by Fr. Alexander Schmemann -
We can now return to the sacrament of matrimony. We can now understand that its true meaning is not that it merely gives a religious “sanction” to marriage and family life, reinforces with supernatural grace the natural family virtues. Its meaning is that by taking the “natural” marriage into “the great mystery of Christ and the Church,” the sacrament of matrimony gives marriage a new meaning; it transforms, in fact, not only marriage as such but all human love.
It is worth mentioning that the early Church apparently did not know of any separate marriage service. The “fulfillment” of marriage by two Christians was their partaking of the Eucharist. As every aspect of life was gathered into the Eucharist, so matrimony received its seal by inclusion into the central act of the community. And this means that, since marriage has always had sociological and legal dimensions, there were simply accepted by the Church.
Yet, like the whole “natural” life of man, marriage had to be taken into the Church, that is, judged, redeemed and transformed into the sacrament of the Kingdom. Only later did the Church receive also the “civil” authority to perform a rite of marriage. This meant, however, together with the recognition of the Church as the “celebrant” of matrimony, a first step in a progressive “desacramentalization.” An obvious sign of this was the divorce of matrimony from the Eucharist. [Read more...]