Source: The Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America
What would you say if I told you that I was one of the very few people I know who have not been married by the time they were 18? Some of my friends have already been married two or three times, and some have been married since they were in middle school. No, none of these marriages were arranged, nor were they Mormon. Perhaps the strangest part of these marriages is that they did not involve a proposal, a wedding gown, a church, or even a court justice. All they involved was sex.
That’s right, I said these marriages were only sex. Believe me, if this topic is making you squirm in your seat, try being the orator! But we do live in the 21st century, and sex is an important topic that needs some attention. The rest of the world seems to have forgotten that sex is marriage. It is the unification of one flesh, but it is a unity that God intended to occur under the holy sacrament of marriage.
Why is everyone rushing into premarital sex? Am I missing something by sticking to the Orthodox doctrine of waiting until marriage? What do I do if even my brothers and sisters in faith have started to fall away?
I swear, by the time you hit 12 years old, all anyone wants to teach you about are the dangers of drinking, drugs, and sex. At school, it’s always the dangers of unprotected sex, which is why half of the bathrooms in my house at school have free condoms in them. And now it’s also about consensual sex — I mean, I got candy in my mailbox with a note reminding me to make sure I asked for consent before having sex on Halloween! But what about the dangers of sex all together? At what point did sex stop being sacred and start becoming recreational?
I can remember sitting at co-ed cabin times at the Village when I was younger, and somehow, the talks always ended up being about sex. Maybe it was because it’s something more difficult to say “no” to than drugs or drinking because sex is something that is meant to be shared by two people in love, but again, the world always leaves out the “joined by God” part. Anyway, I remember sitting out on the basketball courts and listening to one of the counselors say, “You should never do anything you wouldn’t do with your mother or sister,” granted, this was to the guys of the group, but at the awkward age of thirteen, the imagery of kissing my dad the same way I had watched people kiss in movies was horrifying! I mean, sometimes I’ll hold hands with my dad, and I’ll hug him or kiss him on his cheek, but come on now, are we really meant to be that limited in our physical relationships with the opposite sex!
That brings up another issue: God intended us to be kissing members of the opposite sex, not of our own. Now, just a minute — hold it right there! At my incredibly liberal arts school, I think I might be put in the stocks and have rotten commons’ tomatoes thrown at me for saying such a thing! Homosexuality is another topic that I’ve had the privilege of discussing at the Village. It’s such a touchy question, especially with all of this politically correct business! One of the best stories I’ve heard concerning homosexuality and the Orthodox Church goes something like this: A young man was desperately searching for the right church. Every church that he had been to refused to let him become a member because he was homosexual. So he comes to the Orthodox Church and falls so much in love with it that he decides he wants to become a parishioner. He arranges a meeting with the priest, how tells him, “Start by reading the scriptures and attending more church services, and then we’ll go from there.” The man looks at the priest and says, “But, Father, I’m gay.” The priest says, “That’s nice. Start by reading the Gospel of Mark.” Amazed, the young man says more definitively, “Maybe you didn’t hear me. I said I’m gay!” The priest looks at him and says very deliberately, “Maybe you didn’t hear me. I said start with the Gospel of Mark.” I love this story because it teaches us to always follow our Orthodox faith and hope in others. Although God did not intend for us to have homosexual tendencies, it is not our place to judge. As I told a dear friend of mine, “Although being homosexual is not the best choice for someone, it’s not my place to judge them. I love them just the same as I love everyone else.”
O.K., whoa. Back to the last question: what are our limitations? God obviously gave us the parts He did for a reason, but after searching, the best guidelines I could find in the Bible only told me, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality” (I Thes. 4:3). Well that’s descriptive! In a world that obviously has different definitions as to what constitutes actual sex, a la President Clinton, how do we establish what our boundaries are? The best answer I found: parents. Huh? If your parents would be upset with you for doing it, it’s probably not a good idea. Parents are, after all, supposed to be our models for how to live a good Christian life.
It is important to remember, though, that “As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear Him” (Psalm 103:13). This means that God loves and forgives us, even when we fall away from Him, which is not an excuse to abuse that love, but rather a reminder of how unconditional true love really is. Take St. Mary of Egypt, for example. A harlot, St. Mary was physically unable to enter a church during the Feast of the Cross celebration. Repenting of her sins, Mary went out into Egypt and lived the rest of her life in chastity and solitude, except for the annual visits of Fr. Zosimos. Although she had committed many sins, she repented and was forgiven, and is now recognized as a saint by the Orthodox Church. She serves as a reminder that our love, like God’s should be pure and unconditional.
Realistically, today’s dating scene is the exact opposite. Newspapers and TV shows are full of stories of infidelity, divorce, and lawsuits. The world envisions love in a material way: buying nice things, being attractive, and “pleasing your partner” in a Cosmopolitan fashion. It has obviously forgotten that love “does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (I Cor. 13:6-7). But we, as Orthodox Christians, know better. The communion hymn “A New Commandment” reminds us every time we sing it that we are to love each other just as God loves us.
Now I can’t lie and say I haven’t thought about sex. Of course I have — I’m a college student who lives in a world run by “Sex and the City”! I am constantly bombarded by the knowledge that so few of my friends still hold onto their virginity — something that I was taught to value as being precious. So many times I have been fed the line, “Sex gives you such a wonderful, intimate experience. There’s no better way to show someone you love them.” And that line is totally correct! But if it is such a strong connection, why do those relationships end? I’m sure there are several reasons, but the biggest one in my mind is because there is no spiritual bond — no unity with God in those relationships.
One of the most complicated lines in Orthodox weddings always seems to be, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body” (Eph. 5:22-3). As a woman living in the 21st century, my gut reaction to hearing that line for the first time was, “What? Submit? Aren’t marriages supposed to be about equality?” And then of course comes the aftermath of, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for her …” (Eph.5:25). O.K., now maybe it’s just me, but didn’t Christ die for the Church? If husbands are supposed to love their wives in the same manner that Christ loves the Church, then my powers of deductive reasoning tell me that that must mean that they are willing to die for their wives. On that note, submission doesn’t sound so bad. Now you know that’s love when your husband agrees to that contract.
In a world where clothing ads are selling more skin than clothing, where 40 percent of college students have the human papilloma virus (a precursor of cervical cancer), and where the show “Desperate Housewives” is a favorite among children ages 9-12, how do we escape the world and still live in it? St. Paul’s letter to the Romans tells us, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2). This, like almost every other aspect of Orthodoxy, is far easier said than done. The truth is, I don’t really know. It is something that I struggle with every day. Often times I wish I had been born in a time when “things were simpler,” but then I realize that everything is a part of God’s will and that He never gives us more than we can handle. For myself, I try to remember St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians where I am reminded that my “body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (I Cor. 6:19). For the rest of the world, all we can do is lead by example, have hope, and pray.
This article originally appeared in THE WORD Magazine Vol.50 No. 1 January 2006