To Cross the Line?..

The Church believes that the circumstances of extramarital relationship, that is, fornication last for years. People lose the joy and meaning of life, they suffer from a severe 'hangover' in their souls. You write at the end of your letter that you regret nothing, these words are very bitter to me, they show that your soul is badly wounded, to the extent that you feel no repentance for your sin.
admin | 16 March 2009

A story published in the youth magazine Naslednik 

Why I Resolved to Do It 

Hello. I would like to ask one of your priests for advice. I do not know what to do about my life. I will start from the very beginning. In the ninth grade I started to believe in God. I had never felt so happy before. As my faith increased, I realized that my careless lifestyle full of parties was unsuitable for an Orthodox Christian. My confessor explained why, and I agreed with him. Slowly, with failures, I was improving my lifestyle. It was very hard. I could hardly graduate from high school. Like an alcoholic, I was struggling with myself not to break down. 

After my graduation my parents sent me to Moscow, to St. Dimitry’s college, as my confessor had advised. I dreamed of becoming a doctor so I gladly agreed. Besides, it was Moscow! I still remember three wonderful years of college study… 

In the forth year I started dating a seminary student, Pasha. He was charming and intelligent, I liked him a lot. He even introduced me to his parents. I was so happy I had not been with a man, waiting for my future husband! I imagined myself a priest’s wife with many kids, was ready to follow Pasha to any remote parish! I did not mind any hardships to come. 

…Pasha had promised to come to my graduation party, but he did not show up. I have not seen him ever since. A week later he called me and told me that he had met somebody else and that he liked her more than me. I was shocked. But what could I do? I pitied myself, cried my eyes out, and then moved on. I started studying to become a speech therapist, got a job.

Sometime later I started dating Sasha, who was my coworker. Movie theaters, cafes, walks… I was hearing wedding bells. Once a colleague who did not know about our relationship told me that Sasha was going to get married soon. I blushed with joy, because I though it meant he was going to propose to me any day now. But the colleague went on, saying that Sasha had shown him his beautiful bride’s photo. I remember I almost choked on an apple. It was not me in the picture! Sasha had been sneakily dating two girls at the same time, choosing the better one. She turned out to be the better one… 

I quit my job, lapsed into depression. But my former college classmates helped me. I came back to life, went home to see my parents and confessor. Then I returned to Moscow believing that everything would be okay and that any experience, even negative, is good. 

I got a new job, resumed my education… Everything seemed to be fine on the surface. But I was in fact really lonely, and suffered from it. I had already turned 24 by that time. I regularly saw weddings and baptisms in church, many of my friends got married. I took part in wedding ceremonies as a bride’s maid, became my friend’s daughter’s godmother, helped my friends with their kids. I gradually grew to resent it. I felt like an ugly old spinster whose destiny was nursing somebody else’s children for the rest of her days. 

But one windy fall evening while I was having a coffee in a cafe alone, some guy Dima joined me. We started talking and lost track of time… I felt a new hope in my heart. It only took me two dates to realize that he must be THE ONE who I had been waiting for so long. We sometimes talked about faith, so he knew about my negative attitude to physical relationships before marriage. But, to my surprise, he accepted it! That made me love him even more. 

We had been dating for some months when I had to leave the flat I rented. Dima tactfully suggested that I should move to his place. It would save money, too, as we were saving up for our wedding. I was tired of Orthodox restrictions. I just wanted to live and love. 

…Our сohabitation lasted six months. The first months of living together were the happiest. Then I realized, and it terrified me, that I did not want to spend my whole life with Dima. Why did it happen? Did I find something wrong about him, got disappointed and fell out of love? I do not know. But the more we were together, the more clearly I saw that he was not the one. 

I was the one who suggested breaking up. 

Then I went home, to my parents’ place. I did not tell them anything. I remember the confession. My confessor shook his head in shock, put his hand on my head and told me in a really sad voice, “We let that happen, Lerka… It’s my fault, too…” “What are you talking about? It’s me… It’s not your fault…” And I started to cry. We talked for a long time and I said something that had been really bothering me, “Father, I regret nothing. It just happened, so let it be…” “You’ll regret it later, Lera, not now. Later…” 

I went back to Moscow, to my church, rented a flat together with a friend. Helping my friends with their kids again. I have not met Dima, he stopped calling. He probably knows I will not pick up. 

For now I do not want anything, I want neither marriage not children. I just want to live, work and heal my tired soul. Only God knows what is going to happen to me.

Priest Maksim Pervozvanskiy, chief editor of the youth magazine Naslednik, comments on the letter. 

Dear Lera! What I feel after reading your letter is bitterness. Things did not work out the way they could have. Something that was so bright at first, turns into this emptiness and almost into desperation.

The priest is some kind of doctor who must diagnose a case before giving prescriptions. Your detailed letter is quite complex, as it describes different experiences that put you to a real test. But the diagnosis can be only one, it says that you have broken God’s commandment. It sounds simple and may seem to have no connection with real life, but it is not true. When God gave Moses the commandments thousands of years ago, He said, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (Deu 30:19). 

When we come to church we hear a lot of advice, comments and sermons. It is like, do this but not that, go here but not there, eat this but not that. It is very hard to sort out all this variety. But there is a clear borderline, God’s commandments, and there are specific recommendations for different life situations. The commandments are universal, you cannot break them under any circumstances. If you buy a new washing-machine, what is the first thing you do? I hope you read the manual. Well, you can just turn it on and rely on a hit-and-miss approach… So you are going to put trousers with some screws in the pockets into the washing-machine. But it was made so that you cannot do that. It is like a commandment. You can break it and do what you like, but the machine will break down. You could also use some water softener when washing, but it is just a recommendation. 

If people break a commandment, they always break something inside themselves. This is called a sin, such a familiar word. Sins can vary in severity. There are deadly sins among them, when a person’s soul is badly wounded. These wounds can sometimes hurt more than physical ones, and they take more time to heal, even though you often do not see them with your eyes. 

The Church believes that the circumstances of extramarital relationship, that is, fornication (I am not judging you, Lera, just calling things by their proper names) last for years. People lose the joy and meaning of life, they suffer from a severe ‘hangover’ in their souls. You write at the end of your letter that you regret nothing, these words are very bitter to me, they show that your soul is badly wounded, to the extent that you feel no repentance for your sin. The numbness of your feelings after breaking up with Dimitry is, in fact, even worse than pain. It is like anesthesia after amputation. When one does not feel anything, does not want anything, does not hope for anything, it is the sin of sorrow, or even moderate desperation. This does not mean that I ‘prophesy’ this to you, it is just the way the human soul is made. God is merciful, He loves you very much no matter what. But we need to understand that it is really hard to get rid of the consequences of sin. 

If we look at divorce rates in Russia, it is terrible, seven-eight out of ten marriages end up in divorce! Why? It is because people often have physical relationships before marriage, which makes them incapable of true love, they are emptied. Surely nobody can guarantee that if one falls in love, it will remain this way till the end of one’s life. No, you need to nurture love, to work on it. If you do not make your soul ready for love, it will not work out. I believe that true love (and I mean love, not passion or infatuation, which are often mistaken for it) is possible only in marriage. Indeed, people must know each other really well, get used to each other’s flaws and peculiarities, learn to live together. Infatuation shall wear off in about six months or maybe a year. It is very important not to cross the line that you talk about in your letter, the line of chastity. 

The physical distance between people should shorten more slowly than their feelings develop. Otherwise it ruins everything. This often happens to couples, when they get close at once, start living together, even though they are not ready for it, and eventually break up. Chastity before marriage helps people understand one more important thing, that love is what matters. Physical relationships come with marriage, they are inseparable from it, but they are not the main thing. Those who think that bed, and not love and fidelity, is the most important, face serious problems in marriage as well. This disproportion often leads to the tragedy of divorce. 

I understand why you left Dimitry, why you could not be with him anymore. Valeria, of course you are having a hard time now. You will eventually realize many things, as your confessor said. When we cross the line, it gets really hard to choose the right path. It is crucial not to plunge in dissipation now, not to lose hope. It is no easy to stop after falling. Your decision to tell your confessor everything was an important step that broke the chain of sins, which always cling to one another. It is important to manage to fill the emptiness in your soul, and not with new ‘painkillers’ but with good works. The church calls it ‘taking penance’. Only then one’s sin is defeated when one takes pains that should adequately correspond to the committed sin. Discuss it with your confessor. 

Actually, ladies might find it useful to read Russian classic love novels. Look how the female characters act when they do not get personal happiness for some reasons. Look at Masha from Pushkin’s Dubrovsky or Tatyana Larina from his Eugene Onegin. The author does not say how religious they were, but it was very typical of Russian women in the past. They were faithful to their husbands even if they did not love them. God supported them, did not forsake them, did not let them fly into despair even under such unfortunate circumstances, because they did not cross the line of chastity, did not cheat on their husbands. 

Of course, it is good to marry somebody you have an infatuation with, which later grows into true love. Marriage is not merely an official status. No, it is a decision to live your whole life with somebody no matter what troubles may come. The couple makes this decision together, declares it in public, and asks for God’s blessing. Then their feelings become based on something strong enough. Before this you cannot cross the line. It is not because the Church is sanctimonious and it does not want people to be happy. No, it comes from many centuries’ experience of human mistakes and tragedies, which has given the Church knowledge of how to help people build their relationship in the right way. It is very painful for us priests to learn that a young person has committed something suicidal for their soul. We try to stop them, to make them understand, “Wait, don’t be in a hurry. Think about it, you’re not the first person living in this world. Thousands of generations have lived before you, and each generation keeps repeating the same mistake…” The church therefore is the keeper of the knowledge of how to become happy. 

To make a good sword one has to put it into fire and water, hammer it, add some chrome, etc. in order for the blade to become very durable. The same goes about people. In order to make us strong God puts us to various tests. You had all these unfortunate infatuations because they were preparing you for something greater. It is crucial to endure these troubles and not to break down. If you fall, you must get up and continue walking. Yes, it is hard, but there is no other way out. 

You write that it is hard for you to nurse somebody else’s children, to take part in wedding ceremonies. You think that you will end up being an old spinster. Many people thinks so, and then, all of a sudden, they find their true love. There are lots of examples of miraculous meetings of people who are just made for each other. One girl, let us call her Natasha, had not met the right man till she was 28. She was extremely unhappy about it, even to the point of blaming God. When she liked somebody, here feelings were unrequited, which made it more painful. She sometimes had nervous breakdowns, so that her confessor even had to come over to her place to calm her down. But then came the time when she freed her mind from anxiety, started smiling again, got a radiant inner glow because she had entrusted herself to God. In summer she went on vacation to visit some priest she knew. There she met a young man Yury who was two years younger and had come on vacation, too. It was love at first sight. He proposed to her within a week! Now Natalia and Yury are married and have two kids. What if she had done something stupid out of despair, started to live with somebody she did not love in a ‘civil marriage’? Who knows what could have become of her. 

About your sin… Some things are probably lost forever. We lose many different things and feelings. It is important to realize it and not to repeat the same mistakes in future. You may have lost the freshness of feelings, innocence and, of course, chastity. You can hardly see the light through heavy fog. But this does not mean that your life is over or that happiness is no longer possible for you. Since you are a believer, you are better off than a non-believer. You can trust God, your Heavenly Father, Who loves you very much and will do everything that is best for you, even if you have made a big mistake and your soul is wounded. He will help you heal this wound in time. But you should help Him, too. Do not surrender to dismal thoughts, learn to enjoy your life again, and to wait. “In your patience possess ye your souls” (Luke 21:19).

Translated by Alexey Malafeev

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