21 - The Gift of Marriage
communion of man and woman
«And God made humankind; according to
divine image He made it; male and female He made them» (Gen.1:27)
The image of God - mankind - was created from
the beginning as a pair: as a man and a woman. Just as the Triadic God
is not a unit, thus mankind was likewise not created as a unit. «Have
you not read that He who made them at the beginning made them male and
female?» as Matthew the Evangelist repeats (Matt.19:4; cmp Gen.1:27).
In other words, the dogma of the Holy Trinity
- which is expressed by the "oneness" of essence and the "threeness" of
hypostases - constitutes a basic truth which also expresses the reality of
mankind. This immense and unique reality (the Holy Trinity) constitutes the
basis of our lives and the foundation of our salvation.
This is how we can explain - without any
hesitation - this Old Testament verse and underline that man was created "in
the image of" the Trinitarian God, both in regard to man's nature as well as
the fact of man's "oneness" with other people. This is the reason man was
created from the beginning as a couple - as man and woman.
The Holy Bible makes very frequent references
to the mystery of marriage. In the Book of Proverbs we read that «Fathers
distribute house and substance to their children, but a woman is joined to a
man by God.» (Proverbs 19:14); the Prophet Malachi underlines that
God Himself is the guarantor and witness of the marital bond (Malachi 2:14)
- the common Creator of man and woman.
The same Prophet opposes the perception of
his era, where the sole purpose of marriage was believed to be the
acquisition of children (cmp.Wisdom of Solomon 4:1-6 and Wisdom of Sirah
16:1-4) and that consequently, divorce was permitted after the fulfillment
of this purpose. The Prophet implies that the essence of this Mystery
is found in the actuation of a common life, in the preservation and the
cultivation of the unbreakable bond between spouses, who are rendered "one
spirit and one body" (Malachi 2:15, Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:8).
It thus becomes obvious why God "abhors separation", that is, divorce, which
deconstructs the primary purpose of the Mystery (Malachi 2:16).
The same meaning must also be ascribed to the
following words of the Holy Bible: «But I say to you that whoever
divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to
commit adultery; and whoever marries a woman who is divorced commits
and 19:9; Luke 16:18). «... but fornicators and adulterers God will
judge.» (Hebrews 13:4).
On the basis of the above we can also say
that man's destination is to become "in the likeness of" his Creator - that
is, to live a life of complete love with his fellow-man, in accordance with
the divine model - in accordance with the Trinitarian God's kind of love. In
other words, this destination is not unrelated to the communion of the two
sexes of the one mankind.
Communoin of love
It is obvious, that communion between man and
woman will not correspond to human nature, if it is attempted outside of
God's love, which is the cause and the source of unity and love in the
For as long as Adam remained within God's
love, he regarded his wife Eve as a part of himself (Genesis 2:23-24). But
with his act of disobedience - when he ceased to love God - that is when he
looked upon his wife as a foreign individual; and it was also the reason he
placed all the responsibility of that disobedience upon her (Genesis 3:12).
The differentiation in mankind (as man and
woman) and the marriage union are both a benefit that God has provided for
mankind and evidence of His tender care, which - after man's fall - has
become the prerequisite for one's hope for Salvation that was promised to
him by God. Because from the very first moment of man's fall, God promised
him rectification; He did not abandon man, leaving him to wander through
life without hope. (Gen.3:15) It was the Incarnation of Christ, Who
"vacated" Himself to become a man in the flesh, and Who did not hesitate to
go as far as the ultimate sacrifice on the Cross for the sake of His beloved
How could fallen man possibly comprehend such
a gesture of God's love? How could he possibly grasp the divine will
of that God of love Who entered upon a personal relationship with man?
Man therefore needed to have a specific foretoken of that perfect union of
God with man, in the Person of the God-Man Christ: the union of divine
nature with human nature. And that foretoken - that foreshadowing -
that heralding of man's redemption with the Incarnation of Christ - is the
union of Marriage between a man and a woman.
Thus, the love of God is what constitutes the very starting
point of marriage, and at the same time the purpose of marriage. In other
words, marriage constitutes a communion of love.
3. In Christ, and in the Church
It is characteristic that, when the Holy
Bible speaks of marriage it makes reference to the marriage of Christ to His
Bride - the Church - and simultaneously to the marriage of a man to a woman,
whose marriage it always relates to the bond between Christ and the Church.
«For the husband is head of the wife,
as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.
Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to
their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ
also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and
cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her
to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing,
but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love
their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.
For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as
the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and
of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and
be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great
mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.» (Ephesians
The model therefore of spouses and of the
conjugal bond is Christ and His bond with the Church. This is the manner
that the natural bond between man and woman becomes a "great mystery".
One surpasses oneself, ceases to live selfishly, with one's own person as
the centre. Instead, one transcends division and rediscovers the true
self, in the unity and the love within marriage. "Man and woman,
who thought they were two from the beginning...", says Saint John the
Chrysostom, "...observe now, how He has re-attached them and once again
brings them together into one, through marriage".
In this manner, mankind returns to the unity
of man and woman, which will be fulfilled in the Kingdom of God, where there
shall no loger be "male and female", but all shall be "in one: Christ
(Gal.3"28), "as are the angels in heaven" (Matth.22:30, Mark
12:25, Luke 20:35). This is the reality that a Christian person has a
foretaste of, within the mystery of the Divine Eucharist, where everyone is
united into the one body of Christ and His Church.
4. The Eucharistic context of the divine mystery
As mentioned, the divine Liturgy is a
foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven and the final uniting of God's people.
It is in this light that we can comprehend why the Christian marriage was
linked to the Divine Eucharist in the ancient Church: because the Divine
Eucharist was the main feature of the holy mystery. Christ attended the
Wedding at Canaa and symbolized this correlation by means of a miracle:
the transformation of water to wine. With this act, Christ not only admitted
the overall rejoicing of the marriage; He not only blessed the entire
reality of marriage, but simultaneously also symbolized the Divine Eucharist
itself, that is, the transformation of the wine into His Blood and the bread
(of the wedding feast) into His Body, and the assumption and metamorphosis
of that marital bond into the Body of the Church, which is also His Body.
«When the husband and wife are joined
together through marriage», says Saint John the Chrysostom, «they no
longer appear as something terrestrial, but as an image of God Himself».
In another excerpt he characterizes the Christian marriage as a «miniature
Within the Christian marriage, man is called
upon to live an "in Christ communion", that is, "concerning Christ,
and the Church" (Ephes.5:32). Within a Christian marriage, Christ is
also present with the Christian spouses, in accordance with His promise that
He will be present wherever two people are gathered in His name (Matth.
According to the aforementioned, we can
understand why a Father of the Church refers to marriage as a "house of God"
and why a contemporary theologian proclaims that in a Christian marriage,
three persons are being married: "the husband and the wife to each other,
and they with Christ". In other words, it is a marriage that takes
place "in the Lord" (1 Cor.7:39).
5. Marriage outside the Church
From all the above, it becomes clearly
evident that there is a huge difference between the carnal union of two
people outside the Church and the union in the sacred mystery of marriage.
The conjugal bond outside the Church relates to laws of nature - and in
fact, of nature in its fallen and corrupted state.
The same applies, even when we relate the
meaning of marriage to societal purposes or when we refer to a demographic
problem. In all of these cases, marriage does not manage to transcend
the reality of death. That is the reason it cannot possibly become
acceptable as a sacred mystery in these cases.
On the contrary, the Christian marriage -
which is blessed by God and is assumed into the Church - has, as its primary
meaning and its final purpose the fullness of conjugal love, the fullness of
that unity which does not end with death, but enters into eternity.
«For those of you who act carnally, these are
all spiritual things, for in Jesus Christ you are doing everything» says
Saint Ignatius the God-bearer, thus characterizing the overall reality of
the conjugal bond which has been assumed into the Church as a spiritual one,
even that very carnal union.
6. The example of Tobias
When the conjugal bond is blessed by God it
then enters into the environment of God's love and thereafter acquires a
unique, eternal meaning.
In the Old Testament we find a beautiful
picture - a wonderful depiction of this fact. It is the marriage of Tobias
with Sarah, in the city of Ecbatana of Media.
According to the Old Testament, Sarra - the
daughter of Raguel and Edna (relatives of Tobit, Tobias' father) - had been
married seven times. Except that an evil demon had consecutively caused the
death of all seven husbands during each one's wedding night - that is,
before the consummation of the conjugal bond. The Book of Tobit
describes Tobias' marriage:
«Then Ragouel called Sarra his
daughter. And she came to him. Then taking her hand, he gave her over to him
and said, “Take her according to the law, and, according to the decree
written in the book of Moyses, she is your wife. Take her, and lead her away
in good health to your father. And may the God of heaven prosper you
both with peace.” Then he called her mother and told her to bring a scroll,
and he wrote out a contract, a scroll of marriage, that he gave her to him
as wife according to the decree of the law of Moyses. After that they began
to eat and to drink.
Then Ragouel called Edna his wife and said to her, “My sister, prepare
the other room, and lead her in there.” So she went and made the bed in the
room as he had told her, and she led her there. And she wept for her. Then
she wiped away the tears and said to her, “Take courage, my daughter; may
the Lord of heaven grant you joy in place of your sorrow. Take courage, my
daughter.” Then she went out. When they had finished eating and drinking,
they wanted to go to sleep; so they led the young man out and led him into
the room. Then Tobias remembered the words of Raphael, and he took the
fish’s liver and heart out of the bag where he had them and put them on the
embers of the incense. And the odor of the fish became a hindrance, and the
demon fled into the upper parts of Egypt. But Raphael went and bound him
there hand and foot and tied him up at once. Then they went out and shut the
door of the room. And Tobias got up from the bed and said to her, “Sister,
get up, let us pray and implore our Lord that he grant us mercy and
safety.” So she got up, and they began to pray and implore that safety may
be theirs. And he began to say, “Blessed are you, O God of our ancestors,
and blessed be your name for all the ages forever. Let the heavens and all
your creation bless you for all the ages. You made Adam, and you made for
him a helper, a support—his wife Heva. And from the two of them the human
race has come. And you said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; let us
make for him a helper like himself.’ And now not because of lust am I taking
this kinswoman of mine, but with sincerity. Grant that I and she may have
mercy and that we may grow old together.” And they said with each other,
“Amen, Amen.” Then they went to sleep for the night. But Ragouel got up and
called his servants to him, and they went and dug a grave, for he said,
“Perhaps he may die, and we may become an object of ridicule and derision.”
And when they had finished digging the grave, Ragouel went into the house
and called his wife, and he said, “Send one of the maids, and have her go in
to see if he is alive. But if he is dead, let us bury him so that no one may
know.” So they sent the maid and lit the lamp and opened the door, and she
went in and found them lying there fast asleep together. And the maid went
out and told them that he was alive and that nothing was wrong. So they
blessed the God of heaven, and they said, “Blessed are you, O God, with
every pure blessing, and may they bless you forever and ever. And
blessed are you because you have made me glad, and it did not turn out as I
expected, but according to your great mercy you have dealt with us. And
blessed are you because you had mercy on two only children. Have mercy on
them, O Master, and keep them safe, and bring their life to fulfillment with
gladness and mercy.” Then he told his domestics to fill in the grave before
it became dawn. And he told his wife to make many loaves of bread, and
he went out to the herd and brought two steers and four rams and commanded
that they be killed. So they began to make preparations.Then
he called Tobias and swore an oath to him and said: “For fourteen days you
shall not move from here but shall stay here eating and drinking with me,
and you shall make my daughter’s spirit glad which has been depressed.»
(Tobit 7:12 to 8:20).
Sarra had been married seven times. However,
her seven first husbands had obviously not placed their conjugal bond in the
spiritual space of the mercy and love of God, Who transforms and animates
everything in a person's life. Thus, they were all led to the grave and
their bonds to death. They were under the control of the wicked spirit,
which sowed death from the very first night of their conjugal life, before
the communion between the spouses could be consummated, even at a purely
However, Tobias' marriage had from the
beginning been placed in a different spiritual space. Sarra's parents
and the young husband also had hinged the fulfillment of the purpose of
marriage on the mercy and the love of God. Tobias sees as the basic
purpose of his marriage to Sarra the communion of love (Grant that I
and she may have mercy and that we may grow old together.") and the
glorification of God's name. And the young wife subscribes to that
deep desire of her husband, with her own "Amen". This was the
reason the wicked spirit had no longer any place in that young maiden.
Full of gratitude, Ragouel glorifies God, he
entrusts the young couple to His love and beseeches Him to complete their
lives in good health and joy and mercy, and instructs his servants to cover
up the opened grave and celebrates the joyous events for two whole weeks.
7. The purpose of marriage
This continuous course towards the fullness
of love is the primary purpose of marriage. A fullness that can exist even
between childless couples (cmp.Wisd.Solom. 4:1-6, Wisd.Sirach 16:1-5).
However, the existence of children adds to
the Christian marriage a new element: parenthood, which is the overflowing
of the love between the two spouses, which will embrace new presences, for
which the two spouses are ready to offer everything. In this way, man
succeeds in transcending himself to a greater degree, and give himself
completely in his love towards the new arrival (cmp.1 Cor.11:8-12,
Ephes.5:20-21) and to also prepare himself for that fullness of love which
he is called upon to experience eternally.
This sacred purpose of marriage - that is,
the transcending of one's self and the fullness of love which begins with
conjugal love and is fulfilled in the Kingdom of Heaven - can be observed in
the entire Sacred Mystery of marriage, which is replete with symbolisms.
The exchange of rings - which denotes
reciprocation and interdependence; the common chalice - which denotes the
complete communing of life that is fulfilled during the common partaking in
the Divine Eucharist - in the "communion of souls and bodies" under the
protective love of God.
«And you, bride», says the Priest at the end
of the sacred Liturgy, «may you be magnified like Sarra and delight like
Rachel, rejoicing with her own man, guarding the conditions of the law, for
God has thus willed»
(cmp. Deuter.24:5; Prov.5:18-19).
It is obvious that the purpose of marriage is
not accomplished through the attempts of the spouses alone. Its fulfillment
is a gift of God. The Holy Spirit, Who acts within the Church and
distributes the gifts to the faithful, gives the Christian spouses the gift
of marriage (1 Cor.7:7). That is why the Christian marriage is also a sacred
But as it has become apparent, the Christian
marriage is not a private matter of the Christian spouses. The reason is
that not only does their place within the corpus of the Church change, and
especially within the parish that the newlyweds belong; because, in the
parish they are no longer two separate individuals - they are called to live
the fullness of conjugal love "in the Lord" and they must express that bond
during their entire life within the parish also. Behold why the
Christian marriage constitutes an event in the life of a parish and should
be performed within that same parish, and not away from the parish!
8. The wedding wreaths
It characteristic, how the sacred mystery of
marriage is referred to "coronation" in the Orthodox Church.
We know that victory wreaths belong to the
martyrs and the Saints of the Church. This is the reason that halos are
depicted in the icons that portray Saints. Our Church however also "crowns"
the newlyweds during the sacred ceremony of marriage. Just as a martyr of
the faith struggles to the end victoriously and is crowned a victor, thus
also are the newlyweds crowned when they enter into the sacred bond of
marriage with purity and chastity. They enter into a new arena of struggles
- in the spiritual arena of the martyrs of our Church. That is why - during
their steps around the small table before them, holding hands and
accompanied by the Priest - our Church invokes Holy Martyrs:
«The Holy Martyrs», the laity chants solemnly, «who
have struggled well and were crowned», and
«glory to Thee, Christ the Lord....the jubilation of Martyrs… !».
The Church crowns the newlyweds and proceeds
to an even more touching act: She prays that God will "take over their
marriage wreaths" into His Kingdom, "preserving them spotless and undefiled,
and unthreatened, unto the ages of ages" and to crown the couple "with glory
«O God - our Lord God - Who were present at
the Wedding at Canaa and Who blessed the marriage there, bless these, Your
servants also, who are being joined in the union of matrimony by Your
Providence. Bless their enterings and their exits; fill their lives
with good things; take over their marriage wreaths into Your Kingdom,
preserving them spotless and undefiled and unthreatened, unto the ages of