One of the last items to tick off our preparation list was the wedding rehearsal and I can now report that it is has been ticked. Jane and I gathered at the church last week to run through the ceremony with the main celebrant Bishop Porteous, Archdeacon Anthony from the Melkite Church, the Master of Ceremonies (a very good friend), the altar servers (more friends), our parents and of course the bridal party.
Before we began the actual practice there were some logistics to sort in regards where the furniture in the sanctuary would best fit. On the day, along with Bishop Porteous, there will also be in the sanctuary, the Melkite Eparch Bishop Rabbat, a few clergy friends and the bride and groom. Thankfully the church has a good sized sanctuary so there will be enough space. Being the Christmas season there is also a large Christmas tree in the sanctuary to work around.
Once these issues were decided upon, my bride-to-be took her first practice steps down the aisle, arm in arm with her father. As they arrive at the foot of the altar there is a brief but very significant moment when Jane’s dad takes her hand and places that hand into mine. Jane has grown up and lived all her life in her family home under the watchful care of the significant man in her life, her father. On the day of our wedding Jane will leave that home for the last time escorted by her father who will lead her up the aisle, and before the altar of God he will entrust Jane to my care. Now some might consider this notion either very old fashioned or very sweet but I do not think either is completely correct. All fathers take their fatherhood from the heavenly father. Men are called to watch over their wives and children with a love and solicitude that echoes (as much as is possible) the love of God. I think the fact that the notion of the woman being under the protection of the man raises eyebrows shows how poorly some men across the ages have responded to their vocation to authentic self-giving love. I am certainly not thinking I am greater than any of the married men that have gone ahead of me. Knowing my own weaknesses though I realise the need to put myself continually under the mantle of Christ, and it is only from under that mantle that I can take Jane’s hand from her father and make a promise to both him and her to love, honour and protect.
As previously mentioned Jane and I have also been able to include elements from the Byzantine rite of marriage. When we got to these parts in the practice Archdeacon Anthony took over to run us through the ritual that Bishop Rabbat will lead. The pinnacle of the wedding ritual in the Eastern Churches is the crowning of the couple (indeed the entire wedding ceremony is referred to as the Mystery of Holy Crowning). The crowns are signs of the glory and honour with which God crowns the man and woman during this sacrament. The groom and bride are crowned as the king and queen of their own kingdom, their family, which they are entrusted to rule with wisdom, justice and integrity. Once the Bishop has crowned Jane and I, we will drink a cup of blessed wine to symbolise the mutual sharing of both joys and sorrows, before we are led around the ceremonial table three times by the Bishop who will be holding the book of the Gospels signifying that we should always be led by the Gospel.
It was pretty exciting to rehearse the wedding ceremony and finally see the actual reason for all our preparations these past months (which have become increasingly frantic). Most especially it was an honour to have all these people come together to help make our Nuptial Mass truly beautiful. Between the Bishop and the Archdeacon and the MC and servers I know our ceremony is in good hands and that it will fit the nature of this occasion when Jane and I will vow to love one another after the model of Christ for the rest of our days.
And that is about it…next week’s final column will be a report on our wedding day…keep Jane and I in your prayers!