I might have titled this post, “Orthodoxy and the Responsibility of the Gung-ho Converting Spouse to His [N.B.: males predominate in this category] Reluctant Non- or Not-Yet-Converting Spouse.” But, however much the title “Orthodoxy and the Reluctant Spouse” may not capture the essence of this post, it is a reminder that when a husband is converting to Orthodoxy, the focus of his prayers and acts should always reflect the dignity of, and his love for, his wife. I cannot speak to the issues of a wife converting to Orthodoxy and her reluctant husband. Nor can I speak of the converting husband and a wife who has no religious interests whatsoever. I can only speak from one particular reality: a husband who has been converting to Orthodoxy and a deeply faithful Christian wife who has not been ready to do so.
And that’s the last comment I will make regarding my wife and Orthodoxy.
For just as when it comes to Ephesians 5 and the roles of husbands and wives, I have my own text, and it does not begin with “Wives, subject yourselves to your own husbands as to the Lord.” Similarly, in converting to Orthodoxy, my responsibility is to repent of my sins and misdeeds. It is not to convert my wife. See, I’ve got a little eye trouble. There’s this beam sticking out of it, and it makes it hard to see that little speck in my wife’s eye. In fact, that “little speck” is probably not even there. I can’t tell for sure. It’s hard to see around this log.
In any case, my text, in addition to that in Ephesians 5, is from St. Peter:
Husbands, likewise, live together according to knowledge as with a weaker vessel, with the wife, showing her honor as also a fellow heir of the grace of life, in order that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7)
Converting to Orthodoxy is always already, through and through, all about prayer. If I have done or am doing anything that does not explicitly manifest in my actions that my wife is a fellow heir of the Kingdom, a Queen, does not manifest honor toward her, then my conversion is a sham. My prayer goes no higher than the ceiling and is as empty as my own breath. If I am not becoming a better husband and father as I convert, then I am not converting, I am just going through the motions.
I regret to say, I convict myself with my own words. I have lived them imperfectly at best. If my wife were basing her evaluation of Orthodoxy on me, she would be justified in rejecting it. Still, in God’s mercy, if there have been more times that I have demonstrated what it means to be a Christian husband and father than before encountering Orthodoxy, then she may find it possible to trust this Orthodox Church toward which I am so drawn.
But a husband who has been converting to Orthodoxy has the deepest of desires to share that union of heart and mind with his wife, and wants, therefore, to share with his wife that Pearl of Great Price which he has found. This is exceedingly difficult, not the least of which reasons is because even in his sole focus and joy on the good of Orthodoxy, he cannot but help cast a negative light upon his wife’s own religious body (even if he shares with her a membership in that body). No fervent, faithful wife wants to hear about how some strange and exotic group of Christians has caused her own religious group to pale in comparison in the eyes of her lover. So the converting husband must necessarily temper his excitment and fervor so as not to create a stumbling block for his wife.
The tempering of his fervor, though painful, however, is just what Orthodoxy requires. This is a journey for the long haul, not for endless cycles of short bursts of enthusiasm. Fervor that is subdued and quiet burns hottest longest. Painful as it is, this is necessary for growth and maturity.
But of course, wanting to share this joy in the deepest union with his wife, a converting husband will have recourse to prayer. This is the most natural and most dangerous of all recourses. It is right and good that a converting husband pray that his reluctant wife join him in this Orthodox Faith and life (and let us admit that labelling one’s spouse as “reluctant” is tantamount to a positive injustice against her, but one finds oneself needing to put down some sort of markers to make sense of things). But this prayer, however good and right, is also a danger to him, for the movement from “nevertheless, Thy will be done” to the use of God as a tool to exert his own will is thinly visible and often not detectable at all.
And this is why God often ordains for a converting husband that his wife be reluctant, for there are many selfish, self-centered cancerous growths in him that must be cut off and cauterized. And God has so ordained that marriage work that sort of salvific surgery.
Ultimately, the converting husband is faced with a deep, deep mystery: the conversion of a particular human soul. The potential convert may find himself converting alone, when he would desparately wish it otherwise. Other times he may find himself surprised and blown away by the sudden realization of God’s handiwork in the answer to his deepest prayers. There is no formula here. There is always and only the grace of God.
And whether the converting husband’s wife turns from reluctance to embrace or not is, in the end, immaterial to his own salvation. He is called to his own particular texts in Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3. To her own master she stands or falls. As does he. If he is truly converted, somehow that grace will not be ineffectual for his wife and family, even if the effects can never been known on this side of the translucent veil.