One of the questions that often comes up when we priests deal with young people is the question of pre-marital sex. Is this right or wrong; and what does the Orthodox Church think about it? The answer to this question is usually given in one-on-one conversations and often stays unknown to the wider public. Due to the fact that the issue of pre-marital sex is usually addressed in small group conversations or one on one conversations, we have many Orthodox individuals who have heard that the Orthodox Church does not bless or allow pre-marital relations but they do not know the reason why. Not knowing the reason or reasons behind it means that we live by the rule which is not clear to us. This further means that if people of God do not know why their Church asks something from them, in the moments of temptation the rule can be easily broken.
In today’s blog, we will address the problem of pre-marital sex both practically and theologically so that we can understand better the why behind the Orthodox Church’s no to pre-marital relations.
THE PURPOSE OF MARRIAGE
In order for us to understand why our Church does not approve pre-marital relations we have to understand what the Orthodox marriage is and what is the purpose of it. The most simple definition of the marriage in the Orthodox Church is that it is a sacramental and blessed by God unity between man and a woman for the sake of salvation of the two and creating the faithful servants of God.
It is important to notice immediately that in marriage, there are always three persons present: man, woman and God. The unity between man, woman and God happens in the sacrament of marriage. When this unity is sacramentally established, then the purpose of marriage presents itself. We get married in order to be saved as a couple. We get married to help one another on our way to salvation with the help of God.
The secondary purpose of marriage is to procreate and give birth to children who will be God’s worthy servants. Giving birth to children does not only happen because of our sexual relations but because of God’s intervention. Regardless of what we humans do, ultimately it is God who gives life and creates the miracle of life in the womb. That is not to say we believe marriage without children is pointless. That is why it is the secondary purpose.
THEOLOGICAL ISSUE WITH PRE-MARITAL SEX
Now that we know what the blessed unity between man and a woman looks like, we will briefly reflect on out of marriage unions, or more specifically on the issue of pre-marital sex. This issue is often times not addressed publicly and stays under the radar. The result is having so many individuals who know that the Orthodox Church forbids pre-marital relations but they have no idea why.
If the marriage is a blessed sacramental union between man and a woman, which, amongst many things, includes sexual relations and procreation, do we see any of this in pre-marital relations? The answer is no. Pre-marital relations by definition exclude God and turn what is supposed to be a blessed bodily union between the two into something that is profane and without any higher purpose. Having no purpose in bodily unity except our own pleasure makes us miss the mark (which is the definition of sin). Our target is God. However, through our own selfishness we are missing that target and end up in the world of profanity and sinfulness. Even if the goal of pre-marital relations is to create a child, since we did not invoke God into the union, we go astray from the way of life our Church wants us to live.
All in all, the theological problem with pre-marital sex is that it does not have any higher purpose and is a union without God. Instead of having the sexual union happening with and through the blessing of God, through our own selfishness this union happens outside of the realm of holy and heavenly and ends up being sinful.
PRACTICAL CONCERNS OF THE CHURCH
In the early days of Christianity, people did not know that much about human bodies the way we do now. Sexual relations meant that someone can become pregnant at any given moment. Therefore, in addition to its theological negation of pre-marital sex, Church forbade it due to its worry for the faithful. Nowadays that worry still exists. What if the child is produced by the sexual relation? Will those people who participated in producing of the child be responsible for its future or will they choose the shortcut and abort the child? If, God forbid, someone decides to abort the child, both parents will be liable for such an action which is even more sinful than pre-marital sex. These difficult situations can be easily avoided if we abstain from sexual relations until the sacrament of marriage takes place.
Let us always remember that our bodies are not given to us for the sake of pleasure but for the sake of God. Everything that we do as humans with our bodies needs to have one goal: Glorying the creator of the body. If we do something with our bodies that does not fall under this criterion, we should make sure we mention that in our confession. Based on both theological and practical reasoning, pre-marital relations are extremely problematic from the perspective of the Eastern Orthodox Church and certainly do not fall under the category of blessed. Therefore, let us take care of our bodies so that when in the sacrament of marriage we fully unite ourselves to the one we love, we can live the grace of God given to those who dedicate their relationship to the Creator and not to their impulsive desires.
Thank you for this thoughtful explanation. It will be helpful when speaking with our children