Updated: Jul 3, 2020
Last December, our family was thrilled to enter into a new phase of life as our oldest daughter and her fiance announced their engagement. They became officially betrothed during a little ceremony after the Sunday Divine Liturgy the very next weekend, and are now happily planning the day in early September when they will be crowned as husband and wife.
(Edited to add: Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, all plans for a reception were cancelled
and the couple was advised to wait and reschedule in a year...we're now planning the
crowning ceremony for July 18, 2020 with just a small family reception at our home, and the
formal public reception will be held in 2021, when it is safe and the restrictions are lifted) This will be the first wedding in our family to be held in a Byzantine church since my own and we are looking so forward to it. It's been so exciting! While looking for just the right venue, just the right dresses, just the right invitations, just the right everything else, it occurred to us that not everyone who is coming to this event has ever seen a Byzantine Crowning Ceremony before. In general, our Byzantine church services are a little bit different than your typical Latin Catholic or Protestant services, and crownings are even more so!
Yes, we do call it a crowning ceremony and there really are crowns! Gorgeous ones at that!
The bride, my Anastasia, was a bit worried that her new family might feel a bit lost amid all of our cultural tradition and ceremony so she has asked me to write a bit about it and all of its symbolic components. This blog post will be shared on their wedding website for the benefit of those who may wish to familiarize themselves with our customs before the day arrives.
Here are a few of the things you will see at
Anastasia and Vince's Wedding
The Byzantine Divine Liturgy: It's not the Mass
The first question you'll probably have will be about the Liturgy,itself. We are a Catholic Church, but it is not our custom to use the Roman Catholic Mass. The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom is based on the rites used by the Antiochian Church in Syria where St. John Chrysostom was a priest. It was later refined and used by him in Constantinople where he was bishop from 398 to 404 AD and has been the Byzantine Church’s primary liturgy ever since. Since our Church is in communion with the Latin/Roman Church…and every Catholic Church...it is perfectly acceptable for any Catholic to approach the Eucharist, and yes, our Sunday Divine Liturgy does fulfill the Roman Sunday obligation.
The church architecture is a bit different.
The body of the church is divided into three main parts, the Vestibule, the Nave and the Sanctuary.
You will enter the Vestibule where people are expected to gather themselves mentally to enter into the presence of God.
The Nave is the interior of the church building where the faithful gather for worship.
The most striking feature of the church architecture is the iconostasis. This is the screen that separates the sanctuary from the nave and is meant to symbolize the division that exists between Heaven and Earth. The icons on the screen are “windows” where we may see Christ, the Theotokos, and the saints all cheering us on to join them in eternity there someday. There are doors in the center of the screen through which only the priest may pass, since he acts as Christ Who is the only one Who exists simultaneously in both realms. Altar servers may not pass through this door, nor can they pass directly in front of the tabernacle, which is always found in the center of the sanctuary, upon the altar. There are doors on either side of the Royal Doors, called Deacon’s Doors, which they may use.
The Betrothal Service
When Anastasia accepted Vince's marriage proposal, the couple was given a special blessing in the Church during a betrothal service back in December. This is a little ceremony after the Sunday Liturgy during which the rings are traditionally blessed, the couple promises to remain faithful to one another during the betrothal period, and accepts the blessing of the Church upon their engagement. Some couples choose to hold such a service right away, while others choose to make it a part of their wedding day ceremony and begin their wedding day festivities this way in the back of the church.
In the Byzantine Church, the father of the bride doesn't traditionally "give the bride away" as in most other wedding services, although many do opt to do so as an accommodation to their American culture. The couple, lead by the priest and the bridal party, traditionally process down the center aisle toward the sanctuary together, as equal partners in their union, while the choir chants Psalm 127:
Psalm 127: Blessed are those who fear the Lord, and walk in his ways. By the labor of your hands you shall eat. You will be happy and prosper. Your wife like a fruitful vine in the heart of your house; Your children, like shoots of the olive around your table. Indeed shall be blessed the man who fears the Lord. May the Lord bless you from Zion; may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life. May you see your children's children. On Israel, peace!
The maids of honor, (the sisters of the bride in this case, our Alexandra and Victoria) will carry, in addition to their bouquets, icons of Christ and his mother the Theotokos. These are our traditional gift from the parents of the bride to the newly married couple so that they may be used to create the icon corner, the focal point of prayer in their new home. They may be blessed during the ceremony for use in their new domestic church.
The Divine Liturgy begins after the priest first ascertains the desire of the couple. He will ask both the bride and the groom in turn if they have come to the altar freely and without reservation to take the other in marriage. If they agree, the Divine Liturgy begins.
The Crowning Unlike most weddings where the exchange of vows is the focal point of the service, at a Byzantine wedding it is the crowning of the couple which signifies the actual point at which the mystery of marriage takes place. The custom comes from the book of Isaiah 61:10:
I delight greatly in the Lord;
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation
and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness,
as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.. These particular crowns are special to our family because they were donated to the Church in memory of the bride's grandfather, Charles Wardach, who passed into eternal life in 2004. May God grant that he be spiritually present with us on this day and may his memory be eternal!
These crowns are symbols of the dignity and honor of a sacramental marriage and they and have a two-fold meaning. First, they are crowns of martyrdom, and they serve to remind the couple that they are called to a new vocation as martyrs, or witnesses, to the faith for one another. Each is to live for the salvation of the other completely, dying in martyrdom to their former lives as singular beings and now offering themselves as a total sacrifice to their new life together as one. Secondly, they represent the authority they will have over their own new domestic church as king and queen of their new household and all who will inhabit it in the future! Their home is to be their own little domestic church where the husband is called upon to serve as priest.