Posts Tagged ‘marriage’

I just ran across local newspaper science columnist Faye Flam’s old article (PDF) about speculation around, let’s say marital relations, in the afterlife.  She does remind us that the Lord Himself reported that in Heaven the saved do not marry [and therefore do not have sexual relations], but live as the angels.  (In fact Orthodox Monasticism is often referred to as angelic life, or anticipation thereof, both in pious expressions and in hymns on monastic Saints’ feast days.)  Angels don’t “do it” because they lack a fundamental requirement: bodies!*  We even call them “the Bodiless Powers.”

Flam also reported a non-Christian insight more relevant than she realized: “Zoroastrians, he said, believed there was sex in heaven but people would wean themselves away from both food and sex as they got used to being dead.”  I point this out because the Orthodox Way includes not denial that we are embodied human beings, since we are not dualists like the Zoroastrians (ancient “gnostics” still around today), but seeking to repent of and purify ourselves of any sinfulness (including that related to sexuality and food, though not of sexuality or eating itself) and seeking healing of our domination by our passions (including the sexual and gluttonous).  Mainstream Orthodoxy never considered “intercourse for pleasure … ‘depravity'” as the Western Christian mainstream Flam discusses did.  In fact, the ancient Fathers of the Church recognized the unitive and agape-building, relationship-building qualities of marital relations so much that it is from them that Christianity has its tradition of allowing them (if grudgingly in the West medievally) during infertile times such as pregnancy and menopause, vs. the still-heard Western idea that reproduction is the overriding point of human, Christian sexuality, and anything else mere condescension to human drives.  Nevertheless, the Orthodox Way, especially Monasticism, is also sometimes referred to as “dying to the world,” not entirely unlike what the Zoroastrians say about ‘dying to sexuality and gluttony’ after death.

But fear not!  Since Orthodoxy retains the doctrine that Heaven isn’t merely some kind of ‘earthly life on steroids,’ but advancing ever deeper into the Glory of God as Uncreated Light (as well as glorious fellowship – communion, koinonia – with the other saints, such as those we commemorated this past Sunday, All Saints Day, both those recognized by the official Church and the overwhelming majority not) and God-like-ness, we won’t miss sex!  Although to get there we do need to collaborate (synergeia, synergy) with God purifying us of our exaggerated attachment to it in the first place, here on earth….  Fr. John Romanides was fond of castigating the West’s attachment to “happiness” as fundamentally opposed to Orthodox Glorification / Salvation.  What do I know?  But perhaps another way of seeing it is that we need to find our happiness in God today, or else we’ll really hate spending eternity with Him.**

What about the Orthodox Mystery (sacrament) of Holy Matrimony?  Theologically it isn’t a ‘license to screw’ if you’ll pardon the expression, but just like its counterpart, Monasticism, a form of discipling to use a popular Evangelical word.  IIUC, the Orthodox discipline (or as I like to think of it, disciplin’) of fasting Traditionally includes married couples abstaining from relations, ie, most Wednesdays and Fridays, during Lent, the Apostles’ Fast (going on right now), the Transfiguration / Dormition Fast (in August), the Nativity Fast, the couple other fast-days on the calendar, and also on days before receiving Communion.  (This may or may not be a complete list.)  IIUC, part of the idea is that Orthodox marriage partners help each other with this discipline / disciplin’, since theologically they marry to help each other get saved.  In Orthodox fellowship / communion / koinonia with each other, they’re not to struggle in individual isolation, but to share each other’s burdens and build up each other’s gifts.  (This may have something to do with the ancient preference that Orthodox only marry other Orthodox, not non-Christians or even Heterodox Christians, though today marrying Heterodox Christians of certain denominations is tolerated alot, and of course we were never required to separate from non-Orthodox spouses when ourselves converting to Orthodoxy, since the Holy Apostle Paul counseled that we might help save our spouse.)

(*–With apologies to Fr. Andrew Greeley, who delights in the medieval Western speculation around what exactly the angels do have, for bodies!)

(**–I believe the latter clause comes from Fr. Anthony Coniaris in a basic intro to Orthodoxy of his, but I’m not certain.)

Some semi-light-hearted advice from one gentleman who just got married, and a few interesting Commenters.

I just found an intriguing ‘inside look’ in a public letter to his priests by then-Ruling Hierarch of the OCA’s Diocese of San Francisco and the West, Bishop TIKHON (Fitzgerald).  I can’t offer any more about it than His Grace does, though.

You may have heard an episode of the TV sitcom Seinfeld (fan transcript) featured a religion – a supposed version of diaspora Eastern Orthodoxy – which the writer claims he thought he’d made up,* Latvian Orthodoxy.  In fact, TV-Jerry’s sidekick, George Costanza, converted to the Faith – apparently from a lapsed or merely-cultural Catholicism, but with heavy doses of comedy-stereotype Jewish behavior – in order to date a Latvian Orthodox American young woman, Sasha, he apparently truly loved – for a change! – whose parents would only let her date other Latvian Orthodox.**

All this is a long way of leading up to a link to the current lead story on the OCA’s homepage, the visit of a Latvian Orthodox scholar and discussions of further collaboration with Latvian researchers into Orthodoxy here.  I didn’t know there were so many Latvian bishops and clergy in the OCA’s history!

(*–Well, he knew about “the hats;” he didn’t always precede “Orthodox” with “Latvian,” sometimes just said “Orthodox;” he knew the difference between a nun and a novice, and knew a novice monastic woman is not referred to as a nun but as “Sister;” Kramer even wrestles a bit with the passions over Sister Roberta’s attraction to him; and they don’t mutilate squirrels!  So maybe the only thing he didn’t know about was Orthodoxy’s spread to Latvia 1,000 years ago … though the stuff around the church ceremonies was mostly generic high-church, though rather plain.  I think I’ve read of at least one OCA parish having been founded by Latvians, and I haven’t seen the episode for years, but folks on the ‘Net seem to think the church whose exterior was seen on Seinfeld was actually this ethnic-Galician-heritage OCA Cathedral in Brooklyn. An older view is near the bottom of this page.  [Galicians from Eastern Europe, not Spain. Related to Carpatho-Russians.])

(**–George’s complaint about her parents being devout would be echoed a decade later by John Corbet’s character in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, in discussing with his ‘non-devout’-WASP parents his conversion to the Greek Orthodox Church, to marry Nia Vardalos’ character, in a situation loosely based on her own real life.  The implication was that Corbet had never been baptized with water in the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, or not in a denomination whose Baptism Nia’s Greek jurisdiction would ‘make complete’ by mere Chrismation [cf. Confirmation], therefore Nia couldn’t marry him in the Orthodox Church, and if she married him outside the Church, she would be barred from Communion and certain other church activities, eg, being a godmother … all of which was why it was such a big deal to her immigrant parents.  In Seinfeld we don’t see George wet like Corbet, but he is wearing a white robe, suggesting he too has just been baptized and not only Chrismated – not to try to read too much into a 22-minute comedy! – implying he actually hadn’t been baptized previously either.  In any case, I hear that among ethnic-Orthodox in North America, there’s alot more marriage to non-Orthodox Christians – or to people who’ve recently converted for the marriage – than to Orthodox of other ethnicities or jurisdictions.  FYI, Orthodox are expected to raise their children Orthodox, even in a marriage with a non-Orthodox Christian … though I don’t know how much this is actually done in mixed marriages.)