pornography

No Saints=No Sanity: Seeing Womanhood

Father Seraphim Rose once said, “Pornography is the devil’s iconography.”  These days, the world of porn has become so exploitive of women that the founder of Hustler Magazine has said the industry has gone to far.  The women are subjected to acts of force, gross acts, and violence that are way too graphic and distasteful to describe.  To make matters worse, kids are vewing such things online with no safeguards on computers.  Grown men can visit these sites in public libraries.  In one anti-porn video, a porn user professed that such movies show men what women want.  While it can be argued that the girls who do porn do so in their own free will, I doubt that a naked 19 or 20 year old young lady has much decision making power in a room with two or more men, especially if any of them are old enough to be her father.

Aside from such extreme forms of porn, there is a type of imagry I call, “chicken porn” (porn for men who are too afraid to look at the real thing).  Images of women in sexually suggestive clothing and poses that are found in mainstream magazines.  Anyone who has seen the recent cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue can understand what I am talking about.  A young lady wearing a bikini swimsuit at a beach or pool is not unusual nor necessarily offensive.  But, to have her pose pulling down her bikini is uncalled for.  Women don’t do this in normal visits to beaches and pools.  This was done only to encourage men and boys to want to see more of her body.  For the porn industry, such images seve as business cards for the more “reputable” companies and the more rancid ones as well.

The Theotokos, the Virgin Mary, is praised for her ever virginity.  In traditional Byzantine iconography, she is clothed in a blue garment and head covering to show her humanity.  Covering these clothes is a red garment over her head and body to show that she has put on divinity.  With few exceptions (such as the Annunciation and Dormition), Mary is holding the Christ Child in one arm with her other hand motioning to Him.  Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and the first wave of Protestants hold this image in high regard as the highest saintly model of womanhood.

Mary of Egypt was far from being a virgin.  But, ancient Christianity holds her in very high regards as a prototype for repentance.  In most icons, she is all skin and bones wearing only the black outer garment given to her by the monk Zosimas.  After repenting of her sexual depravity, Mary lived in the desert east of the Jordan River alone placing repentance more important than food, shelter, or clothing.  While no one today is called to that extreme, we see in her that turning one’s life around from wickedness to righteousness is not a one time act.  We are to be consistent and humble; willing to forsake even basic comforts for the heavenly kingdom.

Radical Reformed Protestantism and modern Evangelicalism tells society that holy icons are mere idols and it is not fit for Christians to revere the people represented in these images.  As America and Western Europe is dominated by this mindframe, it is no coincidence that porn dominates these nations.  By taking away the holy images of womanhood, it is inevidable that Satan has all but won the icon war by flooding our word with hard and soft core images of female exploitation.  According to the Desert Fathers, lust is the hardest of the sins for people to avoid.  Holy images of female saints are tools to help us overcome wicked thoughts.  What we set our eyes toward becomes etched in our minds.  If you take away a carpenter’s tools, it is very difficut for him to build a proper house.  Iconoclasim has been a total failure in helping create a society where a woman’s purity, either as a virgin or wife, is honored and respected.

People who struggle with distorted sexuality would do well to look into the Orthodox Church not because we are perfect (oh, that we were).  But, because we encourage men and women to use the examples of holy men and women as well as the Bible to overcome their sins.  In our great cloud of witnesses are saints who struggled with their urges and passions just like we do today.  Their stories tell us that there is victory through Jesus Christ.  The victory may not be quick nor easy.  But, if we endure even to the end, we will win because our Lord won the battle against death and corruption with His death and resurrection.  This isn’t something that we only read in the scriptures, speak in prayers, an sing in songs.  This is what we behold in our eyes as well.

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Journey Into Great Lent (Day Five): Broken

Oh Lord and King, grant me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother and sister …

From the Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian

As with most men, lust is a problem that I struggle with.  In today’s society, it is tolerated as long as one keeps his hands to himself.  In fact, lust is expected, celebrated, and used for commercial purposes (Hooters, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, and the like).  The ease in which one can access the most abusive and cruel forms of pornography on the internet makes this sin even more dangerous.  Since taking up the journey toward Orthodoxy, I have put aside my worst manifestations of this sin.  Yet, I still succumbed to my eyes and imagination more times that I wish to count or share. 

This Lent, I have made it a special point to refrain from such wicked imaginations.  I tell myself that if an Orthodox married man refrains from touching his wife during the fast, what gives me the right to fantasize being with any woman.  My wife suffers from both Bipolar Disorder and Multiple Sclerosis.  Thus, lust has been a great burden on me.  But, I went into the fast believing that God will deliver me from this chronic problem.

Monarchs (© John Gresham)

Monarchs (© John Gresham)

A necessary part of the spiritual healing process is to be made fully aware of one’s sin.  By indulging in lust, I separate myself from the greatest icon I have in my home.  My wife is my greatest icon for Christ counts Himself with the lowly and afflicted:

‘In as much as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”   (Matthew 25:40)

The other icons I have in my home, if I ignore or misuse them, that would be bad enough.  They are man-made widows into heaven.  In fact, I can change windows and move them around as I see fit without any consequences.  But, how many times have I ignored, shut out, been angry with, neglected, and belittled my wife desiring someone else?  How many times have I failed to pray for, pray with, and show affection for my wife?  Again, since being on the Orthodox journey, I have improved.  Praying for her, struggling against my passions, and offering the Lenten Prayer has broken me to see how far I have fallen and how far I have to go.  What I have done to her, I have done to Jesus.  What I do to her, I do to Jesus.  No wonder Paul advises us to “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling”  (Philippians 2:12).

It is no wonder why the Early Fathers (some date back to Irenaeus for this tradition) prescribed the 40 day Lenten Fast.  Once when we are broken by the awareness of our fallen state, it takes time to be moulded into useful vessels of the Gospel.  Orthodoxy calls for fasting throughout the year to help remind us that we are still a work in progress.   In the Trisagion Prayers, we constantly ask for the mercy of the Holy Trinity.  The Jesus Prayer underscores the fact that we are to be the tax collector and not the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14).   In the Ancient Faith, confession is a sacrament before God with the priest as a witness in the body of Christ as well as a private act.  And that we begin the fast with Forgiveness Vespers where we all ask each other, including the priest and bishops present, to forgive our sins. 

I am broken as I have seen and understand that I have not been a good husband nor as good as others think I am.  It is not my place to compare myself to other men.  I will be judged on my actions, words, and THOUGHTS (Matthew 5:27-30).  I acknowledge my broken state.  I have faith in the healing process.  I have hope that the Lord will restore my wife.  I have hope that He will restore me for her according to His will.

A Diary of the Apostles Fast (Third Tuesday): Cyprian and Nicodemus

There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.  This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, …

John 3:1, 2

The Path (© John Gresham)

Before I began to seriously consider Orthodoxy, I was drawn to St. Cyprian of Carthage.  First of all, I thought the name sounded cool and I was proud of the fact that he was an African.  I have an icon of him (I printed from an online image) beside the computer in my study at home as a reminder to avoid pornography websites.  I began to watch websites that talked about how horribly the women are treated in the industry and have no desire to indulge in it again.  I never prayed to the icon (as Orthodox and Catholics are falsely accused of).  Nor did I even think to venerate him, unless naming my Second Life avatar after him and living as an Orthodox monk was a way of paying him deep respect and admiration.  The icon was there when the Holy Spirit freed me from that sinful desire.  Thus, I consider Cyprian as one in the cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1, 2) that interceded for me.

As I have become increasingly diligent about the ancient faith, I am seeing myself in the light of another in that cloud whose walk with Jesus is a forerunner of mine.  Nicodemus was a well-trained religious authority.  He had status and clout among the Jewish hierarchy and as long as he towed the party line, all would be well with him.  But, he met this man who had kicked over the money tables, did a number of signs, gave a strange answer of his authority, and didn’t set up a clique to rival the Jews right then and there.  Instead of dismissing the rabble-rouser, this Pharisee and Priest saw that he must have been sent by God, asked questions, and listened.  He would later be rebuked by his colleagues for suggesting that the Galilean be fairly investigated before being completely denounced.  At the burial of the Crucified One, he brought one hundred pounds of aloes and myrrh.  In some Christian and Jewish traditions, Nicodemus was martyred for accepting Jesus as the Messiah.

I am a Baptist among Baptist.  My certification of studies comes from one of the most respected African-American seminaries.  I have pastored for 15 years and serve as a Moderator of a local association.  I now serve on a state-wide commission for evangelism.  If I play by the rules and work my contacts in high places (and finish my M.Div.), my star could rise in the Baptist faith.

But, I saw this faith that gave the world the first confession of Jesus and compiled the Bible.  This faith that never considered skin color to be a badge of racial supremacy nor inferiority from the time they were first called Christians.  This faith that gives guidelines in pursuing a spiritual life and becomes a way of life.  I am observing Orthodoxy the same way Nicodemus observed Jesus.  The more I see, listen, and understand; the more I accept it.  Because of my position, I cannot follow the faith right now.  There will come a time of conversion.  I pray that when that day comes, that I will have the courage to do it, even if it means martyrdom.

Getting Our Act Together

The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.

Isaiah 52:5, Ezekiel 36:22, Romans 2:24

I believe President Obama is wrong in his support for gay marriage.  Jesus Christ taught the same standard for marriage as found in Genesis 2:21-24 when he answered the Pharisees about divorce in Matthew 19:1-9.  Male and female … For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and the two will become one flesh.  For homosexuals to choose a life partner and be granted a legal recognition by a civil authority may be suitable for this world.  But, homosexuality is a sin.  Thus, Holy matrimony for a gay or lesbian couple is not possible according to the Bible and Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant tradition.

With that said, we heterosexuals have a hell of a lot to answer for.  If we fear that gay marriage will make a mockery of the traditional family, I recommend that we take a hard look at the way we corrupt monogamy degrade sex on a regular basis.  The Chris Miller/Kim Kardashian “marriage” comes to my mind rather quickly.  Oh, it was a heterosexual union.  But, how serious was it?  Did they marry with a true spiritual bond with each other and committed hearts to withstand good and bad times together?  Or was it a sham based on their egos, sensual pleasure, and making a profit from a celebrity gossip hungry media?  If our nation can accept this perversion of holy matrimony, then two men or two women with a committed bond with one another getting married is not a far stretch.

In the liturgical church traditions; a sermon on the seriousness, love, and committment is a part of the wedding ceremony.  How many of us had a sermon at our wedding?  Weddings have become an industry from high fashion magazines, to professional planners and photographers (and photographers get paid far more than the minister who officiates the service and signs the legal documents).  These ceremonies used to take place exclusively in the bride’s or groom’s church.  At least in the home or on land owned by one of the families.  Today, anyone can go to Las Vegas and have Elvis as the minister backed up by a punk rock band, or just go through the drive thru chapel.  Or, one can spend thousands on one of those story-book weddings which may seem impressive enough to hide the fact that neither the bride nor groom are committed to life long monogamy.  And after the divorce, the bride or groom swears to have a bigger and better wedding than the first one.  If we heterosexuals participate in such shallow marketing of what was a blessed and honorable institution, why should homosexuals be denied the privilege?

And isn’t it strange how the language of sex is used as an insult to manhood?  Think of the particular word for intercourse is a curse word as is the slang term for the female genitals.  With the easy access to hardcore pornography and the general acceptance of softcore nudes and semi nudes in sexually charged situations, what was once to be done naked and unashamed has become an act of ridicule and recreational pleasure.  In fact, the sheer brutality women go through in today’s porn and the rate of sexual abuse against girls has brought the value of the female body in this society to an all-time low.  Should I be upset when two men want to commit to a union where they are unlikely to contribute further to this abuse?  Should I be angry when two women, who most likely suffered sexual abuse at the hands of men, seek solace in a marital bond with each other?

Chances are no one is going to vote for or against the president on this issue alone.  Therefore, I see little value of having a too strong of an opinion about gay marriage one way or the other (although I know where I stand).  We heterosexuals have done far more damage to holy matrimony than one man’s words.  Unless we are serious about cleaning up the mess we made, we look rather foolish trying to put limitations on someone else.

… and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.

Matthew 7:2