Holy Matrimony

One of the seven Holy Sacraments, the matrimonial ceremony consists of two orders: the Blessing of the Rings and the Blessing of the Crowns. The former represents a binding betrothal that constitutes half of the marriage; the latter completes the marriage. In former times, the two orders were held at separate times. As the Blessing of the Rings (i.e., betrothal) is binding, both orders are held on the same day in modern times. To compensate for this change, a rather recent non-binding "betrothal service" is now used at the time of engagement.

The Order of the Blessing of the Rings

The Order of the Blessing of the Rings constitutes mkhirutho, a "betrothal" or "engagement" symbolized by the acceptance of rings.

The service starts with an Opening Prayer seeking God's blessings, to have in Him "the beginning of our joy, and the fullness of our rejoicing." A hymn follows asking the heavenly "Bridegroom Who has betrothed the Church to Himself and crowned her with His truth" to bless the rings "which the priests give in Your Holy Name." A prayer asking God to "unite our children who have come closer to each other... that they love and accept each other cheerfully" follows this hymn.

quqalyon, or a hymn from the Psalms, is chanted followed by an eqbo, a Concluding Prayer, which represents a quotation from Solomon's Song of Songs from the Old Testament: "Solomon, speaking in parables, said: 'Who is your beloved of whom you are so proud, O fair one? My beloved was chosen from among the multitude of myriads whose vineyard is the Church. He is whiter than the vine of Jacob, ruddier than the oil of Nardin, and higher than the cedars of Lebanon.' "

This is followed by a husoyo, a Petition Prayer, in which the priest glorifies the "Heavenly Bridegroom Who betrothed to Himself the defiled Church... making her a glorious bride for Himself." Then he asks the Lord to "bless these rings that we hold, that they may be for the confirmation of betrothal to those who receive them." A hymn is then chanted followed by an etro, a prayer offered with incense.

The prayer of the Blessing of the Rings is recited, "O Bridegroom of truth and justice, You betrothed to Yourself the Church of the Gentiles and by Your Blood You wrote the deed of dowry, and by Your nails You gave her a ring. As the ring of the Holy Church was blessed, bless now, O Lord, these rings that we give to Your servant and Your maid." The prayer recalls the Old Testament Patriarchs, "This is the ring by which Sarah was betrothed to Abraham, Rebecca to Isaac, and Rachel to Jacob." The celebrant makes the sign of the Cross on the ring chanting, "Bless my Lord this betrothal of our daughter [Name of Bride] to our son [Name of Groom]. May they receive heavenly blessings and may they bring forth righteous sons and daughters."

The rings are then blessed ceremoniously: the celebrant, waving his right hand over the rings, chants loudly "May these rings be blessed and may they be for the fulfillment of gladness to the children of the Holy Church." The deacons shout: "Barekhmor- Bless my Lord." The priest blesses: "In the name of the Father." The deacons reply "Amen."
- "And the Son."
- "Amen."
- "And the Living Holy Spirit for everlasting life."
- "Amen."

The priest proceeds to put the ring on the fingers of the bridegroom and the bride saying: "May the right hand of our Lord Jesus Christ be stretched out to you in mercy. Together with this visible ring of your betrothal, receive from Him the invisible grace of His mercy." Contrary to the custom in the West it is the priest who puts the rings on the fingers of the bridegroom and the bride; the rationale can be found in older manuscripts of this service which read "Receive this ring of your betrothal from the hands of the revered priests as if it comes from the hands of the holy Apostles." As Holy Matrimony is a Holy Sacrament, it is God who unites. The Church is not present as a mere witness, but as the effective instrument of the union of man and woman.

A prayer is then said on the bridegroom and the bride followed by a hutomo, a Closing Prayer in which the priest blesses the faithful: "To you, our faithful brethren, who have come and taken part of this witnessing...; May God grant you an excellent reward and bestow upon you all good things at all times."

The order of the Blessing of the Rings is concluded with an impressive hymn addressed to the Church, the Bride of the Lord: "The Young Man that has betrothed you is like a deer, like a young roe," the clergy chant.

The Order of the Blessing of the Crowns

The Order of the Blessing of the Crowns constitutes meshtutho, a "[wedding] feast", during which the bridegroom and the bride are crowned as husband and wife, king and queen of a newly established family on earth.

The Opening Prayer and the hymn that follows ask for God's blessing to the entire assembly. The same structure of the previous order follows: a quqalyon from the Psalms, an eqbo, a husoyo, and an etro. A reading from Ephesians 5:21-33 is then read, and the celebrant chants a reading from the Gospels (Matthew 19:3-6), placing the Holy Book above the heads of the bridegroom and the bride.

The impressive crowning ceremony follows the readings. A deacon holds the crowns while the celebrant recites a prayer over them: "O Lord, Who did adorn the sky with luminaries: the sun, the moon and all the stars; O God, Who did crown the earth with fruits, flowers and blossoms of all kinds; O Jesus Christ Who did crown kings, priests, and prophets... O God, Who encircled the ocean like a crown around all the earth... put Your right hand upon the heads upon which these crowns are placed." Then, the celebrant, waving his right hand over the crowns, blesses them crying aloud: "Blessed and perfect be these crowns and the heads upon which they are placed." The deacons shout: "Barekhmor - Bless my Lord." The priest blesses: "In the name of the Father." The deacons reply "Amen."
- "And the Son."
- "Amen."
- "And the Living Holy Spirit for everlasting life."
- "Amen."

Amidst the ululation of the crowd, the celebrant waves the crown ceremoniously three times, in the likeness of the cross, above the head of the bridegroom chanting: "The crown which is in our Lord's hand comes and descends from heaven. Fitting to the bridegroom is the crown which the most reverend prelate places upon his head." After each time, the deacons chant a response the last of which is: "The bridegroom is like the sun; the bride is like the moon. The wedding symbolizes the dawn which gladdens the earth." The celebrant performs the same above the head of the bride. The deacons chant three responses the last of which is: "Let the bridegroom and the bride rejoice today because their noble desires have been fulfilled by Divine Providence."

A brief prayer upon the best man and the matron of honor follows, as well as a blessing for the bridegroom and the bride: "May God, Who abounds in gifts... Who crowned the earth, the mountains, and the hills... delight you in your marriage."

After a supplication, the celebrant reads an admonition: "O our son [Name of Groom], this our daughter [Name of Bride] has today left her parents, brothers and sisters, and has entrusted herself to you as your wedded wife. Therefore, take care of her, and fulfill all that is due to her in food, drink, and dress... Treat her kindly, deal with her pleasantly, and be always ready to do good to her. "Our daughter [Name of Bride], we exhort you to obey your husband and be faithful to him. Also, be like the dove in gentleness and like the turtle dove in devotion." "We command and charge both of you to walk in the fear of God; to accept alike—and in concord—pleasure and distress; to bear all sickness, pain and other adversities that may accidentally fall upon you with patience and without complaints, that we might not be blamed in the day of judgment on your account, since we have served as mediators in this marriage..."

Here the celebrant joins the hands of the bridegroom and the bride saying: "O our beloved children, we have a custom received from our forefathers to admonish you and make you diligent. Know that you are standing in the presence of God...; from this time we entrust you each to one another (and pronounce you husband and wife). God himself will surely be between you and me, as I am innocent of your faults. Behold, O our son, this is your wife whose hand we have placed in yours... Hold her diligently. Remember that you have to answer for your care of her in the presence of God on the day of judgment." [The parenthesized phrase is not part of the original Syriac, but is practiced in the United States and Canada.]

The celebrant then removes the crowns saying: "By laying aside these temporary crowns, make them worthy, O Lord, to be among the guests at Your heavenly table." The service is concluded with the Lord's prayer, the Nicene Creed and theteshmeshto "service" of the Blessed Virgin.

The bridegroom, bride, best man and matron of honor share in a cup of wine according to an ancient Syriac Orthodox custom as we are told in Bar `Ebroyo's Book of Hudoye, a reference work on Canon Law.