Dialogue with an Eastern Orthodox Theologian on Marriage and Divorce

The words of our Orthdox friend are shown as quotes:

You ask the following: Did Christ approve of contraception or divorce? Then why does the modern Orthodox Church? And I tell you, we do not.

When you say “we”, you are not speaking for most Orthodox jurisdictions, which do allow contraception and divorse. 

Jesus Christ said about this subject: “So then, they are not longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:6-7). Therefore, when a divorce does happen, we treat it as a death.

The code of canon law for the Orthodox shows that divorce is permitted three times in the Orthodox Church.

Also: “The church will permit up to, but not more than, three marriages for any Orthodox Christian.

This is a contradiction. Christ did not permit re-marriage at all. Treating the divorce “like a death” does not address the reality. The ex-wife or ex-husband is not dead, but still alive.  The Eastern canon law on this matter came about in A.D. 692 at the Trullian Council of Constantinople, and Rome refused to ratify this council because of this and some other unApostolic innovations which the Orthodox Church embraced under pressure from the imperial court which had a secular agenda. 

 If both partners are entering a second or third marriage, another form of the marriage ceremony is conducted, much more subdued and penitential in character.

But it still recognizes the remarriage!   Christ does not.

Marriages end either through the death of one of the partners or through ecclesiastical recognition of divorce.

Christ does not give the Church the power to end a marriage that is truly Sacramental. The Orthodox believe that the Church does possess this power; and I would say that is a violation of Apostolic teaching. Again, consider the teaching of the Church fathers. (See the box lower right)

And the other fathers all say the same. Why is the Orthodox faith not consistent with the Faith of its own Eastern fore-fathers?

The Church grants "ecclesiastical divorces" on the basis of the exception given by Christ to his general prohibition of the practice.

The Eastern Orthodox Church teaches that all marriages conducted by a bishop or priest are Sacramental. Thus, all marriages in the Orthodox Church are Sacramental –that is, Mysteries and Acts of God. For, unlike in our Western understanding, the Orthodox Church holds that the priest is the minister of the Sacrament of Matrimony (we believe, following the original Jewish Tradition of the Apostles, that the husband and wife are the ministers of the Sacrament of Matrimony). Thus, the Orthodox Church holds that the Church – that is, men in the Church – can “undo” what was done by God Himself; and this is DIRECTLY denied by Scripture and by Apostolic Tradition.  

The Church has frequently deplored the rise of divorce and generally sees divorce as a tragic failure.

I think that is beside the point. Christ forbids it; the Orthodox Church permits it.  

Yet, the Orthodox Church also recognizes that sometimes the spiritual well-being of Christians caught in a broken and essentially nonexistent marriage justifies a divorce,

There is no room for a “nonexistent marriage” in Greek theology, since it insists that the priest is the minister of the Sacrament. This means that anyone he pronounces to be married is married in the eyes of God, and so all Orthodox marriages MUST (by your standards) exist, as realities. In Catholic Tradition, which is consistent with apostolic tradition, it is not the priest who is the minister of the Sacrament, but the husband and the wife. Thus, if there is some impediment (whether it be psychological, intentional, or social) which makes it impossible for either the husband or the wife to enter into a Sacramental covenant, this nullifies the Sacramental nature of the marriage, and the marriage can be annulled as a matter of mere human law by the Church. What the Catholic Church CANNOT do, however, is nullify a SACRAMENTAL marriage – a marriage in which there was no impediment on the part of the husband or the wife. But, since the Orthodox insist that the priest is the minister of the Sacrament of marriage, it cannot speak of “non-existent” or annulled marriages, since there is no room and no place for this in Orthodox theology. 

 with the right of one or both of the partners to remarry.

Show The Eastern Church fathers Marriage writings
  • St. Justin Martyr (c. 160) : “According to our Teacher (Jesus), just as they are sinners who contract a second marriage, even though it is in accord with human law, so also are they sinners who look with lustful desires at a woman.  He repudiates not only one who actually commits adultery, but even one who wishes to do so; for not only our actions are manifest to God, but even our thoughts.” (First Apology 15) (a) 

  • St. Basil the Great: “The man who has deserted his wife and goes to another is himself an adulterer because he makes her commit adultery; and the woman who live with him is an adulteress, because she has caused another woman’s husband to come over to her…The woman who lives with an adulterer is an adulteress the whole time. The woman who has been abandoned by her husband, ought, in my judgment, to remain as she is. The Lord said, ‘If any one leave his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, he causes her to commit adultery;’ thus, by calling her adulteress, He excludes her from intercourse with another man. For how can the man being guilty, as having caused adultery, and the woman, go without blame, when she is called an adulteress by the Lord for having intercourse with another man? A man who marries another man’s wife who has been taken away from him will be charged with adultery… - Amphilochius 199 (a)

Each parish priest is required to do all he can to help couples resolve their differences.

I think that is beside the point. 

  If they cannot, and they obtain a civil divorce, they may apply for an ecclesiastical divorce in some jurisdictions of the Orthodox Church.

And the authority for this divorce comes from whom?  Not from Christ. He forbids it. 

 In others, the judgment is left to the parish priest when and if a civilly divorced person seeks to remarry. 

Another example of why modern Eastern Orthodoxy is like the last line of the Book of Judges:  “In those days, there was no king in Israel, and everyone did as he thought best.”   But, the Church (the New Israel) has a Messianic King, Jesus Christ; and He established a prime minister (the Pope of Rome) to unify His Kingdom, His Church. Orthodox lack this unity of belief and action because they are outside of the prime minister’s rightful and Christ-given authority.  

Those Orthodox jurisdictions which issue ecclesiastical divorces require a thorough evaluation of the situation, and the appearance of the civilly divorced couple before a local ecclesiastical court, where another investigation is made. >

And what if one Orthodox jurisdiction doesn’t recognize the standards of another?   Is it one Church or not? 

 Only after an ecclesiastical divorce is issued by the presiding bishop can they apply for an ecclesiastical license to remarry.”

Which Christ, and the Apostles, and all the Church fathers deny.

More on Marriage here.

Charis kai eirene / Slava Isusu Christu!

This article was by Mark Bonocore, edited by Hugh