THE SACRAMENT OF HOLY MATRIMONY
Holy Matrimony is a sacrament of the Armenian Church in which a man and a woman solemnly vow before God, the priest and the congregation to be true to each other for the rest of their lives. Their conjugal union is blessed by God through the Church.
The marriage ceremony is steeped in ritual and symbolism. Each of the acts performed during the ceremony has a special meaning and significance. After being blessed by the priest, rings are exchanged between the bride and groom, expressing that they will be complimenting each other from that day on. Each will enrich and be enriched by the union. During the exchange of vows and later in the service, the right hands of the bride and groom are joined to symbolize the “oneness” of the couple.
The climax of the wedding service is the rite of crowning. The crowns are the signs of the glory and honour with which God crowns them during the sacrament. The three colours in the crowns, white, green and red, symbolize respectively, the purity with which the couple approaches the sacrament, the new life that the spouses are starting together and the sacrifices each spouse is expected to make. The groom and bride are crowned as the king and queen of their own little kingdom, the home, which they will rule with wisdom, justice, integrity and loyalty. The rite of crowning is followed by the blessing of a cup of wine in remembrance of the marriage at Cana of Galilee, which was blessed by Christ’s presence. The sharing of the cup of wine serves to impress upon the couple that, from that moment on, they will share everything in life, joy as well as sorrows.
At the end of the service, the priest blesses the couple, asking Christ to “protect them under the shadow of thy holy and honourable cross in peace.” God’s grace is imparted to them to live together in His love, mutually fulfilling and perfecting each other.
Arrangements for a Marriage
1. Call the priest as soon as possible to arrange for a date. This should be done before any other arrangements are made, since there are some days and periods during the liturgical year when the Sacrament of Matrimony cannot be administered. The priest will help you in selecting a suitable date, and will make arrangements for an introductory pre-marital consultation, and subsequent sessions in preparation for marriage.
2. The Sacrament of Marriage of the Armenian Church is only available to baptized members of the Church. The baptismal certificates of both individuals will be needed, unless they are found in the parish registry.
3. If one of the intended spouses is not a Christian, the Sacrament of Marriage cannot be administered without the person first being baptized and chrismated (see Adult Baptism in previous section). The priest will provide explanations in detail of this and other options.
4. If one of the intended spouses has been baptized but is not an Orthodox Christian, it is advisable that he or she consider the possibility of being received into the communion of the Orthodox Church, through the rite of Chrismation. The priest will explain how this can be done.
5. The Armenian Apostolic Church teaches that only one marriage can fulfill the perfect sacramental union proclaimed by Christ. However, the traditions of the Church also include provisions for a second marriage for people who have been unable to reach the ideal union taught by Jesus. If one or both of the intended spouses have been legally divorced, a copy of the court verdict declaring the divorce must be submitted to the priest. After discussing the matter with the couple, the priest will petition the Diocesan Primate for a special dispensation to administer the Church’s Holy Sacrament.
6. The Liturgy of Holy Matrimony must be administered in the Church. The use of a non-Orthodox Church, the home, or any other facility may be considered only if there is no Armenian Church within a reasonable travelling distance and only after special dispensation is obtained from the Diocesan Primate.
7. All civil conditions imposed by the laws of the province must be respected and proof of this must be presented to the priest before the wedding.
8. The Best Man, called Khach yeghpayr (or Brother in the Cross), and the maid or matron of honour must be baptized Christians. Certain restrictions may apply, and will be explained by the priest. Other members of the bridal party do not have to be of the Orthodox faith.
9. The priest will arrange for an organist, soloist and deacon. If you desire to have any specific person participating in the service, please do not hesitate to discuss it with the priest.
10. Arrangements will be made for a rehearsal at which all members of the bridal party must be present.
11. The priest will also explain what restrictions apply concerning music, flowers, photographers and videographer (for example, the photographer cannot climb on to the altar just to take a better picture).
In the Book of Rituals of the Armenian Church, these is a service for the blessing of engagement rings. It is a very brief ceremony called the Rite of Betrothal or Nishandook in Armenian. When the couple wishes to be engaged formally, it is advisable to call the priest and make arrangements to have the rings blessed. This service can be performed privately or publicly, in a formal or informal setting.