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Cover Story

All We Need is Love…
When we were introduced to St. Valentine’s Day, I was in the sixth form. We were making valentines with our English teacher. She asked us to create heart-shaped valentines for several of our friends, suggesting the approximate text. I was puzzled as to why I should write a love letter to someone who I am not in love with, and how can I be in love with several people? These are quite troubling questions at the age of eleven, of course…
Alevtina Kashitsina, Natalia Shuvalova

We all know that we need love, hardly anybody knows what it actually is. If we look this word up, the definition of the word depends on the kind of the dictionary we use. The one of symbols and myths would define love as “the primordial power which appeared from Chaos, the power which creates and sustains the unity of the whole Universe, the same power allows a human being to touch the eternity”. The dictionary of Social Sciences gives another picture: “Love is an emotionally colored attitude towards a person, thing, an idea, Motherland or any other objects, which is expressed in the need of it or identification with it.”

Tracing love back through the ages, it may seem that this universal and eternal principle has been constantly changing its shape. Love between tribal people is certainly different from the idea of a prince on a white horse saving princess kept in a tower, one which we cherish now.

According to Joseph Campbell (scholar in mythology), romantic love gained its present status only in the middle ages, when noble knights had a need (and right) to worship their Ladies. This kind of love involved heart-breaking separations, pain, longing, inability to be together, poetry - in a word, lots of passion. From those times on, this kind of feeling has been propagated in the literature, arts and music - to be precise, in Western culture. The East still follows traditions that we, westerners, can hardly understand.

Remember the movie “Indochine” in which Catherine Deneuve has the role of a Western high class woman living in Asia? Her family owns a caoutchouc plantation. She is satisfied managing crowds of Vietnamese workers there until her daily routine is disturbed by a passionate romance with an American officer. When he leaves, she is distraught and can hardly find strength to continue with her work. Seeing her state, one of the Vietnamese high-class women says: “You seek happiness through passion, we seek happiness through logic.” In the movie it looks as if the Chinese are all cold-hearted and never experience the very depths of life.

Another bright example is India and its tradition of arranged marriages. They have special pages in the newspapers with engagement announcements even for the community living in the USA. What kind of love people can feel for each other if they enter matrimony not feeling that special spark?

I have a friend who is from an Indian family in the USA. When she fell in love with an American guy (professional musician), her parents were strongly against it as they were planning for her a happy arranged marriage with some Indian doctor. She had to run away from her home with him and only after several years did her family change their attitude. This story proves what we all can expect from the rational-minded and cold-hearted eastern elders.

But life brings other examples as well. One of my co-workers is from India. He has wonderful relationship with his wife (if you only heard him speak about her!) and they look deeply in love even after being married for more than twenty years. I expected that their marriage was an exception from the traditional ways, that they followed their feelings. “No”, he replied, when I finally asked. “We fell in love after already being married.”

Spending some time in this country, I saw so many example of happy married life in the kind of marriages we would expect to fail: people did not live with each other for several years before they decide to register their relationships. Of course, arranged marriage is not the recipe, as every medal has two sides. In same India, there are women who are sold into marriage for several dollars to some drunkard who demands that she fulfills her duties: feed him, love him and wash his feet (along with working), having no rights (not even passport) they cannot ask for a divorce.

So love can be found through passion and through reason. Also, it can be lost through passion and through reason. But we have not answered the main question - what is it?

As Joseph Campbell explains further, before romantic love, the main idea of love, marriage and family was in the service to something bigger than one. When two enter a relationship, they become one unity and they serve this unity. This unity serves something bigger, the community, community serves society, society serves country, country serves the world, the world serves the universe etc.

Just recently, a friend of mine was sharing that in her new relationship she feels like there is a new living being, called “us”. “Of course it acts through me and him, and consists of me and him, but at the same time, it is much more powerful and bigger than each of us and has its own fate and mind,” she said. The most incredible thing is that this “us” miraculously transforms each of them in the most positive ways.

For some reason, service is usually associated with something dull, boring, and even humiliating. Though, we all know from experience that when we fall in love, when we feel this uplifting emotion, this chemistry rush, we are full of energy and enthusiasm to do something for out sweet-heart. We are ready to sacrifice our time, comfort, money, and - let’s be honest - we are very happy in these very moments. But as soon as we have it, the drive disappears. We think that it disappears for some unknown reason. But maybe the reason is not to get too concentrated on yourself?

Getting back to the ancient Greeks, they had several words for what we call love. The passionate attraction was called “Eros” (and known for bringing much inspiration but also pain into person’s life). “Filia” was used for a feeling of deep friendship (between people of the same sex). “Storge” denotes the feelings of tenderness and kindness between spouses. “Agape” is spiritual love for one’s neighbors and God. In fact, they are not all equal. Each incorporates and transforms the others.

St. Valentine’s Day is a nice opportunity to once again consider what it is that we send away with the bright paper hearts. And what does it mean to us? For sure, we may find many definitions of love, and many beautiful words, but do we truly feel it?

After all, we create our lives and happiness. Each of us decides what exactly he or she is looking for. But knowing that love is not just some emotion but a power which has gradations and variations may help us not to get confused. More, knowing this, we can learn to set higher goals not only in our studies and work, but also in the ability of our hearts to love.

Russian Wedding Traditions of the Past

Most of the foreigners who come to Moscow and go Red Square see a lot of newlyweds there and are sure that this is an old Russian wedding tradition.

It is a modern tradition and none even knows what for: for better luck or to kill time before celebration in a restaurant begins? Traditions and customs emerged and became absorbed from different cultures and epochs. Thus, wearing a white dress by a bride was introduced by Catherine II, whereas historically the color of the dress used to be red. We are going to tell you about some Russian traditions of the past.

From time immemorial weddings were one of the most interesting and sophisticated phenomena of festive, ritual and everyday life of the Russia people. Being at once a clerical, secular and pagan festival, weddings became a turning point in life of the newlyweds, and an unforgettable event for the rest of community. Weddings united people, making them more generous and joyful, and gave them a rare sensation of the plenitude of life. This is why in modern weddings the majority of rites has been lost forever.

1872 Leonid Salomatkin (1837 – 1883)
Tretyakov Gallery

Wedding Traditions of the Old Slavs

Very little is known about weddings of the pagan Rus. According to the famous Russian historian N. Karamzin, the Old Slavs usually bought their wives, and did not observe any wedding ceremonies as such. The standing of a wife was almost like that of a slave: she was obliged to take care of the household, children and husband, and could neither complain about her husband nor argue with him, but had to show utter obedience to him. After the death of her husband, the widow was expected to burn herself in a fire together with the husband’s dead body. A living widow was a shame for all the family. The chronicler Nestor recorded the evidence of customs of the Old Slavs varying from tribe to tribe. Plural marriage was widely spread among the Slav men. As time went by, the living of pagan Slavs was becoming more complex, accumulating various believes and rituals.

Wedding in Christian Rus

At the end of the 10th century, Christianity was declared the official religion of the Kievan Rus. Following the dissemination of the new belief, the traditional Russian wedding ritual started taking shape. But it was not ultimately formed until the 16th century. Thus, a 13th century birch-bark document from Novgorod, for example, contains the following message: “From Mikita to Uliianitsa. Marry me. I love you and you love me. And as witness to this Ignat....”

However, this record was quite unusual. The more popular way of getting married, as in most of Medieval Europe, required the negotiation of parents with parents, and the young people played little or no part. They rarely even saw each other prior to the wedding itself. As a popular 17th century saying went: “A maiden seen is copper, but the unseen girl is gold.” The rather romantic notion that two lovers would elope was strongly ruled out by these customs. 16th century traveler Sigmund von Herberstein recorded: A man who sues for the hand of someone’s daughter is despised. It is the father who chooses the suitor, saying to him: ‘I approve of you and your activities and therefore offer you my daughter in marriage.’ The young man replies: ‘I will speak to my friends about it.’ If both sides think well of it, negotiations are concluded and the wedding-day named.

Merchants’ wedding.
1917 Boris Kustodiev (1878 – 1927)
Private collection

The major innovation that Christianity brought about to the wedding ceremony was its obligatory church consecration or crowning. A complicated symbiosis of Christian rites and pagan beliefs of the Slavs existed for centuries. The 16th century saw the formation of complete wedding ritual with definite stages, list of wedding titles (members of the wedding), symbolic attributes, certain styles of dresses and food. Specific wedding folklore was also accumulated.

The traditional marriage ceremony starting with match-making, went on with the examination of the bridegroom’s household, the presentation of the bride, the betrothal and the spree. While it was the mothers who arranged the matching of bride and groom, it was the fathers who worked out the financial arrangements of the dowry. While the Church remained silent on the issue of dowries, they were very important to the people themselves because they gave the woman an independent means of support. In Russia, a woman kept full control over her dowry. This situation allowed her tremendous autonomy, as these dowries were far from pittances. The dowry usually consisted of one-quarter of her father’s worth. Usually, half of this amount was kept in currency and the other half in valuables (e.g., gold, silver, pearl, dishes, clothes, horses, carriages, servants, etc.). If the woman had no brothers, the dowry might even include land. The oral agreement of the dowry between the fathers ended the period of “courtship”.

Boyars’ wedding.
1883 Klavdy Lebedev (1852 – 1916)
Tretyakov Gallery

The marriage service at church, preceded by a hen party and a stag party, came later. The church wedding ceremony was followed by numerous wedding feasts. The major wedding components had different names and combined with each other in different ways in various places. All the rites were observed only if at least for one of the newlyweds it was the first marriage. If widows or widowers got married, then the ritual was very much simplified. Unlike the first marriage, the second one was not cloaked in a sacred aura. Almost all the attributes of a wedding ritual had hidden magic meaning and served as tangible symbols of abstract notions and relations.

The majority of wedding customs were inherited from the pagan Rus, others came with Christianity. A considerable part of the rites and attributes of the Russian wedding was adopted from other countries. Thus, in antique nuptials there were also wedding rings and bridal veils, candlelights and wreaths, gifts and joining of hands. The custom of showering the newlyweds with hops, seeds and coins also came from the culture of antiquity. The traditional Russian round loaf as a symbol of marriage was adopted from the Romans: in Rome the bride and the bridegroom were to taste bread of dough kneaded on salted water with honey.

All the traditions that used to be part of the mode of life are nowadays simply customs that some people recall to make their wedding ceremonies brighter and more colorful.

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