My wedding day is a day I will always cherish. Being united to my husband in the eyes of God was one of the biggest blessings I could have received. Not only that, but this was done so with the full support of both of our families and all of our friends. Marriage is a spectacular thing to behold.
Two becoming one flesh. I did not realize how true these words could be until being married myself. It is the purest form of symbiosis. A true melding of mind, body, and soul. We are bonded for eternity.
Which is insane.
I did not think the Lord had it in His will that I would be bonded to the happy-go-lucky, ultimate frisbee player in my biological techniques class. Especially after I learned that he was a *gasp* Baptist.
But, once I pushed past the more surface level disagreements we had, I learned that we both shared the same foundational values. We prioritize our faith and our families. We were raised to show others kindness and respect. If I hadn’t known any better, I would have thought he had been raised by my own parents. Not long after the December in which we began our relationship, I felt in my soul that we were meant to grow into our own family.
And this feeling only grew as time passed. Our relationship was not one of butterflies and fireworks, but comfort and understanding. Whenever I think of my husband, two images come to mind. One is of pure sunlight. From the day we met, he had been a constant beam of sunshine, lighting up any room he walked into. The second image is a big, warm sweater. He is my home.
Flames fizzle out.
Fireworks fade out against the dark night sky.
But sweaters will always be snuggly and the sun will never stop shining.
When you’re dating, many people will assert that opposites attract, and encourage you to find someone with a different viewpoint. Which is true, in a very specific sense. Naturally, we will not get along with people who are our polar opposites. Being our true opposites, they do not share our same values or morals, and marrying someone who is completely against everything you hold to be true will lead to constant arguments.
Instead of looking for an opposite to offset certain aspects of yourself, find someone who is strong in the areas where you are weak. Support is one of the main functions of marriage, and cannot thrive when you are with someone who only acts to outweigh your own negative traits. Rather than looking for a counterweight, seek out a counterpart. I am an anxious person, to the point where I can sometimes feel paralyzed by my own apprehensive thoughts. My husband is much more rational in certain situations. He is able to help me deconstruct these fears and bring to light their more logical counterparts. In ways such as this, we were able to lift each other up as we dated, and continue to do so as a married couple.
He proposed to me in the early morning of Pascha, 2018. We had just gotten back from our midnight service, and I was so eager to break the fast, I almost didn’t notice when he dropped down to one knee. He said:
“Christ’s death on the cross is a perfect example of His sacrifice for the Church. An example of how a husband must sacrifice himself for his wife. Mia, will you marry me?”
It was simple, sweet and to the point. And of course, I said yes.
We set out to get married the following February. During this time, our spiritual father was reassigned to another church in New York, leaving us with a series of rotating interim priests. With no long term priest in sight, we sought out another church to be married at. Once we found a new spiritual father, he informed us that our wedding would be too large for the church to handle, right before we had to send out our invitations. We scrambled, cancelling plans so that we could meet with other local priests, to ask them if we could be married at their churches. Luckily, being in a county with four Orthodox churches, we were able to procure our venue.
Also, during this time, we went through premarital counseling. Fortunately, we were gifted Building an Orthodox Marriage by Bishop John Abdalah and Nicholas G. Mamey by one of my aunts. Which happened to be the book our priest wanted us to go through during our counseling.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It not only explained the sacrament of marriage in a way that was easy to understand, no matter your walk of life, it did so beautifully. It explains a sacrament as follows: “God’s grace is revealed to us as in earthly form as a symbol, allowing us to participate in this heavenly reality… The Holy Spirit works through words and objects regardless of their flaws and limitations, so that we may return to God and experience the Kingdom in every sense.” Just as God acts in the life of every individual to draw us nearer to Him, the Holy Spirit also pulls us closer with sacrament we participate in. Of marriage in particular, it asserts that marriage, as a sacrament, “cannot be reduced to earthly functions.” Being joined to your spouse means forever pursuing God, no matter what earthly cares or demonic forces might assail you both. This was something that was made very clear to us.
And so, we were married in the Orthodox Church in February, 2019. Crowned in the name of the Lord before our friends and family.
This transition was not the easiest to make. Being one with another person requires patience, learning and grace. Marriage is sacrifice that will ultimately lead you closer to God. And sacrifice is not supposed to be easy.
Our first year of marriage was a rollercoaster. I had left a job to start graduate school. While in school, and between the two of us, there were four deaths…within my first month of school. Needless to say, I left grad school to be able to spend more time with family. While I started a new job, so did my husband. On top of all of this, we spent six months looking for a house, which we eventually found and moved into before our first anniversary. While the move was difficult, because we decided to move in the middle of a blizzard, all our family and friends plans had to be cancelled due to the weather and they were able to help us move. Silver linings.
But those situations were not difficult to handle as a married couple. The true difficulty was found in trying to communicate about these situations.
I firmly believe you should not be living with someone until you are married (barring any extreme extenuating circumstances). You should be able to know everything you need to know about a person without living with them. If you can’t, then communication is already lacking. However, I knew how my husband lived. He could cook, clean, and had his life in order. And I know that I am the same way.
But, we are married now. Two people who have become one flesh. And overcoming the communication barrier can be difficult.
While looking for houses, we did not come to each other when we had disagreeing viewpoints; aiming for amicability, but garnering dysfunction. When I wanted leave grad school, I did not disclose the true reason why I wanted to call it quits. He believed I simply needed more support, and would offer to leave me alone so I could study. It was too late to get a refund on my tuition by the time I told him the real reason. So not only did we have to pay for the rest of the semester, but I also did not allow myself or my husband to explore our grief properly.
Again, this is touched on in Building an Orthodox Marriage (again, highly recommend!). They refer to Deborah Tannen, a sociolinguistics professor at Georgetown University. She breaks down male and female communication styles. Women participate in “rapport-talk”, which is meant to promote socialization and emotional connection. Men participate in “report-talk” which imparts information without as much emotion.
When my husband and I come together after a long days work, I look forward to connecting with him, and sharing the successes and trials of the day. While we didn’t always do this, we now ask the other if they want advice or just consolation regarding certain events. My husband has recently started a more stressful position. Some days, he just wants to come home and vent. Other’s, he plainly states that he needs time to decompress. He’ll even go so far as to tell me that he needs to shoulder whatever burden so that it may allow him to grow. I try to do similar things. I will tell him if I need space, or comfort, or rest. Just yesterday, I called my husband as he was coming home from work, and told him I just needed to bury my head in his chest and cry. In doing this, we try to take the guess work out of everything.
The same goes for regular daily tasks. If a flickering light bothers me, I simply ask my husband to fix it. And he does. If my husband wants a particular dish for dinner, he asks me to make it. And I do. Granted, we do not jump right up and take care of the immediately. But we keep them in mind, and take care of each others needs as we can. And when we can’t we offer each other grace. Carry out for dinner is always an option, and flickering lights can be turned off.
Not only do we do things for each other, but we try to notice the efforts of the other. My husband has been very patient with me, as I embark on a new path for myself. He notices that I am working hard to make certain endeavors a reality for myself, and he appreciates it, as he now bears the brunt of earning responsibility for our household, which I appreciate. I also appreciate his work ethic, not only when it comes to his job, but when it comes to being a better man. Being tired after long days at work, he has not been as present (mentally) at home this past fall. When I commented on it, he acknowledged he needed to find better way to de-stress and be more present with me at home. This means he might not talk to me as long on his lunch hour or his drive home. It also means he might spend a little more time working out in the evenings to drive off some of the stress. And I accommodate this, knowing that these short sacrifices in quantity of time will lead to an improved quality of time.
In making these sacrifices, humbling ourselves before one another and serving each other, we are able to grow closer to God and theosis.
Timothy Ware states: “Marriage is not only a state of nature but a state of grace. Married life, no less than the life of a monk, is a special vocation, requiring a particular gift or charisma from the Holy Spirit; and this gift is conferred in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony.” I find it odd that we think of the ascetic life and marriage as two divergent paths, contrary to one another. Rather, they are parallel roads that lead whosoever follows them towards eternal life. Monks, nuns, and married people are all called to make sacrifices. Whether these sacrifices concern the duties of a monastic or the challenges faced by spouses and parents, they all serve the same purpose. To frame marriage as being similar to monasticism in this way has been helpful to me.
In doing this, I am better able to focus on the purpose of being married. While my love for my husband is great, it is not our sole reason to be married. There are plenty of people whom we love who we do not marry. To be married is to form a church of your own. A husband, at its head, acts as Christ would. This means, he lays himself down for his family; making sacrifices so that his children may be saved. A wife, acting as the Church herself, abides by her husband and cares for their parish (their children). Together, they create a holy space in which they might raise up a right-believing family. All of this is easier said than done. A husband is not as sinless as Christ, nor is a wife as obedient as the Church. But using this imagery, it is easier to recall how we are supposed to act towards one another.
As I finish this, the longest blog post thus far, I cannot help but thank the Lord for the man sitting across from me, playing a zombie apocalypse, shoot-em-up video game. He has opened my eyes and heart to the light of God, and I will forever be grateful to him for that. On December 22nd of this year, we will have been together (dating, engaged, married) for five years. Come this February, we will have been married three years. In such a short span of time, I have grown so much as a person and in Christ, as a wife. And I truly cannot wait to see what eternity has in store for us.