Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony

My wife and I were blessed to receive the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony this past Sunday.  Because we were already married, we did not do the betrothal, but simply went through the crowning service.

This is not, as is sometimes thought, simply a matter of renewing our vows.  We decided to do this because in the Orthodox Church, marriage is considered to be a Sacrament, and we wanted the benefit of a Sacramental marriage in the Church.  There are some notable differences between an Orthodox wedding and most other Christian weddings.  For example, there are no vows in an Orthodox marriage service.  At the beginning of the betrothal service, the bride and groom each voice their assent to marry the other, and after that, they do not have anything to say.  The entire betrothal and marriage service consists of litanies, hymnody and prayers.  This may seem odd to those used to seeing couples say vows before each other, but theologically, it is a very beautiful thing.  It signifies that the couple are joined not by their own assent or promise, but by God's assent and His promise.  Also, the crowning is not insignificant or merely ceremonial.  The crowns represent martyrdom, and indicate that the bride and groom each agree to lay down their lives for each other.  Father Andrew made a special point to note to us that in marriage, we each die to the other, as we die to Christ in baptism, and we begin a new life together, just as we begin a new life in baptism.  This sense of martyrdom is perhaps most vividly noted in the singing of the Dance of Isaiah:

O Isaiah, dance your joy, for the Virgin was indeed with child; and brought to birth a Son, that Emmanuel, Who came as both God and man; Day‑at‑the‑Dawn is the Name He bears, and by extolling Him, We hail the Virgin as blessed.

Hear us, you martyred Saints, who fought the good fight, gaining crowns: entreat the Lord to shed His tender mercy on our souls.

Glory to You, O Christ our God, Your Apostles' proudest boast and treasure of Your Martyrs' joy, Who to all proclaimed the Consubstantial Trinity.
To remind us of this martyrdom, Father Andrew and Khouria gave us an icon of the 40 Holy Martyrs of Sebaste.  It was most fitting.
We were blessed to have some family present to commemorate our crowning, along with a good number of our Church family, and in particular our Chrismation sponsors, who stood with us at the altar and read the Epistle.  It was a unique blessing that our three daughters were present to see what we hope is a foreshadowing of their own marriages in the future.

Your prayers are requested as we now begin the next chapter of our lives together.  We have been blessed with 18 years of marriage, and pray for many more.  We particularly pray to be a good example of Christian marriage to our children.