December 9, 2011

A Call for [God-] Manliness

St. George and Martyrdom Scenes

I recently had a moment of etymological enlightenment about the word “virtue.” Double checking the Online Etymology Dictionary, I learned that the Latin origin of the word translates to “moral strength, manliness, valor, excellence, worth (vir- is man).” The Oxford English Dictionary says that virtue is "the power or operative influence inherent in a supernatural or divine being." Not leaving out my ethnic heritage’s two-cents, the equivalent Greek word for manliness or valor is “ανδρεία” (andria). The first virtuous people who come to mind are many Saints who attested to their faith by living a life of virtue in their thoughts, words, and deeds. As a result, they invited the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in them and in their bodies and performed miracles. Both men and women displayed manly valor and bravery during suffering and martyrdom—they literally imitated Christ to the end.

Saint Katherine
Great Martyr
Since we Orthodox Christians are of the mind to live out our theology rather than to simply discuss it in an arm chair (or just write about it in a blog for fun), I am officially putting out a call for a REVOLUTION to DO something—to bring back this manliness in ourselves, in our Church, and in our culture. Further, this should be a type of God-Manliness, following the example of Christ. The goal of this revolution is to begin a transformation of human fallen nature into that which is more Christ-like.

So let us begin by focusing on an aspect of our lives that seems to concern most Orthodox young people. It is a matter that directly relates to our salvation—that of relationship, specifically that of the marriage relationship, which literally brings us together into a special and holy community...


In all seriousness, there are some major problems we are facing in our post-modern, twisted and over-sexualized times. It pains me to see our youth engaging in pre-marital sexual behaviors that are hurting them physically and spiritually. Here is a previous post of my own that suggests that preserving one’s sexual purity is to be done in the name of and love for God, not simply for following rules and moral obligations. A very well-written and astute observation on how necessary it is for young people to preserve their sexual purity is to be found here at the Holy Protection Hummus and Pizza Parlor blog. The author (Mike A.) makes the profound point that maintaining one’s purity by practicing abstinence is a witness to Christ. He also makes a call for our Church youth ministries to more directly address this concern and to help our young people get thorough the temptations of the world.

Saint Demetrios
Patron of Youth

It is not totally the fault of our beloved youth for engaging in promiscuity. This happens when temptations posed by the evil one are victorious over young people who are not guarded by the full armor of Christ. Now, is it not the responsibility of parents, youth directors, and the Church to equip them with that armor? Here is where my cohorts and I, the so-called “young adults” can begin the revolution by being examples to the teens and college kids.

Shout out to the 25 to 40-something crowd, LISTEN UP... We ourselves are actually prone to a more subtle and not outwardly immoral problem like promiscuity and fornication, but instead, we are experiencing a rapid loss of valor, courage, manliness, if you will, among men and women alike, in our relationships...leading almost always to a lack thereof... Perhaps our youth need to see an improvement in us, their "hip" young adult role models. If they saw our bravery and especially our JOY when we decide to enter into the arena of marriage with our focus on Christ, then maybe they too would guard their hearts and bodies in preparation for their turn to come....a nice thought, isn't it?

Recently among my acquaintances, I have known of several independent stories of relationships that had / still have solid potential for Christ-centered marriages because both parties are seeking to live a life in Christ. However, they either have failed or never began in the first place--usually, because one party ran away out of fear. My question is why? Why are we so afraid of entering into matrimony, a path on which two people work together to get one another to Paradise? The short answer is succumbing to the wiles of the evil one because of our weaknesses.  Of course it is a challenging journey that takes much work, but laboring to love our neighbors (the equally yoked spouse and children) in the name of Christ, makes us more like Him, more God-manly. Instead of desiring this supreme form of love (agape), we choose a life of singularity that has the dangerously high probability that we will fall to the loweset form of love, that which is self-centered pride. Read this short story of Dostevsky's, Notes from the Underground, the main character is one who finds himself caught between choosing these two roads, and sorry to give it away a bit, but the end shows his unhappy decision...
“Saints Timothy and Maura” Henryk Siemiradzki

Saints Timothy and Maura,
Married Saints and Martyrs for Christ
I will refrain from gender-bashing, because everyone has inherited the fallen nature of our first parents—such as the passivity and cowardice of Adam and the disobedience and rebellion of Eve. Let us instead be rebellious against this fallen nature which is so well-promoted by our modern secular world whose air we breathe and life we share. Saint Paul gives us instructions for this holy rebellion by defining the roles of a husband and wife in the Epistle to the Ephesians 5:20-33, which is read during the Orthodox Marriage sacrament.


I particularly love the beginning of the passage (v.20-21): giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of God. This is a call to thanksgiving to God in all things (both joys and sorrows of life), and a call to humility. If these things are mentioned first, they must be important coaching pointers to get us pumped and ready to go...

 
Saints Joachim and Anna,
Iconof the Conception of the Theotokos

The rest of the passage explains HOW each person is to rebel against the fallen nature of the respective genders. Men are called to be like Christ--to die (kill the ego), as Christ did for His Church. Women are called to be respectful and obedient (more ego killing), as the Church is to Christ. In theory, this sounds nice and we intellectually know it is for our salvation. But it is definitely scary to face our fallenness and most assuredly difficult to transform it continually for a lifetime. It's no wonder that we run for the hills if this reality hits us when we are not ready to face ourselves and to realize that we must change. Wait, CHANGE? Is that an Orthodox word?? It is when it is translated from metanoia (repentance)...


So, let us begin the revolution! The sacrament of Confession is the best weapon for all of us to begin to get familiar with or to re-familiarize ourselves with it—especially if it is done regularly, with a priest who knows us well, with whom we are completely open, removing the trash of sin from the soul. This regular cleansing regimen will allow room in our hearts for Christ to dwell therein.


The sure way to become more like Christ, to become more God-manly, is to get to know Him better and to invite Him into our lives, into our hearts and minds. This happens through daily reading of the Scriptures, regular participation in the sacramental life of the Church, seeking the help of a spiritual father, and talking to Christ unceasingly through prayer. Focusing on our personal relationship with Christ first will armor us with virtue and manliness so that we are prepared to enter into the intimate community of marriage. A loving relationship founded on Christ, regardless of all temptations and challenging situations that scare us away, is one that will never die. It is a golden opportunity where one can truly follow the two simple commandments of loving God with all our being and loving our neighbor.

Are you now game for joining the revolution? Let's do it team!  Please share your strategies!