On the eve of the International Marriage Week, which is held annually from 7 to 14 February, our editorial board offers a series of materials on the religious dimensions of the family and marriage.
From 7 to 14 February, International Marriage Week will be celebrated in over 25 countries around the world – England, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Serbia, Italy, Belgium, Ireland, Switzerland, Norway, USA, New Zealand, Australia, the Netherlands, Hungary, Ukraine, South Africa, Albania, the Philippines and others. Marriage Week celebrates a healthy marriage – a voluntary union between a man and a woman who have made a mutual commitment to each other for the rest of their lives.
A healthy, loving family deserves to be honored, as it provides children with safety and personal happiness and enables them to develop fully. Everyone needs a stable relationship. Research around the world shows that marriage is the surest way to get it. Social science proves that men and women who are married and still in close relationships live longer, enjoy better health and are happier with life. Marriage enhances the emotional, physical and financial quality of life for all family members.
Despite the increase of 37 percent in marriages, in the period 2012-2019, the number of divorces remained almost unchanged. ** Over a third of marriages end in divorce. At the same time, 86% of young people between the ages of 18 and 29 expect their marriage to last a lifetime. Sometimes the decision to separate is made extremely quickly, and the consequences are serious for both partners and children. Marriage Week seeks to counteract these problems, as did the School of Successful Marriage. It is designed to help current and future married couples acquire knowledge and skills that will make their relationship healthy and successful.
Today, psychologists and sociologists analyze the joyless family life and are concerned about the instability of marriage and the pain that this instability causes to both spouses and children. This is because the original meaning of marriage today is incomprehensible to people. Many see the marriage institution simply as a private contract and give it a utilitarian character. Some view marriage from a purely socio-state point of view. In it, the family becomes a small particle, a cell of the state organism, loaded with a great weight, often beyond its means.
However, psychology and sociology, proceeding from their fields, which are limited by the formulation of problems and areas of study, cannot reach the fullness of marriage and its purpose, as revealed in the experience of the Church.
Guided by its saving mission in the world, the Church assigns a special place to marriage, gives men and women who marry a special blessing called the “sacrament,” and a sacrament in the words of St. Nicholas Cavassila is the door through which Christ returns again. to abide in His Church. Based on this, the sacrament is not a religious form of “registration”, but a living communion with Christ.
The meaning of marriage as a sacrament is the glorification of the newlyweds and their offspring in the Kingdom of God. The Church blesses the newlyweds for the birth of children and the multiplication of the human race, which is a command given first to the ancestors, but also sees them as glorification before God: “And they shall both be one flesh. This mystery is great, but I speak of Christ and of the Church ”(Eph. 5: 20-33). That is why St. Apostle Paul calls marriage a mystery, given that marriage is preserved in the Kingdom of Eternity. Therefore, in the Holy Sacrament of Marriage, first is the experience of the reality of the Kingdom of God in the Holy Eucharist, and second is the biological relationship that develops as a result of the love between man and woman in the family that guides and accompanies them in the present. their life to eternity.
In these biological relationships, the Church intervenes to give the true dimensions of sexual love, to free the power of love in man from its submission to natural necessity, and to reveal the image of the Church and the gift of new life in the unity of man and woman.
Orthodoxy teaches that the only place where sexual intercourse can be physically performed for the sake of goodness and expediency is monogamous (μονογαμία), heterosexual, blessed, and married life. Marriage therefore requires an exclusive and complete commitment of two people to each other.
Marriage is heterosexual because God “created them male and female,” with the clear purpose of having offspring, of “procreation and multiplication” (Gen. 1:28), that is, of continuing His creative work by uniting two life in a common love unity, a union that is a new creation, making the two “one flesh”. Therefore, from erotic and passionate, love must be transformed into ἀγάπη (selfless, self-giving love), which is unifying love and which involves the soul in eternal communion with God. Through the mutual renunciation of personal will and the acceptance of the will of the other, the unity of man and woman begins to be built not on the natural foundations of the sexual urge, but on the foundations of ecclesial communion, which presuppose self-overcoming and self-offering. Marriage takes its form not from natural ties, but from ties in the Kingdom of Heaven. Thus, the Christian family becomes a “small church.” Sexual relationships outside of marriage cannot reach their original goal, and today’s marital cohabitation corrupts marriage and is not “even the beginning of marriage.”
In order to become one flesh in the sense given by God, man and woman must accept in their relations the same kind and quality of fidelity and self-sacrifice, which Christ accepted for His people, ie in the likeness of the cross and saving love. of Christ. Marital life depicts the union between Christ and the Church. In marriage, a relationship of love is built between the man and the woman in the family, which leads them and accompanies them in their present life to the eternal.
According to Orthodox tradition, the purpose of marriage is marriage itself. Children are an integral part of it, not a goal. Spouses may for some reason not have children or lose them, so people should gather in a family to live their lives in mutual love, ie in overcoming their individualism and selfishness, in expanding the boundaries of personality and preparation for eternal life.
Marriage is a dynamic phenomenon, all its power is in movement, purposefulness, in its universal phenomenon. Marriage is also a symbol of martyrdom, and a martyr is one who testifies to the whole world of some value – in this case love, justice, truth, beauty – and who stops at nothing to bring his testimony to those who need it. him. That is why the Church calls every bride and groom to believe in love, to believe in each other with such force that they testify – whatever it costs them – to love, to unity, to the fact that true love can conquer all.
Today, however, the general finding is that modern man is highly secularized, even in modern European and American society there is talk of post-Christian culture, old values are replaced by new ones and today’s man seeks to produce more and consume more, both material and spiritual. products. This affects the relationship between men and women and marriage and their effects on children. Divorces, trafficking in human beings for the purpose of sexual exploitation, and the production of pornographic material have brought billions of dollars in annual revenue to their creators in recent decades. Easy access to them via the Internet further forms the image of a consumer attitude towards men and women and the loss of personal attitude towards them. Infidelity (adultery) is considered normal and divorces caused by selfishness become a fact that has severe consequences, especially on children and their psyche.
However, the Orthodox Church believes that inseparability is one of the essential properties of marriage: “What God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matt. 19: 6). The dissolution of a marriage occurs in itself when the basis of the marriage – love – has been destroyed between the spouses. Therefore, the church authorities do not dissolve the marriage, but only legally establish the sad fact that the legal marriage has lost its basis. 
Divorce is one of the greatest and most common tragedies that can befall modern man. It represents not only the end of the love that has conditioned marriage, but also the end of hopes for a whole life full of joy, depth and meaning.
Why does it come to the point that two people, who loved each other until recently, suddenly discover that their love has run out and that all they have to do is separate? The reason is that too many marriages are contracted by immature people who neither defend nor care for their marriage. In such a marriage we find the spirit of individualism. That is why we, Orthodox Christians, recognizing that the human heart is cruel and hard (Matt. 19: 8), firmly and unsustainably believe that divorce is possible, even though we perceive it as one of the greatest tragedies in our modern lives. Moreover, we take this upon ourselves, because the whole Church is also responsible for divorce, that is, we, Christians, must educate people, not only with words and sermons, but above all with example.
And as for the modern understanding of the admissibility of abortion, this in itself speaks of the astonishing insensitivity of man and society in general, to the life of the individual. It is wild and inhuman to think, to speak of the sanctity of human life itself, and at the same time to allow and legitimize murder, called abortion. And it is really paradoxical that in a country where abortion is legal, no one, starting with the government and ending with the ordinary citizen, has the right to say that human life is sacred because abortion is murder.
A marriage in which children are unwanted is based on damaged selfish and lustful love. By giving life to another, man imitates the creative act of God, and by renouncing this he not only rejects his Creator, but also distorts his own nature, because without wanting to imitate the Creator of life and the Father, man ceases in any way. to be “the image and likeness of God.”
An abortion performed by a couple or a woman who has conceived an unwanted child and wants to get rid of it is nothing but a crime – premeditated murder. Women who have had an abortion do not know what the consequences will be – both mental and physiological.
However, it happens that a person comes to his senses, comes to himself (Luke 15:17) and after we have committed a sin, we have to correct this sin anyway. The evil we have done to others can be smoothed out, but taking the life of a living being is an irreparable loss. The only thing we can do is ask God to give eternal peace to this soul, which we have not given the opportunity to realize and be a living person – be it due to frivolity, dishonesty, due to some mental or physical greed.
With abortion, the family is deprived of the greatest joy of having children and raising their children, which is God’s blessing. There is no Christian marriage without the pure and ardent desire of both parents to possess this joy and share it with each other.
As we can see, there are many challenges facing the modern family that we must respond to with the conciliar voice of the Church. We must emphasize the absolute uniqueness of marriage, in front of society, and that through the Holy Eucharist love in marriage is projected into the eternal Kingdom of God. This means that we, the Orthodox, cannot agree that marriage exists only until death do us part, but we believe in its eternity, because it is a marriage of glory and honor in Christ the Risen One, the true God and the true Man.
We are obliged to testify that in the sacrament of marriage, human nature, without losing the fullness of human nature, participates in the higher reality of the Holy Spirit. Humanity becomes even more human and fulfills its exclusive purpose of being a priest and mediator between God and creation, that this is the gift of new life in the unity of man and woman.