Marriage as a Lifetime of Suffering

When couples come to ministers to talk about their marriage ceremonies, ministers think it’s interesting to ask if they love one another. What a stupid question! How would they know? A Christian marriage isn’t about whether you’re in love. Christian marriage is giving you the practice of fidelity over a lifetime in which you can look back upon the marriage and call it love. It is a hard discipline over many years. – Stanley Hauerwas

No issues in the modern world seem to be pressing the Church with as much force as those surrounding sex and marriage. The so-called Sexual Revolution has, for the most part, succeeded in radically changing how our culture understands both matters. Drawing from a highly selective (and sometimes contradictory) set of political, sociological and scientific arguments, opponents of the Christian tradition are pressing the case for radical reform with an abandon that bears all of the hallmarks of a revolution. And they have moved into the ascendancy.

rubblechurchThose manning the barricades describe themselves as “defending marriage.” That is a deep inaccuracy: marriage, as an institution, was surrendered quite some time ago. Today’s battles are not about marriage but simply about dividing the spoils of its destruction. It is too late to defend marriage. Rather than being defended, marriage needs to be taught and lived. The Church needs to be willing to become the place where that teaching occurs as well as the place that can sustain couples in the struggle required to live it. Fortunately, the spiritual inheritance of the Church has gifted it with all of the tools necessary for that task. It lacks only people who are willing to take up the struggle.

Marriage laws were once the legal framework of a Christian culture. Despite the ravages of the Enlightenment and Reformation, the general framework of marriage remained untouched. The Church, in many lands, particularly those of English legal tradition, acted as an arm of the State while the State acted to uphold the Christian ideal of marriage. As Hauerwas noted in the opening quote, marriage as an institution was never traditionally about romantic love: it was about fidelity, stability, paternity and duty towards family. The traditional Western marriage rite never asked a couple, “Do you love him?” It simply asked, “Do you promise to love?” That simple promise was only one of a number of things:

WILT thou have this woman to thy wedded wife, to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honor, and keep her, in sickness, and in health? And forsaking all others, keep thee only to her, so long as you both shall live?

And this:

I N. take thee N. to my wedded wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness, and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death; according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I plight thee my troth.

Obviously, the primary intent of these promises was faithfulness in all circumstances over the course of an entire lifetime. The laws that surrounded marriage existed to enforce this promise and sought to make it difficult to do otherwise.

Divorce was difficult to obtain – long waiting periods were required and very specific conditions had to be met for one to be granted. Churches made remarriage quite difficult, to say the least. Obligations to children were very well-defined and grounded in parental (biological) rights and obligations. Indeed, there was a large complex of family laws that tilted the culture towards marriage at every turn.

Of course, none of this would have represented any benefit had it not also reflected a cultural consensus. Contrary to popular sayings, morality can indeed be legislated (laws do almost nothing else). But moral laws are simply experienced as oppression if they do not generally agree with the moral consensus of a culture. The laws upholding marriage were themselves a cultural consensus: people felt these laws to be inherently correct.

Parenthetically, it must be stated as well that the laws governing marriage and property were often tilted against women – that is a matter that I will not address in this present article.

The moral consensus governing marriage began to dissolve primarily in the Post-World War II era in Western cultures. There are many causes that contributed to this breakdown. My favorite culprit is the rapid rise in mobility (particularly in America) that destroyed the stability of the extended family and atomized family life.

The first major legal blow to this traditional arrangement was the enactment of “no-fault” divorce laws, in which no reasons needed to be given for a divorce. It is worth noting that these were first enacted in Russia in early 1918, shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution. The purpose (as stated in Wikipedia) was to “revolutionize society at every level.” That experiment later met with significant revisions.  The first state to enact such laws in the U.S. was California, which did not do so until 1969. Such laws have since become normative across the country.

These changes in marriage law have been accompanied by an evolution in the cultural meaning of marriage. From the earlier bond of a virtually indissoluble union, marriage has morphed into a contractual agreement between two persons for their own self-defined ends. According to a 2002 study, by age 44, roughly 95 percent of all American adults have had pre-marital sex. For all intents, we may say that virtually all Americans, by mid-life, have had sex outside of marriage.

These are clear reasons for understanding that “defense of marriage” is simply too late. The Tradition has become passé. But none of this says that the Tradition is wrong or in any way incorrect.

Of course, there are many “remnants” of traditional Christian marriage. Most people still imagine that marriage will be for a life-time, though they worry that somehow they may not be so lucky themselves. Pre-nuptial agreements are primarily tools of the rich. Even same-sex relationships are professing a desire for life-long commitments.

But all of the sentiments surrounding life-long commitments are just that – sentiments. They are not grounded in the most obvious reasons for life-long relationships. Rather, they belong to the genre of fairy tales: “living happily ever after.”

The classical Christian marriage belongs to the genre of martyrdom. It is a commitment to death. As Hauerwas notes: faithfulness over the course of a life-time defines what it means to “love” someone. At the end of a faithful life, we may say of someone, “He loved his wife.” 

Some have begun to write about the so-called “Benedict Option,” a notion first introduced by Alasdair MacIntyre in his book, After Virtue. It compares the contemporary situation to that of the collapse of the Roman Christian Imperium in the West (i.e., the Dark Ages). Christian civilization, MacIntyre notes, was not rebuilt through a major conquering or legislating force, but through the patient endurance of small monastic communities and surrounding Christian villages. That pattern marked the spread of Christian civilization for many centuries in many places, both East and West.

It would seem clear that a legislative option has long been a moot point. When 95 percent of the population is engaging in sex outside of marriage (to say the least) no legislation of a traditional sort is likely to make a difference. The greater question is whether such a cultural tidal wave will inundate the Church’s teaching or render it inert – a canonical witness to a by-gone time, acknowledged perhaps in confession but irrelevant to daily choices (this is already true in many places).

The “Benedict Option” can only be judged over the course of centuries, doubtless to the dismay of our impatient age. But, as noted, those things required are already largely in place. The marriage rite (in those Churches who refuse the present errors) remains committed to the life-long union of a man and a woman with clearly stated goals of fidelity. The canon laws supporting such marriages remain intact. Lacking is sufficient teaching and formation in the virtues required to live the martyrdom of marriage.

Modern culture has emphasized suffering as undesirable and an object to be remedied. Our resources are devoted to the ending of suffering and not to its endurance. Of course, the abiding myth of Modernity is that suffering can be eliminated. This is neither true nor desirable.

Virtues of patience, endurance, sacrifice, selflessness, generosity, kindness, steadfastness, loyalty, and other such qualities are impossible without the presence of suffering. The Christian faith does not disparage the relief of suffering, but neither does it make it definitive for the acquisition of virtue. Christ is quite clear that all will suffer.  It is pretty much the case that no good thing comes about in human society except through the voluntary suffering of some person or persons. The goodness in our lives is rooted in the grace of heroic actions.

In the absence of stable, life-long, self-sacrificing marriages, all discussion of sex and sexuality is reduced to abstractions. An eloquent case for traditional families is currently being made by the chaos and dysfunction set in motion by their absence. No amount of legislation or social programs will succeed in replacing the most natural of human traditions. The social corrosion represented by our over-populated prisons, births outside of marriage (over 40 percent in the general population and over 70 percent among non-Hispanic African Americans), and similar phenomenon continue to predict a breakdown of civility on the most fundamental level. We passed into the “Dark Ages” some time ago. The “Benedict Option” is already in place. It is in your parish and in your marriage. Every day you endure and succeed in a faithful union to your spouse and children is a heroic act of grace-filled living.

We are not promised that the Option will be successful as a civilizational cure. Such things are in the hands of God. But we should have no doubt about the Modern Project going on around us. It is not building a Brave New World. It is merely destroying the old one and letting its children roam amid the ruins.


  1. I hurry to be the first to thank you for this article. Thank you Fr. Stephen.

  2. I applaud your courage, Father. I am sure that your comments will be misunderstood and misinterpreted. I am equally sure that you already know that. However, and for the little it is probably worth. I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    Our marriage has given my wife and I great comfort and joy, but it has also required sacrifice and endurance. We agree that being married is not easy, but we also agree that is the point. If we had only stayed married for as long as it was easy, we would have been divorced over thirty years ago.

    There is a Paul Simon song that contains the following lyrics:

    Why you don’t treat me like the other humans do
    Is just a mystery to me
    It gets me agitated when I think that
    You’re gonna love me now indefinitely
    So good-bye, good-bye
    I’m gonna leave you now
    And here’s the reason why

    I like to sleep with the window open
    And you keep the window closed
    So good-bye

    Sums up the culture’s attitude towards marriage quite well, we think. I am glad to be married to someone who rejects that attitude as forcefully as I do.

  3. “Of course, the abiding myth of Modernity is that suffering can be eliminated. This is neither true nor desirable.”
    Sadhu sadhu …

  4. Wonderfully written, Father! Even as a single man, I appreciate this SO much.

  5. Dave,
    No courage required, I think. It’s just saying what’s true. The most someone can do is write something mean to me. We’re a Church of martyrs – what is mean?

  6. Thank you, Fr. Stephen,

    This helps me to know how to think about what is happening in our culture.

  7. What strikes me both about the history of divorce *and* abortion is how vocally the women’s rights movement spoke out against these things back in the 19th century, on the grounds that they were harmful to women and families and gave lecherous men a free pass.

    The State of Indiana was recently at the heart of a firestorm over religious and personal liberty. Turns out this wasn’t the first time. You might be interested in a piece I wrote on the archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, who came to Indianapolis to get a divorce from his Orthodox wife in Russia, and married a Greek woman a couple of months later. Amazing how much public opinion has done a 180 on the issue of divorce since then.

  8. A most excellent treatise, Father. You identify (correctly in my view) the idea of mobility as breaking down the family structure. I would add that mobility, combined with nearly instantaneous worldwide communications, have also broken down the other social bonds – like neighborhood and community. It is (in my estimation) easy for community to become too large, in essence the whole world, and we end up isolating ourselves from one another further. It is by no means cause and effect, but rather I believe that one feeds the other in a vicious circle.

    We need family – but we also need community. And we need individual accountability to both.

  9. Alright. So how do we help each other survive marriages to narcissists, wastrels, free-loaders, alcoholics/addicts, and cheaters?

    I’m not speaking tonque-in-cheek, but as an Orthodox Christian woman who has been asking for help to fix my marriage for ten years, finding nearly all marriage advice and/or counseling lacking or outright worthless, and is basically making it up as I go along, holding on by by fingernails while protecting my children as best as I can.

    About the only Orthodox book on marriage that I’ve found that wasn’t a waste of time was “Sacrament of Love” by Paul Evdokimov; but that was just theory.

    It seems to me that everyone wants to talk about saving on Christian marriages, but there just doesn’t seem to be enough boots-to-the-ground practicality out there. Let alone honesty.

  10. i’ve been constantly thinking of these issue lately. this was “right on time” for me. I think you should have told readers a bit more in depth who “Benedict” was, i.e. Benedict of Nursia (give dates), founder of the monasticism in the West and who brought the Desert Fathers’ tradition from Egypt and under the influence of Evagrius.

  11. Anonymous,
    You marriage might not make it (how’s that for honesty?). Depending on whether you are married to a narcissist, a wastrel, a free-loader, an alcoholic or a cheater. The alcoholic/addict is the easiest one, frankly. Go to Al-Anon and “work the steps.” Unlike many other conditions, addictions are relatively easy to “fix.” Narcissists are pretty much impossible to fix, or even improve. I can think of no misery that is much greater than living with a true narcissist.

    In my parish family, I make abundant use of secular counselors. In fact, I almost never use so-called “Christian Counselors” here in the Southeast. They’re mostly Evangelicals and are too doctrinaire in their work. Counseling is one place to start. Diagnosis – as in – what’s really wrong in your marriage? Requires some expertise – and not every parish priest has such expertise. It is also true that not every marriage can be saved – for a variety of reasons. If it can’t be saved – what can be salvaged – with the needs of children being foremost?

    But ways we can help: being available to listen. Being available to be nosy and intrusive. This is a role traditionally carried out by the extended family, but in our deeply individualistic culture we feel it’s “no body’s business.” How involved in your marriage would you like a community to be? I recall, many years ago, working on an intervention in a marriage where the husband was beating his wife. I insisted that they had to separate immediately and then begin counseling. The wife leaped to her husband’s defense and very loudly explained why that was impossible and was over-reacting. I was not able to help them.

    I’m concerned that you have found counseling to be lacking or worthless. What kind of counseling? Was it free? Was it done by a credentialed professional? If it was just the priest, then he may be way out of his depths. My concern is that you’ve just rehearsed a list of other people’s failures (and the community, I suppose). You’re probably correct – we’re terrible at these things for a lot of reasons.

    But, all in all, there’s a reason why I titled this article as I did. I don’t know if you’ll get the help you need or if your marriage is salvageable or if its doing more harm than good in all of the lives involved. I’ll pray. But if it works or if it fails, there’s going to be suffering enough to go around. I pray that others will help all of you endure or at least bind up the wounds in a compassionate manner no matter.

    I could have added to my observations on marriage, that they apply equally well to the parish Church. To be a practicing Christian involves a lifetime of suffering – voluntary – but real. I’ve observed that people are even less committed to parish life than they are to marriage. They leave at the drop of a hat and rarely endure and address the real difficulties that are inevitably involved in real Christianity. All of this is quite difficult. I pray God to have mercy on us, forgive us, and get us through.

    When we were Baptized, we were told to take up our Cross and follow. These things – including our miserable, tragic failures – are what that Cross looks like.

    Please know, that all of this will get much worse before it gets better, if it gets better. Fortunately, we are not being saved by our excellence and success, but by our weakness and our failure. Thus, there will be no shortage of opportunities for our salvation. Neither is there any lack of blame to go around.

  12. anonymous, as one who has seen too much of the type of suffering you have experienced and lived through lessor versions of it myself, there are no easy answers. The only way out that I have found is to continue the struggle within the Church. It will always be a lonely fight I am afraid. One that is fought inch by inch. My own struggle has taught me not to expect much help directly; unless one is graced with a really mature spiritual father/mother with whom you have immediate and close contact. Not a luxury most of us have. Still, we bear one another’s burdens all the same.

    Repentance/forgiveness and prayers to Mary have been my keys plus learning the discipline of thanksgiving and eschewing the way of power. (I am still a real beginner in all of those areas).

    Men need to learn how to be men. That too is a form of martyrdom especially in this society. To the extent that I am unwilling to give my life for my wife in myriad small and mundane ways, I am not being a good husband. It is on the Cross that one finds headship. One of my main tasks as a Christian husband is to build up my wife and continually pray for; to see, nurture and expect the goodness in her without trying to force anything on her. When I err, to ask forgiveness.

    It took me a long, long time and two wives to begin to put that principal into practice. Unfortunately my late wife did not get as much as she deserved. But God is merciful; the wife with whom He has graced me in my later years is the beneficiary of my learning, as I am the beneficiary of what my living wife has learned in her own previous difficulties: the fruit of her reliance on Jesus Christ through a multitude of troubles.

    I can’t speak with any authority on what women need to do other that to expect more from men. We men are often lazy and we will follow the low road if it is there to follow. At the same time, we are quite resistant to being changed. It is a profound testimony to something innate in we humans, beyond nature that women persist in wanting a man to share their life.

    I offer my prayers for you. May God bless and heal you and bring you an abundance of joy and mercy.

  13. After 45 years in one marriage, I can say a wholehearted AMEN! to all your comments. Thank you.

  14. The title is ingeniously and succinctly communicative of the most important and yet most often forgotten element in a Christian: martyrdom as glory.
    If only we could remember – even a little – to view even suffering gratefully (i.e.: eucharistically), – a predominantly lesser suffering than that of the crucified or impaled martyr-Saints -, to interpret it as a great and unwarranted honour (whether in marriage or in monasticism), then this thought alone would transform and strengthen us immensely. May God grant us His zeal that changes everything, and bestow on us the humility to preserve it…

  15. The difference now is that the war waged on the legal front is to insist not only that marriage mean whatever anyone pleases, but that everyone by required to accept this, and that no one be able to practice contrary to the new morality. The “Benedict Option” will be made manifestly illegal just a few steps further along the line. The forced destruction of the family on “social justice” grounds is being discussed just as mandating clergy to perform so-called same-sex marriages. Professor of philosophy Adam Swift was reported today as saying this: “Professor Adam Swift: “One way philosophers might think about solving the social justice problem would be by simply abolishing the family. If the family is this source of unfairness in society then it looks plausible to think that if we abolished the family there would be a more level playing field.” The right to disagree and continue to hold to the fullness of goodness and truth in the sacrament of marriage will, unless something dramatic happens, be denied and called criminal. I hope that I am wrong, but I think we do not realize how far along the war has gone.

  16. I agree, Fr. Patrick, and it frightens me greatly. Even worse, I am quite combative at times and this brings out the fighter in me and not the humble servant I am called to be. The battleground extends much farther than just the political/legal arena, I’m afraid.

  17. Fr. Patrick,
    The abolition of the family was, indeed, a goal of the Bolsheviks. However, it proved rather disastrous such that even they had to change it. Nature, with its consequences, is on the side of traditional marriage. Of course, the silliness of our political culture is that the more they themselves mess things up, the more they argue that they need more money to fix the mess, which is done by making it worse. So long as people continue to believe that the “remedies” are, in fact, “remedies,” instead of being the disease, we’ll get the same nonsense.

    There are many things families need. They need two biological parents, when possible. They need work – real work for real pay with none of the whining about the “market” that we hear from the champions of freedom (who do not whine when a rigged market rewards some with vast fortunes for little to no work). They need ample time from parents and extended family. We learn many things outside the classroom. We need more basic education and much less politically motivated nonsense in schools. They need models of noble, heroic human suffering for the sake of Christ – love in action.

    They need much less distraction and nonsense – such as games, pornography, etc. They need some protection from the endless manipulation of marketing. Children should not be the object of consumerism.

    Teenagers need adults – they do not need other teens so much. They are struggling to learn how to become adults. Other teens cannot teach you how to become an adult. The American cult of youth is insanity.

    They need more sport and less exploitation. Professional sports have become a positive incentive to bad behavior. It has corrupted education and entertainment. Sports stars as heroes is not just sad, it’s cruel in its present form.

    Families need less debt – and students need no debt.

    I could go on. It already sounds like somebody’s electoral campaign. If someone has other ideas, such that you want to disagree with mine, do keep them to yourself. I do not want the comments to degenerate into a discussion of my political thoughts. I can support my thoughts – but I really don’t want to in this context.

  18. Anonymous,

    Pray and endure for now, but also start making plans for ending your marriage. If your husband senses you are afraid of divorce, he will use this fear to control and abuse you. Once you start standing your ground, either he will change, or he will leave. Either way you will be better off…

    I have personally struggled with being told in the Church that we need to be weak and needy, while at the same time having to be strong, independent because of the circumstances in my life (having to go back to work, having to take care of everything in life that normally a husband takes care of). It is only possible with prayer, with honest standing in front of God in your brokenness and crying out “Help!”.

    I had a privilege of receiving counsel from Fr. Tom Hopko once regarding my failing marriage. I contacted him by email out of total desperation, because all these counselors really had nothing to offer (my confessor suggested it, saying he cannot advise me to suffer forever) – the professional marriage counselor did not even point out in the counselling sessions to my ex-husband that having “relationships on the side, to supplement his needs” was not OK – once I almost asked for my money back, the counselor was so useless (although I have come to forgive her, I think she was shocked and flabbergasted by the absurdity of our particular situation).

    Fr. Tom said (I don’t think he would mind me quoting him):
    “You cannot “figure out” what to do. You can only pray and take counsel and beg the Lord for illumination about what you must do, and how you must do it. The “solution”, so to speak, has to be “revealed” to you from Above. And only you can decide what that solution is on the basis of what you come to see in the light of God’s enlightening of your mind and heart, together with the best practical advice that you can get regarding properties, possessions, business, children, etc.”

    It took a VERY long time and much more suffering. But in time the divorce happened… If our spouse is not willing to be our partner on the way to our salvation, there is really not much point in continuing (the children will suffer, but will also adapt).

    I suggest you talk to as many close friends, family and make plans…. If you sincerely ask the Lord for help, it will come. My prayer during those dark times was: “The Lord is my strenght and my salvation, whom shall I fear?”.

    You are in my prayers… May the Lord keep and guide you.

  19. It is at times like these that I must stop and remind myself that none of this is beyond God’s goodness or control. He has reasons for allowing these things, many of which I am not privy to. This is not to say that I should do nothing against such atrocities and pretend them to be normal, but rather so that at the end of the day when my best efforts have failed even in the smallest of matters, I will not despair in my heart and thereby lose my salvation.

    No matter what happens, this too shall pass – and Christ is Risen!

  20. Agata,
    Thank you for that very honest sharing. It is so important that we realize and understand that our salvation is in our weakness and in our failures. We do not have to be so excellent that we somehow “get it right.” My thoughts on the Church as the kind of place that can support us in our suffering, also includes the kind of place that can support us in our failures. A “community of excellence” is no place to be saved.

  21. Father, politics offers no real remedies so whether I agree or disagree is of little import. Electoral politics is simply about power: getting it and keeping it. It is not even so much about exercising it outside of the confines of their own sphere(for the electorate).

    Your list makes it quite clear that the battle has not much changed over the centuries. I could add a few things–all distractions.

    I will say this: the iconoclasm that animates much of the destructive intent is probably at the highest level in history. The various Islamic jihads; the divinization of the state; the desire to destroy marriage and family; the drive for some type of amorphous “justice”; etc. are all a kind of iconoclasm that desires the destruction of the ultimate icon–the human being. The demonic desire to make us all faceless and dispirited without joy, purpose or transcendence of any kind so that even our passions are passionless. Only rage seems to count for anything. Since everyone is offended by everything, rage is but a short step away. Sounds like hell to me.

    We face, ill prepared as we are, quite possibly the most intense onslaught in the experience of the Church. If so, only divine intervention will allow any of us to survive it. I fear for my son and all that come after me for my remaining time in this world is mostly likely pretty short. Come Lord Jesus!

    That does not mean we bunker down in fear. Quite the contrary we must become more fearless being prepared at all times to give a reason for our hope.

  22. Fr. Stephen,

    I am sorry if failed to communicate that my parish and the Church were the main sources of support during the difficult times. My priests, my friends, the words of services that offered consolation… I don’t know how people suffer without faith….

    God can only work in our life if we partake of Him in the Eucharist and meet Him in the stillness of our heart (in the Jesus Prayer). Those are the two life rafts to cling on to (I think Elder Sophrony said that, as many other Saints). As Drewster said above, we know that all will end well some day, because Christ is Risen and we belong to Him. It just may not be in our life time….

  23. Conspiracy Ben here,
    the goal of all this, in my view, is not fixing anything, but producing such chaos throughout the totality of our lives that we will welcome the Antichrist. Out of chaos, order. In this respect the ‘goal’ is even more sinister than that of the Bolsheviks- the Bolseviks wanted a religionless utopia- the order on the march now wants a new world order with Antichrist enshrined. The dupes are those who still think that the modernity project is merely a misdirected drive to utopia- it is not, it is Antichrist. Because of that as Seraphim of Sarov noted, we will see the catacombs in this Country.

  24. A superb article, Fr. Stephen. Thank you. Now it seems that it is only Holy Orthodoxy that remains a living martyr or witness to the salvific suffering of Christ. All that the Church is — including marriage — is intended for our salvation, but as the Lord showed us salvation can only come through suffering and martyrdom.

  25. Fr Steven,

    Thank you for your very salient comments on what families need. As anybody who follows the blogger Anti Gnostic has said, part of what religious communities did in the past, and what successful (not necessarily in the spiritual sense, but in terms of numbers of congregants) communities do now, is “knock the rough edges off of life”. See his post “Bleak Christianity”

    As you have stated so clearly, the on-going challenges and self-giving of marriage are ascetic in and of themselves, not to mention having to meet those same challenges while dealing with the challenges of living in the economic and cultural traditions that we do. While we can correctly say that Mormons hold incorrect beliefs on the nature of God, Christ, and creation, there’s no denying they provide for their people: young mothers are given guidance, assistance, and material supplies, young men are never long without a decent job and are given good financial advice, couples are encouraged to marry young, church members do business with one another, and children and teens are given basically wholesome environments in which to live. The people who join the Mormon church don’t come because they’ve read their way into the church or are convinced by its theology. They come because they see corporate acts of mercy and stability being practiced by those in the community for those inside the community and for those around the community.

    Mormons certainly have their institutional and cultural dysfunctions as well, but I’m using them as an example to say the following. We can’t bribe people to come into or stay in Orthodoxy, but if can’t help to provide for their basic material needs and social infrastructure, we’re going to remain a church (in the West) mostly for disaffected, moderately intelligent, and cultural bourgeois persons from other Christian professions of faith. In other words, having a real economy (a household) inside the church needs to be a priority for Orthodoxy, especially in the West, so that coming into the Church, also means stepping into village life, with all it beautiful and messy parts. On the other hand, those looking for just intellectual satisfaction or spiritual triumphalism will need to reconsider their motivations for coming into the church because they’ll see the sacrifices it will involve.

    While continuing to uphold the salvific and sacrificial value of marriage, the Church needs to also make sure that: couples can marry young and thereby dissipate some of the sexual temptation of young adulthood; provide those couples with real financial and material support, if they need it; tell young men not to study the liberal arts but study practical disciplines that can support large families; tell young women about the value of being mothers and family life and break the illusion of working for someone else as being existentially fulfilling; lend to one another at little to no interest and use alternative finance to get out and stay out of debt; and make intentional efforts, as much as it is possible, to live as close to one’s actual parish as possible. If a parish can do these things, they won’t have a problem with evangelizing because they’ll be living the life of the Gospel as the parishioners and family members give to one another in sacrifice and love. Others around them will see this and they will want to experience this love and stability as well.

    Sorry if I repeated some of your points Father, I just wanted to emphasize the seriousness of this issue.

  26. Anonymous and Agata,
    I am not Orthodox, but have several Orthodox friends I love dearly. 😉

    I’m so glad that Fr. Stephen told you to go to Al Anon. I was married to a alcoholic/addict who only thought of himself in pretty much all areas of life. He never cheated on me with other women, but he did not “protect” me and our household financially, spiritually, emotionally, etc. I discovered Al Anon when he went to rehab the first time. It actually was the catalyst for me returning to a deep relationship with the Lord, because I had just become so overwhelmed, anxious and depressed trying to deal with everything. I started with an online Yahoo group, and then got the courage to attend face to face meetings. What I liked about it, as opposed to my Sunday school class or Bible study group is there was a lot of talking and understanding of the “down and dirty” life that was going on behind closed doors. I grew up in an Evangelical church, and was attending an Evangelical church when I filed for divorce from my husband of almost 14 years.

    I did NOT come to the decision easily. I prayed for 2 years, and did everything I could on MY end to save the marriage. But the contract of marriage takes two people working on it together, and being there to life one another up when they need it. I filed when I felt peace about it… and part of that peace was being more scared to live the rest of my life like I was than I was scared of being alone. My parents loved my exhusband a lot. But even they came to believe that staying with him was bad for me…. unhealthy, even though he wasn’t beating me. And financially he would find ways to spend and create debt even what I thought I had blocked him from access. He didn’t work for the last 3 years of our marriage, was still using, and had begun to steal his drug of choice and other things from stores. He told me that he had “quit trying to quit” so that told me that it was safer for me to divorce that try to kill myself to save what we had. We have no children.

    What truly broke my heart was an associate pastor at the church and the lady teacher of my women’s Sunday school class both told me I didn’t have “biblical” grounds for divorce because my husband hadn’t cheated on me with another woman. I couldn’t believe it, because they were both aware of the situations going on with the addiction, lying, stealing, etc. And while I received strong support from my close Christian friends of many years, all I felt from that church was judgement. I was not able to continue going there, and it hurt me deeply.

    I didn’t mean to write such a long reply. I think this article is spot-on! I married for life. I had wonderful examples in parents and many others that went through terrible struggles from life and got through it with the help of each other and being truly committed to God. Divorce wasn’t an option for me… until it was.

    Four years later I’m alone but so much healthier than I was! I would love to find a committed, godly man to share my life with. I don’t know if that will happen. But I do know that God has held me up through the hardest times in my life in ways that I absolutely couldn’t have foreseen or imagined.

    You have my prayers and empathy because living in the situation you are, and seeking help and not finding it can be so hard. BTW, going to Al Anon is for YOU, not trying to get your husband to get sober. It is guidance and tools to help you be able to find serenity even though there is chaos and uncontrollable situations around you.

  27. Michael,
    I wrote a good while back that one of the major differences between iconodules and iconoclasts is that just any idiot can smash an icon. It takes a saint to paint one. The same is true of civilizations. Orthodoxy has, inherent to its being, the building of civilizations. Given half a chance, we can hardly help ourselves. But anybody and his brother can dismantle and smash a culture. “Re-inventing marriage, etc.” is the work of smashers, no matter their good intents. Their children are running wild in the streets and burning their cities and there are no adults in charge. There must be a Dylan song for all of this…

  28. Father, this article stirs up a lot for me.

    You wrote:
    But all of the sentiments surrounding life-long commitments are just that – sentiments. They are not grounded in the most obvious reasons for life-long relationships. Rather, they belong to the genre of fairy tales: “living happily ever after.”

    I think this is the key, and stretches back, at least in our culture, to the Romantic movement of the 19th century. On a popular level, sentiment around marriage has been revered over almost everything else, and this is just as surely the case in the “low church” Protestantism with which I am familiar. Those in this form of P. will fight tooth and nail to try to prevent any further changes in marriage laws; the people involved don’t understand that the call for these changes is the “flip side” of their own idolatry of marriage, the reflection and outworking of the sentiment in our wider culture that sees marriage as the be-all and end-all of life. They promote a manipulative “purity culture” but deny both the sacraments that are the ground for any remote possibility of purity, and the real difficulties and suffering involved in even “good” marriages. If one is not married with children, one is simply of lesser value as a human in this scheme. And divorce is as rampant among them as in the wider culture.

    This is one of the on-the-ground, practical reasons that I simply could not remain that kind of Protestant. My marriage has had rough patches; you may remember my comments here when I was on my way into the Church. There was no help for me in that P. milieu, except in the sympathy and prayers of a few understanding friends; what kept me afloat, hopeful and persevering were the echoes of my Catholic upbringing that made space for suffering as a way to be united with Christ.

    12-Step was the first place I found some sanity around all this as a Protestant. Later I found a good, respectful MFCC (Methodist turned Evangelical turned Bahai!) who helped me see some important truth. The sacramental life of the church and a good confessor – who has some understanding of the 12-Step model – have been incredibly helpful, beyond my wildest hopes. The insights of the saints on humility have been meaningful for opening my heart. Prayers to the Theotokos and other saints have been of great comfort – only God knows their full effect, but I think I am loving my husband better and more honestly than I used to. The honesty of the expressions of and in the Church about the realities of life, weakness and suffering has given me inexpressible peace. I am so grateful to God for your writings, Father, that continue hold that Reality before me.

    Anonymous, part of an interview with Fr. Meletios Webber from a few years ago has stayed with me ever since. He said that Confession is where we deal with our own sin; the Church doesn’t have a way to sacramentally deal directly with the sins of others against us, and for that we need to go to a qualified counselor while remaining within the sacramental care of the Church. May our Lord help you find such a person, and help you in every other way, too.


  29. Fr. Stephen says:

    “Those manning the barricades describe themselves as “defending marriage.” That is a deep inaccuracy: marriage, as an institution, was surrendered quite some time ago.”

    I think this is overstated, and does a bit of a disservice to those (such as Met. Joseph) who use the language of “defending marriage” to do the very thing you (and Met. Joseph, and I) would recommend:

    “…marriage needs to be taught and lived.”

    I understand the despair over the failed “cultural wars”, but despair has to be worked through and past. “defense of marriage” is not perfect, but then nothing like this ever is. Also, it does not strike me as prudent to simply withdraw from “the public square”, simply to allow for the possibility that our voice will be heard and the worst abuses of a the current legal changes, such as the imprisonment of clergy who refuse to perform homosexualist rites, might not come to pass or be delayed.

    As far as the “Benedict option”, I think you are right in that certainly the core of it is already here (when/if we “live” strong marriages and Church communities). That said, it will also be more expanded in the future. For example, many people employed today in academia admit that they are “underground” or “closeted Christians”, and would be driven out if they were to be in the least bit open about their Faith. They admit that they have a sort of “secret handshake” to recognize each other and that they have underground, informal networks to support each other.

    Now that Corporate America is fully on board with what has been called the “New Intolerance”, people will discover in the next few years that their work environments are going to be quite hostile to who they are and their Faith. We will have to develop “underground railroad” sorts of networks to survive I think…

  30. Greg says:

    “…In other words, having a real economy (a household) inside the church needs to be a priority for Orthodoxy, especially in the West, so that coming into the Church, also means stepping into village life, with all it beautiful and messy parts….lend to one another at little to no interest and use alternative finance to get out and stay out of debt; and make intentional efforts, as much as it is possible, to live as close to one’s actual parish as possible. If a parish can do these things, they won’t have a problem with evangelizing because they’ll be living the life of the Gospel as the parishioners and family members give to one another in sacrifice and love. Others around them will see this and they will want to experience this love and stability as well….”

    While I would question some of the details, it is just such “details” that in my mind fills out (or fleshes out) the Benedict Option, and the lack of these things indicates to me we are not living it yet…

  31. If your commenters could only be less loquacious!

    I can offer marriage counseling in one line: When you love, really love someone, there is nothing you won’t forgive.

  32. Thank you, Michael Bauman and Agata, for your kind responses and for your stories. I don’t want my marriage to fail, and I have always believed that divorce is very bad for children. Honestly, I think divorce is a prime culprit in producing people with the behaviors I mentioned.

    To answer some of your questions, Father, I’ve sought counsel from several priests, who have all tried to help as best as they can; I’ve also paid for marriage therapy seminars and private counseling. We have been very limited in our options because of money issues.

    I certainly don’t mean to just recite a list of failures, and I don’t speak from a place of victimhood. I just really wish that I could find different advice than divorce.

    I’m always very frightened by the assertion that narcissists are impossible. Aren’t we denying the salvific power of Christ, and even of the believing spouse, if we believe that? I guess it kind of leads to the question, must suffering have meaning in order to be salvific? If I suffer in my marriage for a spouse that never shows outward signs of change, does that make the suffering somehow less worthwhile? My heart rejects this— my heart says that Jesus would go after the lost narcissist sheep and not leave him in the pit of his own misery.

    Thank you again for your thoughts and prayers.

  33. Christopher,
    I mean no disparagement of Met. Joseph (God grant him many years!) nor the rest of our hierarchs who are doing their duty and speaking the Church’s teaching to the culture at large. Such a “defense” is appropriate. But we were “losing” this war long before the current battles. We have said too little and done even less. We are at the stage of reaping what we failed to sow (though Orthodoxy has certainly been firm in its teachings).

    I’m just speaking a little truth. Not blaming anyone, nor am I in the least encouraging or counseling despair. Rather, my constant counsel is to give thanks always for all things unto God. These are times for which we were born. It’s for us to rejoice and keep the commandments.

  34. Anonymous,
    Thank you. You reveal many good things about your heart in this comment – I couldn’t quite tell in the earlier one. True Narcissism is indeed nearly impossible – it’s like a brain disorder. But, everyone can be loved. Love “bears all things.” This is true, though it’s a harder word for some than for others. But it is a martyrdom – a witness to Christ. God give you and your spouse abundant grace.

  35. Fr. Stephen,

    I hear you. I think of the anti abortion bumper stickers I see. Are they part of a “successful” effort to persuade the culture? No. However, I admit that my heart is encouraged a little every time I see one, and I think they do serve as reminders to us and those on the fence – though they probably just harden the hearts of those whose hearts are already hardened.

    You mentioned that “The canon laws supporting such marriages remain intact.”. I was reading on another web site that one of the topics of the coming “Great Council” is to be what are called “the canonical impediments to marriage”. Do you or any one else know what is being referred to here?

  36. Hi, Fr. Stephen. I just stumbled across your blog and I like it a lot. I know this question is off topic, but I thought you’d be a good person to ask. Recently I’ve been learning about apologetics and reading books by men like William Lane Craig and C.S. Lewis. I really love apologetics and I find it absolutely fascinating. It has strengthened my faith and helped me greatly in dialogues with atheists. My question is, does the apophatic mysticism of Orthodoxy come into conflict with rational apologetics? Is Orthodoxy anti-intellectual? Is it wrong for me to engage in apologetics as an Orthodox Christian?

  37. David,
    It’s not wrong. It can help you think through things for yourself, even. It has limits. St. Paisios of the Holy Mountain said that “God can convert a man by seeing a fox cross the road.”

  38. Thank you, Fr. Stephen. I really appreciate the response. It helps a lot. Christ is risen!

  39. Dear Anonymous,

    Please forgive me for appearing to suggest divorce. If you can endure, I am sure the Lord will reward you greatly. His Grace can transform any situation.

    Just be on the lookout for your own health. This kind of stress sooner or later takes a toll on our health. I had two near fatal (strange and unusual) illnesses that I am convinced where related to the stress in my marriage. They also showed me that my husband did not care for me anyway…. Finally it was a choice between being a true martyr (one who dies) or taking steps to be there for my children (and other family memebers) in the future.

    I agree with Fr. Stephen that narcissist are not curable (they don’t want to be), at least not by us or even the greatest psychotherapist. William Glasser (author of “Choice Theory”, I highly recommend this book to you) says that two personalities are totally incompatible for marriage with anyone. Marrying a person with either personality will result in nothing but misery… (he says if you suspect you are involved with one, don’t even finish reading the book, start packing your bags as soon as you read the section…).

    The two types are: the sociopath (the narcissist) and the workless…

    “The sociopath seems to care only about power and personal freedom and has no real consideration for the needs of anyone else…. He is good at fooling people because he believes he is much better than almost everyone else….. He may be charming and sexy, but only to exploit, never because he really cares… If you have any suspicion that you are involved with a sociopath, look for his friends. You will find that he does not have any….”

    This description fit like a glove and explained a lot about my 25-year marriage. I hope that is not true for you and that there is much hope….. May the Lord strengthen and show you the right way.


  40. Christopher,

    I admit that my heart is encouraged a little every time I see one, and I think they do serve as reminders to us and those on the fence – though they probably just harden the hearts of those whose hearts are already hardened.

    In my all too recent past before my conversion I was in the habit of loudly condemning pro-lifers as a cancer in humanity (with all the implications of impurity, mutation, nonsentience and uncontrolled growth) that, inter alia, must be exterminated to save mankind from its tribal, atavistic darkness.

    What changed that was not bumper stickers or culture war rallying or arguments about fundamental moral values (which are the simplest thing to dismiss when their Basis has been rejected from the start), but being friends with and volunteering with people who (though not all of them did all of these all of the time):

    1. bore a great sense of unfeigned peace and love for those around them, to a degree that even they themselves seemed unconscious of it, that I could not find on “my” side of things
    2. sincerely, unobnoxiously, thoughtfully held those views that I would otherwise have only attributed to the mental equivalent of the orcs besieging Minas Tirith
    3. considered in good faith the arguments in favour of my side, actually admitted that most of them were correct given the assumptions that I was obviously making wrt: contracts, necessity of population control, etc., and had to agree to disagree as a matter of faith in some very different assumptions.

    That change took almost a decade, in tiny steps each generally having gone unnoticed until after the fact. But I am certain that, but for the witness of the grace working through these individuals, I would never have returned to Christianity, while all the rallies and slogans were working against that witness.

  41. Dear Father, I want to thank you for your posts, as I learn so much from them . God grant you many years. But please forgive me when I tell you that not all addictions are easily treated or cured. Addicts are very clever in hiding and manipulating.
    My husband hid a horrible addiction to child pornography which I did not learn about until the police burst through our doors to arrest him. I had believed he was depressed prior to that, and had offered him encouragement, and begged him to see a therapist. I had caught with adult pornography only twice in our almost 20 years of marriage, the most recent time a good 10 years earlier. I never had imagined this.
    I knew something was terribly wrong. I just did not know what.
    His anger towards the children and me, his secretiveness, the hurt…all made sense. We were in church every week, volunteered , fasted. Prayed. How did this happen? How could I have let this happen?
    Two months before this happened I was praying and my thoughts were interrupted by a vision of him drowning in the ocean. And while I was trying to pull him out of the water with the children hanging onto my back he looked up at me with hatred and tried to pull us into the water!
    after his arrest I found out many more terrible things including infidelity. My parish rallied around us but one of the most devastating comments to me was from a young monk who blamed me for not performing my wifely duties! Little did he know that my husband had withdrawn from me years earlier. It took the words of another older Athonite monk who visits our parish to say that we cannot know why people do what they do, and whenever I thought of my ex-husband to pray for his forgiveness, and that all God wanted me to do was raise my children.
    It is not easy, when you have angry teenagers, or a 10 year old who tells you she hates Monday’s, because that’s the day all the kids in her class talk about what they did with their dads over the week end. I felt mutilated for the first years after the divorce. I tell them that this ips not what God wanted for our family, and that decisions have consequences, but that the Lord loves us and will help us as long as we stay on the true path.
    Until then, to quote another, we are a broken icon.
    I tell all to avoid divorce if at all possible. Unfortunately some things can fixed only by God and the cooperation of the ailing partner(s).

  42. I don’t want to appear insensitive— I do believe that sometimes divorce is unavoidable. Even our Lord thought so, in His compassion. It’s just not the answer I’m ready for.


    I’ve read Glasser’s Control Theory, but not Choice Theory. I’ll be sure to look it up.

    I’m sorry your situation was so terrible. It definitely sounds like you made a good decision for the health of you and your children.

    Another Anonymous,

    You and your family will be in my prayers tonight. What a frightful burden for you to bear.

  43. Thank you Father.
    The first lecture of the Roman Catholic marriage prep course my fiancée and I took, presented as an antidote to notions of romantic love, focussed on marriage as suffering.
    Now, after she passed away from cancer, I appreciate more what Hauerwas said: faithfulness over the course of a life-time defines what it means to “love” someone.

  44. Another Anonymous,

    I cannot speak for your husband, but I have suffered (yes, suffered) from pornography addiction myself. Not as severe as you described, but there is no telling where such a thing could go.

    I knew it was wrong, and I was ashamed. I hid it from my wife for many years. Even after I confessed to her, it was something I struggled with. It was only through the confession to a particular monk and by his prayers that I was healed. The temptation is still present sometimes, but were it not for the monk I met, I do not believe it would be simply a “temptation” to say “no” to, but rather a full affliction still.

    Fr. Stephen has written before that there is no moral progress. I agree. My coming out of pornography addiction was not moral progress on my part, but a miracle. I had no hope that it would ever happen. I hated myself and my life, yet could not stop.

    I am sorry you suffered so badly from such a horrendous affliction. Your husband’s actions (the same as my own) are inexcusable. But I just wanted you to know that he behaved as one suffering. That is something my own addiction has taught me: those who act out the most are likely suffering the most on the inside. It is hell, absolute hell. Were it not for someone reaching in and pulling me out (like the Lord pulling Peter out of the water, or raising the dead), I have no doubt that I would still be in it. My heart goes out to all who are still in the midst of such suffering, as well as those they injure and hurt because of it.

    It is not the action of a rational human being, but the disease of demons – a plague that impacts all around us. I am so sorry. Please forgive us for such grievous offenses.

    I will pray for you and your children.

  45. Dear Third Anonymous. God bless you for your courage in reaching out to me with your wise words and helping me understand. I agree with you it is a demonic disease. One of my children drew a picture for a psychologist that showed her father’s soul bound up and gagged, in the back of a truck being driven by an ugly demon. Unbelievable grasp of the situation! I wish my husband had sought help.
    I cannot express how much your words have helped me. Please continue to fight this fight and know I will pray for you!

  46. Agata,

    What does William Glassner mean in his book by “workless”? This question is important to me as my husband ceased to work at all four years ago despite the birth of two additional children during these years. He promises continuously, “in two months I will work again. “

  47. Believe it or not, many a saint has struggled with similar afflictions –and this was before the cunning refinement that modern technology has brought to the aid of such enslavements – ensnaring masses to these passions. Perhaps the addiction of those penitent saints would have been far more intense if manifested in our times. How we deal with the warfare that modernity has unleashed on us needs particularly discerning, supportive and understanding guides.
    Imagine how much worse the falls of an ascetic, such as saint James the ascetic or Mary of Egypt could be, if manifested in our times.
    But then again the ascetical tradition tells us that in the last times Christians will become holy, not through those mind-boggling feats of their ancestors, but, through simply holding on to their faith, bearing their addictions patiently while doing whatever each one can to curtail them. The marvelous Apostles will not be the ones judging them –they will judge the other apostles-, (as Fr Zacharias says), but, to use an example, an American married to an addict is going to judge another American married to an addict, and they will probably be neighbours in the same city…

  48. “The workless person is the most puzzling of all the people we encounter….. He easily relates to others, and at first, you may easily relate to him. But if you get close, if you marry him, you will become increasingly frustrated….
    Unlike the sociopath who quickly shows his true colors, the workless person goes about what he does slowly……Also, he does not pray on you directly; you are hurt more about what he does not do than by what he does…….Although he does not usually drink or use drugs excessively, he is like an alcoholic in that he needs enablers – wife, family members, friends- to survive….. He might work for a few years, but by 40-ties, it is unlikely he will work again. He depends on others to take care of him….

    …he believes most work is below him….. talks and dreams big, but performs small…..drifts around, meets strangers, talks about himself.. talks to you but never with you…..has no real interest in anyone but himself…. and seems to have no insight into the fact that he is the way he is, espacially that he does not work….

    The workless person does have the ability to receive love, and ability that is foreign to sociopath. He likes to be loved, befriended……his appreciation for receiving love may fool you and his parents into thinking that he can give love back, but he can’t; he has none to give….

    If you marry one, you may have a good companion as long as you support him, do almost all the work, and don’t ask anything of him……if you ask him to take responsibility, he will get quite mean and abusive if you persist…..

    They love therapy….. but only *seem* to want help….. They have no desire to see themselves as they really are….. For them, the only gear is neutral..”

    There is more, but I have to go to work this morning!!! 🙂

  49. To the Anonymous’s:

    Addictions of a sexual nature are so terribly difficult to deal with and endure. I myself am a recovering sex addict; married for ten years with four kids. The pain inflicted upon my spouse through my infidelity and years of porn addiction is a wound with consequences I’ll have to deal with the rest of my life.

    But… for men (and women) who are willing to confront Lust in all its insanity and give it over to God, there is real hope and a path to recovery. Father Stephen has mentioned ‘working the steps’ for an Alcoholic or drug addict; the same can be done for the lust addict. I would encourage you all to find help with qualified addiction therapists, recovery groups, and 12-step fellowships. If your spouses are willing to admit their faults and work toward recovery, it is possible!

  50. Agata, that Glasser describes the experience with my husband to the detail! Amazing, I had no idea. I write this from my own office, as I now work full-time to support our family, even though we had always mutually agreed that he would be working and I would be home with our littles. 🙁

  51. Anne,

    Could be obsessive-compulsive (anankastic) personality disorder…?

    . . .When almost all decisions seem to take on the same paramount importance and being correct is imperative, making even simple choices can become a nightmare. Persons with OCPD can become stymied in life due to an inability to establish with certainty which choice is the correct one. Not unusual would be for someone to spend over ten minutes attempting to choose the correct pair of socks which best matches their tie. They tend to place a great deal of pressure on themselves and on others to not make mistakes. Within OCPD the driving force is to avoid being wrong. In contrast, the underlying rationale for someone with OCD would typically be to make the correct decision so that nothing superstitiously bad would happen. Since continuously making the correct choices in life, seems to be an impossible task for us humans, there is a regular source of discontent available for OCPD sufferers.

    This indecisiveness can have devastating effects on academic, professional and interpersonal relationships. From early adolescence, through college, perfectionism can take an otherwise straight “A” student and bring him to the brink of failure due to incomplete assignments. Having to get the term paper exactly correct makes for an almost impossible task. An extremely difficult time making decisions (always looking for the correct choice) contributes to procrastination. Frequently even starting a task seems impossible, due to a need to sort out the priorities correctly. If it takes an hour to complete the first paragraph of a report, because revision after revision never seems to get it perfect, imagine the anguish experienced when contemplating the completion of a two thousand word essay. The time it could take to complete a ten page report might be multiplied by five due to checking or rewording so that it is just so.

    Imagine a college student who has to choose a major and in doing so be convinced that he/she is completely correct in his/her choice. The expression of this, “need,” to have a perfect academic fit is seen in some students having multiple majors during their four year stint. Changing colleges, due to emerging complications and disillusionment, is also a possible manifestation of OCPD.

    The need for an occupational exact fit, can also bring long term investment in a career choice to a screaming halt. Many aspects of any career can seem very appealing in their conceptualization. Things can always look great from afar. As one becomes more thoroughly educated about any school, career or person, through experience, the pitfalls become more apparent. Since perfection is often sought, the emerging defects of any career choice often deter a prolonged investment in any specific area of focus. Making a definitive choice and changing jobs can become stymied due to the endless pursuit of figuring out which of the available options is best.

    Aspirations for perfection can play themselves out in interpersonal relationships as well. Since all humans carry a significant amount of emotional baggage it typically doesn’t take long in a dating or marital situation to discover our partners’ flaws. For someone with OCPD choosing a partner who lives up to their unreasonably high standards is very difficult, if not impossible. Remaining invested in a relationship without bouts of volatility over the long haul is highly unlikely. For those who do remain in long term relationships chronic discord tends to be pervasive.” (Steven Phillipson, PhD – The RIGHT Stuff)

  52. Anne and Agata (and all);

    I want to suggest a note of caution, or perhaps it is a note of “but…” to the personality typing that Glasser and other do so well. I would not deny the explanatory power of this sort of psychology. In fact, when I just now read “the workless” post by Agata I admit that I have never read a more succinct description of a person in my own family.

    That said, it is only descriptive of a certain (though very important) *aspect* of this person. It is not the whole person, and indeed as this person comes to the end of his life, I am seeing certain signs that he is *repenting* of the very deep deep beliefs and habits that lead to such a life. They are small things, but they are real and it is nothing less than Grace that is the source of these little repentance’s.

    Also, such typing does not get to the underlying source(s) or causality of such a life (remembering of course our Christian freedom). In my family members case, it goes back to his upbringing, which I will just say had several fundamental flaws and it would be difficult for any person to overcome – indeed, for most people, it would never be truly overcome and would take a lifetime to the extant that it was.

    I am not suggesting that a marriage should or can bear the burden of such a person – although with God all things are possible. I suppose what I am just trying to say that such personality typing has its limits and we should bear in mind and not confuse these description with the person themselves…

  53. Fr. Stephen,

    Please forgive me for judging you in my criticisms in the post above!! 😉

  54. Fr Stephen, I did not judge you because I was judged! And had I not been the innocent party in my situation I would have been a remained the dreaded “church lady” (aka Dana Carvey character on SNL). Humility came with the humiliation and God helps me see the “invisible” people more. Thank you to all you in the Cloud of Witnesesses for the encouragement, and I am praying for all who are struggling in their marriages!

  55. Everyone,
    An aspect of many observations regarding personality issues is the growing realization of brain issues. They are not everything, but they certainly explain many things that simply baffled earlier generations. Dino’s comment earlier go to the heart of the matter for me. It is possible for almost all to recognize certain faults, tendencies, etc., over which they may largely be powerless. But these are “outward distortions” of the soul, and not distortions of the soul itself. And so, what can be done is to bear patiently the trial of living with such a distortion. Be kind and understanding of the great weight and grief it may cause others around you. Bear “a little shame” as you live with it, not being crushed.

    Such patience works an “eternal weight of glory” that is our salvation. I have been shouting from the rooftops, “We are saved by our weakness!” This is an excellent example of how that is often displayed. It is also why I’m so critical of the “morality” game. It is not that we should not struggle to be moral (of course we should), it’s that being saved by our moral excellence is a delusion and not the teaching of the Scriptures. It’s Stoicism or something similar, but not the Christian faith.

  56. Matt,

    I can not disagree with you, and I am utterly convinced that no one is converted through discursive reasoning, political discourse, or bumper stickers. Love is not found in these things, but by the *personal*, because Love is personal. As Michael has noted here more than once, it takes an encounter with the Living God – sometimes through other people, sometimes through personal suffering and “existential crises”, sometimes as Fr. Stephen quoting St. Paisios above, it is something as mysterious as a fox crossing the road…


    I also have not problem asserting that perhaps a bumper sticker is a part, however small of all this. It is possible that a bumper sticker proves to be for a single person the fox that stole into the hen house of their mind and assumptions. There is also the aspect of living in a hostile culture and thus (really doing nothing but following the Gospel) we support and encourage one another, so the bumper sticker is more often than not “preaching to the choir”. This is not a bad thing, and I bet your priest does it every Sunday. This is something I think the naysayers of “marches for marriages” and the like miss – how these things, even if they never convince/convert a single person not already in agreement, they still provide some support to those already on the inside. Perhaps even to a person who stands in a allegedly Orthodox or “traditional” church but is otherwise surrounded by (perhaps even hearing it from clergy) the spirit of the age.

    I personally grew up in just such an environment and belief that you described, and was a formal member of the temple of that religion (Unitarian Universalist). Still, by the Grace of God I was able to move beyond these beliefs, and frankly, discursive reasoning was part of this process. For certain people who are able to push such a philosophy to and beyond its logical limits and actually look into the abyss, this is a very important part of the “road less traveled”. I realize that this experience might be outside the norm, but it does happen…

  57. Fr. Stephen,

    “I couldn’t help thinking, however, that I will be judged by bloggers. Then I realized, sometimes, I am already… :)”

    Amen! Not to overstate this, but judgements are passed on us daily. Without worrying about the judge’s end for the moment, there is much for us to learn if we are willing to listen to them. Not all are righteous but they nevertheless can be used for our betterment. God can help us sort through the chafe and reap the golden harvest if we are open.

  58. Anne,

    I am sorry to hear that the descriptions fits…. Glasser’s book is very helpful in many other aspects, as it states very clearly, just as our Orthodox Faith does, that we only have control over ourselves, not others. They hear the same words of the Gospels and internalize them for themselves (either appropriate them or dismiss them). My narcissistic ex at one point decided to leave the Church because he did not want the Church dictate to him what is moral and what is not…..

    You have to decide what is acceptable and what is not, and for how long. I endured longer that maybe needed because of my deep belief in sanctity of marriage, and in wanting my children to have a stable family. But after a while, they get less and less attention anyway, as you just try to “keep your head above the water” in the fight for/in the relationship.

    Any person can change, but they must first want to. If they don’t want to, no amount of our effort will do anything. That’s true for addicts, narcissists, workless….. God can change them, but He will not do it against their will, even if we pray hard, for them and for ourselves.

    I think He gives us these sufferings to draw *us* nearer to Him ( I have been Orthodox all my life, but sort of on the surface only, not really having a deep understanding of its treasures). I love the quote from Elder Sophrony (I think Fr. Zacharias says that in one of his books/talks): “Suffering is a sign of election by God”. If you use are suffering to get close to Him, He will become our fellow companion on this path of life and all our suffering will be for our salvation. That’s the greatest hope and consolation our Orthodox Faith offers, I think…

    You are in my prayers. As are all who struggle and share here. Thank you Fr. Stephen for allowing us to share. We are a bit like those with long spoons attached to their arms… Too long to feed ourselves, but perfect for feeding the person next to us…

  59. Christopher,

    I know it’s not always fair to generalize, and people have reasons to be as they are (their upbringing, etc) but sometimes just having an explanation for what is happening can be extremely helpful and healing… These two Glasser types are indeed scary and should never marry (that was my only point, not to judge or condemn them). Since this article of Fr. Stephen’s was on marriage….

    Fr. Stephen, do you know if there is a way to prevent our children from ever becoming one of those types? I, with horror, am seeing some of the narcissistic traits in one of my sons…. I pray, as much and as hard as I can, but….

  60. “… sometimes just having an explanation for what is happening can be extremely helpful and healing”

    I in no way want to deny the importance or the power of this explanation. I simply want to circumscribe it a little bit. I would not put it terms of “fairness”, or even call personality typing a “generalization”. One way to think about it is to see it as a *caricature* (like those drawings you can get done of yourself at amusements parks) – a “personality caricature” that by design emphasizes certain aspects of a person over other aspects.

    Modern psychological thought has all sorts of assertions like this. One of its central axioms is “past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior”. Which is true…except when it isn’t…

  61. I remember talking to an East Indian co-worker who had lived in North America for many years. He said, “You know there is one big thing you can say about arranged marriages. Those going into them often have less illusions. They know it will take a lot of work on the part of both people. Whereas over here everyone thinks the other person is going to be the answer to all their problems.”

    It’s true. That’s why this article makes so much sense. Marriage simply raises the level of potential: while there is the capacity for joy you rarely experience as a single person, there is also a greater capacity for suffering.

    I believe the answer for the riddle of why this should be the case comes down to the fact that we need suffering in our lives here in this broken world. We are full of shrapnel, wounds, diseases and distortions – and the healing process often involves pain.

    My words can be taken the wrong way: I don’t suggest that we seek out pain – or forever torture ourselves in situations beyond our abilities – but neither should we be surprised when pain never ceases to be a constant part of our existence. As Fr. Stephen said, “…the abiding myth of Modernity is that suffering can be eliminated. This is neither true nor desirable.”

  62. Fr. Stephen,

    Could you maybe comment a little bit more on the nature of sexual sin? Does not St. Paul say something about it being the only sin we commit against our own selves?

    Has it always been as prevalent in human history as it seems to be now? How can “good” people be so enslaved to it? Is it just simple quest for physical pleasure? Why is this pleasure worth all the pain it usually results in?

    I have a hard time understanding it. But maybe that’s because I had only loveless sex all my life that I don’t even miss it…..

  63. Agata, bless you and your children. I would offer the following concerning your child whom “I, with horror, am seeing some of the narcissistic traits in one of my sons….”

    –Remember that our society teaches and reinforces this attitude in children; it may be that your child is simply reflecting that and is not a narcissist in the manner you fear. Be careful of the label as you can deceive yourself with it.
    –With this in mind, teach hardship. Involve him/her in struggle and let them learn their limits in life. It must be done with great guidance, love, and understanding but it will teach them humility.
    –Involve them deeply in Parish life. Let them learn to serve God and others–and the reasons why they are called to serve. It’s not enough to simply have them do it; educate them on what these things mean and why they are important.
    –Continue to pray and love. As has been stated here many times, this will have the greatest long-term impact on their lives.

    God bless you and yours. I welcome any critique or additional comments on the above!

  64. Christopher,

    I understand what you are saying, that generalizations may turn into “caricaturizations”.

    But when you live in an environment (such as created by a narcissist or workless) sometimes you loose track of reality, as everything is always turned into your fault. Your choice of interpreting their behavior becomes the reason for the problem, not their action itself. They are very good at manipulating everything to the point where you start to question your own sanity and start thinking “Maybe I really am unreasonable to expect him to be faithful, or make money, if I *really* loved him I would forgive and adjust”. Since it’s all about them, they don’t give a second thought about the other person…. To finally see that is very helpful.

    Forgive me, I am not very tolerant of excuses.

  65. Excellent and true. If we can just be Orthodox in our own parishes, we will glorify God, be healed, and help our neighbor. We’re Orthodox. Let’s live it.

  66. Thank you Byron,

    I know I am possibly overreacting. The world the kids live in these days is not easy.

    My kids grew up in the parish, but now say they no longer connect with their friends there. I have to drag them to go to church. All my attempts to communicate the importance of life in the Church come across as preaching, even if I model it as much as I can. As Fr. Stephen says, when we “don’t know God”, most conversations are mute.

    And in all honesty, I did not hear this message at 16. I guess the best I can do is pray and hope they turn out OK through the Grace of God.

  67. Father Bless!!!

    I think this post in particular and this blog more generally often reinforces a short phrase I like to keep nearby:

    “Pain shared is pain divided; love shared is loved multiplied”

  68. Agatha, it is part of the delusion of living in a dysfunctional relationship that “if you only loved them more they would change…” Human love is incapable of that and abuse grows in such an environment. We cannot change anyone else and only by working with God can we even change ourselves but God does most of the work.

    The other dynamic that enters in is that if you do change, the other party will try mightily to get you to stay the same as one party’s change requires the other party to change.

    In a marriage of any duration both parties change over time. In a healthy marriage that change is usually for the better. It is an unavoidable part of the sacrifice of marriage. Embracing that change especially when it is uncomfortable. Not embracing negative change can be quiet difficult.

    I don’t know if there is a general answer but two sources that have been a benefit to me are “The Dance of Anger” and “Real Love”. Neither is from an overtly Christian perspective but both contain wisdom that is in accord with the Christian understanding.

  69. Agata,

    Geronda, now Saint Porphyrios famously said that we should not talk to our children about God, but that we should talk to God about our children. A priest once told me that if the base is strong, the children always return to it.
    As the mother of 5, I, too, keep praying. We just have to remember that God’s grace is boundless.
    By the way, most of us also failed to hear the message at the age of 16, but the good news is that somewhere, some part of that message stuck…and here we are. Our children will be here – one day – too.

    Christos Anesti!

  70. Agata, regarding sexual sins:

    I don’t understand why people are drawn to alcohol and almost compelled to drink it in excess. Even less various drugs. Those are not temptations to me at all. Fake sex is, may God forgive me.

    However, I think the underlying motivation for addictive behavior is that it seems to relieve intolerable stress and pain–at least for the short term. There is never any real satisfaction in any of it, yet the whisper that “you’ll feel better if you do this” is difficult to ignore even when you know you will not feel better, but worse.

    Some of it is simply a desire to feel something when otherwise one feels dead and alone.

    All addictive behaviors create neruo-pathways and physical cravings that make it easy to relapse. This is a much true for pornography as it is for alcohol or drugs.

    They all create the illusion of a protective bubble around you, the false promise being that you will be protected inside that bubble. In actuality, it is a separation from others–an isolation and a hardening of the heart.

    In the case of pornography it is a counterfeit of a real experience that does not involve either empathy or vulnerability or actual engagement with other people. I don’t think it is an actual sexual desire at all. Just another way of getting high.

    Like all counterfeits, it tends to drive out the real. There are some forms, such as pedophilia that are clearly and directly demonic, others are more tangentially so, but the original temptation is of demonic origin. It is always the demons who suggest there will be surcease of sorrow in acts of self-destruction. Interestingly one can get free of such temptation by allowing oneself to be more vulnerable and open to the pain of others. That and watchfulness–avoiding the thoughts and activities that tend to trigger the behavior.

    The historical question you ask while temptingly interesting has no real relevance, IMO because no matter what the environment our response as Christians has not changed and no matter the frequency of others struggling with the problems, it is our own struggle to which we must attend. As we do, that gives us the strength to reach out to others as we encounter them or even seek out others to offer what we have received. I will only say that all of the objects of addiction are more available than ever before if not the temptation to use them.

  71. Agata,

    I will add my 2 cents to the “keeping your kids” discussion. My oldest (15 year-old) declared to me after catechism a couple years ago that he’d decided atheism was the way to go. I told him he needs to come to church with us until he’s 18. This benchmark is meant for his church attendance alone; I don’t plan on kicking him out of the house at that point.

    But stepping back and looking at the situation I have a lot of hope. As I told his younger sister who was disturbed by his choice, in every other way he is making good decisions with his life. He treats his siblings well, holds forth on grammar, good music (his choice being British ballads, Irish pub songs, classical music and so on because modern music is too repetitive) and other topics. Even though he is an introvert I don’t have to cajole him to spend time with the family.

    In return I spend time on things he’s interested in (computer games, building plastic models, philosophy, life in general). When he occasionally questions why I require certain things of him since he’s already labeled himself as being non-Christ, I point out that these things are universal and trump all group declaration (common decency, obedience, self-discipline, respect, etc).

    I make sure I love him. I pick my battles each day because the most important thing to me in our relationship is that he knows I love him. If I’m harping on him for things all the time, this message will not come through.

    I’m probably not doing everything right but I know that my wife and I are filling him with good things. You and I know that goodness only comes from one Source. If he takes his life the way of the Prodigal Son, I believe he will come to his senses at one point and stop eating the swill of the pigs – and come home, wherever He may find God at that particular time.

    I can’t convince him of anything, but I can a) love him and b) live my life beside him declaring that Jesus Christ is my source. To the extent that’s not the case, my son will see this and I will be condemned by my own hand. My prayers are more along the lines of , “God, please speak to him despite all my failures. Please draw him to yourself like only you can.”

    My son was made good. Like draws close to like. When he leaves home I don’t need to slip any tracts into his luggage. I will have given him all I can through my love and my example. The only thing remaining to do on my part is pray – more in hopes that the Lord would transform MY life and forgive MY sins rather than much about him. The truth be told, that is where my hopes lie. God already has a relationship with him, but I’m only a 3rd party to that. I was always only my son’s caretaker, not his true father. This knowledge allows me to let him go as I need to.

    Perhaps some of these thoughts will give you hope. Drewster

  72. Eleftheria and Michael,

    Alithos Anesti!

    Thank you both for your encouragement. And reading suggestions, Michael, I will check out the books.

    I heard the advice of Saint Porphyrios, and hold on to it as much as I can. But I still need to deal (and how to do it in a loving manner?) with broken promises, lies or just lack of respect. I don’t think my son means for it to all to happen, but somehow the “attractions of this world” are more important than his mother…. It’s one thing to discipline a 5 year old, and another to discipline a 16-year old in a meaningful way. I like Byron’s idea of physical work, I heard that advice from a friend at work also.

    I struggle whether to nag (or lecture, or repeat myself)…. Since it seems to be pointless. Recently I have decided to go for it though, since every time I do, I seem to see a little more comprehension there….. And a friend recently reminded me that “It may seem like your words fall on deaf ears, but even comatose patients hear what we say.”

    And maybe they will stay in the church, and make the right decisions at the right time….

    Please, all of you, forgive me if I come across depressed or unhappy or needing help. I share mostly to spare other young women the path I had to travel. A lot of it was my own fault, lack of love and humility, and being a true witness to the Love of Christ. I guess I could not give what I did not have. But the Lord constructed this “conspiracy to catch me” (this is a reference to the story of Fr. Lazarus el Anthony from Egypt, a Coptic monk, you can find it on YouTube, I love his story), to bring me to Him. I would not trade this for anything. And now I wake up every morning with thanksgiving in my heart for the fact that He did not just give up on me. I don’t ask for more suffering, but at least I think I am ready for it when it comes (Lord have mercy!).

    Forgive me Fr. Stephen, I think I should just go back to reading and being thankful for all those you assembled here…

  73. Thank you Drewster,

    Your words are wonderful and full of hope for me. You are right, our children belong to God, not us. We are supposed to give them a safe place to be who they are. And maybe some guidance. And for sure be a good example.

    My new angle on dealing with this kid is this: 🙂

    “The relationship you have with your Mom will determine how long you will live” (I saw this headline of an internet article, bu cannot find it).

    And also that the Commandment to Honor Your Mother And Your Father (of the 10 Commandments) is the only one that comes with a reward…. A reward to live long and well (I only know this in Slavonic from my Sunday School years, and I am not finding in easily in English). So if he wants a good life, he better takes that to heart 🙂

    And he likes the good life…..

  74. Anne,

    More on perfectionism and procrastination, this time supposedly the obsessive-compulsive [anxiety] disorder version:

    . . .If you ask perfectionists about the intentions of their perfectionism (“What do you want to happen?”), what you commonly hear is a need to be seen as competent, wanting to feel satisfied with something they’ve accomplished, or wanting to stand out. . . . For example, if someone wants to express the intention of feeling competent at work, he or she may adopt an all-or-none strategy (99% equals 0%), in hopes of achieving the desired outcome (praise by the boss, sense of accomplishment). Perfectionists are able to recognize this reasoning and also recognize the low probability (but very powerful) payoff of this strategy. However, they also have a hard time letting go of this strategy. Other maladaptive perfectionistic strategies with poor payoffs include:

    Rigidly following “the Rule”. . .

    Everything is equally important. . .

    Mistakes are catastrophic. . .

    Repetition until it feels/looks/sounds “Right”. . .

    Missing deadlines and procrastination: Procrastination goes hand in hand with missing deadlines and is fueled by the belief that one should “Do it right or don’t do it at all.” Perfectionists are shocked to hear that they are a perfectionist because, “My room/desk is always a mess.” If you ask them why it’s a mess they say that in order to clean it up the “right way” it would take enormous energy and effort they feel they don’t have. So they wait for a burst of energy or motivation, then work multiple hours without a break until exhausted, only to be dissatisfied in the end because they will still see something done “imperfectly.” These strategies and outcomes are remembered the next time the project comes up (e.g., cleaning their room), so avoidance and procrastination kick in as the person says, “I just don’t have the motivation or energy to clean my room. I must be a lazy person.” (Jeff Szymanski, PhD – Perfectionism: Are You Sure It Pays Off?)

    [Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors…]

  75. Fr. Dale,

    You’re wise enough to know that your comment is in fact a cheap shot. It is also, more importantly, not helpful. If you have read his blog for any length of time you’ve seen the good he is doing and the way God is using him.

    Perhaps the real danger here is that in your efforts to darken his ministry, you will do nothing more than tarnish your own. Seek to light a light, not curse the darkness.

  76. I wrote “supposedly the [OCD] version,” because one of the differences between OCPD and OCD is considered to be that

    The thoughts, behaviors and feared consequences common to OCD are typically not relevant to real-life concerns; [while] people with OCPD are fixated with following procedures to manage daily tasks.”

  77. Fr. Stephen,

    I agree with your prescription, including the focus on our children in real ways which form us as God intends and setting aside the kinds of dependence of technology which have been increasingly used as some kind of surrogate for the face to face relationships, and the nurture of the family together as family, which it not only isn’t, but cannot ever, by its nature, be. (And I realize that in some sense posting here is somewhat self-contradictory in that context.) I teach religion and philosophy at the local college, and the disconnect from the familial (covenant) realities is so immense, that the very ideas presented in the Scriptures are like some kind of very strange foreign language, with ideas for which they simply have no words which make sense, and no analogies that they understand. The degree of disconnection is startling. I have been trying to explain to students all semester what Christianity actually has always taught and still teaches: that the Trinity and the two natures in Christ are connected to God dealing with our specific sins and deaths, confronting them and defeating them, so that we can be free of them and live in His Self-giving love. The juridical constructs keep being inserted back into all of this, despite my attempts to remove them. This is done both by students who consider themselves Christians, and by those who know what little they do about Christianity from cultural references. And the idea that so-called “same sex marriage” runs counter to the fulfillment of human nature, the restoration of God’s image, and the growth in God’s likeness by sharing in His life by His Energies, makes no more sense than the idea that some kind of subjective emotional state is the only basis for marriage. That marriage is a commitment of Self-sacrifice for the good of the beloved is just foreign to them, and ideas about the procreative and unitive meanings of marriage, at all kinds of levels, is just wild talk that makes no sense. They need to have the reality modeled for them, but this is just what is increasingly excluded from the public square. I am not trying to inject politics, and have no confidence in any of our leaders of any party. I simply fear that the extent of the nature and kind of intrusive power arranging itself against the Church, both through technology which allows no secrets, and through a complete acculturation of values foreign to the Gospel, will mean that even an underground resistance will not be permitted, and the assertion of goodness, considered grounds for elimination, and that we must be ready for such a time. I see my own weakness, and that of the people of the parish where I serve, not the kind of stubborn faith of those who stood against the Bolsheviks. Perhaps I am merely discouraged and misled into an inaccurate view. Perhaps there are seven thousand who have not bowed to Baal, and whose mouths have not kissed him, and I just don’t see it. I ask your forgiveness.

  78. Michael and Drewster, thank you so much for your candor in your support for Agata! I can’t express how deeply your honest comments and expressions of faith and hope in God in the midst of the kind of anxieties and temptations and difficult realities we face in this modern technological age touch my heart. It seems to me this sort of exchange is an example of how the Body of Christ should function together and support one another. It certainly fuels my hope. Thank you, too, Agata, Christopher and others. I love hearing the stories of others’ spiritual journeys and how God is helping us all to discover and cling more tightly to the depths of His love. It’s not quite being across the table from each other with a cup of coffee in hand saying the same things (it would be lovely to be face to face with you all), but it’ll do.

  79. I have removed the comments from the Episcopal priest who posted earlier, suggesting that I had broken my vows as a priest when I left the Episcopal Church. I have removed as well his follow-up comment in which he reasserted the charge. I apologize for my own reaction. I was, and am angered by it. I deeply appreciate those of you who have shared issues surrounding a bad marriage and the difficulties of divorce. I have enjoyed a good marriage, but for 18 years was in an ordained setting that increasingly became a very sick and dysfunctional “marriage.” Every day was marked with new causes of anger. On the other hand, having learned of Orthodoxy, and continued that study over the years, every day was also met with a deep longing to be in union with the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church.

    My story is quite long. But in my last year as an Episcopal priest, with 4 children (the oldest a high school senior), I went to my Episcopal bishop and told him that I wanted to convert to the Orthodox Church. He knew me very well, and though we often disagreed about the issues of the day, he was always kind and respectful of me and my priesthood. We had a very “priestly” conversation that day – very much “priest to priest” discussing matters of conscience that only a priest would know or understand. I love him for it. I told him that I would be looking for secular work in order to support my family and that I would be working with a new English-language mission in the area after I was received into Orthodoxy. He asked if he could give me his blessing (he asked!). I said yes and knelt. We remained on good terms.

    In October of that year (1997), with miraculous answers to prayer, a job found me. I was hired to work as a chaplain in a Hospice, visiting dying patients in East Tennessee. I discussed it with the bishop and we made plans for how I would leave the parish, and how I would “leave” the priesthood. On Feb. 8, 1998, I said my last Mass and preached my last sermon, and said a tearful farewell to a parish I had loved and served for 9 years. It was a great grief. It was also awkward, because my “grief” looked inappropriate to my new Orthodox friends – as though I didn’t want to be Orthodox.

    Those who have not walked this road have no idea what they are talking about. It was easily the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I would do it again and again with no regrets. My path has been similar to that walked now by hundreds of other Anglicans, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, etc. who have been welcomed, retrained and ordained within the Orthodox Church. I am more than honored by the ministry God has given me. Only God knows how unexpected the past 8 years have been, since I was given this ministry of writing.

    Fortunately, my relationship with a number of Episcopal priests has nothing at all in common with what was posted earlier in the comments.

    I entered the Orthodox Church “as a penitent,” feeling deeply sorry for much that surrounded me in the Episcopal Church – and that I was often deeply a part of what was going on – that I ever was willing to compromise as much as I did – that I did as much damage to the integrity of my soul as I did. But I rejoice and give thanks to God for His mercy.

    The week before I was to be Chrismated, a parishioner from my former parish came to my door. He had just killed a cow on his farm and had it butchered. He brought my family half a cow. Nobody ever gave me such a thing before. The next Sunday, he could not know, Feb. 15, 1998, was the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. I know who sent the cow. Eventually, the ring and the robe have followed. I was dead. Now I’m alive. How can I not rejoice?

  80. I could be wrong, Father (biased as I often am to consider the source of certain words and actions more in terms of their source in the mind and heart of the human being who does or says them, rather than the external situation that ostensibly gives rise to them), but my guess is that the Episcopal priest’s comments (ostensibly about you) really had to do with the wounds in his soul from his own divorce. May the Lord have mercy on him, heal and comfort him.

    Just as how we understand the Scriptures more reliably reveals the state of our own hearts than what their Spirit-inspired meaning truly is (in terms of what we tend to notice or project them to be saying, particularly when we read them apart from the witness of the Church), so also how we read a blog post and comments thread. . . .

    I thank God from the depths of my heart for your journey and your blog! “How can I keep from singing . . . ” 🙂

  81. Father, don’t be troubled. I can guarantee you that the wisdom on this blog has helped me immeasurably. I am sure I am not alone.

    I do understand the heartbreak you experienced leaving your flock.
    It is a tough thing to do.

    The attack was not even from Fr. Dale.

    May God continue to bless your ministry. I for one need it.

  82. Dearest Fr. Stephen,

    I have just completed reading all the post from the past several hours. Reading Fr. Dale’s original comments was a shock, and I just had the time to see Drewster’s response to it – how I admire people who can say things truthfully and compassionately, even under the worst of circumstances…

    My first gut reaction was to tell Fr. Dale two things: (I will say them anyway, because they are actually both true):

    1. You cannot follow Christ when you are angry.

    2. I advise you to seek help to resolve you anger and resentment, as those, when held for a long time eat at the self and ultimately will lead to tumors and cancers (I can quote the source)

    But then it was time to go to Vespers and I prayed to the Lord to give me even a portion of the eloquence in expressing the love and support that this community offered Fr. Stephen.

    Sometimes the Lord’s response leaves me speechless…….

    The whole Holy Orthodox Church stood up in defense of Fr. Stephen by placing before us TODAY the feast of Mid-Pentecost and especially of St. Alexis Toth, the confessor and defender of Orthodoxy in America.

    Fr Stephen, I know St. Alexis is smiling at you today! Because you continue his work.

    “Come, ye Orthodox faithful,
    let us praise Alexis, the new Man of God,
    who shone forth as a radiant lamp,
    dispelling the gloom of ignorance,
    proclaiming the Truth to those deceived by error,
    and restoring to them their blessed inheritance:
    the Orthodox faith of their fathers!

    Today Wilke-Barre rejoices with Minneapolis,
    celebrating the most radiant festival of Saint Alexis.
    Exalt him, O bishops! Praise him, O priests!
    Be illumined by his teachings, O people!
    He now stands before the throne of God
    entreating Him to save our souls.


    Our Holy Father Alexis,
    guided by the Spirit of Truth,
    exposed the error of ignorance
    and led his people to the True Faith.
    In humility concealing his virtues from others,
    thereby received a heavenly crown.

    Come, all ye lovers of piety,
    let us praise our Father Alexis in hymns!
    He is the adornment of priests and the boast of the faithful,
    a fearless defender of the Orthodox faith,
    and our heavenly intercessor.

    Rejoice, O people of America,
    let us make a joyful noise to God!
    Sing a new song to the Lord, O Minneapolis! (yes Karen, how can we keep from singing!)
    Exalt him, O Wilkes-Barre:
    from thee the sound of Father Alexis went forth;
    his words have put the hard of the heart to shame,
    showing all where to seek the Truth.


    And there is so much more……… I can type up all the verses if you guys want me to….. 🙂

    Dear Father Stephen, you have St. Alexis praying and rejoicing in you today, and he is an amazing intercessor!

  83. Oh, and I have to add this:

    (from the verses for Mid-Pentacost)

    In the middle of the feast,
    let us glorify Him Who worked salvation in the midst of the earth.
    The Life was hanging on the Tree, between two thieves.
    He was silent to the one who blasphemed,
    but the one who believed heard:
    “Today thou shalt be with Me in Paradise.”
    He descended into the tomb, destroying hell,
    and arose on the third day, saving our souls.

    Then back to St. Alexis:

    O righteous Father Alexis,
    our heavenly intercessor and teacher,
    divine adornment of the Church of Christ,
    entreat the Master of All
    to strengthen the Orthodox Church in America,
    to grant peace to the world
    and to our souls great mercy!

    Let us, the faithful, praise Priest Alexis,
    a bright beacon of Orthodoxy in America,
    a model of patience and humility,
    a worthy shepherd of the flock of Christ!
    He called back sheep who had been led astray
    and brought them by his preaching
    to the Heavenly Kingdom.

    As if this was not enough, following the Vespers service at St. Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral in Minneapolis we had a lecture by Dr. Christopher Veniamin, a spiritual son of Elder Sophrony and Fr. Zacharias in Essex. Among many wonderful things he said was that Elder Sophrony had a wide spiritual family that lived in an abundance of the Grace of God.

    Thank you for this community of the Grace of God and for all you do Fr. Stephen. You are all true Brothers and Sisters in Christ.

  84. Fr. Stephen,

    I find myself full of awe and admiration for the “confession” you offered to this blog family after Fr. Dale’s comments. It is a model for me of what public confession should look like. And it appeared to me as the sun coming out after a dark thunderstorm. God took what satan meant as your downfall and transformed it into a way to exalt His servant, who humbled himself before all of us.

    Thank you for your witness and ministry.

  85. I don’t know if you have written on Loyalty and Betrayal before Fr. Stephen, but they are a central virtue/vice when thinking about relationships, both marriage and Church.

    It has been the observation of others far more clever than I that modern people suffer a particular confusion about the virtues, their inter-relationship, that is they suffer a misunderstanding of the “hierarchy of virtue”…

  86. A-onyma,

    I don’t immediately see the relevance of your story, but I do admit it’s a great story. The immediate lesson seems to be how all of us lack something when we picture how the world should be, which is oh so true.

    Where did you get it?

  87. Christopher,
    I read an excellent book back in the 90’s called The Parting of Friends. It looked at the rise and fall of the Oxford Movement, the Anglo-Catholics, Newman and Manning, the whole 19th century “crisis” in the English Church. It was very poignant when I read it, because I was already moving towards leaving Anglicanism.

    I have focused my attention since 1998 on becoming Orthodox and being faithful and just letting go of the past. I learned there that the problems of another Church not being Orthodox (though it professed to be) cannot be fixed short of actually becoming Orthodox. I had some painful conversion times as I came to my senses and realized that things like the “Anglican Branch Theory,” were heresy. Or that the claim to be part of the Catholic Church was false. I fancied myself not to be a Protestant, and came to the conclusion that Anglicanism has always been Protestant, through and through. It was sobering. A part of my life was lost.

    I have occasionally spoken about the “shame” of conversion and think it is an accurate term. But learning to bear a little shame is ok – only hard.

    Loyalty is a deep value in my psyche – though I’m sure that I have failed and will fail in it. Some of my experiences with it are deeply painful – and are probably better worked through with a confessor than in my writing.

    Betrayal is a step deeply beyond mere disloyalty. It’s easy for the ego to get caught up in thoughts about it. I prefer not to go there when I can help it.

    The landscape of modern denominational Christianity is hardly the place for cultivating the virtues. It is collapsing and morphing. It is still often wrapped in the language of the Scriptures which makes the various issues sound vitally important. But even the word “Church” has very little, if any, meaning in denominational Protestantism. It certainly cannot sustain a discussion with the word in its NT and traditional meaning.

    An image (from childhood) came to mind in thinking about this stuff overnight. It’s from several shows in which, in various disguises, the devil torments someone, waving a piece of paper, saying, “But I have a contract!” Modern contracts are pretty meaningless in my experience (not that they should be).

    I come back to the image and reality of suffering. The nature of a saving relationship involves suffering, and if it’s healthy, then there is proper support for the suffering. I recall a very difficult matter that came before me once in a responsibility given to me by my Orthodox bishop. The consequences of the task made be an object of a great difficulty, but I knew that it was required. One day, after a very difficult and anguishing morning, I went to my bishop and told him about it. There was nothing much to be done, but I recall telling him, “If you bless me to bear it, I will be ok.” He did and I was. He was a great man and a great Christian.

    Orthodoxy, with all of its imperfections (and we have so, so many), is worth dying for – several times over. It makes loyalty possible.

  88. Thanks for your comments Fr. Stephen. Your background got me thinking about mine. In a way, around things church/religion/institutional I was taught that there is no loyalty, or rather only one kind of loyalty: to the truth. This is part and parcel of that denominational Protestantism you refer to. When I discovered more about the nature of Truth, and His personal character, and what He has to say about all those created in His Image, I had to reevaluate that simplicity. We however, fall back on old ways easily, and I continually have to work through impatience with people of the Church, particularly those in “leadership”. For example, the bishop you are referring to – I used to have a negative opinion of him (based on some less than perfect words of his in a single letter to our congregation during a time of crises/anxiety), but now that I have gotten to know others who knew him better, I see the basis of an earned loyalty.

    However, I also am sort of schizophrenic, in that I have always believed in a fierce and “unearned” loyalty to those in your family – something I think was mostly taught to me by my grandparents. I sometimes have wondered about “Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery:”. What would be my reaction if I discovered my wife in adultery? I admit, I don’t know if I would divorce her – I think I would not (unless she insisted on some sort of adulterous “lifestyle”). How could I rank the sin of lust and want (as damaging as it is) above my loyalty to her, which is based on the beauty (His Beauty) that she so well carries in almost everything she does, despite her real sins and imperfections?

    I agree with you, suffering and loyalty are inexorably linked, just as suffering is linked to forgiveness. What is a loyal act or life, or what is to forgive, without actually suffering? Forgiveness without suffering is not forgiveness at all – it is an abstraction.

  89. Christopher,
    My early life in my family had lots of brokenness – no divorce – but lots of brokenness. It was only possible to love someone in their weakness because there was so much of it. Not that there wasn’t lots of wonderful things as well – but the problems were not small. I think it marked my heart long ago that dysfunction did not preclude someone from my loyalty. It has given me a sort of patience with the daily dysfunction of normal parish existence. I have sometimes simply said, “We’re all bozo’s on the this bus.”

    Over the years, and now from the rooftops, I’ve come to understand that we not only have to put up with each other, but that we’re actually saved by our weakness. We’re not saved by heresy or false teaching. My beloved Archbishop was not a very good administrator. He hated conflict and probably avoided it far too much. Of course, many things in parish life cannot be “fixed.” They must be endured. But I found him to be a good man – a very good man – and a kind man, if given even half a chance. And he was deeply loyal – even to a fault. I was always willing to obey him, and he so seldom asked for such obedience. A phone conversation.

    Vladyka almost never called anyone on the phone. But one day, my phone rang. I answered, and heard his distinct voice on the line.

    Him: “Fr. Stephen,”
    Me: “Master, bless!”
    Him: “Fr. Stephen, what do Tennesseans volunteer for?” [Tennessee is known as the “volunteer state”]
    Me: “Why to die in Texas, of course!” [the Tennesseans famously followed Davey Crockett and defended the Alamo]
    Him: “Well, I had something a little less extreme in mind…”

  90. On the shame of conversion:

    When I came to the Church it was from an organization that was full of heresy and dysfunction and thought rather too highly of itself. Part of the shame that I felt and continued to feel of quite some time was that I had introduced these heresies into other people’s lives. I led them astray. It is still a sorrow for me.

    It took years to work through that shame, even so, some of it is still with me. Occasionally still someone who knows about my past will bring it up to me in an attempt to shame me and cast doubt upon my Orthodoxy (keep in mind this was almost 30 years ago now).

    Even though I knew I was making the right move at the time, there was part of me who did not want to leave it behind. Now, when someone brings it up, I just acknowledge it and praise God for His mercy.

    What kept me from going more deeply into the darkness of the heresies was 1. I had had an unmistakable encounter with Jesus Christ; 2. I longed for Him. He led me through it. I can only think that he also protected others to whom I introduced untruth.

    I am left with an abiding understanding of how corrosive heresy is. How long lasting its effects. The untruth of such things as Arianism, modalism, indeed any teaching that denies the full incarnational reality of Jesus Christ, is real to me because I either experienced their harm or saw others who where harmed by such teachings.

    To paraphrase Fr. Seraphim Rose of blessed memory: Truth is a person loved with one’s heart not an idea embraced in one’s brain. That love is different that loyalty but easily mistaken for loyalty.

    Shame can be born within the context of the hypostatic reality of our life and only there. The existential pain and horror of life and the suffering it brings can also be born in the communion we share with each other and the saints.

    We are not left alone to face anything. It is the perhaps the greatest lie of the evil one that we are alone and autonomous–that as such we can control anything; fix anything. If we don’t we are failures and losers.

    In marriage those twin ideas are incredibly destructive. Men seem to relish the control while women often marry obviously dysfunctional men because they feel their love will fix the guy.

  91. Thanks for this blog post and comments.

    Clearly there are so many struggling with broken families among us. I am curious to know if there is any general guidance priests give for the divorced. Would guidance always be unique to the person’s situation? Or is it ever safe to say that remaining unmarried after divorce is best? Should a divorced person consider monasticism once the children are on their own? Should a divorced person consider remarriage? As a divorced mother of young children I find it difficult to be single raising my kids, but remarriage seems too complicated for me. If a good monastery every offered to take me in with my kids, I would seriously consider it. I would love to hear more stories about monastics who were divorced. I wonder if others have any thoughts about life after divorce.

  92. Fr Stephen,

    Christ is risen! Thank you for addressing a sensitive topic and something that touches all Americans and Westerners, Orthodox not excluded.

    I grew up Orthodox in the USA and divorce was unknown in my family. We there “unhappy” marriages? Of course. But no one ever got divorced. I fell into the trap of “Orthodox pride” and blithely thought, “this would never happen to me.” I remember being relatively scandalized when I encountered Orthodox Christians at parishes where I attended — and this was in the 1990s. In my mind, divorce was something that happened to other people.

    As pride is the mother of all sins, my marriage fall apart, and yes, divorce happened to me. I’m glad you touched on the difference between being in love and promising to love. My ex-wife told me that she was “no longer in love with me,” which was probably true. I did realize that a marriage cannot work if only one party is interested in making it work — not these days, when there is no societal support or pressure to work on difficult marriages.

    Divorce was the worst experience of my life, and there were nights where all I could do was stand before the icon of Christ and cry. And our divorce was fairly easy (no children). At the time, my priest had told me that it was a blessing that I was finding solace in Christ and in the church and its divine services. I didn’t understand what he meant at the time, but now I am beginning to understand.

    Thanks be to God, after some time of healing and recovery, he sent me someone with whom I could share a life, and going into marriage a second time I was much wiser and more aware of who I am, what I need, that two committed parties are needed to make a marriage work. It is not easy — and it is so true that these days, folks struggling to make families work are often alone. Thank God for parish life where we get encouragement.

    Christ is risen!

  93. So is the Benedict Option meaning that a minority bands together to preserve the flame and weather what the prevailing culture dishes out?

  94. “So is the Benedict Option meaning that a minority bands together to preserve the flame and weather what the prevailing culture dishes out?”

    That is as good a one sentence summery as any I think. I was listening to Clark Carlton on Ancient Faith today (a man after my own heart on so many topics), and he was outlining a particular vision (in the mist of talking about the pro life movement if I recall correctly – I think he is too ‘glass half empty’ on that movement incidentally) of an “Orthodox culture” that would included everything down to a community and an independent (from current “corporate America”) economy for that community. I think initially the Benedict Option will not be quite as encompassing as that – I look for it to initially be more of an “underground network” for us when our very beliefs will be considered “hate speech”, “discriminatory”, and the like. This will be stop gap however, and over time it will be more fleshed out. As presidential contender Hillary Clinton said just a few days ago:

    “Deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed.”

    You here that? YOUR “religious beliefs” have to be CHANGED. These people truly are dangerous – concentration camp dangerous, though it will at first simply be “your hate is not appropriate and you can not work here anymore”…

  95. I think the Benedict Option can be described in that manner, as well as being the basis of a future. I’m actually less sanguine about the Benedict Option than most. Modernity has taught us to look for solutions, and God has given us only Christ and His Church. The sacramental mystery of the Church’s life is rather hidden. We can see its effects (if God grants) over a very long period.

    I personally think we are approaching or have entered the Catacomb Option – thinking in terms of the Soviet period. Benedict’s small communities were able to preserve and create something in the chaotic midst of the Dark Ages. Modernity is certainly Dark, but it’s not chaotic. It’s organized around several central ideas, particularly a vision of what it means to be a human being, that is deeply contrary to the gospel. We are under a very wide-spread spiritual assault at this very moment. It is ravaging souls. Grandparents, like myself, have pretty much lost all confidence that their grandchildren will be believers by the time of their adulthood. It’s very dark. And it’s not as dark as it’s going to get.

    I can think of three scenarios:

    1. Things get a lot darker and catacomb life increases. The grace we have will be deeply hidden (often even from us).
    2. There is a major crisis that intervenes – after which – I have no clue.
    3. Things remain about like this – and the grace of a long survival works its wonders.

    I do not include in those options that things will get better. Not soon. Not for a long while. But I have no knowledge of the nature of our times. Are these the end, etc. I don’t even think about it.

    What I think regarding the Benedict Option, is that many Conservative thinkers are musing about it as they try to wrap their mind around the fact that this culture has crossed a “tipping point.”

    I also think, however, that there would not be a range of voices speaking the truth about the present times (from within the Church) if God weren’t taking care of the Church. The talanton that is sounded in monasteries (the wooden plank beaten with a hammer used in place of ringing bells) is said to be what Noah used to call the animals to the Ark. A number of talanton bangers (there is doubtless a Greek word for this) across the world, calling God’s people to the Ark of Salvation. That is enough for me.

  96. Options number 2 does not seem to exclude the possibility of things unexpectedly yet ‘uncouthly’ getting better Father…

  97. Dino,
    Correct. Yet, I hate crises. Many innocent people are always the first to suffer. Of course, I’ve grown up with the arrogance of an American. Many places in the world have been through any number of terrible crises, while we see things from afar. But if a crisis hits America, the center of the Empire, it will be much uglier elsewhere.

  98. Dear Fr. Freeman and friends,

    I read many of the comments here but nowhere found any mentIon of Retrovaille!
    My wife and I have been married 41 years and somehow have been graced with the blessings to endure many troubles and difficulties. Recent health problems as well as financial turmoil from that and the current economic troubles have taken a heavy toll! Somehow we endure. In fact the troubles have indeed been blessings and indeed suffering as path to peace and understanding beyond any of our previous concepts and expectations! The biggest blessing was to discover Orthodoxy and be baptized and chrismated on Jan 1, 2012, after 2 years of intense investigation and thorough catechisis and loving eye opening education! I always said I needed a new “hard drive”! With Orthodoxy it has been and is a continuing path of growth if we are willing! “Onwards and upwards” as it says in CS Lewis “Last Battle” Yes you can teach old dogs new tricks!

    My favorite Bible verse has always been Gen. 50:20 ” he meant it for evil, BUT GOD, meant it for good!” This continues to occur in a regular basis as I create many opportunities for correction!

    However, becoming Orthodox still does not guarantee a healthy marriage, especially with narcissism and alcoholism involved and active!
    We were on the skids (again!) after 2 years, and attended a “Retrovaille” marriage weekend last September. After raising 4 children and many thousands of $$$ spent on marriage counseling and wearing out many well intentioned pastors, I would have to say Retrovaille is the BEST marriage help I have found available, and highly recommended! Before you can deal with any problems you must learn effective and safe communication skills and recognize when and what battles to approach. Retrovaille is easily the most loving and effective approach to healing marriages I have experienced, as well as healing the children who were affected by years of trouble and turmoil! Strengthening marriages is perhaps the best medicine we can apply to ourselves and for our nutso out of control society! We’re all “Looking for love in all the wrong places! It’s usually right in front of our faces!!! It’s applicable to every situation, so why not humble ourselves and learn the path?

    It takes hard work, but the ramifications are rewarding and the healings are hard to argue with! As with AA and other 12 Step programs, it only works if you work it! God bless! He will if we let Him!
    Adios, DM

  99. Drewster,

    Where did you get it?

    To be more precise: from Wikipedia: Jewish humour.

    Well, it wasn’t of any real relevance to the topic of this article/blog post; more of a rather off the mark joke on Fr. Dale’s quarrel with Fr. Stephen. It’s nice though that you saw something in it that I doubt its author has intended.

    I have apologized for the joke already and requested that the comment be removed.* It’s obvious, as Karen has already pointed out, that Fr. Dale’s “rant” had more to do with the pain of his own divorce than with Fr. Stephen’s conversion.

    *If these three comments (this one, no. 85709 and 85710) about it could also please be removed, Fr. Stephen — not immediately, but after a few hours, so that Drewster may have the chance to read my reply –, I’d be grateful!

  100. From Prayers by the Lake (Ohrid, 1922) by St. Nikolai Velimirovich (1880–1956):

    Deliver my soul from self-delusion, my God, so that my body may also be delivered from bodily sin.

    Deliver my soul from foolish arrogance and burning anger, and my body will neither behave foolishly nor burn.

    The soul designed the body to be a portrait of herself, to be the organ of her speech. The body is mute and inert, either for good or for evil, if the soul will not speak.

    The body knows nothing of adultery, if the soul does not tell it. Adultery is carried out in the heart; the body only repeats in its clumsy way what has been woven with fine threads in the mysterious chambers of the heart.

    My neighbors, look upon a woman the way a woman looks upon herself and self-delusion will fall from your eyes like scales. Look upon every being from within that being, and you will look, not with desire, but with compassion.

    You, O God, have sanctified marriage, and You have also sanctified celibacy.

    Those, who have the wisdom and the strength to use all the life bestowed on them by You for serving You, You have blessed.

    And those, who are unable to keep within themselves all the life given to them, You have blessed, so that they can share it and transfer it to new beings, through a wife.

    Truly it is self-delusion for a man to think that a woman attracts him. Indeed, it is the unused life in a man – which drives a man toward a woman, for life does not wish to remain unused.

    You are life, O my God, and life is light. You are light, O my God, and You do not wish to be hidden in darkness and kept from shining.

    Blessed is the man, who knows You within himself, and gives free rein to You to shine in his soul and in his body.

    It is not important, whether You shine in one body or in shared flesh – You merely wish to shine and illuminate the world and to fill it with Your life and Your strength.

    Blessed is the woman from whose eyes self-delusion falls and who knows a man the way a man knows himself, the woman who rejects desire and fills herself with compassion. She too keeps life within herself, with fear and dignity, as though she were keeping heaven within herself.

    Blessed is everyone who comes to know in due time that adultery defiles and kills life.

    One does not fool around with God. It is safer to fool around with fire than with God.

    Nor is life, which comes from God, a narcotic for instant stupefaction, after which self-delusion manifests itself again and again; while shame and humiliation fall like heavy stones on the heart, emptied of one demented desire.

    Deliver my soul from self-delusion, my God, so that my body may also be delivered from bodily sin.” (Prayer LXXII)

  101. An excellent point about Mormons – how far does being correct (Orthodox) if we stand alone without community? Salvation is a process that happens within a community. Each Orthodox Church faces east and is a hospital ship sailing to Jerusalem, the second coming of our Lord, and the wedding feast of salvation.

    The Orthodox Jews in my area don’t use a car on the Sabbath so they walk to Temple. This is an amazing thing because they are a community that surrounds their Temple of worship. We as Orthodox should emulate the same.

    There are 5 Orthodox Churches next door in the city of Lowell. Not long ago everyone lived around their Church and walked to services. What an amazing community it was.

    Somehow we got the notion that we needed to “Move On Up.” We abandoned our Churches, and the community surrounding it became impoverished and dangerous. The impoverishment spread around the Church and we brought a different sort of impoverishment with us creating a new danger of fragmentation and isolation in the suburbs ultimately left with our own puffed up egos and becoming easy prey for Satan.

    Now there is a reverse migration happening with people moving back to the city. We need to move back and create that village around our Temple of worship.

  102. In Church, we hear a lot about monastics and their sainthood. There are so many after all. I am not slamming monasticism but sometimes it seems that it may be emphasized too much or maybe married saints not enough.

    We were created by God to be married for God created Adam, Eve, and marriage as a vehicle to salvation and union with Him. The family is a Church within the Church.

    Marriage is martyrdom (witness) to salvation and the Kingdom. Our Lord’s first miracle is the Wedding at Cana and the Wedding Banquet is the image given to us of the Kingdom.

    In Church, we should hear more about the married saints, how we were created for marriage, what marriage looks like, and how marriage is one vehicle to witness to Christ and His salvation.

  103. Father Deacon,
    Respectfully, I think there is a reason for this. I think the holiness of marriage is hidden by God far more carefully than the holiness of monastics. And this is for a reason. The mystery that is the love of husband and wife is, to a great extent, meant to be nobody’s business – it is just that great a mystery and belongs to the intimacy of that union itself. And though a monastic may labor in what appears a more hidden setting, it is nevertheless far more accessible to others.

    My wife is a wonderful woman and virtuous. But if I extolled her virtues or related stories that I know, I would cause her harm and damage our relationship. She needs to know that I treasure these things. But they are treasures sometimes to the very extent that they belong only to us and God. It is our unique privilege.

    I take courage from monastics and their stories and their saintly tales. I find it easy to apply them to my married life, without harm. We need, rather, to be taught how to understand and apply them.

    I will give an example of what I think is an abuse. It is well-known that St. John of Kronstadt and his wife refrained from relations. We actually do not know why. But, frankly, it is a fact that was and is nobody’s business, and I think was made public knowledge as a matter or indiscretion. And I say that even if it were St. John’s own revelation of the matter – for it should not have been made known.

    I know of specific cases where this knowledge has caused great harm and confusion. I always instruct people to ignore it and be as if they had never heard it. It is simply not possible for anyone other than the saint, his wife and God to understand this matter.

    There are many things we should hear more about in Church. We priests have much to give account for.

  104. Deacon John,

    Your comment about living by the Church is one which is of principle importance to me as I move towards Orthodoxy (I’m not yet a catechumen) and as my wife and I look at where we are going to buy a house and raise our family. Any time she finds a house, the first thing I do is look at its proximity to an Orthodox Church, and really we should all be doing the same thing, but American culture tempts us to think that a 10 mile commute by car means we’re “nearby” when in fact we should attempt to live in walking distance. Things like the Holy Week services are so much easier to get up the gumption for.

    I was reminded of this last night, as I had a cab driver who is a Coptic. When he and wife moved to the US, they decided to live near his two sisters who were already here, and their definition of near is within a mile. All three families also decided that they would center their lives around the Coptic Church that was just starting where I am, so they all live near family and church. But, again, their definition of near is under a mile, which my American friends would consider to be living on top of one’s family.

    But I really don’t think we can sustain faith without strong communities, and we Americans don’t even know what that looks like. This is a huge topic.

  105. Matth,

    The idea of community is indeed a huge topic. If we can’t even stay within the community of our marriage, it’s hard to convince people to look beyond this and hope for a whole group to remain with each other.

    One experience comes to mind: Many years ago I was part of a YWAM (Youth With A Mission) experience with about 50 other missionary students. There was a real peace about my time there and one of the biggest factors was that everyone present wanted to be there – in fact were highly encouraged to earn all the money it took to be a part of it.

    I confess there are occasions where I hate my wife, but they are momentary and the poison never goes very deep before it is drawn. I want to be there – and so does she. This is pivotal to success.

    For my whole life I’ve deeply desired to be part of a Christian community of the sort we’ve been talking about here, but you can’t produce it. It can’t be legislated or policied into existence. The participants must want to be there – of their own free will.

  106. One aspect of living near a church and a community is economy. For a community to be truly supportive and interdependent, it also has to have a realistic economy so that one is not driving to a distant job in “Corporate America” and being persecuted. I am not sure how this is done (perhaps we can learn from our Mormon/Jewish/Coptic brothers and sisters). Our giant atomizing consumer economy obviously is not supportive in this.

    Another thing we have to remember is that “Orthodox America”, such as it is, is an immigrant (and increasingly convert) phenomenon that is mostly about fitting into American life, not setting itself apart. As an aside, this is an indication (among others) for me that American Orthodoxy is not ready for “autocephalous” status – we really have no clue as to what an Orthodox culture is, unless we have happened to lived overseas in one (I have not).

    To use my own small mission church here in the desert South West as an example: we have communing members traveling as far as 100 miles (not every Sunday of course). In fact, I think only about 50% of our small number actually live within 20 miles. We do not have anything near a critical mass to even begin thinking about an interdependent economy, even in the worse of circumstances.

    I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that we are cultural post-protestant moderns who “dabble” in Orthodox life. My family has yet to through out the TV, though I am working on that.

    I say all this to not discourage us from the Benedict Option – I am of the opinion that it is going to be a necessity in the future – but just to indicate how far we are really from it…

  107. Christopher,

    This is why my “peanut gallery” opinion is that our society itself will have to be driven into darker times before this happens on any kind of large scale, either slowly (FS Option 1) or quickly (FS Option 2). There has to be a great external impetus before most people consider bucking the system and changing their lifestyle that drastically.

    When this external event arrives it will be horrible, but it will also be a blessing in disguise, bringing the hidden goodness of people to the surface. 9/11 was a small example of this.

  108. Christopher,
    I think that first, it has to be a value (living close). My parish is in a small town that is, more or less, a suburb of a suburb. About half the members live in or around the small town, the other half in the larger, more prosperous suburb. We’ve had a number of families who chose to relocate to our town for the primary reason of being near the Church. I encourage it. Indeed, I think of it as a “moral” decision. 🙂 We have a family arriving this summer who are relocating here in order to be near the Church – there are other good reasons, too.

    Years ago, when I was in seminary, I read about a community of believers in Indianapolis. They were building an intentional community. Last fall, I had the privilege of visiting with them. Today, they are an Orthodox parish in the OCA. But their original vision seems quite pertinent. Read a little here.

  109. Fr. Stephen,

    I was part of that Indianapolis community for 20 years. There is much to be said for it. It was a chapter of my life that in many ways I refer to as The Golden Years – despite the slum-like conditions, despite our failure to transform the entire neighborhood, despite a bunch of other things.

    In the end God called me away through marriage. And certainly some of those years were more golden than others. What I finally came to understand is that the place I should be is where God puts me. So for now that deep desire is put on a back shelf, biding its time and ready for fulfillment – but in His timing, whether that be in this life or the next.

  110. Something that I’ve seen in a couple of threads over the past months and years regarding marriage seems to be a bit of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude with regards to certain aspects of the relationship. I understand that we live a Faith (and really an existence) which Is Mystery and that even a level of secrecy or silence is sometimes required. I’ve been present where there attempts to read aloud the priest’s “secret” prayers, for example, to “draw more people in” to a certain level of participation in the Liturgy; from what little I know about this whole subject (not being a member of the clergy myself), such attempts necessarily result in some distortion of the hierarchical relationships as well as the nature of the Faith. Orthodoxy cannot be democratized; the equality, kenosis, and Christian fellowship are not opposed to [authentic, selfless] hierachy, but predicated upon it. Understanding that, the comments about St. John Of Kronstadt still really confused me.

    As one who has been not yet been consecrated to a life of marriage or virginity (and as one of the younger commenters here, being only in my 20s, and a convert to Orthodoxy), I can only speak from my limited perspective. From that perspective, it seems that a level of trust and confidentiality is vital to a marriage (or any) relationship. However, that confidentiality is more for the sake of those within the relationship, to allow expression of ourselves (and, ideally, our true selves, as time goes on, not merely our [by definition deluded] self-image) by removing the fear of fear and other passions which trip us up and cause us to live in a broken communion with those around us. When those concerns are no longer valid—i.e., the passions have been calmed or the two people that share the experience are departed—what is the concern about sharing saintly experiences and stories to edify the faithful? Isn’t this the whole point of lives of saints? Maybe even iconography? Aren’t these things given to us to draw us into communion with deeper mysteries and realities and, ultimately, the True Reality?

    Having struggled quite extensively with the subject of privacy (not just privacy in the digital age, but as a matter of having a self-directed, oriented, and serving private life at all), I attempted to essentially put as much of my life out in the open as possible for a long time, to the point of essentially opening up my private files (minus passwords, e-mails from/to other people, etc.) to the world. I stopped for both the reasons above (the passions: my own self-image and passions, like perfectionism, would prevent me from undertaking a work I might not be able to present in an “ideal” way and the potential passions of others who wouldn’t have the context to understand what I was presenting and who I may have hurt in some way weighs heavily on me) and the simple issue of the time commitment involved in such an undertaking. But most of the underlying assumptions of this project were never definitively (or otherwise) disproven in my spiritual conversations or readings. If time wasn’t an issue and I could better ascertain from God what projects I did and did not need to work on, I see no real drawbacks in that undertaking. Now, that is a bit of a sidetrack and perhaps you won’t even want to comment on that, but those experiences shape my understanding of privacy. Outside of the passions and the time commitment, the only real barriers I see to disclosing something have to do with the above-mentioned concerns about hierarchy and how they affect a relationship. Even without passions (if I can speak hypothetically), I would think that the flow of information is still a necessary dynamic of relationships. I think about the angelic hierarchy: there is equality before God and fellowship on one hand, with nothing being withheld from one level that would in any way diminish Grace or an angel’s relationship with God, and yet there is a hierarchical relationship where, paradoxically, Grace still does flow, by Grace, from the higher levels to the lower.

    Now, with all that said, back to the main thrust of my confusion: if we are not talking about something that is made hidden intentionally, for some hierarchical purpose, then what stops us from knowing some of these inner details of St. John’s life? He is long since departed (as is his wife) and we already know him through his icon and life. It doesn’t seem that it would negatively affect his soul to discuss these things. Rather, isn’t this an encouragement? Isn’t this the very way we are all [ideally] supposed to live—to take orders from God, not the passions, and only bear children if He asks us to (and in the way He asks us to; c.f., the Theotokos)? I have been reading a lot of St. John Chrysostom lately (especially his Homilies On Matthew and John) and it seems even the more pastorally-minded Church Fathers have a lot to say about the inner working of marriage and have no reservations about saying it—in Sunday homilies, no less. Not that what they teach is so easily done or that we don’t have a lot of powers working against us (internally and externally), but shouldn’t this be something we talk about, discuss, and aspire to—as long as we are careful not to judge those who, for whatever reason, those who are not yet in that kind of relationship but eagerly desire it? Please help me understand this.

  111. If real open persecution comes whether one is Protestant, Orthodox or Catholic will matter little. The intentional communities will be those believers who are already close to one another. Catacombs have a very leveling and purifying effect.

    Of course many “houses of worship” will be shut down or remain only as displays of “tolerance”. As in China, the cross will not be allowed display in public perhaps.

    The catacomb existence is organic: clergy, lay or episcopal status before hand may not count for much along with one’s official faith. Those that really follow the Cross will find each other.

  112. Drewster,
    I take comfort when I think of the next life. For paradise is a small town – not because of the population, but because, everybody will know everybody.

  113. I know I already responded with an observation on community, but I must confess that I feel like I may be missing something. I make a point not to follow the news, and really don’t read anything outside of this particular blog. Even in my narrow circle, talk of open persecution (or even just discrimination) and the Benedict Option has become increasingly commonplace.

    Did something happen recently that made a groundshift occur? Is it as simple as the expected Supreme Court decision next month, or was there something else?

  114. Joseph,
    My thoughts on St. John are in light of the damage I have seen the story do to some. Not every miracle should be made known. It is indeed quite common to carefully edit things concern the lives of saints. For example, I greatly prefer Zander’s book on St. Seraphim, and do not like the book by Archm. L. Moore. He chose to include much material that others had chosen to leave silent and, it too has caused harm. Indeed, it damaged my relationship with St. Seraphim for a number of years and caused great doubts. Very few Orthodox today have good judgment. Many take anything a saint said or did as though it were a proof-text and use it like Scripture. This is foolish and dangerous – and I see it all the time. Then you’re placed (as a priest) in the awkward position in correcting them and trying to save them – of looking like you disagree with the saints. Then you’re accused of being liberal or some such nonsense.

    Frankly, I hear the story of Fr. John’s marriage trotted out in a very flippant manner sometimes, as if the person telling it has any clue about its meaning or mystery. Saints are holy. But they are not perfect. Not everything in their lives is holy just because it is in their lives. I don’t judge St. John. I simply wish the story had remained unknown.

  115. Fr. Stephen,

    I totally agree. One word picture of what it will be like was a vision Ransom saw in the sky. I believe this was in Lewis’ space trilogy, Perelandra. I can look it up if you’re interested.

    I think this is true of all good things: some get to experience in this life while others must wait for the next to see it.

  116. Michael Bauman,

    Your description takes me back again to Wurmbrand’s Tortured for Christ. It is rings so clearly of truth. Unfortunately it is a truth that most cannot see until they find themselves in that very environment. And when this time arrives the prayer is that the revelation will be a trigger for hope and mercy instead of bitterness and despair. Hopefully they will see Paradise instead of a dirty stable full of doubting dwarves.

  117. Joseph,
    Perhaps I should rephrase my caution. It is said that the Rabbis taught that a man should not read the book of Ezekiel until he was over 40. I would say the same about the story of St. John and his wife – maybe when you’re over 60. 🙂

  118. Agata,

    I hear your plea above. I think a couple things are going on in the broader situation.

    More and more people are growing up clueless about how to do the basics of daily living. Everything from marriage to caring for your lawnmower is being tossed to the four winds and you have to learn about it from the web and hope you get the correct information the first time. Even then it usually lacks the personal touch and your education is simply ample at best.

    As I alluded to above a person’s success rate through the web or social media is hit and miss. Though it can be a whole lot better than nothing, it is by default usually second-rate. This is because as human beings we were made for relationships. It is the main vehicle through which most of us find our being – and our salvation. If our diet consists mostly in sound bytes and impersonal transactions, it suffers. Kind of like eating fast food all the time.

    When it comes to the topic of marriage in particular, much has been lost on how to live it, just like with everything else. The difficulty comes in trying to disseminate that knowledge in a way that honors all parties involved. While it’s much more efficient to have some marriage experts put their lives out on the web in order to help others in need, there’s much more risk of people getting hurt unnecessarily. In some conversations, the more people present, the more likely someone isn’t going to take something the right way.

    As Fr. Stephen said, there is also the point that the core of a marriage is only meant to be shared between them and God. When something seems appropriate and the man or woman wants to share it with a close friend(s), it should be done with care and not just pinned up on the bulletin board.

    Having said these things, I know some will say it’s too late for discretion and that there are thousands of sick marriages out there desperately needing good advice, that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the view. But it’s never too late to try to do something the right way.

    I hope you understand I say these things with deep sympathy for your situation.

  119. Matth, what is happening IMO is a burgeoning of nihilism in many different ways an intensify of the iconoclasm that is such a part of our culture. The Supreme Court decision is the tip of the iceberg and even if they were to rule that homosexual marriage is not a ‘right’ but must be legislated by the various states, little will change.

    The assault is real and the political remedies are of little avail to us.

    As an example, homosexual marriage has been the law of the land in Canada for 10 years now. Increasingly the ability of anyone to express anything in opposition to said couplings is under legal attack. You can read quite a bit about it on Public Discourse web site.

    Violence by and against governments seems to be increasing every where. But in reality, it does not matter much. No matter what the environment; we Christians are called upon to watch, pray and be ready. We are always called to the Cross even when it is otherwise convenient and acceptable to be a Christian.

    The world hates us if we love Jesus Christ but the movement seems to be away from mere temptation to all kinds of corruption but rather more to direct attacks.

    Many are broken in either scenario, many are healed.

    I have come over the years to deeply appreciate Hamlet’s words concerning death as applying to the Christian life in a greater fullness:

    If it be now, ’tis not to come, if it is not to come, it will be now, if it be not now, yet it will come. The readiness is all.

    May we not be found sleeping.

    Christ is risen!

  120. Re: refraining from telling all. I’m reminded by this conversation that beginning monks in St. Porphyrios’ Athonite monastery were (are?) not allowed even to read “The Philokalalia,” whereas any Christian today, Orthodox or not, can pick up and read it (without ever having really lived its context). I agree this sort of thing is dangerous, and it can do a lot of harm.

    Just this week in a comments thread and a site run by Evangelicals in recovery from spiritual abuse under a specific false teacher, I had a man who is now an Evangelical Presbyterian Elder and has authored some books on authoritarian spiritual abuse tell me what Orthodox believe about grace. His qualifications: He was 20 years a Roman Catholic and 38 years Evangelical, had visited Greek Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic services and knew some Orthodox people. Also, he had read Met. Kallistos Ware’s books and a book by Vladimir Lossky. Hmm . . .

    It took me a bit more than that (and certainly a lot more reading) to figure out what Orthodoxy teaches. I’m still learning.

  121. Fr.,

    All information is transmitted in the context of a relationship. Even that information is itself part of a relationship: nothing exists which is not upheld by a person (or Person). And, as you and a few others have said, not everyone is ready for any given story or teaching; a given relationship (either due to one or both of the persons’s limitations) will not always allow it. I recall your note about how you treat the Life Of St. Mary Of Egypt and its themes some months ago. To broaden my question a bit, how far should we take this? We all need heroes and vision. If we are given a glorious, intense vision and do not attain to that, there is still a chance we can end up somewhere great. And that wonder which is implanted in us is directed towards those great mysteries. But if we are simply fed the mundane—statistically speaking, we’re probably going to be about average, so why not?—then that is the highest we will go. We may go lower, but the banality we are fed can act as a limiting factor for greatness. That will be the height of our vision and, even if we wanted something better, it would be completely outside of our mental framework not only to ask for such a thing, but to even know to ask.

    It seems to me that when people fail, it is the same way: an Orthodox Christian who is failing in, say, their struggle with anger may display passions that resemble or are identical to a non-believer. Sin is not very creative, when we really get down to it. But the opposite is not true: the greatest people of this world do not even come close to those who are heroes in God’s eyes and their rainbow of differing and complimentary gifts. The great of this world couldn’t handle it ascetically or theologically and, as noted above, they can’t see or even imagine such a greatness in any sense—the ways of God are so extraordinary that such a vision cannot be earned, it must be given. How, then, do we balance out shielding ourselves (and each other) from the negative aspects of these high experiences (judging others, delusion, despair, etc.) vs. instructing a person—or an entire generation—in the glory of God and the beauty which we should all hope to partake in (authentic love, pure prayer, virginity, etc.)? If God has to, He will just intervene and give a person that vision directly; He often does. But many of the saints grew up in pious families and the vision, the Grace, was handed down in a more hierarchical way (hearkening back to my previous post). What guidance can you give on discerning the difference between letting Christ’s light shine in us (even if we ourselves are not able to understand it and/or are afraid of it on some level) and blinding people spiritually?

  122. Joseph,
    St. James warns us not be be hearers only of the word, but doers. One way I’ve seen this put is to read no more in a day than you pray. That staggers some people… But I would say (without putting such limits), attend services as foremost, and learn to pray. Be generous to everyone expecting nothing in return. Give thanks for all things. Those few things, done with care, will make you a saint. If not, they’ll make you pleasant to be around and not a reproach to the Christian faith.

    The reading that matters most to me, I generally read only a page or two at a time. So, I don’t read as much these days as I once did. If I’m reading faster than that, it’s probably because I already know it or am not interested. Some books I read as many as 4 or 5 times, one page at a time.

    Frankly, learning just one thing is so rich, that you hardly want anything more. But we read and read and learn nothing. We’re like people eating but never digesting. So, approach reading with the prayer, “Lord teach me one thing.” And listen. And never think you’ve learned something on the first pass.

    If what you’re learning helps you do (DO) the few things I listed above, then it’s good. If not, then it’s probably useless (for the present). Don’t be afraid to be small and insignificant.

  123. Christ is Risen!
    Dear Father and I mean Dear,
    I respect everything that you say and I never meant to imply, if that is what you read in my words that I was directing my comment to you. It was just a general statement, which if anything was pointed towards myself.

    I love what you said “Respectfully, I think there is a reason for this. I think the holiness of marriage is hidden by God far more carefully than the holiness of monastics. And this is for a reason. The mystery that is the love of husband and wife is, to a great extent, meant to be nobody’s business.”

    It reminds me when Our Lord refers to His Mother as “Woman.” He is in fact (please correct me if I am incorrect) protecting her name, which Jews in that culture did and is a sign of deep respect. Also I can see as you gave example of how people can read the incorrectly the lives of Saints and be confused etc.

    I believe previously such basic questions as what an Orthodox marriage is, and what it means to be an Orthodox woman or man was more or less self-evident. With the way the world is ripping apart the family, and the grotesque false images of woman and men that are presented, I was simply trying to suggest that we as Orthodox need to witness more (martyr) in this world. Apparently, we cant assume people know or understand what those basic questions of what an Orthodox marriage is, and what it means to be an Orthodox woman or man.

    At the risk of doing exactly what you said we should not do I will give a personal and embarrassing example. Before my Mother’s passing when she was very gravely ill, my siblings and I prepared her obituary. This became an interesting exercise for dramatically different narratives were exposed with regards to my mother’s life, her marriage, what it means to be a man, a woman, and life with my father an Orthodox Priest. All four of us raised within the same Priestly home and yet dramatically different stories of my mom were exposed and dramatically different ideas of what the roles of men, women, marriage, and the Church serve.

    My sister and brothers emphasized in the obituary the fact that she was an artist, an art teacher, and talked about all of her “accomplishments,” things that they saw as largely occurring outside her marriage and our father. And they were accomplishments that anyone should be proud of, but shocking to me, my siblings initially didn’t include the fact that Mom was a Presvytera ( the wife of an Orthodox Priest) in her obituary.

    Those “accomplishments” were seem by my siblings as to how she was a modern woman who stood apart from my father whereas my diakonisa, and I, saw her accomplishments as witnesses of God’s Love and gifts outside our home to the people around us. For myself, and I believe my Mom would say the same, first and foremost she was a Presvytera. Period. An Orthodox mom along with her husband the Priest that ministered together not separately. Not living different lives and coming together once in a while but a life so deeply intertwined that words weren’t necessary between them. It was understood.

    What she did and how she did it wasn’t valued or seen by my siblings. They just don’t get it. Being a mom wasn’t valued for they don’t see that the home is a microcosm of the Church and that Marriage and children are a ministry of the Church.

    Crazy I know, my siblings denied that marriage and children were a ministry within the Church and repeatedly remarked how mom “wasn’t that kind of Presvytera” that she kept her distance from leadership roles at Church. But we all know that there are kinds of leaders. Mom was a silent leader who through her maternal strength and the strength of her union with my dad and the Lord, raised her children in the light of Christ.

    Because of the overwhelming culture that we live in, what I would like to suggest, is that even within our own Orthodox homes we need to explain, what should be self evident: marriage, and children, are a ministry of the Church. An Orthodox woman along, with her husband minister together, not separately, and marriage is one vehicle to salvation and union with Our Lord.

    My diakonisa and I love you and thank you so much for your blog.

  124. Joseph B. Theophorus,

    “Having struggled quite extensively with the subject of privacy . . . I attempted to essentially put as much of my life out in the open as possible for a long time, to the point of essentially opening up my private files . . . to the world. I stopped for both the reasons above . . . and the simple issue of the time commitment involved in such an undertaking. But most of the underlying assumptions of this project were never definitively (or otherwise) disproven in my spiritual conversations or readings. If time wasn’t an issue and I could better ascertain from God what projects I did and did not need to work on, I see no real drawbacks in that undertaking.”

    From The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John of Sinai (c. 579–649), Step 22 – On the many forms of vainglory:

    Whenever [the demon of vainglory] sees that any have acquired in some slight measure a contemplative attitude, he immediately urges them to leave the desert for the world, saying: ‘Go away in order to save the souls which are perishing.’ […]

    Do not believe the winnower when he suggests that you should display your virtues for the benefit of the hearers. For what shall a man be profited if he shall bring profit to the whole world, and forfeit his soul? (Matt. xvi, 26; Luke ix, 25) […]

    Abominable vainglory suggests that we should pretend to have some virtue that we do not possess, spurring us on by the text: Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works.

    You already mentioned perfectionism.

    “. . .perfectionism, would prevent me from undertaking a work I might not be able to present in an ‘ideal’ way. . .”

    One of the driving forces behind obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an inflated sense of responsibility, known as hyper-responsibility. Those who suffer from hyper-responsibility believe they have more control over what happens in the world than they actually do.

    When my son Dan’s OCD was severe, he dealt with hyper-responsibility in relation to other’s feelings. In his mind he was responsible for everyone else’s happiness, thereby neglecting his own. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I remember one of his elementary school teachers commenting, long before he was diagnosed with OCD, that Dan was very well-liked, but she worried about the cost to him. He was constantly being pulled in different directions by his peers, not wanting to upset or disappoint anyone, always wanting to please and accommodate everybody.

    Fast-forward about 10 years, and Dan’s OCD and sense of hyper-responsibility were so intense that he felt he had no choice but to isolate himself from his friends and peers. He was responsible for their well-being, and since something might go wrong or someone might get hurt under his ‘watch,’ his solution was to avoid others.

    On a broader scale, Dan gave an inordinate amount of his money to charity. Any appeal that came in the mail was answered with a check, and when I once commented that it was great to care about others but he should cut back on his donations to save for college, he became uncharacteristically agitated and insisted on continuing to donate. I now realize he felt responsible for saving the world, and if I forced him to refrain from what had become a compulsion, he would have experienced tormenting guilt.

    These are just two of the countless ways hyper-responsibility can manifest itself; most OCD sufferers will have their own unique examples. But who and what we are responsible for is not always clear-cut, and this can make the issue of hyper-responsibility difficult to deal with.” (Janet Singer, OCD and Hyper-responsibility)

  125. Father Deacon,
    What a wonderful story – and very to the point. These examples are often unknown to the world, and not even perceived in the Church. There is a certain “pondering in the heart” that surrounds these mysteries.

    An example that comes to mind for me is found in conversations that I’ve had with some outside the Orthodox faith on the topic of women’s ordination. I realize that there is not really the possibility of such a conversation because they have not experienced the Church. Most especially they have not experienced the Theotokos and her place within Orthodoxy. And in that, it must be said that they have never seen the Woman. If they do not know the Woman, then how can they think about the role of women? And this cannot be known without experience – not reading or thinking – but the living experience of prayer and worship in the Church.

    I think that the ministry of Presvytera, well-served, also reveals something of the Theotokos. I’m sure you agree. May your parent’s memory be eternal!

  126. Matth,

    Specifically, the routing/gutting of religious freedom laws designed to protect (mostly) small business owners from being forced into participating in the religious rites of homosexualists (or any other religious sect) in Indiana and Arkansas a month or so ago is the source of a recent “ah-ha* realization of our situation vis-a-vis the culture for many non-moderns. To those of us who have been paying attention, it is of no surprise, but the fact is that most traditional Christians/Jews/Muslims/non-moderns have been rather comfortable in the American context of “religious freedom”. Now that it is obvious that the old “Classical Liberal” framework is dead and how illiberal and intolerant the new order is, many are realizing we have passed a “tipping point” and are seeing the danger. Some traditional Christians (e.g. the photographer in my state, the baker in Oregon – the list is still in its infancy but starting to grow) have already been financially ruined by these states so called “Human Rights Commissions”. It is an now an open secret that staffers for about half of congress are brainstorming criminal penalties of various sorts…

    Deacon John,

    “…Being a mom wasn’t valued for they don’t see that the home is a microcosm of the Church and that Marriage and children are a ministry of the Church…Because of the overwhelming culture that we live in, what I would like to suggest, is that even within our own Orthodox homes we need to explain, what should be self evident: marriage, and children, are a ministry of the Church….”

    Interesting story – your on to something here I think…

  127. So much goodness here! Such helpful stories and reflections. I’m thanking God for the gift of the internet. And for your energy and commitment, Fr. Stephen, in maintaining this exceptional resource.

  128. At the risk of being misunderstood, concerning Father’s fantastic advise on St John of Kronstadt, I’d like to add something contrasting, that, although it goes without saying that Marriage is the icon of the union of Christ and the Church, and this great mystery, represented in this shape, cannot exclude bodily union, Monasticism is (patristically), clearly considered as the “first will of God”.
    It predates Marriage, which is considered the “second will of God” (in anticipation of the Fall as explained by Maximus, Chrysosotom, Palamas, Nikodemus Hagiorite, etc), as demonstrated in the first Adam’s predating of Eve – pre-existing alone with God, ‘monastically’ and destined to become the Christ, to live as Christ demonstrated after the resurrection. (The mode of existence seen in the resurrected Christ is the mode of existence towards which a monastic is attracted.) The second will of God in which Adam comes together with Eve and begets Cain is the first instance of man’s “adventure” in the sense of “ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” (Genesis 50:20)

  129. In other words, Marriage is considered a post-lapsarian configuration, pre-anticipating the need for the continuation of humanity after the Fall – which would of necessity involve the “adventure” we now live, [through which God would bring about salvation yet again…]

  130. Dino

    Thank you so much for this. You again come to the rescue with your amazing understanding of Orthodox doctrine, Tradition and patristic writings.

    Hope this does not come across as “beating the dead horse”, but I still struggle with hearing that “Christ healed our humanity by participating/assuming all of it”. Well, there was *one* aspect in which He did not participate, aspect that seems unusually important to today’s humanity. Does that mean that stuff related to our sexuality was not healed? That combined with St. Paul saying that sexual sins are the one we commit against our own body…… Could you (or Fr. Stephen) maybe say something about this? I asked earlier, but the question got lost in the shuffle…..

    I accept and honor the mystery of marriage, even if my experience of it was broken. But most people have understanding of this area of life that is opposed to the Church’s teaching, it would at least be nice to have some good general language to use when talking about it.

    In Christ, we will be neither Jew or Gentile nor male or female, but what do we do with all this untill then ? 🙂

  131. Agata,
    I think Father Stephen would have infinitely more discernment than my awkward thoughts on your question have. Ideally, I do think that we do what Christ and his saints did: thanking our Father while embracing suffering fearlessly, no matter whence it comes from.
    More pragmatically this might be no more than “us doing whatever we can” in a given situation, in order to put the other person first or to strive to help God bestow on us His saving humility and love. It’ll probably encompass a great deal of ‘falling and getting back up’. Nonetheless, within someone’s specific circumstances, it might even look as crass as:
    stealing once a day rather than once an hour (for a seasoned thief),
    considering our spouse’s point of view a wee bit more, rather than our own in matters of sexual relations (for a seasoned self-centred sensualist),
    being thankful for a headache rather than complaining, through remembering a martyr’s torture.
    There are martyrs who started with even more rudimentary steps towards God and were soon afterwards saints, like the thief saint Desmas –next to Christ.

  132. Agata, I would say that Jesus did participate in human sexuality–just not in the manner most think of. Being fully human, he fully undestood the sexual synergy that can occur between men and women even with out erotic components. That, IMO, is a primary reason he recognized the full humanity of women in a manner that is unique and why he attracted so many women disciples.

    Real celibacy undergird with genuine chastity is not a denial of the sexual but rather a transcendence of it and a fulfillment of it in a different way.

  133. Michael,

    “Real celibacy undergird with genuine chastity is not a denial of the sexual but rather a transcendence of it and a fulfillment of it in a different way.”

    Thank you, *this* is what *I* needed to hear.

    And those myrrhbearing women are my role models. As are holy mothers (St. Seraphim’s mother’s name was Agafia, Russian version of my name; and the mother of Fr. Tom Hopko; and the mother of Elder Sophrony of Essex was once called “blessed” by St. John of Kronstadt – it all ties together for me in the end ! :))

  134. Michael,
    the transcendence of sexuality you fittingly spoke of prompted me to recall Saint Paisios’ profound words regarding the conception of the All Holy God-bearer Mary by Saints Joachim and Anna, as the fruit of such transcendence.

  135. I will try not to throw a wrench in the discussion at this point, but I will be a bit contrary. I think St. Maximus and other fathers who venture into the territory of what “might have been” had we not fallen, perhaps go too far. St. Augustine, for example, goes there but has very, even exceedingly strange things to say (that I’ll not repeat).

    I love St. Maximus, but I think that here he speaks largely from speculation and that it would be quite wrong to attribute some sort of divine inspiration to his speculation. The simple fact, I think, is that we have no knowledge of the human in a pre-lapsarian state. We were created in the image of the Crucified and it is only the Crucified Christ who says, “It is finished.”

    I suggest we were created in the image of the Crucified, for the Lamb was slain, “from the foundation of the world.” Before ever there was a creation, the Lamb is slain. And the Crucifixion is itself already being revealed in our crucifixion – as Eve is taken from Adam’s side as he slept, even as the Church is born from Christ as He slept (in death).

    Indeed, even the fact that there was a wounding involved (the opening of his side) in the creation of woman points to the Crucified Christ.

    I say this with trembling, knowing that differing with such a great father of the Church is bold. But I think it is important in this instance. The sanctified celibacy of monastics is not a return to a pre-lapsarian existence, but is a manifestation of the Crucified Christ in their life. Marriage is life-long suffering, and so is the celibacy of the monastic.

    If there is a greatness in the path of the monastic, such that we call it “greater”, then it is only in the measure of the depth of its union with the Crucified. For Christ, though celibate, has a Spouse, and reveals His glorious work under the image of betrothal and marriage. For that reason, I am even hesitant to speak of the monastic path as greater in any inherent sense.

    Joachiam and Anna are an honorably married couple. I am loathe to think of them as having chosen a secondary path.

    I’m aware of how the Tradition often speaks of these things. I suspect that the “hiddenness” of marriage has often left it speechless in the course of the Church’s conversation. I wonder, that is marriage is the lesser path, how it is that so few succeed in it, while so many monastics seems to excel in theirs. St. Paul himself indicates that marriage brings greater trouble with it. I would think that the one who overcomes greater trouble would be the “greater” champion. And even greater still, in that not only is one saved, but two.

    I offer this contrary word primarily because it is permitted within the Tradition to speak in such a manner. The Council of Gangra very early offered words of warning lest anyone despise marriage (which I know Dino is not doing here) or disparage it in any way. There is an excellence in virginity to be pursued for its own sake – but never because one somehow despises the union of husband and wife (sex in its proper setting).

    For those of us in the world, it is the mystery of marriage we most need to ponder, and not be troubled that we have somehow chosen a lesser path. Marriage, is a sacrament of the Church, and not a concession to our baser instincts. It is a path of salvation, worthy of a crown. We are specifically blessed to have children. The woman is specifically blessed to “rejoice” in her husband.

    and multiply like Rachel, and rejoice in your husband, fulfilling the commandments of God: for so is it well-pleasing unto God.

    This rather “oblique” language is specifically referring to the conjugal union in marriage. Note that it is “well-pleasing” to God.

    It is from the reading of the service of the sacrament itself (which must hold a place of primacy), that I am troubled by stories such as that of St. John of Kronstadt. Such stories trouble the consciences of the married, who have been blessed not only to have sexual union, but to rejoice in it. St John and his wife had a unique path for doubtlessly unique reasons, unknown to us. But if false conclusions are drawn from this story (and they are easily done so), then it becomes harmful.

    It is well-known that there is a pious practice for some to refrain from intercourse for a season (as St. Paul himself says), and that some enter into such a fast later in years is also well-known. But if this is done in a manner that treats the conjugal union as somehow sinful or unworthy, then it is in serious error. Just as we never fast from meat because it is unclean (indeed, it is God who says to St. Peter, “kill and eat”), but rather fast from it because it has the manner of feasting – so the conjugal union is festal in nature. We should be careful not to despise a feast God Himself as appointed.

    Forgive my writing at such length on this. But I feel these thoughts are important.

  136. Dino says:

    “…Monasticism is (patristically), clearly considered as the “first will of God”.
    It predates Marriage, which is considered the “second will of God” (in anticipation of the Fall as explained by… ”

    To avoid any misunderstandings 😉 would you say:

    1) You understand this is a *hierarchical* sense, or in a spatial/chrono sense (or even prelapsarian/postlapsarian sense – though this will imply a certain kind of answer to the hierarchical one).

    2) Is monasticism the more full/perfect image of Christ, and marriage, while being a sort of image (even one that is blessed/sacramentally defined/”second”), is something less than a monastic image because Christ was unmarried?

    3) If the above two answers put monasticism *first*, then is the bearing of children (something that requires sex and “biological action”) a postlapsarian “concession” to our fallen state – the blessing of (sacramental nature of marriage) notwithstanding? If this is the case, is the Church not de facto positing some sort of “monastic” end (or a calling of an end) to the creation of human souls in that monasticism is our *first* calling? Even more speculatively, does God then will a *new creation* in which human souls are no longer created or created nonsexually?

  137. Well, I see that Fr. Stephen was addressing some of my questions at the same time I was posting. Still, I would like to see some *patrisitic* references and answers to the meaning of the language of “first/second”, whether they intend a hierarchical meaning. Their own speculation seems to indicate that they indeed did mean a hierarchical meaning – pulling in a prelapsiarian *judgement* or *lineament* into an understanding of monasticism/marriage. Despite the attestments to the contrary, there does indeed appear to be a rational contrasting and comparing being done – even a dichotomy being set up. The discursive reason does not like a dichotomy, and will try to resolve it – thus monasticism is coming out “first”.

    I don’t have the background in patristic reading/thought to tackle this, but I can spot the contrast being set up here…

  138. Christopher,
    Maybe someone whose first language is English knows the proper terminology in English for what (in Greek) we term ‘the first will’ (κατ’ εὐδοκία) and ‘the second will’ (κατὰ παραχώρηση) of God. ..?
    The bearing of children is not a postlapsarian “concession” to our fallen state, but a desperate “necessity” in order for the ‘first Gospel’ (given to Adam and Eve) to come to pass. After its fulfillment in Christ however, it ceases being critical any longer.
    I love what Elder Sophrony had to say concerning the connection of all these notions to blessed Monasticism and blessed Marriage when prompted by the typical question towards the end of his life, “what would happen to humanity if we all were to become monastics then?!”
    His answer –as far as I can remember it now- was:
    Don’t we see a gradual tightening of the laws from polygamy to monogamy to the exaltation of celibacy in the history of our faith? It is as if this would have been the ideal ending to mankind’s awaiting of the second coming! We know that, as things are now, when people “marry wives, and are given in marriage” (Luke 17:27), the end of the world will come “through fire kept in store” and “reserved unto the day of judgement” (2 Peter 3:7). But if all were to somehow (hypothetically of course) become monastics for the love of God, then the end of the world and the second coming of Christ would automatically come with everybody being saved – God’s will for the salvation of all would be fulfilled in its entirety. But we mourn knowing that many will rather call to the rocks to fall on them, and hide them from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne (Rev. 6 : 15 – 16)

  139. To avoid misunderstandings, by “desperate necessity” I mean critical and primary. We see this particularly in the laments of the barren women of OT.

  140. It is hard, really really hard, not to simply quote this whole article by Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra (written in 1971):

    Read the whole thing, really take the time. I found it on:

    Some choice words:

    “…As a rule, the normal rhythm of the spiritual life begins with marriage. An unmarried person is like someone trying to live permanently in a hallway: he doesn’t seem to know what the rooms are for…What then is the purpose of marriage? I will tell you three of its main aims. First of all, marriage is a path of pain. The companionship of man and wife is called a “yoking together” (syzygia), that is, the two of them labor under a shared burden. Marriage is a journeying together, a shared portion of pain, and, of course, a joy. But usually it’s six chords of our life which sound a sorrowful note, and only one which is joyous. Man and wife will drink from the same cup of upheaval, sadness, and failure. During the marriage ceremony, the priest gives the newly-weds to drink from the same cup, called the “common cup” [4], because together they will bear the burdens of marriage. The cup is also called “union” [5], because they are joined together to share life’s joys and sorrows”.

    As the Church in America (not referring to any one “jurisdiction”) trips and stumbles to say a truly convincing *word* on marriage and it’s perversions (homosexualist “marriage”, etc.), such language that is used by Archimandrite Aimilianos is refreshing. As he points out, it takes a REAL man and and a REAL women to have a “successful” marriage. Perhaps the Church in America has done a disservice by blessing the marriages of what are in fact unions of so many whining/immature children (to quote the good elder: “The character of the child must be shaped properly, so that he becomes an honest, brave, decisive, sincere, cheerful person, and not a half, self-pitying creature, who constantly bemoans his fate, a weak-willed thing without any power of thought or strength.”).

    This is not to denigrate any poster here – I am in no position to judge. That said, it comes back to either proper *Christian* formation and principles when entering into marriage, or the obtaining of these during marriage. In our “democratic” culture and “way of being”, this is frankly very very difficult. My wife and I went into marriage as only “half” christians and we have had some real suffering because of this – I could say more but as Fr. Stephen points out there is a certain “hiddeness” to these things, which in my case means I don’t quite know how to talk about them and have them make any sense in a comment box. I just know that it is a true acesis, and I don’t know if I am man enough for it (i.e to last to the end), but it does take “Manly Courage” and this is to be prayed for.

    I am also obviously, wholly unconvinced by the hierarchical and/or dichotomous understanding of monasticism vs. marriage. If “the Holy Mount” is the arena – the battleground where spiritual warfare takes place – then so is my home and any “theology” that compares the two has some distance to go to convince me monasticism is the more “rigorous”.

    “I see your silent work, sitting on hard stools and repetitively praying, and standing in all night vigils (in the hard glare of candle light) , and raise you two sick children and a wife with a broken arm…”

  141. Father,
    Regarding St Maximus’ words on these matters, would we not tend to say that, for such a “beholder of God’s Light” who has passed beyond the divine “contemplation of the logoi of beings”, there must be a specific ontological knowledge (not just rational speculation) of the human in the pre-lapsarian state? and further still (to some degree) of the even more perfect state that was that primordial state’s eschatological objective?

  142. Dino,

    I have a post in moderation (I assume because of the links I embedded within it). I will say to:

    “Don’t we see a gradual tightening of the laws from polygamy to monogamy to the exaltation of celibacy in the history of our faith? It is as if this would have been the ideal ending to mankind’s awaiting of the second coming!”

    And to this

    “… But if all were to somehow (hypothetically of course) become monastics for the love of God, then the end of the world and the second coming of Christ would automatically come with everybody being saved – God’s will for the salvation of all would be fulfilled in its entirety…..”

    This already has the hierarchical ranking of monasticism as being “first” or “a more perfect life” understanding (really a speculation) baked into it. Interesting that it also linked with the St. Nyssa/St. Isaac/St. Silouan strain of Universalism – perhaps that is not an accident. Not sure how they fit together – perhaps a kind of (false?) zeal for the Eschaton, an unintended denigration of “God’s time” or a de facto rejection of the world (as opposed to the right rejection of “the worldly”). Is it a species of “millennialism”, except all are saved?

  143. Dear Fr. Stephen, I so appreciate your blog posts and rarely read comments or post on comments, other than to thank you, but I’ve got to say I just “checked” your blog here and saw 149 comments on this article and have to say “You hit a nerve” obviously! Praise God! Thank you for all you do and Glory to God for All Things!

  144. Dino says:

    “there must be a specific ontological knowledge (not just rational speculation) of the human in the pre-lapsarian state? and further still (to some degree) of the even more perfect state that was that primordial state’s eschatological objective?”

    Why? “Repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand” – not “the Kingdom that *was*, except that it never really *was*, and now a whole new salvation/being/*new creation* that in some way looks back (laments?) to that which was supposed to be but never was and indeed I (being God) knew it when I created the world…” This seems to be untenable on the “ontological” level – but perhaps that is because I am pulling it down to the rational…

  145. Christopher,
    I would surely try to avoid rationalising – I do not want to say anything from my own feeble mind, just to repeat what those who have beheld God have said on these matters. Elder Sophrony certainly would not have meant those words in a millennialist manner, it’s rather the same Apostolic yearning making him utter those words as the disciples’: “May grace come and this world pass away!” (Didache of the twelve apostles 10:6)

  146. “But I would say (without putting such limits), attend services as foremost, and learn to pray. Be generous to everyone expecting nothing in return. Give thanks for all things. Those few things, done with care, will make you a saint. If not, they’ll make you pleasant to be around and not a reproach to the Christian faith.”

    Father, this quote from you from May 8 at 7:32 PM, seems to me to be pure gold. I’m not even Orthodox (although I desire to be), so I really know less than anyone else here. Nonethless, thank you Father for even allowing me to comment. I just wanted to say that I absolutely love this truth you’ve shared Father. This truth that there are many things we don’t know, shouldn’t know, and can/will only learn over time. I love the account from Karen of the newer Monks were not even allowed to read the Philokalia. I can scratch off at least one book from my list 🙂

    A-onyma, thank you for including that quote from The Ladder of Divine Ascent.

    It’s so freeing to know that I don’t have to know it all. Especially coming from the Evangelical camp where that seems to be what it’s all about.

    Thank you all for the great discussion here. I’ve beneffited richly from it!!

  147. Dino,
    I think there is a tendency to say this. But I think it tends to raise a specific Father to the level of Scripture – saying far more than God has given us in those texts – and in an arena where there are differing thoughts among the fathers. I’m cautious about this. It tends to elevate the Fathers in a way that makes them immune to critical study or analysis. They certainly (and certainly Maximos) have specific ontological knowledge – but when we make of them not ontological knowledge, but our own rational datum, and this becomes problematic.

    I’m wary. There is, and I do not see you saying this, but there is a strain within contemporary Orthodoxy that makes of the Fathers a sort of new infallible fundamental – and their texts become a new Scripture. Among those who themselves enjoy the contemplation of the logoi of beings, I think they can be read that way. For the rest of us, it becomes unhealthy. They should draw us toward the light, but may not substitute for it.

    St. Maximos, for example, in another place speaks of the fall as virtually instantaneous. He says many things and the whole has to be gathered together. There is always context, as well. What is he doing in his passages on the pre-lapsarian state. Is he trying to relay revealed information? That would be striking and rare – almost like some of the claims of Catholic visionaries. Or is he taking us somewhere noetic in which such language transcends historical speculation and takes us further? The latter is my more common experience when reading Maximos.

  148. Undeniably Father, that is so. Maximus makes far more of the dipole ‘pleasure – pain’, which was “introduced instantaneously” (that expression again), following the fall of man. None of these insights should be understood as, somehow, historical speculation either… What is pretty consistent in him and others though, is this idea of a ‘first will’ of God for man (an icon of which is the absoluteness of monasticism, as direct marriage to our eternal Bridegroom rooted not in history but in man’s inner nature) and a ‘second will’ of God for man (as depicted in the blessed and salvific marriage of a man and a woman – a pattern that would not have come to pass as we now know this without the fall having come to pass first). Those who experience Theosis however, come to know now, [irrespective of them being married or living the absoluteness of monasticism – (besides the first step of Baptism speaks of a parallel ‘absoluteness’)] to a certain degree, both the transitory pre-lapsarian state, even for an instant, and far more than that, are informed in their very bones, of the resurrected eschatological state of man…

  149. Fr. Stephen,

    My opinion holds no weight but find myself totally agreeing with your comments of May 11, 2015 at 3:53 pm where you caution against looking at marriage as a lesser path. In fact the question comes up at some point why there is a need to judge one against another. Both are blessed vocations. More than this few of us know. Even the words you penned above I believe should belong to the category of “Mary pondered these things in her heart”.

  150. Dino,
    Indeed. These caveats point to a “transcendent sexuality” to use Michael’s language. I agree. My cautions were not meant to deny this. The eschatological state informs everything.

  151. Drewster,
    I think ‘comparisons’ of monasticism & marriage do have some place and time of need. The Fathers would not have spent so many words on them otherwise. Those who have the experience to advise people asking for such advise never denigrate marriage when they exalt monasticism. The profound words on the mystical ‘conjugality’ of monasticism are in fact words of “another marriage”, a more closely ‘eschatologically compatible’ (can we use such a term?) betrothal than that of man and woman.
    Interestingly, a very, very similar comparison is at work within monasticism, when there’s talk of the “infinitely higher, yet equal” path of hesychastic anchoritism as compared to coenobium life.

  152. Dino,

    I definitely agree that there is a proper place for comparisons of many such things. Whether or not the time and place is right now here on this blog is another question. And speaking in general, we in our fallen human condition experience acute need. Often this causes us to use every advantage to satisfy these needs. So if I can use comparison to put you just far enough below me that I can use you as a stepping stone to further my cause…then sobeit. The instinct for self-preservation runs deep.

    We must be cautious about comparing, that’s all I’m saying. Anything that smacks of “God likes me better than you.” is going to have negative ramifications. While to those who stand assured of God’s love for them this sounds absurd, the possibility that we “won’t make the cut” is all too real for the rest.

    When laying out the truth, pursue what is helpful in the situation. The rest of the truth does not disappear simply because it wasn’t stated, and it will still be there when it is required.

  153. We are a deeply broken and wounded culture – pretty much everywhere. I recall a conversation with an abbot who described the difficulties in monastic formation, for so few monastics (like the rest of us) come from healthy homes with healthy marriages. And the wounds that these broken homes and lives inflict on children make it just as difficult to live into the monastic vocation as it does into the sacrament of marriage. Everywhere, we are struggling for salvation.

    I should add that although I spoke earlier about the sacrament of marriage and how it exalts marriage, it is also correct to speak of the sacrament of the monastic tonsure (for so it is accounted by many).

  154. Father,
    that is a very real problem in both vocations, indeed…
    Standards seem to be plunging exponentially (in both paths), Lord have mercy!
    This decline is qualitatively very different to that of other times I think.

  155. Well, I admit I have been a bit naive. I had up until now assumed that both monasticism and marriage were rather “co-equal” paths – of martyrdom no less – or ways of life. Not sure exactly why – I think I thought St. John Chrysostom held this view among others, as well as our Lords words and actions (e.g. Matt 19)

    After spending some time looking into it this morning, this is simply not the case. Dino is right, the Church majority consensus appears to be the hierarchical view:

    “…in general, our monks are looking towards the angels as their example and married Christians are looking to the monastics as their example. So there’s what we would call in Greek a *taxis*, an order: angels, monks, married Christians. And all of course are looking towards Christ, but there’s a particular order where we can find direction.”

    To quote Fr. Josiah Trenham: St. John Chrysostom on Marriage and Monasticism (here at Ancient Faith). It is interesting to note the history of the Church around marital relations and clergy for example, which you can look up on OrthoWiki under “marriage” and “sex”. Basically, there is a tension, a certain tendency toward an attitude/understanding towards married life that perhaps is best summed up by St. Paul (though that quote of Elder Sophrony above is pretty good to) :

    “…But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment. 7 For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that.8 But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; 9 but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Cor 7)

    He wishes all “were even as I myself”, and it is a “concession” for the lack of “self-control”. The qualification of “But each one has his own gift from God…” is rather weak, and if this was not Holy Scripture I would dismiss it entirely as the thoughts of a man who was trying (unsuccessfully) to convince himself or was simply trying to placate those who would resist.

    The other side of course is there (Marriage being a primary sacrement/mystery, etc.), but I admit that that for me this does not strike me as some sort of “transcendent tension” where we are simply failing to grasp something difficult and out of reach of our reason. No, it seems more like a negative tension, a sort of “we have not quite made up our mind”, or rather “we have but we cant really come out and say it/do it because it is about ‘concession’, ‘weakness’, and working with what we have”.

    Even on this thread there has been a reluctance to flush out the ramifications of this “position” (is “phronema” the right word?) in the Church (I refer to the warning of “harm” directed at Dino). Why? Once you get past a rather pathetic “us vs them” sentimentalism, should we not face up to the reality of this “position” or “tension”?

    Another thought: I have been observing the rather tepid, I would use the word “impotent” response of the Church’s bishops in the face of the New Anthropology, particularly in the practical aspects of it centered around the sexual revolution and marriage. I have up until now attributed this to simple sin, mediocrity, the “natural conservatism” and caution of the Church, etc. Could it be also that when it comes to marriage, this above tension is also in the mix?

  156. If Michael’s point about “transcendent sexuality” is valid, might not this influence our thinking about homosexuality? — in the sense that the merely physical elements of an intimate relationship (elements which could be moderated and controlled in the same way as the other appetites are; e.g., for comfort or for food) are rather insignificant when compared with the posibilitiy that two persons of the same sex could more truly support and inspire each other in their shared pilgrimage towards and with God than each could manage on their own in a loveless, although charity-filled, life.

    It seems that placing focus on genital and reproductive aspects of intimacy is so limiting, whether in hetero- or homosexual attractions, assuming that such attractions are natural–a very big assumption, but one that ought at least to be addressed since many good persons testify from experience to its validity.

    It also seems that the arguments about same-sex marriage could be resolved by acknowledging that civil “marriage” is different from the Christian sacrament, which might more satisfactorially be called matrimony (”. . . derives from Latin mātrimōnium which combines the two concepts mater meaning “mother” and the suffix -monium signifying “action, state, or condition.” – -wiki)

  157. Albert,

    It would take volumes to answer your question properly. The short answer is that we can’t handle that kind of transcendent relationship in this life. Few obtain it, and then only with God Himself. We simply aren’t there yet. Much better the path of obedience. In the Garden He told the man and woman, “Don’t.” That’s all they needed to know at the time.

    In this case He says, either man & woman become one flesh or they stay apart and both dedicate themselves to Him alone. Those are the options. Love of the sort you’re speaking of is not available to us in our brokenness; we simply aren’t ready for it.

  158. Albert,

    Michael said that *celibacy and chastity* are a transcendence of sexuality. Most people today think/believe that it is a perversion and an abnormality to live a chase life. And behave as it if they would “explode” if they don’t have sex…. (see Clark Carlton’s excellent podcast “Why Do the Pro-Abortionists So Furiously Rage Together?”).

  159. Albert,
    There is no form of genital expression of “love” other than that within the traditional marital relationship of one man and one woman that is, in fact, not sin. It does not draw two men together or express “love.” It is precisely the kind of sexual expression that is anti-transcendent. The notion that sex can be considered apart from procreation is simply incorrect. There is a certain “extension” that is given to procreative sex for the good of the marriage and the stability of society – which has a goal of stable and healthy families. But sex as the expression of “love” (a word that increasingly has no meaning in our culture) is nonsense and misunderstands love. As noted in the primary article, only a life-time of self-sacrifice and faithfulness gives definition and meaning to love. It is not defined by feelings or psychological “needs.”

    “Many good people testify from experience to its validity.” Forgive me, but that is so vague and simply begs the question. Friendship between two people of the same sex in no way requires genital expression. We could argue ad infinitum with examples from this or that. But the unanimous(!) testimony of the Church’s tradition and its teachers is that these actions are “disordered” (to use the phrase that Rome uses). They are sin.

  160. I second what Father just wrote eloquently and succinctly in response to that comment Albert, those type of hollow deductions on ‘attractions’ misapplied to the Spiritual plane (a common occurence in our secularly influenced reasonings) are proved untenable if examined correctly.

  161. Albert,
    I ask readers to please forgive the graphic content of this answer.

    I always get the feeling that people are speaking in the extreme abstract when they speak of homosexual activity. I fully understand attraction and emotional bonds. However, the specific genital activity involved, at the very most, only provides a shadow and mimicry of marital union. Of course people have intense, orgasmic experiences in these manners, but orgasms and union are not at all the same thing. Indeed, the sort of activities engaged in are the very reasons that words such as “perversions” aptly describe such same sex genital contact. The isolation of orgasmic experience from the marital union in fact leads into a captivity to the passions that is quite frightful in its power. Our culture has already created a cult of the orgasm and is drowning in the hedonism it is spawning.

  162. Indeed, for quite some time now, this ‘religion’ of “the worship of the Baʿal of orgasm” has been captivating and keeping captives with frightful power. It’s all-pervasive influence is spilling over into areas that would normally have nothing to do with it in the past.
    May the Lord grant us the infinitely more fervent desire for Him that the saints have (of which this is a perverse caricature), and which alone has the power to expose its foolishness.

  163. “There is no form of genital expression of “love” other than that within the traditional marital relationship of one man and one woman that is, in fact, not sin”

    St. Gregory of Nyssa argues that sin (death) is the result of marriage (intercourse/procreation). It is “the last stage of our separation (from) Paradise” and it allows death to continue its work. Virginity is the answer:

    “…Marriage, then, is the last stage of our separation from the life that was led in Paradise; marriage therefore, as our discourse has been suggesting, is the first thing to be left…it is demonstrated that virginity is a stronger thing than death; and that body is rightly named undying which does not lend its service to a dying world, nor brook to become the instrument of a succession of dying creatures. In such a body the long unbroken career of decay and death, which has intervened between the first man and the lives of virginity which have been led, is interrupted. It could not be indeed that death should cease working as long as the human race by marriage was working too; he walked the path of life with all preceding generations; he started with every new-born child and accompanied it to the end: but he found in virginity a barrier…so the power of death cannot go on working, if marriage does not supply it with material and prepare victims for this executioner…

    Another translation has it more ominous to those in marriage:

    “married intercourse had been the “last outward stopping place’ of Adam and Eve in their sad exile from Paradise”

    for context, see chapters 13/14 of “on virginity”

  164. Christopher,
    I have to number myself among those who are critical of this approach to the question. Nyssa is not the definitive word. Sex and procreation are not inherently sinful. The church does not bless sin.

  165. I note God’s “blessing” in Genesis to “be fruitful and multiply” given to creatures, including Adam and Eve, is prelapsarian. My understanding is the Fathers taught the manner of procreation would have been different had Adam and Eve not fallen, and perhaps that is true, but I’m not sure I follow that logic entirely. Was there not male and female before the Fall?

    St. Gregory appears to be speculating based on a reverse dynamic of the implications of the biblical teaching that at the consummation of all things when Christ is all in all, there will be no more marrying, but all the redeemed will “be like the angels” worshipping and communing with God. All marriage will have been transcended (or should we say fulfilled?) in the marriage of the Lamb with His Bride.

  166. I was thinking more about persons who have learned that intimacy does not require specific forms of physical expression. I meant to imply that in the part about appetites being moderated and controlled. I know persons in that situation, just as I know married couples for whom genital contact is not the high point of, or even the basis for, their union. In fact

    (Going out on a limb) ,I would bet that there are very few marriages that survive on that diet alone, or that would starve starve without it. We are taught through various media that “having sex” is the same as loving, but it may turn out that the drive often gets in the way of the love.)

    Also, I am troubled by the accusation that religious beliefs promote hatred and injustice. Accusations are not truths, of course, but perceptions can influence attitudes. I was inspired Sunday by the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. As Eric Jobe pointed out in an essay last year at this time,

    “Jesus did not meet her as a movement, a religious philosophy, or a set of dogmas. He met her as a person, “neither Jew nor [Samaritan], neither male nor female.” It is only then that he is able to meet her with his theology – and his theology is personal, hypostatic, and not ideological.’

  167. I don’t think I agree with Jobe’s assessment of the woman at the well. It’s a folksy way to treat the story but misses most of what is going on.

    For example: the encounter at the well has a setting that in Biblical parlance is a “betrothal” setting. Jacob meets Rachel at a well; Moses meets Zipporah; etc. And she is put off by His forwardness – speaking to a strange woman – much less a Samaritan. And he brings up the subject of marriage – her most vulnerable and failed life experience. He is the Bridegroom and she is about to enter the Spiritual union that only comes from Christ. It is shot through with reality, doctrine, etc. Theology should never be “ideological.”

    I agree that very few marriages survive (I would say none) on sex alone. It clearly diminishes with the years. The Church profoundly supports friendship (the traditional name for a proper same-sex relationship). And there can be friendships that co-habit and have a relationship that are truly profound. There’s no question about that.

  168. “…Marriage, then, is the last stage of our separation from the life that was led in Paradise; marriage therefore, as our discourse has been suggesting, is the first thing to be left…it is demonstrated that virginity is a stronger thing than death; and that body is rightly named undying which does not lend its service to a dying world, nor brook to become the instrument of a succession of dying creatures. In such a body the long unbroken career of decay and death, which has intervened between the first man and the lives of virginity which have been led, is interrupted. It could not be indeed that death should cease working as long as the human race by marriage was working too; he walked the path of life with all preceding generations; he started with every new-born child and accompanied it to the end: but he found in virginity a barrier…so the power of death cannot go on working, if marriage does not supply it with material and prepare victims for this executioner…”

    This is not exclusive for Christianity. I remember reading Julius Evola (Metaphysics of Sex) saying something like that about other ‘traditional’ religions.

    It is something metaphysical relating monasticism to the metaphysical realization. According to him, to be free (moksha) is to be free of every conditioning, inclusive biological. In this stance (which is not Evola’s because he still sees in sex something trans-biological, metaphysical) sex is the sting of sin, or at least, the characteristic symbol in human relations and biological life of some degree of corporeality that must be transcended. It is not that the body or sex are ‘evil’ by themselves, they’re only more conditioned than monastic life, when the monk has the aim of attaining edenic androgeneity (which would be the Orthodox Christian case, or origenist-gnosticists case) or is more free of fleshly cares. Sex is the indicative of death, in a deep sense, because it is related to the biological cycle of life-death-ressurrection, bringing forth the association between pleasure and pain, lust and death, the birth of the child and the death of the father (something Freud grasped quite confusingly). This level of existence, biological, is rather a level of understanding our individual state of corporeal manifestation, so sex (like bodily pleasure and children) is not only akin to it, but it is only transcended if the WHOLE state of manifestation is changed, purified, deified.

    Attaining superior levels of manifestation, supra-individual states of consciousness, sex vanishes along with biological devir. It is the crowning of monasticism, when monks have already become angels. The material conditions for procreation dies with the biosphere, along with the materiality that both conditioned this state and that was conditioned by it, creating (rather revealing in the deep core of reality) a new world, with new laws, meanings, corporeality, subtle powers and energies, and a completely different relationship with the Source of this Unconditioning, as with the evil powers inhabiting these superior aerial mansions. It is the nyssean virginity.

    Well, this is quite confusing, and probably it seems I quoting some esotericist-hindu metaphysician hocus-pocus that has nothing to do with our subject. We all know that christian anthopology, cosmology and theology is unique and is very different from these ancient esoteric doctrines. That is true.

    But it is also true that the unusual treatment the Fathers give to the matter sex-marriage and its relating to the life-death series is more than startling. Their over-appraisal of monasticism over marriage seems to indicate something… obscure. I’m not talking about ‘influences’ (though these certainly existed) but this matter is so obscure that would seem legitimate to extend a bit our range of considerations and see what different peoples believed about this. The own Jews were not strange to platonizing theories about the original androgyne and how, through Desire and Need, it became divided and imperfect, calling death, the supreme imbalance over itself.

    What I mean is that are a complex history and morphology of symbols relating to the so-called ‘metaphysics of sex’ that has been delved in by many religions, esoteric traditions and cults, lived by many peoples and nations. And Christianity is not a strange to this, it only found its own way, its own unique language and philosophy in dealing with these matters. You see Orthodoxy caution when dealing with pre-lapsarian state. And you see the tensions arousing between the Fathers eager to protect marriage from gnostics heretical accusations and at the same time their putting-in-their-place of marriage and appraisal of monasticism. The reason for these ‘dychotomies’… where are they? Maybe in a complex network of influences, of cultural and philosophical tensions spanning Palestine, the Hellenic world and the ancient West and Far East, but also something great, timeless. eternal, deep, metaphysical, ecummenical, universal. And why is not this secretiveness something we should praise and love in Christianity instead of wondering so much about?

    Maybe it is in marriage as a lesser way that resides its great and humble testimony to the world, and Fr. Stephen and St. Maximos are not speaking different languages after all. Maybe dychotomies are someting WE create.

  169. Albert,

    This post is bit hard for me to follow, but allow me to address this:

    “Also, I am troubled by the accusation that religious beliefs promote hatred and injustice”

    Well we are assured by the Gospel of our Lord that “they” (which really can mean everyone else) will hate us, so yes it can be said Christianity (to be specific – your vague “religious beliefs” is too general) “promotes” (to stretch the term a bit) hatred. Be not disheartened, as the reasons why, and what to do about, are also in the Gospel.

    Now this answer might be a bit forward – perhaps your looking for the usual “Imagine there’s no heaven” deconstruction/modernist “solution” of John Lennon and company…

    Also, is that a quote from Mr. Jobe? Christianity is “dogmatic”, and I would not be a Christian if it was not. Jesus IS the Truth (God), and yes you don’t “meet” anyone with dogmatic assertion – in that you meet anyone with declarative statements. That said, Jesus (God) does carry around “theology” to “meet people with” either.

    Perhaps what he is trying to say is that folks who walk around speaking in a declarative sentences (you know, like a fortune cookie) and not listening don’t have any friends, don’t influence anyone, and probably should read some Dale Carnegie at a minimum (and should check their medicine cabinet – they forgot to take their medication)…Scratch that, these are not people at all – they are androids, and we should all run for the hills because the robot apocalypse is upon us….I really wished I stayed up with Mr. Jobe’s blog because I am running low on ammo… 😉

  170. Christopher,

    By “promote hatred” I meant foster it within ourselves. You know the argument–Christians believe that homosexual acts are sinful, therefore through their institutions they marginalize gay persons, demean them, and want to limit their rights. Of course i dont agree that this is happening intentionally or by some sort of necessity. Nor am I arguing for same-sex marriage as it is being debated today. Sadly, however, it is a perception of bigotry and hatred that in my experience keeps persons, especially the younger set, from investigating traditional forms of Christianity.

    We are all interested in promoting Christ’s teaching. Since we are not going to be martyrs, the next best seed-ground in my view is a welcoming, patient, understanding, respectful attitude towards persons we meet (like the woman at the well)–whether in the marketplace, in politics, in public schools, or in the neighborhood. We won’t pass on our beliefs by force of argument. Nor do I think, Fr. Stephen, we can hope that potential converts will be as persuaded to investigate by the deeper explanation of that Gospel story (and I am grateful for your clarifying that) as by Jobe’s interpretation–‘which I believe is also true, though evidently limited.

    Even more sadly, the history of our our religion –at least in Western Europe and in Russia — reveals examples of bigitry , hatred, injustice happening among some Christians, quite a lot actually (i e., persecution of Jews), even though nothing that Jesus said or did supports it. I think Jobe’s chief point is that Jesus met persons as individuals and offered grace, forgiveness, understanding, salvation, Himself even. It was the church that developed dogma and theology, and rightly so. We wouldn’t know Christ otherwise. But there is a danger in presenting dogma as the face of Christ, or as his Person.

    I do not disagree with anything you have written about the topic of your post, Fr. Stephen. I got off the track while thinking about the idea of “transcendent sexuality. In general this whole discussion has been very helpful as i work through questions that linger from a past agnostic period and from present relationships (family & friends). I will keep listening and praying. Thank you all. Asking for prayers and offering mine. . .

  171. Father your comment from May 11, 2015 at 3:53 pm is wonderful. It makes me think we should stop saying things like “Marriage is a concession to our fallen state.” We should rather say, “Monasticism is a concession to our fallen state.”

    I often hear people saying things like, “Monks are trying to live like angels,” or “monasticism is the angelic life.” I know the Bible verse behind the idea, but still–who cares about angels? I care about the God who became man. The bodiless people have never interested me much.

    There must be better ways to talk about marriage and monasticism.

  172. Meg Photini,
    I think the “better way”, the simplest and most memorable ‘key’ to use, (when talking of these things) is the conjugal union of Christ the Bridegroom and the soul/person.
    That ‘marital’ union is our aim. Marriage in the world is an icon of that, coenobitic monasticism even more so, an anchorite’s life has the potential to be the most wonderful icon of that (Isaac the Syrian often let’s this transpire); that hierarchy –if you were to try it / live it – would undeniably inform you of the progressive ‘conecrated exclusivity’ of your spiritual union with the Divine Bridegroom, having these progressively more perfect contexts to maintain it in the daily life of each of those three settings
    Then again, our God is a God of infinite variety and in practice those roads have infinite variables.
    That does not change the principles behind them though.
    It is little wonder that the first thing a soul that wants to be with God does is seek solitude…

  173. Christopher,

    St. Gregory of Nyssa’s argument sounds very… Buddhist.

    Now, I don’t know. I’m no expert. Just saying…

  174. Christopher,
    I would say that St. Gregory of Nyssa argues the very same thing that I quoted from Elder Sophrony – but his language is far stronger and speaks rather of the negatives (of non virginity) than the positives (of virginity). Chrysostom’s on Virginity is very similar, yet approaches it from a much more practical angle. In other words, they acknowledge that man is called to a constant movement towards greater and greater Theosis and, of necessity, towards greater “consecration”. Consecration means that “I become increasingly and exclusively dedicated to Him alone”, and therefore virginity effortlessly becomes a state of that hesychastic mode of being, an icon of which is the Mother of God in the Temple.
    The 1st commandment (to love God with all of our being) has as its ‘enemy’ (Biblically and practically) not hate, but ‘other loves’. In one very real sense, (thinking out loud here) if someone achieves the second commandment through God’s grace as a corollary of the first and not as something else, then, if he is married and procreating (with motives that have no self in them [St Paisios says this of Joachim & Anna]), they would be doing >b>just what a hesychast is doing when called by God -against their first will which is to be constantly with God alone- to tend to some disciples sacrificing their outward stillness.

  175. What I take away from all the hierarchical teaching on marriage and monasticism, etc., is the comforting realization that my deep need for God alone (this eros longing to experience and dwell in His love) is deeply affirmed in the tradition of the Church. Those lesser things which, in and of themselves, cannot meet that need do not have the same type of claim on me. This is our true freedom in Christ–what it means to become fully person as opposed to being confined to a role we play in the world.

  176. For what it is worth, the encounter with the woman at the well is primarily about the background of the woman as a Samaritan, and the marital imagery is not primarily connected to to her physical activity with various men, but the same material dealt with in the Song of Solomon, Ezekiel, and so on. This is material on a much broader canvas. It also corresponds, structurally, along with the Wedding Feast at Cana, with the two part material at the end of the Apocalypse on the revealing of the Bride of the Lamb, and the Marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom (John’s Gospel and the Apocalypse being, among other things, a single chiasm, a kind of mirror diptych of one another, as a number of scholars have demonstrated).

    One element to consider here is that there is a play on words here. The word “baal” (the fertility god or gods in question) means “husband.” it is a particular KIND of husband, but it is one word for husband in Aramaic. Jesus contrasts Himself with those other kinds of husbands (baals). He is the different, non-abusive Husband, THE Husband Who calls all people home to be part of His People. But, again, what does this have to do with the Samaritan woman? Her very race is a result of the intermarriage of the remnant of the ten northern tribes with the five pagan people groups, each bringing it own deity, its own baal (husband). See 2 Kings 17:24-33 (“The king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and settled them in the cities of Samaria in place of the Israelites. They took possession of Samaria and dwelt in its cities. …every nation made gods of their own, and put [them] in the houses of the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in their cities wherein they dwelt. …They were both venerating the LORD and serving their own gods. They followed the custom of the nations from among whom they had been deported.”). This is connected to the New Exodus theme in the latter prophets, which is picked up by Jesus in the Gospels, beginning in Galilee of the Gentiles to call the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel home, combining the mission of historical israel to gather the other nations back to yahweh, with the conversion of the Gentiles, with whom the ten northern tribes had been dispersed and intermarried.

    [The word baal is not used in the text of John, but the background of the Samaritans was well known, and the term for the baalim as a particular kind of husband (those who were masters whose wives were their property) was part of the problem. It is also part of the covenant lawsuit brought against that part of the remnant of Israel, which intermarried with the five foreign groups resettled in the ares by the Assyrians to form the Samaritans, for their adoption of other elements of religion and the worship of other gods.]

    The woman, in addition to being a Samaritan (and this descended from the peoples who brought five husbands or baals to Israel) MAY also have literally had five successive husbands. But again we have some important clues: That she would have someone “living with her” apart from marriage does not, very likely, work. That she would not have been sexually active with someone with whom she was not married would have landed her in trouble, even under Samaritan law. And being involved in a state of courtship leading to marriage doesn’t really fit very easily either. When the couple became engaged, it was tantamount to marriage, though without any sexual involvement (so that to break an engagement required a certificate of divorce), and the bridegroom would usually go away until the time of the wedding to make preparations. The matter of Jesus going away to prepare many rooms, and then coming back at an unexpected hour, as well as the parable of about the wise and foolish virgins are all in this same engagement context.

    There are all kinds of other clues here, too. What happens repeatedly at wells? As was pointed out, wells are connected with marriage repeatedly. What happened at a well connected to Abraham’s servant and Isaac? What happens at a well with Jacob (that very well – “Jacob’s well” – is the site for the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman!)? What happens with Moses at a well? The well itself is a marriage symbol. The various figures throughout the Torah who get engaged or meet their wives at wells created this association. The typical patterns is that a man who belongs to God’s people becomes engaged to a foreign woman who does not. The standard symbolism of wells as places of engagement (including this particular well) was well known.

    In addition, the reason the woman identifies Jesus as “a prophet” is that he is criticizing her religion. That is what the Samaritans saw the prophets as always doing (because it was what the prophets were always doing). The Samaritans were criticized because of their mixing of elements from the religion of Israel with elements of other religions. Every time they saw a prophet from Judah, they knew what was coming. The woman’s comment is not a compliment. The woman labels Jesus as a person who has simply come to condemn her and speak down his nose at her. And Jesus does, in fact, tell her that her religion is deficient. True religion comes from the Jews, not the Samaritans. This, then, leads to the next part of this discussion.

    The woman may, again, have had literal husbands. But, Jesus’ main point is about the “one who is with you now” (i.e. Jesus himself, standing there with her at the well)) not being her “husband,” which is a religious point about the Samaritans not being married to Yahweh. “Salvation belongs to the Jews” is about God’s work of deliverance coming from the people who kept the Scriptures and practices without alteration, and among whom the Messiah had now appeared. Jesus here claims to be Yahweh, and calls the woman to repentance and faith in Himself.

    The water is a distinct symbol, with its own significance. Water isn’t a wedding or marriage symbol, but is connected to life and rebirth (Think of a woman’s water breaking, for example, as an indication that birth is about to take place), including the symbol of burial and resurrection. John’s Gospel speaks of Jesus’ Baptism as being completed by His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. Later, Paul sets this out in reference to Christian Baptism, which joins people to the death and resurrection of Jesus, so that they share in and are joined to His death and resurrection, being buried beneath the waters and then rising to new life. The well, symbolizing marriage, is, of course, filled with water. But Jesus says that the real water comes from Him. This is a pointer to the water and the Spirit which will come out from Him on the cross, as John underlines emphatically. Jesus’ language about water is, at least in part, connected to the giving of the Holy Spirit and the coming out of Jesus at the passion of the Spirit, as well as the water and the blood (when the soldier pierces Jesus’ side), and therefore also with Baptism and with the Holy Communion in which the Spirit descends on the wine mixed with water and the Body and Blood of Jesus are given to the faithful. Later, St. John, who was an eyewitness of the crucifixion, says, in 1 John 5:8: “And there are three that bear witness: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three are one.”

    Also, note the connection: water comes out from the well, and marriage leads to birth giving. This same symbolism is very graphically presented in the Christian blessing of the baptismal font at the great Easter Vigil, held on the Saturday night to early Sunday morning of Easter in the West. The new fire is kindled in the darkness, and the Paschal candle, representing Christ risen from the dead, enters the Church, the light being then spread to illumine the Church. The font is then blessed for the year, with the Paschal candle being plunged three times into the font, impregnating it, so to speak, with God’s life-giving power. The font is made a tomb for the Old Adam, but also a womb from which Christians are born.

    This is also keeping in mind the technical meaning of the word symbol. To many people today a “symbol” is a “stand in” or “substitution” for something which is absent. The original and technical meaning is different: a symbol is a physical reality which makes an invisible or intangible reality actually present.

    The encounter of Jesus and the Samaritan woman has many elements in it at the same time. The more we know of the background, the more these connections jump out at us.

    For some further elements, we should look more broadly at the major theme of Jesus as Divine Bridegroom. This theme is referred to repeatedly in the New Testament, though it is easy to miss if we don’t see the background. See, for example, Matt. 9:14-15 (Luke 5:33-36); Matthew 25:1ff.; John 3:26-20 (John presents himself as the “best man,” compared to Jesus, Who is the Bridegroom); Rev. 19:7-9; 21:9ff. This is also connected with the language of John 14:2-3 (Jesus said: “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”), because in the first century engagement was tantamount to marriage (and breaking it required a certificate of divorce [e.g. Matthew 1:19]), and after the engagement ceremony the groom would go away to prepare a new house or addition to his parents’ house, for himself and his future bride to live in, and to make all other preparations for the wedding, and would then come back (without notice!) to collect his bride, celebrate the wedding (the feasting usually lasted a week), and take her to their new home.

    Also, we should notice John 1:27, where John the Baptizer says about Jesus: “It is He who, coming after me, is preferred before me, whose sandal strap I am not worthy to loose.” This is a reference to the sandal ceremony (see Ruth 4:5-17) in which one who declines a marriage gives his sandal to the one who will perform the office of kinsman-redeemer (Hebrew go-el) and marry the childless widow of a close relative. In other words, John is saying that he is not the groom, but that Jesus IS, and it is not his (John’s) role to put himself in Jesus’ place. John is the “best man” (in fact, no one had arisen greater than John), but is a transition to greater things.

    For much greater detail, see easy to read, book by Dr. Brant Pitre: Jesus the Bridegroom: The Greatest Love Story Ever Told (Image Books: 2014).

    Again, whether there had been a series of husbands or not, the main point of the narrative remains a confrontation about her religion, and a continuation of the message of the prophets God has sent before to gather the people back to Yahweh. Only here, the message goes even further, since Jesus claims to be God Himself, Who is with her (“the One Who is with you now is not your own” is Jesus Himself). Christ is claiming to be God Who supersedes also the Temple in Jerusalem, and is Himself the true Temple (this is a major theme throughout all of the Gospels- for details see the major study on this, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God (New Studies in Biblical Theology) by G. K. Beale [IVP Academic: 2004]). All the language and thematic technical phrases are nuptial in character. This includes the “living water,” which was associated (A) with the Temple in Jerusalem, (B) with the Messiah, and (C) with the “Wedding Bath” which was part of the preparation for marriage. This languages is connected to the expression in the fourth chapter of the Song of Solomon, and to the engagement of David to Abigail (which is also connected to the symbolic action of washing one’s feet- which John reports Jesus doing at the Last Supper). It is also connected to the language of Jeremiah 2:13. The river of living water which flows out of the eschatological Temple (as noted in Ezekiel 47:1ff. and Revelation 22:1. Cf. Rev. 7:17; 21:22-23), and which flowed out of Eden (with the four rivers) will now flow out from Jesus, and do so most literally when His side is pierced on the cross. All this is interrelated, and connected to Adam and Eden.

  177. “St. Gregory of Nyssa’s argument sounds very… Buddhist.”

    A kind of Gnostic rejection of the ‘physicallity’ of our humanity is more accurate. Perhaps someone with a patristic background can give a more generous and/or accurate reading. It is all too easy to confuse what certain Fathers say with gnostic and neo-platonic thought at times because of the interplay of what was happening in the culture, in the language, etc.

    I read Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov’s “There is no sex in the Church” last night (The essay that is online, not the book – good essay overall, uneven however – warning: it contains adult subject matter obviously). When discussing this, looking for the right language here, “gnostic tendency” or “view” of marriage (or is “monastic overreach” more descriptive?). He notes many of the ‘big names’ (everyone would recognize them) seem to hold to some flavor of it – St. Nyssa, St. John Chrysostom, St. Maximus, etc. When he presents Fathers who explicate what appears to be the Church’s actual view of marriage sacramentaly, they are obscure – the exception being St. Augustine (I think I recognized one or two other names). What does this mean? I have a few thoughts, none of them good.
    {Try this – Google “on virginity fathers”. Notice the names. Now Google “on marriage fathers”. Notice the crickets chirping.}
    He also noted something that was right in front of my face these last 20 years or so and I missed it:
    “…One interesting example of the clash between the married state and monasticism may be
    observed in the evening prayer rule that the Russian Orthodox faithful are encouraged to
    observe.143 All of the evening prayers are either directly attributed to monks of great ascetic
    lives or appear to be monastic in origin. As such, they are concerned with matters specific to
    monastic nocturnal struggles and do not take into account the way that married people deal
    with their temptations. Not a single prayer in the evening rule asks for a blessing of the
    spousal union, a sanctification of the couple’s love for each other, or even for a healthy and
    God-pleasing conception of a child! If we did not take into account that these prayers were
    written by monks for monks, it may appear that the Church simply ignores the reality of the
    lives of the overwhelming majority of the faithful.”

    Now, one of course can take this too far – there is obvioulsy significant overlap and our fundamental “married” or “monastic” nature is still the same: namely, we our fallen human nature. However, one sees the point. I can think of several times in my life where perhaps my prayer rule could have been more “in tune” with my way of life, which is after all the primary state of the vast majority of Orthodox Christians today and through out history – namely “blessed marriage”.

    I now have some (provocative no doubt) questions: Is the Church in some sort of “Monastic Captivity” (sounds like a title for a blog 😉 ). If not, how do we explain the inconsitentcies, the “tension” (stronger words could be used) in thought/theology between ‘the married state’ and ‘monasticism’? The ecclisastical heiarchy was given over to monastics very early, did this fact play some role in this situation? Schema-Archimandrite Avraam notes in his essay entitled “The Theology of Christian Marriage” that the Church does not in fact *have* a theology of marriage. Why?

  178. Christopher,
    This is always the problem in Patristic material. There is a tendency (more than a tendency) to read the Fathers way out of context. Their inspiration and holiness must be seen not simply in what is said, but in what is said in a specific circumstance, historically, personally, etc.

    A Western historian who is probably a must-read if someone wants to begin thinking about these things is Peter Brown. His work on Late Antiquity is not a final word, but opens up historical settings that most people (including most priests) know little about. My original background was as a Classicist, and it has always influenced my reading of the Fathers. I’ve always wanted to know “what’s going on here?” Fr. Andrew Louth’s work on St. Maximus is good background. It’s why, for example, the work of Met. Kallistos Ware, John Behr, and others who studied with him at Oxford is of real use. Those who simply quote the Fathers with no context can sometimes make them say and do things that are simply wrong. And then some criticize Ware and others for being too academic or primarily academic and not spiritual, as if being untrained and uninformed were ever a virtue. St. Maximus, St. Basil, and the Gregories were among the most trained and accomplished men of their time.

    I recommend Louth’s book, The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition. It is a necessary work to understand what is Platonic and non-Platonic in the Fathers. They both used and transformed the Platonic understanding.

    There was a very complex social movement and theological development regarding monasticism in the 4th through the 6th centuries and the understanding must be seen in that context. The whole Roman world was changing. There is not, in Orthodoxy, a “monastic captivity.” That is a charge that might be leveled at the West as it codified celibacy for the priesthood. The East resisted this movement and has to this day. There is, however, and this is quite proper, a kind of Christian critique of marriage and the family that is already present in Jesus’ teaching. Hate Father and Mother; leave wife; eunuch for the Kingdom, etc. is already there. What should be seen in this is not a denigration on account of sex, but an eschatological critique. Life in this world is rightly critiqued by the coming of the Kingdom. There is much, much much to be said and written in this regard and it is the proper way to see monasticism and marriage.

    The Church indeed does have a theology of marriage – but it is found in Christ the Bridegroom and not in marriage as a thing in itself. Human marriage is a participation in the life of the Bridegroom and the Church. Several articles yet to be written…

  179. My grandmother married at the tender age of 15 to escape the virtual slave labor that her very Texas Baptist father inflicted on his large brood because he needed every child he could get to make the farm life ever-more efficient–that’s a very significant chapter in the tradition of American Christianity and our American heritage. More kids down on the farm meant more production and was considered very godly (“you don’t work, you don’t eat!). Of course, the man my beloved grandmother married abandoned her, my mom and two siblings and the church gave them more fire and brimstone than charity and reduced them to begging at the back doors of people at meal times. (Another more charitable church came to their rescue with food and shoes and such when a hard winter came on.) I understand where the writer and Stanley are coming from and I very much value Tradition–to an extent. The problem is that it’s heavily shaded by an awful lot of rose colors.

  180. This would be a very good sense through which to comprehend those difficult words of the Fathers Christopher:

    There is a kind of Christian critique of marriage and the family that is already present in Jesus’ teaching. “Hate Father and Mother; leave wife; eunuch for the Kingdom”, etc. is already there. What should be seen in this is not a denigration on account of sex, but an eschatological critique. Life in this world is rightly critiqued by the coming of the Kingdom. There is much, much much to be said and written in this regard and it is the proper way to see monasticism and marriage.

    The Church indeed does have a theology of marriage – but it is found in Christ the Bridegroom and not in marriage as a thing in itself. Human marriage is a participation in the life of the Bridegroom and the Church.

    I would also reiterate that the number one, most natural response of anyone who desires to finally do something about their relationship with God, is to find some peace and quiet away from all to be face-to-face with God (a ‘monastic’, hesychastic even -anchorite- context)

  181. Fr. Stephen,

    “…Hate Father and Mother; leave wife; eunuch for the Kingdom, etc. is already there. What should be seen in this is not a denigration on account of sex, but an eschatological critique. Life in this world is rightly critiqued by the coming of the Kingdom…The Church indeed does have a theology of marriage – but it is found in Christ the Bridegroom and not in marriage as a thing in itself. ”

    I see that (though Christ seems to *at the same time* to balance it; “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate…And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality,[d] and marries another, commits adultery”), and it is also something Fr. Sergei flushes out (as did Fr. Patrick Fodor above), the centrality of marriage/bride/bridegroom ‘image’ or ‘icon’ in all this. I still am not completely convinced that there is some sort of negation/denigration going on from the monastic side that is in error, or at a minimum an unbalance, even if it is on the *mere pastoral* level. IMO, this is going to be more acute as the culture we live in very quickly (as you point out, already has) destroys lawful marriage, classical man/anthropology, etc.

    Rev Paul says:

    “…Of course, the man my beloved grandmother married abandoned her, my mom and two siblings and the church gave them more fire and brimstone than charity and reduced them to begging at the back doors of people at meal times… ”

    I just now had to run to the local Walgreens to pick up some baby formula. The rough looking check out women said, almost under her breath:

    “$38 dollars, for this!?!”,
    I said “I know, I don’t know how poor people can afford it”,
    “welfare, food stamps, begging from family” she says.

    She then spontaneously begins to tell me about her daughter, unmarried, with children and pregnant again – an all too typical example of this “Brave New World.. its children roam amid the ruins.”

    So I drive home in my big car, to my big house, and sit in front of my expensive computer and type into a comment box to whine about how my marriage is not getting enough attention, whereas the fool sitting on his hard low stool in his cell on the so called “Holy Mountain” is…

    Woe is me, woe is me! And woe to him! We both stand outside the Gates and watch such children walk into the Kingdom…

  182. “The Church indeed does have a theology of marriage – but it is found in Christ the Bridegroom and not in marriage as a thing in itself. Human marriage is a participation in the life of the Bridegroom and the Church. Several articles yet to be written…”

    Please hop to it, Father. The hour is late, and I for one can think of nothing more needful for our American church.

  183. Dino,

    I did not want to ignore you so allow me to address this:

    “….I would say that St. Gregory of Nyssa argues the very same thing that I quoted from Elder Sophrony – but his language is far stronger and speaks rather of the negatives (of non virginity) than the positives (of virginity)”

    No, he does not speak of the (accidental?) negatives of marriage and child procreation. He says they are sin (death), in and of themselves, and indeed the very thing that allows sin and death to continue to exist in this world. Marriage is the ““last outward stopping place’ of Adam and Eve in their sad exile from Paradise””. There is nothing less than the negation and condemnation of marriage, and there can be nothing “blessed” about it in such a view. It stands against the sacramental nature of marriage in the Church so thoroughly I don’t see the Christian content in it at all. It is not a hierarchical ordering of monasticism over and above marriage – it is the negation of anything good in marriage. Where is St. Photius when you need him…

  184. Yes, the “very thing that allows sin and death to continue to exist in this world”, -the “enabler of the continuation” of this life. That’s also why Elder Sophrony, (while aknowledging the impossibility of everyone ever wanting to all become monastics), said that it would be the way for all to end this continuation and ‘bring forward’ -so to speak- the anticipated Second Coming. They are in agreement, though the Elder speaks with an entirely different tone.
    The “first and second will” notion allows for such a staggering variety in their “presentation”.

  185. Also, we keep in mind that the scrupulous perfection of the first will of virginity-consecration has no “economy”, the “economy” or dispensation of the Second will of procreation is in keeping with the post-lapsarian undeniable fact that our entire salvation is an “economy”.

  186. Indeed, outside of marriage, sexual relations are like one who keeps picking fruit from their neigbour’s trees – the pleasure of the taste mixing with the pleasure of the stealing.
    Within marriage it’s as if God says to you: ‘if you want fruit, here’s your own “tree”, you water it, look after it and eat its fruit too, it’s my gift to you and this entire husbandry, accepted eucharistically, will be salvific to you. You will then also be prepared to partake of the Divine Eucharist too. You have my blessing’

    Monasticism on the other hand is as if He says to you, ‘if you so desire to fast from fruit, even more than Adam did, and to live on the Eucharist alone, you have my blessing’.

    Both are blessed, both have exactly the same aim (of being in relation to God, meeting Him), despite their difference remaining immense.

    Of course, we now perceive this last way (the perfection of the ‘first will’ of God) as a good deal harder. Yet, the dominant patristic notion as regards to this ‘difficulty’, is that this scrupulous perfection of the commandments, “If thou wilt be perfect” (Matthew 19:21), was not difficult prior to the fall. As children play and learn without feeling any exertion (any ‘cross’) while they learn in that manner, so too would man have learnt through the commandments in the primordial Paradise. Kenosis was still tantamount to existence -(“being as communion”). The post-lapsarian state in which we enter existence however, certainly perceives the commandments as a difficult ‘cross’, a kenosis for my self-preoccupation in a self-preoccupied world.
    The kenosis within the Holy Trinity, (before the foundation of the world) is one thing, the kenosis of the incarnate Second Person of the Holy Trinity is another, one that would not have happened Crucificialy according to the ‘first will’ of God for man. This is what I hear in the Fathers.

  187. Will do, Father. And please let me add my voice to the chorus: Thank you, deeply, for all you do with this blog.

  188. A-onyma,

    Thank you for answering the (1 Cor. 6: 18) question for me, with great Lewis illustrations.

    “The article and the conversation here remind me of a scene from Fiddler on the Roof (1971)……..”

    That is the perfect *symbol* of true love. (Thank you for Fr. Patrick for the post on the Samaritan woman and all the symbolism of marriage and betrothal . So many images in the Scriptures make so much more sense in the light of this post).

    So, in the light of this whole conversation, circling back to the divorce issue, it seems that it is better to stay single than to marry the second time. My experience is that monastics suggest this path, while married priests often encourage considering second marriage…..

    So if it is *monasticism*, what about those who have small children to raise? I think “Divorced in America” said earlier in the conversation: “If a good monastery ever offered to take me in with my kids, I would seriously consider it…..”. With at least half of life still ahead of them and needing to work to support themselves, raise children, save for retirement, possibly take care of parents in their old age, is this burden not too heavy? Not to mention the simple human need for closeness and intimacy…..

    What do we do then? How can the Church support this growing number of “widows” and their children?

    Fr. Stephen brought up the *community around the parish* solution. But are there really enough people genuinely interested in it? It would require so many sacrifices…

  189. “Fr. Stephen brought up the *community around the parish* solution. But are there really enough people genuinely interested in it? It would require so many sacrifices…”

    Agata, I think the sacrifices required are all that much harder because they go against the grain of Society, in general, now. Our Society prioritize (worship and adores) the individual at the cost of any true community, which is sacrificial, as you note. For a person to truly commit to such a parish community, a great deal of trust and humility would be required. The old saying, “it takes a village to raise a child” comes to mind; would we trust such a community to literally help us in raising our children? It is a truly daunting question; one of many that would need to be answered. Just my thoughts.

  190. Obviously, I am at best of average intelligence, and I am a sinner full of passions. Who am I to disagree with St. Gregory of Nyssa? However, I smell a rat.

    From the sacrament of marriage:

    …O God most pure, Author of all creation, Who through Your man-befriending love transformed a rib of Adam the forefather into a woman, and blessed them and said, “Increase and multiply, and have dominion over the earth,” and, by the conjoining, declared them both to be one member, for because of this a man shall forsake his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife, and the two shall be one flesh‑and whom God has joined together let not man put asunder…Who out of the root of Jesse, according to the flesh, produced the Ever‑Virgin Mary, and from her were Incarnate-born for the salvation of the human race; Who through Your unspeakable Grace and plentiful goodness were present in Cana of Galilee, and blessed the marriage there, that You might show a lawful union, and a generation there from, is according to Your Will…


    **…a generation there from, is according to Your Will…**


    **…Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Holy Celebrant of mystical and pure marriage…**

    Now, which is it? Is marriage pure and mystical, or is it “the last stopping place of {man/humanity} in their sad exile from paradise”.

    If you can synthesize that, you can probably synthesize these:

    Christ is risen


    Christ is not risen

    What I find sad is this apparent (gnostic?) rejection of God’s will and time concerning the Second Coming. Perhaps St. Gregory and Elder Sophrony should have been readers of science fiction, for which the “Doomsday Device” is a common theme. This is the hypothetical bomb powerful enough to destroy the world. Such a thing would certainly “bring forward” the Second Coming and be significantly more efficacious than waiting for everyone to find their monastic vocation.

    This “first will”, pre-lapsarian “state of being” that is being alleged monastics are striving for, seems to be at the root of all this. It appears to be to be based on a speculative reading/emphasis of Genesis, even though male/female and “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen 2:14) occurs BEFORE, not after the fall. Dino says:

    “…one that would not have happened Crucificialy according to the ‘first will’ of God for man”

    But it DID happen, it DID. As Fr. Stephen has pointed out ( ) we only live one life and there is only one Christ – and He is a crucified life, and ours is a crucified life. There is no “back to the garden” because paradise is now forward through the Cross. Not have happened “Crucificialy” is an abstraction, and as Fr. Stephen says it is “not the story we have”. Is monasticism built upon another story than the Christian one? Surely not.

    I tell you this, if marriage is not mystical and holy, if it is a “concession”, a mere “economy” to our passions – if it is the “last sad stopping place”, then as Flannery O’Conner would probably say then “To hell with it!”…

  191. The pre-lapsarian account in Genesis 2 clearly indicates to me that the male-female bond and synergy, even without carnal sexuality, is integral to fulfilling God’s will for His creation.

    I tend to agree with Christopher.

    However, the carnal/erotic/procreation element of our sexuality is clearly post-lapsarian but still an integral part of the economia of our salvation is it not?

    There have been many cases of ill-formed monks using these concepts as a bludgeon on married folks heads.

    Is it better to remain celibate than to marry a second time–yes all else being equal but in our world with the collapse of the extended family and scattering of parish communities into simple parishes, it is quite difficult for women with children especially to do that. Life insurance which began in the US as a way of establishing widow and orphan funds can provide the money in the case of death, but divorce frequently impoverishes the family.

    As far as marrying a second time, I can only speak for myself. When my wife died, I tried for several years to remain single. In my case, I could not do it. I was too lonely and, frankly–dying. That did not seem to me to be something that God would want so I went looking for a God loving woman. By His grace, He brought me such a woman who was in a similar place. We were married in unusual circumstances.

    Despite that, my bishop (a true monastic BTW) has repeatedly assured me that God has blessed my marriage. The unspoken meaning was “What God has cleansed, call thou not unclean.” I can see the blessing not only in my own life and my wife’s but in the general fecundity that surrounds us and allows us to help others in need in a ad hoc extended family.

    The societal and cultural situation in which the early Fathers were commenting on marriage was decidedly different than now.

    Given our brokenness that Fr. Stephen noted above, the ideal way of virginity can quickly become an unnecessary burden for most of us in the world who have neither a monastic calling nor even easy access to a monastery. But, I am a carnal man and not one who should really be discoursing on chastity let alone virginity.

  192. I’ve been watching Christopher’s (and everyone’s) perturbations on marriage from a distance, not wanting to interject here. It struck me that there’s definitely something interesting going on in this comment thread, but the most recent post from Christopher concerns me when he states that he “smells a rat.”

    Marriage is a sacrament, or at least it is not not a sacrament.

    At the same time, the Fathers are pretty clear in stating that marriage is a concession, or an unfortunate necessity, or something similar. This is almost universal from St. Paul to St. Gregory of Nyssa to St. John Chrysostom, and beyond. (I have been thinking often of St. John Chrysostom’s statement that the purpose of marriage is to teach chastity and to procreate, but since we should be concerned with our spiritual children rather than our biological children, its chief purpose is to teach chastity.)

    There’s a universal, unified voice that marriage is a sacramental concession to our fallen nature. It’s true that this is paradoxical, but could anything be more Christian than a paradox?

    I, too, share Christopher “average intelligence”, and admit that I don’t know how to harmonize these two strong strains that are so often evident even in the same paragraph, but I can at least accept that they are both there. Rather than shying towards making St. Gregory somehow heterodox, I think some humility and prayer on the matter would better serve him.

    But please don’t take me too seriously. I am both a poorly read theological lightweight, and a sinner, whose words on these matters are hardly worth reading.

  193. Michael,

    “….. so I went looking for a God loving woman….”

    How did you go about that? 🙂

  194. Christopher,
    I am afraid you do not understand St Gregory -and as a result misconstrue the entire tradition of what is, the heart of hearts of Orthodoxy (monasticism). [Of course this is not so much in its capacity as ‘virginity’, no; it is in its capacity as ‘Hesychasm’.]
    When St Gregory says “the last stopping place” (τῆς ἐν τῷ παραδείσῳ ζωῆς τὸ τελευταῖον ὁ γάμος ἐστί) or better: “the final stage of Paradisial life is Marriage”, he is talking of the reverse route back to the Holy of Holies of Paradisial life, which starts by this last stage (marriage) and then progresses further and further…

  195. Christopher, et al
    Reading between the lines, you might have gathered that I’m not terribly happy with the way St. Gregory approaches the topic of marriage. I generally don’t like to set myself in opposition to the Fathers. As I noted earlier, they have to be read in a their own context. And they are not read alone. They have to be balanced, for example, with the marriage rite itself (which trumps theologically). I can pull out rather horrendous quotes from one father or another (I know of one in St. Gregory the Theologian on a different topic that I’ll not mention). The Fathers are touchstones, as is the whole life of the Church. But they should not serve as a source for a new fundamentalism. We should not do to them what they did not do to themselves or one another. They argued with each other.

    I do not say this to in any way undermine anyone’s confidence in the teaching of the Orthodox Church. But we are not in a competition with Protestants or Rome. We do not have to assert that we are “more right” than someone else, or the excellence of our sources or our authorities, etc. We are Orthodox. The One Church from the beginning. We are what we are and God preserves us. Sometimes we argue. Sometimes things are utterly clear and unchangeable. But not everything is always clear.

    Fr. Thomas Hopko said repeatedly that there needed to be a word for our time on the subject of male and female. He didn’t say this so suggest that the Church change anything. Rather, he said that the present-day trials surrounding gender-related issues would be (and probably already are) as great a trial as the 4th century’s battle with Arianism. Nicaea said nothing new in refuting Arianism, but it had to say what the Church had always known in a new manner so that it could be clearly taught and understood. I think the same is true of gender.

    A gender-related matter of the deepest import, of course, is marriage. The Church’s teaching is clear, and yet has to be stated in a way that rightly addresses the new misunderstandings that are rising around us. Monasticism has a part in this conversation as well.

    I think that it is deeply problematic to describe the conjugal union as inherently sinful. It is only “sinful” in the sense that it participates in the life of death and corruption. But this is true of everything we do. Eating, sleeping, sweating, etc. There is a dangerous point at which the critique of the “post-lapsarian” world slips into Manichaeism, an inherent disdain for the material world. Though the Manichaean heresy was largely in the West, it had some kinship with certain Platonic strains. There was in Origen’s work, a theory of a “double-creation.” That is, first, a spiritual or noetic creation (paradise), and then a fall into materiality. This is obviously heretical. But there are strains of it, greatly altered into an Orthodox form, in both St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Maximus. This strain of thought can be troublesome and has to be handled with great care.

    For myself, I prefer to teach on the goodness of marriage and that the “marriage bed is undefiled.” Eating, as noted earlier, also participates in death and corruption, yet God has made it the means of our salvation. When we say that something exists by “economy,” we should be careful not to mean that it is “second best.” We are not in competition with a theoretical pre-lapsarian world. We live in the economy of grace where things that the enemy might mean to us for evil, the Lord means to us for good. Such is His mercy!

  196. Michael,
    The Fathers also remind us that Adam did witness the “male-female” relationship when naming the animals, but at that time he was living the ultimate hesychastic relationship of him alone towards God alone (there was no Partner yet). But God exclaimed that this ‘first will’ (which many Saints fulfilled later to the outmost “alone, with God alone” -culminating with the Theotokos in the Temple-) was not good for him (this being in exclusive relationship to Him) since He foresaw that it would be perceived by him as ‘above his nature’ to not feel alone. The hesychasts that achieved this are described as clearly living ‘above nature’. No doubt…. Living in paradise along with Eve before the fall is then considered ‘according to nature’ and anything afterwards (including ‘natural’ death) is considered (and intuited by the human soul) as not ‘according to nature’, ‘below’…
    It’s pretty unanimous stuff. Pretty scandalous obviously too. Not platonic though… Very farm from it

  197. Micheal says:

    “However, the carnal/erotic/procreation element of our sexuality is clearly post-lapsarian but still an integral part of the economia of our salvation is it not?”

    Is it? I see the fact (ontological fact?) of marriage before the fall, I see male and female (which clearly indicates sex genitalia, no?) before the fall. I see they were “unashamed” about these facts. I see silence about what procreation was (if anything) before the fall. I see a “multiplication” of “sorrows” and “conception” – the pain – but is a multiplication a new creation of sex/procreation also? What is exactly meant by a “multiplication” (of) “conception”?

    Matth says:

    “At the same time, the Fathers are pretty clear in stating that marriage is a concession, or an unfortunate necessity, or something similar. This is almost universal from St. Paul to St. Gregory of Nyssa to St. John Chrysostom”

    Is it the consensus? If I am reading Fr. Sergei correctly it is not a “universal” view and yes, while the many of the “big names” hold to it there are others (St. Augustine being the only seeming “big name”) that do not. If true, what is a “Holy” or “Mystical concession” in this context? Also, why is virginity defined over and against a “Blessed/Holy/Mystical concession”, what does that mean? I mean these questions sincerely and not rhetorically.


    I am not sure as to what your translation work adds – except I note that you did not include the word “sad” – is it not in the greek?

    Also, if the “heart of hearts” of Orthodoxy is monasticism, does that mean monasticism is some sort of “mediator” (The RC image of the Theotokos as “mediatrix” comes to mind) between Christians who are not monastics (which, again, is almost every Christian that was or is) and Christ? Is the call of the Christ and his Kingdom *necessarily* a monastic call or path?

  198. Christopher,
    no, the word ‘sad’ is not in the original in any capacity and, to repeat, St Gregory is speaking of a route to Paradisial Theosis in reverse when he say “last stage”. i.e.: the first stage when walking back to whence we came from…

    As far as monasticism as heart of hearts of Orthodoxy goes, it is -to repeat- in its capacity as Heyschasm that this is . Have you read Fr J. Romanides on this for example…?

    Yes the over vast majority of the Church is “in the world”, just as over the vast majority of Her saints are monastics.
    But if a married person could somehow maintain a 6 hour night-time prayer rule, a daily liturgical life, a quiet profession (say, a gardening job for instance) as well as keeping their spouse and children happy – therefore living hesychastically (which wasn’t that rare at all in centuries past) – then they would certainly be a Hesychast too.
    So it is not ‘virginity’ so much, but, virginity’s suggestion of ‘hesychastic exclusivity’ (a consecrated-to-God mode of being, an icon of the life of the Theotokos, John the Baptist, John the Theologian etc)

  199. Agata, primarily through prayer to the Theotokos as my foundation. I asked her every day to send me a Godly woman. Then, I went on line looking for Orthodox women. No go. Then, my now wife, popped up on as a 95% match. I contacted her mostly out of a belief that the computer was wrong and the rest, as they say, is history. Three months after we met in person, we were married; despite the almost universal advice from friends and the direction of my confessor that we not proceed because 1. she had been married three times before, and 2. the celibate life was the better way once my first wife died.

    Only my brother, an Orthodox priest, was steadfast in his support. My bishop worked out a way for us once he realized we were determined to push ahead in seeming disobedience (at least me).

    My wife is one of those people who was basically Orthodox and just didn’t know it. In fact she had been told she was Orthodox-and-didn’t-know=it by an acquaintance of hers several years before I met her. I help her understand her faith in an Orthodox manner—she demonstrates to me what real faith is all about. She is the kindest person I have ever known–often to her own detriment (or so it seems). She is so kind that she actually likes me as well as loves me. That is rare indeed. Having her as a partner makes it at least possible to live as a Christian husband should. She makes it easy. (And she is a strong-willed, independent farm girl) She loves the Lord more. She knows Him in a way I have yet to approach.

    Despite the blessing we have received, I would never advise anyone else to do what we did. In fact, I would advise folks not to do what we did–just as we were rightly warned not to.

    Way too many possible complications and delicate tipping points along the way that could have dumped both of us into the dumpster. Glory to God that did not happen.

    In the end, I think God was exceedingly merciful (unmerited) to us both because ultimately we were choosing life over death with Him in mind.

    Could we have done it without each other, perhaps but God granted us the mercy not to have to bear that much. He has given us other things to do that entail sweat and tears, prayer and fasting, falling down and getting back up that neither one of us could accomplish alone. It takes all three of us.

    I would advise however, that anyone looking for a mate (first and only one) pray diligently to the Theotokos in faith, hope and joy. Then open yourself to whomever she puts in your path in humility and thanksgiving.

  200. I feel that comments have swallowed the article. I’ve turned off further comments on this article. My last thoughts can be found in my last comment.

    Fr. Stephen

  201. Michael,

    Thank you. That is a great story (probably hard to repeat), and you and your wife have received a great gift and blessing.

    So, as always, prayer is the answer. And our most Holy Lady Theotokos is the one who helps most…

    You story reminds me of something I read about the life of St. Anthony the Great (the great founder of monasticism, no less…).

    When St. Anthony was tempted to think that no one has reached his perfection, “the heavens opened up above him and he heard: Oh Anthony, Anthony, you have struggled. But there is a doctor in Alexandria who is married, and he and his wife feed the poor, take care of the sick, and all day long, they sing the Thrice Holy Hymn. Anthony, you have not achieved 1/2 of what they have…”.

    There are saints among those who are married for sure…. They are just a little more hidden for some reason.

  202. Christopher,
    First off, “as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk.”
    But to the question you ask, if this is the universal consensus (this talk of married life as a blessed way which somehow, without being “second best”, is one of two ways, and the ‘other way’ –monasticism- is as different from marriage as the ‘heavens form the earth’ – to quote Chrysostom)…
    St Paul in 1 Corinthians, chapter 7 is dead clear on this and is the one consistently quoted throughout the entire Orthodox tradition for two millennia now regarding on this scandalous issue.
    His “It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband”, describes what Matth referred to as, “the Fathers are pretty clear in stating that marriage is a concession, or an unfortunate necessity, or something similar”. [when –and only when- they are actually making this comparison to celibacy for the sake of the Lord]
    His, “For I would that all men were even as I myself”, re-enforces the greatness of “celibacy for the Lord” yet again.
    He even has to clarify in case of misunderstandings (as we seem to be getting here) “But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh…” adding the true (and pragmatic for a believer) perspective, “the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; […] And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.”
    The culmination of his assertion comes as a practical, fatherly counsel for the need of a context conducive to Hesychasm (the notion that one must “be still to know God”), in his words: “But I would have you without cares. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.

    But let’s close with ‘let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God’, and
    “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.” (1 Cor 7:20)

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