Marriage Rite of Crowning
Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches – Canon 776: “By the marriage covenant founded by the Creator and ordered by His laws, a man and a woman by irrevocable personal consent establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life; this covenant is by its very nature ordered to the good of the spouses and to the procreation and education of children.”
The wedding day arrives promising a renewed life together, and hope for eternal joy and glory. All of this is reflected in the celebration of the marriage, which is steeped in symbolism. The physical actions and images are signs of the spiritual realities of marriage.
Holy Matrimony is a sacrament in which a man and woman declare before Christ, and in the presence of a priest, family and friends their love and faithfulness for one another for life. The free will of the couple and the church’s blessing are needed to have a valid marriage. The sacramental character of marriage is founded upon the words of St. Paul to the Ephesians (5, 31) after which the marriage resembles the “great mystery” or the permanent union that exists between Christ and His Church.
The ceremony begins at the entrance of the church where the bride and groom give their consent to marry. The priest asks God to bless their union with happiness and health. He leads them towards the altar as psalm 127 is sung. The psalm recounts the abundance of God’s blessings on those who walk in his ways.
The rings are blessed: circular symbols of never-ending love, reminders that the couple are joined together and their lives are strengthened and multiplied by their couple power.
The vows are solemn public promises, made with hands held together upon the Gospel Book, by which the couple offer themselves, body and soul, to each other for life. This is the sacrifice of love: the promise to offer one’s life for another. This solemn moment, with the priest's hand covering the joined hands upon the Gospel Book, expresses the Good News that Christ is present here, in image and reality, and that his sacrifice, his love and his holy Word are the foundation and firm basis for this marriage.
The Crowning is the highlight of the ceremony. Crowns or wreaths are placed on the heads of the bride and groom. They amplify the meaning of the rings that encircle their fingers; the joining of hands which reflects the joining of their hearts, in marriage, is magnified by the encircling of their heads; their hearts and hands and heads must work together in love.
The bride and groom are crowned king and queen of their family – a micro-kingdom of God. They are expected to rule over their kingdom with wisdom, justice, integrity and selflessness.
The crowns are a sign of victory: life over death; of love over lust; sharing over narcissism. These are crowns of martyrdom: they show the couple’s readiness to sacrifice for each other – to live and die for each other. This readiness to serve each other, rather than to be served, is what will make the crowned couple truly worthy to be counted among Christ's royal inheritance. Living their new life together according to this law of Christ will ensure for the couple the crowning glory of the heavenly kingdom. The crowns represent the reward for righteousness!
As the couple stands crowned with joy and hopefulness for the future, the Epistle is read reminding the couple that they are called to practice the virtues of kindness, humility, patience, understanding, forgiveness and over all, love.
The Gospel (John 2, 1-11) describes Jesus’ first miracle at the marriage feast in Galilee, thus reminding us of Christ’s presence and blessing in every Christian marriage.
Candles given to the couple to hold symbolize Christ and the readiness to place Christ in the center of the marital relationship.
The Common cup of wine reminds us of the miracle at Cana and a sign of God’s blessing of lawful wedlock. This also serves to impress upon the couple that they will share everything in life, both the bitter and the sweet.
An embroidered linen towel is used to unite the couple’s hands. This symbolizes the “oneness” of the bride and groom. Thus united, the priest leads them around the table (Tetrapod) three times signifying the couple’s faithfulness to marriage and to the Holy Trinity. The circle typifies eternity. By encircling the Tetrapod, upon which lie the Holy Gospel and the life giving cross of our Lord, the couple signify their oath to center their lives and hopes on Christ. During this ceremonial walk, husband and wife take their first steps as a married couple and follow the priest who leads them in the way they should walk. As they walk, a hymn to the Mother of God is sung as well as the troparias to the Holy Martyrs. This serves to remind the couple of the sacrificial love they are to have for each other in marriage.
As the wreaths are removed, the priest blesses the couple. “God...bless their comings and goings. Give their life a great store of good things and receive their crowns in your kingdom, keeping them without spot or stain or reproach for now, always and forever, and ever. Amen.”
A blessing of the bride follows, after which is the signing of the register.
The liturgy of crowning concludes with the singing of “Mnohaya Lita” (God grant them many years and blessings of health and salvation). With these wishes and blessings the couple makes their way out of the church and into their new life renewed in Christ!