AxiosOrthodoxal news and traditionsIcons at the wedding: traditions and modernity

Icons at the wedding: traditions and modernity

Wedding icons in modern society have become an indispensable element of every wedding and one of the symbols of church marriage. Therefore, many future newlyweds often have many questions about the icons at the wedding: what should they be, what does the Church say about them and, most practical, who keep the icons during the wedding? To dispel all superstitions and prejudices in this area, we offer you the following text.


The Orthodox Sacrament of Marriage or Wedding is often called a church wedding, which in our time is perceived by the philistine differently, then as a beautiful ceremony, then as a means of ensuring that the family union will be strong. Of course, such a frivolous attitude towards the Sacrament of the Church is not Christian. Wedding in a church is not just a beautiful rite or occasion for a photo shoot that automatically ensures loyalty between spouses. This Sacrament, in Greek “mysterion”, that is, “mystery”, when two people loving each other with responsibility give God a promise of mutual fidelity and ask him for the helping grace, which is given to them through the Sacrament of Marriage. The very rite of the sacrament contains many external symbolic actions that carry a certain meaning, such as the exchange of rings, the addition of hands, etc.


The rite of marriage in the Orthodox Church was formed gradually over time. Initially, Christians were married under the civil laws of the Roman Empire, and after that, they took the blessing from the bishop of the local community and received communion of the Holy Gifts. Later, for persons of imperial dignity, a special order of marriage was developed, which from the 9th century became mandatory for the highest strata of society in Byzantium, and from there came to the lands of Kievan Rus. Wedding in the ancient Rus lands for a long time remained the lot of the highest strata of society, while the Church for a long time struggled with pagan customs among common people (theft of brides, etc.). In the church books of that time, the wedding ceremony did not mention anything specifically about wedding icons, from which it follows that the tradition of having wedding icons is relatively recent and does not have clear church rules.


Most likely, the custom of using special icons for weddings began to spread not earlier than the 17th century and among the wealthy strata of society. It was based on a long tradition of exchanging gifts between the newlyweds and their parents. In this case, the icons in the folk understanding were the best gift for the new young family, which now lived a separate life from their parents. The icons were passed on to the young as a parental blessing and, with a simple purpose, for prayer in their home. Those, in turn, passed them on to their children as a family heirloom.


The distribution of wedding icons in church practice dates back to the XIX - XX centuries, when more and more people could afford to buy a wedding couple of icons. Most often, these were images of the Lord Jesus Christ and the local venerated icon of the Mother of God: Kazanska, Pochayivska, Volodymyrska and others. In modern wedding practice, the blessing of young people in the church with wedding icons is done after the end of the sacrament before or after the farewell words of the priest to the new family. Since there are no church rules regarding a wedding couple, in this case everything is regulated by folk customs, which may also differ. For example, in some temples, a priest or deacon places wedding icons in the altar before the sacrament. At the end of the wedding, the priest brings them out and blesses the married couple. In other temples during the sacrament, parents or a second pair of witnesses holds the icons and then pass them on to the priest for blessing.


In both cases, the priest blesses the groom with the icon of Christ the Savior, gives to attach to it and passes into the hands of the newly made husband. Then he blesses the bride with the icon of the Mother of God, gives her an image for kissing and then hands her over. Married couple usually keep the icons also during the general photo after the wedding, and then take them with them to their home. The wedding pair of icons becomes the basis of the prayer corner of the new family, before which the newlyweds offer their prayers.


As we can see, various popular superstitions associated with wedding icons have no Christian foundation, and therefore no meaning for a believer who perceives a wedding pair of icons as an incentive to the daily family prayer of a newly created family.


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