While the Orthodox Communion of churches still, in general, frowns upon the use of artificial means of contraception it is still sometimes condoned for reasons of ekonomia. The Roman Catholic Church argues that this is out of line with the Christian tradition where Church Fathers have always condemned contraception.
On what grounds do you think the Orthodox Communion’s shifting stance on artificial contraception is justified? Was the concensus of Church Fathers less than universal? Have contemporary scientific findings, and thus a difference in the way we percieve conception, justified a shift in position?
The brethren came to Abba Anthony and said to him, ‘Speak a word: how are we to be saved?’ The old man said to them, ‘You have heard the Scriptures. That should teach you how.’ But they said, ‘We want to hear from you, too, Father.’ Then the old man said to them, ‘The Gospel says “if anyone strikes you on one check, turn to him the other also.”’ They said, ‘We cannot do that.’ The old man said: ‘If you cannot offer the other cheek, at least allow one cheek to be struck.’ ‘We cannot do that, either’, they said. So he said, ‘If you are not able to do that, do not return evil for evil’, and they said, ‘We cannot do that either.’ Then the old man said to his disciple, ‘Prepare a little brew of corn for these invalids. If you cannot do this, or that, what can I do for you? What you need is prayers.’
Economia has always been a part of the Christian tradition, and does not need to be justified. The Fathers likewise would not justify murder or fornication, yet our saints have done these things (St. Moses the Ethiopian, St. Mary of Egypt, etc.), and still been received, precisely because of this mercy shown by their fathers and brethren.
I don’t know what you mean by your last statement. I’m not Catholic, if you thought I was. I am merely trying to gain a better understanding of the Orthodox Communion’s position on the issue. Currently being without a religious home, my personal opinion regarding contraception is in the works.
I asked an Orthodox priest and he gave me this answer:
To the Orthodox, contraception is contraception. Whether you use a technology behind it (ABCs) or not (NFP). The intention behind it is the same, to avoid conception. They are against those that result in abortion (morning after pill) but not those that prevent conception (condoms). To them, openness to life is viewed in the marriage as an entirety, not within individual sexual acts.
The shifting stance could be a result of understanding of the science behind it. They are also pro-life so they wouldn’t endorse abortifacents. But again, preventing conception to them is the same no matter what method you use. So the key really is if you are preventing conception or preventing a pregnancy when conception has taken place. They’d take the former but never the latter.
I was speaking with a Rabbi once and he said that to them the destruction of the “seed” is a greater sin than abortifacients, which I found strange. As a result they condone the pill while condemning condoms, according to him.
One thing you should understand, True Light, is that the fasting that frames the life of the Orthodox Church also includes periods of abstinence from sex in addition to food. So any additional advice given by a spiritual father to the couple would be within that context that likely makes it unnecessary to get so specific. (And, yeah, I’ve never run across anything in the Fathers about that, either.)
Perhaps they accept contraception now, but it is clearly not the case that they always did.
St. John Chrystostom (with whom no Orthodox would argue), clearly considered contraception (“medicines of sterility”) to be basically the same as abortion and had the following to say:
“Why do you sow where the field is eager to destroy the fruit, where there are medicines of sterility, where there is murder before birth? You do not even let a harlot remain only a harlot, but you make her a murderess as well… Indeed, it is something worse than murder, and I do not know what to call it; for she does not kill what is formed but prevents its formation. What then? Do you condemn the gift of God and fight with his [natural] laws?… Yet such turpitude… the matter still seems indifferent to many men; even to many men having wives. In this indifference of the married men there is greater evil filth; for then poisons are prepared, not against the womb of a prostitute, but against your injured wife. Against her are these innumerable tricks”.
The birth control pill became widely available in 1961. The 1963 edition of Bishop Kallistos Ware’s book “The Orthodox Way” stated the following:
Artificial methods of birth control are forbidden in the Orthodox Church.
A more recent edition of the same book states the following:
“Concerning contraceptives and other forms of birth control, differing opinions exist within the Orthodox Church. In the past birth control was in general strongly condemned, but today a less strict view is coming to prevail, not only in the west but in traditional Orthodox countries. Many Orthodox theologians and spiritual fathers consider that the responsible use of contraception within marriage is not in itself sinful. In their view, the question of how many children a couple should have, and at what intervals, is best decided by the partners themselves, according to the guidance of their own consciences.”
In 1968 the Roman Pope Paul VI wrote the encyclical letter Humanae Vitae in which he reaffirmed the Latin Church’s rejection of contraception. After reviewing the encyclical, the Ecumenical Patriarch Athenagoras wrote to the Pope to assure him of the Orthodox Church’s “total agreement” with the encyclical’s contents: “We assure you that we remain close to you, above all in these recent days when you have taken the good step of publishing the encyclical Humanae Vitae. We are in total agreement with you, and wish you all God’s help to continue your mission in the world.”
Hence the problem with NFP, they know when she is fertile and infertile, yet they avoid the periods of fertility, intentionally, having intercourse not for the begetting of life, which undeniably contradicts the same patristic quotations and mindset which you try to cite against us.
True. But there is clear teaching from the Eastern Fathers on this issue. I have no problem with economia. In fact, I think the use of economia in the case of divorce is more honest than the current annulment fiasco in the Catholic church. But it seems that the Orthodox have completely abandoned the concept that contraception is sinful and now have no problem with it whatsoever, while in the quite recent past, that has not been the case.
The use of contraception to prevent the begetting of life completely is still taught to be sinful. Married couples are expected to produce children. What has been reconsidered is if contraceptives may be used to plan families in order to avoid having children when they cannot be provided for, not if it is acceptable to use contraception to escape from having families completely. Perhaps if churches were more closely knit communities, this would not be a problem, since adoption would be more a readily available avenue, but the unfortunate reality we live in is that this is unfortunately not true of most communities.