The Sacrament of Marriage: An Introduction
The Sacrament of Marriage: The Crowning Service
Let me first begin with some clarifications in regard to my previous presentation, which will go in the following order: Marriage: Growing in Love, Marriage and the Trinity, Marriage and the Person of Christ, and 2nd Marriage.
Marriage: Growing in Love
Marriage brings both spouses to salvation. It allows the person to feel uncomfortable. Feeling uncomfortable, in the case of marriage, is a good thing. It allows us to learn and become a better person. Also, we come face-to -face with our “real-self” because we have to become humble, giving, loving, caring, compassionate, for our spouse. We confront our sins in a way that is starkly different from our singlehood. Our sin now has a direct affect on our spouse and children. Often, the uncomfortable factors, and the challenge to “change” that are set before a spouse, are termed as “failures” by the intellectual elites of our time as well as the society at large. When in fact, those are the very things that help the spouse to become a better Christian; hence a better couple!
Marriage is a process, which begins at marriage and ends with salvation in Christ. In my Marriage Sermon titled, “Growing In Love,” which was preach at three weddings, I spoke about how “love” in America is characterized as something we “fall into.” The idea that love is somehow a “falling in” is incorrect. We normally speak of falling into a ditch, or falling and hurting oneself. And we use this same language and imagery to describe a love that two people have for each that is suppose to be divine. It speaks volumes about the culture that we are currently living in. Love is not, and never can be something that you or I fall into. It is rather something that we “grow into.” Trials, tribulations, sadness, joy, happiness, bliss, fun etc., are all wrapped up into a bundle and handed to us in the journey we call marriage. And through it all, we are to “grow in love” as husband and wife.
Attending so many wedding receptions, seeing the marriage proposals on facebook, the “feeling” or “idea” seems to be that couple has reached the pinnacle of their relationship. The message that is being conveyed is that the couple has accomplished something great. This is far from the truth. The marriage service along with the reception is only the beginning. I agree that there should be rejoicing and overwhelming joy in the marriage service and reception, but at the same time there should be a level of measured awareness that the couple has about the journey they are about to embark on.
Marriage and the Trinity
There is and idea that in marriage there must be one leader. There is also another idea that both spouses can be leaders in different areas of the marriage. To be honest, both perspectives have the possibility of making a marriage fruitful. However, do we really need to identify a “leader?” Marriage is a sacrament like no other. It brings two individuals together for a divine purpose that is eternal. It’s the one sacrament that involves three persons—husband, wife and Christ. The other sacraments have one individual and Christ. Further, if marriage is divine, as the Christ says it is, shouldn’t it be something radically amazing and different—in a good way—in way that it makes us realize that there is hope for the best in every human being?
Wanting to be a leader…wanting to be the “top-gun”…wanting to #1, these are ideas that we impart in to our spirituality and Christian experience because of our worldly experience. Marriage is suppose to be “other worldly”—heavenly to be exact. If such is the case, then shouldn’t we mirror what is heavenly?
The Trinity is the core belief of the Christian faith. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are three different persons but with one essence, energy, and will. All three work in perfect harmony and unity. Indeed the God the Father is the Monarch (as the Church teaches) eternally begetting the Son and the Holy Spirit but never is there a dominance or superiority of the Father over the Son or the Holy Spirit. So, similarly in marriage there is a possibility that someone can lead but never in a dominating or superior way; rather in unity and equality at all times. Nevertheless, the Trinity, having it distinctions in three Persons, has different functions. The Father is the originator, the Son is the Person that manifested Himself to the world to redeem mankind, the Holy Spirit is the Comforter who pours out gifting to the all those who believe. So, you see, the three Persons have a their own “ministries” so to speak but are united is perfect love. The Trinity is One God.
The idea that there could be a unity within diversity has always been the quest of philosophers and scholars. Both unity and diversity seem to be an impossible couple. But Christianity is the only religion that attempts to answer such a question and thus proposed a solution. If, for the Christian, unity within diversity could be found in the Trinity, then is it not possible to have the diversity that is particular to the husband and wife be joined with perfect unity and love in marriage, which is divine? Absolutely! Like the Trinity it is possible for both the husband and wife to work in unity while carrying out their particular functionalities within marriage. This leads us to realize that heaven, the divine, is possible here on earth.
Marriage and the Person of Christ
As Orthodox Christians we uphold the faith as handed down to us by the Fathers of the Church through the three holy Ecumenical Councils, which are, Nicaea, Constantinople and Ephesus. This faith states that in the Person of Christ, there is the fullness of humanity and the fullness of divinity. Both the divine and human are functioning together in the one Person of Christ. Neither the divine mixes with the human, nor does the human mixes with the divine. Both maintain their particular properties. However, both divine and human operate perfectly in the one person of Christ. Here, like the great truth of the Trinity, we as humans, can only explain with limitations. However, such limitations do in no way diminish the truth. For Christ is one person—fully God and fully man. Likewise, marriage is divine, because Christ is bringing two individuals together. (Furthermore, we should be reminded that we as humans have the “divine” always in us because we are created in the image and likeness of God.) Marriage is also human because the two individuals are by nature human. This divine and human are being joined together during the marriage service. This is the reason why marriage is not “only” about two people “finding” each other; or even, it’s not “only” about having children and leaving a legacy; but rather that Christ is in the marriage; and therefore, the marriage, once “crowned,” is perfect humanity and divinity working together in unity.
2nd marriage is a touchy subject, especially in our time and day. Christ clearly states that divorce is wrong, with the exception of adultery. Since marriage is divine it cannot be dissolved as the Catholic Church does with the practice of annulment. Marriage once it happens has an eternal dimension. That is exactly why divorce is not permissible. Nowhere in the Bible is divorce condoned or 2nd marriage allowed. That said, the Church understands that men and women are flawed and in need of help. That includes broken marriages. The world is not perfect and neither are men or women; so the Church must deal with marriages, as it deals with other things, finding solutions to problems and allowing for restoration.
The idea that marriage is divine and something that is eternal can also apply to other Christian experiences as well. For instances, the Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Christ, received by the Orthodox Christian on Sundays, is an eternal experience. In other words, the Body and Blood of Christ becomes a part of who we are, both physically and spiritually. If we receive It in an unworthy manner it will have eternal ramifications.
Everything that we do on this earth, either to ourselves or to others, has consequences. That is, there are always those psychological scars that we have when we take part in sin. The point is no matter what we have done or where we have been, the memories will always be with us. It is a reminder that sin has past, present and future dimensions. Yes, we are forgiven, but since we are a part of a sinful world, the scars remain. Similarly, marriage when it is broken will be a part of who we are. But the good news is we can learn from it and move on, making better choices and decisions in the future.
Divorce, pastorally speaking is necessary in some rare cases. There is always the rule, but with ever rule there is the exception. The exception is not to be abused or misused but only validated with utmost caution and when deemed necessary. Even is such cases, were there is justification for divorce the eternality of marriage remains. That is, the consequences have to be experienced even if it is unjust. The rain falls on the just and the unjust. Therefore, even in marriage, if we find ourselves being unjustly treated, we still have to suffer with the consequence. So, this is in fact the underlying idea behind the “eternalness” of marriage: that good or bad, marriage, like anything else in life that is highly significant, will always be a part of who we are. We cannot escape it, but rather use it to become a better person in Christ. And hopefully, the God who is eternal, will take our weakness and faults, and through His eternal love, receive our repentance, so that we will reign with Him in everlasting life.
Part 2: The Crowning
Crowning is the putting of a circular object with a hollow center onto the head of a person that signifies royalty. A quick look at ancient history tells us that both the Greek and Roman civilizations used crowning in different circumstances in order to either signify royalty or achievement. For example, kings and queens would be crowned; and for the Greeks the winners for the various Olympic games would wear a crown made of interlocking leaves and branches. So the idea of crowning is not something unique to the Orthodox Church. In fact, it was a practice adopted from the Gentile (non-Jews) community by the early Christians. There was some opposition toward this adoption, such as the early Christian writer Tertullian (160-220). By the 5th century, however, crowning was the norm. St. John Chrysostom writes about it on his book title “Marriage and Family Life.”
When we look into the Bible we see that it speaks about a sort of spiritual crowning in various places. Specifically this is connected to the idea of kingship, holiness, endurance and even martyrdom.
In Psalm 8:5, St. David writes about the exalted state of humans, “You have made him a little lower than the angels, and you have crowned him with glory and honor.” St. Peter identifies all Christians as being a part of the royal priesthood a holy nation, chosen by God. (1 Peter 2:9)
Holiness and Endurance
As alluded to in the previous presentation on Betrothal, marriage is a path to holiness. If that is the case, then there will be many trials and tribulations. The husband and wife are called to overcome these trials and tribulations and receive a crown of life as written in the book of St. James 1:12, “Blessed is the man who endures trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him.”
How could martyrdom be connected to marriage? It is almost comical to think of marriage as a sort of martyrdom if interpreted incorrectly. Marriage is martyrdom, not because marriage is the eventual death of other person, a kind of gloomy analogy that makes marriage seem dark and sad. But it is the opposite! Marriage allows the spouse to work on certain weakness and even sins because the ultimate goal is to make marriage a good experience. Therefore, martyrdom is the death of what is “bad” in us, which the spouse attempts to eliminate for the sake of the marriage, that normally would not be dealt with if single.
One would assume that a crowning requires crowns. Not so for the Indian Orthodox Church! In the IOC it is common practice to use gold necklaces for both the bride and groom. The Priest, taking the gold necklace with his hand and hovering over the head of the groom first and then the bride, makes the sign of the cross, which is followed by a counter-clockwise circular motion; this is done twice. For the third and last time, the sign of the cross is completed, but now followed by clockwise circular motion, hovering over the head.
Gold necklaces are seen as a sign of royalty and prominence in the state of Kerala, India, so the IOC, along with other Christian denominations has opted to use necklaces. Plus, the necklaces can be worn, as continuing sign of the crowning, unlike actual crowns.
The Minnu is taken from Hindu tradition. The Hindus call it thali, which is in the shape of a banyan leaf. For the Christian it has transformed into the shape of a “tongue of fire” symbolizing the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven. On the minnu itself are seven or twelve beads that make the sign of the cross. The minnu is placed on a thread, which is actually three or seven threads tightly woven together. After the crowning, the groom is given the opportunity to tie this thread with minnu around the neck of the bride. Then, as a symbol of her marriage, the bride wears the minnu around her neck all the time. It is taken very seriously to the present day.
The Manthrakodi is the garment that the bride will wear later on as a sign of her new union with her groom. This garment is folded a few times on that it can be placed properly over the head of the bride after the thread with minnu is tied. The Manthrakodi is a Hindu tradition, so once again we see that the Syrian Christians of Kerala are not apprehensive about adopting “reasonable” Hindu traditions. Another word for Manthrakodi is simply veil. This “veiling” is prevalent in the mostly all oriental customs. We see this in Jewish tradition as well. Genesis chapter 24, when Isaac meets Rebecca for the first time, her face is completely veiled. Finally, the Manthrakodi represents the purity of the bride. This is why we see St. Mary with her head always covered.