The Greek Wedding Ceremony is one of the most ancient and celebrated nuptial ceremonies in existence. It is rich with tradition and symbolism, some of which dates back to the foundations of the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Because symbolism abounds, it is easy to forget what everything in the ceremony actually means– and this is fascinating stuff to know! Feel free to use this article when creating programs for your ceremony guests. Stay tuned for some uploaded templates!
The Greek Orthodox Wedding Ceremony
Before The Ceremony
In a traditional ceremony in Greece, the guests will often wait outside of the church with the nervous groom. Of course, there are the sneaky ones that find a way into the church before the ceremony starts, but this is the general rule. On the other hand, a Greek Wedding Ceremony of the diaspora (in Canada, USA, Australia, etc.), starts much the same as a standard Western European ceremony; everyone takes their place within the nave (the main part) of the church and waits for the ceremony to begin. Traditionally, one side of the church is reserved for the groom’s guests, while the other is reserved for the bride’s guest, but this is becoming less and less commonplace.
The Service of the Betrothal
Greek Wedding ceremonies are divided into two parts. The first part is the Service of the Betrothal. The main focus of this part of the service is the exchanging of the rings. The priest(s) officiating the ceremony blesses the rings by holding them in his right hand and making the sign of the cross over the bride and groom. The rings are then placed on the third finger of the bride and groom’s right hands (*in the Orthodox church, wedding rings are traditionally worn on the right hand. In the diaspora, where the practice is to where rings on the left hand, this is usually just on the wedding day). At this point, the Koumbaro or Koumbara (male or female sponsor, respectively), swaps the rings between the bride and groom’s fingers three times. Many of the rituals from the Greek Orthodox ceremony are repeated three times, which symbolizes the Holy Trinity.
The Ceremony of the Sacrament of Marriage
This is the second part of the Greek Orthodox Wedding Ceremony. It consists of a series of symbolic elements. Before these elements begin, the priest reads a series of prayers and joins the right hands of the bride and groom. The right hand is symbolic because the Nicene Creed (the prayer that recites the fundamental beliefs of the Orthodox Church) states that Christ sits at the right hand of the Father. The joining of the hands also symbolizes the union of the couple.
The bride and groom are crowned with thin crowns that are joined by a ribbon. The crowns, or stefana, symbolize the couple as being the king and queen of their own kingdom, which further symbolizes the glory that God bestows upon the couple. The ribbon that joins the crowns symbolizes their unity. The Koumbaro or Koumbara then exchanges the crowns between the bride and groom three times.
The Common Cup
The crowning is followed by a reading from the Holy Gospel. The reading recounts the story of the Marriage of Cana at Galilee. It was at this wedding that Jesus performed his first miracle, which was turning water into wine. A chalice containing wine is given to the couple, and they each drink of it three times.
The Ceremonial Walk
We saw this in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” The priest leads the couple, who are still wearing their crowns/stefana, around the altar three times. This symbolizes their first steps as a married couple, as well as their journey through life. Behind the couple, walks the Koumbaro or Koumbara, who is holding the crowns in place.
The Removal of the Crowns
When the Ceremonial Walk has ended, the priest removes the crowns, and uses the Holy Gospel to separate the couple’s joined hands. This is to remind them that only God hand break their union.
What you’ve just read is the bread and butter of a Greek Orthodox Wedding Ceremony. Any additions that you may witness can be the result of more regional influences on the ceremony.