«Ἡ δέ γυνή ἵνα φοβῆται τόν ἄνδρα»
A theological commentary on Ephesians 5:33
by Saint Nektarios, Metropolitan of Pentapolis, 1902.
Regarding the true interpretation
Having familiarized the Ephesians with the mystical character of matrimony and teaching them that Matrimony is an important mystery, and having pointed out the analogy of the matrimonial bond to the union of Christ with the Church and appointing the man to be the head of the woman -according to the Holy Bible- in the analogy that Christ is the Head of the Church, and also having taught them that both man and woman -according to the Holy Bible- are one body and one spirit as members of the body of the Church (which is the Body of Christ, who loved us as His own flesh), the Apostle Paul recommends to each and every one of the men to love his own wife they way that Christ loved the Church.
A more perfect love than this kind of love the Apostle could not recommend to a man. With this recommendation, he not only elevated love to its most exalted position, but also ennobled it and spiritualized it and sanctified it. After this recommendation to men and the defining of a man’s relationship towards a woman, and the degree and the quality of that love towards her, and also the elevation of matrimony to a purely sacred and spiritual level along with the man’s duties towards the woman, the Apostle then proceeds to formulate and define the woman’s duties towards her man; and all these things he encapsulates in the following quote: «and the woman see that she be in fear of the man».
Pursuant to the words spoken by Paul regarding the love of a man towards his woman and regarding the degree and quality of his love, the «fear» referred to in this Scriptural quote cannot possibly be expressing something that appalls and intimidates the woman. The Church, as the Body of Christ, loves and at the same time «fears» our Lord Jesus Christ, as Her Saviour and Her Head. This «fear» of the Church towards Jesus Christ is born out of the bounteous love towards the One Who has loved Her, and is expressed and displayed as an extreme reverence towards Him; as a reverence towards His commandments, as an extreme obedience towards Him, and as a willingness to please Him. This love of the Church towards the Saviour is expressed as a «fear», that She may fall short in something and forfeit His love, by having proven Herself unworthy of it. This is the Church’s «fear» towards the Saviour Christ. It is in this exact nuance and significance that the Apostle wrote that the woman should be «in fear» of the man.
Through this quote the Apostle Paul sought the tightening of the bonds of marital love; because, just as the Church’s love and «fear» towards the Saviour Christ make Her even dearer -as a bride- to the Bridegroom Christ, thus the love and «fear» of the woman towards her man make her even dearer to him.
It is our intention to prove that this «fear» has nothing whatsoever in common with the fear suspected by certain ladies who tend to smile during the reading of this passage during the sacrament of marriage, and that it is in fact something sacred, pure and just, and that it is compulsory for the women, as a divine command that ensures their happiness and eternal bliss, as well as their unbreakable bond of mutual love.
Fear is a feeling inherent in man.
This feeling is expressed as cowardice, as awe, as terror, under circumstances in which a person’s life is threatened. This feeling is also expressed as agitation and worry, under circumstances in which there is a threat to a person’s honour or his fortunes, whether fairly or unfairly.
The degree of a greater or lesser display of fear or agitation and worry is analogous to, or of the same magnitude as, the actual danger itself, or analogous to the magnitude of the fantasy that is aroused. The feeling of fear is sometimes also displayed during circumstances where there is no actual threat or risk during the time that man is overcome by that feeling, however, it is manifested, for fear of a possible future danger which may originate from our own negligence towards things that are dear to us. This feeling is expressed either as an extreme love towards something, or an extreme reverence, or extreme forethought or as incessant care.
Accordingly, fear – being something that is expressed variously in various situations, and as something that is born out of various causes – must necessarily be characterized differently. Therefore, the fear that is expressed as awe or cowardice or terror, can be referred to as «natural», while the fear that is expressed as agitation and worry, as well as the fear that is expressed as love and reverence, can be referred to as «ethical». Hence, natural fear differs from ethical fear, depending on the causes that give rise to it.
Natural fear always pertains to the irreproachable passions, inasmuch as they have as sole cause the endangerment of life. Ethical fear does not always pertain to something irreproachable as it is twofold, inasmuch as it originates from the qualitatively varying ethical causes of love and of hatred. And just as the causes that produce it are extreme opposites, so are their characters the extreme opposites. The fear that is born out of love is sacred, pure and just, and is expressed as the soul’s sensitivity in favour of the person being loved, in the form of caring about, providing for, and looking after that person.
This sacred fear is defined by Theophylaktos as an accentuation, a heightening of piety, who said that: «(Sacred) fear is the accentuation of piety, just as piety is a withdrawn fear» (ὁ φόβος (ὁ ἱερός) ἐπίτασις ἐστιν εὐλαβείας ὥσπερ καί εὐλάβεια συνεσταλμένος φόβος)
and again: «Fear is seemliness and piety and a heightened honour» (φόβος ἐστίν αἰδώς καί εὐλάβεια καί ἐπιτεταμένη τιμή)
Ecumenios says the following, regarding this fear: «Perfective fear is exempt of awe, which is why it is called pure and remains throughout the ages» (Φόβος τελειωτικός δέους μέν ἀπήλλακται, διό καί ἁγνός εἴρηται καί διαμένων εἰς αἰῶνα αἰῶνος), while in the Holy Bible, the word «fear» is often taken in the sense of «respectfulness» and «piety» and with it is expressed the passion for a perfect knowledge and familiarization with the divine. Fear born out of hatred is a profane fear and is expressed as an aversion and repulsion towards someone, as indifference and hostility. Regarding this kind of fear, Clement of Alexandria says: «The other species of fear is accompanied with hatred, which slaves feel towards hard masters» (Τό ἕτερον εἶδος τοῦ φόβου μετά μίσους γίνεται ᾧ δοῦλοι δεσπόταις κέχρηνται χαλεποῖς).
Sacred fear is the fear towards God, the fear towards parents, the fear towards the husband and the fear towards the divine and the human laws, and it springs from within love.
Profane fear is the fear of damnation. This is what the trespassers of divine and human laws are afraid of. It springs from within a wicked conscience.
The Church recommends to Her children the sacred, the pure and the holy kind of fear. This is the fear that She also recommends to the woman who approaches marital bonding and who is placed under a new, ethical law; and the Church requires this, for the sake of the woman’s happiness.
Sacred fear, being an impassionate thing, is not a threat for anything perilous. This fear – as a feeling – relates to love, and it generates piety inside the soul, so that she does not reach the point of being despised by the man through the outspokenness of love, as a certain Father says…
The moral, pure fear is one of the seven charismas of the Holy Spirit, which the Holy Bible calls «the fear of God». In the Holy Bible, justness is characterized as a fear of God: «…a just man, one who fears God…» (Acts 10:22)
The «fear of God» is the starting point of wisdom. The divine Gregory the Theologian says that «The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God, which is like a first swaddling-cloth; and wisdom, having transcended fear and ascending further up as love, forges us into friends of God and sons, instead of servants». (Ἀρχή σοφίας φόβος Κυρίου οἷόν τι πρῶτον σπάργανον · καί σοφία τόν φόβον ὑπερβᾶσα καί εἰς ἀγάπην ἀναβιβάσασα Θεοῦ φίλους ἡμᾶς καί υἱούς ἀντι δούλων ἐργάζεται).
And Sirach says: «Wisdom’s garland is fear of the Lord, sprouting peace and well-being for healing» (Στέφανος σοφίας φόβος Κυρίου ἀναθάλλων εἰρήνην και ὑγείαν ἱάσεως) (Wisdom of Sirach, 5:15).
The holy Fathers call this fear of God a love towards God: «Fear of God is a love towards Him; love is a series, whose beginning depends on the person’s heart on the one hand, and on the other, it touches the hand of God, Who forever draws him towards the fear of Him» (φόβος Θεοῦ ἀγάπην πρός αὐτόν ἐστιν · ἀγάπη δε σειρά τις, ἦς ἡ μέν τῶν ἀρχῶν ἐξαρτᾶται τῆς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου καρδίας, ἡ δε ἑτέρα ἅπτεται τῆς τοῦ Θεοῦ χειρός ἕλκοντος αὐτόν ἀεί πρός τόν αὐτοῦ φόβον).
And Basil the Great says: «Salvific is fear, and a maker of Sanctification» (σωτήριος ὁ φόβος καί Ἁγιασμοῦ ποιητικός ἐστι)
This sacred fear that is mentioned in the Holy Bible relates to one’s reverence and love towards another. This is how the interpreters and translators of the New Testament comprehended and interpreted it. In the Greek translation of the Holy Bible published in Oxonia, chapter 5, verse 33 of the Epistle to Ephesians was translated as: «…except that each of you, let him love his woman as he loves himself; and the woman, let her be respectful of her man» (Πλήν καί σεῖς οἱ καθ’ ἕνα, ἕκαστος τήν ἑαυτοῦ γυναίκα οὕτως ἄς ἀγαπᾷ ὡς ἑαυτόν · ἡ δε γυνή ἄς σέβηται τόν ἄνδρα)
In the Latin translation it appears as follows: «uxor autem videto, ut timeat virum». Here, the verb «timeo», as surmised from the translations of other European languages, has the meaning of «reverence-respect».
In the French translation of Paris it is rendered as: «que la femme respecte son mari».
In the Italian translation: «ed altresi la moglie riverisca il marito».
It is in this sense that all the European languages have translated this verse.
Even in the ancient Hebrew language, the fear towards God is interpreted by the interpreters as a fear derived from respect, from reverence, as in the verse of Leviticus 19:3 : «Let each fear his mother and his father…» which is interpreted as «every man shall respect/reverence his mother and his father» :
אִמֹּ֤ו his mother
וְאָבִיו֙ and his father
תִּירָ֔אוּ shall reverence
Likewise we note in the verse of Joshua 4:14: «…. and they feared him (Joshua), as they had Moyses, for as long a time as he lived…», which was interpreted by the lexicographers of the Hebrew-Greek lexicon by M.N.Ph. Sauder and M.I.Trenel as «comme ils avaient respecté Moise».
The same meaning is also ascribed, in other passages of the Hebrew texts of the Old Testament.
It was in this sense that the the word (fear) was also used by the Apostle Paul, who is so unjustly attacked by the ladies, whom he has elevated to such an exalted height.
Therefore, the causes behind divorces should not be regarded as originating from the fear – as taught by Paul – but should be sought elsewhere; perhaps in the lack of that sacred «fear»….
Translation by K. N.