Divorce - FAQ
- When was Divorced Permitted?
- Previously Married
- Conflicted Couple in Therapy
- Chronic Gambling, Personality Disorder and Divorce
- Divorce and the Spiritual Court
- Same Sex Marriage
- Children's Religious Development After a Divorce
- Church Divorce
- Divorce and Remarriage
Question: "The question is when and why did the Church first allow divorce and remarriage?"
Answer: The Orthodox Church permits its faithful to divorce because it maintains that marriages can and do die. In these cases, the Orthodox Church acknowledges this tragic reality and argues that the worst of two evils is that the couple remain in a destructive relationship that can have a deleterious effect on all family members' religious, spiritual, psychological, emotional and physical well-being.
Additionally, the following three historical factors have probably had the greatest impact on the Orthodox Church's perspective of divorce and remarriage:
1. The close relationship between the church and state which existed in Byzantium had a profound impact on the formulation of marital practice and the possibility of remarriage in the Eastern Church. This is particularly the case with regard to the legislative contributions of the Emperor Justinian's codex of law issued in 535 A.D. Justinian's marriage legislation affirmed that marriage was dissoluble for a number of specific reasons I will not detail here.
2. Despite Justinian's codex, the present discipline of the Orthodox Church with regard to divorce and remarriage actually dates back to the Council of Constantinople held in 920 A.D. This council recognized, without canonical punishment, remarriage and divorce.
3. Further, since the fall of Constantinople in 1453 A.D. the specific reasons given by the Council of Constantinople in 920 A.D. were expanded further.
From an Orthodox perspective, divorce and remarriage belong to human weakness and failure. The Orthodox Church allows remarriage out of mercy and for the salvation of its faithful whose first marriage has died. Alexander Schmemann - a prominent Orthodox theologian - speaks of the "condescending" of the Church "to the unfathomable tragedies of human existence" when speaking about remarriage and divorce. As such, pastoral economia take into account the fact that Christian people are surrounded with erotic propaganda, urbanization, uprooted ness and a culture that is at odds with Christian values.
I pray this helps. Write me back if you have follow-up questions or concerns.
Question: "I am divorced and was previously married in the Roman Catholic Church. My boyfriend is Greek Orthodox. He is also divorced and previously married in a non Greek Orthodox Church. Since we are both divorced, can we get married in the Greek Orthodox Church?"
Answer: The short answer is, yes.
Based on the information you've shared, you can get married in the Greek Orthodox Church. However, at minimum, you would both need to provide the priest preparing you for marriage in the Greek Orthodox Church, the following documentation: (1) a copy of each respective partner's civil divorce, and (2) a copy of each partner's baptismal certificate.
Question: “My husband and I are separated. He moved out several months ago and he now lives with one of his daughters. I am questioning what kind of marriage we have if we cannot be together. I am torn between believing that God brought us together and blessed us with holy matrimony and feeling as though we are not honoring His gift. I am in terrible pain as I know my husband is, and I keep turning to God for help. I am not sure what I should do. We have been in therapy for four months and it has helped, but the progress is very slow. I have shared my pain, but he can’t seem to share at the same level. How do I know when enough is enough and it’s time to move on?”
Answer: I am sorry you find yourselves at an impasse. Being stuck in marital gridlock is very hard - especially around the holidays. Based on your observations, it appears the therapy is headed in the right direction. Stay vulnerable, committed and try not to take his lack of support personally. He is likely struggling internally with unproductive psychodynamics that even he may not fully understand. Hopefully the therapy will help him put some pieces together.
When the pieces come together, he will also become equally vulnerable. When and if this occurs, the therapy will quickly move to another level that should lead you both to increased connection and commitment. So, in response to your question, I believe you are a distance away from divorce and I suggest you continue the therapy. In time, if circumstances and attitudes do not change, you will eventually know it may be time to consider separation and divorce.
Finally and most importantly, continue to pray. In your prayers, thank God for the gift of unity he has blessed you with and ask Him to help you both in your efforts to realize the gift and embrace it.
Grace be to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love undying (Ephesians 6:24).
Question: “I cannot thank you enough for the work you have done for the Archdiocese in regards to marriage guidance. I really enjoyed the new teaching guide “Journey of Marriage in the Orthodox Church” I found it very helpful – wish I had it 15 years ago. Unfortunately, both my husband and I have failed at our marriage. Looking back, we were both ignorant about what it takes to make a marriage work thinking it would just happen automatically. It also does not help that communication is a weakness for both of us. That said, our marriage problems go deeper than that. My husband has a gambling problem and a narcissistic personality, which I do not know how to deal with. I am a typical woman who just wanted to be loved and respected and cannot continue living like this. Is there any hope here? Your advice would be greatly appreciated.”
Answer: Thank you for your supportive, kind words related to my work. I was pleased to read you found The Journey of Marriage helpful.
Regarding your question: "Is there any hope here?" The short answer is, yes, there is always hope. That is because we follow Christ. With that stated, and based on what you've written me, if there is hope for your marriage, I believe the following steps must occur.
If you have been enabling his dysfunctional behavior –the gambling - you need to stop. If necessary, seek some professional help. You must inform your husband that you believe he has some serious problems and he must agree to seek some help. If this step intimidates you, find one or two people to provide some moral support when you have this conversation with him.
During this conversation, your husband will be faced with the fact that he has some serious problems that require professional and spiritual help. He must face the fact that both he and you are powerless to resolve on your own. He must then commit to finding some professional help. You can help him find help, but he should do the lion's share of the work. I would suggest you consider Gamblers Anonymous as a start.
Once your husband is receiving treatment for his gambling and personality problems, I would then suggest that you both consider couple's counseling with a marriage friendly therapist. This will help you learn new ways of being with one another.
Concurrently, you should both seek out spiritual counseling. Research indicates that the types of issues you've described are resolved and managed when God's life changing, healing grace is centrally present during the change process.
If your husband is unwilling to assume responsibility for his behavior, and if he is unwilling to admit that he has some serious issues and problems tha are compromising his well-being, your well-being and marital satisfaction, then you should prayerfully consider meeting with your pastor to discuss your options - on option being divorce. At that point, your pastor will be able to provide further assistance. If needed, you can contact me again.
Question: “I was on the Web site looking for some answers and I was hoping that you could help me. I was married to a non-Greek Orthodox man (I am Greek Orthodox) and we went through a nasty divorce. It’s three years later, I have moved on. I went to the church to fill out the papers for the Spiritual Court and sat with my priest. He said that we had to contact my ex to get his signature. He is a very vindictive person and will likely not cooperate. What can I do?” (watch your spacing here)
Answer: It is my understanding that it is standard procedure for a spiritual court to contact your former spouse. However, the spiritual court should not need his signature or approval to proceed with its work. Those sitting on the spiritual court will essentially render a decision based on your statements and your priest's statement and not on this detail.
Question: “I am a Greek Orthodox Christian. My husband and I have raised our family in the church and our son married a non-Greek Orthodox woman three years ago. They are having marital problems. My daughter in-law has left my son due to his infidelity. He is now in therapy. My sadness is overwhelming. Please provide some advice. Are there any resources that might help?”
Answer: It is always very painful for parents to watch their children struggling - no matter what their age. I shall keep you, your son and daughter in-law in my humble prayers.
Based on what you have written me, it appears your son has taken a proactive approach that should help him begin addressing a number of important questions. The support you are offering should also prove invaluable. Together with the steps that have been taken to address the marital problems you've described, I have provided links to a few articles that should prove helpful for all concerned. After reviewing the information, please feel free to contact me again if you have additional questions or concerns.
Question: “I am struggling with the same sex marriage issue. I feel as though the issue is intimately interconnected with our country’s civil rights laws that deal with discrimination. Am I accurate? Any feedback would be helpful.”
Answer: I agree that heterosexuals have perpetrated immeasurable damage to the institution of marriage and their criticisms that same sex marriage will do irreparable damage to the institution of marriage often rings hollow. I also agree that discrimination - in any form - is destructive to both those who suffer discrimination and those who discriminate - especially the discriminated. I also agree that this issue is very complex and there do not appear to be any easy answers.
Coupled with the above, I could cite research and theory that suggests that children - on average - do better when their parents remain together and take an active role in raising them, but I won't. I could also site research and theory that suggests that children derive unique benefits from having both a mother and father who love one another and are committed to co-parenting them, but I won't. I could also illustrate how I believe this debate has largely been an adult-centered debate that has often lost sight of what is best for children, but I won't. I could also delineate the church's position regarding homosexuality and same sex marriage, but I won't. As compelling as all this information might be, I suspect you've heard it all in some form or another and such information might not be as useful to you as the following observation I am about to share which is encapsulated in the following quote from Holy Scripture. "Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things which you have not known" (Jeremiah 33:3).
I would also maintain that any sincere response to the same sex marriage issue requires an expenditure of time and energy similar to your efforts. That stated, in your efforts to agonize over this issue and take some positions, I wonder how much time you've spent in prayer calling upon the Lord? Have you cried unto Him for answers, peace and wisdom?
As you know, one fact about the God that we worship is that He cannot lie. He tells us that He will answer our prayers, and He does. However, the process might take some time. So,...you may shed more tears before you find some answers.
Question: I am currently dating a woman who is divorced. She has completed her civil and ecclesiastical divorce. Her husband left her several years ago. I am in love with her but my parents do not agree with my decision to pursue her further. There aren't any children involved.
Does the Orthodox Church’s view of divorce contradict Holy Scripture? I guess I have a moral dilemma regarding this issue and don’t necessarily agree with the Orthodox Church’s view of divorce. Can you help?
Answer: The Orthodox Church's position regarding divorce does neither contradict Holy Scripture nor is it predicated exclusively upon Holy Scripture. The Orthodox Church understands that some marriages die and that these seriously conflicted marriages are destructive to the spiritual, physical, psychological and emotional well-being of those spouses as well as their children who are caught in an unhealthy, unholy, destructive relationship. Because the Church desires that all its members come to the knowledge of Christ's truth, through economia - a type of pastoral flexibility - it has determined to permit its faithful to remarry. The woman whom you are dating has obtained an ecclesiastical divorce- based on specific, acceptable, clearly defined reasons and as far as the Orthodox Church is concerned she is free to remarry. Because of this, you would not be considered an adulterer nor would she be unworthy to remarry.
If you would like to read more about the orthodox Church's position regarding divorce, the following resources might prove helpful:
The Sacrament of Love by Paul Evdomimov
Marriage: An Orthodox Perspective by John Meyendorff
Eros and Transformation: Sexuality and Marriage an Eastern Orthodox Perspective by William Basil Zion
I pray this helps.
Comments and Question: I recently suffered through an unwanted divorce. Anyway, she is Greek Orthodox and I am from another Christian tradition. We have 3 children. They have been baptized in the Greek Church. Anyway, I am finding it to be difficult to continue to foster and encourage them to attend, participate and observe Greek Orthodoxy versus my Christian faith as well as what would appear to be simple things such as do I take them to my Church on Sunday or to the Orthodox Church? Any recommendations on how to resolve this internal conflict would also be appreciated.
Answer: Although you are seeking specific suggestions, I cannot answer until I have more information related to questions like the following: Which parent has custody? Which parent is the most religious and spiritual? Which parent cares the most about the children's religious and spiritual well-being? Which parent is most likely to assume responsibility for nurturing the children's growing faith. What are the terms of the civil divorce?
I will offer a few observations. Children need consistency in all aspects of their lives. This includes their religious development. If the two of you are on speaking terms, I would suggest you both try to work through this developmental need in a way that places your children's needs first. Some realities that may influence this discussion are as follows:
Which parent may be the most committed parent when it comes to meeting your children's developing religious needs?
Should we expose them to both parent's religious traditions?
Are your children old enough to make decision on their own, if so, do you know their preferences?
How will exposure to both parent's backgrounds enhance or detract from their religious development?
Other than both of you and your children, which extended family members' feelings and thoughts might be considered?
Comments and Question: I'd like to put closure on our marriage. I understand the Greek Orthodox Church has an ecclesiastical divorce process. Even though I am not Greek Orthodox, do I need to initiate this process in order to have closure to my spiritual marriage as I was married in the Greek Orthodox Church?
Answer: No. This requirement only applies to Greek Orthodox Christians.
Subject: Divorce and Remarriage
Commentary and Question: I am 27 and have a 6 month old baby - we are both baptized Greek Orthodox. I was married to an atheist man for 4 years and I decided to end the marriage last May (2012) because I wanted to live a Christian existence. We were only legally married. After we separated I learned I was pregnant. I went back to the marriage to try and make it work, but my husband was an alcoholic and not interested in being a husband and having a family. I ended our marriage 6 weeks before our baby was born.
I carry a lot of guilt and sadness around the decisions I made surrounding getting married to an atheist and turning my back on my faith for these years.
Anyway, my spiritual dilemmas surround my baby’s relationship with her father and the impact this can have on her faith. I desperately want my baby to have a religious upbringing as I did. I attend church almost every Sunday with my baby.
Recently I have also met an Orthodox man whom I would like to marry and have a family with. I have had confession and communion since my baby was born.
Father do you think there is hope in such a situation?
Of course there is hope for you and your baby!
Scripture reminds us that we all sin and fall short of God's commandments. Conversely, Scripture also teaches that we worship a loving, forgiving and merciful Father who is quick to forgive us when we repent and turn to Him with regret for our sins. So, if you have made a heartfelt confession, then accept God's forgiveness and have no further care for the sins you have confessed.
Please also know that God loves you and your precious child and if he had a refrigerator, He would have your pictures on it. What's done is done. Put your hand to the plow, learn from your mistakes and don't look back. The sins you've confessed are erased and forgiven. Indeed, what you've described is a success story - thanks be to God. Continue to follow Him and don't let inappropriate guilt get between you and His love and forgiveness.
God bless you on this the day the Lord has made.