Given at The Holy Church of Prophet Elias, Norwood (South
on Sunday 18th of September, 1994
This present year, dear brethren, is dedicated to the family.
Your beloved priest, Father Stavros, has now completed ten years of honest diaconia as a priest of this church and at the same time he has also completed the fiftieth year of his life. I wish him a long, virtuous priesthood that is pleasing to God. To live for many, healthy, blessed and fruitful years, for both himself and for the Church. Father Stavros had the idea that because of this happy coincidence, he would invite all the families of his Parish to celebrate and pray together today. While at the same time he has also invited all those families which were joined in Christ by his own hands, during his ten years of service in the Parish and the Community of Norwood.
Surely, there are many marriages he has blessed, and children he has baptised. In other words, many are the families which have been joined in Christ by his hands. I have no knowledge personally of how many of those are here today, but whether they are or are not present, we must say a few words on the family as an institution and a bond of unity.
The Greek word "Oikogeneia" is a compounded word from the words "Oikos" meaning "Home" and "Genos" meaning 'Descent". It has to do with the inanimate objects of the house as well as the living objects of the house, which are the people.
It is common for us of western influence, to refer to the "Holy Family" and to a certain extend the expression is not inappropriate. The Theotokos (Mother of God), step-father Joseph, and our Lord Jesus Christ as the Holy Family, stand as a bright meteor, that guides and protects every family.
On the other hand, we have become accustomed to using the word family to just mean a very small circle, which consists only of the parents and children. However, many years ago this circle was self evidently much wider. In the one home, there co-existed more than one generation, in fact there were three generations residing in the same home. We had the grandfather and grandmother who are the foundation and roots of our lives. The parents who are the tree which bears the fruit, and the third generation, the children. If you go back even further in the time to the so called Patriarch Family, the meaning of the word "family" extended further. Grandfather, grandmother, children with husbands and wives, living together with their children. One home, a whole neighbourhood, sometimes almost a whole village.
It is general knowledge these days that the holy institution of the family is experiencing crisis everywhere. The more "civilised" the so called society is the more luke-warm are its bonds. We live in a country which unfortunately, in spite of so many blessings that are bestowed upon it from God, still has evil amongst it. The family has begun to lose its strength and sometimes with the tolerance and support of the Authorities, under-aged children leave their parents and their whole extended family, sometimes for petty reasons, and 'live away from home'.
One of the elements which our other Australian compatriots respect within the Greek Community of this country, is that fortunately until this moment, the Greek people are more oriented towards the value of the family and that the Greek-Australian family is more united. For example, to us it is very natural for a young man of 23-25 years of age who is unmarried, or a young lady of the same, to live with their parents. For other Australians this is almost unthinkable. If by the age of 15-16 years they are still living at home, they are required to pay rent or board to their parents.
To us, on the other hand, who are used to giving everything we can to our children, this idea is unacceptable. The Greek mother, that is the Greek Orthodox mother, feels that when her child marries and leaves the home of his/her parents, she suffers for his/her departure, and with the child goes a part of her heart and soul. The same also happens to the Greek Orthodox father. Especially when the child leaves in order to go and live far away in another state or country, then they both mourn and their hearts are torn into pieces. This separation costs them a great deal, even when it relates to such a pleasant event as marriage.
It is a fact then, that the bonds between members of the Greek family are still strong. Not of course, in the absolute sense. There are problems in our families as well. There are divorces in Greek families, and I assure you that whenever I have to sign a divorce, I feel that I am signing a death sentence. I feel the same dismay, aversion and pain which the head of a country feels, in those countries of course where the death penalty still holds, and those leaders still have human feelings when the moment comes for them to sign the death execution. In the case of a divorce, surely the evil is not limited to one person but to two or even more people, when there are children born out of that marriage. You say to yourself, have these children been asked? Did they agree?
In my homeland Sitia, I remember a solicitor, a pious man, who is now deceased, took an oath not to ever issue proceedings for a divorce. When couples visited him for the purpose of divorce he would try to reconcile them with any social, logical and Christian arguments he could find. If they had children, he would say to them "Did you ask the children? Bring them over to me so I may speak with them and I will find out if they agree too". If he was not successful in reconciling them, he would send them away saying, "Go away, go to another solicitor. I do not undertake proceedings for divorces".
In the Gospel's lesson which was read a moment ago, we heard that the Lord said, "Whoever wants to come after me let him deny himself and lift up his cross and follow me" (Mark 8:34). The family for the true Christian is a cross. We have become accustomed to seeing pictures of a monk, an ascetic, who carried a cross on his shoulders. We think sometimes that only the life of a monk is a cross. No! The Christian marriage is equal to this cross, if not occasionally heavier to bear.
Marriage for Christians does not mean security harmony and enjoyment, it means humility, sacrifice, and indeed a cross. There is no life for the Christian without a cross to bear. I have said it many times that no-one enters Paradise while on earth by sitting comfortably on an arm -chair rocking to and fro. Christian life means CROSS and SACRIFICE, whether one lives in a monastery or in the world within the framework of marriage. Divorces and homes break up, souls are torn into shreds because many make promises by false impressions and mistaken presuppositions. That is: The girl is beautiful and the young man handsome and athletic, therefore we are a well matched couple. Or their profession is good, there is financial comfort, easy circumstances or bright social prospectives so we go ahead. Possibly, they looked into each others eyes, liked each other and thought let's get married. Not so, my beloved people. This is the wrong start and the end of such a marriage will certainly be painful.
A Christian does marry in order to settle down, put themselves in order, or have rest. Marriage is not to take and enjoy but to give, offer and sacrifice one-self. You are married? You no longer belong to yourself. You have no authority even over your own body. Saint Paul says, "For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his body, but the wife does" (1 Cor. 7:4). Marriage then, cannot be experienced without offering, emptying or giving of oneself, of sacrifice, and of the cross. Christians wishing to marry cross themselves and say, "My Lord, help me find a person who You know can help me and I also can help him/her so that together we will sail through the stormy sea of life, and struggle together for our salvation. Not a person that we do nothing with other than look into each others eyes and say 'how much we love each other', but a person who will agree that our eyes should be focused on Your eyes, Lord. That with dedication, our steps are synchronised towards the fulfilment of Your will".
A Christian should search for a person with faith and fear of God, a person who will be distinguished for their attention to the highest values of our Culture, and the eternal ideals which we have inherited from our fathers. The subjects of physical beauty, money, social position and manifestation of worldly education, etc., should be of minor priority to them. When such a person is found, then both should come to the Church, and unite their love and life by the Holy Sacrament of Marriage, on the eternal and indestructible foundation stone, Jesus Christ, Who unites them "in one flesh". A union that is psychosomatic in its existence - a oneness of mind and body. From that moment the one is the other half of the other, and neither one feels a whole person without the other. Neither the husband without his wife, nor the wife without her husband. In the days past people would tenderly speak about "my other half".
It is commonly said that 'marriage kills love'. The truth is that love should grow within marriage - day by day, year by year, and during the entire life of the couple. They should be faithful to each other, with prayer and trust in God Who blessed their union. They should tolerate the weaknesses of each other with humility, patience and endurance (because he/she married a human being and not an Angel from heaven, and human beings have weaknesses, faults and passions). They must strive each day until the end of their lives to build their love, stone by stone, knowing that their "spiritual" palace is fortified with much hard work and labour. Marriage, then, does not kill love but builds it. The love that marriage kills is the pseudonymous love, the delusive love which is nothing but superficial enthusiasm, deceitful feelings and nothing deep. Yes, this kind of love, marriage does kill, and marriages that are founded on such kind of 'Eros' and 'Love' dissolve quickly.
A few years ago, I wrote to a distant relative offering my condolences for the death of his wife. She was about 75 years of age and he was 80. His reply surprised and moved me. What great tenderness and love he showed! Humanly he was inconsolable for this separation but, only through his deep faith in Christ and the hope of salvation, could he stand on his feet. He wrote to me saying, "Many were the times my deceased wife and I knelt together in front of the Icon of Christ, cried and shed tears of gratitude to Him, Who had given each one of us to the other ...". This they did well into their old age.
When the faithful decide to get married they must be conscious that their bond is a matter not of this world, but reaches into eternity. They must understand that the purpose of marriage is for the husband to help the wife, and the wife to help the husband gain the Kingdom of God. They must be aware that they are bearing children who are instruments of the Creator, and that He is in reality the One Who gives them the children. We know of people who are healthy physiologically, anatomically and psychologically, yet cannot become parents, the 'why' is known only to God.
We should not make our children idols and worship them, as some unwise parents do and with a passionate and sick 'love' destroy them. The children then turn into self-idols and tyrants. Children belong firstly to God and then to their parents. This was the attitude held by the older Christians, who when asked how many children they had answered, "Two of God", "three of God", "five of God", "ten of God".... They never said two, three, five, ten etc., but they always emphasised that they belonged to God. So it is. They belong firstly to God and secondly to us.
I spoke now of five or ten children, yet many of us are accustomed today to families of only one or two children, and to hear of five or ten may seem strange to them. Yet, one might sometimes mean none. We have seen many parents with one or two children and then due to a painful moment remain childless. I am not going to tell you how many children you should have, however, few children are a sign of little faith (unless of course there is serious reason why they cannot have more). A large number of children are a blessing from God. This is His Will, but be careful! The bearing of children must always be accompanied by a sense of deep responsibility, not only for the rearing of the children but also for their religious education. They must be raised and grow in 'the nurture and admonition of the Lord'. What a beautiful thing to see a Christian, pious family with devout parents, surrounded by their children who are like newly planted olive trees with the fear of God about them. The parents have a responsibility by their personal example to educate their children according to the will of God. Of course sometimes, according to the saying "from the rose comes a thorn and from the thorn comes a rose", it is possible for bad children, not fearing God, to come from pious and God-fearing parents.
Nevertheless, as I have said at other times, God will ask that you must pray fervently for your children, until there are holes in your knees, that they may be saved. Many that children that lost their way found God thanks to the prayers of their parents. You cannot imagine the significance of a mother's prayer when it comes before the Throne of God, especially when she kneels with tears for her child, and a heart that is torn in agony for their salvation. Or the prayer of a pious father who feels the responsibility for his child weighing heavily on his shoulders. You must talk to your children about God but you should also talk to God for your children. The more your children do not want to listen about God, the more you should talk to God for your children, and repeat your prayer because it will not be in vain.
Our forefathers strived and engaged themselves in wars for their "Altars and hearth stones". Altars, of course, meant their God, temples, sacred objects and religion. Their "hearth stones" were their houses, families, wives, children, parents, brothers and sisters. They sacrificed themselves for all these things. When our noble Nation was enlightened by the light of Christ's Gospel, the Greeks again strived for their "Church and Home". They have fought and died for the last two thousand years; for the same ideals, for their ancestors, and the greater and wider family of which they are inseparable members, that is the whole Greek Race (Genos). This is how the sacred three-fold developed: Faith, Genos and Family.
I speak about the Genos and not the Homeland, as Homelands are sometimes lost in the circles of history. Nevertheless, the Genos remains. Hellenism is not only those who live in Greece or Cyprus, constituted in State form, but those Hellenes that are uprooted from lost Homelands of the holy Asia Minor land of Pontos, Kappadocia, Smyrne, Ephesus, and Iconion. The Hellenism of north Epirus, the unduly and unsuccessfully self-proclaimed 'Rossopontioi' who are the up-rooted people of Pontos, left in difficult times to go to Caucasus, Georgia, Ukraine and Russia. The Greek people of the diaspora are all over the earth. This is our Genos, this is our broader family.
There is still another even broader family of ours. One which is like the stone that falls into the water and creates circles around itself, one bigger than the next. The individual is the first circle of the immediate family; the second circle becomes the generation, i.e the extended family; and the third circle is called the race. However, there is a fourth circle, that even greater than the others, which is the broader family of God (the Church). All faithful, independent of race and nation-tribal descent. Along with us are all those who appeal to the same Father, our Lord Jesus Christ. To the same Mother, the Most Holy Theotokos. All are under the same roof, they share the same faith and devotion, they have been regenerated from the same spiritual womb, the womb of Holy Baptism. They partake at the same table, the Holy Table of the Mysteries of God. The same blood runs in their veins, the Holy Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ when they partake of the same Chalice "for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life".
All these are members of the same big family, the <<Family of God>>, the Holy Orthodox, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Christ. All these people are our close relatives, they are our brothers and sisters, the Russians, Serbs, Bulgarians, Romanians, all the Orthodox faithful upon the earth. We have Czechoslovakian Orthodox, Finnish, Albanian, Chinese, Japanese, Eskimo, Negros of Africa, Asians, South Americans, and many more. All of these belong to one family, our family, we are all one.
So, when we honour the family we are not only honouring relatives by blood, but our spiritual relatives as well. The Church, whose core is the Parish, like this blessed Parish in which we are now, then the next circle is the Archdiocese of Australia, next the Ecumenical Patriarchate, and then the wider circle is the Orthodox Churches all over the world. It is self evident, my beloved, that it is our responsibility to teach and pass this sacred consignment (the institution of the family) on to our children, together with its true meaning. Not only applicable to our inner but to the wider circle.
We must convey to them the sacred three-fold, that is ORTHODOX FAITH and CHURCH, PIOUS and NOBLE GENOS, STRONGLY-TIED AND HONEST FAMILY. We must help them to feel that they are INSEPARABLE members of these three elements of life, so that they may love them deeply and preserve their bonds with them so that they become indestructible.
In closing, I wish every blessing of God, upon you and your homes. Especially to all the newly wed couples, the newly planted families in the Orthodox orchard, who are praying together with us.
Live your lives fully in Christ, be sanctified and progress in the Lord.