No Wedding Vows

weddingcrownsFew things differ more clearly between Eastern and Western Christianity than the service of Holy Matrimony. There are things found in Western Christian Marriage ceremonies that cannot be found in the East just as there are things in the East that cannot be found in the West. In many languages of the Eastern Churches, the service for a marriage is referred to as the “Crowning” – named for the central act within the ceremony – the crowning of the bride and groom. However nothing separates the marriage ceremonies of East and West like the place of marriage vows: there are no wedding vows in an Orthodox wedding.

Those unfamiliar with Orthodox weddings are often taken aback by this fact – how can there be a wedding without vows? How can a couple actually be married if they make no promises? I have heard it observed wryly that in Orthodoxy, we do not require the bride and groom to perjure themselves on their wedding day! But the absence of vows points to more than ceremonial differences – the theology of marriage differs greatly – and it is a difference worth pondering.

In the Orthodox wedding the couple is first “bethrothed” with the exchange of rings. Led into the center of the Church, the priest offers prayers. In the course of those prayers, in something of an “epiclesis” (the calling down of the Holy Spirit to accomplish a particular purpose – present in all the sacraments of the Church), the priest asks God to be present; to bless the marriage; to preserve their bed unassailed; to give them the dew of heaven; to fill their houses with every good thing; to send down heavenly grace to bless, preserve and remember the bride and groom; and just prior to the crowning:

stretch out now also Thy hand from Thy holy dwelling‑place, and unite this Thy servant, N. and this Thy handmaiden, N.; for by Thee is the husband joined unto the wife. Unite them in one mind; wed them into one flesh, granting to them the fruit of the body and the procreation of fair children.

And then the priest crowns the couple (three times), saying each time: “Crown them with glory and honor!” (see Psalm 8:5)

In contrast, the marriage in the West finds its focus within the exchange of vows. “Do you…take this woman…to have and to hold, to love and to cherish…etc. as long as you both shall live?” I was taught, when I was an Anglican, that the “ministers” of the sacrament of marriage are the couple themselves. The priest witnesses, and prays for God’s blessing.

This centerpiece of marriage in the West has been a subject of great creativity in the last number of decades. “Writing your own vows,” has been an essential undertaking for many couples (and probably the source of more than a little angst). I have seen examples of beauty and examples of triteness beyond description.

The role of vows in Western marriage is also bearing some very strange fruit.

Our culture, following the logic of vows, views marriage as a contract between two people. Specific promises concerning performance (and non-performance) are offered. These details of the contract are “witnessed” (for that is the language of the license itself). A Church offers a blessing, but the essential nature of a civil ceremony and a religious ceremony are found only in music and the trappings, not in the ceremony itself. I have often wondered whether the state would declare Orthodox marriages to be null and void if it were to learn that there are no promises made or accepted.

This contract view of marriage has become problematic in the current civil discussions of same-sex marriages. If marriage is a contract, how can anything be an essential problem to any two people entering such a contract? If they are both willing to acknowledge the requests and requirements expected of them, how can anyone say they have no right to have such an arrangement? Marriage as contract is wide-open.

However, there is no contract in an Orthodox marriage. A couple present themselves to God within the Church and it is there that the sacrament occurs. The power of God comes upon the lives of a man and a woman and unites them in one mind and weds them in one flesh. The sacrament is a union, not a contract.

Not all people can be united. St. Paul warns of false or corrupted unions:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.  (1Co 6:15-20 NKJ)

Paul moves seamlessly in this short exhortation between sexual union with a harlot and spiritual union with Christ. Clearly, for St. Paul, union is union. But in neither case is union a contract.

It would seem obvious that if marriage is a contract, then almost any contract is theoretically possible (perhaps much less than advisable, but not impossible). However, in the Orthodox understanding, the union of a marriage is fulfilled most commonly in procreation. It is fulfilled mystically in the “one flesh” (of which procreation is but one example). Not every marriage union is blessed with children, but such a fulfillment is considered normative. Couples beyond the age of conception have certainly conceived children within Orthodox tradition (Abraham and Sarah, Joachim and Anna, etc.). But attempts to create a union out of what cannot be a union, nor  bears even the most remote possibility of union, are outside the bounds of matrimony. There is no denying that relationships, even contracts might be created, but a union is something entirely different. St. Paul does not use the argument of union to oppose same sex relationships – for union there is not possible. His objections (and those of the Church) rest on other grounds.

In some ways, it would make sense for Orthodoxy to object to all marriage in the Western model because of its contractual basis. However, such objections have never been made. As civil societies continue to experiment with new definitions, however, such objections might be worth considering. The objection would not be an effort to declare marriage as a contract to be null and void, but simply woefully misunderstood.

The obligations of marriage are not enjoined by the terms of a contract – they are rather the obligations enjoined by our own “flesh and bones.” I do not need a contract with the atmosphere in order to breathe – I need to breathe in order to live. The analogy is not perfect, but is not inapt.

Pondering all of this, I once wondered if we should stop using the word “sex” to describe what a man and woman have with one another. Instead, I wondered how it would be if we called that activity “marriage”? “Have you had marriage with that girl?” Perhaps such a shift in language would better help people understand the nature of sexual activity.

Words and ceremonies matter, particularly when their nature and the context changes. The language and concept of contract served the West for many centuries. I believe that it created an overly legal understanding of a relationship that would have been better described in organic terms. Today, contract has triumphed over organic objections and the language (and ceremony) seem to be coming up short.

The language of the understanding of marriage within the Eastern model might suggest possible ways for other Christians to think as well. It certainly behooves Orthodox Christians to ponder deeply the substance of the Tradition that is theirs. It would make good sense if Orthodox Christians were to rid themselves of the confusion of contractual imagery that might have been inadvertently absorbed.

Crown them, O Lord, with glory and honor!

 

 

 

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.


Comments

165 responses to “No Wedding Vows”

  1. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The most important thing I did before I met my wife was to pray to the Theotokos for two things: 1. that my heart be softened, 2. I asked that she send me a Godly woman.

    Without the first, I would not have been able to accept the second.

    After my first wife died, I was intending to remain celibate, but after two years it was apparent that I and my son both were suffering too much and needed someone (my son was 17 when his mother died). I began to pray and to look.

    My wife was suffering too and needed someone plus she needed the Church. She is one of those people who have been Orthodox all of her life without ever hearing of the Orthodox Church.

    God was gracious as He always is.

    Marriage is both a vocation and a gift from God–a joyous podvig. Approached any other way, IMO, leads to difficulty.

  2. Jennifer Mary Fox Avatar
    Jennifer Mary Fox

    I agree with Mary that the anti-feminist comments ought not to be part of the replies to a post about the sacrament of marriage, a sacrament in which men and women overcome their differences and seek out their salvation together.

    But, if anyone truly wants to think about how best to be a godly Christian woman, I’ve come across an excellent article in the course of doing my doctoral dissertation on slavery, which has inspired me personally to be the woman that Aristotle did not think could exist – the woman who strives to excel in virtue. I highly recommend this scholarly article to our Orthodox women: http://eugesta.recherche.univ-lille3.fr/revue/pdf/2012/Parker-2_2012.pdf

  3. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Michael –

    “Marriage is both a vocation and a gift from God…” On this, we certainly agree.

    For some celibacy may be a vocation and gift from God as well.

    To recognize and be grateful for whatever gift we have been given is key to finding the union with God of which Fr. Stephen writes.

  4. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    101 comments in very little time! I wish I had the time to read all of them, I am struggling to just read Father’s comments.
    This is a topic we mustn’t shy away from, and I an extremely glad you shed much needed light on it Father!
    The Union vs Contract notion is particularly germane…
    When Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra says

    “It is not permissible for anyone to avoid the bonds of marriage, whether he concludes a mystical marriage by devoting himself to God, or whether he concludes a sacramental one with a spouse.”

    (implying both monastics and laity) he clearly means what Met John Zizioulas expounds on in “Being as communion”: we can only avoid death through union.
    He explains that Marriage is a mystery, a mystical presence, of Christ who says, “wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am among them” (Mt 18.20). And whenever two people are married in the name of Christ, they become the sign which contains and expresses Christ himself. When you see a couple who are conscious of this, it is as if you are seeing Christ…! Together they are a theophany.

    So, even though it seems that two people come together it’s not two but three. The man marries the woman, and the woman marries the man, but the two together also marry Christ. So three take part in the mystery, and three remain together in life. But, it is not so much that a third One is present, but that the union itself, the union of the two – the communion itself – makes the Body of Christ mystically present…

  5. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    mary benton: in my life time, I have seen ability of men to be men challenged over and over again, no doubt by our own excesses and abandonment of our responsibilities, but just as often by so-called feminists who hate themselves and strive to replace us with masculinized women. It is the feminists of NOW and other such ideological organizations that push abortion, fornication and lesbian identity, want to remove the father from anything other than a sperm donor (and if they could get away with it even that). Refuse to call out Islam for their continued oppression and abuse of women. In addition to neutering men, they have attempted to neuter women as well seriously wanting women to have nothing to do with procreation (let the state do it in the lab). I’m not making this stuff up.

    It is these women who are the ideological source of the movement and they never intended equality always supremacy. It is strikingly similar to those behind the homosexual movement and one often finds the same people in both places.

    It is not “male hostility” whatever that means and (light sarcasm)I don’t appreciate being objectified that way.(scarasm off)

    Many women are saying the same thing as I did. Here is a brief excerpt from one Colleen Carol Campbell:

    Now I was ready to take a closer look at sex differences and feminism itself. In my course, I eagerly devoured the first few readings we were given, manifestos of early feminists who demanded equal educational opportunities, the right to vote, and humane working and living conditions even as they acknowledged the uniqueness of women. As the semester progressed and we worked our way through more contemporary feminists, though, I grew increasingly uneasy with the theorists we were reading. Many seethed with resentment at men. Others raged against their own femininity. The more I read, the more I found myself bristling at their views of men and women, marriage and motherhood, and God.

    I had met my share of chauvinists, and I knew that I enjoyed opportunities denied to earlier ­generations of women, including the chance to take courses like this one. I also knew that feminism comes in many forms. Yet most of the feminist writers we studied struck me as shrill and hyperbolic, with their denunciations of housewives and stay-at-home mothers as “parasites,” as Simone de Beauvoir called them, or inmates in a “comfortable concentration camp,” as Betty Friedan put it. It bothered me that so many theorists we read succumbed to one of two extremes: Either they allowed their insistence on the equality of men and women to obscure the differences between the sexes, or they allowed their emphasis on the differences between the sexes to obscure the equality of men and women.

    If you wish to read the whole article and several others similar to it go to Salvo Magazine on the web.

    You will never find me defending any man who belittles, abuses or in any other way intentionally mistreats a woman. I am hostle to all ideologies which twist the nature of man (male and female) into a vicious parody of what God creates.

  6. Robert Bearer Avatar
    Robert Bearer

    Our brother Dino says: “[In marriage]Even though it seems that two people come together, it’s not two but three. The man marries the woman, and the woman marries the man, but the two together also marry Christ. So three take part in the mystery . . .” So the Holy Trinity is also glorified in this theophany.

    Thank you, Dino. Thank you all.

    Christ is in our midst.

    lexcaritas

  7. Sophia Avatar
    Sophia

    Thank you, Michael and Dino. For someone not (yet) married, your comments are inspiring and hope-filled. Met Zizioulas has been a profound inspiration for me as well, and the remembrance of communion at all times (even if not married to God in monasticism or yet married to another person) is healing and life-changing. I am grateful for Fr. Stephen for emphasizing that as well.

  8. Charlie Avatar
    Charlie

    Michael – this is perhaps just a little off course, but it involves the so-called wedding vows of a lesbian couple here in Vancouver, and the tragic upshot.
    They went to a large hospital here and requested that the duty gynaecologist fertilize one of them with a sperm cell from the sperm bank, as had been previously arranged.But he was standing in for his colleaque, who was off that day. He demurred because it was contrary to his religious belief and suggested they return the following week.
    They sent the matter to Court and he lost his licence to practise medicine.
    We used to refer to ourselves as “a Christian country.”

  9. Fox R Avatar
    Fox R

    “We do well to have conversations about these things. And I would better serve my readers if I were a lot less triumphalist when I speak about Orthodoxy, and less dismissive when I speak of Western Christianity. But in the slogan of my now aging generation – “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

    The “but” makes this a non-apology.

    There are a lot of things to commend in Orthodoxy. Parochialism is not one of them. While I’ve been blessed by much on this blog, I no longer feel welcome. I’d thought this blog was different from those Orthodox blogs which are so dismissive of anything “Frankish.” Perhaps not.

    So much for dialogue. I guess me and my Western brethren will just go back to being part of the problem.

    Best wishes.

  10. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Fox R
    You misunderstood me completely! I meant “not part of the solution” entirely for myself. Meaning, I must make myself part of the solution, by doing exactly what I said – being less dismissive and less triumphalist!

    Do stay!

  11. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Fox R. I hope you stay too. I can say for myself it is way too easy to drop into a false position of confrontation. I am sorry for that.

  12. Charlie Avatar
    Charlie

    Fox, try this for a minute or two, please. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
    It’s aimed ‘up close’ just as much as it’s aimed sort of vaguely ‘out there’. (A lot more so, actually.)
    And think of the Lord’s Second Great Commandment – so if you’re a problem, then so am I; so why don’t we just exchange the Kiss of Peace? (electronically???)

  13. Rhonda Avatar

    Fr. Stephen,

    “Consumer man”…

    I like that analogy. Consumer man/woman is far too concerned with his/her “rights” & far too frequently blatantly ignores his/her “responsibilities”; & this ideal has now crept into marriage among far too many, even many that call themselves “Christian”.

    I have seen far too many men & women marry thinking how their new spouse will benefit them, but never consider how they should benefit their spouse. The general attitude is “What’s in it for me?” Even fidelity in the marriage is no longer a given as it is becoming increasingly common for marrieds (both men & women) to retain their extra-marital lovers even after their marriage! I find it ironic that they are not devout enough in their faith to adhere to marriage fidelity even after they insisted on a “church” wedding with its vow-promise to do so.

    I know of several married couples that would not consider missing church that are equally “devout” hedonists as far as their marriages are concerned. I asked one guy about the inconsistencies of such things & I was asked in turn “What’s that got to do with God? What my wife & I do is none of God’s business.” I asked about the call for holiness in our lives & thus our marriages; I was told to quit being so old-fashioned & legalistic. This was not a young man either as he was already well into upper-middle age with older grandchildren. I again found it ironic that the church they attended was known for being ultra-conservative & extremely fundamentalist in belief so I’m pretty sure such things weren’t being condoned from the pulpit.

  14. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Michael Bauman,

    Forgive me if you felt “objectified” – that was not my intent. However, I thought your characterization of feminists was rather hostile and extreme, both in the language used and assumptions made (that you know the hearts and intentions, apparently universally evil, of people who have considered themselves feminists).

    The woman you quoted who found modern-day feminists offensive did not do this (at least in the part you quoted). She stated what she saw that was positive in the early parts of “the women’s movement” and what she objected to in some of the more recent accounts. She was stating her opinions without attacking or maligning those she disagreed with.

    Perhaps it would have been more appropriate for me to have referred to “masculine hostility” rather than “male”. In this way, I would have not been referencing your gender (which is no problem, of course) but rather of the masculine (aggressive quality) of your language and interpretation. The approach used by the woman you quoted actually would be considered a “feminine” approach to discussion.

    Masculine and feminine traits exist to varying degrees in both men and women. There is nothing wrong or evil about this. “Feminine” approaches tend to be less aggressive and more open. And I believe there are times when a more “masculine” (aggressive) approach may serve a positive function, e.g. when needing to call attention to or escape oppression (regardless of whether the oppression is based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc.).

    However, I did not see how the aggressive nature of your comment served a positive function – in fact, to me it seemed to detract and distract from some of your lovely sharing about marriage which I appreciated.

  15. Mark Avatar

    Dear Fr Stephen;
    I posted a lengthy comment yesterday. Did it get lost in the spam filter or dismissed by you?

    Love;
    -Mark Basil

  16. Rhonda Avatar

    Mark Basil,
    I too have had this happen a couple of times recently…a lost comment never posts with no notice of “awaiting moderation”…hmm…

  17. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    mary benton,

    Its the ideology, not the people. The ideology is evil and destroys people. We are all impacted by it for the worse. There is a distinct difference between the suffragettes and the current groups.

    And believe me, you don’t have any idea the impact the present day feminist ideology has had on men. Of course, it’s been worse for women. What I see when I look at the fruits of feminism is abortion, the coarsening of language the degradation of femininity and motherhood, the glorification of unbridled sexual activity and the concomitant diminution of marriage, the promotion of lesbianism, attacks on the masculine, attacks on the Church and the desire to paganize us. For what? An ersatz freedom when Jesus Christ has given real freedom to women all along?

    Way back, Adam started the whole mess by exhibiting the greatest feat of buck passing in history when he said to God: “This woman you gave me…..” after not fulfilling his responsibility to say no to Eve. We men have been trying to evade and avoid our responsibilities ever since or not engage them by seeking power over others. The history of abuse against women is horrific and evil. There is no defense for it. No doubt it was a precursor feminism. And, hey, we in the East are just as culpable as everybody else in failing to honor women properly, even more culpable because we have the Theotokos before us in a way that should prevent such horrible behavior but does not.

    But the feminists want women to behave in the same bad ways because?

    In marriage, women help us actually take on our manhood. Ideological feminism of the modern sort (it is changing thank God) encourages the bad stuff. Then, if we actually have the intestinal fortitude to step up in the face of such temptation, we are often told that to do so is sexist, etc., etc. While my comment on objectification was tongue-in-cheek, in all honesty IMO, I see a bit of that in your comments. Not intentionally, not with malice but because that is the cultural attitudes we all live in.

    Ideological feminism is, ultimately, the ideology of the individual will trumping everything else: classic nihilism. I am sorrowful every time I see these people on TV or read some of their comments because the extent to which they have hardened their hearts against their own humanity is, well, I don’t have a word for it. And yes, that makes me mad. The extremism makes everything less extreme seem normal even when it isn’t.

    So, I do my best to be the kind of man Jesus Christ calls me to be and fail at it every day. Among many other things that means loving my wife, lifting her up to God in prayer and affection, strengthening her in every way I can. Protecting her, fighting for her (even physically if I have to). That is so she can be free to be the wonderful beautiful woman God made her to be. So that we can stand as one with God and before the world. A oneness that would be impossible if we were not equal. An equality that is not sameness and rejects absolutely the diminution of the other so that I may be greater. Without her, I am less. The stronger she is, the stronger I am. In the process I thank God for her in every moment as an antidote to Adam’s betrayal.

    Being a man also means standing up to the evil of the world on behalf of others regardless of the consequences while working on the purification of my own heart.

    I am named Michael for a reason. I’m often blunt and that comes across to many as offensive. Most of the time here, I try to temper my words and I did temper my words on this subject too, believe it or not. I am sorry to offend you, I value your contributions to this blog and learn from you frequently. This may be a place where we just have to go on and find agreement elsewhere.

  18. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Mark Basil, it will require some labor to give an answer to your question. It may take a day or two to have the time (I’m in a conference out of town at present). I would encourage others to refrain from constructing answers – those efforts – well meant – often complicate and obscure matters.

  19. Mark Avatar

    Thank you Father.
    I will wait.
    love;
    -Mark Basil

  20. Jennifer Mary Fox Avatar
    Jennifer Mary Fox

    Michael,

    I think we can all agree here, among friends, that “feminism” used as a single construct, is not healthy and not good for anyone. I’ve got major problems with the very construct, and so does Mary, from her posts. However, keep in mind that “gender studies” programs in universities today are already purging themselves of the most toxic baggage and are radically changing their tune, since real women and men of today won’t accept anti-male garbage, but yet don’t want to be misogynistic either. There are so many “feminisms” out there – first wave, second wave, third wave, etc. that really each woman today must create her own definition. As an Orthodox Christian women who is currently getting a Gender Studies minor, I have decided to create my own definition of my version of “feminism” – one that merely means I want to model my life on the greatest Female I can, the Theotokos. Anything I read in school or elsewhere that doesn’t measure up, simply isn’t good, holy, or worthy of the name “feminism”. I know this doesn’t help fix the pain you are feeling and perhaps the anger you have directed toward that term, but there are people like myself currently trying to “fix” the loaded negative perceptions and divorce themselves from such notions. We don’t like the old-style of feminism any more than you do, and we aim to find a new way of discoursing about being a woman and being a man. I think the answer moving forward is to look to the Saints for guidance. They will show us how to be real women and real men. We must love and respect each other as Christ has shown us.

  21. Robert Bearer Avatar
    Robert Bearer

    Michael Bauman, our brother, thanks for being true to you name and being manly. It is reported that the State of Washington has just completed a six year project to purge its laws of all use of the masculine forms as the inclusive gender. Six other states are spending millions to to the same. France and other Eurpoean nations have done it. This is another part of the “feminist” gender and, yes, as women are taught to be and act more like men the culture degrades and women themselves suffer. As I tell my Latin students if the masculine has been traditionally simply the incluseive gender and the feminine the exclusive gender, it is, in fact, the latter which is more exalted and more special. But this is lost on the modern world driven as it ib by nihilism and the fanatical agenda of the culture of death. It runs deeper than we think . . . it’s conditioned our thinking like the air we breath.

    rlb

  22. Robert Bearer Avatar
    Robert Bearer

    Fr. bless:

    I’m not sure I would lay all the blame for the decline of marriage in the modern world at the feet of the Latin Church (wether in its Catholic of Protestant forms)–i.e. to the emphasis or lack thereof on vows: even in the Orthodox marriage the betrothal plays a part and a betrothal implicity involves mutual consent and the giving of mutual vows. Nevertheless, I rejoice at the glory of the Orthodox mystery of Holy Matrimony and the typicon of the service emphasizing the spouses acceptance of crowns mutual martyrdom and the epiclesis of the Holy Spirit with Christ as the minister of the marriage. Outside the Church, we are in dismal straights. At hald of dozen non-Orthodox marriages I’ve attended in the past two years there has been little to no mention of children whatsoever. They are NOT on the radar screen. Nothing about starting a family or uniting two extended families. Just love and romance between two wide-eyed individuals hoping to live happily ever after. Similarly, self-composed statements of “love” (typically not promises or nuptial vows of self-sacrifice and fidelity) are the order of the day as if the Body of Christ has not part to play in the rite other than to be there as an audience of well-wishers.

    By contrast, I witnessed my first Orthodox wedding some 7 years ago. One exuberant novice next to me, veritably shouted out at the conclusion that this was the most magnificent thing he had ever witnessed and that “we had to get the word out.” Indeed, we do. The Gospel and the life in Christ are joyous and Life-giving.

    rlb

  23. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Ms.(my one concession to feminism) Fox, that is pretty much what I said, but what am I supposed to call that ideology?

    The ugly kind is still powerfully active in our culture and still disfiguring the inter-relationships between men and women.

    Those who wish to change that paradigm have a lot of work to do. And even though you say you wish to change it and I believe that, the residue of the old, ugly kind is still in your message. You cannot continue to call it feminism and not be tarnished by the ugliness of the still dominant variety. There are all kinds of flu viruses, some more deadly than others, but all of the diseases are called flu.

    I’m frustrated because so far in the last month it has been suggested that I can’t call folks Protestant, Catholic, Western, feminist because that is either judgmental, inaccurate or hurtful. Shoot, there are some people (not here) who get bent out of shape if I say Mormon’s are not Christian.

    So, I do not agree that using feminism as a single construct is unhealthy. IMO, it sophistry to require the identification of particular types in discussions such as these and clear evidence of how deep and effect the ideologies have on us.

    Following that logic, at a certain point conversation becomes impossible unless we are talking about exactly the same thing. It gets exhausting and its frankly ridiculous.

    My Dad taught me to think from the general to the specific. Specifics are only useful, IMO, once they are placed within a general context. While I realize that “Generalizations aren’t worth a damn, including this one”. Without the context specifics are worth even less.

    IMO, feminism in any form is a disease because it is an ideology based on false premises that eats at the reality of what it means to be a woman, what it means to be a man and our inter-relationship with each other and place in society. There is no such thing as Christian feminism just as there is no such thing as Christian Marxism. There is a Christian way and a worldly way.

    The full truth is already in the Church and in our hearts. It can be found and lived. It does not need the analytic academic psychobabble of so-called scholars to be found.

    The challenge of the Church in our age is to articulate the revealed truth of humanity and live it. We do not need to create anything new and the wisdom of the Church does not need to be subjected to the wisdom of the world. The wisdom of the world needs to be subjected to the wisdom of the Church, what is true will remain, but much will be rightly rejected.

    Whatever pain and anger I may or may not feel is the result of seeing the lives of so many people ripped apart by the plethora of secular utopian …isms that abound. Feminism is just one. Please do not mistake my implacable opposition to such miasma as anger or as the result of being personally hurt.

    The love I have for my wife and the manner in which I treat her is not at odds with my expressed feelings concerning feminism, it is all of the same cloth. Men and women are so far beyond the distorted, animal image presented by feminism. As a man, it is my duty to recognize the beauty God placed in my wife and do everything I can to enhance that beauty and bring it forth.

    St. Paul teaches that man is head of the woman and Jesus is head of the Church. To me that means that I am called to give all of my life and love to my wife even unto death and to a lesser extent to other women as well. If that makes me a misogynist, so be it.

    I’ve have studied too long, prayed too hard and experienced too much to come to the conclusions I have on this for any simply rational arguments to sway me. If you don’t agree that is fine, I don’t expect anyone else to agree. It needs to be put aside.

  24. drewster2000 Avatar
    drewster2000

    One takeaway this post had for me is NOT that vows are bad or necessarily have to be done away with, but that the marriage is about the UNION of the bride and groom, and the vows (seen as promises to God and each other) are there solely to support that union.

    The second takeaway for me is that the concept of marriage-as-contract is null and void. In fact I submit that no relationship can be successfully contracted. Penalties may have to be paid, but that won’t guarantee the union of any relationship.

  25. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Ms. Fox you say:

    Michael,

    I think we can all agree here, among friends, that “feminism” used as a single construct, is not healthy and not good for anyone

    I agree with pretty much everything else you say as I said pretty much the same. I do not agree with this statement however unless you mean that feminism in any form is not healthy and good for anyone. Feminism is not a ‘construct’ it is a deadly, anti-Christian ideology no matter what form it takes.

    As Mr. Bearer says, it goes deeper than we often realize as your post makes clear, at least to me.

    There is no such thing as Christian feminism as there is no such thing as Christian Marxism (and they both have innumerable mutations).

    The revealed truth of what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman plus how we are supposed to interrelate is already in the Orthodox Church. We need to find it, understand it and live it as member of the Church. I don’t really know about Catholicism except that Pope John’s Theology of the Body (what I know of it) was pretty good.

    We don’t need a bunch of secular academics to tell us. We need to use the wisdom of the Church to critique and evaluate whatever insights they come up with, discarding what is not true.

    I am neither personally hurt nor angry, I am implacably opposed to all of the destructive, nihilist utopian ideologies that replace thought and distort the nature of humanity. Feminism is just one that has the most bearing on marriage.

    My opposition directly and organically tied to the way in which I love my wife and treat her with dignity, respect and total equality but not sameness. The stronger she is, the stronger I am. My duty as a man is to recognize the beauty God gives her, enhancing that as I am able, protecting her as I am able, presenting her to God in the process.

    St. Paul says that the man is head of the woman as Christ is head of the Church. To me that means that I am to give all of my life for my wife in love regardless of the consequences. To a lesser extent, I own a similar duty to all women. I fail at this on a regular basis, but I am always striving to do better at it.

    If that means that I am a misogynist so be it.

  26. Jennifer Mary Fox Avatar
    Jennifer Mary Fox

    Dear Michael:

    Excellent. Well said. Bravo. I agree with your latest post and Mr. Bearer’s post.

    This is worthy of a man of God.

    In Christ,

    jmf

  27. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Mr. Bearer, the fault for the decline in marriage rests with all of us: with our acquiescence to the secular ideals, the utopian fantasies and our generally lukewarm faith.

    The Orthodox Church in particular has failed to articulate and live what we know of the great mystery of marriage. We have allowed the secular mind to have its way thinking that we were somehow safe from it or simply out of fear and apathy. We can see this in the fact that Orthodox marriages fare little better than anyone else’s and abortions are all too common.

    Our apathy has emboldened the enemy to keep advancing his attacks. We are late to the battle but at least some are now arriving.

    Glory be to God.

  28. Merry Bauman Avatar
    Merry Bauman

    Wow! I knew my husband Michael was deeply interested in this particular blog, and because I love reading Fr Stephen, I read this entire posting. I must share- Michael is married to a woman who built a business, shot in competition for years, teaches shooting to women, until recently owned a martial arts school, collects knives , grew up on a ranch, has a lot of kids, grand kids, and even three great-grand kids. I was lied to, cheated on, physically, mentally, and emotionally abused – for thirty years – thru two marriages. Both men left for other women and left me with financial disasters. The second one and his girlfriend, even planned for three years how they could ” get rid of” me and get away with it. I was the one who filed for the divorce in both cases, so yes women file more. I struggled to feed my children without the education I gave up when I married in 1967. I was sexually molested and terrorized at age 9 by my school bus driver. I lost a child at birth because of complications of physical abuse. If any woman should be bitter, angry, and hating men it should be me! That is feminism to me and I am not that person. God has led me thru the fires and He found a way to open my heart to the man that He chose for me. Michael is the man I wish I had been blessed with all these years. The difference is that he is truly a Godly man and shares his love and wisdom with me- as well as the faith that has become my rock and sanctuary in this crazy world. Our marriage was not in the church but it has been blessed. Michael is far more eloquent and articulate than I am, but I assure you personally that he is a strong “alpha” male but not in the least domineering. I am a strong woman and we are equal partners- rejoicing in our own gender. He is a man who builds up his wife and treats me like I am the most beautiful, amazing, and wonderful woman in the world. He allows me to rejoice in being a woman and a wife. He continually redefines the term “husband” for me- in a wonderful and very blessed way. Ours is a marriage that God brought into being, and where God is the head. I am truly married in the way that God created marriage to be, and it still amazes me every day at the wonder of it all. I never dreamed such a marriage was possible. We were in our 60’s when we married but our marriage is very fruitful- in how we are an example for the younger ones, and in how we live and love our faith. Marriage I believe is a covenant between man, woman, and God. Legal contracts are easily broken, but a true God centered marriage is not. Michael and I have a deep respect for each other and are best friends. We have a very loving and passionate relationship that makes our kids tease us but still want that for themselves too. The fruit is there and as the comments have shown, we make a difference in others lives too because of what we share. That is marriage- in my humble opinion- not the loosely applied terminology of most people these days.

  29. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    She makes it soooooo easy.

  30. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Michael,

    Obviously the word “feminist” strikes a deep chord in you and I will certainly not change that.

    And, as I indicated, I do not personally identify with feminism so I am not trying to defend the things you object to. Nor am I accusing you of being against women in any way.

    As a woman, I am glad that I have been able to vote, own property, obtain higher education and be gainfully employed. This would not always have been possible in the US and, of course, is still not possible for women in some parts of the world simply because they are women.

    I am grateful for these privileges and pray that I use them to give glory to God.

    I pray that all people, men and women, be treated with dignity and respect as the children of God that they are. May we remember to pray for any of God’s children that we believe are following the wrong path.

  31. Very occasional ESPN Reader Avatar
    Very occasional ESPN Reader

    Wonderful post Father Stephen. Many years to you and your Matushka.

  32. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    mary benton, my grandmother was the first woman to graduate from the University of Iowa medical school in the early 20th century. Even though she got in and graduated she was the only woman. She had to sit outside in the hallway to attend class and had to do gross anatomy at night without any partners when the rest of the class was not there.

    Even after graduating, the only practice that she was able to do was pediatrics which she hated. She got married to another doctor and they started a clinic together more like a spa actually. Not long after that when the business was not doing well, my grandfather ran off with the clinic nurse leaving my grandmother with all the bills. I suspect she filed for divorce (Isaac).

    She went to work for the U.S. Government promoting eugenics with such things as “healthy baby” contests at state fairs in which white babies were judged like cattle to find the best one.

    I know the history. I know the way Hindus, and Moslems and tribal animists treat women. Some of that has filtered over into Christian populations too. In the U.S. similar attitudes were held by the civic Protestantism (and its progenitors) of the ruling classes and enculturated. It is deplorable.

    Secularism does not speak to that at all; exporting abortions and homosexuality instead, obviously Hinduism and Islam and tribal cultures are part of the problem.

    Only Christianity elevates women to full humanity (accept for the ersatz forms). Unfortunately, we have not always realized that truth and acquiesced to the surrounding culture in the treatment of women. That is a betrayal of Christ Himself.

    Jesus Christ brings freedom, dignity and life. Nothing else does and, in fact, most every other approach ends up in slavery, degradation and death whether they are well meaning or not (and most are not).

    It has taken a long time for me to get past that stuff, longer than it should have. I could not have done it without the women in my life. That is one of the reasons that I know how much influence the worldly mind has on people even when we don’t believe in what is being said and how important women are to its healing.

    It is a battle to reclaim our true humanity. The anti-human ideologies that are all around us are truly evil. We ignore them at our peril.

    Remember, at least since the Incarnation, everything said about humanity is said about Christ in a sense. He came to free us from death. In doing that He took on our very nature and unified us with the Godhead.

    Marriage is an icon of that. It is also a healing of the split between male and female that began at the fall. One of the reasons I make it a point to thank God every day for the woman He has given me is as an antidote to Adam’s stupidity in the Garden when he said to God in an effort to shift blame: “This woman you gave me….”

    IMO part of the reason we men were given headship was so that we could begin to recognize our own responsibility to dress and keep the earth, to bring it into accord with God’s will (by His grace) and to make it fruitful. Neither men nor women can do that alone. It certainly cannot be done if women are subjugated.

    In general, next to salvation, women are the greatest gift God has ever given we men (and visa versa). In fact, women are an integral part of our salvation as we are for women, or should be. As men we need to recognize that and act on it. We need to stop being so flamingly stupid and selfish.

    Without real marriage and the grace that it brings such recognition is difficult as more and more men are raised with out a strong father who will discipline them, mold them and keep them in line so that they don’t become like rogue elephants. Without real marriage both the ordering of the earth and making it fruitful becomes much more difficult.

  33. Robert Bearer Avatar
    Robert Bearer

    Michael and Mary (Bauman), as I’ve said before to Michael I can’t wait to meet you one day—maybe at the next Eighth Day Symposium? I am in awe and encouraged by the testimony of your marriage. May the young especially draw inspiration from it.

    Our sister Mary (Benton) says: “As a woman, I am glad that I have been able to vote, own property, obtain higher education and be gainfully employed. This would not always have been possible in the US and, of course, is still not possible for women in some parts of the world simply because they are women.”

    I know we are supposed to rejoice, unquestionally, Mary, at these marks of “progress” for women, but they have not proven to be unmixed blessings, have they? Political and economic goods, yes; but will certain cultural and spiritual consequences which are not entirely postive.

    Though we quickly assume they are, let’s consider what the long-term effect has been on true family life—of which we have mostly but vague memories or faded written reports in our day and time. Who, at this juncture of history, would question the principle of “one man/woman, one vote”? What if, however, it has subtlety eroded the household which a vote once represented? Query: If, a man and his wife are one flesh, why should they not enjoy a single vote together? Why should their hearts and wills not be so perfectly united as to speak with one voice?

    There was a day–well over a century ago, I realize–when that householder’s vote spoke for the unemancipated children as well, because the family was united in its head (not unlike the Church in Christ), not as a mere amalgamation of ndividuals. In those days, it was realized that every right depended on and necessarily brought with it concomitant duty, which minors still living at home had not yet accepted. (By the way, under Jewish halakha, women were not traditionally deprived of rights becasue of their sex; they were, however, freed from the obligation to carry out certain mitsvoth because of their status as women and mothers and the bearers of new life.)

    Higher education is also a two-edged sword. It is easy to applaud the fact that women have filled the halls of academia and among college graduates and now enjoy increasingly prestigious employment. But is this not an expression of the individualism of the “Consumer Man” that Fr. Stephen has mentioned? Are there side-effects? Reports are that they are now, on average, educated women are beginning to earn more than men at the professional level. In many places they occupy well over half the places in colleges and certain professional schools, as the relative number of qualified and interested men declines–so the trend is likely to continue. What’s happening to the men? What if this is the inevitable consequence of “feminism”–which (unmasked) is really about political, economic and cultural power, isn’t it? Where was Adam when the Serpent spoke to Eve? Why was he absent? Is there a message there? There may be more than one.

    Meanwhile, the so-called developed nations face a fast-approaching demographic winter because, nihilistic “Consumer Men and Women” that they are, few place a high priority on having children and building a close-knit, perduring family linked to the land and God’s creation rather than man-made urban environments where such contact is tenuous if perceptible at all. You see it in commercials, with good-looking, smiling yuppies seeking little more than to be sleek and fit and enjoy themselves. I saw it at the ice cream parlor a week ago. Young men and women (and some elders, too) who by dress, manner, attitude and conversation show little hint of having such a long-term future in mind. Each (boy or girl) simply expects, it seems, to get a good job, a fast car, an iPhone and and iPad, a swank home in a gaited-community with HDTV and all kinds of modern conveniences, and simply to have a good ‘ole time partying. Obviously, each probably hopes to hook up with a domestic partner, but it’s with romance and pleasure in the fore-view, and not the hindrance, expense, responsibility and ultimate blessing of a large family of kids and grandkids and great-grandkids-—at least not now. “Maybe when we’re 30 or 35 . . . . a kid or two . . .” as long as we can keep enjoying ourselves and have all the other important stuff.

    My own prognosis is that our cultural and spiritual problems run far deeper than any of us–even Orthodox Christians–imagine (or care to admit), we have been so out of touch for so long, pursuing our own idols. A culture reaps what it sows, however, and there is no escaping it; and so with time all that is hid will be revealed and what is whispered in secret will be shouted from the housetops.

    For us Orthoox, as Michael so superbly say, let us seek to know Christ more intimately–and our Lady Theotoks and all the saints–and so to conform our life to theirs and thus declare the Orthodox Faith in truth, surrendering our life to His and to each other in love, humilty and faithfulness.

    Christ is in our midst. Forgive me, a sinner.

    rlb

  34. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Robert,

    I appreciate the sensitivity and eloquence with which you expressed your opinions. While there much that I agree with, I think the problems in today’s culture have a multi-faceted etiology.

    This single/celibate woman seeking to serve God in the poor and suffering surely benefits from some education in her endeavors? Certainly no TV (muchless HDTV) for this urban dweller, though perhaps a laptop in order to read Fr. Stephen’s blog and a camera with which to share the earth’s beauty with the homebound? And perhaps a vote to speak up for the disadvantaged when their needs are ignored?

    (“What I am saying I am not saying according to the Lord but as in foolishness, in this boastful state.” 2 Cor. 11:17.)

    My point is that both good things and evil things can come from societal changes – it all rests in what we do with them.

    I too am a sinner in need of forgiveness. Christ is in our midst indeed!

  35. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    MB, This is a very lengthy response. I’ve worked on it in fits and starts while I’m traveling. I hope it is of some use in the questions you’ve asked.
    Mark Basil,
    You suggest a possible “union” of persons of the same gender, in a manner that would somehow be similar to that of persons of different gender. When we describe “union,” we have to ask what we mean. I can think of several things:
    Physical Union – the union that results in the conception of children.
    Emotional/Psychological Union – in a manner that does not destroy the proper boundaries of our respective personhood – a common life, a shared life. Someone else’s thoughts, emotions, well-being, sorrow, etc., take a paramount place in our lives.
    Spiritual Union – much harder to describe – but a shared life, a common life, in which the relationship to Christ is experienced not in a “single” manner, but in a manner which establishes a kind of shared/common existence.

    The sexual expression of human relationships is not isolated to Physical Union. There are emotional/psychological and spiritual aspects of all sexual activity. There is probably no other aspect of our existence that engages the whole of who we are than our sexual activity (at every level). It is, I think, impossible for anyone to say that their sexual desires, thoughts, etc., represent “how they were born.” Human life is exceedingly complex, influenced and effected at all times by the whole of its experience. We are psycho/somatic unities.
    It is not surprising, therefore, that the Christian tradition is deeply concerned with the sexual aspect of our lives. The canonical description of sexual relations is somewhat “complex.” It is not simply, “Married people do it, nobody else does.” It would be better said that for even married people, sexual activity is fraught with difficulty.
    More importantly, nothing in the canons of the Church is a provision for “just getting by.” Everything in the canons of the Church is there for our salvation. Thus, the most important lens for examining the teaching and practice of the Church is under the heading of “What must I do to be saved?”
    A great deal of discussion/debate in the area of marriage/civil unions/etc, would be seen more under the heading of “Why can’t we just agree to let people do what they need to do to get by?” That’s a legitimate question – and a question that directly addresses the use of economia.
    This reframes the discussion (for me) to ask if there is a manner of living as a non-heterosexual person(s) that is salvific? For that is the proclamation of marriage as a sacrament of the Church – the union of a man and woman in the bond of holy matrimony is not a mere permission of the Church, but, in fact, an active part of our cooperative salvation.
    I will not refrain from graphic descriptions here – but it is unclear to me how same-gender sexual activity could ever be described as engaging in union. It is possible to argue that same-gender sexual activities are “emotionally” unitive, or “psychologically” unitive – but, for me, such descriptions are very difficult to understand. I would easily agree that an individual might find same-gender sex to be comforting, reassuring, affirming, etc. but as actually creating a union is much more problematic.
    The Church recognizes that in the union of husband and wife the Church is not somehow creating a state of relationship that would be useful or desirable for some. Rather, the Church is blessing what God has blessed “from the beginning.” As is true in all the sacraments, blessing only reveals something to be what it already is.
    Christ said:
    “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning`made them male and female,’ and said,`For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh ‘? (Mat 19:4-5 NKJ)
    The most obvious fulfillment of this Divine commandment is the procreation of children. The OT Laws regarding sexual activity seem to generally serve for the protection of women and children. One modern Rabbi observed that prior to the giving of the Law, the only sexual categories in ancient societies were “penetrator and penetrated.” The weaker members of society (women, children, those not somehow protected by a powerful man) were without protection. The Law establishes boundaries (“I am Holy, therefore you be holy”).
    Marriage itself has much of its structure founded with the protection of the weak in mind. Its indissoluble character establishes a stability required for the nurture of children and the preservation of the family required for their health and well-being. Romance and personal fulfillment have no place within either OT Law or later Canon Law. Thus, the foundation of marriage is biological and social.
    The modern notion of relationships, including those of same gender, are today defined primarily in terms of romance and personal fulfillment. I do not think it an unfair generalization to say that in contemporary American culture, children are a secondary concern when compared to the primary place of romance and personal fulfillment.
    All human relationships are “social constructions.” There is nothing within sex itself that dictates monogamy. Polygamy, polyandry, etc. are all well known. Monogamous and faithful chastity is a uniquely Judaeo-Christian construct. There has doubtless been same gender sexual contact throughout all of human history. However, it is only in modern culture that there has been a social construction of a gay subculture, desirous of relationships patterned on those of the monogamous heterosexual marriage.
    The “suffering” of gay men or women without a socially approved “marriage-like” relationship, is thus not a denial of nature, but a denial of a socially constructed “need.” Everyone needs approval and affirmation. Shame is experienced as an unbearable emotion.
    The sacraments of the Church do not exist (or come into existence) in order to affirm whatever personal needs we may create through our own social constructs. Such an arrangement would simply place the Church in the position of a “chaplaincy” to modern Consumer culture. “I want it!” would become the driving raison d’être of our humanity. This is not the union of God and man. It is simply blessing the union of man with his own self-constructed fantasies. It is not salvation.
    Orthodox Christianity is utterly and inherently ascetical. There is no salvation, not even any true humanity, without fasting (Adam and Eve begin their existence in a Paradise that included fasting). The Christian gospel is not the proclamation of a God who will fulfill you – but of a God who is Himself the true fulfillment of humanity which is created in His image. Thus we look at God to find out who we are – but we do not look at ourselves in order to see who God is.
    “Social Constructs” are not limited to varying new relational arrangements. Marriage and family are themselves largely “social constructs.” The 21st century family and the 18th century family are very different things. The Blessing of Marriage as sacrament should not ever be construed as the blessing of the ephemeral social dynamics that may be labeled as “family.” Even less should the sacrament of marriage be seen as the Church’s blessing on one particular arrangement for the purpose of personal fulfillment. There is a reason that the sacrament bestows “martyrs crowns” on a married couple. The model for marriage is the “union of Christ and His Church.”
    You spoke very disparagingly of the “third marriage” in an Orthodox Church. Even this is a blessing for ascesis.
    What is the ascesis for someone who has a same-gender sexual orientation? This is the correct question – whereas your question seems to be “what is the personal fulfillment for someone with same-gender sexual orientation?” Where is the martyr’s crown to be found for a gay person?
    The teaching of the Church clearly does not locate ascesis within same-sex genital expression.
    The “difficulties” with this teaching are felt quite strongly today because of the social constructs of modern culture. The current demand/trend is for social/legal/religious validation of same-gender relationships modeled on traditional marriage. The demand makes sense within the matrix of much of our culture. Personal fulfillment through the exercise of our will (choices and decisions) is our culture’s formula for happiness. Impediments to our will’s fulfillment are experienced as unbearable.
    The Church has no role in validating the personal desires of individuals. There is no path to salvation that journeys in that direction. In the course of 2000 years, there are no stories of individuals (or couples) engaging in same-sex activity who attained theosis. There are certainly stories of those who have engaged in such activity (the desert fathers have many such stories), always described as sin (though with no more particular condemnation than other forms of fornication) and as having found forgiveness. The Tradition shows no particular “shock” at such behavior.
    At present, sexual identity has become a highly charged political issue. Narratives of human suffering and redemption are being created and exploited for a wide variety of purposes. Sadly these narratives are finding their way into theological discussions.
    You described a suffering, indeed great pathos, within the gay community. The truth is, there is great suffering and pathos everywhere. Human lives (including those of multiple marriages) are full of suffering. It is for us to be merciful and kind. The hatred that some direct towards others should have no place within the Church. But erecting a false narrative of human sexual union will not ultimately remove the suffering of any. The transient joy of personal fulfillment is a very sad substitute for salvation and theosis.
    Human life, including human sexual experience, is filled with distortions and disasters. Orthodoxy, in obedience to Christ, can offer no solace to anyone other than the ascesis of the Cross taken up. The sad state of marriage today is not an argument for the creation of more sad states. It is an argument for the renewal of true ascesis. 

    The question then turns to the Church: How do we become the kind of Church that can effectively and faithfully help people to bear suffering? For there is no road to salvation except through the Cross. Those who have very deeply imposed burdens – through inheritance, through abuse, through whatever life has given – should not have their burden made yet more brutal by the failure of love on the part of their brothers and sisters in Christ. I think that it is rare indeed (if not impossible) for any of us to bear the Cross in a manner that is salvific except through the prayers and communion of others.
    I know that Fr. Hopko has been an extremely kind and sensitive pastor – one who has with great love made it possible for some to bear the Cross in a saving manner. His recent book on sexual matters could doubtless be improved…but you would look a long time before you’d find a better priest’s heart in this matter than Fr. Thomas’. He’s a good priest – a truly good priest.

  36. Merry Bauman Avatar
    Merry Bauman

    Perfectly said Fr. Stephen!

  37. Merry Bauman Avatar
    Merry Bauman

    Robert, I look forward to meeting you as well. I will make enemies of many women by saying this, but women are not meant to be men. We can do some jobs as well or better than men, but I question if we should be doing some of them. Having had to work at very stressful jobs in mostly male dominated jobs, in order to support my children, I know first-hand the stress and pressures that are killing women now as they once did only men. I would have loved to be able to stay home and take care of my family. I missed out on a lot of my children’s lives because I had to work. I also had a full time job at home after a long day at a job. I don’t think I did either as well as they could or should have been done because I ran out of energy.
    I love being a wife, mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. These are my highest callings in life. The job God created me to fill. What I do to make money is secondary. Men define themselves by their jobs. Women by their relationships. We are biologically, psychologically, and emotionally different from men. Nothing can change that simple fact. Women are very complex creatures. Men are simple. They need to work, eat, sleep, have sex, and when treated with the love and respect they deserve, are very loving and protective to the females and young. Stated at the most basic level of course but the synergy of a truly married couple who share life as real friends and helpmates is part of the path to salvation for many who would otherwise perhaps be lost. My late husband was saved thru the belief of a believing wife who lived her faith and who baptized him in the hospital as he lay dying . Long and amazing story, but a miracle of faith and salvation that happened because of a marriage. God has led me thru a lot of fires in this life, but I have seen miracles too. Michaels late wife died at the same hospital, same floor, and same date as my husband. Three years earlier, and she died of complications of something I have and control- diabetes. My husband died of complications of open heart surgery and Michael needed open heart to live. He was not going to have it until we met . He did fine and had two of the same doctors my late husband did. God made me face my greatest fear of losing someone else I loved to heart surgery, and He gave me victory. Michael brought me to Orthodoxy and has transformed my life and heart in a blessed way. Robert- I noticed you spelled my name “Mary”, instead of “Merry”. My Saint at Christmation was the Theotokos, so Mary is my name too and you were right.
    Fr. Stephen I think really said it all in his comment, and very well. Can’t add to that, but only agree with him.

  38. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for your deeply thought-provoking and sensitive comment in response to Mark Basil, also addressing my earlier questions. I would like to add a few more questions/comments – but I want to state upfront that I am not trying to be argumentative.

    There is much that is not understood about the variations that exist in sexual identity and orientation. One question that comes to mind is that, if we look to the Bible and Tradition for guidance, is it possible that we are looking for answers during time periods when these issues were even less understood? (As an analogy, though a limited one, I think of the diagnosis/treatment of lepers as outlined in the Old Testament. Hansen’s disease was not yet understood.) At this point in history we now know more about sexual variations than was once known – and it is quite possible that some day we will understand even more. May it be that increased understanding will lead us to different conclusions?

    Intending no disrespect for the scriptural passage stating that God “made them male and female”, certainly this was not intended to be a lesson in biology or anthropology. In reality, there are people born with genetic variations and ambiguous genital expression (some scholarly estimates are as high as 2% of births). I would not expect scripture to say that God made them male, female and other – yet those born with these differences were also created by God.

    While these biological variations are not the same as homosexuality, we are challenged further when we encounter people who are transsexual (or transgendered). Early attempts to explain this phenomenon focused on parenting and trauma but, since then, much more credible explanations have been found in genetic, hormonal and brain structure variations.

    If we move then to sexual orientation, current conclusions are that homosexuality is likely to have multi-factorial causes, which may include some of the same factors. It is important also to realize that not all homosexual behavior is engaged in by people of homosexual orientation. (Circumstances, such is prolonged separation from the opposite sex, may result in homosexual behavior among those who otherwise consider themselves heterosexual. Also, some early adolescent exploration is considered normal.)

    Those of us who are not gay cannot imagine what it is like to be gay. (In fact, most of us find it disturbing to try, so unnatural it seems to us.) For gay people, homosexual attraction and behavior is experienced as being as normal as heterosexual behavior is to straight people (and heterosexual behavior is often experienced as unnatural). Hence, when heterosexuals try to imagine gay people’s desire for sacramental marriage, we often cannot help but feel it is “wrong” – because it would be wrong for us. While it might be hard for the heterosexual to imagine homosexual acts as unitive, this may not be hard for gay people to imagine – on all levels.

    With regard to social structure, there are same sex couples who raise children together in stable homes. Thus far, research has not demonstrated that their children suffer any psychological ill effects from this type of home life, when compared to children raised in comparable heterosexual homes. Some gay people want to have families, raise and nurture children with the same interests at heart as heterosexual people do.

    Fr. Stephen – what you wrote about finding what leads to salvation is extremely relevant and much appreciated. I also appreciate that the most vocal among the gay rights folks may seem to primarily seeking their personal fulfillment rather than spiritual union. (Sadly, much of heterosexual focus lies there as well.) But does this mean that there are not those in the gay community who are drawn to desire the same union with one another and Christ as heterosexuals are? Can we know that abstention (ascesis) is God’s only plan for them and all of the others who experience the variations described above?

    While I greatly appreciate your words about helping others bear the inevitable burdens that come with life, what if we (the larger straight community) are the ones imposing the burden? Do we not have a responsibility to examine this possibility? I realize I am raising complex questions but hope you might find time to respond to them.

    (For the record, I experienced the “yuck” factor when considering sexual variations before I learned about them and met fine people who experience them. Hence, I understand but do not condone the reactions of those who may feel disturbed or repelled by the topics I have raised.)

  39. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Mary,
    Actually, the “we now know more,” is a very tired argument and not very accurate. We don’t know more about so-called orientation. What we know is that sexual stuff is really, really messy. I think, after more than 3 decades of priestly ministry in a contemporary setting, that most people are potentially “bi-sexual” (or even more flexible than that). People are just sexual, period. Always have been. The so-called “yuck” factor is not at all upheld by the statistics and practices of the porn industry. In fact that industry regularly proves that what is today’s “yuck,” can quickly be tomorrow’s obsession. We’re not just sexual beings, we can be very creative sexual beings. We’re not “stuck.” There are probably general “orientations” and some things that cannot be greatly changed. But it’s all very messy, very flexible and very nature/nurture/nature/nuture, etc.

    The social groupings that find cultural expression “the lgbt community” (as well as its growing list of hangers’ on), are a cultural phenomenon, just like the personal fulfillment cult of modern marriage is a cultural phenomenon. These things have been structured in many ways across the centuries (as well as many ways at present). But people make suggestions and even ask for legislation as though they were requesting recognition of timeless unchanging realities such as gender and race.

    But these are moot points. The Church blesses what it has been commanded to bless. We don’t get to exactly make it up from whole cloth. Just like we don’t get to constantly re-invent the Bible. Actually, I don’t have a “yuck” factor about this stuff. I’m not homophobic, either. I’m an Orthodox priest, however, and I have no authority or writ from God or elsewhere to invent new modes of theosis or paths to holiness.

    Some people are already working on it and they have “Churches.” But it’s not Orthodoxy. The “burdens” of sexual orientation are doubtless increased by the refusal of the Church to bless a social expression of same-gender sexual activity. Those burdens could be lessened with great kindness, no doubt. But a kinder, gentler, popular culture of mutual affirmation of our personal fulfillment agendas is not the task of the Church. This stuff is hard – very hard – and it’s closer to my heart than you might ever imagine. I care about people – including those who have to bear various burdens within their sexual desires. Six of my seminary classmates died of AIDS (it was the 70’s – who knew what was lurking in the bath houses?) What they (we, all of us) need, are the Divine Energies of Christ. What salvation will look like will not even be manifest in this life for the most part.

    The questions – the “what if’s” – the “if only’s” – are interesting – but they are generally moot points.

    My final take on this: many things are going to change in the short run. The political pendulum has swung in the direction of a very pro-gay affirmation. It will change the positions of most people. It will change many Churches. It will not change what God is doing. And what God is doing will be made manifest when all things are revealed. I’m an Orthodox priest, and I will remain obedient to the path I have accepted. I used to be an Anglican and could have done this path in an entirely different manner. Thought it through – more than you can ever imagine. Thought, thought, thought. Prayed it through. Prayed. Prayed. Prayed. I prevaricated, several times. I am not a brave man or even a good man.

    But I eventually set my hand on the plough I now follow. All of this may be new and in need of consideration for some. I’ve set my hand to the plough. I will love everyone but I do not think there is any knew revelation to be had in any of this. There is just the hard bitter reality of the crappy world of human sin – and the kind generosity of the good God who loved us so much that He gave His only Son. If we die with Christ, we shall also live with Him. Die. Die. Die. Die. That’s the only revelation I have.

  40. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    mary benton I too am sensitive to the pain of these folks but the homosexual marriage is being driven by an agenda that is destructive to the freedom of others and is often directed at the Church.
    :
    With all due respect the spiritual anthropology of the Church is much deeper than modern psychology. Sexuality in all of us is not as it should be, even those of us considered normal. There is only male and female. The variations that are existentially experienced are because of the disruption of being separated from God: the source of all our pain.

    My observation of psychology over the years is that, on the whole, it seeks to normalize that which it can’t treat.

    The goal of the Church is to guide us all toward salvation. As regards sexuality, none of us is free to use it as we please. We are all called to ascesis. The idea that we are our sexuality is born out of the realm of death. The idea that the only way we can be happy is to be sexually fulfilled is from the same realm.

    Ultimately, salvation is union with Christ. Anything less than that is loving the created thing too much. It is tough to see the pain of others. We want to fix it. Sometimes what we think of as helping doesn’t.

    I am a terrible faster from food and my passions, it is difficult. Indulging them however only makes it worse..

    The anger and rage of the homosexual activists is fed by it and makes it more and more difficult.

    Personally, sin is all too easy to understand and excuse. I am not a holy man. It is virtue that I find difficult to accept. Even as I reach out to Christ for life, death sucks at me to consume my soul.

    It is the mission of the Church to rescue everybody from death’s clutches. It is possible for everyone through repentance and ascesis that is impossible to bear without Christ.

  41. dino Avatar
    dino

    Father,
    again, I must say, I would love to see the above two comments of yours as an article! I cannot find words to express how valuable I think they are – as well as the ease of locating these most significant clarifications you have made on these matters! Thank you for your counsel!

  42. Mark Avatar

    Father bless;

    Thank you.
    You have addressed many of the distortions of perspective that have clouded my understanding and tempted me off balance. I cannot echo Dino’s sentiments strongly enough. The way you have framed this issue is invaluable for myself and so many others in our culture who lack the broader historical awareness and maturity to interpret the “suffering” of the same-sex persons we know.
    Thank you thank you thank you.

    Love;
    -Mark Basil

  43. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    I would like to stress three points: 1. We are all disordered in our sexuality because of our estrangement from God. We are all in need of repentance even if our proclivities are within the current worldly norm which is obviously deeply disturbed.

    2. God’s order is simple: male-female. It is inherent in the created order. Any departure from that is part of the disorder.

    3. All of the pain we experience in this life is the result of our estrangement from God pandering to that estrangement merely deepens the pain. Our existential angst is more a product of our failure to repent than anything else. A shadow of hell. The Church is not about helping people adjust to hell. It is about bearing one another’s burdens in the midst of our daily walk toward Golgatha. There we will be blessed if we hear: “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.”

    Salvation without repentance is unlikely.

  44. marybenton Avatar
    marybenton

    Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you so much for your comment. Just a few clarifications and then I will drop it (I promise :-))

    First, the “yuck factor” comment wasn’t aimed at you. You have always addressed the topic with compassion. I offered that comment to readers who may not be in the same place. The topics of transsexual, intersexual, etc. are often disturbing to people who have little awareness of such things. I suspect that my 30+ years as a mental health professional (a ministry) and your 30+ years in ministry have likely exposed us to these human dilemmas more deeply than the average person.

    The “we know more” perspective is not an argument. It is a fact – not necessarily about sexual orientation but about stuff in general. For example, in the past, a child born with dual or ambiguous genitalia would likely be left to die or the parents ostracized, assuming great sin for producing this “abomination”. Now, decisions are made, corrective surgeries or hormones may be administered and the person assumes a normal place in society. We know more about these things than we used to and we are called to act accordingly.

    Thus, my comment was not to argue that we now understand sexual orientation but to suggest that some day we may. While the doctrine of the Church does not (and should not) change in its essence, God’s revelation is ongoing, not just a thing of the past. Hence, I am suggesting to you and your readers an openness to what God may help us understand about sexuality in the future. We cannot claim to know what God wants in all things. (I am not claiming that I know what God wants either.) I strive for prayerful openness and compassion for human dilemmas.

    And, Fr. Stephen, in no way was I expecting you to do anything other than teach and act as an Orthodox priest. I also would not expect you to take it upon yourself to re-interpret scripture or Tradition – or to endorse my personal perspectives, even if you wanted to (and I’m sure you don’t). I apologize if I have wearied you.

    The one incorrect thing I must point out, however, is this statement of yours: “I am not a brave man or even a good man.” Sorry – that one is false. You are both.

  45. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    mary benton we all struggle with the pathologies that surround us. It I’d too easy to become hardened to others pain. To face it constantly as you do is a remarkable thing to me. Thank you for the reminder.

  46. Mark Avatar

    Hello Marry;

    My understanding of Holy Tradition is that it is the saving faith delivered to us. It is nothing more nor anything less than Jesus Christ Himself: God made known to us in the flesh.
    Discerning Holy Tradition, then, is the fruit of spiritual discpiline, of ascesis (purification, illumination, deification).
    If we understood Tradition as a pure stream of living water, and the whole of the Church’s Tradition as a great Ocean through which the pure stream flowed, then my ascesis is a movement from the periphery of the ocean toward its central pure stream. For myself I have found this movement also requires a certain ‘feeling’ component to it.
    In this current issue what Fr Stephen has helped me with most is sensititivity to this pure stream.
    What sits in my mind now as a good example is Christ’s simple statement that you commented on, from the beginning God made us male and female, and we are to unite in marriage as one flesh.
    For me, this communicates a feeling (not an emotion, but more like an inkling or suggestion or germ of an intuition) that there is something essential to the “male and female” created “from the beginning” in the salvific union of marriage. Why would Christ frame it this way? He’s not making an argument (he rarely does) but giving us something to contemplate and point us in a direction.

    Something else that helped me tremendously is something do “do” with all the “suffering” I hear/see within persons who struggle with same-sex attraction. I have assumed compassion and co-suffering would have me identify with these struggles and seek to aleiviate the suffering. I think this is the modern challenge– because it is increasingly normalized and so people in counseling professions, etc., are wanting to offer relief from the anxiety, struggle, pain, “burden” as you say.
    However I think Father has rightly placed that “suffering” within an historical, social, and psychological context that says it is somewhat exagerated and inflated well out of proportion. Because we’re a hypersexulalized culture that understands marriage in terms of satisfaction, gratification, even companionship (i.e. someone always there for me, with me, to share experiences, etc.). While children are an optional addition however we personally decide they will fit into our fulfillment, etc.
    Because of this gross misunderstanding of Marriage, being deprived of it is felt acutely as unfair, denial, extreme anguish, etc.
    But the Church is offering a path to union with God– all the saints have taught that it is impossible without extreme suffering (the paradox of the cross, life from death, etc.). I think that I might better help my beloved friends so struggling, by living marriage as it is meant (holy mystery; path of salvation; martyrdom), and when invited/ asked, exposing the myth of the romance-marriage-fullfilment as false and not worth pining for.
    Germane to this is whether homosexually-inclined persons could enter a heterosexual marriage and have a family. As Father said we are *sexual* beings. As you said there’s flexiblity: even those identifying as “straight” may engage in homosexual activity under less-than-prefered circumstances.
    So what’s really lost?
    Pleaure. Fulfilment. Gay people will enjoy sex less with a person of the same gender. The feelings of intimacy, romance, etc. will all be truncated.
    What I have learned since recently getting married, is that this is even what us heterosexual singles have to learn! I expected far more satisfaction in my sex life- or a very differnt kind of satisfaction, fulfillment, etc. So I am persuaded that one of the major distorting factors in the same-sex question is our impoverished expectations and understandings of heterosexual unions (i.e. marriage). It aint what singles think it is! To pine after and fantasize and desire what I *imagined* marriage to be while single, would have been terribly sad to think I had to give it up just because of my orientation.
    But it isnt “as good” as I thought it was. Of course it’s so much better! But apples-and-oranges better. I received something far greater but had not been prepared for it by my socialization.
    Does that make sense?

    Anyway these are some of the things that have helped me.
    Love;
    -Mark Basil

  47. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Thank you, Michael, for those kind words.

    My comments may lead people to believe that I am out campaigning for women’s rights and gay marriage but that is not the case at all.

    To work as I do, I must keep my mind and heart open to all kinds of pain. If an atheist lesbian who just had an abortion comes to see me, my professional responsibility is to treat whatever ails her in a nonjudgmental fashion. My Christian responsibility is to show her the love of God without ever mentioning God’s name.

    It is a great privilege to be a psychologist, to walk with the Crucified One in whatever form He presents. (For He bears all of our sins and brokenness…) May He have mercy on me, his unworthy servant.

  48. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Thank you, also, Mark Basil. (Your words had not yet appeared when I posted my last comment.)

  49. Mark Avatar

    Marry, thank you for your most recent comment. You have made my heart a bit softer and less cynical about the prospects of real Christians in Counseling professions.

    Love
    -Mark

  50. Phil Avatar
    Phil

    marybenton, the Didache and other ancient Christian documents expressly condemn the practice of exposing infants. Compassion is not an artifact of modernity.

  51. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Thank you, Phil, for this bit of information.

    I meant the comment generally about how human beings know more about some things than they used to. Not suggesting that this was ever a specifically Christian practice.

    History was never one of my better subjects, I’m afraid :-). However, I hope that my meaning might add something to the overall reflections offered here (in some small way).

  52. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Compassion is intrinsically and uniquely human. It one of our attributes that sin attacks first since it is part of our being made in God’s image.

    It is the source of our salvation as only out of the greatest of compassion both human and divine was Christ on the Cross able to say: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”

    In the exercise of compassion we “show ourselves most like God”

  53. fatherstephen Avatar
    fatherstephen

    Mary,
    The modern world “ought to know better.” We are not a compassionate society. The wholesale slaughter of children in the modern world staggers anything that has gone before. We abort one third of all pregnancies. But we hide behind rhetoric of various sorts to protect ourselves from the knowledge that we are the most barbarous culture in the history of the world. We are barbarous, precisely because we could be otherwise and choose not to be.
    The modern world has a “boutique” compassion. We go into paroxysms of caring when the media requests (complete with street demonstrations), but we have no appetite for true redemptive suffering – doing the hard thing for the long term in order to actually make a difference. Even our medical technology spends most of its money correcting the conditions of the wealthiest minorities (or those from whom the most profit can be derived) and neglects many more “generic” problems that would, in fact, save far more lives.
    We are barbarous in the most bizarre form the world has ever seen. We are not a good people. God have mercy on us.

  54. mary benton Avatar
    mary benton

    Fr. Stephen –

    I certainly cannot dispute the facts you cite. However, there are also deep wells of goodness and compassion in our world. We must always keep ourselves linked to those deep wells, lest we lose hope – which would be the greatest tragedy of all.

    I am not suggesting that you personally are losing hope, of course, but I think it is one of the greatest temptations we humans face.

    We know Christ is our only true hope. In daily life, we must find ways to keep Him ever before us.

    This is, I think, part of the reason I stopped watching television years ago. I am not saying there is never anything of value there or that this is everyone’s answer. However, I think that too many families ceased interacting on meaningful levels once this and other passive entertainments crept into our lives.

    Talking with people, praying, reading, writing, playing music, creating art, spending time with nature and carrying out the basic self-maintenance of life easily fills my days (and then some).

    I can only live my own life in Christ (feeble though my attempts may be). I cannot live the world’s, or my country’s or any other person’s life (much as the media may push me to believe I must know everything about everyone). I live here, now, in this creative moment – for this is where God is.

    (Sorry, I know I’m way off topic but this reflection kept coming back even though I deleted it once.)

  55. FJE Avatar
    FJE

    Father, I thank God too for your ministry. Your voice resonates with our hearts. With Dino, ‘I cannot find words..’

  56. Robert Bearer Avatar
    Robert Bearer

    Mary (Benton) and FJE, thank you for your last two comments. (You see I’ve fallen way behind in this thread, but look forward to going back and “cathing up.” Thank you, Merry (Bauman) for your kind reply (I did get back that far at least).

    One last (brief?) comment for now–thoug I written myself a 4+ page study on it:). Looking more closely at the “western” wedding ceremonial and the Orthodox Rite of Holy Matrimony with its two-part Betrothal and Crowing, I am amazed to see that it not so much that explicit “vows” are “missing” from the Orthodox Rite but that the western ritual (What’s left of it)is effectivley confined to the Betrothal of our Rite and the “vows” are practically all that’s left of the liturgy–which is why their “absence” is so palpable to one raised in the “west” and then being blessed to witness the Orthodox Rite served in all its fullness. The exchange of vows and rings seem so critical in the west because the Litanies, the censing, Psalm 128/127 and the magnificient prayers that the groom and his bride may learn fidelity and see their children’s children have been removed (If they ever were there) and replaced with a short exhortation before the vows and a few prayers after them. Into the vacuum non-liturgical fellowships have added vocal solos, unity candles (and now, I understand, unity sand).

    Still, as Mary wisely says, we will not lose heart because of Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever and the day is always darkest before the dawn.

    Christ is in our midst. Forvige me, a sinner.
    rlb

  57. Laura Avatar
    Laura

    Father, your comment above about union and asceticism has been tumbling around in my mind since I read it. It clarifies the Christian idea of marriage more than anything else has for me. I know you may not want to attract more heat – but I would love to see those comments in the body of a post as well!

  58. Mark Avatar

    Hello Fr Stephen.

    I have recently discussed your various comments here with one of the friends I mentioned. Much of what you offered is helpful. However my friend drew attention to the fact that you do not appear to have specifically addressed how or why exactly union is not possible for two people of the same gender.

    You said of union,
    When we describe “union,” we have to ask what we mean. I can think of several things:
    Physical Union – the union that results in the conception of children.
    Emotional/Psychological Union – in a manner that does not destroy the proper boundaries of our respective personhood – a common life, a shared life. Someone else’s thoughts, emotions, well-being, sorrow, etc., take a paramount place in our lives.
    Spiritual Union – much harder to describe – but a shared life, a common life, in which the relationship to Christ is experienced not in a “single” manner, but in a manner which establishes a kind of shared/common existence.

    My friend asks, why would it not be possible for two persons of the same sex to be united in “psychological, emotional, and spiritual” ways? Of course they can also be united in sexual ways, though as you did clearly point out if we take a cue from biology/physiology this is not as clearly complementary and ‘fitting’ a union.
    But the more pertinent question of my friend, which I will echo, is, why is there not a union possible for two persons of the same gender?

    This is a different question than my first… it is a very reduced question. I think you have clearly answered *that* it cannot be (according to Scripture and Tradition). You have also helped me very much to put this question into its cultural, social context.
    But I know of very specific people who would benefit from hearing more on why, exactly, a Christian union is “not possible” for two people of the same gender?

    Further, you said,
    What is the ascesis for someone who has a same-gender sexual orientation? This is the correct question – whereas your question seems to be “what is the personal fulfillment for someone with same-gender sexual orientation?” Where is the martyr’s crown to be found for a gay person?
    The teaching of the Church clearly does not locate ascesis within same-sex genital expression.

    I am not entirely sure what you were getting at with this.
    I have friends who are in monogamous gay marriages- they have been together monogamously for decades now. As within a monastery, to exist in proximate community with another required love, sacrificial love. Even so for these gay friends- they actually have had to “die to self” just to keep loving each other, keep together, etc. Like any other couple of course. It’s not just “all pleasure”.
    You state, “The teaching of the Church clearly does not locate ascesis within same-sex genital expression.”
    I would truly be grateful for you to explicate this. Where does the Church proclaim this? As I say this is not a philosophical or academic question in my corner of the world. Father, I need your assistance. And your prayers please.
    If you would prefer to email me privately that is fine (even preferable to me):
    man or they at gmail dot com
    (all one word).

    Love;
    -Mark Basil

  59. Dino Avatar
    Dino

    Mark,
    you brought fresh attention to this matter.
    I believe the short answer re ‘spiritual union’ (same sex) is that it is NOT a bodily union.
    Think of Saints Basil and Gregory, or lesser known Saints Nilus of Calabria and Fandinus the wonerworker. They were unified with an exceptional (and admittedly very dangerous in most other circumstances – theirs where exceptional) Spiritual union. But they needn’t physically even see each other. Bodily union almost destroys (or at least lowers) the sublime spirituality of true union. Do we at least understand the truth of this subtlety…?
    It often escapes secular thoughts on ‘union’.
    “Where two (Marriage) or three (Monasticism) are together in my name…” only has these two options: Marriage & Monasticism. Bodily union (a closed union), is blessed with this exceptional blessing only in marriage. Spiritual union is open (three or more), there is no exclusion allowed – and it is in the overwhelming majority of cases “same-sex” for a great many reasons we cannot go into right here for the purpose of brevity…
    God only allows the exclusion of all others in the union of Christ (Adam) and the Church (Eve)… (Not a same-sex union)
    Even the genital expression in marriage can, (unlike that in a same-sex context) entail ascetical overtones. Not just because of the likelihood (the potential) of procreation and the accompanying sacrifices (which is crucial BTW), but also because of other reasons… Within this Church union (marriage), even the pleasure itself, when sometimes resulting from a mixture of self-denial -in order to “not deprive one another” for example- can and does have ascetical overtones.
    One can do this (‘not deprive’), for the sake of his/her beloved God who has ordered it through St Paul and still ‘see’ grace continue to have Her abode in his/her soul. The far greater admixture of self, the far lesser possibility of denial of my rights, etc etc in a same-sex relationship could never allow Grace to stay, even if someone deluded themselves into thinking they are gladly having sex with the other ‘only because they want it’ (to “not deprive” them) while he may have preferred to devote himself to prayer…
    Ok… It sounds a bit like you get into paradise by having sex when you don’t really feel like it but your husband does, which is obviously nothing like having your limbs chopped off, but, there is an element of validity here nevertheless!
    🙂

  60. […] on this whole marriage thing is a glimpse into some info on marriage within Orthodox Christianity: https://glory2godforallthings.com/2013/07/26/no-wedding-vows/.  I don’t delude myself that you’ll all go read the blog (although I highly recommend it), so […]

  61. John Allman Avatar

    Is there any good reason why a couple who want to be married in holy matrimony in an Orthodox ceremony, cannot be married in this way, without their preot insisting that they must first allow the government to “marry” them, according to its unholy definition of marriage, which allows two people of the same sex to be married in the eyes of the government?

    I don’t feel that I can, in good conscience, partake of the secular government’s modern unholy matrimony. I see nothing in the bible to oblige this compromise of my deeply held belief that marriage is between a male and a female, and that any relationship created by the secular government that fails this test cannot be God’s marriage. Nor is there anything in the criminal or civil law where I live, which is the UK, that forbids this. However, I see, in 1 Corinthians 7, in my particular circumstances, a Christian obligation to take as my Christian wife my significant other, with whom I have completed marriage preparation classes, as soon as practicable.

  62. […] are no vows in an Orthodox wedding ceremony. Orthodoxy sees a marriage as a union, not a contract. It is sacramental, not legal. We are truly bound by God, and not by promises that can be explained […]

  63. […] Here is what I found, from Ancient Faith Blogger, Fr. Stephen Freeman: […]

  64. Archpriest Gregory Hallam Avatar

    On the matter of marriages that the State WOULD declare null and void, here in the UK that would certainly be the case with the Orthodox marriage service as it is. The so called “contractual words: “I take you (N) … ” are indispensable to the validity of the marriage. The problem apparently first arose in the Kingdom of Poland when that country moved from Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism. The remaining Orthodox Church of Poland had to add the contractual words in a vow mini ceremony after the Betrothal and before the Crowning to avoid the necessity of the couple have a civil marriage first before coming to Church to be married. This is what we do (have to do) here in the UK.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Subscribe to blog via email

Support the work

Your generous support for Glory to God for All Things will help maintain and expand the work of Fr. Stephen. This ministry continues to grow and your help is important. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!


Latest Comments

  1. “And, in good Protestant fashion, the debate went on.” Oh … now this is funny! 🙂 (and true!) Also ……

  2. Thy Kingdom Come: “Blessed are You on the throne of the glory of Your Kingdom, seated upon the Cherubim; always,…


Read my books

Everywhere Present by Stephen Freeman

Listen to my podcast



Categories


Archives