Marriage is the sacrament that sanctifies the union of a man and woman who desire to share each other’s lives and seek fullness of life and salvation as one. Because it is a “holy state sanctified by God,” His grace is imparted to the couple to live together in His love, mutually fulfilling and perfecting each other, and forming a family which will mirror the Church itself.
Within the Orthodox Church, the marriage ceremony is steeped with ritual and symbolism. Unlike other Christian faiths where a bride and groom can “create” their own service and vows, the Orthodox rite is set and each act performed has a special meaning and significance. It is holy and everlasting in both the sight of God and the Church.
There are two main parts of the Marriage service. The first is called the Betrothal, or “promise,” which takes place at the doors of the church. This is the “natural” marriage – the promise that a husband and wife make to each other that they wish to live a common life together. Mutual support and equality with the marriage are pledged.
After the Priest leads the couple into the center of the church, the second part of the Marriage, called the Crowning, takes place. This is the “spiritual” marriage – the promise that the new couple makes to God to live their new life together in His Church in the hope that someday, by the virtue of their marriage, they will be blessed with the crown of everlasting life.
An Orthodox marriage ceremony is not an “event,” it is a great mystery in which two members of Christ’s body are joined as one within the whole Church.