Orthodox Study Journal~~Youth Issue 5/Dec 2018-Jan 2019
There’s a feeling we all get when a gorgeous stranger passes by or pops up on the Instagram. Friends say it’s a coincidence, but you swear its fate. It’s as if, in that instant, the heavens have opened up, shone down a light and whispered to you, “That’s the one.” We’ve all seen the story play out countless times on the big screen. Any rom-com enthusiast knows there is a point in the movie when the protagonist finds the one character he or she will spend the next 90 minutes pursuing. And we all know these two will definitely end up together because, if not, it would be rated as the worst love story ever, right?
Everyone, at some point, has caught feelings for some ambiguous figure before. Whether it’s a celebrity crush, an acquaintance through social media or through a mutual friend, if the person seems to match what you’re looking for in a significant other, you’re all in. We have this scary ability to instantly become emotionally, and sometimes mentally, fixated on people we virtually have no clue about.
Symptoms of this sickness are desperation and unrealistic expectations. We get this mindset that “life as we know it will cease to function if we do not successfully engage this person in conversation.” We make pathetic attempts at talking to the person, and we often do not take the time to plan out what we say. You’ll dream up scenarios of the two of you making out, relaxing on vacation at a secluded beach house, buying your first pet together and so on.
Speaking as a 20-something young adult 1 , the aforementioned “symptoms” of this condition are further magnified by society.
We, as young people, are constantly receiving messages that tell us we should aspire for love, that we’re “missing out on” if we’re single or that everyone else around us has somehow caught on to these ideas more quickly than we have. In this digital age, we’re constantly plugged in to every little thing that happens around us, and these messages are messing with our sense of timing and good judgment. You may think you’re resilient to these worldly pressures, but are you seriously telling me you weren’t a little bit ticked off at your friend’s recent engagement announcement on Facebook (especially when you’re still getting over your last breakup)?Or what about the 200 plus Instagram likes your best friend got on that photo with her boyfriend? (It sort of makes that “artsy” photo of your frozen yogurt cup seem a bit meaningless, huh?)
We’re all affected. There’s no denying it.
As young people of this generation, we internalize the stranger who passes us by as the one we could call ours because we see it happen for so many other people. There’s a part of us that hopes and prays if we could just figure out how to be nice enough, cute enough, bubbly enough, sexy enough or simply just “enough,” the person would want us back, too. Inside all of us lies a basic desire to be wanted, plain and simple. That’s why it’s not so crazy when the stranger on the subway is the only thing we can think about. We want love, and when we catch a rare glimpse of what could be just that, we attack like the poor, clueless love predators we are.
What are we to think of this phenomenon from the Orthodox point of view? Is it good or evil, or something in between 2 ?
The phrase “falling in love” suggests something ambiguous, partaking of both good and evil. On the one hand, the word “falling” indicates that this is a phenomenon close to lust, a fall from virtue. And certainly, it comes from the influence of fall (fall of Adam and Eve). Thus St. Augustine writes: “We know that many of our brothers by mutual agreement refrain from carnal love, but not from marital love. The more strongly the former is suppressed, the more the latter is strengthened”. Again, “when purity is preserved,” writes St. Asterius of Amasia, “peace is preserved as well as mutual attraction, but when the soul is overwhelmed by unlawful and sensual lust, it loses the lawful and just love”. Again, St. John Chrysostom says that “love is born from chastity”, that “love makes people chaste”, and that “lewdness comes from nothing else than a lack of love”.
As Sir Roger Scruton (English Philosopher) has pointed out, “Desire is indeed a natural phenomenon, but it is one that lies beyond the reach of any ‘natural science’ of man.” Science can understand love, desire and “falling in love” only by reducing them to the category of instinctual animal behavior and chemical reactions in the brain. The problem is that while being in love is clearly influenced by instinctual forces, it differs from instinctual behavior in important ways.
This important psychological fact is well documented in Orthodox Christian literature – but more or less completely discounted/omitted by secular psychologists. In the next article of this same issue, we shall understand ‘the path’ instituted by God through His grace and mercy to convert this “fallen love”. We look into the fact, that through the sacrament of marriage, “the faculty of ‘desire’ in our soul“; designed by God in our nature; corrupted in the fall, can be converted to its true, real and “divine love” in our journey towards the real purpose of attaining Theosis.
In this article, let us examine the progress of this process from childhood and adolescence to the adult married love. The progress of the process, as it were, of the sexual impulse from its inchoate, undirected, instinctual beginnings in childhood and adolescence to its fixed, focused and “intentional” end in adult married love.
Metropolitan Anthony Khrapovitsky (from Russian Orthodox Church) writes: “When the male organism matures, a feeling of self-satisfaction is aroused in the young man. This is strengthened by the change in the youth’s social position: he becomes an independent member of society – a student; or, as a senior schoolboy, he is preparing to become one – to enter this totally uninhibited group of people. In student society he feels like a bridegroom – he is no longer under the constant supervision of his parents, he earns some money for himself. In general, his conditions of life favor the development of a feeling of self-satisfaction. The newly aroused sexual passion on its part has also something in common with this feeling, and now he wants to live without any restriction; mentally he says to himself: ‘Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth… and walk in the ways of thine heart and in the sight of thine eyes’. But the words which follow in Ecclesiastes ‘But know, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgement’ (Ecc. 11:19)will be revealed to him by the voice of his conscience even if he has never read them, and will cause him intense irritability and will arouse a feeling of enmity against God and against religion.
But then he meets a girl who for the first time focuses and “incarnates” his hitherto bodiless, unshaped longing. And not only focuses it, but also humbles it. For the feeling of self-satisfaction noted by Metropolitan Anthony flees with the advent of true (or, at any rate, truer) love. Before the image of beauty he humbles his proud mind. Now he and his own desires are no longer his first priority; he seeks to serve the object of his love. The way in which falling in love humbles the lover is illustrated by the words of a German Nazi during the invasion of Russia: “I fell in love with a Russian girl, although nothing ever came of it, and for the first time I began to doubt our racial superiority. How could I be better than her?”
Does the instinctual longing then disappear? No. And yet one can no longer call it purely instinctual. For what precisely is this longing for? The sexual act? Hardly, especially if the youth is still a virgin. In fact, the very idea would probably disgust him, as if it polluted the absolute purity of his new feeling. A particular form of sensual pleasure? Not at all, for he does not yet know what sexual pleasure is, still less how it is produced. In fact, the paradoxical thing is that at the first appearance of the object of desire, desire as such is stilled, at any rate temporarily. It is as if a thirsty man having come upon a river in the desert is so stunned by the beauty of the water that he forgets to drink…
When vague longing has matured into “being in love”, the boy longs for a specific individual girl, the girl, not for just any girl, not for anything about the girl, but the girl herself. He does not long for certain pleasures which she may be able to give him. He does not long for her body as such, nor any part of her body. He longs for her. John longs for Mary, not for anything or anyone else.
Of course, even now he still feels a fascination for certain parts of the girl’s body, and here undoubtedly the instinctual part of his nature is evident. And yet the part of the body which fascinates him most is not any of the specifically sexual members or “erogenous zones”, but the face. What a German Philosopher Schopenhauer (1788-1860,) writes is referred by Sir Scruton, “– whose view of these matters is a good example of the chaos that ensues from the premature attempt to explain them – argues that the face is the least important of all the indices of beauty, since it is the least relevant to the reproductive function which underlies and explains desire. That is almost the opposite of the truth. Although a pretty face surmounting a deformed or mutilated body may indeed fail to arouse sexual interest, it is well known that a pretty face may compensate for much bodily ugliness… A beautiful body, however, will always be rendered repulsive by an ugly face, and can certainly never compensate for it.”
Why the face?
Because the face, far more than any other part of the body, reveals the soul, the person. In Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich’s ((1920-1956) from Serbian Orthodox, canonized as Saint Nikolai Velimirovich of Ohrid) parable on love entitled “Cassiana”, the heroine of the story is ugly in body – she has a huge hump-back. And yet she has a beautiful face – which indicates her inner beauty of soul. This is why the word for “face” and person”, similarly the Latin word persona, whence comes the English “person”, originally referred to the masks, or faces, that actors assumed during performance. If we wish to know who a person is and what he is feeling, then while we may take into account other elements of body language, it is the movements of the face, – the smiles, the blushes, the laughs, the tears, – and especially the expression of the eyes, that we will study most closely. For it is the eyes that are, as the proverb says, “the mirror of the soul”, making the workings of the invisible soul visible with an extraordinary transparency: a quote from Shakespeare’s, The Merchant of Venice: “Beshrew your eyes, They have o’erlooked me and divided me, One half of me is yours, the other half yours –Mine own I would say: but if mine then yours, And so all yours.”
But what has sexual desire to do with the workings of the invisible soul?
The phenomenon of sexual desire, which, the more focused and concentrated it is, the more intensely personal it is. For sexual love, as opposed to lust, is not in the first place directed to the flesh of the desired one but to the soul. It is not the purely physical pleasure of the caress, the glance or the kiss that is the vital element, but the fact that his (or her) caress, glance or kiss; the physical pleasure is inseparable from the knowledge of the person who gives it. This knowledge makes the physical contact the sign, the “incarnation”, the icon, as it were, of a non-physical reality.
How is this physical pleasure inseparable from the knowledge of the person who gives it?
For e.g if that same physical pleasure were provided by another person, it would entirely lose its significance and thrill. This is proved by the fact that if the lover discovers that the pleasure he receives comes not from the person he thought it came from, but from someone else, the pleasure immediately evaporates and often turns to disgust.
Thus the true object of desire is not the body as such, but the body as the expression of the soul, not the pleasure as such, but the pleasure as the expression of the thought. It is this iconic quality of the flesh in sexual love, enabling the veneration paid to the flesh to ascend to its “archetype”, the soul that transforms the temporality of pleasure into the eternity of true love: Again another quote of Shakespeare’s from, Antony and Cleopatra: “Eternity was in our lips and eyes, Bliss in our brows’ bent, none our parts so poor, But was a race of heaven.”
But what does the lover actually see in the “embodied soul” of his beloved? And: with what does he see it?
He sees with the eyes of the mind, and not of the body. For, as Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich writes, “flesh can neither love nor hate. A body cannot fall in love with another body. The capability of loving belongs only to the soul. When a soul falls in love with a body, that is not love but desire, lust. When a soul falls in love with a soul, but not through God, that is out of either fascination or empathy. But when a soul falls in love with another through God, then regardless of the physical appearance (beauty or ugliness) that is love.”
• The power of Eros is a power of the mind no less than of the body.
• For Erotic love must become “all mind” in order to see its true object. And this object must be, an ideal, unmoving object and not a sensory object.
• For “It was not sex” – that is, simple lust – by which the lovers saw each other. And yet it was Eros. For the love in question here is the image of God in her; which is the one in which the object of erotic love that is true is in essence unchanging—and not her body, which is changeable, nor the moods of her soul, which are also changeable. Only such an object (i.e. the image of God) is worthy of love and can raise love from the corruptible to the incorruptible. Hence the intuition that true love must survive the fading of bodily beauty; it must be immortal, since its true object is immortal.
This intuition was wonderfully expressed by Shakespeare in his work Sonnet, who begins by pointing out that even erotic love is in essence the marriage of minds:
Let me not to the marriage of true minds, Admit impediments. Love is not love, Which alters when it alteration finds, Or bends with the remover to remove. O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark, That looks on tempests and is never shaken; It is the star to every wand’ring bark, Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken. Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks, Within his bending sickle’s compass come; Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks, But bears it out even to the edge of doom. If this be error, and upon me prov’d. I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.
And yet what we are in essence, our Godlikeness, which alone is worthy of an undying love, does not match up to what we show ourselves to be in everyday life (we give more preference to our will and refuse to cooperate with the will of God, never finding our true selves, and increasing the image of sin in us.)
And this discrepancy between the image of God and the image of sin – in the soul both of the lover and of his beloved – causes intense anguish and pain – moral pain – to the lovers.
For, as Sir Scruton writes: “Desire obliges you to find value in its object, and so to ‘see him as’ the embodiment of virtue’”. You want your lover to see you as the embodiment of virtue, and you are prepared to work on yourself to make yourself more worthy. Thus falling in love becomes a major incentive to moral improvement.
In fact, this love is well defined, in Solomon’s words, as “the care of discipline” (Wisdom 6.17). For the lover is impelled by his love to discipline himself, to make himself worthy of his beloved. This inextricable – and highly creative – relationship between love and esteem is the analogy and reflection, on a much lower level, of Christ’s making His Bride “without spot or wrinkle” (Ephesians 5.27).
In the words of Sir Scruton “One may describe the course of love as a kind of ‘mutual self-building’… I want you to be worthy of my love, behind which desire lies, always compelling me. And I too want to be lovable, so that you may reciprocate my affection. Hence we begin to enact a cooperative game of self-building.” This “cooperative game of self-building” may lead to quarrels – but quarrels with a creative element, because the relationship becomes an arena of moral improvement, spurred on by desire. Hence the English proverb: “The falling out of lovers is the renewal of love.” Thus according to Shakespeare, in his work Antony and Cleopatra, even Cleopatra, the embodiment of fallen sensual desire, wishes in the end to become not simply a mistress for Anthony, but a wife, having shed all downward-looking elements, the “earth and water” of lust, in order that only the “fire and air” of pure love should remain: “Husband, I come. Now to that name my courage prove my title! I am fire and air; my other elements, I give to baser life.”
Of course, a lover may wish to “build up” himself or his beloved for selfish, vainglorious reasons: because he considers himself to be a good person, and “only the best will do” for such a good person. However, this attitude is already at one remove from the initial experience of being in love, which in its simplicity is an encounter with what one’s perceives to be goodness incarnate. For not only does love reveal beauty to be truth: it also reveals it to be goodness. But is it in fact virtue or goodness? Does not love see beauty sometimes in the most worthless objects, as was dramatized in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream? Is it not so much the perception of an ideal as an idealization of something that is far from ideal, a form of self-deception?
It certainly can be; for the intuitive power of the lover’s erotic vision is strictly dependent on his own moral level. An unspiritual man is not likely to fall in love with a spiritual woman, because he will neither see her spirituality nor admire it if he did. But a spiritual man will love a woman who is like him in being spiritual -although he, too, can be deceived into loving an object unworthy of his love. For like can recognize like only in the case of one whose Eros is sufficiently purified to see the likeness. But for one who’s Eros is less purified, there will be many misperceptions and mismatches in love, giving fertile ground for the proverb that love is blind. And yet Eros in its essence, purified of that veil of darkness that the fall has draped over it, is the opposite of blind: it is an instrument given by God to us in order to pierce the veil of the flesh and see the true person underneath.
According to research and studies, while falling in love in a sense idealizes the beloved, this idealization may not always be self-deceiving. It may sometimes be a more accurate vision of the true nature of the beloved, an ideal vision which nevertheless lights up something that is real, and therefore helps rather than hinders the durability of the relationship. Similarly, while falling out of love may be the consequence of seeing “the bitter truth” about the beloved, it may in also involve a loss of true vision, an obscuring of that ideal reality which was so wonderfully obvious before. Since human beings are a mixture of good and evil, the beautiful and the ugly, the image of God and the image of the beast, there are objective grounds for both kinds of vision – the vision which accompanies falling into love and the vision which accompanies falling out of love…
“Falling in love” is not simply lust, but nor is it pure love unsullied by fallen passion. Saints do not fall in love; they have passed that stage. But nor do the truly evil fall in love; they cannot attain to the glimpse of the ideal that it provides…
And so falling in love remains an ambiguous phenomenon, on the frontier between good and evil. But whether good or evil, it is always essentially human, and irreducible to mere lust, since it is always an intentional, personal experience.
1) Its moral quality depends, first, on the spiritual maturity and purity of the person who loves, and
2) Secondly, on whether God is in the process, guiding and inspiring it to the end-state of lawful marriage.
a. If God is not in that process, and He is not leading it to that end, then the love is likely to fade and may lead to fornication or an unhappy marriage or even divorce.
b. If, on the other hand, God is in it, then the experience will be truly “in the Lord”, that is, “in all decency and in honour”. For, as St. John Chrysostom says, “it is God Who sows these loves”, in that “it is by the Lord that a man is matched with a woman” (Proverbs 19.14).
1.Online source written by a 20 year old youth. 2.The Theology of Eros by Vladimir Moss
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