As some of you know, Jane and I recently got married! Since our pictures came in, so we thought it would be cool to write a bit about the Greek wedding service (as Orthodox wedding in general differ) and share some photos from our wedding. The links throughout are great places to dive in and read further into the Greek wedding service. Feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions about the ceremony or if you’ll be having one yourself.
Now, let’s explore the ultimate Opa (Ώπα)! Getting Married 🙂
A standard Greek Orthodox wedding is comprised of the Betrothal Service and Crowning Service. Greek Orthodox weddings have remained nearly unchanged since ancient Greece. During a Greek Orthodox wedding, the husband and wife are meant to experience a wide range of rituals, symbolisms, and prayers in order to celebrate the core meaning of marriage. Though modern Greek Orthodox weddings and ancient ones were largely similar, there were a few distinct differences. Before the onset of the 9th century, marriages were blessed during the Divine Liturgy. Following the 9th century, marriages were blessed outside the Eucharist. Additionally, the crowns were worn for an extended period of time, and made out of olive branches or items native to their village.
Let us now break down each section to a Greek orthodox wedding. We will start with The Betrothal Service and finish with The Crowning Service.
The Betrothal Service
The first part is know as the Betrothal Service. It includes: The Doxology, Opening Petitions, Two Short Prayers, The Exchange of Rings, and The Closing Prayer.
The ceremony starts with a small prayer known as a Doxology (“Blessed be our God both now and ever and unto the ages of ages”). A Doxology does not request anything specifically from God, but instead serves to ask both the couple and the audience to glorify Him.
Following the Doxology, the opening petitions are made, which are similar to prayers. These petitions are a list of requests to God and asks him to bless everyone in attendance, to bless the couple with love and peace and to bless the couple with children in the future. This is meant to symbolize the needs of a Christian couple for marital well-being.
Two Short Prayers
Once the petitions are recited, two short prayers are said. These talk about the theological truths surrounding marriage. The prayers acknowledges that the couple is standing before God, with their family and friends as witnesses, pledging to enter into an “indissoluble bond of love.” Additionally, the prayers are meant to speak directly to the couple to help them understand that it is the love of God that has brought them together to be marriage and that He will watch over them throughout their marriage and into a oneness of mind.
The Exchange of Rings
Once these two prayers are recited, they are followed by the exchanging of rings. The rings are prayed over three times for the groom and three for the bride, while the couple stands in silence. The prayer used is, “The servant of God ______, is betrothed to the servant of God ______, in the name of the Father, Son and holy Spirit.”
They are then placed on the right hand and the Koumbaro/a (the person asked to be your sponsor and is of Greek Orthodox faith), will exchange the rings three times, placing the groom’s ring on the bride’s finger, and vis versa. This action seals the commitment of the couple and is the equivalent of them saying “I do,” since the bride and groom do not speak during the wedding service. Yes, there are no vows spoken, you just stand and listen the entire time.
You may noticed I’ve written right hand. The reason for this is that the right hand represents virtue within the Bible. For example: “For You, O Lord, have declared that a pledge is to be given and held inviolate in all things. By a ring Joseph was given might in Egypt; by a ring Daniel was exalted in Babylon; by a ring our heavenly Father showed compassion upon His prodigal son, for He said, ‘Put a ring upon his right hand, kill the fatted calf, and let us eat and rejoice.’ Your own right hand, O Lord, armed Moses in the Red Sea. By word of Your truth were the Heavens established and the earth set upon her sure foundations; and the right hands of Your servants shall be blessed by Your mighty word, and by Your uplifted arm.” (source)
The Closing Prayer
The closing prayer is the longest prayer during this section of the service. It offers an overview and significance, and underlying meaning of the rings, their symbolic seal, and lifetime commitment to one another. With this prayer, many of the biblical verses mentioned are from the Old Testament and center around how God will guide their marriage and protect it. One of the final statements made by the father alludes to their life joining as one, “and may your angel go before them all the days of their life, for you are he that blesses and sanctifies all things.”
This would then conclude the Betrothal Service. Now, we’ll look at The Crowning service.
The Greek Orthodox Crowning Service
The second section of a Greek Orthodox wedding is called The Crowning Service and is comprised of: Reciting of Psalm 127/128, Doxology, Wedding Candles, Petitions, Three Prayers, Crowning, Scripture Readings, The Lord’s Prayer, Drinking From The Common Cup, Procession, and Final Exhortation and Dismissal.
This section begins with a recital of Psalms 127 and 128, which states that all the couple is blessed with in the future is provided by God. The meaning behind these readings are to remind the new couple that contrary to the teaching of society – that we are responsible for our own happiness and prosperity – it is not up to us, we have no control, everything comes from the blessings of God, not exclusivity by or as a result of our choices and decisions.
After the Psalms are recited, the father signifies the start of the Crowning Service by saying the Doxology, ” Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages.” Like above, this prayer reminds everyone that God rules over all beings that he created and requires that they adore him and praise his name.
Now, the father will light two candles, both from the same flame and present them to the bride and groom. The candle flame is symbolic and represents the divine light that has come into the world through Christ (where light exist, darkness cannot). Additionally, by taking the candle, the bride and groom are acknowledging and celebrating the light of Christ that has come into this world to illuminate the lives of His followers. Lastly, it shows that the couple are entering a mutual joining together to live their lives for Christ.
This starts with an introductory general petition from the father and then changes to a series of requests made to God on behalf of both the bride and groom.
The first request petition will always include the names of the bride and groom – this is to invoke the personal nature of the sacrament. This petition begins, “For the servants of God _____ and ______…” The names are also used here to acknowledge the fact that at times we may feel small and insignificant when thinking about all the people in the world, yet God knows us by name. He is personally connected to us.
The later petitions are recited to seek out help for the new couple and help them understand that they are entering a community of marriage that will, once the ceremony is complete, be separate from any pervious and include other faithful individuals, couples, and families.
It is also asked during these petition prayers that Christ be present in the couple’s marriage, as He was present and blessed the marriage He attended in Cana (JN 2:1-11). It is also asked of God to bless the couple with “fruit of the womb” according to His wisdom.
These prayers are relatively lengthy and with the help of the Old Testament, metaphors, and references tell the story of a loving God. That He has created marriage as a protection for humans and that those entering into a marriage are doing so to be a part of something greater than themselves. Additionally, they recount the fact that marriage gives us the opportunity to become part of something more than ourselves. A new relationship is formed and two lives are bonded together, a new family emerges, and life continues.
Then the prayers are coming to a close, the father stands before the bride and groom and reads, “O Sovereign Lord, stretch forth your hand from your Holy dwelling place, and join together this your servant _______ and your servant ______.” He will then join their right hands together. This ritual invokes the imagery that a new couple has been created and a new family has been established in His presence.
As the couple’s hands are joined, the wedding crowns will be blessed by the father. The following statement is recited three times in front of the groom and then three times in front of the bride: “The servant of God _____ is crowned for the servant of God ______, in the name of the Father, and the Son and the holy Spirit.”
Upon completion of saying it three times in front of the groom and bride, he will reverse the process, beginning with the bride while repeating the same words.
The father will then place the crowns on both partner’s heads, and chant a verse from Psalm 8, “O, Lord our God, crown them with glory and honor.” The crowning is meant to symbolize their role as King and Queen of the household, with God motivating them in peace and love.
The crowns are then exchanged three times by Koumbaro/a (the sponsor)
After the Koumbaro/a exchanges the crowns, they will place them back on the head of the bridge and groom. This is an ancient ritual, dating back to the 2nd or 3rd century.
While there are several interpretations of the significance of the wedding crowns, Rev. Fr. Charles Joanides, Ph.D., LMFT sums it up nicely:
“In ancient times, monarch’s crowns symbolized their absolute rule over their kingdom. Similarly, this liturgical ritual installs the couple over their household as king and queen, with one important difference. Unlike the manipulative, controlling style of rule that many kings and queens personified, this service calls both spouses to rule over their household as Christians who are motivated by Christ-like humility, patience and self-sacrificial love.” (source)
We have a post dedicated to the crows, called Stefan, that you can read here: Stefana | Greek Wedding Crowns
After the crowning, Scriptures are read. The Scriptures summarizes the beliefs of the Orthodox church on marriage.They reinforce the message behind the prayers and hymns of the wedding service.
The Lord’s Prayer
Everyone joins in to say the lord’s prayer.
Jesus Christ offered this prayer to the disciples when they asked him to “Teach us to pray” (LK 11:1). The lords prayer is said by many other religions as well, and is something you may have committed to memory.
Drinking From The Common Cup
The bride and groom will drink from the Common Cup, which contains blessed wine, three times each. This displays the bitter and sweet moments the couple will share throughout their lives. Once finished, the Procession will take place.
After the bride and groom each drink three times from the Common Cup, the father, the bride and groom, and the Koumbaro/a will walk around the table.
In ancient times, this procession took place from the church to the couple’s home. However, since that isn’t possible anymore, today it takes place round the table within the church.
The Father, holding the Gospels in his right hand, will guide everyone around the table three times while three hymns are chanted. These are the first steps the couple take as husband and wife, and are done so in the presence of God. Essentially, as the couple follows the Father, their journey together begins. The Gospel Book that the father holds serves to remind them that they have chosen to walk through life with the Holy Trinity.
Final Exhortation and Dismissal
This is the ending of the ceremony. There are two short congratulatory remarks made here. One relates to each the bride and groom. Then the father may make his own remarks and guidance towards a long and healthy marriage.
Our Father reminded us that we are equals in the eyes of God. That while some reference the bible to mean that a woman is here to worship and obey her husband, this does not give the husband the right to control her, but rather this worship is a reflection of the disciples to Christ, so in return the husband must also worship and obey his wife. They are in it together. (I’m 100% sure our Father said it better)
After this, the crowns are removed from their heads, the bride and groom kiss one another, and the dismissal begins.
This could not have been written without the help from the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America website, including the links cited within this article. We relied heavily on them. It’s amazing how many of the little details you miss/forget when you’re the one going through the service. Both Jane and I were in a complete daze the whole time. There’s just so much importance, meaning, and emotion going on. It was a special day. Additionally, you may have found that your church or your personal opinions my differ from some of the described meaning above. That’s ok, these are ours and you’re entitled to your own. Actually, we’d love to hear them, so feel free to reach out to us to share your experiences. Lastly, these images are from our wedding, so please don’t use them without asking.