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Frequently Asked Questions about Interreligious Marriage Questions

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Question:  "Would I be able to be married in an Orthodox Church if I married a non-Christian?"

Answer: From an Orthodox perspective, marriage is a lifestyle that facilitates both partners' religious and spiritual journey. It also serves to cultivate their future children's religious and spiritual development. For these reasons, for centuries, Orthodox Canon Law discouraged intermarriage of any type. Moreover, Orthodox faithful who chose to intermarry forfeited their sacramental privileges.  

Inter-Christian Marriages

With the increase of inter-Christian marriages around the world in the late 19th century, a large part of the Orthodox Church (which includes the Greek Orthodox Church of America) determined to modify its position regarding these types of marriages. As long as a couple was willing to meet the following conditions, Orthodox Christians could remain in good standing with their Church. 

1. Their wedding needed to take place in an Orthodox Church.

2. The non-Orthodox Christian partner needed to be baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity and in water.

3. The couple needed to agree to try and raise their children in the Orthodox Church.

Finally, even though the Orthodox Church believed that these couples would encounter many additional challenges, it decided to modify its position because it also believed that inter-Christian partner's belief systems are sufficiently compatible to permit individual, couple and family religious and spiritual growth.

Interreligious Marriages

Conversely, the Orthodox Church continues to hold to a more jaundiced view of interreligious marriage. It believes that the differences between both partners’ belief systems preclude individual, couple and family religious and spiritual development. As a result, it continues to discourage its faithful from entering interreligious marriages. Orthodox Christians who decide to enter an interreligious marriage (a) will be unable to wed in the Orthodox Church, and (b) lose their sacramental privileges.

In light of the growing numbers of interreligious marriages that Orthodox faithful are entering, some Orthodox theologians have called for a reexamination of the Church's position regarding this issue. To date, nothing substantive has been done to address this subject. However, if the numbers of interreligious marriages continue to grow, I suspect this issue will command more of the Church's attention in the future.

Individual Spouse’s and Couple's Response

When interreligious engaged spouses and couples have obtained the above information, here are some of their typical reactions.

Many have reported experiencing some initial confusion, distress and anger. These emotions have compelled a substantial number to seek more information. While many will ultimately disagree with what they find, their efforts will assist them in obtaining a clearer understanding of the consequences of their choices. 

A few couples have postponed their wedding date in an effort to reexamine their decision to enter an interreligious marriage. In these cases, some non-Orthodox partners have chosen to consider conversion.

Some Orthodox Christian partners have chosen to attend the Divine Liturgy without participating in the sacraments. Many of these individuals have also chosen to baptize their children in the Orthodox Church.

Others have left the Church. Many of these individuals continue to identify with their ethnic background, but no longer actively practice their Orthodox faith.

A few have chosen to write their Bishop for additional clarification and guidance.

Question:  "If I have a civil wedding, am I still able to be a parishioner of the church?"

Answer: Orthodox who marry outside of the orthodox Church lose their sacramental privleges. They can attend the Church services, but are unable to participate in the Sacraments. This can be reversed when they receive the Sacrament of Marriage in the Orthodox Church. This last suggestion is usually not helpful to Orthodox who marry non-Christians. The reason for this be because their the Orthodox Church will not perform the Sacrament of Marriage for a couple where one partner is Orthodox and the other is non-Christian.

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Question:  "If I married a non-Christian, would I be able to baptize children under the Orthodox faith?"

Answer: Many Orthodox Christians contemplating an interreligious marriage have asked this question. Hopefully, the following information will prove helpful. 

1. This is a very serous question that should be carefully worked through before you consider entering into an interreligious marriage. That's because many people who enter these marriages underestimate the problems they will encounter when the children arrive.

2. There are many well documented instances where engaged couples have come to some definitive premarital resolutions regarding their future children's religious and spiritual development, only to have to revisit their decisions after marriage when the children arrive. In short, several spouses have written me stating, "when the children arrived, earlier decisions related to their children's religious and spiritual development changed," causing them to revisit their earlier decisions. 

3. You might also know that may interreligious couples choose to raise their children in both parents' faith traditions. However, research suggests that this can be problematic to children's religious and spiritual development. That's because children need consistency and structure in their efforts to bond to a given religious tradition and form a religious identity.

4. Let's now assume that you decide to marry, and in the future you want to baptize your children in the Orthodox Church. What problems will you encounter? In general, the priest will likely ask more questions than he might if you were an intra-religious couple. That's because he may want to discern if your spouse is in agreement with this decision, and how you as an interreligious couple plan to raise and nurture your children in the Orthodox Church. He will do this because he wants to ensure that you are ready to baptize your children and because he is entrusted to administering the sacraments responsibly.

What all this means, is that if you enter an interreligious marriage, you will have more challenges to work through when the children arrive should you choose to marry outside of the Orthodox Church.

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Given our intentions, can you give me some idea of what to expect

Question: "Given our intentions, can you give me some idea of what to expect as far as whether or not my new family and I would be welcomed to attend Church, to participate in services (to what extent), and most importantly, what I may do to be as supportive as possible of my future wife's faith and our children's inclusion and participation in the Orthodox Church?"

Answer: This are concerns that I am pleased you're both carefully considering before you consider marriage.

With regard to the first part of your question, I am going to defer to your girlfriend's insights and opinions. She is in a better position than I am to provide some reliable feedback since she likely knows the congregation where you might be worshipping much better than I do. With that stated, here's a second opinion. Most Greek Orthodox Christians are people who would likely welcome you warmly. However, some priests might not be as gracious toward you and your family. Depending on their perspective they might be overly judgmental.

With regard to the second part of this question, I believe the best thing you can both do right now is be as honest with yourselves and each other as you can. All too often I have worked with conflicted intermarried couples who stated they thought they had a good understanding of the pitfalls and promises associated with entering an interreligious marriage only to also state that they grossly underestimated how much their attitudes changed as they matured. To be more specific, many of these couples thought they had the "interreligious" piece covered before marriage only to encounter some serious marital challenges later in life when one or both partner's attitudes toward religion changed. So,...spend as much time as you need now, taking a long hard look at yourselves and don't dodge the hard questions. To help you identify the hard questions, consider completing the questionnaire in the subsection of the Interfaith Marriage Web site I alluded to above. Getting as comfortable as you can with the hard questions, and being as transparent as is humanly possible now, will be key to your efforts to protect marital satisfaction in the future.

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I am Greek Orthodox - my fiance is Jewish

Question: "I am Greek Orthodox - my fiance is Jewish.  I know that by Orthodox rules I cannot marry in our Church - do you know of any Greek Orthodox priests who would be willing to co-officiate an interfaith ceremony?"

Answer: At present, Orthodox priests are not permitted to participate in interreligious marriages. As a result, you will be unable to find an Orthodox priest who is in good standing with a Canonical Orthodox.

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Marrying a Non-Christian

Question: “I live outside of the United States. My boyfriend lives down the street. He is Muslim. I know several Orthodox girls married to Muslims. Their life is just fine. They didn't have to convert. My father has informed me that if I marry my boyfriend, he will disown me. Is there is a way I can still be with him and also have my family’s support? “

Answer: My sympathies to you. You are in a very difficult place. Here is some information related to your question that might help. Contact me again if you have additional questions or concerns.

The Orthodox Church will not permit you to marry a Muslim in the Orthodox Church. As a result, Orthodox who fall in love with non-Christians must consider marriage outside of the Orthodox Church. When they do, they lose their good standing with their faith group and they are not permitted to receive the Sacraments. For more specifics, I would encourage you to review the information in the Interfaith Marriage Web site:

Orthodox Who Marry Non-Christians

With regard to your question related to your family,  based on what you have written me, it does not appear as though your father will accept your decision to marry this young man. Moreover, I do not know what I could write to you to help you convince him to change his mind. The following article might give you some insight into what your parents may be going through. (refer to her Father, since he is the one she mentions)

When Our young adult children Marry Non-Christians:  Parents' Perspective

Again, based on what you've written, it seems to me you are faced with the following two choices. You can choose to marry this young man and try to make a life with him apart from your family in hopes that they will accept you back one day, or you can give up on this relationship, grieve the loss and with God's help move on with your life.

I am sorry I could not provide you with more hope. Unfortunately, in your case, I do not believe you have any attractive choices. Things are as they are. I wish they were different for you, but they are not. May our Lord’s love comfort you.


Interreligious Dating & Conversion

Question: I love a Muslim boy named Mohammed. It has been 10 years now and we remain deeply in love. However, we could not proceed to get married because we were not allowed to. Mohammed knew that the only way to solve this problem would be if he converted. I understand the reasons why the church does not allow this and I regret not being able to explain it properly to Mohammed. What I cannot understand and what is causing me deep pain is why God didn’t hear our prayers for so many years and why Christ didn’t show the true faith to Mohammed. When Christ said that He will give us whatever we ask for if only we believe, I took these words literally and thought He will not deny something for which I have been asking for 10 years. Where was I wrong?
Answer: After communicating with hundreds of individuals like you, one fact that is clear to me is that people have a hard time leaving their religious tradition and embracing another religious tradition - this is especially true for those who have a strong connection to their cultural, religious and family backgrounds. Significant cultural ties, political dynamics, familial allegiances, personal idiosyncrasies and preferences often make a cross-over almost impossible. I suspect some or all of these factors were implicated in Mohammed's inability to embrace Christ. These factors likely prevented him from being able to accept, understand and embrace Christianity. Unless someone has an open heart and mind and is willing or able to turn to Christ and seek his guidance, Christ's truth will remain unavailable to him or her. In cases like Mohammed's, I have come to believe that no one could have helped him come to Christ until he was willing to commit himself to an honest, systematic, intentional examination of who Christ is. Such a personal exploration would not have been without considerable challenges based on the factors I mentioned above. However, when people commit themselves to this journey, I have observed that Christ was able to find a way to reach them and they were freed from whatever was preventing them from seeing Christ clearly.
If I were you, I would continue to pray for Mohammed, without expecting that he will see Christ's truth and embrace his way, truth and life. I suspect that if Mohammed hasn't embraced Christ by now, he may never embrace him and you would do well to grieve this loss and ask God to help you struggle well so that you can eventually move on. If you do this, I feel confident that, in time, the pain will lift and you will see things more clearly. Until then, I do not blame you for having the types of questions and feelings you have. They are part of recovering from a long term relationship that has ended badly.
God bless you and may He continue to guide your footsteps through the process of recovery toward stability and new hope.

Interreligious Marriage

Question: My daughter is a Christian and has been dating an Orthodox Jew for 2 years. They love each other, but he says he can never marry her. Why do you suppose he can’t commit? What would the Orthodox family do if he did?

Answer: There are many reasons why interreligious couples fail to get married. Therefore, I really can't provide a specific answer to your first question. I will offer some typical reasons that prevent couples from different religious traditions from marrying.

In some cases, people can't marry someone from another religious tradition because of the loyalty one or both partners have toward their religious tradition. In these instances, such persons feel as if they are betraying what they believe in if they marry an outsider who is not from the same religious tradition.

In other cases, it has something to do with a person's loyalty to their family. In these instances, they feel as though they would be betraying their family if they chose to marry someone from another religious tradition.

At other times it has something to do with theological differences. For example, many non-Christians cannot accept what the Christian Church teaches about Jesus Christ and vice versa.

At other times, it's got something to do with personal preferences. In other words, some people simply like worshipping God through the rites and rituals that they are familiar with.

Additionally, Orthodox Christians who marry non-Christians forfeit their good standing and are unable to receive the sacraments. Such persons can only get back into good standing if their non-Christian partner converts to Christianity.

Based on the complexity associated with interreligious marriage, I normally counsel Orthodox Christians who are seriously thinking about getting married to a non-Christian with the following recommendations:

1. You should know how your decision will affect your status with your faith tradition. In other words, you should be intimately familiar with the negative consequences will you incur if you marry someone from another religious tradition so that you can make an informed decision.

2.  You should understand how your decision to marry a non-Christian will affect your relationship with your parents and other members of your extended family.

3. You should have discussed and generally agreed on issues related to future children. Questions like the following few should be worked through. In which partner's faith tradition will the children be raised? Will the children have knowledge and respect for both partner's faith tradition?

4.  You should also spend time answering questions like the following few:  Which religious traditions will be practiced in the home. How will your partner feel if you want to put up a Christmas Tree or follow some of your family's Easter traditions? In some cases, these types of concerns aren't a problem, and in others they can create serious, ongoing issues and problems.

5. You should not assume you know how your partner feels and thinks about your religious and cultural differences. To avoid unexpected disagreements, you should plan to have several heart-to-heart conversations related to your different religious traditions. In addition, if serious differences emerge, don't assume the problems will go away. These issues do not disappear after marriage, they generally get worse if they are left unattended.

6. Expect to have additional, ongoing conversations in the future - many of which may be filled with strong feelings and preferences that can generate heated discussions which negatively affect marital satisfaction. In these cases, I suggest partners consider finding some help since serious issues grow and create dissonance.

7. Expect your partner's feelings and thoughts regarding religion to change with time. Often, as people age they become more traditional minded regarding religion. Such changes can have a negative impact on marital satisfaction and stability.

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Subject:  Interreligious Marriage and Orthodox Church

Comment and Question: I read with great attention and care the information you made available online about interfaith marriage (found here).  Thank you very much for your words.  Father, my girlfriend and I are in love.  We have shared two wonderful years together in this close relationship and 2 more as very close friends before.  We balance and complement each other in life, in thought, in ideas, and in talents.  And we both love each other, care for each other and each other’s families tremendously, as if they were our own.  This is a blessing in almost every respect.  But of course, there is one exception.  We are of different faiths. Have there been any changes regarding the Orthodox Church’s position toward interreligious couples?

Answer: The Orthodox Church's pastoral approach toward interreligious couples and marriages remains unchanged. I am not aware of any serious discourse related to what you've inquired about. My suggestion is that you discuss your situation with your pastor. With your pastor’s help you might consider petitioning your hierarch (bishop) for economia (a type of theological leniency). Based on reasons like the ones you've shared, hierarch's may take a more sympathetic approach and permit limited access to the sacraments. I am sorry I could not be more helpful.

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Subject:  Orthodox Who Marry Non-Christians

Comment and Question: I am recently engaged. My fiance does not belong to a church and does not have any religious affiliation.  I know in the Greek Orthodox church non-Christians can not be married in the church. Is the situation the same when my fiance doesn't have a religious affiliation? He does not want to be baptized. Can we still be married in the church as long as one of us is Greek Orthodox?

Answer: In order for you to get married in the Greek Orthodox Church, you must be in good standing with your faith background and your fiancé must be a baptized Christian. The essence of the Greek Orthodox Church’s Sacrament of Marriage is decidedly Christ-centered. The reality is that your fiancée would simply not relate to the service and may even find it offensive. This is one reason, among others, that the Orthodox Church insists that, at minimum, one partner be an Orthodox Christian in good standing and the other be baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity and in water.

Finally, I would not presume that I know what is good for you nor am I questioning your decision to marry a non-believer. On the other hand, I wonder what your fiancé’s objections are and why he remains un-baptized? Was he born into a family of non-believers?  Has he had previous toxic experiences with clergy or some other religious person? Does he believe in God, but doesn't believe in Christ as the Son of God? Have you discussed your different beliefs about God? Have you discussed his objections related to Christ?  Have you considered what it might be like sharing a life with someone who isn't a believer? Are you familiar with the challenges that believers have when they marry someone who isn't a believer? Are you comfortable with the differences that exist between the two of you as they relate to religion and spirituality?

Anyway, I'm sure you have obtained more information than you bargained for when you wrote me. My intent was not to unsettle you, but to offer you some thoughts to seriously before marriage. My concern is for both of you as you approach the prospect of marriage. Please know that you can contact me at any time with your questions and concerns.

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