Intermarriage Challenges - FAQ
"I really appreciate this opportunity to ask for your help.
I grew up Greek Orthodox and now I am married to a man who did not attend church with his nuclear family but who went through all the sacraments of the Catholic Church. He is Espanic….We got married in the Orthodox Church, but we then decided to baptize and raise our children Catholic. I was not thrilled with the idea, but I felt that it was a fair compromise at the time. Although I don’t feel at home in the Catholic Church, I also don’t feel completely at home in the Orthodox Church. I never learned Greek, my father is not Greek, and I never really felt “Greek enough” to belong….Well, my son is now three years old and we also have a daughter who is 7 months old and they have not been baptized….I do not like the Catholic Church….But then I think I’m just being selfish. I need to think of what is best for the children. It is probably a lot easier for them to go to the Catholic Church….I have been very stressed about this for a long time. I have trouble sleeping and I get very emotional when I think of it (which is often). I have trouble focusing on other things. It seems that I think about this often, but then I never have an answer so it’s just wasted energy and makes me feel even worse. Neither my husband nor I are very religious (he is much less religious than I), but I do think it’s important for children to grow up in a church…My husband has said we can baptize in either church. If we do choose Orthodoxy, the godparents are also difficult because we don’t really know anyone who is Orthodox besides older relatives and my parents….I'm feeling very sad and really just don't know what to do. Thank you for any advice you can share."
Answer: It sounds to me as though you have been stuck at a crossroad for some time - too long. As a result, I want to share a few thoughts and ask you to ponder some questions I might have shared with you if we were meeting in my office.
God can move mountains, and He can draw straight lines with crooked sticks. Do not be afraid to listen to your heart. God's still, small voice is likely trying to communicate with you, but you are unable to hear Him because your fears are preventing you from faithfully responding to what He's asking you to do.
Think about these last few statements? Do they resonate at all?
In addition, together with these questions, what do any of the following questions resonate?
In your heart of hearts, where do you believe God wants you and your family to worship?
Are you willing to embrace the effort that is needed to raise your children in the Orthodox Church?
Are you willing to engage in enough personal study to help your children and husband grow into an appreciation of Orthodoxy?
Are all the reasons you've described for being stuck for such a long time actually "reasons" or "excuses?"
Question: What is our Church's position/laws regarding the Orthodox receiving communion in the Catholic church and vice versa?
Answer: The Orthodox Church's policy regarding Holy Communion is as follows: Only those who are in good standing with the Orthodox Church are permitted to receive Holy Communion in the Orthodox Church. This statement would also apply to Orthodox Christians who are not in good standing with their faith tradition. Conversely, the Catholic Church has a different policy. They permit Orthodox to receive Holy Communion in the Catholic Church.
Question: I am faced with a committed Christian man in his 40s who wants to become Orthodox and has fulfilled the Catechism requirements. His wife is not interested and is committed to her membership of an Assemblies of God Church (AOG). They do not have an Orthodox Church in their town so it is difficult to get to Church regularly. The Orthodox Churches are few in number and not always easy to attend unless you are lucky enough to live near one. Is it permissible for the husband to go with his wife and daughter to the AOG Church on the Sundays when he cannot get to the nearest Orthodox Church or is this against the canons of the Church?
I have counseled them both. The husband has led a rather independent spiritual existence in his attempts to find the True Church, but his wife is comfortable in her relationships in her local Church. Going to the Orthodox Church in a nearby city would mean she would have to be cut off from her comfort zone and friends and the children would not have a youth group to go to. There are financial restraints in having the cost of getting to Church and also moving into a mainly Greek community in the nearest Orthodox Church. About 1/3 of the Service is in English, but it is very much a Greek Orthodox Church. The nearest Orthodox Church is two hours away. My church is even further but is more English in character and Services are in English.
I would value your opinions.
Answer: The canonical side of your question falls within your hierarch's purview. However, I do not believe what you've described should be resolved from a purely canonical perspective. It is my opinion that the challenges you've described are of a more pastoral nature and not a canonical nature. As such, here are my suggestions from a purely pastoral perspective. Use them if you believe they will help.
As you well know, we are not in communion with the Assembly of God Church and to my knowledge, their baptism is generally not accepted. Despite these canonical prohibitions, based on the information you've provided, here's how I might proceed.
1. If you have not done so, I would inform him of the above.
2. If you have not done so, I would carefully explore how he believes conversion to Orthodoxy will enhance his life and his religious and spiritual well-being, marital satisfaction and family stability. To that end, if I were you, I might ask him open-ended questions like the ones that appear below and refrain from providing specific counsel.
How will conversion to Orthodoxy enhance your life?
To what extent does your wife support your desire to convert?
How would conversion affect oneness and marital enhancement? You had this twice..
After conversion, what marital and family challenges do you expect to encounter?
How will conversion impact family stability?
How will your conversion impact your children's developmental needs?
How do you plan to practice Orthodoxy?
Is it God's will that you consider conversion at this time?
3. Based on this line of inquiry, he should be given the latitude to make his own decisions. Your role in this process should be a "not-knowing" role that is more “curious” and non-directive. Concurrently, you should provide a prayerful "safe zone" to help him discern God's will. Once he does, then you can begin to help him answer some of the above questions. Doing more at this time may be harmful to this marriage, children and family.
4. If his conversion has the potential to negatively impact marital satisfaction and family stability, such a conversion is not God's will. The Church's role is facilitate good conversions, to protect and help cultivate individual well-being, marital satisfaction, oneness and family stability. Balance, patience and agape is part and parcel of our theological tradition. The spirit of the law is much more important than the letter of the law. No semi-colons please..these are 2 strong sentences
5. If you follow this therapeutic process, it is my opinion that there will be room for God's will to work. If it is God's will, a new, holy homeostasis will emerge. What the new homeostasis will be, only God knows.
I hope these few thoughts have been of some help. Contact me if you have additional questions or want another second opinion.
Question: If an Orthodox Christian wants to marry a non Orthodox Christian (who is baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity) is it acceptable for them to marry in an Orthodox Church?
Answer: Inter-Christian marriages are permitted in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America so long as the Orthodox partner is in good standing and the non-Orthodox partner has been baptized in the Name of the Holy Trinity and in water. This guideline generally applies to all Orthodox who are in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. However, there may be exceptions. Exceptions occur when economia (a type of theological flexibility) is not granted.
Question. If the non-Orthodox partner wants to hold the marriage ceremony in a non-Orthodox church and the Orthodox wants to marry in the Orthodox Church, it sounds like it is not encouraged but tolerated. Are such couples simply bending the rules?
Answer. In some cases, couples must consider duel services. Such couples ultimately make this decision based on their personal preferences or perhaps on extended family pressures. The Orthodox Church does not encourage duel marriages, but it will tolerate them under extraordinary circumstances for the reasons I've briefly cited. Additionally, from my perspective, I would not interpret the Orthodox Church's tolerance in this case as "bending the rules," but rather as pastoral sensitivity and flexibility that will hopefully soften hearts and permit God's healing, life changing grace to take effect.
Finally, statistics are clear about one thing. Fewer people are opting to marry today. Furthermore, there is ample evidence to suggest that fewer young people are opting to marry in the Church. In an effort to address these and other similar trends, when the Church shows some flexibility, without compromising its theological integrity, I support such initiatives.
Commentary and Question. If there are two ceremonies that take place, am I understanding that the non-Orthodox ceremony should take place first and then the Orthodox ceremony should take place to restore the Orthodox partner back into good standing? I believe double weddings should happen on the same day, as the Orthodox party would be unfaithful for a few hours. It may be a busy day, but if this is what they choose, they should accept the consequences of their choices.
Answer. Optimally, the ceremonies should take place on the same day. However, the reality is that many modern weddings are not simple events. As a result, in cases where a couple decides to have duel services, after examining the couple's weddings plans carefully with them, I provide options and defer to them to make the best decision since they are intimately familiar with family dynamics and personal limitations.