Dear brothers and sisters!
Family is one of the paths to salvation, sanctified by the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at the marriage in Cana of Galilee. Family is a domestic church, a school of Christian love, mutual longanimity and humility. Love, selfless service to each other, respect, patience and mutual forgiveness of shortcomings are mentioned in the prayers at the rite of the church matrimony.
The mutual duties of a husband and wife are indicated in the Holy Scriptures: the husband must love his wife, as Christ loved the Church, and from the wife’s side there should be obedience to her husband, as the Church obeys Christ (Eph. 5:22-26). The violation of the church mystery of marriage — divorce — is condemned by the Lord, since “what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6).
From the lives of the Holy Right-believing Prince Peter and Princess Febronia, named in the monasticism of David and Euphrosyne, wonder-workers of Murom, we know that Prince Peter, faithful to the duty of a Christian spouse, decided to abdicate the prince’s throne and live in poverty rather than to part with his wife. Febronia, a faithful and wise helper to her husband, supported him in this decision and comforted him, saying that God would not abandon them. Their marriage became a model of Christian love and mutual fidelity. They are patron saints of a peaceful and God-pleasing dispensation of married life.
The following event from the life of Princess Febronia is very instructive. Once, while riding in a boat along a river, one of the grandees, a married man, looking upon the beauty of Princess Febronia, was kindled with lustful thoughts. The holy woman unravelled his evil intentions and asked the grandee: “Draw water from one side of the boat, and then from the other, and drink.” Once he did this, Febronia asked:
– Is water the same, or is one sweeter than the other?
“The same,” he answered.
“So too is the nature of women equal,” said the princess. “Why are you, forgetting your wife, thinking of someone else’s?”
Being confronted and embarrassed, he abandoned his lustful intentions.
When old age approached, Saints Peter and Febronia, accepting monasticism, prayed God for them to depart on the same day and hour, so as not to be separated either on earth or in Heaven, which the Lord fulfilled. According to their bequest, Peter and Febronia were buried in the same coffin with a thin partition in the middle.
Another grand example of marital fidelity, mutual support, devotion and love was embodied over the course of the difficult lives of the zealots of ancient piety, Holy Hieromartyr Avvakum and his wife, Anastasia Markovna, who became her husband’s “faithful helper to salvation,” as Protopriest Avvakum wrote in his “Life”. Bearing “one another’s burdens”, they overcame all trials and tribulations, while preserving the true faith and mutual love and fidelity. May we resort to the prayers of these saints for the bestowal of familial fortune and the organisation of a peaceful and God-pleasing life.
The strength of the familial union is grounded in the consensus of husband and wife and in the fulfilment of Orthodox laws and customs. But do not be discouraged and despair if one of the spouses has already come to the faith, and the other is still far from Christian life. According to the words of the Apostle, “the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband” (1 Cor. 7:14). And so you need to pray for an unbelieving spouse, so that the Lord may enlighten them and grant you pious consensus.
Being married, Orthodox Christians need more often to resort to the advice of the spiritual father, for he, unlike anyone else, cares about the souls of the people entrusted to him.
At the end of the wedding, the priest reads to the newlyweds a small teaching that lays the foundation for familial well-being in a Christian family. For pious spouses it would be useful not only to read this teaching again, but also to try to apply it in their lives.