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Family

True love in mar­riage sup­pos­es the bear­ing of chil­dren. Those who tru­ly love in mar­riage will nat­u­ral­ly have chil­dren as the fruit of their love and the great­est bond of their union. Those who despise chil­dren and refuse to offer them care and devo­tion do not tru­ly love.

Of course there are those whose mar­riages will be child­less because of some tragedy of nature brought on by the “sin of the world.” In such mar­riages per­fect love can exist, but the mutu­al devo­tion in the ser­vice of God and man will take on oth­er forms, either the adop­tion of chil­dren or some oth­er good ser­vice for the sake of oth­ers, The child­less mar­riage, either by vol­un­tary choice or nat­ur­al tragedy, which results in self-indul­gence is not a spir­i­tu­al union.

The vol­un­tary con­trol of birth in mar­riage is only per­mis­si­ble, accord­ing to the essence of a spir­i­tu­al life, when the birth of a child will bring dan­ger and hard­ship. Those who are liv­ing the spir­i­tu­al life will come to the deci­sion not to bear chil­dren only with sor­row, and will do so before God, with prayers for guid­ance and mer­cy. It will not be a deci­sion tak­en light­ly or for self-indul­gent rea­sons.

Accord­ing to the com­mon teach­ing in the Ortho­dox Church, when such a deci­sion is tak­en before God, the means of its imple­men­ta­tion are arbi­trary. There are, in the Ortho­dox opin­ion, no means of con­trol­ling birth in mar­riage which are bet­ter or more accept­able than oth­ers. All means are equal­ly sad and dis­tress­ing for those who tru­ly love. For the Chris­t­ian mar­riage is the one that abounds with as many new chil­dren as pos­si­ble.

The abor­tion of an unborn child is absolute­ly con­demned in the Ortho­dox Church. Clin­i­cal abor­tion is no means of birth con­trol, and those who prac­tice it for any rea­son at all, both the prac­ti­tion­ers and those who request it, are pun­ished accord­ing to the canon law of the Church with the “penal­ty for mur­der.” (Coun­cil of Trul­lo, 5th and 6th Ecu­meni­cal Coun­cils)

In extreme cas­es, as when the moth­er will sure­ly die, if she bears the child, the deci­sion for life or death of the child must be tak­en by the moth­er alone, in con­sul­ta­tion with her fam­i­ly and her spir­i­tu­al guides. What­ev­er the deci­sion, unceas­ing prayers for God’s guid­ance and mer­cy must be its foun­da­tion. Accord­ing to the Ortho­dox faith, a moth­er who gives her life for her child is a saint who will most cer­tain­ly be great­ly glo­ri­fied by God; for there is no greater act of love than to give one’s life so that anoth­er might live. (cf. John 15:13)

With­in the life of the fam­i­ly, the father must be the leader and head. He must love his wife and chil­dren as Christ loves the Church — and Christ died for the Church. He must nev­er be harsh. The wife must be total­ly devot­ed to her hus­band and must demand, encour­age and enable his lead­er­ship. This is the nor­mal way of fam­i­ly life pre­scribed in the scrip­tures, for “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of a woman is her hus­band, and the head of Christ is God.” (I Corinthi­ans 11:3, Eph­esians 5:22–23, Colos­sians 3:18–19, 1 Peter 3:1–7)

When the hus­band or wife is an unbe­liev­er — and such should be the case only when one mem­ber of the mar­riage becomes Chris­t­ian after being mar­ried, or when one mem­ber of a mar­ried cou­ples los­es his or her faith, for a Chris­t­ian should not nor­mal­ly enter into mar­riage with an unbe­liev­er — the cou­ple, accord­ing to Saint Paul should not sep­a­rate or divorce, but should con­tin­ue to live togeth­er. The believ­er should show the best exam­ple of the spir­i­tu­al life of love to the unbe­liev­er in every word and deed, total­ly with­out coer­cion or com­pul­sion regard­ing the faith, and cer­tain­ly with­out accu­sa­tion or con­dem­na­tion.

For the unbe­liev­ing hus­band is con­se­crat­ed through his wife, and the unbe­liev­ing wife is con­se­crat­ed through her hus­band. Oth­er­wise your chil­dren would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

But if the unbe­liev­ing part­ner desires to sep­a­rate, let it be so; in such case the broth­er or sis­ter is not bound. For God has called us to peace. Wife, how do you know whether you will save your hus­band? Hus­band, how do you know whether you will save your wife? (I Corinthi­ans 7:13–16, cf I Peter 3:1–7)

Here the apos­tle, for the sake of peace, per­mits sep­a­ra­tion, but does not encour­age it. Nev­er­the­less, in dire cir­cum­stances, such as when there is spir­i­tu­al or phys­i­cal dan­ger, the Church itself coun­sels sep­a­ra­tion as the less­er evil. How­ev­er, in such cas­es the Church also coun­sels the sep­a­rat­ed Chris­t­ian, if pos­si­ble, to “remain sin­gle.” (I Corinthi­ans 7:10) Sec­ond mar­riages, even for wid­ows and wid­ow­ers, are allowed and blessed by the Church, with­out the penal­ty of excom­mu­ni­ca­tion, only, in the­o­ry, in those cas­es where the new mar­riage has the pos­si­bil­i­ty of being holy and pure. (See Wor­ship)

With­in the fam­i­ly, the spir­i­tu­al life of love should be sought and lived as ful­ly as pos­si­ble. This means that every mem­ber of the fam­i­ly should live for the good of the oth­er in all cir­cum­stances, “bear­ing one another’s bur­dens” and in this way ful­fill­ing “the law of Christ.” (Gala­tians 6:2) There should be the con­stant pres­ence of mer­cy and for­give­ness and mutu­al upbuild­ing. There should be every expres­sion of true love as is gen­er­al­ly found in those who are holy.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jeal­ous or boast­ful; it is not arro­gant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irri­ta­ble or resent­ful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoic­es in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (I Corinthi­ans 13:4–7)

Such love is the basis of endur­ing fam­i­ly life, lived and expressed joy­ful­ly and cheer­ful­ly, with­out reluc­tance or com­pul­sion. (cf. 2 Corinthi­ans 9:6–12) For mar­riage is not “holy dead­lock” as one cyn­i­cal writer has put it, but, in the words of Saint John Chrysos­tom, a “small church” in the home where the grace and free­dom of God abounds for man’s sal­va­tion and life.

Chil­dren, obey your par­ents in the Lord, for this is right. Hon­or your father and mother…that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth.” (Eph­esians 6:1–3, Exo­dus 20:12)

There are those who curse their fathers and do not bless their moth­ers…

If one curs­es his father or his moth­er, his lamp will be put out in utter dark­ness. (Proverbs 30:11, 22:20)

For every­one who curs­es his father or his moth­er shall be put to death; he who has cursed his father or his moth­er, his blood is upon him. (Leviti­cus 20:9)

Chil­dren, obey your par­ents in every­thing, for this pleas­es the Lord. (Colos­sians 3:20)

Saint John Chrysos­tom says that those who can­not hon­or, love and respect their par­ents can cer­tain­ly not serve God, for He is the “Father of all” (Eph­esians 4:6), the One “from whom every fam­i­ly in heav­en and on earth is named.” (Eph­esians 3:15)

The true father loves and dis­ci­plines his child as God loves and dis­ci­plines His peo­ple. (cf. Hebrews 12:3–11)

He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is dili­gent to dis­ci­pline him.

Fol­ly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of dis­ci­pline dri­ves it far from him.

Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 13:24; 22:6,15; 23:13)

The love of the father for chil­dren is expressed in lov­ing dis­ci­pline with­out hypocrisy. The best teacher is one’s own exam­ple.

Fathers, do not pro­voke your chil­dren to anger but bring them up with dis­ci­pline and instruc­tion in the Lord. (Eph­esians 6:4)

Fathers, do not pro­voke your chil­dren, lest they become dis­cour­aged. (Colos­sians 3:21)

Like the pas­tors of church­es, the fathers of fam­i­lies must be “tem­per­ate, sen­si­ble, dig­ni­fied, hos­pitable, an apt teacher, no drunk­ard, not vio­lent but gen­tle, not quar­rel­some and no lover of mon­ey.” (I Tim­o­thy 3:2) He must be an exam­ple for his chil­dren “in speech and con­duct, in love, in faith, in puri­ty.” (I Tim­o­thy 4:12) Like the father in Christ’s para­ble, the human father must always be ready to receive home with joy his prodi­gal chil­dren. The wives and moth­ers of fam­i­lies must be ful­ly devot­ed to their hus­bands and chil­dren. They must be the very embod­i­ment of all of the fruits of the Holy Spir­it as those who give life, both phys­i­cal and spir­i­tu­al.

A good wife, who can find? She is far more pre­cious than jew­els. The heart of her hus­band trusts in her…she does him good and not harm all the days of her life.

Strength and dig­ni­ty are her cloth­ing and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth in wis­dom and the teach­ing of kind­ness is on her tongue.

She looks well to the ways of her house­hold, and does not eat the bread of idle­ness.

Her chil­dren rise up and call her blessed; her hus­band also, he prais­es her, say­ing: “Many women have done excel­lent­ly, but you sur­pass them all.” Charm is deceit­ful, and beau­ty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is great­ly to be praised. (Proverbs 31:10–31)

This teach­ing of Wis­dom is found also in the writ­ing of the apos­tles of Christ.

I desire then that in every place…women should adorn them­selves mod­est­ly and sen­si­bly in seem­ly appar­el, not with braid­ed hair or gold or pearls or cost­ly attire, but by good deeds as befits women who pro­fess piety. (I Tim­o­thy 2:8–10)

Like­wise, you wives, be sub­mis­sive to your hus­bands, so that some, though they do not obey the word, may be won with­out a word by the behav­ior of their wives, when they see your rev­er­ent and chaste behav­ior. Let not yours be the out­ward adorn­ing with braid­ing of hair, dec­o­ra­tion of gold, and wear­ing of robes, but let it be the hid­den per­son of the heart with the imper­ish­able jew­el of a gen­tle and qui­et spir­it, which in God’s sight is very pre­cious. So once the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn them­selves and were sub­mis­sive to their hus­bands, as Sarah obeyed Abra­ham, call­ing him lord. And you are now her chil­dren if you do right and let noth­ing ter­ri­fy you. (I Peter 3:1–6)

Thus in the “small church” of the fam­i­ly, with each mem­ber liv­ing accord­ing to God’s will, the King­dom of God is already present and active, wait­ing to be per­fect­ly ful­filled in the King­dom of heav­en which nev­er will end, where all are God’s chil­dren, the bride of His Son.