We live in a secular, postmodern age(1). The ideas that impact the public and private spheres of our lives are decidedly post-Christian and postmodern. As such, it is not uncommon for members of our society to view marriage as a human construction that has evolved through social consensus. It is also not unusual to hear people conceptualizing marriage as a private, personal decision that serves to enhance emotional, social, economic, and psychological well-being(2) . Similarly, it is also not odd for people to consider marriage disposable when it ceases meeting their needs(3).
The Orthodox Church does not find these perceptions to have meaningful significance in its own efforts to conceptualize marriage. From an Orthodox perspective, marriage is lifted out of a pragmatic, mundane, legal and secular context. It is recontextualized within a life in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Marriage from a Christian and Orthodox perspective is not predicated on what is deemed socially, politically, legally, economically, and/or philosophically correct. The Orthodox view is entirely dependent on certain divinely revealed truths that have emerged as God has manifested His truth to people. Among these divine truths, the following observations are central to the Orthodox Church’s conception of marriage:
Marriage is fundamentally dependent upon God’s revealed truth, as manifested in our Church’s Sacramental, Christological, and Trinitarian theology.
The meaning of marriage from an Orthodox perspective seeks to meet humankind’s spiritual needs, as well as our physical, emotional, economic, and social needs.
Marriage is understood as a God-given way of existence, and as a precious eternal gift from God that must be cherished. To quote St. John Chrysostom, “From the beginning God in His providence has planned this union of man and woman…. There is no relationship between human beings so close as that of husband and wife”(4). It is not simply a human construction that has evolved through social consensus, but is most completely understood as men and women enter into holy matrimony in prayerful synergy with God through the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
An Orthodox perspective of marriage is not based on secular, legalistic concepts such as justice and egalitarianism. Orthodox marriages are firmly founded on Christ-like self-sacrificial agape, forgiveness, and mercy. The wisdom contained in the following verses impact marital interactions and transactions and are illustrative of this latter observation. “…whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20: 26 – 27).
Marriage functions to draw persons into God’s Kingdom. It exhorts them to live Christ-like existences in a community of persons (otherwise called the Community of Marriage), and allows them to become co-eternal participants in the process of divine life and perfection.
As understood by Orthodox Holy Tradition, marriage assists individuals in their efforts to become more complete persons and realize their full humanness.
Marriage calls a man and woman toward a God-given “oneness” that only they will share. This God-given oneness is multidimensional. Every component of their bio-psycho-social humanness is called to participate in this oneness.
(An excerpt from the following resource: Joanides, C. (in print). Ministering to intermarried couples: A Resource for Clergy and Lay Leaders. New York, NY: Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.) By REV. FR. CHARLES JOANIDES, PH.D., LMFT
1 For additional information about postmodernism, consult the following reference: Kuhn, T. (1970). The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
2 Waite, L. J. & Gallagher, M. (2000). The case for marriage: Why married people are happier, healthier, and better off financially. New York: Doubleday.
4 Chrysostom, J. (1997). St. John Chrysostom: On marriage and family life (C. P. Roth & D. Anderson, Trans.). Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.