To the Orthodox Christian, marriage is a sacrament. The priest marries us, does not just witness to our marrying each other. He gives our marriage the Church’s blessing – the Blessing of God. Marriage is to be a mutual path to salvation. It is a special calling.
Marriage has little or nothing to do with a wedding ceremony. An Orthodox wedding (Betrothal and Crowning) cannot help being beautiful, regardless of the simplicity of the “trappings.” I’ve seen gorgeous weddings conducted in tiny missions with the reception provided as a gift by the members. One provides the table dressings, another various kiinds of pastry and cookies, still another provides pierogs (little fried meat pies). Other things are provided by others, and music by other members – sometimes via CDs, sometimes live. This was not because the couple was “poor,” but because the parish is the community and the true “family” of the couple. Every member of the parish has a stake in the “success” of the marriage – not the income, but the success of the marriage. A stake in the love, a stake in the growth.
Among the Serbians, there is a tradition of a whole family having a patron saint as well as each person. The observation of the feast day of the family’s patron saint is known as a “Slava” and involves special blessing, a Church service and a reception or party hosted by the members of the family – either at home or at Church. Each individual person’s patron saint feast day (name day) is celebrated similarly, although usually a little less elaborately. This tradition helps make an even stronger bond among the family members.
We must not desecrate the sacrament of marriage. This slightly different “take” on marriage makes family break-ups and divorce a much more serious matter than among the non-Orthodox. Abuse of each other, whether by the man or by the woman, ideally is a matter for the entire parish to condemn, for the priest to address in Confession as well as in counseling. Does this always happen? Of course not. But there is much more support for a couple in most Orthodox parishes than you will find in most other churches.
Marriage is a work in progress aimed at the couple mutually working out their own and each other’s salvation together. Marriage is one of several “vocations” among the Orthodox. Each vocation has the same goal – salvation; growing closer to Christ; becoming one with God; Theosis.
Marriage among the Orthodox, while it is assumed to involve procreation, is for much more than that. It is first and foremost a work toward salvation. The relationship between the husband and wife is, itself, a sacrament. Communication is essential. Joint prayer is important – not just prayer at the same time, but truely joint prayer. This is not something achieved overnight – like all of life, like anything worth achieving, it involves a process, growth, development. It often takes years.
The growth of the couple toward Theosis, is the process of a lifetime. Sometimes one member of the couple grows faster than the other. It is the job of the one making more progress to foster growth in the other. If the other catches up and begins to make further progress than the first, then it become that one’s job to foster growth in the other. This can be difficult when the one with more progress is the wife. This happens. I have seen wives simply be a good example for the husband for years and years. It is very, very hard. Yet, eventually, many of the husbands came around.
The pond is not utopia. But the pond is where I live and watch from my rock.