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Ilya and Rali: orthodox wedding ceremony in the ancient basilica

It feels my heart with joy, when I think about that day. The 11 of May, 2022 – a day when Rali and Ilya, our lovely Canadian couple, has  became a husband and a wife for ever. Actually they have been legally married in Canada at their home town Toronto a few month before.  Both were raised in the Orthodox Faith. Both decided from the beginning that their union won’t be complete without an orthodox wedding  rite. The Orthodoxy spread in Crete in the 1st AC.  Ilya and Rali knew this historical fact and  picked up Crete because it’s ancient history.  The ceremony took place at the ancient Basilica in the mythological Amari valley (Central Crete).


Rali and Ilya were very involved in planning their wedding despite their busy schedule. I think they even enjoyed planning. I strongly believe Rali (our bride) could make a career as a wedding planner.  She is highly organised person and doesn’t like “surprises”.  Since Ilya and Rali knew exactly what they wanted, working with them was very easy. In addition, we had 14 months for planning ahead. Perfect timeline for a wedding planing in Crete (Check here to learn why)


Ilya and Rali visited Crete once  before their wedding to check the venue and to meet me in person. We spent 5 hours chatting and drinking wine at the Rethymno bar by the sea.  We exchanged gifts:  I got a bottle of great Canadian whiskey and my love birds got olive oil from my  olive grove.  Together we travelled to the venue which was located in the Cretan mountains. No sea view but the view on the mount Ida at Psiloritis, the highest point of Crete.

Ilya and Rali felt that the breathtaking view of their venue was the perfect choice for a destination wedding in Crete which filled their guests with excitement. But the most excited part of whole event was an orthodox wedding ceremony at the ancient Basilica hidden in the shadows of olive threes.

A Place of Ceremony

According to legend this church was built at the place of the Ancient Greek temple of Apollo, the god of Light and Art. There’s nothing fancy inside – no gold and paintings, just shabby walls and frescos. However there you can feel strong connection to the long history. And I might confess that the vibes there are very vibrant. No wonder Rali said she would like to have a ceremony here and nowhere else.


However Papa Giorgis was surprised by the couple choice. Last time the wedding ceremony took place at the Panagia Kera church was about  30 years ago. The locals prefer to get married in the modern churches and cathedrals.



Once we confirmed the venue, Rali and Ilya have booked a villa near by. It’s reasonable to have a stay close to your wedding venue to save time on transportation on a wedding day. Most of guests travelled overseas and  preferred to plan their trips themselves. The Crete Within Weddings team provided them a list with hotels in the area.  Also we organised a guest transfer on the days of event.

Coincidentally  the villa that my couple rented belonged to my friends. Ah, don’t be surprised. Crete is a big island but sometimes I feel we all know each other here. The population of Crete is approx half a million of people. We are like a big family here. That’s why Crete is a great place to gain families.

Best men and bridesmaids stayed at the same villa with the couple. They actively participated in morning wedding rituals. Bestmen assisted to Ilya and bridesmaids – to Rali.

The bridal stylist Marianna, the wedding photographer Irini Koronaki and the videographer Alex DG films also arrived in advance to have enough time to do their jobs in the best possible way.





The first look!  An emotional moment when a bride appears before a groom. This is my favourite moment of a day.



Saluto! Yia mas! Viva! Sante!

Before the ceremony

The ceremony was scheduled for 3 pm. Usually we don’t start ceremonies that early because of the incredible Cretan heat. But in May the weather is perfect for midday weddings. Temperature is comfortable and the island is blossoming. However the mountain tops are still covered by snow.


The guests arrived to the venue earlier than the couple and had a bit of time to get familiar with the place.  The wooden welcome sign was custom-made by a local painter. The welcome table was set accordingly to the rustic wedding theme. There was a variety of Cretan snacks such as rusks, olives, graviera cheese, mini tomatoes and raki, a traditional Cretan spirit, of course.



The wedding ceremony was supposed to take place inside the church which is quite rare in Crete. Because the Cretan weddings are crowded and there’s no enough room for everyone. Therefore the main part of a ceremony is conducted outside as you may see here.

We decorated the aisle with candles and greeneries and put the rug at the place where Ilya and Rali were supposed to be standing during the ceremony. Thus the basilica’s interior got cosy look. The old stone made walls protected us from the heat.



Rali brought the lampades (wedding candles) and stefanas (wedding crowns) from her hometown in Canada.

NB: You could also order them directly in Crete.

The ceremony in Panagia Kera

The solemn ceremony started when Rali and Ilya entered into the church. The priest Papa Giorgis joined their hands and led the couple to the altar.  Most guests attended the Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony for first time in their lives.  In order to keep them aware of the ceremony’s flow, we printed and distributed leaflets with description of the main steps in English.

NB: the Orthodox ceremony is always conducted in  Greek language.




I noticed that the guests remained silent and concentrated during the ceremony. Together with Rali and Ilya’s parents they also prayed for the happy family life of the couple. It remained  a collective meditation.  Actually that’s exactly how it should be. Honestly, I was very moved.





The Orthodox  believe that  only after the church ceremony the destinies of two different people become the one. Nowadays there are many foreign couples who come to Crete to get married in the church after many years of being civil husband and wife.  However in Greece the church wedding considers legal, as if you have signed papers at the town hall.  A couple gets the Marriage Certificate right after the ceremony.  It can be explained by the fact  that  Greece was a mono-religious country for quite a long period of time.

You may see Ilya and Rali signed the papers and their “koumpari” as well. Since then Ilya and Rali have become official spouses in Greece. Yay!




After the ceremony

A Greek Orthodox wedding ceremony lasts about 40 minutes. Ilya and Rali wanted their guests to enjoy the place and the moment. Also they all needed a break in this intense day. Imagine an amount of new information they have got within a short period of time!   We set a table with different drinks and snacks, so the guests could help themselves.  Meantime Ilya and Rali leave to take pictures with the photographer Irini.






Rali and Ilya

It’s important a couple has a chance to stay alone during a wedding day. Especially after such an emotional moment as a ceremony, that is a climax of every wedding. While guests were socialising,  Rali and Ilya escaped for an intimate photoshoot. It was also a moment where Rali and Ilya exchanged the secret vows.







A wedding reception

What happens every time after a formal part of a wedding is over? Right, it’s a party time then! Ilya and Rali fell in love with their venue from the first sight. Aravanes fully met their imagination and expectations – a traditional Cretan family run tavern in the mountains. The quality of food was amazing, yet simple. The secret of the tasty meal are the ingredients. Aravanes uses only local products.

In the decoration we used neutral colours with some elements of dusty rose. In general Crete Within Weddings to be eco-friendly and to use only natural or recyclable materials in wedding decor. This approach makes us different to many wedding planning companies in Greece.




Guests arrived to the Aravanes venue first. Our task was to help them feel comfortable in the new place. Rali and Ilya wanted to thank their international friends to coming and have provided special favours with our help – a small bottle of local olive oil and hand-made olive soap. Crete Within Weddings welcomed guests with cookies.

In a few minutes Ilya and Rali appeared with the accompaniment of popular Greek-Balkan track. Pame! (Lets go! – in Greek)





Entertainment program 

It found out that Ilya was a big fun of the Greek music. So it was decided from the very beginning that we would hire a Greek band  who would perform the traditional song all evening long. I opened my mouth in surprise when I saw Ilya picked the microphone and performed a few songs with musicians in Greek!

Here we should mention that it was really international wedding. Guests came from all over the world – Canada, Georgia, Swiss, Bulgaria, Barbados and even Japan. Of course, everybody spoke English so it was easy to communicate. Most of guests were Rali and Ilya’s colleagues who were lawyers. Therefore there were a lot of speeches, beautiful long speeches. Wine, greek songs and speeches!









Dear Ilya and Rali, you are amazing, warm people. We wish you happy family life for ever and, please, come back to Crete sometimes!

You may check Ilya and Rali testimonial here

Images by Irini Koronaki

Video by Alex DG films:

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