Enough sermons have been preached, books have been written, rules and regulations legislated, about the divinely ordered relationship between the male and female genders to tear off the heads of many chickens, and those headless birds keep running around in circles as if their lives depended on it, yet in the end they all end up in the pot.
I have nothing of my own to tell about these matters, only what was handed over to me to encourage, and in turn to hand over to encourage others. The Holy Bible is full of writings of God and of men, and we, filled with the Spirit of the former, discern what is His, and what is ours, not that both are not inspired, ‘God-breathed,’ but that what is strictly of God cannot change, as what is ours, must.
Traditions are hedges and fences we are instructed to raise for purposes temporal in keeping the people of God on the pilgrim way, that we stray neither left nor right, but not the barriers against dangers but the way itself is what is for us, unchanging, unchangeable. The Book, only holy and divine on earth, still is not uncreated, but the mingling of our sorrows and our joys with the Lord’s—Our testimony.
And so writes the holy apostle Paul to the church at Corinth,
You have done well in remembering me so constantly and in maintaining the traditions just as I passed them on to you. However, what I want you to understand is that Christ is the head of every man, man is the head of woman, and God is the head of Christ.
1 Corinthians 11:1-3
The holy apostle here commends us that we remember each other ‘so constantly,’ and we think, he speaks of praying for each other, but there is more than prayer that he here commends. To remember each other is to remember with whom we are involved in this earthly life, other humans, like us images of God, but more than that, other people for whom Christ gave His life, eternal beings, gods.
Christ Himself tells us, ‘Whatever you do to the least of these brethren, that you do unto Me.’ So Paul commends, ‘You have done well in remembering me so constantly,’ and the Corinthians may have felt a tinge of pride, they had prayed for Paul and treated him well, respected Him (in other words) so constantly, ‘maintaining the traditions just as’ he had handed them over, and he had noticed.
But what about each other? Paul was an important apostle, mentor, and friend. To be sure they respected him. But what about each other? Of course they were maintaining the traditions he had passed on to them, they worshiped ‘in spirit and truth,’ they honored their teachers, those who brought them to saving faith, but what about ‘the saints’? How did they regard, how treat, each other?
And so writes the holy apostle Paul to the church at Ephesus,
Give way to one another in obedience to Christ. Wives should regard their husbands as they regard the Lord, since as Christ is head of the Church and saves the whole body, so is a husband the head of his wife; and as the Church submits to Christ, so should wives to their husbands, in everything.
Writing to a church community in Asia, at Ephesus, the holy apostle commends the same thing in different words, he brings the matter ‘down to earth,’ down to our level, and reveals how and why. ‘Give way to one another,’ he tells us. Stand back, yield to the other, let the other live, not only yourself. Give him room. Give her room. The reason that this is right is no less than obedience to Christ.
Is this not another way of stating ‘the Golden Rule’? Is this not a powerful antidote to the tempter’s poison which, once it enters our lifestream, kills not only us but anyone in reach? ‘Give way to one another,’ love and respect each other, yield to one another. Christ Himself tells us, ‘How blessed the merciful!’ and ‘How blessed the peace makers!’ for they shall be called sons and daughters of God.
What greater thing can there be in this life than to be called a son or a daughter of God? Who dares open his lips to call anyone by this awesome name? We whisper it to ourselves and turn away our faces from that one, when we see him or her come anywhere near us, and we flee. Or else, caught up in the majesty of ‘divine service’ we verbally adulate saints sealed into painted ikons, and inwardly flee.
Again to the Ephesians writes the holy apostle Paul,
Husbands should love their wives just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed Himself for her to make her holy… To sum up, you too, each one of you, must love his wife as he loves himself; and let every wife respect her husband.
Ephesians 5:25-26a, 33
Taking another look at what the holy apostle here writes us, we have no choice whether to acknowledge or to ignore his words. Our burden is the revelation of the divine order, ποίησης (PEE-ee-seess), in the divine creation, κτίσης (K’TEE-seess), as it is expressed in the relationship between man and woman, a burden which cannot be borne without first taking on the yoke of Christ’s obedience, to remember one another, as befits each.
Infusing with divine presence the relationship between man and woman as they approach each other for every need in marriage, the apostle wastes no time in getting directly to the point. He tells us men, ‘Love your wives,’ and us women ‘Respect your husband.’ He spares no efforts here or elsewhere in his letters trying to explain the reasons for these divine counsels, but it all comes down to obedience.
The Divine Mystery at the heart of God, the Eternal, the unearthly Triad of Father, Son, and Spirit, loses no article of Their awesome and untranslatable grandeur as it is replicated by Them in ‘all things, seen and unseen,’ in every particle of the things, even the beings, They have made, fashioning mankind in Their image, even as male and female, first one then the other, co-eternal, co-equal, even as They.
Now, returning to the holy apostle’s words, ‘what I want you to understand is that Christ is the head of every man, man is the head of woman, and God is the head of Christ.’ I ask, how is this order any different than the order we see at work in every act of the Holy Trinity? The Father is the principle of unity in the Divine Nature, from whom Son is begotten, and Spirit proceeds, all co-eternal, co-equal.
How is this order any different than the order we see in every facet of the life of Jesus Christ? There, especially in John’s gospel, Jesus speaks and acts in complete union and unanimity, single-souledness, with His Father and the Spirit. Then, as He distributes His work, will, and Spirit to His disciples, in Divine Marriage with them, yes, with us, the Church, the Divine Mystery is again replicated, in us, as us.
And so the holy apostle tells us, ‘Give way to one another,’ and begins to unfold the divine order in which this giving way is to take place. What follows is not a suggestion, but in very truth, commandment, because commandment is not arbitrary. Commandment is ‘the way things work,’ the way they’ve been designed to. Like natural laws discovered by science, you cannot by-pass them. You cannot ‘fake it.’
‘As Christ is head of the Church and saves the whole body, so is a husband the head of his wife,’ Paul continues. Why does he leave out ‘and saves her, wholly?’ This is written elsewhere in the scripture. Was it because he didn’t want us to blur the fine line of truth? How fine the line is between Divine Nature and human nature! Why? Because it is not there to divide, but to invite us to make our move.
‘As the Church submits to Christ, so should wives to their husbands, in everything,’ is what Paul tells us, speaking as much to the Church in our relationship to Christ as he is to the individual married woman, but neither by nature agrees. What does ‘in everything’ mean? He cannot be serious! Who is this Christ to be so demanding? Who is this man to think he deserves to be obeyed ‘in everything’ by his wife?
We have already been instructed, we have already been told, ‘Give way to one another in obedience to Christ,’ and we cannot fall back on our own interpretation because we have been given not a suggestion, but a commandment. No work, good or bad, can be accomplished unless someone begin. ‘Husbands should love their wives just as Christ loved the Church and sacrificed Himself for her to make her holy.’
What kind of despotism is this? The holy apostle, himself a man, and unmarried (sometimes complaining about it, sometimes proud of it), has the audacity to tell us that a man should love his wife and, even worse, love her as Christ loves the Church? Again, this is not audacity, but the truth. This is how things work, or else they don’t work at all. Marriage can, as love does, cover all offenses, but in the wrong way.
To be called to be a husband is as much the call of Christ as is any call to serve. Marriage is a priesthood just as glorious as is the priesthood of the altar. The husband is lord, he is priest, he is father, he is teacher, he is law-giver and judge, of his family, all by the mandate to love, first, his wife and, second, their offspring as God grants them. He sacrifices himself to make them holy, ‘in obedience to Christ.’
Why does the holy apostle spend so many words on the role of the man in the marriage covenant? Why does he keep repeating to men, ‘Love your wives’? Can anything be more obvious to one who is himself a man? By nature it is easier for a man to respect than to love. His self-centeredness is natural even when not leading to sin. He has a job to do for those he loves, even at the cost of forgetting to love.
It may seem a small thing, but for a man not to love his wife, that is, not to express that love in ways that a wife needs—not by money, not by vacations and presents, but—by ‘presence’ with her, near her, in her, in ways that save her and make her holy—for a man not to love his wife, especially in sight of their children, is not only to disobey the commandment, but to destroy the family, present and future.
‘And let every wife respect her husband,’ is not added by the apostle as a mere afterthought, as if it were not important, as if women and what they say and do did not matter. No less is this the commandment, the very same commandment, ‘Give way to one another in obedience to Christ.’ No less is the role of woman, as queen of her king, than is man’s, as king of his queen. Together, they reign.
It may seem a small thing, but for a woman not to respect her husband, that is, not to express that respect in ways that a husband needs, but instead, to disobey him, to overrule him, to humiliate and belittle him, mocking his love and self-sacrifice, especially in sight of their children, is not only to disobey the commandment, but to preach and practice rebellion, destroy the family, present and future.
It is a man’s nature to respect. It is a woman’s nature to love. God knows this. The holy, undivided, divine Triad made us in Their image. They made us with the sole object of loving us and raising us up as one of Themselves, as scripture testifies from beginning to end, by making us overcome our earthly natures, ‘giving way to one another’ to become as They are, unearthly, holy, almighty, eternal.
To sum up, you too, each one of you, must love his wife as he loves himself; and let every wife respect her husband.