Wedding Customs & Traditions Forum

PSA: Christian Orthodox Symbolism

I'm Macedonian Orthodox.  This is typed up from what my priest gave me.  I figured it might help a couple of people, so I'm going to post it here. :)

Holy Matrimony is a sacrament of the Eastern Orthodox Church in which God unites a man and a woman who desire to share each other’s lives and seek fullness of life and salvation as one entity.  Through His church and by the grace of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ unites the partners and plants the new family in his heavenly kingdom, granting the grace by which the husband and wife can attain in Christ a oneness in spirit and flesh that no human can attain by itself.

The marriage ceremony of the Orthodox Church is steeped in ritual and symbolism.  Each of the acts which you will observe solemnized today has special meaning and significance

The Candles
The Bride and Groom are given lighted candles which are held by the Kum and Kuma, a sign of faith in Christ in the light of the world.  The candles are like the lamps of the five wise maidens of the Bible who because they had enough oil in them were able to receive the Bridegroom, Christ, when he came in the darkness of the night.  The candles symbolize the spiritual willingness of the couple to receive Christ, who will bless them through this sacrament.

The Rings
The rings are blessed by the Priest who takes them in his hand and making the sign of the cross over their heads says: “the servant of God, [Groom], is betrothed to the handmaiden of God, [Bride], in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”

The Kum then exchanges the rings three times, taking the Bride’s ring and placing it on the Groom’s finger and vice-versa.  The rings are the symbol of betrothal from the most ancient times, and they are an outward sign that the couple pledges to join in the marriage of their own free will and consent.  The exchange of the rings signifies that in married life, the weaknesses of the one partner will be compensated by the strength of the other.  The imperfections of one, by the perfection of the other.  Each will be enriched by the union.

The Joining of the Right Hands
The right hands of the Bride and Groom are joined by a white cloth when the Priest reads the prayer that beseeches God to “join these, they servants, unite them in one mind and one flesh.”  The hands are kept joined through the service as a visible sign of the “oneness” of the couple.

The Crowning
The crowning is the high point of the service, the ultimate expression of the spiritual reality of the sacrament.  The Bride and Groom are honoured and glorified as Husband and Wife, as King and Queen of their own dominion – the home and family, which they will rule with wisdom, justice and integrity.

When the crowning takes place, the priest takes the crowns and holds them above the couple and says: “the servant of God, [Groom], is betrothed to the handmaiden of God, [Bride], in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”

The Common Cup
The rite of crowning is followed by the reading of the Epistle (EPHESIANS 5:20-22) and the Gospel (John 2:1-12).  The Epistle lesson reminds us that the Bride and Groom should love each other as Christ loves the Church and “gave himself up for it.”  Their relationship should be holy and pure, “without spot, blemish or wrinkle.”  The Gospel reading describes the marriage of Cana of Galilee which was attended by Christ, and for which he reserved his first miracle.  There he converted the water into wine and gave of it to the newlyweds.  In remembrance of this blessing, wine is given to the couple in a common cup.  This is the “common cup” of life which services to impress upon the couples that from this moment on they will share everything in life, joys as well as sorrows.  Not only will they “bear one another’s burdens” but their joys will be doubled and their sorrows halved because they will be shared.

The Ceremonial Walk
The first steps of the couple’s common life are taken in a procession around the lesser alter, the small table bearing a candle, the cross and the Gospel, expressing the commitment to always walk together in faithful obedience to God.  Circles are signs of eternity, and the three circles formed in the procession represent the eternal path of the marriage.  The church, in the person of the Priest, leads the couple in the way around the table.  A hymn is sung to the Holy Martyrs reminding the newly married couple of the sacrificial love they are to have for each other in marriage.

The Final Blessing
The Bride and Groom return to their place and the Priest, blessing the Groom says, “be though magnified, O Bridegroom, as Abraham, and blessed as Isaac, and increased as Jacob, walking in peace and working in righteousness the Commandments of God” and blessing the Bride he says, “and thou increased like unto Rachael, rejoicing in thine own husband, fulfilling the conditions of the law: for so it is well pleasing unto God.”

The visible signs of the new life, the crowns and the white cloth around the hands are removed.  God is beseeched to bless their life and to keep their crowns for when they enter his Kingdom.

Your Presence
In attending the wedding ceremony, the church asks you not only to witness the marriage of two people but also to add your prayers to theirs that God may bless their life together.  For “unless the Lord build the house, those who build it labour in vain.” (PS. 127:1)

The Kum and Kuma represent a most honourable place in the lives of the married couple.  They actively participate in the ceremony and traditionally are Godparents to their children.

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Re: PSA: Christian Orthodox Symbolism

  • Very nice explainations!
  • Thank you so much, I am using this as well :)
  • Thank you for this I will be using this for the wording in my program....

  • One question, do they have "you may kiss your bride" at all in the orthodox ceremony?
  • This is very similar to the Armenian Orthodox Church wedding traditions. We also have the Kum equivalent Kavor and his wife the Kavorkin which also participate in the wedding and pre-wedding festivities. We have the joining of the hands (without the white cloth), the crowning, the common cup. 

    We do not have the "you may now kiss the bride" moment. Also the bride and groom enter the church together and leave together. The language of the ceremony starts talking about the bride and groom as individuals then through the ceremony changes to talk about them as a couple and family. My fav part is the crowning. :) 

    Thanks for posting this info up. Its great to see other orthodox church traditions. 
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