Several times a month, we offer an anniversary blessing at the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy. It’s always fun to join with folks in celebrating their relationship. It’s good to, once again, place the crowns upon their heads and, of course, we all get a kick out of watching them kiss as we serenade them with “Many Years”. But there is also one moment in the service that is always just a little strained.
It comes towards the end of the central litany. The priest blesses the man and the woman, thanking the Most Holy Trinity for keeping this couple “in peace and oneness of mind these past (fill in the blank) years”. And, as the guy who stands just a few feet away from the couple, I can assure you that every single man and every single woman reacts to those words in one way or another.
Some couples grab hold of each other’s hands at that point in the service. Guys will often take a deep breath and look off into the distance. Women tend to bite their lips and lower their heads. I’ve seen couples roll their eyes and shift their feet. A lot of folks just sigh and smile kind of sheepishly.
And you can hardly blame them. After all, who among us can claim to have a marriage that is characterized by ‘peace and oneness of mind’?
Why, then, do we use that kind of language in the service? Are we just describing an ideal? If that’s the case, then the anniversary service does little more than highlight our failure to live up to that ideal. Are we just flat-out pretending? If that’s what we’re doing, then we’re all pretty sick and we desperately need to come up with some language that’s a lot more honest.
But when we bless those couples and we thank the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit for keeping them in peace and oneness of mind’, we are neither pointing to an unrealistic goal nor are we indulging our pathologies. What we are doing is theologizing about the true nature of marriage and rejoicing in the grace of the Most Holy Trinity.
Because the peace and unity that we speak of in the anniversary service are not the result of our efforts. We should always wrap up arguments as quickly as we can, but the peace that empowers an Orthodox marriage is the peace that Christ Jesus gives. We should consistently try to be on the same page when it comes to money, sex, and parenting, but the oneness of mind that Orthodox spouses experience is the unity that comes from a relationship with the Most Holy Trinity.
And those blessings are always available to each and every one of us. Even when we have been fighting so long that we’ve forgotten what we’re fighting about, even when we have, time and time again, betrayed the trust of the person that we love, even when our friends are all telling us that we should just face facts and move on, we still have full access to the peace and oneness of mind that is proclaimed in each anniversary service.
Those are the kinds of blessings that can sustain us through many, many decades of marriage—and that’s a good reason to participate in that service, every year, no matter what. Sure, we will probably sweat a little and squirm a bit when we think about the disconnect between how we behave and how much the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit love us, but that brief brush with humility will also serve to deepen our experience of the divine peace and the supernatural oneness of mind which are always available to us.