Christ the Savior Orthodox Church
Christ the Savior is a parish within the Orthodox Church in America. It began its history in 1988 as a mission to serve the spiritual needs of Orthodox Christians in the Saratoga area. Its current church temple, located in Ballston Lake, NY has been in use since 2001.
The Rector of Christ the Savior is Rev. Father Matthew Markewich, who will be officiating at our wedding.
What can I expect at an Orthodox wedding?
There are a number of traditions and customs maintained by Orthodox Christians regarding worship and services. Firstly, it is not customary to kneel during services. This is why you will rarely find kneelers. In fact, Orthodox churches traditionally had no seating at all! The presence of chairs or pews is a modern convenience. It is considered respectful to stand during significant parts of the service unless one is young, old, sick, or injured. Being that a wedding is particularly significant, this applies to the entire service.
The Orthodox wedding service is actually two services combined: the Office of Betrothal and the Office of Crowning.
The Betrothal is the part that resembles the Western-style wedding most and is when rings are exchanged. In centuries past, the Office of Betrothal would be performed 6 months to 1 year before the Office of Crowning, which marked the true beginning of the marriage. Even so, Betrothal was considered binding enough to warrant divorce to break it. Nowadays, both services are conducted immediately after the other.
Office of Betrothal
Held at the entrance of the chapel, the Betrothal is when the Bride and Groom declare their willingness to marry. They do not exchange vows. Instead, their presence and participation implies their devotion to one another; the Bride and Groom have not come to swear oaths of fidelity, but for the Church to recognize their unity, bless it, and pray for its success.
The priest begins by offering petitions of prayer on behalf of the Bride and Groom. He then asks God to bless the rings and to confer blessings upon the Bride and Groom with the rings. It is done thrice in the name of the Trinity, and the rings are moved back and forth between the two to signify their intertwining. The rings are then finally placed on their fingers. By custom, the rings go on the right hand.
Office of Crowning
The Crowning is, in the eyes of the Orthodox Church, the time in which Bride and Groom are united in the bond of matrimony. The two, led by the priest, proceed from the entrance to the center of the chapel. There, the priest gives the Bride and Groom candles to hold throughout the remainder of the service. The two then have their right hands joined together with a cloth while the priest offers prayers upon them.
Crowns are blessed and placed upon the heads of the Bride and Groom. These crowns are joined by a ribbon, symbolizing their unity, while the crowns themselves represent God's blessing over the union and their roles as martyrs to one another -- husband and wife must be able to submit to one another's wills so that two wills may become one.
Following their crowning, Scripture is read: an Epistle reading (Ephesians 5:20-33) and a Gospel reading (John 2:1-11). These recount Christ's first miracle at Cana and the responsibilities of each partner in the marriage. After these readings, the priest offers a common cup containing a portion of wine. This signifies that from that moment on, the two shall share in the cup of life and that they shall share equally in it.
The priest leads the Bride and Groom in the Dance of Isaiah, a procession around the central table of the chapel. They process three times in a circle, evoking the Trinity and eternity, while three hymns are sung. The first hymn is to Isaiah, the second to the martyrs, the third to Christ. It is here that bride and groom now take their first steps as husband and wife.
Finally, the crowns are removed and the priest offers a final blessing.
Orthodoxy and Catholicism
In common parlance, the terms "Orthodox" and "Catholic" are proper nouns, names used to distinguish between Eastern and Western Christianity. In reality, both churches describe themselves as simultaneously "orthodox" and "catholic". Both accept the first Seven Ecumenical Councils, which define the core of orthodox Christian doctrine, and the First Ecumenical Council established the Nicene Creed, which affirms that "[we believe] in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church".
The Eastern Orthodox Church is composed of sixteen autocephalous local churches in full communion with one another. Autocephalous means that the local church has a head bishop who does not report to a bishop of higher rank. Full communion means that all recognize one another as sharing a single doctrine and recognize one anothers' sacraments. The most senior bishop of the Orthodox Church is the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, but this is a recognition of prestige not authority. Supreme authority instead rests in the council of bishops, the Synod. The Orthodox use the Byzantine Rite, with each church possessing their own local traditions and hymnography.
The Orthodox Church in America (OCA) is one of the autocephalous Orthodox Churches. The OCA derives its autocephaly from the Patriarch of Moscow, who granted it in 1970. The Moscow Patriarchate itself derives its own autocephaly from the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, who granted it in 1589.
The Roman Catholic Church is similarly composed of twenty-three particular churches, the Latin Church, which uses the Roman Rite, and twenty-two autonomous churches which use the Byzantine Rite, Syriac Rite, Coptic Rite, or Armenian Rite. Unlike in the Orthodox Church, all bishops ultimately report to the Bishop of Rome, the Pope.
East and West: A History
During the Roman Empire, the Church was administered by a rich hierarchy of bishops and led by the Five Patriarchs, who were the bishops of the five most prominent Sees: Jerusalem, Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, and Antioch. Each Patriarch functioned as the independent head of their local portion of a united, orthodox, catholic Church. Following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the Patriarch of Rome (The Pope) became the focal point of administrative and religious life in post-Roman Western Europe; in the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, the Patriarch of Constantinople became a predominant due to his proximity to the Emperor of the Romans.
Increasing doctrinal difference between the Sees of Rome and Constantinople and a number of political disputes eventually led to the East and West breaking communion with one another. The East-West Schism began in the 9th Century and was definitive by the 13th Century. Over the centuries, attempts to reunite East and West failed, most notably at the Second Council of Lyon (1272-4) and the Council of Florence (1431-49).
A new era of reconcilition began in 1964, when Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras I of Constantinople met in Jerusalem, the first such meeting since March of 1438. At the meeting, the Patriarch gave a gift to the Pope: an icon, The Holy Brother Apostles, depicting the brothers Saints Peter and Andrew embracing one another. Just as Saint Peter is the patron saint of Rome, so too is Saint Andrew the patron saint of Constantinople.
In the half-century since then, Catholic and Orthodox dignitaries have held joint conferences at various levels, allowing for the recognition of some sacraments (e.g. Matrimony) and exploring the viability of re-establishing full communion between East and West.