Moral Issues Facing Orthodox Christians Today

 Martyr Inna the Disciple of Andrew in Scythia

Martyr Inna the Disciple of Andrew in Scythia

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

By Very Rev. Father George Alberts

Morality II--Love, Sex, Dating and Marriage

The teachings of the Church about love, sex, dating and marriage are very important to us in our world today. If you watch TV, go to the movies, read popular magazines, or even talk with your friends, you will see that there are many different views and teachings about these topics. Unfortunately, most of what you see and hear is contrary to what the Holy Scripture and the Church teaches.

The beginning point for us is Love. As we learned earlier, God created mankind out of love. He wanted us to enjoy all of His creation. Scripture tells us that woman was created from the rib of man out of God's love as a helpmate for man so that together they could enjoy all of God's creation. God said that it was "not good that man should be alone" so He created Eve. When Adam saw Eve, he said, "This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh (Genesis 2:18-23). They were originally one and now there were two, Adam and Eve were to love one another as they enjoyed God's creation. They were also given the ability to have children together in imitation of God's Creative power. God created sex for this purpose. Sex was the means for uniting a man and a woman into one flesh once again. This union was both holy and mystical. Children were created through this union and man was given a sex drive by God to assure that this union would take place and that the human race would grow and populate the earth. In fact, the command to have children was one of the first commandment given by God to man (Genesis 1:28). Sex was enjoyable and pleasurable when used for the right reasons.

If you read the Old Testament, you see that sex was emphasized as a means of carrying on the human race, especially the Hebrew people who were God's chosen people. Because of this, certain things were done and "allowed" by God in the Old Testament so that the God's people would multiply. Many married within the same family, cousins marrying cousins for example. If one's wife was unable to have children, the husband could have children by the maid or servant (Genesis 16:29-30). If a male died and he had a brother, his brother would take his wife and have children with her to preserve the family (Deut. 25:5-6). Barrenness or being unable to have children was considered a curse from God since it was God who told man to be fruitful and multiply. There were many strict rules regarding sexual activity in the Old Testament even though some of the things listed above seem to be very lenient and even immoral by our standards today.

It is also helpful for us to consider the following ideas that come from the Old Testament and related to the Church's teachings about sex. The first is the issue of nakedness. Why do we wear clothes? In Genesis 2:25, speaking of Adam and Eve, we read: "They were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed". After the fall of man, when sin entered into the world, we find a different and opposite reaction. Genesis 3:7 tells us that after the fall "the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons". And later in verse 21 we're told: "unto Adam also, and unto his wife, did the Lord God make coats of skins and clothed them". This idea of nakedness was carried on throughout the Old Testament. One was forbidden to see his parents or family members naked (Lev. 18:6-18).

Morality III-Medical Issues

Some of the hardest moral choices that people have to make today involve medical issues. As science and technology advances, we will probably see an increasing amount of situations that require the Church and us as its members to take a position on them. The field of medicine is growing daily with new discoveries, technologies and medical treatments that never existed before. While some moral and ethical questions have existed since the time of the early Church Fathers and Councils, today's issues seem far removed from their time and experiences. Because of this, some feel that the Church cannot help us make these decisions. This is not true! Just because the problem or technology seems to be new, we can still apply some of the things that we learned to help us make informed decisions. Remember the questions we need to ask?

Now let us look as some of these issues. We can divide the most common issues into 2 sections. The first deals with sexually related issues and the second deals with other medical issues. In understanding or dealing with this first set of issues, we have to again look at the Church's view of sex, marriage and childbearing.

At the center is our understanding of marriage. Marriage is a Sacrament. In that Sacrament one man and one woman pledge their faithfulness to one another before God in His Church. This union is sacred and blessed by God. No one else is involved in this union and this marriage in any intimate way. Marriage is the union of 2 people blessed by God with the fruits of their union being children whom they have created together in imitation of God's creative powers.

1. Artificial Insemination, Test Tube Babies and Surrogate Mothers

If we look at artificial insemination, we see that the sacramental bond between husband and wife is broken when the sperm of a stranger or 3rd party is used. In the same way, taking or using the egg of another woman and fertilizing it with the sperm of the husband and then implanting it in the wife's womb is also involving a stranger on 3rd party. Because of this, our Orthodox Church opposes this type of artificial insemination. It involves someone else in the marital relationship and in a strict sense is almost like committing adultery. If the egg and sperm in artificial insemination are from the wife and husband, then this does not break the marriage bond or covenant. In this case, medical technology is used to help the husband and wife achieve the fruits of their union, which are children.

This brings us to the second issue, which is test-tube babies. As with artificial insemination, the same idea applies. There can be no acceptable donors other than the husband and wife for the same reasons. In addition to this, we have to consider this as an unnatural process that separates the couple from the childbearing process. But perhaps the major objection here, even if it is the egg and sperm of the husband and wife, is the process involved. In the fertilization process, many more eggs are fertilized than can be used. As a result, those not used are disposed of. This is then seen as destroying life, which is abortion.

Now we must consider the idea of a surrogate mother or artificial womb (if one is invented). Here again, the major problem is the interference of this 3rd party. The Church would have to consider it an intrusion into the marriage by the surrogate mother. But along with this, we also have to consider that we are causing the surrogate mother to sin by impregnating her with the child of someone else. For these reasons the Church is opposed to the use of surrogate mothers. It would also be opposed to the use of an artificial womb, if one were developed, which would be unnatural and an interference in the Sacrament of Marriage.

What we have to keep in mind again is the fact that children are seen as being the fruits of a marriage. Marriage is not a selfish state of existence between a man and woman. They should desire to share their life with children if so blessed by God. In fact, the Orthodox Church allows some types of birth control if it is used for a period of time until the couple is ready and able to have children. It is not to be used as a permanent means to never have children. Also, birth control medications and devices, such as the intra-uterine device (IUD), which work on the principle of abortion (not allowing an already fertilized egg to implant in the uterus), are not to be used by Orthodox Christians. If a couple is unable to have children even through the use of Church approved medical techniques, the Church does not consider them as sinners or being somehow punished by God as was thought in the Old Testament times. We are living in a fallen world where things are not perfect. The couple can also adopt children in this case, and share their love with their adopted children just as God, Who adopted us as His sons and daughters, shares His love with us.

(Next: Organ Donations and Transplants)


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom


With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George