by Archpriest James C. Meena
From time to time it is necessary for us to discuss topical matters such as marriage as candidly as possible from a Christian perspective, especially in a society that is assaulting marriage more openly than we have ever known or experienced in the past.
The detractors from the Christian norms of marriage claim that marriage is a social imposition, that it is no longer relevant, that it is not necessary for a man and a woman to be “legally” committed to each other for the rest of their lives, that it is quite alright for them to live together without any commitment whatsoever. We of the Church consider this to be a most detrimental and spiritually degenerating outlook.
Scripture is filled with injunction after injunction against this kind of attitude and states that marriage is consecrated by God. I know of no monotheistic religion that does not exalt marriage as being a divinely instituted relationship. If mankind in its weakness corrupts that relationship or makes it less than what it is meant to be, that is not the fault of God or His Church. It is our fault because we enter into marriage without understanding fully what we ought and can do to make this relationship a happy, meaningful and successful one.
Many young people are “turned off” by the idea of marriage. One hears all sorts of excuses from them. Some, in their late twenties or early thirties, think that it is too early for them to get married. They are reluctant to enter into a responsible relationship.
Consider the alternatives: The Lord says, through St. Paul, that unmarried Christians have three alternatives; either to live a totally celibate life, dedicating their chastity and virtue to God as Paul did, to be married or, and here he emphasizes the last alternative when he says: "It is better to marry than to burn.” (I Cor. 7:9) The alternatives to a consecrated marital relationship then is one of two things, either to live in chastity or, failing that, to risk damnation.
Christians must evaluate with great care these modish ideas about marriage being outdated and not relevant. God states that a man must be committed to one woman, a woman committed to one man in a lifetime relationship for specific purposes. (See Chapter 1 & 2-Genesis) Some Theologians will tell you that the purpose is to raise children to the glory of God. Others will teach that fulfillment in spiritual and physical relationships is paramount. While these things are true, it is most important, in my perspective, that a Christ-centered relationship, based on mutual faith in God that revolves around an active life in Christ Jesus is actually a living image, a microcosm of that Divine Family which God has revealed as being His creation intent.
God created man and woman and out of them issued children. Then consider that God is alluded to as Father, His Church as Mother and the members of that marriage between God and His earthly body, as spiritual children. Our human family is a mirror-image of that Divine Creation. The human father is the image of God in his family. The mother is the image of the Church in her family. The children are the image of discipleship, that loyalty of love and devotion that we are called upon to render to God.
We learn of God’s love as it is reflected by loving parents. We learn to love God as we respond to the unselfish way our parents love us. So the whole purpose of marriage is to manifest the Will of God, the compassion of God, the loving dispensation of God in our relationship with one another: husband to wife, wife to husband, parents to children, children to parents.
I get a little choked up when I hear some young men referring sarcastically to decent, God loving, well behaved and well bred young women as being “the marrying kind.” All Christians should be the marrying kind or they should choose to be totally celibate. We have the freedom to choose. But when we choose the ungodly choice we are in danger of hell fire.
The Church has never condoned the idea that there is any difference in the sexual freedom of men and women, the idea that men have the right to “sow their wild oats” before they are married but women have not. No one has that right! Scriptural teachings call upon all of us to preserve ourselves intact, in chastity, in perfect holiness for the person to whom we are going to commit ourselves. And if we succumb, we fall from God.
If we parents, through our permissiveness, wink our eyes at our young men because we feel that it’s natural for men but sinful for women, and we let them go their own way without admonishing them to virtue, to chastity and to integrity, then we fail in our responsibility as parents to be the mirror-image of God’s love to our children.
No one has the right to give his or her body away prior to marriage! No one has the right to enter into marriage with the idea that somehow or other if it doesn’t work one can always cop out and get a divorce, because that’s a betrayal of God’s dispensation and God’s will. As a man who has been a counselor for 25 years, I state unhesitatively that there is no marriage in the world that cannot succeed if both husband and wife are willing to work at making that marriage happy and successful. It requires on the part of each a willingness to give unselfishly, to always consider the welfare of the other person, the happiness of the other person, always putting your spouse first and foremost in your thoughtfulness and consideration. Historically, God has desired His creation to be happy in perfection, and the requirement of His creation has always been to bring praise and glory to God.
I thank God that I have had a good and happy relationship with my wife. But that relationship did not come about by accident. My wife is a believer and I am also. Because of our active faith, I can testify to you in her behalf and in mine that over the past 30 years our love has grown stronger and more mature from year to year. This is what comes of a good Christian marriage where two people manifest their love in their actions everyday.
Then young people may grow up to say, “That’s good! That looks so good I want to try it. If my parents have enjoyed marriage so much and if my parents have made marriage such a good thing to the glory of God, then man, that’s for me.”
Consider why my generation was much more willing to get married than are our children. Is it because we saw in our parents the joy our children do not see in us? Think about it!
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America