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Liturgical aspects of marriage


Church fathers about the marriage Betrothal The Service of Betrothal: The Rings The Wedding The Joining of the Right Hands The Crowning The Wedding Procession The Blessing  


Holy Matrimony is a one of the main Mysteries of the Holy Orthodox Church in which a man and a woman are united in the name and by the grace of the Most Holy Trinity. The blessing upon their conjugal union is bestowed from God the Father via our Lord and Brother by flesh Jesus Christ and accomplished in the Holy Spirit acting vitally and at the same time humbly within the Church. God’s grace is imparted to them to live together in His love, mutually fulfilling and perfecting each other as human persons reflecting in themselves the eternal perfection and harmony o Love among the Divine Persons of the Holy Trinity.

The teaching of Christ on the essence of marriage is derived from the following words of synoptic Evangelists – Matthew. 19. 4–6. Mark. 10. 7–9.

“Have you not read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female?”

“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”?

“So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate”

In both evidences by Matthew and Mark, Jesus appeals to God's initial will in creation. He builds upon the narratives in which male and female are created together [Genesis 1:27] and for one another [2:24]. Thus Jesus takes a firm stand on the permanence of marriage in the original will of God.

St. Apostle Paul employs the symbol of marriage not only to describe the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but also to define the nature of the Christian church. His persuies Christian theological development of the Old Testament ideas on marriage, drawing an close parallel between Matrimony and the relationship of Love between God the Highest and His people. He clearly sees the Church to be a Bride and Christ to be her long-expected Bridegroom.

20) Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ;

21) Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God.

22) Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.

23) For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.

24) Therefore as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in every thing.

25) Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

26) That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word,

27) That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

28) So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He that loveth his wife loveth himself.

29) For no man ever yet hated his own flesh; but nourisheth and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church:

30) For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones.

31) For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh.

32) This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

33) Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband.

We should underline that exactly this fragment is read at the Eastern Orthodox sacrament of Wedding. Here St. Paul regards the Marriage not as an earthly necessity like in I Corinthians, 7, but as an icon of the unspeakable union between Christ and the Church. Marriage was being used in the Old Testament as an image of the union between the God and His people (Hosea, Ezekiel etc.), but this union was constantly being broken due to the various treasons committed by Israel. Now, Apostle Paul speaks about the eternal union of Christ and His Church, which is based on the fact of the eternal redemption of the Church by Christ:

“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave Himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word”.

Words that Christ gave himself for the sake of the Church (in Greek the Church is feminine (ἐκκλησία) St. Jerome says: “As the union of Christ and Church is holy, so the unification of a husband and a wife is holy”.1

While interpreting this piece of the Epistle to Ephesians, St. John the Chrysostomus says to a husband. “You should be patient to your wife, because Christ loved the Church, when she was dirty and unclean and He washed her with His blood” (St. John The Chrysostomus. Exegesis in Ephesians). We see here the ideal image of the Church as the most pure Bride of Christ united with Him in heavenly marriage, the same idea is seen in the Revelation.

9) And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.

10) And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,

11) Having the glory of God: and her light was like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal (Rev. 21, 9–11).

So the heavenly archetype should transform human relation. We clearly see here the difference between attitude of women, who should love respectfully their husbands (she reverence her husband φοβεῖτο τὸν ἄνδρα). We see here the same attitude as that of the Church to Christ. A husband should love his wife with self-sacrificing love similar to that of Christ to the Church

Scriptures like the Ephesians passage, and Jesus’ well-known teaching that “the two will become one flesh” (Mark 10:8), suggest that the marriage bond has a spiritual meaning different from that of most earthly relationships. If so, God may preserve that mysterious quality in heaven just as he seeks to do on earth. But wéll have to wait and see what form this relationship will take in eternity.

Church fathers about the marriage

Τhe early fathers of the Church especially stress the necessity of the marriage “in the Lord” –– ἐν τῷ Κυρίῳ. According to St. Ignatius of Antioch, it is possible only according to the blessing of the bishop.

Both Tertullian and Gregory of Nyssa were church fathers who were married. They each stressed that the happiness of marriage was ultimately rooted in misery. They saw marriage as a state of bondage that could only be cured by celibacy. They wrote that at the very least, the virgin woman could expect release from the “governance of a husband and the chains of children”.

However, the preference to celibacy did not mean the neglection or spurning to the marriage. The best explanation is given by St. Jerome. “It is not disparaging wedlock to prefer virginity. No one can make a comparison between two things if one is good and the other evil”2.

The blessing of the bishop and the common Eucharist considered to be necessary for Christian marriage evidently since the beginning of the II century. The description of the marriage, made by Tertullian, probably hints the Church rite with blessing of the bishop, prayers for the bridegroom and the bride and their common Eucharist.

Building on what they saw the example of Jesus and Paul advocating, some early Church Fathers placed less value on the family and saw celibacy and freedom from family ties as a preferable state.

Nicene Fathers such as St. Gregory of Nazianz, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nyssa, Augustine believed that marriage was a sacrament because it was a symbol used by Paul to express Christ's love of the Church. At first, the old Roman pagan rite was used by Christians, although modified superficially. The first detailed account of a Christian wedding in the West dates from the IX century. But the history of the wedding in the East is great deal more rich and interesting. Such specialist as Fr. Michael Zheltov date back first Wedding rites with V century. He traces back two traditions this of Jerusalem and that of Antioch and says that they greatly influenced,3 the present Orthodox rite of Wedding.


The Mystery of marriage of the Holy Orthodox Church is steeped in ritual and symbolism. Each of the acts has special meaning and significance.

The Service of Betrothal:

The Orthodox sacrament of marriage is unique in many ways, but primarily in that the ceremony has remained almost entirely unchanged since its origination centuries ago. Another notable aspect of the Orthodox marriage is that the bride and groom do not exchange vows; instead it is their presence before Christ through the priest and the congregation that signifies their wish to be joined and to accept Christ into their new home. The priest asks the bridegroom if he has a good and voluntary wish to take in wives this servant-maid of God, whom he sees and the same question he adresses to the bride. Voluntary wish, not constrained by any influences, or persons, or circumstances is extremely important for sanctification of the marriage, it is just the same as the case of the Baptism and the Eucharist.

Finally, in the Orthodox tradition, the wedding ceremony is actually two services in one. The first, which is the briefer of the two, is the Service of Betrothal, during which the rings are exchanged. The second, the Service of Crowning, is longer and includes many prayers offered for the couple, the crowning of the bride and groom in marriage, sharing of the common cup and the celebrational procession around the table.

The Rings

The Rite of Betrothal, in which rings are exchanged as a sign of commitment and devotion to one another. Now two golden rings are used, which means equalness of the bride and the bridegroom. But the Typicon says that one ring should be made of gold and silver. It is very notable, for gold symbolizes the Sun and silver symbolizes the Moon. So we see here idea, that the wife is the glory of the husband and she is similar to the Moon, while the husband likes the Sun. But the most interesting thing is that eventually the golden ring should remain on the finger of the bride, for it is the gift of the bridegroom. If the gold is symbol of God and the Son of God It also means that the love of husband should be similar to that of Christ to the Church.

The rings are blessed by the priest who takes them in his hand and, making the sign of the cross over the heads of bride and groom, says: “The servant of God... is betrothed to the maid of God... in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. The couple then exchange the rings, taking the bride’s ring and placing it on the groom’s finger and vice-versa. The rings, of course, are the symbol of betrothal and their exchange signifies that in married life the weaknesses of the one partner will be compensated for by the strength of the other, the imperfections of one by the perfections of the other. By themselves, the newly-betrothed are incomplete: together they are made perfect. Thus the exchange of rings gives expression to the fact that the spouses in marriage will constantly be complementing each other. Each will be enriched by the union.

But the ring is also symbol of eternity –– without the beginning and without the end. The ring is also a symbol of the Holy Spirit and a vouch of Grace and immortality. The ring is also a sign of power. Le us remind the words from the prayer of betrothal: Power is given to Joseph in Egypt through the ring. Daniel was glorified in Babylonian country, truth of Thamar appeared through the ring. Our Heavenly Father was generous for His Son with the ring. For He says “Give the ring on his right hand...” The symbolism of right hand is also connected with that of power and strength. “Thy right hand, oh Lord, armed Moses in the Red Sea...”

But the ring is also a pledge (ἀῤῥαβών). It is a symbol of the Holy Ghost.

So betrothal has pneumatological significance. But it also has Christological meaning.

Oh our Lord and God, Thou has betrothed from nations the Church, the pure Virgin, bless this betrothal and unite them and keep thy servants in peace and unanimity.4

Christ gathers distant things and settles the union of love.5 So we see here victory over the sin, which divides and which is against love. So marriage is an ecclesiological sacrament.

The Wedding

The Wedding service begins immediately following the Betrothal Service. The bride and groom are handed candles which they hold throughout the service. The candles are like the lamps of the five wise maidens of the Bible, who, because they had enough oil in them, were able to receive the Bridegroom, Christ, when He came in the darkness of the night. The candles symbolize the spiritual willingness of the couple to receive Christ, Who will bless them through this Mystery. But they also sign invisible presence of Christ, Who is the Light to the World

The introitus (Chant of Entrance) of Wedding is psalm 127. It is rich with Old Testament Symbolism of growth and multiplication: Blessed is every one that feareth the LORD; that walketh in his ways.

2) For thou shalt eat the labour of thine hands: happy shalt thou be, and it shall be well with thee.

3) Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by the sides of thine house: thy children like olive plants round about thy table.

4) Behold, that thus shall the man be blessed that feareth the LORD.

5) The LORD shall bless thee out of Zion: and thou shalt see the good of Jerusalem all the days of thy life.

6) Yea, thou shalt see thy children's children, and peace upon Israel.

But this psalm says not only about the earthly happines, but it speaks about peace upon Israel. And Christ is our peace, who gathers distant things.

The marriage service in the Orthodox Church begins with the words, “Blessed is the Kingdom, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen”. This exclamation emphasizes the deepest meaning of marriage, and also the goal of marriage.

Kingdom of God means the presence of God. It is also equal to liturgical exclamation “Christ is between us”. So the goal of marriage is life in Christ and eventually –– deification.

According to the church canons, those Orthodox Christians who marry outside the Church are deprived of the sacraments of the Church. Some people find this shocking; they feel the Church is being too harsh. But the question is: What gives validity to marriage? From a spiritual standpoint, what gives meaning to a marriage? Unlike the wedding ceremonies in most non-Orthodox churches, marriage in the Orthodox Church is not a contract – a legal agreement with the exchange of vows or promises – between two people. Rather, marriage is the setting up, by two people, of a miniature church, a family church, wherein people may worship the true God and struggle to save their souls. It is also a family church that is in obedience to Christ’s Church. As Saint Basil the Great says, it is natural to marry, but it must be more than natural; it must be a yoke, borne by two people under the Church.

Thus we see that in New Testament times the focus of marriage was switched from a primary purpose of producing children, to a primary purpose of providing a way for human beings to save their souls. The wedding ceremony itself is filled with rich symbolism that makes this whole aspect of marriage very clear.

We see various theological aspects of Wedding from “proclamations of deacons” of Wedding. Let us pray to the Lord about servants of God, who unite now in communication of marriage and about their salvation.

So eventual goal of marriage is mutual salvation of a man and a woman. But it is also a mystery of communication. A man is a creature, who cannot live without communication. And communication lies deeply in nature of the Church

Let us pray to the Lord, that He gives them the chastity and a fruit of the womb.

The birth of children is not contrary to chastity, moreover a woman is saved through birth of children.

The prayers of the priest from one side have rich Old Testament significance. They repeat the maxim of Genesis 1. 28. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, But from another side we hear quite new things. We see here symbols of martyrdom and the Cross

Save them, o our Lord and God, as thou hast saved Three Holy Children from fire, having sent them dew from heavens and let descend to them the glory, which had blessed Helen, when she found the Precious Cross. Remember them, oh our Lord the God, as thou remembered holy forty martyrs, having sent them crowns from heavens.

Holy 40 martyrs suffered in 319. They were made to stand in Sebastian lake during freezy night. And while they were tolerating frost and cold, the crowns appeared over their heads. So if believing husband and wife endure the cold of life for the sake of Christ, keeping the warmth of faith in their hearts, they will be crowned by Christ himself.

Moreover, the second prayer contains the idea of eternity of marriage in its spiritual meaning

And having pleased Thee let them shine like stars in heaven in Thee, our Lord Jesus Christ.

So the bridegroom and the bride, if they live Christian life, will shine together with light of Christ in future Kingdom of God.

The Joining of the Right Hands

The right hand of the bride and the groom are joined when the priest reads the prayer that beseeches God to «join these thy servants, unite them in one mind and one flesh.» The hands are kept joined throughout the service to symbolize the «oneness» of the couple.

The Crowning

The “Crowning”, in which crowns or wreaths [customs vary in each parish] are placed on or held above the heads of the bride and groom. This signifies that in marriage there is a certain amount of sacrifice, especially in the area of “give and take”. It also signifies that in a certain respect the bride and groom become the “king and queen” of their own “kingdom”, or family, which is an integral part of the Kingdom of God.

The service of the Crowning, which follows, is the climax of the Wedding service. The crowns are signs of the glory and honor with which God crowns them during the Mystery. The groom and the bride are crowned as the king and queen of their own little kingdom, the home –– domestic church, which they will rule with fear of God, wisdom, justice and integrity. When the crowning takes place the priest, taking the crowns and holding them above the couple, says: “The servants of God, (names), are crowned in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen”. The crowns used in the Orthodox wedding service refer to the crowns of martyrdom since every true marriage involves immeasurable self-sacrifice on both sides.

After the Crowing the above mentioned Apostle to Ephesians is read. And then the priest reads the text from Gospel of John

And the third day there was a marriage in Cana of Galilee; and the mother of Jesus was there:

2) And both Jesus was called, and his disciples, to the marriage.

3) And when they wanted wine, the mother of Jesus saith unto him, They have no wine.

4) Jesus saith unto her, Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come.

5) His mother saith unto the servants, Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it.

6) And there were set there six waterpots of stone, after the manner of the purifying of the Jews, containing two or three firkins apiece.

7) Jesus saith unto them, Fill the waterpots with water. And they filled them up to the brim.

8) And he saith unto them, Draw out now, and bear unto the governor of the feast. And they bare it.

9) When the ruler of the feast had tasted the water that was made wine, and knew not whence it was: (but the servants which drew the water knew;) the governor of the feast called the bridegroom,

10) And saith unto him, Every man at the beginning doth set forth good wine; and when men have well drunk, then that which is worse: but thou hast kept the good wine until now.

11) This beginning of miracles did Jesus in Cana of Galilee, and manifested forth his glory; and his disciples believed on him.

Fathers of Church (St. John the Chrysostomus, St. Cyril of Alexandria, St. Romanos the Melodist) regard this text as a symbol of future Cavalry and the Cruxifiction. Wine symbolizes the Blood of Christ, the Hour of Christ is that of His passion but also of glorification. So we see here how water of usual human life is transformed in a mystery of Christ, in unspeakable union between the God and the Man, in the mystery of Redemption and the Salvation, in the Eternal Eucharist. It is closely connected with the rite of the Common Cup, which reminds the previous common Eucarist, as the main sacrament of Wedding in the ancient Church. The sharing of a common cup of wine, which signifies that in marriage all things are shared equally. In Cana of Galilea Christ converted the water into better wine and gave of it to the newlyweds, in remembrance of this blessing, wine is given the couple. This is the “common cup” of better life denoting the mutual sharing of joy and sorrow, the token of a life of harmony. The drinking of wine from the common cup serves to impress upon the couple that from that moment on they will share everything in life, joys as well as sorrows, and that they are to “bear one another's burdens”. Their joys will be doubled and their sorrows halved because they will be shared.

The Wedding Procession

The procession around the sacramental table, during which the priest leads the couple three times as they take their first steps together as husband and wife.

The priest then leads the bride and groom in a circle around the table on which are placed the Gospel and the Cross, the one containing the Word of God, the other being the symbol of our redemption by our Saviour Jesus Christ. The husband and wife are taking their first steps as a married couple, and the Church, in the person of the Priest, leads them in the way they must walk. The way is symbolized by the circle at the center of which are the Gospel and the Cross of our Lord. This expresses the fact that the way of Christian living is a perfect orbit around the center of life who is Jesus Christ our Lord. During this walk around the table a hymn is sung to the Holy Martyrs reminding the newly married couple of the sacrificial love they are to have for each other in marriage –– a love that seeks not its own but is willing to sacrifice its all for the one loved.

The Blessing

The removal of the crowns and the final blessing, in which all gathered wish the couple many years of blessings.

The couple return to their places and the priest, blessing the groom, says, “Be thou magnified, O bridegroom, as Abraham, and blessed as Isaac, and increased as Jacob, walking in peace and working in righteousness the commandments of God”. And blessing the bride he says, “And thou, O bride, be thou magnified as Sarah, and glad as Rebecca, and do thou increase like unto Rachael, rejoicing in thine own husband, fulfilling the conditions of the law; for so it is well pleasing unto God”.

The Wedding is not simply an exchange of vows or a contract but a Sacrament of the Church, which as all Sacraments unites us with Christ. The newly married couple is not just united to each other but joined together with Christ and His Holy Church. It is not a private affair but one witnessed by the Church as the Body of Christ bringing them in closer communion with all. Through marriage their lives are transfigured as together they seek salvation in this world.6


1. Ieronim Stridonskii, blazh. O prisnodevstve Marii. Kniga protiv Elvidiia // On zhe. Tvoreniia. V 17-ti ch. Kiev, Izdanie Kievskoi Dukhovnoi Akademii, 1893–1903. Ch. 14. S. 93–124.

2. Ieronim Stridonskii, blazh. Tolkovanie na Poslanie k Efesianam // On zhe. Tvoreniia. V 17-ti ch. Kiev, Izdanie Kievskoi Dukhovnoi Akademii, 1893–1903. Ch. 17. S. 214–390.

3. Mihail Zheltov, rev. Brak // Pravoslavnaya Encyopedia. Moskow: Pravoslavnaya Encyopedia, 2003. V. 6. P. 166–178.

4. John Meyendorf, fr. Marriage. An Orthodox Perspective. N. Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1975.

* * *


Ieronim Stridonskii, blazh. Tolkovanie na Poslanie k Efesianam // On zhe. Tvoreniia. V 17-ti ch. Kiev, Izdanie Kievskoi Dukhovnoi Akademii, 1893–1903. Ch. 17. S. 214–390, s. 352.


Ieronim Stridonskii, blazh. O prisnodevstve Marii. Kniga protiv Elvidiia // On zhe. Tvoreniia. V 17-ti ch. Kiev, Izdanie Kievskoi Dukhovnoi Akademii, 1893–1903. Ch. 14. S. 93–124, s. 120.


Mihail Zheltov, rev. Brak // Pravoslavnaya Encyopedia. Moskow: Pravoslavnaya Encyopedia, 2003. V. 6. P. 166–178, here: p. 175–176.


Second prayer of Betrothal. Prayer of inclination of heads.


First prayer of Betrothal.


John Meyendorf, fr. Marriage. An Orthodox Perspective. N. Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1975. P. 19–22, 82–83.

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