Marriage is actually considered as one of the sacraments, a spiritual bond between a man and a woman, sanctified by the grace of the Holy Spirit, joining them into an indissoluble unit for the purpose of establishing a caring and harmonious Christian family. Despite that, we possess a large number of documents relating to marriage contracts in Coptic; however, detailed description of marriage is lacking in Coptic tradition.
This might be because most of the literary documentation is relating to monks and monasticism or to martyrs. A section in the martyrdom of Apater and Iraie his sister reflects the custom of marriage in Egypt in the time of writing this text:
Some days later, after Apater left his house, a mighty young man, tribunus, whom the king loves greatly, called Constantine, came to the king Diocletian asking him the sister of Apater for marriage. But her mother refused saying that ‘Apater my son is not here and his sister is exiled also. . .’ Having heard these words, Constantine was very sad and so the king. The latter called Romanus, the father of saint Victor. . . . Romanus went to the house of mother of Calonia, took the hand of Calonia, the sister of Apater, and gave it to Constantine as bride.
The text mentions precisely the profession of the young man, and how he should ask the person in charge of the family, and in case of refusal another person interferes. It shows also that in case of mourning or absence of one the family, the wedding is delayed.
The rite of marriage is performed in front of the sanctuary or in a private house. The Coptic wedding ceremony is called “the coronation ceremony.” A papyrus in the collection the National library of Strasbourg contains an inventory of a church that mentions three crowns of copper. The eve of the wedding day is called “Night of the Henna,” where a trained woman prepares the bride for marriage.
Only women are invited. A parade of the most important gifts of the bride is organized that includes furniture . . . etc. During the ceremony, the bridegroom wears a long cape embroidered in white, waits in the chancel for his bride, who approaches on the arm of her father or a relative. She is preceded by the choir and clergy dressed in festive habits and singing to the accompaniment of cymbals and triangles. She takes her place at the right in one of the chairs on the platform.
In front of the couple is a table holding the New Testament, a golden cross, the wedding rings, and incense. The marriage service begins. The structure of the rite is typical of the morning incense. The ceremony starts with the Thanksgiving prayers, the Pauline epistle, the trisagion and the Gospel, and then some litanies asking for the blessing of the marriage, taking many quotations from Old Testament, while the deacons sing appropriate hymns.
At the end, after everyone has recited the Lord’s Prayer, and the absolution; the priest, preceded by the choir of deacons singing, leads the newlyweds to the exit. There is a special reading for the Eucharistic liturgy if the bride and the bridegroom will partake the communion after this ceremony; which is from John 2:1-11: the wedding of Cana. Sometimes a lavish dinner is served, usually in the home of the bridegroom or under a tent especially erected for the occasion or in a large hotel.
On the following morning, friends and relatives call at the bridegroom’s house to present their gifts to the newlyweds. Gifts used to consist mainly of cash, which was carefully recorded for reciprocation on later occasions. After forty days, the new family is visited by the priest who reads an absolution of the bride asking for a blessing in order that she will have children and good health.