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Why Wait Till Marriage?
Source: Published by the Deptment of Religious Education of the Orthodox Church in America - 1989

Why Wait Till Marriage?

Sexual activity is an expression of love within the community of marriage. Before marriage and outside of marriage, sexual activity - particularly the act of sexual intercourse -- is not a part of normal human relationships. This was the Christian teaching from the beginning, rooted in the teachings of Jesus himself. And this remains the Orthodox Christian teaching until this day. Why is this so?

God's Will and Mystery

The first and easiest answer about why Christians wait until marriage to engage in sexual love is simply that they believe that this is God's will for them. They believe, according to the Scriptures and Tradition of the Christian Church, that God has commanded human beings to behave in this way. They trust that God has his reasons, even if people may not understand them, and that he knows what is best for his creatures. In a word, they hear the Word of God and accept it. They trust the God who made them to lead them into the deepest happiness and joy.

On a deeper level, however, an answer appears about why Christians express sexual love only within marriage. It is a mystical answer which does not have to do simply with commandments and laws -- even those of God. It has rather to do with the very nature of things, with reality itself as God creates it. It has to do with God, and His revelation to the world through His Son Jesus and His Holy Spirit. It has to do with our human life being made in God's image and likeness. It has to do, ultimately, with our unending life in God's kingdom which is to come.

God is Love

According to the Scriptures, the simplest and most perfect definition of God is that God is Love.

Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God and he who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God: for God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. (..,) Beloved, if God so loved us, so we also ought to love one another. No person has ever seen God: if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. (...) God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 John 4:7-16)

God's innermost being and life, which remains forever beyond creaturely comprehension, consists in the love which God is, perfectly shared with his only-begotten Son and his Holy Spirit, and through them, with the whole of creation. We know this because God reveals it to us through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit by whom He creates, redeems and sanctifies the world. We know this because God acts in our lives through Christ and the Spirit affirming this truth. We know this because we experience this mystery in God's Church which is, as the Scriptures testify, the very Body and Bride of Christ himself.

Conjugal Imagery

In seeking ways to speak of his love for his creatures, the Lord uses, more than any other, the image of nuptial love which is fulfilled in the conjugal union of marriage. According to Christian faith and experience, God loves his people as a husband loves his wife. The Lord unites himself with his people in a union of love by which "the two become one." No matter how sinful, rebellious and adulterous his people, no matter how foolish and wicked they become, the Lord remains faithful in his love for them. This is God's most awesome and amazing quality. He remains absolutely faithful in his love for his sinful world.

The record of God's fidelity in love for his people is the theme of the entire Bible, the very essence of its message. The prophets especially employ erotic, conjugal images to affirm this marvelous mystery, as do the gospels, the apostolic writings and the Book of Revelation. It is a major part of the prophetic writings and the Book of Revelation. It is a major part of the prophetic writings of Isaiah, Jetemiah and Ezekiel. It is the sole theme of Hosea and the Song of Songs.

Thus says the Lord. . .you were cast out on the open field, for you were abhorred, on the day that you were born, And when I passed by you...! said to you in your blood, 'Live, and grow up like a plant of the field.' And you grew up and became tall and arrived at full maidenhood, your breasts were formed, and your hair had grown: yet you were naked and bare. When I passed by you again and looked upon you, behold, you were at the age for love; and I spread my skirt over you, and covered your nakedness: yea, I plighted my troth to you and entered into a covenant with you, says the Lord God, and you became mine. (Ezekiel 16:1-9)

Christ the Bridegroom

The perfection of God's faithful love, the final and absolute demonstration of his unconditional fidelity, is fulfilled in the coming of His Son Jesus Christ. God's Son enters the world as the divine Bridegroom in search of his adulterous bride. (See Mark 2:19; John 3:29 et. al.) The Lord finds his beloved sinful, cursed and dead. To prove j1 his love for her he takes on her sin, accepts her cursed condition and dies her wretched death. This is why he has come: to consummate the union of love with his beloved bride by being crucified upon the cross in the deep darkness of death.

The apostle Paul, following the doctrine of Jesus himself, teaches that such love -- the love of God, who is Love itself -- is to be realized in the community of marriage. It is through such love consummated in the conjugal act of sexual union whereby "the two become one."

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. . .so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes it and cherishes it, as Christ does the Church, . .for this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh This is a great mystery, and I speak about Christ and the church (Ephesians 5 21-33)

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It is for this reason that the Lord commands total fidelity in marriage, and forbids adultery, fornication, homosexual acts and every form of sexual unchastity and immorality - what the Greek Bible calls pornemia It is for this reason that sexual activity is confined to the totally committed married life. (See Romans 1-8, 1 Corinthians 5-7; 1 Thessalonians 4 et. aL)

Holy Communion

The union of man and woman in marriage, fully actualized in sexual union, images the union of love between God and his people which is fulfilled in the union of Christ and the church. This union of love is unique, unending, all-embracing, totally committed and unconditionally faithful. It is sacred, divine, holy and Godlike. As such, it is not irresponsible or promiscuous. It cannot be merely "for the moment." It certainly cannot be enacted merely for canal pleasure and sensual gratification. It is, on the contrary, an act of holy communion comparable to the act of communion in Christ's body and blood at the Church's divine liturgy. For like Eucharistic communion, the act of sexual love in marriage is a sacramental act. It is given by God for the good of his people, for their fulfillment, joy and eternal salvation in his kingdom which is to come.

Just as a person may not enter into the sacrament of holy communion with Christ in the Church without first coming to know him and love him and profess eternal and undying love for him, so a person may not enter into sexual communion with another - even one's intended spouse -- without first coming to know and love and profess unending and undying commitment to him or her. Experience itself demonstrates that couples who are sexually active before becoming deeply committed to each other in a total relationship -- and before offering that relationship to the Lord, if they are believers --- have difficulties in their married life which they would not have if they had waited until marriage to be united fully through sexual union.

To use Cod's gift of sexual communion in any other way than as the expression of love in totally faithful, totally committed marriage is to misuse and abuse it. People can do so if they wish, but when they do, it is an unworthy act which, like an unworthy act of holy communion at the divine liturgy, is "unto condemnation and judgment" for those who partake. Such acts are not only sinful, in a strictly ethical sense; they are sacrilegious. They are a defilement of God's gift of love which inevitably lead to sadness, sorrow and suffering, in one way or another, for those involved. Whatever the immediate gratification and pleasure of such actions, the ultimate result is always dissatisfaction and pain. For such acts are not what God intended. They are betrayals of reality.

Why Wait Till Marriage?

Why wait till marriage? Because to do so is the way to the fullest, deepest, most joyful, most perfect act of sexual love given by God, the only sexual act where love is truly expressed and joy truly achieved. Those who believe and practice this know it to be true. Those who do not will learn for themselves.

Further Reading

Genesis 1-3, Ezekiel 16, Isaiah 54 Hosea Jeremiah 3 Song pf Songs Matthew 5, 19 Mark 10 1 Corinthians 5-7 Ephesians 5 1 Thessalonians 4 1 Timothy 2 Hebrews 13

Holy Matrimony. New York OCA
Department of Religious Education, 1975.

Evdokimov, Paul. The Sacrament of Love.
Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1985.

Meyendorff, John. Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective. Crestwood, NY:
St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1984.



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