In today’s secular culture, sexuality has effectively taken the spotlight. We see it everywhere – on television, in books, scattered all over the internet, and celebrated openly in public. Many Orthodox Christians find themselves sometimes getting sucked into this “cesspool” of sex. So, now seems as good a time as any for us to revisit the Orthodox Church’s theology on sexuality, and to remind ourselves why we must resist the temptation of sin it presents.
Sexuality is based on divine love
We read in 1 John 4:7-8 that love is “of God,” and that “God is love.” It follows then, according to Orthodox theology, that all sexuality and sexual behavior is based on this divine love that is God. It is a love that surpasses all codes of ethics and the scope of human feeling; it is the love we see between the Persons of the Holy Trinity, and the love God has for His creation. And because God is the source of all things, our exercise of this love, and human sexuality, must be done in accordance to God’s will and commandments.
How do we know God’s will when it comes to sexuality? Simple. We look to the creation of Adam and Eve. God created man with two modes of being: male and female (Genesis 1:27) and created them to be in communion with one another, just as the Persons of the Holy Trinity are in communion. God appropriates male and female as perfect companions for one another in marriage (Genesis 2:24), and as Christians we must exercise our love and sexuality within these parameters. Therefore, things like adultery, homosexuality, transgenderism, bestiality, pornography, and fornication are unacceptable for Orthodox Christians.
Understanding the context of sexuality
Sexual union mirrors the creative work of God in the world. God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to us, to restore the communion with God that we lost. Christ’s death was entirely voluntary; He never sinned, and thus was never under the same penalty of death as the rest of us. He chose to die for us, because He loved us. Sexual love must mirror the love of God; it should be giving, unique, and selfless, not casual, crude, and self-centered. The only way for sexual union to mirror God’s love, is for it to be blessed and sanctified in marriage.
Heterosexual Christian Marriage
The Holy Scriptures and the Church Fathers reiterate many prohibitions against premarital sexual relations of any kind (Matt. 5:27-28; 15:10-20; Gal. 5:16-25; etc.) In sharing sexual intercourse before marriage, we express a union that doesn’t exist. We become “one flesh” with another person, physically, emotionally, and spiritually, but not with our husband or wife. In the end, we bring that “piece” of the other person into our marriage. Sexual intercourse thus is no longer a unique bond shared only between husband and wife; rather it becomes a twisted rendition of the bond God established for us, with other people added in that do not belong there.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her…Ephesians 5:25
For the Orthodox Church, then, heterosexual Christian marriage is the only proper social context for human sexuality. As God says: “marriage is honorable […] and the bed undefiled” (Hebrews 13:4). Marriage introduces man into eternal joy and eternal love. He becomes King of the domestic church beside his wife, and together, they raise future saints. He gives himself to her, and she likewise gives herself to him, over and over again each day. Together, they replicate the relationship between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:25), embodying the selfless love of God. When they become “one flesh,” they act in communion with God and, in a way we cannot understand, participate in a higher reality while still remaining fully human.
The Orthodox Church teaches that unmarried individuals must practice abstinence, or celibacy. We do this to preserve the sanctity of the marriage bond that God has established. Abstinence also helps us orient our lives toward God and away from our own carnal desires.
While theology can get a bit complicated, we tried to simplify things here to make it more digestible. When it comes to sexuality, the Orthodox must adhere to the Divine Law of God and His Church. He established the sacrament of Marriage as the proper context for expressing our sexual love, and He has told us to reserve that love for one person, our husband or wife. When we go against this, we harm ourselves spiritually and emotionally. But there is no sin God will not forgive, so long as we truly seek repentance.