Upon my visit to Russia, I was blessed to be invited to a Russian style wedding of some very close family friends, Oleg and Ksenia. I emphasize the words Russian style because it was quite different, in fact, from any other wedding I saw. What shocked me most was the religious ceremony. All my life, I had seen a dozen of couples getting married in movies, and even had the chance to attend a couple of Catholic weddings. However, the wedding ceremony in the Orthodox Church was very different. First of all, it was super long. I thought it was never going to end. There was a plethora of different rituals I was unfamiliar with. Each of the acts has a special meaning and significance. Since all of this was so foreign to me, I imagined it might interest YOU as well. Therefore pay close attention to my not so detailed recount:
It was a hot summer day. All the guests were waiting for the bride and groom to enter the church. Before entering the church, the priest greeted them and asked if they come of their own free will. After receiving the expected answer, the priest invited the youngsters to stand before the altar. All of this is greeted with excitement, every one cheerfully observing the nervous couple. The ring exchange ritual is next in line. The main focus of this stage is the exchange of rings, which are first blessed by the priest, who holds them in his right hand and makes the sign of the cross over the couple’s heads. Ksenia and Oleg now place the rings on each other’s hands.
The marriage ceremony itself contains several key parts, the first revolving around prayers, prayers, and more prayers…Zzz. Soon after, the priest handed the couple a lighted candle, which they must hold in their left hands throughout all of the service (two hours?). These candles represent the Christ, who will light the way of the newlyweds in their life together. There is a further series of prayers at the end of which the priest joins the right hands of the couple, symbolizing their union. Their hands remain joined until the end of the wedding ceremony.
The Crowning ceremony comes next, and IMHO is the highlight of the Wedding service. Without doubt it is also the most well known part of any Orthodox wedding. Oleg and Ksenia were crowned as the king and queen of their own little kingdom, the home, which they are to rule wisely. This crown is called the stefana (traditionally it could also be a wreath of flowers or an actual crown made from gold, red velvet and jewels). However, Ksenia, the bride chose to wear something that reminded me of a tiara. The moment when Oleg kissed the crown and carefully placed it on Ksenia’s neatly done hair-do, one could see the intense love and care he felt for his future wife in his eyes. His hands were literally shaking, but at the same time, he was as happy as he could be.
After this, the priest read a story from the Gospel, telling of the marriage at Galilee, where Jesus performed his first miracle in which he changed water into wine. To commemorate this, the couple drank wine from a chalice to symbolize that they will be sharing the happiness and sorrows of life together (their joys will be doubled and their sorrows halved because they will be shared, cool, huh?). Next, the bride and groom took their first steps as a married couple – they were lead by the priest three times around the altar. At this point of the wedding, the tradition is that the newlyweds and all those nearby be showered with rice! It was quite a sight! After all the mess, the priest finally blessed the couple, removed the stefanas from their heads, and separated the couple’s hands, which they were holding tightly all this time.