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.

51 comments:

  1. Thank you, Father, for clearly teaching the cruciform nature of marriage. It is too easy to forget that we are not called to save our psyche, but to lose it for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s.

    Lord have mercy on us!
    Mark

  2. My friend Fr. Deacon Nicholas is always telling me that love is not an emotion. Agape love means a selfless intent and willingness to put the other above one’s self.

    This is a direct quote from him:

    Love in the sense used in “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul and with all your might and Love your neighbor as yourself” is Agape. This is a decision to put the other’s needs ahead of your own, even to a loss to the self. Your description of doing for another for their benefit is Agape.

    I think this lack of understanding is what has led to the issues with family and marriage and society itself. And if I may be so bold to say it, modernity is distinct in it’s lack of the willingness to put others above one’s own self. (Or am I misunderstanding your teaching on Modernity?)

  3. How true Father. Laws cannot control or dictate behavior they can only punish what the law defines as bad behavior and the punishment hardly ever corrects the problem. Marriage failed when society decided it was failed and the history of marriage in the West is testimony. You rightly state that in many ways marriage has become simply a contractual arrangement for self satisfaction. As such it is doomed to fail and is failing. It is merely a legal state of affairs in the secular world and its definition is in constant flux. I even saw where people are marrying themselves.
    “For better is one day in your courts than thousands elsewhere.” I am not so sure that the Benedict option will work well in this world because we are still in this world and the world can interfere. I would simply rather be in the Kingdom, even if I have yet to wait awhile to leave this world.

  4. Thank you, Father Stephen,
    Your words are encouraging. I just bought Dreher’s audible book on the Benedict Option. No rosy picture he paints…nor do we see one as the broad brush strokes of modernity glob it’s ugliness round about.
    My wife and I often have said that she and I had no idea as to what we were promising in the traditional marriage ceremony, part of which you quote…this after 53 years married in just a few days. It has been a life-long commitment yet one in every way blessed and graced by God. We did not know what we were doing those many years ago when those two teens were joined. But our gracious God certainly did. In Orthodoxy marriage is called a form of martyrdom. Yet without the marriage we have had, I can see that, for myself at least, I would have had to endure much more, and that alone.
    St. Paul says that we are to be content in the state in which God called us. I could not feel more content or blessed in mine…”He holdeth my lot, the lines have fallen to me in pleasant places, I have a godly inheritance.”

  5. Thank you, Father. My husband and I have been in a faithful marriage for 40 years. I have learned more about love and grace through our commitment than I can measure. I very much appreciate this posts as they are so encouraging.

  6. I’ve often repeated here what I was once told about marriage as a youngster in comparison to monasticism (to some criticism): that marriage’s starting point has classically been ‘pleasure’ whereas monasticism’s has been ‘pain’. To make this clear once again: given the choice of the two paths to one and the same person, the desire for martyrdom is far stronger if the monastic ‘choice’ is made by him, and the desire for pleasure far stronger if the ‘selection’ of marriage is elected by him instead. Besides, it’s a “choice between pleasing the Lord or the spouse”. (1 Corinthians 7:32)
    However, no matter how both paths start off, even when starting with such ‘inverted motives’, they invariably end up with inverted subsequent experiences (carnal pleasure within an indissoluble bond brings spiritually ripening suffering, and ascetic suffering brings spiritual pleasure).
    Truly, I could only say this for those who have the possibility of both in front of them though…

    However, –and this is the point I want to make– although the cruciform nature of marriage might be more involuntary (compared to the consecrated monastic life’s voluntary choice of the Cross), during our times, these things are often becoming inverted.
    What I mean is that there’s Christians of our day and age who might consider monasticism attractive due to ‘pleasure’ (to get away from a worrisome life in this world) –while not having true fervour for martyrdom–, while other genuine disciples of the Lord, select marriage with such solemnity and awareness of its cruciform nature, that one can only admire them –especially in this day and age– as heroes.

    Finally, no matter how and where we start our journey, it is how we end it that matters. The same desert Fathers that urge us to flee the ’causes of sin’ (what they call the “world”), take the example of Lot and say that one can be saved in the city of Sodom while “lost” in the cave by Zoar (Genesis 19:33). Ultimately, humility, watchfulness and devotion to the Lord cannot but guarantee a saint out of you no matter where you are and their lack will do the exact opposite.

  7. For what it’s worth, I’m not sure that the discussion, viz. monasticism vs marriage, or a comparison thereof, is more than academic and a bit of a distraction. We have a few monastic readers on the blog (and like holy monastics, they are mostly quite silent). But, for most, it is a conversation that just seems beside the point. Again, (as said in the previous article), we are fish talking about how to live on land. I’m just not sure that conversation about the virtues of monasticism are all that helpful. Most Americans (including the Orthodox) have never been to a monastery nor do they know any monastics. We need more monasteries in America. But for now – our conversation is best kept close at hand, I think.

  8. Father, I would agree. My point is that even though we do live in the Kingdom of God, the secular world can and does insert itself into our lives whether we want it to or not. I am waiting for some of the social experimental ideas to be jammed into the Church. Based on the writings of a certain person in the Church recently, the time may be sooner than later.

  9. Dino,

    As I stated on the Talking Fish thread I think your characterization of the starting points of desire/will (carnal pleasure for marriage, sacrificial martyrdom for the other) is at best simplistic (i.e. overly simplified – indeed a case of special pleading). Also, is this ranking of desire/will not a later revelation of sorts, starting with monasticism in the 4th century?

    Also, it is not only the end that matters – the Christian narrative only supports a beginning to end unity, recapitulation and “restoration”. As just one example our bodies “in adam” are not left behind but carried forward into the eschaton. So beginning in dust we “end” in a risen dust.

    I wonder if yet-another problematic Paulian hermeneutic is not at the root here…

  10. Point taken Father! My own peculiar experience of both contexts ought to be recognised as quite peculiar.

  11. I’m very interested in Ethiopia right now because of a high birth rate and a solid traditional Christian morality. both culturally and legally. For America, I relate us to the Church of Sardis:

    ” … you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.”

    Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. ” (Rev. 3:1-4)

    I’ve lost hope for our culture. God give us the ability to strengthen what remains.

  12. I don’t ask a couple if they love each other, but why do you want to get married? They don’t know any more about that answer than whether they love one another, but it gives a place to connect and see whether we can talk about marriage in terms other than what our culture has taught them, hence I liked this passage of yours: “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.” I always enjoy a visit to your page, thank you from a Lutheran who finds the Orthodox teaching more helpful sometimes than our own.

  13. The following was my screen saver for months. It has now been replaced with a quote from Step 25.

    * * *

    Some people living carelessly in the world put a question to me: “How can we who are married and living amid public cares aspire to the monastic life?”

    I answered: “Do whatever good you may. Speak evil of no one. Rob no one. Tell no lie. Despise no one and carry no hate. Do not separate yourself from the church assemblies. Show compassion to the needy. Do not be a cause of scandal to anyone. Stay away from the bed of another, and be satisfied with what your own wives can provide you. If you do all this, you will not be far from the kingdom of heaven.”

    ~ St. John Climacus, Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 1

    * * *

    Forgive me, Father, if I have disobeyed you.

  14. I am reminded immediately of the song in Fiddler On the Roof “Do you love me?”. It
    Tevye and his wife, Goldie have been married 25 years within the Jewish Tradition of arranged marriage. Their daughters are busy abandoning that tradition for “love”.
    It is quite a colloquey. They recount the mutual sacrifices they have made for each other and their suddenly feckless daughters after first meeting on their wedding day. They decide that their shared life is love. They end singing together, “It doesn’t change a thing, but still in all, after twenty five years, it’s nice to know.”

    Marriage is not a private act. It needs to involve the whole community.

  15. “Virtues of patience, endurance, sacrifice, selflessness, generosity, kindness, steadfastness, loyalty, and other such qualities are impossible without the presence of suffering. ”

    This has certainly been true for me, Father.
    Thank you.

  16. Father,
    Do you have a principal recommendation for (each side of) a married couple that have an evident disproportion in their respective preoccupation with God’s commandments (which can often cause mutual aggravation in both their relationship as well as their parenting)?
    I seem to hear of that particular marital predicament more than any other from younger, married Church-goers these days.

  17. I think maybe I finally learned to selflessly love while he was dying, and I was changing his diapers.

    Celibacy for the unmarried (whether single or widowed) is another aspect of the Benedict Option….very countercultural.

  18. As a former Lutheran, I have often wondered if marriage in this society is the inevitable result of Luther’s teaching that marriage is not a sacrament. The protestant world speaks of “holy matrimony,” but doesn’t recognized marriage as sacred. Other than in the Orthodox Church, I had never heard of marriage being a sacrifice of love.

  19. Dino,
    I’m not quite sure what the question means. Generally, the greatest commandment is to love one another – and love humbles itself and empties itself. It is not demanding.

  20. ‘Lacking is sufficient teaching and formation in the virtues required to live the martyrdom of marriage.’

    I agree Father Stephen, would you please say more on the practicalities of the martyrdom of marriage. And could you address what if any differences between martyrdom or living with abuse (physical or otherwise)? Could you point us to any particular Fathers of the Church to learn more?

    Debbie A.

  21. Father – I believe Dino is talking about the kind of married couple in which, for example, one spouse prays at least four times a day, sometimes with icons, and never misses Divine Liturgy, while the other spouse, who asserts ta belief in God, has no apparent spiritual practice and refuses to even enter an Orthodox Church.

  22. Thank you Father,
    that’s all the framework that’s needed.
    The discernment in applying it to complex individual cases is quite a different thing, as an example, I am thinking of a truly patient friend whose temptations –mainly coming from their husband’s very different upbringing to her– is having undesirable influence on one of their children, but if something can be done there for example, (eg how to deal with Church-going in a family that is in ‘different gears’) it cannot really have one general recommendation.

  23. Michael Bauman said, and quite rightly, that marriage is not a private thing It was never intended to be as it is integral to our society and the raising of children. The basis of society in Israel was the extended family as it was in many places throughout history and geography. The extended family was the glue that held all things together. The industrial revolution began an assault of the extended family and the death blows were the Great Depression and WW II and its aftermath. Marriage became quite wrongly, a private affair. Coupled with what secularism has done to the notion of a sacrament especially the Sacrament of Marriage things have gone downhill rapidly. Our children suffer the most. In my years of prison ministry over 90% of those behind bars came from fatherless homes and most of them told me marriage was never a consideration of theirs.

  24. Right on, Father Stephen! I was married 51 years when my husband died in April. We had no idea what we were getting into when we married in our very young 20s. I think that like a fine lacquer box which has layer upon layer giving it a depth of beauty, blood, sweat and tears make layers in a marriage, giving it deeper beauty and preciousness as the years go on. I think cruciform describes it better than martyrdom. One is stretched out in uncomfortable and unpleasant ways over the years and only much later can you see the beauty the darkness of suffering added. “ I promise to be faithful come hell or high water.” might be a better marriage vow!

  25. Debbie,
    Very important – the distinction between martyrdom and living with abuse. It would be important to understand abuse and be clear about it – and that might very well require counseling. It is correct, I think, to identify abusive behaviors and ask that they stop. That is a matter of being clear about boundaries. It is holding someone accountable for their actions. I think it is entirely appropriate to say that either the abuse stops (and the abuser might need help doing so) or there will be a separation (at least). Allowing someone to abuse you is not martyrdom – it is a participation in their abuse (it takes two – one to abuse and the other to accept it).

    I can well imagine someone thinking that enduring it and praying is a right response. Prayer is a right response – but enduring it only says that it is acceptable. If it is unacceptable, then do not accept it.

    The martyrdom of marriage is mutual. Two people, together, can fulfill the marriage as a sacrament (through grace). But one person alone cannot. Marriage is intended forever – but if one of the spouses refuses it (by abuse, unfaithfulness, etc.) then they are betraying the marriage and making it impossible to be fulfilled. There are reasons the Church allows for second marriages – sometimes things fail.

    If there is physical abuse, I think an immediate separation and intervention are necessary. It is unacceptable and should not be accepted.

    Having said all of that first – there are many forms that the martyrdom of love is fulfilled in a marriage – and sometimes (many times) it can feel quite one-sided. We carry one another from time to time, just as we carry our children at a certain point in their lives.

    Be quick to forgive. Renounce grudges – never, ever expect to be paid back.
    Anger can create bitterness – do everything to resolve it in a single day
    Listen to each other and learn each other. Every person is a wonderful mystery.
    Share with each other – creating private property in a marriage can be dangerous.
    Pray for each other – find ways of praying together (oddly, this is very difficult)

    Just some short thoughts. There’s not a lot out there in the Fathers. A book I strongly recommend (and not just for people with kids) is Philip Mamalakis’ Parenting Towards the Kingdom. Healthy and balanced.

  26. Father, thank you for the excellent article.
    “This triangle of truisms, of father, mother and child, cannot be destroyed; it can only destroy those civilizations which disregard it.”—G. K. Chesterton

    Laura,
    I was also raised Lutheran but never got the impression you describe of marriage not being regarded as sacred. From the beginning of Lutheranism the status of matrimony as a “divine ordnance” present from the creation of mankind was used to argue against the Roman practice of mandated priestly celibacy. The phrase “sacrifice of love” may not be in the Lutheran lexicon per se, but the idea is certainly evident in the liturgy that Father quotes in the article, of which some variation would be used in a Lutheran wedding. Ephesians 5:22-33 was even added (relatively recently) to the Lutheran lectionary, and I can’t think of a biblical passage that better elucidates the sacrificial nature of marriage. But that was just my experience in the conservative LCMS.

    As per your statement that “marriage in this society is the inevitable result of Luther’s teaching that marriage is not a sacrament”, I am sure there is truth in this, although I would not place the blame entirely on this one act. If you would permit me to think aloud for a bit: It was a big step down the rabbit hole for sure, but to a large extent Luther was a product of his time, and his doctrines in general are an inevitable result of the nominalism and legalism in which he was trained. These ideas contributed to his renumbering of the sacraments to exclude marriage, not on the grounds of a lack of divine origin or sanctity, but out of peculiar soteriological distinctions (which open another not-wholly-unrelated can of worms). The modern form of “marriage” is really the completion of nominalist and legalist trains of thought applied to marriage—there is no transcendent truth that it embodies, but rather it is just a set of wholly particular contracts that start and end entirely on our whims and whose terms are whatever we want them to be.

  27. Dean Arnold,
    For some reason Ethiopia has been on my prayer list for some time. My ears perked up when I read what you wrote about this country. You wrote that Ethiopians have a solid traditional Christian morality. And Father noted in his article how all this, especially marriage, has been wrenched from its traditional moorings in the West in quick order.
    I would very much want Ethiopia to maintain its strong traditional family bonds and way of life. I think I read that Ethiopia may have more practicing Orthodox than any other country. Yet I just read an article by an Ethiopian lamenting the fact that the West with all its technology is quickly inundating this traditionally agrarian nation. He noted that there are now over 60 million cell phones in Ethiopia and that TV dishes can be seen in even remote villages. He was wondering what could be done to stem the technological onslaught of his nation especially with all the concomitant problems that arise in its wake. The writer was very worried about the traditional/familial way of life that is being threatened. Lord have mercy on all your people as the most base segments of our culture ( even the more banal/ inane can cause damage) are exported to all corners of the globe.

  28. Father,
    Thank you for this truth. May we live it. By God’s mercy and to his Glory, we can. God is good.

    Thanks be to God for my wife, Donna (celebrating 28 years in September), and our two sons, Andrew, 23 (who will celebrate 1 yr w his wife, Laura, in September 🙂), and Nathan, 19.

  29. I heard a story about a man and woman who seeking marriage counseling about an impending divorce.

    The counselor asked the woman, “why are you seeking a divorce” after 50 years of marriage.?
    She replied, every morning when I have prepared breakfast over the past years, he always makes the toast and I finally got tired of getting the heel of the loaf of bread every morning.

    The counselor asked the man, “why do you always give your wife the toasted heel every morning?”

    The man replied, “I love the heel and I always wanted to give my wife the best.”

    A joke perhaps, but the story does indicate a lack of communication. If I served my wife the heel every morning, it would only take a few days for her to question my actions. Actually, in my case, she would probably give me the heel for the same reason. I notice that she always gives me the biggest and best when placing food on the table; she sometimes even uses a scale to weigh the plates.

  30. Dana,
    This comic series shows in point form the stages. The last is the one that rends my heart a bit. After a lifetime together, I can’t imagine being apart. But in the Orthodox way, not even death separates us from our loved ones. I hold fast to this hope and pray we remain together in some way to the day of and perhaps past Resurrection. Perhaps such thoughts are not Orthodox. But I seem to hope for such things. My husband is not Orthodox and yet in fulfillment of the Orthodox way, we are ‘one flesh’. My prayer is that God help us, sanctify us and keep us now and in the world to come. Believing what Fr Stephen says, with marriages and celibates that keep the Way, we engage in a form of the ‘Benedict Option’ planted into the soil of our times.

  31. To Dean (not of Arnold):

    Please forward to me where you read all the info you shared. (It is generally accurate.)
    You can read articles and videos of my dealings with Ethiopia at:
    deanslist.info/ethiopia

  32. Dana, et al
    I have been in my current parish for 20 years (all of my Orthodox life). As an Anglican, I was a Deacon in a parish for a year, priest of a parish for 7 years, founding mission parish for 9 months, interim rector of about a year, and Rector of my last Anglican parish for 9 years. When I became Orthodox and was assigned to start St. Anne, I reckoned in my heart that I would never leave and that I would die and be buried here. I can say that I see things very differently here than I did earlier. I cared about my parishes, but I wasn’t going to die for them (I think). Indeed, I suffered some PTSD inducing abuse in one place that made me glad to get out.

    Here, I weathered some storms, that I’ll not describe. But what I have learned is, like a marriage, a very deep value can be found in just staying put. Staying here, being stable, living and working through problems, forgiving, being forgiven, like a marriage. It has made for something I never had before.

    It has been announced in my parish that I retire as Rector at the beginning of 2020. I will continue to live here and serve as the unpaid assistant (if you live long enough in America you get to be a Socialist Pensioner). I keep writing, traveling and speaking, and, by God’s good grace, to serve these dear people until I finish my course. There is a peace in life, I think, that only comes when you’ve settled the end. I hear that sweet peace in St. Paul’s words:

    Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day. (2 Tim. 1:8-12)

    This, I think, applies deeply to marriage (a priest is said to be married to his altar). Almost none of us reckon our death at the beginning of a marriage – but I can see how it comes with time and the years. My wife sat in a waiting room while I was being treated for a heart attack, so, I know she has peeked over that edge. But we have great peace. The world is unfolding as God intends, and our lives can take their place in that unfolding. I bless His name!

    I once encountered Mat. Juliana Schmemann on an elevator at a Church council meeting. I introduced myself and asked if she were Fr. Alexander’s widow. “I’m his wife!” she said quite forcefully. It was a marriage unto eternity.

  33. Dana, God grant you you wish. My late wife and I were in stage 3. My living wife started in stage 5. God is merciful.

  34. If God is love, then love cannot be simply a feeling. We participate in the life of Christ, and grow in that love, or God-likeness. All the fruits of the Spirit are aspects of love.

  35. Dear Father Stephen,

    Thank you for your comment at 3:58pm. It’s perfect for those who suffer in abusive marriages. It took me a long time to find this kind of advice for my life, and after much searching, it came from Fr. Tom Hopko (Memory Eternal for this great man – for sure a Saint for my life!) in nearly identical words.

    But I like yours very much too:

    “The martyrdom of marriage is mutual. Two people, together, can fulfill the marriage as a sacrament (through grace). But one person alone cannot. Marriage is intended forever – but if one of the spouses refuses it (by abuse, unfaithfulness, etc.) then they are betraying the marriage and making it impossible to be fulfilled. ”

  36. Adam N, thank you for your insights!I too was an LCMS Lutheran, and I guess I had some different experiences. I am also working through some “anger issues” regarding my Lutheran life and my perception may be off. Again, thanks, and God bless.

  37. Adam, Laura
    I think Adam has well-stated the complexities of the Reformation history. Luther was a match, but the tinderbox was already there. My favorite book on that period is the Unintended Reformation by Brad Gregory. Thick, slow, but accurate and good.

  38. Thank you for your comments,Father. May God grant us the courage to uphold the Tradition of the Church.

  39. Michael,

    I have always loved the scene from Fiddler on the Roof of Tevye and Golda! I quote it often!

    Thanks for mentioning it!

    Leslie

  40. The first vow of a Benedictine monk is a vow of stability: a commitment to the monastery in which they will live for the rest of their life. Some Benedictine monasteries maintain an open grave close to the gate. The next monk who dies goes into that grave. Then they dig another one. It reminds the brothers that their commitment to the monastery is eternal.

    I have learned a great deal from the Benedictines. This is what they taught me about marriage, my vocation, without saying a single word about marriage itself.

  41. It has been announced in my parish that I retire as Rector at the beginning of 2020.

    So you’ll be working (closely with Agata, no doubt!) on the no-doubt-upcoming-first-annual Glory to God for All Things blog-commenters Convention plans, Father? 😉

    May it be blessed!

  42. Byron,
    Agata has flown the coop…a couple weeks on vacation with her son, across the pond, somewhere….If the “convention” (I like rather an informal get-together over a meal or two) ever takes place, count me and wife in! 🙂

  43. Thank you Father Stephen – I had worked with abused women for years and many of them were Christians and confused about what God would have them do or say or tolerate or not.

    Coincidentally (hah!) we started a book study on Parenting Towards the Kingdom last night!

  44. Fr. Stephen,

    I want to thank you for this blog, which I’ve read for the past 6-7 years. My 12-year-old son and I were both baptized (by Fr. Chad) at St Vladimir’s Seminary this past Saturday. Your blog has been one of the most helpful sources of encouragement and guidance to me throughout this journey.

    I’m eternally grateful!

  45. Byron and Dean,
    You will need to help me!
    Father has been ignoring my pleas, but maybe if we work together…? 🙂
    My best wishes to all of you, today I prayed for you to St. Genevieve in Paris 🙂

    Father, congratulations on your upcoming retirement!

  46. Father Stephen can you please email me back,I need to ask you privately about a family matter.I appreciate if you contact me.I am Greek Orthodox.I need your input.Thank you.

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