Marriage is a serious Business

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Marriage is a serious Business
Saturday of the 11th Week after Pentecost
22 August, 2009
1 Corinthians 1:3-9 ; Matthew 19:3-12

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Today our Lord is giving us some very direct and hard words to hear. At the same time, in the middle of the hard words to hear, He is showing His compassion to us. This compassion has been with us all along. The hard words come in the context of marriage. Our Lord is saying very clearly that marriage is a serious business.

The man and the woman become one flesh (see 1 Moses [Genesis] 2:24). They become one body (as it were), one unit together. This oneness implies the intercommunion of their hearts and spirits. This is an extremely important detail for us to remember. It is not that something magical is happening in that when the couple marries this unity comes into being instantly. It is a process of becoming one. Even more, it is the fruit of the commitment made one to another in love. When people get married to each other, obviously they do this because they love each other. There are also arranged marriages. I have been told that in arranged marriages, although the two persons may not love each other at the beginning, after time passes they do come to love each other. In this context I always remember the famous exchange in Fiddler on the Roof between Tevye and his wife. They had never discussed love in all the 25 years they were married. After 25 years, they finally began to talk about it. They have an exchange, analysing their behaviour for the past 25 years in sacrificing for each other and in raising children. They come to the conclusion that they must love each other.

The fact is that love does grow. People make a commitment at the beginning, and the love grows. In this love (and especially when we are talking about love in Christ), this love brings unity. Not only does it bring unity, but it also brings union, as our Saviour is saying to us today. It is a sacred union which ought not to be broken for any trivial reason. It probably ought not to be broken at all if possible. However, if it is inevitable that it must be broken, it should not be broken for a trivial reason.

That is why our Saviour is answering in the way that He does in the Gospel reading today, because the adjustment in the Law of Moses had become such that a man could put away his wife on a whim. As we just heard in the reading today, the Pharisees are asking : “‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?’” We could also put it the other way, too, nowadays : “Can a woman divorce her husband for just any reason ?” Be that as it may, there is nothing trivial about marriage at all. The Lord emphasises the significance of marriage not only because of this union between a husband and wife (which is so important), but also because the union in Christ, in God is so important. Marriage, itself, is a reflection of the Trinity. There are not only two persons in a marriage. God is in this marriage, too. Christ is standing in the middle of this marriage. There are three persons involved here. The unity is made truly strong in the love of Jesus Christ. The family in itself in its interior life is demonstrating the nature and the love of the Holy Trinity.

The Holy Trinity is always life-giving, life-creating, generous, and full of hospitality. So is the Christian marriage. Let us recall the words from the marriage service which say that it is expected that God’s blessings on this family are going to be shared with those round about, and with people who are in need. We are asking for abundance for the couple who are married so that they will be able to be generous in sharing this abundance, and will help other people to share their abundance likewise. I have known many families that have had an open-door policy precisely in this spirit so that if anyone drops in at an appropriate time (and there are very many humorous stories about this), he or she would be invited to share dinner. I am referring to the fact that there are certain people who so much enjoy this hospitality that they always happen to show up at the right time frequently (and then maybe even regularly).

This openness, this hospitality in the love of God, is what is important. It is not that someone might take advantage of us that is the main concern. If someone tries to take advantage, that is between that person and God. Our responsibility is to share, and to embrace people in love. Who knows if the person who begins taking advantage might not be healed by the encounter with selfless giving and caring ? A person could wake up from the deception of grasping and greediness, and learn open-armed hospitality, open-hearted hospitality.

In giving the rules for divorce (which are very few, and restricted), our Lord is also saying that even this was not always so. He emphasises again to us that when God created us, He created us to live in this unbroken and unbreakable harmony and community of love which gives life, always focussed on the Lord. He says to us that some people cannot receive this word, but for those who can receive this word, let them receive it. Our Lord is saying to us that He understands that it could be too difficult for some people. The Church has been living out this word ever since because of the weaknesses of human beings, and the need for compassion for human beings in weakness. The Church has lived out this compassionate flexibility. However, this has always been in the context of what the Lord’s saying implies, which is that love between a man and a woman in the context of marriage is sacred, and should not be broken as far as is humanly possible. Everything must be done in order to reconcile before a fracture might occur. Mutual forgiveness is far more important than waging who is right and who is wrong on each other. Mutual forgiveness (which is not at all a one-way street) is far more important than anything.

In our family, our mother spoke to us very many times about how our parents lived. (For this I have always been grateful.) They were living according to the very short saying of the Apostle Paul : “Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). My mother said that during all the 25 years that God gave them before our father died, they always solved any disagreement they had before they went to bed to sleep. Right at the beginning, they apparently found that if they did not resolve the disagreement at the time, and they went to bed with growliness in their heart, it was still there when they woke up in the morning (and it had become worse because it had been festering). They said that it was better to clear it up immediately even though it meant a night short of sleep. That is why I keep saying (in the context of what our Lord is saying to us) that this mutual forgiveness is more important than anything.

The apostles are saying to the Lord that these words are very difficult, and that maybe one should not get married at all. The Apostle says that there are some people who do not marry because of their love for the Lord. Single-mindedly and single-heartedly they are going to serve Him without any distraction. However, in a family, it can be so as well. What matters is the service of the Lord. If the husband and wife together are serving the Lord as one, this becomes a very, very strong community and witness which could be much stronger than the witness of the single person dedicated to the Lord. It is important for us to remember that.

Let us give thanks to the Lord for His compassionate mercy. He is showing us that, regardless of everything difficult, His maximally abundant compassion is not lacking. Glory to God for His love for us. Glory to the all-holy Trinity : the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.