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Greek Orthodox Weddings: From Koumbaroi to Holy Crowns and the Common Cup

Published Monday, Jul. 11th, 2022


A young bride drinks from the Common Cup during a traditional Orthodox wedding ceremony

Many modern wedding elements began as part of the Greek Orthodox tradition hundreds of years ago -- from candle lightings, to unity toasts, & more!

 

 

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AMM Audio Articles · Greek Orthodox Weddings: From Koumbaroi to Holy Crowns and the Common Cup

 

 

 

Greek Orthodox wedding ceremonies are steeped in ritual and tradition, with many wedding customs remaining mostly unchanged for hundreds of years.

 

As one of the oldest forms of the Christian marriage rite, Orthodox weddings have more rules and rituals than most modern ceremonies. This makes Orthodox weddings longer, and much more intricate and nuanced than many guests expect. 

 

The Eastern Orthodox Church, sometimes referred to as the Greek Orthodox Church, has nearly 300 million followers in countries all around the world, including 6 to 7 million members here in the United States. Most Orthodox wedding ceremonies follow the same standard order of service, but usually contain unique variations borrowed from the regions and cultures in which they’re celebrated. 

 

To give you a better idea of what to expect when attending a modern celebration of this ancient rite, here’s a quick breakdown of each part of the Greek Orthodox wedding tradition – from koumbaroi to holy crowns, the ritual of threes, and drinking from the Common Cup. 

 
(It’s important to mention that we respect the deeply held beliefs of members of the Orthodox Church, to the extent that they don’t inflict harm on others. This article is presented in the interest of education and ecumenism.)

 

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How long is a Greek Orthodox wedding?

 

You can expect a Greek Orthodox wedding to last between 45 minutes and 60 minutes. But traditional Orthodox services can sometimes last well over an hour, so be sure to wear something comfortable.  

 


What happens during a Greek Orthodox wedding? 

 

Eastern Orthodox wedding ceremonies are deeply symbolic and contain many rituals and parts. Not all ceremonies will be exactly the same, but they usually consist of two services: the Betrothal Service and the Crowning Service (or Ceremony). The rituals in each service usually take place in this order:  

 

The Betrothal Ceremony : 

 

  • Ceremony begins
  • Waiting of the Bride (the processional)
  • Prayers (the Doxology, Opening Petitions, other prayers)
  • Blessing the rings and the Ring Exchange
  • Closing prayers

 

The Crowning Ceremony :
 

  • Psalm and prayers
  • Lighting the wedding candles 
  • Prayers (and Petitions)
  • Joining Hands and the Crowning Ceremony
  • Scripture reading
  • The Lord’s Prayer
  • Drinking from the Common Cup
  • Ceremonial walk or dance around the table
  • Final words from the priest
  • Ceremony ends

 

 

Who officiates a Greek Orthodox wedding? 

 

Greek Orthodox weddings are always led by a priest. You’ll see the couple’s koumbari (wedding sponsors) standing up front, too. 

 

Unlike Catholic weddings, in which deacons and other clerics sometimes serve as the celebrant, Orthodox marriages must be blessed by a priest to be valid in the eyes of the Church.

 

Related: How to Officiate a Wedding For the First Time

 

 

 

An Orthodox priest holds a cross during a Green Orthodox wedding ceremony

 

 


Greek Orthodox wedding sponsors – Who are the Koumbaroi?

 

In Greek Orthodox weddings, a groom’s best man is called the Koumbaros and serves as the male sponsor to the union. The bride’s matron or maid of honor is called the Koumbara. Together, these two special guests serve as the couple’s Koumbaroi (or Κουμπάροι, sometimes spelled Koumbari) – the wedding sponsors! 

 

The Koumbaroi perform several important roles during the ceremony, so you’ll see a lot of them. They assist in the crowning ceremony (one of the most beautiful features of a Greek wedding) and the ring exchange. 

 

Although non-Orthodox friends can participate in the wedding in other ways, only other Orthodox Christians can be wedding sponsors and serve as Koumbaroi. 

 

Sponsors go by different names in other Eastern Orthodox weddings depending on the country or local culture, but they serve similar roles. For example, the male sponsor and best man in a Serbian Orthodox wedding is called a Kum; and wedding sponsors in a Russian Orthodox wedding are called the Svideteli. 

 


What happens during the ring blessing ceremony? 

 

The ‘blessing of the rings’ in an Eastern Orthodox wedding is profoundly symbolic. 

During the ring blessing ceremony, the priest describes the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony to the couple, explaining the joys and responsibilities that lie ahead. 

 

Next, he confers his blessing – making the sign of the Cross in front of the couple’s foreheads with the wedding rings, three times each, beginning with the groom. He may press the rings gently into their foreheads each time while declaring them wed in the name of the Holy Trinity.

 

These blessings are repeated again, three times each, beginning with the bride, before the priest places the rings on the couple’s right hands.

 

Last, the Koumbari will exchange the couple’s rings three times – placing the groom’s ring on the bride’s finger, and vice versa, three times. This exchange is said to symbolize the support that each spouse gives the other in marriage, as they balance out each other’s strengths and weaknesses. 

 

Related: Wedding Officiant Training: The Rings Exchange Explained

 

 

So there are no wedding vows in an Orthodox wedding? 

 

Right! Couples don’t exchange wedding vows during an Orthodox wedding, and in fact, the bride and groom may not speak at all during the ceremony. Because matrimony is one of the seven sacraments of the Eastern Orthodox Church, couples make their vows to God instead of each other. 

 

 

 

An Orthodox priest blesses the couple's rings and stefana wedding crowns during a Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony. On the table beside him is a vessel of blessed wine ready for the Common Cup ceremony

An Orthodox priest prepares the stefana crowns and the blessed wine for the couple's Crowning Service

 

 


What about the wedding crowns? 

 

Wedding crowns are one of the most memorable and important parts of an Eastern Orthodox marriage ceremony. In Greek weddings these crowns are called the ‘stefana.’

 

Wedding crowns symbolize the honor and glory given by God as the two become king and queen of their home, and the necessity of self-sacrifice in marriage (as in a crown of martyrdom).  

 

During the stefana ceremony, the couple joins hands (and will continue holding hands for the rest of the wedding). The priest recites a prayer three times in front of the groom and then three times in front of the bride, and then changes directions – reciting the prayer three times again in front of the bride, and three times again in front of the groom. The priest will then place the wedding crowns on the couple’s heads, uniting them as husband and wife.

 

Next, the Koumbaros (the groom’s best man) exchanges the crowns three times – placing the groom’s crown on the bride’s head, and vice versa, three times. 

 


What does the Common Cup symbolize?

 

Towards the end of the wedding ceremony, the couple drinks from the Common Cup while the priest reads from the Gospel (often the story of Jesus turning water to wine at the Marriage of Cana, at Cana of Galilee). This ritual takes place right after the Lord’s Prayer and before the Procession, or ceremonial walk. 

 

The Common Cup is filled with blessed wine that is similar to (but not the same as) Communion taken by the couple in a Roman Catholic wedding. The bride and groom will each take three sips from the Common Cup.

 

This ritual symbolizes the transformation from death to life, the beginning of a new chapter in marriage, the fullness of a life lived in Christ, and the couple’s commitment to share in marriage’s many blessings, inevitable sorrows, and joys.

 

 

 

Colorful flowers in a vase at a Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony

 

 


What is the Orthodox Wedding Dance of Isaiah

 

At the end of an Orthodox wedding, the priest leads the couple in a circle around the wedding table three times while singing hymns and holding the Gospels in his hand – this is sometimes called the ‘Dance of Isaiah or the Procession.’ As the couple completes each circle, they may kiss a Cross held up by the priest. 

 

The Dance of Isaiah represents the first steps the couple takes together as husband and wife in the Church, following the ‘good news’ of the Gospel. The priest will sing three hymns. These include hymns about Isaiah’s prophecy of the birth of Christ and early Christian martyrs and apostles, such as Rejoice, O Isaiah and Troparion of the Holy Martyrs.

 

This ritual shouldn’t be confused with the Procession in other types of weddings, when a couple and their wedding attendants walk down the aisle at the start of the ceremony.

 


Why does everything happen in threes?

 

You may have noticed that Orthodox ceremonies do a lot of things in threes – blessings, the ring and crown exchanges, hymns, and even prayers take place in threes.

 

This ritual of threes represents the Holy Trinity – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

 


What to wear to a Greek Orthodox wedding?

 

Eastern Orthodox weddings are a serious business! Casual wear is definitely out. 

 

Instead, choose conservative semi-formal clothing, such as a well-fitting suit with slacks for men, or a dress that covers your shoulders, chest, and knees for women. You should avoid shorts, jeans, open-toed shoes or sandals, and other types of informal clothing.

 

Related: What to Wear (and Not Wear) as a Wedding Officiant

 


Are Greek Orthodox weddings similar to Catholic weddings?

 

It can get a little confusing, but yes: The Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church split apart from each other a long time ago, but you’ll recognize many similarities between an Eastern Orthodox wedding and Roman Catholic wedding because of the long history and ancient Christian origins shared between the two. 


 


 

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Illustration by Jessica Levey,  strange wedding traditions, a colorful wedding bouquet of flowers, held by two hands

Illustration by Jessica Levey

 

From the article 5 Strange and Delightful Wedding Traditions From The Past

 

5 unusual wedding traditions from the past, with modern twists to bring these old fashioned customs back to the marriage ceremony. The silver sixpence, the borrowed underwear, the high noon wedding, and a couples surprises.

 

READ NOW

 

 


 


Jessica Levey
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves exploring the history and magic of ritual, the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She's an advocate for marriage equality, LGBTQ+ rights, and individuality, and is an ordained Minister with AMM. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys city hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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