Session 5: “Let marriage be held in honor": Marriage in the Church

Aim: To introduce teens to the teachings of the Church in regard to the sacrament of marriage and the relationship between an husband and wife.

Guidance to Leaders: This session has a number of activities and as a whole requires more time than the usual one hour. Feel free to pick and choose the activities depending on your needs. If in the last session, your group showed particular progress in terms of defining dating as a path to marriage, then the "will you marry me?" exercise may be a little redundant. Likewise, younger groups may not gain any direct benefit from learning canon law in the "Planning a wedding" exercise but might benefit from the wedding candles option. We recommend that at the very least you discuss the spiritual dimensions of marriage.

Objectives: By the end of this session participants should be able to . . .

  • Discuss the sacrament of marriage as a special relationship between two people and God.
  • Explain in his or her own words how the Orthodox Wedding service describes marriage.
  • Describe the Church's canonical restrictions on marriage and the wedding service.
  • Articulate characteristics that they would look for in a spouse.

Useful Texts (Scriptural, Canonical, Liturgical, Lives of Saints, etc.)

Genesis 1:26-7

Ephesians 5:15-33

Psalm 127:1

1 Corinthians 13:2

1 John 4:8

Sacrament of Holy Matrimony Service Book: 1st Prayer of Crowning

From the Synodal Affirmations :

  • Marriage and family life are to be defended and protected against every open and subtle attack and ridicule.
  • Sexual intercourse is to be protected as a sacred expression of love within the community of heterosexual monogamous marriage in which alone it can be that for which God has given it to human beings for their sanctification.
  • Sexual love in marriage is to be chaste and pure, devoid of lewdness, lechery, violence and self-gratification.
  • Couples planning to marry are to be properly counseled and prepared to confront the challenges of he married life, being guided in the ways to find within family life the way to spiritual fulfillment and sanctity.


  • Copies of the service book for the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony (available from OCPC or in your parish library)
  • Icon of the Holy Trinity/ Hospitality of Abraham
  • 50 Party Balloons, inflated before the session (or during check-in!).
  • A pin for each group of 8-10
  • White or Ivory Taper Candles, ribbons, scissors, etc.
  • Copies of the Activity Sheets included here.


I. Opening Prayer

II. Check-In and Review

III. Activity #1: What’s Going On?

IV. Activity #2: Symbols of Forever

V. Activity #3: Will You Marry Me?

VI. Activity #4: Planning a Church Wedding

VII. Session Conclusion

VIII. Closing Prayer

I. Opening Prayer

II. Check-In: Describe how you are feeling in terms of a flavor of wedding cake and why.

Review: Pass out and review the Top 10 lists from last session.

III. Activity #1: What’s Going On?

Time: 15 minutes

Purpose: This activity provides participants with an opportunity to discuss the Orthodox view of marriage based upon what takes place and is said/sung during the Orthodox wedding service.

Break into groups of 2s or 3s. Pass out copies of the Orthodox service book for the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Give each group one of the following sets of pages to review: from the Service of Betrothal: pp. 1-6; from the Service of Crowning: pp. 6-12; pp. 12-16; pp. 17-22; and pp. 22-28.

Each group is to read through their pages and answer the following questions:

  • Looking at the hymns, prayers, and litanies, what is it that we are asking God to do during this service? [To unite them, to bless them, to give them all that they need so that they can...,etc.]
  • What does the priest or couple do within these pages [Walk around in a circle, hold candles, have crowns put over their heads, etc.?]
  • What do you think it might signify or symbolize about what the Church believes about marriage? [Marriage is eternal is a type of martyrdom/witness to our relationship with God, God gives to us so that we may give to others, etc..]

IV. Activity #2: Symbols of Forever

Time: 15 minutes.

Purpose: The goal of this activity is to instill within participants a sense of the permanence of marriage and the tragedy that occurs when that bond is broken. While many of our young people today come from broken families and this activity and session does not and cannot address all the issues involved in divorce, it is important to introduce to them the need for lasting marriages.

Begin by getting into circles of eight to ten. Each group should have one balloon per person. Here are the rules of the game. Begin with one balloon tossed into the air. Participants must keep the balloon up in the air and within the circle. Every five seconds, the next person in the circle releases their balloon and it too must be kept up until all balloons are in the air. One person is assigned to hold the pin. If a balloon hits the ground or goes out of the circle, the pin-holder pops it. Play until all balloons have been released and after at least half have been popped in each group.

  • “Some say marriage is like a juggling act between two people. How was our juggling of balloons in groups an analogy or metaphor for marriage? What could the balloons symbolize?” [You have to juggle your responsibilities and commitments, you have to keep track of everything and be careful, you have to keep your marriage together. Balloons are needs, commitments, responsibilities, desires, interests, children, jobs, etc.]
  • “What were some positive ideas about marriage the balloon game can teach us?” [You have to work together, pay attention to each other’s needs, etc.]
  • “What were some negative ideas about marriage the balloon game can teach us?” [If a marriage loses track of something, it is lost forever in marriage; If a marriage is not protected it can be damaged; some mistakes have permanent; etc.]
  • "We have many images and models for marriage. Each has something useful to teach about marriage, and yet each has its drawbacks-- this is the limit of symbolism. How can each of the following symbols represent marriage? What positive messages do the send? Negative?"

Draw the following images on the board or prepare them on a sheet that you can copy and distribute.

1. A Circle/ Ring:

Positive: Unity, Eternity, reciprocity (giving and receiving)

Negative: No distinction of persons, they are lost in each other.

2. Two-pillars supporting a crossbeam/ Stonehenge formation:

Positive: Both partners must equally support the marriage.

Negative: Partners do not connect directly or become one.

3. Ball and Chain or Handcuffs:

Positive: Emphasis on the sacrifice of personal freedom.

Negative: Excessive loss of freedom, marriage as captivity and punishment

4. Yin-Yang/ Circle of blending opposite sides

Positive: Unity without loss of distinction, balance and harmony

Negative: Duality, partners are seen as inherently unlike each other

5. Rose (with thorns, cut stem)

Positive: Blooming, sweet smelling, alive

Negative: Painful, will wither

6. Sun and Moon

Positive: Complement each other, attract each other

Negative: Imbalance of persons, the moon only reflects the sun's light.

Sun and moon circle each other but never meet.

7. Equilateral Triangle:

Positive: supportive structure, equality, balance, Trinitarian

Negative: Impersonal

Ask for one or two positives and negatives for each one.

  • "What are some other possible symbols for marriage and why?" Record them-- they can come in useful when teaching this again.

"The Church provides us with a lot of symbols and images that can depict marriage. Or it may actually be that marriage is a symbol itself for something even deeper. St. Paul uses marriage as a symbol of the love between Christ and His Church. (Ephesians 5:15-33)"

  • Bring out an icon of the Holy Trinity or the Hospitality of Abraham. "How can this icon be seen as an icon of marriage? Is there a third person in a marriage? Who would it be? Why?" [God is the third 'person' in a marriage. Without Him, a marriage suffers and withers.]

"Marriage is not only a special relationship between two people. It is also a special relationship between two people and God.

  • Why might God be an important part of a marriage? [God provides us with the support and guidance to make marriage possible: Adam and Eve were not alone in the Garden of Eden, but were with God. When they ate of the forbidden fruit they turned away from God, choosing to live without Him and His Word. Thus was sin came into the world, and so did the first troubled marriage! We can see the sadness that happens in marriages when people cease to live with God as a central part of their relationship.]
  • "Look at Psalm 127:1, 1 Corinthians 13:2, and 1 John 4:8. Based on these Scriptures, what do you think happens in a marriage where God is ignored?" [Fighting, divorce, unfaithfulness, decline in Church attendance. It is important to note that this can happen even in a “religious” home. Marriage requires God and a lot of work!]

"If ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8), then without God in a marriage, there can be no love. If this continues, the marriage dies. When God is present, the marriage thrives and lives, even after death. 'Love endures all' (1 Cor 13:4-8a). In this session and the next we will take a look at marriage and how it relates to our sexuality. First we will look at how we should approach marriage as a relationship and as a sacrament."

V. Activity #3: Will You Marry Me?

Time: 20 minutes. Purpose: This activity is a directed discussion following on the last session where participants defined for themselves what kind of person they would want to date. Here, they are asked what kind of person they want to marry. Sometimes we value the people we date based on immediate desires while when we think of marriage we are drawn to consider the long term. This activity gives participants a chance to compare their priorities with dating and marriage.
  • "Do you know what Jesus Christ's first miracle was? (Hint: it occurs in John 2:1-11.)" [Christ turns water into wine at the Marriage at Cana.] Look it up and read together.

"The first miracle is when Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding. In this miracle Christ blesses not only water but marriage itself.

"Getting married is one of the most important choices we can make in life. Some of us will never marry-- this too is an important decision which we will discuss. Before we make any decisions, we should make our priorities clear. Take a few minutes to brainstorm in your journal all the characteristics that you would look for in a husband or wife. Try to come up with at least 10." Take up to five minutes.

"Now that we have a checklist of at least 10 'requirements,' We should ask ourselves what the most important of these requirements are. Go through the list and put them in order of importance of least to greatest in a Top 10 form." Take up to five minutes. Then ask the following questions:

  • "How does this list compare to what you would look for in a perfect date?" [More serious, more long-range, no difference, etc. Compare to list from session 4.]
  • "Where does love fit into your list? What elements of love are present in one form or another in your list?" [Compare with the acrostics from Session 3 and 1 Cor. 13: 4-8a.]
  • "How many of your requirements would be just as appropriate in 5 years as they are now?
  • “How about 10 years? (Pause) 50 years? (Pause) How about for all eternity? Keep in mind that one of the uniquely Orthodox beliefs about marriage is that it goes on into eternity."

"We rarely find a person that will meet all of our own requirements. What we do find, however, if we think about it, is the person that meets God's requirements for us. We have to approach marriage with humility. When we are married in the Church, we have put our trust in God that He has chosen the right person for us. We must work together to make our priorities match each other's and God's."

Have them respond to the following questions in their journals.

  • "What priorities do you think God could have for you and your marriage?
  • Are any of His the same as yours?
  • "What requirements are really not 100% required? Which ones do you think you go without? What would you be willing to sacrifice for love?
  • “Note these in your journal with a question mark."
  • “What do you think God would say you need in a spouse?”

"Marriage is often described as martyrdom in our services. During the wedding service, those to be married are given crowns representing martyrdom. Cynically, we might say that the martyrdom of marriage is that their fun life as singles is now over. But a martyr is literally a 'witness.' In accepting marriage, we witness to our faith in God's love and guidance."

“We can also learn what is important to marriage from the prayers of the Church. A 'Prayer for Married Persons' tells us the most important aspects of a relationship:"

O merciful God, we beseech Thee ever to remind us that the married state is holy, and that we must keep it so; grant us Thy grace; that we may continue in faithfulness and love; increase in us the spirit of mutual understanding and trust, that no quarrel or strife may come between us; grant us Thy blessings, that we may stand before our fellows and in Thy sight as an ideal family; and finally, by Thy mercy, account us worthy of everlasting life: for Thou are our sanctification, and to Thee we ascribe glory: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit; now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen. From a Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians.

  • “What are the key ideas expressed in this prayer?” [Faith, love, trust, understanding, peace, and humility before God are the key elements of marriage.

"When marriages end in divorce, it is not because God has chosen us the wrong person-- even though it can easily seem that way. Even Adam tried to blame Eve and God when things went wrong in the Garden (Genesis 3:12). When a marriage is broken, it is because one or both partners decide to put their own priorities before the priorities of God and spouse. The Holy Spirit is still there, but the couple has become unable to feel its presence in their marriage any longer. Thus in the Church divorce is forgivable but never blessed."

VI. Activity #4: Planning a Church Wedding

Time: 15-20 minutes.

Purpose: This is a more direct lesson on the types of requirements that the Church asks of us when we decide to get married. It is very important that young people learn what the rules of the Church are before they contract marriage, before they set a date, and so on. Whenever we are laying down the law, so to speak, we must remember the pastoral aspects. These rules were established for our benefit and spiritual edification-- not to make life and marriage more difficult. It is recommended that you invite the parish priest in to discuss these issues with you.

"When we finally meet that special someone that God has prepared for us, before we start setting dates and ordering invitations, there are some important things we need to know and learn.

Marriage is a sacrament, like Baptism and the Eucharist. Just like the Eucharist, there are certain restrictions on marriage in terms of who, what, where, when and how. These guidelines are for our benefit and show how meaningful and important marriage is. Long ago, marriages did not take part in church, but were handled by common law. Many people today treat marriage as something secular and not religious. Oftentimes, Orthodox, find out about these requirements too late."

Pass out the “Things to know about Marriage in the Orthodox Church” sheet.

"On this sheet are the basic 'rules' for an Orthodox wedding. Some of them may seem harsh, especially in today's society where inter-faith marriages are so common. Many people feel that no one has the right to say when and where a marriage can take place. To them it is the couples’ personal business. When we remember that God is the source of our love, however, and that we come to know God most fully through the Church and her sacraments, we can see the wisdom in her rules and guidance. These rules help us begin our love on the right foundation of faith and trust in God."

"It is important that you know these rules before you plan on marrying. In the Orthodox Church the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony demonstrates the spiritual significance of marriage. By knowing the rules, we can help ourselves and others understand this Sacrament of Love. In order that we can help ourselves and others in this way, we will become professional Orthodox Wedding Planners!" Split into small groups. Pass out the Wedding Case Study sheet to each group.

"On this next sheet are several stories of people who would like to be married in the Orthodox Church. It is your task to help them avoid any snags in their planning and to make sure that the plans conform to the requirements of the Church." Each group should be given one case-study and answer the following questions, using the “Things to Know . . .” sheet as a guide:

  • "What do they need to be made aware of in order to have an Orthodox wedding?"
  • "Will they have to change anything? (Date, day of the week, sponsors, other)?"
  • "What suggestions or solutions could you offer them to solve their problems?"

Participants should take some time to go through the fact sheet to familiarize themselves with the Church's teachings. These situations represent some extreme cases but also some very realistic problems that people encounter in varying degrees. The answers will not be easy. Priests who find themselves in counseling such couples have to use great pastoral kindness. They may also have to consult with their bishops. You may want to ask your parish priest to assist in these activities and to share some of his own cases.

If there are many groups, you may have them double up to see how their approaches differ, or come up with your own scenarios. Some guidelines for answering questions brought up in the scenarios are given below.

Leader's Guide to "So You Want to Get Married in the Orthodox Church?":

Situation #1: Gregory has been studying in Japan for the last two years and has met a woman named Yoshiko that he would like to marry. Yoshiko is not Orthodox but is willing to convert for her husband if need be. The parents of each of them have had reservations about the two getting married, but the two insist they are meant for one another.

Gregory would definitely like to have an Orthodox wedding. However, since Yoshiko's family lives over 2000 miles away, they are planning on having a wedding there first for her family and then coming back to America with her parents to have a wedding for Greg's family, which is Orthodox. Yoshiko's planning on wearing a traditional kimono for her dress as well. Greg wants to ask his best friend Rob, a Roman Catholic, to be his best man and Yoshiko is going to have her sister Tadako, serve as maid of honor

[Situation #1: The first thing Greg and Yoshiko need to do is have Yoshiko baptized. Then they have to reconsider the idea of a wedding in Japan and one in America. A couple only needs to be married once to be husband and wife. They should avoid a non-Orthodox service. Preferably, they should have the Orthodox marriage first and then a prayer service of thanksgiving (molieben) afterwards for a second service. A Thanksgiving service could even be served for a forthcoming marriage in Japan-- there are Orthodox priests there too! Most families are content with a brief service recognizing the couple's commitment to each other. The second concern is that if they are going to have non-Orthodox attendants they should be sure to have at least one Orthodox sponsor. Wearing a kimono is perfectly acceptable.]

Situation #2: Tania and Steve recently surprised everyone when they announced that they had eloped. Some of their friends knew that this was coming. Now Tania is pregnant. Since their first wedding was done at a drive thru chapel in Las Vegas by an Elvis impersonator, they have begun to think that maybe it would be a good time for them to have a "real" wedding, for the sake of their unborn child. Though they were raised Orthodox, they haven’t taken the Church very seriously until now. Tania is already a couple months pregnant. She wants to have the service before she is showing so that the dress will fit. They have set the date for Dec. 18, a Friday evening during Advent this year. They want to be traditional to please their family and are wondering what they can do.

[Situation #2: Tania and Steve have made some pretty significant mistakes and acted in an impulsive manner. A wedding is not the best way to correct their situation or save themselves from embarrassment. Perhaps they did not know the Church's restrictions and did not mean to defy the Church. While their original service was a civil service and not religious, it still counts as a legitimate marriage. Considering the carelessness with which it was contracted, a priest, with the blessing of his bishop, might encourage an Orthodox wedding service. The date service could not be Friday Dec. 18, however, since most bishops only allow Sunday weddings and never during a lenten period (Dec 18 is during the Advent Lent). Any attempt to seek a divorce/annulment from the state in order to remarry in the Church would be frowned upon as looking for a loophole.]

Situation #3: Dave and Christine met each other five years ago at a pagan festival where they were both practicing druids (Celtic pagans). They were married by a legally-ordained and recognized "druid" and they have been living as husband and wife ever since, though they had an "open" marriage during some of that time. Recently, they converted to Orthodox Christianity and feel the need to repent of their sexual past. They have decided to be remarried in the Orthodox Church as soon as possible. In order not to offend their pagan friends and family members and make them more accepting, they want to have the service outside. Because many of their friends will object to the wording of the epistle, they were wondering if they could change it to a less striking passage. They feel their greatest hope is to make a new start of their marriage.

[Situation #3: Dave and Christine really need to reassess their priorities and their commitment to the Church. They may just be ignorant of the Church's requirements. If the person who wed them was a minister legally recognized by the state as capable of performing marriages, even if of a non-Christian religion, then the Church would recognize them as married, though a priest might suggest an Orthodox wedding since their prior one was not even Christian. They should be sure to confess their past sexual immoralities and to reconsider the influence that their non-Orthodox friends are having on them. All they require is a blessing on their marriage.]

Situation #4: Tim and Rachel have been seeing each other for a few years and decided to tie the knot. Rachel is from a Jewish background but is converting to Orthodoxy. Tim is himself a loyal convert to the Orthodox faith. Their wedding plans for an early August wedding where going fine until they hit some snags. Her family has insisted that they have a Jewish wedding in addition to any Christian wedding or they will disown and disinherit her. Tim and Rachel have a lot of school debts and they could really use the money that would come from a big wedding that her family would throw for them. Tim doesn't have a large or wealthy family, and they are all non-committed Christians from various Protestant denominations. What should they do?

[ Situation #4: Tim and Rachel are in a tough bind. Often financial and family strains can affect one's ability to conduct the type of wedding they want. They must remember that it is their wedding and not their families'. If they are to stick to their faith, then all they have to do is schedule their August wedding for after the Dormition fast (after Aug. 15). If the family is willing to invest in a big wedding, chances are good that they care enough about the couple to accommodate their religious needs.]

Optional Activity: Wedding Candles

Time: 20-30 minutes or as needed.

Purpose: This activity works well in a weekend retreat format where participants have more time. The wedding candles of the Orthodox service are a significant part of the symbolism in the service, and are distinctly different than the tradition of the "unity candle" so prominent in non-Orthodox churches. Part of the beauty of the wedding candles is the care and attention that goes into decorating them. Often the sponsors are responsible for providing and decorating these candles with ribbons, flowers, and other adornments.

Provide participants with candles (white or ivory) of no more than 1 foot long unless you are really planning on using these for a service, in which case they should be standard length. You will need ribbons, scissors, and any other materials that seem appropriate. This is an activity that may appeal to young women more than young men. Have them decorate the candles in their own way, and provide traditional examples as well. Another option, if you have the materials, is to design crowns.

Each person can customize their candle by adding ribbons on which they write affirmations of marriage and love based on what has been discussed in this unit. This then serves as a reminder to them of the promise of marriage and what it means for them spiritually. Avoid focusing on the mundane aspects of weddings and married life.

VII. Session Conclusion:


  • Why is the Holy Trinity Icon a good model for understanding marriage? [A Marriage needs three: husband, wife, and God.]
  • What are three of the rules concerning marriage that the Church asks us to follow? [Marry in the Church, Marry a Christian, Converts do not need to be remarried.]

“As a journal assignment, when you go home, ask your parents about their wedding. Look through a wedding album together. Ask them what things would they have liked to have known before getting married.”

"Getting married is one of the most exciting things that will ever happen to us. Some people say that the joy of the wedding is matched only in the joy of childbirth. Today we looked at what we need to know before we get married and what we need to do to prepare ourselves for marriage as a Sacrament. Let us conclude with the following prayerful words of St. Nicholai of Zhicha (David and Mary Ford, Marriage as a Path to Holiness, pg. lv):

Have a participant read the following passage:

My brethren, marriage is a great and wonderful mystery, one of the greatest mysteries of God's dispensation. A pure and honorable marriage, in the fear of God, is indeed a vessel of the Holy Spirit. he who disdains marriage scorns the Spirit of God. He who defiles marriage with impurity blasphemes against the Spirit of God. And he who refrains from marriage for the sake of the Kingdom of God must make himself a vessel of the Holy Spirit in another way, bringing forth fruit in the spiritual sphere . . . O God almighty, Thou Holy Spirit, help Thou those in the married state-- that they, in purity, fear and mutual love, may be a church of God in whom Thou may dwell with joy, directing all things for good. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen .

VIII. Closing Prayer