Marriage is one of the seven sacraments in the Orthodox Church. "The Crowning" ceremony plays an integral role in the wedding ceremony.
Crowns have always been used in Orthodox Christian wedding ceremonies...but how that came to be, I'm not really sure. There is a lot of symbolism linked to the use of the crowns, much like everything else in the Orthodox Church.
The Crowning ceremony takes place after The Betrothal, or rather, the exchanging of the rings. And it's really the crowning ceremony that truly distinguishes an Orthodox Wedding from all others.
During the Crowning Ceremony, the priest will first place a crown on the groom's head while reciting the crown blessing 3x (The servant of God, <groom's name>, is crowned unto the handmaiden of God, <bride's name>, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
And then the priest will place a crown on the bride's head, again reciting the crown blessing 3x (The handmaiden of God, <bride's name>, is crowned unto the servant of God, <groom's name>, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The priest will then chant “O Lord, our God, crown them with glory and honor” while lifting up both crowns and switch them back and forth over the bride and groom's head 3x.
Then the Epistle is read, then the Gospel, followed by the common cup.....and then comes the procession.
The bride and groom follow the priest and deacon, with the best man and maid of honor in tow, process around the altar 3x as the Dance of Isaiah is sung or chanted.
And then the crowns are removed.
It used to be that the bride and groom were expected to wear their crowns for a full week after their wedding, with an official "removal of the crowns" ceremony officially removing the crowns from the newly married couple.
But that isn't incredibly realistic in our current day and age. So now, it's common that, after returning from your honeymoon (where you do not need to wear your crowns! ...that could be kind of fun, though...) your priest will do this quick little ceremony at Vespers or after Liturgy.
But we still haven't gotten to the actual significance of the crowns...
As with all other things in the Orthodox church, there are layers of symbolism when it comes to the crowns.
Namely, the crowns are a visible reminder of the crowns that await us in Heaven.
But the crowns also serve a more immediate purpose: the bride and groom have just become the King and Queen of this newly created family.
As Fr. Anthony Yazge put it in his article posted on the Antiochian Orthodox web site (http://www.antiochian.org/1285), "We witness the groom and bride being crowned (visibly proclaimed) as the king and queen, respectively, of a new family, entrusted by God with the authority to rule their family in faith and love and harmony with Christ. They both share in this responsibility and privilege as a newly married couple. This is not simply being declared by the priest or even the Church, but by God Himself, as the following hymn is chanted three times: “O Lord, our God, crown them with glory and honor."
Tradition says that you should display your wedding crowns in case (stefanothiki) and hang this case over your bed. I know of many couples that choose to put their crowns on display in their living room (in a case) or simply lay the crowns inside of their china cabinet. All of these methods of display achieve the same purpose: a reminder that "God has united them to each other and to Himself and that He has bestowed His grace upon them to live in unity, faith and love." (http://www.antiochian.org/1285)
I have heard many touching stories of couples who have been buried in their crowns...or couples who are going to be celebrating 50th wedding anniversaries and specifically want a set of crown sfor their burial.
You see, not all couples have their own crown sets. There are many churches that have their own crown sets for the couple to use. If your church does have a set of crowns for you to use, then it is usually your choice if you want to use those crowns or go out and purchase your own set.
The benefit of using the crowns that your church has is that you get the wear the same crowns that so many other couples in your church have worn! And you don't have the added cost of crowns...
The drawback here is obvious, you don't have your own crown set to hold onto, display in your home, or pass on to your children to use when they get married.
Traditional types of crowns:
I get these question a lot: What type of crowns do Greeks typically wear? What Type of Crowns do Serbians typically wear? What type of Crowns do Syrians (Antiochian) typically wear? etc...
I have a bit of information on all of this, just based on the conversations that I've had with customers and priests from all over the world. And just to go ahead and say now, that while there may be some "traditional" styles to the kind of crowns used by each archdiocese, it is most often left up to the Bride and Groom to choose what style of crown they want. BUT WHEN IN DOUBT, CHECK WITH YOUR PRIEST!!
*Russian-- These crowns are typically the style of crown that have the large arcs-- "Queen & King of England"- like. I have made a few of this style--but mine are definitely a more contemporary take on this idea. The crowns I have made in this vein do not have those red velvet linings that I'm sure you're picturing. And while I can do that, this isn't a really popular style. Many Russian churchs, if they have their own set of crowns, this is what they have. They're beautiful.
*Serbian, Antiochian --To my knowledge, a pretty traditional crown style for these archdiocese is a "wreath" or ringlet style crown base, with a triangle/pyramid in the front.. and probably feature an icon of Jesus on the Groom's crown, and the Virgin Mary on the Bride's Crown. Of the churches that have their own crowns for their parishioners, MANY have this style. Crowns for these archdiocese are traditionally metal....gold at that.
*One little known tradition specific to the Antiochian archdiocese (to my knowledge, that is) is that the Groom's crown should be gold (or brass), and then Bride's crown should be silver. Many of my crowns can be modified to accomodate this tradition, if so desired. Just ask!
*Greek, Romanian--These crowns are the majority of crowns styles that you'll find in your quest for the perfect set of wedding crowns. The "wreath" or "ringlet" crown style. Flowers--porcelain, dried, or fresh--are a VERY common design characteristic in these crowns. And don't forget about Pearls and Crystals! These crowns are usually all white.
Again, the above info is just base on my current knowledge and experience. I am positive that I am oversimplifying the many different categories of crown styles....and I am probably stereotyping some, and forgetting other, I'm sure! If you have any additional info about traditional crown styles and materials please share this info...I'd love to hear more!
And as I mentioned earlier, it is almost always up to the couple as to what style of crown they want. And to my knowledge, any material can be used to make ones wedding crowns. That is why I have decided to try and incorporate a whole variety of materials that have never been used in crowns before: Fabrics and stainless steel just to name a few!
The fact that the bride and groom can choose their crown crown set is a wonderful way for them to express their style-whether that be traditional, traditional with a twist, or completely contemporary. It's a great way to express yourself as you are untied together with God.