In a previous post, we discussed the duty of the wife in a heterosexual Orthodox Christian marriage. So in this post, we will focus exclusively on the husband and his responsibilities, which – though many of us will vehemently deny it – is far more demanding than the duty of the wife.
The husband is head of the wife
This one line has raised the hackles of many women, even those who claim to be Orthodox Christians. It is easy to understand why: feminism has taught women that they are their own boss, that they don’t need a man, that even in a marriage, it is okay for the woman to “wear the pants”, etc. Thankfully, amid the insanity we are seeing from modern feminism, many women are seeking out traditionalism, eager to make their way back to the happiness and fulfillment their mothers and grandmothers used to know.
Every organization or institution that exists – whether it is the Church, a monastery, a bank, a school – must have a head, a leader. The same is true of the family, which is a spiritual and physical institution. According to Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition, the leader in a marriage is the husband (Ephesians 5:23). The husband represents the principle of authority in the family. Just as the priest is the spiritual leader of the parish and is responsible to God for the parishioners, so too the husband is the priest in his family, responsible for setting the tone of family life. He is, ultimately, responsible to God for the souls of all his family members.
Husbands are equal to their wives, not superior
In the eyes of the Lord, there is neither male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). Therefore, a husband’s authority over his wife does not make him superior to her. Christian marriage is a partnership of equals, not a powerplay stacked invariably in the husband’s favor. A husband’s authority is borne out of his service to his wife and children; it is not tyrannical, dictatorial, arbitrary, or absolute. His duty to his wife does not allow him to intimidate her or treat her like a hired servant. St. John Chrysostom writes:
A servant, indeed, one will be able perhaps to bind down by fear; nay, not even for him, for he will soon leave you. But the partner of one’s life, the mother of one’s children, the foundation of one’s every joy, one ought never to chain down by fear and threats, but with love and good temper. For what sort of union is that, where the wife trembles at her husband? And what sort of pleasure will the husband have if he dwells with his wife as with a slave? Yea, even though you suffer everything on her account, do not scold her; for neither did Christ do this to the Church.Homily 20 on Ephesians
Just as Christ, as head of the Church, sacrificed Himself for it, so the husband, as the head of the wife, should be patient and should sacrifice himself for her. Relationships between the sexes shouldn’t be see as competitive or conflicting, but should be defined by their relationship to Christ. As members of the body of Christ, both ought to submit to Him. When this happens, each submits to the other with love and humility.
Love your wives as Christ loved the Church
Husbands must love their wives just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her (Ephesians 5:25). Most Christian men have little idea of what this kind of love means. Or the effort it takes to love someone in this way. In the world, “love” usually refers to physical love or sentimental, romantic love. Christian love, on the other hand, mean sacrifice and self-denial (John 15:13). Just as Christ endured death for His love of the Church, so too Orthodox Christian husbands must sacrifice all things – even his life, if necessary – for his wife.
As the head of his wife, the husband must emulate Christ, who washed the feed of His disciples. Being the leader means to serve. To give love first. To give understanding and protection and patience and forgiveness first. This is the kind of leader the husband is called to be. And when he embraces this role, he embraces his divinely ordained masculine nature.
Wives: encourage your husband to be this kind of man and support him. Do not try to take on the position of authority yourself, but offer to help in any way you can. Submit to him as to the Lord.
And husbands: give of yourself to your wife and your children. You must make the first move. Do not sit back and wait to be loved, like some kind of idol expecting worship. The only way to receive lasting love in a marriage is to give it.
Go home and love her…
A husband once complained to Saint John Chrysostom that his wife did not love him. The Saint replied; “Go home, and love her.”
“But you don’t understand,” said the husband. “How can I love her when she doesn’t love me?”
“Go home and love her,” the Saint repeated.
Place the highest possible value on your wife’s company, and desire to be at home with her and with your children. Our families deserve the best. There are altogether too many men today who are at their best out in the world, and at their worst at home. Yes, as a husband your responsibilities are incomparably greater than those of your wife and children. Yes, you shoulder much more of the burden than the rest of your family. But rather than feeling bitterness for this, take to heart these parting words from twentieth-century Frenchman, André Maurois: “I bind myself for life; I have chosen; from now on my aim will be not to search for someone who will please me, but to please the one I have chosen…”
Read More: Keeping The Orthodox Faith Alive At Home