I officiated at a wedding last Sunday – one of several this year at the Church. It is always interesting to be part of an Orthodox wedding. Unlike most of our services, there is likely to be a majority of non-Orthodox in attendance. And they will have come to a service which even Baptists (no criticism intended) have a mental model for how it should look, liturgically. I recall my first Orthodox wedding as a priest. I had to travel across country (a parishioner was marrying a girl in another state). My second daughter explained to myself and her mother that she simply had to go with us to the wedding. Her reasoning was impeccable: “All my life I have dreamed of my wedding. Now that I’m Orthodox, I need to alter my dream. I need to see an Orthodox wedding.” We took her with us.
One of the things I often say about Orthodox weddings (to the non-Orthodox) is to comment on the absence of vows. There are no promises made – just prayers and blessings. My explanation (which is historically incorrect) is to say, “It does not do a couple any good to perjure themselves on their wedding day.” Usually I am greeted with a smile – at least that is my intent.
However unintentional the absence of vows may be in an Orthodox wedding, there is still something of a point in my observation. Words are extremely powerful and should be used carefully. As a child I was taught, “A man’s word is his bond.” I have learned repeatedly to my own embarrassment (and occasional loss) that this is no longer true with every man. The criminal conviction of perjury has extended even to the highest office of the land – without great consequence. Words are simply things to use for effect.
But Christ says:
I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Matt. 12:36-37).
I come from a family of “talkers.” No one believes me when I say that in my family “I am the quiet one.” My talkativeness has been the occasion for trouble since I was in grade school and will likely be the occasion for trouble on the Day of Judgment.
Christ’s words are an eloquent plea for silence – or at least care – in our speaking. If we must speak, let it be kind. If we must speak, let it be true. If we must speak, let it be in peace. Everything else is trouble – both now and later. Everything else darkens our heart and does not clarify a situation nor add to the wisdom of the world.
There is humility in an Orthodox wedding. No words of perfection, other than those that speak of God. Before Him stand a man and a woman – sinners at best. Without grace a marriage is without hope. Thus we view marriage as a sacrament – a miracle of God. The words that are best spoken are those to which we respond, “Lord, have mercy.”
Perhaps that is a good rule for all speech.
No vows…something I’ve NEVER seen at a wedding. O_O
How beautiful and humbling, learning about the Orthodox way continues to amaze me.
In Russian practice the only questions are one which asks whether the couple are there of their own free will, and another which asks if they have promised themselves to any other person. These questions are not traditionally part of the Greek practice, as I have been given to understand. But no vows. Just lots of prayers and blessings. Every couple you can think of in the Old Testament worth mentioning is brought into the service. Joseph and Asenath are mentioned several times (that will make you read your last chapters of Genesis!). It’s a wonderfully rich service.
By the way, the couple in the photo, are my son and his wife from last summer. The priest together with me is Fr. Gregory Rogers, the father of my son-in-law, Fr. Philip Rogers. Yeah, I know, it gets real thick. 🙂
It’s considered good manners for Americans to be chatterboxes. Otherwise, one is seen as stuck-up and unfriendly.
My husband and I agree that if we had attended an Orthodox wedding before we were married we never would have delayed our chrismation to have a Protestant wedding. I would rather have delayed the wedding.
Thank you. You have absolved me from my most obvious sin. I would not want to be stuck-up or unfriendly. 🙂
Yes, fascinating. It seems like a beautiful ceremony in its simplicity. You said:
“My explanation (which is historically incorrect) is to say, “It does not do a couple any good to perjure themselves on their wedding day.””
May I ask what the historical reason for the lack of vows is?
For what it’s worth (probably about as much as you are paying for it!), one of my favorite verses of Scripture has always been Proverbs 10:19 (NKJV): “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, But he who restrains his lips is wise.”
Visibilium – I don’t think it is un-American to practice silence, nor do I think silent people are stuck up or friendly. And even if both of these things were true, it would be worth it to stop my own foolish mouth from flapping 24/7. What others think of us should be the last of our worries, shouldn’t it? Besides, shouldn’t we “seek out dishonor”, like St. John of the Ladder says?
(I meant “un-friendly”)
Interesting, because I know of someone who does not want to hear other people say “Lord, have mercy”…
The Orthodox wedding brings it all into a single focus, the blessing of the marriage before God and the couple. Again, in it’s simplicity it becomes profound!
“Christ’s words are an eloquent plea for silence – or at least care – in our speaking. If we must speak, let it be kind. If we must speak, let it be true. If we must speak, let it be in peace. Everything else is trouble – both now and later. Everything else darkens our heart and does not clarify a situation nor add to the wisdom of the world.”
…beautifully stated and wonderfully wise…thank you!
Antiochian practice (generally acknowledged as Greek practice, though I’m not certain what the GOA does) is to ask the following question, of groom and bride respectively, in the Betrothal Service:
“Have you, N., a good, free, and unconstrained will and a firm intention to take unto yourself to wife [husband] this woman [man] N., whom you see here before you?”
I’ve heard that the Orthodox have a “betrothal” service that has vows there.
Yes, those are the “questions” I was referring to in Russian practice, although they do not occur at the bethrothal in Russian practice but before the crowning.
But they only ascertain that you plan to “take as your wife/husband”. No vows are made.
As to the question of history (Damian’s question), the service did not evolve in the East with the notion of a “contract” between two people as it did in the West.
Probably the earliest form of marriage in the Church was to receive communion together and to have some form of blessings read over you.
The Orthodox service is mostly an expansion of that. The couple are still expected to come to the cup together, and the service books indicate that after the liturgy, the “couple present themselves at the entrance into the nave.” Sunday is still the preferred day of weddings in Orthodox practice.
Father, is there any precedent in the Church for the renewal of vows? For instance, does a couple who have been married for many years and have been protestant have an opportunity for some sort of marriage blessing service in the Church once they are Chrismated?
I am by nature a quiet person, and I believe that trait comes from my father. Unfortunately, that only means that those around me don’t hear my silly or judgemental or impure thoughts, which have to be confessed as surely as if I did said them out loud. :-/
. . . did say them out loud. (Duh!)
That is a common practice in the Greek Church. I’ve not seen it in the OCA, but I’m not sure. I do know that in OCA practice, when someone is received from another Church and is married, our statute specifically forbids us to do a “remarriage,” the understanding being that anything lacking is made complete in Holy Chrismation.
I might add, that the sacraments in Orthodoxy are always about the grace that is being given – not the sentiments we may have. Weddings are inevitably tied up in sentiment in our culture.
I find the best thing for the “renewal” of marriage, particularly for converts coming into the Church, as well as any other, is the renewal that takes place when we confess our sins and receive absolution, as well as the grace given in the Eucharist. There are marriage enrichment programs in some parishes that give a couple an opportunity to look at their marriage and learn some thing, and recommit. But most often that commitment would come in the form of going to confession at least in the OCA.
When my wife and I joined the church (Antiocian) we were given a choice of a short blessing imidiatly following our baptism/chrismation or a seprate service. My wife wanted the seprate service, which was the traditional marrige service minus the betrothal portion. I think she wanted it because our fist marrige service was an elopment with a non-denom minister in Central Park.
However, I belive that this was a one of those things done as part of the priest’s pastorial descrction… we deffinatly weren’t required to have any additional blessings for our marrige. I asked our priest about this speciffically durring our catacumite.
“It does not do a couple any good to perjure themselves on their wedding day.”
Hahahaoooohhh, that was funny and sad at the same time because, unfortunately, it is often true.
My wife and i were Catechumens when we set our wedding date. Fortunately we were Chrismated before our wedding so as to have an Orthodox wedding…it is truly a beautiful service, whether it is your own, or another couples…absolutely beautiful!
Thank you for the response, Fr Stephen. That makes sense. By the way things are going, it looks like my wife and I and our 2 little boys may soon become official catechumens in the Antiochian jurisdiction. I’m grateful that I was counseled to run “not too far ahead” of my wife early on and now she has warmed up to Orthodoxy and has come to love at least parts of it. It would be an added encouragement, I think, to have our marriage blessed in the church family we are settling into. But here I am, running ahead of myself.
“As to the question of history (Damian’s question), the service did not evolve in the East with the notion of a “contract” between two people as it did in the West.
Probably the earliest form of marriage in the Church was to receive communion together and to have some form of blessings read over you.”
That’s interesting – I’ve always wondered about the relevance of the contract, although I always understood that the marriage contract had Hebrew roots – I know certainly rabbinic Judaism has a marriage contract.
The simple wedding, though, as you say, is profound. Often weddings with elaborate vows, songs, etc. belabour the point.
Aside from the lack of vows, does the entire ceremony contrast with the western ceremony?
There are very few, if any, common points in the two ceremonies. Except that in some Orthodox customs, the hands of the couple are bound together (at a certain point). This I have also seen in a Western (Anglican) wedding.
My wife and I are hoping to become Orthodox in the next year, but that hasn’t stopped us from incorporating many Orthodox practices into our lives before actually entering the Church.
We met three years ago in a house church associated with the Emerging Church movement. When we were married two years ago, we wrote a hybrid service in conjunction with our church’s pastor that incorporated both Eastern and Western elements.
The structure of the whole service was based on the Orthodox wedding ceremony, but not having vows put us at odds with our families, so we had vows during the betrothal portion of the service.
The main thing that is drawing us to Orthodoxy is the acknowledgment and celebration of sacramental reality, which is also what we found most appealing about the Orthodox wedding ceremony. The idea of marriage being nothing more than a contract seemed to us to be a cheapening of marriage, in much the same way that the legal-substitutionary theory of atonement seems to us to be a cheapening of Christ’s reconciling work among us.
Thank you for your thoughts Father Stephen.