Orthodox Survival Course, Class 65: As the Angels of God in Heaven

You can listen to an audio podcast of this post at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/osc65-2

For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. – Matthew 22:30

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Introduction – Here We Live Betwixt and Between

In this most recent part of our Survival Course, we have been discussing the various errors and delusions which plague not only worldly people, but pious Orthodox people as well, weakening them and pre-disposing them to surrender to the New World Order which is coming into being before our eyes, constructed by the forces of Antichrist.  What to do?  Our best defense is a good offense:  To educate ourselves about the Church’s true teaching and then by grace-filled repentance to be cleansed of these errors and delusions, which cleansing will give us both the right understanding and the strength of will to resist being spiritually compromised by giving in to the demands of the Antichrist system.  Probably no single aspect of life has been perverted and destroyed by the current world system as has the life of holy virginity, holy matrimony, the family, and, in general, everything pertaining to the virtue of purity and chastity.  Sadly, many Orthodox, even those regarding themselves as religious people, have adopted some or many of the delusions of the present age.   So it is time to fight back, and that is why we are now discussing the vocation of Holy Matrimony as well as the life of consecrated virginity.  

In our last class, we discussed the origin and character of Christian marriage in light of the Creation accounts in Genesis, the text of the Orthodox wedding service, and the commentary of St. John Chrysostom on the passage from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians which is appointed to be read at the marriage service.   In this class, we are going to talk about the Scriptural and patristic basis for the life of consecrated virginity – monasticism – and how understanding this will in turn refine and clarify our understanding of the married vocation within an Orthodox framework.    

As we have often pointed out during our Survival Course, this Orthodox framework involves a chronology, a timeline. Indeed, we originally defined our course as an attempt at an Orthodox philosophy of history, an attempt to understand our origins – Creation – and our final purpose – the Kingdom of Heaven – and, in light of this, how to understand everything in between – history understood as the story of our salvation –  and therefore how we should conduct our life in the here and now.     

At the center of this history is, of course, the Economy of the Incarnation of the Son of God:  How He became man at a specific point in time, died, rose from the dead, ascended to heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit to inaugurate the era of the Church of the New Testament.  The Early Church, as we discussed in Class 1, had four specific characteristics which, though often obscured in later times and places, nevertheless remain reliable hallmarks of true Christian life. Here’s what we said:  

“The early Church had an intense awareness of [the imminence of the Second Coming], and therefore we can characterize her life as intensely eschatological, bound up with the acute sense of being at the very edge of eternity. Being eschatological, the Early Church set the “tone” for the entire life of the Orthodox Church until now, which is characterized by four related traits: The life of the Church is eschatological, other-worldly, martyric, and ascetical.”     

All of Christian life, then, is a life lived betwixt and between, looking back to our Creation and Redemption, and looking forward to our final end, which is eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven following the Second Coming of Christ, the General Resurrection, and the Dread Judgment.  This eschatological mindset naturally gives birth to an otherworldly, martyric, and ascetical way of living, “the Way” we read of in the Acts of the Apostles, which is the first historical name Holy Scripture gives to the Christian Faith.   The Church’s rules for Christian living, contained in the canons and the various descriptions and prescriptions for the active life  found in the Church’s literature, can be understood accurately only in light of this eschatological viewpoint, sub specie aeternitatis.   If one tries to understand them in a purely temporal and human way, strictly from the viewpoint of the various philosophical schools of ethical theory, one’s understanding always falls short.   This is certainly true of the Church’s teaching on virginity and marriage.     

Because Orthodox moral theology is essentially eschatological in character, having in mind always our final end, it is maximalist.  What the Scriptures and Fathers present to us is simply the Gospel standard prescribed by Christ Himself:  “Be ye perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect,” which command summarizes His entire teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, in which this saying occurs.   One might say that this sermon of Our Lord in Matthew chapters five through seven is the first collection of “canons” in the Church, that is, the first collection of rules for the active Christian life.    They present the ultimate akriveia (strictness)!   In The Arena, Bishop Ignaty Brianchaninov writes that even the greatest saints fall short of this standard of the Gospel; in other words, no one can live up to them, and yet God does not moderate them.  The fallen human mind, entrapped by its vanity, rebels against this and demands that God and the Church lower their standards, so that one can be “even with God,”  justified in one’s own mind.   But God does not do this.  Instead He calls us to constant repentance, until death:   “A contrite and humble heart God will not despise.”  He knows that we cannot live up to akriveia, and therefore towards us He practices oikonomia, if only we humble ourselves and persevere in repentance until death. 

With this understanding as background, let us now return to the Beginning, to Genesis and the Fathers’ reading of Genesis,  and try to understand the relationship of virginity and marriage to one another, as the Church understands this.   

“In Christ there is neither male nor female…”. 

[For the following I have relied on Fr. Seraphim Rose’s Genesis, Creation, and Early Man for the patristic commentaries quoted.   I am indebted to the late Fr. Seraphim and to the editors at St. Herman Press for this invaluable aid].   

In Galatians 3:28, St. Paul famously writes that in Christ there is “neither male nor female.” “Christian” advocates of feminism, transgenderism, and other disordered ideologies misuse this quote, of course, to advance their twisted ideas of androgyny, equality, sexless humanity,  and so forth, which are actually a sacrilegious mockery of the pure and exalted state the saint is referring to.  But what St. Paul is talking about is the eschatological perfection of the saints in the Kingdom of Heaven, which is a recapitulation, in fact a surpassing, of the original state of man in Paradise.    St. Gregory of Nyssa, in an important commentary we read earlier in our course (Class 62) when discussing the superiority of the soul to the body, states that the image of God does not include the division into male and female, the latter being an economic arrangement made by God in prevision of the Fall:  

“That which was made ‘in the image’ is one thing, and that which is now manifested in wretchedness is another. ‘God created man,’ it says, ‘in the image of God He created him.’ There is an end of the creation of that which was made ‘in the image’: then it makes a resumption of the account of creation, and says, ‘male and female created He them.’ I presume that everyone knows this is a departure from the Prototype: for ‘in Christ Jesus,’ as the Apostle says, ‘there is neither male nor female.’ Yet the phrase declares that man is thus divided.” 

Thus the creation of our nature is in a sense twofold: one made like to God, one divided according to this distinction: for something like this the passage darkly conveys by its arrangement, where it first says, ‘God created man, in the image of God He created him,’ and then adding to what has been said, ‘male and female He created them’ – a thing which is alien from our conceptions of God.”

I think that by these words Holy Scripture conveys to us a great and lofty doctrine; and the doctrine is this.  While two natures – the Divine and incorporeal nature, and the irrational life of brutes – are separated from each other as extremes, human nature is the mean between them:  for in the compound nature of man we may behold a part of each of the natures I have mentioned – of the Divine, the rational and intelligent element, which does not admit the distinction of male and female; of the irrational, our bodily form and structure, divided into male and female: for each of these elements is certainly to be found in all that partakes of human life.   That the intellectual element, however, takes precedence over the other, we learn as from one who gives in order an account of the making of man; and we learn also that his community and kindred with the irrational is for man a provision for reproduction…” – On the Making of Man 

This teaching of St. Gregory contradicts a bizarre teaching that in recent years has found its way into Orthodox circles through the “Sophiology” of Soloviev and Bulgakov, that somehow there is some kind of “male and female” within God Himself, a kind of “ying-yang” theology popular with some “Orthodox” modernists.  This heresy teaches that the Father and Son are the “male principles” within God, and that the Holy Spirit and the Theotokos (whom they blasphemously say is the incarnation of the Divine Wisdom) are the “female principles.”  Marriage, then, following this faulty theology, would have its basis in the uncreated nature of God, a teaching nowhere given in the Holy Scriptures.   On the contrary, marriage is an economic dispensation for the life of fallen man, to help him on the path to salvation.  Let’s see what the Father say about this:   

“In the beginning life was virginal…”  

St. John Chrysostom, who so beautifully extols marriage in the commentary on Ephesians 5: 20-33 which we quoted in our last class, nevertheless also puts marriage, as we know it, in its proper perspective, as being among those things arranged by God’s economy for man after the Fall:  

“After the disobedience, after the banishment from Paradise, then it was that married life began.  Before the disobedience, the first people lived like angels, and there was no talk of cohabitation.  And how could this be, when they were free of bodily needs?   Thus, in the beginning life was virginal; but when, because of the carelessness (of the first people) disobedience appeared and sin entered the world, virginity fled away from them, since they had become unworthy of such a great good, and in its place there entered into effect the law of married life.”  – Homily 18 on Genesis 

Now we know from what St. Chrysostom told us last time that he does not regard marriage as sinful or bad; on the contrary, he describes it as a very great good.   But obviously he regards virginity as the original state of man in Paradise, and as a greater good than marital union.   The Fathers in general agree that marriage as we know it, involving the physical union of man and woman, was arranged for by God in prevision of the Fall; it is part of “Plan B,” God’s oikonomia for the preservation of the fallen human race and the salvation of mankind.   ST. Gregory of Nyssa, in the commentary we quoted above, agrees with and expands upon this view shared by St. John Chrysostom:  

“…He who brought all things into being and fashioned man as a whole by His own will to the Divine image…saw beforehand by His all-seeing power the failure of their will to keep a direct course to what is good, and its consequent declension from the angelic life.   In order that the multitude of human souls might not be cut short by its fall…He formed for our nature that contrivance for increase which befits those who had fallen into sin, implanting in mankind, instead of the angelic majesty of nature, that animal and irrational mode by which they now succeed one another.” – On the Making of Man 

By this, St. Gregory does not mean to denigrate marriage.   He clarifies this in his treatise On Virginity thus:  

“Let no one think that we depreciate marriage as an institution.  We are well aware that it is not a stranger to God’s blessing…But our view of marriage is this:  that, while the pursuit of heavenly things should be man’s first care, yet if he use the advantages of marriage with sobriety and moderation, he need not despise this way of serving the state…Marriage is the last stage of our separation from the life that was led in Paradise; marriage is the first thing to be left; it is the first station, as it were, for our departure to Christ.”     

One may at this point rightly ask, “Then, if God intended for the man and woman to remain virginal, why did he command them to ‘increase and multiply’? How else would they increase and multiply than by physical intercourse?”   St. John of Damascus answers thus:  

“Virginity was practiced in Paradise…After the fall…to keep the race from dwindling and being destroyed by death, marriage was devised, so that by the begetting of children the race of men might be preserved. 

But they may ask: What then, does ‘male and female’ mean, and ‘increase and multiply’? To which we shall reply that the ‘increase and multiply’ does not mean increasing by the marriage union exclusively, because if they had kept the commandment unbroken forever, God could have increased the race by some other means (emphasis added).  But, since God, Who knows all things before they come to be, saw by His foreknowledge how they were to fall and be condemned to death, He made provision beforehand by creating them male and female and commanding them to increase and multiply.”  – On the Orthodox Faith, 4.24

Ss. Athanasius the Great, Gregory of Nyssa,  John Chrysostom, Maximus the Confessor, and Symeon of Thessalonica all echo this teaching of St. John of Damascus in their writings – that if man had not fallen, God would have increased the human race by some means – unknowable to us – other than physical marriage as we know it.  St. Augustine theorizes that there could have been coitus in Paradise, though completely without concupiscence (i.e., the gratification of sensual desire) – something unknown to us – but that Adam and Eve were in fact exiled from Paradise before coming together.  In this, as in several other areas, Augustine is in the minority.   But whether you accept the consensus of the Eastern Fathers or the minority view of St. Augustine – both of which involve speculation about something unknowable – the reality is that marriage as we know it is an arrangement made for man by God in prevision of the Fall.   

Silver and gold

With all of this in mind, then, we can understand why the Church teaches that, while marriage is precious as silver, monasticism is precious as gold.   Both are precious, but one is inherently greater than the other, as partaking by anticipation of the angelic state of the saved in the Kingdom of Heaven, by way of returning to the virginal state of our First Parents in Paradise. 

Monasticism, that is, consecrated virginity, is a grace-filled state peculiar to the New Testament Church.  In the Old Testament, virginity for the sake of one’s salvation is almost unknown, for the Old Testament is the time before the Kingdom of God was made manifest in the world, the time before the cycle of corruption and death was forever broken and the life of the eternal Eighth Day was inaugurated by the Resurrection of Christ.  

In our next class, we shall continue this discussion of the nature of monasticism and how understanding monasticism helps us to understand the married life, as well. 


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Real courage

16 July OS 2021 – Thursday of the Sixth Week of St. Matthew; St. Athenogenes, Hieromartyr

You can listen to an audio podcast of this commentary at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/2019-6-matt-th

In today’s Gospel reading, the Lord Jesus teaches the disciples that He permits the existence and intermingling of both the good and the evil during our earthly life, and how this relates to the Dread Judgment:

At that time, Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house: and his disciples came unto him, saying, Declare unto us the parable of the tares of the field. He answered and said unto them, He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. – Matthew 13:36-43

St. Theophan the Recluse takes this occasion to explain the role of evil in the spiritual life of the faithful:

…Thus will be carried out the division of good and evil, light and darkness. Now is the period of time in which they are mixed. It pleased the Lord to arrange that the freedom of creatures should grow and be strengthened in good through the struggle against evil. Evil is allowed, both in connection with inward freedom and outside of a person. It does not determine anything, it only tempts. One who feels a temptation must not fall, but enter into battle. He who conquers is freed from one temptation, and advances forward and upward to find a new temptation there – and so on, until the end of his life. Oh, when will we comprehend the significance of the evil which tempts us, so that we might arrange our lives according to this understanding? The strugglers are finally crowned, and pass on to the next life, where there are neither sicknesses nor sorrows, and where they become inwardly pure like angels of God, free from the sting of tempting inclinations and thoughts. This is how the triumph of light and good is being prepared, and it will be revealed in all of its glory on the last day of the world. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 145

One of the stock arguments of atheists is the so-called problem of evil: “How can a good and all-powerful God allow evil? Either He is good but not all-powerful and therefore cannot prevent evil, or He is all-powerful but evil, since He causes or allows evil to exist.” There are several things wrong with this argument, but let us make one thing clear: Only the Christian understanding of evil allows for man’s moral freedom, for man to be a spiritual and free being capable of loving God.   No other explanation makes room for this. God does not will evil, but He allows it, so that man may choose freely to obey Him or not, and so that the existence of evil may provide the arena for man’s spiritual struggle; truly do the Fathers say that without temptations no one would be saved.  Anyone who has engaged in conscious spiritual life in an Orthodox setting understands this immediately.

Our intellects say, “Yes, now that someone has explained this to us, it is quite reasonable,” but we initially received this lofty understanding of man’s vocation through divine revelation, by grace, not by our own mental efforts. We realize that, being of divine origin, this truth is of course incomparably superior to the explanations that the fallen mind of man has created. We perceive that it gives us both peace of soul and the incentive to fight evil and to do good, and therefore not only is it intellectually satisfying but of the highest therapeutic and moral value.   Experiencing this, we ask, “Why would anyone not want to believe in the Faith?”

The answer, of course, is pride of mind, pride of will, and pride of sensuality: Fallen man wants to create his own reality, fallen man wants to disobey God’s law, and fallen man wants to indulge his passions. Even so, man has always wanted to explain evil, and therefore the finite and fallen intellect of man has constructed three basic explanations of evil: either good and evil are illusions because all distinctions are illusions, or all outcomes are determined and you have no freedom, or everything is matter, and so God, soul, mind, and will do not exist.

The Eastern religions – Hinduism, Buddhism, and their variants – say that this world is an illusion, that evil is being trapped in the illusory, material world due to some cosmic accident no one can explain, and that you need to go through various incarnations to get rid of your materiality, in order to realize that even your personal existence and the existence of a personal God are illusions (or, conversely, that you are God, which amounts to the same thing), and that once you get rid of all mental distinctions, you will be absorbed into the World Soul, totally lose your individual existence, and feel no pain. One is eerily reminded of the epitaph of the apostate Greek novelist, Nikos Kazantzakis, who claimed to have no religion at all: “I hope for nothing. I fear nothing. I am free.”

Islam – and, to the extent that they are infected by determinism, schools of Roman Catholic and Protestant thought – say that only God’s will is operative in the universe, that He is not interested in explaining anything to us, that what constitutes good and evil is not even a question open to rational discourse, and that your job is to submit without question or thought to the great Divine Steamroller, Allah, or whatever you want to call it.   Admit His total sovereignty, do not question anything, and jump onto this cosmic juggernaut before it runs over you.   On Judgment Day, all you can do is hope for the best, because you have no idea whatsoever if you have pleased the GUI (the Great Ultimate It) or not.

Materialism says that everything we experience is an accidental concourse of material stuff, and therefore nothing means anything. Eat, drink, and be merry, or seek total power over others for the thrill of it, or commit suicide, or whatever. Since mind does not exist, who cares what good or evil are, anyway, or who could offer a meaningful definition, since what the neurons in your brain invent is an accident, and what the neurons in my brain invent is another accident, and the two do not have anything to do with each other, do they?

What all three explanations have in common, ultimately, is nihilism, “nothing-ism.”   At root, all three deny Who God is, deny who man is, and deny the love of God for man.   All three, at root, are the fruit of pride, of Satan’s rebellion against the All-Good and All-Loving God Who created him, the fruit of Satan’s choice to “reign in hell rather than to serve in heaven.”   To adopt any of these three views and really live by it is to consign oneself to hell in this life, much less the next. Yet people fall very easily into these views, and only with great difficulty, and by God’s grace, do they accept the Truth. Without the miracle of grace, humankind cannot bear too much reality.

The Orthodox Church teaches us the truth, which is that God created man out of love and for love, so that man could freely choose to love God and do His holy will.   Advancing step by step from the fear of punishment to the desire for heavenly rewards to the love of God for His own sake, and thereby attaining the freedom of divine friendship, a man becomes a “god by grace,” and in the process, far from being absorbed into the Cosmic One, and far from being the helpless pawn of an inscrutable fate, he becomes more, and more truly, himself. To accomplish this, however, we must be courageous and full of hope in God’s mercy; we must open our hearts and throw ourselves into the abyss of His love, trusting Him to catch us.   We have to look evil square in the face and bravely hope in the all-loving and all-wise God, Who cares for us, Who became a man and died for us, and Who rose from the dead, giving us the hope of an everlasting life.

Kazantzakis claimed that he had no fear because he had no hope. This is not courage but the very essence of cowardice. We can choose this way – the way of nihilism – or we can go the path of the saints.   Increasingly it becomes clear, from all that is happening around us, that there is no other choice.

pilgrims walking up a hill to a church in Serbia
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Growing our souls

15 July OS 2021 – Wednesday of the Sixth Week of Matthew; Holy Martyrs Kyrikos and Julitta; Holy Equal-to-the Apostles Great Prince Vladimir

In today’s Gospel reading, the Lord Jesus tells the Parable of the Mustard Seed and the Parable of the Leaven:

The Lord spake this parable: The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and sowed in his field: Which indeed is the least of all seeds: but when it is grown, it is the greatest among herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof. Another parable spake he unto them; The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took, and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened. All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.
Then Jesus sent the multitude away, and went into the house.
Matthew 13:31-36

St. Theophan the Recluse, commenting on Our Lord’s words, explains how we can apply the images of the mustard seed and the leaven both to the Church and to our own spiritual lives:

The Kingdom is like a grain of mustard seed and leaven. A small grain of mustard seed grows up into a large bush; leaven penetrates a whole lump of dough and makes it leavened. Here, on the one hand, is an image of the Church, which in the beginning consisted only of the Apostles and a few other people. It then spread and became more numerous, penetrating all of humanity. On the other hand, it is an image of the spiritual life revealed in every person. Its first seed is the intention and determination to be saved through pleasing God in accordance with faith in the Lord and Savior. This determination, no matter how firm, is like a tiny speck. Its movement and strength multiply and mature within its own self, and it begins to penetrate all the powers of the soul – the mind, will, and feelings – then fills them with itself, leavens them according to its spirit, and penetrates the entire constitution of the human nature – body, soul, and spirit – in which it was engendered.  – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 144

The seed, then, of spiritual life, is the “intention and determination to be saved through pleasing God in accordance with faith in the Lord and Savior.” There are three elements to this: Intention and determination to be saved, pleasing God, and faith.

We can check ourselves every day, and ask ourselves, “Do I intend to be saved, am I determined to be saved?” It cannot be a vague wish, as we would vaguely wish for someone to hand us a million dollars, though we neither think it likely nor make any efforts towards obtaining our wish. We have to intend it, choose it, set out decisively to get it, with determination. When our intention becomes unsteady or our determination weakens, we must ask the Lord to clarify our minds and strengthen our wills.

Every day we should ask ourselves, “Do I desire to please God?” and we should ask the Lord to strengthen this desire in us. It is impossible to overestimate the power of the desire to please God, to do His holy will.   Once someone is irrevocably committed to the doing of God’s will, he will receive very great power from God to do so.   The Lord will strengthen his will, and he will experience the truth of the words that with God nothing is impossible.

“Very well,” you may say, “I do intend and I do will, but weakly, and sometimes it seems like such a dry experience.  Often I approach it as though it were a Stoic self-improvement program.”  At this point we must recall the third element in the “program” St. Theophan outlines:  Faith.   We must beg with tears for Faith, which, on our part, is the voluntary assent of the mind to divine Truth, but is also, on God’s part, a free gift of His grace, without which the act of Faith on our part is impossible.

When our will grows weak and the clarity of our intention grows blurry, let us open the Holy Gospel and start reading slowly aloud.  Let us read the Life of a saint.  Let us kneel before the holy icons and carefully, slowly, read the Akathist to Our Sweetest Lord Jesus Christ or His Most Pure Mother.  Let us carefully confess and prepare for Holy Communion.  The sweetness of His love, the vision of His divine beauty, shall once again captivate our hearts, and we will remember why we made our original act of will to be saved, and that will shall grow strong again.  We will remember the end of Faith, which is Charity – Divine Love – and, unable to forget the Beauty of that Divine Love, we will open our hearts to Faith, and the Hope born of courage will be not barren but rather give birth to many fruitful acts of the will to do good.

O Lord, Who desirest our salvation, make to grow the seed of Faith in our hearts, give us firm Hope in our salvation, and deprive us not of the ultimate vision of Love, the beauty of Thy countenance forever. Amen.

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Being relatives to the Lord

9 July OS 2021 – Thursday of the Fifth Week of Matthew; Holy Hieromartyr Pancratius of Taormina

Listen to an audio podcast of this commentary at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/matt5th

In today’s Gospel reading, the Lord Jesus reminds us to realize who our true relatives are:

At that time, while Jesus yet talked to the people, behold, his mother and his brethren stood without, desiring to speak with him. Then one said unto him, Behold, thy mother and thy brethren stand without, desiring to speak with thee. But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren? And he stretched forth his hand toward his disciples, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother, and sister, and mother.The same day went Jesus out of the house, and sat by the sea side. And great multitudes were gathered together unto him, so that he went into a ship, and sat; and the whole multitude stood on the shore. And he spake many things unto them in parables. Matthew 12:46-13:3

St. Theophan the Recluse, commenting on Our Lord’s words, discusses the meaning of spiritual kinship:

“For whosoever shall do the will of My Father Who is in heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother (Matt. 12:50).”  By this the Lord gives us to understand that the spiritual kinship which He came to plant and raise up on the earth is not the same as fleshly kinship; although in the form of its relationships, the spiritual is identical to the fleshly.  The spiritual also contains fathers and mothers – they are those who give birth to people with the word of truth, or the Gospel, as the Apostle Paul says.  And it contains also brothers and sisters – those who are born spiritually from the same person and grow in one spirit.  The bond between [spiritual] relatives is founded on the action of grace.  it is not external, not superficial, but it is as deep and alive as the fleshly bond, only it has its place in another, much higher and more important sphere.  This is why it predominates over the fleshly and, when necessary, offers the fleshly as a sacrifice to its spiritual interests without regret, in full certainty that this sacrifice is pleasing to God and is required by Him.  – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, p. 140

Today, as we know, the natural, or traditional, human family is under attack as never before in “mainstream” society, to the point at which it is the exception rather than the rule.  To see a happy family of faithful, once-married, loving father (a man) and obedient mother (a woman) with many happy, healthy children,  surrounded by an extended family of caring grandparents and other relatives – though such families predominated in our society within living memory – is like encountering a vision from a lost world.   When the poor slaves (or, rather, lab rats) of the present day dystopia – brainwashed, addicted, self-mutilated (i.e., tattooed and pierced), fornicating, aborting, sodomizing, having children out of wedlock with various “partners,” experimenting with their “identity,” hooked on demonic music and demonic video, feminized men and masculinized women mentally and morally paralyzed by the basest passions and near-complete ignorance – encounter such a vision, they hardly know what they are looking at; they do not know where to place it in their understanding of reality.  The age-old normal has become unfamiliar, even disturbing.

Living as we are surrounded by such a nightmare, it may seem rather hard to us for the Lord and His saints to call us not only to live as traditional families but furthermore to surpass even the natural bonds of family and place greater value on our spiritual relationships.  The truth of the matter, however, is that until we place our natural families in right order to our spiritual obligations and spiritual relationships, the natural family will continue to be lost. As Pushkin once said, if God be not in first place, He shall consent to be in no place.  If we do not subordinate even our traditional, natural, and praiseworthy earthly relationships to His holy will and holy plan for man, God will not hang around as an accessory, a deus ex machina to swoop in and conveniently fix the messes that we make, in order for us to live nice worldly lives according to the chimerical image of a “wholesome” 1950s TV show.

Where do we start? Let Orthodox people who are married and have children construct their family life on the old pattern, as best they can:  Daily family prayer, family meals, faithful Church attendance Saturday night and Sunday morning, and feast days as much as possible.  Let father and mother with their children fast according to the Church’s laws, and practice frequent confession and Holy Communion. Let families prioritize according to the Gospel:  Better to be poor and spend more time at Church and with your children, than for mother and father both to work 60 hours per week in order to afford things people do not need nor until recently even imagined that they needed.  Turn off the media input and cut out all the extraneous “activities,” and make your home a happy, quiet, ordered holy place.

Let the single people earnestly seek God’s holy will for their lives and use their free time to serve the Church. Are they being called to the monastic life?   The Lord will show them the way.  Are they being called to marriage? The Lord knows how hard it is to find a spouse nowadays:  He would not have put them in the situation in which they find themselves if it were not for their salvation.  The main thing is to remain courageous and full of hope, based on faith.

All of the above, though it is actually just a “baseline,” a starting point, may seem too much to most of us, surrounded by circumstances that seem to entrap us in a vicious cycle of worldly cares and compromised principles.  But our situation is not hopeless, not at all.  For – and here is the Good News – the Orthodox Faith is not a self-help program by which we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.  It is the power of God working in our lives, based on the confession of the True Faith.  This power, coming by grace, is experienced directly when we put spiritual things first.  Has the Church failed us? Is it not so, rather, that we have failed Her?

When the Lord called us to “…be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” He meant it.  We are failing all the time, and therefore we must live in repentance.  Yes, the force of circumstances may be such that normal, much less spiritual, life seems unattainable at times.  But let us, rather than living in alternating denial and rage, look at our circumstances straight in the eye, always tell the truth to ourselves and to others, and weep for our sins and the sins of the whole world! Let us constantly sorrow and grieve over so many souls being lost, and pray more earnestly, more energetically, more faithfully, with tears, to be delivered from the traps that surround us!   “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”  He will hear our prayer, and He will deliver us.

In addition to, or, rather, as the only effective setting for, our own life of prayerful repentance and our own domestic discipline, we have the life of the Church!  St. Theophan, in the passage above, speaks movingly of that special bond felt among spiritual siblings, the faithful who are born of the same spiritual father or mother.  This is seen most clearly in the circles of the pious faithful who have been given new birth by a truly God-inspired monastic elder or eldress; how they see each other with new, spiritual eyes, and cherish each other.  They experience family at a whole new level, and yet – if the elder be genuine and not a cult leader – this new experience transfigures and empowers the domestic church life of their natural families and does not denigrate it.  Truly, as St. John of the Ladder writes:  God is light to the angels, angels are a light to monks, and monks are a light to men.

Many of us – most of us – however, especially in the diaspora, do not have access to such a monastic figure.  We trust, however, in the grace that is in the Church.  If our parish priest is pious and God-fearing, if he preaches Orthodoxy and ministers the Holy Mysteries with godly fear, if he patiently hears our confessions and gives us traditional advice based on the Fathers, we find new birth through him, in virtue of his office, which is from God and not from man. Increasingly we need for our scattered parishes to be true spiritual families, in which the parishioners strive spiritually together, loving and helping each other.  The system under which the various parish churches are viewed only as buildings (albeit holy buildings) among which unaffiliated, uncommitted, and generally unsupportive Christians – whatever their outward show of piety – simply circulate to “light their candle,” and in which the clergy are merely cultic functionaries dispensing services to “customers” on demand no longer works (if it ever really worked!).  Let us commit to our parish churches as our true families, love and respect our priests as fathers in Christ, and help one another!

Finally, we must speak of the role of the godparents.  Time is long past when the godparent relationship may be allowed simply as a social tie ritualistically sealed by an obligatory baptism service grinned and giggled through as a sentimental cute-baby event. Sacramental kinship that is exploited to cement merely worldly relationships is not only less than what it should be, but is positively displeasing to God, as being a perversion of that which is holy.   Every prospective godfather or godmother must put spiritual things first, accept to baptize a child (or adult!) as a sacred duty, and do his best to pray for, encourage, enlighten, and edify his godchild with all fear of God and love.   If this is in place, then the social side – financial help, companionship, etc. – will flow naturally from this, with discretion. How delightful for the soul of a child, when, in addition to his natural father and mother, he has godparents whose pious example and wise words elevate his innocent soul!    All the earthly helps they give – presents, outings, etc. – are transfigured by Faith.  This is a taste, for the child, of Paradise on earth.

When all is submitted to the hierarchy of goods ordained by God, all is well.  Let us take steps today, making a short list of those behaviors we do have control over and can change, and pray earnestly to the Lord to enlighten us regarding our spiritual families and our earthly families, that we may see all things in light of the Gospel, set good priorities, and experience the power of grace.

God is with us.

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The sign of Jonas

8 July OS 20216 – Wednesday of the Fifth Week of Matthew; Our Lady of Kazan; Holy Great Martyr Procopios

You can listen to an audio podcast of this commentary at https://www.spreaker.com/user/youngfaithradio/matt5wed

In today’s Gospel reading, the Lord Jesus teaches us about the necessity of perseverance in the work of salvation.

At that time, certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered Jesus, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee. But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here. The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here. When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation. Matthew 12:38-45

The Pharisees and scribes in this passage are like a lot of people today, a lot of people throughout history, both Christian and non-Christian, who want God to prove Himself to them by something worldly, spectacular, and, ultimately, empty. The Lord brushes aside their foolishness and tells them that the sign He will give them His is own resurrection from the dead.   If by the testimony of the Prophets they cannot recognize the One Who is already among them, and if they will not believe even though He should rise from the dead, what good will signs and wonders do them?   As Father Abraham tells the Rich Man in Luke 16, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” (Bishop Ignaty Brianchaninov wrote an important essay on this theme, which you can find at http://orthodoxinfo.com/ecumenism/st-ignatius-brianchaninov-miracles-and-signs.aspx)

I have a friend who returned to the practice of Orthodoxy in old age.  After many years of worldly living, he began reading the Gospel and praying every day, and he prays for many other people as well. He is amazed and touched, continually, by the miracle of the Holy Fire that occurs in Jerusalem every year on Great Saturday, and he never tires of watching YouTube videos of this stupendous occurrence. He frequently asks me, “How can people see the Holy Fire and not believe in Christ?”   I answer him, “Because their hearts are not open.” It has not yet occurred to him that his reading the Gospel and praying every day is a far greater miracle than the Holy Fire.

After rebuking the Pharisees’ unbelief, the Lord warns His disciples to be sober and watchful over their own spiritual state, lest they fall back into sin after their conversion and their last state be worse than the first. St. Theophan the Recluse explains it this way:

In every person who lives unrepentant in sin, there lives a demon, as if in a house, who takes charge over everything within him. When by the grace of God such a sinner comes to contrition over his sins, repents, and ceases to sin – the demon is cast out from him. At first the demon does not disturb the one who has repented because, in the beginning, there is much fervor within him which burns demons like fire and repulses them like an arrow. But then, when fervor begins to grow cold, the demon approaches from afar with its suggestions, throws in memories about former pleasures, and calls the person to them. If the penitent does not take care, his sympathy will soon pass to a desire for sin. If he does not come to his senses and return to his former state of soberness, a fall is not far off. The inclination for sin and the decision to commit it are born from desire – the inner sin is ready, and the outward sin is only waiting for a convenient occasion. When an occasion presents itself, the sin will be accomplished. Then the demon will enter again and begin to drive a person from sin to sin even faster than before. The Lord illustrated this with the story about the return of the demon into the clean, swept house. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 139-140

There are several things to note here. The first is that the Lord’s words do not make any sense unless one accepts that an unrepentant person has a demon living in him. This is not figurative but literal. Apart from faith and baptism, human beings are naturally (that is, according to fallen nature) in spiritual communion with demons. Until one believes this, one is not even at Square One of an Orthodox understanding of conversion and spiritual life. One reason why we, who do profess the Faith and are baptized, fall back into sin, inviting the “seven worse” back into our lives, is that we do not have a lively appreciation of this stark reality.

The next thing to note about St. Theophan’s words is that a penitent is usually tempted to stop being penitent when the fervor of conversion – either that of his initial conversion or of a conversion following a good confession and change of life after Baptism – wears off. So, to be wise warriors, we have to anticipate this moment of danger, and say to ourselves ahead of time, “The Lord is giving me this obvious grace of fervor and zeal now, but it will inevitably wear off, and then I must resolve to go on fighting sin even if I do not feel like it.”   When the first moment of slackness comes, and desire comes knocking at the door, we will say, “Aha, there it is!” and force ourselves to fight, begging the Lord for mercy and for a return of our spirit of zeal.   Remember how St. Anthony the Great struggled all of one night against demons until he was almost dead, and when the Lord’s presence finally relieved him, he asked, “Lord, where were you all night?” The Lord answered, “I was here all along, but I wanted to see your struggle.”   The times of struggle without consolation are inevitable for all of us, and we must make a firm resolve to be courageous. In His good time, the Lord will give us consolation and renewed strength.

Finally, note that St. Theophan links the inclination to sin and the decision to sin to desire.  We have to kill our love of pleasing ourselves, which is the basic reason why the Church enjoins us to fast and to watch over our senses. The entire effort of the advertising industry which dominates all of our news, entertainment, and social media is directed towards cultivating sensuality, pleasing ourselves, and feeling sorry for ourselves:   “You deserve a break today.” “Have it your way.” “You need this.”   By accepting such thoughts, we forge for ourselves unbreakable chains of slavery to sin; we become paralyzed and unable to act according to God’s will. Those who spoil themselves also tend to spoil their children, and thus spiritual death is passed from one generation to the next.

Let us then resolve to flee quickly to the saving tribunal of confession and repentance, to preserve the spirit of zeal and keep fighting when we do not feel like it, and to avoid constantly pleasing ourselves as we would avoid a poisonous snake.  The miracle of true and lasting repentance, that is, the resurrection of the soul, will take place continually in our hearts, and we will have no need of spectacular signs and wonders.   The sign of Jonas – the Resurrection of Christ – will be all that we need.

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All shall be made known

25 June OS 2021: Thursday of the Third Week of Matthew; S. Febronia, Virgin-Martyr

In today’s reading from the Holy Gospel, the Lord tells assures His faithful ones that their struggles will not be in vain:

The Lord said to His disciples: When they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come. The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household? Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows (Matthew 10: 23 – 31).

It is a curious feature of our fallen nature that no matter how often we hear Christ telling us that suffering, rejection, exile, etc. mark the life of a true disciple, when we actually do suffer, we conclude that we must be doing something wrong. If we were “good people,” would not everyone like us and praise us? Would we not be, in fact, the toast of the town? Would we not – at least! – have peace and plenty? So we conclude that we must be missing something, that we did not get the memo.

In today’s reading, however, Our Lord assures us once again that exile and persecution mark true discipleship, and therefore we should not get rattled when trying to follow Him creates problems for us, even problems that are so great as to seem impossible. No, we do not have perfect discernment, and yes, we make mistakes – too much zeal or too little, speaking out of turn or not speaking at all, making promises to God we cannot keep or being too afraid to promise anything, offending people without need…or not offending them enough (and, believe me, there are people who need to be offended). We are not perfect – well, join the human race. But it is still far better to be like Peter and step out on the waves, though we mostly have no idea what we are doing; all we know is that the Master has said, “Come.” This is enough. With enough hard knocks, discernment will follow, if we humble ourselves and just keep going.

We know that our Orthodox beliefs concerning just about everything run contrary to the way most people think today, and this makes us lonely. But we should rejoice, because the Lord promises today that our witness will some day be vindicated before all mankind at the Dread Judgment. Of course, the corollary to this is that our failure to witness will also be exposed in the light of God. This should motivate us greatly to stay the course.

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Enduring skillfully

24 June OS 2021 – Wednesday of the Third Week of Matthew; The Nativity of the Holy Great Prophet, Forerunner, and Baptist John

In the Gospel reading appointed for today in the daily cycle, the Lord promises His disciples that they who endure to the end shall be saved:

The Lord said to His disciples, Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved (Matt 10: 16-22).

St. Theophan the Recluse gives us a to-do list of concrete measures to take in order to endure wisely unto salvation:

…Do we have anything to endure? In this no one is lacking. Everyone’s arena of endurance is vast, and therefore our salvation is at hand. Endure everything to the end and you will be saved. However, you must endure skillfully – otherwise you may not gain anything by your endurance.

First of all, keep the Holy Faith and lead an irreproachable life according to the Faith. Immediately cleanse with repentance every sin that occurs.

Second, accept everything that you must endure from the hands of God, remembering firmly that nothing happens without God’s will.

Third, give sincere thanks to God for everything, believing that everything which proceeds from the Lord is sent by Him for the good of our souls. Thank Him for sorrows and consolations.

Fourth, love sorrow for the sake of its great salvific power, and cultivate within yourself a thirst for it as for a drink which, although bitter, is healing.

Fifth, keep in your thoughts that when misfortune comes, you cannot throw it off like a tight-fitting garment; you must bear it. Whether in a Christian way or in a non-Christian way, you cannot avoid bearing it; so it is better to bear it in a Christian way. Complaining will not deliver you from misfortune, but only make it heavier; whereas humble submission to God’s Providence and a good attitude relieve the burden of misfortunes.

Sixth, realize that you deserve even greater misfortune. Recognize that if the Lord wanted to deal with you as you rightly deserve, would He have sent you such a small misfortune?

Seventh, above all, pray, and the merciful Lord will give you strength of spirit. With such strength, when others marvel at your misfortunes, they will seem like nothing to you.

– from Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 129-130

Now there we have a handy to-do list to print out and put on the refrigerator!

St. Theophan makes several points here, but I should like to expand on three: That we all have something to endure and therefore our salvation is at hand, that we actually deserve greater misfortunes than those which we receive, and that above all we must pray

.“…therefore our salvation is at hand.”   The spiritual struggler will lose hope if he sees this life as a dark tunnel with no end in sight. The devil would certainly like for us to see it this way. But this is an illusion.   When one thinks of the thousands of years since the Creation, and all the human generations before us, and the illimitable expanse of the aeons of the invisible universe inhabited by the angels, and the endless joy of the saints in heaven…one realizes that one is a very little person after all, that this life is short, and that all that matters is whether we please God in our short trial or not. This life is a sprint, not a marathon. Soon all will be over here, and our real life – or real sufferings – will start there. Is it not worth our while to endure for this short time?

“…realize that you deserve even greater misfortune.” St. Ignaty Brianchaninov, in The Arena, is more explicit: One should realize that one deserves every temporal and eternal punishment.   Why is this? It is because the infinitely holy and good God has lavished His love on us, but we sin against Him. What misfortune would be sufficient to punish such ingratitude?   But the Lord does not visit such misfortune upon us – nothing we suffer is commensurate with what we deserve.   The proud human mind says that this teaching on misfortunes conveys a false image of a cruel god. The humble mind realizes that, on the contrary, this teaching is very Good News indeed, for it signifies that God desires our salvation, and that He sends us misfortunes not to destroy us but to save us, precisely because He wants us to be with Him once more in Paradise. He wants our salvation more than we want it ourselves.

“…above all, pray…”   The time of misfortune is actually the most opportune time for prayer, because it is a crisis, a moment of judgment, when we either go more deeply into prayer or we run away from God into illusory solutions to our predicament. When we do turn to God in great pain of heart, in the midst of suffering, our prayer deepens, we feel His presence, and we understand that we are made not for this life but for another world, that our home is not here but there, and this thought becomes the source of inexhaustible consolation. Prayer changes from being an interruption to our supposedly real life to the content of our really real life. We start praying more frequently, even constantly, and with greater fervor and attention.  This in turn gives us greater strength to endure the present misfortune and those yet to come.

Living in this way, we come to know by experience the meaning of St. Paul’s words, “…we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose… For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:28, 38-29).”

Through the prayers of the Holy Forerunner, the Holy Apostles, and all the saints, O Christ God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

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For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God

20 June OS 2021: Saturday of the Second Week of Matthew; St. Methodius, Bishop of Patara, Hieromartyr

In today’s reading from the Apostolos (Romans 3:19-26), St. Paul tells us flat out that no human being is naturally pleasing to God.

Brethren: Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.

Today everyone is yelling and screaming to prove that they are better than that other person, who is totally evil and needs to be silenced and destroyed. St. Paul has the answer to this: For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

Today everyone is casting about for materialistic solutions to what are essentially spiritual problems. St. Paul has the answer to this: For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

Today people think they can discover the roots of evil through psychology or sociology or political science or historical analysis. St. Paul has the answer for this: For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

We need to remind ourselves constantly that apart from the grace of God and the forgiveness through Jesus Christ, apart from enlightenment and protection from above, we are naturally in continuous communion with malicious demons who are invading our minds every minute, giving us false opinions, aggravating our sinful passions, and impelling us to bad decisions, sinful behavior, and the destruction of community, family, and self. This is just the way it is. And this is true of everyone, not just the obviously wicked.

Though we are baptized Orthodox Christians, we easily forget this truth, rely on our own righteousness, forget to abide in constant mourning over sin, forget death and God’s judgment, and live in delusion. Every single person is in some measure of delusion, except for those who sincerely believe themselves worthy of every temporal and eternal punishment, who cast their care entirely on the Lord, and abide in constant repentance.

Grant us, O Lord, in this holy fasting season, the grace of repentance!

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No room for sissies

17 June OS 2021: Wednesday of the 2nd Week of Matthew; Holy Martyrs Manuel, Sabel, and Ishmael

Today’s Gospel reading is Matthew 7: 21-23:

The Lord said, Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

If we want to enter the Kingdom of God, we must do His holy will. This should seem obvious – Christianity 101, so to speak – but the obvious bears repeating. No amount of prayer or good works is pleasing to God apart from obedience to His will.

A lot of present-day verbiage intended to attract non-Orthodox Christians to Orthodoxy over-emphasizes Orthodoxy as a path to healing and spiritual fulfillment, while downplaying or even denying the character of the Church as the Church Militant. This accords with the spirit of our age, in which everyone fixates on a little god called the individual and his imagined needs. Every potential convert is a “needy” little victim of someone or other, and the Church is “reaching out” to him to “fill his needs.” This effeminate approach attracts effeminate converts and produces effeminate Christians, not warriors for God’s Kingdom. The Church is a place of healing, of course, but only as a field hospital for those wounded in battle, not a “safe space” where conscientious objectors to doing battle with evil can feel better about their separate peace with the devil.

In another place, the Lord says that many are called but few are chosen. The “few” are those who have forgotten about themselves and care about God: His honor, His glory, doing His holy will. A true Christian is someone who struggles daily to crucify his delusions and his passions, and he seeks only to do the will of God. The journey of his life often proves unpleasant, and he often proves unpleasant company for the small of soul who conduct their pilgrimage on earth as a shopping trip for lollipops.

The call to conversion is a trumpet call to battle, not an advertisement for a spa. Let those who feel sorry for themselves suck their thumbs somewhere else. The Church is for those who want to be heroes.

This day, this hour, this minute, let us seek to love God above all and to do His holy will.

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Orthodox Survival Course, Class 64: Male and female created He them

Thanks and Request for Donations

Again, thanks to our donors. May the Lord reward your love with His grace! To our other listeners: please consider a gift to help me out. If you have PayPal, you can send a gift to my account at frstevenallen@gmail.com. If you wish to send a check instead, contact me at that email, and I can give you my mailing address.

Introduction – Male and Female Created He Them

In this latest series of talks entitled “Returning to Ourselves,” we have been discussing various delusions and errors that have entered the minds of Christian people, including Orthodox Christian people, delusions and errors which have prepared them to be willing slaves of the New World Order – lately renamed the “Great Reset” – by enslaving them to their passions, ignorance, and self-will, destroying their ability to discern good from evil, and robbing them of their moral will, their power to take action for the good. In our most recent talk, we introduced two sub-topics under the heading of the idolatry of the body: the worship of medicine and the worship of erotic pleasure, but we dealt mostly with the former and promised to say more in the next talk about the latter. To address this latter topic, however, we have to do a lot of homework, because it involves the Church’s entire teaching – that is, the teachings of the Holy Scriptures and the Fathers – concerning the creation of man as male and female, on the institution of marriage, and on the vocation of consecrated virginity, as well as their teachings that deal with the various transgressions against God’s Law concerning this aspect of Christian life, and the Church’s canonical and pastoral response to these transgressions.

Thus perforce we must talk about a gigantic revolution against the Church which affects all of us right at home, where it counts: in our marriages, our families, and our own bodies – that is, the so-called Sexual Revolution. This complex of errors involves far more than simply the worship of erotic pleasure; it constitutes a fundamental, radical revolt against God’s entire plan for the family and for society. This problem is so close to home, so essential to what a human being is, that if we don’t tackle this, our efforts in the other aspects of the active Christian life will have no realistic moral foundation, and they will fail. This is for several reasons, but let’s list just three for now:

1. Demography is destiny: The Sexual Revolution means the destruction of the family. The destruction of the family means fewer babies born into Orthodox families. There is already a demographic crisis in every historically Orthodox country as well as in the Orthodox diaspora and mission territories throughout the world: the Orthodox people as an actual, physical people is literally disappearing off the face of the earth. We are committing ethno-suicide against ourselves. So we are talking here about the actual physical annihilation of the various Orthodox populations, and, to our disgrace, it will not be due only to wars or plagues or violent genocides by our enemies, but above all it will be due to our own refusal to reproduce ourselves. This is so basic, that it should be at the top of the list of concerns of any responsible Orthodox hierarchy and clergy, and it should be a top concern for you and me, too.

2. The family is the school of virtue: Human beings, including baptized Orthodox human beings, are psychosomatically hardwired in childhood. A child raised in an anti-traditional home structured around – or, rather, thrown into chaos by – the assumptions and practices of the Sexual Revolution can be saved, because God’s grace is very great, but it is terribly difficult for the priest confessor and for the repentant adolescent or adult to deal with the deeply rooted passions and sins caused by growing up in such an environment. In some ways, a child profoundly damaged by these sins and passions of immorality and domestic anarchy – both his own sins and those of family members and friends – will never fully recover in this life: he will carry the terrible cross of the spiritual, psychological, and even physical afflictions caused by these errors and sins unto death. Yes, he can be saved – by God’s ineffable and wise providence, his bearing of this particular cross will in fact be his path to salvation – but we do not wish this on anyone. It is our job to make the path to Paradise easier, not harder, for our brethren, to make their salvation more likely, not less.

3. Sins against purity gravely afflict nearly everyone, and they are extremely difficult to uproot: One of the Optina Elders said that at the tollhouses the demon of fornication will triumph over all the rest. This is not because the sins of unchastity are in themselves the worst sins – worse than pride, for example, or revenge or murder or heresy – it is because they are the most attractive and addictive sins, and because they radically deform an aspect of our human life that is central to our daily thinking, feeling, and functioning as creatures made in God’s image. Because they do not seem so bad, because it is so easy for our fallen minds and the demons to present them in an attractive light, they capture nearly everyone. In his book on Confession, Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky states that the young people he knew in his time who lost their faith, invariably did so because they wanted to justify falling into fornication. This was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries! Today, of course, 100 years later, the situation is far worse in the numbers of people involved and the age at which these sins begin to be committed, and it also involves far more extreme and unnatural forms of this passion. The fundamental problem, however, remains basically the same.

Let us now, however, put aside these sad reflections for a time and turn to the cure for these problems first, before describing the problems any further. The cure for these problems is to be found in the divinely revealed order for our lives, God’s plan for family life, whether in the family of the monastic community or the community of marriage. Let’s resolve to study hard, learn well, completely embrace the Church’s bright, bracing, radiant and refreshing vision for marriage and family life, as well as the life of consecrated virginity. Our young people keep hearing that there is a problem, and they hear, “Don’t do this and don’t do that,” but rarely do we cheerfully and completely explain and extol the joys of doing God’s holy will in relation to a chaste and fruitful life, whether in marriage or in monasticism. So let’s do that more often from now on. Before going on about what not to do, let’s talk about what to do, and why. As always, the Bible and the Fathers will tell us the truth of the matter and therefore what we need to establish or to change in our lives in order to do God’s will.

For this holy teaching to bear fruit, of course, we have to start with the assumption that the hearer wants to do God’s will! When the subjects of marriage, chastity, the right order in marriage between the man and the woman, the moral laws governing the procreative power, and all such related topics come up, there is a great deal of confusion even among Orthodox Christians, because these matters have become so politicized, and one hears even Orthodox Christians and other supposedly traditional people arguing about them in post-Enlightenment political terms focused on the supposed rights of the individual, or in post-Freudian terms like freedom from repression or personal fulfillment, and so forth. It has been well said that in the pre-modern age, most people thought primarily in terms of theology, and in the Renaissance and Enlightenment ages people thought primarily in terms of philosophy, but in the present Age of Revolution that began with the French Revolution, most people can rise no higher than thinking in terms of politics, of the struggle for temporal power between groups or individuals.

For us Orthodox Christians, however, the primary and obligatory lens for viewing all of these matters must remain the teaching of the Church, and our fundamental motivation must be not to acquire power or to be “fulfilled,” but to do God’s holy will as revealed to us in the Scriptures and Holy Tradition. All of our confusions and conflicts will be resolved by this, though the road back to a holy and sane life will be difficult, because we ourselves have breathed in many false ideas from the pestilential atmosphere of our times, and we ourselves have unconscious false assumptions along with ingrained habits of behavior based on these assumptions, which, because they cater to our passions – especially our vanity, desire for pleasure, and self-will – are very hard to uproot, and we are tempted to lash out when they are revealed to us, even by a well-meaning and kind father or brother in Christ. By God’s grace, however, we can take first one little step, and then another, and then another, and return to that pious, sober, modest, well-ordered, and fruitful family life which is the school of virtue for all Christians.

Ultimately, of course, the purpose of family life – whether in marriage or monasticism – is our salvation, that we may attain the vision of God promised to the pure of heart: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The ultimate goal, then, is the vision of God – theosis, union with God, eternal friendship with God – but the proximate goal on the way to this ultimate goal is purity of heart. All of the practices of Christian life, whether in the monastery or in the married life, lead to this proximate goal – proximate in that we can see it right in front of us here on earth – that takes us safely to our ultimate goal in the Kingdom of Heaven. There is a famous passage, a locus classicus, in the Conferences of St. John Cassian, that addresses this directly. We find it in the First Conference of Abba Moses, concerning the question, “What is the goal of the monk?”

“The end of our profession indeed, as I said, is the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven: but the immediate aim or goal, is purity of heart, without which no one can gain that end: fixing our gaze then steadily on this goal, as if on a definite mark, let us direct our course as straight towards it as possible, and if our thoughts wander somewhat from this, let us revert to our gaze upon it, and check them accurately as by a sure standard, which will always bring back all our efforts to this one mark, and will show at once if our mind has wandered ever so little from the direction marked out for it.

” As those, whose business it is to use weapons of war, whenever they want to show their skill in their art before a king of this world, try to shoot their arrows or darts into certain small targets which have the prizes painted on them; for they know that they cannot in any other way than by the line of their aim secure the end and the prize they hope for, which they will only then enjoy when they have been able to hit the mark set before them; but if it happens to be withdrawn from their sight, however much in their want of skill their aim may vainly deviate from the straight path, yet they cannot perceive that they have strayed from the direction of the intended straight line because they have no distinct mark to prove the skilfulness of their aim, or to show up its badness: and therefore while they shoot their missiles idly into space, they cannot see how they have gone wrong or how utterly at fault they are, since no mark is their accuser, showing how far they have gone astray from the right direction; nor can an unsteady look help them to correct and restore the straight line enjoined on them. So then the end indeed which we have set before us is, as the Apostle says, eternal life, as he declares, having indeed your fruit unto holiness and the end eternal life; (Romans 6:22) but the immediate goal is purity of heart, which he not unfairly terms sanctification, without which the afore-mentioned end cannot be gained; as if he had said in other words, having your immediate goal in purity of heart, but the end life eternal.” – The Conferences of St. John Cassian, in “Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers” Second Series, Volume XI

Of course, this can be applied quite obviously to our Orthodox life in the world as well. As we learn and struggle through the pilgrimage of life, whether in the home or in the monastery, let us always keep this in mind: Everything we do, let us do it with the desire for purity of heart, leading to the Kingdom of Heaven! When we wander off and go astray, we can always return to the right path if we bring this proximate goal back into our line of vision.

With all this in mind, we shall begin our examination of the Church’s teaching, and we shall begin at the beginning, with God’s creation of the man and woman at the beginning of the world:

I. Genesis 1: “Be fruitful and multiply…have dominion…”

There are two complementary Creation accounts with which the inspired prophet Moses begins the Book of Genesis, the first in Chapter One and the second in Chapter Two. Both of these accounts tell of the creation of man, and both deal with man as male and female. The account in Chapter One states that God made man male and female, and that he blessed them and gave them two commands: to multiply (i.e., to procreate, to reproduce) and to exercise dominion over the rest of the visible creation.

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat: and it was so.” – Genesis 1: 26 – 30

So the very first command God ever gave to our race was to have children. The Orthodox wedding service reflects this priority given to procreation in considering the purpose and the character of marriage. If you go carefully through the text of our relatively brief wedding service, you will see that there are no fewer than twenty five references to procreation, either in the form of direct petitions for God to grant children to the married couple, or in the form of Scriptural references within the prayers read by the priest. Of course, the service contains other petitions and teachings: Petitions for the gift of chastity, petitions for material prosperity along with the virtue of giving alms out of the couple’s material abundance, petitions for the grace of establishing right order in the patriarchal hierarchy of husband, wife, and children, etc. But, by far, the aspect of marriage most often specifically referred to in the service is, simply, having children.

(Of course, the Church understands that for reasons beyond their control, some married people are not able to have children. This is why one of the petitions for children ends with the qualifier, “…as may be expedient for them.” In other words, in God’s wisdom, He knows that the cross of childlessness may be the path to salvation for this particular couple. The ultimate purpose of marriage, after all, is our eternal salvation, to which childbearing and the other characteristic elements of marriage are proximate or secondary means and not final ends in themselves.)

God’s second command in Genesis 1 is to exercise dominion over the beasts and the plants of the earth. The man and woman are king and queen over creation. Before the Fall, this dominion was exercised with ease and joy. After the Fall, it is exercised through labor and the endurance of suffering, in obedience to God’s sentence rendered because of the Fall, that we must labor and suffer, as we read in Genesis 3: 16-19. Through the grace-filled Mystery of Marriage in the dispensation of the New Testament, however, our daily labors and sufferings are transfigured, lifted up, and given an eternal and saving significance. In the Church’s sacramental economy, the man and the woman receive the grace to recover once more the paradisal character of Adam and Eve’s original stewardship over creation, to make their home a little paradise. The central sacramental action of the wedding service, the bestowal of crowns, the universal symbol of regal authority, grants them this grace, and the petitions for material prosperity are to be understood in the light of this grace of authoritative stewardship over the material goods which the Lord will grant the married couple. The inalienable possession and right use of private property, then, along with procreation and the inalienable possession and right-rearing of children, is inherent to the fulfillment of marriage’s ultimate purpose, which is the acquisition of virtue leading to salvation. Both property and parenthood, rightly understood, are instruments of virtue.

So this is marriage in a nutshell according to the text of Genesis 1, of which the text of our wedding service is a lovely and comprehensive poetic exegesis: The man and woman come together in love and have children, and they work closely together as a team (literally as syzygoi, “yoke-mates” in the Greek language) to preserve, increase, give right order to, and make productive the good things that God gives to them: their home, their beasts, their crops, their learning, their arts, professions, crafts, and trades, and all that pertains to a well-ordered and productive human life.

II. Genesis 2: “An help meet for him…”

Thus the account of the creation of the man and woman in Genesis 1 deals chiefly with their relation to their offspring and to their material goods. Genesis 2 deals chiefly with their relationship to one another, a relationship in which God placed two paradoxical realities that must always be seen together to understand the fullness of marriage: The husband and wife have an essential sameness, in that they are “one flesh,” but at the same time there is also an order of precedence and hierarchy in marriage: the man is the head, and the woman is the body. The chief exegetes of this Genesis passage are Our Lord Himself and His Chief Apostle, St. Paul. But first, let’s read the passage from Genesis 2:

“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul… And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him. And out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for Adam there was not found an help meet for him. And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the LORD God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” – Genesis 2: 7, 18-25

There is, therefore, a sameness between the man and the woman – the woman is literally bone of man’s bone and flesh of his flesh. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself quotes this passage of Genesis to demonstrate that the primordial physical bond between the man and woman, made by the manner of the woman’s creation directly from the man, forms the foundation of the indissolubility of marriage, based on the physical reality of the married man and woman becoming one flesh:

“And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him. And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you? And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away. And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” – Mark 10: 2-9

In conjunction with this sameness of being “one flesh,” however, there is also an order of precedence and a hierarchy of relationship between the man and the woman. There is both a precedence in time, in that God created the man first and the woman second, and there is a precedence in ontology, in that, whereas God created man directly from the earth and from the breath of His mouth, He took the woman from the man. The man owes his existence to God alone, whereas the woman owes her existence both to God, absolutely and primarily, and also to the man, albeit relatively and secondarily. There is also a hierarchy of relationship, in that the woman was created to help the man, to be “an help meet for him,” and not vice versa. He is the first and chief agent in their married life, the leader of all their strivings together, and she is to be his helper.

The epistle reading which Holy Church, in Her divine wisdom, appoints to be read at the marriage service, contains St. Paul’s explanation of the loving bond in marriage being joined inextricably with this hierarchical relationship:

“Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing. Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself. For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church: For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she fear her husband.” – Ephesians 5: 20-33

Our Holy Father John Chrysostom, the pre-eminent exegete of St. Paul’s writings, explains beautifully both aspects of marriage: the man and woman being one flesh, along with the hierarchy of marriage, in which man is the head, as Christ is the Head of the Church. At the beginning of his commentary on this passage, regarding verses 22-24, he immediately links the headship of the man to the loving union of husband and wife. Verses 22-24 read as follows: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body. Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.” These verses of St. Paul seem primarily to refer to the hierarchy in marriage, but the great Chrysostom chooses to expatiate chiefly on the unitive power of married love based on Eve’s being taken from Adam’s rib and thus being one flesh with him:

“A certain wise man, setting down a number of things in the rank of blessings, set down this also in the rank of a blessing, A wife agreeing with her husband. Ecclesiasticus 25:1 And elsewhere again he sets it down among blessings, that a woman should dwell in harmony with her husband. (Ecclesiasticus 40:23) And indeed from the beginning, God appears to have made special provision for this union; and discoursing of the two as one, He said thus, Male and female created He them (Genesis 1:27); and again, There is neither male nor female.(Galatians 3:28) For there is no relationship between man and man so close as that between man and wife, if they be joined together as they should be… For indeed, in very deed, this love is more despotic than any despotism: for others indeed may be strong, but this passion is not only strong, but unfading. For there is a certain love deeply seated in our nature, which imperceptibly to ourselves knits together these bodies of ours. Thus even from the very beginning woman sprang from man, and afterwards from man and woman sprang both man and woman. Perceivest thou the close bond and connection? And how that God suffered not a different kind of nature to enter in from without? And mark, how many providential arrangements He made. He permitted the man to marry his own sister; or rather not his sister, but his daughter; nay, nor yet his daughter, but something more than his daughter, even his own flesh. And thus the whole He framed from one beginning, gathering all together, like stones in a building, into one. For neither on the one hand did He form her from without, and this was that the man might not feel towards her as towards an alien; nor again did He confine marriage to her, that she might not, by contracting herself, and making all center in herself, be cut off from the rest. Thus as in the case of plants, they are of all others the best, which have but a single stem, and spread out into a number of branches; (since were all confined to the root alone, all would be to no purpose, whereas again had it a number of roots, the tree would be no longer worthy of admiration;) so, I say, is the case here also. From one, namely Adam, He made the whole race to spring, preventing them by the strongest necessity from being ever torn asunder, or separated; and afterwards, making it more restricted, He no longer allowed sisters and daughters to be wives, lest we should on the other hand contract our love to one point, and thus in another manner be cut off from one another. Hence Christ said, He which made them from the beginning, made them male and female. Matthew 19:4.” – St. John Chrysostom, Commentary on Ephesians, in “Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, ” First Series, Volume XIII

So great, then, is the power of married love, which is, as St. John Chrysostom explains, the root of the unity of the entire human race. The unity in love between the man and the woman is not, however, the whole story. Later, in commenting on verse 33, the saint goes on also to explain the necessity of hierarchy and obedience in marriage, and how the command to the woman to fear her husband does not contradict, but rather, aids, the bond of love:

“And yet how can there ever be love, one may say, where there is fear? It will exist there, I say, preëminently. For she that fears and reverences, loves also; and she that loves, fears and reverences him as being the head, and loves him as being a member, since the head itself is a member of the body at large. Hence he places the one in subjection, and the other in authority, that there may be peace; for where there is equal authority there can never be peace; neither where a house is a democracy, nor where all are rulers; but the ruling power must of necessity be one. And this is universally the case with matters referring to the body, inasmuch as when men are spiritual, there will be peace.” 

Without monarchy in the marriage, then, there is no peace, as without monarchy in human society as a whole, there is always strife and contention. So-called democracy and the myth of equality, as we have pointed out many times in previous talks, prevent the possibility of love, for without hierarchy there is no order, and without order, love is impossible.

The primary duty of the husband, then, towards his wife, is to love and cherish her, to the point of sacrificing himself for her, as Christ sacrificed Himself for His Bride the Church. The primary duty of the wife towards her husband is to reverence him as one possessing authority over her given by God Himself, and to obey him. If a man, then, lives selfishly, and does not sacrifice himself for his wife, he will be judged as a breaker of a divine commandment. If a woman holds her husband in contempt and does not live as one who acts under his authority, she will likewise be judged as a breaker of a divine commandment. These commands are not merely human law or a product of historical circumstances. They belong to the perpetual Law of God revealed in the Old and New Testaments, and thus they are binding upon every Christian who enters the married state, until the end of the world.

But God’s commands do not burden us and do not harm us. For those who take up the yoke of His commandments, they make our burdens lighter, and they give us life. Our Lord Himself calls to us to take up the yoke of his commandments, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11: 27-30). The Apostle of love, St. John the Theologian writes, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous (I John 5:3).” Living according to God’s Law makes you happy. You do not always feel good, but at a fundamental level your life is good, and that is what counts.

“But what,” you may ask, “if my spouse does not fulfill his or her duty? What if I am a man married to a domineering, disrespectful, and disobedient woman, or a what if I am a woman married to a self-centered man who does not love me and will not sacrifice his selfish desires for me?” Indeed, in such a case there will be great sorrow, for where God’s Law is flouted, there is always grief and affliction. But St. John Chrysostom urges us still to persevere and do our duty, to carry our cross. Here is what he says, in the same commentary:

But what, one may say, if a wife reverence me not? Never mind, you are to love, fulfill your own duty. For though that which is due from others may not follow, we ought of course to do our duty. This is an example of what I mean. He says, submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ. And what then if another submit not himself? Still obey thou the law of God. Just so, I say, is it also here. Let the wife at least, though she be not loved, still reverence notwithstanding, that nothing may lie at her door; and let the husband, though his wife reverence him not, still show her love notwithstanding, that he himself be not wanting in any point. For each has received his own.”

All of this, of course, reminds us of the ultimate purpose of marriage, which is the same as the ultimate purpose of consecrated virginity: our salvation, which demands that we take up the particular cross God has assigned to us. The pain caused by the failures of one’s spouse is necessarily very great, because he or she is the person one is closest to in all the world; indeed he or she is one’s other self, the other half of oneself. This pain acts as a sharp knife cutting away all the impurity of self-centeredness in our hearts, and thus we attain that purity of heart needed to attain the Heavenly Kingdom. The crowns of matrimony, then, signify not only the man and woman’s status as king and queen of creation; they are also the crowns of martyrdom. To persevere in the Faith, in the married state, doing our duty unto death, regardless of our spouse’s failings, is a very straight path to salvation.

In talk 65, we shall continue to discuss the Church’s teaching on marriage, as well as consecrated virginity, and their relationship to the virtue of chastity.

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