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First Steps

If you are thinking of getting married, contact the priest and arrange for premarriage counseling. It is required. The Church welcomes marriage partners of a different Christian faith. If you are involved in an interfaith partnership, browse the Interfaith Marriage Web Site. It contains a lot of useful information. Please be aware that you cannot be married outside of the Orthodox Church and remain a member of the Eastern Orthodox faith. If you marry outside of the Church you will be barred from the sacraments, becoming a sponsor at a wedding or baptism, and from receiving a Orthodox funeral. Marriage to a non-Christian is not permitted. (See guidelines below)

Sacrament of Marriage

God is active in our lives. It is He who joins a man and a woman in a relationship of mutual love. The Sacrament of Marriage bears witness to His action. Through this Sacrament, a man and a woman are publicly joined as husband and wife. They enter into a new relationship with each other, God, and the Church. Since Marriage is not viewed as a legal contract, there are no vows in the Sacrament. According to Orthodox teachings, Marriage is not simply a social institution, it is an eternal vocation of the kingdom. A husband and a wife are called by the holy Spirit not only to live together but also to share their Christian life together so that each, with the aid of the other, may grow closer to God and become the persons they are meant to be. In the Orthodox Marriage Service, after the couple have been betrothed and exchanged rings, they are crowned with “crowns of glory and honor” signifying the establishment of a new family under God. Near the conclusion of the Service, the husband and wife drink from a common cup which is reminiscent of the wedding of Cana and which symbolized the sharing of the burdens and joys of their new life together.

Marriage Preparation

Marriage preparation counseling is mandatory to help support a successful marriage. A minimum of four premarital counseling session are required before the marriage. At the initial meeting between the priest and the couple, dates and times will be set. During these sessions the religious, social , physical, emotional and moral issues of marriage will be discussed. It is important to learn what marriage means to Eastern Orthodox Christians.

The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is one of the Holy Mysteries of our Greek Orthodox Church. It unites both spiritually and physically a man and a woman into one cohesive unit, respecting and proclaiming each ones individual personality, yet mystically drawing together man, woman, and the Holy Spirit into one family.

Setting the Date

The first step a couple should take after the decision to get married is to call the parish priest to verify if the Church calendar is open for the date requested and to set up a meeting time for the couple and the priest to review requirements. Please, DO NOT begin plans nor order any invitations until after meeting with the priest.

The Church has set aside certain times and dates when marriages are not permitted to be performed. These dates include Lenten periods and various Feast days of the Church calendar.

The following are additional days when marriages may not be performed:

  • December 24 and 25 (Christmas)
  • January 5 and 6 (Epiphany)
  • February 1 and 2 (The presentation of Christ to the Temple)
  • August 29 (The Beheading of st. John the Baptist)
  • September 14 (The Exaltation of the Holy Cross)

Marriages are also not permitted during moveable Feasts of Pascha (Easter), Ascension, and Pentecost or on the day before these Feasts. Marriages are not performed during the forty days of Great Lent, Holy Week, the Lent and Feast of the Virgin Mary Theotokos (August 1 through 15), and the Christmas Fast (December 13 through 25). The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony can be performed on the above dates only in an extreme emergency and by dispensation by the Metropolitan.

Who May Marry?

For a Greek Orthodox priest to be allowed to celebrate a marriage, at least one of the two spouses must be of the Eastern Orthodox faith. The non-Orthodox spouse must have been baptized in a Christian Church that baptizes in the Name of the Holy trinity. A marriage between an Orthodox Christian and a non-Christian or an individual not baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity can not be celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Spiritual Preparation

You are urged, if you are an Orthodox Christian, to receive the sacrament of Confession and the sacrament of Holy Communion as preparation for your marriage. By doing so you will bring a new vitality, a spirit, and bond to your marriage that will enhance and deepen your lives.

If you are not an Orthodox Christian you are urged to partake in a spiritual preparation guided by your parish priest/pastor which will grant you a renewal, enabling you to prepare spiritually for your wedding.

Papers, Documents, Certificates

The following documentation is required:

  1. The Orthodox person must be a member of the Annunciation Cathedral Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Norfolk, Virginia, having pledged for the current year.
  2. A certificate of baptism from your parish (if you are from a community other than Annunciation Norfolk). If you are not an Orthodox Christian, your Baptismal certificate will verify that you were baptized in the name of the Holy trinity. If the non-Orthodox partner has not been baptized the parish priest will discuss the issue in detail.
  3. If you were born outside the United States and came to this country after your 18th birthday, a certificate verifying that you are single and eligible to marry should be obtained from your home country parish priest, signed by the Bishop of the home country Diocese.
  4. If either of the couple has been married before, a certified copy of the entire divorce decree must be given to the priest. If the Orthodox partner had a previous marriage blessed in the Orthodox Church, the original ecclesiastical divorce decree must be given to the priest.
  5. A civil license must be obtained from the Court House in your locality. There is a 24 hour turn around time for obtaining this license. This license must be obtained by the couple personally.
  6. An Ecclesiastical License which gives the Parish Priest Episcopal Authority to conduct the marriage in a Greek Orthodox Church is also required. The priest and couple will fill out an affidavit that will be sent to the Metropolitans office in New Jersey. The Ecclesiastical License will be mailed back to the parish priest in two weeks.

The Bridal Party

Every couple married in the Eastern Orthodox Church must have a Koumbaros/Koumbara who must be a member in good standing of the Eastern Orthodox Church. This individual should be chosen very carefully for he/she is very important. In the strict interpretation of the Church, the Koumbaros/Koumbara is not the same as the best man/maid of honor, although they can be the same individual in a wedding.

In other Christian celebrations of Marriage, the best man or maid of honor is considered to be legal witness to the ceremony. The Koumbaros/Koumbara is mainly an ecclesiastical witness, the person who, in many circumstances, but not always, is given the privilege of baptizing (as Godparent) your first child. He/she is also the person you turn to for advice and counsel in your lives when needed.

You may have in your wedding party both a Koumbaros/Koumbara and a best man/maid of honor, or they may be the same person. While the role of the best man/maid is that of a witness, that of the Koumbaros is an active one. He/she exchanges the rings and the crowns and holds the ribbon as you walk around the ceremonial table together as husband and wife. Traditionally, the Koumbaros purchases the wedding crowns, the silver tray, the almonds, the candles, etc. used during the ceremony.

If the Koumbaros is from another parish, he/she must bring a letter of introduction from his/her priest. A person who does not belong to a parish of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese cannot serve in this important role. A person whose marriage has not been blessed in the Orthodox Church will not be allowed to serve in a sacramental, canonical, capacity in the wedding. Non-Orthodox persons cannot serve ins such a capacity precisely because they are sacramental, canonical responsibilities of Church members.

It is a beautiful sight to have a bridal party with attendants, groomsmen and ushers. If such is your plan, know that they do not have to be Eastern Orthodox Christians, except for the Koumbaros. Those you do select as part of your bridal party must agree to observe the practice of the Eastern Orthodox traditions.

The Bridal Dress and Attendants Gowns

Care should be taken in selecting the brides dress. Since crowns are an integral part of the wedding, headpieces must not interfere with the proper placing of the crowns on the brides head. Keep this in mind if selecting any type of pill box hat or veil. The bridal dress should also exercise a decorum befitting a church ceremony.

White Runners

Because of the tendency for the feet of the bridal party to get entangled in the runner, all runners are discouraged.

The Rings

The vary nature of the Eastern Orthodox ceremony makes it a double ring ceremony. The rings should be gold (white or yellow).

Crowns, Stefana, Wedding Wreaths and Candles

Crowns, stefana, and wedding wreaths are words used interchangeably. They are placed on your heads during the wedding. It is permissible to wear the crowns your parents wore.

White candles are also necessary. Because the bride anagram will be holding them during the wedding, it is suggested the candles be of a size easily handled and simple in their decoration.