Read below for answers to our
frequently asked questions about Orthodox weddings.
If you have a
question that is not answered below, we’re happy to assist! Email your question to firstname.lastname@example.org
# What is the Sacrament of Marriage? What are the parts of the service?
The sacrament of marriage in the
Eastern Orthodox Church joins two believers into one. Sacrament
of Marriage consists of
Exchange of Rings
lighting of the Candles
Readings from the Bible
Drinking of the Common Cup
the Proclamation of Husband & Wife.
# Why do Orthodox weddings run so long? The Orthodox ceremony is steeped in ritual and symbolism. It
is a Sacrament - and unlike other religions, has not been truncated or altered
throughout the history of time.
# What is the Blessing & Exchange
of Rings?The rings are first blessed by the priest and then exchanged between
bride & groom. The
rings are blessed by the priest, who touches the foreheads of the Bride and
Groom with them. Here is a picture of the priest blessing the rings:
The rings are put on the right
hands, and the Koumbaro/a (sponsor) exchanges the rings three times. The
exchange signifies that in married life the weakness of one partner will be
compensated for by the strength of the other, the imperfections of one by the
other. Each will be enriched by the union. Here is a picture of a
koumbaro exchanging the couples' rings:
# What are wedding candles are how are they used?
Wedding candles are an essential component of the Orthodox
wedding. The bride and groom each hold a lighted candle during the service.
The candles remind the couple of the light of Christ who is with them
throughout the sacrament and their coming life together. (The candles can be tied together with a
ribbon to symbolize the union of the couple - however this is an older
tradition that is no longer used as much).
The wedding candles are usually tapered, white and 18" - 24" in
height. They are lit by the priest during the service and handed to the
couple to hold for part of the service. Some couples like larger, thicker candles - which are beautiful in
presentation but can be more weighty to hold for the couple for the
service. An example of a couple holding 24" tapered wedding
The wedding candles symbolize the oil lamps of
the 5 wise maidens in the Parable of the Ten Maidens in the Gospel of
Matthew. (5 were wise maidens and 5 were foolish maidens - foolish
because they were not ready to enter into the Bridal Feast with the
Bridegroom, Who is Christ). The candles also symbolize the
spiritual willingness of the couple to receive Christ and His light as He will
bless them through this sacrament because He is the high Priest uniting
Do I need one set or two sets of wedding candles?
You only need one set – the set
for the couple to hold – but many marrying couples buy two sets of wedding
candles - a smaller tapered pair for the couple to hold and a larger
pair for the altar to decorate it. Here is an example of the smaller pair
being held and the larger pair adorning the altar:
#What do I do with the wedding candles after the service?
After the wedding
service, candles are usually left to burn in the church in the narthex or they may burned down at home. If burned down at the church, they are placed in the same sand that the offering candles are in the narthex of the church. Any decoration on the candle should be removed before the candle is burned down. If you do not wish to burn down your candle, you make save them for keepsake.
They should never be thrown out in the garbage (although the removed decoration can be thrown out) - but rather burned down. It is not appropriate to re-use the wedding
candles for a baptism.
# What are stefana (Stéfana)?
Stefana are used for The Crowning of the couple. The wedding crowns (Stéfana)
are the signs of glory and honor with which God crowns the Bride and Groom
during the sacrament. The Bride and Groom are crowned as king and queen
of their home, which they will rule with wisdom, justice, and integrity. They represent the couple’s giving of
one life totally to the other and through the other to Christ. At the end of the wedding service, the crowns
are removed from the couple and the priest prays that God will receive these
crowns into His Kingdom.
After the priest places
the Stéfana on the heads of the Bride and Groom, the Koumbaro exchanges the
crowns three times as witness to the sealing of the union.
The crown swapping begins with the koumbaro/a behind the bride and groom - and the koumbaro/a places the crowns three times on the head before the procession around the altar. The bride is at left, the groom at right.
PLACEMENT #1: The koumbaro holds the crowns in his or her hand and crosses his hands, RIGHT hand over the left , and then places the crowns on the heads of the bride and groom.
PLACEMENT #2: The koumbaro lifts the crowns off the head and then switches the crowns in his hand by uncrossing his hands, RIGHT hand back over the left and then around under the left hand. The arms end up crossed and the same crown goes back onto the brides head, and the same crown back onto the groom's head.
PLACEMENT #3: For the third switch, the koumbaro will move his right hand back under the right and then around over again the left hand.
The order is specific and symbolic - the right hand leads over the left on the first switch/placement - just as the right hand leads with all religious ceremonies. Generally the crowns are interchangeable or identical. If the crowns are specific for the bride and groom, then the groom’s crown starts on the bride and the bride’s crown starts on the groom. That way after the exchange, they are resting groom’s crown on the groom’s head and bride’s crown on the bride’s head. They wear the crowns this way for the remainder of the ceremony and as they circle the altar.
Here is a picture of a wedding couple having
crowns exchanged three times by their sponsor:
# What if the groom's head is really big? Will I have a problem with the stefana?
This is a popular concern – but not
one to worry too much about. The crowns
do not need to fit over the head – just lay on top of the head. While Blessed Celebration can custom make
some of our crown designs to a specific size, we discourage people from
requesting larger sized crowns. The
reason is because the crowns need to lay on top of both the bride and grooms
head. If one has a head that is quite
larger and a crown is made to fit this head, then it will fall when laying on
the smaller head during the exchange of crowns. If a crown is too large for a head, it will
be a real problem during the service. If
it is too small, it will not be a problem, the crown would just rest higher on
What are Stefanothiki?
Stefanothiki are crown cases. Crowns are traditionally
kept in a crown case – or stefanothikes – to preserve their beauty and as a
visual reminder of the sacrament of the wedding day. They may be hung in a
couple’s living room, hallway, or bedroom – or wherever the married couple
is the small decorated table up on the altar?
What is on it? The wedding service is conducted around a
small table on which wedding crowns, the book of Gospels, two wedding rings, a
cup of wine, and two white candles have been placed. The priest holds all these
items on this table for easy access during the ceremony.
# What is the
Joining of the Right Hands?
The couple joins right hands as the priest appeals
to God to make them one in flesh and spirit and grant them the joy of
children. Their hands are kept joined through the service to symbolize
the “oneness” of the couple. Here is a picture of a couple holding right
are the Readings?
The reading is done after the Crowning. The designated reading from the scriptures is
from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Ephesians where Paul talks of love and
is the Common Cup?
Orthodox Wedding tradition ceremony has a ritual of the drinking of the common
cup. On the altar table is a wine decanter with wine and a common cup.
After the priest reads Bible passages, the priest pours the wine into
the single cup and the bride and groom take three sips of wine from the shared
ritual of the common cup is based on the wedding of Cana of Galilee, where
Jesus turned water into wine. Just as wine was drunk at the wedding in Cana, the Bride
and Groom share a common cup of unconsecrated wine, symbolizing the sharing of
all that life will bring. The cup represents life and symbolizes they
will share everything. Their sorrows will be divided in half and their
joy will be doubled.
is a picture of a couple drinking from the common cup:
is the Ceremonial Walk?
The priest leads the couple, hands joined, in a
circle around the holy table as they take their first steps as husband and
wife. The circling around the table signifies the promise of the husband
and wife to preserve their marriage bond until death parts them. The ceremony
is concluded with the priest invoking God’s blessings and removing the
crowns. Here is a picture of a
ceremonial walk (notice the couple holding their right hands):
# What is the Proclamation of Husband and Wife?
At the end of the ceremony, the
priest removes the crowns and charges the newlyweds to go forward in
peace. The Bride and Groom are proclaimed husband and wife, at the
conclusion of the service.
Can a Christian Orthodox marry a Christian who is not a Christian Orthodox? Can a Greek Orthodox marry in the Greek church someone who is not Greek Orthodox?
In the Orthodox Christian Church, an Orthodox Christian may marry any Christian who is baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity. That is the key requirement - that the Christian partner be baptized in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
A Christian denomination that only baptizes in the name of Jesus is not fully aligned with the religious belief of Orthodox Christianity. As such, the Orthodox church will not permit the marriage of the Christian Orthodox with the other within the Orthodox church. It is best to speak with the priest about specifics, if this is the case.
For a Christian who is not Christian Orthodox but has been baptized in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, it is not a rule that this non-Orthodox partner convert. For example, a Catholic who is marrying a Greek Orthodox can marry within the Orthodox church and the Catholic does not need to convert. The ultimate goal of the Orthodox tenets is that two partners both worship together in an aligned way.
I am Greek Orthodox and I will have
2 flower girls at my wedding and I would like them to participate. What
do they actually do in the ceremony - do they follow the bride and groom around
the table? Do they hand out the witness pins to guests?
very common in the Orthodox ceremony for there to be a flower girl (or flower
girls) in the ceremony. Typically they precede the bride down the aisle
and then stand at the altar during the service (or part of the service if they
are young and can’t make it standing for the whole service). They do not
walk around the wedding altar table for the three rotations. Only the
priest, the bride and groom and the koumbaro/koumbara do this ceremonial walk.
flowergirls can also participate by:
Handing out wedding pamphlets to guests before the ceremony as guests enter the
out witness pins to guests as they depart the church (they can stand at the
beginning of the greeting line where guests greet the bride and groom as they
exit the church.
What are bomboniera?
The gift of bombonieres is an Eastern Orthodox tradition
over 3,000 years old. Filled with koufeta – or jordan almonds – the favors are
given as tokens of good fortune and happiness. Bombonieres are symobolic of
life with their bittersweet taste. The sugar coating represents the hope that
life will be blessed with more sweetness than bitterness. Bombonieres are
always filled with an odd number of almonds. The odd number is indivisible and
symbolizes the union and indivisibility of the newly married couple.
Bombonieres are given to each guest after the baptism by either the godparent
or the parents of the baptized child. Styles can range widely for these favors.
Traditional favors are simple white, pink or blue puffs of tulle tied with a
ribbon. However, styles can range widely and can extend to the elaborate,
distinctive and fun.
#What are martyrika? Martyrika
- or witness pins – are small lapel ribbons handed out at the end of the
ceremony and worn by guests as proof of witnessing the wedding. The traditional
pin is made of white, pink or blue ribbon and features a tiny cross or icon in
the center. Personalization of the martyrika is optional. The
sponsors - or koumbaroi - of the marrying couple traditionally hand out the
pins for guests to wear.
#What are the permissible dates to wed in the Orthodox calendar?
Marriages are allowed on all days of the year except for the following:
- January 5-6
- Great Lent and Holy Week
- August 1-15
- August 29 (Beheading of St. John the Baptist)
- September 14 (Exaltation of the Holy Cross)
- December 13-25
- The day before feast days and all Holy Days of our Lord
# Do priests get tipped for performing a wedding? If so – what is the appropriate amount? Yes, it is customary to tip those
who conduct the service of your wedding. The priest who conducts your wedding,
as well as the psalti (ψάλτης / cantor or singer) who attends your event. In the metro regions, a standard amount for a
tip for the priest can be anywhere from $100 to $300 – even $400 - for the
priest (very typical amount can be $100-$150). It is often less outside
The psalti is the man who sings at
the church. He usually gets tipped too - and a typical amount can range
from $40 to $100. There may be a third
man at the service - the neikoro - who helps the priest. If so, he is
traditionally tipped to - in an amount similar to the psalti.
Instead of cash, some choose to give
a gift. Or some give a combination of the two (a tip plus a gift). The tip is usually paid by the brides’ side
of the family.
# I’m having a reception after the wedding. Should I invite the priest? Yes! It is customary to invite the
priest to any reception after the service.
The priest may or may not attend depending upon his schedule,
but it proper and expected to extend the invitation.
# I’ve been asked to be the Koumbaro/koumbara at a
wedding. What am I responsible for
buying for the service? The Koumbaro (sometimes phonetically
spelled “goumbaro” or “goumbara” usually purchases:
stefana / wedding crowns
wedding tray – which is placed at the altar table and the wedding crowns
lie on tope.
stefana case to store the wedding crowns (optional as a gift)
wedding candles for the couple (although sometimes purchased by the
The wedding couple or the brides’
side of the family usually pays for:
jordan almond/boubouniera favors.
/ witness pins
reception after the baptism.
gratuities to the priest or any charge for use of a church facility