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Author Topic: Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos  (Read 46201 times)

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Offline mendeleyev

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Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos
« on: October 26, 2007, 04:49:41 AM »
A ZAGS wedding is pretty much a "cookie cutter" operation with some common threads running thru the process. However depending on the size and modern facilities of your city/region, naturally there are also some variances. But the common thread remains and a ZAGS wedding is therefore easy to understand once you know it's purpose and traditions. It's just that the process if different from what we experience in the west. But it only seems mysterious. Soon you'll know more that you wanted to about a ZAGS/RAGS wedding.

We've begun, and will continue to add more, of some of the more common traditions. Hopefully in short order we'll have information about Ukrainian wedding towels, Russian wedding bread, ransom of the bride, bread dipped in salt/vinegar and honey, specific toasts, kissing etiquette and other Slavic wedding traditions. 

To begin, ZAGS (RAGS in Ukraine) is the civil registry office.  Those folks know everything--from birthdates to deaths to divorces and from the date you got your university diploma to your drivers license.  They keep records of when your children were born, and where.  They even know when your Uncle Boris was released from prison.  Heck, they are a fountain of knowledge.  Well, at least that was the idea when it started.  But ZAGS is most famous for weddings.  It's where you get a wedding permit and where (in an official wedding palace) your civil (legal) wedding will take place. 

By international treaty a marriage in Russia is legal in every western country.  So is a divorce.

Many Russian ladies want a church wedding also.  We'll explore that in detail soon but for now it's enough to understand that a church wedding in Russia or Ukraine is not a legal wedding.    To complicate matters many Russian women believe that while a civil state wedding is legal, it has no validity in the eyes of God.  So like most Russian/Ukrainian couples you may be enjoying not one, but two ceremonies for your wife to feel like you are married for real.  With that in mind we'll also be posting some videos along with explanations about Orthodox weddings very soon.


Wedding Videos.... 

Hard to imagine a Russian ZAGS (or Ukrainian RAGS) wedding without a video ordered along with the ceremony. In this edition we'll look at some general Russian/Ukrainian wedding videos from civil ceremonies.  You can be sure that the camera is everywhere from almost every angle in a civil wedding.  You can order from the yellow pages (yes there is such a thing in Russia) or you can order it when you first make arrangements at the local ZAGS/RAGS offices.

(Because so much is involved in an Orthodox wedding we'll explore that ceremony in a later edition.)

Once edited back at a professional studio, these videos show the important highlights of the wedding ceremony, the reception dinner, and the couple's traditional stop at a city square/statue/monument/park for the first toast after the ceremony.

Here we will sample several Russian/Ukrainian wedding videos. The first one is one of the most professional (and romantic) wedding clips I've witnessed:

Notes:
1) This couple combined scenes from two ceremonies and also the restaurant reception. The two ceremonies take place at the Moscow ZAGS and the church wedding ceremony from one of the smaller chapels inside Christ the Saviour Cathedral.

2) They stopped at a park (it looks like the Alexander Gardens just outside the Kremlin, but I'm not 100% certain) after leaving the wedding for a Rus/Ukr tradition, to make the "first toast."  They released white doves, a favourite Russian wedding tradition (butterflies are popular also).

3) Did you catch two ring exchanges in the video?  The first was when the priest placed the wedding rings on their hands in the church ceremony.  The second was the very next scene...at ZAGS where the the rings are placed on a little round ceremonial table and the bride and groom give each other the rings during that event.  Wedding rings in the FSU are worn on the right hand, not on the left like in the USA. 

You notice that it is very rare for a local wedding to include an Engagement ring--those are primarily an western invention--imported to Russia when western men travel and not realizing that they're not necessary.  My wife said it would feel out of place on her hand--she didn't want one.

4) The wearing of crowns in the church--will be covered in an edition about Orthodox weddings.

5) Nice limo!  Took them to the centre of the city.  The Savoy is one of Moscow's finest restaurants and where they arrived for their reception on Rozhdestvenka street.

6) They used the central ZAGS in downtown, in the prestigious Palace of Weddings on Butyrskaya Street...the very same Wedding Palace where the beautiful Mrs Mendeleyeev and I were married.

7) The flowers handed to them is a tradition.  It happens at ZAGS in a receiving line after the ZAGS/RAGS ceremony.


Traditions:  On the wedding day the groom travels to the bride's home and in many cases must "ransom" her from her family (I'll write about that in great detail on a later post).  The groom "receives" his bride from the parents and then they travel together to ZAGS (usually the entire family travels with you).  Upon arrival registration is completed, documents signed and final fees paid.  Friends and family gather and the traditional walk up the wide staircase (or thru a great hallway) is made and photographed.  Then there is usually a wait and finally the wedding attendants (ZAGS employees) gather everyone for the great entrance into the ceremony hall.  The doors swing open, the music begins and bride and groom lead their party inside for the ceremony.


A Russian/Ukrainian wedding tradition is rent a bus (or carpool) so that the entire wedding party can follow the couple after the ZAGS/RAGS ceremony. First stop after leaving ZAGS is a tradition of the city or the family. A popular square or park or landmark is chosen and the entire group will stop there for photos and the "first" toast to the couple.  Just watch: 

From there the couple and the entire party continue on to the reception dinner party:

Offline Wiz

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Re: Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos
« Reply #1 on: October 26, 2007, 07:09:51 AM »
Jim

Are you making some Hints for ChrisM or anybody else?
 :laugh: :laugh: :laugh:

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos
« Reply #2 on: October 26, 2007, 07:27:55 AM »
Wiz, Cupid handed over quite a long list...and yours was on it too!   :saint:


What's it like at a Russian wedding party?  Well, come on baby, light my fire!


Ah, the joys of dancing at a Russian wedding. Men with men and ladies with ladies.  Professional belly dancers! A pre-rehearsed dance you and your bride will perform for your guests. Your first dance with your MIL, then with the grandmothers, aunts and her cousins. If you don't like to dance, then better find an excuse not to attend your own wedding! 




"Калинка" is often sung at wedding parties.  At this imaginary wedding party in Moscow, with the lights of the Kremlin softly accenting the background, famous Belgian singer Helmut Lotti performs a rousing version with the wedding party singing along in true Russian fashion."

May your wedding be a "one-take" event with no edits needed for the rest of your lives!
 


Offline Wiz

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Re: Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos
« Reply #3 on: October 26, 2007, 07:32:24 AM »
Oh dear

looks i have to get out my beggin hat and try my luck.......

Did you know next year is a leap year?

good excuse to get out of your evil plan.... :laugh: :laugh: :laugh:

Offline Maxx

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Re: Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos
« Reply #4 on: October 26, 2007, 12:24:59 PM »
.    To complicate matters many Russian women believe that while a civil state wedding is legal, it has no validity in the eyes of God.  So like most Russian/Ukrainian couples you may be enjoying not one, but two ceremonies for your wife to feel like you are married for real 

I had a ZAGS wedding and my ex-wife didn't press me to get married in a Orthodox church like she did with her previous husband. Of course I married a GCG.



Maxx

Offline ECR844

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Re: Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos
« Reply #5 on: October 26, 2007, 01:15:19 PM »
Great thread "Mendeleyev,"!! I can't wait for the Orthodox ceremony installment.
ECR844

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos
« Reply #6 on: October 26, 2007, 02:08:40 PM »
Maxx, I'm sorry about what happened in your situation.  I've read as you've posted about it and can feel that you have been deeply wounded.

No plan is foolproof.  It might seem that one of the reasons why she didn't care to validate your marriage like she did her first, was out of fear, a fear of what God would think of her if she had a church wedding when her intentions were dishonest.  Quite illogical on her part because God does judge dishonest intentions. 

It is my hope that learning about these traditions, including both the religious and non-religious ceremonies, will make our members wiser and more prepared for both the potential pitfalls, and also for the joys of relating to a RW/UW in ways that other men can't.  In other words, give our guys a head start--a "leg up" on any potential competition for her heart.

Maxx, thanks for being a part of the journey.


Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos
« Reply #7 on: October 27, 2007, 02:28:32 AM »
In thinking about Russian/Ukrainian wedding traditions obvious we must remember that not every tradition is practiced by every family.  Some are practiced in certain regions or only within specific ethnic or national groups.  So we'll try to touch on some of the more popular and hopefully along the way have assistance and guidance from the ladies on this forum...after all, they are the real experts.

Let's also keep in mind that even common traditions have different practices depending on the family, region, etc.  Take what you can use, always consult with your lady before trying to make her fit into a practice she doesn't like, and hope that we can learn something here to make our members more confident in understanding about Rus/Ukr weddings in general.  

Always remember that weddings are a very joyful, but equally serious matter to your lady.  She will marry you and travel far away from her homeland.  She is giving up everything to be with you.  Silly practices such as rubbing cake in her face, etc, may be viewed as funny in America (I personally don't understand why), but trust me, she nor her family will view such stunts as funny.  Be a gentleman to her and treat her family with dignity and respect...they will love and accept you for it.


We'll start off with a story I call "Fools Rush In:"
A few years ago (the then-future) Mrs Mendeleyeva and I were walking along a street and there was wedding shop.  We had been courting for months and the topic of marriage had surfaced.  It would be safe to say that her family knew we were talking about it, but I had not taken the formal step of asking her family about marriage.

We had just walked past the door to a wedding store near the area of Moscow's new Park Pobedy metro station.  On an impulse I had pulled her inside and began to look at various dresses.  I was so foolish that it did not yet occur to me that she was hanging back, very quietly.  

Suddenly a saleslady descended on me like a protective vulture and in her loud voice instructed me not to touch the dresses and to go stand near the door. I wasn't happy but complied.  It was then that I noticed my beautiful soulmate.  Head down, she apologized to the saleslady, took me by the hand and quietly but firmly guided me out the store.  

We were quiet for a bit as we walked until finally I broke the silence by asking what had gone wrong.  I had seen what appeared to be "new Russian" men and their girlfriends in such stores and wondered why I had gotten such different treatment?  Was my money any different?  If Russian men can go into such a store and touch the dresses, what custom or protocol had I broken?

Anyone who knows my wife will tell you that she is spirited, confident, out-going, funny, likes to be around people, etc.  But in a somber voice she asked why I had rushed in like a fool but had not yet shown her family the courtesy of asking for their blessing to marry her.  

Ouch!  She had nailed me right between the eyes.  I can't tell you that every lady would react this way, but to her it was a matter of respect and family tradition.  

And so today we will tackle that very important task:  Ways to ask for her hand in marriage.


Offline Chris

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Re: Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos
« Reply #8 on: October 27, 2007, 02:56:26 AM »
Some fantastic information from you as usual Jim and I look forward to hearing the rest of "Fools Rush In:" story ;)

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos
« Reply #9 on: October 27, 2007, 03:10:05 AM »
One specific tradition is for the groom to take 1 or 2 older witnesses/spokespersons on his behalf to meet with her parents.  Typically they are his father or uncles or grandfather, etc.  In the Ukrainian scenario the groom and his representatives take a very good quality bottle of vodka, a loaf of special bread, and a present of flowers for her mother. (More on wedding towels and bread later.)

When they meet the family the young man remains quiet. Her parents have already gotten to know him during the courtship period. Now the groom's representatives will speak to her father and mother on his behalf. They will assure the parents that the groom has a job, a place to live, has proven he can manage his income to provide for their daughter, and is prepared to accept the responsibility of marriage and of raising future children.

A friend from Las Vegas knew the importance of respecting the traditions of his Ukrainian lady's family. On his trip over to "pop the question" he stopped first in Italy and picked up his elderly Uncle to be his representative. Now, my friend was already over 50 himself! Her family was so impressed that he had brought a representative and remarked that it proved to them that he would take the time to care and understand her and they felt honoured to accept the marriage proposal.

Her parents know the purpose of the meeting so the answer is likely to be yes! At that time the father will speak to the groom for the first time.  Mama will appear with the bread cut up in slices, the bride will make her appearance, and the vodka will start flowing in toasts! Mama and the bride will unveil 3 wedding towels which were sewn especially for this occasion.





In Ukrainian tradition, and sometimes Russian, the wedding towels will be used to tie the wrists of the bride and groom together. Rich in symbolism:
 
1) The young couple has united two families, the two families are now bound as one.
2) The bride/groom are now to be considered as inseparable.  They are promised and bound to each other and will begin planning for a wedding.
3) The towels will bind their wrists during the wedding reception party...they will eat, drink, and dance while tied together.
4) After the wedding these towels will be stored for future use as the ceremonial baptismal towels for their children.
5) Often there is a separate towel, very long, for the couple to stand on during the ZAGS/RAGS ceremony and at certain points during the wedding party.

Mrs Mendeleyeev and I had a wedding towel holding us together at the start of our wedding reception party.





More symbolism:
Why 3 towels?  Think first of the Christian Trinity and this couple will be blessed in a wedding sacrament by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Also think of the union of families.  Two families have come together to produce a third which takes the best of each in creating a new family unit.

Soon we'll take about that special bread.  What does it mean?  But first, what if the answer from Papa is
no?

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos
« Reply #10 on: October 27, 2007, 03:33:37 AM »
What if Papa says no!

In most cases if you get to meet with her parents for this important tradition of asking the question, the answer will be likely be yes! 

But can her family say no?  Yes!  Sorry, I couldn't resist that sentence construction.   :-[

Most of us don't realize how much input, and influence, her family has in this decision.  Regardless of her age.  That is unlike our western culture where we are used to making our own decisions and informing our families of important decisions we've already made. 

Very likely she will (did I already mention the phrase "regardless of her age?") not only accept, but she will actively seek input from her family.  Her parents, her brothers, her sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts, grandparents will likely be consulted.  It's so foreign to our way of thinking that we don't even realize it as it happens.

So is there a chance Papa (or Mama) will say no?  Yes, but not likely, especially since he considers you to be a wealthy westerner who will have plenty of resources to care for his daughter.  Now, I would be remiss if failing to mention that there is a tradition where her family could present you with a pumpkin if the answer is no.  If you've been a responsible man during the process you won't have worry about coming home with nothing but a pumpkin.

Stack the deck in your favour:  Instead of meeting her at the airport for the first time and then whisking her off to a pre-mature and unrealistic "honeymoon" down in Crimea with someone you just met, hang around.  Spend time with her family like a local RM/UM would do, meet her extended family, and get to know her friends and see how she lives in her neighborhood.  You can have that honeymoon after you really know who she is.

Who knows, if some local guy has a desire for her hand, or if another guy has been writing her on the internet, you may need to cultivate those relationships and collect those votes.


Offline DonA

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Re: Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos
« Reply #11 on: October 27, 2007, 06:24:10 AM »
I can't tell you that every lady would react this way, but to her it was a matter of respect and family tradition. 

As usual Mendeleyev your posts are informative interesting and a pleasure to read.

I had to ask my now MIL for permission to marry Yulia. At first I thought it was just some cute quaint little custom in which her Mama would just rubber stamp the union. WRONG!! Yulia told me that if her Mama said no than we would not get  married   :o

Thank God her Mama said yes. I did sweat like a whore in Church waiting for her blessing

DonAz

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos
« Reply #12 on: October 28, 2007, 12:03:57 AM »
We want to accomplish something in this story:  A logical sequence of events leading from the time you propose, to the day you step inside ZAGS, and some of you may continue on to an Orthodox church ceremony.  So, we'll include the more prominent traditions hopefully in about the order of which they'll come into play as you go thru this process.   

Marriage to a RW/UW will take some planning.  Do you have a plan?  How long will you court her?  When will you file your documents?  Will you marry there and then bring her home, or will you bring her home and then marry?  You might wish to include her in your planning process! When will you ask her/her family?  How and where will you do so?  It will take some planning.  Step one is getting her input. 

So let's talk about why you should have a strategy...a plan.

They call it Gray October in Russia. 

The first days of October 1993 posed a test of democracy in Russia. Significant changes had been taking place in the Russian economy and society. It was a time of transition and often that transition was rough. In early September a group of Duma (parliment) members began to show signs of revolt. These members of the Duma were primarily a coalition of ultra nationalistic and pro-Communist groups and they had endured enough of democracy. Russian President Yeltsin had finally had enough of them, too. He dissolved parliament and begin to make preparations for new Duma elections.

Vowing a return to centralized control of the economy and a return of Soviet Union style governance, instead of going home, some members of parliament boarded up the White House (Russia's seat of Parliament and Ministry departments) and vowed a hunger strike. Yeltsin responded by turning off their water and electricity. A siege was on.

That strike threatened to derail Russia's infant experiment in democracy and freedom. There was talk of the Armed Forces being split along ideological lines. Russia's young democracy appeared to be in trouble. 

The opposition knew that it was important to control communications and some citizens and military troops almost took over the nation's primary communications facility, the Ostankino TV tower. You can see this tower from many homes in Moscow. The third tallest structure in the world, the Ostankino TV tower reaches into the sky at 540 meters.

 

What makes it so important? Almost all of Russia's national and local communications facilities begin their "over-the-airwaves" communications from this tower. And it's not just a tower sitting out in a field. In the midst of the city, the tower is part of a surrounding large communications complex: National radio networks and local radio stations. TV networks and local TV stations. Short-wave. Satellite. Mobile cell phone communications. And Moscow region police, fire and military communications.

Gain control of a country's communications and you will gain control of the country. As the days of the Duma strike continued thru September and stretched toward October, Yeltsin's opposition battled for control of the Ostankino facility.   

Despite knowing that take-over of the country's communications could endanger his movement, the number of troops securing the facility was left at only a handful. Certainly not enough to defend against a hostile takeover attempt. 

However, having intelligence that a strike or coup was possible, Yeltsin and his staff had a plan on how to temporarily secure the tower until loyal troops could arrive to defend the facility if attacked. Using an interesting twist on history, they relied on key lessons which Soviet military leaders had learned from the 300 day siege of Stalingrad (modern-day Volvograd) by German troops during WWII. That disaster which had cost Russia so from indecision, lack of materials, and sloppy/delayed responses in defending the city; had also cost Hitler the loss of German General-Marshall Paulus and the entire German Sixth Army. It was a battle ripe in lessons for future use.

Yeltsin's plan relied on 3 things:
1) Good intelligence about the other side.
2) Exact advance placement of materials and supplies (critical in an urban environment).
3) A plan which called for precise timing/rapid response and immediate decision-making in the event of a crisis.

Meanwhile back down at the Moscow River, the White House was burning.  You undoubtedly saw the photos and television newsreels of tanks firing on the burning Russian White House. By the afternoon of October 2 and the following morning, Russia was in a state of crisis.

By 7:30 pm on the evening of October 3rd, the number of pro-Communist demonstrators had swelled. At one point a large number of them broke off in a planned attack on Ostankino. Obviously the opposition also knew the value of the massive Ostankino communications facility. Several hundred troops loyal to the Communists joined the street march to take over the tower. Official figures put the total number of marchers and attackers at approximately 4,000 to 5,000 persons, including opposition troops with armored vehicles and grenade launchers.

Initially fewer than 50 loyal defenders were stationed around the Ostankino complex. Fortunately for Mr Yeltsin his preplanning worked, but barely. His small troops almost ran out of ammunition and the backup plan failed to materialize.  Several hundred troops arrived days later but not before the opposition had taken over the first 3 main floors of the facility. Sadly, there were causalities including civilian marchers and bystanders in the ensuing battle for control of the Tower. 

Yeltsin almost failed on #3 above, but his pre-planning paid off. Damage was heavy to the Tower complex as dasy later the smoke rose from burned vehicles and blasted out nearby offices and apartment buildings.  By October 5 the tower attacks had been repelled and the opposition holed up in the White House had begun to surrender and President Yeltsin was still in power. 

 

Oh, and what does all this have to do with ZAGS and Russian weddings? Fair question and here's the answer:

Planning is everything.

Had not Yeltsin's small defender force not been prepared, they'd have been forced to surrender the entire tower and with it the entire communications system of Russia. It was bad enough that several TV networks went off the air during the fighting.

But they had already practiced and knew what to do, necessary supplies and equipment were in place and Yeltsin's defenders were prepared. 

Look again at the 3 key lessons learned from the battle of Stalingrad. Find anything useful you can adapt to help bring your sweetheart home?


Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos
« Reply #13 on: October 28, 2007, 01:34:04 AM »


Very often
1 The couple stand on a Wedding towel during the liturgy.
2 They held sacred white candles which represent new life and new beginnings. Also represent a sweet aroma in worship. Did you notice the wedding towel they hand wrapped around their hands near the beginning?
3 At the very entrance to the church the couple is "betrothed' (engaged).  That is when they exchange wedding rings. Engagement rings are not normal in Slavic culture--don't waste your money.
4 The priest had them kiss the rings then put them on their hands immediately.  The couple is betrothed at the beginning and then they go thru the sacramental service before being declared to be man and wife.



Here is a quick clip of an Orthodox service.  Notice that the couple is bound together with a wedding towel.  The priest removes it at the beginning of the ceremony.  They will put it on again for travel to the wedding dinner party.


Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos
« Reply #14 on: October 28, 2007, 01:35:50 AM »
Wedding bread:  This tradition is more Ukrainian in nature but don't be surprised to find that your RW finds it's part of her wedding plans also.  In a traditional home the bread is either made by the bride's family but in some cases the family each makes bread and then exchanges it with each other. 

Perhaps the most common way you as a western man will experience Russian or Ukrainian wedding bread is at the reception dinner/wedding party.  BTW, your bride will likely use these or similiar terms when describing the 3 events of your marriage.  She will speak of the ZAGS wedding as the "civil" wedding.  She will speak of the church ceremony as her "church wedding.  The party or dinner will be termed as simply "the wedding."  It may not seem like much but when planning for those events it will be helpful if you understand the English terms she uses...so you'll know specifically which event she is talking about.

The bread is an old Jewish idea which made it's way into Christian wedding traditions in the East centuries ago.  It is a very beautiful symbol of love and the beauty of two families joining together to form a new third family which is still connected to the original two.

Sometime close to the beginning of "the wedding" (she means the reception dinner) you will be approached by a priest, a parent or an elder relative.  They will carry a large tray with a loaf of bread.  On that tray will be a small container of honey and a container of salt.  (In some family traditions the salt might be mixed with vinegar or garlic.)  Each of you will break off a piece of bread, dip in in the honey and then the salt, and eat it.

Symbols:
1 The two are now one.  You each from the same loaf.  All things in life are now shared.
2 In your life there will be sweet, joyful and happy times (the honey).
3 In your lives there will be sorrow and sad times (the salt/bitter vinegar or garlic).
4 But in all things you will share life together in common, both the sweet and the sad.

In some traditons you will feed each other, noting that now you are dependent on each other for even the basic things (like bread) in your marriage.

Most traditions add a fun side to the wedding bread, claiming that whoever breaks off the biggest piece will be the leader in the home.

Below are some wedding bread photos.  As you can see they range from the ordinary to the ornate!


Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos
« Reply #15 on: October 28, 2007, 01:41:26 AM »
When we return it will be time to go to ZAGS!  (Or RAGS if in Ukraine.)  So here is your assignment:  You need to arrange transportation.  For everyone.  They will all, and we do mean ALL, be going with you.  I'd suggest a carpool or rent a small bus (quite common).

And while you're at it stop by the ATM because your bride has been kidnapped and you must ransom her or this wedding will never get off the ground!

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Re: Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos
« Reply #16 on: October 29, 2007, 01:34:05 AM »
When we left the story "Fools Rush In" you may remember that I had not yet asked her family for permission to marry. Soon after our experience in the wedding dress store I inquired as to how her family should be approached. She informed me that I would need a representative, someone who knew me well. Her family was hoping that my brother would fly to Moscow to be my representative.

Well my brother runs a small business and it was not possible at the time for him to make such a trip. So it was suggested that I ask a gentleman who was at that time director of foreign press at the Russian Foreign Ministry. He knew me and we saw each other on occasion. Then there was the matter of "chain of command."  As a journalist my visa was granted by this man's department. Would there be any future conflicts of interest to put my career or ability to report in jeopardy?

I reasoned that if this gentleman's name had been suggested then it was a safe bet that he had already been approached by the family. If I failed to ask him to do this honour, would he be offended? So I decided to seek counsel of my mentor, a fellow journalist stationed in Prague. Ray and I had been in the network together for over 20 years and he was about 15 years older. Ray was familiar with Russia and I felt comfortable sharing my thoughts with him. 

Ray's advice was to put a plan together which would cover all the bases. Remember Yeltsin's plan we mentioned earlier? Step one is to gather intelligence and continue to monitor it. So I made an appointment and sat down with the distinguished gentleman her family had recommended. As suspected he had been approached and would be happy to serve as my representative (thus assuring me that the answer from her family would be yes!) however he also, had concerns about any future implications and instructed me to consult with my Network's legal office in New York before he would feel comfortable making such a commitment.

That had been one of my co-journalist Ray's recommendations and was already on my list. So I stayed up late one night in order to contact the legal beagles in NY. I called but the lead counsel for Eastern European affairs was not in. I forced myself to stay awake and called again. He was still out and his staff didn't know the exact time of his return.  I declined leaving a message fearing that it would raise concerns about whether I was in trouble or had caused some sort of problem for the network, so the fewer people who knew about my call--the better--was my reasoning. So the next night a very tired Mendeleyev repeated the routine. No luck.

Night number 3 came along and I was so tired from having to work a full schedule and staying up to the early hours in the morning. But night number 3 met with success--at least in reaching the person desired. After explaining the situation the instructions were to stand by the phone for an hour for a return call. I brewed some coffee. Those who know me understand that Mendeleyev is the rarest of journalists because I don't normally drink that black elixir, jet fuel of journalists, the mean black bean. Tea is my thing, but on this night I rummaged thru the shelf until that little jar of instant coffee was located. 

Kept only for the occasional guest, there was plenty in the little jar.  I needed a jolt so one cup of hot water and roughly 3-4 tablespoons later it was 'Houston, we have liftoff.' Well, for about 20 minutes or so.  The phone startled me out of a light sleep as I sat on the sofa. The answer was what I had feared: A lecture about "personal romantic entanglements" while on the job, especially when the job is a journalistic posting in the capital of the former Soviet Union. After the predictable lecture was the other answer: No, you may not drag a Minister of government into your personal quest for romance when that Minister has direct authority over the granting of visas for our journalists.

The coffee had failed to keep me awake. The answer did.


Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos
« Reply #17 on: October 29, 2007, 01:55:39 AM »
My (future) bride and her immediate family had taken the train down to their summer dacha in southern Russia.  They had invited me to come down and join them but the date for my departure was still two weeks away.  And perhaps that was good because at this point I needed some time to think. 

The lecture from the other end of the phone had come pretty close to questioning my qualifications to remain in the post. Had I allowed personal emotions to overcome good common journalistic sense? Was this a "wake up call" to bring me back to reality? 

In a weekly coop meeting of western press members an opportunity was presented for a group of reporters to cover the announcement of trade treaties in Kazakhstan. Rather boring stuff but I needed to get out of Moscow for a few days, so up went my hand to volunteer.

The trip down was on a crowded train and things were much too noisy to think. I hated myself for volunteering. The stench of body odor and the constant rocking motion of the train made me want to turn back for Moscow. In platzkart (third class) berths which on this train had upper and lower bench/bunks but no compartment doors it was so crowded and noisy with folks leaving Moscow for their dachas that I got no sleep the first night. But once we crossed the border it was much quieter. Same old body odor, sans the noise.  Finally I slept almost until we reached Astana. 

Astana is a very modern city these days, well as modern as a city can be when horses are tied up along with parked cars in front of a 15 story glass office tower, (those days are gone now) Astana is the capital Kazakhstan, a former Soviet state.





The ladies are beautiful with those Asian features blended from years of intermarriage with their white Slavic neighbors. Approximately 45% of Kazakhstan’s population is Slavic Orthodox. The over-abundance of beautiful ladies only made me think of the woman I loved.  I sat thru a series of incredibly boring meetings and press conferences, doodling her name on my notepad. I sketched her name in English and Cyrillic. I did it in capital letters and small letters, in block, in cursive, upside down, sideways, and in every direction.

At the end of one particular meeting in which I should have been listening and taking notes, a fellow reporter from a large newspaper group in California handed me his notepad and said something which amounted to "we're going for a beer.  You might wish to make a copy of my notes back at the hotel."  Thank goodness for comrades.

Rather than return to Moscow with the group several of us decided to venture down to Almaty, the city which was the country’s capital during the Soviet period. Part of the famous Great Silk Road, Almaty is a blend of modern and historic. If you like history, culture, and architecture, then Almaty is a wonderful destination. Forget about Borat--he did Kazakhstan no favours.




Almaty's Zenhov Cathedral is made of all wood...with no nails!


All I could think of was the woman who had become the love of my life and now I knew with even more certainty that I loved her without any doubts. I could not live without her, even if it cost me my job. On the long and winding bus and train trip back to Moscow, I began to review my strategy (See Yeltsin’s plan, #2). By the time we arrived back in Moscow I knew who would be my representative. 


(Photos courtesy of Kazakhstan Ministry of Tourism)

Offline DonA

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Re: Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos
« Reply #18 on: October 29, 2007, 06:57:23 AM »
Hey Mendeleyev I am loving this story. 


Keep it coming

DonAZ

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos
« Reply #19 on: October 30, 2007, 12:18:10 AM »
Roughly 4-5 days after returning to Moscow I met with a cousin, someone who had grown close during the courtship. He was preparing to travel to the family dacha in Volgograd. The ladies had called and instructed him to bring more children's clothes as well as some household kitchen items so he needed help getting loaded on the train. I was happy to help him carry things and we left a couple hours early for the train station. He would make the 20 hour journey on the 4pm train to Volgograd and arrive the next day.

He and I had hit it off instantly from the moment we met. He is about 12 years younger but we look a lot alike and everyone in the family jokes that we are twins. Balding heads and twinkling blue eyes make us appear as if we shared the same childhood. As soon as the attendants allowed him to board we carried all the stuff he was taking and stowed it away. He is a police captain in the Kremlin district and I doubted if anyone would try to mess with his things. We were very early and so we sat on the train and talked.  

When he asked if I had found a representative, I replied yes. Who, he asked.  "You" was my answer.  He beamed with pride and pledged to fulfill his duties to the best of his abilities. I had no doubt he would.  The family hierarchs consisted of my future MIL and my bride's Uncle. They would not say no to her cousin.  

Later this cousin would take me under his wing and shepherd me thru the entire wedding traditions and thru the ceremony and reception. Even from his modest monthly salary he insisted on paying for the two rented busses which took the wedding party from her home to ZAGS and then later to the wedding party. To this day he refuses to reveal the cost only saying that in our marriage he has gained a brother. I shall always be in his debt.  

What a time we had at the dacha! 15 to 20 people sleeping all over a medium 2 story house on the Volga River.  Russians consider it bad luck for a guest to sleep on the floor, but dacha life gives license to break all the rules. I was in a section of the house with several of the men and with no air conditioning, often the floor was the coolest place to sleep....even when we knew the ladies would sternly scold us about it in the morning.  

Fishing the river, swimming, working in the garden, picking fruit from the trees and touring the great monuments to the battle of Stalingrad came to an end much too quickly. My week there was followed by a couple of additional quick weekend trips and before I knew it summer was coming to an end and autumn was in the air.

I love the change of seasons in Russia. My favourite is the onset of autumn. Surprisingly Russians sometimes call it an "Indian summer" just like we do in the states! The cycle of life is very seasonal in the FSU. Autumn brings new clothes out from storage, the diet changes with the seaonality of available foods, and life begins anew four times each year in Russia. For a guy who lives in the American West where there are only two seasons ("very hot" and "not as hot"), Russia is a fascinating place to observe mother nature as she goes thru these cycles. Traditions such as mushroom hunting and "last watermelon of the season" in which you invite all your friends over to enjoy that last watermelon to be found at a sidewalk kiosk never cease to thrill me.

Near the end of summer when the family had returned to Moscow, her cousin and I made preparations to meet with mother and Uncle Mikhail. But there was a hitch.  

Mother had one more condition which must be met. And it was serious.


Offline sydneyvontrapp

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Re: Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos
« Reply #20 on: October 30, 2007, 12:35:09 AM »
there he goes again leaving us hanging!  Great story so far.  Just don't leave us out here holding on for DEAR LIFE too long!

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos
« Reply #21 on: October 30, 2007, 01:06:29 AM »
On a quiet afternoon the aforementioned cousin stopped by my apartment and together we traveled to my bride's home. There her mother and Uncle awaited us.  I was seated at the same sofa where approximately a year earlier I had feared death at the hands of poison mushrooms. Offering tea and sweets, her cousin spoke on my behalf. Mother and Uncle listened politely and when he was finished Mother began to speak.

My MIL is intelligent, direct, and very strong in will and character.  In America we might call her a type "A" personality.  She would be a titan of business here, I think and she began to tell me what was good about my relationship with her daughter.  She spoke that "you approach each other well" (we compliment each other).  

My dear departed parents would have been proud of me on that day. She complimented them on what a son they had raised.  To my amazement she had been watching us very closely. She had noticed that I routinely stand when her daughter entered a room. She had noticed that I took the outside of the sidewalk when we walked, that I offered my hand or arm getting on and off the bus, opened doors, took her coat, etc.  She spoke of how I naturally took to the children in this extended family and how well the children responded to me. She admired that I stayed after meals to sit at the table and drink tea and enjoy good conversation around the table...something she said was missing in most Americans she had met. She appreciated that I insisted on helping clear a table and helped wash dishes before I left after a meal. My parents had instilled these things in me from an early age.

And she was happy that I attended church as a natural part of my lifestyle. But there was one final hurdle and it was serious. I must meet with their family priest. And he would either bless the idea of marriage or he would end it. She looked me in the eye and told me that she hoped God would see fit to bless such a marriage, but this was their most important test. And make no mistake about it, the priest would "close the book" which can be roughly translated that the priest would write the final chapter. His decision would be final.  

I knew she was serious.

Offline Wiz

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Re: Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos
« Reply #22 on: October 30, 2007, 01:48:30 AM »
Jim

I don't have much time now in my hands..... go on.... time is short and you know why!

I love reading your story. :)

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos
« Reply #23 on: October 30, 2007, 01:53:34 AM »
Many Russian families have a "family confessor" priest. Typically this is a priest who has known this family over the many years. He has baptized all the children in this family, he has buried the grandparents and married the young adults. It is to him they feel most comfortable when going to confession. He is the one who comes to bless their home, anoint the ill, and cry with them in times of death and sadness.

To say it is a very strong bond would be an understatement. And in such families it is not unusual for the priest to have a vote in whom the children will marry. My future MIL, a widow, while she relied on dear Uncle M for many things, clearly depended on the family priest for wise and important counsel. It was a little confusing when I first met my bride as she would talk affectionately about her Uncle M, but she also spoke of Father M. But during our courtship I soon learned to tell the two apart.  

Father M was the serious but sincere and kind family priest.  So off we went to meet Father M in a pre-arranged appointment. BTW, perhaps I should mention that my parents were Presbyterian medical missionaries. My faither represented the Great Physician in meeting the needs of both body and soul among the poor.  My mother was a nurse and clinic administrator. So what's a good Presbyterian boy doing in an Orthodox Church?

I won't belabour the point but to say that I had begun a spiritual journey back in the USA. And by the time I arrived in Russia this son of Presbyterian missionaries has migrated to the Anglican Church, mainly because of historic theology and style of worship. I read. A lot. And the more I read from the ancient history and of the ancient fathers of the church...the more "Catholic" I became.

The first time I stepped inside a Russian Orthodox was inside the USA. Quickly, I knew that it was "home." However going from Presbyterian to Orthodox is a very big leap and in hindsight perhaps the time with the Anglican church was what I needed as a transition. Being that I knew that eventually I would migrate to the Orthodox faith, often when not traveling on assignment I would worship with her family so I wasn't exactly a stranger to Father M. 

It made me nervous when he told me to wait in the church while he and my bride disappeared behind a wall of icons. 5 minutes turned into 10 and 10 into 20. I could hear their hushed voices but not well enough to understand. And the longer they met the more nervous I became, figuring that perhaps good Father M had immassed quite a long list of sins I had committed.

It is common for people to step inside an open church for a few minutes to light a candle at an icon and pray. Being quite restless I decided to do the same. But my fingers couldn't stop shaking and when I approached an icon station I dropped the candle on the floor the first time and then couldn't get it to light! Maybe those sins were really bad!

A little lady came by and giving me the strangest look, lit my candle for me and then indicated that I should pray. About the time I was launching into one of the most passionate prayers about whatever those mysterious sins might be, my bride walked up behind me and whispered that Father M was ready to see me.

Father M spoke of my faithfulness in coming to church and asked more questions about my background. Sensing that I knew a little more then the average bear about theology he began to ask questions about my beliefs in areas such as Christology (who is Christ), Soteriology (salvation) and other topics. Then he asked me to explain my understanding of the biblical nature of marriage? Okay, how many hours will this take I thought to myself and gave him my shortest version possible.  

The next thing I knew he had guided the two of us to a side altar and joined our hands together while blessing our courtship and preparation for marriage. Afterward we kissed a cross he held and we gave him the tradition 3 kisses on the cheek. I thought the man was finished!

But then he asked where we would be married? Suddenly realizing that I was not yet officially Orthodox, it was clear that this was going to be a problem.

Offline DonA

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Re: Inside a ZAGS wedding....complete with videos
« Reply #24 on: October 30, 2007, 04:23:04 AM »
Mendeleyev I am going to make this thread a sticky for the time being.

This is a very interesting read!

 :cop:

DonAz
 


 

 

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