One of the sacraments of the Orthodox Church, the Marriage Service is rich with biblical imagery,
prayer, and symbol. Because the ceremony is attended by Orthodox and non-Orthodox who may not be aware of the significance of the actions, this text has been prepared. It can be used as the basis for a program booklet distributed at the ceremony. There are a few spots for customization, such as including the names of the bride and the groom. The text can be edited easily to fit the program. Other possible additions to a program include the names of the bridal party, the family members, the clergy celebrating the ceremony, locations of receptions, and a personal note from the couple.
God is love (1 John 4:8,16). When a man and a woman love one another and are united in marriage, they reflect God. The purpose of marriage is to unite two persons into a bond of love for their mutual
companionship, support, enjoyment, and fulfillment. While the couple, on their own, already is a family, giving birth to and nurturing children is an important purpose of marriage.
Marriage is a sacrament in the Orthodox Church because it reveals the heavenly kingdom to the world through the couple and their life together. Marriage is not a state of life, but a stage in the life of Christ for the couple, an essential dimension of their salvation.
As Elder Aimilianos of Simonos Petros Monastery on Mt. Athos wrote many years ago, “When two people get married, it’s as if they're saying: Together we will go forward, hand in hand, through good times and bad. We will have dark hours, hours of sorrow filled with burdens, monotonous hours. But in the depths of the night, we continue to believe in the sun and the light.”
The Marriage Ceremony
The marriage service in the Orthodox Church is divided into two parts: The Rite of Betrothal and the Rite of Crowning. Both rites are filled with images and references from the Old and New Testaments. In addition to praying to God for the couple being married for a blessed life together, these references offer role models of married couples, aids in our understanding of the symbols, and teach about the meaning of married life.
The Rite of Betrothal
In the Rite of Betrothal, the couple exchange rings as a sign of their voluntary pledge to enter into
marriage and to live together in faith, harmony, truth, and love.
The Prayer of Betrothal
The priest blesses (the Groom) and (the Bride) with the rings, three times, saying, “The servant of God (GROOM) is betrothed to (BRIDE) in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” He repeats this action, this time beginning with (BRIDE). Then the rings are placed on the ring finger of the right hand. There is a custom where the (NAME -- koumbaros/koumbara or sponsor) of the couple will exchange the rings on their hands three times.
From ancient times, rings are a pledge of a relationship. In marriage, the rings are a sign of betrothal and the commitment the couple have made to one another. In the prayers of betrothal, the priest will refer to Isaac and Rebecca, Abraham and Sarah, but also, Joseph, Daniel, and Thamar where rings are signs of authority. Finally, the prayer will reference the Prodigal Son, who had a ring placed on his right hand when he returned to his father.
In Orthodox practice, the wedding rings are worn on the ring finger of the right hand.
Psalm 128, a Psalm about family life is sung. One verse reads, “Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table. Lo, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.”
The Rite of Crowning
The second part of the marriage ceremony, the Rite of Crowning, is longer and more complex. The
ceremony includes the joining of hands, the partaking of blessed wine from a common cup, and a solemn-joyous procession. The most distinct act is that of placing crowns on the heads of the couple. Prayers accompany each action. And there will be readings from the New Testament.
At the beginning of this part of the service, BRIDE and GROOM are given candles to hold. These remind us that Christ is the light of the world and illumines the steps of the couple.
The Joining of Hands
After a series of prayers the priest joins the right hands of (Groom) and (Bride) with the words, “O
Sovereign Lord, stretch forth Your hand from Your holy dwelling place and join together Your servant (Groom) and Your servant (Bride), for by You is a wife joined to her husband. Join them together in oneness of mind; crown them with wedlock into one flesh; grant to them the fruit of the womb and the gain of well-favored children….” This act is the sign of their unity as a couple. They will hold hands until the very end of the service when the priest will separate them.
The priest places crowns, usually of flowers, on the heads of BRIDE and GROOM, after first blessing them. In Greek practice, the crowns are tied with a ribbon in the back, another sign of their union. They are now the “king and queen” of their home church. Three times, the priest says, “The servant of God (GROOM) is crowned for the servant of God (BRIDE) in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” He repeats this action, this time beginning with (BRIDE). Once the crowns are placed on their heads, the brief hymn, “Lord our God, crown them with glory and honor” is sung. There is a custom by which (NAME KOUMBARO or KOUMBARA) of the couple will exchange the crowns on their heads three times.
The Scripture Readings
There are two readings from the New Testament. The first is from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians
(5:20-33), where he exhorts married couples “to be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” The second reading is from the Gospel of John (2:1-11) relating the miracle of Christ at the wedding at Cana.
The Common Cup
After the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer, the couple will sip from a “common cup” of wine, offered by the priest. This is a sign that they will share all things in life.
The Procession, the “Dance of Isaiah”
The priest, holding the Book of the Gospels, will lead the couple around the table three times, singing
three hymns. The first begins, “O Isaiah, dance for joy….” Giving this procession its name. Originally, this procession was a procession of the couple to their first home. Today, the Word of God leads them in their first steps together as a married couple.
The Final Blessing and Removal of the Crowns
In ancient times, a married couple would wear their crowns for eight days. Today, the priest removes the crowns at the end of the ceremony, blessing BRIDE and GROOM, saying, “Accept their crowns in Your kingdom unsoiled and undefiled, and preserve them without offense to the ages of ages.” This final action reminds the couple of meaning of marriage: whatever happens to them in their life together, their crowns are a symbol of the Kingdom of God.
In the Greek community, there is a customary greeting at the wedding, “Na sas zisei!” (Na sas zeesee!) or “Na zisoune!” (Na ZEEsoune!), which means essentially “May you have a long life!” or “May they have a long life!” Also, small favors, called “bonboniéres, containing either five or seven white Jordan almonds, are given to the every guest at the wedding (sometimes only the female guests), either at the church or at the reception.