Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States
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What is the interpretation of the wedding ceremony, in specific, the role of the priest(s) and the key parts of the ceremony and symbolism behind it? What are the significant differences of American/western traditions versus that of the Egyptian/Coptic culture?

Marriage is one of the seven sacraments of our Coptic Orthodox Church. The wedding ceremony is more appropriately called 'The Crowning Ceremony', because during the ceremony the groom and bride are crowned with crowns symbolizing kingship and queenship over the new kingdom, their home.

Being a sacrament, the Crowning ceremony has to be officiated by an ordained priest, because he alone has the church authority to carry it out. As a holy Sacrament, marriage requires canonical prayers. In those prayers, we call on God's Spirit to bless the bride and groom and to sanctify their union. Everything in the ceremony has a special meaning and significance, especially the repetition of the signing of the cross and the blessing three times to symbolize and to invoke the mystical presence of the Holy Trinity.

The Crowning ceremony used to take place between the Raising of Incense at Matins and the Eucharistic Liturgy, just as the rites of monasticism do now. For just as the monk becomes wed to the Lord, so do the bride and groom become wed to each other in the Lord. In this way, they are prepared to receive Holy Communion as the first act performed immediately after their marriage. In the old days, there was a custom, based on the Book of Tobit, that the newly married couple should spend the first three days of marriage abstaining from physical contact in order to deepen their spiritual love and thus to unite in and with the Lord.

  1. The Procession:
    The priest prepares the wedding contract and the bride and groom sign it before the start of the crowning ceremony. Then the priest wears his epitrachelion and deacons bring the bride and groom in a procession into the church. The priest takes the rings and ties them with a scarlet ribbon symbolizing the union of the couple with the blood of Christ. He draws the altarís veil and starts the prayers.

  2. The Triple Sign of the Cross:
    The blessing, "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen! Blessed is God the Father, blessed is the only Son, and blessed is the Holy Spirit," is done for the newly married couple and their wedding rings, as a blessing for the partners and for their partnership, and for the covenant of love between them.

  3. St. Paul's Epistle:
    A passage is read from St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians (5:22 - 6:3)in which the Apostle draws our attention to the proper foundations for the Christian home.

  4. The Holy Gospel:
    After Holy Book of Psalm 19:5,6 "Like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber" and Psalm 128:3 "Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house" are read, there follows the Gospel according to St. Matthew where the Lord stresses:
    1. The law of monogamy (one wife):
      "He who made them at the beginning 'made them male and female'" (Mt. 19:4).

    2. The unity of the married couple:
      "The two shall become one flesh" (Mt. 19:5).

    3. The continuity of the marriage:
      "What God has joined together let not man separate." (Mt. 19:6).

  5. The Litany:
    In this, the priest and all the congregation ask God for His mercy to bless the groom and bride as He blessed Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, Joseph and Asenath, and as He also blessed the wedding at Cana of Galilee by His gracious presence.

  6. The Three Prayers:
    The priest asks for spiritual blessing and real unity for the couple, "That they may have happiness, keep the right faith, and enter into the mystery of joyfulness." He also prays that God will "Grant them prosperity, wisdom, and the blessings of salvation" and grant them godly children, "For life, O Lord, comes from You, and the fruit of life from the womb."

  7. Anointing With Oil:
    The priest says a special prayer to bless the oil: "As a weapon for righteousness and justice; an anointing for purity and incorruptibility; radiance and beauty that will never fade, and a renewal and salvation for their souls, their bodies and their spirits." The deacons respond at the end of each section by singing a joyful 'Amen.' Then the priest anoints the couple.

  8. The Chasuble and the Crowns:
    The priest prays over the chasuble and the crowns so that the couple may receive, "Crowns of glory and honor, blessing and salvation, joy and happiness, virtue and justice, strength and stability." The priest crowns the newly married couple, as crowning them in spiritual glory in their new church. The priest then puts the chasuble on the groom as a symbol that he has become the family priest. He is to present daily sacrifices, such as prayers, praises and offerings, on the altar of Christian love and the altar of the inmost heart. .As for the wedding rings, they are a mark of the covenant of love. That is why they are transferred from the right hand to the left, which is closer to the heart.

  9. The Presentation:
    The priest presents the bride to the groom with a special prayer. Then he covers both their hands with a Communion napkin that was originally given to them as a preparation for Holy Communion. It is now just to remind them that they should receive Holy Communion at their earliest convenience.

  10. The Exhortation, the Blessings and the Absolution:
    Now the priest urges both bride and groom to take special care to nurture their love for each other and to cherish their family ties. After they have promised at the altar to keep the family altar, to have daily prayers and Holy Bible reading, he blesses them. Then he prays for the forgiveness of their sins and dispenses them with the congregation in peace.
The wedding in the American/Western tradition is mainly between the bride and the groom where each one vows to commit themselves to one another. It is a marriage between two people. In our Coptic Church, marriage is between three, God and the bride and groom. God is the One who establishes, blesses and protects this new family. He is the bond that holds it in unity and love. His presence is essential and clear during the ceremony and in every day's life of the family.
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