According to Christian practice, marriage takes place only when both husband and wife are willing to commit themselves to each other for eternity. Husband and wife both vow respect and eternal love. Such love is to be considered unconditional and only such love can be the foundation for the church wedding ceremony.
Orthodox recognizes marriage as a sacrament – and the ceremony of a wedding is basically the act of obtaining God's blessing and special gift of love, which will combine two hearts forever.
Two people forever become one in soul and body during this ceremony.
The sacrament of marriage consists of two parts – "betrothal" and "wedding". A long time ago these two rituals where separated with time. "Betrothal" followed engagement and could be terminated before the "wedding".
During the "betrothal", the priest gives the couple two burning candles, as a symbol of joy and warmth. He then puts the rings on - first the groom, and then on the bride.
After the "betrothal", the couple then goes to the center of the church. The priest asks them if they are free and if they have been faithful to their commitment to each other. The producers of Hollywood movies at this moment like to add a third person to the stage - some kind of forgotten spouse or someone's miserable lover. But these kind of things are only for melodramas, such events rarely happen.
As with any other ritual, the ritual of "marriage" is very symbolic. During this process, the bridesmaids and groom's best friends hold crowns above the heads of the groom and bride. We understand that this may sound very new to you, as you probably have never heard of such experience before. To help you better understand what "crowns" are and why they are placed above the couple's heads, we post some pictures here to assist.
The "crowns" are very sacred objects. And people who hold them in their hands, should use a handkerchief, and never touch the crown with bare hands – this is forbidden by the church.
If you translate Ukrainian "church marriage ceremony" literally – you will have "Crowning" (yes, sounds like crowning of kings and queens, but don't forget – this is Ukraine with its ancient history and breathtaking rituals).
The Crowns, which are held above the head of the prospective couple, symbolize the Crown of Kingdom of Heaven. The chalice of wine, from which the priest provides communion to the couple, is a symbol of life chalice representing joy and sorrow in which the couple would share until the end of their days.
According to traditions, the prospective couple shouldn't eat anything before the ceremony, and the wine from the chalice will be their first drink from the start of the day. So right away after their first sip, they will feel real warmth and happiness, as they are likely to experience a most comforting sensation.
Also, there is a moment when the priest binds the hands of bride and groom with an embroidered towel. While holding their hands, he asks the couple to follow him three times around the altar. This circular path created around the altar, symbolizes that the sacrament of "marriage" will be eternal.
The marriage ceremony is one of seven sacraments. It is understood that such a sacred act is not fully shared with others. Other people cannot witness what the soul of the bride or groom is going through during their ritual. Before the sacrament of marriage, the couple should confess in front of God and take Holy Communion. Accordingly, the day before the wedding the couple should abstain from any alcoholic drinks or smoking. In some cases, the priest may also instruct the couple not to eat meat dishes (to lent).
It is important to understand that the "marriage" sacrament must be performed in church on certain days.