In the beginning you like somebody very much and you have a strong sexual attraction to the person. People often think that this is love, but it is not. It is a natural physical attraction and when you like somebody and consider them a friend then there is a basis for a relationship, but this is only the beginning. When you begin to live a genuine married life together, you commence to grow in such a way that you begin to discover what love really is.
| 21 August 2008



QUESTION: Often, someone who belongs to the Church and lives the faith becomes acquainted with and develops a relationship with a person who is outside of the Church, and although that person may have respect for the faith, he or she has not been taught the basics of Christian life. In this case the question arises that when these two people truly love each other and are seriously thinking of getting married to each other, they face the problem of sexual relationships between them even before marriage. This is especially the case when one of them does not really understand the reasons why they should not enter into sexual relationships before the Church crowns the marriage. So can you comment on this difficult situation?

ARCHBISHOP LAZAR: If I do not give you a much longer reply than you expect, and cover more aspects of the question than might seem necessary, I will not truly have answered your question. Far too often, questions like this are answered with some unsatifying moralism or the notion that incorrect behaviour irritates God. Such “answeres” are not anweres at all, they are merely solgans. So I ask you to bear with me while we discuss this question from a greater perspective.

True morality is not the same as “moralism,” and it is not just a set of rules. We cannot say that something “is moral because it pleases God, and immoral because it makes Him angry.” This is not the meaning of morality, and it is also false. Morality is practical, not abstract. The Law of God is given to us in order to protect us and save us from destruction, not in order to assuage some fetishes or peeves that God might have. Let me give you a generalized rule about things that are moral and things that are immoral. If you will examine the Orthodox teaching about this, in general you will find that those things which we consider moral involve unselfishness and a turning away from self centred motivations. Things that we consider to me immoral generally have a selfish nature to them, involving self gratification and self centred attitudes. Some kinds of behaviour may be considered immoral if they undermine or contradict the revelation and prophecy about redemption or undermine our relationship with God and neighbour.

In this context, let us say something about sexual morality in general. Unfortunately we seldom learn anything from history even though we study it. We certainly have enough experience in human history to tell us that our sexuality must be exercised with discipline and self-control. Sex and death are very closely related to each other. I will explain that a little better later but first I want to say something about having self control and discipline in sexual matters.

Often this question is dealt with in an unconvincing dry moralistic way and with a sense of heavy handed legalism and repression about it. With all the terrible sexually transmitted diseases now, people understand the danger and they also understand that having random sex can kill you and in a very unpleasant and tragic way, but this is not the only reason that we need to have self-discipline and control in sexual matters.

Sex is a powerful force. It can destroy individuals and it can destroy whole cultures and societies, so when we talk about discipline and self-control in sexual matters we are really talking about something practical. We are talking about how to preserve ourselves so that we can have some real feelings and real love in life. You are all aware that sometimes men do violent things to women in relation to sex and that there are some people who sexually abuse children and then murder them. Hurting someone badly and exercising power over them is an expression of sexual passions. For people who have developed such passions, killing somebody is the ultimate sexual thrill. Many of you will never encounter one of the sorrowful realities of our era, but I am going to mention it in order to demonstrate a point. Sex has been elevated almost to a religion in the past thirty years. This reminds us of some of the terrible idolatries of the ancient world, and also of the sad, cruel and empty lives of the late Romans. In every era in which sexual gratification has become a dominate theme in life, this has been accompanied by an almost neurotic self-centredness, new manifestations of cruelty and a frenzied, but hopeless, quest for happiness. As we near the end of this century, we see people so saturated by this passion that they begin with “sex games” that include roll-playing such as bondage and the infliction of pain. This is because the normal use of sex, and the ideas of self-control and moderation have been abandoned. The most fundamental concepts of true morality unselfish love and the care and compassion for others have been lost. People who become extremely sexual in their lives also become cruel and this is why we have these terrible sex crimes. [1]

At the same time, sexual repression can create the same results. Many violent sex criminals have been psychiatrically deranged by deeply repressed sexuality. Discipline and self-control must not be mistaken for repression. Undisciplined sexuality can lead to a kind of passion or desire that is like a pit that has no bottom and can never be filled. Self-control and self-discipline are necessary against such a very powerful force, but repression is just as dangerous and can lead to as much sexual violence than lack of discipline.

When young people begin to have sexual relations at a very early age, first of all sex can easily become an addiction. The other thing is that you can also become dry and mechanical in sexual relations after a few years, and in such a case your desires can never be fulfilled. I have seen many people in their forties and fifties who had become addicted to sex at a very young age and because they built up these desires that can never actually be fulfilled, no matter how many times they experience sexual relations they remained unfulfilled and eventually, they become bitter and malicious. Even among young people, however, excessive sex can make them cold and uncaring and distort their personalities.

Another aspect of why we need to have self-control and discipline in sexual matters, and the more direct answer to your question of why we should avoid living together without the blessing of the Church, concerns the true meaning of marriage. I have heard many times that when someone is explaining to people why you should not have sexual relations before their marriage is crowned, they present it as if the crowning of a marriage is simply a licence to have sexual relations. They suggest that before the crowns are set on your heads sex is a sin but afterwards it is no longer a sin. Our perverted Augustinians, on the other hand, teach that even after the crowning your sexual relations are still a sin (although only a “venial” one).

In the first place God created male and female so that He could give us a revelation about salvation and redemption. The Old Testament covenant between God and Israel was not a legal agreement but a spousal relationship, a marital relationship; the New Testament new covenant is exactly the same. Marriage is a revelation about the relationship between Jesus Christ and the Church, it [marriage] is a growing bond of love that has a definite commit­ment to it. This is why we often tell young people that nobody really “falls in love.” After a couple is married for about five years they begin to discover the actual meaning of love.

In the beginning you like somebody very much and you have a strong sexual attraction to the person. People often think that this is love, but it is not. It is a natural physical attraction and when you like somebody and consider them a friend then there is a basis for a relationship, but this is only the beginning. When you begin to live a genuine married life together, you commence to grow in such a way that you begin to discover what love really is. It happens that after about five years of marriage the passions begin to cool, and this is partly because one is getting a bit older and settling into the routine of life. It is at this time that many marriages break up and fall apart. This is because they are based on the passions and not genuine love.

When a married couple comes to the fifth year or a little after and the passions are not so demanding, they begin then to discover the true meaning of love. For one thing, after about five years you have learned most of the things that are wrong with the other person, and you have learned that you love them without thinking about all the things that are wrong. In the same way, Jesus Christ loves us even though He knows all the things that are wrong with us. After this initial period of marriage, you continue to grow in a deeper and more profound and more spiritual love for one another, and this is the same way that we grow in our love relation with Jesus Christ. Our faith and our love are always a growth situation; they never come to us all at once. The commitment that we make in marriage is of a different order than the relationship between two people who just make a private decision to live together withou marriage. When we violate the proper order about marriage it is not simply something that is not moral, it is also a corruption of the faith and of God = s revelation; and as such, it distorts and twists the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. So there is also something very practical about this. What is this revelation?

God has given you the privilege of being a living revelation, and you yourselves can become holy prophets through marriage, in that the woman reveals the nature of the Church and the husband reveals the relationship of Jesus Christ with the Church, you begin to understand the mystery of human gender and the true mystery of love. When you enter into a marriage properly by having it crowned with the grace of the Holy Spirit, you become a form of revelation yourself. A truly Christian marriage is a form of the Gospel, and the spouses become holy prophets not only to their own children and to each other but to the world around them. In a marriage crowned by the Holy Spirit, husband and wife reveal the nature of the relationship between Jesus Christ and His Church. We are, therefore, not just dealing with a type moral question and moral problem; we are dealing with the very revelation of redemption itself. All these things have to be said when you are explaining to some couple why they should not violate the proper order of marriage and have sexual relations before their crowning or live together without the intention of making the spiritual commitment of having their marriage crowned in Church by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

In the case of one partner who either is not a believer or who does not understand the need for a proper marriage, the one who believes and the one who cares is going to be responsible for maintaining the relationship in proper order.


Is it necessary to go into great detail when we try to explain this to people.


We have to approach the matter from these practical and coherently spiritual points of view and not simply talk about “bad-good, naughty-nice.” All of human existence is a divine mystery and everything we are called upon to do by our Lord Jesus Christ, by God, is a revelation and part of the mystery of redemption. No question is simply resolved by questions of morality or rules of proper behaviour. One of the great tragedies for most people in this world is that life has no genuine meaning for them. Sometimes even the idea of morality destroys meaning, and it is true that often “morality” itself is a heresy because it becomes a substitute for a life in Christ, and because it destroys people = s understanding of the true meaning of life and reduces it from being a sacred mystery to being a set of rules and laws.

 [1] . I am not discounting the real psychiatric illnesses that cause these actions which are not “developed” in a person. I am very suspicious of the “nurture and environment only” schools of psychology which allow sex criminals out of prison on “day leave” or “monitored parole.” Most violent sex criminals have deep-seated and genuine psychiatric problems which makes it difficult to accept “nurture and environment” schools of “rehabilitation.” Most, if not all, of these people should be permanently incarcerated.

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