Last week, I had the great pleasure of attending an engagement celebration. Yes, it was Greek. :) It was not quite like any celebration I've attended before. Before anything began, people were simply mingling, and lightly snacking on the appetizers. It was actually when the priest arrived, that 'the party started'. Soon after he arrived, about 200 guests gathered around, and we all began to sing in unison, "Christ is Risen." He then said a special prayer to bless the rings and wisely encouraged the couple to be wed to sacrifice themselves for each other, holding Christ as the center of their marriage. Then, a very beautiful tradition was done: each family member bestowed various pieces of gold, silver, jewels, and pearls on the bride-to-be. I could not help but ponder on the symbolism of this lovely tradition. Although I do not know the true meaning behind it, I would like to guess that it may come from the idea that all of us are called to adorn our souls with the precious jewels of the virtues in preparation for our own wedding with our eternal Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. This wonderful celebration was part of the inspiration for this post. Every year during Great Lent and Holy Week, something new always strikes me, depending on what God wants me to hear at the time. This year, the Bridegroom services during the first evenings of Holy Week were especially memorable. I always wondered why is Christ called the Bridegroom. And just WHO is His bride? He never got married! According to the hymns of the Church, Christ is the Bridegroom of mankind, or of the Church, as well as each person's soul. This reflects the infinite, intimate love of God for humanity. The icon of the "Extreme Humility" (inscription is translated as "Behold, the Man" quoting Pontius Pilate) is adorned with flowers and taken out in procession on Sunday evening that begins Holy Week. As one can see, the icon depicts Jesus shortly before He was crucified, after the scourging and mockery He suffered--He is wearing the crown of thorns, dressed in a purple mantle, and is holding a staff. The paradox is that He is truly the King of glory, but those who crucified Him cruelly mocked Him with this costume. He was literally humiliated, if we look at it humanly. But what does this have to do with Him being the Bridegroom? Is it not typical of a bridegroom to be dressed in a three-piece suit, clean-cut, and absolutely stunning? Instead, the icon is a clear illustration of what the true role of the husband (or bridegroom) is in the context of an Orthodox Christian marriage. Saint John Chrysostom has commented on Saint Paul's epistle to the Ephesians (4:25"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her..."), saying:
"Do you want to have your wife obedient to you, as the Church is to Christ? Then take yourself the same provident care for her as Christ takes for the Church. Yes, even if it becomes necessary for you to give your life for her, yes, and to be cut into pieces ten thousand times, yes, and to endure and undergo any suffering whatever, do not refuse it...In the same way He laid at His feet her who turned her back on Him--who hated, and spurned, and disdained Him--not by menaces, or by violence, or by terror, or by anything else of this kind, but by His unwearied affection--so also you must act toward your wife."Christ is our Bridegroom! What an unworthy, impure, and wretch of a bride was humanity before He came to us as God incarnate! What kind of jewels and adornments of virtue did we have to show to Him? We continue to be unworthy even today. But, He still came then, and still continues to come to us, because He loves us unconditionally and infinitely, no matter how un-bridely we are. Therefore, let us prepare and purify our souls to receive Him. Let us hold Him as our example and ultimate standard for our marriages in this modern world. If one is to become a husband , let him follow the ways of Christ--let him become humble, let him be willing to sacrifice himself for his bride with the love of Christ, and lead her to salvation. If one is to become a wife, let her be like the Church--let her respect, love, honor and cherish her bridegroom, and allow him to lead her to salvation. This post is not truly complete, it is simply my thoughts influenced by the holy people of our Church. Your thoughts and corrections are welcome. Also, please see the writings of Saint John Chrysostom for more in depth and more articulate descriptions and explanations on the sacrament of Christian marriage.