Gender as Icon and Vocation (Part II)


My beloved spiritual children in Our Risen Lord and Our Only True God Jesus Christ,

by Dr. Philip Mamalakis, Assistant Professor of Pastoral Care at Holy Cross School of Theology in Brookline, Mass.

We want to raise children to give themselves completely to Christ, and they will be clear about their gender. More accurately, they will become a person--a man or a woman--as they are called to grow in Christ.

How we parent? ...Where do we come from? Well, on one hand, we all know where we come from, right? We come from God, but it's helpful to take a moment and describe how this happens. That is to say, God has ordained that each one of us comes from a man and a woman.

How do we begin our lives? Well, we each begin our lives as part of our mother. Each one of us began life completely connected to our mothers, in fact, from our perspective in our womb, we were indistinguishable from our mothers. We are formed inside of her. We are created to be nurtured and cared for, selflessly, by a mother. As we grow, what happens to us? We separate from our mothers. Our becoming a person is a process of separating from our mothers.

 We were created to be loved selflessly by a father, someone different and separate from our mother, but someone who, all the same, loves us selflessly and intimately, and loves our mother selflessly and intimately. This selfless love from our father calls us out from our mother, but not from [out of being] within this communion of love. We are formed by being called out and cared for by loving fathers.

So this process of becoming persons is a process of separating from our mothers through love so we can engage in a real communion of loving persons. Only when we separate from our mothers are we able then in turn to love our mother and our father in this communion of love. It is within this communion of love that we are formed, within this loving union of a man and a woman, and we are called to grow by being selflessly loved by both of them, who in turn love each other selflessly.

As persons we are wired to receive love. We instinctively long to be known, to be cherished, to be cared for, and to be loved fully. We learn who we are--someone to be loved--and we learn what love is--selfless giving and knowing--as we relate to the selfless love of a father who is the icon of father and the selfless love of a mother who is the icon of mother. We acquire masculine and feminine attributes from our mother and our father in the context of this communion of selfless, self-giving love, whether we are a boy or a girl. We learn what it means to be male and female and how to relate to men and women through these relationships. A relationship to the and the feminine within each of us is formed by our relationship to the icons of father and mother we see in our mother and father.

Healthy identities, then, are formed as we respond uniquely as children to the selfless communion of love that exists between our parents, by a tender father who calls us out of a tender mother who nurtures us. We learn how to relate to women and men and what it means to be a man or a woman by how we experience this love. We develop our masculine and feminine attributes as we engage in these intimate relationships. This separation is created and it forms a child, yet no child is alike, even within a family, because each child has a unique response to this process, but if it is a communion of selfless love, they develop a real and true sense of who they are--icons of Christ--and they go out in the world and carry this identity and develop it in the world.

What's striking is that the secular research is clear: fathers and mothers actually parent differently, and that children acquire different abilities and attributes from each parent. Children do best when they have a close, caring relationship with both parents. That is to say, it's in the best interest of children to be raised by loving, engaged mother and father in a loving union. What this means is that for children to form fully as men and women require an intimate and nurturing mother and an intimate and nurturing father. For good or bad, our identities are shaped by mother and father, and even when both love selflessly, they do so differently. Notice: healthy persons are formed in a communion with a priestly king-prophet and a priestly-king in a sacrificial relationship with each other, in Christ.

A healthy, Christ-like father nurtures a healthy relationship in the child with the masculine aspects of the child, and a Christ-like relationship with a Christ-like mother nurtures a healthy relationship with the feminine aspects of the child, whether boy or girl. Essentially what this means as parents is that we don't need to parent our children differently or form our kids into men or women. Intimate and nurturing selfless father and mother in an intimate marriage will form healthy girls and boys clear about their identities as strong, courageous, gentle, and sensitive men and women, equipped to enter into the intimacy of marriage...

In the interest of time, let me just say that it is the whole of the spiritual life that Christ offers to us this path of new life. The treatment for all that ails us--because it's impossible to talk about every aspect of the Sacramental Life, the Spiritual Life, Spiritual Warfare including the centrality of the spirit of prayer, the Spiritual Father (Father Confessor), worship, fasting, vigils--but it's clear, through allowing ourselves to be known, which is confession, through entering into relationship, which is communion, and through taking up our cross, which is living in this tension between what I struggle with and who I am called to become, that we encounter Christ, encounter real relationships, and understand what it means to be male or female. In Christ, we then become free to live in the image of God.


Excerpt from speech given on November 2, 2012 at Orthodox Institute 2012: Culture, Morality, Spirituality:


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom


With sincere agape in Our Risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,

The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George