The Mystery of Crowning

The institution of marriage, in which a man and a woman share their lives in a permanent, committed relationship, was intended by God from the beginning; in the Old Testament, this relationship was seen as an apt symbol of the covenant relationship between God and his people Israel. Christ performed his first miracle at a wedding, and restored this relationship to its original dignity. Thus, it is truly seen as one of the mysteries of the Church.

According to Saint Paul: "Marriage is a great mystery; I mean that it refers to Christ and the Church" (Ephesians 5:32). The love of husband and wife must be as pure, self-giving, and fruitful as the relationship between Christ and the Christian community.

The Meaning of Crowning

In the Byzantine tradition, the placing of crowns (or in some places, wreathes) upon the head of the bride and groom are apt symbols of this dignity, in which husband and wife assume responsibility for, and authority over, a family or "domestic church." They are also called to serve as helps toward salvation to one another and their children, and caretakers for the world - assuming the duties that Adam and Eve were originally to have shared.

The Marriage Rites

The order of the Mystery of Crowning in Slavonic can be found on pages 78-112 of the Malyj Trebnyk (Small Euchologion), printed in Rome in 1952.

An 22-page service book in English, titled Ritual of Marriage, which was published by the Byzantine Seminary Press in 1972, and contained additional guidelines for the celebration of marriage together with the Divine Liturgy. The Byzantine Seminary Press also printed booklets for the marriage service, with and without Divine Liturgy.

The marriage rites begin with the betrothal, which takes place in the narthex (vestibule), or at the back of the church. The priest meets the man and woman to be betrothed and asks them if they are free to marry. He prays over them, and blesses rings which he places on the finger of each. This constitutes a promise to marry, and if the couple chooses not to marry, they may need to seek the bishop's permission to marry anyone else. For this reason, the betrothal service is often held immediately before the wedding itself.

The wedding service proper begins with a procession, in which the priest leads the engaged couple from the narthex to the tetrapod, the table before the holy doors of the altar, while Psalm 127 ("Blessed are those who fear the Lord, and walk in his ways") is chanted. The priest prays over the couple, then joined their hands, binding it with his epitrachelion (the stole, or sign of his authority), and says "What God has joined together, no one must separate."

Note: in the Byzantine tradition, there are no marriage vows as such; the marriage is "made" by the priest's blessing and crowning of the couple. But because wedding vows were required by the laws of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, they were inserted into the service in our churches at this point, immediately after the couple's hands are joined by the priest.

The the crowning takes place. The priest places crowns upon the head of the groom, saying:

The servant of God,<name of bridegroom>, receives as his crown the servant of God, <name of bride>, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Then he places a crown upon the head of the bride, saying,

The servant of God,<name of bridegroom>, receives as her crown the servant of God, <name of bride>, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

and blessing the couple, the priest says:

Lord, our God, crown them with glory and honor.

This is followed by an epistle reading (Ephesians 5:20-33) and a Gospel reading (John 2:1-11, the wedding at Cana). There is a litany including prayers for the newly-married couple, and then the priest leads the couple in a procession around the tetrapod, while three hymns are sung, in honor of Christ, the martyrs, and the apostles; there are the same hymns sung at the ordination service. Finally, the priest removes the crowns from the bride and groom, and may give them Holy Communion if both are Catholic and the Divine Liturgy is not being celebrated.

The wedding service may be followed by the ceremony of the common cup, in which a cup of ordinary wine is blessed by the priest, and shared by the bride and groom as a symbol of their common life.

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