The Orthodox Pages




























Question: 14
Dear Fr Christopher,
Greetings in Christ.

I recently read a theologian’s commentary on the wedding prayers of our Church. Among other points, he claims that the Church must compose a new service for people who choose to get married at an older age (or at least partially alter the text of the existing prayers) so that references to younger ages, childbirth etc. are avoided. According to him, getting married in mature years is a frequently-made choice nowadays, which needs to be liturgically addressed. What is your own view on this?

With love in Christ

Answer to Question 14

Dear Constantine,
There are two answers to your question. The first is that with faith all things are possible. Sarah was 90 years old when she gave birth to Isaac, Anna was barren for twenty years before conceiving the Mother of God and Elisabeth was well past the age of childbearing but conceived and gave birth to St. John the Baptist. Thus there are many that believe that the wedding prayers should be said as found in the euchologion possibly with the exception of the phrase “καὶ δὸς τῇ παιδίσκῃ ταύτῃ” (grant unto this young maiden) which could be changed to “καὶ δὸς τῇ γυναικῇ ταύτῃ” (grant unto this woman).
The second is that the primary goal of marriage in the Old Testament was the reproduction of human beings and the continuation of the family line. With the Jews there was also the expectation that the Messiah would be born of their race. With the coming of Christ, procreation was still regarded as an important part of marriage, but not compulsory. Marriage in Christ has received a new spiritual meaning and its primary goal is now the attainment of eternal life by husband, wife, (and children if they are the fruit of this marriage). Thus the main purpose of human life is the salvation of the soul and the married couple must encourage and support one another to live a Christian way of life according to the will of God. The Church regards marriage as one of the paths to true holiness of life, that is, it is seen as a way of salvation. The other path is through monasticism.
With this in mind the marriage service for mature people where the woman has passed the natural and physical conditions for childbearing, could be altered so that the passages referring to children as the fruit of marriage are omitted from it.
Can we do this? Yes, and in many places this is the usual practice. Not only this, but sometimes a complete prayer is omitted especially in large city parishes where many weddings are performed over the weekends and the timing is most important. Each Marriage service is allocated an hour, but what happens when the bride is late, not 5 or even 10 minutes, but half an hour (which happens frequently) and in less than another half hour the wedding party of the next wedding are arriving and then the Groom and finally the other bride. Somehow the Priest has to find a way to finish the service and the only way is to omit a prayer or two and speed up the whole service.
You might find it interesting to know that the Marriage service we now use is not the Byzantine rite that was used by the Church for centuries, but the rite used in south Italy and the Islands which was printed in the first Euchologia of Venice and which, in time, came to prevail in all the Orthodox Churches. The Byzantine rite was performed during the Divine Liturgy and was much shorter. As witnessed by all the old manuscripts, the Betrothal service did not have the long prayer at the end but only the two short prayers Ὁ Θεὸς ὁ αἰώνιος… O God eternal…” and “Κύριε ὁ Θεὸς ἡμῶν, ὁ τὴν ἐξ ἐθνῶν… O Lord our God, who didst from out of the Gentiles…”
The Marriage service itself did not contain the two long prayers Ὁ Θεὸς ὁ ἄχραντος… O God most pure…” and “Εὐλογητὸς εἶ, Κύριε ὁ Θεὸς ἡμῶν… Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God…” but only the third prayer on the joining of the hands “Ὁ Θεὸς ὁ ἅγιος… O Holy God…” The rest of the service was part of the Divine Liturgy. When it finally became a separate service, the Apostle and Gospel readings were added to it as also the remainder of the service after the readings as found in the service books today. (See also Ιωάννου Φουντούλη - Απαντήσιες εις Λειτουργικάς Απορίας, question 280).