Why does our Church View Marriage as a Great Sacrament?
To answer this I have adapted and summarised a sermon on Marriage by a very holy man, Archimandrite Aimilianos, at the time Abbot of the Monastery of Simonopetra of Mount Athos.
Many marry without knowledge, without a sense of responsibility, or simply because they think they must in order to be good members of society. A worldly marriage can only have one characteristic — the murder of a person’s spiritual life.
In order to have a successful marriage, one must have the appropriate upbringing from an early age. The child must learn to love, to give, to suffer deprivation, to obey. The child needs to strive to become an honest, brave, decisive, sincere, cheerful person, and not a self-pitying creature. From an early age the child should learn to take an interest in a particular subject or occupation, so that tomorrow he will be in a position to support his family. A woman must learn to be a housewife, even if she has an education.
The child must learn to feel that the purity of his soul and body is a valuable treasure to be cherished as the apple of his eye. If the husband or wife are unfaithful in their marriage, the marriage can end in shipwreck. So we need, from a young age, to strive for purity before marriage. Giving in to self-gratification, pornography, not being diligent with our eyes can all become habitual, making it more likely that we will later fall into greater sins that can result in enormous hurt, and that keep away the Grace of God.
Naturally, when a young person comes to choose a partner, he or she will take to account his parents’ opinion, because parents have a special intuition. But this doesn’t mean that the father and mother should pressure the child. Ultimately the young person should be free to make his own decision. If you pressure your child to marry, he will consider you responsible if things don’t go well. Nothing good comes from pressure. You must help your child, but you must also allow him or her to choose the person he prefers or loves — but not someone he pities or feels sorry for. Both the man and the woman should be attracted to each other, and they should truly want to live together, in an inward and unforced way.
Of course, the process of getting acquainted, which is such a delicate issue — but of which we are often heedless — should take place before marriage. Love shouldn’t blind us. When I suggested to a young woman that she should think seriously about whether she should continue her engagement she replied: “If I break it off, my mother will kill me”. But what sort of engagement is it, if there is no possibility of breaking it off?
Don’t choose a person who wastes his time at clubs, having fun, and throwing away his money on travelling and luxuries. Neither should you choose someone who conceals self-centeredness beneath words of love. Don’t choose someone who is like gunpowder: as soon as you say something, they burst into flames. Moreover, if you want to have a truly successful marriage, don’t approach that young man or woman who is unable to leave his or her parents. Also, make sure that they are not an uncommunicative type – if today he has no friends, tomorrow he’ll find it difficult to have you as a friend. Be on your guard against grumblers, moaners, and gloomy people. Also be on your guard against religious fanatics and the overly pious. Those, that is, who get upset over trivial things, who are critical of everything and hypersensitive.
Above all, pay attention to the person’s faith. Does he or she have faith? Does the person whom you’re thinking of making the companion of your life have ideals? If Christ means nothing to him, how are you going to be able to enter his heart? If he has not been able to value Christ, do you think he will value you? The Bible says that our spouse should be “of your testament” (Mal 2:14), that is, of your faith, your religion, so that he or she can join you to God.
Discuss things in advance with your spiritual father, and he will stand by your side as a true friend, and, when you reach the desired goal, then your marriage will be a gift from God. Bring your spouse into touch with your spiritual father. If you don’t have one, the two of you should choose a spiritual father together, who will be your Elder, your father, the one who will remind you of, and show you God.
Marriage has three main aims. Firstly, marriage is a journeying together, a shared portion of pain. Usually it is six chords of our life that sound a sorrowful note, and only one that is joyous. But it is no small thing to know that in your difficult moments you will be holding in your hand, the hand of your beloved. Life is not a party, as some people think, and after they get married they take a fall from the clouds to earth. It is an adulteration of marriage for us to think that it 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. Just as steel is fashioned in a furnace, just so is a person proved in marriage, in the fire of difficulties. God sends His grace when he sees that we are willing to suffer.
Second, marriage is a journey of love. The most fundamental thing in marriage is love, and love is about uniting two into one. God abhors separation and divorce. The Christian way is that we love, we serve, and expect nothing in return. We look for opportunities to give our spouse little delights. She is concerned about his worries, his interests, his job, his friends. He gladly gives way to her. He regards her parents as his own. The wife is obedient to her husband as the Church is to Christ (Eph 5:22-24). Attitude, obstinacy, and complaining are the axes that chop down the tree of conjugal happiness. The husband should remember that his wife has been entrusted to him by God. His wife is a soul which God has given to him, and one day he must return it. He loves his wife as Christ loves the Church (Eph 5:25). He protects her, takes care of her, gives her security, particularly when she is distressed.
Thirdly, marriage is a journey to heaven, a call from God. It is, as Holy Scripture says, a “great mystery” (Eph 5:32). We often speak of seven “Mysteries”, or Sacraments. All the Sacraments, such as Confession, Holy Communion, lead us to God, to Heaven. Marriage is also a Sacrament, and it too leads us to Heaven. Christ says, “wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am among them” (Mt 18:20). A true Christian marriage, where there is self-sacrifice, a struggle not to have bitterness and resentment, leads to the Kingdom. During the Orthodox marriage service, the bride and the groom give their hands to one another, and the priest with one of his hands holds where the couple have joined hands and leads them round the table. Marriage is a movement, a progression, a journey which will end in heaven, in eternity. In the dance around the table, the couple are led by the priest, who represents Christ. This means that Christ has seized us, rescued us, redeemed us, and made us His!
† Fr D. K.
Source: April – May 2016 Lychnos Edition