Interview by Virgiliu Gheorghe, originally published in Familia Ortodoxa magazine
Why is it that we have more and more family conflicts, fights and divorces? Why is it that more and more often we get home with the burdensome feeling of fulfilling a mere obligation? And, once at home, we find that our better half, weighed down by the same feeling, will not come to meet us halfway anymore… Why home, the warmest, most welcoming place ever has too often become a battlefield where a fight for power and supremacy takes place?
The current state of the family raises all these questions. The answers are crucial for the happiness of numerous families – and especially for the happiness of children born in those families.
The subject is much too vast to be treated in just a few words, but we have tried to lay the basis for such an investigation together with Fr. Constantin Coman, a well-known professor, a true pedagogue and, moreover, spiritual guide for hundreds of families.
Some may find his words challenging. But truth has always been scandalous for those enthralled by the worldly spirit. And those who are sincerely looking for Truth will find comfort and healing once they’ve found it…
Virgiliu Gheorghe: Father, we can see a lot of discord within families and there are very many divorces. Why have we come to this? The divorce rate is growing exponentially, by 5% a year in Romania.
Fr. Coman: I think on one hand there are the external factors, those related to the historical context: our time and its society and culture. We don’t need to insist on the characterstics of our age and the dominant culture, because these are quite accessible to everybody. There is a lot of liberalism, people are taking too many liberties… Erasing borderlines, people become alienated. It’s their “chance” to get lost, to become “invisible”, to lose membership of a rather closed society, which confers much more visibility. And when people get lost in a wider space and therefore become anonymous, he takes the liberty to succumb to many weaknesses… On the other hand, there is this individualist streak of human rights. All temptations are exacerbated, people are encouraged to give way to many temptations, to fulfill their most unbecoming and hidden inclinations. Of course, there have always been temptations, but today globalization enhances them through mass media, especially the Internet, which has reached our deepest “closet”. Now, for the the first time in history, people get access, in their innermost privacy, to pornographic display, which perturbs, excites and destroys them. It is a very destructive phenomenon and the tool through which the enemy of mankind conquers many souls.
“The Family Crisis Is the Crisis of Personhood”
Fr. Coman: Yet, man’s inner self finally plays the decisive role. The biggest fight is the innermost battle. The current situation of family and the rising divorce rate you were signaling are due to a personhood crisis. The family crisis is the crisis of personhood. I am convinced about that, especially as our Saviour’s Gospel is not focused on the family, it’s focused on the person. Our Saviour does not concern Himself on the problem of the family, just as He is not concerned with any other social institution – be it association, foundation or other such organizations. He is concerned by the human person, upon whom He calls to honestly position oneself in front of God and the other.
Only this healthy and proper positioning towards God and the other turns man into a self-aware responsible person. Therefore, only by rearing such a person can we get healthy families. A person’s crisis will generate crisis in one’s family and on other levels, too. Because we can see that the family crisis overlaps the crisis of communities, which are like extended families: rural communities, parish communities, nations and so on. Of course, family is not the same thing as these communities. It is a very special establishment specific to human condition and God’s Creation.
That is why, if we want to approach this issue in earnest, we should focus on raising people’s self-awareness as human persons. It would be a huge deceit if we believed that our situation depended on external factors (the family who raised us, our education, our school, our kindergarten, the Church, the state, the times we live in). If we let ourselves overwhelmed by such certitudes, we will never engage in a personal effort to foster virtues and fight passions, as the Holy Fathers say. If man loses balance from this point of view – specifically, when he cannot master his primary instincts anymore –, he will be unprepared and vulnerable when setting up family. As a result, his family will not get too many chances. A good monk could be a good family man, just as a good family man could also be a good monk – it’s all about investing in one’s preparedness.
People form families without being really trained for this, especially not trained in self-mastery and self-awareness. I keep telling them: “Brothers and sisters, family means uniting a man and a woman. And, to be highly aware of what this union is, you, as a man, need to be aware of your manly nature and you, as a woman, of your womanly nature”. Sometimes I test them during confession. I used to do that when I was a student as well. And I can see no one can exactly describe one’s nature as a man, respectively as a woman – I mean going beyond anatomical differences, which are obvious.
The next step goes like that: if there is an obvious specific nature to each of them, there must be different specific vocations corresponding to each nature. There’s almost complete lack of interest on this subject. People simply don’t get profound, they don’t settle in their own nature. To make the man-woman union work, the man should be very manly, he should be fully aware of his manhood. And the woman should be very womanly, she should be fully aware of her femininity. Each of them should activate their innermost nature. If natures get mixed-up, if they succumb to decadent pressure, to temptations and degrading influences, their union will be doomed. That is why I keep saying that the major investment and responsibility should be in the human subject’s self-awareness, in the human person.
“You Hit The Wall. Or You Can Be The Wall for Someone Else”
Virgiliu Gheorghe: Let’s talk a bit more about what a personal relationship is. People don’t understand what “person” means anymore.
Fr. Coman: Why is it so? Because they don’t think about it, they don’t go deeper, they don’t turn to themselves to see what “me” is in terms of personal presence. When I say “person”, I name a human subject endowed with self-awareness. When you are aware of yourself, you are also aware of your existence in front of somebody, you realize you are in dialogue with the other, that you are in dialogue with everybody around and with the whole world. And, of course, that you are in dialogue with Good God. Dialogue does not mean verbal exchange, but the relationship as such, which starts with simple communication and is meant to be fulfilled in a relationship of love.
Therefore, a person is a human subject conscious that such is his position. First and foremost, he will be aware of the richness of his own existence. Of course, a mature person should be aware both of the gifts and shortcomings of one’s own nature: there are general gifts and flaws of human nature and there are also specific gifts and specific weaknesses. A mature person must be aware of both one’s nature’s gifts and drawbacks, so that one can work on one’s gifts and improve on one’s weaknesses. This is done by intensifying one’s fight against inner unnatural impulses, sometimes dark and decadent – the fight against sin more literally speaking. How to carry on these actions if you are oblivious about these realities? Sometimes I ask people some questions during confession and I realize they are not even aware of themselves. They cannot even express themselves. They never tried to read their own selves at a more profound level, to investigate their spirit so to say: their intentions, impulses, what is there inside them, what are their aspirations deep inside, what attracts them, what they like or don’t like and why.
Many young people are reduced to nothing under the pressure and spell of outside things. On one hand, they live totally outside of themselves, dissipated in the multi-coloured spectacle of the world. On the other hand, they are annihilated by their parents’ authority, by the school’s authority, the authority of the law and education and so on. As a result, they don’t turn towards themselves, they don’t have the instinct of taking personal decisions, issued from their own inner universe. They are happy to conform to external things, they look for answers from different outside authorities. Of course we need to conform to outside authorities, but first we need to be self-aware in relation to the respective authority. In my opinion, their major flaw is that they lack the exercise of immersing into their own human nature, assuming, as men or women, a specific self-awareness. This is what a person does. This is what St. Paul means when he writes: “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? ” (1 Corinthians, 2:11) This “spirit of man” I’d say is the recollection of personal self-awareness, which we should embrace with every cell of our being.
I usually associate this notion with the watchfulness, or mindfulness the neptic Fathers talked about: it is exactly this awakening of self-awareness, which is an awakening of the personal spirit and manifests itself in man’s ever greater capacity to participate in the reality around, to really learn how to meet the other. You meet someone and you can see there is a certain energy coming from that person, a personal emanation. And you meet somebody else and it’s like he’s petrified, he doesn’t emit anything. You meet a wall. Or you can be he the wall for somebody else. Well, this problem is essential for the union of a man and a woman, just as it is central in the meeting and partnership of people. If they are not people with a certain inner awakening, they won’t function together, or they may function on a semi-unconscious level, which means they will limit themselves to the impersonal, instinctual needs of the body, like hunger, the need for help, reproductive needs and so on. And this cannot hold forever, it cannot be satisfactory for both parties on the long run.
That is why people get quickly fed up with one another. It’s hard to get along with the other if you don’t really participate into really meeting him or her. Let’s focus therefore on the mystery of the person, which is the foundation of any union. That is why I “cling to” Christ The Saviour’s attitude: He is not interested in establishing institutions, He concerns Himself with the human person. And I believe here lies the core of all weaknesses and misfortunes at all levels of our human existence. And here also lies the secret of recovery.
“We Can Clearly See Woman Is One Thing and Man Another”
Virgiliu Gheorghe: What is a good relationship with the other, a healthy positioning towards the other in family life?
Fr. Coman: I believe it’s essential that each of the two assume their particular vocation and their respective contribution to their union. Man should assume his manly vocation and woman her womanly one. Why do I say that? Because this frame of mind is on extinction, this perspective that there are specific differences is being silenced. Yet, we don’t need lenses or eyeglasses to see that woman is one thing and man another. From her looks, her eyes, her smile, the way she talks, to the last cell in her body, woman is different from man. Therefore, basic logic compels us to deduct there is a specific womanly nature and a specific manly nature. If we agreed upon this, we could make a fresh and good start by assuming each of us our natural specific and our own natural vocation.
“Man Has The Gift of Leadership and Woman The Gift of Submissiveness”
Virgiliu Gheorghe: What would that specific be?
Fr. Coman: Eversince I was a child, I have had this curiosity to see how things are and in what circumstances they can function. I have in my mind countless examples of real families, starting with my own family, my brothers’, my neighbors’ and so on. As a spiritual adviser for dozens, maybe hundreds of families, after a lot of experience and analysis, I have come to the conclusion that there is a deep and specific man’s vocation and contribution to the family. It manifests itself by leadership, assuming responsibility. I’d say man has the gift of leadership, which should not mean worldly tyranny, but a better self-possession he has compared to woman. (Unfortunately, this gift is not exercised and improved – this is another problem.) That is why the woman is drawn to him: she is looking for support in him, hoping he can master any situation. But, most of the times, the man doesn’t fulfill the woman’s expectations exactly because he has not worked on his gift of self-mastery and self-possession. Yet, I believe this is man’s natural vocation. And woman’s specific vocation is to submit to man. She is submissive by nature. It is a great gift and it implies a lot of strength. It’s not easy to submit, to obey.
When there are two people, just like in a monastery, there cannot be two heads (bi-cephalic body!). There can only be one head. And that one is man, just like St. Paul says: “the head of woman is man”. And: “the head of every man is Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:3). I experienced this when I lived with the parents in the Holy Mountain: there I could see how, when two or more were together, they only had one head who managed community affairs, while the other submitted, obeying him. Submission is only natural in the man-woman relationship. But it does not come naturally among monks. I believe there is a pure, beautiful logic in man’s vocation to command, to manage things, to take responsibility and lead, while woman has the vocation to submit to man. Whenever this happens, there is sudden settling, with peace and joy, and discord disappears, because each of them fulfils one’s own specific nature.
Virgiliu Gheorghe: Man finds comfort when the woman is womanly and woman finds comfort when the man is manly.
Fr. Coman: But man is tempted to give up his calling, because leadership is hard. Responsibility is the most difficult thing. You need to take decisions. Surely, you won’t do that arbitrarily or abusively, you won’t decide in a selfish way, you need to take the other into account. The highest and most natural form of support for your decision is your love for the other. Therefore, your decision should reflect your readiness to sacrifice for the other. It doesn’t mean the decision is not yours. And the woman could thus get exactly what she has wished for, but in a more generous manner, as a gift from man, not as his simply meeting her demands. This is the way to accomplish love: man needs to sacrifice himself when he takes the decision. He will not decide selfishly, in his own interest, but lovingly, as a gift to the woman. Thus, woman will receive much more than she could get by requests, nagging and fights. But, for man to be so, to be a mature person who assumes his decision and takes responsibility, he should be very good, spiritually developed and very mature, which is rare nowadays.
Virgiliu Gheorghe: He must be well-exercised in mastering and refraining himself.
Fr. Coman: Exactly. The most vulnerable way a man manifests his lack of self-mastery is through his body, obviously, in his relationship with his wife. Then the wife, who expects him to be a self-mastered man, realizes he is actually mastered by his own bodily impulses. This is how man loses the test in the woman’s eyes. She may realize this or not. She may express it or not. No matter what, deep inside, he will lose ground in front of her. He is not the man she expected him to be, because he has lost test after test on the vulnerable ground of bodily self-mastery.
I’m not speaking from books. I’m telling you from my experience as a confessor and spiritual mentor. The man who doesn’t pass the self-mastery test – I’m referring to his bodily relationship with the woman, to succumbing to gluttony, sleepiness and others – proves to his woman that he is unaccomplished and becomes the cause of his woman’s degradation.
Virgiliu Gheorghe: She loses respect for him.
Fr. Coman: She loses respect, she doesn’t cherish him anymore… You can’t respect what you don’t cherish. But you can’t hold dear something that goes cheap, either.
“Do You Want To Be Happy? Do You Hold Dear This Boy?”
Fr. Coman: Now, let’s talk about the woman’s temptation. Her calling is to obey the man and her temptation is not to obey him – it’s something we can see everywhere. If she is encouraged by her man’s weakness, most of the time she paradoxically gets the power by using her womanly tools: her mind, her intuition, her temptations. She takes over command and the most degrading, destructive and damaging upside-down happens. The woman, who should submit, gets to lead and the man, who should lead, gets to submit. They both offer quite an ungracious sight. Neither will the woman love her obeying husband, nor will the man love his leading lady. It’s always like that and everybody can see it… Because it’s unnatural, it’s the reversal of natures and the couple’s decay becomes obvious.
I tell them this when I see them coming before the wedding. I can see it in the way they walk together. She comes and starts talking before he does. She walks two steps ahead of him. And immediately you can tell there is this risk. I tell many girls: “Be careful! Do you want to be happy? Do you hold this boy dear?” She will say: “Yes, I do”. “Then stop talking before he does! Do that and you will be well!” Like in the sayings of the Desert Fathers. Have you read them? There is one thing they teach: “What to do to gain salvation?” And they answer: “Be silent!” or: “Eat half a bread” – very-very simple things, but which re-settle the whole universe of human existence. Then I tell her: “Never ever talk before him!” I was happy to see this advice respected and how it led to accomplishments, but only in rare instances.
If woman accepted and acted according to her submissive nature, she could make the man act according to his. If we were to expose man’s vulnerabilities, the prevailing one is his indolence. Indolence means giving up the responsibility of leadership. To lead, you have to keep vigil, be always watchful, because you are at the helm: you manage a home, you supervise a family with children and responsibilities. Wherever you go, you need to be wide awake. So, his temptation is indolence. Whereas her temptation is hyperactivity. Because she should actually be obeying…
Virgiliu Gheorghe: And she gets a nervous breakdown
Fr. Coman: She gets a nervous breakdown and he gets ill with idleness and with refusing responsibility. This is the key, in my opinion. Of course, it is difficult, but, if we don’t look for the root cause of the situation, we will never get anywhere. Neither willl the man ever accomplish his nature, nor will the woman. That is why we need to help each other. How? You need to help the woman re-settle into her submissive position. And the woman should help the man take responsibility for what happens to his woman and his family.
“Let Him Decide! This Is How You Challenge Him!”
Fr. Coman: The woman can help her man insisting on obedience and submission, as I said. Let him decide! Let the responsibility on his shoulders, don’t get ahead of him! The woman is more impatient, more lively and quick. She has the gift of dealing with many tasks, like all the household chores she needs to do: if she is not active, she’s lost. Because she has many things to do: children, cleaning, office work. But there is one thing she misses: a comprehensive, global perspective of things, which is related to the gift of command. To command, you need to see the whole picture. My point of view – for which all the ladies will probably scold me – is that the woman cannot have this whole perspective. She can see only parts of the whole picture. That is why quite often she will be heart and mind in one place, forgetting both where she started from and where she is supposed to get. It is for the man to sail the ship and to get the family where it needs to be.
Virgiliu Gheorghe: The helmsman’s role and the role of the engine “man”: the ship sails, but if it is not mastered and led properly, it can capsize.
Fr. Coman: Man’s nature is slightly contemplative, that is why he is not so active. And woman’s nature is less contemplative and more active, she’s a good worker. I keep telling them: “My dear, your husband is not sitting doing nothing! He is thinking, reflecting on things, processing data”. “But he comes home, sits down and does nothing!”, they will say. “It is not so. He actually detaches himself, raises above things to see where they are heading to. The whole picture is man’s task”. I remember somebody telling me: “Father, if I don’t see him doing something, I do it in his place!” “You can do that, but you will do it as a woman.” She was offended. She gave me an example: “Father, we had a country cottage, the roof was leaking and he was doing nothing!” “What did you do?” “I climbed on the roof to repair the hole!” “You solved it like a woman! You know what your man would have done? He would have brought a repair man”, I told her this half-jokingly, to settle things. Neither man, nor woman are accomplished. But at least we can be aware of these things. And, as long as we are together because we love each other, then let’s be solidary, let’s help each other on this. I, the man, should help her settle in her feminine nature and she, as a woman, should help me settle in manhood. This is a second fundamental principle: the will to help each other. This is the most substantial support – helping the other become a man, respectively a woman.
Virgiliu Gheorghe: Father, do you believe that strengthening family life facilitates spiritual progress as well? Or is it spiritual progress that strengthens and consolidates family life?
Fr. Coman: They’re interdependen. A truly spiritual man has a great capacity to love and sacrifice himself – which are the premises of any union between man and woman. And family is an exercise on the way to spiritual progress, to betterment. If you don’t practise love, self-sacrifice, patience, solidarity, understanding and gentleness with your own husband or wife, then who else you should practise them with? There is a great challenge in my opinion: whoever fails this exam should not deceive themselves that they could pass other exams. Because our Saviour has commanded us to love our neighbor and our neighbor is the one right beside us. Our closest neighbor is our husband or wife, obviously. That is why it’s so difficult. It’s easy to love people from the distance. But the closest ones are the most difficult to love. Here lies the issue which reveals one’s hypocrisy. In your closest mate, who breathes the same air like you all day long, you discover yourself with your abilities and shortcomings. And the other does the same.
“Be One – You and Your Woman, the Woman and You”
Fr. Coman: The main problem of any man-woman union is to feel the other is along with you, that he or she is right beside you, one like yourself. I’m not referring only to the bodily aspect of their union. I’m talking about being one – you and your woman and the woman and you. She should feel that you are concerned with her well-being, that you take care of her, that you think of her, that you pay attention to her, that she is in the foreground of your life. If she can feel that, she is conquered! And the man should feel that she gives herself to him. This gives him peace when he is with her. He should feel that she is whole-heartedly oriented towards him.
I shall be blunt and tell you straight: the man grows wings when he gets warmth and affection from the woman. He literally grows wings! His soul and enthusiasm grow. He can move mountains when the woman has given to him her entire self, not only her body. The woman thinks that the man is obsessed with her body. Personally, I have come to the conclusion that man’s obsession with the female body is only the expression of his frustration when the woman doesn’t give herself to him entirely. Not after her body, but after herself is he longing! He wants to feel that his woman is entirely his. And, if she doesn’t give herself to him entirely, he will obsessively repeat the bodily union, deceiving himself that her body is the proof that his woman has entirely given herself to him. But the woman usually gives him just her body, not her whole self. As time passes, I am more and more convinced that this is one of the problems which subvert most marriages: badly managed bodily union.
Virgiliu Gheorghe: But is’s not the bodily union itself to be blamed…
Fr. Coman: Obviously it is not. When I talk about “bodily union”, I am not referring to the “technical performance”, but to the fact that this should be well placed in the relationship between husband and wife. It should not substitute entirely this relation. Because sooner or later it becomes a substitute, the entire relationship is reduced to it.
I tell women who deplore the man’s sexual offensive: “Be careful, you hold the key! There are thousands of ways and opportunities to give yourselves to your man – just do it differently!” And his bodily assaults will ebb. Because, paradoxically, man, although more contemplative, is more attached to the body, while woman, although more practical and active, is more idealistic.
I have also encountered alienating situations, in which the woman cannot give up a dream, a utopian ideal. She cannot descend on Earth to meet her real man. She remains up there, in the world of ideal men, built according to pre-established designs and patterns. And, when she touches her real man’s skin, she is unpleasantly surprised. Maybe today’s marriage crisis, when less and less young women get married, is due to these girls’ attachment to a pre-designed ideal man who only exists in her mind and it cannot descend into reality. I insistently tell them: “Darlig, the man in your mind is beautiful, but doesn’t exist. And the one who exists is ugly, but there he is!” They need to chose between the beautiful one in her mind and the ugly one who’s real. Some of them cannot chose reality and a huge conflict stirs up in their mind. It can happen to the man, but less often.
“She’s Mine, I Can Do It – She Has To!”
Virgiliu Gheorghe: I’d like us to insist upon another aspect. Young people start their family life after marriage. She belongs to him and and he belongs to her. Then there is the depreciation risk: they don’t grant each other the same attention, gentleness and respect they did when they wanted to get closer to each other. Then the relation heads to a downfall: the other doesn’t mean “something” to you…
Fr. Coman: You know what I have come to realize? It’s what everybody has realized, there’s nothing new. It’s the negative effect of making the relationship official. This sounds for both of them like a guarantee and an obligation. When we have come to these terms, the relationship is compromised: “She’s mine, I can do it – she has to!” “He’s mine, I can do this to him – he has to!” These terms of obligation through an official document guaranteed by signatures and a religious service terribly corrupt the relationship. There is another aspect related to the decadent psychological nature of people: what you want and don’t have is more precious than what you have already got. Both of them should understand that the other is not an object in their possession, but a free person who remains free and who gives oneself to the other willingly. Ultimately, this is another lack of awareness on how things really are: the human person has been made by God free and cannot be coerced into anything by an institution – not even by a sacred institution like that of marriage!
Virgiliu Gheorghe: God Himself doesn’t coerce people!
Fr. Coman: Indeed, God Himself doesn’t coerce people into anything! That is why St. Paul has repeatedly said: “All things are lawful for me” (1 Corinthians 6:12) – yet, the more correct translation would be: “All things are in my power” (not power as authority, but as possibility)! This is proclaiming human sovereignty in the likeness of God’s sovereignty. It’s in human nature to be like that. People believe that, if we preach this, we risk libertinage. On the contrary! Being aware of one’s sovereignty, people will also become aware of their responsibility: “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful” (1 Corinthians 6:12). All are allowed, but not all consolidate my being, some will undermine me – so I won’t do things to destroy myself.
Well, unfortunately, our mentality considers these things, these institutions – the civil wedding or the religious wedding, which is very important! – as more important than ourselves: we live under the impression that they affect our freedom.
They shouldn’t. We remain just as free as before. Only that responsibility is greater and the context different. But we are – and should be – just as free as before. I am just as free, the other is just as free as before. Then, in addition to being aware of our own freedom, we should especially be aware that we need to respect the freedom of the other. It is also a matter of education. There were times when mutual respect between husband and wife was very high: one respected the spouse’s freedom and intimacy and so on. Now the the situation has very much degraded in this matter. It’s about basic education, which becomes visible in many areas of life. Therefore, this impersonal relationship with the other, who is viewed as an object based on the marriage becoming official, brings about erosion, negative inertia and routine. Enters the psychology of individual rights, wrongfully applied to people instead of things. If you are given an object, that thing is “rightfully” yours so to say.
Virgiliu Gheorghe: One thinks one has the right while the other doesn’t! Only oneself has a right over the other!
Fr. Coman: Indeed. But St. Paul’s teaching on this is extraordinary. He totally dismisses the idea of “rights” between spouses and replaces it with the idea of total dedication to one another. To the man he tells he doesn’t own his own body, but the woman does. And to the woman he tells she doesn’t own her body, either, but the man does (1 Corinthians 7:4). This changes totally the premises of the problem. But, as I said in the beginning, if we don’t focus in a self-aware manner on basic things, we will not be able to focus on this dedication, which unfortunately may seem too big a requirement. And things go towards downfall. Not to speak of the degrading forms of violence… Let’s not take into consideration these for now. Let’s only talk about this feeling of obligation which kills the relationship.
“The Solution Is Inside You”
Fr. Coman: Let’s talk about solutions, because this is important. We, as priests and spiritual advisers need to offer solutions. Somebody comes and tells us about his family situation. I tell him: “When your spouse comes to you and asks something of you, he or she actually requires something from you again and again, the solution is inside you (just as God provided!)”. This is human nature’s greatest gift: that we do not depend on an outside solution, we do not depend on the other, we only depend on ourselves, we have the solution within. When the other comes to you, this is your greatest chance: to anticipate the other, to give by your on free will what the other is coming to compell you to give. And this even before the other makes a movement towards you! Anticipate! This is the extraordinary key to marriage. Man and woman should anticipate each other. This is how you can fight the risk of routine. But you need to be very much alive and watchful, you need to know the other as yourself, to be interested in the other. You should want very much to be like that. Otherwise, you can’t anticipate. Anticipation!
You will conquer the other by giving them exactly they wished for, what they were expecting and werre prepared to get using their “right” for it. You give it to them before they even take the first step to require it from you. It is a great science and it is built on wakefulness, clarity, self-awareness…
Virgiliu Gheorghe: In general, you need to understand what a woman is and what her expectations are and what a man is and what are his expectations. And in particular, you need to feel the other. And I think you cannot feel the other unless you really love him or her and if you don’t put yourself in his or her shoes permanently. To feel the spouses’ movements of the souls, to come to meet him halfway, to give him peace in the relationship…
Fr. Coman: Absolutely. But, to feel like that, you need to practise your feeling capacity a lot, which unfortunately doesn’t quite happen.
Virgiliu Gheorghe: What should young people know before marriage, but they usually find out only afterwards?
Fr. Coman: It happens exactly like in the case of a monk who goes to the monastery. He is expecting one thing and finds there something completely different. The most important thing is that they should prepare, but they don’t. I tell women who postpone marriage: “Dear, aren’t you ready yet?… Have you prepared?”. People don’t train for marriage. Not to mention that such a training must start very early, as soon as manly or womanly nature start manifesting themselves. We should concern ourselves with getting ready for family life as early as that. If this concern is absent, many things happen.
I would specifically advise boys to be extremely careful how they manage their sexual urge before marriage. Extremely careful! If they lose control of it, be it in an unnatural way like onanism or pornography (the two are inter-related), it is hard to believe they will be able to come back to normality in relation with their wife. This is my opinion. And I would advise the girl to keep her virginity and, in addition to that, to preserve a certain virginity of the soul. But mostly she should keep her feet on the ground, chase away dreams which cast her out of reality.
Virgiliu Gheorghe: You were saying the man should not fall prey to bodily passions because it would become very difficult for him to make a family. Yet many succumb to these passions – what to do with them? How can a man be cured?
Fr. Coman: After the man falls, his only chance is to admit he has fallen and that this experience has come with a price. This would be a positive step. He should know that very many dysfunctions result from that and he should not blame his wife for the problems. He must be aware that, when he spouses a woman while he has this negative legacy – for example, after consuming one’s body through onanism for years –, he should not expect things to run smoothly in family. Because there is also a perversion of man’s nature itself: things can be made to work in quite the opposite way than normal. And one’s nature will turn upon itself instead of turning towards the other. If one has masturbated for years before marriage, one will masturbate with one’s wife as well! One will not be able to establish a relationship with the other. And the woman can’t stand to be man’s object. We must speak plainly because it is a reality people tend to obscure. Moreover, there are publications who promote and encourage this practice of onanism. In my opinion, it is a deeply damaging practice, which perverts nature itself. And nature, made to meet the other and get fulfilled in the other, finds fulfillment exclusively in itself. Self-satisfaction on any level is suicide: mentally, bodily or in any any other form.
Of course, up to a certain moment, parents are responsible, they must educate their children in a certain direction. If the child discovers online pornography when he is 10, he is almost lost. It is hard to believe someone can keep him from enacting what he has seen. But the moment he starts to be aware of himself, he must start working with himself. Being human is a huge thing! But you need to fight, just as St. Paul says: “You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin” (Hebrews, 12:4). You join a life-and-death battle if you want to accomplish your human nature at maximum potential. Otherwise we get to complain that nothing works, that the woman is not happy with us, that she is leaving you… You need to assume this, to take responsibility for what you do.
Why we recommend confession from the age of 7? Because at this age the child starts taking responsibility for what he or she does. And everything is added to one’s being will amount to a way of living which will be either of good quality or of negative quality. And people should be taught that! They keep blaming everybody, but they have the main responsibility! So I tell young men who come to me for confession: “Be careful, lad! No one can master you anymore if you go that way, no one will be able to control you afterward: not your father, not your mother, not the school. It’s you who’s responsible. Do you want to enjoy a beautiful accomplished life in the full parameters of your God-given nature? Then take care! Don’t let this overcome you! Fight!” “It’s difficult, father…” “Fight!” Especially for boys: “Fight!” Man becomes manly by fighting. Or else…
But people keep deceiving themselves that responsiblities are elsewhere. No! Responsibility belongs to each of us, both in terms of private life quality and family life quality. It is our responsibility what answer we shall give at the Last Judgement. It’s on us. We are happy to be alive, it’s a great gift, a great opportunity – but our responsibility is just as great.
“The Child Is A Great Gift”
Virgiliu Gheorghe: How should the family get ready for a baby?
Fr. Coman: First of all, the family should welcome the baby. They should welcome it when God gives it. It’s very important! They should not plan too much, at least not the first child. Certainly, it would be best not to plan any of their children, but it’s essential not to plan the first one: whenever God gives it! Because there is great purpose here, in the first-born, which, as it is written, belongs to God (Exodus, 34:19). Everybody can see that for themselves. I did: families who restrict to one child will “lose” that child one way or another. God forbid of tragic situations, I have seen those as well! Many children without siblings will enter the monastery and parents remain frustrated over this. Other cases are even more dramatic, and here also we can see God’s design.
Then, of course, the parents need to prepare themselves spiritually to receive a third person in their life. This will not be their property, their asset to dispose of. It will not be an object to compensate them for their failures. This is a very big problem. The child can fight for itself quite early in life, his battle is to get attention as a person, to be talked to, not to be manipulated. The child is a great gift, but it also helps the couple, because the tension between the two gets sublimated in the third, who is the expression of their union. Because the child expresses the parents’ union. It is a great gift. Unfortunately, we give birth to just a few children today. The context has also become too complicated. Now mothers have to go to work…
Everybody is proud to have just one child. Others pride themselves with two children, they think they are wise. I believe they are not. From three-four children up means wisdom, because there is a balance between children, as well. Besides, we do have a duty to carry on the humankind. We were called into being as a gift and and we are called to give birth in turn. There are things more profound than we can imagine, and everything falls into place if man is aware of his place, his position in the world and his calling – towards God, towards people and the whole world.
Virgiliu Gheorghe: Which are the major mistakes parents do in educating their children?
Fr. Coman: The biggest mistake in my opinion is using standards by which parents are not accountable to their children. Parents come with a theoretical speech based on their authority as parents and urge children to a standard of accomplishment they themselves cannot attain. Their children will obey for some time, but when they get the chance to escape from the parent’s authority, they simply run away.
That is why I believe we need to be more relaxed as pedagogues, to be more humble, more appropriate. Children should see their parents assuming self-critically their own weaknesses. On the other hand, the child will be demotivated if he sees his parents’ lack of authority. Yet, I still believe a great problem is the parents’ excessive authority. It is easy to say what must be done, it is very easy. But if the child doesn’t see that you do a minimum effort on the same direction, there will be a conflict in his or her mind: “Dad said I shouldn’t do it, but he does all the bad things: he smokes, he drinks, he doesn’t pay attention and so on…” This generates great imbalance.
“I Still Cross Myself Just As My Father Did”
Virgiliu Gheorghe: How to raise a child in the church – not just formally, not just by attending church on Sundays to get the Holy Communion?
Fr. Coman: Let me tell you how I was taken to the church – which I find it always as the most natural way of things. I knew Mom and Dad went to church. Every Sunday, I could see them getting dressed, crossing and tidying themselves and going to church. We, the little ones, would not go to church – it was during communism, anyway. We went to church only sometimes, at the great feasts. Granny would tell us: “At least one in the house should go to church!”.
Generally, the devotion pattern should come naturally, it should not be forced. Then the child easily gets into the parents’ pattern. He will step all the way to the church just as his or her parents do. He will follow what he sees: how they cross themselves, what is the atmosphere between them. I still cross myself just as my father did. If I don’t do it, I feel like I’m breaking something vital. It was very simple. He would cross himself countless times in front of his bed, this is how I remember him, God rest his soul together with Mom…
Virgiliu Gheorghe: I think we should make a distinction here: most of the time the parent only designs the model, teaches lessons and the child realizes he is only delivering a teaching. The problem is not to to things so that the child can see you, but so that God can see you.
Fr. Coman: Absolutely! The child is the finest evaluator of naturalness. You can’t fool the child, who will realize that you are phony, that you do things only to be seen doing them. I was witness to things done as naturally as breathing. We should come in front of God just as naturally as we breathe.
I don’t think excess of teachings and explanations is necessary. And there’s something else, which, of course, belongs to a more complex topic of discussion: it seems to me that today’s parents, under the pressure of a certain educational model, give too much information to their children. And this turns into very damaging pressure for them. Children are compelled to become too responsible for too many things which are above their powers. Then they react by refusal.
So I let them alone: there is prayer in the house and the little one should be left to come by himself to prayer. And he will! We shouldn’t press them. But we must pray for real! Not just for the child to see. Praying must be true. If it is, God’s Spirit is there, Which has the power to attract souls. The first to be attracted will be the child, who is more sensitive to godly matters.
“This is The Best Way to Improve Spiritually”
Virgiliu Gheorghe: There’s one more thing I’ve noticed: there are mothers who go to church every Sunday to Communicate the children and, because they have one child or two, they neither get to stay during the whole service, nor to calm down. I wonder whether the child wouldn’t be helped more if the mother could also feed spiritually to a certain degree? She might leave the children at home in the father’s care or with the grandparents so she could get spiritually fortified.
Fr. Coman: It’s the mother’s sacrifice. Her thoughts and motivation, the way she positions herself into this are important. Here as well we find the risk of routine: “To communicate the child, to communicate the child – it’s the most important thing!”. You have to know why you are communicating the child. You need to take upon yourself this sacrifice. When the woman assumes the sacrifice of raising children, this is the best way to improve spiritually. If she makes sacrifices to raise that child, sacrifice and toil represent the most advanced way for human improvement. But if she doesn’t assume this and does it like a burden, she won’t reap the fruits.
Obviously, it is most welcome when the husband offers to take over for a little while, as a gift to the mother, who could thus get a little freedom for a while, for a liturgical service or two, so that she can get a breath of fresh air. But usually the mother gets very attached to raising the child, she has a huge availability and a fantastic sacrificial disposition, because, look, she may be more wakeful in the church while being tormented by the children as she is, than while she stays during the service without the child with her thoughts possibly wandering.
Finally, summarizing, the family’s success ultimately and fundamentally relies on man’s responsibility, because he has the leadership vocation. Whoever leads is also responsible.
I strongly believe that and, to finish by going back to where we started from, I’d say that, if there’s a family crisis, this is obviously also a crisis of mankind. And if there ever happens a recovery of the family, this will be owed to man’s recovering one’s true vocation and its working.
Photo: Cosmin Giurgiu