Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Stump the Priest: Fasting and Marital Relations

Question: "Are married couples required to abstain from sex during the fasts?"

The short answer is "no." But a longer answer is necessary here.

It is a pious custom for married couples to abstain from sex during the fasts, and when this is done by mutual consent, that is a good and laudable thing. However, the key word in the question is "required," and something that must be by mutual consent cannot therefore be required.

St. Paul addresses this question directly:
"Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency. But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment" (1 Corinthians 7:1-6).
St. John Chrysostom comments on this as follows:
"The wife hath not power over her own body;” but is both the slave and the master of the husband. And if you decline the service which is due, you have offended God. But if thou wish to withdraw thyself, it must be with the husband’s permission, though it be but a for short time. For this is why he calls the matter a debt, to shew that no one is master of himself but that they are servants to each other. When therefore thou seest an harlot tempting thee, say, “My body is not mine, but my wife’s.” The same also let the woman say to those who would undermine her chastity, “My body is not mine, but my husband’s.” Now if neither husband nor wife hath power even over their own body, much less have they over their property. Hear ye, all that have husbands and all that have wives: that if you must not count your body your own, much less your money" (Homily 19 on 1st Corinthians).
And specifically on the meaning St. Paul's admonition: "Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time," St. John says:
"What then can this mean? “Let not the wife,” says he, “exercise continence [i.e. abstain from marital relations], if the husband be unwilling; nor yet the husband without the wife’s consent.” Why so?  Because great evils spring from this sort of continence. For adulteries and fornications and the ruin of families have often arisen from hence. For if when men have their own wives they commit fornication, much more if you defraud them of this consolation. And well says he, “Defraud not; fraud” here, and “debt” above, that he might shew the strictness of the right of dominion in question. For that one should practice continence against the will of the other is “defrauding;” but not so, with the other’s consent: any more than I count myself defrauded, if after persuading me you take away any thing of mine. Since only he defrauds who takes against another’s will and by force. A thing which many women do, working sin rather than righteousness, and thereby becoming accountable for the husband’s uncleanness, and rending all asunder. Whereas they should value concord above all things, since this is more important than all beside.
     We will, if you please, consider it with a view to actual cases. Thus, suppose a wife and husband, and let the wife be continent, without consent of her husband; well then, if hereupon he commit fornication, or though abstaining from fornication fret and grow restless and be heated and quarrel and give all kind of trouble to his wife; where is all the gain of the fasting and the continence, a breach being made in love? There is none. For what strange reproaches, how much trouble, how great a war must of course arise! since when in an house man and wife are at variance, the house will be no better off than a ship in a storm when the master is upon ill terms with the man at the head. Wherefore he saith, “Defraud not one another, unless it be by consent for a season, that ye may give yourselves unto prayer.” It is prayer with unusual earnestness which he here means. For if he is forbidding those who have intercourse with one another to pray, how could “pray without ceasing” have any place? It is possible then to live with a wife and yet give heed unto prayer. But by continence prayer is made more perfect. For he did not say merely, “That ye may pray;” but, “That ye may give yourselves unto it;” as though what he speaks of might cause not uncleanness but much occupation.
     “And may be together again, that Satan tempt you not.” Thus lest it should seem to be a matter of express enactment, he adds the reason. And what is it? “That Satan tempt you not.” And that you may understand that it is not the devil only who causeth this crime, I mean adultery, he adds, “because of your incontinency” (Homily 19 on 1st Corinthians).
A husband and a wife have a responsibility to serve one another, and to help each other on the path of salvation. If depriving your spouse of marital relations causes them to sin, you are responsible for having caused them this temptation.

In this regard, Origen wrote:
"You have given up your wife, to whom you are bound. This is a big step you have taken. You are not abusing her, you say, but claiming that you can be chaste and live more purely. But look how your poor wife is being destroyed as a result, because she is unable to endure your purity! You should sleep with your wife, not for your sake, but for hers. (Commentary on 1 Corinthians 3.33.23-25, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. VII, Gerald Bray, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 1999) p. 59f).
St. Augustine wrote a letter to a woman named Eudicia on this issue, and advised her, based on St. Paul's words as follows:
"According to this, if he had wished to practice continence but you had not, he would have been obliged to give in to you, and God would have given him credit for continence for not refusing intercourse out of consideration for your weakness, but not his own, in order to prevent you from committing adultery. How much better would it have been for you, for whom subjection was more appropriate, to yield to his will in rendering him the debt, since God would have taken account of your intention to observe continence, which you gave up in order to save your husband from destruction" (Letter 262 to Eudicia, quoted in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: New Testament, Vol. VII, Gerald Bray, ed. (Downers Grove, IL: Intervasity Press, 1999) p. 62).
So in summary, it is good to fast from marital relations for a time, by mutual consent, but it is positively sinful to insist upon it, if your spouse does not consent. And according to St. Augustine, when such a spouse do not refuse their husband or wife, they have both the virtue of having had good intentions, and also of showing due love and consideration for their spouse.

Finally, it is worth considering the wise words of Fr. Alexander Lebedeff:
"Not long after we were married, my wife and I (I was a third year Seminarian at Jordanville then), were invited to have lunch by one of the old Russian couples that lived in the so-called "Russian village" about a mile from the monastery. We gladly accepted (we were so poor, we were subsisting mainly on macaroni, so any invitation "out" was deeply appreciated). After a wonderful Russian meal, the old "babushka" of the house took us over to the side and conspiratorily whispered: "I know you're recently married, but you do know, of course, the Church rules on when you can, and when you can't?"
It was pretty clear what she was talking about, so we just politely nodded.
She went on: "Well, you can't do it on Tuesday, because that's the eve of a fast day; you can't do it on Wednesday, because it's a fast day; you can't do it on Thursday, because that's the eve of a fast day, also; you obviously can't do it on Friday, because that's a fast day, too; you can't do it on Saturday, because that's the eve of a Feast Day, and you can't do it on Sunday, because that's a Feast Day."
"What about Monday?" I asked.
"Well, you can't do it on Monday, either, because of an old pious custom, since Monday is dedicated to the Bodiless Powers, the Angels, who are an example of purity--and it's also a fast day among monastics."
I asked the venerable Babushka, "And you followed these rules strictly when you were young and just married?"
"Oh, no," she replied, "We were young and foolish, and didn't know any better. . . "
The point of this story is that old babushkas are the first to point out restrictions that do not at all exist according to the Church. 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."
If anyone wishes individual guidance on these matters, they should, of course, consult with their Spiritual Father."

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Audio of the Advent Retreat 2016

On December 3rd, Metropolitan Jonah (Paffhausen) gave a talk and fielded questions and answers. Here is the audio:

Part 1:

Part 2:

Here also is the sermon he gave on Sunday, December 4th, which was the Feast of the Entry of the Theotokos:

Friday, December 09, 2016

Stump the Priest: Time Management

Question: "How do you find the time to do all the things we should do as Christians, with all the demands that today's world puts on us?"

We have far more free time at our disposal than most people did in the past. Most people spent the bulk of their time trying to survive. They did not have lots of leisure time, as we do. But just as expenses rise up to meet income, we have found lots of things to waste our time on, and so we do.

Imagine how laborious a process it was just to wash clothes, within living memory. Now we throw our clothes into a washing machine, along with some soap, come back less than an hour later, and throw them into a dryer, and we are done. This once was a task that consumed hours and hours, and was hard and tedious work.

There are a few things that I have found helpful in terms of making good use of my time.

Samuel Logan Brengle 

Years ago, when I was in college studying to be a Nazarene Minister, I read a little book by a once well known Salvation Army officer by the name of Samuel Logan Brengle (1860-1936), entitled "The Soul Winner's Secret." That book had a chapter entitled "Redeeming the Time" which was based on the verse:
"See that ye walk circumspect, not as fools, but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil." (Ephesians 5:15-16).
It was focused on time management, and he had two bits of advice that made a strong impression on me:

1). Look for opportunities to make good use of your time:
"If you would save time, have a Bible, a notebook and a pencil always at hand. Never go on to the street or take a journey without at least a Testament with you, and some other useful book if possible. And don't forget to use them. The Gospel of St. Matthew can be read through in two hours. This may not be the most profitable way to read it, and yet it will pay to read it right through at one sitting, that we may see the life of Jesus as a whole as we would the life of any man. Paul's first letter to Timothy can be read in twenty minutes, while Jude can be read in three minutes easily. Then don't throw away these minutes." 
Many people insist that they haven't the time to read the Bible, but we have so many opportunities in a given day that would otherwise go to waste. For example, if you ride the bus to work, if you have a Bible with you, or simply a smart phone with a Bible App, you could read quite a bit of Scripture every day by simply making use of time that would otherwise be frittered away, either by staring out of the window, or surfing the web to no particular purpose. If you have a meeting to go to, you might spend 15 minutes waiting for it to begin, which could either go to waste, or be spent doing something profitable, like reading the Scriptures or some other edifying book. If you are travelling by air, you will likely spend quite a bit of time waiting to board flights, and even longer on those flights. You should see these as great opportunities for uninterpreted reading.

Also, when he speaks of carrying around a notebook, this is very important. The way most people's minds work, ideas come to us at unexpected moments. We often think about things we should do, but will forget to do, if we do not make notes when the thought is fresh in our minds. Today, we might do so in a wide variety of ways, but making notes that can later be easily retrieved and put to use is an important part of planning as well as being creative and productive.

2. Having a Plan:
"With many much time is lost for want of system. Things are done at haphazard, duties are performed at random, and after one thing is done time is wasted in deciding what to do next. It is well, then, to have a program for every day, or, better still, for every hour and minute, as our General [William Booth] does when he goes on a tour. For months ahead the General will have a program for every hour of the day, and whether he succeeds or not in perfectly carrying it out in all its details, he at least works to it, saves anxious worry, loses no time and accomplishes a well-nigh incredible amount of business. Of course in this busy world, full of surprises and unexpected calls, any program must be flexible and not like cast iron, and in times of emergency the soul-winner must be prepared to cast it to the winds and follow according to his best judgment where the Spirit leads, singing with all his heart: 
"I would the precious time redeem, And longer live for this alone To spend and to be spent for them, Who have not yet the Saviour known, And turn them to a pardoning God And quench the brands in Jesus' Blood.
My talents, gifts and graces, Lord, Into Thy blessed hands receive. And let me live to preach Thy Word, And let me to Thy glory live; My every sacred moment spend In publishing the sinner's Friend""  [from the Hymn "Give Me The Faith Which Can Remove" by Charles Wesley].
We can either let the day unfold as it will, or we can come to it with a plan to accomplish what is most important to us. As he says, it is almost always the case that things will not go entirely according to our plans, but if we have a plan and accomplish only half of it, we will usually be far more productive than those who have no plan at all.

I tried to develop a system to plan my time, and it was somewhat effective. Years later, however, I discovered a much more effective system in the form of the Franklin-Covey planner. At that time, in my secular job, I was a new supervisor, and this coincided with me becoming a priest -- so I had a lot more demands on my time than I had ever had before. I often had to go to various training sessions, but one day the training was on the Franklin Planner, and in the training I was given a free starter planner. I walked out of that training somewhat incredulous about the claims of how effective their system was, but since I had a free planner, I thought I would give it a try. I found it to be so effective, that I went and bought a CD-set of the training "Focus: Achieving Your Highest Priorities," and every couple of months, for about a year or so, I would listen to that recording again, to refresh my memory until I had the system down.

I began talking to people about Franklin planners so much that some people thought I was getting a cut on the sales. I also discovered that quite a few people I knew were already using these planners... and I wondered why they didn't say anything to me about it before.

Now some people will be wondering why an Orthodox priest has gone from talking about a book by a Salvation Army officer, to discussing a planner designed by Mormons (Steven Covey and Hyrum W. Smith). But regardless of the theological shortcomings of these sources, we can and should learn from others -- even the non-Orthodox -- when they have they have something worth learning. In the case of Samuel Logan Brengle, you had a man who was deeply committed to Christ, was a servant of the poor, and was truly tireless in his work. While he was certainly wrong about many things, there was also much to be admired, and much worthy of emulation. In the case of the Franklin planner and its approach to time management, you have a tool that can be put to Orthodox use.

One fairly unique feature of the Franklin planner is it has you first clarify your values (i.e., what is important to you), and then to set goals to live out what is important to you, and then to plan how you will accomplish those goals. Using this system, one could place making lots of money as their highest priority, and then set goals and establish plans to get rich. But if you have Orthodox Christian priorities, you can use that same system to help you accomplish spiritual goals as well more mundane goals, and to balance them with your various roles in life (being a Christian, having family responsibilities, doing your job, etc).

We should, however, understand that no matter how good we may manage our time, we can't constantly be at 100% productivity. Human beings cannot sustain that. In the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, we find this saying regarding St. Anthony the Great:
"A hunter in the desert saw Abba Anthony enjoying himself with the brethren and he was shocked. Wanting to show him that it was necessary sometimes to meet the needs of the brethren, the old man said to him, 'Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.' So he did. The old man then said, 'Shoot another,' and he did so. Then the old man said, 'Shoot yet again and the hunter replied 'If I bend my bow so much I will break it.' Then the old man said to him, 'It is the same with the work of God. If we stretch the brethren beyond measure they will soon break. Sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet their needs.' When he heard these words “the hunter was pierced by compunction and, greatly edified by the old man, he went away. As for the brethren, they went home strengthened" (Benedicta Ward, translator, The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, The Alphabetical Collection (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1975, 1984 revised edition), p. 3f.).
There are no doubt other systems to manage time that may work better for other people, but these are things that I have found helpful.


The following quote from St. John Chrysostom is very much to the point here:
"Do you not know that just as when we hand over money to our servants, and we demand accounts from them down to the last obol [a small silver coin, equaling 1/6 of an average man's wages], in the same way God will demand an account from us of the days of our life, as to how we have spent each day? What then shall we say? What shall be our defense, when we are requested to give our accounts of that day? For your sake the sun rose, and the moon brightened the night, and the intricate pattern of the stars shone forth. Winds blew for your sake, and rivers flowed. For your sake seeds sprouted and plants grew, and the course of nature preserved its own order. Day appeared and night followed. And all of this happened for your sake. But do you, when all creation serves you, satisfy the desire of the devil? You have rented such a home from God, I mean this world, but you have not paid the rent. And you were not satisfied with the first day, but on the second day, when you should have paused for a while from the evil that was enveloping you, you returned again this time to the theater. You ran from smoke into fire, descending into another pit that was even worse. Old men shamed their grey hair, and young men threw their youth away. Fathers brought their sons, from the beginning guiding inexperienced youth into the pits of depravity, so it would not have been a mistake to call those men child killers rather than fathers, as they surrendered their children’s souls to evil. What kind of evil, you ask. Because of it I am in agony, because although you are ill you do not know you are ill or call the doctor. You have become filled with adultery, and you ask “What kind of evil?” Have you not listened to Christ when he said: “Anyone who looks at a woman with desire has already committed adultery with her”?  “What if I do not look at her with desire?” you ask. How will you be able to convince me?  For if anyone cannot control what he watches, but is so enthusiastic about doing so, how will he be able to remain virtuous after he has finished watching?  Is your body made of stone? Or iron? You are clothed with flesh, human flesh, which is inflamed by desire as easily as grass (Homily against those who have abandoned the church and deserted it for hippodromes and theatres).
For more information:

Sermon: Redeeming the Time

A YouTube video explaining how Franklin Planners work