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November 3, 2010 + A Christian View Of the Body and Health - Part 2

by Fr. Paul O'Callaghan
from The Word, April 1989
Click here to read Part 1

Now let me ask you, if our bodies are members of Christ, can it be right to abuse them by smoking and overeating? Think about it. If our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, can it be right to let our hearts, lungs, and muscles grow weak and sickly through lack of exercise and self-control? Think about it!

I believe that the proper care of our bodies is a divine responsibility given to us by God. This is one reason (apart from staying clean from sin), that Scripture tells us to “glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20).

But here is a curious fact. At the same time as we Americans foster an obsession with beautiful bodies on T.V., we are also notorious around the world for being out-of-shape and overweight. We had a visitor from Sweden staying with our family recently, and one of the first things she remarked about Americans was how heavy we appeared to her. And the reason for it, I believe, is that we lead an unnatural lifestyle. Her mother rode her bike to work every day, even in the Swedish winter! But what do we Americans do? If we have to go half a block down to the store, what do we do? You know as well as I — we get into the car and drive! Is it then surprising we’re in the kind of shape we’re in? This is why we had to invent artificial exercise — we don’t get the normal exercise that used to be just a part of living.

Now when you take this and couple it with the fact that we don’t feel guilty about overeating anymore, you can understand our problem. It used to be that gluttony — overeating — was considered one of the seven major sins. But nowadays, who feels guilty before God when they eat too much? Who really takes care that their eating habits are conducted in a godly way? So when you take our overabundant food supply, add that to our lack of concern about overindulgence, and then combine that with our life of physical ease, it’s easy to see how we can be abusing our bodies as members of Christ.

Undoubtedly, many of us need to repent and change our ways. But first, we really need to understand that our responsibility to our bodies is actually a responsibility to God.

So when we think about abuse of the body in our society, the main problems we have to be concerned about are overindulgence and lack of conditioning. But throughout the history of the Church, there has been another kind of temptation to undervalue the body. This is the view that you must subject the body to extremely harsh treatment in order to progress spiritually. So zealous Christians have kept themselves in a state of near-starvation, deprived themselves of sleep, dressed in rags (or less), refused to bathe, worn hair shirts, scourged themselves, and have engaged in even more bizarre disciplines to aid in their spiritual quests. Following the same basic approach, in modern times, some sects forbid women to wear make-up, or to cut or style their hair. To do so is considered “worldly” or “fleshly.”

But such man-made disciplines are definitely unbiblical, probably of little spiritual benefit, and possibly harmful. We have no reason to believe that God wills them.

When John Chrysostom was a young man, he went and lived in a cave and practiced severe discipline of the body in an attempt to draw near to God. He ended up suffering with life-long stomach problems as a result. In his later (and wiser) years, he strongly discouraged people from practicing extremes of self-denial. St. Gregory Palamas, St. Seraphim of Sarov, and many other saints also urged moderation in attempts at self-discipline.

The true Christian approach to the body is based on the wise principle of moderation. St. Paul tells us to “Let your moderation be known to all men.” It is not “worldly” or “fleshly” to take proper care for our health, to groom ourselves well, or to dress nicely. It is not sinful to appreciate the beauty of the human form, which, after all, reflects the Supreme Beauty of its Designer.

Sin only enters the picture when appreciation turns into obsession, when the greater value of the eternal is forgotten, or when neglect or abuse takes place. Let us guard against these as we seek to “glorify God in our bodies.”


Synaxis of the Holy Archangels Michael, Gabriel And all the Heavenly Hosts - November 8

Troparion of the Angels, Tone 4

Supreme Leaders of the Heavenly Hosts, we implore you that by your prayers you will encircle us, unworthy as we are, with the protection of the wings of your immaterial glory and guard us who fall down before you and fervently cry: deliver us from dangers, for you are the commanders of the powers above.

Kontakion of the Angels, Tone 2

Supreme Leaders of God's armies and ministers of the divine glory, princes of the bodiless Angels and guides of men, ask what is good for us and great mercy, as Supreme Leaders of the Bodiless Hosts.