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

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#41 Seraphim of the Midwest

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Posted 26 February 2015 - 05:36 PM

And based upon this principle, you deride “spinsters” and “lifelong bachelors.”
 
I know personally some older, pious unmarried women (“spinster” is a derogatory term) who for whatever reason did not become nuns. Is their way of life inherently perverse to you, because they don’t fit the Procrustean bed you have clobbered together and attributed to the Fathers? Nevertheless they are in good standing with the Church.
 
There is no canon against being unmarried. You have the burden of proof.

 
Have the burden of proof?  I simply asked for Patristic sources.
 
I addressed my use of the term "spinster" in my previous post.  I find it fascinating that there is such a strong push to circle the wagons and latch on to the applications to old women, as if my question didn't apply to men.  I think that reveals some underlying prejudices that are present implicitly in the discussion on the part of others.
 
I did thoroughly enjoy the use of "Procrustean bed" and "cobbled" as a very creative, visual, and visceral criticism :)



#42 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 26 February 2015 - 06:19 PM

I am not aware that 'spinster' is derogatory; it is the correct term for an unmarried woman of any age (and is used on an English marriage certificate). The word 'bachelor' is, according to the OED, properly applied to a single man of marriageable age (whatever that may mean). There is no single word for an older unmarried man, but 'bachelor' is popularly used to denote an unmarried man of any age.

 

As to the point at issue, patristic sources have been supplied and acknowledged.



#43 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 27 February 2015 - 07:43 AM

As an aside, 'spinster' derives from the tradition that a single woman would spend some of her time spinning cloth. In icons of the Annunciation, the Mother of God is sometimes depicted spinning cloth which could (though I have not seen this suggested) hint at her unmarried status as well as this: 'According to tradition, the Theotokos is spinning thread for the veil of the temple, a fabric that will be destroyed at the moment of Christ’s crucifixion. The Epistle to the Hebrews identifies the temple veil as a symbol of Christ’s flesh, and thus the activity of Mary’s hands symbolizes the work of her womb which weaves a body for God incarnate.' - from Feasts for the Eyes: The Iconography of the Great Feasts by Fr Maximos Constas.



#44 Olga

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Posted 27 February 2015 - 12:42 PM

As an aside, 'spinster' derives from the tradition that a single woman would spend some of her time spinning cloth. In icons of the Annunciation, the Mother of God is sometimes depicted spinning cloth which could (though I have not seen this suggested) hint at her unmarried status as well as this: 'According to tradition, the Theotokos is spinning thread for the veil of the temple, a fabric that will be destroyed at the moment of Christ’s crucifixion. The Epistle to the Hebrews identifies the temple veil as a symbol of Christ’s flesh, and thus the activity of Mary’s hands symbolizes the work of her womb which weaves a body for God incarnate.' - from Feasts for the Eyes: The Iconography of the Great Feasts by Fr Maximos Constas.

 

Adding to Andreas' post, I recall a tradition that the maidens in the temple were each given a spindle of yarn, each of them a different colour. The Mother of God was given the scarlet yarn, which was used to weave the temple curtain, as Andreas described. The spindle and yarn is indeed seen in a great many icons of the Annunciation, such as this one:

 

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The imagery of the yarn as symbolic of the Incarnation is also expressed in this Theotokion:

 

Pure Virgin, the flesh of Emmanuel was formed within your womb as a robe of royal crimson is spun from scarlet silk. We proclaim you to be truly the Mother of our God.



#45 Deacon John Martin

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Posted 01 March 2015 - 09:28 PM

I spoke to a hieromonk about this topic, and he said that while marriage and monasticism were the two common paths to salvation, single people in the world could also live God-pleasing lives. He clarified that the decision to remain unmarried was a matter of individual circumstances and with the blessing of a spiritual father.

 

Please forgive me for any offense I may have caused in this forum. Happy Lent!



#46 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 01 March 2015 - 09:54 PM

I think the hieromonk put it very well. No offence taken on my part. A blessed Lent to you too!



#47 Seraphim of the Midwest

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Posted 02 March 2015 - 10:26 PM

I received the book The Spiritual Life and How to be Attuned to it by St. Theophan the Recluse so I can now comment on the assertion regarding chapters 73 and 74.

 

The spinster/lifelong bachelor, as described in the original post, is typically very attached to worldly things and ways of the world, including autonomy and career (especially true of ones who are uppity about fair wage laws).  It does not fit what Theophan describes as a holy life.

 

Indeed, Theophan effectively describes one who lives as a monastic but just has not undergone tonsure as of yet.  He also describes the unmarried life as one of service, "giving themselves to the service of their brothers and sisters in hospitals, poor-houses, and hospices."  He writes about making your room as one of a monastic cell.

 

In any event, he clearly describes this way of life as "those who made up their minds to serve the Lord without being bound by everyday cares set up solitary cells for themselves within their homes and lived there, estranged from everything, fasting, praying and reading the Divine Scriptures" (p. 296. Sorry, no Oxford comma in the book).  They are also virgins and not just celibate for a time.

 

I reject the notion that virgin vs. celibate is splitting hairs at all.  Indeed, it is not the same thing.  St. Mary of Egypt is an example of one who repented and lived a celibate life and gained salvation without virginity.  However, I don't think anyone would argue that she didn't live as a monastic the remainder of her life, which she very much did.  She didn't become a dentist and argue for wage equality, for example.  All too often, I see/hear people equating such lifestyles.  They are not the same on any level.

 

So then, Theophan the Recluse appears very much to agree with the description in the original post as not being a third way.  That is, the one who is to remain unmarried effectively lives as a monastic.  I have yet to verify the other sources.



#48 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 02 March 2015 - 11:43 PM

In chapter 74, St Theophan says that '[a] monastery is not the only place for those who do not want to be bound by family ties'. He also says that there are those 'who decide to devote their lives to the Lord in an unmarried state but who did not want to enter monasteries'. The Saint identifies a variety of ways of life and clearly is not urging his correspondent to rush into monastic life. This clearly shows there are not only two ways.

 

There is little profit in trading quotations (those just given being for balance); the whole text of chapters 73 and 74 of the book do show that there are various ways of living a life in Christ.  I would add that 'verifying sources' is not a happy expression: I do feel that post #47 is a personal interpretation of what St Theophan writes, and an objective reading of this and other related sources would see that ways of life other than marriage or monasticism (meaning entering a monastery) are blessed. I reiterate an earlier point, namely that no such 'either/or' is known in Russia (I cannot speak for other Orthodox countries).


Edited by Reader Andreas, 02 March 2015 - 11:54 PM.


#49 Ilaria

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Posted 03 March 2015 - 06:42 AM

I received the book The Spiritual Life and How to be Attuned to it by St. Theophan the Recluse so I can now comment on the assertion regarding chapters 73 and 74.

 

The spinster/lifelong bachelor, as described in the original post, is typically very attached to worldly things and ways of the world, including autonomy and career (especially true of ones who are uppity about fair wage laws).  It does not fit what Theophan describes as a holy life.

 

Indeed, Theophan effectively describes one who lives as a monastic but just has not undergone tonsure as of yet.  He also describes the unmarried life as one of service, "giving themselves to the service of their brothers and sisters in hospitals, poor-houses, and hospices."  He writes about making your room as one of a monastic cell.

 

In any event, he clearly describes this way of life as "those who made up their minds to serve the Lord without being bound by everyday cares set up solitary cells for themselves within their homes and lived there, estranged from everything, fasting, praying and reading the Divine Scriptures" (p. 296. Sorry, no Oxford comma in the book).  They are also virgins and not just celibate for a time.

 

I reject the notion that virgin vs. celibate is splitting hairs at all.  Indeed, it is not the same thing.  St. Mary of Egypt is an example of one who repented and lived a celibate life and gained salvation without virginity.  However, I don't think anyone would argue that she didn't live as a monastic the remainder of her life, which she very much did.  She didn't become a dentist and argue for wage equality, for example.  All too often, I see/hear people equating such lifestyles.  They are not the same on any level.

 

So then, Theophan the Recluse appears very much to agree with the description in the original post as not being a third way.  That is, the one who is to remain unmarried effectively lives as a monastic.  I have yet to verify the other sources.

 

It seems that you identify the christian struggle to the wearing of a habit or a marriage ring; anyone who does not fit to one of these frames is a career opportunist.  

I remember a Romanian bishop saying: ''look at my beard; be sure that I did nothing to have it. it simply grows as it is''.

The fact that one comes to monasticism does not resolve his/her struggle with his own passions. He may continue to look for a ''career' even after he opened the monastery's gates. So, from the spiritual point of view, it does not matter what you are wearing outside, but inside. 



#50 Phoebe K.

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Posted 03 March 2015 - 12:58 PM

We must also remember that St Theophan was writing to a specific person in specific situation and his advice is tailored to that, unless you happen to fall into that category the advice given on the passions (where they come form and how to fight them) along with conduct in the world is helpful, as is his advice on family relations.  One of the theams is helping the young lady work out what her calling is (we only have one half of the correspondence so do not have a complete picture), and especially late on in the letters St Theophan is  guiding her in renouncing the world as she has chosen that, but he makes it clear all the way though not to rush the decision.

 

St Theophan makes clear early on that there are more than two ways to live the Christian life and all the ways which their were since the beginning are still practiced, these include marage and monasticism, but also those who dedicate their life to service and never enter eather formal state, or those who after being widowed chose to dedicate their life to God in the world but not of it (people like St Xenia of Peterburg). 

 

The wirien record of the Church only holds so much of tradition not all of it and the Holy spirit keeps us true to the spirit of the faith not given outward forms which can prevent us responding as we are called since it dose not fit into a nice simple category.  Life post fall is messy but our Lord is infently creative in helping us turn this mess which we made into something wonderful.  This is true in all parts of life and includes relationships, the inprtance is not the name of our state but the progress towards theoses and where we can make that progress.



#51 Father David Moser

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Posted 03 March 2015 - 03:13 PM

Seraphim,

 

The difficulty that I'm having with your arguement is the assumption that all non-married, non-monastic people are necessarily embroiled in career and lifestyle issues.  Not so!  I know monastics and married people who are just as, if not more, embroiled in those very same issues.  In those cases they are just as non-spiritual and possibly sinful as when the person is not married and not a monastic.  I also know some non-married, non-monstics who are decidedly not going to the monastery but who also live the pious life described and are not embroiled in the secular issues you would attribute to them.  You seem to be conflating two separate issues.

 

A non-married, non-monastic person, even though they may have a lifestyle similar to a monastic (as St Theophan describes) is not a monastic and cannot be considered one.  This is simply the pious life of a monastic.  Even a pious marriage should have many of these same "monastic" elements in order to a pious and spiritually beneficial lifestyle.  Your assumptions seem to be much broader than is warranted and therefore 1. not valid and 2. difficult to argue around since conflates two different issues (the celibate, non-monastic life and preoccupation with worldly affairs).  Just because some people sin in some things does not make everything in their lives sinful.

 

Fr David



#52 Seraphim of the Midwest

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Posted 03 March 2015 - 03:50 PM

The difficulty that I'm having with your arguement is the assumption that all non-married, non-monastic people are necessarily embroiled in career and lifestyle issues.  Not so!  I know monastics and married people who are just as, if not more, embroiled in those very same issues.  In those cases they are just as non-spiritual and possibly sinful as when the person is not married and not a monastic. 

 

 

It seems self-evident to me that married people have to struggle with the issues of the world necessarily.  Hence, the Apostle Paul suggested living as a virgin allows one to focus on the things of the Lord rather than pleasing his wife.  That is part of the cross of the married life, to have to successfully navigate career, family, and the Church, and do so without compromising your faith.

 

Monastics don't get a carte blanche... they are accountable to their Abbot/Abbess and have to renounce their ties to the world.  It is the so-called royal path.

 

What I am reading is that the only cross one is expected to bear is keeping one's pants zipped?  Is that correct?  One would think that singles arguing for "equal rights" and things of the world should indeed be held to a higher standard even than those who are married.  Where is the cross of obedience for such individuals?  In the case of a male, he isn't responsible for the spiritual well-being of his wife and children... so, what gives?

 

Two issues aren't being confused here.  The issues are coupled in a very important way.  And the sexodus is a growing issue in which males are abandoning both marriage and monasticism in droves for the so-called "third path" that explicitly omits the rigor of both commonly accepted paths.  Most of the criticism of the exodus indeed comes from females and so-called "white knight" males.

 

In the case of females, the canons of the Church explicitly deny avoiding marriage because of aversion ("hatred") of sex or because of the desire of eve, to "rule over your husband" which in our modern world has become ubiquitous.  The alternative, as I understood it, was monasticism.  However, I am detecting this one caveat that seems to entice a lot of people to circle the wagons and protect females, giving them a carte blanche to live according to their self-will.  Nobody will bring that up for fear of being labeled a misogynist.

 

So, I specifically asked for Patristic support to even clarify that a third path is blessed by the Church.  Contrary to cobbling a Procrustean bed, I am simply looking for what the trade-offs are of each path so I can explain it to my own children as well as seekers, family members who are hostile to the Faith, and others who ask me to give an account for the Faith that is in me.  

 

If what is being described by so many contributors to this thread is true, then Orthodox Christianity is apparently not rigorous as long as you keep your pants zipped (even if you didn't keep them zipped up to that point) and stay out of a monastery.  Somehow, this just seems to violate the spirit of the Scripture and the Fathers.



#53 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 03 March 2015 - 04:20 PM

Seraphim, monastics 'have to struggle with the issues of the world' in some of the same ways as people living in the world: monasteries need to generate income, bills have to be paid, things such as cars and washing machines have to be bought and from time to time replaced, they have to deal with lawyers and accountants, and with employing contractors. Somebody has to do the shopping, the cooking, the gardening and so forth. In many monasteries, they have to cater for the needs of staying guests. The main difference is that jobs in a monastery get allocated to members of the community as an obedience and so no one has to deal with everything as householders living in the world have to do.

 

All Orthodox Christians living in the world who are taking the practice of their faith seriously know that a measure of ascetic effort is needed which goes far beyond the one matter to which you (somewhat crudely) refer, and which ascetic effort is not dissimilar from the effort made by monastics. Monasticism is by no means the only alternative to married life, and other ways are blessed as we have seen.



#54 Seraphim of the Midwest

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Posted 03 March 2015 - 05:46 PM

Andreas, please don't blur the concepts and set up a straw man.  

  • Monastics have obediences and responsibilities to their monastery and their abbot/abbess.
  • Husbands and wives have obediences and responsibilities in their families and their parishes.  
  • Singles has no identifiable obediences or responsibilities beyond themselves (once reaching "legal" age, according to the contributors in this thread).  It would seem that such a state would almost certainly result in self-will as a guiding principle.  Hence, the concerns over fair wages, income inequality, and other worldly concerns naturally follow.

Somehow, this model sounds unorthodox.  It certainly lacks symmetry and consistency.



#55 Phoebe K.

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Posted 03 March 2015 - 07:05 PM

Speaking from experience unmarried do have responcibilites  and obedences, even as adults we are bound to honer our parents and some have chosen the single life to care for sick parents or grandparents, along with providing all the necesities of life.  If active in faith there will be church responsibilities sometimes much more than the marred take on due to the time being avalable to do things, and obedience to a spiritual father or confessor.

 

All the 'benifits' of living in the world but also many drawbacks for there is no helpmate (which is after all one of the key reasons for mirage to do it together).  The single has many responsibility but they tend to be more nebulas and less organised than those who are married or monastics, this dose not mean that they are less they are just different.  There are those who have reached theoses in the unmared state, such as St Xenia of Pretersburg who lived as a devout widow without entering a monastery.

 

Phoebe



#56 Seraphim of the Midwest

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Posted 03 March 2015 - 07:49 PM

Phoebe, your feedback always warms my heart :)

 

Are you speaking about St. Xenia the Fool for Christ or is this a different Xenia?

 

Contending with the world without a spouse can be difficult if one would otherwise marry a helpful spouse who serves as a good companion.  If one were to marry a poor spouse, it can make things so much harder that one might wish to have just remained single.

 

I am not trying to construct some kind of teaching or something.  Believe it or not, I am actually trying to understand what the Orthodox stand really is.  Depending on what the understanding is, then related questions naturally follow.



#57 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 03 March 2015 - 08:07 PM

◾Singles has no identifiable obediences or responsibilities beyond themselves (once reaching "legal" age, according to the contributors in this thread).  It would seem that such a state would almost certainly result in self-will as a guiding principle.  Hence, the concerns over fair wages, income inequality, and other worldly concerns naturally follow.

 

Somehow, this model sounds unorthodox.  It certainly lacks symmetry and consistency.

 

Seraphim, why do you not accept what St Theophan says? That is, that there are various ways to live a life in Christ, and the single chaste life outside a monastery is one of them and is blessed. A single person who is Orthodox and aiming to live a spiritual life is not necessarily concerned with 'fair wages' and the other matters to which you refer. I knew a man in Cyprus who lived the single life and had no concern whatever about the matters you claim (without any evidence) impinge upon the life of the single person leading a spiritual life. (Why such matters should impact on the single life any more than on the life of a married person is not clear to me.) An Orthodox person living the single life and seeking to follow a spiritual path will be guided by his or her spiritual father and so self-will will not be their guiding principle. By contrast, I know of monastics, including two hieromonks, who, without a blessing, live an eremetic life and have fallen into delusion. There is emphatically nothing un-Orthodox about the single chaste life.


Edited by Reader Andreas, 03 March 2015 - 08:08 PM.


#58 Phoebe K.

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Posted 03 March 2015 - 08:13 PM

Seraphim

 

I do mean St Xenia the fool for Christ, I was just using the reference more commonly found on English translations of her Acathist.

 

I understand the complexites of the mirage by obsering them work and at times fall apart, and through experience the challenge of the single life which is especially difficult for the young in the way the world is now.  

 

However from my reading and what I have absorbed from more experienced Orthodox whom I know, I have discoverer that although there is a tendency for two ways of life ether mirage or monasticisam these are not excusive and that each person play out their journey in their own way according to the way they are created and can reach theosis, inside one of these for part of their life (and occasionally both), always in a family for part and part sometimes between stages and sometimes for most of their life not fitting into the catogories of a child (of any age) at home, in mirage or monasticism.

 

My understanding form reading the fathers of the church from all ages is that the key is to seek Christ where we find ourselves and only with reluctance when we and our Spiritual Father (or in some cases mother) agree change our position in life.  To enter a monastic community is not done lightly and as my Godmother has found also to enter mirage should not be rushed.  

 

One thing I distinctly remember from a conference on relationships I helped run a couple of years ago was that we all as young adults who were Orthodox were advised to be discerning about our path and only make a decision with the blessing of our spiritual father.  One of the Speakers Fr Nicoli from Essex hinted that if we had to leave our parental homes for work it was better eather to loge in an orthodox family or live with a small group of other young Orthodox of the same sex, for company and to help reduce the temptations of the world.  Yet all the speakers made it clear that regular church attendance and obedience to a spiritual father were the key things in an orthodox life more so than any other consideration.



#59 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 03 March 2015 - 08:31 PM

I affirm what Phoebe has posted. What Fr Nikolai (of the monastery here in Essex) says would be the ideal but in most cases will not be attainable. I know a young man who recently became Orthodox and would seem the right sort of man to proceed to ordination but is unmarried.  Perforce, he lives alone. He works at his job to support himself ('he who does not work neither shall he eat') and follows the spiritual life under the guidance of his spiritual father. He would like to marry before ordination to deacon but that is not easy here - Orthodox women willing to be a priest's wife are not exactly thick on the ground.


Edited by Reader Andreas, 03 March 2015 - 08:32 PM.


#60 readerdavid@stjohnroc.com

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Posted 08 March 2015 - 02:46 AM

I would like to know where the Church demands there are only two paths, and anything else is not "blessed."  And why single people not in a monastery are basically slandered and derided.






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