St Anthony of the Desert

Orthodox Christian Mission

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Fr Gabriel

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Commitment or Convenience?

We were having breakfast in a cafe in Alaska.  Seated next to us were a fairly young couple with three children, the oldest of whom was nine.  The young father was generously tattooed, his wife not at all.  They were moving to Alaska courtesy of the military arm of our government.  In the course of conversation we learned, first, that they had borne their oldest boy before they got married; second, that they had recently visited Las Vegas; and third, that the visit to Las Vegas convinced them that the city was unfit to receive families.  They talked of how offended they were by some of the shows in Vegas that had been advertised as family-friendly, but proved quite otherwise.  They said they even had to clap their hands over their children’s ears and eyes out of a sense of parental duty.

This is but one example of many I could choose to demonstrate the patchwork quality of contemporary morality.  I found it odd that they would have been so offended at the ribald shows in Vegas, on one hand, and so casual about their marital status on the other.  In any case, what can we say animates contemporary morality?

The June issue of the journal NEW CRITERION carried an excellent article by Kenneth Minogue called Marriage in Our Time.  The author argues that we have shifted from a culture of commitments to one of convenience, with our view on marriage serving as the symbol of that shift.

The key to the culture of convenience is our relentless search for the avoidance of pain.  Suffering plays no redemptive role in such a culture; if anything hurts, from a headache to a bank account, we will do everything in our power to overcome or avoid it.  Want something?  Charge it.  Pay later.  We have little or no sense any more that sacrifice may be necessary in order to achieve a personal goal or a material benefit.

We came to Alaska, in part, to participate in the wedding of two NMSU students who are active in St Anthony of the Desert mission and who have spent much time in helping to charter an Orthodox Christian Fellowship for students at the university.

Orthodox weddings are divided into two parts, the betrothal and the crowning.  In the betrothal rings are exchanged.  In the second part, we place crowns on the heads of the bride and groom, and then we lead them three times around a table on which rest the Bible and a cross.  The procession, which marks their first steps as a married couple, is a way to show that wedded life – in our understanding – must revolve around God’s Word and the cross of Christ.  The crowns are a sign of martyrdom, since we must submit to one another in obedience and love.  Marriage must be a kind of martyrdom if its promise is to be fully realized.

So much for the culture of convenience and the avoidance of pain!  Our Christian understanding of marriage is grounded in sacrifice and recognizes in those first symbolic steps that service is the shape of freedom.  At the end of his article, Minogue says that our culture of convenience is an illusion based on the false idea that the world can be changed so it conforms to what we want.  Such an illusion, he says, is a precarious one at best.

Note that: an illusion, not merely a mistake in calculation.  In the real world, in order to make our commitments work and last, we must recognize that sacrifice is at their heart, and makes them godly.

Fr Gabriel Rochelle is priest of St Anthony of the Desert Orthodox Mission, Las Cruces.  The mission web site is http://stanthonylc.org.  He is currently on vacation in Alaska.

PUBLISHED 17 Jul 09