All three synoptic Gospels (Matt 22:23-32; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-37) report Jesus’ attitude toward the “levirate”. It is important to notice that the question is related to Christ’s teaching on resurrection and immortality, which cancels worries about survival through posterity. When the Sadducees (“which say there is no resurrection”) asked who, among the seven brothers who successively married the same woman, will have her to wife 'in the resurrection", Jesus answers that “in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven”.
This text is often understood to imply that marriage is only an earthly institution and that its reality is dissolved by death. Such an understanding prevailed in the Western Church, which never discouraged remarriage of widowers and never limited the number of remarriages permitted to Christians. However, if this were the right understanding of Jesus’ words, they would be in direct contradiction of the words of Saint Paul, and to the very consistent canonical practice of the Orthodox Church throughout the centuries. In the Christian understanding, marriage is absolutely unique and quite incompatible with the “levirate”. Never would the Christian Church encourage a man to marry his brother’s widow. In fact, as Clement of Alexandria already noted, “The Lord is not rejecting marriage, but ridding their minds of the expectation that in the resurrection there will be carnal desire”. (1) Jesus’ answer to the Sadducees is strictly limited by the meaning of their question. They rejected the resurrection because they could not understand it otherwise than as a restoration of earthly human existence, which would include the Judaic understanding of marriage as procreation through sexual intercourse. In this, Jesus says, “they err”, because life in the Kingdom will be like that of the “angels”. Jesus’ answer is, therefore, nothing more than a denial of a naive and materialistic understanding of the resurrection, and it does not give any positive meaning to marriage. He speaks of the levirate, and not of Christian marriage, whose meaning is revealed–implicitly and explicitly–in other parts of the New Testament.
(1) Clement of Alexandria, (d. approx. 221) is one of the founders of Christian theology. The quotation is from his Miscellanies, III, 12, 87, English translation in The Library of Christian Classics, II, Philadelphia, PA, The Westminster Press, 1954, p.81.
From Meyendorff, Marriage–An Orthodox Perspective