Greek orthodox wedding ceremony
The wedding ceremony of the Greek Orthodox Church is an ancient and meaningful service that has been celebrated in its present form for centuries. The service is abundant with symbols that reflect marriage: love, mutual respect, equality and sacrifice.
The ceremony consists of two parts that are distinct and separate from each other: The service of the Betrothal and the Ceremony of the Sacrament of Marriage. Everything in the ceremony has a special meaning and significance, especially the repetition of each act three times to symbolise and to invoke the mystical presence of the Holy Trinity. The Wedding begins as the white candles are handed to The Bride and The Groom. These candles symbolise their spiritual willingness to receive Christ.
The lighted candles given to the bridal couple symbolise the purity of their lives, which should shine with the light of virtue and good deeds.
The Service of Betrothal
Petitions are chanted for the spiritual welfare of the couple. The highlight during this service is the exchanging of the rings. The priest then blesses the rings. He holds them in his right hand, and making the sign of the cross over their heads, he betroths the servants of God, The Bride to The Groom. The rings are then placed on their right hands, for it is the right hand of God that blesses, it was the right hand of God to which Christ ascended, and it is also to the right that those who will inherit the eternal life will ascend.
The Koumbaro (religious sponsor) then exchanges the rings three times. The exchange signifies that in married life, the weakness of one partner will be compensated by the strength of the other, the imperfections of one, by the perfection of the other. By themselves, the newly betrothed are incomplete, but together they are made perfect. The rite of the betrothal ends with the priest praying for the betrothal of mutual promise, officially given before the church, may prove in true faith, concord and love.
The Ceremony of the Sacrament of Marriage
The ceremony consists of petitions, prayers, the crowning, readings from the New Testament, the offering of the common cup, the circling of the ceremonial table and the benediction. At the conclusion of the prayers, the priest joins the hands of The Bride and The Groom. The hands are kept joined until the end of the service to symbolise the union and the oneness of the couple.
The Joining of the Right Hands
The priest reads a prayer and beseeches God to “join these thy servants, unite them in one flesh”. Then he joins the right hands of the couple, and they are kept joined throughout the service.
This is the focal point of the marriage ceremony. The crowns are signs of the glory and honour with which God crowns them during the sacrament. The wedding crowns (Stefana) are joined by a ribbon that again symbolises the unity of the couple and the presence of Christ who blesses and joins the couple and establishes them as the King and Queen of their home, which they will rule with wisdom, justice and integrity. The priest takes the two crowns and blesses The Bride and The Groom, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and of the Holy Spirit and then places the crowns on them. The Koumbaro then steps behind The Bride and The Groom and interchanges the crowns three times as a witness to the sealing of the union.
Some interpret the crowns used in the Orthodox wedding ceremony to refer to the crowns of Martyrdom since every true marriage involves immeasurable self-sacrifice on both sides.
The Common Cup
The reading of the Epistle and the Gospel follows the rite of crowning. The Gospel reading describes the marriage at Cana of Galilee which was attended and blessed by Christ and for which He reserved His first miracle. There He converted the water into wine and gave if it to the newlyweds. In remembrance of this blessing, wine is given the couple. This is the "common cup" of 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 burdens." Their joys will be doubled and their sorrows halved because they will be shared.
The Circling in Procession- “The Dance of Isaiah”
The Priest(s) leads the bridal couple in a circle around the table three times while three hymns are sung. The first hymn celebrates the incarnation of Christ and praises the Mother of God, the Virgin Mary. The second beseeches the crowned martyrs to pray for our salvation. The third hymn glorified Christ as the Apostles’ boast and the martyr's joy - a reminder to the couple that Christ is their glory and joy in times of affliction, which they are sure to encounter and share in the course of their lives. The couple then returns to their places to receive the nuptial blessing.
Removal of the Marriage Crowns
In ancient times the crowns were worn for the duration of the honeymoon. Today, the crowns are removed at the end of the marriage service. After their honeymoon, the newlyweds return to the church where the crowns are placed upon their head and special prayers for the Removal of the Marriage Crowns are said. This traditional practice is a beautiful and formal announcement that the couple has returned from their honeymoon and is now at home, ready to receive their well-wishes.