Orthodox America


  Metropolitan’s Encyclical - Metropolitan Philaret


Our Beloved Spiritual Children:

     In recent days we have addressed to you the words of the Council of Bishops on general matters in the life of our Church. However, the same Council directed us in addition to write you instructions on how we ought to “struggle for the faith delivered to the saints from the Lord" in our present life. For if in the days of the Apostles' preaching there already was an abundance of those who, in ~he words of the Apostle Jude, "are godless men, who change the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord" (Jude 4), then now this evil is many times more prevalent, and it is becoming harder and harder for us to struggle against it.

    When we look at the society which surround s us in the world, we could often repeat the words the Apostle Paul wrote about the pagans. In speaking of the unnatural vices of men and women (prevalent among and approved of by the unbelieving in our days), the Apostle explained that "since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, He gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity..." (Rom. 1:2831). In various forms and to various degrees we see abundant manifestations of these sins around us. As the Apostle Paul further observed, when people fall into them, they often know what God's judgment should be on those who perform such acts of unrighteousness. "However," he writes, "they not only continue to do these things, but also approve of those who do them" (Rom. 1:32).

    It does not surprise us when in the anti-Christian kingdom of Soviet lies, the whole structure of life is directed towards punish~ ink faith and virtue and encouraging evil. But is there any justification for us when in free conditions we prefer evil and vice, rather than good and sanctity?

     In many cases when we ask why certain Orthodox Christians live according to the customs of sin, rather than according to the Law of God, we receive the answer that everyone lives that way now. However, being Christians, we should not consider ourselves in this world like "everyone," but like the "Chosen People" to whom the Apostle Pete~' wrote that 'they are "a people belonging (o God, that [they] may declare the praises of Him Who called ,[them] out, of darkness into His wonderful light" (I Peter 2:9). Are we permitted to measure our responsibility before God with the same measure as the unbelieving and those who have no hope of Heaven?

The Wages of Disobedience Look at what is happening around us among people who have no concern for faith, who live not according to God's law, but according to the laws of sin, in opposition to the natural order established by the Creator. Look at the countless rapes of women and even of children, at child prostitution, at murders of parents by children, and of children by parents, at murders of many people on the spur of the moment without any sort of sense' or point, at mass suicides, at indifference to depravity, and at the demonstrations of thousands shamelessly proclaiming the manifestation of unnatural vices to be lawful. With horror we read of the insanity of people who have enslaved themselves to drugs to a greater extent than when only drunkenness was widespread. What could be more horrible than the case which has now happened of the birth of infant narcotics addicts, poisoned by narcotics or alcohol while still in their mother's womb?

     According to the laws of existence, people do not immediately become totally subject to sin s, nor, vice versa, to virtue and sanctity. In the one case and in the other, their development is gradual along the path of good or evil they have chosen. Each one chooses his path according to his own free will, but the conditions of one's training from childhood on are very significant for the correct choice of this path from one's early years. And the choice of path which is correct is that which leads us to God's Kingdom, taking us away from the gloomy realm of the tortures of hell, which is chosen by those who act lawlessly.

 

God's Lawful Hierarchy  

     Each of us knows how joyful and comforting it is for us to come into contact with people who are living according to God's law of love. On this taw is built the world created by God, and it alone is the pledge of unity.

     Sin came into the world and immediately introduced divisions when the first people violated the law of love for God. While they had up until then felt themselves to be one being, after their fall into sin they immediately felt themselves divided. "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves" (Gen. 3:7) .... Up until then they had been even more innocent than a new-born baby is now.

    After sinning, Adam ceased to be the master of everything created on earth and remained such only in his own family. Now it is often forgotten that the woman was created as a helper for Adam, like unto him (Gen. 2:20). Only after she first gave herself over to the devil's temptation and led Adam into it, was God's judgment pronounced on her: "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing, with pain will you give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you" (Gen. 3:16).

    Thus. the supremacy of Adam and of all his male descendants, is not the result of arbitrariness, but is the law of the hierarchical structure of human nature about which spouses are reminded by the Epistle reading during the marriage ceremony: "Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. Forthe husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church, His Body, of which He is the Saviour. Now as the Church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything" (Eph. 5: 22-2~). However, this is not just man's predominance over woman in the sense of rights, for Christian relations between husband and wife are not defined by their rights, but by their different kinds of service in the Church and family, and by their boundless love for each other. Therefore, the Apostle further commands that men should love their wives "as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does for the Church" (Eph. 5: 28-29).

     The female nature is chiefly endowed with tenderness and the capacity for compassion, as a consequence of which female Christian nurses are so precious. This quality is especially important in the raising of children by the mother in the early childhood years. To instill in children faith in God, love, respect for their father, and the other Christian virtues is the most important aspect of the service of an Orthodox wife and mother.

     Orthodox marriage, thus, resembles the Church, i.e., an organism in which, under the headship of Christ, the members are united, but have different functions. We are all united in the Church, the Body of Christ, but bishops, clergymen of various levels, laymen, and monastics serve God in different ways. In the same way the husband, wife, and children occupy different positions in the family, the Church of the home, the Apostle Paul called it (Rom. 16:5).

      It has a very destructive effect on the whole of society when such an understanding of each person' s position and service in hierarchical dependence on each other, based on love for God and for each other, is replaced by the idea of rights and the struggle for these rights.

     Many misfortunes and disorders are produced by the fact that the principle of struggling for rights, instead of a consciousness of obligations taken upon oneself and of responsibility, is now being introduced into all levels of society, and even into families. Misunderstandings in the family, which often lead to divorce when they are intensified, very often begin right here. Psychological separation, which develops in such soil, is capable of growing and intensifying until, beginning with intimate relations between the spouses, it destroys love and shatters the family.

 

The Marriage Relationship

    A.S. Khomiakov, the great Russian theologian, defines the relation s of Orthodox spouses in this way:

    "In the person of the first human couple, 'husband and wife,' holy and perfect laws were given for the earthly life of mankind. The image of that same earthly life of all mankind, of that holy and perfect law, is also renewed by each Christian couple in the Mystery of marriage. For the husband, his companion is not just one of many women, but the woman; her mate is not one of many men, but the man; for both of them, the rest of the human race has no sex. Bound by the noble bonds of spiritual brotherhood with all creatures like themselves;- the Christian husband .and wife, the .Adam and .Eve. of all ages, alone receive a blessing to taste the joys of that most intimate cohabitation because of the physical and moral law placed at the basis of the earthly life of the human race .... And so, marriage is not a contract, not an obligation, and not legal slavery; it is Divine law; it is the organic, and consequently, mutual union of two of God's children'' (Vol. II, edition 5, Moscow, 1907).

    The different functions in the family of the husband and wife, father, mother, and children imply also a different position in the family and Church, with which are associated differences in external matters, Men are directed to pray and stand in church with uncovered heads, while women should have covered heads. The Apostle Paul explains that this symbolizes the family hierarchy: "Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man" (I Car. 11:13). Similarly, male monastics are supposed to go about with covered heads .... This is not done for any sort of humiliation, but only to remind them of their position [in the family hierarchy) and the necessity of obeying the Church.

    The latter is required of all in general: of clergymen and laymen, men and women, so that everything might be decent and in order (I Car, 24:40).

 

Rules for Christian Conduct 

Consider it yourselves: is it proper for us to come to God's temple to pray for God's help and to approach the Mysteries, and at the same time break the rules given as by the Church?

      Among those rules is included also one that men should not dress in women's clothing, nor women in men's. If women sometimes dress that way at home for convenience in housework, that is a lesser departure from good order, but to come thus to church or to a celebration is not decent and in order, and therefore is sinful, As is well known, both in the Old Testament and in the canons of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, the wearing of clothing inappropriate to one's sex is strictly forbidden (Deut. 22:5; 62nd canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Council.)

     We would also like to warn our children about the necessity of being careful to protect their feelings and bodies from any sort of moral impurity, which is so abundantly widespread in the society around us.

    Before the fall of the Tsarist government in Russia, anti-Christian revolutionary organizations carried out deliberate efforts aimed at the moral corruption of youth in order to break down society. Propaganda was conducted for so-called "free love" and for the spread of shamelessness and vice. Now such propaganda is being conducted in the West many times more extensively and successfully than at that time, and sometimes it is even supported by the civil authorities in the name of a falsely understood freedom, In this there is a manifestation of rebellion against God and the order established by Him in the world.

    After creating man and the animal world, the Lord commanded Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, to fill the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1:28). For this purpose the nature of man and woman was created different, with one fulfilling and attracting the other. Just as man was given an appetite for food to bring about the nourishment necessary in life, similarly the attraction of one sex for the other was placed in human nature for fulfilling the commandment to be fruitful and to multiply. But as in healthful eating the appetite must be limited by rational restraint, so also sexual attraction, which in marriage one flesh, is limited by certain laws. inasmuch as man consists not just of a body, but also a soul, in marriage both of these parts of the human being are united.

       In marriage, as Khomiakov explained in the words cited above, the husband and wife are two beings singled out from the rest of mankind, whose intimate shared life, motivated by mutual love and physical attraction, is an area hidden from other people. Therefore also the parts of the female body through which the attraction of a husband to his wife especially comes about should not be revealed to outsiders and from the days of Adam have been covered by clothing .... The now widespread nudism profanes the human body, and in the end undermines the exclusive union of husband and wife. No less, if no more, does this depravity affect young women, undermining their innocence which nothing can replace for them when they marry and come together with their chosen husband. For this reason, from of old Christian parents have protected the youth of their children from those sorts of impressions which might give rise to desire. "Then desire gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death" (James 1:15).

     These impressions include immodest spectacles, any sort of nakedness in the presence of representatives of the other sex, and especially pornography, whether written, or on the stage and television. If it is poison for adults, then how much more does it serve to destroy the moral purity and spiritual health of young people.

    Man is so made that his perception of the world enters him and develops by means of the sense organs: sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste, They are all extremely important and serve as a means of contact with those like oneself, particularly with members of the opposite sex. When these elements are harmoniously connected in people' s lives, they lead them to sensible, beneficial contacts with others.

    The sin of the first human beings caused a division in the whole created world which affects all of us. Since that time, whenever disharmony--caused by sinful thoughts and actions--has developed in individuals, then bitter feelings, dissatisfaction, and irritability appear, which may lead to accidie, now called depression, and in some cases to aggressive and even criminal tendencies. This has repeatedly been established by different investigations.

 

The Struggle for Moral Purity 

      Only prayer, repentance, and love wipe out the consequences of sin. If sings a symptom of spiritual sickness, then the means of repelling the temptations it produces are: prayer, fasting, and living according to the laws of the Church. These are the sort of preventative measures which protect us from moral falls.

     This is why, in our concern for the moral purity of our spiritual children, we ask them to refrain from mixed bathing in places where now tempting nakedness is allowed, and from other amusements which might lead them into temptation.

     While warning our children of the necessity of protecting themselves from social phenomena and habits which might attract them into the sins of our times, we beg them to look for direction in their lives--not to the evil of perverted, faithless humanity, but to j that Light of the World which We have in the Holy Church.  The stronger the evil surrounding us, the more we must oppose to it the power of good by strengthening and developing our life in the Church and by practicing acts of love. Orthodox families must make an effort to form circles of acquaintances and friends from among people of their own faith and culture, united around their parish church and the grace-filled life of the Church.

    Thus, beloved ones, we have tried to show you the danger of the surrounding temptations and to warn you, so that you will see and recognize them. "Be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall away from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be glory, both now and forever. Amen" (II Peter 3:17-18).

+ Metropolitan Philaret Chairman of the Council of Bishops of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia

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