The Holy Mysteries (Sacraments): The Mystery (Sacrament) of Marriage

Prophet Nahum

Prophet Nahum

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

THE HOLY MYSTERIES (SACRAMENTS) ACCORDING TO THE HOLY ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN CHURCH: THE MYSTERY (SACRAMENT) OF MARRIAGE
(Source: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Father Michael Pomazansky)

The Purpose of the Christian Family

The family, as is well known, comprises the fundamental cell of the organism of society, being the nucleus and foundation of society. Thus also in the Militant Church of Christ it is a basic unit of the Church body. Therefore the Christian family in itself is called in the writings of the Holy Apostles a "church": "Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my helpers in Christ Jesus...and the church that is in their house" (Romans 16:3, 5); "Salute Nymphas and the church which is in his house" (Col. 4:15). From this it is understandable what great attention should be given to the family from the points of view of the Church, so that the family might fulfill its purpose of being a small "church."

There is yet another way of personal life which is blessed in Christianity: virginity or celibacy. Celibacy for the sake of Christ has created another kind of Christian social unit: monasticism. The Church places it above married life, and in actuality, in the history of the Church it has been a leading, guiding element, a support of the Church, bringing into realization to the greatest degree the moral law of the Gospel, and preserving the dogmas, the Divine services, and other foundations of the Church.

However, not all can take upon themselves the vow of virginity in the name of Christ and the Church. Therefore, while blessing virginity as a chosen and a perfect form of life, the Church blesses also married life for the sake of those exalted, and at the same time difficult, aims which are placed before the Christian family, and this blessing is acknowledged as a Mystery (Sacrament).

The Significance of the Mystery (Sacrament)

In the Mystery (Sacrament) of Marriage the Church invokes the help of God on those being married, that they might understand, fulfill and attain the aims set before them, namely: to be a "house church," to establish within the family truly Christian relationships, to raise children in faith and life according to the Gospel, to be an example of piety for those around one, to bear with patience and humility the unavoidable sorrows and, often, sufferings which visit the family life.

The Central Moment of the Mystery

The beginning moment in the existence of the Christian family is the sacred action of marriage. The chief part in the rite of the Mystery (Sacrament) of Marriage is the placing of the crown upon those being married with the words: "The servant of God (name) is married to the handmaid of God (name) in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," and then the common blessing of both with the thrice repeated short prayer, "O Lord our God, crown them with glory and honor."

Marriage as a Divine Institution

That marriage has the blessing of God upon it is said many times in the Holy Scripture. Thus, in Genesis 1:27-28 we read: "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth." Likewise, in Genesis 2:18-24, the writer of Genesis, having spoken of the creation of the woman from the rib of Adam and of how she was led to the man, adds, "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh."

The Savior Himself, commanding that faithfulness be preserved in marriage and forbidding divorce, mentions these words of the book of Genesis and instructs: "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (St. Matthew 19:4-6). These words of the Lord clearly testify to the moral dignity of marriage. The Lord Jesus Christ sanctified marriage by His presence at the marriage in Cana of Galilee, and here He performed his first miracle.

The Holy Apostle Paul compares the mystical character of the Church with marriage in these words: "Husbands, love your wives even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it;" and further: "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the Church" (Ephesians 5:25, 31-32). The Holy Apostle speaks more in detail about marriage and virginity in I Corinthians, the seventh chapter. Placing virginity above marriage, he does not condemn marriage, commanding that it be preserved and advising that one not be divorced even from an unbeliever, in hope of converting the other one to the faith. Having indicated the highest impulses for remaining in virginity, in conclusion he says the following: "Such (those who marry) shall have trouble in the flesh; but I spare you" (I Corinthians 7:28).

Having in mind the Christian purpose of marriage, the Church forbids entering into marriage with heretics (canons of the Fourth and Sixth Councils), and likewise with those of other religions. [Please note: See Canon 14 of the Council of Chalcedon, and Canon 72 of Quinisext). The Orthodox Church in modern times has not been quite so strict.]

The Indissolubility of Marriage

The Church only in exceptional circumstance agrees to the dissolving of a marriage, chiefly when it has been defiled by adultery, or when it has been destroyed by conditions of life (for example, long absence of one spouse without word). The entrance into a second marriage after the death of a husband or wife, or in general the loss of one spouse by the other, is allowed by the Church, although in the prayers for those being married the second time, forgiveness is asked for the sin of a second marriage. A third marriage is tolerated only as a lesser evil to avoid a greater evil--immoral life (as Saint Basil the Great explained).

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HOMILY ON MARRIAGE
by Saint John Chrysostom

"A certain wise man, when enumerating which blessings are the most important included "a wife and husband who live in harmony" (Sir. 25:1). In another place he emphasized this: "A friend or a companion never meets one amiss, but a wife with her husband is better than both." (Sir. 40:23). From the beginning God in His Providence has planned this union of man and woman, and has spoken of the two as one: male and female He created them (Gen. 1:27), and there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Gal. 3:28). There is no relationship between human beings so close as that of husband and wife, if they are united as they ought to be. When blessed David was mourning for his friend Jonathan, who was of one soul with him, what comparison did he use to describe the loftiness of their love? Your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women (II Sam. 1:26). The power of this love is truly stronger than any passion; other desires may be strong, but this one alone never fades. This love (eros) is deeply planted within our inmost being. Unnoticed by us, it attracts the bodies of men and women to each other, because in the beginning woman came forth from man, and from man and woman other men and women proceed. Can you see now how close this union is, and how God providentially created it from a single nature? He permitted Adam to marry Eve, who was more than sister or daughter; she was his own flesh! God caused the entire human race to proceed from this one point of origin. He did not, one the one hand, fashion woman independently from man, otherwise man would think of her as essentially different from himself. Nor did He enable woman to bear children without man; if this were the case she would be self-sufficient. Instead, just as the branches of a tree proceed from a single trunk, He made the one man Adam to be the origin of all mankind, both male and female, and made it impossible for men and women to be self-sufficient. Later, He forbade men to marry their sisters or daughters, so that our love would not be limited to members of our families, and withdrawn from the rest of the human race. All of this is implied in Christ's words: He who made them from the beginning made them male and female (St. Matthew 19:4).

The love of husband and wife is the force that welds society together. Men will take up arms and even sacrifice their lives for the sake of this love. Saint Paul would not speak so earnestly about this subject without serious reason; why else would he say, "Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord? Because when harmony prevails, the children are raised well, the household is kept in order, and neighbors, friends and relatives praise the result. Great benefits, both for families and states, are thus produced. When it is otherwise however, everything is thrown into confusion and turned upside down. When the generals of an army are at peace with each other, everything proceeds in an orderly fashion, and when they are not, everything is in disarray. It is the same here. For the sake of harmony, then, he said, "Wives, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord..."

If we seek the things that are perfect, the secondary things will follow. The Lord says, "See ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you" (St. Matthew 6:33). What sort of person do you think the children of such parents will be? What kind of person are all the others who associate with them? Will they not eventually be the recipients of countless blessings as well? For generally the children acquire the character of their parents, are formed in the mold of their parents' temperament, love the same things their parents love, talk in the same fashion, and work for the same ends. If we order our lives in this way and diligently study the Scriptures, we will find lessons to guide us in everything we need!"

(Source: A selection from On Marriage and Family by St. John Chrysostom, St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.)

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George