Not sure how many of you have seen The Princess Bride but it’s the story of the search for true love. As a movie, TPB is delightful from beginning to end. As theology, however, it sometimes falls a little short. This is especially so in the film’s depiction of marriage.
For example (spoiler alert!), in the wedding scene, we hear marriage described as “a dream within a dream” (see the scene here). Likewise, the pursuit of “true love” becomes a justification for the hero being mistreated by the object of his affection.
To be fair, The Prince Bride is just a movie and a romantic comedy at that. Like other romcoms, it really holds itself out as offering nothing but escapist entertainment.
The challenge we face ministering to young people doesn’t come from movies, music or popular culture. Or at least, these don’t represent unique challenges. All cultures are fallen and so all culture send us (at best) mixed messages about the relationship between men and women and about marriage and family life.
Whatever the culture says—for good or ill—our task remains the same. We are asked by Christ to help young people understand the vocation of marriage and family life. A central part of this is helping them understand the Tradition of the Church so that, should the time come, they can rightly discern whether they have been called to marriage.
By its nature, Christian marriage isn’t simply a personal vocation (and all vocations are personal). It is also a call to marry a particular person. This makes it a shared vocation. No one has a vocation to be married in general. Christ calls a person to marry this person, at this time in their lives.
And they are called with the hope (as we hear in the Church’s prayer for the couple) that they will one day become parents:
Remember, O Lord our God, Your servant (Name) and Your servant (Name), and bless them. Give to them fruit of the womb, fair children, concord of soul and body. Exalt them as the cedars of Lebanon, and as well‑cultured vine; bestow on them a rich store of sustenance, so that having a sufficiency of all things for themselves, they may abound in every good work that is good and acceptable before You. Let them behold their children’s children as newly planted olive trees round about their table; and, being accepted before You, let them shine as stars in the Heavens, in You, our Lord, to Whom are due all Glory, honor, and worship as to Your eternal Father, and Your All‑Holy, Good, and Life‑creating Spirit, both now and ever, and to the ages of ages.
While the love and affection that we see in popular culture is important, the vocation to Christian marriage is much more than simply two people falling in love and wanting to spend the rest of their lives together.
Marriage is also an ascetical struggle. Just as with monastic life, marriage and family life an arena for spiritual combat. Husband and wife, together, are called to struggle against sin so that “they may be worthy to attain unto a ripe old age” as the fruit of “keeping Your commandments in a pure heart.”
Christian marriage embrace not only the natural affections of the couple. Marriage in Christ must also be open to new life (children) as part of the couple’s shared commitment to work for each other’s salvation.
Finally, marriage in the Orthodox understanding is not simply for this life.
Another especially glorious aspect of Christ-centered marriage is that it is meant to last forever – indeed, for all those who enter into the Heavenly Kingdom, every relationship formed in this life will continue in the next life, in a deeply healed and purified way. Just as Christ will be married to His Church eternally in unbroken continuity, with each believer experiencing the unity of his or her marriage with Christ more and more in the timeless eternity of the life in Heaven, so too a Christian marriage is meant to last forever (David C. Ford, “The Glory and Honor of Marriage,” in Glory and Honor: Orthodox Christian Resources on Marriage (SVS Press, 2016), pp. 38-39).
Love, children, ascetical struggle, these are all essential aspects marriage in Christ. And these elements are all at the service of helping the couple become a living sacrament of Christ love for the Church. Or in the words of the Apostle Paul, “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32, NKJV).
Our tasking in explaining marriage to young people, then, isn’t simply a matter of discussing sexual morality or healthy communication skills. These have their place but they aren’t the point of As youth ministers and catechists Christ asking us to do something greater.
Christ is asking you to help Him set the foundation that will help the young person in your class to be ready, willing and able, to enter into life as a living expression of Christ’s love for the Church.
Who’s up for the challenge?