My wife and I were married in an Orthodox ceremony in Thessaloniki, Greece this past summer. Many of our guests were not Orthodox, so we wanted to give them some context about the 30 minutes of ceremony in an unfamiliar liturgical language that we asked them to sit for.
We couldn’t find examples of such a pamphlet, even though we heard from other couples in similar situations that they wanted something like it and had been at ceremonies that had something like it. We made our own, and guests raved about it. I’m posting it here so other people can make use of it!
Most of the information here was drawn from a booklet my wife and I got as part of a Boston Orthodox Metropolis marriage prep seminar, which was surprisingly enjoyable.
The wedding of [bride’s name] and [groom’s name]
The sponsor: [koumbaros]
The families: [Bride’s parents’ names] and [groom’s parents’ names]
[Date and place]
Order of the service
- Betrothal Service
- Doxology, petitions, and prayers
- Exchange of rings
- Crowning Service
- Psalms, doxology, petitions, prayers
- Scripture readings and petitions
- The common cup
- Procession, called the “Dance of Isaiah”
- Final exhortation
Link to English text of the service
In its current form, which dates to the 16th century, the Greek Orthodox marriage is actually two services put together: a betrothal service and a crowning service. Unlike a Western wedding, there is no wedding party, only a “sponsor” (for a woman: κουμπάρα, koumbára), a member of the Church who sponsors the couple and is a vital player in the wedding’s most symbolic acts. There are also no spoken vows: the couple’s silent participation in the betrothal service is the sign of their commitment.
Betrothal Service: Doxology, petitions, and prayers
After asking God for the salvation of all souls, peace for the whole world, and praying for the ceremony attendees and the Archbishop, the priest says: “For the servants of God, [bride and groom], who are now being joined to one another in the community of Marriage, and for their salvation; let us pray to the Lord. That there may be sent upon them peaceful and perfect love, and protection, let us pray to the Lord.”
Betrothal Service: Exchange of Rings
The priest announces, “The servant of God [groom] is betrothed to the servant of God [bride], in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” This announcement is made three times —once each for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit— once each for the bride and for the groom. The priest places the rings on the bride and groom, and the sponsor exchanges them.
In the Orthodox church, the primary purpose of marriage is a mutual struggle toward sanctification. The exchange of rings symbolizes this mutual self-offering of husband and wife.
Crowning service: Psalms, doxology, petitions, prayers
During this section, the priest gives the wedding candles to the couple. The light symbolizes the divine light that came into the world through Jesus. The couple holds the candles in their right hands as a reminder that Christ sits at the right hand of God the Father.
Near the end of this section, the priest prays, “O Sovereign Lord, stretch forth Your hand from Your holy dwelling place, and join together this Your servant [groom] and Your servant [bride].” He prays, “Unite them, O Lord, to have oneness of mind,” again emphasizing the Church’s view of marriage as a journey toward mutual fullness and perfection.
Crowning service: The crowning
The priest blesses the crowns (στέφανα, stéfana) and places them on the couple, announcing three times each for the bride and groom, “The servant of God [groom] is crowned to the servant of God [bride], in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”. He reads from Psalm 8: “You [God] have made humankind a little lower than the angels, and have crowned them with glory and honour.” The sponsor then exchanges the crowns three times.
The crowns are a sign of victory, a reward for the couple’s choice to give up their own desires and to lovingly serve one another. The crowning is the “moment” the couple is married, analogous to the “I pronounce you” moment in typical Western ceremonies. To wish someone a happy wedding, Greeks say “Good crowning!” (Καλή στέψη!, kalí stépsi)
Crowning service: Scripture readings and petitions
The readings include Ephesians 5, which includes the verse “Submit yourselves one to another in the fear of God,” another reminder of the mutual sacrifice of marriage.
Crowning service: The common cup
The priest blesses a cup of wine, and the couple drink from the cup, three times each. The shared wine symbolizes both the sweet and the bitter moments that the couple will experience together in the journey of marriage.
Crowning service: Procession, or “Dance of Isaiah”
The priest leads the couple around the altar three times, symbolizing the beginning of the marriage journey, which includes the couple as well as the larger community. The chant in this section begins with the words: “O Isaiah, dance your joy, for the Virgin was indeed with child; and brought to birth a Son, that Emmanuel…”
Crowning service: Final exhortation
In this final section, the priest speaks directly to the couple, congratulating them on their marriage and reminding them to emulate Old Testament figures who were happily married. The crowns are removed, and the couple and the guests are dismissed.