The Orthodox wedding ceremony is without any doubt very different from the other Christian Churches marriage rites. It is an extraordinarily symbolic service, full of highly solemn moments. What makes the Orthodox wedding ceremony so special is mainly its structure, since the ceremony is actually made of two separate services. First comes the Exchange of the rings (Betrothal), then there is the Crowning.
Structure of the Orthodox wedding ceremony
1. The Exchange of the rings (Betrothal)
In the past the Exchange of the rings, also known as the Betrothal, was celebrated before the actual marriage ceremony since weddings were negotiated by families in advance. These days people choose their partner on their own, so the Exchange of the rings is now integrated in the Orthodox wedding ceremony. This is the first part of the wedding service and takes place in the vestibule (narthex) of the church. If the building has no vestibule, the Exchange of the rings is performed by the door of the church. The bride and the groom walk towards the priest together with two witnesses. He stands on the right, she stands on the left. Then the priest blesses the bride and the groom, gives them two lit candles and incenses the couple.
During this part of the Orthodox wedding ceremony prayers and litanies are recited. The central theme of this service is the exchanging of the rings. The priest blesses the rings and places them on the right hand of the bride and the groom. Then the couple exchange the rings thrice, as a symbol of the endless exchange through which spouses enrich each other.
2. The Crowning
After the Exchanging of the rings, comes the Crowning. This is the second service of the Orthodox wedding ceremony. The couple and the witnesses walk towards the center of the church, until they stand on a carpet. The carpet is a symbol of the life and the house the couple shares and of children’s upbringing. Near the carpet there is a table with two wedding crowns.
During the Crowning service prayers are recited. The bride and the groom join their hands, which are tied with a ribbon. Then the couple is crowned. In the Orthodox wedding ceremony crowns are a symbol of kingship, since by marriage the spouses become sovereigns of their family life and in their union with Christ they participate in God’s kingship too. Crowns are also a symbol of martyrdom, that is the giving of oneself totally to the other, for better and for worse, even to the point of sacrificing one’s life. Like the rings, crowns too are exchanged thrice between the bride and the groom.
3. The Blessing
The end part of the Orthodox wedding ceremony includes the blessing of a cup of wine, from which each spouse drinks as a symbol of their mutual sharing of all their life. After that the priest, the groom, the bride and their witnesses walk three times counterclockwise around the table. Then the hands of the spouses are untied and the crowns removed. Finally the Orthodox wedding ceremony ends with one last blessing of the newlyweds.
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