Archbishop Lazar on the significance of the Orthodox crowning ceremony


This is the first part of a two-part video recording from a truly holy and erudite man (retired Archbishop Lazar, founding abbot of All Saints Monastery in British Columbia) on the deep theological and liturgical significance of the crowning ceremony to marriage and salvation in Orthodox Christianity.

At the height of the ceremony, the bride and bridegroom are crowned and communed together as equal partners in a mystical union joining them forever in shared devotion and loving self-sacrifice to each other. The husband is an icon or type of Christ, the eternal Bridegroom who cherishes and honors the Church more than Himself (Ephesians 5:25), and the wife is an icon or type of the holy Church, the eternal, loving Bride of Christ.

Vladyka Lazar explains that the Western Christian tradition of the father of the bride walking his daughter down the aisle to meet her waiting groom is historically absent from Orthodoxy. The handing over of the bride by her father to her new husband recalls the ancient pre-Christian Roman and Greek patriarchal practice whereby fathers symbolically transferred their power and authority (potestas and auctoritas) as paterfamilias over their daughters to the husband, who then automatically assumed her into his authority and family, effectively erasing her independent legal existence.

Orthodox couple waiting for priest to arrive

A Russian Orthodox couple waiting for the priest to arrive.

Since in Orthodoxy, by contrast, bride and groom come to the altar as equal partners, they walk there together after first making their vows and exchanging rings at the entrance to the temple. Then, with the priest or bishop presiding, they are mystically joined together by the grace and power of God during the Liturgy, a mystical transformation which recognizes the close bond of love they already share.

Unlike in Western Christian ceremonies when the couple is considered married from the moment when the presiding clergyman pronounces them as such following the exchange of vows, there is no set moment in the Orthodox crowning ceremony when the couple is considered automatically joined in marriage.

Their crowning three times by the celebrant, who exchanges the crowns between their heads, symbolizes their mystical union and their equality in partnership before God as king and queen of a new ‘little church’, a new family. The traditional Byzantine bridal crowns, called stefania, explain the etymology of the name Stephen.

Orthodox wedding crowning

The priest crowns the couple, moving the crowns over their heads three times while intoning the doxology, before setting them on their heads. From this point, the husband, an icon of Christ, is mystically transformed as king over the family, and the wife, an icon of the Church, as queen over the family.

The couple can be considered married by the time they first commune together of the holy Mystery of the Eucharist as husband and wife and walk around the altar, on which rests the chalice, patens, and the Holy Gospel, to the solemn hymn of witnesses. This walk symbolizes both a religious procession of pious faith by the married couple, now a holy unit, and is the moment from which they take their first steps together in their new union.

After their crowning, the husband and wife take their first steps in a procession three times around the altar, reverencing the holy Cross and the Gospel book.

After their crowning, the husband and wife take their first steps in a procession three times around the altar, reverencing the holy Cross and the Gospel book.

From the moment they approach the altar, they are already considered bound to each other in sight of man, and once they commune and walk together after their crowning, this mystically binds them in the eyes of God.

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A future President’s eyewitness account of an Orthodox baptism in Russia

This is a wonderful article from Orthodox History describing then-U.S. Minister to Russia John Quincy Adams’ reaction to an Orthodox baptism which took place in his Saint Petersburg parlour in January 1811. The timing of this event is also remarkable given its close proximity to French Emperor Napoleon I’s invasion of Russia the following year.
As was typical of Adams, his account of the baptism ceremony is methodical in detail. He also evidently heartily approved of ordinary Russians’ devotion to the ascetic fasts, which he believed would be medically, physically and spiritually beneficial for Americans to imitate (if not for the theological reasons which he does not seem to have understood or considered important). 
Adams was noticeably biased in his perception that Russians’ physical expressions of piety in church revealed what he considered to be their “superstitious” nature, but this is not surprising given his Unitarian upbringing (services completely lacking religious images, iconography, or physical bows or prostrations done in reverence to God or veneration of the holiness of the saints).

John Quincy Adams (1767-1848) was one of the most distinguished public servants,diplomats and political and intellectual figures in American history. The eldest son of the second President John Adams (1735-1826, President 1797-1801) and First Lady Abigail Adams (1744-1817), Quincy Adams served as the sixth U.S. President from 1825-1829. Prior to assuming the Presidency, Adams served in the second Washington administration as U.S. Minister to the Netherlands (1794-97), a role filled by his father during the Revolutionary War, and during his father’s term as President the younger Adams served as U.S. Minister to Prussia (1797-1801). Following his father’s losing 1800 bid to Thomas Jefferson for reelection, John Quincy Adams represented Massachusetts in the U.S. Senate from 1803-1808. During James Madison’s presidency, Adams served as the first accredited U.S. Minister to Russia (1809-1814), reporting on Napoleon’s doomed invasion. His charming British-born wife Louisa Catherine Adams became a major diplomatic asset to the United States as a favorite of Tsar Alexander I. After his commission ended, Adams again followed in his father’s footsteps as U.S Minister to the British Court of St James (1814-17), where George III was still king (in name) as he had been since 1760. In the Monroe administration, Adams worked closely with the fifth President as his Secretary of State. Following Adams’ own defeat to Andrew Jackson for reelection in 1828, he served from 1831 until his death in the House of Representatives in February 1848 as a committed opponent of states’ claims to nullification and the expansion of slavery.