Wedding in Rhodes

I had the privilege of officiating at the Catholic wedding of my own brother Robert Gregory to Evangelia Halatsi on the 14th May 2011. At Santa Maria. The church had been prepared splendidly by Mrs Tetta Karambela and her daughter Mary. It was indeed a parish event. Mrs. Avery Holingworth played the organ and Miss Sandie Allen had formed a three part harmony choir to sing the wedding hymns. The Liturgy was in Greek for the most part, after all we are living in Greece and that is the language we should be using. The bride received the ring of our dearly missed and much beloved mother, Marilyn Sylvia, whom I am sure, was smiling down from heaven at the ceremony of her youngest son. We are five million Catholics in Britain and of course our faith is very much part of our lives. As Catholics we are a minority in Britain, just as we are a minority here in Greece. We have learned to be respectful, open and to seek harmony through common purpose with our neighbours in order to construct a better society for all.
Robert has lived at St. Francis monastery for the last six years taking care of the monastery and church. He came initially for a six month period to oversee the monastery whilst the bell tower was being restored. He never left. He cooks for the friars at Sancta Maria and takes care of the gardens at all the churches and monasteries on Rhodes. He read cinematography at Stoke University but left these studies at Diploma level when the band of which he was the drummer, “Baby Bird” became famous. The years following the huge success of the group he toured all over the world.
He is now settled in Rhodes with his beautiful talented wife Evangelia. She is a teacher of Greek, English and Spanish. She has taught in Spain for the last several years. Her family is originally from Serres. Her family, proud father Dimitris Halatsi, mother Nikki and sister Magda organised everything with care and precision. The couple are very grateful to Fr. Emmanuel Sklevakis who helped them so thoughtfully and kindly with the marriage preparations. He is such a good honest man. What a credit to the church he truly is.
The wedding in the Church of St. George Kato was presided over by Fr. Mercurios. What a kind, gentle and spiritual man he is. The service was moving. A Greek wedding is an event that I will always remember. The ceremony is filled with symbolism and ancient traditions. I was drawn to take note of all these symbolic acts and feel moved to share them.
The Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony is an ancient service that has been celebrated in its current form for centuries. The ceremony is full of symbolism to reflect the elements of a successful marriage – love, mutual respect, equality and sacrifice.
The wedding ceremony itself consists of two parts. The Service of Betrothal and the Ceremony of the Sacrament of Marriage. Each aspect of the ceremony has special meaning and significance, particularly the repetition of each act three times – symbolizing the Holy Trinity: God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. The wedding begins as white candles are handed to the bride and groom who symbolize the couple’s willingness to receive Christ who is our only Lord and Saviour.
The exchanging of rings is the focus of the Service of Betrothal. The priest blesses the rings by holding them in his right hand and making the sign of the cross over the heads of the bride and groom. The rings are then placed on the third fingers of their right hands. The Koumbaro, swaps the rings over between the bride and groom’s fingers, three times.
The Ceremony of the Sacrament of Marriage consists of several parts – petitions, prayers, the crowning, readings from the New Testament, the offering of the common cup, the circling of the ceremonial table and the benediction. At the conclusion of the prayers, the priest joins the right hands of the bride and groom. Their hands remain joined until the end of the wedding ceremony, which symbolizes the couple’s union.
The crowning is the focal point of the marriage ceremony. The bride and groom are crowned with thin crowns, called stefana, which are joined by a white ribbon and have been blessed by the priest. The crowns symbolize the glory and honour that is being bestowed on them by God, and the ribbon symbolizes their unity. The Koumbaro then exchanges the crowns between the heads of the couple, three times.
The crowning is followed by a reading of the Gospel, which tells of the marriage of Cana at Galilee. It was at this wedding that Jesus performed his first miracle, changing water into wine, which was then given to the married couple. Wine is given to the couple and they each drink from it three times.
The priest the leads the bride and groom in a circle around the altar thrice, these are their first steps as a married couple. The church, in the person of the priest, leads them in the way they must walk. The way is symbolized by the circle at the centre of which is the Gospel and the symbolic cross of the Lord. The Koumbaro follows close behind the couple holding the stefana in place.
When the Ceremonial Walk has ended, the priest blesses the couple, the crowns are removed and he then separates their previously joined hands with the bible, reminding them that only God can break the union which they have just entered into. The reception for more than three hundred guests had been lavishly prepared in Columbia. Organised meticulously by Nikki the bride’s mother and her sister Magda. There is perhaps no more memorable element of a Greek wedding celebration than the dancing. It begins with the kalamatiano, a traditional handkerchief dance. The bride and groom dance together, connected only by the scarf or handkerchief that each holds by an end. Eventually, they invite others to join in the dancing, which went on for many hours.
I am proud that my family now has official Greek connections through Robert’s marriage to Evangelia. Their future children will grow proudly as Greek citizens in this hospitable and safe island. I personally have always loved the Greek language and culture. The more I learn about the Greek Orthodox Church the more I feel blessed to live on the island of Rhodes where the sound spiritual leadership and teaching of His Excellency Archbishop Kirilos gives an added blessing to all of us.