Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Marriage and death: Reflections on three years

In our popular culture, we tend to joke about how marriage and funerals are one and the same thing.  Ha, ha, ha. Very funny.  But, as is the case with most humor, there is a truth that these two seemingly disparate milestones in life may be connected after all in a way that is not so much funny, but ironic.

This weekend I found an article in my inbox from the Omaha World Herald about a couple who decided to celebrate their wedding in the chapel of Omaha's largest cemetery.    I'm happy that I read the article in full because just reading the headline I seriously thought something was very wrong.  Anyway, the couple decided to marry in this cemetery's chapel for a variety of reason. The bride is from Krygyzstan and in her culture, according to the article, there is a strong attachment between the living and the spirits of the deceased.  For the groom, some of his ancestors are buried there and he wanted them to be counted as witnesses to his nuptials.  OK, suum cuique

When I read the article, I thought about my own wedding as the anniversary approaches tomorrow.  Three years ago I was joined to my wife.  No vows were recited.  No cheesy pop songs proclaiming endless love were played.  No loud, thunderous applause.  When we were joined together through the crowning ceremony, the chanters chanted the hymns to the martyrs, not just one or two martyrs, but calling to mind all of them.  These martyrs, or witnesses, gave their entire life to Christ for Christ.  Rather than live without Christ, they chose death.  And they have been crowned with glory because of this.

In the Orthodox wedding ceremony, the hymns of the martyrs are sung because marriage is supposed to be a death:  death to one's own desires, one's own passions, one's own self.  As the Martyrs died for Christ for His sake, so the husband is to die for the sake of his wife and vice-versa.  This death, just like the death of Christ, is a paradox.  Christ's death brought about life through His Resurrection.  Similarly, the death of each spouse in a marriage is to bring about a greater life in Christ for both partners. 

Three years in, I realize I have a lot of dying to do.  I have not given up my own individual self entirely for my wife who has blessed me further by giving me a happy, healthy little boy.  I have not loved her as Christ loved the Church. I have not sacrificed myself for her.  The list goes on.   Marriage is part of the spiritual life just as worship, receiving the sacraments, praying, etc.  I know that it will take a long time, if I ever accomplish it at all, to love my wife to the point so selflessly to the point that I have died to myself.  

Saying to my wife, "I love you" is not and should not be just some platitude to say before I kiss her good night or when I see her after a long day at work.   It should be spoken as a prayer to Christ that I am hers for the sake of our Lord.  Maybe tomorrow, on our anniversary, we should go to the cemetery for a few minutes to more vividly remind myself about what marriage is, but I think we'll just go out to dinner instead.

Happy anniversary, my dear wife.  I love you.