The wedding ceremony of the Greek Orthodox Church is an ancient and evocative service by which a man and a woman are united together “In Faith, and in Oneness of Mind, in Truth, and in Love”, acknowledging that their love is rooted in God, who is Love itself. The marriage ceremony is abundant with symbols that reflect the basic and important elements of marriage: Love, Mutual respect, Equality and Sacrifice.
The Traditions observed today have special meanings and significance. These symbolic actions are often repeated three times stressing the belief in the Holy Trinity, in which God is represented as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
In the Orthodox tradition, the wedding ceremony is composed of two services. The first is the Service of Betrothal, or Engagement ceremony, during which the rings are exchanged. The second is the Service of Marriage or Crowning, during which prayers are offered for the couple, the crowns of marriage are placed on their heads, the common cup is shared, and the ceremonial walk takes place around the table.
The Service of Betrothal (Engagement)
In this service, the priest begins by offering petitions of prayer on behalf of the man and woman who are being betrothed. He then asks God’s blessings upon the rings and proceeds to bless the bride and groom with the rings. He does this three times in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, first from the groom to the bride, and then from the bride to the groom. The back and forth movement can be interpreted to mean that the lives of the two are being entwined into one. The priest then places the rings on the ring fingers of the right hands of the two. The rings are then exchanged three times on the fingers of the bride and groom by the Best Man a further expression and witness that the lives of the two are being brought together. The exchange signifies that in married life, the weakness of one partner will be compensated by the strength of the other. Apart, the newly betrothed are incomplete, but together they are made perfect. The couple is now engaged to be married before God.
The ritual of crowning/ stepsis
The Sacrament of Marriage begins immediately following the Betrothal Service. The priest hands the bride and groom while two candles are lit, one for each each,and the light from the candles represents the spiritual willingness of the couple to receive Christ, the “Light of the World”, into their lives together.
The priest also joins the couples right hands together while praying for their marriage. The bride and groom continue to hold hands during the ceremony as a symbol of their oneness.
The Crowning (stepsis) is the highlight and focal point of the Sacrament of Holy matrimony. The priest then takes two wedding crowns, or Stefana, and blesses the bride and groom in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and then places the crowns upon their heads. The Koumparos or Koumpara then interchanges the crowns three times as a witness to the sealing of the union.
The wedding crowns, or Stefana, symbolize the glory and honor that is being bestowed on them by God during the sacrament. The Stefana are joined by a ribbon which symbolizes the unity of the couple and the presence of Christ who blesses and joins the couple. Through the crowns, the Christ establishes the couple as the King and Queen of their home, which they rule with wisdom, justice, and integrity. The crowns used in the Orthodox wedding ceremony also refer to the crown of martyrdom, since every true marriage involves self-sacrifice on both sides.
The crowning (stepsis) is followed by a reading of the Gospel, which tells of the marriage of Cana at Galilee. It was at this wedding that Jesus performed His first miracle, changing water into wine, which was then given to the married couple, symbolizing a transformation from old into new, a passage from death into life. In remembrance of this blessing, following the Gospel reading and brief prayers, a cup containing a small portion of wine is presented to the bride and groom. The wine is blessed by the celebrant and offered to the now wedded husband and wife, and they each drink three times from a “common cup”.
The common cup serves as a witness that from that moment on, the couple shall share everything in life, joy as well as sorrow, and that they will bear one another’s burdens, the token of a life of harmony. Their joy will be doubled and their sorrows halved because they are shared. Whatever the cup of life has in store for them, they will share equally.
The Ceremonial Walk
The celebrant then takes the arm of the groom and leads him and his bride around the table three times as an expression of joy. The three-fold walk around the anti-altar is seen as a religious dance. In this respect it is an expression of gratitude to God for His blessings, and joyfulness at the receiving of those blessings.
The altar contains the cross and the holy gospel, and on each circle, the couple kisses the cross that the priest holds. The circular movement represents peacefulness and infinity, towards which the couple engages, the cross represents suffering, and the gospel represents the education of children to come. The bride and groom take their first steps together as a married couple, and the priest represents the Church, leading them in the direction in which to walk. At this stage they are bombarded with rice.
At the conclusion of the ceremonial walk, the newlyweds return to their places. The priest blesses the groom and then the bride as he removes the crowns from their heads, and implores God to grant to the couple a long, happy, and fruitful life together.
Have you decided to have a Greek Orthodox Wedding? Then, please consider the following:
- It can be held only at an Orthodox church by an Orthodox priest.
- One party (bride or groom) must have been baptised as Orthodox.
- Best man must be also a Christian.
- There are some Holy days during the summertime that Orthodox Weddings cannot take place.Please be informed by your Greek wedding planner.
- In some areas of Greece, Wednesdays and Fridays are considered as mournful days for Orthodoxy and weddings are not allowed to be performed.
- Couple needs to visit the priest and the church at least 2 days before the Wedding date to sign the legal papers.
- Couple needs to visit the local Cathedral at least 1 day prior to the wedding to issue the marriage license.
- If one party (Bride or Groom) is of another Religious Dogma (not Orthodox but still Christian) a Public Notary’s act is required, where it is stated that the children will be baptized as Christian Orthodox.The non Orthodox party,yet Christian, doesn’t need to be baptised as Orthodox.
- A non-Christian partner must be first Baptized in the name of Holy Trinity and in water and then proceed to an Orthodox Wedding ceremony. Please note that before the baptism an indoctrination (catechism) is required and it needs at least 2 months to be completed.
- If the couple has been already legally married by a Civil Wedding, a copy of the Marriage Statement is required.
- In some countries the Orthodox marriage is equivalent to the Civil one and recognises as legal and in some countries not. If you have decided to commit only a Religious Wedding you must definitely check what applies in your country for your family situation.
- An Orthodox wedding ceremony can be only held in Greek.