Disaster is about the only thing that gets courted these days. Men no longer court women, nor do the ladies expect to be courted. Instead, young men and young women engage in flirtation, dating and sexual conquest, much of the time postponing marriage well past their youth. The sex drive is greatest in young people, especially in young men. To ask them to wait until they are in their late 20’s to wed is truly courting disaster. Sex outside of marriage is called fornication, which carries the connotation of filthiness or uncleanness. This is not an outdated label to make us feel guilty. Sin is called sin because it is something other than love and it gets in the way of love. TV sitcom dads tell their kids that sex with no thought of marriage is OK if two fifteen year olds “love” each other; just use protection. This attitude robs adolescents and young adults of an opportunity for great joy and weakens marriage.
We learn in Orthodoxy that there is no feasting without fasting. This discipline of our eating habits is instructive for chastity and fidelity. I can’t count the times I have heard people say about Thanksgiving or Christmas something like, “Yeah, we have to eat turkey again.” In this land of plenty, with meat served for breakfast, lunch and dinner, every day of the year, turkey and ham have become commonplace. There’s little special about a feast for most Americans. On the other hand, if you are part of an Orthodox community that keeps Great Lent and Holy Week, then breaks the fast together after the Paschal Liturgy; you understand how truly exciting cheese can be; let alone turkey and ham! The Apostle Paul pointed out the connection between fasting and chastity by quoting a pagan folk proverb that used eating meat as a metaphor for sex. “Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.” [1 Cor. 6:13] Some modern versions of this pagan proverb are: “If it feels good, do it.” and “It’s only natural.”
Sex is supposed to be the seal or consummation of a mutual covenant and pledge of love between a man and a woman who are part of something larger than themselves: a family, a community, a society, a culture. Practically, it is the means by which new humans come into being. As Orthodox Christians, if we truly believe our stated theology that every human being bears the image of God and is a unique, unrepeatable reflection of his Glory; then we need to do our best to respect, honor and protect the potential of sex.
With all of the world’s casual attitudes toward sex along with its temptations and pressures to conformity, it takes more than a three word slogan like “True love waits” to equip young people to make the hard choices to avoid fornication. We need to be transformed in our thinking and approach, as a community, to provide more appropriate settings for socialization of adolescents and a proper framework for courtship that recognizes natural urges, yet protects chastity and love.
(to be cont’d.)