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The marriage service in the Orthodox Church begins with the words, "Blessed is the Kingdom, of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto the ages of ages. Amen." This exclamation emphasizes the seriousness of marriage, and also the goal of marriage. According to the church canons, those Orthodox Christians who marry outside the Church are deprived of the sacraments of the Church. Some people find this shocking; they feel the Church is being too harsh. But the question is: What gives validity to marriage? From a spiritual standpoint, what gives meaning to a marriage? Unlike the wedding ceremonies in most non-Orthodox churches, marriage in the Orthodox Church is not a contract—a legal agreement with the exchange of vows or promises— between two people. Rather, marriage is the setting up, by two people, of a miniature church, a family church, wherein people may worship the true God and struggle to save their souls. It is also a family church that is in obedience to Christ's Church. As Saint Basil the Great says, it is natural to marry, but it must be more than natural; it must be a yoke, borne by two people under the Church.
Thus we see that in New Testament times the focus of marriage was switched from a primary purpose of producing children, to a primary purpose of providing a way for human beings to save their souls. The wedding ceremony itself is filled with rich symbolism that makes this whole aspect of marriage very clear.
The Husband's Responsibilities
The husband is the head of the wife...
We know that every organization, every institution—whether it be the Church, a parish, a monastery, or, in the world, a bank, a corporation, a school—must have a head, a leader. The same is true of a successful marriage, for the family is also a unit, a spiritual and physical organization. According to Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition, the leader in a marriage is the husband. Again, the words of Saint Paul: The husband is the head of the wife... He is the leader. He represents the principle of authority in the family. Just as the priest is the spiritual leader of the parish, and responsible to God for the parishioners, and thus the spiritual authority in the parish, so too the husband is the priest in his family, responsible for setting the tone of family life.
This does not means that he is superior to his wife. In Christ's sight, all are equal; there is neither male nor female. In fact, marriage is a partnership of equals. Let there be no mistake: there is no room for chauvinism of any kind in Orthodoxy. Nor does being the head give a husband any kind of dictatorial, tyrannical, arbitrary, or absolute authority over his wife and children. But, as with every position of importance, certain responsibilities go with this one, and they are very heavy, very difficult, but also very challenging and potentially creative responsibilities.
The Responsibilities of the Wife
Saint Paul says, Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord ... (Eph. 5:22, 24)
A wise wife will encourage her husband to be a leader, a real man, a true man, faithful to his divinely ordained nature; she will not try to take on the position of authority herself. Psychologists tell us that the anger a woman feels towards a man who has allowed her to take over the leadership of the family is the deepest anger of all.
Characteristics of a Successful Marriage
Experience tells us that two people get married and immediately begin to discover how very different they are. The fact is, we don't really even begin to know ourselves until we are married. We live too close to ourselves. It really does take someone else to help us to see ourselves as we really are. One of the fringe benefits of a good marriage is that one acquires a built-in psychiatrist: a good spouse who cares enough to listen without having to be paid for it! We know that many emotional illnesses are a result of a person having some inner burden weighing on him which he had never been able to really share with someone else. In a good marriage, husband and wife share their burdens with one another, and this sharing is without reservation, without having to worry about how the other person will react, without having to keep up a front.
There are many characteristics that a successful marriage has, but in my view the three most important are these:
No marriage can prosper if there is no praise. Everyone in life needs to feel appreciated at some point by someone. And nothing can kill love faster than continual criticism. When we husbands and wives praise each other—in small ways as well as in big ways—we are also saying to one another: I love you; I value you. Praise nurtures a good marriage. And it is the one characteristic that is most lacking in modern marriages.
Forgiveness is essential for a happy marriage. When couples ask me, "Do you think our marriage can survive?" my answer is always, "Yes, providing you are willing to forgive each other." And this forgiveness should not be just after a major crisis in a family. It should be every single day. In a successful marriage, a husband and wife are constantly asking forgiveness of each other. When we don't do this, wounds don't get healed. We grow apart from each other. We grow cold towards one another, and we don't obtain the blessings that God sends down on husbands and wives that mutually forgive one another.
A successful marriage takes time. It does not happen overnight. It must grow. It is a long and difficult process; like all good things in life, it comes through considerable effort and struggle. Those of you not yet married, or on the verge of marriage, should remember this: we live in a society of instantaneous gratification—we want what we want, when we want it, and that when is now. And this impatience on our part has had a very destructive effect on marriages, even in the Orthodox Church. If we have no patience with each other, and are not willing to give many years to working out a successful marriage, then our marriage is doomed.
Two separate services, betrothal and crowning. Betrothal is relatively short containing a set of petitions and three prayers. Characterized by the putting on of the rings, it signifies the couple's voluntary pledge to enter marriage and to live together in faith, harmony, truth, and love. Crowning is longer and more complex with petitions, several prayers, two scripture readings, joining of hands, partaking of blessed wine from the common cup, and a solemn joyous procession. It is culminated with the actual crowning. Readings- Eph. 5.20-33, John 2.1-11.
Days When Marriage Is Not Permitted:
Marriages are not performed on fast days or during fasting seasons; these include the Great Lent and Holy Week, August 1-15, August 29 (Beheading of St. John the Baptist), September 14 (Exaltation of the Holy Cross), and December 13-25. Nor are marriages celebrated on the day before and the day of a Great Feast of the Lord, including Theophany (January 5 and 6), Pascha, Pentecost, and Christmas (December 24 and 25).
Canonical and theological reasons preclude the Orthodox Church from performing the Sacrament of Marriage for couples where one partner is Orthodox and the other partner is a non-Christian.
Marriage application form
Prayer of Supplication/Molieben
Molieben (from Church Slavonic Mol'ba - prayer, supplication) is a short liturgical service usually centered on a particular need or occasion: the new year, a journey, an illness, an act of thanksgiving, etc. It may be addressed to Christ, the Mother of God, or to saints. Its general structure is that of Matins, and it can be served either by request of the faithful or by decision of the parish Priest.
The Church asks us to "pray without ceasing" - Prayer is the life of the Church and the life of each one of us, members of the Church. And because Christ came to redeem and to sanctify the totality of our life, no part of that life, no human need, no occasion is excluded from the Church's prayer. The Molieben, thus, is the extension of the Church's prayer, of Christ's redeeming grace to all aspects and realities of our life. "...knock and it will be opened to you." --we are called constantly to knock at the doors of God's mercy and our faith assures us that God hears us and is with us.
Funeral and Memorial Service/Pannyhida
FUNERALS AND PANNYHIDASby priest Sergei Sveshnikov
The final hours before death The leaving behind of the earthly life full of suffering, and the translation into eternity is the most solemn moment in the life of any Christian. However, friends and relatives, sometimes removed from Christian traditions, bear the death of a dear one with great grief. They often lose their orientation and leave the important job of the setting an Orthodox Christian on his final path in the hands of a funeral home.
The most important thing that we can do for a friend or relative before his or her death is to invite a priest, so that he can send the departing one on his or her way with the Holy Gifts. One must not worry about Father being busy or tired, or that it is too early, or too late, or too far.
One must simply fulfill oneʼs responsibilities before the dear friend. One must neither be concerned with thoughts of whether the sick one will get well. If this is Godʼs will, then he will, and if the hour of the meeting with eternity has come, then nothing can delay this hour, but all is in the hands of God. It is entirely unnecessary to be at deathʼs door in order to commune of the Holy Mysteries of Christ. While there is still time, let the priest come and commune the sick one, pray for his recovery, and perform the sacrament of oil blessing (unction).
Finally, the important moment of passing from temporal to eternal has come to our dear one. If the priest has not yet arrived, then we can and should begin to read the service on the departure of the soul from the body, that is, the particular rule of prayers which is read while a person is still alive, but cannot pray with his own lips. In this service, the sick one joins in heart and soul to the words of the prayers that we read, and offers them up to the creator. It seems wrong, even if it is sincere, to simply mourn, depriving our friend of this final prayerful comfort in this life, and increasing his sufferings, which were already enough without this deprivation.
Funeral and burial
The body of a reposed Orthodox Christian is washed, clothed in clean clothing, covered with a burial sheet, and a special headband is placed on his head to remind us of the incorruptible wreaths of righteousnes, which the Lord has prepared for those who love Him (cf. 2 Tim. 4:8). A cross is placed in the reposedʼs hands as a symbol of the fact that this person, taking up his cross, followed after Christ (Lk. 9:23).
The burial of an Orthodox Christian can be on the first day after death, the second day, the third day, or later, depending on conditions. The coffin with the body of the reposed is brought to the church, where the burial services are held. The day and time of the funeral, in our church, must be pre-arranged with the rector. An Orthodox Christian should be buried in an Orthodox Cemetery, where this is possible.
Forty day commemoration
The Russian word “Sorokoust” refers to the commemoration of a reposed Orthodox Christian at Liturgy every day for forty days after death, as in the first forty days after death, the newlypresented soul has special need of our prayers. Forty day commemoration is possible only in those churches that have daily Liturgy, usually these are cathedrals with a great number of priests, or monasteries. In the majority of parish churches, where one or two priests serve, Liturgy is not served daily, and thus forty day commemoration is not possible. In our Western American diocese, forty day commemoration can be ordered at the cathedral church in San Francisco. For more information, see the rector.
Memorial dinners and services are held on the third, ninth, and fortieth days after death, and also on the anniversary of the death. If possible, not only friends and relatives should be invited, but also the poor, lonely, and sorrowing. Besides this, it is a praiseworthy custom to help the poor and donate to worthy causes in memory of a departed one.
A pannykhida is an order of church prayers for a reposed Orthodox Christian. Pannykhidas may be served not only on the third, ninth, and fortieth days and on the anniversary of the death, but also on the reposedʼs nameʼs day or any other appropriate day (besides certain well-known days of the year). In our church, one must contact the rector and agree on a day and time to order a pannykhida.
One may bring kollyvo to a pannykhida. This is boiled wheat with honey or sweet fruits added. The wheat reminds us that we are buried in the ground in order to be resurrected into new life. The honey and sweet fruits remind us of the sweetness of the future life with God.
How much does it cost?
Prayers for the reposed, as all other prayers, are priceless. They cannot be bought or sold. However, it is tradition to thank the priest for his time and efforts, and also contribute to the upkeep of the church. The amounts of these donations are decided on by the relatives of the reposed in accordance with their financial situation. Poverty or financial difficulties should never be an impediment to serving a funeral or pannykhida. To pray for the departed is the duty of every priest, the fulfillment of which is far more important than any sum of money.
Advance Funeral Directive Form
THE MEANING OF THE CHRISTIAN BAPTISMSt. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Church
Jesus teaches that to enter His Kingdom, we must be baptized by “water and the Holy Spirit” (John 3:5) Our entrance into the Kingdom is an entrance into the life of the Church, as this is where the Kingdom of God is made real in the world. This entrance begins with the Holy Mysteries (Sacraments) of Baptism and Chrismation. In these Holy Mysteries, we receive the grace of God through the baptismal water and the holy “chrism”, which is a seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. The following is an explanation of the major elements in the Orthodox Mystery of initiation.
In the Ancient Church, the first step in membership was to become a student, or “catechumen” of the Church in preparation for baptism. During this time, one would be taught the basic truths of the Faith. As the catechumens are no longer a formal order in the Church, this service is now usually celebrated as the beginning of the Baptism service. As baptism is a Mystery of entry into the Church, these opening prayers are done at the back of the church building, as part of a formal (and literal) entrance into the church.
The Exorcism Prayers:
The priest calls upon the Holy Spirit to expel Satan and all his angels from the presence of the candidate for baptism. He prays that the spirits of evil may not lay hold of him/her by temptation or any other torment. The priest blows on the candidate cross-wise three times to symbolize the exorcising power of the Holy Spirit—the Hebrew and Greek words for “spirit” also mean “breath.”
The Renunciation of Satan:
The candidate and sponsors turn to face the west, the entrance of the church. West is symbolic of darkness, since the sun sets the west. Through this movement the devil, the “lord of darkness”, is confronted and rejected, along with “and all his works, all his worship, all his angels, and all his pomp.”
The Acceptance of Christ:
Turning back to face the east, towards the Altar, symbolizing the Light of Christ, the candidate and sponsors accept Jesus “as King and as God.” They affirm this acceptance by repeating the words of the Nicene Creed, which outlines the Church’s basic beliefs about God, Church, and salvation. The Baptismal Candles:
One of the terms used in Orthodoxy when referring to baptism is “Holy Illumination,” since it is through baptism that Christ, the Light of the World, enters in our hearts. The baptismal candles are lit after the baptism to symbolize the newly acquired light of Christ which baptized Christians carry with them throughout their lives. They are now “newly illumined.”
The Oil of Gladness:
After the opening proclamation and litany, the candidate is anointed with oil. In ancient times oil was used as a salve to cover wounds, protecting them so that they could heal faster. The anointing with the “Oil of Gladness” is a symbol of baptism as an act which heals our broken relationship with God.
The candidate is immersed in the baptismal font in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Entering the font, which symbolizes the tomb and the womb- death to the old person life to the new, s/he joins Christ in His burial; coming up out of it s/he takes part in Christ’s resurrection from the tomb. The candidate is “born again,” literally “born from above”, into a new life in Christ Jesus.
A Garment of Righteousness:
After the baptism, the candidate is dressed in white, symbolizing their new life as a servant of Christ. Baptismal hymn: “Grant me a brilliant new garment you who clothe yourself with light as a robe…”
The Chrismation (Confirmation):
The Orthodox Church maintains the ancient practice of confirming the newly baptized Christian immediately after his/her baptism. Just as baptism is a personal “Pascha” (Easter) for each of us, making us partakers in Christ’s personal Pentecost, as the Holy Spirit descends upon us, confirming us as full members of the Church. The act of confirmation is done through an anointing with a special oil mixed with spices (Exodus 30:31-34) for consecration (dedicating to God) called “Chrism,” from the Greek word meaning “gift” -as in, the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The Baptismal Procession:
The priest leads the newly baptized and his/her sponsors around the font, beginning their life long walk with Christ, singing “all who have been baptized in Christ…”
Giving of the Cross:
Giving of the cross symbolizes that we now belong to Christ and have taken up our cross and follow Him.
The physical acceptance and unification of Christ. This is an act which must be repeated throughout an Orthodox Christian’s life in order to remain “in communion” with the Church (body of Christ).
The Scripture Readings:
■Romans 6:3-11 – All of those who are baptized in Christ share in His death and resurrection.
■Matthew 28:16-20 – Jesus instructs His disciples to preach the Gospel to all peoples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
The Post-Baptismal Rites:
In the ancient Christian baptismal rites, the baptism itself would end at this point, and all of the rites following would be celebrated one week later. During this week, the newlybaptized would receive further teachings about the Faith.
The Washing of The Oil:
The priest washes the holy oil and Chrism off the candidate. This washing is understood as part of the newly-baptized Christian’s final preparation for entering into the world as a disciple and witness of Jesus Christ.
As Christians we are called to offer our entire life to the Lord. As a symbolic first-offering, the candidate’s hair is cut. Hair, in the Biblical story of Samson is equated with strength; thus the hair offered stands for all the person’s strength and potentials given over to God.
Baptism request form
ON THE BLESSING OF HOMES ON THEOPHANYby priest Sergei Sveshnikov
Why Bless a Home?
The Orthodox Church teaches that we do not have two separate lives–a secular one and a spiritual one–but one human life, and that all of it must be holy. We must not be Christians for just a few hours on Saturday and Sunday, spending the rest of our life godlessly, that is to say, without God. The person who has united with Christ in the sacrament of baptism cannot be a part-time Christian, but must be faithful to Christ everywhere and at all times–in church, at work, at home, in relationships with other Christians, and in those with non-Christians–we must be faithful to Christ in the fullness of our life.
The Holy Orthodox Church teaches us that a temple is not only a building in which we worship, but that we are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 3:16); that the Body of Christ is not only that of which we partake at the Divine Liturgy, but that we are the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:27). And just as the Gifts of the Eucharist are treated with reverence and kept in sanctified vessels in the altar, so should every Christian’s life be full of reverence and sanctity not only during a church service, but likewise outside the walls of the temple. A Christian’s home must become a small temple, work–labor for the glory of God, and family–a small Church.
The Orthodox Church helps her children strive for holiness in their lives and brings sanctification to every Christian home–a small temple. The Church blesses the very foundation of a home in the same way that it blesses the foundation of a church, it blesses a new Christian home in the same way that it blesses a new temple, and yearly, after the blessing of a parish temple with the water of Theophany, the Church brings this holy water into the homes of the faithful. The prayers for the blessing of a temple are different from those for the blessing of a home, because the function of a home is different from that of a temple, but the sanctifying action of the Holy Spirit is one. And just as in the baptism of our Lord all of creation is washed clean and sanctified, every year after the feast of the Baptism of the Lord (January 19, according to the secular calendar) Christians sanctify themselves and their homes with the water of Theophany.
The Church teaches us to sanctify everything: dwellings, places of work, all our pursuits, and the fruits of our labor. And just as a temple and sacred vessels, once sanctified and set aside for sacred use, can no longer be used for anything profane, in the same way a Christian washed in the baptismal waters, and his home, and all his works can no longer be the dwelling of sin and the works of satan, but only and always–the temple of the Holy Spirit and the fulfillment of the will of our Heavenly Father. This is why the Church blesses everything that can be found in a Christian home; and if something is not worthy of being blessed, then there should not be a place for it in the home of a Christian.
How Much Does It Cost?
The prayer of the Church is priceless; it can be neither sold nor bought. The Church equally blesses the home of every Christian, regardless of his financial situation. However, we must note the obvious: it is not only angels who come to bless our homes, but together with them come the ministers of the altar–people very much like the rest of us, who also must take care of their families, and to whom petrol is dispensed only for money, just like to all of us. Thus, it is customary to make a donation to the clergy for their time and work. The amount of this donation is determined solely by each family’s individual circumstances and considerations.
The Blessing of a Home
In order to have your home blessed for the first time or to arrange for a yearly Theophany blessing, you must personally contact the Rector of your parish church. Historically, clergy could walk to every home in their parish and bless it on the very day of Theophany. In our current situation in the United States, when many parishioners live tens of miles from the church, it is important to approach the Rector in advance and arrange for an appropriate time for his visit.
For a yearly Theophany blessing of a home prepare a small table in your icon corner covered with a clean cloth, candles, and a vessel with holy water. For a first-time blessing of a home it is also necessary to prepare a very small amount of pure olive oil.
Although parishioners often wish for the priest to stay for dinner or supper after the blessing of their home, it is necessary to remember that the priest may be blessing several homes in one day and cannot physically eat several dinners and/or suppers in a row. Do not be offended if the priest must hurry away to another home. Long spiritual talks over a cup of tea are very important, but it is equally as important to find for them a proper time on a different day, or to ensure in advance that the priest has time after the blessing of your home.