Before entering into any discussion of marriage, it is important to draw a distinction between civil marriage, on the one hand, and Christian marriage, on the other. In our culture, with its Christian heritage, the histories of these two rites of passage are closely intertwined, and confusion can be caused by the fact that the same word is used to refer to both things. However, they remain separate and distinct.
Civil marriage is a legal union of two people, and is performed by a registrar or another person authorised to act with the legal powers of a registrar for the purposes of marriage. It is governed by the Marriage Acts of 1949 and 2013, and gives formal recognition to a relationship between two people, irrespective of gender, who make legal vows to each other as part of the ceremony. It also grants certain benefits and responsibilities in law. Civil marriage often serves as an occasion to gather friends and family to add public celebration and social affirmation of the relationship that has been given new recognition in law.
At St Melangell's, we share in the joy of all who enter such a legal union and pray for their long life and happiness.
By contrast, Christian marriage, also known as Holy Matrimony or the "Crowning" of a marriage, is not a legal ceremony and has no relationship to the law of the land. Rather, it is a Christian sacrament - a purely religious rite - by which a woman and a man enter into a spiritual union, reflecting the union of the Church with Christ. It is a union of the male and female of the human race into one flesh as completing each other for the purpose of their mutual support on the path of salvation, and has a strong (though not exclusive) focus on the couple's participation in God's action of the creation of life. Many of the prayers focus on this unity and completion, as well as the bearing of children.
Christian marriage is performed by a priest, and usually in the presence of the wider church community to which the couple belongs.
If you would like to be married at St Melangell's, please get in touch.
Some important points to note:
- Civil marriage is not Christian marriage. A registrar cannot perform the sacraments of the Church. There is an unfortunate teaching in some churches that it is the bride and bridegroom who effect the marriage, even if there is no priest. This is not an Orthodox Christian teaching. Couples who wish to be married in the eyes of God are encouraged to approach a priest to ask for the holy sacrament and have their union crowned in the Church of Christ.
- Many couples may wish to have both a civil and a Christian marriage. In such cases, the usual practice is to have the legal ceremony first as a quiet affair, with just the necessary two witnesses. This takes about 15 minutes at the Register Office. Then the couple comes to church for the Christian sacrament in the presence of the church community, their friends, and their family. However, other arrangements are possible and can be discussed with a priest.
- While it is technically possible to have a Christian marriage without first having a legal ceremony, this is discouraged by most Orthodox clergy for a number of practical and ethical reasons.
- Nothing about the male-female nature of Christian marriage is to be understood as a devaluing or denigration of people whose attractions are towards others of the same sex, and who are loved and valued as part of the Church community. In our modern times, we are privileged to see the gradual decline of the old social and cultural forms of oppression of people based on race, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, among other things, and there is a greater recognition of the dignity of all people, for which we are thankful to God. However, we run the risk of falling into the thinking that to be equal means to be the exactly same. Within the Church, not all of the sacraments are received by all Christians. Not everybody receives the sacraments of Unction, Ordination, or Monasticism. These sacraments are specific to particular circumstances in people's lives, and those who do not receive them are no less valued as part of the Church of Christ. Holy Matrimony is no different in this regard.