According to surveys, nearly one-third of Orthodox Christian teens are unsure whether pornography is right or wrong. This is approximately the same number as that of teens who are unsure whether premarital sex is right or wrong. This is very telling in two ways. First, teens who are unsure about premarital sex are probably also unsure about pornography. And second, while the Church makes its position very clear–premarital sex and pornography are wrong–it needs to do a better job of explaining why. In this short paper, I would like to step away from the words ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ After all, Christ did not come to bring us laws and legislations. Sins are not right or wrong because someone issued a regulation. Instead, I would like to talk about things that are good for you or bad for you.
The Church teaches us that sexual intimacy is an important part of the sacrament of marriage: there, it has its rightful place; there, it helps the two become one; and there, it fulfills all of its functions–from the expression of love and commitment to the co-creation with God in continuing the human race. Marriage is a sacrament with the “principal and ultimate goal [of] the spiritual and moral perfection of the spouses.” As with any sacrament, that which is sacramental, should not be used for profane purposes. Imagine that a priest throws a party in the holy altar, and then on Sunday, after having picked up the trash, he serves the Divine Liturgy there. Or, he uses the chalice to drink his coffee in the mornings, and then on Sunday he uses it for the Eucharist. Even on an intuitive level we understand that this would be blasphemy. And yet, it is the same with our bodies. The Apostle Paul teaches that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19), and it belongs to your spouse for the fulfillment of the sacrament of marriage (7:4)–whether we are married now or will one day be married. Imagine your love for your spouse as a cup filled to the brim, and you want to give all of it, the fullness of it to your beloved. If you start bumping into strangers along the way or allowing them to take some of what you are carrying, then you will not be able to preserve the fullness of your love, and will hand to your beloved a cup half-empty, if not altogether unworthy of a sacrament.
All of this can be said about premarital sex in general, but what about pornography? Pornography is just as bad as premarital sex, but more dangerous. When a person engages in a sexual act with another person, both are aware that they are giving up a part of themselves; and the more partners a person has, the more fractured he or she becomes. But pornography camouflages itself as something unreal, virtual, something that is one’s private business, something that does not hurt anyone. Our culture tells us that we are free to do whatever we want, as long as it does not hurt anyone. Let us heed this advice and remember that ‘anyone’ means us as well. Let us make sure that whatever we do does not hurt us physically or spiritually.
Christ said: “…every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28). The reason Christ equates looking lustfully, the very definition of pornography, with adultery, a physical act, is because we are not some bags full of disconnected parts–body, soul, mind, spirit, will, etc.–but whole and interconnected beings. If we have a toothache, our mind may become irritable; and if our mind is anxious, our whole body may ache. This is why when we allow pornography to enter into our eyes and our mind, our entire being is affected. The “virtual” sin of pornography most often leads to very physical masturbation. And once something is seen, it cannot be unseen–it imbeds itself in the mind, the memory, the subconscious. We would not want to share our spouse and our marriage bed with a bus-load-full of porn actors and actresses. But in reality, this is what we do when our minds are polluted with pornorgaphy and we enter into the sacrament of marriage bringing all those “passengers” along. On second thought, porn ‘actors’ and ‘actresses’ perform sexual acts for money, and there is another term for that–prostitution. The Apostle Paul says that “he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her” (1 Cor. 6:16). These are very powerful words. This means that when we commit adultery in the heart–watch pornography–we become one with that prostitute, instead of our spouse. This is not only destructive to the sacrament of marriage, but also to our own souls: with how many prostitutes can one become one before the soul is completely broken, damaged, fractured, and polluted?
Ways to Fight Against Pornography
- Avoid those television shows, movies, magazines, and websites that arouse sexual passion. It is much easier to fight against sin while it is still a little worm than to battle it once it becomes a fire-breathing dragon.
- Do not underestimate the brute power of sexual desire. People have killed and died under the influence of the sexual passion. Do not play with fire or you risk being burnt.
- Remember that demons, including those of lust, are best resisted through prayer and fasting. Pray often and ask God for help. Keep the real fast, not a vegan diet.
- Keep your eyes and your mind on our Savior and His Most Pure Mother. If you spend time on the computer or watch television–place an icon next to the screen. If looking at what is on your screen and in the eyes of Christ at the same time makes you uncomfortable or ashamed, then something is wrong with what is on your screen. Do something about it! (There is an OFF button on every device.)
- Seek healing in repentance. Once something is seen it cannot be unseen. But God can heal and restore the soul. Remember: repentance is not feeling bad about something. It is a firm decision to turn away from sin and turn to God. It is a decision to fight against sin, not merely feel bad about having committed it. It is a sacrament of reconciliation with God, not a formality of entering a guilty plea on a heavenly court docket.
Here are some videos to watch during Lent. I will keep adding new ones as I find them.
Dr. Jay Gordon: No one needs meat for health
Following up on one of the most influential documentaries of all time, Forks Over Knives, comes Forks Over Knives – The Extended Interviews. This video includes never-before-seen footage from the film’s expert interviews, covering several themes in greater depth and addressing important issues that weren’t touched on in the movie. Forks Over Knives – The Extended Interviews covers more than 80 topics.
In this fiery and funny talk, New York Times food writer Mark Bittman weighs in on what’s wrong with the way we eat now (too much meat, too few plants; too much fast food, too little home cooking), and why it’s putting the entire planet at risk.
Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn argues that heart attacks, the leading cause of death for men and women worldwide, are a “food borne illness” and explains why diet is the most powerful medicine.
Celebrated Cornell University professor T. Colin Campbell Phd, presents the overwhelming evidence showing that animal protein is one of the most potent carcinogens people are exposed to.
Olympic gold medal winner Carl Lewis describes how his best athletic performances came after he eliminated all animal products from his diet.
He’s VEGAN — James “Lightning” Wilks, an MMA fighter best known to many for winning The Ultimate Fighter TV challenge, US vs. UK. James holds a Black belt in Tae Kwon Do and a Brown belt in Brazilian Jui Jitsu. Listen to James relate decision to go 100% plant-based.
A fateful blizzard on a drive to Tahoe led to a conversation about food and nutrition, which inspired bodybuilder Joshua Knox, a Google employee, to go vegan for a week. One week turned into a 1.5 year lifestyle experiment with bodybuilding and diet.
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A curious phenomenon can be observed in the interactions between pastors and their parishioners at the beginning of each major fast of the Church. Pastors attempt to call their parishioners’ pious attention to the spiritual heights of fasting: the fighting against sin, the conquering of passions, the taming of the tongue, the cultivation of virtues. In turn, parishioners pester their pastors with purely dietary questions: when fish is allowed, whether soy milk or soy hotdogs are Lenten foods, whether adding milk to coffee is breaking the fast, or whether there is some dispensation that can be given to the young, the elderly, those who study, those who work, women, men, travelers, the sick, or those who simply do not feel well. In response to the overwhelming preoccupation with dietary rules to the detriment of the spiritual significance of fasting, some pastors, seemingly out of frustration, began to propose in sermons and internet articles that dietary rules are not important at all: if you want yogurt during Lent, just have some as long as you do not gossip; if you want a hamburger, then eat one, as long as you do not devour a fellow human being by judging and backstabbing. Unfortunately, such advice rarely helps eradicate gossip, judging or backstabbing. Rather, it seems to confuse people into thinking that since they have not yet conquered these and many other vices in their hearts, they do not have to fast from hamburger either. Thus, I would like us to discuss the very topic which fascinates so many lay people: what the fasting rules are and how they are to be followed by those of who have not taken the vows of chastity, poverty and obedience.
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A new book by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov
There Is No Sex in the Church!:
On the Problematics of Sexuality and Gender In Orthodoxy
This work is a collection of essays written over the years on topics related to human sexuality and gender issues within Russian Orthodox Christianity: marital sex, homosexuality, ritual impurity, and others. In an introduction to one of the sections, the author writes:
“…Having written a couple of opinion papers touching on the difficulties of discussing matters of human sexuality in the context of the Russian Orthodox Church, and having pointed out the existence of a wide spectrum of opinions on what Christians should do in bed—ranging from the strictest and almost total prohibition of any form of sexual behavior with possible exceptions for the most penitentiary of position and then only a few times in a lifetime specifically for the purpose of procreation, to an attitude of total permissiveness brushing off any questions with assertions that the marriage bed is undefiled and whatever married people do in their bedroom is all blessed—I have, quite naturally, been asked to clarify my own position on what should and should not be allowed… I should like to discuss three topics: 1) the idea that a husband and wife should attempt to live “like brother and sister,” that is to say, abstaining from sex altogether or limiting it only to specific times and forms necessary for procreation; 2) the idea that a husband and wife can do whatever they want as much as they want in the privacy of their bedroom and none of it is the Church’s business; and 3) a possible middle ground which does not reject the joy of the married state moderated by a certain measure of ascetic discipline of the body and the soul…”
This book deals with adult subject matter and is intended for adult readers. If you are offended by the discussion of human sexuality, this book is not for you. Some sections of this book contain very graphic language and reader discretion is strongly advised.
Русский: Жизнь как Таинство
A talk given at St. Herman Orthodox Youth Conference on 24 December 2011 in Ottawa, Canada
We all know of the sacraments of the Church and recognize them as certain events or milestones in our Christian lives: we get baptized, we prepare for confession and Communion, get married, and some may get ordained to the holy priesthood… These important markers provide us with the time and place to be face-to-face with God, to unite with Him within His Holy Church, His Body. But what about the rest of our life? Well, we pray for a few minutes in the morning and also in the evening. But what about the rest? All too often, our lives are fractured: there is the Christian part—Church sacraments and services, prayers and readings; and there is the secular part—school, work, a party at a friend’s house, a movie on Friday night—and the two parts seem to be as far apart as the east is from the west. Indeed, what is so spiritual about cooking breakfast? Or, how can one be (or not be) a Christian while brushing one’s teeth? The very mechanistic separation between Church and the rest of life seems to be as commonplace in modern Christianity as the separation of Church and state. But can there be another model? Is there a way to reconcile the broken pieces of the modern fractured life and to live one whole and simple Christian life? Here, we will discuss the meaning of the word “sacrament,” the role that sacraments play in our life, and also some ways in which we can guide and shape our everyday life toward a greater connection with God and His Church. (more…)
Russian: Отпевание и панихиды
Translated from Russian by Fr. Michael van Opstall
The final hours before death
The leaving behind of the earthly life full of suffering, and the translation into eternity is the most solemn moment in the life of any Christian. However, friends and relatives, sometimes removed from Christian traditions, bear the death of a loved one with great grief. They often lose their orientation and leave the important job of the setting an Orthodox Christian on his final path in the hands of a funeral home. (more…)
Russian: Об освящении домов крещенской водой
Why Bless a Home?
The Orthodox Church teaches that we do not have two separate lives–a secular one and a spiritual one–but one human life, and that all of it must be holy. We must not be Christians for just a few hours on Saturday and Sunday, spending the rest of our life godlessly, that is to say, without God. The person who has united with Christ in the sacrament of baptism cannot be a part-time Christian, but must be faithful to Christ everywhere and at all times–in church, at work, at home, in relationships with other Christians, and in those with non-Christians–we must be faithful to Christ in the fullness of our life.
The Holy Orthodox Church teaches us that a temple is not only a building in which we worship, but that we are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16); that the Body of Christ is not only that of which we partake at the Divine Liturgy, but that we are the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27). And just as the Gifts of the Eucharist are treated with reverence and kept in sanctified vessels in the altar, so should every Christian’s life be full of reverence and sanctity not only during a church service, but likewise outside the walls of the temple. A Christian’s home must become a small temple, work–labor for the glory of God, and family–a small Church. (more…)
This paper explores the attitudes within the Russian Orthodox Church toward marital sex by putting the issue into historical,theological, and pastoral contexts. It strives to begin a dialogue between the laity, married clergy, and monastic hierarchy of the Russian Orthodox Church about one of the important aspects of every Christian marriage–marital sex.
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Published on Orthodoxy and the World
In two days, on November, 25, America is going to celebrate Thanksgiving Day which has a very significant role in American families because it is one of the few times a year that the family gets together. Thanksgiving Day is also called a Turkey day because it usually involves a meal with turkey or at least a more elaborate meal. Most American Orthodox Christians started the Nativity Fast on November, 15. How can an Orthodox Christian navigate these family gatherings, often with family who are not Orthodox, and still keep the Nativity fast? (more…)
The Church is the Body of Christ, and just as Christ united in Himself human and heavenly nature, in the Church the heavenly is united with the earthly. The Church is not only comprised of apostles, saints, and holy monks, but also of us—exactly in as much as we submit our earthly selves to the heavenly—”I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20); in as much as we live in Christ. As the Lord builds His Heavenly Church through the saints, He builds the Earthly Church through us. (more…)
On the Significance of the Ritual of the Russian Orthodox Church Surrounding Death and Dying for the Grieving Process of the Bereaved
Presented at the Pastoral Conference of the Western American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church
San Francisco, California, 18 March 2008
Imprimatur: † Kyrill, Archbishop of San Francisco and Western America
For them that mourn and grieve who look for the consolation of Christ, let us pray to the Lord! (From the Great Litany during the Panikhida or the Requiem Service)
This workshop was designed to be presented to the clergy of the Western American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church abroad during the Spring 2008 Lenten Conference in San Francisco, California. The purpose of the workshop is to provide the clergy with another tool in their work with grieving parishioners and their families as well as to raise the level of awareness of the stages of the process of grieving and the healing properties of the Church rituals which may be explored in relation to the grieving process. As Lundquist writes in Ethnic Variations in Dying, Death, and Grief: Diversity in Universality, “death [in the dominant culture of the U.S.] is frequently treated as a taboo topic in conversation” (32). This cultural conditioning of Orthodox Christians living in the U.S. goes against the millennia-old tradition of the Church Who reminds Her children that death is the ultimate culmination of the earthly life of every human. The conversation about death, therefore, must be continued and supported within the Church which teaches, “in all you do, remember the end of your life, and then you will never sin” (Sirach 7:36 NRSV). The participants of the workshop were invited to look at the meaning of Church rituals not only as the expression of Her beliefs concerning the fate of the reposed, but also and primarily, for this exercise, as a pastoral tool in helping the bereaved to transform the period of grieving and loss into a period of spiritual development and gain. (more…)
Русский: Покаяние и исповедь
In order to understand what repentance is, one must first think about what sin is. Most often, people liken sin to breaking God’s law or transgressing against God’s commandment. Undoubtedly, such a characteristic of sin has its basis in the Old Testament. But just like all Old Testament things, this is only a shadow or a symbol of that which has received a deeper meaning in the New Testament. (more…)
My interest in the history of the Morning and Evening Prayer Rules came from a somewhat unusual source: in more than seven years of serving as a parish priest, I have regularly heard it confessed by a large number of people that they fail to complete all of their daily prayers. What is meant by these confessions is that some penitents regularly cut short the Rules contained in the Orthodox Prayer Book. It must be noted, however, that there appear to be no standard rubrics for the composition or length of Morning and Evening Rules, nor is there a mention of the “sin of the shortening of the Prayer Rule” either in the daily confession of sins contained at the end of evening prayers, or in the Rite of Confession contained in the Book of Needs. To be sure, one of the prayers in the evening rule does mention being “neglectful of prayer,” but this likely refers to one’s general attitude toward prayer, rather than to a modification of the Prayer Rule, although there can certainly exist a causal relationship between the two. At least two issues immediately arise from this situation: 1) whether shortening the generally prescribed Prayer Rule should be viewed as a confessional issue; and 2) by whom and when the Prayer Rules were compiled. (more…)
Russian: О церковном этикете
“…all things should be done decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40)
Every human society, or as sociologists would say, “social group,” has its own specific rules of behavior and etiquette. These rules can be very different, but this does not mean that one group’s etiquette is better than that of another. Quite simply, in Russia, for example, when meeting someone, it is customary to wish each other good health (“Здравствуйте!”), but in the United States to ask “How are you?”
The Orthodox Church is the sacramental Body of Christ, but at the same time, it is a group of people who are united not only spiritually, but also socially. This is why the Orthodox Church has developed its own rules of etiquette. Unfortunately, many of us grew up in an unchurched soviet or post-soviet society and came into the Church at an age when our parents and grandparents were no longer telling us how to behave ourselves, as they did when we were younger. This is why it is up to us to observe and learn the rules and customs of the Church and of our parish. (more…)
Published by Orthodoxy and the World
Pravmir: The Orthodox Church prepares the faithful for the Nativity of the Lord by the 40-days fasting period. The secular world has its own spirit of Christmas preparation: parties, presents, Christmas markets, early decorated stores… How not to be involved by the secular pre-celebration of Christmas and to keep the fast not only in food, but in spirit as well?
Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov: First of all, I would warn against building too high a partition between the “Christian world” and the “secular world.” In the true sense of the word, there is no such thing as the secular world; there is only one world–that which was created by God and corrupted by sin. Trying to “flee from the world” may be a lofty aspiration indeed, but one that in its purest form would require us to abandon our employment, family, relationships, oh, and probably the internet as well. Yet it is unthinkable that the Church would want all of us to become monastic hermits—Christians would simply die out within a generation or two! (more…)
The issue of women in the Church has been raised many times during the history of Christianity, beginning with the very first decades of the Church’s existence. That is why, when in the twenty-first century one asks about the role of women in the Church, one does not speak of this role—Christ Himself spoke about it and the Apostle Paul wrote about it in his letters—but the continuing problem of the relationship between genders in the family, society, and the Church.
In Church consciousness, this problem is usually expressed in terms of bearded men in black possessing administrative authority which they withhold from women, even if the latter choose to glue on a mustache and don a black robe. From the point of view of modern Western culture—to which not only immigrants making their lives in the United States belong, but also in a significant way Orthodox people living in the European part of Russia—there is clear evidence of the discrimination of the Church against women only because they were born women. This is why it seems somewhat strange to me that I, a bearded man in a black robe who possess some limited administrative authority in my parish—a small part of the Church, have been invited to tell women about their place in the Church…
NOW AVAILABLE IN PAPERBACK!
A new book by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov
Or mail a check to Russian Church, PO Box 913, Mulino, OR 97042