By Father James Thornton
In the ancient ceremony of Crowning, the culmination of our incomparably beautiful and expressive Orthodox Christian marriage service, we witness the blessing by Almighty God of the union of a man and woman in the state of Holy Matrimony. This ceremony, this Mystery [or Sacrament] of the Church, testifies to the fact of the Orthodox Christian conviction that God Himself looks with special favor upon marriage and confers on it a high moral dignity, ennobling it, for the act of crowning symbolizes the descent of the Glory of God upon the newly married couple. Christ Jesus, in the Gospel passage read during Orthodox weddings, gives His assent to the happy occasion of marriage by His attendance at the Wedding Feast at Cana, and contributes to the joyousness of the occasion by the miracle of the transformation of water into wine. And that is one of the reasons that the Church has looked on its marriage rite as among its most important and exalted acts, as one of its great Holy Mysteries, along with Baptism, Chrismation, the Holy Eucharist, Ordination, and so forth.
St. Paul, in the passage from his Epistle to the Ephesians also read in the marriage service, takes great pains to compare the limitless love of Christ for His Church to the love that should exist between a husband and wife. The Church is, as theologian Father Michael Pomazansky puts it, "a spiritual organism whose Head is Christ." The Church, in his words, possesses a single spirit, a single common faith, and a single and common consciousness, and it is guided by the Holy Spirit. The Church, as so many have said, is an Ark of Salvation on a stormy sea, meant to bring us to the ultimate, safe harbor of eternal life. The English word "church" comes directly from the Greek "kyriakos," meaning that which belongs to the Lord. The word "church" as it is used in Holy Scripture - that is in the collective, institutional sense - is, however, a translation from another Greek word, "ekklesia," which means an assembly, and there is a definite implication derived from the root of that Greek word that the assembly referred to is a gathering of those summoned or called. Thus, we can say that because we all belong to the Lord, we are summoned or called by God to join His assembly, so that we might be guided along those paths that lead finally to Union with God for all eternity. That assembly of strugglers, that Church, enjoys a love from Christ that is boundless; that is boundlessly patient, that is boundlessly forgiving, that is boundlessly warm and cherishing. And we are no longer alone, but we achieve our holy objectives united to, and with the prayerful assistance of, our fellow Christians.
So it is also with the tiny "house church" that is the state of Christian marriage. It too is a spiritual organism whose head is Christ. It too possesses a single spirit, a single common faith, a single common consciousness. It too can be an Ark of Salvation that leads to eternal life. It too is an assembly that belongs to the Lord. It too is called or summoned by God. It too may lead to that inner, spiritual transformation that brings eternal life. It too is epitomized ideally by a love that is boundlessly patient, boundlessly forgiving, and boundlessly warm and cherishing. Together, the man and woman united by God in marriage assist and uphold one another, through all of the vicissitudes and sorrows and difficulties along this path of earthly life.
Human beings, according to Christian anthropology, are fallen creatures, that is, they are touched by inclinations contrary to the will of God and therefore they require redemption. At the root of those inclinations are overweening pride, egotism, and selfishness. These dispositions are ultimately responsible for most of the ills of human societies and of human relationships. A person who acts in accordance with the fallen nature of the present world, instead of as the image of God, becomes dominated by ego and by the worship of ego, and so the natural unity that should manifest itself among people is thereby shattered. Christ demonstrated, by His submission to the humiliation of His suffering and Crucifixion, the cure for those tendencies, which is humility. One of the Holy Fathers of the Church called humility, "the tree of life, that reaches up to the heights." Therefore, a central message of genuine Christianity is the call to humble oneself. Monasticism, in an Orthodox setting, requires the putting aside of pride and ego. So it is also for those in the married state. In both cases, the ego must be crushed and humility must prevail.
In the pagan world of modern celebrities we see how marriage, intertwined with pride and ego, distorts love and leads to ongoing disaster for the men and women involved and for our society in general. Marriage, in this kind of environment, is seen not as a journey undertaken by two souls with God's blessing but rather as an occasion to flatter one's pride and adorn the ego. Not so in Christian marriage animated by the Spirit of Christ. Husband and wife lead their lives in a for the sake of their spouse, and later, should God so will it, for the sake of the fruit of their Holy Union, their children, with the end firmly in mind to bring all to eternal salvation. Two independent human beings, as the writer of the Book of Genesis says, and as St. Paul reiterates, become one flesh, become, in fact, one indissoluble unit. They love one another as they love themselves and they are prepared, for the sake of their spouse and for the sake of their family, to put aside the beckonings of pride and ego, both humbly submitting themselves to Christ. This does not always happen automatically but must be worked for, throughout the married life, and nurtured and allowed to grow sturdy. It is, like the struggle for salvation of which it is a part, a lifelong quest.
And so, it is the fervent prayer of the Church that those who enter into the married state take as the model for their family this love of Christ for his Church, and create thereby the "house Church" that will endure all hardships and rigors and that will lead not only to a plenitude of all of the things good and holy in this life, but, of far greater importance, to that life in the world yet to come which is filled with a goodness that is everlasting. The Church thus begs husbands and wives, towards that end, to be pious Orthodox Christians, to remain close to Christ and to His Church, and always to be loving, patient, generous, kind, gentle, faithful, and forgiving towards one another, as Christ is towards us, His children. Should that be the foundation on which marriage and family is built, then there is no question that God's blessings and true happiness will pour forth in an abundance without measure.
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Missionary Leaflet # E28b
Copyright (c) 1998 and Published by
Holy Protection Russian Orthodox Church
2049 Argyle Ave. Los Angeles, California 90068
Editor: Bishop Alexander (Mileant)