Ephesians 5: Husbands and Wives

In the Orthodox service of Holy Matrimony, we read Ephesians 5:21-33 as the Epistle for the Sacrament:

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “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 mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

The reading causes consternation for some because it seems to reflect an antiquated worldview that doesn’t coincide with our ideas of gender equality.  Additionally, by using the language of being subject one to another it raises concerns about abuse.  Some of these concerns result from our English translations of the text, some  from past experience in patriarchal cultures, and some from current societal emphases on the individual as being a more important social unit than any other including the marital union.

If we look at the entirety of Ephesians 5 , we see it is offering instruction in how Christians are to behave in daily life.  As St. Paul is unfolds his instruction he lists these things which are intended for all Christians, both male and female, to maintain in all their relationships:

1]   Speaking to each other in Psalms & hymns (vs 19)
2]   Singing from the heart
3]   Giving thanks always for all things (vs 20)
4]   Being subject to one another (vs 21)

Those four points are St. Paul’s ideal for how we Christians are to relate to any other Christian at any given time.  It is a harmonious view of relationships involving speaking in lyrical verse and singing to each other.

Being subject to one another is just one of four ways we Christians are to relate to each other, and we need to note this is for all Christians and all relationships between Christians.  St. Paul doesn’t say only women are to be subject to men, but each Christian should embrace humility and love which means considering other Christians as better than themselves (Philippians 2:2-8), and so being willing to submit to their judgments and ideas.  This is easy to do if the other is being equally submissive and not trying to lord it over you – something also forbidden Christians in how they relate to each other (Mark 10:42-45).

When St Paul mentions this 4th directive in how to relate to each other, he then seems to go into a bit of an excursus, giving an example of what he means.  We can read the text like this:

Being subject to one another – for example, wives be subject to your own husbands (vs 22)

St Paul doesn’t say at this point that all women Christians are to be subject to all men.  He gives a specific example of what he means that we all should be subject one to another.  Christian wives are subject to their own Christian husbands, he specifies each wife is to be subject to her OWN husband.  Not to all husbands in general, not to all males or men.  All St Paul is doing is giving an example of what he means.  He then goes on in vs. 25 describing  what it means for husbands to also be subject to their wives:  they are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church, dying for her rather than lording over her.   Jesus did not lord it over his disciples or anyone else.  He wasn’t abusive at all, but rather laid down His life for the sake of those He loved.
Where people get into trouble with this Ephesians 5 text is when they read it only literally and fail to see that St. Paul’s mind was far from a solely, literal or legal point of view. St. Paul in this very text shows us where his mind really is:

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” [Genesis 2:24].  This mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church…

Paul takes the law, takes a very literal text from Genesis (2:24) about human marriage and says  this text is really a mystery about Christ and the Church.  He is interpreting Genesis 2:24 in a mystical and spiritual way.  One could easily argue with him and say, “No, it’s not, it’s just about male and female marrying each other.”  But Paul is using Christian exegesis – he is claiming what Jesus Himself claims – Moses wrote about Christ (John 5:39-46; Luke 24:27, 44-45).  Paul sees husbands and wives being subject to each other not as part of human law, but part of the mystery of Christ and how Christ loves us. Christ said we are to love one another as he loves us (John 13:34-35). St. Paul is simply saying the same thing. Paul reinterprets the literal text of the law in a very mystical way.
We also get a sense of marriage as a mystery in the Matrimony service from the Gospel we read, John 2:1-12, which is not a law about marriage, but Christ blessing a marriage – changing water into wine – it is another text about mystery, a mystical understanding of marriage. Marriage is not about law, but about blessings, abundance, grace, a miracle of abundance.  We don’t read in Matrimony a text like Mark 10-5-9 in which marriage is promulgated as a law of God joining two together and humans being forbidden to break the law.  Rather, we read about Christ’s presence at a wedding, and how that in itself created a blessing for the bridal couple, and brought about a great miracle which is the mystery of Christ’s presence in our lives.


We see in Ephesians 5 that St. Paul himself reads the text of Genesis 2:24, of  the Torah, of the Law, not literally, but mystically and spiritually.  So why do we imagine that we are to read St Paul only literally?  St Paul himself wanted us to get a mystical or spiritual meaning from the literal text.  If we hear the Ephesians 5 text only in a literal, legalistic way, we are not hearing St. Paul at all.  So rather than our feeling uncomfortable with the literal meaning of the text, we need to really read St. Paul and contemplate how marriage is related to the love that Christ has for his Church or more straightforwardly, how Christ loves us. The couple is to become an example of Christ’s love for them and for all the world.   We read Ephesians 5 at the sacrament of marriage because it tells the newly wed couple how they are to live in relationship to each other.  They are to love each other, and that means denying the self, putting the other ahead of the self, of subjecting one’s own will and desires and wishes to the good of the other.  If the language of being subject to one another hinders you from being Christ like, then find the language and the example of how to be more Christ like in your love for one another.  But there is goodness in Paul’s language, for Paul is describing how Jesus loves us – he subjected Himself to death for our sake (Philippians 2:5-11).
The Christian couple is to be a visible reality of the mystery of Christ’s love for us. Christ came and loves us – but He didn’t love us because we are perfect, sinless, flawless human beings – perfectly lovely and lovable.  He loves us despite our faults, failures, foibles. That is how a Christian couple are to love each other so that marriage is a sign of God’s love in this world. In every marriage, each spouse realizes that the other is not perfect and faultless.  That becomes exactly when each Christian spouse begins to love the other as Christ loves us.   If the spouse is perfectly lovely and lovable, then loving them is just an instinctive reaction and not a choice.  Love truly comes into play only when we realize the faults of the other and choose to love them.  That is how Christ loves us.

One other thought, not from the mystical side of love and marriage.  St. Paul’s comments are to husbands and wives (and do note literally he is not talking to all Men and Women in general but exactly to married husbands and wives).  It is true his comments are not based in a modern assumption that male and female are totally equal or identical in nature. The equality of the genders was not really part of the ancient worldview. But probably even more grating to our ears is Paul’s language that we are to be subject one to another. We do not like the image of subjugation. It rubs us wrong entirely.
Nevertheless, Paul uses it as a way to describe how we are to relate one to another because it was something well understood in his world, and it describes how Christ loves us to the point of dying for us on the cross. So, whereas he addresses being subject to one another to all Christians, men and women, as the normal way for Christians to relate to each other, he also gives specific direction to a wife that the way she will be subject to the husband is the way that the church submits to Christ. All male and female Christians are to submit themselves to the lordship of Jesus Christ. That is also the particular way a wife subjects herself to her husband.  This has nothing to do with abuse because Christ loves the church, he doesn’t abuse her, sexually, physically, emotionally, verbally or in any other way. That is why being subject to Christ can be an image of how a wife should love her husband.


As for the husband, St. Paul says FOUR times that the way in which the husband subjects himself to his wife is LOVE.  He repeats this Four times in 5 verses, we get the sense that he is being a parent – how many times do I have to tell you husbands to love your wives?  Maybe in his mind, the husbands are slow learners because he keeps repeating the instruction.  On the other hand, when Paul told the wives to be subject to their husbands he adds only one direction – respect your husband. He doesn’t repeat this instruction to the women, apparently he thought the wives learned in one lesson.
There is another lesson here about marriage. St. Paul treats men and women not as entirely equal or identical in characteristics.  We would do well to remember that marriage is often not about equality, because once spouses begin measuring the behavior of each other in equal terms, the marriage is in trouble.  Many marital counselors point out that when spouses start counting rights and wrongs and who does more for whom, that marriage is headed in a wrong direction.   You cannot be constantly measuring whether you are doing more than your spouse in everything, nor keeping a record of rights and wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).   And certainly a sign that a marriage has problems is when one or both spouses keeps a ledger accounting for everything they do and measuring it against everything the other does or fails to do. Such exact measuring is not love. Love means you keep doing what you need to do and you don’t do it just to get an equal amount in return (Luke 6:35). Hopefully in a marriage, both spouses are meeting the needs of the other, but at any one time in any marriage one spouse may have to contribute more to the marriage than the other to make the marriage succeed. Those imbalances are a normal part of love. So if St Paul gives us words that seem to indicate there is inequality in marriage, on a certain level he is correct. If you are caught up only in measuring what is fair, your marriage will not be based in love, but will become a system of debts and slavery. Instead, true love means at times giving or receiving more than one’s spouse.   We get this sense in another context where St Paul says:
I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of equality your abundance at the present time should supply their want, so that their abundance may supply your want, that there may be equality. ” (2 Corinthians 8:13-14)   For St Paul equality isn’t a matter of people being equal in everything, but rather equality for him means in love one who has more shares with the one has less – that is what makes us equals.  He doesn’t think there is a gender equality, but he certainly believes that two people can mutually love and support each other in a complimentary fashion and this creates equality.


A final point based upon all else that has been said:  don’t forget about the Scriptures because you think they have antiquated ideas.   Indeed they were written long ago in a very different cultural milieu, and some of their assumptions are not our assumptions about life.   Nevertheless, the Scriptures still speak to us about the mystery of God’s love and we can find God’s love for us in them if we ourselves move beyond just looking to the Scriptures for laws and rules and regulations and read them as St Paul read them – to reveal the mystery of Christ to us.  We read Ephesians 5 at our service of Holy matrimony because this chapter speaks to us about the mystery of God’s relation to us and how we are to relate one to another as Christians.

Crown Them With Glory and Honor

The Groom and Bride are crowned (wed) to one another with these words: “Lord our God, crown them with glory and honor.”

As the above words, taken from an Orthodox wedding service indicates, some in the Orthodox Church believe it is exactly when the Priest blesses the wedding couple with the words of Psalm 8:5, “Crown them with glory and honor“, that the couple are considered united in the sacrament of marriage.  An interesting commentary on Psalm 8:5 might give us insight into how Orthodoxy understands both what it is to be human and how marriage fits into the divinely instituted sacrament of marriage.

Genesis 1:27 states that humankind, male and female, is created in the divine ‘image.’  What does this mean? Certainly it cannot mean that humans bear some kind of physical resemblance to God, for in contrast to neighboring peoples who fashioned idols of their gods, Israelites were absolutely forbidden to make any physical image of Yahweh.  So the idea that humans have any kind of physical likeness to God would be unimaginable to the biblical authors. Scholars still debate the precise meaning of the phrase ‘in the divine image,’ but many believe that Psalm 8:5 provides important insight. The psalm praises God for creating humanity as ‘a little lower than God, / and crowned . . . with glory and honor.’  In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word for ‘glory’ (kabod) is regularly used of Yahweh, but here it is applied to humans. Kabod or ‘glory’ refers to God’s reality or presence made visible, and the psalm indicates that God somehow shares this divine reality with humankind.  …

describing humans as created in the image of God suggests that God shares something of God’s own self with the human creature. Further, humankind is created to be a visible manifestation of God on earth; this is a major purpose for human existence. … creation of humankind in the image and likeness of God above all points to ‘something happening’ between God and the human race.  ‘What God has decided to create must stand in a relationship to him.’ Against this background, it becomes evident that the Priestly redactor presents a stark contrast between the religious beliefs of Israel and Babylonia. In the Babylonian creation myth, humans are created to serve the gods as slaves serve their masters.   (Marielle Frigge, Beginning Biblical Studies, p 90)

Joachim & Anna

When the priest blesses the wedding couple with the words, “Lord, crown them with glory and honor”, he is asking the Lord God to make His presence manifest in the couple being united in marriage and in one flesh.  God is sharing His divinity with the couple newly united in marriage and they together – two in one flesh – are revealing this presence of God in humanity.  It is a revelation that doesn’t occur in one human alone, but the goodness of God being revealed in the couple as couple.  The couple is not created by God to serve God as God’s slaves, but to reveal God present in humanity.  Matrimony is revealing “something happening between God and the human race” in a way that one person alone is not capable of revealing.  Humanity is created by God to be in communion with God.  The community of marriage makes this union between God and humans visible in a unique way. It reveals how God makes male and female in God’s own image – in other words as icons of God.

The two become one flesh – and this is in some mysterious way revelation of the incarnation of God.

“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 mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church . . .”  (Ephesians 5:31-32)

The Wedding Prokimenon

O Lord, crown them with glory and honor!

You have set upon their heads crowns of precious stones; they asked life of You, and You gave it to them.   

O Holy Martyrs, who fought the good fight and have received your crowns: Entreat the Lord that he will have mercy on our souls.

(Texts from the Service of Holy Matrimony)

The wedding service of the Orthodox Church realizes that marriage if it is to be fully Christian is a form of martyrdom.  It requires each spouse to submit their will and desires to the other and for the good of the other.  It is not about personal satisfaction, but about creating love in self-denial – forming a community modeling perfect love, like the Holy Trinity.  Because each spouse must deny themselves and take up their cross to love as the Lord loves them, in the service of holy matrimony, the newly weds are reminded to be martyrs.  So there are several references to the martyrs in the texts and symbolism of the service, including the use of crowns for the bride and groom.  We catch the sense of the texts from the wedding ceremony listed above in this post in a comment about the Martyrs of Lyons.

Because of the sincerity of their [the martyrs’] love, this became the greatest of the battles against the Adversary. The Beast had to be throttled to be forced to disgorge alive those who had been devoured. They did not  boast over the ones who had fallen. On the contrary, of their riches they gave to those in need and with motherly tenderness went and pleaded with the Father on their behalf.

They asked for life, and he gave it to them, and they shared it with their neighbor when they went forth to God in complete triumph. Having always loved peace and always commended peace, in peace they departed to God. They left no distress for their Mother no division or conflict in the family of the faith, but rather joy, peace, harmony, and love. (The Martyrs of Lyons, Early Christian Spiritualityp. 50, emphases not in original text)

Christian Martyrdom and Christian Marriage both are based in believers seeking life- eternal life! – from God.  All those who serve the Lord whether in marriage, as clergy or in martyrdom ask God to bestow life on them, even as they deny themselves to follow Him.

(Psalms 21:3-14)
For you meet him with rich blessings;
you set a crown of fine gold on his head.
He asked you for life; you gave it to him—
length of days forever and ever.

The Marriage Crown

Before the final blessing of the marriage, the priest prays that God will “take up their crowns.” This image is an encouragement for married couples to live in holiness and follow the ways of the martyrs and married saints to salvation. Salvation is a gift that is tried by many obstacles and temptations; yet, it is expressed as joyful life in the presence of God in his kingdom. This joy is not as fleeting or simple as temporary “happiness.” Rather, it contains within itself the fruits of labor and assists in the development of the unquenchable desire to serve the other in accordance with one’s natural inclination as a communal being.

Then secondly, the glory and the honor is that of the martyr’s crown. For the way to the kingdom is the martyria–bearing witness to Christ. And this means crucifixion and suffering. A marriage which does not constantly crucify its own selfishness and self-sufficiency, which does not “die to itself” that it may point beyond itself, is not a Christian marriage. The real sin of marriage today is not adultery or lack of “adjustment” or “mental cruelty.” It is the idolization of the family itself, the refusal to understand marriage as directed toward the Kingdom of God. (Schmemann, For the Life of the World)

Crowns become the reward for and sign of carrying the cross. Before marriage a specific cross is given to the individual, but now a new cross is given to the two united as one. This new cross requires cohesive work with the other in a way that is unique to the individual and is bearable only in services to Christ, through the spouse, by the Holy Spirit and in concordance with the Father. In this sacrificial love, martyrdom is made manifest. Again, in the words of Fr. Schmemann,

In a Christian marriage, in fact, three are married; and the united loyalty of the two toward the third, who is God, keeps the two in an active unity with each other as well as with God. Yet it is the presence of God which is the death of the marriage as something only “natural.” It is the cross of Christ that brings the self-sufficiency of nature to its end. But “by the cross joy [and not ‘happiness’!] entered the whole world.” Its presence is thus the real joy of marriage. It is the joyful certitude that the marriage vow, in the perspective of the eternal Kingdom, is not taken “until death parts,” but until death unites us completely.

(Bp. John Abdalah and Nicholas G. Mamey, Building an Orthodox Marriage, pp. 57-58)

Christian Marriage: A Sign of Christ’s Presence

“It is an adulteration of marriage for us to think that is is a road to happiness, as if it were a denial of the cross. The joy of marriage is for husband and wife to put their shoulders to the wheel and together go forward on the uphill road of life. “You haven’t suffered? Then you haven’t love,” says a certain poet. Only those who suffer can really love. And that’s why sadness is a necessary feature of marriage. “Marriage,” in the words of an ancient philosopher, “is a world made beautiful by hope and strengthened by misfortune.” Just as steel is fashioned in a furnace, just so is a person proved in marriage, in the fire of difficulties. When you see your marriage from a distance, everything seems wonderful. But when you get closer, you’ll see just how many difficult moments it has.

We often speak of seven “mysteries,” or sacraments. In this regard, a “mystery” is the sign of the mystical presence of some true person or event. An icon, for instance is a mystery. When we venerate it, we are not venerating wood or paint but Christ, or the Theotokos, or the saint who is mystically depicted. The Holy Cross is a symbol of Christ, containing his mystical presence. Marriage, too, is a mystery, a mystical presence not unlike these. Christ says, “wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am among them” (Mt 18.20). And whenever two people are married in the name of Christ, they become the sign which contains and expresses Christ himself. When you see a couple who are conscious of this, it is as if you are seeing Christ. Together they are a theophany.”   (Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, The Church at Prayer, pp. 95-96, 98)

Marriage: Helping Your Partner Attain Heaven

“…The primary purpose of marriage in the Orthodox Tradition: that the married couple may aid one another in their journey towards eternal salvation. They, and any children God may give, are to be ‘glad with the joy’ of the Lord’s ‘countenance’, as the Psalm says. In other words, they are to be in His presence – to behold Him. We know from the Beatitudes that to see God requires purity of heart (Matt. 5.8), and this implies holiness of life. Clearly, by chanting of this beautiful Psalm in the marriage service, the couple is summoned to help each other towards holiness, so that they may abide in the presence of the Lord, both now and forever.” (David and Mary Ford, Marriage As a Path to Holiness: Lives of the Married Saints, p xxix)

Marriage as Christian Vocation

“Accordingly, Orthodox Christianity views marriage as essentially a Christian vocation, a union in and with Christ. The ultimate end of that vocation is the same as that of monasticism: theosis or eternal participation in the life of God. Like monasticism, Christian marriage requires a continual askesis: a spiritual struggle, grounded in ongoing repentance. In Yannaras’s words, ‘True virginity and true marriage are reached by a common road: the self-denial of the cross, and ascetic self-offering.’ This Way of the Cross is symbolized in the Orthodox marriage ceremony by the nuptial crowns, which are crowns of victory but also crowns of martyrdom, of saving witness one to the other and to the world. ‘O Holy Martyrs,’ the Church sings during the nuptial procession, ‘who have fought the good fight and have received your crowns, entreat ye the Lord that he will have mercy on our souls!’  […]

Ultimately its purpose is to lead beyond the experience of the flesh and to center wholly on God. Erotic love has as it telos, its end and fulfillment, the love of genuine eros. This is a love no less passionate, yet no less self-denying and self-transcending, than human conjugal love at its most pure and most perfect. It is a love that responds to God’s prior love (cf. 1 Jn 4:10). It is the deepest movement of the soul, impossible for us to produce or sustain. Rather, it is initiated and maintained by the passionate love of God, acting within the human soul or totality of the human person. ‘God is love,’ the apostle declares.” (John Breck, The Sacred Gift of Life, pp 69, 74)

Sts. Joachim & Anna

Tertullian on Christian Marriage

“How sweet the yoke that joins two of the faithful in the same hope, the same law, the same service! Both are brethren in the service of the same Lord.

They are truly two in one and the same flesh. And where the flesh is one, the spirit is one. Together they pray…instructing, encouraging and supporting each other in turn. They are equal in the Church of God, equal at God’s banquet, they share equally troubles, persecutions, and consolations. They hide nothing from each other, they never avoid each other’s company, they never cause each other pain… Christ rejoices to see such a couple and he gives them peace. Where they are, there he is himself.” (Tertullian in The Roots of Christian Mysticism by Oliver Clément, p 291)

Marriage: To Help Your Spouse Grow

“Because marriage is such a wonderful type of relationship, confrontation within the marital relationship is very important. You are a central delivery system for grace and truth in your spouse’s life and vice versa. You have a responsibility to both care for and confront one another. You are an agent for change and growth in each other. Love does not blind either of you to the other’s problems; in fact, love demands that you pay attention to them so that you can help resolve them. Who is better qualified to understand and speak to someone about a problem than the person who is living life right next to him? You are intimately involved with him. You see the real person, imperfections and all. His ways and actions affect you; you are not dispassionate about him.

More than anyone, a spouse should be able to see what her partner’s true problems are. This idea, however, is foreign to some people. They have the notion that their spouse’s job is to make them happy. Then when they are not happy, they think their spouse is not doing what he should be doing. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Marriage is not about making each other happy; it is about growing and helping one’s spouse to grow. Good marriages are a large part of how the body of Christ ‘grows and builds itself up in love’ (Eph. 4:16). Happiness can and does come to a good marriage. Happiness, however, is a byproduct of growth and life. It is not the goal.” (Dr. Henry Cloud, Boundaries Face to Face, pp 192-193)

Marriage, Not Monasticism, is the Mystical Image of the Church

Sts Joachim & Anna

While it is true that monastic piety and asceticism has dominated the Orthodox spiritual life for many centuries, setting standards and norms for all the faithful in terms of prayer, fasting, confession and the liturgical life, it is interesting that St. Paul the Apostle upholds marriage, not monasticism as the mystical image of the Church.   St. Paul in his epistle to the Ephesians first quotes Genesis 2:24 to which he gives it a Christological meaning.

“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 mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church…  (Ephesians 5:32-33)

Genesis 2:24 read literally in its context makes perfect sense in giving a divine meaning to the marriage of one man and one woman. A man grows up and leaves his parents home and takes a woman to be his wife in fulfillment of God’s plan for humanity.   Despite this apparently plain meaning of the text, St. Paul reads the text as having  a much more profound meaning when it is read as a prophecy fulfilled by Jesus Christ.  His comment comes almost unexpectedly as he is talking about Christian marriage and how it should reflect Christ’s own love for and authority in the Church.   The Christian husband is to love his wife in the same way that Christ loved the Church.   Here St. Paul is imbuing a Christ-like love on Christian marriage and how the husband is to reflect that self sacrificial love which Christ had for the Church. Here are St. Paul’s words and the context in which he makes his Christocentric interpretation of the Genesis text:

Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.  “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 mystery is a profound one, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church; however, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.   (Ephesians 5:21-33)

In the writings of certain Patristic authors and in numerous Orthodox liturgical hymns, there is mention of the idea that just as Eve is taken from the side of Adam, so too the Church emerges from the pierced side of Christ, the new Adam, as he sleeps on the cross.  Even in the original iconographic tradition of the Church Christ is portrayed on the cross not in twisted agony, but at rest, as Adam was when God took Eve from his side.

St. Paul sees the reference to marriage in Genesis 2:24 as mystically speaking about Christ and the Church.   Christ became one flesh with humanity in the incarnation, uniting divinity to humanity.  Marriage as a divine and sanctifying institution is a mystical image of the Church.   It is an image not found in monasticism, where the ‘mono’ alone pursues what is needed for salvation.

So while many Orthodox today look to monasticism as an ideal of the Christian life, it is marriage which is the mystical image of the Church according to St. Paul.    In our marriages husbands can love their wives as Christ loved the Church.  In marriage husbands can incarnate not carnal love, but God’s love for humanity.   Marriage has that ability to transform natural human love into the image of Christ’s love for the Church.  Christian husbands can practice that self-denying love which took Christ to the cross where in co-suffering love he gave his life for the Church.   It is a mystery this divine love. Husbands in obedience to Christ, love their wives as Christ loved the Church.  Christian wives in obedience to Christ subject themselves to their husband’s Christ-like love.  Both husband and wife are thus to be be subject both to Christ and to one another (Ephesians 5:21).   St. Paul says this is a mystery, which to this day is how Orthodoxy understands true marriage.

St Gregory Palamas (d. 1359) writes:

“The love associated with the married state seems somehow superior to other forms of love.  ‘For this cause’, it says, ‘shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh’ (Matt 19:5).  “This is a great mystery’, says the divine Paul, ‘but I speak concerning Christ and the church’ (Eph 5:32).”  (THE HOMILIES, p 464)

Palamas thought the love associated with the married state is a superior form of love.  It is the love and the state that every married Orthodox ought to be striving for.