Marriage and Cohabitation

[Pravmir (Russian Orthodox Web Magazine); June 2010]

Forum on Marriage and Cohabitation

1. What does the marriage ceremony grant exactly to a couple that would help form a lasting relationship?

The marriage ceremony is a Holy Mystery, a Sacrament, which means that something happens beyond what the human participants bring to the event. God intervenes with his Holy Spirit and creates something holy, something that did not exist before. The marriage ceremony is essential for Christians, so that this immensely significant relationship in our lives may be upheld and blessed by God.

2. Is a positive, public and committed relationship really an illegitimate relationship without a marriage ceremony?

I wouldn’t use the word “illegitimate.” It is legitimate according to its own standards. But as it rests entirely on the man and woman involved, it is easier to break. It does not draw into witness the entire church community, even those who do not know them personally, including the witness through time. With a church wedding, the couple are surrounded and held together by a much larger, eternal community. This gives their marriage strength and significance that a mere mutual agreement would not have.

3. What does a couple do if they have entered a marriage but then found out that they are not compatible? How can couples find out if they are compatible if living together is not allowed before actually formalizing a committed relationship?

Compatibility is a moving target. Married couples continually adjust to each other over the years. In every marriage there will always be one thing that, if focused on and exaggerated, will make the partners feel they cannot bear to remain married. Compatibility can be worked at and won if the partners try to live with each other forgivingly, overlooking each other’s bad or annoying habits. Sometimes marriages go through bad stretches where it seems like the relationship is over. Those who love God will get through such times just by continuing, day after day, to persevere. The way to avoid divorce is to keep on not getting divorced.

4. What are the prevailing reasons for breakups among Orthodox Christian married couples?

I have the impression that in traditionally Orthodox countries the divorce rate is not so high; when people move to America or a similar country, they begin to break up for the same reasons that nonbelievers do. They begin to put themselves first, to think that the relationship is not fair to them, or are tempted to be unfaithful due to the great amount of temptations in movies and entertainment. I don’t think there are reasons that Orthodox couples, in particular, are tempted, but that they run into the same temptations that other people do.

About Frederica Mathewes-Green

Frederica Mathewes-Green is a wide-ranging author who has published 10 books and 800 essays, in such diverse publications as the Washington Post, Christianity Today, Smithsonian, and the Wall Street Journal. She has been a regular commentator for National Public Radio (NPR), a columnist for the Religion News Service,, and Christianity Today, and a podcaster for Ancient Faith Radio. (She was also a consultant for Veggie Tales.) She has published 10 books, and has appeared as a speaker over 600 times, at places like Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Wellesley, Cornell, Calvin, Baylor, and Westmont, and received a Doctor of Letters (honorary) from King University. She has been interviewed over 700 times, on venues like PrimeTime Live, the 700 Club, NPR, PBS, Time, Newsweek, and the New York Times. She lives with her husband, the Rev. Gregory Mathewes-Green, in Johnson City, TN. Their three children are grown and married, and they have fourteen grandchildren.

Christian LifeMarriage and Family