236. THE TEN COMMANDMENTS: The Seventh and the Eighth – How to be countercultural.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    COMMANDMENT SEVEN: You shall not commit adultery.

Did you know about the 1632 printing of the English King James Bible? It was inordinately popular, because in Commandment Seven they left out one word. Read very carefully:

People nicknamed it “The Wicked Bible”. Sorry, it’s out of print. You missed your chance.

But here’s your chance to be counter-cultural:


The Orthodox Church teaches that sexual union except in heterosexual marriage is sinful – that is, it alienates us from God and even from ourselves. It is wrong.

But, but… some will say, now that we have safe methods of birth control (actually “conception control”) what difference could it possibly make?

Here’s what that old bachelor Saint Paul said (we always hear it on the Second Sunday of Pre-Lent): “Everyone who is joined to a prostitute is made one body with her, for ‘the two shall become one flesh’… Flee sexual immorality.” 1 Corinthians 6:16  That is, sexual union creates spiritual union. How can so many people today miss the obvious holistic body-soul interconnection? What we do with our body affects our soul. What we do with our soul affects our body.

And that explains much of what’s gone wrong with many people in the modern world. Sex with many partners causes peoples’ interior life either to be torn apart or to go numb. Going “all the way” sexually is intended by God to express commitment that also goes “all the way”, that is in marriage. Period. Exclamation point.

Or as the old pop song told us:

Video allowed for non-commercial purposes by Section 107 of Copyright Act 1976. I note that sometimes it says only available on YouTube, and sometimes it doesn’t! If need be, do so, then push return and you’ll be back here again.

Good luck. This isn’t easy especially for young people today, when fornication (as we once dared call it) is almost taken for granted, * and when many people seem to think not having sex when you want to, and especially waiting till marriage, is just ridiculous.

  • Watch the movies. Watch TV. Ozzie and Harriett wouldn’t believe it. Young people, ask your grandparents who they were.


This means married people having sex with others.

The chief reason not to commit adultery is this: Christian marriage is intended to be a sign, a living out, an experience of Christ’s love for the Church (for us) and our love for Him. Saint Paul described this in Ephesians chapter 5. Note that this passage, read at all weddings, begins: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”. So what follows now is no call for “male domination”. Indeed quite the opposite.

The rest of the passage describes how wives and husbands should go about submitting to each other. In Christian marriage the husband plays the role of Christ, who “submitted” to us, even to death on the Cross. “Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her”. The wife plays the role of the Church which “submits to Christ”, faithful to Him in love forever. “Likewise wives must love your husbands” and be faithful to them.

 by Vivit at Wikimedia Commons

What if he doesn’t play the role of Christ? A woman from an Evangelical church once came to me, desperate. Her husband was abusing her and their children. Her pastor had told her: Submit – that’s what the Bible says. I told her: Take the kids and get out of there as fast as you can.

So in this exclusive faithful relationship, when it works right, husband and wife experience for themselves something of the love of Christ and His Church. And how long will Christ love us? Forever. And how long will He in His mercy allow us to love Him? Forever. Orthodox believe that marriage lasts not “till death do us part”, but forever. Each marriage is intended to come to its fulfillment in Heaven.

There are also practical reasons not to fall into adultery. What a terrible strain infidelity places on a marriage. The unfaithful one always wonders: Does she know? Did someone see us together and tell her? Is she quiet because she’s having a bad day, or is it because she knows?  And she wonders: Why is he being so secretive, so uptight? what have I done wrong? what’s going on that I don’t know about?

And then when it comes out, as it almost always does… Can a marriage survive adultery? Yes – if there is great repentance (often on the part of both) and forgiveness. In my fifty years as a pastor I saw two marriages grow stronger after adultery, when it caused the husband and wife to get to the root of their problems and and resolve them. Two. Adultery almost always destroys a marriage. 

My mother and father married in 1936. She told me this after he died: She said even in those days they knew quite a few folks who had cheated on their spouses. (I think my father’s first wife had cheated on him, which caused their marriage to fail.) Mother said she and my father, before they married, asked each other: Do you intend to be faithful? They both said they did. And from that moment they trusted each other, for 29 years of marriage. Not that they didn’t have issues (all marriages do), but distrust was not one of them, and I think that was the foundation of their good marriage.  

Wedding at Cana in Galilee. All icons courtesy of Saint Isaac’s Skete at skete.com

So, my married brothers and sisters, my advice to you is: Just say no! Most are tempted, many have the opportunity. So fix it in your mind: I will not do this ugly thing. I will be faithful. If you do this, it is surprisingly easy. If you’re still tempted ask yourself (I speak from the man’s angle here): Do I really want to have an affair with a woman so sleazy, so disgusting that she would cheat on her husband? or if she is not married, with someone so low that she would cheat with somebody else’s husband? Is that the kind of trashy despicable person I have become? Surely I, created in the image of God and a follower of Jesus Christ, am better than that. 

Here as always, Christ takes it farther and deeper: “In ancient times it was said to you: ‘You shall not commit adultery’. But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5 :27-28  A high school friend of mine commented: Well, in that case you may as well go ahead and do it!

I don’t think that’s what the Lord had in mind! He’s saying that here, as with all temptations to sin, we need to do more than just resist the external action. We need to go to the source of the problem: not just control the symptoms but cure the disease. 

Sexual desire, like all things, is created by God for a purpose – the union of man and woman in marriage. However, the modern world has found a multitude of ways to inflame lust for other purposes, chief of which is to make money for somebody. The best estimate is that in 2019 the American pornography industry made maybe $15 billion profit, larger than the combined annual revenues of ABC, NBC, and CBS, larger than Major League Baseball’s $10.7 profit. If you want to know what the real “great American pastime” is now…

Porn once was very hard to find. Now, all you have to do is type a word or two on your computer, even inadvertantly * and there it is – so simple, so easy.  And the number of people (men especially) who are addicted to porn today is… well, revolting to think about.

  • A local garden club was meeting at a church. They wanted information about the herb “rosemary”. So on the desk computer they googled “rosemary”, and just as the pastor walked in suddenly “Rosemary” appeared in all her glory! This is a true story. Really!

by Clinton and Charles Robertson, Texas A & M University, Creative Commons license

I am not promoting prudery. Sex and the human body are created by God. They are good and beautiful, to be appreciated and enjoyed. (Americans squirm at the sight of classic nude statues in public, but many watch it privately in salacious ways. There’s something seriously wrong here.) There is a difference between healthy enjoyment and lust, and we all know what that difference is. Married brothers and sisters, brothers especially: Lusting after other people, female or male, is unfaithfulness to your spouse.  “Whoever looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Go to Confession. Quick.

“You shall not commit adultery.” 

Commandment Eight: You shall not steal.

Our Lady of the Gate Roman Catholic Church, Calabanga, Luzon, Philippines by Maffeth C. Opiana, at Creative Commons

I used to ask the young people in Episcopalian Confirmation class: What would the world be like if it was OK to steal? The answer was obvious: Nothing would be safe. We would spend all our time just trying to hang onto what we’ve got. We’d get nothing else done. Civilization would fall apart.

Now fifty years later, I’ll ask you a slightly different question: What is the world like now that stealing is commonplace? At the time I taught that class, we never locked the church. People could drop in anytime to pray. Thirty years before that when I was a boy, I lived in a village through which passed US Highway 25, the old equivalent of I-75 – a steady stream of cars, trucks and buses connecting Detroit and Toledo with the south, with all sorts of people passing through, some stopping, some walking the highway looking for a handout or a meal as was common in those days – and nobody locked their doors. Thievery was not a problem. Some of you older folks grew up in the city: there too, fifty or sixty years ago, churches were open all day, and you could walk down most streets and feel safe.

This is still true in some parts of the world, often even across the border in Canada, but not here. And how insecure we feel, how much time and money we waste guarding our possessions: alarms on our cars and in our homes, with some wealthy people living in gated communities. If this continues… well, in medieval Europe there were castles with walls and towers and moats. 

Bodlam Castle, 1385, East Sussex, England –  by Paul Farmer at Creative Commons

Alternate approach, and now we’re going counter-cultural: We who have possessions could listen to the Lord Jesus who here again takes us deeper – and this one is tough. He said “Do not resist evil… If someone wants to sue you and take away your shirt, give him your coat as well.” Matthew 5:39-40  

There’s the story about Saint Spyridon, who when he became Bishop and shepherd of souls on Cyprus still kept his flock of sheep.  Once he came home to find thieves in his sheepfold. He spent a long time persuading them to turn to an honest life, then finally he let them go. But he gave each of them a sheep so, as he said, “all your hard work will not have been in vain”.

Or a desert father whose name is forgotten: Thieves came to his cell one day and said: We’re going to take everything you’ve got. He replied: My children, take whatever you like. After they cleaned him out and had left, he saw a purse still hanging there, so he ran after them calling: You missed this purse. They were so moved that they repented and brought everything back. I can’t guarantee that would always happen!

Of course, those of us out here in “the world” who have responsibilities to our families can’t do that. However, the message is this at least: Don’t be so “clutchy” about your possessions. I suspect you have more than you really need. I do. It all belongs to God anyway, doesn’t it? Do you think He who gave them won’t provide whatever you need? “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33  Do your possessions serve you or are you a slave to them? 

The early Church fathers didn’t make this any easier. Listen to Saint Basil the Great, whose Divine Liturgy we will celebrate on Lenten Sundays. As you read this, keep in mind that Basil was not out in
the desert somewhere. He was Bishop of Caesarea, and these are quotes from sermons preached to his people :

“The bread you do not use is the bread of the hungry. The garment hanging in your closet is the garment of the person who is naked. The shoes you do not wear are the shoes of the one who is barefoot. The money you keep locked away is the money of the poor. The acts of charity you do not perform are the injustices you commit.”

“‘Mine’ and ‘yours’ (those cold words which introduce innumerable wars into the world) should be eliminated from the Church. [Then] the poor would not envy the rich because there would be no rich. Neither would the poor be despised by the rich for there would be no poor. All things would be in common.”

“Taking your [property] to the grave with you when it could be used to save the life of a brother or sister – that is theft.”

“A man who has two coats or two pair of shoes when his neighbor has none is a thief.” 

Saint Basil, by the way, practiced what he preached. He used his considerable wealth to build a city for the needy with hospitals, food kitchens, shelters and so on, and he lived there himself.

Does this all sound radical? socialistic? communistic? That is because we have traveled very far from the spirit and social teachings of Jesus Christ and the Church Fathers. That is how they understood “Thou shalt not steal”. Nor should we ignore the spiritual needs of the world. Many who are materially rich today are spiritual paupers.

There is no respite in the Old Testament.

“To you who lie on beds of ivory, who stretch out on your couches and eat kids from your flock and…calves from…the herds… who drink filtered wine and anoint yourselves with the best ointments…and suffer nothing because of the affliction of [the people]…, therefore I will destroy this city and all its inhabitants” [says the Lord].  Amos 6:4:

“Hear this, all you who oppress the poor… and…drive the needy from the land…who sell the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of shoes. The Lord swears…I will not forget any of your deeds.” Amos 8:5

For the Lord Jesus will one day say: “Depart from me, you cursed of my father, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, for I was hungry and you did not feed me, thirsty and you gave me no drink, naked and you did not clothe me…” Matthew 25: 41-43

The point: The world has got it wrong. Grabbing ever more stuff for ourselves while we ignore the poor doesn’t set well with God. It is the sin of Greed. Sharing what God has given us is not a matter of charity. It is a matter of saving our souls.

How should we do this? By giving directly to the poor? By giving through our parish or a Church organization like International Orthodox Christian Charities?  By giving through other charities? By voting for governments which direct resources to the needy? Or all of the above? – which is my preference. That’s up to you and me. I need only keep in mind that I who “have” had better help those who “have not”, for my eternal salvation depends on it.

At least, according to Jesus, the Scriptures, and the Fathers.

Next Week we’ll try to finish this series on The Ten Commandments.

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