The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony
oly Matrimony (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 Liturgy proper will begin with the words, “Blessed is the Kingdom of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The second part of the Marriage, called the Crowning, takes place during the Liturgy. 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.
Holy Matrimony is fulfilled in the Eucharist. Betrothal and Crowning culminate as the Bride and Groom share Holy Communion (or Common Cup). Father Alexander Schmemann, of blessed memory, wrote:
There exists between the Eucharist and each of the other sacraments an organic link. For all the sacraments, except the Eucharist, deal with individual members of the Church and their purpose is to integrate the individual — his life, his particular "leitourgia" or calling — into the Church. But the Church is fulfilled in the Eucharist, and each sacrament, therefore, finds its natural end, its fulfillment in the Eucharist.
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.