Navigating Adult Relationships Before Marriage

Navigating Adult Relationships Before Marriage

Today we present the third and last of three installments by Dr. Albert Rossi answering student’s questions on dating, marriage, and relationships. Click here to read his first installment, Why Do We Date? and Click here to read his second installment, Why Do We Abstain?

Let’s begin where we began two blogs ago. Christ is everything. The Cross is a difficult privilege. That’s for starters. I will also begin by asking you to listen to my wife singing a haunting song, Today, that is about human lovers and that we can hear as the relationship between Christ and ourselves. He is our most intimate relationship.

So, for this blog let’s reflect a bit on adult relationships. You are adults.

Here’s the bottom line question. Is it wrong to date people who aren’t Orthodox? Perhaps it’s not a matter of right or wrong. Perhaps it is not a matter of good or bad. Perhaps it is a matter of smart or not-so-smart. Dating is a process of finding a mate to marry. Well, marriage has many beautiful intersections, negotiations, and complications. For example, in-laws and finances and where we will live and sexual activity and social life, etc. It probably isn’t smart to factor in a difference of religion if it can be avoided. The real issue is children and how they will be raised. If there is a difference of religion from the get-go, children won’t come along for awhile and then it will be too late to understand what kinds of obstacles must be overcome for each partner to be fully satisfied with how the children are taught religion. As you can infer, I strongly suggest that you do your very best to limit your dating to Orthodox partners, in OCF or your home parish or someone you may meet on Real Break or wherever.

By the way, one basic question in dating is to ask yourself the question, “What kind of parent will this person make for our children?” And, please be careful that at the dating level, we typically see other persons in the very best light. When a couple gets serious, there is a natural tendency to project into the future about how the mate will be. When a couple is serious or engaged, they are rather delusional about the other. That’s OK. But, the tendency is to expect the good qualities in the partner to become better and the bad qualities to become less. Such is not the case. The good qualities in a serious relationship do enlarge as time goes on. But, so do the bad qualities. The bad qualities enlarge just as the good qualities do.

Beyond dating, we all have many different kinds of adult relationships: parents, roommate, acquaintances, classmates, adult relatives, etc. Is there any kind of guideline for this kaleidoscope of life?

"View of a kaleidoscope" - photo taken by H. Pellikka taken from WikiMedia Commons

“View of a kaleidoscope” – photo taken by H. Pellikka taken from WikiMedia Commons

To the extent that we can, we need to seek out relationships that give us strength and hope. We need to take initiatives to try to cultivate relationships that are a healing presence for us, and for whom we are a healing presence. Obviously, this isn’t easy. And, to the extent that we can, and is appropriate, we don’t need to spend undue time, if any, with those persons who take us down.

As guidelines, we need to be as authentic and as honest as we possibly can with all our relationships. The mask we wear, the persona, can block meaningful exchange of energy between others and us.  We gain vitality from meaningful relationships.

We are all imperfect and we are all enough, in God’s eyes. Yes, we are sinners but we are much more than that. We are His Beloved. He loves us as His children. Perfectionism in relationships can tarnish the quality of the relationship. Sometimes it helps to talk about our tendency towards perfectionism. Not all who read this blog have perfectionist tendencies, but I venture to say that most, most of you do. It goes with the territory of being human.

I did a podcast on Ancient Faith Radio entitled, “A Message for Youth on Sex.” The podcast goes about 45 minutes and is an expanded version of these blog posts. You can access that podcast by clicking here.

I’ll end where I began. Christ is everything. We can’t say that often enough. And, yes, the Cross is a difficult privilege. You heard my wife sing Today. We navigate all our relationships as best we can by staying in the Present Moment, by centering ourselves in stillness.


Dr. Rossi teaches courses in pastoral theology at SaiPhoto from SVSnt Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. He has written numerous articles on psychology and religion and published a book through Ancient Faith Publications entitled, Becoming a Healing Presence. He is a licensed clinical psychologist in the state of New York. Dr. Rossi has a brief, bi–weekly podcast on Ancient Faith Radio titled Becoming a Healing Presence.



Why Do We Abstain?

Why Do We Abstain?

Today we present the second of three installments by Dr. Albert Rossi answering student’s questions on dating, marriage, and relationships. Click here to read his first installment, Why Do We Date?

For dating Orthodox college students, this is probably the central question, “Why do we abstain from sexual activity until marriage?”   Many non-Orthodox college students don’t seem to abstain. Why should I?

To begin at the beginning, God invented sex for His good reasons. So sex is sacred, good. God knows what He is doing. He made human beings as male and female with a gravitational sexual desire for each other. But it is also true that sex only fits into human life within the context of real human life. We wouldn’t consider sex without some consideration of affection and love. Sex includes warmth, respect and mutual satisfaction. Basically, sex only fits into a context of commitment.

My wife and I, married for 19 years with two children, did what married people do. We made love, that is, we had sex. When we finished making love my wife would often say, “Al, let’s have a cup of tea.” I would say, “OK.” We got up, put on bathrobes, went downstairs and sat at the dining room table. I made the tea. The overhead Tiffany lamp, which I had made, was dimmed low. The time was 11:15 PM, the outside street was quiet and the two children upstairs were asleep. Those 15 minutes of tea-drinking were among the most precious times in my marriage.


Image from Wikimedia

Image from Wikimedia

I knew two things for certain. I knew, existentially, that I was loved. How did I know? I knew because of what that woman did upstairs with me. She gave herself totally to me. I also knew that I could love. All I had to do was look at her face. She was a happy camper. That’s all there is to life, to love and be loved because God is love.

So, I had it all during that “cup of tea.” I didn’t say, “I love you so much that if you get metastasized bone cancer and need me to cook a macrobiotic diet for you, and go to the oncologist with and for you, and serve your every need, I will do that for you.” I didn’t say it, but that’s what happened. She would have done the same for me. That’s why I define sex as a “cup of tea.”

Sexual activity needs a context, the context of a committed Christian marriage, an eternal agreement that I will be with you forever. Then, sexual activity has purpose and meaning.   Without the lifetime-committed context, sexual activity is vapid, empty, and meaningless, although at the time it may be “fun.” Sex outside a lifelong committed marriage leads to jealousy, anger, and eventually hatred. Expectations are dashed.

Why do we abstain? The strongest answer is the truth expressed in music. I ask you to relax and listen to my wife singing The First Time.

The first time is the reason we abstain. We abstain so that the first time is with our lifetime partner, someone we can deeply cherish and who deeply cherishes us. We can’t have it both ways. We can’t be sexually active before marriage and experience the mystery of the act of making love fully. And, we can’t be cherished if we have given away our purity before marriage. Of course, we Orthodox believe in “second virginity” called repentance. But, the repentance path is much more difficult. So, please listen with your heart to my wife’s beautiful singing of The First Time.

Retaining one’s purity is not about not. Retaining one’s purity is a matter of getting an interior landscape that is as pure as can be on this planet. The Beatitudes say, “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God.” They shall see God here and now, not only in heaven. The pure in heart can see God in the mirror because they know they are doing they are doing their best to preserve their inner fragrance, their inner innocence, their inner sweetness, for Christ and for the life He wants us to have, and for the life of the future children may have.

Dr. Rossi teaches courses in pastoral theology at SaiPhoto from SVSnt Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. He has written numerous articles on psychology and religion and published a book through Ancient Faith Publications entitled, Becoming a Healing Presence. He is a licensed clinical psychologist in the state of New York. Dr. Rossi has a brief, bi–weekly podcast on Ancient Faith Radio titled Becoming a Healing Presence.

Dear Friend | Student Reflections from College Conference

Dear Friend | Student Reflections from College Conference

Last year, I was the only OCF student from my university who attended College Conference. I realize there are some obstacles – with College Conference occurring between Christmas and New Years: you may miss some time devoted to family, friends at home, and wintery traditions. Today I am proposing a radical new winter tradition to those who have never had the chance to come to College Conference before. You, too, can experience these incredible days of unity with fellow college-age Orthodox Christians.

To those who couldn’t attend last year but now have the chance, here’s a glimpse into this tradition of mine. I hope it becomes a tradition of yours, too!

Chicago contingent 2013

Dear friend,                                                                                                                     December 27, 2014

After a long drive and hours of registration, our keynote speaker introduced all of us to the theme for this year’s College Conference. We did not get tired as we sat through the lecture but rather became more energized! This energy carried through the midnight hour as we stayed in the chapel after Compline to chant. Of course we sang camp songs and our favorite hymns…it was absolutely thrilling! The beautiful chants resounded in the church and in our hearts like a stringed instrument, sounding its glorious vibrations.

My dear friend, I know you had other things going on this Christmas break but I wish I could text you now. Not to say “I told you so!”, but to encourage you for next year. You have to come to experience this joy!


Dear friend,                                                                                                                     December 28, 2014

What a blessed day! Thrice-blessed! 100 times blessed! Here at College Conference we chanted Liturgy and received Holy Communion among 300 brothers and sisters in Christ.   Some of my favorite parts of the day were talking with my roommate and attending to wonderful sessions led by great priests who are helping me center back to the life I need to live in Christ.

By far the most beautiful surprise came to me first as the sweet-smelling aroma of roses. I smelled this sweetness in the hallway after dinner and it filled my heart to bursting. The scent was a physical sign of the indisputable information that the Panagia had stepped into our lives. How exceptionally blessed! Her crying icon, called “Panagia Kardiotissa”, traveled to be with us at Antiochian Village and we chanted the Paraklesis service wholeheartedly to her.

My dear friend, where else can you receive this kind of gift at Christmas-time?? Do you see why I want you to be here with me?


Dear friend,                                                                                                                     December 30, 2014

I’m writing to you at 5am…this day has been so long and so full of beauty! It all started this morning with a sunrise service to St. Raphael. Dear friend, did you know there is a REAL LIVE SAINT who resides here?? That sunrise – luminous in the stripes of clouds as we sang to the holy hierarch, “Rising from the East like a brilliant sun” – was absolutely amazing! Afterward, I made a new friend and we talked about Orthodoxy from a Catholic point of view (he’s currently Catholic, but his Orthodox girlfriend persuaded him to come to College Conference to learn about our Faith!). I met other people at lunch and found out that we share the same college major. At the sessions today I learned more about biblical priesthood from Khouriya (Priest’s Wife) Stephanie, chatted with other people about the benefits of Studying Abroad during college, then got ready for tonight’s banquet and dance. Of course the dance was awesome but the better part was afterward: lighting candles to Christ, and Panagia, and St. Ignatius, and catching up with friends from camp. There are so many good people here!

We are almost at the last day and it is all so surreal. When will I be in a situation like this again? With such amazing people who are serious about their faith, who are funny and interesting and intelligent, who love the music of the Church and who are seeking to live God’s will for them.

It’s almost 6am now so there’s no need to sleep…maybe I’ll just take a quick nap…and then get up again for breakfast and a chance to send off all of my brothers and sisters with a big hug and a prayer for their safety.

I pray that next year, many of us can gather here again. And most of all – I pray for you, my friend! Will you come with me next December? Come and see!




Evangelia Pagones is a senior at the University of Illinois – Pagones 2014 headshot-1Urbana-Champaign studying Music Education. She currently acts as OCF’s Chicago District Leader while she is completing her student teaching in middle school and high school orchestra. She is looking forward to serving on the Music Committee for this year’s College Conference East and encourages anyone interested to come help chant at the services this December! See you there!

Why Do We Date?

Today we present the first of three installments by Dr. Albert Rossi answering student’s questions on dating, marriage, and relationships.

I need to start where I always start, by saying the fundamental Orthodox truth, Christ is everything.

Jesus_Christ_-_Hagia_SophiaWe put everything in the context of Christ. One time a married woman said that, when she was dating, she was looking for someone who loved Christ more than her. She said she found someone and now is very happily married. I would submit her approach to dating as an approach that works. I would also say that your job is to become a person whom someone else can find, someone who loves Christ more than the potential mate. Of course, that’s hard. But, aren’t good things usually hard to go after and find?

So, why do we date? We date because Christ made us that way, to grow-up into Him, to have the peace and the joy and the happiness that we all want. We date because we want to find someone to love, cherish and give our soul and body to. We date because we want to find someone who wants the same thing. We date because we are looking for love, exclusiveness, and commitment.

We date because it is a God-given adventure, an exhilarating and sometimes terrifying risk into the unknown.

We date because we are made that way, to be vulnerable and stretched.

The purpose of dating is to look ahead to marriage, to find a person who will love our children and us in a Christ-like manner. I would now ask you to pause and listen to my wife singing The Wedding Song.

That is what dating is all about. All the good that I have in my life came through my wife. She is dead for 23 years but more alive to me than ever. We are eternally married. I am a convert to Orthodoxy through her. Our children are a gift from her. My doctorate in psychology came as a result of her suggestion. My friendships, beginning with a long friendship with Father Hopko, came through Orthodoxy and my wife’s influence. She is the healing presence in my life. Marriage extends beyond our lifetime. Marriage is eternal.

We date to look for a mate, a lifetime person to walk through life with. Interestingly, when asked what college students want most in a potential mate, 85% of all those interviewed, males and females, say they are looking for a “soul-mate.” Yes, soul-mate describes what the search means for most red-blooded American college students today. Well, I hope I don’t burst any bubbles by suggesting that I don’t agree with the idea of “soul-mate.” Soul-mate is, for me, fundamentally a narcissistic term, making myself the arbiter of how I want you to be.

When we are dating we are scoping around for someone who fits our notion of soul-mate. When we reduce the field to three or four potential soul-mates in our mind, we date to find out which one truly fits our idea and definition of someone for us. A search for a soul-mate approach allows us to define our partner. We decide if you fit into our life, our way. UGH. The problem is that no matter how perfect a soul-mate the person might seem to be, if we marry we will find out that this person has serious flaws we didn’t anticipate before marriage. She or he didn’t show us these characteristics when we were scoping for a soul-mate. We are all fallen sinners, children of Adam and Eve. So, there is no near perfect soul-mate for us to choose. Our culture has a 51% divorce rate that I think is founded on this self-centered version of marriage.

Christ will provide the perfect person for us to marry. We need to pray and stay open to His guidance and grace. The word I use as a substitute for soul-mate is sandpaper. Our marital partner is our sandpaper who will smooth our rough edges by making us more loving, more in the likeness of Christ. We only need to pray and stay open to the Lord’s guidance.

Dr. Rossi teaches courses in pastoral theology at SaiPhoto from SVSnt Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. He has written numerous articles on psychology and religion and published a book through Ancient Faith Publications entitled, Becoming a Healing Presence. He is a licensed clinical psychologist in the state of New York. Dr. Rossi has a brief, bi–weekly podcast on Ancient Faith Radio titled Becoming a Healing Presence.


17 Stages of Real Break

17 Stages of Real Break

1. You stay up until midnight anxiously waiting for registration to open.


2. And when it does, you’re the first to register.

3. Then you’re confirmation email comes, and you’re like…

4. But now it’s time to fundraise!

5. And when you reach your fundraising goal…

6. You suddenly realize Real Break isn’t for another four months.

7. After Christmas you get a Real Break newsletter, and you can’t contain yourself.

8. Finally… Real Break Eve comes around and it feels like Christmas.

9. But then you board your plane, say bye to Mom and Dad, and realize you’re on your own.

10. When you get to your layover, you can’t wait to meet your group.

11. By the time you land, you’re already best friends.

12. And you spend the week praying, serving, and growing together.

13. As the end of the week approaches, you realize you are a whole new person and are so thankful for your experience.

14. But you hate the idea of having to leave your new best friends.

15. For weeks after you trip, you dream about your time on Real Break.

16. And every night you thank God for the experience of a lifetime.

17. Until, next year, when you register again.

Register today!

AlexandraAlexandra Abboud is a junior at Miami University in Ohio studying social work. She serves as the Real Break Student Leader on the Student Leadership Board. You can read her full bio here.