Letter to the Editor
Dear Angelus Press,
My name is Father Yakov Rohrer. I am a Russian Orthodox priest, physician, and pastor of Our Lady of Kazan parish in Urbana, Ohio. I am writing in response to an article which appeared in the July-August issue of The Angelus, Gabriel S. Sanchez’s “No Light from the Orthodox East on Christian Marriage.” In it, the author touched on three topics: (A) Contraception; (B) Marriage legislation; and (C) Church unity.
With respect to contraception, the Orthodox Church is certainly aware of the sin of Onan in the Book of Genesis where God slew Onan because he did a detestable thing, something which was against the natural law. With regard to the Church Fathers, nothing could be clearer than St. John Chrysostom’s condemnation of the sin of contraception in his 24th Homily on Romans. A fellow Russian Orthodox priest, Fr. Gregory Naumenko, in a 1992 article from the publication Orthodox Life, states the true position of the Orthodox Church on contraception: it is prohibited.
Regarding the topic of marriage legislation, Fr. Theodore Mackin, a Jesuit priest, has shown in his book Divorce and Remarriage that in the early Church there were specific causes in which marriages could be dissolved. These conditions were recognized in both the Eastern and Western Church, so if you criticize the Orthodox Church for being lax in terms of marriage, you have to criticize your own Church at the same time for not “getting it right.” What has happened is that since the break between the churches in 1054, the Roman Church has so to speak “tightened its regulations” while the Orthodox East has maintained its original legislation.
Finally, on the topic of Orthodox-Catholic reunion, I believe the Roman Church first has to recognize the Orthodox Church as being part of the True Church. I think the easiest approach to whether the Orthodox Church is part of the True Church is to look at some of our miracles and other supernatural signs that occur in our churches and ask yourself if God could work these wonders in any church that was not the True Church.
I believe that what Mr. Sanchez has written in The Angelus was not done out of malice but rather because he had some bad information and simply didn’t have all of the facts. I hope, in the interest of journalistic integrity and honesty, that you will print a clarification on Mr. Sanchez’s article.
I hope you find my comments useful, and I would enjoy hearing from you. I look forward to reading future articles in The Angelus.
Yours in Christ,
Archpriest Yakov Rohrer, M.D.
Dear Father Yakov,
Thank you for your thoughtful reply to my article, “No Light from the Orthodox East on Christian Marriage,” which appeared in the July-August issue of The Angelus. One of the points you raise is that the Orthodox Church considers contraception a serious sin. While I am aware of Orthodox priests and hierarchs who hold this view, it is neither widespread nor taught authoritatively. In the United States, several jurisdictions, including the Orthodox Church in America and the Greek Orthodox Church, openly permit contraception so long as the couple is open to having children and the contraception used has no abortive effect. The Russian Orthodox Church’s authoritative document, The Bases of the Social Conception of the Russian Orthodox Church, chapter 12(3) reaffirms this position. I know of no official statement from any particular Orthodox church that unequivocally condemns contraception in the manner and to the degree the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern churches in communion with her do.
As to your second point, concerning marriage and divorce in the Orthodox Church, I wish to refer you to a recent essay by Archbishop Cyric Vasil, S.J., Secretary of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, which appears in the anthology Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church. In it, Archbishop Vasil documents the problematic creation of ecclesiastical divorce in the Eastern Orthodox Church due to the conflation of Roman-Byzantine civil law and Orthodox canon law at the close of the first millennium. Following this move, the Eastern Church was assigned full authority over blessing and examining marriages, meaning that it “had to conform is practices to State and civil legislation. Then once civil legislation began to allow divorce and successive remarriages, the Eastern Church was obligated to recognize these practices.”
Such recognition carried a steep price for Eastern Orthodox doctrinal coherence. While numerous ex post facto “theories” have been put forth over the centuries to justify the Orthodox practice of ecclesiastical divorce (though sometimes different terminology is used), the hard reality is that the Byzantines, by accepting divorce duties from the State, exported the idea to other parts of the Orthodox world, including the emerging Russian and other Slavic churches. Now, more than 1,000 years later, after it became cemented in Orthodoxy’s doctrine, ecclesiastical divorce remains an intractable source of contention between the Western and non-Catholic Eastern churches.
With respect to your final point, concerning the reunion of Catholics and Orthodox, as a former Orthodox Christian who was initially reared in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, I pray that through the Grace of God and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may all be one as Christ commands. Unity cannot come at the price of truth, however, and getting to the truth of what continues to divide Orthodoxy from Catholicism was, in no small part, one of the aims of my article.
With blessings in Christ our Lord and King,
Gabriel S. Sanchez