I officiated at a wedding last Sunday – one of several this year at the Church. It is always interesting to be part of an Orthodox wedding. Unlike most of our services, there is likely to be a majority of non-Orthodox in attendance. And they will have come to a service which even Baptists (no criticism intended) have a mental model for how it should look, liturgically. I recall my first Orthodox wedding as a priest. I had to travel across country (a parishioner was marrying a girl in another state). My second daughter explained to myself and her mother that she simply had to go with us to the wedding. Her reasoning was impeccable: “All my life I have dreamed of my wedding. Now that I’m Orthodox, I need to alter my dream. I need to see an Orthodox wedding.” We took her with us.
One of the things I often say about Orthodox weddings (to the non-Orthodox) is to comment on the absence of vows. There are no promises made – just prayers and blessings. My explanation (which is historically incorrect) is to say, “It does not do a couple any good to perjure themselves on their wedding day.” Usually I am greeted with a smile – at least that is my intent.
However unintentional the absence of vows may be in an Orthodox wedding, there is still something of a point in my observation. Words are extremely powerful and should be used carefully. As a child I was taught, “A man’s word is his bond.” I have learned repeatedly to my own embarrassment (and occasional loss) that this is no longer true with every man. The criminal conviction of perjury has extended even to the highest office of the land – without great consequence. Words are simply things to use for effect.
But Christ says:
I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every careless word they utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned (Matt. 12:36-37).
I come from a family of “talkers.” No one believes me when I say that in my family “I am the quiet one.” My talkativeness has been the occasion for trouble since I was in grade school and will likely be the occasion for trouble on the Day of Judgment.
Christ’s words are an eloquent plea for silence – or at least care – in our speaking. If we must speak, let it be kind. If we must speak, let it be true. If we must speak, let it be in peace. Everything else is trouble – both now and later. Everything else darkens our heart and does not clarify a situation nor add to the wisdom of the world.
There is humility in an Orthodox wedding. No words of perfection, other than those that speak of God. Before Him stand a man and a woman – sinners at best. Without grace a marriage is without hope. Thus we view marriage as a sacrament – a miracle of God. The words that are best spoken are those to which we respond, “Lord, have mercy.”
Perhaps that is a good rule for all speech.