On their wedding day, Stephen Christ waited for Stephanie Tagliaferro at the very same altar where she first saw him 17 years ago.
In August 1982, Stephen was a 12-year-old altar boy at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church in Baltimore. Stephanie, also 12, attended services there. One Sunday after church, Stephanie asked her mother about "that cute altar boy."
Though their parents were acquainted, the two youngsters hadn't met each other at the large church. They didn't strike up an immediate friendship once they were introduced but they did join the same church youth group. After four years of seeing each other at meetings and activities, Stephanie and Stephen began dating.
They were together for the next six years, through high school and college. But they broke up in 1992, just as they were starting their first "real" jobs. (Stephanie is now a promotions writer/producer in the creative services department at WMAR-TV. Stephen is a computer systems technician at T. Rowe Price.)
The breakup was Stephen's idea. He and Stephanie had never dated other people and he wanted to be sure they were right for each other. "This was what I wanted and I think Stephanie did, too," he says.
Though their separation was initially painful, the couple managed to maintain their friendship.
In the summer of 1997, Stephanie and Stephen -- both dating others -- visited Greece with some family members and mutual friends. It was on that trip that the couple began to recognize what everyone around them (including their parish priest) had been hinting at for a long time: They belonged together.
Even so, they would not jeopardize their other relationships. But those relationships eventually ended, and in April 1998, Stephanie and Stephen began dating once more.
Last December, Stephen surprised Stephanie by proposing while they were on a holiday shopping trip in New York with family and friends. Stephen had arranged the trip for just that purpose and everyone with them knew it, but no one expected him to pop the question in Macy's.
When Stephen suddenly spied a display of figurines depicting the story of Cinderella, he knew he had found the spot to propose. (Stephanie has long loved that fairy tale.) Stephanie began to cry as he proposed and shoppers applauded as she answered yes.
On Sept. 19, Stephanie and Stephen, both 29, were married at St. Demetrios. Stephen was escorted down the aisle by his parents, Irene Vavas of Cockeysville and Tracy "Lucky" Christ of Highlandtown. Stephanie was accompanied by her mother and stepfather, Aristea and Dan Daniels of Perry Hall.
After the blessing and exchange of their wedding rings, Stephanie and Stephen lighted candles and then joined hands. Many of the 300 guests were moved to tears as the couple's union was completed with the "crowning of the Stephana."
Bowing their heads, Stephanie and Stephen received the priest's blessing. A crown of pearls was placed on each of their heads and switched three times to seal their union. The crowns, symbolic of Jesus' crown of thorns, reminded the couple that they, like Jesus, must sacrifice.
Later, as the ceremony wound to its close, the priest led Stephanie and Stephen through "the dance of Isaiah." The couple walked three times around the altar to thank God for the blessings bestowed upon them. The ceremonial walk also represented Stephanie and Stephen's marriage as a union without end.
For many gathered at the church, the walk brought to mind Stephanie's words at one of the couple's engagement parties. It is the way she continues to summarize the couple's long relationship.
"Stephen is my past, he's my present and, thank God, now he's my future," she said.