Friday, July 29, 2011

A Wedding Homily

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.

Unless one has been hiding under a particularly remote rock the past few years, he is surely aware of the growing push in our society to reinvent marriage in ways unrecognizable to traditional Christianity. While this trend might seem to have come “out of nowhere,” it is in fact rooted in the deeper confusion and misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of marriage that has gripped our country for at least half a century. Once widely acknowledged to be an authentic sacrament solemnly administered by a church body and deriving both an eternal and salvific purpose from the God who ordained and blessed it, marriage is more commonly seen today as a private legal agreement between any two persons, deriving its legitimacy from the state, and existing solely for the mutual if temporal pleasure of the couple involved.

Increasingly fuzzy in the American consciousness is any awareness of marriage as the God-effected union of one man and one woman for the purpose of their mutual salvation. Such a view seems very nearly pretentious and even excessively religious to a culture given over to secular pragmatism. In a word, marriage is seldom any longer regarded as being holy. It is less and less understood as being integral to God’s sacred plan for humanity reflected in the very reason He created us as male and female in the first place.

The Eastern Orthodox Church has long held to the traditional Christian understanding of marriage revealed first and in part in the Genesis story of Adam and Eve. According to this, Woman was taken from the side of Man and fashioned by God to be his helpmate, his co-laborer, his wife. Being literally of the same flesh and bone, yet possessing differences complimentary to one another, the Man and the Woman were meant to operate in complete harmony as a reflection of the unity shared by the three Divine Persons of the Godhead. Between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit there exists no conflict of will, no battle for dominance, no petty struggle to be identified or appreciated independently of the other. There exists only the perfect communion of love, and a blessed oneness of purpose and intent and action.

This is how the Man and the Woman were intended by God to live. As we may know, that budding harmony was tragically interrupted when the Woman exercised her own will quite independently of her husband to heed the Serpent and eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and the Man exercised his will independently of God to follow suit. The result was that the harmony and communion that once existed between mankind and God was broken, and of particular interest to us today, the harmony and communion that once existed between the Man and the Woman was also shattered. No longer sharing one will and purpose between themselves or with God, men and women have struggled greatly and often against one another in this fallen and broken world we have inherited.

I say that this is of particular interest to us, because today we are asking for the grace and mercy of God to mend this universal conflict in a small way and with one couple by bringing together and uniting M. and S. in Holy Matrimony. Did you know that the word matrimony is derived originally from the Latin word for mother? This shows that marriage was once seen as an institution for the nurturing and protection of motherhood and child-rearing. It is precisely this definition that is under great assault by certain factions within our society today, but as you might discern from the prayers we have offered during the Orthodox wedding service, it is very much the one we still hold. Everything about this service expresses our deepest beliefs regarding marriage, the roles and duties of the man and the woman within it, the significance of procreation and the rearing of children, and the relationship of the family to the kingdom of heaven and to salvation itself.

As you can see, M. and S. stand before us wearing crowns placed upon their heads by the priest. This not only signifies that they have been granted the blessing and authority of God to reign as king and queen within their newly-established household, but speaks also of the crowns of glory they will receive from Christ Himself should they fulfill their duties faithfully and with honor. In the Orthodox view, marriage is very much rooted in the pursuit of heaven and the working out of eternal salvation. The man and his wife are each expected to defeat his or her own divisive self-will, and together express and live out the will and purpose of God. They are instructed in moments of conflict to not blame or revile or make efforts to change the other, but to each discover within themselves what must be changed for the sake of harmony. They are to see marriage as a daily opportunity for repentance and the self-correction needed to better reflect Christ within themselves. They are told to exercise authority over themselves and their children as God exercises His authority over creation; not with oppression and domination and self-interest, but with love and nurturing and actions of self-giving for the good of the whole (“For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son”).

Christian marriage in every way reflects the unity of the Godhead, as well as the union of God and man expressed in the communion between Christ and His Body, the Church. Indeed, in the lesson from Ephesians 5 we just heard read, the husband is commanded to love his wife in the same manner as Christ loves His Church, sacrificing himself for her with an eye toward the day when he shall present her to God holy and without blemish. The wife in turn is commanded to obey her husband and submit to him as the Church does to Christ, an arrangement that does not lead to subjugation or enslavement, but to human freedom in the highest sense.

Properly understood, Christian marriage is absolutely integral to God’s plan to save humanity. It becomes the means whereby husband and wife confront and defeat every selfish sin within themselves to become one with each other and one with Christ.

M. and S. have only just now been joined in this salvific union. The great adventure which is the pursuit of their mutual salvation still lies before them. They scarcely know what they are in for! But with the help of God and the support of their parish community they will over time cease to be merely two individuals to become one new creation united in the perfect communion of love and finding heaven as their true and final home. This is the noble and exalted view of holy marriage still held by the Eastern Orthodox Church and the one that from this day forth, M. and S. will have the joy of living out and making real in their new household.

+To the glory of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.