The Orthodox Understanding of Marriage


The Orthodox Understanding of Marriage

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Marriage is the sacrament unifying us through and with our Lord Jesus Christ as one body, as one flesh.(1) So there is not just two people coming together, but three.

The Old Testament’s view of marriage between a man and woman was to procreate, a direct commandment from God, “Be fruitful and multiply.”(2) So the whole institution of marriage was merely for the purpose of satisfying God’s will. Over the years, as the tribes of Israel grew, it began to also be used to unify households, families and tribes.

But the Orthodox understanding of marriage is deeper than this, it is a sacrament of Love and of struggle.

Jesus compares the Kingdom of God as a wedding feast, because it introduces man to eternal joy and points to the coming reunification with God. For in marriage of a man and a woman, we re-unite the two who were separate as one flesh – this is the great mystery St. Paul speaks of Ephesians.

And a marriage through Jesus Christ brings with it all the beautiful aspects of Jesus Christ; love, kindness, respect, strength, endurance, compassion, tenderness, humility, and a willingness to sacrifice oneself for the other. These essential elements are what help to make a marriage work. Just as Jesus Christ sacrificed himself for the greater good of all mankind, so too should we sacrifice our own wants and needs for the greater good of our marriage.

As we approach the altar, to partake of the Holy Body and blood, we do so with humility – so too should we approach marriage. We should, in each day of a marriage, invite Jesus Christ to participate, and strengthen the bond between a man and woman. That when we approach the final rest with Him, we are found not only as one flesh with each other (in a meaning there is no division or separation between us), but also one flesh with Jesus Christ. For if there remains some division between a husband and wife, there can be no union with God.

“Until death do us part.” This saying is found in every wedding ceremony. But this death points to more than just a physical death, but the death of a unified marriage through Sin. For sin, in all its many forms, will weaken the bond between a man and a woman, separating them from themselves and ultimately God. Therefore in marriage, we must not only fight against the weakness of ourselves, but now too we must bear the added burden of the other’s weaknesses as well. This is the cross we bear in marriage.

It is a beautiful cross. Heaven is our goal, suffering is part of this path to unification with Christ and a return to the Father. The joy of eternal life is rooted in the pain of the cross and so the struggle is our unifying process whereby we become one through God in God and with God. The power of the resurrection could not be known without the willingness of suffering. No marriage is perfect. We must work together to make it work. 100% compatibility is not real. If it takes hard work to succeed in a career, or hard work to become a great athlete – then a successful also needs hard work.

A marriage with Christ is a selfless marriage. Would we ever say to God, “It’s my way or the highway”? Absurd. Then too must this humility before God be found in the marriage with God. Life does not begin until the struggle begins, just as the baby is not born until the struggle begins. The flower does not bloom until the roots have fought through the dirt and struggled to reach the sun.

Embrace a selfless love. Satan is trying to tear us apart, so he will fan the flames of discourse. The Crowns we wear in our ceremony point to martyrdom as the martyred lives of Saints show us that, “they sacrificed their life for the sake of the church (ourselves) and the Christian life (the marriage)”.(3)

The Sadducees asked Christ, relating to the seven brothers who each married the same woman, who will have the one wife in marriage after life?(4) Jesus answers to their defective view of the afterlife. They did not believe in the resurrection. Christ was denying their materialistic understanding of the resurrection and ridding their minds of their expectation. In the resurrection there would be no carnal desire. Though bonded souls will recognize each other in heaven, like the parable of Lazarus and the rich man (one in Hades and one in Heaven), the focus is on the glory and praise of God, not each other. God transforms and transfigures our emotional affection between a husband and wife into the continuous praise and glory of God. So the struggle we undertake to make a marriage succeed, points to the depth of our praise and glory to God and His presence in both our life here and there.

Tips on Strengthening the Marriage:

1.) Be more selfless and less selfish, pray for help together.
2.) Marriage and family require sacrifice and service, without effort there is no gain. Serving others fills us with humility. The son of man came to serve man, so our goal in marriage is to serve – good begets good – evil begets evil. Suffer for the sake of the other.
3.) Stop doing anything that harms your marriage or family, it produces pain and resentment. We can overcome evil with good, replace the bad habits with good ones.
4.) Husbands and wives should be lovers, in all things and in all aspects. Show your love continuously in all your actions. Jesus did not just preach he lived by example. God is the “lover of mankind” and showed it continuously. Wives need to hear it. Husbands need to hear it.
5.) Parents must dedicate themselves to creating a home of love, thus is the house of God. God’s house is not a house of screaming, yelling and anger, but of love, and compassion. This is our charge to raise our children in the house of God and Love. The children get desensitized to yelling. We are working for God. Be fruitful and multiply. Having children is the multiply, but to be fruitful is to raise them through love of God, with God and in God.
6.) Parents should set aside time for family discussions. Decisions through unity of voice both in worship and daily applications. Talk it out. This also lets us hear how our children are thinking. Separation physically is separation with God as well. This is a divorce, whether actual or rooted deeply within our heart. Create family time.
7.) Turn off the TV. Turn off the DS, the computer and take a walk, read a book and interact with your children. On average they watch four hours a day. Which is double what they should. Fill their minds with something moral and healthy.

If we invite Jesus Christ in our wedding ceremony, do we leave Him at the feast when we depart the wedding day? He is part of our marriage, the most essential part of our marriage – the bond of Love, strength and compassion. Who buys a car to park it and never enjoy? Who buys beautiful clothes but never wears them? Who invites Jesus Christ into their marriage, but does not allow His presence to work for them? Being Orthodox means we belong to Christ as one whole unit.

Glory be to God, Amen.

(1) Ephesians 5:30
(2) Genesis 1:28
(3) Saint Clement
(4) Matthew 22:23-30