Understanding the Sacrament of Marriage in the Orthodox Church
We as a parish rejoice in the love that you, as a couple, share for one another and the commitment that has been made to bring you to this day in preparation for your marriage. Your decision to be married in the Church is an indication that the Christian faith and the sacramental life of the Church are important to you. In the eyes of the Church, marriage is the sacramental union between a man and a woman that is used in the Bible as the image of God’s faithful love for ancient Israel (Isaiah 54; Jeremiah 3; Ezekiel 16) and Christ’s sacrificial relationship to the Church (Ephesians 5:22-33). Jesus Himself, together with His mother the Theotokos and the disciples attended and blessed the wedding in Cana of Galilee, performing His first miracle, which assisted in the celebration of that event (John 2:1-11). When we say that Christian marriage is a sacrament, we use that word to convey the depths of the bond you are about to enter into: a sacramentum in the ancient Roman Empire was the oath of loyalty unto death a Roman soldier took to the emperor when entering the military. As Christians, the sacrament of marriage is your oath of loyalty unto death to each other and – as a couple – your oath of loyalty unto death to our Lord Jesus Christ. Christian marriage is intended to be a sign of God’s presence and love in this fallen and broken world.
COORDINATING YOUR WEDDING
Our administrative staff will assist you with the necessary forms. They will work with you in all matters pertaining to your wedding, including setting the date, scheduling meetings with our Parish Priest, preparing the necessary church documents, and collecting all fees. Please feel free to ask any questions you may have regarding your marriage here at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church.
SETTING THE DATE
Please download and fill out the Marriage Preparation Form and bring it to your first appointment with the priest. A couple desiring to be married should first contact the church office to schedule an appointment with the parish priest. It is preferable to schedule both the wedding date and meetings with the parish priest at least six months prior to the desired date so that scheduling conflicts can be avoided.
According to the official policies of our Archdiocese, weddings may not be celebrated during the fasting seasons or the major feast days of our Church:
- December 13-25 (The Advent and Christmas season)
- January 5-6 (Epiphany)
- February 2 (the Presentation of the Lord to the Temple)
- Great Lent and Holy Week (usually mid-February, the entire month of March and part of April)
- August 1-15 (the fast of the Theotokos)
- August 29 (the beheading of John the Baptist)
- September 14 (the Exaltation of the Cross)
- The Ascension
This is in keeping with our ancient way of celebrating the Christian mystery in worship and exceptions can be made only rarely, in extreme circumstances, with the permission of the Archbishop.
THE COUPLE TO BE MARRIED: SACRAMENTAL PRESUPPOSITIONS
Because marriage is a sacrament, weddings cannot be celebrated in a spiritual vacuum. This, therefore, presupposes that:
- At least one of the couple to be married is an Orthodox Christian, baptized and/or chrismated in the Church, committed to Christ and His Church and an active steward for at least a year prior to the date of the wedding; and
- The intended spouse, if not Orthodox, be a Christian baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as commanded by the Lord ( Matthew 28:19). Because of the sacramental nature of the marriage bond (in which a couple not only pledge their love for each other but also their love for Christ) a wedding between an Orthodox Christian and a non-Christian may not be celebrated in the Church.
NECESSARY PAPERS AND DOCUMENTS
The following documentation is needed to insure that your wedding will meet the criteria established by the Church and local civil authorities:
1. Verification of the baptism and stewardship/membership commitment of the Orthodox spouse (s);
2. verification of the baptism of the non-Orthodox spouse in a Christian community that baptizes in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (for example, the Roman Catholic and mainline Protestant churches such as the Lutheran and Episcopalian communities);
3. an ecclesiastical marriage license; and
4. a civil marriage license.
Please note that because of the separation of Church and state, two marriage licenses are necessary, one for the Church and one for the state. Also, please note that because a civil license carries a time limit, your civil license should be secured less than three months prior to the desired date of the wedding.
IN CASE OF PRIOR MARRIAGES
If either of the parties has been previously married, the death certificate of the deceased spouse or the civil divorce decree issued by the state must be presented to the parish priest. If the prior marriage was celebrated in the Orthodox Church and ended in divorce, then an ecclesiastical divorce decree must also be presented.
THE WEDDING PARTY
The “koumbaro” or “koumbara” – the sponsor who will participate sacramentally in the service by exchanging the rings and the crowns that form an integral part of the marriage rite – must be an Orthodox Christian must be an Orthodox Christian “In Good Standing” and a steward/member of his/her parish. “In Good Standing” means that they may not have gotten married outside the church or participated in any foreign sacraments, as this would excommunicate them from the Orthodox Church. The “koumbaro” or koumbara”, if from another Orthodox parish, must provide proof from his/her parish priest certifying his/her active stewardship/membership in the Church. Other members of the wedding party need not be Orthodox.
THE BRIDAL DRESS AND ATTENDANTS’ GOWNS
Care should be taken in selecting the bride’s dress. The bridal gown and attendant’s dresses should also exercise a decorum befitting a Church ceremony.
ITEMS NEEDED FOR THE WEDDING
For Orthodox Christian betrothal and crowning services, several items are used liturgically:
- 2 decorated candles;
- Rings for both the bride and groom, for the betrothal;
- Crowns—The crowns may be either Greek-style flower or pearl wreaths linked by a long, white ribbon (called stefana), or Russian-style jewelled metal crowns. Flower wreaths may be ordered from the florist with the other flowers (bouquets, corsages, reception-table centrepieces) or from a specialty supplier, and may be live or silk. If you are using metal crowns, make sure your parish has a set, and that they are in good condition;
If the wedding is on a Sunday or on a weekday when a Divine Liturgy is served, don’t forget to pack some snacks in the box of items going to the church building, especially if you have very little time between Divine Liturgy and the betrothal and crowning services. Don’t let a rumbling stomach or light head disrupt your wedding because you fasted for Communion and didn’t have time to eat.
Although it is not essential to the celebration of this sacrament, music has become a customary part of the wedding service in Canada. You need to speak with the priest regarding what music is allowed. Live music (instrumental and/or vocal) is not permitted in the church. The music played must honour the Christian faith and be drawn from the hymns of the Church. Please consult our priest if you have any questions concerning the music selections.
PHOTOGRAPHY AND VIDEOTAPING
Photographs of the wedding are permitted but should not in any way impede or distract from the celebration of the sacrament. Photographers should be quiet and respectful; the use of a flash is allowed. If you are planning on professional photography and videography, please ask that your photographer arrive early at the church so that guidelines can be laid out. Also, please ask guests to be respectful of the professional’s space, for your benefit.
Guest clergy, in Communion with the Orthodox Church, may participate in a wedding at St. Demetrios. Canonically, it is the responsibility of the priest where the wedding is taking place to extend an invitation to any and all visiting clergy. Orthodox Christian clergymen in communion with the Metropolis are welcome to participate in the celebration of sacraments at St. Demetrios, with the blessings of our pastor. Non-Orthodox clergymen from other Christian communities may not take part in the celebration of the sacrament of marriage per se. It is the official policy of our Metropolis that clergy from other Christian confessions may be acknowledged at the conclusion of the wedding service and invited forward to the solea where they may offer a prayer and briefly address the couple.
PREPARATION FOR MARRIAGE
In your meetings with the priest, he will discuss the sacramental nature of the marriage bond, the Christian understanding of marriage as it is expressed in the Scriptures and the marriage service itself. In cases where one of the spouses is not Orthodox, the couple should plan to meet with the priest at least six to eight months in advance, to have any questions answered. Further, the couple should make an effort to attend church services and catechism courses.
A NOTE TO THE BRIDE AND GROOM
To those spouses who are Orthodox: there is no substitute for Jesus Christ in maintaining the dignity and sanctity of the marriage bond. For the celebration of your marriage in the Church to be real, you must live out, in subsequent years, the Christian commitment that you will make on the day of your wedding. To those spouses who are not Orthodox: you are always welcome here at St. Demetrios. Please note that your marriage in the Church does not automatically grant you membership in the Orthodox Church. If you desire to become an Orthodox Christian this must be your decision, made after much prayer and thought, in consultation with the parish priest, and never for the sake of convenience. To both of you: the Lord and this parish are here to help, support and sustain you in your marriage bond and the life of faith to which we are called as Christians. May the Lord grant you both many years together in peace and oneness of mind and heart.
THE ROLE OF THE SPONSOR
Usually one Sponsor exchanges both the rings and the crowns. If there are two sponsors, one may exchange the rings and the other the crowns.
REQUIREMENTS TO SERVE AS A SPONSOR
- The koumbaros/koumbara must also be a member in good standing of the Orthodox Church.
- If he/she belongs to another Orthodox parish, the priest must receive a letter of introduction from the parish priest.
- If he/she is married, the marriage must have been blessed by the Orthodox Church;
- if divorced (after marriage in the Orthodox Church) an ecclesiastical divorce must already have been issued.
BEST MAN & MAID OF HONOUR
Couples may still designate a Best Man and Maid of Honour who are not members of the Orthodox Church. If this is the case, the Sponsor stands next to the Groom or Bride.
DAYS WHEN MARRIAGE IS NOT PERMITTED
Marriages are not performed on fast days or during fasting seasons; these include:
- The Great Lent and Holy Week
- August 1-15 (Dormition of theVirgin Mary Fast)
- August 29 (Beheading of St. John the Baptist)
- September 14 (Exaltation of the Holy Cross) December 13-25.
- Theophany (January 5 and 6), Pascha (Easter)
- Pentecost (50 Days after Easter) Christmas (December 24 and 25).