An Explanation of the Sacrament of Marriage in the Orthodox Church
in the Orthodox Church are God-given gifts
that have emerged from Holy Tradition, and
have been instituted by Christ or the Apostles.
Our Tradition refers to sacraments as mysteries because some aspects
are tangible, and other sacraments must be accepted by faith. The sacraments
are best understood as God-given points of contact, in which God makes
Himself available to us personally. As we make the choice to faithfully
participate in these mysteries, God’s life-giving and life-changing
grace touches us and makes us holy.
of Marriage as we know it today has evolved
over several centuries. In the early church
(up until the 9th century) marriages were blessed within the context
of the Divine Liturgy. Since then, marriages have been celebrated as
a distinct liturgical event and since the end of the 16th century the
Orthodox Church has celebrated the Sacrament of Marriage very much
as we witness it today.
The service has blossomed from the common Judeao-Christian
teachings found in both the Old and New Testaments
and properly infers that marriage existed even
from the creation of the first man and woman,
whom God blessed and told to be fruitful and
multiply. In the Orthodox tradition, the wedding
ceremony is actually two services in one. The first, which is the briefer
of the two, is the Service of Betrothal, during which the rings are
exchanged. The second is the Service of Crowning, during which lengthy
prayers are offered for the couple, the crowns of marriage are placed
on their heads, the common cup is shared and the celebrational procession
takes place around the table.
The Church has always sought to place
marriage in the context of one’s religious and spiritual journey.
Beyond the legal, psychological and sociological
aspects of marriage identified by society, the Church defines marriage
as a holy union in which a man and woman struggle together toward sanctification
and eternal life within the community of faithful. As the symbolism,
prayers and rituals unfold during the Betrothal Service and the Sacrament
of Marriage, they reinforce and celebrate the sacred meaning of marriage.
The Service of Betrothal
In this service, the priest
begins by offering petitions of prayer on behalf of the man and
woman who are being betrothed. The petitions
begin with general requests that God "bless those
present, be mindful of our world, the Church
and our leaders." The
petitions then focus on the bride and groom
who are pledging themselves to one another,
asking God to "bless
the couple with divine peace, love, harmony
and oneness of mind." Then,
the petitions request that God bless the couple
with children, fidelity, and mutual trust throughout their lifetime
together. Two short prayers follow that communicate the significant
theological truths about marriage, reminding the couple that God’s
love has brought them together, and will sustain them in “peace
and oneness of mind” throughout
The priest then prays for God’s blessings upon
the wedding 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. Double wedding bands are used, since
according to Old Testament references, the placing of rings was an
official act indicating that an agreement had been sealed between two
parties. In this case, the agreement is that a man and a woman agree
to live together in the fellowship of marriage as husband and wife.
priest then places the rings on the ring fingers
of the right hands of the two. It is noteworthy
that the rings are placed on the right hands of the couple, since according
to all Biblical knowledge we have, it is the
right hand of God that blesses; it is to the
right hand of the Father that Christ ascended;
it is to the right that those who will inherit
eternal life will go. Thus, the Church preserves
the superiority of the right also in marriage.
rings are then exchanged three times on the
fingers of the bride and the groom by the Sponsor
as a further expression and witness that the lives of the two are being
brought together. A final prayer is read, sealing the
putting on of the rings, which then take on
the added meaning that the agreement was sealed
and that the marriage was enacted by God Himself.
It is interesting to note that from an Orthodox
perspective, this liturgical action serves
to seal the couple’s commitment. No vows are requested or required.
The couple’s silent participation in this rite presupposes their
commitment, and is more than a sufficient witness
of their dedication to one another.
Service of Crowning begins with the invocation
of the Holy Trinity. Petitions of a general
nature are followed by a series of personal requests made on behalf
of both partners. This personal aspect reminds us that God knows us
and loves us personally. The remaining petitions
help the couple understand that they are entering
into a community of marriage that will be both
separate and joined to a larger community of
faithful individuals, couples and families.
These prayers ask Christ to be present in this
marriage, as He was present and blessed the
marriage in Cana (John 2:1-11).
After the Doxology,
and initial petitions offered on behalf of
the bride, groom, and wedding company, three
prayers are read which ascribe to God the institution
of marriage and the preservation of His people
through the ages. These prayers portray humanity as one continuous
fabric, in which everyone, from the first man
and woman, Adam and Eve, to the present generation
of believers, are interwoven. The bride and
groom enter into this fabric with the reading
of the third prayer. During this prayer the
celebrant joins the right hands of the two
to symbolize the union coming from God. Since
God is the true Celebrant of every sacrament, the priest always expresses
himself in the third person. He is simply God’s instrument in
union is then completed with the Crowning.
The celebrant takes the crowns from the altar table and blesses the
bride and groom in the same manner as he blessed them with the rings.
He then places the crowns upon their heads,
chanting, “O Lord
our God, crown them with glory and honor.” (Psalm 8)
have several meanings, two of which are most
important. First, they conform to Biblical
teachings where God bestows His blessing upon His children in the form
of crowns. Second, they identify the bride and groom as the beginning
of a new kingdom, and as such they reign supreme
under the Divine Authority of God, Who reigns
over all. The sponsor exchanges the crowns
over the heads of the bride and groom as a
witness to the sealing of the union.that particular
wedding and God’s presence in the Garden of Eden. For just as
the first public act of God the Father, in
the Book of Genesis, was to unite man and woman
and to bless them for the continuance of His people on earth, so also
the beginning of Christ’s
ministry on earth was at a wedding.
Following the Gospel reading and brief prayers,
the common cup is presented to the bride and
groom. The cup contains a small portion of
wine. This is blessed by the celebrant and
offered to the now wedded husband and wife
as a witness that from that moment on they
will share the cup of life, and whatever life
has in store for them, they will share equally.
service continues with the Epistle (Ephesians
5:20-33) and Gospel (John 2:1-11) readings.
The Epistle addresses the responsibilities
of each partner in the marriage and the Gospel reading recounts Christ’s
first miracle, the changing water to wine at the wedding in Cana of
Galilee. The Church sees a pertinent relationship between the presence
of Christ at that particular wedding and God’s presence in the
Garden of Eden. For just as the first public act of God the Father,
in the Book of Genesis, was to unite man and woman and to bless them
for the continuance of His people on earth, so also the beginning of
on earth was at a wedding.
celebrant then takes the arm of the groom and leads him and the bride
around the table 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.
As the bride and groom are led around the table
three times, three significant hymns are sung.
The first speaks of the indescribable joy that
Isaiah the Prophet experienced when he envisioned
the coming of the Messiah upon the earth. The
second reminds us of the martyrs of the Faith,
who received their crowns of glory from God
through the sacrifice of their lives. The third
is an exaltation to the Holy Trinity.
The Crowns and the Benediction
When the bride and
groom have returned to their original places, the Priest faces
the groom and says: “Be magnified,
O Bridegroom, as Abraham, and blessed as Isaac,
and increased as was Jacob. Go your way in
peace, performing in righteousness the commandments of God.” Turning
to the bride, he says, “And
you, O Bride, be magnified as was Sarah, and
rejoiced as was Rebecca, and increased as Rachel, being glad in your
husband, keeping the paths of the Law, for so God is well pleased.” Through
these prayers the couple is asked to emulate the faith of Old Testament
figures who found happiness and marital fulfillment through faith in
God. Then, removing their crowns, the Priest says, “Receive their
crowns in Your Kingdom, preserving them spotless, blameless and without
reproach unto the ages of ages.” After this, the prayer of benediction
is recited and the newly married couple departs
from the Church.