While much of what is contained in this section of the Web site may seem a bit legalistic, I’ve determined to include this information for two reasons. First, the Orthodox Church seeks to respect other faith traditions’ rules and at the same time desires to protect its own theological integrity. Second, numerous couples who participated in the IRP repeatedly indicated that they were essentially ignorant of the Orthodox Church’s rules as they pertain to intermarried couples, and thus, desired this information.
Rev. Fr. Charles Joanides, Ph.D., LMFT
The following pastoral directives function to guide and facilitate Greek Orthodox priests’ work with couples who either are contemplating intermarriage or are presently intermarried. These directives flow out of the Orthodox Church’s understanding of marriage and its desire to assist its marriages and families in their efforts to cultivate an Orthodox Christian environment in their homes.
As a result of the Orthodox concept of economia, (a type of theological tolerance) inter-Christian marriages between an Orthodox Christian and another Trinitarian Christian are permitted. Briefly, the Church has made this concession because it recognizes that we live in an increasingly pluralistic society. The Church is also concerned with each member’s salvation, and therefore does not desire to place any obstacle before its faithful by denying the Sacrament of Marriage to those who choose to enter an inter-Christian marriage.
Although the Orthodox Church permits inter-Christian marriages between its faithful and other Trinitarian Christians, it has done so by seeking to protect its theological integrity. To that end, the following additional pastoral directives (regarding inter-Christian marriages between Orthodox Christians and other Trinitarian Christians) have emerged.
Since the Sacrament of Marriage is a Christian ceremony, and the Orthodox Church does not perform the Sacrament of Marriage for an Orthodox Christian and an un-baptized person, non-Orthodox Christians wishing to get married in the Orthodox Church must have been baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity. In addition, the Orthodox Church also does not perform the Sacrament of Marriage for two non-Orthodox Christians. At least one individual must be Orthodox in good standing(1) with his or her parish.
In order to remain in proper canonical and spiritual standing with the Orthodox Church, Orthodox Christians must be married by an Orthodox priest, in an Orthodox Church, and in the manner prescribed by the priest’s service book.
Couples marrying in the Orthodox Church must also commit themselves to baptizing and raising their children in the Orthodox Church. Orthodox Christians who choose to baptize their future children in their partner’s church call into question their desire to live an Orthodox lifestyle. Such a decision also affects the Orthodox partner’s standing with his or her church.
Since only Orthodox Christians are permitted to participate in the Orthodox Church’s sacraments, sponsors exchanging the wedding rings and crowns must be Orthodox Christians in good standing with their parish. This rule is connected to the church’s understanding of the sponsor. Briefly, the sponsor is more than a legal witness. The sponsor also functions as a spokesperson for the Orthodox congregation affirming the spiritual preparedness of the couple to enter into the community of marriage.
Orthodox partners should be made aware that if their marriage is not solemnized by the Orthodox Church, they are no longer in good standing and are not permitted to receive the sacraments or participate in the sacraments as a sponsor(2) .
Double performances of the wedding service, that is, in both the Orthodox Church and another Church are not encouraged. This guideline is relaxed when an Orthodox Christian has been married outside of the Orthodox Church and wishes to return to the Orthodox Church and once again become canonically and spiritually in good standing with his or her Church. In this case, after the Orthodox priest receives permission from his bishop, the Sacrament of Marriage is performed.
Co-celebrations of the Sacrament of Marriage between Orthodox and non-Orthodox clergy are not permitted. While non-Orthodox clergy are not permitted to co-celebrate the Sacrament of Marriage with the Orthodox priest they may attend and offer a benediction to the couple as well as prayerful words of exhortation.
Inter-Christian couples who wish the presence of a non-Orthodox clergyman during the Sacrament of Marriage should make their desire known to the Orthodox pastor. He will then seek the Bishop’s permission. Inter-Christian couples should also be made aware of the following additional procedures.
The Orthodox priest will extend an invitation to the non-Orthodox clergyman. At that time, the Orthodox priest will respectfully state that a co-celebration of the Sacrament of Marriage is not permitted since the Orthodox Church does not permit non-Orthodox clergy to participate in the sacraments.
The Orthodox priest will also clearly advise the guest clergyman on matters of appropriate vesture and seating (which is generally, but not always, located in a prominent place on the Solea(3)). Additionally, he will also clearly indicate that the guest clergy will be properly acknowledged and permitted to give a benediction, and address the couple with some words, good wishes, and an exhortation at the conclusion of the Sacrament of Marriage.
The couple should also be told that wedding invitations and newspaper announcements must clearly distinguish between the Orthodox celebrant and the guest clergy. Terms like “assisted” or “participated” should be avoided. Optional descriptors such as “was present” or “was present and subsequently gave a blessing” should be selected and utilized so as to clearly describe the non-Orthodox visiting cleric’s role. In addition, Orthodox Priests who are invited to attend non-Orthodox wedding services may only attend as guests.
Inter-Christian couples are also respectfully informed that non-Orthodox Christians who marry in the Orthodox Church do not subsequently have sacramental privileges in the Orthodox Church. Because of the Orthodox Church’s position on sacramental participation, only those who are in good standing canonically and spiritually have sacramental privileges. Similarly, intermarried couples should also be aware that only Orthodox Christians who are in good standing canonically and spiritually are (a) permitted an Orthodox Funeral Service, (b) and allowed to serve on the Parish Council, (c) permitted to vote in parish elections, and (d) permitted to serve as godparents or sponsors at baptisms and weddings.
(If you have some additional questions or concerns, you should either e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or consult your parish priest.)
1 According to the Special Regulations and Uniform Parish Regulations of the GOA (Article VI, Section 1), “Any person, eighteen years of age or over, who has been baptized according to the rites of the Church, or was received into the Church through Chrismation, who lives according to the faith and canons of the Church, who has met his financial obligation to the Parish and abides by the regulations herein and the by-laws of the Parish, is a member in good standing of the Parish.”
2 The term sponsor is a generic term that refers to either the paranymphos or paranymphy who exchanges the rings and crowns during the Sacrament of Marriage or the godparent during the Sacrament of Baptism.
3 This is the area directly in front of the Iconostasis (Icon Screen) in all Orthodox Churches.
- Pastoral Guidence for Interfaith Marriage in the Greek Orthodox Church
Rev. Father Charles Joanides, Ph.D., LMFT