Orthodox Survival Course, Class 65: As the Angels of God in Heaven

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For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. – Matthew 22:30

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Introduction – Here We Live Betwixt and Between

In this most recent part of our Survival Course, we have been discussing the various errors and delusions which plague not only worldly people, but pious Orthodox people as well, weakening them and pre-disposing them to surrender to the New World Order which is coming into being before our eyes, constructed by the forces of Antichrist.  What to do?  Our best defense is a good offense:  To educate ourselves about the Church’s true teaching and then by grace-filled repentance to be cleansed of these errors and delusions, which cleansing will give us both the right understanding and the strength of will to resist being spiritually compromised by giving in to the demands of the Antichrist system.  Probably no single aspect of life has been perverted and destroyed by the current world system as has the life of holy virginity, holy matrimony, the family, and, in general, everything pertaining to the virtue of purity and chastity.  Sadly, many Orthodox, even those regarding themselves as religious people, have adopted some or many of the delusions of the present age.   So it is time to fight back, and that is why we are now discussing the vocation of Holy Matrimony as well as the life of consecrated virginity.  

In our last class, we discussed the origin and character of Christian marriage in light of the Creation accounts in Genesis, the text of the Orthodox wedding service, and the commentary of St. John Chrysostom on the passage from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians which is appointed to be read at the marriage service.   In this class, we are going to talk about the Scriptural and patristic basis for the life of consecrated virginity – monasticism – and how understanding this will in turn refine and clarify our understanding of the married vocation within an Orthodox framework.    

As we have often pointed out during our Survival Course, this Orthodox framework involves a chronology, a timeline. Indeed, we originally defined our course as an attempt at an Orthodox philosophy of history, an attempt to understand our origins – Creation – and our final purpose – the Kingdom of Heaven – and, in light of this, how to understand everything in between – history understood as the story of our salvation –  and therefore how we should conduct our life in the here and now.     

At the center of this history is, of course, the Economy of the Incarnation of the Son of God:  How He became man at a specific point in time, died, rose from the dead, ascended to heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit to inaugurate the era of the Church of the New Testament.  The Early Church, as we discussed in Class 1, had four specific characteristics which, though often obscured in later times and places, nevertheless remain reliable hallmarks of true Christian life. Here’s what we said:  

“The early Church had an intense awareness of [the imminence of the Second Coming], and therefore we can characterize her life as intensely eschatological, bound up with the acute sense of being at the very edge of eternity. Being eschatological, the Early Church set the tone for the entire life of the Orthodox Church until now, which is characterized by four related traits: The life of the Church is eschatological, other-worldly, martyric, and ascetical.”     

All of Christian life, then, is a life lived betwixt and between, looking back to our Creation and Redemption, and looking forward to our final end, which is eternal life in the Kingdom of Heaven following the Second Coming of Christ, the General Resurrection, and the Dread Judgment.  This eschatological mindset naturally gives birth to an otherworldly, martyric, and ascetical way of living, “the Way” we read of in the Acts of the Apostles, which is the first historical name Holy Scripture gives to the Christian Faith.   The Church’s rules for Christian living, contained in the canons and the various descriptions and prescriptions for the active life  found in the Church’s literature, can be understood accurately only in light of this eschatological viewpoint, sub specie aeternitatis.   If one tries to understand them in a purely temporal and human way, strictly from the viewpoint of the various philosophical schools of ethical theory, one’s understanding always falls short.   This is certainly true of the Church’s teaching on virginity and marriage.     

Because Orthodox moral theology is essentially eschatological in character, having in mind always our final end, it is maximalist.  What the Scriptures and Fathers present to us is simply the Gospel standard prescribed by Christ Himself:  “Be ye perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect,” which command summarizes His entire teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, in which this saying occurs.   One might say that this sermon of Our Lord in Matthew chapters five through seven is the first collection of “canons” in the Church, that is, the first collection of rules for the active Christian life.    They present the ultimate akriveia (strictness)!   In The Arena, Bishop Ignaty Brianchaninov writes that even the greatest saints fall short of this standard of the Gospel; in other words, no one can live up to them, and yet God does not moderate them.  The fallen human mind, entrapped by its vanity, rebels against this and demands that God and the Church lower their standards, so that one can be “even with God,”  justified in one’s own mind.   But God does not do this.  Instead He calls us to constant repentance, until death:   “A contrite and humble heart God will not despise.”  He knows that we cannot live up to akriveia, and therefore towards us He practices oikonomia, if only we humble ourselves and persevere in repentance until death. 

With this understanding as background, let us now return to the Beginning, to Genesis and the Fathers’ reading of Genesis,  and try to understand the relationship of virginity and marriage to one another, as the Church understands this.   

“In Christ there is neither male nor female…”. 

[For the following I have relied on Fr. Seraphim Rose’s Genesis, Creation, and Early Man for the patristic commentaries quoted.   I am indebted to the late Fr. Seraphim and to the editors at St. Herman Press for this invaluable aid].   

In Galatians 3:28, St. Paul famously writes that in Christ there is “neither male nor female.” “Christian” advocates of feminism, transgenderism, and other disordered ideologies misuse this quote, of course, to advance their twisted ideas of androgyny, equality, sexless humanity,  and so forth, which are actually a sacrilegious mockery of the pure and exalted state the saint is referring to.  But what St. Paul is talking about is the eschatological perfection of the saints in the Kingdom of Heaven, which is a recapitulation, in fact a surpassing, of the original state of man in Paradise.    St. Gregory of Nyssa, in an important commentary we read earlier in our course (Class 62) when discussing the superiority of the soul to the body, states that the image of God does not include the division into male and female, the latter being an economic arrangement made by God in prevision of the Fall:  

“That which was made ‘in the image’ is one thing, and that which is now manifested in wretchedness is another. ‘God created man,’ it says, ‘in the image of God He created him.’ There is an end of the creation of that which was made ‘in the image’: then it makes a resumption of the account of creation, and says, ‘male and female created He them.’ I presume that everyone knows this is a departure from the Prototype: for ‘in Christ Jesus,’ as the Apostle says, ‘there is neither male nor female.’ Yet the phrase declares that man is thus divided. 

“Thus the creation of our nature is in a sense twofold: one made like to God, one divided according to this distinction: for something like this the passage darkly conveys by its arrangement, where it first says, ‘God created man, in the image of God He created him,’ and then adding to what has been said, ‘male and female He created them’ – a thing which is alien from our conceptions of God.

“I think that by these words Holy Scripture conveys to us a great and lofty doctrine; and the doctrine is this.  While two natures – the Divine and incorporeal nature, and the irrational life of brutes – are separated from each other as extremes, human nature is the mean between them:  for in the compound nature of man we may behold a part of each of the natures I have mentioned – of the Divine, the rational and intelligent element, which does not admit the distinction of male and female; of the irrational, our bodily form and structure, divided into male and female: for each of these elements is certainly to be found in all that partakes of human life.   That the intellectual element, however, takes precedence over the other, we learn as from one who gives in order an account of the making of man; and we learn also that his community and kindred with the irrational is for man a provision for reproduction…” – On the Making of Man 

This teaching of St. Gregory contradicts a bizarre teaching that in recent years has found its way into Orthodox circles through the “Sophiology” of Soloviev and Bulgakov, that somehow there is some kind of “male and female” within God Himself, a kind of “ying-yang” theology popular with some “Orthodox” modernists.  This heresy teaches that the Father and Son are the “male principles” within God, and that the Holy Spirit and the Theotokos (whom they blasphemously say is the incarnation of the Divine Wisdom) are the “female principles.”  Marriage, then, following this faulty theology, would have its basis in the uncreated nature of God, a teaching nowhere given in the Holy Scriptures.   On the contrary, marriage is an economic dispensation for the life of fallen man, to help him on the path to salvation.  Let’s see what the Father say about this:   

“In the beginning life was virginal…”  

St. John Chrysostom, who so beautifully extols marriage in the commentary on Ephesians 5: 20-33 which we quoted in our last class, nevertheless also puts marriage, as we know it, in its proper perspective, as being among those things arranged by God’s economy for man after the Fall:  

“After the disobedience, after the banishment from Paradise, then it was that married life began.  Before the disobedience, the first people lived like angels, and there was no talk of cohabitation.  And how could this be, when they were free of bodily needs?   Thus, in the beginning life was virginal; but when, because of the carelessness (of the first people) disobedience appeared and sin entered the world, virginity fled away from them, since they had become unworthy of such a great good, and in its place there entered into effect the law of married life.”  – Homily 18 on Genesis 

Now we know from what St. Chrysostom told us last time that he does not regard marriage as sinful or bad; on the contrary, he describes it as a very great good.   But obviously he regards virginity as the original state of man in Paradise, and as a greater good than marital union.   The Fathers in general agree that marriage as we know it, involving the physical union of man and woman, was arranged for by God in prevision of the Fall; it is part of “Plan B,” God’s oikonomia for the preservation of the fallen human race and the salvation of mankind.   St. Gregory of Nyssa, in the commentary we quoted above, agrees with and expands upon this view shared by St. John Chrysostom:  

“…He who brought all things into being and fashioned man as a whole by His own will to the Divine image…saw beforehand by His all-seeing power the failure of their will to keep a direct course to what is good, and its consequent declension from the angelic life.   In order that the multitude of human souls might not be cut short by its fall…He formed for our nature that contrivance for increase which befits those who had fallen into sin, implanting in mankind, instead of the angelic majesty of nature, that animal and irrational mode by which they now succeed one another.” – On the Making of Man 

By this, St. Gregory does not mean to denigrate marriage.   He clarifies this in his treatise On Virginity thus:  

“Let no one think that we depreciate marriage as an institution.  We are well aware that it is not a stranger to God’s blessing…But our view of marriage is this:  that, while the pursuit of heavenly things should be man’s first care, yet if he use the advantages of marriage with sobriety and moderation, he need not despise this way of serving the state…Marriage is the last stage of our separation from the life that was led in Paradise; marriage is the first thing to be left; it is the first station, as it were, for our departure to Christ.”     

One may at this point rightly ask, “Then, if God intended for the man and woman to remain virginal, why did he command them to ‘increase and multiply’? How else would they increase and multiply than by physical intercourse?”   St. John of Damascus answers thus:  

“Virginity was practiced in Paradise…After the fall…to keep the race from dwindling and being destroyed by death, marriage was devised, so that by the begetting of children the race of men might be preserved. 

But they may ask: What then, does ‘male and female’ mean, and ‘increase and multiply’? To which we shall reply that the ‘increase and multiply’ does not mean increasing by the marriage union exclusively, because if they had kept the commandment unbroken forever, God could have increased the race by some other means (emphasis added).  But, since God, Who knows all things before they come to be, saw by His foreknowledge how they were to fall and be condemned to death, He made provision beforehand by creating them male and female and commanding them to increase and multiply.”  – On the Orthodox Faith, 4.24

Ss. Athanasius the Great, Gregory of Nyssa,  John Chrysostom, Maximus the Confessor, and Symeon of Thessalonica all echo this teaching of St. John of Damascus in their writings – that if man had not fallen, God would have increased the human race by some means – unknowable to us – other than physical marriage as we know it.  St. Augustine theorizes that there could have been coitus in Paradise, though completely without concupiscence (i.e., the gratification of sensual desire) – something unknown to us – but that Adam and Eve were in fact exiled from Paradise before coming together.  In this, as in several other areas, Augustine is in the minority.   But whether you accept the consensus of the Eastern Fathers or the minority view of St. Augustine – both of which involve speculation about something unknowable – the reality is that marriage as we know it is an arrangement made for man by God in prevision of the Fall.   

Silver and gold

With all of this in mind, then, we can understand why the Church teaches that, while marriage is precious as silver, monasticism is precious as gold.   Both are precious, but one is inherently greater than the other, as partaking by anticipation of the angelic state of the saved in the Kingdom of Heaven, by way of returning to the virginal state of our First Parents in Paradise. 

Monasticism, that is, consecrated virginity, is a grace-filled state peculiar to the New Testament Church.  In the Old Testament, virginity for the sake of one’s salvation is almost unknown, for the Old Testament is the time before the Kingdom of God was made manifest in the world, the time before the cycle of corruption and death was forever broken and the life of the eternal Eighth Day was inaugurated by the Resurrection of Christ.  

In our next class, we shall continue this discussion of the nature of monasticism and how understanding monasticism helps us to understand the married life, as well. 


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