Professor of the University οf Athens
Family and family life education between tradition and modernisation in contemporary Greece
1 Contemporary Society and Family in Greece
1.1 Characteristic Transformations of Actual Greek Society
Greece belongs to a complex of countries which have experienced, during the last 60 years and especially after World War II, deep social, economic, cultural changes and transformations.
Α fundamental characteristic is the country's urbanisation. The rural, peasant, population is diminishing quite rapidly and it already includes people who do not earn a living by agriculture. This part of the population has already accepted the way of life of urban centres.
The development of the road network and the increasing number of cars has helped the population's mobility with incessant moving, internal and external migrations, and tourism - whether native or foreign. This mobility is linked to the increase of employment and important increases in income. Women's entrance into professional employment also added to the working potential and incomes. Consequently the country, by its industrialisation has now entered the process of producing and consuming a great number of goods.
Greek society has followed the Western model of affluent and consuming societies. This can be assessed by a rapid look at Greek television with its exorbitant number of advertisements.
Of course, the touristic orientation of Greece has played no small part. Lacarrière has pointed out: "What really impressed me is the exaggerated importance given to tourism by the country's life; this tends to transform completely the life of small communities. The problem of tourism, for a small country like Greece, is to achieve selling its sun without selling its soul."
Ι would like to add some more points concerning the nature of Greek society's transformations. First a particular characteristic of the contemporary Greek citizen which is his extreme sensitivity to whatever he considers his rights as a citizen and his claims to them. Linked to this we have the actual revision of many parts of the existing jurisdiction by state institutions following the pressure from various social groups and the tendency towards the creation of a State of Justice. Last Ι would point out that the State has undertaken an educational task for larger strata of the Greek population (for instance in what concerns issues of public health; this task is linked to a series of recent laws).
1.2 Characteristics of the Actual Greek Family
Obviously, all these transformations and these new situations mentioned have not left the institution of marriage and the family unchanged. Unfortunately, the phenomenon "modern Greek family" has not been sufficiently examined scientifically so as to permit us to make precise and necessary correlations between the social transformations and their influence on family life and human relations and to pinpoint the factors that have led to the new types of family. We can, however, rapidly revise the characteristics of this new family.
The Greek family has changed in size; it is smaller and the type of "conjugal family" has prevailed, consisting of two generations (parents and children). The extended family appears less often. Birth rates are decreasing and the country faces a slight demographic problem owing to the population’s decline, similar to the problem faced by other European countries. The decline of the population is conscious and planned; couples control their fecundity, even by abortion methods. Parallel to this, there is a decline in the mortality rate - that is untimely deaths. This has led to the increase of the life of the family - nearly doubling from 20 to 40 years if we consider that marriages are now contracted at younger ages. Marriage rates have also increased, that is the number of marriages per l.000 inhabitants of marrying age, by comparison to pre-war rates. Furthermore the frequency of marriages has increased. While we have increased divorce rates we also have second marriages of divorced people (2.5% of the total of contracted marriages).
Something more which is impressive is the shifting of roles inside the family. Parental roles have been limited a great deal, compared to older times - on the other hand the conjugal role is extended which means that as persons are now marrying at about the age of 25, this role will be extended for about 50 years. Who, however, has prepared these people for such a long period of life together? The functions of the family have dwindled - many have been undertaken by the State or other agents. The weight of the family is concentrated on the affective ties of its members.
Another observed phenomenon is that of families which consist of one parent - more frequently the mother than the father - living alone with his or her child or children. There are divorced or unmarried mothers. Another recent phenomenon is that of families consisting of grandparents living with their grandchildren, the parents having emigrated to Western Europe, particularly West Germany.
Finally we have the cases of unmarried couples who live together owing To the impossibility for one or both to get a divorce and contract a new marriage. In many cases these "illegal" couples have children and create new families. Many of these belong to the category of long-time separated individuals who have abandoned the previous conjugal roof and await the "automatic" dissolution of their first marriage after the lapse of some years. One can also include in these free cohabitations many student couples however the marriage of students increases every year as the prolongation of the years of studies makes legalisation of these relationships necessary.
2. Tension between Traditional and Modern Family
Continuing this introduction it would be useful to pinpoint the meaning given by young people to the traditional forms of family life and in particular the forms prevailing in the Church's domain. How do they interpret these forms and what is their criticism of them? Are there any theological, pastoral and educational guidelines we could propose which could help out churches in their pastoral activities with and for the family? Ι will attempt to propose some answers following these problems.
2.1 Questioning of the Traditional Forms of Family Life by Young People
The questioning of the acceptability by modern individuals of the models offered by the church for marriage and the family is more and more frequent. The demand for modernising traditional ecclesiastical forms is imperative. Many young people could maintain that the text concerning the church's position on marriage, that is the wedding service, bears no spiritual relation to them. The church, with this text, tries to transmit an old-fashioned image of the family structure - a rural, patriarchal model. This model is linked to by-gone forms of socio-economic organisation. Such anachronistic models are not only present in the ecclesiastical texts concerning marriage and the family. They are found in all the moments of the church's life - in her texts and symbols, the images accompanying them (hymnology, lives of the Saints, illustrations, holy canons, etc.). Furthermore they are to be found repeated in more recent texts sent by the church concerning her view in circulars, festive letters, answers to definite questions etc.
However by this stereotyped transmission of outdated models without the necessary critical re-adaptation, the church finally loses her chance to gain contact with young or older people who are sensitized essentially to the issues of love, sex, relationships, marriage and the family.
At this point it would probably be timely to observe whether these criticisms are not the fruit of a stereotyped, indiscriminately repeated conception of the church's teaching on family marriage and the traditional models.
This observation does certainly not have an apologetic character or one of defence of the seemly traditional against the seemly modern or modernised. It originates much more from a disposition towards self-awareness and research of the identity of ecclesiastic teachings on marriage and the family.
2.2 Avoiding Perilous Identifications
It would be amiss to identify the traditional family, which is the family that stems from tradition, with the orthodox family, which closely follows the Orthodox Church’s conception of marriage and the family. It is however nearly certain that the Greek traditional family has been imbued with the help of the church, by the orthodox truths and has shown it. Equally amiss would it be, if we identified the actual-modern with the orthodox family. The modern family in this transitional period it is experiencing in an ever-changing society, might project demands or achievements which can find foundation and legitimation in the spirit of Gospel and Christian tradition. Such demands might be man/woman equality in wedlock, free sharing and expressing love between consorts and the rest of the family, the concern of parents for their children, a just distribution of duties, rights and roles inside the family.
This new concept of the relationship between the sexes may not be due to any Christian inspiration or motivation. One cannot however ignore this positive evolution. Realising these aims inside a modern family will not automatically make it Christian or Orthodox.
What however can be done is to ignore the qualitative change of these two notions: the traditional and the modern family. As such they are neither positive nor negative. Undoubtedly there should be a fuller and analytical description of the characteristics of each type of family (structural, functional, etc.). We would most certainly ascertain a certain degree of tension between the traditional and the modern family which is merely the stamp and the transfer of the existing tension between traditional and modern society.
Traditional family presents itself as tested by the passing of time, structurally crystallized, functionally adequate in the framework of a traditional society.
Modern family is undergoing a period of transition in the framework of a rapidly changing society. The roles of the members of a traditional family and its functions are under constant revision and see themselves transferred to other institutions and organisms. The roles and functions of the modern family are in search of new forms and contents and are characterized by a relative plasticity and suppleness - also by uncertainty.
We must however guard ourselves against separating in an absolute manner the traditional and the modern family. Many functions of the family that presents a "modern" facade also characterize traditional families (for instance the role of the wife as advisor of the husband). Other phenomena which we had hoped would disappear in contemporary times appear quite frequently in the modern family, for instance the ill-treatment of women and children.
What however is urgent in my opinion concerning the aforementioned problems of the young is to see whether this questioning of the church's family models is just or not. To do this a catharsis of the conception that many have of the traditional Greek family, when identified with the Christian Orthodox conception is necessary. This will help to clarify what is particular to the Christian Orthodox tradition on the subject and therefore transmissible by the channels of education and what is cultural, temporal and therefore not transmissible, at least as Orthodoxy is concerned.
It is, for instance, inadmissible to project or to transmit as a Christian Orthodox idea, the figure of the paterfamilias -padre padrone- when the authentic father model is still that of the pluri-dimensional God-Father "from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its true name" (Eph. 3, l5). The examples can be multiplied: we shall give one more, stressing that it is not possible to give the man-head of the family as a model to imitate without evangelical criteria, that is, without giving him a series of characteristic elements and actions that would bring him close to the head of the Church Christ (Eph. 5, 21-33). Another untimely identification would be that of the authoritarian upbringing and slavish submission of children, with a Christian conception and an example to be imitated in intra-generational relationships. On the contrary, the fact that the church emancipates young people since early age towards its manifestations, confession, monastic life, etc., makes us revise the prevailing opinion that ecclesiastic education is identified with unreasonable discipline, lack of freedom, coercion.
The sense of responsibility with which the church considers children in such issues, could lead to useful thoughts and decisions for the transfer of such attitudes to other sectors of upbringing, especially in the family, which suffers from the over-protective attitude of parents towards their children with its well-known consequences.
Α third kind of tension appears in family education. It results from the concentration of the tension between traditional and modern society inside the family itself. Family education is actually the field of numerous tensions and clashes.
The questions are inexorable and implacable:
(a) Which type of family is out young going to have to prepare themselves for?
(b) What roles will its members play?
(c) What will its aims be?
(d) What will be the essence, the methods and the agents of family education?
The church, even the family, are accepted by society as agents or will there be others, such as ideologies, political parties, school, which will undertake education responsibility, under the condition, of course, that we will not witness the burial service of the family following the obituary so many people hurry to announce?
The answers to these questions depend on the reflections and explanations that took place in the previous discussion on traditional/modern family, the point where they converge, their rupture, as related to the Orthodox conception of marriage and the family. This point of converging, this rupture, is where we have to look for the transcending of the polarisation and tension between the traditional and the modern family, by searching for what is essential and actual hic et nunc, with the biblical conception of time as kairos. This point can be found in the framework of a dynamic model of marriage and family, the model of the "little church" structured on the dimensions of the large church. The family, as a "little church" will be transformed into a transfigurated family, just as the church is transformed into a transfigurated world, a sign of God's reign, a space decorated with older and recent treasures belonging there (Matthew l3, 52).
The existence of such a model which would bar any change a priori, will help us to avoid the temptation of subjugating modern marriage and family and to protect the education by a "model of traditional Orthodox family education". Such a model does obviously not exist and it would be hazardous to look for it. In fact there would be the risk of forcing on family life out prefabricated moulds, thus taking away much of it diversity and freshness.
To develop a dynamic model of Orthodox family and family life education, the approach of traditional family life with its diversities would help a lot. It would be also helpful the thought that the other way of Christian life, virginity, has many forms and ways of exercise. Here too, in marriage, what stands out is the diversity in the ways of activating the gifts and viewing marriage itself as a gift (charisma). This conception urges on the creative development of gifts and talents in this direction.
3 Challenges of the l980s towards the Church
This diversity in the forms of marriage, this pluralism of structures and functions of family life which Christian couples and the church are called upon to realise creatively, are going to face the ideological pluralism we have already mentioned as a characteristic of modern Greek society. The efforts made in the framework of Christian churches will have, or should have, as a basic condition "the same spirit of faith" (cf. 2 Cor. 4, l3) which will constitute the specific difference towards these "challenges" from society to the field of marriage and the family.
The dimension of time, related to space will have an essential role in the arrangement of marriage. We have already mentioned time as a trial period. The abandoning - ill-willed only? - of the common living space will be definitively chosen as a cause for the demand of divorce. Ι foresee also a further facilitation for the process of divorce. Surely in the draft of laws for changing family legislation there will soon be an article concerning divorce by common consent. Many people ask themselves, if common consent is necessary for contracting a marriage, why should it not be enough for its dissolution?
The challenges do not concern only the variations in the living together of men and women - if we ignore the efforts of homosexuals for the recognition of their cohabitation - or the ways of contracting and dissolving marriages. They will also concern the power, function and role structures inside the family. Already in the drafts of law mentioned, such changes are being attempted with support from one side and attacks from the other.
These challenges will also be directed against the other members of the family, mainly the children. Even if the term "paternal authority" has been changed to "parental care" what share does a child have in the decision-making concerning it? And if parents can divorce, could not a child divorce its parents? Already in Greece the process for creating a legal service protecting and safeguarding children’s' rights has started by the initiative of the members of the Executive Committee for the Year of the Children. Of course we say this on condition that there will be children in the family - their number is irrelevant in the Western World at least. There is a tendency towards decreasing birth rates. The decision of the Greek state to protect and help families with many children illustrates this- families with many children are considered as those having at least four.
We must also ascertain the expected tendencies towards voluntary planned childlessness, marriages without children, couples who exclude the reproductive function from their perspectives and this not only when one or both consorts have physiological difficulties in conceiving children. Here we are talking mainly about the challenge constituted by the denial of children’s place in marriage which makes some people affirm that we are advancing "towards a society without children".
The advances in the field of genetics will have more and more importance in the decisions of future consorts or parents, as will science in general and particularly that which concerns reproduction, rational family planning, considered at present as an inalienable right of human beings. Scientific progress is not only used for birth control but also for regulating fecundity so as to allow sterile couples, or people with genetic problems, to conceive and give birth to children. Artificial insemination also constitutes a challenge together with the test-tube babies and "genetic surgery" which over-comes genetic defects. We are thus faced with two existing attitudes; complete, absolute denial of children and their acquisition at any expense by any possible way. All other attitudes vary between these two. Another challenge, this one extreme, is the existence of children outside the institution of marriage; not the children of "integrated" couples, or those of "unfortunate" mothers or unmarried mothers, but the phenomenon of voluntary unmarried maternity, women who deny marriage and companionship and will even resort to artificial insemination.
It is foreseeable that for all these issues and problems there will be corresponding legal, social and financial adjustments and accommodation. These measures will reflect the plurality and diversity of ideologies, mentalities and credos which exist in contemporary Greek society and life, with all the possible internal and external influences.
Owing, however, to the complexity of these problems and their adjustments, man in the l980s, having lost his traditional field of advice (such as the family in older times), will have to turn elsewhere for counsel and help.
We have pointed out the continually educational and counselling role of the State with the creation of consulting centres for matters relating to marriage and the family, with the forming of experts for educative purposes for the people. As well as the State, other institutions such as Family Planning Committees, the Hellenic Society of Eugenics and Human Genetics, Women's Movements, communities and municipalities, politically-coloured clubs, Christian movements, etc., have undertaken similar advisory tasks.
It would be a pity therefore, if the church did not continue her pedagogic, pastoral and advisory work, close to the people on subjects concerning marriage and the family. With its discreet and discerning presence and the adequate preparation of its staff, it would help people who have negative, hostile or indifferent attitudes towards it, to clarify the various opinions that exist about family education and sex education - illuminating them from another viewpoint which might prove salutary for the isolated individual, marriage, the family, society and the State.
Professor of the University οf Athens
Marriage and the family: Models and comparisons within the orthodox tradition
Paper presented at the IVth Hellenic-Iranian Symposium, which took place in Athens in the Old Amphitheatre of Athens Medical School, University of Athens, 12-13 November 1997 with the title: “Family and Family Values in the Islamic and the Christian (Orthodox) World” (english translation: Marina Robb). For the needs of the symposium I transcribed composed thoughts that Ι have set down from time to time developing the Orthodox teaching about marriage and the family.
Models and Comparisons
Man moves through life always having need of examples, models, standards, ideals, and comparisons. He has to find support somewhere in order to see or understand something else. From the familiar he proceeds to the dissimilar and gradually draws near to and perceives that which is distant. He uses this way of his own accord. Man attempts to perceive the unknown through the known that which is distant through that which is near. Τhe phrases: as, as if, such as, like, in the manner of, are the order of the day. He uses the same methοd when he wants to make the same things understandable to others. The meaning of the model or of comparisons does not only serve the understanding of another thing but it is laid down as a target to be aimed at and accomplished. In addition, in the latter case, we are obliged to find the suitable means to achieve it.
That is to say, when we, in the Orthodox tradition, want to determine what marriage and the family is we may speak of and use the expression where, marriage and the family is defined as a little church or as a mystery of love. St. John Chrysostom says «and the home is a little church» or «also a mystery of love». Confirmations simply do nοt remain. 1t is either one thing or the other. At the same time an order, a command, an intention is raised. «Make your home a church». «The home is a Church made up of men and women». The way the matter is dealt with does not allow for objections: «Do not think that for you the man to be alone or for her the woman to be alone is an obstacle». “Wherever there are two gathered together in my name,” He says, “I am there in the midst of them”. If some one becomes hesitant or surprised by the height of the thing put before him, despite this the surprise is turned into a demand, to a disposition of will to find the means, the way. He heard that marriage is a «mystery of love» and that St. John Chrysostom locates the mysterious character of marriage within love. He is not satisfied with this he is perplexed and asks: «We have heard that we should love; we seek to learn how to accomplish this» (St. Basil the Great). Τhe comparison proves him to the likeness and he asks himself how he will manage it.
I am obliged at this point to point out that the models may alternate and one may indicate the other and vice versa. 1n all that we have said thus far it seems that the type, model of marriage and the family is the Church and therefore worthy of imitation. At the same time marriage is a «mystery and type of a great thing». « 1t is a type of the Church and of Christ» stresses St. John Chrysostom. He even reaches the point where he argues that when a man and a woman come together, «when they congress they are not an image without a soul, neither an image of something on the earth, but that made by God», they depict God himself. This alternation of models is wonderfu1. The above can also be found in the Old Testament. Marriage in the Old Testament symbolises God's relationship with his people, « ... the comparison of the relations between God and people, with marriage» are commonplace. (Hosea, Jeremiah, Isaiah and others).
It is characteristic that while in the Old Testament marriage symbolises the love and relationship of God towards Israel, in the New Testament the love of Christ towards the Church constitutes the model (image) of the love of a husband towards his wife. It is this that is characterised as alternation. Besides, the procedure of the coming and going of models is well-known. Α two-way communication functions so that one model can be transferred and applied in another area, on another level. Thus, we move from the material to the spiritual, from the soul to the body and so on. The same thing occurs with the concept «father». We are usually flattered to think that the concept of God the father was founded on natural paternity. Whereas St. Paul the Apostle is categorical. Α genuine paternal model is the manifold form of God-the Father «from whom the whole family (Gk. patria) on heaven and earth is named» (Eph. 3:15). The examples could be greatly added to from other areas of life apart from marriage.
The two unions
Let us return to the two unions that we mentioned: man-woman, Christ-Church. One unity surrounds the other. The mystery of the union of a man and a woman anticipates the great mystery, at the same time both a secret and enigma, which, as we saw, in the Orthodox tradition is called a «mystery of love».
Living within marriage that is a mystery of love, the man and the woman are called to open up to the dimensions of the Church and to build their own little church together. This opening is an interesting proposition that can mark out many paths in the area of the family. In this area of life, the Church realises the characteristics of herself in a particular way. In the Creed they are defined is a distinct way. «I believe» we say, «in one, holy, apostolic and catholic Church, since we have declared the same faith in God in Trinity. This is not a chance bond, but it depicts deep states, such as unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity, which do not only define the Church, but marriage and the family too, since marriage is a «little church». In this way the couple is called to be marked out in a many dimensional being.
The dimensions of the Church, i.e. unity, holiness, apostolicity and catholicity, become openings of the little church, with targets the deep unity of man and wife, the close bond between the couple and God (holiness), which does not have just a moral meaning here. We should understand holiness at this point by its biblical meaning, where holy is that which is set apart to be dedicated somewhere. That is to say that it has an ontological import and not a moral one. Besides, that is why the people of God were set apart. Thus the couple is holy, since they are set apart. This special twosome is bound to another union, as happens with the Holy Trinity. With the concept of catholicity we define the couple's connection with all the other couples, when they create another type of relationship within the framework of deep unity. Finally, with the concept of apostolicity we denote the couple going out into the world, when the produce children and other works of love, thus utilising, and not hiding, the talent of love which they hold. I would like us to hold on to the concept of a marriage as a «little church».
Marriage has, then, four basic targets, unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity, which are a whole life program. Α program that is not theoretical, but rather has much engagement in the personal life of the couple, as well as with others. This opening- attainment is not something that is achieved in just one single moment, «once and for all» that is automatically accomplished by the reading of a church service, neither does it depend on the disposition of the two participants. It is a life program, as I said, a long-term one, which never ends at any time or in any place and its beginning, should be found well before the point that looks like the starting point. That is to say, it is a struggle as the ancient sophist Antiphon said: «marriage is a great struggle (Gk.agon) for man». That is to say it concerns a mobilisation to exertion, where we must achieve certain things struggle that does not only have rights and demands, but obligations too.
Married saints and monastic ideals
This theological truth is not an empty letter, without a response on the part of the faithful. This theology becomes a truth incorporated and lived out first and foremost with the existence of married saints. The whole history of the Church and especially our Orthodox hagiography makes us see that their marriages in one way or another became «a place of theology» and theophany.
Throughout all the centuries of the pastoral practice of the Church occupied itself with showing the couple that path, accompanying them in the manifold relations in that they should open themselves to. The truth in the Church is always proposed in order to be lived out. That is why marriage and the family is a pre-eminent object of ecclesial pastoral care. «Flesh from her f1esh,» the little Church is incorporated within the Church like a living cell. Thus it is rediscovered by its natural surrounding of increase and propulsion. Placed within the great mystery of the Church by means of the sacrament (mystery) of marriage, the little church is developed and grows within the life of the Church, which is given life by the Holy Spirit. Thus the couple has the ability to advance day by day in their spiritual life that is not a life immaterialised but is lived out right before the Holy Spirit. And surely preserves all the characteristics of traditional Orthodox spirituality. They participate in the life of the Eucharist and of worship, exercising the virtues within the whole breadth of human dynamism having a feeling for the presence of God. They have an intense consciousness of the relative and non-absolute character of their bond and foretaste the Kingdom. They leave no aspect uncultivated. Neither the liturgical, mystical aspect, nor the ascetic, nor even the eschatological aspect.
They may even adopt the principles of the so-called monastic virtues: of obedience, as obedience to everydayness, of virginity, as moderation and of poverty as being poor in Spirit. It is easily understood that within such a spiritual climate ah aspects of married life: social, biological, sexual etc. are sanctified in their fullness. Certainly we should ask ourselves here if this «manifold opening» of the couple constitutes a real propulsion or burden?
The undertaking is difficult; the targets have no end. How can you put unity, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity of your marriage and your family into practice? You are bound to a task whose aims are unlimited.
However, this task is familiar; it is not alien to us. Now is the time to remember that by proposing the Church as a model for the little church we touch upon the fundamental ecclesiality of marriage, which is considered to be a symbolic image of the Church. Tradition does not propose that spouses attain an objective goal outside of themselves. They are invited to build their little domestic Church. It is more important to keep the dynamic view of the model, a view that presents the Church as an unfinished building, i.e. as something still happening, extending itself into time and space. The acquisition of the characteristics of the Church by the little church is obviously a long and continuous process. On their journey the spouses will always achieve temporary goals. Here the image that is put before us by the etymology of the word «telos» (τέλος, i.e. end, goal, fulfilment, completion, perfection) in the ancient Greek language could give us some idea about these ends within give us some idea about these ends without ends, the unending end. The word «telos» comes from the root word that defines the point in the field where the farmer makes a half turn in order to open a new furrow. The image speaks for itself. It allows us to see a wealth of terminals, which are at the same time new starting points.
Such a dynamic view of the model may certainly make as more realistic when confronting various difficulties and more optimistic in our tendency for the better on our journey. Whereas, contrarily, a static view of the ideal could even discourage us from taking the first step.
Certainly is not the time right now •to talk about the difficulties in the realisation of the model. Difficulties on the one part that are a consequence of the spreading of the Orthodox message about marriage; and on the other part difficulties obstacles that the couple must jump over to receive that message and to transcribe it to everyday life. They are hindered by pressures of a personal order and by ties to the social surroundings that they belong to.
It is true that couples undergo some difficulty in recognising the dimensions of the Church and their indicators within their own marriage. From one point of view the situation within society has become annoying for all those who want to work towards the little church; the state sometimes burdens this hazard by promoting various law proposals, whose seriousness is questionable.
Familial-ecclesial model of pastoral care.
God is Father, the Logos of God is Son and the Church is called «Mother Church». The Virgin Mary is not only the Mother of God but also the mother of us all. The priest is called father, the abbess as mother and the presbytera (priest's wife) is known in Russia as «little mother» (matushka). We do really find ourselves before a «family constellation» when we want to describe the relationships between Christians within the Church. Besides, it is not by chance that we are called brothers and sisters in Christ, with Christ himself as the first-born brother, who is the Way leading us to the Father. Our Lord Himself said «Whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother» (Math. 12:50).
This, of course, entails various obligations but also rights. The bishop, the priest and the members of the parish must take on, even supplementary, the role of the family. This great big family takes it upon itself to cure the weak and sick and to supplement that which is missing from the little family. This does not mean that it replaces or substitutes the natural family. It will try to add to, but also to remind, the little family, that its place is with the great family of the Church. From this viewpoint whatever offer of help and pastoral support is established ecclesiologically and opens itself to the dimensions of the Church.
Certainly, at the end of this paper, and having analysed in succession, as much as the timescale of our symposium allowed for our subject, we should ask ourselves how much we can explain a world that becomes more and more complicated, remaining with the old models. It is a difficult question. The answer is indubitably eased when the necessary attention is given to the f1exibility and the dynamism of the model put forward by tradition. Something that is demonstrative as shown by its history of after types and comparisons.
Professor of the University οf Athens
«VERITATIS SPLENDOR»: an Orthodox reaction
This article is translated from the French, Language Service, WCC. Published in “The Ecumenical Review” Vol. 48, No 2, 1996, p. 155-157.
Besides the traditions which it shares with other churches, each church has its own tradition and its own way of linking the gospel message to the application of God's commandments in everyday life. It also has different means of making its teaching known. The Roman Catholic Church's preferred way of doing this is by encyclical letters from its supreme pontiff to the bishops or to the clergy and the people of God as a whole.
There are occasions when the conduct of Christians is falling short of what God commands. The church then declares its intention to set forth the truths of the gospel so that those truths are not lost. The Greek word for "truth" (aletheia) consists of a privative prefix "a" followed by a derivation from the word for "forget" (lethe): truth is thus something that we do not allow to be forgotten. It is a basic duty of bishops to remind people of truth.
Each church judges for itself when it is appropriate for it to issue such a reminder. It then acts according to its traditional procedures for evaluating situations, individuals and their actions. Bearing in mind the particular way in which the Roman Catholic Church habitually expresses itself, other churches should not expect from it an Orthodox, Anglican or Protestant document. Difficulties are no doubt to be expected if one church takes up a position different from that of other churches on a moral issue such as the morality of the family, for example -- all the more so if a particular document in which it takes such a position also includes criticism implicitly condemning the position of other churches which do not follow the same line.
In any case it would be desirable if, in questions of morality, which usually generate tension, preliminary consultation could take place so as to reduce the possibility of opposing positions. This would avoid giving the impression to the world that there is deep disagreement between us as churches, despite the fact that we all have the gospel as our common starting point. I make this suggestion of preliminary discussions before the publication of a document such as an encyclical out of the concern that there should be a common witness irrespective of our divisions as separate churches.
Existing divisions due to doctrinal differences may also be affected, because of the close link between doctrine and ethics. Human ethics are based on the doctrinal truths of the faith. It is thus in a way natural that churches which differ on doctrinal issues should differ in their approach to moral and ethical issues as well. But differences which are not inevitable should be avoided or eliminated.
We should note further that differences and opposing positions can exist within one and the same church. We must not forget that the encyclical Veritatis Splendor was published in order to give concrete guidance in confronting dissensions and differing opinions on moral issues, and particularly on issues of family and sexual morality. Of course, the positions of the Roman Catholic Church are not criticized only by Roman Catholic theologians: they are also criticized by theologians of other confessions. However, it does not seem to me that the encyclical is aimed at them. Veritatis Splendor is addressed to an internal, Roman Catholic readership, although its message is for the whole world.
The encyclical is concerned to base human conduct on "natural law" and on "conscience", and it does this by referring to the close relationship between "freedom and law", "conscience and truth", by distinguishing between "mortal sin" and venial sin", and by distancing itself from a position which gives priority to "fundamental choice" regarding "specific kinds of behaviour". By doing this it emphasizes the concepts of "intrinsic evil" and "universal and unchanging moral norms". All these are key concepts in the traditional moral teaching of the Roman Catholic Church.
A consistent approach to moral issues does not and cannot change from one moment to another. It seems that concepts such as "natural law" and "conscience" can find positive acceptance in wider human societies and groups who live without revelation and can in a certain way broach moral issues through logical thought and intellectual reasoning. That is why the Roman Catholic Church is careful to maintain arguments of this kind in its approach.
In any case, such a way of thinking does not narrow the foundations of morality. Moral conduct is strengthened by an appeal to revelation and can in a certain way broach moral issues through logical thought and intellectual reasoning. That is why the Roman Catholic Church is careful to maintain arguments of this kind in its approach.
In any case, such a way of thinking does not narrow the foundations of morality. Moral conduct is strengthened by an appeal to revelation and by stressing the Christocentric nature of all morality.
It is helpful to note at this point that the church as a whole has a sure conception and also a deep conviction of what is right and true in doctrinal and moral issues. Arguments may be different or may change from one age to another, but that does not mean that a change in argument may diminish or change doctrine or be regarded as a retreat to earlier positions. Following on from that, after using logical and other forms of argument, the church puts forward motives, incentives and support to help people to conduct their lives aright. It suggests resources from where the faithful may draw strength which will subsequently reinforce decisions and their implementation.
We find this tactic in the encyclical Veritatis Splendor. On the one hand, it presents logical, rational arguments giving a foundation for moral conduct and refuting the arguments of moral theologians who take up a contrary position. On the other hand, we see an attempt to edify and reinforce moral behaviour by its Christocentric perspective, by its reference to martyrdom and by its insistence on the need for morality in the renewal of social and political life and in responding to the demands of the “new evangelization”.
The encyclical as a whole is a presentation of basic Christian truths, and it is satisfying to find in it the gospel message addressed to an age which has largely abandoned gospel ideals. Its contents offer an opportunity for detailed study of the biblical texts and of the opinions quoted from the great fathers of the church who are universally accepted, such as St Augustine, St Gregory of Nyssa, St Cyril of Alexandria, St Ambrose of Milan, St Andrew of Crete and others.
Despite these positive elements, one does have the impression that in the encyclical all moral problems seem to have been given once-and-for-all solutions. Such an all-encompassing approach does not leave sufficient room for different ways of tackling these issues.
However, the pastoral sections, with their edifying exhortations, do leave room for hope, although the pastoral approach finally yields to the all-too-evident inflexible logic. All this does not mean that the decisions of the church should be labelled as unduly lax or unduly rigorous. Law is not opposed to gospel, to grace: it is expressed in the spirit of the gospel, of grace, just as the human mind (nous, logos) does not act independently but within the human heart (kardia) itself.
The truth of the gospel finds bodily expression in each human being according to the gifts and talents which have been given to each of us. The church, through oikonornia, that “extraordinary weapon of salvation”, acts “economically” (kat’oikonomian) in a benevolent way to reconcile and settle differences. In such cases the church does not leave the faithful alone to solve these problems by themselves. It refers them to their spiritual fathers and confessors, who, with the discernment which is distinctively theirs, carry out their pastoral work with knowledge and intuition, an intuition as to what is possible, improbable or impossible.
As a basic principle there remains the saying of our Lord that “the sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). For Jesus, the law is to be at the service of human life. We are fallen human beings from the beginning and we continue to fall. But by the grace of God it is also possible for us to rise again after each fall. We may claim that human beings are rational, reasonable animals, and also animals on the way to becoming divine (zoon theoumenon), created in the image of God and consequently to be like God (Gen. 1:26).
These last remarks are an attempt to outline an Orthodox approach to moral issues and a way of thinking that reflects the thoughts of the fathers on morality. However, the aim of this brief survey has not been to give a detailed description of this way of thinking, but rather to offer some comments from an Orthodox point of view on a first reading of Veritatis Splendor, which sheds light, the light of Christ, on some decisive points concerning family and sexual morality. My concern has been to read and react to it in a spirit of truth and love (Eph. 4:15).