Re: [orthodox-synod] What is a true marriage? - part 2
- “This is also how the ancient Christian Church herself looked on thef orm
of marriage. Her teaching on the form of marriage coincides with the eaching
of the Bible and Roman law. Therefore the ancient Christians, who did not
permit the slightest compromise with the State pagan religion and preferred a
martyr’s death to participation in the smallest pagan rite, entered into
marriage in the time of the persecutions and later in exactly the same way as
the other citizens of the Roman State. ‘They, that is, the Christians,
conclude marriage in the same way as everyone,’ says an ancient Christian
writer of the 2nd century in the Epistle to Diognetus (V, 6). ‘Each of us
recognizes as his wife the woman whom he took in accordance with the laws
published by you (i.e. the pagans),’ says Athenagoras in his Apology( 33, P.G.
6:965) submitted to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius (166-177). St. Ambrose of
Milan says that Christians take wives ‘in accordance with the tablets’, that
is, in accordance with the Roman laws of the 12 tablets (On the Institution
of Virginity, 6; P.L. 16:316). Chrysostom says definitively: ‘Marriage is
concluded in no other way than by agreement according to the laws’ (Homily 56
on Genesis, 29; P.G. 54:488).The first canon of the Council of Laodicea
demands that marriage should be concluded only ‘freely and lawfully’, that
is, in accordance with the Romanlaws. The ancient Church completely
assimilated the basic teaching of Roman marital law, that marriage is
concluded by the spouses themselves, that consensusf acit nuptias. This
teaching is found among the most authoritative representatives of Church
teaching both in the East and in the West, for example, in John Chrysostom,
Balsamon, Ambrose of Milan, Blessed Augustine,Isidore, Pope Nicholas I, and
“Finally, we find the same teaching in the official collections of
Byzantine law which have been adopted by the Orthodox Church.”<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftn1"></A>
Andyet for many centuries now, in both East and West, a marriage that
has not been performed by a priest in Church is considered invalid by
Christians. So why did the change take place, if it did indeed take place? Or
perhaps Troitsky is overlooking certain points…
The Role of the Church
Let us return to the marriage in Cana. Troitsky asserts that Christ’s
presence there signified no more than His recognition of the validity of Old
Testament marriage.<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftn2"></A> And yet the tradition of the Church, as we have seen,
sees more in it than that:not a recognition merely, but a blessing, the
addition of a Divine element that was not there before, the changing of the
cold and watery element of pre-Christian marriage into the soberly
intoxicating element of Christian marriage.
Moreover, it is going beyond the evidence to suppose that Christ was
merely a passive spectator at the marriage. We are told that He and His
apostles were “invited”, which implies a certain desire for His presence on
the part of the spouses, a desire which must have been the stronger in that
the bridegroom was himself an apostle, St. Simon the Zealot. In response to
this active desire on the part of man for the participation of God, is it
likelyt hat God would not respond, would refuse to play any active role
This was certainly not the view of, for example, St. Gregory the
Theologian, who says to those preparing to be baptised: “Are you not yet
married in the flesh? Fear not this consecration; you are pure even after
marriage. I will take the risk of that. I will join you in marriage. I will
lead in the bride. We do not dishonour marriage because we give a higher
honour to virginity. I will imitate Christ, the pure Bridegroom and Leader of
the Bride, as He both worked a miracle at a wedding, and honours marriage
with His Presence.”<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftn3"></A>
This passage, as well as attributing an active role to Christ as “Leader
of the Bride”, attributes an analogous role to the Christian priest. Just as
God led Eve to Adam in Paradise, thereby makingt hem man and wife, so did
Christ at Cana and so does every Christian priest at every Christian
marriage. That it is God Who is the initiator and consecrator of true
marriage is confirmed by other patristic writings, some of which are quoted
by Troitsky himself. Thus Tertullian writes: “Marriage takes place when God
unites two into one flesh”.<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftn4"></A> And St. John Chrysostom writes: “God unites
you with your wife”.<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftn5"></A> As it is expressed in a Novella of Emperor Alexis I,
those being married “receive God”, Who “walks amidst those being united”.<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftn6">
</A> Again, Metropolitan Cyprian of Kiev (1376-1406) writes in his service book
that“husband and wife are united by Thee [God]”.
Troitsky asserts that the early Church did no more than recognize the
validity of marriages performed according to Roman law. And yet the very
earliest witness we have to the early Church’s practice implies rather more
than that. Thus St. Ignatius the Godbearer writes:“ It is right for men and
women who marry to be united with the knowledge of the bishop (meta gnwmhV
tou Episkopou), that the marriage may be according to the Lord and not
according tolust (kata Kurion kai mh kat’ epiqumian).<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftn7"></A> This shows that
“marriage as a sacramental action has an apostolic origin, or, as Stavrinos
indicates, ‘marriage from the beginning was sanctified by the Church, being
accomplished by her prayers and blessing’”.<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftn8"></A>
It may be that in the early Christian centuries there was no specific
rite of marriage carried out in the Church, and that Christians continued to
be married according to the non-Christian procedures of the pagan Roman
empire. But this is in no way implies that the Church was merely a passive
spectator, any more than Christ was a passive spectator at Cana. If the
marriage had to be “in the Lord”, in the words of the Apostle Paul (I
Corinthians 7.39), and “with the knowledge of the bishop”, as St. Ignatius
says, then it is clear that some Episcopal screening was carried out
beforehand to ensure that the marriage would not be contrary to the Church’s
ethical and canonical norms. Moreover, the Church then added hero wn seal and
blessing to the marriage performed outside her walls, if only by
communicating the married couple as a couple in the Body and Blood of Christ.
In a somewhat similar way, an emperor was proclaimed emperor for the first
time outside the walls of the Church, butt hen received the blessing and
anointing of the Church within them.<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftn9"></A>
Do the early sources betray any embryonic elements of a specifically
Christian rite of marriage? Some have seen a marital blessing in the
following remark of Clement of Alexandria: “On whom does the presbyter lay
his hand? Whom does he bless? Not the woman decked out, but another’s hair
[i.e. a wig], and through it another head.”<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftn10"></A> Less ambiguous are the words
of Tertullian: “[The happy marriage is the one that the Church joins, which
the offering [oblatio, i.e. the Eucharist] strengthens, which the blessing [
benedictio] seals, which the angels proclaim and which the heavenly Father
confirms”.<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftn11"></A>“Hidden unions [occultae conjunctiones], that is, ones that
have not been professed beforehand in the Church, are judged to be equivalent
to fornication and adultery”.<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftn12"></A>
As Troitsky himself points out, bothboth Roman pagan and Christian
Byzantine law considered secret marriages to be fornication.<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftn13"></A> This is
enough in itself to refute his suggestion (which is in agreement with the
teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, but not of the Orthodox) that marriage
is concluded by the spouses themselves. For marriage is a public event with
public consequences, and as such has to be sealed by society as a whole
–which, for a Christian, must include the society of the Church.
The Church in her wisdom did not reject the secular rite of the Roman
state, but vetted who should participate in it beforehand and sealed it
afterwards through her own grace-filled rites, which included, as a minimum,
the Divine Liturgy insofar as the latter is, in the words of St. Symeon of
Thessalonica, “the end of every rite and divine mystery”.<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftn14"></A> This fact
becomes more and more indisputable as we turn from the pre-Nicene to the
post-Nicene sources. Thus St. Basil the Great calls marriage “a yoke through
a blessing”.<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftn15"></A> Again, St.Gregory the Theologian asks Olympiada to forgive
him for not being present at her wedding, but says that in spirit he, as a
priest, places the right hands oft he couple on each other and both in the
hand of God.<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftn16"></A>Again, St. Timothy of Alexandria in his 11th canon answers a
question relating to a priest being invited to perform a wedding by “making
an offering [prosforan]”.Again, Synesius of Ptolemais, a married bishop of
the early 5th century, tells us that he took his wife from the hand of Bishop
Theophilus of Alexandria.<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftn17"></A> Again, St. Augustine calls marriage, not simply
a marital bond, but an indissoluble sacrament”.<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftn18"></A> From the above examples
it is clear that “in the first years of Christianity the dominant position
was held by political marriage with the thought that it was recognized by the
Roman State, but the Church blessed the faithful newly weds in parallel with
some form of priestly act.”<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftn19"></A>
<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftnref1"></A> Troitsky, op. cit., pp. 174-181.
<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftnref2"></A> He quotesthe following texts in his favour: (i) “He brings a gift in
order to honour thework” (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 4 on Isaiah 6.1; P.G.
56:246);(ii) “to confirm that He Himself established marriage (in
Paradise)” (Bl.Augustine, On John, 9.2); (iii) “He is present here as one
invited tothe wedding feast, which took place already after the celebration
of themarriage, and by His presence He witnesses that marriage concluded
inaccordance with the laws and customs of the Hebrew people is a
true,God-pleasing marriage.” (Pavlov, 50-aia glava Kormchej Knigi,
Moscow,1887, p. 58).
<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftnref3"></A> St. Gregorythe Theologian, Oration on Holy Baptism, 18.
<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftnref4"></A> Tertullian, OnMonogamy, 9.
<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftnref5"></A> St. JohnChrysostom, Homily 20 on Ephesians, 4; P.G. 62:135.
<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftnref6"></A> AthenianSyntagma, V, 286-291; quoted in Trotsky, op. cit., p. 49.
<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftnref7"></A> St.Ignatius, To Polycarp, 5.
<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftnref8"></A> Ioannis Kogkoulis, KhristosOikonomos, Panagiotis Skaltstis, O Gamos,
Thessalonica, 1996, p. 187 (inGreek).
<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftnref9"></A> “It is notin vain,” writes Pavel Kuzmenko, “that marriage crowning
involves the laying ofwreaths similar to royal crowns on the heads of the
newly married. Itsymbolizes that the family is a small kingdom in the earthly
sense and a smallchurch in the spiritual sense” (Nashi Traditsii: Kreschenie,
Venchanie,Pogrebenie, Posty, Moscow: Bukmen, 1996, p. 106 (in Russian).)
During the coronationof the Russian Tsars, the bystanders were showered with
gold and silver,symbolizing the betrothal of the Tsar with the State. See Fr.
Nikita Chakorov(ed.), Tsarskie Koronatsii na Rusi, Russian Orthodox Youth
Committee,1971, p. 22 (in Russian).
<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftnref10"></A> Clement ofAlexandria, The Instructor, III, 11; Kogkoulis et al., op. cit.
<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftnref11"></A> Tertullian,To his Wife, II, 9; P.L. 1:1302A; Kogkoulis et al., op. cit.
<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftnref12"></A> Tertullian,On Chastity, 4; P.L. 2:1038-1039; Kogkoulis et al., op. cit.
<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftnref13"></A> Referencesin Troitsky, op. cit., p. 182.
<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftnref14"></A> St. Symeonof Thessalonica, Peri tou timiou nomimou gamou, P.G.155: 512D.
<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftnref15"></A> St. Basilthe Great, On the Hexaemeron, P.G. 29:160B; Kogkoulis et al.,
op.cit. p. 190.
<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftnref16"></A> St. Gregorythe Theologian, Letter 183, P.G. 37:313; Kogkoulis et al.,
op. cit.p. 190.
<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftnref17"></A> Synesius, Letter 105, P.G.66:1485A; Kogkoulis et al., op. cit. p. 190.
<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftnref18"></A> St. Augustine, On Marriage andConcupiscence, I, 10, 11; P.L. 44: 419;
Kogkoulis et al., op.cit. p. 191.
<A HREF="file://C:\My%20Documents\Marriage\%23_ftnref19"></A> Kogkoulis et al., op. cit., p.192.
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