Pascha: Marital Vocation and Putting on Christ
By Fr. George Morelli
I would like to use the feast of Pascha to enliven the commitment of husbands and wives united in blessed marriage to one another and to their charge the Domestic Church.
Pascha is critical in this renewal because all of Christ’s teachings, who He is, who He claims to be, who we say He is, how we live our lives personally and in a holy union with our spouses in one flesh and the our flesh shared by our children depends completely on Holy Pascha.
Let us reflect on the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians
“Now if Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. (1Cor. 15: 12-24).
The reason this passage is so importance is that it gives us the reason for those who are married to do so ‘in Christ’. It gives those who have children to raise them in an Orthodox Christian home. It is the ultimate reason for the focal point of marriage and parenting to be the teachings of Christ and not the power of the Evil one.
One of the beautiful hymns sung during the Paschal service is the Baptismal hymn: “As many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ, Alleluia. In baptism we put on Christ. In the early Church is was on this day that catechumens, those studying to become Christians, to be in union with His Body: the Church were in fact baptized. During the Lenten Pre-sanctified Liturgies we have been praying the Litanies for the catechumens and those preparing for illumination. Here are the petitions of the Litany of the Catechumens:
That He will teach them the word of truth.
That He will reveal to them the Gospel of righteousness
That He will unite them to His Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
And the petitions for those preparing for illumination:
That the Lord our God will establish them and strengthen them.
That He will illumine them with the light of wisdom and piety.
That He will grant unto them, in His won good time, the laver of regeneration, the remission of sins, and the garment of incorruption.
That He will beget them with water and the Spirit.
That He will grant unto them perfection in faith.
That He will number them with His holy and chosen flock.
Pascha and the paschal season is not only a time for all us as individual Christians to renew our Baptismal commitment but to do so especially of married, because the two have become by their marriage of ‘one flesh’.
St. Gregory Palamas for example, used nuptial symbolism to describe the need for all to be bound to Christ when he wrote: "The consummation of grief is pure bridal union with the Bridegroom. For this reason St. Paul, after describing a married couple's union in one flesh as 'a great mystery', added, 'but I say this with respect to Christ and the Church' (Ephesians. 5: 32). As they are one flesh, so those who are with God are one Spirit...he who cleaves to the Lord is one spirit with Him" (Philokalia IV). This should be the character of togetherness in an Orthodox Christian marriage. (Morelli, 2007)
Some Church Fathers and spiritual writers have pointed out that it was not coincidental that Christ started out his public life with the Miracle of the Marriage Feast of Cana. St. John tells us: “This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him.” (Jn. 2: 11) It is so easy for us to consider the Cana event as very familiar. In fact, it could be viewed as so familiar that we overlook the rich significance of it’s meaning.
Gospel commentators tell us "signs” are important when used in the gospel. When the Holy Apostle and Evangelist St. John, describes the miracle of the Marriage feast of Cana he calls it a “sign.” So what does the changing of water into wine mean? What is the significance of this sign? The signs that Jesus performs are not tricks, or magic or ostentatious prideful manifestations of power. Jesus is trying to convey to us by a sign: the presence and activity of God Himself. He is the hand of His father who by the co-action of the Holy Spirit who reveals the Fathers love and life-giving work in Jesus. We are to look to the his teachings and actions to guide us. The signs Jesus accomplishes make known His glory as the true Son of God, and they are intended to show us Him as our goal. We are to be lead to commitment to Him and His word. He is the Word the Truth and the Life.
It is so significant that this manifestation takes place in the setting of a wedding: a holy marriage. By His presence, Jesus blesses the newly-wed couple as they begin their life together as husband and wife. He continues to bless the marriages of all who are who come before Him and ask for this blessing to the present day and will until His second coming. But on a deeper level, Jesus performing this blessing at a marriage wedding points to the spousal union between Christ and the Church, with Himself as the bridegroom and the Church as His spouse, as the bride. This Christocentric spousal union extends to the household of the Domestic Church the blessed couple will create. They are to emulate Him in all, especially in self emptying sacrifice.
Three years later, Jesus will conquer sin and death by the ultimate sacrifice He will make for His bride: the Church. He will ascend the Cross. By His own sacrificial human death and triumphant Resurrection He tramples sin and death. This allow us to be baptized in Him, We can now can ‘put Him on’. When we put on Christ we prepare for entry into the eternal wedding feast of Paradise. Those who are married work at this ‘Sharing the One Flesh’.
The petitions in the Litanies of Catechumens and those preparing for illumination should be considered spiritual guides for the domestic churches. Truth, the good news of Righteousness, being actively united with the apostolic Orthodox Church. The Strength to persevere in marital and parenting fidelity. Wisdom, to make godly decisions about one’s own life, marital union and parenting, That by the water of the cleansing grace of the Spirit, they be regenerated , forgiven of their sins and thus be numbered as part of His chosen flock. These petitions become a means for the blessed couple to unite their baptismal vows with their marital vows and re-commit to Christ in One Flesh.
I always get down to the very practical .. the concrete ….. “where your treasure is so your heart will be also” (Mt. 6:21): Is truth modeled in the household? Do we speak truth about those around us? Do we speak truth about the events occurring in the world? For example: Do we point out abortion is wrong? Do we point out sexual intimacy and together before marriage and all same sex marriage is wrong and such relationship cannot receive a blessing from God? Do we know the teachings as revealed to His Church. Do we know, for example, the reasons why God blesses a sexual union only after the couple is crowned to one another. [Because it is a pledge to sacrifice to one another the way Christ did for us?] Do we know enough to explain other questions children may have or have a plan to ask the parish priest?) --- Do we not speak ill of others, spread gossip, rumors, or disclosing something about others even if true? Do we practice charity in the family, have a family charity project? Pray together, read scripture, spiritual reading, the church fathers, comment on evils performed but pray for those performing them? Do we lovingly monitor our children’s activities? Are we interested in what they want to talk to us about? For example, a mother or father may not be interested in baseball, but should be interested in their child’s interest. On the other hand, do we loose our “values compasses?” For example, do we let sports replace Divine Liturgy? Do we skip mealtime and or bedtime prayers? The list could go on. I recommend each family take the petitions from the beautiful litanies above and make out an family goal plan.
I have mentioned previously the Church is a hospital, the Church is Christ, our heavenly physician. He came to heal all our infirmities and diseases. The Church exists to heal our infirmities and diseases, the Domestic Church is meant to heal our infirmities and diseases. He did this by His Resurrection. Let us cleanse our baptismal robe, renew or marital commitment and put on Christ. Repentance and reconciliation can and should be part of our paschal re-commitment of our baptismal and marital pledges and goals of our domestic churches.
None of the above makes sense if we do not look into the empty tomb and meet Christ as His apostles and disciples did when He appeared to them after His Resurrection. All of this is true only if we live the joy of the empty tomb: the Resurrection by having Christ, the Heavenly Physician indwell in our hearts and proclaimed to those around us, especially to our families by our thoughts, words, deeds and actions . As we earlier reflected on the words of St. John: “… if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain.” Let us now witness: it is not in vain, because the resurrected Christ enlivens us in a baptismal renewal , and for those married, marital re-commitment by His residing in the center of the depth of our hearts.
Morelli, G. (2007b, August 7). Good Marriage VII: 'Desperate Togetherness' and the Fear of Being Alone. http://www.orthodoxytoday.org/articles7/MorelliSmartMarriageVII.php.
Palmer, G.E.H., Sherrard, P. & Ware, K. (Eds.). (1995). The Philokalia,: The Complete Text; Compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain & St. Markarios of Corinth. (Vol. 4). London: Faber and Faber.