The basic task of Orthodox Christianity is to
teach people to live according to God's will so that, through it, they will be
brought to eternal blessedness. Some people vainly wish to reduce Christianity
to a mere narrowly-individualized sphere of religious experiences.
Christianity, however, is life; it is a new seal on all the vital relationships
of people. No impartial person would doubt or contradict the fact of its
influence on life. It is sufficient to point out that even though life and the
behavior of people on earth have not strayed far from Christian ideals,
nevertheless, their concepts and views were formulated on the Christian type.
The work of many of the best artists and scientists bears a clearly Christian
imprint upon them. Further, such consoling phenomena as the disappearance of
slavery, the appearance of a whole series of institutions of charity and
enlightenment, and much else, are undoubtedly obligated to Christianity for
their beginnings. But perhaps the transforming and elevating influence of
Christianity has been experienced most of all by the first cell of the order of
social life - the family.
The great responsibility for an Orthodox Christian
person is to choose a friend for life. God's word says of the Christian
marriage, "be two in one flesh," that is, in marriage two people form
one organism, one common life. An Orthodox Christian wife think first of all
about her husband, and then about herself. Likewise, the husband first cares
for his wife, then for himself. The Lord tempered such a Christian marital
union by His Divine word, "What God unites, let man not separate."
It is noteworthy that in such a Christian marriage, the love of the partners
has that very same selfless, self-denying character by which purely Christian
love is distinguished. With good reason, Apostle Paul compares the marital
union with the union of Christ and the Church, and he says, "Husbands,
love your wives as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her."
In Christian marriage, the unification of loving personalities becomes so
all-comprehensive and full, the mutual dedication of the spouses so deep and
absolute, that they resemble each other in everything, and sometimes (in old
age) they even come to resemble each other externally. And their life passes in
full accord, in full dedication to the will of Christ the Savior and His Holy
But it becomes so heavy in our own days to see the
precipitous, thoughtlessly careless and completely un-Christian disposition of
contemporary youth to this most serious question. One must now repeatedly
observe how marriages are concluded not through a serious, deep, examined
feeling of love, but through enamorousness, a feeling which is not deep, and is
very low in moral relationship. Often, the content of such an enamoured state
is, alas, in essence only animal passions, only an "agitation of young
blood" (and sometimes not young, but old and dirty). Together with this,
in the pre-wedding time of such marriages, one constantly observes deceit and
self-embellishing of both body and soul, a hypocritical desire not to be, but
to seem to be better and more beautiful. Life, however, can be built only on
truth; it cannot survive on falsehood. From this, there ensues the
disenchantment of spouses with each other and the aberration of divorces.
Christian marriage is a single life lived by two
in unification. With the years, marital life only strengthens, becomes deeper,
more spiritual. Of course, passionate love, connected with each person's
natural sexual inclination and purely physical attraction, also enters into
Christian marital love. In a truly Christian marriage, however, such passionate
love enters into the attachment only incidentally, and never has such a
significance and strength as in non-Christian marital unions. In the lives of
saints, we see a multitude of examples in which Christian spouses, through
mutual agreement, renounced sexual life, either from the very beginning of the
marriage or even after forty years. It is noteworthy that in such a marriage,
when the ascetic-spouses live "as brother and sister," their mutual
love is distinguished by a special strength of devotion, all-embracing fidelity
and mutual respect. Thus does Christianity consecrate, elevate and transform a
In a Christian family, not only the relationship
of husband and wife is considered, but also that of children and parents.
Christianity again places its imprint on this inner relationship.
In each good family there must, without fail, be a
single family life. "Our" must always take precedence to the personal
"my" in such a relationship. It is not in vain that all members of
the family bear one common surname, for they must live a common, cordial life.
The head of the family is the husband. The well-being of the family is formed
on him and on his toils. The family is his first duty. Of those who do not look
after their own family, Apostle Paul says bluntly and quite clearly. "If
anyone does not care for his own, and especially for his own household, he has
denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever" (1 Tm.5:8).
It often happens that, in directing their children
to one or another path, parents act so strongly against the will of a child's
inclinations and heart's desire that they are generally unjust. Apostle Paul
speaks against this, pointedly saying: "Parents, do not anger your
children so that they do not despair, but raise them in the Lord's teaching and
instruction" (Col. 3:21; Eph. 6:4). To demand of children what exceeds
their strength only plunges them into despondency. There is an even greater
injustice: for a child, the father is the highest authority,
and woe if their authority betrays that feeling of trust, a feeling which is
far stronger in a child than in an adult. This is followed by a situation which
is simply inescapable for the child. It is even worse, however, when the
parents spoil their children too much, are too condescending toward them and
often leave them without supervision. The child can receive a great moral ruin
from this; as we have seen, God's word orders parents to raise and instruct
children in the Lord's law.
The matter of raising children falls primarily on
the mother. This is natural, since no one else is so close to the soul and
heart of the child as its mother. It is not without reason that a child runs
directly to its mother, crying, "Mama" when it is hurt. There is a
great task before the mother: to raise a son or daughter as a believing Christian,
good, responsive, work-loving, useful to the Church and society, and to raise
the child thus by word and example and love and strictness. This is the
sanctuary of her service to the Lord; her work is no less important than the
husband's work for the family. Shame and dishonor to those mothers who shirk
from the raising of their children and give them over to be cared for by hired
persons, forgetting that it is so easy to ruin or soil the child's soul.
Moreover, can anyone really replace a child's mother?
But children must understand their
responsibilities no less than the parents. Everyone knows the fifth commandment
of God law, about honoring the parents. Apostle Paul enjoins children to "submit
to your parents in the Lord, for justice requires this." And, of
course, this requirement is brought forth precisely by justice. For, children
are obligated in all things to their parents who take care of them, loving,
toiling, denying themselves in much, raising their
children by their own love, often helping them even when they have already
become adults and independent people.
How often, though, is the fifth commandment
violated among us! Even those children who are
convinced that they sincerely and deeply love their parents, often do not heed
them, which means that they do not honor them. Love is always united with
obedience. And the older children become, the more
self-willed they become, alas, affronting their parents, reproaching them to
their face for their "backwardness" and not considering their authority
in anything. Is this respect for parents?
Thus, in its basic sense, the fifth commandment
speaks of honoring parents. Nevertheless, it also speaks in consideration of
all those who occupy similar positions for a Christian: teachers, educators,
etc; and especially, the representatives of lawful authority who preserve the
order of society. Apostle Paul directed us to pray: "for rulers and all
those in authority," and in many places in his epistles, he taught to
submit to the authorities. More important, of course, for the Christian, is the
honoring of Church authorities - the pastors of the Church, especially the
bishops, and also the pastor who is his spiritual father and answers before God
for his soul. Apostle Paul says, "Submit yourselves (to your spiritual
instructors,) for they watch over your souls and must give account."
And the Lord Himself said to His apostles, and in their persons to the pastors
of the Church, "Whoever listens to you, listens to Me,
but whoever does not listen to you, does not listen to Me."
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