Marriage As a Path to Holiness: Lives of Married Saints
|St Tikhons Press (1995)|
|1 copy available|
“Drawing on that rich but often neglected source, the Lives of the Saints, this book provides us with a representative selection of models, of icons in words, to encourage us on our own journey to the kingdom, whether we are married or not. . . . What is striking first of all about the examples chosen is their diversity. They are spread in time across nearly four thousand years, from the Old Testament era up to our own day. In space they extend no less widely: from Persia in the east to Alaska in the west, from Egypt in the south to England in the north. . . . In each case the story has been told in a simple but vivid style, with frequent quotations from the original sources and from the liturgical texts. . . . And, whether we are married, monastics or single, as we look at the living icons of the Holy Trinity on the pages that follow, may we all of us be brought to a deeper appreciation of this ‘great mystery’ (Ephesians 5:32).” — from the Foreword by Bishop KALLISTOS (Timothy) Ware, author of The Orthodox Church and The Orthodox Way.
From the Author
It has always been important for all Christians to be encouraged to be holy. As we read in Saint Peter’s first epistle, “but as He who called you is holy, so also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, ‘Be holy, for I am holy'” (I Peter 1:15-16; Lev. 11:44-45). There also has always been a special need to encourage people to become monastics, since it is an unusual path. Probably now, in our indulgent, “post-Christian” society, monasticism is needed more than ever.
. . . Today it is also necessary to emphasize the fundamental goodness of marriage itself, since marriage and family life are often disparaged in our society. As part of emphasizing the need for all to seek holiness, it is helpful for people to know that many married people have achieved holiness, even though they remain unknown to the Church as a whole, and also that there are those among the married who have been held up by the Church through formal canonization as examples for all.
Some may wonder how the Lives of the Saints can really be relevant for us today. Even in Saint Gregory of Nyssa’s time and place (Asia Minor; 4th century), people were asking, “How can the Saints of old be examples for us now, since their lives and cultures were so different from ours?” As he wrote, “What then? Someone will say, ‘How can I imitate them, since I am not a Chaldean as I remember Abraham was, nor was I nourished by the daughter of the Egyptian as Scripture teaches about Moses, and in general I do not have in these matters anything in my life corresponding to any one of the ancients? . . . I do not know how to imitate anyone so far removed from me by the circumstances of his life.”
Saint Gregory explains that, of course, the circumstances of a Saint’s life — including, we could add, whether they are monastics or married — do not to have resemble ours . . . in order to be edifying and to lead us closer to God. Some who are married may well feel closer to, and more inspired by, a monastic Saint than by any of the married Saints. As Saint Gregory goes on to say, “Perhaps, then, the memory of anyone distinguished in life would be enough to fill our need for a beacon light and to show us how we can bring our soul to the sheltered harbor of virtue.” And he suggests that “it may be for this very reason that the daily life of those sublime individuals is recorded in detail, that by imitating the earlier examples of right action those who follow them may conduct their lives to the good.”
A main purpose for reading any of the Saints’ Lives, then, is to be directed to the life of virtue — to be provided with “a beacon light.” Saint Basil the Great (Asia Minor; 4th century) emphasizes this point with another helpful image: “Thus, generally, as painters, when they are painting from other pictures, constantly look at the model, and do their best to transfer its lineaments to their own work, so too, he who is desirous of rendering himself perfect in all branches of excellency, must keep his eyes turned to the lives of the Saints as though to living and moving statues, and make their virtue his own by imitation.”
While stressing that anyone holy can edify and guide us, Saint Gregory of Nyssa also says that looking to someone who is like us in some important way can be very helpful: “Human nature is divided into male and female, and the free choice of virtue or of evil is set before both equally. For this reason the corresponding example of virtue for each sex has been exemplified by the divine voice [i.e., Holy Scripture], so that each, by observing the one to which he is akin (the men to Abraham and the women to Sarah), may be directed in the life of virtue by the appropriate examples.”
Thus, although all the Saints’ Lives are edifying for all the faithful, at the same time it is also true that it is encouraging in a special way, for those of us “in the world,” to realize that people who also lived “in the world,” who owned property, had children, worked and shopped “in the marketplace” — and who had all the cares, heartaches, and joys which these things occasion — were able to be so devoted to God as to become holy. And it is very encouraging to remember that some of them have been held up as examples by the Church through formal canonization, for everyone to benefit from their lives and prayers.
The main reason for collecting Lives of married Saints, then, is not because only they can be inspiring to those who are married, but to encourage those who are married to realize that holiness is possible for them in the world, and thus to encourage all married people, along with their children, to strive for this. Our hope is that this book will provide such encouragement. We also hope that it will provide a more complete understanding for those who do not realize that there are canonized Saints who were married, as well as for those who believe that holiness is something only monastics need to strive for — since, they imagine, only the monks can attain it.
It is also important to remember that there are many holy people who have not been formally canonized — and indeed, there are many who have remained unknown to the world. The Church’s canonization of certain holy people as Saints has never implied that these are the only saints, the only people who attained holiness while on earth. Rather, the list of canonized Saints is but a sample of those who have become known to the Church, whom the Church has decided to hold up as examples for all. . . .
From the Back Cover