Concerning Self-Abuse; i.e. the Sin of Masturbation in the Orthodox Church (St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite)

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.

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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.

Many horrible, inhumane products were patented in the early late 19th and early 20th century to help prevent masturbation or ''self-abuse'' as it was called.
Many horrible, inhumane products were patented in the early late 19th and early 20th century to help prevent masturbation or ”self-abuse” as it was called.

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.

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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.

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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:

Holy Protection Monastery, PA.
Holy Protection Monastery, PA.

CANONS OF ST JOHN THE FASTER

St. John the Faster, 33rd Patriarch of Constantinople (582 – 595)
St. John the Faster, 33rd Patriarch of Constantinople (582 – 595)

CANON 7

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.

INTERPRETATION

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.

The Jugum Penis was intended to cure ''spermatorrhoea'', a Victorian-era name for nocturnal emissions.
The Jugum Penis was intended to cure ”spermatorrhoea”, a Victorian-era name for nocturnal emissions.

CANON 8

Anyone having practiced masturbation is penance forty days, during which he must eat dry foods and make one hundred prostrations daily.

INTERPRETATION

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].

The Spermatic Truss (patented in 1876) made any natural attempt at becoming aroused impossible.
The Spermatic Truss (patented in 1876) made any natural attempt at becoming aroused impossible.
Upon erection, the Bowen device’s clips are activated and they proceed to rip out all the surrounding pubic hairs.
Upon erection, the Bowen device’s clips are activated and they proceed to rip out all the surrounding pubic hairs.

CANON 9

As for the mingling of men with one another, such as producing double masturbation, it receives the stated penance of up to eight days.

INTERPRETATION

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.

The “Electric anti-masturbation machine” (1915 France), would have the man wear a ring connected to an electrical system.
The “Electric anti-masturbation machine” (1915 France), would have the man wear a ring connected to an electrical system.

CANON 10

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.

INTERPRETATION

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].

John Henry Kellogg believed that spicy and sweet foods would increase the libido. When the cornflakes were invented by accident, Kellogg immediately latched on to its possibility as a sex-reducing staple food because of its wheat & corn composition & its lack of spiciness or exoticness & general lack of flavor.
John Henry Kellogg believed that spicy and sweet foods would increase the libido. When the cornflakes were invented by accident, Kellogg immediately latched on to its possibility as a sex-reducing staple food because of its wheat & corn composition & its lack of spiciness or exoticness & general lack of flavor.

CANON 11

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.

INTERPRETATION

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 .

In 1837, Sylvester Graham invented the  the Graham cracker as an anti-masturbation tool. If you ate your cracker in the morning, the blandness of the cracker was supposed to lower your lust all day so that you would not have "vital fluid" expending urges.
In 1837, Sylvester Graham invented the the Graham cracker as an anti-masturbation tool. If you ate your cracker in the morning, the blandness of the cracker was supposed to lower your lust all day so that you would not have “vital fluid” expending urges.

 

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Nocturnal Emissions (St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite)

NOTE: In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, when a monastic has a wet dream, they are not permitted to venerate the icons, enter the iero, nor partake of Antidoron and Holy Communion. If the monk is an ekklesiastiko, he is not permitted to clean the church and the duty is given to another monk until after Vespers. If a monk or nun falls into the sin of masturbation then they are penance with no Holy Communion for 40 days. That day they cannot touch anything holy. Many times, the monk or nun will also have to go to the Lity daily and beg forgiveness on their hands and knees at the end of the Service: “Forgive me brothers and Fathers, I am filthy (or disgusting) in both body and soul.” This is a common thing said in the Lity when a monastic falls into carnal sin. About 10 years ago, a monk in Arizona was given 80 days in the Lity, and ordered to say the above statement . This news traveled amongst the other monasteries and it was noted that Geronda Ephraim has never given that many days in the Lity. Also, if a monk or nun accepts lustful thoughts until they reach ejaculation, it is also classified as masturbation and they are penanced as a masturbator. Sometimes, the monk or nun is ordered to go on their knees in front of all the other monks or nuns of their monastery and confess the carnal sin they fell into, i.e., “Forgive me brothers/sisters, last night I fell into the sin of masturbation.” This is usually followed by the abbot or abbess rebuking the fallen monastic and giving a cautionary homily to the other monastics. The following article is excerpted from The Rudder:

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CANON IV OF DIONYSIOS, ARCHBISHOP OF ALEXANDRIA 

As for those men who involuntarily become victims of nocturnal emission, let them too be guided by their own conscience as to whether to indulge or not, and decide for themselves, whether they have any doubt about this matter or not, as also in the case of foods, “he that hath any doubt is damned if he eat” (Romans 14:23). And let everyone be conscientious in these matters, and out spoken, in accordance with his own inclination, when he approaches God. In honoring us (for you know you are, dear) by asking these questions, you have taken us to be like-minded, as indeed we are, and you are making us partners in your decision. As for me, it is not as a teacher, but as one who deems it fitting for us to talk with each other with all simplicity, that I have set forth my own conception of the matter for our common benefit. After finding that this conception of the matter meets with your approbation, my most sensible son, when you come to see whether it is so, you may write in turn about these matters whatever appears to you right and better. Farewell, my dear son, and I pray that this finds you in peace ministering to the Lord.

INTERPRETATION

In the present Canon the Saint is speaking about involuntary emission, or what is more commonly called a wet dream, which occurs during our sleep; and he says that all men who suffer this should make their own conscience the judge. For if the wet dream resulted without any obscene imagination and erotic thought, and furthermore without overeating and over-drinking, and instead nature alone did this of herself, as if it were a natural superfluity in the way of excrement, they are not prevented from coming to communion. But if it resulted from the causes above mentioned – that is to say, from imagination and erotic thought, or from excessive eating and excessive drinking, they ought to be forbidden communion, on the ground that they are not pure, not because of the emission itself of the semen (since this is not unclean, seeing that it is a natural product, precisely as neither the flesh is unclean in itself, of which the semen is an excretion), but because of the wicked contemplation and imagination which polluted the mind. Such men as these, then, are not conscientious, and accordingly they are not outspoken, owing to the wicked contemplation and imagination they give rein to. Hence, both as doubters and as being convicted or reproved by their conscience, how can they approach God and the Mysteries? For if they approach while thus doubting, they are rather condemned, and not sanctified, just like one who is condemned for eating the common and unclean animals forbidden to Jews, if he doubts and hesitates about these, as the Apostle says.

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CONCERNING MEN WITH NOCTURNAL EMISSIONS

Canon XII of Timothy is in effect a more detailed explanation of the present Canon. For it interprets this reproof of the conscience of one who has had a wet dream. Accordingly, if he is reproved and convicted of having had this happen to him as the result of a desire for a woman-or, in other words, an erotic thought and imagination-he must not partake; but if it was the result of the influence of demons that this happened to him, he may commune. Since, however, it is difficult for one to discern when the cause of his wet dream is traceable to the enviousness and influence of demons, without his providing any occasion for it himself, the safest way is not to commune. For a wet dream may result from either overeating or over-drinking or oversleeping, and from negligence and repose, and from languor of the body, and from pride, and condemnation, and aspersion, and from some illness of the body, and from a wicked habituation to fornication, and from toil and the drinking of cold beverages. Oftentimes it is due to fear of having a wet dream, according to Symeon the modern Theologian (and see the reply No.S of Anastasios the Sinaite, and Philokalia on page 908). For this reason too the Faster in his c. VI forbids one who has polluted himself in sleep from communing for one day. John of Citrus and Balsamon in Reply No. 1 likewise excludes priests and laymen for a day if they have had a wet dream, with the sole exception that in case of danger a layman may partake of the Body and Blood of the Lord, or a priest may celebrate Divine Liturgy, even though he has had a wet dream. So say also Symeon of Thessalonica in his replies No. 14 and 15, and the Lausaicum in the discourse concerning Dioscoros, and Barsanuphios the great one among Fathers.

But above all and on all scores the great and accurate nomograph of the Spirit St. Basil insists that one ought not to commune when he has his usual trouble (see his Epitomized Definition No. 309), and is not free from every pollution of flesh and spirit (Question 3 concerning Baptism). But a wet dream due to desire and imagination is a pollution both of the soul and of the body; that, on the other hand, which occurs without imagination or insensibly, is a pollution of only the body; and there is scarcely anyone to be found who when he has a wet dream thus or otherwise is not reproved by his conscience as having polluted himself, owing to the prejudice which men have firmly rooted about this matter in their imagination. But some critical individuals have attributed pollution of the flesh even to that little pleasurable moistness of semen felt by one in his generative member and caused either by erotic contemplation or by seeing and hearing erotically some passionately loved person; from which sort of pollution as this too those going to Communion ought to be free. I cannot conceal here by silence the great cunning and craftiness employed by the Devil in regard to this affliction of a wet dream, which cunning and craftiness that sage Nilus brings out in one of his letters. The heinous wretch, says he, goes to such great lengths to pollute miserable man with an erotic wet dream that he is not satisfied to have a man suffer this misfortune while asleep, but after the accursed one excites the malignant development in a man with the imagination of certain persons, and especially of those whom we have had time to make an effort, and after nature has already prepared herself for action, he awaken the man at that moment in order that he may feel more vividly, while awake, that impure pleasure and be enabled to remember it the better. Hence by taking a cue from this fact let everyone understand how precious a treasure virginity is, and how much the Devil envies and plots to steal him away from us, and let us be on our guard.

Archangel Michael Chapel @ St. Nektarios Monastery, NY
Archangel Michael Chapel @ St. Nektarios Monastery, NY

QUESTION XII OF TIMOTHY, ARCHBISHOP OF ALEXANDRIA

If a layman who has had a wet dream ask a Clergyman to let him partake of communion, ought the Clergyman to administer communion to him, or not?

ANSWER

If it is a case of desiring a woman he ought not. But if it was Satan tempting him in order to provide an excuse for excluding him from communion of the divine Mysteries, the Clergyman ought to administer communion to him, since the tempter will not cease attacking during the time when he ought to partake of communion.

INTERPRETATION

Having been asked whether a layman who has had a wet dream ought to partake of communion on the day after he had the wet dream, this Father replies in the present Canon that if the man suffered this predicament as a result of a desire or conation to enjoy a woman, the man ought not to partake of communion, because this impassioned conation, or impulse, to which the emission was due, has polluted his intellect.

But if no such desire and conation took place, but, instead, Satan merely tempted him out of envy in order to prevent him from receiving the sanctification conferred by the divine Mysteries, he ought to partake of communion, because if he fail to partake of them, Satan will not cease to tempt him and to keep on thus preventing him from doing so whenever he is preparing to come to communion.14 Read also Canon IV of Dionysius.

Vigil at Holy Protection Monastery, PA.
Vigil at Holy Protection Monastery, PA.
  1. JOHN THE FASTER, PATRIARCH OF CONSTANTINOPLE

CANON V

Consent is the cause and origin of penances.

INTERPRETATION

The present Canon decrees that whoever becomes polluted during the night by having a seminal emission in his sleep, must not commune on the succeeding day. But after reciting the 50th Psalm of David and doing forty-nine metanies, he is purified from this pollution. But in view of the fact that women suffer a wet dream in their sleep too, they ought likewise to be penalized along with men. St. Barsanuphius the Great also canonizes with this same penance persons who had had a wet dream. According to Balsamon, however, women ought to receive antidoron when they do not commune, in order to avoid incurring any suspicion from their husbands. See also Canon IV of Dionysios.

Panagia Vlahernon Monastery, FL
Panagia Vlahernon Monastery, FL

CANON VII

But one who has been polluted in body while awake is excluded from Communion for seven days, having also to chant the fiftieth Psalm and to make forty-nine metanies.

INTERPRETATION

But anyone who suffers a seminal emission while he is awake is forbidden the divine communion for seven days, according to this Canon, and on every one of these days he has to say the 50th Psalm, and do daily forty-nine metanies.

Holy Trinity Monastery, MI.
Holy Trinity Monastery, MI.

CONSENT IS GIVING IN TO PASSION

Consent is defined by Bryennius (ibid.) as follows: “Consent is the giving in and assent of reason to passion.” Coressius asserts that consent may be complete or incomplete; and that complete consent implies complete a complete understanding on the part of the mind and a complete assent on the part of the will; hence it renders sin persistent. Note, however, that assault, presumption, wrestling, and consent, these.

Holy Transfiguration Monastery, IL.
Holy Transfiguration Monastery, IL.

WET DREAMS, DIFFERENCES, MASTURBATION; PENALTIES

The emission of semen while one is awake is due either to a vivid imagination and image of the subject with whom he is in love, when that subject is not present, or to a pleasurable contemplation of the person, or to hearing the latter’s voice, or to touching or being touched by the subject loved erotically, when the latter is present. This predicament besets for the most part persons who are of a warm constitution and warm-blooded, and also those who have become accustomed to fornication for a long time; for the seminal passages of these latter persons, being wide open, easily ejaculate on the slightest provocation, according to physicians. Note, however, that there is extant a treatise purporting to have been written by Anastasios of Antioch which says of the seminal emission suffered by a man while awake the following: As for emission while awake, the person either does it to himself or to another. That which he causes himself to suffer is due either to handling with the hand, and that is canonized to forty days (because it is outright masturbation, or it is caused without handling with the hand.) This other variety results from an assault alone, and is canonized one day. Another variety results from presumption. That which is due to presumption either occurs without consent and without titillation, and it is canonized seven days. That, again, which is produced on another person, or caused to another person, is effected either by wallowing or without wallowing. That which is effected without wallowing on the one hand, either is due to manipulations and kisses, but without deliberate titillation, and is canonized twenty days, or, on the other hand, with deliberate titillation, and is canonized with thirty days. As for that which is due to wallowing, either it is a result of an engagement with one of the same species, in which case it is canonized seventy (or eighty) days; or else it is a result of an engagement with one of a different species, with lower animals, that is to say, in which case it is canonized seven years.

Holy Archangels Monastery, TX.
Holy Archangels Monastery, TX.

Also see: