"not to dwell with him for five years as you did here, nor for 20, or 100, nor for a thousand or twice that number but for infinite and endless ages . . ."
Does death bring an utter end to the relationship between husband and wife, if they have faithfully loved one another? Even in heaven, is there to be no happy reunion?
According to St. John Chrysostom — one of the most respected saints in the Orthodox Church — there is nothing to fear. When the love between a husband and wife is true and enduring, even death cannot stop it.
Jesus said that in the resurrection people "neither marry nor are given in marriage", and some have interpreted this to mean that the earthly marriage relationship is utterly dissolved when we enter heaven. Yet in this same passage, Jesus says that people's relationships will be "like angels of God".
What are the implications of having your marriage transformed into a relationship like the angels? John Clark is a writer who offers a helpful perspective:
While the primary purpose of marriage of fruitful multiplication no longer applies in Heaven, our Lord’s answer in no way precludes the friendship of marriage from enduring. And if this is the case, it endures no longer in its fallen and flawed form; it is now like that of the angels. The angels in Heaven have a friendship—a spiritual love and intimacy for each other borne of the presence of God—that we humans on Earth cannot fathom. And it is endless. “Goodbye” is a word never uttered in Heaven.
St. John Chrysostom himself describes what this sort of heavenly relationship may look like. In his Letter to a Young Widow, he offers great hope and encouragement to a woman grieving over her dearly departed husband:
For such is the power of love, it embraces, and unites, and fastens together not only those who are present, and near, and visible but also those who are far distant; and neither length of time, nor separation in space, nor anything else of that kind can break up and sunder in pieces the affection of the soul.
But if you wish to behold him face to face (for this I know is what you specially long for) keep your bed in his honour sacred from the touch of any other man, and do your best to manifest a life like his, and then assuredly you shall depart one day to join the same company with him, not to dwell with him for five years as you did here, nor for 20, or 100, nor for a thousand or twice that number but for infinite and endless ages.
St. John says that in the resurrection, her husband will be more glorious that she can possibly imagine:
if you will exhibit the same manner of life as his, and then you shall receive him back again no longer in that corporeal beauty which he had when he departed, but in luster of another kind, and splendor outshining the rays of the sun. For this body, even if it reaches a very high standard of beauty is nevertheless perishable; but the bodies of those who have been well pleasing to God, will be invested with such glory as these eyes cannot even look upon.
And God has furnished us with certain tokens, and obscure indications of these things both in the Old and in the New Dispensation. For in the former the face of Moses shone with such glory as to be intolerable to the eyes of the Israelites, and in the New the face of Christ shone far more brilliantly than his.
St. John continues his discourse, urging her to patiently look forward to a heavenly reunion:
For tell me if any one had promised to make your husband king of all the earth, and then had commanded you to withdraw for twenty years on his account, and had promised after that to restore him to you with the diadem and the purple, and to place you again in the same rank with him, would you not have meekly endured the separation with due self-control? Would you not have been well pleased with the gift, and deemed it a thing worth praying for?
Well then submit to this now, not for the sake of a kingdom on earth, but of a kingdom in Heaven; not to receive him back clad in a vesture of gold but robed in immortality and glory such as is fitting for them to have who dwell in Heaven.
And if you find the trial very unbearable owing to its long duration, it may be that he will visit you by means of visions and converse with you as he was wont to do, and show you the face for which you yearn: let this be your consolation taking the place of letters, though indeed it is far more definite than letters. For in the latter case there are but lines traced with the pen to look upon, but in the former you see the form of his visage, and his gentle smile, his figure and his movements, you hear his speech and recognize the voice which you loved so well.
If she would patiently wait to be reunited with her husband after a long earthly journey, then how much more she should be willing to wait for a glorious reunion in heaven!
St. John Chrysostom's words are indeed a comfort to married couples who live their lives in faithfulness and mutual love.
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