Friday, November 15, 2013

Stump the Priest: Is Marriage Eternal?

Ss. Peter and Febronia

Question: Does not the Church teach that the marriage bond is indissoluble and eternal, like the bond between Christ and His Church?

Without a doubt, there is no marriage in heaven in the same sense that it exists in this life. The Sadducees, who denied the resurrection, presented Christ with an argument that they thought showed the absudity of the resurrect. They presented the case of a woman who was married to 7 brothers in a row, but each died without fathering any children by her, and then finally the woman died also. And so they asked Christ "Therefore in the resurrection whose wife shall she be of the seven? for they all had her" (Matthew 22:28).

Christ's response was to say: "Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven" (Matthew 22:29-30).

The fathers say that we have marriage and procreation in this life because we have death, but in the life to come, where there is no death, there is no need for procreation, and therefore no marriage. For example, St. John of Damascus, speaking of the resurrection says:

"For they will be, says the Lord, as the angels of God [Mark 12:25]: there will no longer be marriage nor procreation of children. The divine apostle, in truth, says, For our conversation is in heaven, from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus, Who shall change our vile body that it may be fashioned like His glorious body [Philippians 3:20-21]: not meaning change into another form (God forbid!), but rather the change from corruption into incorruption" (An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 4:27).

But the question remains, will there remain some bond of relationship between a husband and a wife that will continue on beyond the grave? We cannot definitively answer that question, though perhaps the lives of Ss. Peter and Febronia of Murom give us some reason to believe that such a bond does continue in some sense. This couple, who are held up as examples of Christian marital love, both took monastic tonsure before they reposed, but had expressed their wish that they be buried together. Though separated, they reposed within minutes of one another. Because of their monastic tonsure many thought that this was inappropriate to bury them together, and their funerals were to be held in two different Churches. However, their coffins were found empty, but rather their bodies were found together in the tomb St. Peter had intended for them. Their bodies were taken back to their respective coffins, but when this happened again, no one dared separate them again.

See also St. John Chrysostom's Letter to a Young Widow.