Today my wife and I are celebrating our 3rd wedding anniversary back here in Georgia. It’s not a big one for most, and it’s not one of those “silver” or “golden” anniversaries that Hallmark says we need to buy something special for. Thank goodness, since we’re still in a bit of poverty from two traveling types coming together. It is quite meaningful to me though, as is every moment I spend with this special girl I found in a small, smoke-filled art bar in Tbilisi.
Three years ago today was the event of my life. We had some crazy preparations. My wife had to leave the country to Prague for 3 months prior, setting up her new job there, which meant I had to go around looking for restaurants myself for the reception. As a musician, I’ve got loads of musician-friends, which meant music wouldn’t be so much of a problem, but we did have a budget to adhere to. And let me tell those thinking of maybe a destination wedding, after having a banquet of over 100 people, wedding and all came out to about 4,000 dollars, so Georgia should be on your list.
Tbilisi Sioni Cathedral of the Dormition
We chose the 28th because every time I came up with a workable date for my parents and all, I was informed Georgians were fasting. Georgians are always fasting! It’s among one of their favorite activities, right up next to eating salty cheese, drinking wine, and dancing. The 28th is a feast day though, being the Day of Saint Mary, or Mariamoba, so we were safe there.
I remember waking up with some super excitement and perhaps a mild hangover. My best mate and my parents had spent the better part of a week traveling around the country, to the high mountain regions of Svaneti to escape the punishing summer heat. Then we had a week's worth of festivities in my bride-to-be’s village, which became something of a marathon for my liver. The family and the neighbors were all wonderful, especially the red-faced groundhog who kept popping his head out over the fence, looking to see if we were around and ready to start drinking some more wine.
Sioni from across the river
They don’t rent out the whole church for a wedding like they do in the West. In the Georgian Orthodox Church, they don’t even have seats. Your wedding takes place, and other people might be in the church praying their own thing, there might be a baptism going on in a different chapel, and tourists might be wandering around marveling at the architecture and goings-on. None of that really bothered me, which was a good thing, since we probably chose the most touristic of all churches in Georgia to have our wedding in, the Sioni Church of the Dormition, a 6th century church which only recently lost the throne of the patriarch as it had moved to the newly completed Orthodox mega-church across the river.
Sioni Church of the Dormition
The church is located in the old town of Tbilisi, squeezed in-between two beautiful pedestrian areas lined with restaurants, bars, and cafes, plants pouring out of windows onto the streets, vines climbing up everything. On the front end stands a huge 15th century bell-tower, while on the other side is the roiling river of the Mtkvari, rushing past with a kind of quiet rage.
Erekle II street near Sioni
The first church there was built in the 500s by the founder of the city, Vakhtang Gorgasali, but was later destroyed by the Arabs. The current structure was built in the 12th century by another famous Georgian, Davit the Builder, and it managed to survive invasions, earthquakes, and fires for nearly a millennium. The dark interior is made even more beautiful and mysterious by the recent frescoes of the Russian painter Knyaz Grigory Gagarin in the 1850s and the Georgian painter Levan Tsutskiridze in the 1980s. It was also one of the few churches in Georgia that was allowed to continue operation as a church during the Soviet times, and even witnessed some restorations.
the interior murals of the church
All that to say, it’s not a quiet or unimposing church by any measure. But having a wedding there is pretty awesome, to say the least.
When we first arrived, my party was waiting outside. Only the wedding parties and close friends actually attend the ceremony itself, while the acquaintances and relatives all go wait at the reception hall.
My bride-to-be took her time getting there, and at first I was a little worried that she had come to her senses and decided not to show. But thankfully I was wrong! There she was and my heart leaped. I forgot everything and was just stupidly drunk on the happiness of the moment.
friends and family waiting for the bride
We went inside. First, I had to get baptized, as the Georgian Orthodox Church won’t perform a sacrament to anyone who isn’t one of them, so that means I had to become Georgian in more than just marriage.
We went to a side chapel where I had to wait my turn. They were busy dunking a naked baby, who was crying at the top of his lungs and surrounded by his family folk constantly declaring everyone’s favorite Georgian phrase, “vai may!” Finally, the baby was done for and wrapped up. It was my turn.
about to get dunked
I took off my suit coat, rolled up my sleeves, and went on over. It was a huge brass grail like one a Titan might have used before Zeus had his way with them. I looked down at all that water. I wondered briefly how long it had been since they had changed that water, but maybe as it was holy, it was naturally clean. I certainly hoped so, just thinking about that baby’s bum, and what most babies do when they’re surprised. But woah! No more time to think, the priest had me by the neck and was waterboarding me, getting me to confess my fear of the Lord.
After that was done, I suited back up. The priest asked for the rings.
I knew I had forgot something. I always forget something.
I sent a friend off to my flat to retrieve the rings.
Off to a rocky start to this marriage. Perhaps it was better to get the bumps out at the beginning after all.
When the ring arrived, we joined in the line at the wedding factory and went at it. One or two weddings later, it was our turn. We lined up. We huddled up with the priest, my wife translated bits and pieces, and me smiling the whole way through, barely cognizant of anything but how happy I was. The priest probably thought I was touched by God or something, in that most Georgians are pretty solemn people and hate wasting their energy doing things like smiling on happy occasions.
lined up for the ceremony
We followed the priest around in circles, as our bests followed us around with crowns over our heads. Then we made our way to the iconostasis and kissed it. The iconostasis is the protection barrier between the crowd and where the miracle of transubstantiation occurs. It protects the people from holy radiation or something, the same energy source that’s bundled up in the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch. Seriously dangerous stuff, folks.
following the priest around in circles
wedding done, ready for the congratulatory line
Then finally, rings on, we were declared man and wife. Out of the way for the next wedding! And we were off to our reception.
It was a grand reception. A friend tells me that was the best day of his life. Mine too, bud!
traditional dancing at the wedding
our first song, "Hold On" by Tom Waits, played by Shota Adamashvili