The ceremony is composed of two distinct services, that of the Betrothal and that of the Sacrament
The exchanging of rings is the focus of the Service of Betrothal. The rings, which the bride and groom have brought to the church, are blessed by the priest and placed on their fingers as a symbol of their lifelong commitment to one another, and as a symbol of the authority that each of them will have in the new family that they are creating. It is the "Koumbaro" (the couple's religious sponsor), who passes the rings between the bride and the groom three times "in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." The koumbaro is our representative as a community witness to this vow of faithfulness .
The Joining of Hands
As the bride and groom join hands, we pray that they are united in one mind and one flesh for a lifetime together.
Christ said, "I am the light of the world." The candles symbolize the willingness of the bride and groom to receive Christ as the guiding light who will illuminate and bless them throughout their lives.
The crowning of the couple is the focus of the Sacrament of Marriage. The crowns themselves are richly symbolic. Throughout history, crowns have symbolized honor, glory, authority and responsibility - all of which are manifest in the new roles that the husband and wife are accepting. In
the Christian tradition they are also associated with martyrdom, a reminder that the bride and groom will be called upon to make sacrifices for one another throughout the years. A ribbon connects the crowns; signifying that from henceforth, they will experience the joys and responsibilities of life joined together common purpose.
The Epistle Reading of Saint Paul's letter to the Ephesians (5 :20-33) describes the mystery and holiness of Christian marriage and responsibilities to love one another with Christ-like love and sacrifice. In the Gospel according to Saint John (2: 1-11) Christ blesses the sacred institute of marriage and performs his first miracle at the wedding at Cana in Galilee.
The Common Cup
Following the reading of the Epistle and the Gospel, the couple is presented a goblet of wine from which to drink. Reminiscent of Christ's first miracle at the wedding in Cana of Galilee, the wine is presented as a symbol of the "cup of life" that husband and wife will share from this day forward.
The Dance Procession
The priest joins hands with the newly married couple leading them into their first steps as husband and wife. The 'priest holds the Gospel which will guide them throughout their life together. The three-fold procession around the table is known as the Dance of Isaiah. Three sets of hymns are sung as bride and groom take their first steps as husband and wife. The first hymn describes the joy of the prophet Isaiah when he envisioned the coming of the Messiah; the second is a hymn celebrating
the joy of the holy martyrs when they received their crowns of glory; the third is a hymn of exaltation to the Holy Trinity.
At the end of the service, before the final blessing of the bride and groom, the priest removes the crowns from their heads offering them to God with the words, "Receive their crowns in Your Kingdom, preserving them spotless, blameless and without reproach unto the ages of ages." It is with this prayer in mind that the newly married couple departs from the church in joy, in love and in peace!
A couple desiring to be married should first contact the church office to schedule an appointment with Fr. Tom. According to the official policies of our
• December 13-25 (The Advent and Christmas season)
• January 5-6 (Epiphany or Theophany )
• February 2 (the Presentation of the Lord to the Temple)
• Great Lent and Holy Week (usually mid-February, the entire month of March, and part of April)
• August 1-15 (the Dormition fast of the Theotokos)
• August 29 (the beheading of John the Baptist)
• September 14 (the Exaltation of the Cross)
• The Ascension (Moveable feast day - changes every year)
• Pentecost (Moveable feast day - changes every year)
Marriage is a Holy Sacrament in the Orthodox Church. Here are the guidelines for each couple desiring to participate in this Holy Sacrament:
1. At least one of the couple to be married is an Orthodox Christian, baptized and /or chrismated in the Orthodox Church, committed to Christ and His Church, and an active steward for at least a year prior to the date of the wedding. The intended spouse, if not Orthodox, should be a Christian baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as commanded by the Lord (Matthew 28:19).
Because marriage is a sacrament and the couple not only pledge their love for each other but also their love for Christ, a wedding between an Orthodox Christian and a non-Christian may not be celebrated in the Church.
NECESSARY PAPERS AND DOCUMENTS
The following documentation is needed two months in advance of your wedding date to ensure that your wedding will meet the criteria established by the Church and local civil authorities:
1. Verification of the baptism and stewardship commitment of the Orthodox spouse(s);
2. Verification of the baptism of the non-Orthodox spouse in a Christian community that baptizes in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (for example, the Roman Catholic and, traditionally, mainline Protestant churches such as the Lutheran and Episcopalian communities);
3. An ecclesiastical marriage license; and
4. A civil marriage license.
If either of the parties has been previously married, the death certificate of the deceased spouse or the civil divorce decree issued by the state must be presented to the parish priest. If the prior marriage was celebrated in the Orthodox Church and ended in divorce, then an ecclesiastical divorce decree must also be presented.
THE WEDDING PARTY
The “koumbaro” or “koumbara” — the sponsor who will participate sacramentally in the service by exchanging the rings and the crowns that form an integral part of the marriage rite — must be an Orthodox Christian and a steward of his/her parish. The “koumbaro” or “koumbara,” if from another Orthodox parish, must provide a letter from his/her parish priest certifying his/her active stewardship in the life of the Church. Other members of the wedding party need not be Orthodox.
NECESSARY ITEMS FOR THE CELEBRATION OF THE SERVICE
Among the items necessary to celebrate one’s marriage in the Church are the following:
1. A pair of rings
2. A pair of “stefana”/wedding crowns; and
3. A pair of white candles.
Some couples also choose to provide a silver or gold chalice and tray. These latter items are optional for the couple as the parish can provide them if necessary.
PREPARATION FOR MARRIAGE
In addition to meeting with Fr. Tom, preparation for your marriage at Holy Apostles should also include 6 pre-marital counseling sessions, with an appropriate marriage family therapist to help support you in the process of preparing for your marriage. As you prepare for marriage in the Orthodox Church, it is important to meet regularly with Fr. Tom, actively participate in the life of the church, and attend Divine Liturgy regularly as well as our Sunday Adult Oasis Classes in order to be firmly grounded in the Orthodox Christian understanding of life.
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 filled with struggles and burdens. But in the depths of the night, we continue to believe in the sun and the light. Oh, my dear friends, who can say that his life has not been marked by difficult moments? But it is no small thing to know that, in your difficult moments, in your worries, in your temptations, you will be holding in your hand the hand of your beloved. The New Testament says that every person will have pain, especially those who enter into marriage.
Marriage is a journey of love. It is the creation of a new human being, a new person, for, as theGospel says, "the two will be as one flesh" (Mt 19.5; Mk 10.7). God unites two people, and makes them one. From this union of two people, who agree to synchronize their footsteps and harmonize the beating of their hearts, a new human being emerges. Through such profound and spontaneous love, the one becomes a presence, a living reality, in the heart of the other. "I am married" means that I cannot live a single day, even a few moments, without the companion of my life. My husband, my wife, is a part of my being, of my flesh, of my soul. He or she complements me. He or she is the thought of my mind. He or she is the reason for which my heart beats.
The couple exchanges rings to show that, in life's changes, they will remain united. Each wears a ring with the name of the other written on it, which is placed on the finger from which a vein runs directly to the heart. That is, the name of the other is written on his own heart. The one, we could say, gives the blood of his heart to the other. He or she encloses the other within the core of his being. The most fundamental thing in marriage is love, and love is about uniting two into one. I am bound up with the other. I live for the other, and for that reason I tolerate his faults. A person who can't put up with another can't marry.
Marriage is first of all a journey of pain; second a journey of love; and, third, a journey to heaven, a call from God. It is, as Holy Scripture says, a "great mystery" (Eph 5.32). We often speak of seven "mysteries," or sacraments. In this regard, a "mystery" is the sign of the mystical presence of some true person or event. An icon, for instance, is a mystery. When we venerate it, we are not venerating wood or paint, but Christ, or the Theotokos, or the saint who is mystically depicted. The Holy Cross is a symbol of Christ, containing his mystical presence. Marriage, too, is a mystery, a mystical presence, not unlike these. Christ says, "wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am among them" (Mt 18.20). And whenever two people are married in the name of Christ, they become the sign which contains and expresses Christ himself. When you see a couple who are conscious of this, it is as if you are seeing Christ. Together they are a theophany.
This is also why crowns are placed on their heads during the wedding ceremony, because the bride and groom are an image of Christ and the Church. And not just this, but everything in marriage is symbolic. The lit candles symbolize the wise virgins. When the priest places these candles into the hands of the newly-weds, it is as if he is saying to them: Wait for Christ like the wise virgins (Mt 25.1-11). Or they symbolize the tongues of fire which descended at Pentecost, and which were in essence the presence of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2.1-4). The wedding rings are kept on the altar, until they are taken from there by the priest, which shows that marriage has its beginning in Christ, and will end in Christ. The priest also joins their hands, in order to show that it is Christ himself who unites them. It is Christ who is at the heart of the mystery and at the center of their lives.
All the elements of the marriage ceremony are shadows and symbols which indicate the presence of Christ. When you're sitting somewhere and suddenly you see a shadow, you know that someone's coming. You don't see him, but you know he's there. You get up early in the morning, and you see the red horizon in the east. You know that, in a little while, the sun will come up. And indeed, there behind the mountain, the sun starts to appear.
When you see your marriage, your husband, your wife, your partner's body, when you see your troubles, everything in your home, know that they are all signs of Christ's presence. It is as if you're hearing Christ's footsteps, as if he was coming, as if you are now about to hear his voice. All these things are the shadows of Christ, revealing that he is together with us. It is true, though, that, because of our cares and worries, we feel that he is absent. But we can see him in the shadows, and we are sure that he is with us. This is why there was no separate marriage service in the early Church. The man and woman simply went to church and received Communion together. What does this mean? That henceforth their life is one life in Christ.
The wreaths, or wedding crowns, are also symbols of Christ's presence. More specifically, they are symbols of martyrdom. Husband and wife wear crowns to show that they are ready to become martyrs for Christ. To say that "I am married" means that I live and die for Christ. "I am married" means that I desire and thirst for Christ. Crowns are also signs of royalty, and thus husband and wife are king and queen, and their home is a kingdom, a kingdom of the Church, an extension of the Church.
The wreaths also symbolize the final victory which will be attained in the kingdom of heaven. When the priest takes the wreaths, he says to Christ: "take their crowns to your kingdom," take them to your kingdom, and keep them there, until the final victory. And so marriage is a road: its starts out from the earth and ends in heaven. It is a joining together, a bond with Christ, who assures us that he will lead us to heaven, to be with him always. Marriage is a bridge leading us from earth to heaven. It is as if the sacrament is saying: Above and beyond love, above and beyond your husband, your wife, above the everyday events, remember that you are destined for heaven, that you have set out on a road which will take you there without fail. The bride and the bridegroom give their hands to one another, and the priest takes hold of them both, and leads them round the table dancing and singing. Marriage is a movement, a progression, a journey which will end in heaven, in eternity.
In marriage, it seems that two people come together. However, it's not two but three. The man marries the woman, and the woman marries the man, but the two together also marry Christ. So three take part in the mystery, and three remain together in life.
By Archimandrite Aimilianos of Simonopetra, Mount Athos