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Mar­riage was not invent­ed or insti­tut­ed by Christ. The Lord, how­ev­er, gave a very spe­cif­ic mean­ing and sig­nif­i­cance to human mar­riage. Fol­low­ing the Old Tes­ta­ment Law, but going beyond its for­mal pre­cepts in his mes­sian­ic per­fec­tion, Jesus taught the unique­ness of human mar­riage as the most per­fect nat­ur­al expres­sion of God’s love for men, and of his own love for the Church. 

Accord­ing to Christ, in order for the love of a man and woman to be that which God has: per­fect­ly cre­at­ed it to be, it must be unique, inde­struc­tible, unend­ing and divine. The Lord him­self has not only giv­en this teach­ing, but he also gives the pow­er to ful­fill it in the sacra­ment of Chris­t­ian mar­riage in the Church. 

In the sacra­ment of mar­riage, a man and a woman are giv­en the pos­si­bil­i­ty to become one spir­it and one flesh in a way which no human love can pro­vide by itself. In Chris­t­ian mar­riage the Holy Spir­it is giv­en so that what is begun on earth does not “part in death” but is ful­filled and con­tin­ues most per­fect­ly in the King­dom of God. 

For cen­turies there was no par­tic­u­lar rit­u­al for mar­riage in the Church. The two Chris­tians expressed their mutu­al love in the Church and received the bless­ing of God upon their union which was sealed in the holy eucharist of Christ. Through the Church’s for­mal recog­ni­tion of the couple’s uni­ty, and its incor­po­ra­tion into the Body of Christ, the mar­riage became Chris­t­ian; that is, it became the cre­at­ed image of the divine love of God which is eter­nal, unique, indi­vis­i­ble and unending. 

When a spe­cial rit­u­al was devel­oped in the Church for the sacra­ment of mar­riage, it was pat­terned after the sacra­ment of baptismÃ?chrismation, The cou­ple is addressed in a way sim­i­lar to that of the indi­vid­ual in bap­tism. They con­fess their faith and their love of God. They are led into the Church in pro­ces­sion. They are prayed over and blessed. They lis­ten to God’s Word. They are crowned with the crowns of God’s glo­ry to be his chil­dren and wit­ness­es (mar­tyrs) in this world, and heirs of the ever­last­ing life of his King­dom. They ful­fill their mar­riage, as all sacra­ments are ful­filled, by their recep­tion togeth­er of holy com­mu­nion in the Church. 

There is no “legal­ism” in the Ortho­dox sacra­ment of mar­riage. It is not a juridi­cal con­tract. It con­tains no vows or oaths. It is, in essence, the “bap­tiz­ing and con­firm­ing” of human love in God by Christ in the Holy Spir­it. It is the deifi­ca­tion of human love in the divine per­fec­tion and uni­ty of the eter­nal King­dom of God as revealed and giv­en to man in the Church. 

The Chris­t­ian sacra­ment of mar­riage is obvi­ous­ly avail­able only to those who belong to the Church; that is, only for bap­tized com­mu­ni­cants. This remains the strict teach­ing and prac­tice of the Ortho­dox Church today. Because of the tragedy of Chris­t­ian dis­uni­ty, how­ev­er, an Ortho­dox may be mar­ried in the Church with a bap­tized non-Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian on the con­di­tion that both mem­bers of the mar­riage sin­cere­ly work and pray for their full uni­ty in Christ, with­out any coer­cion or force­ful dom­i­na­tion by either one over the oth­er. An Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian who enters the mar­ried state with a non-Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian must have the sacra­men­tal prayers and bless­ings of the Church in order to remain a mem­ber of the Ortho­dox Church and a par­tic­i­pant in the sacra­ment of holy communion. 

Accord­ing to the Ortho­dox teach­ing, only one mar­riage can con­tain the per­fect mean­ing and sig­nif­i­cance which Christ has giv­en to this real­i­ty. Thus, the Ortho­dox Chris­t­ian tra­di­tion encour­ages wid­ows and wid­ow­ers to remain faith­ful to their spous­es who are dead to this world but alive in Christ. The Ortho­dox tra­di­tion also, by the same prin­ci­ple, con­sid­ers tem­po­rary “liv­ing togeth­er,” casu­al sex­u­al rela­tions, sex­u­al rela­tions with many dif­fer­ent peo­ple, sex­u­al rela­tions between mem­bers of thie same sex, and the break­down of mar­riages in sep­a­ra­tion and divorce, all as con­trary to the human per­fec­tion revealed by God in Christ. Through penance, how­ev­er, and with the sin­cere con­fes­sion of sins and the gen­uine promise of a good life togeth­er, the Ortho­dox Church does have a ser­vice of sec­ond mar­riage for those who have not been able to ful­fill the ide­al con­di­tions of mar­riage as taught by Christ. It is the prac­tice of the Church as well not to exclude mem­bers of sec­ond mar­riages from the sacra­ment of holy com­mu­nion if they desire sin­cere­ly to be in eucharis­tic fel­low­ship with God, and if they ful­fill all oth­er con­di­tions for par­tic­i­pa­tion in the life of the Church. 

Because of the real­iza­tion of the need for Christ in every aspect of human life, and because, as well, it is the firm Chris­t­ian con­vic­tion that noth­ing should, or even can, be done per­fect­ly with­out Christ or with­out his pres­ence and pow­er in the Church by the Holy Spir­it, two Chris­tians can­not begin to live togeth­er and to share each other’s life in total unityÃ?Ã?spiritually, phys­i­cal­ly, intel­lec­tu­al­ly, social­ly, eco­nom­i­cal­ly with­out first plac­ing that uni­ty into the eter­ni­ty of the King­dom of God through the sacra­ment of mar­riage in the Church. 

Accord­ing to the Ortho­dox teach­ing as expressed in the sacra­men­tal rite of mar­riage, the cre­ation of chil­dren, and the care and love for them with­in the con­text of the fam­i­ly, is the nor­mal ful­fill­ment of the love of a man and woman in Christ. In this way, mar­riage is the human expres­sion of the cre­ative and car­ing love of God, the per­fect Love of the Three Per­sons of the Holy Trin­i­ty which over­flows in the cre­ation and care for the world. This con­vic­tion that human love, imi­ta­tive of divine love, should over­flow itself in the cre­ation and care for oth­ers does not mean that the pro­cre­ation of chil­dren is in itself the sole pur­pose of mar­riage and the unique and exclu­sive jus­ti­fi­ca­tion and legit­imiza­tion of its exis­tence. Nei­ther does it mean that a child­less cou­ple can­not live a tru­ly Chris­t­ian life togeth­er. It does mean, how­ev­er, that the con­scious choice hy a mar­ried cou­ple not to have a fam­i­ly for rea­sons of per­son­al com­fort and accom­mo­da­tion, the desire for lux­u­ry and free­dom, the fear of respon­si­bil­i­ty, the refusal of shar­ing mate­r­i­al pos­ses­sions, the hatred of chil­dren, etc., is not Chris­t­ian, and can in no way be con­sid­ered as con­so­nant with the bib­li­cal, moral and sacra­men­tal teach­ings and expe­ri­ence of the Ortho­dox Church about the mean­ing of life, love and marriage. 

In light of the per­spec­tive offered above, the con­trol of the con­cep­tion of chil­dren in mar­riage is a very del­i­cate mat­ter, dis­cour­aged in prin­ci­ple and con­sid­ered as per­haps pos­si­ble only with the most care­ful exam­i­na­tion of con­science, prayer and pas­toral guidance. 

The abor­tion of a child already con­ceived is strict­ly for­bid­den in the Ortho­dox Church, and can­not be jus­ti­fied in any way, except per­haps with the great­est moral risk and with the most seri­ous pen­i­tence in the most extreme cas­es such as that of irrepara­ble dam­age to the moth­er or her prob­a­ble death in the act of child­birth. In such extreme sit­u­a­tions, the moth­er alone must take upon her­self the deci­sion, and all must be pre­pared to stand before God for the action, ask­ing his divine mercy.