Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov

Marriage: Random Quotes from an Unpublished Paper: Part 8

Posted in D.Min. Study Notes by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov on 25 August 2015

These are random quotes from an unpublished paper. I will post more quotes from the same paper every few days during the Dormition Fast (Old Calendar).

In the Orthodox service, no vows are exchanged; after the initial inquiry as to whether the two people want to be married to each other (more on that later), they say absolutely nothing. They also do nothing: something is done to them–crowns are placed on their heads, they are led by the priest around the gospel stand, the common cup is given to them, even their wedding rings are placed on their fingers by other people.

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Marriage is not a sacrament because it is listed as such in the catechism, and it is not a sacrament because God blesses the couple in some general way.  We have noted earlier that sacrament brings transformation: it is not quantitative (whereby vows, blessings, certificates, etc. are added to the couple) but qualitative–the couple does not remain the same two people they were before the weddings but is transformed (“changing them by Your Holy Spirit” in the Eucharistic sense) into something they were not–a specific icon of Christ and His Church.

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Just saying this, however, does not make it so. Many–if not most!–of our Orthodox marriages do not resemble the icon of Christ and look very similar to whatever model of marriage our current society presents.

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One way to do that is to shift focus from marriage being an arrangement where one receives, into an arrangement where one gives. I think that the modern understanding of marriage is a means by which people gain things: love, companionship, children, etc. We could present a model which focuses on the giving, the “emptying” of self.

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And just as an ‘Orthodox Heritage Club’ is transformed into the Church by the Eucharistic presence and action of the Holy Spirit, the married couple is no longer just a socio-economic unit or an instrument of reproduction but a “small Church,” the Body of Christ, His image in and to the world. Saint Clement of Alexandria wrote that marriage “anticipates the Kingdom and already constitutes a little kingdom, its prophetic image.”

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On the other hand, I also have to pause and ask what exactly the two people are consenting to or willing to do? It is certainly not a matter of living together or of having babies–people have been doing that without the Church’s blessing for thousands of years. So, when we speak of marriage as an icon of Christ and His Church, it is not the image of cohabitation or procreation but of martyrdom. The crowning, the central element of the service, really only has one meaning–the bestowal of the martyrs’ crowns. The real question to which the spouses respond, “I do,” is not whether they want to live together and make babies, but whether they are accepting the cross and making the sacrifice

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