The following article is taken from Orthodox Pro Life: Abortion Information Center. The essence of all these patristic teachings is, “There is no excuse whatsoever for an abortion.”
“. . . the willful abortion of children is an act of murder, and the sinful character of that act always remains, even when conception has taken place in the most tragic circumstances.” – Metropolitan Theodosius, Orthodox Church in America, 1980
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“The Church affirms that life begins at the moment of conception, and once this new life has begun in a woman, even in cases of rape or incest, she can no longer think solely of herself. Her life and the life of the baby are in the hands of the Lord. While rape and incest are grievous sins, the Church does not permit one sin to be resolved by allowing for an even greater sin to follow.” – Bulgarian Eastern Orthodox Diocese of the USA, Canada and Australia
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After the Turks entered Cyprus and the rapes which occurred, the Cypriot Church allowed abortions for these circumstances. So someone asked Elder Epiphanios (Theodoropoulos) if this was correct or not. And he answered:
“No! It is not correct. If the raped woman was worldly, then no question is posed – she will not ask the Church what to do, anyway. If, however, the girl is faithful, then she will keep the fruit of her rape and when she appears before God, she will tell Him: Because of the words of Your lips, I kept harsh ways (Psalm 16:4). That child was my disgrace, my martyrdom, my cross. I kept it and did not transgress Your will. Think with what boldness such a woman will stand before the throne of God!”
The questioner then said to the Elder: “What is higher though: life or honor? I think honor. So precisely so, that such a girl can avoid public mockery from the birth of an illegitimate child, it would be good for her to proceed to abortion.”
The Elder responded: “There is however, a big difference, which you are not taking into consideration: You do not have the right to keep your honor, taking away the life of someone else, as is the conceived embryo. Life and honor can consequently be compared but only when they coincide in the same person.”
Counsels for Life: From the Life and Teachings of Father Epiphanios Theodoropoulos
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Parents, who themselves have been violated by their child being violated in instances of rape or incest, often want the solution that seems to offer the quickest solution for the child and all involved. Choosing abortion, while it may seem to be the quickest of choices, in fact itself leaves many more scars for the person already victimized. The author is very mindful of the violation that has taken place, and offers the wisdom of the Church as a possible means to real healing. It is the belief of this author that the person violated by rape or incest, is again violated through abortion and that by carrying and bearing the child and offering the child up for adoption to a loving couple can very well be a source of healing and strength at this most difficult time. In any of the instances above, the choice to abort or not to abort has much to do with those surrounding the young person and what they counsel and support. Fr. John Kowalczk reminds all of us surrounding those dealing with a crisis pregnancy: Any involvement in an abortion; having one, performing one, condoning one, is an action against God. Abortion can be termed a hostile act of rebellion against God’s very work of creation. And do not the words “hostile rebellion against God” sum up the very essence of the work of Satan? (Moral and Ethical Issues Confronting Orthodox Youth Across North America by Archpriest Joseph F. Purpura)
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“If abortion were illegal, what about victims of rape and incest?”
By Valerie Protopapas, Executive Secretary and Educational Director of Orthodox Christians for Life
Cases of rape and incest very rarely lead to pregnancy for a variety of reasons. In cases where they do, we must remember that the child in the womb is not guilty of any crime but is also a victim. As we do not ask the death penalty for the actual criminal of rape or incest, why should we demand it for the second innocent victim?
Also, abortion leads to increased trauma as the victim will suffer the emotional and possibly physical damage which is common to all abortions. Between 50 and 80% of all women who have had abortions suffer mild to severe psychological trauma although it may take up to 8 or 10 years before manifesting itself. This is simply piling the trauma of abortion upon trauma of rape or incest. A woman who carried through such a pregnancy may indeed wind up far better off physically and psychologically than a woman who chooses to abort.
Finally, we must remember that, as Christians, we are obligated to offer God’s compassion to the woman, not “the compassion” that is of the world. The world says that the woman would be much better off killing her child. This so-called “compassion” is wicked and leads to spiritual, moral, and sometimes physical death. God’s compassion has more respect for the sufferer, offering the suffering of His Son as an example in our distress and the promise of His eternal love and constant support in times of trial.
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When man is in pain Christ visits him. Some say: “Geronda, is this not cruel? Why did God allow this? Does He not suffer seeing us in pain?” Geronda answered: “God is in pain, too, seeing men tormented by illness, demons, barbarians… but He has great joy knowing the heavenly reward that He has prepared for them.” (Geronda Paisios of Holy Mountain, On Pain and Suffering)
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There was a time in my life when I spoke to a great deal of troubled women, counseling them and trying to help them through their pain and difficulty. Battered women, abused women, rape victims, former child molestation victims, etc. One theme that came back to me from these women again and again was that carrying the baby through to pregnancy actually helped healing and brought good out of the darkness, shame, fear, and horror of rape or incest. Another theme [from those victims that did choose abortion] was shame and deep sorrow at having put their baby to death. But this is the side nobody will tell, [our society] doesn’t care to listen to what these women have to say, they don’t care even if they did listen. It contradicts the story line they want to tell, it conflicts with their politics, and so it doesn’t count. www.str.org
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It is necessary to provide women who are pregnant respect. They need our protection. This is also very true in the case of the single mother who has been abused and violently raped. This is what happened during the Turkish invasion in Cyprus in 1974. On one hand we have the tragedy of women being raped and on the other we have a life in the womb, a living man who is not in fault and who is part of the woman’s body. Who knows what that person will be become because in each case man is made with the hope that he can become like God. (Fr. George Metallinos, University of Athens, Professor of Theology)
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Men forget to find shelter in God because their faith is not strong. They forget that God promised to protect them and asked them not to despair… (Priest Dionysios Tatsis, Periodical Orthodox Typos, March 25 2011)
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A pregnancy after rape is very rare. Many believe that abortion is the only solution to a pregnancy after rape. This idea is used by many to support the efforts towards legalization of abortion.
1. The mother who has the abortion is temporarily relieved from the pain that rape caused her. But she is left with the tragic remembrance of the murder of her child. How can we justify the decision to kill an innocent living person?
2. The mother should have support from her immediate environment [family, Church, Society]. She may decide to give the child up for adoption. The woman who patiently endures the nine months will receive a peaceful conscience knowing that she courageously decided to accept the life which lives inside of her even though this life was conceived without her will and under tragic events.
(Fr. Savvas Michailidis, Greece)
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Shouldn’t Abortion be Legal in Cases of Rape or Incest?
There are two answers to this objection. First, a child conceived through rape or incest does not deserve the death penalty for his or her father’s crime. Second, research shows that the victim of either crime is likely to suffer more if she resorts to abortion.
One large-scale study of pregnant rape victims found that approximately 70 percent chose to give birth. Many sexual assault victims see giving birth as a selfless, loving act that helps bring healing from the horrific experience of the rape itself. Women who abort children conceived through rape often report that they didn’t feel that they had any other choice, since everyone around them assumed that they would not want to give birth to the rapist’s baby.
The case against abortion for pregnant victims of incest is even stronger. Incest victims hardly ever voluntarily consent to an abortion. Rather than viewing the pregnancy as unwanted, the victim of incest is more likely to see the pregnancy as a way to get out of the incestuous relationship because it exposes the abusive sexual activity that family members are either unaware of or unwilling to acknowledge. The pregnancy poses a threat to the perpetrator, who frequently attempts to coerce his incest victim to have an unwanted abortion.
The idea that the violent act of abortion is beneficial to victims of rape and incest is simply unfounded. On the contrary, evidence shows that abortion in such cases compounds the unspeakable pain that victims experience.
Moreover, given that one-third of one percent of abortions are performed under such circumstances, we might ask why this question is so frequently raised. Do these extremely rare cases justify tolerating the other 99.67% of abortions? Would those who raise this objection really be willing to ban abortion if exceptions were made for rape and incest?
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Pregnancy resulting from Incest
excerpts from ‘The Psychological Aspects of Abortion’
the following is taken from a secular text on the psychological affects of abortion on victims of incest:
Most pregnancies from incest have a very different dynamic than from rape and must be counseled in a very different manner. Even strongly pro-abortion people, if they approach an incest case professionally, must be absolutely convinced before advising abortion, for abortion is not only is an assault on the young mother, but it may completely fail to solve the original problem. It is also unusual for wisdom to dictate anything but adoptive placement of the baby.
In incest, is pregnancy common?
No. “Considering the prevalence of teenage pregnancies in general, incest treatment programs marvel at the low incidence of pregnancy from incest.” Several reports agree at 1% or less.
How does the incest victim feel about being pregnant?
For her, it is a way to stop the incest; a way to unite mother and daughter, a way to get out of the house. Most incestuous pregnancies, if not pressured, will not get abortions. “As socially inappropriate as incest and incestuous pregnancies are, their harmful effects depend largely upon reaction of others.”
Source: G. Maloof, “The Consequences of Incest,” The Psychological Aspects of Abortion, University Publications of America, 1979, p. 74, 100
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There is a case in America of a girl who was kidnapped at age 11 in 1991 and was held captive for 18 years. She was raped and sexually abused by her kidnapper who was out on parole for a previous rape conviction at the time of her kidnapping. While in captivity she became pregnant twice and carried both pregnancies to term. She gave birth to her first child, a daughter, at age 14. She gave birth to her second child, another daughter, three years later. She breast-fed them and raised them and taught them herself while in captivity. After her rescue in 2009, and after the conviction of her kidnapper/rapist (who received a conviction of 431 years in prison), she eventually began to speak about her experience. What she endured is utterly horrific, yet she has great love for her daughters in spite of how and by whom they were conceived. When asked how she survived those 18 years, she said, “I had my girls to give me strength.” When commenting on the birth of her first daughter she said, “My baby girl came into the world when I was fourteen years old and very, very scared. Recounting that day, I can’t believe it was me that went through this. How did I not go insane with worry? How do you get through things you don’t want to do? You just do. I would do it all again. The most precious thing in the world came out of it… my daughters.” (Jaycee Dugard, 2011)
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Rebecca Kiessling: Abortion Survivor Who was Conceived in Rape
Rebecca Kiessling is an example of someone who was conceived in rape and escaped an abortion death. Her story is included here because she offers a valuable testimony in defense of the unborn who are considered ‘the hard cases.’
About Rebecca Kiessling:
I was adopted nearly from birth. At 18, I learned that I was conceived out of a brutal rape at knife-point by a serial rapist. Like most people, I’d never considered that abortion applied to my life, but once I received this information, all of a sudden I realized that, not only does it apply to my life, but it has to do with my very existence. It was as if I could hear the echoes of all those people who, with the most sympathetic of tones, would say, “Well, except in cases of rape. . . ,” or who would rather fervently exclaim in disgust: “Especially in cases of rape!!!” All these people are out there who don‘t even know me, but are standing in judgment of my life, so quick to dismiss it just because of how I was conceived. I felt like I was now going to have to justify my own existence, that I would have to prove myself to the world that I shouldn’t have been aborted and that I was worthy of living. I also remember feeling like garbage because of people who would say that my life was like garbage — that I was disposable.
Please understand that whenever you identify yourself as being “pro-choice,” or whenever you make that exception for rape, what that really translates into is you being able to stand before me, look me in the eye, and say to me, “I think your mother should have been able to abort you.” That’s a pretty powerful statement. I would never say anything like that to someone. I would say never to someone, “If I had my way, you’d be dead right now.” But that is the reality with which I live. I challenge anyone to describe for me how it’s not. It’s not like people say, “Oh well, I‘m pro-choice except for that little window of opportunity in 1968/69, so that you, Rebecca, could have been born.” No — this is the ruthless reality of that position, and I can tell you that it hurts and it’s mean. But I know that most people don’t put a face to this issue. For them, it’s just a concept — a quick cliche, and they sweep it under the rug and forget about it. I do hope that, as a child of rape, I can help to put a face, a voice, and a story to this issue.
I’ve often experienced those who would confront me and try to dismiss me with quick quips like, “Oh well, you were lucky!” Be sure that my survival has nothing to do with luck. The fact that I’m alive today has to do with choices that were made by our society at large, people who fought to ensure abortion was illegal in Michigan at the time — even in cases of rape, people who argued to protect my life, and people who voted pro-life. I wasn’t lucky. I was protected. And would you really rationalize that our brothers and sisters who are being aborted every day are just somehow “unlucky”?!!
Although my birthmother was thrilled to meet me, she did tell me that she actually went to two back-alley abortionists and I was almost aborted. After the rape, the police referred her to a counselor who basically told her that abortion was the thing to do. She said there were no crisis pregnancy centers back then, but my birthmother assured me that if there had been, she would have gone if at least for a little more guidance. The rape counselor is the one who set her up with the back-alley abortionists. For the first, she said it was the typical back-alley conditions that you hear about as to why “she should have been able to safely and legally abort” me — blood and dirt all over the table and floor. Those back-alley conditions and the fact that it was illegal caused her to back out, as with most women.
Then she got hooked up with a more expensive abortionist. This time she was to meet someone at night by the Detroit Institute of Arts. Someone would approach her, say her name, blindfold her, put her in the backseat of a car, take her and then abort me . . . , then blindfold her again and drop her back off. And do you know what I think is so pathetic? It’s that I know there are an awful lot of people out there who would hear me describe those conditions and their response would just be a pitiful shake of the head in disgust: “It’s just so awful that your birthmother should have had to have gone through that in order to have been able to abort you!” Like that’s compassionate?!! I fully realize that they think they are being compassionate, but that’s pretty cold-hearted from where I stand, don’t you think? That is my life that they are so callously talking about and there is nothing compassionate about that position. My birthmother is okay — her life went on and in fact, she’s doing great, but I would have been killed, my life would have been ended. I may not look the same as I did when I was four years old or four days old yet unborn in my mother’s womb, but that was still undeniably me and I would have been killed through a brutal abortion.
According to the research of Dr. David Reardon, director of the Elliot Institute, co-editor of the book Victims and Victors: Speaking Out About Their Pregnancies, Abortions and Children Resulting From Sexual Assault, and author of the article “Rape, Incest and Abortion: Searching Beyond the Myths,” most women who become pregnant out of sexual assault do not want an abortion and are in fact worse-off after an abortion. See http://www.afterabortion.org .
So most people’s position on abortion in cases of rape is based upon faulty premises: 1) the rape victim would want an abortion, 2) she’d be better off with an abortion, and 3) that child’s life just isn’t worth having to put her through the pregnancy. I hope that my story, and the other stories posted on my site [www.rebeccakiessling.com], will be able to help dispel that last myth.
I wish I could say that my birthmother was with the majority of victims and that she didn’t want to abort me, but she had been convinced otherwise. However, the nasty disposition and foul mouth of this second back-alley abortionist, along with a fear for her own safety, caused her to back out. When she told him by phone that she wasn’t interested in this risky arrangement, this abortion doctor insulted her and called her names. To her surprise, he called again the next day to try to talk her into aborting me once again, and again she declined and was hurled insults. So that was it — after that she just couldn’t go through with it. My birthmother was then heading into her second trimester — far more dangerous, far more expensive to have me aborted.
I’m so thankful my life was spared, but a lot of well-meaning Christians would say things to me like, ”Well you see, God really meant for you to be here!” Or others may say, “You were meant to be here.” But I know that God intends for every unborn child to be given the same opportunity to be born, and I can’t sit contentedly saying, “Well, at least my life was spared.” Or, “I deserved it. Look what I’ve done with my life.” And millions of others didn’t? I can’t do that. Can you? Can you just sit there and say, “At least I was wanted . . . at least I’m alive” or just, “Whatever!”? Is that really the kind of person who you want to be? Cold-hearted? A facade of compassion on the exterior, but stone-cold and vacated from within? Do you claim to care about women but couldn’t care less about me because I stand as a reminder of something you’d rather not face and that you’d hate for others to consider either? Do I not fit your agenda?
In law school, I’d also have classmates say things to me like, “Oh well! If you’d been aborted, you wouldn’t be here today, and you wouldn’t know the difference anyway, so what does it matter?” Believe it or not, some of the top pro-abortion philosophers use that same kind of argument: “The fetus never knows what hits him, so there’s no such fetus to miss his life.” So I guess as long as you stab someone in the back while he’s sleeping, then it’s okay, because he doesn’t know what hits him?! I’d explain to my classmates how their same logic would justify me killing you today, because you wouldn’t be here tomorrow, and you wouldn’t know the difference anyway, so what does it matter?” And they’d just stand there with their jaws dropped. It’s amazing what a little logic can do, when you really think this thing through — like we were supposed to be doing in law school — and consider what we’re really talking about: there are lives who are not here today because they were aborted. It’s like the old saying: “If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a noise?” Well, yeah! And if a baby is aborted, and no one else is around to know about it, does it matter? The answer is, YES! Their lives matter. My life matters. Your life matters and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
The world is a different place because it was illegal for my birthmother to abort me back then. Your life is different because she could not legally abort me because you are sitting here reading my words today! But you don’t have to have an impact on audiences for your life to matter. There is something we are all missing here today because of the generations now who have been aborted and it matters.
One of the greatest things I’ve learned is that the rapist is NOT my creator, as some people would have me believe. My value and identity are not established as a “product of rape,” but as a child of God. Psalm 68:5,6 declares: “A father to the fatherless . . . is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families.” And Psalm 27:10 tells us “Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.” I know that there is no stigma in being adopted. We are told in the New Testament that it is in the spirit of adoption that we are called to be God’s children through Christ our Lord. So He must have thought pretty highly of adoption to use that as a picture of His love for us!
Most importantly, I’ve learned, I’ll be able to teach my children, and I teach others that your value is not based on the circumstances of your conception, your parents, your siblings, your mate, your house, your clothes, your looks, your IQ, your grades, your scores, your money, your occupation, your successes or failures, or your abilities or disabilities — these are the lies that are perpetuated in our society. In fact, most motivational speakers tell their audiences that if they could just make something of themselves and meet this certain societal standard, then they too could “be somebody.” But the fact is that no one could ever meet all of these ridiculous standards, and many people will fall incredibly short and so, does that mean that they ‘re not “somebody” or that they’re “nobody?” The truth is that you don’t have to prove your worth to anyone, and if you really want to know what your value is, all you have to do is look to the Cross –because that’s the price that was paid for your life! That’s the infinite value that God placed on your life! He thinks you are pretty valuable, and so do I. Won’t you join me in affirming others’ value as well, in word and in action?
For those of you who would say, “Well, I don’t believe in God and I don’t believe in the Bible, so I’m pro-choice,” please read my essay, “The Right of the Unborn Child Not to be Unjustly Killed — a philosophy of rights approach” which is linked on the menu. I assure you, it will be worth your time.
article source: http://www.rebeccakiessling.com/index.html
link to Rebecca Kiessling’s philosophical essay on abortion:
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Abortion, Politics, and the “Rape and Incest” Exception
by Frederica Mathewes-Green
Coming soon to a podium near you: local politician Bluster K. Fluster, running for re-election, asserting his deeply held personal belief that abortion is wrong. There’s an exception, of course: cases where the woman conceived due to rape or incest.
A lot of his audience is nodding in agreement. Their reaction is typical; across the nation, polls show that approval of anti-abortion laws rises dramatically when this exception is made. According to a 1999 Wirthlin poll, for example, 62% of Americans would endorse a law prohibiting abortion except in cases when the pregnancy would kill the woman, or when it was caused by rape or incest. Remove that last clause and agreement drops thirty points.
It seems like common sense. Sexual violence is a nightmare. Dragging it out for nine months of pregnancy seems an added cruelty. Then there’s the child, for whom the truth about his father could be devastating. Fluster’s audience is sure abortion is the most compassionate course for the victims of sexual violence.
But did anyone think to ask the victims themselves?
In the new book, “Victims and Victors” (Acorn Books, 2000), editors David Reardon, Amy Sobie, and Julie Makimaa draw on testimonies of 192 women who experienced pregnancy as a result of rape or incest, and 55 children who were conceived in sexual assault. It turns out that when victims of violence speak for themselves, their opinion of abortion is nearly unanimous — and the opposite of what the average person expects.
Nearly all the women who conceived due to rape or incest, then had abortions, said that they regretted it. Of those giving an opinion, over 90% said that they would discourage other victims of sexual violence from having an abortion.
On the other hand, of the women who conceived due to rape or incest and carried to term, not one expressed regret about her choice. Of those giving an opinion, 94% of rape victims and 100% of incest victims said abortion was not a good option for other women in their situation.
“I feel personally assaulted and insulted every time I hear that abortion should be legal because of rape and incest,” says Kathleen DeZeeuw, whose testimony is included in “Victors and Victims.” “I feel that we’re being used to further the abortion issue, even though we’ve not been asked to tell our side of the story.”
Her side of the story starts with skipping a church meeting to go with a girlfriend to a local coffeehouse. The sixth of eight children, Kathleen was raised in a Christian home with strict rules against associating with anyone outside their congregation. So perhaps Kathleen was naive when she agreed to go to a movie with a young man she met at the coffeehouse.
Soon after her head was being bashed against his car window until she was too weak to resist. Somehow she knew the rape that followed would make her pregnant. “I remember screaming this over and over again. This only served as a terrifying source of hideous laughter.” He threw her out of the car, with a warning that he’d hurt her worse if she told anyone. She made her way home feeling shattered and dirty.
Kathleen, only 16, kept the secret until it couldn’t be concealed. When the pregnancy became obvious, her parents were distressed and her siblings were disgusted. “Because I wouldn’t talk about it, many rumors started about me and everyone had his own interpretation of what must have ‘really’ happened.” She was sent to a maternity home a thousand miles away.
But something had begun to change in her heart. At first, she was repulsed at the thought of carrying “this man’s child,” yet as she felt the baby kick and move, her horror began to change to sympathy. “I began to realize that this little life inside me was struggling too…I was no longer thinking of the baby as the ‘rapist’s’… I now thought of this baby as ‘my baby.’ My baby was all I had. I felt abandoned by everyone. I had only this life inside me to talk to.”
Not that everything was easy. The first time Kathleen held her son she felt ‘revulsion,’ because he looked exactly like his father, a resemblance that remained as he grew. “The laughter of my little boy often reminded me of the hideous laughter of this guy as he had raped me.” But Patrick kept telling his mother she needed to forgive, as he himself had forgiven her sometimes pained reactions to him, as well as the actions of his unknown dad. In the end, forgiveness set Kathleen free.
Victims of sexual violence need counseling and care, Kathleen says, and plenty of time for healing. “To encourage a woman to have an abortion is to add even more violence to her life…Two wrongs will never make a right.”
Kathleen’s association of abortion with “even more violence” gives us a first clue to why victims of sexual violence would resist abortion. As Reardon points out, “Abortion is not some magical surgery which turns back the clock.”
What rape takes away from a woman, abortion cannot restore. Instead, though outsiders picture abortion as a quick and sanitary event behind closed doors, to the woman it is a second assault, one that disturbingly resembles the violence she has already endured.
“[M]any women report that their abortions felt like a degrading form of ‘medical rape,’” Reardon writes. “Abortion involves a painful intrusion into a woman’s sexual organs by a masked stranger…For many women this experiential association between abortion and sexual assault is very strong…[W]omen with a history of sexual assault are likely to experience greater distress during and after an abortion than are other women.”
Second, Reardon says, post-abortion women typically feel guilty, “dirty,” depressed, and resentful of men, the same feelings which are common after sexual assault. Rape and incest victims who abort get a double whammy of these difficult emotions. “Rather than easing the psychological burdens of the sexual assault victim, abortion adds to them.”
For victims of incest the case is even stronger (and, of course, incest is often just a particular form of rape). For these girls, pregnancy can represent their only hope to get out of the abusive situation. They may have been threatened and beaten; they may have been told, for example, “If you tell Mommy, I’ll kill her.” But the girl knows that if she gets pregnant someone will have to see her plight and rescue her. To such a girl, pregnancy is not the problem; incest is the problem, and pregnancy may be the solution. Reardon writes, “Unlike pregnancies resulting from rape, most incest pregnancies are actually desired, at least at a subconscious level, in order to expose the incest.”
Reardon found that in virtually every case of pregnancy following incest, the abortion was not the girl’s decision. “In several cases, the abortion was carried out over the objections of the girl who clearly told others that she wanted to give birth to her child.” Instead, the abortion was planned by adults in her life, and frequently — for obvious reasons — by the perpetrator himself. Abortion turns out to be a great way to destroy evidence. It’s the best friend a sexual abuser has. And you’d be surprised how many people don’t ask any questions.
One woman writing under the pseudonym “Mary Jean Doe” recounts that when she was 12 years old, after some months of molestation by her older brother and his friend, she was late for a period.
“I turned to my Sunday School teacher for help…She gave me a hug and said I should go to Planned Parenthood…She never asked who the male partner was or why I was sexually active at that age.
“So my older brother took me to Planned Parenthood…No one expressed any dismay, concern or even interest that a 12-year-old girl needed a pregnancy test. I heard a lot of talk about ‘being responsible’ and ‘taking control of my body.’ Someone gave me a handful of condoms on the way out and made a joke about it being an assortment — red, blue, and yellow.”
No one asked the brother any questions, and he understandably refrained from getting chatty. Two days later the clinic phoned to tell Mary Jean that the test was positive and gave a time for her to return for an unspecified procedure. “The caller never used the word ‘pregnant’ or ‘abortion.’”
That evening her period started, so Mary Jean never kept the appointment. Only years later in biology class did she learn what sexual intercourse is — and that she had not been doing it. The abuse inflicted on her was not of a type that could result in pregnancy. Mary Jean was horrified to learn that she had been scheduled for an abortion none the less.
She concludes, “Abortion on demand, no questions asked, makes it easier for incest and child abuse to continue. Abortion for incest victims sounds compassionate, but in practice it is simply another violent and deceptive tool in the hand of the abuser.”
In a similar case in Baltimore, Maryland, Dr. Julio C. Novoa performed five abortions on three sisters who had been habitually raped by their father. The doctor didn’t suspect a thing. “When these patients came to my office, they came with a mother, and you, as a doctor, feel comfortable that the family knows,” he said. “They never, never made a mention or a hint” that anything was wrong. The girls were between the ages of 13 and 19, and their mother facilitated both the incest and the abortions. The situation ended only when the youngest girl scrawled at the bottom of a history test that she hated life and wanted to die. In the case of that young incest victim, speedy abortion with no questions asked did not set her free.
But surely a young girl who was pregnant shouldn’t be encouraged to have a baby, should she? She probably has unrealistic ideas that the baby will provide her with the unconditional love she craves. She may have naive fantasies that the child will be like a doll she can dress up and play with.
“It is precisely the young girl’s attachment to her baby, whether realistic or unrealistic, which insures with 100 percent reliability that she will be traumatized by the abortion,” Reardon writes. “To the young girl, the abortion is not an act of free will by which she is regaining her future. It is the destruction of her baby, her ‘baby doll,’ even…Which would the young girl rather have? A baby or a traumatic surgery wherein she is forced to participate in the murder of her baby?”
While a young girl should be spared pressure to kill her child, the most loving thing she can do next is to place him for adoption. Reardon cites Dr. George Maloof, who strongly recommends that children conceived in incest be adopted, not only for the child’s sake but so that the original family can begin to heal. (Incidentally, children of incest are not doomed to be victims of deformity due to “inbreeding.” Such problems emerge following repeated patterns of incest over several generations.) Maloof writes, “Only after having the child adopted can there be some assurance that this new life will not simply become part of the incestuous family affair. The family can be consoled by the knowledge that they have broken their incestuous pattern.”
That pattern is shown in the testimony of Dixie Lee Gourley, who remained in contact with her birth family throughout childhood while “boarding” with several other families. When she was 11 her visiting dad began to molest her, a horror she kept secret. It wasn’t until she was forty years old that she learned she wasn’t the only one. Four decades before he had also molested and impregnated another girl, the woman she’d always called her “stepsister.” This sister was also her mother, and her father was also her grand-dad.
Some women who had children after rape, then raised them, feel that adoption would have been the better course. Kathleen DeZeeuw, who has raised her son Patrick, writes: “I personally believe that for her child’s sake, she should strongly consider adoption. That may sound strange coming from me, but I know the emotional problems that can result from being daily reminded of the assault. In many case it may be truly better for the child that he or she not be subjected to this added turmoil.”
Sharon Bailey, who also gave birth after rape then raised her child, saw conflict over her daughter become one of the stresses that undermined her marriage. She believes that her daughter “would have had a more normal life” if she had been adopted. Nancy Cole, however, who raised a child after being impregnated by her own father, is satisfied with her decision. “[M]y daughter is now 18, loves the Lord, and is happy and well-adjusted. I have raised her all my life and I know I made the right decision.”
But back to our friend Fluster, beaming and bowing to applause. Does he have a point, when we’re talking about the public square? Remember how a “rape and incest” exception makes laws protecting unborn life much more acceptable to voters. How, strategically, should we approach the laws we craft?
David Reardon believes that it was softening of laws for “hard case” rape and incest pregnancies that paved the way for abortion on demand. Indeed, the Doe v. Bolton decision, the companion case to Roe v. Wade, stipulated that if abortion was legal in those cases it could not be withheld for any reason concerning a woman’s health, including her emotional condition or her age. Legalization of the hard cases is the “camel’s nose” in the tent, Reardon says, yet “[M]ost pro-life activists will continue to squirm and equivocate when asked about abortion for rape or incest pregnancies.”
The course of pro-life political strategy over the last decade was more complex than that. No pro-life activist believes that abortion is acceptable in cases of rape or incest. While such a view has been popular with the public, pro-lifers believe that the child conceived in violence is obviously as worthy of protection as any other baby. She has done nothing deserving of death. Even someone who believed that every rapist should be condemned to death would balk at extending the sentence to the rapist’s child. The idea becomes even more appalling when we remember that it is, in reality, the rape victim’s child. Justice requires that innocent life be protected, and this unborn child is unquestionably an innocent bystander, if not a second victim, of the attack.
Yet, about ten years ago, some pro-life organizations began to encourage state legislatures to pass laws that allowed an exception for rape and incest. Their reasoning was simply pragmatic. The numbers of rape and incest abortions each year are relatively small, 1% or less of the total. Let’s write a law that the public will accept, the thinking went, and save 99% of the babies. That will give a platform to build on, and with further education, over coming years, we can come back for the rest. At debates, pro-choicers who brought up the 12-year-old incest victim would sometimes be stymied when their bluff was called: “Okay, if I agreed to let rape and incest abortions remain legal, would you agree to outlaw all the rest?”
Other pro-lifers objected vehemently to this strategy. You’re abdicating the very principle of the sacredness of human life, they charged; you’re creating a category of “second-class babies.” Visitors to the annual March for Life in Washington will no doubt recall that the theme almost every year reflected such a “No Compromises!” position. Advocates on this side would insist that such a concession dynamited the very foundation of the movement. They refused to be party to anything that would leave any baby behind. We can’t “come back” for the rape and incest babies later, they noted wryly. They won’t be there. They’ll be dead.
Those advocating what was called “the incremental approach” found this response unrealistic and frustrating. “Do you mean you’d let 99 children die in a burning building, just because you couldn’t get all 100 out?” was a frequent question. For several years this debate produced heated words almost any time pro-life leaders gathered, and led to no philosophical resolution.
Eventually, however, there was a practical resolution. Though a few states did pass versions of the “incremental” law, the Supreme Court soon made it clear that any such law was flatly unacceptable — exceptions or no exceptions. No prohibition of any abortion, under any circumstances, was allowed. The point was moot.
Thus in recent years there have been no pro-life attempts to outlaw abortion generally, either with or without exceptions. The attempt, in thirty states, to prohibit only one particularly gruesome method of late-term abortion, was recently ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. The only other initiatives have been narrowly crafted to hold clinics to safety standards or to ensure women are fully informed, to give parents a say in a teen’s abortion or to require a waiting period for reflection. None of these laws prohibit any abortion; they regulate it, like state liquor laws regulate sale of alcohol, without prohibiting anyone who can read the sign outside the store from buying as much booze as he wants. As such, these laws could end up backfiring on the pro-lifers who worked so hard for them. They may give the public the impression that, like liquor sales, abortion is now safe and tidy and reasonably regulated. Since pro-lifers fought for these laws, citizens may feel they should now politely go away. Pro-lifers got some of the pie and the pro-choicers got some, they might conclude, so everyone should be happy.
There isn’t much political application to the discussion of rape and incest abortion, when all abortions are absolutely legal. Yet the emotional, spiritual, and philosophical discussion continues. While it looks at first glance as if rushing victims of violence to an abortion clinic is the greatest kindness, when we listen to them we learn that it is not at all what they want. What they want is surprising, but most of all it includes not inflicting violence on another person.
“The victim may sense, at least at a subconscious level, that if she can get through the pregnancy she will have conquered the rape,” Reardon writes. “By giving birth, she can reclaim some of her lost self-esteem. Giving birth, especially when conception was not desired, is a totally selfless act, a generous act, a display of courage, strength, and honor. It is proof that she is better than the rapist. When he was selfish, she can be generous. While he destroyed, he can nurture.”
Perhaps the most poignant passages in “Victims and Victors” are from the testimonies of women who did instead what most Americans assume they should, and aborted their abuse-conceived children. The next time you hear Fluster express his “compassionate” views, think of these words from Patricia Ryan:
“[Abortion] only compounds the trauma and pain of rape and incest. I was an innocent victim of a horrible crime. I was not to blame for what the rapist did to me. But in choosing to abort, to kill the innocent child growing within me, I lowered myself to the level of the rapist. I too committed a crime against a defenseless baby who had done nothing wrong, who was also a victim of the rapist. That child may have been fathered by a criminal, but I was the mother, and I killed a part of myself when I had the abortion. It only compounded my pain; it didn’t solve a thing.”
Published in Citizen Magazine October 2000.
NOTE: The following article is excerpted from Studies in the History of Religions XIXXX:317-351.
- “Do as the Priest Says, Not as the Priest Does!”
- “I Worship the Icons | My Eyes on the Matrons”
- Men vs Women: Isolation And Discrimination
- “The Abbots’ Right Over Gypsy Women”
- Homosexuality and Pedophilia in the Monasteries
“DO AS THE PREIST SAYS, NOT AS THE PRIEST DOES!”
At the beginning of the 18th century, Romanian Metropolitan Antim Ivireanul created, through his Didahii (Sermons), a genuine “theology of sin,” setting the stage for the immorality of erotic voluptuousness. To him, women were “reprobate and tempting to evil things.” All vices, but especially sexual ones (“the bitter sweetness of foul fornication”) were demonized by the Metropolitan (“He who sins is from the Devil”), Hell being “the consummate payment for sin”:
“Think […] that you have defiled your soul with fornications, adulteries, sodomies, soblazne-s [= pollutions], with debaucheries and food galore; your hands, with foul fondling [= masturbation], with perversions and rapes [= sexual violations], with killings and others.” Didachies (Sermons), 1709-1716.
The metropolitan was speaking not only to Christian laymen, but also to clerics, handing them genuine “textbooks of the confessor.” The confessor had to know “how he will question” the wretched sinner during “confession” and “how to bring him back to the righteous path” (Teachings for Confession, 1710).1
…Most of the sins confessed into the priest’s ear were surely those of an erotic nature. As Michel Foucault put it: “sex has been the privileged matter of confession.”2 Compared to the rigorism of the clerics, the peasants’ mentality was more flexible, more permissive…Quite often, however, the confessors needed confessors themselves, as they were not immune to the temptation of sin either…More than that, “due to uninterrupted idleness and abundant food,” some clerics “are naturally more exposed to the temptation of the body than other people.”3
The sinner’s confession took place in the intimate and dark space of the confessional or, with the Orthodox Christians, in a less “hygienic” space, under the priest’s apron (patrafir, Neo-Greek epitrahilion = “around the neck”).4 The confessor (who played the role of the psychiatrist in ancient times) had to know relevant details, but he also wanted to hear them. Listening to countless illicit sexual exploits, told by their parishioners with hundreds of licentious details, the confessors saw them with the mind’s eye, becoming inclined towards erotic fantasies. They were prone to sin first “in thought” and then “in deed.” As an old Romanian proverb goes, which was recorded in a manuscript dating back to the middle of the 18th century: “The appetite for fornication is much whetted by gazing” (Mss. BAR no. 273, 1759)5 . “Gazing,” but also “lending an ear” whets “the appetite for fornication.” That is what Antim Ivireanu also said explicitly, at the beginning of the 18th century:
“You have defiled your ears with dirty songs and words […] you have [defiled] your eyes with impious sights and signs of fornication” (Didahii [Sermons], 1709-1716).
“There are men who rape a woman with their eyes,” says a character from a novel by Octav Şuluţiu (Ambigen, 1935)6. The sensory system plays a paramount role. The rest is a matter of the imagination. The main sexual organ is not the penis or the vagina, but the brain.
One of the first Romanian poets who addressed the hypocrisy of the Christian Orthodox priests was Alecu Văcărescu, around 1795: “Should a priest walk your way | He acts in a hallowed way | But he’s masked his face away.”7 When Eminescu wrote in a poem (Egipetul, 1872) about the “debauched clergy,” he was surely not referring only to ancient Egyptian clergymen. Presumably, he also had in mind contemporary Romanian, Christian Orthodox clerics. There are many debauched priests and monks in Romanian literature…
Even when they were married, some Orthodox priests would not refrain from bedding one of their women parishioners or from raping a maid. The following is the real testimony, from a complaint dating back to 1791, submitted to the Metropolitan’s office and probably signed by a neighbour, who bears witness to the way in which a certain Father Toma had raped and deflowered his young maid, Pena:
“(One evening), as he came back home drunk, [Father Toma] beat up his wife and threw her out of the house and then he turned upon this girl [Pena] and spoiled [=deflowered] her. And to prevent her from shouting, he gagged her. And he repeated that exploit twice that night.”8
Following the girl’s complaint, the Metropolitan’s office launched an inquiry, opening a “case.” The confrontation was, however, asymmetrical and unjust. The priest’s sexual privileges, even if they are not provided for (and are even banned) by law, through custom and use, became tradition, into lex non scripta: “[b]ut the legal battle did not give [the maid] a winning hand”, Constanţa Vintilă-Ghiţulescu rightly comments, “for the priest had on his side his friends from the slum, his prestige and his power. To denounce such a master involved much greater risks than keeping the secret: losing the job, dishonour, the impossibility of finding another job.”9
In their turn, abbots and monks from Christian Orthodox monasteries were not guileless either. On seeing a beautiful maiden, they feared they would be tempted to sin:
The poor monk’s desire, See his soul burning on fire […] Where he sees a maiden fair His frock is blown in the air, For his soul is in despair, Afraid a great sin to bear!10
Obviously, some monks got over their “fear to sin” and raped girls. One of them, in a monastery in Moldova, in 1739, tried (without success) to avoid sanctions (“beating” and “gaol punishment”), confessing that it had been a freely consensual act, not a sexual violation: “with the girl’s approval he committed fornication, not forcefully.”11
The monk and priest Eufrosin Poteca (1785-1858), the future prior of the Gura Motrului monastery, also suffered from “the disease of loving maidens,” being always “consumed by love” and feeling “in the depths of his heart, the fire of love” for fair maidens. These are almost innocent vices, which, he claimed, he had to experiment in order to be able afterwards “to bring others to the right path as well”: “I wanted to learn better the passion of love so that I might learn by trial and error how I might lead others to the right path, too.”12
Small wonder that the reformist theologian was deeply resented by the senior clergy of the Romanian Orthodox Church. For the early decades of the 19th century, but not only, Eufrosin Poteca behaved at the limit of scandal and sacrilege. As to Prior Eufrosin Poteca, the Metropolitan was “full of rabid venom.”
Eufrosin Poteca promoted a sort of “erotic mysticism,” as George Călinescu dubbed it. In 1828, for instance, while in Pest, the Romanian monk and priest experienced a state of supreme spiritualization, of mystic de-materialization (“she seemed to have turned me all into spirit), making love to “a mystery maiden.” A very beautiful maiden, true, but who proved to be of light mores, “a harlot”:
“[The girl] was very pretty, indeed, like a fresh rose bud, like an angel, like a goddess […] We slept together in bed and we tasted a sweetness, a pleasure which to me, seemed a blessing from God […]. She seemed to have turned me all into spirit.”13
And all this, he confesses to the reader, not because he might have been a “virgin,” it was “as if he hadn’t known a woman before.” More than anything, the reformist priest-monk and Prior Eufrosin Poteca stood up against monastic asceticism. “He did not fast or bow down to the ground in church,” G. Călinescu wrote. He lamented his fate (and the fate of the monk in general) of leading a sad and unfulfilled life without a wife: “[t]his is a life against nature, against the consorting law, against God.”14
“I WORSHIP THE ICONS | MY EYES ON THE MATRONS”
A whole chapter in the index of folk motifs by ethnologist Stith Thompson (Motif-Index of Folk-Literature, 1932-1937; T330- T350) is devoted to the theme of folk tales and legends related to the sexual temptations of monks and hermits: T350. Anachorites under temptation.15
The monks in Buddhist monasteries were banned from all sexual activities: masturbation, sodomy, zoophilia, etc. As we have seen, it is precisely the bans of some practices that prove their existence. However, paradoxically, the greatest sin was the heterosexual sex act. A woman could not be penetrated by a monk in any of “the three impure orifices” (the vagina, the anus, the mouth). The erect penis was not allowed to penetrate inside “not even the length of a sesame seed,” according to the Buddhist texts.16
…For the Christian-Orthodox space, see Cânticul călugărului (The Monk’s Song), collected at the middle of the 19th century by Vasile Alecsandri17 and the song Călugăritul (Donning the Monk’s Frock), collected around 1868 from the repertory of the Bucharest Gypsy rhapsodists by G. Dem. Teodorescu18, a great admirer of Eufrosin Poteca19. The poor monk lived in a true state of schizophrenia, his eyes and his mind juggling “from icons to matrons”20 and “from (the pages of) the Bible,” to “fair maids”:
I was not good for the frock, For my heart is like a rock, Nor was I good for the cloth, But for love I am no sloth, ‘Cos I worship all the icons My eyes set on the fair matrons, As I read, the Bible fades When I watch the fairest maids, When a fair maid walks my track, My frock shivers on my back. The Monk’s Song, 1856. 21
Or, as one of those “matrons” sexually harassed around the nooks and corners of the church might say, the priest or the monk is “His mind all to the Kingdom come, his hands deep in my bosom.” That is a popular saying collected by the beginning of the 19th century “by Lord Governor (dvornic) Iordache Golescul” (Pilde i tâlcuirea lor (Parables And Their Meaning), c. 1832). 22 Sometimes, worshipping icons and reciting verses from the Holy Book could appease sexual impulses. In other cases, it did not work that way:
When to church I go to pray, My lover stands in my way, I try to worship the icons, My lover around me fawns, He beguiles me from my canons; I pray and I cross my heart, My lover thinks it is smart To think that hell won’t us part. Tulip leaves will entwine, Lord, it is no fault of mine: If my sins do make me blunt My lover should bear the brunt. La biserică (In Church), 1871. 23
The Christian icons (and the saintly women painted on them) are not always remedies that repress the erotic fantasies of the monks, secluded behind the walls of their monasteries. On the contrary, they even provoke fantasies, verging on blasphemy. It is not by accident that Gustave Flaubert (The Temptation of St. Anthony, 1872) imagines the Christian theologian Tertullian (early 3rd century AD) urging “the smashing of icons” (that was a long time before the iconoclastic crisis), as a proponent of asceticism and of the cultivation of values:
“Smash the icons! Cover the virgins with veils! Pray, fast, cry, make penance!”24
Even if the religious motivation is replaced by the sociopolitical one, we are not too far from the romantic revolt of Eminescu’s proletarian, who claimed the smashing of “all that entices their sick heart”, of all that sparks “the voluptuousness of the ribald orgy”:
Smash down the antique bronze that Venus naked shows, Let pictures that do wickedly entice be brought to dust.Emperor and Proletarian, 1874. 25
…The monk Hans (Adeodatus, by his monastic name) – a character imagined by novelist Liviu Rebreanu (Adam şi Eva [Adam and Eve], 1925) – passionately falls in love with the icon of the Holy Virgin adorning his cell in the Abbey of Lorsch, near the town of Worms, in Germany: an icon which had accompanied all his trials as a young man, throughout his monastic life. Adoring the icon, he had started to notice the anatomical details of the painted body of the Holy Virgin, her “alluring and caressing” eyes, her “beguiling” smile, “(her) round bosom heaving under the silky gown,” etc. Eventually, due to his erotic fantasies, the monk’s love for the icon becomes carnal, bodily, sexual:
| “Adeodatus took the icon, with both hands, and kissed it rapturously, without realizing that his passion might be unholy. (…) The Virgin Mary seemed like any woman of flesh and blood, and he himself, without true faith in his soul. And they made love with a sinful love: they embraced each other passionately and bit their lips with such devilish pleasure that, waking up, he still felt for a few moments, in all his body, that damning voluptuousness. […] All day long, he flogged his body, but he dared not glance at the icon. And the following night, the dream repeated itself, even more wicked than before. (…) And the third night, the same.”26
…It might be that the apocalyptic state around him, the Sodom and Gomorrah atmosphere, is leading the monk towards such “Satanic” fantasies. It must be the millennium crisis situation, of a “world gone out of joint,” which motivated and pushed Rebreanu to insert that strange episode into his strange novel…
Obviously, not only the monks, but also the nuns – “the brides of Christ” – were (are) dominated by sexual impulses in the convent. “With a courtesan’s smile and a churchgoer’s eyes,” as Eminescu might say (Scrisoarea [Letter] V, 1881).27 Unbridled, these propensities can lead to the supreme sin, of replacing religious feelings with erotic ones. Even worse, to replacing their supreme “groom,” Jesus Christ, with a young, beautiful and very much alive layman, of flesh and blood:
“Woe betide the poor nun, For her heart is on the run, Where she sees a handsome lad, Her white veil will billow glad, Where she sees a youth, Her step’s small in sooth, For she would follow, smooth; Where she sees a dapper man She bends down as much she can To pray, like to Jesus then.”28
Obviously, the sin is lurking around the nun all the more so as to bring the sinning layman closer to her. As the popular saying goes, which was reported by Governor Iordache Golescu around 1832: “I tell him that I’m a nun and he unties my pants (to tell the brassy ones).”29
In the first decades of the 19th century, the custom had it that some of the daughters of the boyars from Moldova should take the veil, especially at the Agapia and Văratec convents in northern Moldova. That is how two younger sisters of Gheorghe Sion took that path. Around 1840-1841, Gheorghe Sion (then aged 18-19) led them to the Agapia nunnery. He spent three to four days there, and he met many novice nuns, all coming from aristocratic families:
“Some (young nuns) were so fair,” Gheorghe Sion reminisced, “and even, God forbid, so flirtatious, that, had I not feared to sin and had I not been naïve and shy (as I was at that time), who knows how many sins I would have burdened my soul with! (…) Besides the jams, cups of coffee, breakfasts and lunches I was treated to (by these nuns), I felt bathed in their charming glances and rocked in dreams of voluptuousness.”30
Constanţa Vintilă-Ghiţulescu associates this story with the fact that, at the same time (1 st May 1844), upon the express request of the Metropolitan, reigning Prince Mihai Sturdza issued an order for young unmarried men to avoid visiting the Agapia and Văratec convents, where they would have gone only to commit “misdeeds.” “In other words,” – the scholar concludes – “to twist the minds of the young nuns. Knowing the story of Anton Pann or of Barbu Mumuleanu, we also know why the Prince was right to be worried…” 31
In a well known apocryphal text, The Apocalypse of the Holy Mother, which has some eighty versions in the Romanian language, attested to the 18th -19th centuries, the “Pregesta” (The Holy Mother of God) visits Hell and sees the sinners doomed to infernal ordeals. The wanton nuns have a special place in “The River of Fire.” At some point, “The Holy Mother of God saw another place of great toil, and only women labouring there”: “These are the nuns which have slipped into fornication (…) and are led by their carnal desires, and who do not seek to redeem their souls from sins.”32
In an article dating from 1922, Tudor Arghezi raised his voice against the common mentality that perceived the monk as a “hypocritical libidinous man.” The great poet and publicist considered that it was just a stereotype, a bias, a mental cliché:
“Whoever sees in monasticism the permanently present image of sex, and nothing else, is making a simplistic and vulgar judgment.”33 However, Arghezi realized that erotic drives are hard to rein in during a prolonged monastic seclusion. In a poem also written in the 1920s, he tried to describe the sexual fantasies of an ordinary deacon, Iakint (a kind of Eufrosin Poteca). It is about the phantasms experienced by a deacon during the period of spiritual and food fasting which the other monks from the monastery observed before the Easter holidays:
While all the hermits, Lord, it grieves, Are punishing themselves, like thieves, With bitter fasting and obedience, In Holy Week, doing their penance, In his small cell (the deacon’s), last night, A real girl made darkness bright With her firm breasts and narrow hips Of Florentine lute, an ellipse. Mâhniri [Sorrows], 1927.34
The materialization of the deacon’s erotic vision was so strong, so concrete and real, that even the almighty God, “who sees all,” caught a glimpse of the girl, as she sneaked out from monk Iakint’s cell, in the morning.
The love of beauty, specific to God, can mitigate the guilt of some sins committed “willingly and unwillingly,” “in deed,” but also “in thought.” As we have seen, for the rigorist Antim Ivireanul, the eyes are soiled “with unbecoming views and with signs of fornication” (Didahii [Sermons], 1709-1716). As Cantemir put it: “by day and night, he would punish and torment himself in his thought even worse and in a more terrible fashion than in his body” (Istoria ieroglifică [The Hieroglyphic History], 1705)…
MEN VS. WOMEN: ISOLATION AND DISCRIMINATION
In the sacred spaces of the temples, the meeting and the nearness of men and women were limited, if not altogether banned. The mere sight of a woman was considered to be apt to distract a man’s concentration from “the things holy.” An erection could even happen in the space of a church, as happens, according to the Romanian popular saying: “The poor man’s oxen won’t pull the cart, his bread falls in the mud and his cock gets a rise in church.” That is why special, isolated, places have been imagined and built for women in churches, synagogues and mosques. The idea is to isolate women, doubled by their discrimination. Not only did women sit completely separated from men in synagogues and in mosques (on a floor upstairs, behind a parting screen), but sometimes they also had separate entrances (like in the Choral Temple, built in Bucharest over 1864-1866). Sometimes, in the Jewish quarters of some mediaeval cities (for instance, in the judería from the city of Gerona, in Catalonia), there were so-called “women’s streets,” which they could use to get to the synagogue, without meeting men on their road.
The worshipping men used to sit (in the conservative regions they still do) separated from the women in the Christian Orthodox churches too, even if not on different floors. The men sat in front, in the naos, and the women at the back, in the pronaos.35 Or the men sat to the right side of the naos, while the women sat on the left. The gender considered “weaker” (the woman) was seated on the side which was considered “weaker” (the left)36. Exceptionally, following the Islamic (Turkish) model, even in some Christian Orthodox churches in Romania, the women sat on a different floor.37 As I have said, the separation of men from women goes hand in hand with the negative discrimination of the latter. In the synagogue, church or mosque, the place destined for women is always in a less favourable space, a “weaker” space from a symbolic and ritual point of view: behind a screen, on a higher floor (on a different floor than the altar and the officiating priest); in the pronaos or in the back (further away from the altar); in the naos, but on the left, etc.
Another way to limit the temptation of men (this time, of Christian monks) is the interdiction of women to enter the precincts of a monastery dressed in an “immodest” (“indecent”) way, or with their hair untied and uncovered. There are also other places where there are prohibitions for women, regarding “immodest clothes”: in the public space in some Islamic states, but also in the district of the ultra-orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, called Mea She’arim (“One Hundred Gates”).
In some monastic spaces, the presence of women is totally prohibited. The best known case is the monastic complex at Mt. Athos (20 monasteries and 12 hermitages), where the interdiction of women is total. “If women came here, – one monk from Mount Athos said, – two-thirds of us would follow them and would get married.”38 This is, of course, an exaggeration, but a significant one. From the so-called “ascetics of the wilderness” (3rd -4 th centuries A.D.) to the monks from Mt. Athos, the total repression of any sexual intercourse (happening “in thought or in deed”) was a steadfast rule: “Looking at a female, even at a chicken,” – as I. P. Culianu ironically said – “posed a great spiritual danger.”39
An old monastic parable – also reported by Culianu, – says much about the monk’s interdiction to look at (to admire) a girl, even accidentally. The hero of this story is Serbian Athonite monk St Sava (1175-1235), the founder of the Hilandar monastery on Mount Athos, who became the first archbishop of the autocephalous Serbian Orthodox Church, and was later canonised. The parable attests to a test of monastic restrictions, of total erotic abstinence. Whoever failed the test was excluded:
“When the old Saba (= Sava) and a disciple walked on their way past a good-looking girl, Saba said that she had only one eye, and his disciple protested: he had seen that the girl had both eyes. That had been however, a trick of Saba’s, to see if his disciple had taken a good look at the girl. Then the disciple was driven away.”40
“THE ABBOTS’ RIGHT OVER GYPSY WOMEN”
Besides the settlements of “princes’ gypsies” and of “boyars’ gypsies,” there were also gypsy slaves living around the monasteries in Wallachia and Moldova. They are the so-called “monastery gypsies”.41 In this case, the “abbot’s right” (that of the egumen, in Romanian: from the Neo-Greek igúmenos), worked just as the “boyar’s right” worked over “the boyar’s gypsies”.42 Speaking of the sexual privileges which the boyars arrogated over the young slaves, historian Radu Rosetti synthesized in a few lines the similarity of behavior with that of abbots in monasteries of the 18th century, and the first half of the 19th century:
“You should not believe that only the lay masters (the boyars) used royal rights over the gypsy women belonging to them: these slaves made up genuine harems for the abbots of the monasteries which the generosity of the pious donors had endowed with a great many gypsy souls. Especially the Greek abbots of the dedicated monasteries had a reputation of knowing how to build up seraglios of gypsy beauties, through exchanges (of slaves).”43
…It is not only the lord of the land that was entitled to ius primae noctis over the boyars’ slaves, but also the abbot, over the monastery slaves. Let us switch to the non-fiction area. Some documents attest to the existence of this situation until very late. In 1843 (and previously, in 1836), the slaves from the Râncăciov Monastery (Muscel county) sent a complaint to Wallachia’s ruling Prince Gheorghe Bibescu (and previously to ruling Prince Alexandru Ghica), exposing the “tyrannical” behaviour of the “famous abbot, Father David.” One of the complaints in the princely supplication went as follows:
“Our daughters who are of marrying age, if we want to marry them to a lad, the abbot hides them and he puts them under lock and key, with his armed guards, ordering us first to take the girls to his Holiness, to deflower them, and then only to be free to marry them”44
The supplicant slaves – who most probably were helped by a lawyer – note the fact that the abbot illegally applied this sexual “right” (“like a lawless man”), both from ecclesiastic and legal points of view: “a consequence totally alien to the church and political laws.” Moreover, as we saw how things happened with the boyars, the abbot’s erotic privileges did not stop only at the gypsy women slaves of the monastery, but extended over “the wives in the village with (whom) he has his pleasure.”
The sexual slippages of the priors and abbots were so usual that they could be invoked even when they did not happen. Blaming them was quite likely, even if the erotic abuses of the monks were not always real, but on occasion estaged. In the spring of 1785, for instance, a girl named Stana went to Prior Gavrilă (a confessor at the Radu-Vodă monastery in Bucharest) to pay the rent for the hovel on the monastery estate where she was living. The monk jokingly made some sexual innuendos to the girl, but nothing more. However, prodded by a neighbour, the young Stana sent a complaint to the Metropolitan, alleging that she was raped and deflowered, thinking that “she would get 300 thalers from the confessor”: “Then, at the moment of giving the money (for the rent), the said Prior (Gavrilă) allegedly took her in his cell and spoilt her virginity.”
To stay in the spirit of the age, we are not too far from the stories told by Marquis de Sade, in his novel Justine (Justine ou Les Malheurs de la vertu, 1791). The accusation brought against prior Gavrilă was easy to believe. It was plausible because, at the time, in the monastic environment, that was a fairly common sin. In order to be even more persuasive, Stana cut a chicken’s crest and, with the blood dripping from it, smeared her blouse, as a proof of the deflowering. Although some witnesses (especially women neighbors), conniving with Stana, defended her version, the Metropolitan council ruled in favour of Prior Gavrilă, also taking into account that the poor man was old, sick and impotent: “And even more vigorously as we have ascertained (Confessor Gavrilă) is also a man tormented by rupture (hernia) and he is also past his prime.”45
For her false statements and perjury, Stana was banished to the convent of Viforâta, near the town of Târgovişte (Wallachia).
This true story reminds me of a hagiographic legend from the collection Vieţile sfinţilor (The Lives of The Saints).46 It is an etiological legend about the genesis of the Gypsy people, told by Costache Negruzzi in 1839. Negruzzi’s text is titled exactly like this: Pentru ce ţiganii nu sunt români (Why Gypsies Are Not Romanians).47 It says that several heretics, some “lost sheep,” complained to ecclesiastic authorities that Bishop Gregory (Grigorie) was a sexual profligate and that he had a mistress, “a young and beautiful girl.” A priestly synod was sent to the place to look into the facts. And indeed, in the bishop’s bedroom, they discovered “a young girl,” in a state of “scandalous lack of clothing.” The bishop was sentenced to death. But in order to convince the priests that “he doesn’t know what the sin of fornication” is, St. Gregory “lifted the hem of his frock.” And then, “the gathering was dumbstruck, for the holy father was…like Abeilard [sic]”. In other words, he was castrated, just as had happened to French theologian Pierre Abélard (1079-1142), as a punishment for having deflowered his beloved Héloїse. St. Gregory was exonerated, and the heretics who had “badmouthed the man of God” were cursed to be “black skinned,” “to live from thieving,” and “in eternal slavery from father to son,” with their owner “having the right to sell them as beasts,” “to call them Gypsies,” etc. “The Romanians immediately rushed in and took them as slaves.” This is how the Gypsy population allegedly appeared in the world…48
Sifting through and reading the supplications kept at the Department of National Archives, researcher Constanţa Vintilă- Ghiţulescu found many important social history documents. Some of them are related to the subject under discussion. Here, for instance, is a case dating from the end of the 18th century, which happened in a monastery in Wallachia. The Butoiu Monastery (village of Potoc, Dâmboviţa county) was rebuilt in 1648-1649, under ruling Prince Matei Basarab, who also endowed it with a settlement of Gypsy slaves. At the beginning of the year 1799, some Gypsies belonging to this monastery mustered their courage and complained to father Climent (probably a bishop) and then higher up, to his Holiness the Metropolitan, alleging that Abbot Ignat lived with a young slave woman, Gherghina, and also committed other abuses. In their complaint, they alleged that “due to one woman called Gherghina the gypsy, we cannot live.”
It is interesting that if a boyar had been in the same situation as the abbot, the civil authorities (“the lay judge”) would not have intervened at all. The boyar would not have infringed any rule, be it legal or moral. The sexual “right” of the boyar over the Gypsy women slaves from the settlements on his estate was tacitly recognized by everybody, even if it was based only on an archaic custom, on a lex non scripta. An unwritten law which dates back to the Greek-Roman Antiquity. Artemidorus of Ephesus, for instance, defined as being “links in keeping with the norm” (kata nomon) the sexual relations between a master and his slave, be the latter “a man or a woman.” “Unfit for the norm” (para nomon) would have been only if the slave had been the one who “possessed” the master, not the other way round: “It is no good to let yourself to be possessed by the slave: through his touch, he would show contempt towards you.”49
In the case of Butoiu monastery, however, the monk was not violating the lay norms, but those of the church. Even more, the actions of the abbot ran counter to the rules of monastic asceticism. In keeping with their own regulations, the ecclesiastical authorities were compelled to intervene, be it only to appease public opinion. Indeed, in the summer of 1799, the Metropolitan’s office sent a group of priests, led by Father Nicodim, to investigate the case and to propose possible sanctions, This is what the situation in Bucharest looked like, at the beginning of the 19th century:
“Besides the jail, besides the police prison from the dungeons of the Old Princely Court, and the vaults of the military governor and of the Aga, the Metropolitan also had a jail for priests.50
Returning to the case of the Butoiu Monastery, before the authorities, even the ecclesiastical, all the slaves from the settlement (except for the signatories of the complaint) were afraid to confirm the situation which was known to all the Roma community. Especially as they were accused of sending over the complaint. The fear of the authorities was a typical behavioural attitude for the traditional Romanian society. That psycho-social illness has tenaciously survived to date. For the collective mind, nothing good could come from the authorities. Be they administrative or ecclesiastical, central or local, police or financial, the authorities in the Romanian space have been high-handed, corrupt, abusive and punitive over the centuries. The situation was even more dramatic with respect to “aliens” (Romas, Jews, etc.). As such, the Romas under investigation at the Butoiu Monastery in 1799 shrugged in fear, insisting they knew nothing: “(We) had no idea, nor did we prompt them to make a complaint.” Eventually, it seems that Abbot Ignat was not found guilty of fornication with the Gypsy woman slave Gherghina. The only culprits were the elderly Gypsies from the settlement. Headed by their chieftains, Nedelco and Stan, they wrote (probably under dictation) and signed a deed whereby they pledged to make the younger slaves “more submissive”: “In duty being bound, we, the elders, to advise all the other younger ones to do good and to be submissive.”51
HOMOSEXUALITY AND PEDOPHILIA IN THE MONASTERIES
Exactly ten years later, in February 1809, things repeated at the same Butunoiu Monastery. This time, another abbot was accused by another two slaves of the monastery of other “frightening deeds,” including homosexuality, pedophilia and rape:
“For abbot Constantin there have been many a complaint against him, that for a while now he has fallen into fornications (…); also that for a young gypsy boy that he started to rape him.”
This was a copycat scenario: the dean sent an investigating commission to look into the case, and the Gypsies were herded “in front of the church” and investigated “one by one.” For fear of reprisals, they disassociated themselves from the two “rattling” plaintiffs. Eventually, the latter were the only culprits and they were sentenced to have their soles flogged. Afterwards, they were forced to sign a writ, whereby “they recognized their guilt and that they would desist.”
Historian Constanţa Vintilă-Ghiţescu is right when she wonders whether things really went that way at the Butoiu Monastery, in 1799-1809 (which is very likely), or if the Gypsy slaves had other misunderstandings with the two abbots of the monastery, and tried to have them punished, knowing that the worst accusations in the eyes of the ecclesiastical authorities were fornication, sodomy, pedophilia, rape and the exertion of the lord’s right, etc.52
It is common knowledge that heterosexual and homosexual (including pedophilic) relations were quite usual in the Christian monastic milieu, be it Orthodox or Catholic. I need not go into too many details; only a few examples from Romanian and world culture…
In the middle of the 14th century, Giovanni Boccaccio (The Decameron, 1352) had the courage to raise the thorny issue of debauchery and carnal sins accomplished by “all” the Catholic cardinals, priests and monks. He wrote about sodomy, fornication, pedophilia, etc.:
“From the most senior to the most junior one, the (Catholic) priests were all sinning through carnal debauchery; and not only in those ordred by nature, but even in the debauchery of sodomy, without knowing the rein of repentance or shame, so much so that the most wicked women and the small children had the greatest appeal when it was about winning their favours” (The Decameron I.2).53
The homosexual relationships among monks are also present in Romanian literature, for instance, in Vasile Voiculescu’s prose. In one of his short stories (Chef la mânăstire [Revelry at the Monastery], 1952), which the writer presented as a “true story,” Father Iosafat, the abbot of a monastery in Moldova lives with a very young monk, Brother Minodor. The latter was “the abbot’s darling,” “a rosy-cheeked lad,” “a girlish boy,” “with long and sweet lashes,” who “was inclined more towards women’s sweet and liquor wines.” Everything happens under the complacent gaze of Father Dean Ilie, “the ecclesiastical head of the county,” who had come on an inspection at the respective monastery:
“The Abbot [Iosafat], heaving in his armchair, drew to him, holding him on a protruding knee, Brother [monk] Minodor, who, with his chubby cheeks, his languid blue eyes, and a semblance of black hairs on his upper lip, with rings of hair floating on his back and along his monastic frock, looked like an angel reclining on the chest of an old saint.”54
The defrocked monk Ion Creangă could speak volumes on this subject: “he had learned some of the secrets of life in a monastery.” He was always critical of the monks, the priests and other clergymen: “they burst out of their belts, pot-bellied as they are.”55 Creangă lived among priests and, as a teenager and as a young man, he lived in boarding houses of all kinds of “factories of priests,” such as the theological schools in Fălticeni and Socola. Small wonder that the only homosexual episode in his work has a priest as its hero, in his famous Poveste a poveştilor (The Story of All Stories): “And as he was whistling in surprise, the cock dashed with a smack! right in the priest’s ass! Then, the priest started to yell…”56
As an old popular saying goes, which was commented upon around 1832 by boyar Iordache Golescu: “Another one in the priest’s ass (used when something happens unawares, something irksome).” The same learned boyar wrote down another popular saying, which concerns a man who is in love with a priest: “One loves the priest, another the priest’s wife, and another the priest’s daughter (it shows the variety of pleasures).”57 Speaking openly about “the variety of (sexual) pleasures,” Golescu had a quite Liberal attitude for a boyar from Wallachia, in the first half of the 19th century. True, he was a boyar who had travelled across Europe.
Homosexuality and pedophilia are still big problems among priests and monks today, especially among the Catholic, problems that the Pope himself is at a loss to solve.58 The Vatican is being blamed for putting a lid on these forbidden sexual practices, for decades (centuries, actually).
Coming back to the illicit erotic relations between the Orthodox abbots and the slaves in the monasteries, we must say that homosexual, even pedophilic relations have been attested. Obviously, the latter did not go unpunished by the church authorities. Not only were the jails for priests – as we have seen above – special, but so were their punishments. It seems that for the crime of pedophilia, the clergymen got a special physical punishment, called “the iron child”:
“A device used to punish the priests, when they committed an immoral act, was the “iron child.” This “child” weighed 50-60 kg. The punished priest was forced to hold that weight in his arms for four to five hours.”59
At the end of the 18th century, it was proved that Abbot Teofil of the Căldăruşani Monastery (near Bucharest) “had committed sodomy with the Gypsies, but the Gypsies have committed sodomy with him.” On account of this “ill and wicked deed,” the abbot was demoted to the lowest rank, that of “simple monk.” Moreover, he was banished to the Tismana monastery, “to weep for his sins” there.60
Virtually, in the case of the abbot of the Căldăruşani Monastery, the law (glava (chapter) 333, titled “For Sodomy”), was applied in its letter and spirit:
“If it were that anybody from the church clergy is found to be a sodomite, he shall then be bereft of everything, as the law of the church writes, of all the good he will have had from the church and they shall take him and lock him in a faraway monastery; and they shall even more vigorously demoted him from his position…”
Exceptionally, in aggravated situations, the “sodomite” clergyman was handed over to “the lay judge,” who was supposed “to scold him with death, namely, to behead him.” (Pravila de la Târgovişte [The Codex from Târgoviște], 1652). As the folk saying goes: “Do as the priest says, not as the priest does!”
Perhaps all these illicit sexual practices – which sparked more or less public scandals – have hastened the moment of the liberation of Gypsies from slavery in the Romanian space, which happened around the mid-19th century. Or, at any rate, perhaps they did not push the liberation per se of the slaves from the monastic settlements (1844 in Moldova and 1847 in Wallachia) to happen around one decade before the liberation of the Gypsies owned by boyars (1855 in Moldova and 1856 in Wallachia). The big landowners (and implicitly owners of Gypsy settlements) blocked as much as they could the act of liberation of the boyars’ Gypsies. Although he was in an open conflict with the government of ruling Moldovan Prince, Mihail Sturdza, Kogălniceanu paid homage to the ruling prince for promulgating the law of the emancipation of the monastery Gypsies on 31st of January 1844:
“We, the youth from Moldova, – I speak only of those with whom I have worked – forgot that day our fierce fight against ruling Prince Mihail Sturdza for his abuses” (Dezrobirea ţiganilor, ştergerea privilegiilor boiereşti, emanciparea ţăranilor [The Liberation of the Gypsies, The Eradication of The Boyars’ Privileges, The Emancipation of The Peasants], 1891).
On 6 th of February 1844, a few days after the liberation of the Gypsy slaves from the monasteries, Mihail Kogălniceanu – who was fairly aware of the mechanism which had led to the decision to abolish slavery, “the most heinous social enormity,” – did not forget also to pay tribute to the Romanian Orthodox Church:
“Honour be to the Church, too, today, which has no slaves any longer; for it now shows itself as the true Church of Christ, who brought freedom on Earth, saying that before him there are no rich or poor men, no masters or slaves!” (Dezrobirea ţiganilor [The Emancipation of the Gypsies], 1844).61
Obviously, in the Catholic Middle Ages, too, the sacred space of the churches and monasteries could also become a place for the forbidden fantasies and love affairs, be they homo- or heterosexual. The nuns and abbesses from the Catholic convents were also subject to those types of sins. Boccaccio’s stories (The Decameron, 1352) abound in such erotic monastic prowess. 62
- Dan Horia MAZILU, Law and Sacrilege in the Old Romanian Society, Iaşi: Polirom, 2006, pp. 394-397.
- Michel FOUCAULT, Istoria sexualităţii [The History of Sexuality], Romanian translation by B. Stanciu and A. Onete, Vest Publishing House, Timisoara, 1995, p. 48.
- Andreas Capellanus, Despre iubire (About Love), bilingual edition, translation and notes by Eugenia CRISTEA, study, introductory note, notes and bibliography by Anca Crivat, Polirom Publishing House, Iasi, 2012, p.215.
- With Alexandru Macedonski: “Father Cioaca care on Christmas Eve to put his apron over our heads,” or in Dan Botta’s translation, with François Villon: “The Holy Apostles” are “Girdled with sacred aprons | To better seize the villains | who revel in their sins” (François VILLON, Balade şi alte poeme, translation by Dan Botta, presentation by Tudor Arghezi, the Publishing House of the Romanian Cultural Institute, Bucharest, 2006, p.47).
- Folclor vechi românesc (Old Romanian Folklore), edition, preface, notes and bibliography by C. Ciuchindel, Bucharest: Minerva, 1990, p. 246.
- Octav ȘULUȚIU, Ambigen [Ambigenous], novel illustrated with etchings by I. Anestin, Bucharest: Vremea, 1935, p. 26.
- Nicoleta ROMAN, „Deznădăjduită muiere n-au fost ca mine”. Femei, onoare şi păcat în Valahia secolului al XIX-lea, Bucharest: Humanitas, 2016, p. 37.
- Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830) (The Fire of Love. About Love and Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, p. 55.
- G.Dem. TEODORESCU, Poezii populare române [Romanian Folk Poems], critical edition, notes, glossary, bibliography and index by George Antofi, preface by Ovidiu Papadima, Bucharest: Minerva, 1982, p. 349.
- Dan Horia MAZILU, op. cit., 2006, p. 422.
- Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830) (The Fire of Love. About Love and Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, p.221.
- George Calinescu, Istoria literaturii române de la origini până în prezent (The History of Romanian Literature From The Origins to The Present), second, revised and enlarged edition, overseen and with preface by Al. Piru, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1986, p.121. Constanţa VINTILĂ- GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830) (The Fire of Love. About Love and Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, pp. 219-220.
- G. CĂLINESCU, Istoria literaturii române de la origini până în prezent (The History of Romanian Literature from the Origins to the Present), second, revised and enlarged edition, overseen and with preface by Al. Piru, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1986, p. 121.
- Stith THOMPSON, Motif-Index of Folk-Literature: A classification of Narrative Elements in Folktales, Ballads, Myths, Fables, Mediaeval Romances, Exempla, Fabliaux, Jest-Books and Local Legends, revised and enlarged edition, vol. 5, Rosenkilde and Bagger, Copenhagen, 1958, pp. 379- 381.
- Bernard FAURE, Sexualités bouddhiques: Entre désirs et réalités, Paris, Flammarion, 2005, pp. 71 sq.
- Vasile Alecsandri, Poezii populare ale românilor (Folk Poems of The Romanians), preface and bibliography by Stancu Ilin, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1982, p.228.
- G. Dem. TEODORESCU, Poezii populare române [Romanian Folk Poems], critical edition, notes, glossary, bibliography and index by George Antofi, preface by Ovidiu Papadima, Bucharest: Minerva, 1982, p. 349.
- G. Dem. TEODORESCU, Viaţa şi operile lui Eufrosin Poteca (cu câteva din scrierile’i inedite), Academy Press, Bucharest, 1883.
- A similar saying is also attested by Dinicu Golescu, in 1832: “One eye on the icon and another near the icon” (Iordache GOLESCU, Scrieri alese, [Selected Writings], edition by Mihai Moraru, Bucharest: Cartea Românească, 1990, p. 192).
- Vasile Alecsandri, Poezii populare ale românilor (Folk Poems of The Romanians), preface and bibliography by Stancu Ilin, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1982, p.228.
- Iordache GOLESCU, Scrieri alese [Selected Writings], edition by Mihai Moraru, Bucharest: Cartea Românească, 1990, p. 193.
- G. Dem. TEODORESCU, Poezii populare române [Romanian Folk Poems], critical edition, notes, glossary, bibliography and index by George Antofi, preface by Ovidiu Papadima, Bucharest: Minerva, 1982, p. 393.
- Gustave FLAUBERT, Ispitirea Sfântului Anton [The Temptation of St. Anthony], Romanian translation by Mihai Murgu, preface by Irina Mavrodin, Bucharest: Univers, 1977, p. 68.
- Mihai EMINESCU, Poezii [Poems], text selected and established, critical fragments by Perpessicius, volume supervised and chronology by D. Vatamaniuc, Bucharest: Romanian Cultural Institute, 2004, p. 67. English translation by Corneliu M. Popescu, http://www.gabrielditu.com/eminescu/emperor_and_proletarian.asp.
- Liviu REBREANU, Adam şi Eva, edition supervised by Niculae Gheran, preface by Ion Simut, Minerva Publishing House, Bucharest, 1998, p. 173.
- Mihai EMINESCU, Poezii [Poems], text selected and established, critical fragments by Perpessicius, volume supervised and chronology by D. Vatamaniuc, Bucharest: Romanian Cultural Institute, 2004, p. 164 (our translation).
- G.Dem. TEODORESCU, Poezii populare române [Romanian Folk Poems], critical edition, notes, glossary, bibliography and index by George Antofi, preface by Ovidiu Papadima, Bucharest: Minerva, 1982, p. 349.
- Iordache GOLESCU, Scrieri alese [Selected Writings], edition by Mihai Moraru, Bucharest: Cartea Românească, 1990, p. 170.
- G. SION, Suvenire contimpurane [Contemporary Memories], complete edition, Iaşi: Polirom, 2014, p. 372.
- Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Patimă şi desfătare. Despre lucrurile mărunte ale vieţii cotidiene în societatea românească, 1750-1860 [Passion and Delight. The Small Things of Everyday Life in Romanian Society, 1750-1860], Bucharest: Humanitas, 2015, p. 353.
- Timotei OPREA, Rai şi Iad în cultura populară românească. File de apocalips (sec. XVIII-XIX) [Heaven and Hell in Romanian Folk Culture. Pages from an Apocalypse (18th -19th c.)], Buzău: Alpha MDN, 2005, p. 167.
- Tudor ARGHEZI, Opere, vol. V: Publicistică (1919–iulie 1928) [Works, vol. V: Journalism (1919-July 1928)], edited by Mitzura Arghezi and Traian Radu, preface by Eugen Simion,), Bucharest, National Foundation for Sciences and Arts & Univers Enciclopedic, 2004, pp. 132-134.
- Tudor ARGHEZI, Cuvinte potrivite [Fitting Words], preface by Liviu Papadima, anthology by Mitzura Arghezi and Traian Radu, Bucharest: Minerva, 1990, p. 13 (our translation).
- Nicolae IORGA, Istoria românilor în chipuri şi icoane [The History of the Romanians in Faces and Icons], Foreword by Andrei Pippidi, Bucharest: Humanitas, 2012, p. 164.
- See the study by Andrei OIȘTEANU, „Stânga versus dreapta. Farmecul discret al dihotomiei” [“Left vs. Right. The Discreet Charm of Dichotomy”], in ID., Mythos & Logos. Studii şi eseuri de antropologie culturală [Mythos and Logos. Studies and Essays in Cultural Anthropology], second, revised and enlarged edition, Bucharest: Nemira, 1998, pp. 267-282.
- Under Turkish influence, ruling Prince Petru Cercel (1583-1585) built a balcony behind the naos of the Big princely Church in Târgovişte, above the entrance to the naos, where the Prince’s wife would sit during the mass, hidden behind a curtain. She got to that balcony in the church through a passageway built right from the Princely Palace.
- Robert DRAPER, “Chemarea muntelui sfânt” [The Call of the Sacred Mountain], National Geographic Romanian edition, December 2009, p. 104 (our translation).
- Ioan Petru CULIANU, Cult, magie, erezii. Articole din enciclopedii ale religiilor [Cult, Magic, Heresies. Articles from the Encyclopaedias of Religions), Romanian translation by Maria-Magdalena Anghelescu and Dan Petrescu, afterword by Eduard Iricinschi, Iași: Polirom, 2003, p. 120 (our translation).
- IBID., p. 188 (our translation).
- Neagu DJUVARA, Între Orient şi Occident. Ţările române la începutul epocii moderne (1800-1848) [Between East and West. The Romanian Principalities at The Beginning of The Modern Times], Romanian translation by Maria Carpov, Bucharest: Humanitas, 1995, p. 267 (our translation).
- See Chap. 27, “The Boyar’s ‘Right’ over Gypsy Women Slaves” in Andrei OIȘTEANU, Sexuality and Society. History, Religion and Literature, Iași: Polirom, 2016.
- Radu Rosetti, Amintiri. Ce-am auzit de la alţii, (Memories. What I Heard From Others). Edition and Preface by Mircea Anghelescu, Romanian Cultural Foundation Publishing House, Bucharest, 1996, p.155.
- Bogdan Mateescu, Căsătoria robilor. Între alegerea cuplului şi voinţa stăpânului, (The Marriage of The Slaves. Between The Couple’s Choice And The Master’s Will), Etnous Publishing House, Braşov, 2014; Bogdan Mateescu, „Căsătoriile robilor din Ţara Românească după 1830: reglementări ale Statului și ale Bisericii”, (“The Marriages of The Slaves in Wallachia after 1830: State and Church Regulations”), lecture delivered on April 14, 2014 at the New Europe College, as part of the project “Group of Reflection on Political and Social History (18th -19th centuries).” I thank researcher Bogdan Munteanu (a doctoral student at the Nicolae Iorga History Institute of the Romanian Academy) for signaling the presented documents.
- Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830), (The Fire of Love. Of Love And Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, p.49.
- The legend of St. Gregory, bishop of Agrigento (7th c. AD), is old. On a Byzantine thread, it penetrated the collection of The Lives of the Saints, translated in Wallachia.
- Constantin NEGRUZZI, Păcatele tinereţilor [The Sins of Youth], Iaşi: Adolf Bermann, 1857, pp. 271-285.
- O mie de ani de singurătate. Rromii în proza românească, (One Thousand Years of Loneliness. The Romas in Romanian Prose), Selection, notes and afterword by Vasile Ionescu, “Aven Amentza” Publhsing House, Bucharest, 2000, pp.74-84 (our translation).
- Paul Veyne, “Homosexualitatea la Roma”, (Homosexuality in Rome) in the volume Georges Duby et alii, Amor şi sexualitate în Occident, (Love And Sexuality in The West), introduction by Georges Duby, Romanian translation by Laurenţiu Zoicaş, Artemis Publishing House, Bucharest, 1994, p. 53 (our translation).
- Gr.I. Dianu, Istoria închisorilor din România. Studiu comparativ. Legi şi obiceiuri, (The History of Jails in Romania. A Compared Study) Laws And Customs) The Royal House Publishing House, Bucharest, 1900, p. 44 (our translation).
- Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830), (The Fire of Love. Of Love And Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, pp. 163-164 (our translation).
- Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830), (The Fire of Love. Of Love And Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, pp.164-166.
- Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameronul, (The Decameron), Romanian translation by Eta Boeriu, with an introductory study by Alexandru Balaci, vol. I and II, State Publishing House for Literature and Art, Bucharest, 1957, I, p. 78 (our translation).
- Vasile Voiculescu, Capul de zimbru, Povestiri, (The Aurochs Head, Stories) vol. I, Edited bby Victor Iova, Cartea Românească Publishing House, Bucharest, 1982, p. 147.
- Maria Luisa Lombardo, Erotica magna. O istorie a literaturii române, dincolo de tabuurile ei, (Erotica Magna, A History of Romanian Literature, Beyond Its Taboos), Western University Publishing House, Timişoara, 2004, pp.80/81.
- Ion Creangă, Povestea lui Ionică cel Prost (poreclit şi Irimiea) şi Povestea poveştilor (povestea pulei), (The Story of Ionica the Dumb (also nicknamed Irimiea) And The Story of All Stories (The Story of the Cock)), introductory study by Paul Anghel, edited by Nedic Lemnaru, „Roza vânturilor” Publishing House, Bucharest, 1990, p. 31 (our translation).
- Iordache GOLESCU, Scrieri alese [Selected Writings], edition by Mihai Moraru, Bucharest: Cartea Românească, 1990, pp. 166, 176.
- This very day, as I am writing these lines (September 25, 2011), Pope Benedict XVI (meantime, the former Pope), while visiting Germany, said he was “moved and deeply troubled” after his meetings with persons / children and youths / who had been the victims of the sexual abuse committed by Roman Catholic priests.
- Marian Munteanu, Folclorul detenţiei. Formele privării de libertate în literatura poporană. Studiu, tipologie, antologie de texte şi glosar, (The Folklore of Detention. The Forms of Freedom Deprivation in Folk Literature. Study, Typology, Anthology of Texts and Glossary), Valahia Publishing House, Bucharest, 2008, p. 645.
- Constanţa VINTILĂ-GHIŢULESCU, Focul amorului. Despre dragoste şi sexualitate în societatea românească (1750-1830) (The Fire of Love. About Love and Sexuality in Romanian Society (1750-1830), Humanitas Publishing House, Bucharest, 2006, pp. 162-163 (our translation).
- Mihail Kogălniceanu, Tainele inimei, (The Secrets of The Heart), selected writings, edited by Dan Simonescu, The Publishing House for Literature, Bucharest, 1964, pp. 205, 348 (our translation).
- Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameronul, (The Decameron), Romanian translation by Eta Boeriu, with an introductory study by Alexandru Balaci, vol. I and II, State Publishing House for Literature and Art, Bucharest, 1957, I, p.265; II, p.366, a.o.
In the first few centuries of Orthodox Christianity, the Orthodox Church and the Church Fathers accepted the act of suicide if it was to preserve one’s virginity; i.e. an individual could commit suicide to prevent being raped and it was not considered a mortal sin and one was even eligible to be ranked as a virgin-martyr. Also, some of the martyrs commemorated in the Church were not actually killed by their tormentors but rather they leapt to their own deaths after a period of torture or with the threat of martyrdom. Thus, in the Lives of the Saints of the first few centuries, one can find many saints who committed suicide. After the 4th-5th century, suicide was no longer an acceptable practise to preserve chastity which creates a little confusion. Those before this time period are saints in the ranks of heaven, whereas those who commit suicide after this time period have committed mortal sin and lost their souls.
The majority of the early Church Fathers evidently not only justified but commended suicide in such an extremity. The first Father distinctly to condemn the practice was Augustine (De civ. Dei. I. 22–27). He takes strong ground on the subject, and while admiring the bravery and chastity of the many famous women that had rescued themselves by taking their own lives, he denounces their act as sinful under all circumstances, maintaining that suicide is never anything else than a crime against the law of God. The view of Augustine has very generally prevailed since his time. In the 9th century, St. Theodore of Studite clearly states in his epistle: “It is not permitted in any situation whatsoever for a service or liturgy to be performed for him (namely, the one who commits suicide)” [PG 99, 1477B].
Interestingly, though homosexual rape and pedophilia were quite predominant in the early days of the Church (both within and without of Christianity), the Fathers seem to only accept women virgin-martyrs. There is no mention of “economia” when it comes to male on male rape. It should be noted that in some medieval non-Christian cultures, a common practise of male victors in a raid or war was to rape (sometimes gang-rape) the male captors to shame and humiliate them. This practise continues today throughout the world both in war and prison systems.
Also, the early Fathers don’t talk much about clergymen hiding behind their rank to sexually abuse others (whether heterosexual, homosexual or pedophilia). This trend which existed in the early Orthodox Church is today quite predominant worldwide. Perhaps this silence is because St. Constantine the Great set the precedent of protecting them when he stated at the First Ecumenical Council: “If I would see with my own eyes a bishop, a priest or a monk in a sinful act, I would cover him with my cloak, so that no one would ever see his sin.”
ORTHODOX CHURCH FATHERS WHO SUPPORTED SUICIDE TO PRESERVE CHASTITY
St. Ambrose of Milan (4th c.): Though St. Ambrose disapproved of suicide in general, he embraced the idea that women who committed suicide to protect their virginity received the martyr’s crown. St. Ambrose ends his ascetical treatise On Virgins by explaining to his sister that suicide is preferable to losing one’s virginity. He tells his sister that she can be confident suicide is permissible when protecting chastity because the Church has examples of martyrs who did that very thing. He then proceeds to tell the story of a teenager named Pelagia who lived in Antioch. She threw herself off a building to avoid lecherous pursuers. St. Ambrose even has her rationalizing her plans in his retelling. Ambrose’s Pelagia says, “God is not offended by the remedy [avoiding rape], and faith mitigates the misdeed [of suicide].” Though still a “misdeed,” St. Ambrose clearly views it as the lesser of two evils when a woman’s virginity is at stake.
Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea, Church Historian (4th c.): In his Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius writes about the abominable treatment of female Christians formed a feature of the persecutions both of Maximian and Maximin, who were alike monsters of licentiousness. Eusebius wrote about the suicides of St. Domnina and Her Two Daughters and evidently approved of these women’s suicide. [Book VIII, Chapter 12]
St. John Chrysostom (4th-5th c.): St. John Chrysostom’s stance regarding suicide and martyrdom is relatively close to St. Ambrose’s. John condemns suicide, believing it to be against God’s will, and claims that real martyrs do not commit suicide. Even though they do not kill themselves, John believed they must face death willingly. However, like St. Ambrose, Chrysostom accepts suicide for women who are attempting to protect their purity.
St. John Chrysostom, like many of his contemporaries, highly prized virginity, and when he considered the importance of sexual purity, St. John rationalized behaviors that would otherwise be condemnable. Specifically, John advocated suicide for women when necessary to protect their chastity. In his sermon on Julian, suicide is a defeat, though John probably had men in mind while preaching that sermon. In his sermon on the Virgin-Martyr Pelagia, suicide is victory over the enemies of God and over the Devil himself.
St. Jerome (4th-5th c.): The early Church Father St Jerome categorically stated that Christ would not receive the soul of one who commits suicide. [Saint Jerome, Letters 39:3]. However, St Jerome makes an interesting exception to their otherwise absolute and inclusive condemnation: those who commit suicide in order to preserve their chastity.
ORTHODOX CHURCH FATHERS WHO OPPOSED SUICIDE TO PRESERVE CHASTITY
St. Augustine of Hippo (5th c.): This, then, is our position, and it seems sufficiently lucid. We maintain that when a woman is violated while her soul admits no consent to the iniquity, but remains inviolably chaste, the sin is not hers, but his who violates her. (Of Lucretia, Who Put an End to Her Life Because of the Outrage Done Her, City of God Chapter 19).
ORTHODOX SAINTS IN THE SYNAXARION WHO COMMITTED SUICIDE
This list is just a brief sample and by no means complete. One can find numerous examples from the first few centuries of the Orthodox Church in the Synaxarion.
St. Agathonike (165 or 251 AD): St. Agathonike did not commit suicide to preserve her virginity, but is in the ranks of “voluntary martyr.” During the reign of Marcus Aurelius, Agathonike became so excited while watching Carpus and Papylus die martyrs’ deaths that she believed she should join them on the pyre. The crowd tried to dissuade her after she announced her intentions, reminding her that her son needed her. She replied that God would take care of him, at which point she disrobed and threw herself on the fire. In the Latin recension of the text, however, Agathonike is arrested with the other two martyrs, which leads Musurillo to suggest, “The Latin redactor was attempting to colour the facts for a later age.” [See: Martyrdom of Carpus, Papylus, and Agothonike 44].
She is celebrated in the Greek Church on October 13th
St. Apollonia (2nd century): St. Apollonia also did not commit suicide to preserve her virginity but did so after being tortured. Dionysius, Bishop of Alexandria (247–265), relates the sufferings of his people in a letter addressed to Fabius, Bishop of Antioch, of which long extracts have been preserved in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History: “At that time Apollonia, parthénos presbytis (mostly likely meaning a deaconess) was held in high esteem. These men seized her also and by repeated blows broke all her teeth. They then erected outside the city gates a pile of fagots and threatened to burn her alive if she refused to repeat after them impious words (either a blasphemy against Christ, or an invocation of the heathen gods). Given, at her own request, a little freedom, she sprang quickly into the fire and was burned to death.” [6.41 (PG 20:605–607)]
She is celebrated in the Greek Church on February 9th.
St. Pelagia of Antioch (late 3rd century): St. Pelagia was a Christian saint, virgin, and martyr who committed suicide during the Diocletian Persecution rather than be forced by Roman soldiers to offer a public sacrifice to the pagan gods. She was 15 years old.
She was home alone during the Diocletian Persecution when Roman soldiers arrived. She came out to meet them and, discovering they intended to compel her to participate in a pagan sacrifice, she received permission to change her clothes. She went to the roof of her house and threw herself into the sea. The patristic sources treat this as a sacred martyrdom rather than an ignoble suicide, usually with reference to the potential that she would have been dishonored by the soldiers.
She is celebrated in the Greek Church on October 8th.
Saints Domnina, Berenice, and Prosdoce (c. 310)
Saint Domnina and her daughters Berenice (Bernice, Veronica, Verine, Vernike) and Prosdoce are venerated as Christian martyrs by the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.
Domnina was arrested by soldiers for her adherence to the Christian religion. Fearing that the soldiers would rape her and her daughters, they threw themselves into a river after they asked their guards for a chance to rest for a while or after the soldiers had become drunk with wine. All three women drowned.
The account of St. John Chrysostom tells a slightly different story: according to Chrysostom, Domnina, after jumping into the river, pulled her daughters in with her to prevent them from being raped. Chrysostom praised Domnina for her courage and Domnina’s daughters for their obedience.
She is celebrated in the Greek Church on October 4th.
PATRISTIC SERMONS LAUDING SUICIDE TO PRESERVE CHASTITY
Saint John Chrysostom delivered the following sermon about St. Pelagia, the Virgin Martyr:
“Even women now poke fun at death and girls mock passing away and quite young, unmarried virgins skip into the very stings of Hades and suffer no ill effects. All of these blessings we experience because of Christ, born of a virgin. For after those blessed contraction pains and utterly awe-inspiring birth the sinews of death were unstrung, the devil’s power was disabled and from then on became contemptible to not just men but also women, and not just women, but also girls….
“It’s for this reason that blessed Pelagia too ran to meet death with such great delight that she didn’t wait for the executioners’ hands nor did she go to court, but escaped their cruelty through the excess of her own enthusiasm. For while she was prepared for tortures and punishments and every kind of penalty, even so she was afraid that she would destroy the crown of her virginity. Indeed, that you might learn that she was afraid of the sexual predation of the unholy men, she got in first and snatched herself away in advance from the shameful violence. None of the [Christian] men ever attempted any such act at all. Instead they all filed into court and displayed their courage there. Yet women, by nature vulnerable to harm, conceived for themselves this manner of death. My point is that, were it possible both to preserve one’s virginity and attain martyrdom’s crown, she wouldn’t have refused to go to court. But since it was utterly inevitable that one of the two would be lost, she thought it a sign of extreme stupidity, when it was possible for her to attain each victory, to depart half crowned. For this reason she wasn’t willing to go to court or to become a spectacle for lecherous eyes, or to give opportunity for predatory eyes to revel in the sight of her own appearance and crudely insult that holy body. Instead she went from her chamber and the women’s quarters to a second chamber – heaven….
“Don’t simply pass over what happened, but consider how it’s likely that she was raised as a gentle girl, knowing nothing beyond her chamber, while soldiers were posted against her en masse, standing in front of the door, summoning her to court, dragging her into the marketplace on weighty sorts of grounds. There was no father inside, no mother present, no nurse, no female attendant, no neighbor, no female friend. Instead, she was left alone in the midst of those executioners. I mean, how isn’t it right that we be astonished and amazed that she had the strength to come out and answer those executioner soldiers, to open her mouth and utter a sound, just to look, stand, and breathe? Those actions weren’t attributable to human nature. For God’s influence introduced the majority. Most assuredly, at the time she didn’t just idly stand around, but displayed all her personal qualities – her enthusiasm, her resolve, her nobility, her willingness, her purpose, her eagerness, her bustling energy. But it was as a result of God’s help and heavenly good goodwill that all these qualities reached maturity….
“In addition to what’s been said, I marvel as well at how the soldiers granted her the favor, how the woman deceived the men, how they didn’t work out the deception. After all, one can’t say that no one effected anything of the sort. For many women, it seems, gave themselves up to a cliff or hurled themselves into the sea or drove a sword through their breast or fastened a noose. That time was full of numerous dramas of that kind. But God blinded the soldier’s hearts so that they wouldn’t openly see the deception. That’s why she flew up out of the middle of their nets….
“Lot’s of people who’ve tumbled from a high roof haven’t suffered any ill effect. Others, in turn, despite suffering permanent disability to some part of their body, have lived for a long time after the fall. But in the case of that blessed virgin God didn’t allow any of these options to happen. Instead, he ordered the body to release the soul immediately and received it on the grounds that it had struggled sufficiently and completed everything. For death wasn’t caused by the nature of the fall, but by God’s command. From that point the body wasn’t lying on a bed, but on the pavement. yet it wasn’t without honor as it lay on the pavement…For this reason, then, that virginal body purer than any gold lay on the pavement, on the street.” [St. John Chrysostom, A homily on Pelagia, Virgin and Martyr, translated into English by Wendy Mayer, from the book Let Us Die That We May Live (pp. 148-161)]
Saint John Chrysostom delivered a sermon about St. Domnina and her two daughters:
In St. John’s sermon probably preached in the 390s in Antioch, the story takes an interesting turn. The women do not just kill themselves; John suggests that the mother actually drowns her daughters. He preaches, “And so, the mother entered in the middle [of the river], restraining her daughters on either side.” Once in the river, John says, “That blessed woman [Domnina] … lowered them down into the waters, and in this way they drowned.” Domnina then drowns herself to claim her martyr’s crown. Astonishingly, in this sermon, the protection of virginity not only justifies self-murder, but also John uses it justify murdering one’s children. He actually esteems Domnina because he claims that drowning her own daughters was an exceedingly painful form of martyrdom. Domnina could have suffered at the court, but then she would not have been able to ensure her daughters’ purity.
She endured far greater tortures in the river [than she would have at court]. My point, as I started saying, is that it was truly far more cruel and painful than to see flesh scourged, to drown her own innards, I mean her daughters, by her own hand, and to see them suffocating, and it required far greater philosophy than to endure tortures for her to have the capacity to restrain her children’s right hands and to drag them along with her into the river’s currents. For it was not the same in terms of pain to see [her daughters] suffering badly at the hands of others and to herself act as death’s servant, to herself promote their end, to herself stand against her daughters in place of an executioner.
John imputes extraordinary suffering to a mother who kills her young daughters, and he not only excuses the killing but also lauds it because she did it to preserve virginity. John commends these martyrs as prime examples for mothers and daughters in his congregation. No doubt, this sermon worried not a few daughters whose reputations were at risk. [see, The Cult of the Saints: St. John Chrysostom, http://www.svspress.com/the-cult-of-the-saints-st-john-chrysostom/ ]
Saint Ambrose replies to Marcellina, who had asked what should be thought of those who to escape violence killed themselves, by narrating the history of Pelagia, a virgin, with her mother and sister…
- As I am drawing near the close of my address, you make a good suggestion, holy sister, that I should touch upon what we ought to think of the merits of those who have cast themselves down from a height, or have drowned themselves in a river, lest they should fall into the hands of persecutors, seeing that holy Scripture forbids a Christian to lay hands on himself. And indeed as regards virgins placed in the necessity of preserving their purity, we have a plain answer, seeing that there exists an instance of martyrdom.
- Saint Pelagia lived formerly at Antioch, being about fifteen years old, a sister of virgins, and a virgin herself. She shut herself up at home at the first sound of persecution, seeing herself surrounded by those who would rob her of her faith and purity, in the absence of her mother and sisters, without any defence, but all the more filled with God. What are we to do, unless, says she to herself, you, a captive of virginity, takest thought? I both wish and fear to die, for I meet not death but seek it. Let us die if we are allowed, or if they will not allow it, still let us die. God is not offended by a remedy against evil, and faith permits the act. In truth, if we think of the real meaning of the word, how can what is voluntary be violence? It is rather violence to wish to die and not to be able. And we do not fear any difficulty. For who is there who wishes to die and is not able to do so, when there are so many easy ways to death? For I can now rush upon the sacrilegious altars and overthrow them, and quench with my blood the kindled fires. I am not afraid that my right hand may fail to deliver the blow, or that my breast may shrink from the pain. I shall leave no sin to my flesh. I fear not that a sword will be wanting. I can die by my own weapons, I can die without the help of an executioner, in my mother’s bosom.
- She is said to have adorned her head, and to have put on a bridal dress, so that one would say that she was going to a bridegroom, not to death. But when the hateful persecutors saw that they had lost the prey of her chastity, they began to seek her mother and sisters. But they, by a spiritual flight, already held the field of chastity, when, as on the one side, persecutors suddenly threatened them, and on the other, escape was shut off by an impetuous river, they said, what do we fear? See the water, what hinders us from being baptized? And this is the baptism whereby sins are forgiven, and kingdoms are sought. This is a baptism after which no one sins. Let the water receive us, which is wont to regenerate. Let the water receive us, which makes virgins. Let the water receive us, which opens heaven, protects the weak, hides death, makes martyrs. We pray You, God, Creator of all things, let not the water scatter our bodies, deprived of the breath of life; let not death separate our obsequies, whose lives affection has always conjoined; but let our constancy be one, our death one, and our burial also be one.
- Having said these words, and having slightly girded up the bosom of their dress, to veil their modesty without impeding their steps, joining hands as though to lead a dance, they went forward to the middle of the river bed, directing their steps to where the stream was more violent, and the depth more abrupt. No one drew back, no one ceased to go on, no one tried where to place her steps, they were anxious only when they felt the ground, grieved when the water was shallow, and glad when it was deep. One could see the pious mother tightening her grasp, rejoicing in her pledges, afraid of a fall lest even the stream should carry off her daughters from her. These victims, O Christ, said she, do I offer as leaders of chastity, guides on my journey, and companions of my sufferings. [On Virgins, Book III, Chapter 7:32-35]
SERMONS OF CHURCH FATHERS CONDEMNING SUICIDE TO PRESERVE CHASTITY
St. Augustine of Hippo, That Christians Have No Authority for Committing Suicide in Any Circumstances Whatever, City of God Chapter 20.
It is not without significance, that in no passage of the holy canonical books there can be found either divine precept or permission to take away our own life, whether for the sake of entering on the enjoyment of immortality, or of shunning, or ridding ourselves of anything whatever. Nay, the law, rightly interpreted, even prohibits suicide, where it says, “Thou shalt not kill.” This is proved especially by the omission of the words “thy neighbor,” which are inserted when false witness is forbidden: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” Nor yet should any one on this account suppose he has not broken this commandment if he has borne false witness only against himself. For the love of our neighbor is regulated by the love of ourselves, as it is written, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” If, then, he who makes false statements about himself is not less guilty of bearing false witness than if he had made them to the injury of his neighbor; although in the commandment prohibiting false witness only his neighbor is mentioned, and persons taking no pains to understand it might suppose that a man was allowed to be a false witness to his own hurt; how much greater reason have we to understand that a man may not kill himself, since in the commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” there is no limitation added nor any exception made in favor of any one, and least of all in favor of him on whom the command is laid! And so some attempt to extend this command even to beasts and cattle, as if it forbade us to take life from any creature. But if so, why not extend it also to the plants, and all that is rooted in and nourished by the earth? For though this class of creatures have no sensation, yet they also are said to live, and consequently they can die; and therefore, if violence be done them, can be killed. So, too, the apostle, when speaking of the seeds of such things as these, says, “That which thou sowest is not quickened except it die;” and in the Psalm it is said, “He killed their vines with hail.” Must we therefore reckon it a breaking of this commandment, “Thou shalt not kill,” to pull a flower? Are we thus insanely to countenance the foolish error of the Manichæans? Putting aside, then, these ravings, if, when we say, Thou shalt not kill, we do not understand this of the plants, since they have no sensation, nor of the irrational animals that fly, swim, walk, or creep, since they are dissociated from us by their want of reason, and are therefore by the just appointment of the Creator subjected to us to kill or keep alive for our own uses; if so, then it remains that we understand that commandment simply of man. The commandment is, “Thou shall not kill man;” therefore neither another nor yourself, for he who kills himself still kills nothing else than man.
St. Augustine of Hippo, Of Suicide Committed Through Fear of Punishment or Dishonor, City of God Chapter, Book I, Chapter 17.
And consequently, even if some of these virgins killed themselves to avoid such disgrace, who that has any human feeling would refuse to forgive them? And as for those who would not put an end to their lives, lest they might seem to escape the crime of another by a sin of their own, he who lays this to their charge as a great wickedness is himself not guiltless of the fault of folly. For if it is not lawful to take the law into our own hands, and slay even a guilty person, whose death no public sentence has warranted, then certainly he who kills himself is a homicide, and so much the guiltier of his own death, as he was more innocent of that offence for which he doomed himself to die. Do we justly execrate the deed of Judas, and does truth itself pronounce that by hanging himself he rather aggravated than expiated the guilt of that most iniquitous betrayal, since, by despairing of God’s mercy in his sorrow that wrought death, he left to himself no place for a healing penitence? How much more ought he to abstain from laying violent hands on himself who has done nothing worthy of such a punishment! For Judas, when he killed himself, killed a wicked man; but he passed from this life chargeable not only with the death of Christ, but with his own: for though he killed himself on account of his crime, his killing himself was another crime. Why, then, should a man who has done no ill do ill to himself, and by killing himself kill the innocent to escape another’s guilty act, and perpetrate upon himself a sin of his own, that the sin of another may not be perpetrated on him?
As for a man who keeps a woman as his wife after she has been ravaged by him, he shall incur the penalty provided for ravagement, while the woman shall be pardoned.
(Ap. c. LXVI; cc. XXII, XXIII, XXVI of St. Basil.).
The present Canon decrees that if perchance a man ravages a woman not betrothed to any other man, and after the ravagement takes her to wife, he is to be canonized because he ravaged her before the wedding, though he is to be permitted to keep her always as his wife. See also Ap. c. LXVII.
St. Nikeodemos’ footnote
Balsamon states that the penalty for this ravagement is three years. adducing c. XXXII of St. Basil in witness thereof: it is truer and safer. However, to say that sentence for ravagement is fixed at four years. In accordance with c. XXII of St. Basil.
Fornication is not matrimony, but is not even the beginning of matrimony. So that if it be possible to separate persons joined in fornication, this would be the best course to take. Rut if they insist upon marriage at all costs, let them pay the penalty for fornication, and let them have their way, lest anything should happen that is still worse.
(Ap. c, LXVII; cc. XXII, XXIII, XXV of St. Basil.).
After allowing those who have been raped before the wedding to contract a marriage in his cc. XXII and XXV, the Saint finally in the present Canon decrees this generally and more exactly, to wit: that as for those men who fornicate beforehand, either with a virgin or with a whore, and after the fornication seek to marry, the truer and better course is for them not to marry, but even if they should succeed in marrying, it is better that they be separated, since it is for this reason that marriage is called honorable and the marriage bed undefiled, namely, because it is free and clean from any previous sin and rape, whereas, on the contrary, fornication and rape are neither marriage nor a beginning of marriage. But if the fornicators themselves will on no account consent to being separated, let them be punished as fornicators, with a seven-year sentence, that is to say, but let them remain unseparated, in order to avoid having any more serious thing happen, or, more explicitly speaking, in order that after being separated they may not keep on secretly indulging in fornication, or, in order that while both of them are united with other persons they may not secretly commit adultery with each other, or in order to keep them from committing suicide because of their being unable to put up with excessive love and separation. Read also Ap. c. LXVII and the Footnote thereto.
As touching wife-snatchers, we have no old Canon, but have ventured to express our own opinion, which is that they and their abettors be condemned to exclusion from prayers. But so far as concerns an elopement, the man is not responsible when there has been no rape nor has any abduction marked the affair. A widow, on the other hand, being sui juris and at liberty to follow, we need not concern ourselves about pretenses.
As to men who snatch their wives out of hand, or abet others to such snatching, this Saint was the first in the present Canon to condemn them to three years to stand excluded from the prayers said for kneelers, which is the same as to say, to stand in the pronaos, or porch of the temple, together with listeners. For c. XXVII of the 4th decrees in regard to wife’ snatchers, but comes later than the present Canon. If, on the other hand, any woman who is sui juris, and not under the control of her father or of a master (i.e., slave-owner) voluntarily has followed her husband without being forced to do so, the man who has taken is not reprehensible, provided, however, that he did not rape her and did not have any sexual intercourse with her secretly (for this is what is denoted by the words “rape” and “abduction”). So that also if any widow, being sui juris, and being at liberty to follow her lover or not, should perchance be ashamed lest it appear that she is giving herself to her sweetheart of her own accord and be led to pretend, for appearance’s sake, that he snatched her, though in reality she herself followed him — if, I say, this should turn out to be a fact, the man who has taken this woman incurs no responsibility for the affair. For it is not the shame and pretense of wife-snatching that we have in mind, but, on the contrary, the question which interests us is whether the woman actually followed the man. See also c. XXVII of the 4th.
Let deflorations performed in fulfillment of a need entail no responsibility, so that even a slave girl if violated by her own master is free from responsibility.
(St. Gregory the Miracle-worker in his c. II.).
Deflorations that have been performed forcibly and violently upon women, decrees the present Canon, are not to be accounted a sin, owing to their having been incurred involuntarily, and consequently they are not to be punished with a penance; so that even if a slave girl has been forcibly raped by her master, she is not liable to any penalty; likewise as regards all other women and girls that have been forcibly raped in any such manner. Note also c. II of St. Gregory the Miracle-worker.
In the 21st Footnote to the 4th Ecumenical Council, St. Nikodemos writes: This divine Nicephoros, in his Canon XX, says: “If any nun be raped by barbarians or disorderly men, provided that her former life was not blameworthy, she shall be penanced for only forty days; but if she had already been polluted or defiled prior thereto, she shall be penalized as an adulteress. Note that those who ravish an ascetic woman, or, a sacred virgin, even those who have abetted the ravishment are liable to capital punishment, and all their property is confiscated by the (civil) ruler, and is turned over to the monastery of the one ravished, according to the second ordinance of the First Title of the Novels (Photios, Title IX, Chapter 30). Likewise anyone that abducts or tries to take such a sacred virgin to wife is also liable to capital punishment, according to Book I, Title III, Ordinance 5. The woman herself, together with her things, is placed in a monastery and is securely guarded. Blastaris also adds the following fact, to wit, that even a man who has become a monk in the last days of his life and who failed to understand thoroughly what rites were administered to him when they made him a monk, cannot discard the habit and remain any longer in the world.
NOTE: Many years ago, an Athonite Ephraim gave a homily about a teenage Greek girl. After her mother had died, she was raped for a duration of time by her father and brothers. She later went to confess to this Elder and started her spiritual journey. The Elder used this story and example to show that even though she went through such a traumatic experience, she did not blaspheme or blame God, abandon the Church, etc. In the Greek world of male preachers, there are numerous stories of the “heroic women” who have been raped, yet endured the cross they was given to bear with thanksgiving and did not blaspheme God. One story tells of a woman in Greece who became pregnant from her rapist and kept the baby because she refused to sin against God via abortion.
In the Orthodox Church, it is taught that nothing happens without God’s Providence. Sometimes, it is not His primary will for an individual, but secondary will which he condescends to allow. Thus, rape, pedophilia, human sex trafficking, etc., is not God’s primary will, but He allows it for reasons known only to His wisdom. In the Orthodox Church, one is also taught that they must bear all things, no matter how painful the temptation, with thanksgiving.
In the early Church, some Fathers taught that it was permissible to commit suicide to prevent one’s body from being defiled through rape, etc. There are even some early martyrs commemorated in the Orthodox Church who died this way. However, that teaching was later retracted.
St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite interprets the Canons that deal with rape and how the victim of rape is to be penanced in his works, the Rudder and Exomologetarion. Below is his interpretation of the 67th Canon of the Holy Apostles which deals with “Rape and Fornication.” These penances are still applied today in the monasteries:
The Canons of the Holy Apostles:
If anyone is keeping a virgin whom he has forcibly raped, though she be not engaged to another man, let him be excommunicated. And let it not be permissible for him, to take another, but let him be obliged to keep her whom he has made his choice even though she happen to be indigent.
(cc. XXII, XXIII, XXV, XXVI of Basil.).
The present Canon ordains that whosoever rapes a virgin by force and violence that is not engaged to be married to another man, and is keeping her in his house or at his home, shall be excommunicated for this forcible rape, and he is not to be permitted to take another woman instead of her, but, on the contrary, is to be obliged to rest content with this same girl, whom he himself chose, even though she be one of humble birth and poor.
With reference to the subject of the present Canon St. Basil in his cc. XXII and XXV ordains that the man who forcibly rapes a virgin shall be allowed to have her as his wife, but shall nevertheless be canonized with the penalty attaching to fornication. That is to say, to be deprived of the right to communion for four years. But in his c. XXVI the same saint says that those who commit fornication first and marry later had better be separated; or in case they will not consent under any circumstances to their being separated, let them be left united. Nevertheless, in the case of a matter of this kind consideration must be paid to what God says in the twenty-second chapter of Deuteronomy (25-27); that is to say, there must be an investigation as to whether the virgin happened to be found in a desert place, and whether she yelled and no one came to her rescue. For then she would be free from responsibility … “there is in the damsel no sin worthy of death,” it says; “for as when a man riseth up against his neighbor, and slayeth his soul, even so is this matter: for he found her in the field, and the damsel shouted, and there was no one to save her.” But when it all happened when she was not in a desert place or in the wilderness, and she did not yell, it appears that he ruined her with her consent (see also footnote 1 to c. II of Gregory the Miracle-worker. It should also be ascertained whether the man who raped her has parents living (or whether he is married); and likewise as to the virgin who has been raped: and whether they or their parents are disposed to consent to their marriage, according to c. XXII of Basil. There must be no coercion in this matter. According to the civil law (Armenopoulos, Book 6, Title III), if the man who raped the girl is rich, he shall give her a pound of gold, but if he is poor, he shall give her half his entire property. But if he is without property, he shall be cudgeled, shorn, and exiled. But if any man should ruin a girl before she is of proper age, that is to say, before she has become thirteen years old, he shall have his nose cut off, and shall give half of all his wealth to the ruined girl.
FORNICATION AND RAPE:
It is a matter to be wondered at that the present Apostolic Canon as well as Canons XXII and XXV of Basil permit those who forcefully violated women to have them as wives; whereas in Canon XXVI the same Basil says that those who have become joined by fornication are to be separated. With a view to solving this question, Balsamon says that in the above Canons Basil is speaking of a virgin that has been violated and consequently, unless she accepts her violator as her husband, she will be left dishonored and worthy of mercy; for no one else will take her as a wife because of the fact that she has been raped. But in his Canon XXVI concerning fornication, he deals with the case in which a girl after having been raped by a man has later been enticed into fornication by another man.
For even though such a woman does not take as her husband the man who induced her to commit fornication with him, she will not be undergoing any loss or damage, nor will she be wronged nearly so much as would the one above. Hence it is also better that such persons be separated. But inasmuch as Zonaras says no such thing, and inasmuch as Basil the Great calls even the rape of a virgin fornication in his Canon XXII, that opinion of Balsamon’s does not appeal to us, as it does not seem to consist with right reason and the saint’s aim. So by way of solving this problem we venture to say that after Basil the Great said that which he did concerning a man and a woman who dispose of a case of rape by resorting to marriage, in his Canons XXII and XXV, he lastly comes round in his Canon XXVI to a more general and universal view concerning all those who join in fornication, whether the girl in question be one who was a virgin and undefiled or one previously defiled by another man, so he [Basil] writes: “Fornication is not marriage and neither is it the beginning of a marriage, so that if it be possible for those who have entered into marriage in this manner after premarital fornication to be separated, this is best.” But why is it best for them to be separated? Because, according to the Apostle,“marriage is honorable and the bed undefiled” (Hebrews 13:4), whereas such a marriage as this, entered into after and as a result of fornication, is in consequence no marriage at all. And such a bed not undefiled, but is defiled and unclean. For it was not God who joined such persons together, as is written, “whom God hath joined,” nor the words of God and His blessing through the priest, but lasciviousness and wantonness. (Matthew 10:6). Besides how can it be said that when it comes to being blessed, such persons deserve to have a or crowns placed on their head, which is a symbol of victory, in indication that those joined in wedlock have not been defeated by hedonic pleasure, but on the contrary, have remained invincible, according to St. Chrysostom (Homily IX on I Timothy). On the contrary they being overcome by wantonness and hedonic pleasure have been utterly vanquished.
Or how can it be said that they deserve to commune in the Divine Mysteries in the Church after being blessed, as is the order in our holy Church, when they are under a canon for fornication? Secondly, because if such persons are not separated, a door to perdition will be opened for all destroyers and intemperate to ruin girls first and to be blessed with them afterwards. Many men, indeed, will on this account be induced to defile girls first in order to be able to take them as wives whether their parents are willing or not, because of the fact that they have been defiled. But on the other hand, in the event the two are separated, the separation will act as a bridle, and especially as regards the girls and women, to prevent them from betraying themselves to men in order to get themselves defiled first, since they will remember that if this should happen, not only will they fail to receive as husbands the men who defiled them, but instead they shall have to remain dishonored and despised throughout their life and all they will have gained is sin and hell. For these reasons then it is better and stricter for those joined after fornication, not only not to be joined together and not to be blessed to start with, but even after they have succeeded in getting themselves joined together and blessed, but to be separated despite themselves. For this is what the word separation denotes as used by the saint.
He goes on to say, however, as a matter of permissiveness and of adjustment, that in case the ones who have been joined together after fornication are inexorably determined to insist upon being wedded, and will in no way consent to be separated, that they are to be penalized as fornicators, but are to be left united, in order to avoid having something worse ensue in other words, they should commit suicide because of their being unable to endure the pangs of erotic passion would be tempted to fornicate and commit adultery secretly even after being separated, according to Zonaras. Hence it seems to follow that the present Apostolic Canon is speaking in a similar mood of permissiveness and adjustment, though at the same time with a view to restriction of the evil.
As a matter of permissiveness, lest anything worse should happen, and this defiled virgin, wishing to have as her husband the man who ruined her, but being kept away from him and unable to endure the disgrace and reproach, she could be urged to commit suicide as have many other girls actually done under such circumstances. This might be especially so in view of the fact that she was forcibly raped by the man, and not defiled willingly with consent, a thing which appears to her unbearable. For although it says “whom he has forcibly raped”, yet Basil fails to add this word “forcibly” or “force” in his Canon XXV, but only the word “defile.” But restrict the evil done, in order that rich men who rape poor girls forcibly and against their will may be compelled by this Apostolic Canon to marry them; and similarly rich women voluntarily allowing themselves to be defiled by poor men, and being compelled to wed them, men as much as women are dissuaded from doing such things when they consider that they will have to marry such poor and humble girls, or such poor and humble men, a thing which seems to them to be completely undesirable.
That the Canon appears to definitely speak of such rich people is plain from what it adds, i.e., “but let him be obliged to keep her whom he has made his choice even though she happen to be indigent.” So much for these matters. But as for anyone that should take as wife a woman that has been ruined by another man and that is a prostitute, without there having been any fornication between them previously, I simply cannot say how great a good he is doing by gathering up a lost sheep and saving a soul which would otherwise have gone to perdition.
I can only say that such a man becomes an imitator of God, who took as His bride the prostitute and sinful nature of human beings, without considering its previous sins, as we have already said in the footnote to Apostolic Canon XLVIII.