The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony
The Sacrament of matrimony is the holy service through which the bridegroom and the bride united together and given the divine grace which sanctifies their matrimonial union, makes it perfect and spiritual like the unity of Christ and the church.
This sacrament is of a great importance. In it not only the lives of two persons, but the home, the state, the Church, and the kingdom of God are deeply involved. It is not a sacrament to be regarded lightly or performed thoughtlessly and indiscriminately.
II. Institution of the Sacrament
(1) There is no doubt that matrimony was instituted by God Himself at the creation of the world. “God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He them; male and female created He them, and God said to them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.” (Genesis 1:27, 28)
When speaking of the creation of Eve, the Bible reports that God bought her unto the man. (Gen 2:22)
(2) In the new testament Christ confirmed this sacrament:
1. By attending the marriage feast at Cana of Galilee (John 2)
2. By his teaching. When answering the questions of the Pharisees who came to Him, tempting Him, and saying unto Him “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” His answer was: “Have ye not read, that He which made them at the beginning made them male and female, and said, For this cause Shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife and they twain, shall be one flesh. Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matt. 19: 4-6)
3. Some church fathers were of the opinion that Christ instituted this sacrament in the 40 days during which He used to appear to His disciples, after His resurrection and speak of the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God. (Acts 1:3)
III. Aims of Marriage
There are three aims of marriage.
(1) Preservation and growth of mankind, “male and female He created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth.” (Gen. 1:27, 28)
The growth of mankind tends to increase the growth of the church.
(2) Mutual help between husband and wife. “And the Lord said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.” (Gen. 2:18)
(3) After the fall of man and the entering of sin into the world there arose another aim, i.e. that marriage might help to keep the man and woman from the temptation of carnal lusts. “Now concerning the things whereof you wrote unto me: it is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman had her own husband. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot, let them marry, for it is better to marry than to burn.” (Cor. 7: 1-9)
IV. The Outward Sign
There are three outward signs in this sacrament:
(1) The declaration of the bridegroom and the bride in front of the church that they wish – by their own free will – to be married to each other, and that each will be loyal to the other till the end of life.
(2) The matrimonial service which the priest performs, and through which he asks for the divine grace for the bridegroom and the bride.
(3) The oil with which the bridegroom and the bride are anointed at the time of the matrimonial service.
V. The Invisible Grace
The function of this sacrament is:
(1) To sanctify the matrimonial union and make it a spiritual one.
“Matrimony is honourable in all, and the matrimonial bed undefiled.” (Heb. 13:4) “For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: that every one of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honour.” (1Thess. 4:3, 4)
(2) To help the husband and wife to keep themselves united together and unseparated, just as the unity of Christ with the Church is everlasting. “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” (Matt. 19:6)
(3) To keep the husband and wife loyal and faithful to each other.
VI. Obligations of the Husband & Wife
(1) Before marriage.
1. Both should be Christians, because Christ’s grace cannot be given to non-Christians, whether in this sacrament or other sacraments.
2. Both should belong to the Orthodox Church. If any of them does not, he or she should first join that church.
3. They should not be connected together with any carnal or spiritual affinity which prevents their marriage.
4. Each should be willing to get married to the other. The desire of parents is not sufficient. The priest should ask each of them privately and openly whether he or she agrees to be married to the other.
(2) At Marriage
Since matrimony is one of the church sacraments, marriage should be through the church. It is the duty of the priests to teach their congregation that every marriage should be in the church, and that the church does not allow any marriage performed outside it.
(3) After Marriage
1. The husband should have only one wife, and the wife should have only one husband. “And He which made them at the beginning made them male and female and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh.” (Matt. 19:4, 5)
2. If either of them dies, the other can marry. “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband’s lives; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 7:39)
3. They can never separate but for one reason, i.e. fornication “They are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let no man put asunder … Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, commits adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” (Matt. 19:6-9)
Therefore none is allowed to leave his wife for any other reason.
VII. Who Has the Right to Celebrate the Sacrament
This right is given to the priests. Bishops can also celebrate the sacrament.