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Author John Meyendorff argues in his book "Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective", that marriage is eternal. He says:


"Many confusions and misunderstandings concerning marriage in our contemporary Orthodox practice would be easily eliminated if the original connection between marriage and the Eucharist were restored. Theoretically, Orthodox sacramental theology, even in its scholastic, textbook form, has preserved this connection in affirming, in opposition to Roman Catholicism, that the priest is the 'minister' of marriage (footnote omitted). Western medieval theology, on the contrary, has created a series of confusions by adopting, as in so many other points Roman legalism as the basis of sacramental theology: marriage, being a 'contract', is concluded by the husband and wife themselves, who are therefore the 'ministers' of the sacrament, the priest being only a witness. As a legal contract, marriage is dissolved by the death of one of the partners, but it is indissoluble as long as both are alive. Actually, indissolubility i.e., a legal concept taken as an absolute is the main, if not the only, contribution of Christianity to the Roman Catholic concept of marriage. Broken by death, assimilated with a human agreement, marriage, in the prevailing Western view, is only an earthly affair, concerned with the body, unworthy of entering the Kingdom of God. One can even wonder whether marriage, so understood, can still be called a sacrament. But, by affirming that the priest is the minister of the marriage, as he is also the minister of the Eucharist, the Orthodox Church implicitly integrates marriage in the eternal Mystery, where the boundaries between heaven and earth are broken and where human decision and action acquire an eternal dimension."


So, this brings up a few questions:


If marriage is eternal, then it is impossible for the church to ever perform a second marriage, even a more subdued one not connected with the Liturgy or the Eucharist. The first marriage would by definition have to also be the final one.


Are there married people in heaven? It would seem so by the author's argument in the book. The author says we misinterpret the Bible's statement that in heaven they are neither married nor given in marriage, but exist as the angels. He says that even though we will be 'as the angels', we will be married angels, married for eternity to the spouse  we first married in the church while here on this earth. He says we are "one flesh" forever, without explaining how we can undo the effect of becoming "one flesh" with others with whom we have had relations, either within or without marriage. (The Bible does say that if a man visits a prostitute, or engages in any other kind of fornication, the two become "one flesh". How many one fleshes can there be?


In a 'mixed' marriage, would a person married by an Orthodox priest to a Protestant spouse be married to that spouse for eternity as well? In heaven, since there is no carnal desire, what purpose would a marriage serve? Without physical relations, without the procreation of children, without the present need for safety and security, what would be the point of being married?


How could one tell the difference between a married angel and a single one? I heard a priest on Ancient Faith Radio describe marriage as a triangle, with the two spouses on either end Left to Right, and the topmost peak being Christ. He said that as we come closer to the peak (Christ) we also become closer to each other. It was a wonderful description. But what if one spouse has no desire to move toward Christ, while the other is moving? Would the one spouse who is moving toward the top be eternally married to the one who no longer wants his/her spouse, and has no desire to climb towards Christ?


The author's stance on the eternal character of Orthodox marriage makes me uncomfortable. It brings to mind the Mormon idea of 'celestial marriage' where the couple are 'sealed' for eternity in the Mormon temple, in much the same way that the author says our Orthodox marriage is 'sealed' in the Eucharist (except for the glaring fact that Mormons have no Eucharist). But still, the idea gives me the heebie jeebies.


If we take the 'eternal' adjective and consider it in light of all the ways that other such words and phrases are used in the Bible, it would seem that 'eternal' would just mean 'for a long time', or 'until something happens that changes the situation', much like all the 'eternal' promises made by God to the Israelites. Turns out they weren't 'eternal' in a strictly literal sense. There were conditions placed on every promise, and whenever the conditions were broken or not met, the promises were rescinded.


The question of whether marriage is eternal is very complex and confusing. I am being tossed this way and that by the opinions of various Orthodox authors. Is there some consensus out there on this issue?

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