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Homosexuality, ascesis and human nature


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#21 Owen Jones

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Posted 21 October 2004 - 08:44 PM

The story of Adam and Eve go a long way toward a rational understanding of why things are the way they are. The essential ingredient is that suffering and death, which we all experience in some sense as not right, unjust, unnatural, is not the result of some failure on God's part, but our fault. Those are the only two alternatives.

Otherwise, God is limited in intelligence, power, goodness or foresight, and the conceit is that had we gotten there first, we would have created things much better. In fact, the entire modern project is predicated on this conceit.

The pre-philosophic Greek understanding of tragedy and sin is that the gods are tricksters who are always fighting among themselves, trying to outsmart each other, vainglorious and vengeful toward each other, and when bad things happen on earth, it's because the god's are fueding among us and get us caught up in their squabbles. The magical view is that disease, death, injustice, suffering are caused by evil curses, and to deflect these evil curses one must propitiate the demons through various sacrifices and incantations.

We get hung up on the specifics of the Genesis story and tend to forget how much it is an advance in man's revealed knowledge. It goes as far as it is possible to go in our understanding. It is a compact, cosmogonic myth, upon which everything else in Christianity depends for its meaning, including the Incarnation, the Cross, the Resurrection, the whole thing. A true understanding of Christian theology depends on a true understanding of Creation.


#22 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 22 October 2004 - 02:49 PM

What I said on Wednesday needs balancing. God does not create anything sinful but on the other hand there is original sin. At the time I wasn't sure how to balance the two in such a specific situation as we were discussing. But I came across this from Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos this morning and I think it is very useful to the discussion: "we can speak of inheritance of sin and of the ancestral sin, which man inherits at birth. In this sense too we can speak of the catholicity of the fall of man."

In this sense we are all born with sinful inclinations. But we must be very careful when we use the language of society. When it was said above, "There is evidence that it is not a social choice but is something which one is born with." Usually society means to say that we are born by nature in such a fashion. The problem with this is that theologically as I see it, if we are really born by nature like this then how could it justifiably be called sin and how could we ever struggle against it? In this case society's assumptions would actually be correct-what the Church calls sin is actually an inherent part of human nature (at least for that person) and it is useless- in a sense even anti-human- to fight against such tendencies.

Again we come back to the question of language which has often been brought up at monachos. If we must use the phrase, "born like that" in the way used above it is crucial to understand that we are referring to original sin & not nature. When we would say "born like that" we fully assume a struggle against the sin we are born with. So when we would say, "it is not a social choice" there is an important nuance that even though we are born with sinful inclinations we still have free will. In this sense it is very much a "social choice"

An important added note which applies to all struggles of this sort. To relate these struggles to free will is not to deny the difficulty of the struggle. Our Orthodox interpretation of free will should not translate as simply saying, "it's just a matter of exerting yourself." This is false in many cases & is a materialist/worldly interpretation of free will as if it is just a matter of getting into the car and turning on the key. From an Orthodox understanding the free will is not simply exerted in a certain direction- rather it must be transfigured through humility & repentance so that it is reborn. It is chiefly in this sense that the will becomes free of its shackles of death.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#23 Guest_Andrea

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Posted 06 November 2004 - 03:29 AM

Father, bless.

So repentance from the passions means to deny them, right? But isn't that an act of the will? I'm having trouble differentiating between mystical transformation into His likeness (evidenced by displaying more virtues) by the prayer of the heart, and trying to change bad habits, such as speaking to my children disrespectfully. Sorry if this should not be in the monastics folder, but I also have trouble differentiating the monastic struggle from how we are all called to struggle against sinful temptations.


#24 Moses Anthony

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Posted 06 November 2004 - 03:13 PM

Dear Andrea,

Please forgive my intrusion into your conversation with Fr.Raphael.

I couldn't help but notice that you differentiate between and "bad habits" and sin. We look at a lot of things as "normal", or as habits which are in reality sins, the very things which we struggle against to attain the virtues of godliness.

Dispassion, or in layman's terms, the state of not being tempted by the normal passions of the body, is not just a monastic struggle. The only difference is that the ascetic struggle of the monk is more focused, as all the various distractions we're so used to, are absent.

The Apostle Peter's second epistle to the Aisian Church is informative. Remember Peter had a wife, but look at the things which he wrote to them to "...add to their faith..." in the first chapter. They are no different than what a monk struggles to attain, in the community of brother monks, instead of in the secular world. The indictment is in the words, "For he who lacks these things is shortsighted, even to blindness, and has forgotten that he was purged from his old sins." The Apostle Paul talks of these sins, not bad habits; anger, wrath malice, slander abusive speech, bitterness, and by negative comparison to love in 1Cor. 13 numerous others. James mentions jealousy and selfish ambition as catalysts of "...disorder and every evil thing." Again, they were not writing to monks, but to brothers and sisters in the faith. compare the list of Galatians 5:22-26 with that of 2nd Peter 1:1-9. Paul says,"... against such there is no law....", while Peter proclaims "...for if these things are yours and abound you will neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." (the NASB says increasing, where the NKJV says abound).

Just in case I may have confused you with all the "extra stuff", the bottom line is this: The opposite of the virtues which we struggle to attain is sin, many of which we rationalize away as "bad habits". Therefore, without regard to settings, the ascetic struggle is always the same, victory over the flesh, the world, and the devil,or DISPASSION / THEOSIS.

the sinful and unworthy servant

#25 Guest_Andrea

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Posted 06 November 2004 - 04:33 PM

Thank you James for your answer.

I'm sorry I wasn't clear. I'm new to Orthodoxy and it's language. I do equate "bad habits" with sin. In fact, probably the sins we struggle against the most are habitual sins. I have 3 (of which I am currently most painfully aware) that I can't seem to conquer. You accurately described the one that hurts my children the most - "anger, wrath malice, slander abusive speech, bitterness".

But in conquering our passions, or acheiving "DISPASSION / THEOSIS", is it more a struggle of our will, or a result of practicing the prayer of the heart? Or both?

What is the best method when we feel these passions arise?


#26 Gregory Erickson

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Posted 06 November 2004 - 04:57 PM

Andrea,

The short answer to your question is both. I want to defer the bulk of the response to my betters, but perhaps I might be allowed to point you to a couple of books that have helped me out in the past:

"The Arena" by St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, and "The Art of Prayer" by the Igumen Chariton of Valamo. If I'm not mistaken, both of these books can be found on eighth day publisher's website

http://www.eighthdaybooks.com

Perhaps your priest can recommend to you someone who would be a good spiritual parent. The books are very helpful, but even they recommend using them alongside frequent confession, communion, and spending time asking questions of your spiritual parent(s).

It is as the Apostle says: "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for God is at work in you, both to will and to do according to His purposes."

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#27 Owen Jones

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Posted 06 November 2004 - 05:24 PM

Rooting out habitual sin is a lot like rooting out violent crime in a big city like New York. You don't wait for a murder to take place. You arrest the guy who is painting graffiti on buildings or busting windows. Arrest them right away, charge them, convict them of a small crime, put them in the county jail, and hope that they have learned their lesson by the time they get out. This nipping of crime in the bud was extremely successful in NYC over a decade in reducing major crime like violent assault, rape, murder, etc.

We must attack habitual sin within in exactly the same manner. We must be constantly on guard, monitoring our thoughts, and as any hint of anger or resentment or self-centered fear begins to creep into our consciousness, we have to cast it out through prayer, immediate confession to God, and through some kind of righteous actions that divert our attention away from the demon and toward God. In very, very small, seemingly insignificant things is this done. We must begin to recognize the states of consciousness and feelings that are precursors to these habitual sins. These are typically associated with some sort of inner agitation over something, like a bad memory, or something that has happened recently that we cannot accept or tolerate, or that we deem threatening to our self-esteem. This inner agitation is almost always the precursor to some sort of habitual sin. If we wait and lose it we are befuddled because we think we have been working hard to fight the sin, and when we are unsuccessful we feel disheartened. But it is because we are not paying attention to the little things. It's like a homeowner who is penny wise and pound foolish regarding annual upkeep on his house. Over five or ten years he discovers that his foundation is rotted from termites and he needs a new roof.

It's the daily maintenance that matters. That way, we can lay our heads on the pillow each night knowing the feeling of daily victory over the demons in the small things. That gives us strength and hope.

You are not going to find a priest who you can call everyday, several times a day, to be able to discuss your innermost thoughts. That is simply not going to happen, even though it might be the ideal. If possible, find another layman, or a small group of laymen willing to engage in this struggle together. Most clergy know nothing of the practical elements of the spiritual life. They only know the doctrinal elements they have been taught in seminary. So one problem is that when you go to your priest and make your confession about your big sins, he grants absolution, sends you on your way, and yet there remains this nagging feeling.

There is an excellent little guide published by the OCA that is a companion to the book on prayer by the Russian monk and saint, whose name escapes me, known as "the Recluse." I would recommend getting your hands on this and sharing it, patiently, with some other Church members, try to get the priests' blessing, and put together a small group that can share one another's burdens through this. There is no end point at which you "graduate."


#28 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 06 November 2004 - 05:45 PM

Dear Anrea,

What the others have written above is very good. We are called to find our Life in Christ and thus overcome the passions. And this struggle is common to us all. Even though the way of life of a monastic is distinct, its aim- Life in Christ- is common to all.

If I understand you correctly I would say that the beginning of the spiritual life is to struggle against what is sinful in ourselves; ie the passions. This is begun by exerting the will against things like anger, etc. We are helped in this struggle by participation in a sacramental life, attending services, prayer, spiritual reading and so on. But this is still not the end of our life in Christ. With this we have begun a life of self-denial (the ascetic life) but we still have not necessarily begun to attain our resurrection. Resurrection begins when the effort we make on a human level transforms into virtue. To give an example: we begin by restraining ourselves when angry. We struggle vs thoughts & feelings. Through this we are given the grace to continue and make this struggle fruitful by our spiritual life in the Church.

But the actual end is to feel love for those whom we felt driven to distraction by before. Certainly we cannot attain this love by human means. If a person insults and hurts you, you can only find love for them in Christ. And this is the actual aim of our spiritual life: love.

May I suggest that you read the Conversation of St. Seraphim of Sarov with Nicholas Motovilov? This is a wonderful book that goes into many of the above themes, & especially describes how the grace we strive for in our day to day spiritual life is the grace of the Holy Spirit.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#29 Guest_Andrea

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Posted 06 November 2004 - 05:56 PM

Thanks for your thoughtful, and wise replies, Gregory and Owen.

You both recommended a spiritual parent besides the priest. Mine has said he's a father confessor and not a spiritual father. His advice was to hug my kids when I got home from confession and tell them I love them. Which I'm sure helped from their end. People I've talked to say it's hard to find a spritual parent, that it's a rare thing these days. We go to an OCA church, and Mother Thecla has offered her email address. So maybe she has some recommendations. Our church is very small, and far away.

Owen, you hit the nail on the head in describing the nitty gritty that I'm looking for. And I think daily conversation with a wise, parental Orthodox person would help.

"We must begin to recognize the states of consciousness and feelings that are precursors to these habitual sins. These are typically associated with some sort of inner agitation over something, like a bad memory, or something that has happened recently that we cannot accept or tolerate, or that we deem threatening to our self-esteem."

This is the root of my agitation. How insightful. The world spends lots of money going to psychiatrists once a week for this type of discussion. But I think the answer is in Orthodoxy. And in monastics in particular. Reading is helpful, but it's one-way information. You can't tell the author your personal details and how they apply. Are monastics generally open to being lay-people's spiritual parents? I'm speaking generally here, I'm not fishing. Maybe I should try to develop this sort of relationship with a lay-person at my church instead. But since monks and nuns are so much more able to focus, and if they've achieved dispassion and theosis, they would seem to be the most therapeutic connection.

#30 Gregory Erickson

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Posted 06 November 2004 - 06:17 PM

Andrea,

I'd sure take Mother Thecia up on her offer!

Most importantly, pray and believe God will send someone to you that can be your spiritual parent, because the fact of the matter is that He will not leave you orphaned. He does not stir in us a desire for holiness and then abandon us.

His timing is His own, but He will not fail you.


#31 Guest_Andrea

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Posted 06 November 2004 - 06:21 PM

Fr. Raphael,

Also helpful:

"Resurrection begins when the effort we make on a human level transforms into virtue. To give an example: we begin by restraining ourselves when angry. We struggle vs thoughts & feelings. Through this we are given the grace to continue and make this struggle fruitful by our spiritual life in the Church."


You're saying, we restrain and He transforms? How I long for the resurrection you speak of, and to actually feel love instead. I have read St. Seraphim's conversation with Motovilov. In fact, y'all's (I'm from Texas) responses have been reminding me of St. Seraphim. I love how he changed from avoiding women in the beginning, then developed such a fatherly, loving, therapeutic nurturance of them after his "hermit" time. Is that a fair observation? I actually desire a spiritual father more than a spiritual mother, but as the Lord wills.

#32 Guest_Andrea

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Posted 06 November 2004 - 06:33 PM

"Most importantly, pray and believe God will send someone to you that can be your spiritual parent, because the fact of the matter is that He will not leave you orphaned. He does not stir in us a desire for holiness and then abandon us."


Gregory,

The thing I'm so thankful for in Orthodoxy is the communion of the Church. Where saints and brethren minister God to us in a supernatural, mystical way. Sola Scriptura/Sola meola is an orphaned position that has left me starving. I feel that you also have been given supernatural insight into the root of my agitation. A feeling of abandomnent, rejection, and of being a disconnected orphan. That's what St. Seraphim called the nuns. I was trying to remember that yesterday. Orphans. God is so good.

#33 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 06 November 2004 - 06:49 PM

Dear Andrea,

You wrote,

"we restrain and He transforms? How I long for the resurrection... and to actually feel love instead."


Yes it is by leading an active spiritual life that this transformation gradually occurs. Through this we learn the value of endurance; of getting up after falling down, over & over again. Gradually we do become aware of His love in how this transforms our lives.

Yes St Seraphim was the ultimate spiritual father. His love was a great radiance that transformed many lives. But this was based on his many years of struggle. And especially his love was based on humility gained through his struggle in Christ. As they say, "no blood, no Spirit."

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#34 Owen Jones

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Posted 06 November 2004 - 07:06 PM

I was trying to think of Theophan the Recluse's book How to Pray. There is a companion guide to this published by the OCA. A small group of laymen can work on this together. It is very fulfilling, if you can find a priest who will bless it without undermining it, since many priests are unfortunately very territorial about such things.


#35 Guest_Andrea

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Posted 06 November 2004 - 07:07 PM

Dear Fr. Raphael,

"And especially his love was based on humility gained through his struggle in Christ."


Now you're really stepping on my toes. I was feeling all sorry for myself, and now you bring up humility. Pride is another root of my angry feelings. Sin can be so complex! "How dare you kids act that way! If only you were more like me." Which brings up another question. We confess that we are the chiefest of sinners, yet I can't help but think there are those worse than me. How do we deal with that honestly?

#36 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 06 November 2004 - 07:55 PM

Dear Andrea,

You wrote,

"We confess that we are the chiefest of sinners, yet I can't help but think there are those worse than me. How do we deal with that honestly?"


By saying to ourselves honestly, "I still feel that others are worse than I. So I am not yet humble and not yet home." Or at least by having words or an attitude similar to this.

But it all takes time, God's time. If things came easily they would be of little worth. What we are striving for is beyond all price- eternal life in Christ, beginning even now.
God will respond to us in the way we need and beyond if we keep pursuing a life in Christ. Even when seen through our human eyes things seem lacking in the outer situation He will respond with exactly what we need- which is not always the same as what we want! The most important thing is to keep going; the worst thing is worldly indifference.

In Christ- Fr Raphael

#37 Owen Jones

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Posted 06 November 2004 - 08:15 PM

The answer is that we should not compare our sins to those of others at all, but only our own sins today to our sins yesterday.


#38 Guest_Andrea

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Posted 06 November 2004 - 08:41 PM

Dear Fr. Raphael,

Your references to "resurrected" love, and the "home" of the humble really strike a chord in my heart, and remind me somehow of Abraham in Heb 11:10:

"For he looked forward to the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.... having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city."

And your reminder of a slow, hard-won victory is sobering.

#39 Guest_Andrea

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Posted 06 November 2004 - 08:54 PM

Dear Owen,

Theophan the Recluse also seemed to have a place in his heart for nuns. Having extra meetings with some church people is a little difficult because it's hard to coordinate with everyone's schedule, and because of childcare issues. Also in my present circumstance, peaceful, unobtrusive, flexible internet communication is working right now. That is how I found Orthodoxy in the first place. Through a protestant christian forum.

I don't know about not comparing sins. If we have the right humble attitude about our own sins, then we would probably honestly not see ours as better or worse than others', even if we did put them side by side. Plus when you are responsible for disciplining others, you have to evaluate their sins.

#40 Guest_Sr Helen Stout OHP

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Posted 06 November 2004 - 09:00 PM

Fr Raphael
Thank you for your wise advice. I'm an Anglican nun and it seems to me that perseverence in our journey is the most crucial thing. In monastic life it is falling down, getting up and falling down again. Every day is a new beginning, and I've learned the hard way that giving in to self-pity and despair over our sins is not a great way of going on. St Benedict talks about Conversio Morum, the conversion of manners, every day I pray that every day I will be converted to Christ again and again. Sometimes I think that allowing ourselves to give in to despair/self-pity over our sinfulness is itself a sin. I don't know about this one, as I battle with this.

Please excuse an Anglican joining in this discussion but I've been reading the discussion boards on Monachos for a while and find them helpful and interesting. It's my first post on anything!




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