"Marriage is a mystery which takes place
when in front of the priest and the Church the bridegroom and the bride of
their own accord vow to be mutually faithful and their union is blessed as a
symbol of the union of Christ and the Church and the grace of pure unanimity
for bearing and rearing children in Christianity is asked to be granted to
them." ("Orthodox Catechism," Metropolitan Philaret)
Church and canon
rules preventing marriage.
The marriage rules established by civil law and
by church differ considerably. That is why not every civil marriage can be
blessed by the Church.
The Church will not allow fourth or fifth
marriage; it prohibits marriages between close relatives. The Church will not
bless the marriage in which one of the couple (or both) declare themselves
openly atheistic and who came to church only because parents or the spouse
insisted on that. One cannot be married in church to a non-baptized person. The
church will not perform a wedding ceremony if one of the persons to be married
is already married to another person.
Relations in blood of the four generations cannot
enter matrimony (that is one cannot marry one’s third cousin). An ancient
chaste tradition forbids marriages between godparents and godchildren as well
as between two godparents of one child. Strictly speaking, there are no canonic
rules prohibiting such a union, but at present the permission for such marriage
can be given only by the head archpriest.
The church will not allow marriage of those who
had previously taken monastic vows or had been ordained to priesthood by laying on of hands.
Nowadays the church does not investigate whether
the following conditions are observed: the appropriate age, bodily and mental
health of a bride and the bridegroom and whether the marriage was voluntary
because those conditions are necessary to be fulfilled to perform a civil
marriage. Of course it is possible to conceal some obstacles to marriage from
the representatives of state offices. But one cannot deceive God, which is why
the main obstacle for illegal marriage should become the conscience of the
people planning to marry.
If the parents of the marrying couple do not give
their consent, it is very sad, but if the couple is of complete age, the
absence of such consent cannot be an obstacle to the marriage. Besides the
atheistic parents are often against that very idea of church wedding, and in
that case the parents’ consent can be replaced with the priest’s one or even
better with the consent of a god parent of at least of one person of the
Wedding ceremonies are not performed:
During all the 4 long fasts;
During the Meat Fast;
On the Bright Week (Easter).
During the period from Christmas (January 7) to
On the eve of the 12 great feasts;
On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays throughout
On September 10, 11, 26 and 27 (due to strict
fast on the day of commemoration of beheading of John the Baptist and the
Elevation of the Cross);
On the eve of the church holidays (each church
has its own days);
Under special circumstances exception from those
rules can be made with the permission of the head archpriest.
Advice for the marrying couples:
To make the wedding ceremony a holiday that will
be remembered for the rest of your lives you must arrange everything
beforehand. Firstly, agree upon the place and time of the wedding mystery. Many
churches of St. Petersburg keep
records of preliminary applications with the indication of the date and the
time of the proposed wedding. This can be done by any relative. In that case
the ceremony will be performed by the priest whose turn it is to serve the rite
on special occasions. In the churches, which do not keep such ledgers, the
marrying couple will pay for the ceremony on that same day at the candle table.
But you would not know the exact time of the wedding as it will take place only
after other rites on special occasions will be served first. But again, if you
like, you can arrange for the particular priest to perform the wedding
ceremony. In any case the church priest will ask you to produce the marriage
license from the civil organs, therefore the marriage
should be registered in the appropriate government office before the service.
If the marrying couple has any of the
above-mentioned obstacles, they should turn to the appropriate church
In the early centuries of Christianity wedding
ceremonies were performed right after the Divine Liturgy. Now this does not
happen, but it is extremely important for the marrying couple to go to the
Communion together before the wedding. That is why the marrying couple should
come to church before the service begins, having abstained from eating,
drinking and smoking on the eve of that day beginning with midnight and, if the
marrying couple is already having sexual relations, they should abstain from
that on the previous night too. In church the marrying couple
goes to confession, pray during the Divine Liturgy and partake of the
Holy Mysteries. After that moliebens and requiems are going on for about an
hour, which gives you time to change into wedding clothes (if the church has a
room for that). We would advise a bride to put on comfortable footwear, and not
high-heel shoes as it is difficult to stand in them for hours.
It is desirable that friends and relatives come
together with the marrying couple for the Liturgy, but if it is not possible
they can come to the wedding proper. Not all the churches would allow taking
pictures and videotaping the ceremony.
The wedding rings should be given to the
appointed priest beforehand for him to sanctify them by placing them on the
Bring a piece of white linen or a towel. The
marrying couple will stand on it. The bride should by all means have a
headwear; cosmetics and ornaments should either be removed or minimized.
According to the Russian tradition any marrying
couple should have witnesses (the best man and a bridesmaid), who help to
organize the wedding feast. They would come in handy at church too — they are
to hold the crowns over the heads of the marrying couple. It is better to
appoint two men to do it as the crowns are rather heavy. The ushers should be
baptized Christians. The Church canon prohibits marrying several couples at a
time, but it does happen in life. It is quite understandable that each couple
would want a separate wedding ceremony, but in that case the procedure will
take very long time (one wedding takes about one hour). If the marrying couple
agrees to wait till after all the others get married, they will not be refused
a separate Wedding Mystery. In big churches separate wedding ceremonies cost
double the usual price. On weekdays (Monday, Wednesday, Friday) the probability
of many couples coming to church on the same day is much lower than on Sundays.
The Mystery of the Marriage consists of two
parts: betrothal and wedding. In the past they were separated from each other
with a period of time. Betrothal could be done at the time of engagement and
could be later cancelled.
During the betrothal a priest gives lighted
candles to the marrying couple, they symbolize joy,
warmth and purity. Then he places the rings — first on the bridegroom’s finger,
then on the bride’s, and then exchanges them thrice — in commemoration of the
Holy Trinity. According to the Church rules the bridegroom’s ring should be
golden, while the bride’s is made of silver. After triple exchange the
bridegroom keeps the bride’s silver ring and the bride has the golden ring of
her bridegroom as a token of faithfulness. Other materials are permitted too.
After the betrothal the marrying couple go over to the center of the church. The priest asks
them if they are marrying each other of their own accord and whether they had
been betrothed to someone else previously. After that, three prayers are read
in which God’s blessing is asked to be granted to the marrying couple and the
righteous couples of the Old and New Testaments are remembered. The crowns are
brought out — the richly ornamented crowns similar to royal ones — and placed
over the heads of the marrying couple. This crown is the image of the Heavenly
Crown, but it is also similar to the crown of a martyr. Lifting his hands up to
the Lord the priest exclaims three times: "O Lord, our God, crown them with
glory and honor!" Then he reads excerpts from the Apostle’s writings and
the Gospel telling about how the Lord blessed the marriage in Galilean Cana.
A chalice of wine is brought — the symbol of the
cup of earthly joys and sorrows, which should be shared by the married couple
for the rest of their days. The priest gives the wine to the marrying couple
three times. Then he joins their hands and leads them around the lectern three
times while the choir is singing the wedding troparions. A circle symbolizes
the eternity of the mystery performed, following the
priest is the image of serving the Church.
In the conclusion of the ceremony of Wedding
Mystery the newly wed stand at the gates and the priest is saying something for
their edification. Then friends and relatives congratulate the new Christian
Superstitions associated with weddings:
Old beliefs from the pagan past are reflected in
various superstitions still preserved among people. Thus, there is a
superstition that if a wedding ring is accidentally dropped or the flame of a
wedding candle dies, it is a sign of various misfortunes, difficult married
life or an early death of a wife or a husband. It is also a widespread belief
that the one who steps on the towel first, would be the head of the family for
the rest of their family life. Some people think that marriage in May would
make you suffer for the rest of your life (the word suffer in Russian sounds
like May — "mayatsa"). One should not take those superstitions and
imaginary things seriously — they were produced by an idle mind.
The rules on second
The Church disapproved second marriages and
accepts them only through lenience to human weakness. The prayers for those
marrying for the second time contain two additional prayers on repentance while
the questions about whether the decision to marry was made freely is not asked
by the priest. This is done when both of the wedded had previous marriages. If
it was only one of the couple, and the other person is marrying for the first
time, then the usual procedure is performed. It is never too late to have the
blessing of the Church.
In atheistic times there were many couples which
got married without the church’s blessing. Those spouses would be faithful to
each other throughout their lives, would grow children and grandchildren in
peace and unanimity. But for some reasons they would not have a wedding in
church. The Church never refuses grace of the Mystery even if the couple is of
older age. Some priests say that the attitude of elderly couples experiencing
the Mystery is more serious than that of young people. With older couples the
splendor and pomposity of the feast is replaced by the awe and trepidation
before the grandeur of marriage.
Dissolution of the church
The divorce can be effected only by the head
archpriest of the area, where the wedding took place, if one of the spouses is
unfaithful or if there are other serious reasons (for example the adultery sin,
or a lie at the time of pronouncing the marital vows).
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