Sunday, September 27, 2015

An Orthodox Christian Argument Against Physician-Assisted Suicide

          I heard something on National Public Radio during my morning run the other day that got my attention . A report on a physician-assisted suicide bill in California stated that the proposed legislation would let  terminally ill patients end their lives.  That way of putting it totally obscured the fact that such legislation would implicate physicians, and presumably other health care professionals, in taking steps intentionally to end the lives of their patients.  Doing so would fundamentally distort the practice of medicine from pursuing the health of patients to pursuing their death in the name of ending suffering.  At  times, ending suffering requires ending the sufferer, which is simply not part of the practice of medicine as we know it in western culture.
          No, that is not an abstract philosophical claim, but something that arises from what doctors, nurses, and other healers do every day.  For example, when I go to my physician, I trust that he is single-mindedly focused on my health.   If he would just as soon help me commit suicide, I would no longer trust him because his moral identity and our relationship would change profoundly.   When physicians prescribe lethal drugs or otherwise act intentionally to facilitate the death of their patients, even upon the patients’ request, they no longer practice medicine as we have known it.   
           Physicians do not administer lethal injections for capital punishment, for example, because doing so is antithetical to the healing art.  If our society loses  the unique moral identity of medical doctors, we will lose a great deal.  A serious vocation requires developing a distinctive character through a distinctive practice.  Contrary to popular trends, not everything and everyone may be reduced without remainder to autonomous individuals serving the desires of other autonomous individuals.  The customer is not always right, except in a depraved materialistic society in which persons become little more than anonymous economic units or faceless bundles of rights that serve nothing more profound than their own immediate desires.  And if the customer is not always right, surely that is even less the case with the patient who enters into a practice oriented toward health, not necessarily whatever the patient desires.
            As well, physician-assisted suicide invites abuse of the elderly, sick, and dying by those who stand to inherit their estates.   Those are often the very people playing the dominant role in influencing the treatment decisions of debilitated patients.  Likewise, it should surprise no one that government entities, insurance companies, and health care institutions will likely be inclined to find ways of reducing their expenditures for patients at the end of life by encouraging lethal efforts to end their suffering and save money from their budgets.  Larger societal expectations will likely follow such developments, causing a social expectation for our weakest neighbors to exercise their freedom to kill themselves.    Our most vulnerable citizens will be deemed inconvenient and encouraged to end their suffering by ending their lives.  The skills of patiently caring for the aged and infirm will consequently diminish.  The cult of the young and healthy will flourish in the name of liberation  to the detriment of the old and sick. No, it is not a pretty picture.
            The hospice movement, practitioners of palliative care, and others intimately involved in the care of the sick and dying know that treatment to make terminally ill patients as comfortable as possible is underdeveloped in American medicine.  We are fans of high tech life-sustaining treatment, even if it is quite burdensome and makes a patient’s entire existence revolve around medical procedures.  Surely, many patients who want physician-assisted suicide would not do so if they received appropriate palliative care to help them live as comfortably as possible during their last days.    And if they were at home, sustained by loved ones in familiar settings, they would be much more likely to embrace the struggles of this last segment of their journey than they would in an institutionalized setting with priorities other than comfort. 
            Perhaps at the heart of these debates is the meaning of suffering.  The dominant attitude today seems to be that suffering is a pointless affront to one’s dignity.  Well, for those formed in our increasingly individualistic and hedonistic culture, that is not a surprising conclusion.   In stark contrast, Orthodox Christians do not seek suffering for its own sake, but know that living faithfully in a world of corruption will often require pain and struggle of various kinds.  These challenges give us opportunities to grow in dependence upon God, in humility, and in love for our neighbors, including those who care for us when we are sick and weak.  They are opportunities to take up our crosses, follow Christ, and grow in holiness. 
            Even as we should refuse medical treatment that makes our existence simply a function of that treatment as a false god,  we should accept care that helps us offer our lives to the Lord and our neighbors as best we can under the circumstances that we face.  For those who worship a Lord Who healed the sick, raised the dead, and rose victorious over Hades on the third day, that will never mean choosing death as an end in itself.  It will mean, however, refusing overly burdensome and ultimately pointless forms of treatment in order to prepare for a peaceful, painless, and blameless  departure from this life.
              The more that our family members and physicians know our intentions in this regard, the better for all concerned. And the less that the practice of medicine becomes corrupted by the intentional pursuit of death, the better for all concerned, especially the patients. 

What Catching Fish and Beholding the Divine Glory Have in Common: Homily for the 17th Sunday After Pentecost and the 1st Sunday of Luke in the Orthodox Church

Luke 5:1-11
2 Corinthians 6: 16-7:1
            One of the great blessings of children is to have a sense of wonder.  Those of us who have been around the block a few times, however, easily fall into the mindset of taking things for granted, of thinking that we have seen it all before, and allowing nothing to shake us up.  Consequently, we often shut our eyes to the great blessings all around us and even to the presence of the Lord in our lives.
            Whether St. Peter had lost his sense of wonder before he countered Jesus Christ, we do not know.  But like any professional fisherman, he certainly thought that putting out his nets one more time after a night of catching nothing would be a waste of time.  That is basically what he told the Lord, but in obedience to Him, he did so nonetheless.   And all of a sudden, the nets were breaking and the boats were sinking due to the huge catch of fish.
            St. Peter’s surprise is shown by what he did next.  He fell down before Christ and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” In other words, he knew that he had seen nothing like this before.  His eyes were opened to the wonder of the situation and his own inadequacy before it.  He knew in his soul that what had happened was not simply about nets, fish, and boats, but about what it means to encounter the Lord as someone unworthy to do so.  Despite all his failings and weaknesses, St. Peter had the spiritual clarity of the Prophet Isaiah when he had a vision of God in the heavenly temple (Isa. 6:5): “Woe is me, because I am pierced to the heart, for being a man and having unclean lips, I dwell in the midst of a people with unclean lips; for I saw the King, the Lord of hosts, with my own eyes.”  Before the glory of God, they both responded with humility.
            St. Peter’s day probably had begun like any other day, full of hard work with no expectation for anything out of the ordinary.  Like all of us, those fishermen went about their familiar routines with their usual responsibilities and concerns.   Everything seemed perfectly normal, but then the Lord blessed them and enabled them to see that their work was not simply about fish, but about bringing people into the eternal life of the Kingdom of God.  Something as ordinary as catching fish became a heavenly vision.  Imagine that.   
            When St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he was dealing with other matters.  He had to remind a bunch of confused Gentile converts to separate themselves from evil, cleanse themselves from defilement, and “make holiness perfect in the fear of God.” He told them to turn away from sexual immorality, idolatry, and other corrupt practices.  Many today face similar challenges, perhaps in part because we have lost our sense of wonder at God’s presence in our lives.  In other words, we think of our routines, our relationships, our temptations, and our blessings as simply the way things are.  We adjust to them, take them for granted, and do not open the eyes of our souls to what God may be calling us to do and to become in relation to them.   Consequently, we lose hope that He will transform our seemingly futile struggles into abundant joy.  We despair of finding healing for our souls.  We think that our nets will always be empty and that each day will be like the one before.  And because we so easily lose hope, we are not inclined to obey the Lord like St. Peter did in letting down our nets down just one more time.
            If you think about it, that is all that the Lord ever asks of us.  One day at a time, to be faithful.  One day at a time, to say “no” to our self-centered desires.  One day at a time, to recognize that we always live in the presence of the burning bush of His divine glory, that we are always on holy ground.
            This past week we celebrated the Feast of the Conception of St. John the Forerunner.  Even though his father Zacharias was a priest serving in the Jerusalem temple, he had apparently lost his sense of wonder before the holiness of God.  So when the Archangel Gabriel told him that he and Elizabeth were to conceive a child in their old age, he responded with doubt—apparently forgetting about Abraham and Sarah, who also miraculously conceived late in life. Even as he was burning incense in the temple, he had shut his eyes to the divine glory.  Perhaps not being able to speak again until after birth of John helped to set him straight and to see his long-awaited son as God’s gracious gift which he did not deserve.
            His example shows us that the Lord is at work in our lives in ways that have nothing to do with what we deserve.  The Bible is filled with other similar stories. Not long after being blessed by God to be the father of a great nation, Abraham gave away his wife Sarah to Pharaoh out of fear.  That could have stopped the story of the Hebrew people even as it began, but God worked through him anyway. Right after being called through the burning bush, Moses thought of every excuse imaginable to get out of leading the Hebrews away from Egypt.  Nonetheless, God still used him. Even after the Lord explained His identity and ministry quite clearly to St. Peter, the chief disciple denied Him three times and abandoned Him at His crucifixion.  Regardless, Christ still called him. The great Apostle Paul was a dedicated persecutor of Christians until the Risen Lord miraculously appeared to Him in a blinding light on the road to Damascus.  That horrible past did not, however, keep St. Paul from becoming a great saint and missionary.
            The lesson for us is clear:  We must not use our sins, failings, weaknesses, or life circumstances as excuses to say that God is not present and active in our lives.  He always has and continues to call sinners like me and you to serve Him.  His blessing is not for a select few, but for all He creates in His image and likeness, for all who are called to faith in Jesus Christ, regardless of our ancestry, the nature of our personal struggles or temptations, or the history of our own personal brokenness.
            If we will only open the eyes of our souls, we will behold His glory and blessing shining as brightly as a burning bush in ways that may be as surprising as a huge catch of fish that threatens to break our nets and sink our boats.  If we only have the eyes to see, we will know His presence so powerfully that we will fall before Him like St. Peter with a sense of our own inadequacy before His holiness and abundant mercy.
            Granted, all this might seem easier to accept if God worked an obvious miracle in a spectacular fashion.  But if that happened, would our faith really grow and mature?  Would we ever learn to view God as anything other than a genie that grants our wishes?  He is not the one in this relationship who needs to change.  We must patiently do our part to clarify our spiritual vision, to open the eyes of our souls to what the Lord is already doing.  Very often the point is not for God to change an outward circumstance, but for us to find the spiritual strength to recognize the wonder of His presence already in our lives.  For as with the Prophet Elijah, God usually does not speak to us through earthquake, wind, and fire, but through the still small voice of a gentle breeze. (3 Kingdoms 19:11ff./ 1 Kings 19:11ff)   

            We will never hear His voice, however, if we do not listen, which requires praying from our hearts on a regular basis.  If we do not shut out the distractions of our own thoughts and the pointless chatter of our culture each day, we will not be able to hear Him tell us to let down our nets just one more time, to take the next small step of faithfulness, or to resist a seemingly insurmountable temptation.  We will never fall before the Lord in humble gratitude for His countless blessings unless we gain the spiritual clarity necessary to recognize His gracious presence already in our daily lives, even in what is most familiar, routine, and taken for granted.  If we will only develop the eyes to recognize His blessing and calling, then each and every one of us will acquire a new sense of wonder that will bring us to our knees in thanksgiving and humility.  That is how we, like so many other unworthy people before us, will find a power and peace in our lives that we do not deserve, but that we will wonder how we ever lived without.    

Sunday, September 20, 2015

"Get Behind Me, Satan": The True Politics of the Cross

             It is good at times to step back and take a close look at what we really believe and in what we really trust.  It is easy to define ourselves in terms of popular, easy ideas or false understandings of who we really are, of what our lives are about.  Sometimes it takes a shocking word or an unexpected event to wake us up, to open our eyes to reality.   
            The disciples got precisely that kind of disturbing message when Jesus Christ told them that He was not a Messiah Who would set up an earthly kingdom and be successful according to the conventional political standards.  In response to Christ’s prediction of His rejection, death, and resurrection, St. Peter had tried to correct him, to explain that such things would never happen to God’s Anointed One.  The Lord famously corrected St. Peter, saying “Get behind me, Satan, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.”  And that is where today’s gospel reading picks up, with the Savior teaching that to be His disciple requires taking up a cross, denying oneself, and losing one’s life in this world.  He warned His followers that it was no benefit at all to gain the whole world and end up losing one’s own soul.  To live that way is to be ashamed of Christ and turn away from the eternal life that He has brought to the world.
            It was not until after our Lord’s resurrection that the disciples really understood Who the Savior was or what it would mean to take up their crosses for Him.  It was very hard for them to give up the political and military hopes that the Jews of their day had for the Messiah.  To accept that the One they hoped would liberate Israel from the Romans would be rejected by the leaders of Israel and executed by the Romans was extremely difficult for them.  For the disciples to give up their hope for a religious leader who would give them earthly power in a new regime was surely a struggle.  But in order for them to share in the blessing and joy of the Savior’s Kingdom and His victory over the corrupt powers of the world, that is precisely what they had to do.  They had to die to their ultimately self-centered desires for glory and to take up the crosses through which they would participate in the life of the resurrection.   
            In other words, they had to accept a new form of politics that stood in sharp contrast to the ways of their “adulterous and sinful generation.”  They had to embrace the politics of the Cross, which required dying to their cherished hopes and dreams and redefining themselves in light of a Kingdom that does not operate according to conventional standards of hatred, division, and violence.  Whether in first-century Palestine or today, those who desire worldly power often seem happy to do whatever it takes to get that power, regardless of their alleged philosophies or loyalties.  The last thing that they want is to deny themselves, for that would mean putting something before their pursuit of their own exaltation.  Even as the Lord said that it was hard for rich people to enter the Kingdom of God, it is surely also quite difficult for those who rule the world-- or at least their small part of it.  
            As best I can tell, the members of our parish do not rule the world.  We are not powerful politically, at least not in a conventional sense.  We do not gather to worship or place our ultimate trust in earthly rulers and their parties or kingdoms, though we do pray that God will guide our civil authorities according to His will and purposes.  What we have in common, however, is the politics of the Cross, a way of relating to God, one another, and our neighbors that is shaped by Christ-like self-denial.  When we follow that path, we are not ashamed of Him or overcome by the ways of “this adulterous and sinful generation.”  When we live this way, we lose our lives in order to save them.
            Some in our society define “their people” by characteristics such as skin color, ethnicity, country of origin, language, or political opinions. That is obviously not the case in our parish, where people who differ in these ways embrace one another as family.  Some in our world think that everything boils down to how much money or status someone has or does not have, but in our parish we do not define ourselves like that. Whoever can help those in need does so, giving time, attention, food, clothing, and resources to their brothers and sisters.  I have told people many times that as best I can tell there are no divisions in our parish, which is a sign that we are making progress in embracing the politics of the Cross, in dying to the prideful divisions of our corrupt world.  Our answer to society’s problems is not a bunch of words, but our example of what it looks like when perfectly ordinary people take up their crosses in love for Christ and one another.
            Of course, it is much harder to take up our crosses by living chaste and sexually pure lives than it is to make comments about the behavior of other people or simply to say what we are for or against in debates defined by our confused culture.  Fighting our passions and opening our lives to the healing energies of God is a struggle through which we are transformed.  The same is true when we go out of our way to help pregnant women in difficult circumstances welcome their children or when we befriend someone in a nursing home, someone with a mental disability, a prisoner, or a refugee.  When we deny ourselves out of love for the suffering people with whom our Lord identified Himself, we take up our crosses and follow Him in ways that change us and bless others.
            Unlike simply saying that we agree with this or that idea, taking up our crosses actually requires something of us personally in a way that transforms us, in a way that makes our lives offerings to the Lord and our neighbors.  It requires something costly from us and joins us to the ultimate offering that the Son of God made on the Cross.  It has nothing to do with cultivating the hate, fear, and love of domination that so often drive conventional political movements, whether in the first century or today.   It has nothing to do with building ourselves up in self-righteousness so that we may feel justified in condemning those we deem to be our enemies.  In His Cross, Jesus Christ specifically rejected such idolatrous forms of religious politics.  That is why He said “Get behind me, Satan” to St. Peter. 

            Our brothers and sisters in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, and many other places are literally taking up their crosses and making the ultimate witness for Christ at the hands of people who want to kill or enslave everyone who does not agree with their religious views.  The Cross stands in total and complete contradiction to such blood-thirsty idolatry, and we must do all that we can support the suffering members of Christ’s Body in prayer and generosity, as well as to pray for peace and reconciliation throughout the Middle East. We must also not be afraid to take up our much smaller crosses each day in ways that will enable us to participate personally in the great victory over the corrupt powers that our Savior has achieved through His Cross.  As His disciples, that is our true politics, and if we do not live it out, then we will have nothing to say to the world—or at least nothing worth hearing. 

Sunday, September 6, 2015

How to Wear a Wedding Garment Every Day: Homily for the 14th Sunday of Matthew in the Orthodox Church

There are times when we want to make sure that we are dressed appropriately for what we are doing.  Some have to wear uniforms to work or school each day and will be disciplined if their clothing does not meet the standard.  Most people develop a sense of what to wear for everything from athletic events to weddings and funerals.  How we dress says something about our attitude toward what is going on and toward others, especially our host, our employer, or those we are gathering to honor or support.
If that is true for us today, it was all the more so for guests at a wedding in the first century, especially the wedding of the son of a king.  It was the custom in those days for the host to supply each guest with a wedding garment, clothing suitable for the occasion.  Consequently, no one in attendance could have a good excuse for not being dressed in a way that honored the host, the bride and groom, and marriage itself as a sign of God’s blessings from generation to generation.  It is understandable, then, that the king in the parable threw out the guest who was not wearing a wedding garment.  For by neglecting to put on the garment he had been given, he was refusing to show respect for the celebration, much less to take part in it in a worthy manner.
Though we often overlook them, there are many times in the Bible when putting on particular kinds of clothing manifests our relationship with the Lord.  Adam and Eve stripped themselves naked of the divine glory by turning away from God.  As we chant in preparation for Theophany,   Christ appeared in the waters of the Jordan in order to clothe the naked Adam with “the first robe,” to restore fallen humanity and the entire creation as participants in His divine glory. Remember what St. Paul said of baptism, “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” (Gal. 3:27) In the Orthodox baptismal service, the priest puts a white garment on the newly baptized person immediately after he or she comes out of the water with the words “the servant of God is clothed with righteousness…”   Then the chanter sings “Grant to me the robe of light, O Most Merciful Christ our God, Who clothes Yourself with light as with a garment.”
The connection to today’s parable is clear.  The wedding garment is our baptismal garment, our putting on Christ, our participation in the healing and blessing of humanity that He has brought to the world.  The Savior so often used a wedding feast as a sign of the Kingdom of God.  The Book of Revelation presents the marriage banquet of the Lamb as the fulfillment of all things.  Christ is the Groom and the Church is His Bride.  In every Divine Liturgy, we enter mystically into that heavenly celebration, that eternal wedding banquet that is the salvation of the world.
The question for each of us, then, is whether we are living in a way that is appropriate to our exalted identity as participants in this great banquet.  Do we act, think, speak, and believe in ways that fit with the beautiful garments Christ has given us?  Of course, He Himself is our garment for we have put Him on in baptism.  Through the God-Man, we become true participants in the divine nature, nourished by His own Body and Blood.  We are not only guests at the wedding, but the ones being united to the Lord in a deep, binding covenant that changes our very identity.  As always, God’s salvation is personal and organic, fulfilling His gracious intentions ever since He made us male and female in His image and likeness.
The man in the parable had much less responsibility than we do.  He had simply been part of the crowd, the good and bad, invited to a wedding on a given day.  He would have worn the wedding garment for a short period of time, and doing so would have given him no obligations once the celebration was over.  In contrast, our baptismal garment gives us a profound responsibility throughout our lives to live in a way that shines with the divine glory, that radiates the light of Christ to a world so filled with darkness, death, and despair.  By putting on Christ, we accept a calling to do and say only those things that reflect His holiness, that flow from His righteousness and love.   It is not enough simply to be baptized, for we must embrace the new life the Lord has given us and do all that we can to grow up spiritually into “the full stature of Christ.” (Eph. 4:13)
There are many kinds of uniforms that demand something of those who wear them. For example, soldiers and officers of public safety do not represent only themselves, especially when they wear their uniforms.  They must follow codes of behavior that give them legal duties that the rest of us do not have to the point laying down their lives.  When others run away from danger, they must run right into the thick of it.  Athletes and musicians often wear uniforms, which identify them as people who accept a certain discipline and take on a new identity.  Those who do not respect what their uniform stands for do not respect what their organization is about.  In any demanding group endeavor worth its salt, people like that must eventually get with the program or find something else to do with their time and energy.
There is a parallel truth in the Christian life.  We are members of the Body of Christ and must all work together for our collective health and well-being.  A wedding celebration is a social event, and so is the Divine Liturgy.  We do not commune with the Lord as isolated individuals, but as living members of Him and one another.  We show our faithfulness not simply by what we do for a couple of hours on Sunday morning, but most profoundly by whether we live as those who have put on Christ every day of the week, when we are not at Church and are wearing other uniforms or performing other tasks not usually associated with religion.  No matter where we are, how we are dressed, or what we are doing, we still wear the robe of light given us by our Savior.  We are never off-duty or out of season as followers of Jesus Christ, and we must live accordingly.  If we do not intentionally struggle to do so, we disgrace our high calling and risk excluding ourselves from the Kingdom.
At the end of the day, we must extend the holy joy of the Divine Liturgy into everyday life.  That means making our time at work, school, home, and elsewhere an extension of the heavenly banquet, an offering of ourselves and world to the One Who is the source of life itself and all our other blessings.  It means that we must clothe not only one small sliver of ourselves with Christ, but every aspect of our life in the world.   We must not go around half naked spiritually or pretend that holiness concerns only one day of the week.   The Second Adam has come to restore the entire creation, turning the water of our most mundane tasks into the wine of His glory.   He wants us to celebrate and participate in the heavenly banquet every day of our lives.  We will be able to do so only if we act as those who worthily wear a robe of light, as those whose true uniform is the baptismal grown, the wedding garment of heaven.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Overcoming "Bye, Felicia" in the Relationship Between Man and Woman: Response to a Commentary on "Straight Outta Compton"

                When I exercise on weekday mornings, I usually listen to National Public Radio.  A couple of weeks ago the morning program included a commentary about a film I had not heard of previously named  "Straight Outta Compton," which is about a hip hop group I had not heard of previously either.  The film, the commentator said, includes a portrayal of an orgy in which a man throws a naked woman into the hallway of a hotel, locks the door behind her, and says “Bye, Felicia.”  That phrase has become widely used in popular culture, and the commentator thought that the film used it as a punch line to present violence and disrespect towards women as being somehow amusing.
                I will not see the film and will leave it to others to comment on it, but will instead reflect on the  commentary’s silence about the orgy.  Surely, the kind of depravity embodied in a group sex party manifests disrespect for all concerned and especially solidifies the worst male attitudes toward women.   Disease, abortion, divorce, personal sorrow, and further depravity are just of a few of the likely results of engaging in such behavior.  It would not be hard to list many others, several of which would have to be condemned by any fair-minded person committed to the dignity of human beings.   The kinds of sexual behavior portrayed in such a scene lead inevitably to the abuse condemned by the commentator.  Why, then, did  she not state that an orgy is profoundly degrading by its very nature, as it reduces unique human persons to nothing but body parts to be used for momentary pleasure?  What about the long-term effects on those involved and their families?  Are we so accustomed to such debauchery that we no longer notice how awful it is?  
                The commentator’s silence on these points gives me yet another reason to fear that many in our society have become blind to the seriousness of sex in shaping and revealing the character of people.   We are never more vulnerable to one another than we are in this area of life.  How we treat one another there forms us, them, and future generations in powerful ways.  And if we will cheat, abuse, or simply use others sexually, we will take a long step down a path toward forms of corruption that we do not control well at all.  We hand ourselves over to slavery to immediate pleasure in a way that weakens our ability to treat others as anything but instruments for our immediate purposes, whether in the bedroom or elsewhere.
                If it is not clear to that women typically bear the brunt of these affairs, then we need to think again.  Who gets pregnant and is at risk for the tragic choice of abortion?  Who bears the burdens of rearing a child alone?  Who is far more likely to be a victim of physical abuse?  Who is more inclined to view acts of physical intimacy as signs of true personal union?  In the world as we know it, it is the woman.  How strange that so few in our society dare to open their eyes to the misogyny embodied in the current state of sexual ethics or the lack thereof.  The consequences of the promiscuity celebrated as sexual liberation fall heavily on women and their children.  If we condone sexual practices that treat women as nothing more than the sum of their body parts, then should we be surprised when audiences laugh as a woman is thrown naked out of an orgy?    
                As a father, a husband, and a priest who asks daily for the intercessions of the Mother of God, especially for my wife and daughters, the current state of popular culture on these matters sickens me.  Our larger society is apparently without the resources necessary to recognize and respect our God-given capability for intimacy, covenantal fidelity, and bringing beloved children into the world.  We have reduced a most sacred calling to little more than the pursuit of domination and self-centered pleasure so common that many do not even recognize a scandal when they see it.  
                Part of the problem is that we think of ourselves as isolated individuals with rights to do as we please with our bodies.  It is one thing to have a legal system that affirms the liberty of people to do what they freely choose.  It is quite another, however, to pretend that there is nothing more at stake in profound matters of character, identity, and relations with others than the question of whether those involved have consented to participate in certain acts.  People can consent to do all sorts of reprehensible things which are good for no one.  Such things diminish us, however, in ways that we cannot control and never fully know.  It is notoriously difficult to predict the consequences of our actions or to control how we and others will respond to them.  Nowhere is that more true than in the intimate relationship of man and woman.
                Perhaps part of our society’s inability to deal soberly with these matters has something to do with our collective ignorance about the passions. Passions are the disordered relationships we have with just about everything.  They are misdirected energies that pull us this way and that, even when we know and deeply desire to stay on the straight path.  As the origins of the word itself indicate, we suffer weaknesses of soul that make it so easy for so little to punch our buttons and make us feel virtually powerless to resist the temptations that have become most familiar to us.
                Passions go deeper than particular actions we choose freely, at least in a legal sense.  They reflect the state of our souls, of our deepest character, of who we are mostly profoundly in relation to God, neighbor, and self.  People may choose to do this, that, or the other thing in a fashion they understand to be informed and free, but may actually be as helpless as slaves before the force of  their addiction to their own self-centered desires.  To continue to act in such ways puts us in a downward spiral of degradation that destroys freedom in all but a formal sense. It is like exercising the freedom to abuse a substance until we are addicted to it, which surely makes us much less than free. 
                As shocking as it sounds in our current cultural setting, sexual intimacy with another makes us “one flesh” with that person.  St. Paul said that was the case even for those who have relations with prostitutes.  (1 Cor. 6: 16) By its very nature for those created male and female in the image and likeness of God, the “one flesh” union is a blessing intended for our healing, fulfillment, and growth in holiness.   It is no accident that Christ so often used a wedding feast for an image of the Kingdom of God or that the eschatological vision of Revelation culminates in the marriage banquet of the Lamb.  He is the Groom and the Church is His Bride.
               In the Orthodox wedding service, husband and wife wear the crowns of the Kingdom, which are also martyrs’ crowns for those who die to self out of love for the Lord and one another.   All of this is for the healing of passions, sexual and otherwise, by directing our desires ultimately to God.  The point is not to destroy our desires, but to purify them.  True Christian teaching on sex is in no way negative, but truly sublime and holy.       
                In contrast, those who see nothing much at stake in promiscuity or orgies are blind to the power of the passions to corrupt even the greatest blessings and joys of life.  In the name of liberation, they fall into a bondage from which it is difficult to escape.  Their sights are set far too low. True respect for the dignity of women arises from the healing of passions that corrupt intimate relationships, which requires identifying and correcting their failings.  Passing over them in silence does no good at all.    If we want to get beyond the abuses associated with “Bye, Felicia,” we need to start by redirecting our desires to the Lord Who invites man and woman together to become participants in the heavenly wedding banquet.  There could be no more positive view of the “one flesh” union  of male and female.