At last, I've sorted through the 300+ pictures from Julia and Kostia's wedding day, and I'm ready to share a few of my favorites with you! As you may have already seen, Julia was a stunningly beautiful bride! Here's how her wedding went, through the eyes of a foreigner:
Any Russian who wants to get married begins the process not by booking a church but rather by going to a registration office and checking the available dates. Julia and Kostia were able to get married in the sought-after registration office named Palace. It was a lovely building full of beautiful people all dressed up to attend a 10 minute ceremony during which the bride and groom are congratulated by the government official (sort like our justice of the peace, maybe?), sign the marriage certificate, receive the certificate in a very official looking folder with just the right stamp, and are then presented as husband and wife and congratulated by their friends. For the majority of Russians, that's it. I mean, they party afterwards with lots of alcohol and friends, but that's really all that's necessary for getting married.
Since Julia and Kostia are believers, they also had a church ceremony, but I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's get on to some pictures before you get too bored with all the words.
Julia and Kostia walked into the room together, to very loud classical-type music, where the few family and friends (that would be us, everyone else was family) were sitting to enjoy the ceremony.
This is the government official who legally married them.
And they signed the marriage document.
Then the official ceremoniously presented them the official document. I have to admit that I found it quite humorous when the official addressed us all as "dear friends" and spoke to Julia and Kostia like she had known them all their lives when in reality I don't think she had seem them before this very day!
And here they are, in the eyes of the Russian Government, man and wife. Everyone there then congratulated them with hugs and kisses, buy my pictures of that didn't turn out too well, so I skipped that part. Don't worry, there's plenty more!
Afterwards the group of family and friends was allowed a few minutes in the entry area of the registration building to take some pictures. Here are Julia and Kostia with Julia's mother and brother and uncle.
And if you look closely at Isaiah's cheek, you'll see that he got a kiss from the bride! [sidenote: I have to brag on how good Isaiah was all day! He was the only child along for the whole long process, and he did great! Everyone kept complimenting on how sweet and calm he was.]
After this first ceremony, it was time to drive around the city and take pictures by famous sites. This is the car for Julia, Kostia and their witnesses (to Americans, sort of like Maid of Honor and Best Man, but their title is literally translated "witness"). Driving around the city for these pictures is a big part of the day! We only went to 5 places, but I know that some people go to more than that. Whenever you see a car in the city with flowers and rings on it or some type of fancy ribbons, you know that it's a wedding party. During the warmer weather, you could see them any day of the week. During the colder weather, you usually only see them on weekends.
Our first stop was Smolny Sabor, which is a beautiful set of buildings for an orthodox church (and monastery, I think). I've never actually been there before, but it's on our list. I love how Julia is looking up at Kostia in this picture!
Then we went to the famous columns by the Neva River. Part of the tradition of going to the different monuments is also leaving flowers at the monuments, so that's what the bride and groom did.
Then we walked closer to the river and got pictures with the Hermitage in the background.
Next we went to a statue of Peter the Great on horseback with a snake under the horses hooves.
On the way to the statue, we met Peter the Great and his wife Katherine, of course. We saw several other couples getting their pictures with the famous couple as well.
Hmmm, I wonder who she'll choose?
Ok, not really a surprise, but definitely the right choice!
And of course, like every beautiful girl in a pretty dress, Julia did some twirling! It must be done.
And this is how Isaiah spent his time while we were out in the cold taking pictures. He was nice and warm in the car with Kostia's dad.
We actually went to the Hermitage as well. Thomas is the person in the middle of the picture. He took video for the whole day.
Russians have a really fun tradition when it comes to kissing on the wedding day. At American receptions you might hear utensils clinking against glasses as a call for the couple to kiss, but Russia has it's own tradition, and it can happen anywhere there's a bride and groom! As we went around the city, we would hear "Горька! (Gor-ka!)" chanted over and over until Julia and Kostia kissed. Горька means bitter, and the bride and groom must add sweetness to get rid of the bitter, so they kiss! I like it! (this happened a lot at supper, too!)
Then we went to The Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood, which you would probably recognize if you have ever seen pictures of St. Petersburg. But this picture is sweeter, I think.
Here's the family that went around the city, with the church in the background. And then Julia said that it was time to go get ready for the wedding ceremony in the church.
Julia and Kostia were married in a smaller Lutheran church. They attend a church that meets in a hall and doesn't look like a church. I realize that might not make sense to Americans, but in Russia it's very important that a church look like a church. Julia told me that her unsaved family wouldn't understand why they would have a ceremony in a hall, so she and Kostia decided to use this church.
The ceremony was not much different than any ceremony you might see in a church in America. Their pastor preached, they said their vows, they exchanged their rings. The biggest difference that we noticed was that, while the ceremony was very important, it wasn't given the same emphasis as in America. For example, there was not special music, no special readings by other people. The sermon was very good (I even understood most of it!), but there wasn't the sense of "everything must be perfect" for this ceremony like there usually is in America; like there was for my wedding ceremony. This was simple and refreshing and beautiful.
Then the couple was presented, and the guests were able to come up and congratulate them and get pictures with them.
So we did. And something else that I thought was really neat about this day, only after this ceremony did Kostia refer to Julia as "my wife", even though legally they had already been married for several hours. I thought that showed the importance that they will be putting on their relationship with God as husband and wife.
After the ceremony and pictures, the guests rode a bus to the hall where we enjoyed supper for several hours! Here's one of the tables, fully loaded. And, much to my language teacher's surprise, there was no alcohol!
This is a special tradition, Bread with Salt. This is to represent that there will always be bread and salt in their home, or symbolically food and happiness and flavor. The birds on the sides represent something, but I don't remember exactly what.
The bread was presented by the parents of the happy couple while the parents wished them happiness and love and joy and children (of course), then Julia's mom threw something like confetti at them and said something, but I didn't hear what she said. Then, as you see, Julia and Kostia are supposed to take a bite of the bread without using their hands. Later the bread is torn (not cut!) and shared with the guests.
And then there was a really hilarious and fun and entertaining and well just grand program that involved singing and games and gifts and wishes for the couple. Here Julia was given a small hammer, and Kostia was given a ladle. When the person in charge read a chore that would take place in their home, if it would be Julia's job, Kostia would raise his ladle, and if it was Kostia's job, Julia would raise her hammer. It was actually really funny because the chores were not always the typical "take out the trash" or "wash the dishes". When it came to things that had to do with children, neither one raised their instrument, which seemed to imply that the child would just take care of himself! They got teased about that a lot.
There was an auction, too. Thomas ended up buying a grease splatter screen; but I won't tell you for how much. The idea was to bid for the item, then give the money and the item to the couple. It was great!
Gifts were given in a unique way, rather than just piled on the table. At 3 different times during the evening, the mike was "open", and people would come and tell something to the couple before presenting them with a gift. This was a very special time. I loved how each person was able to speak about how Julia and Kostia were special to him or her and give words of encouragement if they liked.
We had a break after eating for the hall to be prepared for tea, so of course we got some more pictures!
Julia and Kostia cut the cake and fed each other a piece. Then they cut pieces for their parents and served their parents. Then they cut every guest a piece and served the cake to the guests!
Before the close of supper, they each thanked us for coming and for what we mean to them, whether they have none us for a long time or a short time.
And our new friend Sveta caught the bouquet!
This day is definitely a highlight for me since our time in Russia. I am thankful to God for providing Julia to our family as a friend. We feel honored to know both Julia and Kostia. We are thankful to be a part of their lives and pray that God will allow us to minister to them. Praise God for another family in Russia; a family in which He is the focus!