Holy Matrimony (Marriage)

The grace of God is what enlivens nuptial communion without destruction of one's personal identity. When St. Paul compares the marriage of a man and a woman to Christ and the Church, he embodies "the Christological and ecclesiological character of the unity of husband and wife in relation to the salvation of humanity." It is a means whereby humanity can seek communion by God's grace and so to enter His blessed kingdom. Marriage "is a tree where the fruit are shown on earth and the roots are found in heaven." The relatedness between persons in terms of being and existence, especially in the most intimate ethical relationship of marriage, can be sanctified and thereby mirror Christ's mystical relationship to the church. It is the Incarnation of Christ which reveals the absolute freedom of God's love so as to guarantee the sacredness and freedom of a human person in his or her journey in life.

by Father Constantine Varipatis (Marriage and the Freedom of the Human Person 1995)

Marriage in the Orthodox Church is a sacrament that has its origins in the Garden of Eden when God said "It is not good for man to be alone" (Gen.2:18) and so created Eve and said unto them "Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth" (Gen. 1:28). This blessing of God is ever present today when we stand before His Holy Altar in Holy Matrimony. This is not merely Matrimony, but Holy Matrimony, a union between two beings and God through Jesus "Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female', and said, 'For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh' So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no man separate." (Matt. 19: 4-6).

Marriage is not a civil service of temporary love, but a union with God with a love that is eternal "Those who get married must unite with the knowledge of the bishop, so that marriage may be according to the Lord, and not by human desire" (St. Ignatius 100A.D.) True love entails a life-long commitment to the person loved, and is forever "Love is patient and kind…It hopes, believes, endures all things…Love never ends…" It holds "Till death us do part." and continues forever (St. Paul).

The Marriage Service

Greek Orthodox Marriage does not consist of vows, as man and woman have joined together freely and coequally, and committed to one another, and consented to the presence of God in their union. Holy Matrimony in the Kingdom of God is not separated by death, but is eternal as Christ has destroyed death by His Cross and resurrection. The Orthodox Sacrament of Marriage consists of two main parts: The Betrothal (Exchange of Rings), and the Crowning (Stephana).

The Betrothal

The service of betrothal precedes the service of crowning. From ancient times rings have been used as a symbol of betrothal. They are a physical sign of the union between one man and one woman in faithfulness. The Bride and Groom exchange the rings with each other three times, in honor of the Holy Trinity, to symbolise that in their marriage all things are shared between each other. The rings are placed on the right hand of the Bride and Groom as our Biblical tradition suggests that it is the right hand of God that blesses; it is to the right hand of the Father that Christ ascended; it is to the right that those who inherit the Kingdom of God will go and as a symbol of strength and honor, and throughout life will share with one another all they can. By themselves the Bride and Groom are incomplete, but through the Sacrament of Marriage with the blessing of God, they become whole.This service is comprised of three main components: petitions, prayers and the exchange of rings. The service is initiated by the priest(s) chanting the litany which includes petitions for the bridal couple. Two short prayers are then read that associate marriage with the saving work of Christ, who restores the unity between God and man. At the conclusion of these prayers, the Priest blesses two gold rings, then taking the groom's ring touches his forehead, saying "The Servant of God is betrothed to the Handmaiden of God [as he touches her forehead] in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit." The Priest then betroths the bride to the groom in a like manner. While a final prayer is being read by the Priest, the Koumbaro (sponsor) interchanges the couple's rings three times as an expression and witness of the two lives being entwined into one.

The Crowning Service

The Crowning is the central act of the Orthodox Wedding. The Crowns or Stephana are joined together by a ribbon and placed on the heads of the Bride and Groom and exchanged three times, in honor of the Holy Trinity. They are crowned symbolically as King and Queen of their kingdom, to preside over it with wisdom, justice, integrity and above all selfless love. It begins with the chanting of Psalm 128 and comprised of five major elements: 1) the prayers; 2) the crowning; 3) the Scripture readings; 4) the Lord's Prayer and the common cup and; 5) the Dance of Isaiah. The Sacrament of Crowning is initiated by the priest lifting the Holy Gospel and invoking the Holy Trinity, "Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit . . . "

The Prayers

After the petitions of the Litany are chanted by the clergy to the response, "Kyrie Eleison" or "Lord have mercy", three prayers are read. The many biblical personalities and episodes alluded to in the prayers affirm the truth that God remains faithful to His people in spite of all historical vicissitudes and human sins, as long as the couple has faith in God. The prayers ask God to place this bride and this groom into the company of these holy couples and to "bless them . . . preserve them . . . and remember them." In the third prayer, the right hands of the bride and groom are joined as the priest reads: "Join together this your servant, and your handmaid . . . in oneness of mind."

The Crowning Proper

The Priest takes the crowns, blesses them over the Gospel, signs the couple three times with the Liturgical formula: "the Servant of God [groom's name] is crowned for the Handmaiden of God [bride's name] in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit" and then crowns them chanting "Lord our God, crown them with glory and honor." The Koumbaro then exchanges the crowns three times. The crowns remain on the heads of the couple until the close of the service.

The Scripture Readings

The writings of both Saint Paul to the Ephesians 5:20-33 and Saint John the Evangelist 2:1-12 are the two most revealing sections of the New Testament relative to the Sacrament of Marriage. The first reading relates marriage to the Mystery of Christ and the Church, while the second details the presence of Jesus at the marriage in Cana of Galilee. These readings reveal that the couples relationship should be predicated on sacrifice and love as marriage has been sanctified by Christ.

The Lord's Prayer & the Common Cup

Together with the Scripture readings, the reciting of the Lord's Prayer and the partaking of a common cup remind us that the marriage service was conceived as a Eucharistic liturgy. The communion hymn, "From the cup of salvation will I partake; And upon the Name of the Lord will I call." further emphasize the services' Eucharistic origins. The red wine that is now shared instead of the Eucharist, symbolizes the Cup of life that the husband and wife will drink: bitterness with sweetness, disappointment with happiness, and tribulation with joy.

The Dance of Isaiah

In this display the priest, holding the Gospel, leads the bride and groom around the table three times, in honor of the Holy Trinity. The couple is accompanied by their Koumbari (sponsors) who will walk with them throughout the joys and sorrows of life. This divine action is significant as it the first steps as husband and wife, always following the teachings of Christ.

The hymns chanted also express the meaning and the inherent beauty of this procession. The troparia summarize the entire Biblical content of the Christian marriage, that is, to be a witness to the coming of the Kingdom of God, inaugurated by the birth of the Son of God from a Virgin. The hymnography inspires the couple to walk in the way of righteousness and to keep Christ at the center of their relationship throughout their lives.

Following the Dance of Isaiah the crowns are removed by the priest who says prayers: "Receive their crowns in Your Kingdom unsoiled and undefiled and preserve them without offense to the ages of ages." The Sacrament of Matrimony then concludes with this final prayer for the newly married couple :

May the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the All-Holy, Consubstantial, and Life-creating Trinity, the One Godhead and Kingdom; bless you and grant you long life, well-favored children, progress in life and in faith; enrich you with all the good things of the earth, and make you worthy to enjoy the promised blessings; through the intercessions of the holy Theotokos and of all the Saints. Amen.

Days when Marriage is not permitted.

January 5-6; Great Lent and Holy Week;
August 1-15; August 29 (Beheading of St. John the Baptist);
September 14 (Exaltation of the Holy Cross);
December 13-25;
The day before and on major feastdays including Pentecost, Christmas, Easter, etc., and all Holy Days of Our Lord. A wedding may be conducted on these days only if absolutely necessary and then only by special permission.

 

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