134: Marriage As A Path To Holiness
September 25, 2009 Length: 37:45
Orthodox marriage and family therapist and professor at Holy Cross Theological Seminary, Dr. Philip Mamalakis, speaks about the mystery of marriage and how it is meant to be -- and can be -- a path to holiness.
Kevin Allen: Welcome to The Illumined Heart on Ancient Faith Radio. Our topic today is Marriage: a Path to Holiness, and my guest on the program is Dr. Philip Mamalakis. Philip teaches pastoral care at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Theological Seminary and assists with the Field Education program. His professional interests are in Orthodox pastoral theology and marriage, family and parenting. His interests also include the interface of contemporary mental health theory, research and practice, and Orthodox theology, and he’s published articles on therapists and congregations, working with couples recovering from infidelity, and Orthodox marital counseling. He’s currently collaborating with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Department of Marriage and Family in developing an Orthodox marriage preparation program—a much needed project, I would say.
His research is in the areas of Orthodox pastoral theology, Orthodox parenting, and marriage and family life, and he’s presented numerous talks, seminars and retreats on marriage, family life, parenting, and Orthodox perspectives on mental health. He has been my guest before, and Dr. Philip Mamalakis I’d like to welcome you back to The Illumined Heart on Ancient Faith Radio.
Dr. Mamalakis: Thank you, Kevin. It’s great to be back in conversation with you.
Kevin: Thank you so much, and we’re talking about an important subject: Marriage, a path to holiness. I’d like to begin by asking a pretty basic and simple question, but maybe not so simple, we’ll see, and that is, you know, what are the factors that you have found, both in your research and in your work, that lead to marital harmony?
Dr. Mamalakis: Well, marital harmony comes from embracing what I would call the true path of marriage. When husband and wife embrace their vocations and embrace this true path of marriage, it leads to harmony. And, Kevin, we have such a beautiful understanding of what marriage is for. Saint John Chrysostom writes that, “Marriage was instituted to make us chaste and to make us parents, and of these two, the reason of chastity takes precedence.” Saint Gregory Nazianzus writes, “Marriage is the key that opens the door to discover chastity and perfect love.” And this is because of our understanding of what marriage is.
We call marriage a sacrament, and in the Greek word, the word is mystery. Not a mystery in the sense that we don’t really know what’s going on, but mystery in the sense that, through marriage, the kingdom of God becomes a living experience.
Elder Aimilianos, who was the Elder of a monastery on Mount Athos, calls marriage a theophany. “Whenever two people are married in the name of Christ,” he writes, “they become the sign which contains and expresses Christ Himself. It is as if you are seeing Christ.” So as a sacrament, marriage is a vehicle of the Holy Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit that sustains marriage and the Holy Spirit transfigures the husband and the wife.
One Orthodox author writes how, “marriage in Christ raises the husband and wife to share in the divine nature,” and that divine nature, we know, is love. So we see marriage is a path of deification. It’s a path, as you mentioned, of holiness. And to become deified is to share in God’s nature, and we know that that nature is love.
He who possess love, possess God Himself. So we see that within marriage, we find our fulfillment as husband and wife as we become one in Christ, and as we are perfected in Christlike love.
We read in 1 John 2:5 “Whoever keeps God’s word, truly the love of God is perfected in him.” So we see that the purpose of marriage is to discover perfect love, and that journey of discovering perfect love is what we call our journey of salvation.
Monk Moses writes, “Two people come to the communion of marriage to help one another in their salvation.” So in many ways, marriage is like a road. “It starts out from the earth and ends in heaven,” writes Aimilianos of Simonopetra.
So St. John Chrysostom uses the image of Christ at the wedding of Cana to describe this process. He says, if you ask Christ, “He will work for you an even greater miracle than he worked at Cana.” That is, He will transform the water of your stable passions into the wine of spiritual unity.
So, essentially, the purpose of marriage is that my human love, my fallen love, which I bring into my marriage, is transformed into a divine love, and in that transformation, I am transformed, through the daily challenges of married life. It’s this journey of love, that we are transformed by Christ’s love, such that we experience His love, we encounter His love and acquire His love for our spouse.
Kevin: And yet, Dr. Philip Mamalakis, we hear so much, read so much, see so much, perhaps even some listening would say, experience so much marital discord, that is maybe the opposite of what you so beautifully and clearly defined. So what are, I guess, the factors which lead most to marital discord?
Dr. Mamalakis: You know, when I talk about marriage—and I usually begin by just describing what the path really is and how the Church understands it—many people scratch their head and say, “That’s not what my marriage is like.”
Because for many of us, for all of us there is discord in our marriages. And when we think about the people we know, we typically know more marriages that aren’t doing well, than marriages that are doing well. And discord comes in marriage when we serve our own desires. When we act out of our own self-centered ways. This leads to discord and in as much as I have not acquired perfect love and my wife has not acquired perfect love, there will be discord in our marriage. Which happens all the time.
The invitation of marriage is, the choices we have in the face of this type of discord. This is why discord in marriage is not only normal, but it’s expected. And it’s through our responses to that discord that we are invited to turn towards God, to seek to be perfected in His love, and to achieve that marital happiness or holiness.
Kevin: You know, I know quite a few young marrieds. We have a young marrieds group, as many parishes do, and we’ve hosted them and so on, and one of the things I’ve found is that many couples enter the marriage sacrament and marriage itself with certain, oh I don’t know, expectations, you know, and feelings of entitlement. Are these good things or are they problems waiting to happen?
Dr. Mamalakis: You know, the more I work with couples the more I realize that every one of us enters marriage with expectations about two things: about what marriage is going to be like, and expectations about this person that we’ve married. And, to be fair, if our expectations are based on that understanding of marriage that I began with, that it’s essentially a journey of discovery, a journey of love, that’s good. Yet, for many of us, for most of us, our expectations of marriage are unrealistic. They’re typically very selfish expectations of marriage.
We expect that we will be happy in our marriage, because I love this person, and that marriage will fulfill all my desires. And some of these expectations of marriage are based on images we’ve seen of marriage in the media, or in fairy tales, or even from the culture, which in many ways nurtures a self-centeredness in the way we live.
These types of expectations can lead to a lot of disappointment, suffering and struggle in marriage. You know, a sense of entitlement, “I deserve this. I expect this,” is a poison in marriage. Entitlement is a type of selfishness.
If we view marriage as about meeting my needs, which means satisfying my desires, the person you’re married to is going to start feeling that after a little while, and start feeling the effects of that selfishness, and he or she is going to react—“I’m not your slave,” “I’m not your maid,” “I’m expecting to be loved, not to be used!”—and then conflict will follow.
So there’s a danger of living in a society which teaches us that a good marriage will fulfill your desires, meaning that when it doesn’t meet your expectations, you should end it! And essentially, that robs us of the vision of marriage that God has provided for us.
Because marriage is not going to fulfill your desires. It will transform them. And if you embrace the true path of marriage, it will transform these selfish desires, from getting what I want, to walking in divine love, towards wanting the same thing that God wants. And that’s true marital harmony: that each loves the other with Christlike love, not based on what they want their spouse to be or who they imagine them to be, but who they are.
The other expectation that needs to change, is the expectation we have of our spouse, because in this journey of marriage, each of us is going to discover that the person whom we’ve married is different than what we imagined, or expected, or even wanted. You’re going to discover your spouse has bigger problems than you thought; is more selfish, is more immature or whatever it is, and this leads to disappointment. “This is not what I agreed to when I got married,” people tell me regularly, and we all come to this point in our marriage, because marriage is that discovery of getting to know each other.
Now it’s tempting at that point, when you discover that this is not the person I thought I was marrying, is to turn against your spouse or to blame your spouse. What’s even worse, Kevin, is we live in a consumer-oriented society, and when you go into a store and buy a product like a television, and you take it home and you later discover a defect that you didn’t know about—what do you do? You return it. You take it back, and the expectation is, “If I didn’t know about that, I’m entitled to return it.”
In fact, it’s in the intimate journey of marriage that we are going to discover our spouse’s selfishness, our spouse’s brokenness and sin. And we also are going to come into contact with our own selfishness, our own sin, and our own brokenness. And that process can be very difficult, very hard, very scary and very humbling. And how couples handle it when they see their own sin, will determine what kind of marriage they have, because as Orthodox, we know that it’s a gift from God to see our sins. It’s good that we see our sins, because only then can we repent. Only when we see our sin can we turn away from it and turn towards God.
So in the process of this journey, I work with couples to help them understand that, yes, you’re seeing something that’s real, but the invitation is to turn towards God by loving our spouse with his or her imperfections. And by turning towards God, by repenting for our own. And as we repent, and as we turn towards Him, He heals us and fills us with His Holy Spirit. And the more we turn to Him in repentance, and the more we turn towards Him in loving our spouse with his or her sins, the more we experience the joy that comes from living our lives in His love. So that marital love is a love that’s based on who your partner really is, so that we end up, as we read about in Genesis 2:25, where we read that the man and his wife were both naked and not ashamed.
You don’t love your spouse for who you imagine her to be, but you love your spouse with that divine love, knowing who you’ve married.
Kevin: Let me follow up on that, Dr. Philip Mamalakis. We hear often in our tradition that’s part of the sacrament, of course, that the two individuals become one flesh. What are the implications of this becoming one flesh, beyond the obvious physical union?
Dr. Mamalakis: One of the prayers in the crowning service reads, “O Master, stretch out Your hand from Your holy dwelling place and join Your servants. For by You is woman joined to man. Yoke them in oneness of mind. Crown them into one flesh.” So this oneness means being one mind, operating as one. There is no more his and her, mine and yours. It’s all ours.
I was talking with a mom yesterday in my office, who just told her husband, you know, “Those are your clothes and I’ll give you a break and I’ll wash them one time.” And I asked her, “Whose clothes are they?” Is there my money and your money, my parents, your parents, my career? Well, oneness means these are all ours. Oneness means that it’s more important to make decisions together than to do what one of you thinks is best.
In fact, unilateral decisions, Kevin, tear at the intimacy of marriage, because they’re a breach of oneness we’re called to live. And couples regularly come to me, and what they’re struggling with is, “She made that decision without even consulting with me,” “He did it, when I wasn’t OK with it.”
For that oneness is what we participate in, and it’s also a gift from God. Because, as we talked about earlier, it’s His love that transforms us. And it’s that very love that unites husband and wife, which is why we don’t exchange vows at our wedding ceremony as Orthodox. Because it’s Christ, in the person of a priest, who unites us. Our commitment to marriage, is our commitment to Christ.
Kevin: How interesting. I had not thought about that.
Dr. Mamalakis: And our commitment to Christ, is our commitment to marriage.
Kevin: I hadn’t thought about that. That’s a wonderful and illuminating insight into the sacrament. You mentioned intimacy, and I know, and others I’ve spoken to acknowledge that many of us weren’t raised in such a way that we develop a healthy sense of intimacy. Can you talk, Dr. Philip Mamalakis about both, how positive and negative patterns of intimacy are developed in us? And perhaps, if, as a follow up to that, are there differences between how men and women develop healthy views of intimacy?
Dr. Mamalakis: When we think about patterns of intimacy, we think about how we relate to people. And, the way we relate to people is shaped, in large part, by our early primary relationships. That is how we related to people in our homes, growing up. If we were in a home where there was a lot of anger, or selfishness, or manipulation and control; if there’s a lot of reactivity and power-struggling, this type of way of relating is something we carry with us.
I had a woman in my office who, her instinct is to react against her husband, to control him and dismiss him. And in exploring that, she just started to discover, or reflect on that, “This is the way I have always related to my parents.” And for her husband’s part, he had developed a pattern of really being disengaged and passive. And when we discovered, we explored his own upbringing, you could see that he had developed a sense of just checking out and being disengaged almost as a protection from all the pain and chaos in the home.
All of our patterns of ways of relating or drawing close to people develop in those early years. “Is it safe for me to share how I’m feeling, or what I think?” Well, was it safe in your home growing up? And the same is true for positive patterns of intimacy. And what I like to do with couples is to talk about positive patterns, because sometimes we’re not even aware of the way we relate. So by talking about positive patterns of relating, things like giving each person a voice, respecting the personhood and equality of each person, giving each person respect, listening, sharing, discussing things openly, not attacking people because we have differences, not reacting but being patient, sharing ideas, coming to decisions together—that culture of respect nurtures real intimacy.
Kevin: You referenced early childhood as being formative in this especially important issue of intimacy. How then can prospective couples, looking in each other as a life partner, have a healthy view towards marriage before they get married? How do they know that beforehand?
Dr. Mamalakis: I think I always presume that all of us, each of us, has some unhealthy patterns of intimacy, because none of our parents were without sin. We, in return, are going to shape our children and it’s going to be tainted by sin. So, what I invite couples to do as they’re preparing for marriage is to get to know each other, to spend time together, and together discuss:
“What are appropriate ways of relating to each other?”
“How can we discuss things?”
“Do each of you feel free to share your ideas?”
“How much is there manipulation and control?” and
“How much do you feel free to share and free to come together?”
So, if we talk about, before we get married, relating to each other, and talking about how we relate to each other, it essentially prepares the groundwork for growing on that path. So, what I encourage couples before they get married, is to also practice confession and repentance, and bring repentance into your engagement period, into your dating relationships, such that, immediately you’re saying, “This relationship of getting to know each other is about growing in holiness.” That means we need to be constantly learning about, “When are we hurting each other?” and learning how to repent.
So having someone to go to confession with, bringing your dating relationships to a priest or spiritual father—it just sets the context for what this relationship is really going to be about from the beginning.
Kevin: Since, as you point out, and we all, most of us anyway, acknowledge that we are sinners and sinful, raised, as you say, by sinners and sinful parents, can and how can negative patterns then be healed?
Dr. Mamalakis: This is, what I think, is the most beautiful part of our understanding of marriage. I think the more I learn about and live out this marriage, the more I’m moved by God’s mercy, His grace and His love. That, as St. John Chrysostom wrote, “Marriage was created for chastity.” So what we see, that within this marriage, we have an invitation to heal from all these negative, and often destructive, patterns of relating.
Marriage is the path of healing from these patterns. Marriage is the context where we will both discover them, and be invited to change them. As we learn how to respond when we see the negative patterns and negative sins, as we learn how to do things in a different way, as we learn how to turn towards Christ and turn towards each other in the face of these sins, we see miracles happen.
I witness miracles happen every week when I work with couples, and every week in my own life. As people continually turn towards each other and turn in repentance, they come back and report things like, “I notice I’m not as reactive as I used to be,” “What my husband said, doesn’t really bother me anymore,” that we watch the Holy Spirit healing people’s hearts. Then next week they’ll come in and say, “I can’t do this, this is too hard.” [laughs] But then we’re on another week and we see God’s grace.
So it’s specifically within marriage that we see the context for us healing from those types of illnesses.
Kevin: One of the things, and you mentioned the crowning part of the service, and it really references martyrdom. Underlying a lot of what we’ve been discussing is this idea of self-emptying, of putting the other before the self and so on, but a lot of couples, I know I was included, don’t go into marriage expecting to be martyrs, you know? So, I’m wondering if you could talk briefly about what this aspect of our theology and our praxis means with regard to marriage. You’ve spoken some about it, but maybe even a little bit more.
Dr. Mamalakis: Absolutely, because in many ways we don’t expect marriage to be a martyrdom and we don’t understand. When we think about martyrdom, we think about these horrible stories we hear about the early Christians throughout history. Yet in many ways it’s even harder. The martyrdom of marriage is even tougher than what we imagine other martyrs have suffered, because, again, we’re not expecting it.
When we think about martyrdom, we think of dying to myself, dying specifically to my selfish ways. So when couples come in, as I just mentioned, they say, “I could never change! This is just the way I am.” I say, “Yes, and God can change you.” But in order to do that, we need to turn towards Him. Which means we need to turn away from my impulse to react, my selfish desires, my anger, my greed, my desire to do my own thing. It’s a constant struggle of turning against my selfishness, essentially dying to what I want to do and turning towards my spouse as an act of turning towards God. This daily giving up what I would rather do and what I’d rather want and doing things my way, is this daily martyrdom of being patient, of being kind, of being gentle, of sharing and listening is this daily martyrdom.
Now couples come to me, and I have guys tell me, “You know, I would take a bullet for my wife. If we were ever jumped in an alley, I’d stand in front of her. I’d take the bullet for her!” Then I ask them, “Well, how come you have such a hard time taking out the trash when she asks you?” That taking out the trash when we’re asked, or learning to respond in kindness is a dying to ourselves. That’s this beautiful martyrdom that promises healing, not just in the kingdom to come, but today in our marriages.
Kevin: Can you talk a bit about the passions, Dr. Philip Mamalakis? We hear a lot about those and I think there’s probably a great deal of confusion, both within Orthodoxy and outside about what those are, and how they affect marriages. You know, maybe define what they are first, especially for some of our non-Orthodox listeners.
Dr. Mamalakis: Sure. Passions are these, what are called sinful movements of our souls. They’re, from an Orthodox perspective, these are natural powers of the soul that are God-given, that have been distorted or corrupted by sin and our withdrawal from God. For example the power to love God is a God-given power, but it’s distorted into the chief of all passions, which is self-love, selfishness and self-centeredness. So these passions, these powers of the soul, let’s say anger—anger is given to us by God. We are called to be angry at sin, yet in its distortion, we get angry at our spouse for simple, little things. So pride and greed are considered overriding passions, avarice—an expression of greed that seeks to satisfy the self—are all these poisons in marriage. Envy, even depression are patterns that arise from us not getting what we want.
Christ spoke about this in Mark, chapter seven, in response to a challenge from the Pharisees, when Christ indicated that, from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts: fornication, theft, murdering, adultery. All these evil things from within defile a man.
So we see two things in marriage. First, marriage in Christ will reveal these distorted passions in our heart. Marriage will force us to face our pride, our selfishness, our impatience, our entitlement, our greed, because marriage is a journey of getting to know each other and ourselves. Second, as I mentioned, it’s the context for healing these very things. We have a choice. Do I act out of my anger towards my spouse, or do I seek to turn towards him or her in love? Do I act out of my avarice and greed and go shopping when I want, or do I say, “Let me check in with my spouse before I spend that?”
In every daily interaction with our spouse is an invitation to us to turn away from our passions, and towards Christ. So the way we understand is the Holy Spirit then transforms or reorients these passions towards righteousness.
Kevin: But that requires a certain degree of nepsis, or watchfulness, doesn’t it?
Dr. Mamalakis: Well, it’s interesting because [laughs] the beauty of marriage is, even if we’re not watchful of our sins, our spouse can see it pretty clearly. So in many ways the spouse is this gift to say, “You’re acting selfishly. You didn’t consider me,” when I might be entirely unaware of that. So our spouse is then this gift from God who helps us to see. What it really takes, though, is it takes from each other, it takes from my wife, number one, a love when she sees my sin. Is she going to attack me for seeing my sin, or is she going to come to me gently? And, number two, it takes me to be open and responsive to my wife. Am I going to dismiss her and say, “I don’t care what you think?” or I’m going to say, “Really? Wow, I don’t want to do that.”
So Christ gives us the invitation, when we see this in each other, to turn towards each other in love as a response to His invitation, so that He can heal us.
Kevin: Are there some passions, Dr. Philip Mamalakis, that are more prevalent than others, say in men or women?
Dr. Mamalakis: Well, in many ways I do think we have different struggles, men and women. Yet, in my work with couples, I tell them that the goal is not to compare yourself to other men and other women, but to learn to love the woman or the man to whom you are married to. So even if your wife is the only one, compared to all the women, who struggles with this, your goal is to love her.
The beauty of marriage is you’re called to love a person, Philip or Georgia, and whatever that person brings. Maybe men tend to struggle more with lust than women do, particularly in a culture that visually assaults men with images that are intended to inflame lust. Although there has been some more research that the rates of infidelity are becoming more equal between men and women. Do women struggle more with a type of ungodly fear or anxiety or avarice or vainglory? Possibly.
We can see how, when our lives are directed at satisfying our desires, whether it’s lust or greed, and they get expressed by things like materialism or pornography, these things not only destroy the oneness that we are called to in marriage, they are a poison to love. The more we indulge these passions, the more ensnared we get. So we have to really nurture a zero tolerance for acting out of our own passions. Because the more you indulge it, the worse it gets.
Kevin: Where does being happy fit into the definition of a successful Orthodox Christian marriage? You just hear that all the time. “Well, he makes me happy,” or “He doesn’t make me happy,” or “I need to be happy,” or “I want to be happy,” et cetera.
Dr. Mamalakis: Or, “I’m not very happy…”
Kevin: Or, “I’m not very happy,” right, you probably hear that.
Dr. Mamalakis: Yes, and you know what I tell people? God’s goal for marriage is that we live happily ever after, that His goal is happiness. But, when we hear about “happily ever after” in the fairy tale sense, it usually means “happy because I got all my desires met.” I tell people very clearly, God’s goal is that you are happy in your marriage, and that happiness comes from freeing yourself up from your selfish desires, freeing yourself up from your need to get your own way or to control your spouse. And, the more free you are from those desires, the more happy you will be—today and the next day.
So this woman that I was discussing, who tended to react and dismiss and become angry and dismiss her husband, she said, “I’m not very happy.” As she’s learning to be more patient and more peaceful, she’s experiencing more peace in her life. This is the promise of Christ, that we will be happy when we follow His way. The Church reveals to us that God wants us to be happy, and this is the path for happiness.
Kevin: I spoke some while back with a woman who began coming to our parish, and she claims that she was, and I believe her, that she was physically and mentally abused by her husband, and she went to an Orthodox Geronda or Elder and asked him if she could divorce him and he said, “No,” and she did anyway. This brings up the idea or the question about divorce. Obviously it’s not ideal, we know that. So my question is really twofold. Number one is, how far should a spouse go in an abusive marriage, or one that might be considered irreparable? And two, how does having children, or how should having children affect the decision as to whether divorce is an option? And is it true, you hear some data that says children of divorce are no more or less healthy than children of a lifelong marriage. Maybe there are three questions there.
Dr. Mamalakis: Yeah. How far should a spouse go? We don’t have a rule. The beauty of this marriage is that it is very personal, and so the Orthodox answer to that is to be in conversation with someone. But, I want to qualify that a little bit to say that the goal of the Christian life is not to stay married. The goal of the Christian life is to seek the kingdom of God. St. John Chrysostom is very clear. He writes that it’s better to break up a relationship for righteousness sake, than to be forced into something immoral. He says, If he beats you every day, constantly picking fights over the issue, it is better to separate. Because we, as Orthodox, understand marriage was created for man, not man for marriage.
Kevin: Interesting, huh?
Dr. Mamalakis: So I work with couples and say the goal of spiritual life is not to stay married at all costs, but to seek the kingdom of God at all costs. And in some cases, it might mean leaving the home, without leaving the marriage. If there’s violence, I work with couples to leave the home! Because putting up with violence is not necessarily righteousness. But it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to leave the marriage, but taking a stand against that. Emotional abuse—putting a stop to that, and working under guidance with someone to help understand, “How do I seek to follow Christ? And when my spouse deviates from Christ, how do I love my spouse in service to Christ?”
So, how does having children affect it? Well, in many ways, Chrysostom’s advice to couples has been confirmed in the social science research on divorce, in that children do better from divorce than staying in a high conflict home—that it’s actually the conflict which is damaging for kids. But, I want to be clear. The best thing for kids is that they grow up in a home with their two biological parents in peace…
Dr. Mamalakis: ...in peace! Divorce has negative effects on kids. Not all kids from divorce are doomed. However it is—I compare it to like an auto accident. Auto accidents are bad experiences. It doesn’t mean that your life is over. It does mean that you will have some struggle. But, I tell couples, if there is so much conflict in the home, it’s better for the kids to break up. And the reverse is true. You might not be connected to your husband or your wife. You might be really struggling, but if there’s no conflict, it’s better for the kids that you stay in the same house together. If there’s no abuse, no violence and no emotional hostility, it’s better for the kids that you keep the house intact.
Kevin: Dr. Philip Mamalakis, as we’re coming to a close of our interview, and I so much appreciate your taking the time with us today, my question is—we’ve talked about these conditions where abuse takes place and—physical, psychological and so on—but is there any situation in which a bad marriage could still serve as a path to holiness?
Dr. Mamalakis: I would say with the example I just gave, that, in marriage, each spouse is free to leave at any time; that my choice to turn towards my wife is almost independent of her choice to turn towards me. So, if my spouse decides to turn away, I still have a choice to turn and serve towards Christ. So, I would say in the example I gave, if there’s no violence and no conflict, that your decision to continue to seek to serve Christ in a marriage that might have very little emotional intimacy, very little connection might very well be your salvation. As Orthodox though, we are very careful not to impose a rule across the board for everyone. The answer to the question of, “Should I stay? Should I go? Is this maybe a path for me?” comes under the direction of your spiritual father.
The overwhelming pastoral approach in our tradition is, the person has a choice. I can’t impose a martyrdom on you, Kevin, and you can’t impose a martyrdom on me, but I can accept a martyrdom that’s given to me. So good pastoral guidance will allow someone to discern, how much can they take? They’ll know it’s a God-given path, if in that martyrdom, they’re acquiring peace, they’re acquiring strength, and they’re acquiring joy. That’s a sign that this might be your path. But if you’re getting more miserable, more depressed, more anxious, more scared every day, then there’s something else happening.
Kevin: I do want to make a comment on that, and maybe get a response from you. You know, one of the beautiful things that I’ve experienced in Orthodox Christianity is that it is authentic, it’s real, it’s based on spiritual and pastoral counseling and care, and it’s not simply formulaic. As Evangelicals, we were really taught that marriage is a commandment from God that is not to be broken, period. What I love about Orthodoxy is that the Church understands how to apply the commandments of Christ in a redemptive way, within the context of the situation at hand. Did you want to comment on any of that before we end?
Dr. Mamalakis: I do, because I want to say that many people looking at the Orthodox Church from the outside, really have a hard time with that.
Dr. Mamalakis: Because they look at all the Orthodox churches globally and they say, “Why do you call yourself one Church? You’re all doing different things.” And if you look at what we’re doing globally, we have the same fullness of the faith. There is absolute unity of faith, but there’s diversity in pastoral expression. In many ways, the mystery of God’s love is, what’s good for one spouse, for one couple, might be the opposite for another couple. So if you’re trying to contain God into our own mind or reduce God’s love to a formula, you’re going to be frustrated by the Orthodox Church. Because we don’t produce one answer. I think that’s the beauty of God’s love. That’s not Orthodoxy, that’s the fullness of the Christian tradition and the abundance of God’s overwhelming love.
Kevin: Well, my guest today has been marriage and family therapist, and assistant professor of pastoral care at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox Seminary, Dr. Philip Mamalakis. Dr. Philip, thank you so much for being my guest on The Illumined Heart.
Dr. Mamalakis: Kevin, it’s great to chat with you. I enjoy it very much. Thank you.
Kevin: Thank you
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