Guest posy by Youstina & Moe Thomas
Wedding Receptions: The Potential of Heaven on Earth
The period between the Feast of Resurrection and the Feast of Pentecost is known as the “Holy Fifty Days,” or the joyous fifty days. However, for anyone with a lot of engaged friends or family, it is unofficially considered wedding season, the time of year with the most weddings and receptions.
The celebrations at wedding receptions can often stand in stark contrast to the solemnity of the crowning ceremonies celebrated. Thankfully, the life of the Church during the Holy Fifty Days offers profound insights into how weddings and receptions should be.
What do the Holy Fifty Days teach us about weddings?
This portion of the Liturgical year involves praying in the festal tune, a resurrection procession during every Divine Liturgy, and the halting of prostrations and fasting because it is a joyous season that commemorates the presence of Christ, the Divine Bridegroom, on earth after His resurrection (Mark 2:19, Matt. 9:15). It is joyous because THE Bridegroom is with us. When challenged by a group of scribes and pharisees on why His disciples weren’t fasting, our Lord explained,
“‘Can you make the friends of the bridegroom fast while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them; then they will fast in those days.’” (Luke 5:34-35)
His answer is revealing! There is no fasting during joyous times, and Christ’s presence is joyous because He is the Bridegroom. If we can understand Christ as the Bridegroom, and the joy associated with Him, then we can sketch a clear image of what a wedding and an appropriate reception should look like. The fifth part of the Wednesday Theotokia gives us the image of true marriage: it is found in “the true Bridegroom, Who united with humanity.” If Christ is the true Bridegroom, then all other bridegrooms, along with their brides and wedding receptions, are intended to be images of the True Bridegroom, His Bride, and His wedding. While discussing the wedding of Cana, St. Severus [465-538 AD] beautifully said:
“The wedding banquet, then, was an image [analogy] of the betrothal and spiritual marriage performed by Christ; an image of His union with our souls, who is the Bridegroom of the pure Church.” (Homily 119)
The Holy Fifty Days teach us that Christ is the true Bridegroom and extends true joy through His union with us. He provides us with the only true model for marriage and joy. This message is even more profound when you attend a wedding reception during the Holy Fifty Days, because Christ being in our midst reminds us of the true wedding and true joy our human weddings and receptions are called to reflect.
To better understand the nature of the joy our Lord extends, we must consider what His marriage looks like.
What does Christ’s Wedding look like?
In heaven, we will celebrate the marriage supper of the Lamb Himself. Inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven as His Bride is cause for the most momentous celebration!
“Alleluia! For the Lord God Omnipotent reigns! Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” (Revelations 19:6-7)
So, what does heaven look like?
Our Lord Himself tells us plainly, when He says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” (Matthew 5:8), “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven,” (Matthew 19:14), and “Enter into the joy of your lord,” (Matthew 25:23). Heaven is a place of perfect purity and perfect joy, and in fact, it is equated with joy itself!
If Heaven, the glory of the Lord, the wedding banquet of the True Bridegroom, is a place of purity and joy, then our human celebrations should also reflect these divine characteristics.
Human Wedding Receptions: An Icon of Heaven…?
Our wedding feasts are an icon of the marriage of Christ and the Church - a human equivalent of a divine truth. How, then, should such a glorious union be celebrated? How do we reflect purity and joy - Godly joy - in our festivities?
We can begin by identifying characteristics that are opposed to God’s kingdom:
“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are…lewdness… revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (Galatians 5:19-21).
What is revelry? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “noisy partying or merrymaking.” The book of Galatians lists revelry among things that keep us out of the kingdom of God - the true Wedding Banquet! How then can we avoid revelry? What will bring Christ to our celebrations and allow us to partake in His in the life to come?
St. John Chrysostom gives us the answer in Homily 12 on Colossians, quoted in “On Marriage and Family Life”:
“We celebrate our mysteries quietly and decently, with reverence and modesty. How is marriage a mystery? The two have become one. This is not an empty symbol. They have not become the image of anything on earth, but of God Himself.”
It’s important to closely examine our intentions when we celebrate the mystery of two becoming one. Are our intentions Christ-centered? Are our actions bringing Him honor and glory? Is our goal to “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus,” (Colossians 3:17) and to “do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31)?
We are not interested in ever passing judgment on how others choose to celebrate but rather to love everyone equally. St. Macarius the Great advises us in his 15th homily, “never to pass judgment on anyone - no… not upon open sinners and disorderly persons - but to regard all men with singleness of intention and purity of eye.”
The discernment necessary on our part is whether or not an environment or party is conducive to us growing in purity and joy, whether we will glorify God through it, and what kind of celebrations we choose to have for ourselves that would be pleasing to God. If these are all done, then the festivity will be an icon of the heavenly joy found in uniting with our True Bridegroom in the kingdom to come. What more could we possibly want?
About the Authors:
Moe and Tina Thomas are newlyweds living in Queens, NY. They both grew up in St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church in East Brunswick, NJ, and serve St. Pishoy College Fellowship. During their engagement, they navigated Tina’s cancer diagnosis and treatment and all the wedding planning craziness, which they both agree might have been just as wild. They coauthored “Weddings and Wedlock,” a book filled with insights from the Church Fathers on happiness, marriage, and wedding celebrations. Moe is an engineer and Tina is heading back to work as a resident physician. They can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org via email or @youstinat92 on Instagram.