Make your vows to the Lord your God, and perform them.
An exciting new unit of study and reflection is coming in two weeks! For these next two weeks, outside of weekends and feastdays, I’m reaching into the “Prayer Team Mail Bag” to address questions that some of you have sent to me in the last few months. If you ever want to submit a question, please free to do so.
The question posed to me was this: Why are there no vows at a wedding?
If you’ve ever been to an Orthodox wedding, you’ll notice that there are no vows. In fact, the bride and groom do not speak at all. (There is a provision whereby a priest can ask a couple if they wish to get married of their own free will, which is a later accommodation, so the bride can say “I do” if they want to say that, but there is no “repeat after me” kind of vows). There is are a number of reasons for this.
First, if you ask a couple can you vow to love, honor and cherish one another for the rest of your life, it is certainly a romantic idea that we can say yes to this question. Practically, however, it is impossible to do this at every moment of every day forever. We dishonor other people all the time, when we speak negatively to them, or even when we think negatively about that. It is true that love is a choice and we can choose to love someone even when we are angry with them. This is a good thing, otherwise we couldn’t love anyone for very long. There is no need for a man and a woman to promise something that they cannot keep. It’s not realist. It’s not fair. Rather, a man and woman come before God and ask Him to provide not only a blessing for their love, but for patience, forgiveness, understanding, kindness, compassion, hope and all the other things they will need to navigate the waters of married life when they become turbulent.
Second, when a couple comes for the sacrament of marriage, their attendance implies that they wish to have the sacrament. A priest doesn’t ask a communicant “do you wish to commune?” A person who approaches the chalice obviously wishes to commune. In the same way, a person who approaches to get married obviously wishes to do so.
Third, and most importantly, the reason we don’t have vows has to do with who the celebrant of the marriage is. If a man says to his bride, “I promise to do______” and the bride says to her groom “I promise to do_______” and the priest says “by the power vested in me by the state of Florida, I now pronounce you husband and wife,” then who is the celebrant of the marriage? The man? The woman? The priest? The state?
The celebrant of the sacrament of marriage is God. He is the one who blesses and sanctified the union between husband and wife. It is important to remember this. When God made Adam, He placed him in the Garden of Eden and told him to have dominion over everything that was there. Adam was not happy, however, because there was no one like him there. So God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep and while he slept, God took one of his ribs and made woman and brought her to Adam, who was pleased when he saw her. This was the first “marriage” and it was created by God. It didn’t just happen because man wanted it to happen. It happened because God blessed it.
Similarly, we aren’t married because we wear a fancy dress or a tux, or because we sign a license, or even because we want to be married. Marriage is a miracle, where God opens the gates of heaven and places His hand (through the hand of the priest) onto the couple and consecrates their union so that two single people become a family. This is really mind-blowing if you think about it. How is it that two people enter the church single and leave as a family? It is by the grace of God (through the Holy Spirit) which takes what is ordinary (two single people) and makes it extraordinary (a family). This is a miracle. The same miracle happens when a sinful person enters the church and leaves absolved (confession) or when bread and wine (ordinary substances) are offered and are consecrated to become the Body and Blood of Christ (the Eucharist). These are miracles. And because God is the ordainer/author of these miracles, they happen with His grace and not with our words. Consequently, there are no need for vows at weddings. Because imperfect words spoken by imperfect people are insignificant when compared to the perfect blessing of our perfect God.
Today’s prayer is from the marriage service and can be offered for any couple, you if you are married, and anyone who you know is married. Pray for a married couple today.
O Lord our God, Who in Your saving wisdom deemed it right to show by your presence at Cana of Galilee that marriage is honorable, do now also protect Your servants (Name) and (Name), whom You have favored to be joined in marriage, in peace and concord. Bring honor to their marriage, protect its sanctity, keep their life together spotless and enable them to attain a ripe old age, as they follow with purity of heart your commandments. For You are our God, a God of mercy and salvation, and to You we offer Glory, with Your Father who is from everlasting, and with your Holy, All-Good, and Life‑Giving Spirit, now and forever, and to the ages of ages.
As the verse of today says, we make our vows to the Lord, and perform them!