(St John Chrysostom’s commentaries on man-woman relations,  marriage and conjugal abuse)

2.  The problem of acculturation and distortions of the faith

The Orthodox Church historically acted with a missionary spirit, engaging cautiously with pre-existing social and political systems with the aim to transcend them and to consolidate the Christian message among new converts. In some cases, the early Church was accommodating if it was felt that local systems did not hinder the Christian message to develop,[1] or if a non-confrontation approach was necessary to avoid exacerbating risks for the new converts. Consequently, pre-existing social systems did not entirely disappear and vestiges carried into the new Christian communities. Church Fathers who lived in subsequent eras were not oblivious to these customary or normative understandings and attitudes that persisted and condemned them openly, such as when Chrysostom spoke against slavery among his audiences, or other instances.[2]

On the other hand, socio-cultural, economic and political realities specific to the histories of what have been traditionally Orthodox societies mediated both the ways in which theology was pronounced by Church hierarchies or communicated through the clergy and the extent to which the faithful could embody the Orthodox worldview in everyday life.[3] It should be recognised also that the traditional prominence of the Orthodox Church in these societies deemed religious discourse susceptible to appropriation by different parties for political, socio-cultural and other vested interests, contributing to further distortions. Still, such discursive deployments need to be differentiated from the historical experience-based Orthodox phronema which the Church Fathers/saints consistently embodied and conveyed in their works, despite each having lived in different eras and societal conditions.


[1] This tactic is exemplified in the instance where St Paul used the Greek inscription of worship ‘To the Uknown God’ in order to introduce to the Athenians the Christian message of salvation (Acts 17:23).


[2] It is worth citing also Gregory the Theologian who, referring to the asymmetrical law that stipulated punishment for an adulterous woman but no punishment for an adulterous man, said characteristically: Τι δήποτε γαρ το μεν θήλυ εκόλασαν, το δε άρρεν επέτρεψαν; Και γυνή μεν κακώς βουλευσαμένη περί κοίτην ανδρός μοιχάται και πικρά εντεύθεν τα των νόμων επιτίμια, ανήρ δε καταπορνεύων γυναικός ανεύθυνος; Ου δέχομαι ταύτην την νομοθεσίαν, ουκ επαινώ την συνήθειαν. Άνδρες ήσαν οι νομοθετούντες, διά τούτο κατά γυναικών η νομοθεσία.” This roughly translates as: “For what reason they punish the woman but they forgive the man? When the woman insults the spousal bed she commits adultery and the law punishes her with heavy sentences; when the man goes with other women why is he left unpunished? I do not accept this legislation and I condemn this convention. Those who created the laws were men and this is why legislation turns again women.” See Patrologiae Graecae Tomus XXXVI: St. Gregorius Nazianzenus. ΛΟΓΟΣ ΛΖ’ (Migne, 1858).


[3] For example, regarding the historically Russian Orthodox populations, Elisabeth Gassin observed that “[a]although these cultures may be considered traditionally Orthodox, given the modern history of these lands—which includes domination by Islamic and Communist forces that often did not allow the Church to educate its children fully—one may question how deeply an Orthodox ethos has penetrated such societies.” See Elizabeth Gassin, “Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Men’s Violence against Women” in Religion and Men’s Violence against Women, A. Johnson, ed. (Springer: New York, 2015), 165.

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