Marriage in the Orthodox Church
HOLY MATRIMONY is a one of the Mysteries of the Holy Orthodox Church in which a man and woman are united by the Holy Trinity. Their conjugal union is blessed by our Lord Jesus Christ through the Church. God's grace is imparted to them to live together in His love, mutually fulfilling and perfecting each other.The Mystery of marriage of the Holy Orthodox Church is steeped in ritual and symbolism. Each of the acts has special meaning and significance.
The Service of Betrothal:
The Orthodox sacrament of marriage is unique in many ways, but primarily in that the ceremony has remained almost entirely unchanged since its origination centuries ago. Another notable aspect of the Orthodox marriage is that the bride and groom do not exchange vows; instead it is their presence before Christ through the priest and the congregation that signifies their wish to be joined and to accept the lord into their new home. Finally, in the Orthodox tradition, the wedding ceremony is actually two services in one. The first, which is the briefer of the two, is the Service of Betrothal, during which the rings are exchanged. The second, the Service of Crowning, is longer and includes many prayers offered for the couple, the crowning of the bride and groom in marriage, sharing of the common cup and the celebrational procession around the table.
The Rite of Betrothal, in which rings are exchanged as a sign of commitment and devotion to one another.
The rings are blessed by the priest who takes them in his hand and, making the sign of the cross over the heads of bride and groom, says: "The servant of God ...is betrothed to the maid of God ... in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." The couple then exchange the rings, taking the bride's ring and placing it on the groom's finger and vice-versa. The rings, of course, are the symbol of betrothal and their exchange signifies that in married life the weaknesses of the one partner will be compensated for by the strength of the other, the imperfections of one by the perfections of the other. By themselves, the newly-betrothed are incomplete: together they are made perfect. Thus the exchange of rings gives expression to the fact that the spouses in marriage will constantly be complementing each other. Each will be enriched by the union.
The Wedding service begins immediately following the Betrothal Service. The bride and groom are handed candles which they hold throughout the service. The candles are like the lamps of the five wise maidens of the Bible, who, because they had enough oil in them, were able to receive the Bridegroom, Christ, when He came in the darkness of the night. The candles symbolize the spiritual willingness of the couple to receive Christ, Who will bless them through this Mystery.
The Service of Crowning:
The Joining of the Right Hands
The right hand of the bride and the groom are joined when the priest reads the prayer that beseeches God to "join these thy servants, unite them in one mind and one flesh." The hands are kept joined throughout the service to symbolize the "oneness" of the couple.
The "Crowning," in which crowns or wreaths [customs vary in each parish] are placed on or held above the heads of the bride and groom. This signifies that in marriage there is a certain amount of sacrifice, especially in the area of "give and take." It also signifies that in a certain respect the bride and groom become the "king and queen" of their own "kingdom," or family, which is an integral part of the Kingdom of God.
The service of the Crowning, which follows, is the climax of the Wedding service. The crowns are signs of the glory and honor with which God crowns them during the Mystery. The groom and the bride are crowned as the king and queen of their own little kingdom, the home - domestic church, which they will rule with fear of God, wisdom, justice and integrity. When the crowning takes place the priest, taking the crowns and holding them above the couple, says: "The servants of God, (names), are crowned in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." The crowns used in the Orthodox wedding service refer to the crowns of martyrdom since every true marriage involves immeasurable self-sacrifice on both sides.
The Common Cup
The sharing of a common cup of wine, which signifies that in marriage all things are shared equally.
The service of crowning is followed by the reading of the Epistle and the Gospel. The Gospel reading describes the marriage at Cana of Galilee which was attended and blessed by our Lord and Saviour Christ, and for which He made His first miracle. There He converted the water into better wine and gave of it to the newlyweds, in remembrance of this blessing, wine is given the couple. This is the "common cup" of better life denoting the mutual sharing of joy and sorrow, the token of a life of harmony. The drinking of wine from the common cup serves to impress upon the couple that from that moment on they will share everything in life, joys as well as sorrows, and that they are to "bear one another's burdens." Their joys will be doubled and their sorrows halved because they will be shared.
The Wedding Procession
The procession around the sacramental table, during which the priest leads the couple three times as they take their first steps together as husband and wife.
The priest then leads the bride and groom in a circle around the table on which are placed the Gospel and the Cross, the one containing the Word of God, the other being the symbol of our redemption by our Saviour Jesus Christ. The husband and wife are taking their first steps as a married couple, and the Church, in the person of the Priest, leads them in the way they must walk. The way is symbolized by the circle at the center of which are the Gospel and the Cross of our Lord. This expresses the fact that the way of Christian living is a perfect orbit around the center of life who is Jesus Christ our Lord. During this walk around the table a hymn is sung to the Holy Martyrs reminding the newly married couple of the sacrificial love they are to have for each other in marriage - a love that seeks not its own but is willing to sacrifice its all for the one loved.
The removal of the crowns and the final blessing, in which all gathered wish the couple many years of blessings.
The couple return to their places and the priest, blessing the groom, says, "Be thou magnified, O bridegroom, as Abraham, and blessed as Isaac, and increased as Jacob, walking in peace and working in righteousness the commandments of God." And blessing the bride he says, "And thou, O bride, be thou magnified as Sarah, and glad as Rebecca, and do thou increase like unto Rachael, rejoicing in thine own husband, fulfilling the conditions of the law; for so it is well pleasing unto God."
There are no "vows" in the Orthodox ritual. Orthodox Christians may be married in an Orthodox ceremony to a non-Orthodox Christian provided the non-Orthodox party had been baptized with water and "in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." Orthodox Christians may not be married in an Orthodox ceremony to non-baptized individuals, however. Surely the Priest will be happy to explain what would be involved in Baptism and reception into the Church.
A wedding normally takes place during the morning hours, preferable following the morning Liturgy. The Bride and Groom fast prior to the ceremony.
weddings cannot be scheduled during the Lenten season; the Advent and Epiphany seasons (November 28th through January 6th); the Fasting season preceding both the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul (in June) and the Feast of Dormition (in August); and special one-day fast periods.
Preferably on the wedding day, the Bride and Groom approach the confession and partake of the Sacrament of Penance and then Holy Communion in order that they cleanse themselves of all sin and come pure before the marriage altar. Orthodox church members must receive communion on the Sunday before the marriage ceremony.
The Groomsmen, or best man, must be of Orthodox faith. Other witnesses, ushers and Bridesmaids may be non-Orthodox. The Eastern Orthodox church allows interfaith marriages, but one partner and one witness must be Eastern Orthodox.
The Bride wears a veil during the wedding service and during the reception that follows.
The Wedding is not simply an exchange of vows or a contract but a Sacrament of the Church, which as all Sacraments unites us with Christ. The newly married couple is not just united to each other but joined together with Christ and His Holy Church. It is not a private affair but one witnessed by the Church as the Body of Christ bringing them in closer communion with all. Through marriage their lives are transfigured as together they seek salvation in this world.
Interfaith Marriages: While many Orthodox marriages are between two members of the Orthodox faith, conversion to the Orthodox Christian Faith is not a requirement for marriage in the Orthodox church. As long as one member of the couple is an Orthodox Christian in good standing with the church and the other member of the couple adheres to the following conditions, the wedding may be held: The non-Orthodox Bride/Groom must be a Christian who has been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity. The couple should be willing to baptize their children in the Orthodox Church. The marriage must take place in the Orthodox Church with the Orthodox Priest being the sole celebrant. Individuals desiring to become Orthodox Christians should address this very personal matter separately from the wedding. The primary impact on the non-Orthodox participants in the wedding ceremony will be that while they are welcome to attend services they are not permitted to celebrate in the sacraments.
The Sacrament of Marriage: St. Elias Orthodox Church, Antiochian
The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony: St. Paul the Apostle Orthodox Church
Marriage: The Great Sacrament: Orthodox Christain Information Center - By Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, Mount Athos
The Orthodox Christian Marriage: Orthodox Christain Information Center - by Priest Alexey [now Hieromonk Ambrose] Young
The Service of Betrothal: THE PRIEST'S SERVICE BOOK - Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church
The Service of Marriage: THE PRIEST'S SERVICE BOOK - Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church