The Sacrament of Holy MatrimonyHoly Matrimony is one of the Holy Mysteries or Sacraments of the Greek Orthodox Church. It is the Holy Mystery during which the bride and groom give a solemn promise before God and the Church to love each other and to be true to each other. The Marriage Service, as performed in the Orthodox Church, is a very beautiful service full of symbols. Actually the service consists of two parts, the Service of the Betrothal and the Service of the Crowning.
The Service of the Betrothal (Aravones)The Betrothal (Aravones) consists of several beautiful prayers during which the priest asks God to grant the betrothed perfect and peaceful love, salvation, and to bless them with fair children.
Exchange of RingsDuring the Betrothal, the rings are blessed over the heads of the bride and groom three times, after which they are placed on the fourth finger of the right hand. The Koumbaro then exchanges the rings three times, taking the bride's ring and placing it on the groom's finger and vice-versa. The rings, of course, are the symbol of betrothal from the most ancient times. The exchange signifies that in married life the weakness of the one partner will be compensated for by the strength of the other, the imperfections of one by the perfections of the other. By themselves, the newly betrothed are incomplete; together they are made perfect. Thus the exchange of rings gives expression to the fact that the spouses in marriage will constantly be complementing each other. Each will be enriched by the union. The Betrothal ends with a prayer that the Lord might make their betrothal strong in faith, truth and love, and make them of one mind; and that He would grant them His heavenly blessings.
The Service of the CrowningThe Service of the Crowning is the wedding proper. It is highlighted by seven significant acts.
Lighted CandlesThe bride and groom are given white lighted candles to hold. The lighted candles symbolize the purity of their lives, which should shine with the light of virtue.
The Joining of HandsDuring the Service of the Crowning, three long prayers are read, asking God to grant the bride and groom a long and peaceful life, mutual love and help, happiness and health. Then the right hands of the couple are joined by the priest who calls upon God to join them into one mind and one flesh. The hands are kept joined throughout the service to symbolize the oneness of the couple.
The CrowningThe priest takes up the crowns (stefana) and makes the sign of the cross three times over the heads of the bride and groom, and then places the crowns on their heads. The crowns are signs of glory and honor with which God crowns them of their own little kingdom, the home, which they will rule with wisdom, justice and integrity. The crowns are joined together with ribbon as another symbol that the two are now one. The Koumbaro exchanges the crowns over the heads of the bride and groom as a witness to the sealing of the union.
Bible ReadingsFollowing the crowning, St. Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians (5:20-33) concerning the mystery and holiness of Christian Marriage and the duties and responsibilities of the husband and wife to each other is chanted by the Cantor (Psalti). St. John's Gospel on Christ's miracle at the Marriage of Cana (2:1-11) is chanted by the priest.
The Common CupThe 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 it to the newlyweds. This is the "common cup" of life denoting the mutual sharing of joy and sorrow, the taking 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 another's burdens".
The Ceremonial WalkThe priest then leads the bride and 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 husband and wife 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 triple circling is in honor of the Holy Trinity. This walk also symbolizes a dance expressing their joy in this union.
The BlessingThe couple return to their places and the priest blessing the groom, says "Be thou magnified, O bridegroom, as Abraham, and blessed as Isaac, and increased as Jacob, walking in peace and working in the righteousness of the commandments of God." And blessing the bride he says "And though, O bride, be thou magnified as Sarah, and glad as Rebecca, and do thou increase like unto Rachel, rejoicing in thine own husband, fulfilling the conditions of the law; for so it is well pleasing unto God," thus ending the Marriage ceremony.