Serbian Orthodox Church
Teachings on Christian Marriage based upon the
Pauline Epistles to the Corinthians and Ephesians
April 24, 2005
by Dr. Darren J. Torbic
From the beginning of creation, God's intention was for man and women to be joined as
husband and wife in marriage (Gen 1:27-28; 2:24). Marriage, like monasticism, is a sign
of God's kingdom. he loving relationship between husband and wife begins to restore the
unity of mankind and the cosmos as a whole, which has been broken since the fall
(Introduction to On Marriage and Family Life, by Roth). There is no relationship between
human beings as close as that of husband and wife, if they are united as they ought to be.
In addition, there is no influence more powerful than the bond of love between husband and
wife (Chrysostom Homily 20 on Ephesians). This paper summarizes the Christian teaching on
marriage based upon the Pauline epistles to the Corinthians and Ephesians, focusing on
marriage as a great and holy mystery, the primary purposes of marriage, and the roles
and responsibilities of husband and wife.
Marriage as Mystery
St. Paul tells us, ""For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be
joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This is a great mystery, but I
speak concerning Christ and the church" (Eph 5:31-32).
In Homily 20 on Ephesians, Chrysostom comments on several ways that marriage is a great
mystery. First, marriage is a mystery in that a man should leave his parents who gave
him life, who suffered in labor and childbirth, and who raised him. Second, for a man to
leave his immediate family who favored him with so many great blessings and with whom he
has been so close his entire life to unite with one whom he has not always known and to
honor her more than all others, this is a great mystery. Finally, for the parents to
happily give up their children to join with another, this is also a mystery
(Chrysostom's third Sermon on Marriage).
Human marriage is also a great mystery because two join to become one
(Homily 20 on Ephesians) One flesh: father, mother, and child
results from commingling of two. The child is born from the union of their seed,
so three are one flesh. If two do not become one, they cannot increase; they increase
only by decreasing. God's ingenuity divided one flesh into two; but He showed that it
remained one even after its division (Homily 12 on Colossians).
Thus, it is impossible for either half to procreate without the other. Husband and wife
are not two, but one.
She was made from his side so they are two halves of one organism. He is the head,
and she is the body. Marriage, in fact, is an image of the presence of Christ.
This union between husband and wife symbolizes the union of Christ and the Church and
the unity of the redeemed mankind in Christ (Introduction to On Marriage and Family Life,
by Roth). St Paul says, "the head of Christ is God" (1 Cor 11:3).
Chrysostom comments that husband and wife are one body in the same way as Christ and the
Father are one (Homily 20 on Ephesians).
Thus we see that the Father is our head also. St Paul combines two illustrations,
the natural body and Christ's body; that is why he says, "This is great a mystery,
and I take it to mean Christ and the Church".
Purpose of Marriage
In the first of three sermons on marriage, Chrysostom discusses the reasons for the
institution of marriage. St Paul writes, "Now concerning the things which you wrote to me:
It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality,
let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband"
(1 Cor 7:1-2). Chrysostom comments there are two primary reasons
for marriage: (a) for the procreation of children and (b) for the chastity of the couple
themselves. Since the earth is sufficiently populated with people, Chrysostom states
there is no longer a great need for procreation in order for humanity to survive.
Therefore, the more important reason for marriage is to promote chastity. St Paul
expresses this negatively in saying that people should marry "because of the temptation
to immorality". The virtue of chastity must also be understood positively. It is not
merely avoidance of immorality, but integrity of the person, body and soul, and direction
of oneself towards holiness. This is possible as much for the two who are made one in
marriage as for the celibate person. Thus, the primary reason for marriage is the
unity in love and holiness of the couple themselves.
Roles and Relationship of Husband and Wife
In Ephesians, St Paul sets forth the roles and responsibilities of both partners in
marriage. St Paul also compares the relationship of husband and wife with that of Christ
and the Church. In Eph 5:22-24 and 5:33 St Paul addresses the responsibilities of the wife
stating that, "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the
head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the church, and He is the Savior of the body.
Therefore, just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their husbands
in everything... and let the wife see that she respects her husband." Thus, it is the
wife's duty to respect and obey her husband, and she should consider her obedience to
her husband as part of her duty to the Lord (Homily 20 on Ephesians). Some may misinterpret
a wife's submission to her husband as degrading. However, in Eph 5:22-24 there is no mention
of greater or lesser authority (Homily 19 on 1 Corinthians).
In both the Church and marriage, there is one who acts as head, who leads. As Man in His
human nature, Christ is first among equals, and He alone is the head of the church.
All of mankind is called do everything for the Lord's sake, in a spirit of obedience to Him.
Similarly, wives are called to submit to their husbands as equals.
In Eph 5: 25-30 St Paul addresses the responsibilities of the husband stating that,
"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her,
that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might
present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing,
but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives
as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own
flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members
of His body, of His flesh and of His bones." St Paul intends for the husband to have greater
responsibility than the wife in nearly every concern
(Homily 19 on 1 Corinthians). The proper place for the husband is one
of leader and provider (Homily 20 on Ephesians). The husband must treat
his wife with loving care and be responsible for the same providential care of her,
as Christ is for the Church. Just as the wife's submission is to accept the headship
of the husband, the husband's submission to his wife is to sacrifice himself for her.
The head upholds the well-being of the body. He should love her as his body; he must be
patient with his wife; and he must honor his wife above all others.
St Paul also discusses the relationship between husband, wife, and child in Eph 6:1-4.
Children are expected to respect and be obedient to their parents. Chrysostom indicates
that if parents expect their children to be obedient and respectful, they must train
their children in virtue and everything should take second place to bringing up children
in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Homily 21 on Ephesians).
If from the beginning parents teach children to love true wisdom, the children will have
greater wealth and glory than riches can provide. In conclusion, a marriage between husband
and wife should begin with God's blessing and lead the whole family to the kingdom of heaven.
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