I was wondering if I could have some advice/ hear some opinions on my situation.
I am Anglican, and my partner is Russian Orthodox. We have just started talking about marriage, but neither of us is familiar at all with the ceremony itself. I have been learning how the standard Orthodox service might work, but I am still not sure about the details. In practical terms, I would love some advice on what we might expect. We will, of course, be speaking to my partner's priest.
I also wondered if anyone could advise me on issues of faith. Theologically, what should I/we be doing?
If anyone has thoughts or experiences to share concerning a marriage of an Orthodox/ non-Orthodox couple, I would be glad to hear them. I would also be grateful for any brief thoughts people might have on marriage itself - although I must stress that I say 'brief' for a reason, namely that I would prefer to hear more about the ceremony and the time leading up to it.
I would love go hear also from non-Orthodox forum members (if there are any reading), to learn what they think.
Anticipating your responses,
First, congratulations on your engagement! May God grant you both Many Years!
As far as what to expect, I would like to inform you that you are making a wise choice by having the wedding in the Orthodox Church. Theological issues aside, an Orthodox Wedding ceremony aesthetically is hands-down the most beautiful Wedding ceremony in all of Christendom!
Also, it is the only Wedding Ceremony that does not treat the woman like a piece of property! Why? In the Orthodox Ceremony, the bride is not "given away." She walks in the Church of her own free will, and meets the groom at the back of the Church. That's right, the ceremony starts at the back
of the Church.
The Orthodox Wedding Ceremony is divided into two parts: The Betrothal Service/Exchanging of rings and the Crowning Service. At one point in history these were two seperate services, but the Church has since blended the two into one.
When the bride walks into the Church, she meets the groom, the priest, and the Best Man at the back of the Church. The priest begins the service by saying "Blessed is our God always, now and ever, and to the ages of ages" to which the people respond "Amen."
The priest then asks God to bless the bride and groom with children, to guide them in their marriage, and to unify the couple. The priest then takes the rings from the Best Man, makes the sign of the cross over the couples' heads three times, and betrothes the couple to one another. The rings are exchanged three times, taking the bride's ring and placing it on the groom's finger and vice-versa. The rings are the symbol of the betrothal and signify that in married life the weaknesses of the one partner will be compensated for by the strengths of the other; the imperfections of one by the aptitudes of another.
After the exchanging of the rings, the priest and the couple process to the front of the Church where a small table (tetrapod) is set up with candles, the crowns, the Holy Gospel, and a cross. The Crowning Service then commences.
The bride and groom are then given candles which they hold throughout the service. The candles are like the lamps of the five wise virgins in the parable taught by our Lord. Because they had enough oil in their lanterns, they were able to receive the Bridegroom when he came at midnight. (Matt 25:10) The candles symoblize the couples willingness to receive Christ into their marriage.
The priest then says some more prayers over the couple, and he then crowns the groom then the bride. The crowns are signs of the glory and honor with which god crowns them during the marriage sacrament. The groom and the bride are crowned as king and queen of their own little kingdom, the home, which they will rule with wisdom, justice, and integrity which has been revealed through Christ and His Holy Church. They are an earthly image of Christ, and His Bride, the Church. The crowns in the Orthodox ceremony are also an image of the crowns of martyrdom since every true marriage involves immeasurable self-sacrafice by both the bride and the groom.
After the groom and bride have been crowned, the Epistle (Ephesians 5:20-33) and the Gospel (John 2:1-11) are read. More prayers are then said by the priest.
The blessing of the common cup then takes place.
This is NOT Holy Communion, so you do not have to be Orthodox to partake of the common cup.
The blessing of the common cup is given in remembrance of Christ's first miracle of Cana in Galilee where He converted the water into wine and gave it to the newlyweds. Wine is given to the couple and shared from one cup. This is the "common cup" of life denoting the mutual sharing of joy and sorrow the token of a life in harmony. The drinking of wine from the common cup serves to impress upon the couple that from this moment on they shall share everything in life.
The cup is given to the bridegroom three times and then the bride three times. Joining the right hands of the bride and groom, the priest leads them in procession around the tetrapod. This is known as the "Dance of Isaiah."
After the final blessing is given, the priest removes the crowns and sends them forth into the world.
A couple things worth noting:
First, although the bride is not given away, many priest's will allow the bride's father to "escort" her into the church if she so chooses. Many priests in the West realize that Western brides want their weddings to look like the ones they see in the movies, so they allow this.
Second, there are no vows in the Orthodox Wedding Ceremony. You will not be saying "I do" on your Wedding Day. In fact, you will not say anything during the whole service!
Holy Matrimony is a sacrament/mystery of the Orthodox Church in which a man and woman have their conjugal union blessed by the All-Holy Trinity through the Bride of Christ, the Church. The Marriage Ceremony is conducted by the priest before the congregation.
Third, as mentioned you will be crowned. Since you are being married in the Russian tradition, this has a special twist to it. Way back when, the Tsar of Russia decided that the only person worthy of actually wearing
a crown was the Tsar. So, during the Russian ceremony the Best Man and the Maid/Matron of Honor will have the oh-so-fun responsibility of actually holding the crowns over your head like this:
Fourth, instrumental music is not allowed in the Orthodox Church, so save the stringed quartet for cocktail hour. Also, don't worry about having to "pick out your music" for the ceremony; that's already been decided by the Church.
You asked if there is anything you should be doing to prepare for the wedding. The priest marrying you is really the best person suited to answer this question.
The answer to this question also largely depends on whether or not you want to convert to Orthodoxy.
Oh, one other thing -- about your dress. Sleeveless is a big no-no in the Orthodox Church. So if you want a sleeveless dress, make sure you have a balero, or a wrap, or something to put on your arms during the ceremony. You can take it off once you get to the reception. Same thing goes for your bridesmaid's dresses.
That's all I can think of for now.
Hope this helps!