Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Marriage and Monasticism in the South

St John Chrysostom wrote something very noteworthy about the monastic life that most Christians in the West, including those in Dixie, may be surprised by:

You greatly delude yourself and err if you think that one thing is demanded from the layman and another from the monk; since the difference between them is in that whether one is married or not, while in everything else they have the same responsibilities … Because all must rise to the same height; and what has turned the world upside down is that we think only the monk must live rigorously, while the rest are allowed to live a life of indolence.

Prof Georgios Mantzarides says elsewhere,

Christ's commandments demand strictness of life that we often expect only from monks. The requirements of decent and sober behaviour, the condemnation of wealth and adoption of frugality, the avoidance of idle talk and the call to show selfless love are not given only for monks, but for all the faithful.

Therefore, the rejection of worldly thinking is the duty not only of monks, but of all Christians.

Source:  ‘Monasticism’, http://www.stanthonysmonastery.org/monasticism.php, accessed 28 Oct. 2015

For many Southerners, influenced so greatly by evangelical Protestantism, the monastic calling is looked upon with suspicion, seeing in it still the abuses of the Roman Catholic Church.  This is quite evident in the dearth of monasteries across the South (see Appendix C1, p. 125, of this report http://www.assemblyofbishops.org/assets/files/docs/research/StudyOfUSMonasteriesReportFinal.pdf for Orthodox monasteries, or the list of Catholic monasteries by State here http://www.catholiclinks.org/monasteriosestadosunidos.htm). 

Southerners have largely rejected the idea that a single man or woman may consecrate their lives to God, remaining unmarried for life, and by so doing, live a life of the fullest, most fervent love for God and man and the creation, and develop fully all the gifts and virtues lying asleep within them.  Rather, they look to the family as the arena in which the fulness of virtue for man or woman may be best developed.  

Dixie’s great poet Henry Timrod left us a poem, ‘Two Portraits’, that bears this out.  Following are some of the key passages from it on this subject:

                         . . .

                        A loveless heart is seldom stirred;
                        And sorrow shuns the mateless bird;

                        But ah! through cares alone we reach
                        The happiness which mocketh speech;

                        In the white courts beyond the stars
                        The noblest brow is seamed with scars;

                        And they on earth who've wept the most
                        Sit highest of the heavenly host.

                         . . .

                        You have had all a maid could hope
                        In the most cloudless horoscope:

                         The strength that cometh from above;
                        A Christian mother's holy love;

                        And always at your soul's demand
                        A brother's, sister's heart and hand.

                        Small need your heart hath had to roam
                        Beyond the circle of your home;

                        And yet upon your wish attends
                        A loving throng of genial friends.

                        What, in a lot so sweet as this,
                        Is wanting to complete your bliss?

                        And to what secret shall I trace
                        The clouds that sometimes cross your face,

                        And that sad look which now and then
                        Comes, disappears, and comes again,

                        And dies reluctantly away
                        In those clear eyes of azure gray?

                         . . .

                        How then, O weary one! explain
                        The sources of that hidden pain?

                        Alas! you have divined at length
                        How little you have used your strength,

                        Which, with who knows what human good,
                        Lies buried in that maidenhood,

                        Where, as amid a field of flowers,
                        You have but played with April showers.

                        Ah! we would wish the world less fair,
                        If Spring alone adorned the year,

                        And Autumn came not with its fruit,
                        And Autumn hymns were ever mute.

                        So I remark without surprise
                        That, as the unvarying season flies,

                        From day to night, and night to day,
                        You sicken of your endless May.

                        In this poor life we may not cross
                        One virtuous instinct without loss,

                        And the soul grows not to its height
                        Till love calls forth its utmost might.

                        Not blind to all you might have been,
                        And with some consciousness of sin -

                        Because with love you sometimes played,
                        And choice, not fate, hath kept you maid -

                        You feel that you must pass from earth
                        But half-acquainted with its worth,

                        And that within your heart are deeps
                        In which a nobler woman sleeps;

                        That not the maiden, but the wife
                        Grasps the whole lesson of a life,

                        While such as you but sit and dream
                        Along the surface of its stream.

                         And doubtless sometimes, all unsought,
                        There comes upon your hour of thought,

                        Despite the struggles of your will,
                        A sense of something absent still;

                        And then you cannot help but yearn
                        To love and be beloved in turn,

                        As they are loved, and love, who live
                        As love were all that life could give;

                        And in a transient clasp or kiss
                        Crowd an eternity of bliss;

                        They who of every mortal joy
                        Taste always twice, nor feel them cloy,

                        Or, if woes come, in Sorrow's hour
                        Are strengthened by a double power.

                         . . .

                         I know not when or whence indeed
                        Shall fall and burst the burning seed,

                        But oh! once kindled, it will blaze,
                        I know, for ever! By its rays

                        You will perceive, with subtler eyes,
                        The meaning in the earth and skies,

                        Which, with their animated chain
                        Of grass and flowers, and sun and rain,

                        Of green below, and blue above,
                        Are but a type of married love.

                        You will perceive that in the breast
                        The germs of many virtues rest,

                        Which, ere they feel a lover's breath,
                        Lie in a temporary death;

                        And till the heart is wooed and won
                        It is an earth without a sun.

                         . . .

                        And that one love which on this earth
                        Can wake the heart to all its worth,

                        And to their height can lift and bind
                        The powers of soul, and sense, and mind,

                         . . .

                        While the kind eyes betray no less,
                        In their blue depths of tenderness,

                        That you have learned the truths which lie
                        Behind that holy mystery,

                        Which, with its blisses and its woes,
                        Nor man nor maiden ever knows.

                        If now, as to the eyes of one
                        Whose glance not even thought can shun,

                        Your soul lay open to my view,
                        I, looking all its nature through,

                        Could see no incompleted part,
                        For the whole woman warms your heart.

                         . . .

Source:  The Poems of Henry Timrod, 1872, http://docsouth.unc.edu/southlit/timrod/timrod.html#timr87, © Copyright 2004 by the University Library, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, all rights reserved (updated 27 Oct. 2015), accessed 28 Oct. 2015.

There are many truths spoken in those lines, but two very important ones are missing.  First, the mystery of marriage as a means of entering the Kingdom of God - that is, as a means of true union with God and one another (a sacrament):

 . . .

The mystery of marriage was established by God in Paradise. Having created Adam and Eve, God said to them: ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ (Gen.1:28). This multiplication of the human race was to be achieved through marriage: ‘Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh’ (Gen.2:24). Marital union is therefore not a consequence of the Fall but something inherent to the primordial nature of human beings. The mystery of marriage was further blessed by the Incarnate Lord when He changed water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. ‘We state’, St Cyril of Alexandria writes, ‘that He (Christ) blessed marriage in accordance with the economy (oikonomia) by which He became man and went… to the wedding in Cana of Galilee’.

There are two misunderstandings about marriage which should be rejected in Orthodox dogmatic theology. One is that marriage exists for the sole purpose of procreation. What, then, is the meaning of marriage for those couples who have no children? Are they advised to divorce and remarry? Even in the case of those who have children: are they actually supposed to have relations once a year for the sole purpose of ‘procreation’? This has never been a teaching of the Church. On the contrary, according to St John Chrysostom, among the two reasons for which marriage was instituted, namely ‘to bring man to be content with one woman and to have children’, it is the first reason which is the most important: ‘as for procreation, it is not required absolutely by marriage…’ In fact, in Orthodox understanding, the goal of marriage is that man and woman should become one, in the image of the Holy Trinity, Whose three Persons are essentially united in love. To quote St John Chrysostom again, ‘when husband and wife are united in marriage, they are no longer seen as something earthly, but as the image of God Himself’. The mutual love of the two partners in marriage becomes life-giving and creative when a child is born as its fruit. Every human being is therefore to be a fruit of love, and everyone’s birth is a result of love between his parents.

Another misunderstanding about marriage is that it should be regarded as a ‘concession’ to human ‘infirmity’: it is better to be married than to commit adultery (this understanding is based on a wrong interpretation of 1 Cor.7:2-9). Some early Christian sectarian movements (such as Montanism and Manicheanism) held the view that sexuality in general is something that is unclean and evil, while virginity is the only proper state for Christians. The Orthodox tradition opposed this distortion of Christian asceticism and morality very strongly.

In the Orthodox Church, there is no understanding of sexual union as something unclean or unholy. This becomes clear when one reads the following prayers from the Orthodox rite of Marriage: ‘Bless their marriage, and vouchsafe unto these Thy servants… chastity, mutual love in the bond of peace… Preserve their bed unassailed… Cause their marriage to be honorable. Preserve their bed blameless. Mercifully grant that they may live together in purity…’ Sexual life is therefore considered compatible with ‘purity’ and ‘chastity’, the latter being, of course, not an abstinence from intercourse but rather a sexual life that is liberated from what became its characteristic after the fall of Adam. As Paul Evdokimov says, ‘in harmonious unions… sexuality undergoes a progressive spiritualization in order to reach conjugal chastity’. The mutual love of man and woman in marriage becomes less and less dependent on sexual life and develops into a deep unity and union which integrates the whole of the human person: the two must become not only ‘one flesh’, but also one soul and one spirit. In Christian marriage, it is not selfish ‘pleasure’ or search for ‘fun’ which is the main driving force: it is rather a quest for mutual sacrifice, for readiness to take the partner’s cross as one’s own, to share one’s whole life with one’s partner. The ultimate goal of marriage is the same as that of every other sacrament, deification of the human nature and union with Christ. This becomes possible only when marriage itself is transfigured and deified.

In marriage, the human person is transfigured; he overcomes his loneliness and egocentricism; his personality is completed and perfected. In this light Fr Alexander Elchaninov, a notable contemporary Orthodox priest and theologian, describes marriage in terms of ‘initiation’ and ‘mystery’, in which ‘a full transformation of the human person’ takes place, ‘the enlargement of his personality, new eyes, new perception of life, birth into the world, by means of it, in new fullness’. In the marital union of two individuals there is both the completion of their personalities and the appearance of the fruit of their love, a child, who makes their dyad into a triad: ‘…An integral knowledge of another person is possible in marriage, a miracle of sensation, intimacy, of the vision of another person… Before marriage, the human person glides above life, seeing it from outside. Only in marriage is he fully immersed into it, and enters it through another person. This enjoyment of true knowledge and true life gives us that feeling of complete fulness and satisfaction which renders us richer and wiser. And this fulness is even deepened when out of the two of us, united and reconciled, a third appears, our child’.

Christ is the One Who is present at every Christian marriage and Who conducts the marriage ceremony in the Church: the priest’s role is not even to represent, but rather to present Christ and to reveal His presence, as it is also in other sacraments. The story of the wedding in Cana of Galilee is read at the Christian wedding ceremony in order to show that marriage is the miracle of the transformation of water into wine, that is, of daily routine into an unceasing and everyday feast, a perpetual celebration of the love of one person for the other.

Source:  Metropolitan Hilarion, ‘Orthodox Marriage & Its Misunderstanding’, http://www.pravmir.com/orthodox-marriage-its-misunderstanding/ , posted 31 July 2015, accessed 21 Aug. 2015

The second truth is what we have mentioned above only briefly, that a man or woman may become fully human (and then Divine-human) through the single life lived in the Orthodox monastic way.  Again we turn to Prof Mantzarides:

With the development of monasticism in the Church there appeared a peculiar way of life, which however did not proclaim a new morality. The Church does not have one set of moral rules for the laity and another for monks, nor does it divide the faithful into classes according to their obligations towards God. The Christian life is the same for everyone. All Christians have in common that "their being and name is from Christ". This means that the true Christian must ground his life and conduct in Christ, something which is hard to achieve in the world.

What is difficult in the world is approached with dedication in the monastic life. In his spiritual life the monk simply tries to do what every Christian should try to do: to live according to God's commandments. The fundamental principles of monasticism are not different from those of the lives of all the faithful. This is especially apparent in the history of the early Church, before monasticism appeared.

In the tradition of the Church there is a clear preference for celibacy as opposed to the married state. This stance is not of course hostile to marriage, which is recognized as a profound mystery, but simply indicates the practical obstacles marriage puts in the way of the pursuit of the spiritual life. For this reason, from the earliest days of Christianity many of the faithful chose celibacy. Thus Athenagoras the Confessor in the second century wrote: "You can find many men and women who remain unmarried all their lives in the hope of coming closer to God".

 . . .

Monks are the "guardians". They choose to constrain their bodily needs in order to attain the spiritual freedom offered by Christ. They tie themselves down in death's realm in order to experience more intensely the hope of the life to come. They reconcile themselves with space, where man is worn down and annihilated, feel it as their body, transform it into the Church and orientate it towards the kingdom of God.

The monk's journey to perfection is gradual and is connected with successive renunciations, which can be summarised in three. The first renunciation involves completely abandoning the world. This is not limited to things, but includes people and parents. The second is renunciation of the individual will, and the third is freedom from pride, which is identified with liberation from the sway of the world.

These successive renunciations have a positive, not a negative meaning. They permit a man to fully open up and be perfected "in the image and likeness" of God. When man is freed from the world and from himself, he expands without limits. He becomes a true person, which "encloses" within himself the whole of humanity as Christ himself does. That is why, on the moral plane, the Christian is called upon to love all human beings, even his enemies. Then God Himself comes and dwells within him, and the man arrives to the fullness of his theanthropic being. Here we can see the greatness of the human person, and can understand the superhuman struggles needed for his perfection.

The life of monasticism is the life of perpetual spiritual ascent. While the world goes on its earthbound way, and the faithful with their obligations and distractions of the world try to stay within the institutional limits of the church tradition, monasticism goes the other direction and soars. It rejects any kind of compromise and seeks the absolute. It launches itself from this world and heads for the kingdom of God. This is in essence the goal of the Church itself.

 . . .

A man we know once had a conversation with a kithman of his.  The friend asked, ‘Are you married yet?’  ‘No sir,’ said the man.  ‘You better get that way,’ the friend answered him.  This is the Southern mindset toward man and marriage in short:  Þæt (That) it is best for a man or woman to marry instead of staying single. 

Now, it is perfectly fine to marry - indeed, a wonderful blessing for man and woman - as we have tried to show above, but how much better would it be for Dixie and all Western leods (peoples) if the monastic vocation were once more encouraged for those men and women who yearn to be wedded to Christ alone but have no guidance for how to live such a life; to have their ensamples of striving for holy living and their prayers for the Souð and for the whole world?

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