The Consequences of Fulfilling Strict Monastic Vows
The Scriptures teach that God created the first marriage. Since He created man as a sexual being, God brought the woman, who was created from Adam’s own body, to him in order to foster intimate, sexual relationship. God also created all other creatures as males and females in order for them to procreate offspring. It is well known that the sexual urge of animals drives them to procreate. Although man is considered part of the animal world, yet some experts believe that man’s sexual instinct as the strongest of all natural instincts (even stronger than the instinct for self-preservation). This is why the Lord said:
“It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.”
The apostle Paul affirmed that marital union involves intimacy between a man and a woman without restrictions, in order that one of the spouses might not have fallen into temptation to commit adultery:
“Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
God makes it clear through Scripture that marriage became valid once marital vows were made (in the presence of the local community, national, or religious establishment), and not from the moment of sexual relations. Namely, the Bible says: “They shall be one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) Many people get married in their old age, as do disabled people (with physical or mental handicaps). These two groups of people might never enter into sexual relations. However, their marriage is as valid before God as it is for younger and
healthy, sexually active persons. Every marriage is valid and extremely important before God. God’s commandment states: “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” When the Pharisees, who believed that divorce was permissible in all kinds of situations, asked Jesus what a man unhappy with his wife should do, Jesus gave a very clear answer:
“The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?’ And He answered and said to them, ‘Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
According to the Lord’s words, marriage as a divine institution is inseparable, because the spouses become one being, “one body”. Divorce is possible only in the event of adultery by the other spouse (Matthew 5:31-32) – although even then, the Bible does not command divorce (1 Cor. 7:11). However, in opposition of these biblical principles, the history of the Eastern Orthodox Church under the influence of monastic philosophy and an unbiblical “gospel” shows many instances of married men who abandoned their wives and children forever and went into the desert and monasteries. The examples are too numerous to list. Let us cite a few from the Prologue of Okhrid written by Bishop Nikolai:
“THE VENERABLE THEOPHANES THE CONFESSOR… He possessed great wealth and splendor. But all of this lost its worth for Theophanes when the Lord Christ began to reign in his soul. He resisted his own marriage and, when he was compelled to marry, succeeded in counseling his bride to live together in chastity, as brother and sister. As soon as his parents died, his wife entered a convent and he, a monastery.” (March 12)
“SAINT ALEXIS, THE MAN OF GOD… He had an only son, Alexis, who, when he had reached the age of maturity, was compelled to marry. But on that same night, he left not only his wife but the home of his father as well. Alexis boarded a boat and arrived at the city of Edessa in Mesopotamia… Alexis clothed himself in the dress of a beggar and, as such, lived in the city for seventeen years, continually praying to God in the vestibule of the Church of the Holy Mother of God.” (March 17)
“THE VENERABLE ZACHARIAS… Zacharias was the son of Carion the Egyptian. Zacharias left his wife and children and became a monk.” (March 24)
“SAINT NICETAS THE CONFESSOR… Nicetas was born in Bithynia in the city of Caesarea. His father, Filaret, after the death of his spouse, was tonsured a monk while Nicetas remained with his paternal grandmother.” (April 3)
“VENERABLE NICETAS, THE STYLITE… Nicetas left his home, wife, property and entered a monastery near Pereyaslavl, where he lived an ascetical life of difficult mortifications until his death.” (May 24)
“THE VENERABLE KARION AND ZACHARIAS… Karion and Zacharias were father and son, and both were great Egyptian ascetics. Karion left his wife and two children and set off to become a monk.” (December 5)
Contrary to expectations, the Orthodox Church actually does not condemn behavior that violates the teachings of Christ and the apostles, particularly with regard to violating “the holy sacrament of marriage”. In fact, just the opposite occurs. Orthodoxy praises such vile actions. Fathers without any conscience and breaking their marriage vows are called “saints” and venerated as such. It begs the question: would any Orthodox Christian who abandons his left wife and children and went to the monastery be commended as righteous and declared a saint? At the very least, he should have left some alimony for the abandoned wife and orphans – but how could he earn alimony? The monastery imposes a rule that monks cannot earn salary! So his wife is left with nothing but mourning over the treacherous husband on whom she relied, who violated her trust in the presence of many witnesses, and broke his word to God.
Examples of Sexual Impropriety
The Gospel clearly teaches that man was created in order to be united with his wife in order to praise and worship the Creator. According to this very same Gospel, God calls some Christians to live a celibate life in order to serve Him and to build His kingdom. The apostle Paul urged those who lacked strong sexual desire to abstain from marriage in order that they might serve the Lord like he did:
“For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am… But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife. There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world—how she may please her husband.”
As mentioned earlier in the chapter, the Apostle Paul did not call Christians to live a monastic life such as what we see today. It is also certain that Paul did not intend to say that the other apostles were “split” (divided into levels half secular and half spiritual). Paul did not say that those apostles who were not married were the “most devoted” to God because they had not entered into marriage. What the apostle wanted to make it clear to his readers from his perspective as an unmarried man is that he considered it a more blessed condition to stay single and serve the Lord “full time” without having to spend time on things that will soon come to an end anyway. In the words of 1 Corinthians 7:29-31, the apostle tells believers to think more about heavenly things (prayer, bringing people to the true knowledge of God). Paul views these heavenly matters to be of much greater value than the daily responsibilities of marriage. However, by no means does Paul negate the high value of marriage in God’s eyes.
This premise, not the misinterpretations used to rationalize monasticism, is very clear also in the interpretation of Christ’s teachings starting in Matthew 19:9-12:
“’And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.’
His disciples said to Him, ‘If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry.’ But He said to them, ‘All cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given: For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it.’”
These verses show that there are three types of eunuchs (people upon whom God calls to a single, unmarried life):
1) Those “born thus from their mother’s womb”.
These words of Christ pertain to people who are born with certain physical disabilities (of which at that time there were many) or severe mental illnesses that make them unable to marry a person of the opposite sex.
2) Those “eunuchs made by men”.
These people are certainly people who were certainly more well-known during the time of Christ than in our own day. Such eunuchs worked at the imperial court for the government in the Jewish setting. They often served as servants or guards of the ruler’s harem. Acts chapter 8 refers to one such eunuch. Eunuchs were people who had an operation to remove their male sex glands (testicles) in order to suppress the hormone known as testosterone. By removing the testicles, it was expected that the sexual drive as well as the prevention of sperm would be suppressed.
3) Those “who made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake”.
These words refer to those men (and women), Christians, who decided to renounce any hopes to marry in order to more effectively minister to the Lord. They did this even in spite of being in a daily struggle with their natural sexual impulses, which the single life forbid them to satisfy. The apostle Paul was certainly one example:
“But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.”
“For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.”
“For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.”
“Nevertheless he who stands steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but has power over his own will, and has so determined in his heart that he will keep his virgin, does well.”
The apostle’s declarations refer to disciples of the Lord who live in society and rub shoulders with other people in towns and villages, not to those who have retreated to the seclusion of some desert or monastery. It is clear, too, that Paul fought on a daily basis with his old sinful nature which craved to overcome him. However, although Paul lived among people and constantly faced sexual temptation as a healthy, single man, by the power of the Holy Spirit who lived in him, he succeeded in not giving in to the “lusts of the flesh.”
However, when we study the lives of various saints renowned in Eastern Orthodoxy, we find many examples of people who faced similar carnal instincts and desires, even though they had departed from human society and went into solitude. The fiercest trials emanated from the manifestation of sexual lusts in the monk, that is, his struggle with completely natural feelings that we find in mature people. Orthodox monks considered this struggle against human nature as a war against “demonic temptation in the desert” , as they believed that evil spirits dwelled in the desert (probably based on Matthew 12:43) . The Prologue of Ohrid tells us of such people and events:
“THE VENERABLE MARTINIAN… The glorious and most wonderful life of Martinian is worthwhile to read in its entirety… At age eighteen, Martinian retreated to a mountain in Cappadocia called ‘The Place of the Ark’ where he lived for twenty-five years in fasting, vigils, prayer and struggling with many temptations. When a woman came to tempt him and, he perceiving that he will succumb to sin with her, Martinian leaped into the fire barefooted and remained in the fire until the pain brought tears to his eyes and subdued any lust within himself. When another temptation erupted, Martinian fled to an isolated rock in the sea and there he lived. During a shipwreck a young woman swam to this rock. Martinian jumped into the sea to avoid any further temptation, but a dolphin rescued him on its back and by God’s Providence brought him ashore.” (February 13)
“THE VENERABLE BENEDICT… He retreated to a monastery where he was tonsured by the monk Romanus after which he withdrew to a steep mountain where he remained in a cave for more than three years in a great struggle over his soul… Once, when an unclean and raging passion of the flesh seized him, he removed all his clothes and rolled around naked in the thorns until he repelled every thought of a woman.” (March 14)
“SAINT JAMES THE FASTER… He lived in the sixth century. He was so perfected in pleasing God that James cured the most gravely ill through his prayers. But the enemy of mankind lured him into great temptations. At one time, an immoral woman was sent to him by some scoffers. She misrepresented herself to James, pretending to be crying yet all the while luring him into sin. Seeing that he was going to yield to sin, James placed his left hand into the fire and held it there for some time until it was scorched… On another occasion, James did not flee from his temptation, but rather he succumbs to a maiden, who was brought as a lunatic by her parents to be cured of her insanity. He, indeed, healed her and after that, sinned with her. Then in order to conceal his sin he killed her and threw her into a river. As is common, the steps from adultery to murder are not too distant. James lived for ten years after that as a penitent in an open grave.” (March 4)
Let us compare these accounts to the description by the famous historian Will Durant in his book The History of Civilization:
“The records of hermits abound with sexual visions and dreams. The monks in the cells could be heard sobbing while they fought with their phantasmagoric trials and erotic thoughts. They believed that the air around them was full of demons attacking them. It seemed that the monks felt hot while living in the midst of all the coolest conditions in the city. There were not infrequent cases where anchoretes [monks] went insane. Rufus tells a story about a young monk in whose cell entered a beautiful woman. He bowed before her charms. Then, the woman disappeared, as he thought, into thin air. The monk in a frenzy hurried to the nearest village, jumped into a furnace in a public bathroom, and burned himself with its fire. In another case, a young woman asked a monk to receive her in his cell under the pretext that a wild beast was chasing her. The monk agreed to let her in, but at that moment when he accidentally touched her, flames of desire were aroused. Even his strict monastic discipline failed to extinguish it. He tried to grab her, but she disappeared from his arms and disappeared. A choir of demons rejoiced and made fun of his humiliation. Rufus said that this monk could no longer submit to monastic life, and he could not conduct himself like St. Paphnucius who converted the woman Thais. That monk was unable to dispel the vision of beauty from his mind. He left the monastic cell, immersed himself in urban life, and followed that vision all the way to Hell.”
These excerpts reveal that Eastern Orthodoxy honors and praises these monks. Yet, these monks, like laypeople, and perhaps to an even greater extent, tend to have erotic dreams and fantasies. Some monks went to the extreme of even raping and killing women who sought help from these “spiritual elders and ascetics”. Other monks ended up committing suicide. Alas, all the difficulties on these monks arose from the unbiblical system of salvation imposed by Eastern Orthodoxy. The apostle Paul offers a Biblical remedy:
“But if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion … But if any man thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin, if she is past the flower of youth, and thus it must be, let him do what he wishes. He does not sin; let them marry.”
However, the Eastern Orthodox Church considers what later church authorities wrote and taught to be much more important than what the apostles of Christ taught in accordance with the teachings of their Lord.
Commenting on monastic life and rules, Dositej Obradovic wrote that in his life he met many monks and learned of many of their deepest longings and aspirations:
“I grew up with monks of many ethnicities and languages (though I am no longer a monk, when I lived that way, I used to wear the black frock in which they walked). Thank the Lord God, I never was acquainted with any old, unfeeling monk of any nationality or tongue who never had any desire to have sex with a woman and would have died to have had it. In those ancient impassible North African deserts (as the Lives of the Saints tell us), the desert dwellers describe it as such: they imagined mirages of the spirits of women (which were probably attractive), and how their dreams became reality. What else could they expect given the immutable will of God the Creator and the unchangeable and ever-present law of nature that makes it impossible for a man to live without woman – similar to a fish without water or an animal that cannot live and breathe without air?”
When he was young, Obradovic had a strong desire to become a monk and live “in celibacy”. He would have preferred to have been torn to pieces by a savage lion or bear than to embraced a beautiful Serbian daughter. However, as he got older, Obradovic admitted that his earlier thoughts were “utter apostasy stemming from reading false teachings in books that he had no business reading and confusing him with how to think about marriage and family.” In the end, Obradovic affirmed the biblical truth that “it is not good for man to be alone.” He articulated this conclusion well:
“The first grace that God showed to the first man His creation was when He gave him a wife, with the first blessing of ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’ How would He (God forbid!) have wanted to show man the greatest show of wrath? God would have taken his wife away, even as He had given her to him before. When God was about to punish Adam, He could have said: ‘Do not be fruitful or multiply, may your generation die out and disappear from the earth.’ What an absurd notion, even I myself could see perfectly what an absurd doctrine [celibacy] is: no matter what you call it, it is a futile teaching.”
Dositej Obradovic, from his youth as a monk, and then to the end of his life, saw marriage as God’s great blessing. On the other hand, he viewed the monastic way of life as unbiblical, something set up against God’s intentions and will as well as man’s common sense. One major influence on Obradovic’s thinking was the famous Orthodox bishop Georgi Popovic, whom Obradovic describes as one who repeatedly condemned contemporary monasticism in his time, even though he was himself a monk. Here are some of his words:
“You will know a tree by its fruits,’ says the holy Gospel. ‘The tree that bears no fruit will be cut and thrown into the fire.’ But the people out of their naïve thinking believe that if the monks disappear, then so would religion and the law. What do they say? Pray to God for us. Oh my brothers, hardly anyone wants to pray or intercede before God! From your labors, others (monks) are eating and sleeping. They are not working. What do you expect from those people who are useless and have no demands… The Archimandrite Bezdinski asks: ‘So in your manner of speaking, you would desire to purge all the monasteries?’ The Bishop answers: ‘In my manner of speaking? Oh my brother, they should have been purged eons ago. You do not need to wait for me to give the word… Don’t you now realize that even the monks themselves should have been purged a long time ago?’ The Archimandrite replied, ‘Lord, you are right! God’s truth emanates from your lips. Would that all the bishops agree! I myself would have been married!’”
The evidence from the lives of these “saints”, including the admission of the Archimandrite that if he were so daring that he would have been married, demonstrate the troubles they bring to themselves in attempting to live under the bondage of unbiblical rules arising from religion that contradicts true Christianity. Yet, an even greater danger presents itself as more likely when some of the monks fall into sexual perversion, even to the point of committing homosexuality and pedophilia. What is even worse, this preposterous unbiblical system can also lead monks to the extreme that the presence of female animals becomes a source of sexual temptation! For this reason, only animals of the same sex were allowed to be kept in monasteries for monks to live on. Ralph Woodrow speculates that this ban of keeping animals of the opposite sex in monasteries
originates from the ninth century and stemmed from the widespread immorality extant in monasteries. Roman Catholic Cardinal Peter d’Ailly said that no one dared to describe the immorality in nunneries , and women who became nuns simply found another way to become a public prostitute.
Such a ban on entry of all that is feminine in men’s monasteries is enforced on Mount Athos in Greece and in many other monasteries, including the Serbian monastery in Chilandar. Here is one media report on Mount Athos that describes the standards of living for local monks:
“Since the establishment of the ‘monastic republic’ in 1054 on Mount Athos, the presence of women has been prohibited, even though all 20 of the monasteries are dedicated to the Virgin Mary – Theotokos. Moreover, on the peninsula, monks striving toward high moral principles and tendencies to the near-perfect ideal of spiritual living also ban female animals. No cows, goats, and sheep! All that is ‘feminine’ is considered a possible temptation for monks pledged to celibacy.”
It is obvious, of course, that the writer of this newspaper report was biased and wanted to declare this prohibition as very spiritual. However, any logical person has to wonder what kind of spirituality Athos monks have when even the animals become a source of temptation in their presence?! It is understandable that one could expect them to be tempted (God forbid!) if there were some women nearby. However, what does it say about the men who decided to become monks when they could be tempted by female animals (cows, goats, sheep, etc.)?!!! Otherwise, there would be no reason for the monasteries to prohibit having animals of the opposite sex! These examples verify the truth of what the apostles taught and to that which people such as Obradovic and Bishop Georgi were concerned about. George. After all, it is known that some people who live a long time in prison (and monasteries are a kind of prison) with natural heterosexual tendencies can resort to homosexual temptations or even bestiality to indulge their sexual drives.
The Lord God in His Word reveals that He considers such sins the most abominable in His eyes:
“You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination. Nor shall you mate with any animal, to defile yourself with it. Nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it. It is perversion.”
“If a man mates with an animal, he shall surely be put to death, and you shall kill the animal. If a woman approaches any animal and mates with it, you shall kill the woman and the animal. They shall surely be put to death. Their blood is upon them.”
“‘Cursed is the one who lies with any kind of animal.’ And all the people shall say, ‘Amen!’”
We need to take seriously the words of the Lord, who commanded that the pervert who fornicated with cattle must be destroyed, and connect them with the fact that the Lord Christ in Matthew 5:27-28 stated that the man committed adultery simply by desiring a woman who was not his wife, even though he had not slept with her. These commands would have implicated many monks who should have been put to death (or “purged” in the words of the Bishop Georgi) because of their perverse lusts for female animals.