Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Theological Illiteracy

Theological Illiteracy

A talk given by Archimandrite Vassilios Papavassiliou on Clergy Laity Conference, November, 2010.

Father's talk looks at the relationship of theology with its connection to the society we live in and its relationship with the church. Many think of theology as a mere study of the arts. However, theology is much more than just a study. Theology is a way of life. Just like Evagarius said, "the theologian is the one that prays and the one that prays is a theologian". We have to grasp this in order to understanding what it means to live in the image and likeness of God. A lot of us struggle with this idea especially living in a society that does not speak the same language as the church. Many of our issues today stem from this notion that the society we live in does not speak the same language as the church. How can we reconcile this? The following will give us some ideas and notions on how to tackle this. I hope you all enjoy!

"People are not interested in theology these days. We need to address the issues which concern them". I have lost count of the number of times I have heard comments like this, even from clergy and theologians. This seems to have become our mantra of defeat, and we have somehow allowed this world to convince us that theology is not relevant or of interest to modern man. As a result, adult catechism or religious instruction, where it has not disappeared altogether, is often reduced to an explanations are, therefore, sometimes erroneous. Furthermore, we find ourselves unable to explain the Church's position on a whole host of issues which are rooted in theology, for example: why can non-Orthodox not take communion or play an active role in Orthodox sacraments?

The first challenge for adult catechism, therefore, is to find ways to get people interested in theology and to help them understand why it is important. Furthermore, we must stop seeing theology purely in terms of a field of academic study, of interest only to priests, professors and theology students, and start seeing it for what it is: the very essence of Christian life and faith. The absence of theology in Christian catechism and the theological incoherence of some ecclesiastical practices mean that the average layperson is able to understand little of the Church's services, scriptures and rules. So often we hear people complain that they do not understand the language of Greek Orthodox services. But the issue of language is oversimplified, as thought the answer to all our problems is abandoning New Testament Greek for Modern Greek or English.

We need to address the problem not only of language comprehension (whether the solution us using a modern language or teaching an ancient one), but also the problem of what I would call 'theological and ecclesiastical illiteracy'. Whatever language we use, many people are unable to understand the scriptures, hymns and prayers of the Church, because they are not familiar with basic theological language, e.g. God the Word, Incarnation, Resurrection, Consubstantial, Catholic, Apostolic, Ecumenical. The problem of language is therefore first and foremost one of acquaintance with the language of the Church and of Orthodox theology.

It is important to find new ways of making theology fresh and interesting, and to provide examples of how theology has direct and practical implications for our whole ethos and way of life. For example, does believing that God is Trinity make any difference to how we live our lives and how we treat other people? And let us not make the mistake of assuming that everyone knows the basics about Christianity. A good many people, Orthodox and otherwise, have never had the Trinity or the Incarnation explained to them. We too often make the mistake of casually repeating biblical phrases which, while true, are meaningless to a great number of people these days. We forget that the Bible is above all the Scripture of the Church, and that it can be properly understood only by those who already believe and have been instructed in the Faith. "Christ died for our sins", for example, does not mean much to someone who has not been taught anything about the Trinity, the Incarnation, or the Fall of man.

The second challenge we face is the process of catechism itself. There is very little in the way of systematic catechism and reading material in the English language. There are many books and introductions to Orthodoxy, but they are invariably either too simplistic or too academic. The knee-jerk reaction of many clergy if to tell people to acquire a copy of "The Orthodox Church" by Timothy Ware. While this is certainly one of the bet, if not the best, written introduction to Orthodoxy in English (it is the first book on Orthodoxy I ever read and from which I learned a great deal), it is for many people today too difficult and heavy-going.

We are dealing today with many people who, while not illiterate, struggle with the language and style of this and other such books. But even when someone understands and enjoys such books, a teacher and guide is still needed to explain in simpler and clearer terms or in more depth and detail what they have read. It is careless to just tell someone to read and leave them to it. Books are an introduction, not a conclusion. But the level of literacy of many people today is very poor, as I am frequently reminded at baptism, when the godparent or candidate for baptism, though a native English-speaker, struggles to read the Creed in English. I can count on one hand the number of times I've heard Pontius Pilate said correctly and the number of times someone has not struggled with the word Apostolic or Incarnate.

This leads us back to the issue of theological illiteracy. No doubt people who struggle to read church texts do not struggle half as much when reading the Sun Newspaper or the latest best seller, but religious education has plummeted spectacularly in this country. They may have never heard of Pontius Pilate, and the words Apostolic and Incarnate are certainly not ones that they have come across before or very often. We must not equate this ecclesiastical and theological illiteracy with stupidity, any more than we should equate someone who is not familiar with economics with stupidity for know knowing what gross profit and net profit mean, or someone who is not advanced in computer literacy for not knowing JavaScript. On the one hand, we should not patronize our pupils and talk to them in such a way that they feel like they are being treated like idiots, presenting them with theology fit for a 6 year old child-many of them are well educated and are capable of understanding complex subjects-but on the other hand we should not assume that everybody had had adequate R.E lessons at school. Often what someone knows will become clear during catechism itself, and we should make sure that the person feels comfortable revealing that they do not know what certain words mean. When doing group catechism, this difficulty becomes greater, because we are then dealing with variety of levels, and trying to pitch things at a level suitable for all is not always easy. In such cases, it is important that the subject being taught is presented in a fresh way, so that those who already know (or think they know) the subject can still engage in it and learn. Furthermore, there are so many opportunities here to correct the misconceptions that many have on issues such as Holy Communion, icons, memorial services etc.

Recently, I began group catechism classes at All Saints' Cathedral (Camden Town, London) ever Saturday, which are attended by approximately 10-15 people every week, most of whom are between the ages of 20 and 40. Some are Greek Orthodox Christians who wish to learn more about their faith, others are non-Orthodox Christians who are curious about Orthodoxy, while others are planning to be baptized in the near future. Even those whose imminent reception into the Orthodox Church has been prompted by plans to marry an Orthodox partner have a sincere interest in theology. What has been pleasantly surprising about these sessions is the fascination with theology that the pupils have. The material I am using for the sessions is largely my own, though I do sometimes borrow from other sources. In addition, a good number of people who are unable to attend receive written material for the sessions by e-mail, and follow the lessons that way.

The sessions are half-hour talks (sometimes including supplementary handouts and visual aids) plus another half-hour of questions and answers, which I try to make sure are relevant to the topic in question. The sessions are quite theological-dealing with topics such as Trinity, Ecclesiology, Ancestral Sin, etc. but also practical, when covering liturgical subjects. But I think it is about time we began seriously considering a catechetical book for our Archdiocese which all of our clergy and teachers could use to teach the faith systematically, as well as simple but comprehensive reading material for our parishioners and catechumens.

There is another important for of catechism, apart from classes, which I have not touched upon, and that is the sermon. The sermon is, above all, a catechism, but unfortunately this aspect of preaching has largely disappeared from the Liturgy and other services. Sermons should always be instructive, be they sermons on the gospel reading, the Divine Liturgy or the feast of the day. Developing a structured series of sermons for a long period of time is difficult and time-consuming, and it can be problematic when the congregation varies greatly from one Sunday to another. But sermons are an ideal way to teach the Faith on a weekly basis in the context of worship. It is here that we can work on improving the theological literacy of the people, with explanations of such words and terms as 'The Word of God', 'the Fathers of the 1st Ecumenical Council', 'the Liturgy of the Pre-sanctified Gifts', 'Dormition', 'Incarnation', an so on. Fr. George Zafeirkos and I have recently begun discussing the idea of dedicating the Sunday Sermons at All Saints' Cathedral to explaining the Divine Liturgy. these will be given alternately in Greek and English over the period of a year or maybe a few months. We hope that this may prove to be an effective form of liturgical catechism.

These are but a few ideas for how we can go about bringing theology back into the lives and concerns of our people and restoring a degree of theological literacy among the laity. Theology matters! It is what the Orthodox Church is all about. For if God becoming a man, dying for our sins, rising from the dead and granting us all eternal life is not theology, I don't know what is. Theology should therefore be the concern not only of a select few, but of every Orthodox Christian. While we must of course learn to adapt our methods of teaching according to the different age groups and cultural backgrounds of our people, the Orthodoxy we teach them must be the same. For theology is relevant precisely because it concerns eternal truths about God and man, about the Church and the salvation of the world - things which should surely concern all Orthodox Christians. If it does not interest them, then we should try to find ways to engage them in theology, not brush it aside. Only when we begin to understand and teach that theology is relevant to all can we begin to properly instruct our people in the Orthodox Faith.      

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

On Preaching and Christian Identity

The following is a question and answer with Metropolitan Anthony Bloom. These question do not have a particular theme as they range from topics on the WCC, to mission and preaching. Metropolitan Anthony was a bishop in England who truly lived for others. A selfless man who gave up a lot in order to see others smile. For more info on Metropolitan Anthony follow this link for more details.  

Full dialogue can be found here.

Question: How do you answer those who say that this is again a religious message? What is the difference between a religious message and the Gospel message?

Answer: "For one thing, I am not ashamed of bringing a religious message, because it is not my fault that Bonhoeffer has made of 'religious' almost a dirty word, and others have followed suit. If you mean by religion, religion as understood in the ancient world or by people who use the terminology of the Gospel with the mentality of idolatry, if religion is a system of methods and means and ways by which one can trap God and hold him prisoner and make him do what we want, then of course we have no religious message because the whole Gospel is a testimony that this is no approach. What one could say about Christianity is that Christianity is the end of religion in the sense that we need no longer hunt God down and hold him. God is in our midst, Emmanuel. God is one of us, Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate Son of God become the real son of man. In that sense we don't need to look for God anywhere. He is in our midst, and not only the fullness of the godhead in Jesus, but the fullness of that godhead in the Spirit given to the Church and given to each of its members. In the presence and the relatedness to the Father, as St. Paul puts it: 'Our life is hid with Christ in God.' In that sense it is no religion."

Question: Let me now ask you a very blunt question-What do you evangelize for? What is the object of your evangelism?

Answer: "I was a totally nasty unbeliever until I was in my middle teens. I had never read the Gospel. I had never held one in my hands, never heard it; I made sure that I never got to church. I was totally outside this realm of things. At fifteen I read the Gospel for the first time at a moment of very deep despair and negativism, when life..., people... made absolutely no sense, had absolutely no meaning to the point that I had determined to commit suicide if I did not find a meaning within a year. A meeting face to face with Christ as my living God, in the living, risen person of Jesus of Nazareth, made an absolute difference to everything. And this is what I have got to speak about: the discovery of meaning who is a person; the discovery of truth who is someone; the discovery of the end which is not ahead of us but which is come now and is even behind us, 2,000 years back; the discovery or eternal life which is not for tomorrow when I will be dead but for today because one lives it. And all that is in the context of the total Gospel with all its narrowness, its sharpness, its refusal of any compromise with anything which is not that truth which is declared there."

Question: The young people who through your preaching come in various ways to a wonderful experience of Jesus Christ, a personal meeting with him, do they all become professional religious, or do they go into trade-unions, into political life, into the social struggle of society, where they encounter not only the problem of relation of persons to person but of class to class?

Answer: "No, they certainly do not become sort of professional religious. That would be really too bad. I think the Christian must be present everywhere. You know, by profession I am a physician; I am not a theologian. I have never been in a theological school. I did five years of war surgery and five years of general practice. That's my background. And I have met people of very different walks of life in both capacities. Now, what I feel is that what is characteristic of the Christian individual and of the Christian community is that both are eschatological realities. They are a presence of eternity, of the world to come, of the final summing up of history already here within time. And it is in that capacity and as such that we should be present in all the walks of life. Now, that is a very important thing, because I do not believe that Christians should be in politics, social work, medicine, or anywhere else simply as human partners, but as people who have another dimension. Not as people who are prepared, say, on the ground of the Gospel's commandments to do things better or slightly differently, or with more love, because all that is untrue. There are millions of people who do things better and with more love than we do. But we can introduce through our very presence, without saying a word about it, a dimension which is properly the dimension of God, and that is our vocation."

Question: I have only one more question, and it is this: you are a member of the WCC Central Committee. You work in the Christian Medical Commission and at the same time your heart is warm with the desire to convey the Gospel of Jesus Christ. What would be your advice to the WCC, or if not advice, your brotherly message? Is there something that the WCC can do, should do, must do?

Answer: "But on that level the witness to the Gospel must be made, perhaps first of all, in the shining of a Christian eschatological personality or in the resplendence of a Christian eschatological body of people and secondly, in the supernatural way in which we can work sacrificially, loving beyond the measure of human love and with a degree of forgetfulness of self which will leave us without any awareness of self, so that only others can assert us because we have forgotten to assert ourselves at all. Our witness comes not by speaking in quotations of the Gospel, but in the spirit of the Gospel, in being leaven in the dough, so that every situation is leavened, every situation is made new by the salt added to it. And in that respect, may I say that I do not believe that the people of God are the people who possess Bible in 250 languages, can read it aloud to others or can make timely or untimely, true or doubtful quotations from it. The people of God as I see it in the Old and the New Testament, are the people who are so rooted in God, know him in such a personal way that they could write and proclaim the Bible, not only rehearse and repeat it. And unless we learn that approach to our message, unless we become the people who can re-proclaim the whole Bible — I am not, obviously, saying 're-write it' as it was written — bringing to people the message of the Bible whether the Bible exists or not physically, we are not yet the people of God. We are simply people repeating other people's messages, while we play the role of a postman delivering a letter, and that is not enough. If we were the people of God in that true sense, we would not make people angry by eternally quoting at them things which have gone stale on them or go against the grain. We would be a revelation of what there is to be revealed."

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Theology of Illness-The Healing of Human Nature by the Incarnate Word

Jean-Claude Larchet, a french laymen who teaches philosophy in France has written a book on the theology of illness. Throughout the book his aim is to show the connection between illness and sin and how this connection is related to our present reality. The first chapter examines the nature of sin and he breaks down sin using the Patristic fathers. The remainder of the book looks at the relationship with sin, illness and how modern medicine has completely neglected the human being. The treatment of the human being and to see a human being is being neglected as modern medicine keeps pushing for more ways to extend life forgetting to see the real life in that lies right in front of there eyes. I recommend this book highly especially for those in the medical world. The following is a small section from the book dealing with our healing related to the incarnation of God.


Only Christ can deliver mankind from the consequences of Adam’s transgression and from sin itself. As a divine Person, He is able to “enhypostasize” the fullness of human nature. Thereby He assumes human nature totally, restores it by the power of His own divine nature, and reunites and conforms it in Himself to divinity. Thereby He becomes the New Adam, but an Adam who is perfectly fulfilled; and thereby He fully accomplishes the divine plan which the first man failed to bring to completion. “Thus as one mans trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one mans disobedience many were made sinners, so by one mans obedience many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:18-19). Human nature, fallen in Adam, is restored in Christ and recovers all of the privileges it knew in its prelapsarian state. In the words of St Cyril of Alexandria, “As in Adam man’s nature fell ill from corruption, [. . .] so in Christ it has recovered health.” By His Incarnation, Christ has overthrown the barrier which separated our nature from God and has opened that nature once more to the deifying energies of uncreated grace. By His redemptive work, He has freed us from the tyranny of the devil and destroyed the power of sin. By His death, He has triumphed over death and corruption. By His resurrection, He has granted us new and eternal life. And it is not only human nature, but also the creation as a whole which Christ heals and restores, by uniting it in Himself with God the Father, thereby abolishing the divisions and ending the disorders that reigned within it because of sin.

“God,” St Maximus writes, “became man in order to save nun from destruction. By reuniting in Himself the ruptures in the universal nature ... He accomplished the great work of God the Father by recapitulating all things—things in heaven and things on earth—in Himself, in whom they also were created___First of all He united us in Himself, rendering us in total conformity to Himself. Thereby he restored in us His image, pure and whole, which none of the symptoms of corruption could touch. With us and for us He embraced the entire creation. . . . He recapitulated all things in Himself, thereby showing that the entire universe is one, as if it were itself and in its own manner a human person, fulfilled completely by the reuniting of its various members. . . . He brought to unity those things that had been separated; He put an end to the internal war between created beings, joining together in peace and unbreachable harmony all things both in heaven and on earth".

+ Jean-Claude Larchet, The Theology of Illness, SVS Press, p.40-41.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Search for Truth-How Should Orthodox Christians relate to Philosophy Today?

The following is a blog entry written by Samuel Kaldas. Sam is Coptic youth currently study in Sydney Australia and if the title of the blog did not give it away his major is Philosophy. I have been in communication with Sam for over a year and our dialogues and close friendship have developed fruitful dialogues about many things ranging from church topics to philosophy topics to talks about Father Matthew the Poor or just nonsense talks about the most silliest things you can think off. Sam currently has begun a blog called This Great Mystery and he has build a team around him who constantly write and post on this blog. Thank you for sharing this Sam and if anyone else would like to write on the blog you can get a hold off me anytime! Thank you! Enjoy.

Philosophy is simpler than it sounds. Really. Its so simple, in fact, that children tend to do very good philosophy with no formal training. For one, children tend to ask a lot why questions - to the point that it can become annoying. Even at university levels, philosophy never really becomes much more than a very formal, systematic and professional way of dealing with the kinds of questions that children ask: Why cant I do that? Who am I exactly? Does my dog have feelings like I do? How do I know that youre a real person and not just a robot?

To practically minded people, philosophy can look like a waste of time. It doesnt have many practical applications: no philosopher will ever get to watch their work curing cancer or making cars faster. But the questions philosophers ask arent simply idle curiosities, with no relevance to the real world. On the contrary, it could be argued that philosophy has a greater influence on the real world than any branch of science or engineering. Why? Because philosophy attempts to answer the questions that give meaning to every other aspect of human life: Whats the point of life? What is a human being? Do we have free will? What is truth? What is right and wrong? Is there a God? A cultures answers to those questions will tell you what kind of people they are; in a very real sense, philosophy is the measure of a societys soul. Other disciplines can make things bigger, better and faster, but only philosophy is concerned with what we ought to do with our ever-growing power.

Clearly, philosophy is important. But lets be frank: philosophy makes a lot of Copts nervous. If youve studied philosophy and mentioned that fact at church, youve no doubt heard things like, I don’t know man, the last guy I knew who studied philosophy became an atheist,” or “Be careful, dont get pulled in.And to be fair, philosophys reputation as a ‘dangeroussubject isnt totally underserved. Philosophy is one of the only academic disciplines which demands that you put everything you believe on the line, including your beliefs about God, human purpose and meaning. No-one cares what engineers or doctors do on a Sunday or what they believe about right or wrong, so long as their religious beliefs dont impact their work. In philosophy however, youre required to justify all your beliefs, including and especially religious ones, and pit them against a host of other beliefs all vying for your attention. That has caught many a young Christian off-guard. It doesnt help that although things vary from college to college, philosophy tutors and lecturers at secular universities can often be critical of religion.

So what are we to do? Does the hostile climate of contemporary philosophy mean that Christians ought to stay right away? As Orthodox Christians, were used to looking to the early church for guidance; and when it comes to the question of how Christians ought to relate to philosophy, the early church has some very interesting things to say indeed. One particularly helpful example, I think, is the story of St. Basil and St. Gregory - the authors of the two most frequently used Coptic liturgies. Its a little known fact that these two saints became good friends long before either them were ordained, and that they first met at university. Not a Christian university, but the ‘secular(‘paganmight be more accurate) university of Athens, where they studied philosophy.

The intellectual climate at the Athenian university back then was no less hostile to Christianity than it is today.  In fact, it was hostile to pretty much everyone. If modern universities are marketplaces of ideas, the Athenian university in Basils time was the battlefield of ideas; the rivalries between professors and competing schools of thought were extremely heated, and frequently broke out into very real violence (Wenzel 2010). New students were particularly vulnerable: a pagan called Libanius was once welcomed to the university by being kept against his will in a small room until he agreed to attend only the lectures of his captorsteacher. This kind of thing doesnt seem to have been uncommon. Remembering his school days, St. Gregory would later say of the Athenian students: They are just like men devoted to horses and exhibitions, as we see, at the horse-races; they leap, they shout, raise clouds of dust, they drive in their seats, they beat the air …” (Orat. 43, Ch. 15) The philosophy classes of Athens were hardly friendly places.

But that didnt dissuade either saint from entering the fray. Many years later, at St. Basils funeral, St. Gregory praised his friend for having emerged from this clamour of conflicting opinions and deceitful rhetoricians as a humble but powerful Christian voice:

… as to what he was to his masters, what he was to his classmates, equalling the former, surpassing the latter in every form of culture, what renown he won in a short time from all, both of the common people, and of the leaders of the state; by showing both a culture beyond his years, and a steadfastness of character beyond his culture. An orator among orators, even before the chair of the rhetoricians, a philosopher among philosophers, even before the doctrines of philosophers … So much deference was paid to him in every respect by all.” (Orat. 43, Ch. 13)

The intellectual and social world at Athens was deeply hostile to Christianity, and yet, with the help and guidance of Christian teachers (Ch. 21), the two young saints were not only able to keep their faith alive throughout their time there, they even strengthened it. Their peers may not have agreed with them, but they respected them as philosophers among philosophers, even before the doctrines of philosophers.

So why exactly would St. Gregory and St. Basil would persevere through such a hostile environment? Probably, they had realised for themselves something that St. Clement of Alexandria had argued centuries earlier. Philosophy,said St. Clement, is characterized by investigation into truth and the nature of things (this is the truth of which the Lord Himself said, I am the truth).” Philosophy, ancient and modern, hostile or not, is always the search for truth. And for Christians, Christ is the truth, which makes philosophy nothing more than the search for Christ. St. Gregory described his friendship with St. Basil as growing chiefly because of their united commitment to philosophy: “… as time went on, we acknowledged our mutual affection, and that philosophy was our aim, we were all in all to one another, housemates, messmates, intimates, with one object in life, or an affection for each other ever growing warmer and stronger.(Ch. 19) For these saints, as for many of the Church Fathers, philosophy was a fundamentally Christian activity; St. Clement even went so far as to say that philosophy was to the Greeks like the Law was to the Jews (Stromata 1.5). To the Christian, any search for truth can only lead to Christ.

There are many more examples of ancient Christian philosophers: from St. Justin the Martyr to Pope Peter of Alexandria, and even St. Paul the Apostle who debated with the philosophers in the Athens long before St. Basil and St. Gregory would arrive there three centuries later (Acts 17:15-34). And fortunately, theres no shortage of contemporary Christian philosophers either; St. Vladimirs Seminary Press just published a book (Turning East - see below) featuring interviews with sixteen Orthodox Christian philosophers, many of whom dont teach at Christian universities.

None of this is to deny that philosophy can be extremely difficult, and even dangerous when done badly - its certainly not everyones cup of tea, and all students of philosophy, including the Christian ones, absolutely must be skeptical and discerning with their teachers and peers. But budding Orthodox philosophers need more than warnings and horror stories: they need teachers like St. Basil and St. Gregory who can enter the confusing din of conflicting voices and and emerge as humble and respected philosophers among philosophers.Whats more, they need to be trusted to enter that din themselves, because even though He might be hard to hear amidst all the angry voices, Christ is in that din too.

Further reading/Bibliography:

What is Philosophy?’’, Florida State University Website: <http://philosophy.fsu.edu/content/view/full/36588>.

St. Gregorys Funeral Oration for St. Basil (Orat. 43), (esp. Ch. 11 and Chs 15-22) - <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/310243.htm>.

St. Clement’s Stromata - Book 1, Chs 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6 - <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/02101.htm>.

Also: Clement of Alexandria: The Original Christian Philosopher” by Mark Moussa - <http://www.coptic.net/articles/clementofalexandria.txt>.

St. Justin Martyrs First Apology, Chs 2-3 <http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0126.htm>.

St. Basils Address to the Youth on the Right Use of Pagan Literature, <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/pearse/morefathers/files/basil_litterature01.htm>.

Turning East: Contemporary Philosophers and the Ancient Christian Faith, SVS Press - <http://www.svspress.com/turning-east-contemporary-philosophers-and-the-ancient-christian-faith/>.

Wenzel, A. (2010). Libanius, Gregory of Nazianzus, and the Ideal of Athens in Late Antiquity” in Journal of Late Antiquity. Vol. 3, Number 2, Fall 2010.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Eucharistic Understanding of Marriage

An excellent book that tackles marriage from a historical perspective and ties in many issues in our modern time that couples face in marriage. 

The paradigm (starting point) of Marriage is Christ. And if Christ is the starting point off Marriage that brings us together in the anticipation of the kingdom then marriage is connected to the Eucharist. The difference between a "secular" marriage and a "christian" marriage is the Eucharist. It is through the Eucharist that the unity of the couple is manifested in the body of Christ. The connection is alluded to in the wedding story of Cana (Jn 2.1-11). The text is pointing to the climax of the marriage service which brings together the Baptism and Eucharist. The water is transformed into wine, so the life of the sinful human being in transfigured through the presence of Christ into the reality of the kingdom. Our life is transformed once we are united in the bond of matrimony. This explains why today the marriage service done within the full context of the church service is conducted within the entire liturgy. The culmination our our baptismal duty to the church which is to mission to the entire world and this culminates in the partaking of the divine gifts. Unfortunately, many have misunderstood marriage and the majority of all marriages are performed outside of the context of the liturgy.

Even in the early church when the administrative work was missing (before Constantine became emperor the church was not united) the church understood the importance of marriage and the Eucharist. Terturllian writing in the second century writes that marriage is arranged by the church, confirmed by the oblation (Eucharist), sealed by the blessing, and inscribed in heaven by the angels. The church had this understanding that marriage was not only important to civil society (each couple had to be registered a practice that still continues to this day) but their joint participation in the regular Sunday liturgy, in the presence of the entire community (not a private affair as is practiced today) was blessed by the Bishop or priest. The marriage became an eternal union when the Eucharist was distributed to the entire community. Ignatius of Antioch echoes a similar sentiment of Terturllian when he says those who get married must unite with the knowledge of the bishop, so the marriage may be according to the Lord, and not by human desire (Letter to Polycarp 5.2).

What makes a "sacrament" is not necessarily a set of specific, visible gestures, accomplished by a valid minister. The church itself-being a mysterious union of God with his people-is the sacrament as St. Paul talks about the mystery of salvation (Eph 3). When the union of marriage is done, this is indeed "sacrament", for the mystery of salvation is applied to the individual commitment. But all these "sacraments" are completed in the Eucharist. The Eucharist is itself a wedding feast as St. Paul reminds the community in Corinth that separating the table of thanksgiving is a mistake that needs to be corrects (1 Cor 11). After the wedding ceremony the couple are constantly working out their salvation in the body of Christ. Elder Elisha of Simonopetra tells us that marriage is a great sacrifice. This sacrifice is realized through the life of prayer. As prayer unites us to God our marriage unites us also to God through our struggles and pains within the marriage life. If we come to understand marriage through the lens of the Eucharist then and only then will a marriage be able to be made holy for the life of the world. But if we continue to think that marriage is based on materialistic (what kind of job they have and how much property do they own) objects then the 50 percent divorce rate (In the west countries) will continue to rise.    


Therefore, don’t think that you aren’t praying. You pray daily, if for the sole reason that you have decided to offer yourselves to God, and to live apart, against the worldly mindset. Thus you should know that this constitutes prayer. This is prayer. Prayer is when I become a monk, to offer myself to God. This is prayer.

You pray when you offer yourself to the church and as a sacrifice towards each other within marriage. One who gets married, therefore, in his married life, is a prototype. Marriage is a return to the former state in Paradise, in other words. It is to offer yourself in the married life, for what does it do? To offer myself to someone else is to sacrifice myself for the other.

No one can distinguish the lay person from the monk, for what are they? Being a monk is a return to a former state, in other words, that of Paradise, without compromises.

We sell our freedom to God, because God is our freedom.  

Elder Eliseus (Elisha) of Simonopetra on Sacrifice in Marriage and Monasticism