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Before Marriage

On Finding One’s Path in Life
Saint Paisios the Athonite — †1994

Geronda, does a young person’s anxiety for his future stem from unbelief?

Not always. Often, young people who are interested in finding their path in life while also remaining close to God worry about how this will all be established. This actually shows health; for if a young person does not show concern about his or her future, it reveals a certain indifference or carelessness, which could result in their becoming a good-for-nothing. Youths just need to be careful to control their anxiety, because the devil will try to destroy them with it, putting them in agony by keeping their nous in constant tumult. [Nous is often translated as the eye of the heart.] Young people need to entrust themselves wholly to God. By doing so they will become peaceful, because the Good God, our loving Father, acts where we are humanly not able to act. It is not necessary for youths to rush about making childish decisions to follow in their lives. I know youths who really agonize and try to resolve all their problems quickly. In the end they get confused, leaving their studies.

For example, even before finishing college they totally stress out about their future, which causes them to lag behind in their studies. The end result is worse than if they had not been so hasty. It can’t happen all at once. Problems are not solved this way. Instead, they should resolve within themselves to give order to their lives. In other words, first they should be sure to get their diploma. Then they can find a job, or, in the case of young men, finish the military. [Greece requires military service for all young men.] And then, in peace and with the help of God, they can decide either to start a family (if they have decided on the married life) or go to a monastery (if they have chosen monasticism).

Therefore, I tell young people who are studying and have such worries—because what they’ll do with their lives has not matured within them yet—that they should continue with their studies; and that which grows within them over time, and gives them peace, that is what they should do with their lives. If they have a good disposition, God will help. Little by little it will become clear which life is for them—married, or celibate in a monastery—and they will find rest.

How to Find Just the Right Kind of Spouse

A Priest

When I was nineteen and wished to marry, I was given this advice and I found it very helpful. The advice is this: write down in detail all the important characteristics you wish to exist in your spouse, e.g. honesty, integrity, piety, fear of God, sympathy, joyful countenance, etc. Write down on the top of the page the words, “My Future Spouse.” Really think through these things. What are those character qualities that are most important for a God-blessed marriage? Put them down in detail. I wrote down about thirty qualities. (I still have the piece of paper!)

Now, here is the important part. Go back to that paper, and erase the words at the top, “My Future Spouse.” In their place, write: “My Personal Goals.” Now give all your effort to be these very things yourself, and put your trust in God that like will attract like. If you want a good spouse, be good. If you want a principled spouse, be principled. If you want a loving spouse, be loving. You will reap a spouse of fine character, if you sow the seeds of fine character in yourself.

Marriage:  The Great Sacrament
Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra Monastery, Mount Athos

Nobody would dispute that the most important day in a person’s life, after his birth and baptism, is that of his marriage. It is no surprise, then, that the aim of contemporary worldly and institutional upheavals is precisely to crush the most honorable and sacred mystery of marriage. For many people, marriage is an opportunity for pleasures and amusements. Life, however, is a serious affair. It is a spiritual struggle, a progression toward a goal—heaven. The most crucial juncture and important means of this progression is marriage. It is not permissible for anyone to avoid the bonds of marriage, whether he concludes a mystical marriage by devoting himself to God, or whether he concludes a sacramental one with a spouse.

Today we will concern ourselves primarily with sacramental marriage. We will consider how marriage can contribute to our spiritual life. We know that marriage is an institution established by God. It is honorable (cf. Hebrews 13:4). It is a great mystery (cf. Ephesians 5:32). An unmarried person passes through life and leaves it; but a married person lives and experiences life to the full. One wonders what people today think about the sacred institution of marriage, this great mystery, blessed by our Church. They marry, and it’s as if two checking accounts or two business interests were being merged. Two people are united without ideals, two zeros, you could say, because people without ideals, without quests, are nothing more than zeros. “I married in order to live my life,” you hear people say, “and not to be shut inside four walls.” “I married to enjoy my life,” they say, and then they hand over their children—if they have children—to some strange woman so they can run off to the theater, the movies, or to some other worldly gathering. So their houses become hotels to which they return in the evening, or, rather, after midnight, after they’ve had their fun and need to rest. Such people are empty inside, and so in their homes they feel a real void. They find no gratification there, and thus they rush and slide from here to there, in order to find their happiness.        

They marry without knowledge, without a sense of responsibility, or simply because they wish to get married, or because they think they must in order to be good members of society. But what is the result? We see it every day. Because this is such a serious matter, let us consider some of the conditions necessary for a happy, truly Christian marriage.

In order to have a successful marriage, one must have the appropriate upbringing from an early age. Just as a child must study, just as he learns to think, and take an interest in his parents or his health, so too must he be prepared in order to be able to have a successful marriage. But in the age in which we live, no one is interested in preparing their children for this great mystery, a mystery which will play the foremost role in their lives. Parents are not interested, except in the dowry, or in other such financial matters, in which they are deeply interested.

The child, from an early age, must learn to love, to give, to suffer deprivation, to obey. He must learn to feel that the purity of his soul and body is a valuable treasure to be cherished as the apple of his eye. The character of the child must be shaped properly, so that he becomes an honest, brave, decisive, sincere, cheerful person, and not a half, self-pitying creature, who constantly bemoans his fate, a weak-willed thing without any power of thought or strength. From an early age, the child should learn to take an interest in a particular subject or occupation, so that tomorrow he will be in a position to support his family, or, in the case of a girl, also to help, if this is necessary. A woman must learn to be a housewife, even if she has an education. She should learn to cook, to sew, and to embroider.     

But, my good Father, you may say, this is all self-evident. Ask married couples, however, and you’ll see how many women who are about to marry know nothing about running a household. Once we reach a certain age, moreover, the choice of one’s life partner is a matter which should not be put off. Neither should one be in a hurry, because, as the saying goes, “quick to marry, quick to despair.” But one should not delay, because delay is a mortal danger to the soul. As a rule, the normal rhythm of the spiritual life begins with marriage. An unmarried person is like someone trying to live permanently in a hallway: he doesn’t seem to know what the rooms are for. Parents should take an interest in the child’s social life, but also in his prayer life, so that the blessed hour will come as a gift sent by God.

Naturally, when he comes to choose a partner, he will take into account his parents’ opinion. How often have parents felt knives piercing their hearts when their children don’t ask them about the person who will be their companion in life? A mother’s heart is sensitive, and can’t endure such a blow. The child should discuss matters with his parents, because they have a special intuition enabling them to be aware of the things which concern them. But this doesn’t mean that the father and mother should pressure the child.

(remainder of article and reference in Orthodox Christian Parenting)