Many of you who are reading this may have never been to an Orthodox wedding service. The service is full of meaning and beauty, but there are some differences between an Eastern Christian ceremony, and the typical western ceremony. Right from the start we see a divergence from your typical wedding ceremony. You will not hear Richard Wagner’s “Bridal Chorus” at this service nor will you see, the giving away of the bride. Rather than being passed from one man to another as a piece of property, Sarah will enter the sanctuary with the man she loves. Fr. Michael, our wonderful priest and spiritual father, will meet us in the back of the church. We will process towards the middle of the sanctuary, toward the altar. Within this simple procession lies the intent of this ceremony, Sarah and I are heading towards the altar of God to become one flesh, one heart one mind, binding ourselves to each other and to Christ our God. Listeners will hear the familiar phrase where Sarah and I say that we of our own volition take the other to be our wife/husband. What may shock some is that no vows are said. In addition, you will never hear “till death do you part.” Although strange at first it makes sense in light of the belief that marriage in the Orthodox Church goes far beyond that of a legal contract. Sarah and I are coming to Christ, so that he would unite and bless our love for each other, and our love for Him. Death has been destroyed by the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, death therefore, cannot separate us and our union will be eternal.
Next comes the exchanging of the rings. We will then receive lit candles, symbolizing the light of Christ, who illumines our hearts, and guides our path through the darkness of this world. After the priest finishes a set of prayers, we shall be crowned. The meaning behind this can easily be overlooked. These crowns represent our martyrdom. Just as we crucify the flesh so that the Holy Spirit would dwell within us, we put aside our own selfishness and desires once more, living and serving the other. In the stories of the martyrs they are describes as receiving crowns of glory. These crowns are earned through hard work and struggle within the spiritual life, in much the same way that ancient athletes received a victors crown (1 Cor 9:24-25).
The meaning of the crowns are usually highlighted by the priest in his sermon (it could be very short or very long, it depends on the priest). First St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 5:20-33 is read, then the Gospel of John 2:1-11 (the wedding feast of Cana). I will refrain from writing on these passages since each deserves room for an entire post rather than a few lines of commentary.
It is quite natural that after reading of the wedding, were Christ turned the water into wine, that we would partake of a common cup. The cup that we drink of represents the joys and sorrows which will share. After drinking of the common cup, we have the Dance of Isaiah. Sarah and I will clasp our hands upon the Gospel as Fr. Michael leads us around a table three times, each time singing this ancient hymn, which reflects the martyric act being done.
Rejoice, O Isaiah! The Virgin is with child,
And shall bear a son Emmanuel,
Both God and Man,
And Orient is His Name,
Whom magnifying we call, the Virgin blessed.
O Holy Martyrs,
who fought the good fight and have received your crowns,
Entreat ye the Lord,
That He will have mercy on our souls.
Glory to Thee, O Christ our God,
The Apostles boast,
The Martyrs Joy,
whose preaching was the Consubstantial Trinity.
As Fr. Michael leads the dance, I can imagine that I will be clinging hard to Sarah and the Gospel, these are the two most precious things in my life, so during the dance, and for the rest of my life, I must work to keep these most precious blessings.
We then come to the final stages of the ceremony. The crowns are removed and Sarah and I will stand before our family and friends as an icon of Christ and His Church.