Have you been to a Greek Orthodox wedding?
A Greek Orthodox wedding is a joyous affair that does more than just join two people in matrimony. A great wedding will also bring together the couple’s friends and family to celebrate under the aura of tradition and culture. And few people do tradition (or weddings) like the Greeks.
If you’ve been invited to a Greek Orthodox wedding, you’ll want to brush up a bit on the customs involved, so you don’t feel completely lost during the ceremony.
For many people, the closest they’ve come to attending a Greek wedding has been watching a certain big fat Hollywood blockbuster. But a true Greek Orthodox wedding is an unforgettable and fascinating experience. The ceremony itself is a solemn and beautiful affair. Unlike other cultures, the guests at a Greek Orthodox wedding traditionally do not enter the church before the entire wedding party has arrived. (Incidentally, you need to be part of the Greek Orthodox church to be a member of the party, including bridesmaids, groomsmen, and maid of honor)
You also don’t need to worry about which side of the church to sit on. A Greek wedding isn’t divided into the “groom’s side” and “brides side.” Just seat yourself wherever you’re comfortable, and enjoy the services.
A traditional Greek Orthodox wedding is actually broken up into two ceremonies. The first, knows as the betrothal, takes place wither at the doorway to the church or at an altar set up just for this purpose. Here, the groom will hand over the bride’s bouquet, which he has been holding on to. There is also an exchange of rings, which the priest will bless. From there, the couple and their bridal party will make their way to the front of the church for the second part of the ceremony, known as the sacrament.
At the altar at the front of the church, there will most likely be two large pillar candles set up. This light, which remains lit for the duration of the ceremony, represents Jesus, who the couple asks to light the path to married life. The priest will also join the couple’s hands, to represent their unity. The bride and groom will hold on to each other for the remainder of the ceremony.
Following a series of formal prayers and rituals (many of which are repeated three times to represent the Holy Trinity) the ceremony reaches its zenith with the crowning. Known as the Stefana, this is the most easily recognized part of a Greek wedding. Two beautifully adorned crowns
[Stefana] are placed atop the couple’s heads, joined together with a white ribbon. The Stefana symbolize the fact that the wedding-couple are now being crowned to be together for ever.
Next, the couple will take their first steps as man and wife – three times around the altar.
As a guest, you will most likely be handed a small bag full of confetti or brightly colored rice during the ceremony. Shower it upon the retreating couple during their recessional.
Many first time guests to a Greek wedding are surprised at the mood shift from ceremony to reception. As soon as the services are over, the atmosphere will change from austere to jubilant. Your best bet as an invitee is to go with the flow and enjoy the party.
You can expect a feast-like dinner that includes many Greek specialties like Tzatziki (yogurt dip with Cucmbers), succulent lamb, rice, dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), Spanikopita (pastry filled with spinach and feta cheese) and plenty of Ouzo (fortified wine flavored with star anise). Show your host your appreciation by eating your fill.
When the music starts, join in the traditional dances and don’t be surprised if a plate or two gets smashed on the floor – it’s all for good luck!