Everything You Need to Know Before Going to a Coptic Eastern Orthodox Wedding

Everything You Need to Know Before Going to a Coptic Eastern Orthodox Wedding

Weddings are always beautiful events that celebrate the union of two individuals. Each culture has its own take on the ‘traditional wedding’. The range of ceremonies offered by the cultures of the world is as wonderful and diverse as the people who inhabit it. If you’re used to attending more traditional weddings in the West, then attending something like an Eastern Orthodox wedding may be a shock to you.

Has a friend or acquaintance invited you to a Coptic wedding ceremony? If so, you may have more than a few questions running through your mind right now – like what the dress code is when a Coptic Orthodox wedding (normal wedding attire is just fine!). We urge you not to panic because we’re going to give you the basic gist of this traditional and symbolically rich wedding ceremony, that will indeed, take your breath away. It may be different from anything you’ve seen before, but once you experience one, you’ll be able to appreciate what makes it so wonderful. Okay, here goes!

Bride and Groom Exchanging Vows
Broom kisses coptic priest hand

Some Brief History

Let’s first step back for a moment and talk about some history. The Copts or Coptic people are a denomination of Christians living in present-day Egypt. Although Muslims comprise the majority of the Egyptian population, Coptics are still one of the largest Christian groups in the Middle East.

Considered an Eastern Orthodox Church, the Coptic Church is one of the oldest churches in the world and hasn’t changed in over 2,000 years, so it’s no wonder that it has so much tradition. We should mention that when we say “Coptic Church” we’re actually referring to the Orthodox Church of Alexandria, which has the most practitioners. There is also the Eastern Catholic Church, which is in full communion with Catholic Church.

In terms of spoken language, Coptics speak what’s called Demotic Egyptian, the same language that was spoken in Egypt during the Roman era. Although the language is still in use, many Coptic speak Arabic as well. The Coptic written language is a combination of the Greek alphabet and Egyptian hieroglyphs–these being the more advanced, simplified versions of the early Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs. During the wedding ceremony, both English and Coptic are spoken with the Coptic being used as a more traditional, ceremonious language. Think of how Latin is used in Catholic ceremonies and you’ll be on the right track.

Ceremony

Now that you know a little background about the Coptic people, it’s time to move on to our favorite part: the actual wedding ceremony.  If you’ve ever been to any Eastern Orthodox wedding, such as a Greek Orthodox wedding, you’ll realize that the ceremony is similar. At 45 minutes, the service is slightly longer than ceremonies in the West ( which range from about 30-40 minutes) because the process hasn’t been altered in over 2,000 years. Yep, there are no shortcuts or simplified customs here, you’ll get the unaltered, authentic experience with a Coptic wedding.

Here’s an outline of a typical Coptic Orthodox wedding:

  • Matrimonial prayers & hymns
  • Readings from the Bible
  • Exchange of Rings
  • Anointing with Holy Oil
  • The Blessing of the Crowns
  • Priest Admonition
  • End of service  
Priest walking down aisle at coptic wedding
Egyptian Coptic Eastern Orthodox Wedding Ceremony

Like many ancient traditions, a Coptic wedding is deeply symbolic. The Coptic Wedding Crowns symbolize rulers of the household, anointing with Holy Oil symbolizes spiritual protection for the bride and groom, lighted candles symbolize the light of Christ etc.. It’s wonderful event with an Old-World appeal that makes you feel as if you are part of something much larger than yourself.   

We won’t cover each part of the wedding, but we will talk about a few key points about the ceremony. First, we want to mention the use of royal adornments. One of the first things you’ll notice about a Coptic wedding is that the bride and groom are dressed a bit like royalty. They wear crowns, capes, lavishly embroidered garments, jewelry, and all manner of decadence. Yes, it looks amazing, but more importantly in the Coptic faith, it symbolizes that the bride and groom as the newly adorned rulers of their household.

This is one of the most important parts of the ceremony, and probably the most unusual to those who’ve never been to an Eastern Orthodox wedding: The Blessing of the Crowns. In this part of the service, the priest takes turns placing the crowns on the heads of the bride and groom while reciting prayers. The crowns themselves are signs of glory and honor that God bestows upon the couple during the sacrament. They also represent the couples giving their lives to each other and through Christ. At the end of the wedding, the crowns are removed and the priest asks that the crowns are admitted into the Kingdom of Heaven.

While the Coptic Church is conservative and adheres to tradition, there are some parts of the wedding that are taken less seriously due to modern trends. For instance, at the end of the service, the priest provides advice or admonition to the bride and groom, mainly to the bride, in which he tells her that she must submit to her man, be obedient to him, and refer to him as her “Lord”. Although this is part of the ceremony, it’s a section that is taken less seriously in modern times for obvious reasons. However, keep in mind that divorce is not an option unless in extreme circumstances and that the marriage is a union created by God.  

Also, according to the tradition, sex is not allowed for three days following the ceremony and the couple must instead fast and pray. This is a custom that isn’t followed as closely today, and you can probably imagine why. We’ll just say that most couples aren’t exactly flying off to the nearest monastery after the wedding is over, although some devoutly religious couples still follow this tradition.  

The wedding is concluded with shouts of joy and celebration from the women. These aren’t any old hoots and hollers though: it’s a distinct sound known as Zaghareet, where the women produce a high-pitch sound as they waggle their tongues rapidly from side-to-side. It’s an ancient custom and you’ve probably heard before but haven’t realized it yet.  

Bride sitting in chair being carried
belly dancer with candles on her head

Steeped in Tradition, Ceremony, and Symbolism

Going to a Coptic Christian wedding is most likely nothing you’ve seen before. It’s full of tradition and ceremony and that’s part of what makes it so memorable and wonderful. See? By reading our rundown of this beautiful custom, you’ve probably learned some cool things and fixed your anxiety. Or at least we hope. If you still have questions, then the internet has a wealth of knowledge on this subject. Remember: don’t sweat it! Fundamentally, all weddings are the same. They are the beautiful celebration of two individuals in a union, so just relax and enjoy the day.  The Bleu Studio has experience in photographing all traditional weddings, contact us to learn more!

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Category(s): International Weddings Wedding Trends and Traditions

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