Man/Woman relationship within marriage
Let us begin by referring to the services of the Orthodox Church. In the Sacrament of Marriage (or “The Order of the Crowning”), we see a reference to Ephesians 5:24; ” Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” Some (probably in reaction to feminist attitudes) take this to an extreme so that they liken the submission of a wife to her husband to be like the obedience of a child to his father or servant to his master. However, there is one critical thing that seems to be overlooked and what is that? Married life is community life. This is natural to mankind. One aspect of being created in the image of God, Who is three Persons yet one in Essence, is that man is an ontological community of being, that is, our manner of existence is communal. The former abbot of Simonapetra Monastery on Athos, Elder Aimilianos, was known to advise: “Either join a community or make a community.” What he was implying is that you either become a member of a monastic community or marry and make a family which is also a community. Indeed, we find in a number of times prayers is offered in “The Order of the Crowning” for the “fruit of the womb and the gain of fair children”. In this service we also see prayers for the couple to be granted things as follows: “an indissoluble bond of love”, “love for one another in the bond of peace” and “peace and oneness of mind” (All quotations are from Volume 1 of the four volume set of the “Book of Needs” published by St. Tikhon’s Monastery, South Canaan, PA). So let us talk about marriage as community life.
I will take a monastery as an example of community life and primarily refer to conversations with an Athonite monk. But keep in mind that the role of the husband/father as an authority figure is like that of the abbot or Elder.
In the Orthodox Church we have two ways of life: married and monastic. If you do not have a monastic calling then normally you would marry. The Church does not like to have unmarried people in the world because a Christian is a part of a community. The married life is a community life and the monastic life is a community life. Christianity is a life of sacrifice. In a community whether monastic or a family we sacrifice; we learn humility by cutting off our will before others and serving them. An unmarried person in the world has a great tendency to live a self-willed and selfish life, living for himself; this is not Orthodoxy. There are also families which can actually be living an idiorythmic life and the same can be true for them.
In a monastery our work is called diaconima which is taken from the word deacon meaning to serve. We do not use the worldly term “work” because those work in the world is primarily for one’s self, for something one wants which is very self-centered. In the monastery we use the word diaconima because we are working for each other and not ourselves–we are serving the community. In this way even eating becomes a liturgical act because you are sustaining yourself in order to serve others. Our program should not be to seek things we want of to have time for ourselves but to help others without any resistance when we are asked. In this way we attain humility, that is, by serving the community. By thus serving the community our diaconima becomes a prayer, whether it be physical work or speaking to a visitor who is in need we are at the same time inwardly moved. And if anything we desire to undertake either disrupts the community or does not benefit the community in any way; but is done only for one’s self, then you only appear to be benefiting yourself but in reality you are not. Then this is not in accordance with God’s will, this is how we can tell if something is in accordance with God’s will: when you benefit others you benefit yourself.
This Father spoke much about the monastery being a family. He emphasized that although the abbot is a needed authority figure; it is important for him to be a living example of self-sacrifice in order to win the love and respect of the brotherhood. This should not be by force or compulsion but as a voluntary act on their part, a spontaneous response, a mutual exchange of love. He also stated, “In the Orthodox sense of community there are two or more people living in relationship with each other and they must discuss the managing their life and the problems that occur and come to an agreement. There should never be a dictatorship type of relationship where one in authority just says, ‘This is what I have decided. This is the way it is going to be and that’s it!’ As a spiritual father, the abbot or elder of the monastery, has the responsibility of doing what is best for the community as a whole, and so, he should be a facilitator of the good of the whole.” This father spoke of his abbot as having an acute sensitivity to the needs of every particular person that comes before him. He does not expect obedience to be something abstract, an impersonal, lifeless work; rather it is an exercise that depends upon and issues forth from a relationship between two people, a relationship of love.
The role of the husband, as an authority figure in a family is similar to the role of an abbot. While role of the wife is similar to a member of the community who lives a life of sacrifice for others. They are both parents and both are on a level above their children. In this sense equals, but the husband is as the first among equals in regulating the functioning of the family and thus bears the burden of a heavier responsibility.
In conclusion, I want to quote a contemporary Elder who advises married couples as follows: “I tell them to have one contention among themselves. That is, to see who can humble themselves the most and who can do more of the will of the other.”