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HOLY MYSTERY - MARRIAGE
Marriage is the Holy Mystery through which the union of a man and woman is blessed by God. We are blessed so that our unending friendship and mutual love, our children and the life of our families will not be “unto death but unto life everlasting.”
In the Byzantine Rite, marriage is an entire process, there is no single moment which makes a man and woman, husband and wife, each part of the ceremony has its own importance.
There are no vows in the Melkite ceremony because it is not the couple who bestow the Holy Mystery of Marriage on each other―it is God who joins them in a relationship of mutual love. The Holy Mystery of Marriage bears witness to God’s blessing.
Through this Mystery, a man and a woman are publicly joined as husband and wife. They enter a new relationship with each other, God, and the Church. Marriage is, in essence, the baptising and confirming of human love in God.
The Holy Mystery of Marriage in the Melkite Catholic Church has two distinct parts: The Rite of Betrothal and The Rite of Crowning. Both Rites are rich with symbolism and reference to the Old and New Testaments.
THE RITE OF BETROTHAL
The priest will pray over and bless the couple. He will take the rings and make the sign of the Cross, first over the groom’s head and then over the bride’s head. The priest will also exchange the wedding rings three times, taking the groom’s ring and placing it on the bride’s finger and vice versa, each time saying, “The servant of God (groom) is betrothed to the servant of God (bride) in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Then the rings are placed on the ring finger of the right hand.
The exchange of rings signifies that in married life the weakness of one partner will be compensated for by the strength of the other, the imperfections of one, by the perfections of the other. Thus, the couple will be enriched by the union. It is as a sign of their pledge to live together in faith, harmony, truth, and love.
THE RITE OF CROWNING
The ceremony includes the joining of hands, the sipping of blessed wine from a common cup, and a solemn-joyous procession, the ‘Dance of Isaiah’. The most defining part is the placing of crowns on the heads of the couple.
Candles―At the beginning of the Rite of Crowning, two candles are lit to remind us that Jesus is the light of the world and illumines the steps of the couple.
The joining of hands―The priest will join the hands of the couple, the groom’s left to the bride’s right and pray they be united “in one mind and in one flesh.”
The crowning―The crowns are an ancient symbol of the importance and special character of marriage. In the Melkite tradition, the crowns are representative of the central role that marriage holds both in the Church and in society. The crowns symbolise that marriage is a high calling, beautiful, joyful, and worthy of admiration. The couple are crowned as the pinnacle of God’s creation and as the heads of their home, which they are called to lead with wisdom, justice, and integrity.
The priest takes up the crowns and first crowns the groom and then the bride, each time saying, “The servant of God (groom) is crowned to the servant of God (bride) in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” And vice versa for the bride.
The priest will then sing, three times, “O Lord, our God, crown them with glory and honour and grant them dominion over the works of your hands.”
Scripture readings―The Crowning is followed by the Epistle and the Gospel. The Epistle reading is St Paul to the Ephesians (5:20-33), where married couples are asked “to be subject to one another out of reverence for Jesus.” The Gospel reading is St John (2:1-11), where Jesus’ performs his first miracle, at the wedding at Cana. There He changed water to wine and gave it to the newlyweds. This is the ‘sharing of the common cup’ of life.
The common cup―The Lord’s Prayer is recited and then the couple will sip wine from the common cup, offered by the priest. It symbolises that from this moment, the couple are called to share everything in life, joys and sorrows and anything else that their cup of life may hold. The wedding party also sip from the common cup to show their sharing in this promise and their intention to support the couple. The couple’s joys are double, and their sorrows halved because they will be shared.
The procession― The ‘Dance of Isaiah’ then takes place. The priest leads the bridal party, three times around the marriage table, on which is the Gospel, singing three hymns. The first hymn begins, “O Isaiah, rejoice for….” Giving the procession its name.
In the Bible, oaths were always taken by walking three times around the altar of sacrifice. It was the expression of the covenant being entered into between the person and God. In the Rite of Crowning, it means the couple are solemnly dedicating themselves to each other before God and that God promises to always be present in their life. In this solemn yet joyous procession, the couple begin their marriage journey with symbolic steps and the Church, leads them. The way is symbolised by the circle around the altar at the centre of which is the Gospel.
Originally, this was a procession of the couple to their first home. Today, the Word of God leads them in their first steps as a married couple.
Removal of the crowns―In ancient times, the couple would wear their crowns for eight days. Today, the priest removes the crowns at the end of the ceremony, saying, “May you be made great, O bridegroom, like Abraham, and blessed like Isaac, and be increased like Jacob…..” Removing the bride’s crown, he says, “And may you bride, be great like Sarah, gladdened like Rebecca, and be increased like Rachel…”
The priest will then bless the couple, saying, “Bless their comings and goings. Fill their life with good things. Take up their crowns again in your kingdom, preserved without stain and perfect with no dishonour, forever and ever.”
This final blessing reminds the couple of the meaning of marriage―whatever happens in their life together, their crowns are a symbol of the Kingdom of God.
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