Ask An Eastern Orthodox Christian: Conjugal Relations in Marriage
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Recently married-What are the directives regarding conjugal relations? When are they allowed? Can orthodox Christians have sex for pleasure?
When God created the firmament, the waters, day and night, etc., Scripture tells us that, “And God saw that it was good “(Gen 1:4-25). However, when God created Adam, He said, “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Gen 2:18). When Eve was created from the rib of Adam, Eve was equal in every way and exactly as human as Adam.
Then Adam said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called woman because she was taken out of man. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:23-24).
There is this concept of “oneness, communion, indwelling throughout creation,” a conjugal relationship to complete the other, in what we refer to as marriage. The two become one as Jesus Christ, the Bridegroom and his Bride, the Church are joined in this marital conjugal image of becoming one.
In a marriage between a man and a woman, sex in the marriage begins a transformation from self-love of genital sex (Eros) to a much higher level of agape love of selflessness about the other. God is Agape love, and his presence in this union of marriage, of a man and woman enriches their experience from the carnal to the spiritual.
Sexual communion completes us as persons, fulfills the deeper issues of trust, security, commitment, satisfaction, the essential problem of loneliness, and most importantly, to experience love and to be loved. Without agape love in the conjugal relations of a marriage, one can simply experience being lost, unsatisfied, unfulfilled, lustful, dysfunctional, and sometimes destructive.
There is nowhere in Scripture that states a man and a woman in the sacramental life of marriage cannot participate in the expression of love with one another as in conjugal relations. Scripture does not just imply that marital relations are solely for the procreation of children and chastity.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church, sexual union in marriage is sanctified, sacred, and holy. Scripture tells us in Hebrews 13:4, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled,” and in 1 Corinthians 7:3, “Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband.”
Saint John Chrysostom instructs us, “Their intercourse accomplishes the joining of their bodies, and they are made one, just as when perfume is mixed with ointment.” He also goes on to say in reference to the mystery of the conjugal union, says: “And it is good. At the same time—and I cannot emphasize this point strongly enough—the Church teaches us clearly that sex is not the essence of Christian marriage.” Marriage is to move constantly from the carnal to the spiritual perspective. Such progress is only possible within the perspective of the couple’s perfection in Christ. (ORTHODOXWIKI).
Marriage in the Eastern Orthodox Church is a path to salvation where Christ is the one who unites us in this holy sacrament of marriage. In the marriage ceremony, there are no vows by the participants, for it is not a contract between two people but a sacramental mystery that joins the two to become one with God.