The Koumbaros/Koumbara in the Greek Orthodox Wedding

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The Role of the Koumbaros/Koumbara in the Greek Orthodox Wedding

In the Greek Orthodox wedding, the bride and groom must select either a Koumbaros [male] or Koumbara [female], who acts as the official ‘sponsors’ of the marriage. However, the Koumbaros or Koumbara must be Orthodox to be a part of the ceremony. Traditionally there is only one Koumbaros or Koumbara, but increasingly many priests permit couples, or Koumbari [plural].

In mainstream weddings traditionally there is the Maid of Honor and Best Man, which can also exist in Greek weddings, and usually are reserved for members of the wedding party that are non-Greeks. Unlike the Best Man and Maid of Honor the Koumbaros and Koumbara need to be Orthodox as they are active participants in the Sacrament of Marriage. This isn’t meant as any slant against close non-Orthodox friends of the bride or groom. In fact no other member of the wedding party has to be Orthodox.

As opposed to maybe reading a reading or just making sure the bride’s dress is fluffed out just right, the Koumbaros or Koumbara helps perform some of the most symbolic pieces of a Greek wedding. Perhaps one of the most significant and recognizable parts of the ceremony is when the Koumbaros[a] places the stephana [crowns] on the heads of the bride and groom. The stephana are two decorated crowns with a long ribbon between them connecting the two. As the name quite literally suggests, the stephana do in fact represent crowns as the marriage is viewed as creating a new kingdom where the bride and groom are consider the king and queen of the home and family.

The Koumbaros[a] holds the stephana above the heads of the bride and groom as the priest asks God to “crown them with honor and glory”, and the Koumbaros[a] exchanges the stephana three times, further symbolizing the connection of the two people.

Before the stephana are placed on the couple’s heads, it is the Koumbaros[a] that puts the wedding rings on the bride and groom’s right hand. Once the rings and stephana are in place, the priest leads the couple around the small table holding hands. These are the first steps that the newlyweds take together, and the Koumbaros[a] follows behind them holding the ribbon between the stephana. This walk around the table with priest, newlyweds and Koumbaros[a] is known as the ‘Dance of Isaiah’.

Whether it is placing the rings and crowns on the bridge and groom, or taking the first steps with them, the Koumbaros[a] is so intimately involved in the wedding service that it is necessary that they be Orthodox Christians. This is also extremely important since tradition usually says that the bride and groom’s Koumbaros[a] is also the one to baptize the first born child of the couple.

This means that the Godparent of your child must also be an Orthodox Christian. The role of the Koumbari and Godparent is also a spiritual one as they are acting as the sponsor of the marriage as well as the child, and this is especially true when they come baptize the future infant. They become the spiritual guides of the child, and their primary obligation is to help the child live in the Orthodox way.

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