Father Justin on Marriage
Holy Matrimony is a Sacrament in which a man and a woman solemnly vow before Christ, the priest and the Church to be faithfully committed to each other for life. Christ blesses the marriage through the couple’s sacramental union in the Church. The couple depends on God’s grace that is imparted through this ceremony to help the couple live together in His love, mutually fulfilling and perfecting each other. A sacrament is a mystery in which the Holy Spirit brings the heavenly and earthly realms together. Holy Matrimony joins the couple with Christ, as He is the Bridegroom, and the Church His Bride.
The marriage ceremony is steeped in ritual and symbolism. We believe that it is God that unites the couple to each other and to Christ. The Sacrament of Marriage consists of two services: the Betrothal service and the Wedding or Crowning ceremony.
The Betrothal Service
The couple’s entrance into the church from the narthex, the area closet to the outside world, represents that the relationship which began in the world wild now move into the church for a blessing to enter the world to come. At this time the bride and groom each declare their willingness to be married to each other. This part of the service recognizes the civil union through which a man and woman come with free will to join each other. And yet, it is much more than a legal contract. In Eastern Catholic marriages the couple does not exchange vows. The have come to the Church to recognize God’s union in their relationship. During the Betrothal, the priest or deacon petitions the people to pray for the couple to have a life of perfect love together, for the salvation, and for the blessing of children from their union.
The priest blesses the rings and then lifts them above the heads of the Bride and Groom as he blesses their betrothal three times, in the name of the “ Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” invoking the mystical presence of the Holy Trinity. The rings are exchanged and then placed on the ring finger of the right hand. Promises are made and oaths are taken with the right hand, symbolizing the right hand of the Father. The exchange signifies that in married life the weakness of one partner will be compensated for by the strength of the other. By themselves, the newly betrothed couple is incomplete; together by the grace of God, they are being made perfect and striving to help each other to inherit eternal life.
The wedding Ceremony begins immediately following the Betrothal service. The Bride and Groom are handed candles that they will carry throughout the ceremony as a sign of their willingness to follow Christ and His light. They are acknowledging their desire to receive Christ into their marriage and to follow the teachings of His Church.
Entering the Church
The Bride and Groom enter the church together offering their relationship to God and asking Him to bless their lives together. Psalm 128 is chanted during the entrance. “Glory to You, our God, glory to You” is chanted after each verse to show that we give Glory to God for all things.
Blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in his ways!
You shall eat the fruit of the labor of your hands; you shall be blessed, and it shall be well with you.
Your wife will be like a fruitful vine within your house; your children will be like olive shoots around your table.
Behold, thus shall the man be blessed who fears the Lord.
The Lord bless you from Zion!
May you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life!
May you see your children’s children!
Peace be upon Israel!
The Joining of the Right Hands
The priest offers prayers to unite the couple in one mind and one flesh as he joins their right hands together to symbolize their union. The couple holds hands for the rest of the service.
The priest offers prayers for the couple and then blesses the crowns, which are placed on their heads. The crowns symbolize the glory and honor with which God crowns them during the sacrament. The crowns have two meanings: first, the bride and groom have taken their place as king and queen of their marital kingdom, the home. Looking to God to guide them as they rule their kingdom with wisdom, justice and integrity. Second, the crowns represent martyrdom. The word “martyr” means “witness.” The couple bears witness to Christ’s presence in their lives, which requires both to die to self and to give their life for the other. The ribbon joining the crowns represents the unity of the couple. The crowns are exchanged three times to signify the complete sealing of their union.
The Epistle reading, Ephesians 5:20-33, explains the mystery and holiness of marriage, as well as the duties and responsibilities of a husband and wife. The love and the couple parallel the love of Christ and His Church. The couple becomes one in their submission to each other and to Christ.
The Gospel reading, John 2:1-11, retells the story of the wedding of Cana, where Christ blessed the marriage by turning water into wine. Water is good but wine is better. This divinizing action of Christ presents an image of the transformation of a human relationship into something greater; a Sacrament by which the couple brings the love of God into the world and grows in spiritual perfection.
The Common Cup
In remembrance of the blessing of wine at the wedding of Cana, wine is given to the couple to share. The meaning in the passage when Mary says, “they have no wine”, is that a marriage is not complete without the presence of Christ. The sharing of the common cup reminds the couple that from that moment, they will share everything in life, joys as well as sorrows.
The Dance of Isaiah
The Dance of Isaiah is a procession led by the priest as he places his hands on the joined hands of the Bride and groom. The husband and wife are taking their first steps as a married couple as they process three times around a table on which the Cross and the Gospel book are placed. This ceremonial walk is a reminder that they must keep Christ at the center of their marriage. The hymns sung during the Dance of Isaiah recall the themes of blessing, martyrdom, and the setting apart of the couple from this world to a union with Christ. The Best Man and Maid of Honor follow the Bride and groom as witnesses, and pledge lifelong moral and spiritual support.
The removal of crowns and the Blessing of the Couple
The priest removes the crowns and places them on the Gospel book as an offering of the marriage to the Lord. The priest prays that God will receive these crowns into His Kingdom. The couple now begins their journey together in Christ at the foot of His altar. They are an icon of Christ and His Church to the witnesses attending this sacrament of their threefold union.
Prayer for a Married Couple
O merciful God, you made marriage a holy state of life, and bid us always to keep it so. Grant us Your grace, that we may continue in faithfulness in love; increase in us the spirit of mutual understanding and trust, that no quarrel or strife may come between us; grant us Your blessings, that we may stand in Your sight as a good and holy family; and finally, by Your mercy, count us worthy of everlasting life, for You are our sanctification and we render glory to You, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and always and forever and ever. Amen