Assyrian Marriage Customs
Posted: Friday, June 02, 2000 at 12:50 PM CT
The Marriage Service is in two parts: Betrothal and the Blessing in the church. When the young couple are in love or when the parents have made a match, first the parents of the bridegroom will send to the bride's house, "On such and such a day we will come for the betrothal." Then the bridegroom invites his sponsors and the house of the bride does likewise. All will meet in the brides's house, with the priest of the village. First the priest will send the bridegroom's ring (of course bridegroom and bride of old and universal custom, exchange rings in all parts of Christendom) to the bride by two matrons and they will say, "This ring is from so and so, son of so and so, he asks you to be his wife. If you are willing, show it by putting this ring on your finger; if you are not, give the ring back to us." She will not speak but will place the ring on her finger and then they take word back to the guests that she is willing. Neither the bride nor the groom will be present with the guests, but the parents, or failing them the nearest relations, will represent them.
Then the priest will begin with "Our Father," and some short prayers, then he will make both representatives hold each other's hand, then the prieset will ask: "Do you, N., of your own free will, ask for N. to be the wife of your son?" Answer. "Yes, of my own free will." Then he puts the same question to the father of the bride. After the Prayers of Betrothal are concluded, according to Synodical Law, a discussion takes place about the dowry and about the grooms's gift; this is finished by a letter signed by all present. Now for the Blessing in the church, which may be some weeks or months later. The sponsors and the friends of the bridegroom go with him to church, in like manner the bride's sponsors and some girls who are called the "sisters of the bridegroom" accompany the bride to church with music, singing and dancing. The rest stay outside and the bridal pair with their sponsors enter the church and the bride and groom stand facing the sanctuary with their respective sponsors, one man and one woman. They wear, as said above, their baptismal crowns. The priest begins the service, as usual by "Our Father." At certain times during the prayers the bride and bridegroom hold each other's hand. Blessings are read over the head of the bride and groom separately, such as, "May they be blessed as Abraham and Sarah," etc., to great length. The Book is supported by the bent heads of each alternately. After that the bride and groom will drink, from the same cup, wine which has been blessed. Their sponsors do the same, and they put on rings which have been dropped in the wine. After that again they go in procession with singing and dancing to the bridegroom's house where from the window or from the roof as they come near raisins are thrown at them. They will go into the room which has been prepared beforehand by the blessing of the priest; it is called Baith Gnuna, the Bridal Chamber.
The neighbors will bring food during the three days that the feast lasts, and whatever the bridal pair ask during these three days will be granted. After a month, the mother of the bride will come and invite both to her house, where they will stay for a week or a fortnight and then return.
Another custom: the second Sunday of Lent is called "The Sunday of the Daughters" (the old English "Mothering Sunday"), and on it every mother will invite her daughter and will give her presents. The third Sunday is the Sunday of the Sponsors and then all invite their sponsors to visit them at their houses, or else go and pay a visit at the sponsor's house.
In the plains, the rites and customs of marriage differ somewhat from those in the mountains. Here there are many customs, which go back in their origin to days when the bride was captured by force from her family. Thus, the father of the bridegroom has to go, with a horse and the young men of his house, to fetch the bride from the house of her father, and when he arrives, he may not enter the building, but stands without till she is brought. The ring which he sends is handed to an old woman, who then has to go and find the bride. The maiden must always feign great reluctance, and hide herself, usually in a cornloft or some such place, till the old woman can find her, and show her the ring, and ask whether she will accept it. Even then she must show unwillingness, and answer in some such form as "Well, my father and my mother wish it, and so do all my brothers, so what can a poor girl do?" Then she is led forth and put on the horse, and the father of the bridegroom must dance to show his joy, and so take her away. All the young men fire their guns, and often will snatch up chickens and the like that have been left about for them, and carry them off as the spoil that they captured with the bride.
When they arrive at the village where is the girl's new home, the bridegroom stands on the roof of the new house, and throws down pomegranates upon her as she passes - this being most likely a symbol of fruitfulness - and then she is led into the house, and the religious ceremony commences. Here too they drink of the same cup, often with a small cross floating on it as a symbol, and both are crowned.