The Body and Sexuality: How We As Orthodox Understand It
Archpriest George Morelli, PhD
And he said: Let us make man to our image andlikeness: and let him have dominion over thefishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, andthe beasts, and the whole earth, and everycreeping creature that moveth upon theearth. And God created man to his own image:to the image of God he created him: male andfemale he created them. And God blessedthem, saying: Increase and multiply. (Gn 1: 26-28)
In the Divine Liturgy the priest exclaims (2ndAntiphon): For Thou art the Good God wholovest mankind and to Thee we ascribe glory,to the Father and to the Son and to the HolySpirit.”
The Persons of the Holy Trinity interrelateamongst themselves in Love. “That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I inthee; that they also may be one in us; that the world maybelieve that thou hast sent me.” (Jn 17: 21) But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will teach youall truth. For he shall not speak of himself; but what thingssoever he shall hear, he shall speak …. He shall glorifyme; because he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it toyou. All things whatsoever the Father hath, are mine.Therefore I said, that he shall receive of mine, and shew itto you. (Jn 16: 13-15)
“God had no need to create the world …Godcreated the world because He wanted thesuperabundant life and goodness withinHimself to be shared with other beings[subject-object—lover-beloved] who wouldbecome partakers of divine blessings andholiness.”(Alfeyev, Bishop Hilarion. (2003). The Mystery of Faith.London, England: Darton, Longman & Todd).
“By the word of the Lord the heavens wereestablished; and all the power of them by thespirit of his mouth: Gathering together thewaters of the sea, … let all the inhabitants ofthe world be in awe of him. For he spoke andthey were made: he commanded and they werecreated.” (Ps 32: 6-9)
”In the beginning was the Word, and theWord was with (Gk: towards pros ton Theon).God, and the Word was God. The same was inthe beginning with God. All things were madeby him: and without him was made nothingthat was made.” (Jn 1: 1-3)
“And the earth was void and empty, anddarkness was upon the face of the deep; andthe spirit of God moved over the waters.” (Gn1: 2)
“By the word [Logos] of the Lord[Father] the heavens wereestablished; and all the power ofthem by the spirit [Holy Spirit]of his mouth.” (Ps 32: 6).
“it is the crucifying love of the Father, thecrucified love of the Son, and the love of theHoly Spirit triumphing through the power ofthe Cross.” [St. Philaret of Moscow in Ware, T. (1995). The Orthodox Way.Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir‟s Seminary Press.]
Our bodies are created by God and are goodand made for good. God made us to be in union with Him andothers. How we use our bodies tells us our meaning ofour lives. How we use our bodies tells all how we loveGod and others.
For Orthodox Christians the "theology ofsex", based on Divine Love. It goes to theessence of God Himself. St John tells us "...forlove is of God ....God is love." (1 John 4:7-8)This is the love we are to have for one another.Archimandrite Sophrony (1999) reports St.Silouan the Athonite echoing the ChurchFathers said: "Both Christs commandments - oflove towards God and love toward neighbor -make up a single life.“(Sakharov, ArchimandriteSophrony, (1999). St Silouan the Athonite. Crestwood, New York: St. VladimirsSeminary Press.)
Creation is an act of love between God and Hiscreation. He creates in love and continues tokeep the universe and mankind in being out oflove. The infinite God, creates out of nothing,and continues to create through the laws ofnature He has created. “I beseech thee, my son, look upon heaven andearth, and all that is in them: and consider thatGod made them out of nothing, and mankindalso.” 2Mac 7: 28)
“A person may be defined as an essence withindividual characteristics.” St. Thalassios , Philokalia II, p.330-1)
“When God brought into being naturesendowed with intelligence and intellect Hecommunicated to them, in His supremegoodness four of the divine attributes …being, eternal being, goodness and wisdom …being and eternal being, to their essence …goodness and wisdom to their volitive [willingfaculty] so what He is in His essence thecreature may be by participation. (St. Maximus theconfessor, Philokalia II, pp. 86-87)
“Or know you not, that your members arethe temple of the Holy Spirit, who is inyou, whom you have from God; and you arenot your own?” (1Cor 6: 19)
In his Discourses St. Dorotheos of Gaza wrote:"In the beginning when God created man he sethim in paradise (as the divine holy scripturesays), (Genesis 2:25) adorned with everyvirtue, and gave him a command not to eat ofthe tree in the middle of paradise" (Genesis2:16-17). (Wheeler, E.P. (1977). (ed., trans.), Dorotheos of Gaza:Discourses and Sayings. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications.)
The tree of the knowledge of good and evil wasplaced in the Garden to test Adam, but in termsdifferent than we might at first think. Godsintention was not to see Adam fall. Rather, thetest would allow Adam to affirm his freedomthrough obedience and thereby grow intogreater grace. Freedom makes available thepossibility of disobedience; otherwise freedomis really not free.
The Church Fathers taught that it was a fullerknowledge of good and evil that Adam andEve did not yet possess. Thus, when the devil(who appears in the Genesis narrative as theserpent) told them "they would be like God" hewas telling the truth, but only by half. Adamand Even did indeed gain the knowledge ofgood and evil, but also became subject to theevil as a result. Hence the radical disordering --the brokenness -- of creation that we call "TheFall."
“And [God] commanded him, saying: Of everytree of paradise thou shalt eat: But of the tree ofknowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat. Forin what day soever thou shalt eat of it, thou shaltdie the death.” (Gn 2:16-17). We know ourancestors failed this test, and in the words of St.Dorotheos, "fell from a state in accord with hisnature to a state contrary to nature, i.e. a prey tosin, to ambition, to a love of the pleasures of thislife and the other passions; and he was masteredby them, and became a slave to them through histransgression. Then little by little evil increasedand death reigned and everywhere was ignoranceof God (Rm 5:14)."
God has given mankind through its two modesof male and female a share in His creation.Sexuality is the gift from Him, by which weshare in His creation. Therefore, sexuality andlife is holy and should be treated assuch, because it is the way we were made toshare in Gods creation by the material bodiesHe gave us.
“He created him: male and female He createdthem.: (Gn 1: 27) And the Lord God said: It is not good forman to be alone: let us make him a help likeunto himself. (Gn 2: 18) “And Adam said: This now is bone of mybones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be calledwoman, because she was taken out ofman. Wherefore a man shall leave father andmother, and shall cleave to his wife: and theyshall be two in one flesh.” (Gn 2: 23-24)
“Marriage is a bond, a bond ordained byGod…They come to be made into one body. Seethe mystery of love! If the two do not becomeone, they cannot increase; they can increase onlyby decreasing. How great is the strength of unity!Gods ingenuity in the beginning divided one fleshinto two; but He wanted to show that it remainedone even after its division, so He made itimpossible for either half to procreate without theother…(Of Adam and Eve)…He reunited thesetwo into one, so that their children [emphasis mine]would be produced from a source…husband andwife are not two but one.” (St. John Chrysostom. (2003). OnMarriage and Family Life. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimirs Seminary Press)
“How do they become one flesh? As if she weregold receiving the purest of gold, the womanreceives the mans seed with rich pleasure, andwithin her it is nourished, cherished andrefined. It is mingled with her own substanceand she then returns it as a child! The child is abridge connecting mother to father, so the threebecome one flesh…” (St. John Chrysostom, 2003)
“It were better for him, that a millstone werehanged about his neck, and he cast into thesea, than that he should scandalize one of theselittle ones.” (Lk 17: 2)
Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain:"Both father and mother will responsible fornot looking after their children…Theparents, who do not look after theirchildren, are not good parents and they willhave to justify their actions toGod" (Ageloglou, Priestmonk Christodoulos. (1998). Elder Paisios of TheHoly Mountain. Mt. Athos, Greece: Holy Mountain.)
“But if any man violate the temple of God, himshall God destroy. For the temple of God isholy, which you are.” (1Cor 3: 17) Thus the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians haveso much meaning: “For you are bought with agreat price. Glorify and bear God in your body.”(1Cor 6: 20) As Gods love is notcasual, crude, rude and self-centered; so too, ourlove of self and others should not be this way. AsGods love is giving, emptying and creative; so tooour love of self and others should be this way.
Are based on selfishness and self-centeredness, indifference to mankind, lack ofattention, interest, & love of others. They all involve a self focus that de-values thedignity of others & their personhood, made byGod in His image.
PRIDE—Self Centered Superiority & Power. GREED---Depriving Others Of Their Physical& Spiritual Needs. LUST---Worship Of Sensual Pleasure atExpense Of Others. ANGER---Having The Right to Strike Out atOthers GLUTTONY---Taking More Than One Needs ENVY---Jealousy Of God‟s Gifts To Others SLOTH---Lack Of Duty To Mankind
abortion, adultery, alcoholism, blasphemy, child orspousal abuse (physical, psychological, sexual orneglect), drug addiction, evil speaking (talking aboutsomeone, even iftrue), fornication, graft, gossip, homosexualrelationships, insider trading, kidnapping, lying, pre-emptive unjust warfare, pornography, same sexmarriage, torturing and/or belittling prisoners, usingothers for money, power or sex, acts of vengeance(national and personal). These indicate variousunderlying sinfulattitudes, e.g., anger, contempt, deceit, harshness, hatred, hypocrisy, lust, negligence (such as not caring forthe environment); disrespect for the God given sexualgifts given by God: promoting female ordination
abortion, adultery, alcoholism, blasphemy, drug addiction, fornication, same sex marriage orrelationships, or habits that harm one‟s ownbody, like smoking and overeating.
Loving versus Using- Jesus tells His Apostles:“A new commandment I give unto you: Thatyou love one another, as I have loved you, thatyou also love one another.” (Jn 13: 34)
You are at a party. Most are drinking. Some areeven doing drugs. Many are getting „intimate‟with one another. You see a couple go off to avacant bedroom. Some do not even need abedroom they are beginning „hooking-up‟ infront of others. The person who has hangedaround with you practically the whole time atthe party keeps saying “Lets have some fun.Come on everyone is doing it.”
At some point, after a some increasingpassion, starting to go beyond kissing andfondling: “Come on it doesn‟t meananything, it is just „hooking-up.‟ Come oneveryone is doing it.”
Is this an example of real love or using? Is the „hooker-upper‟ looking out for the goodand welfare of the wished for „hooker-upee?‟ Is the „hooker-upper‟ respecting the dignityand personhood of the desired „hooker-upee‟? Can the „hooker-upper‟ be trusted? If a “hook-up‟ takes place, what is the likelyoutcome?
A couple is dating. They enjoy spending timewith each other. They certainly have a mutualattraction.
Is quality time spent with each other‟s family? (Depending on age of those dating) Arecurfews set up by parents kept? Can those dating be honest with their parentsabout the person they are dating? Has dating brought you closer to friends andfamily? Do you attend Divine Liturgy and praytogether?
Do you see your date as a loyal, committedspouse? Do you see your date as a loyal, committedcaring parent? If you already have had intimate relations withyour date would the person stay with you ifyou wanted to stop any sexual intimacy until ablessed marriage? Are you willing to set boundaries and wouldthey be respected by your date?
Do you and your date avoid situations thatwould lead to „going too far?‟ If your family and parish priest kneweverything about your dating relationshipwould they approve? Do you think that „self-arousal‟ is OK, becauseit is private and doesn‟t involve or hurtanyone?
When you see an attractive girl do you imaginesexual intimacy with her? Do you speak respectfully about girls or insome course sexual innuendo? Do you flirt and hint with your girlfriend (orother girls) in such a manner as to invite asexual encounter? Do you get angry if your girlfriend sets sexualboundaries?
Do you cheat on your girlfriend? In the back of your mind do you know you willnot marry her? Do you look at pornography (DVD‟s websites,magazines, strip clubs)? Do you brag to your friends about you sexualexploits?
Have you had sex to make a boy stay interestedin you? Do you give in to you boyfriend‟s sexualadvances to prevent rejection or avoidarguments? Do you dress provocatively to get attention? Do you talk about sex with your girlfriends? Do you flirt with boys with no intention ofdating?
Do you flirt (and/or sexually flirt) with otherswhile dating your boyfriend? Do you cheat on your boyfriend? Do you „go along with the crowd‟ so as not tobe prudish and or rejected. Do you justify sexual activity outside of ablessed marriage because it is „love‟ Is porn part of your life and/or do you put upwith your boyfriends pornography lifestyle?
A couple is ordained as the leaders, crownedasking and queen of their domesticchurch, granted grace for the "fair education ofchildren" (Orthodox wedding service).Authentic and true love seeks to replicate thetype of self-sacrifice Christ revealed to us whenHe became man and dwelt among us (andwhich is still expressed today in Christsfaithfulness to His Church).
Conforms to the Great Commandment to loveour neighbor more highly than ourselves. In sodoing we also love and honor God (Matthew25:36-40, 1 John 4:19-21). This kind of lovebetween husband and wife, even if imperfectlypracticed and not always realized, constituteswhat St. John Chrysostom called the "smallchurch" and as such ensures the health andstability of the family in raising children (Homily XXon Ephesians 5: 22-33 http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/230120.htm).
The "crowning" of the couple actuallyreferences martyrdom, that is, giving ones lifefor the other. As a martyr gives his life forChrist, so must the spouse be willing to givehis life to his wife (and the wife to herhusband), and in so doing fulfill the law ofChrist which is to love the neighbor as yourself.It is a call to love that rings through theintoxication of pleasant emotion into thedeeper reservoirs of the heart and soul fromwhere sacrificial love is drawn.
Marital self-emptying however, occurs only ifeach partner consents to it. In making man inHis image, God gave man freedom. This leadsthose in a marital union to a crossroad: Thepath of righteousness where marriage is ajoined duality, or the path of self-satisfactionwhere marriage is defined as a singularity.
Self-centered marriage is a marriage in nameonly. Self-sexual arousal is likewise self-centered. After the Fall we are predisposed toself-centered choices directed by the passions(lusts) rather than choices based on agape. St.Isaac of Syria tells us: ". . . pandering to theflesh, produce(s) in us shameful urges andunseemly fantasies" (Early Fathers from thePhilokalia).
The Epistle (Eph 5: 20-33) read at the Orthodoxwedding service is often misunderstood. The focusof the understanding is the beginning of thepassage, describing the husband as "head" andwives as "subject.“- interpreted in Western cultureas misogynist. Understanding the meaning of thequoted passage is the later verse: "For no man everhates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it,as Christ does the church." This means the wifeand husband are of the same flesh and value. Hewould value her and her preferences as he valueshis own. Thus an equality in respect and love.
From early childhood to the teen years, parentsand child caretakers should present this"theology of sexuality." The parents in wordand action must first model this presentation.Use of crude words for body parts or the sexact undermines the holiness and sanctity of sexitself. It also bespeaks unbelievable hypocrisy.Any presentation of sexuality must be age-appropriate. Ordinary daily events giveparents so many opportunities to discusssexuality and its meaning.
Most importantly, never separate the explanation ofsex from the love of God in terms of His creation andcommitment to us and the creative act andcommitment implied in the sex act within marriage.When family members are exposed by way of themedia to sex that is devoid of Gods creative love andcommitment, parents can comment on it. Simpleinterpretive comments on advertisements can be veryeffective. When a suggestive ad on TV appears forexample, a parent may comment: "Look how this ad isusing that look (posture, etc). Where is the deepmeaning and love they should have for one another asChrist had for us"? Comments do not have to be longand preachy. Children learn very effectively fromshort, pointed statements.
Frequently sex focuses on the "hedonistic", pleasurablefeelings that accompany a sex act. This topic shouldalso not be avoided but addressed. God allows us tofeel pleasure. This is the way He made us. The acts thatcan produce pleasure can be either acts that helpourselves and others grow psychologically andspiritually, or that can enslave us and others in terms ofordinary human development: socially, occupationally,and spiritually. Pleasure blinds and enslaves us whenwe are motivated to act selfishly and not for the goodand welfare of the other whom God asks us to Love.Pleasure as a result of a loving act can help andmotivate us to continue sharing in Gods lovingcommitted creative acts.
Elder Paisios of the Holy Mountain wrote: "Weshould do whatever can be humanly achieved;the rest which is beyond our power, must beleft in Gods hands.“ (Ageloglou, PriestmonkChristodoulos. (1998). Elder Paisios of The Holy Mountain. Mt. Athos, Greece : Holy Mountain .)