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Wedding Ceremony

"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 marrying couple.

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 Baptism (Jan.19);

On the eve of the 12 great feasts;

On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays throughout the year;

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 administration.

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 Altar.

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 ritual sequence.

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 family.

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 marriage.

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 marriage.

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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