We parish priests often tear our hair out (those who have any left) when we hear of parties or receptions thrown by members of the Church that don’t reflect our Christian values. One of the sins most modern Christians really despise is hypocrisy, and yet some of them don’t seem to realise that a celebration that encourages non-Christian behaviour is a form of hypocrisy. Perhaps they feel that Christ does not really think that drunkenness, immodest clothing and sexually-enticing dancing are wrong? Hmmm, I’d like to see where the Bible says that.
But it seems the problem is not just a modern one. Thank you to Fr Athanasius Iskander of Canada for sharing the following excerpt from St John Chrysostom in the fifth century.
Marriage is a bond, a bond ordained by God. Why then do you celebrate weddings in a silly and immodest manner? Have you no idea what you are doing? … What is the meaning of these drunken parties with their lewd and disgraceful behaviour? You can enjoy a banquet with your friends to celebrate your marriage; I do not forbid this, but why must you introduce all these excesses? Camels and mules behave more decently than some people at wedding receptions!
Is marriage a comedy? It is a mystery, an image of something far greater. If you have no respect for marriage, at least respect what it symbolizes: “This is a great mystery, and I take it to mean Christ and the Church.” (Eph 5:32) It is an image of the Church, and of Christ, and will you celebrate in a profane manner? “But then who will dance?” you ask. Why does anyone need to dance? Pagan mysteries are the only ones that involve dancing. 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. How can you celebrate it with a noisy uproar, which dishonours and bewilders the soul?
“Let marriage be held in honour among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled,” (Heb 13:4) yet you give marriage a bad name with your depraved celebrations. … That is why I want to purify your wedding celebrations: to restore marriage to its due nobility and to silence those heretics who call it evil. God’s gift is insulted. It is the root of our very existence, and we smother it with dung and filth. This is what I want to wash away by my words. So listen to me a little while longer. Remember that you can’t cling to filth without picking up the stench. … Shall I also tell you how marriage is a mystery of the Church? The Church was made from the side of Christ, and He united Himself to her in a spiritual intercourse. St Paul says, “I betrothed you to Christ to present you as a pure virgin to her one husband,” (2 Cor 11:2) and
“we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.” (Eph 5:30) Think about all this and stop treating such a great mystery so shamefully. Marriage is an image (icon) of the presence of Christ, and will you get drunk at a wedding? Tell me, if you saw a portrait of the emperor, would you insult it? By no means.
Many are indifferent to what goes on at wedding celebrations, but great evil is the result. Looseness and disorder prevail. Paul says, “Let there be no filthiness, nor silly talk, nor levity; let no evil talk come out of your mouths.” (Eph 5:4, 4:29) What, I ask you, goes on at weddings? All of this, and more, for evil talk has become an art, and those who excel in it are applauded! Sins have become an art! We pursue them not by chance, but with studied earnestness, and finally the devil assumes control of his own troops.
When drunkenness arrives, chastity departs. Where there is filthy talk, the devil is always eager to make his own contribution. Do you celebrate Christ’s mystery with entertainment like this, by inviting the devil? I am sure now that I have offended you. You mock me when I rebuke you, and say I am too austere. This is only another proof of your perverted manner of life. Don’t you remember St Paul’s words: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”? (1 Cor 10:31) Or the Psalmist’s, when he said, “Serve the Lord with fear and rejoice in him with trembling”? (Ps 2:11) But your behaviour is dishonourable and blasphemous, totally without restraint. Is it not possible for pleasure and temperance to co-exist? Are you fond of music? I would prefer that you love silence best of all, but if you must have songs, choose edifying ones, not satanic ones. Instead of dancing girls, invite the choir of angels to your wedding. “But how can we see them?” you ask. If you drive away the other things, Christ Himself will come to your wedding, and where Christ goes, the angels’ choir follows. If you ask Him, He will work for you an even greater miracle than He worked in Cana: that is, He will transform the water of your unstable passions into the wine of spiritual unity, but remember: if He should come and find the musicians and the crowd making a tumult, He will expel them all before working His wonders.
What is more disgusting than these pomps of the devil? There is so much noise that nothing can be heard. When any words are audible, they are meaningless, shameful, and disgusting.
There is nothing more pleasurable than virtue, nothing sweeter than orderliness, nothing more honourable than dignity. Those who celebrate weddings such as this will find true pleasure, but pay attention now to what is required for such a marriage. … When you prepare for the wedding, don’t run to your neighbours’ houses borrowing extra mirrors, or spend endless hours worrying about dresses. A wedding is not a pageant or a theatrical performance. Instead, make your house as beautiful as you can, and then invite your family and your neighbours and friends. Invite people that have good character, and they will be content
with what you set before them. Don’t hire bands or orchestras; such an expense is excessive and unbecoming.
Before anything else, invite Christ. …. Let there be no disorderly uproar. When everything is ready, call the bridegroom to receive the virgin. Let there be no drunkenness at the banquets and suppers, but an abundance of spiritual joy. Think of the many good things that will result from weddings like this!
The way most weddings-if we can even call them weddings, and not spectacles-are celebrated nowadays ends in nothing but evil. …. But when Christ is present at a wedding, He
brings cheerfulness, pleasure, moderation, modesty, sobriety, and health; but Satan brings anxiety, pain, excessive expense, indecency, envy, and drunkenness. Let us remember all these things, and avoid such evils, that we may please God and be counted worthy to obtain the good things He has promised to those who love Him, through the grace and love for mankind of our Lord Jesus Christ, with whom, together with the Holy Spirit, be glory, honour and power to the Father, now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.
Saint John Chrysostom: On Marriage And family Life pp 74-80