Tag Archives: Sin

Is the body evil?

Is the body evil?

The body has been seen as a source of evil and sin at different times all throughout Man’s history. The philosophical phrase for the struggle between the sensual body and the mind, or soul, is dualism. While there are many different types of dualism, the type that has been often associated with Christianity is the belief that the body, with its receptiveness of the senses, is in direct conflict with the mind or soul and its ability to feel and communicate with God.

Fornication, gluttony and violence, for example, are all sins related to the body. It is the indulgence of, and giving in to, the physical pleasures of the body in a sexual way which leads to things like adultery, pornography and masturbation. Seeking to please the body through good food can lead to gluttony. Violence, rather than trying to please the body through its senses, attempts to punish or harm another person through their bodily senses.

Statue of the "Starving Buddha"

The examples above serve to show why the body can and has been seen as the greatest source of evil, as perhaps the biggest thing standing between God and us. This dualistic view has led many of various faiths and ideologies to deny and punish the body as a way of showing their devotion to what it is that they believe in. From the self-flagellation of medieval Roman Catholic monks and modern Shi’a  Muslims, to the extreme fasting of Siddhartha and Hindu gurus, it has been thought throughout history that the body must be subdued and overcome in order grow closer to the divine.

This is the incorrect view to have however. While it is true that it is through the body that we commit many of our sins, it is not because of the body. Sexual pleasure is not a sin in of itself; when shared with a spouse it can be an expression of the love shared between the two, a way of growing closer to the other, and the means of bringing new life into the world. Good food is not a sin; it can be used by the chef to express their affection for those they are cooking for, a desire to share something they enjoy with others, and, for those eating good food, it can be a way of spending time with others and enjoying the pleasures which God has given to us.

I find it telling that these things, when shared with other people, can often be considered “good,” yet it is when they are used to satisfy the individual only that they become “bad.”  To use sex and food again as an example, when a person seeks after sexual pleasure solely for themselves and for no other reason than to make themselves feel good, or if food is frequently sought out not to satisfy hunger but to satisfy and indulge in the desire of good tastes, it is then that these things cause us to stop focusing on others and God and to instead of focus on ourselves. This after all, the focus and reliance on the ego  and self in place of God, is what caused humanity to fall in the first place and what continues to separate us from Him.

In Greek, the word used for sin is αμαρτία (amartia). This translates literally as “missing the mark.” A good image to conjure is an arrow on the outer rings of a target. The arrow has missed the mark  which it is intended for, the bulls eye. With this understanding, an action is considered a sin if it causes us to “miss the mark” of glorifying and growing closer to God.

God created us with a soul and a body as a harmonious whole. He created us as sensory creatures, made to enjoy the things around us, and in doing so to thank and glorify Him for these things. We believe that at the final resurrection it is not only our souls, but our bodies as well that will be brought back to life. In Orthodox worship our body is a key tool used to help us connect to God: we smell the incense, hear the chanting and bells, make prostrations, see the beautiful icons and vestments and taste the wine and bread of the Eucharist.

The body is not evil, and holding such a dualistic view is not compatible with Orthodox theology. We do need to be mindful of our body and its senses though, and to make sure that we do not let the desire to indulge them alter our aim and cause us to miss the mark.

We should always be mindful of God and watchful over our passions, and when these two things are kept, then we can enjoy the body and its senses that God has given us, and as He intended. Glory to you, our God!

IC | XC
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NI | KA

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With fear and trembling…

With spring now here I’ve started to become increasingly aware of the fact that I leave for Holy Cross in only about four more months. This is much more than just another move to a new apartment, this means a trip from the bottom of the US to the top, and to add to the mix, with a (will be then) eleven month old baby.

This in itself is pretty scary. I am uprooting my family from the relative comfortableness of our current life and trusting that everything will work out once we’re there. But ah! Once we’re there!

It is here that my thinking usually shifts to the reason I am going to the school in the first place; I seek to dedicate my life to God and His people as one of His priests. The closer the time comes to officially start down this path, the more nervous I get. This is even scarier than moving my family across the country.

When I think about being a priest, my mind immediately recalls how unworthy of such a duty I am. Growing up, I always viewed preachers and priests as almost “other” than myself. They were holy men who prayed frequently, effortlessly dispensed advice and seemed destined to do what they were doing. With my own journey however I’ve come to see priests differently, as real people, just like myself, with their own fears, problems, stresses and desires.  Again, just like myself, with my own fears, problems, stresses and desires.  I live far from what I would consider a holy life; I pray far more infrequently than I should, I’m often confused myself as to the best course of action, and I still have a lot to work on in taming the various passions which sometimes drive me.

All of this is possible, and the first step is always the same: we must recognize and then acknowledge our failings. I thank God that I have found myself in a position where I have to do this starting now, where there is no more time to “get to it later.”  The fact that I am scared at the thought of the responsibility I seek to take on drives me to examine and seek to better myself, to do what I can to try and prove myself worthy of that responsibility.

You don’t have to take such a drastic step to awaken your own self to this however. We all have responsibilities, whether or our spouse, kids, co-workers or what have you. Strive to be a good example to who ever it is that depends on you or who you really care about. Live your life in such a way that those around you honestly want to know what it is that you have that they seem not to. In our times it is no longer expected that someone is a Christian. It is much more common to be agnostic, or unconcerned, or even lukewarm to the point of being insincere. The upright Christian is becoming rarer to find and hence more valuable.

We are all called to the priesthood in our lives, to tell the World of the Good News and to teach, guide and help each other. It is my prayer that God, seeing us striving to overcome ourselves and reaching out to Him, in fear and trembling, will grant us grace and mercy and draw us closer to Him. Amen.

IC | XC
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NI | KA


Christianity makes no sense.

Christianity makes no sense.

At least not rationally, and this is a problem for a large population of the world. The concept of a sort of “meta-person” who exists and has the ability to create, control and interact with creation can be a difficult concept for some, but the idea that that person could then die, and that be a good thing, complicates it exponentially. In a letter to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul wrote:

Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.

Even two-thousand years ago the idea of a god which which died, and yet was supposed to be all powerful, didn’t quite make sense. For the Jews, whose history had been filled with wonderous events such as the parting of the Red Sea, the destruction of the first born in Egypt, the gift of mana from the skies and many others, the death of a person whom these new Christians said was of the same essence of the God they worshiped did not seem miraculous at all; perhaps more blasphemous!

For the Greeks, who valued above all wisdom, and who were steeped in the traditional philosophies of giants such as Aristotle, Plato, Socrates, the Stoics, the Pythagoreans, and a number of others, the conclusions of Christianity couldn’t not (and cannot) be arrived at through an archetypal rationalistic method.

At the beginning of his letter, the Apostle tells us:

Brethren, among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glorification. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory.

Christianity does not make sense, if we try to understood with the wisdom or rationality of the current age. This was true two millennia ago, and still true today. This age is ruled by science, which while by no means is a bad thing in of itself (I shudder to imagine what life would be like without the knowledge we have now), what is bad is the individual and collective egotism which can come from it.

We have learned so much about the universe around us; from how what goes on on the surface of the sun affects what goes on here on earth, to how a malfunction in a single gene of our genetic code can have profound effects on the body. We have used this knowledge to take control of our world, to build communities of previously unimaginable sizes and manipulate our environment to sustain them, to chase away the dark with perpetual light, to fight back against illnesses that would previously ravage our bodies with little to no opposition, and to build machines which allows us to communicate instantly any where in the world, manufacture goods with almost no human interaction and carry us across vast distances.

These are all good things. But these things have also caused us to believe that if something exists, we can find it,  and that if something needs to be known or done, we have the power to do it; it has caused us to believe that we can do anything that we need to, on our own.

The Orthodox Church teaches us that this is what was the downfall of humanity, represented in the persons of Adam and Eve, this belief that our wisdom is so great that we do not need God and figure everything out on our.

In the quote above, the Apostle mentions that he and his fellow workers impart a secret and hidden wisdom, one which does not pass away as does the wisdom of the rulers of the age. More importantly, it’s a wisdom that God has instituted for our glorification.

When humanity was first created, God created us for the purpose of communion, communion with each other and with Himself. We created in such a way that we had unlimited potential to grow closer and closer to Him, to share in the love and communion which the Holy Trinity has among each person. This was our glory; that we could become increasingly more like God in love and to share in His divine light. God created us with free will so that the extent to which we grew closer to Him was dependent on us, that the love which was to be shared would be real and not imposed.

However it is also this free will which caused our turning away from Him. The tree from which the fruit eaten by Adam and Eve came was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In this way the author of Genesis conveys the idea that humanity took it upon itself to learn of the world and decided that it did not need God anymore to make moral decisions. When this decision was made, humanity turned away from the Giver of Life, and ventured out into the darkness by itself.

Due to this, God gave humanity the Divine Commandments, to give us a guideline on what was good and what we should be doing, to act as a yardstick of morality. The commandments are not a way to eternal life, they are not salvation; rather they show the way of death, and create sin by saying that any action which went against the commandments, was a sin, a turning away from God.

The Logos, the Word of God, then became incarnate in the person of Jesus. God Himself married his divine nature to our human nature and in doing so He healed the sickness which the turning away from God had created and refreshed our souls. God made it possible for our nature to receive a fresh start and to return to the state it was in when humanity was first created.

And lastly, to return to the point of contention at the beginning of this post, Jesus, God incarnate, died. Up until this point, when the body died the soul could not return God, since in life it had turned away and lost the glory which had been ascribed to it. Having turned away from the Source of Life, the soul was shut out the Kingdom of Life. Jesus’ soul too went down into death, but, being divine and the Source of Life the bonds of death could not contain Him. The divine nature broke the bonds of death and “shattered the gates of Hades,” making it so that those who had turned back to Him in life could not be prevented from returning to him after it.

This is the wisdom of God that the rulers of the age did not and continue not to understand. This is the “foolishness” of God that wiser than the wisdom of man. God did not die, he destroyed death. The wisdom of this age cannot understand the wisdom of God because it is temporary, while the wisdom of God has been since the very beginning.

No, Christianity doesn’t make a bit of sense if one attempts to arrive at it from a rational, self-contained, temporal understanding. It is not something we can hope to understand on our own because it is something completely outside of us; we cannot see it, we cannot arrive at it from cause and effect, we cannot deduce it from the evidence around us – ironically though, what Christianity teaches is a bigger miracle than was ever revealed to the Jews and it is a more profound and sublime wisdom than the Greeks could ever conceive:

It is the miracle, wisdom and gift of life itself.

IC | XC
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NI | KA


“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

The words of this post title, spoken by Christ, have always caused some confusion for me. If He didn’t come to abolish the law, then why don’t we still follow it? If not even the smallest character would pass away, where is it now? And what did He mean that he came to fulfill it? Well, I think I finally understand it.

The Jewish Law was the result of sin. It is a manifestation of, and a witness to, our sinful nature. What I mean is that if human nature had never fallen, there never would have been any need for the Law. It was a way for man to attempt to reunite with God by following certain prescription of behavior. Even if someone were to follow the Law exactly for the whole of their life however, this would not get rid of sin, there would still be an existential chasm between man and God (which, again, was proven by the existence of the Law).

When Christ came however, when the incarnate Word was united with carnal flesh, when the divine Trinitarian nature was united to our fallen human nature, Christ made it possible for man to once again return to the state of human nature before the fall. Christ did not abolish the Law by his incarnation because sin still exists and we have not been healed automatically. “Natural” human nature still exists with a large chasm between it and God. However, Christ fulfilled the law by making it possible to achieve the “end result” of it, communion with God. The coming of Christ was like the laying down of a bridge between our nature and God’s.

So no, Christ didn’t abolish the Law because we still possess sinful natures,  instead he fulfilled it by making it possible for our nature to be cured of the sickness of sin.

I probably didn’t do a very good job of explaining, so I now quote Christos Yannaras in The Freedom of Morality:

Christ alone is the end of the Law (Rom 10:4) and freedom from the Law (Rom 8:2), precisely because He did away with the precondition for its existence when, in His theanthropic flesh, He destroyed the “middle wall of partition” (Eph 2:14), the existential distance between man and God. Thus the Law is not annulled but “fulfilled,” in the sense that it finds it fullness in love (Rom 13:10). The Law continues to manifest and affirm sin, but now the acknowledgment of sin is not proof of condemnation and death, not a “curse,” but a measure of acceptance of God’s love: the Law reveals God’s “frenzied eros” for man.

IC | XC
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NI | KA


Orthodox Personhood, Sin and Salvation

Before one understand morality from an Orthodox point of view, one must first understand how Orthodoxy views the person, sin and salvation. In The Freedom of Morality, Christos Yannaras says:

The person is the hypostasis of the human essence or nature. He sums up in his existence the universality of human nature, but at the same time surpasses it, because his mode of existence is freedom and distinctiveness.

This mode of existence which is personal distinctiveness forms the image of God in man, making man a partaker in being. It is not as nature that man constitutes an image of God: it is not because he has natural attributes in common with God, or analogous to His. Man constitutes an image of God as an ontological hypostasis free from space, time and natural necessity….

Personal distinctiveness forms the image of God in man. It is the mode of existence shared by God and man, the ethos of trinitarian life imprinted upon the human being. In the Orthodox Church and its theology, we study man as an image of God, not God as the image of man exalted into an absolute. The revelation of the personal God in history manifests to us the truth about man, his ethos and the nobility of his descent.

…In the historical revelation of God, we study true personal existence free from any constraint — from the constraint imposed on man by his own nature after his fall, which was the free subjection of his personal distinctiveness to the necessities and dictates of nature individuality…

In other words, it our free will and our relationship to God which defines us in the Orthodox church. Before the Fall, man was free from the exaggerated expression of our passions — greed, pride, selfishness, ego, etc. — and those passions were directed towards growing closer to God, growing more and more like Him. Our end was to reach theosis or deification, to unite our will, thoughts and actions to those of God and to become as like him as is possible.

God gave us free will however, and with it came the possibility to deviate from the course which God had created us for. The “original sin” was when man used his free will in just such a way; to pursue something other than the will of God.

Sin, in Orthodoxy, is not some concrete act, nor is it something that can be defined into laws, rules or regulations. The Greek word for sin, and the word which appeared in the New Testament, is”amartias,” which is defined as missing the mark:

The patristic tradition insists on this interpretation of sin as failure and “missing the mark,” as the loss of that “end” or aim which for human nature is its existential self-transcendence, taking it into the limitless realm of personal distinctiveness and freedom.

There is nothing God’s creation which is hypostatically  and naturally evil, not even the devil himself. Sin is failure, a failure as to existence and life: it is the failure of persons to realize their existential “end,” to confirm and conserve the uniqueness of their hypostasis through love.

To sin then is to not attempt to live up to our full potential in Christ, to not live in the manner which God created us for and to not attempt to correct the distorted image of God which we bear. This sin is understood to be a result of the breaking away of our will from the will of God in order to focus on our own individual needs and wants.

In the West, repentance is largely seen as a recognition of guilt, and this view comes from the legalistic, juridical view of sin which was developed in this part of the world. This isn’t the way that it was originally — and continues to be in the Orthodox East — seen. The Greek word for repentance is “metanoia” and it translates into “change of mind.” This is so much more than just a change of attitude; it refers to a complete change in a persons way of thought, in their outlook.

Repentance is the recognition that  man’s self-sufficiency is inadequate; it is a search for the life which is realized in personal relationship with God, a thirst for personal communion with Him.

Repentance does not mean simply the “improvement” or even “perfection” of individual behavior and individual psychological feelings, or the strengthening of the individual will. All these can come about while a man still remains a prisoner in his autonomous individuality, unable to love or to participate in the communion of love which is true life. Repentance is a change in our mode of existence: man cease to trust in his own individuality. He realizes that existing as an individual, even a virtuous individual, does not save him from corruption and death, from his agonizing existential thirst for life.

Repentance then isn’t asking God to forgive us for acting “badly” and vowing that we will live “better lives,” it is recognizing that the way we have been living is focusing on ourselves and then trying to fundamentally alter our world-view. Our salvation comes through this whole-hearted attempt to live the way which God wants for us, which we were created for. Salvation comes from recognizing that our individual efforts are not enough, that our individuality is a lie told to us by the world and that is symptom of a mis-directed will.

This is what I’m learning as I read through this amazing book. I’ll continue to post my thoughts and reactions and hope to read some of yours as well!


The Freedom of Morality

The Freedom of MoralityI am reading a new, and so far very interesting, book called “The Freedom of Morality” by the Greek lay theologian Christos Yannaras. In it, the author lays out the Orthodox understanding of morality as the evaluation of man’s striving to become complete by fulfilling his potential as an image of God. Though I have only read the forward and the first chapter so far, this somewhat philosophically dense book like it will be very beneficial to me in acquiring a true Orthodox mindset. I hope to share here quotes from the book and my own thoughts that they raise, as well as hopefully pique the interest of you, the reader, to explore this area of theology which is intrinsically important to an understand of Orthodox theology and the salvation which we are offered.

Both the forward and in the first chapter it is made clear that the author is very hesitant to use word the “ethics.” This is because ‘ethics,’ as it is commonly understood, refers to a system of objective rules, laws or guidelines which determine how a person ought or ought not to act. Orthodox morality on the other hand is the expression of person’s free will and the relationship of that with the proper thusness of the person.

From the forward:

In the book’s title, The Freedom of Morality, the Greek word translated as “morality” is ithos, a term signifying “ethics,” but also meaning “ethos,” distinctive character, the “thusness” or the “Ah!’ of a person or thing. When using ithos, the author has in view both these senses. Morality, “theics” is nothing more or less than the expression of the person’s proper “ethos.” It is not to obey external rules but to become as person that which one truly is. By the same token, sin is not the transgression of some impersonal law, but “missing the mark,” the failure to become oneself.

It is this understanding of morality and sin that sets the Christian East and West apart in their theology. Where in the West, and exemplified in the lists of “mortal” and “venial” sins of the Roman Catholic Church, human behaviour has been relegated to a list of “do and do nots,” Orthodoxy in the East has retained a view of human beings as persons, rather than individuals, who share a common nature but who, by virtue of our freedom, have a certain distinctiveness which is apart from their nature.

The person is the hypostasis of the human essence or nature. He sums up in his existence the universality of human nature, but at the same time surpasses it, because his mode of existence is freedom and distinctiveness. This mode of existence which is personal distinctiveness forms the image of God in man, making man a partaker in being. It is not as nature that man constitutes an image of God: it is not because he has natural attributes in common with God, or analogous to His. Man constitutes an image of God as an ontological hypostatsis free from space, time and necessity.

It will be fun to see how Yannaras further develops this line of thinking, and fun to acquaint myself with this ancient and Orthodox understanding of morality.


The things that come from within are what defile.

In my opinion the entire Orthodox doctrine of warfare against the passions finds an excellent jusification in the words of Christ Himself when he was speaking to the Pharisees. In Mark 7:14-15  we can read:

He [Jesus] summoned the crowed again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from the outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile.”

Now, in context here Christ is speaking against the Pharisees’ strict legalistic and external practices, and in the verses above He is referencing the idea of unclean foods. He is telling the Pharisees that external sources, such as food as they believed, are not what make a person unclean in the eyes of God. Rather, it is what comes from within the person; how they act, what they say, what they prioritize, their feelings, thoughts, beliefs, and opinions.

This is why the Orthodox Christian is called to a life of struggle and deprivation. We are called to struggle in this lifetime and deprive our passions the excesses they desire so that we can purify ourselves for the life to come. In Russian the word for a spiritual struggle as such is ‘podvig,’ in Greek it is ‘askesis.’

Metropolitan Anthony of the ROCOR put it thus:

Christianity is an ascetic religion, Christianity is a teaching about the gradual extirpation of the passions, about the means and conditions of the gradual acquisition of virtues; these conditions are internal, consisting of podvig, and given from without, consisting of our dogmatic beliefs and grace-giving sacraments which have only one purpose: to heal human sinfulness and lead us to perfection.

So, let’s strive to throw off our passions, to heal our souls, to take up our cross and struggle for Christ. Let us fight for what we want instead of naively thinking that the prize will just be handed to us.  Let us stop blaming outside sources for our failings and recognize that before we can live for our Almighty King in the manner which He requests, we must die to ourselves.


Glory to God for His Wisdom!

It’s funny how things turn out sometimes, and moments when you feel like God is smacking you in the face to make you realize something. There’s a certain sin which I really struggle with. It seems like when the urge to commit this sin comes I am powerless to resist it, even with full knowledge that it displeases God and that I should not do it. Well, again yesterday I fell into the sin.

A little bit later, after reflecting on my struggle with this sin and wondering why it is that I cannot seem to fight against it, I was reading Unseen Warfare when I came across this passage, and felt like it was speaking directly to me, at that very moment:

So let no one dream of acquiring a true Christian disposition and Christian virtue, and of working for God as he should, if he does not want to compel himself to renounce and overcome all the passionate impulses of the will of the flesh, whether great or small, which he was formerly accustomed to satisfy, willingly and fondly. The chief reason why so few people attain to full Christian perfection is exactly their reluctance, through self-pity, to force themselves to deny themsleves absolutely everything.

It really got me thinking how my weakness was due to not being fully commited to stopping the sin, that my passionate body and will still enjoy this particular sin. Even though I know that it is wrong, that it is an offence to God, it is in the end my carnal desire which wins out because Iam still fond of the act.

If that wasn’t enough, today’s Epistle reading comes from Romans 6:3-11 where it says:

Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the ressurection. We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin. For a dead person has been absolved from sin. If, then, we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him. We know that Christ raised from the dead, dies no more, death no longer has power over him. As to his death he died to sin once and for all; as to his life, he lives for God. Consequently, you too must think of yourselves as being dead to sin and living for God in Christ Jesus. [Emphasis mine of course]

Here again I feel like the timing is more than a coincidence. As an Orthodox Christian I believe that God sometimes allows us to fall into sin, or to suffer in some way in order to teach and strengthen us. God’s wisdom far surpasses our limited mortal reason and I really believe now that God allowed that logismoi (roughly and simplisitically, a sinful thought urging towards action) to enter my head, knowing that I wouldn’t be able to fight if off, at the time that it did so that it would be followed by these two readings so that I would be able to more fully appreciate what they were saying.

God has done His part, now it is up to me to accept this widom and apply it to my life. Glory be to God!