Remember, O Lord our God, Your servant and Your handmaiden, and bless them. Give to them fruit of the womb, fair children, concord of soul and body…
If you’ve never given pause to the sheer amount of references to sex and children in the Orthodox wedding, this post will provide no statistical references or word counts. Rather, I want to ponder the preponderance of sexual references made throughout the celebration of the sacrament. In front of God, your family, your priest, and your sponsors, bride and bridegroom are encouraged to embrace the marriage bed and to add their names to the prolific breeders of Christian history.
It’s not a surprise to many of us that the ideal in Orthodoxy is the Monastic life. It’s compared to the life of angels, it’s the life our Savior, His Forerunner, many of the Apostles and great saints of our history chose to follow in search of Salvation. St. Paul is clear, though, that only slightly below the celibate life is the life of chaste marriage–a word and concept far too often ignored and misunderstood in modern culture and misapplied in Christian circles.
Chastity is not synonymous with celibacy. Chastity is related to purity and used often in the refining of precious metals. When the impurities have been finally done away with and the pure metal shines, it is called “chaste”. When our time of refinement is over, we will be presented chaste and undefiled before the Father as a pure and spotless holy bride. Within marriage, Chastity and sexuality go hand-in-hand with godliness and purity.
The prayer of the Orthodox wedding again and again is that the couple will be blessed with chastity in their marriage–that they will be able to maintain a pure and holy wedding bed which produces godly offspring as a blessing from the Lord. Chastity, then, is more than just avoiding sex from time-to-time (as we are instructed to do), but is about avoiding all sins which would corrupt the icon of the Trinity that marriage is described as throughout the New Testament. There is nothing so holy as a pure marriage bed, and nothing so defiled as a corrupted marriage bed. Within the confines of our Orthodox understanding of marriage and sex is this standard everywhere upheld: the marriage bed is honorable and undefiled; but the converse would imply that a defiled marriage bed is dishonorable and a place not of sanctity but of sin and corruption.
Our Lord tells us in the Gospels that bad trees produce bad fruit, and that good fruit is not picked from briers. Our marriages–and all that they entail–are the same way. Our piety and devotion, our sanctity and love will produce (Lord willing) children who grow in their devotion and love for the Lord and become His saints. Our bitterness, anger, fornication, and lust will also impact these children of our marriage bed; and it is this bitter fruit that we pray against when we ask during the marriage ceremony that the bed be chaste and undefiled and that we be blessed as a fruitful vine.
May God so richly bless our marriages that we seek purity and devotion, love and submission to one another and to Him. In this blessing we will become a fertile and well-tended garden for their salvation to be planted, watered, and grow.
Caleb (Edward) Shoemaker is a teacher of Latin and Bible in Upstate New York. He has a degree in Biblical Languages from Gordon-Conwell Theological Institute in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. He is kept busy raising four beautiful children with his wife Amelia. Check out their Etsy shop Embroidered Ameilia specializing in Pascha blanket patterns for the American Orthodox.