Traditional Greek Orthodox weddings
Unlike most other Christian ceremonies in form and content, the Greek Orthodox ceremony presents a rich tableau of ritual and celebration, highlighted by seven significant acts:
- EXCHANGE OF RINGS:
This symbolises the unbreakable bond of Christian marriage. During the betrothal the rings are blessed above the heads of the bride and groom three times and are then placed on the fourth finger of the right hand. The betrothal ends with a prayer that the Lord might make strong their betrothal in faith, truth and love, make them of one mind, and grant the betrothal his heavenly blessing.
- LIGHTED CANDLES:
The bride and groom are given lighted candles to hold, symbolising the purity of their lives which should shine with the light of virtue.
- JOINING OF HANDS:
During the Crowning three long prayers are read asking God to grant the bride and groom a long and peaceful mutual love and understanding, happiness and health. The couple's right hands are then joined by the priest, who calls upon God to join them as one.
- COMMON CUP:
The drinking from the 'common cup' represents the joys and sorrows that the couple must share. The bride and groom must each drink from the cup of wine three times.
- CROWNING: The priest raises the crown and makes the sign of the cross three times over the heads of the bride and groom, after which the crowns are placed on their heads. Crowning signifies that the newly married couple have received the grace of the Holy Spirit to be the founders of a new generation, and are crowned with virtue and holiness to live their lives to the glory of God.
- BIBLE READINGS:
Following the crowning, St Paul's Epistle to the Ephesians (5:20-33), concerning the mystery and holiness of marriage and the duties and responsibilities of husband and wife to one another, is chanted by the cantor. St John's gospel on Christ's miracle at the Marriage at Cana (2:1-12) is chanted by the priest to show that the Lord blessed the institution of marriage.
- CIRCLING OF THE TABLE:
While hymns are chanted, the priest takes the bride and groom by the hand and leads them around a small table three times. By circling the table, the couple declare their oath to preserve their marriage bond forever. The circle symbolises eternity, the triple circling honours the Holy Spirit.
During the final blessing the priest lifts the crowns from the heads of the newlyweds, thus ending the marriage ceremony.
While Indian marriages in South Africa have incorporated some western elements into the procedure, they have retained many of their rich customs and traditions.
The HINDU tradition views marriage as a sacred convention, not a social contract, and consists of a number of different rites and rituals:
- VARA VARANAM:
Ceremonial welcome of the groom, wishing him a long life. He drinks the Madhuparkam consisting of curd, honey and ghi.
- KHANYA DAANAM: Presentation of the bride to the groom in the presence of the sacred fire, priests and guests.
- PANI GRAHANAM:
The groom accepts the bride and takes her hand while reciting mantras for their harmonious union.
- MANGALA SUTRA DHARANAM:
Tying of the gold ornament around the neck of the bride - the most important symbol of a married woman, this may never be removed during the life of her husband. Garlands are exchanged and the wife takes her place at the left of her husband, close to his heart as an indication of their complete union.
- SAPTA PADI:
The seven steps symbolising the beginning of their life's journey together, taken with the recital of mantras invoking the blessings of Lord Vishnu.
Fire sacrifice with oblations poured into the sacred fire and prayers for longevity, prosperity, health and worthy offspring.
The bride places her foot on a millstone as a token of her resolve to tread underfoot all misfortune and adversity.
- HRUDAYA SPARSHANAM:
The couple touch each others' hearts, praying for complete harmony of mind.
A traditional MUSLIM marriage entails the groom performing the ceremony with witnesses in a mosque, while the bride remains at the hall or another chosen place. Thereafter the groom meets with the bride at the walima (feast) where both families have gathered. Prior to the wedding a ceremony may take place involving both bride and groom. After ceremonial baths the bride is given away to her husband and the marriage contract is signed before the Imam or other religious official who recites a prayer. The guests then recite the opening chapter of the Koran.
MEHENDI is the traditional painting of hands and feet in a variety of patterns. Coats of eucalyptus and henna are applied first by the family, then other relatives and friends, and finally by an experienced professional skilled in the art of design. Hindu brides undergo two further beautification ceremonies before the wedding, with the bride's face being coated with a mixture of turmeric and coriander powder. According to Muslim custom a bride must stain the palms of her hands and soles of her feet with a lace-like design using henna.
African marriage traditions can differ vastly according to the different practices and customs of the various ethnic groups. However, when it comes to the actual wedding ceremony the usual procedure is for the bride and groom to be married in church in a Christian ceremony. Thereafter the wedding celebrations may take place according to the particular tribal customs of the couple. These festivities often last for a number of days and occur at both the bride and groom's homes.
- An important traditional custom, LOBOLA is the payment made by the groom's family to the bride's family. The price is determined by representatives from both families, and the payment is essential before a wedding is able to take place. For this reason many young couples stay unmarried until they are in a financial position to afford lobola. Payment was traditionally made in the form of cattle, but today cash is often paid to the bride's parents.
- Honouring the ANCESTORS through a variety of rituals is an integral part of the marriage ceremony, as African custom teaches trust in the guidance of ancestral spirits and respect for the wisdom of the elders.
Orthodox Jewish weddings
Most Orthodox Jewish marriages take place on a Sunday, as Saturday is the Jewish Sabbath. Jewish brides usually wear the traditional white dress and head-dress. To signify equality in wealth as well as other aspects of married life, no jewellery is worn. The men at the ceremony all wear hats and conventional dark suits.
The wedding ceremony need not take place in a synagogue, but can be celebrated almost anywhere - indoors or out of doors, at any time of the day or night, provided it is under a chuppah (canopy). Consisting of a plain or decorated cloth canopy over four poles, the chuppah represents a Jewish home. It must be open on all four sides, as was the tent of Abraham, representing hospitality to guests regardless of where they come from.
The ceremony must be performed in the presence of ten men and two witnesses not related to the bridal couple. After the seven benedictions or blessings have been recited, the bride and groom take a sip of wine from the same glass, symbolising the fact that from that moment they must share the same cup of life. The glass is then broken by the bridegroom as a reminder of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and of the fact that although we may be happy, there is always sadness and pain in the world. The ring is also an essential part of the ceremony.
From a spiritual point of view, the important aspects of Jewish married life include learning the Torah, living as many of the Mitzvot (commandments) as possible, and caring for one's fellow human beings.