Marriage is a combination of joy and suffering. The Church warns of it all those who enter into matrimony by offering them the example of the holy martyrs, and inviting them to follow their example by patiently and joyously bearing the Cross of Christ in their family life. Bearing in mind all that which is demanded in a Christian marriage and foreseeing all its difficulties, while at the same time being aware of all the gifts of the grace of the Holy Spirit that are bestowed in the sacrament of marriage, the husband and wife develop a genuine Christian psychology, and the seeming burden of matrimony becomes light and comforting.
Let us consider three aspects of married life: (1) courtship, (2) mixed marriages and (3) relationships between the members of a Christian family.
1. While going out together, young men and women have the opportunity to become acquainted with each other and to chose a life’s companion for themselves. According to a prominent spiritual leader of youth, “the mystery and happiness of marriage lies precisely in being able to discern a kindred spirit among a great variety of people.” This is not an easy task. We often show interest in others according to external manifestations - beauty, clothes, height, the ability to be impressive, or through mutual interest in a field of science, art or even sports. However, such an approach is quite unreliable for people seeking a Christian spouse, and one can easily become attracted to a person with whom, as time later shows, it will be very difficult to realize the goals of marriage. It is imperative to consider primarily the spiritual side of life. This protects one against frivolity. We should pray for the will of God to be done, for the Lord to allow us, for the salvation of our soul, to meet a kindred spirit.
During courtship one must not succumb to temptations of the flesh. A Christian marriage requires the preservation of purity, a chaste life. If someone does not respect such a desire on your part - it is better to part, otherwise there is great harm done to both the soul and the body. Loss of chastity is the beginning of spiritual petrification and a loss of faith and piety. Having lost one’s chastity, one can never recover it.
2. Becoming affianced with unbelievers or those of other faiths. Is it possible to have a common life when the key factor is missing, when the goal of one’s entire life is missing? There is no common ground, a factor that is so important. A person can certainly be good, kind, can agree not to hinder your spiritual life, to allow your children to be brought up as Orthodox Christians. But despite all that, in the final analysis you will never be as one with such a person. Throughout your entire life, in the deep recesses of your soul you will feel the absence of common ground on major issues. Do not be deceived by thinking in the following manner: well, for the moment I will not exhibit my faith too strongly, so that he may not think that I am a fanatic. For the time being I will not cross myself before meals in his presence. If he invites me out to dinner, I will not keep fast for the moment, and if he invites me to the movies on Saturday night, when Orthodox Christians should be in church, I will go out with him. After our marriage I will certainly change him. Ask the people who thought in such a manner about the results of their attempts to change their spouses who were of different faiths, unbelievers or even Orthodox but non-churchgoing. And what if he/she agrees to convert to Orthodoxy and become baptized? Do not forget that they will do anything for you. However, one converts to Orthodoxy not for the sake of an individual, but for the sake of Christ, for the sake of faith, with a penitent heart, with a sole desire - to save one’s soul within the bosom of the true Church of Christ. Only in such a case is there any hope of a truly Christian marriage.
In mixed marriages the following often happens: the wife keeps fast while the husband does not accept it. The wife wants to go to church while the husband either goes to his own church or is upset that they cannot go on an outing on Sunday. The wife prepares for communion while the husband remains apart from such an important moment in their life. Children are born and baptized, and then they celebrate Christmas with their mother on one date and with their father on a different date. And so, after having lived a whole life together, even perhaps peacefully and happily, there still remains an unseen wall between them, dividing them.
3. The third aspect concerns the relationship between the members of a Christian family. Some believe that the husband should make all the decisions, thus oppressing the freedom and equality of family members. Brides often smile during the reading of the wedding epistle: “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the Church” (Ephesians, 5:22-23). The guiding principle within a family is love. Love automatically excludes force. There cannot be any use of force between Christian spouses. In our times everyone wants to be equal - women especially seek equality with men. In the eyes of the Church everyone is equal, but this does not mean that everyone is the same. Equality should be sought in the eyes of God. In a Christian family the husband and the wife are equal, but have different responsibilities and obediences. Again one may say that obedience encroaches upon freedom. But freedom and arbitratriness are different things. Arbitrariness allows everything, while freedom is the choice between serving good or evil. By choosing to follow the path of good, we show obedience to Christ and thus acquire true freedom. By rejecting good we seem to be free to act arbitrarily, but in reality we become the slaves of sin, passions, drink, money, public opinion, personality, one’s egoism… Obedience to Christ is the foundation of life in a Christian family. Through obedience individuality is not repressed but, on the contrary, acquires greater worth. The apostle instructs husbands to treat their wives wisely, to honor them, to render them due benevolence. A wife no longer has power of her own body, but the husband; likewise the husband no longer has power of his own body, but the wife (1 Cor. 7: 3-4). The primacy of the husband, of which was said earlier, does not signify servitude on the part of the wife, just as the primacy of Christ does not denote a servile state of the Church. The husband is primarily responsible for the external well-being of the family, while the wife concerns herself with the inner family life. The holy apostle Paul says that husbands must love their wives to the point of self-sacrifice: “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the Church and has sacrificed Himself for her.” It is natural for people to love their own selves most of all, thus almost all family disagreements arise from a mutually unyielding stance, from trivial egoism. And so the Church demands selflessness on the part of both spouses: from the wife - obedience, from the husband - boundless care and love. Such sacrifice and such obedience are the very foundation of a true Christian marriage.
Protopriest Peter Perekrestov