Two weddings, one marriage

It is a common truth that religion as part of human cultural identity can function as a serious cause of tremendous conflicts among the nations. Even more, people with different religions or doctrines, who share the same land, may have huge difficulty in living in harmony.  There are plenty cases where in the same country different beliefs provoked national distinctions and civil wars with dramatic impact on the welfare of the country. Occasions like these appear constantly on the current headlines.

Syros, the capital of Cyclades in Greece, can be set as an example of such a place, as the inhabitants are split into two different dogmas of Christianity: Catholics and Orthodoxies. So, the first question that arises is if Syros is one more case of a place where the people live in a regime of fear and violence, because of the religious differentiation. The most suitable way to examine a question like this is to investigate human stories. 

It is a fact that in Syros there are many married couples where each partner believes in different doctrine. What is special in such a case is that neither the wife nor the husband has the obligation to change beliefs in order to get married. On the contrary, they are allowed to get married twice, once in a Catholic church and afterwards in the Orthodox one.

 Veta and Yannis are such a couple. Veta is an Orthodox whereas Yannis is a Catholic. Today they have two sons in the adolescence and they have been married for twenty years. What is interesting in this story, is that Veta comes from a fanatic orthodox environment. She was born in Florina – Macedonia of Greece – and she came to Syros in 1995, when she was 27 years old. She moved in in order to get hired as a teacher in the Primary school. But what she ignored until then was the existence of Greek Catholics. So, when she arrived at Syros, at first she got shocked and she realized that she had to get informed about Greek Catholics and become familiar with their special characteristics.

After a while she met Yannis who was a teacher as well. They have been together for one month already when Veta found out during a conversation that Yannis was a Catholic. Sometime later the couple broke up because of undefined reasons and Veta moved in Thessaloniki, the second capital city of Greece. After a couple of months Yannis took advantage of a certain occasion and he went to Thessaloniki in order to visit Veta.  There they reconnect and they came back to Syros. This was the initiation of a new era in their relationship which turned to be catalytic.

Veta got pregnant and they went on with the political marriage. Her family didn’t know about the differentiation in the doctrine and if the strict orthodox environment is taken into account, an intense reaction is expected. When  Veta was in the sixth month of pregnancy, a couple decided to get married in the church. Vetas’ family was invited to Syros to meet Yannis. It was a shock for her mother and grandmother to learn about the different doctrine. Their first question was “will he be baptized?”. But gradually they accepted that fact, although the rest of the family members in Florina were deeply prejudiced towards this situation. Veta’s mother avoided telling her daughter what was being rumored in her hometown, as she didn’t want to make her get frustrated. In contrast with the reaction of Veta’s environment, the family of her husband was totally comfortable with the religion differentiation. After the birth of her first son, Veta had the chance to meet with the Catholic doctrine by escorting her son on the Catholic ceremonies. Some years later she gave birth to her second son. It has to be stated that Veta agreed for her sons to follow the doctrine of their father.

This is a case of a family where the different dogmas did not function as an obstacle or as a source of difficulties. Both Veta and Yannis preferred to utilize the co-existence of the two different doctrines in order to cultivate an atmosphere of tolerance and respect for the children. It was a matter of perception and a matter of choice.

It has to be underlined that nowadays in Syros the impact of the religious differentiation is not connected with the daily routine, but mostly with the customs and the activities that take place during the most important celebrations of Christianity. It can be said that the differences are insensible. However, due to the fact that two dogmas – although they refer to the same religion – were born and shaped in a totally different background, the people who followed either the one or another, are inevitably raised according to a different system of values and believes.  Furthermore, each community in Syros is organized in a different way.  What has been noticed is that the Catholic Church tends to be more participative and active in comparison to the Orthodox Church. In addition, they offer a wide range of privileges in its community. 

However, Syros island evolved in a way that religion was fully absorbed and adjusted in the social and cultural system of the island. The inhabitants of Syros progressively constructed a special social identity in which they embodied the differentiation in dogmas. As a result people in Syros tend to participate in the ceremonies of both doctrines independently to their personal believes. These ceremonies are mostly taken into account as cultural festivals rather than austere religious ceremonies. Consequently, Syros island is governed by a unified cultural and social system where the different dogmas are a medium of consolidation and spiritual development.

Nevertheless, as it has been stated before, what matters is the way a person perceives these situations and the choices he makes. The story of this couple reflects the positive aspect of the co-existence of the two dogmas. However, there have been cases where couples broke up because of different believes. Even more, many years ago the residents of Syros were upset as a well known Catholic man decided to become an Orthodox. This fact made a truly bad impression to the locals who considered his decision as a betrayal to his ancestors and the principals of his family.

 

Thankfully, incidents like the previous ones come to be exceptions nowadays. People of Syros appear to live in a climate of openness and harmony. Eventually, we can talk about a common human nature which penetrates the social and cultural distinctions that are imposed by human beings themselves. Social systems, cultural programs, system of values and principles that have been institutionalized by the people in authority just categorize the nations in order to make them controllable. Although the living conditions that are connected to social and economic factors are continually transformed, human activity in depth is characterized by stability. There is a wide range of archetypes that every man shares. Human nature is thought to be superior to culture, which programs people superficially.  It is proved that emotions and primitive instincts are much more powerful than the cultural and political code that a group of people has set as a rule of living and a way of thinking. Finally, it can be concluded that what matters is not the cultural differentiations, but mostly the way how people perceive them and let them affect their lives.

 The creators: 

Janja Brčič (SL)

Niki Gerali (GR)

Lucie Rochette--Montalieu (FR)

Anna Vakontiou (GR)