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!