Marriage in the Eastern Orthodox Church

The Sacrament or, more properly, Sacred Mystery of Marriage does not unite a man and a woman. Rather, it is the Church's recognition of a union that God has already begun to work in their lives. [1] As long as the union remains within the reality of this world, it will be subject to sin, pain, and death. But, through the Sacred Mystery, the union enters at the same time into a new reality: that of God's Kingdom. In Christ, marriage is restored to its initial perfection and in the sacrament, this union is made open to the possibility of what God intended marriage to be from the beginning: an eternal life of joy in union with Him.

Thus, marriage goes beyond a legal contract. There is no exchange of vows - the two have freely and coequally committed to one another and consented to God's presence in their union. There is no phrase "'til death do us part". If marriage is brought into the Kingdom of God, death, as a separation, is powerless over it. Christ has destroyed death by His Cross and Resurrection; therefore, the union of man and woman in Christ is eternal.

The exchange of the rings

The Orthodox Sacrament of Marriage actually consists of two parts: The Exchange of Rings and The Crowning. This first part of the wedding service can be equated with the 'civil service'. It takes place in the vestibule (entry) of the church; that area seen by the Church as the closest to the 'outside' world. In this service the Church first prays for the couple. Here the Church recognizes and blesses a union which has begun "in the world" yet awaits fulfillment in the world to come. After being blessed by the priest, the rings are placed on the right hand, the hand with which promises and/or oaths are traditionally made and the hand with which the presence of God is recognized through the sign of the Cross. The rings are the symbol of betrothal, agreement, authority, and stewardship. The exchange of the rings gives expression to the fact that in marriage the spouses will constantly be complementing each other. Each will be enriched by the union. The exchange of rings represents a pledge to share and exchange both their physical and spiritual goods, a pledge of eternal love and devotion.

Other Languages