Friday, June 28, 2013

Marriage and Ascetisicm

Marriage has had a changing form throughout the centuries and it continues to be challenged in our modern era. The following entry will try to establish and challenge the notion of what ascetical marriage means within the context of our modern times. Marriage a few thousand years ago was viewed as a means to survive through the process of pro-creation. Marriage today has been characterized as a self-fulfillment of both security and fulfillment of one’s own career. These two notions of marriage I plan to challenge to see if truly the meaning of marriage is for only pro-creation or for the establishment of one’s own career.  
Abstinence and procreation have become two ways to understanding martial asceticism. However, by examining the paradigm of marriage we will begin to see that abstinence and procreation are nothing more than a teaching tool to the fuller picture of what marriage is understood to be. They’re both very positive tools are procreation and abstinence are needed tools for marriage however, when they start to define the marriage that is when the marriage begins to collapse from within.

The foundational words for understanding marriage occur when one opens scripture. God created the human being in his image and likeness. He created them male and female asking them to be fruitful and multiply. Theologians point to this passage as being the main reason one gets married. I would challenge this notion because God also allowed the animals to procreate (cf. Gen 1.22). Human beings were created by the word of God while every other creation was spoken into existence. God said let it be and it was. Humanity was the only creation made in the image and likeness of God from the creation accounts. So why would God bestow a great mystery of procreation to the animals? One answer might be that the purpose of marriage was not only limited to procreation but a deeper meaning lies beneath understanding the purpose of the ascetical marriage.    

Marriage then, understood in the context of the Genesis account, can be viewed as a giving up of the self to be restored in the image of God. This paradigm continues on in the Scripture of the New Testament. Marriage is understood by the Apostle Paul as a sacrifice being made for the other individual. He summarizes in to the Corinthians that a man or a woman should not rule over their body but to give up the body for the other (cf. 1 Cor 7.1-6). Paul later on would tell the community that he would wish everyone to be like him, which is to say, to remain celibate. Celibacy has its reward as a sacrifice to Christ through the formation and breaking down and rising up of the human being, to be formed in Christ’s image and likeness. By conclusion the New Testament through St. Paul demonstrates that both marriage and celibacy have a unique place within the church. The church later on would hold this beauty of marriage and adopt it as one of the mysteries of the church. 

By way of conclusion, marriage then should not only be viewed from the realm of procreation. This can happen if God allows it to be. The challenge then that Christians must bring to marriage or the celibate life, is not how to cope with either but rather it should look towards Christ. By making Christ present in this world this will spiritually procreate Christ. A Christian marriage is thus defined neither by its procreation function or unity two people together as two separate aspects of the marriage. If these two are understood to stand alone within the paradigm of marriage then this will lead to a self-centered ideology. Rather Christian marriage is a means of manifesting Christ, continuing and showing his liturgy for the life of the world. In turn marital asceticism as temporary sexual abstinence is not what it has mistakenly become in modern thought on marriage, a means of making sexual activity more unitive. Rather, temporary sexual abstinence, should be viewed in light as a God given means of refocusing our center of attention, with the aim of achieving, what was given from the beginning-to be made males and females in the image and likeness of God. But the truth remains of this is still hidden with Christ in God, who stature we continue trying to attain throughout the progression of life.   

Father Alexander Schmemann sums it up beautifully on what it means to married:

“A marriage which does not constantly crucify its own selfishness and self-sufficiency, which does not “die to itself” that it may point beyond itself, is not a Christian marriage. The real sin of marriage today is not adultery or lack of “adjustment” or “mental cruelty.” It is the idolization of the family itself, the refusal to understand marriage as directed toward the Kingdom of God. This is expressed in the sentiment that one would “do anything” for his family, even steal. The family has here ceased to be for the glory of God; it has ceased to be a sacramental entrance into his presence. It is not the lack of respect for the family, it is the idolization of the family that breaks the modern family so easily, making divorce its almost natural shadow. It is the identification of marriage with happiness and the refusal to accept the cross in it. In a Christian marriage, in fact, three are married; and the united loyalty of the two toward the third, who is God, keeps the two in an active unity with each other as well as with God. Yet it is the presence of God which is the death of the marriage as something only “natural.” It is the cross of Christ that brings the self-sufficiency of nature to its end. But “by the cross, joy entered the whole world.” Its presence is thus the real joy of marriage. It is the joyful certitude that the marriage vow, in the perspective of the eternal Kingdom, is not taken “until death parts,” but until death unites us completely.” – Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Memory Eternal Fr. Matta El-Meskeen (Matthew the Poor)

Father Matthew was not only a monk but a man who allowed Christ to penetrate his heart in order to learn the true love of Christ. His words were simple but powerful, he was gentle but effective, always treated others like Christ did but never asked for anything in return. Father Matthew was a key figure in the revival of the modern Monastic movement which began within the Coptic Church in the 1950s. He was appointed abbot of the monastery of St. Macarius in 1969 and was given the task by his Holiness Pope Kirolos the 6th to revive and restore the monastery. By the time of his death the community had grown from 6 aged monks, two of whom were blind, to a 130 monks by the time of his departure (June 8th 2006). During his time many monasteries had been revived and new one's were build. He was not only a monastic but was also a prolific writer. Retreating to his cave in the desert he composed over 170 books and over 300 journal articles on Biblical exegesis, ecclesiastical rites, pastoral and theological matters, and much more. 

The following are words spoken out of Fr. Matta's wisdom:

Whenever physical hunger turned cruel against me, I found my gratification in prayer. Whenever the biting cold of winter was unkind to me, I found my warmth in prayer. Whenever people were harsh to me (and their harshness was severe indeed) I found my comfort in prayer. In short, prayer became my food and my drink, my outfit and my armor, whether by night or by day.

It is no joy for the church to many active members of varied services who lack the spiritual proficiency for renewing souls and regenerating them in a genuine spiritual rebirth to win them for the Kingdom of Heaven. The true joy of the church lies in leaders who possess spiritual insight, who walk ahead of their flocks so that the flocks can follow a sure path. It is not possible to obtain spiritual insight by action or study, spiritual insight is attained by silence, retreat and long prayers in their various stages.

The following is a documentary about the Monastery which was filmed shortly after his repose: