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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.