This article comes from The Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church on page 213. The Catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church Christ – Our Pascha is “both a profession and an explanation of our Church’s faith in the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. To read the digital version of the Catechism, click here or purchase a hardcopy here.
1. The Family—a Domestic Church
In the unity and love of the first married couple the Holy Fathers see an image of the Church. The marital union of a man and woman is ecclesial by its very nature, just as the nature of the Church is reflected in the unity of the married couple. In the Epistle to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul teaches us that the mystical union between Christ and the Church is the archetype of the marital bond: “This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church” (Eph 5:32). Marriage is a “type of the Church,” the place of the presence and action of Christ, and a sign of new life. Saint John Chrysostom calls a marriage a little Church, which walks before the face of God both day and night.
The Lord our God blesses marital love and endows it with a spirit of sacrifice, and with fruitfulness. It unites two people—a man and a woman—into a single whole that no one can break apart: “Therefore what God has joined together let no one separate” (Mt 19:6). Marital unity is realized through mutual self-giving to the point of self-sacrifice: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25).
The Holy Spirit—“Treasury of Blessings and Bestower of Life”—grants marriage the gifts needed for a devout life in peace, truth, harmony, and love. Marriage serves the Church by building up the Body of Christ in a community of faith, love, and mutual sanctification. The community of marriage becomes a “domestic church” through the action of the Holy Spirit. In the prayers of the Order of Crowning, the priest addresses God with the petition “Lord our God, crown them with glory and honour.”
2. Sexuality and Christian Marriage
Sexuality is a gift from God to be a man or a woman, a gift that we receive at the moment of our creation. Therefore, we are called to accept this gift from God and enflesh it in our lives.
Sexuality embraces all the natural dimensions of human existence: it marks not only the body, which is the visible sign of one’s gender, but also a person’s soul and spirit. In the Book of Genesis, it is written that God created humankind as male and female (see Gn 1:27); therefore, one’s sex (being male or female) is a gift from God, and not a matter of human choice. Each person is called to accept the Creator’s plan for his or her life as expressed in one’s sex.
Human sexuality can be understood only in the light of the Christian understanding of love as a communion of persons. Such communion is realized in love as the self-giving of one person to another. This love is granted to a person by the Holy Spirit, who opens that person to another individual.
In marital life, a man and a woman open themselves to God though mutual love, which becomes the foundation of their indissoluble union, fidelity, and fruitfulness. In the virginal state of consecrated life, sexuality is transfigured in the Holy Spirit in order to serve God and one’s neighbour in love for the sake of the heavenly kingdom (see Mt 19:12).
Any selfish exploitation of another person as a means for obtaining sexual pleasure contradicts God’s gift of love, deforms the essence of sexuality, and deeply wounds the person. It opposes the sixth and ninth commandments. Therefore, sexual activity outside the Mystery of Matrimony, marital infidelity, the destruction of marital fruitfulness through abortion or contraception, polygamy and polyandry, homosexual acts, and autoeroticism—all of these demean human dignity and are grave sins.
Every person is called from early childhood to love both God and neighbour. The essence of Christian sexual education is in teaching one how to love. The goal of such education is to help a maturing young person discover in himself or herself God’s gift of sexuality and learn to value the personal character of this gift.
A child’s parents have a particular responsibility for Christian sexual education. It is precisely they who are called to be gentle and wise guides. It is they who must lead the child on its path of discovering God’s gift of sexuality in himself or herself, revealing its nature and meaning in a manner appropriate to the age, needs, and depth of the child’s inquiry. The Church and society should assist parents in the realization of this vocation, but they can never adequately replace them.
3. Marital Fidelity
An essential characteristic of Christian marriage is fidelity. It is based on Christ’s faithful love and not merely on the human efforts of the spouses. Marital fidelity flows from God’s faithfulness to his promise and Christ’s fidelity to his Church. To be faithful means to know how to be courageous in one’s choice and responsible for one’s promise (vow). Fidelity is strengthened through participation in the Holy Mysteries (Confession and Communion), joint prayer, mutual understanding, support, trust and forgiveness, as well as constant spiritual battle against temptations. “Joint prayer by the entire family preserves it at least partially from disagreement and argument … If a husband and wife were thus to pray together every day, they would be compelled to forgive each other every offence, day in and day out.”
Marital fidelity is weakened and even ruined by deception, insincerity, jealousy, and thoughtless behaviour. These in turn can lead to marital betrayal and the squandering of the graces received in the Mystery of Marriage. Christ equates even lustful thoughts with adultery: “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5:28).
The Church, faithful to the words of Jesus Christ, emphasizes the indissolubility of marriage: “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery” (Mk 10:11-12).
4. Marital Fruitfulness in Love
The most important aim of marital life is the communion of a man and a woman in love so that, abiding in it, they may come increasingly to know God, who is Love. Abiding in God’s love, their love will also be fruitful: “What the soul is for a human being, love is for the family. Where the soul is no more, life also disappears; there will be a body, but it will be dead. A family without love is like a body without a soul.” Marital love exists first of all for the good of the spouses themselves.
In marriage, a man and a woman are called to co-creation with the Lord in the birth of children: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gn 1:28). The Lord is the source of human life, so in accepting the gift of a new life, spouses become partakers of this Source. This is why the gift of fertility is God’s blessing for a marriage and strengthens it in love. Marriage is an icon of Christ’s Church, which gives birth to people for eternal life.
The marital love of a man and a woman is expressed in their sexual life together. In the sexual act, spouses are joined in love, expressing the indissoluble unity of marital life. True marital love is fruitful love, therefore the bodily union of spouses is open to procreation. The sexual act has a double aspect: unitive and procreative. Only such a conjugal act is virtuous and pure. The loss of one of these aspects of the sexual act distorts its substance, destroys the virtue and purity of marital life, and is therefore a sin.
In bearing and raising children, a man and woman are co-workers of God’s love. This is what characterizes responsible parenthood in marriage. A particular responsibility in marriage lies in the planning of births, which is related to the parents’ ability to provide their children an appropriate upbringing, having ensured their proper physical and spiritual development. Thus it sometimes occurs that a husband and wife decide to delay temporarily the birth of children. However, such a decision should not be based on selfish and consumerist motives; it should not completely exclude childbearing, which is a fundamental good of married life. In other words, it ought not to become a rejection of fatherhood and motherhood per se.
The Venerable Metropolitan Andrey teaches: “If God has given someone children, that person has been given a great responsibility to raise those children devoutly. Someday at the Last Judgment God will demand a severe accounting from those parents who cared little about their children.”