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Question 142

Hi Father, a question about marriage. Is there a point of getting married when one person is a believer in the faith and the other isn't? Both are christened Greek Orthodox. Thanks. By the way, I think you are awesome!          


Answer to Question 142


That depends on what you believe about marriage. People marry for different reasons, some to have legal sex, others for economic stability and others to have a family. The Christian teaching about marriage is something quite completely different which I will mention further down. For the other reasons mentioned above neither partner has to be religious. One can fulfil these marital obligations without faith and so the answer would be that if this is what you want out of marriage then there is definitely a point in getting married as this will also provide both parties with a legally binding contract to live their lives having all things in common.  If fact western style weddings are simply just this. They are a legal contract between two people promising, with an exchange of marital vows, to live together as husband and wife.  The Orthodox marriage is something completely different. Firstly it is not a contract, no promises and no marital vows are involved and secondly both parties should in theory be faithful members of the church.  Whereas in western marriages the couple literally marry each other by saying "I Christopher take you Katherine to be my lawful wedded wife…" the Orthodox marriage is a sacrament and the priest commands God to marry the bride and groom. In our Orthodox Marriage service the priest addresses God directly saying “Do Thou Thyself now O Lord and Master, stretch forth Thy hand from Thy Holy dwelling place, and join together this Thy servant, Christopher, and this Thy handmaiden Katherine, for by Thee is a wife joined to her husband. Unite them together in oneness of mind; crown them together as one flesh, grant unto them the fruit of the womb and the pleasure of well-favoured children…”  Thus, the meaning of marriage between the east and west is from the very onset very different. For the west it is a contract between two people promising to live together through good and bad times until death separates them. In the east no contract is exchanged, but the union is mystical, where God joins two bodies into one flesh, but this is not the only difference we have with the west on the meaning of marriage. The Orthodox Church regards marriage as one of the paths to true holiness of life, that is, it is seen as a way of salvation. The other path is through monasticism.  In the Old Testament the primary goal of marriage was to have children to continue the human race. With the coming of Christ, marriage no longer had as its primary goal the reproduction of human beings and the continuation of the family line, although procreation was still regarded as an important part of marriage. But Christ had come to the world and brought with Him the proof and guarantee of the resurrection of the dead, therefore giving to Christian marriage a new primary goal - the attainment of eternal life by husband, wife, and all children. The New Testament and especially the Epistles of St. Paul give the true teaching on what marriage should be and the recipe for a strong and happy marriage.  In the most mature, highly developed and spiritual marriages, the relationship of a man and woman evolves into one of mutual obedience. Today's society, despises the spirit of obedience. We are instead told to "do our own thing," to look after "number one," to satisfy our every whim and desire. But an Orthodox Christian marriage is not part of secular or worldly society. The aim of Christian marriage is eternal life in Heaven with Jesus Christ; the aim of worldly society is pleasure, enjoyment of the here and now, and, especially, self-indulgence and self-will.  The purpose of marriage is for the couple to help one another and complement one another. And since the main purpose of human life is the salvation of the soul, the couples must encourage one another to live a Christian way of life according to the will of God. Then God's blessing will remain on the married couple; their marriage will be happy and will serve as a comfort and joy to them. Marriage then is a constant effort to live not for one's own self, but for the other's because “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25); mutual dedication is the main psychological and moral content of marriage, for both the man and the woman. The role of direction and initiative, which belongs to the man, is primarily a function and a responsibility. It does not indicate any moral superiority of the man over the woman. The words of St. Paul are very clear on marital equality: “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Cor. 7:4). Husband and wife belong to each other but they should at all times remember that first and foremost they belong to God, as St. Paul says: “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20) True Marriage then is to honour each others body as the temple of God, striving always to live with Christ in the midst of this marriage who will help and guide the couple to salvation and the kingdom of heaven.  The meaning of Christian life is precisely to go beyond the simple egotistic interests of man. This new dimension is what constitutes the whole difference between a Christian marriage and the one which is concluded outside of the Church. To conclude, marriage is the union of two people joined by God as one flesh whose primary goal in life is, with Christ in their midst, to help each other attain the highest state of human existence, the state of theosis (deification).