Prerequisites for Wedding Requests
In the Holy Orthodox Church, the sacrament of Marriage is not a right, but a privilege granted to those who have properly prepared for such a serious endeavor as Holy Marriage.
It must be noted that nothing that Holy Mysteries or Sacraments which an Orthodox Christian engages in ever merely a private transaction between two individuals. When a husband and wife marry in the Holy Orthodox Church, they are involving, by necessity, an event which Jesus Christ Himself participates through Grace, by which the priest celebrates in person, and by the praying community, the church participates in collectively. In view of this “ecclesial” dimension of marriage, therefore, a wedding must be performed within the context of the Orthodox Church in order for the Church to recognize and affirm the validity and authenticity of the marriage. Expecting the church to act in any other way would be to expect the church to act in a manner less than She is. It would be considered unjust to demand of Her to be any less than She is deemed to be by our Lord Jesus Christ. At Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church, we will always seek to maintain the highest level of integrity when it comes to sharing not only the Gospel message of Jesus Christ, but to witness faithfully the seriousness of His Divine Mysteries.
I. Requirements Prior to the Wedding
Members of the Church
This prescription should not be taken lightly. One or both members of the engaged couple must be a member in good standing of our Parish.
More importantly, the couple should be attending services on a regular basis. Preparing for a wedding can be a very trying time for couples. This is why it is so very important to remember the actual, mystical reason for the occasion, which often falls prey by the secular arrangements being made. This is an opportunity to begin a lifelong commitment to actively live ones’ Christian faith through marriage.
Regarding Previously Married Couples:
If one of the spouses has been previously married and divorced, he/she must present a copy of the civil divorce decree. Furthermore, if a previous marriage took place in the Orthodox Church, the divorced spouse must also have received a “Decree of Ecclesial Divorce” document and submit the original along with the marriage application. Please be advised, the process of an ecclesial divorce can take a few months.
It is a fact that, the more a couple has in common, the more likely they are to live together in peace and concord. Shared faith and traditions spare couples and their children, as well as their extended families, many serious problems, and help to strengthen the bonds between them. Even so, the Orthodox Church will bless marriages between Orthodox and non-Orthodox partners, provided that:
- The non-Orthodox partner is a Christian who has been baptized, in water, in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit (this is not optional); and
- The couple should be willing to baptize their children in the Orthodox Church and raise and nurture them in accordance with the Orthodox Faith.
A baptized Orthodox Christian whose wedding has not been blessed by the Orthodox Church is no longer in good standing with the Church, and may not receive the Sacraments of the Church, including Holy Communion, or become a Sponsor of an Orthodox Marriage, Baptism or Chrismation.
A non-Orthodox Christian who marries an Orthodox Christian does not thereby become a member of the Orthodox Church, and may not receive the Sacraments, including Holy Communion, or be buried by the Church. To participate in the Church’s life, one must be received into the Church by the Sacrament of Baptism or, in the case of persons baptized with water in the Holy Trinity, following a period of instruction, by Chrismation.
Canonical and theological reasons preclude the Orthodox Church from performing the Sacrament of Marriage for couples where one partner is Orthodox and the other partner is a non-Christian. As such, Orthodox Christians choosing to enter such marriages fall out of good standing with their Church and are unable to actively participate in the life of the Church. While this stance may seem confusing and rigid, it is guided by the Orthodox Church’s love and concern for its member’s religious and spiritual well-being.
Choosing a Sponsor or Koumbaros/Koumbara?
In the wedding ceremony the Orthodox Church requires a practicing Orthodox Christian Sponsor (koumbaros – male, Koumbara – female). The Sponsor is the one who stands as witness on behalf of the Orthodox Church during the ceremony. Hence, it is requirement that this person be an Orthodox Christian; there are no exceptions to this rule. The Sponsor exchanges the rings and the crowns during the ceremony. By participating in the sacrament in this manner, the sponsor is making a pledge to be a guide and support to the marriage.
The Role of the Sponsor
By custom, the Sponsor is the one who (if spouses agree) may eventually baptize the first child of the couple. Usually one Sponsor exchanges both the rings and the crowns. If there are two sponsors, one may exchange the rings and the other the crowns.
Requirements to Serve as a Sponsor
• The koumbaros/koumbara must also be a member in good standing of the Orthodox Church.
• If he/she belongs to another Orthodox parish, the priest must receive a letter of good standing from a fellow parish priest.
• If he/she is married, the marriage must have been blessed by the Orthodox Church; if divorced (after marriage in the Orthodox Church) an ecclesiastical divorce must already have been issued.
Best Man & Maid of Honor
Couples may still designate a Best Man and Maid of Honor who are not members of the Orthodox Church. If this is the case, the Sponsor stands next to the groom or bride.
Reserving and Setting a Wedding Date with the Church
Reservations for wedding dates are made at a scheduled appointment with the priest by the person being married. Do not reserve hotels or print invitations without confirming with the priest that the date is available. Due to the time required for pre-marital preparation at least 3-4 months are needed to complete the required program in order to be married in the Church.
II. Items Needed for the Wedding Day:
The couple may decide which of the following items are to be provided by the Sponsor or themselves:
• Two Wedding Rings (always provided by the spouses)
• The Crowns or Stephana. Typically, provided by Koumbaro or Koumbara
• Two decorated candles (usually come with the Stephana)
III. Pre-Marital Requirement:
In order to provide the engaged couple with every opportunity to enjoy all the blessings of married life, participation in pre-marital counseling is mandatory. This is standard in the Metropolitanate in all parishes. Since more Orthodox Christians are involved in inter-faithf marriages and with the modern rise in the divorce rate, the church now requries ALL potential marriage candidates to engage in pre-marital counseling guided by an Orthodox priest.
This counseling sessions will cover the following:
a. Explore the sacramental nature of marriage as viewed by the Orthodox Church
b. Give awareness to many of the practical issues and problems that may surface in the initial years of a marriage concerning romance and intimacy; in-laws; finances; family life; communication; conflict such as frustration, disagreements, arguments, disappointments, etc.)
c. Speak on the religious expression of marriage
d. Present the guidelines for marriage at Sts. Constantine and Helen Greek Orthodox Church
e. Distribute the Ecclesiastical Affidavit and petition the Metropolitan of Pittsburgh for marriage.
IV. Documents Needed for the Ecclesial License to Marry
At the first consultation with the priest you will apply for the ecclesial license to marry. The following items are required to complete the application to be married in the Church.
• Baptismal certificates/dates for the Bride and the Groom.
• If the Bride or Groom was previously married in a civil service, a copy of the civil divorce must be presented.
• If the Bride and Groom are already civilly married, a copy of the Certificate of Marriage must be presented.
• If the Bride or Groom was married before in the Orthodox Church, they must present the original ecclesial divorce certificate.
V. Civil Marriage License
Couples are also required by law to obtain a civil marriage license from the city in order for a priest to marry them in a Church. The License will be signed at the conclusion of the Wedding ceremony by the Priest, the Bride and Groom and two witnesses. You may be required to provide a driver’s license as proof of age. Both parties must be present to obtain a marriage license.
VI. Preparation for the Sacrament
The Bride and/or Groom who are of the Orthodox Faith are encouraged to participate in the sacraments of Holy Confession and Holy Communion the week before the wedding.
Sexual Relations Prior to Marriage
Marriage in the Orthodox Church is a sacrament and Jesus Christ is the celebrant. He is being asked to bless your marriage and life together. As with any sacrament one’s life must be lived according to the teachings and gospel of Christ which includes valuing the intimate aspects of sexual uninon. As part of preparing for the wedding day, couples engaging in sexual relations are asked to cease in preparation, if they have already initiated thi component of their relationship. Sexual discipline is a necessary compenent for every Orthodox Christian, especially married couples who seek to deepen their faith in Christ by dedicating themselves to prayer.
Frequently Asked Questions
Music Options for your Wedding
Because of the nature of Orthodox Worship, only vocals are traditionally permitted in an Orthodox Church.
Location of the Wedding Sacrament
Orthodox Christian Weddings are not permitted to take place at any venue other than the Church i.e. at a home, resort, hotel, park or beach. When an Orthodox Church is available it must be used for the ceremony.
Flowers in the church
Floral decorations are allowed on the pew ends or in front of the sanctuary. The florist must contact the Church Office and make arrangements for the Church to be opened prior to the ceremony.
Flash photography is allowed, however, most professional do not need to use a flash. A videographer is also allowed, however, they must not have bulky and oversized stands and equipment. You do not want your wedding to look like a movie set. The photographer should be instructed to speak with the Priest concerning restrictions just prior to the ceremony.
A sense of modesty must be maintained in the Sanctuary. Every wedding takes place in God’s holy house and requires a corresponding sense of decorum.
Groomsmen & Ushers
Non-Orthodox persons may act as ushers or bridesmaids at an Orthodox Wedding, but the koumbaros/koumbara must be an Orthodox Christian, as stated earlier.
Length of the Wedding Ceremony/Arrival Time
The wedding ceremony is approximately 45 minutes long. Each wedding party will have up to one hour prior to the scheduled wedding time for access to the Church.
Non-Orthodox clergyman or clergymen from other Dioceses must receive a blessing from the Hierarch to participate, no exceptions. The Priest serves at the discretion of his bishop and must receive a blessing beforehand.
The first part of the wedding ceremony is the betrothal or the “Service of the Promise” in which the couple’s commitment to each other is being sealed with their commitment to Christ. There are no exchange of vows as part of the Orthodox Christian Marriage ceremony.
Days when marriages are not permitted:
January 5 and 6 – The Eve of Epiphany
Great Lent and Holy Week
August 1 – 15 – Fast of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary
August 29 – Feast of the Beheading of John the Baptist
September 14 – Feast of the Cross
December 13 – 25 – Christmas Fast
All Holy Days of our Lord