valentin zubkov y valentina malyavina en Ivan´s Childhood, 1962 andrei tarkovsky«But he was here, waiting for his second wife, and he felt his heart clear, being serene in his mind. Or rather, perhaps not serene; though it was not the lust that sometimes made him feel awkward and weary: it was something else that he could not name […] the feeling of guilt he had done nothing about to cause it, some regrets people bring to the world. It may have been what theologians call the original sin: the sin of being alive! Yes, Life itself carries some sort of sin within it.»
I begin with this quote from “Narcissus and Chrysostom”, written by Hermann Hesse, in order to demonstrate from the outset the root of the problem, which is no more than the incrimination- in many cases demonization [within the “imagined as typical” Orthodox theological mentality, and I ask you Keep in your mind the words «imagined as typical»]- of love, sexuality, desire and pleasure. So I begin with a confessional and straightforward acceptance of a “defeat”, the appreciation of which “defeat” will allow the understanding of the final [not “typical”] conclusion, which is neither easy nor given. And I say this because the attitude of the authentic Orthodox theology towards the fundamental issues of love, sexuality, desire and pleasure does not concern the activities of individual members of the ecclesiastical body, but is related to the core of its essence. In many cases, the incrimination of Eros, by Orthodox theologians, points to a dehumanized society, a total rejection and incrimination of human existential identity. An incrimination, which makes young people wonder “if there is life before death”. Because the quality of a way of life, the quality of a culture, can only be measured by the attitude it holds towards love and death. These are the boundaries of reality, and their violation fatally injures the whole of existence and leads to departure from real life.
And I think that the time has now come, when having been free from ideological identities and institutional groupings, we can move from the apologetic justification of any failures of the past (and of the present), to the search of those marginal elements of the enormous Christian tradition that form the “house of God”, in which house man ultimately finds a home fulfilling his existence.
You will allow me, of course, not to mention here those theological opinions, or those theological engagements, that created the “cracks in the building”, threatening, if we adhere to their acceptance, the “house of theology” with total collapse. Time does not allow it.
However, I have the responsibility to note that in many patristic teachings, perhaps in most, we experience a provocative and enigmatic -even problematic- limitation of Eros and its characteristics to the relations of the persons of the Holy Trinity with one another, to the relationship of God to humans or to the relationship of humans to God; not to the relation of people to one another. We are in the face of a shortage that has fueled and continues to feed the history of Christian theology with a difficulty, making it accountable to the challenges of our times; as well as to all those “cracks” of its own (theological) “body” from where the flower emerges of another spring (in the center of which is man/woman and through man/woman, God himself). And I am clearly referring again to the need for our theological entry into the 21st century, celebrating the resurrection of [the doctrine of ] anthropology; That aspect of the total existence that was lost under the absolutization of theology [proper]. And I say this because the miracle is not the resurrection of God, a God is able to be raised, but the resurrection of man: a mystery and reality that follows and fulfills the doctrine of incarnation.
A classic case of this theological pathology is without a doubt the diachronic interpretation, within Christianity, of the “Song of Songs”. An interpretation limited exclusively to theological allegory: the bridegroom is Christ or Yahweh and the nymph the Church or Israel – and refuses to accept the possibility of explaining this beautiful text in terms of human relations as well. This is because such an interpretation, an anthropological approach to the text –according to contemporary Orthodox biblical scholars- is incompatible with the rationale accepting the book in the biblical Canon; which clearly means that what ultimately remains incompatible with the rationale of accepting the book in the biblical Canon is human relationships, eroticism, sex and love. The embarrassment of Orthodox theology to the “Song of Songs”, is also revealed by its non-use in the liturgical life of the Church. A practice of exclusion which is usually attributed (without necessarily convincing) to the fact that: «the content of the text is not suitable for liturgical use, as is the case with other Old Testament books». It is clear in this case that Christianity, Orthodox and non-Orthodox, reveals its «fearful» opposition to human eroticism by giving such an interpretation to the book and by having such a life attitude. An Erotophobia, which was received (not without internal struggle) by the Jewish religious tradition, which entered –either subconsciously or intentionally- into the Christian ontological teaching and pastoral practice.
Referring to the subject, Slavoj Žižek observes the following: «When dealing with an erotic-religious text like the Song of Songs, commentators are quick to warn us that extreme and overblown erotic images must be read allegorically: when, for example , the lover kisses the lips of the woman, this «really means» that God announces to the Jews the Ten Commandments. In short, what appears to be a description of a «purely human» sexual encounter symbolically reveals the spiritual union of God to the Jewish people. However, the most noteworthy Bible scholars are among the first to emphasize the limits of such a metaphorical reading that rejects sexual content as a «simple example»: [On the contrary] it is just this «symbolic» reading, which is «purely human», adding awkwardly a «deeper meaning» to an explosive sexual content. The literal reading of the Song of Songs -as almost a book of pornographic eroticism-, and the allegorical reading of the book are two aspects of the same function: what they have in common is that both presuppose that «real» sexuality is «purely human» without any distinct divine dimension. (Of course, here is the question: if sexuality is just a transfer, then what is the need for this problematic bypass? Why does not the spiritual content directly be attributed to? Maybe, because this content is not directly accessible to us due to the limitations of our sensual finite nature?) And what if, the Song of Songs is not read as an allegory, but, much more literally; as the description of a purely sensual erotic play? And what if the «deeper» mental dimension is already in use in the passionate sexual interaction itself? What we really need to do is not to reduce the references of human sexuality into a simple allegory, but to extract the inherent «spiritual» dimension that always separates human sexuality from animal mating.
And if one cannot agree with all of Žižek’s observations, he can certainly accept the correctness of the core of his thought, asking and proposing the “return of the Man” who was lost in the vastness of God’s existence. And along with it, the removal of dehumanization of eroticism, and also of sexuality, which was attempted (and in many cases achieved) by Christian theologians. Or in other words, the return of the divine to man, the sanctification of his total existence, of his total way, as evidenced by the mystery of the incarnation; Which is at the opposite of any abstraction, at the opposite of the Jewish practice of circumcision that ignores the intake and sanctification of man by God. And it is true, that in many cases, Christianity [and the Eastern Religions in general], sees the world as «defective and corrupt, and people as sinful.» It is precisely that which leads to moralistic considerations of salvation, where what is saved is not the whole human being but a human ghost, a matterless idea of a human. «Saving God,» says Elder Sophronios of Essex, «saves all mankind, so that not only the mind-spirit, but also the mental feelings and the logic and the body, are totally sanctified by God.»
Thus, without any doubt, Žižek’s unexpected intervention recalls the obvious. That love,[ that is love together with sex], is not just a function of the genital organs cut off from the total existence of man, but on the contrary, a reality that concerns the whole of existence. It is possibility and a force that allows the acceptance of life’s mystery. Love is a way of life, which requires relationship and reference of one to another. It is an essential truth, the power of which allows its symbolic use in order to express -to the utmost extent- the deepest and therefore more creative relations of the Created creatures with the Uncreated God. «Blessed is He who is in love with God», notes Saint John of the Ladder, and he completes his remark by pointing to «the erotic love that a zealous lover has for his erotic partner «. And on the other hand, there is an emphasis, an underlined footnote, that the total existence of man, [the whole man], and certainly not only his spiritual element, is made in the image and likeness of God. In such a case, we can talk about the paradise as a place of love, and of love as a quality of paradisial life.
Of course, moralism is an old phenomenon; however, it invades as virus the home of modern civilization through intellectual “doors” and “windows” poisoning its air and proving that the «anti-erotic neurotic mentality» has no cultural borders… I have the feeling that Erotic love has been persecuted for many years, but mostly today. It is persecuted by all sorts of systems, political, social, religious, cultural, philosophical and going on. They persecute it both progressives and conservatives, religious and atheists. And the persecution is performed in many ways.
[It is performed], leading to absolute embarrassment, those who honestly stand, for example, before the “Song of Songs”, this treasure of our tradition, which truth is against the habit we once considered tradition; Those who stand [in admiration] of an anthropological and hence profoundly theological anthem, which reveals with great excitement that if today there is a problem in the relations of people within the Church, it is not the existence of erotic love and desire, but its depressive absence; The dryness of life, the inability of people to fall in romantic-poetic love, to accept the body of their own, but also the body of another human, to serve the mystery of erotic love that sanctifies with its spiritual energy the psychosomatic existence of people [leading to the only possible surpassing of selfishness and to the profit of finding fulfillment through the erotic union with the other ]. People’s inability to embrace erotic love as a way of knowledge and a way of life prohibits them from understanding that Eros, «is always a dynamic pursuit, never a final achievement”. It is an absolute death of selfishness, of self-centeredness, of self-eroticism and narcissism; And at the same time a resurrection of being in communion, “an exit and an entrance”, a holy indecency, a holy humiliation within which the “body of certainty” breaks down to create from the beginning, the “new body”, the place and the space of coexistence, the common house of the new way of living, the Church of “holy sensitivity”.
I have the feeling that everything that has already been shown proves that for Orthodox theology, love and sexuality cannot be just a concession, that is, a marginal and utilitarian event in the life of man, nor of course an accident, but instead a main artery of existence ‘setting up’ and maintaining life; A retaining force, that through the ascetic and eucharistic struggle, brings what is apart into unity; in the common body (like the roots of the tree that make it standing on the earth, while the roots themselves- the tree itself- is in turn the restraining power of the soil, which in all other cases is threatened by the corrosive forces of times). A waterline, which protects the boat of the church from overloading by sinful intentions. This is also witnessed by another great theologian of the Church, Dionysios Areopagitis, who opposes the many moralists of the past -and of every age- who manically refuse to show respect to the nature of things. He stresses emphatically that Eros whether divine or angelic, or human, or psychic, or natural, is clearly identified with love and consists the «unifying» and «restraining» force that makes the superior to care for the inferior, the homogeneous to be in communion with each other, and finally the abandoned to be found.
Dear friends, maybe some people have been surprised about the content of my short intervention. But I must emphasize that the function of such an erotic perspective is the only force that makes the incarnation to become the “bread and the wine” offered in the life of a confused world. The only possibility that allows the ecstatic departure of a man from selfishness and the encounter with the “universal Man” of global history and culture.
The profound sin of our time, the great trauma that almost pervades the whole of social life, not only the Christian, is the absence of Eros. The inability of being in communion, the denial of relationships. A great writer of Thessaloniki, Christos Zafiris, wrote a book entitled “The Eros covers the city” and subtitle, “Love topography of Thessalonica”. He emphasizes, in the prologue of the book, how » Eros cannot be understood outside the body (I would add any body, ecclesiastical, political, cultural or other), and cannot be considered detached from other human functions and values of life. » Indeed, on the prolegomena of his work, we encounter two statements: one from the author Nikos Gabriel Pentzikis, (known for his love of Orthodoxy) and a second from Kostos Moskov (a writer, poet and for sometime educational adviser of the Greek embassy in Cairo, known for his love of the left –and later in his life- of Orthodoxy), which respectively read as follows: «I agree with what I suppose you want to say: that all the adventures, even this journey at the sea of Thermaikos, is Eros «(Mother Thessaloniki) and» The Erotic word of the city wandering diffuses as gaze, penetrating even the most dense mists at the streets of Tsimiski, Egnatia, at the area Vardar, showing how the Other is both within you and next to you «(Populism or leadership?).


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