The following encyclical issued by the Sacred Synod of the Church of Greece is meant to uphold the Orthodox Christian principles of marriage and family, and its opposition to the so-called Free Cohabitation Agreement issued by the Greek Government, which is positioned as an alternative form of permanent cohabitation and should not be considered a “soft” marriage.
“Family and Society in Crisis Today”
Athens, December 12, 2013
Beloved Children in the Lord,
The Sacred Synod of Hierarchs met last October amid various social and economic problems, at a critical juncture of rearrangement. As a society, we must overcome complex obstacles and serious pathologies and distortions.
As a Church, we put forward our common struggle for the present and the future of Greek society and reflect on our responsibilities and capabilities to fulfill our mission in moments of the corruption and trivialization of the human person, the devaluation of sacred character and the worthlessness of an essential spiritual path of our common lives.
And while our society is profoundly sick, the basic cell of the family, slowly but steadily, is being corrupted and dissolved.
However, we must not overlook the fact that the institution of the family is at all times the most guaranteed and secure social environment for the proper education and upbringing of new members of our society.
The family molds children’s souls “in the education and admonition of the Lord” and prepares active members of society, people of all professions, and all kinds of leaders of a country.
It is a commonplace finding that nowadays the family institution is tested sorely and is suffering, daily and often unseen, from many cheapenings and distortions.
Any diversion from the healthy state of the family leads to various defects. Of course, the risk of reducing family cohabitation to a bare contract existed in earlier times.
Today, however, all refer primarily and foremost to their individual rights and forget their obligations. The idea or meaning of gender already is considered alterable and mixed.
The ability to discern the sanctity of the union of the two sexes in the modern world seems to be lost gradually.
For our Orthodox Church, of course, marriage not only establishes a common and empirical path to deification and the transformation of the world of God; it guarantees, with the birth and upbringing of children, not merely the biological expansion of humanity, but above all the spiritual perpetuation of the human person.
Marriage and family is, therefore, man co-creating with God and entrusting him with the greatest responsibility of all, the responsibility towards our children.
The divine Chrysostom urges his listeners with the following words: “Make your home a church, because you are responsible for the salvation of your children.”
In the words of the Apostle Paul (Eph. 5:32), the mystery of marriage is “great … in regards to Christ and the Church.” Every family maintains a sacred, unique and infinite value as long as it is an image of the mystery which continues and forms the Church of Christ.
But this means that no one can diminish or even replace it. Before the modern and diverse crisis and struggle of Greek society, “in these days of evil, when the love of many has grown cold”, the Christian restoration of the God-established institution of the family can be the best medicine in any corrosive condition.
But we need to bear witness and restate the heavy yet salvific, life-giving and redemptive truth, which results from any properly structured family, from every home church.
The “diversion of the family institution” or the emergence of “alternative forms of family” in contemporary social reality constitutes a phenomenon that demonstrates the secularization and dechristianization of modern Western societies – a society and people, however, with a rich Christian past.
This largely applies also to Greek society. Therefore it requires serious study and reflection for the preservation and prosperity of this sacred institution, which is rightly called a “little church.”
Besides, what is regarded as a “crisis” may ultimately, if we want, become an opportunity for restoration. It could mean a collapse and end of an old way of life and the beginning of a new creation in Christ, the refashioning of the fallen world.
The materialistic and nihilistic lifestyle, the eclipse of ecclesiastical ethic and true love, the new employment and economic data, the changes in roles and other potential factors, altered and “reduced” the family.
Its sacramental character, its transcendent reference “regarding Christ and the Church”, seems to be relaxed or may not exist for many people around us.
All these reasons, and perhaps others, contributed to the emergence of forms of marriages and the organizing of family life, which, in the light of Christian teaching, is considered a diversion of the family and, in modern secular conception, its alternative forms.
This is in regards to political marriages, single parent families, free cohabitation and so-called gay marriage.
During the recent adoption of the so-called Cohabitation Agreement there constitutes arrangements other than marriage: it is an alternative form of permanent cohabitation rather than a form of “soft” marriage.
In its legal approach, it attempts to regulate a real social phenomenon, ie the birth of children out of wedlock, single parent families, which are continually rising, and unprotected women often from many years of free cohabitation.
Undoubtedly, in this category will be found even citizens who are baptized Orthodox Christians, but who either do not know or are guided by ideas and concepts foreign and contrary to the teaching, tradition and ethos of the Church.
However, the precise pattern of cohabitation, which is now regulated legislatively, may adversely affect the Christian concept of marriage and family in contemporary Greek society.
Some members of the Church, those who for various reasons, casually and lightly, will choose for some time or permanently a particular mode of free cohabitation, are going to refuse the ecclesiastical ceremony of their marriage.
The Church studies these phenomena in depth and with its contributing executives, clergy and laity, with specialist knowledge and theological formation, forms her ecclesiastical testimony, and pastorally addresses all of these new alternatives to conventional forms of family organizations in the private life of our time.
In the case of free cohabitation, we experience most deeply the theological and social alteration of the family institution. The family is no longer considered a “little church”, but simply a symbiosis with one another.
The Marriage ceremony gives the impression of a very serious commitment and seems like an anachronistic event, like a meaningless act, if it ends up being simply like a folk ceremony.
It does not express anything existential nor poses eschatological or other metaphysical expectations.
The increase in divorce, worth considering nowadays, reveals the superficiality of today’s people and shallowness of feelings in relation to the older generations, who were certainly not perfect, but the marriages lasted for life.
Also seen in our times is the phenomenon of people deciding with difficulty to proceed with marriage, and thereby to form families, not only because of objective difficulties, the economic crisis, unemployment and difficulties to enter the labor market, but also for other secondary reasons.
Despite the crisis of the modern forms of social life, people will always expect from the family good and cultured people who would offer the good and creative “alteration”.
In this anxious expectation of the times, our Holy Church expresses publicly her theological testimony and at the same time her often unseen and silent pastoral ministry and offering.
In this context, the reconsideration of the family, which is absolutely necessary for the fermentation of society in Christ, and for a better change, means nothing else but her new “churchgoing” and her reattachment with the eucharistic experience of the local Church.
The “little church”, as the divine Chrysostom calls the family, is invited to broaden the experiential and existential dimensions of the Great Church.
Necessary also is both the spiritual preparation of the new couple on their way towards marriage, as well as their constant support in building their “little church”, so that they do not feel abandoned solely to their own powers.
The mission and offering of our Church in this direction is to publicly and with boldness in every direction to deposit her testimony for the whole world, without discrimination based on sex, age, social status, ethnicity or faith, regarding the meaning of the life in Christ and the exceeding corruption and death; about the power of faith in Him; regarding the family as a blessed form of social persons, not as a self-referential union of individuals, and to be a means of all sorts of support and advocacy.
Each family is truly a “little church” and, therefore, constitutes a foretaste of the way to the mystery of the Kingdom of God. Christ is the Bridegroom of the Church (Matt. 9:15-25; Mk. 2:19-20; Lk. 5:34-35; Jn. 3:29) and He Himself mentions in His parable of the wedding feast: “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son” (Matt. 22:2).
The Apostle Paul advises men to love their wives “as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant Church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless” (Eph. 5:25-27 ).
This little church of the home exists in her completeness and authenticity as an organic part of the local Church and not independent from it.
From her christological and ecclesiastical perspective the family is of real value and is the cradle for the completion and perfection of its members.
Outside of her, she is in danger of being altered in lesions developed by group egoism and selfishness. Within the same perspective the unity of the Christian family is active along with the hierarchy of her members.
The word of Christ “whoever wants to be first must be last and the servant of all” (Mk. 9:35) does not apply only for the Church, but also for the family.
The actual problem of marriage today is not so much a disruption of relations, disagreements or the cruelty of one spouse to the other, but the idolization and empowerment of the family, and the lack of progress, testimony and orientation of Marriage towards the Kingdom of God.
In this case, the family has ceased to exist for the glory of God and be the sacramental entrance into His presence.
What dissolves contemporary families so easily and makes divorce basically its natural shadow, is not a lack of respect for the family institution, but its idolization and a refusal to accept the Cross within the Marriage.
It is true that in recent years there has been more particular interest by the Church for our family’s situation and support.
On a Synodal level, in our country there functions, as known since 1999, the Special Committee on Marriage, Family, Child Protection and the Demographic Problem, which by the serious and voluntary work of its members, offers a fitting and special work, by organizing conferences nationwide, initiating pastoral programs and training and other activities.
At the same time and in the same direction there is the specific work of the Special Synodal Commission for Women’s Issues. Among other things, equally important is the pilot program of the Holy Synod for financial support for families with three children in Thrace, which has enhanced without complaint now for fourteen years throughout all the Sacred Metropolises.
Already many of them, with the willing and valued help of the clergy and laity, have created new structures for the training of parents and providing advice in the upbringing of children.
With schools to prepare the candidates for marriage, Schools for Parents, Counselling Centers to Support the Family (Κ.Ε.Σ.Ο.), Group Living, Conferences, lectures, radio and TV shows, books, camps, youth meetings and catechetical gatherings, personal – individual counseling in the Mystery of Confession, support to families of many children, unmarried mothers and providing material assistance where appropriate, with money, food, clothing and medicines.
Informing young people and older couples and the dialogue between them are deemed necessary pastoral initiatives as guidelines to “perfect love” and to prevent unlawful relationships, divorces and abortions among those who, while declaring faith and preferring the ecclesiastical sacrament, they live it, however, superficially, as a cultural course.
Still, the claim for rights on behalf of the vulnerable groups especially cannot be out of the affectionate interest of the Shepherds.
In any case, the Church studies new forms of pastoral action in order to seek out the near and far and not let any opportunity to communicate with their families go unfulfilled, but to be a meaningful and constructive presence in every joy or sorrow of her children.
Without complacency from the rarity of cases, they are preparing to face the personal and pastoral matrimonial relationship that develops between Christians and those of other faiths under the now legendary but existing multiculturalism and the captivating projected pluralism.
The Church, in these contemporary conditions of rapid secularization, will continue to catechize the faithful, as also those who want to live outside of her embrace, in the deeper meaning and significance of Christian families in an effort of evangelization of people in this era of rampant nihilism and the general reduction of every meaning.
In the restoration and rediscovery of Christian consciousness about the meaning of personal faith and interpersonal human relationships there is found the meaning of the family today.
With Infinite Prayers in the Lord,
The Sacred Synod of Hierarchs of the Church of Greece
† Ieronymos of Athens, President
The Chief Secretary
† Gabriel of Diayleia
Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.