When an Orthodox couple gets married, you may notice that they often wear their wedding rings on their right hand, not the left as most others do. Why is this, and what does this mean?
Why the right hand?
During the Orthodox wedding service, the priest exchanges the rings for the couple and says a prayer. In that prayer, we hear him say:
Your own right hand, O Lord, armed Moses in the Red Sea. Yea, by the word of Your truth were the Heavens established and the earth set upon her sure foundations; and the right hands of Your servants shall be blessed by Your mighty word, and by Your uplifted arm.
God’s right hand makes firm the foundations of the earth. Thus, by putting the rings on our right hand, rather than our left, we remind ourselves that everything we do is with the help of God, who watches over us and protects us. Some ancient customs tell of a devil that sits on one’s left shoulder and an angel on the right as a way to explain the practice followed by the Orthodox. Still others believe the right hand has a stronger meaning because Jesus sat at the right hand of the Father – in a special place of honor.
What do the rings symbolize?
Most people think (and probably assume) that the wedding rings on the right hand represent our faithfulness and trust toward our spouse or a pledge of our love to him/her. However, none of the prayers used in the wedding serve suggest this meaning! Instead, the rings represent the faithfulness of God. Again, in the prayers of the wedding service, we hear the priest pray:
Therefore, O Lord God, Who have sent forth Your truth to Your inheritance and Your promise to Your servants, our fathers, who were Your elect, do You give regard unto this Your servant (Name) and Your servant (Name), and seal their betrothal in faith, in oneness of mind, in truth and in love. For You, O Lord, have declared that a pledge is to be given and held inviolate in all things.
In the prayer, the priest also mentions the giving of rings throughout Scripture:
- Joseph – “By a ring Joseph was given might in Egypt…”
- Prophet Daniel – “…by a ring Daniel was exalted in Babylon…”
- Tamar – “…by a ring the truth of Tamar was made manifest…”
- The prodigal son – “by a ring out heavenly Father showed compassion upon His prodigal son, for He said, ‘Put a ring upon his right hand, kill the fatted calf, and let us eat and rejoice’.”
In other words, the rings symbolize God’s word that He Himself will seal our marriage in “…faith, in oneness of mind, in truth and in love.” The rings symbolize God’s pledge to us, His children. He promises to remain with us always, not matter what. This is what the rings mean.
The rings, in the Orthodox tradition, mean much, much more than simply, “I love you”. We wear wedding rings on our right hands because the Lord’s right hand makes firm the foundations of the earth. Moreover, the rings symbolize God’s word to remain faithful to us. They also symbolize that God walks with us, protects us, and supports us. Our marriages essentially proclaim the gospel message and remind us of the love God has for His children.