Monday, May 31, 2010

What is an Epitimia?

Q & A with Fr Job:
Question: What is an epitimia? In what does it consist?

Answer: An epitimia (Greek, epitimion, from epi – on, timi – punishment) is a means of spiritual correction, prescribed for serious transgressions: witchcraft, apostasy, fornication, murder (including abortion), grave-robbing, and so on. The spiritual foundation for this means of healing the serious vices of man the Holy Fathers see in the word of God, which speaks about punishment as a benefaction in relation to the transgressor: “My son, despise not the chastening of the LORD: neither be weary of His correction” (Prov 3:11); “Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby" (Heb. 12:11). The rules for the application of epitimias are found in general Church canonical collections. Well known is the penitential nomokanon (book of epitimias) of St John IV the Faster, Patriarch of Constantinople. In it is contained instructions for spiritual fathers who hear confessions. The compiler of the penitental nomokanon, defining various means of healing for spiritual-moral infirmities (strict fasting, prostrations, giving to the poor, etc.), advises one to be guided not only by the weight of the sin, but by the degree to which the penitent is experiencing his behavior, his inner condition.

In our time, when the spiritual infirmity of people is so great, a pastor must use his right to apply epitimias very carefully, with wisdom and love.


Apophatically Speaking said...

"In our time, when the spiritual infirmity of people is so great"

This is a common theme.

Looking at my own life, I can attest to the truth of this observation. But I have trouble understanding it. Does this mean the Holy Spirit is less available to us today, then during times past? Is the problem with us (are we somehow less capable/determined/? then those who went before us?). And, what is the way out/back (is it even possible)?

Thanks for your time and great blog. I don't comment often, but do read most entries.

Felix Culpa said...

St Symeon the New Theologian makes it very clear that the Holy Spirit is just as available today as it was in the past -- he has a great deal to say on the matter, all of which is worth reading.

I think the problem is basically us. I would say, more specifically, that it's a question of "generational sin," that is, that each generation inherits some part of the sins of their forefathers, going all the way back to Adam. So we've got a lot on our backs.

Or you could take St John of the Ladder's word as a model: he says all sin comes from the flesh, the world, and the devil. Certainly the first and last haven't changed but the world has become MUCH more permissive.

Thank you for your kind and encouraging comment!