Nine years ago, on July 19, 2011, the Romanian Elder Arsenie (Papacioc) reposed in the Lord. Remembering this great spiritual father, whom priests, monastics and laymen visited from all over Romania and beyond for instructions and answers, we here publish one of his conversations with someone who came to him. The Elder speaks about the important role of women, about the grounds on which relations between a man and a woman are built, and about what young people should definitely think about before entering into marriage.
—There is one very important issue facing young people today that also concerns me as a spiritual father: relationships and friendship with girls. What place do you give to this? Do you advise them to get involved in this issue or not? To think about this issue, or stay away from it?
—To get involved is controversial, and to hold yourself apart from it is also controversial. First of all, feelings grow with age. There is a custom (which has become a tradition) that you should have a lover. Now they’re no longer called lovers, but friends, but this is a fig leaf: There can be no friendship between a man and a woman, but only love. They go very deep in the mind, even to intimate matters, but friendship is completely different—it doesn’t have even the slightest interest in such matters. So, to call it “friendship” is not good.
Girls have a more developed sense of self-preservation and their rational faculty grows earlier than in boys. They could become mothers at thirteen. I read in the newspaper today about a girl who gave birth already at eleven, while a boy cannot be a father at this age. But the period of rational accumulation is shorter for her—from twenty to twenty-five, but for a man—until thirty.
And, possessing a stronger instinct for self-preservation than men, a girl wants to get Alexander the Great himself—that is, a great hero. And if you’re a hero in some way, she will aim for you.
I know one very smart guy, a student. He was also serious and didn’t waste time—everything had its time. And there was this one girl, very mediocre from an intellectual point of view, who wouldn’t let up. She would write him letters and stand in his path. One of the students asked her: “Aren’t you ashamed?” She replied: “I want to see how a smart man reacts to such proposals.”
Had the boy less self-control she would have captured him—so this hunt suited her in any case.
If a boy is smart, he is smart in everything and puts these things off until a more suitable time for him. Solomon says: To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven (Ecc. 3:1).
There is something else, one more intimate problem: I’m certain that the majority of young people think about marriage mainly in the sense of getting pleasure, which is a great mistake. God gave you all of this for free; it shouldn’t occupy your thoughts.
The birth of children is not the highest goal of marriage, but mutual encouragement towards salvation. Birthgiving is a consequence. Of course, you will enjoy this side of life, but don’t let it be just one month of honey then an entire life of bitterness.
Marriage must be firm from the very beginning. As they say, if you live in the present, you correct the past and gain the future. So it’s a mistake to build a relationship based on some urgent matters. You have to think about whether the girl will endure all the blessed hardships of marriage.
I’ll tell you something else: A mother gives birth, a mother regenerates, she takes care of her children. And, of course, she uses the most wonderful method, following her instinct of love: She allows the child everything, whatever he does. If a boy is brash and bold and gets it in his head to conquer the world—why not? But the first time he meets his peers, he sees himself as invalid, because in his first contact with the world he didn’t win, and tearfully runs to his mother. She tells him “No, mama’s little chicken, you are an emperor. You will conquer the world!”
In this way, his mother constantly instills in him a sense of heroism. She doesn’t do it because she learned it somewhere, but because she loves him and doesn’t want to see him as a fool.
I don’t know if you’ve ever come across it, but I’m very glad that God gave me the opportunity in my childhood to read a book written by Queen Elizabeth—Carmen Sylva, the wife of King Carol I.1 I found this poem there:
“If you hear of a hero who won in battle and left justice behind himself, know that he had a good mother; if you hear of a hero who sang, and his singing revealed the meaning of life, beauty, and the fire of the heart, know that he had a good mother,” and so on—seven heroes in this spirit. I liked it so much! This is the kind of girl we should have, the kind we need to produce!
If a meeting between a guy and a girl is inevitable, he should cultivate it and sow in it the ability to be spiritually productive—because, as we said, from the carnal side, there’s no problem.
She should be prepared to bear all this, and you should support her in her problems, come what may, and always encourage her. She doesn’t creep into your problems, and she can’t if you are a smart man; and if she tries, she makes a fool of herself. She remains in her position as mother and wife.
Once I married a couple, and when we came to the prayer where the priest says: “Let the wife obey her husband” (cf. Eph. 5:33), everyone looked at the bride, and the bride bowed her head. This moment didn’t sit well with me—it dominated the entire ceremony—because the girl was humiliated at the greatest moment of her life. But I didn’t say anything until it was time to give a homily, and then I said to her:
“I noticed that people weren’t attentive to the words said before that, where it says that a husband should love his wife. Dear bride, if he does not love you, don’t listen to him!”
Let’s not play with words! A girl is not just a tool for the bed or a tool for the kitchen: We have many obligations, many duties. That means, from the very beginning, when you are still able to reason (because when you fall in love, you no longer reason), you need to see in your beloved, discern in her some characteristics for the future, until the very end of life. Thus, the person who falls in love stupidly, who fell in love because he saw something superficial, has a huge minus: He no longer feels the great beauty of love.
Do you think when God, this Great Master, created man, and therefore woman, He created her without putting huge feelings and opportunities there?
There is nothing worse—bear this in mind, my dears—than a woman who is evil; and there is nothing better than a woman who is good! So you should do whatever you can to make her better; but it is best of all not rush in the very beginning when choosing a woman.
—How do we know if what we’re doing is wrong?
—We have an instinct. At one time I lived in Timisoara.2 I wasn’t a monk yet and hadn’t entered the monastery, but I was thinking about it. Then one student of the Polytechnic University fell in love with a very homely student. He came to me once and started asking for advice, because he was crazy about her. I didn’t know her, because not everyone could visit me, but he loved her.
Then I saw her. The poor woman, she couldn’t gamble in love, because she had absolutely nothing. She was unattractive. But there are no ugly women. Women are like flowers—they’re all beautiful, each in their own way. And a man has to bend in order to get her—that is, he has to remind her of her refinement and value. And then the flower will reveal both its fragrance and its hidden qualities to you, because you have managed to touch its depths and made it into more than it realized it was.
A woman must be valued—know this—because she first of all represents to us the Woman in the Kingdom of Heaven—the Mother of God. And you tremble, you’re afraid to speak, comparing Her with people.
—What do you think, Father, given how much life experience you’ve had: Have attitudes towards women in general and relations between men and women in particular changed for the better or the worse?
—In general, they have changed in a beneficial way, for the better. But, unfortunately, at this historical moment in which we live, there are many cases when women can barely stand their husbands: They’re drunks, and they don’t’ even believe in God. They’re stuck in the atheism of the past, and their wives are struggling with all their might to bring them to faith, but it’s very difficult to do. With some it works out, but others will say: “What, you’re praying again? You’re doing prostrations again? Well, have you repented?” This happens, but there are also very many families where there is a spiritual understanding.
But the hustle and bustle is also very distracting for people. Therefore we, as spiritual fathers and priests, for those who don’t have time for regular prayer because they get up while it’s still dark to get to work on time, we advise them to maintain a prayerful mood of the soul, wherever they are.
If you go about your business with an open heart, doing it for God, then who prevents you from keeping “Lord have mercy” in mind? So that you can then go home with this feeling of a man of God?
—Do you believe that every person has their other half?
—I don’t care for that expression. They’re not your other half, they’re your everything: You are everything, and she is everything. There is no degree of kinship between husbands and wives because they are one.
You’ve seen the Jewish Star of David—two equilateral triangles overlaid one on top the other. It was made by David, who was a man of God, and symbolizes the human being, the only thing in all of God’s creation possessing the quality of qualities—His image and likeness. Therefore, God first created man as an equilateral triangle with the base on top, because a man is authoritative in his power, and then an equilateral triangle with the base on bottom, which symbolizes woman.
There is no “my other half.” It’s an expression said over a cup of wine—over a bottle of wine, rather, if not over a barrel!
—Meaning that a young man asks whether there’s a girl appointed especially for him by God?
—There are also such meetings, because you’re no longer limited by anything. However, it’s early for you to have such interests, because you’re still students and you have other things going on. But, my dear priests of tomorrow, no matter what, you must find a woman who will help you more than anyone else. She should also be enlightened, because many women ask the priest’s wife about certain women’s issues rather than the priest.
A flower sits in a flowering pot, and a man should go choose it for himself. A girl shouldn’t run after a guy—the guy should find her. And then, above all, you have to be able to appreciate a woman very highly. She is an exceptional creation of God.
Do you have any idea what kind of power a woman possesses? She can bring you out of a depressed state. When a man knows that he has a perfect love at home, he is ready to labor, to prevail in war, to solve problems.
You know, a woman’s thought processes aren’t so simple. Even if she is uneducated, she has a special power of insight, and she is much more realistic than a man. Already today she has a feeling ready for tomorrow. But we just argue and rationalize certain points; however, in love there is nothing rational.
And now I’ll ask you a question: Was what I said useful for you?