The sexual relationship of a couple is a union of deep spiritual significance and it is not a trivial entertainment we can freely share with others.
The Church reveals the secrets of a meaningful marriage, allowing even such a physical thing as sex to be approached from a spiritual perspective in the greater context of the purpose of marriage which is sacramental and salvific . . .
“Everybody’s sin is nobody’s sin‚ and everybody’s crime is no crime at all.” This quote allegedly attributed to Alfred Kinsey‚ the parent of modern “sexology”‚ if such a “science” exists‚ seems to become more and more the motto of our society. If everybody does something it has to be accepted and it has to be good. Particularly applied to sexuality‚ this quote can very well be read “if I see it on TV than it is OK for me to do it”.
Our media channels have a terrible influence on everything around us: eating habits‚ house decoration‚ fashion‚ even intimate relationships; all is served to us nicely wrapped in a comprehensive media package. Without realizing it our lives are changed and led in the direction that the hottest reality show or the latest Hollywood movie steers. Human sexual behavior is at the top of the priority list for the show industry. Why? Because sex sells! It was on high demand before‚ it is on high demand now and will continue to be on high demand for the unforeseeable future. It is the same old story of the oldest trade in the world. But what changed over the years is the attitude the society expresses against its public exposition‚ or better said exhibition.
The traditional attitude was that sexuality should be restricted to the intimacy of the married couple and no public display of this sacred relationship was warranted. Despite this time-honored stance there were always found ways to disseminate sexual explicit information via more or less restricted circulation materials. This has been going on for years in a corner of the society that was always condemned‚ yet always tolerated.
In the past century however the bar set for what’s appropriate for public display has been lowered to a point that everything is permitted and only a superficial layer of unspecific moral censoring continues to be applied. Fashion‚ music‚ film‚ commercials‚ books‚ magazines are all full of open sexuality rendering it‚ with the passing of time‚ legitimate for everyone. The media screams aloud with Kinsey: “Everybody’s sin is nobody’s sin”
Lead by false or superficial scientists the modern premise of overt sexuality is based on nothing else but on the same atheistic and evolutionist view of the world. If evolution theory stands true man is nothing else but an animal and for the animals sex is very natural. All the species do it all the time and they are not inhibited to display it even on prime time on “Discovery Channel”! Starting with this premise nothing is or should be “taboo” in human sexual behavior. All sexual expressions are licit and are nothing more than an expression of who we are. Heterosexuality‚ homosexuality‚ bisexuality and a wide array of perversions are all accepted as being part of the natural human spectrum of behavior. No boundaries to the Homo Sexualis!
More than this with a naturalistic view of the human person‚ asserting that all is dictated by neuro-chemical reactions‚ our free will also disappears in biological determinism. We are genetically programmed to behave one way or another so we have no responsibility for our acts. We become in other words biologically enslaved to a world that dictates our every move.
As traditional Orthodox Christians however we cannot agree with this cold mechanistic view of the world‚ because we believe in a Creation of the world out of love‚ out of a willingness to share an eternal relationship with a personal God. The Creation of man is a special act in which we receive not only a body resembling that of animals‚ but also the image of God. Through its biological appearance man can be indeed considered an animal but an animal “which can be deified through its inclination towards God” according to St. Gregory the Theologian.
St. Athanasius the Great said once: “God became man so man can become god”. Man was created not as perfect but bearing the potentiality of entering into a dynamic progress toward communion with God. In other words man is called to deification‚ theosis‚ to reach the supreme stage of being God-like‚ to be fully in His likeness. But he has to do this willingly‚ unforced‚ un-chemically-determined‚ un-predestined. He has to want this himself “as a deer longs for flowing streams” (Psa 4’:1).
Man is built in the image of God‚ but as the Fathers of the Church affirm‚ he only has the potential to achieve His likeness. This subtle difference between image and likeness is the very essence of the understanding the struggle of human existence. The image is something that all men receive freely‚ it is God’s gift to us and every man inherits it. This image stays in all people despite their choices‚ their sins and their spiritual failures. Under layers and layers of indifference the image of God continues to exist‚ waiting to be discovered and properly appreciated in the light of the Holy Spirit. The likeness however is subject to man’s free will. It is not something that is given‚ but something that man should work for through a permanent and wholehearted alignment of one’s will to God’s will‚ until it reaches the stage that St.Apostle Paul describes: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live‚ but it is Christ who lives in me”. (Gal 2:19-20). It is this free will that allows man to accept or reject his place prepared for him in the universe even before the creation of the world.
This fundamental understanding can be applied in all aspects of man’s existence and sexuality makes no exception to it. From an eschatological perspective the sacrament of marriage is not a mere blessing of sexual relations between two partners but is actually a life changing event that transforms the secular eros‚ the physical love‚ into the true eros‚ the mystery concerning Christ and his Church. The fullness of the personal and physical unity achieved through the Sacrament of Marriage corresponds to Christ’s assumption of humanity. By this the union of the couple transcends death into eternity‚ transcends the body into the spirit as the couple steps up into a new level of life in Christ.
The blessings of this union are the children that come into this world as fruits of grace‚ as a material sign of the two becoming one body. But this does not imply that a couple unable to have children is not blessed; their blessings and their fruits are materialized in another form through the spiritual expression of their love‚ bearing fruits into the Kingdom of God.
Through the Sacrament of Marriage and the consummation of their marital acts the relationship between the husband and the wife is made complete: body and soul the two are cleaved together (Gen 2:24) into one unit within the Body of Christ. Their new relationship of love‚ manifested now both spiritually and physically‚ finds its place within the intimacy of their household‚ the little church as St. John Chrysostom calls it. Becomes therefore obvious why‚ from the Christian Orthodox perspective‚ sexuality has its rightful place in the safe harbor of sacramental marriage‚ as a mean to tie even further the unity of the married couple‚ body and soul‚ in the perspective of eternal life. The sexual relationship of a couple is a union of deep spiritual significance and it is not a trivial entertainment we can freely share with others‚ as media is trying over and again to convey.
The other aspect we have to cover is the sacrificial nature of marriage which is completely forgotten within the modern rites of marriage. In the Orthodox Tradition the man and the woman are wearing crowns. The true significance of these crowns is revealed when the couple is taken into a joyous dance around the table on which sits the Holy Gospel‚ representing Christ as the center of our lives. At this moment the priest sings: “O Holy Martyrs‚ who fought the good fight and have received your crowns: Entreat the Lord that He will have mercy on our souls.” It becomes apparent now that the crowns are the symbols of sacrificial love‚ received as the supreme prize for the sacrifice of blood paid by generations of martyrs throughout the centuries. Their shared blood flows in the veins of the Church making her life possible in the most difficult times. In their sacrifice lays the example to be followed by the newly weds as they embark in their new life. They are not called to the personal satisfaction of their hedonistic needs but on the contrary to the renunciation of their own desires for the sake of the other and the common life of the couple.
In this context one cannot just simply enter with a total uninhibited secular mind in this sacred context but one is called to act with purity‚ self-control‚ sacrificial love and respect for the commandments of God. Our free will is not the expression of our sexual choices but is our free and undetermined choice to follow Christ in his likeness‚ in His sacrificial love with the Church.
By promoting this understanding of marriage the Church is not trying to restrict or censor the marital relations between spouses (1Co 7:6)‚ but is acting as a guiding light toward a more rewarding spiritual life‚ knowing that the lust of the uninhibited passions of the flesh leads to sin and sin severs our communion with God. The mere fact that we can do something does not mean that we should do it. “All things are lawful’‚ but not all things are beneficial. All things are lawful‚ but not all things build up.”(1 Co 10:2’).
One can enjoy the union of the flesh‚ but one should also learn to restrict oneself at times for spiritual growth (1 Co 7:5). The ecclesiastical calendar of the Church with its prescribed fasting periods tries to accomplish this exact thing by allowing ample time for taking pleasure in life and its fruits in the body‚ but in the same time is offering an equal opportunity to focus on the path to salvation‚ bringing therefore harmony between the body and the soul.
The natural needs of the flesh have a great role in soldering relationships but if they become predominant the true spiritual purpose of the union is lost‚ becoming idols that take us away from worshiping the only true God. In the balance of the holistic attitude of our Church toward body and soul lays the secret of a meaningful marriage because it allows even such a physical thing as sex to be approached from a spiritual perspective in the greater context of the purpose of marriage which is sacramental and salvific.
Yannaras Christos‚ Freedom of morality
William basil Zion‚ Eros and transformation-sexuality and marriage‚ an Eastern Orthodox perspective‚ University press of America‚ 199’ p. 132
St. John Chrysostom‚ Homily 20:6’“On the Letter to the Ephesians”
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