Part I-Finding my way
I was invited to a wedding on Sunday. I decided that I would go to my own church first, change, and go straight to the wedding. This turned out to be a bad idea. First of all, I was totally distracted during worship and messed everything up. Secondly, I had to bring everything with me. I had the wedding present in a huge gift bag, my flute, my purse, songbooks for last-minute rehearsing, my wedding clothes, two pairs of shoes, a snack in case I got hungry, and my camera.
After worship, I went and changed my clothes. Everything was going according to plan. I had plenty of time. Then I packed up and started to walk out of the church building. I could barely walk to the door without staggering under the weight of all my various parcels. How was I going to buy flowers and carry them too? I looked at the time and decided I had just enough time to go straight home, dump half of my belongings, and go straight to the wedding ceremony. Now why hadn’t I done that in the first place?
I had adjusted the strap on one of my shoes and the shoe kept felling off, but my hands were too full to fix it. I limped on. I got home just in time, discarded everything not necessary for the wedding, and took off again. It was 1:00 and the wedding started at 2:00. And I had no idea how long it would take me to get there, aside from 1 metro stop+4 tram stops. As I walked to the bus stop, my big toe had already poked through my new stockings. I got to the bus stop and there were no buses. Hmmmmm. There was the option of taking an alternate form of transportation, but one of my personal rules for success is “No experimenting with directions when already late.” No looking for shortcuts or trying new routes. Better to be 5-10 minutes late than get lost and be 1-2 hours late.
I decided to pop into the flower shop while waiting for the bus. I don’t know how to buy flowers, especially in Russia and for a wedding. In Russian class we were taught that certain numbers of flowers meant something (even numbers=not allowed) and certain colors too, but I didn’t pay much attention, just avoided the flowers scene in general. The flower shop had some bouquets all prepared. They were expensive, but I bought one for the sake of time. The shop attendant assured me it would be okay for a wedding, and I believed her. So now I was carrying a huge bouquet of flowers and a huge gift bag. Imagine how I looked going through the turnstile in the metro. I got the gift and flowers through and then panicked that my dress was caught on the turnstile, but it wasn’t.
Now that I was finally on my way, I wondered how I was going to find the church. The bride had called me a few days previously, giving final instructions. The connection was bad and I was tired. She said something about having one of her friends meet me at the metro. “Oh no, I’ll find it,” I said, even though I couldn’t really hear what she was saying about the location. So now I was on my way and realized that it was too late to call the bride for directions. I had the phone number of just one person who might be attending. I sent her a text message, but it bounced back.
Once I exited the metro, I headed for the tram stop. It was 1:35. I stopped near a man with a young boy. “(something something) buy your flowers,” he said. Ummm, what? I smiled and nodded and said, “I’m going to a wedding.” But I didn’t walk away. “Go on to the wedding!” he said. “Can you tell me where the tram stop is?” He pointed me in the right direction. Once on the tram, I wondered where I was supposed to get off. Dasha had said 4 stops, but sometimes Russians count differently than Americans, including the stop where you get on. Or at least it seems that way. I tried to stay calm by getting lost in my thoughts, but then I realized that I had forgotten to count the stops!
I got off after about 4 stops. I had about 10 minutes, hopefully enough to get to the church. I didn’t see a church anywhere and there was no one in sight. I began walking and suddenly a woman appeared out of nowhere and walked across my path. I asked her about the church and she showed me where to go. I approached the church, where there were clearly wedding guests gathered, but was it the right wedding? I hesitantly walked closer, and recognized one of Dasha’s friends. I had arrived, and on time!
The bride and groom were late arriving. Meanwhile, the guests gathered and the women prepared their headcoverings for entering the Orthodox church. Finally a car pulled up and the bride started to get out. I thought, “Oh no, we can all see her!” But no one seemed concerned. The bride and groom were already newlyweds, having been married in a civil ceremony earlier that day or perhaps earlier in the week. They walked up the path, greeting the guests. I wasn’t sure what to say. “Congratulations” seemed a little premature with the church ceremony still ahead.
We entered the church. I had been worrying about where I would sit. After entering the church, I was reminded that in an Orthodox ceremony you do not sit down. I was still holding the flowers and present at this point. :) The ceremony was pretty. I didn’t understand much, so I won’t speculate too much here, but there was a lot of chanting of prayers and reading scriptures and some kind of sermon. One tradition typical to the Orthodox ceremony is the practice of holding crowns above the heads of the bride and groom. The people holding the crowns can’t put them down until the end of the ceremony. Tough task!
After the ceremony, there was a receiving line, where I handed over my flowers and gift and congratulated the newlyweds. We also took a group picture. Then I bade farewell, as I was ready to leave and wouldn't be staying for the reception. The wedding party gathered for more photos outside. The bride suddenly looked around, remembering. “Elizabeth! Come here.” The crowd parted as I approached. “Take a picture of me with my friend, please. She has to leave.” I thought it was very sweet of her. The photographer obliged.
And the life of a new couple has begun…
Holding the crowns in place for the remainder of the ceremony...
Processing around in a circle 3 times with the priests, the bride and groom, candles, and the two witnesses holding the crowns in back.