by Fr. Vladimir Berzonsky
“For the husband is the 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 loved the Church and gave Himself for it” (Ephesians 5:23)
Some brides-to-be resent this epistle read at every Orthodox Church wedding. They think it’s sexist—not politically correct in this era of liberation of women. But that objection is misdirected. This advice of St. Paul is not about subordination of woman to man, nor is it about control. This is about love. The holy apostle is not putting wives down; he’s raising the vision of husbands to a spiritual awareness of responsibility.
It’s a daring equation, comparing the husband with Christ. Can a Christian who wears a cross at his neck and hangs a cross in his bedroom not comprehend the great, sacrificial love that Jesus Christ has demonstrated for His Church? There is not an atom of selfishness in it. Who reading the gospels can find somewhere or some word of the loving Lord that suggests, “What’s in it for Me?” Show me a place that implies the Church doing something for Christ, rather than what Christ is doing for the Church.
St. Paul is speaking to all married men. Do you expect or even demand obedience from your wives? Look up at Christ on the cross. Will you ever do that for her? You insist that your wife love you exclusively. That’s your right as a husband and her obligation as your wife. Then you must first demonstrate your willingness to lay down your life in her behalf. If it comes to one of you making a sacrifice for the sake of the family, step out smartly and be the one who offers his life for wife and family. Yes, granted, St. Paul wrote that the husband is the head of the wife, but that’s not all he wrote on the subject. The love of Christ for the Church is your measure of your own adoration of your wife. God forbid that you ever terrorize her, intimidate her or control her by temper tantrums or any of the more subtle mind control methods rampant in our culture. You were commissioned by Christ in the sacred sacrament of marriage to love and honor her—she is ever your queen, and you must look for the crown still worn on her head, albeit invisibly.
Your love for her must be always pure and sacred. She is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and you must do nothing to defile that living temple. She is baptized in the blessed water of Jordan. It takes nothing from the romance or the love act to treat your wife as a being precious in the sight of the Lord. Any expression of love that degrades, humiliates or plain uses the partner is unworthy of your marriage. Any violation of your marital obligations to one another, adultery or lewdness, will invite the serpent of evil into your bed, cause you deceit and hypocrisy, and reduce you to shame and self-rejection.
True love will be constantly in search of ways to please your spouse, not yourself. Real affection is given through a glance, a touch, a card or flower. This woman is not your cook, your washerwoman or maid. She is far more than the one who cares for your children. If that’s all she is to you, you are unworthy of calling yourself her husband.
If as you heard at the wedding, you
“leave father and mother and cleave to your wife,”
she has become your very body. You are one flesh and blood with her. You can no more separate yourself from her that you would hack off your right arm. Despite our wicked society, you don’t change partners; you live with the one that God gave you.
Most of all, your love is a reflection of the love of Christ for your spiritual family and the Church of which you all are a part. Your home is an extension of your parish, a chapel where love is the binding ingredient between your family members and with the loving Lord and yourself.