On Canon Law and Contemporary Orthodoxy

Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev, First Primate of ROCOR 1863-1936

According to the Nomocanon, three-quarters of our contemporaries coming to confession are liable not just to strict penances, but to complete deprivation of communion for ten or twenty years, or even till the hour of death. But in this same Canon Law it is explained under what conditions this excommunication can be shortened as much as two or three times. However, it does not mention the most important condition, which did not exist when the Nomocanon was compiled. By this we mean the general sinfulness of the last two centuries and the consequence of this– that it is incomparably more difficult to struggle with sin than it was in the times of the ancient piety. This piety was universal and all the moral principles and customs of family and social life were subject to it; an example of this was the custom of adolescents marrying at the very onset of sexual maturity, or even earlier than this, at the age of fifteen: exceptions were made only for those youths and maidens who had given a vow of virginity. And so, under contemporary conditions of life, which are so far removed from God’s commandments, the strictness of penances has to be reduced many times. But it is regrettable that spiritual fathers no longer give penances at all, either because of their own neglect of confession or else out of false delicacy or timidity. This non-application of penances causes scandal and no little distress to former Uniates, descendants of Polish Uniates, and also of the firmly Orthodox parishioners of those Great Russian dioceses which have retained to some extent the Old Believer way of life or, to be more precise, a strictly Church-centered way of life. But it is not just a question of causing distress; we must fulfill the laws of our religion, even if we soften them in accordance with the lowered spiritual strength of our contemporaries. (Confession: A Series of Lectures on the Mystery of Repentance)