The mystery of marriage in a dogmatic light

3 September 2013

According to Orthodox teaching, marriage (2) is one of the seven Mystery-Sacraments of the Church. By it, the Church blesses, elevates, and sanctifies the deliberate conjugal union of a man and a woman, supplying the divine grace necessary for the completion of their whole life “in the Lord” and for the fulfillment of the objectives of marriage. The principal and ultimate goal of Orthodox marriage is the spiritual and moral perfection of the spouses. The two rise to this as they work through and fulfill other goals of married life, among which the most general are procreation and the Christian upbringing of offspring. (3)

Divine grace is dispensed to the couple through prayer and the blessing of the Church (by the priest). The grace sanctifies the couple’s union, makes it morally sound, elevates it, makes it more spiritual, and thus enables the couple to attain marriage’s lofty goals. This is precisely why in almost every prayer of the marriage ceremony, the Church (through the priest) prays that the Lord grant His servants three things. First, the Church prays for the granting of self-restraint, honorable marriage, and the bed undefiled.  Second, there is supplication for “long lasting posterity, the grace for producing offspring . . . and that [the couple] see their children’s children.” And finally, the Church prays for the pair to receive earthly goods “from the dew of heaven above and from the richness of the earth,” and these not simply for their own enjoyment, but “that they may also give to those in need.”(4)

These subjects, however, and others related to the mystery of marriage, cannot be correctly understood except within the general framework of Christian anthropology. Only when we understand the Church’s teaching on man’s creation, fall, and redemption, will we also be able to understand Her teaching on marriage.

According to the teaching of the Church, superbly articulated by the Holy Fathers, man was created for the purpose of being in communion with God in love; or according to the Apostle Peter, to partake of divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). In reference to this passage, Saint Maximos the Confessor writes:

God made us so that we might become “partakers of the divine nature” and sharers in eternity, and so that we might come to be like Him through deification by grace. It is through deification that all things are reconstituted and achieve their permanence; and it is for its sake that what is not is brought into being and given existence. (5)

Man was supposed to move toward this goal, living in accordance with his own nature, that is, in accordance with God’s will that was innate in human nature. But his God-implanted natural motion toward the ultimate goal was interrupted by the fall. Adam’s sin and the beginning of evil in the visible world, according to Saint Maximos, consists in the anomalous motion of his natural powers; or put another way, in the misuse (use contrary to nature) of his natural powers and of God’s other creations in general. From then on, man slavishly served the irrational impulses of these powers, which impulses drove him to incline toward pleasure alone, and as far as possible to avoid pain. For fallen man “directs his whole effort toward pleasure and does all he can to avoid pain. He struggles with all his might to attain pleasure and fights against pain with immense zeal.”(6)

The consequences of man’s fall into sin are many. Considered by the Holy Fathers to be the most fundamental consequence is that, through sin, corruption and death entered into man (and into the world in general), since through sin man was deprived of eternal life, of God. However, according to Saint Maximos, man’s reward for sin is seen not only in his body’s passible and mortal condition. Man did not simply lose the incorruptibility of his nature, but he was also condemned to passionate generation through sperm in the manner of animals:

The first man was fittingly condemned to a bodily generation that is without choice, material and subject to death, God thus rightly judging him who had freely chosen what is worse over what is better…to bear the dishonorable affinity with the irrational beasts, instead of the divine, unutterable honor of being with God. (7)

In reference to the consequences of the fall, Saint Gregory of Nyssa likewise elaborates on the subject of man’s condemnation to spermatic generation: “Through the beguilement of the enemy of our life, man freely acquired the bent toward what is bestial and without intelligence.”(8) Elsewhere, this Holy Father characterizes all the consequences of the fall as “the putting on of the skin garments.” By “skin garments,” the Saint means the sum total of the evident signs of the corruption of human nature, namely: “copulation, conception, parturition, impurities, suckling, feeding, evacuation, gradual growth to full size, prime of life, old age, disease, and death.” (9)

Sin, as we said, introduced corruption and death into man and creation. Death, as we know, constitutes the end of individual life and is the soul’s separation from the body. Man, however, was called to life. The law of sin, therefore, in order to compensate for the law of death and satisfy—albeit a little—the instinct for life, manifested itself in the lowest form of pleasure, resulting in generation of birth “in sins” (Ps. 50:5).

This is why marriage is called honorable, because it preserves people in bodily self-restraint and because it prevents them from committing immorality and adultery.

Summarizing Saint Maximos, L. Thünberg writes in his well-known study Microcosm and Mediator: “The law of death, putting an end to individual life, has its counterpart in a law of pleasure, regulating new physical life.”10 According to Saint Maximos, it is precisely through the birth “in sins” from the first Adam that the freely chosen sin (sensual pleasure), as well as nature’s sin (its possible condition, that is, pain), is transmitted to all human beings; for in every birth through sperm, the ancestral sin is transmitted in its entirety:

When our forefather, Adam, broke the divine commandment, in place of the original form of generation, he conceived and introduced into human nature, at the prompting of the serpent, another form, originating in pleasure and terminating through suffering in death… And because he introduced this ill-gotten pleasure-provoked form of generation, he deservedly brought on himself, and on all men born in the flesh from him, the doom of death through suffering. (11)

Hence, it appears that herein chiefly lies the ancestral sin, with and in which every human is born, since “all those born of Adam are ‘conceived in iniquities,’ thus coming under the forefather’s sentence.” (12)

Balthasar considers that, according to Saint Maximos, “the phenomenon of the two sexes plays an important role here. In self-love are found egoism and carnal pleasure. Through pleasure and birth, man tries to free himself from pain and death. The result: a new victim of death.”(13) But speaking about birth through sensual pleasure, Balthasar poses the question: “Well, then, is marriage a sin?” And he answers: “No, because if marriage were a sin, then sin would also be the natural law of birth, in which case all the blame for sin would fall on human nature’s Creator.” (14)

While acknowledging that marriage is indeed not a sin but a blessing from God, we are, however, obliged to point out that it evaded Balthasar that, for Saint Maximos, what we know as the law of birth through sperm is not a law of creation, but rather a law that sin introduced. Hence, the Saint writes:

It was necessary, yes truly necessary, that in restoring nature through himself, nature’s Creator (that is, Jesus) first abolished those laws of nature by which, through disobedience, sin had condemned human beings to propagation from one another—a trait identical to that of the irrational animals—and thus, restore the laws of the first and truly divine creation; so that what man, being infirm, destroyed out of carelessness, God, being powerful, might restore in His loving care for mankind. (15)

Elsewhere, when asked the meaning of the Psalm verse “I was conceived in iniquities, and in sin did my mother bear me” (Psalm 50:5), Saint Maximos answers: “God’s original purpose was not that we be born from corruption through marriage. But Adam sinned, and the transgression of the commandment introduced marriage.”(16) Even before Saint Maximos, Saint John Chrysostom taught the same thing:

After he was created, he lived in Paradise, and there was no reason for marriage. A helper needed to be made for him, and one was made, and even then marriage was not deemed necessary. It had not yet appeared. But, rather, they continued without it, living in Paradise as if in heaven and delighting in their converse with God . . . . As long as they were unconquered by the devil and respected their own Master, virginity also continued, adorning them more than the diadem and golden clothing adorn the emperors. But when, becoming captives, they took off this garment and laid aside the heavenly adornment and sustained the dissolution deriving from death, the curse, pain, and toilsome existence, then together with these, enters marriage, this mortal and slavish garment. Do you see whence marriage had its beginning, whence it was deemed necessary? From the disobedience, from the curse, from death. For where there is death, there also is marriage. Whereas, when the first does not exist, then neither does the second follow. (17)

This position of the Holy Fathers is closely connected to the other one that, according to God’s original plan, man was not divided into male and female, since “the distinguishing qualities of male and female were not at all contingent on the divine intention concerning man’s generation. Foreknown to God was yet another way of increasing mankind into a multitude.” (18)

It should be emphasized here that, according to Saint Maximos—and according to all the other Fathers of the Church—evil (that is, sin) does not exist within things themselves (for God made all things “very good”) but only in man’s misuse of them. Specifically, Saint Maximos writes:

It is not food that is evil but gluttony, not the begetting of children but unchastity, not material things but avarice, not esteem but self-esteem. This being so, it is only the misuse of things that is evil, and such misuse occurs when the intellect fails to cultivate its natural powers. (19)

(That is, fails to use things in accordance with nature.) What exactly constitutes the partial misuse or abuse of things Saint Maximos explains elsewhere:

Again, vice is the wrong use of our conceptual images of things, which leads us to misuse the things themselves. In relation to women, for example, sexual intercourse, rightly used, has as its purpose the begetting of children. He, therefore, who seeks in it only sensual pleasure uses it wrongly, for he reckons as good what is not good. When such a man has intercourse with a woman, he misuses her. And the same is true with regard to other things and one’s conceptual images of them. (20)

According to Saint Maximos, there are three things that impel us toward every vice:

. . . passions, demons, and sinfulness of intention. Passions impel us when, for example, we desire something beyond what is reasonable, such as food which is unnecessary or untimely, or a woman who is not our wife or for a purpose other than procreation. (21)

Saint Maximos’s position here, that even within lawful marriage, a husband and wife’s relations are blessed and permitted only for the purpose of procreation, is not an isolated one or merely his. Nor is it new. On the contrary, it constitutes the unwavering position of the Church from the beginning down to our own day, based on the ontology of things, as we saw. Holy Fathers before and after Saint Maximos bear witness to this, as does the very spirit of the Church. Thus, for example, Athenagoras, a Father of the second century, says the following:

Because of our hope of eternal life, we despise the lesser goods of this life, even the pleasures the soul has herein. Each of us looks upon the wife he has married according to the laws we [Romans] have laid down as one who will bear him children—no more. The farmer sows his seed in the ground and waits for the harvest, not troubling to sow his land again the while. For us, too, the begetting of children is the limit of our indulging our passions. (22)

From all that has been said above, and especially from the preceding passage, it is clear that after conception and throughout the entire term of pregnancy, the couple should by rights abstain from one another and exercise self-control, since during this period the warrant of procreation no longer exists. Saint Athanasios the Great, when asked about the use of the reproductive organs, answered in the same vein:

Which use are you referring to? That in the Law which God allowed by saying, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and fill the earth?” (Gen. 1:28), which the Apostle [Paul] approved when he said, “Marriage be honorable, and the bed undefiled” (Heb. 13:4); or that which, while popular, is performed secretly and adulterously?. . . The same argument holds with regard to copulation. Blessed is the man who in his youth having a free yoke employs his natural parts for the purpose of producing children. But if for licentiousness, the punishment spoken of by the Apostle shall await the immoral and adulterous (Heb. 13:4). (23)

Saint Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain, the eighteenth-century Father, with all the Church Fathers before him in mind, is of the same opinion on this issue, and he states it in detail in his Commentaries on the Epistles of Saint Paul (especially I Corinthians 7; Ephesians 5:22–23; I Timothy 4:1–5), as well as in his annotations of the sacred canons in The Rudder.

Divine grace is dispensed to the couple through prayer and the blessing of the Church (by the priest).

What has been said thus far materializes the evident truth that the Church and the God-bearing Fathers accept, admit, and bless human marriage in the fallen world because, on the one hand, now there is truly no other way to “multiply,” except by marriage; and on the other hand, human nature’s weakness for carnal pleasures is great, and thus marriage comes as a medicine and an aid for man, so that he might overcome this weakness of his and live in self-restraint. The first to express this view was the Apostle Paul when he wrote: “But because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (I Cor. 7:2). This quotation from the holy Apostle (like so many others) speaks of the fact that marriage is admitted and that its purpose is self-restraint. Saint John Chrysostom, the inspired interpreter of the Apostle Paul, writes in the same spirit concerning the admission of marriage: “So, do not prefer over virginity that which was admitted because of your weakness. Rather, do not even put them on the same level.”24 Saint Nikodemos interprets the above passage ofSaint Paulas follows:

When Paul says that marriage should be allowed because of the temptations to immorality, he is actually exhorting married believers to practice self-control and self-restraint . . . . This is why marriage is called honorable, because it preserves people in bodily self-restraint and because it prevents them from committing immorality and adultery. (25)

Concerning the “allowance” of marriage, Saint Gregory the Theologian very clearly says: “Marriage is the allowance of passion,”26 as “a lawful union of bodies.”27 But he, too, demands self-restraint in marriage:

It is good for one to be tied in marriage, temperately though, rendering more to God than to sexual relations. It is better to be free of these bonds, rendering everything to God and to the things above… Marriage is concerned about spouse and loved ones. Whereas for virginity, it is Christ. (28)

Saint Gregory of Nyssa, without a doubt expressing the position of the entire Church on the subject, writes: “Let no one think that by these words we reject the dispensation of marriage. For we are not unaware that marriage, too, is not alienated from God’s blessing.”29 But exactly wherein “God’s blessing” on marriage lies is explained by Saint John Chrysostom: “Marriage is good, for it preserves a man in self-restraint, and it does not allow him to fall into immorality and die.”30 Elsewhere, this Father stresses this same idea even more: “You do not see marriage anywhere marveled at by itself, but only because it restrains the immoralities, the temptations, the lack of self-control.”(31)

In this dogmatic light, it is evident that none of the holy Fathers speaks of marriage (much less of “sexual relations” themselves) as the way to theophany and knowledge of God, as do some theologians of more recent times. Saint Gregory the Theologian lists in great detail the achievements of marriage, all mostly relating to culture and civilization, that is, the earthly goods.32 Such praises of marriage are woven by “those who are of one mind with their ribs,” that is, happily married. But nowhere among these “achievements” do they mention the matters of spiritual ascent, that is, knowledge of God and theosis. On the contrary, the Fathers say that, on the one hand, marriage and the things belonging to it constitute an obstacle to ascent; while on the other hand, the road upward is the road of purity, of self-control or, in a word, virginity. Thus, for example, Saint Gregory of Nyssa, even though he was married, (33) writes:

It has been shown that it is not possible for the soul to be united with the incorruptible God in any other way except that it become nearly pure through incorruptness, so that it may attain like by like, setting itself as a mirror looking up at the purity of God, so that the beauty in the soul be formed by participation in and reflection of the original beauty. (34)

Saint Gregory the Theologian teaches about this more clearly:

Conjugality, on the other hand, runs completely away from Christ by reason of the surging of corruptible flesh and worldly cares of every kind; or it only slightly approaches God. (35)

And even this simple drawing near to God within marriage is possible only through exercising self-restraint. Whereas, “to be sure, marriage is deprived of all praise whatsoever, when one indulges in it to the point of satiety.”36 Then the words of Saint Gregory of Nyssa hold true: “. . . lest through such passionate attachments (as in I Cor. 7:5) he become wholly flesh and blood, in whom the Spirit of God does not remain.”37 Elsewhere the same Father says:

So, it seems that these examples are instructing us, through the remembrance of those great Prophets [that is, Elias and John], to become entangled in none of those things that are pursued in the world. Marriage is one of these things pursued; rather it is the beginning and root of the pursuit of things vain. (38)

Whereas the Holy Father views marriage (and honorable marriage at that) in this way, he praises virginity, writing:

If one wishes carefully to examine the difference between this way of life (that is, marriage) and virginity, he will find it almost as great as the difference between earth and heaven. (39)

Saint Gregory the Theologian is more specific in comparing the two life-styles. On virginity since the time of Christ, he writes:

Precisely then [that is, with Christ’s birth from the Virgin] did virginity shine brightly to mortals; free of the world, and freeing the feeble world. It so surpasses marriage and the fetters of the world even as the soul is apt to be more excellent than the flesh and the wide heaven than the earth; as the stable life of the blessed is more excellent than transitory life; as God is superior to man. (40)

This is precisely why virginity, and not marriage, has such power: “through itself it brought God down for participation in human life, while in itself it enables man to soar to the longing for the things of heaven.”(41)

Marriage does not attain such heights, for “even though marriage be honorable (Heb. 13:4), yet it can only go so far as not to defile those who engage in it. But to produce Saints is not within the power of marriage but of virginity.”42 In response to those who ask how Abraham, being married, attained perfection, while so many virgins lost the kingdom of God (cf. Matt. 25:1–13), Saint John Chrysostom answers:

It was not marriage that made Abraham a Saint, nor virginity that destroyed those miserable maidens. But rather, what made the Patriarch illustrious was his soul’s other virtues, and likewise what handed the maidens over to the fire was their life’s other vices.(43)

Likewise, commenting on I Cor. 7:16, the same Father writes:

One might ask: So what shall we reply to Paul who says: “Wife, how do you know whether you will save your husband?” and who thus declares her help necessary in spiritual matters as well? But I concede this, too. For I also do not cut her off completely from the alliance in spiritual matters. Perish the thought! But, I say that she can achieve this only when she no longer does what belongs to marriage, but when, while in nature remaining a woman, she crosses over to the virtues of blessed men . . . . Hence it is not by having relations with him as his wife that she will be able to save her husband, but rather by exemplifying the evangelical way of life, since many women have done this without being married . . . . So if she persists in pursuing what belongs to women, she not only benefited him nothing, but has also done him great harm. (44)

The correctness of this Patristic view on marriage and virginity, and the unfoundedness of the views of the new theologians, is confirmed by the Church’s life itself. The greatest Saints and servants of the divine mysteries were not the greatest lovers (and I am referring to human sexual love, about which the new theologians theologize), but the greatest practitioners of self-control. But according to Daniel Chiou, Christos Yannaras, and others, the opposite should have occurred.

On the basis of all that has been said thus far, we are able to surmise the Church’s teaching on Marriage and may concisely define it as follows:

1)   The Church, adhering faithfully to the Lord Jesus, the Holy Apostles, and the Holy Fathers, puts virginity on a higher level than marriage, for “the unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried woman or virgin is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please her husband” (I Cor. 7:32–35).

2)   Because of our weakness, the Church also allows marriage, blesses it, and hallows it. In this way she sanctifies the natural union of two “into one flesh” and renders it a Mystery-Sacrament. Conjugal relations within marriage are blessed only for the sake of procreation.

3)   The Church condescends to our weaknesses even further and also tolerates relations within marriage that result from “lack of self-control” (in accordance with I Cor. 7:5–9), when such relations do not have procreation as their immediate purpose, but rather serve as medicine against immorality or adultery (that is, extramarital relations). When such is the case, one ought to realize and acknowledge his lack of self-control and to humble himself before the Lord. He should not expect to receive crowns for his weakness, but rather should hope that God will have mercy on him because of his humility. This condescension on the part of the Church, however, is not to be construed as a toleration of any prophylactic measures that would prevent the possible conception of a child.

4)   The Church cannot condescend any further, and she considers sinful any means or method, whether natural or artificial, to prevent conception and avoid procreation. For they who employ such means prove that they consider sensual pleasure the sole purpose of intercourse. From this it becomes evident why the Church does not permit Holy Communion to such individuals, nor to anyone else who does not conform to the Apostle’s ordinance concerning self-control (I Cor. 7:5) and to the sacred canons of the Orthodox Church. (45)

This article first appeared in Greek  in “KLYRONOMIA1


1. Translator’s note: Written when the author (a disciple of the late great Serbian Orthodox theologian and elder, Father Justin Popovich) was still a hieromonk, this article first appeared in Greek  in “KLYRONOMIA” 9, Vol. II (July 1977): 246–64, as part of the debate then current in Greece over the issues related to the so-called “theology of eros,” and the book Eleftherya tou Ythous (The Freedom of Morality) by the modern Greek philosopher and theologian Christos Yannaras (Athens: “synoro” series, 1970). Since then, Dr. Yannaras has rewritten much of his material and in 1979 published a second revised edition under the same title, though essentially a new book (Athens: Grigori Publications, 1979). See Christos Yannaras (Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data spelling: Chrestos Giannaras), The Freedom of Morality, 2d ed., rev., trans. Elizabeth Briere, No. 3 in the series Contemporary Greek Theologians, ed. Christos Yannaras (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1984). He has changed his former critical views regarding the Church’s canons that deal with sexual life and motherhood. Instead of the strong statements that appeared in the first edition, which had occasioned the writing of this article, he writes an apologia (see the Foreword to the second edition, pp. 18–19, not included in the English version; see also “Christos Yannaras: Ta Kath’ eafton” (Athens: 1995, pp. 95-100)), and he presents a convincing defense of the Church’s traditional canonical and pastoral practice (Yannaras, The Freedom of Morality, 2d ed., rev., 1984, pp. 225–52).

The author of this article, Artemios Rantosavlievich, is currently a bishop of the Orthodox Church in Serbia.

2. Translator’s note: The Greek word for marriage, gamos, signifies both the “marital fact” and the “marital act.” This comprehensive meaning is particularly evident in patristic literature.

3. Thus, Saint John Chrysostom specifically writes: “Marriage was introduced, not that we should be licentious, nor that we should be sexually immoral, but that we should practice self-restraint. At least listen to Saint Paul who says: “But because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (I Cor. 7:2). For two are the reasons for which marriage was introduced: that we should practice self-restraint, and that we should become fathers. Of the two, that of self-restraint comes first.” Saint John Chrysostom,”Eis ton Ieron Thesmon tou Gamou” (“On the Sacred Institution of Marriage”) 1, in Apanta ton agion Pateron (Answers of the Holy Fathers) 35, 155; (PG 51).

4. See Mikron Euchologion I Agiasmatarion (Short Book of Prayers). 11th ed. (Athens: Apostoliki Diakonia of the Church of Greece, 1992), 125–26, 134.

5. Saint Maximos the Confessor, “First Century of Various Texts” 42 in The Philokalia 2, trans. and ed. G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, Kallistos Ware (Winchester: Faber and Faber, 1986), p. 173.

6. Saint Maximos the Confessor, “First Century of Various Texts” 53, Ibid., p. 175. Saint Maximos placed great emphasis on the relationship between pleasure and pain in man.

7. Saint Maximos,”Peri diaforon aporion” (“On Various Perplexing Topics”), PG 91, 1348A.

8. Saint Gregory of Nyssa, “Pros tous penthountas” (“To Those Who Mourn”), PG 46, 521D–524A.

9. Saint Gregory of Nyssa, “Peri psichis ke anastaseos” (“On the Soul and Resurrection”), PG 46, 148C–149A.

10. Lars Thünberg, Microcosm and Mediator, the Theological Anthropology of Maximos the Confessor (Land: 1965), p. 169: “The most basic consequence is the fact that the physical mode of man’s life is changed and marked by pleasure and pain. Man was destined to live eternally, but through his choice of temporal, sensible pleasure he called upon himself—according to God’s good counsel—a pain, which introduced into his life a law of death, which—seen from the aspect of the divine purpose—is there to put an end to his destructive escape from his natural goal. Death is thus the culmination of pain. On the other hand, man is still created to live, and mankind gains its life, after the fall, by means of that very lust, sexual intercourse, which is an excellent example of sense pleasure, and which also leads to a birth through pain. The law of death, putting an end to individual life, has its counterpart in a law of pleasure, regulating new physical life. These laws constitute the collective imprisonment of fallen man, from which he cannot escape, except through Christ.”

11. Saint Maximos, “Fourth Century of Various Texts” 44, Philokalia 2: 246–47.

12. Saint Maximos, “Peusis ke apokrises” (“Questions and Answers”) 3, PG 788B.

13. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Kosmische Liturgie: Das Weltbild Maximos des Bekenners. (Einsiedeln: 1961), pp. 194–96.

14. Ibid.

15. Saint Maximos, “Peri diaforon aporion” (“On Various Perplexing Topics”), PG 91, 1276B.

16. Saint Maximos, “Peusis ke apokrises” (“Questions and Answers”), 3, PG 788B. It should be noted that David and the holy Fathers speak of birth “in sins” within lawful marriage. Such views on birth are seen already in the Old Testament, where special “sin offerings” are prescribed by God for the purification of a woman after she gives birth (see Lev. 12:6–8: cf. Luke 2:24). The Church also expresses this view when she says among other things: “ . . . forgive Your handmaiden (name) who gave birth today.” (Third prayer for a woman in childbed on the day when her child is born); and: “Wash away her body’s filth and her soul’s stain, now that she has completed her forty days” (Prayer for churching a child after forty days. Prayer for the mother of the child.) Short Book of Prayers, 66, 72.

17. Saint John Chrysostom, “Peri Parthenias” (“On Virginity”) 14, PG 48, 543–44. See also Saint Athanasios the Great, “Eis Psalmous” (“The Psalms”), PG 27, 240C.

18. Saint Maximos, “Peri diaforon aporion” (“On Various Perplexing Topics”), PG 91, 1309A. Cf. Saint John of Damascus, The Orthodox Faith 4, 24 in Saint John of Damascus: Writings, trans. Frederic H. Chase, Jr. (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1958),  pp. 393–94.

19. Saint Maximos, “Third Century on Love” 4, Philokalia 2: 83.

20. Saint Maximos, “Second Century on Love” 17, Philokalia 2: 67–68. That is, as it appears, in the holy Fathers there is not even a trace of the opinions of the new theologians (like Yannaras and others).

21. Saint Maximos, “Second Century on Love” 33, Philokalia 2: 71. In respect to this position of the holy Fathers, no one can be rid of the impression that Yannaras, and other theologians with similar views, do nothing but write the theology of their own passions.

22. Athenagoras, “Embassy for the Christians” 33, trans. Joseph Hugh Crehan, S.J. in Ancient Christian Writers No. 23, ed. Johannes Quasten and Joseph C. Plumpe (New York: Newman Press, 1956), p. 74.

23. First Epistle of Athanasios the Great addressed to the Monk Amun in The Rudder, pp. 576–77. Cf. Saint Gregory of Nyssa, “Peri Parthenias” (“On Virginity”) 19, PG 46, 396C: “For it has been revealed through the divine sayings that pregnancy and birth are good.”

24. Saint John Chrysostom, “On Virginity” 15, PG 48, 545. Cf. Theodore N. Zeses, “Techni Parthenias” (“The Art of Virginity”), A B 15 (Thessaloniki: 1973), pp. 37–38.

25. Saint Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain, “Ermineia eis tas 14 epistolas tou Apostolou Pavlou” (“Commentary on the Fourteen Epistles of the Apostle Paul”) Vol. I (Athens: 1971): 253. According to this Father, self-restraint in marriage means that “married couples should have sexual intercourse only for procreation and not for the enjoyment of pleasure.” This is but a reiteration of Saint Gregory the Theologian’s definition of self-restraint: “Self-restraint is to prevail over sensual pleasure; on the other hand, the prevalence of the latter is what I call licentiousness.” Vol. II, “Epi Ithika” (“Moral Epopees”) 31, “Ori pachimereis,” PG 37, 651A.

26. Saint Gregory the Theologian, “Pros parthenous parenetikos” (“Exhortation to Virgins”), PG 37, 634A.

27. Saint Gregory the Theologian, “Oroi pchimereis,” PG 37, 958A. See also his “Sigkrisis vion” (“Comparison of Life-Styles”), PG 37, 651A.

28. Saint Gregory the Theologian, “Eis sofrosinin” (“On Self-Restraint”), PG 37, 643A–644A.

29. Saint Gregory of Nyssa, “Peri Parthenias” (“On Virginity”) 8, PG 46, 353A. The Church condemned those heretics who held the opposite view, i.e., that marriage is an “abomination”: such were the Marcionites, Encratites, and Manicheans. See also Canon LI of the Holy Apostles.

30. Saint John Chrysostom, “Peri Parthenias” (“On Virginity”), 25, PG 48, 550. And elsewhere: “Behold where the great achievement of marriage ends: in not being accused, not in being marveled at.” Ibid. 48, PG 48, 571.

31. Ibid. 39, PG 48, 562.

32. See Saint Gregory the Theologian, “Parthenias epenos” (“In Praise of Virginity”), PG. 37, 563A.

33. He himself gives proof of this when he writes concerning virginity and its value, saying: “Therefore, we are but spectators of others’ goods, and witnesses of the blessedness of each.” Saint Gregory of Nyssa, “Peri Parthenias” (“On Virginity”), 3, PG 46, 325B.

34. Ibid. 11, PG 46, 368BC.

35. Saint Gregory the Theologian, “Parthenias epenos” (“In Praise of Virginity”), PG 37, 563A.

36. Saint John Chrysostom, “Peri Parthenias” (“On Virginity”), 48, PG 48, 557.

37. Saint Gregory of Nyssa, “Peri Parthenias” (“On Virginity”), 8, PG 46, 356D.

38. Ibid. 7, PG 46, 352D.

39. Ibid. 3, PG 46, 355.

40. Saint Gregory the Theologian, “In Praise of Virginity”, PG 37, 538A. The superiority of virginity over marriage is the theme of the book by Theodore N. Zeses, The Art of Virginity A B 15, which has been republished under the new title, Gamos ke agamia eis ta peri parthenias paterika erga (Marriage and Celibacy in the Patristic Writings on Virginity), (Thessaloniki: Kyriakides Bros., 1987).

41. Saint Gregory of Nyssa, “Peri Parthenias” (“On Virginity”), 2, PG 46, 324B.

42. Saint John Chrysostom, “Peri Parthenias” (“On Virginity”), 30, PG 48, 554.

43. Ibid. 82, PG 48, 593.

44. Ibid. 47, PG 48, 568–69.

45. See Canon LXIX of the Holy Apostles and the commentary in The Rudder, 94. See also the following canons and the commentaries on them: Canon XIII of the Sixth Ecumenical Council, Ibid. 230; Canon III of Dionysios of Alexandria, Ibid. 549–50; Canon XIII of Timothy of Alexandria, Ibid. 672–73; Canon V of John the Faster, Ibid. 702.

[Editor’s Note: While Saint Maximos’s teaching on sexual dimorphism and generation occurring as a result of the fall is not unique to him, but rather is held by many of the Fathers, it is not a dogma of the Church, but rather a theologumenon. ]
This article was originally published by the Monastery of St. John,, in The Divine Ascent Vol. 3/4.  This and other publications can be found on their bookstore website,  This article was posted here with permission.
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