Guidelines for Marriage
in the Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral
Your wedding is the most important wedding ever. It is an historic event that will be remembered by you for the rest of your life. Because it is so important, we want to do everything we can to make it as special and as wonderful as we can. In order to accomplish this, we need to work together and to keep in close communication in the coming weeks. If you have any questions please call Father Tom at 233-8531.
Marriage preparation counseling is mandatory to help support a successful marriage. A minimum of four premarital counseling sessions are required before the marriage. At the initial meeting between the priest and the couple, dates and times will be set. During these sessions the religious, social , physical, emotional and moral issues of marriage will be discussed. It is important to learn what marriage means to Eastern Orthodox Christians.
The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is one of the Holy Mysteries of our Greek Orthodox Church. It unites both spiritually and physically a man and a woman into one cohesive unit, respecting and proclaiming each one’s individual personality, yet mystically drawing together man, woman, and the Holy Spirit into one family.
Setting the Date
The first step a couple should take after the decision to get married is to call the parish priest to verify if the Church calendar is open for the date requested and to set up a meeting time for the couple and the priest to review requirements. Please, DO NOT begin plans nor order any invitations until after meeting with the priest.
The Church has set aside certain times and dates when marriages are not permitted to be performed. These dates include Lenten periods and various Feast days of the Church calendar.
The following are additional days when marriages may not be performed:
December 24 and 25 (Christmas)
January 5 and 6 (Epiphany)
February 1 and 2 (The presentation of Christ to the Temple)
August 29 (The Beheading of st. John the Baptist)
September 14 (The Exaltation of the Holy Cross)
Marriages are also not permitted during moveable Feasts of Pascha (Easter), Ascension, and Pentecost or on the day before these Feasts. Marriages are not performed during the forty days of Great Lent, Holy Week, the Lent and Feast of the Virgin Mary Theotokos (August 1 through 15), and the Christmas Fast (December 13 through 25). The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony can be performed on the above dates only in an extreme emergency and by dispensation by the Metropolitan.
Who May Marry?
For a Greek Orthodox priest to be allowed to celebrate a marriage, at least one of the two spouses must be of the Eastern Orthodox faith. The non-Orthodox spouse must have been baptized in a Christian Church that baptizes in the Name of the Holy trinity. A marriage between an Orthodox Christian and a non-Christian or an individual not baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity can not be celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
You are urged, if you are an Orthodox Christian, to receive the sacrament of Confession and the sacrament of Holy Communion as preparation for your marriage. By doing so you will bring a new vitality, a spirit, and bond to your marriage that will enhance and deepen your lives.
If you are not an Orthodox Christian you are urged to partake in a spiritual preparation guided by your parish priest/pastor which will grant you a renewal, enabling you to prepare spiritually for your wedding
Papers, Documents, Certificates
The following documentation is required:
1. The Orthodox person must be a member of the Saint George Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Greenville, South Carolina, having pledged for the current year.
2. A certificate of baptism from your parish (if you are from a community other than Saint George). If you are not an Orthodox Christian, your Baptismal certificate will verify that you were baptized in the name of the Holy trinity. If the non-Orthodox partner has not been baptized the parish priest will discuss the issue in detail.
3. If you were born outside the United States and came to this country after your 18th birthday, a certificate verifying that you are single and eligible to marry should be obtained from your home country parish priest, signed by the Bishop of the home country Diocese.
4. If either of the couple has been married before, a certified copy of the entire divorce decree must be given to the priest. If the Orthodox partner had a previous marriage blessed in the Orthodox Church, the original ecclesiastical divorce decree must be given to the priest.
5. A civil license must be obtained from the Court House of Greenville county (at University Ridge). There is a 24 hour turn around time for obtaining this license. This license must be obtained by the couple personally.
6. An Ecclesiastical License which gives the Parish Priest Episcopal Authority to conduct the marriage in a Greek Orthodox Church is also required. The priest and couple will fill out an affidavit that will be sent to the Metropolitan’s office in Atlanta. The Ecclesiastical License will be mailed back to the parish priest in two weeks.
The Bridal Party
Every couple married in the Eastern Orthodox Church must have a Koumbaros/Koumbara who must be a member in good standing of the Eastern Orthodox Church. This individual should be chosen very carefully for he/she is very important. In the strict interpretation of the Church, the Koumbaros/Koumbara is not the same as the best man/maid of honor, although they can be the same individual in a wedding.
In other Christian celebrations of Marriage, the best man or maid of honor is considered to be legal witness to the ceremony. The Koumbaros/Koumbara is mainly an ecclesiastical witness, the person who, in many circumstances, but not always, is given the privilege of baptizing (as Godparent) your first child. He/she is also the person you turn to for advice and counsel in your lives when needed.
You may have in your wedding party both a Koumbaros/Koumbara and a best man/maid of honor, or they may be the same person. While the role of the best man/maid is that of a witness, that of the Koumbaros is an active one. He/she exchanges the rings and the crowns and holds the ribbon as you walk around the ceremonial table together as husband and wife. Traditionally, the Koumbaros purchases the wedding crowns, the silver tray, the almonds, the candles, etc. used during the ceremony.
If the Koumbaros is from another parish, he/she must bring a letter of introduction from his/her priest. A person who does not belong to a parish of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese cannot serve in this important role. A person whose marriage has not been blessed in the Orthodox Church will not be allowed to serve in a sacramental, canonical, capacity in the wedding. Non-Orthodox persons cannot serve ins such a capacity precisely because they are sacramental, canonical responsibilities of Church members.
It is a beautiful sight to have a bridal party with attendants, groomsmen and ushers. If such is your plan, know that they do not have to be Eastern Orthodox Christians, except for the Koumbaros. Those you do select as part of your bridal party must agree to observe the practice of the Eastern Orthodox traditions.
Bridal Dress and Attendants' Gown
Care should be taken in selecting the bride’s dress. Since crowns are an integral part of the wedding, headpieces must not interfere with the proper placing of the crowns on the bride’s head. Keep this in mind if selecting any type of pill box hat or veil. The bridal dress should also exercise a decorum befitting a church ceremony.
The White Runners
Because of the tendency for the feet of the bridal party to get entangled in the runner, all runners are discouraged.
The vary nature of the Eastern Orthodox ceremony makes it a double ring ceremony. The rings should be gold (white or yellow).
Crowns, Stefana, Wedding Wreaths and Cancles
"Crown,” “stefana,” and “wedding wreaths” are words used interchangeably. They are placed on your heads during the wedding. They may be purchased at our Genesis Bookstore or elsewhere or you can make them yourself following the traditional styles and materials.
It is permissible to wear the crowns your parents wore.
White candles are also necessary. Because the bride anagram will be holding them during the wedding, it is suggested the candles be of a size easily handled and simple in their decoration.
The Sacrament of Marriage is a sacred and meaningful celebration, and we want to do everything we can to keep its dignity intact. We do encourage recording of the Sacrament by a professional photographer, but we also insist on rules that must be followed to keep order and dignity in the Church.
1. The photographer must meet with the priest prior to the wedding to go over policies regarding where he/she will be permitted to stand during the wedding.
2. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCE WILL FLASH PHOTOGRAPHY BE PERMITTED DURING THE WEDDING BY THE PHOTOGRAPHER OR ANY MEMBERS OF THE CONGREGATION.
3. After the wedding, pictures may be taken in the Church with flashes, but the photographer must have been shown by the priest where on the solea the wedding party may stand to have their pictures taken.
4. There will be no moving around in the Church by the photographer/videographer once the Sacrament of Marriage has begun.
5. Within one half hour after the wedding, the photographer should be finished with all family pictures in the Church.
Again we are trying to keep the wedding as sacred and as dignified as possible. We encourage the recording of this historic event, but we also have a responsibility to keep order. Any questions should be addressed to the parish priest.
The Metropolitan’s Office in Atlanta has been very clear in what is allowed and what is not allowed in Church during the entrance of the wedding party and during the recession of the wedding party.
1. Only the Church organ can be used. There can be no other musical instruments.
2. An organist familiar with the electronic organ must be employed. Check with the parish priest to be sure the organist is approved.
3. Only Eastern Orthodox liturgical music or classical music can be used during the times before the wedding and after the recessional. A list of the music selected by the bride must be presented to the priest so that it can be approved.
4. If a chanter is desired by the bride/groom, discuss this with the parish priest. The chanter must be approved by the priest beforehand.
5. No CDs or taped music is allowed.
6. If the bride/groom wish to have their wedding acoustically taped using the direct sound system of the Church, it is available at a cost of $75 to cover the costs of the supplies and sound track operator.
Our Church is quite beautiful and colorful even without flowers. In addition, though the Solea is quite large, there are limitations in space. Visibility and access for movement during the wedding must be taken into account. The best rule of thumb is to keep flowers to a minimum.
If/when flowers are used, check with the parish priest for specific guidelines in addition to the following:
1. No flowers/vases/decoration allowed on the steps or platform of the second tier of solea (the level upon which is the Altar)
2. No flowers/decorations on any icons/iconostasion
3. If candelabras/candles are used, they must have heavy plastic under them to prevent their dripping on the solea floor. This type of decoration is discouraged.
4. If any pew markers are to be used, they must not be taped or tacked onto the pews. Much damage has incurred in the past, and we will not allow such practice.
5. Because of damage to the carpet, no fresh flower petals/rice/koufeta may be sprinkled, tossed, or thrown onto the main aisle before or after the bride’s entrance. An appropriate substitute would be to have the flower girl hand out individual stems to the congregation when she walks down the aisle before the bride, or she can simply carry a basket of flowers down the aisle and walk directly to their spot on the Solea with the other attendants.
6. It is the responsibility of the bride/groom to tell the florist to have all wedding decorations and flowers removed from the Church immediately following the wedding.
English and Greek may be used in any combination upon consultation with the parish priest. If there is a party from another Orthodox jurisdiction that would like to use another language, it is, of course, permitted with the approval of the parish priest.
Guest Eastern Orthodox clergy may participate in a wedding in the Eastern Orthodox Church if an invitation is extended to the by the Parish Priest where the wedding will take place. This must be discussed with the priest before any invitations are extended. Certain protocol must be followed and specific guidelines must be met.
Length of Service
The length of the Eastern Orthodox wedding is approximately 45 minutes, depending on the length of the processional and recessional. You should plan for about one hour from beginning to end.
Non-Orthodox elements may not be added to or incorporated into the Orthodox Sacrament of Marriage. These include religious songs and prayers from other traditions, poems, recitations, musical numbers, etc. What is prescribed by the Church as proper to the Sacrament is all that is allowed. Care should be taken to avoid action, songs, music, recitations and the like which take away from the profound meaning and teaching that is taking place during the Sacrament.
Location of the Ceremony
The sacrament of Marriage is to be conducted in an Eastern Orthodox Church. The practice of celebrating an Eastern Orthodox Sacrament in a non-Orthodox house of worship or in the church of the non- Eastern Orthodox party is not permitted except in the extenuating circumstances and only with the permission of the Metropolitan. If appropriate this should be discussed with the parish priest.
Receiving lines at the Church are discouraged.
The Church has a sophisticated electronic lighting system and controls that should not be tampered with by anyone except authorized personnel. If there are requests for special lighting, it should be brought to the attention of the priest and approved before the wedding rehearsal
When the date for the wedding has been set, the rehearsal date and time should also be set in the appointment book of the community. Usually, rehearsals take place on the day immediately prior to the wedding date. Any exception should be discussed with the parish priest. The rehearsal familiarizes everyone in the wedding party what is expected on the day of the wedding.
Unlocking and Locking the Church Doors
It is the responsibility of the Bride/Groom to call the Church office to make arrangements to have the Church doors opened and locked before and after rehearsal and the wedding.
You must have a wedding director. He/she is vital to the rehearsal and the wedding. Because this person will be responsible to keep overall order and timing for the wedding, it is suggested that he/she be experienced in this area. Be sure you inform the priest who your wedding director is so that they can communicate with each other regarding the requirements in the Sacrament. The wedding director/coordinator must be approved by the priest.
Bride's Room in the Narthex
The Bride’s room in the narthex of the Church is a beautiful facility set aside for the bride and her immediate family as they wait for the brides entrance at the beginning of the wedding. Please note that this room is only for the bride, and it is NOT to be used by the bride’s maids for dressing/preparation before the wedding. The brides maids may dress in the lower level of the Church or in the lower level of the Hellenic center.
Because a considerable amount of money and effort have been spent in decorating this special room, we ask that no food or drinks be brought into the Bride’s Room. If finger food or soft drinks/water wish to be made available for the bride’s maids or wedding party, they may be placed in the open area in the lower level of the Church ONLY. Again, these items are not to be brought into the Bride’s Room in the Narthex. Also, because the room is highly visible from the Narthex, we insist that it be cleaned by a responsible person of the brides party and left as clean as it was found. Please do not leave papers, clothing, boxes, etc. Everything should be removed immediately after the wedding is over. The community is most appreciative our your cooperation in this matter.
A Note to Non-Orthodox
Conversion to the Orthodox faith is not a requirement. If you desire to become an Eastern Orthodox Christian, this matter needs to be addressed with the parish priest separately and apart from the wedding. It should not be a conversion for the sake of convenience, nor should it be made to make someone happy. The decision should be made following thought and prayer and out of a true desire to become an Eastern Orthodox Christian.