‘You kept the good wine till the last’. The Gift of Life

21 June 2014

nunta din cana, manuscris athonit, s13 in

The birth of Christ restored the equality of the sexes. At the beginning of human history, a woman, Eve, was born, without female intervention, from a man, Adam, so in this rebalancing of history, a man, Christ, was born of a woman, Our Most Holy Lady, this time without male involvement. Christ brings the good tidings of the harmonious relationship between us and God and, by extension, with Himself, other people and nature. Love is restored to its place as the mystical axis of life.

This is already clear from Christ’s first miracle at the marriage in Cana (see Jn. 21, 11). This miracle sums up in a nutshell the course of relations between men and women until that moment. Every couple- just like Adam and Eve- starts life with dreams of eternal happiness, with a vision of living together in harmony. And yet. The egocentricity which lurks in all of us and the inability to completely accept the other person dethrone love, shatter the unity between the couple and bring about a rift and conflict. And so, they’re deprived of what gives them joy in life. A tragic outcome and a wretched realization: ‘They have no wine’ (Jn. 2, 3) [cf. Psalm 103, ‘and wine that gladdens people’s hearts’].

People think they can overcome the absence of love by having recourse to the law. The symbol of the law in later Judaism was water, with which the vessels [in Cana] were full. And, of course, it’s no coincidence that the vessels were six in number, one less than seven, which is the symbol of perfection. The law is certainly a positive step, as opposed to the arbitrary caprices of the powerful, but it falls short of perfection. The most the law can offer is a balance of obligations and rights. At best, marriage is a partnership of mutual interests; at worst, legal and perpetual fornication.

Christ, however, doesn’t bring another law, but grace, the love of God unceasingly given. Human inability to love to the highest degree is supplemented by the love of God. Love is a gift of God, granted to all those who seek it. The relationship between couples doesn’t depend on the fair apportionment of obligations and rights, but on the willingness of each spouse to give of themselves. Married couples understand that ‘the more you give, the more you get; and the more you belong to the other person, the more you find your own self’. Two souls in one body and two bodies in one soul, that’s what love is in the eyes of the Church. In this ‘difficult dialogue of real love- difficult because it takes a lifetime of loyalty to deepen and perfect- in this dialogue in which “the soul encompasses the body”- two people gradually learn to know one another. Their existence no longer includes dominance or disdain, but rather it’s a communion in which they’re both two and one at the same time, as a result of mutual respect, celebration and gentleness’.

Within the Church and through the Church, the couple learn to rein in the ‘I’, so that the ‘we’ may increase. They make efforts to understand and support the other in all circumstances. Physical love (eros) is crucified in order to be resurrected as real love (agape). Because ‘it’s real love that saves the beauty of physical love; which brings the whole human passion for carnal love into the heavenly kingdom. Love is giving, love is sacrifice. Love is union with the Divine’. Just as, by God’s grace and human will, the water is transformed into wine, so selfish passion is transformed into charismatic love, the penury of the individual into the plenitude of the person. Like old wine, love, over time, matures and lasts, it comes without conditions, it’s expressed without terms or limits, it becomes a gift. ‘Fidelity becomes possible. The mystery, entry into Christ’s light, helps me to discover the other as an image of God. It deepens and stabilizes within me the unique joy of loving someone else, in soul and body, as a revelation. So that when the other person changes, I can tell what it is about him or her that doesn’t change. I can comprehend their image, their calling, as if God’s joined me to the love He’s had for them for ever, with the calling He’s addressed to them from before all ages. The other person, for me, doesn’t exist merely in the chronological time of death and disintegration, but in the time of the Resurrection of personal maturity, of nativity and eternity’. In a married couple’s relationship, ‘the gift that one gives to the other is to love them in a divine manner, and this way of loving knows no bounds. Such love invests the whole of the couple’s existence with the redemptive presence of Christ, Who is love incarnate. This grace-filled presence completes and enriches the personal and physical love of the couple and enables them to reach ever newer and deeper levels of communication, friendship, maturity, openness and sanctity’. Both spouses ‘share and enjoy one another in the communion of marriage- the companionship, trust, mutual support and the whole bond of love’. In accordance with the example of Christ, their love reaches the level of self-sacrifice, voluntary self-offering that welcomes anything and everything for the sake of the person who they love (cf. (Rom. 9, 3).

This transformation of people through the illumination of love has consequences in every aspect of life. People who’ve really been able to love another- their spouse- realize that it’s possible to love everybody. Within the Church, the family transcends noxious self-absorption and stops people from putting themselves on a pedestal. Because love ‘can never be exclusive; by its very nature it’s universal’. Mature love emerges from the duality of physical love; at its best it’s universal, it pours out to envelop everyone. Lasting, without conditions, for everybody: these are the characteristic features of the perfection of love. The model of God’s love for humanity is the sacrifice of Christ for the Church. Within the communion in love and freedom in the Church, people transcend every kind of biological or social discrimination; they experience the ‘mystery of love’; they become the Body of Christ; they can say, when they encounter God, ‘we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones’ (Eph. 5, 30). Our lives and the history of humankind are called to be a continuous theophany, a marital encounter between God and people within the miracle of love. This is why the miracle in Cana is ‘the beginning of the signs’ of Christ (Jn. 2, 11): it’s the start of the universal transformation of the whole world.

Stavros S. Fotiou, Άνδρας και γυναίκα: Ο άνθρωπος, Akritas Publications, pp. 35-41.