By Alexia Ioannides
“Whatever kind of wife you marry, you will never take a bride like Christ did when He married the Church; you will never marry anyone estranged from you as the Church was from Christ. Despite all this, He did not abhor or hate her for her extraordinary corruption. Do you want her corruption described? Paul says, “For once you were in darkness”. Do you see how black she was? Nothing is blacker than darkness. Think of her shamelessness; she passed her day in malice and envy. Look at her impurity; she was foolish and disobedient. But what am I saying? He sacrificed Himself for her in her corrupted state, as if she were in the bloom of youth, as if she were dearly beloved, and a wonderful beauty.” – Saint John Chrysostom
What is the fundamental nature of the Church? Within various sects of contemporary Christianity, there are those who believe that Christ died for a perfect Bride. Therefore, their speech and actions display a form of self-righteousness, as if to declare their superiority to humanity. For Orthodox Christians, it is essential that we understand the truth of this matter, to identify the proper attitude, which initiates pious conduct. Particularly, humanity is watching us and seeks to imitate a spiritual identity that is worth believing in; not a divided, professed religion that is saturated with hypocrisy.
Saint John Chrysostom, in his 20th Homily on Marriage and Family Life, reiterates a central theme of salvation—Christ died to restore His sickly wife to health. Romans 5:7-8 supports this premise, “Scarcely for a righteous man will one die; perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Since, then, the Church is included with the spiritually ailing, what is the key element that distinguishes us from humanity? It is the Bridegroom’s therapy—the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. He alone is responsible for purging the flaws of His tainted Bride. We are not in charge of creating holiness, for then we would boast in our self-sufficiency. Our duty is to surrender to the purification process, as a wife submits to her husband because she trusts him. Of course, many people struggle with the submission process because they fear exposure of their shame; a by-product of their immoral lifestyle.
Why should we trust the Great Physician to purify and restore us to our original image, despite what our circumstances have defined us as? Simply put, we are His Body. Ephesians 5:28 states, “Husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself.” Christ is the ideal husband; naturally He nourishes and esteems His Body. To know our identity in Him eliminates shame because we are His very flesh, partakers of the divine nature. Nevertheless, this knowledge should not inspire arrogance, but humility, realizing that we are washed to be presented to Him, “a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:27).
An illuminated and deified Bride—this is who the Bridegroom is returning for at His Second Coming. As a man leaves his father, cleaves to his wife, and the two become one flesh, so did Christ leave His Father, to unite with us because He desires a communion of intimacy. He is a jealous God, however, and will not share us with another. He suffered unspeakable horrors to heal a wounded Church, but more importantly, to gain the affection of a faithful Bride. In light of this fervent demonstration of love, we should eagerly await His return. Thus, let the meditations of our heart echo the words of Revelation 22:17, as the Spirit and the Bride say “Come!”