In times past it was both the duty and the right of the parents to choose a spouse for their child. Today it is only required that they grant their approval to the match.
The Coptic betrothal ceremony consists of two events: the engagement and the official betrothal. The engagement (shabkah) takes place when, after the couple has obtained parental approval to wed, the future groom goes with his parents to the home of the bride-to-be and presents her with a gift of some value, befitting his financial situation. This is a private, family meeting, and a simple meal is served. There is no religious ceremony, and the engagement may be revoked at any time.
The official betrothal has a religious character, and is sealed by the church in a formal procedure, which can be broken only by its intervention. For this ceremony the home of the future bride is gaily decorated with small flags and colorful strings of lights outside and many flowers inside. Before commencing with the prayers, the priest must ascertain in writing that there are no legal obstacles to the marriage by checking the mutual agreement between the couple, the compatibility of their ages, and the size of the dowry to be paid by the fiance. This custom is gradually disappearing. The date for the wedding ceremony is generally set at this time, providing that the couple have reached legal age (eighteen years for the boy, sixteen years for the girl). Having thus established the marriage contract, the priest dates the document and has it signed by all parties involved as well as certain notable guests.
Then, two wedding rings of gold or diamonds are wrapped, along with the wedding crowns, in a white veil that will cover the heads of the couple on their wedding day. The priest reads the contract, blesses the couple three times with his cross, and recites the Lord’s Prayer in concert with all those present. Next, turning toward the East and baring his head, he says the Prayer of Thanksgiving, and offers up incense, while the choir of deacons sings to the accompaniment of triangles and cymbals. After appropriate lections from the Epistles, Gospels, and Psalms, the priest recites the three prayers of intercession, the Creed, and three special prayers for the betrothal contract. Once again he recites the Lord’s Prayer, and says another prayer over the veil. Then taking one of the wedding rings, he places it upon the right hand of the future bridegroom, who, in turn, takes the other ring and places it upon the right hand of his bride-to-be.
- Burmester, O. H. E. The Egyptian or Coptic Church, pp. 131ff. Cairo, 1967.
CÉRÉS WISSA WASSEF