by Fr. Paul O'Callaghan
from The Word, April 1989
Obsession with the body and health are undoubtedly outstanding characteristics of modern American life. Commercials sing to us, “You work hard for your body, so you better treat it right.” Health spa chains tell us, “I want your body!” Body-oriented commercials try to sell us everything from milk to deodorant, usually accompanied by visual images of so-called perfect bodies in athletic gear. And this kind of imagery is all around us in a way that gets into our minds without our even being aware of it.
Let me give you an example. The other day my son Sean came to me in the kitchen and asked for a glass of milk. After he finished, he said, “Dad, does milk make your body good?” Where do you think he got that question?!! So you can see how much this body-awareness, this body-obsession, has become a part of American life. Even our kids are picking up on it without being aware of it.
Because of this influence, I want to give what I believe are some basic guidelines for a Christian view of the body and health.
The first point I want to make is this:
Christianity does not share in the modern American body-obsession. According to Orthodox Christian teaching, it is possible to have an overly high view of the importance of the body. Christianity says, “The body is important, but there are other things that are more important.” You may remember Jesus’ words: “Do not fear them that can only kill the body. Fear him that can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matt. 10:28). In other words, He’s telling us, “Don’t worry about the death of the body — there are other things more important than the body — worry about the death of the soul!” The first epistle of Timothy points us in the same direction when it teaches that, “Bodily exercise profits are little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (1 Tim. 4:8). Along the same lines, Fr. John of Kronstadt remarked several times about how we lavish care and concern on our bodies, which will die, corrupt, and decay, while simultaneously neglecting the care of our souls, which will live forever.
For Christians, that part of us which is immortal — which will survive beyond the grave and stand before the judgment seat of Christ — is what we really need to be concerned about. So it is easy to see, from a Christian point of view, why obsession with the body is a profound error in judgment. There is something more important than the body.
There’s still another reason why we Christians should reject the current American body-obsession. This is because underlying our modern obsession with the body is the worship of sex. What the TV, and media are really telling us in all their “body-language” is that the most important thing in life is sexual attractiveness — having that “sexy” body that will draw your object of desire to you like iron filings to a magnet. Media “body-awareness” is just one aspect of the obsession with sex that it has fostered in our culture in recent decades.
This is not to say that Christians cannot recognize the beauty of a well-proportioned human body. Anyone who has read the Song of Solomon can see how the beauty of the body is celebrated there. But in our age, due to media influence, there has been a subtle shift in emphasis in the way our culture views the body.
You can see how powerful this influence has become by looking at how our language has changed over the years.
Years ago, for example, (and some of you will probably remember this), people didn’t talk about others having a “nice body” the way we do today. Back then, if you were talking about a man, you would say he had a “nice physique.” If it was a woman, you’d say she had a “nice figure.”
Now, I admit the significance of this might not be immediately clear. You might think, “Well, so what? What’s the difference?” The difference is this: When you’re talking about “physique” or “figure,” you’re talking about the appreciation of form, beautiful form. When you talk about someone’s body, you’re referring not to form, but to flesh; and that ties in with lust, not the appreciation of beauty. The connection with sexual idolatry is there, and we shouldn’t be blind to it.
These are the main reasons Christians cannot fully endorse the current American “body-fad.” Again, this is not to say that Christianity does not have a positive appreciation for the body. Just as we do not want to overvalue the importance of the body, so we do not want to undervalue it either. And we find the reasons for this in the Bible, especially in the first epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. There he tells two things about our bodies: first, that they are members of Christ, and secondly, that they are temples of the Holy Spirit.
Our bodies belong to Christ — in fact, they are part of Christ! They are temples —dwelling places of the Holy Spirit! How can they not be important? If God dwells in them, they must deserve our care and respect, and neglect of them can only be called sin. (Click here to read part 2 )
St. Anastasia of Rome - October 29
O holy Virgin Anastasia, thou didst redden thy robe of purity with the blood of thy martyr's contest. Thou dost illumine the world with the grace of healing and intercede with Christ our God for our souls.
Kontakion of St. Anastasia, Tone 3
Purified by the streams of thy virginity and crowned by the blood of martyrdom, thou dost grant healing to those in sickness, and salvation to those who lovingly pray to thee. For Christ has given thee strength which flows to us as a stream of grace, O Virgin Martyr Anastasia.