The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 25 “On Marriage & Being Twice Blessed”

The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven,
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.*


In Shakespeare’s famous play The Merchant of Venice the character of Portia, a woman disguised as a young male lawyer, makes a famous speech about mercy in a court room. I memorized the speech because of an excellent English teacher in high school and the first four lines have stayed with me since that time. I love Portia’s speech.

And today I think of these words and how they relate to marriage. Because today my husband and I had a marriage blessing ceremony in the Orthodox church. It was the final part to our recent baptism and chrismation.

This was our second marriage – the first being almost 30 years ago in Chicago, Illinois. That first marriage took place on a bright, perfect Chicago summer day, surrounded by friends and family with 20 attendants and daisies in my hair. The ceremony was outside near a gazebo, the ‘stage’ flanked on either side by large ferns that we had borrowed from our friends’ living rooms. There were around 200 people in attendance, representing around 20 countries. We had warring countries sitting beside each other smiling  — such was the day. I wore a tea length wedding dress with puff sleeves and he wore a Pakistani shalwar, kurta. Afterward we ate little sandwiches and ate carrot cake in the shape of a globe.

We married with little knowledge of what our life would hold, the valleys and despair that would sometimes come our way, the ‘we’ll never make it” phrases that would be uttered more times than we wished. We married with little understanding of the mercy we would need to give each other.

And because of this today, as we walked toward the front of the church candles in hand with our priest invoking the trinity, I felt twice blessed. Because above all in this journey of marriage we have experienced the deepest mercy possible to humans. We have experienced the mercy of God that we can still stand, heads held high, certain of nothing but his love and grace to us. We have experienced the mercy of each other, so clear are we in knowing how much we have erred, how often we have sinned against each other. We have experienced the mercy of our children, gracious in their love and forgiveness of us. We have experienced the mercy of our families, standing by our sides through the awful and the wonderful. We have experienced the mercy of our friends who have walked this road with us.

We are twice blessed.

The service took us through four parts. The first was betrothal. We had taken off our rings ahead of time and during this time our priest had us exchange them. The second part was called “the crowning.” During this part of the service crowns were placed on our heads as a symbol of sacrifice and martyrdom, a recognition that marriage calls us to give up our rights, instead caring for the other more than ourselves. The third part had us share a common cup of sweet wine, reminding us of Jesus’ first miracle in Cana of Galilee where he turned water into the most amazing wine ever tasted at a wedding, as well as a reminder that we will share all of life together, the joys and the sorrows. The final part of the ceremony was called “the dance of Isaiah” and the priest led us and our attendants around the table three times, holding the Bible in his hands. He ended with the benediction and prayer. We heard a lot of scripture about being blessed with children, points at which we couldn’t help but laugh.

We then ate wedding cake, a gift of love from someone in our parish, and drank champagne from plastic champagne glasses. The whole ceremony, cake and all, was the greatest sort of gift.

We are indeed twice blessed. 

Because the words penned by Shakespeare and spoken by Portia are so true. The quality of mercy in our marriage is not strained, it has been, and will continue to be like gentle rain; it is indeed twice blessed, blessing the one who gives and the one who receives. And today we remember this and we rest in mercy.

* (Portia’s monologue in “The Merchant of Venice”)

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marriage table



The crowns

The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 1 “Ten Years Ago”

IMG_2776It was 10 years ago when my husband entered an Eastern Orthodox church in Chicago and felt like he had come ‘home’. He was there with our oldest son on a college search and happened upon this church in the middle of the city.

I had no idea when he came home that our spiritual journey would take a sharp and unmistakable turn into the mysteries of the Eastern Orthodox faith and we would never be quite the same.

A couple of months later he urged me to attend a vespers service, a Saturday night service, call it “Orthodox light”.

Saturday night vespers begins with the setting of the sun and precedes Divine Liturgy, which will be held the next day. It’s a service with a lot of Psalms and a quiet, contemplative tone.

Everyone likes Vespers….everyone except me it seemed.

So we attended vespers. I did not like the service. I disliked how long it was on a Saturday evening and day dreamed of being back home sitting on our patio, enjoying the Phoenix sunset. I was irritated by the women who attended, their faces and voices raised in out of this world peace. I was annoyed by the icons. I quickly dismissed the whole package.

“We’ll get through this eastern orthodoxy stage” I thought, and continue doing what we knew well: vacillating between feeling sometimes alienated and sometimes a part of the American evangelical church. Nothing would really change.

But a month later he invited me to Pascha, that great and glorious resurrection service signifying the end of the great fast and the Risen Saviour. And I disliked that even more. My feet hurt. My back started to ache. The apostles glared at me from Iconic holiness and I wanted to cry. I barely made it past midnight in a service that would go on until the wee hours of the morning.

Despite all this, every Sunday I get up and head to Holy Resurrection in Allston, a part of Boston known for its high population of students, bars, and ethnic restaurants. There I humbly take part in the Divine Liturgy of the Orthodox Church. I reverently venerate icons and make the sign of the cross, and I  say “Lord Have Mercy” many times. I hear the priest say “Thine own of thine own we offer up to thee” and join my voice with a hundred others singing “We have seen the true light! We have received the Heavenly Spirit. We have found the true faith, worshiping the undivided Trinity, who has saved us”

Because I am a Reluctant Orthodox. I am an unexpected, but thoroughly committed catechumen in the Eastern Orthodox Church, learning daily about this ancient faith that I sometimes doubt, other times believe, and all the time feel compelled to pursue until I reach the other side, and all is made clear.

And today marks a new edition to Communicating Across Boundaries. I will publish The Reluctant Orthodox every week on Sunday. My goal is to articulate my journey of faith, and through doing so perhaps others will see some of their own journey.

Welcome to the Reluctant Orthodox.