NOTE: On a weekly basis, it is common to find frequent articles in newspapers, magazines, blogs, medical websites, etc., extolling the health benefits of masturbation, explaining its normalcy and encouraging both men and women to do it more frequently. Today, the medical consensus is that masturbation is a medically healthy and psychologically normal habit. In many health circles it is believed that masturbation can prevent conditions such as cystitis, diabetes and cancer as well as help boost the immune system. Experts also say masturbation helps with depression, self-esteem issues. This, however, was not always the case. During St. Nikodemos’ time, the medical profession had quite a different opinion. In the 18th century, the prevailing view of medical circles was that masturbation was a sin akin to suicide and a drawn-out method of the same.
Circa 1712 AD, Dutch theologian Dr. Balthazar Bekker published a monograph titled: “Onania, or the Heinous Sin of self-Pollution, And All Its Frightful Consequences, In Both Sexes, Considered: With Spiritual and Physical Advice To Those Who Have Already Injured Themselves By This Abominable Practice.” He said that masturbation leads to “Disturbances of the stomach and digestion, loss of appetite or ravenous hunger, vomiting, nausea, weakening of the organs of breathing, coughing, hoarseness, paralysis, weakening of the organ of generation to the point of impotence, lack of libido, back pain, disorders of the eye and ear, total diminution of bodily powers, paleness, thinness, pimples on the face, decline of intellectual powers, loss of memory, attacks of rage, madness, idiocy, epilepsy, fever and finally suicide.“
In his book Confessions, Jean Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778) warned his readers that: “Once a young person gets the habit, there is no breaking it short of death.“ In the late 18th century, a Swiss physician named Tissot believed that alterations of blood flow during any sexual activity can lead to nerve damage, insanity, and blindness. He believed that masturbation was especially hazardous in this respect. Benjamin Rush, an American physician of that era, also viewed the practice of masturbation as dangerous to mental and physical health. He wrote several widely read articles on the subject.
In the Orthodox Church, no matter what the situation or excuse one uses, masturbation is a sin plain and simple. A man or woman who admits masturbation in confession will always receive a penance of no Communion for the specified time period and be told not to repeat this action again. Geronda Ephraim has stated on many occasions that if someone were to die with this sin unconfessed, they would go straight to hell; that is how serious this offense is.
In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries—both male and female, both here and in Greece—masturbation is a problem that frequently occurs, though it is more common in the male monasteries than in the female. A monk or nun that falls into masturbation will generally receive the 40 day no Communion penance, with an additional 50+ prostrations added to his or her daily prayer rule, and stern warnings. They usually will have to go to the Lity at the end of every service, go on their knees and recite the general statement given to Geronda’s monastics that fall into any form of carnal sin: “Forgive me, I am filthy in both body and soul.” Of course, if a monastic becomes a repeat offender, then the penances will increase. In certain cases, at the discretion of the superior, a monk or nun may be forced to confess their sin in front of the entire monastery. The superior will call all the monastics together, make the monastic go on their knees, and say, “Forgive me, I fell into the sin of masturbation (or fornication) last night.” This is followed by the superior rebuking and reproaching the guilty monastic and giving a cautionary sermon to the other monastics to be careful.
It should be noted that novices who fall into masturbation are usually sent home. If they are given a second chance, it will be many years before they are tonsured as rassaphores. Sometimes, after 5-8, or even more years, a novice will fall into masturbation. This will also increase the difficulty of being tonsured a rassaphore. However, by this point, many times it develops into a habit. Rassaphores do not get sent home as easily and are usually rebuked and punished more severely than novices. Again, it varies from monastery to monastery.
The following article is taken from The Rudder and Exomologetarion:
CANONS OF ST JOHN THE FASTER
But one who has been polluted in body while awake is excluded from Communion for seven days, having also to chant the 50th Psalm and to make forty-nine prostrations.
But anyone who suffers an emission while he is awake is forbidden divine Communion for seven days, and is to say the 50th Psalm each of these days, and make forty-nine prostrations daily.
Note that there is found a treatise attributed to Anastasios of Antioch which makes a notable distinction concerning emission which someone suffers while awake. As for emission while awake, a person either does it to himself or to another. That which he cause himself to suffer is due either to handling with the hand, and is penance for forty days (for this outright masturbation), or it is caused without handling with the hand. This latter kind either occurs only because of an assault, and is penanced one day, or it occurs by coupling with the thought without consent and without titillation, and is penanced three days, or it occurs by coupling with the thought and titillation without consent, and is penanced seven days, or it occurs by coupling and consent, but without titillation, and is penance twenty days, or it occurs with coupling, consent, and titillation, and is penanced thirty days. Emission produced by another person occurs either without colluctation or with colluctation. That which occurs without colluctation, but by touching and kissing, is penance twenty days; if with titillation, it is penance thirty days. If it occurs with colluctation and with another human, it is penance eighty days; but if it occurs with an animal, it is penance seven years. Those who suffer emission while awake on account of sickness and thus being subject to spermatorrhoea, and those who let out sperm mixed with their urine, are not subject to penance, because both of these types suffer from it without an assault from, or coupling with, or consent to thoughts. For this reason the said Anastasios does not mention anything about these.
Anyone having practiced masturbation is penance forty days, during which he must eat dry foods and make one hundred prostrations daily.
The present Canon designates that whoever commits masturbation is not to commune for forty days, passing those days with the eating of dry foods, that is, only bread and water, making one hundred prostrations daily. [NOTE: Monastics who masturbate in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries aren’t generally forced into a bread and water diet for the forty days. They will, however, be banned from all desserts and special foods that are given to the monastics as treats during that time period. As additional punishment, they may be called at the same time, not given the dessert, and forced to watch all the other monastics enjoying their treats].
As for the mingling of men with one another, such as producing double masturbation, it receives the stated penance of up to eight days.
The Canon here says mingling, not the complete sin of sodomy, but when two men masturbate one another, which act is penance doubly by the Saint, who penances the one committing it to eat dry foods for eight days and to make one hundred prostrations daily, because the one committing the sin is not only hurting himself, but also his brother, and this makes the sin a double one. Some have understood mingling to mean colluctation, which may occur between two men, or two women, or between a man and a woman, and is a lesser sin than fornication, but a graver one than masturbation.
If anyone among the Clergy, before being admitted to Holy Orders, fell into the passion of masturbation without thinking perhaps that on this account alone he would be dismissed from the priesthood, let him first be sufficiently penanced, and then let him enter the priesthood. But if he was caught doing this after entering the priesthood, after being suspended for a whole year for this, and being reformed with the usual penances, let him be readmitted to the priesthood. But if after becoming aware of its sinfulness, he committed it two or three times, let him cease from the priesthood, and enter the order of reader.
The present Canon says that if perchance someone before entering the priesthood fell into the offense of masturbation without knowing that on this account alone he would be excluded from the priesthood, let this person (being, that is, distinguished and virtuous in all other respects), after first receiving a rule adequate to his sin, become a priest. But if perchance after being ordained, he fell into it again, let him be suspended from the priesthood for a period of one year, and be reformed with the usual penances imposed upon masturbators, and then let him again be active in the priesthood. But if after becoming aware of its evil, he masturbated two or three times, let him cease from the priesthood, and let him enter the order of reader. Note that even masturbation alone is an impediment to the priesthood. [NOTE: Over the years, many seminarians from Holy Cross Theological School in Brookline, MA have made pilgrimages to monasteries under Geronda Ephraim. A common issue that comes up in confession is though the male student confessing has impediments to ordination—usually of a carnal sin nature—they have been told via father confessors connected to the Seminary that it is still okay to be ordained. The justification is that the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese needs priests and if the hierarchs abided by the Canons, especially masturbation and other carnal sins prohibiting ordination, then hardly anyone could be ordained since these sins are so common and prevalent today. Some of these seminarians have ignored the counsels during confession at Geronda’s monasteries not to follow through with ordination due to these impediments. Others have obeyed as they did not realize a hierarch was not allowed to override and give dispensation in the area of these Canons].
But as for women, too, if any of them has allowed herself to be kissed and felt by man, without, however, being violated by him, let her receive the penance provided for masturbation.
The Saint penances a woman who accepts kisses from a man and allows herself to be touched by him with the penance of masturbation, that is, to eat dry foods for forty days and to make one hundred prostrations daily while abstaining from Communion .