marriage

Celibacy in Marriage: The Ignored Option

Without a doubt, the sex drive is one of the strongest desires of the flesh. In particular for men, it is very rare to go through the day without some lustful fantasy or thought occupy our minds for a few minutes.  Overcoming what some ancient fathers called fornication is so difficult that many of us modern Christians find it easier to give in to the temptations.  “Boys will be boys.”  “I can’t help it.”  “I was born this way.”  Sexual sins have now been excused into inevidiblity

The spirituality of ancient Christianity does not accept such normalization of immorality. In the Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Eucharistus was not a monk; but a secular man with a wife and a herd of sheep.  Two monks that thought highly of thier spiritual achievements were directed by God to see this seemingly ordinary couple.  When pressed for an answer to his way of life, Eucharistus admitted: … Since I married my wife, we have not had intercourse with one another, for she is a virgin; we live alone (1).

For a husband to have sexual relations with his wife is expected and that she is a virgin is an honor that she maintained her purity up to her wedding night. Jesus Christ held nothing against marriage as did Paul and the other Apostles.  Adam, Abraham, Isaac, and other patriarchs fondled and knew their wives in their blessed and lawful unions.  Why would Eucharistus and his wife, Mary, not be fruitful and multiply?

chrysanthus-and-daria_martyrdom_icon

Even before this was the story of Chrysanthus and Daria from the third century. The young man, Chrysanthus, became a Christian despite the objections of his father.  He resisted the advances of an immoral woman his father tried to set him up with.  Although giving into a marriage he didn’t wish for, he led his pagan bride, Daria, to accept the faith and that they would live as sibblings with no sex between each other.  They were cruelly tortured and martyred for their faith.  But the grace in which they bore their sufferings led others to believe in Christ as well (2).

Chrysanthus would have been in the wrong to have sex as an unmarried Christian. But, after converting Daria to the faith, he would have still been a pure man having intercourse with his spouse.  He was not a bishop, priest, or deacon.  There was no mandate from his priest not to have a Christian wife and start a family.  Daria, like any other virgin, may have expected to give her body to her husband on their wedding night.  Why would they resist the normal desires of the flesh even within religiously and socially acceptable boundaries?

What ancient Christian couples understood is that there is a great blessing to put aside something good for something better. In Orthodox Christianity, we married couples refrain from sex during our days and seasons of fasting as we do from meat and dairy products.  The early Church Fathers knew the necesity of developing faithful families and the beauty of sexual expression within a marriage.  But, they also understood that periodic self-control even between a husband and wife was beneficial for their spiritual growth.  Enjoying intimacy in prayer to the true Bridegroom brings a greater joy than the bride and groom can have with each other.  Striving to live as pure children of the heavenly kingdom is more important than producing offspring in this world.

orthodox_monk_and_nun_by_rusrick-d4sc7xi

Modern Christianity and the nominal standard has failed to teach these lessons. It is bad enough that life-long celibacy and monasticism has been cast aside as too much as unnecessary (like anything else “Popish”) and impossible to maintain.  A husband and wife “denying each other” is out of the question if they are both in good health and youthful prime.  Even the not so young and elderly can take pills or go to therapist. For a husband or wife to have intimate relations with a sex therapist is not unheard of.  “Sex aids” can be ordered from online and print catalogues that sell orthopedic socks as if not having sensual pleasure is an illness.

What is truly ill is that our Christian society denies believers the idea of celibacy within marriage, even the practice of self-denial for periods of time for the sake of prayer and fasting. A fresh water trout seeks to live in cold streams of the purest water available.  With warmer water and pollutants, the fish become less healthy and may die out of the stream.  There is no reason to wonder why the divorce rate among Christians is as high as it is for everyone else.  We have removed the aim and practice of purity from the married life.  This opens the door for even more adultery, pornography and other sins.  We should not expect the secular world to live better morally when we are content to narrow our spiritual horizons.

 

  1. Sayings of the Desert Fathers, pg. 60
  2. Prologue of Ohrid Vol I, pgs. 323, 324

The Hidden Blessing in the Gay Marriage Movement

Let’s get this clear.  I believe as the Church fathers and the scriptures teach that homosexuality is a sin.  It is no more vile than any other sin, including fornication which no one bats an eye at these days.  Marriage is the sacramental union ordained by God between one man and one woman as described in the Adam and Eve story.  This sacred union imitates that of Jesus Christ with his bride, the Church. Technically, it is to be performed in the Church.  Both the man and woman are to be devout Christians and active in the Church.  The members of the congregation and the families are to provide whatever food, decorations, and whatever else is needed for the reception.  Thus, a wedding, when taken as a holy sacrament is not a business opportunity for florist, caterers, and photographers.  It is far deeper than a mere social event for family and friends.  And while it may be good for the state to record who lives together as a married couple, it is more than a legal contract.  A Christian wedding ceremony and reception is a celebration within the body of Christ.  With this in mind, I think the gay marriage movement may not be the worst thing in the world for Christianity.  In fact, it may be a blessing in disguise.

Bring back the crowns and what they mean.

As a result of modernism and money, Christians (even too many Orthodox) have relaxed their views and standards of marriage.  A sacrament that was once done in the church is now performed in mountain lodges, back yards, beaches, bowling alleys, or wherever the couple think the “mood” is right.  This act of holiness once done by pastors and higher clerics is done by local magistrates and anyone with a “certificate” including Elvis impersonators.  The event is planned by a professional coordinator working alongside professionals from the photographer to the limo service.  In some cases, the couple doesn’t even have to belong to the church they get married in or know the pastor that will perform the service (let alone agree to have pre-marital counseling) as some churches and clergy rent themselves out to whomever wants to wed.  Thus, heterosexual marriage and weddings have too often become mere productions and social gatherings celebrating love and a legal contract rather than the holy sacrament that Jesus and Paul held in honor.  Homosexuals have every right to demand that they can demand to have such celebrations as we heterosexuals do.  Rather than to try to pass laws against the inevitable, I believe we Christians should respond in a better way.

Pastors and congregations need to re-teach the sacramental nature of marriage and the communal nature of the Wedding  celebration within the body of Christ.  There is no point in a straight engaged couple shouting against a gay engaged or married couple when they are having sex before marriage and not repenting of it and confessing it before God.  The homosexuals are not in your bed, you and your future spouse are and you shouldn’t be yet.  Get the log out of your eye before worrying about the specks in someone else’s.  Pastors and other clergy need to put the holiness of the sacrament before the dollar signs. If the prospective couple are not members of some other congregation, they should either become members of yours, or have their pastor marry them.  You bear the responsibility for proclaiming salvation through the Gospel and taking care of people’s spiritual needs.  Blindly performing a ceremony without directing  the future bride and groom to some sort of spiritual accountability and preparation is dereliction of duty.  Friends, family, and brothers and sisters in Christ; you love this couple and you trust their taste buds and stomachs to strangers?  Really?  And does God concerned that the images of your special day was done with 60 megapixels?  Uncle Bob may have put part of his thumb over the lens of his smart phone.  But, he is the uncle that showed you how to make that soft ball pitch and knew how to solve that Algebra equation that you struggled with.  There are horror stories of Christian businesses being forced out of lucrative wedding gigs because some gay or lesbian couple is suing them for not providing services for their wedding.  But, is holy matrimony to be a celebration of divine love, or a pursuit of lucre and profit?

In the presence of God and these witnesses

No, I don’t support homosexual marriage at all.  It is a shame that good Christian business people have to choose between their faith and their bottom lines.  But, the blessing in disguise is that we Christians can take a hard look at ourselves and bring back our marriages and weddings to what they are supposed to be.

Journey Into Great Lent (Day Five): Broken

Oh Lord and King, grant me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother and sister …

From the Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian

As with most men, lust is a problem that I struggle with.  In today’s society, it is tolerated as long as one keeps his hands to himself.  In fact, lust is expected, celebrated, and used for commercial purposes (Hooters, Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, and the like).  The ease in which one can access the most abusive and cruel forms of pornography on the internet makes this sin even more dangerous.  Since taking up the journey toward Orthodoxy, I have put aside my worst manifestations of this sin.  Yet, I still succumbed to my eyes and imagination more times that I wish to count or share. 

This Lent, I have made it a special point to refrain from such wicked imaginations.  I tell myself that if an Orthodox married man refrains from touching his wife during the fast, what gives me the right to fantasize being with any woman.  My wife suffers from both Bipolar Disorder and Multiple Sclerosis.  Thus, lust has been a great burden on me.  But, I went into the fast believing that God will deliver me from this chronic problem.

Monarchs (© John Gresham)

Monarchs (© John Gresham)

A necessary part of the spiritual healing process is to be made fully aware of one’s sin.  By indulging in lust, I separate myself from the greatest icon I have in my home.  My wife is my greatest icon for Christ counts Himself with the lowly and afflicted:

‘In as much as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”   (Matthew 25:40)

The other icons I have in my home, if I ignore or misuse them, that would be bad enough.  They are man-made widows into heaven.  In fact, I can change windows and move them around as I see fit without any consequences.  But, how many times have I ignored, shut out, been angry with, neglected, and belittled my wife desiring someone else?  How many times have I failed to pray for, pray with, and show affection for my wife?  Again, since being on the Orthodox journey, I have improved.  Praying for her, struggling against my passions, and offering the Lenten Prayer has broken me to see how far I have fallen and how far I have to go.  What I have done to her, I have done to Jesus.  What I do to her, I do to Jesus.  No wonder Paul advises us to “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling”  (Philippians 2:12).

It is no wonder why the Early Fathers (some date back to Irenaeus for this tradition) prescribed the 40 day Lenten Fast.  Once when we are broken by the awareness of our fallen state, it takes time to be moulded into useful vessels of the Gospel.  Orthodoxy calls for fasting throughout the year to help remind us that we are still a work in progress.   In the Trisagion Prayers, we constantly ask for the mercy of the Holy Trinity.  The Jesus Prayer underscores the fact that we are to be the tax collector and not the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14).   In the Ancient Faith, confession is a sacrament before God with the priest as a witness in the body of Christ as well as a private act.  And that we begin the fast with Forgiveness Vespers where we all ask each other, including the priest and bishops present, to forgive our sins. 

I am broken as I have seen and understand that I have not been a good husband nor as good as others think I am.  It is not my place to compare myself to other men.  I will be judged on my actions, words, and THOUGHTS (Matthew 5:27-30).  I acknowledge my broken state.  I have faith in the healing process.  I have hope that the Lord will restore my wife.  I have hope that He will restore me for her according to His will.

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Fifth Monday)

“But, from the beginning of creation ‘he made male and female.'”    Mark 10:6

We have drifted from the original purpose.  Relationships between male and female have become a disturbed pursuit of pleasure rather than a loving expression of commitment.  In the time of Moses, divorce was as simple as a written piece of paper ending the marriage.  Today, we have a culture that doesn’t bother with the institution.  We just agree to “hook up” for a night or two for mutual enjoyment.

The source for this malady is a hardness of heart.  It is the spiritual heart that only beats for its self and seeks its own pleasure.  This heart readily rejects what no longer pleases it.  Such a heart cannot fully commit to the God-given relationship where intimacy is to be freely expressed.  If it cannot be faithful to this tangible gift, it cannot be faithful to the God that gave it.

Celebrate Love (© John Gresham)

Let us pray for tender hearts that allow us to be intimate with our spouses.  Not simply sexual.  Who has not seen dogs having intercourse?  Intimacy is where the two bodies and souls yield completely to one another so that they become one.  One who can yield to a spouse can yield to the will of God.

Your Brother in Christ

Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene