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Frequently Asked Questions about Marriage

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Marriage Service Outside in a Park

Question: "We are looking to be married outside in a park.  Can you please advise me how I would go about planning this type of wedding and if there are any issues?"

Answer: While it is true that some churches permit outside services, the Orthodox Church is not one of these faith groups. One important reason why, has to do with the way the Orthodox Church conceptualizes the Sacrament of Marriage (the service it uses to marry couples). Since the Sacrament of Marriage is considered sacred and since our church sanctuaries are considered sacred space, the Orthodox Church maintains that the most appropriate place for the Sacrament of Marriage to be celebrated is within what it considers to be hallowed space.

Hopefully this will not create any serious challenges for you and your fiancee.

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Marriage:  Days When Marriage Is Not Permitted

Question:  "I am researching Greek Orthodox marriages, and your department's website has been an invaluable resource.  However, I did hope you could elaborate on a topic where I haven't found much information - days on which marriages are not permitted.  In particular, I have a source that lists the dates, and then notes that exceptions can be made with permission in certain circumstances.  I was hoping you might be able to elaborate on what situations merit exception and also how common such exception is.  Can you help with this request?"

Answer: I would like to begin my response by providing you with a listing of dates when marriages are not permitted in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America from the 2009 Greek Orthodox Archdiocese's Yearbook.

Marriages are not performed on fast days or during fasting seasons; these include the Great Lent and Holy Week, August 1-15, August 29 (Beheading of St. John the Baptist), September 14 (Exaltation of the Holy Cross), and December 13-25. Nor are marriages celebrated on the day before and the day of a Great Feast of the Lord, including Theophany (January 5 and 6), Pascha, Pentecost, and Christmas (December 24 and 25). Marriages may be performed on these days only by permission of the diocesan Bishop.

In addition, in some instances the Hierarch of a Metropolis (diocesan Bishop) may grant a priest permission to perform the Sacrament of Marriage during these fasting periods; exceptions are granted on a case to case basis. Couples desiring to receive the Sacrament of Marriage during a part of the church calendar when marriages are not permitted should consult their priest. Based on their needs and the facts they present, the priest will provide further assistance and direction. For example, in some instances the priest will agree to write a letter to the Hierarch on the couple's behalf asking permission to conduct the Sacrament of Marriage on a given date when marriages are not permitted.

p.s. Don't get discouraged. Take this step by step. Do your part and let God do His part. Generally, things work out:  to God's glory and our salvation.

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Marriage Outside of the Orthodox Church

Question: "What happens if we get married outside of the Orthodox Church?"

Answer: If a couple chooses to get married outside of the Orthodox Church, the Orthodox partner will lose their good standing. The Orthodox partner will not be permitted to participate in the sacramental life of their faith background, i.e., they will be unable to receive the sacraments like Holy Communion and Unction.  The pathway toward restoring the Orthodox partner’s relationship with their faith background would be for the couple to receive the Sacrament of Marriage in the Orthodox Church.

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The Common Cup

Question: "What steps must he take in order to be able to receive Holy Communion during the Orthodox wedding ceremony?"

Answer: The Common Cup that the priest shares with each partner during the Sacrament of Marriage does not contain Holy Communion. It contains wine which functions to symbolize the bitter and sweet moments in life that they will experience together as husband and wife. 

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CONCERN ABOUT LANGUAGE

Question: “My wife converted to Greek Orthodox just before our wedding. Since then, we have participated in the Greek Church on holidays and weddings. Since most of the liturgy is done in Greek, my wife does not understand anything that is being said and neither do I. Our priest and others have tried to help, but their advice has not been helpful.

We now have a 9 month old baby and my wife feels as if she is in the dark about our religion. She has many questions I can’t answer. This makes this worse. She is now talking about going back to her church and baptizing the baby there. At this point I feel like I am desperate and just wish someone could help. I want my wife to feel confident about being Greek Orthodox. Any suggestions?”

Answer: I am not exactly certain what your questions are. So, I am hoping what I share will begin to prove helpful. If it doesn't, contact me again. When you contact me again, please identify what your specific questions are.

I can't say I blame your wife. You've described her as a believer and at this point in time she is not being fed because of the great emphasis on culture and language in your community. Moreover, it doesn't make it any easier for her when you can't help her understand. This can certainly be disillusioning and frustrating for the faithful. As a result, here are a few suggestions that may or may not seem appropriate for you. However, when choosing a path to follow, try to keep your wife and family's needs in focus and not simply your own.

1. Have you ever thought about trying another Greek Orthodox Church that uses considerably more English? This is hard for cradle Greek Orthodox to hear because the church they are attending is a family church and they have many strong emotional attachments to their church. This option has worked for many couples like yourselves.

2. Consider reviewing the following resource together. This is a good source of information that will benefit you, your wife and future children.

Rouvelas, M. (2002).  A guide to Greek traditions and customs in America: Second Edition. Bethesda, MD:  Nea Attiki Press.

3. Do not permit these challenges to go unattended. If they are ignored, they will have an adverse affect on your marriage's well-being and family stability. They could also negatively affect your children's growing perspective of religion and God.

4. Finally, with regard to what you've written, your wife has sacrificed a lot for you and your family. I believe you must acknowledge this and do all you can to help her understand how grateful you are to her for her many sacrifices. You must then both follow Christ, asking Him to guide you both to some mutually satisfying resolutions. This may be a painful process, but it will lead you both toward God's restorative hope, love and increased oneness.

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Subject: Divorce and Remarriage

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?

Answer:

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.

 

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Subject: Remarriage

 

Commentary and Questions: Dear Father, I want to thank you for the articles and question/answer subjects you have posted regarding divorce. I have found them helpful.

 

My divorce was very traumatic. My husband was arrested and convicted for child pornography. For months before the arrest, I sacrificed our family's financial well-being because I thought he had a drinking problem. After his arrest, I learned about the child pornography problem. I also learned that he was unfaithful to me with multiple partners.

 

We go to church every Sunday. Fathers Day was horrible this year. My parents are alive. They are very supportive. For legal reasons, I have no contact with the other side. They did a lot of bad things to us. I am ecclesiastically divorced.

 

The older children know that God did not do this and that it was their father’s fault. I have tried to explain addictions to them. I try to balance their lives with a sense of responsibility and, at the same time, try to give them joy without spoiling them.

Nevertheless, I do not know if I am giving them a good example.

 

I do not have any desire to remarry, perhaps because I am still so wounded, but probably because I do not have any strength for that. I work long hours, come home, make dinner and then help with homework. I have to also try to help them emotionally.

 

Some people told me that by not remarrying  I am sending them a message that marriage is bad. I really try to explain that marriage is a blessing from God and something that I hope for all of them. People are trying to "fix me up" with men but I think i have convinced myself that if I ever remarry he had better be a saint!

 

I just wanted you to hear my story. Maybe one day I can write a book and donate the proceeds to children of this type of abuse. What do you think? These stories must burden you so much, but know that you help us.

 

Answer:

 

Christ is in our midst.

 

Thank you for sharing a small part of your story. You seem to be a remarkably resilient person and I pray that God continues to guide your footsteps. I am grateful that you found the resource I’ve written, Divorce and Remarriage, helpful. I would also like to encourage you to contact me should you ever need a second opinion about anything you shared or didn't share. Unfortunately, what you've described are realities that inflict great pain on families and of course, innocent children. I will continue to keep you and your precious children in my humble prayers, as well as your ex-husband. That stated, here are my comments related to your question.

 

I am glad you have a supportive extended family. Families who have been traumatized by similar events tend to become isolated and depleted over time when outside support is missing.

 

I praise God that your faith has been tempered by what you've written and that God remains a vital resource in your lives.

 

If you haven't had time to seek professional help, you might want to consider this option. In spite of the time-commitment and financial burden associated with this suggestion, professional help could prove cost effective for both you and your children. For example, processing through losses and grieving could unburden all of you from inappropriate guilt and shame.

 

When you are ready to date, do so. Until then, use your time to heal and attend to your daughter's needs. Others may think that a father-figure and or husband is a good idea for you and your daughters, but this isn't as important as what you think. As you may know, second-marriages are often taxed with a host of challenges that are not particular to first marriages. This means that a second marriage could create more problems than it might resolve. So, proceed prayerfully regarding this issue.

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