by Rebekkah Moll
As Valentine’s Day and the season of Great and Holy Lent are soon approaching, I offer a recommendation for a recently published book titled Building an Orthodox Marriage: A Practical Commentary on the Eastern Orthodox Marriage Rite by Bishop John Abdalah and Nicholas G. Mamey. This book explains the theology of the Orthodox Marriage sacrament and describes the reasoning behind each part of the service. The authors use numerous biblical, traditional, and societal connections and reasonings to explain the fullness of the service. For those wanting to have a deeper understanding of the marriage service, this book is very accessible. Its organization makes it easy to look up one part of the service for those times when you need a quick review or reminder of a particular section.
In a somewhat brief, but thoughtful ending to the book, the writers include a part that offers “Helpful Thoughts for Strengthening Marriages to be Further Explored” and an appendix with a list of “Questions for Orthodox Courting or the Newlywed Game”. These sections instantly brought me back to my own marriage counseling experience for our wedding preparation ten and half years ago. I remember the nerves while taking the test…..will we fail? How can our many flaws gain our counselor and priest’s marriage approval? My husband had just recently converted, having grown up with a Protestant background. In addition to having different faith backgrounds, our approach to faith itself was very contrastive, reflecting the way we were raised in our families. My husband approached faith with a critical and questioning mind, and I was raised with more of a mindset to accept the faith with a “leap” of trust. Discussing our faith with a counselor brought many of our different opinions to the surface!
The book mentions, “The mystery of marriage and its sacramentality are found in the grace of God, which is granted to the participant for the ability to bear the intense experience and inexplicable transformation of, and participation in, becoming one mind and one flesh with another” (35). In addition, there are some references throughout the book to the idea that man and woman, although are created in a certain order, are very much equal, “In the Genesis account, man is created last, but woman comes from his side or his rib. The formula is brilliant! Woman is of equal substance as man and is neither above nor below him [Gen 2.21]” (93). Reading these passages and reflecting on my own experience within marriage, the mystery of unity that happens was revealed to me as an extension of each other. Although our differences are challenging to work through sometimes, it has also been one of my biggest blessings as I am able to extend my understanding of the faith through his eyes and see it from a more critical angle that leads me to explore more of the faith. I am thankful to be united with someone who challenges my view of the world and the faith in a loving way and gives such insight to life. Together, on an equal standing before God, we have been united and are continually transforming. I pray that we will grow in a way pleasing to God.
Valentine’s Day is fast approaching…..along with Lent! I highly recommend this book as a good Lenten read to anyone longing to understand the marriage ceremony – perhaps you are engaged, or simply dating and want to look deeper into what entering that part of your life may mean. Or you are already married and are wanting to reflect on your own experiences in that journey. This book held some surprises for me as I read it, things I never realized about what God offers us in this holy mystery, and it also helped me to see the awe in how uniting with another is continually working to transform me!
Rebekah Moll is a member of St. Mary’s OCA in Minneapolis