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|Protopresbyter Michael Pomazansky|
Orthodox dogmatic theology
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The Purpose of the Christian Family
The family, as is well known, comprises the fundamental cell of the organism of society,
being the nucleus and foundation of society. Thus also in the militant Church of Christ it is a basic
unit of the Church body. Therefore the Christian family in itself is called in the writings of the
Apostles a “church:” “Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my helpers in Christ Jesus . . . and the church
that it in their house” (Rom. 16:3, 5); “Salute Nymphas and the church which is in his house”
(Col. 4:15). From this it is understandable what great attention should be given to the family
from the point of view of the Church, so that the family might fulfill its purpose of being a small
There is yet another way of personal life which is blessed in Christianity: virginity or celibacy.
Celibacy for the sake of Christ has created another kind of Christian social unit: monasticism.
The Church places it above married life, and in actuality, in the history of the Church it
has been a leading, guiding element, a support of the Church, bringing into realization to the
greatest degree the moral law of the Gospel, and preserving the dogmas, the Divine services, and
other foundations of the Church.
However, not all can take upon themselves the vow of virginity in the name of Christ and
the Church. Therefore, while blessing virginity as a chosen and a perfect form of life, the Church
blesses also married life for the sake of those exalted, and at the same time difficult, aims which
are placed before the Christian family, and this blessing is acknowledged as a Mystery.
The significance of the mystery.
In the Mystery of Marriage the Church invokes the help of God on those being married, that
they might understand, fulfill and attain the aims set before them, namely: to be a “house
church,” to establish within the family truly Christian relationships, to raise children in faith and
life according to the Gospel, to be an example of piety for those around one, to bear with patience
and humility and unavoidable sorrows and, often, sufferings which visit family life.The central moment of the mystery.
The beginning moment in the existence of the Christian family is the sacred action of Marriage.
The chief part in the rite of the Mystery of Marriage is the placing of the crowns upon
those being married with the words: “The servant of God (name) is married to the handmaid of
God (name) in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” and then the common
blessing of both with the thrice repeated short prayer, “O Lord our God, crown them with
glory and honor.”
Marriage as a divine Institution.
That marriage has the blessing of God upon it is said many times in the Holy Scripture.
Thus, in Genesis 1:27-28 we read: “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God
created He him; male and female created He them. And God blessed them, and God said unto
them, Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth.” Likewise, in Genesis 2:18-24, the writer
of Genesis, having spoken of the creation of the woman from the rib of Adam and of how she
was led to the man, adds, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall
cleave unto his wife and they shall be one flesh.”
The Saviour Himself, commanding that faithfulness be preserved in marriage and forbidding
divorce, mentions these words of the book of Genesis and instructs: “What therefore God hath
joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt. 19:4-6). These words of the Lord clearly testify
to the moral dignity of marriage. The Lord Jesus Christ sanctified marriage by His presence at the
marriage in Cana of Galilee, and here He performed His first miracle.
The Apostle Paul compares the mystical character of the Church with marriage in these
words: “Husbands, love your wives even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for
it; and further: For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto
his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery; but I speak concerning Christ
and the Church” (Eph. 5:25, 31-32). The Apostle Paul speaks more in detail about marriage and
virginity in 1 Corinthians, the seventh chapter. Placing virginity above marriage, he does not condemn
marriage, commanding that it be preserved and advising that one not be divorced even
from an unbeliever, in hope of converting the other one to the faith. Having indicated the highest
impulses for remaining in virginity, in conclusion he says the following: “Such” (those who
marry) “shall have trouble in the flesh; but I spare you” (1 Cor. 7:28).
Having in mind the Christian purpose of marriage, the Church forbids entering into marriage
with heretics (canons of the Fourth and Sixth Councils), and likewise with those of other religions
(See Canon 14 of the Council of Chalcedon, and Canon 72 of Quinisext (Eerdmans Seven Ecumenical Councils,
pp. 278-9 and 397). The Orthodox Church in modern times has not been quite so strict. The present rule of the
Russian Church Outside of Russia, for example, allows marriage with the non-Orthodox who are closest in faith to
Orthodoxy: Roman Catholics, Armenians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Presbyterians. Other Orthodox Churches today
have similar rules. Canon 72 of the Quinisext Council also allows Orthodox converts to remain with their spouses
after conversion, for as St. Paul says: “The unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is
sanctified by the husband” (1 Cor. 7:14). In actual practice, “mixed marriages” are not conducive to the formation of
a “house church” or to the preservation of fervent Orthodoxy in the children of such unions, and the conversion to
Orthodoxy of the non-Orthodox spouse is much to be preferred.).
The indissolubility of marriage.
The Church only in exceptional circumstances agrees to the dissolving of a marriage, chiefly
when it has been defiled by adultery, or when it has been destroyed by conditions of life (for ex-ample, long absence of one spouse, without word). The entrance into a second marriage after the
death of a husband or wife, or in general the loss of one spouse by the other, is allowed by the
Church, although in the prayers for those being married the second time, forgiveness is asked for
the sin of a second marriage. A third marriage is tolerated only as a lesser evil to avoid a greater
evil . immoral life (as St. Basil the Great explains).