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.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.


216 responses to “Marriage as a Lifetime of Suffering”

  1. Agata Avatar

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

  2. Dave W. Avatar
    Dave W.

    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. Bija Avatar

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

  4. Byron Avatar

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

  5. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    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. Allen Long Avatar
    Allen Long

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen,

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

  7. Stephen Taylor Avatar
    Stephen Taylor

    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. Fr. Marty Watt Avatar

    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. anonymous Avatar

    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. davidp Avatar

    Hope some of you listened to Kevin Allen´s interview with Fr Patrick Reardon and what Fr Reardon said…the State and Church and the up coming Supreme Court decision next month.

  11. Todd G Avatar

    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.

  12. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    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.

  13. […] The Orthodox priest Father Stephen Freeman writes that fidelity in marriage is a version of the Bene… Excerpt: […]

  14. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    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.

  15. Art Pederson Avatar
    Art Pederson

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

  16. Dino Avatar

    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…

  17. Fr. Patrick Avatar
    Fr. Patrick

    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.

  18. Byron Avatar

    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.

  19. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    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.

  20. Agata Avatar


    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.

  21. drewster2000 Avatar

    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!

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    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.

  23. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    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.

  24. Agata Avatar

    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….

  25. Ben Marston Avatar
    Ben Marston

    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.

  26. Greg Davis Avatar
    Greg Davis

    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.

  27. Gregory Avatar

    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.

  28. Eryn Avatar

    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.

  29. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    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…

  30. Dana Ames Avatar
    Dana Ames

    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.


  31. Christopher Avatar

    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…

  32. Christopher Avatar

    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…

  33. J Clivas Avatar

    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.

  34. anonymous Avatar

    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.

  35. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    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.

  36. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    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.

  37. Christopher Avatar

    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?

  38. Daivd Avatar

    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?

  39. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    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.”

  40. David Avatar

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

  41. Agata Avatar

    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.


  42. Matt Avatar


    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.

  43. Another Anonymous Avatar
    Another Anonymous

    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).

  44. anonymous Avatar

    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.

  45. Mark Avatar

    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.

  46. A Third Anonymous Avatar
    A Third Anonymous

    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.

  47. Another Anonymous Avatar
    Another Anonymous

    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!

  48. Anne Avatar


    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. “

  49. Dino Avatar

    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…

  50. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Those are very good words. I couldn’t help thinking, however, that I will be judged by bloggers. Then I realized, sometimes, I am already… 🙂

  51. Agata Avatar

    “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!!! 🙂

  52. PowerlessOverLust Avatar

    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!

  53. […] Freeman, “Marriage as a lifetime of suffering” at Glory to God for All Things = Father Stephen challenges our common understanding of marriage. Even the understanding of marriage […]

  54. Anne Avatar

    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. 🙁

  55. A-onyma Avatar


    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)

  56. Christopher Avatar

    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…

  57. Christopher Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

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

  58. Another Anonymous Avatar
    Another Anonymous

    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!

  59. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    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.

  60. Christopher Avatar


    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…

  61. drewster2000 Avatar

    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.

  62. Agata Avatar


    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…

  63. Agata Avatar


    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….

  64. Christopher Avatar

    “… 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…

  65. drewster2000 Avatar

    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.”

  66. Agata Avatar

    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…..

  67. Byron Avatar

    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!

  68. Agata Avatar


    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.

  69. Psalti Avatar

    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.

  70. Agata Avatar

    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.

  71. Bruce Avatar

    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”

  72. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    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.

  73. Eleftheria Avatar


    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!

  74. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    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.

  75. drewster2000 Avatar


    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

  76. Agata Avatar

    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…

  77. Agata Avatar

    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…..

  78. A-onyma Avatar


    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…]

  79. drewster2000 Avatar

    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.

  80. A-onyma Avatar

    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.”

  81. Agata Avatar


  82. Fr. Patrick Avatar
    Fr. Patrick

    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.

  83. Karen Avatar

    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.

  84. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    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?

  85. Karen Avatar

    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 . . . ” 🙂

  86. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    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.

  87. Agata Avatar

    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!

  88. Agata Avatar

    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.

  89. drewster2000 Avatar

    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.

  90. Christopher Avatar

    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”…

  91. drewster2000 Avatar


    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?

  92. A-onyma Avatar


    From the Internet: Jewish humor… 🙂

  93. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    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.

  94. Christopher Avatar

    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.

  95. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    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…”

  96. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    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.

  97. Divorced in America Avatar
    Divorced in America

    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.

  98. Recovered from divorce Avatar
    Recovered from divorce

    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!

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