Volume 2, Number 11

November 16, 2011

Theme: Romance and Dating

Articles:

The Poverty of Loneliness

by Monk Silouan

Our Relationship with Christ

an anonymous submission

Single Patience

by Thomas Eric Ruthford

The Paradox of Crucified Love as the Pattern for Human Love

by Andreea Bălan

More information on the authors can be found here.


The Poverty of Loneliness

November 16, 2011

By Monk Silouan

One of my favorite stories about Mother Teresa is when an American reporter asked her which is the poorest country she had ever been to. Answering in a very Mother Teresa like manner, she said, “Yes, yes, yes. I have been to many countries and seen much poverty and suffering. Everywhere I go people tell me of their hardships and struggles, and ask for help, and I give what I can. But of all the countries I have been to, the poorest one I have been to is America.” Somewhat shocked, the reporter informed Mother Teresa that America was one of the richest countries and questioned how it could be the poorest. “Because”, she replied, “America suffers most from the poverty of loneliness.”

Mother Teresa

One of the most obvious signs of our broken world is the feeling of isolation among individuals. We can be in a sports stadium with 100,000 other people, feeling a sense of solidarity because we are rooting for the home team, but when we get in the car to go home, loneliness hits us. Our internet culture does not allow for the human interaction needed to break through our lonesomeness. How does one find even one authentic relationship in our world?

"We can be in Grand Central Station and be completely alone..."

The fact is everyone is looking for relationship. We look for that because, whether we know it or not, or accept it or not, we are created in God’s image. Being a person automatically implies that we need the other to fulfill the purpose of our existence. And in coming into true relationship with another, we realize that there is no individual existence that we possess, but that life is a phenomenon which we simply participate in, a life which we are bold enough to call Christ.

When one feels that call to authentic personhood, to living a life free from ego identifications, neurotic attachments and destructive passions, there wells up a saying contrary to everything we have been taught since our youth: “We cannot do this alone.” There is no simply putting one’s mind to it, and with enough self-will and effort, we can find ourselves with the clear light of God’s love. There has to be a context where we can empty ourselves out for the sake of the other.

People often contrast and compare monastic life with the married life. As a monk, never having been married, I can only speak from the monastic point of view. Yet this coming into personhood is not a monastic or married question. In monastic life, we simplify our lives to an interior nakedness where we can let God fill us up with His fullness, so His life can become ours. In married life (so it seems to me) there needs to be a self-sacrificing on both sides in order to realize that the life they share is one. In this love God is revealed.

Yet it is easy to look at the end, our theosis (deification), with rose-colored glasses and forget all the crosses one has to carry in life. One thing, if not the first thing, that needs to be discarded in the process of entering a monastery or marriage covenant is any romantic notions of the monastery (and those within the monastery) and the potential spouse. In the spiritual life, we easily discount thoughts as simply thoughts, those ephemeral non-realities that blow through our head as an amazing rate. Emotions are in this same category. If a monastery or another person “makes us feel good” or gives us a mushy-gushy feeling inside, that is no indication of the potential for relationship. If we look at the situation and ask, “is this monastery/person is a safe place/person where we can both be patient as we struggle through our brokenness together?” That is much more realistic. Living on the level of emotions and feelings is very shallow water which has the ability to drown.

So when we look at how monasticism and marriage may be related, we need to behold the bigger picture and not just incidentals. The approach to both must be grounded in sobriety and discernment. Will my entering a monastery/marriage help me shed the old man or only add another layer of ego which I falsely try to live up to? What am I naturally disposed to? Will this relationship open up to me the meaning of Person? When one discerns the nature of each relationship, whether it is one of self-giving or ego-based attachment, I think it will not take too much time to see what lies at the end of each path.

What lies at the end of each path?


Our Relationship with Christ

November 16, 2011

Relationships are an integral part of our lives.  While the Church teaches us that the primary relationship we should be concerned about is the one we have with Christ, society stresses interpersonal romantic relationships.  It is to the point that we believe that we are somehow validated as “real” members of society if we are in a relationship.  Those who choose not to be, or for one reason or another cannot find themselves a romantic partner are considered failures and seen as outcasts to an extent.  Just think of all the gossip associated with older single people.  It is easy to fall into the trap of feeling the need to be in a relationship as Orthodox Christians as well, since we are bombarded with these ideas from childhood and in literature, music, and cinema, whatever.  As a result, we become selfish in our quest for love and forget about God.  There have been several times that as soon as I enter into a relationship I more or less am like “Thanks God, I’ll take it from here.”  That romantic relationship then becomes the focal point of my life, instead of my relationship with Christ.  Luckily for me, those relationships usually end up not lasting for very long, and I realize my mistake when prioritizing my relationships.  It is a lesson I have had to learn the hard way more than once.  Like most things in our spiritual lives there is a balance required with dating.  Finding this balance is often done by trial and error.

One pressure that comes with dating, that is perhaps uniquely Orthodox, is that we view marriage as the ultimate goal of dating, seeing the process of dating as merely the necessary means we have to go through.  While I agree with stressing marriage in regards to dating instead of self-fulfillment or promiscuity, I think we should be careful, since it is also important to pace ourselves.  We are called to live in the moment in the sense that we should be focusing on what (or who) God puts in front of us in the present.  In my undergraduate days I encountered many Orthodox students who were quite preoccupied with finding a spouse.  Again, while the sentiment of getting married young is not objectionable, in our youth we are still in a state of transition.  Employment may take us to areas of the world where we don’t know anyone, and if you’re like me, you might still be trying to discern exactly what career path you should follow.  With the current economic climate it also may not be possible to support a family as young as members of the previous generations did.  The college campus and afterward are also times we are still very young in our spiritual lives, and are faced with the task of assimilating into parishes as active members.  Finding a spouse on top of all this is a daunting task.  Before getting married it is crucial to make sure that the person you’re marrying is really who God has intended for you.  There is no need to rush into it because of societal or cultural expectations, or because you’re tired of being abstinent.

Concentrating on what’s in front of us instead of holding ourselves to rigid expectations of our future is also an important lesson in faith. One thing that I’ve learned from my dating mishaps is that it’s best to simply let go and put my faith in Christ, rather than constantly asking Him why nothing seems to be working out for me in the romance department.  Sometimes we forget that our own agendas are insubstantial compared to the vocation we are divinely called to.  When our relationship with Christ is strong in foundation, he will provide us with all that we need and can handle.  Of course this doesn’t mean that we don’t have any agency in our own love lives.  We must still put effort into making relationships work.  At least for me, sitting around waiting for God to provide me with a spouse doesn’t really benefit me in my spiritual life.  There is no sacrifice on my behalf, and honestly my faith isn’t strong enough for that.

Another aspect of dating that can be difficult for Orthodox youth is ensuring that Christ is the real center of our relationship.  This can be tricky to balance too.  Most of us want to find a nice Orthodox girl/boy to settle down with.  A friend from my OCF chapter at school joked about how difficult it was to find a girl who was hot AND pious.  I also know of a few guys who went back to their respective “old countries” to find a woman who took her faith as seriously as they did.  However, having this strict criterion of our significant other being Orthodox can lead to some temptation.  We can easily fall into judging him or her on their piety.  It is foolish to judge anyone on our perceptions of how pious they are (see the publican and the Pharisee), but it is even more dangerous with romance.  Even though I never went through this sort of thing personally, I know from friends who have and later regretted doing it when their relationships fell apart.  When speaking to my spiritual father about this topic he told me not to worry about if the other person doesn’t fast as strict as you do, or doesn’t understand as much Christology as you do, what’s important is that they love you for who you are.  Your spiritual growth together comes with time.  If your significant other sees how important Christ is to you, they will develop a love for Him and grow in the faith.  As a result of this wisdom, I ended up expanding my relationship criteria to include those who are not Orthodox.  I don’t see the need to limit ourselves, and chances are you can bring someone to Christ by your example.  Certainly dating an Orthodox person can make some things a lot easier; you don’t have to explain all the different clerical hats.

Overall, dating is something important to many Orthodox young people, but it can be difficult to succeed in without a firm spiritual grounding and guidance.  We should always concentrate on our relationship with Christ before we worry about dating, otherwise we can fall in the various traps of selfishness and self-righteousness.

The Author also recommends this youtube video which takes a humorous approach to the subject.


Single Patience

November 16, 2011

By Thomas Eric Ruthford

Patience is a heavenly virtue, and it seems that God is giving the Christian Single a task that requires a lot of it. We ought to give thanks to God for everything, including our current situation, even if we don’t really like it. Trying to find that special person is a holy struggle. God had to wait at least 4,000 years to find the right woman to bear Christ, and the Old Testament is the story of this long, long preparation for His coming. Pray that your struggle to find the right person will only be as long as one of the short Old Testament books, such as Ruth or Jonah, as opposed to the Book of Kings, which spans several centuries.

It often happens that you do everything right and you’re still stuck single, with no special someone, no date, and you just get to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of playing Trivial Pursuit with the neighbors. The previous sentence has a fundamental flaw in it, I should admit, and it’s the “you do everything right” part. This is not your problem to resolve. It’s the Holy Spirit’s problem, or one of the Holy Spirit’s many problems, as the primary goal of the Holy Spirit is that you can dwell in heaven forever with God. And for that purpose, you’ll get what you need – a cross to bear and to wear, certainly, but the rest is variable depending on you and your situation – maybe a wedding ring, maybe a missionary assignment in North Korea, or maybe what you need is a bunch of hyperactive kindergartners to teach and take on field trips to symphonies and museums. Once you understand this, your struggle will begin to come into perspective, although I doubt it’ll get any easier.

If you’re like me, and you’re an over-worrier and an over-doer, you’re probably worrying far too much about what to do, and you’re doing far too much, too, revising the opening speech you’ll give if some handsome single man or pretty woman comes to church this week. You’re continuously looking for flaws in your profile on Christian dating sites that you can take out in hopes of making yourself look like the ideal mate. You’re pondering churches in nearby towns that you can visit in hopes of overcoming the slim pickings in the local talent pool. Such a trip is called a romantic pilgrimage, and they usually end in frustration. I once got talked into one by a girl who tried to set me up with one of her friends 60 miles away.

“She’s tall, she’s Christian, she’s pretty, she sings really well, she’s close to your age! You have to meet her!” I actually fell for it, put on my tie and got on a 6 a.m. bus one Sunday. It was June, and the church where this girl attends services is surrounded by plants which I’m allergic to, all of which were in bloom, so the liturgy was just one long sneezing fit for me… Our Father, who are in Heaven, achoo be thy name…The brief conversation I had with her was really, really awkward, basically to the effect of: “Wow, what a nice church you go to!”

“Yes, it is nice,” she said. I didn’t make any progress. If you’re pondering a trip that stupid, you’re trying too hard. Way too hard. If you’re a worrier like me, you’re probably already doing enough. From a spiritual sense, you have exactly what you need right now for your salvation, so you’ll be happier the less you do to try to change your personal standing. In that spirit, let’s talk about not trying too hard to find someone. There is plenty of other stuff to do while you wait:

Meditations and Spiritual Growth

Write a prayer applicable to your situation and put it in the back of your prayer book. Say it every night. Over time, you’ll revise the prayer. I started out with “O, Lord, find me a girl!” and then I moved to “Tell me whether it’s a girl or a monastery for me.” The prayer that really helped was, “Bless my work today and prepare me for whatever path you have for me, Lord.”

See how long you can go without saying or doing anything about finding someone. It will be liberating for you to discover that your desperate thoughts about dating are not really you, just something your brain does when it’s bored. And, while you’re pretending to be a sane, normal person, someone special might come along and be impressed with you. My own personal record was 45 days. It was liberating.

Get some help from the saints. We are never alone in our struggles, and there are Christians who lived long before us who are in heaven praying for us and helping us. Reading the stories of saints who persevered in their struggles with remaining chaste provided me with a great deal of comfort in my own struggles. I was able to make a pilgrimage to the resting place of one saint who particularly inspired me, St. Moses the Virgin. He was a muscular, handsome fellow who wanted to be a monk at the Caves Monastery in Kiev in the 11th Century, shortly after Rus’ became a Christian kingdom. But, Kiev was invaded, Moses was enslaved by the occupying army, and he was sold to a rich young widow who tried to force him to marry. She held him captive for 10 years before giving up, and then he was able to become a monk.

His hymn, which I kept on the pocket card, went:

You are a New Joseph, great pure, chaste and angelic Moses.

With holy hymns we sinners praise and ask you diligently,

Pray to Christ God that he heal our passions and give us great mercy.

I love this prayer because it connects Joseph from the book of Genesis, to St. Moses in the 11th Century, to me in the 21st Century.

We’re all called to be saints but if you’re like most of us, you’re also going to goof off in your wandering/wondering time. Some goofing off is helpful, and some isn’t. Let’s start with…

Bad Distractions:

Going out with a slimeball. My wife tells me that this is a real temptation for women – thinking that you cannot find a man who hopes for the life that you want to share and you lower your standards. Here are a few signs you’re dating the wrong guy:

  • Wants to know when your priest is going to cast healing spells, like in World of Warcraft.
  • Says he’s supportive of your religion, but tries to keep you away from it, complaining of how it controls you.
  • Roasts marshmallows over the candle stand during church services
  •  Wants you to have a “separation of church and state” in your life – he thinks being Christian in church is fine, but expects you to give him what he wants in “the real world.”
  • Says he’s religious but the only part of the Bible he likes is the Song of Solomon.
  • Thinks the virgin martyrs were an example of abstinence-only education gone too darn far.

Giving up on actual humans and looking at Web sites. This is more of a temptation for men than it is for women. It’ll really mess up your brain. Letting a pornographic image into your brain is sort of like allowing a zebra mussel into a lake. It’s an invasive species that never, ever leaves, and it reproduces quickly, out-competing all the native species. To get an idea of what porn will do to your brain, read an excerpt from a letter entitled “Dear Internet Porn” that a sufferer posted on Craigslist:

Your softcore erotic videos were a tasteful introduction to my budding sexuality. As I got older I started seeing girls on the side. I knew you were jealous, but you have always held a special place in my heart. You became naughtier and it affected my relationships. I started wanting all the things I had seen you do. I wanted to be just like you.

One priest I know gave me some very sage advice: Remember that your eyes have been saved by God. In the very act of looking, we are called to glorify Christ.

Good Distractions:

Find a quirky hobby and push it as far as you can go. Mine is bicycling. My longest day, after years of practice, was 143 miles and 10,000 feet of elevation gain, equivalent to a Tour de France stage (but done slowly). A month later, I got married and am now required to carry a cell phone and check in twice a day.

Learn to cook a lot of recipes. If your future spouse is as picky an eater as mine is, only about a quarter of your recipes are going to pass muster. You’ll need some extra recipes to fall back upon.

Get a dog. Here you will find a true friend. And, probably your dog will be a good test of character for future boyfriends/ girlfriends. Could you be married to someone who doesn’t like throwing a tennis ball 100 times a day? This way, you’ll find out!

Donate a pint of blood every eight weeks. Nothing like a mild case of anemia to suck the passion out of you for a couple of days. And, you’re saving lives!

Buy a studfinder. Girls, try carrying this around at church and point it at boys. If it beeps, he might be worth something! These machines are good for more than locating 2 x 4s. But, be careful, it could also find you a blockhead.

Come up with some pick-up lines:

· What’s your favorite hymn?

· Did Father buy some new incense or do you always smell that good?

· You’re even prettier than the saint you’re named after!


The Paradox of Crucified Love as the Pattern for Human Love

November 16, 2011

By Andreea Bălan

The beloved is giving as he appears to take away. ~ Rumi

Britney Spears’ latest song, “Criminal,” recently hit the radio waves. The catchy tune will do little to change the public opinion about Britney’s vocal and writing abilities, although it will most likely soar to the top of the charts, reinforcing her reputation as the princess of commercial pop music. Spears, used to all kinds of aspersions, will laugh all the way to the bank, leaving us with the task of trying to make some sense of the actual content of her most recent experiment. The video, unsurprisingly, contains quite a bit of nudity, the sex scenes with her real-life boyfriend Jason Trawick leaving little to the imagination. Unlike her previous efforts, however, “Criminal” portrays a considerable amount of gun violence, including a scene in which she threatens a store owner with a pistol while her partner purloins all the money from the cash register, for which she has been criticized not only on the home front, but also across the pond (the video was shot in the U.K.). The video and lyrics of Britney’s song build on each other. Images of guns and shooting are intertwined with ones of Britney and her felon in the bedroom or in the shower, while she intones such verses as, “But mama I’m in love with a criminal/ And this type of love/ Isn’t rational, it’s physical,” and “And he’s got my name/ Tattooed on his arm/ His lucky charm/ So I guess it’s okay/ He’s with me.” When asked to respond to the controversy that the video stirred after just one week of its release, the director, Chris Piliero, replied, “He’s a professional criminal, so it makes sense he has a gun. We shouldn’t censor ourselves.”[1] The vapidity of Piliero’s answer is somewhat dizzying, although not altogether unexpected. After all, few in our society can tackle controversy in a thoughtful manner or engage in contentious activity based on convictions that disclose a great deal of learning and reflection rather than on popular clichés such as freedom of expression, which, in the minds of many, automatically exonerate one from any responsibility that he or she does bear to God, the public, and to oneself.

While Britney is not guilty of being the first or the only one to display such images with no second thought, “Criminal” points to a trend in our culture: sex and violence are increasingly linked together. The more intense violence started being portrayed, the more meaningless the sex became. Which came first may be a matter of semantics, but there seems to be little doubt that the two are connected.[2] Theologically, this is no accident: both depersonalize the other and reduce him or her to one dimension, namely the body. As Susan Sontag astutely observes,

All images that display the violation of an attractive body are, to a certain degree, pornographic. But images of the repulsive can also allure. Everyone knows that what slows down highway traffic going past a horrendous car crash is not only curiosity. It is also, for many, the wish to see something gruesome.[3]

The appeal of the appalling is by no means a modern invention, since even Plato recorded in The Republic this inability of the human being to avert his or her eyes in the face of the violent destruction of the other. When coupled with sexual imagery, though, this cocktail proves to be poisonous to our understanding of what love is. The sense of danger that inevitably accompanies an illicit union with a stranger that is based more on good looks and less on character and personality (to say nothing about God), paired with the sinister desire to behold violent images, whets the audience’s appetite for the disturbing, while erasing almost entirely any idea of sacrifice that love invariably encompasses. Britney’s “Criminal” bears witness to this. As the lyrics explicitly or implicitly state, love seems to be based solely on an irresistible physical attraction, akin to the bond between hydrogen and oxygen (a molecule of water is the hardest chemical bond to break), the gun violence only witnessing to the power of this animal magnetism and enhancing the thrill such an attraction offers to the lovers. Freedom of expression, then, is not what is under attack in the criticism directed at Britney’s video, as Piliero’s comment assumes; what is at stake for the Christian (at least in part) is the very meaning of love.

The Scriptural Vision of Love

In the clamorous climate of our world, the Scriptural vision of love is relegated to the periphery of our consciousness. Few seem to want to bother reading the Bible and deeply engaging with the message that it proclaims. Such an endeavor would require a considerable amount of time and effort (mentally and spiritually), and, perhaps the hardest of all, the ability to keep quiet rather than participate in verbal gymnastics with members of the dark side of the Force (which, invariably, is the other side from where I am standing). Despite our lackadaisical efforts when it comes to delving into the wisdom of the Holy Writ, it is here that we find a meaningful alternative to the popular understanding of love.[4] The picture with which Paul and the rest confront us that best exemplifies God’s love for his creation centers on the crucified Messiah — and, ironically, it is in this violent act that we find the model on which to pattern human love. It is Christ’s self-emptying on the cross for the life of the world that we must emulate in our relationship with our significant other.

"It is Christ’s self-emptying on the cross..."

According to Genesis, God set out to create the world. His last act of creation is the human being, a creature he put in charge of tending and keeping the Garden of Eden. This concludes God’s work, who then rests on the seventh day and admires his handiwork. Yet the story does not end here. According to the Gospel of John, it is not until Christ utters from the cross, “It is finished,” that creation truly reaches its apex (John 19:28). Jesus Christ is the completion of God’s creation; he is the human being, following his Father through the vicissitudes of his earthly life, one that ends in a death that, as John narrates earlier, gives life to the world (John 6:51). It is no accident that Christ makes such a pronouncement from the cross. It is in the cross that the ultimate mystery of the divine is revealed: an incarnate God crucified for and by his creation in an act of unparalleled, self-emptying love. For this scene, John leans heavily on Paul, whom we hear preach that Adam was “a type of the one who was to come,” that is, Jesus Christ (Romans 5:14). Moreover, since Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15) and humans are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), it follows that we are made in the image of Christ. Jesus, then, is the real prototype in the creation of human beings, and his sacrifice on the cross becomes the paradigm that Christian partners must imitate in their love for one another.

It is good to remember, at this point, that the cross does not encompass merely suffering for the sake of the other. As Fr. Alexander Schmemann so often emphasizes in his writings, Christians, and by extension Christian partners, should most of all possess joy, Christ’s joy (John 15:11). Authentic joy, however, is not a superficial happiness, rooted in the belief that God’s Kingdom will turn things “right” — which, incidentally, nullifies, in the minds of many, any reason to become dejected in the face of the all-too-apparent destruction and violence in our world, and prompts them, tragically, to explain suffering in rather simplistic terms. As Rowan Williams writes,

The Gospel is that Jesus’s God is King, that the source of all things and the meaning of all things is what Jesus calls Abba; that his reign is at hand, that the manifestation of beauty and significance in the world is always possible and always close; and so, that we can live now under the Kingdom, in readiness and hope, alert for the vision of the Father, without abandoning the world or trivializing history.[5] (second emphasis mine)

Escapism, a withdrawal from the world in fear, which inevitably turns into pompous self-aggrandizement and suspicion of every joy and pleasure, best exemplified by Dostoyevsky’s Fr. Ferapont, is contrary to the message of the gospel. As Williams suggests, the joy of the Christian is not apart from the world or from its painful, idolatrous, and bloody history. Joy is related to the healing touch of Jesus and his Kingdom, which never denies history but always transforms it, renewing everything from within, giving new possibilities to what had been regarded as long dead or beyond hope. Furthermore, joy does not allow for stoic behavior and the hardening of our hearts in the face of our trials or our partner’s, but ensures that our hearts will remain of flesh, ready to suffer for Jesus but also easily able to participate in the celebrations of human life and the delights that accompany each season. By bearing each other’s burdens we do indeed fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2), but these burdens need not become onerous to the point of excluding joy from our life.

Unfortunately, this magnificent vision lies forgotten even by many in the church, as the theology of fear takes over, dictating much of what is preached to young adults about romance and dating. We exhibit such alarm at the prospect of premarital sex that we forget that we can never control other people and their freedom — nor are we called to do so. What we are called to do is to guide people in the process of understanding and accepting their freedom, and learning to use it in a manner befitting Christ. Since we are not a nation of ideologues, but of priests (Exodus 19:6; 1 Peter 2:9), and if of priests then of pastors, we cannot issue encyclicals and lists about what love “ideally” looks like or when it “ideally” needs to happen. Dating per se should not be shunned. Least of all should we teach that a relationship might result in heartache and so postponing dating until after college is the desired course of action, as if a greater number, in terms of age, is proportionate somehow to less suffering or points to the capacity to handle suffering better. Such a position begs the question, If God was not spared violence, how can we expect ourselves to escape it or delay it until we are “ready”? And are we ever truly ready for it? Pastorally, the emphasis should always center on Jesus Christ. Only a deep and intimate knowledge of the Lord, a pursuit that undoubtedly spans one’s entire life, can provide the right emphasis and perspective in a commitment, be it short term or long term. Since no one can predict with absolute certainty when the appropriate time to enter a relationship is and thus write a doctrine that can be enforced on everyone indiscriminately, discernment on our part is what is required if we are to mentor people who seek advice on such matters. A pastoral mind does not deal in absolutes, but in particulars.

It is somewhat stunning that, instead of preparing our youth for a life of witness to Christ, we pander to them to such an unhealthy degree, forgetting to teach them responsibility and discipline in the Lord — something for which, incidentally, they yearn. We seem to have fallen into a state of spiritual amnesia, neglecting that the gospel is applicable to people of all ages. Our young adults should be trained for martyrdom, and for many the arena where this will take place is not the Colosseum of the Roman Empire, but marriage. Martyrdom, understandably, has come to be identified exclusively with gruesome torments and public executions. At its root, however, the word literally translates as witness (from the Greek martyr). The term’s immediate denotation is linked to the courtroom, where a witness testifies on behalf of a party as to the veracity of the claims on trial or of events that transpired. To be a Christian witness is to give evidence to the world on behalf of God, to testify to the faithfulness of God and his promises. More precisely, it is to embody the life of Christ, his Passion, crucifixion and resurrection. It is to relate to one another in a new way, attesting to the transformative power of Jesus and his Kingdom. Marriage is not only supposed to reveal this, but also make visible the greatest mystery of all: the marriage feast of the Lamb described in Revelation, where the heavenly Jerusalem comes down to earth to meet the bride, i.e., the Church. Marriage, in a special way, brings to light Abba’s greatest plan: to marry his creation.

That love requires sacrifice is a novelty to no one, including our entertainers. However twisted, this notion is present even in a song like “Criminal.” What Britney seems to be asking her audience is a relinquishing of the intellect in favor of following one’s “instincts” and pursuing a relationship that makes little sense but that feels good from a purely physical and (bio)chemical perspective. She even has to reassure her mother of her wellbeing in the face of the overwhelming evidence that this type of relationship is simply detrimental from whatever angle one views it. The consequences of such a union, beyond a four-minute video (or a two-hour movie), are left up to an enthralled audience to work out, a task that is rather difficult when there is so much ennui in our quotidian lives that we literally pay money to escape it as often as we can. The sacrifice that Jesus Christ asks of us does not demand a split between our minds and our hearts, but a bringing together of the two in faithfulness to him and to our partner. Jesus does not take us away from life, but plunges us back into it with renewed vigor each time. It is the daily grind that we are asked to transform with our presence and our witness.


[1] Jocelyn Vena, “Britney Spears’ ‘Criminal’ Director Talks Gun Controversy.” October 12, 2011 <http://www.mtv.com/news/articles/1672848/britney-spears-criminal-director-gun.jhtml&gt;.

[2] It is beyond the scope of this reflection to analyze in depth this phenomenon. With the reader’s indulgence, these casual observations will do for now.

[3] Susan Sontag, Regarding the Pain of Others, (New York, NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2003), 95-96.

[4] To be sure, the way that love is portrayed in the media is multifaceted. This reflection has only drawn attention to one aspect, but it is by no means an exhaustive study of the hypotheses that are on the market, so to speak.

[5] Rowan Williams, The Truce of God, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2005), 80.


Volume 2, Number 11, Authors and Contributors

November 16, 2011

Monk Silouan is the acting superior of the Monastery of the Holy Archangel Michael in Cañones, NM. After spending several years as Carmelite monk in the Catholic Church, Fr Silouan became Orthodox and lived at the Monastery of St John of San Francisco in Pt Reyes Station and Manton, CA, before being called to lead the small community of St Michael in the New Mexican desert.

The Author of “Our Relationship with Christ” asked to remain anonymous. He is a member of the Orthodox Church in America and a recent college graduate.

Thomas Eric Ruthford is an author living near Seattle, Wash. “Single Patience” is article is an excerpt from his new book, Heaven Help the Single Christian, published by Regina Orthodox Press. He is now married and owns a dog.

Andreea Balan was born and raised in Romania, moving to the U.S. when she was 16 years old. After graduating from St. John’s College in Santa Fe, NM with a degree in liberal arts, she went to study theology at St. Vladimir’s Seminary. Upon completion of her degree in 2010, she relocated to Dallas, TX where she serves as the youth director for a local Orthodox church in the Antiochian archdiocese.


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