Marriage is a contract to form a family, and the family is the foundation of human society. The stronger the foundation, the stronger will be the structure over it. God Himself is the author of marriage. He instituted it in the Garden of Eden saying, “Increase and multiply and fill the earth.” Adam, receiving his inseparable companion from the hands of God, pronounced these important words: “Increase and multiply and fill the earth.” Adam, receiving his inseparable companion from the hands of God, pronounced these important words: “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh, wherefore a man shall leave father and mother; and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh.”
The purpose of the sacrament of the Holy Matrimony is to sanctify the union of man and wife for the preservation of the human race, for the increase of the members of the Church, for the promotion of mutual helpfulness and for the upbringing of the children as Christians.
The establishment of this sacrament by Christ is not explicitly mentioned in the New Testament. However, our Lord by His Presence at the wedding of Cana of Galilee, showed His readiness to sanctify marriage. He also gave laws concerning marriage (Matt. 19 : 3-12). But the significant passage “upon which both in early times and today the doctrine of the sacrament of marriage is based” is Eph. 5 : 22-33, which is read at our service of the Holy Matrimony as the main lesson. Here the Apostle Paul speaks of the relation of husband and wife as being similar to that of Christ and His Church, and uses the words “This is a great mystery.” Sacraments in the Eastern Churches, including the Armenian Church, are called “Mysteries.” Therefore, both the Holy Scripture and the Sacred Tradition of the Church regard marriage as a sacrament, established by our Lord.
As a sacrament, matrimony is the act by which the Church blesses the mutual agreement of the two parties, and binds the new couple with a spiritual bond to each other and to the Church. The free consent of each of the two persons is required by the priest, and this consent is an integral part of the Sacrament. According to the doctrine of the Eastern Churches the minister of the Holy Matrimony is the priest, or, on solemn occasions, a bishop.
To receive the sacrament of Matrimony worthily, it is necessary to be a practicing church member, to know the duties of married life, and to obey the marriage laws of the Church. The couple must be of proper age, physically capable of being married. There must be no close blood relationship. Both Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition emphasize the indissoluble character of the marriage, recognizing only one cause for the dissolution of the marriage tie—marital unfaithfulness; the Scriptural word is “fornication” (Matt. 5 : 32, 19: 9). Second and third marriages are not looked upon with favor by the Church.
The purpose of marriage is very sacred. In Matrimony, a man and his wife are called to take part in the work of the Creator. If married people think about this fact, they surely will not neglect their duties toward their children, the chief of which is to “rear them in the discipline and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6 : 4).
Besides the aim of bringing children into the world, Marriage is also instituted for the mutual support of man and woman. “It is not good for man to be alone,” said God after creating Adam, “Let us make him a helper like unto himself” (Gen. 2: 18).
What are some of the duties of husband and wife in the married state of life? The first duty of husband and wife is to be faithful to each other. They vow fidelity to one another at the marriage. With the disappearance of faithfulness the conjugal happiness ends. The married parties should bear with each other’s faults and infirmities.
Husband and wife must comfort and support each other in their common life.
The wife can influence her husband for good more by meekness and devotion, than by nagging and arguing. The husband can win the heart of his wife more by companionship and consideration, than by wealth and force. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church” (Eph. 5 : 25) says St. Paul. “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph. 5 : 22), adds the same Apostle. The wife should obey her husband as the head of the family (Eph. 5 : 23).
The man is the breadwinner and the head of the family. The wife is the queen and mother. In a true Christian marriage there is no question of first or second. There is no competition or superiority between wife and husband; for, as the Bible states, “They are no longer two, but one flesh” (Matt. 19 : 6).
Through marriage the couple enters into the society formally and effectively. It is the beginning of all permanent relations among men. The character of a nation depends more on family discipline than on the civil constitutions or even the school system.
As mothers are mainly responsible for the social training of the children, mothers of a generation are of more importance than the government of the state itself. The family is the unit which makes up the nation and humanity. If the family influence is evil, no code of laws can rectify the resulting evil in society. On the contrary, if the family influence is good, any external evil influence will have little effect upon the social good order.
THE RITUAL OF THE HOLY MATRIMONY
The sacrament of the Holy Matrimony or marriage is the most important even in one’s lifetime. The interests of society and of nature meet at this moment. Therefore, every society, recognizing the importance of marriage, has clothed not only the bride and the groom in beautiful garments but has also made the ceremony itself beautiful and impressive. We can say that, properly performed, the marriage ceremony of the Armenian Church is one of the most beautiful of rituals. The following are a few notes as to how the marriage ritual is performed in the Armenian Church:
After the bridal procession, the bridegroom and the bride stand together at the entrance of the chancel (that part of the church where choir members stand while singing at the service of the Divine Liturgy). They face the altar; the bride stands to the left of the bridegroom.
The godfather or best man stands behind the bridegroom to the right, holding the plate with the rings on it with his left hand, and the cross in his right hand. The ushers and the bridesmaids stand to the right and left of the bridegroom and the bride respectively, outside the chancel.
The bride gives her bouquet of flowers, if she is carrying one, to her maid-of-honor, who stands behind and to the left of the bride.
The priest, coming out of the vestry, stands in the chancel near the edge, facing the congregation. The congregation stands when the priest begins the service.
First takes place the blessing and putting on of the wedding rings by the priest. Rings are symbols of attachment and perpetual faithfulness. Usually the priest himself puts the ring on the left ring fingers of the bride and the bridegroom.
Then the priest joins the right hands of the couple and makes them face each other, giving them instructions to be faithful to one another to the end of their lives.
Then the priest asks each one of the couple three times whether they will be united to one another until death. After receiving a positive answer, the priest and the deacon go up to the altar and the couple step forward to the front of the bema (stage) and face the altar. Here the couple kisses the Book of the Gospels offered to them by the deacon or the priest.
After the lessons are read, the priest blesses and places the crowns on the heads of the couple. The godfather holds the cross with his right hand over their heads. Then the prayer of crowning is recited and the couple sits on chairs facing the altar, as newly crowned king and queen. Then the priest, while reading another prayer, removes the crowns from their heads. He blesses a cup of wine and offers it to the bride and the groom to drink. With the final exhortation and the benediction by the priest, the ceremony comes to a close.