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Yesterday the Church celebrated the Conception by St. Anna of the Most Holy Theotokos. The icon of this feast is a favorite of mine:

Conception by St. Anna of the Most Holy Theotokos

This is the Church’s answer to Playboy and pornography. Note the bed. Note the kiss. This is an icon of conception. As miraculous as a pregnancy is, it is a creative process that requires our participation.

St. John Chrysostom states in his Homily 19 on 1 Corinthians 7:

Sex is not evil; it is a gift from God. But it can become a hindrance to someone who desires to devote all his strength to a life of prayer.

Like all gifts, we are supposed to use it to bring glory to God and it can be used abusively and selfishly to turn away from God. Look again at the icon of the Conception by St. Anna of the Most Holy Theotokos. Joachim and Anna stand face to face — just as God made Adam and Eve to be — willing to serve the other and to welcome the blessings that result from their union. Indeed, the ultimate result of this creative act is the Christ. Through Joachim and Anna, Christ takes on His humanity from the Theotokos:

Joachim leap for joy! Rejoice with him, O Anna! For on this day you bear fruit that is the cause of joy and salvation for the entire world — Lauds for the Conception by St. Anna the Most Holy Theotokos

Compare this with the sensual and sexual images that bombard our senses on a daily basis through all kinds of media. They are used to sell. They are used to objectify men and women. They are used to enslave us to our own selfish passions. As ironic as it may seem, marriage is freedom and sleeping around with who knows how many partners is slavery. Marriage allows us to freely be ourselves with no pretense. It gives us the freedom to love unconditionally and to trust. It gives us the freedom to shoulder problems and consequences knowing that there is someone there who will always support you and help you. Outside of marriage, sleeping around carries all the risks, but none of the rewards. In end, you are alone — you’ve turned your back on God and used your partner for your own selfish needs just as they have used you.

For those of us who are called to the married life, marriage is a foretaste of the Kingdom — where we participate in God’s unconditional love. Let us seek to stand face to face, to serve one another and find the joy of Joachim and Anna — Christ born in cave for our salvation. Amen.