Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Last weekend, my fiancé and I embarked on a journey to witness the marriage of one of my life-long friends to his Russian bride. And lest anyone speculate otherwise, I feel compelled to point out that his wife was not a mail-order bride (in fact, the couple met while attending graduate school in northern England).

As our own wedding draws closer, Bethany and I find ourselves experiencing a lot of mixed emotions: excitement, anticipation, impatience, irritation as well as a host of others. But nothing prepared us for the experience of our friends’ wedding.

I called the trip a journey, and it certainly was. We left Dallas early in the morning and drove four hours to a Russian Orthodox church in Houston, TX (the closest church that would allow the ceremony without the groom converting to the faith), followed by a drive to Killeen, TX, for the wedding reception. Adding in the return trip to Dallas, we spent more than 10 hours in the Jeep that day, quite a journey by any standards.

The ceremony was beautiful and unique. We arrived at the church around 10:30 and mingled with the guests until we entered the church. Once inside, we were instructed not to take any photographs and the women had to cover their heads with scarves.

The church had a beautifully constructed sanctuary with a mockup of a medieval façade segregating the public and private chambers. The domed ceiling let in a wash or bright sunlight, but not so much that the elegant chandelier was rendered ineffective.

As is custom, there were no pews, but there was a line of benches around the outer wall. The guests quickly found their way to a seat as they ceremony loomed (we had been warned that we would probably be standing for an hour and half). As the wedding party scurried around asking those last-minute questions (there had been no rehearsal), I happened upon my friend and his mother bantering about the unplanned nature of the preparations. (I later found out that it is a matter of tradition that neither the bride nor the groom know what to expect in the ceremony, to place them in a submissive position before the priest). The bride, of course, was secluded and that made things interesting since none of us spoke Russian.

When the ceremony began, the bride and groom stood in the doorway of the sanctuary. The priest began to chant from scripture, alternating between Russian and English, while a chorus sang along in a medley of response and repetition. Several icons and symbolic elements were introduced into the ceremony, and both the bride and groom were adorned with gold-laid crowns. As each held a burning candle, their free hands were bound with a ceremonial cloth and they and the wedding party were led by the priest in three circular trips around the altar as the chorus continued their sing-song. The bride and groom both drank from a communion cup three times each, and were asked several times to kiss the relics being used to bless their marriage.

The ceremony lasted about 75 minutes (the multiple translations made it a long ceremony) and then we all gathered around the couple or hugs and pictures. We soon retired to the hotel for lunch and then headed out for Killeen.

The reception was held in an executive room at the Bell County Expo Center in Belton. There we ate fajitas and witnessed all the standard post-wedding fare: the cutting of the cakes, the toasts and the first dances. It was a lovely evening packed with interesting people we had not met, and Bethany and I enjoyed ourselves immensely.

Perhaps we enjoyed ourselves a bit too much. Bethany finally dragged me onto the dance floor when a Sarah McLachlan song came over the speakers. Neither of us are good dancers, but we slowly stepped to the rhythm and Bethany became overwhelmed with the emotions of the days. We cried softly as we held each other, slowly moving across the floor.

After another song, we began to say our goodbyes and get ready to depart. Though it was the shortest leg of the trip, the final trip home seemed like the longest. We arrived after midnight, utterly exhausted. But it was a day we are not likely to forget soon.


Blogger Malaysian Debster said...

Now I understand why y'all looked so exhausted that Sunday! =) That sounds like a crazy weekend.

8:41 PM  

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