The sacrament of marriage in the western church has not been connected with coronation as it has in eastern tradition. The concept of a royal wedding that mirrors a coronation of a king and queen is almost alien in our western train of thought.
In the ancient world, human bodies were often viewed as being evil. The exception of this general rule was in the Semitic mindset in which Judaism grew. Creation was good because God was good. So, the activity of human copulation and procreation was seen as exceedingly good because God’s image in man was indeed reproduced. However, in the ascetic mindset this indeed was not the case. Classical theism would demand that God was “other” and the depravity of man which resulted from sin would make our bodily activities problematic. In the west, God Himself would even begin to lose some of his Image to maintain His status as “other”. This ultimately would give rise to dualistic thought which would suggest only the spiritual makeup of man could be saving by a cosmic redeemer while man was allowed to suffer in a depraved, sinful condition. It is certainly true man was driven from Eden by a covenantal curse which was the curse of the ground (Gen 3:14-19) but that was part of God’s initial plan for ultimate exultation writes Alonzo L. Gaskill. The way down meaning the Fall was the way Up meaning Exultation.1 (emphasis added) And the vehicle which would accomplish this would be the covenant of marriage where the complete image of Adam (adama- taken from the ground) which began as male and female (Gen 1:26) would be joined back together, not to remain separated (badad – set apart) as one flesh so the YHWH image in man (tselem –image and demuth – likeness) would be complete. The woman’s role as the perfect, suitable companion (eser – helper, qenegdoh – suitable for him) would serve as the Eve to promote this completeness as well as her status as the crown of Creation.
Marriage as a Royal Kingdom
The subject of coronation is also foreign to our Occidental way of thinking. In the Oriental and Near Eastern culture, kingship was viewed as a divine right, thus, resulting in divine marriage. Even God’s bloodline representing deity’s nature was in the noble birth of ancient kings and gave them the right to rule without question and with edicts that could not be rescinded. In this cultural milieu, royal marriages were generally kept within the royal families and the aristocracies of their own and other nations. Ancient Israel hoped for the day when YHWH would come back and “marry” the people of Israel and fulfill the royal wedding promises from the Feast of Tabernacles (Ps. 2-10). The same purpose for His Divine Kingship also applied to the divine aspect of marriage (2 Chron 6:41). “Let thy priests, O Lord, be clothed with salvation and let thy godly ones rejoice in what is good”.
In a royal marriage ceremony the man and woman wore crowns upon their heads because they were royal citizens of Israel and their marriage symbolized the future kingship reign of YHWH that they looked for in the world to come where the couple would be co-rulers with YHWH. (Ps. 128) This Psalm of Ascent would be ultimately fulfilled when peace would be established in Israel and when the citizens of Israel would see their children’s children be blessed.
The State of Marriage at the Time of Jesus
The divine purpose of marriage had been all but lost by time of Jesus’s ministry. There various types of marriage which were not a part of the Edenic Covenant established by God. Woman were bought with a redeemable bridal price and for a second marriage could even be purchased from a slave block and be taken into marriage as slave or household servant. Jesus constantly reminded his disciples of what that divine purpose once was. (Mat 19:3-6) This divine union was to be between a virgin and the bridegroom. (Mat 25:1) For the bridegroom cannot return until the bride has made herself ready. (Rev 19:7) But how did the bride make herself ready? (Esther 2:12, Rev 3:5) A little guest book was prepared with invitations. (Rev 10:10) Virgins (Rev 14:3) were summoned sometimes to be in the choir (Rev 5:9) as well as to light the path (Mat 25:1, 6) to the father’s house. (John 14:1-3, Rev 15:2) There are the two witnesses who make the pronouncement (Rev 11:3, Rev 14:6). The cup of wine and the divine wedding feast (John 2:1-11, Rev 14:19, Rev 19:17) are celebrated.
Levirate marriage was still debated in the synagogues during Jesus ministry. Hypothetical cases were discussed to see which rabbinical school between the Scribes and the Pharisees would prevail. In Matthew 22, beginning at verse 23, the Sadducees who believed in no resurrection confronted Our Lord about Levitical Levirate marriage. Oftentimes, rabbinic literature would have two husbands in a Levirate situation. The ante here is raised to seven husbands for a hyperbole effect. The purpose of the question by the Sadducees found in verses 24-28 is a rabbinic entrapment. Jesus responds with the accusative case when he states, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures or the power of God. In the resurrection, they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are equal to the angels in Heaven.” If we unpack this statement in a Levitcal context, Our Lord is saying no bridal price will be issued as no one will be “given in marriage” but will enjoy true equality. In the resurrection, we will have resurrected bodies that will be superior to this life just as gold is superior to dust. (Dan 12:1-2) The Jewish popular conception was that cities would be resurrected (Mat 11:20-24) which was extracted from Ezekiel 37:5-13 and we would enjoy the resurrected life with our loved ones in Paradise, inherit the world to come (1 Pet 3:7) and rule together with crowns of glory (Rev 5:10, 20:4-6) J. R. Dummelow has made the following observation:
“The Sadducees sought to bring Jesus into contempt and ridicule with the multitude by asking a Him a question which they thought He could not answer. . . . Two errors underlay the question: (1) That in the resurrection men will rise to natural life; (2) that the Law will continue in force. The skeptical Sadducees naturally represented the doctrine of the Resurrection in its most ridiculous form.
There is some division of opinion among the rabbis as to whether resurrection would be to a natural or to a supernatural (spiritual) life. A few took the spiritual view, e.g. Rabbi Raf is reported to have often said, ‘In the world to come they shall neither eat, nor drink, or beget children, nor trade. There is neither envy nor strife, but he just shall sit with crowns on their heads, and shall enjoy the splendor of the Divine Majesty.’ But the majority inclined to a materialistic view of the resurrection. . . The received doctrine is laid down by Rabbi Saadia, who says, ‘As the son of the widow of Sarepton, and the son of the Shunamite, ate and drank, and doubtless married wives, so shall it be in the resurrection’: and by Maimonides, who says, ‘Men after the resurrection will use meat and drink, and will beget children, because since the Wise Architect makes nothing in vain, it follows of necessity that the members of the body are not useless, but fulfill their functions.’ The point raised by the Sadducees was often debated by the Jewish doctors, who decided that ‘a woman who married two husbands in this world is restored to the first in the next.’”2
The Sadducees often followed Jewish Midrashic tradition because they believed the resurrection wasn’t necessary and that Adam and Eve and many other human companions would enjoy marital bliss in the bosom of God’s presence forever after their mystical ascent to His presence. 3
Eastern Christian Thought and the Covenant of Marriage
Early Christian thought didn’t teach what modern Christianity expresses in most commentaries about Matthew 22:30 and the world to come. The unity of men and women as sexual beings in the Kingdom of God is affirmed in a second century homily now called The Second Epistle of Clement of Rome.
“’When one of them asked the Lord when the Kingdom will come, He said: When the two things have become one, when the external has become internal, when in the encounter of man and woman there will no longer be a man and a woman’ The author explains this later by saying that a brother, when he see his sister, does not think of the feminine sex as such and that she, in turn, does not think of him as masculine. In the recently discovered Gospel according to Thomas, dating from the same period, it is said (Logion 114) that the woman who acquires the spiritual qualities of a man will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, and (Logion 22) that the Kingdom is open to both sexes when their union is made perfect and their respective limitations have been overcome.”4
It is easy to ascertain the point Clement is advancing in this writing. The purpose of marriage is to prepare God’s subjects for His rule when the Kingdom of Heaven arrives to transform the nations of this world into the Kingdom of God. The Orthodox stream of theological thinking stills follows the old Hebraic model of wearing crowns in marriage ceremonies and ordination for bishops as was the practice in Asia Minor when John wrote the Book of Revelation in which a new name was issued (Rev 3:10-12). Here are some excerpts from the Service of Crowning:
“Then, taking the crown of the bridegroom, the priest says: Be exalted like Abraham, O Bridegroom, and be blessed like Isaac, and multiply like Jacob, walking in peace, and keeping God’s commandments in righteousness.
Then, taking the crown of the bride, he says; And you, O bride: Be exalted like Sarah, and exult like Rebecca, and multiply like Rachel; and rejoice in your husband, fulfilling the conditions of the law, for this is well-pleasing to God.”5
The Book of Ephesians uses the mystery of marriage and the household codes to bring the entire temple edifice together with every joint knitted to form a perfect union (Eph 4:10) Ancient liturgies such as Marriage and Holy Communion according to St. Symeon of Thessalonica state:
. . . because the Lord alone is the sanctification, the peace and the union of His servants who are being married. The priest then gives communion to the bridal pair, if they are worthy. Indeed, they must be ready to receive Communion, so that their crowning be a worthy one and their marriage valid. For Holy Communion is the perfection of every sacrament and the seal of every mystery. And the Church is right in preparing the Divine Gifts for the redemption and the blessing of the bridal pair; for Christ Himself, who has given us these Gifts and Who is the Gifts came to the marriage (in Cana of Galilee) to bring it to peaceful union and control.”6
Communion is a blood covenant (Mat 26:28) which relates to the covenant of personal marriage (John 6:53-56). Just as personal marriage gives life so does the New Covenant of Christ’s sacrifice. This is why we are told to drink the wine until the eschatological fulfillment takes place when we will drink the new wine in the Kingdom of God where all will have a divine marriage in Christ which will grant us eternal life (Mat 26:29).
At this stage of life, marriages across the Christian spectrum can be ecumenically encouraged to bring unity to Christ spiritual and invisible church.
“Procreation is lifted up from the common to the personal as a creative act which prepares for the coming of the Kingdom in fullness. Just as we are all baptized in the death and resurrection of Christ and made into new creatures, sharing in the communion of grace which is the Body of Christ, so does a Christian couple establish a ‘home church’ foreshadowing the eternal Kingdom.”7
What is Missing in the West
Many Christians in the west who hold an ethereal hermeneutic for biblical eschatology because they believe God is so transcendent that no earthly and biblical realism can be used to interpret the biblical text. This hermeneutic has led most of Christ’s Universal Church to miss the Hebraic realism that the biblical data advances. Biblical realism is not always literal and does use many literary devices to relay a deeper truth can only be nuanced through word links and concepts that teach us about Salvation History and how God brings to pass Torah Christ Salvation Story. Biblical realism leads us to spiritual realism so we can prepare to go up to Zion to meet the Lord in our final enthronement. Therefore, the love we share from the divine realm with our loved ones will only become more divine as God reproduces Himself in His Creation. King David stated it this way in Psalm 17 vs 15, “As for me, I shall behold Thy face in righteousness, I will be satisfied with Thy likeness when I awake.”
When all awake in the resurrection to eternal life, the Wisdom literature teaches every good thing comes from Sophia (Lady Wisdom) (Prov 8:32-35). The Apostle Paul stated God will share with us all that He has. We all look for a day when there will be nothing to prevent the unity of individuals as well as the unity of all Creation so that the ultimate mystery and divine purpose of marriage will come to pass (1Cor 15:24-28).
“Set me like a seal on your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is strong as Death, passion as relentless as Sheol. The flash of it is a flash of fire, a flame of Yahweh himself. Love no flood can quench, no torrents drown. Were a man to offer all his family wealth to buy love, contempt is all that he would gain.” (Epilogue, Song of Solomon)
1. Alonzo Gaskill, The Truth About Eden – Understanding the Fall and Our Temple Experience, CFI, An Imprint of Cedar Fort Inc., Springville, UT, 2013, p. 25-26
2. J. R Dummelow, ed., A Commentary on the Holy Bible, MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc., New York, 1908, 1909. pp. 697-698
3. Louis Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews (Philadelphia : Jewish Publication Society of America, 1956) 1:68.
4. George Khodre, “A Great Mystery – Reflections on the Meaning of Marriage”, St Vladimir’s Seminary Quarterly, Volume 8, Number 1, St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, Crestwood, New York, 1964, pp. 36-37
5. John Meyendorff, Marriage – An Orthodox Perspective, St Vladmir’s Seminary Press, Crestwood, New York, 1984, p. 129.
6. Ibid, pp. 111-112.
7. Robert G. Stephanopoulos, “Marriage and Family in Ecumenical Perspective” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, Volume 25, Number 1, Crestwood, New York, p. 28