The Mysterion [Mystery (Sacrament)] of Marriage

Apostle James the Brother of Saint John the Theologian

Apostle James the Brother of Saint John the Theologian

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


The Purpose of the Christian Family

[Source: Orthodox Dogmatic Theology by Protopresbyter Michael Pamazansky]

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 (on earth) 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 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 point 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 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 the; 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, and to bear with patience and humility the unavoidable sorrows and, often, sufferings which visit family life.

The Central Moment of the Mystery (Sacrament)

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) is the placing of the crowns 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 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 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 Apostle Paul 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 unbeleiver, 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. [See Canon 14 of the Council of Chalcedon, and Canon 72 of Quinisext (Seven Ecumenical Councils). The Orthodox Church in modern times has not been quite so strict. The present rule of the Russian Church Outside of Russia, for example, allows marriage with the non-Orthodox who are closest in faith to Orthodoxy: Roman Catholics, Armenians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians. Other Orthodox Churches, i.e. Greek Orthodox Church, Serbian Orthodox Church, Romanian Orthodox Church, etc. today have similar rules.]

The Indissolubility of Marriage

The Church only in exceptional circumstances 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 explains).

Father John Anthony McGuckin, a Stavrofor Priest of the Romanian Orthodox Church writes, "...marriage is the broad highway where most Christians are called by God. When they are so called, it is to perform once more the priestly task of refining raw matter into the purified gold of spiritual glory. For marriage in the eyes and ways of this world is a simple contractual matter, to mark off sexual and legal relations; something that is entirely in the hands and at the disposal of the men and women who fashion this bond among themselves (which is why its survival rates are so desperate in this day and age of spiritual bankruptcy). However, in the processes of the Church it is not like this. Marriage itself is called to become something new: a great Mystery (Sacrament), as it rises into the art of being the way in which two Christians form one heart and mind with Christ as their common Lord, and in harmony with Christ as the master of the new household, a new ecclesia (church in miniature) is born; a consecrated family of Christians whose purpose is to bring into concrete, immediate, and intimate existence a place on the face of this earth where the love of Christ is incarnated in all its fullness and range, embodied in all the passionate joy that 'oneness of flesh' signifies...within the Mystery (Sacrament) of marriage, therefore, the priestly vocation of the Christian is fulfilled, that same priestly task that marks off all discipleship's endeavor: the consecration of human matter into spiritual significance, through the hallowing force of love...the spiritual bond of this union begins a trajectory which begins in the church but will reach into the fullness of the Kingdom of God. For this reason Orthodoxy has no belief corresponding to that sometimes heard in Western wedding rituals: 'Until death do you part'. Marriage is a mystery of the Kingdom, and its goal is admittance into the kingdom of the two consecrated souls who have become one flesh in Christ..." (Father John is the Nielsen Professor of Early Christian and Byzantine Church History at Union Theological Seminary, and Professor of Byzantine Christianity at New York's Columbia University. Professor McGuckin has published more than twenty books on religious and historical themes and is considered one of the most articulate spokespersons of the early Christian and Eastern Orthodox tradition.] (Source: The Orthodox Church. An Introduction to its History, Doctrine, and Spiritual Culture)





"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