I CONGRATULATE YOU, beloved in Christ, with a lawful marriage, and I want at the same time to give you a few words for your edification. With the sacrament of matrimony the Holy Church commands that an edifying word be offered to the newlyweds, telling them what is the mystery of matrimony, and how to live honestly and in a God-pleasing way in marriage.
Quite a bit has been said about marriage and family life, especially in the past few years, but it is not always that one hears sensible words about it. Therefore, it is necessary to firmly know and remember and for you, beloved groom, as a servant of the Orthodox Church, to teach others as well—what is the mystery of matrimony, and how to live honestly and in a God-pleasing way in marriage
“It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make a help-meet for him” (Gen. 2:18), said God Himself, when our forefather Adam was still in Paradise. Without a helpmate the very bliss of Paradise was not complete for Adam.
Endowed with the ability to think, speak, and love, the first man in his thoughts is seeking another being who is able to think; his speech sounds sorrowfully in the air, and only a lifeless echo serves as an answer to him; his heart full of love, is looking for another heart that is close and equal to his. His entire being desires another being similar to him, but there is no such being.
The creatures of the visible world around him are lower than he is and cannot be helpmates appropriate for him; and the being of the invisible, spiritual world are higher than he is. Then the All-Merciful God, who cares about the bliss of man, fulfills his need and creates for him a helpmate appropriate for him—a wife.
But if there was a need for a man to have a helpmate in Paradise, the land of bliss, then after the Fall, in the land of tears and sorrow, such a need has become much greater. A wise man of the Old Testament rightfully said, “Two are better than one, for if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up” (Eccl. 4:9-10).
Only a few are able to endure the burden of spiritual solitude; this is achieved through not a small labor, and “all men cannot receive this saying, except they to whom this teaching is given” (Matt. 19:11). As far as the others are concerned, “it is not good for a man to be alone, without a helpmate. A wife is this kind of a helpmate for a man.
Living primarily from the heart, a woman, with her heart’s typical qualities — tender love, submissive devotedness, meekness, long-suffering, and compassion — is the best partner, friend, comforter, and helpmate for a man. In the gifts of female nature, a husband finds replenishment of his intellect, resolve, and character. And he receives support and encouragement from an affectionate wife.
There is no such hard labor, there is no such bitter lot, to which a loving wife is not able to have her husband be reconciled. Therefore, the Old Testament says that,
“he who acquires a wife, acquires a helper and a pillar of rest” (Sirach 36:24);
“charm upon charm is a modest wife, and no balance can weigh her value!” (Sir. 26:15).
“A virtuous wife brings joy to her husband – peaceful and full is his life” (Sir. 26:1).
“A gracious wife delights her husband; her thoughtfulness puts flesh on his bones” (Sir. 26:13). “With her the heart of a wealthy man and a poor one is satisfied, and his face is joyous at all times (Sir. 26:4).
“Live joyfully, my son, with the wife whom thou lovest, whom God hath given thee; for this is thy portion in this life, and in thy labor” (Eccl. 9:9).
And this lot-life together in matrimony-is pleasing is the eyes of God as well.
Today in the Vespers hymns, the Holy Church glorified “the brightest life, and equal to the angels,” of the Venerable Macarius of Egypt.(2)
He was distinguished with virtues, especially with asceticism and prayer. Nevertheless, once this great ascetic heard a voice, “Macarius! You have not yet become equal in your perfection to two women, who live not far from you.” Having heard this, the holy elder found those women and asked them how they live and how they please God.
The women answered him with humility: “We are sinners and live amidst the fuss of the world; there is no goodness in us; and there is only one thing that we avoid God’s anger with — that it has been fifteen years already since we married two brothers, and we live in such agreement that we have never said an unpleasant word to each other.”
Therefore, this means that life in matrimony is perfect and is pleasing to God. But it is pleasing when its foundation is not some mercenary calculations and lowly motives, but rather, mutual love and devotion of husband and wife, combined with self-denial, constancy, meekness, and long-suffering, and when a husband loves and takes care of his wife, and the wife respects her husband and listens to him as the head of the family, which the Holy Church requires from a couple (cf. Eph. 5:22-29).
Furthermore, in order to be pleasing in the eyes of God, the marriage must be “in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39). The blessing of the Church must be called upon it, through which it becomes a mystery in which heavenly grace is given to a husband and a wife, which sanctifies and elevates their union in the likeness of the union of Christ with the Church (cf. Eph. 5:23–32), and which assists them in carrying out their mutual duties.
Sometimes, as for example, some have it in this country, a Church wedding is considered unnecessary. But if we cannot do genuine good in its fullness without Christ (cf. John 15:5), if all of “our sufficiency is from God” (2 Cor. 3:5), if it is God Who begets in us kind desire and actions (cf. Phil. 2:13), then how is it possible that the married couple does not need the grace of God to piously carry out their high duties?
No, the true Orthodox Christian cannot be satisfied with just a civil marriage, without a Church wedding. For that kind of marriage remains without the highest Christian sanctification, since only to the marriage sanctified by the Church — this treasury of grace — is God’s grace attracted.
A civil marriage, for its part, places in the foundation and protection of the married life not creative religious-moral principles, not the spiritually beneficent power of God, but only legal obligations, which are not sufficient for moral perfection.
Your marriage union, my beloved, is blessed today by the Holy Church, and through the priest of God, God’s grace has been given to you. And you, wife, at the same time, take a husband not only in the temple, but also from the temple, from the ranks of the servants of God.
We place our hope, therefore, and at the same time we pray to God, Who is glorified in the Holy Trinity, that “He may grant to you long life, well-favored children, progress in life and in faith, and perfect love. May He replenish you with all the good things of the earth and count you worthy of the promised blessings, through the prayers of the Holy Theotokos,” with whose icon I bless you today, “and of all the saints.
A Sermon on Marriage, preached by St. Tikhon of Moscow to a newlywed couple on January 18/31, 1902, printed in Amerikansky Pravoslavny Vestnik, 1902, #3, pp. 61-62. 2. St. Macarius the Great of Egypt was a very important Desert Father who lived in the 4th century. The famous Fifty Spiritual Homilies are attributed to him. 3. From a prayer from “The Service of the Crowning,” before the dismissal.