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Christ and the Church from Order of Creation/Order of Redemption

Christ and the Church

from Order of Creation/Order of Redemption
by Michael Azkoul, publ. Orthodox Research Institute, 2007, pp. 61-66.

Republished on our website with permission of the author.

The Church is “a great mystery” (Eph. 5:32), “even the mystery which has been hidden from before the ages, but now is made manifest unto the saints” (Col. 1:26). The mystery is “the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure which he hath purposed in Himself: that in the economy of the fullness of times, He might bring all things under one head in Christ(ana-kephalaiosathai ta panta in Christo) what is on earth and what is in the heavens, even in Him Whom we have received an inheritance...” (Eph. 1:9-11). There will come a moment in the history of the creation that “all things shall be put under His feet, by which God gave Him to be the head (kephalen), which is His Body [the Church], the fullness of Him that fills all things” (Eph. 1:21-22). The “mystery” is God’s eternal plan of salvation, executed in Christo, that is, His recovery of the cosmos from the devil and its transformation (metamorphosis) by His Uncreated Energies. All that is reconciled and deified shall form His eternal Kingdom, His Church or Body, over which He shall be the eternal Head.

Man and woman, differentiated and complementary, reflect the eternal mystery.(71) The mystery is shown in the creation of man and woman, the mating of Yahweh and Israel, and finally incarnated in Christ and the Church as “one flesh.” This last union is not a temporary relationship, even as marriage between man and woman that is purportedly indissoluble, typifying the “oneness” of Christ and the Church. The book of the Apocalypse (21:2) announces that at the end of time, “the New Jerusalem will descend from heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” The final Judgment accomplished, all things having been put under His feet, the righteous with all the angels will form a wedding escort to meet Him. Their joy will be consummated with a celestial banquet. Christ and His Church, the eternal Man and the eternal Woman will be joined by everlasting participation in the divine Nature.

The marriage of Christ (male) and the Church (female) is the central symbol in the New Testament. Christ Himself hinted at this truth with the question, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them?”(Matt. 2:19). Later, He said, “The Kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son...” (Matt. 22:2-3). “The kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom” (Matt. 25:1). As the other prophets of the Old Testament (e.g., Hosea 2: 8; Is. 1:21-26, etc.), St. John the Baptizer foretells the coming of the Messiah, “I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before Him. He that has the bride has the bridegroom. The friend of the Bridegroom, who stands and hears Him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom” (John 3:28-29). Yet, it is not until His Resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit that the Church is identified: “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2). In other terms, the male role of Christ and the female role of the Church belong to the mystery of redemption, that is, the recovery and sanctification of all creation.

It is with this premise that in his letter to the Ephesians (5:22-32) that the Apostle Paul associates “headship” in the marriage covenant with the male. “Wives submit yourselves (hypotassesthe) to your husbands. For the husband is the head (kephale) of the wife, as Christ (kephale) is the Head of the Church. He is the Savior of the Body. Therefore as the Church is subject (hypotassetai) to Christ, let wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands love your wives, even as Christ loved the Church; and gave Himself for her: that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious Church, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing... So ought men love their wives as their own bodies...” If we take these verses as they stand, there is no dispute that the husband is the head of the wife, as the male Christ is spouse to the female Church. We ought to be assured by this text that salvation to the woman comes through her obedience to her husband, even as the service of the husband to his wife leads to his salvation. Hence, the words of the Orthodox rite of Matrimony, “grant that this handmaid may be subject to her husband, and that this Thy servant may be head to his wife, that they may live according to Thy Will.”(72)

Self-evident or not, there has been some controversy over the word “head” in these verses. The phrase “the head of the woman is the man” is found in 1 Cor. 11:3 and 1 Pet. 1:3-7. It is linked to the word “submission” or “subordination” (hypotage, noun), “to subject oneself, to be under obedience” (hypotassesthai, passive), “to put under subjection (hypotassein, infinitive). There are not a few seminary professors who wish to translate “head” (kepahle) as “source,” not “authority.” They rely on such Greek expressions as “the source (kephale) of the river” in the writings of Herodotus, and other Greek historians.(73) In the case of New Testament lexicons, however, and the Septuagint, the Fathers,(74) even in Plutarch is the word he kephale rendered “authority.”

 If kephale is reduced to “source,” the conclusion that the woman is subservient to the man or the wife in obedience to her husband may be avoided, but that raises other problems. On account of the analogy between Christ and husband, it is also necessary to view the “headship” of the Lord Himself over the Church as “source” rather than the traditional “sway” or “authority” or “dominion.” What, then, of Colossians 2:10 that says that Christ is “the head of all rule and authority”? Shall we translate the phrase as “the source of all rule and authority”? In point of fact, “source” and “head” are synonymous. As Creator, Providence, and King, He is the “source” of all “rule and authority.” In the same way, the bishop is the “source” of power or authority in the Church. To cite St. Ignatius of Antioch, without the bishop “nothing can be done without his approval.” He has received from God the spiritual power (charisma) by which he rules his flock, either directly or through his presbyter.(75)

Thus, considering that Christ and the Church, Bridegroom and Bride, is the manifestation of “the great mystery” it is impossible for a woman to be “head” of the local church. She would be “head” to a “body” (female), a relationship which must be construed as lesbian. In any case, “headship” was bestowed on the man and she was given to him as helpmate. Woman takes the subordinate role. It is a voluntary obedience, even as God the Son “emptied Himself,” became man, willingly subjecting Himself to the Father for our salvation. In the same way, the voluntary obedience of the woman to the man is to exalt them both.


71. Anstall, K., “‘Male and Female Created He Them’, An Examination of the Mystery of Human Gender,” in The Mystery of Gender and Human Sexuality.Dewdney (BC), 1996, p. 44.

72. Service Book,.., p. 296.

73. R.S. Cervin, “Does Kephale mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority’ in Greek Literature? A Rebuttal,” in Trinity Journal 10 NS (1989), p. 12.

74. Professor Cervin admits that in Lampe’s Patristic Greek Lexicon, there are many citations referring to Christ as the “Head of the Church” and a few citations where kephale alludes to abishop. He insists that “the use of head in patristic Greek is a technical term primarily pertaining to Christ, and occasionally to members of the ecclesiastical order” (Ibid., p. 107). Virtually every New Testament lexicon agrees that kephale means “a person of superior authority” or “rank” or “ruler.”

75. To the Smyrnaens, 8.

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