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What is a Greek Orthodox Wedding ceremony and what are it's symbolisms?

Panagitsa Church on the rock island of Parga

As a Greek destination wedding planner and as a Greek Orthodox myself, I have the privilege and honour to witness and help coordinate Greek orthodox weddings for our couples all over Greece. It's a ceremony full of meanings that I will guide you through all it's beautiful details in this article. If you are wondering whether to have an Orthodox wedding or not, I would suggest you read this article first and see if it truly represents who you both are. It is a very special service for those who believe. The service lasts 30 to 40 minutes maximum.

The wedding ceremony of the Greek Orthodox Church is an ancient and evocative service by which a man and a woman are united together "In Faith, and in Oneness of Mind, in Truth, and in Love".

Greek Orthodox Wedding crowns and gospel

The marriage ceremony is abundant with symbols that reflect the basic and important elements of marriage: Love, Mutual respect, Equality and Sacrifice .The Traditions observed today have special meanings and significance. These symbolic actions are often repeated three times stressing the belief in the Holy Trinity, in which God is represented as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Caraf of sweet red wine and the common cup for the Greek Orthodox wedding placed on a silver trey with sweets and rice

In the Orthodox tradition, the wedding ceremony is actually composed of two services. The first is the Service of Betrothal, or Engagement ceremony, during which the rings are exchanged. The second is the Service of Marriage or Crowning, during which prayers are offered for the couple, the crowns of marriage are placed on their heads, the common cup is shared, and the ceremonial walk takes place around the table.

Let's explain it in detail.

The Ceremony

  • Waiting of the bride

  • The Service of Betrothal (engagement)

  • The Service of Crowning / The Sacrament of Marriage The Crowning of the bride and groom

  • The Common Cup and Reading from the Gospel

  • The Ceremonial Walk

  • The Removal of the Crowns and the Benediction - The Blessing

Waiting of the bride

In the Greek Orthodox Tradition, the father accompanies the bride to the entrance of the church, where the groom awaits with her bouquet. The groom offers the bouquet to her, and takes her right hand after her father. Bride and groom then walk together down the aisle, the groom on the right side of the bride.

The Service of Betrothal (engagement)

In this service, the priest begins by offering petitions of prayer on behalf of the man and woman who are being betrothed. He then asks God's blessings upon the rings and proceeds to bless the bride and groom with the rings. He does this three times in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, first from the groom to the bride, and then from the bride to the groom. The back and forth movement can be interpreted to mean that the lives of the two are being entwined into one. Double wedding bands are used, since according to Old Testament references, the placing of rings was an official act indicating that an agreement had been sealed between two parties. In this case, the agreement is that a man and a woman agree to live together in the fellowship of marriage as husband and wife.

The Service of Crowning / The Sacrament of Marriage The Crowning of the bride and groom The Crowning is the highlight and focal point of the Sacrament of Holy matrimony. The priest then takes two wedding crowns, or Stefana, and blesses the bride and groom in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and then places the crowns upon their heads. The Koumpara then interchanges the crowns three times as a witness to the sealing of the union The wedding crowns, or Stefana, symbolize the glory and honor that is being bestowed on them by God during the sacrament. The Stefana are joined by a ribbon which symbolizes the unity of the couple and the presence of Christ who blesses and joins the couple. Through the crowns, the Christ establishes the couple as the King and Queen of their home, which they rule with wisdom, justice, and integrity. The crowns used in the Orthodox wedding ceremony also refer to the crown of martyrdom, since every true marriage involves self-sacrifice on both sides.

The Common Cup and Reading from the Gospel

The crowning is followed by a reading of the Gospel, which tells of the marriage of Cana at Galilee. It was at this wedding that Jesus performed His first miracle, changing water into wine, which was then given to the married couple, symbolizing a transformation from old into new, a passage from death into life. In remembrance of this blessing, following the Gospel reading and brief prayers, a cup containing a small portion of wine is presented to the bride and groom. The wine is blessed by the celebrant and offered to the now wedded husband and wife, and they each drink three times from a "common cup".

The common cup serves as a witness that from that moment on, the couple shall share everything in life, joy as well as sorrow, and that they will bear one another's burdens, the token of a life of harmony. Their joy will be doubled and their sorrows halved because they are shared. Whatever the cup of life has in store for them, they will share equally.

The Ceremonial Walk The Dance of Isaiah, or “ceremonial walk, the celebrant then takes the arm of the groom and leads him and his bride around the table three times as an expression of joy. The three-fold walk around the anti-altar is seen as a religious dance. In this respect it is an expression of gratitude to God for His blessings, and joyfulness at the receiving of those blessings. As the bride and groom are led around the table three times, three significant hymns are sung. The first speaks of the indescribable joy that Isaiah the Prophet experienced when he envisioned the coming of the Messiah upon the earth. The second reminds us of the martyrs of the Faith, who received their crowns of glory from God through the sacrifice of their lives, and reminds the newlyweds of the sacrificial love they must have for one another in their marriage. The third is an exaltation to the Holy Trinity . The altar contains the cross and the holy gospel, and on each circle, the couple kisses the cross that the priest holds. The circular movement represents peacefulness and infinity, towards which the couple engages, the cross represents suffering, and the gospel represents the education of children to come. The bride and groom take their first steps together as a married couple, and the priest represents the Church, leading them in the direction in which to walk.

The Removal of the Crowns and the Benediction - The Blessing

At the conclusion of the ceremonial walk, the couple returns to their places. The priest blesses the groom and then the bride as he removes the crowns from their heads, and implores God to grant to the newlyweds a long, happy, and fruitful life together.When the bride and groom have returned to their original places, the Priest faces the groom and 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."Then, removing their crowns, the Priest says, "Accept their crowns in Your Kingdom unsoiled and undefiled; and preserve them without offense to the ages of ages." The priest then lifts up the Gospel and separates the couple's joined hands, reminding them that only God can separate the couple from one another. This gives emphasis once again to their oneness and to the holiness of their union. "What God has joined together, let no man put a sunder."

Bride & Groom standing inside the Panagitsa chapel infront of the iconostas in Parga

It is beyond all doubt a very sacred beautiful formal ceremony that requiers all respect for all it's meanings that you have now read and learned. The above images are of my own Greek Orthodox wedding on the island of Panagitsa in Parga. I would like to thank and credit our photographer Dimitris Stamatopoulos for his amazing work.

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