In my life, and probably that of most westerners, the months of May and June are the season of wedlock. In light of that I dedicate my reentry to blogging, Marriage.
I recently heard marriage defined as "an emotional attachment between two people." I think this is meaningless. I have an emotional attachment to my late dog, as well as to some very nice trees.
The Orthodox Church teaches that marriage is a sacrament, and I will try to elucidate this meaning.
As I have said previously, a working definition of a sacrament is a visible manifestation of invisible grace in the company of the Body of Christ. For marriage to be a sacrament means that it is holy and set apart as a special instance whereby the salvation and sanctification of those who partake is intended. Just like baptism, chrismation, communion, confession, or ordination, the Church's blessing on this act both sanctifies the institution and institutes sanctifying power into the act.
Importantly, to insist that marriage is a sacrament also necessitates that it be given this special meaning when it is partaken of within the body of Christ. Marriage is a communal act, but not just because friends and family party with us. Many Eastern Orthodox theologians point out the striking similarities in the Eastern Rite between the marriage and ordination services. In many ways, a priest is wedded to the Church (ie., the language of Ephesians ala Christ and the Church), and so the marriage institution should be seen as a similarly profound vocation. Where the priest will administer grace through his administration of sacraments, the couple administers grace to one another through their daily interraction of love.
I recently read a review on a book that argued for a confusion of the traditional social understanding of marriage (basically, a vague and flexible union; an informal arrangement to pass on property) by Victorian and Romantic conceptions of love inspired by Enlightment "self-fulfillment". This may or may not be the case for society at large, as the author's conclusion was "we're stuck with marrying for love and accepting the
consequences of living happily ever after—until someone better comes along". It is not, however, true of a truly sacramental marriage. If sacraments are manifestations of divine love (grace), marriage is no different.
A man and a woman will often have a very special emotional bond to one another, but in the end that is not what binds a sacramental marriage. It is rather a committment to Divine Love, which the two have chosen to make manifest through marriage. The Love of Christ to be made manifest between husband and wife.
In the Church, the priest manifests his love for Christ (and indeed, actually loves Christ) by loving his congregation. In the same way, the determination of the husband and the wife to love one another for the sake of Divine Love is a mode of salvation and sanctification for the couple.
As a counter example to explain my point. I was given a Bible for married persons, in which there was included a short story of a woman, bemoaning the fact that she had just had a beautiful devotional time (I am recalling from memory), and was "feeling very holy and close to God," she went to bed and her husband rolled over and gently touched her arm. "'I knew what that meant ... there went all my feelings of spirituality for the sake of a quickie.'" I am saying the exact opposite of this. There is no contrast between any part of a healthy marriage and the sanctification potential therein: the submission of one's self to the spouse and his or her well-being is administration of Divine Grace, and is profitable for salvation. "Self-fulfillment" is subsumed by submission to Divine Love first; the social contract "exchange of property" is fulfilled as Grace infiltrates the relationship; family becomes "little church" and man and woman become "little Christ's" to one another.