THE MARRIAGE CEREMONIES
(H.G. Bishop Moussa)
Marriage in the Coptic Orthodox church - as well as all the other traditional churches - is a sacrament; and this means that all three conditions of the other sacraments have to be fulfilled. These cover:
1. Those receiving the sacrament.
2. The sacramental prayers and materials.
3. The ordained priest.
"Mystery" is not the ecclesiastical definition of a
sacrament: for "mystery" means "obscurity," whereas
"sacrament" means the "unseen gift" that we obtain as a
result of our conscious participation in the holy sacrament.
It is "the invisible blessing that we receive in the midst
of physical, visible manifestations."
1. Those Receiving the Sacrament
The couple approaching holy matrimony are like those who
come for baptism or confirmation. As they approach this
holy sacrament they have to meet certain special conditions,
- The Legal minimum age (16 for her and 18 for him).
- The absence of any legal impediments or any kinship
which may disqualify them as marriage partners.
- The full consent of both parties.
- Suitable spiritual preparation, such as repentance,
confession and receiving the Holy Communion.
- Mental, psychological and social readiness.
- A sound understanding of Christian marriage.
2. The Sacramental Prayers & Materials
Everything is "sanctified by the Word of God and prayer"
(1Tim 4:5). So are the bride and groom. They must listen
carefully to extensive prayers, to readings from St. Paul's
letters, the Psalms and the Gospels. These deal with every
aspect of Christian marriage. The couple are also anointed
with holy oil. It is above all after they have been
anointed in the name of the Holy Trinity three times that
they receive the Spirit of God and He makes them one in
The Ordained Priest
If the sacrament is to be effective, the priest is
essential: for he has the authority of the church to
carry it out. It is not just the prospect of
parenthood for the bride groom, or even the spiritual
aspects of marriage that are involved in the
performance of the sacrament. The sacrament also
involves the canonical rites, and these depend on the
ecclesiastical authority handed down to the priest.
As a holy sacrament, marriage requires canonical
prayers. In those prayers we call on God's Spirit to
bless the bride and groom and sanctify their union. Is
it possible for that to happen in a civil marriage, a
marriage by private contact on in a mixed marriage
between persons from different religious backgrounds?
Definitely not! For those marriages are man-made and
not from God, and Christianity rejects them.
It involves successive steps that are vitally linked. In
fact, the 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 as the monk becomes
attached to the Lord, so the bride and the groom become
attached to one another in the Lord. In this way they are
prepared for receiving the holy communion, as the first step
to be taken immediately after getting married. 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 fasting from physical contact so as to deepen
their spiritual love and thus to abide by and in the Lord.
1. The Contract of Appropriation1
The vow to belong to one another used to be taken
immediately upon engagement, in the form of public prayers.
However, these prayers have since been separated from the
engagement rites. For whereas the engagement can be broken,
the 'contract of appropriation' is binding. Saying the
prayers amounts to a real, legal marriage contract that
cannot be broken except for legal reasons.
Those prayers or at least, the most significant part of them
are now transferred to the wedding itself. We take from
them the Triple Sign which is at the heart of those prayers.
2. The Triple Sign
This is just like the blessing given for the engagement, "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." This 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. The Letters From St. Paul
A passage is read form St. Paul's letter to the Ephesians
(5:22-6:3) where the Apostle draws our attention to the
proper foundations for the Christian home: a husband that
loves his wife as much as himself and a wife that obeys her
husband. As much as the husband gives love, the wife gives
obedience and vice versa. It is a wonderful recipe for the
unity and the continuity of the Christian home.
4. The Gospel
After Psalm 19: "Like a bridegroom coming out of his
chamber" (verses 5,6) and Psalm 128: "Your wife shall be
like a fruitful vine in the very heart of your house" (verse
3) are read out, there comes the Gospel according to St.
Matthew where the Lord stresses:
a. The law of monogamy (one wife): "He Who made them
at the beginning 'made them male and female'" (Mt 19:4).
b. The unity of the married couple: "The two shall
become one flesh" (Mt19:5).
c. The continuity of the marriage: "What God has
joined together, let not man separate" (Mt 19:6).
5. The Litany
In which the priest and all the congregation ask God for His
mercy to bless the groom and the 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
In which the priest asks for spiritual blessing and real
unity for the couple, "That they may have happiness and keep
the right faith, and enter into the mystery of joyfulness."
He also prays that God would "Keep them in welfare, 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
This is after a special prayer over the oil so as to bless
it: "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
8. The Chasuble2 & The Crown
The priest prays over the chasuble and the crown so that the
couple may receive, "Crowns of glory and honor, blessing and
salvation, joy and happiness, virtue and justice, strength
and stability." Thus, when the priest crowns the newly
married couple, this means crowning them in spiritual glory
in their new church. When the groom puts on the chasuble,
this means 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 marriage rings, they are a mark of the covenant
of love. That is why they are transferred from the righthand
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 Biblereading,
he blesses them. Then he prays for forgiveness for
their sins and sends them out with the congregation in
peace. After this they should be regularly receiving Holy
Communion and other sacraments.
This is how the prayers of the sacrament reach their climax:
on a high point of spirituality and exhortation. Although
the bride and groom will then be very busy with the
photographs and social niceties, which are not that
appropriate, we still hope that they will reflect on all the
prayers of this sacrament, which are usually taped.
May the Lord keep our homes in purity, understanding and
cohesion. May He make them model homes: models of witness
to Jesus Christ, their Founder and Shepherd
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