EROS IN ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN THOUGHT
© Vladimir Moss, 2004
This book is dedicated to my godson James and his bride Katerina,
on the occasion of their wedding in the Orthodox Church.
The Problem Stated - Naturalism, Manichaeism, Platonism, Stoicism – The “Realistic” and “Idealistic” views of Eros
1. Eros in the Beginning...…………………….….……….....………………………15
Introduction: The Limitations of Our Knowledge – Male and Female – Dominion through Love - The Creation of Eve - Neither Male nor Female – The Image of God and Sexuality - Angelic and Sexual Modes of Procreation – Impure Means to a Pure End? – Natural and Unnatural Modes of Procreation – The Bonds of the Family
2. Eros in the Fall.……..……..…….…………………...…………………………….54
Marriage in the Fall – The Garments of Skin – Innocent and Guilty Passion - Original Sin – Sexual Sin – Sexual Shame - The Lust of Demons – Perversion – Fornication and Adultery – Contraception and Abortion
3. Eros in Christ…………....………….………………..…….………..……………..91
The Annunciation and the Nativity – “Genesis” and “Gennisis” - The Marriage at Cana – The Wedding of the Lamb – The Two Mysteries
4. Marriage and Monasticism……………………………………………………..113
The Definition of Marriage – Troitsky’s Thesis – The Role of the Church – Remarriage and Divorce – Mixed Marriages – The Purposes of Marriage - Marriage and Monasticism – Lourié’s Thesis – Three Test-Cases - Stars Differing in Glory
The Nature of Eros - The “Sublimation” of Eros – Sublimation and “Falling in Love”– Sublimation and Marriage –The Resurrection of the Body – Eros and Agape – Love and Desire - Eros: Human and Divine
Conclusion and Summary………………………………….………….…………..183
This book owes its origin to a recent debate in the Russian Orthodox theological literature and internet web-forums on the nature of eros and the status of married Christians and sexual love within marriage. This debate shows no sign of dying out, and I have felt the need to present what I have learned from it in a more systematic form in English and for English-speaking readers. The result is the present work, which attempts to expound the nature of eros, marriage and monasticism from the perspective of the Holy Fathers of the Orthodox Church.
My main debt, of course, is to the Holy Fathers, especially the Greek Fathers from the fourth to the fourteenth century, from St. John Chrysostom to St. Gregory Palamas. I have also made use of Russian Fathers, such as St. Demetrius of Rostov, St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, St. Seraphim of Sarov, Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, Bishop Theophan the Recluse, Archbishop Theophan of Poltava and New Hieromartyr Gregory (Lebedev). Also cited have been some more recent Orthodox philosophers and theologians such as Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich, Archpriest Lev Lebedev, Hieromonk Seraphim Rose, Vladimir Soloviev, S.L. Frank, S.V. Troitsky, Vladimir Lossky, I.A. Ilyin, John Romanides, Panagiotis Trembelas, Panagiotis Nellas, Georgios Mantzaridis and Philip Sherrard. Among non-Orthodox authors who have helped me I should like to mention the contemporary English philosopher Roger Scruton, as well as the great bard, William Shakespeare, whose struggles with the concept of sexual love first aroused my interest in the subject. (I should point out that the fact that I quote from an author does not necessarily imply that I agree with all his teachings.) In addition, I wish to thank my friend, Anton Ter-Grigorian, for his stimulating discussion of the issues raised in this book, and my pastor, Hieromonk Augustine (Lim), who struggles constantly to keep me on the strait and narrow in thought and deed.
After writing the first drafts of this book, I came across the following words by Fr. Seraphim Rose: “All of this [the true nature of sexuality, and of human nature before the fall, from a patristic point of view] should one day be written out and printed, with abundant illustrations from the Holy Fathers and Lives of the Saints – together with the whole question of sexuality – abortion, natural and unnatural sins, pornography, homosexuality, etc. With Scriptural and patristic sources, this could be done carefully and without offensiveness, but clearly…”
This is what I have tried to do in this book. It is up to the reader to judge the extent to which I have succeeded or failed. Although I have tried to remain as close as possible to the teachings of the Orthodox Church, it goes without saying that I, and I alone, am responsible for any errors that may have crept into this book, for which I ask forgiveness.
Through the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, our God, have mercy on us! Amen.
East House, Beech Hill, Mayford, Woking, England.
October 22 / November 4, 2004.
I want to purify our wedding celebrations:
to restore marriage to its due nobility
and to silence those heretics who call it evil.
St. John Chrysostom, Homily 12 on Colossians.
Is there such a thing as sexual love – that is, a love that is sexual, but which is none the less love for being sexual, and which is not devalued or defiled by its sexuality?
To this question there are broadly three kinds of answer:-
The first answer is that of the naturalist pagan or atheist. It leads to a permissive morality and the more or less rapid destruction of civilized society. The second answer is that of the Manichaean, and it leads to a rigorist morality – and the undermining of the institution of marriage and the family. The third answer is that of the Orthodox Christian, and it leads to the harmonious concord of the Orthodox Christian family in the Orthodox Church of Christ.
The first two answers are clearly related, in spite of the atheist and liberal character of the one and the theist and rigorist character of the other. Both are pessimistic about what I have called sexual love, but which they would identify as such only in inverted commas. However, the pessimism of the naturalist remains such only so long as he retains what he must in all consistency consider to be his illusions about the existence of a non-animalian kind of “sexual love”: once he has shed these, he is free to do “what comes naturally”, with no guilt or shame – or joy. The pessimism of the Manichaean, on the other hand, is real and tragic: he knows that love does exist, but is forced to the conclusion that it cannot coexist with sexuality while remaining love, which means that sexuality must be forcibly expelled from his life in all its forms if the ideal of love is to be preserved. For the naturalist sexuality is neither good nor evil, just a neutral fact of life, like eating and drinking: for the Manichaean it is evil. For the Orthodox Christian, however, sexual love – as opposed to lust - must be good, since it was created in the beginning by God, Who is all-good, even if it has fallen from its original status and is frequently perverted to evil uses: in this he is opposed in principle to the position of the Manichaean. On the other hand, he believes that it is a characteristically human, and not animalian, phenomenon, and therefore subject to the categories of moral evaluation at all times: in this he is opposed in principle to the naturalist. This book is devoted to a justification of this position.
Naturalism, Manichaeism, Platonism, Stoicism
A few words need to be said by way of introduction on the pagan cultural and philosophical milieu in which the Christian doctrine of sexual love, or eros, was developed in the early centuries of the Christian era.
We need say little about naturalism, because it is the “philosophy” of all secular people in all ages, the natural justification of the fallen impulses of unredeemed human nature. The position of the naturalist is the position adopted, consciously or unconsciously, by the great majority of people of a secular cast of mind, and also by very many people who would call themselves believers. It is also relatively easy to refute for anyone who is honest about his own humanity, who recognizes, as we shall see later, that the human elements of reason, freedom and responsibility are ineradicable constituents of human sexual relations, which cannot possibly be derived from the life of the animals. However, the perception of this inalienably rational and moral element in sexual relations carries with it the perception that certain kinds of sexual relations are unlawful and degrade the man who indulges in them; and it is that perception which the naturalist refuses to recognize. “For the sinner praiseth himself in the lusts of his soul, and the unrighteous man likewise blesseth himself therein” (Psalm 9.23).
The position of the Manichaean is more rarely found, but remains a temptation at times when there is a decline in morals in the Christian world, or when the Christian understanding of morality is felt to be particularly under threat. Thus we find it resurrected in the Bogomils and Cathari of the Middle Ages, and traces, if not of strictly Manichaean thinking, at least of thinking inclined in a Manichaean direction, in St. Augustine in the fifth century, in pre-modern Roman Catholicism, in certain Protestant sects, and in certain theological circles in Russia and Greece today. If naturalism would seem to be the most immediate and obvious contemporary threat to Christian morality, the subtler and more “spiritual” threat of Manichaeism and neo-Manichaeism must also be understood and refuted.
Manichaeism, is named as such after the Persian teacher Mani or Manes, “who was born in Babylonia c. 216 and suffered martyrdom under Bahram I c. 277. Often classified as a Christian heresy, it was really a completely independent religion embodying Christian, but also Buddhist and Zoroastrian, elements. Indeed, it claimed to be the only universal religion, giving in its fullness the revelation which prophets prior to Mani had only communicated fragmentarily. The elaborate, dramatic myths in which this revelation came to be clothed, hardly concern us here. In essence Manichaeism was gnosis, akin in some respects to… Gnosticism…, and as such offered men salvation through knowledge. It was founded on a radical dualism, and taught that reality consists of two great forces eternally opposed to each other, Good (that is, God, Truth, Light) and Evil, or Darkness, the latter being identified with matter. As he exists, man is tragically involved in the material order; he is fallen and lost. Actually, however, he is a particle of Light, belonging to, though exiled from, the transcendent world. He is of the same essence as God, and human souls are fragments of the divine substance. His salvation lies in grasping this truth by an interior illumination which may be spontaneous, but usually comes in response to initiation into the Manichaean fellowship; and in the process of salvation, paradoxically, God is at once redeemer and redeemed. The all-important thing was to withdraw oneself from the contamination of the flesh, matter being the fundamental evil.”
According to the Manichaeans, “matter… was composed partly of good and partly of evil, both being present in a given substance in a great or smaller degree. Good and evil were permanently in conflict because the captive particles of good or light were always struggling to escape from the evil or darkness which enveloped them. In flesh of all sorts very few traces of the light-element were present, and for this reason meat was not to be eaten by a good Manichee. Light was present in greater quantities in vegetable matter, which could therefore be eaten. The light-particles were freed from imprisonment when the elect, or higher order of Manichees, ate these foods, but it was wrong for a member of the sect to cut down a tree or even pluck fruit, or to commit any other act of violence harmful to the good elements in plants. These operations were to be performed by the wicked on behalf of the Manichees, that is, by those who were considered lost souls and belonged to neither the higher nor the lower order of the sect. The elect were supposed to be particularly scrupulous and to avoid either doing violence to the good elements or taking any action which might assist the powers of darkness. They were forbidden to marry, because the act of procreation was construed as collusion with these powers. For the lower order of the sect, called ‘hearers’ or ‘aspirants’, the rules were less strict, but they were expected to serve the elect and to give food to no one but them, since to do so would be to deliver the good elements into the hands of the devil.”
It is this Manichaean teaching, according to St. John Chrysostom, that was the target of St. Paul’s prophecy: “The Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of demons; speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth. For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving” (I Timothy 4.1-4). Manichaeism is demonic, explains St. John, because they condemn as evil those things, such as marriage and certain foods, which are not evil in themselves, but only if taken in excess. For “good things are created to be received… But if it is good, why is it ‘sanctified by the word of God and prayers’? For it must be unclean, if it is to be sanctified? Not so, here he is speaking to those who thought that some of these things were common; therefore he lays down two positions: first, that no creature of God is unclean; and secondly, that if it has become so, you have a remedy: seal it [with the sign of the cross], give thanks, and glorify God, and all the uncleanness passes away.”
Manichaeism in its cruder forms was clearly exposed and condemned by the Holy Fathers of the Church. However, in a more subtle form it managed to penetrate the Christian milieu - through the older but still very influential philosophy of Plato. For Platonism, though deeper and subtler than Manichaeism, nevertheless has definite affinities with it in its dualism, its emphasis on intellectual gnosis as the way of salvation, and its rejection of matter.
“The key to Plato’s (c. 429-347 B.C.) philosophy is his theory of knowledge. Being convinced that knowledge in the strict sense is possible, but that it cannot be obtained from anything so variable and evanescent as sense-perception, he was led to posit a transcendent, non-sensible world of Forms or Ideas (eidh) which are apprehended by the intellect alone. His point was that, while sensation presents us with great numbers of particular objects which are constantly changing, the mind seizes on certain characteristics which groups of them possess in common and which are stable. For example, it fastens on the characteristic of beauty common to certain objects and of similarity common to others, and so reaches the Forms of beauty-in-itself and likeness-in-itself. The Forms thus resemble the universals of which modern philosophers speak, but we should notice that for Plato they had objective existence. It is an open question whether he believed there were Forms corresponding to every class of sensible things, but we do know that he regarded them as arranged in a hierarchy crowned by the most universal Form of all, the Form of the Good (later he called it the One), which is the cause of all the other Forms and of our knowledge of them. Being unchanging and eternal, the Forms alone are truly real. They transcend, and are wholly independent of, the world of particular sensible things. In fact, the latter, the world of Becoming, is modelled on the world of Forms, and particulars only are what they are in so far as the Forms are participated in, or copied, by them.
“The transition to Plato’s psychology… is easy. In his view the soul is an immaterial entity, immortal by nature; it exists prior to the body in which it is immured, and is destined to go on existing after the latter’s extinction. So far from having anything to do with the world of Becoming, it properly belongs to the world of Forms (that is, of Being), and it is in virtue of the knowledge it had of them in its pre-mundane existence that it can recognize (he calls this anamnhsiV, or recollection) them here. It is, moreover, a tripartite structure, consisting of a higher or ‘rational’ element [nouV] which apprehends truth and by rights should direct the man’s whole life, a ‘spirited’ element [qumoV] which is the seat of the nobler emotions, and an ‘appetitive’ element [epiqumia] which covers the carnal desires.”
In spite of his very low opinion of carnal desire, Plato does allow that it can strive towards objects not found in the material world. Sexual love, or eros, is the love of that which is beautiful in a man or woman, but identifies that beauty with nobility of soul rather than beauty of body. However, if the body can be said to “bear the same stamp of beauty” as the soul, it must not become the main object of attraction, and must not lead to specifically sexual activity. 
Plato develops his concept of “Platonic love” especially in The Symposium. Here the prophetess Diotima defines love (eros) as a spirit “intermediate between the divine and the mortal” and “the love of the everlasting possession of the good”.
The key word here is “everlasting”; for “love is of the immortal”. But how can sexual love (eros) be love of the immortal? Only if it is seen to be love of the soul, rather than the body, a desire to beget, not perishable children through a physical union, but imperishable objects through the spiritual union of the lover with like-minded persons – for example, the creations of poets and artists, of laws and constitutions.
“And after laws and institutions he will go on to the sciences, that he may see their beauty, and not be like a servant in love with the beauty of one youth or man or institution, slavish, mean, and petty, but drawing towards and contemplating the vast sea of beauty, he will create many fair and lofty thoughts and notions in boundless love of wisdom until on that shore he grows great and strong, and at last the vision is revealed to him of a single science, which is the science of beauty everywhere.”
This ascent of the soul through what we may call heavenly, as opposed to vulgar eros leads finally to the contemplation of the Idea of Beauty Itself: “He who has been instructed so far in the mystery of love, and who has learned to see the beautiful correctly and in due order, when he comes toward the end will suddenly perceive a wondrous beauty (and this, Socrates, is the final cause of all our former toils). It is eternal, uncreated, indestructible, subject neither to increase or decay; not like other things partly beautiful, partly ugly; not beautiful at one time or in one relation or in one place, and deformed in other times, other relations, other places; not beautiful in the opinion of some and ugly in the opinion of others. It is not to be imagined as a beautiful face or form or any part of the body, or in the likeness of speech or knowledge: it does not have its being in any living thing or in the sky or the earth or any other place. It is Beauty absolute, separate, simple, and everlasting, which without diminution, and without increase, or any change, is imparted to the ever-growing and perishing beauties of all other things. If a man ascends from these under the influence of the right love of a friend, and begins to perceive that beauty, he may reach his goal. And the true order of approaching the mystery of love is to begin from the beauties of earth and mount upwards for the sake of that beauty, using these as steps only, and from one going on to two, and from two to all beautiful forms, and from beautiful forms to beauty of conduct, and from beauty of conduct to beauty of knowledge, until from this we arrive at the knowledge of absolute beauty, and at last know what the essence of beauty is. This, my dear Socrates,’ said the stranger of Mantineia, ‘is the life above all others which man should live, in the contemplation of beauty absolute; a beauty which if you once beheld, you would see not to be after the measure of gold, and dress, and fair boys and youths, whose sight now entrances you (and you and many others would be content to live seeing them only and talking with them without food or drink, if that were possible – you only want to look at them and to be with them). But what if man had eyes to see the true beauty – the divine beauty, I mean, pure and clear and unalloyed, not clogged with the pollutions of mortality and all the colours and vanities of human life – gazing on it, in communion with the true beauty simple and divine? Remember how in that communion only, beholding beauty with the eye of the mind, he will be able to bring forth, not shadows of beauty, but its truth, because it is no shadow that he grasps, but the truth; and he will give birth to true virtue and nourish it and become the friend of God and be immortal as far as mortal man may. Would that be an ignoble life?’”
This famous passage, representing perhaps the summit of pre-Christian religious philosophy, clearly contains much that is compatible with the Christian faith; for, as the title of the most famous work of Christian asceticism, the Philokalia, indicates, Christianity can also be described as “the love of Beauty”, “simple and divine”. However there is also much that is clearly inadequate or mistaken from a Christian, or even from a simply logical, point of view. Thus, leaving aside the mythical elements of his theory and the obvious criticism that “Platonic love” appears to be homosexual by nature, Plato does not tell us who or what this ultimate, immortal and absolute Beauty that is the end of love is (beyond calling it “God”), and how it relates to the material world; nor, if Beauty itself is an eternal, supersensible Form, how that which is sensible and passing can still be called beautiful; nor how that which is sensible can have any purpose or value if it simply “clogs up” the vision of immortal Beauty “with the pollutions of mortality”.
Dualism is always threatening to blow apart Plato’s system into two mutually self-exclusive sub-systems, one real, good and static, and the other chimerical, evil and dynamic. On the one hand, there are the Forms and the immortal mind of man, which are linked by a purely intellectual kind of contemplation. On the other hand, there are material objects and man’s carnal desire for them. The concept of eros serves as a link between these two sub-systems. But eros itself appears to be a dualistic element. If it can pierce the veil of sense and penetrate to the eternal Forms, then it must surely belong to the mind. But then why does it appear to have its seat in the body and lust after other material bodies? Perhaps there are in fact two eroses, one “vulgar” and the other “heavenly”. But in that case what is the relationship between them?
I believe that Christianity, and Christianity alone, has solved this problem first posed by Platonism, as I shall try to demonstrate in detail in this book. However, elements of Platonic dualism continued to plague Christian writers influenced by Platonism, leading in some cases to outright heresy, and in others to deviation from the consensus of the Holy Fathers, if not on the most fundamental issues, at any rate on that of sexuality. Thus the contemporary English philosopher, Roger Scruton, writes: “Remnants of the Platonic view can be found in many subsequent thinkers – in the neo-Platonists, in St. Augustine, in Aquinas and in the Roman philosopher-poet Boethius, whose philosophy of love was to have such a profound effect on the literature of medieval Europe… It survives in the popular idea – itself founded in the most dubious of metaphysical distinctions – that sexual desire is primarily ‘physical’, while love always has a ‘spiritual’ side. It survives, too, in the theory of Kant, despite the enormous moral and emotional distance that separates Kant from Plato…”
Among the Holy Fathers, it is not only in St. Augustine and the many Western writers influenced by him that we find remnants of the Platonic view of eros. In the East we find it also in, for example, Origen and St. Gregory of Nyssa. However, as I shall seek to show, on the essential points the “Platonism” of St. Gregory is completely subordinated to his Christian world-view.
One more pagan philosophy needs to be briefly considered here – Stoicism. “Founded by Zeno of Citium c. 300 B.C., it was a closely knit system of logic, metaphysics and ethics. Its lofty, if somewhat impersonal, moral ideal won it countless adherents; it taught conquest of self, life in accordance with nature (i.e. the rational principle within us), and the brotherhood of man. From the theological point of view, however, what was most remarkable about it was its pantheistic materialism. The Stoics reacted vigorously against the Platonic differentiation of a transcendent, intelligible world not perceptible by the senses from the ordinary world of sensible experience. Whatever exists, they argued, must be body, and the universe as a whole must be through and through material. Yet within reality they drew a distinction between a passive and an active principle. There is crude, unformed matter, without character or quality; and there is the dynamic reason or plan (logoV) which forms and organizes it. This latter they envisaged as spirit (pneuma) or fiery vapour; it was from this all-pervading fire that the cruder, passive matter emerged, an in the end it would be reabsorbed into it in a universal conflagration…. This active principle or Logos permeates reality as mind or consciousness pervades the body, and they described it as God, Providence, Nature, the soul of the universe (anima mundi). Their conception that everything that happens has been ordered by Providence to man’s best advantage was the basis of their ethical doctrine of submission to fate.
“Thus Stoicism was a monism teaching that God or Logos is a finer matter immanent in the material universe. But it also taught that particular things are microcosms of the whole, each containing within its unbroken unity an active and a passive principle. The former, the principle which organizes and forms it, is its logos, and the Stoics spoke of ‘seminal logoi’ (logoi spermatikoi), seeds, as it were, through the activity of which individual things come into existence as the world develops. All these ‘seminal logoi’ are contained within the supreme, universal Logos; they are so many particles of the divine Fire which permeates reality. This leads to the Stoic doctrine of human nature. The soul in man is a portion of, or an emanation from, the divine Fire which is the Logos. It is a spirit or warm breath pervading the body and giving it form, character, organization. Material itself, it survives the body, but is itself mortal, persisting at longest until the world conflagration. Its parts are, first, the five senses; then the power of speech or self-expression; then the reproductive capacity; and, finally, the ruling element (to hgemonikon), which is reason.”
Stoicism taught that there are four main passions: pleasure (hdonh), sorrow or depression (luph), desire (epiqumia) and fear (foboV). These “are irrational and unnatural; and so it is not so much a question of moderating and regulating them as of getting rid of them and inducing a state of Apathy [apaqeia]. At least when the passions or affections become habits (nosoi yuchV) they have to be eliminated. Hence the Stoic ethic is in practice largely a fight against the ‘affections’, and endeavour to attain to a state of moral freedom and sovereignty.”
However, as Copleston goes on to note, “the Stoics tended to moderate somewhat this extreme position, and we find some admitting rational emotions - eupaqeiai - in the wise man.” Thus Diogenes Laertius taught that there are three primary eupaqeiai: reasonable “joy” (cara) as opposed to “pleasure” (hdonh); “cautiousness” (eulabeia) as opposed to “fear” (foboV); and rational “wish” (boulhsiV) as opposed to “desire” (epiqumia).
This concept of the “good passion” was taken up by the Holy Fathers, who rejected the Stoic ideal of passionlessness, apaqeia, in the sense of the complete extinction of all desire and passion, but accepted it in the sense of the control, transmutation and redirection of the passions from bad objects to good objects.
As with Platonism, there are clearly elements in Stoicism that are compatible with Christianity. And, again as with Platonism, there are insoluble logical paradoxes within it. Both suffer from the false presupposition, common to the whole of Greek philosophy, that reality must be only one kind of “thing”. For the Platonists, reality is immaterial; so that matter must be unreal. For the Stoics, reality is matter; so that the immaterial must be a refined kind of matter.
Christianity has solved these dilemmas by teaching that the immaterial God created the material universe out of nothing, which both preserves the reality and the goodness of that universe, and distinguishes it from the reality of God Himself. As a result of the fall, created reality tore itself away from union with uncreated reality, God and corrupted itself; but through the Incarnation of the Word the different realities of the Creator and His creation were reunited without division or confusion in the Person of Jesus Christ. And at the end of time all men who have received and retained Christ in themselves will be united in the whole of their transfigured natures, including their bodies, with the immaterial God.
This means that eros can be regarded as a created reality which is good in essence, but has become a bad in the fall, and which through Christ can be restored to its original goodness…
The Russian canonist S.V. Troitsky has contrasted two views of eros and marriage: the dualistic or “Platonic Christian”, which he calls the “realistic” view, and the Orthodox Christian, which he calls the “idealistic view. The latter is represented above all in the text of the Orthodox marriage service, and in the later writings of St. John Chrysostom. This pair of words is, I believe, ill-chosen, because the “idealistic” view is, as I shall try to show, ultimately more realistic than the “realistic” one. Nevertheless, for lack of a better terminology, I shall continue to use it.
The “idealistic” view which I shall be trying to defend can be summarised in the following axioms:
1. Man was created in the beginning, before the fall, as a sexual being, whose sexuality and physicality were not “added” to his nature in prevision of the fall and the need to procreate in the conditions of the fall. Some secondary sexual characteristics may have been “added” with a view to procreation (the genital organs). But “primary” sexuality, as it were, is a fundamental, ineradicable element of human nature whose primary purpose is not procreation.
2. The primary purpose of sexuality and marriage is to provide an image of the love between Christ and the Church and an innate, inner intuition of the mystery of the incarnation. For this mystery is in essence a marital mystery, a mystery of the Divine, uncreated Eros to which the human, created eros is called to respond. By making us male and female from the beginning, God granted us the means of understanding, by reflection on our own human nature, the supra-human mystery of His Divine economy.
3. This being so, the path out of the fall to a restoration of human nature in its original purity and union with God lies, not in a rejection of eros, but in its redirection, transmutation and “sublimation” from unlawful objects of desire to lawful ones, and from lower objects of desire to higher ones. Both marriage and virginity (monasticism), if undertaken for the sake of Christ and with the blessing of the Church, are paths towards this end, the end of chastity; but virginity is the higher path and has a greater reward. Neither marriage nor virginity involves a radical rejection of sexuality, but rather the reintegration of sexuality with love that prevailed before the fall.
I shall quote St. John Chrysostom more than any Father in my development of this view. However, the insights that have enabled me to give a theoretical basis for this view in a broader understanding of eros I owe to three later Byzantine Fathers: St. Maximus the Confessor, St. Gregory of Sinai and St. Gregory Palamas, as well as to more recent Russian writers. These insights are as follows:
1. The major powers of the soul, including eros, are powers both of the soul and of the body – more precisely, of the psychosomatic unity that is man.
2. Eros in its original, unfallen form proceeds from the soul to the body, and not vice-versa; its origin is in the highest faculty of the soul, the mind (nouV). It is the fall that has reversed this flow, turning it against its source, and creating the conflict between “flesh” and “spirit” that we are all too familiar with.
3. Sexual love is only one manifestation of created eros, which in its fullness embraces all the manifestations of man’s love for God and His creation. As such it is not necessarily the highest or the most important manifestation. However, for most people it is the first; that is, it is sexual desire that, paradoxically, first gives us “intimations of immortality” and resurrection, not only of our souls but also, and crucially, of our bodies.
Eros is a subject of Christian psychology or anthropology; marriage – of sacramental theology; and monasticism – of ascetic theology. Of course, the three subjects are closely interrelated, and benefit, I think, from being treated together. I have chosen to do so within a framework roughly dictated by the sequence of Scriptural history.
Thus in the first chapter I describe the origins of eros in the creation of man and woman in Paradise; in the second - the effects on eros of the fall; in the third – the redemption of eros brought about by Christ; in the fourth, the consequences of Christ’s redemption of eros for marriage and monasticism; and in the fifth – the nature of eros in general.
In recent years there has been a reaction in Orthodox theological literature against the naturalist glorification of fallen sexuality in the New Age movement and in liberal Orthodox circles influenced by that movement. This reaction is understandable and indeed necessary, and the correct points it makes must not be ignored. At the same time, there is a danger of over-reaction in a Neo-Manichaean direction, and of over-simplifying a highly complex subject. This book aims to redress the balance, to encompass eros’s potential for good as well as for evil (which is why it must be clearly distinguished from the pejorative concept of “lust”), to show what it was in the beginning as well as what it became in the fall, and what it can be in Christ. And in so doing it hopes to show how central the study of eros is to Orthodox theology as a whole, being at the crossroads, as it were, of dogmatics, pastoral theology and canon law, of soteriology, ecclesiology and anthropology.
1. EROS IN THE BEGINNING
Then God said, Let Us make man according to Our image and according to Our likeness, and let them have dominion… over all the earth… So God created man; according to the image of God created He him; male and female created He them.
In three things was I [Wisdom] beautified, and stood up beautiful both before God and man: the unity of brethren, the love of neighbours, and a man and a wife that agree together.
The Wisdom of Sirach 25.1.
Neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man, in the Lord.
I Corinthians 11.11.
“According to the eastern tradition,” writes Philip Sherrard, “what is regarded as man's natural life, and so as the norm providing the basis for the moral law, is that of the original creation.” So the clue to the understanding of eros, and the moral norms governing its expression, is to be found in the first chapters of the book of Genesis. For it is there that we find a description – the only description available to us – of the relationship between the first man and woman in their original creation, before the fall.
However, this immediately raises an important methodological problem, the problem of understanding the nature of the world before the fall from the point of view of someone living after the fall. For, as Fr. Seraphim Rose writes: “The state of Adam and the first-created world has been placed forever beyond the knowledge of science by the barrier of Adam’s transgression, which changed the very nature of Adam and the creation, and indeed the very nature of knowledge itself. Modern science knows only what it observes and what can be reasonably inferred from observation… The true knowledge of Adam and the first-created world – as much as is useful for us to know – is accessible only in God’s revelation and in the Divine vision of the saints”.
In order to illustrate the problem, let us consider the important question of the nature of the body of Adam before the fall. According to the great God-seer, St. Seraphim of Sarov, it “was created to such an extent immune to the action of every one of the elements created by God, that neither could water drown him, nor fire burn him, nor could the earth swallow him up in its abysses, nor could the air harm him by its action in any way whatsoever. Everything was subject to him…” Again, St. Gregory of Sinai writes: “The incorruptible body will be earthly, but without moisture and coarseness, having been unutterably changed from animate to spiritual, so that it will be both dust and heavenly. Just as it was created in the beginning, so also will it arise, that it may be conformable to the image of the Son of Man by entire participation in deification.”
But how are we to understand the nature of a body that is “both dust and heavenly”, which is made of real matter, real flesh, but which, like Christ’s resurrected Body, can go through walls? The truth is that our fallen imaginative faculty can only go so far, and no further, in understanding this mystery.
But does that mean that we should not examine this question? Not at all. For our understanding of our human nature now depends critically on our understanding of it as it was in the beginning. And God would not have given us the account of the creation of human nature in the first chapters of Genesis if we were not meant to try and understand the mysteries contained therein.
For, as St. Cyril of Alexandria writes, "our Lord Jesus Christ requires those who love Him to be accurate investigators of whatsoever is written concerning Him; for He said, 'The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto a treasure hidden in a field.' For the mystery of Christ is deposited, so to speak, at a great depth, nor is it plain to the many; but he who uncovers it by means of an accurate knowledge, finds the riches which are therein." Again, Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow writes: "None of the mysteries of the most secret wisdom of God ought to appear alien or altogether transcendent to us, but in all humility we must apply our spirit to the contemplation of Divine things."
Male and Female
How primordial is eros? Is it to be found in the original constitution of man? Can we speak of eros in Paradise? Of course, Adam and Eve, man and woman, were in Paradise. But does the fact of sexual differentiation necessarily entail sexual feeling, the attraction of the sexes to each other that we call erotic?
The realistic view gives a negative answer to the last question. Adam and Eve may have been created as man and woman, the argument goes; but it is not recorded that they had sexual relations in Paradise. We are first told that “Adam knew his wife” in a sexual sense only after the fall (Genesis 4.1). Thus St. John of the Ladder writes that if Adam had not been overcome by gluttony, he would not have known what a wife was - that is, he would have lived with her as with a sister. The capacity and desire for sexual relations were given by God to man only as a result of the fall, and for the sake of the survival of the race in the fall.
Correspondingly, human sexual differentiation was created by God in anticipation of the fall, for the sake of the reproduction of the species. As St. John of Damascus writes: “God, having foreknowledge, and knowing that [the man] would commit the crime and be subject to corruption, created out him the woman, who would be his helper and like him (Genesis 2.18): a helper so that after the crime the race should be preserved by means of birth, one generation replacing another.”
There can be no question that sexual relations as we know them were unknown to Adam and Eve in Paradise. However, this does not resolve the question whether sexual feeling in an unfallen form existed already before the fall. Some of the Fathers have no doubt that some such unfallen sexuality did exist before the fall. Thus St. Cyril of Alexandria writes of Adam's body before the fall that it “was not entirely free from concupiscence of the flesh”. For "while it was beyond corruption, it had indeed innate appetites, appetites for food and procreation. But the amazing thing was that his mind was not tyrannized by these tendencies. For he did freely what he wanted to do, seeing that his flesh was not yet subject to the passions consequent upon corruption".
So just as Eve found the fruit “pleasant to eat”, but this was not accounted to her as a sin until she allowed the attractiveness of the fruit to overcome her mind and lead her to disobey God, so we may presume that Adam and Eve had a natural, unfallen attraction for each other which was not sinful as long as it remained completely subject to the mind and to the will of God. It was in this failure to subject the desiring faculty to the mind, rather than any supposed viciousness in the desiring faculty itself, that the fall consisted.
We shall return to the question of the feelings of our first parents for each other later. But first let us examine in somewhat more detail the purpose for which God created the sexes in the first place.
By contrast with the animals, whose sexual differentiation is not mentioned, man is described from the beginning as being male and female: male and female created He them. It would seem, therefore, that the sexual differentiation of man is of the first importance. The question, then, arises: is the sacred text here referring to one person who is both male and female, or to man and woman as separate individuals constituting one species?
The former answer is not as unlikely as it may sound. After all, before Adam was placed in Paradise and Eve was taken out of his side, he had no mate, no “help like unto him”; the species was not yet differentiated into complementary sexes. Moreover, if Eve was taken out of Adam, does this not imply that formerly Adam had everything that Eve had – that is, the whole of the female nature? Does this not suggest that the creation of Eve and the differentiation of the sexes was in fact the creation of a male being and a female being from a being that was both male and female in the beginning – an androgyne? By “androgyne” here we do not mean hermaphroditism, or a curious hybrid being having secondary characteristics of both the sexes, but rather a man, not a woman, that was complete sexually in a way that no other man before Christ was complete, having the full complement of both masculine and feminine qualities.
We shall return to the creation of Eve in more detail later. At this point let us note that the idea that Eve pre-existed, as it were, in Adam, allowing us to speak of Adam before the creation of Eve as being both male and female, has some support in the Holy Fathers. Thus St. Ephraim the Syrian writes: “Moses said, male and female created He them, to make known that Eve was already inside Adam, in the rib that was drawn out from him. Although she was not in his mind, she was in his body, and she was not only in his body with him, but also in soul and spirit with him, for God added nothing to that rib that He took out except the structure and the adornment. If everything that was suitable for Eve, who came to be from the rib, was complete in and from that rib, it is rightly said that male and female created He them.” “Adam,” concludes St. Ephraim, “was both one and two, one in that he was man, two in that he was created male and female”. Again: “He honoured [Eve]”, writes St. John Chrysostom, “and made them one, even before her creation”. But “the wise counsel of God at the beginning divided the one into two; and wanting to show that even after division it still remains one, He did not allow that procreation should be possible through one person only….” And so, concludes the holy Father, “one may see that they are one, for she was made from his side, and they are, as it were, two halves.”
The conclusion drawn by the two Antiochene Fathers is confirmed by the fact that men and women are complementary, not only physically, for the purposes of sexual reproduction, but also psychologically. Science indicates that the intellectual and emotional differences between men and women may be related to hormonal differences and to different patterns of activity in the right and left hemispheres of the brain, which themselves complement each other rather like male and female. It is indeed as if each individual man and woman were one half of a single bisexual organism, so that each man appears to be “missing” certain feminine qualities that would make him more whole, while each woman appears to be missing certain masculine qualities that would make her more whole.
Thus we may look at the “angelic” state of Adam in Paradise, of the true monk or nun, and of all the saved after the general resurrection, when “they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels in heaven” (Matthew 22.30) as not much a sexless state as a sexually integrated state, a state in which each person has the full complement of both the masculine and the feminine qualities without any strain or longing for a partner to complement him or her. Such a view would be in accord with the most ancient of the apocryphal sayings attributed to Christ, that the Kingdom of heaven will come “when you have trampled on the garment of shame, and when the two become one and the male with the female is neither male nor female”. For in the sexually integrated human being “the two become one” and “the male is with the female” in such harmony and lack of tension that he (she) “is neither male nor female” in the normal, bi-polar understanding of “male” and “female”. Such a state is “angelic” and virginal in that in it there is no sexual intercourse between people, but full sexual integration within each person.
Thus the words male and female created He them can be taken to mean not only that mankind was created from the beginning in two sexes, each of which is in the image of God, so that the woman is as fully human, and as fully godlike, as the man, but also that man in the beginning was created with the full complement of qualities that we associate with the two sexes at their unfallen best, having the rationality and strength of the male and the sensitivity and warmth of the female. Perhaps we can go further. Perhaps we can say that man as the image of God is man in the fullness of his male and female qualities, such as we find in Christ, not in the unbalanced one-sidedness introduced by the fall.
Dominion through Love
Immediately after saying that God created man in His image and likeness, the sacred narrative continues: let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth. Why should dominion be mentioned in connection with the image of God in man? And what connection does this theme have, if any, with the differentiation of the sexes?
The first chapter of Genesis presents us, above all, with God the Ruler of all, the Pantocrator. But the description of God’s dominion would be incomplete if no mention were made of the fact that God has delegated some of His dominion to one of His creatures – man. Therefore the most salient characteristic of man at this stage of the Biblical narrative is that he is a king in the image of the King, “the impress of the supreme glory, and the image upon earth of Divine power”. Man is the master of all visible creation as God is the Master of all creation, visible and invisible. This mastery is no ordinary, exploitative mastery, such as we find in the fallen world, but mastery in the image of God’s Mastery. That is, it is in essence loving, looking after all creatures and leading them to happiness and fulfillment. And it is wise; for, as Nicetas Stethatos writes, God made man “king of creation”, enabling him “to possess within himself the inward essences, the natures and the knowledge of all beings”.
However, man’s mastery over external creation is strictly proportional to his mastery over internal creation, his own human nature. As St. Irenaeus of Lyons writes: “Man was like God. Accordingly, he was free and master of himself (autexousioV), having been made by God in this way in order that he should rule over everything upon earth.” Again, St. Basil the Great writes: “You have dominion over every kind of savage beast. But, you will say, do I have savage beasts within me? Yes, many of them. It is even an immense crowd of savage beasts that you carry within yourself. Do not take this as an insult. Is not anger a small wild beast when it barks in your heart?… You were created to have dominion, you are the master of the passions, the master of savage beasts… Be master of the thoughts within you in order to be master of all beings. Thus, the power which was given us through living beings prepares us to exercise dominion over ourselves.”
Woman is equal to man by nature, so she, too, has dominion over the animal and material kingdoms. For “the words ’Gain dominion and have control’,” says St. John Chrysostom, “are directed to the man and the woman. See the Lord’s loving kindness: even before creating her He makes her sharer in this control”.
However, she is “a secondary authority”, writes St. John Chrysostom, in the sense that while possessing “real authority and equality of dignity”, it is her husband who “retains the role of headship”. Even before the fall, says St. Basil, the man was “the more authoritative part”, because “the man is not from the woman, but the woman from the man. Neither was the man created for the woman, but the woman for the man” (I Corinthians 11.8-9).
After the fall, the pattern is accentuated in accordance with God’s word to the woman: “Your yearning will be for your husband, and he will be your master” (Genesis 3.16). “I suffer not a woman to teach,” says the Apostle Paul, “nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression” (I Timothy 1.11-14). Wives are to be “discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed” (Titus 2.5). “Wives, be in subjection to your own husbands,” writes the Apostle Peter; “that, if any obey not the word, they also may without the word be won by the conduct of the wives; while they behold your chaste conduct coupled with fear” (I Peter 3.1-2).
The woman is therefore subjected to the man in consequence of three facts: (i) that the woman was created after the man and for his sake, (ii) that she was deceived by the devil, while the man was not, and (iii) that her sin consisted, to some degree, in the desire to dominate the man. As St. Ephraim the Syrian writes, “she hastened to eat before her husband that she might become head over her head, that she might become the one to give command to that one by whom she was to be commanded and that she might be older in divinity than the one who was older than she in humanity.” The devil tempted Eve in the guise of a serpent, writes St. Gregory Palamas, “in order to deprive the woman of her dignity and thereby subject her to inferior creatures which she, like Adam, had been worthily allotted to rule, honored by God Who created her with His Own hand and word, fashioning her after His Own image”. As a result, writes St. Isidore of Pelusium, the woman’s dominion was “diminished and mutilated”, and she was made subject to the man in a stricter sense than before the fall.
But did not the man sin too? Indeed. And so for his disobedience to his Head, Christ, and false obedience to his body, the woman, he is given a responsibility for her that is full of suffering: “And to Adam He said, Because thou hast hearkened to the voice of thy wife, and eaten of the tree concerning which I charged thee of it only not to eat – of that thou hast eaten, cursed is the ground in thy labours. In pain thou shalt eat of it all the days of thy life. Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee, and thou shalt eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread until thou shalt return” (Genesis 3.18-20). Thus for his weakness of will and lack of true love for his wife, - for he could have saved her as well as himself by refusing the eat of the fruit, - the man is condemned to work to support her and his family for the rest of his life, groaning not only under the physical burden, but also in anxiety of spirit. For “if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his house, he hath denied the Faith, and is worse than an infidel” (I Timothy 5.8).
However, in thus having to care for her, he will learn more truly to love her, subduing his anger and bitterness: “Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them” (Colossians 3.19). “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered” (I Peter 3.7). As Christopher Ely writes: “Because men have difficulty loving deeply, God gives them the primary responsibility of loving. Because Eve was led by her emotions to be disobedient, women’s chief obligation is to submit. The importance of love, however, to both man and wife, cannot be stressed enough.”
The man has dominion directly, as it were, while the woman has it only indirectly and derivatively, through her union with him, or as being his image and likeness. This distinction was implicit in the customs of ancient society, where an unmarried woman had no independent status and ruled nothing: it was only when she married that she entered into the rule of “other things”, as Blessed Theodoretus puts it – that is, her household and her children. Hence the custom in ancient Roman law of calling only a married couple “dominus” and “domina”. In English the equivalents are “master” (Mr.) and “mistress” (Mrs.); and in Greek - “kyrios” and “kyria”. 
However, there was an exception to this rule – when a woman became ruler of the empire in her own, and not her husband’s right. But the exception proves the rule, for when the Empress Irene, for example, entered into possession of the empire, the Byzantine documents gave her the title basileus, “emperor”, rather than basilissa, “empress”. They thereby demonstrated that they could not conceive of the master of the inhabited world being of the female gender. Moreover, “for certain western contemporaries [notably, Charlemagne],” as Judith Herrin writes, “it was the absence of a male ruler in Constantinople which meant that the imperial title could legitimately be claimed by another. For these writers, the title in question was the one previously held by Constantine VI [the son of Irene], whose blinding disqualified him. They refused to consider the imperial claims of Irene as basileus, for how could a woman be emperor?”
Another, still greater exception is the Holy Virgin, who is called “Lady” (despoina), according to St. Gregory Palamas, “because she has the mastery of all things, having divinely conceived and borne in virginity the Master of all by nature. Yet she is the Lady not just because she is free from servitude and a partaker of the divine power, but because she is the fount and root of the freedom of the human race, especially after the ineffable and joyful Birth. A married woman is ruled over rather than being a lady, especially after her sorrowful and painful childbirth, in accordance with the curse on Eve: ‘In sorrow shalt thou bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee’ (Genesis 3.16). Freeing the human race, the Virgin Mother received through the angel joy and blessing instead of this curse.”
And yet, of course, the Holy Virgin is mistress of the whole of creation only through her perfect submission to her Master, Christ God; so the pattern of man’s dominion over woman remains intact, although in her case it is a dominion of completely free submission without a hint of compulsion, of domination.
And in fact the only real exception to this pattern of the man’s dominion over the woman is provided by the Apostle Paul’s words: “the wife hath not power over her own body, but the husband; and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one another…” (I Corinthians 7.4-5). In other words, the husband is the master of his wife in all things except sexual relations. The husband cannot refuse his wife sexual relations because his body is hers, and vice-versa. In this sphere there is complete equality.
Why is this? Because sexual relations between husband and wife are the expression of their essential unity of nature, of the fact that the woman came from the man and is now returning to unity with him as it was in the beginning, before the differentiation of the sexes, not only spiritually but also physically. And while love does not abolish dominion and hierarchy entirely, it nevertheless puts them in the shade, as it were, making them secondary aspects of the relationship. When the fall dominates in the relations between men and women, so does the domination of man over woman (or the reverse). But when the fall is reversed, - and a true, Christian marriage is, at least in part, a reversal of the fall, - then love, “the bond of perfection”, takes the place of domination, and humility – of humiliation. The man is the lord of the woman (I Peter 3.6), but he is not meant to “lord it” over her. For love “does not vaunt itself, is not puffed up” (I Corinthians 13.4). In this the great example, as always, is Christ, Who “thought it not robbery to be equal to God,” but for love’s sake cast aside His hierarchical dominion, “made Himself of no repute, and took upon Him the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of man” (Philippians 2.6,7). And the end of love is union, which of its nature involves a mutual “exchange of properties”, so that what belongs to the one belongs also to the other, and vice-versa.
Thus if the image of God in man can be said to be dominion – dominion over irrational nature, over his own rational nature, and over the woman who is of the same nature as himself, - it is nevertheless a dominion which exercises itself through love, which brings us naturally to the conclusion that in a still deeper sense the image of God in man is love. For “God is love” (I John 4.1), and “love, by its nature,” writes St. John Climacus, “is a resemblance to God, insofar as that is humanly possible. In its activity it is the inebriation of the soul”. “Love alone,” writes St. Maximus the Confessor, “properly speaking, represents true humanity in the image of the Creator… for it persuades the will to advance in accordance with nature, in no way rebelling against the inward principle of its nature.”
Love is not opposed to dominion, for love is that glue which holds the hierarchy of being together; for, as Thalassios the Libyan writes, “love alone harmoniously joins all created things with God and with each other”. The lover on the higher rung of the hierarchy desires only the union of the beloved with himself, not to dominate her, though she be on a lower rung. While the beloved on the lower rung in no way desires a change in their relative positions, but only that their love may continue unchanged forever.
But love presupposes the existence of another person to love; being in the image of the Divine Trinity of Persons, it must itself be a multiple image, as it were. Which brings us to the words: It is not good that the man should be alone… (2.18).
But this immediately raises the question: how could a sinless being who was in direct and even visible communion with God and His holy angels, be in need of anything in Paradise?
One possibility is that the reference here is not to Adam as an individual but to the Church and the human race as a whole, which would have great need of the female sex in the future, and in particular of the Most Holy Virgin Mary.
A stronger possibility is that although Adam was sinless, he was not yet fully mature and established in virtue, as his subsequent fall demonstrated. As several of the Fathers point out, he was still a child, spiritually speaking. And children have need of help – a help immediately supplied by God. In the New Testament Church, when mankind will have achieved maturity in Christ, we shall hear a different note: “It is good for man not to touch a woman” (I Corinthians 7.1). But such a condition, the condition of the monad or monk, will not be possible for all, but only “to those to whom it hath been given” (Matthew 19.11) – that is, to whom has been given a special grace, the grace of perpetual virginity…
But perhaps we are going too far, and Adam was in need, not of help in the form of a wife and sexual partner, but of something else? In order to answer this question, let us turn back and ask: why does the Scripture describe the naming of the animals at this point? What has this to do with Adam’s need for company?
God brought the animals to Adam to be named by him, writes St. John Chrysostom, in order to demonstrate his wisdom, and as a sign of dominion. But in the very act of naming the animals, he expressed his knowledge of their nature, including the fact that they were not like him: “there was not found a help like him”. “He added ‘like him’,” writes Chrysostom, because “even if many of the brute beasts helped him in his labours, there was still nothing equivalent to a woman, possessed as she was of reason.” The woman was possessed of freedom and rationality; that is, she was like him in being a person, made in the image of God. Therefore the man could love her, not as he loved the animals, not simply as a creature of God, but as one who could love him as he loved her, in a fully mutual love, a love in the image of the love of the Holy Trinity.
Personhood is that which distinguishes man from the animals. Man, unlike the animals, can in a mysterious way first transcend his own nature, and then orient it towards God. This ability is what we call “being a person”. Personhood, the image of God in man, is not something added to nature as an extra part of it, but rather the capacity of man to stand freely “opposite” his nature, as it were, to say yes or no to its natural impulses, to justify it or to criticize it, to keep it egoistically to himself or to devote it in love to others. 
God is Three Persons in one nature. Therefore to say that man is created in the image of God is to say that man, like God, is a multiplicity of persons in a single nature. This interpretation is confirmed by the fact that when God speaks of the duality of persons in man He for the first time speaks about Himself, too, in the plural: “Let Us make man according to Our image”. In other words, man is the image of God in that in his relationships with other men of the same nature as himself he reflects the relationship between the Persons of the Holy Trinity, which is characterized above all by love. God is personal because His nature is love, and His nature is love because He is supremely personal; for His nature is to give Himself to other persons – both the other uncreated Persons of the Holy Trinity and the created persons of men and angels. And man made in the image of God is similarly personal. Giving himself freely in love, he transcends nature and becomes one spirit with his Creator and his fellow creatures (I Corinthians 6.17, 12.13).
The Latin Fathers, and some of the Greek, write that Eve helped Adam primarily in the procreation of children. The Greek and Syrian Fathers, on the other hand, tend to emphasise other aspects. Thus Clement of Alexandria writes that Eve was Adam’s “help in generation and household management”, but that if the man has “some annoying faults that affect the harmony of the marriage, the wife should try to remedy these annoyances by using good sense and persuasion”. St. Basil the Great writes that the help which a wife gives her husband is the general support that she gives him in passing through life, which, of course, includes moral support. Again, St. Ephraim the Syrian writes: “Inside Paradise, the woman was very diligent; she was also attentive to the sheep and cattle, the herds and droves that were in the fields. She would also help the man with the buildings, pens, and with any other task that she was capable of doing. The animals, even though they were subservient, were not able to help him with these things. For this reason God made for the man a helper who would be concerned for everything for which God Himself would be concerned. She would indeed help him in many things.”.
The Russian Fathers emphasize the moral support provided by the woman. Thus St. Tikhon, Patriarch of Moscow, writes: "Without a helpmate [that is, a help like him] the very bliss of paradise was not perfect for Adam: endowed with the gift of thought, speech, and love, the first man seeks with his thought another thinking being; his speech sounds lonely and the dead echo alone answers him; his heart, full of love, seeks another heart that would be close and equal to him; all his being longs for another being analogous to him, but there is none; the creatures of the visible world around him are below him and are not fit to be his mates; and as to the beings of the invisible spiritual world they are above. Then the bountiful God, anxious for the happiness of man, satisfies his wants and creates a mate for him - a wife. But if a mate was necessary for man in paradise, in the region of bliss, the mate became much more necessary for him after the fall, in the vale of tears and sorrow. The wise man of antiquity spoke justly: 'two are better than one, for if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up' (Sirach 4.9-10). But few people are capable of enduring the strain of moral loneliness, it can be accomplished only by effort, and truly 'all men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given' (Matthew 19.11), and as for the rest - 'it is not good for a man to be alone', without a mate."
Again, Archpriest Lev Lebedev writes: “Why is it ‘not good’ for man to be alone? The answer is quite clear: because God, ‘in the image’ of Whom man is created is a Trinity!... His nature experiences a natural need for this, that is, he is oppressed, as it were, within the bounds of one person, or, in any case, he potentially contains within himself the capability and striving to belong to some multiplicity of persons, but without dividing (for division and schism is contrary to nature). From this point of view it becomes clear why a ‘help’ for Adam is created not from the earth again (and not from water and not from someone else), but from Adam himself!”
Now in the beginning the only person of the same nature as himself to whom Adam could exercise his personhood through love was Eve. Therefore if he was to show in himself the image and likeness of God as a multiplicity of Persons united in love, he could do so only in his relationship with Eve. We come to the conclusion, therefore, that the image of God in man was revealed in the beginning not only in Adam and Eve as individuals, but also in Adam and Eve in their relationship with each other, more specifically in their love for each other. Thus the love between man and woman is according to the image of the love between the Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity.
And if some would say that while human love is indeed in the image of God, this cannot be said of the love between man and woman, since this is supposedly tainted by the sexual element in it, it should be remembered that the love between Adam and Eve was the very first human love. In Paradise there was no other love between human beings; in this sense it was primordial, the first and the strongest, love par excellence. All other human loves, between parents and children, between friends, etc., came later chronologically, and were dependent on this first, primordial love between man and woman. So if the two great commandments on the love of God and the love of neighbour were carried out in Paradise before the fall, they were carried out by Adam and Eve in relation first to God and then to each other. And if this second love is “like” the first, as the Lord says (Matthew 22.39), it is because the second, the love of Adam and Eve for each other, was indeed made in the likeness of the love of God….
This teaching is strongly confirmed by St. John Chrysostom: “A certain wise man, when enumerating which blessings are most important included ‘a wife and husband who live in harmony’ (Sirach 25.1). In another place he emphasized this: ‘A friend or a companion never meets one amiss, but a wife with her husband is better than both’ (Sirach 40.23). From the beginning God in His providence has planned this union of man and woman, and has spoken of the two as one: ‘male and female created He them’ (Genesis 1.27) and ‘there is neither male nor female, for ye are alone in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3.28). There is no relationship between human beings so close as that of husband and wife, if they are united as they ought to be. When blessed David was mourning for Jonathan, who was of one soul with him, what comparison did he use to describe the loftiness of their love? ‘Your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women’ (II Kings 1.26). The power of this love is truly stronger than any passion; other desires may be strong, but this one alone never fades. This love (eros) is deeply planted within our inmost being. Unnoticed by us, it attracts the bodies of men and women to each other, because in the beginning woman came forth from man, and from man and woman other men and women proceed…”
But one will say: why must the loneliness of man be relieved, and the functions of a helper carried out, precisely by a woman? Why not another man? Or an angel? After all, a multiplicity of persons loving each other in the image of the Love of the Holy Trinity does not have to be a multiplicity of sexually differentiated persons…
The obvious answer to this question is that only a woman could help in sexual reproduction, which fulfilled the plan of God more perfectly than asexual reproduction in the conditions of the fall. Moreover, the animality of sexual reproduction reminded men of how far they had fallen from their original condition. As St. Symeon of Thessalonica put it: “God did not wish that our origin should be irrational and from seed and filth. But since we voluntarily became mortal, He allowed the reproduction of the race to take place as with the animals, so that we should know from where we have fallen”.
However, this was not the only reason for sexual differentiation. Let us continue with the sacred narrative: So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man He made into a woman, and brought her to the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be in one flesh. (2.21-24)
Why from the rib? The surgeon J.E. Shelley explains: “The account in Genesis 2.18-25 is as factual as words can make it. It read like the account which a surgeon writes for the records of the operating theatre! God performs a surgical operation under general anaesthesia, a rib re-section in this case. Note the detail: ‘He closed up the flesh instead thereof’. In just such a manner would a surgeon describe his closing up of an incision. Remarkably enough, provided that the surgeon is careful to leave the periosteum (the membrane which envelops the bones) of the removed rib, the rib will reform in a non-septic case, and the operation performed upon Adam was truly aseptic. So far as I remember, the rib is the only bone in the body of man which will do this. God gave it this property, which is why He chose it. With the vast reservoir of living cells contained in this rib, ‘He built up Eve’”.
The Hebrew word tardema, here translated as “deep sleep”, is translated into the Greek of the Septuagint as “ecstasy”. So it means, on the one hand, lack of feeling, anaesthesia (in the Hebrew), and on the other hand, heightened feeling, ecstasy (in the Greek). Taking the two meanings together, we could be talking about a prophetic dream in sleep.
Thus St. Ephraim the Syrian writes: “The man, awake, anointed with splendour, and who did not yet know sleep, fell on the earth naked and slept. It is likely that Adam saw in his dream what was done to him as if he were awake.” Again, Serge Verkhovskoy writes: “The sleep which God brought upon Adam is in Hebrew called tardemah. This word refers to a deep sleep, particularly a sleep in which one sees visions (cf. Genesis 15.12). In Greek this sleep is called ecstasis and in Russian istuplenie. Thus Adam’s state in this sleep may be understood not as a state of complete insensibility (for, according to St. Irenaeus, what we know as sleep did not exist in Paradise), but rather as a state of inner, supra-conscious tension, in which he was turned, so to speak, to face his future wife. Does this not explain how he was able to recognize her when he first saw her?” Thus Adam’s “ecstatic sleep” is a form of prophetic trance in which he stood out of himself (for “ec-stasy” literally means “standing out”) in order to perceive reality from a greater height and in an incomparably greater depth. 
But that is not the only possible interpretation. Another possibility is hinted at by the fact that the words “sleep” and “ecstasy” are both used in the context of the sexual act, the first as a kind of euphemism for it (“they are sleeping together”) and the second as a description of its culminating point. Is it too bold to see in this primeval act of sexual differentiation the first act, paradoxically, of sexual union? And is not the ecstasy that accompanied it akin – in a pure, unfallen mode – to the ecstasy of sexual union?
There is some patristic support for this view. Thus St. Methodius of Olympus writes: “The ecstatic sleep into which God put the first man [was] a type of man’s enchantment in love, when in his thirst for children he falls into a trance, lulled to sleep by the pleasures of procreation, in order that a new person, as I have said, might be formed in turn from the material that is drawn from his flesh and bone…. Hence rightly is it said that ‘therefore a man leave his father and his mother’: for man made one with woman in the embrace of love is overcome by a desire for children and completely forgets everything else; he offers his rib to his divine Creator to be removed that he himself the father may appear once again in a son”.
Here “the embrace of love” is re-described as the man “offering his rib to the Creator”, as if the creation of Eve from Adam was indeed a kind of sexual act. Moreover, the “man’s enchantment in love” is described as a “thirst for children”, in which he “is overcome by a desire for children”, as if the sexual act were at the same time a giving birth – which in a certain sense it was in the case of the creation of Eve, insofar as Eve was both the wife and the child of Adam.  Thus this new creation through parthenogenesis has at the same time certain characteristics of what we may call “parthenocoitus”. Adam gives rise to Eve as a separate being out of himself, and at the same time recognizes her to be his wife, “flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones”; in her “standing out” (ec-stasis) from him, he recognizes that she is most intimately united with him. Thus the primal differentiation of the sexes is at the same time their first, and most perfect, union, a union without sin and so not without joy, even “ecstasy”.
“It is very clear,” writes Bishop Hilarion (Alfeyev), “that [St. Methodius] is speaking about the positive meaning of sexual love in itself rather than about it being necessary for procreation. God the Creator is in fact regarded as participating in the sexual intercourse between man and woman. When men ‘are brought to deposit their seed in the woman’s channels’, St. Methodius continues, ‘the seed shares, so to say, the divine creative function’. All elements of sexual life, such as ‘enchantment’, ‘pleasures’, ‘embrace of love’, ‘desire’ and ‘ecstasy’, receive a positive and poetic interpretation in St. Methodius. There is no suggestion that sexual union is something unclean or unholy. On the contrary, the whole story of the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib is taken as symbolizing sexual intercourse.”
That there is a marital mystery involved here is also indicated by the significance of the fact that God brought her to the man – God as it were “gives away” the bride to her bridegroom. For, as Troitsky writes: “It is not by chance that the Slavonic translation uses the word privede [‘brought’]. The privedenie [‘bringing’] of the wife was the form of religious marriage among the ancient Slavs, corresponding to the Roman form confarreatio.”
Again, when Adam says of Eve: “This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh: and she shall be called woman [isha in Hebrew] because she was taken out of man [ish]”, he is acknowledging that they are of one flesh – in other words, that they are married. These words, as Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich writes, are “the foundation of, and the reason for, the mysterious attraction and union between man and woman”. They “have become,” writes St. Asterius of Amasea, “a common admission, spoken in the name of all men to all women, to the whole female sex. These words bind all the rest. For that which took place in the beginning in these first-created ones passed into the nature of their descendants.” “This is the origin,” writes Archpriest Lev Lebedev, “of the irresistible attraction of man to his ‘wife’ (the woman) as to the most necessary complement of his own nature. Union in love with the woman can be replaced only by union in love with God, which is immeasurably more profound. It is on such a union with God that monasticism is founded, which is why it does not lead to psychological complexes. But monasticism is not for everyone, it is the lot of special people, ‘who can accommodate’ this condition (Matthew 19.11-12). But for the majority the woman remains one of the most necessary conditions of a normal existence.”
Adam continues with the famous words which the Lord Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul saw as the founding document of marriage: Therefore shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be in one flesh. Why “therefore”? Because Adam sees in Eve his own flesh and bones, his own bride.
St. John Chrysostom writes: “’A man shall leave his father and his mother’, he says; but he does not say, ‘he shall dwell with’, but instead, ‘he shall cling’ to his wife, thus demonstrating the closeness of the union, and the sincerity of the love. And Paul is not satisfied with this, but goes further, explaining the subjection of the wife in the context of the two being no longer two. He does not say ‘one spirit’ or ‘one soul’ (union like this is possible for anyone), but he says ‘one flesh’… The word ‘flesh’ and the phrase ‘shall cling’ both refer to love…”
The difference between this primordial sexuality and the sexuality of the fall is that whereas in the fall man and woman come to know each other through union “into one flesh”, in Paradise they came to know each other through “standing out” from one flesh. In Paradise man and woman recognise that they are one at the very moment of their coming into individual existence; and in that knowledge is joy. In the fall, they desperately to seek to create unity, having come to know isolation and loneliness; and in that knowledge is sorrow. Every true marriage begins with the aim of reliving, as far as it is possible in the conditions of the fallen world, that original paradise of delight, in which there was no lust but there was joy, and not even a shadow of division…
Both unity and otherness are essential to the experience of true love. For the lover delights both in the otherness of the beloved and in his overcoming of that otherness through his union with her. But this otherness is neither isolation nor unlikeness; for as St. Gregory Palamas says, “all love culminates in union and begins in likeness”. The recognition of otherness is rather the recognition of the uniqueness of the other.
If, however, this uniqueness is not acutely felt, then the act is merely self-love and self-gratification, which is lust. And if that otherness is not felt to be overcome in a unity that includes and embraces without destroying it, then the act only engenders estrangement and jealousy. The otherness of persons is then felt to be an otherness of nature, an absolute otherness which precludes love; which is why love achieved is “strong as death”, but love lost is “cruel as the grave, her shafts are shafts of fire, even the flames thereof” (Song of Songs 8.6).
We come to the conclusion that the differentiation of the sexes has a much greater significance and purpose in God’s plan than merely providing a means of reproduction in the fall. As we shall explain in more detail later, the love of man and woman as seen in its original purity in the marriage of Adam and Eve, was designed from the beginning as a mystery of love and life mirroring the still greater mystery of love and life that is the Incarnation of Christ and his salvation of mankind. The holiness of the marriage of man and woman is derived from the holiness of its archetype, the marriage of God and man...
However, let us now examine the opposing view, according to which the words: “In Christ there is neither male nor female” (Galatians 3.28) imply that there was no sexuality in the original creation, and that there will be none in the new heaven and the new earth, when, as the Lord Himself says, there will be no marrying and the elect will be like the angels in heaven (Matthew 22.30).
This teaching finds support in the writings of St. Maximus the Confessor and St. Gregory of Nyssa. Thus St. Maximus writes: “He became perfect man, from us, for us, and in conformity with us, possessing everything that is ours without omitting anything except sin, and in no way needing the addition of anything that is naturally connected with marriage. At the same time and by the same token He revealed, in my opinion, that there also happened to be another method of increasing the human race, a method foreknown to God, which would have prevailed if the first man had kept the commandment and had not descended to the level of the beasts by abusing his own faculties, thus bringing about the distinction between male and female and the division of nature. Man, as I have said, had no need at all of this division to come into being, and it is possible for him to be without it in the future, there being no need for these things to endure permanently. For in Christ Jesus, says the divine Apostle, there is ‘neither male nor female’.”
Again, St. Gregory of Nyssa comments on the phrase, male and female created He them as follows: “I presume that everyone knows that this is a departure from the Prototype: for ‘in Christ Jesus,’ as the Apostle says, ‘there is neither male nor female’. Yet the phrase declares that man is thus divided. Thus the creation of our nature is in a sense twofold: one made like to God, one divided according to this distinction: for something like this the passage darkly conveys by its arrangement, where it first says, ‘God created man, in the image of God created He him’, and then, adding to that which has been said, ‘male and female created He them,’ – a thing which is alien from our conception of God.
“I think that by these words Holy Scripture conveys to us a great and lofty doctrine; and the doctrine is this. While two natures – the Divine and incorporeal nature, and the irrational life of brutes – are separated from each other as extremes, human nature is the mean between them: for in the compound nature of man we may behold a part of each of the natures I mentioned – of the Divine, the rational and intelligent element, which does not admit the distinction of male and female; of the irrational, our bodily form and structure, divided into male and female: for each of these elements is certainly to be found in all that partakes of human life. That the intellectual element, however, precedes the other [irrational, bodily element], we learn as from one who gives in order an account of the making of man; and we learn also that his community and kindred with the irrational is for man a provision for reproduction…
“He Who brought all things into being and fashioned man as a whole by His own will to the Divine image… saw beforehand by His all-seeing power the failure of their will to keep a direct course to what is good, and its consequent declension from the angelic life, in order that the multitude of human souls might not be cut short by its fall… He formed for our nature that contrivance for increase which befits those who had fallen into sin, implanting in mankind, instead of the angelic majesty of nature, that animal and irrational mode by which they now succeed each other”.
Let us examine this passage. First, St. Gregory says that the sexuality of man is “a departure from the Prototype: for ‘in Christ Jesus,’ as the Apostle says, ‘there is neither male nor female’”. However, these words of St. Paul refer, not to what is and what is not in the Prototype or the image of God, but to who is entitled to receive baptism and the gifts of grace that it bestows. The Apostle is saying that all human beings, regardless of nationality, social status or sex, can receive this gift; all - Greeks as well as Jews, slaves as well as freemen, women as well as men, - can become one in Christ. 
Besides, Christ was born as a man of the male sex. Are we to say that His maleness was not part of the Prototype? Or has He now ceased to be male? Is it possible to think of Christ as not male?
It may be that since, as the Lord said, there will be no marrying in the resurrection, but we shall be like the angels in heaven, there will be no secondary sexual characteristics in heaven. However, it runs counter to the intuition of Christians to argue that we will cease to be men and women in any significant sense. Still more counter-intuitive is it to assert that Christ will cease (or rather, since He is already risen, has already ceased) to be a man, and that the Mother of God will cease (or rather, since she is already risen, has already ceased) to be a woman. For we see in Christ and the Virgin Mary, the new Adam and Eve, a real man and a real woman with no tendency towards “unisex”. Moreover, there is no reason to believe that such primary sexual differences will disappear in the resurrection.
Thus St. Jerome, in spite of his highly rigorist attitude to sexuality in general, insists that sexual differentiation will remain after the resurrection: “When it is said that they neither marry nor are given in marriage, the distinction of sex is shown to persist. For no one says of things which have no capacity for marriage, such as a stick or a stone, that they neither marry nor are given in marriage; but this may well be said of those who, while they can marry, yet abstain from doing so by their own virtue and by the grace of Christ. But if you will cavil at this and say, how shall we in that case be like the angels with whom there is neither male nor female, hear my answer in brief as follows. What the Lord promises is not the nature of angels, but their mode of life and their bliss. And therefore John the Baptist was called an angel even before he was beheaded, and all God’s holy men and virgins manifest in themselves, even in this world, the life of angels. When it is said: ‘Ye shall be like the angels’, likeness only is promised and not a change of nature” 
Of course, the fall has accentuated and corrupted the differences between the sexes. Thus men tend to be crude, insensitive and boastful, and women – weak-willed, vain and easily led by all kinds of influences. But these fallen differences do not entail that in the beginning there was never meant to be any difference. The restoration of the image of God in man involves, not the abolition of sexual differences, but their return to their unfallen condition, the return to men of real masculinity together with those feminine qualities which fallen masculinity drives out; and vice-versa for women.
Modern medicine claims to be able to change men into women, and women into men as regards their secondary sexual characteristics. But the deeper aspects of sexuality – chromosomal makeup and psychological masculinity or femininity – can in no way be changed. Recently, Dutch scientists working on the brains of men who have undergone operations to become women have discovered that the hypothalamuses of the transsexuals have a typically female character. It appears that these “men” wanted to change sex because they were indeed, from the point of view of neurology, women, even if from the point of view of anatomy they were men. This discovery, combined with the feasibility of sex-change operations for some (we shall not discuss their morality or immorality here) shows that gender is not such a superficial aspect of human nature as the realists would like to believe; there is more to sexuality than meets the eye. It gives some support to St. Gregory’s view in that secondary sexual characteristics do appear to be removable, as if they were “added” to the original man. But it also supports the position of the idealists in that there appears to be a deeper, primary level of sexuality which is “wired into” the brain and cannot be removed or changed.
St. Gregory goes on to argue that part of our nature is made like God, and another part not like him – that is, the irrational, animal-like part, including our sexuality, which is “alien from our conception of God”. In one sense, this is obviously true. God is far above all created being, and He is even further above the visible and irrational elements of creation than He is above its invisible and rational elements. It follows that insofar as man is a mixture of visible and invisible, rational and irrational, he is for that very reason “a little lower than the angels” (Psalm 8.5) with their unmixed, purely noetic nature.
However, St. Gregory himself asserts that “the image is not in part of our nature, nor is the grace in any one of the things found in that nature”. Moreover, if, as St. Maximus the Confessor says, the soul and the body constitute “one form”, being “simultaneously created and joined together, as is the realization of the form created by their joining together”, then it would seem quite logical to see the image of God as residing in the soul and body together. “For neither could the soul ever appear by itself without the body nor the body arise without the soul. Man is not, as the squawking philosophers decree, merely a rational animal capable of understanding and receiving knowledge.” “It was not merely a part of man,” writes St. Irenaeus, “that was made in the image and likeness of God. Of course the soul and the Spirit are part of man but not the man. For the whole man consists of the commingling and union of the soul that receives the Spirit of the Father, with the fleshly nature, which (commingling and union) was formed according to the image of God.”
And so, as St. Gregory Palamas writes, “The name ‘man’ is not applied separately to the soul or the body, but to both together, for together they were made in the image of God”.
Again, Christ God took on the whole of human nature in His incarnation, including a material body, and raised it to be seated at the right hand of the Father, Who has “raised us up with Him, and made us sit with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2.6). That is why the Mother of God, who is not only a member of His Body, but gave Him this Body, being glorified in and through this Body, is “more honourable than the cherubim and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim”. If man is made in the image of God, and Christ is God, then, as Tertullian points out, man’s flesh is made in the image of Christ’s flesh, Who raised it far above its original lowliness, “granting [it] to be nobler than its origin, and to have its happiness increased by the change wrought in it [by Christ].”
The Image of God and Sexuality
But if man’s flesh is made in the image of Christ’s flesh, why – shocking though this may sound to many - should his original, unfallen sexuality not be made in the image of Christ’s sexuality?…
First, it is necessary to dispel any hint of feminist theologizing and affirm categorically that there is no sexuality in God. None of the Persons of the Holy Trinity is male or female in His Divine nature. Christ is male only in His assumed human nature. So when we say that man’s original, unfallen sexuality was created in the image of Christ’s sexuality, we are speaking of Christ in His human nature. There is no analogy or likeness between human sexuality and the Divine nature.
In fact, since the nature of God is unknowable and infinitely far above all created being, it is, strictly speaking, inaccurate to speak of anything at all in common or similar between the Divine and the human natures. For even such an attribute as the immortality of the human soul, which plays such an important part in philosophical and theological systems of a Platonic kind, cannot really be said to be in the image or likeness of the immortal nature of God for the simple reason that the human soul is not immortal by nature, but only by grace. By grace, however, we are immortal; so that if God’s grace dwells in us, we can indeed speak about a Divine likeness and godlike immortality. The same applies to the other attributes of human nature that are said to be in God’s image and likeness. For example, man’s rationality can be said to be in the likeness of God’s Reason, but only if it is informed by the grace of God: otherwise it descends to mere cogitation.
Thus man can be said to be in the image and likeness of God only insofar as he has the Spirit of God. Likeness to God is possible only through participation in Him: without that participation the likeness disappears, and man “is compared to the mindless cattle, and is become like unto them” (Psalm 48.21). Man is not in the likeness of God by virtue of some special spiritual part of his soul in the Platonic sense, but by virtue of possessing the Spirit of God to such a degree that the Spirit becomes, as it were, a part of him, or is so thoroughly mixed with the whole of him that he can be said to be, not just soul and body, but Spirit, soul and body (I Thessalonians 5.23). As Romanides writes, following St. Irenaeus: “the spiritual man for Paul is not one who does not have flesh but one who has the Spirit of God. A man who does not have the Divine Spirit is called ‘carnal’, ‘animal’ and ‘flesh and blood’. Without the Spirit’s energy to render him incorruptible, man cannot participate in true immortality and the kingdom of God… Paul’s spiritual man who has the Holy Spirit is exactly identical to the man made in the image and likeness of God as taught by the early Christian theologians.”
It is true that many of the Fathers make a distinction between the image and the likeness of God in man, according to which the image is retained even by the carnal man who has lost the Holy Spirit. However, the image of God in the carnal man is the potential to receive back the Spirit, that is, the likeness of God, through repentance rather than a specific Godlike quality that remains in him even in the state of sin. Thus a portrait that has been completely blackened by dust and dirt is no longer an image or likeness of anyone in the strict sense: it can be called an image only in the sense that if the dust and dirt were removed, a likeness would then reappear. To use a different analogy: if a jewel is removed from its setting, the setting will still bear the imprint of the jewel, although it will possess nothing jewel-like in a substantial sense. Similarly, the soul that was made for God and in the image of God will still bear the imprint of God in his soul, and will long for God even when God has abandoned him. 
We may agree, then, that the image may be said to include sexuality only if it can be shown that sexual relations are not incompatible with the presence of the Spirit of God. In other words, the critical question is: are sexual relations “carnal” not only in the sense that they involve the flesh or the body, but in the Pauline sense that they drive out the Spirit? Now we have already established that before the fall Adam and Eve did not have sexual relations in the sense of sexual intercourse. But they did have a relationship which can be called sexual insofar as it was coloured by their differentiated sexuality, by their sexual attraction to each other. And insofar as this attraction did not constitute a fall into sin, and did not lead to the departure of the Spirit of which we read only much later: “My Spirit shall not always remain with man, since he is carnal” (Genesis 6.3), we must conclude that the basic fact of sexual attraction does not drive out the Spirit and therefore does not disfigure the image of God in man.
We can go further. There is a likeness between the relationships between Adam and Eve, on the one hand, and the Father and the Spirit, on the other. St. Gregory of Nyssa writes: “Adam, not having a created cause and being unbegotten, is an example and image of the uncaused God the Father, the Almighty and Cause of all things; while Eve, who proceeded from Adam (but is not born from him) signifies the Hypostasis of the Holy Spirit proceeding.” Similarly, St. Anastasius of Sinai writes: "Adam is the type and image of the Unoriginate Almighty God, the Cause of all; the son born of him manifests the image of the Begotten Son and Word of God; and Eve, who proceeded from Adam, signifies the proceeding Hypostasis of the Holy Spirit. This is why God did not breathe in her the breath of life: she was already the type of the breathing and life of the Holy Spirit."
As Vladimir Lossky puts it: “And God created man in His own image; in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them. Thus the mystery of the singular and plural in man reflects the mystery of the singular and plural in God: in the same way that the personal principle in God demands that the one nature express itself in the diversity of persons, likewise in man, created in the image of God. Human nature cannot be the possession of a monad. It demands not solitude but communion, the wholesome diversity of love… The Fathers relate the procession of the Holy Spirit to what they call the ‘procession’ of Eve, different from Adam yet of the same nature as him: unity of nature and plurality of persons which evoke for us the mysteries of the New Testament. Just as the Spirit is not inferior to Him from Whom It proceeds, just so woman is not inferior to man: for love demands equality and love alone wished this primordial polarization, source of all the diversity of the human species.” 
The analogy between Adam and Eve, on the one hand, and the Father and the Holy Spirit, on the other, is not the only relational likeness that the Fathers discern here. There is also the analogy between Adam and Eve, on the one hand, and the Father and the Son, on the other. And this analogy takes us still further into the deepest mysteries of the New Testament. Its basis is to be found in the words of St. Paul: “I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is the man, and the head of Christ is God” (I Corinthians 11.3). Thus the man-woman relationship is a head-body relationship in the likeness of the Father-Son relationship.
In fact, there are three such relationships here: Father-Son, Son (Christ)-man, and man-woman. Two of these are between beings that are equal in nature: the Father-Son and man-woman relationships. The middle relationship, that between the Son (Christ) and man, is not between two beings that are equal in nature. However, the Incarnation of the Son and the Descent of the Holy Spirit has effected an “interchange of qualities”, whereby God the Son has acquired human nature, and humanity has “become a partaker of the Divine nature” (II Peter 1.4). As the Holy Fathers put it, “God became man so that men could become gods”. Therefore the originally unequal relationship between God and man has been to a certain degree leveled out, as it were, by its transformation into the new relationship between Christ and the Church. This relationship can, like that between the Father and the Son, be described in the image of the relationship between head and body, and is explicitly compared to the relationship between husband and wife in Ephesians 5.22-32.
The symbol of this hierarchical, head-body relationship is the veil. The apostle continues: “A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of the man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head” (I Corinthians 11.7-10).
As Bishop Theophan the Recluse writes: “The husband, as the image and glory of God amongst creatures, must not cover his head in church, while the wife was taken from the husband later, created, as it were, in accordance with his image, and is therefore the image of the image, or the reflection of the glory of the husband, and must therefore cover herself in church as a sign of subjection to her husband”.
Thus the relationships between the Father and the Son, Christ and the Church and the man and woman mirror each other, and can in turn be likened to the relationship between the head and the body being themselves iconic relationships. For just as “the head of Christ is God”, so Christ is the Head of the Church and “the head of the woman is the man”. And just as the Son is “the effulgence of the glory” of the Father and “the impress of His Hypostasis” (Hebrews 1.3; Colossians 1.15), so is the woman is “the glory of the man”, and “the image of the image”, and yet is of the same nature as him.
It follows that the supposedly “primitive”, “all-too-human” relationship between man and woman has the capacity to mirror and illumine for us, not only the relationship between Christ and the Church, but also – albeit faintly, “as through a glass darkly” (I Corinthians 13.12) – the supremely Divine intra-Trinitarian relationship between the Father and the Son. Thus the man-woman relationship, and even the basic structure of the human body, is an icon, a likeness of the most spiritual and ineffable mysteries. For just as the head (the man) is lifted above the body (the woman) and rules her, but in love for her and desiring her salvation, so does Christ love and save the Church, His Body – all in obedience to His Head, the Father, Who “so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3.16).
From this perspective we can see that the psychological differences between man and woman reflect the differences in spiritual function between Christ and the Church, and that these differences were implanted in human nature from the beginning precisely in order to mirror the spiritual relationships. The man is physically stronger, more aggressive and more inclined to lead because he, like Christ, must wage war on the devil and rescue the woman from his clutches. The woman is more intuitive, compassionate and submissive because she must be sensitive to the will of the man and submit to him in order to make their common struggle easier.
If, in the fall, the man must still take the lead, this is not because he is less fallen than the woman, or that only the masculine qualities are necessary for salvation, but because obedience to the hierarchical principle at all levels is the only way out of the fall. For only if the woman obeys the man, and the man obeys Christ, as Christ obeyed the Father, can grace work to heal fallen nature and restore “glory” to the fallen lower levels of the hierarchy. Only if the man disobeys Christ, and demands that the woman follow him in his disobedience, must she disobey him out of obedience to Christ. In this case the hierarchical principle has been violated at one level (the level of the man), but remains intact at another (the level of the woman).
If the woman is placed at the bottom of this hierarchy, she is nevertheless capable of being united with the very top. For, as St. Paulinus of Nola puts it: “We might say that she is placed at the base to support that body’s chain which is linked to God by the head of Christ, to Christ by the head of man, and to man by the head of woman. But Christ makes woman also belong to the head at the top by making her part of the body and of the structure of the limbs, for in Christ we are neither male nor female…”
Thus there is neither male nor female in Christ not in the sense that sexual differences cease to have any importance in Christ, but that if each sex carries out his or her differentiated role in love in accordance with the will of God, there will be complete harmony and unity throughout the hierarchy, and an “interchange of qualities” will take place, not only between God and man, but also between man and woman, with the result that God will be “all in all” (I Corinthians 15.28).
Angelic and Sexual Modes of Procreation
Let us consider what was meant by God’s command to Adam and Eve that they multiply. What kind of fertility or procreation is being spoken of here?
Some of the Fathers interpreted the command to procreate in a purely spiritual sense, as meaning the multiplication of spiritual children and good works. Among these was St. Basil the Great, who, as we have seen, interpreted man’s dominion over the wild beasts in a similarly allegorical manner. Again, St. Augustine writes: “One is completely right to ask in what sense we should understand the union of male and female before sin, as well as the blessing that said Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. Should we understand it in a physical manner or spiritually? We are permitted to understand it spiritually and to believe that it was changed into sexual fecundity after sin. For there was first the chaste union of male and female, of the former to rule, of the latter to obey, and there was the spiritual offspring of intelligible and immortal joys filling the earth”.
However, the patristic consensus is that the command should indeed be understood in the first place to refer to the procreation of physical children. Thus St. Methodius of Olympus writes: “God’s statement, the commandment to beget children, is just as valid today, because He is always an artist who is fashioning humankind. It is certainly true that God is working even now on the world like a painter on his picture. The Lord taught us this too by saying: ‘My Father is working still’ (John 5.17). When the rivers no longer flow and no longer pour on to the great sea-bed, when the light has been separated in a perfect way from the darkness (though for the present this has yet to happen), when the good earth has ceased to produce fruit, when reptiles and quadrupeds have stopped reproducing and when the pre-arranged number of men and women has been reached, only then will there be a need to refrain from begetting children. As things are, it is necessary for humanity to collaborate in bringing into the world beings in the likeness of God, because the world is already in existence, or rather it is being created. Be fruitful and multiply is the word.” Again, St. Bede writes: “This multiplication of men and filling of the earth was not to be accomplished except by the union of male and female… Blameless, therefore, are the marriages which God has instituted for the propagation of the human race and the filling of the earth with the blessing from above.” And St. John of Damascus writes: “God, Who knows all things before they have existence, knowing in His foreknowledge that they would fall into more transgressions in the future and be condemned to death, anticipated this and made male and female, and bade them be fruitful and multiply.”
It should be noted that human beings “collaborate” with God in bringing children into the world, but it is God alone who creates them; it is He Who “opens the womb” (I Kings 1.6). As the Church chants on the feast of the conception of the Mother of God: “Today the whole world doth celebrate Anna’s conceiving, which was brought about by God”. Clement of Alexandria writes that God is the cause of childbirth, while the parents are only “servants of birth”. Again, Blessed Theodoretus writes of Hannah's infertility: "This teaches readers not to place their hope [of conception] on marriage, but on calling on the Creator for help. For just as it belongs to the cultivator to cast seeds into the earth, but to God to bring that which is sown to perfection, so union is the work of marriage, but helping nature and forming a living being - to God." And St. John Chrysostom writes: “It is not the power of marriage that multiplies our species”. “We must ascribe the birth of children, not to the intercourse of spouses, or to anything other than the Creator of all”. Again, St. Cyril of Jerusalem writes: “It is God Who fashions every infant in the womb. As Job says: ‘Like clay Thou hast moulded me, like milk Thou hast poured me out, like cheese Thou hast curdled me. Thou hast clothed me in flesh and blood, knit me together with bones and sinews’ (Job 10.9-11).”
The question arises: since the command to be fruitful and multiply was given before the fall, are we to suppose that sexual intercourse took place in Paradise? As noted above, the Holy Fathers give a negative reply to this question: “The clear and unanimous teaching of the Fathers [is] that before the fall there was no use of marriage, as we understand it today, for the purpose of reproduction.” For sexual intercourse as we know it presupposes the “garments of skin”, that is, opaque bodies and animal-like desires, that were given to us only after the fall, for the survival of the human race in the conditions of universal corruption and death. The fact that the command was given before the fall indicates, as St. Bede says, that marriage and procreation are blessed by God. But it does not indicate that sexual intercourse as we know it was the only possible method of procreation.
The Fathers teach that if man had not sinned, and had remained in Paradise with his incorruptible body, he could have reproduced in a virginal, quasi-angelic way. Thus St. Athanasius the Great writes: “God’s original intention was that we give birth not through marriage and corruption; the violation of the commandment introduced marriage as a result of Adam’s transgression.” Again, St. Gregory of Nyssa writes that if we had not sinned, we would not have needed marriage to multiply. For “whatever the mode of increase in the angelic nature…, it would have operated also in the case of men, who were ‘made a little lower than the angels’, to increase mankind to the measure determined by its Maker”. Again, St. John of Damascus writes: “The commandment ‘go forth and multiply’ does not necessarily mean through conjugal union. For God could increase the human race by another means, if people had preserved the commandment inviolable to the end.” This hypothesis finds confirmation in the fact that the first multiplication of man was indeed quasi-angelic and virginal. For it was the birth (although some Fathers prefer not to use the term “birth”), not of Cain, but of Eve. As St. John Chrysostom says: “How, you will say, would so many thousands have been born [except through sexual intercourse]? If this thought strikes you so strongly, I will ask you in turn: How was Adam born? How was Eve – without the mediation of marriage?”
The words Be fruitful and multiply are repeated shortly after the account of the fall (Genesis 5.2), which clearly indicates that the blessing is not only on parthenogenesis, but also on sexual reproduction in the fall. It is as if God is saying that the blessing on reproduction has not been removed, that it continues even in the conditions of the fall when Adam knows Eve in a different way, sexually and not virginally, and when he sees that it gives birth not only to life in the form of Eve, but also death in the form of Abel’s murder at the hands of Cain. 
However, there are some, even among the Holy Fathers, who would seek to argue that the blessing is on the procreation (in marriage) but not on sexual relations as such. This is the position adopted by St. Gregory of Nyssa, for example, in the East, and by Blessed Augustine in the West. The problem with this view is that it seems to contradict the apostolic word that “marriage is honourable in all, and the bed, i.e. sexual relations between husband and wife, undefiled” (Hebrews 13.4); for sexual relations are physiologically impossible without desire.
Again, if sexual relations within marriage are considered impure and to be avoided, there is a danger of falling under the anathemas of the Council of Gangra (c. 343): “9. If anyone shall remain virgin, or observe continence, abstaining from marriage because he abhors it, and not on account of the beauty and holiness of virginity itself, let him be anathema. 10. If anyone of those who are living a virginal life for the Lord’s sake shall treat arrogantly the married, let him be anathema. 14. If any woman shall forsake her husband, and resolve to depart from him because she abhors marriage, let her be anathema.”
Hieromonk Gregory (Lourié) attempts to minimize the significance of these canons: “Who is going to define where ‘abhorrence’ and ‘arrogance’ begin? No-one could have had any doubt that both the one and the other are sinful passions, but the conciliar canons are a juridical document, and so it is always dangerous to allow too much leeway for their interpretation. From the literal meaning of the canons one could form the impression that marriage and virginity were equal in honour (we are talking about the principles of the one and the other, which is not to be confused with the equality in honour of all Christians in general) and even that it was impermissible to dissolve a marriage for the sake of abstinence.”
It is true that it is not always easy to discern where a preference for virginity, which is laudable, passes into an abhorrence of marriage, which is not. However, there is no hint in these canons – which have been accepted as authoritative by the Ecumenical Church - that marriage and virginity are to be considered equal in honour, only that marriage should not be dishonoured by being considered to be sinful. As for the idea that marriage should not be broken for the sake of abstinence, unless it be with the mutual consent of the partners, this is nothing more nor less than the teaching of the Church! The canons specifically forbid clergy to put away their wives “under pretext of religion”, “lest we should affect injuriously marriage constituted by God and blessed by His presence, as the Gospel saith: ‘What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder’; and the Apostle saith, ‘Marriage is honourable and the bed undefiled’; and again, ‘Art thou bound to a wife? Seek not to be loosed’”.
This point is well illustrated by the Life of the British saint, Monk-Martyr Nectan of Hartland (+c. 500). St. Nectan’s father, Brychan, was a local prince who left his wife to practise the ascetic life in Ireland. After several years of asceticism, he returned to his native land, and there, finding his wife still alive, “although he had not proposed any such thing himself”, he had relations with her and begat several sons and daughters – one for each year of his unlawful abstinence. Brychan recognised his fault, saying: “Now has God punished me for vainly intending to act contrary to His will.” Brychan and his children, all of whom became monastic missionaries in south-west England, are counted among the saints of the British Church – a happy ending which would not have come to pass if he had continued his unlawful asceticism to the end of his life…
Again, we read of St. Seraphim of Sarov that “those who were married [he] would not allow to separate, however hard it might be, even under the pretext of a subsequent life of virginity. A married couple separated and divided their children. The husband went to Sarov and came to Father Seraphim. As soon as the Saint saw him, he began to rebuke him sternly and, contrary to his wont, said to him in a menacing tone: ‘Why don’t you live with your wife? Go to her, go!’”
Lourié continues this theme in the critical section of his work entitled “From the law of marriage to the grace of virginity – in one individual life”, which consists of a detailed analysis of a story concerning a married layman, Theonas, who, under the influence of the teaching of Abba John, began to try and persuade his wife that they should henceforth abandon sexual relations. “But in vain. We cannot say that the wife found no arguments at all in favour of the opposite point of view. She ‘… said that she could never abstain from conjugal relations the flower of her life, and that is she were abandoned by him and committed some sin it would have to be imputed to him instead for having broken the bonds of marriage...'” But Theonas said that he would continue to live with his wife only if they “escaped the punishment of Gehenna” by abstaining from sexual relations. And eventually he left her and became a distinguished monk, much admired by St. John Cassian.
However, Theonas’ argument is expressly condemned by the holy canons: “If anyone shall condemn marriage, or abominate and condemn a woman who is a believer and devout, and sleeps with her own husband, as though she could not enter the Kingdom [of heaven], let him be anathema…” Moreover, Lourié omits to tell us that St. John Cassian adds an important qualifier to his story to show that he was not committing himself to Theonas’ point of view: “No one should think that we have made all this up in order to encourage spouses to divorce. We not only do not condemn marriage but we even say in accordance with the words of the Apostle: ‘Marriage is honorable among all, and the marriage bed is undefiled’... I ask the reader kindly to find me blameless, whether he is pleased or displeased with this, and either to praise or to blame the actual doer of the deed. I myself have not offered my own viewpoint in this…”
Lourié follows Abba Theonas in considering that the words of the Gospel: “Whoever does not hate father and mother and children and brothers and sisters and wife and fields, and his own soul besides, cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14.26) provide sufficient justification for his action. However, the Christian does not cease to love his relatives: it is rather that he loves them “with a more outside love”, to use St. Macarius’ expression. And Blessed Theophylact warns us: “See to it that you are not seized or carried away by this saying, interpreting it literally and without understanding. The Lover of man does not teach hatred for man, nor does He counsel us to take our own lives. But He desires that His true disciple hate his own kin when they prevent him from giving reverence to God and when he is hindered from doing good by his relationship to them. If they do not hinder us in these things, then He teaches us to honor them until our last breath.”
Of course, every rule has its exceptions, and it may be that in this particular case the breaking of the rule that the agreement of both partners to abstain is necessary was blessed by God. But it is very dangerous to build any kind of theological argument on exceptions to the rule, otherwise the rule itself is seen to be despised and will be abandoned. We do not know what happened to the woman in this case. Perhaps she bore her forced separation from her husband with fortitude, and remained chaste for the rest of her life. But if she did not, then it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the responsibility for her fall fell, at least in part, on her husband – and it was precisely to prevent such falls that the rule that spouses should separate only by mutual agreement was established.
As Lourié admits, the extremist viewpoint expressed above by Abba Theonas was rejected by two of the greatest Fathers of the Church - St. John Chrysostom and St. Barsanuphius the Great. But Lourié shrugs off this fact on the grounds that the question of leaving one’s wife without her consent is only a “pastoral” problem, about which it is possible to disagree “without falling away from the Church”.
With regard to the wider questions of the role of sexual relations in marriage, Lourié claims that St. Chrysostom shared “the general patristic conviction” - which, without detailed argumentation, he identifies with the position of the Egyptian monks just cited. Where there appears to be a divergence, he argues, this is either because St. Chrysostom was talking to a significantly less pious and monastically oriented audience (the laity of Antioch and Constantinople, as opposed to the laity of Egypt), or because the holy hierarch “sugared the pill” of his harder statements, hiding them in the sub-text of his sermons… More likely, in the present writer’s opinion, is that the views of the great hierarch simply developed with time, from the “realistic” position of the early On Virginity to the idealistic position of almost all his later writings.
The attempt to justify marriage and procreation while condemning, however obliquely, sexual relations within marriage appears to involve an internal contradiction: it blesses procreation while “cursing” the God-given means to it, sexual relations. Is it likely that God would have blessed human procreation while cursing the only means towards it?
Now we may agree that sexuality can be theoretically distinguished from procreation. According to Troitsky, multiplication is the main theme of Genesis 1, and is an act of the species, as it were, which is why chapter 1 speaks of “male” and “female” rather than “man” and “woman”. It is “the continuation of the creation of the animal world, having no relation to marriage and in general to anything that distinguishes it from the animals”. Marriage, on the other hand, which is the theme of Genesis 2, is extremely personal, is not necessarily linked to the continuation of the species, and is not found as such in the animals. It is therefore represented in chapter 2 as involving Adam and Eve as individual persons with individual names rather than “Adam” as the representative of the whole species collectively.
However, while sexuality and reproduction can in this way be distinguished abstractly, in thought, in concrete reality they are, of course, inseparable.
So we repeat: if the mixing of sexual pleasure with the propagation of the species is offensive to God, it is difficult to understand how the marital bed can be undefiled. When God blessed the end of procreation, He also blessed the means to that end, the marriage bed. The heretics try to divorce the means from the end; they approve of the latter while disapproving of the former. But in this they blaspheme against the goodness of God’s creation, supposing that He “trapped” those who desire children by forcing them to sin in order to become parents.
But St. John Chrysostom, commenting on the words, “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled” (Hebrews 13.4), writes: “Marriage is pure”. Again, Blessed Theophylact comments on the same verse: “By ‘in all’ he means ‘in every way’ and ‘in every season’”.
Bishop Theophan comments on the same verse: “The marriage bed does not contradict chastity if it will be holy and undefiled”, that is, “every vice of unfaithfulness, open or secret (in the disposition of the heart) must be foreign to Christian marriage”.
Natural and Unnatural Modes of Procreation
Moreover, there are further evil consequences of this doctrine. For if sexuality is evil even in marriage, the difference between sexual relations inside and outside marriage is abolished (we shall discuss this in greater detail later). Again, if the natural method of procreation is considered sinful, then the path is open to unnatural, but “purer” (from a Platonic-Manichaean point of view) methods, such as in vitro fertilisation, surrogate motherhood, stem cell research, or cloning. Which in turn opens the door to the creation of hybrid, half-human, or “superhuman” species.
Modern man’s refusal seriously to discuss the moral consequences of these developments is illustrated by the remark of the Oxford Professor of Applied Ethics, Julian Savulescu, on stem cell research, which involves the destruction of embryos: “We have voted with our feet on the moral status of the embryo. There are 100,000 abortions every year [in Britain], nearly all for social reasons. IVF, IUDs, the morning after pill and even some forms of oral contraception destroy embryos. The deaths of a handful [!] of embryos for life-saving research is not morally relevant in this context, in our society.”
If the first half of the twentieth century was distinguished by an amazing increase in our knowledge of the physical world, the second half was distinguished by an even more amazing increase in our knowledge of the biological world, and especially the world of human genetics and human reproduction.
The vital break-through here was the discovery of DNA in 1953. Then came the introduction of the contraceptive pill, in vitro fertilisation and surrogate motherhood. As one journalist put it: “First, contraception severed the connection between sex and reproduction. It became possible to have sex without having babies. Then modern technology severed the connection between reproduction and sex. It became possible to have babies without having sex.”
The most alarming developments have been genetic manipulation and cloning.
As early as 1976, the director of the Institute of Genetics of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR, Academician N.P. Dubinin, was predicting the scale of this revolution: “The achievements of human genetics, and of general and molecular genetics, will push forward the problem of interference in human heredity. The coming revolution in genetics will demand a decisive overturning of the previously dominant view concerning the primacy of nature in its natural form. Genetics will turn out to be capable of overcoming the natural story of life and creating organic forms inconceivable in the light of the laws of natural evolution… For the molecular genetics and the molecular biology of the 21st century there lies in store the prospect of creating cells as the only self-regulating open living system, which will be bound up with the understanding of the essence of life. An exchange of living forms will take place between the earth and other worlds… The aim of genetic engineering is the creation of organisms according to a given model, whose hereditary program is formed by means of introducing the recipient of new genetic information. This information can be artificially synthesised or separated in the form of natural genetic structures from various organisms. In this way a new single genetic system which cannot arise by means of natural evolution will be created experimentally… Various manipulations with DNA molecules can lead to the unforeseen creation of biologically dangerous hybrid forms… ”
“We have to admit,” concludes Fr. Vladislav Sveshnikov, “that contemporary science is preparing the ground for the coming of the Antichrist.” How? By the manipulation of genes in order to produce the “superman” or “man-god” of Nietzsche’s imagination, who will be at the same time the “devil-man” or “Antichrist” of Christian patristic teaching.
As regards cloning, Serge (Nedelsky) has written: “Cloning is the technique of producing a genetically identical duplicate of an organism. In the case of human cloning, the nucleus of an adult cell is injected into an enculcated egg – meaning that the donor DNA replaces that in the egg – and then cell division is electronically. The result becomes a human embryo genetically identical to the donor. In the case of so-called ‘reproductive cloning’ (what kind of cloning is not reproductive?) the egg is implanted into a woman’s uterus to grow. Done successfully, it would result in the birth of an infant. In the case of the benign-sounding ‘therapeutic cloning’, the embryo is never implanted into the uterus. Instead, it is allowed to develop for a few days before a part is removed to provide stem cells – which have the unique potential to become almost any human cell and thus have potential for disease treatment – before the embryo is destroyed or, more accurately, killed. Reproductive cloning is currently opposed by nearly all responsible scientists – Clonaid not included – but therapeutic cloning has widespread support, based on the claim that it may provide a means to treatment and tissue replacement for a series of incurable ailments.
“Both techniques are sinister. Both produce life artificially. As Father Demetrius Demopulos, who holds a Ph.D. in genetics, writes: ‘As an Orthodox Christian, I speak out in opposition to any attempt to clone a human being because humans are supposed to be created in acts of love between two people, not through the manipulation of cells in acts that are ultimately about self-love. Our actions should bring us together in Christ, not separate us into new and different classification.’ This manipulation of cells opens the door to ‘genetic enhancement’, an increased control over traits deemed desirable and the elimination of those which are not. In other words, eugenics. This genetic manipulation is ultimately an act of cruelty, subjecting the embryo to the whims of scientists and, when resulting in birth, to unforeseen illness and danger. As Professor Leon Kass of the University of Chicago testified before Congress, cloning ‘constitutes unethical experimentation on the child-to-be, subjecting him or her to enormous risks of bodily and developmental abnormalities. It threatens individuality… It confuses identity… It represents a giant step toward turning procreation into manufacture… And it is a radical form of parental despotism and child abuse’. So-called ‘therapeutic cloning’ is equally, of not more, inhuman. In the name of dubious medical evidence for miracle cures, it produces life only to destroy it. Legalizing it would in fact result in the first category of life which legally had to be killed. As Charles Krauthammer put it, it represents ‘the most ghoulish and dangerous enterprise in modern scientific history: the creation of nascent cloned human life of for the sole purpose of its exploitation and destruction’….
“Many of the moral consequences of cloning have already been suggested: the threat to the uniqueness of each life; the compromise of human identity; the violation of human dignity; even the potential for eugenic manipulation resulting in a tyrannic social structure of a genetically enhanced super class ruling a lower class of genetically ‘inferior’ men. Reproductive cloning opens the way for eugenics and designer babies, making children manufactured objects. The practical consequences lead to unheard of absurdities: the whole structure of the family is confused and overturned, with the potential of genetically identical parents and children. In fact, male cells are not needed in reproductive cloning, though the female ovum is paving the way for a world in which women can reproduced without men, of fatherless children. The act of consummating love which produces children could be made obsolete, making child-bearing completely asexual.”
It follows that any attempt to separate marriage from sexuality, or sexuality from reproduction, as if one term in each pair was “good” and the other “bad”, so that marriage is good only without sexuality, or that reproduction is permissible in a non-sexual way, must be condemned. This is not to identify sexuality with reproduction, nor is it to see the purpose of sexuality in reproduction alone. But it is to recognize the profound relationship between sexuality and fertility.
It would be easier to draw the conclusion that the sole purpose of sexuality and marriage is the propagation of the race in the case of animals than of men. For, as St. Neilos the Ascetic writes, animals “become conscious of the difference between male and female only during one season of the year ordained by the law of nature for them to mate in, so as to propagate and continue their species. The rest of the year they keep away from one another as if they had altogether forgotten any such appetite. In men, on the other hand, as a result of the richness of their food, an insatiable desire for sexual pleasure has grown up, producing in them frenzied appetites which never allow this passion to be still.”
Sexuality understood in a very broad sense to include what Scruton calls “gender”, that is, our perception of a whole range of phenomena in terms of a masculine/feminine polarity, has a far wider influence on human life than animal sexuality has on animal life. This is partly because sexual passion in man is as much, if not more, a property of the soul as of the body.  Sexual passion is far less dependent on the state of the body in man than it is in animals. Although women have menstrual cycles, this is less significant in predicting sexual desire than in predicting reproductive fertility; and in general human beings do not “go on heat” in the way animals do. Sexual passion can lie dormant for long periods, then flare up at unexpected times, even at a time of life when the body may be considered to be “dead” to this kind of passion.
This would appear to indicate that while procreation is clearly one of the purposes of sexuality in man, it is not the only one. As Vladimir Soloviev writes: “Usually the meaning of sexual love is supposed to reside in the multiplication of the race, which it serves as a means. I consider this view wrong – not on the basis of any idealistic considerations, but first of all on the basis of natural historical factors. That the multiplication of living beings can take place without sexual love is clear already from the fact that it can take place without sexual differentiation. A significant part of the organisms both of the vegetable and of the animal kingdoms reproduce asexually: by division, by budding, by the spreading of spores, by grafting. True, the higher forms of both organic kingdoms multiply in a sexual way. But first of all, those organisms that multiply in this way, both plants, and partly also animals, can also multiply in an asexual way (grafting in plants, parthenogenesis in higher insects), and secondly, leave these examples to one side and accepting as a general rule that higher organisms multiply by means of sexual union, we must conclude that this sexual factor is linked, not with multiplication in general (which can take place without it), but with the multiplication of higher organisms. Consequently, we must seek for the meaning of sexual differentiation (and sexual love) not in the idea of the life of species and their multiplication, but only in the idea of the higher organism.
“We find a striking confirmation of this in the following great fact. In the boundaries of living beings that multiply exclusively in a sexual way (the vertebrates), the higher we climb on the ladder of organisms, the less the power of multiplication becomes, while the power of sexual attraction, on the contrary, becomes greater. In the lowest class of this section – in fish – multiplication takes place on a huge scale: the embryos begotten each year by each female are counted in the millions: these embryos are fertilized by the female outside her body, and the means by which this is done does not permit us to suppose a powerful sexual attraction. Of all the vertebrates this cold-blooded class undoubtedly multiplies more than all the rest and displays passionate love less than all the rest. On the next step – that of the amphibians and reptiles – multiplication is much less significant than with the fish…; but although they multiply less we find among these animals more frequent sexual relations… In birds the power of multiplication is much less not only by comparison with the fish, but by comparison, for example, with the frogs, while the sexual attraction and mutual attachment between the male and female reaches unheard of proportions in the two lower classes of development. In mammals multiplication is significantly weaker than in the birds, while sexual attraction, although less constant in the majority, is much more intensive. Finally, in man by comparison with the whole of the animal kingdom multiplication takes place to a small degree, while sexual love attains its greatest significance and highest power, uniting to an exceptional degree constancy of relations (as in the birds) with intensity of passion (as in the mammals). And so sexual love and the multiplication of the race are inversely related to each other: the stronger the one, the weaker the other.
“In general the whole animal kingdom develops in this respect as follows. At the bottom, a huge power of multiplication with a complete absence of anything similar to sexual love (with the absence of sexual differentiation itself); further up the ladder, in the more perfect organisms, there appears sexual differentiation and, corresponding to it, a certain sexual attraction – at the beginning extremely weak, then constantly increasing in the later stages of organic development in proportion as the power of multiplication decreases (that is, in direct proportion to the perfection of the organization and in inverse proportion to the power of multiplication), until finally, at the very top, in man, there is the strongest possible sexual love combined, even, with complete absence of multiplication. But if in this way, at the two ends of animal life, we find, on the one hand, multiplication without any sexual love, and on the other hand, sexual love without multiplication, then it is absolutely clear that these two phenomena cannot be placed in inseparable connection with each other. It is clear that each of them has its own independent significance and that the meaning of the one cannot consist in being a means for the other.
“We get the same result if we examine sexual love exclusively in the world of man, where it acquires, to an incomparably greater degree than in the animal world, that individual character by dint of which precisely this person of the other sex has for the lover an absolute significance as the only and irreplaceable one, as an end in and of herself.”
The Bonds of the Family
The sexual method of procreation has another important advantage over the asexual methods found in the lower animals: it strengthens the bonds uniting the human race. For the necessity of finding a mate in order to reproduce reinforces the interdependence of human beings, making them stronger (cf. Sirach 4.9-10). And the necessity of finding that mate outside the immediate family circle reinforces the wider unity of the human race, under circumstances in which all the fallen forces of human nature tend towards self-isolation and disunity.
For “in this way”, writes St. John Chrysostom, “God from the beginning contrived ten thousand ways of implanting [love] in us. Thus, first, He granted one head to all, Adam. For why do we not all spring out of the earth? Why not full grown, as he was? In order that both the birth and the bringing up of children, and the being born of another, might bind us mutually together. It was for this reason that He did not make woman out of the earth. And since the fact of our being of the same substance would not have been sufficient to shame us into unanimity, unless we had also the same progenitor, He provided also for us. Forif now, being only separated by place, we consider ourselves alien from one another; much more would this have happened if our race had had two originals. For this reason, therefore, He bound together the whole body of the human race as it were from a single head. And since from the beginning they seemed to be two, see how He binds them together again, and gathers them into one by marriage. For ‘therefore’, saith He, ‘shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife; and they shall be one flesh’.”
“Do you see how many bonds of love God has created? And these He has placed in us as pledges of concord by force of nature. For we are led to this both by our being of the same substance (for every animal loves its like), and by the fact that the woman is made from the man, and again by the fact that children are made from both. From this also many kinds of affection arise. For one we love as a father, another as a grandfather; one as a mother, another as a nurse; one as a son or great-grandson, and another as a daughter or grand-daughter; one as a brother, and another as a nephew; and one as a sister, and another as a niece. Why do we need to recount all the forms of consanguinity?
“And He devised another foundation of affection. For having forbidden the marriage of relations, He led us out to strangers and drew them again to us. For since it was not possible for them to be connected with us through natural kinship, He connected us again by marriage, uniting together whole families through the single person of the bride, and mingling entire races with races…”
In another passage, the same saint emphasises again how the sexual origins of the family reinforce the interdependence of each member of it on every other, and how a child, coming into being only through the union of the father and mother, reinforces that original unity: “They come to be made into one body. See the mystery of love! If the two do not become one, they cannot increase; they can increase only by decreasing! How great is the strength of unity! God’s ingenuity in the beginning divided one flesh into two; but he wanted to show that it remained one even after its division, so He made it impossible for either half to procreate without the other. Now do you see how great a mystery marriage is! From one man, Adam, He made Eve, then He reunited these two into one, so that their children would be produced from a single source. Likewise, husband and wife are not two, but one; if he is the head and she is the body, how can they be two? She was made from his side; so they are two halves of one organism. God calls her a ‘helper’ to demonstrate their unity, and He honors the unity of husband and wife above that of child and parents. A father rejoices to see his son or daughter marry; it is as if his child’s body is becoming complete. Even though he spends so much money for his daughter’s wedding, he would rather do that than see her remain unmarried, since then she would seem to be deprived of her own flesh. We are not sufficient unto ourselves in this life. How do they become one flesh? As if she were gold receiving the purest of gold, the woman receives the man’s seed with rich pleasure, and within her it is nourished, cherished, and refined. It is mingled with her own substance and she then returns it as a child! The child is a bridge connecting mother to father, so the three become one flesh… That is why the Scripture does not say, ‘They shall be one flesh’, but that they shall be joined together ‘into one flesh’, namely the child. But supposing there is no child, do they then remain two and not one? No, their intercourse effects the joining of their bodies and they are made one, just as when perfume is mixed with ointment.””
As if anticipating that his words might shock the Manichaeans of his day as of ours, the holy Father goes on decisively to reject any attempt to degrade the sexual method of reproduction: “I know that my words embarrass many of you, and the reason for your shame is your own wanton licentiousness. ‘Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled’ (Hebrews 13.4), yet you give marriage a bad name with your depraved celebrations. Why else would you be ashamed at what is honorable, or blush at what is undefiled? That is why I want to purify our wedding celebrations: to restore marriage to its due nobility and to silence those heretics who call it evil. God’s gift is insulted. It is the root of our very existence, and we smother it with dung and filth. So listen to me a little while longer. Remember that you can’t cling to filth without picking up the stench. Some of you call my words immodest, because I speak of the nature of marriage, which is honorable… By calling my words immodest, you condemn God Who is the author of marriage...”
“The family,” writes the Russian religious philosopher Ivan Alexandrovich Ilyin, “is the first union, at once natural and sacred, into which man of necessity enters. He is called to build up this union on a foundation of love, faith, and freedom, to learn the first conscious movements of his heart in it; and to rise from it to those other forms of man’s spiritual unity, the nation and the state.
“The family begins with marriage and is joined together in it. Man begins his life, however, in a family which he did not create, the family established by his father and mother, into which he enters just by being born, long before he becomes fully aware of himself and the world around him. He receives this family as a gift from fate. Marriage, by its very nature, is based on a choice and a decision, whereas a child does not get to choose or decide; its father and mother shape for their child, as it were, its foreordained fate, which the child cannot refuse or change; it can only accept what it is given and bear it for life. What will become of a man later in life is determined in childhood and by that very childhood. There are, of course, inclinations and gifts with which one is born, but early childhood determines the fate of these inclinations and gifts – whether they will be developed in time or will fade away, or, if they are to blossom, exactly how.
“For this reason the family is the primary nurturer of man’s culture. All of us are formed in this medium, with all our possibilities, feelings, and desires; each of us remains a lifelong spiritual representative of his paternal-maternal family, a kind of living symbol of its familial spirit….
“Every true family arises out of love and brings man happiness. When marriage is entered into without love, there is only the external appearance of a family. When marriage does not bring man happiness, it does not fulfil its first function. Parents can teach their children love only if they themselves have known love in their marriage. Parents can give their children happiness only to the extent that they themselves have found happiness in marriage. A family which is held together by spiritual bonds of love and happiness is a school of emotional, healthy, balanced personality and creative initiative….
“The chief condition for such family life is the capacity of parents for mutual spiritual love. Happiness comes only with deep and long-lasting love. This love is possible only in and through the spirit…”
2. EROS IN THE FALL
From my secret sins cleanse me, and from those of others spare Thy servant. If they have not dominion over me, then blameless shall I be, and I shall be cleansed from great sin.
I was conceived in iniquities, and in sins did my mother bear me.
Our forefather Adam used his freedom to turn toward what was worse, and to direct his desire away from what had been permitted to what was forbidden. It was in his power to be united to the Lord and become one spirit with God or to join himself to a prostitute and become one body with her.
St. Maximus the Confessor, Ambigua 7, P.G. 91: 1092C-D.
As we have seen, marriage originated in Paradise with Adam and Eve. Both the Old Testament (Tobit 8.6-7) and the New ascribe the origins of marriage to God’s word in Paradise. Particularly significant are the words of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who in His teaching on marriage refers directly to the account of the creation of Adam and Eve in the first and second chapters of Genesis: “Ye have read, have ye not, that the One Who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘On account of this a man shall leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and the two shall be into one flesh’? Therefore they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God hath yoked together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19.4-6; Mark 10.2-12). These words were confirmed as constituting the basis of marriage by the Apostle Paul (Ephesians 5.20-32). And they were confirmed again in the earliest Christian sources. Thus Clement of Alexandria speaks of “the grace of marriage” in Paradise, and Tertullian writes: “Adam was the one husband of Eve, and Eve his one wife”. Among the later Fathers, St. John Chrysostom speaks especially eloquently and at length in confirmation of this teaching. And it is sealed by the Orthodox marriage service in several places.
Not only did marriage originate in Paradise: God Himself brought the bride and bridegroom together. For true marriages are, literally, made in heaven and accomplished by God. For “the wife is prepared for the husband (by God) from the ages” (Tobit 6.18), and “it is by the Lord that a man is matched with a woman” (Proverbs 19.14).
According to this viewpoint, which, as we have seen, has been called by Troitsky the idealistic approach to marriage, it is possible for the love between man and woman to be sexual, and yet pure; the words “sexual” and “love” are not mutually exclusive, nor is “sexual love” to be equated with “lust”. Moreover, it is precisely the possibility of a pure sexual love that forms the basis for the comparison frequently made in Holy Scripture between the love of God for man, and of Christ for the Church, on the one hand, and the love of a husband for his wife, on the other. It affirms that since eros originated, not in the fall, but in Paradise, it is not a force that must be extirpated, but rather purified, redirected or “sublimated” (in a patristic, not Freudian sense), and that such a purification of the sexual impulse is possible in and through both marriage and monasticism.
The fall introduced important changes into marriage. But it is important to emphasise that the institution continued to be good. There is not the slightest hint in the Old Testament that any kind of stigma attached to the marriages of Noah or Job, Abraham or Moses, Isaiah or Ezekiel or Hosea. Rather, the blessed marriages of the Old Testament righteous, such as those between Isaac and Rebecca, and Boaz and Ruth, shine out like points of purity and joy amid the surrounding darkness. In them was the Scripture fulfilled: “In three things was I [Wisdom] beautified, and stood up beautiful before God and man: the unity of brethren, the love of neighbours, and a man and his wife ravished with each other” (Sirach 25.1).
We see this especially in the beautiful story of the wedding of Isaac and Rebecca (Genesis 24). The initiative here came not from the spouses themselves, but from Isaac’s father Abraham, who was concerned that Isaac’s bride should not be from the unbelieving Canaanites, but from the chosen race, and from the servant of Abraham, who tested the virtue of Rebecca at the well. According to the spiritual interpretation, Abraham here represents God the Father, Who sends out the Holy Spirit to search for a fitting bride for His Son, the Church of Christ, while the jewels that the servant gives Rebecca after his choice of her represent the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to the Church. But the story is also an allegory of how every true marriage is prepared. It is prepared by God Himself, Who brings the spouses together at exactly the time and place ordained by His Providence.
Moses recounts the (clearly sexual) “playing” of Isaac and Rebecca without disapproval (Genesis 26.8). And Solomon says: “Let thy fountain of water be truly thine own, and rejoice with the wife of thy youth. Let thy loving hart and thy graceful colt gambol with thee…; for, ravished with her love, thou shalt be greatly increased” (Proverbs 5.18-19). On the latter verse St. Gregory the Theologian comments: “For man and wife the union of wedlock is a bolted door securing chastity and restraining desire. And it is a seal of natural affection. They possess the loving colt which cheers the heart by gambolling, and a single drink from their private fountain untasted by strangers, which neither flows outwards, nor gathers its waters from without. Wholly united in the flesh, concordant in spirit, by love they sharpen in one another a like spur to piety…”
Similarly, the whole of The Song of Songs is a paean to married love, and is filled with the most sensual erotic imagery; and many other Old and New Testament passages compare God to a bridegroom and the soul to a bride (Hosea 2.19-20; Isaiah 54.5, 61.10; Ezekiel 16.8; Matthew 22.1-4, 25.1-13; John 3.29; Ephesians 5.32; II Corinthians 11.2; Revelation 19.7, 21.2). Even if several of the Fathers, such as Gregory of Nyssa, have interpreted such passages allegorically to refer to the purely spiritual love between God and the soul, this in no way annuls the more literal reading, but rather depends on it, in that something sinful could not be the image of the highest spiritual mystery. “After all,” writes Serge Verkhovskoy, “no evil or superficial phenomenon could so clearly illustrated the perfect love God has for man. If to be a husband or wife is an obscene and degrading thing, then how can God and Christ be compared with the husband…, or the soul that is turned to God (and even the entire Church) be compared with the wife?”
However, there is another powerful tradition in the patristic writings, which asserts that marriage was created in and for the fall, its aim being exclusively the procreation of children and the control of lust. We have touched upon this tradition in the last chapter; it is called by Troitsky the realistic approach to marriage, and is represented by such Saints as Gregory of Nyssa in the East and Augustine of Hippo in the West. Neither the eastern nor the western forms of realism deny the goodness of marriage as such; but both see sexual desire and sexual pleasure, even in marriage, as inescapably involving some measure of sin.
The most influential variant of the realistic approach is to be found in St. Augustine, who teaches that matrimony is good, but only insofar as it fulfils munus matris, the duty of a mother, the duty of child-bearing. Sexual pleasure is a sin, albeit a venial one, which is “covered” by the good of child-bearing. This view became increasingly dominant in the West, and was probably the reason for the decisions of many Western councils to forbid the marriages of the clergy. These decisions remained a dead letter throughout the Orthodox period, but were savagely enforced after the fall of Orthodoxy in the West, especially by Pope Gregory VII and the bishops in obedience to him.
The Eastern Church, however, condemned the Roman practice at the Council in Trullo in 692: “Since we know it to be handed down as a rule of the Roman Church that those who are deemed worthy to be advanced to the diaconate or the priesthood should promise no longer to live with their wives, we, preserving the ancient and apostolic perfection and order, will that lawful marriages of men who are in holy orders be from this time forward firm, by no means dissolving their union with their wives, nor depriving them of their mutual intercourse at a convenient time… lest we should affect injuriously marriage constituted by God and blessed by His presence, as the Gospel saith: ‘What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder’; and the Apostle saith, ‘Marriage is honourable and the bed undefiled’; and again, ‘Art thou bound to a wife? Seek not to be loosed”.
Protected by these conciliar decisions, Eastern realism avoided the extremes of the Western, papist variant. And if we consider only Eastern idealism and realism, we may ask: cannot these two approaches be reconciled, bearing in mind the possibly quite different definitions of marriage and different pastoral concerns of their proponents? The short answer to this is: yes, and a major purpose of this book is to show how such a reconciliation is possible. At the same time, it is necessary to state at the outset that in my opinion the deepest and truest approach to the mystery of marriage, and of Eros in general, is an idealistic one that includes the undoubted insights of the realists within its own broader perspective, showing that it is in fact perfectly realistic to be idealistic about marriage, because the idealistic tradition is not romanticism or hedonism, but truth.
One of the strongest arguments in favour of the realist position proceeds from the fact that Adam and Eve began ordinary sexual relations and the procreation of children only after the fall. Since marriage is defined as the one-flesh relationship established by sexual union (Matthew 19.6), it would seem to follow that marriage itself began only after the fall. However, this is true only if marriage is defined as union in one flesh as we understand that union now, in the conditions of the fall. But, as we have seen, Adam and Eve were already one flesh before the fall, and the act of sexual differentiation that is described in Genesis 2 was already, according to the sacred text, the foundation for the attraction between the sexes and the institution of marriage itself. As for procreation, that also took place already in Paradise, if the parthenogenesis of Eve is understood as a kind of giving birth. So in a deeper sense Adam and Eve were already husband and wife before the fall, as the Orthodox marriage service and the general understanding of all mankind affirms. And their sexual relationship was a continuation of essentially the same relationship, but in the different conditions of the fall. As Troitsky writes: “The paradisial church was not destroyed by sin, but continued to exist, and the family was precisely that island that was not finally overwhelmed by the waves of sin.”
The Garments of Skin
The challenge for the theologian of eros in the fall is to explain both the good and the evil, avoiding both the Scylla of denying the good (the Platonist-Manichaean tradition) and the Charybdis of underestimating the evil (the naturalist-hedonist tradition). To this end it is necessary first of all to study the effects of the fall on human sexuality.
The first consequence of the fall is the feeling of shame. We read in Genesis: And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked, and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons (3.7-8). Adam and Eve felt shame because the garment of grace that had enwrapped them before the fall had been removed.
This garment of grace was “that glory from above”, in St. John Chrysostom’s words, “which caused them no shame. But after the breaking of the law, there came upon the scene both shame and awareness of their nakedness.”
Now the original sin was not sexual, but spiritual. It consisted in Eve’s proud disregard of the commandment of God and adherence to the lying word of the serpent. For “the beginning of sin is pride” (Sirach 10.13), not lust. As St. John Chrysostom says, “[Pride is] the root and the source and the mother of sin”.
Nevertheless, together with pride there was a sensual element in the original sin – Eve’s failure to restrain her desire for the fruit. And this sensual element, the element of gluttony, passed over immediately into sexual lust. The causal relationship between gluttony (and drunkenness) and lust is mentioned by the Apostle Paul: “The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play (I Corinthians 10.7). As St. Diadochus of Photike writes: “So long as she [Eve] did not look with longing at the forbidden tree, she was able to keep God’s commandment carefully in mind; she was still covered by the wings of divine love and thus was ignorant of her own nakedness. But after she had looked at the tree with longing, touched it with ardent desire and then tasted its fruit with active sensuality, she at once felt drawn to physical intercourse and, being naked, she gave way to her passion.”
Again, according to St. Augustine, it was when Adam and Eve realised that they were naked that the eyes of their minds were opened to the experience of lust. For “the rational soul blushed at the bestial movement in the members of the flesh with shame, not only because it felt that where it had never before sensed anything similar, but also because that shameful movement came from the transgression of the commandment. For it then realised with what grace it had previously been clothed when it suffered nothing indecent in its nakedness. Finally, with that disturbance they ran to the fig-leaves. For since they had forgotten things to be gloried in (glorianda), they now covered things meet to be ashamed of (pudenda).
However, God soon replaced the fig-leaves with the garments of skin. (3.22). Now skin is dead, and garments of skin can only be obtained by the killing of an animal. Therefore “by a garment of this kind,” writes the Venerable Bede, “the Lord signifies that they had now been made mortal – the skins contain a figure of death because they cannot be drawn off without the death of the animal”.
Again, St. Ephraim writes: “Since it was said that the Lord made… and clothed them, it seems most likely that when their hands were placed over their leaves they found themselves clothed in garments of skin. Why would animals have been killed in their presence? Perhaps this happened so that by the animal’s flesh Adam and Eve might nourish their own bodies and that with the skins they might cover their nakedness, but also that by the death of the animals Adam and Eve might see the death of their own bodies.”
Thus the spiritual death of man through his sin leads to the killing of an animal, the first physical death in creation, which dead animality is then placed on man like an outer garment. But this deadness and animality is not simply placed on man: it enters into him, corrupting and coarsening his whole psycho-physical nature. It takes hold of his natural faculties and turns them into something different, what we call the passions. Thus St. Gregory Palamas writes: “Through this sin we have put on the garments of skin… and changed our abode to this transient and perishable world, and we have condemned ourselves to live a life full of passions and many misfortunes”.
There are three kinds of death: (i) spiritual death, which is the separation of the Holy Spirit from the soul (and therefore, as we have seen, the loss of the likeness of God), (ii) physical death, the separation of the soul from the body, which comes later than spiritual death, but is an ineluctable consequence of it, and (iii) eternal death, which is the fixed and unchangeable abiding of a man in spiritual death after the resurrection of the body to damnation (John 5.29).
St. Gregory of Nyssa compares this fallen life, or spiritual death, to “animals turning the mill”: “With our eyes blindfolded we walk round the mill of life, always treading the same circular path and returning to the same things. Let me spell out this circular path: appetite, satiety, sleep, waking up, emptiness, fullness. From the former of each pair we constantly pass to the latter, and back again to the former, and then back again to the latter, and we never cease to go round in a circle…. Solomon well describes this life as a leaking pitcher and an alien house (Ecclesiastes 12.6)… Do you see how men draw up for themselves honors, power, fame and all such things? But what is put in flows out again below and does not remain in the container. We are always consumed with anxious concern for fame and power and honor, but the pitcher of desire remains unfilled.”
From this point of view, sexual desire, like hunger, the desire for sleep and all the other passions are fallen, since they all belong to “the pitcher of desire” that “remains forever unfilled”. For fallen man, like the prodigal son of the parable, is forced to try and satisfy his hunger from the husks of the constantly changing and delusive world of fallen nature – a diet that only seems to nourish, but ends by making him hungrier than ever. It was not like that in Paradise, where man’s unfallen nature did not need corruptible food, but was constantly feasting on the incorruptible food provided by God Himself.
St. Maximus the Confessor describes this cyclical alteration of desire and fear, pleasure and pain as follows: “When God created human nature, he did not create sensible pleasure and pain along with it; rather, he furnished it with a certain spiritual capacity for pleasure, a pleasure whereby human beings would be able to enjoy God ineffably. But at the instant he was created, the first man, by the use of his senses, squandered this spiritual capacity – the natural desire of the mind for God – on sensible things. In this, his very first movement, he activated an unnatural pleasure through the medium of the senses. Being, in His providence, concerned for our salvation, God therefore affixed pain (odunh) alongside this sensible pleasure (hdonh) as a kind of punitive faculty, whereby the law of death was wisely planted in our corporeal nature to curb the foolish mind in its desire to incline unnaturally toward sensible things.
“Henceforth, because irrational pleasure entered human nature, pain entered our nature opposite this pleasure in accordance with reason, and, through the many sufferings (paqhmata) in which and from which death occurs, pain uproots unnatural pleasure, but does not completely destroy it, whereby, then, the grace of the divine pleasure of the mind is naturally exalted. For every suffering (ponoV), effectively having pleasure as its primary cause, is quite naturally, in view of its cause, a penalty exacted from all who share in human nature. Indeed, such suffering invariably accompanies unnatural pleasure in everyone for whom the law of pleasure, itself having no prior cause, has preconditioned their birth. By that I mean that the pleasure stemming from the original transgression was ‘uncaused’ insofar as it quite obviously did not follow upon an antecedent suffering.
“After the transgression pleasure naturally preconditioned the births of all human beings, and no one at all was by nature free from birth subject to the passion associated with this pleasure; rather, everyone was requited with sufferings, and subsequent death, as the natural punishment. The way to freedom is hard for all who were tyrannized by unrighteous pleasure and naturally subject to just sufferings and to the thoroughly just death accompanying them.”
At the same time, however, some of the passions are necessary for survival in life after the fall. This is most obvious with hunger and sleep. If man did not feel hunger or weariness, he would not eat or rest and would waste away; for death, the first result of the fall, constantly erodes the strength of man from within, necessitating his restoration through food and sleep. It is also obvious in the case of sexual desire, which, while not necessary for the life of the individual, is necessary for the survival of the species as a whole. As St. Symeon of Thessalonica writes, marriage “is permitted because of the death that follows the disobedience, in order that, until the life [zwh] and immortality that is through Christ should come, this present corrupt life [bioV] should remain.”
Moreover, sexual desire not only stimulates the act that propagates the species. It is also an important factor in cementing the bond between the father and mother far beyond the duration of the sexual act (in human beings desire lasts longer, and fluctuates less, than in animals). The family unit in turn is the building block of the State (and the Church), which provides other essential survival functions.
It is not only these “crude” passions that have this dual character, both positive and negative, in the fall. Thus Nellas writes, interpreting Saints Gregory the Theologian and Maximus the Confessor: “Learning and work, in particular, constitute a coarsening, so to speak, of the original natural properties of wisdom and lordship over nature which man possessed as an image of God. They constitute an expression and function of these properties in material dress. Their aim when properly used was to lead man, and with him the world, towards God. But with sin they became imprisoned in the corrupt biological cycle, and they were coarsened and transformed into ‘garments of skin’.
“The same is true, to mention one more example, with regard to the deep and natural communion between persons which existed before the fall. (We have seen that a fundamental dimension of man’s being ‘in the image’ is that he constitutes at the same time both person and nature.) With the decline of man into individuality this communion was corrupted and shattered, and consequently in order to survive socially human beings needed some external organization, that is to say, they needed the city and, by extension, political life.
“The laborious cultivation of the soil, then, the professions, the sciences, the arts, politics, all the operations and functions by which man lives in this world, make up the content of the ‘garments of skin’ and bear the two-fold character which we have discussed above. On the one hand they are a consequence of sin and constitute a misuse of various aspects of our creation ‘in the image’. On the other they are a result of the wise and compassionate intervention of God and constitute the new clothing thanks to which human beings are able to live under the new conditions created by the fall.”
Thus, as St. Isaac the Syrian writes: “All existing passions are given for the support of each of the natures to which they belong naturally and for whose growth they were given by God. The bodily passions are placed in the body by God for its support and growth; the passions of the soul, that is, the soul’s powers, [are placed there] for the growth and support of the soul.” But the fall has made each set of passions, though natural in themselves, opposed to each other. And so “when the body is constrained to go out from its passibility by abstaining from the passions in favour of the soul it is injured. Likewise, when the soul leaves what is its own and cleaves to that which is of the body it is injured.”
So even in the fall, even in the act of clothing us with the garment of the fallen passions, God in His Providence mixed mercy with punishment, life with death. Just as He mixed the pain of childbirth for Eve with the promise that she would give birth to the Redeemer Who would crush the head of the serpent…
Moreover, even death for the individual is a good, in that it cuts off sin, and by dissolving the body into its constituent elements gives the hope of their eventual reassembling, free of any admixture of evil, at the general resurrection… Thus St. Theophilus of Antioch writes: “God showed great beneficence to man because He did not leave him in sin unto the ages… For just as a vessel that has been made with a flaw is melted down or remolded to become new and whole, the same thing happens to man by death. For he is broken into pieces that he may rise whole in the resurrection; I mean spotless and righteous and immortal”. In other words, physical death gives us a chance to be remade, and avoid eternal death.
Thus in the longer term physical death is a good; but in the shorter term, - that is, during the whole course of our earthly life, inasmuch as, beginning from the day of our birth, we are constantly losing hundreds of thousands of cells every day, - it is both evil in itself and one of the causes of our committing further evil, both because it impairs the good working of the brain and its ability to resist the machinations of the demons, and because it engenders the fear of death and the love of pleasure, the supposed antidote to death, in the soul. As Romanides writes: “In the first place, the deprivation of divine grace impairs the mental powers of the newborn infant; thus, the mind of man has a tendency toward evil from the beginning. This tendency grows strong when the ruling force of corruption becomes perceptible in the body. Through the power of death and the devil, sin that reigns in man gives rise to fear and anxiety and to the general instinct of self-preservation or survival. Thus, Satan manipulates man’s fear and his desire for self-satisfaction, raising up sin in him, in other words, transgression against the divine will regarding unselfish love, and provoking man to stray from his original destiny. Since weakness is cause in the flesh by death, Satan moves man to countless passions and leads him to devious thoughts, actions, and selfish relations with God as well as with his fellow man. Sin reigns both in death (Romans 5.21) and in the mortal body (Romans 6.20) because ‘the sting of death is sin’ (I Corinthians 15.56).
“Because of death, man must first attend to the necessities of life in order to stay alive. In this struggle, self-interests are unavoidable. Thus, man is unable to live in accordance with his original destiny of unselfish love. This state of subjection under the reign of death is the root of man’s weaknesses in which he becomes entangled in sin at the urging of the demons and by his own consent. Resting in the hands of the devil, the power of the fear of death is the root from which self-aggrandizement, egotism, hatred, envy, and other similar passions spring up. In addition to the fact that man ‘subjects himself to anything in order to avoid dying’ [St. John Chrysostom, Commentary 4 on Hebrews, 6; P.G. 43:61], he constantly fears that his life is without meaning. Thus, he strives to demonstrate to himself and to others that it has worth. He loves flatterers and hates his detractors. He seeks his own and hates those who hate him. He seeks security and happiness in wealth, glory, bodily pleasures, and he may even imagine that his destiny is a self-seeking eudaemonistic and passionless enjoyment of the presence of God regardless of whether or not he has true, active, unselfish love for others. Fear and anxiety render man an individualist. And when he identifies himself with a communal or social ideology it, too, is out of individualistic, self-seeking motives because he perceives his self-satisfaction and eudaemonia as his destiny. Indeed, it is possible for him to be moved by ideological principles of vague love for mankind despite the fact that mortal hatred for his neighbor rests in his heart. These are the works of the ‘flesh’, under the sway of death and Satan.”
St. Methodius of Olympus raises the question whether the “garments of skin” are bodies as such. He replies in the negative, referring to the verses in which Adam calls Eve “bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh”. For here, “before the preparation of these coats of skin, the first man himself acknowledges that he has both bones and flesh”. The “garments of skin”, therefore, are not the body as such, but “the body of this death”, to use St. Paul’s phrase (Romans 7.24). “By which he does not mean,’ writes St. Photius the Great, interpreting St. Methodius’ thought, “that the body is death, but the law of sin which is in his members, lying hidden in his members, lying hidden in us through the transgression, and ever deluding the soul to the death of unrighteousness…. [The apostle] says not that this body was death, but the sin which dwells in the body through lust…”
But if the garments of skin do not signify the body as such, they do signify a new state of the body, its mortality and its grossness. “Man,” writes St. John of Damascus, “was ensnared by the assault of the arch-fiend, and broke his Creator’s command, and was stripped of grace and put off his confidence with God, and covered himself with the asperities of a toilsome life (for this is the meaning of the fig-leaves), and was clothed about with death, that is, mortality and the grossness of the flesh (for that is what the garment of skins signifies).” Again, Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov writes, “the garments of skin signify our coarse flesh, which changed after the Fall, losing its subtlety and spirituality and receiving its present grossness.”
Since the fall, bodies have acquired a mutual impenetrability, and so can harm and destroy each other. Vladimir Soloviev defines the main characteristic of our fallen world as “a dual impenetrability: 1) impenetrability in time, by dint of which every succeeding moment of existence does not preserve the preceding one in existence, but excludes or squeezes it out by itself, so that every new thing in the world of matter takes place at the cost of the preceding one or by harming it, and 2) impenetrability in space, by dint of which two parts of matter (two bodies) cannot occupy one and the same place, that is, one and the same part of space, at the same time, but the one necessarily squeezes out the other. Thus that which lies at the base of our world is existence in a condition of disintegration, existence divided up into parts and moments that mutually exclude each other.”
Impenetrability in time is expressed in aging, disease, failure of memory and death, impenetrability in space - in the fact that bodies can no longer intermingle as they did before the fall. Thus if marriage, the union in one flesh, is to continue after the fall, it has to take on a different character owing to the changed nature of human bodies. Since the bodies of Adam and Eve cannot now interpenetrate effortlessly as before, union is possible only through a specific physiological mechanism and with specific physical consequences – the loss of seed, on the one side, and the loss of virginity, on the other. And penetration has to be powered, as it were, by a specific new force – sexual desire.
Thus St. Gregory of Nyssa writes: “When we have put off that dead and ugly garment which was made for us from irrational skins (when I hear ‘skins’ I interpret it as the form of the irrational nature that we have put on from our association with passion), we throw off every part of our irrational skin along with the removal of the garment. These are the things which we have received from the irrational skin: sexual intercourse, conception, childbearing, dirt, lactation, nourishment, evacuation, gradual growth to maturity, the prime of life, old age, disease and death.”
“The garments of skin”, therefore, signify the new condition of man’s body, its impenetrability in time and space, and all the consequences for his biological life that flow from that. These have been superimposed, as it were, on the original, sinless nature of man. For, as Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov writes: “In our human nature good is mixed with evil. The evil that was introduced into man was so mixed up and merged with man’s native good that the native good can never act separately, without the evil also acting together with it. Man has been poisoned by tasting of sin, that is, the experiential knowledge of evil. The poison has penetrated into all the members of the body, into all the powers and properties of the soul: both the body and the heart and the mind have been afflicted by a sinful infirmity. Fallen men, flattering and deceiving themselves to their destruction, call and recognize their reasoning to be healthy. The reason was healthy before the fall; after the fall, in all men without exception, it has become falsely so called, and for salvation must be rejected. ‘The light of mine eyes is no longer with me’, says Scripture about the reasoning of fallen nature (Psalm 37.11). Flattering and deceiving themselves to their destruction, fallen men call and recognize their heart to be good; it was good before the fall; after the fall its good has been mixed with evil, and for salvation it must be rejected as defiled. God the Knower of hearts has called all men evil (Luke 11.13). From the infection of sin everything in man has fallen into disarray, everything works incorrectly, everything works under the influence of lies and self-deception. That is how his will works, that is how all the feelings of his heart work, that is how all his thoughts work. In vain and falsely does blinded humanity call them good, elegant, elevated! Profound is our fall, and very few are the men who are conscious of themselves as fallen, in need of the Saviour; the majority look upon their fallen condition as a condition of complete triumph, and apply all their efforts to strengthen and develop their fallen condition.
“It has become impossible for man to separate the evil that has been introduced from the native good by his own efforts: man is conceived in iniquities and is born in sin (Psalm 50.5). From his very birth man has not one deed, not one word, not one thought, not one feeling, even for the shortest minute, in which good would not be mixed with a greater or lesser admixture of evil. This is witnessed by Holy Scripture, which says about fallen men that among them ‘a righteous man there is no more; for truths have diminished from the sons of men. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one’ (Romans 3.10,12). Indicating his fallen nature, the holy Apostle Paul says: ‘In me, that is, in my flesh, there dwelleth no good thing’ (Romans 7.18). Here by ‘flesh’ the apostle means not the human body as such, but the carnal condition of the whole man: his mind, heart and body. And in the Old Testament the whole man is called ‘flesh’: ‘My Spirit shall not abide in man for ever,’ said God, ‘for he is flesh’ (Genesis 6.3). In this fleshly condition, as if in its own body, lives sin and eternal death. The apostle calls the fleshly condition ‘the body of death’ (Romans 7.14), ‘the body of sin’ (Romans 6.6). This condition is called flesh, body, body of death and body of sin because in it thought and heart, which should strive towards the spiritual and the holy, are aimed and nailed to the material and sinful, they live in matter and sin.”
This condition gets worse with the passing of time. As Nicholas Cabasilas writes: “Because our nature was extended and our race increased as it proceeded from the first body, so wickedness too, like any other natural characteristic, was transmitted to the bodies which proceeded from that body. The body, then, not merely shares in the experiences of the soul but also imparts its own experiences to the soul. The soul is subject to joy or vexation, is restrained or unrestrained, depending on the disposition of the body. It therefore followed that each man’s soul inherited the wickedness of the first Adam. It spread from his soul to his body, and from his body to the bodies which derived from his, and from those bodies to the souls. This, then, is the old man whom we have received as a seed of evil from our ancestors as we came into existence. We have no seen even one day pure from sin, nor have we ever breathed apart from wickedness, but, as the psalmist says, ‘we have gone astray from the womb, we err from our birth’ (Psalm 58.4). We did not even stand still in this unhappy lot of the sin of our ancestors, nor were we content with the evils which we had inherited. So greatly have we added to this wickedness and increased the abundance of evil that the primal sin has been covered over by that which came later and the imitators have shown themselves to be worse by far than the examples...”
Some have argued that “the law of sin”, which we have just described, was primarily sexual, a war of the body against the soul; so that it is necessary to abstain from every expression of eros in order to avoid sin. But this, too, is wrong. As we have seen, according to Bishop Ignatius, every faculty of human nature, is fallen. If it were sinful to abstain from any expression of every fallen faculty, then it would be necessary to abstain also from every form of thinking, because the mind is fallen, and from every expression of anger, because the incensive faculty is fallen. This nirvana-like state of complete insensibility may be the ideal of Buddhism, but it is emphatically not the ideal of Christianity!
As Fr. Seraphim Rose writes: “Sexual union, while blessed by the Church and fulfilling a commandment of the Creator, is, in fallen humanity, inevitably bound up with sin. This should not shock us if we stop to think that such a necessary thing as eating is also almost invariably bound up with sin – who of us is perfectly continent in food and drink, the thorough master of his belly? Sin is not a category of specific acts such that, if we refrain from them, we become ‘sinless’ – but rather a kind of web which ensnares us and from which we can never really get free in this life.”
Although pleasure and pain, fear and desire in their present form are all “unnatural” according to St. Maximus’ definition, in that none of them were present in this form in human nature before the fall, the Fathers nevertheless make a distinction between “natural” and “unnatural”, “innocent” and “culpable” desires and passions after the fall. The natural and innocent passions are in all men, and remain natural and innocent as long as they are kept within certain bounds. Culpable passions feed on natural ones like parasites: the culpable passion of gluttony - on the natural passion to satisfy hunger, the culpable passion of indolence - on the natural desire to rest weary limbs, the culpable passion of lust - on the natural passion of sexual desire.
The expression of natural passions that have a foundation in nature (such as sexual desire) is sinful in some circumstances but not in others, while passions that have no foundation in nature (such as avarice) are sinful at all times. Thus St. John Chrysostom writes: “Of desires some are necessary, some natural, some neither the one nor the other. For example, those which, if not gratified, destroy the creature are both natural and necessary, as the desire of food and drink and sleep; carnal desire is natural indeed but not necessary, for many have got the better of it, and have not died. But the desire of wealth is neither natural nor necessary, but superfluous; and if we choose we need not admit its beginning.” And again: “If a man were once for all deprived of money, he would no longer be tormented with the desire of it, for nothing so much causes the desire of wealth, as the possession of it. But it is not so with respect to sexual desire, but many who have been made eunuchs have not been freed from the flame that burned within them, for the desire resides in other organs, being seated inwardly in our nature. To what purpose then is this said? Because the covetous is more intemperate than the fornicator, inasmuch as the former gives way to a weaker passion. Indeed it proceeds less from passion than from baseness of mind. But desire is natural, so that if a man does not approach a woman, nature performs her part and operation. But there is nothing of this sort in the case of avarice.”
That the natural passions are indeed natural, and not something for which we are to be held personally responsible, is shown by the fact that they exist even in children. Thus St. John Cassian writes: “Movement occurs in the sexual organs not only of young children who cannot yet distinguish between good and evil, but also of the smallest infants still at their mother’s breast. The latter, although quite ignorant of sensual pleasure, nevertheless manifest such natural movements in the flesh. Similarly, the incensive power exists in infants, as we can see when they are roused against anyone hurting them. I say this not to accuse nature of being the cause of sin – God forbid! – but to show that the incensive power and desire, even if implanted in man by the Creator for a good purpose, appear to change through neglect from being natural in the body into something that is unnatural.”  Again, St. Gregory Palamas writes that “the natural motions related to the begetting of children can be detected in infants that are still at the breast… The passions to which it [carnal desire] gives birth belong to us by nature, and natural things are not indictable; for they were created by God Who is good, so that through them we can act in ways that are also good. Hence in themselves they do not indicate sickness of soul, but they become evidence of such sickness when we misuse them. When we coddle the flesh in order to foster its desires, then the passion becomes evil and self-indulgence gives rise to the carnal passions and renders the soul diseased”.
The natural passions are those that can clearly trace their origin to some faculty of human nature that was existent before the fall. This is the case both with hunger, since Eve was attracted to the fruit of the tree as being “pleasant to eat”, and with sexual desire, since Adam and Eve, as explained in the last chapter, had a natural, unfallen attraction for each other. Let us remind ourselves of the words of St. Cyril of Alexandria (quoted already in chapter 1) that Adam's body before the fall “was not entirely free from concupiscence of the flesh”. For "while it was beyond corruption, it had indeed innate appetites, appetites for food and procreation. But the amazing thing was that his mind was not tyrannized by these tendencies; for he did freely what he wanted to do, seeing that his flesh was not yet subject to the passions consequent upon corruption".
It is this fact of not being tyrannized by the passions that constitutes the essential difference in their mode of operation before and after the fall. Original sin gave to the natural passions a certain autonomy and rebelliousness that they did not have before. The perfect integration of mind, soul and body that we see in our first-parents before the fall was replaced by a conflict between the faculties which issued in their descendants regularly breaking the bonds of what is lawful.
Thus St. John Chrysostom writes: “When the body had become mortal, it was henceforth a necessary thing for it to receive concupiscence, and anger, and pain, and all the other passions, which required a great deal of wisdom to prevent their flooding us, and sinking reason in the depth of sin. For in themselves they were not sin, but, when their extravagancy was unbridled, it wrought this effect. Thus (that I may take one of them and examine it as a specimen) desire is not sin: but when it has run into extravagance, being not minded to keep within the laws of marriage, but springing even upon other men's wives; then the thing henceforward becomes adultery, yet not by reason of the desire, but by reason of its exorbitancy.” And again he writes: “Blame not natural desire. Natural desire was bestowed with a view to marriage; it was given with a view to the procreation of children, not with a view to adultery and corruption.”
What has been said about the passions applies also to the pleasures: some are innocent, others - culpable. Thus St. John of Damascus divides them into three categories: “Some pleasures are true, others false. And the exclusively intellectual pleasures consist in knowledge and contemplation, while the pleasures of the body depend upon sensation. Further, of bodily pleasures, some are both natural and necessary, in the absence of which life is impossible, for example the pleasures of food which replenishes waste, and the pleasures of necessary clothing. Others are natural but not necessary, as the pleasures of natural and lawful intercourse. For though the function that these perform is to secure the permanence of the race as a whole, it is still possible to live a virgin life apart from them. Others, however, are neither natural nor necessary, such as drunkenness, lust (lagneia) and surfeiting to excess. For these contribute neither to the maintenance of our own lives nor to the succession of the race, but on the contrary, are rather even a hindrance. He therefore that would live a life acceptable to God must follow after those pleasures which are both natural and necessary: and must give a secondary place to those which are natural but not necessary, and enjoy them only in fitting season, and manner, and measure; while the others must be altogether renounced. Those then are to be considered good (kaleV) pleasures which are not bound up with pain, and bring no cause for repentance, and result in no other harm and keep within the bounds of moderation, and do not draw us far away from serious occupations, nor make slaves of us.”
Important here is the last phrase: “nor make slaves of us”. For, as the Apostle Paul writes: “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient. All things are lawful for me, but I will not brought under the power of any” (I Corinthians 6.12). If we do not becomes slaves of pleasure, then, as almost all the Holy Fathers agree, there is no sin in it. And so, St. Maximus the Confessor writes, “we avoid pleasures, not because they are evil, but because the sinful man is easily captivated by pleasures and becomes their slave.”
St. Photius the Great states that sexual pleasure in marriage is “lawful”, while at the same time explaining why there could be no pleasure (or pain) at the conception and nativity of Christ: "It was needful that a mother should be prepared down below for the Creator, for the recreation of shattered humanity, and she a virgin, in order that, just as the first man had been formed of virgin earth, so the re-creation, too, should be carried out through a virgin womb, and that no transitory pleasure, even lawful, should be so much as imagined in the Creator's birth: since a captive of pleasure was he, for whose deliverance the Lord suffered to be born."
St. Gregory Palamas, too, speaks of “permissible pleasures”: “We, whose bodies have become the temple of God through the Spirit, and in whom the Spirit dwells, must be clean, or at least cleansed, and remain always undefiled, contenting ourselves with permissible pleasures.”
I have spoken about “the original sin” of Adam and Eve, by which I have meant the personal transgression committed by them in Paradise. However, the term “original sin” usually refers, not to the original, that is, the first sin, but to the condition of sin, or “law of sin” in which every man since Adam (with the exception of the Last Adam, Christ) is born, and which has been the main theme of the last two sections. This ambiguity in the meaning of “original sin”, coupled with divergent translations of a critical passage on original sin, Romans 5.12, has led to much confusion, controversy and accusations of heresy; so some clarification is necessary at this stage.
The paradox of the doctrine of original sin consists in the fact that it appears to hold the whole human race accountable for a sin committed only by Adam and Eve. This paradox was expressed by Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov as follows: “What is this mystery – the birth of a man in sin? How is it that one who has not yet lived has already died? That one who has not yet walked has already fallen? That one who has done nothing has already sinned? How are our forefather’s children, still in their wombs, separated from him by thousands of years, participants in his sin? My mind reverently gazes upon the judgements of God; it does not comprehend them…”
Can we comprehend this mystery simply by elaborating the distinction between two meanings of “original sin” adumbrated above? Or, even after making such a distinction, does an irreducible mystery remain? Let us see…
Let us begin by attempting to make the distinction clearer. St. Cyril of Alexandria writes: “What has Adam’s guilt to do with us? Why are we held responsible for his sin when we were not even born when he committed it? Did not God say: ‘The parents will not die for the children, nor the children for the parents, but the soul which has sinned, it shall die’ (Deuteronomy 24.16). How then shall we defend this doctrine? The soul, I say, which has sinned, it shall die. We have become sinners because of Adam’s disobedience in the following manner… After he fell into sin and surrendered to corruption, impure lusts invaded the nature of his flesh, and at the same time the evil law of our members was born. For our nature contracted the disease of sin because of the disobedience of one man, that is, Adam, and thus many became sinners. This was not because they sinned along with Adam, because they did not then exist, but because they had the same nature as Adam, which fell under the law of sin. Thus, just as human nature acquired the weakness of corruption in Adam because of disobedience, and evil desires invaded it, so the same nature was later set free by Christ, Who was obedient to God the Father and did not commit sin.”
The critical words here are: “not because they sinned along with Adam,… but because they had the same nature as Adam, which fell under the law of sin”. Implicit here is a distinction between “nature” and “person”. We are not sinners because we personally committed Adam’s sin along with him, but because we are of the same nature as him and receive its corruption from him by inheritance. As St. Anastasius of Sinai writes: “Since Adam fathered children only after his fall, we became heirs of his corruption. We are not punished for his disobedience to Divine Law. Rather, since Adam was mortal, sin entered into his very seed. We receive mortality from him.” And this mortality engenders sin – that is, writes St. Irenaeus, “the passions…[of] grief and cowardice and perplexity, distress and all the rest by which our nature afflicted with death and corruptibility is known.”
The distinction between sin as an individual transgression of the human person and sin as common condition or state of human nature was in fact made by St. Paul in Romans 5.12, as Archbishop Theophan of Poltava points out: “The holy apostle clearly distinguishes in his teaching on original sin between two points: paraptwma or transgression, and amartia or sin. By the first he understood the personal transgression by our forefathers of the will of God that they should not eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, by the second – the law of sinful disorder that entered human nature as the consequence of this transgression. When he is talking about the inheritance of the original sin, he has in mind not paraptwma or transgression, for which only they are responsible, but amartia, that is, the law of sinful disorder which afflicted human nature as a consequence of the fall into sin of our forefathers. And hmarton, ‘sinned’ in 5.12 must therefore be understood not in the active voice, in the sense: they committed sin, but in the middle-passive voice, in the sense of: amartwloi katastaqhsontai of 5.19, that is, became sinners or turned out to be sinners, since human nature fell in Adam.”
Thus the original sin of Adam, in the sense of his personal transgression, the original sin which no other person shares, has engendered in consequence sinful, corrupt, diseased, mortal human nature, the law of sin, which we all share because we have all inherited it, but for which we cannot be held personally responsible. And if this seems to introduce of two original sins, this is in fact not far from the thinking of the Holy Fathers. Thus St. Maximus the Confessor writes: “There then arose sin, the first and worthy of reproach, that is, the falling away of the will from good to evil. Through the first there arose the second – the change in nature from incorruption to corruption, which cannot elicit reproach. For two sins arise in [our] forefather as a consequence of the transgression of the Divine commandment: one worthy of reproach, and the second having as its cause the first and unable to elicit reproach”.
So there is a sin attaching to persons, for which they are personally responsible, and there is a sin attaching to natures, for which the persons who possess that nature are not responsible, but which nevertheless makes them sinners. Adam’s personal sin opened the way for the defilement of his nature by the disease of sin. And since we inherit his nature, we, too, become sinners.
And yet, one may object, we inherit diseases, not sin. And to call it “the disease of sin”, as does St. Cyril, followed by many others, is simply to confuse two distinct categories. We are responsible for sins we commit, but not for diseases we contract – unless, of course, we caused the disease by our own sinful conduct, which is not the case here, since the disease was caused by Adam and Satan.
Nevertheless, let us pursue the disease analogy a little further. St. Cyril again: “Because death had overrun Adam, he is like a plant that has been injured at its roots, and the whole race that sprang from him is like the shoots that sprout from it but must all wither.” Again, to take a more nearly contemporary Father, Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow: “As infected water naturally flows from an infected source, in the same way from the founder of our race, infected by sin and therefore mortal, there come descendants who are infected by sin and therefore mortal”.
To which Metropolitan Anthony (Khrapovitsky) of Kiev objects: “’But a source and water are one thing, living and responsible people – another. We are not the descendants of Adam by our own desire. Why should we bear the blame for his disobedience? Has the condemnation of all men because of Adam struck them apart from the guilt of each of them?” However, perhaps the analogy is closer than the metropolitan thinks. Consider St. Paul’s argument that Levi, a great-grandson of Abraham, paid tithes to Melchizedek when his great-grandfather paid them, “for he was yet in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him” (Hebrews 7.10). If we follow the implication through with regard to ourselves, then we were literally in our forefather Adam even during his lifetime, and therefore participated in his sin.
The idea that we sinned in Adam is strongly suggested by the ancient Western translations of Romans 5.12, as also by the Slavonic translation made by Saints Cyril and Methodius, which translate the conjunction “ef’w” as “in whom”, i.e. in Adam, so that the phrase reads: “in whom [Adam] we all sinned”. Now it is generally recognized that this translation is inaccurate, and that “ef’w” in fact means “because”, so that the whole sentence reads: “Death came upon all men because all men have sinned.” However, Bishop Theophan the Recluse has argued that although “because” is the more literal translation, the old Western and Slavonic translations in fact convey the real sense more accurately.
His argument is as follows. First he quotes Romans 5.13-14: “Until the law sin was in the world, but sin not reckoned where there is no law. But death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who did not sin in the likeness of Adam’s transgression…” On this he comments: “Sin reigned in the world also before the giving of the Law through Moses. But it was evidently not sin from transgression of the Law, which did not exist at the time. ‘Sin is then reckoned when there is Law, and people transgressing the Law and of necessity called sinners’ (Blessed Theodoreitus). But death reigned even before Moses, that is, before the issuing of the Law. That means that there was a sin through which death reigned: if it had not existed there would have been no reign of death. But if it is proved there was no sin in the sense of transgression of the Law, then it remains that the sin was Adam’s, through which death reigned even over those who had not sinned like Adam, but had been made participants of his sin.”
Let us turn to the Fathers for further understanding of this passage. St. Cyril of Jerusalem writes: “Paul’s meaning is that, although Moses was a righteous and admirable man, the death sentence promulgated upon Adam reached him as well, and also those who came after, even though neither he nor they copied the sin of Adam in disobediently eating of the tree”. Again, the unknown fourth-century Roman Father commonly referred to as Ambrosiaster writes: “How is it then that sin was not imputed, when there was no law? Was it all right to sin, if the law was absent? There had always been a natural law, and it was not unknown, but at that time it was thought to be the only law, and it did not make men guilty before God. For it was not then known that God would judge the human race, and for that reason sin was not imputed, almost as if it did not exist in God’s sight and that God did not care about it. But when the law was given through Moses, it became clear that God did care about human affairs and that in the future wrongdoers would not escape without punishment, as they had done up to them.” Again, St. Augustine writes: “He says not that there was no sin but only that it was not counted. Once the law was given, sin was not taken away, but it began to be counted”.
Thus before Moses the personal sins of men were not imputed to them, and they were not counted as having committed them. And yet they died. But death is “the wages of sin” (Romans 6.23). So of what sin was their death the wages? There can only be one answer: Adam’s.
Does this destroy the distinction elaborated earlier between the two meanings of “original sin”? No; but it does demonstrate a closer bond between the two kinds of sin – the propatorikon amarthma or “ancestral sin” attaching to Adam alone, and the progonikh amartia or “original sin”, attaching to the whole human race – than the critics of the “Augustinian theory of original sin” usually allow. Although we are not responsible for Adam’s personal sin, there is a real sense in which Adam lives in us, as we in him. For the word “Adam” in Hebrew denotes both the person Adam and the human nature which we receive from him. So in receiving Adam’s human nature we also, in a sense, receive him.
Thus St. Basil the Great writes that what we inherit from Adam “is not the personal sin of Adam, but the original human being himself”, who “exists in us by necessity”. Again, St. Cyril of Alexandria writes: “[All men] have been condemned to death by the transgression of Adam. For the whole of human nature has suffered this in him, who was the beginning of the human race.” And St. Maximus the Greek: “Adam, in whose fall our whole race fell”. It follows that, while we have not sinned as Adam sinned, his sin in a sense lives on in us.
The practice of infant baptism disproves Metropolitan Anthony’s argument that we die because of our own personal sins, and not because of the sin of Adam, which would, he says, be unjust. For babies are innocent of personal sin, and yet they die. Therefore they must be baptized “for the remission of sins” – not their own, but their ancestor’s. Thus the Council of Carthage in 252 under St. Cyprian decreed “not to forbid the baptism of an infant who, scarcely born, has sinned in nothing apart from that which proceeds from the flesh of Adam. He has received the contagion of the ancient death through his very birth, and he comes, therefore, the more easily to the reception of the remission of sins in that it is not his own but the sins of another that are remitted.” This was confirmed by Canon 110 of the Council of Carthage in 419, which was confirmed by the Sixth and Seventh Ecumenical Councils: “He who denies the need for young children and those just born from their mother’s womb to be baptized, or who says that although they are baptized for the remission of sins they inherit nothing from the forefathers’ sin that would necessitate the bath of regeneration [from which it would follow that the form of baptism for the remission of sins would be used on them not in a true, but in a false sense], let him be anathema. For the word of the apostle: ‘By one man sin came into the world and death entered all men by sin, for in him all have sinned’ (Romans 5.12), must be understood in no other way than it has always been understood by the Catholic Church, which has been poured out and spread everywhere. For in accordance with this rule of faith children, too, who are themselves not yet able to commit any sin, are truly baptized for the remission of sins, that through regeneration they may be cleansed of everything that they have acquired from the old birth.”
For “even from the womb, sinners are estranged” (Psalm 57.3). And “who shall be pure from uncleanness? Not even one, even if his life should be but one day upon the earth” (Job 14.4). St. Gregory of Nyssa writes: “Evil was mixed with our nature from the beginning… through those who by their disobedience introduced the disease. Just as in the natural propagation of the species each animal engenders its like, so man is born from man, a being subject to passions from a being subject to passions, a sinner from a sinner. Thus sin takes its rise in us as we are born; it grows with us and keep us company till life’s term”. And St. Gennadius Scholarius, Patriarch of Constantinople, writes: “Everyone in the following of Adam has died, because they have all inherited their nature from him. But some have died because they themselves have sinned, while others have died only because of Adam’s condemnation – for example, children.”
St. Paul goes on to give a still more powerful reason for this interpretation: the exact correspondence between Adam and Christ, between Adam who made all his descendants by carnal birth sinners and Christ Who makes all His descendants by spiritual birth righteous: “As through one man’s transgression [judgement came] on all men to condemnation, so through one man’s act of righteousness [acquittal came] to all men for justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous. Law came in to increase the transgression; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 5.18-21).
St. John Chrysostom writes: “Adam is a type of Christ in that just as those who descended from him inherited death, even though they had not eaten of the fruit of the tree, so also those who are descended from Christ inherit His righteousness, even though they did not produce it themselves… What Paul is saying here seems to be something like this. If sin, and the sin of a single man moreover, had such a big effect, how it is that grace, and that the grace of God – not of the Father only but also of the Son – would not have an even greater effect? That one man should be punished on account of another does not seem reasonable, but that one man should be saved on account of another is both more suitable and more reasonable. So if it is true that the former happened, much more should the latter have happened as well.” Again, St. Ephraim the Syrian writes: “Just as Adam sowed sinful impurity into pure bodies and the yeast of evil was laid into the whole of our mass [nature], so our Lord sowed righteousness into the body of sin and His yeast was mixed into the whole of our mass [nature]”. And St. Ambrose of Milan writes: “In Adam I fell, in Adam I was cast out of paradise, in Adam I died. How shall God call me back, except He find me in Adam? For just as in Adam I am guilty of sin and owe a debt to death, so in Christ I am justified.”
As Archbishop Seraphim of Lubny writes: “If we bear in mind that by the sufferings of One all are saved, we shall see no injustice in the fact that by the fault of one others are punished.”
Some, especially in the West, have seen original sin as residing especially in sexual sin. This is proved by the words: “I was conceived in iniquities, and in sins did my mother bear me’ (Psalm 50.5). For sexual intercourse is inescapably linked with lust; and “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life” (I John 2.16) are of the essence of the fall. So original sin was transmitted to us through the practice of sexual lust. Hence sexual lust is the root of original sin.
Although we have largely dealt with this argument in the section on innocent and guilty passion, some further remarks are in order here. First it should be pointed out that David’s words refer not only to conception but also to childbirth – in which no pleasure or lust are involved, but only pain and suffering. Secondly, St. John Chrysostom, commenting on the same verse, says that David here “does not condemn marriage, as some have thoughtlessly supposed”. How could it, since, as the Apostle Paul says, “the [marriage] bed is undefiled” (Hebrews 13.4)? And again he says: “If you marry, you do not sin” (I Corinthians 7.28).
The distinction worked out in the last section is useful here. We are conceived in sin, not in the sense that the act which brought us into being was a sinful act for which our parents will be held responsible, but in the sense that sexual relations (like all relations) have been affected by the fall, by the tendency to passion which is ingrained in our common human nature. Sexual relations in marriage are sinful only in the sense that they are tainted by original sin, that is, determined by the coarseness of the matter of the fallen body and the fallen, reflexive mechanism of sexual arousal which opens the path for conception in such a body. As St. Gregory Palamas writes: “The flesh’s impulse to reproduce is not subject to our minds, which God has appointed to govern us, and is not altogether without sin. That is why David said, ‘I was conceived in iniquities’.” On the other hand, there is no personal sin involved in sexual relations carried out in lawful marriage. For, as we have seen, God blessed the multiplication of the race through the natural mechanism of sexual intercourse, and He would not bless an act that involved personal sin. St. Augustine invokes a similar distinction when speaking of lust: "It is not however called sin in the sense of making one guilty [i.e. personally guilty of personal sin], but in that it is caused by the guilt of the first man [the original sin, engendering original sin in us], and in that it rebels, and strives to draw us into guilt if grace did not help us."
Thus lust, fallen eros, exists in our bodies as part of our fallen human nature. But if we control this hidden tendency from expressing itself in sinful fantasies or actions, we are not accounted guilty. For, as David says: “From my secret sins cleanse me, and from those of others spare Thy servant. If they have not dominion over me, then blameless shall I be, and I shall be cleansed from great sin” (Psalm 18.12-13).
Fallen eros appears to be seated in our bodies. And yet, as we have seen in chapter 1, not only is it not a purely bodily phenomenon: its origin in the original, unfallen nature of man was not in the body, but in the mind, proceeding from the mind to the body. As St. Gregory Palamas writes: “The spirit of man that quickens the body is a noetic longing (eros), a longing that issues from the intellect…” As such, eros cannot be a purely instinctual faculty, but one that employs all the faculties of the soul, “the offspring,” as St. Maximus puts it, of the gathering together of the soul’s faculties in relation to divine realities, and of the union of those faculties – rational, irascible and concupiscent.”.
That is why the word used for sexual union in the Scriptures, including the union of Adam and Eve (Genesis 4.1), is “to know” (gignwskein), a word that has both dynamic and static, both rational and appetitive connotations in the Holy Scriptures.
The fall has impeded the flow of eros from mind to body, allowing the body to develop its own, “autonomous eros”, and turning it against the mind, creating the conflict of “flesh” and “spirit” of which St. Paul speaks in Romans 7. This disjunction between the psychic and bodily elements of eros in the subject, the lover, is reflected in a disjunction in his perception of the psychic and bodily components of the object, the beloved. Thus the disjunction in the intra-personal flow of eros results in a disjunction in its inter-personal flow, turning erotic love into lust. This means that the erotic attention of the lover is concentrated on the body of the beloved independently of her soul, whereas rightly functioning eros is directed to the soul and body together – not to a soul which just happens to have a body, nor to a body to which a soul just happens to be attached, but to an embodied soul, that is, a human being, whose existence is composite, but essentially indivisible.
Thus the fall has produced a war between the spirit and the flesh, dividing the originally undivided eros into two. “The multitude,” in St. Dionysius’ words, “not seeing the unitary nature of the Divine Name of Love (Eros), fell back, according to their natural tendencies, to the divided and corporeal and separated love which is not the real love, but an image of it, or rather is defection from the real love.” Again, St. Gregory Palamas writes: "Our mind itself stretches out in longing towards the One God Who Is, the only Good, the only Desire, the only Bestower of pleasure unmixed with pain. But once the mind has been enfeebled, the soul's ability for real love falls away from what is truly desired, and, scattered among various longings for sensual pleasures, is dispersed, pulled this way and that by desires for superfluous foods, dishonourable bodies, useless objects, and empty, inglorious glory."
The reaction of the healthy mind to the sundering of flesh and spirit in fallen eros is shame. The presence of sexual shame in all but the most perverted of men tells us something very important about sexuality that strikes at the heart of both the naturalist and the Manichaean views.
Shame witnesses to the fall – indeed, it is the very first consequence of the fall. But a close examination of its psychology shows that it also witnesses to the fact that sexuality is no merely animal phenomenon. For if it were, there would be no reason to feel sexual shame. After all, animals feel no shame. If it were a purely biological need, then a man would feel no more shame at feeling desire for a woman than he would at feeling hunger or thirst.
The feeling of shame at nakedness is the sign of a soul that has not lost all goodness and virtue. It is the virtue of modesty, whose opposite is the vice of shamelessness. Neither shame nor shamelessness would be displayed by a person who had nothing to be ashamed of, and who was so engrossed in the things of the spirit as to pay no attention to the things of the flesh.
It follows that shame is absent only in children, who feel no shame since they commit no sin, and in saints, who have mastered the passions, conquered sin and reacquired the garment of grace of the first-fashioned man. For example, St. Joseph the Fair, the son of Jacob, fled from the attentions of the Egyptian woman, leaving his garment behind him. But, chants the Church, “like the first man before his disobedience, though naked he was not ashamed.”
Again, St. Symeon, the elder of St. Symeon the New Theologian, in the words of the latter “did not blush before the members of anyone, neither to see other men naked, nor to show himself naked, for he possessed Christ completely, and he was completely Christ, and all his own members and everybody else’s members, all and each one were always like Christ in his eyes; he remained motionless, unhurt and impassive; he was all Christ himself and as Christ he considered all the baptized, clothed with the whole Christ. While you, if you are naked and your flesh touches flesh, there you are in heat like a donkey or a horse…”
Shame is not necessarily linked with sexuality, being the characteristic reaction of the man who is not completely corrupted by sin in general. However, it is an undeniable fact that there is a specific kind of shame associated with sexuality which leads us to cover up specific parts of the body and which leads even honourably married people to hide their sexual activity. Indeed, one might argue that this shows the inescapably sinful character of sexual relations, even in marriage. For if there were truly nothing in them to be ashamed of, in the sense of nothing sinful, why hide them? And why should exhibitionism, on the one hand, and voyeurism, on the other, be labelled as sinful acts?
But sexual shame, far from being a sign of the inherent baseness of sexuality, is actually a sign of its opposite. As Roger Scruton writes, “moral shame is the peculiarly social form of guilt, but sexual shame is something else – the sign not of sexual guilt, but of sexual innocence… The normal occasions of shame are those of the prurient glance, the obscene gesture or the lewd utterance. These provoke shame because they dirty what is in itself not dirty. The thought of the subject is something like ‘I am defiled by his glances’. The subject is made to feel shame, because he feels ‘degraded’ by the other’s interest, by the tone of his conversation or by the implications of his gesture. It is not the other’s disgust at my body which provokes this response, but, on the contrary, his pleasure in it. The woman who supposes that she is being undressed in the imagination of the man who watches here, feels, not that he is thinking of what is in itself dirty, but that he is thinking of her body in a way that dirties it.”
Thus shame is justly felt (for sometimes it is unjustly felt, being simply the product of the inculcation of false social attitudes) if its object is lewd, animal-like behaviour which depersonalises love, concentrating attention, not on persons, but on bodies, or on something which, while not lewd in itself, is likely to elicit such behaviour in observers. That is why even honourably married couples prefer to make love in private - the violation of privacy makes what is in itself without shame into something shameful in the eyes of the spectator. Of its nature sexual love is an intense concentration, even obsession, on just one person of the other sex, who is seen as quite uniquely beautiful and irreplaceable. But precisely because of the intensely personal and individual nature of this love, outsiders cannot share in it. A couple making love see each other’s souls and bodies in a very special light which it is only given to them to see and which they are not trying to convey to others. For outsiders, who do not share their passion, the sight of the lovers making love may be ridiculous, or ugly, or titillating: in any case, it is quite different from that of the lovers to each other. This inevitable and sharp incongruity between the attitude of the lovers to each other and of the spectators to them creates the feeling of shame and embarrassment. It is shameful for the spectators, whose emotion on watching the lovers is the sin of voyeurism. But it is especially embarrassing for the lovers themselves, in that they are forced to look at their own bodies now not through each other’s eyes, but through those of the spectator – through the eyes, that is, not of love, but of lust and/or disgust.
The shame of fallen eros witnesses to the fact that there is an unfallen eros of which we should not be ashamed. The perversion of lust witnesses to the fact that there is a rightly directed erotic love. Having established that, it is now time to examine how eros can be redeemed from its fall, beginning with its regeneration in the person and life of the God-Man, Jesus Christ.
The Lust of Demons
Fallen eros has tended to plumb ever deeper depths of evil, both within the life-spans of individual men, and from generation to generation. For, as Archpriest Lev Lebedev writes, “there is no limit, no bottom to the abyss of carnal pleasures. Today – this far, tomorrow – further, and so on to loss of consciousness, to self-annihilation.”
A clear example of this is to be found early in the sacred narrative: And it came to pass when men began to be numerous upon the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the angels of God [or: sons of God], having seen the daughters of men that they were beautiful, took for themselves wives from all whom they chose. And the Lord God said, My Spirit shall certainly not remain among these men for ever, for they are flesh, but their days shall be one hundred and twenty years. Now the giants were upon the earth in those days, and after that the angels of God [sons of God] were wont to enter in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the giants of old, the men of renown. (Genesis 6.1-5).
The understanding of this passage hinges on the meaning of the word translated “angels of God” or “sons of God” in verses 2 and 4. In the Hebrew Massoretic text the word is bene-ha-elohim, literally “sons of God”. In the Greek translation of the Septuagint, which is the oldest and most authoritative text that we have, the Cambridge text edited by Brooke-Mclean has “angels of God” (aggeloi tou Qeou in verse 2, and “sons of God” (uioi tou Qeou)in verse 4.
P. S. Alexander writes: “The translator has not been inconsistent, for closer inspection shows that, though there are no significant variants at verse 4, a number of important witnesses at verse 2 read, not oi uioi tou Qeou but oi aggeloi tou Qeou. Moreover, the main support in verse 2 for oi aggeloi tou Qeou (viz. Cod. A) has the reading over an erasure. It seems most likely, then, that LXX [the Septuagint] originally read oi uioi tou Qeou, “the sons of God”, in both places. It was later altered, but inconsistently. The literal rendering [i.e. “sons of God”] is found in other Greek texts, as well as in the Vulgate, the Peshitta and the Biblical text of the Ps-Philonic Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum (=LAB).”
Be that as it may, and even without absolute unanimity concerning which reading is correct, there is complete unanimity, from the earliest Jewish commentators until the early third century, about its meaning. All commentators and writers agree that the reference here is to angels. Such an interpretation is supported by the fact that in three passages of the Book of Job (1.6, 2.1, 38.7) the phrase “sons of God” certainly refers to angels. Also, the fact that the women gave birth to giants (cf. Baruch 3.26-28; Sirach 16.7; Wisdom 14.6; Judith 16.7) suggests the result of something that was not just a normal human coupling….
We find this interpretation both in pre-Christian Jewish literature - for example, The Book of Enoch, Jubilees, The Testament of the 12 Patriarchs, Philo and Josephus - and in the early Christian Fathers and writers such as Justin the Philosopher, Irenaeus, Athenagoras, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Methodius of Olympus and Ambrose.
Thus Josephus writes: “Now this posterity of Seth continued to esteem God as the Lord of the universe, and to have an entire regard to virtue, for seven generations; but in process of time they were perverted, and forsook the practices of their forefathers, and did neither pay those honours to God which were appointed them, not had they any concern to do justice towards men; but for what degree of zeal they had formerly shown for virtue, they now showed by their actions a double degree of wickedness, whereby they made God to be their enemy. For many angels of God accompanied with women, and begat sons that proved unjust, and despisers of all that was good, on account of the confidence they had in their own strength; for the tradition is, that these men did what resembled the acts of those whom the Grecians call giants. But Noah was very uneasy at what they did; and being displeased at their conduct, persuaded them to change their disposition, and their actions for the better: but seeing they did not yield to him, but were slaves to wicked pleasures, he was afraid they would kill him, together with his wife and children, and those they had married; so he departed out of the land.”
St. Justin the Martyr writes: “In ancient times wicked demons appeared and defiled women.” God “committed the care of men and of all things under heaven to angels whom He placed over them. But the angels violated this appointment and were captivated by women and begat children who are called demons.”
Again, St. Methodius writes: “The others remained in the positions for which God made and appointed them; but the devil was insolent, and having conceived envy of us, behaved wickedly in the charge committed to him; as also did those who subsequently were enamoured of fleshly charms, and had illicit intercourse with the daughters of men. For to them also, as was the case with men, God granted the possession of their own choice.”
Again, St. Irenaeus writes: “And for a very long while wickedness extended and spread, and reached and laid hold upon the whole race of mankind, until a very small seed of righteousness remained among them: and illicit unions took place upon the earth, since angels were united with the daughters of the race of mankind; and they bore to them sons who for their exceeding greatness were called giants. And the angels brought as presents to their wives teachings of wickedness, in that they brought them the virtues of roots and herbs, and dyeing in colours and cosmetics, the discovery of rare substances, love-potions, aversions, amours, concupiscence, constraints of love, spells of bewitchment, and all sorcery and idolatry hateful to God; by the entry of which things into the world evil extended and spread, while righteousness was diminished and enfeebled…”
Another very important, albeit not quite so clear witness in favour of this interpretation is the passage from II Peter: “If God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into tartarus, and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until the judgement; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah...” (2.4-5; cf. Jude 6), which from its context seems to be referring to the angels’ cohabitation with the daughters of men.
However, in spite of all these early witnesses, the later Fathers from about the second half of the fourth century - including John Chrysostom, Ephraim the Syrian, Blessed Theodoretus, Cyril of Jerusalem, Blessed Jerome and Blessed Augustine - turned sharply against this interpretation, choosing rather to understand the term “sons of God” as denoting the men of the line of Seth, and the "daughters of men" - the women of the line of Cain; so that the event described in Genesis 6 involved an unlawful mixing between the pious and the impious human generations.
Thus St. John Chrysostom writes that it would be “folly to accept such insane blasphemy, saying that an incorporeal and spiritual nature could have united itself to human bodies”.
Again, St. Augustine, after noting that “the Septuagint calls them the angels and sons of God”, goes on to say: “According to the Hebrew canonical Scriptures [i.e as opposed to apocrypha such as The Book of Enoch], there is no doubt that there were giants upon the earth before the deluge, and that they were the sons of the men of earth, and citizens of the carnal city, unto which the sons of God, being Seth’s in the flesh, forsaking righteousness, adjoined themselves.”
Again, St. Ephraim the Syrian writes: “The daughters of Cain adorned themselves and became a snare to the eyes of the sons of Seth… The entire tribe of Seth… was stirred to a frenzy over them… Because the sons of Seth were going in to the daughters of Cain, they turned away from their first wives whom they had previously taken. Then these wives, too, disdained their own continence and now, because of their husbands, quickly began to abandon their modesty, which up until that time they had preserved for their husbands’ sake. It is because of this wantonness that assailed both the men and the women, that Scripture says, All flesh had corrupted its way (6.13).”
To this same line of interpretation belong the words of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow: “According to the text of the Alexandrian Bible, [the words are] ‘Angels of God’. Lactantius is of this opinion, as are many ancient authors. Justin affirms that from the marriages of Angels with the daughters of men there came demons. Athenagoras ascribes the fall of the Angels to these same marriages, and it was from them that the giants came. Tertullian ascribes to these Angels the acquisition of Astrology, precious stones, metals and some female adornments. But all these traditions contradict the witness of Jesus Christ, that the Angels do not marry (Matthew 22.30)…
“According to the opinion of the most recent interpreters, [they are] the descendants of the race of Shem, who not only were sons of God by grace (cf. Deuteronomy 14.1; I John 3.1), but they also probably formed a society under this name (cf. Genesis 4.26) which was opposed to the society of the sons of men, that is, the descendants of Cain, who were led only by their fallen human nature. Moses ascribes the beginning of the mixing of such contrary societies to the fascination with the beauty of the daughters of men; and as a consequence even those who belonged to the society of those who walk in the Spirit became flesh, and light itself began to be turned into darkness.”
However, even if we exclude the possibility of a real, hypostatic union between angels (demons) and men, it is another question whether demons may not desire such a union and strive for it.
But why should they wish to unite with women?
First, because demons, in spite of their bodiless nature, are possessed by lust, according to Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov. In this connection the words of the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 11.10 are relevant: “For this cause ought the woman to have authority on her head on account of the angels”. Commenting on this passage, St. Paulinus of Nola writes: “Let them realize why Paul ordered their heads to be clothed with a more abundant covering: it is because of the angels, that is, the angels who are ready to seduce them and whom the saints will condemn.” So the veil not only shows, as we saw in the first chapter, the woman’s submission to her God-given leader, the man: it also shows that she is not subject to the dominion of “the sons of God”, or the fallen angels.
A second reason is that Satan almost certainly wishes to imitate the union of the two natures in one Person that Christ achieved at His incarnation, only substituting the demonic nature for the Divine, a whore for the Virgin Mother of God, and the Antichrist for Christ. Such a motive is suggested by the fact, emphasised by many of the Fathers, that the Antichrist will seek to imitate Christ in all things. And if in all things, why not in his very birth?
We shall not explore this idea here, except to note how costly for mankind is the transgressing of God’s laws concerning marriage and the begetting of children - nothing less, perhaps, than the birth of the Antichrist!
Let us return to the sacred text. Almost immediately after the attempt of the “sons of God” to seduce the daughters of men, and the birth from these unions of giants, there came the universal flood which swept away all mankind except Noah and his family. Whether or not there is a direct causal connection between the two events is not indicated: but their close proximity is very suggestive. Moreover, the Lord said: “As it was in the days of Noah, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of Man. They did eat, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day Noah entered into the ark, and the flood came, and destroyed them all” (Luke 17.26-27). The period we are living through now is very similar to the period the Lord was speaking about, and so also to the period just before the Flood. Now, as then, men have begun to multiply on the earth, and now, as then, the condition of mankind is an abyss of moral degeneration.
Thus Archpriest Lev Lebedev writes: “Individual people can hold themselves back at certain levels of this abyss, but as a tendency in the life of society it has no end. Just as society’s permissiveness or debauchery in the present world of various ‘pleasures’ has no limit. If, 40-50 years ago, one had said that male homosexuals or female lesbians would be officially registered as ‘conjugal’ pairs, then the reply would not even have been horror, but rather a friendly laugh. However, that is the reality now! In a series of western countries they are officially registered and ‘crowned’. What next? Perhaps there will follow a recognition of bestiality as one of the forms of ‘refined and elegant’ sex? And then?… ‘Progress’ is ‘progress’ because it strives for infinity…
“According to the just formulation of F.M. Dostoyevsky, ‘if God does not exist, then everything (!) is permitted’. In fact, if God does not exist, then the holy ‘holy thing’, idol of highest value of existence is undoubtedly ‘pleasure’. Whatever it may consist of and for whoever it may be. If!
“But if God does exist? Then what? Then it is necessary what laws He placed in the nature of man and what man is ‘prescribed’ to do, what not, and why…
“But who is now trying to ‘free’ men from the commandments of God and ‘allow’ them the cult of ‘pleasure’? The medieval (and contemporary!) Templars represent ‘him’ in the form of a goat with a woman’s torso, sitting on the earth’s globe, with a five-pointed star on his goat’s forehead, and between his horns a torch, a symbol of ‘enlightenment’, ‘reason’. On one hand is written: ‘free’, and on the other ‘permit’. He is called ‘Baphomet’. He is an idol, one of the representations of the devil (Lucifer). He whispers into the ears of his worshippers the idea that he is ‘god’, but he lies, as always. He is a fallen creature of God and will be punished with eternal torments, where he will with special ‘pleasure’ mock those who, at his suggestion, serve ‘pleasure’ as an idol. But before that before the Second Coming of Christ, he will try to establish his dominion over the whole world with the help of his ‘son’ – the Antichrist. But he, in his turn, in order to gain dominion over men, will, among other methods, particularly strongly use sex. For sex, which turns people into voluntary animals, makes their manipulation very much easier, that is, it destroys the primordial structure of mankind, the nation and the state – the correct family, thereby as it were annihilating the ‘image of God’ in mankind.”
Now we have seen that the cardinal sin of self-love (Greek: filautia), though spiritual in essence, is closely linked to the carnal sin of lust, in that the latter represents a corruption and redirection of man’s natural erotic feeling from the other to the self. The passionless delight in the other becomes a passionate desire for the other; “flesh of my flesh” becomes “flesh for my flesh”. As such, it is a devouring, egocentric force, the very opposite of love.
As St. Maximus the Confessor teaches, in Hans Balthasar’s interpretation of his thought: “Two elements come together in the concept of filautia, which is the essential fault: egoism and carnal voluptuousness. To sin is to say no to the authority of God, it is ‘to wish to be a being-for-oneself’, and in consequence, for man it is to slide towards sensual pleasure. But in this double element there also lies hidden an internal contradiction of the sin which manifests itself immediately as its immanent chastisement. In sensual pleasure, the spirit seeks an egoistical substitute for its abandonment of God. But this abandonment itself isolates it egoistically instead of uniting it to the beloved. Voluptuousness ‘divides into a thousand pieces the unity of nature, and we who take part in this voluptuousness tear each other apart like ferocious beasts’.
“Filautia has even torn apart the one God into a multitude of idols as it has torn nature, and ‘to obtain a little more pleasure, it excites us against each other like animals’. This ‘deceiving and pernicious love’, this ‘cunning and tortuous voluptuousness’ ends by pitting our flesh: ‘the flesh of every man is a valley pitted and gnawed by the continuous waves of the passions’ and ends ‘in the disgust which overthrows the whole of this first affection’.”
There are many illustrations of the ferocious and death-dealing power of this fallen sexuality in the Old Testament.
Thus we have the story of the Levite’s concubine, whose body he cut up in twelve pieces, literally “dividing the unity of nature into pieces” (Judges 19). Again, “the overthrow of the first affection” is illustrated by the story of the incestuous rape of David’s daughter by his first-born son Amnon. The sacred writers says that Amnon loved Themar and “was distressed even unto sickness” because of her. And yet, having raped her, “Amnon hated her with a very great hatred; for the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her” (II Kings 13.1,2,15).
For, writes St. Maximus the Confessor, “the torment of suffering is intimately mixed with pleasure, even when it seems to be snuffed out by the violence of the impassioned pleasure of those who are possessed by it”. “Nature punishes those who seek to do violence to her to the extent that they deliver themselves to a manner of living contrary to nature; they no longer have at their disposal all the forces of nature such as she had given to them originally; so here they are diminished in their integrity and thus chastised.” “Wishing to flee the painful sensation of grief, we hurl ourselves towards pleasure… and in forcing ourselves to soothe the wounds of grief by pleasure, we thereby confirm still more the sentence directed against themselves. For it is impossible to find a pleasure to which pain and grief are not attached.” 
St. Maximus again: “Man acquired an impulse to pleasure as a whole and an aversion to pain as a whole. He fought with all his strength to attain the one and struggled with all his might to avoid the other, thinking that in this way he could keep the two apart from each other, and that he could possess only the pleasure that is linked to self-love and be entirely without experience of pain, which was impossible. For he did not realise… that pleasure can never be received without pain; the distress caused by pain is contained within pleasure.”
This intimate connection between pleasure and pain means that perhaps the most characteristic of all the sexual perversions is sado-masochism. For here, as Scruton points out, “there is frequently an aspect of punishment: the sadist’s punishment of the other for failing to return his desire or for failing to play sincerely the role that the sadist has devised for him; the masochist’s desire for punishment, which relieves him of the burden of a culpable desire. The masochist may indeed receive the strokes of the whip as a kind of ‘permission’ – a reassurance that he is paying her and now for his sexual transgression, and that the claims of conscience have been satisfied.”
Perversion may be defined as the diversion of sexual desire from a person of the opposite sex (normality) to a body of the opposite sex (rape, sadomasochism, paedophilia), or to a person of the same sex (homosexuality), or to an animal (bestiality), or to an inanimate thing (fetishism). At the root of all forms of perversion is self-love, the utilization of another, who (or which) is seen as no more than an instrument for one’s pleasure (or pain). With the possible exception of homosexuality, all perversions involve a rejection of a fully mutual personal relationship of love in favour of an impersonal relationship of use (or rather: abuse).
As for homosexuality, the Apostle Paul sees its cause in the pagan worship of the creature instead of the Creator, of which modern atheism and naturalism can be seen to be another form: “When they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves, who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, Who is blessed forever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature. And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust (orexei) one towards another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was meet…” (Romans 1.21-26).
St. John Chrysostom comments on this passage: “Here he sets the pleasure according to nature, which they would have enjoyed with more sense of security and greater joy, and so have been far removed from shameful deeds. But they would not; which is why they are quite beyond the pale of pardon, and have insulted nature itself. And still more disgraceful than these is the women seeking these couplings, for they ought to have more sense of shame than men.… Then, having reproached the women first, he goes on to the men also, and says, ‘And likewise also the men leaving the natural use of the woman’ This is clear proof of the ultimate degree of corruption, when both sexes are abandoned. Both he who was called to be the instructor of the woman and she who was told to become a help like the man now behave as enemies to one another. Notice how deliberately Paul measures his words. For he does not say that they loved and desired (hrasqhsan kai epequmhsan) each other but that ‘they burned in their lust (exekauqhsan en th orexei) for one another’! You see that the whole of desire (epiqumiaV) comes from an excess which cannot contain itself within its proper limits. For everything which transgresses God’s appointed laws lusts after monstrous things which are not normal. For just as many often abandon the desire for food and come to feed on earth and small stones, and others, possessed by excessive thirst, often long even for mire, so these also charged into this explosion of lawless love. But if you ask, where did this intensity of lust come from? [I answer:] it was from being abandoned by God. And why were they abandoned by God? Because of their lawlessness in abandoning Him: ‘men with men working that which is unseemly’. Do not, he means, because you have heard that they burned, suppose that the evil was only in desire. For the greater part of it came from their luxuriousness, which also kindled their lust into flame…. And he called it not lust, but that which is unseemly, and that rightly. For they both dishonored nature, and trampled on the laws. And see the great confusion which fell out on both sides. For not only was the head turned downwards but the feet too were turned upwards, and they became enemies to themselves and to one another…. It was meet that the two should be one, I mean the woman and the man. For ‘the two,’ it says, ‘shall be one flesh’. But this was effected by the desire for intercourse, which united the sexes to one another. This desire the devil first took away and then, and having changed its direction, thereby divided the sexes from one another, and made the one to become two in opposition to the law of God. For it says, ‘the two shall be one flesh’; but he divided the one flesh into two: here then is one war. Again, these same two parts he provoked to war both against themselves and against one another. For even women again abused women, and not men only. And the men stood against one another, and against the female sex, as happens in a battle by night. So you see a second and third war, and a fourth and fifth. And there is also another, for beside what has been mentioned they also behaved lawlessly against nature itself. For when the devil saw that it is this desire that, principally, draws the sexes together, he was bent on cutting through the tie, so as to destroy the race, not only by their not copulating lawfully, but also by their being stirred up to war, and in sedition against one another.”
Clearly, then, there is a difference in kind between natural sexual desire, fallen though it is, and unnatural homosexual desire. (St. Maximus calls all the pleasures and pains, fears and desires of man in the fallen state “unnatural”, but we will keep to the commoner Pauline usage.) The one was implanted in nature by God: the other is unnatural, and is incited by demonic forces outside human nature to which sinners give access through their idolatrous worship of creation.
Like the demonic lust of “the sons of God” for the daughters of men, homosexuality is a demonically inspired undermining of the natural order. Many who have been led to think that they are homosexual return quickly and joyfully to the natural order once they have been freed from the demonic power that controlled them. It was homosexuality that brought about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, so it is justly called the “Sodomite” sin.
Fornication and Adultery
Although more “natural” than homosexuality, fornication and adultery also lead directly to hell (I Corinthians 6.9-10). Fornication consists in uniting the Body of Christ – for the body of every Christian is a part of the Body of Christ – to a body that is not Christ’s, and has a different spirit. “Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. What? Know ye not that he who is joined to an harlot is one body [with her]? For two, saith He, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined to the Lord is one spirit [with Him]. Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is outside the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body.” (I Corinthians 6.15-17).
All fornication with human beings is adultery from God insofar as the soul is married to God – and not only the soul, but also the body through the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ. We shall have more to say on this in a later chapter. In the meantime let us consider the question: if fornication consists in uniting the Body of Christ with a body that is not Christ’s, can there be fornication between Christians who both belong to the Body of Christ?
There can indeed, because while all acts of sexual intercourse create “one flesh”, not all “one flesh” unions, even between Christians, are lawful unless they have first been sanctified by the prayers of the Church in the sacrament of marriage. Marriage, as we shall argue in detail in a later chapter, is not simply the public recognition of an already accomplished fact, but involves the bestowal of grace by God. And if a couple, even a Christian couple, seeks to unite without the grace of God, the grace of God will withdraw from that one-flesh union, making it a union not within, but outside the Body of Christ.
Not only sexual intercourse, but also the entertaining of fantasies about a man or woman who is not one’s spouse is counted as adultery, according to the words of Christ: “Every man who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5.28). Again, pornographic writing or film-making is sinful, as is the voluntary reading or watching of such material. This is evident from the literal meaning of the word “pornography” in Greek, which is “the writing (or description) of fornication”.
The harm done by sexual fantasizing has been described by Archpriest Lev Lebedev: “A poll carried out by the FBI among sexual murderers showed that they all had sexual murder in their fantasies for a long time. These were for them just as real as the murders themselves, while their own real murders, in their turn ‘could not be distinguished from fantasy’ by the condemned men. All the murderers confessed that they had used pornography. There it is, the ‘tail’ by which one can take hold of the clever snake – pornography! Erotic pictures in journals, books, the cinema, television, on postcards and in works of art excite sensuality, lustful imaginings, which for many take the place of reality, since this reality becomes either completely unnecessary, or they take it as a continuation of their imaginings, where it must be no less, but even more exotic that the experiences they have already had in their fantasies… ‘Pictures’ bring many youths to the very unhealthy passion of solitary self-satisfaction. And this is yet again deliberately encouraged. According to the data of the journal Communication Research (December, 1998), the exceptional degree of sexual fantasizing of the students in the two universities under investigation was linked with the reading of a pornographic journal well-known in America, which seeks ways of increasing its production…
“The harm of erotica and pornography, between which there is in fact no boundary (difference), is not exhausted by what we have said. According to the data of the same Americans, even ‘soft pornography’ (without illustrations of cruelty) brings with it an interest in the ‘cruel’ type, sharply reduces respect for women, lessens ‘satisfaction with one’s own sexual partner’, leads to ‘a reduction in the valuing of faithfulness, and also a reduction in the valuing of love in sex’, makes easier betrayal and the falling apart of the family and, finally, sexual murders and rapes, including of children! Well, in this respect we do not now have to look at America; we now have more of all this [in Russia], including the ‘experiments’ such as that of Chikotillo, than in the U.S.A.”
As Hieromonk Seraphim Rose writes: “In the ‘free world’ a great exploitative force is that of ‘sex’. It seems to be today a vast, impersonal power that holds men in its jaws, leading them on not only to reproduce their kind but – thanks to the many devices for ‘exploiting’ this power more efficiently – to indulge this impersonal force for its own sake. Some may object that ‘sex’ is indeed a very ‘personal’ thing, but nothing could be further from the truth. Like all other human impulses, the sexual instinct may be subordinated to the power of personality and attain its proper place as an expression of married, chaste love; but only the most naïve romanticist could affirm that such is the ‘sex’ that is exalted today. Sex as pleasure, as an expression of man’s freedom to do what he pleases: this is what it means to contemporary man. Marriage, banished from the Church, has become a mere license for sexual activity; sex has become the basis of marriage, another case of the ‘lower’ usurping the place of the higher. The easy divorce laws make of marriage as practiced by most moderns merely a kind of legalized promiscuity.”
Even sexual behaviour inside lawful marriage which does not serve to build up that marriage in the image of Christ’s marriage with His Church, such as the forcing of unnatural sexual acts by one partner on the other, or the withholding of sexual relations by one partner from the other, must also be considered to be sinful. By the same token, lawful marriages concluded for money or the continuation of the family name, and not for love, are no less shameful than marriages whose sole purpose is the satisfaction of animal desires. For a marriage that is lawful from a canonical point of view, and to which the grace of God has been communicated in the sacrament, may nevertheless trample on the grace that has been given it and fail to imitate the love of Christ and the Church, and will therefore be found wanting in the balance of God’s justice.
Vladimir Soloviev distinguishes between three levels of marriage: the animal, the social and the Divine. Just as a body and a soul without the life-giving spirit breathed into them by God are fallen, and in the course of time disintegrate and die, so is it in marriage. If the animal and social elements are not integrated into the Divine, the marriage dies. Consequently, the expression of the animal element in a sexual relationship in disjunction from the Divine is felt to be unnatural by the inner man, that is, human nature as it was originally created, before the fall, however natural it may appear to the outer man after the fall. In such a state of disjunction, therefore, sexual feelings and acts elicit shame - but, it must be emphasised again, not because sexuality as such and in the proper context of the integration of the Divine, the social and the animal is shameful, but precisely because sexuality as something merely animal is an insult to the human being, who is not a mere animal, nor even a rational animal, but an animal, as one of the Fathers said, who has received the command to become a god.
“In general,” writes Soloviev, “speaking of naturalness or unnaturalness, one must not forget that man is a complex being and that what is natural for one of his constituent principles or elements may be unnatural for another and, consequently, unnatural for the whole man.
“For man as an animal the unlimited satisfaction of his sexual needs by means of a certain physiological act is completely natural, but man as a moral being finds this contrary to his higher nature and is ashamed of it… As a social animal it is natural for man to limit his physiological functioning in relation to other people by the demands of the social-moral law. This law limits and cuts off animal functioning from without, making it the means for a social end – the formation of a family unit. But this does not change the essence of the matter. The family unit is still based on the external material union of the sexes, it leaves the man-animal in his previous disintegrated, half-and-half condition, which necessarily leads to further disintegration of the human being, that is, to death. If man, beyond his animal nature, were only a social-moral being, then from these two warring elements – which are identically natural for him – the final victory would be with the former. The social-moral law and its main objectification, the family, will lead the animal nature of man into the limits necessary for the progress of the species; they give order to the mortal life, but do not open the path to immortality. The individual being is depleted and dies in the social-moral order of life to just the same degree as if it remained exclusively under the law of animal life. The elephant and the raven are even significantly longer lived than the most virtuous and correct man. But in man, besides his animal nature and social-moral law, there is a third, higher principle – the spiritual, mystical or Divine. Even here, in the sphere of love and sexual relations, it is that ‘stone which the builders rejected’ and ‘which is become the head of the corner’. Before physiological union in the animal nature, which leads to death, and before lawful union in the social-moral order, which does not save from death, there must be a union in God, which leads to immortality, because it does not limit only the mortal life of nature by human law, but also regenerates it by the eternal and incorrupt power of grace. This third and – in the true order – first element with the demands that are inherent in it is completely natural for man in his wholeness as a being that partakes of a higher, Divine principle and mediates between it and the world. But the two lower elements, the animal nature and the social law, which are also natural in their place, become contrary to nature when they are taken separately from the higher element and put in its place. In the sphere of sexual love not only is every disordered satisfaction of sensual needs in the manner of the animals (besides the various monstrous phenomena of sexual pathology) contrary to nature for man: also unworthy of man and contrary to nature are those unions between people of different sexes which are concluded and supported only on the basis of civil law, exclusively for moral-social aims, with the removal or inaction of the spiritual, mystical principle in man.”
Contraception and Abortion
In the conditions of the fall, the fulfilment of the commandments concerning marriage and the family requires considerable asceticism, a mental as well as a physical struggle involving the selfless renunciation of personal desires for the sake of the family.
Thus Clement of Alexandria writes of the man’s struggle: "The particular characteristic of the married state is that it gives the man who desires a perfect marriage an opportunity to take responsibility for everything in the home which he shares with his wife. The apostle says that one should appoint bishops who by their oversight over their own house have learned to be in charge of the whole church... The prize in the contest of men is won by him who has trained himself by the discharge of the duties of husband and father and by the supervision of a household, regardless of pleasure and pain - by him, I say, who in the midst of his solicitude for his family shows himself inseparable from the love of God and rises superior to every temptation which assails him through children and wife and servants and possessions."
As for the woman, it is not enough for her simply to bear children: she is responsible for bringing them up "in faith and love and holiness" (I Timothy 2.15) – a difficult task at the best of times and extremely difficult in our age of apostasy.
Is, then, the begetting of children an essential element of marriage? No, for there have been many pious childless couples, such as Abraham and Sarah, Joachim and Anna, and Zachariah and Elizabeth, who had children only very late in life but were not dishonoured by God for that. As St. John Chrysostom writes: “As for the procreation of children, marriage does not absolutely enjoin it. That responds rather to this word of God in Genesis: ‘Increase and multiply and fill the earth’ (1.28). The proof of this is the large number of marriages which cannot have children. That is why the first reason for marriage is to regulate lust, and especially now that the human race has filled the whole earth.”
If, however, the infertility is self-induced, then the couple is frustrating one of the principal purposes of marriage. It is demonstrating a lack of faith in the Providence of God, Who, whether He gives children or not, does all for the best and provides all that is necessary for those who believe in Him. For who knows? - a child that is not wanted for financial or other reasons may turn out to be a great benefactor of mankind like Moses, whom the Egyptians tried to kill at his birth.
“In fact,” writes Fr. John Meyendorff, “childbirth and the raising of children are indeed a great joy and God’s blessing. There can be no Christian marriage without an immediate and impatient desire of both parents to receive and share in this joy. A marriage where children are unwelcome is founded upon a defective, egoistic and fleshly form of love. In giving life to others, man imitates God’s creative act and, if he refuses to do so, he not only rejects his Creator, but also distorts his own humanity; for there is no humanity without an ‘image and likeness of God’, i.e., without a conscious, or unconscious desire to be a true imitator of the life-creating Father of all.”
There be no doubt that the killing of an embryo before birth is no less of a sin than killing one after birth. Thus the very early Teaching of the Twelve Apostles forbids the killing of embryos, St. Basil the Great counts it as murder, and the sixth-century Patriarch of Constantinople, St. John the Faster, lists the following sins in his Penitential: "desire for sterility, abortion, use of herbs to avoid conception..."
As Nedelsky writes: “The Biblical, patristic, canonical, and liturgical traditions of the Church all point to the beginning of individual human life at the moment of conception. Saint Luke in his Gospel tells of the Mother of God’s visit to Saint Elizabeth, in whose womb Saint John the Baptist leapt for joy at hearing of the coming of Christ (Luke 1.41-44). Saint Gregory of Nyssa in On the Soul and Resurrection writes, ‘The beginning of existence is one and the same for body and soul’. The canons condemn abortion at any stage of pregnancy, ‘whether the fetus be formed or unformed’ in the words of Saint Basil the Great (Ep. 188, Canon 3). The Church’s liturgical tradition likewise recognizes conception as the beginning of existence, celebrating the Conception of the Mother of God (December 9), Saint John the Baptist (September 23), and Christ Himself in the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25). These examples, which could easily be multiplied, demonstrate that the Church has always regarded conception as the beginning of individual human life, and underscore that embryotic life is fully human and personal.”
Not only abortion and contraception, but also the modern techniques of in vitro fertilisation, drug-induced fertility and surrogate motherhood, are forbidden. For while the aim here is not to avoid the bearing of children, the means used are unnatural and usually murderous (for the producing of one extra embryo requires the killing of those surplus to the one) or adulterous (for surrogate motherhood is adultery). Thus God's purpose is in any case frustrated. For only if He, the Creator, blesses the means and timing of human procreation, will the family thus formed become a true icon of Christ and the Church, or of the Holy Trinity.
“Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18.19). The Christian family is one such gathering; it is truly a “little church”, as St. John Chrysostom calls it. Two are sufficient to form such a church if each of the spouses carries out the obedience given to them – love from the husband, obedience from the wife. If God wills to increase the two into three, then the unity is still richer and the likeness to the One God in Trinity still closer. But if the two wish to prevent their multiplication into three, or on the contrary create it in an unnatural manner contrary to God’s will, then the icon is destroyed…
3. EROS IN CHRIST
God desired a harlot... and has intercourse with human nature, [whereby] the harlot herself… is transformed into a maiden.
St. John Chrysostom, On Eutropius, II, 2.
I have betrothed you to one spouse, that I might present you a chaste virgin to Christ.
II Corinthians 11.2.
He came to bind to Himself the principle of desire…, that it might take on a procreative disposition fixed and unalterable in the good.
St. Maximus the Confessor, Ambigua 42.
Just as the fall corrupted everything, including the relations between man and woman, so the Coming of Christ renewed everything, including the relations between man and woman. The pure streams of Eros, which had been diverted and defiled by the fall, were restored to their former paths. This was done by Christ Himself entering into marriage with humanity and recreating human eros in the image of His Own Divine Eros. Divine Eros took upon Himself human eros in order to give it new life to it by uniting it to Himself in a pure and undefiled union.
This marriage of God and man takes place in several stages. In the first, the new Adam, Christ, is united with the new Eve, the Ever-Virgin Mary, at the Annunciation and is born from her at the Nativity. In the second, the Heavenly Spouses renew the blessing on all earthly spouses at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. In the third, the marriage of Christ with the Church is prepared through the Cross, Resurrection and Ascension of Christ and the Descent of the Holy Spirit. In the fourth, Christ enters into union with each member of the Church through the sacrament of His Body and Blood. In the final, eschatological stage, He enters into union with the fullness of redeemed humanity from every age in the Wedding of the Lamb.
The Bride of God at the Annunciation is usually held by the Fathers to be human nature, or the flesh. Thus St. Augustine writes: “The Bridegroom’s chamber was the Virgin’s womb, where Bridegroom and Bride, Word and flesh, were joined together. It is written: ‘And the two shall be in one flesh’, or, as the Lord says in the Gospel, ‘therefore they are no longer two, but one flesh’ (Genesis 2.24; Matthew 19.6). So finely does Isaiah make the two one, when he speaks in Christ’s Person, ‘He put a band upon My head as a bridegroom, and adorned Me as a bride with her ornaments’ (Isaiah 61.10). The one Speaker makes Himself both Bridegroom and Bride; for they are ‘not two, but one flesh’, since ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1.14). When to that flesh is joined the Church, there is the whole Christ, Head and Body.”
In a more personal sense, Mary herself is the bride. For the parallel between the marriage of Adam and Eve in Paradise and the marriage of Christ and the Virgin in Nazareth is very close. The first Eve was to the first Adam both wife and daughter, and the new Eve was to the new Adam both wife and daughter and mother. For “David the forefather praised thee of old in hymns, O Virgin Bride of God, calling thee Daughter of Christ the King: Him thou has born as Mother and hast fed Him as thy Child”.
That Mary is the mother of Christ is obvious. But she is also His daughter as being His creation. As the sixth-century Irish Saint Cuchumneus sings:
Mary, O most wondrous Mother,
Gave to her own Father birth,
By Whom washed are all in water,
Who believe throughout the earth.
She is “the daughter of the King” (Psalm 44.12), Christ Himself being the King, as St. Athanasius the Great explains: “Since He knew that He was to be born of the Virgin, He in no way kept it silent, but forthwith gave indication thereof, by saying in the 45th Psalm: ‘Hearken, O daughter, and see, and incline thine ear: and forget thy people and thy father’s house. And the King shall greatly desire thy beauty’. For this is like what Gabriel said: ‘Rejoice, thou who art full of grace, the Lord is with thee’. For when he spoke of Him as Christ, he at once made known His human generation that was from the Virgin by the words, ‘Hearken, O daughter’. And you see Gabriel calls her by her name, ‘Mary’, because he was of a different nature from her, whilst David with reason calls her ‘daughter’, since she was to spring from his won seed.”
That Mary was also the bride of Christ is clear from the fact that at the age of three she is exhorted to forget her own people and her father’s house in order to be united with the King in the innermost sanctuary of the Temple. Then, at the Incarnation they became one flesh, as St. Zeno, bishop of Verona in the fourth century, writes: “O prodigy! Mary conceives of Him Whom she brings forth!” Again, St. Proclus of Constantinople writes: “Mary is that beautiful spouse of the Song of Songs, who put off the old garment, washed her feet, and received the immortal Bridegroom within her own bridal chamber.”
St. Symeon the Theologian asks who is the bride that God the Father chose for His Son and for Whom He prepared a marriage feast (Matthew 22.1). And he replies: “the daughter of one who rebelled against Him, one who committed murder and adultery” – that is to say, Mary, the daughter of David, who murdered Uriah and committed adultery with his wife. So “here you see the Master and Lord of all, the Holy of holies, the blessed God and unique Sovereign, the One Who dwells in unapproachable light, so condescending as to take from a rebel the bride of His only-begotten Son – Who Himself is invisible, unknowable, unsearchable, the Creator and Maker of all – and all of this for your sake and for your salvation! So who is the adulterer and murdered whose daughter God has chosen as a bride for Himself? Why, it is David, Jesse’s son, who both slew Urias and committed adultery with his wife. It is David’s daughter, I mean Mary the all-undefiled and all-pure virgin, who is brought forth as the bride. I call her all-undefiled and all-pure in relation to us and to the men of the past, comparing her with them and with us, her servants. In relation to her Bridegroom and His Father, however, she is simply human – but still holy, all-holy, and pure and immaculate beyond the people of any generation. This is the one whom God chose and led to marriage with His Son. In what manner? Listen carefully.
“God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, send down one of His servants, I mean Gabriel the archangel, from the heights of His holy place, to declare to Mary the salutation. The angel descended from above to present the mystery to the virgin, and said to her: ‘Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’ And, together with the word of greeting, the personal, co-essential, and co-eternal Word of God the Father entered wholly into the womb of the maid, and, by the descent and co-operation of His co-essential Spirit, took on flesh endowed with intelligence and soul from her all-pure blood, and became man. Here, then, is the inexpressible union, and this the mystical marriage, of God, and thus occurred the exchange of God with men.”
In one Church hymn the Virgin says to the Angel, who appeared to her “in the form of a man”: “Childbirth comes from mutual love: such is the law that God has given to men… I know not at all the pleasure of marriage: how then dost thou say that I shall bear a child?” Clearly she suspected an attempt at seduction, a proposal of unlawful carnal relations. But the Angel reassured her that while a marriage union was indeed in question, it would not be carnal union; it would not be a mystery of the lower kind between fallen men and women, but a higher mystery analogous to the virginal union of Adam and Eve in Paradise, a virginal union between herself and the Son of God, Who would come down from His Father in heaven to cleave to His Bride, becoming one flesh with her, but keeping her ever-virgin, as the first Adam and Eve remained virgin.
In his Homily on the Annunciation St. Demetrius of Rostov describes the mystery as follows: “Having received this glad tiding from the angel, the Most Pure one gave her assent to the will of the Lord and with the deepest humility replied from her heart, filled with love for God: ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it unto me according to thy word’ (Luke 1.38). And in the same instant, by the action of the Holy Spirit, the unspeakable conception took place in her holy womb, without fleshly delight, but not without spiritual delight. Then the Virgin’s heart with particular fervour melted with divine desire, and her spirit burned with flaming seraphic love, and her entire mind, being as if outside itself, submerged itself in God, ineffably taking delight in His goodness. In this delight of her spirit in the all-perfect love of God, and her mind in the vision of God, was conceived the Son of God, and ‘the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1.14).”
Thus the Incarnation of the Word from the Virgin is the real archetype of human marriage, including the paradisial marriage of Adam and Eve. It is the “great” mystery in the image and likeness of which the “small” mystery of ordinary human marriage was created. God became man, Spirit took on flesh, without seed and “without fleshly delight, but not without spiritual delight”.
As Adam gave “birth” to Eve in an ecstatic sleep, and then recognized in her “bones of my bones and flesh of my flesh”, so did the new Eve give birth to the new Adam in a pure and unfallen ecstasy, recognizing in her Child her own flesh and blood – indeed, more her flesh and blood than the child of any previous human mother, in that He was her child alone, having no human father, but being, like the first Adam, “the Son of God” (Luke 3.37).
For how could the reunion of God and man after so many centuries of separation not be the occasion of the greatest spiritual joy? How could the human race not rejoice that in the person of the Virgin it was pregnant again by the Spirit, and able to bring forth spiritual fruit to its Maker and Husband? All true marriages look back to their archetype in Paradise. But they also look back to, and take their truth and grace from, “the archetype of the archetype”, the marriage of God and man, Christ and the Virgin. And it is through “the archetype of the archetype” that marriage, and human life in general, is restored to its archetype in Paradise.
Since marriage is the type of such great and joyous events, its nature is essentially festal, even in the fall. When a couple marries in the Lord, the marriage service reminds us of the ecstatic marriage of Adam and Eve, of the righteous marriages of the Old Testament, but, above all, of the supernatural marriage of God and man at the Incarnation. That is why the icon of the Incarnation precedes the married couple into the church, and, after the human couple have been crowned and are being led, holding their crowns, three times around the table, the choir chants: “Rejoice, O Isaiah! The Virgin is with child, and has borne a Son, Emmanuel, Who is both God and man; and Orient is His name. Him do we magnify, and call the Virgin blessed…”
However, one may object, is not the Incarnation an archetype, not so much of marriage in the flesh, as of the virginal life? In fact, is it not a sign of the eschatological abolition of sexuality? After all, did not Christ by His virginal birth from the All-holy Virgin achieve the purpose of marriage, which is procreation, without the sexuality that accompanies it in the fallen world?
The short answer to these last two questions is: yes. However, there is no contradiction here with what it has been written above, because the Incarnation of the Word is the archetype both of the married life and of the virginal life. For, as we shall see in more detail later, they are both marital mysteries…
St. Maximus draws a distinction between two kinds of birth: “genesis” (genesiV), or “coming into being” as the direct creation of God without sexual intercourse, and “gennisis” (gennhsiV), or “generation” through sexual intercourse. Adam came into being through “genesis”, while all his children born in the fall were generated through “gennisis”. “Genesis” is the superior form of birth, because it involves no corruption or transmission of sin; and Christ as the New Adam, desiring to recreate human nature in His own Person in the glory of the original, unfallen creation, was bound to be born in this superior, sinless way. At the same time, however, He wished to assume the fallen nature of man in order to destroy that fall within himself, to be “made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law” (Galatians 4.4-5). And so His birth combined elements of both “genesis” and “gennisis”, being on the one hand from a Virgin (the equivalent of the virgin earth from which the first Adam was formed) without the help of man but with the Divine “inbreathing”, and on the other bearing all the signs in His body of the fall that is transmitted through sexual intercourse, having corruptible flesh subject to all the innocent passions, such as hunger, thirst, weariness, fear and pain. Christ’s “genesis” guaranteed His freedom from original sin, and His “gennisis” - His passibility in the image of our passibility. “For when, in His voluntary abasement, He underwent the human birth punitively instituted after the fall, He assumed the natural liability to passions but not sinfulness. He became the New Adam by assuming a sinless creaturely origin [genesis] and yet submitting to a passible birth [gennisis]. Perfectly combining the two parts in Himself in a reciprocal relation, He effectively rectified the deficiency of the one with the extreme of the other, and vice versa…”
Does this mean that Christ abolished sexuality through His own virginal conception and nativity? If the only purpose of sexuality was to continue the species in the fall, then the answer is: yes. For Christ’s conception and nativity did indeed show, as St. Maximus writes, “that there also happened to be another method of increasing the human race, a method foreknown to God, which would have prevailed if the first man had kept the commandment.” And in a sense He did overcome the division between the sexes – but without abolishing it entirely.
But, as we have seen in the first chapter, there were other purposes. The most important of these was that the lower marital mystery between man and woman should reflect the higher marital mystery between God and His creation, between Christ and the Church. And this greater mystery began to be unfolded precisely here, at the conception and nativity of Christ. For in His union with the Virgin Christ both gave an archetype of virginity, in that it was completely pure and without carnal desire, and of marriage, in that it was truly a union “in one flesh”…
The unfolding of the archetype is accomplished at the same time as the purification of the type. If the marriage of Christ and the Virgin is the first miracle of the Gospel, the second is the miracle at the marriage of Cana in Galilee. For the new Adam and the new Eve, having recreated in their own relationship the true image of God’s relationship with man in its original virginal-marital purity and joy, now wish to communicate that purity and joy to the marriages of their children, the children of the Church.
“The history of the Church in Paradise begins with a marriage,” notes Troitsky, “and the history of the New Testament Church begins with a marriage”. Of course, there is a difference. In Paradise, it was God Himself Who celebrated the sacrament and created the one-flesh union. Here, in Cana of Galilee, He is not the celebrant; He is only a guest. And yet He is a guest Who by His presence changes the marriage in a significant way; it becomes “a mystery of the presence of Christ”. As the 13th Canon of the Sixth Ecumenical Council says, “marriage was instituted by God and blessed by His presence”.
The nature of the blessing can be inferred from the nature of the miracle He wrought: the changing of the water into wine. By this miracle, Christ showed that He came not only to approve of marriage, but to change it, to raise it to a higher level, to rescue it from the fall. As St. Andrew of Crete says: “Marriage is honourable in all, and the marriage-bed undefiled. For on both Christ has given His blessing, eating in the flesh at the wedding in Cana, turning the water into wine and revealing His first miracle, to bring, thee, my soul, to a change of life.” Christ came that we “might have life, and have it more abundantly” (John 10.10). And here He comes to an ordinary human couple so as to give their marriage more abundant life, to transform the water of their fallen love into “the new wine of the birth of Divine joy of the Kingdom of Christ”. As St. John Chrysostom says: “If thou wilt, He will even now work miracles as He did then; He will make even now the water wine; and what is much more wonderful, He will convert this unstable and dissolving pleasure, this cold desire, and change it into the spiritual. This is to make water wine.”
And the Mother of Jesus was there (John 2.1). Of no other miracle in the Gospel is it recorded that “the Mother of Jesus was there”, and in no other miracle of Christ is such an important intercessory role ascribed to another human agent. The reason is clear: the miracle accomplished here is the restoration of the relationship between man and woman to its original purity and joy, as it was with Adam and Eve in Paradise. And how was that to be done without the participation of both the new Adam and the new Eve, in whose own relationship that restoration had already been accomplished, and in whose image marriage was originally established? Again, if the original rupture in the relationship was caused by the sinful approach of the first Eve to the devil, how was that to be reversed if not by the innocent approach of the new Eve to God?
But Christ replies in an unexpected manner: Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come (2.4). Many have interpreted this as a rebuke to the Virgin, as if it was wrong for her to put herself forward and intercede at this time. However, the Virgin does not then act as if she had been rebuked. On the contrary, she acts as if she has received some kind of assurance from Him, and tells the servants: Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it (2.5). Moreover, Christ does not refuse her request, but performs the miracle.
One possibility is that Christ did not want to perform a miracle without being asked to do it by the hosts. He was not refusing to do a miracle, but everything had to be done at the right time and in the right manner. So the Mother speaks to the servants, according to Blessed Theophylact, “in order that her request should be strengthened through the approach and petition of them themselves, so it should be clear that the refusal was not as a result of powerlessness, but with the aim of averting the opinion that he was resorting to the working of a miracle out of boastfulness and empty pomposity”.
The Lord’s use of the word Woman recalls the prophecy that was given to the first Eve in the garden concerning the Woman whose Seed, it was promised, would crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3.15). Now the Virgin is indeed the Woman of that prophecy, as Christ is the Seed Who will crush the power of satan – only the time for that victory is not yet come. So it is as if He is saying: “What is my relationship with you? Am I the Seed that is to crush the head of the serpent and you the Woman who gives birth to Him? Yes indeed: but do not think that I have yet achieved that victory, or that you can yet ask Me to act openly as the Victor over sin and death. Mine hour – the hour of My Crucifixion when I will crush the serpent’s head - is not yet come. Only when I have been crucified and risen from the dead will I be able to send the Spirit to mankind. Then and only then will the new wine of Divine joy be poured out upon all flesh.”
Christ often refers to the Crucifixion as Mine hour (John 7.30, 8.20,12.23, 12.27, 13.1, 16.32, 17.1). And that He is doing so again here is confirmed by St. Irenaeus of Lyons: “With Him nothing is incongruous or out of due season, just as with the Father there is nothing incongruous. For all these things were known by the Father; but the Son works them out at the proper time in perfect order and sequence. This was the reason why, when Mary was urging Him on to work the wonderful miracle of the wine, and was desirous before the time to partake of the cup of emblematic significance [the Eucharist], the Lord checking her untimely haste, said…”
According to St. Gaudentius of Breschia, the Lord was not rebuking the Virgin, but looking forward to the Cross: “Our Lord was speaking in a mystery, meaning thereby that the wine of the Holy Spirit could not be given to the Gentiles before His Passion and Resurrection, as the Evangelist attests: ‘As yet the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified’ (John 7.39). With reason, then, at the beginning of His miracles, did He thus answer His Mother, as though He said: ‘Why this thy hasty suggestion, O Woman? Since the hour of My Passion and Resurrection is not yet come, when, - all powers whether of teaching or of divine operations being then completed – I have determined to die for the life of believers. After My Passion and Resurrection, when I shall return to My Father, there shall be given to them the wine of the Holy Spirit.’ Whereupon she too, that most blessed one, knowing the profound mystery of this answer, understood that the suggestion she had just made was not slighted or spurned, but, in accordance with that spiritual reason, was for a time delayed. Otherwise, she would never have said to the waiters, Whatsoever He saith unto you, do it.”
And there were set six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece. Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water (2.6-7). “The stone water-pots,” writes Blessed Theophylact, “were used for the purification of the Jews. For the Jews washed almost every day and only then began to eat. If they touched a leper, or a corpse, or had had sexual intercourse with a woman, they washed as being already unclean. And since Palestine was waterless and it was impossible to find many springs, they always filled water-pots with water so as not to have to run to the rivers when they were defiled.”
The waterpots may be interpreted to refer to human families, each containing two or three people (childless and fertile marriages respectively). Since the fall, these had become stony and dry through the activity of the passions. But the Lord came in order to purify marriage, washing it clean of every stain, and then pour into it the grace of the Holy Spirit, thereby raising it to a higher level even than it had been in Paradise.
However, the pots, the water and the number six may together constitute a symbol of the fallen human nature. For man was created on the sixth day from water and clay and the breath of the Holy Spirit, but the whole mixture had become stony and dry through the loss of the Spirit. Now the Creator, having taken flesh from the virgin earth of the Virgin Mary, recasts the bodies and souls of men through the water and the Spirit, so that they may become fitting vessels, “new bottles” into which to pour the “new wine” of the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit (Mark 2.22). Thus the miracle signifies the transformation of the fallen man of the old creation into the “new creature” recreated by Christ in and through the Holy Spirit.
As St. Gaudentius says: “They had no wine because the wedding wine was consumed, which means that the Gentiles had not the wine of the Holy Spirit. So what it here referred to is not the wine of these nuptials, but the wine of the preceding nuptials; for the nuptial wine of the Holy Spirit had ceased, since the prophets had ceased to speak, who before had ministered unto the people of Israel. For all the prophets and the Law had prophesied until the coming of John, nor was there any one to give spiritual drink to the Gentiles who thirsted, but the Lord Jesus was awaited, Who would fill the new bottles with new wine by His baptism, ‘for the old things have passed away: behold all things are made new’ (II Corinthians 5.17).”
Consistent with this interpretation is the saying of Philo the Alexandrian, who saw in Melchizedek a type of the Word Who would “bring forth wine instead of water, and give your souls to drink, and cheer them with unmixed wine, in order that they may be wholly occupied with a divine intoxication, more sober than sobriety itself”. However, the reference to Melchizedek reminds us that he brought forth “bread and wine” to Abraham, which, as St. Cyprian of Carthage tells us, is a type of the offering of bread and wine to God at the Eucharist. Therefore the miracle of the transformation of water into wine may be a foreshadowing of the miracle of the transformation of wine into blood at the Mystical Supper.
For, as St Cyril of Jerusalem writes: “He once in Cana of Galilee turned the water into wine, akin to blood, and is it incredible that He should have turned wine into blood? When called to a bodily marriage, He miraculously wrought that wonderful work; and on the children of the bride-chamber shall He not much rather be acknowledged to have bestowed the fruition of His Body and Blood?”
But this greatest of miracles must also await “My hour”, the hour of the Crucifixion of Christ…
And He saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it. When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was (but the servants which drew the water knew), the governor of the feast called the bridegroom, and saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine, and when they have well drunk, then that which is worse; but thou hast kept the good wine until now (2.8-10).
In the beginning, in Paradise, the Governor of the feast of life, God the Father, set forth the good wine of the paradisial, unfallen eros. But this wine was turned into water by the fall. Now the Divine Bridegroom of the human race, has turned that water into a wine better than the original, for it has been mixed with an infusion from “the true Vine” (John 15.1). And this wine, squeezed out by the winepress of the Cross, and distributed in abundance on the Day of Pentecost, has inebriated those who follow Him with the “sober intoxication” of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2.13).
The Wedding of the Lamb
This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth His glory, and His disciples believed on Him (2.11). The grace of the Holy Spirit is called glory in the Gospel. It was first manifested at the Incarnation, when we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father (1.14). The glory of this grace was such that it transformed human nature into a fitting Bride for the Son.
However, the Incarnation was only the beginning of the mystery, its firstfruits, as it were; the fullness of grace, and the communication of the mystery to the whole of mankind, could not come before the Cross and Resurrection of Christ. “For the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7.39) by His Sacrifice on the Cross. Only after the Cross could all mankind enter into union with God through the Church, the Bride of Christ, each individual Christian becoming a bride of Christ through his participation in the sacraments. Until then, there was a glimpse of the coming glory at Cana, and an announcement of the coming glory, “the Kingdom of God is at hand”, by St. John the Forerunner, "the friend of the Bridegroom" (John 3.29), who continued to call the Bride to the marriage feast of the Lamb until his own martyric death. But the hour of Christ was not yet come…
The death of the Forerunner marked the end of the preparation period. The Bridegroom now set off to meet the Bride, to consummate His union with Her on the Cross, to rise from the Bridal chamber of the tomb, and finally to bestow the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles so that through them He could enter into a mystical marriage with all the children of the Church throughout all generations. For “it was for her [the Church’s] sake, writes St. Methodius of Olympus, “that the Word left His heavenly Father and came down to earth in order to cling to His Spouse, and slept in the ecstasy of His passion”.
The Cross was the climax both of pain and of joy. Through the pain and sorrow the sins of the Bride were wiped out, and she was thereby made worthy to enter into the joy of the Bridegroom. And so at the moment of death pain passed into joy: “Through the Cross joy is come into the world”.
At that moment the union was consummated with the words “it is finished” (consummatum est), and "forthwith came there out blood and water" (John 19.34) - the seed of the Church, the fruit of the consummated union. Just as the first Adam gave birth to the first Eve, the mother of all who live only to die again, so the new Adam gave birth to the new Eve, the Church, the Mother of all who die to themselves in order to live eternally. And like the first Adam the new Adam gives birth out of His side, in an ecstatic sleep, the sleep of death that gives birth to life.
St. John Chrysostom writes: "We all know that Eve came from the side of Adam himself. Scripture has told this plainly, that God put Adam into a deep sleep and took one of his ribs, and fashioned the woman. But how can we show that the Church also came from the side of Christ? Scripture explains this too. When Christ was lifted up on the cross, after he had been nailed to it and had died, one of the soldiers pierced His side and there came out blood and water. From that blood and water the whole Church has arisen. He Himself bears witness to this when He says, 'Unless one is born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of heaven.' He calls the blood 'spirit'. We receive birth from the water of baptism, and we are nourished by His blood. Do you see how we are made from His flesh and His bones, as we are given birth and nourished by that blood and water? Just as the woman was fashioned when Adam slept, so also, when Christ had died, the Church was formed from His side."
The children of the Church, the fruit of the command to "be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1.28), are brought into being by the water and the blood and the Spirit which flow from the side of Christ. For "there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three are one..." (I John 5.8). But since this is the mystery of marriage, the higher mystery of the marriage of Christ and the Church, it is the work not only of the new Adam, but also of the new Eve; and the new Eve must be present with the new Adam. And the new Eve is there; in fact she is the first to receive the blood falling from His side. Moreover, the new Adam again addresses her as the Woman rather than simply his Mother: “Woman, behold thy son” (John 19.26). John is the new son of the new Adam and the new Eve, a virgin son of virgin parents, and one born, as he himself writes, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1.13).
The link between the Cross and Cana is emphasised in the Church service for Great Friday: “Seeing her Lamb led to the slaughter, Mary His Mother followed Him with the other women and in her grief she cried: ‘Where dost Thou go, my Child? Why dost Thou run so swiftly? Is there another wedding in Cana, and art Thou hastening there, to turn the water into wine?” 
And then, on the third day (the marriage at Cana was also on the third day (John 2.1)), the Bridegroom emerges from the bridal-chamber of the tomb in the radiant beauty of His resurrected and glorified Body. “Adorn thyself, exult and rejoice, O Jerusalem, for thou hast seen Christ the King, like a bridegroom coming forth from the tomb.”
According to the constant tradition of the Church, the first to meet Him then was Mary, His Mother, from whom He had received His Body at the Annunciation, and who had stood at the foot of the Cross. In the Gospel account, however, it was not Mary the Virgin whom the Lord met and hailed on the morning of the Resurrection, but Mary Magdalene (John 20. 13-16). There is no contradiction here, however: the first meeting was veiled in silence, for fear of profanation (the Jews would have ridiculed a mother's witness), while the second was proclaimed to the world...
But later the two Marys go together to the tomb (Matthew 28.1), for they represent the two aspects, as it were, of the Church. The one is already "holy and without blemish", "not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing" (Ephesians 5.27); while the other is "black, but comely" (Song of Songs 1.5), being not yet completely purified through repentance. The one represents the Church Triumphant, already "full of grace" (Luke 1.28) and crowned with the Bridegroom at the right hand of the Father; while the other is the Church Militant, still having to struggle with sin both within and outside her.
Mary Magdalene mistakes Christ for the gardener - we remember that the first Adam was a gardener. But like Eve after the fall Mary is not yet allowed to touch the Tree of Life: "Touch Me not, for I have not yet ascended to My Father" (John 20.17). The other myrrh-bearers, on the other hand, "took hold of His feet and worshipped Him" (Matthew 28.9). Again we have a distinction between two kinds of believers: those who through purity and repentance have been initiated into the mysteries and can enter into full union with the Bridegroom, and those whose thoughts have not yet ascended far enough above earthly things to grasp the Divinity of Christ, for they still see Him primarily as a man, rather than as God seated at the right hand of the Father.
For now, in the light of the Resurrection, it is no longer permitted to love the Lord as a man only. As St. Ephraim the Syrian writes: "As long as He was a servant, all men had power over His Body, since publicans and sinners came to touch Him. But once He was established as Lord, the fear which He inspired was the fear of God."
St. Cyril of Alexandria gives this interpretation a eucharistic application: “We too drive away from the holy table those who are indeed convinced of the Godhead of Christ, and have already made profession of faith, that is, those who are already catechumens, when they have not as yet been enriched with the Holy Spirit. For He does not dwell in those who have not received Baptism. But when they have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, then indeed there is nothing to hinder them from touching the Saviour Christ. Therefore, also, to those wish to partake of the blessed Eucharist, the ministers of Divine mysteries say, ‘Holy things to the holy’, teaching that participation in holy things is the due reward of those who are sanctified in the Spirit.”
It is, therefore, only after the Ascension that the Bride finally understands that the Bridegroom's physical and tangible presence is not necessary for her continued union with Him, Who as God is in all places and fills all things. But having witnessed His Ascension, and having ascended in spirit with Him, she can return to the arena of her earthly pilgrimage "with great joy" (Luke 24.52). And this spiritual ascension takes place in the soul of every chosen Christian, weaning him from reliance on his physical senses and carnal feelings; for “though we once regarded Christ after the flesh, now we do so no longer" (II Corinthians 5.6). Especially is this necessary in approaching the Body of Christ in the Eucharist, where we must not trust our physical senses, but by faith alone “discern the Body of the Lord” (I Corinthians 11.29).
And yet the Bride is not deprived of the Bridegroom, even physically, after the Ascension. For ten days later, at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descends upon her in the Upper Room, and through the ministry of the apostles the mystery of the marriage in the flesh of the Bride and the Bridegroom is accomplished throughout the world, in the sacraments of Baptism, Chrismation and the Eucharist.
And from that moment the union is permanent, unless the Bride commits adultery. For, as St. Symeon the New Theologian says, “how can the bride be separated from her spouse, or the husband from his wife to whom he is once united? The legislator, tell me, will he not observe the law? The one who says: ‘They will be two in one flesh’, how will the man not be totally spirit with her? For the woman is in the man and the man is in the woman and the soul is united in God and God is in the soul”.
But then comes the final Day when the Bridegroom returns at the midnight of world history (Matthew 25.6) in order to rescue His Bride, complete her transfiguration and resurrection in both soul and body, and take her into the heavenly Bridal-chamber. In this sense Mine hour is not yet come until the very end of time, when all those who do not have a clean wedding-garment, who are “spots in your feasts of charity” (Jude 12), have been cast out (Matthew 22.13).
Only then is the scene properly set for the heavenly vision: "And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a Bride for her Husband..." (Revelation 21.2).
The Two Mysteries
The mystery of the marital union of each believer with Christ in the sacraments of Baptism, Chrismation and the Eucharist is the higher mystery of which the lower mystery of human marriage is the type and the icon. That is why, when the Apostle Paul is talking of the lower mystery of human marriage, his mind is immediately lifted to its archetype: “but I speak of Christ and the Church” (Ephesians 5.32). Even earlier in the chapter he switches easily from the lower mystery – “so ought men to love their wives as their own bodies” (v. 28) – to the higher – “for we are members of His Body, of His flesh, and of His bones” (v. 30).
The Holy Fathers take up the same theme and imagery. Thus St. Macarius the Great writes: “Let your soul have communion with Christ, as bride with bridegroom”. And Blessed Theophylact writes: “He took human nature as His bride and united her to Himself, wedding her and cleaving to her, becoming One Flesh. Indeed, He did not make just one wedding, but many. For every day the Lord in heaven is wedded to the souls of the saints.” For, writes St. Symeon the New Theologian, “it is truly a marriage which takes place, ineffable and divine: God unites Himself with each one – yes, I repeat it, it is my delight – and each becomes one with the Master. If therefore, in your body, you have put on the total Christ, you will understand without blushing all that I am saying.”
Again, St. John of Kronstadt writes: “The Liturgy is the continually repeated solemnization of God’s love for mankind, and of His all-powerful mediation for the salvation of the whole world, and of every member separately: the marriage of the Lamb – marriage of the King’s Son, in which the bride of the Son of God is every faithful soul, and the giver of the Bride is the Holy Spirit.”
However, before examining the two mysteries in more detail, it will be worthwhile to emphasise that the lower mystery, though lower, is still a mystery – indeed, “a great mystery”, in St. Paul’s words. Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich writes: "It is a great mystery when a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife. The Apostle himself, who has been raised to the third heaven and beheld many heavenly mysteries, calls the marriage of natural man on earth a great mystery. It is the mystery of love and life... The only mystery that exceeds this [the mystery of human marriage] is the mystery of Christ’s bond with His Church. Christ calls Himself the Bridegroom and the Church His Bride. Christ so loves the Church that He left His heavenly Father for her - though remaining equal with Him in unity of essence and divinity - and came down to earth and clave to his Church. He suffered for her sake that He might, by His Blood, cleanse her from sin and from all impurity and make her worthy to be called His Bride. He warms the Church with His love, feeds her with His Blood, and enlivens, enlightens and adorns her with His Holy Spirit." 
“Yes, for it is truly great,” writes St. John Chrysostom. “What human reckoning will be able to grasp the nature of what takes place in marriage when one considers that the young wife, who has been nourished with her mother’s milk, and kept at home, and judged worthy of such careful upbringing, suddenly, in a single moment, when she comes to the hour of marriage, forgets her mother’s labor pains and all her other care, forgets her family life, the bonds of love, and, in a word, forgets everything, and gives over her whole will to that man whom she never saw before that night? Her life is so complete changed that thereafter that man is everything to her; she holds him to be her father, her mother, her husband, and every relative one could mention. No longer does she remember those who took care of her for so many years. So intimate is the union of these two that thereafter they are not two but one.
“Adam, the first-formed man, with prophetic eyes foresaw this very thing and said: ‘She shall be called woman, because she was taken out of her man. Wherefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.’ The same thing could be said of the husband, because he too has forgotten his parents and his father’s house to unite himself and cleave to the wife who on that night is joined to him. Furthermore, to point out the closeness of this union, the Holy Scripture did not say: ‘He shall be united to a wife’, but ‘He shall cleave to his wife’. Nor was Holy Writ content with that, but added: ‘And they two shall be one flesh’. For this reason Christ too brought forward this testimony and said: ‘Therefore, now they are no longer two, but one flesh’. So intimate is this union and adherence that the two of them are one flesh. Tell me, what reckoning will be able to discover this, what power of reason will be able to understand what takes place? Was not that blessed teacher of the whole world correct in saying that it is a mystery? And he did not simply say ‘a mystery’, but: ‘This is a great mystery’.”
In another place the same holy father expands on this idea: “The girl who has always been kept at home and has never seen the bridegroom, from the first day loves and cherishes him as her own body. Again, the husband, who has never seen her, never shared even the fellowship of speech with her, from the first day prefers her to everyone, to his friends, his relatives, even his parents. The parents in turn, if they are deprived of their money for another reason, will complain, grieve, and take the perpetrators to court. Yet they entrust to a man, whom often they have never even seen before…, both their own daughter and a large sum as dowry. They rejoice as they do this and they do not consider it a loss. As they see their daughter led away, they do not bring to mind their closeness, they do not grieve or complain, but instead they give thanks. They consider it an answer to their prayers when they see their daughter led away from their home taking a large sum of money with her. Paul had all this in mind: how the couple leave their parents and bind themselves to each other, and how the new relationship becomes more powerful than the long-established familiarity. He saw that this was not a human accomplishment. It is God Who sows these loves in men and women. He caused both those who give in marriage and those who are married to do this with joy. Therefore Paul said, ‘This is a great mystery’.”
However, Paul goes on to say: “But I speak concerning Christ and the Church”(v. 32). The word “but” indicates that while the lower mystery of human marriage provides apt imagery for a description of the higher mystery, one must not think that they are the same mystery. This would amount to a pagan “sexualization of salvation” which is not the apostle’s meaning. “Nevertheless,” he immediately continues, “as for every one of you, let each love his wife as himself’ (v. 33). In other words, they are not the same mystery, and the higher must not be reduced to the lower, but also the lower is not to be despised, being an imitation of the higher. As St. John Chrysostom writes: “The blessed Moses, - or rather, God – surely reveals in Genesis that for two to become one flesh is a great and wonderful mystery. Now Paul speaks of Christ as the greater mystery; for He left the Father and came down to us and married His Bride, the Church, and became one spirit with her: ‘he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him’ (I Corinthians 6.17). Paul says well, ‘This is a great mystery’, as if he were saying, ‘Nevertheless the allegorical meaning does not invalidate married love’”. Again, as Bishop Theophan the Recluse writes: “With this mystical, spiritual understanding by the Apostle of the command concerning marriage, one might come to the thought that in Christianity, according to the thought of the Apostle, marriage in the flesh is in itself unfitting. St. Paul replies to this: v. 33. ‘Thus let each of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife respect her husband’. It is as if the Apostle says: ‘I understood the words on marriage in a mystical sense. However, this does not repeal the law expressed literally here by which the relations of husband and wife are defined.’”
St. Paul’s words on the two mysteries come after he has outlined the different duties of husband and wife. The husband is exhorted to love his wife as Christ loves the Church, and the wife - to obey her husband as the Church obeys Christ (Ephesians 5.21-30). The husband is exhorted above all to love his wife because it was a failure of true love that caused Adam to neglect to protect his wife against the wiles of the serpent, although he himself was not deceived by him (I Timothy 2.14). And the wife is exhorted above all to obey her husband because it was disobedience that caused her to eat of the fruit without consulting with her husband, although she knew the command of God and her origin from her husband. Thus every Christian husband is exhorted to correct the fall of Adam by his love for his wife in imitation of the new Adam, just as every Christian wife is exhorted to correct the fall of Eve by her obedience to her husband in imitation of the new Eve. As the spouses come closer to this goal, the lower mystery partakes more and more fully of the grace of its archetype in such a way that, as St. Gregory the Theologian writes, “in every marriage, Christ is venerated in the husband and the Church in the wife”.
The difference in the roles of the sexes (here we return to theme first treated in chapter 1) is described by St. John Chrysostom: "Why does Paul speak of the husband being joined to the wife, but not of the wife to the husband? Since he is describing the duties of love, he addresses the man. He speaks to the woman concerning respect, saying that the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is the head of the Church; but to the husband he speaks of love, and obliges him to love, and tells him how he should love, thus binding and cementing him to his wife. If a man leaves his father for his wife's sake, and then abandons her for whose sake he left his father, what pardon can he deserve? Do you not see, husband, the great honor that God desires you to give your wife? He has taken you from your father and bound [literally 'nailed'] you to her. How can a believing husband say that he has no obligation if his spouse disobeys him? Paul is lenient only when an unbeliever wishes to separate: 'But if the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound' (I Corinthians 7.15). And when you hear Paul say 'fear' or 'respect', ask for the respect due from a free woman, not the fear you would demand from a slave. She is your body; if you do this, you dishonor yourself by dishonoring your own body. What does this 'respect' entail? She should not stubbornly contradict you, and not rebel against your authority as if she were the head of the house; this is enough. If you desire greater respect, you must love as you are commanded. Then there will be no need for fear; love itself will accomplish everything. The female sex is rather weak and needs a lot of support, a lot of condescension... Provide your wife with everything and endure troubles for her sake; you are obliged to do so. Here Paul does not think it appropriate to illustrate his point with outside sources, as he does in many other cases. The wisdom of Christ, so great and forceful, is sufficient, especially in the matter of the wife's subjection... The wife is a secondary authority, but nevertheless she possesses real authority and equality of dignity while the husband retains the role of headship; the welfare of the household is thus maintained. Paul uses the example of Christ to show that we should not only love but also govern, 'that she might be holy and without blemish'. The word 'flesh' and the word 'cling' both refer to love, and making her 'holy and without blemish' refer to headship. Do both these things, and everything else will follow. Seek the things which please God, and those which please men will follow soon enough. Instruct your wife, and your whole household will be in order and harmony. Listen to what Paul says: 'If there be anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home' (I Corinthians 14.35). If we regulate our households in this way, we will also be fit to oversee the Church, for indeed the household is a little Church. Therefore it is possible for us to surpass all others in virtue by becoming good husbands and wives."
Vladimir Soloviev continues the theme: “As God relates to His creation, as Christ relates to His Church, so must the husband relate to his wife. These words are as well known as they are little understood. As God creates the universe, as Christ builds up the Church, so must man create and build up his feminine complement. That the man represents the active, and the woman the passive principle, that the former must in an educative way influence the mind and character of the latter – these, of course, are elementary propositions, but we have in mind not this superficial relationship, but that ‘great mystery’ of which the apostle speaks. This great mystery represents a substantial analogy, albeit not identity, between the human and the Divine relationship. After all, the building up of the Church is already distinct from the creation of the universe by God as such. God creates the universe out of nothing, that is, out of pure potentiality of being or emptiness, which is later being filled, that is, receives from the activity of God real forms of comprehensible things, while Christ builds up the Church out of material which has already been shaped into many forms, given life and in some of its parts self-acting life, to which only the principle of new, spiritual life needs to be communicate in a new, higher sphere of unity. Finally, man has for his creative action material in the person of the woman, who is equal to him in her level of actualization, and over whom his only superiority is… the right and duty of taking the first step on the path to perfection, and not actual perfection. God relates to creation as the All to nothing, that is, as the absolute fullness of being to pure potentiality of being; Christ relates to the Church as actual perfection to the potential of perfection, which is being formed into actual perfection; but the relationship between husband and wife is the relationship of two differently acting, but equally imperfect potentials that are attaining perfection only through a process of mutual influence. In other words, God receives nothing from creation for himself, that is, no addition, but gives everything to it; Christ receives no addition from the Church in the sense of perfection, but gives all perfection to her, but He receives from the Church an addition in the sense of the fullness of His collective body; finally, man and his feminine alter ego mutually complete each other not only in a real, but also in an ideal sense, attaining perfection only through mutual interaction. Man can constructively restore the image of God in the living object of his love only in such as at the same time restore this image in himself too; but for this he does not have strength in himself, for if he did, he would not need restoration; but not having it in himself, he must receive it from God. Consequently, man (the husband) is the creative, constructive principle in relation to his feminine addition not in himself, but as the medium or channel of Divine strength.”
The commands given to Adam and Eve immediately after the fall are now repeated, but in a more family-oriented context and in a form that emphasises that if they are not obeyed, the result this time will be, not pain and toil and physical death, but eternal death. Thus the husband, who was told in the Old Testament to earn his bread in the sweat of his brow is now told: "If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith and is worse than an infidel" (I Timothy 5.8). And the wife, who was told in the Old Testament that she would bring forth children in pain, is now told that she “will be saved through bearing children, if they continue in faith and love and holiness with sobriety” (I Timothy 2.15).
But if the penalties for quenching the redemptive grace given by Christ to marriage are great, so are the rewards of absorbing it. “You have a wife,” writes St. John Chrysostom, “you have children; what is equal to this pleasure?… Tell me, what is sweeter than children? Or what is more delightful than a wife for a man who desires to be chaste?… Nothing is sweeter than children and a wife, if you wish to live with reverence.” In this way, writes Nellas after quoting this passage, has “the Lord clothed pleasure in the positive dress of joy…”
As we have seen, the Holy Fathers witness that the Eucharist is indeed a marital mystery – more precisely, the marital mystery. Having sanctified the firstfruits, or root, of human nature by union with Himself in the Virgin’s womb, God in the sacrament of His Body and Blood extends this union from the root to the branches, from the firstfruits to every individual human being, by sending the Holy Spirit upon the bread and wine and transforming them into His Body and Blood. Just as the Holy Virgin was both daughter and mother and bride of Christ at the Incarnation, so all Christians who partake of the Body and Blood of Christ become His children and brides, insofar as the mystery of the Eucharist is, as it were, a continuation of the mystery of the Incarnation. 
Thus St. John Chrysostom writes: “Moses in his account of the first man has Adam say: ‘Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh’, hinting to us of the Master’s side. Just as at that time God took the rib of Adam and formed a woman, so Christ gave us blood and water from His side and formed the Church… Have you seen how Christ unites to Himself His Bride? Have you seen with what food He nurtures us all? It is by the same food that we have been formed and are fed. Just as a woman nurtures her offspring with her own blood and milk, so also Christ continuously nurtures with His own Blood those whom He has begotten”.
Georgios Mantzaridis writes, interpreting St. Gregory Palamas: “The union between God and man achieved in Christ far surpassed all human relationship and kinship. On assuming flesh and blood, the Logos of God became a brother to man; but He became our friend as well, in that He ransomed us from slavery and made us participate in His sacraments. Indeed, Christ Himself said to His disciples that He does not call them servants, because the servant does not know what his master is doing, but He calls them friends, because He has made known to them all that He heard from His Father. Christ is also men’s father and mother, for He gives them new birth through baptism and nourishes them like children at the breast – not only with His blood instead of milk, but with His body and spirit. Joined in one flesh with the faithful through the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, Christ becomes, in addition, the bridegroom of mankind. The similarity between God’s love towards humanity and conjugal love was familiar and widespread among the Old Testament writers, and particularly so among the mystical theologians of the Church. Palamas recognizes conjugal love as being the most exalted degree of worldly love, and he stresses the vastness of God’s love towards men in contrast to it, especially as this finds expression in the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. In marriage, he says, there is a cleaving ‘in one flesh’ but not ‘in one spirit’ [Homily 56, 6]. Through the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, however, we not only cleave to the body of Christ, we intermingle with it, and we become not merely one body with Him, but one spirit: ‘O many-sided and ineffable communion! Christ has become our brother for He has fellowship with us in flesh and blood…. He has made us His friends, bestowing on us by grace these His sacraments. He has bound us to Himself and united us, as the bridegroom unites the bride to himself, through the communion of His blood, becoming one flesh with us. He has also become our father through divine baptism in Himself, and He feeds us at His own breast, as a loving mother feeds her child’ [Homily 56, 7]”.
The younger contemporary of St. Gregory, Nicholas Cabasilas, takes up the same theme: “The sacred meal effects between Christ and us a closer union than that which was realized by our parents when they begat us. In truth He does not only share with us some particles of His flesh or some drops of His blood, but gives us both in all their fullness; He is not only a principle of life as are our parents, but in very truth Life Itself.” “O wonder of wonders! That Christ’s spirit is united to our spirit, His will is one with ours, His flesh becomes our flesh, His blood flows in our veins. What spirit is ours when it is possessed by His, our clay when set on fire by His flame!” “We are penetrated by Him and become one spirit with Him; body and soul and all the faculties are deified when there is union of soul with Soul, body with Body, blood with Blood”. “The faithful are called saints because of the holy thing of which they partake, because of Him Whose Body and Blood they receive. Members of His Body, flesh of His flesh, and bone of His bone, as long as we remain united to Him and preserve our connection with Him, we live by holiness, drawing to ourselves, through the holy mysteries, the sanctity which comes from that Head and that Heart.”
We have established that we are indeed speaking about two mysteries here, one in the image of the other and in imitation of it. However, the relationship is more than iconic when the lower mystery takes place between Christians, in the Church. For an ordinary icon does not have to be of the same substance as its archetype; but the two mysteries of marriage are consubstantial, as it were, if both the bride and the bridegroom in the lower mystery have been united with the Bridegroom, Christ Himself, in the higher mystery of the Church. This takes place, as we have seen, when each is washed in the water of Baptism as if in a kind of prenuptial bath, so as to be presented “without spot and wrinkle” to the Bridegroom, before entering into actual physical union with Him in His Most Holy Body and Blood. In this sense the hour of Christian marriage was not yet come at Cana, because the wine at the marriage had not yet been turned into the Blood of Christ shed on the Cross and communicated to every Christian in the sacrament of the Eucharist, which alone could change the one-flesh marriage of two fallen human beings into one strengthened and purified through the one-flesh marriage of each with the Divine Bridegroom.
The participation of the bride and bridegroom in the Body and Blood of Christ is both the foundation and the seal of their union. It is the foundation, because true unity between the spouses is impossible without the union of each individually with Christ. And it is the seal, because without the union of each with Christ their union with each other must eventually fall apart. That is why the rite of marriage in the early Church formed part of the Divine Liturgy, being sealed by the communion of both spouses in the Body and Blood of Christ; for, as St. Symeon of Thessalonica writes, “Holy Communion is… the end of every rite and the seal of every divine mystery”. And so the lower mystery, that of the “little church”, in St. John Chrysostom’s words, comes into being in and through the higher mystery, that of the Great Church, the former being a building block of the latter.
Troitsky writes: "Just as a crystal does not splinter into amorphous, uncrystalline parts, but only into similarly shaped pieces that look like wholes, and the smallest part of the crystal is still a crystal, so the family is both a part of the Church and itself a Church. Clement of Alexandria calls the family, like the Church, the house of the Lord, and Chrysostom directly and precisely calls it a 'little Church'. The paradisial family coincides with the Church, for at that time mankind had no other Church, and the Christian Church is the continuation of the paradisial Church, the new Adam-Christ replacing the Old Adam in it (I Corinthians 15.22). This explains why the New Testament and the oldest Christian literature, the Holy Scriptures that refer to marriage, refer also the Church and vice-versa.”
A true Christian marriage is therefore an example of that true Christian unity in the image of the unity of the Holy Trinity spoken of by St. Cyril of Alexandria: "Christ, having taken as an example and image of that indivisible love, accord and unity which is conceivable only in unanimity, the unity of essence which the Father has with Him and which He, in turn, has with the Father, desires that we too should unite with each other; evidently in the same way as the Consubstantial, Holy Trinity is united so that the whole body of the Church is conceived as one, ascending in Christ through the fusion and union of two peoples into the composition of the new perfect whole. The image of Divine unity and the consubstantial nature of the Holy Trinity as a most perfect interpenetration must be reflected in the unity of the believers who are of one heart and mind" - and body, he adds, for this "natural unity" is "perhaps not without bodily unity".
The physical, bodily element cannot be removed from the type without diminishing its typical, iconic quality. For God in His descent to, and union with, mankind did not merely use the woman as a channel for His Divine energies. He actually became a man; the Word was made flesh. And the union between the Word and the flesh was permanent, “unconfused and yet undivided”, just as the union of man and woman in marriage is permanent, “unconfused and yet undivided”. Thus the full reality of the Incarnation can be expressed in opposition to those various heretics who deny its fullness only through an image that is fully physical, that expresses full union, union in the flesh. Hence the difference, and yet inseparability, of the sexes, both in the beginning, when God made them male and female, and in the last times, when “God sent forth His Son, born of a woman” (Galatians 4.4). And so “neither is the woman without the man, nor the man without the woman, in the Lord. For just as the woman was from the man [Eve from Adam], so was the man from the woman [Christ from the Virgin]; but all things from God [the Father]” (I Corinthians 11.11).
4. MARRIAGE AND MONASTICISM
Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely hind, a graceful doe. Let her affection fill you at all times with delight, be infatuated always with her love…
It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
I Corinthians 7.1.
Are you not yet married to 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 dress 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.
St. Gregory the Theologian, Oration on Holy Baptism, 18.
The Neo-Manichaeans argue that marriage involving physical union is less truly marriage than a purely spiritual union. Thus G.I. Benevich and A.M. Shufrin first quote St. Gregory of Nyssa: “One must love God with all one’s heart and all one’s soul and strength, and all one’s feeling, and one’s neighbour one must love as oneself, and one’s wife – if she has a pure soul as Christ loves the Church, and if she is more passionate, as one’s body”. Then they point to the subtle difference in the form of love recommended for a passionate wife and a not-so-passionate wife, and draw the conclusion that for a passionate wife sexual relations are permitted (perhaps even recommended), whereas for a non-passionate wife the marriage is to be virginal (as, it is supposed, was Gregory’s marriage with his wife Theosebeia). Both kinds of marriage, they argue, are lawful and in the image of the marriage of Christ and the Church; but only the virginal marriage is not only in the image, but also in the likeness.
If by “virginal marriage” these authors meant the marriage of Adam and Eve in Paradise, or of Christ and the Virgin at the Annunciation, then we would not only agree that the first marriage is a perfect likeness of the marriage of Christ and the Church, but also that the second is the marriage of Christ and the Church. However, if, as seems more likely, they mean that ordinary human marriages in which there is no physical union are higher than those in which it exists, then we demur. Such Platonic “marriages” may be admirable in themselves, evincing a high level of sublimation and true love; but insofar as they do not involve a physical element, they are not in fact marriages according to the Lord’s own definition of marriage as the union of two in one flesh. For the Lord does not say: “they are no longer two, but one spirit”, but: “they are no longer two, but one flesh” (Matthew 19.5). And the priest in the marriage service prays that the union will be in both spirit and flesh: “Join them in one mind; crown them into one flesh”. Thus if we seek to define the difference between marriage and other unions between human beings, we are forced to return to that which the Gospel places, without any false shame, in the forefront: marriage is the union of two human beings of different sexes into one flesh, into one physical unit.
It follows that we must exclude the view that would see in sexual union an at best unnecessary and at worse sinful element in the marriage bond. Marriage is not marriage if it is not a physical union “into one flesh”, according to the words of the Lord Himself. This conception of marriage, writes S.V. Troitsky, “was included into the official canonical collections of the East. The Eclogue of the year 740 defines marriage as the union of two people in one flesh, in one substance. Together with the Eclogue, this definition entered into the Slavonic Kormchaia Kniga. Balsamon defines marriage as ‘the union of husband and wife into one substance, into one man with [almost] one soul, but in two hypostases”. To the Neo-Manichaeans it may seem that the definition of marriage as a one-flesh union is the clearest proof of its lowliness, even its sinfulness. However, it is precisely because marriage is a one-flesh union that divorce, adultery and fornication are seen as the truly sinful phenomena that they are, insofar as they tear apart that physical union which God Himself put together.
Let us look more closely at the difference between marriage and fornication. Clearly not every one-flesh union between a man and a woman constitutes a marriage. Thus St. Basil the Great writes that not only is fornication “not marriage, but is not even the beginning of marriage.” More generally, St. John Chrysostom, commenting on the words: “It is by the Lord that a man is matched with a woman” (Proverbs 19.14), writes: “He means that God made marriage, and not that it is He that joins together every man that comes to be with a woman. For we see many that come to be with one another for evil, even by the law of marriage, and this we should not ascribe to God”. Again, Fr. Sergius Shukin writes: “Let us recall the words of the Savior to the Samaritan woman: ‘Thou hast well said, ‘I have no husband;’ for thou hast had five husbands, and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband’ (John 4.17-18). This shows that from a spiritual viewpoint, not every marriage is a Christian marriage; it becomes Christian only when it has been entered into for the goals defined and established by God.”
The words of Fr. Sergius need to be qualified here: since the Samaritan woman was not, at the time of this conversation, a Christian, and did not even belong to the Old Testament People of God, the distinction made here by the Lord was not between Christian and non-Christian marriage, but between marriage and fornication. By implication, His words appear to admit the possibility of true marriage among the Gentiles. Consequently, there is a real difference, recognized by God, between a lawful union in one flesh, which He calls marriage, and an unlawful union, which we call fornication.
In what does this difference consist? St. John Chrysostom writes: “When we speak of marriage we do not mean carnal union – on that basis, fornication would also be marriage. Marriage consists in the fact that the married woman contents herself with a single husband; this is what distinguishes the courtesan from the free and wise woman. When a woman contents herself during her life with a single husband, this union merits the name of marriage. But if she opens her house not to one man only, but to several bridegrooms, I do not dare to call this behaviour fornication, but I will say of this woman that she is very far behind the woman who has known only one husband. The latter has in effect heard the word of the Lord: ‘For that a man will leave his father and his mother and will cleave to his wife, and they will be two in one flesh’; she has cleaved to her husband as if he was really her flesh and she has not forgotten the master who has been given her once and for all; the other woman has considered neither her first husband nor the second marriage as her own flesh; the first has been dispossessed by the second who is in his turn dispossessed by the first; she would not be able to preserve a faithful memory of her first husband while attaching herself after him to another; as for the second, she will not look at him with the appropriate tenderness, since a part of her thought is distributed in favour of the one who has gone. The consequence?… Both of them, the first as well as the second, are frustrated of the esteem and affection which a wife owes to her husband.”
“Marriage consists in the fact that the married woman contents herself with a single husband”. Clearly this constancy is a necessary part of true marriage. But is it sufficient? Is it not possible for a man and a woman to live together permanently, “forsaking all other”, but outside lawful wedlock? Is not the rite of marriage also a necessary element? And if so, what kind of rite?
One answer to this series of questions is provided by the canonist S.V. Troitsky, who concludes, on the basis of his study of Roman and Byzantine law, that no religious rite is necessary to conclude a true Christian marriage. As I shall argue later, such a conclusion does not take into account several important facts and is unacceptable from a Christian point of view. However, let us hear his argument first: “From the sovereign character of the family Roman law drew the conclusion that it was not the state that made a marriage a marriage, and not a religious organization, but exclusively the marrying parties themselves, their mutual love, their will, their agreement. Nuptiae solo affectu fiunt, nuptiae consensu contrahentium fiunt, consensus facit nuptias – such was the basic position of Roman and Byzantine, ecclesiastical and civil law in the first 8 centuries of Christian history. Moreover, in more ancient times the religious form of marriage, confarreatio, was necessary not to make marriage valid, but for manus, that is, for the acquisition by the husband of authority over the wife.
“But if marriage is concluded by the marrying parties themselves, then in what does the task of the State in relation to marriage consist? Only in verifying its existence for itself, only in registering the marriage, to the extent that this was necessary for the resolution of various questions of family and inheritance law. And Roman law left it to the will of the marrying parties to choose any form of marriage they liked, contenting itself with the minimum for its own verification.
“In ancient Rome there existed a view with regard to marriage that was the opposite of our own. We have a presumption that those living together are not married. In our time a married couple must itself prove with documents, witnesses, etc., that it is in lawful wedlock. In Rome, by contrast, the presumption was that those living together were married.
“Every permanent sexual relationship of a fully entitled man and woman was seen as a marriage. ‘We must see living together with a free woman as marriage, and not concubinage,’ writes the noted Roman jurist Modestinus. Therefore it was not the marrying parties that had to prove that they were in wedlock, but a third interested party had to prove that there existed some kind of impediment which did not allow one to see this living together as marriage. To put it more briefly, onus probandi lay not on the spouses, but on the third parties. Only when there was a basis for thinking that it was in the family or property interests of the parties to present a temporary relationship as marriage was the question of the formal criteria of marriage raised. But even in this case Roman law contented itself with the minimum. For this it was sufficient, for example, to show that there had been de facto living together for a year, the testimonies of witnesses that the parties had indeed agreed to marry or to call each other Mr. and Mrs., that some kind of marital rite had been performed, the presentation of documents with regard to the dowry, etc. In a word, speaking in legal terms, in Rome the participation of the State in the conclusion of a marriage did not have a constitutive, but only a declarative character.
“Byzantine legislation adopted the same point of view until the end of the 9th century. The constitution of the Emperors Theodosius and Valentinian in 428 says that for the validity of marriage neither a wedding feast is necessary, nor documents on a dowry, nor any festivity, since no law hindered the marriage of fully entitled people. Marriage acquired validity by means of agreement and the testimony of witnesses. Although Justinian, in his novella 74 of December, 537, prescribed that middle-class people should go to church to conclude their marriage, this demand was based on considerations, not of a religious, but only of an economic character, which is indicated by the fact that the very separation of this class of people was in accordance with their property census. And indeed, Justinian demanded that middle-class people should go to church not in order to be crowned, but only in order to draw up a document on marriage in front of an ecclesiastical lawyer and three or four clergy as witnesses. But even this formality did not last long, and on December 11, 542, novella 117 (ch. 4) freed even middle-class people from this obligation. Only upper-class people (illustres et senatores), again for reasons having to do with property, had to write documents on the dowry, while the lower classes were not obliged to write any documents at all. In the same novella 74 (chapter 5), Justinian gave the significance of an optional form of marriage, not to crowning, but to the oath ‘to take as my wife’ while touching the Bible. Only in a legislative collection of the 8th century, more precisely: in the collection of 741 of the iconoclast emperors Leo the Isaurian and Constantine Copronymus known as the Eclogue, was a blessing as a juridical form of concluding a marriage mentioned for the first time. But even here a blessing is not an obligatory form for the conclusion of a marriage, but only one of four forms of marriage, the choice of which depends on external circumstances and the will of the marrying parties; in other words, here a Church blessing is only an optional form of marriage, and even then not always, but only in case of necessity, and it is precisely the Eclogue that prescribes that marriage must be concluded by means of the drawing up of a document of a definite form, and when, as a consequence of the poverty of the spouses, it is impossible to draw up the document, the marriage can be concluded either through the agreement of the parents, or through a Church blessing, or through the witness of friends (Eclogue, II, 1,3,8). It is exactly the same with crowning; it is an optional form of marriage, say also the later laws of the Byzantine emperors – the Prochiron of 878 (IV, 6,14,17,27), the Epanagoge of 886 (XVI, 1) and the collection known as Blastaris’ Syntagma of 1335 (G., 2, translation of Ilyinsky, p. 103). ‘Marriage,’ we read in Blastaris, ‘is concluded by means of a blessing, or crowning, or an agreement’.
“That is how the ancient Church, too, looked on the form of marriage. The basic source of the Church’s teaching on marriage, the Bible, does not say that the institution of marriage arose some time later as something established by the State or the Church. Here we find another teaching on marriage. Neither the Church nor the State is the source of marriage. On the contrary: marriage is the source of both the Church and the State. Marriage precedes all the social and religious organizations. It was established already in Paradise, it was established by God Himself. God brings the woman to Adam, and Adam himself proclaims his marital union independently of any earthly authority, even the authority of parents (Genesis 2.24; cf. Matthew 19.6). Thus the first marriage was concluded ‘by the mercy of God’. In the first marriage the husband and wife are the bearers of the highest earthly authority, they are sovereigns to whom the whole of the rest of the world is subject (Genesis 1.28). The family is the first form of the Church, it is the ‘little Church’, as Chrysostom calls it, and at the same time it is the source also of the State as an organization of power, since according to the Bible the basis of every authority of man over man is to be found in the words of God on the authority of the husband over the wife: ‘he will be your lord’ (Genesis 3.16). Thus the family is not only a little Church, but also a little State. And if that is so, then the relationship of the family with the Church and the State must have a character of equality, the character of international and inter-Church relations. Therefore the performers of marriage are considered in the sources of the Church’s teaching to be the spouses themselves, and the participation of a representative of authority, whether of the Church or of the State, is not an essential element of marriage, is not a condition of its validity. In the whole Bible, both in the Old and in the New Testaments, we do not find a single word on any kind of obligatory form of marriage, although here we do find many prescriptions of a ritual character. The relationship of the Church and the State to marriage is expressed not in its conclusion, but only in its verification, in its recognition as an already accomplished fact. Just as the recognition of authority in a State on the part of another State does not give this authority new rights, but is only the condition of normal relations between these States, so the participation of a representative of society, whether of the Church or of the State, is the condition of normal relations between them and the new family.
“Therefore the relationship of the Church to marriage was one of recognition. This idea is well expressed in the Gospel account of the marriage in Cana of Galilee (John 1.1-11). Reference is sometimes made to this account as a proof of the teaching that the accomplisher of marriage is the priest. In fact, the Gospel account is not in agreement with this point of view. The Gospel makes no mention whatsoever of the participation of Christ in the rite of the conclusion of the marriage. Christ came with His apostles as a guest; he was invited to the wedding feast. But participation in the wedding feast was, generally speaking, an expression of the recognition of marriage on the part of society, and the presence of Christ and the apostles had the significance of a recognition of the Old Testament institution of marriage on the part of the new Church.
“This is also how the ancient Christian Church herself looked on the form of marriage. Her teaching on the form of marriage coincides with the teaching 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 Roman laws. The ancient Church completely assimilated the basic teaching of Roman marital law, that marriage is concluded by the spouses themselves, that consensus facit 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 others.
“Finally, we find the same teaching in the official collections of Byzantine law which have been adopted by the Orthodox Church.”
The Role of the Church
And yet for many centuries now, in both East and West, a marriage between Christians that has not been performed by a priest in Church has been considered invalid. So why did the change take place, if it did indeed take place? Or perhaps Troitsky is overlooking certain points…
Thus he asserts that Christ’s presence at Cana signified no more than His recognition of the validity of Old Testament marriage. 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 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 likely that God would not respond, would refuse to play any active role Himself?
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.”
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 making them man and wife, 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”. And St. John Chrysostom writes: “God unites you with your wife”. As it is expressed in a Novella of Emperor Alexis I, those being married “receive God”, Who “walks amidst those being united”. 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 to lust". 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’”.
It may be that in the early Christian centuries there was no specific rite of marriage carried out in the Church apart from the blessing of the bishop, 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 her own 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.  For, as St. Symeon of Thessalonica writes, “Holy Communion is… the end of every rite and the seal of every divine mystery”.
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.” 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”. “Secret unions [occultae conjunctiones], that is, ones that have not been professed beforehand in the Church, are judged to be equivalent to fornication and adultery”.
As Troitsky himself points out, both the Byzantine Church and the State characterized secret unions (laqrogamia) as fornication. 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”.
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”. 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 of the couple on each other and both in the hand of God. 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 [prosjoran]”. 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. Again, St. Augustine calls marriage, not simply a marital bond, but an “indissoluble sacrament”.
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.”
The essential independence of the Church from the State in this matter is indicated by the controversy between Popes Callistus and Hippolytus in the mid-third century concerning the permissibility of free-born women Christians marrying their slaves. This was forbidden by Roman law, but allowed by Pope Callistus.
Troitsky claims that the 38th, 40th and 42nd Canons of St. Basil the Great prove that “if the parties started to live together before marriage, their fornication is turned into marriage of itself, without any rite, immediately the external obstacles are removed”. However, a closer examination of the text of the canons proves only that a marriage has to be public and approved by parents or masters (in the case of slaves) in order to be valid. It says nothing about the presence or absence of a rite.
One way of looking at the matter is to see the civil marriage for Christians as not so much a marriage, as a betrothal, and the Christian rite (even if, at the beginning, that consisted in little more than the blessing of the bishop and participation in the Eucharist) as the marriage itself. This is the approach adopted by P. Kuzmenko: "In Christianity marriage has been blessed since apostolic times. Tertullian, the church writer of the third century, says: 'How can we represent the happiness of Marriage, which is approved by the Church, sanctified by her prayers and blessed by God!'
"In antiquity the rite of marriage was preceded by betrothal, which was a civil act and was performed in accordance with local customs and decrees, insofar - it goes without saying - as this was possible for Christians. Betrothal was performed triumphantly in the presence of many witnesses who ratified the marriage agreement. The latter was an official document defining the property and legal relations of the spouses. Betrothal was accompanied by a rite of the joining together of the hands of the bride and bridegroom. Moreover, the bridegroom gave the bride a ring of iron, silver or gold, depending on his wealth. Clement, bishop of Alexandria, says: 'The man must give the woman a golden ring, not for her external adornment, but so as to place a seal on the household, which from this time passes into her control and is entrusted to her care.'…
"Towards the 10th and 11th centuries betrothal lost its civil significance, and this rite was performed in the church, accompanied by the corresponding prayers. But for a long time yet betrothal was performed separately from crowning and was united with the service of Mattins. Finally the rite of betrothal received its unique form towards the 17th century.
"In antiquity the rite of marriage crowning itself was performed by a special prayer, by the bishop's blessing and by the laying on of hands in the church during the Liturgy. A witness to the fact that marriage crowning was introduced in antiquity into the rite of the Liturgy is the presence of a series of corresponding elements in both contemporary rites: the opening exclamation, 'Blessed is the Kingdom...', the litany of peace, the reading of the Epistle and the Gospel, the extended litany, the exclamation: 'And vouchsafe us, O Master...', the singing of 'Our Father' and, finally the drinking from a common chalice. All these elements were evidently taken from the rite of the Liturgy and are similar to the Eucharist (the sacrament of Communion)."
Thus just as betrothal was not yet marriage, so a State union was not yet a Christian marriage. The Church made the State’s marriage Christian by modifying the State’s ceremonies and adding her own blessing. Thus as D.S. Bailey writes, "the nuptials of the faithful continued to take place with the formalities customary at the time. The traditional ceremonies were not modified, save for the omission of non-essentials which were either unedifying in themselves or redolent of pagan superstition, and the substitution of the Eucharist and the benediction for the sacrifice and other accompanying religious observances. Hence the Church Orders contain no Christian marriage rite, nor is there any reference to one in the literature of the period, while the ancient sacramentaries merely give the prayers of the nuptial Mass and the blessing…
“Marriage, then, among Christians and pagans alike, was effected by the successive ceremonies of sponsalia or desponsatio (the betrothal) and nuptiae (the wedding), both of which the Church adapted to the use of the faithful by the introduction of certain modifications which did not, however, change the basic structure or purpose of these rites. What was the character of the resultant union – especially as regards its permanence or impermanence? According to Roman law, marriage was simply a contractual relationship established by consent and voicable like any other contract – in this instance, by a mere revocation of the consent, either by mutual agreement (divortium ex consensus) of by unilateral action (repudium)… For the Church, however, there was another law than that of the State – a law for whose authority the Fathers pointed to Scripture and to the teaching of Christ…"
Concerning the rite of crowning, which became the central element of the rite of marriage, as opposed to betrothal, Fr. John Meyendorff writes: "Since the fourth century a specific solemnization of the sacrament is mentioned by Eastern Christian writers: a rite of 'crowning', performed during the Eucharistic Liturgy. According to St. John Chrysostom, the crowns symbolized victory over 'passions'... From a letter of St. Theodore the Studite (+826) we learn that crowning was accompanied by a brief prayer read 'before the whole people' at the Sunday Liturgy, by the bishop or the priest. The text of the prayer, given by St. Theodore, is the following: 'Thyself, O Master, send down Thy hand from Thy holy dwelling place and unite these Thy servant and Thy handmaid. And give to those whom Thou unitest harmony of minds; crown them into one flesh; make their marriage honourable; keep their bed undefiled; deign to make their common life blameless' (Letters I, 22, P.G. 99, col. 973). The liturgical books of the same period (such as the famous Codex Barberini) contain several short prayers similar to that quoted by St. Theodore. These prayers are all meant to be read during the Liturgy. "
From early in the tenth century, the rite of crowning began to be separated from the Liturgy. First Emperor Leo VI made it compulsory to be married in Church by crowning. This created the problem of how Christians who for one reason or another were not considered worthy of receiving Communion were to be married. If marriage was to remain as an integral part of the Liturgy and be sealed by Communion, they could not be married. But then they might fall into fornication. In order to avoid this, the Church separated marriage from the Liturgy, but introduced the common cup of wine into the rite as a reminder of the former link with the Liturgy. “From the 12th century, we have two cups, the eucharistic and the ‘common’, from which those who were unworthy to commune drank.”
In the 15th century St. Symeon of Thessalonica sums up the teaching of the Church on the nature of a true marriage: "(the priest) takes the holy chalice with the Presanctified Gifts and exclaims: 'The Presanctified Holy things for the Holy'. And all respond: 'One is Holy, One is Lord', because the Lord alone is the sanctification, the peace and the union of His servants who are being married. The priest then gives Communion to the bridal pair, if they are worthy. Indeed, they must be ready to receive Communion, so that their crowning be a worthy one and their marriage valid. For Holy Communion is the perfection of every sacrament and the seal of every mystery. And the Church is right in preparing the Divine Gifts for the redemption and blessing of the bridal pair; for Christ Himself, Who gave us these Gifts and Who is the Gifts, came to the marriage (in Cana of Galilee) to bring to it peaceful union and control. So that those who get married must be worthy of Holy Communion; they must be united before God in a church, which is the House of God, because they are children of God, in a church where God is sacramentally present in the Gifts, where He is being offered to us, and where He is seen in the midst of us. After that the priest also gives them to drink from the common cup, and the hymn 'I will take the cup of salvation' is sung because of the Most Holy Gifts and as a sign of the joy which comes from divine union, and because the joy of the bridal pair comes from the peace and concord which they have received. But to those who are not worthy of communion - for example, those who are being married for a second time, and others - the Divine Gifts are not given, but only the common cup, as a partial sanctification, as a sign of good fellowship and unity with God's blessing".
It follows that the idea that there can be Christian marriage outside the Church is mistaken. It is true that for non-Christians there can be marriage outside the Church – that is, a sexual union that is not counted as fornication. Even there, certain criteria must be met: the free consent of the spouses, conformity to the laws of the State, public recognition by parents or guardians. But for a Christian more is required: the seal of the Church, which is conferred by, at a minimum, the blessing of the priest and communion as couple in the Body and Blood of Christ. The failure to remember that marriage of the man and woman in Christ is accomplished through marriage in the Church of Christ, and that the bride and bridegroom are “crowned into one flesh”, as the marriage rite puts it, in and through the flesh of Christ, leads to a diminished consciousness of the real significance of marriage, and hence a greater tolerance of sexual sin in general.
When the Bolsheviks introduced civil marriage with divorce-on-demand for one rouble into Russia (Commissar Alexandra Kollontai, Lenin’s lover, said that sexual relations had no more significance than drinking a glass of water), the Russian Orthodox Church resisted this innovation fiercely, insisting that civil marriage was not enough for a Christian.
The leader of the Russian Church at the time was New Hieromartyr Tikhon. Before he became Patriarch, when he was still Archbishop in America, he wrote: "In order to be acceptable in the eyes of God, marriage must be entered into 'only in the Lord' (I Corinthians 7.39), the blessing of the Church must be invoked upon it, through which it will become a sacrament, in which the married couple will be given grace that will make their bond holy and high, unto the likeness of the bond between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5.23-32), which will help them in the fulfilment of their mutual duties. Sometimes, as in this country, for instance, Church marriage is deemed unnecessary. But if without the help of God we can accomplish no perfect and true good (John 15.5), if all our satisfaction is from God (II Corinthians 3.5), if God produces in us good desires and acts (Philippians 2.14), then how is it that the grace of God is unnecessary for husband and wife in order to fulfil their lofty duties honourably? No, a true Orthodox Christian could not be satisfied with civil marriage alone, without the Church marriage. Such a marriage will remain without the supreme Christian sanction, as the grace of God is attracted only towards that marriage which was blessed by the Church, this treasury of grace. As to civil marriage, it places no creative religious and moral principles, no spiritual power of God's grace, at the basis of matrimony and for its safety, but merely legal liabilities, which are not sufficient for moral perfection."
Remarriage and Divorce
Troitsky’s thesis that the Church simply accepted the State’s definition of marriage without more ado would appear to have stronger evidence in the case of second marriages, insofar as these did not involve the participation of the Church at the beginning, being, in St. Theodore the Studite’s words, “civil”. However, insofar as the twice-married couple was then admitted to the Eucharist, we cannot assert that the Church had no part to play in those marriages; for, as we have seen, admission of a couple to communion constitutes a seal on the marriage, its sanctification, and not simply a recognition that the couple are already married. Later, the Church introduced a rite for second marriages, though without crowning and with a penance of two years without communion.
As with marriage in general, so in relation to divorce and remarriage, the Church did not simply adopt the State’s legislation without question, but modified and strengthened it. The State allowed divorce freely: the Church allowed it only in the case of adultery. The State allowed remarriage: the Church also allowed it, but emphasised the superiority of first marriage over second or third marriages, and forbade fourth marriages. Christ permits divorce for one reason only – adultery, because adultery destroys the one-flesh union that is marriage, creating another-flesh union not blessed by God. Correspondingly, “whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another, commits adultery; and he who marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (Matthew 19.9).
Although the Church has admitted other reasons besides adultery, they all relate to this primary reason in that they all make the one-flesh union de facto impossible.
Tertullian, however, went further, forbidding not only divorce, but also second marriages precisely because, in his opinion, they violate the one-flesh union. The Church did not follow him in this, considering the death of the first spouse to constitute ipso facto the end of the one-flesh union with that spouse.
While placing first marriages above second marriages, the Church followed the Apostle Paul in allowing second marriages (I Timothy 5.14; Romans 7.1-3), provided that they are “in the Lord” (I Corinthians 7.39), by which is meant, according to St. Basil the Great, that the spouses enter into them not for the sake of pleasure but in order to have each other’s spiritual help in passing through life. Even the rigorist St. Ambrose of Milan admitted second marriages, while seeing them as impediments for the priesthood: “A man who has married again, though he commits no sin and is not polluted thereby, is disqualified for the prerogative of the episcopacy.”
As regards the remarriage of divorcees, the Western Church tended to adopt a more rigorist approach than the Eastern, forbidding it even for the innocent party. But the Eastern Church, while forbidding the remarriage of the guilty party, was condescending in relation to the innocent party.
Thus St. Epiphanius of Cyprus writes: “He who cannot keep continence after the death of his first wife, or who has separated from his wife for a valid motive, such as fornication, adultery, or another misdeed, if he takes another wife, or if the wife takes another husband, the divine word does not condemn him nor exclude him from the Church or the life; but she tolerates it rather on account of his weakness.”
The strict discipline of the Church in relation to remarriage and divorce by no means proceeds from the principle of hatred of the flesh, as modern liberal critics charge, but rather from its opposite: a profound understanding of the importance of the flesh in general, and of the sexual union of man and woman in particular. Axiomatic is the principle that sexual union is not simply a physiological act with no important moral consequences, but the creation of an ontologically new human unit. And if that unit is united with the Body of Christ, its significance, and the sinfulness of the destruction of that unit, is even greater.
The Lord forbade divorce, saying: “What God hath joined together, let no man put asunder” (Matthew 19.6), because it destroys this new unit, which was created, not by man, but by God. For marriage is indeed, not procreation only, but creation, the creation of one new being out of two; for “they two shall be one flesh, so that they are no longer two, but one flesh' (Matthew 19.6). As Holy New Hieromartyr Gregory (Lebedev) writes:, that is, the people have ceased to exist separately even in the physical sense. They have become one physical body, 'one flesh'. That is what the fulfilment of the will of God has done... It has not only completed and broadened their souls in a mutual intermingling, it has changed their physical nature and out of two physical existences it has made one whole existence. That is the mystery of marriage. Having explained it, the Lord concludes with a mild reproach to the Pharisees: ‘Well, what do you want? What are you asking about? How, after this, can a man leave his wife? That would be unnatural! In marriage we have a natural completion of life! But you want Me to approve of the destruction of this life?! And in marriage we have a creative act, an act of God, Who creates one life… How can you want Me to destroy life created by God? This is unnatural… Don’t think of encroaching on marriage! What God has joined together, let man not put asunder.”
Marriage, as we have noted, existed before the coming of Christ, and not only among the Jews, but also among the pagan Gentiles. But in the Church of Christ it is raised to a higher level, not only than marriage in the Fall, but even than marriage in Paradise. Why? First, because marriage in the Church is, deliberately and explicitly, an imitation of the marriage between Christ and the Church (which it obviously could not be so intentionally before the Incarnation of Christ), and partakes of the grace of that higher and mystical marriage to the extent that this imitation is a true likeness. And secondly, because the Christian husband and wife, before becoming one flesh with each other, are each already one flesh with Christ in the Eucharist, so that the likeness of the lower mystery to the higher mystery is not a likeness between an archetype and type of different natures (as in icons of Christ and the saints), but of the same nature.
The body of a Christian is holy because it is united to the Body of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Therefore it cannot be united with a body that is not also Spirit-bearing. This fact increases the intimacy and depth of the union of the Christian husband and wife and makes a betrayal of that union through fornication or adultery a greater sin; for in committing fornication, a husband not only unites his and his wife’s body with the body of another, but unites the Body of Christ with the body of another. This point was made with particular force by the Apostle Paul: “Ye know that your bodies are members of Christ, do ye not? Having taken up then the members of Christ, shall I make them members of a harlot? May it not be! Or know ye not that he that is joined to the harlot is one body? For ‘the two,’ saith He, ‘shall be into one flesh’. But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit. Flee fornication. Every sin whatsoever a man might do is outside the body, but he who committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. Or know ye not that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit Who is in you, Whom ye have from God, and yet are not your own? For ye were bought with a price; glorify then God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (I Corinthians 6.15-20).
For, as Bishop Theophan writes: “He who should be one with Christ is torn away from Christ and becomes one with a harlot, and this is in accordance with the law of the original institution of marriage. Marriage is a Divine institution blessed by God, and those who cleave to each other in it become one body in Christ. But the harlot serves Satan, and therefore he who cleaves to her becomes one body with her in Satan. That fornication is the service of Satan is evident also from the fact that it darkens not only the body, but also the soul of the fornicator, drives away from his Angel Guardian and tears him away from the Lord, for it is impossible for a darkened and evil-smelling one to be united with the Lord”.
It follows that Christians can only marry other Christians, and not schismatics or heretics (and still less pagans or atheists) who do not belong to the Body of Christ and do not possess the Holy Spirit. As the holy canons declare: “Let no Orthodox man be allowed to contract a marriage with a heretical woman, nor moreover let any Orthodox woman be married to a heretical man. But if it should be discovered that any such thing is done by any one of the Christians, no matter who, let the marriage be deemed void, and let the lawless marriage be dissolved.”
And if this seems excessively harsh (especially by comparison with today’s excessively lenient practice), let us recall that even in the Old Testament the lawgiver Ezra, with the consent of the leaders of Israel, dissolved all marriages of Israelites with pagans (Ezra 10).
Similar reasoning underlies the prohibition on the faithful receiving communion in heretical churches. Since the mystery of the Eucharist is a marital mystery, it is forbidden to the faithful to communicate anywhere else than in the Church of Christ. Thus the Apostle Paul says: “Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy?” (I Corinthians 10.21-22).
Jealousy is the natural response of a lover at the sight of his beloved’s adultery, and adultery was what St. John the Almsgiver considered receiving communion from heretics to be: “Another thing the blessed man taught and insisted upon with all was never on any occasion whatsoever to associate with heretics and, above all, never to take the Holy Communion with them, ‘even if’, the blessed man said, ‘you remain without communicating all your life, if through stress of circumstances you cannot find a community of the Catholic Church. For if, having legally married a wife in this world of the flesh, we are forbidden by God and by the laws to desert her and be united to another woman, even though we have to spend a long time separated from her in a distant country, and shall incur punishment if we violate our vows, how then shall we, who have been joined to God through the Orthodox Faith and the Catholic Church – as the apostle says: ‘I espoused you to one husband that I might present you as a pure virgin to Christ’ (II Corinthians 11.2) – how shall we escape from sharing in that punishment which in the world to come awaits heretics, if we defile the Orthodox and holy Faith by adulterous communion with heretics?’”
There are other weighty reasons for forbidding mixed marriages. In the first place, a couple who do not share the same faith are not united in that which is most important in life. They may be united in body and soul, but not in spirit. This will lead to quarrels and possibly the tearing away of the believing spouse from the true faith for the sake of peace with his unbelieving spouse.
St. Ambrose compares mixed marriages to the disastrous marriage of Samson and Delilah. For: ”how can love be suited if faith be different? Therefore, beware, Christian, to give your daughter to a Gentile [i.e. a pagan] or to a Jew. Because, I say, the Gentile woman, the Jewess, the foreigner, viz. do not take a wife who is a heretic, or any stranger to your Faith. The grace of purity is the first faith of marriage. If she worships idols whose adulteries are proclaimed, if she denies Christ, Who is the Teacher and Rewarder of chastity, how can she love chastity? Even if she is a Christian, this does not suffice unless ye are both consecrated by the Sacrament of Baptism. Ye must rise together for worship, and God is to be entreated by joint prayers. Another sign of purity is added if ye believe that the marriage which has fallen to your lot was given to you by your God. Hence, Solomon, too, says, ‘A wife is suited to a man by God’ (Proverbs 19.14).”
Tertullian lists all the disadvantages of being married to an unbelieving husband, especially the difficulty of avoiding taking part in pagan festivals. And then he lists the joys of a marriage between believers: “Where can we find sufficient words to tell the happiness of that marriage which the Church cements, and the offering confirms, and the blessing signs and seal, news of which the angels carry back [to heaven], which the Father takes as ratified? For even on earth children do not rightly and lawfully wed without their fathers’ consent. What kind of yoke is that of two believers, partakers of one hope, one desire, one discipline, one and the same service? Both are brethren, both fellow-servants, there is no difference of spirit or flesh between them; they are truly ‘two in one flesh’. Where the flesh is one, there is the spirit too. Together they pray, together prostrated, together fast; mutually teaching, mutually exhorting, mutually sustaining. They are equally to be found in the Church of God, equally at the banquet of God, equally in straits, in persecutions, in refreshments. Neither hides anything from the other; neither shuns the other; neither is troublesome to the other. They freely visit the sick and relieve the needy. They give alms without fearing reprisals; they offer sacrifices without scruples; the sign of the cross is not made stealthily, greetings without trembling, blessings without muteness. They sing psalms and hymns together, and challenge each other who will chant better to the Lord. Such things Christ sees and hears with joy. To these He sends His own peace. Where two are, there is He Himself in their midst. Where He is, there the evil one is not.”
Mixed marriages were forbidden even in the Old Testament. The downfall of Samson and Solomon were attributed to their foreign wives. And Nehemiah said: “I saw the Jews who had married women of Ashdod, Ammon, and Moab; and half of their children spoke the language of Ashdod, and they could not speak the language of Judah, but the language of each people. And I contended with them and cursed them and beat some of them and pulled out their hair; and I made them take an oath in the name of God, saying, ‘You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin on account of such women? Among the many nations there was no king like him, and he was beloved by his God, and God made him king over all Israel; nevertheless foreign women made even him to sin. Shall we then listen to you and do all this great evil and act treacherously against our God by marrying foreign women?” (Nehemiah 13.23-37).
The Apostle Paul allows an exception to this rule for couples who were married before becoming Christian. In such a case, when one of the spouses becomes Christian while the other remains outside the Church, the marriage is not dissolved. “For the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is consecrated through her husband. Otherwise, your children would be unclean, but as it is they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner desires to separate, let it be so; in such a case the brother or sister is not bound. For God has called us to peace. For do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or you, husband, do you know whether you will save your wife?” (I Corinthians 7.14-16). As Bishop Theophan comments, “in this union according to love and agreement, the purity of the Christian side is not destroyed; on the contrary, by its influence it can assist the conversion to Christianity of the pagan husband or pagan wife, and still more the children born in this marriage.”
In this way the Church strives to preserve existing unions, only forbidding and dissolving those unions which involve a retrograde step away from Christ for the believing partner, exposing him or her to the danger of apostasy.
From the above it will be clear that marriage has two aspects: its mystical and iconic aspect, which relates both to the original marriage of Adam and Eve in Paradise and to that of Christ and the Church in eternity, and a more practical aspect relating to the struggle of the spouses to fulfil the commandments of God in the conditions of the fall.
If we consider marriage only from its more practical aspect, then its purposes can be stated as: the prevention of fornication and the procreation of children. Of these two purposes the first is the more important, as is explicitly stated by the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 7, and reiterated by the apostle’s most faithful interpreter, St. John Chrysostom, who writes: “As for the procreation of children, marriage does not absolutely enjoin it. That responds rather to this word of God in Genesis: ‘Increase and multiply and fill the earth’ (1.28). The proof of this is the large number of marriages which cannot have children. That is why the first reason for marriage is to regulate lust, and especially now that the human race has filled the whole earth.”
However, chastity and procreation are the particular purposes of marriage in the fall: they do not exclude the higher purpose of marriage, which consists in the creation of a likeness of the love of Christ and the Church and, if a child is included in the type, of the Holy Trinity. In fact, the chastity that marriage in its more practical aspect produces enables it to fulfill its nature in its mystical aspect, by “releasing”, as it were, the erotic power that is in man in his unfallen state and directing it towards its Archetype. For a love that is purely carnal, with no grace coming down from above and no striving upwards from below, loses its iconic properties. It is like a Catholic picture of the Madonna rather than an Orthodox icon of the Mother of God: what we see is a fallen, earthly woman rather than the Queen of heaven.
Marriage is both an end in itself in the same way that an icon is an end in itself – a thing of beauty mirroring Eternal Beauty, – and one of the paths whereby the spouses can attain to a closer union with Eternal Beauty Himself. We all know that no husband measures up to the infinite patience and self-sacrificial love of Christ for the Church, just as no wife measures up to the infinite humility and obedience of the Church towards Christ, as exemplified most perfectly in the All-holy Virgin Mary. But the grace of marriage and the struggles of the married life are a path whereby he can attain to truly Christian love. This grace is therefore like a seed dropped in the fallen nature of man which, as it grows, drives out the works of the flesh, “which are… adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, heresies…, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife”, and establishes in their place the fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5.19,20,22-23). As St. Gregory the Theologian writes, the spouses in a true marriage are “wholly united in the flesh, concordant in spirit, sharpening in each other by love a like spur to piety…”
So the purposes of marriage in the fall for each individual spouse are broader than simply the control of lust or the reproduction of the human race. By carrying out the laws of marriage as a whole, and not only those concerning sexual relations, the spouses both save themselves and spur each other on to salvation. And then, as each spouse comes closer to perfection in and through marriage, the higher purpose of marriage, which was ordained before and independently of the fall, is also fulfilled: the creation of a true icon of the love of Christ and the Church.
Married love can literally save a spouse. Thus the wife of Monk-Martyr Timothy of Esphigmenou had been abducted by a Moslem after apostasising from the Faith. “The good heart of Triantaphylos [the future Monk Timothy] was overcome by bitter sorrow on seeing the perdition of his wife who for the sake of temporary and ephemeral happiness was depriving herself of that which is eternal.
“Finding relief from his sorrow only in prayer, he began to pray ardently to the All-Highest Creator, beseeching Him to turn back the one who had perished to the light of true knowledge. But at the same time, he was afraid for his daughters lest the same lot befall them as had their mother. For this reason he sent them to his relations, asking them to help these unfortunate ones.
“The grief over the loss of his beloved wife weighed heavily on poor Triantaphylos and he decided, come what may, to wrest her from the grasp of the devil. Besides sincere prayer, he secretly admonished her through others to abandon the Moslem faith, warning her of the eternal punishment her apostasy would bring. This sincere prayer, offered up from the fullness of his heart, was heard by the Heavenly Creator Who in His great mercy placed a good thought in the mind of the apostate woman so that she soon felt a repulsion towards Islam. Having come to her senses, she bitterly repented of her fall and resolved to accept the Christian faith again.
“But knowing that it would be difficult to escape by her own efforts from the clutches of her captor, she suggested to Triantaphylos that he pretend to accept the Moslem faith and then by legal process demand her back from her captor; it was impossible for her to be freed from the harem in any other way. Then, when she would be liberated, they would leave the world: he could become a monk on the Holy Mountain of Athos, where he could beseech God and ask forgiveness for his involuntary fall; she could go to a convent where, like him, she could heal her wounds through repentance.
“In order to regain his perishing wife and upon hearing her request, Triantaphylos decided to fulfil her wish, imitating in this case the Apostle Paul who, for the sake of the salvation of the brethren, himself desired to be separated from Christ. Thus placing his hope in God, he went to the tribunal where he declared his desire to accept the Moslem religion, but only on condition that his wife be returned to him. Triantaphylos’ wish was promptly granted. He was joined to the faith of the Moslems and, having received circumcision, was given back his wife. Thereafter, although Triantaphylos appeared to follow the Moslem law, with his wife he secretly confessed the Christian faith and fulfilled all the Church rituals. No matter how much they tried to keep this secret, the Turks nevertheless suspected them of betrayal and began to keep a very close watch on them. In the meantime, Triantaphylos realized that it would be impossible for them to remain among the Moslems any longer and entrusted his daughters to relatives. After bidding farewell to them, he secretly set off with his wife to the city of Enos, and from there to Cedonia where he left her in a convent. He himself went to the Holy Mountain”, from where he later set out on the feat of martyrdom for Christ…
Now only a churlish person would wish to deny that the love of St. Timothy was both conjugal and of a very high spiritual order, of the kind of which the Lord said: “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15.13). Moreover, it was a love precisely in the image of Christ’s love for the Church, as conjugal love is supposed to be: its goal was certainly no passing pleasure or joy, but the eternal salvation of the beloved. And the cost was the highest possible: the possible loss of his eternal soul. Just as Christ, taking upon Himself the sins of the whole world and identifying Himself completely with apostate Israel, said: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27.46), so did St. Timothy take upon himself the sin of apostasy of his wife and feel the weight of God’s abandonment of the apostate.
And if it be objected that the real significance of the story lies in the fact that St. Timothy was led by God’s Providence out of the lower state of marriage to the higher state of monasticism and, eventually, martyrdom, we reply: “Yes indeed. But if God’s Providence led St. Timothy from marriage to monasticism, was there nothing on his own side that led him in that direction? In fact, was it not precisely the exact fulfilment of the law of marriage that led him upwards and beyond marriage to monasticism and martyrdom?”
A similar example is provided by the Lives of the Right-believing Prince Peter, in monasticism David, and Prince Febronia, in monasticism Euphrosyne, wonder-workers of Murom. As we read: “The right-believing Prince Peter was the second son of Prince Yury Vladimirovich of Murom. He ascended the throne of Murom in 1203. Several years before this St. Peter fell ill with leprosy, from which nobody was able to heal him. In a dream vision it was revealed to the prince that the pious daughter of a bee-keeper, the virgin Febronia, could heal him. She was a peasant woman of the village of Laskovaia in Ryazan region. St. Peter sent his men to the village.
“When the prince saw St. Febronia, he so fell in love with her for her piety, wisdom and kindness that he gave a vow to marry her after he was healed. St. Febronia healed the prince. The grateful prince was united with her in marriage, although the Murom nobility opposed this. They said: ‘Either let him dismiss his wife, who has insulted the noble women by her origin, or let him leave Murom.’ The prince firmly remembered the words of the Lord: ‘What God has put together, let not man put asunder. He who dismisses his wife and marries another is an adulterer.’ For that reason, faithful to his duty as a Christian spouse, the prince agreed to renounce his princedom. They sailed away from his native city in a boat on the river Oka. The prince remained with few means of subsistence, and sorrowful thoughts involuntarily began to assail him. But the clever princess supported and comforted him: ‘Sorrow not, prince, the merciful God will not abandon us in poverty.’ In Murom quarrels and arguments quickly appeared, seekers of power took to their swords and many of the nobles were killed. The Murom boyars were forced to ask Prince Peter and Princess Febronia to return to Murom. Thus did the prince, faithful to his duty, triumph over his enemies.
“In Murom Prince Peter’s rule was righteous, but without severe strictness, merciful, but without weakness. The clever and pious princess helped her husband with counsels and works of charity. Both lived according to the commandments of the Lord, they loved everyone, but they did not love pride or unrighteous avarice, they gave refuge to strangers, relieved the lot of the unfortunate, venerated the monastic and priestly ranks, protecting them from need.
“Once while the princess was sailing along the river in a boat she ordered a nobleman, who had been captivated by her beauty and was looking at her with evil thoughts, to take up some water from each side of the boat and swallow it. When he had fulfilled her will, she asked: ‘Do you find any difference between the one and the other water?’ ‘None,’ replied the nobleman. The saint then said: ‘The nature of women is exactly identical. In vain do you abandon your wife and think of another.’
“The holy spouses died at the same day and hour on June 25, 1228, having accepted the schema before that with the names David and Euphrosyne. The bodies of the saints, in accordance with their will, were placed in one grave.
“Sts. Peter and Febronia are a model of Christian married life. By their prayers they bring heavenly blessings on those who are entering the married life.”
Marriage and Monasticism
Tradition records that the bridegroom at the marriage in Cana was the holy Apostle Simon the Zealot. After the marriage, it is said, Simon was so struck by the miracle of turning the water into wine that he immediately left his bride and followed Christ. Thus did God's blessing of an earthly marriage lead to its eclipse, as it were, by the glory of the Heavenly Bridegroom, the earthly icon being left behind in the zeal for its Heavenly Archetype.
Such transformations of the marital home into a monastery are common in the Lives of the Saints. They point, in spite of all that has been said about the essential goodness, indeed glory, of Christian marriage - which goodness is enshrined, not only in the Holy Scriptures, but also in the Sacred Canons of the Church, - to a certain tension between this teaching and the teaching that there is a better way, that of virginity or monasticism, which requires, if not a Manichean despising of marriage and its pleasures, at any rate a fleeing from them as if from something defiling.
Thus on the one hand: "marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled" (Hebrews 13.4). But on the other: "These are they which were not defiled with women; for they are virgins" (Revelation 14.4). On the one hand, Christ blessed the marriage at Cana in Galilee by His presence. On the other hand, he exhorted those who could receive it to become eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven's sake (Matthew 19.12).
It would be easy, following the critical methodology of western scholarship, to remove this paradox by ascribing it to textual corruption or foreign influences (pagan Greek philosophy is usually the favoured candidate). However, this is not the method of Orthodox Christian hermeneutics. It would be the height of arrogance to consider our theology purer than that of the Holy Scriptures, or our philosophizing more acute than that of the Holy Fathers. When an apparent contradiction appears, we do not, in the manner of the heretics, take this as an excuse for picking and choosing those parts of Divine Revelation which we like best while discarding the rest, but rather as the sign of the presence of a mystery, and an invitation to search deeper into the meaning of it with the help of the Holy Spirit.
We may therefore begin our investigation by examining St. Paul's explanation of why virginity is preferable to marriage: "I would have you without care. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. There is a difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your own profit, not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction" (I Corinthians 7.32-35).
The delicacy, lack of fanaticism and inspired common sense of this explanation is striking. Sexuality comes into it not at all. Virginity is preferable to marriage, not because it involves no sex, but because it involves less distraction from the "one thing necessary" (Luke 10.42) for salvation, less of all those cares and tribulations and "trouble in the flesh" (I Corinthians 7.28) that are an inescapable part of married life and which cool the ardour of the spirit in its ascent to God. Especially interesting is the reference to the necessity of pleasing one's wife. It was Adam's fear of offending his wife that led to his fall in Eden...
Similarly St. Gregory Palamas, in asserting the superiority of virginity, emphasises, not sexual relations, but the ties imposed on a married woman by all her relatives: “If one considers the body’s indignation and insubordination towards virtue, or better said, its rebellious nature which we carry around, why then should we agree to increase the obstacles towards virtue, by bonding with many and otherwise diverse bodies? How can she acquire freedom, towards which she vowed to aspire, by being connected with natural ties of husband and children and all blood relatives? How can she serve the Lord free of anxieties, when she has undertaken concerns about so many people? How can she acquire quietude when she is occupied with such a multitude of people?… Cleansing can also be accomplished by those who live in marriage, but with utmost difficulty.”
Virginity is not preferable to marriage because it involves less sex, for it in fact it involves more, in the sense of a greater struggle with sexual thoughts and fantasies. Paradoxically, therefore, it is marriage that is preferable to virginity from the point of view of sexual distraction - "it is better to marry than to burn" (I Corinthians 7.9). Virginity reveals its superiority only in the context of the Christian life taken as a whole; for at the price of a sharper and more difficult struggle with sexual temptation (victory over which brings a greater reward), the virgin can devote herself more single-mindedly to the service of God alone, "that she may be holy both in body and in spirit" (I Corinthians 7.34).
St. Gregory Palamas compares the two callings as follows: “’You shall not be unchaste’ (Exodus 20.14), lest instead of being united to Christ you become united to a prostitute, severing yourself from the Divine Body, forfeiting the Divine inheritance and throwing yourself into hell. According to the law (cf. Leviticus 21.9), a daughter of a priest caught whoring is to be burnt, for she dishonours her father; how much more, then, does the person who defiles the Body of Christ deserve endless chastisement. If you are capable of it, embrace the path of virginity, so that you may become wholly God’s and may cleave to Him with perfect love, all your life devoting yourself undistractedly to the Lord and to what belongs to Him, and in this way anticipating the life to come and living as an angel of God on earth. For the angels are characterised by virginity and if you cleave to virginity you emulate them with your body, in so far as this is possible. Or, rather, prior to them you emulate the Father Who in virginity begot the Son before all ages, and also the virginal Son Who in the beginning came forth from the virginal Father by way of generation, and in these latter times was born in the flesh of a virginal Mother; you likewise emulate the Holy Spirit Who ineffably proceeds from the Father alone, not by way of generation, but by procession. Hence if you practise true chastity in soul and body you emulate God and are joined to Him in imperishable wedlock, embellishing every sensation, word and thought with virginal beauty.
“If, however, you do not choose to live in virginity and have not promised God that you will do this, God’s law allows you to marry one woman and to live with her alone and to hold her in holiness as your own wife (cf. I Thessalonians 4.4), abstaining entirely from other women. You can totally abstain from them if you shun untimely meetings with them, do not indulge in lewd words and stories and, as far as you can, avoid looking at them with the eyes of both body and soul, training yourself not to gaze overmuch upon the beauty of their faces. For ‘whoever looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart’ (Matthew 5.28), and in this way he is impure before Christ Who sees his heart; and the nest step is that he commits shameless acts with his body also. But why do I speak of fornication and adultery and other natural abominations? For by looking overfondly on the beauty of bodies a person is dragged down unrestrainedly into lascivious acts contrary to all nature. Thus, if you cut away from yourself the bitter roots, you will not reap the deadly harvest but, on the contrary, you will gather the fruits of chastity and the holiness which it confers, and without which ‘no one will see the Lord’ (Hebrews 12.14).”
Further insight into this question is provided by Archbishop Theophanes of Poltava, who was asked the following question: "Why do I always have the impression that a girl or woman - a Church person, of course - is moving away from the Lord when she marries? More than once I have seen wives or mothers for whom all the things of God would not have been of merely secondary importance. But in this respect they all became worse after getting married."
Archbishop Theophanes replied: "It is necessary, first of all, to establish the correct understanding of marriage in principle, and then to examine the question from a practical point of view. There are two extreme viewpoints with regard to this question that are in principle incorrect: both that which considers marriage to be an evil and that which completely abolishes the difference in inner merit between marriage and virginity. The first extreme is seen in many mystical sects, the second is a generally accepted opinion in the Protestant West, from where it has succeeded in penetrating Orthodox literature also. According to the latter viewpoint, both the married and the virginal ways of life are simply defined as individual characteristics of a man, and nothing special or exalted is seen in the virginal way by comparison with the married state. In his time Blessed Jerome thoroughly refuted this viewpoint in his work: Two books Against Jovinian. While the positive teaching of the Church was beautifully expressed by St. Seraphim in his words: 'Marriage is a good, but virginity is a better than good good!' True Christian marriage is the union of the souls of those being married that is sanctified by the grace of God. It gives them happiness and serves as the foundation of the Christian family, that 'house church'. That is what it is in principle; but unfortunately it is not like that in our time for the most part. The general decline in Christian life has wounded marriage, too. Generally speaking, people in recent times have forgotten that the grace of God is communicated in the sacrament of marriage. One must always remember this grace, stir it up and live in its spirit. Then the love of the man for the woman and of the woman for the man will be pure, deep and a source of happiness for them. For this love, too, is a blessed gift of God. Only people do not know how to make use of this gift in a fitting manner! And it is for this simple reason, that they forget the grace of God! 'The first thing in the spiritual life,' says St. Macarius the Great, 'is love for God, and the second - love for one's neighbour. When we apply ourselves to the first and great task, then the second, being lesser, follows after the first and great task. But without the first the second cannot be pure. For can he who does not love God with all his soul and all his heart apply himself correctly and without flattery to love for his brothers?' That which has been said about love in general applies also to married love. Of all the kinds of earthly love it is the strongest and for that reason it is represented in Holy Scripture as an image of the ideal love of the human soul for God: 'The Song of Songs,' says Blessed Jerome, 'is a nuptial song of spiritual wedlock,' that is, of the union of the human soul with God. However, with the blessedness of the virgins nothing can be compared, neither in heaven nor on earth..."
True virginity is the fulfilling of the first and greatest commandment, to love God with all one's soul and mind and heart and strength. It is a burning love of God so strong that there can be no thought of a human bride or bridegroom. For such a thought would indeed be a defilement for one who has dedicated himself exclusively to the Heavenly Bridegroom. Thus the path of this mystery lies in the renunciation of everything that can in any way distract from the love of God. For as an eagle in its flight to the sun can be kept on earth by even the smallest impediment on its talons, so the flight of Christians to the Sun of Righteousness can be impeded by even the most innocent of affections - which can then become in a real sense idols. That is why the Prophets Elijah and Jeremiah, the greatest denouncers of idolatry in the Old Testament, - which sin is always depicted under the image of adultery (cf. Jeremiah 3; Hosea 4) - were also the only virgins; while another great prophet, Ezekiel, had to suffer the pain of the death of his beloved before he could enter upon the most difficult part of his mission (Ezekiel 24.16). As for "the greatest of those born of women" (Matthew 11.11), St. John the Baptist, that "burning and shining light" (John 5.35) who compelled the admiration even of the Pharisees and who prepared the way of the Lord in the spirit of Elijah, he, too, was a virgin. Of him the Church chants: "Having embraced chastity and temperance, he possessed them by nature, while he fled contrary to nature, fighting against nature".
In a similar way, true marriage is the fulfilment of the second commandment, to love one's neighbour as oneself. For in loving his wife, a man is loving his neighbour as himself, in that "he that loveth his wife loveth himself" (Ephesians 5.28). Moreover, it is a training ground for those virtues that will enable him to love all men, and even his enemies, as himself.
The idea that marriage is in any way incompatible with true Christian love is contrary to the Holy Scriptures. Who showed more love for man than the God-seer Moses, who was willing to sacrifice his own salvation for that of the People of Israel? - and he was a married man. To whom was entrusted a greater authority and a weightier burden in the service of the Church than the Apostle Peter? - and he, as St. John Climacus points out, "had a mother-in-law". Therefore, says St. Gregory the Theologian to those preparing to be baptised: “Are you not yet married to 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 dress 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,