Marriage and the Eucharist: From Unity to Schizophrenia – the Positive Theology of Marriage and its Distortion From an Eastern Orthodox Point of View

Marriage and the Eucharist: From Unity to Schizophrenia – the Positive Theology of Marriage and its Distortion From an Eastern Orthodox Point of View

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  Marriage and the Eucharist: From Unity to Schizophrenia –  the Positive Theology of Marriage and its Distortion From an Eastern Orthodox Point of View Fr. Philip Zymaris It is clear that from the very beginning the Church had a positive view of marriage. Beginning with Holy Scripture and specifically with the book of Genesis, it is evident that the gender distinction of male-female and sexuality is seen in the context of the creation of the human being in the image and likeness of God. In the New Testament the first miracle signaling the commencement of the mission of Christ was the marriage at Cana, 1  which rendered the presence of Christ as a given in Christian marriage, as does also St. Paul ’ s description of marriage as a “ great mystery, ”  analogous to that of the relationship of Christ with His Church. 2  This sacramental presence of Christ in marriage was reflected in the celebration of marriage in the context of the Eucharist, as was the case also for all other rites that we today call “ sacraments. ” 3  Paradoxically, this srcinal eucharistic context of marriage, taken for granted in the early Church, eventually eroded to the extent where marital life, while ostensibly honored as a sacramental state, was eventually “ fenced off ”  in practice from its natural context - the Eucharist - as if the two were somehow incompatible. In the pages that follow I shall attempt to trace this strange phenomenon and offer possible reasons for it. As is well known, the earliest full description of marriage as a rite at our disposal is the so-called Barberini codex 336 (Barberini Gr. 336) of the late 8 th  century, which makes clear reference to the couple ’ s reception of communion not as an option but as a necessary part of the service. 4  Whether this reference signifies that this 8 th  c. service was in the context of a “ true ”  liturgy (i.e., a liturgy with an anaphora) or the communion was taken from pre-sanctified gifts is irrelevant, for it points in any case to the eucharistic context and srcins of marriage as is also the case for the service of baptism. 5   1  John 2:1-11.   2  Eph. 5:20-33.   3  For the connection of all sacraments with the Eucharist, see N. Milosevic, To Christ and the Church: The Divine Eucharist as the All-Encompassing Mystery of the Church , (Los Angeles: Sebastian Press 2012); id. The Holy Eucharist as the Center of Divine Worship: The Connection of the Sacraments to the Eucharist  (Thessaloniki: Pournaras 2001) (in Greek). For a historical review of the connection of marriage specifically with the Eucharist see P. Skaltses,  Marriage and Divine Liturgy: A Look at the History of Worship  (Thessaloniki: Pournaras, 1998) (in Greek). 4  The rubric states: “ and giving them the life-giving communion. ”  The same rubric is to be found in the 8 th /9 th  c. Sinai NF/ MG53 from Palestine. See Skaltses, p. 164f. 5  The tradition has invariably been to commune the neophyte (with the reserved sacrament in today ’ s practice) and this points to the baptismal liturgy ’ s srcinal eucharistic srcins and context. For an excellent general review on these srcins and the meaning of baptism, see A. Schmemann, Of Water and the Spirit: A Liturgical Study of Baptism (Crestwood: St. Vladimir ’ s Seminary Press, 1974).  In order to trace the development of this practice in earlier versions of the marriage service one is compelled to depend on scriptural evidence and chance references in the Fathers and ancient Church Orders. Although the New Testament evidence is laconic regarding any specific marital rite - as is the case for other liturgical “ services ”  also - the eucharistic context of marriage is made clear by Christ ’ s presence at the marriage in Cana 6  and in the reference to water and wine, 7  which have been understood as eucharistic symbols. 8  The reference in Ephesians 5:32 to marriage as a “ great mystery ”  ( mysterion mega ) also points to the sacramental nature of marriage, which in the Eastern Christian perception sees every “ mysterion ”  as pointing to the one mystery/sacrament of Christ experienced in the Eucharist. 9  In the writings of the 1st century Apostolic Father Ignatius of Antioch, the necessity of the presence of Christ in Christian marriage is stressed through the presence of the icon of Christ, the bishop: “ those who marry and are given in marriage must be united through the opinion of the bishop so that the marriage can be according to the Lord and not desire. ” 10  This view is confirmed by the N.T. statement that Christians marry “ in the Lord. ” 11  However, marrying “ in the Lord ”  or having the “ opinion ”  of the bishop is not to be seen as the mere permission of an individual, as is the case in permission given by parents, nor as a mere prayer or rite, but as the acknowledgement of the local assembly = the Body of Christ = the Church, represented by the bishop. 12  By the 4 th  c. an srcinally threadbare “ marriage service, ”  which was tantamount to the mere participation in the Eucharist of the couple in the presence of the bishop and the community, began to develop gradually into a fully fledged marital liturgy. This fleshing out process begins with the gradual appearance of blessing prayers referring specifically to the couple, 13  and then certain marriage “ customs ”  that we recognize 6  Skaltses, p. 129   7  John 2:1-11. 8  Milosevic, To Christ and the Church , p. 63.   9   Ibid , p. 61. 10   Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to Polycarp , 5:2, Sources Chrétiennes  10, p. 150. 11  1Cor 7:39. 12  For the concept of the bishop as icon of Christ who as president of the eucharistic assembly plays the part of a corporate personality uniting the one and the many in the local Church see J. Zizioulas, Eucharist, Bishop, Church: The Unity of the Church in the Divine Eucharist and the Bishop During the First Three Centuries (Brookline: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2001). 13  Earlier patristic evidence seems to point already to nuptial blessing prayers referring to the couple as in Tertullian (2 nd   –  3 rd  c.): “ how shall we ever be able to describe adequately the joy of that marriage which is provided for by the Church, the rite strengthens and is certified and sealed in a blessing, at which angels are present as witnesses, and to which the father gives His consent? ”  (  Ad Uxorem , II, VIII-6, SC   273, 148); see Skaltses, p. 136. Similarly, Clement of Alexandria refers to marriage “ according to the  today as belonging to a “ rite ”  of marriage. It is during this era that staples of our modern marriage rite, the rings, joining of hands and crowns, begin to be introduced, as is witnessed in descriptions of St. Chrysostom and others. 14  About this time artistic evidence for the formation of some kind of a marriage rite also shows up in both East and West in the form of depictions of the joining of hands of the couple or the laying on of hands upon the couple ’ s heads by a Christ/bishop figure. 15  The one element that remained constant during this long period of gradual development of a distinctively nuptial rite, however, was its celebration in the context of a eucharistic service at least up to the 9 th  c. 16  The MS evidence shows that even after this period, as the gradual separation of the marriage service from its srcinal eucharistic context eventually led to today ’ s non-eucharistic marriage rite, a liturgical consciousness that the newly weds should receive communion together in the service or right after it was still preserved in some instances even as late as the 18 th  century. 17  Despite this srcinal connection of marriage to the Eucharist, from the 9 th  to the 18 th  centuries the MS tradition witnesses to the development of four different versions of the marriage service which trace a gradual divorce of this sacrament from its srcinal eucharistic context. We find 1) the marriage rite in the context of the Divine Liturgy; 2) a special pre-sanctified liturgy marriage rite; 3) a service offering a choice of either the pre-sanctified gifts or the “ common cup; ”  and 4) a service like today ’ s which offers only the common cup. 18  What led to this development? It seems that there were certain practical reasons that led to this as well as an underlying popular mentality that had been developing which gave philosophical support for these liturgical changes. We will begin with the former, more objective factors that could have led to these developments and then attempt a preliminary venture into the possible thought patterns behind them. Let us first of all, then, begin with some historical facts. Despite our tendency to idealize Byzantium as an almost perfect Christian society, not all of its citizens led a performed word ”  ( logon teleioumenos ) which also seems to refer to a blessing prayer, Stromateis , 4 PG 8,1337A. 14  For example, Chrysostom on the crowns as a symbol of victory, PG  62:546; see also PG  62:64; cf.   Milosevic, The Holy Eucharist as the Center  , pp. 196 –  197 and Skaltses, pp. 141 –  147 for other references. 15  For some of these depictions and explanations of them see Skaltses, pp. 151-155. 16  As seen for example in references given by Theodore the Studite: G. Fatouros, Theodori Studitae Epistulae. Pars prior: Prolegomena et textum epp. 1-70 continens (Corpus Fontium Historiae Byzantinae XXX/1, Berlin 1992), pp. 149 -150. Letter 50. 17  After this time, the introduction of printed liturgical books eventually led to the “ freezing ”  and standardization of today ’ s non-eucharistic rite. See Milosevic,  Ibid, p. 187.   18  For the MS evidence see Skaltses, pp. 163 –  327; Milosevic, pp. 67 –  86.  storybook synaxarion-style life. The Byzantines themselves, who never called themselves “ Byzantines ”  nor “ Greeks ”  but Romans , saw themselves as continuing the venerable tradition of Roman Law. Regarding marriage, Roman law in the early Christian era, allowed three choices for “ legal ”  marriage: 1) a verbal agreement in the presence of witnesses; 2) a written contract; and 3) Church marriage. 19  Evidently those who chose the third option were those who were interested in living nuptially according to the Church ’ s conception of marriage as a “ great mystery. ”  It is ironic that the gradual abandonment of the first two choices in favor of ecclesial marriage for all citizens is one of the main factors that finally sealed the permanent separation of marriage from the Eucharist. This occurred in three basic stages: 1) in 537 Emperor Justinian ordered that all government figures be married in the Church; 2) in 893 Emperor Leo the Wise legislated that Church marriage was mandatory for all free citizens (there still were slaves in Byzantium); and, finally; 3) in the 11 th  c., Emperor Alexios Comnenos determined that the only valid marriage is ecclesiastical marriage for all. 20  Thus the Church took over the role of the state to become the only legal “ marrier. ”  This meant that all people, even those who in earlier times would freely have chosen not to be married in the Church, were now compelled to do so. This led to two results that contributed to the separation of marriage and liturgy: 1) the increase in the number of people that had to be accommodated led to an overflow of marriages outside the Sunday liturgy, which contributed to the gradual privatization of the service; and 2) the marriage service had to be adapted to accommodate all types of people which led to a general “ watering down ”  of the service. This is reflected in the aforementioned marriage service which offered a choice between pre-sanctified gifts for the “ worthy, ”  21  or the “ common cup ”  as a sort of   “ antidoron, ”   i.e., substitute communion, for cases when the couple was “ unworthy ”  for communion. What did this “ unworthiness ”  entail? First of all, there were those who were married for a second and even a third time. Such people were subject to a penance barring them from communion for as much as 2 years for a second marriage and 5 years for a third. In keeping with this prescription, the second marriage rite had a penitential character: there was neither crowning nor communion in this service. 22   19  Skaltses, pp. 55 –  56; ,   20  For these developments see Skaltses, pp. 156 -161; Milosevic, p. 197f. 21  The exact phrase is: “ if they are worthy to receive, ”  cf., National Library of Greece 662 –  12 th   –  14 th  c. See Milosevic,  Ibid , p. 193. 22  While this service presently still retains a somewhat penitential flavor, the practice of crowning the couple has philanthropically been introduced by the Ecumenical Patriarchate as is evident in the present-day redaction of the Small Euchologion  used by Greek speaking Churches.  A similar prohibition of communion to the couple was also the case for mixed marriages. In Byzantium there was an increase in mixed marriages from the 10 th  c. on. Such marriages were contracted with either non-Chalcedonian Christians or, after the 13 th  c. crusades, with Latin Christians. 23  Regarding possible philosophical bases behind this gradual separation of marriage from its natural eucharistic context, the following preliminary thoughts may be ventured. The very nature of Christianity, claiming to be the final revelation of the truth, necessitated a radical newness and a prominently eschatological perspective. During N.T. times, while living with the imminent expectation of the end times, Christians still continued living in the state they found themselves, whether married or single. 24  Indeed, it is notable that even in this context of eschatological expectation St. Paul nevertheless dealt with nuptial issues and was even able to make certain positive statements regarding the sanctifying power of marriage that were revolutionary for the ancient world. 25  During the period of persecution that followed, the Church ’ s eschatological orientation and witness was easy to maintain due to the circumstances and marriage was not an issue that needed to be dealt with in this context. When the persecutions ceased, however, it seems that the Church attempted to preserve this radical eschatological witness to the world in new ways. Thus, once the martyrdom of blood became infrequent, the new martyrdom/witness of celibate asceticism made its appearance even before the formal development of organized monasticism in the 4 th  century. 26  Perhaps the popular conception of the early Church was that there was a need for her to distinguish herself from the good but “ normal ”  and therefore un-heroic monogamy inherited from the Jews, on the one hand, 27  and from the rampant 23  Skaltses, pp. 303 –  305; Milosevic, Ibid , p. 196f. 24  See 1Cor. 7:8-10. 25  See 1Cor. 7:12f. where the unbeliever is sanctified by the believer in marriage and 7:3-4 where the equality of the sexes over each others bodies in marriage is affirmed. 26  See Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity  (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988) for numerous instances of this. 27  Peter Brown, Ibid , pp. 44, 60 –  61. The infant and adolescent Church ’ s policy to seek ways to distinguish herself from her mother Judaism is manifestly evident in this era. For example, some form of fasting was a universal given in the religious world of the East and the Jews fasted twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays (cf. the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, Luke 18:12). This custom was continued by the Church but changed to Wednesdays and Fridays as a distinguishing point as cited in the Didache , chap. 8. Only later was the symbolism of these days representing the betrayal and crucifixion of Christ respectively stressed as a justification. See Christos M. Enisleidos, The Institution of Fasting , (Athens: Enoria Publishing, 1958), pp. 136 –  137 (in Greek).
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