Last weekend my husband and I participated in a beautiful and ancient sacrament. At a resplendent San Francisco Bay Area Greek Orthodox church, we were on hand to be the marital ‘sponsors’ — or ‘koumbari’ as it is called in Greek — by a very special bride and groom. This was no typical wedding. The couple to be married, in front of 400 of their closest family and friends, was in their 50s. To top it off, the bride had never married before.
In so very many ways, this event was like thousands of other weddings throughout the country that might have taken place the same day. The bride was radiant, the groom handsome and expectant, the flowers, table arrangements, music and food chosen to perfection. Since the bride had waited all her life for this to happen to her, she spared no details, having formulated in her mind what her own walk down the aisle might look like someday.
The difference lay in how composed, confident and mature the day was. The couple, so very sure of one another and their decision to marry, made all who participated and attended feel as if this was their day as well. The bride, knowing every nuance of her march down the long aisle to the groom, paused before taking her first step to hear a talented choir sing a hymn she had always loved. The groom had real tears in his eyes as he saw the woman who adored him casually take her steps in her Erte-style wedding gown, beaded to art-deco perfection. While four elaborately robed priests busily chanted, spoke liturgical words and jingled incense upon the icon-laden, marble and gilded altar, I heard the bride join them as she lip-synced many of their petitions and modal melodies, including reminders and descriptions of Old Testament couples considered to have led exemplary married lives.
Nearly an hour later, after the couple had exchanged rings, drunk sweet wine from a common cup and taken three trips around the altar table with pearl-encrusted crowns on their heads (the queen and king of their new household), the happy couple turned to face the parish pews, filled by Kleenex-bearing relatives and friends who simply could not stop smiling.
Again, they waited. A special musical piece was being sung by the talented choir and no one was going to move until they had heard the fullness of its beauty.
And then it was time for the partying to begin — Greek style.
The reception hall was bedecked in midnight blues and white; each place setting bore lovingly-made linen doilies skillfully wrapped by the bride’s mother around candied white almonds. Towering centerpieces bedecked with delicate orchids nestled in tall, slender vases, announcing the beauty of the moment as the wedding party entered amid great fanfare. The grown children of the groom as well as my husband and I made heartfelt toasts, speaking of how the couple met, the miracle of their union and the blessings we all share with them. The father of the bride took his daughter in his arms and danced to a selection chosen by his little girl, whose age was of no consequence when we heard — “You didn’t know you were my hero . . ” and we all cried once again.
As guests took turns approaching the head table to congratulate the bride and groom, longtime friends of the groom filled his wine glass with a strain of Cretan homemade moonshine no doubt capable of removing chrome from hubcaps. The bride glowed but barely ate, interrupted for at least 20 minutes between bites by well-meaning wedding guests.
Shortly after the sumptuous sit-down dinner was served, the strains of bouzoukia (a kind of Greek mandolin) were heard. My husband, schooled in the fine art of Greek dancing and light on his feet, deftly led a line of wedding guests, twirling while never missing a beat to music our immigrant parents and grandparents probably danced to at dozens of weddings in their lifetimes. I followed, taking the steps to the syncopated music I had moved to since my childhood, as the now-layered dance lines snaked and curled up within themselves.
It was a celebration borne of miracles, of love, and of a life of anticipation that led to the moment we all shared. All who attended no doubt felt it both life-affirming and full of hope — for those who love, for those who have loved and lost and for those who have yet to find their soul mates in midlife.