Weddings in the Orthodox Church
"A great mystery is being celebrated. How is it a mystery? They come together, and the two are made one. They have not become the image of anything earthly, but of God Himself. They come in order to be made one body; behold the mystery of love!" (St. John Chrysostom, Homily 12 on Colossians)
Marriage is truly a "great mystery," the mystery of the meeting of human love and divine love, the very sign and image of God's presence with humanity. In the Old Testament, Israel was referred to as God's "spouse," while in the New Testament, the Church is referred to as the "bride" of Christ. These images attempt to convey in human categories what the Church Fathers refer to as the "frenzied love" of God for His people.
Marriage is much more than a merely private transaction between two individuals; it is an event in which Jesus Christ Himself participates through the presence of the sacramental minister, the priest, and that of the praying community, the church. 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.
Included with this information is a information form called "Affidavit for License to Marry in the Orthodox Church". Both the bride and groom must fill this out and return it to the Church office as soon as possible. Fr. Peter will transfer this information to the Archdiocese form and have you sign it at your final appointment with him. All supporting paperwork requested must be turned in no less than 6 weeks prior to the date of the ceremony.
PRE-WEDDING DAY PREPARATIONS:
- Membership: One or both members of the engaged couple must be a member in good standing of St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church; he/she must be a pledging member and must be up to date on his/her pledged financial commitment. If the Orthodox person is a member of another Orthodox Church and simply wants the ceremony held at St. Barbara's, all paperwork for the Metropolis must be done at the home church, with copies to us. 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 an ecclesiastical divorce. Please be advised, this process can take from a few months up to a year.
- Membership for Koumbaroi: The koumbaros/koumbara is the one who stands as witness on behalf of the Orthodox Church during the ceremony. Hence, it is imperative that this person be an Orthodox Christian; there are no exceptions to this rule. 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 the parish priest. As stated above, membership in good standing is a broad term: 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. Every couple married in the Eastern Orthodox Church must have a Koumbaros/Koumbara who must be a member in good standing of the Eastern Orthodox Church. This individual should be chosen very carefully for he/she is very important. In the strict interpretation of the Church, the Koumbaros/Koumbara is not the same as the best man/maid of honor, although they can be the same individual in a wedding. In other Christian celebrations of Marriage, the best man or maid of honor is considered to be legal witness to the ceremony. The Koumbaros/Koumbara is mainly an ecclesiastical witness, the person who, in many circumstances, but not always, is given the privilege of baptizing (as Godparent) your first child. He/she is also the person you turn to for advice and counsel in your lives when needed. You may have in your wedding party both a Koumbaros/Koumbara and a best man/maid of honor, or they may be the same person. While the role of the best man/maid is that of a witness, that of the Koumbaros is an active one. He/she exchanges the rings and the crowns and holds the ribbon as you walk around the ceremonial table together as husband and wife. Traditionally, the Koumbaros purchases the wedding crowns, the silver tray, the almonds, the candles, etc. used during the ceremony. If the Koumbaros is from another parish, he/she must bring a letter of introduction from his/her priest. A person who does not belong to a parish of the Orthodox Archdiocese cannot serve in this important role. A person whose marriage has not been blessed in the Orthodox Church will not be allowed to serve in a sacramental, canonical, capacity in the wedding. Non-Orthodox persons cannot serve in such a capacity precisely because they are sacramental, canonical responsibilities of Church members. It is a beautiful sight to have a bridal party with attendants, groomsmen and ushers. If such is your plan, know that they do not have to be Eastern Orthodox Christians, except for the Koumbaros. Those you do select as part of your bridal party must agree to observe the practice of the Eastern Orthodox traditions.
- Invitations: No invitations should be printed until the date has been cleared by the church office. Also, Fr. Peter likes to see a draft of the invitations to be sure all information is correct, such as the spelling of his name and titles and the address of the church.
- Pre-Marital Counseling: In order to provide the engaged couple with every opportunity to enjoy all the blessings of married life, a program of pre-marital counseling is provided by the priest prior to the wedding. Please note that these sessions are not optional. If the engaged couple so chooses, they may seek professional pre-marriage counseling with a qualified therapist; in this case, the couple should inform the church office of their choice in advance. The State of Florida also requires that you have counseling with an approved counselor in order to obtain your civil marriage license. Check with the county where you plan obtain your license for details.
- Location of the Wedding Sacrament: The appropriate place for a sacrament of the Orthodox Church is the Holy Sanctuary. It is not customary to perform sacraments outside the Church...for example, on the beach, in a home, back yard, or local park. On extremely rare and unique occasions, exceptions have been made, but these are usually due to other exceptional or extenuating circumstances.
- Sacramental preparation: 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.
- Ecclesiastical Marriage License: At least eight weeks prior to the wedding, the bride and groom are required to schedule an appointment to meet with the priest in order to apply for the ecclesiastical marriage license. At this time, the following must be presented:
Civil Marriage License: The Civil Marriage License must be obtained from any County Courthouse at least 3 days prior to the wedding date. The ceremony must take place within 60 days of obtaining the civil license. Click HERE for Manatee County Civil License, Click HERE for Sarasota County Civil License
- Their baptismal certificates
- If the bride and/or groom have come from Greece or some other foreign country after their 18th birthday, he and/or she must present a "Certificate of Eligibility for Marriage" from the bishop of their original town and state.
- If the Bride or Groom is from an Orthodox parish in some other city, he/she must present a letter from his/her priest attesting to eligibility for marriage and, showing the Archdiocese Number.
- If the Bride is under 18 years of age and/or if the groom is under 21 years of age, a letter of consent from the parents must be presented.
- If the Bride or Groom was married before in a civil service, a copy of the CERTIFIED civil divorce must be presented.
If the Bride or Groom was married before in the Orthodox Church, that marriage must have been officially dissolved by an Orthodox Church Court. The original document attesting to the Church Divorce must be presented.
- If the Bride, or Groom is a member of some other Christian Church, a letter from their clergyman stating that he/she has been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity and that he/she is eligible to marry must be presented.
- If the Bride or Groom are widowed, a death certificate of the deceased spouse must be presented.
Both the Ecclesiastical Marriage License and the Civil Marriage License will be signed the day of the ceremony, and sent by the Church office to the Metropol
is of Atlanta and the Clerk of the Circuit court respectively. It takes 2-3 weeks to receive your Civil Marriage License back from the State of Florida. If you need your recorded Civil Marriage License sooner, please let the priest know and he will give it to you so you can personally take it to the Clerk of the Circuit Court for expediency.
WEDDING DAY PREPARATIONS:
Items necessary for the wedding day:
- Stephana (Crowns).
- Rings for both the bride and the groom.
- Two white candles-the church can loan you drip-less candles- please ask Fr. Peter about this.
- Civil marriage license.
- If desired, a platter with white Jordan almonds (koupheta) are traditionally prepared for the wedding.
- Rehearsal: The rehearsal is mandatory for all members the wedding party, and can be held any day prior to the ceremony; please schedule this when you set the date for the wedding ceremony. Please allow sufficient time if you are planning a dinner – the rehearsal takes about an hour an a half or sometimes longer if small children are in the wedding party.
- Flowers and Candles in the church: The sanctuary of an Orthodox church is magnificent in its own right, and does not require much "decoration"; this is particularly true at St. Barbara's. Flowers are permitted in the sanctuary, but please have your florist contact the church office for instructions. If flower petals are to be dropped in the aisle, a 60' runner must be used. Please let us know when the florist needs to get in the church to decorate; this can be done the day before, or we can open the church early the day of the ceremony. The throwing of rice outside the church is not allowed, however, birdseed, flowers and the release of doves is allowed.
- Bride and Bridesmaids' dresses: Regardless of fashion and societal custom a sense of modesty and chastity must be maintained in the Sanctuary. Every wedding takes place in front of an icon of the ever-virgin Theotokos, whose humility and modesty requires a corresponding sense of decorum; the bride and bridesmaids must therefore have their cleavage and shoulders covered in Church. If the bridesmaids' dresses have low-cut fronts or bare shoulders, a wrap or jacket for use in the church must be worn. At the reception, the bride and bridesmaids may of course wear whatever they wish.
- Music in the Sanctuary: If an organist is desired either to play prior to and after the wedding service, or to play the wedding march plus recessional, arrangements must be made through the Church office. Additional instrumental music or vocal soloists are permitted to perform in the sanctuary only with the approval of Fr. Peter. Dr. Leonidas Sarakatsannis, the St. Barbara organist is available also-please contact the church office for his telephone number.
- Invitations to the Wedding & Reception: Please be sure Fr. Peter sees a draft of your invitation, or confirm the proper spelling of his name and titles by calling the office. (Please note that there is no "s" on the end of Barbara!) If you wish to have him attend your reception, please send an invitation to him in advance. Too many people simply assume that the priest will come and then casually mention it following the service. Due to the large size of the St. Barbara community, it is very difficult for the priest to attend every reception. He will make every attempt to at least make an appearance and give the blessing before the meal.
- Wedding Program: It is customary to hand out a wedding program to your guests, especially if they are not of the Orthodox faith, so that they may understand the various parts of the ceremony. Please contact the church office for the format, wording and examples in printed or digital format. Click here for an example of a wedding program.
- Photography: Please have your photographer contact the church office regarding guidelines for photography during the Sacrament. No flash photography is allowed during the ceremony, and photographers are not allowed on the marble area (solea) or behind the Altar gates. It is advisable to allow time following the ceremony for posed and flash photos.
- Gratuities & other fees: It is customary to give the priest and the cantor a gratuity; the check should be made out directly to them and the amount is at the discretion of the families. Also, there is a $50 fee for setting up and cleaning of the Church following the ceremony; please make the check payable to St. Barbara Greek Orthodox Church.
- Promptness: In some circles it is "fashionable" to be late. But in a parish of over 300 families, this wreaks havoc with schedules. Sometimes, two weddings or baptisms are scheduled for the same day. Other parishioners should not be punished due to one person's tardiness; every effort should be made to be prompt on your wedding day.
The Orthodox Christian Faith blesses interfaith marriages under the following conditions:
- The non-Orthodox Bride/Groom must be a Christian who has been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity.
- The couple should be willing to baptize their children in the Orthodox Church.
- The marriage must take place in the Orthodox Church according to the prescribed form of the Service Book, the Orthodox priest being the sole celebrant.
- Should the presence of a non-Orthodox clergyman be requested, the following must be clarified:
The following regulations concerning interfaith marriages must be observed:
- The Orthodox priest, after receiving permission from the bishop, will issue an invitation to the clergyman.
- The Orthodox wedding ceremony does not permit the active participation of non-Orthodox clergy, this being made explicit to all concerned.
- At the conclusion of the Orthodox ceremony, the guest clergyman, advised as to appropriate vesture and as agreed previously, will be properly acknowledged and may give his benediction and good wishes to the couple.
DAYS WHEN MARRIAGES ARE NOT PERMITTED:
- An Orthodox priest, if invited, may attend the marriage ceremony in a non-Orthodox church, but only as a guest. He may not participate in the service nor offer any prayer.
- Non-Orthodox persons may act as ushers or bridesmaids at the Orthodox Marriage, but the koumbaros/ koumbara must be an Orthodox Christian in good standing, as stated earlier.
- Orthodox Christians may act as ushers or bridesmaids at marriages properly solemnized in other religious communions, but they may not serve as the Best Man.
- An Orthodox Christian whose marriage has not been blessed by the Orthodox Church is no longer in good standing with the Orthodox Church and consequently is not eligible to participate in the sacraments of the Orthodox Church, including receiving Holy Communion, acting as a sponsor at an Orthodox wedding, baptism or Chrismation (confirmation), or to receive an Orthodox funeral.
- A non-Orthodox Christian who marries an Orthodox Christian does not automatically become a member of the Orthodox Church, and is therefore not permitted to receive Holy Communion or the other Sacraments of the Orthodox Church nor an Orthodox funeral.
- January 5 and 6
- Great Lent and Holy Week
- August 1 - 15
- August 29
- September 14
- December 13 - 25
- All Holy Days of our Lord (Despotikai Eortai: Christmas, Epiphany, Pascha, etc.)
- The eve of Christmas, Epiphany, or Pentecost.
- Parents with their own children, grandchildren or great-grandchildren.
- Brothers-in-law with sisters-in-law.
- Uncles and aunts with nieces and nephews.
- First cousins with each other.
- Foster parents with foster children or foster children with the children of foster parents.
PLEASE CALL THE CHURCH OFFICE WELL IN ADVANCE TO SET THE DATE OF YOUR MARRIAGE – DO NOT SET A DATE FOR REHEARSAL DINNER OR RECEPTION PRIOR TO CONTACTING THE OFFICE!
WE MUST HAVE ALL PAPERWORK TO THE METROPOLIS OF ATLANTA AT LEAST 30 DAYS PRIOR TO THE CEREMONY. DO NOT DELAY ON GATHERING THE NEEDED DOCUMENTS!
CLICK HERE FOR APPLICATION FOR MARRIAGE IN THE ORTHODOX CHURCH – PLEASE BRING THIS FORM WITH YOU TO YOUR FIRST APPOINTMENT WITH Fr. Peter.