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Eastern Orthodox Wedding Ceremony Traditions & Symbolism

Published: Tuesday, Jul. 26th, 2022


An Orthodox couple are crowned 'king' and 'queen' of the household during the Crowning ceremony

Eastern Orthodox weddings are ornate religious ceremonies filled with symbolism, ritual, color, and candlelight 

 

 
The rich scent of frankincense and myrrh, the melodic chant of ancient hymns, colorful robes stitched in golden thread, and a joyful dance around the altar…

 

Witnessing the ritual and beauty of the Eastern Orthodox wedding ceremony can feel like traveling back through time. These symbolic services have remained almost untouched over the centuries, and embrace the same liturgical texts and rituals used by the church in ancient days. 

 

Different cultures and countries have added their own local variations to the Eastern Orthodox wedding ceremony, but the service will look and feel familiar, no matter where you are. 

 

Below, we have published an extensive list and description of Eastern Orthodox wedding traditions and what they symbolize. 

 

 

Close up of a priest arranging the stefana wedding crowns next to the blessed wine before a Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony

A priest prepares the wedding rings, stefana,

and blessed wine for a Greek Orthodox marriage ceremony 


 

Traditional Eastern Orthodox Wedding Customs 

 

 

  • Waiting of the Bride

 

In a traditional Orthodox wedding, the bride’s father escorts her down the aisle to meet the groom in front of the altar. This is called the ‘Waiting of the Bride.’ 

 

This processional custom is similar to the ‘presentation of the bride’ or ‘giving away the bride’ in other Christian wedding ceremonies. 

 

Related: 7 Alternatives to Walking Down the Aisle

 

 

  • The Betrothal Ceremony 

 

The start of Orthodox weddings is the Betrothal Service. During this part of the ceremony, the priest formally asks the groom and bride if they wish to marry each other and if they’ve already committed themselves to anyone else. There are prayers and psalms. Then he blesses the wedding rings and places them on the couple’s right ring fingers to symbolize their union. 

 

The couple doesn’t exchange spoken vows like they might in other Christian wedding ceremonies. Instead, their presence at the ceremony declares their commitment to each other and their consent to God’s presence in their marriage.

 

In ancient times, a couple’s betrothal ceremony happened separately from a wedding within the church, and was sometimes treated as a marriage itself. Over time, the Orthodox Church combined the Betrothal Ceremony with the Crowning Ceremony to create the unified Service of Marriage as it remains today. 

 

 

  • Blessing the Rings

 

Blessing of the rings in an Orthodox wedding is part of the Betrothal Service and is performed by a priest. If the ceremony includes an exchange of rings, it’s usually performed by the couple’s wedding sponsor. 

 

The priest makes a sign of the cross three times in front of the groom’s forehead, and then three times in front of the bride’s forehead, while reciting his blessing. Then, he’ll repeat this process, starting with the bride. 

 

The priest may say as a blessing, “The servant of God (Groom’s Name) is betrothed to (Bride’s Name) in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”

 

After blessing the couple’s marriage, the priest places the rings on their right ring fingers to symbolize their marriage. 

 

In Greek Orthodox weddings, the rings are then exchanged three times by the couple’s wedding sponsor (the koumbaros) to symbolize the give and take of a happy marriage and the ways in which the couple will balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The bride’s ring is placed on the groom’s finger three times, and vice versa. 

 

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

 

 

Stefana wedding crown and 2 golden wedding rings

Gold is a popular choice for stefana wedding crowns and wedding bands

 

 

  • The Crowning Service 

 

The Crowning is the second half of the Eastern Orthodox wedding and contains its most recognizable and visually compelling rituals. During the Crowning Service, the couple are given lit candles to hold, join hands, and are crowned king and queen of their household before drinking from a cup of blessed wine. 

 

We describe each of these rituals in detail below. 

 

 

  • The Wedding Candles

 

After the betrothal prayer, a traditional candle lighting ceremony is performed. This marks the start of the Crowning Service, or the second half of a traditional Orthodox wedding.  

 

The priest hands the bride and groom each a lit candle, which they will carry for the rest of the ceremony. These two candles symbolize the couple’s individual promises to center Christ in their married lives, as he is referred to in John 8:12 as the “Light of the World.”

 

The couple might join their right hands together during this part of the ceremony, or they may wait to hold hands during the crowning. 

 

Related: How to Perform a Unity Candle Ceremony (for Wedding Officiants)

 

 

Close up of a couple holding lit candles during their wedding ceremony

Lit wedding candles add another layer of symbolism to the ceremony

 

 

  • Joining of Hands 

 

The priest joins together the couple’s right hands during the ceremony as a sign of their oneness in both mind and heart. This might happen after the couple receives their candles or when the wedding crowns are exchanged. 

 

The priest recites a prayer, and the couple will continue to hold hands throughout the ceremony to reflect their willingness and desire to become ‘one flesh’ in marriage.

 

 

  • The Wedding Crowns

 

Wedding crowns are the most memorable symbol of Orthodox weddings and an integral part of the wedding rite.

 

These crowns symbolize many things, including the ‘crowns’ that await the couple in Heaven, the Christian ‘crown of martyrdom,’ and the couple’s royal status as king and queen of their household in marriage.

 

A couple’s wedding crowns will be made of different materials depending on their local traditions. Some cultures link the crowns together with a white ribbon, but some don’t. 

 

For example, Greek Orthodox wedding crowns (called stefana) are usually made from thin bands of woven silver or gold, and tied together with white satin. Russian Orthodox crowns are larger and more ornate, decorated with red velvet lining and thick golden arches. These are rarely connected together with ribbon. Coptic wedding crowns can resemble elaborate tiaras, with embellished points at the front, and Chinese Orthodox brides may wear a fengguan or ‘phoenix crown,’ or red silk headpiece. 

 

 

Other Orthodox couples may wear garland or head wreaths made of flowers, herbs, or olive branches; crowns of woven satin or fabric; or other designs. 

 

 

A bride and groom wear wedding crowns made of leaves and flowers at an Orthodox wedding while drinking blessed wine from the Common Cup

This couple wears crowns made of white flowers during the Crowning ceremony,

while the bride sips from the Common Cup

 

 

 

  • The Common Cup 

 

After the crowning ceremony, the priest will recite The Lord’s Prayer and read scripture from the Bible while the couple drinks from a cup of blessed wine. 

 

This cup, called The Common Cup, serves as a reminder of the first miracle performed by Jesus at the wedding at Cana of Galilee, when he is said to have turned water into wine. 

 

The couple drinks from the cup to symbolize the fullness of a life lived in Christ and their commitment to share life’s many blessings, inevitable sorrows, and joys with each other.

 

During the Common Cup ritual, the priest reads from scripture, including Ephesians 5:20-33 and the Gospel of John 2:1-11.

 

In the Greek Orthodox tradition, the bride and groom will each sip from the cup three times, symbolizing the Holy Trinity. 

 

Related: Kick Your Wedding Off with a Toast: A Wine Blending Ceremony Sample Script

 

 

  • Ceremonial walk around the table  

 

One of the final rituals in an Eastern Orthodox wedding is a couple’s joyful walk, or ‘dance’ around the table, led by the priest. 

 

Sometimes called the ‘Dance of Isaiah,’ this ceremonial procession symbolizes the couple’s first steps as husband and wife in the eyes of God. 

 

The priest will sing hymns as they make their way around the ceremonial table (or analogion), followed by their wedding sponsors. These hymns (or troparion) usually include Rejoice, O Isaiah and Troparion of the Holy Martyrs

 

After the procession, the wedding crowns are removed and the priest recites a final nuptial blessing, and the ceremony ends. In some traditions, the couple will return to the church several days later with their crowns for another final blessing from the priest. 

 

 


 

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About the Author
Jessica Levey

Lead Staff Writer & Illustrator

Jessica loves digging into the history and magic of ritual, exploring the connections between people and places, and sharing true stories about love and commitment. She’s an advocate for marriage equality and individuality. When she’s not writing or illustrating for AMM, she enjoys easy hikes, fantasy novels, comics, and traveling.

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