At an Orthodox wedding we read St Paul’s words of instruction, specifically to husbands regarding their wives: "Husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church and gave himself for her." (Eph 5.25) As a rule one of the first things we have to ask ourselves when reading or hearing the New Testament is if what we are hearing has some background in the Old Testament. Almost always it does, and that certainly is the case here. If we go back to the very beginning of the story we recall that Adam, the man created by God, is without a helper and someone suitable for companionship with him. So God cast Adam into what most English versions call a “deep sleep” but the Septuagint calls a vision or ecstasy and from Adam’s side Eve was brought forth by God. Seeing the woman Adam exclaims, "this is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” The woman, Eve, truly is part of Adam. He sees himself in in her. So here, at the beginning of the Book, is the basis for marriage, created and - we should not miss this! - ministered by God.
We have to remember all of this when we hear St Paul’s words in Ephesians which we read at the Orthodox wedding. But just as the rule mentioned before about listening for the Old Testament when hearing the New, so likewise when we turn to the New Testament we must see how that Old Testament message is fulfilled and perfected in Christ. Thus it is with St Paul’s word on marriage. He starts by saying what any rabbi could have said about marriage, that the woman is part of the man who must love her as his own flesh and bone. But then St Paul beautifully and mystically connects this to Christ and the Church. Christ is the true Adam and the Church is the true Eve. Earthly marriage, then, is an icon and a mystery that shows forth the One Mystery of Christ, the Bridegroom who on the cross opens his side (John 19.34) for the creation of the new Eve, the Church.
Once I was discussing all of this with some folks when one woman asked rather surprisingly, “But how can Christ be Adam and the Church Eve? Husbands and wives…you know!” You probably see where she was going. Taking her knowledge of husbands and wives and the marital union and then trying to fit Christ and the Church into that left her confused and not a little shocked. And, of course, it is shocking! And maybe it is that shock of associating Christ with the Church in this way that causes so many people to routinely miss what the Bible is really all about.
Already in the Old Testament God was telling Israel that he was her husband and she was his bride. And the New Testament is filled with the same imagery of Christ the Bridegroom and the Church the Bride from beginning to end. It is shocking! It’s supposed to be shocking to our all-too-neat sense of what we think religion and morality are all about. But rather than back away from the Mystery because it is shocking we must go further in to the Mystery. A prudish sense of "this is just a metaphor” will not save us here and will, honestly, completely miss the point.
There is a consummation, a union of Christ and the Church, toward which the marital union of husband and wife points. That mystical union is at the heart of the last book of the Bible and, in fact, the whole Bible. The finale of the Book of Revelation is the New Jerusalem, the city of God, coming down out of Heaven as a bride (Revelation 21). That city/bride is the Church and the Church is Paradise, as the final chapter of the Book and the Bible (Revelation 22) make clear. And so the Bible begins in Paradise with the wedding of Adam and Eve and it ends in Paradise with the wedding of the True Adam and the True Eve.
Or, to end where we began, with St Paul: “This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.”
With love in Christ,
“Give me a word!”
Mercifulness opens the way to the heart of all creatures, and brings joy. Mercilessness brings fog to the fore, and creates a cramped isolation. Have mercy on Your merciful servant, most Tender Hand, and reveal to me the mystery of Your mercy.
-St Nikolai Velimirovich
In a wonderful way, involuntary sorrows conceal God’s mercy, which brings those who have patience to repentance and frees them from eternal hell.
-St Mark the Ascetic
If here in exile, in this accursed land of weeping, our holy God has given us so much beauty to enjoy, I wonder how much there will be in the place where God Himself dwells!
Draw nigh to the righteous, and through them you will draw nigh to God. Communicate with those who possess humility, and you will learn morals from them. A man who follows one who loves God becomes rich in the mysteries of God; but he who follows an unrighteous and proud man gets far away from God, and will be hated by his friends.
-St Isaac the Syrian