Sometimes, you have to wonder if the real meaning of love can be saved at all.
In a world hungry for the truth about love, millions of people will flock to movie theaters on Valentine’s Day to view the movie version of E.L James’ novel Fifty Shades of Grey and to celebrate the abusive relationship it features as a model of genuine love.
Abuse as the equivalent of real love?
Men courting women by taking them to a movie about a young woman being manipulated and hurt?
What does such a movie say to the millions of people who have experienced abuse in a relationship?
St. Valentine must be rolling in his grave.
Fifty Shades of Grey is a novel that has sold over 100 million copies worldwide and is considered one of the best-selling books of all time. It is part of popular culture and millions of teenagers, college students, and adults have read it. No doubt that more than a few Orthodox Christians have read it as well. The novel tells the story of Anastasia Steele and her wealthy boyfriend Christian Grey as they descend into a relationship that includes many forms of emotional manipulation and sexual abuse. Fifty Shades of Grey is an example of how our society more than ever mistakes power and control for real love.
The fantasy path traveled by the characters in Fifty Shades of Grey may look fun and exciting, but its real destination is emptiness and despair. In reality, Fifty Shades of Grey shows us that the opposite of love is not hating people, but using people. When it comes to love, every person deserves better than the hollow world E.L James has created. The Tradition of Orthodox Christianity can provide them with an understanding of love that is more enduring and beautiful.
This Valentine’s Day let’s forget Fifty Shades of Grey and instead discover love the Orthodox Christian way.
Here are three Orthodox lessons to remember this Valentine’s Day:
Real Love Does Not Use – It Gives: What Orthodox Christianity teaches about love is very different from the popular idea of love. Popular love focuses on what other people do for us. This is reflected in Fifty Shades of Grey wherein the characters constantly use each other and mistake such actions for genuine love. Seeing people as objects instead of icons of God’s love is dangerous. When men and women lose their intrinsic worth in the eyes of others, they are easily damaged. Real love in Orthodox Christianity is never about using people to feel good about ourselves. Men and women are not designed to use each other, but to empty themselves and give to each other. This is the foundation of healthy love and part of being created in the image and likeness of God. St. Basil the Great tells us that real love is “ …not to seek what is for your own benefit, but what is for the benefit of the one loved, both in body and in soul.”
Real Love Practices Chastity: Orthodox Christianity understands that sex is good and has always been a special gift of creation. However, like any gift, it can be used in a healthy way or in an unhealthy way. The teaching of the Church shows us how to use the gift of sexuality in a healthy way. Orthodoxy offers some of the most progressive and healthy advice when it comes to sex. At the heart of this advice is the practice of chastity. Popular love says that the freedom to do whatever we desire sexually is healthy. Chastity says that we find real freedom and real love when we give up the notion of unrestrained sexual freedom for the greater good of the one we love in an eternal commitment. For this reason, chastity says no to any sex outside of sacramental marriage as well as no to unhealthy sex in marriage because real love strives for something more beautiful than pleasure alone. St. Augustine of Hippo reminds us that “Chastity, or cleanness of heart, holds a glorious and distinguished place among the virtues, because she, alone, enables man to see God; hence Truth itself said, ‘Blessed are the clean of heart, for they shall see God.’”
Chastity protects people from being objects and becoming numb to real love. It teaches us to love in the way that makes our lives meaningful. Real love practices chastity because it understands that behind each “NO” God gives us, there is a greater and more beautiful “YES”. Every person–without exception–is able to experience the “YES” of real love that the gift of chastity gives us. This real love is far more enduring and fulfilling than anything in popular culture. And contrary to popular belief, chastity even leads to a healthy sex life.
Real Love Makes Us Vulnerable: Real love is never safe. It never hides the broken reality of the world. Loving people does not make us perfect, nor does it conceal our flaws. Real love makes us vulnerable and exposes our deepest weaknesses so as to transform them into something beautiful. C.S. Lewis wrote the following: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one. . . Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
An Orthodox Christian understanding of love is one in which each of us become the people God intended us to be. This type of love is more than the feeling of falling in love. It is more than romance. It is more than sex. Real love is an ascetic choice to live our lives as a gift. Real love is a choice to submit every aspect of our lives to the good of another person. In this way, real love is not only vulnerable but healing. One of the great secrets of living an Orthodox Christian life of love is that by being vulnerable, we find a joy that far transcends the commercial feeling of love the world celebrates every Valentine’s Day.
The media tsunami of the Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon and the commercial onslaught of Valentine’s Day can be overwhelming. It is easy for Orthodox Christians to resign themselves to moving along and doing nothing. After all, February 14th is just one day. However, each of us would do well to remember the words of Metropolitan Kallistos Ware who wrote that “In its deepest sense, love is the life, the energy, of the Creator in us.” History has shown that this energy has the capacity to change the world in the face overwhelming odds and the most broken of circumstances. Real love has radically changed countless lives before, and it can do so time and again.
So next time somebody brings up Fifty Shades of Grey, be sure to take the time and tell them the truth about real love according to the Orthodox Christian way
This Post was orginally published by the Orthodox Christian Network (www.myocn.net)