Southern roots unite with Greek heritage

Clark Berry

Beneath the elaborate dome of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral, Rossi and Spencer Green became husband and wife in a touching ceremony that upheld ancient traditions of the Greek Orthodox church. Fraught with symbolism, this service bonded the couple into an inseparable whole and celebrated their union in the presence of friends and family. The service followed the structure of a traditional Orthodox wedding ceremony; however, the reception combined elements of both Greek and Southern culture in a lavish bash. 

While Rossi and Spencer both attended the University of Alabama, the pair merely knew of each other. One year after graduation, mutual friends hosted a Memorial Day lake party, which connected the two graduates and fireworks sparked. After an almost two-year courtship, Spencer proposed in April 2015. The entire Theodore family visited Atlanta to celebrate the 60th wedding anniversary of Rossi’s grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Nick Andrew Theodore. After the family festivities, the Theodores returned to Columbia, and Rossi left for Spencer’s apartment to attend an alleged company party. 

Upon walking into Spencer’s apartment, Rossi was greeted with scattered rose petals, chilled champagne and her future husband. While delighted with the surprise proposal, Rossi lamented the departure of her family … just hours prior. Spencer assured Rossi that her family would return the next weekend to celebrate, and he whisked her away to a romantic dinner at Pricci in the Buckhead area of Atlanta. The Pricci staff led Rossi and Spencer toward their private dining room, where their entire family stood waiting to surprise her. 

“Rossi was so shocked! She was overcome with joy,” shares Elyse Theodore, mother of the bride. “It truly was a special moment, because Rossi is the first grandchild on both sides of the family — out of 16 — to be engaged and married.” After a 14-month engagement, Rossi and Spencer married on Saturday, July 9, 2016 … a Big Fat Greek Wedding that combined Southern culture with Greek tradition. 

The wedding ceremony adhered to the traditional Greek Orthodox structure, which lasts approximately one hour. The music consisted of a medley of classical pieces — featuring Bach, Pachelbel and Purcell — chanting and singing in both Greek and English. “The Orthodox Church permits classical music before and after the ceremony; however, trumpets and string instruments are not used,” explains Elyse. “The Cantor or choir chants and sings throughout the service, both in Greek and English. For instance, the Cantor responds to the priest by singing, ‘Lord have mercy.’”

Father Michael Platanis, the priest, led Rossi and Spencer through the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, which began with the Service of the Betrothal and concluded with the Service of the Crowning. The Sacrament of the Holy Matrimony is an ancient ceremony, rich with symbolism of Orthodox worship and prayers. Unchanged for more than 1,000 years, the ceremony is one of the seven Sacraments of the Church. The priest speaks in both English and Greek, and throughout the service, repetition of acts of three symbolizes the Holy Trinity. Unlike a traditional Anglican service, the couple does not exchange vows during a Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony. The Orthodox believe it is Christ Himself who is marrying the couple, and their very presence serves as unspoken vows. 

The “Koumbaro,” an Orthodox Christian, performs a significant role in the Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony. He serves as the religious sponsor for the couple and gives witness before God that the newlyweds are committed to one another. Nick Theodore, Rossi’s older brother, was the Koumbaro for Rossi and Spencer’s wedding. However, Spencer’s father, John Green, stood as his best man. 

The Service of the Betrothal precedes the wedding service, in which the bride and groom exchange rings. Father Platanis blessed the rings three times over Rossi and Spencer’s heads then placed the rings on the ring finger of their right hands. This reflected the blessing of God’s right hand. After Nick, as the Koumbaro, exchanged the rings on each of their hands three times to signify the Holy Trinity’s role in strengthening the couple’s faithfulness. Throughout this service, Father Platanis and the congregation joined together in prayer, chanting petitions and responses to ask for health, love and God’s guidance in the couple’s lives. 

The Service of the Crowning, the wedding proper, begins immediately following the Betrothal Service. Rossi and Spencer first lit candles to hold throughout the wedding ceremony. This light represented the couple’s spiritual willingness to receive Christ, Who in turn blesses and illuminates their new life together. Next, Father Michael said a prayer and joined Rossi and Spencer’s right hands, which remained together throughout the service. This act symbolized the couples union and oneness. Father Platanis proceeded to lead Rossi and Spencer through the Crowning, which includes the most important visual symbolism throughout the ceremony — the crowns. The crowns, called Stefana, are the focal point of a Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony. The Stefana signify the recognition and authority of married life, the honor of marital love, and the glory of parenthood and family life. The crowns also establish the couple as king and queen over their home.  A ribbon connects the two crowns, which symbolizes the marital bond of the couple. Once Father Platanis blessed the crowns and the couple, Nick, the Koumbaro, exchanged the crowns three times between Rossi and Spencer to signify the sealing of the union. 

After the crowning, two passages from the New Testament were read, followed by the Common Cup and the Ceremonial Walk. By drinking from the Common Cup, Rossi and Spencer pledged to share everything in life and bear one another’s burdens — their joys will be doubled and their sorrows halved. Taking up the Gospel in one hand, Father Platanis then took Rossi and Spencer by their joined hands and led them in the Ceremonial Walk around the table containing the cross. The bride and groom thus walked a perfect orbit around the center of life, Jesus Christ. Furthermore, this walk bears witness that it is God Himself who led the couple in their first steps, and leads them throughout their life as husband and wife. Nick trailed Rossi and Spencer, holding the ribbon that connects the crowns, to signify his lifelong moral and spiritual support. Upon each loop, the congregation sang a joyful hymn. 

The Blessing concludes the wedding ceremony. Father Platanis removed the crowns from Rossi and Spencer and beseeched God to grant the newlyweds a long and fruitful life together. As a final act, Father Platanis lifted up the Gospel and separated the couple’s joined hands, reminding Rossi and Spencer that only God can separate them from one another. 

Because the Iconography — interior murals and dome paintings — in the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Cathedral contain bright color pallets, based on primary colors, Rossi chose a soft lilac theme color. “There is a lot of color in our church’s iconography,” Elyse says. “We did not want to compete with the beauty of the church’s interior, so we chose a neutral color for the bridesmaids’ dresses and added lilacs in the flowers.”

The bridesmaids’ dresses, designed by Jenny Yoo, were Elosie style and Wisteria color, a soft fawn hue. While Rossi found the dress in Atlanta, Bruce Greenberg, owner of Coplon’s, ordered the dresses and styled not only the bridesmaids but also Rossi, Georgia — Rossi’s sister — and Elyse for additional bridal parties. The bride and bridesmaids were accommodated by Pout! for the beautiful make-up. Spencer and his groomsmen dressed in traditional white dinner jackets, tailored by Granger Owens. Rossi and Spencer had 18 bridesmaids and groomsmen; however, only their siblings and cousins stood on the altar. The remaining bridal party sat behind the family in pews. 

Rossi wore an Anna Maier design with Badgley Mischka shoes. Her dress, a stunning lace creation that featured an off-the-shoulder neckline and traditional train, was custom made. Charles Burstein fit Rossi with a muslin pattern and wrote notes in charcoal in order to create a custom gown of the Anna Maier design. The dress was shaped to Rossi’s figure and contained unique lace placements. Charles also assisted Rossi in the veil design. He showed her recommended styles, yet allowed her to make desired changes, resulting in an exquisite veil that enhanced the delicate beauty of Rossi’s gown. 

Rossi’s jewelry, a combination of family heirlooms and contemporary pieces, accented her gown with a subtle elegance. Rossi wore jewelry belonging to both grandmothers –– a dinner ring and baptismal cross. Blue topaz earrings from Coplon’s, a wedding gift from Spencer, added color to her bridal attire. This trio reflected the time-honored tradition, “something old, something new and something borrowed,” which grants the bride good luck on her wedding day, while also guaranteeing fertility and prosperity. 

The wedding reception, which took place at the Township Auditorium, further blended elements of Greek tradition mixed with Southern culture. Vines and potted trees decorated the room, illuminated by stretched string lights, which transformed the indoor atmosphere into an enchanted garden ambiance. Cricket Newman, the wedding planner and florist, imported trees from Charleston and employed a professional lighting team in order to achieve the natural aura. Different food stations, catered by Southern Way, provided a non-traditional and progressive food presentation. 

“The entire setup mirrored a Greek village … a Greek tavern,” Elyse says. “For the Greek food, we used family recipes. Relatives and friends even baked the Greek pastries!” 

Food stations combined South Carolina Lowcountry fare, Memphis dishes and Greek cuisine as bite-sized culinary creations. The Lowcountry inspired menu offered oysters on the half shell, crab cake sliders and pickled shrimp with jalapeños and corn. Memphis signatures contained a wide array of food, including barbecue pork sliders, baked pimiento cheese and a short rib station. The Greek food offered fresh, Mediterranean cuisine, such as hummus with feta cheese, keftedes (meatballs), tyropita (cheese pie), spanakopita (spinach pie), gyros, baklava and kourambiedes (Greek wedding cookies). 

As a Greek specialty drink, Ouzo — a strong licorice alcoholic beverage akin to a liqueur, such as peppermint schnapps — was served in chilled shot glasses on ice. A clear and potent drink, this libation is signature to Greek tradition. 

In addition to Greek cuisine, guests also enjoyed Bombonieres, a Greek favor. The Bombonieres are made of tulle and ribbon with an odd number of koufeta inside. Koufeta are sugarcoated almonds that lay on the tray with the crowns during the wedding ceremony. The white color symbolizes purity, and the egg-shape represents fertility and a new life. The almond’s hardness represents the endurance of marriage, and the sugar symbolizes the sweetness of future life. Just as the odd number of almonds is indivisible, so shall the bride and groom remain undivided. “I purchased the Bombonieres, as well as the wedding crowns, in Greece,” Elyse shares.

The wedding cake, a five-tiered creation, featured a design that replicated the olive branches in the ceremonial wedding crowns. A lemon-hint flavor added a subtle sweet tang to the dessert. “Parkland Cakes did an incredible job! It was sentimental for that bakery to bake Rossi’s wedding cake, for they also baked each of my children’s baptismal cakes,” says Elyse. 

While the wedding cake reflected elegance and tradition, the groom’s cake brought an amusing addition. In the form of Big Al, the University of Alabama mascot, this edible elephant stood as an entertaining reminder of the newlywed’s college experience. Baked by Dianna Tornow, Big Al had chocolate arms and legs made with rice krispie treats, an ideal savory treat for enthused college football fans. 

Throughout the reception, Nick Trivelas, a Greek musician, meandered throughout the party while performing a one-man-band. Guests partook in traditional Greek dancing, shuffling and swaying around in circles with joined hands. In ancient days, a man was prohibited from holding the hand of a woman; rather, he would hold her kerchief. “Nick also played during my wedding, so it was special watching him perform during my daughter’s reception,” Elyse shares. 

Following the Greek musician, the Atlanta Groove Factory played the remainder of the night. A 12-piece band, with four singers, five rhythm sections and three horns, the Atlanta Groove Factory electrified the reception with an energetic set that combined “oldies” and contemporary hits. “No one wanted to leave!” exclaims Elyse. “I never even made it off the stage.” 

After celebrating their first evening together as husband and wife, Rossi and Spencer departed through a tunnel of friends, family and sparklers, and drove away in a 1937 red Cadillac, eager to embark on a new life and new adventure.