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!





  1. Thanks for this post Father.

    I have been thinking a lot lately about the whole push for gay rights and what I think is the inevitability of universal gay marriage in the USA fairly soon. There are Orthodox writers that are pretty bent out of shape about this and think that Orthodox bishops should rail publicly about this dissolution of values. Most of them will admit that marriage in the USA has been declining for quite some time, but they see this as the greatest of crises concerning cultural morals in the public square. Now I do agree that this represents a decline in morals, but I totally disagree that it is the job of Orthodox clergy to tell the whole culture, much of which is not Orthodox and arguably not even Christian, that they should be held to Orthodox standards.

    Just as referring to the people in charge of things as rulers rather than leaders tends to add more verity to the nature of what they actually do, I think referring to copulation as “marrying” would be greeted with both laughs and a profound sense of a paradigm shift about what people are actually doing. There is a scene in the novel Lonesome Dove where a couple of buffalo hunters are escorting a woman across the prairie to find her long lost love in Ogalala. The smaller and smarter of the two suggests that they split up to hunt, but he makes his way back to the wagon to try to have his way with the woman while his large and simple minded partner is away. When his partner comes back to find the smaller hunter struggling with the woman he asks “did he try to marry you?” to the woman before giving him the beating of a lifetime. The implication of the scene is that the simple minded giant has things confused, but I would argue it is all the other way around. When college students go out in groups and “hook up” with each other they are really all trying to marry each other.

  2. Interesting, but I must confess that I’ve always seen vows not as contracts but as promises, not just to one another, but to God. A vow is a sacred oath, and I think that is a wonderful thing. I love Orthodox weddings, but I don’t see them as different in this way.

  3. I quite agree that this issue has relevance for the current gay marriage debate. Much of the debate, however, isn’t so much an actual debate -but rather a messy shouting match- because everyone is speaking past each other. They do this because they haven’t agreed on terms. If one side claims that marriage is x and the other claims that it is y, then having a discussion about “marriage” becomes impossible.

  4. Thanks, as others have said, for a thoughtful and thought-provoking article. I hadn’t realized the Orthodox service didn’t have vows, and that’s somewhat appealing to me. As an aside, I would have said the highlight of an Anglican marriage service is the nuptial blessing, not the vows. Your mileage may vary.

    Anyway, I’m curious about one point. If an older couple (say, in their 60s) or an infertile couple wanted to be married in church, would that be permitted? In other words, must the possibility of procreation obtain as a necessary condition for Orthodox marriage?

  5. Scott,

    I don’t think that the possibility of procreation is a necessary condition for Orthodox marriage. No one can know for sure if they will be able to have children no matter what their age, although most 60 year olds would be quite surprised to learn they were expecting. Some people are told they cannot conceive, yet they do. Others have no reason to think they are unable but find that they cannot have children. And, if they couple has been celibate before marriage, how could they know they are infertile (excepting some circumstances of course)?

  6. Amen!! I love that: “The sacrament is a union, not a contract.” I remember when my husband and I (converts) got engaged and found out that the Orthodox wedding service “left out” (didn’t contain) the vow exchange. At first it seemed so foreign, but any concerns we may have had disappeared when we read through this beautiful service – there is so much confidence in the wisdom and ancient truths of our faith – thank God!

  7. Very good explanation of an Orthodox wedding. Now I must admit, I was taken aback when I first heard of the “no vows”…I thought to myself what is this, a free pass? but as I read more about the Orthodox view of marriage, I realize that when entered into with ones whole heart, soul and mind, the actual committment goes deeper than spoken vows and “till death us do part.” It’s all part of that mystery between Christ and His Church. Just like walking down the aisle and rattling off some “salvation” prayer doesn’t make you once saved, always saved…neither does the parroting of words. It’s gotta be in the heart before it ever comes out of the mouth!

  8. In the Antiochian church, “fair children” has been replaced with some other phrase. I had my priest say it that way anyway, it’s beautiful. I am so glad I was able to be married in the Orthodox church, it was more beautiful than anything I could have come up with on my own or within my previous tradition(s).

  9. No vows? Not even an implicit one to God? It would seem to me that, with civil marriage available in any country, the fact that both are presenting themselves for the blessing from the priest is a vow in and of itself.

    Besides, I think you are taking the US norm and applying it universally–a bad thing to do. In many (most) countries, you need to have a civil service of some sort (could be the signing of legal papers before a register) before the service in a church. Since that is the case, there is no need for vows because you have already made them. The church is only blessing what you have already contracted in the civil realm.

  10. “The church is only blessing…”

    Marriage in the Orthodox Church is a sacrament: the priest does not just bless, he requests the presence of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies and unites in the Spirit. The marriage is fulfilled as the couple becomes one flesh. Children are the fruit, but even with out children there is procreative energy that is released from a real marriage.

    “Just bless” to me seems to say that the sacrament of marriage is irrelevant window dressing when, in fact, it is what makes real and gives it a substance it would lack.

  11. Father Stephen, it seems pretty clear from reading the Scriptures that God utilizes contractual agreements (covenants) quite frequently. With Abraham, covenants of blessings and cursings, with David and so forth. Is’nt God a covenant making and covenant keeping God? Could you please explain God’s use of covenants in His dealings with mankind in light of His desire for oneness with us.

  12. While this is a pretty radical view I know, I have felt for a long time that American Christians should stop getting legally married, should get out of the military (we haven’t had a war that could even meet the Just War standard in a long time let alone the recent changes that basically hobble chaplains), and should pull our children out of government schools. If Christians had this kind of solidarity it would not only set them apart from the larger culture, but it might make the radical minorities that are pushing so hard for these extreme changes in the culture to lose a lot of their support. After all, it isn’t radical left wing types that are volunteering for the military as a general rule. The government school system would be dismantled if every Christian family opted for private education or home schooling. Getting out of the government marriage game altogether might allow for something different to show (especially if Christian marriages resulted in fewer divorces, domestic violence, and going on the dole).

    As an aside, most members of Congress don’t send their children to public schools or participate in the military in any way. Funny that they are separatist for reasons of privilege and we can’t do it for reasons of being the salt in the culture and demonstrating our citizenship not as Americans first, but as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.

  13. Noël: “I’ve always seen vows not as contracts but as promises, not just to one another, but to God.”
    As recently as 32 years ago, in a State law school, our Family Law class was trying to wrap our heads around the legal character of marriage. One realization was that it’s not just a contract, and it’s three-sided: the state is there, too, with a keen interest in the institution of marriage related to the children likely to result.
    Then we further realized that it’s *less* than a contract (to my utter dismay) since the institution of No Fault Divorce, because no other contract can be broken just because one of the parties wills it so (and gets that third party, the state, to accede).
    I’m leaning pretty strongly toward the prediction (for reasons too lengthy to adduce here) that churches serious about marriage, whether viewed from the Eastern or Western Christian traditions, will soon find themselves opting out of the dual civil/religious role clergy now serve in wedding ceremonies, and that we may decided that civil marriage is optional for our members. Civil marriage has become a debased thing, serving largely as a ticket to certain government benefits (which sometimes, as in the “marriage penalty” of income taxes, can be a short-term detriment). Indeed, I’ve had a two-income Christian couple ask, tentatively, if civil divorce while remaining religiously married, would be an option.

  14. The covenent is the Cruicifixtion and Resurrection. All sacrament partakes of that covenant by taking people who are subject to death and decay, dissolution and giving life in its place. That is what sets marriage in the Church apart from essentially natural marriage.

    God also allows for such grace to operate in a less structured way by the love of the two people for each other and God.

    Those are the three parties. State marriages, at least in my state, are property contracts under which even the children are treated as property. The state does not make the marriage. Here no license is required, no official is required, no registration required. The two parties have to be male-female, of legal age and competent, able and willing. Then they have to hold themselves out as being married and share property. Once they do this, the state gets to decide how to divy up the property at time of dissolution.

    Sounds like a contract to me.

    ‘Courts the marriage canons of the Church are mostly concerned with who inherits.

  15. Father, thank you for your essay. As a convert to Orthodoxy from Roman Catholicism, I married my Orthodox spouse in her home country of Moldova. In their system the official marriage takes place in a state licensing office to ensure the contractual obligation. For many it ends there. For others, they also choose to have a separate sacramental ceremony in the Church. I much prefer this system as it keeps things clean. I do not seek to impose my sacremental obligations on the non-Christian or unchurched, in the same way I would not want them to push their contractual ideology on me. Where the two systems are separate the challenge of an Orthodox Priest being asked to marry or bless a non-sacremental union are not likely to occur. If that is what you want go to the state. Although we believe the Laws of God apply to all and are universal, God has never forced anyone to adhere to them, and indeed free will is an essential part of God’s creation. As we say in the Liturgy, “Holy Things are for the Holy.” Although I would never encourage anyone from entering into a sinful state and might even actively discourage them, I also have to be mindful to respect their free will and choice in the matter. Their free will and choice was given to them by God. I may not agree with their choices, or condone them and I will continue to pray for them, but I also realize that in some cases it is these greatest of sinners who become the greatest of saints (e.g. St. Mary of Egypt, St. Moses the Black, etc.). May the Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on all of us sinners. Amen.

  16. But the proper word in the Orthodox Church is Mysterium or mystery. No vows in any of them (way more than 7) just the mystery of God’s sanctification of the natural. “Behold I make all things new”

    Why insist on the limited contractual form? Why not open to the ever presence of the Life transforming and making new?

    We should eschew all state function.

    That won’t deter the secular state from coming after us, but it would make it a little more difficult.

  17. Fr. Stephen,

    Well said about the differences in marriage between East & West as well as the effects upon our society. I tried to search “definitions” to see the difference between “contract” & “covenant”. From the aspect of pure “dictionary definition” there were no readily discernible differences between the two; i.e., agreement = contract = covenant. But when I searched “contract vs. covenant” radically different links came up. Contract was partnered with legal-government while covenant was partnered with union-God. The separation of God from all secular life (& even most religious life) I believe has led to the loss of discernment between contract & covenant…or perhaps it is the other way around…

  18. In the Catholic west vows are not contractual but the mark of a covenant. Also I will append the following from the general Catholic Catechism [CCC] because it highlights the covenental aspect of the sacrament of matrimony in the Catholic Church. As always I do not do this for any other reason than to offer clarity. Father Stephen knows what I think of comparisons…in general:

    Marriage in the Lord

    1612 The nuptial covenant between God and his people Israel had prepared the way for the new and everlasting covenant in which the Son of God, by becoming incarnate and giving his life, has united to himself in a certain way all mankind saved by him, thus preparing for “the wedding-feast of the Lamb.”104

    1615 This unequivocal insistence on the indissolubility of the marriage bond may have left some perplexed and could seem to be a demand impossible to realize. However, Jesus has not placed on spouses a burden impossible to bear, or too heavy – heavier than the Law of Moses.108 By coming to restore the original order of creation disturbed by sin, he himself gives the strength and grace to live marriage in the new dimension of the Reign of God. It is by following Christ, renouncing themselves, and taking up their crosses that spouses will be able to “receive” the original meaning of marriage and live it with the help of Christ.109 This grace of Christian marriage is a fruit of Christ’s cross, the source of all Christian life.

    1616 This is what the Apostle Paul makes clear when he says: “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her,” adding at once: “‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one. This is a great mystery, and I mean in reference to Christ and the Church.”110

    1617 The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church. Already Baptism, the entry into the People of God, is a nuptial mystery; it is so to speak the nuptial bath.111 which precedes the wedding feast, the Eucharist. Christian marriage in its turn becomes an efficacious sign, the sacrament of the covenant of Christ and the Church. Since it signifies and communicates grace, marriage between baptized persons is a true sacrament of the New Covenant..112

    1613 On the threshold of his public life Jesus performs his first sign – at his mother’s request – during a wedding feast.105 The Church attaches great importance to Jesus’ presence at the wedding at Cana. She sees in it the confirmation of the goodness of marriage and the proclamation that thenceforth marriage will be an efficacious sign of Christ’s presence.

    1614 In his preaching Jesus unequivocally taught the original meaning of the union of man and woman as the Creator willed it from the beginning permission given by Moses to divorce one’s wife was a concession to the hardness of hearts.106 The matrimonial union of man and woman is indissoluble: God himself has determined it “what therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”107

  19. father stephen, thank you for sharing this difference. it sounds like a beautiful ceremony. vows, it seems to me, are only as meaningful as the people who take them. in our society today, many say them but aren’t ready to live them. i wonder, do the orthodox have a lower divorce rate? if so, that would speak for the truth of the union…

  20. I am in absolute agreement with those who say that all sacramental Churches must remove themselves as agents for the state with respect to the legal contractual and secular aspects of marriage….M.

  21. “No vows? Not even an implicit one to God?”

    No, not “to God”…in God. In marriage God is also part of the union.

    “…presenting themselves for the blessing from the priest…”

    The priest is not doing the “marrying” nor is he merely “blessing”…God does both through the priest.

    “Besides, I think you are taking the US norm and applying it universally…”

    Fr. Stephen is usually writing from & about the American culture & mindset, but in this case his use of “the West” is not inappropriate.

    “In many (most) countries, you need to have a civil service of some sort (could be the signing of legal papers before a register) before the service in a church. Since that is the case, there is no need for vows because you have already made them. The church is only blessing what you have already contracted in the civil realm.”

    America is decades behind the rest of the Western World in marriage as well as church-state issues. I believe the US will ultimately adopt the same resolution mentioned because most are of the opinion that “the church is only blessing…” when it comes to marriage.

    Theologically though this is not what the Orthodox Church views as its purpose which is our salvation, our life in Christ. In all of the Church’s sacraments, God’s grace is bestowed through the Holy Spirit. In marriage it is the grace of the Holy Spirit that gives reality to the union. At no time is it the “vows” proclaimed by the couple, which is the point of Fr. Stephen’s article. At no time is the Church merely slapping a holy label on a secular contract, be that contract “implicit” between 2 individuals in the form of vows or promises, or explicit by the government in the form of marriage license or civil ceremony.

    Governments & individuals can only form contracts…deals…agreements. These contracts, deals agreements are not the same thing as relationships. Relationship implies union in some fashion. Union or relationship is formed between persons & for us “individuals” to become “persons”, we must first become united to Christ. Marriage is not merely a contract; it too is a relationship, a union which can only be formed when God is an integral part from the beginning. This is why neither the priest nor the Church “is only blessing” something external &/or independent from the Church.

  22. “…only blessing…”

    Of course I did not mean it as one person took it. I meant it as “…limited to blessing…” the couple, as they have already made the contract. There is no further need to extract further vows.

    Whether a Christian makes a vow to an official of the state or the church, the Christian should intent on keeping that vow. Otherwise it is bearing false witness against our neighbor. Marriage in the church is asking for God’s help to keep that vow.

    The discussion on whether or not the church should be an agent for the state is another discussion.

  23. Excellent essay. One early commenter (was it Scott?) wondered about whether infertile or older couples could marry in the Orthodox church, and the answer is yes, because the main purpose of Orthodox marriage is not procreation, though children are the norm, but theosis – your marriage (and your marriage partner) are (or should be) an aid to your path towards holiness and salvation. The married couple creates a little church, just as sacramental as the big edifice down the street, and it is the little sacrifices of every day life together that polish our sinful natures to a mirror like shine to better reflect Christ himself. And that is the different between Eastern and Western understanding of marriage.

  24. Abe,
    I’m glad you brought up the points regarding covenants. Are covenants contracts?

    In the mind of many, covenants are indeed contracts – often, contracts between a human being and God (or a whole nation and God). However, this reading of covenant may be one of the most egregious cases of “eisegesis” in modern Christianity. Eisegesis is the practice of “reading into” the text something that is not there, rather than reading and drawing forth what is (exegesis). Covenants are real – and we can compare them to contracts – but they have some real differences.

    It is interesting, first off, that in Hebrew, a person “cuts” a covenant with someone else (not to be confused with “cutting a deal”). It apparently refers to the cutting of the sacrifice that is part of the covenant ceremony. One of my favorite covenant passages is in Genesis 15. God makes the covenant with Abraham. Abraham cuts an animal in two pieces and laid them opposite one another. At night, a deep sleep came on Abraham and “behold, a horror and great darkness fell upon him.” He has a dream of God, who passes between the cut pieces in the form of a “smoking cauldron” and a burning torch. The “cutting” of the covenant, and passing between the two halves of the animal, is an extremely ancient ceremony (quite bloody). I was once told that its meaning was “may the same be done to me if I break covenant with you.” But even this is “weak.” Covenant is a ritual of union – in the death – sacrifice and ritual treatment of the animal – two individuals, nations, etc. – are united. It is a Covenant of union. “You will be my people…I will be your God.” It is not simply that someone has agreed to certain performance clauses – but that something new has come into existence – the union of the covenanters – sealed in flesh and blood – has taken place.

    Christ Himself describes the Eucharistic sacrifice as His flesh and blood. And He is quite clear about the matter and the nature of the union. “Whosoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me and I in Him.” There really is no need to create abstract theories of contractual obligations “covenant theology.” Union has always been a better and more obvious way to understand the nature of covenants.

    But the development of “Covenantal Theology” as a theme in Calvinism, raised this misreading of covenants into a very dominant place in the minds of many Christians in our culture. Union with God (or with another human being) clearly creates obligations and responsibilities. But the development of that aspect of covenant in a “forensic” or “legal” direction, has the (perhaps unintended) effect of eliminating union as the primary mechanism and meaning of covenant relationships.

    What “binds” me to God, is not a legal oath, per se, but by the fact that God and I have become one flesh. I am now bone of His bones and flesh of His flesh – not just legally – but really, truly, organically.

    Notes for James, et al. Sacramentum does indeed mean “oath,” and it’s usage is quite old in the Western Church. It’s first use outside of Scripture is found in a letter of Pliny the Younger to the Emperor Trajan when Pliny was Governor in Bithynia. He described the Christians, under torture, declaring that they met on Sunday mornings, and “bound themselves with an oath” (sacramentum obstringere), not to kill, not to commit adultery, etc. It’s not clear what he’s referring to – and he might have been making erroneous guesses based on the normal meaning of “sacramentum.”

    But the word “mysterium” (mystery) is the common word in Orthodoxy, with no associations of “oath” in its meaning. Oaths, promises, etc., have become very important in Western culture and Western versions of Christianity. It is little wonder that we are a litigious society, suing each other at the drop of a hat.

    That half of the Christian world has never had vows in its marriage ceremony (I do not think they were traditionally part of Judaism either), however, demonstrates that the idea of “vows” is local and not essential. Marriage is not a contract, an agreement. Obviously two people are in some form of agreement in a marriage – but the relationship is organic and not forensic.

    As an aside, our salvation is organic and not forensic. This forensic business (penal substitutionary atonement) is also a local invention, a failure to comprehend the depth of our salvation.

    I happen to like the vows I made at my wedding (1928 Book of Common Prayer) and continue to seek to conform myself to them. But the reality of my marriage is rooted in the fact that I am one flesh with a woman (with 4 children and 2 grandchildren to show for it). The mystery of that union isn’t found in the vows, but in the common life that unites us. I come to know myself as I find myself in the beloved.

  25. Fr. Stephen,

    This is a beautiful essay and understanding of marriage as sacrament. Thank you.

    I am interested in where this leaves homosexuals. I am NOT trying to start up a debate on the topic but am asking you as teacher on this blog.

    I am asking because (as a psychologist), I hurt for people who come to me who: did not choose to be homosexual, have found someone they love and want to spend their life with AND want to live their lives in communion with God. Is their situation greatly different from the couple who is older or known to be infertile going into marriage? None of these relationships can produce children but can be “procreative” in other ways.

    Some, I’m sure, will be quick to point out the anatomical differences in same- vs. opposite sex relationships. I read respectfully of your use of the term “union”. Is union dependent on anatomy or certain types of sexual acts? (forgive me for the graphic reference.) Or is it more a spiritual gift of self expressed through the acts of physical intimacy?

    What does it mean to become “one flesh” in this sense? We use this term in the RC church as well, but it cannot be said in literal fashion for the husband and the wife continue to have separate physical bodies.

    I am asking these questions sincerely and in good faith; not trying to provoke others who are not bothered by these questions.

  26. “Our culture, following the logic of vows, views marriage as a contract between two people. Specific promises concerning performance (and non-performance) are offered.”

    I’ve been following this blog for quite a while and while I always find it challenging and rarely find anything to disagree with, I find this post puzzling. The quote above seems to imply that a contract consists of exchanging vows / promises concerning performance or non-performance of certain actions.

    Yet in scripture we find at least two instances where specific promises were made concerning performance / non-performance — Adam and Moses — and in both cases we call these “covenants,” not contracts. I can think of other cases where vows were made — the people standing before Joshua after he challenged them to chose whom they will serve, for example. Was this a contract? Or a covenant? Or renewal of a covenant?

    Other instances of covenant are unconditional — the Davidic Covenant, the New Covenant.

    I think the distinction between contract and covenant is that a contract is entered into to preserve the interests of the parties involved. The relationship between the parties is not important beyond performance / non-performance of clearly specified actions. A covenant, whether conditional or unconditional, is not about preserving the interests of the parties but about defining and maintaining a personal relationship.

    I used to interpret the language concerning marital union as Father Stephen does:

    “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.”

    But I’ve come to believe this is problematic. I wasn’t chaste before marriage; I had other sexual partners before I met my wife-to-be. Am I still “married” to those other girls? Since I married another, as did they, are we all living in a state of perpetual, irremediable adultery?

    And what of divorce? Since Jesus clearly allowed divorce in the event of porneia (Mt 19:9) — a non-performance, in other words — did He teach that marriage is therefore a contract … a conditional covenant … or a “union”?

    I’m not buying “vows = contract = inferior view of marriage.” In my opinion, that is an inaccurate and unbiblical view. Nor do I buy “sex = marriage.” I doubt that’s what either Jesus and Paul meant. What, for example, does one do with David and Solomon and all their concubines? Tamar and Judah? Where in all of scripture is their “adultery” mentioned?

    I don’t have the clarity on this issue that Father Stephen seems to have. Perhaps I’m the one in the wrong.

  27. Fr. Stephen,

    Thank you for this post. My husband and I have struggled for many years with the nature of marriage, or should I say the sacramental marriage. My question for you is very personal in nature, and I hope I do not offend anyone present in this discussion.

    What do you have to say about a married Orthodox couple who for reasons of health of the mother decide to do something permanent to prevent the conception of another child? Your reference to procreation as one of the evidences of union is convicting to me.

  28. Can the Western liturgical churches vows be regarded as Oaths?
    I’m thinking of a similarity to the form spoken in a court-of-law “I solemnly swear to tell the truth …. so help me God” – witnessed by the clerk of the court and the judge (and others, of course) and subject to a penalty of perjury ( in the middle ages a religious crime as well as civil) if broken.Do the weddings vows have the form of oaths – does anyone know?
    If so, it is shocking to think how many perjurers live in North America!

  29. Mary Benton, there is something about our fallen ness that deeply twists our sexuality. There is not one of us who does not feel the effects of that distortion.

    We sexualize relationships that should not be sexualized. Our sexual passions are continually inflamed and given a prominence that is not healthy.

    Ontologically there cannot be a marriage union between two people of the same sex. We are simply not made that way. The natural ontological synergy between men and women is critical to fulfilling the commandments of God to dress and keep the earth and make it fruitful.

    The companionship and love between two people of the same sex should not be sexual and can never be sanctified as marriage as they cannot become one flesh.

    Sexual activity can only be blessed and sanctified in marriage not outside it and not in any erstatz form.

    The standard for all is celibacy and chastity before and outside marriage, faithfulness and chastity after and in marriage.

    Marriage is not a “civil right” or a natural “right” it is a vocation that must be prepared for and embraced as a kenotic activity reflecting Jesus’ love for the Church.

  30. Love this Father. I would have to say that not only marriage in the west has become contractual/legal but salvation as well.

  31. mary benton said: “I am asking because (as a psychologist), I hurt for people who come to me who: did not choose to be homosexual, have found someone they love and want to spend their life with AND want to live their lives in communion with God.”

    I am an Orthodox Christian who struggles with the homosexual passion, which I did not choose and was not caused by any of the common canards that are often bandied about (abuse, absent father, overbearing mother, etc.)

    I do not identify myself with my passions, because those passions are not “me”. Thus it is easy for me to reject these desires that apparently cause great pain and suffering for other homosexuals to reject.

    You cannot live in communion with God AND reject his commandments. You have to choose obedience. And speaking from my own experience, as soon as you let go the feeling of entitlement—that I am entitled to be married to someone of the same sex, because “emotions”, “love”, etc.—it is shockingly easy to move on.

    In other worse, when people give up what they want in favor of what God wants, they will be surprised at how fulfilling God can be. But of course, most would rather be fulfilled by anything but God.

  32. Father, thank you for your response. I agree with your statement that, “Union with God (or with another human being) clearly creates obligations and responsibilities. But the development of that aspect of covenant in a “forensic” or “legal” direction, has the (perhaps unintended) effect of eliminating union as the primary mechanism and meaning of covenant relationships.” From my perspective, and forgive me if I am mistaken, the vow we make through each Sacrament is a result of that Union with God – as you said, that Union does create obligation, though it is important and necessary to remember it is an obligation of love; it is the light yoke of Christ. The obligation of fidelity to my wife, for example, though morally binding upon me, did not weigh me down, it freed me to love in many ways. Are you perhaps saying that a vow does exist, but it is a result of our partaking of the Mysteries and not the cause of them?

  33. Isaac said: “I totally disagree that it is the job of Orthodox clergy to tell the whole culture, much of which is not Orthodox and arguably not even Christian, that they should be held to Orthodox standards.”

    But Isaac, if something is true, it is universally true. We cannot divide religious life from secular life—to do so is textbook secularism, which Orthodoxy rejects.

    True, people may not be as accepting of certain Christian prohibitions if they don’t agree with the Christian faith, but things are not prohibited because they are bad for Christians. They are prohibited because they are bad for human beings. Like children, they don’t need to understand the reasons for everything in order to be helped by certain rules.

    I believe Christendom in general, and the Orthodox Church in particular, are obliged use their influence as far as they are able.

    In our own American context, the people who devised our free system still expected people to be morally governed—in particular by the church. I believe it was Washington who said freedom could only exist among a “moral and religious people”. If people cease to be governed by morals and religion, the government must step in, and that’s where we are today.

    So if the government is legislating morality, better to have the Church involved than not.

  34. Mr. Chapman, although I am Orthodox and have been married twice (my first wife died) I’ve never known the grace of an Orthodox marriage. While the Church has blessed my marriages it did not unite us in marriage.

    Lacking that mystery of union, my wife and I can still strive for that but we are presented with certain difficulties we would not have had otherwise. Those who come to marriage in a chaste state are given a transformative gift in marriage that is wonderful to see. They are integrated into the community in a way that a simple blessing does not achieve; the list goes on.

    There is no contract in my marriage. If there were, neither my wife or I would have entered into it.

    Personally, I am of the opinion that merely contractual marriages should not be accepted by the Church, but the couple should have a full marriage much as we baptise those who were not baptised in the Holy Trinity.

    Our status as legal agents of the state makes that more difficult.

  35. There is amazing history concerning marriages that is fascinating to me. Wedding vows are historically new – they were born in Henry VIII’s England. The Catholic Churches adopted these later than the Church of England did. The concept of a civil marriage is relatively new in history too. It is actually a product of Protestantism – Martin Luther wanted the state to be involved in recording marriages to get free of (Catholic) church rule. Before the Reformation, all marriages and records thereof were kept in local churches. The civil authorities were not involved because there were no complicated tax systems like today, and no massive bureaucracy tracking all of the people closely like there is today. Even newer in world history is the concept of civil marriage, which started in France after the French Revolution and in Germany only in the mid 1850s. Today the only point to a civil marriage is to get tax benefits. Historically marriages were only performed by the church – people implicitly understood the authority to marry could only come from God.

    Two points come out of this – one, that the (Godless) state has gradually usurped all authority, including moral authority, from the churches and has replaced it with a pseudo moral code. The separation of Church and State in my opinion, was a trick to simply take over. Second, the concept of a civil marriage is really meaningless – it really does not matter who the State wants to marry, except that it provides the worst example for the everyday person, who is easily influenced by our media and current events. However it is clear that churches will soon be required to perform these marriages. I think anyone with a spiritual understanding understands what is happening. The State is turning to serve the other side in earnest after a long preparation and Christians need to get ready for what is to come.

  36. I do not believe ANYWHERE in The Book of Common Prayer will you find “Do you…take this woman…to have and to hold, to love and to cherish…etc. as long as you both shall live?” as you say. The word is “will,” or “wish you”, translated from the Greek thelo (sorry, my Greek font is on the blink): to will, have in mind, intend, to be resolved or determined, to purpose, to desire, to wish, to love, to like to do a thing, be fond of doing, to take delight in, have pleasure,

    as in the Lord’s Prayer, “to thelema sou”. It is not translated “do.”

    Hence, man is asked if he wishes to take this woman and vice-versa.

    Secondly, the man gives himself away to the woman and the woman to the man, so there is no “contract” or covenant. God gives the man to the woman and the woman to the man. Then the Blessing is given.

    I am quite conscious of the dislike of most, especially American, Orthodox for Anglicans, but IN MY LIFETIME, I knew of MANY, yes many, Orthodox when received the sacraments of the Episcopal Church by the instruction of and with the Blessing of the Orthodox Bishop because there were no Orthodox Churches in the area. What gives?

  37. Because the Anglicans aposticized the very real opportunity for closer ties disappeared.

  38. Publius,

    I don’t disagree with your main point that what is good for Christians is good for all since truth is truth. It is a matter of how that truth is given to people who don’t have it and are not ready to hear it. You can use the force of the law which has such things as death, poverty and imprisonment behind it if it is not obeyed,or you can use persuasion both by demonstrating the difference the truth makes in how you live your life and in what you say is true publicly but without trying to force others to adhere to it.

    There is the other complication too, which is that Christians can be pretty good at telling the whole culture how it ought to live and pretty bad at actually living by those standards. Hence the fact that abortion rates, divorce rates, and pornography usage among Christians is more or less the same as the larger culture given a few variations here and there. What if it was just a given that Christians almost never divorce, almost never get abortions, and almost never use pornography? I think that would be a stronger witness and much more helpful than passing laws that force people who hate all things Christian to live as if they are Christians.

    As an aside, thanks for sharing your own situation. What gets lost over and over in the conversation is the idea that a person is not his passions. It is dehumanizing to think so.

  39. When couples get married in the West,What we call contract or more correctly, a covenant, It is between the Couple and God. As Abe correctly pointed out.

  40. Can someone clarify this statement?

    “St. Paul does not use the argument of union to oppose same sex relationships.”

  41. Joel:in fact, in the BCP – as opposed to the BAS (in the Canadian Church) there are two parts in the ‘Solemnization of Matrimony’ — but not generally recognized as such. It seems as if the second is just a repetition of the first, but on closer inspection it is not.
    The key point is that the first is the ‘betrothal’ and the second is the ‘marriage’. The distinction between the two is marked by the verbs used. For the betrothal the question is “A, — will — you take B to be your lawful wedded wife (i.e.
    “is it your ‘will/intention/desire to do so)
    and for the marriage the — same question is “A, — do–you take B…&c” (i.e. do you undertake the the act…”)
    This of course is from the Canadian BCP, 1962; but I suspect it is quite similar to the 1928? Episcopal BCP?
    Charlie Mdiv.
    Fortunately for both the Church and myself, my Bishop and I
    mutually agreed that it were better that I not be ordained!
    35 years ago.

  42. by the way, the “Solemnization” is in no way based on Greek – it is a construct from Cranmer’s 1549 Prayer Book – as amended many times.

  43. Andrew: “St.Paul does not use…&c…” your question of 8:42 p.m. above.
    If you consider Romans 1:26-27 “…lust for one another,males with males,committing what is shameful…”
    and I Cor 6:9-10, ” shall not inherit the kingdom of God,…
    (various categories) , nor those who participate in homosexuality;
    and I Tim 1:9-10 “…for the that defile themselves with mankind …”
    I think you’ll see that St. Paul would be aghast at the thought of same-sex unions. He would not been naïve enough to be unaware of the one-off affairs between Greek men and boys, generally following athletic events which were typically performed naked, but by non-Christians. His epistles, however were addressed the the Churches in the various cities.
    Unions; whether one-off or permanent would have infuriated him!

  44. Andrew: I submitted a long-ish response to your question of 8:42 which seems to have got lost in electron land.
    So to sum up let me say thay I think St. Paul would have been aghast at the very idea.
    Check out Rom.1:26-17
    and ITim 1:9-10
    and you’ll find that he has a very dim view of the behaviour itself; much less any conjunction (no pun intended) on it.

  45. I think this a great interpretation and very critically thought out essay on the subject. Your thought process and interpretation are easy to understand and well put. However…big however…I feel that unless one is trying to be orthodox Christian it shouldn’t matter to you. Keep strong values in your family and in your church and speak on the subject if you want but each individual needs to make peace with God in their own way and in their own time and we may learn in the future that they didn’t choose the body’s brains and impulses they were born with. If an individual isn’t hurting someone else then they have the right to be happy and have sexual marriage in anyway with who ever as long as its consensual. I think its also impossible to presume what god defines as “sex” and as “Marriage”. when we look to nature and learn from our environment its incredibly diverse with many different ways for two being to come together coming together in sex is considered nirvana by some and I’m sure that’s also what GLTB feel when they come together…. I don’t think he expects us to know what he considers perfect. Can a perfect soul inhabit the body of a gay man? Can a perfect soul in gods eyes be one that has seen so much hardship that its scared of the opposite sex so seeks comfort and “Marriage” in the best way for that individual? hmmmmm I don’t know. I’ll keep my spirituality and my knowledge that we are in God as a fish is in Water and that we are all graced by him even in unions that may be different than the norm. How can they not be.. A shark swims in water just like the fish. It would be like our body hating one of our cells, as long as its a healthy cell living its purpose and not murdering other cells with cancer our body needs all its cells even though they are born to look and act different for different functions in the body. Sometimes the body is brilliant and cells meant to perform one function take over another function – odd and different- if needed. Harlot… that term can be interpreted so many ways I think it means… how can I even assume…I don’t know what god intended for each person… guess I better stop before this turns into an essay itself…

    Well you got me thinking… good essay. I’m Rambling…I’m bored.. may as well think on this..

    here’s a though what if god/Christ consciousness is inside light. Maybe all matter is technically frozen light?…Maybe we all have is entirely wrong and all god wants is for us to live a good, peaceful, accepting non-judgmental non murderous non trespassing life… oh wait.. maybe he did say that…

  46. Andrew (and Charlie),
    I believe what Fr. Stephen meant by that was that St. Paul opposes same-sex relationships on other grounds, that the argument of union doesn’t enter into his discussion of the matter, not that St. Paul doesn’t oppose same-sex relationships.

  47. And as I reread the article, I see that I basically quoted the rest of that paragraph, so that probably didn’t address your concerns, Andrew. But I hope Charlie reread the rest of that paragraph as well.

  48. Rebecca: yes, well St.Paul had fairly strong views on other things as well. A couple of — purely — rhetorical questions, which I pose simply to illustrate the point would be “Are you submissive to your husband”? and “Do you keep your head covered – ‘in church'”?
    Please note that I do not expect an answer – these are simply illustrative questions.

  49. Ah, Charlie, if only your longer comment were not stuck in Moderation-ville, I would have known from which perspective you were referencing those passages– I did not know you consider St. Paul outdated. But, for the record, I do not, I do do my best to submit to my husband as the Church does to Christ, and I do cover my head in worship– if it’s good enough for the Mother of God, it’s good enough for me. 🙂

  50. Joel,
    You are correct – the phrasing is “will you.” I’m not sure that there is actually any theological distinction to be made from what I’ve written.

    Concerning the direction of Orthodox towards the Anglicans – this is not actually correct. There was a short period of time when St. Tikhon, Bishop for America around 1905, was, frankly mislead by High Church Anglicans about the nature of Anglicanism. He extended some provisions which he personally revoked. As an Episcopal priest, those provisions were often quote (by myself as well) as though they were facts, well-established (Anglican orders as “valid,” etc.). But I have seen the actual documents since then, and he “recanted” his own provisions.

    It was certainly the case that many Orthodox went to the Anglicans when no Orthodox Church could be found. I accepted such people myself as an Anglican priest. My information was incorrect, however.

    The “dislike” of Anglicans is not actually true. There is a great deal to like, and much to honor. What St. Tikhon saw was not without merit, but it was not actually representative of all, or even the majority within Anglicanism. Today, many of the Anglicans don’t like most of the Anglicans (especially American Episcopalians). That has an obvious history.

  51. Andrew,
    re: “St. Paul does not use the argument of union to oppose same sex relationships.” Of course, I am stating an “argument from silence.” Paul condemns same-sex behaviors under various moral sanctions, and not under the heading of a false attempt at union. To be fair to the issue, the way present discussions of same sex relationships is taking place is a very different context and cultural setting than in St. Paul’s situation. It does not, for me, change how I understand same-sex issues, but the questions are certainly different.
    If someone were to ask, “Can same-sex couples not have a form of union?” I would answer “only in some form of psychological manner,” and that a genital expression of that relationship would be problematic, and difficult to understand in any meaningful manner as “union.”

  52. Charlie,
    I am an Orthodox Christian. Revising St. Paul is not an option. It also helps to understand him first.

  53. I’m so sorry; I thought I’ made it quite clear the questions were completely rhetorical in nature; and I truly apologize if you took offence at them.
    I am a recent catechumen – at age 70 – (just before Pascha) – and I do not consider St. Paul ‘dated’ in any way. I’m not quite sure how the Theotokos fits in? – or perhaps at the wedding in Cana – she says to the servants – do whatever He tells you… (her implied obedience to her Son?)
    In any case, one reason I move from Canterbury to Constantinople bypassing Rome was because in Orthodoxy I found, among other things, a faith which ‘stands for’ Scripture (and vice versa) and Tradition; which even Rome and Canterbury downplay as “well, that was those days, of course…”, or to use the word that really lights my fuse, ‘not relevant’ any more. I measure ‘relevance’ to God, not to the world; so it is in terms of that that I judge whether St. Paul is outdated. He is not!
    You can perhaps see that my fuse is alight!
    Peace, and again my apologies.

  54. To all,
    I know the marriage question (and the lack of vows) stirs up lots of thoughts – especially in our current cultural milieu. However, what I am “clear” about, is the understanding of union. I have written elsewhere, and frequently, that the whole of our Christian life is about union with God in Christ – all of it. All of it. This is an excellent place (marriage) to make that point, and the Orthodox wedding makes it about as clearly as any example I could find. But – from my perspective – the article is about union – of which the absence of vows in an Orthodox wedding is an illustration.

    Every “deviation” from that central, Christian teaching (such as misunderstandings of covenant, etc. as contractual, etc.) becomes, I think, a deviation from the Orthodox Christian faith. Covenants are about union, when rightly understood.

    So I have written, and so I will keep writing. If someone were to read through the better than 1500 articles on the blog and said, “Fr. Stephen, you think everything is about union!” I would feel that my work was actually being rightly understood.

    If I have a goal as a theologian, it is to help people see the place of union (participation, communion, sharing, coinherence, etc.) in the Christian life (it is the Christian life), and to begin to read the Scriptures correctly in this matter and to begin to eliminate the vast layers of stuff that seem to hide this rather simple obvious truth.

  55. Charlie,
    Forgive me, I misread you. In my experience, when those questions are asked rhetorically, they tend to be part of the argument “What St. Paul had to say about women is obviously outdated, therefore what he had to say about homosexuality is also obviously outdated; if you, Christian woman, don’t feel the need to take what he says about women seriously, why should you impose what he says about homosexuals on them?” I was not offended, but I was amused that you seemed to assume a negative response to those questions.
    As to the Theotokos, one of the reasons Orthodox women traditionally (though less often in the US) cover their heads is to imitate the Theotokos, who is never seen in iconography without her head covered. That’s what my comment was referring to.
    May God bless your catechumenate and guard you safely home! 🙂

  56. to Fox R. “wasn’t chaste before marriage” I’m not sure that you have a problem there. see: –“the woman taken in adultery”
    Our Lord said’ where are they who condemned you?’ — ‘neither do I condemn you…’
    well, anyway I,m sure you get my point — or more importantly, His point!

  57. Father Bless!

    Thank you for such an excellent meditation on Orthodox Crowning! Normally I would remain silent (and perhaps I still should), but you have produced such an engaging, thoughtful, and productive discussion, that I hope it is “safe” for me, an unworthy married Orthodox lay woman, to contribute.

    [BTW, I’m sorry if this thread seems to reflect earlier replies, since I started writing and editing my response late yesterday.]

    The Sacrament of Crowning is very meaningful to me personally. As we know sacraments touch on the eternal and divine and are mysteries – impossible to understand legalistically – so I apologize at the outset if my following description of crowning is not precise or perfect. On the rare occasion that I have attempted to describe my experience of crowning, the only way I can describe it is that I felt transported to heaven (my husband also experienced this). I interpreted our crowning to be as close to the equivalence of an ordination into a shared lay priesthood – a kingly priesthood in which we became the king and queen of our small tiny little kingdom, our home. I viewed the hymn to the “Holy Martyrs” (at the “Dance of Isaiah”) to be reflective of the fact that when those crowns were on our heads, we were, in that moment, facing the Final Judgment Seat of God together. That is how I hope it will be when we die. These impressions came from my experience of Crowning but are also couched in language directly taken from private discussions we had with our priest prior to our Crowning and then our priest’s sermon at our Crowning. I am not certain if I have ever read such an interpretation in any written material on the Sacrament of Crowning.

    The Sacrament of Betrothal is the “first” of the two sacraments. The rings are exchanged and the word “covenant” occurs in the final blessing prayer. I understand that like with the Baptism-Chrismation duo, it can be done as a separate service from – or a joint service with – the Sacrament of Crowning. I have seen it separated on rare occasions, usually for pastoral reasons.

    I would therefore like to humbly offer to this fruitful discussion the radical concept that we are having a difficulty discussing “the sacrament” of marriage, since our church offers two sacraments associated with marriage. Betrothal may be the closest thing we have to the Catholic understanding of a “covenant” sacrament. Crowning, however, is an entirely unique sacrament only found in the Orthodox Church. It is unparalleled and unequaled. We have should have bragging rights on that, for sure! In a world hungering for the sacraments – we have two!

  58. My 50 c on the matter from the perspective of a married person.. There were many things about our (mine and my better half’s) orthodox wedding ceremony that I couldn’t focus on during the ceremony itself, since the whole moment and place was loaded with a lot of emotion that made me somewhat dense to what was really happening around me and with me.

    It really dawned on me maybe a year after that on a Saturday evening when I was among the few that had been present for the Vesper. Then most people left but I lingered a bit more — and realized that the Priest was beginning a Wedding Ceremony for an old couple (both were over 60 years old). Only a small gathering of their children and grandchildren were attending and I, at the back, most likely unnoticed. Then I could actually focus on the ceremony and words themselves but what impressed me the most and I try to remember that when things go bad on the inside for me, is that the Priest crowned the pair. I have read among others, that the Crowning should be reserved for those who are virgins but actually seeing what I saw, it dawned on me that God really does respect us, picks us from dirt at any age, cleanses us, restores us and crowns us kings and queens (in a way). It was an amazing experience to see those two old people being crowned and becoming one at such an age and made me realize that as long as we still breath, it is never too late and if we ask Him, He will pick us up and clothe us.
    As for the fact that my better half and I will stand together before God at the Judgement, as Jennifer said in the comment above, it has often been mentioned during (or rather, at the end of) arguments that threaten to escalate 🙂 Realizing that it is *he* and no other, the one with whom I shall attend that moment, grants a sort of crystal lucidity in a wide range of emotional / sentimental situations and it is the main thing that probably definitively changed my view on romantic love. It is an awareness that dispels many a sweet Hollywood illusions of what love is supposed to be like.
    I don’t know whether it is fortunate or not but all this didn’t dawn upon me at our own wedding. The fruits of the Sacrament, their flavor and their restorative power, showed only later, over the course of the (until now) 4 years, after some crisis.

  59. I object most strongly with any attempt to conflate the Biblical concept of covenant and the modern American concept of contract. The reason why marriages dissolve at the drop of a hat is that we have traded the former for the latter. In Scripture, the purpose of covenant is to make two become one. This is obviously the case with the New Covenant, but it becomes increasingly obvious throughout the course of the Old Testament. Hosea is a perfect example of the OT understanding of covenant as union — God as husband, Israel as (cheating) wife. The Israelite understanding of covenant, although it evolved over time, was never like that of the pagans, who viewed the human-divine relationship as essentially quid-pro-quo. That is contractual. A covenant is infinitely more sacrosanct and inviolable and intimate.

  60. Melissa, I implore you, don’t float in present time and thought as if it had any roots. As an Orthodox priest, Fr. Stephen speaks from 6000 years of unbroken understanding and practice of truth about God and man that has born an indescribably deep storehouse of holiness.

    That is what gives him the authority to speak and speack truly. It is God Himself who judges but He also gives us the gift of discernment so that we may see what is true and what is not. That does not give us the authority to condemn anyone but it does give us the reponsibility to use the gift we have been given so that we may move closer to him. There is truth and there is untruth regardless of what we think about it.

    The very first declarations of faith that a person coming into the Orthodox Church are rejcting Satan and all of his works then accepting union with Christ.

  61. Greetings:
    Interesting article, and, from your perspective, well written. Nevertheless, I have something against you, Father Stephen. When you say that, according to the Western Tradition, marriage is a contractual arrangement, you are using a word that is loaded with negative connotations, and, in addition, one that is less than the actual Western understanding of what marriage is.

    Others before me have pointed out to you the difference, from a Western perspective, between a “contract” and a “covenant.” If you are speaking to western ears, you need to speak to us in our language, whereas if you are only speaking ABOUT western perspectives to an Eastern audience, you should at least do us the courtesy of getting us right.

    The seeming point of this article is, “West does marriage vows, another sign of western inferiority.” Given that the EO has a limited footprint in the U.S., it would be difficult to do a sociological comparison of the impact the difference in rites and rituals has on the success of marriage, and how would you be able to tell that any negative data in the EO camp is due to EO doctrine versus Western culture? You would be likely to claim that any failures among EO couples is due to culture, while any successes are due to doctrine. Is that fair, much less valid?

    Your belief that marriage, like every other aspect of Christian life, is a reflection of the union that we have with and in Christ, is a view that is shared in the West. One of the reasons for opposing same sex marriage is simply that it does not reflect that which God established in the beginning – that the union of the man and the woman, not the union of any two or more people, constitutes a marriage before God. The push for same-sex marriage comes, not from any western evangelical tradition, but from Enlightenment views about individual equality and the pursuit of happiness being a fundamental value. The attempt to exercise liberty, without the acceptance of responsibility, inevitably leads to licentiousness.

    “You ran well; what hindered you from [speaking] the truth?” You don’t need to paint a false western evangelical understanding of marriage in order to “let your [eastern] light so shine.” If anything, you have created a stumbling block that keeps me from gleaning all that might be of value, and I’m sure that was not your purpose, right?

  62. Delwyn I understand your point but I don’t think Fr. Stephen is doing exactly what you think. I think he is addressing the western secular mind which as you say is conditioned by the Enlightenment humanism.

    He is addressing though too the tendency to flow that direction in many Western Christian traditions, most notably is own former one.

    Certainly we Orthodox have not done all that we should to practice our tradition or communicate it properly even to our own people.

    I know growing up in Kansas the western Christianity which I experience never seemed to give a thought to union. Obviously its there. Glory to God.

  63. If he is addressing western secularism, than why post the western church as the target? That is what he DID, so I can only surmise that is what he MEANT. “By their fruits shall you know them.”

  64. ….Also it seems to me that the understanding of union is somewhat different in the Orthodox than in most western traditions. It is easy to make too much of it (which I don’t think Fr. Stephen is doing) but neither can it be ignored.

  65. The legalistic model dominates in the western Christian understanding.The Orthodox understanding of marriage is different than anything I ever encountered anywhere else. Neither do I believe Fr. Stephen is attacking. He is talking about a general difference in an attempt to bring clarity. He is certainly not attacking anyone’s personal faith.

    Value the truth where ever it appears don’t bother to defend untruth.

  66. I’m sure there are differences; that appears to be true of about everything. I also notice that, in any discussion, the Greeks assume that their perspective is the right one. While I understand why this belief is held, since few people support a belief that they simultaneously doubt, I see no reason why I should stipulate the superiority of the Greeks, any more than I would concede such a position to the Romans. I confess the unadulterated Book of Concord. By that Confession, there are two sacraments, Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. These each contain the Promise of the forgiveness of sins. The marriage rite does not contain this promise.

    Marriage is seen, in the Evangelical tradition, as a type of our relationship with God in Christ. It is covenantal, it is exclusive, and it is of grace. It is not merely a contractual agreement.

    The presence of vows is part of this rite, as it is a part of our baptismal ceremony. They are supported by God’s Word, but we judge no one who does not use those words.

  67. Looking back on my comments I see that I wasn’t as clear about why I wrote about the public square side of marriage and the role that a government marriage plays compared to an Orthodox marriage. For a lot of young Orthodox people (and sadly even a few older ones) in America the Church marriage is the less important and less real part compared to the government one. It isn’t unheard of for a young couple to get a civil marriage at the courthouse only to tell the priest a few weeks later that they would like to get a church marriage and have already consummated the marriage. I think along with most Americans we have been hoodwinked into thinking that the government marriage is the real thing and the union that the Church establishes is “spiritual” and less important than the practical concerns. So that was why I brought up the thought of young Orthodox couples simply opting out of government marriages and returning to the reality of a church marriage as the only thing that matters.

  68. Delwyn marriage is certainly all that you say it is. We have no disagreement there. Where we certainly do have a distinct difference is concerning what we call mysteries (sacrament in the west).

    We Orthodox don’t really number the mysteries and look on the sanctifying work of Jesus Christ rather more broadly than your statement implies to me. The core of each official mystery is repentance and the innvocation of the Holy Spirit who reveals the truth of God’s saving grace. In general, we look upon life (or we should) as a constant process of repentance, calling on the mercy and life of Christ in the Holy Spirit so that are continuing sanctification by His grace may lead us more deeply into loving union with Him who is our Lord and Master.

    In that sense, all of our Christian life is sacramental in nature and Eucharistic (as in giving glory to God for all things).

    I assume by “the Greeks” you mean all of Eastern Orthodoxy which also has strong Syrian and Russian expressions as well as Greek. In terms of our Holy Tradtion, it is the Apostolic teaching which we received from their hands and have, by God’s grace, done so without substantial change for 2000 years. We are heir to the much older revelation of God in the Nation of Israel which , as Christ himself pointed out, was all about Him.

    We are sinful as everyone is. We are not always obedient. We don’t always preach the Gospel as we should, but we are the pillar and ground of the truth .

    The Holy Spirit inspires who and where He is received, but the fullness of His Life and Truth is here. The fruits are here also for those who wish to see. What we know and have been given, we also share with all who wish to feast at His Holy Table.

    Guard the truth you have been given but always look for more and greater life out of love for Jesus Christ which we have in common.

  69. That is an “in house” question, although a good one. Given the increasing rate of change we are seeing in American jurisprudence pertaining to the subject, we may have to take a confessional position in response.

  70. Father: I have enjoyed your comment on covenant and union almost as much…no…actually more, even, than the original posting! Thank you for your emphases!! …


  71. 🙂

    “If someone were to read through the better than 1500 articles on the blog and said, “Fr. Stephen, you think everything is about union!” I would feel that my work was actually being rightly understood.”

  72. Delwyn (and others of the “West”)
    I have written with a heavy hand regarding our brothers and sisters in the West (forgive me). The theme of “union” is not absent in Western Christian traditions. The Episcopal 1979 BCP describes marriage as “the union of husband and wife.” Calvin did not ignore the theme of union with Christ in his Institutes. Canon A.M. Allchin, perhaps more than any other modern, Western writer, championed the emphasis placed on “participation” and “union” in Orthodox thought.

    Having stated these important facts, it is true, on the cultural level, that the notion of union has been on the wane for ever so long, with the language becoming ever more “antique” sounding to modern ears. There is a cultural Christianity that is the dominant form in the Western world – neither Reform, Lutheran, Anglican, Anabaptist, etc., it is of its own construction, drawing support from first one place then another. It is inherently secular in nature (even its “politics” are secular in nature – on the right and on the left). By secular, I mean a view of the world in which creation is virtually self-existent (having been created by God). It believes that there is something of a “neutral” zone in the world. It views human beings as radically individual, with “relationships” being a constellation of choices, decisions and mutually accepted responsibilities. It does not see anything inherently organic, participatory, shared, communal, etc. about life (other than the growing politics of the environment). This cultural Christianity is close to “Churchless” having little or no ecclesiology. I is without sacrament, acknowledging and practicing things like communion or baptism with no sense of their necessity or essential nature to the Christian gospel.

    Against this growing phenomenon, all Christians in the modern world have to think and work, write and teach. It surrounds us and permeates everything Christian. It is part creature of modern, consumer economies and consumer democracies. It is not a true Christianity, but is something like the cultural detritus that remains in the wake of now-fallen Christendom. It is the Christianity-lite of the Post-Christian world.

    When we discuss these things as though our Orthodox, Anglican, Roman, Reform, etc. sources and traditions are in any way part of popular conversation, we are sadly mistaken. We are forgotten antiques, oddities in a consumerist world. We are exotic flavors, perhaps an acquired taste for some, but not seriously on the menu.

    I personally believe that the time of the West has passed. In its place is the new Consumer Man with consumer everything. Marriage, covenant, etc., is a “contract” for consumer man, because that’s just about as close to having a relationship as he can get. You say, “Covenant,” he hears “contract” (at best).

    For myself (and this is a historical/social judgment) I think that the only form of Christianity that has not yet been seriously compromised by Consumer Man, is Eastern Orthodoxy. Part of this is on account of its peculiar history (it has been shielded and protected from the last 500 years of conversation in the West). Part of this is on account of its present ascendancy in its own cultures (for how long, God only knows). I think that Orthodoxy is the only form of Christianity that speaks with a voice clear and foreign enough to Consumer Man and Consumer Democracies, that it might actually be perceived as saying anything significant or distinct. A gospel without significance or distinction is but a clanging cymbal.

    I also think that the theme of union (participation, sharing, coinherence, etc.) within Orthodoxy is precisely the point where the gospel must be preached. It addresses the nature of modern sin (of sin at all time, but especially in the anti-union of Consumer Man’s life) where it must be addressed. Christian traditions, expressions, that do not center themselves at the point of union with God in Christ, are, I believe, irrelevant in the most serious manner – they are not saying anything that Consumer Man needs to hear – or worse – may be continuing to reinforce his delusion that he understands Christianity.

    In that sense, it doesn’t matter what we think “Covenant” means. Consumer Christians only hear it mean “contract.” And the proof is in the pudding. Our cultures perceive marriage to be a contract of convenience, and among the weakest of all contracts (pretty much the only “no fault” contract in the modern world).

    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.”

    Glory to God!

  73. I think the myth of religious neutrality is one of the most pernicious paradigms in western culture. And many Christians go along with it. This is not a biblical view. All humans are religious and all humans are actively following and worshiping either the true God or a false god. They are either citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven or citizens of the Prince of this World.

    Western marriage is highly conditioned by Mammon which goes a long way to explain why weddings are more and more extravagant and why divorces are usually instigated by the sex that stands to gain the most financially (most divorces are instigated by women who almost always win the money and custody battles in divorce courts). This is also one of the reasons the poor in the west are getting married less and less. Even a lot of gay people argue that the whole gay marriage movement is largely a concession to bourgeoisie values and is largely a movement of wealthy homosexuals. There is a joke that the wedding announcements in elite newspapers is called the “mergers and acquisitions” page. It is pretty clear that the money god is the one primarily in control of western marriage so it shouldn’t surprise us if the contract paradigm trumps the union one.

  74. Isaac, I know quite a few women whose ex-husbands not only were notfaithful but managed to use the legal system to iimpoverish the women, refuse to pay child support and in general make the women’s life misarable. I think you’d better check your sterotypes.

    Divorce is common because of a lot of things including greed but they are all related to the decline in faith, culture and community.

  75. Michael and Isaac,
    Michael is right on this one. Divorce is a many-headed hydra. But the emptiness that the false world of Consumer Man creates in all of us makes good relationships hard to sustain. The breakdown of the extended family is also a structural weakness, particularly in America.

    I’m very cynical about present culture and the possibility of any improvement. But my cynicism has roots in much deeper woundings in my life, so that I don’t really trust my cynical judgments. They may inadvertently be true – but not because I’m wise in such a way.

    But there always remains the possibility of living a “good” life, meaning a life of greater and greater union with God. It is all that matters – all that matters. May God grant the grace for such a life – if the aggregate should become something wonderful – then may God be thanked for that as well. But managing the world and its culture is not the work of human beings.

  76. Though there certainly is reason for cynicism regarding the current culture, there always has been. In other words, people in every generation have pointed out the degenerative evils afoot in their culture.

    One thing that is different now is that we have mass communications that keep us informed (constantly, if we permit it) of evils in every part of our states, countries and world.

    There really are quite a few people genuinely trying to live holy lives, even if they mess it up or have been taught poor theology. They don’t make the news often.

    I truly love this blog but, I must admit, sometimes I tire of the East-West thing, as though I live on the wrong side of the tracks because I am of the West. (No one has treated me that way on a personal level – it is more the language that continually refers to “the West” as though this were a well-defined entity.)

    Hence, I appreciate your words here, Fr. Stephen, and thank you for honestly trying to sort out what may be personal cynicism from the beautiful truths you teach.

  77. Michael,

    I am citing statistics not stereotypes. We know that more women than men initiate divorces. We know that women more often than not get custody of the children. We know that divorced men are four times more likely to commit suicide than divorced women. These are simply facts and not stereotypes. Actually you are repeating the stereotype of the “deadbeat dad” that helps to drive a debtor’s prison system in the USA. I have spoken extensively with a law enforcement officer who has seen the system destroy the lives of hundreds of honest men and have watched a few men I personally knew get ruined financially and lose custody of their children because their wife was cheating on them and wanted to move on to greener pastures. Of course we all have stories of men and women being cruel to each other, but the laws of the land also have a huge impact on the people who live under them. You seem to be in denial that feminism has been institutionalized at all levels of American law.

    Another stereotype you appear to be repeating as well is the “woman on a pedestal” one found in some versions of chivalry. As Tolkien pointed out in a letter to his son, chivalry is not a Christian view of things since men and women are equally fallen and equally prone to sin. If you have laws that provide incentives for certain behaviors we shouldn’t be surprised when the people who benefit take advantage of it on top of all the other factors at play. Among educated couples 90% of divorces are initiated by women. Do you really think 90% of educated men are cheating on their spouses?

  78. Isaac, just reporting my direct experience. People I actually know. The real point is that the dedication to marriage and to each other is vanishing. Whomever initiates the divorce, there is usually plenty of garbage on both sides and some fathers feel justified in withholding child support because the children are being used as pawns.

    Alcolism, infidelity, abuse, greed, ,,,,,,, selfishness lack of extended family……

    By the way forming conclusions of human behavior from statistics is stereotyping just as generalizing from only person experience is.

  79. Thank you for this wonderful post, Father.

    I have a question…does the Orthodox understanding of the
    process of union between husband and wife see it as
    a process that precedes the marriage (I.e the two are drawn together
    by Christ) and the marriage sacrament is the ‘completion’
    of this initial drawing together and now launches them out
    as ‘one’? Or does the marriage sacrament start
    the deep process?

    I don’t mean to be overly mechanistic. I’m thinking more about
    pre-marital discernment…what the presence of Christ might look
    like between two who are discerning…

    Thank you.

  80. Christ is in our midst!

    Dear Fr. Stephen;
    Asking your prayers. This comment is lengthy. Please bear with me.
    I’m a Canadian. I worked in the school system in the demographical locus of Vancouver’s gay community for four years. All that I struggled with in that context was exhausting.
    Working with and befriending gay persons in all manner of relationship-status and spiritual/religious conviction/afiliation; as well as struggling to journey alongside very dear Orthodox Christian friends who suffer tremendously with same-sex attraction (and all that this implies for the relational/familial life/non-life); as well as witnessing first-hand the shocking apostacy of one erstwhile extremely faithful, devout, pious Orthodox man over his challenges with same-sex attraction (and now articulately self-declared healing outside the church); as well as- predictably- more intelligent, cogent Orthodox Christian “apologies” for full eucharistic inclusion of practicing homosexuals… In all of this I have to say that I am at a loss. A heart-broken loss.
    On the one hand I cannot imagine how we could, today, commune practicing homosexuals without staggering reverberating implications for what exactly Holy Tradition means (and doens’t mean). I have to say that- along with nearly every fellow conservative Orthodox I hear speaking on this matter- the “elephant in the room” is really this ‘pious fear’. It is analogous to me in its internal fear-logic to the literalist clinging to our Creation myth. It is a fear for what all will unravel, what else will slip down the slope, if we come to see/believe/teach/allow that there is room for homosexual love exist in eucharistic life.
    Certainly there may be a deep and true theology/anthropology that undergirds the prohibition of homosexual love. However it is not from this place that I see most of the (Orthodox as well as other conservative) Christian ‘reaction/response’ coming from. It is the fear; the sort of pious fear, that it “cannot” be possible because of the dangerous implications.
    Add to this so many passions evidenced in cultural rejection of homosexual persons (I cannot possibly express the depths of the pain and wounding that homosexual friends have experienced at the calous hands and flippant tongues of my CHristian brethren), and I see it so hard to know how to “weight this one out”.

    You speak of union- but does this not beg the question?
    How do we know that no such “blessable” union can exist between two persons of the same gender? I have certainly witnessed homosexual marriages with as much love, stability, fidelity, etc. as the top 10% of heterosexual marriages (i.e. they pass the “social” test, and the “love” test).
    I struggle with the ontological argument of Michael Bauman- again it seems question-begging (in the technical sense: assuming what is trying to be proved).
    THere are so many ways in which men and women are different and alike. THese bell-curves clearly overlap the ways in which men-and-men are disssimilar, and women-and-women are dissimilar (as well as obviously similar).
    What is “maleness” and “femaleness” that makes, somehow, homosexual love not a participation in the union between otherness?
    And related to this of course is for me, the great difficulty I have with Orthodox economia extending to a *third* marriage (come on!), but under no circumstances to a homosexual “union”. I find it hard to swallow- with all I have witnessed directly on this thorny issue- that someone entering his *third* marriage (after two divorces) is in a better place to experience union than the most pious homosexual wanting to enter his first union-in-love.

    All of this said is, simply, to try to paint in some small measure my utter opacity in this matter anymore. I wonder if there is no room within the mercy and acomodations of the Orthodox pastoral approach to saving souls, for an ostensibly non-ideal marriage of penitential sorts (alike to second marriages) for some, carefully and pastorally discerned, gay couples.
    Admittedly, as I have discussed at great length with one of my closest homosexually-inclined Orthodox friends, we cannot envision how this would practically pan out. Neither, my friend admits in anguish, would this satisfy his deepest yearnings (which is for procreative sexual companionship- i.e. a lover with whom to share in creating a family.) It is the ongoing suffering- without any clear signs of relief (and in fact a contrary-case evidenced in our mutual friend who apostasized)- that makes this such a hard teaching for me to accept in peace. The cross my dear friend is asked to bear is many times greater than anything I can imagine enduring (as a man who gives thanks continually for his new marriage and who cannot now imagine my salvation outside this matrimonial mystery).

    AT least what is needed from the Church is far more mature and far deeper theological and anthropological unpacking of the- here assumed- ontological differences that preclude homosexual union. (Here, Fr Tom’s book falls woefully short. It is a wonderful “exercise manual” for those who simply nod in agreement that homosexuality is wrong. It does nothing whatever to explain this or shed light on it, thus utterly unsatisfying those who feel to their very core that they are gay and experientially fall in love with same-sex persons). In my small sliver of the world, we are losing otherwise exemplary faithful over this issue. There is no question- as you have briefly noted in the comments- that nothing like the current manifestation of homosexual relationship (i.e. between christians who want to devote themselves fiathfully to each other while worshing in church- such marriages are part of the demographic in my parents Mennoite church for example). Where is the deep and mature reflecting on this? I have not seen it (except perhaps by a few extremely thoughtful Orthodox thinkers I know who gently argue for blessing same-sex unions).
    Additionally we need a great deal more co-suffering love. Heeps and heeps of love- in the form of listenning to stories. Silently listening, secretly and discretely praying and repenting on behalf of our Christian culture for its abuses and cruelty, biogtry, etc.
    While in the end I am inclinded to believe it is not God’s will that we bless homosexual marriage (at least this is not the fullness of the Way- it is even at its best still an obstacle to theosis), I do believe that the suffering homosexuals have endured/do endure is far deeper than the “history” we (Orthodox) Christians are willing to take on, repent of, and co-suffer with.

    I would be so grateful, Father, if you would carefully unpack the precise way in which homosexual union is “ontologically” not possible- within the concious bounds of a Church pastorally allowing for some sort of (far off the mark!) union between two twice-divorced heterosexuals.

    For now, I have to dwell with my heart’s word on this matter, as painful as it is: I do not believe it is part of the fullness of the divine life that God intends for those assailed by this passion to act on it in attempted same-sex marriage. I do believe that- as unimaginably “unfair” as it is- this cross must be borne by those who have been given it with the loving support of the praying community. And we must resist the false imagery of cross-bearing meaning just sweat, blood, and toil, and rightly see this cross only as the Ressurected Life that is promised for all those who would take the narrow way. A broader culture of genuine Orthodox ascesis might make the plight of gay persons seem more plausible and understandable, less unfair and profoundly unequal to their comfortable married friends.
    Perhaps like the mystery of the inequities of wealth and poverty, it is not given for us mortals to know why some must bear a cross vastly greater than others. Yet the promise of abundant and eternal life is always there for those who patiently endure to the end.
    God grant his strength to all those so devastatingly honoured to bear this cross of same-sex attraction. My heart goes out to you! I could not hope to carry one tenth its weight; God grant the strength he promise to all those who must endure martyrdom- a crown of vitory awaits.

  81. michael, divorce does destroy lives, especially the innocent children who are caught in the middle, but growing up in a dysfunctional, stressful home physically changes the brain in children for the rest of their lives. i was fortunate to grow up in a home where my parents NEVER argued in front of us…we asked about this later and they said it was a decision they made to settle disagreements away from us children. in our fallen society, we rarely see this !

  82. Michael,

    I don’t disagree that a lot of it comes from the people involved and of course if both people saw their marriages as a cross and a path to salvation that exists in parallel to monasticism then I think we would see the divorce rate drop through the floor. My only point was that as a Christian view of marriage (western or eastern) goes away other “gods” replace the true God of Israel so we see the prominence of Mammon as a factor both in weddings (people on average spend so much more on weddings these days) and in divorce. You could say when love grows cold and people turn against each other the old gods of Mammon and even Moloch (anti-children types are legion these days)start to take their place rather than people merely existing in some kind of religious-neutral secular island.

    I think by nature feminism is an ideology of female selfishness. While it in theory only strives for equality between the genders, it in reality focuses solely on the rights of women while ignoring the responsibilities of women. This ideology has made its way into American law and only trebled the problems of marriage and family.

  83. Michael B. I read your statement that divorce destroys lives. Yes, but God can rebuild those lives. I know, because I am divorced and God has rebuilt my life and the lives of my children who are now adults. Given the opportunity God can rebuild whatever we sinful critters manage to destroy.

    For years though I struggled through the Church seeming to proclaim that divorce seemed to be the one unforgivable sin and I felt relegated to the trash heap. What a weight that was to carry! But God in his mercy and wisdom changed all that. All lives are redeemable even divorced ones.

  84. Lina, I well know God rebuilds lives. The incredible, beautiful woman that God has given me was divorced twice by men who cheated on her and worse. She is such a kind and giving person, a lover of God. It is quite difficult for to understand the utter blindness her ex-husbands had not to see how blessed they were.

    But God has and still is rebuilding her. It is my honor to help a little bit.

  85. Isaac, God gave men and women equality from the beginning. In Christianity they are considered fully human.

    Feminism in its raw form is worse than just female selfishness. It aims at the degradation of women and the neutering of men.

    It breaths hatred. I still remember going to see Gloria Steinem back in the 60’s. Such graceless, pointless vulgarity I’d never before experience in my life. All she really had to recommend was that women should strive to emulate the grossest of men and that men should just **** off.. Power to the skanks.

    That such a vision should become popular with so many boggles my mind.

  86. Sophia, I would say all three of your suggestions occur and it dies not stop progressing as long as the man and woman allow it to go on.

    Before my wife and I were married, she looked me in the eyes and said in her most loving voice: “I want you to be the spiritual head of our family”. That was about a month and a half after we met and a month before we married. It scared me silly. Still does sometimes.

    We had a deep trust and openness to one another from the git go. Our focus was as much on God as it was on each other and ourselves.

    She makes my job so easy. Given her history, for her to be so open and so trusting is amazing.

    It just keeps getting better four years in and God knows how many more we have left at age 65. I pray God every day not to violate her trust in any way in the midst of being continually thankful for bringing her into my life.

  87. I do not think of myself as a feminist but – my – I am feeling some male hostility here. (e.g. “Feminism in its raw form is worse than just female selfishness. It aims at the degradation of women and the neutering of men. It breaths hatred.”)

    While most certainly all people are equal in the eyes of God, they are not treated as such by each other. Whenever one group experiences oppression at the hands of another, there are some who will stand out as extremists in the effort to bring about change.

    Unfortunately the extremists are what some people most remember, not what they helped accomplish in terms of setting right some major wrongs. I am not defending the extremists as much as noting that there was a real problem that needed to be addressed.

  88. Thank you, Michael, for sharing that. God bless you and your wife, and God grant you many years!

  89. 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.

  90. 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:

  91. 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.

  92. 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…

  93. 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.

  94. 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.


  95. 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.

  96. 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.”

  97. “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.

  98. 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!

  99. 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.

  100. 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???)

  101. 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.

  102. 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.

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

    -Mark Basil

  104. 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…

  105. 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.

  106. 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.

  107. 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.

  108. 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.


  109. 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.


  110. 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.

  111. 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.

  112. Ms. Fox you say:


    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.

  113. 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,


  114. 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.

  115. 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.

  116. 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.

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

  118. 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.

  119. 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.


  120. 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!

  121. 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.

  122. 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.

  123. 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.)

  124. 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.

  125. 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.

  126. 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!

  127. 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.

    -Mark Basil

  128. 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.

  129. 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.

  130. 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.

  131. 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.
    -Mark Basil

  132. 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.

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

  134. 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.


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

  136. 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).

  137. 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”

  138. 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.

  139. 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.)

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

  141. 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.

  142. 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!

  143. 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).

    -Mark Basil

  144. 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!

  145. 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.

  146. 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.

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