There are a few wedding services as beautiful and symbolic as that celebrated in the Greek Orthodox faith. The form of the ceremony has been unchanged for hundreds of years and is different from any other wedding service celebrated in Western Europe or North and South America. You may not know that in the Greek Orthodox ceremony, the bride and groom do not make vows to each other: instead, their vows are made to God.
The actual ritual itself has two sections: the Service of Betrothal, which is followed by the Ceremony of the Sacrament of Marriage. The first part centers around the exchanging of wedding rings. The priest will hold the rings in his right hand and make the sign of the cross over the heads of the couple. The priest will then place the blessed rings on the third fingers of the right (not the left!) hands of the couple. The koumbaro (the couple’s religious sponsor within the Greek Orthodox church) moves the rings back and forth between the bride and groom’s fingers three times. The number three in Christianity symbolizes the Holy Trinity: God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Accordingly, there are many symbolic acts that occur three times, in remembrance.
The Ceremony of the Sacrament of Marriage has several elements to it. At the beginning, the priest will lead the congregation in a few prayers and then will join the right hands of the bride and groom. Their hands will remain together until the end of the ceremony; the symbolic value of this is to show the couple’s new, unending union.
Next, the bride and groom have stefana, or thin crowns, placed on their heads. These two crowns are connected by a white ribbon and were blessed by the priest before the ceremony. The symbolism of the crowns is the glory that God is placing on them as a newly married couple within His church, and the white ribbon is a symbol of the couple’s newfound unity. As with the rings, the koumbaro will exchange the crowns back and forth between the couple’s heads three times.
After the crowning, the priest will then read the story of Jesus Christ’s first miracle: the wedding at Cana in Galilee. The first miracle that Jesus performed was the transformation of water into wine, which the guests at the wedding then drank. The couple then receives one goblet (called the Common Cup) of wine, and they each drink from this goblet three times.
Next, the priest will take the couple three times around the altar, as a symbol for their first walk together as a married couple. The koumbaro follows the couple, making sure that the stefana remain in place. It is common for the wedding guests to throw rice, or birdseed, or other celebratory items at the couple, at this time.
After the walk is over, the couple receives a blessing from the priest. The stefana are taken off, and the priest separates the couple’s right hands with a Bible, as a symbol that only God can now sever the union that the couple has just created.
If you are the koumbaro/koumbara, you are required to bring the following items:
• 2 Large Lambades and 2 Small Lambades (Decorated Wedding Candles)
• Gratuities for the Priest or Canter
• Stefana (Wedding Crowns)
• Tray (Decorated Silver Tray With Koufetta (and Rice if Desired) for the Stefana)