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Marital/sexual relations on feast and on fast days


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#1 Nemanja

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Posted 06 August 2012 - 01:18 PM

Before I begin, I want to say that I've read the thread http://www.monachos....-during-fasting and I understand the answer given by father David Moser:

The canons of the Church are indeed guidelines, something not to be treated legalistically, which are applied usually in moderation *by the bishop or the priest to each person* according to each person's disposition and circumstances in such a manner as to be beneficial to the healing of the soul and each person's salvation.

I have further questions, and they are related not only to sexual relations on fast days, but also to those relations on feast days. Even though it is not mentioned as often as the issue of fasting days, I have came across many passages in the Orthodox writings which deal with having sex on feast days.
1. In one of the texts on lives of the Saints, there was an example of a child who would have grown up to be a great sinner because his parents conceived him on Easter, but an angel took his life, so that he could be saved. I am sorry that I don't remember which Saint's life this was told in, but it is a famous example, as it is taken from an encounter with an angel who taught the Saint not to question God's judgments.
2. I remember how I read somewhere what Saint Kosmas of Ethol wrote, it was something about God punishing people who make love on Sunday with premature death and how He throws those people to Hell, and similar.
3. More recently, I read a text by a certain nun Eupraxia, from the Greek island Kalimnos. She passed away sometime around 1950. The text is a testimony of her near-death experience, which lasted for three days, and happened before she became a nun. Anyway, there was one point in the vision, where the nun saw a man and a woman in torment in some bed with flames. The explanation was that they "lived in debauchery and didn't respect feast days".
So, what is to be made of this? Should feast days be abstained? If so, which feast days?

I am aware that couples should abstain after receiving Communion, but there are two questions:
1. how long should they abstain after Communion?
2. what if they don't take Communion on a particular Sunday or a feast day? This is especially important because, as far as I know, for the last several centuries (before the 20th) frequent Communion wasn't practiced for laymen, yet these rules existed in the Church.

Also, some priests in the Serbian Church insist that marital fast applies to the evening before fast days, but I didn't see what their position is on making love on the evening of a fast day. If you abstain from sex on Thursday evening because tomorrow is Friday, should you also abstain on Friday evening?

To make things even more complicated, there is the issue of duration of a feast day. I read somewhere that a feast day doesn't end with an evening service for the following day, but that it extends to the morning of the next day. That would mean, for example, that if couples must abstain "on Sunday", that would mean abstaining from Saturday evening until Monday morning! Such a heavy burden to carry, frankly, I don't like it. :(

I am afraid to ask a priest on this matter, as I have seen instances of people (myself included) getting answers which seem to be either too liberal or too strict. Is there an official position of the Church on when marital ascetics should (or must) be practiced? My post is probably confusing, but it only illustrates confusion in my mind and my nous.

Could some of the fathers on this forum share their perspective?

#2 Father David Moser

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Posted 06 August 2012 - 02:11 PM

I am afraid to ask a priest on this matter, as I have seen instances of people (myself included) getting answers which seem to be either too liberal or too strict. Is there an official position of the Church on when marital ascetics should (or must) be practiced?


The issue here is that your questions are in fact pastoral matters that need to be answered by your priest for your situation. The general rule is that we abstain from marital relations at the same time as we keep a fast, thus that would be on Wednesdays and Fridays and on the eves of Feasts and Sundays. We also abstain from marital relations on the days on which we have received the Mysteries. I usually give the instruction that the "day" you receive the Mysteries ends after attending Vespers that evening (because we have entered the liturgical cycle for the next day) - but I don't recommend that people use this method for calculating fasting "days" but rather that it is more often "sleep to sleep" that is used for that. But again all this is subject to pastoral application and the spiritual father must take into account the spiritual situation of his spiritual child when making a personal rule.

Regarding pastoral spiritual instruction, I always like to recall the words of the Optina Elder St Macarius, "What I write to you, I wrote for you alone, and I must ask you to refrain from passing any of it on to others as a general rule of conduct for all. It is nothing of the kind. My advice to you is fashioned according to your inner and outer circumstances. Hence, it can be right only for you."

Fr David Moser

#3 John S.

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Posted 06 August 2012 - 02:41 PM

I am simply passing on what I found to be a helpful quote that was posted on a similar thread.

===========================
This discussion reminds me of a true story from my own experience.

Not long after we were married, my wife and I (I was a third year Seminarian at Jordanville then), were invited to have lunch by one of the old Russian couples that lived in the so-called "Russian village" about a mile from the monastery. We gladly accepted (we were so poor, we were subsisting mainly on macaroni, so any invitation "out" was deeply appreciated). After a wonderful Russian meal, the old "babushka" of the house took us over to the side and conspiratorily whispered: "I know you're recently married, but you do know, of course, the Church rules on when you can, and when you can't?" It was pretty clear what she was talking about, so we just politely
nodded.


She went on: "Well, you can't do it on Tuesday, because that's the eve of a fast day; you can't do it on Wednesday, because it's a fast day; you can't do it on Thursday, because that's the eve of a fast day, also; you obviously can't do it on Friday, because that's a fast day, too; you can't do it on Saturday, because that's the eve of a Feast Day, and you can't do it on Sunday, because that's a Feast Day."


"What about Monday?" I asked.


"Well, you can't do it on Monday, either, because of an old pious custom, since Monday is dedicated to the Bodiless Powers, the Angels, who are an example of purity--and it's also a fast day among monastics."


I asked the venerable Babushka, "And you followed these rules strictly when you were young and just married?"

"Oh, no," she replied, "We were young and foolish, and didn't know any better. . . "


The point of this story is that old babushkas are the first to point out restrictions that do not at all exist according to the Church. The scriptural admonition is for married couples *not* to deny each other sexual relations, except by mutual consent for the purpose of prayer and fasting.


Abstinence from sexual relations (by mutual consent) is certainly appropriate the evening before receiving the Holy Sacraments, and during the day that one receives them. It is certainly *not* an absolute "requirement" of the Church to abstain on all fast days (and on the eves of fast days), or during the 11 days after the Nativity when marriages are not permitted.


The Russian Church in the 13th century issued guidelines for married clergy on these issues, and they included as days of mandatory abstinence only the first and last week of Great Lent, the two weeks of Dormition Lent, and Wednesdays and Fridays during Nativity Lent and the Lent of the Holy Apostles.


The married state is blessed and the marriage bed is undefiled. The Holy Church in protecting the sanctity of marriage and the well-being of the spouses, as well as encouraging procreation and the raising of "fair children" has no interest in creating artificial impediments to preclude spouses from "rejoicing in one another."


If anyone wishes individual guidance on these matters, they should, of course, consult with their Spiritual Father.


With love in Christ,


Prot. Alexander Lebedeff


#4 Nemanja

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Posted 06 August 2012 - 05:36 PM

Thank you, Father, for your answer. If you will allow, I have two more questions, related to your answer.
1. If a person is not going to take Holy Communion on the next day, as far as I understand, he is not keeping the Liturgical fast on the eve before. So, what about having marital relations on Saturday evening if the couple is not going to take Communion on Sunday? The same goes for feast days. While on the subject, what about Easter? That is the greatest holiday of all. If the couple abstained during the Great Lent, and they took Communion on Easter, when can they have marital relations?
2. While I am aware that this is not the way how the Church observes time, I feel the need to ask you about a natural cycle of time which has a great influence over lives of people today, and that is the natural difference between weekdays and weekends. If a couple follows the advice which you gave here, and if I understood it correctly, a couple could have marital relations (during weekend) only on Saturday morning and Sunday evening, but never on Friday and Saturday evenings which are, actually, times of the week when people are most relaxed and finally have more time. People, I think, are naturally inclined to make love precisely then - Friday and/or Saturday evening. I would like to, humbly, ask you what you think about that, and if there is room for a priest's dispensation here.

John, I thank you too. I have already found that text, yet I feel it is somewhat too liberal...

#5 Father David Moser

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Posted 06 August 2012 - 06:25 PM

Thank you, Father, for your answer. If you will allow, I have two more questions, related to your answer.


Nemanja,
Your questions do not have a general answer - you must pose them to your own spiritual father who knows you and your situation. He is the one who will give you a rule that is in line with your spiritual state. I cannot (in fact no one can) give such personal advice over the internet without ever having met you. Perhaps if you move to my city and become a regular member of my parish and begin confessing to me and communing in my Church - then I could give you a rule. But that rule would be for you alone and not a general instruction.

Fr David Moser

#6 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 06 August 2012 - 07:10 PM

A situation may arise, may it not, in which the conscience (well-formed) of a person may lean towards a more strict approach to such a matter and the approach of the parish priest, in general, lean towards a more liberal approach which he applies to that person? Ought the priest to be aware of the leanings of the person and temper his advice accordingly? In other words, does it not behove a priest not to have his own modus operandi as his starting point but always to offer 'bespoke' guidance? I am sure we all know of priests whose leanings are one way or the other.

#7 Father David Moser

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Posted 07 August 2012 - 12:04 AM

A situation may arise, may it not, in which the conscience (well-formed) of a person may lean towards a more strict approach to such a matter and the approach of the parish priest, in general, lean towards a more liberal approach...


The priest must indeed be aware of his own leanings and must always remember them in the context of the person to whom he is talking. Remember though that the priest is also endowed with the grace of his ordination and that works in him in a supernatural manner (if he allows it) to overcome his "natural inclinations" and to give direction that is spiritually helpful. In the Orthodox Church, pastoral counseling and especially confession are all about the healing of the soul - not about helping people to feel better about themselves.

Fr David Moser

#8 Michael Albert

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Posted 14 August 2012 - 02:08 AM

Is there any type of general rule or canon that addresses whether a married couple can have relations during pregnancy?

#9 Paul Cowan

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Posted 14 August 2012 - 02:44 AM

That would fall under "mama's" cannon. It's sometimes accomodatable if the husband has an ample supply of pickles and chocolate cake handy.

I think these 9 months, mama has total discresction as to whether or not anything "relationship" wise will happen or not. This probably falls under St. Paul's admonition of not neglecting each other except through common consent. I think "dad" should consent whenever mama says to.

Paul

#10 Jean-Serge

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Posted 08 February 2013 - 04:12 PM

Is there any type of general rule or canon that addresses whether a married couple can have relations during pregnancy?

 

Well it is a sin as far as I remember. In his Manual of Confession, Saint Nikodemos says that this may cause miscarriage and consequently make the husband murderer of his own children. But I can't find now the sources explaining it is a sin.



#11 Honora Holmes

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Posted 21 February 2013 - 02:09 PM

Well it is a sin as far as I remember. In his Manual of Confession, Saint Nikodemos says that this may cause miscarriage and consequently make the husband murderer of his own children. But I can't find now the sources explaining it is a sin.

 

Our parish priest told us this when my husband and I were first married. I pointed out to him however that scientifically this is simply not true and known now to not be true. When a woman is truly at risk from sex to cause a miscarriage her OB or midwife will tell her so and put her on pelvic rest. But in general in normal pregnancies there is absolutely no risk. Just like walking around is no risk to a normal pregnancy.



#12 Father David Moser

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Posted 21 February 2013 - 10:02 PM

Alternatively, one thing I have heard about this is that when one has marital relations during a pregnancy that the passions of those relations are received by the child thus affecting his ability to resist those passions during his life. Having said that, I must also point out that I tend to be very cautious (not skeptical - but certainly cautious) in how I interpret those ideas in pastoral situations.  I can't say it's not true - since my own spiritual discernment is pretty rudimentary - but neither can I say that it is false.

 

Fr David



#13 Marianthy

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Posted 26 February 2013 - 11:04 PM

Even before I had a Spiritual Father, we were taught by our mothers and grandmothers that we had to be "clean" to partake in Communion, both body and soul. meaning free from passions. We were also told that when we fast, we don't pick and choose rules as if we were going to a buffet. 

 

As always, Father Moser has enlightened this conversation, having more knowledge than myself on the subject. It comes down to what your rule is as laid out by your Spiritual Father. I know many people feel embarrassed to speak of these things with your Sp. Fthr., but you have to go into confession not holding back. What's the point of confession if you don't? Priests and Monks do know of things of the world. You don't have to give details, of course! :)

 

Humbly,

Marianthy

the worst of sinners.



#14 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 27 February 2013 - 12:17 AM

I have no knowledge or experience of such matters but the idea of sexual intercourse during pregnancy strikes me as wrong.  The foetus is a person with a soul and its development, at least its psychological development, may be affected by all sorts of factors, and as Orthodox Christians we should not be guided by scientific opinions alone.  The all-round well-being of a child in utero should be the first priority.



#15 Kevin T. Wall

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Posted 25 May 2013 - 07:57 AM

I have also heard that sex during pregnancy is 'wrong' because the child may somehow 'witness' the act and thus become corrupted, or something along those lines. I don't know where this idea came from, but it seems wrong. If the marriage bed is truly undefiled, then why can't one have sex with one's wife while she's pregnant? My guess is that rules against sex during pregnancy arose due to the fact that a woman cannot conceive while pregnant, ergo sex during pregnancy was somehow immoral as it did not involve conception. But please, married life is hard enough without these kinds of arbitrary restrictions. I think they should be dropped.

#16 Kevin T. Wall

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Posted 25 May 2013 - 07:59 AM

I have no knowledge or experience of such matters but the idea of sexual intercourse during pregnancy strikes me as wrong.  The foetus is a person with a soul and its development, at least its psychological development, may be affected by all sorts of factors, and as Orthodox Christians we should not be guided by scientific opinions alone.  The all-round well-being of a child in utero should be the first priority.

Andreas,

If married sex is not sinful, why would the fetus be negatively impacted by it? Was that not how he or she was conceived, after all? This makes no sense to me.

Edited by Kevin T. Wall, 25 May 2013 - 07:59 AM.


#17 Kevin T. Wall

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Posted 25 May 2013 - 08:34 AM

As for Nicodemos, here is what Wikipedia says about the canons of the faster, which he includes in his confession manual:

Sodomy between husband and wife was penanced more severely than sodomy between unmarried males (eight years of exclusion from communion rather than just four).

I don't know what 'sodomy' means here, but if married sex between husband and wife is punished more severely than homosexual perversion, something is clearly wrong. I don't know that I would accept this confession manual without caution or hesitation.

Edited by Kevin T. Wall, 25 May 2013 - 08:34 AM.


#18 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 25 May 2013 - 09:48 AM

Dear Kevin,


Regarding sexual intercourse during pregnancy, I do not know if the Church has guidance about this, but as Orthodox Christians we do know that we do not decide things according to our own will and initiative but rather we take spiritual counsel from one competent to give it.  Such counsel may include taking medical advice as well in this particular matter.  You refer to ‘arbitrary restrictions’ but I am unaware of any restrictions in this matter, though if the Church does have restrictions then they are not arbitrary.  What we ‘think’ is neither here nor there.


Sex is not sinful but it is an aspect of our fallen state.  Sex is not only for procreation but to unite a married couple ‘like perfume and ointment’ as I think St John Chrysostom said.  But we are nevertheless to avoid sex for a number of reasons just as we avoid food at times.  Thus, sex on the eve of taking Holy Communion and on the day of taking it is not permitted as I assume everyone knows.  Abstention even from things which are not sinful is recommended by the Church at the times prescribed for our spiritual well-being.


'Sodomy between husband and wife’ refers to intercourse per anum which is not permitted.



 

 



 



#19 Max Percy

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Posted 25 May 2013 - 02:01 PM

It seems to me that before you can get to these kinds of questions there has to be some clarity about what is married sex "for", what does it mean?

 

Is the presumption that it is such an overwhelming good that it should be engaged in frequently?

Or is the presumption that it is only "permissible" in certain conditions/circumstances?

Obviously, your starting point there may tend to rather different answers.

Why is one the starting point and not the other, or some other third place?

 

Further, it strikes me, as an american, that american society is so screwed up about sex on so many levels, that the presumption should be that if you are an american talking about sex,(me first and foremost) you are almost certainly wrong.



#20 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 25 May 2013 - 06:19 PM

From what I was taught and from what I have read, the Church's teaching on sex is clear.  As to what it is 'for', its purpose is within marriage for procreation and the uniting of a married couple in intimacy.  It should be practised with modesty and some restraint - certain things are not allowed.  It should have a spiritual dimension and not merely be the indulgence of carnal passion.  Spouses are to abstain from sex at those times the Church determines, notably the prescribed fasting periods.  A married couple should be guided by their spiritual father.  Not very complicated.  As in anything else, to the extent that people fall short of what the Church teaches, they confess their shortcomings.






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