Among Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Christians,
the exchange of rings is not technically part of the wedding service,
but rather are exchanged at the betrothal. It is always a two-ring
ceremony. Traditionally, the groom's ring will be made of gold,
and the bride's ring made of silver, and are blessed by the priest
with holy water. The priest blesses the groom with the bride's ring,
and places it on the ring finger of his left hand; he then blesses
the bride with the groom's ring and places it on her finger. The
rings are then exchanged three times either by the priest or by
the best man. The orthodox Christian Church of Greece has recently
stopped performing betrothal blessings separately, as these were
often non-committing, and a betrothal ceremony is the initial part
of the wedding service anyway. In many families an informal blessing
is now performed by the betrothed ones' parents in a family dinner
that formalises the betrothal. The ceremony of betrothal is now
possibly performed immediately before the wedding (or "crowning"
as it is more properly called), and the actual symbolic act of marriage
is not the exchange of rings, but the public proclamation of marriage
by an authority figure or leader.
The custom that calls for the future bridegroom to give his future
bride a jewelled ring upon proposing to her is also common, though
this ring is not used again at the betrothal or wedding. Indeed
it need not be a ring at all, but any piece or set of jewellery,
such as a bracelet, brooch, earrings, necklace, tiara or, rarely,
a whole parure.
In several traditions, the best man or best woman may have the
duty of keeping track of a couple's wedding rings and to produce
them at the symbolic moment of the giving and receiving of the rings
during the traditional marriage ceremony. In more elaborate weddings,
a ring bearer (usually a young boy that is part of the family of
the bride or groom) may assist in the ceremonial parading of the
rings into the ceremony, often on a special cushion.
In older times, the wedding rings were not only a sign of love,
but were also linked to the bestowal of 'earnest money'. According
to the prayer book of Edward VI: after the words 'with this ring
I thee wed' follow the words 'This gold and silver I give thee',
at which point the groom was supposed to hand a leather purse filled
with gold and silver coins to the bride.
Historically, the wedding ring was rather connected to the exchange
of valuables at the moment of the wedding than a symbol of eternal
love and devotion. It is a relic of the times when marriage was
a contract between families, not individual lovers. Both families
were then eager to ensure the economical safety of the young couple.
Sometimes it went as far as being a conditional exchange as this
old (and today outdated) German formula shows: 'I give you this
ring as a sign of the marriage which has been promised between us,
provided your father gives with you a marriage portion of 1000 Reichsthalers'.
In some European countries, the wedding ring is the same as the
engagement ring and changes its status through engraving and the
change of the hand on which to wear it. If the wedding ring is different
from the engagement ring, the question whether or not the engagement
ring should be worn during the ceremony leaves a few options. The
bride may wear it on her left ring finger and have the groom put
the wedding band over it. She may also wear it on her right ring
finger. The bride may also continue wearing the rings on different
hands after the wedding – this may prevent the engagement
ring from scratching and scuffing. Another option is to have the
main bridesmaid keep the ring during the ceremony – there
are a variety of ways to keep it: in a pouch, on a plate, etc. After
the ceremony, the ring can be placed back on either the left or
the right hand. The finger is always the ring finger, but there
are cultural differences whether the wedding ring is worn on the
left hand or the right hand.
The right hand is the traditional hand for vows or oaths. It is
raised when such an oath is given, so the wedding ring would here
show the sincerety of the oath. A traditional reason to wear the
wedding ring on the right hand stems from Roman custom and biblical
references. The Latin word for left is "sinister", which
in addition to this sense also has the same senses as the English
word. The Latin word for right is "dexter", a word that
evolved into "dexterity". Hence, the left hand had a negative
connotation and the right a good one. For the same reason, an oath
is sworn while raising the right hand.
The left hand is also used for cultures that believe in the vena
amoris or "vein of love" that is believed to be found
in the left ring finger.