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Familia este însăși temelia ființei umane

Pr. Bassam Nassif

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Părintele Bassam Nassif este profesor de Teologie Pastorală la Facultatea de Teologie Ortodoxă „Sfântul Ioan Damaschin” de la Balamand, Liban. Este căsătorit cu Helen, are trei copii, Ephrem, Sergios și Costy, și slujește într-unul dintre cele mai mici sate din Liban – Kaftoun, în biserica închinată Sfântului Mucenic Foca, Episcopul Sinopei. Anul acesta a fost prezent în România, la Iași, unde a participat la Simpozionul Internațional Studia Theologica Doctoralia. Ultima sa carte – The Mystery of Marriage Amid Deconstruction. A Dialogue Between Orthodox Anthropology and Postmodern Perspectives – este o contribuție valoroasă cu privire la rosturile familiei, oferind înțelegerea problemelor familiilor într-o lume secularizată și a soluțiilor reale pentru orice relație de iubire.

Este oare posibil să trăim Taina Căsătoriei în acord cu gândirea ortodoxă, în societatea care este atât de materialistă, de secularizată și îndepărtată de Dumnezeu? Sunt multe lucruri care afectează relațiile noastre, sensul dragostei, libertatea relației, a intimității, dar cel mai important lucru este să ne întrebăm: ce este o persoană, ce este o ființă umană? Pentru a înțelege mai bine situația familiei în zilele noastre este necesar să ne uităm la anumite probleme sociale ce afectează familia.

Familia într-o lume secularizată

Societatea de astăzi este foarte secularizată, antropocentrică, centrată pe om și nu pe Dumnezeu. Contează doar ceea ce gândesc și vreau eu, ceea ce cred eu despre mine. Aceasta conduce la relativism, la lipsă de comuniune și o atitudine materială în relațiile noastre.

Am întâlnit în România o tânără studentă, care avea zece frați și surori. Am întrebat-o cum trăiește în familie și mi-a spus: comuniunea, împreună viețuirea, ajutorul dat părinților, viața fericită și simplă. La polul celălalt avem tipologia gândirii seculare. Omul secularizat vrea să transpună propriile patimi în mod de viețuire, să le justifice ca fiind adevărate.

Cum se realizează acest lucru la nivel de mentalitate? Prima dată, se neagă faptul că avem o dimensiune spirituală. Problemele din căsnicie, pentru gândirea seculară, sunt relative; nu este luată în seamă originea lor spirituală.

Pentru gândirea seculară, spiritualitatea este anti-ascetică. Am fost în Germania și am vizitat o biserică luterană. Pastorul de acolo avea icoane și lumânări. Am întrebat ce e cu ele, căci ei sunt împotriva lor, la ei nu există simbolism. Mi-a răspuns: „Le folosim pentru că noi ne simțim bine, este ceva plăcut”. Deci, doar ceva emoțional. Nu vor să postească, să îngenuncheze, să se roage mult, nu vor toate aceste lucruri ascetice. Nu vor nicio durere. Părintele Emilianos de la Simonos Petra spunea despre căsătorie că este o călătorie a dragostei și a durerii. Aceasta este căsătoria! Dragoste și durere. Nu există dragoste fără durere și libertate.

Tinerii de azi nu vor durere;
dacă apare o mică neînțelegere, se despart, renunță, pentru că vor doar fericire. Fericirea este un termen social, pentru ceea ce te face să te simți bine. Dar în creștinism bucuria este altceva, este spirituală. Bucuria Învierii, aceea este bucuria. Bucuria este rezultatul călcării morții cu moartea. Este biruirea patimilor egoismului, invidiei, mâniei. Daca ai biruit toate acestea, ai înviat în bucuria lui Hristos. Acestea se realizează în interiorul căsătoriei.

Când mergem la spital, suntem tratați din punct de vedere fizic, emoțional, psihologic. Dar spiritual? Ei nu se gândesc la acest lucru.

Îmi amintesc de un preot, care era și doctor. A primit un telefon de la spital la miezul nopții. Asistenta spunea: „Vă rog, veniți repede, moare”. A plecat repede la spital, i-a făcut teste să vadă ce se întâmplă și nu a găsit nimic care să conducă la moarte. Respira foarte greu, dar l-a îmbrățișat, s-a rugat pentru el și el a dobândit pacea, și-a regăsit bucuria. Dacă nu era și preot, i-ar fi dat injecții, medicamente, de care nu avea nevoie. Aceasta este dimensiunea seculară. Însă omul are în primul rând o dimensiune spirituală.

O altă atitudine secularizată este legată de intimitatea fizică: rolul reproducerii a fost separat de relația intimă. Oamenii caută dragoste pasională. Dar nu este dragoste fără durere.

În trecut, relațiile sexuale aveau loc după căsătorie, dar astăzi, într-o lume postmodernă, este pus sexul înaintea dragostei. Apoi, accentul pe munca femeii (mamă și soție) a complicat lucrurile în familie, căci familia a fost lipsită și de tată, și de mamă.

Astăzi, în America, se spune că nu e nevoie de mamă și de tată pentru a crește copiii. Cine-i va crește? Grădinița, școala, statul. Noi știm că nu putem trăi fără o mamă și un tată.

Sfântul Porfirie Kavsokalivitul
spunea că dacă părinții sunt sfinți, și copiii sunt sfinți. Dacă părinții se ceartă, copiii sunt victime. Și a dat un exemplu. O mamă a venit cu două fete: una era divorțată și cealaltă era singură. Mama era foarte supărată că fata divorțată îi mințise timp de doi ani. Tot le spunea că este bine cu soțul, până când s-au întâlnit cu el pe stradă și au aflat că sunt divorțați. Nu înțelegea de ce fata a mințit-o și a divorțat. Sfântul Porfirie, care avea darul înainte-vederii, s-a uitat la ea și a spus: „E din cauza ta”. „Care e legătura mea cu problema aceasta? Mi-am dedicat viața creșterii copiilor, merg la biserică duminicile, gătesc foarte bine, am grijă de casă, de ce eu? Am venit la tine ca să-mi spui că eu sunt problema?” Sfântul s-a uitat la ea în tăcere și fata necăsătorită a spus: „Mamă, Părintele Porfirie are dreptate. E adevărat că întotdeauna ne-ai pus mâncare bună pe masă, dar tot timpul te certai cu tata. Niciodată nu am mâncat în liniște”. Sfântul Porfirie a spus: „Aceasta a creat răni în inimile copiilor tăi, care au crescut odată cu ele. Aceste răni au apărut când fata s-a căsătorit și au afectat relația cu soțul. De aceea s-a despărțit”.

Sfântul Porfirie spunea că cel mai bun mod de a crește copiii este un mediu liniștit, în care părinții se iubesc reciproc. Aceasta îi face pe copii sfinți. Nu banii, nu faima, nu educația bună, ci relația dintre mamă și tată.

Un alt aspect este puterea mass-mediei și a pornografiei. Părintele Serafim Rose spunea că „pornografia este iconografia diavolului”. De la începutul internetului, pornografia este principala afacere. Chiar și în Liban, când vin copiii de 15–17 ani la spovedanie, problema principală este pornografia. Se străduiesc să scape de ea pentru că observă că au probleme cu ei înșiși, cu ceilalți, cu relațiile lor. Și ajung dependenți.

Cum s-a ajuns aici? La Bruxelles sunt oameni foarte bogați și influenți, care au probleme cu pornografia, pedofilia, homosexualitatea. În 50 de ani au impus regulile și stilul lor de viață întregii lumi. Nu noi am condus societatea la acestea. Sunt multe forțe puternice în lumea asta și nu toți sunt ortodocși. Cea mai mare luptă azi nu este cu armele, nici cu economia, nici cu tehnologia, ci este cu familia. Dacă vor distruge familia, nu mai au ce să mai distrugă, pentru că au distrus ființa umană. Problema familiei este una antropologică: cine sunt eu ca persoană? Sunt chipul lui Dumnezeu. Dacă distrug acest chip, distrug întreaga lume. Totul începe din familie. Ca o căsnicie să funcționeze este nevoie de un duhovnic, deoarece soții au nevoie de sfat, de ajutor și fără acest părinte își vor pierde punctul de referință. Dacă avem soți care trăiesc în acord cu poruncile dumnezeiești, în frica lui Dumnezeu, indiferent ce s-ar întâmpla în viitor cu copiii, chiar dacă s-ar îndepărta de Biserică, ei se vor întoarce.

O femeie a venit plângând
la mine la biserică și mi-a spus: „Nimeni nu ne-a învățat cum să trăim ca și creștini și acum văd pe propriul meu fiu îndepărtându-se de Biserică. Ce ar trebui să fac?” I-am zis că Sfântul Paisie ne-a învățat că dacă te rogi din adâncul inimii pentru copilul tău, se va întoarce. Și asta a făcut. Ar fi făcut orice. A căzut în genunchi, voia să-și salveze copilul. Și în doi ani, el s-a căsătorit cu o tânără foarte credincioasă care l-a adus și pe el în Biserică.

Crucea iubirii învinge moartea

Aș vrea să vă spun o întâmplare povestită de un preot din Grecia, când vorbeam despre căsătorie; este vorba despre un băiat și o fată care se iubeau cu atâta pasiune încât s-au căsătorit fără știrea părinților. Ea era apropiată de viața religioasă, el mai puțin. Se iubeau foarte mult, aveau trei copii, dar după cinci ani, lucrurile au devenit mai grele din punct de vedere economic și ceva s-a întâmplat cu bărbatul. A început să fie foarte neatent față de ea, uneori foarte dur în cuvinte și se certau tot timpul. Ea a mers la duhovnic și i-a spus că vrea să divorțeze. Duhovnicul i-a zis: „Căsătoria este pentru totdeauna în Biserica Ortodoxă. Divorțul înseamnă iconomie. Nu-ți voi da binecuvântare pentru divorț; sunt preot. Tu iei decizia. Mergi la biserică, roagă-te și apoi, revino!” Ea s-a rugat în fața Crucii Mântuitorului și apoi i-a spus preotului: „M-am hotărât să rămân cu soțul meu.” – „Cum te-ai rugat lui Hristos?” – „Hristoase, Domnul meu răstignit, Îți dau toată durerea mea. Tu mi-ai binecuvântat căsătoria, Îți dăruiesc Ție căsnicia mea. Salvează-mă, salvează-mi familia și salvează-mi soțul. Dar mai vreau un lucru de la tine, părintele meu duhovnicesc: să rămâi lângă mine în această luptă.” Anii au trecut, femeia era într-un continuu zbucium, dar a devenit mai rugătoare, a început să citească Biblia mai mult, s-a străduit să-și crească copiii în Biserică și a devenit tot mai tare, ca o piatră, insensibilă. La un moment dat a făcut cancer. A fost o suferință dublă pentru ea, pentru că soțul era foarte insensibil, dar s-a străduit să nu-l judece și se ruga foarte mult. Înainte de a muri, i-a sunat pe cei trei copii și le-a cerut să aibă grijă de tatăl lor. Apoi a murit. Timpul a trecut și tatăl s-a îmbolnăvit de Alzheimer. La un moment dat, și-a sunat unul dintre copii și i-a cerut să-i aducă același duhovnic să se mărturisească. S-a spovedit timp de o oră, plângând. După aceea a murit. Cei trei copii au construit o biserică pentru părinții lor, căci la vârsta de 30 de ani deveniseră foarte bogați. De ce credeți că s-au întâmplat toate acestea? Femeia s-a mântuit, bărbatul s-a mântuit, copiii s-au mântuit. Deși nu au fost împreună în lumea aceasta, și-au împlinit scopul căsătoriei: sfințenia. Familia a ajuns nedespărțită în fața lui Hristos. Jertfa dragostei și smerenia femeii au mântuit toată familia.

Nu spunem nimic despre oamenii care divorțează, căci Dumnezeu este milostiv. Dacă femeia ar fi decis să divorțeze, iar copiii l-ar fi urât pe tatăl lor, nu ar mai fi fost atâta har al lui Dumnezeu care să lucreze în familie. Aceasta este familia creștină, în care lucrează harul lui Dumnezeu.

Noi martiri în Liban

Acum doi ani am avut în
Liban un incident foarte ciudat, întâmplat în satul în care slujesc eu. Erau patru oameni într-o mașină, iar alți trei oameni din sat mergeau pe stradă. Au văzut această mașină cu oameni străini și i-au întrebat cine sunt și ce fac acolo. Le-au spus că nu mai au benzină și că așteaptă un prieten să le aducă. După două ore, s-au mutat cu mașina în alt loc din sat. Cei trei tineri erau ortodocși, ca întreg satul. Unul dintre ei era polițist, dar nu era în timpul serviciului. Au văzut mașina deplasându-se, au mers după ea, au oprit-o și le-au cerut pasagerilor documentele. Bărbații din mașină au luat puștile și i-au omorât pe cei trei. Toți erau căsătoriți. După o lună de căutări, armata libaneză a descoperit un grup de 50 de persoane pregătite să distrugă Libanul. Aveau foarte mult armament, dar acest incident i-a descoperit.

Biserica în care slujesc este închinată Sfântului Foca, ale cărui sfinte moaște le avem în Sfântul Altar. Fata unuia dintre tinerii uciși, care avea 6 ani, a venit și mi-a adus flori în Duminica Floriilor. A spus că și-a iubit foarte mult tatăl, iar eu am pus florile peste moaștele Sfântului Foca. Florile s-au uscat după câteva zile. Dar în Duminica Tomii, când am intrat în Sfântul Altar să slujesc, m-am uitat la florile de pe cutia cu sfintele moaște și am văzut că înfloriseră din nou. Era ziua în care se împlineau 40 de zile de la tragicul eveniment.

Biserica din familie

Trebuie să readucem Biserica în casă. Biserica începe în casă, în familie. Este o relație internă între Biserică și familie. Familia dăruiește copii pentru a deveni diaconi, preoți, episcopi, și Biserica dăruiește familiei sfinți și lideri spirituali. Se hrănesc una pe alta.

Cel mai important lucru,
pe care îl subliniază Sfântul Ioan Gură de Aur, este că e nevoie să trăim Biserica în familie. Trebuie să facem din casa noastră un teren de antrenament – askitirion (loc de asceză). Un loc al rugăciunii în comun, în care să ne vedem unii pe alții și să ne cinstim unii pe alții, chiar să venerăm imaginea lui Dumnezeu din celălalt. Un loc al bucuriei, un loc al harului dumnezeiesc și, în același timp, o mărturie în fața lumii.

Sfântul Ioan ne spune că familia trebuie să fie ca o biserică. Întâi vorbește bărbatului: „Trebuie să-ți iubești soția. Rolul tău este să mori pentru soție. Niciodată să nu-i spui pe nume, ci să-i spui dragostea mea. Mereu să-i aduci daruri, tot timpul să te străduiești să-i arăți că ești prezent lângă ea, chiar dacă ești departe sau lucrezi. Să te străduiești să-i dedici timp ei, să vorbești cu ea”. Acest lucru este foarte important. În zilele noastre există cartea Cele cinci limbaje ale iubirii, a lui Gary Chapman, dar Sfântul Ioan Gură de Aur vorbea de toate acestea în secolul al IV-lea. Ideea comună este că trebuie să renunți la egoism, că trebuie să vorbești și să-l iubești pe celălalt așa cum vrea el să fie iubit, și nu cum vrei tu să-l iubești. De exemplu, soția mea ar vrea să petrec timp cu ea zilnic, bând o cafea. Chiar dacă aș avea ceva de lucru când ajung acasă, ea preferă să bem o cafea. Atunci se va simți în siguranță și iubită.

Apoi, Sfântul Ioan le spune să nu ridice niciodată vocea unul la celălalt, să se respecte unii pe alții, iar soția să-și arate dragostea respectându-l și având grijă de nevoile soțului.

Am întâlnit un om care nu avea studii, iar soția era director la bancă. Poziții sociale diferite. Am întrebat-o înainte să se căsătorească dacă este sigură de pasul pe care îl face și a zis că da. El era proprietarul unei brutării, iar ea era director la bancă. După doi ani am vorbit cu ei, aveau copii. „Cum faci când mergi și trebuie să-l prezinți pe soțul tău drept brutar celorlalți directori de bancă și oameni bogați. Cum gestionezi situația aceasta?” Ea a răspuns: „El este capul meu, îl respect și-l tratez ca pe un rege, pentru că este regele meu”. Acest sacrificiu, să-l vadă pe el drept cap, a salvat căsătoria, chiar dacă societatea se uita la ei ciudat.

Sfântul Porfirie spune că dacă este o problemă între soț și soție și ei se ceartă, asta va crea o rană care va crește împreună cu copilul. Dar, desigur, orice poate fi vindecat cu harul lui Dumnezeu.

Este foarte important să
protejăm privirile și toate simțurile copiilor. Vă puteți imagina că Sfântul Ioan vorbea despre această protecție încă din secolul al IV-lea? De cât de multă protecție avem nevoie în zilele noastre? Atunci, obișnuiau să meargă la teatru unde era oarecare pornografie, oarecare violență. Dar în zilele noastre pe toate acestea le accesăm din propriul fotoliu, la un nivel mult mai mare. De aceea, este nevoie de o relație puternică a mamei și a tatălui cu proprii copii.

Singurul mod de a ne lupta cu acestea este să ne întoarcem la a avea biserica în casă, în familie. Dacă vrei să ai stabilitate în familie, trebuie să fii ca o mănăstire, în ceea ce privește ritmul, din fragedă pruncie. Copiii să știe că trebuie să se roage dimineața, să ia micul dejun, să meargă la școală, să se roage înainte de prânz, să învețe – e mereu un ritm al timpului. E timp pentru distracție, pentru joacă. Acest ritm le va oferi pace interioară și nu vor pierde timpul. Același ritm ca în mănăstire, dar nu în aceeași măsură, nu cu aceeași strictețe.

The family is the very foundation of the human being

Fr. Bassam Nassif

Father Bassam Nassif is a professor of Pastoral Theology at the Faculty of Orthodox Theology „Saint John Damascene” from Balamand, Lebanon. He is married to Helen, has 3 children, Ephrem, Sergios and Costy and serves in one of the smallest villages in Lebanon – Kaftoun, in the church dedicated to Saint Martyr Foca, Bishop of Sinopei. This year he was present in Romania, at Iași, where he attended the International Symposium Theologica Doctoralia. His last book – The Mystery of Marrige Amid Deconstruction. A Dialogue Between Orthodox Antropology and Postmodern Perspectives – is a valuable contribution to the role of family, providing an understanding of the family problems in a secularised world and offering real solutions for any kind of love relationship.

Is it really possible to live the Holy Matrimony in accord to the Orthodox thought, in such a materialist, secularised and God distanced society? There are plenty of things that affect our relationships, the meaning of love, the freedom of a relationshop, the intimacy, but the most important thing is to ask oneself: what is a person, what is a human being? To better understand the family status nowadays is neccessary to take a look at certain social problems that affect the family institution.

Familiy in a secularised world

Patriarch Daniel oftenly speaks about secularisation in nowadays society, about this antropocentrism, focusing on man and not on God, focusing on myself, on what do I think and want, on what do I believe about myself. This leads to relativism, to subjectivity, to indvidualism, to lack of communion and a material attitude in our relationships.
I once met in Romania a young female student who had ten brothers and sisters. I asked her how she lived and she told me: communion, living together, support given to parents, happy simple family life. On the opposite side, we have the typology of the secular thought. Secularised man wishes to transport his own passions in a normal way of living, to justify them as being true.
How do they accomplish this at the level of mentality? First, they deny that humans have a spiritual dimension. Marriage problems – quarrels, anger, lust, desire for power, to dominate one another, selfishness – these are all considered by the secular thought as being relative; their spiritual origin is not being considered. They are seen as a mean of survival, not as a problem. Us included, who attend church duties, are affected by this way of thinking.
For the secular thought, spirituality is against ascetism. They say men and women are biologic, psychologic, social human beings, except being spiritual. I travelled to Germany and visited a lutheran church. The pastor in there had icons and candles. I asked why icons, as they are against icons, rejecting any form of symbolism. He replied: „We use them to feel well, they bear something pleasant, you feel good in front of a candle.” So only the emotional aspect. They are not willing to fast, to knee, to pray longer, they don’t long for any of these ascetics things. They reject any form of pain. Great father Emilianos of Simonos Petra used to say that marriage is a journey of love and pain. This is what marriage is! Love and pain. There is no love without pain and freedom.
They do not want the pain; if any small missunderstanding appears, they split apart, they give up, since they seek only happiness. Happiness is a social term, it’s what makes you feel good. Although in Christianity joy is something else, it is a spiritual term. The Joy of Resurrection, that is joy. The joy of having trampled death by death. It is the defeat of passions such as selfishness, envy, anger. If you won over these, you are resurrected in the joy of Christ. This is being accomplished from within marriage.
When we go to the hospital, we are being taken care of from a physical, emotional and psychological point of view. What about the spiritual? They do not care about this. It could be that the physical pain is insignificant, but the spiritual one very severe. Illness can make me think of all my sins and can bring spiritual pain. This can amplify all the physical, emotional and psychological pain.
I remember a priest who was also a doctor. He got a phone call from a pacient, in the middle of the night, from the hospital. The nurse said: “Please come as quick as you can, he is dying”. He quickly left to the hospital, ran the pacient through some tests to check what is going on, but found nothing that could lead to death. The pacient was breathing really heavily, but the priest hugged him, prayed for him and he reached peace and regained his joy. If he was not a priest too, he would have administered him injections, given him medicines which he had no need of. This is the secular dimension. But man has primarily a spiritual dimension. It is true that we enjoy freedom today; in the whole world there is much more freedom today than in the past. But if this freedom is centered on ourselves, it will lead to a lot of problems for us and for the ones around us. For example, we are free to live in comfort, to seek material wealth, pleasure of satisfyng the thirst for material things, freedom to commit sin, freedom from the committements we made - which, for a family, results in divorce. Here, the greatest victim are the children.
We also have what we call an utilitarian attitude – we do anything that is good for us, even if in reality that is bad. We seek our own happiness and fullfillment. For instance, people who suffer of Alzheimer are rather sent to hospitals, than being cared of with love. Or “the right” of a woman to commit abortion on grounds that she is not ready to bear a child, or that her entire body will change and she does not wish for that.
Another secularised attitude is the one linked to physical intimacy: the role of reproduction has been separated from the one of intimate connection. The most important thing is the romance. But, I repeat myself, there is no love without pain. People seek pasional love. In the past, they looked for a house, a place they could make home, a source of income, common values, but nowadays more and more youngsters seek romantic love.
In the past, sexual relationships took place after marriage, but today, in a postmodern world, sex takes primacy over love. We live in a world in which we are all victims of war. Especially after the Second World War, throughout Europe and America, many soldiers went back to their families with traumas and that led women to work to sustain their families. And this accent put on women labor (as a mom and a wife) made things more complicated within the family, as the marriage was deprieved of both the father and the mother.
Nowadays in America they say there is no need of a mother and a father to raise a child. Who raises children then? The kindergarden, the school, the government. But we know we cannot live without a mother and a father.
Another problematic aspect is idolyzing the body. There are many people who appeal to physical surgeries, operations of body reconstruction, hair transplant. We want to put a mask on our face so that our real face is not being seen any longer. We want to be unreal, to create a new image of self.
There is a study conducted in California on children aged 12 aimed to check on what their priorities are, what makes them happy in life. The study has been conducted in the 80’s and the priority of children back then was to please their parents: “if they are happy with us, we are also happy”. They looked upon they parents to be happy. The same study was conducted again in year 2000. What they discovered was shocking. The answers of the little ones were that fame makes them happy. And do you know why? They upload their pictures on Instagram, on Facebook, on YouTube and they turn famous. Because their family, their mother and father, play no role any longer.
Saint Porfirios Kavsokalivite used to say that if parents are saints, the children are saints too. If parents fight, children fall victims. And he gave one example. A mom came to him with two daughters: one used to be married (and was now divorced) and the other was single. Their mother was upset that the divorced daughter had been lying to them for two years. She kept telling them that she is alright in her marriage, until they met her husband on the street and found out that they were divorced. She was very upset and brought her daughter to Saint Porfirios. She did not understand why her daughter lied to her and why she divorced. Saint Porfirios, who had the gift of foresight, looked at her and said: “It is because of you”. – “What do I have to do with all of these? I have spent my whole life raising these children, I go to church on Sundays, I cook well, I take care of the house, why me? I came to you to tell me that I am the problem?”. The Saint looked at her in silence and the unmarried daughter said: “Mom, Father Porfirios is right. It is true that you have always put good food on the table, but you were always fighting with dad. We never ate in peace.”. Saint Porfirios said: “This has caused wounds in the hearts of your chilldren and they have grown up like this. These wounds have reappaeared when your daughter got married. These wounds have affected her relationship with her husband. This is why they split.”
Saint Porfirios used to say that the best way of raising children is to ensure a peaceful environment, to love each other. This is what makes children saints. Not money, not fame, not good education, but a good relationship between their mother and father. Parents, you should never fight in front of your children. If you wish to fight, you must go out, far from their ears and talk one another.
Also, in light of liberal democracy, we have gender roles. The role of the mother, the role of the father, the role of the wife, the one of the husband are reconsidered, rethought through. It is a new way of thinking. Equality is promoted – there no longer exists a head of the family, for instance. The husband is no longer, as Saint Paul said, the head of a woman. More likely, the French Revolution’s motto is applied: “liberty, equality, fraternity”.
Why have we forgotten that the meaning of the head (of leadership) is Christ? Why do we think that leading means commanding, behaving like a boss in front of his subordinates? Why do we think that women play no role in Church, for instance? Why do we forget the role of myrrhbearers women in the Church? Why do we not think more often at the Mother of God, “more honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim”?
Hence, total confusion is spread in society: men want to become women and vice-versa, sex changes and roles change too. They induce the idea that you no longer need marriage. This is how we ended up having today single moms, single dads, two dads, two moms. It is, indded, a provoking situation since there is no truth, not one point of reference. This is the age of post-modernism: each by his own way of thinking and all are right. This is insane. There is only one Truth, Who is called Jessus Christ and He is the creator of the world, he is the Word, the Path, the Truth and the Life.
Another aspect is the power of mass-media and pornography, which affects our eyes, not just the physical eyes, but mostly the spiritual ones. We know how much mass-media affects life. As Father Seraphim Rose used to say, „pornography is the iconography of the devil”. Since the start of the internet, pornography is its main business. Even in Lebanon, when children from age 15 to 17 come to confess, the main problem we deal with is pornography. They try hard to get out of it because they see they have issues with themselves and with the others, in their relationships. And that they turned addicted.
How did we end up here? At Bruxelles there are very healthy influent men who have issues with pornography, paedophilia, homosexuality. They used to be a minority, but in the last 50 years they have imposed their rules and mode of living to the entire world, as they are influent people. How did we end up here and what is the answer of Church? Why us, as a Church, let this happened? We did not lead the society towards these. They are not all orthodox. There are a lot of powerful plays in this world. The greatest fight today is not fought with weapons, not fought against economy, against technology, but the one against family. If they destroy family, the have destroyed the human being. The problem the family faces is an antropological one: who am I as a person? I am the Image of God. If I destroy that image, I destroy the entire world. Everything starts from the family. It is not enough to perform the ceremonies of marriage. For a marriage to function it takes a spiritual father, a confessor for both the husband and the wife, as they need constant advice and support and without this spiritual father, they will lose their point of reference. It is not enough to know what Church teaches about family. If we have a husband and a wife who live in accord with God’s demands, in God’ fearing, no matter what would happen to their children in the future, even if they shift apart from the Church, they will still find their way back to return.
One woman came crying to me at church and said: „No one has thaught us how to live as Christians and now I witness my own son shifting apart from Church. What should I do?”. I told her that Saint Paisie once told us that if you pray from the bottom of your heart for your child, he shall return. And this is what she started doing. She wanted to save her child. She would have done anything, like the canaan’ woman. She went down on her knee, she wanted to save her child. And in two years from then, he married a very faithful young woman who brought him back to Church. And his mother turned really happy.


The cross of love defeats death

I would like to share a story that resumes all these things that we have talked above. It has been shared with me by a priest from Greece when we were debating on marriage; it is about a boy and a girl who loved each other so passionately that they married without their parents’ knowledge. She was very close to religious life, he was less – he would just ocasionally go to church. They loved each other so much, they had three children together, and after five years, things have started to get tougher from a financially point of view, so something has changed with the man. He has started to become sloppy with her, sometimes very tough in words and they were fighting all the time. She went to her spiritual father and shared her intent to divorce. The confessor told here: “You told me this so many times. Marriage is forever in the Orthodox Church. There is no divorce. Divorce means oikonomia (concession). I will not bless your divorce; I am a priest. The decision is yours. Go to church, pray and then, come back!”. She prayed to the Holy Cross of our Lord and then told the priest: ”I have decided to stay with my husband.”. – ”How did you pray to Christ?” – ”Christ, my crucified Lord, I gave You all my pain and suffering. You have blessed my marriage, I entrust my marriage to You. Save me, save my family and save my husband. But I want one addditional thing from you, my spiritual father: to remain with me in this battle”. Years have passed, she was living an ongoing turmoil, but she became a prayer, she has started to read the Bible more, she tried hard to raise her children within Church and she slowly became as strong as a stone, insensitive. At some point she got cancer. An ill of cancer needs emotional support, pshyhological one too, and her husband, who was the closest person to her, was very insensible. That turned into a double suffering for her, but she tried hard to not judge him and she would pray a lot. Before she died, she called her three chidren and asked them to take care of their dad. And then she died. Time has passed and her husband got Alzheimer. At some point, he called one of their children and asked to be taken to the same spiritual father for confession. He confessed for an hour, crying. And then he died. The three children built a church for their parents, since at the age of 30 they became very rich. Why do you think all that happened? The woman must have found redemption, and so have the man and their children. Although they did not live together in peace in this life, they fulfilled the aim of marriage. What is the aim of marriage? Holiness. That family reached Christ together. The sacrifice of love and that woman`s humility have saved the whole family.
We don’t judge people who end up divorcing, as God is mercy. If the woman had decided to file for a divorce, and the children had ended up hating their father, there would have not been so much grace of God working for this family. The grace of God has worked a lot in this family. This is the Christian family in which the grace of God is working.
I will give you another example. At Saint Paisie once came a very well known doctor, who said that, when he prays, he sees a light, he feels good, but that he didn’t understand what is hapenning. Saint Paisie asked him to share his life story; maybe he already knew it, but wanted for that one to confess.
“I have a very long story to tell… I had a wife whom I loved a lot and she loved me in return, but in our first three years of marriage we had no children. She did not work, but I was working a lot, since I am a doctor. My wife suddenly got bored of our life style. She used to go out with her friends in Salonic and after three years of marriage decided that she wants a new apartment of her own. I did not want us to split and I told her that it’s fine, I would buy her an apartment, just to stay close to me.” He bought her an apartment close to his and continued that life, but at a certain point in time, when he got back from work, he didn’t find her in her apartment. He looked for her everywhere, even called the Police, to then discover that she is in New York, living a dirty life and having connection with a lot of men. Saint Paisie asked: “And what did you do?” – “I left to New York, I found her and I begged her to come back. She did come back, but she still doesn’t live with me, but alone in her other apartment.” Father Paisie asked him how does he pray, how much he prays. “From midnight till dawn”. – “And what do you say?” – “O, Lord, Jessus Christ have mercy of my wife”. And then, Saint Paise told him that his prayer is stronger than the one of all monastics in Mount Athos. “You have seen the Holy Light which many of us have never seen, with all our holy life.” See how he reached holiness?

New martyrs in Lebanon

Two years ago I lived a very strange incident in Lebanon, which happened in the village where I serve as a priest, one of the smallest villages there is. Maybe because the village is very far and idle, had this event taken place. There were four men in a car, and another three from the village walking on the street. They saw this strange car, with strange people in it and asked them who they were and what they did back there. They replied they went out of gas and that they waited for a friend to bring some. After two hours, they moved their car to another spot in the village. The three young men were Orthodox, as is the entire village. One of them was a policemen, but not on duty that day. They saw the car moving, so they went after it and stopped it to ask for papers. The men in the car took the guns and shut them all, all three who were married people. After a month of searchings, the Lebanese army discovered a group of 50 persons, prepared to destroy Lebanon. They carried a lot of weaponry, but this incident unmasked them. As the whole Lebanese society was angry and wanted to find the truth behind the killing of the three men. The church I serve in is dedicated to Saint Foca and we also have his holy relics in there. The daughter of one of the young men that got killed, who was 6 years old, came and brought me flowers on the Palm Sunday. She said she loved her father very much and I have laid her flowers on the relics of Saint Foca. The flowers dried up after a few days. But on the Sunday of Saint Thomas, when I entered the Holy Altar to serve, I looked at the flowers laid on the box with the holy relics and saw that they were blooming again. It was the 40th day from the tragic event.

Chruch from within the family

We must bring back the Church at home. The Church starts at home, from within the family. There is a direct connection between the Church and the family. The family offers its children to become priests, deacons, bishops and the Church offers back saints and spiritual leaders. They feed each other. The most important thing, which Saint John Chrysostom emphasizes, is that we need to live the Church in the family (during his time too, in the 4th century, there was a lot of freedom, just like today, and that's why monastic life became very powerful, as they longed to get out of this chaos of society). What does it mean exactly? It means we have to turn our home into a training field – one which he calls askitirion (place of ascetism). He enjoys making parallels between monastic life and family life. A place of communal prayer where we can see one another and honour one another, honour, worship even, the image of God in one another. A place of joy, a place of God’s grace and, at the same time, a witness to the world.
Saint John Chrysostom says family should be like a church. First He speaks to man telling him „you should love your wife. Your role is to die for your wife. Never call her by her name, but my love. Always bring her gifts, always try hard to show her you are present next to her, even when you are away, or at work. Try hard to spend time with her, to talk to her.” This is a very important thing.
Nowadays, there is this book The five languages of love by Gary Chapman, but Saint John Chrysostom talks of all these back in the 4th century. The common idea is that you have to let go of selfishness, that you have to talk and love the other person the way they want to be loved, not the way you want to love them. For instance, my wife would like me to spend time with her every day, having a coffee together. I might get back at home and find that something needs repaired, some work to be done and even if I bring her a gift, still she would prefer we had our coffee together. Then she feels safe, she feels loved. If I go and fix something, she tells me I don't love her. „But I do love you, I work for home”. That is true, but I do not love her the way she would like to be loved. That is the difference. To me, the urgency is to fix, to solve the problems from around the house. To her, the priority is her. The point is to get out of our selfishness. Then Saint John Chrysostom talks about how the wife should take care of her husband: never to raise her voice at each other, to respect each other, and this is how she displays her love, showing him respect and taking care of his needs. Saint John wonders what woman would not want her husband to die for her? So love is sacrifice.
I once met a man with no studies, whilst his wife was a bank’ director. Different social positions. I asked her before she got married if she is sure of the step she is for about to take and she said yes. He was the owner of a bakery, and she was the director of a bank. After two years, I spoke to them again, they had children. „How do you do when you have to introduce your husband as a baker to other bank’s directors and rich people? How do you handle a situation like this?”. She replied: „He is my head, I respect him and treat him like a king, because he is my kind.” This sacrifice, seeing him as the head, saved the marriage, even though society looked at them strangely.
With regard to raising children, Saint John Chrysostom emphasizes the role of prayer. He urges parents to wake their children before bedtime or before midnight to pray, at least for half an hour. Or to at least say the Lord's Prayer before bedtime, to have at least this level of prayer. It also asks parents to take an interest in their children's gifts. I know a few families who were paying attention to their children's gifts – some were drawn to iconography, others to Byzantine music. Children have different gifts and need to be directed to use those gifts for the Church, not outside it. Another thing is teaching children to give charity. Saint John urges parents not to bequeath them money, houses or other material possessions. ”And what should we do with the money?” people ask. ”Give it to the poor. For in this way you will acquire houses and riches in the kingdom of God for your children.” This will be far more important to them than what is eaten and consumed in this material world.
We must transform the ideas, the thinking of the Holy Fathers, into what is possible today. Saint John Chrysostom says that the human being is like a castle, children, especially, are like a castle or a city surrounded by gates and windows. The gates and windows are all our senses – looking, smelling, tasting, hearing, feeling. To protect the city against the enemy, we must guard the gates and windows, i.e. the senses. This means that we have to pay attention to the senses of our children. For example, we should not allow children to use electronic devices unsupervised. Let's watch TV with them. Let's play Byzantine music to them since childhood, even since pregnancy. Saint Porphyry says that even the fetus in the womb is influenced by what the mother feels. And he said that thirty years ago. I was amazed to read a study five years ago that said the same thing, but not in religious terms. During pregnancy, the mother must be very attentive, listen to Byzantine music, have a good relationship with her husband, be at peace. Saint Porphyrios says that the little wounds start from there. If there is a problem between husband and wife and they quarrel, that will create a wound that will grow with the child. But, of course, anything can be healed with God's grace.
It is very important to protect children's eyes and all their senses. Can you imagine that Saint John speaks about this protection as early as the 4th century? How much protection do we need nowadays? Back then, they used to go to the theatre where there was some pornography, some violence. But nowadays we access all that from our own armchair, at a much higher level. That's why we need a strong relationship of mothers and fathers with their children.
The only way to fight these is to get back to having the church at home, in the family. If you want to have stability in the family, you have to be like a monastery in terms of rhythm from an early age. Children need to know that they have to pray in the morning, have breakfast, go to school, pray before lunch, study – it`s always a rhythm of time. It's time for fun, for play. This rhythm will give them inner peace and they won't waste time. The same rhythm as in the monastery, just not to the same extent, nor with the same strictness.


Sus