Why do we use stefana in a Greek wedding ceremony? How did this tradition come about? What do they mean? Find out in today’s Jewel School.
Stefana and the Greek wedding
How many of us who are Greek Orthodox have sat through countless weddings in our lifetime –either sitting in the pews, standing on the solea as Koumbaro, OR as Bride and Groom? Often, many of us check our watches to see how much longer the ceremony will take till we get to the crowning of the couple. How many of us, however, really know the meaning of this beautiful tradition within the Sacrament of Marriage ceremony? Let’s get you up to speed then, shall we?
The all-encompassing scope of the stefana cannot be underestimated, for their origin is as old as Greek civilization itself. The primary purpose of these wreaths, before Christianity, was to protect the wearer from evil influences. In Greek art, gods, nymphs, and human figures were often depicted with headdresses of olive or laurel. Later, delicate wreaths of gold, copper, and other metals predating the 4th Century B.C. served both the living and dead. During life, kings and queens wore them for ceremonial occasions and athletes received them for outstanding accomplishments. At death these wreaths accompanied the bodies into the tomb. They signified the wearers’ royal blood or exceptional achievements in life.
The Greek Orthodox Church borrowed the concept of the stefana from the ancients, merging the classical with the spiritual. In the Orthodox wedding ceremony, the stefana, two circular forms united by one ribbon, have long since become part of the religious ritual that celebrates not only the union of man and wife, but also a union between ancient and modern, between God and man.
As in the ancient Church, crowns are symbolic of martyrdom. The word “martyr” means witness. Within the daily life of the bride and groom, they are to bear witness to the Presence of Christ in their own lives and in the world. Martyrdom is usually associated with death. So the reality of God’s Kingdom in the life of the husband and wife will necessarily take the form of dying to one’s self, to one’s will, and the giving of one’s life totally to the other, and through the other, to Christ. This reminds the couple that the purpose for their union is for each to help the other gain salvation.
Related: Bridal Jewelry of Ancient Greece
In a beautiful article entitled, ‘The Crowning’, Wikipedia defines the stefana in the wedding ceremony.
“The crowns have two meanings. First, they reveal that the man and woman, in their union with Christ, participate in His Kingship. Second, as in the ancient Church, crowns are a symbol of martyrdom. The word “martyr” means witness. The common life of the bride and groom is to bear witness to the Presence of Christ in their lives and in the world. Martyrdom is usually associated with death. So the reality of God’s Kingdom in the life of the husband and wife will necessarily take the form of dying to one’s self, to one’s will, and the giving of one’s life totally to the other, and through the other, to Christ.”
The significance of the Greek Orthodox Wedding Sacrament can be summed up entirely with close examination of the symbolism and practice of the wedding crowns. During the Wedding Service itself, the priest, holding the crowns above the heads of the couple, offers prayers to God on their behalf and says, “In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. He then places the crowns upon the groom and bride and says, “Oh Lord, our God, crown them in glory and in honor.”
Designing stefana today
In designing my Stefana Eternal collection, to be true to the history and symbolism, I have returned to my ancient roots using the techniques and designs of the classical goldsmith. Every wreath is made by hand from precious metals. Each leaf, petal, and stem has been individually designed, formed and embossed; set with genuine gemstones. Emerging from the classical concept of beauty as form, I have tried to return the stefana to their original purity, the purity that they represent for us today.
Try to remember these things the next time you’re at a wedding and you’re tempted to look at your watch. Pay attention. Witness the beauty and symbolism of the stefana.
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