Prologue It is a fact that the worship in the Orthodox Church is filled with beautiful symbolism which with much discretion speaks to the heart of any Christian and they bring to him messages of spiritual edification and salvation. Let us not forget that the Lord himself often spoke in parables and symbolism. As a priest of the Orthodox Church, I came to the conclusion that few are those who have knowledge of the symbolism of all those things which compose the Service of the Sacrament of Marriage. Neither the guests nor the â€œprotagonistâ€? of the Sacrament, the bridegroom and the bride, have knowledge of what exactly takes place during the Service of the Sacrament. Therefor, mainly for pastoral reasons I have decided to write this booklet and to interpret to the best of my ability the Service of the Sacrament of Marriage. The aim of this booklet is for the readers to come to know what takes place in the Service of Sacrament of Marriage and to consciously participate in this Sacrament. I also believe that it will assist all those who are attracted and desire to get to know more about Orthodoxy; it might also assist my fellow priests in their pastoral preparation of the husband and wife-to-be.
~Fr. Dimitrios Vergitsis
The Meaning & Founding of Marriage
Marriage is that Sacrament through which, by the blessing of the priest or bishop, the husband and wife-to-be, presented of their own free will to the Sacrament, procure the Divine Grace, which sanctifies this union and strengthens them in the accomplishment of the aims of marriage.
Marriage is not of human creation, but rather has been given as a gift to man from God. The Founder of marriage is God. This is thus shown in the Old Testament (Gen. 1:27), where God creates man and woman, likewise in the same Book of the Old Testament (2:21), where God leads the woman towards man. Furthermore, the Wedding is blessed through the appearance and participation of the Lord at the wedding in Cana in Galilee and is elevated to a Sacrament in the New Testament (Ephesians 5:22-33). Today the Wedding is blessed through the third person of the Holy Trinity, The Holy Spirit.
The noticeable signs which one is able to comprehend during the Service of the Sacrament of Marriage are a) the free-willed consent of the husband and wife-to-be and b) the blessing of the priest or bishop.
The table that is placed before the husband and wife-to-be symbolizes the Holy Table. The Holy Table symbolizes the all-holy Tomb of Christ and the tombs of the Martyrs of our Church. From the very first years of the Churchâ€™s life, the period of the persecution, the custom of performing the Divine Liturgy upon the tombs of the martyrs was consecrated. The table, apart from its practical usage for the duration of the Sacrament, reminds the husband and wife-to-be of the Sacrifice of Christ and of the lives of the Martyrs, who gave their lives out of love for the Lord, wanting the Church to remind the husband and wife-to-be that they too will have to sacrifice themselves, the one for the other.
Upon the table we also find the Gospel from which, the priest or the bishop will later read a relevant Evangelical reading. The Gospel is the Law of God, the message of the Salvation. This Law will be the foundation of the marriageâ€™s success.
The candles symbolize the Light of Christ, that which lights the road of the newlyweds. Furthermore the burning candles remind us of the fiery flames of Pentecost, as the husband and wife-to-be await the coming down of Divine
Grace, that expecting their own Pentecost. The burning candles furthermore remind the husband and wife-to-be of the wise virgins of the Gospel who were prepared and accepted the Bridegroom Christ. In a like manner the young couple will have to be ready to receive Christ. They shall moreover in this manner, bear witness to their prudence and to the Divine Grace, which will be bestowed upon them.
Standing Beside Each Other
The bridegroom stands beside the bride because the Church wants to show them that they are equal.
Christ & the Church
The bridegroom before the Icon of Christ and the bride before the Icon of the Virgin Mary. They look fixedly, according to the Apostle Paul at the original archetype of the wedding: The Union between Christ and the Church.
The Brides Veil
The brideâ€™s veil as referred to by Ambrosios Mediolanum was red in colour in ages past, which meant, according to him, the marital bashfulness.
The Best Man & Matron of Honour
The best man and matron of honour participate in the Sacrament of Marriage as witnesses to the reciprocal promise of the newlyweds, and have an advisory role during their subsequent lives should the need arise. They exchange the rings and the marriage wreaths three times, in the name of the Holy Trinity, to demonstrate to those who are being married the reciprocal nature of their relationship.
The priest or the bishop censes the engaged couple in the shape of the cross. This symbolic gesture is associated with the story of Tobias: The smoke drove the demons away and made the place clean and holy. At the threshold of new life the cross is laid out with its protective power. The cross cleansed the winds and unchained the universe from the rule of evil, teaches Saint Athanasios in 140 AC.
A short while before the start of the Service, the priest or bishop asks, and must ask, the bridegroom and bride if they desire each other as marriage partners, and if they promise to love each other and to care for each other for all of their lives. If the answer given by the husband and wife-to-be before all of the invited guests, to the priest or bishop carrying out the Service and before God, is affirmative, only then can the Service commence.
The rings symbolize the promise between the husband and wife-to-be that they are due to be crowned for each other. They also symbolize the authority and glory that the couple receives through the Sacrament of Marriage. The ring is usually gold, which symbolizes the chastity that they must share, just as gold is of the purest metals available. The rings are round, not only for practical reasons, but because they symbolize the love that the couple must share. A love that should have no beginning and no end, just as a circle has no beginning and no end.
The Exchange of the Rings
The exchange of the rings by the best man signifies the reciprocity of the promise that the couple will continue on to marriage. It must be noted that in ages past the engagement ceremony took place separately from the Sacrament of Marriage. Furthermore this symbolizes the mutual completion of the deficits of the one through the abilities of the other.
The Joining of the Right Hands
This symbolizes the unity that the couple will have to possess, which is attained with the Lordâ€™s blessing and through their own personal endeavour. The joining of the right hands symbolizes the good deeds and positive exertions of the couple towards attainment of this unity. Through this symbolic act, the Church also demonstrates to the couple that God surrenders the one to the other for a new course of life, which will have the Kingdom of God at its final outcome.
The Marriage Wreaths
The marriage wreaths symbolise the glory and honour that is given by the Church. To the newlyweds for their purity, as they were not led astray by lust. Furthermore it reminds them of the glory and honour that the Lord shall bestow upon them, in the life to come, if they remain faithful to one another. It also reminds us of the crown of thorns worn by Christ before He was crucified, through which the church attempts to symbolically demonstrate to the newlyweds the humility by which they must live, as well as the compliance and tolerance which will have to characterise them.
The ribbon which joins the marriage wreaths, symbolizes the unity of the couple and also the binding of the one to the other. In the Serbian Orthodox Church wreaths similar to royal crowns are used, without ribbons.
The Exchange of the Marriage Wreaths
This process, fulfilled by the best man symbolizes the reciprocity of the coupleâ€™s promise or the attainment of the aims of marriage. This occurs three times, in the name of the Holy Trinity. It furthermore symbolizes the mutual fulfilment in which the newlyweds will have to complement each other throughout their lives.
The chanter reads the Epistle of the Apostle Paul that was sent to the Ephesians, chapter 5 and verses 20-33. Within this reading there is mention of the mutual duties of Christian spouses. The priest or the bishop reads from the Gospel of John, chapter 2 and verses 1-11. Within this evangelical reading mention is made of the miracle performed by Christ at the wedding in Cana in Galilee, in which He changed the water to wine.
The Common Cup
After having blessed the cup of wine, the priest or bishop, gives to the bridegroom and bride to take three corresponding sips in the name of the Holy Trinity. This wine is not Holy Communion, it is simply blessed wine.
However, it reminds the newlyweds of the sacrifice of Christ, the pouring of his Holy blood on the Cross to thereby wash away the sins of mankind. Similarly the newlyweds promise to sacrifice themselves for the sake of one another. The wine in turn reminds the newlyweds of the miracle performed by Christ at the wedding in Cana in Galilee, changing the water into wine. Similarly hereby, with the blessing of God, the newlyweds are called to undergo a transformation from individuals, to persons in communion. The wine also has the property of ever increasing in quality with age. In this way the marriage of the newlyweds is challenged to better itself and mature with age. The fact that the bride and groom drink from a common cup is symbolic of the fact that through common unity they will confront the joy but also the pain which they happen encounter in their lives. This symbolizes the union of all of the moments of their lives.
The Circling of the Table
The priest or the bishop, holding the Gospel in one hand and with the other the bridegroom, who in turn holds the hand of his bride, circle the table three times in the name of the Holy Trinity. This circling is an indication of joy, where two people have joined their lives through the Holy Sacrament of Marriage. This circular rotation reminds the couple of the eternity that is their objective, given that as the circle has no beginning or end so too has eternity no beginning or end. The church furthermore reminds the couple that likewise should the road of their life follow those promises made throughout the duration of the Sacrament of Marriage. The Gospel held by the priest or bishop demonstrates to the couple that they must always follow the Word of God in order for their marriage to succeed.
Rice & Rose Petals
The rice and rose petals are not a part of the Ceremony of the Sacrament, but rather a tradition of various peoples, mainly western, in which invited guests aim to express their good wishes. “May it take root” as is said of their wedding and may it be firm as their whole life is, without problems and “strewn with flowers”. This must however occur with much decency, without sweets and coins being thrown and especially in an inappropriate way, bearing in mind the holiness of the Sacrament and the Temple in which it takes place.
The Removal of the Marriage Wreaths
The priest or the bishop, removes the wreaths from the heads of the newlyweds and submits them to the Lord to preserve them “spotless and undefiled and without offence for all ages”. A little later he will once again place them on the newlywed’s heads, not according to the order of the Church, but rather so that the parents might pay homage to them, showing their respect for the act which their children freely undertook, in this way.
The Separation of the Hands by the Gospel
Finishing the Service of the Sacrament of Marriage, the priest or bishop takes down the Gospel between the newlyweds who unclasp their hands, in order for the church to show that only through the will of God can the marriage be dissolved.
Divine Grace is bestowed on the couple through the Sacrament of Marriage, which sanctifies their connection through both body and soul and reinforces the accomplishment of the specific goals of marriage.
The Purpose of Marriage
The primary goal of marriage is the moral perfection and completion of husband and wife and the blessing of the couple. Secondary and intermediary goals of marriage are the bearing of offspring, the correct upbringing of the offspring, the perpetuation of the human race and the augmentation of the Churchesâ€™ members, all of which drive man towards his original and final goal, as supported by the great dogmatologist Ioannis Karmiris. Thirdly and finally, the goals of marriage are every worldly need that the couple set, and that is a product of their common and honest endeavour, to purchase a home, car, furniture, progress within a career, establishment of position within the society, etc.
"Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me. See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land. The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance. Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me." Song of Solomon 2:10-13
21 August 2010 Paros, Greece