Wedding prayers part 1: Account them Worthy

http://apracticalwedding.com/

As the bride and groom move inwards towards the table in front of the iconostasis, they are preparing to be crowned. Often these crowns are interpreted as martyr’s crowns, foreshadowing  a life of sacrifice and death for the other as we are called to in the Epistle to the Ephesians and elsewhere in the New Testament. An area which is so often overlooked in most descriptions of Orthodox marriage that I’ve heard is that these crowns represent the small kingdom being established under the rule of Christ here in this newly formed family. The husband, a generative king whose strong labor and leadership will produce strong healthy offspring and a prosperous kingdom. The wife, a glorious queen who is adorned in fine jewels and receives the gifts bestowed upon her and increases the fruitfulness of the house. The crowns do symbolize martyrdom and death, but they also symbolize glory and prosperity, life and children. In this post I want to focus on the wedding prayers in the Orthodox wedding service as they pertain to sacrifice and care.

Bless (+) this marriage and grant unto these Your servants (Name) and(Name) a peaceful life, length of days, chastity, love for one another in a bond of peace, offspring long‑lived, fair fame by reason of their children, and a crown of glory that does not fade away.

This proclamation comes after a long list of married saints from the Old Testament and turns the direction of the litany from sexual prosperity to spiritual prosperity. Note how they are blessed with a peaceful life, chastity, love for each other, and a crown of glory which will not fade. In the midst of prosperity and children the newly married are called to remember that the vocation of marriage is not about self aggrandizement but about self sacrifice, fasting, feasting, and an eternal reward which will never fade.

And now, O Master, Lord our God, send down Your heavenly Grace upon these Your servants,(Name) and (Name), and grant unto this woman to be in all things subject unto the man, and to this Your servant to be at the head of the woman that they live according to Your Will.

It’s not uncommon to see people flinch during this portion of the litany as ideas of submission and humility are not highly praised in contemporary society, but did you note how the blessing is that the wife will learn to die to herself–sacrificing her own wishes and desires for her husband–and that the husband will do likewise for his wife? and to this Your servant to be at the head of the woman that they may live according to You Will. Central to the roles of husband and wife in the Bible are their mutual submission and sacrifice of themselves daily to Christ as He submitted His will to the Father. Here the woman sacrifices herself to her husband and he to the Father so that together they may experience length of days and blessing.

 

The Priest, taking up the Crowns, crowns first the Bridegroom, saying:

The servant of God (Name) is crowned for the servant of God, (Name),in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.(Thrice)

And he crowns the Bride, saying:

The servant of God (Name) is crowned for the servant of God (Name),in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.(Thrice)

The Priest takes the Crown of the Groom in his right hand, and the Crown of the Bride in his left, and places them on their heads while he intones:

O Lord, our God, crown them with glory and honor.

After these and other prayers to be considered lately are recited by the priest, the couple are crowned for each other. No longer are they in submission to their fathers and mothers–now they must submit to one another and guide the other in submission to Christ. The role of a King and Queen–to see the prosperity of the kingdom and the production of offspring–is not for the faint of heart or the cowardly. To walk in newness of life is not a quiet, pastoral wonderland but a battlefield, a fiery furnace, the belly of a great fish–and it is to this life the new couple have been assigned.

So what is the point of this discussion? I want to begin our exploration of marriage and all of its corresponding elements as a crucible for saints–not just godly children, but godly husband and wife who fulfill their marriage roles and create a small Kingdom in their homes; who establish and consecrate a holy temple dedicated to God within the walls of their houses. Marriage is not the lesser path to holiness, but a glorious one! May we find courage to sacrifice and to care for our Kingdoms, and may we see Paradise together around our tables.

Advertisements

How to Make the Sign of the Cross

cropped-fieldguide-to-the-orthodox-church1

Image

The sign of the cross is one of the most ancient and revered customs of the Church. St. Gaudentius of Brescia, a fourth/fifth century saint, said: “Let the sign of the cross be continually made on the heart, on the mouth, on the forehead, at table, at the bath, in bed, coming in and going out, in joy and sadness, sitting, standing, speaking, walking; in short, in all our actions. Let us make it on our breasts and all our members, that we may be entirely covered with this invincible armor of Christians.”

The Orthodox Church engages in worship using all five senses, and the sign of the cross is a physical prayer. And we use it a lot! In some parishes, you might see someone cross him or herself hundreds of times in a single service!

The general idea of the sign of the cross is identifying and calling to mind the death of Christ on the cross. It’s a prayer for God to bless you. It’s an acknowledgement of prayer, and a calling on the mercy of God. Some might even see it as a reminder of their baptism and chrismation, when they entered the Church and the sign of the cross was made on them many times, declaring them a beloved child of God!

In current Orthodox practice, the sign is made by holding the right hand’s thumb, index finger, and middle finger together, and tucking the ring and pinky fingers into the palm, side-by-side. The three fingers together symbolize the Trinity, and the two remaining fingers represent the two natures of Christ. Then, the sign begins by touching the forehead with the three fingers, bringing the hand straight down to the torso or chest, over to the right shoulder, then to the left shoulder.

Typically the signing is completed by a slight bow of the head, or by a full bow, where the signer reaches all the way to the ground and touches it briefly. In some cases, the crossing is punctuated with a full, facedown prostration on the ground.

We cross ourselves many times throughout the day, and throughout a worship service. It is customary to cross oneself when entering and exiting a church building. We cross ourselves before venerating an icon or a relic. We cross ourselves during prayer, sometimes at the beginning and the end of a prayer. Many will cross during litanies, as we sing, “Lord have mercy!” or “Grant this, O Lord!” We cross near the end of reciting the Nicene Creed, before and after the Gospel reading in the service, and many cross themselves when the Holy Gifts are brought out in the midst of the congregation during the Great Entrance.

Crossing yourself is acceptable just about any time. However, it is preferred that you don’t cross yourself “at” a priest or bishop, even when he is blessing you, and it’s generally frowned upon to cross yourself when receiving the Body and Blood of Christ at communion (accidents happen!).

Sidebar: The Russian “Old Believers” or “Old Ritualists” cross themselves slightly differently. They place their thumb, ring finger, and pinky together in the palm, and have their index and middle fingers together in a pointed fashion. There are a few Old Believer communities in communion with the worldwide Orthodox communion of Churches. If you belong to one of these communities, this would be the way to cross yourself. If you do not, then don’t. Cross yourself in unity with your worshiping community.

The Lord’s Prayer part five: Supersubstantial bread

imageGive us this day our supersubstantial bread.

 -Matthew 6:11 Douay Rheims

The word is epiousios (ἐπιούσιος) in Greek – translated daily in most English bibles- and I find it fascinating, possibly telling, and even a bit confusing.

At a youth conference in Boston when in my teens I met a seminary student from Holy Cross. During a conversation about translating from Greek he mentioned the word epiousios and how it doesn’t exactly mean daily in reference to bread. I don’t remember much of the rest of our conversation save this, and it has stuck with me since. The seminarian said: “The word (epiousios) is not found anywhere except  in the Gospels. I think Jesus made the word up.” As it turns out this is a popular belief; in fact the great Origen thought that the authors of Matthew and Luke made it up.

So what is this word? Msgr. Charles Pope writes: “[Epiousios] seems to be a compound word from epi+ousios. Now epi means over, above, beyond, in addition to, or some similar superlative. Ousious refers to the substance of something. Hence, to put these words together we have something amounting to supersubstantial, or super-essential.”

Is there a noetic or spiritual component to this? Is it about more than bodily nourishment?

Some of the Fathers take epiousios to mean simply daily. In his commentary on Matthew St. John Chrysostom writes:

Grace1918photographEnstrom But mark, I pray thee, how even in things that are bodily, that which is spiritual abounds. For it is neither for riches, nor for delicate living, nor for costly raiment, nor for any other such thing, but for bread only, that He hath commanded us to make our prayer. And for “daily bread,” so as not to “take thought for the morrow.” Because of this He added, “daily bread,” that is, bread for one day.

And not even with this expression is He satisfied, but adds another too afterwards, saying, “Give us this day;” so that we may not, beyond this, wear ourselves out with the care of the following day.

We’ve already dug into this reading of “daily bread” in part four, so let’s focus on supersubstantial. St. Jerome says:

 Jerome_01The word used by the Hebrews to denote supersubstantial bread is maar. I found that it means “for tomorrow” so that the meaning here is “give us this day our bread for tomorrow” that is, for the future.” (Commentary on Matthew 1.6.11)

For the future as in tomorrow would seem to contradict Mat. 6:34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.”  However, we might take Lukes rendering of the phrase (Luke 11:3) which adds “each day” from which we could infer that we are asking the Father to care for us all the days of our lives.

I find St. Jerometo be a good resource for this because his translation of the Bible (the Vulgate) gives us two renderings of epiousios – one as daily and one as supersubstantial. When I asked my friend John Pepino, professor of Latin at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary why this is he put it this way, “it looks like St. Jerome was hedging his bets translating one as daily and one as supersubstantial.” He shrugs with a grin “we don’t know.”

In the same commentary St. Jerome writes:

We can also understand supersubstantial bread in another sense as bread that is above all substances and surpasses all creatures(ibid). “

What if this “bread for the future” is eschatological in nature? The bread of the Kingdom? The super-essential body of Christ, the bread above all and surpassing all? The Eucharistic connotations are hard to ignore.

The Kingdom is certainly likened to a feast in Scripture (Isaiah 25:6; Matthew 8:11; 22:1-10; Luke 13:29; 14:15-24; Rev.19:6-9) When we assemble as the Body of Christ for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy we are gathering in the Kingdom. All divine services begin “Blessed is the Kingdom…” What do we do in the Kingdom? We feast!

10578505_10204673908271716_1597053078_n

St. Cyprian of Carthage in Treatise IV “On The Lord’s Prayer” writes:

As the prayer goes forward, we ask and say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” And this may be understood both spiritually and literally, because either way of understanding it is rich in divine usefulness to our salvation.  For Christ is the bread of life; and this bread does not belong to all men, but it is ours. And according as we say, “Our Father,” because He is the Father of those who understand and believe; so also we call it “our bread,” because Christ is the bread of those who are in union with His body.

He goes on to dwell on the literal aspects of “daily bread” as well quoting Proverbs 10:3 he writes “For daily bread cannot be wanting to the righteous man, since it is written, ‘The Lord will not slay the soul of the righteous by hunger.’” He also reminds us of Matthew 6:34. St. Cyril of Jerusalem in his Mystogigical Catechesis certainly sees “daily bread” as the Eucharist writing:

“Our common bread is not supersubstantial (ἐπιούσιος): but this Holy Bread is supersubstantial, that is, appointed for the substance of the soul. This Bread goeth not into the belly and is not cast out into the draught, but is distributed into thy whole system for the benefit of body and soul.”

61. Icon Jesus in chalice of life

I take great delight in the layers of Truth found in the Holy Scriptures. I like to think of the double meaning in “daily/supersubstantial bread” is not unlike the union of flesh and spirit that is man. We are not pure material nor are we pure spirit like the angels. Christ quoting Deuteronomy said “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’” (Mat.4:4) Here he is not denying that we live by eating, but reminding us that our life is more than flesh and blood. Pondering this saying further will reveal an icon of the Eucharist. Christ is the Word of the Father and we have our life in Him.

They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written, He gave them bread from heaven to eat. Then Jesus said unto them, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.” Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, “I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.”

– John 6:30-35

The Lord’s Prayer part four: Daily Bread in translation

imageGive us this day our daily bread. -Matthew 6:11

This is perhaps my favorite element in the Lord’s Prayer. It is such a telling phrase – earthy, carnal, and simple. And that’s just the English translation! Before we delve into the Greek – that is for the next To Ponder called “Part five: Supersubstantial bread” focused on the word ἐπιούσιον (epiousios) – I would like to ponder the English translation by itself, how we hear and speak this petition daily. What can we learn of God and ourselves from this simple request:

“Give us this day our daily bread”

Blessing bread in the lity service
Blessing bread in the lity service

Until now the Lord’s Prayer has focused on the Father and how we should relate to Him. Now we turn in our prayer to ourselves and our needs. Interestingly it is care for the body that is the subject of our first personal request. I am reminded of the second creation account in Genesis:

“then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”

We are a whole being. We are both flesh and spirit. Carnal and noetic. Both are created good “And God saw everything that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” Gen1:31 The Lord cares for our spiritual and our physical well-being. This of course is evidenced by the Incarnation of God the Son and completed by His Resurrection. In a simpler way we see this care for the body and also this temporal life in this simple petition “Give us this day our daily bread.”

Palestinian women making bread
Palestinian women making bread

Why bread? Agriculture -and by extension bread- is one of the main contenders along with religion for the reason we stopped our nomadic life in favor of a settled life. It seems natural to understand bread not only as bread, but as a symbol of sustenance because bread is inextricably  linked with civilization – with our way of life. I am reminded of the old proverb “bread is the staff of life.” Why daily? Perhaps it is a reference to the mana narrative in Exodus 16:4-21. Each day the Israelites gathered mana. They neither had too little nor too much. If, concerned about food for the next day they kept extra mana it “bred worms and became foul; and Moses was angry with them.” (Ex16:20) This is such a marvelous reminder to trust in God each day; ever aware that God is the giver and sustainer of life.

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Matthew 6:25-26

The Divine Liturgy: An Outline Overview

cropped-fieldguide-to-the-orthodox-church1

Last Supper-p1

The most central aspect of the life of the Orthodox Church is seen in her weekly service of Eucharist. Eucharist, which means thanksgiving, is what the Christian life is all about, so it is natural that the center of the Church’s existence subsists in the celebration of thanksgiving. The Eucharist service in the Orthodox Church is called The Divine Liturgy, and its primary form is that liturgy that finds its origins in the adaptations made by St. John Chrysostom in the fourth century.

Let’s take a walk through The Divine Liturgy. We’ll start with a basic outline. Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis outlines the Liturgy like this:

Preparation
Prayers for the Faithful, Cherubic Hymn, Processions
Spiritual Litany, Fervent Supplication, and Kiss of Peace
The Symbol of Faith (Creed)

Holy Anaphora
Apostolic Blessing, Dialogue, & Great Anaphora
Triumphal Hymn, Anamnesis & Institutional Words
Epiclesis and Commemorations

Holy Communion
Litany, Lord’s Prayer, and Invitation
Holy Communion
Dismissal

For this post, we will more fully explore the Liturgy this way:

1. The Bringing of the Gifts (Prothesis/Proskomedia)
Preparation of the offerings of bread and wine to be used in the Eucharistic celebration.

2. The Liturgy of the Catechumens

The Great Ektania, a long prayer that sets the tone for the whole service. This litany consists of a dialogue between the deacon or priest and laity, concluding with a Trinitarian doxology.
Psalm 103/104
The Little Ektania
Psalm 145/146
The Troparion
The Beatitudes
The Little Entrance/Gospel Entrance
“Come Let Us Worship”
The Trisagion (i.e., Thrice-Holy) Hymn
Epistle
Gospel
Common Prayers for the Members of the Church (Diaconal Litany)
Catechumen Prayers and Departure

3. The Liturgy of the Faithful

Prayer of the Faithful
Cherubic Hymn, Offertory Prayer, Great Entrance

Petition for Mercy/Litany of Oblation
Deacon’s exhortation: “Let us love one another….”
The Kiss of Peace
Profession of Faith: Nicene Creed

The Great Thanksgiving/Eucharistic Prayer
Also called the Eucharistic Canon, or Anaphora

Sursum Corda/Hymn: “It is meet and right…”
The Sanctus
Commemoration of the Last Supper (also known as the Mystical Supper)

The Consecration of the Gifts
– Words of Institution
– Offering of the Body and Blood/Hymn: “We glorify thee”
– The Invocation of the Holy Spirit (Epiclesis)

The Great Prayer for the Church
Comemmorating the living and the dead
Megalynarion of the Theotokos
Litany of Fervent Supplication
Secret Prayers of the Priest
Lord’s Prayer

Elevation and Breaking of the Lamb
Blessing of the Faithful
Sancta Sanctis: “Holy Things for the Holy”
Breaking of the Lamb and Commemoration
Preparatory Prayer
Communion of the Clergy
Elevation of the Chalice
Pre-Communion Prayer
Communion of the Faithful

Post-Communion Prayers and Dismissal
Prayer of Thanksgiving
Transfer of the Holy Body and Blood to the prosthesis table
Prayer before the Ambo
Dismissal of the Faithful
Distribution of the Antidoron

Select Sources Used for the Post
Paul Evdokimov. Orthodoxy: The Cosmos Transfigured, trans. Anthony P. Gythiel (Witchita: Eight Day Press, 2012), 276-277.

Archpriest D. Sokolof, A Manual of The Orthodox Church’s Divine Services (Jordanville: Holy Trinity Monastery, 2001), 62-84

Fr. Emmanuel Hatzidakis, The Heavenly Banquet: Understanding the Divine Liturgy, (Columbia: Orthodox Witness, 2008).

Be magnified, O Bridegroom…

Greek-Wedding-CrownsVery few people get to hear the prayers recited over the bride and bridegroom at an Orthodox wedding. Often the choir is finishing the dance of Isaiah as the bride and groom kneel before the priest and he recites a very short prayer at the removal of their crowns. I was privileged to stand up with my compadres at their marriage last year and I got to hear a lot of those quiet priestly prayers up close and they brought me to tears. Below are the prayers on the Greek Archdiocese website:

  • Be magnified, O Bridegroom, as Abraham, and blessed as Isaac, and increased as was Jacob. Go your way in peace, performing in righteousness the commandments of God.
  • And you, O Bride, be magnified as was Sarah, and rejoiced as was Rebecca, and increased as Rachel, being glad in your husband, keeping the paths of the Law, for so God is well pleased

These prayers clearly lay out what the Church thinks of marriage. Marriage is holy and honorable and sexuality and children are part of the arrangement. Why, then are so few of our known saints married? Why are the marrieds either celibate or remembered for their time as monastics rather than husbands and wives? How does a Christian husband take on the calling of family life and achieve salvation for himself and his children when so many of our examples are celibates and monastics?

In subsequent posts, I would like to explore this thesis: That marriage–in all its fullness– is a vocation conducive to theosis and sanctity. I want to begin with the Orthodox wedding prayers, then explore pertinent biblical passages, and finally make the connection between married asceticism and monastic asceticism and what we can learn from each role as we move towards our salvation. These posts will be geared towards Christian husbands, but I believe that the teachings of the Church and the Scriptures are applicable to men and women living the married state.

Look at those prayers again and see the challenge set before the bride and groom: Arise and be magnificent! Take on the role of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Rachel, Zacharias, Elizabeth, Joachim, Anna. Be holy together, keep to the path together, and bring salvation to your home.

A Guide to the Field Guide

cropped-fieldguide-to-the-orthodox-church1

Image

What is the Orthodox Church? And why a field guide? Put simply: she is the world’s oldest Church, and as such, she has matured and grown over time in her daily practices and liturgical expression, so understanding how to navigate her services and daily life is an important issue for anyone in the Church, or those exploring her for truth.

To those who have never been to an Orthodox worship service, the first few visits can be scary, and the services so intense, it can be confusing. Add to this, many times the services are conducted in strange languages that a visitor may not understand. And sometimes, even those who feel at home in the Orthodox Church, having spent many years experiencing her faith and worship services, may not have reflected on the meaning of this or that particular practice.

The Church is unchanged in a very real sense—she has carefully preserved, promoted, and died for the faith entrusted her by Jesus Christ in the first century. But that does not mean that she didn’t have to occasionally expand on or rephrase how she articulated that faith (usually to combat errors), or develop new customs over time. This process of maturity is not unlike life for any ordinary human being—we learn from our mistakes, grow from our trials, and try to find better ways to communicate.

The purpose of any field guide is to assist an observer in appreciating and understanding what he sees. This blog is no different. Its goal is to be a practical help and handy reference, designed for use with the shortest notice and easy to navigate answers about whatever a person may observe in a typical Orthodox church.

This guide tends to focus on North American Orthodoxy, with a primary emphasis on the United States, but we will do our best to be faithful to worldwide Orthodoxy. There is a recognizable beautiful and organic unity among the various church jurisdictions, most of which makes no difference whether it is a Russian parish in San Francisco, a Greek parish in Nashville, a so-called Pan-Orthodox parish in Hawaii, or even a Ukrainian parish in Odessa, Ukraine.  Yet with more visits, and more familiarity with the services, a visitor will begin noticing subtle differences in liturgical customs.

While not a precise set of categories, for the sake of these blogs, the lower-case “t” tradition of the Orthodox Church are categorized broadly as Slavic-Russian or Byzantine-Greek. The category of Slavic-style parishes may include Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian, and Romanian churches—among a few others. The category of Byzantine-Greek parishes is typically inclusive of Greek, Turkish, Antiochian/Syrian, and Serbian churches—again, among a few others. This blog attempts to be as universal as possible, and where “Slavic” and “Byzantine” practices are different, an attempt will be made to note such differences, at least in a general way. Somewhere, someplace, at some time there will almost certainly be exceptions to these generalizations. (And at this time posts will not focus on differences within the Orthodox Western Rite—that would likely require its own treatment.)

The approach this blog takes may appear random at first. But eventually a trajectory to the posts will emerge. If this field guide were a physical book, one would open it to find two sections. The first section would be a step-by-step walk-through of a typical Divine Liturgy, our most sacred and central service. The Divine Liturgy is the heartbeat of the life of Church, and without it, there is no Orthodoxy. The second section would be an A-to-Z reference of the Orthodox Church, with a special emphasis on the services and daily disciplines of her people.

The most important thing we hope to communicate with these posts really isn’t the nuts and bolts of Orthodox worship and discipline, but the One who is the reason for our worship and discipline: Jesus Christ. The whole point of Orthodoxy is to life a Eucharist life in Christ for our salvation, and for the life of the world.

Nothing in this guide blog is the final word. The author is a mere layman, and it is quite likely he will overgeneralize and make an occasional mistake. There is always a danger at interpreting local practices as universal, perhaps not realizing that the Greeks or Russians in the old countries have never done it like this or that. Charitable comments, corrections, suggestions, or notable exceptions are always welcomed.

Our plan is to run posts each Friday on The Life of the World, and archive the post at OrthodoxFieldGuide.com. Considering Liking us on Facebook, and use the #fieldguidefriday hash tag if you share on social media.

A similar version of this post appears here.