St. Stephen's Musings

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:: Thursday, December 30, 2004 ::

Sex, Marriage and Theosis: Part I

Bill (in the comments of the 12/20 post) asked me if I was familiar with the "traditionalist" critique of Paul Evdokimov in general and specifically an article entitled "New Age Philosophy, Orthodox Thought, and Marriage."

I am, and what follows are my introductory remarks.

First of all, I sympathize with several overall points being made by Archimandrite Luke: a) the sexual act is not a substitute for theosis and the ascetical path to union with God requires a sexuality directed by a purified nous b) sexuality should not be the foundation of our theology or our lives, and c) sexual love should not be confused with the Divine Eros.

I also agree that the gradual acceptance of contraception by many Orthodox clergy and prominent Orthodox scholars (though Evdokimov was not quite as insistent about this as others after him) over the last several decades should raise an eyebrow or two.

However, I would posit that Archimandrite Luke misunderstands the Church's teaching concerning marriage, exaggerates the danger posed by several writers he critiques, and conflates the concept of "carnality" with normal human enfleshment.

As an example of the latter, he quotes St. Mark the Ascetic who said, "If we no longer fulfill the desires of the flesh, then with the Lord's help the evils within us will easily be eliminated"

Right. But St. Mark isn't talking about sex! He's talking about the passions.

IOW, "flesh" in this context doesn't mean simply the material nature of our bodies (much less does it mean the God-pleasing union between a man and woman crowned in marriage) but rather sinful desires, the misuse of the material world, and the passions in their twisted state. Archimandrite Luke would have his readers believe that St. Mark is basically saying, "When you stop having sex with your wife, then you will be able to have a healing relationship with God."

How far this interpretation is from a healthy understanding of the relationship between marriage, sex, and theosis. In a document entitled the "Constitutions of the Holy Apostles" it is noted that "a husband, therefore, and a wife, when they company together in lawful marriage and rise from one another may pray without any observations and without washings are clean. But whoever corrupts and defiles another man's wife or is defiled with a harlot when he arises up from her, even if he should wash himself in the entire ocean and all the rivers, cannot be clean." (Props to Minor Clergy)

Unlike Archimandrite Luke's disdain of marital sexuality and the traditionalists reliance on a very western understanding of sexuality, the Church clearly teaches that the sexual relationship between a man and a woman crowned in the sacrament of Marriage is blessed by God and does not a priori hinder the couple from the fullness of the spiritual life.

In Part II, I will examine some of the specific comments made in the article concerning Paul Evdokimov and raise some questions of my own about what they may indicate.

:: Karl :: 8:07:00 AM [Link] ::

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