Synodal Affirmation of the Mystery of Marriage
At the Tenth All-American Council of the Orthodox Church in America, held in Miami,
Florida in July 1992, the Holy Synod of Bishops issued a document titled, “Synodal
Affirmations on Marriage, Family, Sexuality, and the Sanctity of Life.” The Affirmations
were issued after a lengthy process of study and discernment with the intention of
addressing issues that, even in our time, continue to be a source of debate and division
within American society.
The first section of the Affirmations, titled, “The Mystery
of Marriage,” reads as follows.
“God creates human beings in His own image and likeness,
male and female. He declares human life, with all that He makes, to be ‘very good’
“God wills that men and women marry, becoming husbands and wives.
He commands them to increase and multiply in the procreation of children, being joined
into ‘one flesh’ by His divine grace and love. He wills that human beings live within
families (Genesis 1:27; 2:21-24; Orthodox Marriage Service).
“The Lord Jesus blessed
marriage in which the ‘two become one flesh’ when, by His presence with His mother
Mary and His disciples at the marriage in Cana of Galilee, He revealed His messianic
glory in His first public miracle, evoking for the first time the faith of His disciples
(Genesis 2:24; John 2:1-11)....
“Christ’s apostles repeat the teachings of their Master,
likening the unique marriage between one man and one woman to the union between Christ
and His Church which they experience as the Lord’s very body and His bride (Ephesians
5:21-33; 2 Corinthians 11:2).
“While condemning those who forbid marriage as an unholy
institution, along with those who defile marriage through unchastity (1 Timothy 4:3,
Hebrews 13:4), the apostles commend as ‘the will of God’ that Christians, as examples
for all human beings, abstain from unchastity [porneia] and know how to marry ‘in
holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like heathen who do not know God.’
They insist that ‘whoever disregards this [teaching] disregards not man but God,
who gives His Holy Spirit’ to those who believe (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8).
are commanded to be the heads of their wives as Christ is the head of the Church.
They are called to love their wives as their very selves, as Christ loves the Church,
giving themselves in sacrifice to their brides as to their own bodies. And wives
are called to respect and reverence their husbands as the Church devotes herself
to Christ with Whom she too, like the wife with her husband, is ‘one flesh’ (Ephesians
5:21-33; Orthodox Marriage Service).
“The ‘great mystery’ of marriage (Ephesians 5:32)
is the most used image and symbol in the Bible for God’s relationship with His People
in the Old and New Testaments where the Lord is the husband and His people are His
wife—so often unfaithful and adulterous (cf. Hosea, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Song of Songs,
Corinthians, Ephesians, et. al.). And the ultimate union between the Lord and those
saved by Christ for eternal life in God’s kingdom by the indwelling Holy Spirit is
likened to the communion of marriage (Revelation 21-22).”
In light of the decisions
rendered on June 26, 2013 by the Supreme Court of the United States of America with
regard to same-sex marriage, we, the members of the Holy Synod of Bishops of the
Orthodox Church in America, reaffirm that which had been stated in June 1992, namely
that marriage involves the union of one man and one woman, as divinely revealed and
experienced in the sacramental life of the Church. As such, the Church does not,
and can not, condone or accept marriages apart from those involving one man and one
woman who seal their relationship in the all-embracing love of Our Lord, Jesus Christ,
together with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
We exhort the clergy and faithful of
the Orthodox Church in America not to have fear or anxiety in the face of the decisions
of the civil authorities of our lands, but to bear witness to the timeless teachings
of Christ by striving for purity and holiness in their own lives, by instructing
their families and communities in the precepts of the Holy Gospel, and by placing
their trust in our Lord Who “has overcome the world.”
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch
over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and
the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the
angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great
joy which will be to all people.” Luke 2:8-10
The Gospel of Saint Luke recounts the story of the shepherds keeping watch in the
fields surrounding Bethlehem on the night of our Savior’s birth. Their work that
night was pretty much routine, even to the point of being boring. They had to keep
their flocks safe from predators that might attack the sheep, and there was always
the danger that some of the sheep might wander away or be stolen. But, for the most
part, the work was routine and uneventful. Perhaps that particular night they were
once again discussing the sad plight of Israel as God’s Chosen People continued to
suffer under the yoke of the Roman emperor and his puppet king, King Herod. For
pious Jews, Herod was not their true king because he was not of the house and line
of King David. King David’s throne was therefore empty and the long-awaited Messiah
had yet to appear to redeem Israel.
Imagine the fear and surprise and amazement the shepherds experienced when the heavenly
hosts appeared to them and the glory of the Lord, shining all around them, illumined
the entire countryside. And then, the angel spoke to them! “Do not be afraid, for
behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” And
what was that good news? What was this good tidings? “For there is born to you
this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). The
promised and long-awaited Savior had been born! The choir of angels from heaven
praised God and then—as quickly as they had arrived—the angels left and the night
was silent again. The shepherds wasted no time in going to Bethlehem to see this
Child and they spread the good news both far and wide. This night was not so routine
In the darkest nights of our lives, when circumstances seem at their worst, God sends
His messengers to us with good news. For us, those messengers will probably not
be angels sent from heaven. The messengers God sends to us with a message of love
and hope might be neighbors from down the street, friends you haven’t seen for a
long time, family members or someone from church, or even strangers. And the message
they speak might not be as obvious as that spoken by the angels to the shepherds.
But they speak messages to us nonetheless—messages of hope, of love, of trust in
God, of His sure presence in our lives. The message announced to the shepherds that
night as they went about their usual work routine is that there is always good news,
even in the darkest nights of our lives. The message spoken to us is that there
is always good news when we keep our eyes of faith open to God’s presence and action
in our lives.
It is my prayer and hope that all of us will be well prepared to hear the message
of the Lord’s Birth clearly, that we will be encouraged by it, and that we will also
become messengers sent from God into the world, announcing the great news of God’s
love for us and for all creation. Be assured of my steadfastness in prayer for you
and all your loved ones. May the Prince of Peace grant His peace to our lives and
to the entire world.
With love in the Lord,
Father David’s Message for December
“O give thanks unto the Lord!”
by Fr. Steven Kostoff
“O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good, for His mercy endures forever!” (Psalm
In an article titled “A Moveable Fast,” the scholar Elyssa East summarized the history
of our American Thanksgiving, and the intentions and practices of the early New England
colonists toward this national feast. Initially, she writes, Thanksgiving was built
around the Christian rhythm of fasting and feasting. Bearing that in mind, she also
offered her own commentary on how this national celebration has changed over the
years: “In the nearly 400 years since the first Thanksgiving, the holiday has come
to mirror our transformation into a nation of gross overconsumption, but the New
England colonists never intended for Thanksgiving to be a day of gluttony. They dished
up restraint along with gratitude as a shared main course. What mattered most was
not the feast itself, but the gathering together in thanks and praise for life’s
most humble gifts. Perhaps this holiday season we could benefit from restoring a
proper Thanksgiving balance between forbearance and indulgence.”
This sounds like
a fair commentary on how the Thanksgiving Day holiday weekend is now approached and
practiced by contemporary Americans. What adds further to this confusion is not simply
the matter of anticipating a good feast on Thanksgiving Day and enjoying the guilty
pleasure of overeating together with family and friends, but the fact that “overconsumption”
and “indulgence” are hardly limited to one day’s big meal. Those terms are now more
appropriately directed toward “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday”—two days of an almost
obscene consumerism. There seems to be a perceptible shift away from the food feast
toward the frenzy of shopping and spending with a zeal that would possibly be admirable
if it was only directed toward something not so openly and unabashedly self-indulgent.
The only restraint is in the size of one’s pocketbook; but if that empties out, there
is always the credit card! We may soon reach the point when our neighbor will no
longer greet us with the conventional “have a happy Thanksgiving.” Rather, it may
become “have a successful Black Friday!” Clearly, a sense of balance and proportion
has disappeared from the lives of many Americans, as consumerism displaces a sense
Over the next four days, what will predominate in your lives as Orthodox
Christians? Will you somehow manage to “shop until you drop” at the stores for Black
Friday? How does such a choice hold up to your theoretical priorities—that “in theory”
we place God above all? Are we better described as Eucharistic beings or as consumers?
When presented with a choice, will it be for the Church and what the Church represents;
or will it be “the world” and what the world represents?
I realize that it is easy
to be critical of our consumer-driven society. And perhaps priests and pastors “over-indulge”
in just such a predictable routine. My intention, at least, is not to moralize or
chastise. After all, I am also a consumer! Rather, I am more-or-less thinking out
loud, and sharing the questions raised by such thinking. Once the holiday weekend
is behind us, can we “pick up where we left off?” That further question only makes
sense if indeed we had begun to observe the Nativity Fast in anticipation and preparation
for the Feast on December 25, and then postponed that effort for the weekend that
we are now hoping to enjoy. When we return to the normal routines of our daily lives,
do we have the strength and commitment to embrace “the Orthodox Way” of life that
understands only too well the pitfalls and temptations of overconsumption and indulgence?
“battle of the calendars” is perhaps never so fierce as during these last few weeks
before Christmas. We can do the “jingle-bell rock,” or we can curb our passions.
When we were baptized – no matter how many years ago—we prayed that God would strengthen
us as “invincible warriors of Christ our God;” and that we would “keep the Orthodox
Faith.” And that vocation is tested on a daily basis - especially when the temptation
toward “indulgence” is so strong. I hope that everyone can find a balance between
enjoying Thanksgiving Day and the family traditions that surround it; while at the
same time keeping sight of the very reason that allows us to be eucharistic beings
in the first place. And that reason is Christ.