We decided to talk to Archpriest Vladimir Vorobyov, rector of the Orthodox Svyato-Tikhonovsky University for the Humanities and rector of St. Nicholas Church in Kuznetsi, about how to approach family planning from a Christian perspective, what are the conditions and prerequisites for a happy family life, how many children to have, and much more.
- Father Vladimir, today the term "family planning" is used quite widely, and in very different senses...
- The term is unfortunate, but since it’s usage has become common, we have to reckon with it.
- Why do you think it's unfortunate?
- Now people are very fond of planning, although life disrupts those plans at every turn, because man is not able to take into account all the factors on which the implementation of his plan depends. From a Christian perspective, one's life depends more on God than anything else. If by "family planning" one means having children, all the more so, it is an inappropriate term because God Himself gives life to man. How is it possible to plan anything, forgetting God, His plan for man, His holy will, on which man's coming into the world depends in the first place? Obviously, the term "family planning" in this sense could only arise in an atheistic consciousness, in a godless society.
- Can we find any positive content in this problem from the Church's point of view?
- If we take this unfortunate term aside, there is indeed a general and important question about how to create a family. Everyone faces this problem, both those young people who are about to marry and their parents and grandparents, who, though they have largely lived their lives, are thinking about, caring for, and worrying about their children and grandchildren. All this is natural, because a person should always be concerned about the good and kind arrangement of life.
- So how do young people who are about to get married approach the right way to start a family?
- We must remember that the family and marriage are the embodiment of God's plan for man, for the arrangement of his life. It is not good for man to be alone," God said, and created a wife (Genesis 2:18). The family is fullness, harmony, and unity in love, in which man is called to be like God. Man has an immortal, intelligent soul, and a body which while spiritualized by that soul is still mortal. The body was created from the dust of the earth, but the soul is breathed by God Himself. Consequently, the unity of husband and wife in marriage should first of all be a spiritual unity and then a bodily unity. Without spiritual unity, first of all, without unity in faith, there can be no true marriage.
It is very important (it used to be customary) for the future husband to "stand on his own feet," that is, to be able to support his future family independently. If a man, in creating a family, has to rely entirely on someone else's help, his parents or someone else, he cannot be independent, and therefore he is threatened by a morally dangerous situation, which can create a lot of difficulties for the family. And nowadays it is still up to the husband to take care of the upkeep of the family.
This rule used to be an axiom. It was believed that a maiden, when she married, passed into the husband's area of responsibility, if I may say so. He would be responsible for the arrangements of her life. And her task was to arrange the internal life of the family, the order and comfort in the home, and to ensure the proper education of children. How did our ancestors prepare their daughters for marriage? Most of all, they tried to instill good morals and educate them in a Christian spirit. It was considered important that the girl would be broadminded and cultured, for example, that she would know some languages, would be involved in the arts, would be able to communicate with people, if it is an upper-class society. In ordinary society, girls from childhood were accustomed to female labor, compatible with the "running" of the house, with the organization of the family.
- Before the revolution?
- Yes, before the revolution. After it, everything changed greatly, and continuously changed all the time for the worse. But even 50 years ago people took marriage much more seriously than today. Parents tried to raise their children in such a way that they could create a strong family.
- And how do you feel about early college marriages, when the young husband can hardly make a full-time job yet?
- Leaving that aside, early marriages should still be considered the norm. If young people are spiritually mature for marriage, if they really love each other, if it is clear that they are capable of overcoming the difficulties that will inevitably come their way, then we can approve their choice and not prevent them from starting a serious adult life.
Why is it better to get married, as they say, "in time"? Because the heart is purer and the feelings are stronger in youth, because one has not lost the youthful readiness for the deed. In the letter of the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians there are these words: Do not quench the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19). There is no need to pour cold water on a hot heart. And hot hearts are most often found in youth. Quite often a person fails to keep that burning in adulthood.
So if you can see that the young people will have a good marriage, then you should not prevent it. It's better to help them.
- But how do you reconcile that with what you said above, that the man needs to get back on his feet first?
- We need to look at what this young couple is like, how do they start their new life? If the students have met and fallen in love, and the parents see that the children are behaving seriously and chastely, trying to study well because they are preparing responsibly for their future family life, then why not help them, if at all possible?
Let them begin their family life, but also work seriously and finish their studies. In this case, I see nothing wrong with helping them financially. Parents have always helped their children in these cases. But if the children are freeloaders who want to "live off" their parents' money for all sorts of nonsense, then it is natural to demand that they learn to live responsibly, independently, and only then enter into marriage.
- But today, when young people start families, they all want to live separately from their parents, to have their own house or apartment. And this is expensive and difficult. And not all parents can help them with that. How to be?
- Indeed, a young family first of all needs a house or an apartment. This really needs to be taken very seriously, and at a state level. If we want to return family values to our lives and strengthen the lives of our people, the family must be helped. The family must be able to get an apartment in some way. For example, we need an affordable loan, and not one that will double or triple the cost of the apartment. If a family has many children and is raising their children, then it's natural to expect that the government will give them an apartment for free. This is where the positive meaning of "family planning" really lies: the state and society should meet the family halfway, help it, and not put insurmountable obstacles in its way.
- What do you think the family situation in Russia is like today?
- At the moment it is catastrophic.
- In what ways does this manifest itself?
- First of all, the fact that today's young people are corrupt and do not keep their chastity. Because of this, they become incapable of family life. If they start "trying out" a sexual life before marriage, with this approach it is overwhelmingly impossible to create a family, and the "illicit cohabitation" quickly falls apart. And if a family does work out, more often than not it is unhappy. Such marriages are usually unstable and very often end in divorce.
The desire to prevent the birth of children, which is often called family planning, also completely distorts the whole image of the family and the spiritual foundation of family life. This leads to the fact that few children are born, and the natural consequence is the rapid extinction of the nation.
- Is there hope for improvement?
- There is always hope. If our people and our rulers come to their senses, this will be the beginning of a correction. After all, the situation now is the same as it was during the war. If you count the loss of our "working age" population per year from murder, poisoning, drugs, drinking, smoking and so on, you get terrible numbers, comparable to wartime losses. A little more inaction and our nation will no longer be able to recover. The "point of no return" will be passed. If we understand this today and immediately throw all our forces to rectify the situation, if the government, church, society, and mass media all together start encouraging the creation of a family, especially a large family, if economic and other incentives are created for this purpose, then it will still be possible to reverse the fatal tendencies for our people. Apparently, it is no coincidence that all of us and even our government are being persuaded that this is a hopeless cause, that nothing can be done, that Russia is doomed, that it is a "vanishing power".
This is not true! There are remarkable historical examples. After World War II France experienced the most severe demographic crisis, but under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle effective measures were developed and taken which allowed the French to cope with it. The question is: Why do "experts" tell us that there are no effective measures, that the French are dying out just like the Russians? They are not! And it is not difficult to study the valuable French experience. Why not try to replicate it on Russian soil?
- One of my acquaintances told me that a modern urban person does not understand why he needs to create a family. In the city it is not boring to live, unlike before in the village. If you want, you can go to the movies in the evening. If you want, you can do something interesting, start learning a foreign language, for example. He simply has no reason to start a family. What do you say to that?
- He is a poor, unhappy, "shallow" person. He doesn't know what awaits him if he follows such a life “program”. What awaits him is a terrible fiasco, that is, defeat, disappointment, loneliness, a sense of meaninglessness in life, and despair.
Life must necessarily be an achievement. Stephen Zweig made a remarkable observation: "Only those who do in excess are fruitful, those who are moderate never.” All that is real, genuine and good, all that is beautiful is achieved only through suffering, only through a deed. Put another way, it can be explained this way: only love animates. Life is based on love. If there is no love, then there is no life. Instead immediately comes a very rapid death, a death of this world. Love has a sacrificial nature like the Cross. Love is inseparable from suffering, from great labor and self-sacrifice.
In a family, one spouse gives his life to the other spouse and the children. It is precisely because he loves. He sacrifices himself, he takes on hardships, he puts his shoulder to the fire, he covers for the one he loves.
- I agree with you, but I suspect that some readers may say that in the twentieth century our people were already called upon to do heroic deeds, and that this did not end well, that there has been enough of these heroic deeds, and it was time to finally live a normal life. What would you say to this?
- Yes, there were many things that were called for in the twentieth century, but very often they were a parody of Christian morality and real life. Soviet appeals compromised very important truths. I agree with this. Nevertheless, we cannot set aside all spiritual culture and all historical experience because the Soviet regime, to put it crudely, corrupted everything, can we? And I am not basing myself now on the appeals of the Soviet authorities, but on the Gospel and the Christian view of life. I believe this deeply, and I can, with my 33 years of pastoral experience, give plenty of arguments and examples that this is the case. For example, recently we all heard how one battalion commander in a drill pushed aside a soldier who had dropped a grenade and threw himself on it, covering it with his body. This is a model of what a family should be. Then it will be strong and happy. Only that love, which contains a struggle to achieve is real, only it gives happiness.
- What is the difference between so-called love at first sight and true love? In general, can love at first sight be the foundation of a strong family?
- An analogy or comparison to a flower begs to be made. Falling in love is a flower that must bear fruit. But very often these flowers turn out to be empty blossoms and do not bear fruit. It also happens that the flower is small and the fruit is big. And then the opposite happens; a huge, seemingly beautiful flower, but no fruit, or a small, inedible seed.
Falling in love in itself can be a very good, happy period of life. But it needs to bring true love, to develop into it. After all, love is different. Falling in love is a feeling, but love is the arrangement of a person's heart. Feeling is fleeting, it arose today, it has gone somewhere tomorrow. And the heart, once it has known true love, will never change it, because there is nothing in this world more beautiful, more reliable and strong, more pure and unselfish, more light and transforming the human soul than true, divine love.
- Some young people or girls say: I have not yet met my love, so I will not start a family. They are waiting for a love that is extraordinary and magical, "like in books”. Is such love necessary to start a family? And what can be said about a marriage of convenience?
- Love at first sight, of course, occurs, but not so often, and is often deceptive, that is, unsuccessful. So it is not right to focus only on such feelings. Every infatuation must be checked to see how serious and stable it is. Is love really capable of being born out of it? It happens that there was no special love, but people get married and fall in love with each other so much, as maybe people who were originally in love with each other will not be able to love. It happens that way too, and not infrequently.
As for a marriage of convenience, usually these words are used when a practical interest, such as money, is at the top of the list, to marry rich. This kind of opportunistic and commercial marriage is, of course, abhorrent. Here eternal values are substituted for money. Therefore, not only can a marriage of convenience not be approved of, but I don't see the point in talking about it at all. But marriage can also be the fruit of prayer and long deliberation. Well, it may not turn out to be a romantic, youthful crush, as there is no such girl with whom everything would be immediately obvious. But if the young man decided he wanted to have a family, and found a good Christian woman who also had that desire, then a very good family could turn out. Such a marriage can no longer be called a marriage of convenience in the ordinary sense of the word. It is not a marriage of convenience, but of reflection.
- But that's the way many people think nowadays, that you "have to think it over" before you get married. I am referring to so-called "common-law marriages," where people take their time to enter into a legal union. Why does the Church oppose cohabitation before marriage as a way to test feelings? Isn't it reasonable in worldly terms?
- Not only is it not reasonable, it is destructive.
The carnal relationship between spouses must be the result of that real love I was talking about, the love of sacrifice. People who enter into a relationship must be aware of their commitment to sacrifice. They must understand, for example, that their spouse may suddenly become disabled, because all kinds of things happen in life. Are they ready for such a sacrifice? If they are not, there is no love.
Also, marital relationships involve having children. And the birth of a child is a great feat for the father and especially for the mother, who carries the child under her heart, gives birth and feeds him, does not sleep at night because of him, feeds him from the spoon, leads him by the hand, suffers together with him in times of illness. She really gives her whole life to him. But the father does not live apart from them, and all of this also passes through his heart. The sick child does not let him sleep either, and he, too, suffers for his child along with his mother. The father must arrange the life of the family, provide the mother and child with everything they need, protect them from all danger and share his life with them. It is a common and very difficult feat. It is love that makes you ready for it. When people feel this way, it is clear that for them married life is first and foremost a path to love.
- Many would say: there are so many divorces around that we should definitely check to see if we're right for each other before we make the decisive move.
- And what do people want to test when they marry each other? Their love? So they're not sure of their love? But love cannot be tested by carnal cohabitation.
- They say they want to test the other's feelings.
- You mean they're not sure of each other's love? Nor of their own. Love hasn't happened yet, the unity isn't there yet, but they already want to enter into a carnal relationship, which has come to the forefront.
There is a word in Slavic that has taken on an ugly sound in Russian, lust. It means that animal principles and instincts are dominant in human beings, they become stronger than heart and mind. But we are human beings, and the main thing for us is spiritual unity. And here it is lost. After all, it can't be in second place! You see, the spirit cannot be put in second place. When we "push" it there, it goes away altogether, and only lust remains. And lust is the opposite of love: love gives of itself, while lust seeks its own, seeks self-gratification, it is selfish by nature. If lust has taken first place in a man, and has begun to rule his actions, he will not be able to love, he will seek the satisfaction of his lust. You know, a person can't eat only cakes all the time. He will definitely want something salty, and he will want it very badly, unbearably badly. In the same way, a person who is obsessed with lust cannot live with one spouse, for sure he will fall in love with someone else. If he was with a blonde, he will need a brunette, but younger. Each time he will say that now he really fell in love. But in reality, such a person doesn't even know what love is.
In confessing, I have seen this, unfortunately, all too often in the examples of today's youth. People seemed to love each other at first, then they began, to put it in church terms, to sin. And after that, love is lost and marriage usually does not work out. It is not without reason that such unlawful cohabitation in the Church is called fornication. Fornication kills love. It is the greatest obstacle to marriage and love.
There is no need to try anything. If young people love each other, everything will work out. But if they haven't really loved each other yet, then the only possible love will be killed. In doing so, people lose their purity, the charm of their intactness. Like a cracked vase, or a torn painting, or crumpled flowers.
But the main thing is not even that, but that one's heart has undergone a terrible breakdown, and is no longer what it should be in the first place. That experience should not have come before marriage. I think that every normal person wants to have a pure girl as his wife. Likewise, a girl wants her fiancé to be a pure man, she wants to be the first and only wife. This is natural and understandable.
- When they talk about family planning, they most often mean planning to have children. What do you have to say about that?
- For whatever reason, it may be difficult for a couple who already have several children to decide to have another one. Parents, for example, are tired, or lack strength, or health. It happens quite often. And so it is not surprising if parents think that in the near future they should not give birth. This has always been the case, there is nothing special about it.
Marriage in general is also the school of abstinence. Unfortunately, it often happens that seeing parents with many children, people say with a sneer: look, what a lusty mother and father, look how many children they have. In fact, on the contrary, in a family with many children the couple lives in strict abstinence, and those who are lustful in their carnal life are those who do not want to have children or to abstain.
- What kind of abstinence do you mean?
- Carnal abstinence.
It is the norm for a Christian family, for example, while a woman is carrying a child and after giving birth.
Abstinence is a natural way to limit the birth of children. It has always been that way in the past. If contraceptives are used, it is different. Abstinence is also a struggle. A struggle that is characteristic of love. For example, doctors for some reason may forbid his wife to give birth in the next few years, and the husband has to abstain. And he abstains because he loves her and protects her. And if he says, "What, am I going to wait two years now?" and can't take on such a post, then he just doesn't have enough love. And what happens when the problem is solved by contraception? People do not want to give birth to a child, and in the first place again inevitably comes out carnal lust, which, believe me, will do its work: it rebuilds love, even as it was, in self-indulgence, and turns the human heart from sacrificial and self-sacrificing to selfish, capricious, demanding, and cold. Very often this leads to adultery and to divorce, even at an older age.
- So you are against contraception in principle?
- Yes, I'm against it in principle. I believe that contraception kills love.
- One of my acquaintances, the head of a wonderful family, a good father of eight children, suddenly said one day in a calm and mundane way: I now realize that there shouldn't be so many children. This was said with a kind of hopeless fatigue. In the current socio-economic circumstances, when, for example, you need to give money for school for the children, and you have to pay for four or five at once, not everyone can afford it.
- Of course, modern urban life, its rhythm, its economy, is not conducive to creating a large family. For example, higher education has become a fetish. In an effort to get it, girls get married late and don't have time to have many children. And some want children, but can't have them for health reasons.
I understand that the principles of family life that I have expressed are really hard to put into practice. But the Christian life in general is difficult. This has always been the main reason why real Christians, those who not only call themselves Christians but also live the Christian life, have been few and far between. From the Christian point of view, what we call in ordinary life a duty is the norm. Genuine Christianity requires a man to do his duties.
This includes family life. We must be aware of this, otherwise we will deceive ourselves and lose all the true reference points. Our life will be Christian in name only.
As a consolation, it must be said that true happiness, true boundless love, pure, beautiful life, is achieved in the Christian family.
How is the family designed by God? I have learned this from personal experience. There must always be a baby in it. He is an angel, because it is not accidentally said that babies have an angelic soul. I have four children and twenty grandchildren. And I can tell you that for almost 40 years now, when I come home, the sound of little feet stomping at the ring of my doorbell is what I hear. First it was the kids running and yelling, "Daddy, Daddy!" Now the grandchildren are running and shouting "grandpa, grandpa!" and rushing to kiss and hug me. All the cumulative stress of a hard day, all the absurdities and grieves, all of that passes and is forgotten.
The angelic infant soul heals the life of an adult and the life of the whole family. It is like a candle in the family. Then the child grows up, gradually becomes an adult, but the next one is born instead. And he lights up not only the lives of parents, but also older brothers and sisters. It is very good if the family always has such a little candle, that little light which warms the whole family. All the older children take him in their arms, take care of him, comfort him. Someone feeds him, someone coddles him, someone plays with him. And when parents are old and no longer have children, they have grandchildren. God's way of doing things is that there always has to be a little child in the family.
As for the difficulties, I'll answer simply. I am deeply convinced that this effort pleases God, and that is why God will help. I am the rector of the largest church in Moscow with many children. In our church at Easter, at Christmas, and always on holidays, probably more than 600 children receive communion. We have an attitude that there should be as many children as God gives.
We should not be afraid to have children, God really helps. We have families in our parish who have eight or ten children each. They all live well, at least as well as anyone else.
- I see. As they say, "He who doesn't risk doesn't drink champagne."
- No, that's not it at all! It's not a risk. If we believe in God and do God's will, won't God help us? It can't be. The experience of every true Christian is unequivocal, convincing, and irrefutable.
Of course, God's help does not come mechanically; there is no magic here and there cannot be. There are different laws in the spiritual world.
God is love (1 John 4:8), and man should be a child of God moved by love. He must work, endure, pray, and help others. The main characteristic of a loving heart is the willingness, the ability to do deeds, to love sacrificially. He who does not love does not know God (1 John 4:8).
- Some modern girls say that they don't want to get married at all. But inwardly they question whether such singleness is the right thing to do.
- These girls either purposely reassure themselves because they can't get married, or they have simply seen a very difficult experience of married life, and it scared them away. There are, of course, those who want to become a nun since childhood. And that's a very good thing, but there aren't many of them. Basically all people want to have a family, especially women. These days it's just hard to find a life partner.
- Because young people are spoiled by the propaganda of debauchery and fornication, drunkenness and drug addiction. That is why it is so hard to find a mate who is right for you.
- Is it hard only for girls or for men too?
- Men, too, but girls in particular. As you know, in Russia, there are 10 million more women than men. In addition, we now have a demographic crisis, and there is a very rapid degeneration of the nation. And it starts with men.
- In what way are men degenerating?
- In everything. Don't you notice that there are far fewer normal men, healthy, strong, courageous, decisive, bold? More and more often we meet men who are relaxed and weak, afraid of everything.
- And what do you think about the fact that many young people say that it is more important for them to make a career first and then to start a family?
- That is marriage of convenience, when they confuse the eternal with the temporal and the spiritual with the carnal. After all, what does it mean to have a career? It means that money, power, position in society are more important to man than love, happiness, the gift of unity given from God, the gift of wholeness.
God said, "It is not good for man to be alone" (Gen. 2:18), and He created him a wife. Marriage has a heavenly origin because it was created in paradise, even before the fall into sin. It is in marriage that man's life reaches fullness and harmony, in marriage love is actualized. But if all these eternal values are measured by money or social prestige, then what are we talking about? If, for him, the temporal and the eternal are things of the same order, then, of course, we will not find a common language with him. It will be very difficult for him to explain anything at all.
- Modern girls and women who want to study on an equal footing with men, now try to work creatively. Family obligations often though get in the way and contradict this. Is it still possible to combine these desires with family life? How can a woman make the right choice?
- Women and girls (unfortunately, because of their lack of independence they often succumb to the false hypnosis of modern civilization) need to understand that in fact there is no more creative work than being a mother. You do not study electrons and protons, you do not design computers, but instead you nurture a living human soul. What could be more beautiful and interesting than that? Where else will you find such creative work?
And most importantly, where else will you find such love, which is comparable to the love of your child for you? And where else would you need your love more? No one forbids women to study and work, it is very good to be an educated, scholarly woman, but still no science can compare with the science of being a mother. And tell me, what name in this earthly world can compare or be more prestigious, than the God-given, mysterious, and beautiful name of Mother?
- And how can modern girls thinking about starting a family, "plan" it, if, as you say, there is such a big problem with modern men. Where and with whom do they meet?
- This is a great difficulty, but naturally, the Lord will send church girls a groom, although there are fewer men than girls in the church. But still we have a lot of marriages. Here, our university is such a dating center. There are many other common church activities: various Orthodox camps, missionary trips, and more.
- And what do you think about parental blessing on marriage - how much of a requirement is it today?
- Who loves their child more than the parents? Parents have life experience and they will not wish their child harm. And, of course, they will try to help them find a good couple. So even from the point of view of common sense, the parents' advice is very valuable.
But there is another, very important, point here. The church at the wedding says that the prayers of the parents strengthen the foundations of the homes. Indeed, the parents have a special spiritual capacity in this case. They gave birth to this child, they raised him, through them the Lord gave him life. They have put their whole life and love into it. So their blessing, of course, is of tremendous spiritual significance.
- And how relevant is all this in modern life?
If we lived in an Orthodox, Christian world, if in this world Christian laws really guided people's lives, such an order would be natural and obligatory.
But when a vase is broken, the shards are scattered, and they try to pass off any broken fragment that is left as a whole vessel, it does not work. If the parents are drunkards or crooks, then their blessing is made less necessary because it may be based on sinful, wrong motives. But if the parents are kind, loving, and good people, then their blessing carries a special power.