Mastering the Art of Marriage
Ancient Faith Radio · June 7, 2011
On a new Ancient Faith Presents, we interview the Very Reverend Constantine Nasr, priest at St. Elijah Orthodox Church in Oklahoma City and the author of the new Conciliar Press book Mastering the Art of Marriage: Staying Together When the World Pulls You Apart.
Bobby Maddex: Today I will be speaking with the very Reverend Constantine Nasr, priest at St. Elijah Orthodox Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and the Author of the brand new Conciliar Press Book, Mastering the Art of Marriage, Staying Together When the World Pulls You Apart. If you, yourself, are getting married soon, or if you know someone who is, you simply must get a copy of this fantastic resource. It will show you how to navigate your marriage and create a lasting home and family.
Welcome, Father Constantine.
Father Constantine Nasr: Thank you, thank you, Bobby, and John, and everyone at Ancient Faith Radio, for taking the time for this interview on this new book.
Bobby: Tell me, besides being married, yourself, for almost 40 years, what makes you uniquely qualified to write a book of this type?
Father Constantine: I do not know if I am qualified or not, but as a priest for all those years, I have celebrated many weddings of parishioners, and participated in many moments of families with problems about divorce, and took upon myself the interest that, as a priest, I needed to help the parishioners, the young couples, to have a better understanding.
And of course, I had, in my life, models—my parents, and my grandparents, and my inlaws—and in other families, those models are less and less, unfortunate to say. As time passes, we see couples facing many, many challenges, so I established the Pre-Cana encounter throughout the years.
And I read books. Whenever I would go to a Christian bookstore, I bought any book pertaining to family relationships, to build up relationship, healing wounds, the way to mend, written by people, in their wisdom, across the world, across the spectrum of Christian authors and commentators on the subject.
I gathered various materials, and as I continued to gather this material, I developed my own outline, and I have been giving weekend encounters, 15 hours, for couples prior to getting married. I thought that if I did that, I would prevent, or at least bring to conscience, some concerns for couples. As people fall in love one minute, and out of love another minute, two out of three marriages end up in divorce. Whenever this institution does not support, for $25 you end up in divorce.
Through the pre-marriage encounter, I can tell you, I have prevented couples from entering a relationship, by personal self-examination. There are exercises in this book. There are ways to force you to speak, and to force you to look into yourself in the mirror. The mirror does not lie.
There is so much put into the preparation of a couple for marriage, concerning catering, and who to invite, and the pressure, whatever it may be, but really, it is important to discuss family planning, family issues, from budget, to adaptation to change, to the challenges of time, to the environment, to changing of all our habits, because it takes two people to tango, you know, and if people enter the marriage by being hypnotized, or by being jealous, or by being embarrassed, or by being forced, that is going to be jeopardizing in the marriage relationship.
As a result of this, I was sharing this idea a few years back. Then Deacon Ezra Ham, my right-hand man, began to tell me, “Father, you should put this into writing.” I said, “You know, the time will come when I will do that,” as I have done with other books and writings, and I am grateful, really, to Father Peter Gillquist, who looked at the outline and encouraged me to really think about writing it. Katherine Hyde, from Conciliar Press, and the staff—everybody encouraged me to do this. I have my faults, and my wounds, and my challenges as a husband, and as a father, but what I have experienced as a husband, I tried to relate, because marriage, really, is a martyrdom. You have to die for someone else. That is the beginning.
Marriage is work. It is daily work, it is hourly work. It is adaptation every second, to the environment, to the challenges of time. If this tripod does not work in concert, there will be division. There will be a brokenness in the family. People need to sit, and talk, and communicate. This book really encompasses various subjects that allow you to think where you are, to be honest with yourself, to try to figure out that you are here on this earth for a limited period, and this marriage is a limited period, and requires the work, the adaptation, and the martyrdom, to make things possible for people to live 50 years, 60 years, a long life in marriage.
Now, if you look in your local newspaper and see how many people apply for marriage, and apply for divorce, nationwide, it is really very scary, and you do not want your daughter, or your son, to get married and divorced tomorrow. It is very, very difficult, and we need to honor the sacrament. We need to understand that it is a sacrifice of two people in faith and in love, for good or for worse, and understand the legitimacy for divorce, but it is the exceptional case. It is not the norm.
Bobby: I should point out that the book did turn out wonderfully, Father Constantine. I am wondering, would you say that the book if for Orthodox only, or do all Christians stand to benefit?
Father Constantine: No, this book can by used for anybody. Two-thirds of the embodiment of this book is for anybody. But the second part, really, can also be used to Christians across the board, because it is in the Bible, whether it is the crowning, or whether it is the ring, whether it is the light, whether it is the common cup, there is a reference to the Old Testament into that.
I deal with the commitment of saying, “Yes.” What does “yes” mean? And to include some of the ancient Fathers who had a better understanding, or made some reflections. The thing is, as the book of the Proverbs 30:18 says, “Three things are too wonderful for me. Four, I do not understand. The way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of a man with maiden.” It is very difficult.
This book, based on the Old Testament and New Testament, and based on other illustrations, of movies, based on personal experiences, really challenges somebody to take the time and to ask questions and exchange answers, to allow you to communicate so you understand what you think of this word, or that word, in terms of relationship. I think it is a wonderful book.
I am not worthy to suggest these things, but from experience, when a couple enters into the Church, and before God, before the priest, before the people of the Church, they are infatuated with love one minute, and for one day, or for one year, they are filled with happiness, but within a little time there is anger, distrust, there is pain, there is divorce. It staggers me as a priest.
There is an old Indian saying, “If we don’t turn around, we will get where we are headed”—if we do not make the correction, if we do not turn around, if we do not humble ourselves, if we are not willing to talk and communicate with our loved one, and make boundaries. We have to make boundaries in all things.
So, I am very, very blessed. God has blessed marriage, and created woman as a help-meet, we read that in Geneses 2:18, and there should be a common vision. There should be personal evaluation of what we want to do as a couple, for example, me and my wife, in the next five years, ten years, 25 years, whether in terms of our future vision, in terms of having a family, in terms of investments, in terms of moving someplace else, in terms of looking for fulfillment in life, keeping in mind that we see personalities and models like Abraham and Sarah, Zachariah and Elizabeth, Joachim and Anna.
We see personalities and models in the Old and New Testament, and I can identify, and I think you can identify, couples who are really models in our lives. They do not have to be Orthodox. They could be a Muslim couple, or they could be Indians, or somebody else from a different faith, but there are models who are in love, who honor the sacrifice, who are growing in relationship, and sharing and willing to go the extra mile, and surely, we have the best model, here, in the Old and New Testaments, being presented at that marriage feast in Cana—“The best wine is kept until now,”—if one understands what that means, and its implication, and we deal with that.
The second part of the book is really Christian education.
Bobby: I want to talk a little bit about the structure of the book and some of the content. You mentioned that part of the book is, indeed, Christian education. You also mention that the book ends with a look at the Orthodox wedding ceremony. Why don’t you talk a little bit about precisely what topics you cover, and how the book proceeds. How does it go from one chapter to the next?
Father Constantine: When you look at the cover of the book, you will see a man and a woman, having their heads facing a wall. Their hands are together. That means they are having a problem, there is something between their heads, and yet they love each other and are trying to resolve it. It deals with the relationship of two people, including from my personal experience, how I met my wife, and the challenges that I have faced. The first chapter begins with how the two shall become one, how one is attracted to someone. Everyone is attracted to someone, by something, whether the eyes, or the nose, or the voice, or the hands, or whatever it may be. I met my wife in a circle. She was dancing in a convention and I spotted that young lady with a kind of orange dress, and her eyes, and I could not get myself out of that (laughter). I made sure afterward to find out who she was, and surely, you know, matchmaker make me a match, all these priests started to bring girls for me to meet, and I met so many girls at convention, I felt so embarrassed, I wanted to be like a fly (laughter) to just hide away. I said to the Bishop, “You know, Syedna, I am not able to find a girl in this country, I am going to go overseas.” And you know, it was the same evening, later on, that I spotted this lady by the name Sharon, and it didn’t take more than two visitations, and the third visit, we were talking about marriage. We met in June and in three months got engaged, and in January we got married. That is how the two of us met. Sometimes we forget where we met and we are not telling the same story, you know? So it is very challenging. You are married, right?
Bobby: Oh, yes.
Father Constantine: Well, try to remember the moment, the time, the place, when you met your wife. In the program, in the counseling sessions, we deal with the personal self-examination, the scale of life, the positive and the good attributes. We have blind spots, negative things that we recognize, that we do not want to speak about. People know who we are, they know about us, but there are things that are hidden within myself that nobody knows about, in the back of my conscience.
There are words describing various negative traits and behaviors, whether it is being proud or stubborn, or whether one is lonely, or very possessive. From the experience of counseling, I gather all these negative characteristics, and I look at myself to see my positive attributes under one heading, then my negative attributes under another heading, then I look to my wife, Sharon. What are the positives in her that I see? What are the negatives? And I take these two sheets, try to analyze, and sift through, because it is the positives that bring us together.
But maybe there are one, or two, or three negatives that could destroy this relationship. So one has to be looking, in fact, in front of a mirror. The mirror does not lie. If I look in the mirror and I see something, I might talk about it to myself, that I don’t like it, but I won’t mention it to somebody else. But that is what it is. That thing is within my life. We have to look into the mirror and find out who we are, and speak about our shortcomings, and our problems and challenges.
You can say, “When I marry him, I will change him.” Or, “When I marry her, I will change her.” Or, “I will wait until after I get married, then I can talk about it.” You can’t. You have to be an open book from the beginning.
And the positive traits or behaviors, these are also words that I have gathered from counseling through the years, and we will have a common denominator in that kind of relationship.
Then the book goes into a little reflection, for instance, going to a movie with your wife, and how conversation takes place, and misunderstandings take place, and it may be something very, very silly. Divorces start with something minor, nothing major, something minor. Just like a polyp, if you do not take it out from your colon, it will grow, and it will grow, and it will grow.
So there are challenges in the relationship, for example, with terminology. When I say equality, when I say mentoring, when I say accountability, or when speaking about monetary value, how do we understand? How would a person understand these words? So I have, for example, categories expressed in words like time, love, sacrifice, or discipline. Where would you put the word equality? Under time, or love, or sex? All these words are used to create communication and to try to be on the same note, the same understanding, because each one has different opinions, and we have to respect that.
As a couple, we move into shared vision. What is our vision, our goal, in three months, or six months? These goals should be evaluated yearly. Then we deal with ages and stages of life. Various people today live maybe 80 to 90 years, a few live to be 100 years, whereas before, it was 40 or 50 years. But the age of life is divided into three score and ten: I, we, and ours. We grow up, and every child wants to be older, to drive, to smoke, to have a date. By the time he or she reaches 25, nobody wants to say that one-third of that person’s life is gone.
Now, looking at 25 years and above, that is the major foundation for two people to build something for the future. The more we think about death, and it is very scary when I talk about this with a young couple, as they are entering into a joyous moment, I want them to think about death, so that they appreciate time. Time is the essence. It is not the quantity of the years, it is the quality of life, so we deal with that, with examples.
I am now 66 years old, so there is a cap on how many years I have. If somebody wants to get married and he is 40 years old, seeing the scale is very scary. There are people who are married three or four times, and they leave nothing behind except wounds. So we deal with the stages of life.
It is very costly to establish a home. You must build a home on a strong, strong foundation, the foundation of love. There are various words of love in the Greek language that we relate to from husband and wife, to family, to friendship, to various relationships, and how that changes in the point of view of individuals. It is very costly to be in love. It is very costly. I am not talking about materialism, because money cannot buy love, and people think, “Because he is rich, I am going to marry him.” Well, you know, I have seen people with my own eyes, rich, and they are empty. You see the sadness in their faces, you see their children are suffering. So we deal with that.
Two people like Abraham and Sarah, Joachim and Anna, me and my wife. She is from this country, and I came from Jerusalem. I did not speak the language very well in those days, even still now, but I trusted God, and something clicked. Is your heart ticking by the way, Bobby?
Bobby: Yes, I have a great marriage, Father.
Father Constantine: Good, good, good, good. But you know, Bobby, let me tell you. In due time, the heart does not tick anymore like when you first met her. You know why? Because you have a very strong foundation. You are already both in one relationship, you see. So people are involved in this relationship, they are excited about it, and yet, they are not willing to go and plant this garden.
Marriage is like a garden. Somebody has said, whatever you put into it, you are going to get out of it. Even a garden, you have to fence it. You have to water it. You have to till it. You have to weed it. You have to pick it. You have to make sure if rabbits come around, you have to dig deeper and put the fence deeper. Well you know, the devil works. So we deal with boundaries. Couples who are in relationship do not know each other. No matter how long they have known each other, still, they do not know each other.
I have been married for 39 years. Still, you know something? Every day is new. Every day changes. Your physical body changes, your mental mind changes, your lives are changed, there are challenges on both sides. The beauty does not remain. Look at me right now, I am bald. I am bending as I walk. Things do not stay the same. Let me say, I used to go to the bathroom and it would shoot—aaaaaahhhhh—like that. But now, after time has passed, it trickles! (laughter) Things change!
We deal with this issue in this book, simply because people need to be open and honest, and I am not embarrassed about these things. As a child, when he is being told how to color, he tries to just pick up the crayon, then you can see scratches here and there. Then finally, he begins to be aware there are boundaries, and then slowly he begins to be aware of the beauty of the colors, and in time, he will color and make a beautiful picture.
Marriage is a mosaic of two people who God brings together—how, when, where, we do not know—but those who are listening, we can encourage the to purchase this book, to read it, and reflect upon their past personal experiences. They may have children, or they may have sisters, or cousins, and spouses or friends. They can buy this book and give it to them. It is a good investment, really.
There are guidelines for marriage, for wives, and guidelines for husbands. Just to give an example: Live within your means, or preferably, a little under your means. For a husband: Don’t act or live as a dictator. Be considerate and responsible.
And understanding, in this relationship, we are not just frozen. Here we are married and happy every after. Indeed, we are married, but now, it is the beginning of the work of two people—decisions, priorities‐because there will be changes in marriage of lifestyle, there will be changes in friendships, changes in family, changes in attitude, changes with finance. It is not just my opinion, now we have two opinions. Not one expectation, but two expectations. Appearances change in time. So we deal with that particular area.
And then finally, for instance, we have the Dating Game. Have you watched this TV show, the Dating Game, the questions, and so on? So we have now how the husband will know their wives through such questions—questions for the woman, questions for the man. Just to be able to read a question and answer it, and then exchange it, to see if you have the same common denominator. Credit cards, finance, management, decorating things in the home, in-laws, worship, budgeting. It is a wonderful way to gain information.
And finally, it concludes with the Orthodox expression of the wedding, based on the Old Testament. We speak about the dance of Isaiah, we speak about Abraham and Sarah, Joachim and Anna. We speak about the men of the Orient. We speak about Christ and the Church. We speak about St. Paul. The crowning itself, which is the highest of the highest in the liturgical expression, is the equality of the husband and the wife in their kingdom. They are king and queen in their kingdom, and as a king and a queen, they have responsibility over this kingdom. But above all, it shows also the suffering of the Lord, and we say, “May the Lord, God, crown you with glory and honor.” That is from the Old Testament. So, it is an ancient ceremony, and ancient sacrament, and still is for two thousand years.
I was invited just six months ago to a wedding, me and my wife, and it wasn’t more than five minutes before we were out. There was nothing. There was like an emptiness, you know? So, the wedding ceremony is very, very rich. It is filled with advice, inspired words from the Bible.
I do enjoy giving this marriage encounter, and I am grateful, really, for Conciliar Press, and for the encouragement of Father Peter Gillquist, and also my Deacon, Ezra Ham, to push me to put these things together, and I came up with this book, and I think it is, really, of value, but maybe I am prejudiced. There are many other books on the market, but this is just me, you know. If it can be helpful to somebody, God bless them, they can purchase it through Conciliar Press. It is very important for my brothers, the priests, to do counseling, and I am sure they do counseling, but this would be in addition to their library.
Bobby: Father, you have done just about as good a job as possible at describing your book and giving countless reasons for why our listeners should purchase it. I must say, and I think it is clear from what you have been saying, as well, that this is not a book just for newlyweds, either.
Father Constantine: No.
Bobby: It is for couples who are already married. It is never too late to take back control of your marriage and to work on it, and Father Constantine makes that abundantly clear in this book. It really is just a fabulous, homespun resource.
Father Constantine: You know, Bobby, I was in Cedar Rapids, Iowa from 1972 until 1982. Two years before I left there was a couple who were married almost for 50 years, but they had been having a problem the latter part of their lives, and they were coming for counseling, both of them. Finally, I could not do much after I counseled, and counseled, and counseled, they decided to live separately in the same house. There was a problem, he was accusing her of stealing his food, and this, and that, and they could have resolved it, but you cannot take your marriage for granted. Even if you have been married 50 years, the devil continues to work, and Satan is alive and well. Somebody asked me, “Father, are you sure that your marriage is sound and guaranteed to last?” I said, “No.” That was my response. I said, “There is no guarantee that for me and my wife, our marriage will last,” in answering that question. But, I can say this. By our upbringing, by being in the Church, by being married for 39 years, having family, and learning, and sharing, and having these challenges, I hope, by the Grace of God, our marriage will last forever. But there is no guarantee. I have to work at it. I have to love my wife. She has to love me. She has to work. I have to work, seek, and adapt to situations, even if I do not like it, or I do not want it. And that is a very humbling experience. (laughter).
Father Constantine: And finally, I can say this. Women, in particular, need moral support. They need assurances, more than anything else. It is not the money. They need to know that they have a man they love and the trust.
Bobby: The book is called, Mastering the Art of Marriage, Staying Together When the World Pulls You Apart. As Father Constantine mentioned, you can get it at Conciliar Press. That website is www.conciliarpress.com.
Father Constantine, I thank you so much for joining me today, and talking a little bit about this fabulous new book.
Father Constantine: Thank you, and God bless you.