This Valentine’s Day, Discover Love the Orthodox Way

Andrew F. Estocin | 13 February 2016

Just in time for Valentine’s Day, the Barna Group has released a study showing that young people view failing to recycle items like cardboard and aluminum cans as more immoral than pornography.  The Porn Phenomenon survey of teenagers and young adults found that 32% of those surveyed believe that viewing porn is “usually or always wrong” compared to 56% who say not recycling is “usually or always wrong.”

St. Valentine must be rolling in his grave.

More than ever we see that the opposite of real love is not hating people but using people.

As Valentine’s Day becomes more and more about sex rather than real love, here are three Orthodox lessons about love to remember this Valentine’s Day:

Real Love Does Not Use – It Gives: What Orthodox Christianity teaches about love is very different from the popular idea of love. Popular love focuses on what other people do for us. This is reflected in a popular culture where people constantly use each other sexually and mistake such actions for genuine love. Seeing people as objects instead of icons of God’s love is dangerous. When men and women lose their intrinsic worth in the eyes of others, they are easily damaged. Real love in Orthodox Christianity is never about using people to feel good about ourselves. Men and women are not designed to use each other, but to empty themselves and give to each other. This is the foundation of healthy love and part of being created in the image and likeness of God. St. Basil the Great tells us that real love is “ …not to seek what is for your own benefit, but what is for the benefit of the one loved, both in body and in soul.”

Real Love Practices Chastity: Orthodox Christianity understands that sex is good and has always been a special gift of creation. However, like any gift, it can be used in a healthy way or in an unhealthy way. The teaching of the Church shows us how to use the gift of sexuality in a healthy way. Orthodoxy offers some of the most progressive and healthy advice when it comes to sex. At the heart of this advice is the practice of chastity. Popular love says that the freedom to do whatever we desire sexually is healthy. Chastity says that we find real freedom and real love when we give up the notion of unrestrained sexual freedom for the greater good of the one we love in an eternal commitment. For this reason, chastity says no to any sex outside of sacramental marriage as well as no to unhealthy sex in marriage because real love strives for something more beautiful than pleasure alone. St. Augustine of Hippo reminds us that “Chastity, or cleanness of heart, holds a glorious and distinguished place among the virtues, because she, alone, enables man to see God; hence Truth itself said, ‘Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.’”

Chastity protects people from being objects and becoming numb to real love. It teaches us to love in the way that makes our lives meaningful. Real love practices chastity because it understands that behind each “NO” God gives us, there is a greater and more beautiful “YES”. Every person–without exception–is able to experience the “YES” of real love that the gift of chastity gives us. This real love is far more enduring and fulfilling than anything in popular culture. And contrary to popular belief, chastity even leads to a healthy sex life.

Real Love Makes Us Vulnerable: Real love is never safe. It never hides the broken reality of the world. Loving people does not make us perfect, nor does it conceal our flaws. Real love makes us vulnerable and exposes our deepest weaknesses so as to transform them into something beautiful. C.S. Lewis wrote the following:

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one. . . Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

An Orthodox Christian understanding of love is one in which each of us become the people God intended us to be. This type of love is more than the feeling of falling in love. It is more than romance. It is more than sex. Real love is an ascetic choice to live our lives as a gift. Real love is a choice to submit every aspect of our lives to the good of another person. In this way, real love is not only vulnerable but healing. One of the great secrets of living an Orthodox Christian life of love is that by being vulnerable, we find a joy that far transcends the commercial feeling of love the world celebrates every Valentine’s Day.

The commercial onslaught of Valentine’s Day can be overwhelming. It is easy for Orthodox Christians to resign themselves to moving along and doing nothing. February 14th is just one day. However, each of us would do well to remember the words of Metropolitan Kallistos Ware who wrote that “In its deepest sense, love is the life, the energy, of the Creator in us.” History has shown that this energy has the capacity to change the world in the face overwhelming odds and the most broken of circumstances.

Real love has radically changed countless lives before, and it can do so time and again.

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