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Marriage

Mar­riage is a part of human life on this earth as cre­at­ed by God.

There­fore a man leaves his father and his moth­er and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Gen­e­sis 2:24, cf Matthew 19:5–6)

God cre­at­ed male and female so that man and woman would live their lives togeth­er in mar­riage as one flesh. This union should be bro­ken for no earth­ly rea­son.

What there­fore God has joined togeth­er, let no man put asun­der.

They said to Jesus, “Why then did Moses com­mand one to give a cer­tifi­cate of divorce and to put her away?”

He said to them, “For your hard­ness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the begin­ning it was not so. And I say to you: who­ev­er divorces his wife except for sex­u­al impu­ri­ty and mar­ries anoth­er, com­mits adul­tery.”

The dis­ci­ples said to him, “if such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expe­di­ent to mar­ry.”

But he said to them, “Not all men can receive this pre­cept, but only those to whom it is giv­en. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made them­selves eunuchs for the sake of the King­dom of heav­en. He who is able to receive this, let him receive it.” (Matthew 19:6–12)

Human mar­riage exists by the will of God on the earth as the cre­at­ed expres­sion of God’s love for man and as man’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the cre­ative love of God. The union of man and woman in the com­mu­ni­ty of mar­riage is used in the Bible as the image of God’s faith­ful love for Israel, and Christ’s sac­ri­fi­cial love for the Church. (cf. Isa­iah 54, Jere­mi­ah 3, Ezekiel 16, Hosea)

Wives, be sub­ject to your hus­bands, as to the Lord. For the hus­band is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, and is Him­self its Sav­ior. As the church is sub­ject to Christ, so let wives also be sub­ject in every­thing to their hus­bands. Hus­bands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Him­self up for her, that He might sanc­ti­fy her, hav­ing cleansed her by the wash­ing of water with the word, that He might present the church to Him­self in splen­dor with­out spot or wrin­kle or any such thing, that she might be holy and with­out blem­ish. Even so hus­bands should love their wives as their own bod­ies. He who loves his wife loves him­self. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nour­ish­es and cher­ish­es it, as Christ does the church, because we are mem­bers of His body. For this rea­son a man shall leave his father and moth­er and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one. This is a great mys­tery, and I take it to mean Christ and the church; how­ev­er, let each one of you love his wife as him­self, and let the wife see that she respects her hus­band. (Eph­esians 5:22–33)

These words of Saint Paul, read at the sacra­men­tal cel­e­bra­tion of mar­riage in the Church, con­tain the whole pro­gram for spir­i­tu­al life in the com­mu­ni­ty of mar­riage. The hus­band must love his wife to the point of death, as Christ loves the Church. And the wife must be total­ly giv­en to her hus­band in every­thing as the Church is giv­en to Christ. The union in love must be per­fect, total, com­plete, endur­ing and last­ing for­ev­er. With­in this union, the sex­u­al act of love is the mys­ti­cal seal of the total union in love; the act where­by the two are unit­ed in mind, heart, soul and body in the Lord.

Accord­ing to the spir­i­tu­al teach­ing of the Ortho­dox Church, mar­riage, and so the sex­u­al act of love, is made per­fect only in Christ and the Church. This does not mean that all those who are “mar­ried in church” have an ide­al mar­riage. The sacra­ment is not mechan­i­cal or mag­i­cal. Its real­i­ty and gifts may be reject­ed and defiled, received unto con­dem­na­tion and judg­ment, like Holy Com­mu­nion and all of the sacra­men­tal mys­ter­ies of the faith. It does mean, how­ev­er, that when a cou­ple is mar­ried in the Church of Christ, the pos­si­bil­i­ty for the per­fec­tion of their mar­riage is most ful­ly giv­en by God.

When a man and a woman tru­ly love one anoth­er, they nat­u­ral­ly desire that their love would be per­fect. They want their rela­tion­ship to be filled with all virtue and every fruit of the Spir­it. They want it to be ever more per­fect­ly expressed and ful­filled. They want it to last for­ev­er. Those who do not desire such per­fec­tion for their love, do not real­ly love.

When a man and woman have such a love, they can find its ful­fill­ment only in Christ. He makes it pos­si­ble; no one and noth­ing else can do it. So, for those who love tru­ly, the sav­ior and accom­plish­er of their love is Christ. He gives every virtue and every fruit of the Spir­it. He allows them to grow ever more per­fect­ly one. He allows them to live and to love for eter­ni­ty in the King­dom of God. A mar­riage in Christ does not end in sin; it does not part in death. It is ful­filled and per­fect­ed in the King­dom of heav­en. It is for this rea­son, and this rea­son only, that those who seek true love and per­fec­tion in mar­riage come to the Church to be mar­ried in Christ.

A tru­ly Chris­t­ian and spir­i­tu­al mar­riage is one where true love abides. In the com­mu­ni­ty of mar­riage true love is expressed in the total union of the cou­ple in all that they are, have and do. It is the love of each one liv­ing com­plete­ly for the good of the oth­er, the love of erot­ic union in total one­ness of mind, heart and flesh; the love of per­fect friend­ship. (See God is Love)

With­in such a com­mu­ni­ty of love, the sex­u­al act is the expres­sion of all of this. It was cre­at­ed for this pur­pose by God. It is the inti­mate act which finds its total joy when per­fect­ed by those who are ful­ly devot­ed and ded­i­cat­ed to each oth­er in all things, in every way, for­ev­er. It is for this sacred and divine rea­son that the sex­u­al act can­not be done casu­al­ly or promis­cu­ous­ly for one’s own spir­i­tu­al or bod­i­ly plea­sure. It is the act of lov­ing self-sac­ri­fice in eter­nal fideli­ty. Only when accom­plished in this way does it yield divine sat­is­fac­tion and infi­nite delight to the lovers who enact it.

Sex­u­al dis­sat­is­fac­tion in mar­riage is vir­tu­al­ly nev­er sim­ply a bod­i­ly or bio­log­i­cal prob­lem. It is with almost no excep­tion, the result of some defect of mind, heart and soul. Most basi­cal­ly, it is the defect of love itself. For when each con­sid­ers only the good of the oth­er, desir­ing total spir­i­tu­al and bod­i­ly union in per­fect friend­ship, the sex­u­al act is always most sat­is­fy­ing. When this is absent, and some­thing oth­er is cen­tral, the grat­i­fi­ca­tion of some unwor­thy pas­sion of body or mind, then all is lost and the per­ver­sion of love brings sad­ness and death to the union.

Nor­mal­ly the sex­u­al act in mar­riage bears fruit in the pro­cre­ation of chil­dren. The mar­riage cer­e­mo­ny in the Church prays for “chasti­ty, a bed unde­filed, the pro- cre­ation of chil­dren, and for every earth­ly bless­ing that they may in turn bestow upon the needy.” The sex­u­al act of love, how­ev­er, is not lim­it­ed mere­ly to the bear­ing of chil­dren. It exists as well for the union in love and the mutu­al edi­fi­ca­tion and joy of those who are mar­ried. If this were not the case, the Apos­tle Paul would not have giv­en the fol­low­ing coun­sel:

…each man should have his own wife, and each wife her own hus­band. The hus­band should give the wife her con­ju­gal rights, and like­wise the wife to her hus­band. For the wife does not rule over her own body, but the hus­band does; like­wise the hus­band does not rule over his own body, but the wife does. Do not refuse one anoth­er except per haps by agree­ment for a time, that you may devote your­selves to prayer; but then come togeth­er again, lest Satan tempt you through each of self-con­trol. (I Corinthi­ans 7:2–5)

The apos­tle does not say that the mar­ried cou­ple should be sep­a­rat­ed and come togeth­er only with inten­tions of bear­ing a child. He says rather that they should stay togeth­er, sep­a­rat­ing “by agree­ment, for a time,” and that for the pur­pose of being devot­ed “to prayer.” The words “by agree­ment” are cen­tral in this coun­sel, for each one must live total­ly as belong­ing to the oth­er.

Sex­u­al­i­ty in pure mar­riage is pure. For, as the apos­tle says in anoth­er con­text:

To the pure, all things are pure, but to the cor­rupt and unbe­liev­ing noth­ing is pure; their very minds and con­sciences are cor­rupt­ed. They pro­fess to know God but they deny Him by their deeds; they are detestable, dis­obe­di­ent, unfit for any good deed. (Titus 1:15–16)

There are those whose mar­riages are impure because they are cor­rupt and unbe­liev­ing, unfit for any good deed. Even though they are mar­ried and the sex­u­al­i­ty is, as they say nowa­days, “legal,” nev­er­the­less it is ungod­ly and impure. The fact that a cou­ple is “legal­ly” or even “sacra­men­tal­ly” mar­ried does not make their mar­i­tal life pure and free from sin­ful pas­sion, per­ver­sion and lust. Only those who tru­ly live the spir­i­tu­al life in gen­uine love and devo­tion have sex­u­al lives that are holy and pure, mutu­al­ly sat­is­fy­ing and ful­fill­ing, and well-pleas­ing to God. This is guar­an­teed when the spir­i­tu­al life is in Christ and the Church. But as St. John Chrysos­tom has said, even hea­then mar­riages are holy and pure when true love is present and the cou­ples are eter­nal­ly giv­en to one anoth­er in unend­ing fideli­ty and mutu­al devo­tion. For where such love is present, there is the pres­ence of God.