Today's guest post comes from my dear friend Mirham Yacoub Razzouk - an attorney by day and also a proud member of STSA Church. Mirham is a passionate, intelligent, compassionate, and supportive wife/daughter/sister/friend who pursues God's dream for her life on a daily basis. Today, Mirham shares about her experiences in her first year of marriage and learning what living the commands of our Orthodox wedding ceremony really means. If you too are interested in guest posting, please visit my Guest Post guidelines for more info.
The two seem pretty contradictory right?
Submission is a word that has caused confusion, and sometimes, disgruntlement for many engaged and married women. A newlywed myself, it was something I struggled with prior to my wedding. I struggled to understand what God was commanding of me and I was unsure that I’d be able to fulfill and obey what was asked of me properly.
I’ll make the most obvious statement ever here, but it is worth making: marriage is not something we should take lightly – the instructions we are given on that day are ones we will be expected to answer for on judgment day. And the terrifying part about that is that it is very easy to get caught up in the wedding before, and marriage, and the struggles that come along with it, after, and to forget what our Father has commanded us to do. It is very easy to become complacent and trudge through your life and your marriage, and what a true shame that is, what a disservice to yourself, your spouse and your Lord.
There are a lot of beautiful commands given to both the bride and groom on their wedding day. When the Gospel according to St. Matthew is read, there is the reminder that we are no longer two, but one flesh; "what God has joined together, let no man separate." Husbands are asked to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it; love your wives as your own bodies, he that loves his wife, loves himself, for no man ever hated their own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it. This all sounds wonderful and flowery right?
The instructions to the bride don’t tend to be as flowery; Wives, submit to your husbands, for the husband is the head of the wife; do not frown in his presence. I remember specifically turning to my husband on our wedding day, at the altar, in front of several priests, and making a mock frown face at him as that section was read and we both laughed at my last ditch, faux-feministic stand.
Okay but what does this all mean?
Because I grew up in a household where I never saw anything but the utmost love and respect between my parents, and I never felt like my mother had to sacrifice her backbone, or that my father had to undermine his manhood to attain that. I grew up seeing marriage as a partnership and I justified that mock-frown on my wedding day by insisting that I could not convince my forward-thinking, well-educated, 21st century brain to accept that command as anything other than an outdated cultural theme that would remain an anecdote at all weddings and pre-marital classes for years to come.
Then, I actually got married. You guys, if you really want to learn about yourself, marriage is the way to do it. There is no better way to learn about yourself than by loving someone else so deeply and giving so much of yourself.
I was 27 when I got engaged and 28 when I got married which means I spent a good portion of my adult life living how I wanted; that included sleeping in or getting up as late or early as I wanted, spending my money how I wanted, traveling when and where I wanted to, and really, after moving out of my parents’ house and getting a big girl job, not answering to anyone on the day-to-day things. And that adjustment, that intertwining of your soul with another soul, when you are literally, physically, emotionally and spiritually becoming one with another person after declaring your love before our wonderful Father, and all of your family and friends, is the most magnificent, stressful, beautiful, infuriating, wonderful, wearisome and glorious thing that you will ever do.
If you’re married, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about – if you’re not, this is intended to tell you how important is to look past a wedding to the marriage, to let you know that as beautiful as marriage is, it also tough. And that is when you need Jesus and love; that is love of Jesus, love of your spouse and love of yourself.
And most importantly, that’s when you need to understand these commands of our Father the most clearly and comprehensibly, because He always knows better. Always. And He didn’t give us these commands so we can make mock-frown faces at each other on the altar as the Holy Spirit is about to descend and unite us. He gave them to us so that on the days you feel like “what the heck did I get myself into?” (because you will have those days, regardless if your spouse is an angel on earth, which I truly believe that mine is), you can look to our patient, amazing, unceasing, loving Father and understand why He pushes for submission.
What I hope most women take from this is that partnership and submission are not mutually exclusive.
I repeat, they are NOT mutually exclusive. You can have both, and in fact, I personally believe you NEED both. And that doesn’t mean quit your job, put on an apron, and have dinner ready and the house sparkling at 5:15 every day (not that there’s anything wrong with that if that is what you and your husband decide). Submission is not quite the dirty word we make it out to be, though, admittedly, the connotations can be quite pejorative.
But in reality, submission is something that Jesus asks of each of us individually to one another. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21). I think we can all agree we love Jesus, right? We’re okay with submitting to Him, right? (If not, please contact your nearest father of confession).
But if we are okay submitting to Him, why not to our husbands? I hate (or love) to break it to you, but once we agree to marry someone, once you take part in our beautiful Coptic wedding ceremony, your marriage, your new home becomes a church, you and your husband are priests and priestesses, and in our holy Liturgy, what role does the Priest play? Isn’t he Christ? This means that ladies, we need to look so carefully at who it is we choose to be the Priest in our home. Because if you choose the correct man, as I am learning, submission becomes so much easier and so much more second nature, because I know, I mean with every fiber of my being, that there is never a choice my husband would make that wouldn’t have my best interests front and center.
This is where the groom’s instructions become so pivotal. They are commanded to love us as Christ loved the church. Do you know how difficult that is? Can we comprehend how much love that actually is? Our simple, human brains cannot begin to grasp, as is the case with most all cases of how our Father loves us.
I know we said that the men’s instructions seem so much easier and more flowery than ours, but in all reality they get the raw end of the deal. Do you know how hard it is to love someone that much? Because my husband is commanded to love me on my best days and my worst days, and I can be so tough to love on those days. But he has to, because that is what our Father commanded of him. And I submit to him because that is what my Father commanded of me, and because I know, and trust, that there is now, no one (on this earth) that will love me how my husband loves me, because I am effectively part of him and he is part of me, and we have died to our individual selves. From the second that your priest puts that red ribbon around you on your wedding day, you have died to your previous life. And our beautiful Orthodox ceremony is filled with so much amazing symbolism that we miss and unfortunately results in myriads of unprepared couples.
Ladies, submission doesn’t mean you have to be okay with every silly, ridiculous, exasperating thing he does. The roles of your partnership are to be decided amongst you and your husband. The word I can think of that is most akin to what our Father is asking us to do is respect. Agree or disagree with your husband, but respectfully; state your opinions on your lives with pride, but respectfully, while respecting him and his opinion as well; not with anger and frustration.
And most importantly, the toughest part, is to trust him – because that comes in handy when you two are at a stalemate with an important decision up in the air – that is when you are most commanded to respect whom YOU chose to be the priest of your church and of your household, and trust that every decision he makes has you and your family’s best interests front and center. This part especially why it is so vital, and I cannot stress this enough, that your spouse loves Jesus, because it is SO much easier to trust someone who submits to our Father first and foremost – because who does that mean that you are submitting to?
Listen, it will sting initially, and there are definitely growing pains, because it is difficult to pair submission to your husband with submission to Christ, but remember what it is you have entrusted and who it is you’ve entrusted it with; so sit back, frown if you must, but trust the priest of your home.