Lessons From A Monastery: Marriage as Martyrdom

“The entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church” –CCC 1617

Why is it that the most important things in life we seem to never really be prepared for? At least that seems to be the case with me. Marriage wasn’t any different. We knew what the Church taught about marriage but most things need to be experienced to truly be understood.

Manny and I were married almost seventeen years ago (Wow—seventeen years, where does the time go?!). We were blessed to be married by Abbot Nicholas; he has been a spiritual father to us both and holds a very special place in our hearts.

I remember sitting down with Father and going over the wedding ceremony (one I had only seen on video). He explained what would happen at the wedding and said we would need crowns for the service. I had little understanding of how significant those crowns were at the time. Father probably mentioned that the crowns symbolized us being king and queen of our home and also martyrdom. However, I was mainly concerned with knowing what kind of crowns I needed. I wanted to make sure we had the details for the wedding figured out. Those details (and all the other things brides worry about) kept me from wondering what Father Nicholas meant exactly regarding the crowns.

At our wedding, during the homily, Father Nicholas stressed several times that marriage is an icon of the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He explained that in the love we share for one another and our children we are meant to reveal a glimpse of the love the Holy Trinity has for one another—unconditional and never ending love.  This is emphasized in the wedding ceremony when the priest takes the newly married couple and leads them around a small altar three times. I mentioned the “Dance of Isaiah” in my last article about my daughter’s baptism. Each time this “dance” is done it symbolizes the Christian(s) entering into the life of the Holy Trinity and into the eternal love that is shared between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Whether this dance is at a baptism, marriage, or ordination it always brings tears to people’s eyes.

Before this dance takes place, the wedding crowns are placed on the couple’s heads. This is done while the priest sings, “O Lord, our God, crown them in glory and in honor.” While the dance is taking place the following is sung:

“O Isaiah, dance your joy, for the Virgin was indeed with child; and brought to birth a Son, that Emmanuel, Who came as both God and man; DayattheDawn is the Name He bears, and by extolling Him, We hail the Virgin as blessed.

Hear us, you martyred Saints, who fought the good fight, gaining crowns: entreat the Lord to shed His tender mercy on our souls.

Glory to You, O Christ our God, Your Apostles’ proudest boast and treasure of Your Martyrs’ joy, Who to all proclaimed the Consubstantial Trinity.”

Just like the rest of the wedding service, this song has deep meaning. First, it is proclaiming the Incarnation of Christ and the coming of the Kingdom of God. It is Christ’s Kingship (the Royal Priesthood 1 Peter 2:9) the couple partakes in as baptized Christians and will now participate in as King and Queen of their own domestic church—their own part of God’s kingdom.  At the beginning of the service, when the couple first walks down the aisle together (after the rings are placed on their fingers by the priest) Psalm 128 is sung, “Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways…” This Psalm is one of the “Psalms of Ascent” sung by Jewish pilgrims on the way to the Jerusalem temple. It signifies the couple bringing their lives as an offering to God and that their lives as a married couple will be distinguished by the love of Christ for His Church. It will be a marriage which is a part of the Kingdom of God; a kingdom which will find it’s fulfillment at the end of time in heaven.

The world is now, as it has always been, in great need of Christian witnesses to the sacredness of Christian marriage and the love of God for the world. The Martyrs are called upon during the dance because the crowns also symbolize martyrdom. The meaning of the word martyr is witness. The couple is called to be witnesses of the Kingdom of God and the love of the Holy Trinity. This will mean a giving of their lives, a dying to one’s own will and self. The married couple will now give their lives to God through one another. Daily self denial, greater concern for the other, the complete giving of oneself that brings forth children and raises them in a holy home—these things will be the marks of the couple’s martyrdom.

The ending of the song speaks of the Apostles and Martyrs and their preaching of the Holy Trinity. This is exactly what the newly married couple is called to be witnesses of—the love of the Holy Trinity. Their first steps as husband and wife were taken hand in hand while being led by the hand of the priest who carries the Holy Gospels—all of their steps are now steps together following after Christ for all eternity.

The entire service (which I recommend people read) is filled with beauty, scripture, and the asking of God’s blessing on the couple, especially the blessing of children. Children are the jewels in the crowns of the couple (if God chooses to give them). The married couple is called to not only live their lives for one another but also their children, and their entire family is called to serve the Church—in so doing they will be living their lives for God.

When Father Nicholas married us we didn’t realize how hard some of those steps following after Christ would be. Dying to one self and living for your spouse (and children) takes on many different forms every day. Bearing one another’s burdens in love is painful and requires God’s grace. Knowing that marriage is meant to help each other gain salvation should let us know marriage will be a battleground. The last thing Satan wants is for us to gain salvation, and just as he played his part in breaking the communion the first married couple had, he will do his best with each of us. Our sinful passions make it far too easy to fall as his prey.

We often hear advice like “make sure to have a date night every week” or other similar tips on helping couples to have a strong and lasting marriage. As useful as it may be, date night won’t save your marriage; it won’t make it holy. The only way to have a strong and lasting marriage is to strive after holiness; individually and together as a couple and also as a family. Christian marriage is a calling to death and self emptying—something that will only be accomplished by the grace of God. The real crisis of marriage is that Christians do not understand the degree of daily self-sacrifice that is required of them when they are married. There is no escaping the cross if you want to be a Christian, and Christian marriage has many crosses.

The lessons in this series are meant to help people deepen their relationship with God and one another, and just as I wrote in the article about becoming a better mother, it is only in becoming a better Christian that we will have better marriages. The natural love between spouses and children is not enough, this love must be transformed and become agape—a partaking of the love that is shared within the Holy Trinity and that the Holy Trinity has for us.

Christian marriage is a serious calling. Christian couples are called to be an icon of the Holy Trinity. I think of the fuss and worry over the reception and the wedding dress and all the other details of the day and laugh to myself. Those things are quickly forgotten and hold little meaning in the long run. The crowns however are crowns Manny and I want to be buried with and crowns that we pray are accepted in God’s kingdom, just as Father Nicholas prayed when he removed them from our heads many years ago: “Accept their crowns in Your Kingdom unsoiled and undefiled; and preserve them without offense to the ages of ages. Amen.”


Jessica Archuleta blogs with friends at Engage the Culture where you might find a movie review, a piece of poetry, a work of art, or any other number of culture related topics being discussed or shared from a Catholic point of view. She also blogs at Every Home a Monastery where she shares her experience of being a Monastic Associate (oblate) of Holy Resurrection Monastery located within walking distance of her home. She and her family moved across the country to Wisconsin from California after the monks had to make the move themselves. Jessica is a Romanian Greek-Catholic (Byzantine), mother of ten, and has been married for 20 years to her most favorite person in the world.

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