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Are we where God wants us?

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#1 Guest_Basil Shannon

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Posted 22 July 2005 - 04:07 PM

I have a friend who always expressed a strong, maybe even a burning, desire for the monastic life; however, in the course of his life over the past 10 years he, by his own admission, buried these thoughts and married and now has children. Recently, he told me that, although he loves his family, he thinks he was disobedient to that calling and married out of fear of lonliness and a weak submission to physical passion. He asked me if I thought he was where God wanted him. He has been blessed with a wife and three children, but he still yearns for the angelic life. I told him my impression was that he made choices and now must struggle where he is, as he must care for his family. He said he has every intention of fulfilling his obligation to his family, but I can tell he's sorrowful about the path his life has taken him.

God knows all the choices we will make, but is it still possible to be disobedient, and therefore, not where God really would like us to be? What advice could be given to my friend? What if someone is called to the priesthood, but does something different. Does this mean they were never really called to the priesthood, or they would have become one? How do we know we are on the correct path? Can we know this? Is there a correct path, or just a correct way of living wherever we may be?


#2 Kosmas Damianides

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Posted 23 July 2005 - 05:38 AM

The Parable of the Talents

"For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them; and he made five talents more. So also, he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug in the ground and hid his master's money. Now after a long time the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me five talents; here I have made five talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.' And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, 'Master, you delivered to me two talents; here I have made two talents more.' His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.' He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not winnow; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' But his master answered him, 'You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sowed, and gather where I have not winnowed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness; there men will weep and gnash their teeth.'

I hope your friend has invested his talents well where he is now. God has given us free choice. It is therefore up to us to discern what God wants from us.

In Christ


#3 Fr Aaron Warwick

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Posted 23 July 2005 - 06:53 PM

I am not among the clergy, nor do I claim to be a spiritual father or guide. Nonetheless, I had monastic inclinations (and still do), and am a married man with one child.

If your friend is like me, he mostly feels like he should have been a monastic when things aren't going his way in his marriage. In other words, when my wife and I have different opinions or desires and we end up arguing about them, the monastery seems pretty appealing. On deeper examination, of course, this is shown to be another case of trying to run away from my own passions rather than allowing them to be healed.

A monastery and a marriage are really not all that different for those who desire to lead godly and righteous lives. Sure, it's easier for the monks to pray and to have peace and quiet. Sure, a monastery is more conducive to spritual growth; but, two married people may also find much benefit for their souls if they live appropriately. Marriage, just like monasticism, is about learning to die to your own will, to be obedient. When our wives want us to do something that we don't want to do, the wrong, yet easy, solution is to run away. Whether we run to a monastery or run off to another woman is nearly irrelevant. The former could easily be a wolf in sheep's clothing while the latter is clearly wrong. It is the running away from our problems that is entirely wrong in each scenario.

I would talk to your friend and see if his experience is similar to mine. When he comes home from work and the kids greet him at the door, does he wish he was at the monastery? When he and his wife get a babysitter and go enjoy a beautiful night together, is he wishing he was at the monastery? Or is it only when things aren't going well that he wishes he were at the monastery?

Again, a monastery and a pious family are not all that different. We are all called to live out the gospel message in whatever situation we find ourselves. If we are slaves, let us not seek freedom. If we are free men, let us not seek to be slaves is what St. Paul said. All we need to do is open up our eyes and see that every second of every day, whether lay or monastic, God gives us the opportunity to serve Him and draw nearer.



#4 Fr Aaron Warwick

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Posted 23 July 2005 - 06:55 PM

I should also note that it is perfectly Orthodox for a husband and wife to end their lives in separate monasteries, or for someone to join a monastery after being widowed. These are entirely different scenarios than running away from a wife and children, or from running away from our own passions. In these cases, we are not running away 'from' something, but running 'to' Christ.


#5 Matthew Panchisin

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Posted 23 July 2005 - 09:42 PM

Dear Basil,

Here are some words from Fr. John Chryssavgis Professor of theology in Holy Cross School of theology during the Conference on orthodox youth.

I posted everything in context, it seemed better that way to me, Part 4.- Monasticism and Marriage.

Orthodox Theological Perspectives for a New Millennium
1.- Love - Divine and Human. Preliminary remarks

Love, marriage, and sexuality concern everyone, because love is a vocation for everyone. As Christians, we believe that the entire creation was made through love. The source and end of all things is love, because the source and end of all things is God, and "God is love" (1 John 4 : 8, 16). St. John Chrysostom describes the all-embracing love of the incarnate God in a homily on the Gospel of Matthew :
"I am a father for you [says Christ) and a brother, a bridegroom and a home, a nurse and a dressing, a root and a cornerstone. Whatever you want, I am for you. My desire is that you have no need whatsoever. I shall serve you ; for I came not to be served, but to serve. I am a friend and a member and a head, a brother and a sister and a mother. I am everything for you. Just stay in communion with me. I have been poor for you and a wanderer for you, on the cross and in the tomb for you."

Even evil depends on love. According to the optimism of some Church Fathers, no one commits an act of evil unless they believe that something they love will result. Therefore, love is divine in origin and sacred in nature. From a human perspective, there is no singular way of understanding the concept of love. It conveys a host of meanings and moods : from "making love" which may imply a loveless physical act, to the profound commitment of an elderly couple ; from selfish motives, to selfless giving ; from the softness of a child holding its parents' hands, to the intimacy of two friends holding hands.
Human beings are made to love and to look at one another. The experience of love is heaven and life ; the absence of love is hell and death. St. Macarius of Egypt believed that hell resembles being bound, back to back with another person, unable for all eternity to face that person. Love shatters the chains of loneliness ; it tears down the walls of selfishness. Love is a profound strength, a spiritual energy. We are never more powerful than when through love we are vulnerable. Love casts out fear ; it is stronger than death. To say to someone : "I love you!" is to make a metaphysical statement ; it is like saying : "You will never die !"

Appreciating this intensity of love, the Church Fathers dare to compare it with eros or passion. Dionysius the Areopagite describes God as a "manic lover" who is zealously protective of His creation. Love is so powerful, that one genuine expression of love reveals an openness that transfigures the whole world. To gaze into another person's eyes with love is to see the soul of the entire world, it is to see the very image of God.

This kind of love is a gift from God. Yet at the same tune, it requires cultivation and hard work. Love takes time and skill, responsibility and respect. it is an act of extending myself to nurture another, all the time. On the evening of life, we will be judged only on love. This love is more than mere feelings. It is decision and commitment. If you want to love, you must create it and not wait for your spouse to offer it. In love and marriage, God provides us with a wonderful opportunity of being reborn, of maturing. "This is indeed a great mystery" (Eph. 5 : 32). Life is the great mystery - to be lived, and lived in abundance. And if we work on love, if we cultivate love, if we let down our guard of mistrust, if we struggle to relate, then we shall gradually notice that the whole world changes and that the whole world is beautiful. In reality, of course, it is we who shall have changed ; it is we who see the same things with different eyes.

2.- Physicality and Spirituality

Christian authors have from the earliest of times been uncomfortable with physical or sexual love. Somehow, physical love is considered a debased form of love. Certain authors affirm that celibacy is superior to love in marriage ; others propose that the sole purpose of physical love is procreation. Physicality or sexuality have been tainted, regarded as impure. They are seen as contaminating and shaming ; people are riddled with fear and guilt. Sexuality is viewed as an expression that connects us to the lower forms of life, identified with lustful desires and animal instincts.

The figure and theology of St. Augustine has set the pattern for Western thinking on this subject to this day. As a result, people suffer from an in-built schizophrenia in this most intimate and personal aspect of life. For Augustine, sexuality is the result of our fall, Eve is the result of Adam's defection from God ; woman is not created in God's image, but as man's instrument.
Yet St Paul made it clear that in becoming one flesh (cf. 1Cor. 6 : 16), man and woman symbolize the union between Christ and the Church. In any case, Christ never identified sin with the body, but with what is committed in the heart (cf. Matt. 15 : 18-19). For Christians, "the flesh is the hinge of salvation" (Tertullian). How unfortunate, then, it is that Christianity - as the religion of the body and the flesh, as the religion of incarnation has left a permanent scar on the human body.
It is not a matter of coming to terms with the body or with sexuality. Rather, it is a matter of recognizing these as crucially bound to the deepest aspects of human nature. Sexuality is not accidental ; rather, it is essential to our reality. Sexual and physical love belong to the mystery of our being. This is, not to say that sexuality and spirituality are one and the same. However, there is an intimate correspondence between the two. The denial of one is reflected in the degradation of the other. Without sexuality, there is no beauty ; without beauty, there is no soul ; and without soul, there is no God. "Male and female [God] created [us]" (Gen. 1 : 26). So we are told immediately after the creation of Adam and Eve in the image and likeness of God. For the Eastern Fathers, without Eve, Adam was incomplete. "Woman is made in full communion with man : sharing every pleasure, every joy, every good, every sorrow, every pain" (St. Basil the Great), "sharing divine grace itself" (Clement of Alexandria) Writing in exactly the same period as Augustine of Hippo, St. John Chrysostom claims that "sexual love is not human ; it is divine in origin."

3.- Icon or Idol

Now it is difficult for a person to become aware of sexuality (of his or her body) without becoming aware of the sexuality (of the bodies) of other people. And so in physical love, in the union of marriage, man and woman offer one another to the image of God in the other person. This is not unlike the encounter that occurs in the event of an icon. There is an art involved in iconography. Similarly, there is an art involved in love. Love is not simply an act ; it is art. The purpose of the art of love - as also in iconography - is to transfigure one other, to see each other as the manifestation of the divine Beloved. If there is a place for icons in the Church, then there is also a place for marriage and sexual love.
The body and sexual love resemble an icon that opens up to divine beauty and divine love : "Blessed is the person who has obtained such love and yearning for God as a mad lover has for his beloved generating fire by fire, eros by eros, passion by passion, desire by desire" (St. John Climacus).
To see another person as an icon is to see the world through the eyes of God. It is to abolish the distance between this world and the next ; it is to speak on this earth and in this age the language of heaven and of the age to come, it is to reveal the sacramental dimension of love. According to an apocryphal saying of Jesus : "The kingdom of heaven is made manifest when two people love."
The icon teaches us another means of communication, beyond the written and the spoken word. We are taught not to look at icons, but to look through them. By the same token, we are called to penetrate the surface of the person we love and to reveal the sacred depth within.
In fact, the matter of procreation directly relates to this notion of icon. Unless marital love opens the couple up beyond themselves, unless the relationship of the two in marriage reflects the communion of the Trinity, unless the love of the couple extends them in one way or another, then marital love is reduced from a sacred icon to a mere idol. The loving couple is at all times called to move beyond a reflection of one another; a mirror is not an icon, but a reflection of oneself. The couple is called to become an icon of the Church, a "miniature church." For St. John Chrysostom, "marriage is a mystical icon of the Church." The dimensions of the Church reveal the dimensions of the married couple. As "we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church," so the couple ought to reflect the same unity, holiness, openness, and apostolicity. This is important because the Church refuses to idealize or romanticize the married life and the family. Therefore, the couple must beget "offspring ;" their love must "bear fruit." The paradox is that the couple must have children, even if they cannot bear children.

4.- Monasticism and Marriage

Some of the Church Fathers interpreted the letters of St. Paul, as implying that monasticism is superior to marriage (cf. 1 Cor. 7 : 8-9). Yet, "if virginity is honored, it does not follow that marriage is dishonored" (Gregory the Theologian). St. Macarius of Egypt exclaims : "In truth, there is neither virgin nor married person, neither monk nor secular ; but God gives His Holy Spirit to all, according to the intentions of each."
The Syriac version of the very same text reads as follows : "Truly, virginity by itself is nothing, nor marriage, nor life as a monk, nor life in the world..."
Inward purity is always possible, irrespective of the outward circumstances. Symeon the New Theologian is adamant about this : "Many regard the monastic way as the most blessed way. For my part, however, I would not set any way above the others ; nor would I praise one and depreciate another. But in every situation, it is the life lived for God and according to God that is entirely blessed."
As we have seen, in a loving relationship, the other person becomes the center of attraction. The goal is always movement outside and beyond oneself. The perspective is always the kingdom of heaven. Monastics have traditionally understood this truth to the same degree as married couples. Thus ascetic writers teach us that love is never satisfied ; it is only fulfilled. Love is not an act of satisfaction, but of total giving. Sexual love is for the glory of God, not for the selfish gratification of man.
Genuine love cannot ultimately be achieved without chastity. In the "Ladder of Divine Ascent," St. John Climacus places purity (step 29) immediately before love (step 30). Monasticism, then, is not abstention from sexual love. It is another manifestation of this love. Monasticism can never be an extinction or diminution of the most vital human response to life. There is an element of asceticism in marriage, a refinement to love ; just as there is a dimension of love in monasticism, a passion for God. In the monastic tradition, passions are dealt with differently ; they are overcome by greater passions. One single, vivid experience of passionate love will advance us much further in the spiritual life than the most arduous ascetic struggle. One single flame of pure love is sufficient to spark a cosmic fire and transform the whole world.
Love is neither a physical nor a material issue. It is not primarily a sexual concern. It is a spiritual concern. It should not be feared like a taboo, but received as a sacred mystery ; it should never be concealed as a secret, but revealed as a sacrament.
Monasticism, like marriage, is a sacrament of love. Monasticism, like marriage, is a sacrament of the kingdom. The true dimension of both is eschatological. Thus love is greater than prayer itself ; indeed, it is prayer. For, love is what defines human nature. Both monastics and married couples must continually struggle to be what they are called to be - enraptured by the living flame of divine love. As we have already observed, love is a gift from above as well as something to strive for ; it is a starting-point, as well as an ending-point. The alpha and omega of life are the first and last letters of the Greek word "I love" (agapè). This is true of a monk or a nun, as it is of a husband and a wife.

5.- The Sacrament of Marriage

Every sacrament is a transcendence of division and alienation. In the case of marriage, each person must become conscious of the divine presence in the other. Both husband and wife must pierce the curtain of distance and falsehood. When this occurs, the marital union is stronger than death, not able to be "put asunder by anyone." In this relationship, the male is never exclusively the active pole, and the female is never exclusively the passive pole. The basis in any sacramental relationship is that man and woman are complementary : there is a mutuality of giving and receiving, a meeting of reciprocity. Neither must look upon the other as a means toward an end, no matter how exalted or spiritual. Neither must use the relationship for any purpose in which the other is not fully and personally involved as an active and cooperating partner and participant.
This means that partners should not seek fulfillment in, or dependence on, each other. I cannot hold my spouse responsible for my emptiness. At all times, I need to discover the fulfillment of my emptiness in God : it is God who makes me know that I am loved ; it is God who empowers me to love another. Here, again, we encounter the "monasticism" of the marital relationship. Marriage is no magical solution to life's problems. How could any marriage stand up to such expectations ? Is it any wonder that marriages fail, when we are taught today that our partner is our "other half," when we are less than full persons in the sacrament ? Personal love implies full dignity and identity, no diminishing of the other ; there is neither any false idealization nor any disfigurement of the other. Wholeness and integrity is indispensable for a healthy marriage. And wholeness presupposes honesty, not niceness. Love is an act of faith as well as an act of faithfulness. It is always a temptation to lie, to deceive, to be less than truthful.
This means that if there is to be any intimacy in love, then there must exist the possibility of conflict. In marriages where there is no conflict, there usually is, or else, there may be no honesty. In society, and even in Church, we are taught to be nice. This is like learning to be dishonest. And so we smile when we are sad or angry ; we say things we do not mean. Yet whatever is not talked about openly remains unresolved and becomes damaging in the lives of our children. We need to be honest about our failures, open about our emptiness. They are an invaluable part of our relationships. This is why marriage is as much about separation as it is about union ; it is as much about detachment as it is about attachment. A poem entitled "Marriage" by Kahlil Gibran underlines this paradox of separate-ness and close-ness in love.
"You were born together, and together you shall be for ever-more.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness.
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
Love one another, but make not a bond of love.
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other's cup, but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread, but eat not from the same loaf.
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone.
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.
Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.
For only the band of life can contain your hearts.
And stand together, yet not too near together.
For the pillars of the temples stand apart.
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow."

6.- Sexuality and Sacramentality. Conclusion

In order to become a complete sacramental union, the love between man and woman must embrace all aspects of their life - every level and capacity of their being. This includes the physical, the spiritual, the emotional, and the intellectual aspects of human nature. If this does not occur, the relationship remains unconsummated and unfulfilled it is both unsacred and unsacramental ; it becomes both crippling and frustrating.
This offers us an insight into how few marriages - even those blessed by the Church - are in fact sacramental. It also indicates the connection between marriage and deification, toward which we are all called. This would be my definition of "sexuality :" true completion and consummation on every level - as rare an achievement as theosis itself, although as noble also a task and vocation.
If one partner develops (on any one level) beyond or out of rhythm with the other, this unconsummated or unmet (unmated) level, this uncomplemented or unfulfilled part will always tend toward and seek expression in some other form ; it will be unable to function properly and fully within the marriage.
If integrity and totality are critical conditions for a sacramental relationship, so too finally are continuity and commitment. The capacity to transform one another demands dedication and patience, until the sharp ends of the hardened rocks in the relationship are smoothed out, until a magnetic field is built up on every level. Then level alter level unfolds, and interacts, and releases its potentialities, which are no less than divine. In this context, fidelity in the relationship is a reflection of God's own loving-kindness and longsuffering nature.
In the final analysis, neither husband nor wife appropriates what the other offers. On the contrary, each offers it back - together with his or her self - to the source of all life, to God, whom each of us comes to see and encounter and love on the other, just as we do in the Divine Liturgy. Man and woman become the bread and wine of the Eucharist. Then sacramental love becomes blessing, conferred by the Creator on two creatures who have turn the same course of their life through whatever obstacles and joys it may have led them. Thus shall they enter at last, transfigured, into the Kingdom of God, to whom is due all thanks.

#6 Kosmas Damianides

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Posted 24 July 2005 - 06:31 AM

What you have all said is true and very enlightening. Thank you Aaron, i am currently in a situation where I am thinking about the monastic life and have often viewed this as no different to being married. Both ways of life are hard, both have their sacrifices and responsabilities yet both also have their joys and benefits. Both are fulfilling.

In Christ


#7 Guest_Basil

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Posted 25 July 2005 - 03:49 PM

Thanks for the thoughtful responses.


It's my understanding that my friend's desire for monasticism is not tied to his marital satisfaction. He expresses love for both his wife and children, yet says in the midst of all the joys of children and marriage he still feels somewhat detached, desiring the monastic life. He says he was always a very solitary creature, and longs for a life of silence and solitary struggle against sin. He has suggested living more ascetic life with his wife, but she is a young convert and is not ready to make the lifesyle changes he would like, such as giving up TV, internet, aspirations for a larger home, etc. So, there may be some disatisfaction that he is not able to live the way he would like with his family, but I don't know what to advise him of in that regard.

One suggestion I offered was that by staying with his family, against his desires, he is provided with an opportunity to deny himself. Marriage is a martrydom also, so to embrace it can be a great benefit as well.


#8 Guest_Petros L.

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Posted 30 July 2005 - 06:01 PM

He could still become a monk. If he out lives his wife and when his kids are older then he could go.

#9 Vasilis Kirikos

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Posted 31 July 2005 - 04:36 AM

> Mike Sekellick has fallen asleep in the Lord this past Monday July 25, 2005. He is survived by his wife, their three sons, his mother, one brother and one sister; and many, many, many friends of which I like to believe that I am one. True to his Orthodox Christian faith, Mike was placed in church after his falling asleep in the Lord, I know from at least Tuesday evening for the Service of the Dead (/Panikhidi/) to the day he was buried on Wednesday. The burial took place just over 48 hours after he passed from this life of sorrow and pain. And for many of us, after this loss, life has become more painful. May his memory be eternal.

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were: any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee....: if by this consideration of another's danger I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security. " John Donne (1572 - 1631) For Whom the Bell Tolls Memory eternal. Memory eternal. Memory eternal. Memory eternal...... Vasilis

#10 Fr Aaron Warwick

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Posted 31 July 2005 - 05:59 PM

Dear Basil:

You say that your friend's desire to monastic life is not tied to his marital satisfaction. Yet, from your later words, I find this difficult to believe since he seems to be dissatisfied that his wife does not want to live as ascetically as he wishes.

Again, my personal opinion, as a lay person and someone who is by no means a spiritual father, is that your friend, to some degree or another, feels this draw because he is dissatisfied with his marriage. I am assuming that his wife is a pious Christian and that she is not asking him to do anything sinful in and of itself. If this is the case, then I think that your friend has a wonderful opportunity to die to his own will.

My guess is also that your friend, like every human being I have known, is inclined to prefer his own opinions and desires, and probably struggles with these passions. In this regard, his marriage should provide him with an opportunity to kill his passions. According to the Unseen Warfare, to kill one's passions and evil tendencies is greater even than raising the dead.



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