The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony in the Greek Orthodox Church
Holy Matrimony is a Sacrament of the Greek Orthodox Church in which a man and a woman solemnly vow before the Church, the Priest and the congregation to be true to each other for life. The marriage ceremony of the Greek Orthodox Church is steeped in ritual and symbolism and each of the acts you will observe on the day has a special meaning and significance. The rite is performed by a priest who stands before an appropriately covered table.
It is placed in the middle of the church, opposite the Royal Door (ΩΡΑΙΑ ΠΥΛΗ) of the Iconostas screen. Upon it are placed the Holy Gospel (ΕΥΑΓΓΕΛΙΟ), the wedding rings and crowns and a cup of wine. On the side of the table there are two candlesticks. The couple stand facing the priest and the Royal Door; the groom on the right and the bride on the left.
The ceremony has two parts:
- The Betrothal Service (Ακολουθία τού αρραβώνος), which is performed on the day of the wedding even though there may have been a prior engagement.
- The Marriage Service (Ακολουθία τού γάμου) itself.
[I] THE BETROTHAL SERVICE
The Priest begins the service, intoning “Blessed is our God always, now and ever and unto ages of ages”. He then recites the litany in which he beseeches the Lord for the salvation of both the bride and the groom; to send down upon them perfect and peaceful love; to preserve them in oneness of mind and steadfastness of faith; to bless them with a blameless life; to grant them an honourable marriage. He concludes the litany with “For unto You are due all glory, honour and worship, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, both now and ever and unto the ages of ages, Amen”;.
Two more prayers are recited asking God to bless these servants of God (named) and giving them unto very good work; to establish and make stable their betrothal in faith, oneness of mind, in truth and in love.
Through tradition and usage, every Greek Orthodox wedding is a double ring ceremony. The priest takes the rings, makes the sign of the cross on the Gospel and straight after makes the sign of the cross on the forehead of the groom and then the bride, by saying:
“The servant of God … (groom´s name) … is betrothed to the servant of God … (bride´s name) … in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen (Thrice)”.
The same process is repeated, making the sign of the Cross over the Bride´s head first. At the conclusion, the rings are placed on the fingers of the right hands of both the bride and the groom. The best man or matron of honour steps forward and changes the rings three times, while the priest recites a prayer beseeching God, “to bless this putting on of rings with a heavenly blessing, and may an Angel of the Lord go before these servants all the days of their life …”.
Here ends the betrothal service.
[II] THE MARRIAGE CEREMONY
The office of the Crowing is the climax of the wedding service. It is so important that the marriage ceremony takes its name from the greek word “stepsis” (ΣΤΕΨΙΣ), meaning crowning. Engaged couples are greeted with the expression “Kala Stephana” (Καλά Στέφανα), which is a wish for a happy wedding. The crowns, made of synthetic orange blossom (in modern times) are tied together with a white ribbon. They are signs of the bond between newlyweds and the glory and honour which crowns during the Sacrament. They represent honour and reward bestowed upon the pair of the purity of their lives.
The Priest begins the Crowning by saying the 127th Psalm while the Choir responds with the refrain, “Glory to You, our God, Glory to You”.
Taking the Holy Bible/Gospel (Ευαγγέλιον), the Priest says, “Blessed is the kingdom of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, always, now and ever and to the ages of ages”. He recites a series of petitions and some prayers beseeching the Lord to “bless this marriage, to grant to the bridal pair long life, purity, mutual love in the bond of peace, enduring prosperity, the blessing of children and the crown of honour that fades not away; to unite them in harmony and marry them to be one flesh, etc.”
The service of the crowning proceeds and the Priest thrice crowns the groom saying,
“The servant of God … (groom´s name) … is crowned to the servant of God … (bride´s name) …, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”.
In same manner, he crowns the bride with the same words. The best man or matron of honour then exchanges the crowns three times, while the choir sings, “Lord our God, crown then with glory and honour”.
THE BIBLE READING
With the crowns on the heads of the bridal couple, the Epistle lesson is read followed by the Gospel reading. The Gospel reading describes the wedding at Cana of Galille attended and blessed by Jesus, and in remembrance of this, wine is given to the couple, not for consecration but for blessing. This is the “common cup” of life denoting the mutual sharing of joy and sorrow, the token of a life of harmony. The Priest offers the Cup first to the groom and then to the bride.
The Epistle reading (Ephesians 5:22–23):
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as also Christ is the head of the church; and He is the saviour of the body. Therefore just as the church is subject to Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself to her, that he might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that he might present her to Himself as glorious church, not having spots or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of his body, of his flesh and of his bones. For this reason a man shall leave his mother and his father and be joined to his wife, as the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless, let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband”.
The Gospel reading (John 2:1–11):
“At that time there was a wedding at Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Now both Jesus and his disciples were invited to the wedding. And when they ran out of wine, the mother of Jesus said to Him, ‘They have no wine’. Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what does your concern have to do with me? My hour has not yet come’. His mother said to the servants, ‘Whatever he says, you do it’. There were six water pots of stone, according to the manner of purification of the Jews, containing 20 or 30 gallons each. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the water pots with water’ and they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, ‘Draw some out now and take it to the master of the feast’. And they took it. When the master of the feast had tasted the water that was made to wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom. And he said to him, ‘Every man at the beginning sets out the good wine, and when the guests have well drunk, then the inferior. You have kept the good wine until now!’. This beginning of signs Jesus did in Cana of Galille, and manifested His glory; and His disciples believed in Him”.
THE DANCE OF ISAIAH
Followed by the best man or matron of honour and the bridal party, the Priest leads the bridal couple around the table three times while the choir sings. The couple return to their places and the priest reads a prayer and takes the crowns off their heads.
The Priest prays, asking God, Who did go to Cana and blessed there the marriage, to bless also His servants who, through His good providence are now united together in Holy Wedlock; to bless their going out and coming in, to replenish their life with good things, to receive their crowns into His Kingdom, and to preserve them spotless, blameless, and without reproach unto the ages of ages.
The Service closes with a benediction.