Married or Just Living Together
Married or Just Living Together
Ever wonder what are the stages of marriage? One person represented them by a husband’s evolving reactions when his wife had a cold. In the first year or two he said: “Sugar dumpling, I’m really worried about my baby girl. You’ve got a bad sniffle and I’m going to take you to the doctor right away. Don’t worry about dinner or the kids, I’ll take care of everything sweetheart. In years 3-5, he said: Listen, darling, I don’t like the sound of that cough. You better call the doctor and go right to bed. Do we have any canned soup? In years 6-10: Now look, Dear, be sensible, after you feed the kids, do the dishes and mop the floor, you better get some rest. Years 11-15: Why don’t you gargle or something instead of sitting around barking like a seal? Years 16-20: For Pete’s sake, stop that sneezing. What are you trying to do, give me pneumonia?
For those who are married, you might know what this person is talking about. For those who are single, you might say, “That’s why I’m not married.” For those who are thinking about marriage, you might say, “Is that what I’m in for?” Marriage, despite stories like these, is very good and one of the most important relationships in our life. Jesus implicitly uplifts the importance of marriage in today’s Gospel reading for the 5th Sunday of Pascha (John 4:4-42) in which we hear Him encounter the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well.
15The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” 16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ 18for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.”
Why would Jesus make a point of the Samaritan woman’s marital status? Several biblical commentators note that the ‘five husbands’ represents the former religious affiliation of the Samaritans with the Jews and the five books of the Law/Torah. The one who is ‘not your husband’ refers to the Samaritans adulterous relationship with a foreign God. Another interpretation focuses on the Samaritan woman herself. After all, she’s living with a man she’s not married to. One of the stichera hymns in the Vespers celebrated last evening highlights that she purposely hid this from Christ, thus highlighting her guilt and need for repentance in order to be purified before she can partake of the living water that Jesus Christ offers. That’s why He said to her:
13Jesus answered and said to her, “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, 14but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”
Why is marriage important? Why should a man and woman who live together be married by God in His Church? After all, a couple who lives together can get know each other better to see if they’re right for each other, correct?. And if they live together they can save some money. Why pay two rents/mortgages? Lots of other couples have done it and they’re still married so what’s the big deal? Well, from a scientific perspective, what does the research say? Since 1970, cohabitation (living together without being married) has increased ten-fold or 1,000 percent. How do cohabitating couples compare to married couples? Cohabitating couples are less happy and more depressed. They are more prone to infidelity and abusing their children. If cohabitating couples get married, they are less satisfied and more likely to divorce. And the divorce rate is much higher for second or third marriages versus first marriages.
Thus, the recent secular statistics prove the timeless wisdom of the Church. Commitment of man and woman to each other and blessing of God are necessary conditions for marriage relationship. These two things are signified by the rings on their fingers and the crowns on their heads during the Orthodox wedding service. Human commitment and Divine blessing provide the best context for all expressions of love and intimacy, both emotional and physical, and for the bearing and the raising of children.
In the Epistle of Marriage (Ephesians 5:24-30), the Apostle Paul says that marriage between man and woman is a Mystery. A lot of guys out there are saying, “You bet it is. I haven’t figured it out yet.” Seriously, Paul compares marriage between a man and woman to Christ’s relationship with the Church. Christ is the Bridegroom, we the people of His Church are the bride. Using this paradigm, we are asked: are you willing to crucify/sacrifice your own selfish interests for the good of your spouse and your marriage? Are you willing to die for this person you’re living with? In the Gospel of Marriage (John 2:1-12) Jesus performs the first miracle of His public ministry at the Wedding in Cana of Galilee, changing the water into wine. Thus, He blesses the union between one man and one woman as holy, reflecting the Kingdom of God on earth.
Men and women who live together before marriage are more likely, not less, to divorce than couples who did not. Why is that? Because, the special and sacred quality of marriage has been removed and it becomes a perfunctory rite to gain legal status and often to please others like parents, priests and friends rather than God Himself.
St. John Chrysostom says, “Let us also imitate the woman of Samaria, and in the face of our own sins not be ashamed because of what men might think. Rather, it is proper to fear God Who sees now what we have done and Who punishes later for what we do not repent of.”
The couple does not learn, through ascetic chastity, that emotional intimacy is much more important than physical intimacy. They run the danger of falling in love with the feeling of romance and making love, instead of falling in love with the person/ality, the character and values of their partner. As marriage continues, physical/sexual intimacy will inevitable diminish. Then, what are you left with? Perhaps, two people who either don’t know each other and/or who don’t even like each other
Do you want and are you ready to have children with this person? We all know of couples who are married because they got pregnant before they got married. These situations, with humility and repentance before God, can work out and become successful marriages but it takes a lot more work and likelihood of serious problems and divorce is much higher. Look at the Samaritan woman, she who was married and divorced five times and was cohabitating with her current partner, who could not partake of the living water of Christ because of her former life; she obviously repented and became Photini “the enlightened one” who brought the people of Samaria to faith in Jesus Christ. She became an Apostle and she became a martyr for Christ along with her five sisters and her two sons under the Roman Emperor Nero. The power of repentance is marvelous and extraordinary. This past Fall I was blessed to visit the Church of St. Photini built over Jacob’s Well in Nablus (the ancient Neopolis) Palestine, and to drink the water from the well.
So, if and when you’re dating/courting someone and you’re thinking, “I can sacrifice for this person. I am willing to die for him. I want to have children with her,” then the questions is, “What are you waiting for?” Why not get God’s blessing now? Putting the marriage off and living together is like saying, “We don’t need you now God, but will let You know when we do want your stamp of approval.” That type of hubris and arrogance prepares us for a great fall. My brothers and sisters, let us hold the state of marriage in the highest honor through proper teaching, preparation and fidelity to its sacred character. Marriage is a gift from God. Let us receive that gift and treat it as most special. Amen.