Saturday, June 2, 2012

Marriage Rites

Recently, I unexpectedly attended a wedding of two people I’d never met, which puts marriage in my mind.

There are certain repeated themes in the Byzantine rites of betrothal and crowning that may be helpful to remember when thinking about the nature of marriage.

7th century Byzantine wedding ring
depicting Christ joining the right hands 

of the bride and groom.
Inscribed: ομόνοια 
- Louvre
The betrothal includes prayers for salvation, procreation, love, unity, and faith and ends with a prayer describing the bestowed rings as biblical symbols of authority, glory, truth, and compassion. Of these themes, love is the one most remember and, if understood rightly, it is the most important. Understood rightly, it includes and does not neglect any of these other essential aspects of married life.

The crowning rite then reiterates these themes. Importantly, the joining of the right hands signifies unification. The prayer here remembers the creation of Adam and Eve, which implicitly recalls the prelapsarian united and good humanity (ἄνθρωπος), now reunified by the mystery of crowning. Emphasizing this unity, the priest asks God to yoke the couple like Adam and Eve and to crown them in one flesh. He also again prays for the blessing of offspring – an essential intention of marriage.

One meaning recalled by the crowning that follows and by a troparion sung during the dance of Isaias is the crowns of martyrdom and the self-sacrificial love martyrdom entails. This kind of love - the kind that will lay down life for the other - is the kind needed also in marriage.

From the troparion, in Tone 7:
“Holy Martyrs, who fought the good fight and were crowned, intercede with the Lord to have mercy on our souls.” 
I occasionally get out the service book from my own wedding and read it. I think rereading these services prayerfully can help a marriage. They provide good instruction on healthy and holy matrimonial life and a corrective to destructive self-centeredness.

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