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Two or Three Blessed Paths: Marriage, Monasticism, and A Third Option?

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#1 Seraphim of the Midwest

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Posted 13 February 2015 - 12:37 AM

It has come to my attention that some people claiming to be practitioners of the Orthodox Faith imply or assert that there is in fact a third blessed path in Orthodox Christianity: that of the lifelong bachelor/spinster.  

 

As is commonly communicated in Patristic writings, summaries of the Faith (like The Law of God, Archpriest Seraphim Slobodsky), and through catechesis, there are two paths in life that the Church blesses: marriage and monastic tonsure.

 

And example of this is reflected in Fathers: "There are two forms of life and states of life.  One is the usual life for mankind, married life; the other is the angelic and Apostolic life of which there is no higher, virginity or the monastic state." (St. Athanasius, quoted from The Law of God)

 

Apparently, the third path is autonomous (not following within the authority structures of either a marriage or a monastery), career oriented (so presumably omitting the disabled or those who never reach emotional maturity), and critically concerned about worldly concerns (such as fair labor laws).

 

Of course, claims could be made such as "there are countless examples" of such persons in perishes.  If such a claim were to hold any weight, then we would conclude that all kinds of practices are Orthodox: attending Liturgies once or twice per year (Pacha and the Nativity), Halloween parties, bingo, and organs in the choir loft.  But those are not traditional nor patristic.

 

Can anyone provide Patristic evidence to back up such a claim that there is a third blessed path in the Orthodox Church apart from marriage or monasticism?



#2 Deacon John Martin

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Posted 13 February 2015 - 04:01 AM

In a very literal sense, the Church indeed blesses marriage and monasticism through specific ceremonies. Some Fathers even count monastic tonsure as a sacrament! Obviously, there is something special about being married or being a monastic, a sacramental bond which is not present in single people living in the world.

 

On the other hand, people are not easily fit into a specific mold, and making a Patristic dictum into an ideology would be inadvisable, especially for pastoral reasons. It would be highly irresponsible for a priest to pressure all the single people in his parish to either get married or enter a monastery. Why? Because we are not merely checking something off on our list or changing a status on Facebook. We are considering marriage with a specific person, we are considering becoming a monk in a specific monastery. Especially in this part of the Orthodox world, where there are few Orthodox Christians, it is difficult to find someone who will be a fit partner in life, or the right monastery.

 

We can theorize about the proper path in life, but when we talk about specific people, who are unique and has their own quirks, personality, etc. broad pronouncements are not necessarily helpful. In the end, what is important for one’s salvation is not being married or being a monastic or being single, but living the spiritual life and following the commandments of Christ given the circumstances that one is in.


Edited by John Martin, 13 February 2015 - 04:02 AM.


#3 Deacon John Martin

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Posted 13 February 2015 - 04:21 AM

At any rate, there still are only two paths available for an Orthodox Christian: marriage or life as a chaste single person. The question then becomes whether all single people need to become monastics. If the Church indeed mandated only marriage or monasticism, one or the other would be mandatory. But as they are contracted out of free will, there are many single people in the world.



#4 Seraphim of the Midwest

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Posted 13 February 2015 - 05:21 AM

Good input... certainly incomplete.  The question was worded very specifically for a reason, because while economy can be applied through the authority instilled in the bishops, individuals can receive a blessing to live in such a way.  The question was is there a third blessed path?  And I specifically requested Patristic support.
 
I noticed that in the comments #2 and #3, living the Angelic/Apostolic life was effectively reduced to living life as a "chaste single person."  However, a single person who is chaste does not submit themselves to the rigor and structure required of a monastic.
 
So then, why stop there?  By the same reasoning, marriage could then be expanded to include "matrimonial polyamory" (either simultaneous or serial polygyny/polyandry, or group marriage), homosexual "marriage"... or to take it one step further, marrying one's self (or one's clone, which technically would be marrying one's single parent), marrying animals, and marrying inanimate objects.  After all, why would they need to conform to the rigor and structure required in a marriage?

 
Perhaps there is a language barrier with the word "bless".  According to the Oxford English Dictionary, these are the definitions of bless that would appear to apply:

  • To make sacred, consecrate, hallow
  • To consecrate (a person) to a sacred office
  • To hold or call holy; to extol as holy, divine, gracious.

So, it appears from the explanation that you gave, except where the bishops of the Church extend a blessing (through economia), a third path is not blessed in Patristic/Traditional Orthodoxy.  And just for the record, these lifestyles would not either:

  • cohabitation
  • harlotry
  • (divorce?)
  • living a life of self-will
  • being an actress

Did I understand the answer correctly, that there is indeed not a third blessed path in Orthodoxy?  

 

Or, if there indeed is a third blessed path based on economia for chaste singles, then there is a fourth blessed path for chaste polygamists and polyandrists also through economia (and perhaps a fifth, sixth, ...)?



#5 Kosta

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Posted 13 February 2015 - 07:56 AM

I know most monastics cringe at the thought of a celibate priest living in the world. Such men should be hieromonks.

The problem with this " third option" of being a bachelor is by its very meaning , that you are a serial dater, one hook up after another. A monk struggles against the passions of the flesh, the celibate gives into them.

#6 Olga

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Posted 13 February 2015 - 08:03 AM

Someone who gives in to sexual urges could hardly be called celibate.



#7 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 13 February 2015 - 08:49 AM

Christ and St Paul commended the single life. Is there any Church canon against being single?



#8 Deacon John Martin

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Posted 13 February 2015 - 11:03 AM

I’m not sure why there needs to be economia in this case, because there is no canon stating that people need to be married or become monastics. In the Letter to Amun that you indirectly cited, St. Athanasius does not specifically mention monasticism (as in being tonsured, living in a monastery) but virginity. Your mention of polyamory confuses me, because the Church only allows for marriage between one man and one woman. Either you are married or you are not. And if you are not, you need to be chaste.

 

As for the definition of “bless” there is what is directly hallowed/consecrated, and what is allowed. Being single (and chaste) is certainly allowed in the Church.



#9 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 13 February 2015 - 12:20 PM

The Church certainly has saints who were unmarried and not monastics and lived in the world.



#10 Phoebe K.

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Posted 13 February 2015 - 01:07 PM

Serephem, I fell that you are splinting hairs, the Church blesses two forms of  life, the married and the chased single, many single people who have chosen this to dedicate their lives to God have found it most helpful to do this in a community which is how monastery's formed origonly.

 

I know a number of young people who are currently single but peppering for mirage, and they live in celibacy while seeking a partner and betrothed.  I also know widowed and single priests who have chosen not to become monastics, but live in a chatite life in the world, serving a parish and working in chaplaincy work with the most vonrable of society.

 

I also know of young people who are not called to mirage and are yet find a monastery where they are comfortable, they live a celibate life in the world much as many early Christians did before there were monasteries.

 

There are two forms of christian life Mirage and single, it is just that there are a number of facets to the single life, including monastic, widows, young singles who are yet to chose their path and other who have found themselves single for many reasons.



#11 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 13 February 2015 - 02:02 PM

St Theophan the Recluse is quite clear about this: living in the world as a single person is one way to lead a life in Christ: there is no obligation whatever to go to a monastery. The saint himself blessed this for at least one of his spiritual children. He writes that such a way existed in the early Church and has continued as a way to live until our own times - see The Spiritual Life chapters 73 and 74. (Such a person was St Matrona of Moscow (+1952)). I enquired and was told that in Russia there is no custom of 'marriage or monastery'.



#12 Seraphim of the Midwest

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Posted 13 February 2015 - 02:45 PM

And the spiritual child was a dentist I take it.  Or was that St Matrona?


 

The Church certainly has saints who were unmarried and not monastics and lived in the world.

 
The Church has also had polygamist saints.  I am not sure what your statement proves about blessing more than two paths.


Edited by Seraphim of the Midwest, 13 February 2015 - 02:47 PM.


#13 Deacon John Martin

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Posted 13 February 2015 - 03:07 PM

St. Nicholas Cabasilas was also unmarried for a long period of time, although according to some scholars he became a hieromonk later in life.

 

Let’s keep polygamy out of the discussion, and focus on the Letter to Amun which I referred to above. In the letter, St. Athanasius is writing to a monk who is worried that certain bodily emissions make him “unclean.” St. Athanasius reassures him, that this is not the case, since "not that which goeth in defileth a man, but that which goeth out” (Matt. 15:11). Then he goes on to the issue of marriage and virginity. Apparently, some people justify fornication on natural grounds, since intercourse is of course something which is natural. St. Athanasius rebuts this claim by saying that there are proper and improper uses for nature, and that sex outside of marriage is improper. Thus, a pious Orthodox Christian can either choose to be married, or choose to be celibate. He cannot be unmarried and sexually active. To extrapolate from this to say that all people in the Church should either be married or monastics would be reading too much into the text.


Edited by John Martin, 13 February 2015 - 03:14 PM.


#14 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 13 February 2015 - 08:21 PM

And the spiritual child was a dentist I take it.

 

There is no place here for sarcasm. The identity of the woman is not known.

 

Or was that St Matrona?

 

Of course not: she was only 13 when St Theophan died.

 

I am not sure what your statement proves about blessing more than two paths.

 

It is obvious: the Church does not limit ways of life to marriage or monasticism. St Barsanuphius of Optina gave similar advice to that of St Theophan.



#15 Olga

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Posted 13 February 2015 - 09:39 PM

The Church also has the examples of many saints, male and female, who remained single and chaste, but never entered monastic life. St Matrona of Moscow was by no means the only one. This insistence that only marriage or monasticism are the proper Orthodox ways of life simply flies in the face of Orthodox tradition.



#16 Seraphim of the Midwest

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Posted 13 February 2015 - 11:54 PM

focus on the Letter to Amun which I referred to above... he goes on to the issue of marriage and virginity... He cannot be unmarried and sexually active. To extrapolate from this to say that all people in the Church should either be married or monastics would be reading too much into the text.

No, I don't think looking at marriage and monasticism are the only paths that are blessed is "extrapolating" at all.

The Fathers over and over refer to virginity in the context of the Angels.  The Angels are disciplined, forming a hierarchy.  They come and go in obedience.  They pray continually.  This is the model of virginity that the Fathers and the Church speak about.  Spinsters and lifelong bachelors do not fit that model.
 
In the process of this discussion, these terms are so blurred and obfuscated that things are being read into what I have written.  Nowhere have I suggested that sex outside of marriage is acceptable on any level.
 
It seems quite clear that to assert that spinsterhood and bachelorhood are paths blessed by the Church is an extrapolation.
 

Let’s keep polygamy out of the discussion

I don't see why.  It is both scriptural, historical, and on queue to be an issue of the day, following closely behind other related issues.  As long as we are extrapolating, why only extrapolate just on the angelic life?



#17 Seraphim of the Midwest

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Posted 13 February 2015 - 11:59 PM

The Church also has the examples of many saints, male and female, who remained single and chaste, but never entered monastic life. St Matrona of Moscow was by no means the only one. This insistence that only marriage or monasticism are the proper Orthodox ways of life simply flies in the face of Orthodox tradition.

I already addressed this argument in the OP.

 

If the notion that marriage and monasticism are not the only two paths blessed by the Church, then please provide evidence.  It seems to me that living as a spinster or a lifelong bachelor are a concession for people who are unwilling to follow one of the recognized paths, which require discipline, self-sacrifice, and accountability.  Living a career oriented life accountable to one's self does not fit the Patristic model any more than Halloween celebrations do.



#18 Seraphim of the Midwest

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Posted 14 February 2015 - 12:03 AM

St Theophan the Recluse is quite clear about this: living in the world as a single person is one way to lead a life in Christ: there is no obligation whatever to go to a monastery. The saint himself blessed this for at least one of his spiritual children. He writes that such a way existed in the early Church and has continued as a way to live until our own times - see The Spiritual Life chapters 73 and 74. (Such a person was St Matrona of Moscow (+1952)). I enquired and was told that in Russia there is no custom of 'marriage or monastery'.

Thank you Reader Andreas for actually providing a citation.  It will take some time for me to get the book, so I can comment after I read it.



#19 Olga

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Posted 14 February 2015 - 12:12 AM

If the notion that marriage and monasticism are not the only two paths blessed by the Church, then please provide evidence.

 

The evidence is in the multitude of Orthodox men and women who lived unmarried, chaste lives, without entering a monastery, whom the Church has declared to be saints. Surely the glorification of someone as a saint is the highest blessing the Church can bestow.



#20 Seraphim of the Midwest

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Posted 14 February 2015 - 01:18 AM

The evidence is in the multitude of Orthodox men and women who lived unmarried, chaste lives, without entering a monastery, whom the Church has declared to be saints. Surely the glorification of someone as a saint is the highest blessing the Church can bestow.

The Church has also glorified murderers and prostitutes.  Not everything a saint does is blessed.

 

Doubtless, the argument would then be made "but the saints repented of such actions."  To which, I would reply that prostitutes are not virgins, so they obviously don't fit the bill.  And the Church doesn't go around blessing the life of prostitutes even if some of them will repent.

 

But even if that argument could successfully be made (and I am pretty sure it can't), then explain saints who were polygamists their whole lives.  Because as far as I can tell, that is not blessed either, and was not from the beginning according to Christ himself.






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