The Service of the Betrothal
The first of the two parts centres on the exchanging of the rings. It begins with the lighting of candles to signify that the couple wish to accept the light of Christ in their married lives. These candles remain lit for the entire service. The Priest then blesses the rings, which are a symbol of their pledge of eternal devotion and love, and while holding them in his right hand he makes the sign of the cross over the couple’s heads, the right hand being important as it is the hand that makes the sign of the cross.
He then places the rings on the third finger of the right hand of the bride and groom. The ‘Koumbaro’ or Best Man and the ‘Koumbara’ Made of Honour, then exchange the rings back and forth three times to signify that the strength and weakness of one will be compensated by the other. Together as one they are perfection.
The Ceremony of the Sacrament of Marriage
The Priest begins with a few prayers, and after their conclusion he joins the couple’s right hands together. This denotes their everlasting unity and their hands will remain joined until the end of the ceremony. The Crowning ceremony is the heart of the service. Originally made from plaited lemon blossoms, the ‘stefana’ are thin crowns. Now made from gold or silver and joined by a white ribbon, they are a symbol of the nobility of marriage and the glory and honour that God will bestow on the couple, whilst the ribbon again signifies the couple’s unity. The Bride and Groom are crowned with the previously blessed ‘stefana’ and the ‘koumbaro’ switches them three times.
This is followed by bible readings from the Epistle, where the congregation are reminded of Christ’s first miracle at a wedding in Cana, where according to the Bible he turned water into wine. The bride and groom then sip three times from “the Common Cup of Life”. They receive it jointly as one, it is shared mutually as they will share sorrow and joy, dreams and hopes in their life together. From that moment forth, their happiness and disappointments will be shared.
The Dance of Isaiah
Their first steps as man and wife are taken by circling the alter table together three times. The priest takes them by the hands that are joined and leads them around the table which holds the Gospel and the Cross. They are followed by the Koumbaro, whose job it is to make sure that the stefana stay in place. It is traditional to throw rice at this stage and often the groom receives an almighty slap on the back.
When the service is finished the priest takes off the crowns and the couple receive his blessing. While praying for them he separates their hands with the Bible, symbolizing that only God can break their union. The newlyweds are then congratulated by the rest of the congregation. Poignantly the crowns are to remain together always.