"Indeed, when you submit to the bishop as you would to Jesus Christ it
is clear to me that you are living not in the manner of men but as Jesus
Christ... It is necessary, therefore, and such is your practice, that you do
nothing without the bishop..."
- St. Ignatius of Antioch,
Letter to the Trallians 2, 1-2 (ca 110)
"Certainly it is now the bishops who hold the place of the Apostles in
the church. They receive the authority of binding and loosing; they have as
their lot the role of governing. It is a magnificent honor, but the honor that
carries with it a heavy burden."
- St. Gregory the Great, Homilies on the Gospels 2, 26, 5 (ca 509)
For the Sacramental union of a man and a woman to be proper in the eyes of
the church the marriage must be performed in the Orthodox Church. For such a
marriage to be sacramentally valid, the following must be adhered to:
- No impediment to the marriage
may exist, or the necessary dispensations must be obtained beforehand from
the hierarch of the diocese.
- A civil marriage license must
be obtained from appropriate civil authorities.
- The Sacrament of Marriage
must be celebrated by an Orthodox priest in the church of the bride in
accordance with the liturgical tradition of the Orthodox Church.
- The priest must belong to our
diocese. A marriage performed by another priest in communion with the
Ecumenical Throne is recognized as valid by the entire Orthodox Church.
- The pastor must receive
necessary dispensations if they are required for the marriage from his
- Before proceeding with
arrangements for a marriage, the pastor must verify:
- That the parties in
question are not already married either in this country or elsewhere. If
one of the parties is not personally known to the pastor, a freedom to
marry form must be executed by their legal pastor.
- Those desiring
marriage must be members in good standing both from a spiritual and
temporal perspective in the parish for at least one year prior to the
- If either or both
parties are widowed, they must present the death certificate of the
- If either or both of
the parties have been civilly divorced and have civilly remarried,
determination must be made by the Diocesan Tribunal regarding the former
marriages and their validity. In such a case no marriage date can be set
until a decree is obtained from the Diocesan Tribunal.
- No more than a total of three
valid marriages are permitted by the Church.
- When one or both parties is
divorced, they must obtain a decree of annulment or of spiritual death of
former marriage from the Diocesan Tribunal.
- In the case of mixed
marriage, the non-Orthodox party must be a Christian who is baptized in
the name of the Holy Trinity. A marriage cannot be solemnized between an
Orthodox Christian and a non-baptized person.
- In the case of a mixed
marriage between an Orthodox Christian and a non-Orthodox Christian, the
marriage must be celebrated by an Orthodox priest in the Orthodox Church
according to Orthodox liturgical tradition. The parties must promise
solemnly and in writing that any children born of the marriage will be
reared and raised exclusively in the Orthodox Church.
- Mixed marriages can be
celebrated only in the Orthodox Church. Double ceremonies are not
permitted to believers as the Orthodox ceremony is alone sufficient for
sacramental grace. In those cases where dual ceremonies are planned, the
marriage cannot take place in the Orthodox Church.
- Since two witnesses are
required civilly, ideally, they should both be Orthodox. However, for the
validity of the Sacrament, only one is necessary. This witness must be a
practicing Orthodox Christian and must have a Sponsor certificate from his
pastor attesting to same. A person who does not belong to an Orthodox
parish, does not receive the Sacrament regularly, or who belongs to a
parish not in communion with the Ecumenical Throne, or who, if married, is
not married in an Orthodox Church, cannot enjoy the awesome dignity of a
marriage witness. Non-Orthodox members may comprise the remainder of the
wedding party since they serve no spiritual or religious purpose.
- The couple contemplating
marriage cannot compose their own marriage ceremony. The Diocesan
publication of the Service of Holy Matrimony is the only service book to
be used. No music, other than that which is part of our sacred musical
tradition, is permitted to be sung.
- If the couple requests the
special presence of a priest of another canonical Orthodox diocese, the
invitation must be extended to him through the officiating priest. If the
couple requests the special presence of a priest of the Roman Catholic
Church, the invitation must be extended to him through the officiating
priest, after the proper dispensation has been granted by the Diocesan
Bishop. Since no priesthood exists in the Protestant tradition, and no
sacrament is acknowledged in contracting the marriage, participation by a
Protestant minister is not permitted.
Days When Marriage Is Not Permitted
- Christmas Fast (Advent)
- Great Lent and Holy Week
- Feast of the Beheading of St. John the Baptist
- Feast of the Elevation of the
- Dormition Fast
- On Wednesday and Friday
Marriages may be performed on these days if absolutely
necessary and for reasons of urgent import only with special dispensation from
the diocesan hierarch.
It is a fact that more things which the proposed couple have in common,
particularly their common faith and spiritual life, the more likely it will be
that they live their married life in sacramental grace, peace and harmony.
Shared faith and traditions spare newlyweds and their children many serious
problems and strengthen the bond between them. However, Orthodoxy does
solemnize mixed marriages under the following conditions:
- Necessary dispensations must
be secured by the pastor regarding permission for an Orthodox Christian to
marry a non-Orthodox Christian.
- The non-Orthodox party must
be baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity.
- The couple must be willing
and able to baptize their children in the Orthodox Church and nurture them
in accordance with the Orthodox faith.
If these conditions are not met, then the pastor is not free
to solemnize the marriage. If the Orthodox party enters an attempted marriage
in a non-Orthodox setting or in a church not in communion with the Ecumenical
Throne, the marriage is not valid in the eyes of the Church. The Orthodox party
must then bear in serious mind that a married Orthodox Christian whose marriage
has not been solemnized in the Orthodox Church is no longer in good standing
with the Church and consequently does not have the right to receive the
Sacraments of the Church or to be eligible to become a witness or sponsor at a
Marriage, Baptism, or Chrismation. They are also excluded from Christian burial
unless they repent and return to the unity of the Church. An Orthodox Christian
who has attempted marriage outside of Orthodoxy and wishes to be reconciled
with the Church is encouraged to request such from the local Orthodox priest so
that the necessary remedies might be applied and integration into the salutary
life of the Church take place.
A non-Orthodox Christian who marries an Orthodox Christian does not
automatically become a member of the Church and it is therefore not permitted
for the Sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, to be distributed to such
souls. These are privileges only of baptized, chrismated and committed members
of the Household of Christ.
Prohibited Marriages Among Believers
First Group: Parents with their own children, grandparents or great-grandchildren.
Second Group: Brothers-in-law with sisters-in-law.
Third Group: Uncles and aunts with nieces and nephews.
Fourth Group: First cousins with each other and second cousins with each other.
Fifth Group: Foster parents with foster children or foster children with other
children of common foster parents.
Sixth Group: Godparents with godchildren or godparents with the parents of
Locations Of The Celebration Of Marriage Outside The Parish Church
The Camp Nazareth Chapel, Seminary Chapel, college chapels -- all need the
express approval of the diocesan hierarch to be used as a location for the
marriage celebration. Circumstances will be taken into consideration before a
blessing is bestowed. It should also be remembered that the Church is the
normal location for the wedding. The Sacrament of Marriage cannot be celebrated
in a garden, poolside, in vehicles of public transportation, etc.
Divorces, Annulments, And Decrees Of Spiritual Death In Marriage
An ecclesiastical annulment or decree of Spiritual Death may be granted only
after a civil decree has been obtained. However, the spiritual father or parish
pastor must exert every effort to reconcile the couple and avert a divorce if
this is spiritually and humanly possible. Should the pastor fail to effect a
reconciliation, he will undergo the necessary direction of the Diocesan
Tribunal and assist the party or parties in seeking an ecclesiastical annulment
or decree of spiritual death of the marriage. Full particulars may be obtained
by writing to the Diocesan Tribunal at the Chancery Office. No priest is free
to solemnize a marriage even if a need is apparent before the decrees are
issued by the Diocesan Tribunal. No date of a proposed marriage may be set
until the decree is obtained.
Although ideally, both sponsors for a baptized Orthodox child should be
Orthodox and it is difficult to imagine why faithful committed Orthodox parents
would think of asking a non- Orthodox party to sponsor their child for this
Sacrament, our pluralistic society makes many demands upon us. However, one of
the sponsors at Baptism and Chrismation must be Orthodox who has produced a
statement from his legal pastor attesting to their practice of the Orthodox
faith by regular attendance at the Divine Liturgy, in daily life and
sacramentally. A person who has been excommunicated or anathematized by the
Church, or who, if married, has married outside the Orthodox Church, may not
become a godparent. People living together in a common law relationship may not
serve as godparents as well as those in cohabitation situations.
Sponsors In Non-Orthodox Churches
Roman Catholic and Byzantine Catholic
Churches require but one
sponsor at Baptism who is of their faith. Many times our faithful are asked to
sponsor a child in this sacrament in their church. Our pastors will issue a
sponsor certificate to our faithful in these cases where the Orthodox believer
is a practicing member of the Church which means attendance at the Divine
Liturgy, regular sacramental life along with a serious attempt made at living
the commandments of Christ. We cannot encourage our faithful being sponsors for
any other communions because of the theological variance which exists between
our Churches. Orthodox believers should simply respond when called upon by
various sectarians to act in this capacity that our Orthodox Church does not
permit our participation in the faith practices of Protestant Churches.
Requiem and funeral services are permitted any day of the year except on
Sundays unless it is most urgent and absolutely necessary and specific
permission is secured from the hierarch of the diocese.
Requiem services may not be held on the following days:
- From the Saturday of Lazarus
through the Sunday of St. Thomas.
- Christmas and the Feast of
- Feast of the Dormition of the
Mother of God.
It is highly recommended that Orthodox Christians offer and
request memorials and Liturgies for the repose of the souls of their beloved
departed and participate in the universal remembrance of departed souls on the
five All Souls Saturdays.