In our parish of St. Herman’s in Langley, B.C., there are many young people, and so I have the privilege of presiding at many weddings. At these happy events, the brides are all beautiful, and the grooms are all handsome, and all of those present rejoice in their unions. But when I look up and see the happy couple standing before me, I do not see a young man and a young woman. I see Christ and His Church.
I suppose that is because I have been reading St. Paul. In his lengthy discussion of the relationship between husband and wife in his letter to the Ephesians, after quoting the original Scriptural justification for such marriage from the creation stories of Genesis, Paul then writes, “This mystery is great, but I am talking about Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). That is, the original account of the divine institution of the marriage union of Adam and Eve contains a truth only accessible to those who have been initiated into such things—the Christians—and they know that it ultimately refers to Christ and His Church.
This insight, proclaimed Scripturally by St. Paul, has informed Christian piety and poetry ever since. Before I ever became Orthodox, I came across this connection in a song composed and sung by a Jesus People band called “The Second Chapter of Acts”. The wrote a song called “The Prince Song”, and introduced it once at a concert by saying that the old romance of the princess waiting for her prince to come on a white horse was fulfilled in Christ. This song is our song, for we, as the body of Christ, are all part of His bride, and we wait for our Prince to come on white horse. The romantic heart in this case has not been deceived, for our Prince will indeed come on a white horse: St. John wrote, “Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! He who sat upon it is called faithful and true, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on His head are many crowns, and He has a name inscribed which no one knows but Himself. He is clad in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which He is called is ‘The Word of God” (Rev. 19:11-13). It is of course St. John’s apocalyptic description of Christ’s Second Coming, when He will return to earth to take us for His bride. “Let us rejoice,” says the multitude of heaven, “and exult and give Him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His Bride has made herself ready” (Rev. 19:7).
This insight should inform every Christian marriage. Every groom being crowned for his bride images Christ, and every bride being crowned for her husband images His Church. This poetry and typology will exact its cost in their marriage soon enough. When young people are in love, it is easy enough to imagine that feelings of loving euphoria will carry them along forever, and they will effortlessly be kind and considerate to each other in their married life. Alas, it is not so. Sin rears its ugly head soon enough, and the newly-married find that the original youthful feelings of romantic love are insufficient to carry the day. To overcome sin, bride and groom must both put to death that which is earthly in them (Colossians 3:5), and be kind to each other even in the teeth of feelings which urge them to act otherwise. The bride must remember that she images the Church, and must submit to her new husband’s leadership, serving him as the Church serves Christ. The groom must remember that he images the Lord, and must die to himself in order to serve his wife, even as Christ died to serve and sanctify His Church. The honeymoon ends, and the real work of marriage begins. The crowns of marriage turn out to be crowns of martyrdom.
In those difficult times, they must remember Christ and His Church. When the wife annoys the husband and cuts him and hurts him, he must remember that she is his bride, and Christ’s church. When the husband lets down his wife, and cuts her and hurts her, she must recall that he is an image of the Lord, and they must both strive to act toward each other as Christ and His Church act toward each other. It is hard. It is, as St. Paul said, a great mystery. But the romantic image of the Prince on His white horse does not betray. Instead, this image points to a lasting reality. For all Christian married couples, it is the only way forward.