Excerpts from "Family Life" by Elder Paisios the Athonite, Part I


Pt. 1, Ch. 1. For a Harmonious Family


A good start to family life

— Geronta, a certain young man who has chosen the married life asked me how one properly begins this.

— From the beginning, he should seek to find a good girl who will comfort him, as people are relaxed and find comfort differently with different people. He should not seek to find someone who is rich or beautiful, but above all simple and humble. In other words, he should give more attention to interior rather than exterior beauty. When a girl is a positive person and capable of dealing with men, without having more womanly character than is necessary, this greatly helps the man to find immediate understanding and not a lot of headaches. If she also has fear of God and humility then they are able to join hands and pass the evil current of the world.

If the young man is seriously considering a certain girl for a spouse, I think it is better that he first makes his intentions known to her parents through one of his relatives and afterwards he can discuss it himself with the young lady and her parents. Later, if they give their approval and the two are engaged—and it is better that the engagement not carry on too long—he should strive, throughout the passing time until marriage, to view her as his sister and respect her. If both of them struggle with philotimo and keep their virginity, then in the Mystery of marriage, when the priest crowns them, they will richly take of the Grace of God. For, as St. John Chrysostom says, the crowns are symbols of victory against pleasure. 


Then, as much as they are able, they must strive to cultivate the virtue of love and always remain two united, with the Third, our Sweetest Christ. Naturally, in the beginning, until they get themselves together and become well acquainted with one another, they will have certain difficulties. This happens with every new beginning. Why, just the day before yesterday I saw a baby bird. It had just gone out to find food and could only fly about an inch above the ground. The poor thing didn’t know how to catch insects and wasted an hour trying to catch just one, little bug to eat. As I watched it, I was considering how every beginning is difficult. When a student finally receives his diploma and begins working, in the beginning it is difficult. A novice in a monastery also has difficulties in the beginning. A young man, when he marries, again in the beginning is met with difficulties.

— Geronta, does it matter if the woman is older than the man?

— There is not a Church canon which says that if a girl is two, three or even five years older than the young man they are not able to be married.

The harmony of God is hidden within a diversity of personalities

One day a man came to my kalyve and told me that he was very worried because he was not of the same mind with his wife. I saw, however, that there was nothing serious between them. He just had a few rough edges, his wife had a few others, and they couldn’t deal with one another. They needed a little sanding. Take two planks of wood before sanding them. One has a knot here, the other has a knot there; if you try to join the planks there is an empty space left between them. If, however, you sand one a little here and the other a little there, using the same tool, they join perfectly.

Some men tell me: “I don’t see eye to eye with my wife; we have opposite personalities. She has one temperament, I have another! How can God do such strange things? Couldn’t He have arranged a few things so that couples matched, and they were able to live more spiritually?” I tell them, “Don’t you understand that the harmony of God is hidden within a diversity of personalities? Different temperaments actually create harmony. Alas, if you had the same personalities! Think what would have happened if, for example, you both got angry easily: you would destroy your house. Or, consider if both of you had mild temperaments: you would sleep standing up! If you were both stingy you would get along, yes, but you would both end up in hell. Likewise, if both of you were open-handed, would you even be able to keep your house? No. You would disperse everything, and your children would be turned out to the streets. If a spoiled brat marries a spoiled brat, between themselves they get along fine, right? But, one day someone is going kill them! For this reason God arranges it so that a good person marries a spoiled brat, that the latter may be helped. It may be that he or she has a good disposition, but was never instructed correctly when young.”

Little differences in the characters or personalities of spouses actually help couples to create a harmonious family, for the one completes the other. In a car it is necessary to use the gas pedal to go forward, but also the brake pedal to stop. If the car only had brakes it wouldn’t go anywhere; and if it only had gears, it wouldn’t be able to stop. Do you know what I said to one couple? “Because you are similar, you don’t match!” They are both sensitive. If something happens at home, both of them lose it and start-up: The one, “Oh, what we suffer!” The other, “Oh, what we suffer!” In other words, the one causes the other to lose hope even more! Neither is able to comfort the other a little by saying, “Hold on, our situation is not that serious”. I’ve seen this in many couples.


When spouses have different personalities it helps in the raising of children even more. One spouse wants to put on the brakes a little, but the other says, “Give the children a little freedom”. If they both are overbearing they will lose their children. If, however, they leave them on their own, again their children will be lost. Therefore, when the parents have different personalities, the children enjoy a certain stability.


What I’m trying to say is that everything is needful. Naturally, one’s personality quirks shouldn’t go beyond their limits. Each spouse should help the other in his own way. If you eat a lot of sweets, you’ll want also to eat something a little salty. Or if you eat, let’s say, lots of grapes, you’ll want a little cheese to cut the sweetness. Vegetables, if they are very bitter, are not eaten. But a little bitterness helps, as does a little sourness. Some people, however, are like this: If someone is sour, he says: “Let everyone become sour like me.” And whoever is bitter says, “Let everyone become bitter.” Likewise, those who are salty say, “Everyone should become salty.” Bridges aren’t built like that!



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