Fascination with wickedness obscures what is good, and roving desire perverts the innocent mind.
Wisdom of Solomon 4:12

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Law and Economics - Nomos and Oikonomia

Oikonomia (economics) literally means the "law of the house." The term Oikonomia primarily refers to the divine will for man's salvation and the specific application of the will of God in the life of the Church.
The Orthodox Church accepts and understands that there are hard-fast laws of God. However, it also acknowledges that these laws are to be employed with pastoral wisdom in each and every particular situation.  The range of application may extend from akriveia, or strict adherence (precision, exactness), to varying levels of pastoral discretion called oikonomia. 
Oikonomia acknowledges that the purpose of law of God is to reflect His truth and His will for the world, while at the same time acknowledging that the will of God is intended to lead to life and not to destruction.  One great example is found in the 12th chapter of St. Matthew’s gospel. 
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. And His disciples were hungry, and began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, "Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath! "But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: "how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?  "Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Matthew 12:1-5 NKJ  
The use oikonomia expresses an understanding that the law of God, while perfect, when applied with precision may put out the smoldering wick of life and lead to destruction. In the above passage, the disciples and David needed to eat, yet to do so they violated the law. Nevertheless, we read that neither David, nor the disciples were found guilty of a violation by Christ. Why? The law was always intended to be a teacher that leads to mankind to Christ. Akrivia alone kills. 
It is this lack of oikonomia that is one the greatest problems with Non-Orthodox. It is not uncommon to find out that the greatest atheists are the children of Christian fundamentalists, who drove the law home to their children, and in doing so put out their smoldering wicks. It is also a lack of oikonomia that proves to be a problem for the more progressive types.  The progressives shy away from the law of God by turning against it, and in many cases even by ridiculing it. Case and point, the Episcopal Church's and its treatment of same sex attraction. By trying to be gentle to the broken people who are afflicted by same sex attraction, they conclude that the law of God does not say what it means, and that certain actions forbidden by God are instead blessed.

The Orthodox Christian approach rejects both the fundamentalist and the progressive positions. We follow the tradition of Christ, the apostles, and the church fathers, and apply the law of God and the canons of the church in a way that ranges from strict adherence to relative laxity. Depending on the person's spiritual condition,  Akrivia may needed, or perhaps some level of Oikonomia may be what is needed. Orthodox believe that the revealed law of God is perfect, yet we also acknowledge our fallen weaknesses and God’s mercy. For this reason, when it comes to a difficult situation regarding God’s law, we go to our spiritual fathers and mothers to seek their guidance in the application of God’s law. When it comes to right and wrong in general, we know what is right, God's revealed will is right. However, we do not stop there; we go on to ask, what is best for the healing of the soul of this individual? As we provide an answer, we strive to remember that the point of the law is to cause us to continue to move forward in our salvation in grace and truth.

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