THE SACRAMENT OF HOLY MATRIMONY AT ST. SAVA CATHEDRAL, NYC
Preparing for the Sacrament of Marriage
We, as a parish, rejoice in the love that you, as a couple, share for one another and the commitment you have made to bring you to this day in preparation for your Orthodox Church 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 as it is expressed in the Bible through Christ’s sacrificial relationship towards the Church
When we say that a Christian marriage is a sacrament, we use that word to convey the depths of the bond you are about to enter into: 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. A Christian marriage is intended to be a sign of God’s presence in your home, which is a small Church in this fallen and broken world.
Coordinating Your Wedding
You are asked promptly to schedule a meeting with the Cathedral Dean, Fr. Djokan, pertaining to your wedding, including setting the date of the wedding before scheduling the hall for your reception, since the wedding may not be celebrated during the fasting season and Major Church Feasts. Also, all necessary documents are to be presented and the introduction of the Marriage in the Orthodox Church is important. Please feel free to ask Father any questions you may have regarding your marriage here at Saint Sava Cathedral.
Preparation for the Marriage: Premarital Cancellation
At the premarital cancelation, which is done at least a month before the wedding, the priest prepares the couple for the Orthodox marriage. He first needs to confirm that the couple is baptized “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”; that they are not in close blood or spiritual relation; that there is no more than 15 years of age difference between them, and that they are both of free marital status. Then, 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 addition, he will ask the couple to provide all necessary documentation that may be required. This preparation for the marriage usually includes 2 to 3 sessions.
Mixed marriage is when an Orthodox Christian is getting married to a non-Orthodox Christian, but is baptized “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (for example, Roman Catholic and, traditionally, mainline Protestant churches such as the Lutheran, Episcopalian and Methodist communities). The non-Orthodox spouse has to sign the affirmation that all children that are born in the marriage with an Orthodox person must be baptized in the Orthodox Church. After that the priest requests the Diocesan Bishop to give his blessing to the mixed marriage.
Because of the sacramental nature of the marriage bond (in which a couple not only pledges their love for each other but also their love for Christ) a wedding between an Orthodox Christian and a non-Christian cannot 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 baptism and church membership of the Orthodox couple.
2. If it is a mixed marriage, verification of the baptism of the non-Orthodox spouse who was baptized in a Christian community” in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
3. A civil marriage license. (Please note that because a civil license carries a time limit your civil license should be secured less than two months prior to the desired date of the wedding.)
4. In case of prior marriages of either of the parties, a copy of the death certificate of the deceased spouse or a copy of the civil divorce decree issued by the state must be presented to the priest. If the prior marriage was celebrated in the Orthodox Church and ended in divorce, then an ecclesiastical divorce decree must also be presented.
Two witnesses are needed to eyewitness the marriage commitment. The First Witness, who will participate in the holy sacrament by the exchange of the wedding rings, must be an Orthodox Christian. The Second Witness, if not an Orthodox Christian, may, upon approval of the Bishop, be a Christian from another Confession, however, must have been baptized “in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
Necessary Items for the Celebration of the Service
1. A pair of wedding rings.
2. A pair of candles. (available in the church).
3. A scarf to tie the hands of the bride and groom together.
4. A glass for red wine (common cup).
5. Marriage License or if married in the court a copy of the marriage certificate.
In the Orthodox Church instrumental music is not permitted. Customarily, the priest chants and sings. Should the Choir be desired, please consult the priest.
Guest clergy may participate in a wedding at the Cathedral. Orthodox Christian clergymen in communion with the Serbian Orthodox Church are welcome to participate in the celebration of sacraments, with the blessings of the Diocesan Bishop.
Non-Orthodox clergymen from other Christian communities may not take part in the celebration of the sacrament of marriage, per se.
Bridal and Attendants’ Attire
Care should be taken in selecting the bride’s dress. Since the wedding crowns are an integral part of the wedding ceremony, headpieces must not interfere with the proper placing of the crowns on the bride’s head. The bridal gown and attendants’ dresses should also exercise a decorum befitting a Church ceremony. Shoulders are to be covered, either as part of the dress or with shawls.
Photography and Videotaping
Photographs are permitted but should not in any way impede or distract from the celebration of the sacrament. Photographers should not be conspicuous and should not use extensive flashing during the services. The same principle applies for videotaping.
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 meaningful, you must live out, in subsequent years, the Christian commitment that you will make on the day of your wedding. The Sacrament is not a one day event; it is a lifestyle wherein the husband and wife live together in the bond of love, united to Christ and to each other in every aspect of family life.
To those spouses who are not Orthodox: you are always welcome here at Saint Sava Cathedral. 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 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!
SHORT EXPLANATION OF THE HOLY SACRAMENT OF MATRIMONY
From the beginning, God in His providence planned the union of man and woman. There is no relationship between human beings as close as that of husband and wife if they are united as they ought to be.
– St. John Chrysostom (349-407 AD)
In the eyes of the Church, marriage is the sacramental union between a man and a woman that as it is expressed in the Bible through Christ’s sacrificial relationship towards the Church (Ephesians 5).
Holy Matrimony is a Sacrament of the Orthodox Christian Church in which a man and a woman are united together “in faith, in oneness of mind, through and in love.” The Sacrament of Marriage is the Church’s recognition of a union that God has already begun to work with the lives of two people. In marriage, the union enters a new reality, that of God’s Kingdom. It becomes open to the possibility of what God had intended marriage to be from the beginning: an eternal life of joy in union with Him.
For this reason in the Orthodox service there are no vows exchanged. Marriage in Christ is beyond a legal contract. Nor is there the phrase, “till death do us part.” If marriage is brought into the Kingdom of God, death as separation has no power over it. Christ destroyed death by His Cross and proclaimed Life by His Resurrection, therefore the union of man and woman is eternal; it does not end with death.
The celebration of the sacrament of marriage is made up of the Service of Betrothal and the Service of Crowning. The text of these two services summarizes in words, images and symbols the Orthodox Christian teaching regarding marriage.
The first part of the wedding service is the Betrothal, wherein the bride and groom pledge their mutual faithfulness. It is in this service that the Church first prays for the couple. Here the Church recognizes and blesses a union which has begun “in the world” yet awaits fulfillment in the world to come. It is here where the blessing and exchange of wedding rings takes place. After being blessed by the priest, the rings are placed on the right hands of the bride and groom. In the Orthodox tradition the rings are placed on the right hand, which is considered the hand of honor. Christ sits on the Right hand side… The Righteous will stand on the right side… When greeting each other we extend the right hand; we cross ourselves with the right hand. The exchange of rings gives expression to the fact that they will constantly be complementing each other. Each will be enriched by the union. The exchange of rings represents a pledge to share and exchange both their physical and spiritual goods, a pledge of eternal love and devotion.
With promises reconfirmed and after the words of the final prayer, “let Thine Angel go before them all the days of their life,” the Betrothal ends. The priest now leads the bride and groom into the Nave of the church and into the bonds of Holy Marriage, where the Crowning takes place. This point in the service most clearly reveals the “action” of the sacrament.
The bride and groom bring themselves, each other, their lives and all that fills their lives to the altar as an offering to God. As they enter into the midst of the Church their relationship enters into the new reality of God’s Kingdom.
The Candles & Joining of the Right Hands
The bride and groom are given candles which are held throughout the service. The candles represent their willingness to follow the light of Truth, Jesus Christ, and that they will have their way through life lighted by the teachings of the Church.
The right hands of the bride and groom are joined together with a white cloth as the priest reads a prayer which asks God to “join these Thy servants, unite them in one mind and one flesh.”
After prayers are offered on their behalf, the bride and groom are crowned. These crowns have two meanings. First, they reveal that in their union with Christ, the couple participates in His Kingship. Second, as in the ancient Church, crowns are a symbol of martyrdom. The word martyr means “witness.” Martyrdom is usually associated with death. So the reality of God’s Kingdom in the life of husband and wife will necessarily take the form of dying to one’s self, to one’s own will and the giving of one’s life totally to the other, and through the other to Christ.
When the crowning takes place the priest takes the crowns and holds them above the couple, saying: “O Lord our God, crown them with glory and honor!” This is the highlight of the wedding service. The verse from the Old Testament (Psalm 21) is then sung by the choir: “Thou hast set upon their heads crowns of precious stones, they asked life of thee, and Thou gavest it to them.”
The Epistle is taken from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians 5:20-33. It represents the cornerstone of the Christian vision of marriage: the love of man and woman parallels the love of Christ and the Church. As Christ gave Himself totally to and for His Church, so the husband is to give himself totally to and for his wife. As the Church, in turn, is subjected to Christ, so too the wife subjects herself to her husband. Thus, the two become one in a life of mutual love and subjection to each other in Christ.
The Gospel, John 2: 1-11, is the familiar account of the Wedding Feast at Cana where Christ turned the water into wine. Water is always what one drinks just to survive. Wine, on the other hand, is more than just a drink that quenches thirst and continues life. Wine is associated with joy, with celebration, with life as being more than mere survival. By His presence at this wedding, Christ changes the union of man and woman into something new. Marriage becomes more than a mere human institution existing for whatever purpose society assigns to it. It becomes, like the Church herself, a sign that God’s Kingdom has already begun in our midst.
In remembrance of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, the blessed wine is given to the couple. This is the “Common Cup” of life denoting the mutual sharing of joy and sorrow, the token of a life of harmony. The drinking of the 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 Ceremonial Walk
After more prayers, a common cup of wine is blessed and shared by the couple as a sign of their common life together. With right hands joined, the priest, representing the Church, leads the bride and groom in procession, guiding them as they walk together as husband and wife. They circle the table (the circle symbolizing the eternity of marriage) with burning candles, symbolic of the Light of Christ.
At the Center of their journey through life together, they must treasure the gospel and the Cross, and should light their way with the Light of Christ. Their hands are joined together in their new unity of love. If they walk this way, then indeed they can hope to attain the perfect unity of the Holy Trinity, symbolized by circling the table three times.
During this ceremonial walk, 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 a willingness to sacrifice it all for the one loved.
The Removal of the Crowns and Blessings
At the end of the service the priest removes the crown from the groom with this blessing: “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 you o bride, be thou magnified as Sarah, and glad as Rebecca, and do thou increase like unto Rachael, rejoicing in your husband, fulfilling the conditions of the law, for so it is well pleasing unto God.” Then the priest prays that God will receive these crowns in His Kingdom. The reality of this Kingdom into which the bride and groom have entered is not completely fulfilled, but only begun.