Misunderstandings of Marriage.

I continue my attempt at helping clarify what Christian Love and Marriage is about, with God’s Grace.

Below, you’ll find mine and others reviews of Josiah Trenham’s dreadful, UnChristian opinion of Marriage, which he misinterprets massively to be ‘Orthodox’ and answers to common questions that you’ll find on online boards. A lot of these folks online misinterpret a Hopeful view of Marriage and human sexuality to be ‘new age’… they couldn’t be further from the truth in regards to many of the truths that I’ve shared and which express the Incarnational Orthodox Christian view. They’ll also say claim that such views are similar to the gnostics and while that may be true for genuine ‘new age’ thoughts, again it isn’t so for many of the great resources i’ve discovered. (I usually post a warning if I share something which has elements of that in it and suggest a Charitable reading, taking Truth wherever it’s found.) Moreover, there are plenty of ‘Gnostic’ and ‘Neo-Platonist’, etc opinions undergirding this mirror faux-Orthodox thought, which is common amongst the more austere clergy, and laypersons often a problem amongst the modern Russian Church abroad; but by no means only relating to them. There are worrying political and psychological trends amongst many of these as well and that impacts their movies more than Good Orthodox Theology.

More than that, it makes sense historically that they cannot see the bigger picture because they’re interpreting it only from their own experience and selective readings of texts, often used to justify their very existence, say as rigorous monks commited to celibacy and combatting demons… after a while it appears everything becomes a demon. That is a down side of an otherwise wonderful vocation.

Peterson makes some great points about only having a small, particular view in this talk, so such people would do well to speak more humbly and we all to one another.


Also see this piece by Fr Martin Thornton on a proper Ascetism. http://akensidepress.com/books/thornton/prayer/chap14/



I chose to share this because his work is symptomatic of the ignorance out there.

on December 17, 2013
Fr. Josiah does in this book what Protestant fundamentalists do with the Scriptures. With no regard for Chrysostom’s use of rhetoric, platonic influence, or evolution as a believer, pastor, thinker, and academician, he takes the words of St. John Chyrsostom literally and makes his interpretation of Chrysostom and a few other early fathers the teaching of Orthodoxy on virginity and sex. (with arrogant dismissal for the work of many other scholars–you have to read the footnotes to see this). It saddens me to think that any “scholar” on St. John Chrystostom could have such disregard for the spirit of this saint and pillar of the Church.


on December 28, 2014
First the caveat: Do not make this your first, and by no means your only reading on Orthodox views of sex and marriage. The book is an outlier, presenting extreme views that are not representative of Orthodox tradition. Rather, it is a very selective reading of Chrysostom (and other of the Church Fathers) to promote an agenda, one feature of which involves valorizing virginity at the expense of marriage, even though in traditional Orthodoxy the two have both been praised. It is ideologically driven and offers a one-sided reading of the texts it examines in order to support extreme views on sex and marriage, views which the vast majority of Orthodox believers, priests, and theologians would vigorously reject as puritanical and largely imported into Orthodoxy from other sources such as Roman Catholicism (On the “Latin Captivity” of the Greek Church, see Yannaras’ “Orthodoxy and the West.” And Peter the Great’s imposition of Western practices and theology on the Russian Church is well documented.) and the Calvinist tradition in which Fr Josiah was originally educated. At the other extreme are books by Sherrard (the farthest removed) and Chyrssavgis (closer to a “centrist” position), and most balanced of all are the books by Meyendorf and Ford, the latter being an excellent corrective to Fr. Josiah’s excesses. Of course, Trenham dismisses all of these other sources (all of them by more distinguished figures than himself) as inauthentic and unfaithful to “true” Orthodoxy.
On the positive side, there are elements of good scholarship here, which give it some value for the experienced reader who is able to discern private “theologoumena” from “the mind of the Fathers.” But overall, it is a failure as a piece of scholarship, both because it is so imbalanced and because (as reviewer “Kerry” has pointed out) it ignores the different kinds of writing we find in St John Chrysostom, as well as changes in his spiritual and intellectual outlook.
Orthodox Christianity has preserved the ancient understanding of Christianity as involving all aspects of life and thought, so its views on sex and marriage are of major importance. This is the most important reason for getting a proper and balanced understanding of these views. I suggest you start with Meyendorf or David Ford, then take a look at either Chyssavgis or Sherrard, and only then go on to Trenham. There are some good insights here, but they are distorted by a dour and prudish view of married sexuality that distort traditional views and teachings.

…I also used the terms “unbalanced” and “outlier” and “not representative,” precisely because this was the point of my review, which undertakes to claim not that what Fr Josiah is saying has no basis, but that his claims are often taken out of context (even within the writings of Chysostom), that he is selective in which Fathers he cites, and that this indeed makes this work extreme with regard to the Orthodox tradition. Meyendorf and the Fords are very much centrists in Orthodox thought, Chryssavgis and Sherrard are perhaps somewhat liberal, and Yannaras is a philosopher who can’t be classified one way or another, although in general he is very much a traditionalist. But in relation to all of these, not in relation to “modernists and liberals,” Fr Josiah’s dour views on sex in marriage are indeed extreme. (And to the other hostile reviewer: I said only that Trenham’s glib dismissal of all the literature in the field was “arrogant,” not that he himself was, nor is this slanderous if in fact it is true. And anyone who dismisses all the existing scholarshp as worthless in a single footnote has opted out of responsible scholarly discourse.)

Sadly, his views are being taken by some naive readers as normative. Have you actually read any of these other authors? Have you studied the bizarre views on married sex (cited by Eve Levin) that Fr Josiah cites approvingly? Have you studied the wholesale appropriation of Stoic natural law philosophy by certain (heterodox) Fathers such as Origen, who proved to be influential. In argumentation, assuming your conclusion is called “begging the question,” and your bald statement that this is the traditional teaching of the Church is a fine example of this. You also engage in the ad hominem argument that assumes I am a “modernist” and a “liberal.” Well, nothing could be further from the truth. But even if this were the case, it wouldn’t relieve you of the responsibility of refuting my views in a coherent manner, rather than calling me names. (By the way, “sophistry” has nothing to do with repetition.)

You may also wish to re-read my review more carefully. I did not suggest Fr Josiah book was worthless, but rather gave a caveat not to let this be your only book on the topic. I’m not sure you took this warning to heart. As is your privilege. But you would do well to respect the limits of what you do and don’t know on the matter.

That guy gives the devil his due. I have my own view, which finds this sort of nonsense deeply malevolent. Unfortunately such misunderstandings are common and do not get close to the Truth of God’s Beautiful Gift of Marriage.


Trenham’s book is a very poor effort; it doesn’t add anything of value Historically or Theologically. Trenham’s work is severely lacking in it’s placing of Chrysostom in any honest historical context and is more worryingly, very theologically flawed about key elements of Christian Life.
This work is not unlike JP2’s ‘Theology of the Body’ quite ironically, not only in those ways mentioned above but in it’s incredible academic hubris and naivety.
The ideas around birth control are anachronistic and lacking when compared to the more multifaceted understandings among serious Moral Theologians.
There are much better, much more orthodox options out there relating to Marriage, ‘Eros’ , Agape, Philia, sexuality and the purposes of monasticism, ascetism, etc.
Much prayer and rigorous exegesis is essential in any work on Marriage and Virginity beausethey’re so complex and you’re safer looking at the work of Fr Meyendorff, Fr John Behr, Evdokimov, Sherrard, Dr Richard M Davidson, Fr Ed Vacek, WB Zion, Evgeny Lampert, Samuel Terrien, Tremper Longman, Werner Neuer, Fr R. McCormick, Dr Guroian et al for that. Even crazy old fools like BP Mitchell and V Moss do a better job than Trenham (Each with serious problems of their own though).These and others offer much more enlightening and nuanced approaches. A deep understanding of exegesis is needed to show how shallow works like this are, which unfortunately is something that most Lay People wont have and that’s why books like this are so dangerous. There are unjustified underlying assumptions which lend themselves to an unorthodox clericalism and the idea that the virginal state is superior to the Marital state shows an incredible misinterpreting of both the Old and the New Testament, especially Paul. Moreover, since Genesis is key to any Marital Theology, see Peter Bouteneff’s, John Walton’s, Jordan Peterson’s, Robert Alter’s, Fr Louth’s, Bill Arnold’s, Alice Linsleys etc books, articles and talks on Genesis to see just how complex our relationship with Scripture is in reality.The liberal Adrian Thatcher or Patricia Beattie Jung, even with their heretical elements, offer a great alternative from that end as well and by listening to people like them we can see just how ‘orthodox’ a lot of those claims, like those in this book, actually are.
Thatcher’s Exegesis of Song of Songs and recognition of its Liturgical significance should add another nail to the coffin of the argument for virginity as a higher state.

Other Liberals, such as Timothy Johnson, when read charitably (as Alan Jacobs would put it) have good points in their work, which should not be dismissed because they’re proclaimed to be ‘liberal’ or ‘heterodox’; things are not nearly so simple.
Mark D Jordan’s work on Aquinas is worth considering to place the tone of works like this in historical context. There is no place for an Eastern Orthodox Manualism to replace the old Catholic one. (See Alvin Rapien’s article on The Church Fathers as well, to show how hard it is to read’ them.)


I suggest one should avoid this pseudo- orthodoxy and read the Bible and Fathers collectively and directly instead or else look for a more capable scholars, or better, a collection of scholars. (Fr Behr, Fr Florovsky, Martin Thornton, Peter Leithart, Alice Linsley, N.T Wright etc)

Let’s Hope and Pray for a Pentecostal Way of Exchange as Alan Jacobs calls it or a balance of the schools and the wilderness as Martin Thornton calls it. Ascetism and Mysticism, Marriage and Monasticism.

Common misconceptions.

So, I came across a few articles and threads on Marriage being eternal, pretty typical in many of the questions asked, and wanted to answer a few of the questions over time, building on my previous posts on Marriage where I’ve answered many of them or others have answered them, implicitly or explicitly. There is a lot of confusion out there, amongst all Christians and these questions are a failure to see Marriage with ‘Kingdom eyes’, where all things will be rightly ordered in Christ and which can be done to an extent in The Kingdom now.

Many strains in Marital Theology have preserved important truths about Marriage but even in the Orthodox Church they’ve failed to recognise the proper place for this great Mystery in Christ by bringing them all together.


I’ll answer a few of this persons questions, because they are very much answerable; with the help of Metropolitan Ware and co. It’s clear, from them comparing the Orthodox Marital Theology to that of the Mormons, just how big the misunderstandings are even amongst the Orthodox.

The Orthodox Theology of Marriage as Eternal fits perfectly into the Theology of The Church in toto however and this is not merely the opinion of Fr John Meyendorff (who doesn’t even articulate it as well as he should or as well as others), as can be seen from my previous posts.

Metropolitan Ware answers the question about Second Marriages and this can be seen in Adrian Thatcher’s books- Celebrating Christian Marriage or Postmodern Christian Marriage. Also, if we view the Sacrament of Marriage as a coming together and maintained in Christ/ The Spirit in The Church, rather than merely focusing on the service for the Marriage, as a piece of magic at that, then the criticisms of second marriage don’t hold. There are good questions to be asked about the cermonies and why one’s sacramental and the other’s not, etc.

This requires much more thought but here goes- My personal view at this time is that, like the Roman Catholic annulment, a Marriage that is ‘spritually dead’, prompting a divorce was not really an eternal sacramental Marriage because it lacked the coming together of the Love that lasts, Divine and Human. The ideal would therefore be to have all the elements of a good marriage together and all the elements of a good, fitting Marital service but not one of these in isolation seals the bond for eternity of itself. It nvolves a long obediance in the same direction, borne of God’s two great commandments. For, it is a Mystery and The Holy Spirit blows where He wills. Consequently, non-Orthodox Marriages may be sealed for Eternity in Christ’s Love and I’d be humble about saying too much on that- people like John Wooden come to mind as living icons. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tySxPue9Dmw

The misinterpreation of ‘… the angels in heaven.’ verse has been addressed in previous posts.

The coming together in Marriage, Transfigured by Christ and eternally sustained by Love is not the same as sinful ‘one flesh’ unions which are not sealed for eternity in The Church, The Eucharist and Christian Love.

Mixed-Marriages is an interesting question based on some Ecclesiologies, but if both partners make it into God’s Kingdom then of course what God has joined together will stay together.

The ‘purpose’ of ‘carnal relations’ has been dealt with in the previous posts.

The differences between people will be like Pentecost, a miracle of God. Both/And.

Regarding the ‘triangle’, in the Kingdom and in Christ both will be in His eternal bliss and ther won’t be holding one another back, as there shouldn’t be now when we’re following our Holy Vocation.


It is apparent from the nature of The Liturgy, the outline of The Scriptures, the practice of Christian Love and God’s Good Creation in general that ‘eternal’ here is not merely a metaphor for a really long time but is conditional on Christ, The Church, Love, etc coming together in consummate fullness as The Good Lord sets it out.





You also get incessant bickering between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox which unfortunately wastes so much time chasing wind, each accusing the other of introducing secular elements into their respective Theology and making wild unfounded claims about ‘the east’ ir ‘the west’ in toto.


A few of the comments which perked my intrigue in relation to this and which I’ll have to research further are

”The Roman Catholic “legalist” conception is based on the Roman Law as codified by Justinian, the Eastern Roman Emperor and its interpretation by the school of Bologna interpretors. The fact is that the fall of the Constantinople destroyed the Byzantine Roman Law tradition; but the tradition of Justinian continued in the West up to today, being the basis of Western Canon Law and the modern Civil Law tradition.
The fact that the Orthodox, maintaining their Greek identity, deny their own Roman legal tradition as “legalism” is funny.” and

”After he codified the pagan Law, Justinian began the process of the reinterpretation in the light of the higher Law of Christ. That process was completed by the Basilika, and passed on and lives on in the Nomocanons. Even after the fall of New Rome, it still remained the law of the Rum Millet, as the Slave version, the Zakonopravilo of St. Sava remained the law of Ottoman occupied Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania, as implemented by the Code of Dushan. With independence, they became the basis of the Constitutions of the new nation-states.

What is funny is that the Ultramontanists, clinging to the pagan notions of Caesar, think that is theology.”



The quoted StaurtK comment, is more helpful than many of the uninformed comments made across these boards but probably needs loked at in some detail.


”The oldest stratum of Tradition in both the East and the West saw marriage as an eternal bond that transcended death. For that reason, the early Church refused to bless second marriages for any reason. In the West, the view of marriage as a life contract eventually emerged, probably because remarriage was a virtual necessity at a time of low life expectancy. In the East, until the 9th century, the Church did not bless second marriages, but civil marriage was available for those who wanted to remarry after divorce or widowhood, and the Church focused instead on reintegrating those who did into the Body of Christ. In the West, with the collapse of civil authority, civil marriage did not exist, and the Church became the de facto regulator of marriage.

In the 9th century, the Emperor Leo VI abolished civil marriage and made the Church responsible for all aspects of marriage. The Church now had to deal with the social and legal aspects of marriage, as well as the sacramental aspect. It had to recognize that marriages do break down, and that men and women may feel the need to remarry, either after divorce or widowhood. But it did not want to compromise its understanding of Christian marriage as a sacrament that perdures in the divine kairos. The compromise solution was the “Rite of Second Marriage”, open to those who are widowed and the innocent parties in a divorce, which was not sacramental but merely contractual, and highly penitential in nature. There is no crowning, there is no Dance of Isaiah, there is no sealing with the Eucharist. In fact, those who remarry are excluded from communion for a period of 3-5 years, which in itself means that second marriage ceremonies are not sacramental.” (This is probably Stuart Koehl, who often provides greeat clarity on Eastern Christianity, on FaceBook and fits with the Orthodox Pastoral Theology which recognises a Marriage as Spiritually dead and the Churches act a recognition of what is already the case. The ‘Sacramental’ element of the first Marriage is integral but I think there will be cases, as I pointed to above, whereby a second Marriage is actually the eternal one, based on living spiritual love. Say for example, the first marriage was ‘spiritually dead’.

This understanding also helps answer questions about ‘which wife a man would be married to’. God knows better than we do and will not sell anyone short- you’ll be Married to the one you Love and who loves you, in Christ; the attempts to do away with Mystery are futile but a lot more Pastoral clarity is clearly needed, as these forums suggest.) For insight into how hard it is to understand or be The Church, see Martin Tornton’s wonderful work* 1. or Florovsky’s, Behr’s, etc


There are long tedious arguments about what makes it a Sacrament and many miss the point completely about Marriage, trying to pass off this wonderful Gift of God by suggesting it is only Meyendorff’s opinion. Certainly not, as is made clear in my previous posts.

Moreover, the argument over whether the Priest’s blessing or the couple’s consent ‘make it a Sacrament’ is a non-issue essentially, as I hope is clear from above and the previous posts, and while many make the assumption that it’s not the Eucharist that ‘makes Marriage a Sacrament’, they do not understand the Integral nature of The Kingdom or central it must be- in actual fact it’s the coming together of these and other elements in The Church which manifests The Kingdom and the eternity of Marriage; beyond the service, by God’s Grace.

*1. Parochial theology is concerned with giving some sort of unity to the parish body without which its individual members cannot really exist; while facing the facts of modern society, it seeks to reduce a prevalent confusion to some ordered pattern. As one would expect from this, many modern parishes will contain much real devotion, deep Prayer, sound knowledge and a host of other good things; but they will tend to lack shape and form, which real creativity demands. Thus the problem of parochial theology begins with the problem of cure of souls, and the ambiguity of this term itself supports the validity of our criticism. It is significant that we must spend some time in finding out what so common a phrase really means.

When a priest is instituted to a parish he is said to acquire “cure of” or “care for” souls, he accepts a stewardship and he undertakes a responsibility. The first difficulty arises when, assuming a responsibility to God, we ask precisely whom the priest is responsible for. Superficially there seem to be two possible answers. (1) The Priest with cure of souls is directly responsible to God for the spiritual well-being of each and every individual soul within his parish; or (2) he is responsible only for the flock of Christ, for the members of his parish church at any given time. It is argued that despite the duty of evangelism, no one can be held responsible for the unresponsive, for those of other religious persuasion, or even of other Christian denominations.

But theories are unsatisfactory. The first, if consistently applied, would lead to such a lowering of Christian standards as to admit as many possible to the fold consistent with the existence of a Church at all. The emphasis is numerical, membership is nominal; which inevitably means convention, respectability, Pelagianism, apathy, and spiritual sterility. The sole pastoral function is ostensibly evangelism, which would be more truthfully described as recruitment. Such an approach finds little room for ascetic, creative Prayer, or objective worship. More serious still is what might be called the futurist element inherent in such an outlook; its only ideal is a population of one-hundred-per-cent churchpeople. This means that every activity and every detail looks forward to an ideal never to be achieved; the parish, as such, never worships, intercedes, or appears before the throne of God.[1] All human worship is inadequate, but parochially speaking we are to suggest that it can be, and indeed must be, complete. The Father’s House on earth is necessarily sin-stained, leaky, ramshackle, jerry-built, and generally inadequate to his transcendent glory; but it can still be in a real sense whole. The parochial system under review never gets beyond the ideal blue-print, its house only exists in an hypothetical future. Ironically, a scheme of things aiming at complete literal, individual representation of all souls in the Divine stream, ends with no Church at all. And no good purpose is achieved by imputing Christian hope to what is only impracticable nonsense. The world may end to-morrow, and although the priestly plea before Christ’s judgement seat must be “guilty,” there may yet be a more worthy defence than “I have not had time to begun.” This theory may be called multitudinism; an ugly and unwieldy word, but no means inappropriate.

The second position, that pastoral priesthood’s responsibility ends with the Christian element at any given time, is more obviously unsatisfactory, yet it has the unqualified pastoral advantage of facing facts. Before the multitudinist priest has been instituted a day he is forced to make reservations; Jews, Baptists, Papists, and Hindus if there are any, are best left alone, the heathen nonagenarian and the lunatic boy are unconvertible: one such case and his system, as system, collapses. This second theory is unshaken and untroubled by such contingencies, for which it becomes a policy of purposeful exclusion, and we are down to a complacent satisfaction with the “nice little nucleus.” Here is plain dualism, for any exclusive spiritual élite, whatever the depth of its devotion and purity of its Prayer, is just not a parish. If we are rid of recruitment, we have left no place for true evangelism.



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