St. John Chrysostom.
Edited by Natalie Semyanko
For a happy married life, it is not enough for a groom to have made a prudent choice of a bride, and the bride a choice of the groom, and for them to have solicited God’s blessing for the union. There is more that needs to be done. They have to behave, to establish their relationship, in a way worthy of God’s blessing, and not bring misfortune down upon themselves; so that marriage, the source of pure happiness, does not become the source of innumerable ills of the couple’s own making. "Marriage can be a refuge," says Chrysostom, "but also a shipwreck, not due to its own nature, but rather at the hands of those who abuse it. For he who observes the rules within it will find, in his home and wife, comfort and relief from all troubles he meets in other places. Yet one who approaches marriage rashly and carelessly, even though he may enjoy contentment in his worldly pursuits, will find unpleasantness and distress in his own home."
All the blessings of marriage are based on mutual love, on mutual trust and respect, and the resulting harmony of the spouses. "There is nothing more valuable than to be loved by your wife, and to love her. A wise man understands that agreement between man and wife is one of the greatest blessings." "Where this exists, there is every bounty and every happiness, but where it is absent, then nothing can help, all else fails, and life is full of unpleasantness and unhappiness. Therefore we should seek this before all else."
Mutual love between spouses should not depend on their respective beauty, and should not diminish if one of them for some reason becomes less beautiful, or even ugly. Chrysostom directed this teaching particularly toward husbands, for in some cases, their love wanes in proportion to their wives’ fading beauty, which formerly enticed them, or as they begin to notice their physical flaws. "Turn not away from your wife because of her ugliness," teaches St. John. "Hear what is written in the Scriptures: "The bee is little among such as fly, but her fruit is the chief of sweet things" (Sir. 11:3). A wife is a creation of God. When you insult her you insult her Creator. So how should one conduct oneself towards a wife? Do not praise her for her appearance; praise, hate, and love of this nature are characteristics of unchaste souls. Search instead for beauty of the soul; imitate the Bridegroom of the Church."
Love between man and wife should be so constant and strong that it could survive against any unhappiness, disappointment, and temptation. Chrysostom instructs husbands: "Care for your wife as Christ does for the church. Even if you must give up your life for her, tolerate repeated losses, and suffer something terrible, you must not abandon her, for by suffering thus, you will have done nothing in comparison to that which Christ did for the Church."
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An appreciation of the mutual need which man and wife have for each other can serve to resolve and strengthen love and harmony between spouses. "God divided the activities of our lives into two areas, public and domestic. Wives were entrusted with the household, and men were given civic duties: in commerce, in the courts, in councils, in war, and such things. A wife may not be able to throw spears or shoot arrows, but she can operate a spindle, weave cloth, and successfully engage in similar domestic duties. She cannot give opinions in the councils, yet she can advise at home, and often when the husband suggests something concerning the home, it turns out that the wife’s suggestion is far superior. She cannot manage the state treasury, but she can raise children, notice ill intent of maidservants, keep watch over the honest behavior of servants, freeing the husband from all these troubles, personally taking care of the pantries, the handiwork, the cooking, keeping clothes presentable, and all else which is unworthy of a husband to do, even difficult for him, no matter how many times he undertakes it.
"For this is also the result of the wisdom and caring of God, that he made them that are most capable of the most important affairs less able and useful in the less important things, so that there be a real need for a wife. If God had made men capable in both areas, then the female sex could easily fall into contempt in man’s eyes. Again, had he entrusted the most important issues to the wife, then wives would become excessively proud."
There will be neither agreement nor love between spouses, when each demands love and devotion from the other, while making no effort to fulfill their duties. This will cause not peace and agreement, but rather discord, for it expresses not love and indulgence, but rather stubbornness and arrogance. Therefore the best method for preserving peace between spouses is for them to have mutual respect for their separate duties and for each to keep strictly to them and fulfill them.
"Even if others do not do what is required," says Chrysostom, "we should do what is expected of us … for each will receive what he deserves. Such is a marriage in Christ, a spiritual marriage. So let not the wife wait for virtue from her husband before exercising hers, for this will be unimportant. Similarly, let not the husband wait for the good behavior of his wife before he begins to care for her, for this will no longer be virtuous on his part. Let each one, as I said, fulfill their responsibilities in advance."
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If both spouses strictly observe their responsibilities, then peace and agreement will necessarily follow. "If both spouses try to fulfill their responsibilities, then mutual benefits will quickly follow. If, for example, the wife is prepared to endure even an irate husband, and a husband does not irritate a cross wife, then complete peace will be established between them, and their lives will be like a harbor, free from waves."
Due to their mutual love, and in the interest of their common well-being, each should be understanding and indulgent of the other’s flaws. They must arm themselves with patience in the face of the most bitter displeasure, insults, and disappointments. Chrysostom says: "What is to be done if the husband is meek and the wife is nervous, sharp-tongued, a blabbermouth, a spendthrift, (a common fault among women) and has many other failings? How can he, poor fellow, stand this daily unpleasantness, pride, and shamelessness? Or what if she is modest and quiet, and he is rough, suspicious, short-tempered, and enjoying the arrogance of wealth and power, treating her, a free woman, as a slave, and thinking her no more than a servant? How can she endure such humiliation and oppression? The Apostle says: "Bear all this slavery, for you will only be free when he dies, but as long as he lives you must zealously try to reason with him and improve him, or, if this is impossible, bravely endure the endless attacks and relentless verbal abuse."
Elsewhere, Chrysostom advises husbands to arm themselves with indulgent patience, and wives with complete submissiveness, in order to stop all discord. "One may say: ‘My wife is foolish, wasteful, and has many other flaws.’ Put up with it all patiently. This is why you occupy the position of the head, to heal the body. It is written: "So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies." (Eph. 5:28) Wives are also subject to this law."
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If a man should have a bad-tempered wife, it is his obligation not to become irritated, but rather to humbly consider this tragedy the handiwork of God, punishing him for his sins. "Your wife may wage war against you," says Chrysostom, "She may meet you when you return home in a rage, wielding her tongue like a sword. It is sad when your helpmate becomes your enemy! But examine yourself. Did you never harm a woman in your youth? And thus that wound, inflicted by you on another woman, is now being healed by a woman, and the ulcer of another woman is being cauterized by your own wife. That a bilious wife is a punishment to the sinner is written in the Scriptures. A bad-tempered wife will be given to a sinning husband, given as a bitter antidote which will dry up the evil juices of the sinner."
If, as Chrysostom teaches, an ill-tempered wife is a divine punishment, then clearly, the husband must endure it with absolute patience, and therefore nothing can justify physical violence against a wife. This violates the teachings on Christian patience and indulgence, and the understanding of love, which a husband must always maintain. Chrysostom emphatically condemns that inhumane treatment of wives which one frequently encounters, especially among the lower classes, as the highest degree of cruelty and barbarity.
To correct the inadequacies of a wife, he recommends patient reasoning, not vituperation, and certainly not violence. "If a man beats his wife," he says, "it is a great dishonor, not only to her, but also to him. I say to you wives and husbands, may God save you from such a sin as would lead a husband to the necessity of beating his wife. I speak here of a wife, but it should be disgusting to a person of noble character to beat or raise his hand against even a slave … All the more then is it disgraceful to raise your hand against a freeman. Everyone understands this, even according to pagan law, where a wife who is beaten by her husband is no longer obligated to live with him, and he is no longer worthy of living with her. Is it not the height of illegality to so dishonor, like a slave, your life-friend who has long been helping you in life? Such a husband, if one can call such a person a husband at all, is on the same level as one who murders their father or their mother. For if we have been commanded to leave our mother and father for our wives’ sake, then it is not to insult them thus, but rather to fulfill God’s law, which our parents so long to do that they agree with great zeal to being left, and even thank God for it. Is it not then the height of dishonor to abuse her, for whom God commanded us to leave even our parents? Is this not insanity?"
"And what of the resulting ignomy? What words can even describe the howls and groans of a wife in the streets, when neighbors and passers-by are confronted with a house of one committing such a dishonor, like a wild animal, as it were, devouring its prey in its den? It would be better if the earth would swallow up such a scoundrel, than that he show himself again in public. ‘But my wife’, you say, ‘is impertinent.’ So be it. Do not forget that she is your wife, a weak vessel, and you her husband. For this reason you were put in charge and made the head, in order to endure the weakness of your wife, who should be obedient to you. Therefore act in a way that your authority be respected, which will only occur if you refrain from dishonoring your subordinate. It is the same with a Tsar who is more respected the more honorably he treats his ministers and subjects. If he demeans and belittles their virtues, his own glory suffers considerably. So too, will you substantially diminish the credibility and dignity of your own leadership if you dishonor your wife, whose honor is subordinate to your own."
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The best way to correct the bad character of your wife is by judicious leniency and attentive efforts to eliminate her defects. "If something unpleasant transpires at home because of a mistake of your wife, then," Chrysostom counsels the husband," you should comfort her, not increase the unhappiness. Even if you have lost everything. But there is nothing more sorrowful than to have a wife at home who is not favorably inclined toward her husband. There is no mistake of your wife which you could point to, nothing you can even imagine, which will cause more sorrow than discord with your wife. For this reason, your love for her should be more valuable than anything else. If we are all obliged to carry each other’s burdens, then a husband should, all the more, do so for his wife. If she is poor, do not humiliate her for it. If she is foolish, do not attack her, but rather correct her. She is a part of you, and you, together with her, make up one body. ‘But she is cantankerous, a drunk, and tends to lose her temper?’ If this is so then you should grieve over this, but not get angry; pray to God, that He might change her; remonstrate with her, try to persuade her, and use all means to rid her of these defects.
"If you start to beat and persecute your wife, then these sicknesses will not heal, because violence is overcome by meekness, not cruelty. Also, remember that you will be rewarded by God for your meek handling of your wife. It is said that one of the pagan philosophers had a cantankerous, bilious, and impudent wife. When he was asked why he put up with her, the sage answered that, in her, he had a school of philosophy in his own home. ‘I will be more patient than others,’ he said, ‘if I study in this school every day.’ Does this amaze you? I sigh deeply when I see pagans who are wiser than we are, we who are commanded to emulate the angels, or, even better, who are ordered to reflect God Himself in our analysis of meekness. It is said that her bad temper was the reason why the philosopher did not get rid of his wife, and some even say that it is for this very reason that he chose her. If you make a mistake in choosing a wife and bring a bad, unbearable one into your home, then at least follow the example of the pagan philosopher, and do your best to improve her, and do her no ill. And once you have succeeded in bearing the spousal yoke in harmony with her, you will acquire other advantages, and spiritual endeavors will come quite easily to you."
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Chrysostom teaches that the love of a husband towards his wife, on the whole, should be a reasonable feeling. It should be based on the spiritual qualities of the wife, and it should be aimed at correcting and improving her. Therefore the husband is guilty in his own eyes, before his wife, and before the judgment of God if he remains indifferent to her weaknesses and faults and pays them no attention. But on the other hand he should not let them irritate him, and cruelly persecute his wife for them. Meekness combined with reasonable leniency and love are the most reliable methods for her improvement. "Even if your wife has sinned much against you," says Chrysostom, "Forgive her all. If you took one with bad morals, teach her goodness and meekness. If your wife has a fault, drive out the fault, not the wife. If after much experience you find that your wife is incorrigible and stubbornly sticks to her habits, then still do not get rid of her, for she is part of your body, as it is written: and they shall be one flesh (Gen. 2:24). Let the faults of your wife be uncured, you will nonetheless be rewarded greatly for having taught and reasoned with her … It is out of fear of God that you should suffer so much unpleasantness and put up with a bad wife as if she were a part of your own body."
Speaking of the responsibility of the husband to teach his wife, Chrysostom recommends the very approach this issue. "Your wife," he says, "loves superficial jewelry, expensive, fashionable clothes, talks too much, and is presumptuous. It is hard to imagine that one person could have all these faults, but let us imagine such a person, and let the husband try to improve her any way he can. How is a husband to improve her? He can achieve this, not by forbidding her everything at once, but if he starts with the easiest thing, the one she is least attached to. If you are impatient and try to improve her all at once, you will achieve little. So don’t confiscate her jewelry to begin with, rather allow her to wear for some time. Start instead by discouraging her use of makeup. However, do not use intimidation and threats for this, but rather persuasion and caresses. Explain to her that others think poorly of her for this, tell her of your opinion and decision, and remind her frequently that not only do you not like it when her face is made up, but that you find it extremely unpleasant. Tell her that this greatly disappoints you, and that even the most beautiful women lost their attractiveness this way.
"Reason with her in such a way as to remove her passion, but do not speak to her of Gehenna [Hell – trans.] or the Kingdom, [Heaven – trans.] (for this will be a waste of time), but assure her that she appeals to you much more when she is as God created her, and that other people will not find her beautiful or handsome when she has painted and smeared her face … If you tell her many times and she doesn’t listen to you, then still don’t stop telling her. Say it not in confrontation, rather with love. Sometimes show her a displeased expression, and at other times caress and coax her. Soon you will no longer see her with a disfigured face of bloody (painted red) lips, neither brows blackened by soot, as if from the hearth, neither cheeks which look like the painted walls of a tomb, for all this – soot, dust, and ashes -- is all stench. We should bear all the weaknesses of our wives, in order to correct that which we wish. Once you correct this fault, then the others will also be easy to correct. Then you can move on to gold jewelry and talk to her about it in a similar fashion, and this way little by little, reasoning with your wife, you will be comparable to a skillful, devoted slave and a patient farmer and master."
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In order to strengthen and preserve moral influence over his wife permanently, the husband should begin her education the very first day of their life together, and continue teaching at every convenient opportunity. In all situations he should pay close attention to her behavior, point out her responsibilities, and give her tasks to fulfill. The accomplishment of these tasks is the path to moral improvement. Chrysostom, in addition to general instructions, suggests the following specific example: He recommends that the husband exclude from the marriage celebration anything that might offend the chastity of the virgin. He goes on, "By shunning all this, you will be doing the right thing, respecting her modesty for a long while, not infringing upon it immediately. Even if the bride was not chaste, she will be reticent a long time, motivated by respect for her husband, and the novelty of those affairs to which she is not accustomed."
"What better time for instructing a wife, than when she still respects her husband, is still afraid of him, and is still held back by modesty? Lay down the law at this time, and she will submit to it, voluntarily and involuntarily. Speak first of love, for in persuasion nothing facilitates acceptance of instruction like the belief that it is done with love and benevolence. How can you show her your love? Tell her: ‘I had the chance to marry a rich and noble wife, but I didn’t choose them, rather I fell in love with your way of life, your honesty, your modesty, and your chastity.’ From love, move on to words of Christian wisdom. Speak of contempt for riches, but only in passing, or indirectly, for if you direct all your energy to criticizing riches, you will appear dreary and boring. But if you bring this up in connection with situations where she is directly concerned, she will be receptive."
"And so, say: ‘When I had the chance to marry a rich woman, I declined to do so. Why? Not rashly or for lack of thought, rather knowing well that the possession of wealth means nothing and that it is well to disdain it. Instead of this I was inclined to the virtues of your soul, which I value more than any gold. For a maiden wise, benevolent, and ardent of chastity is more valuable than the whole world. That is why I was attracted to you and fell in love with you, and carry you in my soul. This world means nothing. That is why I pray and do everything so that we can honorably pass this time on earth, so that we can stay united in the world to come. Life in this world is short, fickle, and unreliable. If, pleasing God, we make ourselves worthy to cross over to the next life, then we will always be happy, together and inseparable with Christ. I prefer your love to anything else. There is nothing I find more unpleasant than disagreement with you. Even if I were to lose all, become poorer than all others, be subjected to terrible misfortunes, and suffer whatever misery, I will bear and suffer it all, if only you would love me. And children will be dear to me if they are the fruit of your love. But you should also feel the same way."
"Then add the words of the Apostle, that it pleases God, that there be love between us. Listen to the Scriptures: "For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife" (Matt. 19:5). Let there be no occasion for strife between us. For me this is more important than riches, crowds of servants, and public honors. Won’t these words be better for your wife than gold and riches? Do not fear that by being loved so she will become proud, rather boldly assure her of your love for her, and she will love you all the more. If she does something good, praise her, and marvel at it, and if she does something wrong, which is often the case with young women, advise her and convince her. Disdain money and large expenses. Teach her to beautify herself with that which comes from benevolence, modesty, and honesty. Continually teach her what is necessary. Your prayers will not be mutual; let each go to church, then back at home, let the husband ask his wife, and let the wife ask her husband, about what was heard and read there."
"If you are oppressed by poverty, cite the holy fathers Paul and Peter, who were held in greater regard than kings and wealthy men. Show how they led lives in hunger and thirst. Teach her that in this life there is only one thing to fear, - offending God. If you want to have a dinner party or feast, invite those who are known for their piety, who will bless you house and by their visit bring God’s blessing down on it. Root out from her mind the thoughts of ‘mine’ and ‘yours.’ If she says, "This is mine," tell her, ‘What is this word ‘yours’? I don’t know this word. I have nothing of my own. How can you say ‘mine’ when everything is ‘yours’." These are not just tender words, they are great wisdom. In this way you can quiet her anger, and take the bitterness from her heart. Do not speak to her inconsiderately, but with tenderness, with respect, with love. Honor her, and she will not need the respect of others. She won’t need to be praised by others if she is esteemed by you. Teach her to fear God, and everything will fall into place, and your house will be abundant with blessings."
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Those joined in marriage have no right to refuse to fulfill those demands which are inherent in its concept and goals. Explaining the words of the Apostle, "Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband" (1 Cor. 7:3), Chrysostom says, "The Apostle uses the word ‘due’ because neither of them are their own master, rather they are slaves of each other. So, when you encounter a loose woman, enticing you to sin, tell her: ‘My body belongs not to me, but to my wife.’ Let the wife say the same to those that attempt to defile her chastity: ‘My body is not mine, but my husband’s."
"In other parts of the Old and New Testaments the husband is given great authority over the wife, for example: "thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee" (Gen. 3:16). Paul also makes this distinction: "Let every one of you…love his wife…; and the wife see that she reverence her husband" (Eph. 5:33); and here nothing more or less is meant than that there be one authority. Why? Because previously he spoke of chastity. In other areas, says Paul, the husband has the prerogative, but not when it concerns chastity. The husband doesn’t own his own body, rather the wife does. Here there is total equality and no prerogative. "Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a tim" (1 Cor. 7:5). What does this mean? "Let not a wife decline to fulfill the will of a husband," he says, "and a husband not decline to fulfill the will of the wife." Why? Because terrible ills result from this kind of abstinence - adultery, fornication, and destruction of homes."
"And he properly says, do not defraud, using here the word ‘defraud’, in contrast to duty earlier, for to abstain on one’s own, without the consent of your spouse, would in fact be defrauding him. Now, if having convinced me, you take something that belongs to me, that is not defrauding me, but if someone takes something against another’s will, and by force, then he defrauds. Many women do this. They thereby become guilty of their husband’s lust, and all is thrown into disorder, when agreement should be valued above all else."
"And, in fact, let us see why should it be valued above all else. Take a man and wife. Assume the wife abstains from her husband against his will. What then? Might he not fornicate? And even if he does not, might he not become sad, irritated, inflamed, angry, and cause a multitude of troubles for the wife? What is the use of fasting and abstinence, if love is spoiled? None at all, for so many hurt feelings, so much worry, so much duress results from this! "Christ commanded through Paul that wives not separate from their husbands, and that they not deprive each other, except by concurrence. But some wives neglected their husbands for the sake of abstinence, as if it were an act of virtue, and were thus reduced to adultery."
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Man and wife are obliged to remain faithful to each other. Violating the marriage bed is one of the most terrible crimes. Because of this Chrysostom condemns this sin with all his might. His condemnation is just as valid today in modern society, where this sin is most common among men and women. Condemning the husband who is unfaithful to his wife, St. Chrysostom says; "What excuse has he? Do not speak to me of natural passions. That is why marriage was instituted, so that you would not have to cross the line. For God, in the interests of your contentment and honor, gave you a wife for this reason, so that you would satisfy the arousals of nature through your wife and freed yourself from lust. But you, with an ungrateful soul, cause Him dishonor, reject all embarrassment, break the rules given to you, dishonoring your own good name."
"Why do you direct your gaze on somebody else’s beauty? Why do you contemplate a face which does not belong to you? Why do you violate a marriage – dishonor your marriage bed?" "Not for this did your wife join you, leaving her father and mother and her entire home, to suffer dishonor at your hands, so that you could prefer a vile slave to her, and cause great strife. You took a partner for life, equal to you in honor, and free. Does it make sense to have taken her dowry, save it and not squander it, and then to corrupt and defile that which is more precious than a dowry – the purity of chastity and your body, which belongs to your wife?"
In order to deter someone from being unfaithful in the marriage, Chrysostom often, and with great vigor and eloquence, shows how unhappy and tortured the violator is. "Look at the adulterer, and you can see that he is a thousand times more unhappy than those in chains. He is afraid and suspicious of everyone: his wife, the husband of the adulteress, the adulteress herself, servants, friends, acquaintances, brothers, the walls themselves, his own shadow, and even himself. And what is worse, his conscience cries out and torments him daily. If he imagines God’s judgment, then he can hardly stand for fear. The pleasure is short, but the unhappiness prolonged, for day and night, in town or in the desert -- his accuser follows him everywhere, threatening him not with a sword, but with unbearable torture, defeating and killing with fear."
The causes which tempt husbands to be unfaithful did not escape the caring eye of Chrysostom. First among them are theaters, in which immoral songs were sung, and seductive shows were put on, often featuring naked women. Chrysostom cautions husbands against such entertainments. Our age also has many similar temptations against the chastity and faithfulness of husbands. Thus not literally, but in their essence, the condemnations and warnings of St. Chrysostom are relevant to contemporary society.
"I must tell you," he says to husbands, "those of you who spend the whole day on such entertainments make a laughing stock of honest marriage, and cover a great mystery with shame. Tell me, what will you think of your wife, after having seen women so disgraced at the theater? How can you look at her without blushing, when you have seen her whole sex dishonored? Do not argue that the theater is just acting, because this acting has made adulterers out of many, and has upset many homes. What is your wife to think of you when you return from such a dishonorable spectacle? Do not think you are without sin because you did not dirty yourself with the harlot, for in your thoughts you did everything … I am not against merriment, but it should occur not at the expense of chastity, and not with shameful and numerous sins."
To avoid any seduction and temptation a married man should not gaze upon the beautiful faces of women, and with longing enjoyment marvel at them. "The Savior did not forbid looking at women," says Chrysostom, "rather He forbade looking at them with lust. If He did not mean this, He would have only said, ‘whosoever looketh on a woman. But He said, ‘Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her’ (Matt. 5:28), in other words, he who looks at her in order to derive voluptuous pleasure. When you behold another beauty with desire, you insult your own wife, because you turn your gaze from her, and you insult her whom you gaze at, for you interact with her against the law. Though you did not touch her with your hand, you did with your eyes. That is why it is called ‘adultery.’"
Chrysostom gives the following advice to husbands to resist when desire rises for someone else’s wife. "If you notice that a passion is kindled toward another’s wife, and as a result your wife no longer appeals to you, go into your bedroom, open the epistle of Paul, and put out the flame, frequently repeating the words of the Apostle, "To avoid fornication let every man have his own wife" (1 Cor. 7:2). In general, in his behavior to all women, the husband should act in such a way as to avoid any suspicion of unfaithfulness. "Avoid," he says, "not only adultery, but even the slightest suspicion. If your wife is needlessly suspicious of you, calm her and convince her. Don’t reproach her with anger and arrogance, she is only acting out of great care for you. She is concerned about her right of possession. That possession is your body, and it is more precious to her than any other."
"And the husband should not act in such a way that he arouses suspicion. Tell me, why do you spend the whole day with friends, and only evenings with your wife? This will inevitably bring on suspicion. And if your wife accuses you, do not take offence. She does so out of affection, not because she is insolent. This accusation results from a fiery love, a heated disposition, and worry. She is worried that no one steals her wedding bed, that no one takes her greatest good, deprives her of her head." St. John adamantly advises husbands and wives that they should not be suspicious of each other on the basis of words and rumors, or for any other insignificant reasons, and they should not, either on their own or through other people, watch each other, so that they do not, through pettiness or paranoia, ruin the happiness of their marriage.
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St. John describes the duties of a wife, and her responsibilities, in the following words: "The wife is given to the husband to keep him company in his life, to bear children, and not for depravity; to care for the house, to teach him honesty, and not to be an object of unclean pleasures." "The duties of the wife are to protect that which has been obtained, to carefully use the income of the husband, and to take care of the house. This is why God gave man a wife, so that in this, as in much else, she be his helper."
The first obligation of a wife is to be submissive to her husband. Explaining the words of the Apostle, "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord" (Eph 5:22), he says, "A true wife should be obedient to her husband as to the Lord. For just as one who does not obey the civil authorities is in violation of God’s command, so all the more is she who does not submit to her husband. This was God’s wish from the very beginning. Further on, the Apostle shows that the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is head of the church. Just as the Church, that is, husbands and wives, are together subject to Christ, so is a wife subject to her husband, as to God."
Because she lives in the quieter environment of home, and because she is meeker and more tender in her essence, the wife has the full opportunity and the essential obligation to calm the husband, harried as he is by the burdens and cares of public life. With her tender involvement in his affairs, she can foster in him a renewed energy to take care of business, and a new desire to work. The wife should conduct herself so that the husband sees his home as a safe harbor, a place where he can always find love, peace, calmness, and numerous other joys, so that having completed his affairs, he hurries home to her, his wife, and does not seek entertainment in other places.
"Nothing can be more injudicious and harmful to the happiness of family life than when a wife meets her husband after his labors and tasks not with love, but rather with capricious wants or reproaches, irritations, discontentment, and even scolding. If this occurs, she has only herself to blame if her husband flees from their house, and her family happiness is destroyed. A husband, spending time in commerce or in the courts is buffeted by worldly concerns, as if by waves. But the wife, staying home, as if in some school of wisdom, and focusing her thoughts deeply within herself, has the opportunity to pray and read and pursue other pious activities. And just as she can cultivate these virtues in herself, she can also, meeting her care-worn husband, soothe him, comfort him, distract him from crude thoughts that are harmful to the soul, and then release him again into the world rejuvenated with positive thoughts and emotions."
"Indeed, no one can so easily and quickly bring a husband to a calm state of mind and incline his soul to all that is good, as a pious and wise wife. He will listen to neither friends, nor teachers, nor his superiors, as much as he will listen to his wife when she encourages him and advises him, because her encouragement is combined with a certain pleasure, which is the result of an ardent love for her. I know of many tough and stubborn husbands who were softened this way. For a wife is inseparable from her husband during meals and when he is resting, in public and when alone, and is completely dedicated and as closely connected to him as a body is to a head. As long as she is wise and considerate, no one can compete with her in the care of her husband."
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The wise love for her husband serves as the underpinning of all good qualities of the wife. In illuminating the words of the Apostle, that wives should be modest, clean, tidy, care-takers of the home, and kind, Chrysostom says: "All this creates love. The wife can be kind and attentive to taking care of the household. For modesty is born of love, and love will stop any arguments. If her husband is a pagan, he will soon believe in the truth (the Christian faith); and if he is a Christian, he will become a better one. If the family life is happily settled, then spiritual life will also become settled, and if not, then the latter will not be sturdy. For a wife who is the caretaker of the home will be modest, and a good housekeeper. She will not pursue luxuries, imprudent expenses, and such things."
But, to earn the love of her husband and, through it, obtain moral influence on him, a wife should not only in word, but also in her actions show that she loves all that is good and just, and should try to be pious. "It is not so much with words," says St. Chrysostom," but rather with deeds, that one should improve a husband. How? When he sees that you are serious, not wasteful, indifferent to jewelry, and do not require a large income, but rather take joy in the present, and when you do not ask him for gold, pearls, nor expensive clothes; but rather when you will love modesty, chastity, and gentleness, then you can demand the same from your husband. Then will he listen to your advice with patience, and even with pleasure."
Chrysostom especially disdains extravagance and love of clothes in women, justly seeing in these faults the cause of trouble and discord in many homes. So he explains to the wife: "If you want to please your husband, then you should beautify and adorn your soul, not your body. For it is not gold jewelry which will make you pleasing and appealing, rather moderation, attentiveness to him, and the willingness to even die for him. This is what conquers husbands most of all, while jewelry pains them, because it brings harm to their bank account, causing great expense and troubles … In this way family affairs and income are in their best shape when gold is used not to be worn on the body and around the wrists, but rather on necessities, such as: keeping servants, educating children, and other needs. If, on the other hand, it flashes before his eyes and tortures his heart, what use is it?"
"The shine of gold cannot entice a sorrowful heart. Know and be sure that though you may be the most beautiful of all women, you will never appeal to him whose soul you distress; for this you need a cheerful and calm spirit. But when all the gold is spent on jewelry for the wife and this contributes to shortages at home, there is no pleasure for your husband. So, if you want to be loved by your husband, be pleasing to him, which you will do when you stop attaching too much importance to clothes and make-up."
"All this jewelry and fashion holds a certain pleasure in the first days of a marriage, but time erodes their value. For if sometimes we do not even look upon the sun which is so radiant, and the sky which is so beautiful, with equal wonder, because we are so used to them, will we marvel at a body, decorated artificially? I say this so that you might love the beauty which never fades, with which the Apostle Paul commands us to adorn ourselves, not with gold nor pearls, nor costly array, "but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works" (1 Tim. 9-10). "You want to be liked by people you don’t know and strive for their compliments? No, a pious wife could not entertain such a desire. And no one prudent and modest will praise her for this, except for hedonists and the undisciplined, and even they will not speak well of her, but instead pass judgment on her for fostering immoral thoughts about herself in others. But a modest wife will be praised by all, for looking at her they will not only see no danger, but will benefit from her example of virtue. Great will be her praise among people, and great will be her reward from God."
The faults of a wife are as ruinous to a man as her virtues are beneficial. This is usually because the husband begins to seek entertainment and comfort outside the family, and is it any wonder that, embittered by his wife and caressed by someone else, he quickly falls into the traps set out for him?"
Chrysostom disdains wives who insist on luxury, saying: "Jealousy and adultery arise when you do not motivate husbands to chastity, but instead force them to seek pleasure in that which adorns adulteresses. Because of this they quickly become entangled, for if you had taught him to scorn this and find comfort only in chastity, piety, and humility, then he would not give in so easily to adultery. A prostitute can adorn herself even better than you can, but she is not able to clothe herself in virtue. So teach him to find pleasure in that which he will not find in a prostitute… Then your husband will be calm, you will be respected, and God will be merciful to you. Then all will marvel at you and you will receive future blessings."
What prevents us from living according to the teachings of Saint John Chrysostom?
Missionary Leaflet # E28b
Copyright © 2003 Holy Trinity Orthodox Mission
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Editor: Bishop Alexander (Mileant)