Moral Issues

Insights into Contemporary Problems

Circumcision     

It is known that Jews and Moslems practice circumcision for religious reasons. Some physicians deem circumcision necessary for reasons of health and cleanliness. The Orthodox Church does not prohibit circumcision so long as it is not practiced for spiritual or religious reasons. Orthodox believers are not bound by the lapsed Law of Moses.

Suicide

No believer is permitted to take the life of another and likewise cannot take his own life. Suicide is murder, self-inflicted and therefore a grave sin. Committing suicide signifies a loss in the perception of the goodness of our heavenly Father and shows that patience, hope and faith in God has been lost. A person of faith, regardless how great the difficulties he or she faces, must never resort to suicide as a so-called solution to problems in life. Orthodoxy denies Christian burial of one who knowingly commits suicide. Only when a physician certifies that such a sad victim of circumstances has indeed lost sanity entirely does the Church permit the final obsequities be celebrated with recourse to the diocesan hierarch, mandatory in such cases.

Euthanasia-Mercy Killing            

The Orthodox Church has since time immemorial honored life and exalted the faithful believer as a child of God. Those who themselves plan and others who participate with them in the destruction of life place themselves outside the salutary grace of Christ and His Church. If the victim has given advance consent to such a heinous practice, Christian burial is excluded and no memorials or Divine Liturgies may be celebrated for the repose of such a soul unless it may be medically proved the individual in question was totally depraved and psychologically and spiritually bereft of normal good reason. Anyone who participates in assisting such a person is placing himself beyond the ability of the Church to redeem him and is guilty of actual murder. The ordinary canonical and Scriptural penalties are to be invoked in such cases which provide for a denial of Christian burial, sacramental participation unless and until remorse and repentance are evidenced in the Sacrament of Reconciliation in which absolution can only be granted with the express consent of the hierarch of the diocese.              

The Church accompanies its faithful from even before birth, through all the steps of life to death and beyond, with its prayers, rites, sacraments, preaching, teaching, and its love, faith and hope. All of life, and even death itself, are drawn into the realm of the life of the Church. Death is seen as evil in itself, and symbolic of all those forces which oppose God-given life and its fulfillment. Salvation and redemption are normally understood in Eastern Christianity in terms of sharing in Jesus Christ's victory over death, sin and evil through His Crucifixion and His Resurrection. The Orthodox Church has a very strong pro-life stand which in part expresses itself in opposition to doctrinaire advocacy of euthanasia.               

Euthanasia is understood to be the view or practice which holds that a person has the right, and even the moral obligation, to end his or her life when it is considered to be - for whatever subjectively accepted reason - "not worth living." Euthanasia advocates nearly always include in this assertion the right and duty of others, including medical personnel, to assist the person in fulfilling this purpose. Needless to say, the Orthodox Church rejects such a view, seeing such behavior as a form of suicide on the part of the individual, and a form of murder on a part of others who assist in this practice, both of which are seen as sins. Thus the Orthodox Church, in the words of 1976 Christmas encyclical of former Archbishop Iakovos, considers "euthanasia and abortion, along with homosexuality ... a ... moral alienation." Modern medical practice, however, has affected another part of the Church's perspective. The Church does not expect that excessive and heroic means must be used at all costs to prolong dying, as has now become possible through technical medical advances. As current Orthodox theology expresses it: "The Church distinguishes between euthanasia and the withholding of extraordinary means to prolong life. It affirms the sanctity of human life and man's God-given responsibility to preserve life. But it rejects an attitude which disregards the inevitability of physical death."            This means that the Church may even pray that terminally ill persons die, without insisting that they be subjected to unnecessary and extraordinary medical efforts. At the same time, the Church rejects as morally wrong any willed action on the part of an individual to cause his or her own death or the death of another, when it otherwise would not occur.

Organ Donations             

Orthodoxy praises the deep and profound love its communicants express in offering parts of themselves beyond death as a contribution to the life sustaining forces of another person.  As long as those donors and physicians exert every effort to show reverence for the remains of the donor and the donor is clear in his intentions that life be improved and bettered for the recipient, Orthodoxy praises such caring individuals. In advance of such an occasion and opportunity, the donor is encouraged to unite himself in prayer that his offering be worthily accepted before the throne of the Eternal Father and in the life and being of the recipient. The body and organs of a donor should not be offered for experimentation but solely for the life and good health of a fellow human being.

Autopsy              

When the cause of illness has not been diagnosed, physicians with the permission of the nearest responsible relative, generally conduct an autopsy which is also required in some cases by civil law. Often an autopsy leads to enlightenment for the physicians in treating future similar cases. Because of this, Orthodoxy does not oppose the autopsy of its deceased members. Because the human body of a believer is the temple of the Holy Spirit, we must insist that those who perform such medical procedures accord the utmost respect to the earthly remains.

Cremation of the Dead

Various groups, instead of burial, prefer the cremation of the dead, which was customary among many ancient people. The Orthodox Church, mindful of the fact that the human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, imitates the practice of the Lord in His earthly burial for the disposition of the bodies of its faithful believers. Believers do not deliberately destroy the body in life or in death. We imitate the practice of the martyrs, the saints and the Old Covenant Church. Consequently, cremation is contrary to the faith and tradition of our Church and is expressly forbidden to Orthodox believers. A church funeral is denied a person who has been or will be cremated. Requiem services afterwards are also forbidden because the person in question has already abandoned all hope in the Lord and prayers are therefore useless for such a soul.

Abortion             

Since the Supreme Court has civilly legalized abortion in this nation, some remain confused about the teaching of the Church. Orthodox tradition has opposed this immoral practice as contrary to the will of God for mankind. Those who assist and those who participate in abortion sever themselves from the life of the Church and may not receive the Sacraments until they are reconciled through penance. Absolution may not be offered by the pastor until consultation has taken place with the hierarch of the diocese and the necessary reintegration into the life of the Church has taken place through spiritual counseling and repentance and confession of this heinous sin.

AIDS Victims     

The recent spread of the AIDS virus has provoked much concern throughout the world and for Orthodox Christians, as well. The Orthodox address this question on several levels. First, the Church always looks upon those who are ill with compassion, and prays for healing. We encourage the medical profession to continue seeking for the appropriate medications to heal this disease. But at the same time, we note that the major causes for the spread of this disease are behaviors which the Church has always taught are immoral and ought not to be practiced: homosexual behavior, promiscuity, and narcotic drugs (the use of contaminated needles). Love and caring for all persons provokes the Church to re-affirm its teaching. The best prevention against the AIDS virus is virtue.           Some have raised the question of possible contamination through the Communion Spoon and the possible change of the method for administering Holy Communion. There have been other methods for the administration of the Sacrament in the Church, in the past. In principle, therefore, the method could change again. Nevertheless, several strong reasons would argue against it. Theologically, the Orthodox Church cannot accept that the Sacrament would be a source of illness, since it teaches that it is a "medicine of immortality." Further, not one single case of the transmission of any illness has been shown empirically as coming from participation in the Sacrament. In addition, scientific evidence points to another reason for this as well: it appears that saliva inhibits the transmission of all kinds of microbes, including the AIDS virus (Journal of the American Dental Association, May, 1988). Should the Church change its method of administering the sacrament, it should do so for its own reasons and not those provoked by unreasonable fear.              

This vast epidemic in our very midst is reason for alarm and pity for faithful believers. While Orthodoxy does condemn the activity of so many who are so afflicted, it does excite its faithful believers to pity and soulful concern for the victims. We must bear in mind that while we abhor the sin, we continue to love the sinner. In those circumstances where it is obvious, reconciliation with Christ must take place in the Sacraments only when remorse and repentance are present. In such cases, Christian burial is permitted.

Questions on Sexual Issues       

The teaching of the Orthodox Church on sexual questions is strongly determined by the Church's attitude toward marriage and the family. A representative Orthodox statement which shows the centrality and importance of the family in Orthodox thinking is found in an encyclical letter by former Archbishop Iakovos of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, issued on the occasion of National Family Week in 1972. He stated: "Home and family life is the bedrock of our Orthodox life-style. The spirit that binds us together as a people finds its deepest roots in the home where the tenderest values of human existence, love, compassion, forbearance and mutual helpfulness thrive in abundance."

Over the centuries and throughout most cultures and civilizations the family has been proven to be the unifying unit of society. Today we find the family under attack both from within and from without. Outside forces would have us believe that the family as we have come to know and cherish it is no longer necessary. From within, the erosion of spiritual values and emphasis upon materialism has created for many families confusion and uncertainty where commitment and dedication once reigned. Marriage is holy. The home is sacred. Birth is a miracle. In these we find the very meaning of life itself.

One aspect of the "commitment and dedication" of the holy state of marriage and family is cast in terms of sexual behavior. Most moral questions relating to sex are generally best understood in the light of this high regard for marriage and the family. Some of the questions on sexual issues addressed by the Orthodox Church are the following:  

1.  The Orthodox Church remains faithful to the biblical and traditional norms regarding premarital sexual relations between men and women. The only appropriate and morally fitting place for the exercise of sexual relations, according to the teachings of the Church, is marriage. The moral teaching of the Church on this matter has been unchanging since its foundation. In sum, the sanctity of marriage is the cornerstone of sexual morality. The whole range of sexual activity outside marriage - fornication, adultery and homosexuality - are thus seen as not fitting and appropriate to the Christian way of life. Like the teaching on fornication, the teachings of the Church on these and similar issues have remained constant. Expressed in Scripture, the continuing Tradition of the Church, the writings of the Church Fathers, the Ecumenical Councils and the canons, these views have been restated by theologians, hierarchs and local Orthodox churches in our own day. For example, the Decalogue prohibits adultery. In the tradition of the Church, the second-century Epistle of Barnabas commands "Thou shalt not be an adulterer, nor a corrupter, nor be like to them that are such." The fourth-century Church Father St. Basil wrote against the practice (Canons 35 and 77); and the Quinisext Council (A.D. 691) repeated the same condemnation in its eighty-seventh canon. All major Orthodox jurisdictions in the United States have had occasion to repeat the condemnation of adultery.

 2. Generally stated, fornication, adultery, abortion, homosexuality and any form of abusive sexual behavior are considered immoral and inappropriate forms of behavior in and of themselves, and also because they attack the institution of marriage and the family. Two representative statements, one on abortion and another on homosexuality, from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America follow. They are from the Twenty-Third Clergy-Laity Congress held in Philadelphia in 1976. The Orthodox Church has a definite, formal and intended attitude toward abortion. It condemns all procedures purporting to abort the embryo or fetus, whether by surgical or chemical means. The Orthodox Church brands abortion as murder; that is, as a premeditated termination of the life of a human being. The only time the Orthodox Church will reluctantly acquiesce to abortion is when the preponderance of medical opinion determines that unless the embryo or fetus is aborted, the mother will die. Decisions of the Supreme Court and State legislatures by which abortion, with or without restrictions, is allowed should be viewed by practicing Christians as an affront to their beliefs in the sanctity of life. The position of the Orthodox Church toward homosexuality has been expressed by synodicals, canons and patristic pronouncements beginning with the very first centuries of Orthodox ecclesiastical life. Thus, the Orthodox Church condemns unreservedly all expressions of personal sexual experience which prove contrary to the definite and unalterable function ascribed to sex by God's ordinance and expressed in man's experience as a law of nature. The Orthodox Church believes that homosexuality should be treated by religion as a sinful failure. In both cases, correction is called for. Homosexuals should be accorded the confidential medical and psychiatric facilities by which they can be helped to restore themselves to a self-respecting sexual identity that belongs to them by God's ordinance. In full confidentiality the Orthodox Church cares and provides pastorally for homosexuals in the belief that no sinner who has failed himself and God should be allowed to deteriorate morally and spiritually. Psychiatric reconciliation is bound to prove short-lived. Marriage is only conducted and recognized in the Orthodox Church as taking place between a man and a woman. Same-sex marriages are a contradiction in terms. The Orthodox Church does not allow for same-sex marriages.

3.   The possible exception to the above affirmation of continuity of teaching is the view of the Orthodox Church on the issue of contraception. Because of the lack of a full understanding of the implications of the biology of reproduction, earlier writers tended to identify abortion with contraception. However, of late a new view has taken hold among Orthodox writers and thinkers on this topic, which permits the use of certain contraceptive practices within marriage for the purpose of spacing children, enhancing the expression of marital love, and protecting health.

Cohabitation    

It is a misnomer to call these relationships "marriages" because they are in truth an attempt to secure social approval for a sexual escapade under the cloak and seeming commitment and pretext of marriage. Those involved in such experiments cannot receive the Sacraments of the Church as they voluntarily place themselves beyond the ability of the Church to save their souls. They who wish to enter a valid marriage must agree to separate and abstain from any sexual activity. They must immediately avail themselves of the Sacrament of Reconciliation in which they express sincere remorse and repentance satisfactory to the priest/confessor for this public scandal in their lives. A public wedding for people who live together beforehand would appear by the Church to give tacit approval and blessing to such an unacceptable and immoral practice. In all cases of cohabitation, the marriage may be solemnized privately and prudently with only two witnesses present and after considerable care is exercised pastorally that the two individuals will in fact be faithful to Christ in the future. There must be a separation fixed by the pastor prior to the sacramental marriage and evidence must be given they are living apart and not sexually associated. Only in cases where a child is the result of such an immoral life can an exception be made.

Homosexuality

However dismayed, the Holy Church approaches this problem as one of a deep and profound personality and moral disorder that is based upon an erroneous perception of God's creation. She nevertheless embraces those who recognize the sinfulness in their lives and with a serious and sincere effort make every effort to permit God's grace to lead them to salvation. Those afflicted must recognize an abandonment of sinful inclination must be made. This is possible only in the life of the Church. With the assistance of a devoted spiritual confessor and whatever psychological assistance might be deemed necessary, the church is eager to integrate such souls into her life. Although the behavior many times may be reoriented, it is understood the elementary problem may always persist, but the grace of the Holy Spirit, readily available in the Sacraments of the Church makes up for what is wanting in the individual. Christians in Orthodoxy may not live this lifestyle. There is no acceptability of homosexual behavior or activity within the life of the Church of Christ simply because it is contrary to nature itself and is characterized in God's Revelation as idolatrous. We once again are called upon to hate the robbery, but love the thief. Holy Mother Church always embraces into the treasure of her soul those who are repentant, but never the sin or cause of sin into the treasury of Her holy wisdom. The homosexual, therefore, to be faithful to Christ and the promise of salvation, must abandon the lifestyle and practice of gross immorality and assume voluntarily the life of chastity for the glory of Christ and the good of their own soul. The absolute necessity of a spiritual confessor is mandatory. Those who persist in this practice cannot receive the sacraments and will be refused Christian burial because of the scandal their lifestyle arouses in faithful believers.

Bodily Integrity

Faithful believers must be desirous of preserving their bodily integrity. Our heavenly Father has created us in His own image. Although sin has destroyed our likeness to Him, it is our Christian vocation which prompts us to restore it in the life of the Church. Except for extreme medical reasons, it is not permitted an Orthodox believer to submit to vasectomies and tubal ligations for the express reason of inhibiting procreative ability. This violates the image of the body of man and woman as we received it from our Creator and which we are called upon in our Orthodox Christian vocation to return intact and integral, if this is His will, at the time of departure from this vale of tears. Only in those cases where professional physicians warrant such procedures to avert life-threatening circumstances, are they accepted by the spiritual life of the Church of Christ.

The Church and Politics          

Though there are many names by which the Orthodox Church is known, perhaps the most hallowed name is that which is used to designate the Church in the Nicene Creed - "... One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church." The Orthodox hold that this phrase precisely describes the Orthodox Church. What each of these words means in its fullness is the subject of many deep and thoughtful theological articles and books.       The word "catholic" in this name of the Church has provoked many such efforts at understanding. It can and does mean the universal perspective and outreach of the Church, which transcends national, racial and cultural boundaries. It can and does imply, as well, the outlook of the Church toward the created world and toward human affairs, which refuses to accept a compartmentalized self-understanding that restricts the interests and concerns of the Church to a narrowly defined "religious sphere."     The Orthodox Church, throughout its history, has both used and encouraged the arts,

 


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