Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Marriage in the Church – Why?

There are some of us in our St. Vladimir family who have not yet gotten married in the Church. We should address this issue, not with acrimony, but from an educational point of view. It is my hope that if we do this it will become clear that marriage in the Church is not some sort of optional thing, but is absolutely crucial if we hope to be successful as a couple. And we’ll talk about what “successful” means too. It might be something different than what you are thinking as you begin this note…

We should begin by making it clear: the point here is not to DEMEAN those who have not yet been married in the Church. It is understood that each person and each couple come to God at a different pace. The Church is here for you and your salvation. God is patient and loving. But that does not mean that we should equate ignorance with bliss either. The Church is a spiritual hospital – we all need to be healed. Staying away from treatment is not healthy once we realize we need that treatment. And the fact of the matter is, all couples need the treatment of the Sacrament of Marriage the Holy Church offers us.

But why bother, right? We’ve been together for years. The civil ceremony seems to have “stuck”. We love each other. That’s all that matters isn’t it? Love conquers all…

Love may conquer all – but that is Christian love. Not romantic love. Romantic love is not unimportant, but the hyper-focus we have a society have on this aspect of married life is an extreme that sets us up for failure, given few of us manage to age looking just as we did at 25. We are greatly hobbled in our limited lexicon for the word “love” in English. Russian is equally hobbled. The Greeks were good with love – they have lots of words for it and that is helpful. For instance, eros is not at all the same as agape. But for us – it is all “love”. And that is not helpful. Certainly we are not going to state here that love is not important. Of course it is. But our culture of marriage in society is very much informed by the Western Christian idea of marriage: that marriage is a contract with certain responsibilities of each partner in the contract. If the contract is broken the marriage is broken. This is true in Judaism and Islam too, by the way. But this is NOT true in Orthodoxy. Marriage is not a contract. At least is it not a contract strictly between the husband and wife. And this is made clear by the promises that the bride and the groom make to each other in the Orthodox wedding service. What are those promises? There aren’t any. :) The vows are made to GOD – not to the other spouse. And thus the Orthodox marriage is a covenant with God – not a contract with another human. Of course, it would be ideal if the bride and groom had discussed a few things before the marriage takes place, but they make two vows in the marriage service – both to God: that neither has promised themselves to any other and that they do this with a free will. That’s is. But that is everything. Because God is now a central part of the marriage. IF it is accomplished in His Church.

Those who are reading this are almost certainly Orthodox Christian churchgoers. God is part of their lives already. From a theological mathematical point of view “civil wedding + church attendance = God is part of our marriage”, no? Not really. It is not that a civil marriage doesn’t mean anything. Of course it does. Those who manage to stick together without God as an sacramental part of their marriage should be lauded – this is a great accomplishment! But why wouldn’t we ask God into our marriage? Not in the way that we make up with our own theological math, but in the way that HE HIMSELF taught us is the Christian way – the Orthodox way. How did He teach us? Recall please, where was the first miracle of Jesus Christ accomplished? At the WEDDING IN CANA OF GALILEE. Certainly Jesus Christ – the God man – could have chosen any place that He liked for His first miracle. He was not constrained to do this at a wedding. But He did. This was not a mistake. This is God clearly blessing marriage – that as Christians we may be married (and this might be surprising to you: this was a burning question in the early Church). And moreover, not only MAY we be married, but GOD BLESSES us to be married. If we chose the married life it is clear that this needs to be accomplished with God’s blessing – it is not our decision to do whatever we like. Of course, we could ignore Christ’s first miracle and His blessing of marriage. But we could also ignore the fact that He gave Holy Communion to the Apostles and told us to do this in remembrance of Him. In either case (and in all cases)  ignoring God is not going to be terribly helpful in our striving for transfiguration in Christ. Essentially, ignoring this teaching of Christ is striving for transfiguration WITHOUT Christ. I’m not the best priest – that is obvious. But even with my weaknesses and ignorances it is pretty clear to me – we aren’t to ignore the very teaching of our Lord that marriage is blessed where He is present. And striving for transfiguration without Christ is not likely to be terribly fruitful. The marriage in Cana of Galilee was blessed because Jesus Christ was there. Jesus Christ is present in His Church, which He gave us for our salvation. Thus, the only place for Orthodox Christians to be married is in the Church. And for those who are not yet married in the Church – it is probably time to heed the call of the Lord and accept His gracious invitation to be part of our marriage. And to have the sacrament of matrimony served for us in the Church.

But given that the goal of marriage is personal gratification and financial stability of the two parties involved why does this all matter? BECAUSE THAT IS NOT THE GOAL OF MARRIAGE! Success in marriage is measured by only one metric: salvation. Salvation is transfiguration in Christ. This is how we should choose a spouse and this should be our over-arching goal: salvation. Of course, there are other goals along the way, but this is the big one: salvation. Marriage, despite lots of good jokes in this regard, is not about suffering. Nor is it about having children (this is an expected and hoped-for part of marriage, but not the main goal). The main goal is salvation. Full stop.

But what if we came to the Church after we were already married? Then what? Are we lost? Of course not! One can be married at any point! There is no statute of limitation on marriage. I’ve married people quite beyond the usual age for marriage (into their 60s or 70s), and there is even a special marriage service for those who have been married outside the Church for a long time. It is not necessary to make a huge big deal of this. Such a Church marriage can be taken care of quietly and prayerfully. It not need be a huge undertaking. But it MUST be undertaken. Strictly speaking those living without a Church marriage are living in sin. It is understood that the Soviet authorities were not exactly promoting Church marriage and therefore many of our parishioners might not have a Church marriage. This is not a reason to judge anyone – that was just the plain fact in the Soviet Union. But thank God – the Soviet Union is no more. No one is constraining you from accomplishing this important – frankly crucial – sacrament of the Church. Why should we be holding to anachronistic atheistic practices? The answer is: we should not. :)

You all know a couple or a couple of couples who are not yet married in the Church. This article is NOT a call to embarrass these folks or make an example of them. Rather, let us apply this as we do all the guidance of the Holy Church: with love. Let us lovingly encourage our friends and loved ones who have not yet been married in the Church to do so at the earliest opportunity. With love. With genuine concern for their salvation. If you have this co-suffering love – love that has as its center the sincere desire for the salvation of another – then you can move mountains. And your invitation to your close ones who are not yet married in the Church will not be an occasion for strife, but an occasion for rejoicing in the Lord. A zealot for Church marriage must be a zealot for Christian love. Pray for this love first, only THEN talk to your close ones about this.

It is my hope that 2019 will be the year that EVERY one of our St. Vladimir’s couples is married in the Church, that by January 1, 2020 we will have 100% of our families living with the grace of the sacrament of marriage. May the merciful Lord grant it!

Fr. Gregory

Post Script:

One of our parishioners rightly pointed out that there is an exception to this rule: those who are married outside the Church, but baptized together in the Church. In this way the Grace of the Sacrament of Marriage is imparted to the couple through reception into the Church. This is an important caveat, and I’m very glad that our parishioner reached out to remind me of this!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Vigil – Let Us Attend?

There are 9 Divine Services appointed to be served each day of the year. Those are:

Midnight Office
First Hour
Third Hour
Sixth Hour
Divine Liturgy or Typica
Ninth Hour

In parishes generally Compline and Midnight Office are served very rarely, as is the Ninth Hour. Not never – just rarely. The typical parish cycle of Divine Services is:

=== Evening Services ===
First Hour
=== End of Evening Services ===

=== Morning Services ===
Third Hour
Sixth Hour
Divine Liturgy
=== End of Morning Services ===

Sometimes the evening services are served separately, one right after the other. But sometimes, if the commemoration of the saint or feast is a significant one (and always on Saturday evenings in the Russian Church) the three evening services are combined into a Vigil. It is still the same three services – these are just combined a little differently than when they are served separately.

Typica is served on days when there is no Liturgy appointed, or when the Liturgy is Vesperal in nature (Presanctified Liturgy, or one of the combined Vespers/Liturgy services like on the eve of Nativity or Holy Saturday or other similar days).

It is important for us to fight the idea that the evening and morning Divine Services are “separate”. Of course, they are separated by time. We can’t deny that. Although there is no time in the Heavenly Kingdom and we should not forget that when we discussing the Divine Services, where earth and Heaven meet...

Rather, we need to strive to see the evening and morning Divine Services as one whole, with the evening services being an important (and by important we mean “crucial”) part of preparing for the Divine Liturgy. That is especially true if one is communing, but also important if one is not. Why is that?

The reason is this: the vast, vast majority of educational material found in the Divine Services is located in the evening services. About 60% of the evening services is changeable – every day is different. On the contrary, about 80% of the morning Divine Services DO NOT CHANGE – every day is the same. The Divine Liturgy is the the most important Divine Service from a theological point of view – this is without question. The Angels marvel at the Eucharist, which does not exist in the Heavenly Kingdom. When we are present at the Divine Liturgy we are present at the events in the life of our Lord commemorated there. There is no more important service from that point of view – this is the ultimate expression of the incarnational reality of our Orthodox Faith.

But just because the Divine Liturgy is the ultimate Divine Service does not mean that the others are somehow useless. And if we are honest – this is how we treat the other services. I don’t mean this is how we think about them. At least hypothetically. We don’t despise them in our thoughts. But in our deeds we do. Because we do not come to God’s House for these important educational services. These services are important for those preparing to join the Church from a catechitical point of view, but they are important for the rest of us too. And if we are honest – the level of our spiritual/theological education is rather low from a historical perspective. In Byzantium one could find people arguing on corners and in the marketplace about the nature of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the place of icons in the Church, etc. I do not think that we will soon return to those days, nor do I think that is necessarily a goal for which we should strive. But to know our faith: to read the Nicean Creed with complete understanding, to know the lives of the saints, to know the major theological beliefs of our faith, to build an Orthodox ethos and filter that allows us to live in the world without becoming part of the world – all these are strengthened greatly by attending the evening Divine Services. It is said that if one were to attend all the Divine Services every day of the year one would never have to open another book – all these things would be part and parcel of our lives. That time is probably not coming again soon – when most of us could attend most Divine Services every day. But I would suggest that we can and should strive to move more towards that place. Towards making the Divine Services more important in our lives. And we can begin by more diligently and zealously attending the evening Divine Services whenever we have the chance to do so.

Evening Divine Services: Educationally Most Important

Morning Divine Liturgy: Theologically Most Important

Thank God we have the opportunity to have many Divine Services in our parish. And I sincerely thank all of you that make that possible! But that does not mean there is an expectation that everyone would attend every service. Rather, what it means, is that there are many opportunities to be in God’s House, the parish church, and that for most people there are opportunities that correspond to their free time outside of their usual work schedules. It is understood that not all free time outside of work can be 100% dedicated to attending the Divine Services. But how about 10%? What about 5%? If we work 40 hours per week that means we have 128 hours of time every week we are not working. Yes – we have to sleep. Yes – we have to eat. Yes – we have to do chores. All understood and expected. 5% of 128 is 6.4 (we’ll round this to 6.5 to make things mathematically easier). That would be 6.5 hours for the Divine Services if we dedicate 5% of our free time to this pious pursuit. Saturday evening services are about 2.5 hours. That leaves 4 hours left. Sunday morning Liturgy is about 2 hours. That leaves us 2 more hours every week that we could dedicate to the Divine Services if we decided we would spend just 5% of our non-working time in God’s house. Do you know what takes about 2 hours? One weekday evening cycle of the Divine Services. Or one weekday Divine Liturgy (actually these are more like 1.5 hours, but who is counting?). Perhaps for some thinking about this mathematically is helpful...

As we prepare for the Nativity Lent, which begins on November 28, let us also prepare ourselves to make a renewed effort in this regard: to attend the evening Divine Services more often (especially if partaking of Holy Communion the next day – this is really a must unless one lives very far away, is very sick, or very young): on Saturday evenings, on other evenings, or even at Midnight Liturgies. Your sincere efforts in this regard – to draw nearer to the Lord through the Divine Services that He has guided in their development for our salvation – WILL pay spiritual dividends. And it is the right thing to do. It is the Orthodox thing to do. It is a direct investment in our striving for transfiguration into the sons and daughters of God. And if you teach your child to attend the Saturday evening Divine Services you will never wonder where you child is on Saturday night – even when they leave the nest of the family home to strike out on their own. Good spiritual habits taught in childhood tend to be practiced in adulthood as well. May the Lord strengthen us to be zealous to attend and participate (via our attendance, for we are always participants in the Divine Services when we attend – never spectators) in the Divine Services for the good of our salvation and to teach our children to do so as well!

Fr. Gregory


Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky: “The Holies are for the Holy” - On the Divine Liturgy

Archpriest Seraphim Slobodskoy: “The Divine Services” (Excerpt from “Law of God”)