Part 2 of 3
Sex and Sexuality
At the time of his creation, the name Adam was used as a generic name and was not meant to designate any specific sex, but only describing the matter from which it was taken. (See the word play in Hebrew between אדם (Adam) and אֲדָמָה (‘adamah) “earth”.) The concept of sex/gender appears when he contemplates his “helper” in front of him. Man, as we already agreed, was created as a consequence of the triune love of God and, bearing God’s image, he cannot be fully expressed other than in a relationship of love with the other creature that is equal to him and, in the same way as him, the image of God.
There is however a dissonance between God, Who is an asexual being and Man who is defined as male and female. There is a division in Man, which has to be explained in order to understand the full extent of the relationship between male and female and their creation in God’s image. In his work On the Making of Man, St. Gregory of Nyssa acknowledges this apparent inconsistency and resolves it as follows:
“We must, then, examine the words carefully: for we find, if we do so, that that which was made in the image is one thing, and that which is now manifested in wretchedness is another. God created man, it says; in the image of God created He him (Genesis 1:27). There is an end of the creation of that which was made in the image: then it makes a resumption of the account of creation, and says, male and female created He them. I presume that every one knows that this is a departure from the Prototype: for in Christ Jesus, as the apostle says, there is neither male nor female. Yet the phrase declares that man is thus divided.”
“I think that by these words Holy Scripture conveys to us a great and lofty doctrine; and the doctrine is this. While two natures—the Divine and incorporeal nature, and the irrational life of brutes—are separated from each other as extremes, human nature is the mean between them: for in the compound nature of man we may behold a part of each of the natures I have mentioned—of the Divine, the rational and intelligent element, which does not admit the distinction of male and female; of the irrational, our bodily form and structure, divided into male and female: for each of these elements is certainly to be found in all that partakes of human life.”
According to St. Gregory, man appears to be in the same time divine, through the rationality and intellect that is bestowed upon him by God, but also irrational, by the likeness of his body with the bodies of the animals. Man becomes therefore a bridge between the rational and the irrational.
Why is this important? The man and the woman indeed possessed, before the Fall, just like the animals to which they resemble do, the respective anatomical features that make them different and complimentary to one another, including the sexual organs. However, after St. Gregory, marriage, that is to say the sexual intercourse, was not needed before the Fall, and, if man would not have trespassed the commandment, the matter of the multiplication would not have been sexual, but, the same or similar of that of the angels.
“For we shall be giving a fit answer to one who raises the question how man would have been without marriage, if we say, as the angels are without marriage; for the fact that man was in a like condition with them before the transgression is shown by the restoration to that state.”
St. Gregory refers to the account of Luke on the dispute with the Sadducees about the woman with many husbands. Christ maintains there that in the resurrection, “They neither marry, nor are given in marriage; neither can they die any more, for they are equal to the angels, and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection” (Luke 20:35-36 ). St. Gregory concludes therefore:
”Now the resurrection promises us nothing else, than the restoration of the fallen to their ancient state; for the grace we look for is a certain return to the first life, bringing back again to Paradise him who was cast out from it. If then the life of those restored is closely related to that of the angels, it is clear that the life before the transgression was a kind of angelic life, and hence also our return to the ancient condition of our life is compared to the angels.”
St. Gregory does not regard man as an asexual being, as he acknowledges the anatomical and physiological difference between sexes. He further asserts however, that, in the final restoration of man, man will be restored to the state before the fall, when, although there were already man and woman, they were living like angels, without marriage. So, in the Kingdom, the differences between sexes will not disappear, only the function of the sexual instinct, because it will not be needed anymore, as it was not needed before the fall. Man and woman will keep their anatomical differences but the functions of their physiology will be adapted to the new situation. Of course, only God knows what was before the fall and what will be in the Kingdom.
St. Gregory is not alone in his teachings; St. John Chrysostom follows him in the same direction, as well as St. Maximus the Confessor and St. John Damaskinos, amongst others. This is not to say however that there was no intimacy between Adam and Eve in paradise; there was, as they were called to discover, love and attach to each other, but it was not of a sexual nature. This is something that in our oversexualized society cannot be even conceived, but we have to remember that man was created for a loftier goal than just acting on animal instincts. Man was created as male and female to recreate between them the icon of the loving bond of the Holy Trinity, that has nothing to do with the sexual instinct.
In the same time however, it is not to say that sexuality as we know it is completely devoid of any redeeming power. The union in the flesh between man and women is something that God has given us, not only to procreate, which is a primary goal, but also to teach us, through the desire of the flesh, of a higher desire, the ultimate union with Christ that transcends all flesh. Thorough all aspects of marriage, Christ is ultimately leading us to another wedding, a chaste one, with the Him, the Bridegroom of the Church.
“Sex is not evil; it is a gift from our God. But it can become a hindrance to someone who desires to devote all his strength to a life of prayer…Concerning sex, we must strive for self-control. St. Paul tells us to seek peace and sanctification, without which it is impossible to see the Lord. Let us pursue holiness, then, in order to attain the Kingdom of Heaven.” (St. John Chrysostom)
We might draw the conclusion that sexuality as, we know it after the fall, emerged as a consequence of the fall, the loss of the angelic life and the appearing of death. It is something necessary and useful in the current state of man for the perpetuation of mankind and the completion of the union between man and woman, but is not the ideal state. Sexuality, has to eventually be transcended in Christ, for the restoration of man to be complete.
Christ And The Transfiguration Of Sexuality
Christ, the new Adam, is the embodiment of the fulfillment of the potential of the original Adam. Christ is, in fact, the original Adam, the complete Adam in Who’s image Adam was created in the first place. In Him we see the way of life of the Kingdom. He comes to mend the division between male and female, one of the five divisions of St. Maximus the Confessor, but not by coming into the world as a genderless person. Christ chooses a female, the new Eve, Mary, to become incarnate from her and takes the hypostasis of a male, the new Adam.
The new Adam is born now from the new Eve, showing that woman as well contains the full of humanity in her. He is born without conception through a virgin birth, affirming the participation of both sexes in the salvation of mankind, thus transcending sexuality and solving the division between male and female,
The incarnation of Christ in a male body, shows Him as a full man, having all that a man has, doing all that a man does except for acting on His sexuality. Christ eliminates the need for reproduction by proclaiming that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand” and in the Kingdom there will be no reproduction anymore, but angelic life with no marriage.
The emphasis of Christ’s mission is not anymore on marriage, nor sexuality, but on our relationship with Him. He shows us that if we want to have a relationship with God, we should have first a relationship with Him. “If a man loves me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (John 14:23) Christ is the cornerstone of man’s union with God, so, if we are to follow the path of theosis, we should define ourselves by this relationship, by how much we have become Christ-like, by how much we have adorned the image in which we have been created with His likeness, and not by how we use or abuse the fallen sexuality.
Christ shows that although everlasting life will be granted after the Resurrection, it can be pre-tasted here on earth. Man is called to participate in this anticipation by his second asexual birth, through the water of baptism, by means of which man passes from a mere existence to a good existence, that is the life in Christ. This new existence leaves behind the animal instincts and replaces them with the divine eros, that draws man towards God in a perpetual motion of transformation.
Nowadays, however, we see a redefinition of man taking as central point his sexual orientation. Heterosexuality, homosexuality, trans-sexuality, bi-sexuality, all these define man according to his intercourse preferences. But sexuality appeared, as we already saw, only after the fall, when, because the original mode of multiplication was lost, man fell to the level of the sexual reproduction of the irrational animals.
Even if we recognize the positive aspects of sexuality, man should be defined by his advancement in the likeness of Christ, not toward the likeness of the animal reign that cannot control their sexuality. By defining himself by the expression of his sexual instincts, man is not anymore distinct from animals. But man has a higher potential: through man the entire Creation is called to be lifted to God and not lowered at the level of the earth.
Christianity affirms the difference between the sexes, blesses sexuality within the Christian marriage, yet ultimately leads us to discover chastity, in the expectation of the Kingdom. Acknowledging this goal, the Holy Apostle Paul affirms: “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.” (1 Cor 7:1-2) The marriage is viewed as lesser than chastity, only because of the height of the ideal level of the Kingdom set by Christ. But the marriage is sacred and is chaste, and, even as a lower form, as we saw, brings man and woman in a union that resembles and, if lived correctly, leads to the final union with Christ, our chaste Bridegroom.
All matters of sexuality ought to be thus confined to the monogamous, heterosexual, God blessed union between a husband and a wife, with the dual purpose of procreation and union of the two into one flesh. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24, Ephesian 5:31)
Anything that falls out of this well-defined context misses the mark and therefore is sin. A sexuality that is devoid of the context of marriage and its salvific end goal, as defined by the Church, is sinful, not because it breaks some arbitrary rules, but because it goes against the fulfillment of the potential of man and the restoration of the kingdom. This is why the Church does not differentiate between the various sexual sins, but sees them all against one’s salvation. The Church is not an umpire of the rules, nor a judge, but, as St. John Chrysostom affirms, is a hospital for the sick. Therefore it is in Her duty to teach and affirm what is profitable for the soul and advise against what is harmful.
The fall is the consequence of the man’s actions according to instinct, like a non-rational being. So why would we now repeat the same mistake and continue to act instinctually rather than resisting to instinct and sinful impulses and rise above the condition of the “garments of skin”? In instincts, stirred by Satan as of old, there is death and, in the virtues, according to Christ there is life and the fulfillment of Man’s potentiality.
Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) is a 501(c)3 and an official agency of the Assembly of Canonical Bishops of the United States of America . It is a recognized leader in the Orthodox Media field and has sustained consistent growth over twenty-two years. We have worked to create a community for both believers and non believers alike by sharing the timeless faith of Orthodoxy with the contemporary world through modern media. We are on a mission to inspire Orthodox Christians Worldwide. Click to signup to receive weekly newsletter.
Join us in our Media Ministry Missions! Help us bring the Orthodox Faith to the fingertips of Orthodox Christians worldwide! Your gift today will helps us produce and provide unlimited access to Orthodox faith-inspiring programming, services and community. Don’t wait. Share the Love of Orthodoxy Today!