The text below explains in some detail the various happenings at every stage during a Christian Orthodox Church wedding. Since I know most of you have looked at the photos I Posted on facebook, your scrutiny has exposed you to questions. You can read through this and ask me any questions.
THE SACRAMENT OF HOLY MATRIMONY
Marriage is one of the seven Sacraments of the Eastern Orthodox Church. During the Sacrament the Grace of God is imparted to the couple through the priest, who unites them “as into one flesh.” The Holy Sacrament is rich in symbolism and tradition.
THE BETROTHAL SERVICE
The Orthodox wedding ceremony is divided into two parts. The first is the Betrothal, during which the wedding couple and attendants are welcomed into the church by the choir singing an appropriate hymn. The Bride and Groom go to the Iconostasis (holy screen covered with icons) and stand before the Holy Doors. During this part of the service, the exchange of rings takes place.
Every Eastern Orthodox Christian marriage is, by definition, a double-ring ceremony. Just as in pro-Christian times when a ring was given to entrust power or symbolise a pledge, rings are used in the marriage ceremony to symbolise the same on a higher spiritual level- as a pledge to GOD
During this part of the ceremony, the priest takes the rings from the holy throne and puts them on the candidates’ right hands as a token of their mutual promise of loyalty and devotion.
The Kum then, in a privileged manner, exchanges the rings for the couple. The exchanging of the rings signifies that in married life, the weakness of one partner will be complemented by the strength of the other. While the choir sings “Glory to Thee Our God,” the priest leads the couple to the centre of the church where the sacred part of the wedding takes place, the Sacrament.
THE CANDLES AND KUM
The wedding service begins immediately following the Betrothal Service. The Kum and the Stari Svat are handed candles which they hold throughout the service. According to Serbian tradition the Kum is the Godfather of the couple. Just as in the Sacrament of Baptism, the newly born infant has Godparents, so does the newly wed couple have Godparents or “sponsors” in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.
The candles are like the lamps of the five wise maidens of the Bible that, because they had enough oil in them, enabled the maidens to receive the Bridegroom, Christ, when He came in the darkness of the night. The candles symbolise the spiritual will of the couple to receive Christ, who will bless them through this sacrament. The perpetual light of Christ reminds the couple that from now on, they must shine in virtue and purity of good deeds.
THE JOINING OF THE RIGHT HANDS
The Sacrament is characterized by five significant parts. The joining of the right hands takes place as the priest beseeches God to “join the servants, unite them in one mind and flesh.” Their hands remain joined throughout the service to summarised the couple’s openness.
The climactic moment of the entire wedding is the brief period when the Office of the Crowning takes place. The crowns are emblematic of fruitfulness, and the glory and honour which crowns the newly married couple (Psalms 8: 5-6; Hebrew 2:7). Thus, the Bride and Groom are set apart as king and queen of their new home.
Two readings from the New Testament then take place. The first is that of St. Paul to the Ephesians (5:20-33), where the duties of the husband and wife are summarised. The second reading is the Gospel of St. John (2:2-12), which relates the story of Christ’s presence at the marriage feast in Cana of Galilee, where he performed his first miracle by changing water into wine.
THE COMMON CUP
In remembrance of His first miracle, the Bride and Groom share wine from a “Common Cup,” which also denotes the mutual sharing of joy and sorrow. The words commonly used in other ceremonies, “Do you take this man, or woman for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, until death do you part,” are not heard in the Orthodox ceremony. All this is summarised in the drinking from the communion cup.
THE PROCESSION AROUND THE ALTAR
The procession is called the dance of Isaiah the Prophet, a pre-Christian custom denoting joy. The church rejoices over the happy event of marriage and takes the initiative to express this joy through this sacred walk. By traversing walk, which represents eternity, the newlyweds signify their oath to preserve their marriage bond until death separates them by circling the altar three times in honour of the Holy Trinity.
This part of the service is especially symbolic of the newly weds’ first walk with God as husband and wife, just as Adam and Eve: walked with God, in innocence. in the Garden of Eden. From now on, the newlyweds shall walk with Christ as their guide, and His words will guide their steps in daily life. During this procession around the portable altar, a hymn is sung to the Holy Martyrs as a reminder to the newly married couple of the sacrificial love they are to share in marriage.
The Bride and Groom return to their places. The priest, blessing the Groom says “Be though magnificent, 0, bridegroom, as Abraham, the blessed Isaac, and increase as Jacob, walking in peace and working in righteousness and the Commandments of God.” Blessing the Bride, he says, “And thou, 0 bride, be though magnificent as Sarah, and glad as Rebecca, and do though increase like unto Rachel, rejoicing in thine own husband, fulfilling the conditions of the law for it is well pleasing unto God.”
The attendants, with the guests attending the ceremony, then come forward to congratulate the couple, as the choir sings “Mnogaja Ljeta” (Many years).
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