What is the procedure for planning a wedding?
The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is celebrated in the church on the days of the church calendar that weddings are permitted. For example, weddings do not take place during the periods of fasting or a day when fasting is prescribed. For this reason, it is very important that a couple first contact the pastor to discuss the selection of a wedding date before beginning to plan their wedding.
Two very important questions must be answered by a couple prior to scheduling a wedding date:
1) Has (have) there been (a) previous marriage(s) by either the bride or the groom?
2) In the case when an Orthodox person intends to marry a non-Orthodox Christian: Does the non-Orthodox Christian spouse have a Trinitarian (Christian) Certificate of Baptism?
Should one or both the bride and groom been previously married permission to re-marry must be received prior to planning a wedding. While each personal situation is not the same, it is important to understand that:
1) the church does not regard someone who was previously married by the State or another church as not having been married, especially when children are involved;
2) an Orthodox Christian whose marriage ends in a divorce must be re-instated by the Church to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion before permission is granted for a subsequent marriage;
3) The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony in the Orthodox Church cannot be granted if an Orthodox Christian chooses to marry a non-Christian, this includes non-Traditional Trinitarian communities such as, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and “Jesus-Only” groups. It is expected that a non-Orthodox bride or groom of a Traditional Trinitarian Christian Church provide the church with a copy of their Certificate of Holy Baptism.
Should an Orthodox person choose to marry in another Christian church, would the marriage be recognized in the Orthodox Church?
If an Orthodox Christian is first married in a Traditional Christian Church, it is necessary for the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony to also be completed in the Orthodox Church. The Church does not have a “blessing” of weddings that have taken place in other churches or in a civil court. Receiving the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony as an Orthodox Christian maintains one’s participation in the full Sacramental life of the Church. If there is no record of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony for an Orthodox Christian who chooses to be married by a State official or another clergyman, the Orthodox spouse will be unable to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Abstinence from Holy Communion in this case is not a penalty but a consequence of one’s voluntary and personal choice to neglect the Sacrament of Marriage in the Church. The result is:
One’s participation in the full Sacramental life of the Orthodox Church remains incomplete. For an Orthodox Christian, each of the seven Sacraments are directly tied and related to the Holy Eucharist (“The Sacrament of Sacraments”).
Does the “Best Man” and/or “Matron of Honor” have to be an Orthodox Christian?
No. It would be better that the “Sponsors” (Greek: Kumbara and Kumbaro) be Orthodox Christians in good standing in order that they may stand in a similar role to “Godparents,” however, it is not mandatory. Ideally, a Kumbara and Kumbaro is a married couple who share a special spiritual relationship to the bride and groom. In the Orthodox Church, “Sponsors” stands as “Witnesses” to the wedding and any Orthodox person at the ceremony may stand as a witness to the Sacrament, just as they should also be of support of the new couple who will begin a new life as husband and wife.
Are there any fees for the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony?
Yes. The fees for a wedding do not differ much from the fees paid for a baptism. First and foremost an Orthodox Christian in good standing must have completed an annual “Fair Share Archdiocese Contribution” and an annual pledge form to the parish. Annual “Fair Share Contributions” include: $50 for each baptized Orthodox in a household and $35 for each baptized Orthodox child in a household (17 years of age or under). An annual financial pledge commitment is made according to one’s means with the completion of a Pledge Form. It may be paid incrementally to the parish by check, credit card or on-line. The annual budget of the local parish is supported by the annual pledges of its adult members who are employed and financially independent. This money provides for the priest’s salary, staff wages, the payment of utilities, property taxes, supplies and maintenance. There should be no personal gift provided to the clergy without first completing an annual pledge form and fulfilling a full-payment of the annual Fair Share contributions. In addition, a $10 fee is paid to the Antiochian Archdiocese for processing a wedding certificate and must be provided by the date of the wedding. Finally, some consideration for a donation should be provided for the special event of a wedding when preliminary meetings with the priest and additional church maintenance is required, such as, scheduling a “wedding rehearsal,” the opening of the church early for the set-up by floral decorators with modifications made to church furniture, additional air conditioning or heating, and extra cleaning following the ceremony.
May other clergymen participate in the wedding ceremony?
A non-Orthodox person may participate in the service of Holy Matrimony by reading the Epistle within the Church’s wedding ceremony. A Traditional Christian clergyman may pray a blessing for the couple at the end of the ceremony of Sacrament of Holy Matrimony.
Must a wedding take place in the church sanctuary?
Yes. Understanding that the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is an eternal Sacrament of the Kingdom and not of this world, an Orthodox wedding ceremony is properly held in the Church and not in a park, fellowship hall, restaurant, a home, or the beach. Moreover, it should be clarified that certain attire is considered inappropriate for a church wedding.
May a couple have special music added to the wedding service?
Not always. If a vocalist or group of persons do not altar the text of a part of the service, i.e., the Lord’s Prayer, “special guest soloists” or “singers” may be allowed. However, while some music may be permitted either before or following the service, no additional music or readings are allowed within the full context of the Sacrament in the Church.
Is there a special service for a wedding engagement?
A prayer for the blessing of an engagement ring may be done by a priest at the time of a couple’s engagement and does not need to occur in the church.
However, “The Betrothal Service” (the blessing of the wedding bands) is tied to the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and is done at the start of the wedding service in the Orthodox Church. The blessing of a couple’s wedding bands done in the service of the Betrothal should not be confused with the blessing of an engagement “ring of promise” (an engagement ring).
Father Timothy is available to answer any questions or to further discuss the subject with anyone privately. He may also be reached by e-mail.