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Orthodox Wedding Sacrament

Traditions and Rituals

The Orthodox wedding is part of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, one of the seven sacred mysteries of the Eastern Orthodox Church. 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 Betrothal - Exchanging of the Rings

​The service is divided into two parts: The betrothal and the marriage itself. 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 a series of prayers, the priest has blessed the couples' rings. The priest then holds the rings together and rests them on the couples' forehead alternatively while he declares the betrothal. He ends by placing the rings on the couples third finger of the right hand as a token of the life long union they are entering. The koumbaro comes forth at this time, and exchanges the rings, placing the bride's ring on the groom's finger and back, three times. The rings signify the devotion the spouses owe to each other, while the exchange of rings is symbolic to the promise each one commits to each others 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 in 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 symbolizing the light of 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. This is also when the large church candles are lit if they are available).

The Crowning

The crowning follows similarly as the betrothal. The priest holds the crowns as he did the rings, alternatively exchanging them on the couples 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. The koumbaro comes forth once more to exchange the crowns on top of the couples head three times, as his 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. 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, so 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

Even though no vows take place during the Orthodox wedding sacrament, normally the bride and groom share their first kiss prior to being introduced as newly weds to their guests. ​​​

Rice Throwing

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. It takes place during the dance of Isaiah.

In the USA, rice throwing usually transpired when the couple exited the church. Recently, wedding meddlers have cautioned against throwing rice because it was rumored to harm birds who swoop down and eat it once the crowd has left. As other information shows, rice does pose a unique danger to birds but may hurt people. It is also not fun to clean up which is likely the real reason rice is banned at many churches and weddings. Always check with your parish if rice throwing is allowed.

Other options instead of rice include, the throwing of rose petals, bubbles, and pom poms.

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 direction 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 seems like the predominance of various psychological theories meant to make marriage better in the end resulted in 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 it 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. Essential reading for all pastors, 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 it's 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. 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 much of benefit for strengthening 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 - This book examines, on the basis of Holy Scripture and the writing of the Holy Fathers of the Church, 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.​