Some of the following can be found in an article by Rev. Stanley Harakas, titled: "The Stand of the Orthodox Church on Controversial Issues;" a booklet authored by Rev. Charles Joanides, "Pastoral Guidance for Interfaith Marriage;" and the "Pastoral Resources and Instructuions for Weddings..." as found in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese Yearbook and edited with additions by Rev. Peter Orfanakos.
The most characteristic aspect of Orthodox Christianity is its worship. Worship is central to the life of the Church because it is the place where the most important relationship for human life occurs: the relationship with God. Worship includes the chief means by which God has revealed Himself to humanity; Scripture and the living Tradition of the Faith. No worship service in the Orthodox Church is without the use of the Bible. Furthermore, worship brings all of life into the life of the Kingdom of God. The Orthodox Church orders its worship so that time is sanctified, as are all aspects of human life. Worship also makes alive and present for the believer all of the mighty acts of salvation history. Most feasts are presented in worship services as occurring now, “today.” The chief example of this is Holy Week, which serves to help the faithful relive the events of Christ’s death and resurrection.
More important, however, is the sacramental aspect of worship, through which the saving work of Jesus Christ is mediated by the Church to each person. Baptism introduces the believer into the life of the Kingdom. Holy anointing or Chrismation grants the gift of the Holy Spirit for growth in the image and likeness of God. The Eucharist (Holy Communion) realizes the Kingdom of God everywhere it is celebrated, and unites the communicant with the very body and blood of the Lord. The sacrament of Penance serves to grant and assure the penitent Christian of God’s forgiveness. Marriage unites a man and a woman, incorporating the natural union into the life of the Kingdom, “in the Lord.” Ordination sets aside a small number of the believers for special service to the altar. Unction mediates healing and forgiving grace to believers. It is around these worship experiences that the Orthodox Christian lives his or her Christian life.
Marriage is one of the sacraments of the Orthodox Church. Orthodox Christians who marry must marry in the Church in order to be in sacramental communion with the Church. According to the Church canons, an Orthodox Christian who marries outside the Church may not receive Holy Communion and may not serve as a sponsor, i.e. a Godparent at a Baptism of an Orthodox Christian or as a sponsor at a Wedding in the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox Church permits the marriage of an Orthodox Christian and another Trinitarian Christian through the Orthodox concept of economia (a type of theological dispensation.) The Church’s concern is for each person’s salvation, and therefore does not desire to place an insurmountable obstacle before her faithful by denying the Sacrament of Marriage to those who seek an inter-Christian marriage.
Since only Orthodox Christians are permitted to participate in the Orthodox Church’s sacraments, sponsors (in Greek, the word is Paranymphos or Paranymphy) who exchange the wedding rings and crowns must be Orthodox Christians in good standing. The sponsor in an Orthodox Christian wedding is more than just a legal witness. The sponsor serves as a spokesperson for the Orthodox congregation affirming the spiritual preparedness of the couple to enter into the community of marriage. In the strict interpretation of the Church, the Paranymphos/Paranymphy is not the same as the best man/maid of honor, although they can be the same individual in a wedding.
In other Christian celebrations of Marriage, the best man or maid of honor is considered to be a legal witness to the ceremony. The Paranymphos/Paranymphy is also an ecclesiastical witness, the person who, in many instances but not always, is given the privilege of baptizing (as Godparent) the couple’s first child. He/she is also the person that the couple turns to for advice and counsel in their lives if time and circumstance are conducive to such support. The couple may wish to have in their wedding party both a Paranymphos/Paranymphy and a best man/maid of honor, or they may be the same person. While the role of the best man/maid of honor is that of a witness, the role of the Paranymphos/Paranymphy is an active one. He/she exchanges the rings and the crowns and holds the ribbon as the couple processes around the ceremonial table together as husband and wife. Traditionally, the Paranymphos/Paranymphy purchases the wedding crowns, the silver tray, the almonds, the candles, etc. used during the ceremony.
If the Paranymphos/Paranymphy is from another parish, he/she must bring a letter of introduction from his/her Priest. A person who does not belong to a parish of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, or who belongs to a parish that is not in communion with the Greek Orthodox Church, cannot serve in this important role. A person whose marriage has not been blessed in the Orthodox Church will not be allowed to serve in a sacramental, canonical, capacity in the wedding. Non-Orthodox persons cannot serve in such capacity precisely because such are sacramental, canonical responsibilities of Church members. There is no restriction as to the age of the participants in the bridal party.
Orthodox partners need to be aware that if their marriage is not celebrated (taking place) within the Orthodox Church, they are no longer in good canonical standing and are not permitted to receive the sacraments or participate in the sacraments as a sponsor in the Orthodox Church. Marriage outside the Orthodox Church also precludes an Orthodox Christian burial.
Marriage Preparation Seminars have been established by Father Peter to inform engaged couples, and to help contribute to a successful marriage. The seminars are required by all couples who are marrying at the community of Saint Barbara. At the seminars, the religious, social, physical, emotional and moral issues of marriage are examined as well as what marriage means to Orthodox Christians. Marriage, as many things in life, is a learned experience. Learning how to give, how to love, how to share, how to make mutual decisions with your spouse so as to become one in thought, one in action, one in flesh. Holy Matrimony is not only a Sacrament at the time of the ceremony; it is a Sacrament that continues to be experienced throughout the couple's life. The couple is also encouraged to receive the sacrament of Confession and the Sacrament of Holy Communion as part of their preparation for marriage. By doing so they have the opportunity to bring a new vitality, a spirit and bond into their marriage that will enhance and deepen their lives.
Days When Marriage Is Not Permitted
In the Orthodox Church, the Sacrament of Marriage is not celebrated on fast days or during fasting seasons of the Orthodox Church. These include: during Great Lent and Holy Week, August 1-15, August 29 (Beheading of St. John the Baptist), September 14 (Exaltation of the Holy Cross), and December 13-25. Nor are marriages celebrated on the day before and the day of a Great Feast of the Lord, including Christmas (December 24 and 25); Epiphany (January 5 and 6); The Presentation of Christ to the Temple (February 1 and 2). Marriages are also not celebrated during the moveable Feasts of Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost or on the day before these Feasts. The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony can be celebrated on the above dates only in an extreme emergency and by dispensation of the Archbishop.
Marriage in the Orthodox Church
For the union of a man and woman to be recognized as sacramentally valid by the Orthodox Church, the Sacrament of Matrimony must be celebrated by an Orthodox Priest of a canonical Orthodox jurisdiction, according to the liturgical tradition of the Orthodox Church, in a canonical Orthodox Church, and with the authorization of the diocesan Bishop. Before requesting permission from his Bishop to celebrate the marriage, the Priest must verify that:
- neither of the parties in question are already married to other persons, either in this country or elsewhere;
- the parties in question are not related to each other to a degree that would constitute an impediment;
- if either or both parties are widowed, they have presented the death certificate(s) of the deceased spouse(s);
- if either or both of the parties have been previously married in the Orthodox Church, they have obtained ecclesiastical as well as civil divorce(s);
- the party or parties who are members of a parish other than the one in which the marriage is to be celebrated have provided a certificate declaring them to be members in good standing with that parish for the current year;
- and a civil marriage license has been obtained from civil authorities.
No person may marry more than three times in the Church, with permission for a third marriage granted only with extreme oikonomia. In cases involving the marriage of Orthodox and non-Orthodox Christians, the latter must have been baptized, in water, in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Church cannot bless the marriage of an Orthodox Christian to a non-Christian. The Sponsor (Paranymphos/Paranymphy) must provide a current certificate of membership proving him or her to be an Orthodox Christian in good standing with the Church. A person who does not belong to a parish, or who belongs to a parish under the jurisdiction of a bishop who is not in communion with the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese, or who, if married, has not had his or her marriage blessed by the Orthodox Church, or, if divorced, has not received an ecclesiastical divorce, cannot be a sponsor.
The following types of relationships constitute impediments to marriage:
- Parents with their own children, step-children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren, or godchildren of the same godparents;
- Brothers-in-law and sisters-in-law;
- Uncles and aunts with nieces and nephews;
- First and Second cousins with each other;
- Foster parents with foster children or foster children with the children of foster parents.;
- Godparents with godchildren or godparents with the parents of their godchildren.
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