Andrew Estocin is a lifelong Orthodox Christian and alumni of OCF. He received his theological degree from Fordham University and is a parishioner at St. George Greek Orthodox Church in Albuquerque, NM.
Everybody loves Nia Vardalos’ My Big Fat Greek Wedding and with the release of the sequel, My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2, everyone is bound to be laughing and talking about Greek weddings in the days ahead. Count me among the many husbands who will be seeing this movie and laughing alongside his wife on opening weekend.
The truth is that the characters and themes in these movies have made a lasting impression on Greek Orthodox life in America. They appear time and again in our lives. Today, no Greek Orthodox wedding is complete without some type of reference to these films. Some even consider My Big Fat Greek Wedding a form of marriage preparation for engaged couples. Popular culture has given us a world where Toula Portokalos’ on-screen experience has become the measure of success for countless Greek Orthodox weddings in America. No doubt, the peer pressure to conform to the images present in these movies can be enormous for couples getting married in the Church today.
However, reality is very different from the images we see of Toula and her family on the movie screen. Greek weddings may be bigger and fatter than ever, but marriage in the Greek Orthodox Church is facing its share of problems. Unfortunately, spraying Windex on this problem does nothing to solve it.
Greek Orthodoxy is changing and quickly becoming less ethnic as its demographics reflect our multi-cultural society. The is clearly seen in the changing face of marriage in the Church.
Here is a quick look at the state of Greek Orthodox marriage today:
Recent registry statistics show that the number of marriages that take place in the Church are at recorded lows in America. More and more couples are opting to be married outside of the Church, while those who marry in the Church often choose not to become regular participants in parish life. If the current cycle of decline continues over the next 20 years, there will only be a handful of weddings in the typical Greek Orthodox parish annually. Those weddings that do take place in the Church will often involve families that want little to do with Orthodox life afterwards.
Over 85% of weddings that do take place in the Greek Orthodox Church involve at least one spouse who chooses not to be Orthodox. Everybody remembers the scene where non-Greek Ian Miller is baptized and announces “I’m Greek Now!” That image is far from reality. Today 8 out of 10 Greek Orthodox marriages involve one spouse who chooses not to be Orthodox. The Greek Orthodox family that is united in its witness of the Orthodox faith is quickly becoming a rarity. For many families, faith has become a cafeteria choice between one spouse’s faith or another spouse’s faith. This new world is one of two Easters, along with Dad’s Church and Mom’s Church. This has certainly affected our children. Baptisms are at recorded lows in America as more and more families are choosing not to have their children baptized in the Church.
When it comes to marriage in the Greek Orthodox Church, it is time to hit the reset the button and return to our roots. Big, fat weddings are not the same as the sacrament of marriage in the Orthodox Church. In many ways, they are the opposite. In the Hollywood world of Toula and her family, every wedding is a happy one where your family gifts you a house at the reception, you move in next door to your parents, and there are no problems. Real marriage is very different and often full of ascetic efforts and struggles. It is full of peaks and valleys, celebrations and sufferings, as well as great joy and sadness. No marriage that is truly healthy ever unfolds like a Hollywood script.
Our children need a world where the price and size of one’s wedding does equate to the health of a marriage or the value of a family. They need a world that teaches that marriage is the most ascetic experience that we can live as Orthodox Christians. It is about real love, sacrifice, and humility. It is about surrendering all that we are and giving it away so that our spouse and family can flourish in a way that goes beyond having a nice house and an upper middle class lifestyle.
This is the model of marriage that is needed more than ever. While we can all agree to love and laugh along with the characters in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, the reality is that the Church needs less weddings that are big and fat and more marriages that are humble and ascetic.
The future depends on it more than ever.
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