My house has been suffused with joy, anxiety and eager anticipation as the family makes preparations for my youngest daughter’s marriage (this Sunday afternoon). The are inevitably so many details – thank God for my wife and friends – I would be lost if I even began to consider all that is involved.
I am reminded of the gospel account of the wedding of the King’s son, where everyone offers excuses and the invitation is then extended in a most extreme manner. I remember as well the odd ending when a stranger arrives at the wedding and is “cast into outer darkness” because he has “no wedding garment.”
There are cultural issues required to be understood before the parable itself can be understood. The family of the groom provided the “wedding garments” for the guests. Thus the late-comer has refused the gift of the King and has presented himself for the wedding having spurned the hospitality of his host.
As Christians, our “wedding garment” is nothing less than the “righteousness of Christ” which we receive in Holy Baptism, and which we renew regularly in our repentance. To arrive at God’s great wedding banquet without a proper garment, is to have come, spurning the good gift of God’s own righteousness and forgiveness. It is to arrive assuming our own merits are sufficient.
The theme of the Wedding and its garment is brought continually to mind for an Orthodox priest. As he vests for the Divine Liturgy, he blesses first his white robe, the stikharion, using these words:
My soul shall rejoice in the Lord, for He hath clothed me with the garment of salvation; as a bridegroom has He set a crown upon me; and as a bride adorns herself with jewels, so has He adorned me.
For the Divine Liturgy, the Eucharist, is nothing other than the very meal at the End of the World. It is the marriage feast of the Lamb; the feast of the Kingdom of God – our participation in the very Body and Blood of God.
To be even remotely present in a home that is preparing the marriage of a daughter is to have a strong sense of preparation involved in this major life event. The details overwhelm me (as they nearly overwhelm everyone). Watching Steve Martin’s Father of the Bride rings true even if it does not add comfort to the situation.
Weddings easily devour the fact that what is occurring is a sacrament of the Church. Our culture, in situations of relatively light religious affiliation (as in so many “wedding chapels”) easily replaces the holy with the merely romantic. The merely romantic is a very flimsy frame upon which to build a life of mutual self-sacrifice.
Within the Orthodox Church, a number of canons safeguard the sacrament: the marriage must be celebrated in a Church – not outdoor, not in a barn, not in an imaginary romantic setting. It belongs in the Church because it is indeed a sacrament – a means by which God becomes present and we participate in His grace. The couple is also required to have counseling beforehand and to make their confessions before a priest as they prepare to receive one of the Holy Sacraments. One prays that such actions add to the sobriety of the occasion and draw attention towards God and away from the manifold distractions of our silly world.
This weekend will mark the fourth time I have stood with one of my children and had a share in the celebration of this sacrament. Each time I have been blessed by the fact that the young couple standing before me were clad in the wedding garment of Christ. The Orthodox wedding also declares that “the prayers of parents are the foundations of homes,” a very sober reminder to myself and my wife that we have not completed our responsibilities as parents – they have only shifted into a yet more strenuous gear.
I rejoice with my daughter and her fiance and ask you to join my family as we pray for her and her husband.
“O God, remember your servants Clare Anne and Andrew as they enter this new way of life. May their life together always be an icon of Christ and His Church. May we all share together in the feast at the end of the world!”