“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church.” (Eph. 5, 22-23)
Does this mean that the husband is the absolute master, inviolable and untouchable within his power?
We shall see that the things are not just like that, and that in Christian matrimony the roles of husband and wife are equalized through mutual love and submissiveness to the will of God.
A very important detail should be pointed out here. Words about submissiveness sound very rough to a contemporary,“refined”, feminists` ear. But we should remind ourselves that our Lord brought a revolutionary change to the idea of matrimony of that time.
Tempting the Lord, Pharisees ask him: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” (Matt. 19, 3) And that: “for every fault”, according to some interpreters of this stern law of the Old Testament, meant a reproachful glance of the wife, excessively salted meal or anything else, as banal as these. “When a man takes a wifeand marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house.” (5. Moses 24, 1)
However, with the pagans, the Romans, the situation was even worse. “Cato, writing about the Roman law, says: If you find your wife committing adultery, you can kill her without any trial. But, if she should find you committing adultery, she would not dare even to touch you; in fact, she does not have any right.” (John MacArthur)
Such is the situation and state of mind in which the Lord comes and makes himself protect the woman, and reminds his testers that God has created them to be a male and a female, and planted deep into their beings the unquenchable striving for each other. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matt. 19, 5-6)
And when Pharisees cited Mosses and asked for their unlimited right to a wife, the Lord answered them: “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.” (Matt. 19, 8)
From all possible reasons for releasing the wife, the Lord approved only one-unfaithfulness, adultery. Christ sharply says, “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” (Matt. 19, 9)
Deepening the protection of the woman, the Apostle Paul orders to the husbands to love their wives, and not merely to love them, but to love them persistently, devotedly and even with all the faults they could have. He compares the love of the husband to his wife with Christ`s love to his Church, his bride. “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5, 25)
Submissiveness of the wife is unconditional, but love of the husband to his wife is unconditional, as well. “We have to love the woman not only because she was created from us and because she is a part of our body, but also because the Lord determined so”, says Saint John Chrysostom.
When love and submissiveness meet in the marriage, a complete equalization occurs. If the man loves his wife he would not expect from her slave-like submissiveness; if the wife loves her husband she herself will do for him, out of love, everything that her husband would have expected from her.
Saint Apostle Paul brings the husbands to Christ as well, and puts the Lord in the centre of their life, by instructing them to emulate Christ the sufferer. When he tells to the husband that he is the head to the wife, as Christ is the head to the Church, the Apostle speaks about Christ as the Savior. The Lord was crucified for the sake of his bride. “You want your wife to submit to you – asks Saint John Chrysostomos – then take the responsibility for taking care for her as Christ did for Church. Even if you have to bear new sufferings for her, and to give your life for her, do not hesitate. Nevertheless, you will not do anything equal to Christ`s act. You sacrifice your self for somebody already close to you, and Christ gave Himself for the one who had already turned her back to him and hated him.” The same Saint gives advice to the husband how to provide respect and submissiveness from his wife. He says that the Lord has perfected His bride, Church, “not by the threats, violence or intimidation, but by His eternal, unmeasurable love.” “That is the way you should love your wife. Even when she treats you with disdain and mocks you, you can still win her over and submit her to yourself by your love, care and respect.”
“And what if the wife refuses to submit to myself – Saint Chrysostomos puts the question, and answers: It does not matter! Your duty is to love her; do your duty. Even if we do not get from others what belongs to us, we have to do our duty.” “Bear everything because of her, but never humiliate her because Christ has never humiliated Church.”
The most ideal thing is – and it is what should be strived for – that the husband and the wife, overflown by love, “read” each other`s thoughts, so that their connection outgrows to mutual obedience.