The marriage ceremony in the Orthodox Church is a spiritual service that is abundant with symbolism. Before an Orthodox wedding, the bride and groom choose a man, woman or married couple to be their marriage sponsor. Some Orthodox churches consider sponsors to be the best man or maid of honor as in non-Orthodox wedding parties, while others reserve the role of sponsor for mature couples not related to the bride or groom, but well-known to their families and the church. A couple chooses sponsors with input from their priest and immediate family, with the sponsors likely being active congregants. Sponsorship is taken seriously by traditional Orthodox churches, and carries with it a variety of responsibilities.
Proof of Good Standing
The sponsor for an Orthodox wedding must be an Orthodox Christian in good standing with the church. Providing a record of church membership is mandatory, and church dues must be paid in full prior to the wedding. As proof of upstanding moral character, sponsors who belong to neighboring Orthodox churches must present the officiating priest with a letter of recognition from the home parish. Once all documents are submitted and the sponsor is approved by the Orthodox priest, the sponsor is expected to attend Confession and receive Holy Communion on the Sunday before the wedding.
Along with bearing witness to the wedding, the sponsor vouches for the bride and groom’s loyalty to the Orthodox Church and their spiritual readiness to enter into an Orthodox marriage. The congregation accepts the sponsor’s approval of the couple as proof of their worthiness to be married in the Orthodox Church. The sponsor also accepts the responsibility of remaining a mentor or spiritual guide for the couple throughout their marriage.
Financial responsibilities of the sponsor include purchase of items used during the Orthodox marriage ceremony and payments to church officials. The sponsor secures Orthodox wedding crowns, a silver tray to hold pouches of sugarcoated almonds, red wine, two large candles and two small candles that will be used during the ceremony. On the day of the wedding, the sponsor shows gratitude to God and the Orthodox Church by offering monetary rewards to the cantor, the sexton and the priest. The sponsor then offers a donation to the church in the name of the bride and groom.
Participation in the Ceremony
During the ceremony, the sponsor is an active participant who stands at the altar throughout the service. Female sponsors stand with the bride, and male sponsors stand beside the groom. Under the direction of the Orthodox priest, the sponsor presents the marriage rings, places the matrimonial crowns on the heads of the couple and holds the ribbon that links the two crowns during the processional portion of the ceremony. The honor of becoming the future godparent of the couple's first child may be offered to the sponsor after the completion of the matrimonial service.
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