Friday, November 20, 2009

B&W, W&O Chapter 13: The Mystery of Marriage

The footnote on the first page of this chapter makes it clear that the author is speaking from the 'peanut gallery', having never been married. And, since I'm not married either, all married people can take any commentary either of us have with a grain of salt. :)

"It is perhaps no accident that Holy Matrimony is the one rite of the Church that is actually called a 'mystery' in the Holy Scriptures. The presence of Jesus at the wedding in Cana is, in the tradition of the Church, indication enough that marriage is something wonderful and something to be treasured, a 'great mystery' (Ephesians 5:32)."

Without the help of God, a marriage cannot work. Again, I think that might be sort of a 'so obvious we never think about it' statement. Sure, in the modern world, lots of people get married and it has nothing to do with God. And, I'll bet you dollars to donuts, those marriages break up, are miserable, or are shams the majority of the time.

An interesting 'stressor' Archimandrite Webber lists as a cause of marriage breakdown is the stress of society on the 'nuclear family' as opposed to the 'extended family'. In the past, families lived closely, sometimes in the same house, with several generations all at once. If not in the same house, the same town, or very, very close. In those instances, the stress was diffused across a wider range. Children spent just as much time with grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, as they did with their own parents, releasing some of the natural tension that would arise otherwise. Nowadays, it's a mom, dad, and kids. All the time. Together. On top of each other. In every ones business. And you can't just (much of the time) take the child to grandma's to play. A boy, having a problem with his father, can't turn to a grandfather in many instances, because the grandfather lives several states away, and while loved, is nearly a stranger. Someone you see on holidays. But it's impossible to have a real, personal relationship that way.

Another factor is that, in urban settings, there is a lack of a support system. Most of us don't know our neighbors. Would we stop and help them if we saw they were in trouble? Sure. Do we wave hi? Of course. It's polite. But, if we're laid up, sick, will they notice? Will they check on us? Would either party be comfortable with that? Probably not. We're polite strangers. In the 'extended family', in the smaller town setting, everyone knows everything about everyone else. Does that make us (with our acclimatization to being alone) uncomfortable sometimes? Sure. But I'll bet it's nice once you get used to it or need help and there's someone right there.

Another point he makes is that love (or, as it really is, infatuation), while grand, does not a marriage make. Or at least not a lasting one. Love is just an emotion. It burns hot, but it can cool just as quickly. So, yeah, maybe you meet, and you fall in love, and you get married. But unless there's more there - common goals, beliefs, desires, things that can temper the love into true and lasting, genuine love. Despite all the stresses and pitfalls, you have to be ready to work at your marriage. To get up, every single day, willing to renew your vows and do it all over again.

A reporter I know has been married to his wife for forever. And he told us, one day, that every single day, he asks her, 'would you marry me today?' - most of the time, the answer is 'yes'. Quick and without doubt. Sometimes, when they're having 'rough patches', the answer is slower coming. But he asks every day, because every day is a new chance for them.

So. On to the actual ceremony.

Apparently, it's really two services that are joined together. The betrothal and the marriage. So, engagement and wedding. Typically, the betrothal ceremony happens twice, actually. One, weeks or months before the wedding date - an engagement blessing happening in a 'fairly informal' setting, somewhere off of church grounds. The couple is *NOT* however, married until *both* ceremonies have occurred.

The betrothal has, as its central theme, the blessing and exchanging of the rings. The ring has all sorts of symbolism - but the Church focuses on the role rings have played in Biblical stories.

Once the rings are in place, the service quickly moves into marriage itself. Prayers for peace are recited (again - they're recited at the betrothal too), with minor differences. Then two long, beautiful prayers, the second of which is full of references to marriage in Holy Scripture.

The couple joins hands (I'm not sure if they're tied together, as I've seen in some traditions, or if the couple just clasps hands - likely it varies...), and are crowned. They are becoming one flesh, they are 'crowned' to each other.

Crowning, like the rings, is full of symbolism. The suggestion is two major themes - glory and honor, but also, martyrdom. "A martyr is called to witness to Christ with every ounce of his being, and both the bride and groom will need to learn to emulate that behavior if the marriage is to be successful. The themes of honor, restraint, social responsibility, and harmony flutter through the words of the service, giving active lessons as to how to bring the marriage to fruition."

The Epistle (Ephesians 5:22-33) is read, as is the Gospel (John 2:1-11). After the readings, the Lord's Prayer follows, surrounded by other prayers. A cup of wine is blessed, and given to the couple. The wine, representing the whole panoply of food, nourishment, joy, sharing, and encouragement, is drunk. They process (I'm assuming led by the priest) around the table, taking their first steps together blessed by God, guided by the Church, and supported by those who have come to give the couple their prayerful encouragement.

After the procession, the crowns are removed, more blessings are given, and then the bride and groom walk out into the world as a married couple for the first time. :)

Oh! The author doesn't mention this, but I remember reading somewhere that it is not the tradition, in the Orthodox Church, for the bride to be 'given away'. She walks up the aisle herself, of her own will and volition, leaving out all the hinted implications of 'transfer of property' that you can get in the west with this tradition.

The last part of the chapter is telling a couple of short stories about mothers, mother-in-laws, wedding planners, etc. who wanted to have the Church change the ceremony just for them, so that they could have their picture perfect day! to be expected, none of these people got their way.


  1. I cannot agree more with your statement about needing more than love to have a marriage. Love alone does not a marriage make. You need many factors. I think love is an important element and a wonderful one but certainly not the most important. A person can love someone very much and have their relationship be awful.

    *sigh* Now I'm going to think about weddings again. My internal marriage clock is going off :)

  2. LK,

    Love's grand, but it doesn't make a lasting marriage. I think we've all gotten swept up the in Hollywood, fall in love, happy ever after thing, and we've lost the understanding that you need more than just love. And, as too many know, love can turn sour real fast if there's nothing else there.

    *sigh* I know...what is it about that durn internal clock?

  3. That internal clock kicks in around 23-25 when all your friends are getting married and you are not. :) Being in a serious relationship does not help to shut up that darn alarm on your internal clock :).

  4. Read some interesting commentary from a Russian perspective in a back-article from Road to Emmaus, #4:

    "My Work with English Converts, II"

    Round about the middle of the article is where he comments on marriage and procreation. Actually, read the entire interview series. :-)

  5. Just on a practical note: Most young men (unless raised in a very healthy religious home) are worthless until after age 25. We call it Brain Loss. Affects about 80% of American youths. The brain checks out at 17-19 and doesn't seem to begin responding until 24-26.

    That being said, getting married at the ripe old age of 27 was fabulous. My husband got a much better version of me than at 22 and vice versa.

  6. I've often heard that (true) love isn't an emotion, but a verb - "God so loved ... that He gave" - meaning we should not rely on those ooey-gooey feelings to be how we measure our "love" for our spouse. As you pointed out so clearly, love is much, much more!

    Great post and I think you did wonderfully even if you warned us to take yours and the author's thoughts with a grain of salt. :)

  7. Anna,

    Ooohhh...thanks. I printed the series out and will read it when I'm not cross eyed. :)

    Yeah, I've always known (just from interacting with guys my age) that they mature a lot slower. :)

  8. Susanne,


    And yeah, well, I figure married people know more about marriage than me, for sure. But I do so love to back seat drive...


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