"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 diocesan bishop.
- 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 marriage date.
- If either or both parties are widowed, they must present the death certificate of the deceased spouse.
- 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 Cross
- 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 godchildren.
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 the Resurrection.
- 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.