The figure skating anime Yuri!!! On Ice skated into all of our hearts last year, and I was not immune to its charms. The relationship between professional skater Yuuri and his coach Viktor (thus the ship name “Viktuuri”, alternately spelled “Victuuri” or “Victuri”) was inspirational, heart-warming, and so very, very gay. And as its opening song states, it “made history”: it managed to tell a story in which a relationship between two men was unremarkable, just another part of life for these characters, while eschewing the fetishization and stereotypes typical of yaoi, like the dominant, masculine seme and more feminine, submissive uke. Unlike the vast majority of sports anime, it did not queerbait while never canonizing any queer relationships, instead celebrating how a blossoming romance could become an integral part of Yuuri’s self-expression through his sport. In addition, it’s significant that Viktor, one half of this victorious couple, is from Russia, a country known for virulent homophobia which has even passed laws against “gay propaganda”. While we don’t know if the creators of the anime purposefully set out to show up Russia, the fact that their Russian character is openly queer is still a statement.
I’m here to propose another way Yuri!!! On Ice can make history. By the end of the first season (spoiler alert), Viktor and Yuuri are engaged and have moved to St. Petersburg to both continue their skating careers at Viktor’s home rink. A wedding in the next season (or an OVA) is obviously imminent. If that wedding takes place in a Russian Orthodox church, it would be another statement of protest, since the Orthodox Church currently does not allow same-sex marriage—not to mention that this would be one of the few instances of representation that Orthodox Christians (like me!) would get in media! Also, Orthodox weddings are beautiful and meaningful, and deserve more coverage in fictional media beyond just My Big Fat Greek Wedding. (Note that I am Greek Orthodox, not Russian Orthodox, so I’m not familiar with all the Russian Orthodox traditions and would be happy to hear more from any Russian readers in the comments!)
Let me tell you all about it below the jump!
We Orthodox Christians need to scrounge for the merest breadcrumbs of representation in media. I’ve already invented a possible scenario for an Orthodox character that did not come to pass (Helena in Orphan Black getting a redemption based on her faith and guidance from a positive representative of Orthodoxy, which never happened, even though she did survive the first season), because inventing is what we need to do without any real representation to speak of. But this invention–a Russian Orthodox Viktuuri wedding—actually seems slightly more plausible! Even though my Church sadly does not yet accept same-sex relationships or marriage, the world of Yuri!!! On Ice is a utopia free from homophobia, and this would presumably extend to religious views as well. There are various strands of the Orthodox Church throughout the world, and the Russian brand of it is particularly anti-LGBTQ+. So a same-sex wedding in a Russian Orthodox church would be a loud statement. After all, the first step in effecting change is imagining that it can happen in the first place, and fiction is an ideal way to do that!
Let me elaborate on a few of the problems with the Russian Orthodox Church and with anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments in Russia in general, because this is what our favorite anime (not to mention all the real-life Russians fighting for their rights) is up against. In general, the Orthodox Church is very heterosexist and promotes only one “traditional” cishet family model (i.e., a husband, wife, and children), but the way that manifests is different around the world. Here in North America, many members of the Church have recently revised older views on homosexuality—they no longer view being gay itself as a sin, but engaging in same-sex sexual activity is. That’s still Not Great, but it used to be worse—they used to view same-sex attraction as a choice, and thus all LGB folks (they don’t think the “T” and “Q” even exist) as inherently sinful. Outside of North America, this is still generally accepted among Orthodox Christians. But it’s particularly bad in Russia, where the Orthodox population is larger than in any other country, the Church is very powerful, and it’s more outspoken in its anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric than are the Churches based elsewhere.
Russian Orthodoxy is the largest religious group in Russia, as well as one of the official state religions. The number of Orthodox Christians who fall under the purview of the Russian Patriarch (the highest rank for a bishop) is larger than for any other Orthodox group, and includes members not just in Russia but around the world (the way jurisdiction works is really confusing; don’t worry about it!). As such, it’s a huge problem that the Russian Orthodox Church continues to advocate for very conservative views of women, gender roles, and queerness, even going so far as to support a law that decriminalizes domestic violence. The Church is also an ardent supporter of President Vladimir Putin, with Patriarch Kirill of Moscow directly endorsing his reelection in 2012. While Russia officially recognizes other religions as “traditionally Russian,” such as Judaism, Islam, and Buddhism, Russia directly uses the Church’s influence as a political strong-arm both at home and abroad. Observers and opponents increasingly fear Russia’s seeming tilt toward theocracy—or, well, Putin-ocracy, with the Church as his lapdog.
In the meantime, anti-LGBTQ+ violence is on the rise in Russia, to the point where members of the community live in fear and the Church is too busy condemning homosexuality to care, which, let me point out, is not a very Christian response. It is increasingly difficult to speak out on these issues within Russia, due to its laws banning “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” and imposing jail sentences for “offending religious feelings.” However, that has not stopped some brave souls from trying, such as the all-woman punk rock protest band Pussy Riot, which gained notoriety in 2012 for its anti-Putin and anti-theocracy protest song performed in a Russian cathedral. Three of the band’s members were sentenced and jailed for “blasphemy” and “inciting religious hatred”. This was a high-profile human rights case, with the band members even garnering the support of Amnesty International. Protest through media is powerful. And while a Russian Orthodox Viktuuri wedding would certainly not be as loud or as possibly offensive as shouting “holy shit” in a church, it would definitely be a strong statement of love in the context of all this hatred.
(Plus, Pussy Riot would totally be one of Yurio’s favorite bands.)
Speaking of love trumping hate, let’s take a look at the Orthodox wedding service and how it could be applied to a same-sex context like Viktuuri. So, as we’ve established, the Orthodox Church currently does not allow weddings between two people of the same sex. The wedding service is also extremely gendered and focuses a lot on making babies, because while most branches of the Church accept the use of birth control, overall it believes that all married couples should plan to have children at some point.The frustrating thing is that the Church has already made accommodations for hetero couples who cannot have biological children due to physical impairments or health issues, and definitely performs marriages for hetero couples who are too old to have children. These couples get an exception from the “must have children” rule, so why can’t same-sex couples? While denying a place for same-sex relationships that can be blessed by the Church is already bad enough, expecting all hetero couples to have kids is also a problem in an overpopulated world and denies couples the right to make choices about their own lives.
I can envision a solution to both problems by modifying the wedding service or making an entirely new one to open the doors to blessing the marriage of any couple that cannot (e.g., same-sex couples, or hetero couples physically unable to produce children) or does not wish to have children. Seeing an example of this in media could help Church members begin to contemplate this change and realize how it doesn’t have to be a threat to “sanctity” or “tradition”.
So what could we look forward to in a Russian Orthodox Viktuuri wedding? I’m sure the couple would choose a beautiful church, decorated with gold on the altar and iconography (pictures of Jesus and the saints) on all the walls and the onion dome. Russian church choirs can also sing very beautifully, and many famous Russian composers have composed soaring settings of religious hymns. Viktor and Yuuri would have much to choose from.
The wedding service begins with the Betrothal, which used to take place months before the wedding, but has now been incorporated into the main service. The priest blesses the rings, the couple exchanges rings, and then changes them back, symbolizing the complementary nature of the give-and-take of marriage.
The couple also gets to wear crowns in Orthodox weddings! In the Greek tradition, the crowns are made of flowers, which is already Viktor-like enough, but Russian couples wear crowns that look like royal crowns. This represents the couples’ sovereignty over their household. The priest exchanges the crowns back and forth three times, just as the rings are exchanged, crowning the couple to each other, and asks God to “crown them with glory and honor” (“and gold and sapphires!”—Viktor, probably). Crowns also hold an additional meaning in Orthodoxy; we say that martyrs for the faith are “crowned in victory” like the victors of ancient sporting events, because they were victorious in maintaining their faith in the face of adversity. Married couples must do the same, and also be “martyrs” toward each other in the way they sacrifice their own desires for the sake of their partners.
Next, the couple drinks from a common cup of wine, to represent their unity and common life. Then, the priest leads them in the “Dance of Isaiah”, in which they circle a table three times, while hymns are sung praising God’s blessings, the martyrs, the Apostles, and the Trinity. The couple moves forward into their new life together, a life of unity not just with each other, but also with Christ.
None of the above, except for the gendered language and the focus on biological children, is impossible to apply to same-sex relationships. A wedding showing these beautiful traditions acted out by two beloved characters—who happen to both be male—would be a way to show that same-sex marriage is just as legitimate, just as worthy, and just as life-giving as hetero marriage. And clearly, it doesn’t “destroy the sanctity” of anybody’s hetero marriage.
Now, the show is likely to gloss over some aspects. For instance, both members of the couple have to be Christian, and at least one of them Orthodox, for an Orthodox wedding to take place. If Yuuri is of any faith at all, it’s likely to be Shinto, and Viktor has never shown any sort of faith either. For all we know, his parents were communists who opposed religion altogether. But if he is Orthodox, and Yuuri did convert in order to marry him, the show isn’t likely to show any of this. However, given how the Russian Church and State have started to merge over the last few decades, as well as the rampant homophobic violence the Church condones, it’s still important to consider the benefits of showing a Viktuuri Russian Orthodox wedding on screen, even if some of the details are glossed over. Ultimately, it would be a beautiful and harmless protest piece with a message that the Russian Church needs to hear particularly loudly right now. Unlike Pussy Riot’s performance, it would be far more difficult to argue that an animation “desecrated” a real church. And it would show how beautiful, fulfilling, and fitting this kind of wedding could be—yes, even for a gay couple. It would also provide additional representation for a religious group that is currently vastly under-represented in media. Maybe, like they already did for ice skating, fans will start to look up and learn more about Orthodoxy after watching an Orthodox Viktuuri wedding. And if you do, I urge you not to judge the whole Orthodox Church by the atrocities of the Russian branch! At its core, the Church preaches the Gospel, and the Gospels provide no direct guidance on LGBTQ+ issues, but do instruct us to love everyone. I can imagine better for my Church, and maybe, just maybe, Yuri!!! On Ice will help us to get there.