Sermon on the Mount: Divorcing Divorce

It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement. But I say unto you, that whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery, and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. (Matthew 5: 31-32)

According to the Church, the attitude of God towards divorce has always been one of ideal vs resignation to the hard reality. The ideal: Man & woman in marriage represent perfection, and constitute a house church of sorts that lives worshipfully, obediently, and in reverence to one another as to God. The reality: Men & women, in their fallen nature, all too often make lousy marriage partners.

The Orthodox Study Bible footnotes this passage: “In contrast to the easy access to divorce under the Mosaic Law, and because of the misuse of divorce in that day, Jesus repeatedly condemns divorce (Matthew 19:8-9) and emphasizes the eternal nature of marriage. The possibility of divorce on the grounds of sexual immorality shows that marriage can be destroyed by sin. While recognizing divorce as a serious sin, the Orthodox Church allows divorce and a second marriage as a concession to human weakness and as a corrective measure of compassion when a marriage has been broken. A third marriage is permitted only under specific, limited circumstances, and a fourth marriage is never permitted.” Sure, it’s permitted, but only under certain circumstances, and as a oikonomia, or an “expression of compassion” of the Church toward sinful man, explained Metropolitan Kallistos Ware.

Christ effectively proscribed divorcing one’s wife for any other reason than fornication. The Church fathers relate the necessity of faithfulness back to the Beatitudes. “For a Christian must be a peacemaker, both towards others and even more so towards his own wife,” says the Blessed Theophylact.

St. John Chrysostom adds, “For he that is meek, and a peacemaker, and poor in spirit, and merciful, how shall he cast out his wife? He that is used to reconcile others, how shall he be at variance with her that is his own?”

In other words, if we are such good Christians, and behave so lovingly and generously towards our church families and throughout our charitable pursuits, should we not be able to act at least that lovingly and generously with our own families?

Pseudo-Chrysostom wrote: “If we ought to bear the burdens of strangers, in obedience to that of the Apostles, ‘Bear ye one another’s burdens,’ (Galatians 6:2) how much more that of our wives and husbands? The Christian husband ought not only to keep himself from any defilement, but to be careful not to give others occasion of defilement; for so is their sin imputed to him who gave the occasion. Whoso then by putting away his wife gives another man occasion of committing adultery, is condemned for that crime himself.”

He is reflecting on the causative nature of this passage — that if we divorce our wives, we are placing them into a position of vulnerability to sin, and thus we will held liable for that sin ourselves.

We live in an age where commitment is hard to come by and where for ever way in, there is a way out. (Of course, in the Orthodox Church, marriage is a sacrament in which two persons and their children help each other towards salvation, thus it is not a way in or out, but up.) In a consumerist world, anything that is purchased can be returned. Not so with marriage, saith the Lord!

So then, let us divorce the mere notion of divorce — that we can put away what God has joined together. Let us focus instead on tearing ourselves away from the things of this world that implant those evil imaginings that nothing is truly sacred and thus can be jettisoned by whatever impulse should take us.


About Pete Mladineo

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