by Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, Mount Athos
“Nobody would dispute that the most important day in a person’s life, after his birth and baptism, is that of his marriage. It is no surprise, then, that the aim of contemporary worldly and institutional upheavals is precisely to crush the most honorable and sacred mystery of marriage. For many people, marriage is an opportunity for pleasures and amusements. Life, however, is a serious affair. It is a spiritual struggle, a progression toward a goal—heaven. The most crucial juncture, and the most important means, of this progression is marriage. It is not permissible for anyone to avoid the bonds of marriage, whether he concludes a mystical marriage by devoting himself to God, or whether he concludes a sacramental one with a spouse.”
The one who is not with Me is against Me; and the one who gathereth not with Me scattereth. (Mt. 12:30)
Whosoever then shall break one of the least of these commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called least in the kingdom of the heavens; but whosoever shall do and teach them, this one shall be called great in the kingdom of the heavens. (Mt. 5:19)
Most of us are aware of the profound moral courage of Dan T. Cathy, the CEO of Chick-Fil-A who had the fortitude to say that marriage should only be between a male and female. It is unusual for me to write a commentary suited for an editorial page, but Cathy's words were so clear and the thousands of Christians who supported him so heartening that I decided to part from my usual practice. Please understand my sole purpose is to affirm the teachings of Christ and how Orthodox Christians should apply them.
This commentary is offered in the spirit of true Christian witness. We are called to model our commitment of Christ and His teachings. I have written frequently on this theme, especially about the necessity of this witness between parents and children. I have recommended using news media stories and open-ended Socratic questions in dialogue to explore the Mind of Christ and His Church on these kinds of issues (Morelli, 2010). Adults can do these between themselves as well.
On February 10-12, 2012, The Basilica of St. Mary, in Livonia, Michigan hosted their annual Marriage and Family Encounter weekend, led by Father Constantine Nasr, pastor emeritus of St. Elijah Church in Oklahoma City. This was Fr. Constantine’s second visit to the Basilica for this retreat, and he once again shared with the participants his extensive research on what he’s learned over the years as a priest, regarding what it takes to maintain a successful and faithful marriage. Fr. Constantine is the author of the Conciliar Press book entitled, Mastering the Art of Marriage: Staying Together When the World Pulls You Apart, and much of his research is documented within the pages of this spiritually enlightening and engaging book.
"Moreover it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy." (1Cor 4: 2)
"The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain." (Pv 31: 11)
Developmental psychologist Eric Erickson (1964a) conjectures that during infancy the continuity of comforting sensory experiences with adults promotes a sense of trust that serves as a root for the resolution of the successive challenges the individual will confront over a lifespan. Erickson goes on to suggest that the appropriate proportion of trust over mistrust produces hope. He states, "Hope is both the earliest and the most indispensible virtue inherent in the state of being alive." (Erickson, 1964b).
Erickson's understanding is also very descriptive of a functional marriage. Beck (1988), for example, considers trust one of the three major components of a functional relationship - commitment and loyalty being the others. Beck considers them "a force for stability" that, once developed, "protect[s] the closeness, intimacy, and security of the loving bond."
Beck (1988) goes on to give examples of attitudes or beliefs that indicate basic trust:
- "I can depend on my spouse to guard my best interests."
- "I know that my spouse would not intentionally hurt me."
- "I know that I can depend on my spouse for help in ordinary situations or in an emergency."
- "I know my spouse will be available when I need him or her."
- I can assume good will on the part of my spouse."
COMMITMENT AND LOYALTY: THE BUILDING BLOCKS OF TRUST
If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
We come to the Holy Gospel at last and to the Christian way of life! The fullness of time has come and God has sent forth His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. How everything has changed! No aspect of life remains as it was before Christ came. Everything has died with Him, and everything has been raised and transfigured in Him. All for us has been redeemed, transformed, deified, elevated, and, in a word, made Christian.
When Jesus came to earth He found us with lame limbs, weak and failing, and He perfected our bodies and restored them to health, just as He corrected, molded, improved, and fulfilled the Old Law. St. Ephrem the Syrian describes some of the healing effects of the Incarnation on human nature in his Hymn 37, On Virginity:
His body was newly mixed with our bodies, and His pure blood has been poured out into our veins, and His voice into our ears, and His brightness into our eyes. All of Him has been mixed into all of us by His compassion, and since He loves his church very much, he did not give her the manna of her rival. He had living bread for her to eat. Wheat, the olive and grapes, created for our use – the three of them serve You symbolically in three ways. With three medicines You healed our disease. Humankind had become weak and sorrowful and was failing. You strengthened her with Your blessed bread, and You consoled her with Your sober wine, and You made her joyful with Your holy chrism (K. McVey, Ephrem the Syrian: Hymns, Classics of Western Spirituality, New York: Mahwah, 1989, p. 425).
"... learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Mt 11: 29)
There is so much in the teachings of Christ and His Church, that if one is committed to be a follower of Christ that one of the major virtues that would be nurtured would be a firm commitment to truth. Consider the approbative words Jesus told the Samaritan woman: "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him." (Jn 4: 23) St. John (8: 22) records Jesus very strong assertion: "...you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." During the Divine Liturgy, after reception of the very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Our Lord God and Savior, Jesus Christ, the choir (congregation) chants: "We have seen the true light ...found the true faith..." It would appear, Christians should not get away from what is the truth. (Morelli, 2010a) Of course this focus on truth would certainly extend to how the husband-wife--father-mother relate to each other in a blessed marriage when they create a domestic church, a little church in their home, and this extends to their children as well.
Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then every man will receive his commendation from God. (1Cor 4:5)
Even a casual reading of Jesus’ encounters with others in the Scriptures shows that He did not demand anyone disclose their thoughts and feelings to Him. We could say that He had respect for mankind's free will, for those creatures which He made in His image and called to be like Him. He would ask a question, but never demand an answer. He counseled, but never forced compliance. He read the hearts and minds of many, but never coerced anyone to tell Him what came from their heart, against their will.
Consider the record of Jesus’ encounter with the rich young man told to us by St. Matthew (19: 16-22):
And behold, one came up to him, saying, "Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?" And he said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments." He said to him, "Which?" And Jesus said, "You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself." The young man said to him, "All these I have observed; what do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.
“…and grant that this Thy handmaid may, in all things, be pleasing to her husband; and that this Thy servant may love and cherish his wife; that they may live according to Thy Will.” (from the Marriage Service Prayers of the Orthodox Church)
The ideal of Christian marriage is well known: “that they may abound in every work that is good and acceptable unto thee.”[i] A marriage that is blessed by God is one that interiorizes the Love the Persons of the Holy Trinity have for each other, as well as the Love they have for their creation. Thus a husband and wife’s relationship will manifest Christ’s instruction to his Apostles: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (Jn 13: 34). It will also demonstrate the words of the Father, said of our ancestral parents, “ . . . male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it . . . .” (Gen 1: 27-28). In other words, they will produce, and will love their offspring in emulation of the creative loving act of God Himself. (Morelli, 2008). At times, faulty cognitions and the ensuing dysfunctional and behavioral barriers get in the way of actualizing Divinely enlivened spousal love. Ultimatum is one such roadblock.
I was told about a Carolina Governor who was carrying on with a woman who was not his wife, and, when it became public, justified himself on the grounds that she was his “soul mate.” The term is used constantly now and some assume, unfortunately, that we should be constantly looking for this soul mate. This is utter rubbish, of course. There’s no such thing, at least not in the sense we use the term now.
My dad taught me a great number of wise things before his untimely death, and one of them was that we don’t fall in love with “the one person” who was created for us; what usually happens is that we reach a point in life where we’re ready to have a family and the person who most closely resembles our vision of a spouse at that point is the one we focus our attention on. There is a lot of truth in that. I’ve seen it over and over as a parish priest.
At one time that wasn’t a bad thing, either. We generally kept around folks who had been raised with the same basic values and background that we had. Our families often had known each other for some time. Expectations were shared. Now, people can share only four years of college (or a night in a bar) and an overwhelming lust – what a foundation! – but they say, “I’ve met my soul mate.”
Real love, the kind that really works and is good for us, requires more than attraction and appreciation; it requires active, sacrifi cial love. Real love is not about self-actualization and self-discovery – that can be therapy, not love. Real love requires the Cross of Christ, because God is love. This is the tough stuff: we don’t want sacrifice, we want romanticism instead. A person who is set only on romantic love will never find true love. The romantic is ultimately the sad, melancholic figure at the edge of a cliff watching the crashing of the sea far below.