On a beautiful, sultry Mediterranean evening, our Greek “daughter” Katerina was married to her childhood friend, Sifis. It was a magical night of celebration full of the emotion and promise of new beginnings. When an American thinks about a Greek wedding, images of “the movie” instantly come to mind. But the Greek Orthodox wedding is an ancient tradition celebrated in its current form for centuries and is filled with deep symbolism and serious reverence for the holy act of marriage. The Orthodox sacrament of marriage is unique in many ways, but primarily in that the ceremony has remained almost entirely unchanged since its origination centuries ago. Another notable aspect of the Orthodox marriage is that the bride and groom do not exchange vows; instead it is their presence before Christ through the priest and the congregation that signifies their wish to be joined and to accept the Lord into their new home.
As family and guests waiting outside the church, Sifis stood with his parents and sister waiting the arrival of his bride and holding her bouquet of flowers. Katerina arrived escorted by both her parents and as they made their way up the path towards the altar everyone was mesmerized by the beautiful bride and the look of adoration on Sifis’ handsome face. The wedding began with the Betrothal Service (the ring ceremony) as the priest led them to the altar where they were joined by the koumparos (best man) and koupara (best woman). The priest asked God’s blessings upon the rings and Katerina’s koumpara placed them on the right hands of the bride and groom, exchanging them three times between the couple which symbolizes they are forever entwined. (Many of the rituals in the ceremony are repeated three themes to represent the Holy Trinity: God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit.) The priest then sealed the rings with a prayer and the placed of his vestment over their crossed hands.
The next part of the service was the Marriage Ceremony. The candles standing next to the altar represented Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, who will guide them and bless their new life together. The priest chanted three prayers as he joined their hands together and then proceeded with the Crowning, placing the crowns (stephana) on their heads and making the sign on the cross three times over them. The crowns represent the glory and honor bestowed on them by God and the ribbon which links the crowns together represents the joining of two souls into one household (their own “kingdom”.) Sifis’ koumparos then exchanged the crowns between the couple three times as the priest read the Epistle (Ephesians 5:20-33 – the commitment and responsibilities of marriage) and the Gospel (John 2: 1-11 – Jesus’ first miracle at the wedding in Cana.). When it came time for the couple to sip the red wine (three sips) from the sacrament cup, there was a moment of light humor when the discrepancy in height between tall Sifis and the shorter priest resulted in an awkward tipping of the wine cup so Sifis could finally get a mouthful. At the end of the ceremony was the traditional “Dance of Isaiah” where Sifis and Katerina took their first steps as a married couple. Still joined together by the stephana, they were led in a circle around the altar three times as the priest chanted a series of hymns and the guests threw rice wishing them a long and happy marriage. The priest led them with the Bible symbolizing that they will follow the Word of God in their lives together and the circle represented the eternity of marriage. The priest then removed the stephana from their heads and used the Bible to uncouple their joined hands represented that only God is able to divide the marriage. He then blessed them and sealed the marriage with a prayer.
After the ceremony, the Katerina and Sifis together with their families received well-wishers and each guest was given a party favor of an uneven number of koufeta (sugar coated almonds) symbolizing that the couple can not be divided. Small bottles of mastic liqueur were also given as a thank you from the bride and groom.
After the solemnity of the marriage ceremony everyone was ready to celebrate in the style of traditional Greek wedding extravagance! The reception was held outdoors in a garden-like setting in the cool of the night with over 250 guests, festive Greek dancing and endless plates of delicious food.
Sifi and Katerina, we feel honored and thankful that we could share in this very special occasion with you. With love we bless you – “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15: 5,6)