Notes on bioethics:
The scriptural admonition is for married couples *not* to deny each other sexual relations, except by mutual consent for the purpose of prayer and fasting. Abstinence from sexual relations (by mutual consent) is certainly appropriate the evening before receiving the Holy Sacraments, and during the day that one receives them. It is certainly *not* an absolute “requirement” of the Church to abstain on all fast days (and on the eves of fast days), or during the 11 days after the Nativity when marriages are not permitted. The Russian Church in the 13th century issued guidelines for married clergy on these issues, and they included as days of mandatory abstinence only the first and last week of Great Lent, the two weeks of Dormition Lent, and Wednesdays and Fridays during Nativity Lent and the Lent of the Holy Apostles. The married state is blessed and the marriage bed is undefiled. The Holy Church in protecting the sanctity of marriage and the well-being of the spouses, as well as encouraging procreation and the raising of “fair children” has no interest in creating artificial impediments to preclude spouses from “rejoicing in one another.” —Archpriest Alexander Lebedev
Apostolic Canon 9(10) — 49 (51) A.D.
All those of the faithful that enter into the holy church of God, and hear the sacred Scriptures, but do not stay during prayer and the holy communion, must be suspended, as causing disorder in the church.
Апостольское правило 9 — 49 (51) г. по Р.Х.
Всех верных, входящих в церковь, и писания слушающих, но не пребывающих на молитве и святом причащении до конца, как безчиние в церкви производящих, отлучать подобает от общения церковного.
Толкование. Иже не пребывают во святе церкви до последния молитвы, но еще святей службе поемей и совершаемей, исходят из церкве, таковии яко бесчиние творяще во святей церкви, да отлучатся.
Notes from a lecture on bioethics:
Fundamentalism and fanaticism are not the same as Orthodoxy.
The clergy may be experts in some fields but they cannot be experts in all fields. And yet the clergy, bishops in particular bur also priests, are routinely asked to offer opinions on the widest variety of topics. Unless the clergy learn to consult with and listen to the real experts in whatever field the question belongs to, they often give erroneous opinions due to their lack of knowledge on the matter.
Just because we can do something goes not mean that we should. Just because we can build a nuclear weapon does not mean that we should, or just because we are technologically capable of polluting our own planet (from which we as of now have no way of escaping to a different one) and killing off many species of animals, does not mean that this is good idea. Technology must be guided not by scientific curiosity, or some notion of “progress,” or geopolitical greed or fear, but by moral and ethical values of what is truly good for humanity.
“The passion of greed is revealed when one is happy in receiving but unhappy in giving.” –St. Maximus the Confessor
For many people, their belief in technology is greater than their belief in God, and so they measure God against technological or scientific advances instead of measuring technological advances against God’s purpose for our lives.
Notes from a lecture on Liturgy:
Orthodox worship is not something that people create in order to please God, but something that God reveals to people as an icon of the heavenly worship. Heaven comes down to earth and we see a glimpse of its glory. We enter into communion with it on its terms; we converse with it using its language; we do not begin anything here and now but rather enter into something that is eternal. We do not reenact or remember the Mystical Supper of Christ but partake of the one and only.
Worship is not intellectual of contemplative, even though it contains both of these elements.
Worship is not prayer, even though it certainly contains prayer.
Worship is communion with God.
We commune with the eternal God while being temporal beings and are thus bound by the limitations of our current state: we have times for services, daily, weekly, yearly and other cycles. But through this temporal communion with Christ we aspire to the eternal communion with Him: “Grant us to partake of Thee more fully in the unwaning day of Thy kingdom!” (from the Divine Liturgy)
Notes from 15 JAN 2015 lecture on youth ministry:
Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them… –Luke 18:15*
They, the parents, not youth pastors or Sunday school teachers, were bringing their children to Jesus, and it is still the solemn responsibility of parents today to bring their children to be touched by the Lord. As we see from this verse, this responsibility begins even when a child is only an infant.
Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. (Prov. 22:6)
This advice is given to a parent, not to a youth pastor or a leader of a youth group.
Come, O sons, listen to me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord. (Ps. 34:11)
Once again, this is not an example of a youth pastor or a Sunday school teacher speaking to his or her youth group members or pupils. This is a father speaking to his sons. Similar verses can be easily found throughout the Bible.
Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight; for I give you good precepts: do not forsake my teaching. When I was a son with my father, tender, the only one in the sight of my mother, he taught me… (Prov. 4:1-4)
Yet another example of advice quite different from: “Hear, O sons, your youth group leader’s instruction, and be attentive to your youth pastor, that you may gain insight… When I was a son with my father, he always dropped me off at Sunday school.”
Very similarly, Church Fathers–notably, Saint John Chrysostom, who is often quoted in these matters–spoke to parents about the proper instruction of their children, not to youth pastors. To the best of my knowledge, there was not a separate youth ministry with a youth pastor, secretary, and treasurer in the Archdiocese of Constantinople under Saint John.
Family is the first and fundamental community in which a Christian must learn and nurture in his or her heart the fruits of the Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Gal. 5:22-23 RSV)
The spiritual growth of every child is best facilitated in a strong, loving, and supportive Christian family.
A Christian family begins with the sacramental marital union of husband and wife. The “principal and ultimate goal [of Christian marriage is] the spiritual and moral perfection of the spouses.” (“The Mystery of Marriage in a Dogmatic Light.” Bishop Artemy Rantosavlievich. Divine Ascent: A Journal of Orthodox Faith. (Vol. 1 Nos. 3/4), 48.)
Notes from 14 JAN 2015 lecture on bioethics:
Embalming of a body routinely performed by funeral homes in the U.S. is a violent procedure in which blood is drained out and dangerous and harmful chemicals are pumped in instead. The blood of the human actually goes down the drain after being treated with chlorine. In the Scripture, blood is treated as very important and the substance that contains a creature’s life or soul. Christ Himself gives us His Blood in the Gifts of the Holy Communion. Without going too deep into theology, it seems that embalming goes completely against Christian anthropology and worldview and must be avoided. In those rare cases when embalming is unavoidable, blood must be preserved and placed into the grave with the body.
A Christian Ending is a handbook for burial in the ancient Christian tradition.
More on Orthodox burial: https://frsergei.wordpress.com/2011/11/14/funerals-and-memorial-services/
Substance abuse, brain injuries, and chronic depression–all can decrease the function of the frontal lobes of the brain which negatively affects logical thinking, reasoning, and planning. This problem is especially compounded in people younger than 25 when the brain is still developing.
New research in neuroplasticity shows that the brain is able to heal to a great degree. In many ways the brain is not hardwired by substance abuse or even brain injury. It can recover much if its normal functioning by building new neuro-pathways. In Orthodoxy, we know the power of repentance. The original Greek work for repentance is metanoia–’the changing of the mind.’ And indeed, the mind, even the brain, can and does change–for worse if we choose to live in sin, and for the better if we choose life with God.
In his introduction to our doctoral cohort, one of the speakers mentioned that many people in America are preoccupied with their bodies more than they are with their souls. The example he gave is of people who religiously go to the gym, spend many more hours working out than they do praying or attending church services, and spend a lot more money on gym memberships than they donate to the church. By these actions, the speaker proposed, they show what their true priorities are. And perhaps, some people truly do devote their lives to worshiping their own flesh by becoming “health nuts”; but it seems that workouts and gym memberships are not the only ways that people reveal their true priorities.
For some reason which I do not understand there is a custom among some Orthodox Christians to look down on people who take care of their health. But the same people do not seem to find it un-Orthodox when someone ruins his or her health. For whatever reason which I also do not understand it is considered perfectly Orthodox to consume large amounts of starchy, greasy, sugary foods–even during Great Lent (dark chocolate is lenten, is it not?). People can spend more money on nutritionally-empty products that ruin their health than they donate to their church and spend more time on the couch than they do in prayer or at church, and somehow no one accuses them of having wrong priorities. Or what about people who buy luxury cars instead of giving more money to their church or helping the poor? Or what about people who buy many more clothes than they actually need? Or what about people whose television sets are the latest and the largest (and the most expensive)? There are so many ways that people waste their time and money instead of praying or feeding the poor or helping the church, that it is rather odd that those trying to stay healthy and take proper care of the body God gave to them are singled-out as having wrong priorities.
When people do not take care of their health or even damage it through their lifestyle choices we do not accuse them of being un-Orthodox. But when people eat healthy foods and go for a jog every morning or workout at the gym we accuse them of loving their flesh too much. Something is wrong with this thinking. It seems to me that it is the people who suffer from gluttony and laziness who are the ones that love their flesh too much. They give in to its desires and pleasures. But healthy eating and exercise take a lot of discipline of the body, denial of the body, willpower to fight against the demands and urges of the body, asceticism, if you will. Everyone who tries to follow a healthy diet will attest to how difficult it is, and how much willpower it takes, and how it is very much like fasting. Everyone who regularly exercises knows how much effort it takes and how much energy it gives in return for being able to pray and attend services. But how much effort or willpower does it takes to eat a donut or to sit on the couch? And what spiritual benefit is gained from being overweight or from owning a large-screen television set?
Of course, the seminary speaker was not talking about people who just eat broccoli or go for a light jog in the morning. Also interestingly enough, the seminary has a very nice gym right on campus, and both of my professors this term regularly go to the gym. But I think that comments like that should be moderated lest these comments are misunderstood by the faithful to mean that exercise is bad and candy bars are good. Perhaps, there can be promoted an understanding that moderation is best in everything–time spent at the gym as well as amounts of cakes or french fries eaten or unnecessary clothing, or gadgets purchased. Balance and moderation may be a much better pastoral approach than the customary pseudo-monastic vilification of those Christians who choose go to the gym or the questioning of their priorities. Otherwise, what is next? Will we proclaim that people should not brush their teeth because that means that they value their flesh too much? And maybe cavities in the teeth should be seen as sent or allowed by God just like obesity, hypertension and diabetes? According to the CDC, adult obesity rate in the U.S. is 34.9% (that is more than one in every three people!). Perhaps, rather than questioning the priorities of those who choose to exercise in order to remain healthy and productive members of the Church, pastors could turn their efforts toward promoting the understanding of the human body as a gift from God to be respected and properly cared for.
Notes from 12 JAN 2015 lecture on bioethics:
End-of-life care in the United States often includes great pain and heavy sedation, especially when someone is dying from advanced cancer. When it is not cancer, medical treatments can include feeding and breathing tubes which obstruct the person’s mouth. Even when a person is dying of old age with no other complications, a “failure to thrive” state may make the person unable to think clearly or to swallow. All of these circumstances may prevent a person from giving their last confession or receiving Communion.
It is very important not to wait! If your loved one is ill, especially if he or she is elderly and ill, it is extremely important to call a priest immediately. Let the priest come while your loved one can still give a confession and receive Communion. Perhaps, the illness will last a long time–the priest can continue to come once a week to give Communion to your loved one. Perhaps, the person will get better–he or she can come to church and give thanks to God for healing. Whatever may happen later, do not wait to call a priest today. The best way that we can show love is not by giving someone false hope or by bringing them “get-well-soon” cards, but by making sure that that have access to the sacraments of the Church when they need them.
Notes from 12 JAN 2015 lecture on youth ministry:
The foundation of a child’s worldview is formed in the first five years of life. This is why it is important to regularly bring babies to church. Children who were raised in the church from an early age will always feel at home there even if they go through a period of struggles later in life. Children who were kept away from church by their parents often feel uncomfortable in church. Children who are brought to church only rarely or not at all until they are older often want to leave the church immediately, cry, refuse to take communion and cause much grief to their parents.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6)
“Train up”–actively train, work with your child from an early age, do not neglect the task of actively teaching your child the way of Christian life and salvation
“a child”–a very young child; start working with your child from the earliest age; ‘a child’ does not mean ‘a teenager’; if you wait until your child is grown, it will be too late and you will have missed the formative years
“will not depart from it”–people go through different periods in their lives and some may fall away from God and the Church for a time; but if they have a solid foundation that their parents gave to them from an early age, they will always have a path to return to their roots, to God, and to the Church