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The Mystery of Marriage

The reason to enter in marriage is that it can help us to lead a chaste life; this will be the case if we choose such brides who can bring us great chastity, great modesty. Wife is a haven and the main cure for the disturbances of the soul. If you keep this haven free from winds and tribulations, you will find great peace in it, but if you perturb and disturb her, you prepare a most dangerous shipwreck for yourself.

The Mystery of Marriage

Holy Hierarch John Chrysostome

Wife is given to a husband as a helper, so that a husband could bare everything which happens to him in life with her consolation. And if a wife is meek and adorned with virtues, she will not only give consolation to the husband by her company, but will bring him good in everything, making everything easy, helping in everything, not leaving him in severe trials, both outside and those happening inside the house all the time; but as a skillful pilot she will calm down every soul tempest in him with her prudency and give him consolation by her cohabitation. Those who live in such a union of marriage cannot be too much troubled by anything, nothing can disturb their peaceful happiness.

 Holy Hierarch John Chrysostom

Marriage is the gift of God, sanctified by the blessing of the Church. The very first action of the Creator after the creation of man and wife was the blessing to ”be fruitful and multiply”. Thus the blessing of marriage cohabitation and procreation was given, so that the members of the family simultaneously became the members of the Church of Christ. Lord Jesus Christ did not only confirm the initial blessing of the marriage, but restored the law about it in its initial force. While the Law of Moses allowed the divorce, Christ strongly forbids it. Asked by the Pharisees if it is allowed to divorce one’s wife for any reason, he pointed to the original law of unity and indissolubility of marriage, established for the first marriage couple Adam and Eve, and added:

What God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.

In the Gospel of Luke (chapter 20) it is said that marriage will cease to exist only when there will be no death. The Exposition of this Gospel says: 

The sons of this age who are in this world giving birth and being born marry and are given in marriage. But the sons of that age will not have anything like these, will not be able to dye and will not have marriage there. For here death is because of marriage. And the marriage is because of death, and there is the abolition of death. What is then the need for marriage? For marriage is the help of death and the fulfillment of deficit.

In the life of Holy Hierarch Nikola the Miracleworker there is a description of the miracle about three virgins. The impoverished man, father of three daughters, wanted to give them into a shameful and lawless prostitution to relieve the poverty in the family. To prevent these intentions Holy Hierarch Nikola appeared in secret in his house three times bringing the bundles of gold. With his help all three virgins were given into a lawful marriage. From this we can see that Holy Hierarch Nikola acknowledged the necessity of the marriage union as the Mystery of Marriage sanctified by the Church. This event took place in the 4th century, when there was still no rite of marriage and the marriages were effected by the blessing of parents in the presence of witnesses (Slavonic Kormchaya – Nomocanon, folio 500).

In the Old Testament marriage was considered to be even higher than virginity, while adulterers were stoned to death (Lev.20 and Deut.22). Prophet Jeremiah also did not disdain marriage and advised Israelites to marry. And when Tobias son of Tobit married, his house was visited by heavenly servant of the Lord Archangel Raphael (Tob., chapters 1-14).

In the Gospel of John (chapter 2) the marriage in Cana of Galilee is described to which Jesus Christ and His Holy Mother Mary were called. Christ revered that marriage feast with his presence and compensated for the lack of wine, miraculously turning simple water into the best wine. This first miracle described in this Gospel is the confirmation of Christ’s blessing of this marriage performed at home.

How the Order of the Church Wedding Was Formed

In the first century A.D., in the times of the Apostles, Christians did not have an established prayer order for wedding; marriages took place in homes, with a triple blessing. Churches as buildings did not exist at that time.

Positions about marriage varied among the Apostles. Thus, Apostle Paul spoke about Christianity as a chaste, sinless, ascetic religion, while Peter called for early marriages and wished that everyone is included in marriage.

Life in marriage must be chaste. The main source of chastity is the Church. In the Epistle to Ephesians Apostle Paul raises the Christian marriage to the level of the union of Christ and Church, as the head and the body. This is a mystical union, and an ineffable one:

This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Eph.5:32).

This law of God, uniting husband and wife, established for the procreation of the human race and for restriction of lust,” – this is how the early Christian theologians describe reasons for marriage.

… to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband (1 Cor.7:2).

So people must enter in marriage to lead a chaste life. Holy Hierarch John Chrysostom advises parents to marry off their sons early in order to preserve their chastity. For the prevention of fornication it is necessary to join a son in marriage with a chaste and clever wife, who would keep her husband from the reckless way of life.

The position of the Church on the “civil marriage” is unambiguously negative. Cohabitation without the Church blessing is considered one of the greatest sins.

In his exposition of the First Epistle to Timothy John Chrysostom says:

For this reason crowns are put on their heads as an image of victory, for they have been unbeatable and come to the bed not having been overcome by pleasures. And if someone has been caught by pleasures and given himself to the harlots, then why should he have the crown of his head if he has been overcome. With these images we teach, we punish, we frighten, forbid, sometimes doing this and sometimes that.

The meaning of marriage in human life is described by Apostle Paul in his epistles:

it is better to marry than to burn (1 Cor.7:9). If thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned (7:28).

Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed (Gal.1:8).

In the book of Ephraim the Syrian, Word 1, it is said:

It is not written anywhere: do not take wife, do not give birth to children. Heretics, who called themselves pure, loathed marriage and did not accept those who sinned for confession (Kormchaya/Nomocanon, 1 Council, canon 8).

According to the Apostolic Canons, the one who abhors marriage, cannot be a spiritual father (canon 51); those who turn away from sin should be accepted for confession (52); the one who has been married twice after baptism or has a concubine, cannot be a spiritual father (17); one cannot put away his wife for the sake of being a priest, i.e. a spiritual father cannot separate from a lawful wife (5). Nomocanon says: a fornicator should not be a priest canons 181, 182 and 183).

Apostle Paul teaching in the name of Christ about the indissolubility of marriages (1 Cor.7:10), supports the ban on interreligious marriages, but if a husband or a wife become a Christian, he or she can save the other. The dissolution of such a marriage is only possible upon the request of the non-Christian (1 Cor.7:12-16).

Emperor Alexios Komnenos (1081-1118) was the first to publish an edict prescribing the church wedding even for the slaves-Christians. Before that they had been refused this ceremony, for the equality of masters and slaves before the Christian faith had not been recognized. The same phenomenon was also characteristic for the first years of Christianity in Ancient Russia, when the higher classes married in the Church, while the lower classes remained without the Church wedding.

The wedding is preceded by engagement, which was performed in the ancient Christianity a few years before marriage. While a bridegroom was alive, no one else could marry this bride.

The sanctity of Christian wedding and marriage was united with the communion of the Holy Mysteries. Wedding took place during Liturgy or immediately after it.

Adultery was punished by the Church with excommunication from the Holy Mysteries for the term from 7 to 15 years. Ordination into the holy rank of a man who married twice was also forbidden. Such people were forbidden to receive the Holy Communion for 1 year, and after the third marriage – for 3 years – for the lack of patience, self-restraint and devotion to God’s will. During the wedding ceremony such couples were read prayers asking to forgive them for the weakness of flesh, which induced them to enter a new marriage, for the Church preferred the third marriage to licentiousness.

The sanctity of the marriage union is offended not only by adultery, but by other sins, such as discord, insult, etc, which eventually lead to divorce. Holy Hierarch John Chrysostom teaches us that the goal of marriage is not to fill our homes with enmity and hate, to have quarrels and conflicts, discord with each other and making life not life, but to have help, haven, refuge and consolation in happening troubles, so that husband has pleasure in conversation with his wife. “Do you want wife to obey you as the Church obeys Christ? – asks Holy Hierarch John Chrysostom. – Teach her the fear of God, and everything will flow to you, as if from a spring, and your house will be filled with plenty of goods”.

In “Discourses on Marriage” Holy Hierarch John Chrysostom writes:

The constant chastity proceeds from love… Love is born from chastity, and the infinite plenty of goods – from love. As it is impossible that a chaste man despises or neglects his wife, so it is impossible that a depraved and licentious man would love his wife, even if she is more beautiful than all the rest. Not so much the external makes spouses lovely and pleasant for each other, but chastity, kindness, tenderness and readiness to die for each other.

In ancient Russia, to keep a bride away from anything which can harm her pudency and chastity, she did not see the bridegroom until the very marriage.

The order of the Church wedding was composed gradually. In Russia of the 11th and 12th centuries the Mystery of marriage was already performed, but its order has not been preserved until this day. The order of wedding accepted its form still practiced by the Old Believers, accepting priesthood, in the 16th-17th centuries.

Weddings may be performed not on any day. They are not performed:

  • During Christmas-tide, the period from Christmas (January 7/December 25 old calendar) until Theophany (Jan.19/6);
  • On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays;
  • On the eve of Feasts;
  • On Fridays on the eve of Parents’ Saturdays;
  • On the Shrovetide/Cheese Week;
  • During all the Lents (Great, Peter’s, Dormition and Christmas);
  • On the Bright Easter week;
  • On the feasts of the Beheading of John the Baptist (Sept.11/Aug.29) and  the Exaltation of the Precious Cross (Sept.27/14).

The Mystery of marriage in the Old Believers’ Church consists of engagement and wedding.

Author: Nina Lukyanova.