Wednesday, March 27, 2013

On Marriage

Yesterday on F*cebook, many of my friends posted some variation of an equals sign on a red background as their profile picture, in support of gay marriage.

As I understand it, the Supreme Court is supposed to be considering the Defense of Marriage Act. This reminds me of the legislature in Indiana entertaining a bill which would define π as 3.2. Or the quotation attributed to Abraham Lincoln: "How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg? Four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg."

I do think unmarried persons should be allowed to designate someone as a certain next-of-kin who would be allowed to care for them in place of a spouse in terms of hospitals (scary places, especially alone) and inheritance. But that has little to do with marriage or sexuality and much to do with laws and how people should be considered persons.

I hadn't considered posting anything until my husband read to me this beautiful (in my humble opinion) message from a young man whom we had hosted in our home in Florida.
Dear Friends,
I don't usually mention my sexual orientation, because I have no wish to be defined by it; I am a person, not a label.
Today, though, I want to say openly and truthfully that I am gay, and that I hope and pray that the Supreme Court does the right thing and upholds Prop 8 and DOMA.
I unequivocally affirm marriage, the free, total, faithful, and fruitful union of man and woman, the building block of human society, and I deplore and renounce the attempt to redefine it to suit the self-esteem of people like me.
To all of you posting "equals" signs: I respect your decision to do so. Maybe you have a genuine concern for what you believe is a violation of human rights; maybe you want to make a gesture to show that you love the people in your life who have same-sex attraction; or maybe you did it to spite people you don't like. You may have posted that symbol lightly or after much consideration. I don't know.
I tell you with great regard, you do not speak for me. I admire your intentions; I regret your action.
I'm well aware of the silliness of reducing arguments to bumper stickers. However, I respond today with a plus sign, symbolizing the union of man + woman, and the new life that comes from that union.
This symbol also has another significance, one especially meaningful this week: of suffering borne patiently that yields to immense joy and peace. This is the source of my hope.
When I had accepted my first date, but before the day of it, my father surprised me with a question: "What is the purpose of dating?" I had no answer, because I had never considered it. It was just something that everyone else did, and it seemed to be just to hang out and have fun, not something with a Purpose. So he explained his thinking to me, that the purpose of dating was to find someone you wanted to marry.

When I was dating my husband, therefore, we mentioned marriage early. How would that work, since I was Catholic and he was Orthodox? If we had children in the future, what would happen to them? We decided that we would have to be the same, whichever way that happened to be. After being confronted with Truth and Beauty in the Orthodox Church, it was a no-brainer which, nonetheless, took me some time to accept.

So then I wrestled with the question: would I still remain Orthodox if we broke up? I could not, in conscience, as someone called it, make a "cute boy conversion." Since my then-boyfriend kept mentioning how he had considered being a monk (and not entirely in past tense) and how one of his favorite saints, John of Kronstadt, was married but lived celibately, I had definite reasons to pursue this more logically than I was used to making life decisions.

Once I was relatively convinced that I should be an Orthodox Christian regardless of whether or not we stayed together, I asked to be received into the Orthodox Church. Then the question changed: how should I best be an Orthodox Christian? Unsurprisingly, the best answer seemed to me to follow the one who introduced me to the Church in the first place, someone who prayed daily on his own, prayed daily an akathist as his mother had asked, who rearranged his schedule to participate in the services of the Church, and who diligently researched any theological questions I asked him, as well as living what he believed, fasting in the dining hall and treating everyone with respect and consideration.

I considered it "hitching my wagon to a star," but I got married for my salvation.

I still had a somewhat worldly view about marriage, created in part by fairy tales (not all of them Disney, but, looking back, that was quite an influence). I have to laugh, because soon after we were married, he told me about marital fasting. (To be fair, he may have mentioned it beforehand, but in my memory it came after. In any case, I hadn't thought of it applying to me any more than the practice of praying half an hour a day, regularly, on one's own.)

Later, I came across the word "matrimony" with its etymology, and realized that it means "mother-making." This also brought to mind "women will be saved through childbearing" (2 Timothy 15). With several other things about the Orthodox Church which (still) confuse me, those ideas were mulled around and popped up now and again over several years.

Then I became a mother, and everything changed. During labor, there was no giving up. (I know; I asked.) It —labor, and then life—was not about me any more.

Although I still fight it, I am supposed to be an adult. I am supposed to be mature. My mother used to have me copy out a definition of maturity (which I can't remember now, but am sure she has the original on her fridge) which talked about how it was other-focused. In addition to being "supposed" to be mature, I am "purposed" to be mature, that is, that is my purpose. I am made to be other-focused. Even if I'm still not really good at it at all.

But what about this so-called "gay marriage"? The arguments here seem focused on rights and wants, not responsibilities or duties, and on passions rather than salvation. Maybe it's my experience as a Latin major and recently reading the writings of some of the Church Fathers, but American culture seems stranger and stranger to me.

I used to hang out with a group in college called "The Family," most of whom were struggling with gender identity or sexual orientation; even if they had figured it out for themselves, it was still a struggle. I certainly do not condemn them for their sexuality, but I cannot agree with them that falling prey to the passions is something which should be welcomed rather than struggled against.

Others have better-expressed thoughts on this matter, some of which have formed mine, specifically Fr. Johannes Jacobse and Dr. Philip Mamalakis, two men whom I respect and whose theology I trust.

[Updated to add: Fr. Panayiotis Papageorgiou]

What is the purpose of marriage? Salvation. And no one is saved alone.

Pray for me, a sinner.

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Blogger Elizabeth said...

Dear Magda,

I realize that we will not agree on this issue. I will not try to convince you out of your opinion, and I value respectful discourse on these and other issues. I was sad when I realized that we, for whatever reason unknown to me, are no longer friends on Facebook.

Like I said, I will not try to convince you of my opinion on this matter, but I would like to ask why you assume that gay marriage is about something different from what straight marriage is about? Both kinds of marriage are about love. They are about commitment. They are about giving to the other. They are about salvation, yes. Same-sex marriage can also be a venue where salvation takes place, because it is in relating to another in a selfless way that we know Christ.

So, can you please say more about why you think that gay marriage is only about rights and passions, as opposed to straight marriage which is about salvation? I think that both can be subject to passions as well.

I am glad you put your opinions forth on your blog! It is helpful to read well-reasoned thoughts.


Wed Mar 27, 08:11:00 PM CDT  
Blogger Xenia Kathryn said...

Thanks for posting this, Pres. Magda! It was so well written and articulated.

Wed Apr 03, 01:00:00 AM CDT  
Blogger OrthodoxJourney said...

Dear Magda,

Fr. Jacobse's article that you linked to is one of the best I have ever read on this matter. I remember Bill O'Reilly lamenting that "religious" people can only point to the Bible or God for their rationale in supporting marriage. I realize a secular argument is perhaps persuasive in winning an argument against non-Orthodox folk. However, it seems to me everything is ultimately meaningless unless we can understand who God intended us to be as human beings from the beginning. Ultimately, one must wrestle with the question of human beings and their relationship with God. So like Fr. Jacobse says...
"The activist seeking to create a moral parity between homosexuality and heterosexuality seeks the dominance of homosexual behavior in the end, and either has a poor understanding of the human person or deliberately set out to change the core anthropological teachings of the Church. Aberration replaces truth when this occurs, and the image of Him into Whom we are to be transformed is distorted."

Mon Apr 08, 08:52:00 AM CDT  

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