May 5, 2009

Christ is Our Bridegroom, Part 2


As in typical Orthodox fashion, whenever we are challenged with both difficulties and joys in life, we look to the Saints, those who are the friends of God as our examples and as our interecessors. These men and women were human beings, like us, who found themselves in circumstances similar to our own, and who allowed Christ to work in them in the most concrete manner. They surrendered their lives to Him out of their love for each other and for Him. As a result, they were perfected and glorified by Him, achieving full union with Him. This is the calling for each and every one of us!
On May 3, we celebrated the feast day of two married saints, Maura and Timothy. The poem below captures what they might have said while they were crucified, facing each other, during their martyrdom. I highlighted some parts to emphasize the sacrificial love (agape, αγάπη) in their relationship, which is centered on Christ. See how they speak to each other, see how the roles of husband and wife as God intended are perfectly upheld by these saints.  From the Prologue of Ochrid, by St. Nikolai Velimirovich,
in the Hymn of Praise for the Feast Day of these married saints, May 3:

SAINT TIMOTHY AND SAINT MAURA
Timothy and Maura, crucified and pale, Through the Lord Christ, looked at one another, 
And by the spirit see each other better than with the eyes, By pain exalted, above all things. 
And Timothy speaks: Maura, my sister, You are of a female nature, and your pain is greater! 
By prayer be encouraged, do not despair sister, All of your thoughts, affix to Christ. 
Maura replied: Brother, Timothy, The Spirit of God I feel, 
in my soul it waves He keeps me strong, and helpless, He strengthens me, And the Sweet Jesus, my pains alleviates, But, about you, my glorious pride, I am concerned, 
What kind of pains, with yours can be similar? 
But just a little while, a little while, my sweet brother, From the thorns of sufferings, then the roses will blossom, To the entire heavenly host, the darling you will be, 
Only endure, endure without sound and sobbing Let us be alert brother, let us not fall asleep, 
Perhaps the Lord might come, that we not be ashamed.  Behold, the entire heavens opened, 
I see Unseen treasures for us prepared. 
Then Timothy to Maura: O sister, wonderful, Bride of Christ, glorious martyr, 
For His glorious mercy, let us glorify God, That such an honorable death, He permitted upon us. O glory to You O Savior, Who for us suffered; Our spirit, we now commend into Your hands.

Jesus Christ was the center of their marriage. While they were experiencing their martyrdom by being crucified, they looked at each other "through the Lord Christ" and "by the spirit." St. Nikolai captures a true example of how two spouses united in Christ should view one another, how they should behave toward one another--in a Christ-like manner, even in the most frustrating and darkest moments of life. Timothy is a spiritual leader by telling his wife to be encouraged "by prayer." By willingly enduring the challenging, painful, and sometimes tragic situations in life together, married persons in Christ know that they will be exalted. They know this because they allow Christ to work in them by committing their life to Him, seen by their common and daily prayer, as well as their constant labor for their salvation together.

Throughout this poem, you will also notice words of encouragement between Maura and Timothy during their suffering. Language such as "all of your thoughts, affix to Christ," indicates this. Notice also the complete entrusting of themselves to Christ, the emptying of themselves, and their deep concern and love for one another during their pain. Maura calls Timothy her "glorious pride," a term of great affection and selflessness. This is reminicsent of a similar phrase we hear from St. Seraphim of Sarov, who would call everyone he sees "my joy." What a great opportunity marriage gives one to practice dying to one's self and loving their neighbor (i.e. their spouse), at every moment of every day! Many of the Athonite elders would have a most apt saying in Greek: "do you see your brother? then you've seen the Lord your God (είδες τόν αδελφόν σου; είδες Κύριον τον Θεόν σου)."

Also, in this poem, Maura and Timothy continually refer to each other as 'brother' or 'sister'. This speaks to their unbreakable union in Christ and especially to their chastity and purity within their marriage. They were married for only 20 days, and one would suppose that as normal human beings, they officially entered conjugal union in the body. But that alone is not enough in marriage--as you see, their souls were also united, they became one body AND one soul in Christ. In her encouraging words, Maura says, "let US be alert" in preparation for the Lord's coming, a reference to the two of them being sort of a 'bridal unit', together awaiting in vigilance for their eternal Bridegroom to come. Again, this shows the purpose of Christian marriage--for the two persons to become one, and as one, to enter into union with Christ. Timothy then continues to praise her by calling her 'wonderful' and 'Bride of Christ', and also refers to their union by commending 'OUR spirit' into the hands of Christ. These elements of praise for one another and references to their union reflect how necessary it is for the spouses to continually cultivate their love (agape), to continually sacrifice themselves for the other, and to work together toward their salvation together.

This interpretation of St. Nikolai's poem is simply my own. I do not claim to be a theologian on these matters at all, I simply want to share my thoughts on it. I have been greatly moved and influenced by the writings of St. John Chrysostom about the sacrament of marriage, the numerous homilies, writings, and counsels of many holy priests and bishops alive today, as well as some real examples of Orthodox couples I know personally. :) See HERE for an example.

Please forgive me for my errors, and please share your comments on the life of these inspiring saints.
Next post, I plan to write about the fruit of marital love--children. And, to connect that to biology and to bioethics....yes, I finally will bring some science into the revolution! :)

2 comments:

  1. Thank you so much for sharing this story and your thoughts about St. Timothy and St. Maura. It is beautiful and encouraging!
    -pb

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  2. Inspiring - thank you. Encouraging couples and those called to marriage to immerse themselves in the lives (and joy!) of married saints in this way can help make up for the poor examples society gives us (alas, even among us). People need to know that there is another way - and that is the way to boundless joy!

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