Marriage and Divorce in the Orthodox Church according to St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite († 1809)

NOTE: The following article is taken from the Rudder, which was published in 1800:

the-rudder
The Rudder (Pedalion). The “Talmud” of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Canon 48 of the Holy Apostles

“If any layman who has divorced his wife takes another, or one divorced by another man, let him be excommunicated”

Interpretation

Inasmuch as the Lord decreed in His Gospel that “Whosoever shall divorce his wife, except on account of fornication, is causing her to commit adultery; and whoever marries her who hath been divorced commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32; 19: 9), therefore the divine Apostles too, following the Lord’s decree, say in their present Canon: If any layman who insists upon divorcing his wife, except on the ground of fornication, which is to say adultery (for the Evangelist here used the word fornication instead of adultery. Concerning this point see also Canon IV of Nyssa), and takes another woman that is free to marry, let him be excommunicated. Likewise let him be excommunicated if, after being divorced from his wife without the ground of fornication, he takes another woman who is one also divorced from her husband without the ground of fornication, or, in other words, of adultery. These things, which we have said with reference to the husband, must be understood to apply also to the wife who leaves her husband, except on account of fornication, and takes another man as her husband. As for any man or any woman who separates from his or her spouse without a reasonable cause and remarries or is remarried, he or she shall be canonized to have no communion for seven years according to Canon LXXXVII of the 6th Ecumenical Synod, Canon XX of Ancyra, and Canons LXXVII and XXXVII of Basil. Read also Canon XLIII of Carthage which prescribes that if a married couple separate without the commission of fornication on the part of either spouse, either they must remain unmarried or they must become reconciled and be reunited, as St. Paul also says in Chapter 7 of his First Epistle to the Corinthians.

Holy Apostles

Footnote 68 to the 85 Apostolic Canons Concerning Marriage & Divorce

Strictness and the Lord’s decree are equally averse to letting a man divorce his wife, or a woman her husband. For the Lord said in regard to both the man and the woman: “Whoever shall divorce his wife and marry another, commits adultery against her” (Matthew 19:9); and “If a woman shall divorce her husband and be married to another, she commits adultery” (Mark 10:12), without adding except it be for fornication either in the case of the man only or in the case of the woman only, but He left this to be understood by us indifferently as regarding both.

The custom of the Church is to allow the man authority to divorce his wife when he finds her to be fornicating or committing adultery, but not to let a woman divorce her husband even though she find him to be fornicating or committing adultery. If on the other hand, she should divorce him on grounds of fornication or adultery, and he, being unable to suffer should marry a second woman, the first women who divorced him will have the sin of such a separation, whereas the husband deserves a pardon for having married a second time, and his second wife is not condemned as an adulteress. Gregory the Theologian did not accept this custom, which came into the Church from Roman civil law. For he says in his (Discourse on the saying in the Gospel, when Jesus spoke the previous words); “I see many men belonging to the common people to be judging perilously regarding temperance. And I see their law as being unequal and inconsistent”. For what reason does the law chastise a woman if she fornicates, but allows a man the liberty to do the same. And if a woman betrays the bed of her husband, she is judged an adulteress, but if a man who has a wife fornicates with other women, is he guiltless? I do not accept that legislation; I do not praise the custom. It was men who made that law, and on this account they only legislated against women.

For those same legislators of this civil law made a law for children to be under the control of their father, but as for the weaker side that is, the mother who is a weak woman, they left her without care, not having made a law for her children to be under her control. However, God made no such law. On the contrary, He says, “ Honor your father and your mother,” which is the first commandment among the promises, “that it may go well with you” (Deuteronomy 5:16; Exodus 20:12; Sirach 8:8; Matthew 19:19; Mark 7:10; Luke 18:20) and “He that speaks evil against his father or mother, let him die the death” (Exodus 20:12; Leviticus 19:3; Deuteronomy 5:16). Both in the case of the father and in the case of the mother, He equally honored obedience and chastised insolence. And “A father’s blessing firmly establishes the houses of children, but a mother’s curse uproots the foundations” (Proverbs 19:14).

New Martyr Argyre of Proussa, Patron Saint of Marriage (+ 1725)
New Martyr Argyre of Proussa, Patron Saint of Marriage (+ 1725)

 

Herein do you not see the equality of the legislation? The Creator of man and woman is one. Both of them are of one and the same clay. One and the same law governs them both. There is but one resurrection. We have been born quite as much by a woman as by a man; children owe their parents a single debt. How then is it that you the legislator being a man, demand temperance of women, when you yourself are intemperate?

How is it that you ask for what you do not give? How is it that you enact unlike legislation for woman notwithstanding that your body is like that of woman? But can it be that if you are thinking of the evils attending disobedience because the woman sinned? Why, did not Adam also sin? The serpent deceived them both. Accordingly, it cannot be said either that the woman proved the weaker of the two in being deceived, or that the man proved to be the stronger of the two in that he avoided being deceived. Or if you are thinking of the good results attending reformation remember that Christ saved them both with His passion. He became flesh for man, but also for woman.

He died for man, but woman too is saved through His death. Perhaps you think that He honored man because He was born of David’s seed. But in being born of the Virgin He honored women. “They shall be one flesh,” it says (Genesis 2:24): that one flesh accordingly must deserve equal honor. St. Paul, also lays down a law of temperance for man. How? “This is a great mystery; I am speaking concerning Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5:32).

It is well for a woman to revere Christ by means of the reverence which she shows toward her husband. It is also well for a man not to dishonor the Church of Christ by means of the dishonor toward his wife by fornicating with another.

The Patron Saints of Marriage, Love, Family and Fidelity. Celebrated in Russia up to 1917. Saints Peter and Fevronia.
The Patron Saints of Marriage, Love, Family and Fidelity. Celebrated in Russia up to 1917. Saints Peter and Fevronia.

In the same way, Chrysostom also testifies to the same view in his fifth sermon on the First Epistle to the Thessalonians. “I beg,” he says, “that we guard ourselves against this sin. For just as we men chastise our wives when they betray their honor to others, so does God, if not the laws of the Romans, chastise us when we betray the honor of our wives, and fornicate with another, since the sin of men with other women is also adultery. For adultery is not only when a married woman commits adultery with another man, but also when a married man commits adultery with any other woman. Give attention to the accuracy of what I say to you. Adultery is not only when married men sin with a strange woman who is married, but also when they sin with an unmarried woman, which is also adultery. For notwithstanding that the woman with whom they sin is not tied to a man, they themselves are tied to a woman. And for this reason it can be said that they have violated the law and have wronged their own flesh. For why should they chastise their wife if she fornicates with a man that is not married? Of course, it is adultery, despite the fact that the man who fornicated with her has no wife, also simply because his wife is tied to a man. So they also, since they are tied to a wife, if they fornicate with an unmarried woman, are committing adultery by their act of fornication.

“Whosoever shall divorce his wife,” says the Lord, “except on account of fornication, is causing her to commit adultery; and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced commits adultery” (Matthew 5:32; 19:9). And if this is so, is not one committing adultery even more so, who has a wife when he joins in self-corruption with an unmarried woman? Yes.

That is obvious to everyone. Not only St. Gregory and St. Chrysostom, but even Basil himself cannot bear to follow that custom which disregards the commandment delivered by God, as he makes known in other pages as well as in the twelfth definition of his Ethics. But he also says in his Canon XXXV: “When a woman abandons her husband, we must inquire into the reason why she left him. Then, if it appears that the woman left him unreasonably and without cause, the man is to merit a pardon, but the woman, a canon and penalty, as having become the cause of the evil.” No other reasonable cause for the separation of a married couple can be found besides that of fornication or of adultery of a man and or a woman.

St. Justinian the Great

But Justinian Novel l17, situated in Book 28 of the Basilica, Title VII, ordains that if any man has another woman either in the city where he is dwelling or under the roof of his house, and is corrupting himself with her, if his real wife should tell him to abstain from the other woman, and should he refuse to abstain from her, permission is granted to be released from the marriage due to the jealousy of his wife. For such jealousy leads many wives to drink poison and commit suicide, and others to lose their mind, others to jump off a precipice, and others to still other absurd things, as may be seen from such examples which are daily occurrences in nearly every city and island and town.

For just as a man’s anger is full of jealousy for his wife if she has committed adultery, as Solomon says (Proverbs 6:34), “and he will not spare in the day of vengeance, nor will he forgo his enmity for any amount of ransom, neither will he be coaxed to remit it in exchange for a multitude of gifts.” In much the same way (or even more) is a woman’s anger, and her heart is full of jealousy for her husband if he has committed adultery.

However, note that though the Lord allowed husbands to separate from their wife on account of fornication, that is because of adultery, yet a bishop ought not to give them permission to enter into a second marriage, but ought to leave them thus separated for a long space of time, until the one who committed fornication, which is adultery, comes to repent of his or her act, to fall at the feet of the other, and to promise that henceforth he or she will keep the honor of the other mate, and in this manner they are finally reunited.

For even the Lord did not allow them to be separated only on account of adultery, but mainly because of the jealousy which results from such adultery, and the murder which often follows as a result of the jealousy. A second reason for allowing a separation is to prevent the confusion and bastardization of the offspring that follows as a result of such adultery as St. Gregory the Theologian says. So that, as Zonaras says in his interpretation of Canon IX and XXI of St. Basil, a man is not forced to keep his adulteress wife if he does not want to do so, but if he wants her, he may without prejudice keep her and live with her. What am I saying, without prejudice? Why that man is to be praised and to be esteemed very wise indeed who takes his wife back even after she has committed fornication (on the promise, however, that she will sin no more) for two good and sufficient reasons.

First, on account of the love and sympathy he is thus showing for his own flesh — I mean for his own wife — by emulating the very Master and God of all things, who notwithstanding that human nature was formerly an adulteress and had formerly committed fornication with idols, He condescended to make her His bride by virtue of the incarnate economy, and to save her through repentance and union with Him. And just as it is the part of a prudent man when any of his members is wounded or injured not to cut it off, but to make it his business to give it medical treatment, so is it the part of a prudent man, when his own member sins, that is his own wife, not to divorce her, but to take even greater care of her and to cure her by means of repentance and by giving her an opportunity to return. And secondly, because when such an impure condition has developed between a husband and wife, it is by God’s concession, and as a result of previous sins that it ensued. (And let everyone examine his own conscience, and he will find our words true.)

Saints Timothy and Maura,
Saints Timothy and Maura, Married Saints and Martyrs for Christ

Hence both parties must have patience with each other, and not insist upon a separation. Even the Apostle says that a faithful husband ought to cohabit even with his unfaithful wife, and conversely, a faithful wife ought to cohabit with her unfaithful husband, for the hope of salvation of both of them. “For how do you know, wife, whether you shall save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you shall save your wife?” (1Corinthians 7:16). How much more ought a husband and wife, then, to cohabit with and not separate, even after fornication has occurred, at a time when impiety, the worst of all sins, will not separate it? Of course all that we have said concerning the husband, is to be understood also as pertaining to the wife. Nevertheless, that the author of Proverbs says: “Whoever retains an adulteress is foolish and impious” (Proverbs 18:22; this saying reflects the harshness and severity of the old Law, and not the leniency of the most sweet Law of the Gospel.

Rather should the Old Covenant be quoted from the mouth of Malachias, who says: “Do not abandon the wife of your youth: but if after coming to hate her you send her away, a feeling of impiety will darken your recollections, says the Lord Almighty”’ (Malachias 2:15).

If, however, in the end no way, nor device, can be found to reunite the couple henceforth, the innocent party may, as a matter of great necessity, marry a second time, but never the party guilty of fornication who became the cause of the separation.

This party, instead of second nuptials and wedding candles ought rather to sit mourning and weeping over his sin, and find solace in the darkness of sorrow of a widow or widower, because of the fact that whom God joined he or she rent apart. What am I saying? Why, the party that was the cause of the separation ought to pay damages, as the imperial laws command, according to St. Chrysostom (Discourse on a woman bound by law, etc.); and that the guilty party in the couple ought not to be allowed to marry may be inferred from Novel 88 of Leo. For this Novel says that the husband of a woman guilty of adultery is to receive her dowry, while the woman herself is to be placed in a monastery and compelled even against her will to become a nun.

 

Whatever property she had over and above her dowry is to be divided between her children and the monastery; or if she has no children, her parents and relatives are to have it. Justinian Novel 117 also commands that if the husband of a woman confined in a monastery for adultery should die within the two years before taking her back, she is to become a confined nun and not be allowed to remarry).

Orthodox Wedding at Cana Icon
Wedding at Cana

That the husband is not permitted to take back his wife after she has been guilty of committing adultery is attested on the one hand by Armenopoulos (Book 6, Title II), and on the other hand by holy Photios (Title I, Chapter 2). Novel 184 of Justinian (inserted in Book 28 of the Basilica, according to Balsamon), ordains that the husband can take back his guilty wife within two years after she committed the adultery and was sentenced to the monastery for the act of adultery, and that he can cohabit with her freely without fearing any danger on this account and without injury to his marriage as a result of the previous sin and separation. St. Basil the Great, also says in his dissertation on virginity that if a woman who has been left by her husband repents and corrects the cause on account of which he left her, the husband ought to have compassion on her because of her because she corrected herself, and to take her back as his own member again. Moreover, Canon XCIII of the 6th Ecumenical Synod permits a soldier to take back his own wife if he so chooses, even though she has taken another husband because of his many years’ absence from the country in foreign lands. Canon VIII of Neocaesarea likewise appears to permit a priest to live with his wife when she is guilty of adultery if he cares to, though he must be deposed.

Note also the fact that not everyone can start suit for adultery, but only five persons listed, and these must be the most intimate and nearest relative of the woman, namely, father, brother, uncle on the father’s side, and uncle on the mother’s side, and exceptionally and especially and above all her husband. As long as the marriage is in force nobody else is permitted to start such a suit except only the husband of the woman, by means of five witnesses attesting in fear of God that they all saw her in the very act of committing adultery. A suit for adultery may be started at any time within five years, and not late (Armenopoulos, Book 1, Title III).

Besides any of these things, it ought to be known to everyone that the civil and imperial laws never permit husbands to kill their wives, even though they have caught them as adulteresses. Hence there is no excuse for those who kill either their wives, or their sisters and daughters or relatives of any other kind, on the ground that they have been guilty of fornication or of adultery.

So, inasmuch as it may be inferred, from all that we have said, that a married couple ought not to be separated, therefore it is necessary for one side of the couple to bear with the other patiently, according to St. Gregory the Theologian. Thus, the wife ought to put up with her husband even though he insults and beats her, even though he spends her dowry, and no matter what else he may do to her; and just as much ought the husband to put up with his wife even though she is possessed by demons, as mentioned in I Timothy 4:1, and even though she is suffering from other defects, and has diseases, according to St. Chrysostom (in his Discourse on a woman bound by law, etc.). And yet that imperial and external laws on many accounts permit married couples to separate and be divorced, St. Chrysostom (in the same place), in the course of voicing opposition to them, says: “God is not going to judge in accordance with those laws, but in accordance with the laws which He himself has laid down with regard to marriage.

There is but one reasonable ground for divorce, and that is the one ordained by the laws, according to Emperors Leo and Constantine, when one party plots against the life of the other (Title XIII, of the selection of laws). A married couple may be divorced reasonably enough, again, when one party is an Orthodox Christian, and the other party is a heretic, according to Canon LXXII of the 6th Ecumenical Synod; or when there is a blood relationship by marriage, according to Canon LIV of the same Synod; or a relationship due to baptism, according to Canon LIII of the same Synod; and also when the lord of the couple will not consent to their being wedded, according to Canons XL, XLI, and XLII of St. Basil. As to the proper form of a Letter of Divorce, see at the end of this Rudder. (pp. 320 -329)

Thomais of Lesvos - patron saint of marriage
St. Thomais of Lesvos – patron saint of marriage.

Form for a Canonical Divorce

With our humbleness in the chair and surrounded by a simultaneous session of the most honorable Clerics, most reverent Priests, and most honest Magistrates (and Provosts), there appeared before all of us most honest Sir George, of the village or parish ( name ), accusing his wife Mary of the crime of adultery, and asserting that he found her really defiling her part in the bed of her husband and being caught in the very act of being polluted with adultery by another man. When interrogated about this, he also produced credible witnesses to the fact, named (So-and So and So-and-So and So-and-So), who with fear of God and a heavy conscience, before all of us testified as concerning this man’s wife that she has not truly kept due faith with her own husband, but, having abandoned her own sobriety, has acted as an adulteress. And therefore our humbleness, after being told and informed of these facts, allowed this case to be postponed. And indeed after later employing various arguments and inducements and ways and means, with a view to persuading the said George to take back and accept his wife (for this is permissible according to the divine laws), overlooking this misdeed of hers, seeing that she bitterly repents it, and promises never again to do such a thing, and after having negotiated all these aspects for a sufficient length of time, yet unable to induce him to be persuaded in her favor. Hence, following the decision rendered by our Lord in the Gospels, wherein He says that “whosoever shall divorce his wife, except on the ground of fornication, is causing her to commit adultery” (Matthew 5:32; cf. 19:7, 9). And reflecting that this is the only legal and reasonable excuse for separating a husband from his wife – the ground, that is to say, of adultery, just as the Lord declared; yet at the same time exercising due foresight lest anything more terrible may result hereafter from their cohabitation, seeing that adultery engenders jealousy in most cases, and that jealousy leads to murder: on this account and for this reason our humbleness pronounces the said George to be divorced and set free from his wife Mary, in accordance with the decision of our Lord and the divine Canons, Apostolic as well as Synodal; and furthermore gives him permission to take another woman to wife, whereas with regard to his aforesaid wife Mary our humbleness will never give her permission to take another man to husband, on the ground that she has become the cause of this separation and divorce. For she ought, instead of having another wedding and enjoying nuptial pleasures, to continue thus weeping and mourning throughout her life over her sin, since what God had joined she put asunder (Matthew 19:6), and since otherwise too, she committed adultery while her husband was living, whom she herself divorced by reason of her licentiousness, a fear subsists lest she become an adulteress again in case she is allowed to become a wife to another man (Romans 7:3), according to St. Paul, who elsewhere says that “if a woman be divorced from her husband, let her remain unmarried” (I Corinthians 7:11). Hence in evidence thereof the present Divorce was drawn up, and was given to the repeatedly aforementioned George 3 in the year of the Lord . . .”(1796) and in the month of August. (pp. 1808-1809)

Detail of the Imperial Gate mosaic in Hagia Sophia showing Leo VI the Wise
Detail of the Imperial Gate mosaic in Hagia Sophia showing Leo VI the Wise

 

 

Former Archimandrite Marries Man in Civil Ceremony (Theodore Kalmoukos, 2016)

NOTE: The following article is taken from the National Herald, January 21, 2016. 

John Heropoulos wedding

BOSTON – Former Archimandrite of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America John Heropoulos, who left the holy priesthood almost nine years ago, was married to a man on Saturday January 9. The civil ceremony took place at The Neighborhood Club of Quincy, MA with relatives and friends in attendance.

Heropoulos is very touched by the responses he has received from people.

Among the first who sent best wishes to the newlywed couple were some close friends of John Heropoulos who learned about the wedding on Facebook. Religious Education Director Tony Vrame congratulated them, as did Presbytera Cynthia Paleologos, the  wife of Fr. Constantine Paleologos former priest of St. Spyridon parish in Worchester. She wrote “so happy for you John! Sending love and prayers for health and happiness together.”

Fr. Dean Panagos, the presiding priest of the St. Sophia parish in New London Connecticut who is also the president of the Clergy Association of the Metropolis of Boston wrote on Facebook, “congratulations John”.

Heropoulos was a charismatic and able clergyman with excellent administrative ability. He began his Church service as Deacon to the late Archbishop Iakovos. He then became assistant priest at St. Nicholas parish in Flushing NY, presiding priest at St. Paraskevi in Greenlawn, NY, and presiding priest at St. George in Hartford, CT. He also served as director of the office of Archbishop Spyridon and as chancellor of the Metropolis of Detroit.

He touched the heart of the Greek-American Community when in May of 2003 he donated one of his kidneys to a small boy.

While everything seemed to be going well he informed Archbishop Demetrios that he was leaving the holy priesthood and requested to be defrocked. He went to Boston and worked for six years for the Children’s Tumor Foundation. Today he is working in the development office of St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral.

In an interview with The National Herald Heropoulos said that he met his partner Richard “six years ago at a social event in Boston.” Richard works at Harvard University.

When asked when he decided to get married he said ,“I am 52 years old. When I was raised all these things were impossible culturally and socially. I would say that we got to know each other like anyone would and as we became more and more committed to each other we thought that the good and loving and responsible thing to do would be to get married. The state of Massachusetts and the Supreme Court made their rulings and these things and became easier.”

Asked how he felt about this new aspect and dimension of his life and being married to a man, he said “I would say that it is another beautiful aspect of love and companionship that I was able to experience. I experienced love as a priest in human relationships in beautiful ways, but as a married man it is a new dimension of love and it drives away the loneliness.”

TNH asked whether he was attracted to men all of his life or discovered those feelings recently, Heropoulos said, “a gay person is born gay. It is not something that you chose. I was born gay and I was trying to be as good as I could be in my life. As a clergyman I became lonely and so I decided to seek companionship.”

He also said “I told my entire family and many friends years ago that I was gay and nobody was surprised. Everybody – my father, my mother, my dear friends, my family, were accepting and supportive,” and he added “everybody was thrilled that I found somebody to be in love with and to be married to.”

This far, nobody has sent him any negative messages or criticism for getting married to a man, he said.

TNH asked him how he reconciled his past self as a priest, as an Archimandrite, as a official of the Greek Orthodox Church having served in high positions in the Archdiocese, and being well respected, with the new aspect of his life which theologically, ecclesiastically, and spiritually is not an acceptable situation. Heropoulos said “For me, in my service as a priest the issue was to be a celibate priest that was the key issue, to be faithful to the calling to be a celibate priest and then to try to be the best priest that I could be.”

“Are you saying that when you were a celibate priest you didn’t engage in gay sexual activities,” TNH asked. “I was faithful to my vow of celibacy,” he replied.

“Did you experience constant pressure? Were you looking to escape, to liberate yourself from that situation,” he was asked.

“I don’t think it was a matter of escape or liberation. I think that I dearly loved the priesthood and so I became a priest, and I did my very best and I was very faithful to my vows. When I believed that it was the best thing for me personally, spiritually, then I decided it was time to leave,” he said.

Asked if he is concerned that some in the Greek-American Community would be scandalized, he said “I left the Church respectfully. Whether someone agrees or not that ultimately ones has the freedom to make that decision, there is nothing I can do about that.”

Heropoulos revealed to TNH that he goes on Sundays and worships in an Orthodox church and that he receives Holy Communion. He said, “yes of course I go to an Orthodox church and yes I receive Holy Communion.”

To the final question of whether he believed that marriage should be between a man and a woman, Heropoulos, said “I don’t have any comment on that.”

John Heropoulos

Also see:

Fr. John Heropoulos Named Chancellor of Diocese of Detroit (1998) http://www.goarch.org/news/goa.news534

Father John Heropoulos gives 16 year old boy a second chance to life: Donates His Kidney to Young Boy  (2003) http://www.greeknewsonline.com/changing-peoples-lives/

Greek Parish Has Much To Celebrate: New Priest Gets Rave Reviews (2004) http://www.helleniccomserve.com/greek_parish.html

Fr. Heropoulos Leaves Priesthood (2008) http://www.archbishopspyridon.gr/spyridon_2008/nh_heropoulos2_31may08.html

John is also mentioned in this book (pp. 54-56) https://books.google.com/books?id=xnZagkLEjd8C&source=gbs_navlinks_s

 

Sex and the Orthodox Church in Medieval Russia (Howard Brent Rachel)

Howard Brent Rachel is a former soldier from Alabama who has, with his wife and childhood sweetheart, settled down in San Antonio where he currently works as a teacher.

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Orthodox Notions of Sex in Medieval Russia
Strict interpretation of scripture, at least by the long lineage of church fathers, gave little religious significance to women. Womankind was viewed as the root of sin and women serpents to lead men from righteousness, just as Eve did to Adam in the Garden of Eden. Yet, Orthodoxy had to find some way to reconcile this attitude with God’s admonition to be fruitful and multiply. Unfortunately, this called for them to deal with the problem of sex.
Sex was the Church’s number one concern, in terms of sin, carrying heavier penances than even murder, theft, or child neglect. Women being little more than walking, talking sexual temptation, couldn’t get a break in Orthodoxy’s web of sexual philosophy. A woman’s period was, at the same time, both proof that she had failed to conceive -further defiling any sexual activities that might have occurred–, and a glaring reminder of how a man had to defile himself in order to obey God’s command to multiply. Further, a woman could not even enter a church while she was experiencing her period. The number of times a woman attended church on Sundays in a given month were noted, and coming four Sundays in a row was proof of transgression, and brought with it heavy penance. Such penance could be up to 3 years denial of the sacraments, especially if it were proved that she had taken communion. Contemporary accounts, surely trumped up to scare women into line, had God turning one poor woman into a horse for taking communion during her cycle, and another stuck by lightening for inadvertently walking over the grave of a saint while thus ‘unclean.’ Though nothing further is known of the horse, the latter woman later repented and was cured of her period.
Orthodox writings decried the physical union of man with woman as base and squalid, even in marriage. Sex was for the sole purpose of procreation, and that only because of Eve’s folly. St John Chrysostom, one of the most famous philosophers of Orthodoxy, explained that it was actually the Word of God that provided the divine magic of procreation, and that had Eve not led to mankind’s ejection from Eden, some other, less base, way of procreating would have been bestowed upon them by God. Thus, though procreation was a duty, the very act that allowed it was a defilement rooted in original sin. The Church urged a celibate life for the married, with the exception of procreation. They even went so far as to discourage marriage for the sake of love, encouraging rather the opposite, that a man should not care over much for his wife, and should spend as little time with her as possible, so as not to be tempted into sin. (This despite the fact that one of the main reasons the Church cited for a man to get married in the first place, was to help prevent his fornicating or committing adultery.) The Church, in an attempt to help men abstain, dictated times when he was forbidden to engage in sexual activity: Sunday (of course), Saturdays (to prepare for Sunday), during pregnancy of partner, within 60 days of wife’s delivery, during her period, and all holy and feast days. As a final deterrent the church celebrated as examples the lives of prominent celibate couples such as Grand Prince Dmitri Donskoi, who, it is said, abstained from physical contact with his wife with the sole exceptions of those coupling which produced his children.

ST. DMITRI DONSKOY GRAND PRINCE OF MOSCOW
ST. DMITRI DONSKOY
GRAND PRINCE OF MOSCOW

Sex within Marriage
Despite the Church’s cajoling, and surely to no one’s great surprise, married men and women still had sex. So, the church, not satisfied with it’s efforts merely to dissuade them, also placed restrictions on the very methodology of the act. As might be expected, the only church-accepted “mode” of sexual intercourse between a man and his wife was vaginal penetration in the missionary position, with the man ‘astride’ his wife (called “na konye”, or “astride a horse”). Everything else was considered to be illicit fornication, sodomy, or sacrificing the man’s seed to the Devil, all punishable by great penance as circumstance warranted. The dominant position of the man was of paramount religious importance. As man was made in God’s image, sex with the woman astride the man was placing the man in the more properly female, or submissive position. This was seen as shameful for the man, and thus defiled the image of God. As such, this position was considered a very grave sin, the penance for which was on par with that for adultery or incest.
Sex ‘from behind’ was punished according to the particulars of the circumstances, though fundamentally it was considered far too similar to the sexual activities of beasts of the field. Anal penetration from behind, having no procreative potential was considered sodomy and was more heavily punished than vaginal penetration from behind. In an interesting turn of circumstance, the woman was routinely assigned heavier penance for her role in activities involving anal penetration because they too closely mimicked the role the male homosexual. Vaginal penetration from behind, because it could result in procreation, was regarded as less serious. Penance would be made more or less severe according to the age of the participants, the frequency of engagement, and -for the woman- whether or not she engaged willingly or reluctantly at her husband’s urging. Penance ranged from multiple hundreds of prostrations and a lengthy fast to being denied the solace of the church for 10 or more years. It is notable that mutually agreed to anal intercourse is one of the few instances where penitence manuals mandate the same penance for both the man and the wife.
Other sexual activities within marriage seem to have been handled as lesser forms of sodomy, or in terms of wasting the reproductive effort and needlessly encouraging sexual excitement. Open-mouth kissing was never appropriate, even as foreplay and carried a mandatory two-week fast as a penance. Manual stimulation, the insertion of non-penis extremities into the vagina, and mutual masturbation were technically sodomy, but were usually punishable by a mere several weeks fasting. Oral sex, though mentioned seldom in extant penitence manuals, was considered a serious sodomy and was dealt with quite harshly, with fasts exceeding a year and possible restriction from communion. Attempting birth control or abortion was punished in a similarly strict manner, often with lengthy restriction from the Church.

The Patron Saints of Marriage, Love, Family and Fidelity. Celebrated in Russia up to 1917. Saints Peter and Fevronia.
The Patron Saints of Marriage, Love, Family and Fidelity. Celebrated in Russia up to 1917. Saints Peter and Fevronia.

Sex Outside of Marriage
Willfully engaged in, potentially-procreative sexual contact outside of marriage was termed either adultery or illicit fornication, the marital status of the woman being the defining factor. Because this behavior was willfully committed outside of wedlock, the penance was higher for both involved parties. Sodomy, a subset of illicit fornication, committed outside of wedlock carried far stricter penance due to its lack of procreative potential.
Homosexuality and beastiality were the most common forms of willful sodomy. Though not always willfully engaged in, incest brought on severe penalties, especially if through duress. These penalties, despite the duress, however, were sometimes applied to both parties. In all the above activities, penance was much higher for men who took on the submissive, or woman’s role. Beyond that, circumstances of age, frequency of engagement, and social standing could serve to increase or decrease such penance.
Adultery was defined as sexual intercourse between a woman and a man who is not her husband. Everything else was illicit fornication, regardless of the man’s marital status. As one might expect, adultery was considered far more serious, for both parties, than illicit fornication. Adultery, in some penitence manuals, carried a recommended minimum 15-year exclusion from the sacraments. There are, however, ample recorded instances of lesser penance from 2 years exclusion, accompanied with fasting and prostrations. The penalties were always more harsh for the woman, since for her there could be no mitigating circumstance, and she would inevitably be branded the instigator who tempted the otherwise pious man. If the husband knew of, and thus condoned, his wife’s adultery, he was held to be more severely guilty in the matter than the unknowing cuckold. Regardless of circumstance, anyone who died in the act of adultery was forbidden Christian burial.
Illicit fornication was virtually any other type of sex not already defined as adultery. The most common type of illicit fornication was premarital sex. Betrothed couples were discouraged from engaging in any private contact, and responsibility for this was laid upon the parents. Thus, the penance levied on the betrothed for engaging in any sexual activity before marriage was shared by those parents. This penance was not too severe, as long as it was potentially procreative, which fact tended to lend a sense of ‘naturalness’ to it. Of course sodomy was more severely punished, with the usual multipliers associated with position.
More severe was the penance for bachelors and maidens engaging in sex before marriage, with the penance often being twice as great for the maiden than the bachelor. The degree of penance for the bachelor was determined by the scandalousness of his partner. However, a ‘boys will be boys’ attitude did come into play when assigning penance to a young lad who was seen as ‘simply sewing his wild oats.’ Not so for the maiden or her partner, for deflowering a maiden, even if she was willing, was seen as rape. Further the maiden ran the risk of pregnancy, and the Orthodox Church offered her no opportunity to be ‘saved by marriage.’ Such a fallen maiden faced penance as great as 9 years cut off from the Church.., that is, if she was not immediately dispatched to a convent. Widows, as sexual partners, were treated as maidens in terms of the penance, with one notable exception: you could certainly never be accused of ‘deflowering’ a widow. In any case, the Church tended to be a bit more forgiving in cases involving widows, making them very attractive sex partners for young unattached men. Divorcees were considered to still be married, thus fornication with them was automatically considered adultery.
Sex with prostitutes and slaves carried the lightest penance, with certain exceptions. Potentially-procreative sex with a prostitute was not any more serious that simple illicit fornication with a willing partner. The fact of payment for services never seems to enter into the equation. It seemed a generally held, if little expressed, opinion that if a man was going to have sex, doing so with a prostitute was far less serious to the community’s well-being than with some other man’s wife. (This feeling, however, in no way excused sodomy.) Sex with a female slave carried the lightest penalties of all, seldom denying sacraments to either party, unless the man was married and keeping the slave right in his home. The Church recognized the difficulty a slave might have spurning the advances of her master and adjusted the penance according to whether or not her participation was willing. Women, not technically being allowed to have slaves, did not routinely face similar situations. As always, the position, the age, the frequency, and the social status of the participants often affected the penance.

Whore of Babylon: Babylon the Great, the Mother of Prostitutes and Abominations of the Earth.
Whore of Babylon: Babylon the Great, the Mother of Prostitutes and Abominations of the Earth.

Sodomy
Sodomy, as has been previously discussed, is a term encompassing any sexual activity that is un-natural, counter to the ‘proper order of things,’ and could never result in procreation. Sodomy included beastiality, homosexuality, heterosexual anal sex, oral sex, woman on top (in some cases), vaginal penetration from the rear (in some cases) and mutual or individual masturbation. Because this covers such a wide range, from the seemingly harmless to what was then viewed as heinous, gradations of sodomy eventually emerged.
Though still considered quite serious, masturbation was perhaps the least significant. Masturbation by men and women was treated the same for men and women in term of penance, usually calling for a week or less of fasting, according to the frequency. It was seen as inciting sexual excitement within yourself, which was evil, and usually resulted in a waste of seed. Nocturnal erections and wet dreams were viewed as instigated by the Devil, and fasting was always called for. Mutual masturbation was only a bit more serious. It could not result in childbirth, but neither was it quite actually ‘sex.’ As long as incest was not involved the penance was only a bit more severe than for regular masturbation.
Beastiality was more common in the smaller agricultural communities. Cows, pigs, and dogs were the most common ‘partners,’ though birds and reptiles were not unheard of. Because the mechanics of the matter were easier for men, it was therefore more commonly associated with them. The penance, however, was the same for men and women, with 15 years restriction from the sacraments or several years fasting being quite common. Frequency, as always was a deciding factor, with some documented cases of greater penance being assigned for sexual intercourse with mammals than was assigned for sex with yard fowl.
Canon law regarding homosexuality was the confusing product of two rival traditions. On one hand Old Testament precedent ranked male homosexual activity among the most serious of crimes. This feeling was reinforced to maintain discipline within the monastic communities of the Church. Yet the bulk of early Byzantine philosophical tradition came from the ancient Greeks who did not blanketly condemn all homosexual contact. Thus, medieval Russian Orthodoxy came to view male homosexuality as wrong not because it was evil or unnatural, but because it confused the narrowly defined gender roles inherent in Orthodox belief. As a result, the otherwise unflinchingly strict Orthodox penitential views on sex, actually made distinctions between types of male homosexual contact.
Anal intercourse between males was regarded as seriously as heterosexual adultery, carrying a similar 15-year restriction from communion. Age was the mitigating factor –young men sowing their wild seeds again- as long as it could be seen as a mere youthful experiment. Bachelors were cut a bit of slack, as well. Regardless, repercussions were even greater for the male in the submissive role, especially if the act was habitual, and much more so if he altered his appearance in any way to become more feminine. A male who thus shaved his beard would be anathematized, cut off from the church forever! In instances where an adult used a boy below the age of five, the abuser bore all the sin. If the child was greater than five, but still less than the age of majority, the parents of the child bore most of the sin for not teaching him any better.
Because mutual masturbation required neither man to assume the female role, it was viewed with more tolerance than anal intercourse, and the penance was accordingly less. Interestingly, intercrural homosexual intercourse, whereby the dominant male inserts his penis between the thighs of his partner for sex, was viewed as merely an extreme form of masturbation, despite the presence of a clearly submissive partner. The penance for this activity was typically only fifty percent greater than for simple masturbation. This is a striking departure from the norm –which commonly held the submissive as more guilty– and evidence of the strong impact of early Greek thought on Slavic Orthodoxy’s view of homosexuality. Similarly, lesbian activity was also viewed as mutual masturbation, though with slightly greater penalty than that of males. It seems from records that much lesbian experimentation and play among young women was tolerated because there was less chance to break the hymen and thus call her maidenhood into question, and it prepared them for married life without risking pregnancy.

Sodom & Gomorrah Today.
Sodom & Gomorrah Today.

Incest
Incest, at least according to existing records, seemed to be less a problem for the Orthodox Slavs than for their western counterparts. Though less than for adultery and anal intercourse, the penance for incest was certainly great especially if coercion was involved. Several years’ restriction from the sacraments was the price of violating medieval Russia’s laws on consanguinity. According to Orthodox canon there were four types of consanguinity: by blood, by marriage, by spiritual bond, and by adoption. Consanguinity by blood was determined by how many levels of births, called degrees, separated the two. For example: A father and his daughter were separated by one degree, the birth of that daughter. First cousins in modern reckoning were of the third degree in medieval Russia. Marriage was forbidden within the eighth degree. God-parents were considered to be spiritually related to god-children to the same degree as actual parents, unless already of another degree, or complicated by a couple being god-parents to more than one child within varying degrees of a family. For both blood-relatives and spiritual relatives, sexual activity within the eighth degree was considered incest. Relatives by marriage, or in-laws, were governed by the same definitions of consanguinity as if they were actually related, thus a man’s sister-in-law was considered of the same degree of consanguinity as the man. Restrictions against marrying relatives by marriage extended only to the sixth or seventh degree. Ignorance of pedigree was not considered a mitigating circumstance. An adoptive sibling was not within any degree of consanguinity, but the concept of adoption was considered pagan in origin, so the Church maintained its seriousness as incest despite the lack of true relation.
Sexual activity between mother and son, father and daughter, or between siblings was second in severity only after adultery. Relation between a parent and a child were often seen as the product of possession by the devil, the very idea of it being so repulsive to the medieval Russian. Penance for such incest ranged from five years fasting to 30 years without communion. Sexual activity between cousins was dealt with a bit less severely, especially as the degrees of consanguinity grew greater. As in the west, dispensation could be secured for the Princely caste.

King David's son Ammon, guilty of incest and the rape of his half sister, is killed by Absalom (2 Samuel 13:14)
King David’s son Ammon, guilty of incest and the rape of his half sister, is killed by Absalom (2 Samuel 13:14)

To Keep in Mind
Having covered this dizzying array of penance for sexual activity, it is extremely important to keep certain realities in mind. Despite these Church preachings and admonitions not to marry for love, and to keep your wife at a distance, most marriages were actually made for the political or financial gain of the families involved. With our vantage point of another thousand years of history beyond that of the Orthodox medieval Russians, we can see than no church –or government, for that matter-has ever managed to check the sexual drive of it’s constituents. Indeed, despite the seeming strictness of penance called for in the cases above, it must be realized that not all of these restrictions were imposed to the same degree everywhere. The Church then, as now, was peopled with the both the free-thinking and the narrow-minded; with the understanding and with the sadistic. Medieval Russia herself was peopled, as was any place, with all manner of folk just trying to eke out a living and live a happy life by placing their faith in God and their fellow man.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Coniaris, Anthony M. Introducing the Orthodox Church – Its Faith and Life. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Light and Life Publishing, 1982.
  • Gilbert, Martin. Atlas of Russian History. New York: Dorset Press, 1985.
  • Kollman, Nancy Shields. By Honor Bound – State and Society in Early Modern Russia. Ithaca, New York and London: Cornell University Press, 1999.
  • Levin, Eve. Sex and Society in the World of the Orthodox Slavs, 900-1700. Ithaca, New York and London: Cornell University Press, 1995.
  • Martin, Janet. Medieval Russia 980-1584. Cambridge: Canbridge University Press, 1995.
  • Pouncy, Carolyn Johnston (ed and trans). The Domostroi – Rules for Russian Households in the Time of Ivan the Terrible. Ithaca, New York and London: Cornell University Press, 1994.
  • Riasanovsky, Nicholas V. A History of Russia (Third Edition). New York: Oxford University Press, 1977.
  • Resources for Ecumenical Encounter, No. 2: Toward a Protestant Understanding of Orthodoxy. New York: Commission on Ecumenical Mission and Relations, The United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., n.d.
  • Volkoff, Vladimir. Vladimir the Russian Viking. Woodstock, New York: The Overlook Press, 1985.
  • Wallace, Robert. Rise of Russia (Great Ages of Man Series). New York: Time-Life Books, 1967.
  • Ware, Timothy. The Orthodox Church. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin Books, Ltd, 1980.

Remarriage and Arsenokoetia: Shifty Byzantine Views of Sex (Stephen Morris)

NOTE: The following article is taken from Something Wicked this Way Comes: Essays on Evil and Human Wickedness, pp. 143-165

 Something Wicked this Way Comes

Abstract: Patristic canon law condemned remarriage, under any circumstances, in no uncertain terms. Penance for remarriage demanded repudiating the wicked sexual relationship and decades of excommunication. Penances for remarriage were gradually reduced and two Byzantine political/theological crises in the 8th and 10th centuries allowed these condemned sexual relationships to be eventually tolerated and even accepted. Same-sex behaviour was condemned as satanic and diabolic by many of these same patristic authorities, often in the same breath and with the same words as they condemned remarriage. Penances assigned were virtually identical. During the 6th century, however, these penances for sex between men (especially “anal sex”) were reduced to little more than a slap on the wrist. These reduced penances suggest that just as remarriage was eventually able to be accepted into polite Byzantine Christian society, same-sex relationships might also come to be accepted in Byzantine/Eastern Christian society.

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“Beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” warned Laocoön in Virgil’s Aeneid and the medieval West took his warning to heart. Western mistrust of the Byzantines led to the negative stereotype of Byzantine bureaucracy, so much so that the modern epithet “Byzantine” describes any complex, difficult-to-navigate, apparently unstable body of rules – such as those at New York City’s City Hall. As a slur, “Byzantine” stands for both “shifty” and “shifting;” perhaps better, “shifty,” in both popular senses – shady as well as unstable – can stand as a synonym for ”Byzantine” in Western perceptions. The medieval West did not always understand how or why Byzantine Christian theology, liturgy, and practice could vary so markedly from Western norms.

One area of such difference involved marriage and sexuality. Western canonists and theologians were baffled by how Byzantine apprehension of evil or wicked sexual behaviour could differ so from theirs. The body of Byzantine canonical rulings was simply allowed to grow like topsy and was never systematically codified as was common in the West during the latter Middle Ages (resulting in what we know today as the Vatican’s Code of Canon Law.) The redundancies, repetitions, and conflicting answers simply hung together in the practice of the Eastern Church; the Eastern canonical tradition was “talmudic,” in that it maintained the practices and rulings of all the sages and conciliar bodies that preceded whatever the “current” situation might have been and then required a current sage to apply these rulings as appropriate. It is this Byzantine approach to divorce, remarriage, and “homosexual” behaviour that I wish to turn.

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Individual fathers and early Christian thinkers began to grapple with questions concerning Christian sexual behaviour before the New Testament itself was completed.1 Some authorities were satisfied to stress the need to confine sexual expression to heterosexual marriage (Didache, Hippolytus2) while others (Athenagoras, Tertullian3) felt the need to confine the definition of “marriage” proper to the first such union a Christian experienced. According to these authors, the death of a spouse did not free the survivor to remarry; any further sexual relationship was considered inappropriate and an act of infidelity to the spouse who had died but whose death did not end the marriage. (It was the later Byzantine refusal to acknowledge that death of a spouse ended a marriage which constituted one of the differences the medieval West found difficult to comprehend.) If remarriage and further sexual relationship was improper for the survivor, how much more so if the other spouse was not even dead but merely separated or divorced – practice which was allowed by Roman law. The early apologists stressed that simply because an action was legal did not make it proper, especially for Christians who were held to a higher standard of behaviour.

The practice of public penance, which patristic sources take for granted, evolved as the mechanism for reintegrating members of the Christian community who had sundered their participation in the community’s life and who wished to be restored to full membership and participation – as evidenced primarily in the reception of Holy Communion at the Divine Liturgy. The sins and transgressions, which served to sunder participation in the communal life of the Church, had to be renounced and – upon ceasing the behaviour – the penitent would begin the penance (epithemia) which had to be fulfilled before the penitent could be restored to participating in the Eucharist. The penance, or epithemia, was considered a therapeutic or medicinal tool. It was not a juridical sentence that “paid off” the debt a criminal owed society. Rather, it was a method – similar to surgery – that might prove painful in the short term but which aimed at restoring the (spiritual) health of the patient; it should be remembered that the Greek terms for “health” and “salvation” have the same root and the Gospel miracles of healing were considered paradigms of salvation by the same preachers who gave their “canonical opinions.”

This system of years of penance was predicated on the practice of an extended catechumenate of three years or more preceding the baptism of the candidate who wished to enter the Christian community in the first place. The division of the penitents into a variety of ranks, indicating their distance from or proximity to full Eucharistic participation, was indicated by their position in the church building (relative to the altar-table). As can be seen in Table I, the view that remarriage was virtually identical with adultery remained the canonical pastoral response; in order to be reconciled with the community, the couple would need to repudiate their subsequent marriage and live separately before the epithemia would commence.

Constantine VI (right to the cross) presiding over the Second Council of Nicaea. Miniature from early 11th century.
Constantine VI (right to the cross) presiding over the Second Council of Nicaea. Miniature from early 11th century.

Two revolutions occurred in the eighth and tenth centuries to change this approach. The first was the “Moechian Schism” of 795 A.D. in which the emperor Constantine VI divorced his wife and married again; he was eventually permitted to begin the epithemia for a second marriage without repudiating or separating from his second wife. The second was the “Tetragamy affair,” the dispute – probably the “most dangerous crisis between the Emperor and the Patriarch in the middle Byzantine period”4 – which rocked Byzantine society from 903 – 923 A.D. over Leo VI’s fourth marriage, resulting in an official truce between the Church and the remarried. Shifting allegiances, changes in civil law, early or unexpected deaths, clergy both willing and unwilling to comply with imperial designs, secret negotiations, pious public sentiment, loud-spoken monastics, differing interpretations of how to apply oikonomia5 – the principle of pastoral discretion in applying canonical penances more rigidly or more freely, in manner that seems appropriate – all contributed to the chaos. It was the Tome of Union, summarized in Table I, which resolved the issue and led to the use of a different wedding service for those embarking on a second/third marriage. (This was a considerable difference from the Western Christian practice, which used the same service for all weddings and refused to ever officially countenance “remarriage.”) Not only were second and third marriages regularized, but the various epithemia could all be undergone while the couple began their new life as husband and wife. Rather than serving as the means of reintegration with the larger Christian community, the epithemia became the “price” a couple paid to be able to live together in a sexually suspicious relationship which was disapproved of but tolerated.

A mosaic in Hagia Sophia showing Leo VI paying homage to Christ
A mosaic in Hagia Sophia showing Leo VI paying homage to Christ

During this same period, a variety of responses to same-sex behaviour developed. The oldest canons, those of Basil, stipulate that several sins were considered moral equivalents and subject to the same penance of 15 years: bestiality, murder, sorcery, adultery, idolatry, and arsenokoetia.6 (Arsenokoetia is derived from the root “male” and the verb – koitai, which “is a coarse word, generally denoting base or licentious sexual activities (see Romans 13:13), and in this and other compounds corresponds to the vulgar English word “fucker,” i.e. a person who, by insertion, takes the active role in intercourse.”7

(The modern Latinate “coitus” may well be derived from this as well.) In the canonical literature, therefore, it appears that arsenokoetia is the technical term for what we now refer to as “anal sex.”

the-monasticism-of-st-basil-the-great

Arsenokeotia, as a specific act, was not singled out as being necessarily worse than a wide variety of other activities.8 However, John Chrysostom’s Homily IV on Romans decries what we now call “homosexual behaviour” in no uncertain terms.

“All these affections then were vile, but chiefly the mad lust after males; for the soul suffers more and is more dishonoured in sins, than the body is when diseased.”9

Arsenokoetia is clearly inspired by the Devil.

“But when God has left one, then all things are turned upside down. Not only was their doctrine satanic, but their life was also diabolical.”10

Their beliefs and behaviour go hand-in-hand, one reflecting the other. Same-sex behaviour is also inherently violent.

“… [T]hey become enemies to themselves and to one another, bringing in a pernicious kind of strife, and one even more lawless than any civil war, rife in divisions, and of varied form…. It was appropriate that the two should be one; I mean the woman and the man. For “the two” it says, “shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) But this desire of intercourse affected, and united the sexes to one another. This desire the devil having taken away, and having turned the desire in another direction, he thus sundered the sexes from one another, and made the one to become two parts in opposition to the law of God. For it says, “the two shall be one flesh;” but he divided the one flesh into two: here then is one war.”

“These same two parts he provoked to war both against themselves and against one another. For even women abused women, and not men only. The men stood against one another, and against the female sex, as happens in a battle by night. You see a second and a third war, and a fourth and a fifth; there is also another, for beside what we have mentioned they also behaved lawlessly against nature itself. For when the Devil saw that this desire it is, principally, which draws the sexes together, he was bent on cutting through the tie, so as to destroy the race, not only by their not copulating lawfully, but also by their being stirred up to war, and in sedition against one another.”11

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Instigated by the devil, same-sex behaviour portends the end of the human race not only because normal reproductive processes cease but because men and women begin to fight one another. The men, fighting each other, would eventually come to blows while the arguments with women would be the cause of friction, anger, resentment – all the attitudes which conspire against a common household or urban life. Fighting against each other, each would also – in Chrysostom’s view – be fighting against each person’s own true, inherently heterosexual, desires. Not only would this aspect of the universal warfare unleashed by the devil be fought by each against himself but it would be a fight against nature: against the heterosexual nature of mankind and against the natural cycle of birth and reproduction. There would be as many wars let loose in the world as there were individuals engaged in same-sex behaviour.

St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen

As can be seen in Table II, the practice of arsenokoetia (anal sex) was the primary sexual act between men which prompted discussion. It was compared to adultery and was penanced accordingly: St. Basil gave an epithemia of 15 years to both adultery and arsenokoetia while his younger brother Gregory of Nyssa suggested an epithemia of 18 years to both behaviours. Both presumed that the behaviour would cease when the epithemia commenced. Although it is arsenokoetia (anal sex) which receives Basil and Gregory’s attention, they make no distinction in assigning penance to either the “active” or “passive” (“top” vs. “bottom”); the word itself implies the “top” role as the most blameworthy, however.

This condemnation of arsenokoetia apparently remains constant for approximately 300 years. Although it is not repeated by other canonical authors, neither is it repudiated or altered. St. John the Faster, Patriarch of Constantinople (582-595 A.D.), is credited with a new approach to penances. In general, he adds ascetic exercises as well as deprivation of Communion to the epithemias and significantly reduces the time a penitent would spend doing “penance.” He adds masturbation and intercural sex between men (“between the thighs,” the equivalent of the heterosexual “missionary position”) to the acts which concern him but he suggests the epithemias involved be reduced to little more than a “slap on the wrist.” The epithemias for masturbation and intercural sex vary from 7 to 80 days while the epithemia for arsenokoetia is reduced to three years, thanks to the introduction of a certain number of prostrations during the penitent’s daily prayers as well as fasting during the day with xerophagy (“dry eating,” i.e. no animal products and those vegetables or fruit that were eaten were not to be cooked) after 3 p.m. It should be noted that this “double masturbation” of intercural sex between men is a significantly less grave transgression than heterosexual fornication (to which he assigns a penance of two years with xerophagy and 250 daily prostrations. The wicked sexual acts between men that had previously cost 15 years estrangement from the community were suddenly reduced in severity to less than a third of the time involved. Not only is the epithemia for arsenokoetia reduced, that for adultery is also reduced from fifteen to three years but adultery is taken to be a more serious offence as 250 prostrations, as opposed to the 200 assigned to “perfect arsenokoetia,” is stipulated. A later manuscript, used by leading medieval canonical authorities, adds a series of subcategorizations of arsenokoetia: between brothers, with a brother-in-law, and with women. A leading 18th century Greek canonist comments that, in general, arsenokoetia between men was preferable to that between a man and a woman while anal sex with a “strange woman” was “less reprehensible …than [with a man’s own] wife.”12

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 The behaviours of heterosexual divorce and remarriage constituted sexually suspicious relationships that were wicked, condemned, finally tolerated, and even gradually accepted. Although condemned by the canons, a service which acknowledged this paradox developed to bless these second and third marriages. Condemned in many of the same ways, same-sex behaviour – especially arsenokoetia – was deemed wicked but eventually tolerated as the reduced epithemias for the various grades of arsenokoetia indicate. The satanic sexual behaviour of men with men was always castigated in tandem with the diabolic behaviour of divorce and remarriage. As the one was finally admitted and integrated into polite Eastern Christian society, might this not show the way to eventually include the other as well?

Notes

  1. Didache 2, 3.3; English translation in Cyril Richardson, Early Christian Fathers. (New York: Macmillan.) 1970, 1975. See also Athenagoras Plea, 33; English translation in Cyril Richardson, Early Christian Fathers. (New York: Macmillan.) 1970, 1975 and Clement of Alexandria, Stromata, ii.23; cited in Pat Harell, Divorce and Remarriage in the Early Church: A History of Divorce and Remarriage in the Ante-Nicene Church. (Austin: R.B. Sweet Co.) 1967. p. 177.
  2. Apostolic Tradition 15; English translation in Geoffrey Cuming, Hippolytus: A Text for Students. (Bramcote Notts: Grove Books.) 1976.
  3. Tertullian, Exhortation to Chastity, 5; English translation in Ante-Nicene Fathers (ed. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson.) (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson ) 1885, 1995. Vol. 4, p. 53.
  4. Steven Runciman, The Byzantine Theocracy. (London: Cambridge University Press.) 1977. p. 102.
  5. Patricia Karlin-Hayter, “Further Notes on Byzantine Marriage: Raptus – αρπαγή or μνηστείαι?” in Dumbarton Oaks Papers 46 (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection) 1992. pp. 133-134.
  6. Basil the Great, Canon 7.
  7. John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press.) 1980. p. 342. See also Steven Greenberg, Wrestling With God and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition. (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.) 2004. p. 84.
  8. See Origen, Homily 11 on Leviticus (11.3-4). English translation available in Gary W. Barkley, Origen: Homilies on Leviticus, 1-16. (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press.) 1990. pp. 212-213; also John Chrysostom, Homily XVI on I Corinthians (16.8). NPNF, vol. 12, p. 93 and his Homily II on I Timothy (2.1). NPNF, vol. 13, p. 414.
  9. John Chrysostom, Homily IV on Romans (4.1). NPNF, vol. 11, p. 355-256.
  10. John Chrysostom, IV Homily on Romans (4.1). NPNF, p. 356.
  11. John Chrysostom, IV Homily on Romans (4.1). NPNF, p. 356-357.
  12. John the Faster, The 35 Canons. English translation in D. Cummings, The Rudder (Pedalion). (Chicago: Orthodox Christian Educational Society.) 1957, 1983. pp. 942-943.

Stephen Morris is an independent scholar living in New York City.

Late Byzantine Canonical Views on the Disolution of Marriage (Fr. Patrick Viscuso, 1999)

NOTE: The following article is taken from The Greek Orthodox Theological Review, Vol. 44. Nos. 1-4, 1999, pp. 273-290

Orthodox Canon Law

Canon law often affirms the ideal of lifelong marriage and fidelity. Regulations prohibiting or justifying the dissolution of marital unions reflect underlying viewpoints concerning gender and sexual behavior. This study will treat the views of late Byzantine canonists concerning the dissolution of marriage. These canonists will include Matthew Blastares (ca. 1335), whose nomokanon. The Alphabetical Collection, enjoyed great popularity during the fourteenth century; as well as Theodore Balsamon (c. 1140 – c. 1195), John Zonaras (death after 1189), and Alexios Aristenos (twelfth century), whose commentaries and works remain canonical references for the Orthodox church.

THE GROUNDS FOR DIVORCE

The Alphabetical Collection was a popular legal work of the fourteenth century surviving in a large number of manuscripts and translated contemporaneously for use in the Serbian Empire of Stephen Dushan. 1 Divorce legislation occupies a large section constituting an entire chapter and including citations of imperiallaw.2 Dissolution of marriage occurs legally for causes that have arisen from actions by one or both of the parties to the union. According to these causes, the divorce is either penalized or unpenalized.

At the outset of his discussion, Blastares states that divorce by mutual consent was formerly blameless according to “ancient laws and long-held custom.” Such dissolutions took the form of the husband saying to his spouse, “Wife, manage your own affairs,” and the wife, “Husband, manage your own affairs.” This type of divorce was “abolished by Christians” through the enumeration by “the pious emperors” of causes for the dissolution of marriage, without which “it is illicit to separate.” According to Blastares, “the civil law,” and especially “the novel of Justinian which expressly sets forth the causes for which the husband or the wife sends a libellus of repudiation, i.e., a bill of divorce, to the spouse,” treats divorce “most completely.”3

Sexuality, Marriage, and Celibacy

There are six main causes listed for divorce that arises from the actions of the wife. Each is taken from imperial legislation and, with the exception of the last cause, also listed in another legal work important for the study of canon and civil law, the Nomokanon of Fourteen Titles.4 They are cited as follows:

  1. If the wife is implicated in any plotting against the Empire, and did not reveal this to her own husband.5
  2. If an accusation of adultery were to be made against the wife, and she were to be convicted as an adulteress according to the law.6
  3. If she plotted against the life of her husband in any manner whatsoever, or consented for others to do this, and did not reveal it.7
  4. If she attends banquets or bathes with strange men, against the will of the husband.8
  5. If she stays outside of the home against the will of the husband, unless she happens to be with her own parents, or he drives her out without the aforesaid causes, and parents not existing for her, she spends the night outside.9
  6. If she attends horse races, theatres, or hunts, in order to be seen, without her husband’s knowledge or against his prohibition. 10

For these causes, the husband is able to repudiate the wife and gain the dowry. The wife can be accepted back by the husband during the two-year period after the repudiation, although this would mean that he “condones the crime.”

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In turn, there are five causes that arise from the husband’s actions, for which the wife is able to send a libellus of repudiation. Likewise, these are also based on imperial legislation, and are as follows:

  1. If the husband himself conspires against the Empire, or after be-coming aware of others that conspire, he does not reveal this to the emperor either in person or by any other persons. 11
  2. If the husband plots against the life of the wife in any manner whatsoever. 12
  3. If the husband plots against the chastity of the wife by endeavoring to deliver her up to other men in order to be debauched. 13
  4. If, after the husband accuses her of adultery, he does not prove it.14
  5. If the husband has carnal relations with another woman in the same house, or in the same city, and after being warned by the wife, her parents, or any other person, he does not wish to abstain. 15

These causes are listed in the Nomokanon of Fourteen Titles as well. 16 On account of them, the wife is able to send a bill of repudiation, obtain her dowry, and gain “the husband’s gift on account of the marriage,” the antenuptial gift. Ownership of the gift is held on be­ half of the children, or if there are no offspring from the marriage, it is kept by the wife.

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Unpenalized dissolution of marriage arises from three main causes, which are also derived from imperial legislation. These causes are: impotence of the husband for three years, entrance by either spouse into religious life, and the capture and uncertain fate of either spouse for five years. 17 In the first case, the antenuptial gift remains with the husband and no loss of property occurs for either party. Entrance into the religious life is treated with regard to property relations in the same way as the death of a spouse. On this point, Blastares cites from the fifth chapter of Justinian’s twenty-second novel:

Wherefore, the one contracting would fix by agreement a benefit to occur in case of the other’s death. This benefit is necessary for the party left behind by the other (either husband or wife can establish it), since he that chooses one mode of life instead of another is thought to be dead for his spouse.18

However, remarriage of the spouse left in the world is not dis­ cussed. Although, if both husband and wife enter religious life, and one remarries or fornicates, the children receive all of that partner’s property, and in lieu of offspring, the state treasury. 19

Finally, Blastares covers the penalties for a divorce that occurs illegally, without any of the causes set forth by the law. These penal­ ties include confinement of both spouses to a monastery with loss of all property, which in tum is given to either the family or the monastery depending on whether the ascendants or descendants acquiesced to the illegal repudiation. If reconciliation takes place before the confinement, no penalties apply. Likewise, if one of the parties “wishes the marriage to be restored, and if the other were to not consent, the punishments prevail against the one that does not assent.” This discussion appears to be a synopsis of eleventh chapter of Justinian’s one hundred thirty-fourth  novel. 20

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The full article can be read here:

Abuse in the Hellenic Community (2014)

NOTE: Through the Sacrament of Confession, many spiritual Fathers are aware of domestic violence within their spiritual children’s home. Due to such strict regulations regarding divorce amongst other things, the father confessors try to find ways to make the marriage work. Sometimes, this involves adding a “spiritual dimension” to enduring physical abuse from the spouse and “doing patience like a martyr.” The act of holding the Mystery of Marriage higher than one’s own personal safety, combined with patiently enduring the physical, emotional, and psychological abuse of a husband (and in some cases a wife), will entitle the struggler to a “martyr’s crown in the next life.” This is some of the advice women have received in the monasteries here. The following article is taken from the Greek American Girl blog, March 1, 2014, http://greekamericangirl.com/2014/03/01/abuse-in-the-hellenic-community/

domestic-abuse

A recent survey of 16,500 random persons in the US  from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention turned up some very gruesome conclusions:

  • More than 1 in 3 women have experienced sexual assault, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner during their lifetime.
  •  Nearly 1 in 5 women has been raped at some time in her life.
  • One in 4 women has been a victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in her lifetime.
  • On average, 24 people per minute are victims of rape, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner in the United States.  Over the course of a year, that equals more than 12 million women and men. Those numbers only tell part of the story – more than 1 million women reported being raped in a year and over 6 million women and men were victims of stalking in a year, the report says. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

How many Greek-American women are represented in those statistics?  For decades, the issue of abuse and domestic violence in the Greek community has been “hush hush,” a taboo no one talks about even the women most affected.   But my hunch is that it is as widespread if not higher, as the figures of this study would indicate.  For this month’s “You’ve Got Issues” we will explore abuse, sexual, physical, emotional, as it affects the Greek American community, what bearing culture has on its existence, and  how it can be prevented.

domestic_violence

The killing of Carol Katsopoulos is a classic case.  After a 15 year career as a battered wife, Carol was shot by her husband in her kitchen while she was cooking. According to the medical examiner, her body had fresh bruises to the head, face, torso, arms, hands and lower back.  Carol had a history of domestic disturbances with the police department. In one incident she appeared with a bump on her head and confessed that her husband had threatened her with a gun.  She never followed through with the charges.  In fact, she even left one time to live in a battered women’s shelter out-of-state.  But she would always return as she was threatened with the loss of her two young sons if she left.

The Kotsopoulos case describes the typical pattern of abuse-forgiveness-denial.  The fact that they were an upper-middle-class couple from Manhasset attests to the reality that abuse transcends socio-economic levels.

What keeps successful and educated women such as Carol Kotsopoulos in such an abusive environment that they wind up shot in the kitchen of their suburban home at the hands of their “loving” husbands? ( http://www.antonnews.com/manhassetpress/2002/05/10/news/ (2002) & http://www.newsday.com/long-island/nassau/manhasset-wife-killer-denied-a-new-trial-1.1327059 (2009)

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HOW CULTURE COLORS ABUSE

Culture has something to do with it.  Paulette Geanacopoulos, a pivotal social worker from the National Philoptochos Society, maintains that while incidence of abuse in the Hellenic community averages about the same as in other ethnic groups, she recognizes the role that Greek culture plays in “coloring” the concept.  As she pointed out in a training manual she composed for Orthodox clergy to deal with domestic violence in their pastoral work, because Greek culture is traditionally patriarchal, it tolerates and “waters down” abuse more so than someone from American culture.  The Greek culture socializes women and men to believe that the husband is the head of the home and that a wife’s function is to keep the family intact.  As a highly patriarchal culture, men are taught to believe they merit a position of power over women who believe it is their fate to live in violence.  Due to these ingrained cultural ideas about marriage, family and sex roles, abuse tends to be overlooked, tolerated, and even condoned.

The attitudes that govern family roles and a woman’s place have a bearing on how domestic violence and abuse is tolerated and perpetuated.  Some of these attitudes include:

  • Disclosure is shameful for the entire family –“Ti tha pei o kosmos/What will people say?”
  • Family pressures or guilt, “how will you raise your children by yourself?” “Nobody in our family has been divorced.”
  • Family acceptance: “Your father used to hit me. I survived . . . “/ “He’s a good provider and so good looking”

(Domestic Violence: A Training Manual for the Greek Orthodox Community, 35)

Furthermore, as Greeks have strong religious identification as part of their culture, certain religious attitudes govern the way a woman is supposed to cope with the violence.  Some of these include:

  • Concept of forgiveness and patience : “Kane ipomoni paidi mou”/ “Be patient my child”, that she should forgive her husband as forgiveness and patience are Christian virtues highly regarded in the Orthodox faith
  • Concept of fatalism: “Ola eine gramena”/”Everything is written.” You cannot change your fate.
  • Praying and praying harder and longer for the abuse to end
  • God is allowing the abuse to occur “for a higher purpose” as a way of refining her character, and by withstanding it she is to be crowned or rewarded in some way
  • God is punishing the victim for some former sin or transgression
  •  God is great “O Theos eine megalos” and His divine Providence will change the situation

(Domestic Violence: A Training Manual for the Greek Orthodox Community, 35)

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Geanacopoulos points out in the manual that another factor making it hard for abuse to be recognized in the Greek community involves their mistrust of the “out group.”  “In Greek culture, the central social unit is the family, both nuclear and extended, which forms the core of each person’s ‘in-group’ . . . which [is] seen as supportive and trustworthy, while everyone else –the ‘out group’—is viewed with suspicion” (Manual 35). This makes it harder for victims to accept help from an agency outside the family or Church.

The Greek cultural value of “philotimo” also has a bearing on a victim’s decision not to seek out help.  The sense of honor, pride, self-respect and generosity that is expected of each individual member in a family reinforces the attitude of putting their needs second to the needs of the group.   Therefore, an individual will be expected to sacrifice his/her own individuality to protect the family collective and keep it intact. It is expected that women sacrifice themselves at their own cost to keep the family’s honor.  Not to do so would betray the family and be seen as shameful, more shameful than the physical, emotional or psychological abuse that a husband inflicts on his wife.

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Further, another great factor that influences tolerance of domestic violence is that famous Greek attribute—pride.  Because Greeks believe, sometimes overtly sometimes discreetly, that they have a superior culture and that their family values are “more successful” than those of other ethnic groups, so they are likely to conclude that Greek people have fewer social problems.  “The reality, though, is that we suffer the same problems and at the same rate of prevalence as other ethnic groups, including chronic mental illness, alcoholism and other substance abuse, gambling, poverty, homelessness, family dysfunction and violence and more.  But, we tend not to talk about our problems (secrecy/betrayal) or, we believe that we must solve our problems ourselves (expectations that members of the in-group will help each other.)  (Paulette Geanacopoulos, Domestic Violence: A Training Manual for the Greek Orthodox Community, 36.)

But, with enough acculturation and assimilation into American society, the cultural concepts that permit abuse in the Greek mind are slowly being eclipsed by such “American” concepts as women’s liberation, self-individuation, and the attitude “I’m not gonna take it.”  Tina Accardi, a psychologist from Long Island who grew up in a British-Cypriot home in the UK, notes that second-generation women assimilate these values and wind up influencing their mothers to recognize and not put up with the abuse.  She mentions several examples of personal friends, one Italian-American, another Japanese-American, where the daughters who had adopted American values of female equality coached their mothers into not accepting the violence.  In both cases, the couple wound up divorcing.  “Because culture changes with enough years in another country, so do the practices and the viewpoints that concern abuse,” she comments.  She notes that there is a difference in the way second- and third-generation women regard the traditional values of staying loyal to the family, of sacrifice, and upholding the family honor as they are not willing to uphold them at the expense of their own individual freedom and happiness.  The generational shift in dealing with abuse in the family to a large part reflects the assimilation of American values as they relate to woman’s equality.

abuse-wheel

One of the best remedies against relationship abuse is education.  Knowing the signs of an abusive personality before a woman gets intimately connected with an abuser is the best form of prevention.  Some of these include excessive jealousy, controlling behaviors, blaming the victim, rapid mood swings, and belief in rigid sex roles. A good site for more information about the warning signs of abuse is   www.stopfamilyviolence.org/help/signs-of-an-abusive-personality.

Once someone is in a relationship perhaps the major breakthrough is to have the victim recognize that indeed she is in an abusive relationship.   For many women, denial and acceptance are coping mechanisms.  In some cases they are so isolated from “normal” standards of relationship they cannot recognize that what they are undergoing is abuse.  They must call it for what it is.  Understanding the pattern of abuse and the factors that can signal a fatal or life threatening injury are crucial to taking the next step.  Counselors have uncovered a pattern in abusive relationships, a two-step tango that goes something like this:

Step 1: the tension building phase. Tension and anger build up in the abuser. You may find yourself doing everything you cannot to upset him/her.

Step 2: the battering incident. When the abuser can no longer handle tension and again they explode. An incident takes place. It may include battering, sexual abuse or verbal abuse. It may even include all three of the forms of abuse.

Step 3: the honeymoon phase. After an abusive incident, the abuser may feel guilty and maybe even ashamed. They may apologize and promise it will never happen again. The abuser may bring you or the children gifts and life may be all that you dreamed it could be, until the tension builds up again in the abuser and the cycle continues.

However, even more critical than establishing the pattern are the factors that signal a fatal or life threatening injury.  These are the signs to look for in case you are in a relationship that is heading deadly.

  •  A previous severe or life threatening attack
  • Any past attempts to strangle you
  • Recent abuse by a partner. In a research study,half the women who were killed had experienced violence within 30 days of the homicide, some within 1 or 2 days.
  •  Increasingly frequent violent attacks increases the risk of a fatal attack.
  • Abusers threaten with a weapon. One study has found that women who were threatened or assaulted with a gun or other weapon were 20 times more likely than other women to be murdered.
  • Abuse of alcohol and/or drugs. In one study, research showed that more than two-thirds of the homicide and attempted homicide offenders used alcohol, drugs or both during the incident.
  •  For a minority of women, about 1 in 5, the life threatening incident will be the first physical violence they experience from their partner.(www.glendaleaz.com/advocacycenter/documents/4122DomesticViolencebrochure.pdf)

HELP AND USEFUL RESOURCES

With help from friends, family, community organizations, and the Church, there are ways to put a stop to domestic violence and abuse in the Greek community.

Wherever you reside, you can locate domestic violence programs serving your community by contacting National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1 800 799 SAFE (7233).

SafeHorizon (www.safehorizon.org) is another organization that provides shelter, support groups, and legal advocacy for many women from a wide spectrum of ethnic identities.

NYC Domestic Violence Hotline, 1 800 621 4673(HOPE) is open 24/7 and has counselors who speak Greek to provide counseling, shelter, legal assistance and benefits for victims.

In NYC, the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence (212) 788 3156 www.nyc.gov/domesticviolence offers many educational programs to combat domestic violence and can put you in contact with other agencies and centers around the city such as the Bronx Family Justice Center recently opened to provide victim services.

New York State runs an Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence equivalent to the City’s which can be accessed at www.opdv.ny.gov. The State runs a 24 hour hotline (only in English) at 1800 942 6908.

RESOURCES IN THE GREEK COMMUNITY

GREEK ORTHODOX LADIES PHILOPTOCHOS SOCIETY: The local Philoptochos chapter of the Greek Orthodox Diocese can also provide financial help, arrange for pastoral counseling.  The National Philoptochos Social Work office in NYC runs the DYNAMIS program funded by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services to address issues of domestic violence in the Greek community.  (212) 744 4774.

HANAC CHILD AND FAMILY COUNSELING PROGRAM: HANAC is a general social service agency that assists persons of Greek descent with a variety of issues, including child and family counseling, senior citizen and youth services, housing, government entitlements, etc.  It works in conjunctions with Philoptochos to provide legal advocacy and counseling to women who are victims of domestic violence.

Litrosi (Liberation): A 48-minute award-winning domestic violence video in Greek with English subtitles. It can be purchased at a cost of $36 (US) from:

Greek Orthodox Family Services and Counseling—Wife Assault Program

3840 Finch Avenue, East Scarborough

Ontario, MIT 3T4 Canada

The Tragedy of Marriage (St. Gregory of Nyssa, c. 372)

NOTE: The following is taken from the 3rd Chapter of On Virginity. In this treatise, St. Gregory states rather emphatically that he in no way wishes to disparage marriage. Despite his evident sympathy for and understanding of the monastic and ascetic life, St. Gregory was never a monk himself. At some point he married, a move he seems to have regretted, and was therefore barred from a monastic vocation.

A Geronda here once gave one of his spiritual daughters a box of chocolates before her wedding and wished her well to have a sweet married life. After she left, he gave a short sermon to his monks, “Is there such a thing as a sweet marriage? It’s sweet until after the honeymoon, then all the problems start. You should be thankful God brought you to the monastic life.” He then mentioned a couple who were recently married. They had went down to Arizona to see Geronda Ephraim and he gave them a blessing, saying it would be good for them. Within a month of being married, they could no longer stand each other and had stopped speaking to each other and wanted a divorce. These are the kind of cautionary tales monks and nuns hear from their superiors as inspiration to remain in the monastery (though the nuns hear more of the abusive, domestic violence-type tales of what women have to endure from their husbands).

St Gregory of Nyssa

The more exactly we understand the riches of virginity, the more we must bewail the other life; for we realize by this contrast with better things, how poor it is. I do not speak only of the future rewards in store for those who have lived thus excellently, but those rewards also which they have while alive here; for if anyone would make up his mind to measure exactly the difference between the two courses, he would find it nearly as great as that between heaven and earth. The truth of this statement may be known by looking at actual facts.

But in writing this sad tragedy what will be a fit beginning? How shall we really bring to view the evils common to life? All men know them by experience, but somehow nature has contrived to blind the actual sufferers so that they willingly ignore their condition. Shall we begin with its choicest sweets? Well then, is not the sum total of all that is hoped for in marriage to get delightful companionship? Grant this obtained; let us sketch a marriage in every way most happy; illustrious birth, competent means, suitable ages, the very flower of the prime of life, deep affection, the very best that each can think of the other , that sweet rivalry of each wishing to surpass the other in loving; in addition, popularity, power, wide reputation, and everything else. But observe that even beneath this array of blessings the fire of an inevitable pain is smouldering. I do not speak of the envy that is always springing up against those of distinguished rank, and the liability to attack which hangs over those who seem prosperous, and that natural hatred of superiors shown by those who do not share equally in the good fortune, which make these seemingly favoured ones pass an anxious time more full of pain than pleasure. I omit that from the picture, and will suppose that envy against them is asleep; although it would not be easy to find a single life in which both these blessings were joined, i.e. happiness above the common, and escape from envy.

However, let us, if so it is to be, suppose a married life free from all such trials; and let us see if it is possible for those who live with such an amount of good fortune to enjoy it. Why, what kind of vexation is left, you will ask, when even envy of their happiness does not reach them? I affirm that this very thing, this sweetness that surrounds their lives, is the spark which kindles pain. They are human all the time, things weak and perishing; they have to look upon the tombs of their progenitors; and so pain is inseparably bound up with their existence, if they have the least power of reflection. This continued expectancy of death, realized by no sure tokens, but hanging over them the terrible uncertainty of the future, disturbs their present joy, clouding it over with the fear of what is coming. If only, before experience comes, the results of experience could be learned, or if, when one has entered on this course, it were possible by some other means of conjecture to survey the reality, then what a crowd of deserters would run from marriage into the virgin life; what care and eagerness never to be entangled in that retentive snare, where no one knows for certain how the net galls till they have actually entered it! You would see there, if only you could do it without danger, many contraries uniting; smiles melting into tears, pain mingled with pleasure, death always hanging by expectation over the children that are born, and putting a finger upon each of the sweetest joys.

The Wedding Feast

Whenever the husband looks at the beloved face, that moment the fear of separation accompanies the look. If he listens to the sweet voice, the thought comes into his mind that some day he will not hear it. Whenever he is glad with gazing on her beauty, then he shudders most with the presentiment of mourning her loss. When he marks all those charms which to youth are so precious and which the thoughtless seek for, the bright eyes beneath the lids, the arching eyebrows, the cheek with its sweet and dimpling smile, the natural red that blooms upon the lips, the gold-bound hair shining in many-twisted masses on the head, and all that transient grace, then, though he may be little given to reflection, he must have this thought also in his inmost soul that someday all this beauty will melt away and become as nothing, turned after all this show into noisome and unsightly bones, which wear no trace, no memorial, no remnant of that living bloom. Can he live delighted when he thinks of that? Can he trust in these treasures which he holds as if they would be always his? Nay, it is plain that he will stagger as if he were mocked by a dream, and will have his faith in life shaken, and will look upon what he sees as no longer his.

You will understand, if you have a comprehensive view of things as they are, that nothing in this life looks that which it is. It shows to us by the illusions of our imagination one thing, instead of something else. Men gaze open-mouthed at it, and it mocks them with hopes; for a while it hides itself beneath this deceitful show; then all of a sudden in the reverses of life it is revealed as something different from that which men’s hopes, conceived by its fraud in foolish hearts, had pictured. Will life’s sweetness seem worth taking delight in to him who reflects on this? Will he ever be able really to feel it, so as to have joy in the goods he holds? Will he not, disturbed by the constant fear of some reverse, have the use without the enjoyment? I will but mention the portents, dreams, omens, and such-like things which by a foolish habit of thought are taken notice of, and always make men fear the worst. But her time of labour comes upon the young wife; and the occasion is regarded not as the bringing of a child into the world, but as the approach of death; in bearing it is expected that she will die; and, indeed, often this sad presentiment is true, and before they spread the birthday feast, before they taste any of their expected joys, they have to change their rejoicing into lamentation. Still in love’s fever, still at the height of their passionate affection, not yet having grasped life’s sweetest gifts, as in the vision of a dream, they are suddenly torn away from all they possessed.

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But what comes next? Domestics, like conquering foes, dismantle the bridal chamber; they deck it for the funeral, but it is death’s room now; they make the useless wailings and beatings of the hands. Then there is the memory of former days, curses on those who advised the marriage, recriminations against friends who did not stop it; blame thrown on parents whether they be alive or dead, bitter outbursts against human destiny, arraigning of the whole course of nature, complaints and accusations even against the Divine government; war within the man himself, and fighting with those who would admonish; no repugnance to the most shocking words and acts. In some this state of mind continues, and their reason is more completely swallowed up by grief; and their tragedy has a sadder ending, the victim not enduring to survive the calamity.

But rather than this let us suppose a happier case. The danger of childbirth is past; a child is born to them, the very image of its parents’ beauty. Are the occasions for grief at all lessened thereby? Rather they are increased; for the parents retain all their former fears, and feel in addition those on behalf of the child, lest anything should happen to it in its bringing up; for instance a bad accident, or by some turn of misfortunes a sickness, a fever , any dangerous disease. Both parents share alike in these; but who could recount the special anxieties of the wife?

We omit the most obvious, which all can understand, the weariness of pregnancy, the danger in childbirth, the cares of nursing, the tearing of her heart in two for her offspring, and, if she is the mother of many, the dividing of her soul into as many parts as she has children; the tenderness with which she herself feels all that is happening to them. That is well understood by everyone. But the oracle of God tells us that she is not her own mistress, but finds her resources only in him whom wedlock has made her lord; and so, if she be forever so short a time left alone, she feels as if she were separated from her head, and can ill bear it; she even takes this short absence of her husband to be the prelude to her widowhood; her fear makes her at once give up all hope; accordingly her eyes, filled with terrified suspense, are always fixed upon the door; her ears are always busied with what others are whispering; her heart, stung with her fears, is nearly bursting even before any bad news has arrived; a noise in the doorway, whether fancied or real, acts as a messenger of ill, and on a sudden shakes her very soul; most likely all outside is well, and there is no cause to fear at all; but her fainting spirit is quicker than any message, and turns her fancy from good tidings to despair.

Greek-Orthodox-Wedding

Thus even the most favoured live, and they are not altogether to be envied; their life is not to be compared to the freedom of virginity. Yet this hasty sketch has omitted many of the more distressing details. Often this young wife too, just wedded, still brilliant in bridal grace, still perhaps blushing when her bridegroom enters, and shyly stealing furtive glances at him, when passion is all the more intense because modesty prevents it being shown, suddenly has to take the name of a poor lonely widow and be called all that is pitiable. Death comes in an instant and changes that bright creature in her white and rich attire into a black-robed mourner. He takes off the bridal ornaments and clothes her with the colours of bereavement. There is darkness in the once cheerful room, and the waiting-women sing their long dirges. She hates her friends when they try to soften her grief; she will not take food, she wastes away, and in her soul’s deep dejection has a strong longing only for her death, a longing which often lasts till it comes. Even supposing that time puts an end to this sorrow, still another comes, whether she has children or not. If she has, they are fatherless, and, as objects of pity themselves, renew the memory of her loss. If she is childless, then the name of her lost husband is rooted up, and this grief is greater than the seeming consolation. I will say little of the other special sorrows of widowhood; for who could enumerate them all exactly? She finds her enemies in her relatives. Some actually take advantage of her affliction. Others exult over her loss, and see with malignant joy the home falling to pieces, the insolence of the servants, and the other distresses visible in such a case, of which there are plenty. In consequence of these, many women are compelled to risk once more the trial of the same things, not being able to endure this bitter derision. As if they could revenge insults by increasing their own sufferings! Others, remembering the past, will put up with anything rather than plunge a second time into the like troubles.

If you wish to learn all the trials of this married life, listen to those women who actually know it. How they congratulate those who have chosen from the first the virgin life, and have not had to learn by experience about the better way, that virginity is fortified against all these ills, that it has no orphan state, no widowhood to mourn; it is always in the presence of the undying Bridegroom; it has the offspring of devotion always to rejoice in; it sees continually a home that is truly its own, furnished with every treasure because the Master always dwells there; in this case death does not bring separation, but union with Him Who is longed for; for when (a soul) departs , then it is with Christ, as the Apostle says.

But it is time, now that we have examined on the one side the feelings of those whose lot is happy, to make a revelation of other lives, where poverty and adversity and all the other evils which men have to suffer are a fixed condition; deformities, I mean, and diseases, and all other lifelong afflictions. He whose life is contained in himself either escapes them altogether or can bear them easily, possessing a collected mind which is not distracted from itself; while he who shares himself with wife and child often has not a moment to bestow even upon regrets for his own condition, because anxiety for his dear ones fills his heart. But it is superfluous to dwell upon that which everyone knows. If to what seems prosperity such pain and weariness is bound, what may we not expect of the opposite condition? Every description which attempts to represent it to our view will fall short of the reality. Yet perhaps we may in a very few words declare the depths of its misery. Those whose lot is contrary to that which passes as prosperous receive their sorrows as well from causes contrary to that. Prosperous lives are marred by the expectancy, or the presence, of death; but the misery of these is that death delays his coming. These lives then are widely divided by opposite feelings; although equally without hope, they converge to the same end. So many-sided, then, so strangely different are the ills with which marriage supplies the world. There is pain always, whether children are born, or can never be expected, whether they live, or die. One abounds in them but has not enough means for their support; another feels the want of an heir to the great fortune he has toiled for, and regards as a blessing the other’s misfortune; each of them, in fact, wishes for that very thing which he sees the other regretting.

Greek Orthodox Wedding Cake

Again, one man loses by death a much-loved son; another has a reprobate son alive; both equally to be pitied, though the one mourns over the death, the other over the life, of his boy. Neither will I do more than mention how sadly and disastrously family jealousies and quarrels, arising from real or fancied causes, end. Who could go completely into all those details? If you would know what a network of these evils human life is, you need not go back again to those old stories which have furnished subjects to dramatic poets. They are regarded as myths on account of their shocking extravagance; there are in them murders and eating of children, husband-murders, murders of mothers and brothers, incestuous unions, and every sort of disturbance of nature; and yet the old chronicler begins the story which ends in such horrors with marriage. But turning from all that, gaze only upon the tragedies that are being enacted on this life’s stage; it is marriage that supplies mankind with actors there. Go to the law-courts and read through the laws there; then you will know the shameful secrets of marriage. Just as when you hear a physician explaining various diseases, you understand the misery of the human frame by learning the number and the kind of sufferings it is liable to, so when you peruse the laws and read there the strange variety of crimes in marriage to which their penalties are attached, you will have a pretty accurate idea of its properties; for the law does not provide remedies for evils which do not exist, any more than a physician has a treatment for diseases which are never known.

But we need no longer show in this narrow way the drawback of this life, as if the number of its ills was limited to adulteries, dissensions, and plots. I think we should take the higher and truer view, and say at once that none of that evil in life, which is visible in all its business and in all its pursuits, can have any hold over a man, if he will not put himself in the fetters of this course. The truth of what we say will be clear thus. A man who, seeing through the illusion with the eye of his spirit purged, lifts himself above the struggling world, and, to use the words of the Apostle, slights it all as but dung, in a way exiling himself altogether from human life by his abstinence from marriage,— that man has no fellowship whatever with the sins of mankind, such as avarice, envy, anger, hatred, and everything of the kind.

The entire treatise can be read here: http://www.elpenor.org/nyssa/virginity.asp

Also see:

Orthodox Patristic Tradition and Wife Abuse http://www.goarch.org/archdiocese/departments/marriage/interfaith/orthodox-perspective-on-marriage/orthodox-patristic-tradition-and-wife-abuse

Example of Greek Orthodox Wedding Document
Example of Greek Orthodox Wedding Document