Marriage from an Orthodox perspective – Part 2

In May 2018, the program Orthodoxie on France-Culture Radio was on the theme of Marriage from an Orthodox Perspective.

After the voice of John Meyendorff, let’s listen to an excerpt from his book Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective.

An Orthodox Perspective

“It is beyond the author’s competence and the size of the present essay to discuss all the issues involving marriage and sexuality raised by the developments mentioned above. Our only topic is marriage as sacrament, i.e., an aspect which enters neither the field of psychology nor that of physiology nor that of sociology. It is the author’s belief, however, that the Orthodox understanding of the sacrament of marriage suggests the only possible Christian attitude towards most of the issues raised today. This understanding is clearly different from those which traditionally prevailed in Western Christianity; and, thus, it may give different openings to practical solutions.

The very notion of marriage as a sacrament presupposes that man is not only a being with physiological, psychological, and social functions, but that he is a citizen of God’s Kingdom, i.e., that his entire life -and especially its most decisive moments-involves eternal values and God Himself. For Orthodox Christians, this essential involvement is best realized in the Eucharist. The Eucharist, or “Divine Liturgy,” is the moment and the place when and where a Christian should realize what he truly is. In the Eucharist, the Kingdom of God -whose citizen he is by baptism- becomes available directly to his spiritual senses. The Divine Liturgy actually starts with the exclamation: “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” In the Liturgy, the Church, being concretely a gathering of people, ceases to be a human organization and becomes truly the “Church of God.”

Then Christ Himself leads the assembly, and the assembly is transformed into His Body. Then all partitions between concrete historical happenings and eternity are broken. The true meaning of marriage as a sacrament becomes understandable in the framework of the Eucharistic Divine Liturgy. In our contemporary practice the connection of marriage with the Eucharist is not obvious. Marriage appears to us primarily as a personal or a family affair. It may be blessed in Church and thus acquire a comforting flavor of both legitimacy and sacredness; but its relation to the Liturgy of the Church remains unclear for most of us. The actual church ceremony has no obvious relation to the Eucharist, and only a circle of invited relatives and friends take part in it. However, as we will try to show in this essay, it is impossible to understand either the New Testament doctrine on marriage, or the very consistent practice of the Orthodox Church, without seeing Christian marriage in the context of the Eucharist. The Eucharist, and the discipline which our communion in the Eucharist presupposes, is the key which explains the Christian attitude toward “church marriage” as well as toward those marriages which were or still are concluded outside the Church.

Many practical difficulties which we face come from a misunderstanding of this basic connection of marriage with the Eucharist. The misunderstanding must be corrected if we want to face our responsibilities in our modern, secular society, and if we desire an articulate Orthodox Christian answer to the challenges of the day. Actually, the “eucharistic” understanding of marriage clearly illustrates what is the essential Christian claim for man -an image of God, destined to participation in divine life itself. Psychologists and sociologists, on the basis of their respective limited fields of inquiry, may reach a foretaste of this truth, but certainly not affirm it in its entirety. The Christian experience of “God becoming man, so that man may become God” (St. Athanasius of Alexandria), is alone able to make the claim in all its daring significance. Of this, Christian marriage is also an expression.”