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:: Monday, January 03, 2005 ::

Sex, Marriage and Theosis: Part II

Part I and the article in question for those late to the discussion.

Archimandrite Luke claims Evdokimov (in a section of "The Sacrament of Love" concerning contraception) "has successfully excluded the spiritual father from any 'interference' in this aspect of the married couple's life."

Not quite. Evdokimov is simply noting that the spiritual father can't rule the couple's relationship in dictatorial fashion and shouldn't give married couples counsel based solely on the narrow view that (as the postscript claims) "conjugal relations within marriage are blessed only for the sake of procreation."

The truth of the matter is that, sans a more complete definition, this narrow (and very Roman Catholic) understanding of marital sexuality *nor* the gradual acceptance of contraception are healthy expressions of the Church's teaching about marriage and sex. Evdokimov appears in places to err on the side of the latter, but in historical context one can see it as an attempt to combat the errors of the former. In any case Evdokimov's comments are certainly not, as Archimandrite Luke believes, a good example of the dreaded "deification of carnal relations."

Later in the article Archimandrite Luke wonders if Evdokimov "hopes for their growth towards spiritual maturity ('the spouses harmonious growth in charisms'), how can they progress without any direction?"

But where does Evdokimov ever say that married couples don't need spiritual direction? There is a subtle but important difference between authoritarian "interference" and pastoral "direction." The questions mount quickly here:

1) Do we, or do we not, believe that marriage is a sacrament and that the grace of Crowning makes married life a path to theosis equal to that of a monastic and that the union of man and women in the life of the Church should be informed but not subserviently defined by a particular strand of Athonite monasticism?

2) Can a spiritual father encourage the faithful to accept "the perfect way" (for example, no contraception) of their own free will without denigrating marriage or simply procreation?

As I noted earlier, one of reasons I admire Evdokimov is that he wasn't afraid to explore ways of bringing a healthy monastic vision and praxis into the life of the parish/laity without subsuming one vocation into the other. Yes, he was a product of the Parisian school which clearly colors some of his views. However, the only alternative was (and continues to be) a certain vocal and active sector of the traditionalist school that sees in marriage nothing but weakness and sin. Too often I have a hard time deciding which side is missing the boat. Too often they seem like equal and opposite sides of the same flawed coin.

The fact is we will not have healthy marriages without a vibrant monastic movement in America that actually informs our praxis, including our sexuality. This is one lesson the more "liberal" Orthodox (especially new converts) need to accept. As I noted in Part I, I sympathize with the traditionalist fears concerning certain ramifications of American Orthodoxy taking its cues from post-Enlightenment culture and western Christendom rather than the historic teachings of the Orthodox Church.

Conversely, those on the side of Archimandrite Luke need to open their minds to the idea that traditional, celibate Athonite monasticism is not the only way to be fully Orthodox and that stubborn insistence in this direction will cripple the spiritual growth of the married laity by forcing on them a vocation and a particular model of orthopraxy they are not called to.

Update: Cparks adds some excellent commentary on this issue. He, like Clifton in the comments here, "thinks we overemphasize [the] importance [of sex] if we treat it any differently than we do food..."

Update 2: The Lutherans at Here We Stand are debating the question: "Can one have any sort of practice of virginity (such as Christ envisions in Mat. 19:12 and Paul recommends in 1 Corinthians 7; cf. Acts 21:9) without forbidding to marry (1 Tim. 4:13) or treating sexual desire within marriage as a venial sin?"

:: Karl :: 7:20:00 AM [Link] ::

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