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Orthodox Wedding Sacrament

Traditions and Rituals

The Eastern Orthodox Church recognizes “Seven Sacraments,” which are and have been bestowed upon the church by Christ. The Orthodox Wedding ceremony is part of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. It is the first Divine blessing God bestowed on human beings after their creation. Matrimony blessed in the Church is not simply a secular or social event.  It is a Sacrament in which the husband and wife receive God's grace and become sanctified agents of God's purpose in the marriage. The unity of the couple into one flesh is achieved by the work of the Holy Spirit. ​The service is divided into two parts:  the betrothal and the marriage itself.

The Betrothal - Exchanging of the Rings

At the beginning of the betrothal, which occurs first, the priest confirms that the bride and groom wish to marry each other by simply asking them. After the priest has blessed the couple’s rings, the priest then holds the rings together and rests them on the couple's forehead alternatively while he declares the betrothal.  He ends this portion of the service by placing the rings on the couple’s third finger of the right hand as a token of the lifelong union they are entering. At this time, the koumbaro comes forth and exchanges the rings, placing the bride's ring on the groom's finger and back, three times.  (Everything is always done in groupings of threes, as to represent the Holy Trinity- the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit). The rings signify the devotion the spouses owe to each other, while the exchange of rings is symbolic of the promise each one commits to each other's needs in the presence of their official witness.

Lighting of the Wedding Candles

The wedding ceremony begins immediately after the betrothal.  It consists of a series of petitions and prayers where the priest asks God to grant the couple a long and peaceful life, respective love and support, and happiness for their children.  The priest unites the hands of the bride and groom during the prayers signifying their unity into one flesh.  A set of candles is lit and held by the couple. This is symbolizing the light of the purity of Christ that must be illustrated by their life.  (Sometimes a second set of candles is lit and held by the koumbaro and koumbara. At this time, the large church candles are lit, if available.)

The Crowning

In comparison, the crowning follows next in a similar fashion as the betrothal.  The priest holds the crowns as he did the rings. Alternating between the couple, he rests the crowns on the couple’s foreheads, always blessing in the shape of the cross, as he declares the marriage.  The bride and groom are crowned, as the king and queen of their household to rule with wisdom, justice, and integrity which are duties they pledge to God. It is at this point that, the koumbaro comes forth once more to exchange the crowns on top of the couple's heads three times, as his or her arms are crossed.  The couple is left wearing the crowns which are connected with ribbon again, symbolizing their unity.

Sharing the Common Cup

Holy scriptures and the Lord's prayer are recited with the blessing of the Common Cup of wine. In remembrance of the miracle in Cana, both the bride and groom sip wine from this shared cup, three times each. The common cup symbolizes the common life which they will both share. This part of the sacrament is also reminiscent of the first miracle of Christ in Cana. As Christ changed the water into wine, the power of the Sacrament changes the spouses from two to one.

Dance of Isaiah

The wedding ends with the dance of Isaiah.  The bride and groom, with their hands together, wearing their united crowns and carrying the lit candles, are guided by the priest and followed by their sponsor, three times around the sacramental table that stood in front of them during the service.  As the priest leads the bride and groom, he holds the Gospel in his right hand as a reminder that the couple has chosen God to direct their new path in life.   The koumbaro follows the couple holding the ribbon of their crowns symbolizing his support during their journey.

Exchanging of Vows

It is not typical of Orthodox ceremonies to have an exchanging of vows as the couple is not promising commitment to each other, but rather to God; promising unconditional love in their marriage. Even though no vows take place during the Orthodox wedding sacrament, it is allowed for the groom and bride to share their first kiss prior to being introduced as newlyweds to their guests.  ​​​

Rice Throwing

Rice throwing takes place during the dance of Isaiah. Throwing rice is a time-honored tradition meant to shower the new couple with prosperity, fertility, and, of course, good fortune. Oats, grains, and dried corn were also used before rice rose to the top as the preferred symbolic sprinkle.  In Greece, even today, rice throwing is an integral part of the wedding ceremony. Rose petals are preferred, as throwing rice is not allowed inside most churches. 

In the USA, rice throwing usually occurs when the couple exits the church.  In present day, it is advised not to throw rice because of its potential harm to birds who swoop down and eat it.  As other information shows, while rice does pose a unique danger to birds, it may hurt people as well. Above all else, it is also not fun to clean up, which is likely the real reason rice is banned at many churches and weddings.  Other alternative options instead of rice include the throwing of rose petals, bubbles, and pom-poms.   

It is important to always check with your parish rules regarding rice throwing before providing rice to wedding attendees.

Wedding Related Greek Words

Koumbaro (masculine) - sponsor Gamos - wedding
Koumbara (feminine) - sponsor Gambros - groom
Stefana - wedding crowns Neefi - bride
Lambathes - large candles  Na zisete - May you live! (Greeting to the couple)

Books on the Orthodox Marriage

  • Orthodox Marriage: The Little Book of Timeless Principles for a Happy Marriage by Joseph Lochatnik - The focus of this book is to stop focusing on the modern fashionable concepts and attitudes in marital relations, such as "I'm doing it for me". It displays how the predominance of various psychological theories meant to make marriage better in the end result in the skyrocketing divorce rates that are so prevalent now. This little book will make sure you focus on what's important to stay true to your spouse for a life and longer, the way God intended.
  • Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective by John Meyendorff - This excellent study on Christian marriage is a valuable resource for anyone seeking to understand the Orthodox perspective on marriage. In the book John Meyendorff examines marriage in the Church from the contexts of Judaism and the New Testament, the early Church and Roman law, sacramental life, and contemporary society. Specific issues discussed include second marriages, 'mixed' marriages, divorce, abortion, family planning and responsible parenthood, married clergy, celibacy, and the monastic life. It is an essential reading for all pastors, but it is also useful for parents, newlyweds and those preparing or the sacrament of marriage.
  • Marriage As a Path to Holiness: Lives of Married Saints by John and Mary Ford - Includes the lives of over 180 married saints and many quotations from the saints from which the authors present a summary of the consensus understanding of marriage in the Orthodox Tradition.
  • Orthodox Christianity, Marriage & Contraception by Anthony Stehlin -This book relates to the reader the beauty of God's design and His purpose in creating man in His image and likeness as male and female. With copious references to the Bible, Church fathers and Liturgy, the author brings to light a lucid vision of Christian marriage and its significance in relation to the sacramental life and mystical vocation of every Orthodox Christian.
  • Preserve Them, O Lord: A guide for Orthodox couples in developing marital unity by Fr. John Mack -An insightful guidance from an experienced pastoral counselor, supplemented by workbook exercises that help you understand yourself and your partner. There are over 70 pages of supplemental readings on topics both spiritual and practical, quotes from Scripture, the Fathers, and the wedding liturgy illuminating the patristic view of love, sex, and marriage.
  • Two Become One: An Orthodox Christian Guide to Engagement and Marriage by Antonios Kaldas & Ireni Attia - Whether you are a young person embarking on the grand adventure of finding a life partner, or a member of a courting or engaged couple, Two Become One will help you be sure your partner is right for you and help the two of you together lay a firm foundation for the lifelong adventure of marriage. Married couples will also find the novel strengthening to their relationship.
  • Akathist to Sts. Peter & Fevronia Protectors of Orthodox Marriage by St Paisius Monastery - For centuries, the faithful of Russia have honored Sts. Peter and Fevronia as patrons of honorable marriage. A few years ago the Day of Family, Love and Fidelity, in honor of Orthodox family life, was established, fittingly acknowledging these righteous saints as protectors. On this day, special petitions for the preservation of Orthodox marriage are included in the Liturgy and a special prayer, invoking the intercession of Sts. Peter and Fevronia, is said at the conclusion of the service. Includes several icons of the saints.
  • The Mystery of Marriage: A Fellowship of Love by Hieromonk Gregorios and Fr. Michael Monos - On the basis of Holy Scripture and the writing of the Holy Fathers of the Church, this book examines the Orthodox understanding of the Sacrament of Marriage. In addition to explaining the sacrament itself, Hieromonk Gregorios spends considerable time on the spousal relationship, both prior to and after the marriage, with a view to helping couples understand how to establish a strong and lasting bond of love under the lordship of Jesus Christ.
  • One Flesh: Salvation through Married in the Orthodox Church by Lawrence Farley - Is the Church too negative about sex? Beginning with this provocative question, Fr. Lawrence Farley explores the history of the Church's attitude toward sex and marriage, from the Old Testament through the Church Fathers. He persuasively makes the case both for traditional morality and for a positive acceptance of marriage as a viable path to theosis.​