Was Jesus At My Wedding?

April 7, 2013

The debate over gay marriage in the United States is raging.  The Supreme Court has heard arguments and will render their opinion on two cases sometime in June. The President has weighed in and everyone in the country seems to have an opinion on the topic. The issue has divided friendships, families, churches and even political parties. While some see this as simply an issue of marriage equality under the law, others are deeply concerned that the government would force religious groups to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. 

As an Orthodox priest I celebrated numerous weddings. The majority of the marriage crownings that I performed were for members of my parish, frequently Orthodox Christians who were marrying someone not of the Orthodox faith.* There are fairly specific rules for who is allowed to be married in the Church.  The order and ritual of the marriage ceremony is also fairly established with limited possibilities to make significant changes to the service. As a pastor, I frequently had to refuse to marry people who were either not marrying another Christian or who wanted to make major changes to the wedding service. The government in this country has not, and I cannot image ever would, require Orthodox priests to perform marriages for those who did not conform to the requirements set down by the Church. That does not mean that Orthodox priests, myself included, have not bent the rules in order to marry couples, who would ordinarily be denied an Orthodox Church service.

My husband and I are beneficiaries of such bending, if not breaking of the rules. We are both Orthodox Christians. We were married by an Orthodox priest, canonically ordained, still serving in a canonical Orthodox jurisdiction. Although we were not allowed to use an Orthodox church for the service, although we did not ask any of the local priests for the use of their edifice, the small Protestant church where the wedding was held, was sprinkled with holy water and adorned with Orthodox icons and embroidered ritual cloths before the ceremony. We used the ancient rite of Brotherhood (Adelphopoiesis or Bratotvorenie) as our wedding ceremony complete with the exchanging of wedding bands, the use of wedding crowns, the sharing of a common cup and our circumambulating the central icons led by the priest. While there are various opinions concerning the original purpose of the ancient service of “Brotherhood”, its adoption, with some revisions, to use at same-sex wedding ceremonies in the Orthodox Church is certainly appropriate.

My husband and I were together ten years before we dared think of having our relationship blessed by a priest, in the presence of our family and friends. One of the first thoughts that heterosexuals have when they decide to get married is, let’s talk to the priest. Gay and lesbian Orthodox Christians who have found a life partner and have made a mutual commitment to one another usually do not have this option. The vast majority of Orthodox priests would encourage the couple to split, live lives of celibacy and repent for their homosexual actions. What these priests are actually forcing the couple to do is to deny the God given love and support that they have found in another human being or live in a committed relationship without the blessing of the Church that they love. The Church while refusing to recognize that LGBT people do not choose their sexuality, actually force us to “live in sin”. The Church has always believed that very few people are called by God to live in chastity and celibacy. For this reason the Orthodox Church has never required those called to holy orders, deacons and priests, to live the vow of celibacy. The Church encourages heterosexual couples to marry, and yet the Church continues to impose an unreachable requirement that LGBT faithful live lives of chastity and celibacy when very few are called by God to live in such a manner.

An acquaintance, who is a practicing Roman Catholic and also gay, after hearing about our wedding asked me a question that I had not thought of myself: “was Jesus at your wedding?”  Wow – was Jesus at my wedding? Yes, Jesus was at my wedding! His name was invoked and more than two or three were gathered at the wedding in His name. (Matthew 18:20) Christ does not lie to His faithful. Who has the authority and power to say that Jesus Christ was not at my wedding? Who has the power and authority to say to the Holy Spirit, which blows where it wishes, do not descend upon this couple and do not bless their sacred union?

We must pray that the day will come when the Orthodox Church will recognize that some people are not created by God as heterosexuals. There are countless bishops, priests, deacons and faithful who already know this in their heart, because they live it. There are countless Orthodox laymen who also know this because their brother, sister, son, daughter, friend or neighbor is gay or lesbian and they see no difference between themselves and the other person that they love and care about. We pray that the day will come when the Orthodox Church will recognize that just as it is not “good for man to be alone” if he or she is straight, so it is not good for LGBT persons to be alone. We pray that the mystery of marriage for gays and lesbians will one day be as sacred in the Church as it is for heterosexual couples. Was Jesus at my wedding? Yes, because He was invited. (John 2:2)

*This is a relatively new phenomenon in the Orthodox world.  In traditional Orthodox countries, Greece, Russia, Serbia etc. – where the vast majority of people are baptized Orthodox Christians, the issue of inter-faith marriages was very rare and remains fairly rare. In countries with more than one dominant faith, Ukraine for example where Orthodox Christians and Eastern Catholics are predominant, the issue of a mixed religious couple is more common. In the United States and other countries of the Orthodox diaspora where Orthodox Christians are a tiny minority, mixed marriages are quite common. The current accepted rule in most jurisdictions is that an Orthodox wedding is permitted to take place provided that one person, either the bride or groom, is an active Orthodox Christian and the other person, is either Orthodox or a baptized (in the Holy Trinity) Christian. As a pastor I had to refuse marriages to members of my congregation numerous times. Even though they were practicing Orthodox Christians, the fact that they were engaged to someone who was Jewish or Muslim or part of a Christian group outside of mainstream Christianity, Mormonism for example, I was not allowed to celebrate their wedding, While proposing that the non-Orthodox party consider accepting the Orthodox faith, the offer was rarely accepted as it meant leaving their original faith. It is safe to say that the government never once forced me to celebrate weddings that were prohibited by the laws and traditions of the Church.

  1. Rachel Said,

    Your wedding sounds absolutely lovely! I am so happy that you were able to have it celebrated in that way! 🙂
    My own was conducted in a totally civil/state way, sadly, but I have always felt that Jesus was still there… He understands why it had to be that way, and I prayed and thought of Him and certainly made my vows before Him, if only in my own heart.

  2. andre Said,

    Rachel,
    Thank you for your very kind comment. If Jesus was invited to your wedding, I also believe that He was there and in your relationship. Perhaps one day soon you will be able to have your marriage blessed by a priest.
    You and your wife are in my prayers.
    I bid you peace,
    Andriy

  3. Georges Said,

    My own wedding was also a real joy. First of all, we had to find the building. We used the former nave of the church of a priory that had been secularized by the French revolutionaries. So, the place had been blessed in the past. «For herein is the saying true, “One soweth, and another reapeth”… Others have labored, and ye are entered into their labor.» We’ve put an altar, icons etc.

    I made the brochures, with the adelphopoiesis texts both in original Greek (use of Greek Italy) and Latin (use of Dalmatia) on the left side, and the translations on the right side. I didn’t change anything of the original texts, but made a very literal translation thereof. And I trained an ad hoc choir.

    The day before, my then-fiancé and I made the bread for Mass with our own hands and prayer, and baked it.

    On the day of wedding, we had it at the city hall, and then the adelphopoiesis with Mass at the priory, with the proper of the feast of the day (Ss Sergius and Bacchus). After the clergy, we communicated first.

    After the Mass, we had the supper. 100% vegan and with almost no alcohol. My husband and I opened the dance with Lacrimosa, «Hohelied der Liebe» (with is the whole chapter 13 of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, put into music).

    What would I say? A very traditional wedding!

  4. andre Said,

    Today at 9:00 PM

    Georges,
    Thank you for sharing your very beautiful story. I encourage other LGBT Orthodox to share their wedding stories via this page. If you care to share the text of the wedding, I can post it on the website under resources. For those interested there is a version of the “rite of brotherhood” the “adelphopoiesis” on the website under the tab “resources”.
    Thank you again so much. Many the Lord bless your spoken word to each other, your commitment and your promise. Many Years! Hronia Polla! Mnohaya Lita!
    Andriy

  5. Mikhail Said,

    I tried to contact you using the online form, and sent this message, but I don’t believe it has gone through, so I will post it here in its entirely:

    In your post “Was Jesus At My Wedding?”, https://www.orthodoxandgay.com/was-jesus-at-my-wedding, you mentioned that an Orthodox priest, from a canonical jurisdiction, had performed the Rite of Adelphopoiesis for you and your now husband. Being Orthodox myself, I have sometimes wondered if I could find someone willing to do so. While I know a few clergymen from various jurisdictions who I consider my friends, I don’t know how willing they will be to do this, even in a not so public ceremony. Any comments, suggestions, or ideas?

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