The Carpatho-Rusyn Wedding

by - Jerry Jumba Music Director and Choreographer Slavjane Folk Ensemble.

Copyright 1978 Jerry Jumba and Carpatho-Rusyn American #''s 3, 4 - 1978 and Vol II #1, 1979. Unauthorized use or duplication is prohibited and in violation of international copyright law.

The marriage ceremony and the great traditions surrounding it in the land of Carpatho-Rusyns is a beautiful religious, joyful, and festive occasion. From county to county, whether it be Spis, Sarys, Zemplyn, Uz, Bereg, Ugoca or Marmaros, the color and excitement, and the religious and social importance are always present. Each county, and often each village contains some variation in the practice of formalities. Each wedding has an individual touch effected by local Rusyn personalities, who through their local folklore give added excitement, coloration, and meaning to their village wedding.

Over many centuries our Rusyn ancestors established these customs and traditions in order to promote and protect the sacredness of the sacrament of matrimony. Tradition prescribes that a new couple achieve a solid identity as husband and wife and tradition requires them to complete their awareness of their new social responsibilities in the Rusyn community. Historically the social and cultural survival of Rusyns depended on the strength and beauty inherent in our living cultural traditions and religion.

The ceremony itself is in several stages, and we shall observe the process step by step. Let us begin with the major question: In the Rusyn village, how might a young man like Ivan Rusnak meet a nice girl like Maricka Danko? If a young man desires to marry, he so informs his parents that he has a particular young woman he wishes to court. Sometimes the whole family and relatives act as matchmakers. They arrange for a young man and woman to meet to see if they like each other. Also, a couple could become acquainted at the Sunday afternoon dances in the springtime, at religious functions at the same church, working the same fields or pastures, shopping and selling in the village marketplace, or at other wedding celebrations.

The next step in the direction of marriage is the betrothal announcement, or the zarucinky. A meeting for deciding the betrothal begins after supper in the early evening at approximately seven o'clock. On the verchovyna, or highlands, the ritual of the zarucinky is a very happy occasion. The prospective groom goes to the home of the prospective bride with two or three older men and his best friend as spokesman. The starosta, or senior spokesman, must be skillful and persuasive at negotiating a proper settlement of properties. The starosta is well versed in the betrothal formalities and is a man who has a way with words, a fine speaking voice, and an honest and convincing personality. So when they decide the dowry-perhaps so much land, hay, seeds, goats, oxen, money, linens, and so on--Ivan and Maricka give their acknowledgment. The wedding is accepted formally, and a wedding date is set.

The bargaining for the dowry usually ends in a successful agreement between the two families and afterwards there is food, drink, singing, and dancing. Many times the zarucinky goes on into the next morning. Immediately after the betrothal the young couple arranges for an engagement ceremony blessed by the Reverend Father, who will also fill out the marriage certificate and send the couple to the notary to register the legal marriage application. Carpatho-Rusyn weddings are traditionally held on Sundays or Holy Days so that most of the village is free from work and able to attend.

Following the betrothal the wedding usually takes place in three months. A week before, the fiancee gives her fiancé a symbolic gift such as an expensive handkerchief. The preparation of food is in progress and the bride with two bridesmaids and the groom with two ushers go from house to house to invite their guests. The young women wear nice clothes and a special vinec or floral wreath in their hair. The young men wear a bugrejda, or floral arrangement on their hats and carry two walking sticks tied with ribbons, one stick to represent each family. Usually the whole village is invited.

As the wedding date comes nearer, the families do the last of their cooking. Relatives and neighbors help by bringing gifts of cheese, eggs, meats, pirohy, rice, kvasna kapusta, halusky, and so on. The foods are cooked and fried as prescribed by custom. Now it is the night before the wedding and there is singing and dancing to say farewell to the bride's last day as an unmarried woman. The bridesmaids, or druzky, weave wedding wreaths for the bride and groom to wear in church. After the village dance that night before the wedding, they go into the nearby woods to pick periwinkle leaves-barvinok. At about two o'clock in the morning, they meet the ushers at the bride's house and weave the wedding wreath, or vinec. They sing and talk for hours into the night as they weave the barvinok into beautiful green crowns to be blessed and used at the crowning in the wedding ceremony. As they pick the barvinok they sing, "Periwinkle, I love to wear you, but because of a young man I must leave you to be married."

On the day of the wedding the starosta (senior spokesman), svasky (matrons of honor), druzby (ushers), and musicians all arrive at the home of the groom as the first rays of sun pierce the darkness. The musicians begin playing and there is much singing as the groom is prepared by his ushers. They shave him, comb his hair, and shine his boots. The groom dances his last dance with his druzby, then in a farewell episode he seeks his parents' forgiveness and blessing while kneeling before each one. They bless and kiss him. After all the farewells, the wedding procession starts on its way to the home of the bride. The procession is led by a special wedding flag which is said to symbolize the star of Bethlehem which was followed by the wise men of the East in order to find the Christ Child. The wedding party sings all the way to the bride's home.

The druzky (bridesmaids) prepare the bride as others finish the last cooking before the wedding. They fix the bride in every little detail, but before they are finished the bride has a last dance with them. Soon the groom's family arrives singing and the bride's family joins in. The bride is all done up and beautiful. She kneels before her parents asking forgiveness and receives a blessing, a kiss, and a special round bread (like a pascha shaped with a hole in the middle), which symbolizes the hope that the new couple will never be hungry.

In these early morning ceremonies there is a custom from ancient times in which the starosta and persyj druzba (the best man) each make the sign of the cross, take a hatchet, and make a mark on the doorway to stop any evil spirit from joining the wedding party. The wedding procession then leaves for the church. It is usually in the same village, so they may walk a mile or two, singing as they go. Everyone is dressed in their Holy Day finery. They form a very colorful and musical wedding procession to church.

The church ceremony is of the ancient eastern rite of Byzantium combined with many centuries of East Slav liturgical growth and customs. The church singing is the native Carpatho-Rusyn prostopinije (plainchant). The priest is dressed in elaborate vestments complimentary to the occasion. He will greet the wedding party in the vestibule of the church and lead the wedding procession into the church as the 127th Psalm is sung. The starsa svaska (matron of honor) carries an extremely valuable handmade cover called a rucnyk. The priest blesses the rucnyk and spreads it for the bride and groom to kneel on. After the ceremony the persa druzka (maid of honor) will carry it to the home of the newly married. The couple will now kneel as the ceremony progresses, holding one candle lit by the priest. It symbolizes their unity in Jesus Christ, the light of the world. The couple will receive wedding rings, which symbolize their exclusive commitment to each other. Also, the ring is a circle without beginning or end which represents the nature of God's eternal love to which they are called.

The couple will make marriage vows with their hands on the Book of Gospels, and will be crowned in marriage. The crowns are the sign of God's blessing on this couple, because it is truly God who unites man and woman. The crowns contain three more meanings: (1) the crowns of royalty-in marriage the husband and wife become king and queen of a new unit in society, a new family, a little church; (2) the crowns of martyrdom--man and woman become a witness of God's undying love as they journey through life growing and suffering, rejoicing and loving; (3) the crowns of the Kingdom-marriage grows and finds its fulfillment in the kingdom of God.

The couple then receives the Eucharist and their marriage is sealed in ultimate union with Christ and the Church. After the ceremony the priest leads the couple three times around the center table. The meaning here is to invoke the protection of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so that the spirit of evil will not accompany them in their life together. This custom was for centuries extremely important to people who lived far away from the church. Farmers and especially Rusyn shepherds throughout the Carpathians had difficulty attending church regularly because of work seasons, distance, and stormy weather. Nonetheless, they believed they were protected by God and the sanctity of His Church through this religious custom at the marriage.

As she comes out of the church, the bride is wrapped in a white chustka (a shawl or cape) to signify she is already a wife. In front of the church the newlyweds are greeted with many waving hands and joyous shouts of 'Jesce nasa, zavtra vasa" (she's still ours, but tomorrow she'll be yours). Soon little groups of people start singing and the musicians join in. Full of elation, the bridal party proceeds to the bride's house.

Following the church ceremony, the wedding party and some guests assemble at the home of the bride's parents. In some villages each person gets a glass of vodka as they enter the house. The wedding party shares the bride's wedding pascha, each member breaking a piece off by hand and passing the loaf on to the next. The bride is presented with a bed, linens, a hope chest, a peryna (feather tick quilt), perhaps a cradle, and so on. There is constant singing and joking, and much happiness and excitement. The wedding party then packs the bride's belongings onto a wagon. As they walk to the groom's house, many articles are carried "za holovok"-on the head or balanced between head and shoulders. The wedding party and guests now make a procession to the hostyna, the reception and wedding feast at the groom's house. Sometimes the hostyna is at a special picnic ground or hall or even at the korcma.

When the wedding party arrives at the hostyna, the mother of the groom greets them, saying "Slava isusu Chrystu" (Glory to Jesus Christ) and they respond with "Slava na viky" (Glory forever). She offers them the traditional welcome of bread and salt which is placed on a wooden tray or dish covered by a beautiful cloth or rucnyk. The bread and salt is a sign of generous hospitality, bread being the basic sustenance of humanity and salt a valuable food preservative and spice. There are hugs and kisses and shouts of "vitaj, vitaj" (greetings, greetings).

Soon the priest undertakes the Ceremony of the Common Cup in which the newlyweds share a cup of wine presented by him as a spiritual blessing. This symbolizes the sharing involved in life to those who are now united in the common life of marriage.

The persyj druzba (best man) delivers his special vincovanije-a wish or toast-and all respond with raised glasses saying 'na zdorovja" (to your health). In some regions, the toast may evoke the response of "tak daj Boze" (may God grant it so). The feast then begins while the musicians serenade with song and dance music. Foods such as cornyj chlib (black bread), halusky (fried cabbage and dumplings or noodles), kolbasy, makovnyky (poppyseed roils), orichovnyky (nut rolls), bandurky (potatoes), kasa (rice porridge), pirohy, kolaci (cakes), palenka (whiskey), and fresh cheese are served. Dancing and singing soon follow.

In the Rusyn wedding, the final ceremony is the cepcovanije. the capping of the bride. As tradition prescribes, this is the final step toward completing the recognition of the newlyweds' married status. While singing special verses for the cepcovanije, the svasky (matrons or honor) take the wreath off the bride's head and put in its place a cepec-a woman's cap. The starosta (senior spokesman) and starsa svaska (matron of honor) join the bride and groom and call everyone to dance with the bride and to give a contribution. Here, some people say "jesce nasa, ne jest vasa, daj taljara, bude vasa" (she's still ours, not yet yours, give some money and she will be yours). The starosta and starsa svaska start the bridal dance, sometimes called the rjadovyj, by singing "tota krasna nevista, lem pre tebe virosla, vozmij ty ju ko sobi, a miluj ju do smerty" (this beautiful bride has grown up especially for you, take her and love her, until death do you part). The term rjadovyj designates waiting in a row, and in the dance by this name one waits in a line to dance with the bride. The groom goes first, then the family and guests take their turn. Everybody contributes to help the new couple get a good start in life. Finally, the bride's mother ties a scarf over the cepec and kisses her daughter. The groom then returns to dance with his bride.

After the bridal dance, the Carpatho-Rusyn wedding continues, frequently for three days and three nights. This continuation from the second day is called the poprayna. Usually the day after the wedding, the people who worked to prepare the wedding area are invited and treated by the bride and groom's family. The popravyna is considered a time for talking, eating, dancing, and singing in a relaxed informal atmosphere. People go home and sleep, then come back. Sometimes the length of the wedding depends on the wealth of the bride's parents. At the same time, even the poorest Rusyn family would sacrifice a great deal to have their daughter married well. In times of great plenty, the wedding celebrations might last as long as a week. After the celebration, everyone goes home to start work the next day.

In an otherwise difficult political and economic environment, Carpatho-Rusyn weddings greatly enriched the lives of the people. For a thousand years, the customs and traditions of Eastern Rite Christianity enabled Carpatho-Rusyn civilization to survive physically and culturally. That the Carpatho-Rusyns have survived is a testimony to their resiliency, their ability to enjoy life, and their deep faith in God.

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