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 which 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 symbolize
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 symbolize their spiritual
willingness to receive Christ.
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 betrothal of mutual
promise, officially given before the church, may prove in true faith, concord and love.
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 symbolize the union and the oneness of the couple.
This is the focal point of the marriage ceremony. The crowns are signs
of the glory and honor with which God crowns them during the sacrament. The wedding crowns
(stefana) are joined by a ribbon which again symbolizes 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 rite of crowning is followed by the reading of the Epistle and the
Gospel. 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 anothers
burdens." Their joys will be doubled and their sorrows halved because they will be
The priest then leads The Bride and The Groom in a circle around
the table on which are placed the Gospel and the Cross, the one containing the word of
God, the other being the symbol of our redemption by Jesus. The Bride and The Groom are
taking their first steps as a married couple, and the church, in the person of the priest,
leads them in the way they must walk. The way is symbolized by the circle at the center of
which are the Gospel and the cross of our Lord. This expresses the fact that the way of
Christian living is a perfect orbit around the center of life, who is Jesus Christ our
During this ceremonial walk around the table a hymn is sung to the Holy Martyrs
reminding the newly married couple of the sacrificial love they are to have for each other
in marriage - a love that seeks not its own but is willing to sacrifice its all for the
Removal of the Crowns
At the conclusion of the Ceremonial Walk, the priest
removes the crowns from The Bride and The Groom and beseeches God to grant to the
newlyweds a long, happy and fruitful life together. He then lifts up the Gospel and
separates their joined hands reminding them that only God can separate the couple form one
The sugar coated almonds (koufeta), which were placed on
the tray with the crowns and which will later be offered to the guests are also symbolic.
In the early days of the Church, honey dipped almonds were offered to the newlyweds by the
priest. The white symbolizes purity. The egg shape represents fertility and the new life
which begins with marriage. The hardness of the almond represents the endurance of
marriage and the sweetness of the sugar symbolizes the sweetness of future life. The odd
number of almond is indivisible, just as The Bride and The Groom shall remain undivided.