GER-VOLGA-L ArchivesArchiver > GER-VOLGA > 2002-07 > 1026749291
From: "Horst W. Gutsche" <>
Subject: [GV] re: pre-marriage counseling and classes
Date: Mon, 15 Jul 2002 09:08:11 -0700
I was away on a great trip - to the AHSGR convention in Des Moines, to NDSU
at Fargo and to GRHS at Bismarck among other places. Here are some
"German-Russian Lutheran pastor comments" on the marriage examination:
This is the way I (personally) see it or have heard it told regarding the
marriage preparation in Russia and otherwise. My sources are some books
which I have read/translated and also my family as well as Pastor Emil
Lukas, the youngest-serving pastor in Bessarabia (Neu-Sarata parish -
1933?-1940) who died just a few years ago in Calgary. My knowledge is
limited to the Lutheran/Reformed practice.
1) In Russia the marriages among Lutherans/Reformed were often arranged. I
know of cases in my own (Bessarabian) family where proposed marriages were
vetoed by the father/both parents. This often had to do with their place in
society, ie. how much money/land they had (even though they were almost all
farmers!), family connections and even whether they were dark or light in
complexion. From my own family, it seems that it often was the case that
certain families married into certain families. Friends wanted to keep the
same friends. Marriage was, in some ways, a business transaction.
Today, marriages are "for love"; many couples not even knowing or wanting to
know what the Biblical teaching on love is.
2) In order to be married in the church, - also, of course, to be a member
of the congregation - (marriages were the responsibility of the ordained
clergyman of the parish, not of the local sexton-teacher), the bride and
bridegroom needed to be baptized and confirmed. Confirmation often signaled
the end of school attendance and "made you a man" or "made you a woman". As
this was generally at ages 14 or 15 (in Baltic areas it was often 17),
marriage was really not an option as yet. I know that in Bessarabia at
least, (I suspect also in the Volga) that young people had to attend Bible
instruction after confirmation class until they reached the age of 18. In
my father's case, this was every Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m.. If you
missed the class, which was taught by the sexton-teacher, you had to pay a
fine. He attended worship every second Sunday; otherwise my grandmother
would not give him a mid-day meal on Sunday!
Today, there are hordes of marriage commissioners (in Alberta 50 % of
marriages are performed by them), couples often go to "where it is easiest"
with no questions asked etc., to which many clergy can only say "good luck"
instead of "God's blessing" to you. About 25 years ago, 90 % of weddings in
Alberta were carried out by clergy.
The strong emphasis on church attendance and studying the Bible had to do
with the Evangelical Lutheran teaching on how God's grace ("undeserved
goodness/kindness") came to a person. Lutheran theology places the emphasis
squarely on the "means of grace", which are (in the Lutheran Church), the
God and the sacraments of baptism and the Lord's supper. If you hear, your
faith remains, if you don't it shrivels up or gets weaker and won't maintain
itself. The "forcing" of young people to go reflected the view that they
needed more "law" than "gospel".
3) If the bride was pregnant at the time of the marriage (such annual
records were kept in at least some of the Bessarabian Lutheran parishes),
she was not allowed to wear a "Kranz", which was a wreath of flowers, as a
big part of the wedding "celebration" had already taken place!
Today, in some places here in Western Canada, 80 % of couples marrying in
churches are "shacked up"; many scared to marry officially because of the
high rate of divorce. Things will be more "traditional-Christian" in some
families and some areas of North America.
4) Marriages were held, in Bessarabia and, I suspect in other German Russian
(at least Lutheran) communities, on either a Thursday or a Sunday afternoon.
The marriages in Bessarabia were three-day affairs and if you had the
service on Thursday, then eating, drinking and dancing would take place on
that day and the there would be a gift-opening and more celebration on
Friday and then by Saturday sundown (when the day of rest began) and
preparations were made to go to church ("Remember when" you used to polish
your shoes, everyone got into the big bathtub for a scrubbing and clothes
were laid out for the next day?). By Saturday evening, everyone had sobered
up (hopefully!). Thus weddings did not hinder church attendance. The same
took place on Sundays when couples were often "lined up" to get married by
the pastor who was only there for that day in a particular congregation of
Today, marriages generally take place on a Saturday or perhaps a Friday and
so, although, many will come to the pastor (I have experienced this lots of
times.) and state: "Oh that was the most beautiful wedding I have ever
attended! - with glass in hand and feeling quite "jolly" or "That was the
best wedding sermon I have ever heard." "I will be there tomorrow
morning." - meaning in Sunday-morning worship, they generally don't show up.
This means that the whole or almost the whole wedding company misses out on
church attendance. I can only remember two couples out of hundreds which I
have held ceremonies for showing up for church on the following Sunday
morning. This was anathema to the Russian Germans, so they tried to keep a
better balance. They did, also, by the way, do things in somewhat the same
way as the Hebrews did in the Old Testament and the Jews do today.
5) Now; what about marriage preparation/exam? The preparation was done so
that the couple would be ready, at least in some basic way, to meet the
challenges of life fortified with the Word of God. The reference is to "the
most elementary knowledge of the Christian faith". Primarily focused on the
basic instruction given in the catechism (note the parts have to do with:
"how to see the faith - live the Christian life with the 10 commandments as
a "guide"; including its civic and mirror function; to learn how God is -
Apostle's creed and the explanation; how to pray - Lord's Prayer and
explanations; baptism and the Lord's supper (why one is to remember one's
baptism and why you need to go to the Lord's supper) as well as the office
of the keys (among other things, the teaching regarding why it is necessary
for a Christian believer to belong to a congregation).
Though primarily spiritual, the examination could also take on practical
"worldly" aspects. In the book "Galka a German Settlement on the Volga",
Praetorius states that there was, after the catechetical exam, an
examination in reading and writing German and in some cases the couple would
have to come back later after having "refreshed" their knowledge of the
same. The whole aspect of preparation got the couple to review the
6) I believe, but am not sure, if the church marriage was also the civil
marriage, in Russia. Perhaps someone could enlighten me on this one. Those
who have studied history will remember the battle which Chancellor Otto von
Bismarck in Germany had with both the Lutheran and Catholic churches
regarding the introduction of a civil marriage ceremony and a civil
register. I believe that this was in the1870's. Pastor Louis Harms, whose
sermons were read by many sexton-teachers in Russia for services, states
that "when marriages are carried without the blessing of God the whole world
becomes a whore-house"; this in reaction to the proposed civil law in the
Kingdom of Hannover.
Today, the practice varies from pastor to pastor, congregation to
congregation; at least in the Lutheran church here in North America. Some
require preparation; some require psychological tests; some require taking
adult baptism/adult confirmation classes - many require nothing. I think
that the practice does not vary as much according to the different Lutheran
church denominations but more from pastor to pastor or congregation to
congregation. It is too bad that there is such confusion here.
If you send your German Russian (or other) offspring to me, I would ask most
of them the same questions as on the Volga. I would require adult
catechetical classes if they had not been baptized and confirmed, but not
force them to be baptized or confirmed or make that a condition for the my
holding the marriage ceremony after they had completed the course. I never
did give them an examination but perhaps it would be a good idea for those
who do not worship regularly. Generally, you have "got to get'em" before
the marriage ceremony because they don't show up afterward for classes. In
my view, people who don't "understand" the reason for all this preparation
run scarred or proud if you (the pastor) "don't get-em" beforehand. I
encourage, but do not require, a couple to go the the "psychological
marriage preparation classes". My belief is that the Word of God is the
best preparation - I always explain Ephesians 5!
All in all, I found that honesty toward each other went a long way and that
after all is part of the practice of "truth" which is a part of the faith.
7) As you all know, our Russian-German ancestors generally had marriages
that were fruitful, to say the least, and which were solid. I think that it
was tough on them to emigrate; especially to areas where they were few and
far between. I have noticed this among some of my relatives (and my own
family) who emigrated in various "waves" from 1878 to 1977. Movement from
one place to another is a stress on marriages and families as well as on
Horst W. Gutsche