The following article is extracted from the canons and footnotes of The Rudder.
QUESTION V (From the 18 Canons of Timothy of Alexandria)
If a woman has coition with her husband during the night, or as likely as not, a man with his wife, and a church meeting ensues, ought they to partake of communion, or not`?
They ought not to do so, because the Apostle says emphatically: “Do not defraud one other except by mutual consent, for a time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; and then come together again so that Satan not tempt you in your incontinency” (I Corinthians 7:5).
To one who had asked whether a married couple ought to partake of the divine Mysteries, when a liturgy is held in the morning, and they have had sexual intercourse with each other during the night immediately preceding, the Saint replied in the present Canon that they ought not to commune;1 and in witness thereof he cites the words of the Apostle, who orders married couples not to deprive one party the other of sexual intercourse, save by agreement of both the parties; and only then not to have sexual intercourse when a Divine Liturgy is being celebrated, on Saturday and the Lord’s Day, and in general on all Feast Days, so that they may partake of communion (for it is thus that the passage saying “that you may devote yourselves to prayer” is interpreted in Canon XIII of this same Saint as well as in the third Canon of St. Dionysios, both of which Canons you may read for yourself), and again to mingle carnally, and to do this on account of their irrestrainable desire, so as to prevent Satan from tempting them by inciting them to commit fornication or to commit adultery with wives of other men or husbands of other women, as the case may be.
- Lawfully married couples ought, therefore, to abstain from sexual intercourse at least for three days, and then come to church for communion; and see the first Footnote to Canon XIII of the 6th Ecumenical Synod.
QUESTION XIII (From the 18 Canons of Timothy of Alexandria)
What days of the week ought to be assigned to those who are conjoined in marriage for them to abstain from communion with each other? And on what days ought they to have it?
Though I have already answered this question, I will answer now once more. The Apostle says. “Do not defraud one another, unless it be for a time by mutual agreement, in order that you may devote yourselves to prayer” (I Corinthians 7:5). And again: “Come together again, that Satan may tempt you in your incontinency (ibid.). But one must necessarily abstain on Saturday and the Lord’s Day, on account of the fact that on these days the spiritual sacrifice is being offered to the Lord.
The Saint has been asked on what days of the week married couples ought not to have sexual intercourse by mingling together carnally, and he has replied in the present Canon, by citing in evidence the words of St. Paul addressed to married couples, to the effect that neither of the parties ought to deprive the other of carnal intercourse, unless both of them abstain from coition by agreement for a time, in order to engage in prayer, and that they ought again to mingle with each other soon enough to prevent Satan from tempting them on account of their failing to mix themselves together as wine is mixed with water. In explaining at what time and what prayer Paul means for married couples to refrain from coition, the Saint states that it is Saturday and The Lord’s day (and in general every feast day), on which days they are obliged to refrain from sexual intercourse because of the fact that for the most part it was on those particular days that the spiritual sacrifice used to be performed, or, in other words, the divine liturgy used to be celebrated, and they had to prepare themselves and get ready to partake of the Divine Mysteries. See also Canon III of Dionysios.
MARRIED COUPLES RESPONSIBILITY WHEN COMMUNING OF THE MYSTERIES
But in his eleventh reply to a question asked by Marcus of Alexandria Balsamon asserts that married couples must necessarily refrain from having sexual intercourse not only on the day that they are to commune, but also on the day before communion day as well as on the day after communion day, and all those who fail to observe this requirement must be canonized with severe penalties; and see Footnote 1 to Canon III of the 6th Ecumenical Synod. But even if they do not partake of communion on those days, again they ought to refrain from all sexual intercourse. Wherefore Balsamon too in his forty-ninth reply to a question asked by the same Marcus asserts that any married couples that fail to practice continence by abstaining from carnal intercourse on Saturday and the Lord’s Day ought to be corrected with moderate penalties. Likewise such couples are also obliged to abstain from coition during the Great Fast and on Wednesdays and Fridays; and see the Footnote to Apostolic Canon IX.
CANON III of Dionysios of Alexandria
Persons who are self-sufficient and married ought to be judges of themselves. For we are told in writing by St. Paul that it is fitting that they should abstain from each other by agreement for a time in order that they may indulge in prayer, and again come together (I Corinthians 7:5).
And when asked about husbands and wives whether they ought to be continent respecting each other, the Saint answers that on this point the parties themselves ought to be sufficient judges, since it is fitting and proper according to blessed Paul for them to engage in no bodily association and intercourse when they are indulging in prayer20 and this course ought to be adopted by agreement between both parties – that is to say, by both the husband and the wife agreeing thereto – lest it should come to pass that one of the parties is tempted by the enemy, and the continence of the other become an injury to the one so tempted. For if one party is overcome by desire and is not permitted by the other party to enjoy the satisfaction of it, he is liable to fall with another woman and sin, according to Zonaras.
RECONCILING “PRAY ALWAYS” AND ABSTAIN FROM INTERCOURSE IN TIME OF PRAYER
One might wonder as follows. Since the Apostle says, “Pray continuously” (or without interruption and always), while, on the other hand, married persons must abstain from intercourse in time of prayer, according to the same St. Paul and the present Canon, so then must they always be continent and never have any intercourse at all? But this bewilderment is solved more self-sufficiently by the two Canons of Timothy of Alexandria, his Canons V and XIII, which say that by time of prayer the Apostle means when there is a synaxis (or church-meeting) and Liturgy, which in those times used to be celebrated for the most part on Saturday and The Lord’s Day, on which days married couples were required to be continent, in order to participate in Communion, or partake of the Divine Mysteries. Hence this Canon of Dionysius gives every sensible person to understand that it is immediately addressed to Basilides, who has asked whether married people are to abstain from each other whenever they have to commune. For it answers that on this point the married people themselves are sufficient judge – meaning, that is to say, that they ought to remain continent during the time of Communion. Though (I know not how) Zonaras and Balsamon failed to interpret the Canon thus, having taken prayer to mean the more serious kind of prayer, which is done with travail and tears. Note, however, that the Apostle adds that aside from prayer married people ought to remain continent during the time of fasting, which is prescribed by the Church, that is to say (and see concerning this point the third Footnote to Apostolic Canon LXIX).
On page 272 of The Exomologetarion, St. Nikodemos writes:
“We must also note the following, that just as there must be a fast from food on Wednesday, Friday, and Great Lent, there must also be a fast from pleasures of the flesh. For this reason weddings cannot take place on these days, because the divine Paul commands that married couples are not to come together during a time of prayer and fasting: “Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer” (1 Cor. 7:5). And the divine Chrysostom, bringing the saying of Joel as a witness: “Sanctify a fast—let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet” (Jl. 2:15-16), says that even newlyweds, who have strong desire, vigorous youthfulness, and unfettered urges, are not to come together during a period of fasting and prayer.1 How much, then, are other married couples, who do not have such impulsiveness of the flesh, not to come together? Therefore, Balsamon says that married couples who do not exercise self-control during the Great Fast are not to commune on Pascha and are also to be penance.2 Likewise, married couples who come together on Wednesday and Friday must be corrected through penances.”
- De Virginitate 30, PG 48, 554.
- Responsa ad Interrogationes Marci, Question 50, PG 138, 997B-997C.
Also see, the book by Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov, There Is No Sex in the Church!: On the Problematics of Sexuality and Gender In Orthodoxy