Tuesday, January 4, 2011
You KNOW you've been married...
if you were married in an Orthodox Church! Such were the words spoken by a friend of mine when we were at the reception following the wedding of two friends of mine who granted me the honour of chanting the ceremony. Hopefully, my mediocrity as a chanter for the ceremony will not in any way spoil their life together! Preserve them, O Lord!
My friend's words have echoed with me for the past several days. I have chanted many Orthodox weddings and one of the nice things about the Orthodox wedding service is that there is little to no variance. Sure, some people might have some "incidental music" played before the ceremony begins and some afterward, but unlike non-Orthodox weddings which seem to be tailor-made by each couple reflecting their own likes and preferences, the Orthodox service stays the same and is chanted without instrumental accompaniment. The only difference for this particular wedding was that two penitential prayers were substituted for the prayer which invokes the Old Testament exemplars of marriage and prays that the couple be as fruitful and as faithful. The reason for this substitution is that the couple that was married was entering into their second union, thus prayers for fertility and such were omitted.
Despite the variability in this particular wedding, all Orthodox weddings have the same content. We pray, as a community, that their union be fruitful (unlike in Western confessions which treat childbirth not as a pillar of marriage but as an elective that one can opt out of), that they be faithful, that they submit to each other (the epistle reading is from Ephesians not from 1 Corinthians 13, which, in my opinion is so overused), that they die to each other for the sake of Christ as martyrs to Christ (that is why there are many hymns sung in honour of the martyrs; and as martyrs receive crowns of glory, so is the couple crowned, and, above all, that Christ is the center and unwavering focus of their marriage. The Gospel reading is from Christ's miracle at the Wedding of Cana (an icon of this event is a traditional gift) and as Christ transforms the water into wine, into something different, Christ also transforms the couple into one flesh, fulfilling God's covenant to Adam once Eve was formed from his rib.
Every action at the wedding ceremony is done in the name of the trinity, whether it is the betrothal or the crowning. Whenever we invoke the martyrs or the apostles or any of the saints, it is always done in the context that their lives and even their marriages were lived by confessing the Consubstantial Trinity! As the Trinity exists as a perfect example of lover and loved thus we pray such occurs for the newly wedded couple.
Now, I'm not saying that those Christians who were married in a non-Orthodox wedding were married in a non-Christian ceremony. However, all too often, the songs and the blessings are more centered on that the bride and groom be happy in their life together. Vows are written by the couple, which often have some humor. Stories, often funny ones, are told about how the couple met. There is much talk of love (hence the reading from 1 Corinthians 13), but little talk of love as far as what Christ says about love, which is total self-denial and that it is truly expressed by even giving up your very life for the sake of your friends. In short, such weddings as I have seen emphasize the couple and their "special day" as the focus rather than Christ. If that works for you, more power to you.
We lament that our society, by large, has made marriage into a convenience or a mere legal contrivance which can be entered into and left at one's discretion. At this time of year when we lament that Christ has been taken out of Christ-mas, should we not also lament that Christ has been taken out of marriage or just given some lip-service? Orthodox laity go through divorce but the statistics also do share that the Orthodox go through divorce much less than the Protestant or Catholic communities of the United States. I don't think a mere change of ceremony is the remedy just as I don't believe that every Christian using St. John Chrysostom's Liturgy every Sunday will make better Christians. But if the marriage ceremony where Christ is the center and the celebrant of the wedding is the starting line, then perhaps it is more likely that the couple will finish together both in this life and in the age to come.
Many years to Eric and Suzie!