Orthodox America

  The Symbolism of Matrimony

       Matrimony is a Sacrament in which the bridegoom and the bride, in the eyes of the priest and the Church, promise of their own free will to maintain the fidelity of their marriage. This union, being a symbol of the union of Christ and His Church, is blessed by the holy Sacrament.

     The betrothal confirms the intention of the bridal pair to enter into holy matrimony, and as a pledge to this promise, rings are placed on their right hands. The wedding ring or band, according to the ancient custom, is a seal or confirmation whereby the full and mutual trust of the bridal pair is affirmed. The rings are exchanged three times --the bride's ring remains as security with the bridegroom; the groom's ring with his wife-to-be. The meaning of this rite is to indicate to the bride that she must derive the spirit of courage from her husband-to-be, and that she must be in agreement with him in all things.

     In the crowning ceremony, the union of the bridal pair is blessed and the Church beseeches God to bestow His benediction on them. The crowns--tokens of royal power-are bestowed upon the bridal pair as a blessing when they are to become masters, so to speak, of a new generation. The crowns also recall the crowns with which the martyrs are crowned in heaven. As in ancient times they adorned the heads of conquerors, so now the crowns are placed on the heads of the bridal pair as a reward for their chastity prior to marriage.

    The lighted candles or tapers given to the bridal pair represent the purity of their lives, which in the Christian understanding must shine with virtue; they also symbolize the light inherent in the Sacrament itself.

    As Christ at Cana of Galilee blessed the marriage with His presence and performed the miracle of conversion of water into wine, so the Church offers to the bridal pair wine from a common cup, in token that they ought to dwell in unbroken concord, hold and use undivided their acquisitions, and share equally the cup of joy and sorrow, happiness and misfortune.

      The priest joins the hands of the man and the woman on his stole, as a sign of their union, and leads them in a circle three times around the analogion upon which lie the Cross and the Holy Gospel. The circle--a symbol of eternity--witnesses their pledge forever to preserve their marriage bond until death should break it. The triple procession is made in honor of the Holy Trinity, Which is invoked to hear witness to their oath.

      In the final benediction the newlyweds, who were just crowned in honor and glory, are asked to follow in the footsteps of the Holy, God-crowned Kings and Equal-to-the Apostles, Sts. Constantine and Helen, the disseminators of the Orthodox faith. The holy Great Martyr Procopius is also invoked because he instructed the twelve women to go to their death of martyrdom as to a marriage feast. The newlyweds are thus invited to preserve their marriage in the Christian faith, to be full of zeal and virtue, so that the King of Heaven, Who has just crowned them in honor and glory, would also look down upon their new life of common fervor and bestow upon them the eternal crowns of future honor and glory in Heaven.

Fr. Valery Lukianov

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