Men in Full
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that it is better for us to pluck out our eyes or chop off our hands if they cause us to sin, so that we not be cast into hell. This, of course, was presented as a last resort. That is, given a choice between painful and permanent dismemberment and hell, Jesus told us to avoid hell. Our desire to be with God should be so great that we would go to such lengths in our struggle against sin.
In the early Church some literally practiced this, not so much by plucking out eyes or chopping off hands, but by making themselves eunuchs. (Origen is the famous example.) This was such a concern that at the first great ecumenical council, this issue was addressed in the very first canon. In a rather short paragraph, the first canon states that a person could not become a priest unless he was a fully functioning male. The standards for the priesthood were set above the bar Jesus presented as a last resort.
Today we do not have a problem with men actually making themselves eunuchs. The licentiousness of our culture encourages the practice of that which traditionally has been called sin and, in our technologically sophisticated age, I have never heard of anyone who has sought a medical remedy to assist in his struggle to avoid the pits of hell.
Nonetheless, a type of eunuch abounds: the type that does not desire to act like a man in any way except the sexual. The emasculated man of today confuses aloofness with masculinity and, on the other hand, tries to be that which men are not by nature: soft, easily lead, domestic, unmanly; a sort of user-friendly Mr. Mom. And, in general, he fails at this miserably. He is unhappy with who he is, and he isn’t respected by women or other men or even himself. He is a boy who never grew up. But unlike Peter Pan, he avoids fights with pirates over issues of good and evil. He is far too self-centered. He is a perpetual incarnation of the stereotypical teenager: driven by hormones and seeking to avoid responsibility. He is a different type of Leonardo; what da Vinci was to the notion of Renaissance Man, DiCaprio is to today’s man-boy. He is, in essence, the antithesis of a Christian man.
Our Lord said that we should become perfect, as he is perfect. The Fathers teach that the path to perfection lies not in becoming a eunuch, but in becoming a man. We are called to struggle against sin, and it is through our victories in this battle that we become mature, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and to the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; so that we may no longer be children,” as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians.
May God grant us the desire to grow up and become real men, responsible men. Only by doing so will we become the type of man God wants us to be: those who reflect the image of the Son of Man.
Thomas S. Buchanan is a member of the Orthodox Church and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with his wife and three children.
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“Men in Full” first appeared in the July/August 2000 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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