Birth Control and Contraception

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Contraception is the term used to describe an intentional prevention of the conception of a child. This term may also be used to describe the intentional prevention of pregnancy, which may be defined differently from conception.


Opinions about contraception have varied in the Orthodox Church. There is complete unanimity that no form of contraception that is abortifacient is acceptable and there are definitive ecumenical canons that proscribe abortifacients. The Fathers of the Church, such as Ss. Athanasius the Great, John Chrysostom, Epiphanios, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine of Hippo, Caesarious, Gregory the Great, Augustine of Canterbury and Maximos the Confessor, all explicitly condemned abortion as well as the use of abortifacients. Ss. Jerome and Clement of Alexandria have also explicitly condemned coitus interruptus (withdrawal) in their discussions of the sin of Onan. Some also hold that the Fathers of the Church have not expressed opinions on the "moment" at which life begins, so that our clear distinctions between non-abortifacient and abortifacient contraception are anachronistic, and would not have existed in the minds of the Fathers. Consequently, these also hold that as a result, the Fathers' condemnation extends to all contraceptive methods. However there are a range of opinions on the issue of non-abortifacient contraception.

1) There are those who hold the view that one of sex's natural purposes is the procreation of children (i.e. sex is naturally oriented towards or "for" procreation), and that to actively separate the procreative aspect of sex from its purpose of uniting husband and wife is to distort it.
2)There are those who argue that natural family planning is acceptable, because it simply involves abstinence from sex during times when fertility is likely. Such is the opinion expressed by the Church of Greece in her encyclical of October 14, 1937[1].
3)There are those who teach that non-abortifacient contraception is acceptable if it is used with the blessing of one's spiritual father, and if it is not used simply to avoid having children for purely selfish reasons. The statement on marriage and family from the 10th All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America follows along these lines.

While some local churches have issued official statements on this issue, it is not an issue that has been clearly defined by the entire Church.

Vocal opponents to the prevailing view of contraception in Orthodoxy today include [incomplete]: Bp. Hilarion of Vienna [ROC], Bp. Artemije of Kosovo [SOC], Fr. Josiah Trenham, Fr. Patrick Reardon, Fr. John Schroedel, Fr. John A. Peck and Fr. Patrick Danielson.


Methods of family planning can be broken down into five categories: Natural Family Planning, withdrawal, barrier contraceptives, hormonal contraceptives, and sterilization. A distinction is implicit here between birth control or family planning and contraception. Whereas the former terms may include all five categories, "contraception" is usually reserved for those methods which more directly inhibit or act against conception.

Natural Family Planning

Even many people who accept the "new consensus" position as outlines above think that Natural Family Planning (NFP) is superior to contraception. It is often said that the dynamics of NFP (similar to the fasts of the Church) serve as a kind of catechesis for marital sexuality, emphasizing the need for self-control and honoring God-given fertility while at the same time recognizing the need for intimacy and allowing for a responsible family planning. NFP is also useful for couples having difficulty conceiving. Additionally, because of the awareness of the woman's cycle that it brings it can also help a woman spot health risks manifested through irregularities in the cycle.

Modern methods of Natural Family Planning differ greatly from the old "rhythm" method, which worked by marking days on a calendar and required a regular cycle length to be effective. NFP can be used by women with irregular cycles, as well as by women who are breastfeeding or pre-menopausal. With proper use, NFP is as effective as the Pill.


Besides being ineffective, methods of withdrawal have traditionally been opposed by the Church as over-indulgence of the flesh.

Barrier Contraceptives

Intrauterine devices (IUD)

The presence of a device in the uterus prompts the release of substances hostile to both sperm and eggs; the presence of copper increases this spermicidal effect. However, the same effect is believed to harm developing embryos. While the primary mechanism of the IUD is spermicidal/ovicidal, post-fertilization mechanisms are believed to contribute significantly to their effectiveness. Because Christians define fertilization as the beginning of life, this secondary effect is considered by them as early abortion.

Hormonal Contraceptives



  • Engelhardt, H. Tristram, Jr. Foundations of Christian Bioethics. Swets & Zeitlinger, 2000. See especially Chapter Five.
  • Evdokimov, Paul. The Sacrament of Love: The Nuptial Mystery in the Light of the Orthodox Tradition. Crestwood: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1985. See especially pp. 174-180.
  • Meyendorff, John. Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective, second expanded edition. Crestwood: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1975. See especially Chapter Thirteen.
  • Sherrard, Philip. "Humanae Vitae: Notes on the Encyclical Letter of Pope Paul VI," in Sobornost 5:8 (1969).
  • Zaphiris, Chrysostomos. "The Morality of Contraception: An Eastern Orthodox Opinion," in The Journal of Ecumenical Studies 11:4 (1974). Note: provides a commentary on Zaphiris 1974 and an "opposing views" piece to the "new concensus".
  • Zion, William Basil. Eros and Transformation: Sexuality and Marriage: An Eastern Orthodox Perspective. Lanham: University Press of America, 1992. Chapter Seven is entitled "Orthodoxy and Contraception."

See also


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External links


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