Christ is born! Glorify him!
There was a private email conversation I had with a friend, when I really thought that what I had written should be adapted for public use.
What of the situation of people who may agree with me about Orthodoxy and Contraception and believe that children are the crown and glory of marital relations, but while married they are childless? Let me say a few things.
First, I feel your pain, and I am praying for you, and I have held children born to childless couples. I would love to hear of a new life.
Second, if you were married before you joined the Orthodox Church, and have not requested to have your marriage crowned, ask for your marriage to be crowned. If you have received communion together after being received into the Orthodox Church, you are married in the Church, so no question of illegitimate relations. However, crowning is a blessing on marriage that you should have.
Third, Saint Anna loves you! In the story of Saints Joachim and Anna, they reached old age without having children, and Saint Joachim was not only childless but he was jeered at because, people thought, he and his wife were childless as punishment for their sins. In fact they were not being punished for their sins; they were just childless. While repenting of sin is almost always good for all of us*, in their old age God granted Saints Joachim one single child: a daughter, who bore one single grandson for them to rejoice in: the Son of God Jesus Christ.
And my point is not just that you are in good company, although you are in excellent company here. My point is that Saint Anna is a great intercessor and friend to childless couples. And I would encourage you, if you do not already have a devotion to Saints Joachim and Anna, to discern whether you might seek a devotion to her. You can read her story here, and buy a lovely icon of her kissing her daughter, the future Mother of God. Church hymns you might pray to Saint Anna include:
Troparion — Tone 4
Today the bonds of barrenness are broken,
God has heard Joachim and Anna.
He has clearly promised them that beyond hope, they would bear a divine child,
by whom the uncircumscribable One was born as a mortal Man,
Who commanded the angel to cry to her:
“Hail, O full of grace,
the Lord is with you!”
Kontakion — Tone 4
(Podoben: “You have appeared today…”)
Today the world keeps festival
at Anna’s conceiving, wrought by God;
for she bore her who inexpressibly conceived the Word of God.
Troparion — Tone 4
Divinely-wise Anna, you carried in your womb the pure Mother of God, who gave life to our Life.
Therefore, you are now carried joyfully to the inheritance of heaven,
to the abode of those who rejoice in glory,
where you seek forgiveness of sins for those who faithfully honor you, ever blessed one.
Kontakion — Tone 2
We celebrate the memory of the progenitors of Christ,
and with faith we ask their help,
that deliverance from every affliction be granted to those who cry out:
“Be with us, O God, who in Your good pleasure glorified them.”
There is a saying in some Orthodox forums, “As always, ask your priest,” and if you want to pray one or more of these hymns in your morning or evening prayers, or something else like that, ask a blessing of your priest or spiritual father, whose prayers and blessings are ever relevant.
I was at a parish where one wonderworking icon of Saint Anna was passed from one formerly childless couple to another, and I gave a well-received birthday gift, a plastic horse with wheels, to the son of one couple that had had the icon. Furthermore, this is not specific to St. Anna, but my best friend’s wife had medical treatment that in an attempt to save her life was expected to destroy her ability to bear a child. My friend saw this as a sadness, but said, “We can always adopt.” When I prayed I only asked for her life to be spared. Since then I have held a toddler and a baby they have had; God can give children even when one would medically expect treatments to cost the ability to bear a child.
Fourth, there is a miraculous vine on Mount Athos whose raisins are given, along with ascetical instructions for their use. If you’re interested, you can read more about it here. The sample letter below is not any specific required or special form; it’s just something I wrote; but I offer it for people who wouldn’t know what to say or what the address is. One possible letter is as follows:
[Your postal address, including your country]
Monks keeping St. Symeon’s Vine
Dear Monks Keeping St. Symeon’s Vine;
My wife and I have been married for [such-and-such amount of time] but have not yet been blessed with children.
We would like to have raisins from St. Symeon’s vine and ascetical instructions for their proper use.
By way of thanks, please accept the enclosed freewill offering [Note that this is not required; it’s just a nice gesture. As far as amount, maybe $20?]
[Signatures of wife and husband.]
Fifth, and on a more minor secular note, while I classify “Natural Family Planning” as contraceptive timing for people not honest about committing contraception, the principles of “Natural Family Planning” can be used to time intercourse so as to make it less likely that a child will be conceived, but they can also be useful to time intercourse to make it more likely for a child to be conceived. On that note, if you’ve prayed and you and your priest or spiritual father think this is something you want to pursue, check with a doctor. In a word, the advice is “Try to make a baby at the times of month that it would be most delightful for her, and other times as well.”
Sixth, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, if you want, so that I may join my prayers to yours for a little one.
This is submitted in respect and love, and with the hope that you may welcome a little one!
* One question which some people have is, “Am I being punished for my sins?” and there is a natural human tendency to think that people deserve what good and bad things happen to them. I don’t know whether God is chastening you to bring you closer to him, and that question is above my pay grade; it’s something a clairvoyant elder might answer. Nonetheless, I would like to offer a word of advice that is in season whether or not God is trying to bring you to a better condition. (And in any case God does not want to punish sin; he wants to heal it, sometimes through hard measures when we do not mend after gentler correction.) And there is one point I would make clear: God does not punish for the sake of punishment. He disciplines, chastises, and speaks through painful circumstances when we do not obey the gentler voice of our conscience. C.S. Lewis said, “God whispers in our pleasures and shouts in our pains,” and sometimes he shouts where we need the message but don’t hear a whisper. God may use childlessness to help you grow spiritually, to seek him and experience even greater blessings. Or he may not; Saints Joachim and Anna were childless so that God could do something that changed everything. I don’t know, if you are having trouble having children, whether God is speaking with a hammer to give you good, or whether you are just childless for the glory of God. But in any case God is not punishing you in the sense of gleefully saying, “You tripped up, sinner, and now I get to make you suffer.” God provides things so that you may grow close to him, and this is true whether this is God chastising you to help you reach higher ground, or God has some other reason,
Repentance is Heaven’s best-kept secret, and it is joyful and hopeful, an opportunity to be freed from spiritual dead weight and enjoy what it’s like to let go of one more thing that is a miniature Hell. All of us need repentance, and if we take one step closer to God in repentance, God steps a million miles closer to us.
So whether or not you are being disciplined for your sins, certain advice is always in season. Repent, for the Kingdom of God draws nigh, and repentance is a privilege. Make repentance part of your entreaties to God to bless you with little ones, a bit like you make prayers that God would bless you with little ones. Offer God ascesis. Offer God efforts to seek his heart. And you may find yourself blindsided by reward, and not just pregnancy. And this is not just a principle for childless couples; it is a principle for life and for all of us sinners, of whom I am chief.
I would like to close this section with a poem someone sent me when I was having a really rough time. It applies, I believe, for any situation where you have a holy desire to welcome a child, and God hasn’t answered “Yes” to yet:
Behind those golden clouds up there
the Great One sews a priceless embroidery
and since down below we walk
we see, my child, the reverse view.
And consequently it is natural for the mind to see mistakes
there where one must give thanks and glorify.
Wait as a Christian for that day to come
where your soul a-wing will rip through the air
and you shall see the embroidery of God
from the good side
and then… everything will seem to you to be a system and order.
And I might gently suggest that God is weaving our lives for eternal glory if we will take it, and much as in the story of St. Joseph in the Bible is a tale of one difficulty after another where Joseph is thrown into a pit, sold into slavery, thrown in jail on a false accusation… and ends with all of this putting him into place to be second only to Pharoah in Egypt, reconciled with his brothers, and saving the known world.
I apologize if this is unwelcome, but in terms of our life stories that we will have all at once in eternity, there is a deep spiritual beauty in the story of a couple who wants a child pounding on Heaven’s gates in prayer, seeking God’s face, seeking purity and holiness, and maybe or maybe not finally have a child, and that beauty might have never developed if the couple had a pregnancy as soon as they really wanted one.