When the Saint [Columba of Iona] was living on the Rechrean island, a certain man of humble birth came to him and complained of his wife, who, as he said, so hated him, that she would on no account allow him to come near her for marriage rights. The saint on hearing this, sent for the wife, and, so far as he could, began to reprove her on that account, saying: “Why, O woman, dost thou endeavour to withdraw thy flesh from thyself, while the Lord says, ‘They shall be two in one flesh’? Wherefore the flesh of thy husband is thy flesh.” She answered and said, “Whatever thou shalt require of me I am ready to do, however hard it may be, with this single exception, that thou dost not urge me in any way to sleep in one bed with Lugne. I do not refuse to perform every duty at home, or, if thou dost.command me, even to pass over the seas, or to live in some monastery for women.” The saint then said, “What thou dost propose cannot be lawfully done, for thou art bound by the law of the husband as long as thy husband liveth, for it would be impious to separate those whom God has lawfully joined together.” Immediately after these words he added: “This day let us three, namely, the husband and his wife and myself, join in prayer to the Lord and in fasting.” But the woman replied: “I know it is not impossible for thee to obtain from God, when thou askest them, those things that seem to us either difficult, or even impossible.” It is unnecessary to say more. The husband and wife agreed to fast with the saint that day, and the following night the saint spent sleepless in prayer for them. Next day he thus addressed the wife in presence of her husband, and said to her: “O woman, art thou still ready to-day, as thou saidst yesterday, to go away to a convent of women?” “I know now,” she answered, “that thy prayer to God for me hath been heard; for that man whom I hated yesterday, I love today; for my heart hath been changed last night in some unknown way–from hatred to love.” Why need we linger over it? From that day to the hour of death, the soul of the wife was firmly cemented in affection to her husband, so that she no longer refused those mutual matrimonial rights which she was formerly unwilling to allow. (St. Adamnan, Life of St. Columba, Chap. 62)
Patriarch Theodore Balsamon ca. 12th
If a rural priest might perform a benediction of a third marriage, while knowing that it was a third marriage, may he be punished, or as a peasant shall he be deemed worthy of pardon?
The one ignorant of the fact, whoever he may be, is worthy of pardon in accordance with the laws. The one who is ignorant of the law is not pardoned. Since by the new legislation of the celebrated emperor Lord Konstantinos Porphyrogennetos, the third marriage is sometimes permitted, and sometimes not permitted (for those who have children from the first or second marriage, and those who exceed forty years of age, are not able to contract a third union), we say that the priest who had performed a benediction of such an impeded third marriage is to be defrocked, because he was ignorant of the law’s main points. However, peasants, who are ignorant of the law’s fine points, are pardoned sometimes, since legal matters are not clear to all men. (Canonical Questions of the Most Holy Patriarch of Alexandria, Lord Markos, and the Answers for them by the Most Holy Patriarch of Antioch, Lord Theodoros Balsamon. excerpted from Viscuso, “A Guide to the Church Under Islam” p. 133)
Hieromonk Matthew Blastares ca. 14th century
Basil the Great in his fourth canon states, “We hold the custom of five years’ excommunication for trigamists when the marriage is clearly not dissolved. However, we no longer call such an affair marriage, but polygamy, or rather fornication that has been tempered, i.e., not dissolved, but reduced; limited to one woman. Wherefore, the Lord also said to the Samaritan woman, who had five husbands in turn, “He whom you have now is not your husband,” because they that go beyond the limit of digamy are no longer worthy to be called by the name of husband or wife.” However, he states that “it is not altogether necessary to bar them from the Church, but only for their punishment to be spent in the places of the hearers and of those that stand, not however, in that of the weepers.”
But also, again in canon fifty, he states, “There is clearly no ecclesiastical law of third marriage. Nevertheless, we view such things as defilements of the Church. However, we do not submit them to public condemnations because they are more preferable than unrestrained fornication.” Thus, we do not condemn the practice so as to also dissolve them, but according to the Tomos of Union which will be discussed shortly, by its decisions and command, we accept these marriages.
Gregory the Great, who is surnamed the Theologian, stated, “The first marriage is legal, the second is a concession, the third is a transgression of law, and one beyond this, the life of a swine, which does not have many examples of its evil.” (Homily 37.8)
Concerning the Tomos of Union
At this time, three marriages were recognized by ancient laws. Emperor Leo the Wise, who entered into a fourth marriage, was subjected to anathema by Patriarch Nicholas [I Mystikos], who required the emperor to quit himself of this union. Because the patriarch was absolutely inflexible, the emperor expelled Nicholas from the Church, and appointed as patriarch Euthymios Synkellos, a holy man. However, Euthymios, with a majority of hierarchs, contending not only tetragamy, but also trigamy to be illegal, with all zeal hindered the emperor who wished to decree that marriage be extended as far as the fourth for those who so desired. On account of this, a schism arose in the Church, which also sustained the dispute over the throne between Leo VI’s son Constantine Porphryogennetos and the latter’s father-in-law Romanos. At this time, in the year 6428 [920 AD], the so-called Tomos of Union was brought forth, which determined when it is fitting to concede a third marriage for some, excellently places reins on shameless desires of the passions, and it is annually read during July on the ambon. Thus, it states the following toward the end:
“Men who have reached forty years of age, and who cast themselves into a third marriage, inasmuch as they are defilements of the Church, we rule that they are to be excommunicated for five years, and after this expires, they are to approach for Communion once a year, on the venerable day of saving Pascha, after purifying themselves as much as possible by the fast for Pascha. The priest who dares, contrary to the decision, to deem some of these worthy of Holy Communion, will be risking his own rank. We command these things when there are no children from previous marriages. But if in fact there are children, the third marriage will be forbidden. But if a man is thirty and has received a succession of offspring from previous marriages, and nevertheless now joins himself to a third woman on account of the licentiousness of fleshly desire, let him be excommunicated for four years. Afterward, let him partake of Communion three times a year: on the Resurrection Day of Pascha, the Dormition of the undefiled Theotokos, and the feast day of the Lord’s Nativity because the fasts before these days are believed to purify most of the stain absorbed by him. However, if he is childless, this man is worthy of pardon if he chooses a third marriage on account of a desire to procreate children; and, excluded from Communion for three years, he should be treated with customary penalty.” (An Alphabetical Collection of All Subjects That are Contained in the Sacred and Divine Canons, prepared and at the same time organized by Matthew, the least among Hieromonks. excerpted from Viscuso, “Sexuality, Marriage, and Celibacy in Byzantine Law” pp. 97-99)
For I think I have perceived clearly from the Scriptures that, after He had brought in virginity, the Word did not altogether abolish the generation of children; for although the moon may be greater than the stars, the light of the other stars is not destroyed by the moonlight.
Let us begin with Genesis, that we may give its place of antiquity and supremacy to this Scripture. Now the sentence and ordinance of God respecting the begetting of children Gen. 1:28 is confessedly being fulfilled to this day, the Creator still fashioning man. For this is quite manifest, that God, like a painter, is at this very time working at the world, as the Lord also taught, “My Father works hitherto.” But when the rivers shall cease to flow and fall into the reservoir of the sea, and the light shall be perfectly separated from the darkness,—for the separation is still going on,—and the dry land shall henceforth cease to bring forth its fruits with creeping things and four-footed beasts, and the predestined number of men shall be fulfilled; then from henceforth shall men abstain from the generation of children. But at present man must cooperate in the forming of the image of God, while the world exists and is still being formed; for it is said, “Increase and multiply.” Gen. 1:28 And we must not be offended at the ordinance of the Creator, from which, moreover, we ourselves have our being. For the casting of seed into the furrows of the matrix is the beginning of the generation of men, so that bone taken from bone, and flesh from flesh, by an invisible power, are fashioned into another man. And in this way we must consider that the saying is fulfilled, “This is now bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh.” Gen. 2:23
And this perhaps is what was shadowed forth by the sleep and trance of the first man, which prefigured the embraces of connubial love. When thirsting for children a man falls into a kind of trance, softened and subdued by the pleasures of generation as by sleep, so that again something drawn from his flesh and from his bones is, as I said, fashioned into another man. For the harmony of the bodies being disturbed in the embraces of love, as those tell us who have experience of the marriage state, all the marrow-like and generative part of the blood, like a kind of liquid bone, coming together from all the members, worked into foam and curdled, is projected through the organs of generation into the living body of the female. And probably it is for this reason that a man is said to leave his father and his mother, since he is then suddenly unmindful of all things when united to his wife in the embraces of love, he is overcome by the desire of generation, offering his side to the divine Creator to take away from it, so that the father may again appear in the son.
Wherefore, if God still forms man, shall we not be guilty of audacity if we think of the generation of children as something offensive, which the Almighty Himself is not ashamed to make use of in working with His undefiled hands; for He says to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the belly I knew you; ” Jeremiah 1:5 and to Job, “Did you take clay and form a living creature, and make it speak upon the earth? ” and Job draws near to Him in supplication, saying, “Your hands have made me and fashioned me.” Job 10:8 Would it not, then, be absurd to forbid marriage unions, seeing that we expect that after us there will be martyrs, and those who shall oppose the evil one, for whose sake also the Word promised that He would shorten those days? Mat. 24:22 For if the generation of children henceforth had seemed evil to God… for what reason will those who have come into existence in opposition to the divine decree and will be able to appear well-pleasing to God? And must not that which is begotten be something spurious, and not a creature of God, if, like a counterfeit coin, it is moulded apart from the intention and ordinance of the lawful authority? And so we concede to men the power of forming men. (Banquet of Ten Virgins, Discourse 2.1-2)
Art thou bound to a wife? Seek not to be loosed. (1 Cor. 7:27) For if this expression applies to a wife, how much more does it apply to a Church, and to the same Episcopate; to which whomsoever is bound ought not to seek another, lest he prove an adulterer according to Holy Scripture. (Defense Against the Arians 6; PG 25.260; NPNF 2.4, p. 104)
Turning now to the law, which is properly ours— that is, to the Gospel— by what kind of examples are we met, until we come to definite dogmas? Behold, there immediately present themselves to us, on the threshold as it were, the two priestesses of Christian sanctity, Monogamy and Continence: one modest, in Zechariah the priest; one absolute, in John the forerunner: one appeasing God; one preaching Christ: one proclaiming a perfect priest; one exhibiting
more than a prophet, — him, namely, who has not only preached or personally pointed out, but even baptized Christ. For who was more worthily to perform the initiatory rite on the body of the Lord, than flesh similar in kind to that which conceived and gave birth to that (body)? And indeed it was a virgin, about to marry once for all after her delivery, who gave birth to Christ, in order that each title of sanctity might be fulfilled in Christ’s parentage, by means of a mother who was both virgin, and wife of one husband. Again, when He is presented as an infant in the temple, who is it who receives Him into his hands? Who is the first to recognize Him in spirit? A man
just and circumspect, and of course no digamist, (which is plain) even (from this consideration), lest (otherwise) Christ should presently be more worthily preached by a woman, an aged widow, and
the wife of one man; who, living devoted to the temple, was (already) giving in her own person a sufficient token what sort of persons ought to be the adherents to the spiritual temple,— that is, the Church. Such eye-witnesses the Lord in infancy found; no different ones had He in adult age. Peter alone do I find— through (the mention of) his
mother-in-law —to have been married. Monogamist I am led to presume him by consideration of the Church, which, built upon him, was destined to appoint every grade of her Order from monogamists. (On Monogamy, 8)
On the subject of birth control, the Orthodox Church is certainly no more “liberal” than the Catholic, and any kind of interference with the natural object and result of intercourse, i.e., the begetting of children, is strictly condemned as a severe sin. Certainly the “pill” falls into this category. The “wisdom” of man is one thing, the law of God another. As to abstinence [from sex] on fast days, this is part of the same asceticism or self-denial that decrees fasting from foods. Married love is not regarded as evil any more than meat or eggs are, but our life here is a preparation for an eternal life where there is neither marriage nor giving in marriage, where there is an endless feast not of earthly foods, and a part of the discipline on the way to this Kingdom is through taming the flesh to the Spirit. St. Paul speaks of husbands and wives denying each other (1Cor. 7:5), and this is interpreted as referring especially to preparation for Holy Communion, but also to other fasting periods.(Letters from Father Seraphim: Letter May 5/18, 1970)
Marriage could but bring forth men, — virginity alone was worthy of giving birth to the God-Man… if you wish to learn from the Lord Himself the angelic dignity of virginity, listen to His own word: “for in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in Heaven” (Mat. 22:30); or as another Evangelist paraphrases the same thing, “for they are equal unto the angels.” (Lk. 20:36) The state in which they neither marry nor are given in marriage, consequently, that of perpetual virginity, is then called by the Lord equal unto that of angels.
…[A]m I not speaking too much of a subject, which many may think, does not concern them? Indeed the Lord Himself has forewarned us, that not all are able to be virgins, saying: “All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it was given.” (Mat. 19:11) He Himself has called unto virginity not all men, but only those who are able, to whom it is given: “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” (Mat. 19:12) And as virginity is not for all, therefore you may even ask, why then do I speak of it at all? I accept this question. It will lead me to the aim and end of my discourse. We speak of virginity to all, because among all there are those “that are able to receive it”; and my word is seeking out from amongst all those whom God calls to hear and fulfill it, and who are often unknown to men.
We speak to all men of virginity that those who are married might know that there is a state higher than marriage; and that honoring virginity in others, and thinking humbly of marriage, they might obtain for marriage a blessing near to the blessing of appointed virginity.
We speak of true virginity unto all men, that, knowing it, they may guard themselves from mistaken ways of the foolish virgins, who with the unlit lamps of their minds, wanting the oil of love, are roaming far from the heavenly abode, and, instead of love for the Bridegroom, they are but breeding hate against the holy state of marriage. For, already, since the time of the Apostles, “the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their consciences seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry. (1 Tim. 4:1-3)
Finally, we speak of virginity to all men, that they who are married as well as they who are not, may vigilantly and carefully distinguish the bright beauty of virginity, the comeliness of pure and honorable marriage, from the state of those who have neither been faithful in the use of the golden talent of virginity, nor of the silver talent of marriage, entered upon by the will of the Lord of all talents and gifts. Virginity and marriage are not for all men, but chastity is for all men: “For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and wordly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” (Tit. 2:11-12) What does it mean to live soberly? It means either in the purity of virginity or in the honorableness of marriage, in both cases, “in the abstinence from worldly lusts,” and above all, “from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” (1 Pet. 2:11) They alone who live thus in this present world, may “look for that blessed hope” (Tit. 2:13) to come. Amen. (Sermon XX, On Holy Virginity)
Paul legislates for chastity by His example. How, and in what way? This Sacrament is great, he says, But I speak concerning Christ and the Church. Eph. 5:32 It is well for the wife to reverence Christ through her husband: and it is well for the husband not to dishonor the Church through his wife. Let the wife, he says, see that she reverence her husband, for so she does Christ; but also he bids the husband cherish his wife, for so Christ does the Church. Let us, then, give further consideration to this saying.
Churn milk and it will be butter; Prov. 30:33 examine this and perhaps you may find something more nourishing in it. For I think that the Word here seems to deprecate second marriage. For, if there were two Christs, there may be two husbands or two wives; but if Christ is One, one Head of the Church, let there be also one flesh, and let a second be rejected; and if it hinder the second what is to be said for a third? The first is law, the second is indulgence, the third is transgression, and anything beyond this is swinish, such as has not even many examples of its wickedness. Now the Law grants divorce for every cause; but Christ not for every cause; but He allows only separation from the whore; and in all other things He commands patience. He allows to put away the fornicatress, because she corrupts the offspring; but in all other matters let us be patient and endure; or rather be enduring and patient, as many as have received the yoke of matrimony. (Oration 37.7-8)
Hear this, you fathers, bring your children up with great care
in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Eph. 6:4 Youth is wild, and requires many governors, teachers, directors, attendants, and tutors… Let us take wives for them early, so that their brides may receive their bodies pure and unpolluted, so their loves will be more ardent. He that is chaste before marriage, much more will he be chaste after it; and he that practiced fornication before, will practice it after marriage.
All bread, it is said,
is sweet to the fornicator. Sirach 23:17 Crowns are wont to be worn on the heads of bridegrooms, as a symbol of victory, betokening that they approach the marriage bed unconquered by pleasure. But if captivated by pleasure he has given himself up to harlots, why does he wear the crown, since he has been subdued? (Homily 9 on 1st Timothy)
Whence are we to find (words) enough fully to tell the happiness of that marriage which the Church cements, and the oblation confirms, and the benediction signs and seals; (which) angels carry back the news of (to heaven), (which) the Father holds for 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, no difference of spirit or of flesh; nay, (they are) truly
two in one flesh. Where the flesh is one, one is the spirit too. Together they pray, together prostrate themselves, together perform their fasts; mutually teaching, mutually exhorting, mutually sustaining. Equally (are they) both (found) in the Church of God; equally at the banquet of God; equally in straits, in persecutions, in refreshments. Neither hides (ought) from the other; neither shuns the other; neither is troublesome to the other. The sick is visited, the indigent relieved, with freedom. Alms (are given) without (danger of ensuing) torment; sacrifices (attended) without scruple; daily diligence (discharged) without impediment: (there is) no stealthy signing, no trembling greeting, no mute benediction. Between the two echo psalms and hymns; and they mutually challenge each other which shall better chant to their Lord. Such things when Christ sees and hears, He joys. To these He sends His own peace. Where two (are), there withal (is) He Himself. Where He (is), there the Evil One is not. (To His Wife)
Virginity is the rule of life among the angels, the property of all incorporeal nature. This we say without speaking ill of marriage: God forbid! (for we know that the Lord blessed marriage by His presence Jn. 2:1, and we know him who said, Marriage is honourable and the bed undefiled Hebr. 13:4), but knowing that virginity is better than marriage, however good. For among the virtues, equally as among the vices, there are higher and lower grades. We know that all mortals after the first parents of the race are the offspring of marriage. For the first parents were the work of virginity and not of marriage. But celibacy is, as we said, an imitation of the angels. Wherefore virginity is as much more honourable than marriage, as the angel is higher than man. But why do I say angel? Christ Himself is the glory of virginity, who was not only-begotten of the Father without beginning or emission or connection, but also became man in our image, being made flesh for our sakes of the Virgin without connection, and manifesting in Himself the true and perfect virginity. Wherefore, although He did not enjoin that on us by law (for as He said, all men cannot receive this saying Mat. 19:11), yet in actual fact He taught us that and gave us strength for it. For it is surely clear to every one that virginity now is flourishing among men.
Good indeed is the procreation of children enjoined by the law, and good is marriage on account of fornications, for it does away with these 1 Cor. 7:2, and by lawful intercourse does not permit the madness of desire to be enflamed into unlawful acts. Good is marriage for those who have no continence: but that virginity is better which increases the fruitfulness of the soul and offers to God the seasonable fruit of prayer. Marriage is honourable and the bed undefiled, but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge Heb. 13:4. (An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith Bk. 4.24)
Let this single fact respecting Paphnutius suffice: I shall now explain another thing which came to pass in consequence of his advice, both for the good of the Church and the honor of the clergy. It seemed fit to the bishops to introduce a new law into the Church, that those who were in holy orders, I speak of bishops, presbyters, and deacons, should have no conjugal intercourse with the wives whom they had married while still laymen. Now when discussion on this matter was impending, Paphnutius having arisen in the midst of the assembly of bishops, earnestly entreated them not to impose so heavy a yoke on the ministers of religion: asserting that ‘marriage itself is honorable, and the bed undefiled’; (Heb. 13:4) urging before God that they ought not to injure the Church by too stringent restrictions. ‘For all men,’ said he, ‘cannot bear the practice of rigid continence; neither perhaps would the chastity of the wife of each be preserved’: and he termed the intercourse of a man with his lawful wife chastity. It would be sufficient, he thought, that such as had previously entered on their sacred calling should abjure matrimony, according to the ancient tradition of the Church: but that none should be separated from her to whom, while yet unordained, he had been united. And these sentiments he expressed, although himself without experience of marriage, and, to speak plainly, without ever having known a woman: for from a boy he had been brought up in a monastery, and was specially renowned above all men for his chastity. The whole assembly of the clergy assented to the reasoning of Paphnutius: wherefore they silenced all further debate on this point, leaving it to the discretion of those who were husbands to exercise abstinence if they so wished in reference to their wives. Thus much concerning Paphnutius. (Ecclesiastical History Bk. 1.11)
Once there came to him a mother who was concerned about how she might arrange the best possible marriage for her young daughter. When she came to Saint Seraphim for advice, he said to her: “Before all else, ensure that he, whom your daughter chooses as her companion for life, keeps the fasts. If he does not, then he is not a Christian, whatever he may consider himself to be.” (From a sermon of Metropolitan Philaret, quoted in The Ladder of Divine Ascent, pub. Holy Trinity Monastery, Pg. xxxiii.)
[M]an, don’t treat your wife like a slave, because she is God’s creature as you are. God was crucified for you as He was for her. You call God “Father”; she calls him “Father” too. You have one faith, one baptism. God does not consider her inferior. This is why He made her from man’s middle, so man would be like the head and woman the body. But he didn’t make her from the head, so she wouldn’t have contempt for man. Similarly, he didn’t make her from the feet, so that man wouldn’t have contempt for woman. (Father Kosmas: Apostle to the Poor, First Teaching)
Let not a bishop, a priest, or a deacon cast off his own wife under pretence of piety; but if he does cast her off, let him be suspended. If he go on in it, let him be deprived. (Canon 6)
Council of Gangra ca. 4th cent.
If any one shall maintain, concerning a married presbyter, that is not lawful to partake of the oblation when he offers it, let him be anathema. (Canon 4)
Council of Carthage ca. 419
Faustinus, the bishop of the Potentine Church, in the province of Picenum, a legate of the Roman Church, said: It seems good that a bishop, a presbyter, and a deacon, or whoever perform the sacraments, should be keepers of modesty and should abstain from their wives.
By all the bishops it was said: It is right that all who serve the altar should keep pudicity from all women. (Canon 4)
Aurelius, the bishop, said: We add, most dear brethren, moreover, since we have heard of the incontinency of certain clerics, even of readers, towards their wives, it seemed good that what had been enacted in various councils should be confirmed, to wit, that subdeacons who wait upon the holy mysteries, and deacons, and presbyters, as well as bishops according to former statutes, should contain from their wives, so that they should be as though they had them not and unless they so act, let them be removed from office. But the rest of the clergy are not to be compelled to this, unless they be of mature age. And by the whole council it was said: What your holiness has said is just, holy, and pleasing to God, and we confirm it. (Canon 25)
Council in Trullo ca. 692
Moreover this also has come to our knowledge, that in Africa and Libya and in other places the most God-beloved bishops in those parts do not refuse to live with their wives, even after consecration, thereby giving scandal and offense to the people. Since, therefore, it is our particular care that all things tend to the good of the flock placed in our hands and committed to us—it has seemed good that henceforth nothing of the kind shall in any way occur. And we say this, not to abolish and overthrow what things were established of old by Apostolic authority, but as caring for the health of the people and their advance to better things, and lest the ecclesiastical state should suffer any reproach. For the divine Apostle says:
Do all to the glory of God, give none offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Greeks, nor to the Church of God, even as I please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit but the profit of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me even as I also am of Christ. But if any shall have been observed to do such a thing, let him be deposed. (Canon 12)
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 presbyterate should promise no longer to cohabit with their wives, we, preserving the ancient rule and apostolic perfection and order, will that the 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. Wherefore, if anyone shall have been found worthy to be ordained subdeacon, or deacon, or presbyter, he is by no means to be prohibited from admittance to such a rank, even if he shall live with a lawful wife. Nor shall it be demanded of him at the time of his ordination that he promise to abstain from lawful intercourse with his wife: lest we should affect injuriously marriage constituted by God and blessed by his presence, as the Gospel says:
What God has joined together let no man put asunder; and the Apostle says,
Marriage is honourable and the bed undefiled; and again,
Are you bound to a wife? Seek not to be loosed. But we know, as they who assembled at Carthage (with a care for the honest life of the clergy) said, that subdeacons, who handle the Holy Mysteries, and deacons, and presbyters should abstain from their consorts according to their own course [of ministration]. So that what has been handed down through the Apostles and preserved by ancient custom, we too likewise maintain, knowing that there is a time for all things and especially for fasting and prayer. For it is meet that they who assist at the divine altar should be absolutely continent when they are handling holy things, in order that they may be able to obtain from God what they ask in sincerity.
If therefore anyone shall have dared, contrary to the Apostolic Canons, to deprive any of those who are in holy orders, presbyter, or deacon, or subdeacon of cohabitation and intercourse with his lawful wife, let him be deposed. In like manner also if any presbyter or deacon on pretence of piety has dismissed his wife, let him be excluded from communion; and if he persevere in this let him be deposed. (Canon 13)
The wife of him who is advanced to the Episcopal dignity, shall be separated from her husband by their mutual consent, and after his ordination and consecration to the episcopate she shall enter a monastery situated at a distance from the abode of the bishop, and there let her enjoy the bishop’s provision. And if she is deemed worthy she may be advanced to the dignity of a deaconess. (Canon 48)
Of Marriages: that nothing be allowed but lawful wedlock; that none commit incest; no man quit his true wife, unless, as the Gospel teaches, on account of fornication. And if any man shall put away his own wife, lawfully joined to him in matrimony, that he take no other, if he wishes to be a good Christian, but continue as he is, or else be reconciled to his own wife. (Synod of Hertford ca. 673, Canon 10. St. Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English Nation Bk. 4.5)
A careful guide points out many paths, that each may walk along the one which he prefers and considers suitable to himself, so long as he comes upon one by which he can reach the camp. The path of virginity is good, but being high and steep requires the stronger wayfarers. Good also is that of widowhood, not so difficult as the former, but being rocky and rough, it requires more cautious travellers. Good too is that of marriage; being smooth and even it reaches the camp of the saints by a longer circuit. This way is taken by most. There are then the rewards of virginity, there are the merits of widowhood, there is also a place for conjugal modesty. There are steps and advances in each and every virtue. (Letter 63:40)
In these last days Christ took a soul with the flesh from Mary. This He came to save. This He left not in hell. This He joined to His Spirit and made His own. And this is the marriage of the Lord, joined together to one flesh, that according to that great sacrament, might be these two in one flesh, Christ and the Church. From this marriage is born the Christian people, the Spirit of the Lord coming from above; and straightway the heavenly seed being poured upon and mingled with the substance of our souls, we grow in the bowels of our mother, and coming forth from her womb are made alive in Christ. (Discourse on Baptism 7)
For, there being two roads in life as regards these matters, the one a more moderate and helpful road conducive to life, that of marriage, I mean; the other one being angelic and unsurpassable, that of virginity; but if anyone should choose the mundane life – that is to say, the way of marriage, though he is not liable to censure or blame, he will not receive so many gracious gifts. For what he will receive when he bears fruit will be thirty. But if he embraces the chaste and supra-mundane life, though the road is rough in comparison with the first and difficult to achieve, yet it has more wonderful features in the way of gracious gifts: for it has produced the perf1ect fruit, the hundred. (The Rudder: Canons of the Holy Fathers, First Epistle to the Monk Amun)
If any woman for the sake of supposedly ascetic exercise cuts off her hair, which God gave her to remind her of the fact that she is subject to the will of her husband, let her be anathema, on the ground that she has disobeyed the injunction to be obedient.
In writing to the Corinthians St. Paul says: “The head of the wife is the husband,” (1 Cor. 1 1 3) and because Eve was taken out of Adam, and he became the cause of her becoming a woman). And further below he goes on to say that if a woman does not cover her head, let her cut off her hair. But if it is shameful for a woman to cut off her hair or to shave herself, why, then let her cover her head. (ihd. 116) And again: “But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory and an honor to her” (paraphrasing ibid. 11:1 5). But Eustathius and his disciples used to teach women to cut off their hair on the alleged ground that they would thus be doing something godly and virtuous; the dolts failing to understand that this doctrine of theirs is opposed even to nature herself; seeing that she has never produced a woman that was bald-headed and without hair, as she has some men. For this reason the present Canon anathematizes any woman who cuts off her hair for the sake of appearing and feigning to be engaged in ascetic exercise; which hair God gave her to remind her of the fact that she is under the rulership and subject to the will of her husband, since by so doing she is disregarding and transgressing the commandment, or injunction, to be submissive.’ And the Fathers took this from St. Paul, who says that a wife must have an authority upon her head, or, more explicitly speaking, a sign of her husband’s authority, and of her subjection to her husband, which is the natural cover of hair, and the external cover of headkerchiefs.
- The Twenty-five canons of the Holy Regional Council held in Ancrya (The Rudder, p. 529)
Marriage, then, was given for childbearing also, but even more so in order to quench nature’s burning. Paul himself bears witness to this, saying, ‘Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife,’ – not for childbearing. And again, he commands that couples should come together, not that they might become the parents of many children, but what? ‘Lest Satan tempt you,’ he says. Indeed, after this, he did not say, ‘but if they desire to have children,’ but what? ‘If they cannot abstain, let them marry’ (1 Cor. 7:9). For at the beginning, as I have said, this matter [marriage] had two intentions, but subsequently, when the earth, and sea, and the whole world have been filled [with the human race], one reason alone remains for this bond: the banishment of licentiousness and intemperance. [Emphasis added]. (On Virginity, PG 48:547)
These are the two purposes for which marriage was instituted: to make us chaste and to make us parents. Of these two, the reason of chastity takes precedence. When desire began, then marriage also began. It sets a limit to desire by teaching us to keep to one wife. Marriage does not always lead to procreation, although there is the word of God which says, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth’ (Gen. 1:28). We have as witnesses all those who are married but are childless. So the purpose of chastity takes precedence, especially now, when the whole world is filled with our kind. At the beginning, the procreation of children was desirable, so that each person might leave a memorial of his life. Since there was not yet any hope of resurrection, but death held sway, and those who died thought that they would perish after this life, God gave the comfort of children, so as to leave living images of the departed and to preserve our species. For those who were about to die and for their relatives, the greatest consolation was their offspring. To understand that this was the chief reason for desiring children, listen to the complaint of Job’s wife: ‘See,’ she says, ‘your memory has perished from the earth, your sons and your daughters’ (cf. Job 18:17). Likewise Saul says to David, ‘Swear to me that you will not destroy my seed, and my name along with me’ (I Kings 24:22). But now that the resurrection is at our gates, and we do not speak of death, but advance toward another life better than the present, the desire for posterity is superfluous. If you desire children, you can get much better children now, a nobler childbirth and better help in your old age, if you give birth by spiritual labor. So there remains only one reason for marriage, to avoid fornication, and the remedy is offered for this very purpose. (On the Sacred Institution of Marriage, Homily One)
“[I]n truth, all men know that they who are under the power of this disease [the sin of covetousness] are wearied even of their father’s old age [wishing him to die so they can inherit]; and that which is sweet, and universally desirable, the having of children, they esteem grievous and unwelcome. Many at least with this view have even paid money to be childless, and have mutilated nature, not only killing the newborn, but even acting to prevent their beginning to live” (Homilies on Matthew 28:5 [A.D. 391]). – John Chrysostom
The so-called “birth control” pill – shown above – is indeed an abortifacient. It actually performs an embryonic abortion. This has been proven by medical doctors across the world. Randy Alcorn has a short article on it here.
There is what some in the west call Natural Family Planing, which is perfectly ethical and godly. It has to do with identifying the signs of a woman’s fertility. Here is information on that.
Regarding how Chrysostom ties receiving inheritances to abortion, I would say that the same thing is happening in our day but from a different angle. Many couples now would rather NOT have children so that they can enjoy the inheritance of their culture – hobbies and luxury. There are legitimate reasons for not having children but I think that the “we cannot afford them” clause is grossly abused today. What I think many people mean to say when they refer to not affording children is that they cannot afford the lifestyle of their choice if they have children.
“Fill their houses with wheat, wine and oil and with every good thing, so that they may give in turn to those in need…”
The above quote is taken from the Orthodox marriage service. The calling of marriage within Orthodoxy does not contrast the ascetic calling of monasticism, rather it is a compliment to monasticism. There is no dichotomy between marriage and monasticism. We are all called to adhere to the words of Christ regarding the ascetic life, to sacrifice what God has given us in order to serve those in need. This will look different in most every household, but we can each know how to accomplish this through our spiritual convictions, after listening to the words of Christ in the Gospel accounts, as well as his witness throughout the Bible. We are called to serve the poor and the needy, whether it be within our own family or both our family and people throughout the community. Marriage is not a call to hedonism, rather, it is a call to serve the Kingdom!