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Wedding by numbers

In this Greek Orthodox ceremony, sacred digits abound. There are even 3-year-old triplets, symbols of the Holy Trinity.

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By AMY SCHERZER, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 12, 2002

PALMA CEIA -- Nick Paras wanted to take Marianne Hettig to Key West in August for their third anniversary as a couple.

He had something up his sleeve. He planned to ask Marianne to marry him.

Marianne had other ideas. She and Nick had just found a house in Palma Ceia. She planned to spend the weekend packing belongings.

Nick was furious. But two thoughts intrigued him:

Labor Day neared, holding promise for a three-day getaway.

And, by proposing a week after their "anniversary," he could catch Marianne by surprise.

To throw her off track, Nick made sure they celebrated the real anniversary, Aug. 23, with a big night out.

They exchanged gifts. Two people who, at times, had seemed quite different, independently chose digital cameras for each other.

Nick thought: See? We're on the same wave length.

Marianne thought: Another year and no engagement ring.

"I had been hinting," she says.

Nick was ready the following Friday. Engagement ring in the box. Car rented. Hotel room booked.

Let's go to Key West, he said.

Let's pack up the kitchen, she replied.

Nick prevailed. They were on the road by 1 a.m. The next evening, over dinner, Nick asked Marianne to spend the rest of her life with him.

Nick, a computer consultant, met Marianne, a school teacher, on the job.

Fate threw the two together, under the guise of creating a database of school volunteers.

Marianne had taken a break from classrooms. Instead, she worked at a program called SERVE, which sends adults into schools to tutor kids. One of Marianne's many jobs was to help Nick. Workday lunches led to dinners and movies. They were "just friends."

Then Marianne went to Germany for five weeks with her parents. Nick kept asking about her. He still remembers the thrill at hearing her voice when she called to say she was back.

"God, I've missed you," he remembers saying.

Nearly four years later, they are both 37. They love curling up on the couch with a movie or, on Wednesdays, West Wing. They like dining out and cooking together.

Naming their differences takes some thought.

Marianne is shy. Nick likes to take charge. He's a few flights away from a pilot's license. Marianne prefers her feet on the ground. Beginning next month, she'll teach first graders at Roland Park Elementary. He owns his own company, Alpha Computing Solutions.

She's fluent in German. He speaks Greek. Nick's mother was born in Athens and came for an America education in 1960. Marianne's parents, George and Hannelore Hettig, emigrated from Germany in the 1950s.

Marianne is a Yankee born in Detroit. Nick's a Tampa native, a graduate of Berkeley Prep and the University of Florida.

Amid the differences, love flourishes.

"It's obvious their temperaments dovetail. He adores her," says lawyer Eileen O'Hara Garcia, a client and friend of Nick's.

Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m., Marianne gained one husband and 50 Greek relatives.

Nick likened his family to the one in the movie My Big Fat Greek Wedding. His walk to the altar made him the third generation of the Paras family to marry in a Greek Orthodox ceremony.

In 1964, parents Gus and Marina Paras walked down the same aisle at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church on Swann Avenue. Saturday, some of the same guests filled the pews. Nick's grandparents, Helen and Nicholas Paras, claimed the first Greek wedding in Tampa eight decades ago.

Stained glass saints brighten every window at St. John. Byzantine icons painted in Mediterranean blues and earth hues surround the altar and fill the ceiling.

Nick's cousin John Simitses filled the role of koumbaros, more than a best man.

"The koumbaros is not only as witness, but stays in their life forever," explained Elena Paras Ketchum, bridesmaid and sister of the groom.

The cousin signaled the start of the service by escorting Nick's parents to their seats. Mikaela, John and Lukas Karamitsanis -- the flower girl and two ring bearers -- followed, triggering a ripple of smiles.

The children numbered three. They were triplets. And they were 3 years old.

Three, in the eyes of the church, is a sacred number, symbol of the Holy Trinity.

The Hettigs walked their only child to the groom. Marianne glowed in a white wedding gown with beaded bodice. The hour-long service, chanted in Greek and English, began with the betrothal rituals.

Three times, the priest touched wedding rings to the bride and groom's foreheads in the sign of the cross.

He slipped the rings on the bride and grooms' left hands.

Then the koumbaros removed the rings and swapped them -- slipping Nick's ring on Marianne's finger and her ring on his -- before returning them.

The priest joined their right hands and put candles in their left hands.

White crowns, called stefana, marked the couple king and queen of their home. A long white ribbon connected the crowns, symbol that two had become one. The koumbaros switched the crowns on and off their heads three times.

Two cousins were called to read the Epistle. From the Paras family, cousin Alexandra Simitses read in Greek. Then a Hettig cousin, Rainer Fischer, read in English.

The Dance of Isaiah wasn't a dance, but three turns around the altar, the couple's first steps as husband and wife. Matron of honor Becky Crosmer carried Marianne's train while the koumbaros followed, supporting the crowns on their heads.

Family friend John Palios sang Poterion (The Cup) before the dual benedictions of the Rev. Konstantinos Kostaris and the Rev. W.H. Winkler, a family friend from Stuart.

An hour later, the new Mr. and Mrs. Paras danced German polkas and Greek dances.

The buffet included 300 grape leaves stuffed and rolled by the bride, her mother-in-law and two bridesmaids. For dessert, there were hundreds of homemade cookies -- German nusskipferl and Greek wedding cookies.

Guests took home sugarcoated almonds called koufeta in tiny sacks.

Tradition dictated there be 11 almonds per sack -- because 11, like love, should be indivisible.

-- Amy Scherzer can be reached at 226-3332 or

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