Introduction to the Service of Matrimony

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The Orthodox Service of Matrimony is what we colloquially call a Wedding or Marriage. Outsiders see the service as long and full of symbolism, but the service beautifully illustrates the man and the woman coming together through the grace of God. Matrimony is one of the seven mysteries (sacraments) of the Orthodox Church, in which only those who are called to be married should be partaking in the service.

The Orthodox understanding of marriage is very different. The couple being married does almost nothing during this service, but rather it is God that unites the two. For this reason we have no vows, no person-to-person exchange of rings, and no movements that we lead ourselves into. This does not mean that the Orthodox haven’t made a promise to each other, a ring to signify their promise, and walking together, but rather it means that the marriage is united by the Power of God, not by a personal and weak bond.

Orthodox Marriage can be seen as a co-yoking of the couple. A yoke is what holds animals together to help with such field work as plowing; it goes around the necks of the animals to help drive the tool behind them. While this may seem like the strangest idea of marriage, it is the most accurate: two people bonded together by Christ, working on the same goal, and if they don’t want to work together, they will not get anywhere, but it takes a mutual understanding to move forward. (I don’t know if you caught it, but Orthodox essentially says marriage is work, a work that must be looked after and taken care of.)

Though the theology of marriage and the Orthodox Church’s stance on marriage seem to be perfect and beautiful, it doesn’t mean that divorces don’t occur, but they are highly discouraged, and the divorce is typically suspect to an ecclesiastical (Church) court for final resolution to the marriage, but really never the approval of the divorce. The Church allows up to 3 marriages, but no more, and by correct practices, the 2nd marriage is much more solemn, not having the joy and pomp of the 1st marriage, and 3rd marriages are not very common. In the Gospels, Christ speaks of an indissoluble marriage, we recognize the weakness and sinfulness of all of us and that is why divorce is even permitted.

In the Orthodox Matrimony we typically find two services being performed. First is the Betrothal which includes the rings. Second is the Crowning Service which more mirrors Liturgy and which was the part that used to be in the Liturgy. When the bride walks in the chanters/choir can chant “Axion Estin (Truly you are worthy),” which is a hymn to the Theotokos, which we also chant/sing (usually in a different tune) during the Liturgy. There are Epistle and Gospel readings, as well as a quasi-communion in the common cup. In current practice we have the sponsor(s) [Male=Koumbaro, Female=Koumbara, Couple=Koumbaroi], candles, rings, crowns, common cup and the Dance of Isaiah.

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This post was written by Andrew Athanasiou

About Andrew Athanasiou

Andrew is a student of Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, located in Brookline, Massachusetts. Andrew is a Masters of Divinity Student who is also a Seminarian. Andrew is from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and his knowledge comes from five major sources: Greek Orthodox Seminary; Greek Orthodox Summer Camp; both being taught and teaching in Greek Orthodox Sunday School; and finally further readings and interests in other theological areas.

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