The liturgy of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony in the Malankara (Indian) Orthodox Church has been in use since the seventh century AD. The early centuries sects had misconceptions about marriage. They condemned it in the name of rigorous spirituality. This, the Church opposed the vehement approach and highlighted the sanctity of marriage. (Hebrews 13:4)The account in the book of Genesis reads,
“God created Eve from the ribs of Adam so that she should be a companion to him. A bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. With this a man will leave his father and mother and cleaves to his wife and they shall become one flesh”. (Genesis 2:24)
sacred act instituted by God Himself in accordance to the New Testament. (Matthew 5:32, 19:9, Mark 10:11, Luke 16:18) It is an eternal bond between man and woman.
The Sacramental significance in the Holy Matrimony is through the relationship of Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:22-32).St Paul portrays the relationship between Christ and the church as a great mystery which is a recurrent theme in the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Christ humbled himself to be the bridegroom and to choose the Gentile daughter as his Church, purifying her of all taint and impurity with his own blood. The church exhorts the bridegroom and bride to reflect the glory of the relationship of Christ and His Bride the Church and also the selfless love and fellowship of the Holy Trinity.
The first part of the Liturgy of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony is known as the betrothal which is the Blessing of the Rings. The church confirms the voluntary commitment of the bridegroom and bride to live together as husband and wife by giving them the blessed rings. The service starts with the Bridegroom standing on the left and the Bride on his right facing the altar wherein the Holy Altar is now unveiled. The liturgy begins with the officiating clergy says the opening prayer and then the recital of Psalms 51. This Psalms is recited at the beginning of all sacraments. It reminds us to seek forgiveness for our sins first before we indulge in the rites of a holy sacrament. Then the clergy along with the acolytes face the congregation and sing a hymn together. The excerpts of the hymn are;
Next a prayer is recited seeking our Lord God to unite these couple and for them to love one another throughout the days of their lives. An excerpt of Psalm 45:1, 2, 3 is recited in the form of a hymn. Following this a preface prayer (Promieon) and a prefatory prayer (Sedra) are read. Next, a hymn about the calling to Simon and John to look after the bride of Christ, which also is the calling to us all to the feast in the church that can only be feasted if you are born through the water in baptism.
Following the hymn the clergy holds aloft the rings in his palm and exhorts a prayer aloud saying
“may this rings be blessed for the fulfilment of gladness of the children of the Holy Church”.
Then the rings are placed onto the right hand of the bridegroom by the clergy saying;
“may this ring of your betrothal, receive the grace and blessings of his loving kindness”.
Then the rings are placed onto the right hand of the bride by the clergy saying;
“may you receive this betrothal rings from the hand of the priest as if from the Holy Apostles”.
This is followed with a prayer for both the bridegroom and bride at the end of the betrothal ceremony. Similarly to the betrothal of Isaac and Rebecca were perfected with ornaments of gold, may He perfect them with ‘ring of justice’. May our Lord gladden this bridegroom by the great joy of his salvation and adorn this bride with beautiful ornaments that do not perish nor become corrupt. May this adornment of gold ornaments be a seal of purity. Then a hymn is sung about I am the bride of the exalted One. A hymn that tells us about a journey that we shall seek of Him to always be ready in purity to receive his blessings.
At the end of part one of the blessings of the rings a final prayer recited;
“may He grant you as reward for your efforts thirty fold, sixty fold and hundred fold. May he always reward with good things”
It is custom at this juncture after the first part, the clergy will give a homily about the sanctity of the sacrament of holy matrimony and advice to the bridegroom and bride as their spiritual father.
After the homily, the second part of the Liturgy of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony begins. This second part of the service depicts the Blessing of the Crowns (crowns meaning a gold chain with a cross pendant) are blessed and placed over the head of the bridegroom and bride.
The crown signifies the authority of the King and Queen to conquer enemies. The crown blessed and crowned over the bridegroom and bride is of receiving special power to fight against evil passion which may destroy the integrity of married life.As King and Queen, the bridegroom and bride will have to exercise this power till end of life. These crowns are also symbols of the reward at the end of victorious life which they will receive from the Lord.
An opening prayer is recited of the unending wedding feast and everlasting bridal chamber. This is followed by recital of Psalms 51.Next a hymn reminding us the life of togetherness of several references from the bible and as an example of their marriage, may their blessings be upon this bridegroom and bride.
It begins with;
“Just as the blessings of the righteous of former times…..
Adam and Eve…..
Abraham and Sarah…..
Isaac and Rebecca…..
Jacob and Rachel…..
finally may God who blessed Joseph in Egypt, bless His servants with abundance of His grace. Have mercy upon us”.
A prayer of magnification is recited on these bridegroom and bride who are now united with the riches of your spiritual gifts. Fill them with joy of divine commandments so with joy and gladness they shall sing prise and exalt before you.This is followed by a cycle of prayer from Psalms 21: 1-4. Next the Preface (Promieon) prayer and Prefatory (Sedra) prayer are read.After this prayer a hymn is sung. This is followed with a Prayer with Incense (Ethro) which reminds us the story of the Wedding at Cana, the changing of water into wine. May this incense offered be a blessings upon these servants stood before thy holy altar. May the right hand full mercies and compassion be upon them. Make them rejoice in your spiritual bridal chamber.
Next we have the reading of the Epistle of St Paul the Apostle to the Ephesians. Ephesians 5:20-6:4 is read.This is continued with the reading of the Gospel of St Matthew 19:1-12.After these readings, the clergy facing east towards the sanctuary, blesses the crowns by waving his hands over it in the name of the Holy Trinity.Then the clergy extols the crowns three times above the bridegroom’s head and chants the following hymn;
by our Lord’ hands the crowns comes and descend from heaven. Fitting to the bridegroom is the crown that priest places upon his head”
Following this, the priest adorns the crowns on to the bridegroom saying,
“May the Lord crown you with the crown of righteousness and adorn you with imperishable ornaments and clothe you with invincible weapons against all powers of enemy”
Then the clergy extols the crowns three times above the bride’s head and chants the following hymn;
“by our Lord’ hands the crowns comes and descends from heaven. Fitting to the bride is the crown that priest places upon her head”
Following this the priest adorns the crowns on to the bride saying,
“May the Lord crown you with the crown of justice and ornaments of incorporeal beauty and may you rejoice all the days of your lives, offerings up glory to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit now and forever and ever”
After the blessings of the crowns, there is a ritual of the tying of minnu and veiling a sari (an Indian women’s traditional garment) upon the bride. This is an inclusion from the Indian tradition signifying the acknowledging of the groom’s willingness to accept the bride as his wife.
This follows a lengthy prayer by the priest who exhorts to both the bridegroom and bride.The excerpts of the prayer for the bridegroom and bride are;
This is followed by a hymn;
This is then followed by a hymn in a form of a prayer from the Songs of Mor Jacob.
The blessing of the crowns concludes with a prayer where the priest joins hands of the bridegroom and bride. Here he recites the prayer saying;
“may the grace and mercies of our Lord dwell and overshadow abundantly upon the priest, deacons, altar assistants and the believing people, guest and hosts. In continuation, may the right hand of our lord dwell always by the prayer of St Mary”.
In the above prayer too, a commandment of how their lives should be is instructed upon both bridegroom and bride and also as a reminder to all attending the sacrament of Holy Matrimony.
After this prayer the congregation recites the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary followed by the Nicene Creed. Finally the hymn of the Communion of St Mary and the Communion of all other Saints is sung. Soon after this the sanctuary veil is drawn close. Here ends the liturgy of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony with a final benediction to all present by the clergy.
Holy Matrimony is described as the Sacrament of Love. Love according to the gospel is not merely a feeling but a sacrificial commitment and a corresponding action. Christ says
“love one another as I have loved you” (John 15:12)
Holy Matrimony is a calling first of all, to love as Christ has loved us. Holy Matrimony is much more beyond the agreement or contract of two individuals to live together. This is why the Orthodox tradition calls it a Sacrament. It is God who unites them in this Sacrament for a permanent union and not man.