Everything You Need to Know about a Coptic Wedding
Me, Fady, and my college sweetheart Tammy are getting married very soon, and our wedding will bring together inside the church an unusual crowd, half Egyptian, half Canadian. If you’re curious or have questions about our Coptic wedding, you’ve come to the right place. If you’re a non-Egyptian (especially non-immigrant Canadians) and you have never been to a Coptic (or Orthodox) wedding, be prepared for a culture shock! A coptic wedding is highly spiritual, symbolically rich and exotic. Regardless of your faith, or lack thereof, you will enjoy watching this ancient, elaborate ceremony.
What is Coptic?
Coptic originally means Egyptian. Today it refers to Christian Egyptians.
Copts = Egyptian Christians (who are mainly Orthodox Christians)
Copts represent around 20% of the Egyptian population. The Coptic church is one of the oldest churches in the world, and it has not changed much during the past 2 millennia. Coptic Orthodox church resembles many other Orthodox churches around the world such as those of Greece, Cyprus, Russia, Georgia, Serbia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, etc. The closest to Coptic Orthodox in terms of culture and faith would be the Greek Orthodox. What makes the Egyptian Coptic heritage fascinating is how it is situated between East and West, ancient and modern.
There are around 15 million Copts in the world today, and you rarely hear about them on the international news because it’s a very peaceful community. The most famous Copt, that you might recognize, is Boutros Boutros Ghali, 6th Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1992 to 1996. We are proud of him, as a gracious person and a politician.
What is Coptic Language?
Coptic Language is the final phase of the ancient Hieroglyphic language (you can actually see Hieroglyphics on the background of this page). Coptic language is written in the Greek alphabet, obviously much less complicated to read and write than Hieroglyphics.It’s still used in the liturgy in Church, similar to Latin language in some Catholic churches.
Language of our Coptic Wedding
The wedding ceremony will be a mixture of modern English, ancient Coptic with hints of Greek.
Note: In this article, I’m highlighting the differences of the Egyptian culture vs. the Canadian, not the similarities.
The Coptic language ceremony has not significantly changed over the past 2000 years. Since the church is very symbolic, the wedding will also be very symbolic. Volumes could be written on the symbolism of the Coptic church which you will experience, e.g. icons of angels and saints, candles, holy oil, incense, etc. The ceremony views the couple as almost literally a “match made in heaven”. Needless to say that a Coptic marriage is final, never dissolvable except in very extreme cases. In brief, it’s a ceremony to show that the young couple are receiving blessings from the family, Church and the Heavens.
You will notice Egyptians hand-kissing when greeting priests in Coptic Orthodox church, practiced in other Eastern Orthodox churchs like Macedonian and Ukrainian Orthodox churches and Eastern Catholic churches and Latin Catholic (South American) churches as well. It was the norm in many Western Catholic churches before major changes took place in the 1960s. It’s meant to honor the fact that they conescrate the Holy Communion.
Question: Which 1970s movie portrayed Italians hand-kissing? (Answer at the bottom of this page.)
Ululation (Zaghareet): It’s an ancient custom, where women express joy and celebration by producing a high pitched sound, as they waggle their tongues from side to side rapidly. You will hear it a few times in the church, watch them and you could even try to imitate them!
If it’s your first time in a Coptic church, feel free to walk around, ask questions and be intrusive. We like meeting people interested in our little Egyptian community.
Around 45 minutes, please be patient.
Timeline of Ceremony
1. General and matrimonial prayers/hymns
2. Biblical readings
3. The exchange of the rings
4. Anointing bride and groom with Holy Oil
5. The blessing of the crowns/ Crowning (my fav. part!)
6. Handing over the wedded to one another/advice (admonition) (priest directly speaking to bride and groom)
7. End of service
The priest(s) and chanting deacons bless and celebrate the holy matrimony of the bride and groom in a royal manner, complete with crowns and ceremonial capes (i.e. princely vestments).
Anointing the bride and groom with holy oil is a symbol of spiritual protection, as they start their new life together.
In the final few minutes of the matrimonial service, you’ll hear the most interesting part, which is a clear evidence that the ceremony hasn’t changed much in the past 2000 years. The priest turns to the beautiful bride and starts saying the following, I’m rephrasing in plain English, submit to your man, receive him with a smile, be obedient to him, and call him “my lord”! At this point, you’re most probably guaranteed to see both the priest and the bride along with others smiling. In our modern Coptic church, that moment has become an acceptable humourous moment, where the rules are relaxed. The priest continues to say that if you keep this advice you’ll be blessed with offspring as “the stars of heaven” and “the sand on the seashore”.
It’s almost like the priest is saying “here comes my favorite part” or “yeah, right, like you’re actually gonna call your husband ‘my lord’” or “listen, it’s in the liturgy book, I gotta read it all.” Does it reflect the modern Coptic woman? No. Do we have any complaints about it? No, actually, that’s the only “fun moment” in this very traditional and serious ceremony.
Just because the Church is conservative, that doesn’t mean that weddings are not large celebrations, Egyptians love to celebrate, remember we’re not that conservative after all, we invented belly dancing!
Egyptian culture is very expressive. Men greeting other men who are family members or good friends, do not merely handshake. Kissing and hugging between men is not unusal, as is the case with other Mediterranean/Middle Eastern/South European countries like Turkey, Italy or France. So pretend not to be shocked when you see my cousin Joseph saying “Congratulations” as he squeezes me in a hug and plants 2 kisses on my cheeks.
Hollywood movies featuring Orthodox weddings: My Big Fat Greek Wedding, Sideways, The Deer Hunter, My Life.
Answer to Question above: The Godfather Triology.
Click here for the proposal story (2008).
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