Uniting with Christ


Last Sunday (which was truly busy), I had the joy of five Baptisms to begin the day. Orthodox Baptism not only has a lot of prayer, but it seems, that with each additional candidate another level of chaos is reached. It is simply a joyful action and practicalities involved in immersion (and the changing of clothes, etc.) invariably slow things down and ratchet up the chaos – but a joyful chaos.

I was once again struck by the straight-forward question of the Baptismal service, “Do you unite yourself to Christ?” Repeated three times and then asked in the perfect tense another three times. You begin to get the idea that the prayers of the Church think that uniting yourself with Christ is a fundamental issue. And of course it is.

I have become convinced over the years, both from Scripture, and reflection, and just trying to live the life of a Christian, that union with Christ is pretty much everything. I long ago ceased to have much understanding of prayer other than as union with Christ. It can’t be that I’m informing God of anything, much less convincing Him to do something He didn’t want to do. But I can easily understand that I unite myself with Him when I pray no matter what I am pray for.

The Church’s written prayers are a great help in teaching me to pray “in union with Christ.” Although I know something of prayer that is not in union with Him. I know of being angry with God or frustrated at the world or any number of complaining things I’ve hurled at God through the years. Not that such prayer has a great deal of value other than its sheer honesty. It has to be better than lying to God.

Lent will be upon us soon enough – with much prayer – and longer services – and more services. But there I have the sense of union with Christ, particularly in His sufferings. Not that prostrations and the like can count for much suffering. But the whole of Lent, the humility of fasting and asking people to forgive me, and the frequent use of the Prayer of St. Ephrem have a tendency to draw you into the sufferings of Christ.

I think there is a particular opportunity for us to unite ourselves with Christ in His sufferings that is not available to us in any other way I can recall. The Way of Christ is, as Fr. Sophrony would have said, “downward.” No life is lived without some element of suffering, some more physical than others, some more mental than others. But no life is exempt.

In Detroit last week I bought an icon of the Christ the Bridegroom for the parish (we had been using my family’s Bridegroom icon for the past 9 years – and I thought it was time for the Church to have its own). Thus I have had the Bridegroom icon with me in the altar during the services of the past week or so. The icon is, for me, the great signal of Holy Week, and the intensification of our union with the sufferings of Christ (liturgically).

“Behold, the Bridegroom comes at midnight,

and blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching,

but unworthy is he whom He shall find heedless.

Beware, therefore, O my soul, lest you be weighed down with sleep,

lest you be given up to death, and be shut out from the kingdom.

But rouse yourself and cry:

Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God, through the Theotokos have mercy on us!”

And all of it uniting ourselves to Christ. What other possible thought should the approach of the Bridegroom to His Bride bring to mind? Do you unite yourself to Christ?

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





9 responses to “Uniting with Christ”

  1. fatherstephen Avatar

    This is the icon of Christ the Bridegroom. If you’ve not gone through Holy Week as an Orthodox Christian, this icon may come as something of a shock. I can only say that by the end of Holy Week you’ll understand that the Bridegroom Who has come to us, has come in “extreme humility.” The theological force of bringing this icon out of the altar (the Sunday evening of the first Bridegroom Matins) and processing with it into the middle of the Church while the choir and congregation kneel singing the long, slow tones of the Bridegroom Hymn (I am completely partial to the traditional Russian setting) – all of that has a theological impact that words can hardly do justice. Like much Orthodox worship – the combination of action, icon, and music become far too complex for mere description.

  2. Meg Lark Avatar

    The Bridegroom hymn is one of my favorites, another being the Hymn of Kassiani sung on Holy Tuesday.

    Regarding the Bridegroom icon, I was just reading this week, from Ss. Barsanuphius and John, that “Humility places one on the ground. And where can a man fall who is already on the ground?” I like that!

    Lastly, if I may be so bold: When you are angry with God, of course you should tell Him so. He already knows about it — pay Him the compliment of telling Him about it! Then at least you are cooperating with Him in getting rid of the anger (He can’t, if you won’t), and as we all know from our family lives — anger, or at least irritation, is part of a relationship. Do you want a *real* relationship with God, or not?

  3. Fatherstephen Avatar


    Absolutely essential to keep it real.

    I really like the quote from Barsanuphius and John. Strangely, I did not learn until last week that the Hymn of Cassiane is named for its author (St. Cassiane) a woman who has at least 25 hymns in the liturgical life of the Church – rather than the woman who wiped Jesus’ feet (that the hymn sings about). She’s roughly the contemporary of St. Romanus the Melodist. And that’s my trivia for the day!

  4. Don Bradley Avatar
    Don Bradley

    “I long ago ceased to have much understanding of prayer other than as union with Christ. It can’t be that I’m informing God of anything, much less convincing Him to do something He didn’t want to do. But I can easily understand that I unite myself with Him when I pray no matter what I am pray for.”

    Maybe I intuitively knew this already, but that shifting of prayer from a litany of petitions to union with Christ struck me. Good post.

  5. EYTYXOC Avatar

    I noticed your icon says “Behold, the man” (John 19:5). Other icons of this say “The Bridegroom.” E.g.:


  6. fatherstephen Avatar

    I’m not sure of the difference – you’re correct – though this was also described as a Bridegroom icon.

  7. Kyra Avatar

    We have had this icon for several years. It is odd how one can look at something and find sadness, happiness, peace, humility and a wanting lack thereof in all of those areas that makes you ache for more.

  8. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    The image and the reality of Jesus as Bridegroom points out to me the vast difference between being united with Christ and having Him as one’s personal Savior.

    The marriage of God and man on all levels from the hypostatic union in Jesus Christ through the divine/human relaity of the Church to us corporately united by His Body and Blood, to the indiviudal Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit. It all reverberates in magnificent syerngy in the Bridegroom Matins which makes it my favorite service of the whole year.

    “I behold the Bridal Chamber, richly adorned for my savior, but I have no bridal garment to worthly enter. Make radiant the garment of my soul oh giver of Light and save me!”

  9. Mark the Evangelist Avatar
    Mark the Evangelist

    I know I’m late in joining this thread, but I couldn’t help myself. What an incredible icon! I’m sure I could never finish plumbing its spiritual depths. And what a beautiful and necessary message regarding prayer. Thank you. So many of American Catholics are discovering or rediscovering the power of icons. Please pray fervently for reunion of Christ’s One Church.

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