Bodily Health

Concern for the health of the body, though not central, has a significant place in Eastern Orthodox ethics (Harakas, 1986a). Orthodox Christian ethics calls for "a healthy mind and a healthy spirit with a healthy body." The body is neither merely an instrument nor simply a dwelling place of the spirit. It is a constituent part of human existence, and requires attention for the sake of the whole human being. Thus, in its sinful condition, the body can also be a source of destructive tendencies that need to be controlled and channeled. This is one of the works of asceticism, which seeks to place the body under control of the mind and the spirit. But asceticism is never understood as a dualistic condemnation of the body. As a good creation, under the direction of the proper values, the body is seen as worthy of nurturing care. Thus, everything that contributes to the well-being of the body should be practiced in proper measure, and whatever is harmful to the health of the body ought to be avoided. The Eastern Christian patristic tradition is consistent in this concern (Constantelos; Darling).

Practices that contribute to bodily health and well-being are ethically required. Adequate nourishment, proper exercise, and other good health habits are fitting and appropriate, while practices that harm the body are considered not simply unhealthful, but also immoral. Abuse of the body is morally inappropriate. Both body and mind are abused through overindulgence of alcohol and the use of narcotics for nontherapeutic purposes. Orthodox teaching holds that persons who might be attracted to these passions need to exercise their ethical powers in a form of ascetic practice to overcome their dependence upon them as part of their growth toward God-likeness.

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