Source: Orthodox in the District
Perhaps several of you priests have been asked by a family to introduce the “giving away of the bride” by the father, into the Crowning service. However, people in Western cultures appear not to remember the meaning of this action. It is absolutely not permitted in the Orthodox Crowning service. The “giving away” of the bride was done because a woman was owned by her father until he gave her over to be owned by her husband. A woman had no self-identity. Her identity derived from the man who owned here, either as father or husband. We see the most direct meaning of this ritual in the honour killings practised in Muslim societies.
Just the past few weeks in Pakistan,(1) a young husband and wife were tortured and had their throats slit by the woman’s family. The reason? She had married for love, and without her father’s permission. (2) Farzana Parveen was beaten to death by her father and brothers for having married a man of her own choice, without having been “given away” by her father to a man of HIS choice. (3) A 17 year old girl was burned to death by a man because her father refused to “give her away” to him.
It may also come as a surprise to realise that there are no wedding rings in the Orthodox service. In fact, the betrothal rings are exchanged at the back (narthex) of the Church before the couple walk (on their own, with no fathers accompanying them) into the nave for the marriage crowning. These rings are changed back and forth between the ring fingers of the bride and the groom as a testimony that both are entering into the betrothal of their own free will; the bride is not being “given away” by her father (a completely demeaning tradition which reduced the woman’s personhood).
We will explain later why the betrothal takes place immediately before the Crowning of the Marriage, and why the wedding crowns are changed between the heads of the bride and groom during the actual marriage service. For the moment, however, let us pay attention to the horrible condition under which women live in so much of the world. One crisis in Nigeria obtains when a woman is divorced by her husband. She is left to live in utter poverty, and even for a young, attractive woman, her condition is dire. She is shunned because she is no longer a virgin. Women and girls suffer immeasurably in so much of the world. They are demeaned, abused, raped and murdered at the whim of the men in their societies. We should certainly resist the pressure from some of our ill-informed people to introduce the de-humanising and demeaning ritual of having the father “give the bride away” during the betrothal/wedding services. Fathers do not own their daughter, and the husband does not become her proprietor by having her given to him by the father. Such structures are common in primitive societies such as Islam, but have no place in the Orthodox Church, which accords to women actual personhood.
Archbishop Lazar Puhalo
Originally posted on November 30, 2012