MARRIAGE IN THE ORTHODOX CHURCH
In the Orthodox Church the ritual of marriage is not just a service but a
sacrament. And a sacrament is the channel of the conveyance of the grace of
God upon a man and a woman who have freely asked for it, in order to bring
about in them a permanent change by making "the two of them one flesh", and
to enable them to attain the ends which marriage has in view: The
preservation and increase of the human race; the promotion of helpfulness;
the restraint of passions and their submission to the moral law; and the
Christian upbringing of children. Marriage was regarded in the Church from
the very beginning as a sacred union of body and soul for the propagation of
civil society and the kingdom of God, for the exercise of virtue and the
promotion of happiness.
Marriage is a bond, a "yoke", if you prefer, freely and publicly entered
upon. It is a union which, at first, was instituted by God when He created
man in his own image, male and female, and said to them: "Be fruitful and
multiply and fill the earth and subdue it" (Genesis 1, 28).
Later, this union was elevated and exalted by our Lord Jesus in the fact
that he performed his first miracle at a wedding ceremony (John 2, 1-11).
Marriage is a divine act which the Apostle St. Paul calls "a great mystery".
(Ephesians 5, 32), by comparing it with the most holy, most perfect and most
permanent union between Christ, as the groom, and the Church, as the bride.
In the Orthodox ritual the service is made up of two parts: The Betrothal
and the Crowning.
THE BETROTHAL SERVICE
When the service is about to begin, the priest, standing in front of the
couple with two lighted candles, asks the familiar question of each of them
by name: "(name) do you take (name) to be your wedded wife (husband) to love
and to cherish until death do you part?" After their affirmative response,
he hands them the candles which are symbolic of their Christian illumination
in their belief that Jesus is "the light of the world and whoever believes
in him shall never walk in darkness but have eternal life."
The Blessing of the Rings
In this service, double betrothal bands are always used which belong only to
the betrothal service. The priest first blesses the rings: "O eternal God
who brought things divided into unity and established an unbroken bond
between them.... bless these rings and unite and preserve these, your
servants, in peace and concord." Then he blesses alternately the groom and
bride with the rings three times and places them on the third finger of
their right hands; the best man then exchanges them three times between the
bride and groom. This exchange of rings means the unconditional acceptance
of the one by the other and the pledge of mutual support.
THE SERVICE OF CROWNING
From time immemorial, crowns were placed on the heads of people as a
recognition for accomplishment. But what have the bride and groom
accomplished to merit such recognition by the Church? They have overcome the
passions, weaknesses and temptations of the flesh and they have vowed to
live with one another, for one another and by one another until the end of
their lives. Because of this solemn vow, honor and glory is bestowed upon
them as they are crowned as king and queen of their home and future family
under the Divine Kingship of God; king and queen of a new kingdom, a new
creation of one, where the new family is a reflection of the Church. ;
The Joining of Hands
The priest joins the right hands of the groom and bride as he reads this
prayer: "Holy God who created man out of dust, and from his rib fashioned
woman whom you joined unto him as a helper fit for him. . .join your servant
(name) and your servant (name) for by you is woman joined to man. Yoke them
in oneness of mind; crown them in one flesh; grant to them the joy of fair
The priest takes the two crowns (really wreaths of fresh flowers or
simulated flowers) which are joined together in the back with a ribbon to
show the oneness of the two and blesses alternately the groom and bride with
them three times saying for each of them: "The servant of God (name) is
crowned to the servant of God (name) in the name of the Father and of the
Son and of the Holy Spirit." He then places the crowns on their heads
chanting out: "O Lord, our God, in honor and glory crown your servants." The
best man then exchanges the crowns between them three times to demonstrate
that they are being crowned in equality, dignity and mutual love and support.
A passage from the Epistle of Paul to the Ephesians (5, 20-33) is read here:"...
wives be subject to your husbands as to the Lord, just as the Church is
subject to Christ. . . Husbands, love your wives as Christ also loved the
Church and gave himself up for it.... In loving his wife a man loves himself.
. . for this reason shall a man leave his father and mother and shall cleave
to his wife and the two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I
speak in reference to Christ and Church. Yet, each one of you individually
must love his wife as his very self, and the wife must see to it that she
treat her husband with respect."
What is this mystery that St. Paul speaks about? Very briefly this. The
bride and groom come into the Church for the ceremony their different ways
as free and independent individuals. When the ceremony is over they leave
still as free and independent individuals but holding onto each other—yoked
together—as one. Now the mystery: How will they be able to preserve their
personal freedom and independence without doing any damage to their union,
on the one hand, and how will they be able to preserve their union without
doing any damage to their personal freedom and independence, on the other!
That is, how will they be able to act as one and two at the same time! And
what is the answer? Unconditional and sacrificial love; the kind of love
that exists between Christ the Groom and the Church, his Bride. When the
Church is called the Bride of Christ we mean those relations between bride
and groom, taken in their everlasting fullness which consist of a perfect
unity of life, a unity which preserves the reality of their differences. It
is a union of two in one, which is not dissolved by duality nor absorbed by
unity. And this union, being the ultimate form, reflects the kind of love
which—living it dies and dying it lives! Because if love is to be true, it
has to be unconditional and sacrificial.
The Gospel passage which follows comes from the Gospel of St. John (2, 1-11)
and describes the first public act of Jesus at a wedding in Cana of Galilee
where he changed the water into wine. By this act, as the prayer following
the Gospel states, Jesus" . . . . declared marriage honorable by his
presence ....". Thus, Jesus employed the first public act of his ministry to
bless a marriage, as God, the Father, employed his first public act to bless
the very first union of Adam and Eve.
The Common Cup
Following the Lord's Prayer, a cup of blessed wine is offered to the
newlyweds from which each takes three sips. It is their cup of life symbolic
of the fact that from this day on they will share all life's experiences
The "Dance" of Isaiah
Right after the taking of the cup the most unique happening of the Orthodox
wedding takes place. The priest, holding the Gospel Book in his right hand,
takes the joined hands of the bride and groom with the other and leads them
around the marital altar, in front of them, three times, in the name of the
Holy Trinity and in the form of a circle which means eternity.
Thus, the first steps that the bride and groom take as husband and wife are
in following Jesus Christ — symbolically represented by the Holy Gospel —
As the priest does this he chants three hymns of joy: "Dance (rejoice) O
Isaiah for the Virgin has indeed conceived . . . ". This refers to the fact
that Isaiah's prophecy some 760 years before the coming of Christ came true;
as a result he has a right to rejoice in Heaven. It is also an indirect
reference to the fact that the first and foremost goal of marriage is the
procreation of children.
"O Holy martyrs who have fought well and have been crowned . . . ". This is
a reference to the fact that those who remained faithful to their commitment
to Christ and died for him received crowns in heaven. Likewise, if the
newlyweds remain faithful to each other and their commitment, on that great
day when all of us shall face our Maker, the crowns of simulated flowers
which they are wearing today will be exchanged with crowns of glory.
The third hymn is an exaltation to Christ, "the boast of the Apostles and
the delight of the martyrs," because through him they, and all of us, have
come to know, worship and proclaim the indivisible Trinity.
The Concluding Prayers
"Be you magnified, O Bridegroom, like Abraham. . .". "And you, O Bride, be
you glorified like Sarah . . . ". "O God . . . bless your servants who by
your providence have been joined together in matrimony; bless their goings
and comings; grant them a life full of abundant goods; preserve their union
spotless, blameless and unthreatened . . .". "May the Holy Trinity bless you
and grant you long life, beautiful children, progress in life and growth in
faith and make you worthy to enjoy the blessings of the promise . . . Amen."
A Note of Interest
The sugar-coated almonds or "koufeta" which are usually placed in the tray
with the wreaths are quite symbolic. In the early Church the priest used to
offer to the bride and groom, during the ceremony, almonds dipped in honey
to symbolize abundance, sweetness and fertility. Sugar-coated almonds are
the natural development, and they are offered to the guests in tulle or
other fancy "boubounieres" in odd numbers, three or five, for good luck.
Thank you for becoming witnesses to this "great mystery." Please pray to
Almighty God that the newlyweds may have a Godly and happy life together —
in true love and commitment to each other.
1996 - Fr. Evagoras
Constantinides - Crown Point, IN