Eastern Orthodox Weddings and Vows Eastern Orthodox Weddings and Vows

The Eastern Orthodox religion strongly resembles Catholic and Episcopalian religions, but the Eastern Orthodox hierarchy recognizes only Eastern Orthodox leaders, not popes.  This religion is dominant in the Mediterranean area and includes Greeks, Russians, Lebanese, and Romanians.  Eastern Orthodox weddings are scheduled early in the day, usually after morning liturgy.  Morning scheduling is important, as the bride and groom must fast prior to the ceremony.  When they reach the church, the couple goes to the confessional and performs cleansing rituals: the Sacrament of Penance and Holy Communion, so that they will be pure when they are married.  The couple must also have taken communion on the Sunday prior to the wedding.

An Eastern Orthodox wedding is long and includes many symbolic rituals.  The ceremony is two-part, beginning with The Betrothal Service and ending with the Marriage Ceremony.  The Betrothal Service begins at the door of the church, where the Priest comes to meet them.  The Priest then inquires if either of the couple has promised him/herself to another, and if they are there by their own choice.  Once the appropriate answers are given, the Priest invites the couple and their attendants to the altar, where he blesses the rings and places them on the right hands of the bride and groom.  The rings will then be exchanged three times, representing the Holy Trinity and symbolizing that the couple will be bound together forever.  Next, the priest will place part of his vestment over their joined hands as the couple silently recites their marriage vows. 

The Priest will then give lighted candles to the bride and groom; this signifies the beginning of the Marriage Ceremony.  The candles may be elaborately decorated, or they may be plain, but their use symbolizes that Christ is the Light of the World and will guide their new life together.  In ancient times, torches were used during the Marriage ceremony to purify the air by dispelling demons, and fire was considered a witness to the marriage.  That tradition has been superseded by the use of candles. 

The wedding crowns may also be elaborate or simple.  Crowns can be made of flowers or metal inlaid with jewels or red velvet.  These crowns symbolize the creation of a new household, and are also a sign of victory as the Bride and Groom have matured into Christians who accept their responsibility.  Additionally, the crowns signify martyrdom, sacrifice, and devotion, as the couple must love each other and their children selflessly. 

After the Priest gives candles to the bride and groom, he joins the right hands of the couple, which is an ancient symbol of marriage, while reciting special scripture from the Old Testament of the Bible.  The wedding crowns, held together by a ribbon, are used to make the sign of the cross in front of the bride and groom.  This is repeated three times.  Both the Bride and the Groom kiss the crowns before they are placed on their heads. 

Next, the Priest reads a passage from Saint Paul and one from the Gospel of Saint John.  These readings are meant to remind the couple of the unconditional love they must give each other.  The couple then takes a sip of wine from a common cup, and eats a piece of bread that has been dipped into the wine.  Sharing this cup symbolizes their future sharing of the ups and downs that occur in life.  The Priest and the couple circle the altar three times, representing the Holy Trinity and also eternal marriage, as circles have no end.  Finally, the Priest performs a benediction and prayer, and pronounces the couple married with the words “Be thou magnified, O Bridegroom.”

Some other important information about Eastern Orthodox weddings is that the Best man must be of Orthodox faith.  If the it is an inter-faith marriage, there must be at least one Orthodox witness along with the Orthodox Bride or groom.  Also, the bride does not remove her veil before the reception.  Weddings are not permitted during the Lenten, Advent, and Epiphany seasons, the Fasting seasons before the Feasts of Saints Peter and Paul and that of Dormition. 

Clearly, Eastern Orthodox weddings follow strict protocol.  These weddings are very formal, and etiquette must be properly followed.  This religion is one in which the marriage ceremony has a strong focus on the religion, rather than focusing on the couple themselves.  However, that doesn’t mean you can’t have any fun at your wedding;  Eastern Orthodox wedding receptions are known for their revelry. 

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