Do Not Be Mismated

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The latest statistics from the Archdiocese says that upwards of 80% of all marriages performed in the Orthodox Churches in America are between an Orthodox Christian and a non-Orthodox Christian. For some Orthodox Churches in Europe, this is a mystery since they still hold to the older wisdom on not allowing marriages between persons who are not both Orthodox Christians. But the pastoral reality of our situation here in America is unavoidable. We are less than 1% of the population and demographic studies show we are growing in some areas but actually shrinking in others.

So, what are our young people suppose to do? People “fall” in love (by the way, I actually find this term silly) and they become intoxicated with emotion and make decisions to marry all the time. And the current state of marriage in America is that many marriages have, are, or will end in divorce. The staggering challenge for the Church, holding as we do the timeless understanding of the Divine Mystery of Marriage, are fighting a multi-front battle against prevailing society changes, the struggling situation of poor adult religious education, and the reality that our children are very likely to choose a partner who is not Orthodox. What are we to do?

Look at our lesson today in 2 Corinthians 6:11-16:

BRETHREN, our mouth is open to you, Corinthians; our heart is wide. You are not restricted by us, but you are restricted in your own affections. In return-I speak as to children-widen your hearts also.

Do not be mismated with unbelievers. For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God, as God said.

What an amazing passage from St. Paul to our precious Corinthians. Frankly, the cosmopolitan and diverse society of Corinth in Paul’s day mirrors very well the economically successful and wildly pagan society we live in here in America. So, Paul’s words to his parish here are perfect for us today. If we are going to hold and pass on a timeless Faith to the next generation, we are going to have to focus with laser-like precision and unwavering commitment to the principles Paul reveals to us here! Either that, or we are going to have to surrender to the reality our children will not remain Orthodox in any meaningful way. There are no other options. Period. Ever.

First, Love means more than Feelings. Notice how St. Paul starts this passage. He tells the Corinthians that his “mouth is open” and his “heart is wide.” Curious turns of phrases, don’t you think? What he means is that he loves these people enough to tell them the truth in love and that his compassion for them means they never need to wonder if he cares for them. St. Paul loves these people enough to tell them the truth and have deep compassion for them. These two realities are not mutually exclusive, no matter what current society says. In fact, today’s society that loves to “redefine” everything assumes anyone who doesn’t agree with their wholesale abandonment of ancient wisdom lacks compassion and have narrow minds and closed hearts. Of course this is their way of shaming different voices in their mad scramble to undo timeless wisdom. This True Love means we Orthodox have to both Speak and Act from love, especially in front of or children. They need to know we are going to be consistent and loving so that they will have a firm foundation to build their lives upon when they make fateful decisions about their future.

The constant shifting sands of popular opinion will never be a strong enough foundation on which to build a life!

Finally, Love means being Honest! Paul doesn’t suggest to the Corinthians that they avoid “mismatched” relationships; he commands! “Do not.” But he doesn’t stop with the command. He goes on to explain why! And this is key. We can’t just reduce our faith to “well, that’s what yia yia says to do.” We no longer live in a society where that will ever be effective. We have to give our children the “why” behind the wisdom. If you don’t know why the Church teaches what She teaches, you will never pass on a strong enough faith to your children for their faith to survive today’s society.

Today, is your love more than feelings and committed to honesty? Do you actively seek to understand why the Church teaches what She teaches? Are you engaged in a purposeful practice of your Faith? Dear one, you will never pass on to your children what you, yourself, do not possess. The greatest Youth Program in our Church will ALWAYS be a strong Adult education program! The Church only has your children a few hours a week at best. It’s your responsibility to give them the Faith. So, go to church!

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7 comments:

  1. Thank you Fr. Barnabas 🙂 Will you talk about the symbolism of The Crowns used in the Orthodox Christian Marriage ceremony? When I read about it, … there was this big “aha” moment, and everything finally made sense. (It was “the real” and original definition of marriage!) Thinking that someone else may find it helpful too.

    Sometimes I worry that we girls get so caught up in creating a ‘perfect wedding day’ we loose sight of the big picture. The morning after, it’s character, unselfishness and kindness motivated by a love of Christ that will build the kind of marriage that can flourish through the decades. It doesn’t sound very sexy or exciting, but it’s the truth. (Took my hubbie and I about 20 years to catch on! [lol]) …Here’s to another 20 🙂 Thank you for your heartfelt & encouraging sermons. Look forward to each one. Blessings!

  2. Fr, I’m curious to know your thoughts on how single Orthodox Christians should find their “mates” in a place where they make up less than a percentage of the total population.

    If-assuming I am reading your article correctly-Orthodox should not be yoked with non-Orthodox, then it would seem the whole enterprise is set against us due to the physical distance between parishes and the limited number of available and single OCs in a given parish. Orthodox dating websites and suggestions to attend retreats and conferences can definitely help close the physical barrier for a time, but they can’t substitute or guarantee successful relationships. To me, it would seem that Orthodox-heterodox relationships will be a fact of life for Western Orthodox for many generations. Or do we need to send those wanting to be married abroad to search for a spouse like Rebekah did with Jacob?

    Thanks!

    1. Hi, Patrick. I’m not Fr. Barnabas, I’m just a mom who loves this blog who hears your heart and am hoping you will be open to a little “mom advice”. (Maybe it will help?) I think the most beautiful love story in the Bible was the one between Isaac & Rebekah. Isaac’s father (Abraham) sent a servant to find a wife for him – the servant prayed and asked for God’s help so that his journey would be successful. The servant asked that the Lord would make the right choice obvious by giving him a sign. The sign that the servant asked for was that the “right” girl would not only offer him water, but offer to water his camels as well — no small task, and a definite sign of kindness and compassion. God answered his prayer and led him to Rebekah. When he brought Rebekah home to Isaac, Isaac loved her. The secret to success? Patience and Prayer. You don’t need to meet a million girls to find a loving life partner. You only need to meet one – if it’s the right one. God can bring her to you. Be active in your church – you were created on purpose, for a purpose. When you find that purpose and pursue it, you will find confidence and contentment and attract the life partner God has for you. While you wait, pray for your future wife – pray for her protection, that God would write your name upon her heart, and that God would prepare you to be the kind of husband she will need. Be patient and full of hope – knowing that God will answer your prayers when the timing is right. Everything will fall in place naturally. Hope this helps….Blessings!

      1. Beth, I appreciate your concern and advice but I fear it still doesn’t resolve the problem of Orthodox singles (myself included) of finding other Orthodox singles. It is not so much of wanting a million eligible bachelors and bachelorettes, but finding a mate (to use Fr. Barnabas’ word) in an environment where the numbers and physical barriers are against us if we are to only choose Orthodox spouses.

    2. Dear Patrick,

      Yes, in a perfect world Orthodox Christians would only marry other Orthodox Christians. But, guess what… yep we don’t live in a perfect world. It’s why I said what I said about the pastoral reality of our current situation here in America. And why the statistics show that 80% of marriages in Orthodox Churches are between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians.

      But Patrick, I also have folks approach me about marriage between Orthodox Christians and non-Christians and they say what’s the big deal.

      The challenge comes in recapturing the theological reality of the Divine Mystery of Marriage and abandon the dead end of seeing marriage as a “contract” between two consenting adults.

      But that requires a catechetical commitment of the clergy to actually insist that Orthodox Christians be Orthodox in action as well as by name.

      Patrick, I genuinely sympathise with the struggle of single Orthodox Christians in this country. That’s why I am committed to a robust adult discipleship teaching that causes Orthodox Christians to understand the “why” of our faith so that their priorities are shaped by the Faith instead of shaped by a secular philosophy with a little Orthodox decoration to appease yia yia.

      I counsel couples all the time to seek out pious Christian spouses and then I encourage them to consider becoming Orthodox. To show you how far we have to go, a man in my own parish had been married to a precious Orthodox lady for 20 years. I asked him if he ever considered converting himself. His answer shocked me. He told me I was the first Orthodox priest to ask him that.

      God bless you, Patrick. And God grant you the desires of your heart after your desires have been formed and shaped by love for Him. Good strength, brother.

  3. Dear fr. Barnabas
    I am Adoson from Indonesia. I got your writing from Renee Risti.
    I live in a small town where there’s no Orthodox church around. I have a big interest to join the Orthodox mission especially in my place. While my knowledge about Orthodox faith is poor eventhought I am reading orthodox faith book written by fr. Thomas Hopko.
    I have a strong spirit to establish the Orthodox church in my place. I start my mission from my family. I bring them to be members of Orthodox Church. My question is, how do I have the authority to build an Orthodox community.
    First of all, I want to know the rite of the liturgy in Orthodox Church completed by the prayers of the liturgy. So far, I have read some articles of Orthodox liturgical theology.
    I do hope you could send me those materials. I would like to thank a lot for your intentions for Jesus mission

    Love in Jesus
    Adoson

    1. Dear Adoson,

      God bless you for your hunger for the Orthodox Faith. I wanted to get you connected with some agencies that may be able to help you.

      First, go to this website – http://www.omsgsa.org/ and check out the contacts there. This is an Orthodox group in your part of the world and they may be able to help you with your work.

      Also, contact the folks at the Orthodox Christian Missions Center and they may be able to put you in touch with someone even more local to your area – https://www.ocmc.org/

      God bless you in your work and labor to embrace the Orthodox Christian faith.

      Your servant,
      Fr. Barnabas

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