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. anon4 Avatar

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

  2. Christopher Avatar

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

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

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

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

  3. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

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

    I can think of three scenarios:

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

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

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

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

  4. Dino Avatar

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

  5. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

  6. Dennis M Avatar
    Dennis M

    Dear Fr. Freeman and friends,

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

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

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

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

  7. A-onyma Avatar


    Where did you get it?

    To be more precise: from Wikipedia: Jewish humour.

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

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

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

  8. A-onyma Avatar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  9. deacon john vaporis Avatar
    deacon john vaporis

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

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

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

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

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

  10. deacon john vaporis Avatar
    deacon john vaporis

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

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

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

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

  11. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

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

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

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

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

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

  12. Matth Avatar

    Deacon John,

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

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

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

  13. drewster2000 Avatar


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

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

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

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

  14. Christopher Avatar

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

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

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

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

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

  15. drewster2000 Avatar


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

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

  16. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

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

  17. drewster2000 Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

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

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

  18. Joseph Barabbas Theophorus Avatar

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

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

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

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

  19. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

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

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

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

  20. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

  21. Matth Avatar

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

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

  22. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

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

  23. drewster2000 Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

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

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

  24. drewster2000 Avatar

    Michael Bauman,

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

  25. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

  26. drewster2000 Avatar


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  27. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

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

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

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

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

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

    Many are broken in either scenario, many are healed.

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

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

    May we not be found sleeping.

    Christ is risen!

  28. Karen Avatar

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

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

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

  29. Joseph Barabbas Theophorus Avatar


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

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

  30. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

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

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

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

  31. deacon john vaporis Avatar
    deacon john vaporis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  32. A-onyma Avatar

    Joseph B. Theophorus,

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

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

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

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

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

    You already mentioned perfectionism.

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

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

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

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

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

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

  33. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

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

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

  34. Christopher Avatar


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

    Deacon John,

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

    Interesting story – your on to something here I think…

  35. albert Avatar

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

  36. Dino Avatar

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

  37. Dino Avatar

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

  38. Agata Avatar


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

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

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

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

  39. Dino Avatar

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

  40. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

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

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

  41. Agata Avatar


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

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

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

  42. Dino Avatar

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

  43. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  44. Christopher Avatar

    Dino says:

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

    To avoid any misunderstandings 😉 would you say:

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

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

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

  45. Christopher Avatar

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

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

  46. Dino Avatar

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

  47. Dino Avatar

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

  48. Christopher Avatar

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

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

    Some choice words:

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

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

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

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

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

  49. Dino Avatar

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

  50. Christopher Avatar


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

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

    And to this

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

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

  51. Margaret Avatar

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

  52. Christopher Avatar

    Dino says:

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

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

  53. Dino Avatar

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

  54. Alan Avatar

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

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

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

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

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

  55. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

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

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

  56. Dino Avatar

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

  57. drewster2000 Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

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

  58. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

  59. Dino Avatar

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

  60. drewster2000 Avatar


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

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

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

  61. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

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

  62. Dino Avatar

    Wise words Drewster!

  63. Dino Avatar

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

  64. Christopher Avatar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  65. albert Avatar

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

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

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

  66. drewster2000 Avatar


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

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

  67. Agata Avatar


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

  68. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

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

  69. Dino Avatar

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

  70. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

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

  71. Dino Avatar

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

  72. Christopher Avatar

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

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

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

    Another translation has it more ominous to those in marriage:

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

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

  73. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

  74. Karen Avatar

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

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

  75. albert Avatar

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

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

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

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

  76. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

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

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

  77. Caio Alves Avatar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  78. Caio Alves Avatar

    “Was there not male and female before the Fall?”

    There are controversies.

  79. Christopher Avatar


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

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

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

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

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

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

  80. albert Avatar


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

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

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

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

  81. Meg Photini Avatar
    Meg Photini

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

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

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

  82. Dino Avatar

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

  83. A-onyma Avatar


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

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

  84. Dino Avatar

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

  85. Karen Avatar

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

  86. Fr. Patrick Fodor Avatar
    Fr. Patrick Fodor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  87. Dino Avatar

    Fr Patrick,
    thank you so much for your comment, truly educational…

  88. Christopher Avatar

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

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

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

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

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

  89. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

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

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

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

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

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

  90. Rev. Paul McKay Avatar
    Rev. Paul McKay

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

  91. Dino Avatar

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

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

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

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

  92. Christopher Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

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

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

    Rev Paul says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

  93. Peter Avatar

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

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

  94. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    Do pray for me. My list of “to do’s” staggers me. I am in deep need of grace. By the bucket-full if you will.

  95. Christopher Avatar


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

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

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

  96. Dino Avatar

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

  97. Dino Avatar

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

  98. Dino Avatar

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

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

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

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

  99. Peter Avatar

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

  100. Agata Avatar


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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