“O Lord our God, Crown them with honor and glory” (Orthodox Wedding Sacrament)
I’m ever intrigued by the impressions that our sacred services have upon visitors who attend Orthodox worship for the first time. The most evident feature of our weddings is the use of imperial crowns. Like royalty in general, crowns are a throwback to times past; even the queen of England wears her crown only on rare occasions. And what impresses our guests is the length of time the attendants are made to hold the crowns above the heads of the marrying couple. In an era obsessed with comfort and simplicity, they cannot imagine why we continue this anachronistic exercise.
I don’t know myself even after several explanations to the couple prior to the wedding if the meaning is fully understood and imbibed. Nevertheless, here’s what I explain:
Your wedding is a recapitulation of creation. You will hear in the Church’s prayers for you the names of Adam and Eve repeated several times. You are given the opportunity to right the wrongs they had committed, sins of choice that polluted the spiritual atmosphere and broke the bond of union with God ever since. And you will hear other names from the Bible of those who struggled to live as man and wife raising their ancestors before the Incarnation of the Son of God who makes a whole new start possible. You are both baptized into Christ. You bear the marks of the Holy Spirit. You chose one another and decided to be married in the Orthodox Church. It means that your home will be an extension of the Church, and you will live there but belong here among the children of God.
The crown signifies that the man is prophet, priest and king in his home, which is his realm. Prophet, because he is the one charged with reminding everyone of God’s plan for them and the world; priest, because he leads them in family prayers and directs them to worship with the people called out of the world and blessed for life in the kingdom of heaven; and king who guides with love and compassion. The wife is to be in every way the mirror image of her husband, affirming what is good, right and holy, confirming the truths about holy living, queen to be honored by her husband who must treat her with the same love and consideration that Christ offers to the Church.
Finally, I tell them to find the place in the vision given to the evangelist John in Revelation: “Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne—I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads” (4:2,4). You will hear the prayer at the conclusion of the wedding sacrament mentioning the removal of the crowns, but that they will be “stored up” for you until you achieve your place in God’s kingdom. Until that time, may you live in such a way that will be pleasing to the Holy Trinity and do honor to your family and yourselves. Whenever, Lord forbid, that you do something to dishonor your marriage and the Lord of your life together, some action that would cause you to lower your heads and look downward to the ground, your crowns fall off and you lose the right to wear them. Unless, of course you make the effort to repent and return to the condition of spiritual royalty. Our wedding is far more than a formality—it is a revelation of God’s plan for each woman and man as He intended us to be and to develop in a lifetime.