cultural hegemony seems to have emerged as the norm. The result is a lack of sustained reflection on what the Orthodox affirmation that creation was created for communion with God would mean for an Orthodox response to the given political and cultural situation. 4

While I find Papanikolaou’s own work to be helpful in bringing some much needed light into this darkness, the question ‘what makes a society?’ is broader than faith and politics. My concern is to discover a fundamental, Orthodox principle of human society itself, and I argue that such a principle can be found in asceticism. For the sake of comparison, however, let me first consider some answers from other traditions.


For Roman Catholics, each community has a God-given nature and purpose. With this in mind, the Roman Catholic answer to the question comes in the form of subsidiarity, which holds that each social problem is to be addressed by the most local community and only appropriated by a higher level if a particular community is in need of outside assistance (subsidium). Pope Pius XI describes it in the context of the state as follows, The supreme authority of the State ought … to let subordinate groups handle matters and concerns of lesser importance, which would otherwise dissipate its efforts greatly. Thereby the

ity: Images of Eastern Orthodox Theology, Spirituality, and Practice. (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1979), 75–87. 4 Papanikolaou, A. The Mystical as Political: Democracy and Non-Radical Orthodoxy. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2012), 53.


DYLAN PAHMAN State will more freely, powerfully, and effectively do all those things that belong to it alone because it alone can do them: directing, watching, urging, restraining, as occasion requires and necessity demands. Therefore, those in power should be sure that the more perfectly a graduated order is kept among the various associations, in observance of the principle of ‘subsidiary function,’ the stronger social authority and effectiveness will be the happier and more prosperous the condition of the State. 5

Subsidiarity can be viewed as a social application of the idea that grace perfects nature 6 – all levels of society are linked together, dependent upon one another and ultimately upon divine grace for their fulfillment. Thus from a Roman Catholic perspective what makes a society is the hierarchy of communities related to one another through the principle of subsidiarity. For neo-Calvinists, society is composed of spheres which have their own internal laws. 7 The neo-Calvinist answer is that each sphere is to be sovereign over its own domain and not intrude upon any other. The various spheres of social life – politics, economics, science, art, church, family, and so on – are to be autonomous in distinction from each other while, nevertheless, in solidarity with one another in a common calling to be subordinated to the sovereign rule of Jesus Christ over all creation. As Dutch theologian, pastor, statesman, and polymath Abraham Kuyper famously put it in the context of education, ‘Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Letter Quadrigesimo Anno (1931), 80. Accessed September 13, 2012: viz. -xi_enc_19310515_quadragesimo-anno_en.html. 6 See Aquinas, T. Summa Theologica, Ia q. 1 a. 8 ad 2. 7 For an introduction to this perspective, see Kuyper, A. ‘Sphere Sovereignty’ (1880). In ed. Bratt, J.D. Abraham Kuyper, A Centennial Reader. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 461–90. 5



which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’’ 8 This sphere sovereignty, then, is what truly makes a society from a neoCalvinist perspective. Other traditions have other answers. For example, one prominent approach – perhaps more often assumed today than thoughtfully chosen – is the idea that human nature is presocial. This barbaric state of nature is only overcome when order is imposed upon people from outside of them by a powerful, sovereign state. Naturally, this statist approach favors state-centered solutions to social challenges in accordance with its assumed answer to the question, ‘What makes a society?’ The power of the state makes society, and the state is therefore the primary solution to all of society’s problems. 9 My goal in the rest of this paper is to very briefly outline an Orthodox Christian answer to this question. As may become apparent, I do not feel that it is mutually exclusive with the Roman Catholic or neo-Calvinist approaches but rather that it offers another perspective by bringing to the forefront an area of Christian thought often neglected or minimalized by these traditions in discussions of social ethics: asceticism. This, I argue, is the Orthodox Kuyper. ‘Sphere Sovereignty,’ 488. For a more detailed summary of the three foregoing positions, see Ossewaarde, M. ‘Settling the ‘Social Question’: Three Variants of Modern Christian Social Thought.’ Journal of Markets & Morality 14, No. 2 (2011): 301–317. (This entire issue was a theme issue on modern Christian social thought and contains many insightful articles from both the Roman Catholic and Reformed perspectives.) In examining the three positions outlined here in the nineteenth century Netherlands, Ossewaarde refers to the statist school of thought as the ‘sovereignty’ tradition. I have altered his terminology here since I know of no one who would explicitly identify as such today. This tradition is nevertheless longstanding and at one time was just as academic as the others. According to Ossewaarde, an example of one prominent thinker in this tradition would be Thomas Hobbes who taught that the king is a ‘mortal god’ whose will is law and who is subject to God alone. See Hobbes, T. Leviathan. Ed. Plamenatz, J. (New York: Meridian Books, 1963), 176, cited in Ossewaarde. ‘Settling the Social Question,’ 303 and 315n5. 8 9



answer to the question, ‘What makes a society?’ and ultimately fundamental to Christian approaches to social challenges in general.


But what is asceticism? ‘True asceticism,’ writes Fr. Georges Florovsky, ‘is inspired not by contempt, but by the urge of transformation.’ 10 Indeed, even hermits do not hate the world or view themselves as wholly disconnected from it: ‘Asceticism, as a rule, does not require detachment from the Cosmos.’ 11 Rather, it is means of transforming the world, whether one lives in the world or the desert. Indeed, for Orthodox Christians, everyone is called to asceticism to a greater or lesser degree. ‘Ascetical virtues can be practiced by laymen also, and by those who stay in the world,’ writes Florovsky. 12 They not only can, but are, as has always been the case from the very beginning of the Church, long before the rise of Christian monasticism, in fact. 13 Florovsky, G. ‘Christianity and Civilization.’ In Christianity and Culture. The Collected Works of Georges Florovsky, vol. 2. (Belmont, MA: Nordland, 1974), 128. 11 Florovsky. ‘Christianity and Civilization,’ 125. 12 Florovsky. ‘Christianity and Civilization,’ 126. 13 In addition to the common coupling of prayer and fasting in the New Testament (cf. Matthew 17:21; Mark 9:29; Luke 2:37; Acts 13:3, 14:23), it is sufficient to note that the Didache recommends fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays (Didache 8.1–2. In trans. Richardson, C.C. Early Christian Fathers. Philadelphia PA: Westminster Press, 1953, 174), a practice still observed by Orthodox Christians today, and that the practice of observing a period of fasting before Pascha (Easter) can be documented from, at least, the time of St. Irenaeus (see Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 5.24.11–18. NPNF2 1:243–4). See also the elaborate metaphor of the relationship between the body and soul in the Epistle to Diognetus 6 (ANF 1:27). If this is not enough, one needs only to consult the work of Tilley on the crucial role asceticism played in the endurance of the earliest martyrs and Satlow on the presence of asceticism in Judaism of the same time period to see from the former that asceticism was not only present in the early Church, but essential, and from the latter that it was not only Hellen10



Christian asceticism is characterized by the three basic spiritual disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, as well as labor, simplicity, obedience, and sexual restraint, among others, all for the transformative purpose of cultivating purity of heart and true, sacrificial love. According to St. Moses the Ethiopian, the disciplines ‘are to be rungs of a ladder up which [the heart] may climb to perfect charity [i.e., love].’ 14 Similarly, St. Maximos the Confessor writes, ‘Once you control the passions you will accept affliction patiently, and through such acceptance you will acquire hope in God. Hope in God separates the intellect from every worldly attachment, and when the intellect is detached in this way it will acquire love for God.’ 15 Asceticism, of course, is the primary means by which people learn to ‘control the passions,’ attaining the necessary self-control, patience, and hope for true agape or charity, the highest form of love. 16 More to the point of this paper, the same istic (as if that would be a bad thing), but thoroughly Jewish as well. See Tilley, M.A. ‘The Ascetic Body and the (Un)Making of the World of the Martyr.’ Journal of the American Academy of Religion 59, no. 3. (1991): 467–79 and Satlow, M.L. ‘‘And on the Earth You Shall Sleep’: ‘Talmud Torah’ and Rabbinic Asceticism.’ The Journal of Religion 83, no. 2. (2003): 204–25. 14 Cassian, J. Conferences 1.7. In ed. Chadwick, O. Western Asceticism. (Westminster: John Knox Press, 1979), 198. 15 Maximos the Confessor, Four Hundred Texts on Love 1.3. In Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and Makarios of Corinth. The Philokalia. Vol. 2. Trans. and ed. by Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P., and Ware, K. (London: Faber and Faber, 1981), 53. 16 Similarly, Vladimir Solovyov insists that true asceticism is inseparable from true piety and altruism. See Solovyov, V.S. The Justification of the Good. Rev. ed. Trans. Nathalie A. Duddington. Ed. Boris Jakim. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2005), 51–2: ‘Asceticism in itself is not necessarily a good, and cannot therefore be the supreme or the absolute principle of morality. The true (the moral) ascetic acquires control over the flesh, not simply for the sake of increasing the powers of the spirit, but for furthering the realisation of the Good. Asceticism which liberates the spirit from shameful (carnal) passions only to attach it more closely to evil (spiritual) passions is obviously a false and immoral asceticism. Its true prototype, according to the Christian ideal, is the devil, who does not eat or drink



would also apply to philanthropia, which Vicki Petrakis identifies as ‘the fruit of the meeting between human volition in askesis and divine grace in theosis’ for St. Gregory the Theologian, 17 and which Fr. John McGuckin describes as ‘the very root and core of all that is meant by civilized values’ in Greek thought. 18 The fundamental nature of true asceticism is reflected, I believe, first of all in the Scriptures. For example, according to St. Basil the Great, the command not to eat from the tree in the Garden (Genesis 2:16–17) was actually a fast (‘do not eat’), and humanity’s relationship with God, each other, and the world was distorted by abandoning this ascetic mandate. 19 Indeed, the command to ‘fill the earth and subdue it’ (Genesis 1:28) even takes on an ascetic meaning so long as one accounts for the fact that Adam’s body was itself made from the dust of the earth, only becoming ‘a living soul’ by the breath of God (Genesis 2:7). ‘[E]very one will allow,’ writes St. Irenaeus of Lyon, ‘that we are [composed of] a body taken from the earth, and a soul receiving spirit from God.’ 20 As earth, the and remains in celibacy. If, then, from the moral point of view we cannot approve of a wicked or pitiless ascetic, it follows that the principle of asceticism has only a relative moral significance, namely, that it is conditioned by its connection with the principle of altruism, the root of which is pity.’ Simons interprets this connection in the context of Solovyov’s thought on war and the natural reverence due to one’s ancestors. See Simons, A. ‘In the Name of the Spirits: A Reading of Solov’ëv’s ‘Justification of the Good.’’ Studies in East European Thought 51, no. 3. (1999): 189–90. 17 Petrakis, V. ‘Philanthropia as a Social Reality of Askesis and Theosis in Gregory the Theologian’s Oration: On the Love of the Poor.’ In ed. Pereira, M.J. Philanthropy and Social Compassion in Eastern Orthodox Tradition. The Sophia Institute: Studies in Orthodox Theology. Vol. 2. (New York, NY: Theotokos Press – The Sophia Institute, 2010), 91. 18 McGuckin, J. ‘Embodying the New Society: The Byzantine Christian Instinct of Philanthropy.’ In Philanthropy and Social Compassion, 54. 19 See Basil of Caesarea. About Fasting 1.3. This can be found in Greek and English with translation by Burghuis, K. at:–basil%E2%80%99s-sermonsabout-fasting. Accessed September 11, 2012. 20 Irenaeus of Lyons. Against Heresies 3.22.1. ANF 1:454.



body must therefore be ascetically cultivated and subdued as well. Biblically, asceticism is a matter of our creational design, even present in the paradisiacal state. Our fallen condition makes this more difficult but does not change the mandate: ‘to till the ground’ (compare Genesis 2:5b to 3:23), only now ‘in the sweat of your face’ (Genesis 3:19) and among ‘thorns and thistles’ (Genesis 3:18).


In The Justification of the Good, the Russian Orthodox philosopher Vladimir Solovyov writes, ‘True asceticism … has two forms – monasticism and marriage.’ 21 Marriage, of course, is the most basic societal institution, ideally at the heart of the family, the most basic and natural societal group. If marriage is truly a form of asceticism, then society itself must be ascetic in its roots. But how is marriage ascetic? St. Paul, first of all, defines marriage as a relationship of mutual submission (Ephesians 5:21–33) in which one’s body is not one’s own (1 Corinthians 7:4). Similarly, Solovyov notes that the bond of marriage actually limits and transforms sexual desire, writing,

Solovyov, Justification of the Good, 356. I would add that, certainly, single people who live ‘in the world’ also have an ascetic calling. Given that Solovyov was unmarried, I suspect he would agree. Furthermore, the work of Sorabji is worth noting here, in which he details several fathers of the Church who, while acknowledging apatheia or dispassion as the ultimate ascetic ideal, commended metriopatheia or the moderation of the passions to those in the world. See Sorabji, R. Emotion and Peace of Mind: From Stoic Agitation to Christian Temptation. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 285–99. In this paper I am concerned with Solovyov’s late thought as reflected in The Justification of the Good. His thought evolved over the course of his life, and I make no attempt to harmonize his later work with his earlier work here. For a brief summary of sex and marriage in Solovyov’s work more generally, see Polyakov, L.V. ‘Women’s Emancipation and the Theology of Sex in Nineteenth-Century Russia.’ Philosophy East and West 42, no. 2. Moscow Regional East-West Philosophers’ Conference on Feminist Issues East and West. (1992): 306–307. 21


DYLAN PAHMAN Marriage remains the satisfaction of the sexual want, which, however, no longer refers to the external nature of the animal organism, but to the nature that is human and is awaiting to become divine. A tremendous problem arises which can only be solved by constant renunciation … From this point of view the fullness of life-satisfaction which includes bodily senses is connected not with the preceding lust but with the subsequent joy of realized perfection. 22

To paraphrase, for Solovyov the only way in which sexual desire is truly human and moral, rather than being animal and amoral, is through self-renunciation. Human beings voluntarily deny their sexual desire when they limit it to marriage and when, in marriage, sex becomes primarily a service to the other for their own moral development rather than to one’s self, eventually even becoming unnecessary. 23 In this way, it serves as a means of moral perfection and underscores the essentially ascetic nature of the Christian conception of marriage in this regard. Furthermore, it is my contention Solovyov, Justification of the Good, 357–8. For Solovyov in a perfect marriage ‘reproduction [and therefore sex] becomes unnecessary and impossible’ (Justification of the Good, 358). This view is not unique to Solovyov. For example, St. John of Kronstadt and his wife lived together in celibacy, and St. Gregory the Theologian says that his parents’ marriage in the end was ‘a union of virtue rather than of bodies.’ See Kizenko, N. ‘Ioann of Kronstadt and the Reception of Sanctity, 1850–1988.’ Russian Review 57, no. 3. (1998): 328 and Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration 18: On the Death of His Father 7. NPNF2 7:256. It seems, then, that asceticism is a normative part, and even a goal, of romantic love and marriage for Solovyov and that this is not unique to him. Kornblatt argues that Solovyov preferred an understanding of Eros as leading one ‘on the path toward the image and likeness of God’ to and at the ultimate exclusion of asceticism, but it would seem that her characterization of Solovyov’s erotic philosophy does not agree with his later work with which I am here exclusively concerned. In the Justification of the Good, Solovyov argues that asceticism is one of three essential moral duties, the other two being piety and altruism. See Kornblatt, J.D. ‘The Transfiguration of Plato in the Erotic Philosophy of Vladimir Solov’ev.’ Religion & Literature 24, no. 2. (1992): 43. 22 23



that no society (including, of course, marriage and the family), exists or finds its fulfillment apart from the self-limitation of its members (not only sexually, but also spatially, temporally, emotionally, often even dietetically) – even if only to a small extent – by which they are transformed into a community. Asceticism, then, is essential to human society. 24


Indeed, this principle is not merely an abstract ideal but also the fact of the matter. There simply is no society in which each person only and always follows the desires of the flesh; such a distortion of society has no existence of itself and cannot exist in an absolute form. It would be the utter negation of society. As Solovyov argues, ‘[T]he indefinite multiplication of external and particular wants, and the recognition of the external means of satisfying them as ends in themselves – is the principle of disorganization, of social decomposition, while the principle of moral philosophy [i.e. asceticism]… is the principle of organization….’ 25 The closer a society approximates the former, the more dysfunctional it will be. By contrast, the more a society is ascetic (as defined above), the healthier it will be. For example, we can confirm this by reflecting on the everyday habitus of the family. Do we not call dysfunctional a family in which the children are allowed to eat ice cream for breakfast, where the family spends no intentional time together, and disobedience is never disciplined? Do we not rightly call out a deadbeat parent who 259.


See Archimandrite Sophrony, ‘Principles of Orthodox Asceticism,’

Solovyov, Justification of the Good, 400. It is clear from the following paragraph that Solovyov has asceticism in mind here. He is specifically speaking of the economic sphere of life, conceived broadly, but it would not be out of place to apply this insight elsewhere since asceticism is one of three basic moral duties to Solovyov, the other two being piety and altruism, as I have already noted. Piety and altruism may be the primary moral duties of the Church and the state, respectively, but that does not mean that any can function in a manner contrary to asceticism, correctly understood. 25



abandons his/her children, refusing to sacrifice in order to provide for them, instead pursuing a selfish existence? Healthy families, on the other hand, eat meals together according to their own established dietary limitations (‘eat your vegetables, then you can have dessert,’ for example); they share time and space with one another; the parents sacrifice their time and desires in order to work to provide for the children; the children are required to do chores to contribute to the household; and so on. Society simply does not ‘work’ apart from ascetic self-renunciation. True, such asceticism may be quite light by most standards and not the perfect embodiment of the ideal, but the basic principle must, nonetheless, be present. From the simple asceticism of the average family to the monasteries of Mount Athos, through denying oneself – especially one’s material comforts – for a greater good, a collection of mere individuals is transformed into a community. Not everyone may be called to monasticism, but no one exists apart from the family, where the basic principles of true asceticism are (or at least ought to be) first practiced and modeled. As The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church states, The experience of family relations teaches a person to overcome sinful egoism and lays the foundations for his [or her] sense of civil duty. It is in the family as a school of devotion that the right attitude to one’s neighbours and therefore to one’s people and society as a whole is formed. 26

From the family come all other forms of society, and the family does not function properly apart from asceticism. And when each community and sector of society embraces this ascetic standpoint, they necessarily respect the autonomy of others through their own self-renunciation while being transformed into what they themselves are truly meant to be. Department for External Church Relations. The Basis of the Social Concept of the Russian Orthodox Church. Moscow Patriarchate. Moscow, Russia. 2000, 10.6. Accessed September 11, 2012. 26




So what makes a society? As unlikely as it may sound at first blush, I contend that the Orthodox answer is asceticism and that this answer need not be limited to the Orthodox tradition but reflects a fundamental reality of society as everyone, in fact, experiences it. As such, this Orthodox perspective therefore constitutes a vital contribution to Christian social thought as a whole and one that deserves to be explored in greater detail and to be further employed in future Christian societal engagement. It is an answer, I believe, that speaks directly to the sentiment of the eighteenth century, Irish statesman and political philosopher Edmund Burke: Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters. 27

Asceticism is the means by which people put inner restraint ‘upon will and appetite,’ apart from which they ‘cannot be free’ and ‘[s]ociety cannot exist.’ And indeed, if, according to Archimandrate Sophrony, ‘[a]sceticism, understood as spiritual labour, constitutes an inseparable part of the histories of all known religions and civilizations, even of civilizations with no religious basis,’ 28 then asceticism as a core societal principle holds great potential for thoughtful public discourse as well.

Burke, E. Letter to a Member of the National Assembly, in Answer to Some Objections to His Book on French Affairs in The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke. Vol. 4. (London: John C. Nimmo, 1887), 52. 28 Archimandrite Sophrony. ‘Principles of Orthodox Asceticism,’ 259. Furthermore, Bulgakov documents the historical role of asceticism and monasticism in the founding and economic development of many cities in the Christian world, both East and West. See Bulgakov, S. ‘The National Economy and the Religious Personality (1909).’ Trans. Stanchev, K. Journal of Markets & Morality 11, no. 1. (2008): esp. 162–5. 27

ANNA KOMNENE’S ALEXIAD: LEGACY FROM THE GOOD DAUGHTER (KALE T H UGATER ) 1 V.K. MCCARTY I wish to recall everything, the achievements before his elevation to the throne and his actions in the service of others. 2

In exploring aspects of the Orthodox experience of family life, we are able to bring to the table a family from the threshold of twelfthcentury Constantinople and see a Byzantine emperor and empress viewed by their imperial daughter – in the epic narrative of the Alexiad. It is the ‘chief basis of our knowledge of the important period which saw the restoration of Byzantine power and the meeting of Byzantium with the West in the First Crusade.’ 3 While this work has been examined from the standpoint of social context and genre, it can also be viewed as reflecting one daughter’s love, even within the moral complexity of this particular Orthodox family as it is played out on the stage of Byzantine historiography. The eldest This essay is dedicated to Dr. Charles O. Long, MD, the author’s father, on the occasion of his ninetieth birthday. 2 A. Comnena. The Alexiad of Anna Comnena. E Sewter. (trans). (London: Penguin Books, 1969), Prologue. p. 17. Referenced hereafter by book, chapter, and page number. Transliterated spellings from the Greek conform in general to The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, for the sake of uniformity. 3 G. Ostrogorsky. History of the Byzantine State. (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1969), p. 351. 1




daughter of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos (1057–1118, ruled 1081–1118 CE) and Irene Doukaina (1066–1023, or 1033), Anna Komnene (1083–1153 or 54) is representative of a period in Byzantine history when the power of great aristocratic families became amplified and inter-connected by strategic marriage alliances. Alexios was the first of the Komnenian Byzantine emperors and Irene’s family was known to trace its lineage back to Constantine the Great. 4 Anna Komnene narrates in rich detail the life-panorama of her father in her opus magnus which Dolger has called a ‘work of filial piety … set out to extol the virtues of her father whom she adored and admired above all others.’ 5 Deemed a ‘learned work without parallel in the canon of women’s writing in Attic history,’ 6 the Alexiad is the only text by a woman in the whole of the Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae. 7 Whatever may be said by the author’s critics, 8 the Alexiad leaves a singular contribution to Byzantine history.’ She is one of a small group of medieval women who have not been muted.’ 9 With the anniversary of her birth 929 years There was a tradition that he had appointed their forbear the Duke of Constantinople, hence the family name Dukas. 5 F Dölger. ‘Byzantine Literature.’ in Cambridge Medieval History. v. 4. The Byzantine Empire. J Hussey. (ed). (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1966–1967), p. 231. 6 E Quandahl and S Jarratt. ‘To Recall Him … Will be a Subject of Lamentation: Anna Comnena as Rhetorical Historiographer.’ Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric. 26:3. (2008): p. 303. 7 B Hill. Imperial Women in Byzantium 1025–1204: Power, Patronage and Ideology. (New York, NY: Longman, 1999), p. 34. 8 ‘The laudatory tendencies in the Alexaid and certain other shortcomings, particularly its confused chronology, are more than balanced by the comprehensive mine of information which the authoress was able to provide, due partly to the special faculties afforded by her high position and partly to her own thirst for knowledge.’ Ostrogorsky. History of the Byzantine State. p. 351. 9 T Gouma-Petersen. ‘Gender and Power: Passages to the Maternal in Anna Komnene’s Alexiad.’ in Anna Komnene and Her Times. T GoumaPetersen. (ed). (New York, NY: Garland, 2000), p. 110. 4



ago, it is interesting to note that Anna Komnene has become more visible in popular culture; she even finds a place among the names inscribed on the porcelain ‘Heritage Floor’ of Judy Chicago’s art piece, ‘The Dinner Party,’ installed at the Brooklyn Museum. 10 While some interpretations of Anna Komnene as a complaining depressive bewailing her fate are understandable considering the text, the Alexiad and its commentators are examined here for evidence of the author as a faithful daughter expressing loyalty to both of her parents and carrying on scholarly work with the gifts given to her by them and ‘what God has apportioned to me from above.’ [Prologue; 17] This study looks at Anna Komnene through the lens of filial devotion and asks to what extent the Alexiad can be viewed as demonstrating the topos of the good daughter (kale thugater) of Alexios I Komnenos. As daughter and granddaughter, as wife and sister, Anna Komnene’s views of her familial ties are the warp and woof of the fabric of the Alexiad; her editorial choices for devoted emphasis and intentional critical omission make up the threads and coloring of its tapestry. From the first, she stresses her royal birth, introducing herself with the defining fact of having emerged from the cradle as a true porphyrogenita imperial child ‘born in the purple,’ 11 [Prologue; 17] ‘resembling her father,’ [VI.viii; 196] two years after he ascended the Byzantine throne. While still quite young, Anna was betrothed to Constantine, the son of Emperor Michael VII Doukas (c.1050–1078, ruled 1071–1078), in a bid by Alexios I to secure an heir for the Byzantine throne. She was sent off for several years to be brought up within the household of Maria of Alania (ca.1050– ca.1103); and for a time, Anna and her betrothed were named together with the Emperor and the Empress in the official acclamations at court ceremonies. 12 Anna describes this as a happy period of her life, looking up at an impressionable age to the celebrated Anna Komnene also appeared as a character in the novel Count Robert of Paris by Sir Walter Scott in 1832. 11 She was designated as porphyrogenita because she was delivered in the royal birthing room in the palace, a chamber lined with semi-precious purple porphyry stone. 12 See Ostrogorsky. History of the Byzantine State. p. 376. 10



beauty of her intended mother-in-law and rhapsodizing about her captivating fiancé. Empress Maria was the maternal figure present in her life on the cusp of young womanhood, 13 with Anna treasuring that the dowager empress ‘shared all her secrets with me.’ [III.i; 105] Later, when a son, John (1087–1143, ruled 1118–1143), was born to Alexios and Irene, this arrangement proved unnecessary and Anna’s bright future, at least as an empress, was eclipsed by her infant brother. Expectations of imperial power, however, were indelibly imprinted on her point of view for the rest of her life. The likeliness of her father’s dynastic strategy playing out was eradicated by the birth of her brother and the untimely death of her young fiancé. While still a teenager, Anna was then married off to Nikephoros Bryennios (1062–ca. 1136–37), a military comrade of her father. 14 Anna Komnene witnessed a generation of imperial Byzantine history when women’s powerful roles at court had been amply evident. So, she could hardly have shared his unalloyed joy when in 1092 her imperial father crowned her little brother caesar and celebrated by issuing new coinage containing an ‘almost pure gold coin, the hyperpyron.’ 15 Indeed, she has been implicated by many as conspiring with her mother in a bid for the throne after her father died which involved a plot to murder her brother. While her silence about the accomplishments of Emperor John II Komnenos indicates she battled resentment for her brother and his reign, Anna remains adamant in her devotion to her father, faithful to him throughout his lifetime, and present with him in his last hours. Maria of Alania had caught the eye of Anna’s father as well: Alexios Komnenos was ‘so passionately attached to this beautiful and clever woman that he was ready to sacrifice his own wife Irene for her; he was only saved from this false step, which might have had grave political consequences, by the energetic protests of Patriarch Cosmas who insisted on the crowning of Irene.’ Ostrogorsky. History of the Byzantine State. p. 376. 14 He was also, it should be noted, a rival emperor during the reigns of both Alexios’ predecessors on the throne, Michael VII Doukas and Nikephoros III Botaneiates (1002–1081; ruled 1078–1081). 15 W Treadgold. A History of the Byzantine State and Society. (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1997), p. 618. 13



Later, in keeping with the close bond to her father, Anna Komnene wrote admiringly in turn about her husband. [I.v; 40] Notwithstanding her fury that Nikephoros Bryennios would not assist Empress Irene in the assassination plot to wrestle the throne from her brother and assume it himself, she appears on balance to have been happy in her marriage. Nevertheless, when in 1119 the young emperor obtained proof of a conspiracy, he temporarily confiscated their property, and forced both Irene and Anna to retire to a convent, while Bryennius himself remained free. ‘John, like his father, was alert to his enemies, but merciful to them.’ 16 After the death of her mother in 1123 and her husband in 1137, Anna Komnene focused on crafting a grand epic honoring her father’s memory, often writing so long into the day that it was ‘time to light the lamps.’ [; 411] In reflecting on how Anna Komnene addressed resolving the difficult case of conscience with her probable guilt in the conspiracy to dethrone John, one wonders whether, during her long years in enforced monasticism with its penitential components, she came to terms before God with her rancor toward her brother. One of the ways Anna Komnene authenticates herself as a historian is by demonstrating her qualifications as an intellectual figure ‘on a par with any man,’ 17 one who ‘preferred philosophy, the medicine of the soul, to that of the body.’ 18 She makes good use of the matchless education of a porphyrogenita princess. 19 Her scholarly pursuits reflect one of the more admirable arenas in M Angold. Church and Society in Byzantium under the Comneni 1081– 1261. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 629. 17 P Hatlie. ‘Images of Motherhood and Self in Byzantine Literature.’ Dumbarton Oaks Papers v. 63. (2003): p. 51. 18 G Tornikios quoted in R Browning. ‘An Unpublished Funeral Oration on Anna Comnene.’ in Aristotle Transformed: The Ancient Commentators and Their Influence. Richard Sorabji. (ed). (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1990), p. 430. 19 Classical education was often described as achievement in a quartet of subject categories favored at the time – Geometry, Arithmetic, Astronomy, Music – which were referred to as ‘the Quadrivium of sciences.’ [Prologue; 17]. 16



which Anna took after her mother, who cleverly persuaded her of the wisdom of the Fathers. 20 Empress Irene was often found at table ‘diligently reading the dogmatic pronouncements of the Holy Fathers’ [V.ix; 178], and was said to have written the Typikon for the convent she founded, the Mother of God Kecharitomene. 21 Even with the evidence of their gruesome intentions hanging in the balance, Anna Komnene crafted the Alexiad to complete a project inaugurated by her mother; Irene Doukaina had commissioned Anna’s husband to write an historical account of the deeds of Alexios after his death. What survives of this effort is the essay ‘Materials for a History.’ 22 Anna Komnene composed her own fifteen-volume work during the reign of Manual I, the next emperor after John. Although in all probability she intentionally offered a version of history which passed over her brother’s reign in critical silence, John II Komnenos has in fact been regarded by some as the greatest of the Komnenian emperors. 23 Written in retrospect, the Alexiad looks back on memories of her father’s life culled from war stories of the emperor’s retired comrades-in-arms [XIV.vii; 460], Anna’s own eyewitness memories, 24 and conversations between the emperor and his Anna Komnene records her mother teaching her, ‘I myself do not approach such books without a tremble. Yet I cannot tear myself away from them. Wait a little and after a close look at other books, believe me, you will taste the sweetness of these.’ Book V.ix; 178–179. 21 See ‘Kecharitomene: Typikon of Empress Irene Doukaina Komnene for the Convent of the Mother of God Kecharitomene in Constantinople.’ in Byzantine Monastic Foundation Documents: A Complete Translation of the Surviving Founders’ Typika and Testaments. J Thomas and A C Hero. (eds). R Allison et al. (trans). Commentary by J Thomas. (Washington, DC: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2000), pp. 649–726. 22 N Bryennios. ‘Materials for a History.’ H Gregoire. (trans.) Byzantion v. 23. (1953): pp. 469–530. vv. 25–27. 1955–57. pp. 881–925. 23 See J Birkenmeier. The Development of the Komnenian Army: 1081– 1180. (Leiden: Brill, 2002), p. 85. 24 ‘She listened attentively to those who gave displays of their wisdom every day before her father the Emperor and was roused to emula20



military commander, George Palaiologos, while his niece was present at court. 25 Additionally, the Alexiad provides the only known complete Byzantine historical account of the First Crusade, and ‘no study of that enterprise is complete without an analysis of the information she supplies.’ 26 It is perhaps a high compliment that Anna Komnene’s history is consulted as often as it is, and that her strategic military accounts are comprehensive enough that her authorship as a woman has even been doubted. 27 Writing in the first-person was emerging noticeably in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, and Anna includes descriptions of her own formation and accomplishments in the Alexiad; the loyal daughter is unapologetically present as part of her father’s story. Another example of this trend is Michael Psellus (1018–1078), who knit his own character into The Chronographia 28 and, like Anna, included his education and achievements, personally intervening in his account to heighten the drama of events by emotionally responding to them. 29 So, as a faithful daughter who is present in her own work, Anna Komnene was a child of her time. When comtion by them.’ Tornikios quoted in Browning, ‘An Unpublished Funeral Oration.’ p. 405. 25 ‘From all these materials the whole fabric of my history – my true history – has been woven.’ Book XIV.vii; 461. 26 P Stephenson, ‘Anna Comnene’s Alexiad as a Source for the Second Crusade?’ Journal for Medieval History v. 29. (2003): p. 41. 27 ‘Howard-Johnston’s idea that detailed and lively battle narratives cannot have been written by a woman and must therefore derive from lost Breyennios dossiers rather than having been written by Anna Komnene has fortunately not found many adherents.’ D.C. Smythe. ‘Middle Byzantine Family Values and Anna Komnene’s Alexiad.’ in Byzantine Women: Varieties of Experience 800–1200. L Garland. (ed). (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2006), p. 130. For James Howard-Johnson’s evaluation of Anna Komnene’s authorial integrity, see ‘Anna Komnene and the Alexiad.’ in Alexios I Komnenos: Papers. M Mullett and D Smythe. (eds). (Belfast: Belfast Byzantine Texts and Translations, 1996). 28 See M Psellus. The Chronographia. E Sewter. (trans). (London: Routledge & K Paul, 1953). 29 See Quandahl and Jarratt. ‘To Recall Him.’ p. 317.



pared with the terminology and language of the histories of Michael Psellos or Niketas Choniates, Anna speaks ‘not as a woman in an écriture feminine, but in the same full-blown atticising form of Greek favoured by the dominant élite of eleventh- and twelfthcentury Byzantium.’ 30 The Alexiad is often criticized, but it is more often referenced as a source of history and provides a unique window into the imperial epicenter of Komnenian Byzantium. Alexios I, ‘that master of strategy,’ [I.vii; 48] and his family are viewed at work and at prayer, receiving friend and foe at court, and strategizing Byzantine survival in precarious times. Although the title suggests an heroic prose epic praising the life and exploits of Alexios I Komnenos, the Alexiad presents ‘no stock panegyric’ of the father Anna loved, but rather expounds virtues he actually possessed and ‘dramatizes events that were in fact dramatic.’ 31 Emperor Alexios inherited an empire in financial shambles and a disintegrating imperial frontier with daunting foes pressing in on all sides. While still a young general, he proved himself to be a successful and politically savvy warrior; yet after early military successes, Alexios mounted several campaigns only to be repeatedly vanquished. Therefore, in his rise toward the Byzantine throne, he came to rely on the powerful relatives of, first, his mother, Anna Dalassene; then of his adoptive mother, Maria of Alania; 32 and his wife, Irene Doukaina. Since Alexios was often away on military campaigns more comprehensively narrated by other Byzantine historians, Anna may at times have seldom seen her father; but when she did, her memories were vivid and detailed. Although the emperor and his family ‘did much to promote the new wave of monastic piety,’ as founders and re-founders of

D.C. Smythe. ‘Women as Outsiders,’ in Women, Men and Eunuchs. L James. (ed). (London: Rutledge, 1997), p. 156. 31 Treadgold. A History of the Byzantine State. p. 693. 32 Since Maria of Alania was only about seven years older than Irene’s son, this double-team mothering of Alexios for the sake of dynastic strategy created a dove-tailing of the generations which was unusual, to say the least. 30



monasteries and convents, 33 Alexios was often on bad terms with the Church. Hardly a paragon of wholesomeness, considering his dynastic machinations, he was condemned by Patriarch Cosmas as deserving of public penitential rebuke. Through Anna’s eyes, Alexios is seen seeking the counsel of the Patriarch on the advice of his mother, and asking repentance for allowing his supporters to sack Constantinople during the course of his coup to overtake the throne. 34 He and the members of his family were forced to submit to penances prescribed by the Patriarch. Anna Komnene’s description of the joy with which they each acquitted their allotted share does not quite disguise the humiliation it was. [; 115] In fact, eventually Alexios retaliated by forcing Patriarch Cosmas to resign. 35 In the Alexiad, Anna Komnene consciously positions herself ‘within an august genealogy through her allusions to and imitation of classical historians,’ 36 demonstrating that her ways of writing and thinking were formed by the complex educational fabric of Greek paideia. Thus, the Alexiad was crafted for an audience which could be assumed to possess a rich knowledge of Homeric influences and citations. 37 ‘A modern and most noble Hercules’ in Anna’s eyes [I.x; 52], Alexios and even his enemies, are depicted as sharing in ‘an heroic struggle in the style of Greeks versus Trojans.’ 38 Anna Komnene’s pen crafting an epic hero who stood tall in a world alEmpress Irene was ‘deeply pious and became the patron of monks and holy men.’ Angold. Church and Society in Byzantium. p. 45, 69. 34 Additionally, the fact that he confiscated Church treasures to pay for his military campaigns is evidenced by his chrysobull promising to make amends and never do it again. Angold. Church and Society in Byzantium. p. 47. 35 See Angold. Church and Society in Byzantium. p. 69. 36 Quandahl and Jarratt. ‘To Recall Him.’ p. 324. 37 ‘Evoking ancient writers, orators, and mythical figures is both a display of Anna’s erudition and acquaintance with works of antiquity and a frame for her own writing in a comparable elevated, lively manner.’ C.L. Connor. Women of Byzantium. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004), p. 246. 38 Connor. Women of Byzantium. p. 247. 33



ready populated by heroes of mythic strength and beauty rather than simply by men and women has been considered a step forward in Byzantine historiography. 39 Even when she was not an eyewitness, she manages to fill the page with jeweled scenes of the imperial court and graphic images of the mechanics of warfare [XIII.iii; 402], but also with endearing true-to-life details and startling episodes she knew first-hand from the remarkable characters in her family. 40 In her highly visual literary style, Anna Komnene depicts her father in the midst of it all as the operational centerpiece: analyzing maneuvers, issuing orders, and campaigning to retrieve the four corners of his empire. At once both congenial father figure and warrior-emperor, she describes him as respected by subjects and foes alike, driving the reins of the empire. 41 Anna Komnene also looked up to the strong women in her family and she describes the reins of the empire being driven by one of them as well. 42 Anna Dalassene is one of three impressive maternal figures at play in the make-up of Anna Komnene’s family life. Like many young girls, Anna adored her grandmother and characterized her as courageous and assertive, the ‘mother of the Komneni,’ [II.iv; 85] a phrase which Anna Dalassene herself adopted as a semi-official title during her years in power; a seal surSee J Ljubarskij. ‘Why is the Alexiad a Masterpiece of Byzantine Literature?’ in Anna Komnene and her Times. T Gouma-Peterson. (ed). (New York, NY: Garland Publishing Inc., 2000), p. 175. 40 For example, Anna Dalassene demanding sanctuary in Hagia Sophia during her son’s coup d’état by clasping the sacred doors at the entrance and crying out, ‘Unless my hands are cut off, I will not leave this holy place, except on one condition: that I receive the Emperor’s cross as guarantee of safety.’ Book II.v; 85. Another remarkable action-filmworthy image depicts the warrior-prowess of her father, who suddenly struck at the enemy; ‘his hand, together with the sword in it, was at once hurled to the ground.’ Book I.viii; 50. 41 See Connor. Women of Byzantium. p. 248. 42 ‘He yielded her precedence in everything, relinquishing the reins of government, as it were, and running alongside as she drove the imperial chariot.’ Book; 116. 39



vives inscribed with the phrase. 43 Anna also offers the reader appreciative descriptions of her mother, Irene Doukaina, comparing her lovely hands to carved ivory. [III.iii; 110–111] Demonstrating her filial devotion, Anna Komnene recounts a miraculous occurrence in connection with her birth: since her father was away on campaign, Empress Irene is said to have made the sign of the cross upon her belly, charging her unborn child to stay the onset of labor until his return. [VI.viii; 196] Anna paints a picture of the rounds of her pious imperial family life with scheduled times for Scripture to be read and Psalms to be offered, where ‘it was natural that men of culture should attend the palace when the devoted pair (my parents, I mean) were themselves laboring so hard night and day in searching the Holy Scriptures.’ [V.ix; 178] Later, after her childbearing years, Empress Irene accompanied her husband on campaign, 44 and was known for her generosity and good counsel to the poor. [XII.iii; 377–378] Maria of Alania as well comes in for admiration and praise in Anna Komnene’s description. 45 Anna Dalassene, Irene Doukaina, and Maria of Alania each figure significantly in Anna’s family life and that of her father, Alexios I. All three women ‘deal with the individual crises they face with courage and vision.’ 46 Both Anna Komnene’s mother and her grandmother retired to the convents they founded, Irene Doukaina to the Kecharitomene, and Anna Dalassene to the Pantepoptes. Anna followed in turn, also retiring to the Kecharitomene convent, ‘where she interacted with educated men who flocked there to read, write, and recite.’ 47 Of course, it must be remembered that Hill. Imperial Women in Byzantium 1025–1204. p. 117. ‘By night she was the unsleeping eye, by day his most conspicuous guardian.’ Book XII.iii; 376. 45 Maria of Alania is described as ‘tall, like a cypress tree; her skin was snow-white … eyebrows flame-colored, arched above eyes of light blue … a living work of art, an object of desire to lovers of beauty.’ Book III.ii; 107. 46 B Hill. ‘Anna Komnene.’ in Women and Gender in Medieval Europe. Schaus. (ed.) (New York, NY: Routledge, 2006), p. 444. 47 Hill. ‘Anna Komnene.’ p. 444. 43 44



only when her mother’s efforts to put Nikephoros Bryennios on the throne failed did Anna Komnene ‘throw in her hand and seek consolation in learning,’ 48 and it was in her forced convent retirement ‘overlooking the tranquil waters of the Golden Horn,’ 49 that she wrote the Alexiad. 50 In the portraits of her grandmother and her mother, maternal imagery is mobilized to ‘argue for an aristocratic woman’s right of access to both a full intellectual life and real political power.’ 51 Furthermore, in Anna Komnene’s use of the theme of parental relationships she reveals and defines herself in a manner consistent with the mother-son portraits of authors such as Gregory of Nazianzus, Theodore of Stoudios, and Michael Psellos. 52 Although in his history of the middle centuries of the Byzantine state 53 written in the next generation after Anna Komnene, Niketas Choniates blames Empress Irene for inciting Anna’s husband to seize the throne and names Anna as an instigator of the plot, the historian Zonaras does not in fact represent Anna as in any way a conspirator against her brother the emperor: The secondary literature, eliding Zonaras and Choniates, has frequently constructed a biography in which Anna and her mother at this time together attempt to wrest the crown from John. When this plot fails, Anna is exiled to the convent, where, embittered, she remains for the rest of her life. As we

Ostrogorsky. History of the Byzantine State. p. 377. Browning. ‘An Unpublished Funeral Oration.’ p. 401. 50 Also, Browning hypothesizes that, from the Convent of the Mother of God Kecharitomene, Anna Komnene ‘played a role in the revival of Aristotelian scholarship in the Byzantine world’ with her philosophical circle ‘numbering among its members Michael of Ephesus and probably Eustratios of Nicaea.’ R Browning. ‘An Unpublished Funeral Oration on Anna Comnene.’ pp. 400–401. 51 Hatlie. ‘Images of Motherhood and Self in Byzantine Literature.’ p. 51. 52 Hatlie. ‘Images of Motherhood and Self in Byzantine Literature.’ p. 52. 53 See N Choniates. O City of Byzantium: Annals of Niketas Choniatēs. H J Magoulias. (trans.) (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1984). 48 49



will see, generations of scholars have created this story, using familiar topoi about women’s psychology to craft a picture of Anna as a woman with a vexed relationship to imperial power. 54

More recently, in fact, commentators including Browning and Hill have been more cautionary in their estimation of Anna’s responsibility in plans to overthrow the throne. 55 While frustration over unfulfilled imperial ambition may likely have spear-headed Anna Komnene’s efforts to favor her father over her brother in describing her family circumstances, the Alexiad was nevertheless an unprecedented achievement. Treadgold hails it as ‘the finest work of historical art since Procopius’ Wars. Anna set a high standard for the Byzantine historians to come.’ 56 Anna Komnene commits herself again and again to impartiality; however, considering her proximity to the events, it may be easy to protest too much. As a useful historical resource for the First Crusade, it is problematic that she describes it within the narrow focus of her father’s point of view, not delving into details of its origin. Judged as world history, it is plainly found wanting. Yet, although the text was never explicitly intended as such, the Alexiad remains a significant source for the First Crusade from the Byzantine perspective; 57 and with its elaborate web of strategic eyewitness military details, it may indeed, as he states, have awakened Gibbon’s jealousy. 58 By writing an epic life of her father, Anna Komnene has, on balance, contributed to the story of Byzantium as we know it. Even with the bitter disappointment of her relationship with her brother Quandahl and Jarratt, ‘To Recall Him,’ p. 306. Browning. ‘An Unpublished Funeral Oration.’ p. 5; Hill, Imperial Women in Byzantium 1025–1204, p. 34. 56 Treadgold. A History of the Byzantine State and Society. p. 693. 57 Stephenson. ‘Anna Comnene’s Alexiad as a Source for the Second Crusade?’ p. 41. 58 ‘The perpetual strain of panegyric and apology awakens our jealousy to question the veracity of the author.’ E Gibbon. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. (New York, NY: Harper & Bros., 1880), v. 4, p. 619. 54 55



starkly unreconciled, the Alexiad can be considered an act of devotion by the good daughter (kale thugater) and an example of the complexities of love in action within the Orthodox family. It can be viewed as an aspect of her role in the family that Anna seems content with an arranged marriage and presupposes that love and affection will be found within it; yet she considered herself to be an imperial Komnene all her life. Her husband, while he appears in her history, does not fill her life in the way that her father did. 59 Anna retained such an effective dynastic connection with her family that her seal bears the name Komnene and not Bryennisa, her name by marriage. Her own daughter, Irene, preferred to identify herself through the line of her grandmother, styling her name as Irene Doukaina, rather than using her father’s name. In fact, none of her children took their father’s name. 60 In aristocratic families where women were sometimes quite as powerful as their husbands, it appears that ‘power, property, and prestige traveled down the female line.’ 61 The topos of the faithful daughter is also reflected in Anna’s description of her father’s creation of the orphanage of St. Peter and St. Paul on the acropolis of Constantinople, thus praising him for the imperial virtue of philanthropia; 62 its mission was to ‘care for the needs of the poor and refugees whose presence on the streets of the capitol contributed to the instability of Constantinopolitan society.’ 63 Her esteemed regard for her mother is evidenced in Anna’s intellectual prowess, her pious askesis, and the fact that she carefully and consistently cites both of her parents when acknowledging her imperial genealogy. [Prologue; 17]. Anna Komnene’s account of the family gathered around the deathbed of Emperor Alexios includes her own presence there as Hill. Imperial Women in Byzantium 1025–1204. pp. 125–128. Hill. Imperial Women in Byzantium 1025–1204. p. 137. 61 A E Laiou. ‘Women in the History of Byzantium.’ in Byzantine Women and Their World. I Kalavrezou. (ed.) (Cambridge: Harvard University Art Museums, 2003), p. 29. 62 Book XV.vii; 491. 63 Angold. Church and Society in Byzantium under the Comneni 1081– 1261. p. 69. 59 60



his dutiful daughter, compassionately preparing nourishment for him in his last days and placing herself between her grieving mother and the sight of her father as he was suffering in extremis. In the text, she clearly identifies her younger brother as the emperor’s successor, and reports that in imminent anticipation of imperial accession, he moved ‘to the house set apart for him’ in the Great Palace. [, 512] As death approached, the emperor ‘was slow to reject his wife’s irresponsible proposal to disinherit his son in favor of the Caesar Nikephoros Bryennios. According to John himself, whose word was accepted, Alexios decided for his son just before dying in August.’ 64 As an eyewitness, Anna Komnene describes in frank medical detail her dying father’s painful symptoms and in response the loving ministrations of her sister and mother in grief, as well as her own, holding her father’s hand to the end. In his funeral oration for her, Tornikes praises Anna in this moment, ‘who according to those who say anything was her brother’s rival, although she knew that her father had just left this world, forgot the imperial title and joined with her mother in mourning, as they sat alone on the floor with bared heads.’ 65 Anna Komnene is mute, however, about her mother’s part and her own in ‘the persistent struggles for the succession which poisoned the last days and hours of the Emperor Alexios.’ 66 Nevertheless, the Alexiad can be seen as a unique examination of several of the relationships within her imperial family. While she may not have fulfilled her dream of exercising influence over the empire as empress, Anna Komnene was able to advance the memory and renown of her beloved father by the crafting of an epic narrative describing his achievements. Thus, as the pious daughter of Emperor Alexios I Komnenos, she has left an enduring legacy in Byzantine history. Angold. Church and Society in Byzantium under the Comneni 1081– 1261. p. 628. 65 Georges Tornikios quoted in Browning. ‘An Unpublished Funeral Oration on Anna Comnene.’ p. 404. 66 Ostrogorsky. History of the Byzantine State. p. 376. 64


This study will take four passages from Origen’s Commentary and Homilies on the Song of Songs, in order to trace Origen’s understanding of love and its role in the ascent of the soul to God. It will also look at his writing on the secondary themes of the ordering of human love and marriage within the corpus. Applying K. J. Torjesen’s system for reading Origen, the study notes Origen’s repeating exegetical cycle within the passages. The varied levels of meaning within texts are noted, moving from Origen’s direct explications to his allegorical reading; and Origen’s teachings to the individual reader, concerned with preparing the heart to receive Christ, are highlighted. The first passage under consideration is taken from the Prologue to the Commentary On the Song, and examines the nature of love. Origen writes partly in reply to Plato’s Symposium. The second passage, from the Commentary, traces God’s love for the preexistent church through scriptural history. The third text under consideration, also from the Commentary, addresses the problem of human love; and the fourth, from Origen’s second Homily on the Song of Songs, is studied as an example of the rhetorical treatment of the problem of human love. The study in general serves as an introduction to Origen’s method of reading and analyzing a text, as well as setting out Origen’s theologoumena on the love of God and the response of humanity to God’s love.


The love of God is the theme of the second passage selected from Origen’s Commentary on the Songs of Songs (CS 2.8). The verse 185



Origen examines is ‘We will make thee likenesses of gold with silver inlays, till the King recline at his table’ (SS 1.11–12a). The section as a whole exhibits elements identified by Torjesen in her analysis of Origen’s exegesis: after quoting from the Song of Songs, Origen explicates the passage in his own words, identifying the actors who are speaking (‘Verse’); he continues, often utilizing catalogues of citations from scripture based on a single term, followed by an aside to the reader, but also in the form of a general analytical statement on the passage (‘Narrative’); sometimes Origen’s explications refer to the Bride as the church (‘Teaching’), and sometimes to the Bride as the soul (‘Reader’). Concluding this section, Origen writes a final repetition the original verse with a spiritual teaching to the reader (‘Reader’). Rather than conforming to Torjesen’s concluding figure pattern, it is one of Torjesen’s intermediary steps in the cycle (‘Reader’), since it is not the concluding passage of the book.


Scripture in Origen’s time was not organized into standard chapter and verse. Therefore, his citations take the form of abbreviated stories. His ability to evoke a vivid miniature of the story in question is remarkable, and is, no doubt, one of the qualities that made him a great catechetical teacher. His recitations of proof texts pile story upon story, not only recalling the story for the reader, but evoking the sense memory of those stories as well. Origen is adept at organizing the text to be analyzed. There are three exegetical cycles that result from Origen breaking the line into three sections. The first cycle, based on the text ‘We will make,’ identifies the speakers of the line and takes Origen into their significance for the Church, as the Bride, in her marriage to Christ. The second cycle takes up ‘likenesses of gold with silver inlays,’ which examines gold and silver as metaphor, and their pedagogical significance for the Bride and Christ. The third cycle examines ‘till the King recline at his table,’ focusing again on Christ and the church, and this time including the spiritual formation of the individual, the third reading of the verse.



TEXT ANALYSIS First Exegetical Cycle: ‘We will make’ Origen opens his exegesis by quoting the verse: ‘We will make thee likenesses of gold with silver inlays, till the King recline at his table.’ He notes, as he often does in the Commentary, that the Song of Songs is written as a play with a cast of characters. For Origen, the identity of the speaker in the play is the starting point of his exegesis, defining its trajectory and the texts to be consulted, and with the verse quotation, constitutes the first part of his exegesis (‘Verse’). The ‘we’ in ‘We will make thee likenesses’ are: ‘the friends and companions of the Bridegroom – who, on the mystical interpretation, can be taken, as also we remarked before, either as the angels or even the prophets, or as the patriarchs – appear as speaking the words quoted to the Bride’ (CS 2.8 [148]). The companions of the Bridegroom are the guardians and teachers of the Bride, who prepare her for the Bridegroom. In the context of the Song of Songs, Origen identifies the Bride as either the church or the soul of the reader. The Bridegroom is always Christ. Origen has included angels in the companions of the Bridegroom, adding them to the companions already identified as the prophets and patriarchs of the Old Testament. The angels are an important addition to the companions. Origen states that angels have been active throughout scripture, before they ministered to Jesus in the wilderness. He goes on to say that the Law was ‘ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator’ (CS 2.8 [148], citing Gal 3.19). The angels, as messengers between God and the prophets and patriarchs, have a more direct relationship to God. Angelic instruction or ministration is more direct than human prophecy. Such instruction, added to the prophetical and patriarchal, further proves that the companions of the Bridegroom have been preparing the Bride from the beginning of time. Origen concludes his defense of angels as companions to the Bridegroom by paraphrasing Paul: ‘He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and unspotted in His sight, predestinating us in charity unto the adoption of sons’ (CS 2.8 [149]). The Bride is identified as the preexistent church, attested to by Paul. This is the end of the first part of the first exegetical cycle. The identification of the angels has prepared the



ground for the next movement of Origen’s exegesis, the revelation of the preexistent church in scripture. Origen goes on to defend the preexistent Christian church, beginning with: ‘Remember Thy congregation, O Lord, which Thou hast gathered from the beginning’ (CS 2.8 [149], citing Ps 72). Origen then states: ‘the Apostle says that the Church is built on the foundation not of the apostles only, but also of the prophets’ (CS 2.8 [149], citing Eph 2.20). Origen strengthens his premise, by referring to creation, naming Adam as a prophet of the preexistent church: And among the prophets Adam too is reckoned, who prophesied ‘the great mystery in Christ and in the Church’ [Eph 5.32], when he said: ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh’ [Gen 2.24]. It is clearly with reference to these words of his that the Apostle says that ‘this is a great mystery, but I speak in Christ and the Church’ [Eph 5.32] (CS 2.8 [149])

Here, Adam is the prophet foretelling the coming of Christ. Origen brackets Adam’s prophesy between repeating quotations of Paul, so that the words ‘great mystery’ and ‘Christ and the church’ (Eph 5.32) come before and after Adam’s speech. They surround ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh.’ (Gen 2.24). The ‘great mystery’ of ‘Christ and the church’ is now foretold at the wedding of Adam and Eve. Adam’s words have acquired a new meaning. Adam’s speech no longer refers simply to the particular bond of marriage, as Israel would have understood it, and as many readers still understand it, but to the relationship between Christ, the church and the soul. The quotation from Genesis, bracketed between the repeated Ephesians quotation, places the prophecy of Christ at the beginning of Creation, and illustrates exactly what the ‘mystery’ is. The text configuration creates a brilliant defense of Origen’s premise that the church existed before Creation, and that Adam, the first man, foretells Christ, the last man. Origen draws on more references to marriage before he leaves the theme of the preexistent church. He elaborates on the metaphor of marriage, focusing again on the nature of the bond, with ‘For Christ so loved the Church that He delivered Himself up for



it’ paraphrasing Paul (Eph 5.25), emphasizing the sacrificial nature of marriage. Origen follows with: For how could he have loved her if she did not exist? Undoubtedly Heloved her who did exist; she existed in all the saints who have been since time began. So, loving her, He came to her; and, ‘as the children were partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself in like manner was made a sharer of the same’ [Heb 2.14], and delivered Himself up for them. They themselves were the Church whom He loved (CS 2.8 [150])

Coming after Adam’s prophecy, this quotation reads as a statement on the sacrificial nature of the love between husband and wife, as well as how tenderly Christ loves the preexistent church, dying for it, that he might be resurrected. Indeed, Christ marries the church, making marriage the consistent image in Origen’s defense of the preexistent church. After this text, Origen restates his premise that the angels and prophets ministered to the Church from the beginning. This is the final point to be made in his premise that the Christian Church was founded at the beginning of creation, with Adam as its first prophet. Origen closes this cycle with a teaching to the reader: ‘We are setting out to show in what sense the holy angels who had charge of the Bride while she was yet a little child, before the coming of the Lord, are identical with the friends and companions of the Bridegroom’ (CS 2.8 [150]). He then repeats the opening verse, moving directly into a discussion of the next part of the verse (‘Reader’). This concludes the first exegetical cycle. Second Exegetical Cycle: ‘likenesses of gold with silver inlays’ In exploring the metaphor of silver and gold in scripture, Origen identifies the Law derived in the Old Testament as pedagogical preparation of the Bride. Origen notes that the companions of the Bride cannot make the Bride ornaments of gold, but only likenesses of gold and that they have only enough silver for inlays. The first meaning Origen gives to gold and silver are that gold symbolizes the perceptive and incorporeal nature, whereas silver symbolizes the power of speech and reason. He then cites and paraphrases his proof text:


CLIO PAVLANTOS even as the Lord says through the prophet: ‘I gave you silver and gold, but you have made silver and golden Baalim’ [Hos 2.8]. Which is as much to say: ‘I gave you perception and reason, with which to perceive and worship me, your God; but you have transferred the perception and reason that is in you to the worship of evil spirits’ (CS 2.8 [151]).

In this case, Israel has misused the gifts of God, perception and eloquence. There is a further symbolic meaning in silver and gold, as the visible expression of the divine. Origen then turns to the Tabernacle (Ex 25–7) and notes gold altar objects such as the Ark of Testimony and the altar of incense, then seeing the Temple itself as the visible expression of the heavenly order, patterns of the true, but not the truth. He sees that everything written under the Law is also a likeness of gold, a natural law that contains knowledge (CS 2.8 [152]). Origen returns to a quotation from the first exegetical cycle. While it referred to the angels ministering to the preexistent church in the first exegetical cycle, here the quotation will refer to the Law as a divinely inspired pattern of truth, but not the truth itself: For it seems to me that because the Law which ‘was ordained by angels in the hand of the mediator’ [Gal 3.19], had ‘but a shadow of good things to come, not the very image of the things’ [Heb 10.1], and because all the things that happened to those who are described as being under the Law happened in a figure, not the truth, these things are all of them likenesses of gold, not true gold (CS 2.8 [152]).

In this case, the true gold represents things unseen, with the likenesses being the visible expression of things unseen (CS 2.8 [152]). What is in heaven contains the true, while what is on earth is a pattern of the truth. Origen sees the Law and Judaism as a pattern of the true, but not the truth itself (CS 2.8 [153]). The point of Origen’s discussion of the symbology of silver and gold is that the companions of the Bridegroom, the angels, prophets and patriarchs referred to earlier, have been teaching the Bride through the Law and the Prophets ‘by means of figures, and images, and likenesses, and parables’ (CS 2.8 [152]). Origen goes on to say that the ‘silver inlays’ of the verse are ‘tokens of a spiritual



meaning and a rational interpretation’ (CS 2.8 [154]). These guardians and trustees teach before the Crucifixion, so they can only allude to the wisdom to come. Israel cannot know the wisdom the Christian Church will inherit. Judaism, then, is a likeness of gold. Origen then makes a brief detour in his discussion, acknowledging that personal knowledge of the truth is always possible: ‘When, however, a man ‘shall be converted to the Lord’, and ‘the veil shall be taken away’ from him, then he will see true gold’ (CS 2.8 [153], citing 2 Cor 3.16). This insight is reinforced by Origen’s understanding of the Crucifixion as standing outside of time: ‘You must understand ‘the end of ages’ rather as the consummation of all things’ (CS 2.8 [153]). ‘Consummation’ clearly refers to the Crucifixion. The understanding of the Crucifixion, Origen is saying, can come at any time, before or after the event. Building on his detour, Origen cites a case in point. The small silver inlays symbolize the flashes of truth in the prophets. Origen terms them ‘tokens of spiritual meaning and a rational interpretation’ (CS 2.8 [154]). He cites an instance of a prophet revealing the hidden workings of God: ‘Isaias when he says: ‘For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the house of Juda, His beloved newly planted vine’; and again in another place: ‘The many waters of many nations’ ‘ (CS 2.8 [154], citing Is 5.7 and 8.7). Origen will also refer to Ezechiel’s explanation of Oolla and Ooliba as Samaria and Judah (CS 2.8 [154], citing Ez. 23.4). These instances of revelatory insight, however, are rare among the companions of the Bridegroom. It is the Passion of Christ that brings the revelation of the truth of God’s love. Origen again refers to the veil of the temple (Mt 27.51): ‘At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two’, interpreting it as follows: ‘thus openly declaring to all men that that which had been formerly concealed could now be seen’ (CS 2.8 [154]). The true gold of heaven is now visible to all. After the revelation of the Crucifixion, true gold and silver are now used freely, and the traces of gold and flashes of revelation that came before the Crucifixion can now be identified. The time for the likenesses of gold has finished. When full revelation comes, the likeness gives way to the truth of God’s love. Origen catalogues some signs from the Exodus:


CLIO PAVLANTOS Now, therefore, they will use no longer little inlays of silver, but will use it copiously and freely. For they will understand that Christ was in that likeness of gold, the rock, which is said to follow the people and affordthem drink, and that the Sea is Baptism, and the cloud the Holy Spirit, and the manna the Word of God, and the paschal lamb the Passion of Christ, and the veil which is in the Holy of Holies and by which the divine secret things were covered, is His flesh; and countless other things will lie open to them from His resurrection, not now like a little inlay, but as spread out in all their breadth (CS 2.8 [155]).

Origen demonstrates here that it is only with the knowledge of the Crucifixion that the full meaning of scripture is revealed. The Crucifixion has ended the time of preparation and brought the time of fulfillment. The ornaments made for the Bride by the companions were only meant to prepare the Bride, to teach her so that she might be ready for the full truth of the Crucifixion. The full truth of God’s love for humanity has been revealed. Third Exegetical Cycle: ‘till the King recline at his table’ The final cycle of the section focuses on the effect of the Crucifixion on the church and on the individual. Origen begins with the church. He again turns to Balaam, this time referring to the birth and death of Christ: ‘A star’, he says, ‘shall rise out of Jacob and a man shall come forth from his seed … For God shall bring him out of Egypt … Lying down he shall rest as a lion and as a lion’s whelp, and who shall rouse him up?’ (CS 2.8 [156], citing Num 24.14, 7–9). Again, the Crucifixion is the culmination of Scripture, the fulfillment of prophecy. Origen next considers the question of the companions’ knowledge: how did the prophets and fathers before the Crucifixion understand the coming Christ? Origen concludes: For the things we believe actually to have happened they, with a greater expectation, believed as going to happen. As, therefore, the faith of believers since Christ’s coming in things that have already taken place has brought them to the summit of perfection, so also did their faith in things to come bring them to the same end (CS 2.8 [156–7]).



For Origen, faith in the coming Christ imparts the same understanding of the truth as faith after the Crucifixion. It brings the soul to the same state of maturity. This reflection takes Origen to his second interpretation, pertaining to the individual soul. For the soul, ‘ till the King recline at his table’ has to do with the Bride’s readiness to accept Christ into her heart. Likenesses are for a specific purpose: to ready the soul, as the Bride, to receive the Bridegroom of Christ. In one of several asides to the reader (‘Reader’) in this cycle, Origen states: These likenesses had, therefore, to be made only ‘till the King recline at His table’ – that is, only until such a soul shall advance sufficiently to receive ‘the King reclining at His table’ in herself. For this King says Himself: ‘I will dwell among them, and I will walk among them’[Lev 26.12], meaning among those, surely, who offer such roomy hearts to the Word of God that He may even be said to walk about in them, that is, in the open spaces of a fuller understanding and a wider knowledge (CS 2.8 [158]).

Origen interprets Leviticus in a new way. Reading back into scripture from the Crucifixion, he can now see the quote applied to the individual soul as well as to the nation of Israel. Origen then describes the soul ready to receive Christ: ‘That King, who is the Word of God, reclines, then, at His table in that soul who … has no vice in her … full of holiness, full of piety, faith, charity, peace, and all the other virtues.Then it is that the King takes pleasure in resting and reclining at His table in her’ (CS 2.8 [158]). Origen goes on to describe the banquet that Christ and Father have in the heart of such a soul: ‘Peace is the first food put there, with it are served humility and patience, clemency likewise and gentleness and – the sweetest of all to Him – cleanness of heart. But charity holds the highest place at this banquet’ (CS 2.8 [159]). In his lesson for the reader, charity is the crowning virtue, the one to be most sought. This is the instruction to the reader, paired with the spiritual reading of the verse (‘Reader’). This exegetical cycle concludes the section. Origen imparts his concluding teaching, making it a spiritual teaching to the reader in Torjesen’s system (‘Reader’), but incorporating the repetition of the verse from Torjesen’s final movement of the exegetical cycle (‘Verse Repeat’): ‘On these lines, therefore, on this third interpreta-



tion, you will see that the words: ‘We will make thee likenesses of gold with silver inlays, till the King recline at His table’, may be applied to any individual soul’ (CS 2.8 [159]). At the end of the third cycle, Origen reveals a dual concern in this section: the spiritual advancement of the reader and the premise that the Church, as Bride of Christ, has been loved by God from the beginning of Creation. Conclusion The three exegetical cycles Origen forms out of the text all support one conclusion: the prophets and patriarchs of Israel, as well as the angels, have been guiding and guarding the Bride, the church, from the beginning of creation, teaching her through parables, figures and the Law until the Bridegroom, Christ, should appear to claim her through the Crucifixion. These companions of the Bridegroom have not the wisdom of the Bridegroom, but they have some understanding of it, which they impart to the Bride. This the Bride must learn to be ready to receive the Bridegroom so that he may feast and live within her. For the individual, the teachings of the companions are a preparation of one’s heart, making it fit for the Bridegroom. All of this happens because God loves his creation. The Mystery of Christ and the Church: Ephesians and Genesis The combination of Ephesians with Genesis in the first exegetical cycle articulates two aspects of the mystery of Christ and the church: Origen has proved that Christ, and by extension the church, are foretold at creation, foreshadowing the Crucifixion; and he alludes to the nature of Christ’s love for humanity by including ‘cleave to his wife’ in the quotation of Adam’s prophecy. These aspects are highlighted against the background of the specific story of Adam and Eve in Genesis and Paul’s directives to husbands and wives in Ephesians. Marriage is the background of the proof texts, an illustration of God’s love of human beings. The Love of God The love of God moves through all three exegetical cycles: in the angels whose work is to carry the instructions of God to earth, as they guide and guard the church before the Crucifixion; in the



prophecy of Christ’s coming, spoken by Adam at the event of his union with Eve, giving hope to the world; in the prophets and patriarchs God creates in Israel; and in the ultimate revelation of the love of God and Christ, the Crucifixion. God loves the church and soul with a spousal love, caring for it so that it may receive his son. It is the love of God for his creatures, among them the men and women of earth, that has brought about all the events of scripture, culminating in the Crucifixion. In this section, Origen has told the whole story of scripture through the exegesis of ‘we will make thee likenesses of gold with silver inlays till the King recline at his table’ (SS 1.11–12a).

THE ORDER OF HUMAN LOVE Origen as Homilist Origen’s first and second homilies are abridged versions of his Commentary. While the first homily covers the first two books extant of the Commentary, the second homily covers the last two books extant. In writing for the congregation, Origen makes a few concessions to the more general knowledge of his audience. Most of the same points are made. The logic underlying them is not articulated. The text of the Homilies was translated into the Latin from the Greek by Jerome. There has been controversy over the translations of Origen into Latin, particularly the work of Rufinus in the Commentary. This chapter presents an opportunity to compare two exegesis of one text; ‘Set ye in order charity in me’ (SS 2.4b). Chapter 3 examined Origen’s exegesis of the text in the Commentary (CS 3.7). Origen’s exegesis of the same text appears in the second homily (HS 2.8). Origen’s rationale remains the same, even if it is not set out before the congregation. The ordering of human love remains unchanged. The most notable difference is that Jerome’s text is clearly one to be heard rather than read, but this would be appropriate in a homily. Torjesen’s cycle of exegesis is somewhat different in the homilies than the Commentary. The verse is repeated (‘Verse’), but the narrative and the teaching are combined into a narrative where the story is told as spiritual interaction between Christ and the Church that the hearer is to act upon in his or her own life (‘Narrative/Teaching’). In the homilies the hearer is often addressed di-



rectly (‘Hearer’). In the homily examined here, the ending verse repetition has an interesting twist (‘Verse’).

TEXT ANALYSIS The Lesson Origen begins, as in Commentary, with the quote of the verse to be analyzed: ‘Set ye in order charity in me’ (‘Verse’). Then he goes directly to his teaching saying: ‘For truly the charity of many is in a state of disorder; they accord the second place in their loving to that which ought to be first, and to that which should come second they give the first … But the charity of the saints has been set in order’ (HS 2.8 [295]). Origen assumes his congregation to be like most people, loving inappropriately. He acknowledges that the right order of love is difficult: only the saints love in an orderly way. The change of tone from the Commentary is immediately apparent; this is not an intellectual discourse written for the academic mind. Origen gives the kind of illustration and detail for the average congregant preoccupied with family and community. He doesn’t cite the scriptural proof texts for his assertion. It isn’t important for his congregation to understand what the foundation for his lesson is. They have to follow it to bring their souls closer to God. This is the point of Origen’s homily. However, the pattern for the ordering of human love is exactly the same as in his Commentary (CS 3.7). The First Repetition Origen goes on to explain the order of love in terms his congregation can understand, saying: I want to unfold some examples. The Divine Word wants you to love father, son, daughter. The Divine Word wants you to love Christ, and it does not tell you not to love your children, nor does it tell you that you should not be united in love with those who gave you birth. It tells you: ‘You must not havea love that is disordered. You must not love your father and your mother first and me afterwards; you must not be possessed by love of son and daughter more than by love of me.



He that loveth father and mother more than me is not worthy of me’(HS 2.8 [295], citing Mat 10.37).

Origen emphasizes God’s understanding of the human heart, and asks his congregation to give primacy to the divine in their hearts. Origen is concerned with communicating the right order here and he does not give more citations than needed. Origen the accomplished exegete, master of the biblical canon, has been replaced by Origen the plain speaker, addressing the common householder and family man. Clearly, he was a keen observer of household life and human families. This is the first repetition of the lesson (‘Narrative/Teaching’). The Second Repetition He follows this up with a direct address to his hearers, repeating his message for the third time. However, he does not repeat his message in the same way, but intensifies it by employing the interrogative: Which among us, do you think, has progressed so far as to have chief and first of all his loves that of the Word of God, and to put his children in second place? After this fashion you must love your wife also. ‘For no man ever hated his own flesh’ [Eph 5.29]; but he loves her as his flesh; ‘they two’, it is said, ‘shall be two’ – not one in spirit, but – ‘shall be two in one flesh’ [Eph.31]. Love God too, but love Him not as flesh and blood but as Spirit; for ‘he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit’ [I Cor 6.17] (HS 2.8 [295]).

Origen has laid out the whole order of human love under God again, but this time in a more nuanced fashion. He has established the primacy of the Word in the well-ordered heart, with children second, as expected. He goes on to illustrate the unique nature of the marriage bond, the paradox of two individuals who live as one in the flesh, but remain separate in spirit. That he stipulates the individuality of spouses speaks again to the status of women as individuals. It is an interesting stipulation in his order of charity put forth in the homily. Origen then explains why the marital bond is yet not as intimate as the one between the soul and the Word, for the soul and the Word are one in spirit, beyond word and flesh, living more closely together within the heart. Origen addresses his



hearers directly, following another pattern identified by Torjesen (‘Hearer’). Origen briefly addresses the issue of merit, instructing his hearers that a virtuous domestic takes precedence over a bad son. While he stresses the honorable life in Commentary (CS 3.7), this is the only time he mentions it directly in the second homily (HS 2.8 [295]). Origen leaves the relationships of family life to address the more difficult questions of the primacy of God in the heart and the problem of anger. The order of Christ’s commandments still governs human interactions, even angry ones. The Problem of Anger Origen articulates the problem of anger as follows, quoting from the gospel: He does not say that thou shalt love God as thyself, that a neighbor shall be loved with the whole heart, with the whole soul, with the whole strength, withthe whole mind. Again, he said : ‘Love your enemies’[Mt 5.44], and did not add ‘with the whole heart.' The Divine Word is not disordered, He does not command impossibilities, and He does not say ‘Love your enemies as yourselves’, but only ‘Love your enemies’. It is enough for them that we love them and do not hate them (HS 2.8 [296]).

Origen has reemphasized his point by putting his order of human love back into disorder: loving God as self; loving the neighbor as the hearer should love God; loving the enemy as God should be loved. He makes disorder ridiculous by placing his mismatched pairs at the end of his homily, after he has repeatedly described the right ordering of human love. Origen teaches, here, by exposing the hearer’s disordered heart in a public homily. Origen has a thorough understanding of his audience. He reveals the distractions within his hearers’ hearts, reinforcing the rightness of the correct ordering of human love. He does not go into the deeper mystery of the connection between love and hate, he doesn’t reveal the scriptural foundations for his understanding. He simply tells the members of his congregation what they need to know to live out the Gospel. Origen has returned to the form he used in his first exposition of the lesson; he narrates the order of human love. Torjesen’s



pattern can be identified here as a direct address to the congregation (‘Narrative/Teaching’). Origen ends his exegesis, but Torjesen’s repetition pattern does not occur (‘Verse Repeat’). Origen finishes with a direct challenge to the congregation: ‘Which among us, think you, is a man of ordered charity?’ (HS 2.8 [296]) Conclusion In reading the second homily, a different rhetoric emerges from that of the Commentary. Origen engages his hearers directly, challenging them to put the lesson into practice. He repeats his message several times, always recasting it in a different mode: story, direct challenge by employing the interrogative, and deliberate disordering of the order of human love. Origen’s language is vivid, paraphrasing scriptural sources and weaving them seamlessly into the narrative of the homily. A master exegete, Origen is a master homilist as well. He is able to impart all the nuance of his theology to his congregation as effectively as to his serious students. The Terminology of Love In his homiletic exegesis of ‘Set ye in order charity in me’ (SS 2.4b), Origen, rather than remaining in the allegorical reading of most of his Commentary, gives direct instructions to his congregation on how to live a Christian life. The directives as to the ordering of the heart are clearly stated. It should be noted that Origen, in translations by Rufinus and Jerome, in the Commentary and the Homilies, consistently uses the term ‘charity’ in referring to God’s love. This follows Origen’s description of the pure and perfect nature of God’s love, evident in the Prologue to the Commentary (CS Pr. 2 [32]). Origen considers God’s love to be the highest form of love, higher than any term for love that may be used when speaking of God, even the more passionate terms. Divine love will be discussed further in the conclusion of this thesis.

PHILANTHROPIA AS GOD’S LOVINGKINDNESS: ORIGEN OF ALEXANDRIA AND HIS THEOLOGY OF LOVE THEODORE GREY DEDON Note how scripture says there must always be fire burning on the altar. Scripture also says you will be called priests of the Lord and that text is also addressed to you: ‘You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a people set apart for God.’ So, if you are indeed a high priest of God and wish to perform the priestly functions of your soul, make sure that the fire never goes out on your altar. – Origen of Alexandria 1

Augustine in his Confessions, famously says ‘The single desire that dominated my search for delight was simply to love and be loved.’ 2 Love is a desire which motivates people all over the world for a variety of reasons. In the Christian tradition, nearly no matter what denomination, God is Love. This ideal is an ethic, a virtue, a state of being, and in a sense, a way of looking at being-itself. Love is a Origen, Homily on Leviticus, 4.6.440; cf. McGuckin, J. The Book of Mystical Chapters: Meditations on the Soul’s Ascent from the Desert Fathers and Other Early Christian Contemplatives. (Boston: Shambhala, 2002), p. 12 2 Augustine. Confessions (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), Bk II, ii. 1




cure-all word which relates to and identifies with many aspects of the greatest aspects of human experience. Christian love is a central theme in the tradition precisely because of the lofty notion of the idea itself. It is a word which can, in essence, concretize God. This is why from the teachings of Jesus all the way to the present day Christian love is a dominant theological concept. Christian love is not informed by Christ alone, however. In fact, it is influenced by previous movements of thought and, maybe more importantly, through particular individuals. Origen of Alexandria situates at the crossroads of many intersecting notions of love and – consciously – chooses to identify with the Christian ideal. 3 Contextualizing and analyzing Origen’s understanding of Christian love not only helps us clarify his thoughts but also the broad influence they had on the tradition at large. The first and potentially most important point to make in relation to such a task is that Origen never used the word ‘Love’ in his life. 4 Origen was a 3rd century Alexandrian and the texts we have today are written in Greek. They have been translated since then into Latin from the Greek texts and, at later times, translated from the Latin texts into English and other languages. In English translations of Origen’s work we see the word ‘Love’ as translated from the Latin word caritas which translates more accurately in English to charity. Initially, pay mind that this immediate approximation of charity and love as synonymous is already an interesting notion. But, because his texts are actually first in Greek and not Latin this should provide an even more interesting insight. Caritas is a favored translation from a combination of Greek words, including agape and philanthropia. Another word translated into Love from Latin is the word amor, which comes from the Greek word eros in its various translations. As such, this is not a rule, but a general trend in the history of translations. 5 See Henri Crouzel, Origen (T&T Clark Publishers, 2000). Hannah Hunt, ‘[Origen on] Love’ in: The Westminster Handbook to Origen. Edited by J. McGuckin, (Louisville: WJK Press, 2004), Amazon Kindle L(location) 3121. Many abbreviations and citations are as expanded from this Origenian reference resource. 5 Ibid. 3 4

ORIGEN OF ALEXANDRIA AND HIS THEOLOGY OF LOVE 203 Is love, then, not an idea Origen is actually familiar with? Does he not know Christian love, or Love-itself, as we might today? Actually, it would seem quite the contrary. Though limited by mistranslations, digging into Origen’s thought we actually see how Love is a central motivating theme of his whole systematic theology. His worldview, and the God he so reveres, is revealed contingently through such concepts we might call Love today. This dynamic is complex and interwoven in such a way that it gives a bold quality to Love which advances more than just the higher forms of agape or the lower forms of eros. It is a hybrid of the two, with significant contribution and implication of Christian grace. This is how we can locate Origen’s special position of being in between classical Hellenistic and Christian ideas. However, before we dare the trenches, it is important to note another thing: Origen, being well aware of Hellenistic notions of love, emphatically identifies as a Christian and a man of the Church. 6 Love, both Hellenistic and Christian, is a high ideal. This fact may help provide distinctive qualities between the two forms of thought taking place at that time – and, in a large way, help solidify Origen’s place in the Christian cannon. James Zona argues a good starting place for Origen is the axiom ‘everyone loves something’. 7 Origen himself says: ‘We ought to understand also that it is impossible for human nature not to be always feeling the passion of love for some-

Hans Urs von Balthasar,. Origen, Spirit & Fire, (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1984), the introductory note. Hans Urs von Balthasar quotes Origen: ‘I want to be a man of the Church. I do not want to be called by the name of some founder of a heresy, but the name of Christ, and to bear that name which is blessed on the Earth. It is my desire, in deed as in spirit, both to be and to be called a Christian. If I, who seem to be your right hand am called Presbyter and seem to preach the Word of God, if I do something against the discipline of the Church and the Rule of the Gospel so that I become a scandal to you, the Church, then may the whole Church, in unanimous resolve, cut me, its right hand, off, and throw me away.’ 7 James Zona. ‘‘Set Love in Order in Me’: Eros-Knowing in Origen and Desiderium-Knowing in Saint Bernard.’ Cistercian Studies Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 2 (1999): 157. 6


THEODORE GREY DEDON thing. Everyone who has reached the age that they call puberty loves something.’ 8

To understand Origen on Love we must identify the various dynamics attributed to the idea. Origen rarely ever identifies philosophers by name, with a major exception being against Celsus, so when looking at Origen’s ideas it is best to understand him in the context of the broader thought. Though typically cast as a MiddlePlatonist, Origen is probably better understood to be a synthesis of Hellenistic and Christian thought, but heavily influenced by both Hebrew and Egyptian culture. Because names are not important to Origen, locating the idea of Love is going to have to be done in the same way scholars try to understand problems in Origen’s soteriology – an aspect of his system directly related to his idea of Love. His soteriological design has been in question since the time he wrote it up until this very day. 9 The problem Origen’s critics have is his leaving of the door of salvation, potentially, opened for Satan. His soteriology best represented in the Peri Archon, but the method used to understand his thought is by contextualizing the ideas against other contemporary and historical thinkers. Then, by looking at thinkers before, during, and after Origen’s time on the exact same concepts – Agape, Eros, Philanthropia – we should be able to attempt to accomplish the task at hand.


Already, we know Love is important to the Christian tradition. To Augustine, Love was the ultimate commandment. To Saint Paul and Aquinas, Love is the highest virtue and ideal. To John the Divine, God is Love. Christianity is, in a sense, a religion based around the very idea of Love. In other words, Love is a privileged ideal. It is almost certainly among the highest if not the highest of all words positively associated with God in the tradition. In the Origen, Commentary on the Canticles, Prologue II. Scholarship around Origen is often associated with his controversies and condemnations in the Justinian controversies. Recently, scholarship is opening up to other aspects of his thought as he becomes a more common theologian in western Christian history. 8 9

ORIGEN OF ALEXANDRIA AND HIS THEOLOGY OF LOVE 205 New Testament, the word Love is translated from the word caritas which is translated from the word agape. The Greek word agape is practically the only word used for the idea of Love in the New Testament outside of very few instances otherwise. Agape is a transcendent form of Love. Anders Nygren in Agape and Eros argues Christianity’s notion of agape supplants the Hellenistic notion of eros. 10 The difference between the two forms of love is that agape is typically understood from above and eros from below, the latter being in accordance with sexual relations or the ascent of the soul. Though later theologians would use the terms to their liking, the notion that one comes from above and one comes from below worked well with whoever was using the ascent of the soul or the descent of God’s Love in their work. 11 However it was, the terms were usually used in contrast to each other, continuing through Latin’s words of love caritas (agape) and amor (eros). The distinction itself is only necessary insofar as it is one which is used. Grace, typically, is the normative way Christians speak of God’s Love. Grace is the participatory aspect of a human being with God’s Love. Eros is a different form of participatory love, it is different in that it is sexual and, most importantly, is an ascending process. The descending is from God’s Love for the particular human being and for humanity itself. Basically, agape as a transcendent form of love (God is Love; cf. Jn 1) interacts with grace in that it is the participatory element of Love-itself with its love for humanity. Irving Singer says, ‘agape precedes man’s love and excels it in every aspect’. 12 It is the idea of God as Love from which grace flows. This is why it was as potent in its association as God’s Love in its translation in the Greek New A.L. Peck. ‘Agape and Eros: A Study of the Christian Idea of Love.’ The Classical Review, Vol. 47, No. 4 (1933): 137–139. Anders Nygren. Agape and Eros (Part I: A Study of the Christian Idea of Love; Part II The History of the Christian Idea of Love), trans. Philip S. Watson (Joanna Cotler Books, 1969). 11 This is to note later theologians like Pseudo-Dionysius, Gregory of Nyssa, etc. would still use various Greek words for Love. 12 Irving Singer. The Nature of Love, Vol. I: Plato to Luther (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 1964&1984), 264. 10



Testament. Origen practically agrees with these notions but expresses them in a different way. Hellenistic and Christian differences are not nearly as apparent between these ideas, as to Origen love ascends and descends. Preceding the act of a love for humanity is Love itself. Because to a Christian, God is Love.


Origen employs a dynamic system which encompasses the idea of Love in a diverse way. Most notably, he offers what Henri Crouzel considers a hybrid 13 of agape and eros. But Hannah Hunt observed more recently that actually philanthropia is the preferred word for love in Origen’s thinking. 14 Before Origen, there was usually a trend among thinkers to privilege eros over agape or sometimes the other way around. Origen positively blends the characteristics of both in his system, but most commonly uses the word philanthropia. Why? Christian influence holds major sway over Origen and has greatly impacted the location of love in his theology. There are many dynamics operating within the broad theme of Love for Origen. Concepts like grace, the incarnation, atonement, prayer as a means of attaining grace, and being on fire for God are all important elements to the broader theory. Origen, in a sense, is carving out his Christian identity through these very concepts. All of the various words used for Love are positively Christian. Anders Nygren offers an idea about the distinction being set here. He says Origen associates Christianity with a selfless agape and Greek philosophy with a self-serving eros. But as we will see, this distinction is not sufficient or exhaustive. Origen uses all of these terms interchangeably but also distinctly at the same time. Origen is well aware of semantic problems, having said in his Commentary on the Canticles: It makes no difference, therefore, whether the Sacred Scriptures speak of love, or of charity, or of affection; except the

13 14

Crouzel uses the term hybris to describe Origen’s synthesis. Hunt, ‘Love,’ L 2205.

ORIGEN OF ALEXANDRIA AND HIS THEOLOGY OF LOVE 207 word ‘charity’ is so highly exalted that even God Himself is called Charity, as John says. 15

Love, then, is a broader concept than any one word describing it. To Origen, the concept is rich and the distinction between the kinds of love Nygren makes are not completely there. Origen’s preferred word is actually philanthropia and by digging up how this word was used or understood by others, we can illuminate certain aspects of his theology. Nygren’s distinction, however useful in its time, falls flat today. He is most likely basing it on the idea that Origen in fact has an extremely high Christology, and privileges the ascetic-contemplative worldview. So typical notions associated with eros would not be ideal to Origen in his life and character – that seems generally true. But this is not to say the idea itself is different than what Crouzel argues: a hybrid. This will be developed more substantially as we get into the differences of the terms. Hannah Hunt notes that it is predominant in scholarly debate as to whether Origen sees the terms agape and eros as synonymous. 16 Origen uses these words interchangeably, in a way, so an avenue for uncovering his meaning is locating other normal understandings before and after he used philanthropia. Love, for Plato, was about the ascent of the Soul towards the Good or the Beautiful. This sort of upwards process was considered a relational characteristic of agape, the form of love itself. But he rarely used the term himself. C.D. Reeve says the ancient Greeks, as a culture, had two basic words for the more-ultimate idea of agape. They are eros (verb, eram) and philia (verb, philein). The first denotes a sexual partner or lover, the second denotes a friend. This is the sort of distinction between human relations that sets up lover, friend, and enemy (those who by definition are not friend or lover). 17 Eros then becomes about creative, sexual love; philia about the basic interaction between friends and enemies, conducive to politics and philosophy. In Platonic thought, however high the idea of agape may situate, the Ibid. cf. Origen, Commentary on the Canticles; Commentary on John. Hunt, ‘Love,’ L 3120. 17 C.D. Reeve. Plato on Love (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2006), xvi. 15 16



language of eros is far more dominant. In that time, it was the dominant way of speaking about non-political love. Agape, though not the dominant language for Platonists, is the common word for Love in the New Testament. In fact, eros is not in the New Testament at all. Eros was, however, appropriated by Christian thinkers after Origen. Gregory of Nyssa and PseudoDionysius, influenced by Origen, preferred the language of eros. Christians writing the Greek translation of the New Testament focused the language of God on agape, but in just a few centuries the language of eros would be as common. Plotinus’s language on the Beautiful is important to distinguish from Dionysius. While the latter speaks of the Divine Eros in a sense of passing beyond the limits of the finite self and as representative of God, Plotinus has it has a mechanism moving towards it. Eros is an aspect of the One or the first principle, but it is not the transcendent One itself. 18 This distinction is only important to note because for Plotinus, nearly a contemporary of Origen and similarly educated in MiddlePlatonism, we see where the idea of Greek love is subordinated. In Dionysius, a post-Origen apophatic Christian, we see a strong privilege of the idea, no matter if the language is the New Testament’s agape or the philosophical or sexual notion of eros. 19 To Plotinus, God is more synonymous with the object of Beauty rather than the activity of love. God is Beauty inasmuch as God calls all things towards God’s self by being Beautiful. For Origen, these notions are distinct and highly interrelated, yet the privilege – if there could be said to be one – would rest on the idea of Love. This is a big difference between Origen and other notable Middle-Platonists. He makes a particular point of heading down the Christian line of thought. The distinction Nygren sets up, with Origen privileging agape over eros, is best combated with Crouzel’s understanding that Origen combines the two ideas positively and synthetically. Though successfully blending Hellenistic and ChrisJohn Rist, ‘On the Platonism of Gregory of Nyssa.’ Hermathena 169, Essays on the Platonic Tradition: Joint Committee for Mediterranean & Near Eastern Studies (2000): 239. 19 John Rist. ‘A Note on Eros and Agape in Pseudo-Dionysius.’ Vigiliae Christianae 20, No. 4 (1966): 235–243. 18

ORIGEN OF ALEXANDRIA AND HIS THEOLOGY OF LOVE 209 tian notions on love, it is still important to remember he uses the word philanthropia most consistently in his texts. What does this kind of love cover that agape and eros do not? The most common understanding of the idea is a love of humanity itself. It is a love of humanity which, for Origen, is represented in a disposition or attitude of loving-kindness. 20 For Origen, the notion is deeply entangled with the Incarnation and the Atonement. While traditionally the ideal is understood as man’s love for humanity, Origen bifurcated the symbol itself and presents it on another level. Philanthropia, to Origen, is God’s love of humanity as well. The word philia needs to be understood in relationship to typical Greek ideas on philanthropia. The former is a notion typically related to friendship. It sets up the kind of distinction between those you are friendly with and those you are not. It was developed most substantially in Aristotle who, in a sense, privileged this form of love as an ideal attitude in politics. When it comes to basic human relationships philia or friendship is the key. 21 This attitude, to many Greeks, then mounts a positive abstraction of the human being itself to represent humanity. This is philanthropia, an attitude of friendliness – of loving-kindness – towards the idea of the human being. So a stranger, if you are friendly, is your friend. You can base this idea on a positive attitude towards humanity itself. God’s Love of humanity, as considered by Origen, is expressed in his act of the Incarnation which led to his sacrifice so that we could be atoned. This divine act of philanthropia might be more properly understood in light of some other concepts. In the 4th century, philanthropia was a dominant form of love associated with statecraft. Much like how philia or friendliness for Aristotle was the best way for a person to interact in politics, philanthropia was the best way for a politician to interact with the people. 22 Themistius, Theodosius, and Constantine were all struck by the idea and used it as a central motivator for their philosophies as Hunt, ‘Love,’ L 2168. Stern-Gillet, Suzanne. Aristotle’s Philosophy of Friendship, (New York: The State University Press of New York, 1995). 22 Glanville Downey, ‘Philanthropia in Religion and Statecraft in the Fourth Century after Christ.’ Historia 4, (1955): 199. 20 21



rulers. 23 Themistius called it the ‘imperial virtue above all others,’ and the virtue to which ‘all other virtues are bound’. 24 The reason this form of love, to an Emperor, would be the highest ideal is because of the image it creates of humanity. For Origen, God’s love in the form of philanthropia is necessary only because of our fallen sinful state. This is the same in later usages of philanthropia in theologians like Gregory of Nyssa as well as many of these statesmen. 25 It is necessary because there is an imperfection in humanity which requires a love from outside itself. Be it from God or the Emperor of the State, the love for humanity comes in spite of its imperfections. It creates a dependence on the one giving the love from the one who is beloved. That is not to imply any malice, only to notice the dynamics of such love. Where does this dependency and deficiency, resulting in philanthropia come from? The very first usages of the term are in Prometheus Bound, a 5th century BCE Greek tragedy. 26 Normally attributed to Aeschylus, the story is based on the Titan Prometheus. Who, looking upon humanity’s ignorance in darkness, gave them light; he gave humanity fire. This is the first reference of philanthropia in recorded history, relating to the myth of our differentiation from the animals. The story is significant because Prometheus, in giving us fire, is disobeying Zeus’s will to destroy humanity. He sentences Prometheus to an eternal punishment for his rebellion. The symbol of Fire, of our elevation in consciousness, of our separation from the will of God (Zeus, in this case), and a savior (or adversary) of humanity are all present forces in this story. Philanthropia is a redeeming, illuminating act of loving-kindness. In this story, like in Origen’s depictions of the Atonement, we are freed of our ignorance by a kind of love for humanity-itself. In both, our nature is fundamentally corrupted – or at least imperfect – and we are saved, despite the suffering of the one who gives us the gift. Ibid., 201. Themistius, Oration I, 5 c. 25 Rist, ‘On the Platonism of Gregory of Nyssa’, 208. 26 Aeschylus, Prometheus, line 11. The word is sometimes understood to be blind-hope, optimism, and love of what is to be human. 23 24

ORIGEN OF ALEXANDRIA AND HIS THEOLOGY OF LOVE 211 Philanthropia, then, is best understood as a form of love which acts to perfect the imperfections of the human race. It is love which places humanity itself and as an idea as its object, not individual friends (philia), or sexual partners (eros), or even an abstraction of love itself (agape). It is loving-kindness towards all humans as an imperial ideal binding us in the ultimate ideal of Love-itself. Though in Themistius it was used in a political way, for Origen philanthropia is a divine and human category. Interestingly, the word itself is only used two times in the New Testament. As agape is the standard word for love, philanthropia is present only in Acts 28:2 and Titus 3:4. The scene in Acts is when Paul makes it on shore in Malta. He is shown philanthropia by the islanders or natives. It is stressed that it is an ‘unusual’ kindness Paul receives. As Paul gathers sticks for the fire he is bitten by a viper. The islanders believe this is a punishment from God and surely he was supposed to die before arriving on shore. Paul shook the snake and showed no ill effects, leading the islanders to believe he was a god (28:6). The unusual kindness, the philanthropia, shown to Paul was before he was viewed as a god by the islanders. It is important to note this kind of love of humanity as an ideal. They show a love for the stranger, treating him with hospitality. Until, of course, there is a sign he is of ill character. The second time philanthropia appears in the New Testament is Titus 3:2. Though the authorship of this text is in dispute, it is in reference to a passage which says: ‘(4) but when the philanthropia of God our Savior appeared, (5) he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.’ The word is normally translated into kindness in English as well. This is almost exactly the way Origen uses the term. It is the kind of lovingkindness which flows from God to humanity simply because God is so generous and loves humanity so much. In this usage of philanthropia the writing attributed to Saint Paul is expressing a need for love via negative contrast. The negative contrast of experience is a common theological presupposition which implies according to the Sin of this world we know we need Salvation. Suffering, in a sense, asks for the high ideal of relief. Philanthropia casts God as the lover and humanity as God's beloved. And, for Origen, you are called to love humanity in the same way God does. Titus’s usage of philanthropia then is different because it is a love which moves downward. This is where the Greek and Chris-



tian lines between eros and agape get tricky. Philanthropia, as we see, has two meanings. While in Prometheus Bound it is to imply a love for humanity that transcends our ignorance or imperfection, in later times it splits into a) man’s love for humanity (Acts 28:4), and, b) God’s Love for humanity (Titus 3:2). This is basically a love that moves horizontally and downwardly, depending on how you look at it. What is missing, then, is a love which moves upwards. As Crouzel observed, Origen’s understanding of love is basically a hybrid of eros and agape, meaning that his love ascends and descends simultaneously. Philanthropia shows us how Origen believes God loves humanity and, in his saving act, incarnated so that we might have a vehicle of salvation. The concept of philanthropia in this way is a one-time act. But for Origen that is anything but the case. To Origen, this act opened up the world to grace, a perpetual form of God’s philanthropic love for humanity. By the divine love called grace we ascend towards God and mimic that very love towards each other.


Now having differentiated between the terms Origen uses and the general distinctions between Christian notions of agape and Hellenistic notions of eros, we can see where the broader idea of Love fits within Origen’s system. Educated in Middle-Platonism by contemporaries like Clement, Origen took his academic post at the famous School in Alexandria. Though a learned intellectual, Origen was also later Bishop of Alexandria. 27 This distinct hybrid career between professor and scholar with bishop and exegete puts Origen in an interesting position. Not only this, Origen, having been born in the late second century, is one of the first theologians to systematically outline many ideas we still find in Christianity today. Though his tenure in the Church is tumultuous, he himself holds the ideal Church central to his system and makes sure to mark himself a man of the Church. Since Vatican II, Origen’s work has been regarded more positively in the Western tradition. The Eastern traFor a wide commentary on the life and thought of Origen see Joseph W. Trigg, Origen (London & New York: Routledge, 1998). 27

ORIGEN OF ALEXANDRIA AND HIS THEOLOGY OF LOVE 213 dition, however, has always held Origen as one of the most historically significant thinkers in Christianity. Having been trained in what we broadly categorize as MiddlePlatonic thought, Origen positively synthesized the volksgeist of Egypt with the fledgling Christian religion. In Alexandria, he was not alone in his religious conviction, but it was also not necessarily an area yet dominated by the tradition. It was not until at least two hundred years later that Christianity was a dominant, less contested religion in that area. Alexandria was a highly diverse area and Origen was writing for a diversely educated group of people. In a way, Egypt was the Light of the World. Though his actual students were, in fact, of a particular social segment and relatively well off, he was still dealing with a broader cultural context which took Hellenism seriously. Pagan or Hellenistic philosophy was later rejected by Christian thinkers, but in Origen’s day it was not so clear-cut. The most important aspect of his metaphysical system is, like other Middle-Platonists, the logos. To Origen, the logos is the One; it is synonymous with Christ. In his Commentary on John, he represents as high a Christology as one can have. Jesus, the Son of God, is an Incarnation of what he calls the Prefigured Christ (logos). 28 This is a contested point amongst interpreters of Origen, but Christ represents the visible aspect of the Godhead we call the Father. The relationship between the two is controversial because, some would believe, he may have subordinated the Son (Christ, logos) to the Father. This, of course, is partially why he was in trouble in later centuries, posthumously condemned for heresy. Origen says in his commentary on Psalm 1 that it is ‘dangerous to speak of God,’ even when you are going to tell the truth. 29 The Godhead is practically ineffable to Origen. Origen may be classified as apophatic for this reason, but he built a considerable systematic theology around the God after whom one cannot easily speak. Paramount to this system is an incorporeal God. 30 This informs his anthropology of the human in a fallen state which is in need of Atonement. This also informs his metaphysical structure in Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of John, n.d. Origen, Commentary on Psalms 1.2. cf. Hunt, ‘Love,’ L 2210. 30 Origen, Peri Archon 1.1.1–4. cf. Hunt, ‘Love,’ L 2215. 28 29



which history is enacted towards an end of time called the apokatastasis. In this restitution, God is All in All. 31 It could be said Origen has an elitist view on God. He believes that most Christians and indeed most people have profane understandings of God. 32 He is not one to mention particular Christians he believes hold such views, as he does not frequently cite people by name, but he is notorious to have had public dispute with Celsus in Contra Celsus. Therefore it is important to understand the complexity of his system and just what an ineffable God is. To understand the ineffability of the Godhead, we must properly understand creation. God’s first act was creation. Everything in the world is governed by God’s providence. 33 Counter to Gnostic movements of his time, Origen held that the material world was created for the sake of our salvation. It was not a totally negative view of creation, but one that held a cause of love central to its core. 34 Discouraged by suffering, some Gnostics held the material world as purely evil and also accidental. Origen believed God’s providence, even when we suffer, always maintains a ‘kind’ (philanthropos) and ‘good’ direction. One of the major themes in Origen’s theory of creation is that God loves creation equally as much as creation loves God. 35 His focus, then, is less on expounding the nature of God’s love itself, but more on God’s love for creation and creation’s love of God. This is explained in two major ways, one relating to his Christology and one relating to his anthropology. Anthropology to any thinker explains a lot about how they view ideas like Love. Origen has a peculiar belief about the nature of the human being which has gotten him into some trouble. The Christian tradition generally maintains conception as the beginning of life, but Origen disagrees. He believes our immortal souls, in pursuit of pride or vainglory, turned away from the contemplation of the Godhead and through the Fall embody our angelic being in 1959.


Origen, Peri Euchus 25.2. cf. Cor 15:24, 28, 53f. Hunt, ‘Love,’ L

Origen, Peri Archon, 3.3.4. Ibid., 3.3.5. 34 Origen, Peri Euchus 29.13-14. cf. Hunt, ‘Love,’ L 2331. 35 Ibid., L 3136. 32 33

ORIGEN OF ALEXANDRIA AND HIS THEOLOGY OF LOVE 215 material clothing. This may sound strange, but it is actually an interesting thematic approach to the soteriology it is designed for. By our free rational volition the soul descended away from God into a line which can, in fact, be ascended again. The human is a fallen being but, as an angel by nature, has the birthright to ascend back toward the divine. Each individual soul exercised its right to freely choose to worship itself over the loving God who created them. Over time, most fell. 36 Origen believes the soul is perpetually in motion. So if you are not moving up you are moving down. You either accept or reject divine communion. 37 This descending process is what he calls cooling off. This cooling is directly opposed to the symbolism of fire which is extremely important for Origen, and unsurprisingly, related to ascending towards God or as a symbol for God itself. We are asked to be on fire for God. It is in this sense, for Origen, the fire rises. The first intelligence to cool from God was Satan. In Origen, Satan is a being who, by his own free will and volition, chose pride over God. Intelligences are called to contemplate the ‘invisible image of the invisible God’ 38 but Satan refused so he fell, being clothed in an astral body. 39 There is a strong debate as to how Origen interprets a particular aspect of Satan’s state. Like us, can Satan ascend towards God and be saved? The apokatastasis has presented numerous interpretations by scholars, but there is no positive conclusion. Satan has a major role to play in Origen’s cosmic drama. He and his demonic forces have the opportunity to influence other free intelligences like human beings away from God. This is a very long, slow process which takes place in history. The battle itself is being waged on spiritual, intellectual, and material levels. Eventually, and after much time, the God who truly loves humanity for itself sent his Son to die for our atonement. The incarnation is what ultimately destroys this ‘conspiracy of demons’. 40 Origen, Peri Archon 1–3. cf. Hunt, ‘Love,’ L 2069. Ibid., 2.9; 2.11.1. 38 Ibid., 1.2.6. 39 Hunt, ‘Love,’ L 1727. 40 Origen, Contra Celsum, 3.29. cf. Hunt, ‘Love,’ L 1738. 36 37



The incarnation is a self-emptying (kenosis) of divine love. 41 The kenotic act itself is the philanthropia Origen so reveres. 42 This is precisely the point Origen takes with Celsus, who argues that divine love is inaccessible to the human being. 43 Origen strongly disagrees and believes that God’s love descends towards the human through the incarnation. For Origen, all intelligences freely made this choice to turn against God, but in spite of that, the act occurred. This act by God is only because God loves you, not because you love God. You have already made your stance clear and are now here in a material body specifically so you can atone for your sins. Origen believes God loves you, so regardless of your indiscretions, you will be reunited in spite of estrangement. This is a love expressed for humanity itself. God sent his Son, the incarnate logos, as a human to atone for our sins. This would grant us passage for ascending towards ‘Christ the Wisdom of God’. 44 The human who was crucified was ‘fused’ with the logos and shared in an ethereal and divine quality with the Godhead. 45 This fusion presented a pathway for what Origen believes is the destiny of other human beings to become once again united in their love of God with God’s Love of them. Remember the state of the human being in Prometheus Bound. We needed the philanthropia of Prometheus because we were ignorant in the darkness. Just as in that ancient tragedy, Origen believed the human being needed Christ to incarnate as a human so that the human could have a model and then freely accept God’s grace. Origen believes Christ appears to man as man and angel as angel so as to directly influence their existence. From now, the human being has that direct connection to God through the fusion of Jesus with the logos of his Middle-Platonic upbringing. Origen uses the Greek word charis which in English is translated into grace. In the Christian tradition the role of grace cannot be underestimated. It is the Hunt, ‘Love,’ L 3147. Origen, Contra Celsum, 4.17.18; 4.18.33; 1.64.17; 1.64.24. 43 Ibid., 6.1.11. 44 Origen, Homilies on Hexaemeron, 12.4. 45 Origen, Commentary on Matthew 15.24. cf. Contra Celsum 3.41. cf. Hunt, ‘Love,’ L 1295. 41 42

ORIGEN OF ALEXANDRIA AND HIS THEOLOGY OF LOVE 217 word best associated with God’s Love. It is the love which God generously gives us and we have the opportunity to accept freely. Some scholarship exists probing whether Origen, in granting such a significant role to freedom and volition, downplays the role of grace. 46 This does not seem to be the case. What needs to be understood is that grace is the receptive quality of philanthropia. It is the participatory aspect of God’s Love in which the human being has the opportunity to say they do, in fact, love God. You must remember, the human being is here in this world because he or she chose to love themselves over God. This sort of decision, especially with an amplified notion of the free choice of intelligences like ours, is paramount. Placing an importance on freedom in our choice to love God is also reflected in his casting of virtue. He says, ‘to destroy voluntariness of virtue is to destroy its essence’. 47 This is spoken of in relation to grace in the sense that if we do not voluntarily accept it we may destroy the very character of such love. Origen knows from agape that God’s love is ultimate. He also knows that sexual love is divine eros. But most importantly he knows of the negative experience of the human being. Origen knows of our limited state and the existence of death. This is combated by philanthropia, which is man’s love of humanity, but most importantly for Origen, God’s love of humanity. Here, by grace, God offers love in another way. He repeats Philo, another Alexandrian, in our dependence on grace for our basic activities. Because of our volition, Origen says it ‘is in our power whether we use [our God-given faculties] for good or for bad’. 48 This is echoing his Platonic education, but also the Hebrew tradition, of a dual nature in humanity. Part of his anthropology is the bestial nature of the soul and the battlefield taking place for its seat at the throne of the heart. There is one last notion of love which marks Origen’s system and helps our understanding as a distinctly Christian theology. Many of Origen’s pagan contemporaries and historical interlocuHunt, ‘Love,’ L 2404. Origen, Contra Celsum, 4.3. cf. Hunt, ‘Love,’ L 2414. 48 Origen, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans 9.26. cf. Hunt, ‘Love,’ L 2425. 46 47



tors did not exactly have a rich prayer life. The prayer tradition Origen sets out is widely influential in Christianity today. Especially in the Eastern sects, Origen’s prayer life carried on through Evagrius of Pontus all the way down the line. Most of his treatises begin with prayers and he believes, most definitely, the point of prayer is a means of being granted God’s grace. 49 Furthermore, it is for a human ‘to become like God,’ as our angelic state is still made in the divine image. 50 This is ultimately to cultivate ‘virtuous works from part of prayer’. 51 Evagrius says, ‘The state of prayer is a condition transcending material obsessions. In profound love it carries up the spirit that loves wisdom to the heights of intelligible reality’. 52 Evagrius was very much influenced by Origen and considered the ascent of the soul was especially enriched by a strong prayer life. Origen says in the preface of On Prayer: There are realities that are so great that they find a rank superior to humanity and our mortal nature; they are impossible for our rational and mortal race to understand. Yet by the grace of God poured forth with measureless abundance from Him to men through the minister of unsurpassed grace to us, Jesus Christ, and through that fellow worker with the will of God, the Spirit, these realities have become possible for us. 53

Most basically, prayer is a means towards uncovering the incorporeal ineffable Godhead by way of grace. This divine love manifested by grace is given to you freely so long as you rightly accept loving God. This is uniquely Christian and takes God’s philanthropia to further ends than its early Greek instantiations or its later implications in 4thC statecraft. This love is highly involved. It is highly attached as well. In contrast to his predecessor Clement, Origen beHunt, ‘Love,’ L 3819. Origen, Contra Celsum, 8.17. 51 Origen, Peri Euchus 12.2. 52 McGuckin, The Book of Mystical Chapters: Meditations on the Soul’s Ascent from the Desert Fathers and Other Early Christian Contemplatives (Shambhala, 2003), 41; 85. 53 Origen, An Exhortation to Martyrdom, Prayer and Selected Works (Mahwah: Paulist Press, 1979), 81. 49 50

ORIGEN OF ALEXANDRIA AND HIS THEOLOGY OF LOVE 219 lieves the human being’s relationship to love is not apathetic. 54 Crouzel argues that for Origen ‘love … is superior to apathy. Humans do not seek their happiness in self-containment. As his doctrine of the image shows, persons have their center outside themselves. The saint, in a certain sense, is an impassioned person’. 55 Consider Origen’s notion of prayer as a direct antithesis of a dispassionate or disinterested love. It is, as Origen says, that ‘there must always be fire burning on the altar’. 56 In his Commentary on the Song of Songs, Prologue 2, the symbol of fire describes the dynamics of heat and light for the broader idea of Love. ‘We will be kindled with the blessed fire of his love’ and the ‘spiritual love of the soul [cannot] flame out’. 57 The fiery passion Origen describes is common to his anthropology; in that it is by this we are driven or ordered towards God. He exclaims, ‘We can allow ourselves to be set on fire with saving love!’ Grace is a saving love which is, by God’s love of humanity, gifted for you to freely accept so that you might love God too. 58 But in order for this to happen, you must allow for it to happen. God’s lovingkindness of humanity is, in a big way, developed thoroughly through a form of mimesis. Much like how the New Testament shows philanthropia being of two kinds, the idea of grace allows for us to follow in the sort of saving love which is definitely not present in Hellenistic philosophy. Origen’s soteriology is another highly controversial area of his thought. Much like his Christology, it is because of ultimate implications. He grants the logos fused with the man we call Jesus Christ, but it is all symbolic of the ineffable Godhead. It was because of our cooling from God that Jesus incarnated in history. This was done because God loves humanity and wants humanity to love God as well. God loves creation and creation, by its design, loves God. Human beings, as free intelligences, chose to rebel against Zona, ‘Set Love in Order in Me,’ footnote 56. Henri Crouzel, Théologie de l’image de Dieu chez Origène (Paris: Aubier, 1956), 243–44. 56 McGuckin, The Book of Mystical Chapters, p. 68. 57 Zona, ‘Set Love in Order in Me,’ 158. 58 Ibid. 54 55



God and were cast into this material state. Though God is incorporeal, Jesus incarnated in flesh and blood yet still shared in the divine nature of the logos. What Jesus did is allow for the entrance of God’s grace into this world so that intelligent beings would freely choose to once again love God. They would return to their angelic status one by one and, at the end of time, God would be All in All. This is a positive summary of Origen’s historical arc, but what it leaves out is one controversial subject: is God’s Love so great that even Satan is saved in the end? It would seem Origen leaves room for Satan’s salvation at the end of history in a sense. 59 What his soteriology implies is that God loves all creation, including Satan, the first of his created beings who rebelled and cooled. But Satan, free to do what he wills, does not wish to turn away from his own desires and back towards God. So, whether Satan is saved in the end is actually up to him. 60 God loves all of creation and, though the apokatastasis implies an end in which 1=1, it seems there may still be difference with Satan should he not choose to accept God’s Love. God’s Love is embedded into the soteriology not only of humanity but of the cosmic structure of reality. At the end of history, God will have saved all humans and, if Satan so chooses, him as well. To say what that looks like is up to God. Remember what Origen says, we are treading dangerous waters when we speak of God, even when it is true.


The Christian tradition owes a tremendous debt to Origen on the idea of Love. At a time when the Christian religion was burgeoning, Origen helped tame the dominant Middle-Platonic tradition in expressively Christian language with considerable Christian influence. He was not merely dressing Platonic ideas in Christian words, but developing those ideas in the very light of Christ’s incarnation as the logos. This was perhaps the most central element of Love to Origen, as it instigated his privilege of the term philanthropia and, Lisa Holliday, ‘Will Satan be Saved? Reconsidering Origen’s Theory of Volition in Peri Archon,’ Vigiliae Christianae 3 (2009): 1–23. 60 Origen, Peri Archon 1.8.3. cf. Holliday, ‘Will Satan be Saved?’ 3. 59

ORIGEN OF ALEXANDRIA AND HIS THEOLOGY OF LOVE 221 particularly, how caused the incarnation which leads to God’s grace. Hellenistic notions of an ascending erotic love and Christian notions of the ultimate agapic God who is Love were positively synthesized against a negative backdrop of sin. Sin is solved by God’s philanthropia resulting in attainable grace. Love is, in a large way, one of the major identifiable themes motivating Origen’s entire systematic theology and his conception of a good Christian prayer life. Studying Origen on Love is a difficult task and this particular article is not exhaustive. In fact, it hardly scrapes the surface. All of the documents used were translated in English, so the word Love itself is flimsy at best. Having been translated from caritas and amor we are still dealing with mistranslations of agape and eros which, in fact, Origen used less frequently. Being that Origen favored the word philanthropia and from that the idea of grace we are faced with the problem of uncovering what that might mean and why he may have done that. We observed several forces outside of Origen’s own thinking as well as its usage and context in his own system. With Origen it proved useful to analyze several different sources. From the past, looking at Plato, Aristotle, and Middle-Platonic notions of eros and philia was helpful. His contemporaries or near contemporaries like Plotinus and Clement also helped us clarify the direction love might have been moving in people around him. After his time, looking at Evagrius of Pontus, Pseudo-Dionysius, and some of the Emperors engaging in 4thC statecraft helped to understand philia, philanthropia, as well as prayer life. This by no means actually seals Origen’s own understanding of these concepts but hopefully contextualizes them so that we can move forward in uncovering the depths of his meaning. Love is central to the Christian tradition and serves as a positive platform for analyzing Origen’s work. But it will take diligent study of the influences on him as well as those influenced by him to uncover truly how Love operates in such a rich and complicated theology. This system’s tremendous impact on Christianity cannot be overstated and therefore it proves logical to take his understanding on such a central theme as paramount to the Church at large. Though Origen has been a controversial figure in the past, there has never been such an open environment to look at his work seriously, in spite of the fact few scholars actually do so. If we look at Origen directly as a crossroads of Hellenistic and Christian thought, influenced by Egyptian and Hebrew culture, we will find



one of the most complicated and rich philosophies of love existing today. Origen believes we are all angels who have cooled from contemplation of God. We have been invited by the grace of God to ignite with fiery passion in ascension towards his Love because, truly, God Loves you. As we know, a good starting point is that Origen believes everyone loves something. 61 Let us start with the fact Origen loves God. Origen himself starts with the fact God Loves humanity.


Zona, 1999.




This paper will compare the theme of reflection in Fakhruddin ‘Iraqi’s (1213–1289) Divine Flashes and St. Symeon the New Theologian’s (949–1022) Hymns of Divine Eros. In both pieces of literature we find a profound reflexivity between the beloved and lover. ‘Iraqi describes this relationship through the image of the mirror, where the distinction between seer and seen dissolves and there is neither beloved nor lover, only God. Symeon often describes the relationship between the beloved (as Christ) and the lover (himself) through the imagery of a sun and the lamp within the soul that the sun ignites. Symeon’s encounter is a personal and participatory relationship, predicated upon incarnational theology, where Symeon retains his individuality, despite, at times, suggestions of selfannihilation. Conversely, individuality dissolves in ‘Iraqi’s encounter, predicated upon the Sufi metaphysics of oneness of being, despite, at times, suggestions of a certain distinction. This paper will argue in both encounters, however, there is a profound interplay between the beloved and the lover where each reflects the other. This reflexivity includes, to certain degrees, a conflation of perception – a fruitful model we can apply to our own encounters of love. Both authors use light imagery to express this relationship though each employs the imagery in very different ways. 223




St. Symeon the New Theologian was born in Galatia, Asia Minor, in 949. He moved to Constantinople to pursue a political career, but saw his career decline as the young Emperor Basil II came to power. At the age of thirty, in 977, he became an abbot of Saint Mamas Monastery but clashed with a number of his monks and imperial powers. He was exiled in 1009 and spent his remaining years across the Bosporus, rebuilding the monastery of Saint Marina. McGuckin dates the writing of Hymns between the years 1003 until Symeon’s death in 1022. 1 St. Gregory of Nazianzus’ autobiographical poems, Concerning his own Life, Concerning His Own Affairs, and Lament Over the Sufferings of His Soul, perhaps influenced Symeon to write about himself in a similar fashion. McGuckin, however, describes the genre of the Hymns, as closer to the secular form of Erokita, or ‘Love Songs.’ 2 A number of the hymns demonstrate a dialogue between Symeon and Christ, modeled after the Patristic understanding of the Canticle of Canticle, where the soul addresses the Beloved. In Gregory of Nyssa’s commentary of the Canticle, the soul becomes a mirror of the Beloved, perhaps influencing Symeon’s own imagery. Symeon, however, describes the union with Christ in personal terms not yet seen in the Byzantine tradition. Symeon shares with Gregory of Nazianzus and St. John the Evangelist the title of ‘Theologian.’ As the ‘New Theologian’ he synthesizes the light spirituality of Origen, Gregory of Nazianzus, and Pseudo-Dionysius with an emphasis on the sensibility (aisthesis) of this light in the heart, echoed within the Syrian school of Isaac of Nineveh as well as Gregory of Nyssa. 3 For this reason, as well as the profoundly personal account Symeon provides of religious experience, Divine Eros provides an ideal piece of literature to comMcGuckin, J.A., ‘Symeon the New Theologian’s Hymns of Divine Eros: A Neglected Masterpiece of the Christian Mystical Tradition.’ Spiritus 5 (2005): 182–202, p. 187. 2 McGuckin, ‘Symeon,’ p. 196. 3 McGuckin, ‘Symeon,’ p. 187. 1



pare to ‘Iraqi’s Divine Flashes, a piece of literature, which for its own part, occupies a unique place in Sufi tradition. ‘Iraqi was a Persian poet born in the ancient city of Hamadan, who spent a number of years in India, as well as in Konya and Toqat in present day Turkey. As a contemporary of both Ibn ‘Arabi and Jalaluddin Rumi, he was associated with the Muhyiddin Ibn ‘Arabi school of Sufism and was well versed in the Persian school of Sufism. ‘Iraqi’s originality consists in his synthesis of the metaphysics of the Unity of Being (wahdat al-wujud), found in the school of Ibn ‘Arabi, including ‘Iraqi’s master Qunawi, and the description of Ultimate Reality as Love, found in the writings of Ahmad Ghazali (d. 1126). 4 ‘Iraq’s Divine Flashes includes twenty-seven flashes, or chapters, and is written in both Persian prose and verse, some quoted from other Sufi writers, some original. ‘Iraqi composed it as a complete piece of literature, opposed to Symeon’s Hymns, which the Abbot Niketas Stethatos complied thirty years after Symeon’s death. 5 The Hymns of the Divine Eros, which contains fifty-eight hymns ranging from seven to eight hundred and fifty-eight lines (nearly 11,000 verses in total), 6 uses three types of verse: a meter of eight syllables per line; twelve syllables per line; and fifteen syllables per line. A few of the hymns contain a mixed meter of all these types, but the majority of the hymns are constructed using fifteen syllables per line, a form which came to later dominant Greek poetry.


‘Iraqi begins the prologue of Divine Flashes with the traditional, ‘In the Name of God, Merciful and Compassionate,’ and continues: ‘Praise belongs to God Who made effulgent the face of His Friend

See ‘Iraqi, F. Divine Flashes. Translation and introduction by William Chittick and Peter Wilson. Preface by Seyyed Nasr. (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1982), p. 6. 5 McGuckin, ‘Symeon,’ p. 187. 6 McGuckin, ‘Symeon,’ p. 187; St. Symeon the New Theologian. Divine Eros: Hymns of the New Theologian. Translation and Introduction by Daniel K. Griggs (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2010), p. 17. 4



Muhammad with Beauty’s theophanies, that It sparkled with light.’ 7 Immediately we are given an image of Mohammed’s transfigured face, imbued with ‘Beauty’s theophanies,’ lest anyone be confused ‘Iraqi is referring to an incarnation, an issue he will elaborate more on later. He establishes Mohammed and his revelation as the supreme theophany of the divine, where Mohammed exclaims: ‘The Divine Names bear their fruit in me. Look: I am the mirror of the shining Essence.’ 8 ‘Iraqi presents Mohammed as the model of the Perfect Man, an ideology predominant in the school of Ibn ‘Arabi. The first verse of the prologue, speaking in the voice of Mohammed, reads: Truly in form I am Adam’s son – And yet Within Adam himself lies a secret – My secret – that testifies: I am his father! (Ibn al-Farid) 9

In the non-temporal age of pre-creation, Mohammed was the first created man and the last to be born as the fulfillment of all prophets. Mohammad is the exemplar of the Perfect Man, and through his revelation allows humanity to realize their own oneness of being with the divine and experience the annihilation of the self (fana) so that they too may reflect the divine. The Perfect Man, when envisioned in the prophet Mohammed, in ‘Iraqi’s words, ‘is both the niche and goal of the ecstatic wanderer, and the very ecstasy in his ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, p. 69. All translations of Divine Flashes cited from Chittick and Wilson, 1982. For the Persian text see Fakhr al-Dīn Ibrāhīm ‘Iraqi and Muhammad Khvājavī. Lama‘āt (Tehran: Intishārāt-i Mawlá, 1984). 8 ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, p. 70. 9 ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, p. 69–70. 7



breast.’ 10 ‘Iraqi’s notion of the Perfect Man demonstrates a number of parallels with the Christian notion of the Logos. The Logos however is God (the second person of the trinity), not a supreme reflection, a point we will see later in Symeon. For the sake of this comparison a better-suited counterpart for the Perfect Man would be the Greek term theoanthropos, or God-Man, that is the Logos incarnate. Christ, the God-Man, as the Logos made flesh, allows man to be defied through imitating his nature. Symeon’s religious experience is framed upon this possibility of imitation. After a prefatory prayer invoking the Holy Spirit, in the first line of Hymn one Symeon poses the question: ‘What is this spinechilling mystery that is being accomplished in Me?’ He answers, also beginning his piece in praise: ‘In no way can a word recount, nor can my miserable hand write to the praise and glory of Him is who is above Praise, of Him who is beyond telling.’ 11 After establishing the apophatic nature of the Divine, and the idleness of attempting to describe it, he qualifies his words with the following solution: ‘It seems to me that the totality is seen Not all at once in its essence, but by participation.’ 12 Symeon plays with the similarities between essence (ousia) and participation (metousia) in Greek. 13 His hymns then go on, at length, to describe this experience of participation. ‘Iraqi, on the other hand, after praising Mohammed, writes of his intent: ‘a few words explaining the way stations of Love … I shall dictate theme as a mirror to reflect every lover’s Beloved.’ 14 ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, p. 69. St. Symeon the New Theologian. Divine Eros: Hymns of the New Theologian. Translation and Introduction by Daniel K. Griggs. (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2010). Hymn I: Lines 1–4, p. 35. All translations of Divine Eros cited from this edition. 12 Symeon, Divine Eros, I: 28–29, p. 36. 13 For the Greek text see Syméon le Nouveau Théologien. Hymnes 1–15. Vol 1. Sources Chrétiennes 156. Introduction, text, and notes by Johannes Koder. French translation by Joseph Paramelle (Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 1969), p. 158. 14 ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, p. 70. 10 11



His words then do not describe Love itself, which is too ‘exalted for us to gaze upon its real beauty with eye unveiled and vision direct,’ 15 but rather the stations, or states, of love experienced by the lover and the Beloved.


‘Iraqi presents the divine through the construct of God as Love ‘in the tradition of The Sparks,’ 16 as he puts it, a work by Ahmad Ghazali, brother of the more famous Abu Hamid Ghazali. He writes in flash one: ‘Love upon Its mighty throne is purified of all entification, in the sanctuary of Its Reality too holy to be touched by inwardness of outwardness.’ 17 God is love and reigns in a reality of unity beyond any human notions of ‘outward’ and ‘inward.’ But in Love’s desire to be known: ‘It showed Itself to Itself in the looking-glass of ‘lover’ and ‘Beloved.’’ 18 Through the looking glass of these protagonists the divine ‘might behold therein Its Names and Attributes.’ 19 This distinction between the divine and its Names and Attributes (asma’wa sifat) allows the divine to retain its transcendence while revealing the accessibility of its manifestations through the reflection of the Beloved and the lover. Even the title of ‘Iraqi’s work, Divine Flashes, suggests this ideology of divine emanation, similar to neo-Platonism. ‘Iraqi ends the first flash with a quote from ‘Attar: No other shows it face for each thing that exists Is the same as the One come into manifestation 20

Symeon, at times, also suggests an emanation theory of creation, though to a much lesser degree. In hymn thirty-five, he explains ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, p. 71. ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, p. 70. 17 ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, I, p. 73. 18 ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, I, p. 73. 19 ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, I, p. 73. 20 ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, I, p. 74. 15 16



that not even the higher heavenly orders can gaze upon the true nature of the incomprehensible divine, rather: But only the rays of glory And an emanation of my light Do they contemplate, and they are deified. For like a mirror that Has received the rays of the sun Or like a crystalline stone Illuminated in midday So they all receive the rays Of my divinity. 21

Symeon, here, is careful to keep the transcendence of God intact, drawing a distinction between God’s nature, the supreme Godhead as God the Father, and the light that He emits. This light Symeon can contemplate and in turn reflect: ‘I see the beauty; I look at the luster; I reflect the light of your grace.’ 22 However, at times, when describing his encounter with the Logos, as the incarnate second person of the trinity, Symeon speaks of reflection in derogatory terms. Referring to the Logos’ relationship with humanity, Symeon writes: You converse with them as with friends, Not in shadow, nor reflection, Not like one mind to another mind, But as the Logos Who is from the beginning. 23

The incarnate Logos, through taking on flesh, has already established itself as the intermediary between God and man, and thus does not require a medium of reflection when encountering humanity. The pairing of ‘shadow’ and ‘reflection’ is evocative of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: ‘For now we see in a mirror, dimly (ainigmati), but then we will see face to face.’ 24 This verse can be understood as a contrast between a mirror and a face-to-face enSymeon, Divine Eros, XXXV: 52–60, p. 272. Symeon, Divine Eros, II: 18–19, p. 44. 23 Symeon, Divine Eros, LIII: 31–34, p. 373. 24 1 Corinthians 13:12. 21 22



counter, but also as a movement from a murky mirror to an everclearer mirror, where a face becomes visible. In either case we find already in Paul a high degree of reflexivity in this encounter, as he continues his verse: ‘For I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.’ 25 Christian imagery of reflection, from Gregory of Nyssa to St. Symeon, is in large part an exegesis of Paul. Through the incarnation, Christ closes the gap between man and God, enlightening the shadows between us through assuming human form. This image you can gaze upon and encounter face to face, in Symeon’s words, ‘in proportion to the purification of your soul.’ 26 Most importantly, for Symeon, it is a personal encounter made possible by the incarnation. Christ as the God-Man and ourselves as made in his image. For this reason, we move from encountering a dim reflection to a beaming face, a face that we, in turn, can reflect. When Symeon asks the Logos why he became Flesh, we find the most explicit reference to an emanation theory of creation, as the logos replies: ‘Because, like I said, I created Adam to look upon Me.’ 27 In Symeon’s cosmology, elaborated more systematically his collection of homilies titled The First-Created Man, creation and incarnation are intrinsically connected. Adam sinned and did not repent, 28 thus becoming mortal, and was no longer able to gaze upon A consideration of Symeon’s Ethical Discourses may be useful here. Symeon poses the following question in reference to Paul: ‘Where or in what place or part of the body does he say that Christ takes form?’ Symeon answers: ‘It is rather inside, in our hearts. The one who has Christ take form within himself … sees His formation within himself. Christ is not, for example, reflected like the light of a lamp in a mirror, is not an apparition without substance like the reflection, but appears in a light which is personal and substantial.’ St. Symeon the New Theologian. On the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses. Translation and Introduction by Alexander Golitzin. (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995). Vol. I: X, p. 169. 26 Symeon, Divine Eros, XLIV: 119–120, p 319. 27 Symeon, Divine Eros, LIII: 205 – 207, p. 378. 28 For Symeon, it is Adam’s lack of humility and the fact that he did not repent that banished him from the Garden of Eden, not the sin itself. 25



the Logos meandering through the Garden of Eden in His glory (Gen 3:8). The Logos became incarnate so man once again can gaze upon Him in the second Adam of Christ and be recreated in his immortal image, a state attainable in this life yet fully realized in the age to come. This is not a theology of atonement and a subsequent return to an original state, but a theology of deification and a transformation into a new divine nature. In this sense, we can see both the creation of Adam and the incarnation as leading towards encounters. Thus, we can imagine the Logos could just as easily say: ‘I became Adam to look upon Me.’ Christ provides the exemplar of a God-Man, as fully God and fully man, that every human is called to imitate; Mohammed is the exemplar of the Perfect Man, as the supreme reflection of divine emanation. In Symeon, creation ‘reflects’ or realizes the nature of Christ, as a deified man, while the triune God remains incomprehensible. In ‘Iraqi, creation reflects the Divine Names and Attributes, while God’s true nature, which is beyond human imagination remains uncircumscribed in utter unity.


We do not find images of murky reflections in ‘Iraqi’s Divine Flashes, but there are instances where a reflection is considered inferior to that which it reflects, often implied when discussing a reflection of the divine Essence, rather than the Divine Names and Attributes. He writes of relationship between the sun and the moon: ‘The sun shines in the moon’s mirror, but the moon contains naught of the sun’s essence.’ 29 The moon, here, does not ‘contain’ the sun’s essence, but reflects its light in one continuous ray. It would be a mistake to confuse the moon for the sun, or consider the moon a second sun. Here, we see the platonic understanding where an image, or reflection, is inferior to that which it imitates. 30 To claim such a degree of likeness in terms of the divine, such as ascribing divine status to the prophet Jesus, would of course be polytheism.

29 30

‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, III, p. 77. See Plato’s Republic, Book VI.



In flash XI, indicative of ‘Iraqi’s familiarity with Christian theology, ‘Iraqi uses the relationship between a mirror and the form it reflects to discuss the distinction between an incarnation and a theophany. His words speak best for themselves: Know that between form and the mirror no true unification, no ‘incarnation,’ can exist: What a meddlesome bore, the one who here confuses Theophany and ‘incarnation’! (Sana’i)

Unification and incarnation could take place between two essences, but to contemplation’s eye there exists in all existence but one Object of contemplation. 31

Incarnation, for ‘Iraqi, suggests an essence distinct from the Godhead and thus a multiplication of the divine. In terms of his analogy, then, at first glance, a ‘form’ and the ‘mirror’ that reflects it are two different things. However, this perspective assumes a degree of separation between the two, when in actuality in ‘contemplation’s eye’ there is only one essence in ‘all existence.’ Interestingly, it is here that ‘Iraqi equates unification and incarnation. Each, for ‘Iraqi, assume a prior separation that was in fact never there. God can’t become incarnate in another, nor can he be united to another, because there is no other than God. In the prologue the voice of Love exclaims, ‘Since in all the world only I exist above and below, no likeness of me can be found.’ 32 This paradox suggests that God is everything and thus within everything there is nothing like him, and yet, because God is everything, ‘where ever you turn there is [His] Face,’ 33 as the famous verse of Qur’an, quoted by ‘Iraqi, declares. A theophany, unlike an incarnation, then, is a vision of this hidden Face, this attribute of God, reflected in a universe that is composed of only Him. To return to ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, XI, p. 93. ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, p. 72. 33 ‘Where ever you turn, there is the Face of God,’ (II: 115), quoted in ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, VIII, p. 88. 31 32



‘Iraqi’s analogy, a theophany would not be a unification of the ‘form’ and the ‘mirror,’ but a recognition of the singular essence that pervades and transcends both. When Mohammed’s Face shines, he is not being united to God, but is reflecting a unity that already exists. Symeon, however, describes such illuminations, or theophanies, most often in terms of fire imagery and ‘participation’ rather than reflection imagery and unity. Unlike the Divine Flashes, where the reader seems to find images of mirrors and looking glasses on every page, Symeon describes his religious experience predominantly through the images of the ‘sun’ and ‘lamp within the soul.’ We read in Hymn one: It springs up in me from within my wretched Heart like the sun or like the solar disc Spherical, and showing itself radiant like a flame. 34

Symeon, of course, is careful to point out this light ‘remains both undivided and in myself,’ 35 and ‘when you ignite something from a fire you take the whole fire.’ 36 However, unlike the ribbon of a reflected light beam, fire imagery suggests more of an inherent separation between the two entities. This chasm is linked in Symeon’s cosmology and in Orthodox Christian theology to the advent of mortality re-bonded through the incarnation. The igniting of the soul – as light ‘springs up’ – imitates the incarnation of Christ, while Symeon’s deification (theosis), which Symeon will describe later, imitates Christ’s resurrection. Only because God became man can man become God: If the Logos God became human Without knowing it, then I also in ignorance became God as is fitting and reasonable to suppose. 37

This interplay between Symeon and Christ’s nature is the most dominant image of reflexivity in his hymns. However, Symeon disSymeon, Divine Eros, I: 38–40, p. 36. Symeon, Divine Eros, I: 37, p. 36. 36 Symeon, Divine Eros, I: 30, p. 36. 37 Symeon, Divine Eros, L: 195–197, p 355. 34 35



tinguishes himself from Christ in that he merely ‘participates’ in the divine, while Christ is the divine. Symeon can thus exclaim to God, ‘I truly partake of your essence,’ 38 and yet, on the other hand, can provide the more qualified statement: ‘I have become fully God … not in essence, but in participation. As it is necessary to think according to orthodoxy.’ 39 Incarnation and theophany, for Symeon, do not suggest a plurality of essences, but a single essence through which multiple identities, or persons, participate. This contradiction of unity and distinction is modeled after the theology of the Trinity. Symeon is unique among Byzantine writers in describing his vision of the Holy Trinity as one prosopon: ‘For the three appeared to me, as in one Face.’ 40 The Greek prosopon, can also be translated as countenance, appearance, or person, yet is would be heresy to suggest a trinity of a singular person, rather than the orthodox formula of one essence (ousia) and three persons (hypostasis). However, Symeon is keen to use the image of one face to suggest an encounter with a God, multiple in personhood and beyond comprehension, yet singular when encountered. The Christian notion of the person, or hypostasis, and the theology of the trinity that is built upon it, allows for this contradiction of unity and distinction. Christ is a singular hypostasis, one in essence with the Trinity; but he is double in nature as divine and human. Both writers utilize light imagery to accommodate these issues of the one and the many. A theophany for Symeon is a transformation, through the presence of the Holy Spirit, into this divinehuman nature of Christ. A theophany for ‘Iraqi, however, is a vision of the divine already inherent in us, predicated upon the unity of being (wahdat al-wujud). Symeon describes his illumination as an upwelling, like a fire sparking a flame, imitating the incarnation of Christ. ‘Iraqi’s illumination, such as the glow of Mohammed’s face in his first line, is a reflection of the Divine Names and Attributes. Symeon, Divine Eros, VII: 30–31, p 57. Symeon, Divine Eros, L: 200–202, p. 355. 40 Symeon, Divine Eros, XII: 23, p. 69. 38 39




The question still remains to what degree are these entities united and in what ways do they experience unification? Both Symeon and ‘Iraqi are very concerned with the conflation of the human and the divine. Each describes a unity between them though to different degrees. In Symeon’s narratives of his deification we read some of his most profound statements. In emulation of Christ’s bodily resurrection, Symeon’s own body is deified where every organ is united with Christ, not excluding, we find at the end of his list, his genitalia: and each of our members shall be the whole of Christ. For while we become many members He remains one and Indivisible, And each part is the whole Christ himself. And so thus you well know that both are Christ: my finger and my penis. Do you tremble or feel ashamed? But God was not ashamed to become like you, Yet you are ashamed to become like Him? 41

Symeon’s transfiguration mimics the transfiguration of his Beloved. ‘He illuminates my face like that of the one I yearned for (Mat. 17.2), And all my members become bearers of light.’ 42 This process can be thought of in two stages: illumination followed by deification. The fact that this unification occurs within the container of the body suggests retention of identities between Symeon and Christ, though they share in the light that shines through them. Symeon suggests ‘God become like you’ so ‘you can be like him’ (my italics). This is not a full union between beloved and lover, where their identities no longer exist, but a relationship of emulation and participation. However, despite the status of deification, Symeon, Divine Eros, XV: 157–163, p. 87. Translation slightly altered to reflect Greek word order, see Syméon le Nouveau Théologien. Hymnes. Vol. 2. Hymn XV:160–161, p. 290. 42 Symeon, Divine Eros, XVI: 32–33, p. 93. 41



much like a sun and a lamp, Symeon and Christ do not exist as equals. ‘Iraqi, too, is careful to not suggest a full equality with God: Make no mistake He who is lost In God is not God Himself 43

Here, we find in ‘Iraqi, suggestions of identity retention. The lover cannot identify as God, but can identity as the Beloved, that is, in union with God’s emanations. In the encounter between the Beloved and the lover the distinction between self and other begins to conflate. ‘Iraqi ’s language in the Divine Flashes, where it becomes difficult to distinguish between pronouns, mimics this problem of identity: ‘I’ and ‘you’ have made of man a two-ness. Without these words, you are I and I am you. 44

This ‘two-ness,’ however, is an illusion and the self must not identify with the other or with itself but must be completely annihilated (fana). Describing the self in terms of a city, ‘Iraqi writes: ‘Let there be in this city but you … or ME for no government can survive a double kingship!’ 45

‘So … begone!,’ he writes, ‘When God’s river overflows, Jesus River disappears.’ 46 In Jami’s commentary of Divine Flashes, he describes the Jesus River as ‘a stream near Baghdad which supplies many farms with irrigation.’ 47 Jami claims this proverb is men‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, XIV, p. 99. ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, XV, p. 105. 45 ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, VIII, p. 89. 46 ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, VIII, p. 89. 47 As quoted in Chittick and Wilson’s footnotes in ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, p. 128. 43 44



tioned after heavy rains cause the Tigris to overflow into these farms. Just as this stream disappears when the waters of the Tigris subsume the banks that contain it, the self disappears when united with God. In addition, we can understand this proverb as a reference to the annihilation of the personhood of Jesus within the Godhead, a philosophy anathema to Christians, who recite in the Nicene Creed that his ‘Kingdom shall have no end.’ Christ always maintains his personhood within the Trinity, and Symeon, too, when united with Christ maintains his identity. Yet, this unity in distinction is a mystery realized, not necessarily explained, and for that reason, Symeon struggles for the words to express it, a technique McGuckin describes as ‘stammering theology’ 48: Nevertheless, I and He To Whom I was united, have become one. So what shall I call myself? The God Who is double in nature, Who is one hypostasis Has rendered me double 49

His verses beat like a drum, reaching out for analogies and pushing the reader with shocking statements that verge on the edge of orthodoxy, mimicking in a sense, the ecstasy that nearly implodes the structure of the self yet operates within its bounds. Like ‘Iraqi, Symeon speaks of union and duality, but this duality is not an illusion but an expression of his participation with the nature of Christ as both man and God. Through this union, Symeon is transformed from a singular human state to a dual human and divine state in emulation of Christ’s double nature. Symeon as Man-God reflects Christ as God-Man. However each exists as a singular hypostasis, or person. Symeon uses the terms God and Christ interchangeably, since each are one is essence yet exist as different entities within the Holy Trinity. What he can ascribe to Christ he can ascribe to God, thus 48 49

McGuckin, ‘Symeon,’ p. 190. Symeon, Divine Eros, XXX: 447–452, p 243.



in Hymn twenty-five he can address God as two, referring to Christ’s human and divine nature: Now listen, I tell you the awesome things of the double God, And the things that happened to me as to a double person! … So on the one hand as a human I know that I see nothing of the divine, Since I am completely separated from invisible things, But by adoption I have become God, And I perceive, and I become a participant in sacred realities. 50

Symeon’s dual nature allows him to experience these ‘sacred realities.’ Symeon often refers to this state of union as ‘alone with the Alone,’ 51 which can perhaps be interpreted an annihilation of the self within the Godhead. Yet Symeon’s personhood, despite its full union with the divine, is never rendered into complete singularity. The very notion of Hypostasis, that is, what ‘lies beneath,’ or ‘underpinning,’ was developed to express the paradox of the Holy Trinity where shared essences operate in multiple identities. For Symeon, unity with God is ontologically a relational union, rather than a union of no distinction. This allows him to declare: ‘One who has been united to God is not alone even if they are solitary (Jn 8:16).’ 52 For Symeon, this continual presence of the divine within the self and thus a state of duality with God is the goal of divine eros. For ‘Iraqi, this duality – even in union – must be expunged.


Both writers describe a conflation of perception between the beloved and the lover, though to different degrees and at different stages along the mystical path. For ‘Iraqi, this experience draws from the philosophy of unity of being, which can also be translated unity of perception. For Symeon, it draws from the incarnation and Symeon’s emphasis on the sensibility (aisthesis) of the Holy Spirit. Symeon, Divine Eros, XXV: 62–63; 72–75, p. 196–197. Symeon, Divine Eros, XXVII: 74, p. 206. 52 Symeon, Divine Eros, XXVII: 22, p. 205. 50 51



For both writers, this encounter occurs externally and internally, all around us and in our hearts. Symeon asks Christ: ‘How do I observe You in myself, and see You in heaven?’ 53 In Symeon, there is often a movement from an ecstatic vision of external light to a state where the light dwells within his heart, though this experience is often conflated: Nevertheless I see You as a sun and I look at You like a star, And I bear You in my bosom, just like a pearl, And I see You as a lamp in an earthen vessel. 54

Christ is often described as the ‘sun that never sets’ while Symeon’s illuminated soul is described as a lamp. Through purifying his soul and empting himself (kenosis), the light he emits is the light of Christ: ‘He made me like a fire, and made me like light, and I became that which I had seen before and contemplated from afar.’ 55 We can agree that Symeon finds Christ within his heart and through deification sees himself as Christ’s reflection, but it would be wrong to suggest that Christ reflects the perfection of Symeon along parallel lines. However, Christ is after all an incarnation, and thus God has already assumed the form of humanity in his encounter with humanity. In this sense, Christ’s incarnation can be thought of as God reflecting man. ‘Iraqi’s encounter, however, between the Beloved and lover demonstrates a much higher degree of reciprocal interaction. Like Symeon, ‘Iraqi writes of encountering the Beloved externally as well as seeing the reflection of the Beloved within the heart. One of his more advanced states of union is the point where the Beloved, referred to here as the ‘Friends Face,’ becomes a mirror of the lover and vice-versa: Without cease gazing into the purity Of the Friend’s face, he sees the universe imaged in his own reality

Symeon, Divine Eros, VII: 2, p. 56. Symeon, Divine Eros, XLII: 85–87, p. 305. 55 Symeon, Divine Eros, XXX: 429–433, p. 243. 53 54


ZACHARY UGOLNIK And if he once looks back into the chamber of his heart He finds there like a blazing sun the sweet face of his heart-thief. 56

Chittick and Wilson in their commentary suggest ‘Iraqi is describing a state, known in the school of Ibn ‘Arabi, as ‘AllComprehensiveness of All-Comprehensive’ (jam‘ al-jam‘) or ‘Two Bows’ Length’ (qab qawsayn), a state second only to utter unity (ahadiyyat al-jam‘). 57 On the one hand, God reflects man’s perfection, while on the other hand, man sees himself as a reflection of God. Two lower states correspond to these characteristics, through which the higher state is realized. In the first state, God becomes a means through which man perceives reality, thus, as ‘Iraqi writes: ‘Sometimes the Beloved Himself becomes the lover’s sight.’ 58 ‘Iraqi quotes the following hadith often attributed to this state: ‘I-Godbecome his ears, his eyes, his hand and his tongue.’ 59 In the second state, man becomes a means through which God acts, and thus, ‘Sometimes the lover becomes the Beloved’s voice,’ 60 alluding to the hadith, ‘God says with the tongue of his servant.’ 61 Throughout the Flashes, the lover seems to be inviting this experience, lamenting: Come inhabit my eyes and gaze on Him. 62

The Beloved inhabits the eyes of lover and the lover inhabits the eyes of the Beloved. If perceiving reality through divine perception can be described at all, it can be described as a self-referential vision. To look through the eyes of the Beloved is to see the Be‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, VI, p. 83. See commentary in ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, p. 137–138. 58 ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, VI, p. 84. 59 ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, VII, p. 87. 60 ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, VI, p. 84. 61 As quoted in commentary in ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, p. 139. 62 ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, VIII, p. 88. 56 57



loved; Divine perception is the perception of the Divine. For ‘Iraqi, this is a vision of utter unity: I witnessed in You a reality which transcends My multiplicity, and through which seer and seen are united. 63

Cornelia A. Tsakiridou in her eloquent comparison ‘Theophany and Humanity in Symeon the New Theologian and Abu Hamid Ghazali,’ from which this article is in debt, argues that ‘in alGhazali theophany is a reflection in the heart of an abstract superrational luminance,’ 64 contrasted by Symeon’s personal and bodily communion. Though this may be true of al-Ghazali, in my reading of ‘Iraqi the continual emphasis on the conflation of senses between man and God, and thus seer and seen, is a device through which the divine is rendered relatable and man, in turn, is transformed. For Symeon, of course, this is achieved through the incarnation. We can briefly turn to Gregory of Nazianzus to better understand the role of incarnation in Symeon’s religious experience. In Gregory’s famous letter to Cledonius he writes: ‘The unassumed is the unhealed, but what is united with God is also being saved.’ 65 Christ assumed a soul and body so he could suffer and die as a human in order to save humanity from death. Humanity, then, through imitating Christ’s humility and purifying their soul can assume the divinity of Christ and participate in his perceptions. For Symeon, this is primarily a union of the mind, or nous, achieving a state of dispassion (apatheia), where worldly perceptions no longer have appeal. The following verses link these concepts and merit an extended quote: ‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, IX, p. 90. Tsakiridou, C. A. ‘Theophany and Humanity in St. Symeon the New Theologian and Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali.’ International Journal of Orthodox Theology 2:3 (2011): 167–187. p 167. 65 St. Gregory of Nazianzus. The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius. Translated by Frederick Williams and Lionel Wickham. (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2002). Epistle 101, p. 158. 63 64


ZACHARY UGOLNIK For the mind is plunged into your light, And made bright, and transformed into light Similar to your glory, and is called your mind, And the one who has been deemed worthy to become like this Is then also deemed worthy to posses your mind, (Rom. 11:34) And they become inseparably one with You. How then does such a one not see like You do, and not hear All things dispassionately? And how would one who Has become God yearn at all for anything perceptible, Or for any transient and perishable reality, or an glory, When they are above all these And beyond all visible glory? 66

To see and hear like Christ is to see and hear dispassionately and yearn only for what is eternal. Throughout his hymns, Symeon emphasizes this state of apatheia, where worldly temptations no longer have any sensory appeal, but the mind is concentrated only on the divine, like ‘gods seeing God.’ 67 Symeon’s Hymns also express a conflation of the seer and seen, as he pronounces ‘Alone I see Him seeing me,’ 68 yet identities remain inexplicably intact. Symeon’s encounter remains at this stage, where the Beloved and the lover participate in each other’s sensory experiences. However, for ‘Iraqi, as we shall see, even the unity of perception dissolves.


Symeon is unique in that he demonstrates glimmers of repentance (metanoia) even amidst his highest stages of deification. In the blinding light of illumination and union, he realizes his own impurity, as he wails: …I say that this soul Sees the light shine within, And perceives that it was

Symeon, Divine Eros, XXXIX: 61–72, p. 287. Symeon, Divine Eros, XV: 108, p. 85. 68 Symeon, Divine Eros, XXX: 410, p 242. 66 67

THE REFLEXIVITY OF LOVE In a most terrible darkness. 69


In contradictory terms, the more one approaches the light, the darker the abyss in the self, where God cannot yet be found, appears. Even to the point, where Symeon explains: ‘One sees oneself in hell, I mean compared to the brilliance of the light.’ 70 Repentance, in this sense, is purification and can be interpreted as a means of self-emptying (kenosis). This constant reminder of humility in midst of glorification balances the interplay between Symeon and Christ, where ‘I’ of the penitent is retained. Symeon’s fire imagery suggests this type of annihilation. The self, tied to temporal passions, is burned and remade in the mold of divine light. Just as the ‘sun never sets,’ this process never ceases. As we have seen the theme of reflexivity between the beloved and lover plays an important role in both works of literature, and resonates with each writer’s respective theological tradition. ‘Iraqi relies on the model of the Perfect Man, where perfection and the polishing of the self, allows man to be the supreme reflection of the Divine Names and Attributes. Symeon relies on the theology of the incarnate Logos as the God-Man that allows the lover to participate in the Beloved’s divinity. ‘Iraqi’s relationship depends on a theory of divine emanation, while Symeon’s relationship merely suggests it. Both struggle with issues of unity and distinction, but Symeon through incarnational and Trinitarian models portrays a relationship of a singular essence through which multiple identities participate. In this encounter, Symeon embraces his human-divine nature in likeness of Christ’s dual nature and at their intersection, Symeon participates in Christ’s perceptions. Christ, as the Beloved, however is God and thus will be an eternally distinct identity. ‘Iraqi’s Beloved and lover also demonstrate a unity of perception, but on a much more reciprocal level leading to a point where the identities of each become utterly conflated. The final words of ‘Iraqi’s Divine Flashes, like the last fluttering flames of a fire, echo this annihilation of both the Beloved and the lover: ‘When shall we

69 70

Symeon, Divine Eros, XXX: 215–218, p. 236. Symeon, Divine Eros, XXX: 206–207, p. 236.


ZACHARY UGOLNIK divorce ourselves? You and I gone and only God remain?’ 71

This dual reading of Symeon and ‘Iraqi has attempted to bring the writers in conversion with one another and to achieve, to a certain degree, a mutual perception of the two. Love, for both writers is the stuff of eternity. Beyond reading Symeon and ‘Iraqi as models for how to love God, if we can substitute their Beloved, for our own beloved and people we encounter every day, then among other things, we hear a reminder to see through the eyes of those we love and to lose a part of our selves in that seeing. Love demands an emptying. Through this constant cycle of love, compassion, and repentance we can begin to set aside the selfish aspects of our personality so that we can begin to perceive love and eternity in and through all creation, so that we can perceive those we have never met as those we love dearly. The Beloved is an icon of all humanity.


‘Iraqi, Divine Flashes, XXVIII, p. 127.

THE TIME HAS COME: THE WHY AND THE HOW OF BRINGING CHANGE TO THE POSTPARTUM RITES OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH CARRIE FREDERICK FROST ‘O Master, Lord Almighty … Do Thou Thyself heal also this handmaid, Name, who today has given birth and raise her from the bed on which she lies. For, according to the words of Prophet David, in sins were we conceived, and all are defiled before Thee.’ ‘purify her from uncleanness’ and ‘cleanse her from bodily uncleanness and the various afflictions of her womb.’ ‘…and forgive this, Thy handmaid, Name, and the whole household into which this infant has been born, and all who have touched her, and all here present; forgive all of them.’ 1 ‘Purify her … from every sin and from every defilement as she now draws near to Thy Holy Church; and let her to be counted worthy to partake, uncondemned, of Thy Holy Mysteries.’

‘Prayers on the First Day after a Woman Has Given Birth to a Child.’ The Great Book of Needs, Vol. 1. (South Canaan, PA: St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, 2000), 3–5. 1



CARRIE FREDERICK FROST ‘O Lord our God … come also upon Thy servant, Name, and count her worthy … of entrance into the temple of Thy Glory. Wash away her bodily and spiritual uncleanness, in the completion of the forty days. Make her worthy also of the communion of Thy precious Body and Blood.’ 2

These words come from two rites of the Orthodox Church. The first three lines are an excerpt from the ‘Prayers on the First Day after a Woman has Given Birth to a Child,’ or the ‘First Day’ prayers, which are prayed by a priest in the hospital or at home soon after birth. The latter two lines are from the ‘Prayers for a Woman on the Fortieth Day of Childbirth,’ or the ‘Churching’ rite, which takes place on or around the fortieth day after childbirth, when a woman first returns to church with her newborn. I begin with these excerpts in order to clearly see their language and consider its theological meaning and consequences. The suggestions about the mother – ‘defiled,’ ‘unclean,’ ‘unworthy’ – jar modern ears. They chafe against the developed-world understanding of childbirth as a healthy and natural biological process that has nothing to do with purity. The situation of these rites among Orthodox in the United States is varied: often they are abandoned entirely, some priests still celebrate them while changing them on the fly, and sometimes these rites are celebrated in the tongue of the old country, so the exclusively English-speaking mother simply does not have to hear them. Occasionally these rites are being explained, but in wildly inconsistent ways. 
 In an Orthodox setting, rites can and should make demands on the faithful, so those of us who are piqued by this language must determine if the reason for our reaction is our modern, developed-world preferences for comfort and ease over discomfort and hermeneutical effort. We must ask, then, is this concept of impurity after childbirth theologically sound? In order to begin to answer this question, I will offer a very quick tour of the history and theology of these rites. ‘Prayers for a Woman on the Fortieth Day of Childbirth.’ The Great Book of Needs, Vol. 1, 10–12. 2



It is often assumed that these rites are directly linked to the rites after childbirth found in Leviticus that ban a postpartum woman from the temple for a certain number of days and dictate the necessary offerings required for her cleansing. Ritual impurity in the ancient world did not constitute a sinful state, but rather a special and contagious ritual state from which one must recover by performing dictated actions. Childbirth was understood as ritually impure not because of any sinfulness associated with childbearing, but because all experiences which brought one into contact with God’s creative powers, especially female blood – both postpartum and menstrual – were taboo. 3 This understanding was part of the strict division in the ancient world, found among the Jews and the pagans, between the sacred and the profane, and this sort of impurity demanded ritual remediation not only to cleanse the impurity from the individual, but also to restore order and maintain God’s favor for the community at large. A direct textual relationship between the Christian rite of Churching and its Mosaic antecedent rite of purification after childbirth also seems logical when we consider that Mary, the Mother of God, herself underwent this rite as we hear early in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 2:22–24). There is evidence in the early Christian era of the practice of mothers not returning to church until a certain time period after childbirth had elapsed. 4 However, as the work of Orthodox scholar Father Matthew Street has made clear, there is no apparent historical, textual link between the Jewish and Christian rites. 5 Streett, M. ‘What to Do with the Baby? The Historical Development of the Rite of Churching.’ Saint Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, 56, No. 1 (2012): 51–71, 54. 4 The Canons of Hippolytus include what are essentially stage directions for the new mother: ‘The woman who has given birth stays outside the holy place forty days if the child which she has borne is male, and if it is female, eighty days. If she enters the church, she is to pray with the catechumens.’ The Canons of Hippolytus. Carol Bebawi, trans. Paul F. Bradshaw, ed. (Bramcote, England: Grove Books Limited. 1987), Canon 18, 20. 5 Streett, ‘What to Do with the Baby?,’ 53. 3



The oldest extant copies of the Churching rite are from the eighth century, and they do not contain any prayers for the mother, but are instead focused entirely on the child. 6 It is only later, approaching the twelfth century, that prayers for the mother, which include the impurity theme, begin to be incorporated into the Churching rite. The First Day rite was an even later addition in its entirely, first appearing in fourteenth-century manuscripts. 7 The Levitical concept of impurity was introduced into these rites – not retained from antiquity – most likely with the help of pagan superstitions about pregnancy and childbirth, which were in the air in the late Byzantine period. 8 Additionally, several historians argue that: ‘The original sense of ritual impurity [from Leviticus] because of blood-flow had been lost’ and replaced at this point of Christian history by ‘only the notion of a sinful state [associated with childbirth].’ 9 It is significant that the impurity language was a late addition to the rite, yet, even if the rite were continuous and unaltered, which is not the case, this question would still be valid: after the coming of Christ and his fulfillment of the law, are there valid categories of ritual impurity around childbirth, or did Christ cast all categories of purity and impurity into the sphere of free will, into the choice between vice and virtue? A look back through two thousand years of theology finds a bag of answers that is mixed. Sister Vassa Larin’s work on the history of the theological concept of impurity in Christianity is helpful for a balanced picture of this history, and I will rely on her work here. Some Fathers interpreted Old Testament purity symbolically; they ‘interpreted levitical categories of ‘purity’ and ‘impurity’ allegoriStreett, ‘What to Do with the Baby?,’ 59. Street, M. ‘The Rite of the First Day,’ unpublished excerpt from ‘What to Do with the Baby?’, used with permission of the author. 8 Thomas, K. Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Belief in Sixteenth and Seventeenth England. (London: Penguin, 1971), 43. 9 Kristolaitis, C. ‘From Purification to Celebration: The History of the Service for Women after Childbirth,’ Journal of the Canadian Church Historical Society. XXVIII. 2 (1986): 53–62, 57. 6 7



cally, that is to say as symbols of virtue and sin.’ 10 St. John Chrysostom went so far as to specifically say in reference to childbirth, ‘Those things are not polluted which arise from nature … but those which arise from choice,’ 11 advocating for perceptions of female impurity after childbirth to be left in the past. On the other hand, other patristic thinkers ‘viewed all proscriptions of the Mosaic Law as purely symbolic except those concerning sex and sexuality,’ 12 including childbirth. The law of the Church is mixed as well. The third-century Christian treatise, the Didascalia Apostolorum emphatically beseeches women to consider Levitical laws about women’s blood loss obsolete, and to go to church during times of bleeding. 13 On the other hand, other canon law proscribed strict prohibitions from Communion for menstruating and postpartum women. Christ himself transformed Levitical practice many times, most notably for this examination in his encounter with the woman with the issue of blood (Matt 9:20–22, Mark 5:25–34, Luke 8:43– 47). Jesus Christ let her touch him, he healed her, and he acknowledged her. In this way it appears that he eschewed the Levitical understanding of impurity having to do with a woman’s blood. Here and elsewhere in the Gospels, Christ shifted categories of Levitical purity into the realm of the free will. 

 St. Paul also abandoned the Levitical approach to the Law regarding impurity, except out of cases of charity. Indeed, he repeatedly emphasized that the new human has put on Christ, and that any impurity has been left behind by baptism: ‘You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and in the Spirit of our God’ (1 Cor. 6:11 NKJV). For Paul, baptism was the ultimate purification, after which none was needLarin, V. ‘What is ‘Ritual Im/purity’ and Why?,’ St Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, 52, No. 3–4 (2008): 275–292, 280. 11 Chrysostom, J. ‘Homily XXXIII on Hebrews,’ trans. Frederic Gardiner, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Vol. 14. Philip Schaff, ed. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1889). 12 Larin, V. ‘What is ‘Ritual Im/purity’ and Why?,’ 280. 13 R. Hugh Connolly, trans., Didascalia Apostolorum. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1929), XXVI. Located at: www. 10



ed. Given Paul’s understanding of these things, a new mother cannot be temporarily suspended from her purification. To suggest so undermines the potency of the sacrament of baptism. And yet, the concept of impurity after childbirth was introduced into the childbearing rites in the second millennium, and there it remains. The situation of these rites takes on urgency when it is understood that these words are almost always the very first and the very last a woman hears on the theological meaning of motherhood from the Orthodox Church. The purity language included in these Orthodox childbearing rites does not merely jar the sensitive modern ear; it jars the Christian ear. It is not a ‘women’s issue,’ but a cosmic issue having everything to do with who we are as human persons in light of Christ, as well as with our understanding of baptism. We should reexamine these rites, then, with the goal of throwing out the bathwater and the bathwater only. 
 Given the theologically unsound components of these rites, coupled with their importance in the life of families, an interjurisdictional group of Orthodox Christians working on these postpartum rites has formed, of which I am a part. It has no official status or affiliation, but is a group of theologians and historians who have long considered these rites. This group understands and appreciates that there is a high bar to change any rites, but it is the group’s conviction that this bar has been met, and that, for the historical and theological reasons stated here, that now is time to bring new language to these rites. Our goals are to: educate the laity and the clergy about the history and theology of these rites, to continue to consider the history, theology, and translations of these rites, to offer some prayers for the laity having to do with conception, pregnancy, childbirth, and parenthood, and to ultimately work to alter the First Day and Churching rites, with an eye to removing the theologically unsound language of impurity while making certain that the deeply incarnational aspect of these prayers is preserved. We ultimately hope to have these alterations blessed and distributed by our bishops. We are buoyed by the knowledge that several Orthodox groups have asked for this process to be initiated, including the Agapia Conference of 1979, the Women in the Orthodox Church Conference in Istanbul in 1997, and the Women’s Theological Conference in Crete in 2000. We are also sensitive to the cultural



traditions surrounding these rites. Some have suggested that we leave particularly the issue of abstinence from communion after childbirth and during menstruation to the individual believer. 14 This sentiment echoes the empathetic words of Saint Paul: ‘I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean’ (Rom. 14:14). There is wisdom here, and a careful combination of such charity and education will be employed in the effort to change these rites.


The First Day prayers and the Churching rite both contain other theological concepts; they are not dominated by talk of impurity, and it is significant that the Orthodox Church even has rites that welcome (both male and female) children into the world. In celebrating these rites, we, as Orthodox, acknowledge the glory that is a new life born, and the constant hope we all have for our own rebirth into the next life. We also offer liturgical hospitality to new mothers and their children. This is no small thing, especially in a culture that is confused about the significance of parenthood and childbirth, and in the midst of other Christian churches that have no liturgical acknowledgment of these things. I grew up in a tiny, elderly Orthodox parish in West Virginia, and the first time I witnessed a Churching rite was when I was churched with my firstborn. I heard the bits about impurity and they jarred me – offered as they were with no explanation whatsoever – but I also heard the rest of the rite. After experiencing a dangerous delivery Demetrios C. Passakos suggests in his article on impurity in the New Testament that we leave issues about menstruation (and presumably childbirth, too) to the freedom of conscience of each believer, without the bias of any ‘law.’ For example, it is absurd to exclude a woman in her menstrual period from full participation in the life of the Church, but it would be equally absurd to impose the opposite, when and if a woman for psychological, or personal reasons knowing chooses abstention.’ Passakos, D.C. ‘Clean and Unclean in the New Testament: Implications for Contemporary Liturgical Practices,’ Greek Orthodox Theological Review, 47:1–4 (2002): 277–293, 292. 14



myself, I heard the priest say, ‘O Lord God Almighty, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who … hast brought all things from nothingness into being, we pray and entreat thee: Thou hast saved this thy servant, Carrie, by thy will.’ I heard in the First Days prayer, the petition that the Lord might ‘Cover [me] with the shelter of [his] holy wings from this day until [my] final end,’ and I felt those wings on that day, and I feel that special shelter and care that God, through his church, has offered me as a mother to this day. It is with this in mind that I wish to work towards a reconsideration of the impurity language in these childbearing rites.

PSALMS 112:5–9 AND ALTERNATIVE FAMILY ARRANGEMENTS WILLIAM EPHREM GALL Who is like the Lord our God, Who dwells in the highest, and Who looks upon the humble things in heaven and earth? He raises the poor man from the earth and lifts up the poor from the dunghills so as to seat him with rulers, with the rulers of His people; He settles the barren woman in a home, to be a joyful mother of children. Psalms 112:5–9 (‘SAAS’)

The Psalmist’s word of good cheer for childless women, the poor, and the needy speaks in part to alternate family arrangements. Psalm 112 most assuredly refers to the Prophet David’s provision of a seat at his royal table for his departed friend Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth, who was disabled in his feet. Dr. John Boojamra in his book ‘Foundations for Christian Education’ calls for a family-centered approach to the socialization of children. Boojamra understands the home as the decisive setting for the development of Christian character. He also identified two factors crucial to this: first a father who is present in the home, active in church life, and a model of that life in the home; also a loving and harmonious relationship between husband and wife is of paramount concern. This, of course, is the traditional family, the optimal situation for childhood development. 1 Boojamra, J.L. Foundations For Orthodox Christian Education (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985). 1




But not all are called by God to this form of home and family. St. Paul explained this much in his first letter to the Corinthians, in which he extols the unmarried state as more conducive to a person's single-minded devotion to Christ. Through St. Antony the Great, the Desert Fathers, and St. Pachomius the Great, the monastic way developed into a predominantly coenobitic, shared living situation. In other words, a different kind of family. But not all unmarried persons are called to the monastic life. Orthodox Christian monasticism, while not neglecting hospitality, has focused on liturgical and hesychastic prayer as the central activity of this particular form of common life, directed toward purification, illumination, and deification in Christ. One would have a strong argument that the Orthodox Church counts monasticism as the optimal situation for continuing human development. An earlier Orthodox Christian expression of monastic life which gave more of an emphasis to both prayer and service to others is St. Basil the Great’s Basiliad, which operated as a hospice. St. Gregory the Theologian recounts how St. Basil would himself wash the feet of lepers. St. John Chrysostom, in one of his homilies, urged traditional families to provide a guest chamber in their home with a bed, table, and a candlestick for a poor or disabled person who otherwise had no home. In the West, Roman Catholic monasticism developed many orders with a variety of focuses, including that of service to the poor. This vision of a common life with Christ in the persons of the poor while not being the main emphasis of traditional Orthodox Christian monasticism is nevertheless an effective means for social welfare (and has been such since the very inception of Eastern Christianity). This is perhaps the reason why it became a familial paradigm for Orthodox Christians who do not feel the call to monastic life, including those who are single as well as childless couples. Hence, their faith is sustained by the example of good works of the Fathers and monastic communities. There are various contemporary manifestations of such a vision to be mentioned in this context. For instance, Jean Vanier, a former professor of philosophy at the University of Toronto and a Roman Catholic Christian, after encountering two men with intellectual disabilities in an institution, chose to live with them himself. From this small beginning a movement began, and many have been inspired by Jean Vanier to choose to share their lives with persons

PSALMS 112:5–9 AND ALTERNATIVE FAMILY ARRANGEMENTS 255 who have intellectual disabilities. The organization that sprang from this movement, L’Arche, has since spread around the world. In his book ‘Community and Growth’ Vanier sets forth the philosophy and format of these communities. One word that receives stress in this book, fidelity, underlines the familial nature of this way of life. One establishes relationships with the poor and maintains these relationships on a long-term basis as God wills and enables. Trust is built, and gradually very closed or wounded persons will often begin to open up and flower. And in the process, those who choose to share their lives with persons who have intellectual disabilities will also discover their own wounds. As such, when these are brought to light and reckoned with, they too will experience healing. 2 Hence, the redemptive work of Christ is manifested through this mutual collaboration and fellowship in God. My wife and I have been involved on a long term basis with another organization, Friendship Community, which according to its mission statement seeks to impact the world with the capabilities of people with intellectual disabilities. For eighteen years we served as houseparents for a Friendship Community group home, and as a childless couple ourselves, this was an alternative family arrangement for us. There are many ways in which to commit to loving relationships through alternative family arrangements. The Catholic Worker movement founded by Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin represents another major effort to meet the needs of homeless persons, which, as they were able to do so, included housing, friendship, and comradeship. There are currently 225 Catholic Worker houses in the U.S. and internationally, according to their website. In some cases, their homes provide support, such as clothing, food, and shelter referral, but not necessarily shelter to homeless and needy people, largely because of the cost of meeting government regulations in regard to housing facilities. This difficulty has become more pronounced in recent years.



Vanier, Jean. Community and Growth. (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press,



The Orthodox Foundation near Indiana, Pennsylvania, which served homeless persons, had to close its doors because it was unable to meet Pennsylvania’s stringent regulations. There are other Orthodox Christian efforts which currently provide homes for those in need. In addition to the many ministries which provide practical help to people in need, such as the Emmaus House in New York City and Focus North America, there are a few which also provide housing: Raphael House in San Francisco, California and St. John's House for the Homeless, in Brooklyn, New York. There is also a home for people with intellectual disabilities, the Hellenos House, in Wantagh, Long Island, NY. An Orthodox Christian-based organization in Omaha, Nebraska, the Sheltering Tree, has endeavored to garner the resources to establish a housing community and an educational and vocational center for young adults with developmental disabilities since 2006. Outside of the U.S. there are Orthodox Christian efforts to provide living arrangements for persons who are disabled or destitute, such as the House of Mercy, in Minsk, Belarus, the farmstead and boarding homes associated with the St. Martyr Grand Princess Elizabeth Convent, also in Minsk, Belarus, and the Waterloo Disabled Village in Sierra Leone, Africa. To what degree do these housing provisions constitute alternate family living arrangements? Perhaps, but I am unsure. To the degree that there is love and concern for each other among the residents and staff of these communities, to that same degree they become a fulfillment of Psalms 112, and function as alternative family arrangements for those who have no other. Sustaining such efforts is not easy. There are difficult days which test one’s commitment. An idealistic person entering into such a lifestyle will be disillusioned by the many difficulties and setbacks which will occur, as well as by their own failure to live up to the ideal. But as one trusts in God, the Holy Spirit provides the grace sufficient for each day, so that fidelity may be maintained for whatever length of time God has called a person to a particular alternative family arrangement.


Much has been written about the Orthodox theology of marriage, its historical developments, its ecclesial dimensions, its ceremony and symbolism, and its eternal implications. 2 Much less has been written for pastors charged with guiding couples through the inevitable challenges and irreconcilable differences that occur in marriage. The intent of this paper is to offer an Orthodox theology of marriage useful for pastors guiding couples along the path of marriage. A pastoral theology of marriage serves to provide a theological framework for understanding the sacrament of married life and how it is that couples form ‘themselves by God’s grace in the likeness of Christ.’ 3 A young couple in their thirties, married for ten years with three children, whom we will call John and Becky, met with me because they could no longer endure the constant conflict between them. He was a successful businessman and she, a stay at home mom with a college degree. They reported that they were stuck and all attempts to communicate ended in conflict. They fought about An earlier version of this study appeared in Greek Orthodox Theological Review 56: 1–4 (2011): 179–195. 2 See Calivas A.C. ‘Marriage: The Sacrament of Love and Communion.’ Greek Orthodox Theological Review (1995): 40 for a thorough articulation of an Eastern Christian theology of marriage and a comprehensive list of resources on the topic. 3 Calivas. ‘Marriage.’ 249. 1




everything and felt very disconnected. In the first few sessions it was clear, as they exchanged sarcastic comments, that they had grown apart as the stresses of running a household and raising children entered their marriage. They married because they enjoyed each other’s company playing tennis and skiing but over the course of their marriage, according to their reports, they clashed over a number of issues and struggled with the personal weaknesses they discovered in each other. They accused each other: He worked too much, could never relax, and turned the kids against her. She was disorganized, lazy, and unable to keep the household on schedule and clean. They exchanged criticism and complaints interspersed with insults and judgments yet reported that, with three kids and a mortgage, hoping to build a summer home, divorce was not an option. They were stuck and listed all the issues on which they had reached an impasse including parenting, planning vacations, scheduling the day, and finances. In the most extreme pastoral cases, a spouse will approach a pastor to report that the other spouse has emotionally or physically ‘checked out’ of the marriage either through work or recreation or, more critically, pornography, infidelity, or addiction. In the best cases, both partners are involved in the Church or the pastor has a relationship with the prodigal spouse. More typically, the pastor is restricted to working with only one spouse, most often, the wife. In these dramatic cases, often the only perceivable options are staying in a ‘dead’ marriage or divorcing. Understanding marriage as sacrament, or theophany, provides little guidance to the pastor charged with guiding the spouse. Espousing the sanctity of marriage rings hollow to the lonely, abandoned wife who faces not only the death of her marriage, but also the death of the hopes and expectations that she had on her wedding day. 4 The implications for proper marital preparation are evident here. Preparing couples for marriage requires that we address the unrealistic expectations of marriage that many engaged couples such that the challenges of marriage are not accompanied by severe disappointment, but mature preparation. Proper marriage preparation plays a key role in teaching couples about the nature and purpose of marriage such that they establish appropriate patterns for identifying and addressing the inevitable 4



Our theology of marriage provides the starting point for a discussion. As a sacrament, marriage is a direct revelation of the kingdom of God in two specific persons.’ 5 ‘When husband and wife are united in marriage, they form an image of no earthly reality, but of God himself.’ 6 Marriage is sustained by the Holy Spirit, and is a vehicle of the Holy Spirit. It is transfiguring. ‘According to faith, marriage in Christ raises man and wife to share in the divine nature.’ 7 And the divine nature, we know, is love (1 John 4:16). ‘He who possesses love possesses god Himself, for God is Love.’ 8 ‘The way of life and love of two people is sustained and perfected in their oneness with God’s love.’ 9 It is not so much that divine love is imposed on human love, as it is that human love is transformed in union with Divine love. Marriage transfigures ‘human love into a new reality of heavenly origin’ 10 Divine love sustains marriage by transforming the person of husband and wife in divine love and with divine love. Marriage, then, is a journey of love. 11 The end result is that through the mystery of marriage we come to love in a divine way such that, to paraphrase Galatians 2:20, it is no longer I who loves my wife, but Christ who loves in me. More specifically, marriage is a journey of acquiring perfect challenges that arise. See Mamalakis P. and Joanides C. The Journey of Marriage in the Orthodox Church (New York, NY: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, 2010). 5 Chrysavvgis J. ‘The Sacrament of Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective.’ Studia Liturgica (1989): 17. 6 Charalambidis S. ‘Marriage in the Orthodox Church.’ One in Christ 15 (1979): 204. 7 Charalambidis. ‘Marriage in the Orthodox Church.’ 207. 8 St. Maximos the Confessor. Selected Writings. (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1985), 122. 9 Calivas. ‘Marriage: The Sacrament of Love and Communion.’ 250. 10 Charalambidis. ‘Marriage in the Orthodox Church.’ 206. 11 Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra. The Church at Prayer (Athens: Indiktos, 2005), 120.



love, becoming perfect love toward our spouse. ‘The couples gift of self to each other is to come to love in a divine way…’ 12 That perfection is not simply an outward perfection of a couple who never fights, but an essential transformation of the persons of the husband and wife who participate through grace in the divine nature of God. (2 Peter 1:3–4) St. John Chrysostom, ‘If you ask Him, he will work an even greater miracle than He worked in Cana: That is, He will transform the water of your unstable passions into the wine of spiritual unity…’ 13 Yet, in my marriage, I still love my wife imperfectly. And, more noticeably at times, she loves me imperfectly. Because we know that ‘only the perfect person, with a perfect conscience, a perfect mind, and perfect power can have perfect love. Such a person is our God.’ 14 Within the sacrament of marriage, my spiritual journey of acquiring perfect love intersects with her journey. The daily struggles of marriage are situated within this call to acquire perfect love. (Mt 5:48). This journey of acquiring perfect love for our spouse is a journey toward the kingdom of God, which we can say with certainty is far from struggle free, because the kingdom of God suffers violence and the violent take it by force (Mt. 11:12). However the distinct nature of the struggle is not against our spouse but against the flesh (cf. Galatians 5:13–25). It is not that there are struggles along the path of marriage but the struggles are the path of marriage. For the Orthodox, Christ is the celebrant of wedding ceremony, and it is Christ who is at the heart of marriage. ‘In fact, this wedding is the wedding of the spouses to Christ.’ 15 In and through marriage, each person is wedded to Christ, in and through their union with each other. ‘I am married, then, means that I enslave Calivas. ‘Marriage.’ 254. St. John Chrysostom. Marriage and Family Life. (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1986), 78. 14 Bishop Nikolai Velimorovich. The Collected Writings of Nikoli Velimirovich. (Seattle: St. Nectarios Press, 1995), 45. 15 Paul Evdokimov. The Sacrament of Love: The Nuptial Mystery in the Light of the Orthodox Tradition. (Crestwood, NY, St. Vladimir’s Press, 1985), 123. 12 13

TURNING TOWARD AS A PASTORAL THEOLOGY OF MARRIAGE 261 my heart to Christ … I am the slave of Christ.’ 16 We find our fulfillment as husbands and wives as we are united with Christ and perfected in Christ. We live out the sacramental life of the church in our daily lives of marriage as we live out our vocation to love Christ by loving our spouse. ‘Love her, not so much for her sake, but for Christ’s sake. That is why he [St. Paul] says, ‘be subject … as to the Lord.’ 17 ‘Do everything for the Lord’s sake, in a spirit of obedience to Him.’ 18 Within the sacrament of marriage our love for God is expressed through our love for our spouse, and our love for our spouse witnesses to our love for God. Marital struggles are specifically, the struggle to love our spouse as unto the Lord (Eph. 5:20–22). It is also in this sense that we can say that marriage is not an end in and of itself. The goal of the Christian life is not to remain married, for that might be outside our control, but to be united with God, perfected in love, and inherit the Kingdom of God. To sustain a marriage requires that two persons choose to engage each other. Each one is free to turn away from the other and from Christ most dramatically through infidelity or abuse. The victim of this is not, in any way, obstructed on the path of salvation, even if the marriage ends. This divine vocation to love our spouse as unto the Lord serves as the orientation of marriage. It is by loving Christ, first and foremost, that we understand how to love our spouse. This love for Christ is lived out, and expressed, daily through the prosaic, ostensibly insignificant events of married life.


To look more specifically at the sacramental nature of married life, I turn to the work of Dr. John Gottman, one of the foremost marital researchers in the United States. He discovered that, contrary to conventional wisdom, happily married couples had as many pervasive problems as distressed couples and did not maintain their conAimilianos. The Church at Prayer, 125. Chrysostom. On Marriage and Family Life, 78. 18 Chrysostom. On Marriage and Family Life, 78. 16 17



nection through deep, heart-to-heart talks. Rather, healthy couples nurtured intimacy in their relationship through the small, simple exchanges that occur throughout the day, such as: ‘When are you coming home?’ ‘Don’t forget to take out the trash.’ ‘Demetri is sick.’ ‘Can you pick up milk on the way home?’ He discovered that these small exchanges were, in fact, bids for connection that spouses make to each other. ‘A bid can be a question, a gesture, a look, a touch, any single expression that says, ‘I want to feel connected to you.’’ 19 He considers bids for connection ‘the fundamental unit of emotional communication.’ 20 He submits that we make bids to each other out of our natural desire to connect, to be in relationships with people. At the heart of the marital union are these hundreds of small bids for connection between couples. 21 How couples respond to these small bids for connection, either turning toward, away, or against, can draw them closer together or farther apart. Turning toward includes making eye-contact, simple nods, attending, listening, and engaging responses, which communicate care, respect, and love. Turning toward communicates: ‘I hear you,’ ‘I am interested in you,’ ‘I am on your side,’ ‘I accept you,’ ‘I’d like to be with you.’ The daily communicating in marriage, as bids for connection, are not just about sharing information, but about nurturing connection and intimacy. 22 Often, in couples counseling, when I suggest to a husband that he ask his wife what she is feeling, he will tell me that he alGottman J.H. The Relationship Cure: A Five Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family and Friendships. (New York, NY: Three Rivers Press, 2001), 4. 20 Gottman. The Relationship Cure, 4. 21 A comprehensive overview of Dr. Gottman’s research findings on marital intimacy is outside the scope of this paper. For more information, see Gottman J.H. The Marriage Clinic: A Scientifically Based Marital Therapy. (New York, NY: WW Norton and Co. Inc., 1999). 22 Dr. Gottman observed that husbands heading for divorce disregard their wives’ bids for connection 82% of the time, while husbands in stable relationships disregard their wives’ bids just 19% of the time. Gottman. The Relationship Cure. 19

TURNING TOWARD AS A PASTORAL THEOLOGY OF MARRIAGE 263 ready knows how his wife is feeling, so why should he ask. I remind him that we ask her how she is feeling to express care and concern, to connect, rather than to get information. When a wife is struggling with something, she turns to her husband to connect, rather than to be told what to do. The loving response is to turn toward, to be attentive and to listen. The nature of sharing and listening is that it is a turning toward, and as such, expresses care and love. Turning away refers to the distracted, preoccupied, disregarding, or interrupting responses, which communicate a lack of interest. Turning away communicates: ‘I don’t care about your bid,’ ‘I want to avoid you,’ ‘I am not really interested in you,’ ‘I’ve got more important things on my mind,’ ‘I’m too busy to pay attention to you.’ We have all experienced this turning away when talking to someone who is watching television or checking his or her cell phone. While it is not a turning against, it is certainly not a turning toward. Turning against bids for connection are contemptuous putdowns, and belligerent, combative, contradictory, domineering, critical, defensive, angry, or blaming responses. These hostile and aggressive reactions are the most damaging to relationships and communicate disdain, disrespect and hatred. They communicate: ‘Your need for attention makes me angry,’ ‘I don’t respect you,’ ‘I don’t value you or this relationship,’ ‘I want to hurt you,’ ‘I want to drive you away,’ and even, ‘I hate you.’ Spouses are tempted to turn against each other when they are angry, overwhelmed, stressed, hurt, hungry, or tired. Spouses are deceived into believing that they are too tired, too hurt, or too angry to turn toward each other so they turn against with comments such as: ‘I don’t have time now!’ ‘You’re lazy.’ ‘Why can’t you help?’ ‘You don’t care!’ ‘Can’t you see I’m busy!’ While feeling overwhelmed or angry are common experiences in marriage, in those moments love demands that in our anger, we turn toward, not against our spouse (Eph 4:26). Other times, a spouse might feel that s/he does not have the time to turn toward. Yet, it takes as much time to turn toward, with a statement like, ‘I’m too angry to talk now,’ as it does to turn against with a statement like, ‘Get out of here!’ At the heart of marriage, Dr. Gottman discovered, are the seemingly mundane interactions of daily life through which couples



grow in intimacy and closeness as they turn toward each other. Far from being insignificant, these interactions are the context for building oneness, expressing love and growing in love. In his research, Dr. Gottman found that couples who turn toward each other most demonstrated the greatest capacity for affection when difficult issues arose in their marriages. Couples who turned away, or against, each other most often seemed to disconnect and experienced greater difficulty working through major challenges. 23


‘The beginning of the spiritual life is conversion (επιστροφή), an attitude of the will turning toward God and renouncing the world.’ 24 At the heart of marriage is turning toward one another, without ceasing, as unto the Lord. Paul Evdokimov notes that the biblical term for Eve, (Ezer Ke-negdo) means ‘a helper turned toward him’ (Gen 2:18). 25 The Latin root of the word divorce means to turn apart (divertere). 26 Every moment, every exchange, within married life becomes a decisive moment for God to act (καιρός). ‘In marriage, the Holy Spirit unites the present with the future, as well as every moment of our lives with eternity.’ 27 It is when couples turn toward each other each moment that their life rises up like a royal doxology, like an Dr. Gottman makes the point that spouses are not the only ones who bid for connection. Children bid for connection through their interactions with parents. Students are bidding for connection with teachers, and, most relevant for pastors, parishioners are continuously bidding for connection in their exchanges, requests, and demands on pastors. How a pastor responds to these bids communicates powerful messages, often unintentionally. 24 Vladimir Lossky. The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church. (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997), 199. 25 Evdomimov. The Sacrament of Love, 32. 26 Glare P. G. W. The Oxford Latin Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 533. 27 Aimilianos. The Church at Prayer, 127. 23

TURNING TOWARD AS A PASTORAL THEOLOGY OF MARRIAGE 265 unending liturgical chant. In this sense, ‘marriage is a mysterious icon of the Church.’ 28 Turning toward Christ in marriage goes beyond listening to one another and is at the heart of our life in Christ. ‘Unless you turn (στραφῆτε) and become as children you cannot enter the kingdom of God.’ (Mt 18:3) For a Christian marriage, turning toward Christ is a self-offering to spouse and Christ. It is an act of openness, an act of opening the heart to Christ, an act of prayer. Turning toward is a self-giving and an act of love. ‘Love is more than warm feelings. It is an attitude and a disposition of illuminated self-giving.’ 29 Yet, that self that I have to offer is often angry, frustrated, hurt, or overwhelmed. As fallen persons, spouses at times, cannot, or do not want to, turn toward the other.


The invitation to acquire perfect love for my spouse, to turn toward my spouse, as unto the Lord, without ceasing, is an invitation to do the impossible. The impossible nature of the marriage vocation creates a tension within each of us between our call to love and the inevitable feelings of disappointment, betrayal, rejection, and pain we experience in marriage. This tension within us is the cross of Christ. The cross of Christ in marriage is not our spouse or our unmet needs, but this tension between our vocation to love and our desires to turn away, or against, our spouse. This tension is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be encountered and lived. The goal of marriage is not to change our spouse to meet our needs, but to allow the Holy Spirit to change us as we live and love in that tension, as we turn toward Christ and our spouse in the face of disappointments and unmet needs. The way of the cross is the way of life. Marriage is a journey of turning toward Christ within this tension, rather than away, or against. We cannot escape the cross of Christ. Rather, by walking the way of the cross, we en28 29

Evdokimov. The Sacrament of Love, 35. Calivas. ‘Marriage.’ 255.



counter Christ. When we are crucified with Christ, daily, we rise with Christ. We know that through the cross joy comes to all the world, including our marriages. To turn toward in this tension is to offer my self, including my sins, my struggles, my pain, my disappointments, my illnesses of my soul, and my brokenness to Christ and my spouse. Rather than turning against my spouse by reacting out of my brokenness, marriage is a journey of learning how to turn toward our spouse as unto the Lord in our brokenness. To turn toward, in this tension, is to acknowledge/confess (ομολογῶ) what is on my heart to Christ and to my spouse with statements such as: ‘I’m too angry to talk now.’ ‘I don’t like what you’re doing.’ ‘It hurts me when you talk like that.’ ‘I’m afraid to tell you what I’m really feeling.’ No matter how worn down we find ourselves in marriage, we have a choice, even in our exhaustion, to fall away or to fall toward Christ. ‘Is not repentance [turning toward] only a fall into the hands of God and at his feet in a fainting of the will, with a wounded heart bleeding in regret, members being shattered by sin having no power to rise except by God’s mercy?’ 30 Confessing, as a turning toward, is not simply about sharing information, but bidding for connection with God and spouse, which nurtures intimacy and oneness. Paradoxically, confessing my brokenness (turning toward), rather than acting out of my brokenness (turning against) communicates, ‘I care about you,’ ‘you are important to me,’ ‘I love you.’ In and through acknowledging/confessing our brokenness to each other, daily, (cf. James 5:16) rather than acting out of our brokenness, we open our hearts to God’s healing Spirit. In that confession, we encounter Christ and His holy spirit. Turning toward ones spouse is our assent to Christ, the assent of the soul to receive the Holy Spirit to be healed, to be transformed. Marriage as a journey of love becomes a journey of discovery, discovering the person of the spouse and discovering myself, becoming increasingly aware of my brokenness in the context of turning toward my wife in her brokenness. This can be a frightening Matthew the Poor and Matta El-Maskeen. The Communion of Love. (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984), 98. 30

TURNING TOWARD AS A PASTORAL THEOLOGY OF MARRIAGE 267 endeavor, or, in the context of Christ’s unfailing love, a journey of transformation. St. Dionysios the Areopagite writes that God is always ‘imparting himself with unbending power for deification of those turned toward Him.’ 31 The differences of opinion and personalities, the stresses of life, and the disagreements within married life create tension between husband and wife. Couples are tempted to avoid that tension, or blame each other, and pastors are tempted to view that tension as negative or as a problem to be solved. However, this tension is, at another level, the same cross of marriage. It is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be lived. In that tension we are called to turn toward, to confess to, our spouse and to Christ. It is precisely in that tension where we, as spouses, encounter Christ. In that tension we are crucified with Christ and we rise with Christ. The journey of marriage is the way of the cross, and in that tension, we turn toward Christ through prayer, confession, and repentance. ‘It is indispensable for every Christian to acquire the habit of turning quickly to God in prayer about everything.’ 32 By the third meeting with John and Becky I shifted the conversation from blame and criticism of the other to confessing their own disappointment and pain, inviting them to face the tension that existed within themselves and between them. By blocking the turning against of insults and sarcasm, each one was invited to confess, to share their feelings of hurt and betrayal. As the conversation shifted to a mutual confession, John gathered the courage to confess that he no longer loved Becky. Her quiet tears validated John's fear of hurting Becky that had kept him from acknowledging his own tension. She immediately confessed (turned toward him) that she already knew that and it was better to hear it. In that mutual confession something occurred. They connected for the first Williams G. ‘An Exploration of Hierarchy as Fractal in the Theology of Dionysios the Areopagite.’ Power and Authority in the Eastern Christian Experience (New York, NY: Theotokos Press, 2010), 6. 32 St. John of Kronstadt. My Life in Christ (Jordanville, NY: Holy Trinity Monastery Press, 1984), 132. 31



time in years. This connection nurtured a sense of intimacy and closeness reminiscent of their early years together. Keeping the conversations focused on continuing to turn toward each other, they gently shared more of themselves around several of the issues they had been unable to resolve. We stayed in that tension between them, keeping the conversations focused on turning toward each other. In that tension, they chose to confess rather than attack, to love rather than hate, and to turn toward, rather than away from or against each other. Together, in that tension, they met Christ. They encountered each other, and they left feeling closer. I did not solve any problems, but guided them in the mystery of the cross of marriage, turning toward each other in that creative tension that is the path of intimacy, oneness, and healing. John reported that he never liked coming to my office but it always made him feel better and now he feels closer to his wife, able to work together on the challenges in front of them. Today they remain happily married. To turn toward Christ demands meekness, at times, to stand up to or against our spouse’s sinful or destructive behavior. Turning toward Christ serves to guide persons in dealing with abuse, infidelity and addiction that occurs in marriage. Rather than passively acquiescing to sinful conduct, or criticizing or attacking our spouse, to turn toward is to speak up, or take action, and to set limits to sinful conduct within marriage. ‘I do not support your pornography use.’ ‘I will not participate in that.’ ‘If you raise your voice I will leave.’ ‘I am not ok with secret cell phones or email accounts.’ Saying no to sin is a turning toward Christ. Turning toward Christ might mean leaving the home in the face of violence and abuse of any kind. It might mean leaving the marriage when our spouse insists on turning against Christ without ceasing. The goal of married life is not to stay married, but to turn toward Christ without ceasing. St. John Chrysostom contends that it is better to break up a marriage for righteousness sake than to suffer abuse. ‘The unbelieving spouse, in these cases, is as much to blame for the separation as the partner guilty of infidelity.’ 33 Turning toward Christ means seeking pastoral and professional help when we wit33

Chrysostom. On Marriage and Family Life, 33.

TURNING TOWARD AS A PASTORAL THEOLOGY OF MARRIAGE 269 ness our spouse become ensnared to sin or when we, ourselves, become ensnared to sin. Marital spirituality as it is lived out becomes a constant journey of re-turning toward Christ by re-turning toward the spouse. ‘Of the many things that impede our salvation the greatest of all is that when we commit any transgression we do not at once turn back to God and ask forgiveness.’ 34 Re-turning toward is the realization, the acknowledgment, that we have turned away and against Christ and our spouse. Marriage is a journey of re-turning, like the prodigal, to our home and our Father’s love. The sacrament of confession finds its place in the heart of the marital journey. As Orthodox we approach confession therapeutically. We don’t confess to God to give Him information, but we confess as a turning toward God, opening ourselves up to the healing that comes from His ceaseless bids for connection. Confessing is our response to the tension that exists within us and between spouses, and our participation in the sacramental life of union with God. ‘The word penitence does not properly express the idea of this fundamental attitude of every Christian soul which turns to God.’ 35 In this sense, couples who seek to re-turn toward, daily, in the sacrament of married life. ‘…become the image [not] of anything on earth, but of God himself.’ 36 When you see a couple who are conscious of this, it is as if you are seeing Christ. Together they are a theophany.’ 37


A full understanding of the role of the priest in helping couples walk in the tension of marriage cannot be summarized in a few paragraphs, neither can it be reduced to a series of steps to follow. Essentially, the role of the priest is to hold couples in their tension Nicholas Cabasilas. The Life in Christ. (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974), 168. 35 Lossky. The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, 204. 36 Chrysostom. On Marriage and Family Life, 75. 37 Aimilianos. The Church at Prayer, 123. 34



by blocking the turning away and against that frequently accompanies marital conflict and facilitating a mutual turning toward Christ and each other. The pastor must, initially, prohibit attacks and criticism and invite the turning toward of sharing personal hurt and pain. This requires that the pastor resists, in himself, the temptation to try to solve problems and focus on listening to struggles. Attempts to solve the complex and intractable problems of marriage usually fail and lead to feelings of frustration, confusion and failure in the pastor and the couple. A pastor must understand that the tension within, and between, the husband or wife is not a problem to solve, but the cross of Christ. This is the crowning of husband and wife as king/queen and martyr that they receive on their wedding day. Couples need to be taught and encouraged that the cross cannot be avoided and is not a problem to be solved but the path to intimacy and happiness. Pastors need to guide couples to turn toward Christ and each other in that tension as the way of the cross. Holding individuals and couples in the tension requires that a pastor have the strength and wisdom to love the couple in his own tension between the desire to solve a couples problems and the call to listen to people’s pain and suffering. This tension in the pastor represents the cross of pastoral care. The greater a pastor’s ability to listen in the face of the temptation to solve problems the more he will be able to help couples live in their tension and experience God’s healing grace. Pastors must resist the temptation to solve the problem, because the problem of marriage is the cross of Christ, which has no solution. Rather, it is the solution. In that tension he must invite each person to confess, to acknowledge their burdens, their struggles, their pain, and their mistakes to the pastor and to the listening spouse. The pastor gives each person the opportunity to confess, and in hearing those confessions, points to the path of love. He cuts off, or redirects, any blame, attacks, judgments, or turning against that he witnesses, and facilitates a mutual process of turning toward each other. The pastor eases their burdens through listening, and guides them toward repentance, teaching each of the spouses how to listen, silently, as an act of venerating the icon of Christ in the other. The challenge for pastoral care is to meet couples on this path, keeping the vision of marriage clear and to guide couples not

TURNING TOWARD AS A PASTORAL THEOLOGY OF MARRIAGE 271 to endure the struggles, but to be transformed and healed in the midst of the struggles. God did not create marriage that we might endure it, but that we may have eternal life. After a pastor has heard the struggles of each individual, he must guide the persons to understanding how to turn toward Christ and spouse. This requires the wisdom to understand that at times turning toward Christ means setting limits to sinful behavior and standing up to a spouse, and at other times it means patiently enduring a spouse going through a struggle. It is the role of the pastor or pastoral counselor to hold a person in the tension and discern what constitutes a turning toward Christ. In that tension, we turn toward Christ in prayer and turn toward the spouse in love. On one level, this does not necessarily solve the problem, because marriage is not a problem to solve but a mystery to be lived. On another level, this is the solution because this is the path of the mystery of marriage, the way of the cross and the resurrection.


What is our obligation to our parents when the effects of old-age take away their independence? As Christians, what is our responsibility – if any – to our parents’ well-being as it becomes necessary for them to rely on others? What can we learn from the Old and New Testaments about our duty to our parents? What wisdom can the Church Fathers impart on us? What do contemporary theologians and writers have to say? This paper explores our obligation to our parent, what it means to care for our parents, and how we can best meet that challenge. Our Christian obligation is addressed by looking to Holy Scripture and the Church Fathers. Jewish leaders are noted, due to the connection between the Orthodox Faith and Judaism. The philosophies of contemporary theologians and caregiving experts are included to help bring balance to our unique situation in today’s society.


The starting point for exploration of familial love and its relationship to caregiving is Holy Scripture. Most direct and significant is the fifth commandment that instructs us to ‘Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.’

– Exodus 20:12 (NIV)

Perhaps we assume this commandment is directed to children who have not reached adulthood; yet that appears not to be the case. When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, He instructed 273



Moses to ‘Speak unto all the company of the sons of Israel…’ (Leviticus 19:2). In her thesis, Counseling the Caregiver: Addressing the Biblical Responsibility and Care of Aging Parents, Holly Dean Drew points out that the Hebrew word ‘ben’ is used for the word ‘sons’ in this exhortation, which suggests that the commandments were directed toward an adult population. If God meant any of the commandments to be directed to children, Dean says, the word ‘yeled’, meaning ‘child,’ would have been more appropriate. 1 In his article ‘The Ten Commandments,’ Fr. Matrantonis says that the fifth commandment is directed to children who are both young and old. Fr. Matratonis explains that children are urged to express their love to their parents, and especially honor them throughout their lives. 2 Leviticus 19:32 implores us: ‘You shall rise up before the grayheaded, and honor the aged…’ Proverbs 16:31 teaches that ‘A gray head is a crown of glory; it is found in the way of righteousness.’ We hear the words ‘revere,’ ‘honor,’ and ‘glory,’ when the elderly are discussed in these passages. These are words that are used in reference to someone who deserves respect. In his letter to Timothy, Paul instructs him by saying, ‘Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.’ (1 Tim 5:8) And more so Paul says in 1Timothy 5:4, ‘But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God.’ As a result of these passages, Drew draws the conclusion that to avoid caring for one’s family is to deny the ‘Biblical principle of compassionate love that is the heart of the Christian faith’ that was demonstrated by God Himself, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ (John 3:16). Drew Holly Dean, ‘Counseling the Caregiver: Addressing the Biblical Responsibility’. M.A.B.C. Thesis (Santa Clarita, Master’s College, 2002), p. 14. 2 Fr. Matrantonis. The Ten Commandments. 1




Christ is the ideal example upon which we attempt to base our own actions. Christ turned water into wine at the Wedding at Cana upon his mother’s urging when the wine ran out (John 2:1–11). Although Christ told His mother it was not yet time for Him to begin fulfilling His ministry, He did as His mother asked – an undeniable form of showing respect and honor. What’s more, Christ was also concerned about his mother being taken care of. At the time of His Passion as He suffered on the cross, Christ asked His beloved friend and discipline John to care for her: ‘When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, ‘Woman, here is your son,’ and to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’’From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.’(John 19:26–27). Fr. Richard Demetrius Andrews says that as children, we learn humility by being obedient to our parents. This obedience, then, teaches us ‘how to be humble before God and other people.’ This is important, Fr. Andrews explains, because when we become adults, we are ultimately going to be accountable to God – and we learn how to be responsible and accountable through our relationship with our parents. 3 When we become adults, Fr. Andrews continues, our obligation towards honor and humility does not stop. Another way to honor our parents, Fr. Andrews says, ‘is to take care of them.’ He goes as far as to say we should bring them into our own homes to live with us when they cannot handle living on their own. In the book Jewish Visions for Aging, Rabbi Dayle A. Friedman says that the Leviticus passage (referenced earlier) that tells us to ‘revere our mother and father’ and the fifth commandment demonstrate that ‘the obligations toward parents are linked directly to our relationship to God … Perhaps the texts draw an analogy between our obligations to parents and our obligations toward Fr. R. D. Andrews, “Honor thy Father and Mother,” Orthodoxy Today (2007): 3



God.’ 4 Rabbi Friedman also states that ‘neither of these … requires that we love our parents’, but ‘respectfully lend assistance to our parents.’ (Italics mine). What’s more, Rabbi Friedman discusses the need to preserve our parents’ dignity (italics mine) as a way to show reverence. In ‘Ethics at the Twilight of Life: Our Obligation to the Elderly,’ Michael McKenzie points to both the Old Testament and New Testament to support his belief that the elderly are part of those who are least able to take care of themselves. ‘…God mentions widows and orphans among those who should be singled out for special care and protection (Exod. 22:22; Deut. 27:19). Jesus continues this pattern of divine care by heaping scorn on those who would go so far as to foreclose on widows’ homes (Matt. 23:14). James even says that caring for widows and orphans are the premier fruits of true worship of God (James 1:27).’ 5


In his book The Gift of Love, Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky says, ‘Our culture today places a supreme value on freedom. Many feel that they must never be restricted from doing whatever they wish. Such unlimited freedom is possible, perhaps, provided a person is able to resist the natural, humanizing need to love.’ ‘Our young people today, and in fact all in this society,’ Fr. Berzonsky continues, ‘are offered the hedonistic philosophy of fun and lust, which passes for love, and are told that it can be had at a low price … All ‘adults’ have the ‘right’ to free love – another name for self-gratification without acceptance of the responsibility for the well-being of the other, which true love entails including the capacity for enduring the trauma of the end of real love, as when death comes, or in the ability to share with the partner all the sorrows that he or she endures in a lifetime.’ 6 86.


Dayle A. Friedman, Jewish Visions for Aging (Jewish Lights, 2008), p.

Michael McKenzie, ‘Ethics at the Twilight of Life: Our Obligation to the Elderly,’ Christian Research Journal 21, No. 4 (1999), 1–7, p. 2. 6 Vladimir Berzonsky, The Gift of Love (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1985), p. 36. 5



McKenzie, who was quoted earlier, also states that, ‘As the devaluation of human life in Western culture continues to accelerate, and American states debate and even approve the legalization of euthanasia, Christians need to grapple with the responsibilities involved in a serious pro-life ethic. One such responsibility concerns our obligation to demonstrate Christian love to the elderly.’ 7 The temptation is to avoid that which is difficult, ties us down, and robs us of our freedom to do what we want. This is particularly the case when we are empty nesters wanting to enjoy the flexibility we did not have when our children were young or we had work obligations. The task is made more difficult when we are dealing with a parent or parents with whom our relationship is not ideal. Perhaps there are unresolved tensions or lifestyles that are very different. Yet this may be where the opportunity lies to strengthen our relationship with God. In her article ‘In a Family, Love Doesn't Always Mean Agreeing or Understanding’, Diana Rodriquez says, ‘Nurturing and caring for familial relationships is something everyone can always seek to improve. Family is the greatest and most powerful concept human beings from every corner of the planet can understand and experience. It endures when temporary things, like wealth, health, glory, and youth, fade.’ In the case of strained relationships – even estrangement – can past hurts and disagreements be put aside? ‘You don’t have to agree with, or like a person, to feel great love for them as a member of a family,’ Rodriquez says. ‘Familial love is one of the greatest and strongest bonds a person can experience. It defies logic and reason. It stands up to great adversity and shows amazing resilience. It can be one of the most selfless and inspiring examples of love and kindness. Familial love is not something easily explained. It is better to be experienced.’ 8 Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna writes about how the Orthodox Church ‘exalts the family. The Church itself is often characterized by the Fathers in images drawn from the family,’ Chrysostomos says. ‘In the family, as in the Church, basic values are McKenzie, ‘Ethics at the Twilight of Life,’ p. 1. Diana Rodriquez, ‘In a Family, Love Doesn’t Always Mean Agreeing or Understanding,’ Adult Children Examiner (Oct. 2009). 7 8



formed, the soul is shaped and established, and the path of salvation is set forth. The family is that warm place where the leaven of the Faith is nurtured, where we first begin to rise to full life in Christ. It is for this reason that every Bishop, every Priest, every monastic, and all pious laymen remember, in their daily prayers, their mothers and fathers, that their ‘days may be long on the earth.’ It is for this reason that, even after their repose, we remember our fathers and mothers and family members, praying for them fervently and, in our prayers, reaching across the chasm of death to be with them even in the afterlife, in the spiritual world. So special is the family that we remember those in error and heresy and sin even more dearly than those upright and unwavering in the Faith. This is the wonder of the family.’ 9


As we age, we lose many of our faculties that we took for granted. Our minds are not as sharp; our joints ache; we begin to develop medical complications; and once we ‘retire’, society does not have the same regard for us, or have the same level of ‘need’ for what we can offer. Technology changes and we can’t keep up. We resist change and embrace familiarity. Our world begins to shrink, we want to live in the same house we’ve lived in for forty years, we won’t always make wise decisions, and we trust fewer and fewer people. What good can possibly come from such weakness then? In 2 Cor 4:16, we learn, ‘Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.’ Rabbi Boruch Leff says this powerlessness we experience as we become less independent reveals the true person. While today’s society embraces physical beauty, strength and youth, Rabbi Leff refers to Rabbi Judah Loew, The Maharal of 16th Century Prague who was esteemed by both Jews and non-Jews. The Maharal sheds light on how the beauty of the soul emerges as physical beauty wanes. ‘In youth, the body’s physicality tends to control a person. Archbishop Chrysostomos of Etna, “The Orthodox Family,” The Orthodox Tradition 4, No. 2, 34–36, p. 34. 9



We are prey to hedonistic urges and impulses. As those physical forces weaken, that which is distinctively human about us, our soul, becomes the influential drive in our lives. This is the wisdom we attain in old age…’ 10


As stated previously, Christ serves as the ideal example for us to strive to imitate. Each family is unique, however; each caregiver, each parent, and each caregiving situation is unique. The extent to which caregiving in the home environment can be taken on will vary depending on resources, financial considerations, emotional strength and more. While it may be the ideal for the parent to have family members care for them outside of a nursing home facility, this may not be practical. Each of us must draw on our faith and prayer to make the best decision. Regardless of where our parents carry out their end days, there are qualities we can adopt to help them enjoy security, peace and comfort – qualities that are basic to their well-being. In My Mother, Your Mother, Dennis McGullough, MD, says, ‘Because of the ultimate powerlessness and dependency, indeed the utter frailty of the old and infirm, kindness (italics mine) is the fundamental position that a caregiver has to sustain.’ In fact, he precedes this statement by saying, ‘…kindness (italics mine) is the single most reliable ethical and practical guide to doing this work well.’ The goal of offering kindness is also expressed in the book Stages on Life’s Way by Jon and Lynn Breck. While this book specifically deals with caring for the dying, much of the insight can also pertain to those who are in their end years. The Brecks state, ‘The thread that connects these reflections (end-of-life issues), at least in my mind, is that of care. In more biblical language, the question is how we can offer to dying patients a depth and quality of love (italics mine) that will most effectively guide them along the final stages of the pathway that leads from this earthly existence to life in the Rabbi Boruch Leff, “Learn Something Jewish: Respecting Your Elders,” originally published at, 2005. 10



kingdom of God.’ 11 The Brecks later address the importance of helping the dying person take care of his/her practical affairs – funeral plans, finalizing the will, etc. ‘More important than any of these questions, however, is the need for ongoing signs of compassion and love (italics mine).’ The Brecks point out that while it might not always be possible for the medical profession to cure, it is always possible for them to care. This is also the case for us as adult children. ‘It is that single-minded focus on compassionate care that will enable us most appropriately and most effectively to offer the life of the dying patient into God’s loving and merciful safekeeping.’ 12 Rodriquez also says the role of the caregiver is to assist, encourage, counsel, and provide hope. 13 Sometimes we get so caught up in the mundane tasks of driving our parents to appointments, cooking, cleaning, and counting out their medications that we forget the simplest things: compassion, listening, sharing, laughter, and touching. And if we think our parents have nothing more to offer in their ‘golden’ years, we are wrong. Their purpose is to impart wisdom and knowledge 14; we should be open to receiving it. The care given by the Christian adult child can provide the ultimate in comfort, familiarity, and reassurance to the parent in his/her end years. Yet providing this care in kindness is not always easy. There is the parent who incessantly repeats herself, is forgetful, needs to be taken to countless doctors’ appointments, needs help bathing, doesn’t want to bathe, and/or is incontinent. Often there are hurts and ills that have not been healed between the parent and adult child. Something – usually many things – will cause the caregiving role to become tedious, stressful, draining and often unfulfilling. And yet, if we carry on, it is possible to reap benefits. John and Lynn Breck, Stages on Life’s Way: Orthodox Thinking on Bioethics (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2012), p.214. 12 Ibid., p. 230. 13 Diana Rodriquez, “In a family, love doesn’t always mean agreeing or understanding,” 14 Ibid. 11




Each caregiver will have his or her own unique set of challenges that will stress, tempt, drain and exhaust him/her. Yet there is indeed something valuable to gain that is directly related to our relationship with Christ and our salvation. In the book The Meaning of Suffering, Strife & Reconciliation, Archimandrite Seraphim Aleksiev states that ‘God has created us not for sorrow, but for joy,’ 15 and that we can find joy in sorrow. The source of suffering is the devil, he explains, while God is the source of joy. Thus, ‘even the sorrows which come to us according to God’s will in this temporary life carry in themselves joy and lead to heavenly glory if they are endured with faith and trust in God’s good providence.’ (Italics mine) Archimandrite Aleksiev contrasts this with the temporary pleasures that the devil tempts us with and that end in disappointment. Here, I am likening sorrow to that which we experience as we care for our parents. It may be the sorrow of seeing them age and lose their independence; or sorrow as a result of our struggles as a caregiver. Admittedly, embracing this theology can be difficult when dealing with a parent who does not want to give up driving, wanders off, or is the reason you quit your job. Archimandrite Aleksiev shares the example of the saints, however, in how they faced suffering and temptation: ‘All the saints have endured…with faith and hope in God’s good providence. They were not scared by the temporary hardships which brought them closer to God, but were afraid only of sin which tears the soul away from grace and happiness to throw it into the abyss of eternal suffering.’ 16 He also points to Romans 8:18 which says, ‘I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.’ Perhaps the greatest reason we endure struggles of any kind, Archimandrite Aleksiev says, is for the patience it brings, which leads to humility, which can ultimately lead to our salvation. We enter into the kingdom of God through much tribulation, we are told in Seraphim Aleksiev, The Meaning of Suffering, Strife & Reconciliation (Platina, CA: Saint Herman Press, 1997), p. 18. 16 Ibid., p. 26. 15



Acts 14:22. On the contrary, grumbling comes from pride, and we surely cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven if we are prideful. There is ‘no greater teacher of patience than sorrows’; and life’s sufferings humble us enough to allow us to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.’ 17 In fact, Archimandrite Aleksiev points out that early Christians expected suffering to be sent to them and were upset when they were without it 18 because they believed that suffering kept them from forgetting God. In Luke 21:18 we are reminded that nothing happens without God’s will; so that God is fully aware of the task we have taken on in caring for our parents. But we are warned that ‘only suffering which is endured patiently, with gratitude and trust in God, and without grumbling’ 19 is beneficial. Caring for a parent provides many daily opportunities to practice this type of patience! ‘The Orthodox Church views suffering as a consequence of our broken and sinful condition that comes to human beings in various ways,’ Stanley Samuel Harakas says, citing that the most obvious is human mortality. ‘However, it also views suffering as potentially redemptive, if understood and accepted in the framework of spiritual growth toward Godlikeness.’ 20 In his 21st Homily regarding marriage and family life, St. John Chrysostom says that all of the commandments God gave us were designed to keep us away from evil. The fifth commandment, however, is unique in that it ‘…concerns something good, so a reward is promised for those who keep it. See what an admirable foundation St. Paul lays for a virtuous life; honor and respect for one’s parents. This is the first good practice commanded us in the Scriptures, because before all others, except God, our parents are the authors of our life, and they deserve to be the first ones to receive Ibid., p. 39. Ibid, p. 48. 19 Ibid, p. 50. 20 Stanley Samuel Harakas, ‘Religious Beliefs and Healthcare Decisions.’ in The Orthodox Christian Tradition: Religious Traditions and Healthcare Decisions. Handbook Series (The Park Ridge Center for the Study of Health, Faith and Ethics, 1999). 17 18



the fruits of our good deeds. Only after we honor our parents can we do anything good for the rest of mankind.’ Fr Berzonsky says we cannot care for an aging parent if we strive for freedom. But when we avoid self-gratification and face sacrifice, he explains, we are then able to experience ‘real love’. This can happen when we manage to embrace the short season of caring for an aging parent. 21 Rodriquez also states that caregiving allows us to ponder our own mortality and end. What’s more, the tribulation we experience in caregiving builds maturity that produces perseverance, hope and love for God. 22 The manner in which we take on our task can make all the difference in the outcome. In the book They’re YOUR Parents, Too!, author Francine Russo reveals what she learned by interviewing adult children caring for their aging parents. ‘I found that how punishing, how satisfying, or even how joyful people found parent care depended not on how many hours they spend doing it, how much money they had, or where they did it. What mattered more? The complex mix of emotions they brought to their role, their history in their family and especially with the mother or father they were caring for. In other words what we need from parent care – often without realizing it – colors the meanings we give it. It profoundly affects our ability to cope, to set reasonable limits for ourselves, and to get help when we need it.’


In earlier generations, parents died at a much earlier age, minimizing or even nullifying the need for an adult child to provide care. If parents did live to reach old age, the family lived close enough that there was typically always enough family members to share in the help. Often, a single daughter was given the task of taking care of the parents. The proximity of family meant someone was always there to assist, provide respite, and offer physical and emotional support. 21 22

Berzonsky, The Gift of Love, p. 36. Rodriquez, “In a family,” p. 73.



Today’s society, however, is different. Far-spread families and increase life expectancies can result in extreme stress for the contemporary family. Because siblings rarely all live in the same city (when there ARE siblings), the responsibility often falls on a single person. It is impractical to take on this task alone. An army of resources is often necessary. This can include a committed prayer life, connection to the church community with at least one or two people within the parish who can serve as support, a counselor versed in geriatrics, familiarity with aging agencies and organizations, and the opportunity to regularly step away from the role. In his article ‘The Spiritual Gifts – and Burdens – of Family Caregiving,’ Kenneth Doka states, ‘When we have to rely on others, it requires humility. But it also connects us to others. And there is joy in having others help us.’ 23 The temptation can exist to refuse the assistance of others; but this can be detrimental to both the caregiver and the parent, since the stresses accompanying caregiving can be debilitating. Both the physical and mental well-being of the caregiver is necessary and cannot typically be attained if unreasonable expectations are thrust upon the caregiver – personally or by someone else. If we are to practice kindness towards a parent, we must practice kindness towards ourselves also. The amount and type of help needed can vary. Some people do not require the assistance of a skilled aide or nurse, so it is possible to hire someone to assist with daily chores or to sit with the aging parent. Others will need the help of skilled staff for bathing and other personal grooming tasks. Alternatives also exist for lowincome senior citizens, as well as those whose income is too high to qualify for Medicaid but too low to afford a nurse’s aide. Each state is unique in the programs it provides to caregivers wanting alternatives to nursing homes. The state of Ohio, for example, offers PASSPORT, which helps low-income, disabled older adults to remain at home. PASSPORT is Medicaid-waiver eligible and offers assistance with personal care such as bathing, driving, and preparKenneth Doka, ‘The Spiritual Gifts – and Burdens – of Family Caregiving.’ American Society on Aging 27, No. 24 (2007): 45–48, p.45. 23



ing meals. CHOICES is another program that allows children of low-income parents to hire individual providers such as friends, neighbors or relatives to help care for their parents. Ohio County offices on aging also offer resources to help elderly people avoid nursing homes. Resources like federal caregiver-grant programs help with respite care, counseling or adult day care. Adult children can refer to their local Area Agency on Aging to begin researching the alternatives available for keeping a parent at home. Each situation is unique and situations can arise when it is not reasonable or safe to keep a parent at home. We can still fulfill the commandment to honor our father and mother, however. We must be reminded of McGullough’s statement that kindness is fundamental, and Breck’s conviction that compassion and love are essential. At the end of the day, this may be all we can offer – yet it can be everything.


Caring for parents can be a most challenging undertaking. Yet if we allow it, caregiving can have a profound spiritual effect on us. Caregiving builds perseverance, hope and love for God. We can experience joy in knowing we gave our parents comfort, kindness and compassion in their last days. Caregiving can transform us; it can provide us with the humility required to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Contemplating our duties as a caregiver requires setting aside time to pray, seek counsel, find support, and take respite. God expects us to care for our parents as they become feeble and lose their self-sufficiency. It requires that we throw off our pride and selfishness in order to demonstrate kindness, compassion and empathy to our parents. Our parents will look to us for comfort, support and security. We may need to help them prepare spiritually for their entrance into the Heavenly Kingdom. We may be able to offer them nothing more than honor, respect and kindness – but this can be everything they need. Caring for our parents can also prepare us to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. As a result of the sacrifices we make, we can be transformed. Our pride can be diminished; we can discover humility; we can find joy in sacrifice; we can learn patience – all necessary characteristics for entering into the Kingdom of Heaven.


ANNMARIE GIDUS-MECERA ‘Be sure that you dearly love your parents; delight to be in their company … Remember that you have your being from them and come out of their loins; remember what sorrow you have cost them, and what care they are at for your education and provision; and remember how tenderly they have loved you … remember what love you owe them both by nature and in justice, for all their love to you, and all that they have done for you: they take your happiness or misery to be one of the greatest parts of the happiness or misery of their own lives.’

TOWARD A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF THE CLERGY COUPLE KERRY PAPPAS The content for this brief article is informed by a variety of sources, which include: anecdotal information gathered from clergy wives and couples, the personal experience of the author, and general findings of research on clergy couples from a variety of sources. As such, this is not an academic paper, and sources will not be cited. The purpose of this article is to offer insight into some of the blessings and challenges clergy couples encounter.

Increasingly, the marriages of clergy couples are in distress. This reality is manifested in the growing number of divorces among clergy and the decreasing number of clergy marriages that outwardly reflect life and vitality. In the Orthodox Church, unlike other Christian churches, divorce statistics among clergy are not systematically maintained; thus, evidence for these disturbing trends is presently anecdotal. Furthermore, unlike the practice of other Christian churches, where divorced clergy are allowed to remarry and remain in ordained ministry (depending on the circumstances of the divorce), the divorced Orthodox priest cannot remarry and remain a priest. He must choose between the two. In the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, a growing awareness of marital distress among clergy couples has prompted its leadership to take several initiatives, which include an assessment of the impact of the stressors of ministry on priests and presvyteres and funding for an intentional ministry to seminarian and clergy couples. The specifics of this ministry are just beginning to evolve as information is gathered. Clergy couples generally regard the opportunity to be present with people at the time of the most significant events in their lives 287



– weddings, births, baptisms, sickness, crisis and death – to be the greatest blessing of their lives in ministry. In the best circumstances, the presence of the priest (and his wife, if she is inclined) is requested in times of joy and sorrow. For example, still to this day, even with decreasing church attendance in America, the pastor is often the first person contacted when a marriage is in distress. Unfortunately, however, by the time the priest is contacted, the couple is often on the verge of divorce, if not already civilly divorced. Furthermore, those who are connected to the life of the Church, even marginally, tend to ‘return’ to the Church for marriage, the 40–day blessing of an infant, baptism, illness, and death. In these instances, both the priest and his wife are given the opportunity to reach out and be the living presence of Christ. Boundless opportunities to serve Christ by reaching out to others in times of joy and sorrow are ‘built in’ to the life of the clergy couple. Clergy couples also face some very difficult challenges and struggles. These include but are not limited to boundary issues and seemingly endless time demands and expectations. Unfortunately, clergy couples often grapple with these challenges and struggles in isolation. To paraphrase an oft-quoted reality of clergy life: ‘Ministry is the loneliest vocation.’ In the last 20 years, a growing number of clergy have divorced. In my own archdiocese, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, about 60–70% of clergy have divorced in the last 25 years. And, I have heard from reliable sources in Greece that the number of clergy divorces is also growing there. Unlike the impact of the divorce of a lay person, the divorce of a priest has a greater impact on the body of Christ. Not only does the family suffer, but parishes are left to heal, and shock waves are felt throughout the national church, as those who are looked upon as models of Christian life experience brokenness. For those who remain married, some are either in distressed or static marriages. Clergy wives sometimes resign themselves to the perceived reality that they: ‘are single moms,’ ‘have husbands who are workaholics,’ ‘are competing with a mistress with whom they cannot compete – the church,’ (some even give up because they believe they are competing with God for their husband’s attention). These couples may live parallel lives with some sense of partnership for household duties and the raising of children.

A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF THE CLERGY COUPLE 289 Others, upon entering parish life, are so overwhelmed by the challenges they face, bond with each other in their struggle, offering ‘support’ in the form of commiserating misery. They quickly become embittered, and the bitterness grows and festers as time passes. I remember being in the presence of a group of several older and seasoned clergy wives when I was younger. What I remember most about that gathering was how much bitterness and anger I sensed. I promised myself that I would never become like these clergy wives. As the years have passed, however, I now better understand how bitterness, anger and cynicism can grow and fester if we do not guard against them. For some the struggles keep coming; for others, the road is a bit smoother. However, the key to the well-being of the clergy couple is not how difficult the road is. It is rather, how the couple, personally and collectively, responds to the unique stressors inherent to the clergy marriage. Some clergy couples are intentional and deliberate in nurturing, guarding and growing their marriages. They choose to live the sacramental reality of marriage, that is, intentionally seeking oneness, salvation, and sanctification. Furthermore, they practice healthy, holy personal and couple care, with healthy and life-giving rhythms of prayer, work, intimacy, Sabbath, acts of mercy, and leisure. They seek help when needed, grow and nurture healthy friendships, and build a support system around them. In the Orthodox Christian understanding of marriage, two persons are joined by Christ and become ‘one flesh,’ sharing a personal, private and intimate life in the context of community. Let us now look at the unique challenges of clergy couples in this threedimensional framework of marriage: the person, the couple, and the couple in their social context. As already mentioned, research clearly shows that the seemingly endless demands and expectations of time placed on the priest is one of the greatest challenges he and, by extension, his wife must face daily. Priests, and often their wives, become so consumed with ‘doing’ that they forget about ‘being.’ Many neglect personal prayer, solitude, Sabbath and continued learning. ‘Being in Christ’ can get lost in doing the ‘work of Christ.’ If we look at the life of Jesus, we see a man who took time to be alone with his Father. Time and again, we read that ‘Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed’ (Luke 5:16, NIV). Additionally, we know that he ate a healthy Mediterranean diet and walked



nearly everywhere he went. Finally, we know that Jesus had good friends. He had his inner circle of Peter, James and John with whom he was most intimate, the larger circle of the 12 disciples and others who followed him, and friends such as Lazarus, Mary and Martha. In contemporary terms, Jesus practiced healthy, holy self-care – taking time alone to grow his relationship with his Father in prayer, eating healthfully, exercising, and engaging in meaningful relationships with others. He was a healthy, whole person who gave of himself sacrificially, to the point of laying down his life for us; he gave from a place of fullness, as both man and God. From what do we give as clergy couples? Do we give from a place of fullness, or do we often give from tanks that are either half or nearly empty? Recognizing the need for clergy couples to attend to issues of well-being, several years ago, the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese instituted wellness workshops at the clergy laity congresses. These workshops focus on spiritual, physical, emotional, relational and mental well-being. Furthermore, annual clergy and clergy wives’ retreats have been instituted that focus on all aspects of well-being. The multi-faceted demands of parish life make it difficult for priests and their wives to practice healthy, holy self-care and be healthy, holy people, following the example of Christ. If we are calling our priests, and by extension their wives, to lovingly, sacrificially and humbly serve their flock, then they must be encouraged to take care of themselves. Elements of this care include: a day of Sabbath; time away from the parish – daily, weekly, and yearly to decompress and be reenergized; and, opportunities to retreat. The healthier the priest and his wife, the better the quality of his ministry. In the words of Father Vasileios Thermos, a practicing psychiatrist and priest in the Church of Greece, ‘The clergy couple is the touch-stone of the quality of our pastoral ministry.’ For the clergy couple, the intimate, personal, private relationship is challenged by all three of the primary struggles indicated by research: time demands/expectations; the blurring of boundaries between the parish and the couple; and isolation. The time demands and expectations of the parish on the priest, combined with the internal expectations the priest has of himself, often leave little time for his wife and the nurture and growth of their relationship. Any energy left is often directed toward the children. For clergy

A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF THE CLERGY COUPLE 291 couples, the demands are heightened because the priest is on call 24/7, with the exception of vacation time. Even then, if a death or emergency occurs in the parish, and the priest is within driving distance from home, he may leave his vacation to attend to the needs of his parishioners. The wife can be left feeling as if she gets the crumbs of her husband’s attention. Complicating the situation of the clergy family is the understanding of both husband and wife that the husband is doing God’s work, and if the husband or wife or both want to devote more attention and care to their marriage, he, she, or they may feel guilty for taking time from the parish for themselves and each other. The clergy couple can fall to the temptation of taking their marriage for granted. Just as each person in the marriage is called to healthy, holy self-care, the marriage, by virtue of its sacramental nature, is also called to healthy, holy care and nurture. It is not a competition between the marriage of husband and wife and the marriage of the husband to the parish. It is both, and the couple must understand that by the grace of God, they have entered into a life of sacrifice, both for each other and for the flock that has been entrusted to the husband’s care. Finally, all couples live in the context of relationships – to extended family, friends, work colleagues, neighbors, and church communities. The clergy couple is in a unique situation in regard to the community of faith, as the ‘workplace’ of the husband is also the place of worship, socialization and spiritual nurture for his wife and family. As such:

1. The husband leads the worship in the place where his wife and family worship; thus the family does not worship ‘together’ as other families do. 2. The clergy couple lives in what has been coined as a ‘glass bowl.’ They live a public life. They are held to a higher standard, expected to set the example for spirituality, personhood, marriage and family life. The husband’s salary is public domain. This ‘glass house’ syndrome leads some clergy couples to portray a false public façade, when in fact, they may be experiencing immense suffering in their personal lives.


KERRY PAPPAS 3. As public figures, many clergy couples lead very isolated and lonely lives, a seeming contradiction given the public nature of the priest’s vocation. 4. Some clergy maintain that it is inappropriate to have friends in the parish. Others maintain that friendships can be cultivated and nurtured, but with clear boundaries.

5. Sometimes the people in the parish put the priest and his family at arm’s length, seeing them as people of God, set apart, not like ‘us,’ thus making the cultivation of appropriate friendships difficult.

6. Some clergy couples work hard at cultivating friendships with other clergy couples, claiming that they are the only people with whom they can be completely themselves and not hold back. For some, these friendships are lifelines that deflect the day-to-day isolation; for others, these relationships have little daily impact, particularly for those living in more isolated areas where Orthodox churches are sparse.

7. Adding to the isolation is the reality that many clergy couples often do not live near their extended families; this isolation is sometimes heightened on holidays when, because of the schedule of worship services and other circumstances, the clergy family may not be able to enjoy the presence and embrace of family.

Upon reflection, it is evident that the clergy couple experiences many of the same blessings and challenges that all married couples encounter. Unlike other couples, however, the context in which the clergy couple lives out their marriage is different from that of the faithful lay couple and presents some unique blessings and challenges. For some clergy couples, the challenges stated are struggles that lead to dismay; for others, they are struggles that present opportunities for couples to be proactive, deliberate and intentional about nurturing and growing their marriage. In fact, some couples view these struggles as blessings, prompting them to work with each other to find creative ways to build closeness and intimacy

A BETTER UNDERSTANDING OF THE CLERGY COUPLE 293 into their marriages and to seek God more fervently through more intentional prayer. This brief overview has only begun to scratch the surface of the challenges clergy couples encounter in their personal lives and marriages as they fulfill their call to ministry, which is, in reality, a ‘mutual ministry.’ Whether the wife of the priest is publicly visible and active in the life of the parish, or whether she chooses to be a more silent partner, she, too, is called to a life of sacrifice beside and with her husband. Along with the sacrifice, by the grace of God, it is a life of abundant joy that presents boundless opportunities to serve and grow in Christ.


The theology of children is about each person’s calling – Judges 13:25. The story of life begins with birth, genesis. The Christian understanding of childhoodness is the story of this genesis and calling which incorporates a physical birth and the embodiment of logos to the human condition for spiritual growth and discernment according to a pattern, a taxis. Within the Christian perspective this intelligence accounts for a physical and spiritual awakening, a rebirth into a deified outcome and the fulfillment of the Seal of the Holy Spirit through the Baptismal waters. The theology of children is not an appendix to the Orthodox Christian holistic outlook, but the central tenant to its doctrinal and practical application of the faith. It encapsulates the understanding and practice needed to beAll Scriptural references are taken from The Orthodox Study Bible (St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology, 2008). Scripture taken from the St. Athanasius Academy Septuagint™. Copyright © 2008 by St. Athanasius Academy of Orthodox Theology. Used by permission. All rights reserved. / Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. 1




coming part of an ecclesiastical taxis that is embodied in Christ the Logos. The basis of this theology is founded in the Scriptures. This paper will examine the theology of children based on the Old and New Testaments. The theology of children stems from God’s distinct relationship with his people identified in the Old Testament as his ‘children’. Within the first book of Genesis we find both the birth of life but also its destruction (Cf. Genesis 1, 2 and 7). There we see the beginnings of life disrupted before it even begins. Could it be that God has high expectations from his children? Could it be that there is more to this Father-child relationship than has been realised? In Exodus 20.2 for example, before setting out a moral code which His people can relate to, God reveals the nature of His purpose and desire, ‘I am the Lord your God … You shall have no other gods before Me … I, the Lord you God, am a Jealous God…’

Further, Moses, God’s Son by adoption and the man of the Holy Spirit defines in Deuteronomy God’s paternal role and His requirement of obedience from his children, ‘They sinned; the blameworthy children are not His … Is this how you repay the Lord, O foolish and unwise people? Is He not your Father who acquired you? Has He not made and created you?’ (Deuteronomy 32:5–6)

This notion of ‘acquisition’ after turning their back on their Father suggests that His attitude is more benevolent and nurturing than it first appears. In the passages that follow (Deuteronomy 32:10–14) the Father also rewards his children when they are obedient. These rewards come in the form of protection and nourishment and are granted to Jacob and his line who have found favour with God. Equally important as Moses reveals, are the sins of the seal of Jacob which attract the wrath of God (Deuteronomy 32:15–38). The Father is a parent in every sense of the word. He requires obedience, rewards his children but also sanctions and corrects their sins. Moses is not exempt from this pedagogy. In Deuteronomy 32:51 we read that due to his own shortfalls he attracts the parenting skills of the astute Father and is denied access to the land of Canaan (Deut. 32:52, cf. Deut. 34:4) What precisely were Moses’



transgressions? The theme is not new and is indeed consistent with the Father’s requirements as outlined previously, ‘…because you disobeyed My word among the children of Israel during the Water of Contention at Kadesh in the Desert of Sin, and because you did not sanctify Me in the midst of the children of Israel.’ (Deuteronomy 32:51)

The Father’s expectations are more clearly outlined here. It is not merely the requirement to worship God and no other, but here is introduced a more apostolic and liturgical approach to relating to God. The requirements of obedience to the Word and sanctifying God are the twin pillars of the Father-child or the Father-Church relationship and the basis of all pedagogical expectations. Pedagogy however, is not one-sided. It entails a more intimate and personal level of experiencing parental initiatives and guidance. We see this in the Old Testament approach through the promises of Isaiah. The book of Isaiah distinctly divides yet connects the two Biblical Testaments. In relation to the theology of the child the importance of Isaiah is to usher in something deeper and profoundly personal to the Father in His role as pedagogue and as someone who is personally vested in what He loves. If the expectation of the child has so far been to obey the Word and sanctify God, the Father’s loyalty is witnessed yet again in more virtual, personal and unimaginative tones, ‘Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Immanuel.’ (Isaiah 7:14)

What the OT promises the NT delivers through the divine-human Person of Jesus. In the NT a clearer understanding of the Father’s position with respect to the theology of the child is initiated. Matthew begins with the human genealogy of Jesus. It is interesting to note the marked contrast between the Old and the New Testaments, the former identifying a heavenly sign, the latter subjecting this into human terms and ancestry. The paradox of this proposal is uniquely characteristic of a jealous God, and an untamed love. God subjects Himself into creation, not in mature years, but as a new born babe to highlight yet again the rudimentary element of all Biblical faith exemplified in the paradigm of the child,


VICKI PETRAKIS ‘He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believed in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.’ (John 1:11–13)

The physical birth of God as a child highlights the Father-child relationship that was espoused in the Old Testament and mandated in the New. The crucial development however was that this child was connected in essence to the Godhead so for didactic purposes in understanding the Orthodox perspective of the child, the Person of Jesus assumed the example and the primacy in facilitating the relationship which the Father expected from His children. Thus in the New Testament we come to a more subtle understanding of the expectations and outcomes of the relationship between Father and child as revealed through Christ. The Book of Isaiah provides another key feature to a mature appreciation of the theology of the child. In facilitating the transition from a God who reveals Himself to one who Incarnates, the NT arrives to a closer understanding and teaching of the unique attributes of this theology. The seeds of change are implanted in Isaiah 7: 15–16, ‘Butter and honey He shall eat before He knows to prefer evil or choose the good, for before the Child knows good or evil, He refuses the evil to choose the good;’

Butter and honey represent the necessity of the Father’s role as pedagogue. This child chooses the good before It is able to distinguish between good and evil suggesting that there is a deeper connection between God and the human condition. The theology of the child is thus intricately connected with a state of innocence and a non-discriminative capacity to align oneself by nature with the good, as will be explicated in the NT. There, the same theology as Isaiah is utilised to elucidate on Christ’s origins, our destiny and the methodology of creating a bond between the two. If in the OT it was obedience to the Word and the sanctification of God that captured this essence, the practical application of these was delivered in the NT through Christ’s own Personhood, and regard for children.



The Incarnation of Jesus supports a transition in the understanding of Being and the existent. One which is directly linked to the Father’s pedagogy aimed at some purpose. The work God created in Genesis finds a destiny, a continuation and a synergetic impetus between Himself and His children through Christ in creation. In Galatians 4:4–7 Paul considers the theological transition of the children of God being ‘adopted’ by the Father through Christ, ‘Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world. But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.’

Paul’s expectation was that God would sanctify the human person and all creation through their personal becoming children of God. It is this that renders to humankind the status of being likened to an adopted child, an expectation echoed throughout the NT in relation to a new creation. In Ephesians 1:4–6 Paul considers this adoption paramount and links it back to Genesis, ‘…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself … to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which he made us accepted in the Beloved.’

In Romans 8:18–21 he reiterates this salvific message and the promise of adoption/recreation, ‘For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly awaits for the revealing of the sons of God … creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.’

Jesus takes up the metaphor of the child, to reveal to his disciples the Christian message of faith, hope and love for the things that are and the things that will abound, but also through what means ones state of childhoodness will be received. In Matthew 3:17 we see the capacity of Jesus’ own relationship to the Father. At 6:8 He facilitates this relationship on behalf



of all people. He invites children to his ministry. In both Matthew and Luke he rebukes his disciples for sanctioning children from his presence, ‘Let the little children come to Me…’ (Luke 18:15 and Matthew 19:13). When speaking to his disciples Christ turns to them and says, ‘…whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a child will by no means enter it’ (Luke 18:17). There He imparts important wisdom with deep theological roots concerning humanity and the way of its becoming. Jesus emphasises in this passage a state of being which can be likened to an attitude of impassivity and innocence and the adoption and welcoming of an ordered universe that provides for needs and outcomes. The disposition of being a child is an attribute that facilitates one’s becoming heavenly, however, in John 3:3 there is an awareness that the ageing process in the human condition hinders this becoming. Accordingly John writes, ‘‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’’ The means of becoming a new creation, adopted, and heavenly is directly linked to the Father’s work and purpose (cf. Romans 8:28–30). The theology of the child in the NT is supported by the divine stature of Jesus through which the continuation of the Father’s work in the Holy Spirit enables creation to be received as adopted and to purport a living relationship with God (cf. Ephesians 1:7–2:10). In Romans 8:14 Paul delivers clearly how one is to be considered a child of God, ‘For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.’ Thus it is God Himself Who works in the human person to enable them to espouse a relationship with Him (cf. Romans 8:16; 8:26–27). In several places the NT reveals that the human person who is led into adoption as children/Sons of God accept and acknowledge the Father. In Galatians 4:6–8, Paul writes, ‘And because you are sons, God had sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’’ In Romans 8:15, Paul supports the same, ‘For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, ‘Abba, Father.’’ The central theme of the NT is the link it provides between God and His creation through the theology of children. This theology does not remain stagnant but captures a living relationship between Creator and created. We see in the OT the love of the Father for His children, a voice echoed through the prophets that



is unyielding. The NT (and Greek philosophy) show however that the incarnational presence of the divine was physically required in order to lift and allow these children to be adopted by the Father. As Peter writes, ‘Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature…’ (2 Peter 1:2–4)

Christ reveals a new message for the children of God. In Matthew 25:34 he delivers a plan for salvation and good works on the basis of the New Testament’s twin commandments to love God and to love His creation. There he ties the theology of the child to philanthropic causes shifting the emphasis from an exclusive, untenable and remote God to one found in physis and working with it. ‘‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’’

The adoption of children by God is a powerful theology that calls for a natural rewiring of human desires, capability and outcomes in line with the Holy Spirit of God. It is a calling for the realisation of a rebirth and a new creation. The Father’s high expectations are intrinsically connected to His nature and what stems from His Word. What He created He viewed, and it was Good, ‘I called you by your name, for you are Mine’ (Isaiah. 43:1) It is interesting that in Genesis God had to ‘view’ his creation to see that it was Good. He did not take His works for granted. This visualising process suggests something standing opposite to Him. It is Good because He is Good, the clarification is not subtle it is mammoth. God ‘worked’ to create. The work that He viewed and blessed was for creation to be deified, to be with Him. This from the time of Christianity’s inception meant a reawakening to this. The birth of a baby is the symbolism of a



spiritual (and bodily) awakening, the hope of a new creation, a new story, a new witness in God’s Kingdom. The Father’s role remains firm throughout the ages – pedagogy through love and righteousness through justice. The theology of the child is an awakening to the Father’s call. It embodies the nature of the response that is required and reminds us that this call, this Word, like in the OT was implanted within each created event, ‘And she was joined with the faithful in the womb.’



In recent scholarship St. Gregory of Nyssa’s ‘jewel-like’ retelling of the death and burial of his sister Macrina has been the subject of much scrutiny. She stands as a suitable symbol for discussion in this present volume in the light of what familial love and the renunciation of marriage symbolized in the early Church; for her life was composed by her brother St. Gregory of Nyssa, and her monastic community was founded on the familial estates of her clan, and continued to include several of her immediate family members (her mother Emmelia and her brother Naucratios) who cannot be as easily identified as ascetics/philosophers as her other brothers, Gregory, Basil of Caesarea, and Peter of Sebaste. St. Macrina, who leads her proto-monastic female community in Caesarea, an important but textless Christian philosopher, is variously described by her modern commentators as the embodiment of liturgical piety, a symbol of eschatological hope, a (literary) Christian recasting of Homeric themes, and a model for future hagiographers. 1 Such multiplicity of perspectives on her image as preOn Macrina and her community see Philip Rousseau, ‘The pious household and the virgin chorus: reflections on Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Macrina,’ Journal of Early Christian Studies 13 no. 2 (2005): 165–186. On issues of memory and didactic strategies see Warren Smith, ‘A just and reasonable grief: the death and function of a holy woman in Gregory of Nyssa's Life of Macrina,’ JECS 12 no. 1 (2004): 57–84; also Susan Wessel 1




sented in her brother’s Vita confirms the undeniable quality of Gregory’s rhetorical craftsmanship, all the more impressive to witness at this early stage of development of Eastern Christian hagiography. Gregory’s Life of Macrina is a successful experiment in combining elements from the realms of classical philosophy, historical chronicle, and didactic Christian legend. The finished product brings those elements together in a unified and coherent whole with the image of Macrina serving as the focus of their convergence. In what ways would the significance of this paradigm of a holy life turned work of art stand the test of time? How does it appropriate the legacy of its literary and philosophical traditions, especially Platonic influences, to present the reader with an image of what incarnate Christian beauty should be like? The answers to such questions provide the key to interpreting Gregory’s Vita Macrinae as an illustration of the beauty of deified humanity. Gregory’s sober reflection on the uniqueness of Macrina’s life and Christian ministry starts with a description of her final moments and him finding his sister on her deathbed. The understated pathos of this setting draws immediately readers’ attention and ushers them into the larger-than-life portrait of a woman whose claim to holiness is to be revealed most dazzlingly at the end. In a dream preceding his arrival at the family mansion now monastery at Anissa, Gregory has already seen himself attending the relics of a martyr. ‘It seemed to me,’ he recalls the event, ‘that I was carrying the relics of a martyr in my hands and that a ray of light was coming from them, such as occurs when a clean mirror is held against the sun, so that my eyes were dimmed by the flash off its rays.’ 2 ‘Memory and individuality in Gregory of Nyssa's Dialogus de anima et resurrectione,’ JECS 18 no. 3 Fall (2010): 369–392; Derek Krueger, ‘Writing and the liturgy of memory in Gregory of Nyssa's Life of Macrina,’ JECS 8 no. 4 (2000): 483–510. For Homeric influences see Georgia Frank, ‘Macrina’s scar: Homeric allusion and heroic identity in Gregory of Nyssa’s Life of Macrina,’ JECS 8 no. 4 (2000): 511–530. 2 Vita Macrinae (hereafter VM), 63. References to the text follow the translation in Gregory of Nyssa. ‘The Life of Macrina’ In: Handmaids of the Lord. trans. & ed. Joan Petersen. (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publ., 1996).



The relics blind him with their brilliance and fill him with a clear sense of foreboding. Once he finds the ‘great Macrina’, near death, he realizes that what he had seen in his dream has slowly begun to take shape in reality: Macrina is departing from this life, carrying in her body and spirit the living proof of God’s glory. To Gregory, a brother and a bishop, belongs the honor of handling the virgin’s remains as well as reconstructing her memory with those willing to listen to his testimony. Gregory’s mission as an author and a pastor is to confirm the value of Macrina’s relics by presenting them to the community. Macrina’s significance, he suggests at the beginning of his story, goes beyond her family circle and ascetic group; in the form of relics, shining with the grace of the Holy Spirit, she is to be offered to all and imparted to all. While commentators have tended to focus on the rhetorical dimension of the dream episode rather than on its purported historicity, I find Gregory’s way of conveying the story to transcend the mere choice of words and imagery. His bedazzlement marks him off as an official witness rather than a manipulator of a holy woman’s memory. Overwhelmed by the splendor of the deified relics, he carries them in a worshipful manner, awed and shaken to the core. In continuation of the emotional and visual impact of this event, he would later describe Macrina’s body as a mirror of the divine presence reflecting it as a climactic transformation into a pure ray of light. 3 These two instances of transfiguration serve as the thematic bookends to Gregory’s hagiographic testimony. At the beginning and the end of her life Macrina shines with the kind of holy beauty that only a deified being would possess: her body arranges itself in repose naturally, she suffers no final struggle, even manages to offer a concluding prayer with her recitation of the evening office. Those are memorable details that are yet to be defined as standard in subsequent hagiographic patterns of discourse. Macrina dies with liturgical prayers on her lips ‘so that there may be no doubt that she was in the presence of God and that he was lisA more recent translation is also available in Anna Silvas, Macrina the Younger, Philosopher of God (Brepols, 2008), 109–148. 3 VM, 77.



tening to her’. 4 As she lies on the bier, she is covered with a dark cloak yet ‘even under this dark covering, she was radiant; the divine power, I think, added this further grace to her body, so that her beautiful form seemed to throw out rays of light, exactly as I had seen in the vision which occurred in my dream.’ 5 Thus Gregory’s account of Macrina’s death is not simply a confirmation but a culmination of what his initial dream has foretold. Gregory’s depiction of Macrina’s transformed humanity implies that a person becomes real only as they are revealed or envisioned from the viewpoint of God. This is a logical corollary of the fact that a defining feature of the human self is the image of God placed at its very core. The idea has both Scriptural and Platonic overtones. Thus, notwithstanding G. Clarke’s assertion that biographies and hagiographies do not coincide, I contend that, within Gregory’s epistemic schema, Macrina’s portrayal is meant to provide an account of what is, existentially and philosophically speaking, ‘real’ rather than what is merely historically accurate. 6 Thus for Gregory the real content of Macrina’s personhood is her iconic image. Seen through the eyes of God and reconstructed in the divine realm, Macrina’s identity is centered on a nucleus of dazzling beauty which, at the time of her death, usher her into the realm of the resurrection and the ‘true life.’ If one is to find the real Macrina, Gregory suggests, we are to respect her wish to see her as she presents herself – with an enlightened spirit and light-bearing flesh, with no need to leave written words behind, but the type of a life whose actions testify louder than words. His approach is in conflict with the post-modern deconstructionist perspective, according to which the late antique vitae of holy women provide meager even if tantalizing glimpses into the actual lives of their heroines. Such texts are usually seen as the final product of a collation of theological perspectives to a degree where historical accuracy becomes superfluous. They are ‘sacred fictions’ Ibid., 70–72. Ibid., 77. 6 For the alternative argument see Gillian Clark, Women in Late Antiquity (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1993); also Gillian Cloke, This Female Man of God (New York: Routledge, 1995). 4 5



coming from the imagination of male writers who manipulate the identity of ‘real’ women into literary constructs and readily discard the study of a character in favor of its rhetoric impact. 7 Furthermore, hagiographic texts are conceived of as indicative of the ways in which definitions of holiness are constructed and institutionalized; they cater to the demands of a particular cultural and religious climate. 8 In examining Gregory’s Life of Macrina, such methodological concerns need to be addressed as related to the construction of the real vs. the ideal Macrina. I propose that the interplay between the notions of real and imaginary in Gregory’s text is more complex than assumed. Its complexity stems from the discrepancy in the epistemological and hermeneutic strategies of the author vs. the modern commentator. There is a danger in reading the ancient text in an inverted mirror. What is real for the author becomes ideal for the commentator; what is ideal for the commentator is the author’s ‘true’ content of his heroine’s image. From Gregory’s Platonic and Origenistic viewpoint, reality coincides with human nature as participating in God. Hence our search for the ‘real’ Macrina as corresponding to a different epistemological standard is, by definition, a disappointing enterprise. To discard the hermeneutics between real and ideal which the text espouses means to reduce the relationship between history and hagiography to an ideological conundrum and replace one methodological assumption (that of the author) by another (that of the commentator). Is it possible that hagiography is a way of rethinking the basics of the biographical genre, thus providing the reader with what the author considers a genuine depiction of his subject of inquiry? See an extensive discussion of the issue in Linda Coon, Sacred Fictions: Holy Women and Hagiography in Late Antiquity (Pennsylvania: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997). 8 Coon’s phrase ‘sacred fictions’ captures well the intentionality in these texts; she goes on to claim that ‘sacred biography, in all its various forms, facilitated the creation, preservation, and extension of Christian sanctity in an era when there was no systematic, institutionalized process of identifying a saint’ (27). 7



In my view Gregory’s Life of Macrina supports this assumption. Gregory finds the real Macrina in the loving depiction of her eidos (form, species), the iconic substance of her being. In outlining the iconic Macrina, Gregory combines a fundamentally Platonic notion (the soul as the kernel of human individuality) with a Scripturally based Christian perspective in the context of which each soul possesses an appropriate material expression, a body that is uniquely its own. Both of those find their ontological stability in God. 9 The ‘historical’ Macrina which modern readers are interested in becomes a fiction of their own imagination. The methodological question here is not whether the reader does or does not share the author’s theological convictions, but rather whether one would take, at face value, Gregory’s invitation to accept the text at face value and discover its meaning by ‘mutually and interactively’ entering into its realm. The life of Macrina is complete as such only once it has reached her remembering audience, as Gregory suggests himself at the beginning of the letter. As an iconic fiat, it initiates a conversation, inviting the reader to partake of the life story and miracles of Macrina, even those who are skeptical of her sanctity. In turn, the reader brings their own critical assessment to the text, correlating what they learn with what they understand. In part this dynamic and interactive dimension of the text relates to Gregory’s own intertextual approach. His work is very much influenced by the classical tradition. For instance, there are clear Platonic overtones to Gregory’s description of Macrina’s deified flesh. Yet Gregory’s treatment of the power and beauty of the incarnation of God in ordinary human life and human being is original and different from the classical philosophical conception of beauty. Plato’s idea of beauty is abstract and austere. It is a privilege of the enlightened and trained mind to discover it in the realm of formal definitions. Wanting to incarnate this idea into the world of matter dilutes its original purity. For Plato symbols are not as

See John Meyendorff, Byzantine Theology (New York: Fordham University Press, 1979), 153. 9



valuable as the original and representations are not reality. 10 Ultimately there is a standing ontological gap between the world of ideas where the idea of good and beauty takes central place and the world of material imitations. In its Christian appropriation the notion of beauty would remain united with the idea of the good at the same time at which it is personalized. Gregory’s take on Macrina’s life is a prime example of how radical this reworking of the classical tradition is. His witness to Macrina’s theosis is a commentary on the Biblical and Christian doctrine of the divine logos becoming flesh, of a personal God wanting to experience human life in order to save his fallen creation. Gregory’s restating of the Platonic idea of beauty incarnates it in the realities of here and now. It speaks of redeemed matter and enlightened flesh. The example of Macrina demonstrates how is it possible for a faithful Christian to become an icon of God through prayer, ascetic discipline and lifelong commitment. The God whom Macrina incarnates is sublime beauty and has become, in Athanasius’ resounding dictum, one of us so that we can become like him. Macrina emerges triumphant over the crucified flesh not only as an instructor in ‘all that was good,’ but most importantly as a witness (martyr) to Christ’s glory. In the quiet and composed manner of her dying, the praxis that wins their crown is long and arduous but her death is short and sweet. In her final prayers she addresses Christ in a moving and affectionate manner: ‘I too have been crucified with you; from fear of you I have nailed down my flesh and have been in fear of your judgment’. 11 Born as a wealthy woman, Macrina gradually disposes of any excess of wealth throughout life to become a transparent symbol of the reality of the divine presence. Preparing her body for burial, Gregory’s helper comments in admiration: ‘Here are her tunic, her veil, and the shabby sandals on her feet. This is her wealth; these are her riches … She knew only one place for her private wealth; it was stored up as treasure in heaven. Everything was stored there and nothing was Cf. Plato’s extensive treatment of this topic in the Symposium and the Republic. In Plato, Complete Works. Ed. John Cooper (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1997). 11 VM, 71. 10



left on earth’. 12 The absoluteness of Macrina’s poverty enables her to contemplate ‘the beauty of the Bridegroom’ and gaze upon him directly. 13 The language of giving and giving up, of rising and overcoming the limitations of the human condition in the process of forging a ‘philosophical and unworldly way of life’ is very much a part of Gregory’s assessment of Macrina’s legacy. As the impurities of her body and soul are purged away, Gregory’s Macrina enters the realm of incorruptibility and keeps ascending, no longer weighed down by the allurements of the flesh – a theme to which Gregory returns time and again, in this text, as well as in other of his works. 14 His account of Macrina’s purification and entry into the holy life is finalized by her depiction as an athlete. After making herself fit for the commitments of Christian life, Gregory explains, Macrina learned how to race toward her heavenly prize without the burdens of corruption. Like dust, those are stripped away from her so that the purity of her nature is revealed in a God-like splendor. 15 Not surprisingly, Gregory compares her to an angel: an angel who throughout her lifetime has ‘no relationship with the life of the flesh nor in any way adapted to it, and whose thought remained, in a perfectly natural way, in a state of impassability, since the flesh did not attract her to her own feelings’. 16 Macrina’s dissociation from the needs of the flesh provides the impetus for turning her into a tangible receptor of God’s radiant presence. In Susanna Elm’s perceptive description, ‘Gregory created in her [Macrina] an exemplum for a complete human being through the creation of a new female image: that of the ascetic, the ‘virgin of God’, in short, that of a true saint, who, on her way to God, had progressed beyond male and female’. 17 In Gregory’s narrative the preIbid., 75. Ibid., 70. 14 The themes of ascension and divine infinity are also found in Gregory’s On Virginity and On the Soul and the Resurrection. 15 VM, 77. 16 VM, 69. 17 Susanna Elm, ‘Virgins of God’: The Making of Asceticism in Late Antiquity (Oxford, 1996), 102. 12 13



occupations of ordinary existence are discreetly erased from Macrina’s personality and her humanity is sublimated into an angelic state – a force of pure volition toward God, a ministering and praising spirit. This is why Macrina is able ‘to engage with sublime thought in philosophical meditation right until the very end […] It was as if an angel had assumed human shape in the household.’ 18 At the same time there is a certain degree of ambiguity in reconciling the concept of genderless angelhood with the inevitable facts of gendered humanity. On her deathbed Macrina wears the white robes of a bride – an explicit testimony to her (self)-presentation as a female espoused to a heavenly bridegroom. This theme acquires an even more poignant dimension by the fact that, as Gregory points out, it would not have been ‘suitable that the virgins [of her ascetic community] should look upon Macrina adorned as a bride’. 19 As exceptional as Macrina is, Gregory does not consider her life as an isolated occurrence of saintly piety, but places it firmly within the larger context of the Church and the Christian community. Once again Macrina’s asceticism is not the lonely pursuit of spiritual self-sufficiency, but a theo-centric activity whose ultimate goal is union with God in the context of a communal and liturgical experience. The remembrance of Macrina’s miracles, Gregory suggests, goes beyond her immediate circle of disciples; the vision of her, shining with the grace of the Holy Spirit, is to be offered to all. 20 In this sense Macrina’s vita will contribute immensely to the ongoing formation of hagiographic modes of discourse and their educational value for the Christian community. Gregory’s description of Macrina’s Christian praxis is offered as a service to those who need consolation, edification, and a remedy for the inevitable ills of mortal life. Nowhere is Macrina’s service to the community better attested than in her charitable activities. For her family and her community of consecrated virgins she is an archetypical exemplar of classical virtue. She is even able to perform miracles in a way that is both VM, 69. Ibid., 77. 20 Cf. Krueger, Writing, 494–6. 18 19



effective and far from ostentatious. For example, her modesty compels her to refuse a doctor to examine the lump on her breast. Macrina cures herself with the sign of the cross after a night of a prayerful vigil. 21 Gregory himself does now know about the miracle until he starts preparing her body for a burial. In a separate occurrence of a healing miracle Macrina cures a child from an eye decease using a quiet prayer for deliverance (81). 22 So inconspicuous is her display of miraculous powers that the child’s parents do not realize what has happened until after they depart the saint’s presence. In addition Gregory emphasizes Macrina’s overall generosity and practical management skills as she is the one who ‘sought to turn away neither beggars nor benefactors, for God secretly caused the small resources that she obtained from her work to multiply through his blessing, just as if they were seeds’ (68). Thus Macrina’s community is well supplied and able to support others in the time of famine ‘when the corn supply was distributed according to people's necessities, but never showed any sign of growing less; on the contrary, it appeared the same in bulk both before and after it had been given to those who needed it’. 23 Gregory highlights Macrina’s philanthropy as an imitation of the philanthropy of God, the ultimate giver. He draws a final instructive parallel between the significance of Macrina’s ministry and that of another legendary figure and a coapostle in the Eastern Orthodox calendar, St. Thecla. Thecla ‘whose fame is great among the virgins … was Macrina’s secret name’ (53). 24 Comparing the two provides Gregory with an interesting consideration of the importance of antique women's services to their Christian communities. Refusing a prosperous marriage, following the apostle Paul in a male disguise, preaching and even baptizing herself, the apocryphal Thecla provides an apt illustration of the types of female vocation and ministerial activities available to women in late antiquity in a way that makes them both unique and VM, 76. Ibid., 81. 23 VM, 82. 24 The Thecla analogy was a standard literary convention found in the vitae of other holy women from this period (Cloke, 165). 21 22



culturally conditioned. 25 Similarly, the historical Macrina embarks on the path to asceticism at the age of twelve when marital plans ‘that had been made for her were destroyed by the death of the young man’. She establishes her own proto-monastic community by emancipating her slaves and separating women from men. Eventually she becomes the leading figure in their sufficiently strict way of life structured around the chanting the daily prayers and offices. Macrina’s authority over her charges stems from her charisma rather than from her wealth and social standing. At the time of her death the women ‘whom she had received at time of the famine, when they were wandering about the roads, and whom she had cared for and brought up and directed towards a pure and incorrupt life’, lament her in such an intensive and heartbreaking fashion that Gregory, never a supporter of public outbursts of grief, has to forbid the crying. 26 The virgins lament Macrina as the light of their eyes and the stability of their lives; she is called the seal of immortality that maintains their hope in God. 27 She is described as superior to them in rank and holiness and someone that they trust, cherish, and admire. Indeed, the memory of Macrina’s imposing personality is what aids Gregory’s attempt to preserve communal peace and obedience. He recounts how, during the period of Macrina’s illness, the virgins restrain themselves from grieving ‘on account of their fear of Macrina, as if they were in awe of her reproachful looks – even when she was already in the silence of death’. 28 It is only after her death that ‘they could no longer conceal their suffering, which was like a fire smoldering within their hearts.’ 29 In the apocryphal Acts of Paul, Thecla preaches the gospel to women. She also leads the conversion of prostitutes and the baptism of women from various social classes. The Apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla (Studies on Early Christian Apocrypha) ed. J. Bremmer (Leuven, 1996). 26 VM, 73. 27 Ibid. 28 Ibid., 72. 29 Ibid. 25



In sum, Gregory’s portrayal of Macrina is embedded within a particular literary and devotional context. As a result, Gregory claims that it has a timeless significance that continue to inspires and instruct beyond its immediate historical milieu so that the souls of Macrina’s followers and admirers would be ‘set down within the inner sanctuary of heaven through the guidance of her discourse’. 30 Even if indebted to sources outside of the Christian milieu, as for instance, classical philosophical biographies, Gregory’s remembrance of Macrina’s story carries an unmistakably Christian and universalizing message. Macrina’s life has a revelatory and transformative potential as far as it points the direction of all ascetic endeavors: embodying Christ as fully as it is possible in this life. This union is a thing of beauty and turns the ascetic life into a veritable work of art. It is a narrative of asceticism making a new set of family kin-bonds in Christ. Spiritual and physical aspects of being are here equally affected by the restoring and illuminating presence of the divine. Macrina incarnates beauty in her liturgical devotion and daily tasks; at her death she is transfigured thus manifesting the union between human nature and divine grace. What is good, true, and beautiful about her is uniquely her own way of living in the image and likeness of God. At the same time her iconic perfection exemplifies the highest hopes and aspirations of the Eastern Christian tradition and community.


VM, 65.