The Passions And The Justification Of Sin
Fr. Dumitru Staniloae asserts that at the foundation of passions are natural affects and instincts that initially support life.
“In this animal characteristics we find both their lack of guilt and their inferiority, because just like the animals are not guilty of the instinctual manifestation of their organisms, in the same way man is not guilty, as long as these affects remain within their boundaries, serving the biological existence.”
Through man’s decision and the exercise of free will however, the natural boundaries of these instincts can be trespassed, transforming them in passions. This is the case of sexual instincts that are serving a biological role of reproduction, but, by concentrating on their “side effects,” the pursuit of pleasure in more and more perverse ways, sexuality is deprived of its original biological function and is transformed in a passion, or, more so, an addiction.
According to Fr. Staniloae the pursuit of passions it is intimately related with the abandonment of the pursuit of God. Through the passions, the focus has been moved from heavens to the earth. Rather than using his knowledge to pursue God, man re-orients them towards creation and toward himself. The root of all these being self-love: egocentrism and egotism.
The pursuits of these natural instincts, outside of their boundaries, become directed action patterns that are now rationally justified by our conscience. In this way, what was natural and now has been transformed in un-natural and perverse, is justified by the perverted conscience and becomes the new norm. Therefore, if the natural pursuit of animal instincts are guiltless, the pursuit of passions by man is diabolical, because is a premeditated and wanted exaggeration of them.
St. Anthony has said it already in the 4th century: “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him, saying, ‘You are mad; you are not like us.’” The slogan of our times seems to be the alleged words of Alfred Kinsey, the founder of modern “sexology”: “Everybody’s sin is nobody’s sin”. But shall we all accept this change as unavoidable? After all Exodus 23:2 asserts: “Thou shalt not follow a multitude to do evil…” The question is therefore can we keep up the struggles and resist this new normal?
Wedding As Restoration Of Humanity
The fact that the woman was taken from man shows that woman and man are part of the same creation, that they share the same nature; yet, they are ontologically different in ways that make them complementary to each other. The union between a man and a woman, restores therefore, in a way, the fullness of humanity.
Marriage, in the Christian understanding as monogamous, heterosexual and blessed by God, is part of the good existence that St. Maximus speaks about. St. Maximus does not deny the value of marriage, because he sees it as the way instituted by God for human procreation that we cannot reject. However, marriage has to be regarded in the context of the working of the virtues. Marriage has to retain its salvific purpose and not be degraded to a union of pleasure, convenience, social status or anything else that might pervert its spiritual purpose.
The union in the flesh between husband and a wife united in Holy Matrimony transcends sexuality in its animal, non-rational form. It is a form of chastity, as the marital bed is undefiled. Christ performed His first miracle at a wedding, transforming what is common, water, into something special, the good wine, showing how the union between a man and a woman can lead to something better than living alone. We see thus how, even through the use of those things that are lower, like sexuality, once they are positively transformed through the fulfillment of their God intended purpose, they support us in our communion with God. Their perversion however, into increasingly degraded forms, has the opposite effect of alienation from God and missing the mark of the likeness of God.
Man and woman, icon and vocation, synergy and complementarity
In the light of the current ripples in the understanding of human anthropology created by the sexual redefinition of man, we have to make sure that we maintain an understanding of the male-female antinomy that is both grounded in the ancient Holy Tradition, yet capable to address the challenges of the postmodern and post-Christian world.
Both man and woman are icons of Christ and, although there are differences between them: genetical, anatomical, hormonal, psychological, behavioral etc., none of these are impediments for the fulfillment of one’s life in Christ. This is why the holy apostle Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)
The access to the likeness of God through the ascetic struggle is opened to both men and women. The differences that God put between them, on the other hand, may lead to slightly different ways of going about accessing what is equally available to all.
After the Fall, on their way out of paradise, man and woman are presented with two different pathways to the restoration of their union with God:
“Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return. And Adam called his wife’s name Eve; because she was the mother of all living.” (Gen 3:16-20)
In the epistle of the Holy Apostle Paul and Peter, we have several passages that address the relationship between man and woman that would lead to a spiritual union and restoration of the fullness of man through marriage. These passages are read during the sacraments of crowning and are meant as guides to the new couple that enters a life of communion. It is unfortunate though that a superficial reading of these scriptural accounts could lead someone to the wrong conclusion that there is some plot against women, a sort of patriarchal ploy meant to undermine women and lead them into unquestioning submission. But, if we believe the Scriptures to be true and we are not ashamed of their teaching and find ourselves ready to follow them, we have to read them carefully and meditate upon their meaning with the help of the Fathers.
St. John Chrysostom says it all in a simple phrase: “Let us take as our fundamental position then, that the husband occupies the place of the ‘head’, and the wife the place of the ‘body’.'” This pretty much sums up the opinion of all the Fathers who uphold that man and woman share the same nature, both physical and spiritual, and that there is an ordered relationship in which man takes precedence. We can affirm then that, vocationally, based on the order and purpose of Creation, the husband is called to be the head and lead his wife that is called to be the body, and that the two should be united in Christ.
The vocation of man to be a head in relation with the woman, the body, is not intended as tyrannical autocracy, but to be an icon of the relationship between Christ, the Head and the Church, His Body. Christ’s relationship with the Church is a sacrificial one, not one of exploitation. He gives first, sacrificially, not expecting anything in return. On the other hand the woman should respond to the impulse of love coming from man with a similar love, keeping the concord between the various parts of the body and advancing the unity in Christ.
The truth is that both man and woman are called to carry a cross, the cross may be different, but none is lighter, but to each is demanded as much as it was given, according to their abilities. Husbands and wives share the burden of their marital union by fulfilling their vocational roles. It does not mean that one is better than the other, but only that they have different roles that have to be respected for the completion of the union. These roles complete one another and, through the synergy of their efforts, the two advance much faster towards God. However, if the vocation is refused and the roles confused, the marriage moves in circles and ceases to fulfill it’s salvific purpose.
I have heard recently a beautiful comparison between the role of a woman in the family and the various wonderworking icons of the Theotokos. We have first the Theotokos as Guidance (Hodgitria) as the woman is the guide of her children, showing them the path to God. Then she is Quick To Hear (Gorgopikoos) as a mother is always quick to listen to all the problems in a household. She is alsoThe Unexpected Joy, as women are capable to create the most sublime and unexpected joy in one’s marriage. She is also the Sweet Kiss (Glycophyloussa) expressing the tenderness that only a woman can show. We also have her as the Most Caring (Paramythia) because a mother’s heart can understand and soothe the pain like no one else. Having the Theotokos as a guide and model, women can fulfill their vocation as wives and lead a life of sanctity and alignment with their husbands and ultimately with Christ.
Husbands as well are called to be an icon of Christ, to lead their wives and their households toward God, and to do this in a gentle and understanding way, taking into consideration all the needs of the body, so the body will willingly obey without coercion. Man cannot act selfishly, but only sacrificially, as they provide for and protect the household with the price of their own lives, renouncing their petty interests and serving the overarching purpose of the marital union.
A marriage, however, is not complete in itself, but the home is the small church, linked intrinsically with the Greater Church of Christ. Marriage is overall communion, communion that has to be continually strengthened by working together as a unit the pillars of faith: prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Man and woman begin to transcend the differences between male and female, by the fulfillment of their respective vocations, through the sacrificial exchange demanded by their respective roles, completing more and more in themselves the icon of Christ.
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