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The Traditions
of

Orthodox Weddings


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 info@blessedcelebration.com

FAQs:

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# 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

  • · The Exchange of Rings
  • · The lighting of the Candles
  • · The Crowning
  • · The Readings from the Bible
  • · The Drinking of the Common Cup
  • · The Ceremonial Walk
  • · Lastly, the Proclamation of Husband & Wife.

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# 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.

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# 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:

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# 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 candles:



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 them.


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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:


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#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.


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# 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:


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# 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 the head.


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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 chooses.


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What 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.

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# 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 hands:


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# What 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 respect.

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# What is the Common Cup?

The 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 cup.

The 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.

Here is a picture of a couple drinking from the common cup:


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# What 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):


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# 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.


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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.

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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?

It is 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.

The flowergirls can also participate by:

(1) Handing out wedding pamphlets to guests before the ceremony as guests enter the church

(2) Handing 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.


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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.


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#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.


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#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

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# 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 metro areas.

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.

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# 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.

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# 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:
  • The stefana / wedding crowns
  • The wedding tray – which is placed at the altar table and the wedding crowns lie on tope.
  • A stefana case to store the wedding crowns (optional as a gift)
  • The wedding candles for the couple (although sometimes purchased by the wedding couple).

The wedding couple or the brides’ side of the family usually pays for:

  • The jordan almond/boubouniera favors.
  • Martyrika / witness pins
  • The reception after the baptism.
  • Any gratuities to the priest or any charge for use of a church facility

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# Is there a custom of burying the wedding crowns / stefana with someone when they die?

While not a custom born from the scriptures, some Orthodox Christians observe a social custom of burying stephana with the deceased. This custom is an optional social custom and is not based on Holy Scripture. The marriage crowns can either be buried with the first or the second departing of the spousal couple. Or the stephana can be cut at the middle of the ribbon and be buried one crown with each of the spouses.


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Is there a proper way to dispose of stephana?

Stephana should not be thrown out. There are two ways that you can properly dispose of stefana: stefana may be either burned or they may be buried. Traditionally they are buried in the event when a spouse of the marriage has passed and they are laid to rest in the coffin with the departed spouse member.

They are burned in the event of a divorce, annulment, a death with no burial, or as an alternative to burying as a proper way to dispose of the stefana.


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What is the tradition of the boubouniera? What do the Jordan almonds represent?

Bouboniera are favors given out in celebration at weddings, baptisms, anniversaries, and any special celebratory event. The favors traditionally contain jordan almonds. Boubonieres are given out as gifts to each guest after the wedding or baptism at the reception. Styles can range widely for these favors and can extend to the elaborate, distinctive and fun. Traditional favors are simple white, ivory, pink or blue puffs of tulle tied with a ribbon.

The gift of bomboniera is an Eastern Orthodox tradition over 3,000 years old. Filled with koufeta (coufeta)– 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. The egg shape of the almond represents fertility. The whiteness of the almond symbolizes purity.

Bombonieres are always filled with an odd and an indivisible number of almonds (i.e., 7, 11 or 13 almonds). The traditional amount is 5 almonds – which symbolizes:

(1) health
(2) happiness,
(3) fertility,
(4) wealth and
(5) a long life

Sometimes 7 almonds are used. The 6th and 7th almond represent:

(6) Purity & Partnership

(7) Unity with Christ

Favors cannot be filled with 9 almonds, as 9 is a divisible number. In a wedding, the indivisible number symbolizes the union and indivisibility of the newly married couple. In a baptism, the indivisibility of the union of the baptized child with his or her Godparents.

Blessed Celebration offers explanation cards for koufeta favors upon request (email us at info@blessedcelebration.com for a pricing request). If you would like to make your own explanation cards, we offer the following sample wording for a wedding card as a courtesy:

"The white of the sugar coated almonds symbolizes purity; the egg shape represents fertility and the new life that begins with marriage. The hardness of the almond represents the endurance of marriage; the sweetness of the sugar symbolizes the sweetness of future life. The odd number of almonds is indivisible, just as the Bride and the Groom shall remain undivided."