Eastern Orthodox Christian Wedding Traditions
The Eastern Orthodox religion generally encompasses people from Mediterranean and Eastern groups, including Greek, Russian, Lebanese and Romanians. While the traditions and heritage resemble those of the Roman Catholic and Episcopal faiths, the Eastern Orthodox leaders are the patriarchs rather than the popes. The traditional wedding service is firmly rooted in Byzantine ritual and is quite long.
Ancient Wedding Traditions
In Ancient Greece and Rome, the Bride was always taken to her wedding and new home with torches. In Rome, one of these torches was made of white thorns, which was believed to keep away evil influences.Fire was regarded as a legitimate witness to a marriage in Greece. A wedding without the presence of a torch fire was not considered fully sanctified. The function of the torches were both elemental and spiritual. It was believed that the darkness harbored evil spirits. Torches split the darkness and made demons recede, thereby purifying the air and surrounding space. Torches were used even in daytime processionals.
In Ancient Greece, women purified themselves before a wedding by bathing in a river or a fountain holy to the goddess of wedlock. Even in modern Greece, water is part of the ceremony: hands and feet are washed to insure purity.
Modern Wedding Traditions
A wedding normally takes place during the morning hours, preferable following the morning liturgy. The Bride and Groom fast prior to the ceremony.Weddings cannot be scheduled during the Lenten season; the Advent and Epiphany seasons (November 28th through January 6th); the Fasting season preceding both the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul (in June) and the Feast of Dormition (in August); and special one-day fast periods.
Preferably on the wedding day, the Bride and Groom approach the confessional and partake of the Sacrament of Penance and then Holy Communion in order that they cleanse themselves of all sin and come pure before the marriage altar. Orthodox church members must receive communion on the Sunday before the marriage ceremony.
The Groomsmen, or best man, must be of Orthodox faith. Other witnesses, ushers and Bridesmaids may be non-Orthodox. The Eastern Orthodox church allows interfaith marriages, but one partner and one witness must be Eastern Orthodox.
The Bride wears a veil during the wedding service and during the reception that follows.
The Wedding Ceremony
The Greek Orthodox wedding Ceremony consists of two parts: The Betrothal and the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. It is a Christian ceremony.
The Betrothal Service
In the Betrothal service, the Priest blesses the rings of the Bride and Groom, then places them on their right hands. The sponsor then exchanges the rings between them three times signifying that their lives are entwined forever.
In the Bible, the right hand is the preferred hand, indicating good. The Betrothal dramatizes the free decision made by the Bride and Groom, and is symbolized by the giving of rings.
This service begins at the door of the church and is completed before the altar. The Bride, Groom, and their attendants gather at the vestibule of the church. The Priest comes to meet them. The Bride and Groom stand before the Priest, the Groom to the right of the Bride. He asks them if they come of their own free will, and if they have not promised themselves to someone else. The Priest then invites the Bride and Groom, and the attendants, to enter the church and stand before the altar.
The rings are blessed and placed on the fourth finger of the right hand of the Groom and the Bride. The Priest then places a portion of his vestment over their crossed hands and they recite the marriage vows.
The Marriage Ceremony
The Marriage Ceremony begins immediately thereafter culminating in the crowning. It begins with the Priest giving the Bride and Groom lighted candles which they hold throughout the service. The candles can be plain or very ornate, and indicate that Christ, the Light of the World, will light the way of their new life together.
Following a series of petitions and prayers with special reference to well known couples of the Old Testament, such as Abraham and Sarah, the Priest will join the right hands of the couple. This is an ancient symbol of marriage in which the Priest prays for God to "unite your servants, and crown them in one flesh..."
The Priest then holds the stephana, or wedding crowns, joined by a ribbon, and makes the sign of the cross with them three times over the Bride and Groom. The crown is kissed by the Groom before it is placed. The same happens with the Bride. The Priest removes the crown from the Groom first, then offers words and the Groom kisses the crown. The same is done with the Bride.
An epistle excerpt of Saint Paul is read, exhorting husband and wife to unconditional love and support of one another. This is followed by an excerpt from the Gospel of Saint John relating to the wedding at Cana when Christ performed the first of His miracles and blessed the institution of marriage.
The couple drinks wine from a common cup. It signifies that they will be sharing the happiness and sorrows of life together. In a Greek tradition, bread is dipped into the wine and then given to the Bride and Groom.
The Priest will then lead the couple around the wedding table or altar table three times. He holds the Bible in his hand, reminds the Bride and Groom that the Word of God should lead them through life. The circle represents eternal marriage, for a circle has neither a beginning or and end.
The ceremony ends with a benediction and prayer. The Priest uses the Bible to uncouple the hands of the Bride and Groom signifying that only God can come between them.
The Wedding Crowns
The crowns may be a wreath of flowers or an actual crown, gold with red velvet and jewels. The crowns have several rich symbolisms. They express the creation of a new household, a "kingdom" which they are charged to rule wisely and with full responsibility to each other and to God.The crowning is a sign of victory, just as athletes were crowned in ancient times at their triumphs. In this instance, the Bride and Groom are crowned on account of their growth as mature Christians, prepared for the responsibilities of a Christian marriage.
The crowns also represent martyrdom, sacrifice and steadfast devotion. In marriage, the couple must deny themselves and take up their cross as they relate to their spouses in building up the marriage, and to commit themselves as responsible parents to their children.
Traditional music is used for the processional and recessional, but ancient hymns and chants are used for the service. Many of the customs and rituals are done three times to represent the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Greek Wedding Customs & Traditions
A folk custom calls for a special time during the reception, when, with dance, the women lift the Bride's veil, take it from her, and replace it with a "babushka," symbolizing the transition from girl to woman.Brides in Greece believe a lump of sugar tucked into one of their wedding gloves will bring sweetness all their married lives.
Resources and References
Special thanks to Lois Pearce, Master Bridal Consultant of Hamden, Connecticut, for her time and energy gathering the majority of information used here. We also wish to thank the Association of Bridal Consultants for their assistance.
Please note: The information contained in this category should be considered general in nature. We believe it to be true and an accurate representation of some of the customs and traditions for this country or religion. Information provided by individuals and organizations is assumed to be correct.You are welcome to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with any suggestions for changes, additions or deletions.
The Orthodox Christian Sacrament of Marriage, from Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America
Frank Andonapolis, Bridal Consulting and Event Planning by Frank, Chicago, IllinoisWeddings, Abraham Klausner, Alpha Publishing Company, 1986