Orthodoxy & Contraception: Continuity or Compromise?

Orthodoxy & Contraception: Continuity or Compromise? July 26, 2018

[with Fr. Deacon Daniel G. Dozier]

Chapter 9 (pp. 225-244) of my book, Orthodoxy and Catholicism: A Comparison (3rd revised edition, 2015), co-authored with Fr. Deacon Daniel G. Dozier, M.A., who is a Byzantine Catholic clergyman, with degrees in theology and organizational leadership. He is the author of The Twelve Great Feasts of the Messiah and the Mother of God (Eastern Christian Publications) and Classics Made Simple: The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola (TAN Publishing). He speaks periodically on the subject of Iconic Catechesis to parishes and schools and is the Director of Learning and Development for Holy Apostles Institute.

*****

In the first edition, first printing (1963) of The Orthodox Church, Met. Kallistos Ware states (page 302):

Artificial methods of birth control are forbidden in the Orthodox Church.

The revised 1984 version of The Orthodox Church, however (New York: Penguin Books, page 302), states (emphasis added):

The use of contraceptives and other devices for birth control is on the whole strongly discouraged in the Orthodox Church. Some bishops and theologians altogether condemn the employment of such methods. Others, however, have recently begun to adopt a less strict position, and urge that the question is best left to the discretion of each individual couple, in consultation with the spiritual father.

The revised 1993 version of The Orthodox Church reveals even further change in Orthodox teaching and practice, away from previously universal Christian tradition (page 296; emphasis added):

Concerning contraceptives and other forms of birth control, differing opinions exist within the Orthodox Church. In the past birth control was in general strongly condemned, but today a less strict view is coming to prevail, not only in the west but in traditional Orthodox countries. Many Orthodox theologians and spiritual fathers consider that the responsible use of contraception within marriage is not in itself sinful. In their view, the question of how many children a couple should have, and at what intervals, is best decided by the partners themselves, according to the guidance of their own consciences.

A revered Orthodox Patriarch wrote in 1968:

We assure you that we remain close to you, above all in these recent days when you have taken the good step of publishing the encyclical Humanae Vitae. We are in total agreement with you, and wish you all God’s help to continue your mission in the world. (Telegram from Patriarch Athenagoras to Pope Paul VI, 9 August 1968, reprinted in Towards the Healing of Schism, edited and translated by E.J. Stormon, 1987, 197)

In a seminal study of Orthodox thought on sexuality (Eve Levin, Sex and Society in the World of the Orthodox Slavs, 900-1700, Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press, 1989), the author drew the following conclusions about Orthodoxy’s view of contraception, after lengthy research in liturgical and canon law materials (pp. 175-176):

Because only the birth of a child justified sexual intercourse between husband and wife, any attempt to prevent conception was regarded as evil. From the medieval Slavic perspective, contraception, abortion, and infanticide were similar offenses; provisions against birth control did not always distinguish among them. All three represented the same thing: an attempt to forestall the introduction into the world of a new soul. For that reason, all three offenses were sometimes called dusegube, literally, ‘the destruction of a soul.’

Another standard reference source on Byzantium states:

The use of contraception was condemned by church fathers. The Penitential ascribed to John IV Nesteutes [St. John the Faster] considers it a form of infanticide, categorizing several kinds of birth control: application of ointment ([?] trimata) that is perceived as the least heinous; drinking a potion (pharmakon); and the worst–the use of a herbs to induce abortion (PG 88:1904C). Another text attributed to the same author (col. 1924A) required sinners to confess their desire to remain childless, induce an abortion, or use contraceptive herbs. [St.] John Chrysostom calls the use of contraception ‘a murder before birth’ (PG 60:626.50-51) and views it as harmful not only because it prevents procreation but also because it leads to involvement in contraceptive magic and idolatry (ibid., 627.6-8). The practice of contraception was usually limited to prostitutes and to women tempted to break their vows of chastity or of marital fidelity. Married couples, however, sometimes abstained from or restricted sexual intercourse after having produced a child or two [NFP, anyone?]. [St.] Epiphanios of Cyprus (Panarion 26.5.2-6) describes with indignation (and evidently with strong exaggeration) the habits of heretical Gnostics who did not wish to bear children but fornicated for the sake of pleasure, using coitus interruptus or abortion as a means of contraception; they are even reported to have ground up the embryo in a mortar, mixed it with honey, pepper, and other spices, and to have eaten it at their loathsome assemblies.

Byzantine medical writers, esp. Paul of Aegina in the 7th C., transmitted the theories and techniques of contraception outlined by the 2nd-C. Gynaikeia of Soranos, which recommended vaginal wool suppositories and the application of olive oil, honey, cedar resin, alum, balsam gum, or white lead to prevent sperm from passing into the uterus. Paul, however, provided only one herbal contraception recipe, whereas Dioskorides had 20. In the 6th C. Aetios of Amida recommended magical protection such as wearing an amulet of cat’s liver or a womb of a lioness in an ivory tube. (The Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, edited by A.P. Kazhdan, Oxford, 1991, 3 volumes, s.v. “Contraception”)

An Orthodox critic complained about my citation of Met. Kallisto’s book, on the grounds that it is neither infallible nor authoritative. Yet it is a widely cited and standard popular source of Orthodox teaching and distinctives. This can hardly be denied. No one is saying that it is the equivalent of dogma or statements of bishops and jurisdictions, etc.

Nevertheless, if Met. Kallistos Ware acknowledges in his book the existence of certain sociological realities within Orthodoxy, I think he should be accorded the benefit of the doubt, as a high-placed, well-known, and influential person in those ranks. I should think that the burden of demonstrating otherwise  (as to the facts) would fall upon the person who questions the sociological / ecclesiological observation.

In my experience (I have dialogued with many Orthodox on this issue), it is common knowledge that the Orthodox, broadly speaking, permit contraception (as they do divorce). This (concerning contraception) has been admitted to me by more “traditional” Orthodox acquaintances, such as those in the Orthodox jurisdiction ROCOR (which itself prohibits contraception, I believe, in accord with traditional Orthodox teaching).

The fact of Orthodox compromise with traditional teaching regarding contraception is not mere speculation or conjecture. Catholics, on the other hand, have resolved the issue, and it matters not if 99% of all professed Catholics dissent (in some estimates [in my opinion, somewhat flawed and exaggerated], 70% of Catholics do). It is resolved dogmatically, and will not change (just like female priests, abortion, the sinfulness of homosexual acts, and a host of other issues).

Now I shall cite The Orthodox Church: 455 Questions and Answers, by Fr. Stanley S. Harakas (Minneapolis: Light & Life Publishing Co., 1987, 40-42). I think it is most enlightening (and tragic). My own critical comments (interspersed) will be in brackets:

[Question no.] 56. What beliefs does the Orthodox Church have about birth control?

Within modern Orthodox Christianity, varying views on the subject exist . . . . .

What should be noted at the beginning is that this lack of clarity has its roots in some of the tradition of the church itself. Basically, it is to be found in a varying understanding of sex in the life of the Christian . . .

[he goes on to recount a positive tradition regarding sex as a blessing, gift, sacrament, etc.]

. . . the powerful influence of monasticism has tended not only to lower the estimation of married life, but also to equate sex in general to a condition not quite fitting and appropriate for Christians, if not, in fact, sinful. At its extreme, this view held that marriage itself was nothing but ‘legalized fornication.’

[I would argue that this is an exaggeration and caricature of monasticism – both Orthodox and Catholic –, and typical of a trendy, modernist revisionist approach to the history of Christianity, including within itself the typical animus against the celibacy requirements for Catholic priests in the western, Latin rite]

Both these views have been held and promulgated through the years within the church, even though they are mutually inconsistent. This inconsistency has been reflected in approaches to the question of contraception . . .

[he proceeds to contrast the “negative” view of sex, which he calls the “Natural Law” view, with the more positive one which includes contraception, called the “Sacramental View”]:

The approach of Fr. [Chrysostom] Zafiris’ article and that supported in Fr. John Meyendorff’s book ‘Marriage: an Orthodox Perspective,’ places the emphasis for the meaning of sex in general and contraception in particular on the whole experience of marriage as a holy, interpersonal relationship within the total framework of the Christian life. The approach sees marriage and the sex within it as having many purposes, none of which is seen as the crucial and exclusive purpose . . .

[i.e., procreative and unitive, as in the Catholic perspective. We forbid the deliberate frustration of the former by artificial means, during fertile periods. We do not forbid sex for unitive reasons during non-fertile periods, nor limiting numbers of children, nor spacing children (for properly serious reasons), as is often wrongly supposed]

. . . within this perspective contraception is not condemned, but rather it is seen as a means for the furthering of the goals and purposes of marriage as understood by the church.

[. . . against the unanimous teaching of the early and medieval and even 19th-century Christian Church at large, which spectacularly and inexplicably “got it wrong,” I guess, according to Fr. Harakas and others in Orthodoxy who follow this line of thought]

Normally, it would be wrong to use contraceptives to avoid the birth of any children. However, once children have been born, the use of contraceptives by the parents does not seem to violate any fundamental Christian understanding of marriage.

WHICH IS MORE CORRECT?

As we have indicated, there is evidence in the history of the church to provide support for both approaches. That is why there is still discussion and controversy. Even our archdiocese has responded differently at different times. In older issues of the archdiocese ‘yearbook’ a strong negative attitude was expressed. In more recent issues, a position was taken, indicating that this was a private matter, involving the couple alone, which was to be discussed with the Father Confessor.

[this exactly verifies Met. Kallistos Ware’s point, and mine. This is an absolutely classic example of the theologically liberal, modernist mindset. What was once a morally absolute evil and sin has now become – in our own enlightened, progressive age –, merely a “private matter” (i.e., optional and permissible). This is quintessential liberal relativistic ethics, and the secularist separation of “private” from public virtue and morality, which is also a crucial plank of current pro-abortion rhetoric and propagandizing. This buys one of the underlying principles of the sexual revolution – as to individual sexual autonomy – hook, line, and sinker. It’s very sad and distressing to see this in a major work purportedly (actually?) expressing the viewpoints of Orthodoxy. It’s no wonder that Fr. Harakas also accepts deliberate abortion in cases of rape and danger to the life of the mother, in the same book]

. . . What we are saying is that if a married couple has children, or is spacing the birth of their children, and wishes to continue sexual relations in the subsequent years as an expression of their continuing love for each other, and for the deepening of their personal and marital unity, the Orthodoxy of contraception is affirmed.

[typical, high-sounding, theologically liberal rhetoric, entirely missing the cogent and relevant moral and historical points, filled with non sequiturs, and based on a grossly exaggerated false dichotomy of two supposed competing traditions on sex in Church history: viz., the “sex as quasi-evil and a regrettable duty / monastic” theory and the “sacramental, unitive, positive, holistic” school which, of course is perfectly in line, we are told, with the contraceptive anti-child mentality, which itself happens to coincide with the Planned Parenthood, eugenicist, abortionist mentality and zeitgeist of our own time. Just a coincidence . . . ]

Fr. Harakas also touched on contraception in his treatment of abortion on pages 1-2. Incidentally, he chooses to first present his teaching about abortion in the context of a question having to do with rape only (also the classic pro-abort strategy to legitimize abortion; to open the door to abortion-on-demand, just as the Anglicans first justified contraception in hard cases only, in 1930. Human nature never changes). At least he does treat it more generally in the next question. His little treatise contains such inane and scandalous statements such as:

Regardless of what the Church or moralists may say, it is understandable why women who have been raped feel so terrible.

[as if this is some extraordinary, newfound realization among killjoy, cruel, puritanical, “moralist” anti-sex Christians: that a woman who has been raped would feel “so terrible”]

He goes on to advocate murdering a resultant child on the grounds that it may not yet be implanted in the womb, which is both a biologically and morally irrelevant consideration. Conception may have occurred; if it has, an abortion is murder, pure and simple. A soul has already been directly created by God, and all the genetic material that is needed for the entire life of the child is present. Fr. Harakas would do good to realize that this morally bankrupt position is “so terrible” as well. Especially it would “feel so terrible” to God and to the child being murdered, however young he or she might be.

Then he writes about contraception:

. . . Because of a lack of a clear understanding of the reproductive process, methods which were contraceptive in intent and form were often included in this prohibition [of abortion, in the early Church]. Some Orthodox teachers, bishops, and clergy still maintain this to be true [gee, I wonder how many “some” is?]. Many others [ah, a majority?], however, are able to distinguish between contraception and abortion as two very different issues. Some of these bishops, theologians, and canonists [much more authoritative than Met. Kallistos] now hold [now? Why “now”?] that birth control methods may be used by married couples . . . Also, the Church could only accept the practice of birth control in marriage and in a way which would not preclude the birth of some children, since one of the purposes of marriage is the procreation of children.

If Fr. Harakas, too, is wrong about the sociological and moral / doctrinal situation in the Orthodox Church vis-a-vis contraception, then this needs to be demonstrated. Even as eminent of a theologian as John Meyendorff has compromised with the traditional teaching on this score.

Fr. Deacon Daniel Dozier

Remember, O Lord our God, Your servant (Name) and Your servant (Name), and bless them. Grant unto them a fruitful union, fair children, concord of soul and body. Exalt them like the cedars of Lebanon, like a well-cultured and fruitful vine. Grant them a rich store of sustenance, so that having all the necessities of life, they may abound in every charitable work that is good and pleasing in Your sight. May they live to see their children’s children as newly planted olive trees round about their table; and, being pleasing in Your sight, may they shine like the stars in the heavens, in You, our Lord, to Whom are due all glory, honor, and worship together with Your eternal Father, and Your all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now and forever, and to the ages of ages.

— From the Orthodox Rite of Crowning in Matrimony

Although I admit to something of an inherent bias, few experiences of the traditional rites of marriage can compare with that of the Byzantine tradition of Crowning in matrimony, whether celebrated in an Orthodox or an Eastern Catholic context. The ancient rites and prayers (celebrated usually outside of the context of the Divine Liturgy) offer a rich theological tapestry of the meaning and permanency of the marital union unfolding before the congregation in the sight of God, Who glorifies His servants who stand in the long patrimony of fruitful and often miraculous blessings of saints, patriarchs and matriarchs of the Old and New Testaments, whose names are recounted in the Rite.

Throughout the ceremony, petitions are made for the fruitful and manifold blessing of children as the couple, who like a New Adam and a New Eve in a New Creation, embark on the journey towards the calling to be fruitful and multiply in both charity and offspring. One such example is as follows:

O God most pure, the Author of all creation, in Your loving kindness You transformed a rib of Adam the forefather into a woman and blessed them and said, “Increase and multiply, and have dominion over the earth.” By joining them together, You declared them both to be one. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave unto his wife, and the two shall be one flesh – and those whom God has joined together let no man put asunder.” You also blessed Your servant Abraham, and opened the womb of Sara, and made him the father of many nations; You gave Rebecca to Issac, and blessed her offspring; You joined Jacob and Rachel, and from them brought forth the twelve patriarchs of ancient Israel; You joined Joseph and Asenath, and as the fruit of their childbearing, You bestowed upon them Ephraim and Manasseh; You blessed Zachariah and Elizabeth, and declared their son, John the Baptist, to be the Forerunner of the Messiah: out of the root of Jesse, according to the flesh, You produced the ever-virgin Mary, and from her You were born, becoming incarnate for the salvation of the human race. In Your infinite grace and amazing goodness You were present in Cana of Galilee and blessed the marriage that took place there, that You might show that a lawful union, and children from it, is in accordance with Your will. Most-holy Master, accept the prayer of Your servants and as You were present at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, be present among us now, granting all of us Your unseen protection. Bless this marriage and grant unto these Your servants (Name) and (Name) a peaceful life, length of days, chastity, love for one another in a bond of peace, long-lived children, the joy of grateful children, and a crown of glory that will never fade away. Make them worthy to live to see their children’s children. Keep their marriage bond undefiled. Give them of the dew from the heavens above and the richness of the earth. Fill their home with bountiful food, and with every good thing, that they may have enough to share with those who are poor and in need. Grant to all those who are present here this day, all of their prayers that are for salvation.

As an Eastern Christian, I believe that all theology is inherently doxological, and all doxology is inherently theological. The content of the Rites of the Church are intended to both sanctify and effect the content of the prayers and actions of the Church and its ministers, but it also serves as a means of ongoing discipleship and pedagogy in the Christian life for those who receive or participate in the celebration of all the Sacred Mysteries.

The Rite of Crowning is certainly no exception, most especially in its affirmation of the salvific and sanctifying purposes of matrimony through fidelity to the unitive (love-giving) and generative (life-giving) aspects of the marital covenant, which reflects the traditional Orthodox understanding of marriage.

Contraception, which is the subject of Dave’s chapter containing his very provocative analysis of the changing modern landscape of Orthodox thought, inhibits, undermines, and attacks the coinherence of the fruitful and faithful dimensions of married life as reflected in the mind of the Church for 2000 years.

Such a changing landscape within Orthodoxy has been chronicled in part by the wonderful reflections of an Orthodox priest, theologian and bioethicist, Father John Schroedel (Orthodox Church of America) who also was at one time the Director of the Orthodox Natural Family Planning Association. Father John had at one time operated a website dedicated to this subject entitled, The Stephanos Project, but it is unfortunately defunct.  Through the wonder of the internet “Wayback Machine,” however, I have been able to locate these contents, and many of my subsequent comments and observations are indebted to Father John’s research, most especially two articles on his site.

The first article is entitled “Is There A Traditional View of Contraception?” In this, he begins with a quote from one of my favorite 20th century Orthodox lay theologians, Paul Evdokimov, who writes:

In the age of the Church Fathers, the problem of birth control was never raised. There are no canons that deal with it. The ancient collections of penitential discipline are no longer entirely applicable; moreover they say nothing on the subject…One must therefore start from the patristic spirit [italics his] and not from a precise, inexistent teaching. (The Sacrament of Love; Crestwood, New York: SVS Press, 1995; 174)

Father Schroedel rightly questions Evdokimov’s assertion by pointing our attention to the actual historical data and posing the question, “Is it possible to discern a traditional teaching on contraception?” He continues:

Contraceptives were not unknown in the ancient world. Soranos of Ephesus, for example, in his 2nd century Gynecology, outlines ancient theories and techniques of contraception. He distinguished between those things which prevented conception and those things which affected a fetus already conceived. He wrote, for example: “A contraceptive differs from an abortive, for the first does not let the conception take place, while the latter destroys what has been conceived. Let us, therefore, call the one ‘abortive’ (phthorion) and the other ‘contraceptive’ (atokion).”

Citing Paul Veyne’s work on ancient Rome, he offers the following quote:

Abortion and contraception were common practices, although historians have distorted the picture somewhat by overlooking the Roman use of the term “abortion” to describe not only surgical practices that we would call abortion but also techniques that we would call contraceptive…All classes of the population certainly made use of contraceptive techniques. Saint Augustine, who speaks of “embraces in which conception is avoided,” gives no indication that these are rare; he condemns the practice, even between legitimate spouses. Augustine distinguishes between contraception, sterilization by means of drugs, and abortions, only to condemn them all… Saint Jerome, in his twenty-second epistle, speaks of young girls who “savor their sterility in advance and kill the human being even before its seed has been sown,” an allusion to a spermicidal drug. (Paul Veyne, ed. A History of Private Life, Vol. I: From Pagan Rome to Byzantium, translated by Arthur Goldhammer; Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, 1987; 12)

Father Schroedel then provides an overview of the patristic witness on this issue, quite contrary to the assertions of silence posited by Evdokimov.

Hippolytus (c. 225) (“concerning some Christian women married to men of lower social status”) “…on account of their prominent ancestry and great property, the so-called faithful want no children from slaves or lowborn commoners, they use drugs of sterility or bind themselves tightly in order to expel a fetus which has already been engendered.” (Refutation of All Heresies 9:12)

Lactantius (c. 307): “[Some] complain of the scantiness of their means, and allege that they have not enough for bringing up more children, as though, in truth, their means were in [their] power…or God did not daily make the rich poor and the poor rich. Wherefore, if any one on any account of poverty shall be unable to bring up children, it is better to abstain from relations with his wife.” (Divine Institutes, 6:20)

Epiphanos of Salamis (c. 375): “They (i.e. Gnostics) exercise genital acts, yet prevent the conceiving of children. Not in order to produce offspring, but to satisfy lust, are they eager for corruption.” (Medicine Chest Against Heresies, 26.5.2)

Titus, Bishop of Bostra in Asia Minor (c. 363): “But indulging in pleasure more frequently, they (i.e. the Manichees) hate the fruit that comes necessarily from their acts; and they command that bodies be joined beyond what is lawful and restrict and expel what is conceived and do not await births at their proper time, as if birth alone were dangerous and difficult.” (Against the Manichees, 2.33)

John Chrysostom (c. 390): “Why do you sow where the field is eager to destroy the fruit? Where there are medicines of sterility? Where there is murder before birth? You do not even let a harlot remain only a harlot, but you make her a murderess as well…it is something worse than murder, and I do not know what to call it; for she does not kill what is formed but prevents its formation. What then? Do you condemn the gift of God and fight with His laws? What is a curse, do you seek as though it were a blessing?… In this indifference of the married men there is greater evil filth; for then poisons are prepared, not against the womb of a prostitute, but against your injured wife. Against her are these innumerable tricks…” (Homily 24 on Romans)

John Chrysostom (c. 390): “[I]n truth, all men know that they who are under the power of this disease [the sin of covetousness] are wearied even of their father’s old age [wishing him to die so they can inherit]; and that which is sweet, and universally desirable, the having of children, they esteem grievous and unwelcome. Many at least with this view have even paid money to be childless, and have mutilated nature, not only killing the newborn, but even acting to prevent their beginning to live.” (Homily on Matthew 28:5)

Augustine of Hippo (c. 419): “It is one thing not to lie [with one’s wife] except with the sole will of generating: this has no fault. It is another to seek the pleasure of the flesh in lying, although within the limits of marriage: this has venial fault. I am supposing that then, although you are not lying for the sake of procreating offspring, you are not for the sake of lust obstructing their procreation by an evil prayer or an evil deed. Those who do this, although they are called husband and wife, are not; nor do they retain any reality of marriage, but with a respectable name cover a shame. They give themselves away, indeed, when they go so far as to expose their children who are born to them against their will; for they hate to nourish or to have those whom they feared to bear. Therefore a dark iniquity rages against those whom they have unwillingly borne, and with open iniquity this comes to light; a hidden shame is demonstrated by manifest cruelty. Sometimes this lustful cruelty, or cruel lust, comes to this, that they even procure poisons of sterility, and, if these do not work, extinguish and destroy the fetus in some way in the womb, preferring that their offspring die before it lives, or if it was already alive in the womb to kill it before it was born. Assuredly if both husband and wife are like this, they are not married, and if they were like this from the beginning they come together not joined in matrimony but in seduction. If both are not like this, I dare to say that either the wife is in a fashion the harlot of her husband or he is an adulterer with his own wife.” (Marriage and Concupiscence,1.15.17)

Caesarius of Arles (c. 522): “Who is he who cannot warn that no woman may take a potion so that she is unable to conceive or condemns in herself the nature which God willed to be fecund? As often as she could have conceived or given birth, of that many homicides she will be held guilty, and, unless she undergoes suitable penance, she will be damned by eternal death in hell. If a women does not wish to have children, let her enter into a religious agreement with her husband; for chastity is the sole sterility of a Christian woman.” (Sermons 1:12)

Not only does Father Schroedel provide an overview of just some of the patristic witness and later the penitential canons: such as the late first millennium Greek penitential attributed to St. John the Faster which denounces the serious sin of “the drinking of a drug, as a result of which one cannot further procreate.” (Penitential, PG 88:1904)) on the issue of artificial contraception; he also chronicles in the modern period many of the favorable responses of Orthodox hierarchs and theologians to Venerable Pope Paul VI’s 1967 encyclical letter, Humanae Vitae, which reconfirmed the Church’s traditional stance on prohibiting the use of artificial contraception. He does so in an article entitled, “Orthodox Responses to Humanae Vitae.” Some of the sample responses from the period are detailed below:

Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras of Constantinople “I absolutely agree with the pope…Pope Paul VI could not have spoken otherwise. Holding the Gospel in his hand, he seeks to protect the morals as well as the interests and the existence of the nations…I am at the pope’s side, in all that he is doing and saying.” (Katholiki, August 28, 1968, quoted on p. 305 of Francis Edgecumbe, “Orthodox Reactions to Humanae Vitae” Eastern Churches Review 2:3 (1969): 305-308)

Metropolitan Chrysostom of Athens: “While I am by no means a lover of the papacy, I feel the need to commend the papal encyclical.” (G. E. M. Anscombe, “Contraception and Chastity” in Janet Smith, ed., Why Humanae Vitae Was Right: A Reader; San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993; 132)

Metropolitan Nikodim of Leningrad: “Every form of birth control is undesirable.” (Katholiki, August 7, 1968, quoted in Edgecumbe, 305)

Romanian Orthodox priest, Father Virgil Gheorghiu: “We Christians know that it is not the mouth of the pope that has spoken in forbidding the use of contraceptives. It is God who has spoken through the mouth of the pope—and through the mouth of the ecumenical patriarch.” (Ekklisia, November 1/15 1968, quoted in Edgecumbe, 305)

Dr. C. T. Eapen, Theologian of the Syrian Orthodox Church of South India: “The pope deserves the support of all Christians for the stern stand he took on the birth control issue in his recent encyclical on the subject, in spite of the opposition both within and without the Roman Catholic Church. Only one could wish that the Lambeth Conference also could have found its way to support the pope’s lead. We are sure that the Eastern Orthodox Churches will give all moral support to the position taken by the pope.” (La Figaro Littéraire, August 19, 1968, quoted in Edgecumbe, 305)

What is clear from the brief accounting offered by an Orthodox priest is that it bears witness to what both Met. Kallistos Ware and Dave Armstrong have pointed out: contemporary Orthodox teaching and pastoral praxis have changed insofar as the morality or relative immorality of the use of artificial contraception is concerned. This change which has been accepted by most (but not all) Orthodox jurisdictions is in direct contradiction to the biblical, liturgical and patristic patrimony of Byzantine Orthodoxy.

That being said, it is important to note that contemporary Orthodox do maintain the traditional stance condemning all artificial contraception which has an abortifacient effect, primary or otherwise. This would include the IUD, the infamous RU 486 (Mifepristone) “morning-after pill,” other “emergency contraceptives,” as well as the hormonal contraceptive known as “the Pill,” which, unknown to many, has an abortifacient tertiary effect of making the lining of the uterine wall hostile to the implantation of any newly conceived child.

For those who are interested in searching for the Orthodox Natural Family Planning Association’s website through the internet “Wayback Machine,” be sure to look up the article, ““The Pill”: Should Orthodox Christians Be Concerned?”

Dave Armstrong

I completely concur with Fr. Deacon Daniel’s superb reply, and am thankful for the additional relevant facts that he presents in it. The evidence (as to historic teaching) is so clear and compelling, I don’t see how anyone can possibly question it. At least the Orthodox belief and practice regarding divorce and remarriage can trace itself back to the 6th century.

But the sanction of contraception (we know, without question) stems back only as far as 1930, when the Anglicans first allowed it in “hard cases” only. As I noted, Met. Kallistos Ware has documented a rapid change within Orthodoxy in the 60s and 70s. It’s a very recent trend, and is clearly post-sexual revolution. When the Church follows the lead of a hostile secular society, trouble inevitably results. St. Paul urged us:

Romans 12:2 Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Any Christian group that has allowed contraception can show no such practice within its own tradition or the larger Christian tradition that precedes 1930. This can only be regarded as quite striking in the lateness of its origination within Christian ranks.

Therefore, it’s very difficult indeed to contend that Orthodoxy has upheld apostolic or patristic tradition in this respect. Sadly, it is increasingly caving into modernity and compromising with the sexual revolution (while – more irony – many Orthodox critics of Catholicism claim that it is particularly characterized by unsavory compromise with modernism).

This can only spell disaster. Thus, in love, we plead with our Orthodox brethren to seriously reconsider this alarming trend, and to respectfully speak out against it: to Orthodox priests and theologians, friends and family. Orthodoxy needs only to reconnect with its own long and noble tradition of openness to life: to return to its “roots” so to speak. It’s never too late to do the right thing and to forsake a wrong path taken.

***

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