In twelve weeks, Kirsten and I will be married in an Orthodox church. Since many of our guests are either not Orthodox or not Christian, and we wanted them to have a sense of what’s happening in the wedding ceremony, we developed the description below. The text is based on similar pamphlets we’ve seen, on explanations from different Orthodox sites around the web, and on our own understanding of this beautiful, ancient service. We’ve included it on our wedding website, and our plan is to print it up as pamphlet and have the ushers hand it to our guests as they come into the church. We received our priest’s blessing to do this, of course.
Below is the text in its entirety, offered to you in case you’d like to learn more about the service, or if you’re getting married in an Orthodox church yourself and would like to print up something similar for your guests (make sure to run it by your priest first, though). If you happen across this page, please take a moment to pray for Kirsten and I, that our marriage will please God and be blessed by Him.
Symbols in the Orthodox Wedding Ceremony
The wedding ceremony of the Orthodox Church is an ancient service by which a man and a woman are united together “in faith, and in oneness of mind, in truth, and in love.” It is a ceremony steeped in ritual and symbolism, reflecting the most important elements of a Christian marriage: love, mutual respect, and sacrifice.
As with most Orthodox worship, many words and actions are repeated three times, reflecting the triune nature of God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The rings are blessed by the priest who makes the sign of the cross over the couple’s heads and says, “The servant of God (Karl) is betrothed to the handmaiden of God (Kirsten), in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” and “The handmaiden of God (Kirsten) is betrothed to the servant of God (Karl), in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” He does this three times. The back and forth movement of the rings over the couple’s heads symbolizes that the lives of these two individuals are being entwined into one. The exchange of the rings expresses the belief that each will be enriched by the union.
The bride and groom are given candles, which they hold throughout the rest of the service. The light from the candles represents the spiritual willingness of the couple to receive Christ, the Light of the World, into their new life together.
The Joining of the Right Hands
The right hand of the bride and groom are joined when the priest reads the prayer that asks God to “join these thy servants, unite them in one mind and one flesh.” The hands are kept joined throughout the service to symbolize the oneness of the couple.
Three prayers are read which ascribe to God the institution of marriage and the preservation of His people through the ages. These prayers portray humanity as one continuous fabric, in which is interwoven everyone from the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, to the present generation of believers. The bride and groom enter into this fabric with the reading of the third prayer.
At the climax of the wedding service, the groom and bride are crowned as the King and Queen of their own little kingdom, their new home which God calls them to rule with wisdom, justice, and integrity. Their crowns also symbolize the crown of martyrdom, since every true marriage involves mutual self-sacrifice.
The Common Cup
The Gospel reading describes the marriage at Cana of Galilee, where Christ performed His first recorded miracle, turning water into wine to save His hosts from public embarrassment. In remembrance of this merciful and joyful blessing, wine is given to the couple to drink from a common cup. From that moment on, the couple shall share everything in life, joy as well as sorrow, and they will bear one another’s burdens, the token of a life of harmony. Whatever the cup of life has in store for them, they will share in it equally; and because they are shared, their joys will be doubled and their sorrows halved.
The Ceremonial Walk
The bride and groom are led around the altar table. The priests represents Christ, Whom the couple follow in these their first steps as a married couple. The circular movement around the table represents peacefulness and infinity; the cross represents suffering; and the Gospel represents the education of children to come.
The walk itself is a religious dance expressing the joy of matrimony, like King David in his enthusiasm danced before the Lord.
The priest blesses the groom and bride as he removes the crowns from their heads, and implores God to grant to the newlyweds a long, happy, and fruitful life together.
Facing the groom, the priest says, “Be magnified, O Bridegroom, as Abraham, and blessed as Isaac, and increased as was Jacob. Go your way in peace, performing in righteousness the commandments of God.” Turning to the bride, he says, “And you, O Bride, be magnified as was Sarah, and rejoiced as was Rebecca, and increased as Rachel, being glad in your husband, keeping the paths of the Law, for so God is well pleased.”