Sunday, November 2, 2014

Anna Karenina: Part 7, Chapter 9

The Wedding - Marc Chagall
The Wedding, Marc Chagall 
In part 7, chapter 9 of Anna Karenina, Levin and Stephan Arkadyevich converse about Anna while en route to her apartment in Moscow.

Stephan Arkadyevich pursued, "I don't hesistate to say that she's a remarkable woman. But you will see. Her position is very painful, especially now."
"Why especially now?"
"We are carrying on negotiations with her husband about a divorce. And he's agreed; but there are difficulties in regard to the son, and the business, which ought to have been arranged long ago, has been dragging on for three months now. As soon as the divorce is over, she will marry Vronsky. How stupid that old ceremony is, walking round and round and singing Rejoice, O Isaiah! that no one believes in and that stands in the way of happiness of people," Stephan Arkadyevich put in. "Well, then their situation will be as regular as mine, and yours."

* * * * *

Rejoice, O Isaiah! 

This is a reference to part of an Orthodox Christian wedding ceremony.

Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. ( Isaiah 7:14)

The Wedding - Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky
The Wedding, Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky

Marriage becomes more than a mere human institution, existing for whatever purpose a society assigns it. It becomes, like the Church Herself, a sign that God's Kingdom has already begun in our midst . . .
. . . [There is a] triple procession around the center table: the "Dance of Isaiah". The priest, holding the Gospel or Blessing Cross and the clasped hands of the groom and bride, and followed by the best man (or woman) who holds the newlyweds' crowns above their heads, and the bridesmaids holding the lit white candles, walk three counterclockwise turns around the table in a celebratory "dance". Each of the three turns is accompanied by each of the three hymns, which return once more to the theme of martyrdom and union with Christ. These are the hymns that, since ancient times, the Church has used to emphasize God's blessings, and the same ones sung at ordinations to ecclesiastical orders. They signify that this couple has been set apart from the mundane world to live a life in Christ:

Rejoice, O Isaiah! The Virgin is with child,
And shall bear a son Emmanuel,
Both God and Man,
And Orient is His Name,
Whom magnifying we call, the Virgin blessed.
O Holy Martyrs,
who fought the good fight and have received your crowns,
Entreat ye the Lord,
That He will have mercy on our souls.
Glory to Thee, O Christ our God,
The Apostles boast,
The Martyrs Joy,
whose preaching was the Consubstantial Trinity

Though Stephan Arkadyevich mocks this event by referring it as a "stupid old ceremony." It is the very sacredness of this moment that Tolstoy holds up as ideal. The scene is described in detail earlier in the novel during the wedding of Levin and Kitty. It is a moment of great joy and community participation.
They enjoyed hearing the Epistle read, and the roll of the protodeacon’s voice at the last verse, awaited with such impatience by the outside public. They enjoyed drinking out of the shallow cup of warm red wine and water, and they were still more pleased when the priest, flinging back his stole and taking both their hands in his, led them round the lectern to the accompaniment of bass voices chanting: “Isaiah rejoice!” Shcherbatsky and Chirikov, supporting the crowns and stumbling over the bride’s train, smiling too and seeming delighted at something, were at one moment left behind, at the next treading on the bridal pair as the priest came to a halt. The spark of joy kindled in Kitty seemed to have infected everyone in the church. It seemed to Levin that the priest and the deacon too wanted to smile, just as he did.
 In contrast, Anna is now experiencing loneliness and despair as a result of violating her marriage vows.

The following is a clip of an Orthodox wedding procession. Notice the similarities to the wedding Tolstoy describes above. This modern couple could be Kitty and Levin. I love how, while sipping the wine, the bride beams at the priest before he leads the couple around the lecturn.  Hear the congregation sing, "Rejoice, O Isaiah!" 

(Start at 2:55)


  1. The hymn has such wonderful words, seeing Jesus as "The Apostles boast, The Martyrs Joy". Thanks for bringing the classics alive in the gospel, Adriana.

  2. That video is beautiful, Adriana. The timelessness of it -- it really could be Kitty and Levin. The passage you quote is really interesting, too. Stephan sees the wedding liturgy as getting in the way of people's happiness, but the part about K & L's wedding keeps using the words enjoyed, and pleased, and delight. (There might even be some blushing in there; I wouldn't be at all surprised.)

    1. Blushing! -- of course! :-)

      So glad you enjoyed the video, Jeannie. I thought it was delightful.