Single and Striving for Holiness

Single and Striving for Holiness

Last week we talked a little bit about marriage, monasticism, and what salvation is actually about. Hopefully, we’ve cleared up the fog a little bit about being single and can all recognize that God is present and calling us in every manner of life. But, if we are to hear and respond to God calling us, we have to recognize the particular struggles and blessings of being single.

Both married people and monastics have a particular calling to reflect the breaking through of the Kingdom of God in this world: the married through their ascetic reunification of male and female in love as a sign of the reunification of all things in Christ and the monastic through their ascetic dedication to purity and the angelic life as a sign of the life in the Kingdom to come. I think single people have a particular calling to reflect the Kingdom through an ascetic commitment to the present moment, reflecting that heaven and earth meet only in the present moment.

Of course, we all are called to love, purity, and meeting God in the now, but I think those who are single have a special opportunity to be an icon of the present to those around them because it is so tempting to sometimes treat being single and on your own like being in the waiting room for life to begin. If we give in to this temptation we can become anxious and worried on the one hand or so carefree on the other that either way, we become spiritually blind to the opportunities to meet God here and now. So here’s a little advice for those of you who are single and striving for holiness, trying to stay grounded and centered in Christ.

Spend More Time in Prayer and Study

Image from Pixabay

Image from Pixabay

An amazing way to take advantage of the present moment as a single person is to dedicate yourself to prayer and study. Set aside time to pray, to read Scripture, to read a spiritual book. Don’t miss Liturgy. Make it to weekday services as often as you can. Whether marriage or monasticism lies ahead for you or not, using your time right now to encounter Jesus will not only prepare you for the future, but more importantly, will make sense of the now and bring peace to your everyday.

Start seeing the control you have over your life as a single person as a blessing and an opportunity to form your life around what really matters. Which leads to my next thought.

Serve Your Church and Your Community

OCFers give back at the Fall 2015 WorkDaze

OCFers give back at the Fall 2015 WorkDaze

It’s true that college students and new graduates are busy with classes and adjusting to the adult world, but it is also true that you have a lot of control over how you spend your free time. In addition to prayer and study, make an effort to find opportunities to serve the Church and your community. It shouldn’t be that we wait until we are over 40 to make time for service to the Church (this is a weird trend I’ve noticed in a lot of our parishes).

Why not offer to teach Sunday School, coach a basketball team, serve at the local shelter, join your parish’s service organizations, serve on parish council, offer to update the website, run social media for the parish, or one of the other millions of things your parish could probably use? Call your priest and ask. If you’re part of an OCF chapter, these can be something you offer to do together. If you are a new graduate, it can be a great way to get involved now that you don’t have the automatic community of your OCF chapter.

By getting involved not only will you avoid the demonic temptation of single life that says life is all about me, but you will begin to form a habit of centering your life around the life of the Church. Then, no matter what job opportunities or potential relationships come along, you will have the right foundation for your life.

Look for Opportunities to Sacrifice Your Own Comfort

The number one temptation of being single in my opinion is to become overly-set in one’s own ways and to lose sight of the ascetic, self-sacrificing requirements of love. It can be pretty easy as a single person to get used to a way of living that only takes into account your own needs and desires. It’s a little less tempting if you have roommates because at least then you have to work out the dynamics of living with someone else, but even then, it can be a real struggle.

Thanks be to God, it is in struggle that we see who we really are and how God is calling us to grow. So be aware, and ask yourself often, “Am I living life with blinders on? Am I insisting on my own way in all things or avoiding situations in which I might be asked to compromise and sacrifice? Does all of money go towards making my life comfortable and easy?” If you are praying, studying, and putting service to the Church at the center of your life, it will be pretty easy to find opportunities to live sacrificially–God will put those opportunities in your way.

Build Spiritual Relationships

Everybody needs accountability and support in their life. If you want to do well in class, you go to the professor or to a tutor for help and you study with your peers. If you want to do well in a new job, you rely on your boss and your coworkers to help you get acquainted with the culture and expectations of the workplace.

Students at CCEast 2015

Students at CCEast 2015

Well, unsurprisingly, the same is true in the spiritual life. You need mentors to guide you and set an example and peers to keep you on track. Being single means these relationships don’t come built into the package like they do in a marriage or in a monastery, so you’ll need to make a concerted effort to find the right people for your life. Obviously, your local OCF chapter and your parish are the places to start. Find a spiritual father and other mentors to whom you can go for advice and guidance. Make friends with people you respect and trust with whom you can be honest about yourself.

Building an Orthodox community as a single person will help you in all other aspects of single life: you can support one another in prayer and study, you can serve the Church together, and you can learn to love one another with self-sacrificial love. Perhaps, then, the most important thing to keep in mind is that being single and Orthodox doesn’t and shouldn’t mean being alone.

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.

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.

 

9 Signs You’re in an Orthodox Relationship

9 Signs You’re in an Orthodox Relationship

1. When your goodnight texts say “sleep with the angels.”

 

2. When you go to Chipotle for dinner because it’s Lent.

 

3. When you have the same favorite Psalm.

 

4. When you have to hide you’re dating because you’re on the same staff at camp. 

 

5. When you pick out baby names together from the Synaxarion.

 

6. When you buy each other patron saint icons as birthday presents.

 

7. When you write each other’s names on the prayer list.

 

8. When you get butterflies during the kiss of peace.

 

9. When you take twice as long to pick out your Sunday outfit for church because you’re going to their parent’s home parish.