On Animals, Blood and Eating Meat (St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite)

NOTE: The following article is taken from The Rudder, pp. 199-201; 355-358:

St nikodemos 1


If any Bishop, or Priest, or Deacon, and all on the clerical list, eat meat in the blood of its soul, or that which a wild beast has killed, or that which has died a natural death, let him be deposed. For the Law has forbidden this. But if any layman does this, let him be excommunicated. (Canon LXVII of 6th Ecumenical Synod; Canon II of Ancyra; Acts 15:28-29.)

Noah's Ark


Because of the fact that even God in giving the law about food to Noah said to him: “Everything shall be food for you; like the green herb have I given you all things. But meat in the blood of its soul shall ye not eat” (Genesis 9:8-4), in the present Canon the divine Apostles ordain that any bishop, or priest, or deacon, or anyone else on the list of priests and clergymen, shall be deposed if he eat meat with blood — which is the animal’s soul, meaning strangled, according to Chrysostom; or if he should eat meat killed by a wild beast — that is, an animal caught and killed by a wolf, or by a bear, or by any other beast, or by a vulture; or if he should eat meat that has died a natural death — that is, a carcass that has died of itself. Any clergyman that is guilty of eating such flesh shall be deposed, since the Law too prohibits the eating of it,1 including both the law given to Noah, as we have said, and that given to Moses in Ch. 17 of Leviticus. If, however, the one who ate it should be a layman, he shall be excommunicated.


However, in the new Law of the Gospel such things are also not allowed to be eaten. For these same Apostles held a synod and wrote to the heathen inhabitants of Antioch and of Syria and of Cilicia the following words: “It has seemed right to the Holy Spirit and to us not to impose any further burden upon you, except what is necessary in these matters, that is: to abstain from eating food offered to idols, and blood, and fornication” (Acts 15:28-29). The reason why animals killed by wild beasts or preyed upon by vultures, and those which have died a natural death or which have been strangled are forbidden, is that not all their blood has been removed, but on the contrary, most of it remains in them, being scattered throughout the veins of all the meat,2 from which veins there is no way for it to escape. Therefore those who eat them are eating meat in the blood of its soul. Accordingly, Canon LXVII of the 6th Ecumenical Synod deposes any clergyman that eats blood in any manner or by any device whatever, while, on the other hand, it also excommunicates a layman for doing so. Canon II of Gangra also forbids the eating of blood and strangled flesh and food offered to idols.

Creation of the Animals (Icon by Fr. Luke Dingman)
Creation of the Animals (Icon by Fr. Luke Dingman)


There are different reasons why God commanded men not to eat blood. Theodoret says that blood must not be eaten on account of the fact that it is the animal’s soul. Hence when anyone eats meat without blood it is the same as though he had been eating soulless vegetable. But if he eats it with the blood it is evident that he is eating an animal’s soul. Chrysostom says that the reason for not eating the blood is that it was consecrated to be offered only to God. Or it may be that God wanted to keep men from shedding human blood and for this reason commands that they should not eat even the blood of animals, lest as a result they gradually fall into the custom of killing human beings.

Adelos says that the reason why God commanded men to eat meat that is free from blood was to teach them by this not to be inhuman and blood-thirsty like the wild beasts, which eat all the animals they kill in the raw state as torn to pieces with the blood still in them; but on the contrary, to be different from wild beasts, and as rational men to sacrifice the animals first by pouring out their blood, and thus to cook their meat in various ways and then eat it. For it is enough for them to become so cruel and pitiless as to slaughter the animals, but certainly they ought not to be so excessively pitiless as to eat them with their blood.

Nevertheless, the main reason, and the one nearest the truth of the matter why God commanded men not to eat blood is the following. The blood has the type of man’s immaterial and inedible and immortal soul for two reasons: first, because just as the blood of animals, both as something warmer and as something more spirituous, and as something more mobile than other liquids, is their soul but an irrational and material soul, so too is man’s soul, though immaterial and rational, and albeit not blood, as something bodiless and immaterial, yet it uses human blood as a vehicle and instrument or organ of its activities for its own reasons or needs; second, because the blood was shed for the purpose of appeasing the rational souls of human beings, as God says in Leviticus (17:11), “the soul of all flesh is the blood thereof; and I have given it unto you upon my sacrificial altar for you to make an atonement for your souls; for it is the blood thereof that makes an atonement for the soul.”

So whoever eats blood is eating a rational soul, which that blood serves as a type. But if he does eat it, it is plain that it is something physical and material, and consequently renders the soul mortal. “For if you eat this,” says Theodoret in interpreting the above saying, “you are eating a soul. For this occupies the same position as that of a rational soul, because eating it is called murder.”

So that the Latins, and as many others that eat strangled meat, or meat killed by a wild beast, or meat that has died a natural death, and generally speaking meat with the blood in it, or what is the worst of all the blood alone, are sinning against a great dogma. For by so doing they are dogmatizing the rational soul to be both material and passive that is, it lacks self-control and is subject only to outside forces and to death and dissolution] like the bodies of man. For whatever occurs in the type, occurs also in that which is typified. That is the same as saying that whatever consequences result from the eating of blood will affect also the rational soul; and for this reason it was that God threatened those who eat blood with death: “Whoever eats it shall be destroyed” (Leviticus 17:14).

Possibly, too, in a more mystical sense the eating of blood was prohibited in order to make it plain that just as blood should not be eaten indifferently and similarly to meat, so too the incorruptible blood of the God-man Jesus ought not to be eaten indifferently like other foods, but, on the contrary, with special and extraordinary reverence, and with unhesitating faith. As for the fact that the blood of sacrifices had the type of the blood of Christ, that is one to which the divine Apostle is a witness, since he confirms it throughout his Epistle to the Hebrews, as do the choir of divine Fathers. But concerning what Origen says in his discourse against Celsus, to the effect that we must not eat blood, in order to avoid being nourished with the food of demons (for there were some men who asserted that demons were nourished by the exhalations of blood); and also as to that which Clement of Alexandria, Origen’s teacher, asserted, to the effect that men ought not to eat blood, because their own flesh is nourished and regulated with the blood — all these ideas, I say, have been placed last in order due to the fact that they do not possess so much force .

St. Mamas Protector of Animals
St. Mamas Protector of Animals


Hence those who kill quadrupeds or birds with a gun and who fail to slaughter them at once so as to drain out all their blood, sin greatly, as eating meat in the blood of its soul and transgressing the present Apostolic Canon. For in what respect do they differ, I ask, from animals killed by wild beasts or preyed upon by vultures, whether they be land animals or fowls of the air, all of which are forbidden by the Canon, from those which are killed with lead shot? Very little. For just as inside the former there always remains a lot of blood, so too is there always blood in the latter. So as soon as hunters kill game, they ought immediately to slaughter it and drain out all the blood in it, just as is commanded by God, who says: “And whatever man there is among men of the sons of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn among you, hunts and catches any beast or fowl that may be eaten; he shall drain out the blood thereof and cover it with earth” (Leviticus 17:13).

Hence John of Kitros says that if any insect or other little animals from among those called unclean should fall into a vessel, provided that it be not rotten and if it has fallen there into but a short while, the contents of the vessel should not be thrown away, but on the contrary, when duly sanctified it may be used as food, except only in case its possessor abhors eating it or he may have his health harmed thereby. But if the insect should become rotten, the liquid contents of the vessel must be thrown away, not only because the eating of it as food would injure the health, but also to avoid appearing to eat anything strangled or anything that has died a natural death or the blood of an animal (these things which are indeed expressly forbidden). Hence also Novel 58 of Leo the Wise ordains that those who sell or eat any kind of food containing blood are to be beaten with staves and be shorn and be condemned to perpetual exile, and their property is to be plundered and set aside so no one can use it. All rulers, on the other hand, and judges that fail to chastise such offenders are to be fined ten liters of gold.


Menstruating Women Not to Touch Holy Things & Other Prohibitions (Orthodox Canons & Patristics)

NOTE: According to the Canons and, as taught in Elder Ephraim’s monasteries, a menstruating woman is not to touch holy things. This means, a woman on her menstrual cycle is not allowed to:

  • Receive Holy Communion.
  • Take Antidoron.
  • Venerate relics or icons.
  • Cannot be baptized “until purified.”
  • Cannot suckle her newborn baby but must give it to someone else.
  • Cannot have sexual intercourse; the Fathers teach that a woman who conceives during menstruation “gives birth to defectives”

There are various penances meted out when women sin in one of the above ways. The husband is also penalized in certain cases.

Maria-Fotini Kapsalis relays the experience of many a young girl born and raised in the Orthodox tradition and her first encounter with the canonical inheritance of the church. She writes,

…puberty marks the time when our mothers not only set us down to discuss with us the facts of life …, but also marks the time when our mothers expose us to the tradition [via the canonical inheritance of the church] of “ritual impurity” and the teachings of
“uncleanness.” …For some girls, this is calmly accepted as a fact of womanhood. For most, it becomes an obstacle to spiritual growth, causing distain for church practices which to the present day educated women do not make sense.”

The following article is taken from St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite’s The Rudder, which is one of the guides used by hierarchs and father-confessors in the Greek Orthodox Church.  st nikodemos


…Though it is true that Balsamon says, in reply to Question 35 of Marcus of Alexandria, that Deaconesses enjoyed a rank in the Bema (or Sanctuary), but that the complications due to menstruation dispossessed them of their rank and removed their service from the Bema, yet he himself again in the same reply says that in Constantinople deaconesses are ordained who have no share or privilege in the Bema, but who perform many ecclesiastical services and help to correct women ecclesiastically… Blastaris, however, adds of his own accord that they were later forbidden by the Fathers to enter the Bema or to perform any such services due to the unfortunate event of menstruation as Balsamon stated further above… (pp. 497, 498) 

[Note: In Elder Ephraim’s monasteries, nuns who are menstruating are forbidden to venerate icons, take antidoron or partake of any Sacraments. If a nun is an ekklesiastiko, she changes diakonimata when her cycle starts as she is forbidden to touch holy things and thus cannot clean the Church icons, touch or change the kandylia, etc., nor go into the altar to clean. This is why many times nuns who have reached menopause are preferred for ecclesiastical duties: there is no chance for an “accident” or “sacrilege” while performing her duties.]

Christ calling deaconesses to the Church.
Christ calling deaconesses to the Church.


 Concerning menstrual women, whether they ought to enter the temple of God while in such a state, I think it superfluous even to put the question. For, I opine, not even they themselves, being faithful and pious, would dare when in this state either to approach the Holy Table or to touch the Body and Blood of Christ. For not even the woman with a twelve years’ issue would come into actual contact with Him, but only with the edge of His garment, to be cured. There is no objection to one’s praying no matter how he may be or to one’s remembering the Lord at any time and in any state whatever, and petitioning to receive help; but if one is not wholly clean both in soul and in body, he shall be prevented from coming up to the Holy of Holies.


Healing of the Woman with an Issue of Blood
Healing of the Woman with an Issue of Blood


When asked about this too, as to whether women in their mense1 ought to enter the temple of God, the Saint replied that there is no need of asking the question, since if the women themselves have a proper reverence for things divine, they will be inhibited by it from daring ever to approach the Holy Table and to partake of the Lord’s Body and Blood when they are in such a state of their menstrual affairs. For they can recall that woman who had an issue of blood and who on account of the flux of her blood did not dare, because of her great reverence, to touch the body of Christ, but only the hem of His garment. None of them is forbidden to pray, whatever be her predicament (whether she be at home or in the promos of the church), by imploring God and asking Him for help and salvation.

One is forbidden, however, to go near the Holy of Holies, which is the same as saying to partake of the holy portions (i.e., the Eucharistic species) when he is not clean in soul and body, like women who are taken with their menses. (pp. 1366-1367)

The footnote to this Canon is 4 pages and can be read here:

St. Veronica, the woman with an issue of blood.
St. Veronica, the woman with an issue of blood.


 (6th Century)

As for menstruating women, let them not touch holy things for as many as seven days, the second Canon of St. Dionysios, but in particular the seventh Canon of Timothy bids. This is also what the old Law ordered, but neither did it permit them to mingle with men; for it happens on this account that the seeds sown become weak and evanescent. Hence it was that divine Moses ordered the father of a defective to be stoned to death, on the ground that on account of his intemperance he failed to await the purification of his wife. But as for a woman who has been so scornful of the same uncleanness during this period and has touched the Divine Mysteries, they bid her to remain without communion for forty days.


The present Canon decrees that those women shall not participate in the divine Mysteries who are having their usual monthly courses (menstruation), for at least seven days,1 just as Canon II of Dionysios also decrees, and Canon VII of Timothy commands. This same prohibition is found in the old Law, which does not permit such women to mingle with their husbands so long as they are having their monthlies, because even the children that are sown and conceived in women who are in such a condition become in consequence weak and defective for the most part. It was for this reason, too, that the Law commanded that the father of a defective child be stoned to death, since on account of his wanton desire he did not have the fortitude to wait for his wife to be purified from monthlies, but slept with her while she was having them, and thus the child sown in her became defective. But if a woman having her monthlies scornfully disregard this fact and partake of the divine Mysteries, they command that she shall not commune again for forty days.2 Read also Canon II of Dionysios. (p. 1687)


  • The seven days which the Canon specifies here, though not contained in the Canons of Dionysios and of Timothy, the old Law nevertheless mentions expressly, since most women become purified within seven days (though there are other women who become purified in more days, according to the constitution of the bodies, as physicians insist), and see the Footnote to Canon II of Dionysios.
  • MENSTRUATING WOMEN WHO COMMUNE PENALIZED: The requirement that a woman having her monthlies and partaking of Communion is to be canonized for so many days is not mentioned in the cc. Of Dionysios and Timothy, but it is a decree of the Faster’s own, as we found it in the manuscript Canonicon of the Faster. Blastaris simply summarized the Canon thus. (p. 1708)