Sunday, 9 March 2014

Orthodox Christianity and Contraception

Whenever I discuss Orthodox approaches to Ethics with Catholic friends at work, I am amazed how they react to the concept of contraception. After they state their views they will always ask "what do the Orthodox think?" expecting me to support them, but the fact is that there is no authoritative Orthodox view on the matter. Many local Synods have released statements on their views, the vast majority of which make it clear that it is down to a question of motive and circumstance.

The Church does not condemn the use of contraception as many will use artificial birth control for beneficent reasons such as not wanting to bring up a child in an environment which means that they cannot financially or emotionally support them. If the union of love and a shared life is one of the main motives of Christian Marriage, as opposed to the Old Testament Judaic sense of a simple realm of childbirth, it is only fair that any life brought into the world is brought into a loving and stable home.

As the Theologian John Meyendorff stated in his book Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective, "If the ‘life’ given by the parents to their children is to be a fully human life, it cannot involve only physical existence, but also parental care, education and decent living." This means that there are factors in the world which require an openness to the use of contraception to prevent bringing a life into existence without the means to care for that life.

There is admittedly an issue of selfish uses of artificial contraception, where it can be seen to make sexual relations nothing more than a game without consequences and love becomes reduced to sexual pleasure. Regardless of this fact, this is not always the case. The Church appreciates the complexity of this issue and therefore has no direct statement on the matter for the sake of granting the flexibility for circumstance that is needed.

An example of this prevailing view comes from the Orthodox Church in America’s statement on ‘Marriage, Family, Sexuality, and the Sanctity of Life’ during the Tenth All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America, 1992. The Council supported the idea that "Married couples may express their love in sexual union without always intending the conception of a child, but only those means of controlling conception within marriage are acceptable which do not harm a fetus already conceived." At the same time, the Russian Synod make a clear statement that “The deliberate refusal of childbirth on egoistic grounds devalues marriage and is a definite sin.” Here we see this flexibility in which there is no condemnation of prevention of Childbirth if the reason itself is not contrary to Christian morality.

On this topic, Meyendorff again stresses that "it has never been the Church’s practice to give moral guidance by issuing standard formulas which actually require a personal act of conscience" and in such situations it is the couple’s personal decision as to the motive for using contraception. In this, they must accept their Christian commitment with ultimate seriousness.

To conclude. The Church has no official position as to the use of contraception, as it is not an issue which has a standard response but is rather one which is based upon conscience and circumstance. If someone is using it for selfish means then their selfishness is sinful itself, though one cannot condemn the use on contraception for all based upon the selfish nature of the few. In such instances, your Spiritual Father is always the best source of advice as he can give you help on a personal level, which is something that a blanket statement could never do.

God Bless and keep you,
Dcn. Daniel

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