Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Christ the Bridegroom: #2

**This is the second entry in three-part reflection on "Christ the Bridegroom." The essay was guest posted by a close personal friend of mine who was raised in the Greek Orthodox Church. This section begins with the Hymn of Kassiani, justly acclaimed as perhaps the most famous (and most musically demanding) hymns in the Orthodox liturgy. It is sung on Tuesday of Holy Week for the matins of Great and Holy Wednesday.**
Sensing Thy divinity, O Lord, a woman of many sins
takes it upon herself to become a myrrh-bearer,
And in deep mourning brings before Thee fragrant oil
in anticipation of Thy burial; crying:
"Woe to me! For night is unto me oestrus of lechery,
a dark and moonless eros of sin.
Receive the wellsprings of my tears,
O Thou who gatherest the waters of the oceans into clouds.
Bend to me, to the sorrows of my heart,
O Thou who bendedst down the heavens in Thy ineffable self-emptying.
I will kiss Thine immaculate feet
and dry them with the locks of my hair;
Those very feet whose sound Eve heard at dusk in Paradise
and hid herself in fear.
Who shall reckon the multitude of my sins,
or the abysses of Thy judgment, O Saviour of my soul?
Do not ignore Thy handmaiden,
O Thou whose mercy is without end.
I open this article with Kassiani’s eponymous hymn because the lament of the “woman of many sins” in that poem could very well have been the cry of my soul at one time in my life. Although not engaged in prostitution like the speaker in the hymn, I had let my fleshly desires alienate me from God in a more profound way than I ever dreamed possible. So diseased was the state of my soul that I became physically ill and mentally withdrawn for weeks.

Sadly, this was far from the first time I had struggled with sexual issues in my life, and through my battles I have learned that sexual impurity has become an epidemic among Christian women in my generation. Yet these sins are so personal and so deeply stigmatic that most Christian women suffer in silence, afraid to admit their problems even to their churches, who are supposed to be there to help them with just such issues.

I know I personally lived in dread of anyone knowing what a hypocrite I was, but I also knew I needed someone to pray with me and to keep me accountable with God. So by God’s grace, I finally had courage to confide in a friend about my struggles, and she gave me a rather remarkable book by Shannon Ethridge called "Every Woman’s Battle," which offers comfort and advice to Christian women in their struggle for sexual purity.

This book forced me to confront a fact that I had sensed for years but feared to put into words: namely, that the reason Christian women today make such horrible mistakes in their love lives is because they are searching for something they feel they cannot find in God. The reason that romantic love holds such an appeal for women is because being utterly adored in the romantic sense is the highest validation of our self-worth that we can have. This combined with the joy of union with the person we love above all others on earth creates an irresistible pull on the hearts and minds—and, through those conduits, the bodies—of most women. Yes, I saw this more clearly than ever in my own life. My sexual impurity stemmed from a perversion and obsession with romantic love, something I felt I could not get from God. I could sense this truth penetrating to the depths of my soul even as my mind tried to deny it.

In order to receive the healing I needed, I had to uncover my identity as the Bride of Christ, and I had to realize that this was not an arranged marriage but a love-match.

As I was trying to understand what being the Beloved of Christ meant, I first had to remind myself of all the things that romantic love entails, and then apply that to my vision of God. First of all, romantic love is an all-consuming passion for the beloved. I could picture that. I remembered being in love myself, and I could also remember seeing that blissful look of utter adoration of the face of lovers as they contemplated their beloved. Is that, I wondered, the look on Christ’s face as he gazes at each of us?

Romantic love is also a love that exults in all good while forgiving all shortcomings, a love that elevates the beloved above all else. Yes, I could see that as being true of God because it says in the Bible that Christ not only forgives our sins but also that He “remembers them no more.” There is no condemnation, therefore, in His love. In addition, He must also value us more than Himself or He would not have died a horrible death for us.

Romantic love, however, is not a love that admires from a distance. Rather, it is a deep desire for union with the beloved. We humans are communal creatures in essence, and romantic love is the deepest form of communion possible because connects us with the beloved in all three parts of our essential being: the spiritual, intellectual, and physical being. This kind of communion also exists within the Godhead because God is one in essence but three persons working in perfect harmony.

This means romantic love is more than merely consistent with the character of God. It means that the human ability to feel romantic love is not some base or biological instinct for procreation, but is rather a facet of the imago dei (image of God) which we bear.

All this made sense to me on a certain level at least, but when I looked at the darkness in my own soul—I, who had been a devout Christian all my life—it seemed to be nothing more than an exquisite but impossible dream.

It is truly one of the great mysteries of our faith that a wholly good, beautiful, transcendent, omniscient God could be in love with any one of us, let alone each of us, since we are so flawed, petty, and ugly each in our own unique way. Yet that would explain why He bothers to saves us all individually instead of letting His sacrifice automatically propel all human souls to heaven.

It is not mere immortality that Christ desired to give us through His death and resurrection, but rather a restoration of our intended union with God.

This also fits perfectly with the Protestant insistence that the Christian religion is a “close personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” There is no closer personal relationship than a marriage, which is literally the joining of two people into one. So Christ doesn’t just love us in a benevolent agape sense, nor is He the lover of merely our souls. In order to be our husband He must be our lover in every sense: soul, mind, and body.

Check out the rest of this essay at:
Christ the Bridegroom: #1
Christ the Bridegroom: #2
Christ the Bridegroom: #3

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