Having just celebrated 54 years of marriage I was drawn to reflect on this blessed sacrament. Elder Aimilianos says marriage is a journey of pain, love as well as a journey to heaven. I can say I have experienced the pain and love in my marriage as the two seem to go hand in hand.
The Elder says:
“It is an adulteration of marriage 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.”
A fruitful marriage requires an understanding of love as well as having a relationship with Spirit. When we participate in the sacrament of marriage our souls are being joined as one. Marriage is a union of two people. Being joined in Spirit we then begin a joint path facing all the trial and tribulations of earthly life. But for this to be a harmonious path and one that allows us to grow spiritually we must have a relationship based on love.
But what is Love? Elder Aimilianos says the following:
The aim of love is for one person to give joy to another person; to voluntarily deprive myself so the other feels at ease, feels secure in his life.
Saint Paul tells us that this requires “bearing patiently with another’s failings” (Eph 4:2). This means that love begins by accepting the other person as they are. This is the first lesson I remember learning in the early days of my marriage of 54 years. After our sexual passions are tamed we begin to see the failings of our spouse and of ourself. If the marriage is to survive we quickly grasp that this spiritual journey of union requires we accept that we are different and have different wants and desires. We each have our passions that must be endured until they are overcome and our self-centeredness is snuffed out. This requires the development of humility and selflessness. I think this requires along with our individual efforts the work of Spirit, a recognition that both partners are made in the image of God along with the acceptance that we are both sinners, unable to fully live the commandments of Christ. Being united in the Church we are aided in this struggle and given help with the sacramental life. Our life together in the Church is important. I was not Orthodx before I was married but thankfully it was expected that I join the church. This has made it possible for us to grow together with a shared faith. This is probably the greatest blessing I have received.
Love involves being kind to one another. But what does this mean? Saint Paul says, “We are kind by forgiving one another” (Eph 4:32). My wife taught me that forgiveness is a daily thing. For her it was important to not let the night pass into a new day without resolving our difference. Saint Paul also teaches this. He says, “do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph 4:26). Because of her insistence on this daily reconciliation we never grew far apart. Another thing we learned to do later in life was to pray together each morning and evening. We don’t always agree with each other, but we maintain respect for each other’s needs and a tolerance of our failings.
Respect for each other is an important dimension of love. Paul also says, “Love is expressed by honoring one another – looking to each other’s interests” (Phil 2:4). To do this we must let our spouse have their freedom to do what they want. We have to respect their unique and personal interests. We have to show our delight in their pursuits and achievements.
Further, we must learn to always be kind and to be careful when discussing our spouse’s failings. We must first express ourselves in a way that shows respect and brings joy, communicating an understanding of our respect and caring for them. We cannot know what is hidden deep in their soul, but we can assume that buried there is pain, difficulties and torments. We must therefore be very careful to not unknowingly hurt their soul. If we can first bring a “bright face” and make the other person smile in our discussions then both of our hearts are opened. Then it is possible for the Holy Spirit to work in both our hearts. Our respect and kindness for each other makes us aware of God’s love for us and we receive more freely His grace.
Elder Aimilianos says:
When someone shows you the love of God, kindness, and delicacy of feeling, this is communion with God.
When our hearts are open we see the humanness in each other and then become sensitive to the failings we both have and have compassion. We recognize that neither of us is perfect. From this humility comes kindness, understanding and forgiveness. We can then help each other in our struggle.
Marriage is made beautiful by acknowledging our human condition, having hope and being strengthened by our difficulties. It is a spiritual journey of two people who have been joined in a union by the Holy Spirit. We become one and have the capability of complimenting one another because of our differences and imperfections. As Jesus told us, in marriage “Two will be as one flesh” (Mt 19:5, Mk 10:7). Marriage is a journey of love based on kindness and respect.
Saint Peter also gives us insight about the nature of this union. He reminds us of the innate difference between men and woman. He tells us that men have a different psychology and tend to be more self-centered and more easily tempted to become angry as their ego is challenged. He says women tend to have a gentile and quiet spirit with patience. They are not as easily angered. I am ever thankful that my wife has shown this quality and has the patience to deal with my ego that is so easily hurt. Men and women naturally compliment each other. This is all part of God’s plan for us.
Peter also says the man must show understanding of his wife’s desires, and he must always treat her with respect (1 Peter 3:7). Failing to do so, he risks hurting her deeply without realizing it. I cannot tell the number of times I have learned this lesson. Peter also says that we must have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1 Peter 3:8).
A good marriage involves pain and love. By having respect for each other and having kindness, accepting we are different but united in union, our struggle to perfect this union brings us closer to God. It is a struggle that purifies our heart so we can see God as Jesus tells us. Marriage is a spiritual journey based on love. In this way we learn to live God’s two greatest commandments, to love thy neighbor as oneself and to love God with our whole heart.