Marriage

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Marriage (also matrimony) is one of the seven holy mysteries or sacraments in the Orthodox Church, as well as many other Christian traditions. It serves to unite a woman and a man in eternal union before God with the purpose of following Christ and His Gospel and raising up a faithful, holy family through their holy union. It is referred to extensively in both the Old and New Testaments. Christ declared the essential indissolvibility of marriage in the Gospel.

Contents

Holy Matrimony

Married life, no less than monastic life, is a special vocation, requiring a particular gift or charisma from the Holy Spirit, a gift bestowed in the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. The same Trinitarian mystery of unity in diversity applies to the doctrine of marriage as it does to the Church. The family created by this sacrament is a small church.

The Orthodox Church teaches that man is made in the image of the Trinity, and he is not intended by God to live alone, but in a family, except in special cases. And just as God blessed the first family, commanding Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply, so the Church now gives its blessing to the union of man and woman. The mystery of marriage, in the Church, gives a man and a woman the possibility to become one spirit and one flesh in a way which no human love can provide by itself. The Holy Spirit is given so that what has begun on earth is fulfilled and continues most perfectly in the Kingdom of God.

Marriage service

Wedding at Cana

For the Orthodox Christian, the marriage service (wedding) is the Church's formal recognition of the couple's unity, a created image of God's love which is eternal, unique, indivisible and unending. The early Church simply witnessed the couple's expression of mutual love in the Church, and their union was blessed by their mutual partaking of the Holy Eucharist.

When a marriage service developed in the Church, it was patterned after the service for baptism and chrismation. The couple is addressed in a way similar to that of the individual in baptism. They confess their faith and their love of God. They are led into the Church in procession. They are prayed over and blessed. They listen to God's Word.

The service contains no vows or oaths. It is, in essence, the "baptizing and confirming" of human love in God by Christ in the Holy Spirit. It is the deification of human love in the divine perfection and unity of the eternal Kingdom of God as revealed and given to man in the Church. There is no "legalism" in the Orthodox sacrament of marriage. It is not a juridical contract, it is a spiritual bond.

The marriage service is divided into two parts, in earlier times held separately, but now celebrated together.

Office of Betrothal

At the Betrothal service, the chief ceremony is the blessing and exchange of rings. The rings are blessed by the priest in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. The couple then exchange the rings, taking the bride's ring and placing it on the groom's finger and vice-versa. Then they exchange them again, symbolizing that each spouse will constantly be complementing and enriching the other by the union. This is also an outward symbol that the two are joined in marriage of their own free will and consent. It is celebrated in the vestibule of the church building before their procession into the nave of the church.

Office of crowning

The second part of the service is the ceremony of coronation, in which the heads of the bridegroom and bride are crowned by the priest. In the Russian tradition, the crowns are gold or silver, while the Greek tradition uses crowns of leaves and flowers.

The crowns are crowns of joy, but also crowns of martyrdom, since marriage involves a self-sacrifice on both sides.

At the end of the service the newly married couple drink from the same cup of wine. This common cup is a symbol of the fact that after this they will share a common life with one another. This also recalls the miracle at the marriage feast of Cana in Galilee.

Services of the Orthodox Church
Divine Liturgy
Daily Cycle
Vespers | Compline | Midnight Office | Matins
First, Third, Sixth, and Ninth Hour Services
Other Services
Akathist Hymn | Paraklesis
Great Blessing of Water | Artoklasia
Baptism-Chrismation Service
Ordination Service | Marriage Service
Funeral Service | Memorial Service

Mixed marriage

The mystery of marriage can only be available to those who belong to the Church, i.e., to communicants. Dispensation may be sought from one's diocesan bishop in cases on mixed marriages between an Orthodox Christian and a Christian of a non-Orthodox but Trinitarian church (e.g., Roman Catholic, Lutheran, etc.)

Widows and widowers

The Orthodox Christian tradition encourages widows and widowers to remain faithful to their spouses who are dead to this world but alive in Christ.

Divorce

Orthodoxy regards the marriage bond as indissoluble, and it condemns the breakdown of marriage as a sin and an evil. The Orthodox Church does permits divorce and remarriage, as an exception, a necessary concession to human sin. While condemning sin, the Church desires to help the sinners and to allow them a another chance, with an act of oikonomia . When a marriage has entirely ceased to be a reality, the Orthodox Church faces the reality with philanthropia (loving kindness).

Second marriage

The Orthodox Church teaches that a second union can never be the same as the first. In the service for a second marriage, some of the joyful ceremonies are omitted and replaced by penitential prayers.

Family Life

See also

Further reading

  • On Marriage and Family Life by St. John Chrysostom. (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1997.) ISBN 9780913836866
  • Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective by Fr. John Meyendorff. (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 2000.) ISBN 9780913836057
  • Preserve Them, O Lord by Fr. John Mack. (Ben Lomond, California: Conciliar Press, 1996.) ISBN 1888212012
  • Preparing for Marriage (Marriage in the Orthodox Church, v. 1) by Dr. Peter M. Kalellis. (Westfield, New Jersey: Ecumenical Publications, 1984.)
  • Holy Matrimony (Marriage in the Orthodox Church, v. 2) by Dr. Peter M. Kalellis. (Westfield, New Jersey: Ecumenical Publications, 1984.)
  • After the Honeymoon: How to Maintain a Happy Marriage by Dr. Peter M. Kalellis. (Pittsburgh: Syndesmos, 1999.)
  • Attending to Your Marriage: A Resource for Christian Couples by Fr. Charles Joanides. (Minneapolis: Light and Life Publishing Company, 2006.) ISBN 1880971992

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